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   Chapter 34 CHAPTER XXXIII

Lorimer of the Northwest By Harold Bindloss Characters: 27888

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


A BOUNTIFUL HARVEST

Henceforward Harry's wooing, like my own, was conducted in an intermittent and fragmentary manner. But little time was left us for dalliance or soft speeches, and we paid our homage in practical fashion, with axe and saw and bridle, for there was truth in what Harry said: "The best compliment a man can pay a woman is to work for her comfort. Still, I don't know that more leisure for other things wouldn't be pleasant, too. There is more in life after all than an endless round of sowing and reaping."

Jasper was among the first to congratulate him, which he did so heartily that I concluded that he had stopped his visits in time, and it was with a repetition of his former kindness that he added:

"You'll need to rustle this season, for you've plainly bitten off more than you can chew. Still, you've friends on the prairie who'll see you through, and if it's horses or men or money you're stuck for, I guess you know where to find them."

We borrowed oxen, we borrowed mowers, we hired help everywhere, and somehow paid for it, while by dint of endless planning we managed to avoid an overdraft at the bank. Still, I lamed Ormond's hunter, and dawn was often in the sky when I rode home from the Manor to begin the day's round again without resting. But our efforts prospered, and the weather favored us, while Jasper and other neighbors, including some from Carrington, helped us on opportunity, 376 until one summer day I rode over to the Manor to press for a decision. I hesitated when I got there, for I was heavy from want of sleep and troubled about many small matters, and, when Grace greeted me, she looked so fresh and tranquil that it seemed unfair to bring the stains of turmoil and fierce hurry into her presence.

"You are tired, poor Ralph," she said, laying a cool hand on my forehead when I drew her down beside me. "The sun has darkened you to the color of a Blackfoot. You are thin, and there are too many wrinkles on your brow-put them away immediately. I wonder whether any one would recognize in you the fresh-faced and somewhat callow stripling with whom I talked about the Dominion that day on Starcross Moor. It is not so very long ago, and yet life has greatly changed and taught us much since then. You must not be vain about it, but I really think I prefer you now."

She strove to avoid my answer, which was an active one, and then settled to grave attention when I said: "You were always the same, Grace, unequaled among women. I was very raw and foolish, but you have helped me, and experience in these new lands teaches even fools. Now, however, I am chiefly lonely-and Fairmead is waiting for you."

"I wish to know my duty," said Grace. "I still think and think until my brain grows tired, and yet I cannot see it clearly. As I told the others, the Manor is an undesirable inheritance; but I am its mistress, and it brings heavy charges with it, a load of debt among them, which it would seem cruel to leave my aunt to grapple with. If we sold it there would be nothing left for her, and even that might not be possible while my father lives. Ralph, dear, he was once very kind to me, and it is hard that I can do so little to help him." 377

She sighed, and looking at me wearily made no answer to my further pleading, until, as it happened, Miss Carrington, preceded by a very awkward Scandinavian maid, entered the room with a tray on which was placed the Russian tea and dainties for which the house was famous.

"You looked in need of refreshment, Ralph, when you came in," she said. "There have been changes at the Manor, but we have not forsaken all our ancient customs."

She was, as Aline said, "a dear old lady," sweet of face, yet stately, though now she looked careworn too; and rising I bowed respectfully, as, acting under one of those sudden impulses which are sometimes better than judgment, I said:

"I hope you will believe that no one regrets the changes more than I do, and it is only trusting in your kindness that I venture to look for a welcome here. There cannot be many who would so kindly receive one who even against his will has been indirectly connected with your troubles. Besides, I have been abusing your generosity further by trying to persuade Grace to desert you, and, strangest of all, I ask you to help me."

Grace blushed, and her aunt sat silent for a while.

"I am glad you told me," she then answered quietly, "for I have been thinking what she ought to do. I wondered now and then that my niece did not ask me, and I am going to tell my thoughts to both of you. There is a will extant leaving her this property, with a portion to me, but it will be a long struggle to free the land from its creditors, and my poor brother may live as he is for years. He has been mercifully spared all further anxiety, and I hope that he will. I am old, and my day has long gone by. Grace is young, with the world before her; and it is neither right nor necessary that she should put away all hope of happiness indefinitely. There is only one time 378 when the joy of life is more real than its sorrows. With kinsman Lyle's counsel, and Foster to work the land, I can hold the Manor and care for my brother, and for both to remain here would be a useless sacrifice. So if you love her, as I believe you do, it is right that you should enjoy together what is sent you. Grace should go to you."

I had passed my younger days among a homely people, and had been taught little except what I learned in the silence of the mountains and on the wide prairie, and yet I think it was without awkwardness that I bent over Miss Carrington's hand. Speech would hardly have expressed the gratitude and respect I felt, while I recognize now that the motive of the action was in her and not in me. Then I turned to her niece and waited with longing in my eyes until Grace, who had changed to her softest mood and was now only a blushing girl, said simply:

"You have made it easy, Aunt. Ralph, I will come."

"That is right," said Miss Carrington. "Ralph, you have waited patiently, and I can trust you to be kind to her." Then she smiled upon us as she added: "If not, I take my brother's place, and you shall answer for it. There is still a Carrington at the Manor holding authority. And so, to turn to the practical, if either of you can consider such prosaic things as tea, it is growing cold already, and it is a pity to waste the Carrington tea."

The tea was not wasted. We are only creatures of flesh and blood, thankful, the wiser among us, for the transitory glimmer of romance that brightens our work-a-day lot, and gives some much-needed strength to grapple with it, and I had ridden far after a night spent in the open and a hard morning's work. So I accepted what was offered, and found it delicious to rest in that pretty room, where the last of the sunlight sparkled on the silver and lit up the sweet face of the lady who beamed upon us. Again 379 it seemed almost too good to be true, and hard to believe, that victory had crowned the struggle, while even as I balanced the dainty China cup it reminded me of the battered kettle from which we filled the blackened cans in a British Columbian camp. There, instead of embroidered curtains, were festoons of cedar sprays, biting cold and acrid wood-smoke in place of warmth and artistic luxury, and I knew that I had been favored greatly-for though many strive, the victory is to the few. Still, from out of the shadows of the somber firs, I seemed to hear our partner who lay among the boulders say: "The long, long road has a turning, and there is rest at last."

Before I left the Manor late that night all was settled, for when I pressed for an early conclusion Grace, yielding, said: "I am not afraid of poverty, Ralph; and if it comes we will lighten it by each bearing half. So we will take the risk of the harvest together, for if I share in your prosperity I must also take my share in the hardship."

I did not get home to Fairmead until the next day, for I nodded in the saddle until I could not see the way, and several times nearly fell out of it, and when the tired horse stopped on a bluff I found a couch in withered fern and slept there soundly, to waken long after sunrise, wet with dew. That, however, was a trifling matter on the Western prairie, because the man who loves small comforts has no business there, and after the events of the previous day discomfort was nothing to me. Dreams seldom trouble the toiler in that land; and when I stood up refreshed under the early sunlight, and memory returned, the world seemed filled with light and beauty to reflect my own gladness. Ormond's horse was cropping the grasses not far away, and when I caught him the very birch leaves rustled joyfully under their tender shimmering green as we rode over the bluff, while once out on the prairie a flight of sand-hill 380 cranes came up from the south, calling to one another, dazzling blurs of whiteness against the blue, and even their hoarse cry seemed to ring with triumph.

Aline ran out to meet me when I dismounted, and my mood must have been infectious, for she smiled as she greeted me.

"I sent Harry to scour the prairie in search of you, for I feared you must have been dead tired and the horse had fallen in a ravine. But you must have slept among the fairies, Ralph, and risen transfigured. You look too radiant for my serious brother."

It was after hay-time, and the wheat was tall and green, when Grace and I were married in the little wooden church at Carrington, and every man in the settlement rode there in her train. Few princesses of royal blood ever had a finer escort than hers, and she came in state, as was due to her-for Grace was a prairie princess and the heiress of Carrington. Perhaps the memory of what had happened made her subjects doubly anxious to show their loyalty; while, remembering who I was, and how I landed in that country a poor emigrant, once more I found it hard to understand why of all men such a gift had been bestowed on me.

The riders of Carrington also filled one room at the Manor with glittering tokens of their good-will from Toronto and Montreal, besides such useful things as tools and harness, while among the presents lay a plain letter with a black border which Grace and I read together. It was from Martin Lorimer. "I wish you both many blessings," it ran, "and knowing your foolish way of thinking, I could not send the present I wanted to; but you'll take this, with an old man's very good wishes. It's a certificate of paid-up stock in the new Day Spring Mining Company, of which Calvert is manager. Sell or hold as pleases you. You'll find a market-for already Calvert's sending up good ore. 381 I also send you something else-your cousin valued it."

Another paper fluttered out of the envelope, and my amusement died away as I recognized the letter I had given the bankers in Winnipeg when I drew upon the loan.

"Of all the gifts I value this from poor Alice most," I said a little huskily. "We should have gone under without it, and perhaps it alone helped me to win you. Grace, to both of us, this is the strangest of wedding presents; but what shall we do with these shares in the Day Spring mine? They represent the principal portion of the paid-up capital."

"You will keep them," Grace said. "I think I understand why he sent them. I had a very bitter feeling against your uncle, but I have conquered it. The past is never done with, and it may be that what my father toiled for and lost will come to his daughter in its own way. Ralph, there's a story of hope and struggle and sorrow written between every line on either paper."

We rode, in accordance with prairie custom, straight home from the church, for Grace was no longer princess of Carrington, but the wife of a struggling farmer, and she said that until the harvest was gathered there must be no honeymoon. Fairmead, as all the inhabitants of the prairie know, was only a small holding hampered by lack of capital when she married its owner and forthwith commenced to live in strict accordance with her adopted station. We hoped to improve that station, but this depended on the crops and the weather, and the heavens continued to favor us that year. Seldom had there been such grass for cattle or such a yield of wheat. No acre returned less than its twenty bushels, and many nearer forty; while Grace, who drove the first binder into the tall yellow stems and worked on through the rush and dust of harvest and thrashing, rejoiced as she said she had never done when all was safely gathered in.

Then Harry and Aline were married and settled in Hudson's 382 dwelling; and one evening toward the close of the Indian summer, when our work was done at last we drove slowly down the long incline away from Fairmead. A maple flamed red on the bluff, the birch leaves were golden; but the prairie was lone and empty, save for a breadth of tall stubble, and there was neither a sack in the granary nor a beast in a stall. Harry had taken the working cattle, while the stock were traveling eastward across the ocean and the wheat lay piled in the elevators or had been ground already into finest flour. But the result of our labors was bearing interest, and would do so until spring, in the shape of a balance at the Bank of Montreal. Each venture had succeeded, and evidence was not wanting that at last we were being carried smoothly forward on the flood-tide of prosperity; and so with thankful hearts we prepared to enjoy a well-earned holiday in the older cities of eastern Canada.

The garish light died out as we passed the last of the stubble, which grew dusky behind us, the stars that shone forth one by one glimmered frostily, and silence closed down on the prairie, while the jingle of harness and the groaning of wheels recalled the day I had first driven across it. Grace, too, seemed lost i

n reverie, for presently she said:

"Another year's work ended, and the bounteous harvest in. Ralph, why is it that happiness brings with it a tinge of melancholy, and that out of our present brightness we look back to the shadows of other days? I have been thinking all day of curious things and people we knew-our first dance at Lone Hollow, of Geoffrey Ormond and your cousin. They all played their part in giving us what we now enjoy."

I cracked the whip, stirring the horses into a quicker pace, and, slipping one arm around her, I said: "It is not those who work or suffer most who are always rewarded 383 as they would hope to be; and, as Johnston once said, the fallen have done great things. But we will look forward. You made true forecasts that night at Lone Hollow, and no fairer witch ever came out of Lancashire. So look again deep into the future, and tell me what you see."

Grace laughed, and nestled closer to me under the furs, for the nights were chilly, before she answered: "There are compensations, and one cannot have everything, so I lost the gift of prophecy when a better one came to me-and, Ralph, it came that very night at the Hollow, I think. Instead, I will tell you what I hope to see. First, you faithful to your task, as faithful to me, laying together acre on acre and adding crop to crop until the possessions of Fairmead are greater than Carrington. But even before this comes-and come, I think, it will-we will try to remember that we are but stewards, and that possession brings its duties. My father was a keen sportsman, and I, too, love a horse and gun, but we thought too much of pleasure at Carrington. We will fling our doors wide open to the English poor-there are no poor in the Dominion like the English poor-and share with the needy the harvests that are granted us. I have been thinking often of your helper, Lee, and as a beginning he could send you two families in the spring-we have room for them. And so, Ralph, if you will humor me in this I shall never be sorry to preside over Fairmead instead of Carrington."

"I will," I answered simply; but she seemed content with the answer, and asked for no further assurance as we drove on through the night. No one could laugh more joyously than Grace, or cast about her flashes of brighter humor; but we had just completed an arduous task whose reward was greater almost than we dared hope, and our gladness was too great to find expression in merriment.

On reaching the Elktail station I was handed a telegram 384 from Calvert which had lain there some time awaiting an opportunity for delivery. It was brief, but reassuring.

"Great news. Bottomed on rich ore at last. Day Spring stock cent. per cent. premium. Don't sell. Looking for surprising dividends."

"This is the beginning," said Grace. "Some day all the rest will come."

And then, with a blast of the whistle and the lighted cars clashing as they lurched up out of the prairie, the Atlantic express rolled in and bore us east to enjoy our belated honeymoon.

Grace's prediction was fulfilled, for although we had reverses we prospered from that day, and there are now few farms anywhere on the wide grass-lands between Winnipeg and Regina, to compare, either in area or fertility, with Fairmead, while the flour made from our wheat is spread across the breadth of Europe. And better than lands and stock is the content and peace that came to me through Grace's companionship.

THE END

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