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   Chapter 16 ON THE LAKE

The Gold Trail By Harold Bindloss Characters: 16190

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


It was rather late that night when Weston and Grenfell sat smoking beside the dying fire. The breeze that came off the lake was colder than usual, and the rest of the party had retired indoors, but one window of the little wooden house stood open, and Miss Kinnaird's voice drifted softly out of it. She was evidently singing a selection from an opera. Grenfell, who lay with his back against one of the hearth-logs, appeared to be listening critically.

"It's pretty and nothing more," he said. "That girl's too diffuse-she spreads herself. She might have painted if she'd been poor; though that's not a sure thing either."

"Why isn't it?" asked Weston, who had, however, no great interest in the matter.

"She has too level a head," Grenfell said. "It's as fatal in art as it is in some professions. You have to concentrate, hang on to the one thing, and give yourself to it. Miss Kinnaird couldn't do that. She must stop and count the cost. To make anything of this life one now and then must shut one's eyes to that. There generally has to be a sacrifice."

He broke off, and looked at his companion rather curiously.

"The other girl could make it. She wouldn't ask whether it were worth while."

Weston was a trifle startled. He had that very day seen something in Ida Stirling's eyes that seemed to bear out what his comrade suggested. It had been there for only a moment, which he felt might have been fateful to both of them, and he knew that it was beyond his power to analyze all the qualities that the look had suggested. It had, however, hinted at a courage sufficient to set at defiance conventions and the opinions of her friends, and at the capacity to make a costly sacrifice.

"You seem sure of that?"

"Well," said Grenfell, reflectively, "I think I am. You see in one or two respects I'm like Miss Stirling."

"You like Miss Stirling!"

There was an indignant protest in Weston's voice which brought a twinkle into Grenfell's watery eyes.

"Just so," he said. "When I know what I want the most, I set about getting it. I guess that's sense-sense that's way beyond prudence. What one wants is, in a general way, what one likes, which is a very different thing from what's good for one. It's very seldom that one finds the latter nice. Get these distinctions?"

"I can't see the drift of them," said Weston, impatiently.

"It may strike you as we proceed. If you stop to consider whether it's judicious to reach out for the thing you want, you generally end by not getting it or anything else. Isn't it better to clutch with courage, even if you have to face the cost?"

"I'm not sure," said Weston, dryly. "Is it quite impossible to like a thing it is desirable that you should have?"

"One doesn't often like it," explained Grenfell, with a grin. "Even when one does, the same principle applies. As a rule, one can't get it without a sacrifice."

"That's the principle you acted on?"

Grenfell spread out his hands.

"I guess it is," he said. "In my case the thing I wanted wasn't good for me. I had to choose between my profession and whisky, and I did. Anyway, I've had the whisky."

Weston sat thoughtfully silent a minute or two. It seemed to him that while the result of the course his comrade advocated might well prove to be disastrous, as it had certainly done in his particular case, there was a warranty for it. If it were true that practically nothing could be obtained without cost, it was clear that the excess of prudence which shrank from incurring the latter could lead only to aridity of life. The thoughtless courage which snatched at what was offered seemed a much more fruitful thing, though one might afterward bear the smart as well as enjoy the sweet. To accomplish or obtain anything one must at least face a risk. He remembered how, when he clung hesitating to the slippery rock, Ida Stirling had bidden him jump. He was, however, not a moralist, but a man with a simple code which, a few hours ago, had proved singularly difficult to adhere to. He had then seen something in Ida Stirling's eyes that set his nerves tingling, but he could not take advantage of the momentary reaction of relief at his escape. He wondered, though, why Grenfell had spoken as he had, until the latter turned to him again.

"You mentioned that you nearly pulled Miss Stirling in when she held out that rod," he said. "You didn't notice that she showed any signs of letting it go?"

"I don't think she did."

"You don't think so!" laughed Grenfell. "That girl would have gone right down the fall before she let you go. She's the kind that sees things through. I wonder whether she said anything in particular afterward?"

Weston's face hardened as he looked at him out of half-closed eyes.

"She did not. What makes you suggest it?"

"Well," said Grenfell, reflectively, "she's flesh and blood like the rest of us. She's also a girl with courage enough not to hesitate. I'm not sure"-and he spread out his hands-"that I couldn't have made better use of your opportunities."

Weston said nothing, though he was hot with anger; and just then Kinnaird, who appeared in the lighted doorway of the house, moved in their direction. He stopped close beside them.

"I think I would better tell you now that we have decided to leave this place early next week," he said. "You can see about getting the surplus stores and some of the baggage down the lake to-morrow."

Weston fancied that he looked at him rather hard; but, though the unexpected news had filled him with dismay, he sat very still until Kinnaird, who said nothing further, turned away. Then Grenfell looked up with a smile.

"The major," he said, "has perhaps had sufficient fishing, or his precipitation may be due to the fact that Mrs. Kinnaird is not in some respects a friend of yours. I'm rather surprised that Miss Stirling, who must have known it, mentioned the other little matter. Anyway, as you may feel inclined to point out, that's not my business. The question is what we're going to do now."

"Look again for that mine of yours," said Weston, quietly.

Grenfell made a little sign of comprehension.

"Well," he said, "we'll go. What's more, I know that one of us is going to locate that quartz some day."

He spoke as with conviction, and then, lighting his pipe, slowly strolled away; but Weston sat beside the sinking fire for another hour or so. It was clear to him that he must find Grenfell's lost mine.

It was two days later when he next had any speech with Ida Stirling, and then, though he did not know that Mrs. Kinnaird had done her utmost to prevent it, they were crossing the lake alone in the sailboat. The boat was running smoothly before a little favoring breeze, and Ida sat at the tiller, looking out upon the shining water. They had not spoken since they left the beach, but by and by she turned toward Weston.

"I am glad it is so fine an evening since it's scarcely likely that I shall have another sail," she said. "We have decided to leave early on Monday."

Weston nodded. It was the first time she had mentioned their departure to him, and he recognized that unless he were cautious it might prove a dangerous subject.

"You are going to Montreal?" he inquired.

"In the first place. However, we are going to England in a week or two."

Though he was on his guard, she saw him start, but he stooped and coiled up one of the halyards before he answered her.

"You will, of course, be there some time?"

"Six months at least, perhaps longer."

She watched him quietly, but he sat very still with the rope in his hand.

"Well," he said, "I think you will like it. You will be in London, I suppose?"

Ida felt vaguely sorry for him. Though he had said it was scarcely probable that he would go back to it, she knew that he had not forgotten the land from which he was exiled. Indeed, a certain wistfulness in his eyes suggested that he still thought of it with the exile's usual tenderness. She was going to take her place in the world to which she felt reasonably certain he had once belong

ed, while he swung the ax or plied the shovel beside some western railroad track; though she did not mean for him to do the latter if she could help it, of which, however, she was far from sure.

"Yes," she said. "Still we shall spend some time at the house in the north of England you once heard Major Kinnaird mention."

There was no doubt that this shot had reached its mark, for she saw his little abrupt movement. Then he turned toward her fully, which he had not done for the last minute or two.

"Miss Stirling," he said, with a faint flush in his face, "I am going to ask you a rather curious thing. If you meet any of the people about there, I should rather you did not mention my name, though, of course, it is scarcely likely that you would find any reason to do so."

He broke off, and hesitated a moment.

"You see, I know the place."

"Ah," said Ida, with no sign of surprise. "What were you doing there?"

The man smiled rather bitterly.

"I was something similar to head gamekeeper. It wasn't an occupation I cared much about."

"You got tired of it?"

"Anyway, that wasn't why I gave it up. I was turned out. Fired, they call it in this country."

Ida for a moment was almost angry with him. She felt, simply because he had said it, that this must be correct as far as it went, but she was equally sure that he could have gone a good deal further. She was, of course, aware that there were a good many men in Canada whose absence from the old country was not regretted by their friends, and she was a little hurt that he did not seem to shrink from the possibility of her setting him down as one of them. She could not know that he was in a very bitter mood just then.

"Well," she said, "as you say, it is not likely that I shall have any occasion to mention you, and I certainly won't do it casually. You must, however, be content with that."

"Yes," said Weston. "After all, it really doesn't matter very much anyway."

Ida let the matter drop, for she had something else to say, and it had been in her mind rather often lately.

"When we leave here you will be without an occupation, won't you?" she asked; and then proceeded somewhat hastily without waiting for him to answer. "Now, you have done a good deal to make the time pass pleasantly both here and in British Columbia."

"It did pass pleasantly?"

The question was suggestively abrupt, and Ida saw that, as happened now and then, the man was for the moment off his guard. This, however, did not displease her.

"Of course," she said. "For that matter it couldn't have been very burdensome to you."

Weston laughed in a rather curious fashion, and she saw the blood creep into his face.

"I'm glad you have enjoyed it," he said. "It seems unfortunately certain that I shall not have another time like this."

Ida was aware, of course, that the real man had spoken then, but in another moment he once more, as she sometimes described it to herself, drew back into his shell.

"I interrupted what you were going to say," he observed, with a deprecatory gesture.

"It's very simple," said the girl. "If my father or any one else makes you an offer, I should like you to take it. In one sense, chopping trees and shoveling gravel on the track leads to nothing."

The flush Ida had already noticed grew a little plainer in the man's face, but he smiled.

"I'm afraid I can't promise to do that," he said. "You see," and he seemed to search for words, "there is a good deal of the vagabond in me. I never could stand the cities, and that ought to be comprehensible to you when you have seen the wilderness."

"In summer," said the girl dryly. "Isn't it very different during the rest of the year?"

"Oh," declared Weston, "it's always good in the bush, even when the pines are gleaming spires of white, and you haul the great logs out with the plodding oxen over the down-trodden snow. There is nothing the cities can give one to compare with the warmth of the log shack at night when you lie, aching a little, about the stove, telling stories with the boys, while the shingles snap and crackle under the frost. Perhaps it's finer still to stand by with the peevie, while the great trunks go crashing down the rapids with the freshets of the spring; and then there's the still, hot summer, when the morning air's like wine, and you can hear the clink-clink of the drills through the sound of running water in the honey-scented shade, and watch the new wagon road wind on into the pines. You have seen the big white peaks gleam against the creeping night."

It was evident that he was endeavoring to find cause for contentment with the life before him, but Ida fancied that he wished to avoid the question she had raised.

"You forget to mention the raw hands and the galled shoulders, as well as the snow-slush and the rain. However, that's not quite the point. As I said, all that leads to nothing. Are you too proud to take a trifling favor because it comes through me?"

Weston met her gaze, and there was a grave forcefulness in his manner which almost astonished her. He evidently for once had suffered his usual self-restraint to relax, and she felt it was almost a pity that he had not done so more frequently.

"Miss Stirling," he said, "you are, as it happens, one of the few people from whom I could not take a favor of that kind."

She understood him, and for a moment a flicker of color crept into her cheek. It was, she felt, a clean pride that had impelled him to the speech. There were, she admitted, no benefits within her command that she would not gladly have thrust upon him; but, for all that, she would not have had him quietly acquiesce in them. Perhaps she was singular in this, but her forebears had laid the foundations of a new land's future with ax and drill, clearing forest and breaking prairie with stubborn valor and toil incredible. They had flung their wagon roads over thundering rivers and grappled with stubborn rock, and among them the soft-handed man who sought advancement through a woman's favor was, as a rule, regarded with quiet scorn. She said nothing, however, and it was a few moments before Weston looked at her again.

"Anyway," he said, "I couldn't do what you suggest. I am going back into the ranges with Grenfell to look for the mine."

"Ah," said Ida, "you haven't given up that notion yet?"

The man smiled grimly.

"I am keener about it than ever. Perhaps it's somewhat curious, but I seem certain that we shall strike that quartz lead one of these days."

Ida was glad to let the conversation take this new turn, for she understood his eagerness now, and she had felt that they were skirting a crisis each time she had talked with him of late. She had the courage to make a sacrifice, and, indeed, had the occasion arisen, would probably have considered none too costly; but it seemed due to him as well as to her that he should at least make some strenuous effort to pull down the barriers between them.

"Well," she said quietly, "it is very curious that you discovered no trace of it. You said you found Grenfell's partner lying dead upon the range, and, as their provisions were running out when he left the lake, he could not have gone very far. Was it a big lake?"

"It couldn't have been. Grenfell said he walked round it in a couple of hours."

Ida looked thoughtful.

"Still, when you had the spot where you came upon Verneille to work from, you should have seen it from one of the spurs of the range."

"Yes," admitted Weston, "that seems reasonably evident, though we certainly saw no sign of it." He broke off and laughed. "The whole thing sounds crazy, doesn't it? Still, as I said, I believe we are going to be successful."

He turned away and busied himself with some of the gear; and neither of them said anything further until they ran into the bay before the house. Three or four days later Weston conveyed the party down the lake to the carriage that was waiting to take them to the station; and Ida laid her hand in his for only a moment before she drove away.

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