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   Chapter 18 WESTON’S ADVOCATE

The Gold Trail By Harold Bindloss Characters: 19436

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


A week had passed when Weston, who apparently had some business with Kinnaird, drove over to Scarthwaite again. This time he brought a daughter, who, it appeared, lived for the most part with some more prosperous members of the family. Arriving a little before lunch, they remained until the evening. As it happened, Miss Weston displayed what she evidently considered a kindly interest in Ida, and graciously patronized her as a stranger and a Colonial, who was necessarily ignorant of a good many of the little amenities of life in the old country.

Her intentions were no doubt laudable, but the methods she adopted to set the stranger at her ease were not those most likely to endear the insular English to their cousins across the Atlantic. Ida, to begin with, had not only a spice of temper but also no great reverence for forms and formulas, and the people that she was accustomed to meeting were those who had set their mark upon wide belts of forest and long leagues of prairie. At first she was quietly amused by the patronage of a woman whose right to bestow it consisted apparently in an acquaintance with English people of station, and some proficiency at bridge; but by and by her condescension grew wearisome, and finally exasperating. Miss Weston, however, could not have been expected to recognize this. She was a tall, pale woman, with a coldly formal manner and some taste in dress.

There were several other guests in the house, and the party spent most of the hot afternoon about the tennis net and lounging under the shadow of a big copper beech on the lawn. Once when Miss Weston left her to play in a set at tennis, Arabella Kinnaird leaned over the back of Ida's chair.

"You seem to have made rather a favorable impression upon Julia Weston, and, as a rule, she's unapproachable," she said, with a mischievous smile.

Ida's eyebrows straightened, which, to those acquainted with her, was a rather ominous sign.

"Won't you keep that woman away from me?" she begged. "I don't want to be rude, but if I see very much more of her, I may not be able to help it. In one way, I'm sorry I met her. You're not all like that."

"Well," said Arabella, "perhaps it is a pity. There really are some of us to whom you could talk without having your pet illusions about the old country shattered. In fact, I can think of one or two women about here who would strengthen them. Can't you, Mr. Ainslie?"

Ainslie, who was standing near them, smiled.

"Oh, yes," he said. "Unfortunately, however, they are, as a rule, retiring. It's the other kind that is usually in evidence. Do you feel very badly disappointed with us, Miss Stirling?"

"No," replied Ida, with a thoughtfulness which brought the smile more plainly into his eyes. "In fact, I want to think well of you. It's a thing we wouldn't quite admit, but at bottom I believe we all do."

Then she turned to Arabella.

"By the way, what has become of Mr. Weston?"

"He is shut up with my father in the library; and there are reasons for supposing that his business requires the consumption of a considerable quantity of soda and whisky. The major, I am afraid, will be a trifle difficult to get on with this evening. As a matter of fact, he isn't used to it, though he was, one understands, rather popular at the mess table. That's a trifle significant, considering what is said about us, isn't it, Mr. Ainslie?"

"Ah," said Ainslie, "we're a maligned people; and the pity of it is that it's our own people who give us away. You don't believe in doing that in the Colonies?"

"No," laughed Ida, "we are rather fond of making it clear that we are quite above the average as a people. However, it's excusable, perhaps, for, after all, there's a germ of truth in it. I think Miss Kinnaird will agree with that."

Arabella leaned a little farther over her chair.

"I'll leave you to talk it out with Mr. Ainslie. But there's another matter. Does Miss Weston recall to you anybody we have met?"

"No," said Ida, with a somewhat incautious decisiveness. "If you mean our camp-packer, she certainly does not."

Arabella understood this to mean that any comparison of the kind suggested would be derogatory to the packer, which was somewhat significant.

"Well," she said, "there is at least a physical resemblance, and though I haven't probed the matter very deeply, yet I've not abandoned it."

Then she laughed and turned to Ainslie.

"You and Miss Stirling can thrash out the question."

She strolled away, and Ainslie watched Ida, whose eyes were following Miss Weston at the tennis net.

"Yes," he remarked, "we play these games rather well; and, after all, is there any reason why we shouldn't? There are a good many people in this country who don't consider them as of the first importance."

"Oh," said Ida, "I'm really not looking for faults. Why should you suspect me of such an unpleasant attitude?"

"Well," observed her companion reflectively, "I can't help thinking that we now and then give our visitors wrong impressions by showing them the wrong things. Personally, I should recommend an inspection of our mines and mills and factories. Besides, one has rather a fancy that some of our young men, who were brought up, we'll say, to play tennis well, have shown that they can do rather more than that in western Canada."

Ida's eyes softened a little as she recalled a weary, gray-faced man limping back up the hillside one eventful morning; but the turn that the conversation had taken had its effect on her, and that effect was to have its result. Like others born in the newer lands, she believed first of all in practical efficiency, and she had learned during journeys made with her father that the man with few wants and many abilities, or indeed the man with only one of the latter strenuously applied to a useful purpose, is the type in most favor in western Canada. Graces do not count for much in the west, nor does the assumption of ability carry a man as far as it sometimes does in older communities. As Stirling had once said, when they want a chopper in that country they make him chop, and facility in posing is of very little service when one is called on to grapple with virgin forest or stubborn rock.

Young as Ida was, she had a grip of essential things, and a dislike of shams. It generally happened, too, that, when she felt strongly on any subject, she sooner or later expressed her thoughts in forcible words; and before that afternoon was over she and Arabella Kinnaird between them disturbed the composure of more than one of Mrs. Kinnaird's guests.

Tea was being laid out on a little table beneath the beech when Weston strolled across the lawn. He was redder in face than when Ida had last seen him, and a trifle heavier of expression. Pushing unceremoniously past two of the women, he dropped into a basket-chair, which bent under him, and glanced around at the others with coldly, assertive eyes. Ida, watching him, became conscious of a sense of repulsion and indignation. This arrogant, indulgent, useless man had, it seemed, not the manners of a western ranch-hand. He accepted a cup of tea from Mrs. Kinnaird with an ungraciousness which aroused Ida to downright anger; and shortly afterward he contrived to spill a quantity of the liquid upon Arabella's dress, for which he offered no excuses, though he blamed the narrow-bottomed cup. Then some one, who of course could not foresee the result, asked Arabella if she would show them some of her Canadian sketches.

Miss Kinnaird made no objection, and when, soon after the tea was cleared away, the easel she sent for had been set up in the shadow of the beech, she displayed on it several small canvases and water-color drawings. There were vistas of snow mountains, stretches of frothing rivers, and colonnades of towering firs, until at last she laid a canvas on the easel.

"This," she said, "is, I think, the best figure drawing I ever did."

Ida, leaning forward in her chair, felt the blood creep into her face. There was no doubt that the sketch was striking. It showed a man standing tensely poised, with a big, glinting ax in his hand. He was lean and lithely muscular, and his face was brown and very grim; but the artist had succeeded in fixing in its expression the elusive but recognizable something which is born of restraint, clean living, and arduous physical toil. It is to be seen in the eyes of those who, living in Spartan simplicity, make long marches with the dog-sledges in the Arctic frost, drive the logs down roaring rivers, or toil sixteen hours daily under a blazing sun in the western harvest field. In all probability it was as plainly stamped on the honest countenance of many an unconsidered English Tommy who plodded doggedly forward with the relief columns across the dusty veldt. Drivers of great expresses, miners, quarrymen, now and then wear that look. Springing, as it does, not from strength of body, but from the subjugation of the latter and all fleshy shrinking and weariness, it links man with the greatness of the unseen.

There was only the one figure silhouetted against long rows of dusky pines, but the meaning of the way in which the hard, scarred hands were clenched on the big ax was very plain, and Ida could fill in from memory the form of the big chopper and the clusters of expectant men.

"Excellent!" said one of the guests. "That fellow means to fight. He's in hard training, too, and that has now and then a much bigger effect than the toughening of his muscles upon the man who submits himself to it. Is it a portrait or a type?"

The speaker was from the metropolis, and while Arabella hesitated, Ida answered him with a sugge

stive ring in her voice.

"It's both, one should like to think," she said. "The man came from England; and if you can send us out more of that type we shall be satisfied."

Then she and the questioner became conscious of the awkward silence that had fallen upon the rest. They belonged to the dales, and they glanced covertly at Weston, who was gazing at the picture, purple in face, and with a very hard look in his eyes. Ida guessed that it was the scarred workman's hands and the track-grader's old blue shirt and tattered duck that had hurt his very curious pride. Still, it was evident that he could face the situation.

"Yes," he said, a trifle hoarsely, "it's a portrait-an excellent one. In fact, as some of you are quite aware, it's my son."

He rose, and crossing a strip of lawn sat down heavily near Ida. The latter, looking around, saw Arabella's satisfied smile suddenly subside; but the next moment Weston, leaning forward, laid his hand roughly on her arm.

"Why Clarence permitted that portrait to be painted I don't quite understand, though he was fond of flying in the face of all ideas of decency," he said. "You must have met him out yonder. What was he doing?"

"Shoveling gravel on a railroad that my father was grading," said Ida, with rather grim amusement, for she was determined that the man should face the plain reality, even if it hurt him.

"Shoveling gravel!" said Weston. "But he is my son."

"I'm afraid that doesn't count out yonder. In any case, he's in one sense in reasonably good company. Did you send your son to Sandhurst or an English university?"

"I didn't," said the man, gazing at her with hot, confused anger in his eyes. "For one thing, he hadn't brains enough, and, for another, there were too many charges on the property. What do you mean by good company?"

"Just a moment before I answer. Why did you turn him out?"

"That does not describe it. He went. We had a difference of opinion. He would hear no reason."

"Exactly," said Miss Weston, who now appeared close by. "Since you seem to have heard a little about the matter, I feel I must say that my brother deliberately left us at a time when his father had expected him to be of service to him."

Ida did not know whether the others could hear what was being said, as there was a strip of lawn between them and where she sat, but she felt that it did not greatly matter. She had no pity for this man or his daughter, who preferred to malign the absent rather than to admit an unpleasant fact. She would strip them of any solace they might find in shams, after which there was a little more to be said.

"The difference of opinion was, I believe, decided with a riding-crop," she said. "Still, that is a side issue, and I will tell you what I meant by good company. We have quite a few of your graduates out yonder laying railroad ties, as well as lawyers who have got into trouble over trust money, and army men who couldn't meet their turf debts or were a little too smart at cards. Some of them are of unexceptionable family-at least from your point of view. As a rule, they sleep packed like cattle in reeking redwood shacks, and either dress in rags or mend their own clothes. Among their companions are ranchers who can't live all the year on the produce of their half-cleared land, absconders from half the Pacific Slope cities, and runaway sailormen. The task set before them every morning would kill most of you."

Weston, who had winced once or twice, glanced apprehensively toward the rest. They were sitting very still, and their appearance suggested that, whether warrantable or not, they were listening.

"His insane folly has brought him down to that?" he asked.

Ida straightened herself a little, with a sparkle in her eyes.

"I don't think there has been any very great descent," she went on. "You must try to realize that those men are not wastrels now, however they may have lived in England, Montreal, or the cities down Puget Sound. They're rending new roads through the mountains to let in progress and civilization, and making fast the foundations of the future greatness of a wide and prosperous land. Already, because of what they and their kind have done, you can travel through it without seeing a ragged, slatternly woman, or a broken-down, desperate man. Besides, many of them, and certainly most of the small bush ranchers, lead lives characterized by the old heroic virtues that seem to have gone out of fashion in the cities, though you'll find some of them held up for emulation in the Pauline epistles."

Weston gazed at her in blank astonishment. She made a little, half-contemptuous gesture.

"You can't understand that? Well, one really couldn't expect you to. You have never starved your body, or forced it day after day to a task that was crushing you. Those men work in icy water, keep the trail with bleeding feet, and sleep in melting snow. They bear these things cheerfully, and I think there are no men on this earth who can match their wide charity. The free companions never turn away the ragged stranger. What is theirs is his, from the choicest of their provisions to the softest spruce-twig bed."

She laughed, and then continued:

"That's in a general way. To be particular, I'll try to tell you what Clarence Weston has done. It's worth hearing."

She had spoken more clearly the last few moments, and it became evident at length that she had secured the attention of everybody. With an impulsive gesture she invited them all to listen.

"I'll tell you what that picture leaves out," she said. "There was an old man in the railroad camp, played-out and useless. The boys were handling him roughly because he'd spoiled their supper rather often, when Clarence Weston stepped in. The old man, you must understand, hadn't a shadow of a claim on him. Now, those are not nice men to make trouble with when they have a genuine grievance, and there were three or four of them quite ready to lay hands on Weston, while there was nobody who sympathized with him. He stood facing them, one man against an angry crowd, and held them off from the stranger who had no claim on him. Have you heard of anything finer?

"Again, when Arabella lamed herself up on a great snow range-he'd carried our food and blankets since sunrise-he went down to bring help in the darkness, through the timber and along the edge of horrible crags. The man had badly cut his foot, and the wound opened on the march, but when he made the camp, almost too weary to crawl, he went back right away, so that the Indians he took up might get there a little quicker."

She broke off for a moment, with a flush in her face and a curious little laugh.

"Now," she said, "I think I've made the thing quite plain, and I'm glad I did."

There was an expressive silence for a moment or two, and then Major Kinnaird looked at the others.

"I know nothing about the first incident, but I think that Miss Stirling could have gone a little further when she described the last one," he said. "My daughter, who was badly injured, would probably have been left another day on the range, without food or any attention, if it had not been for the courage and endurance the man displayed. I wish to say, however, that I had no idea he was any connection of Mr. Weston's until this moment."

Ida's heart warmed toward Kinnaird. Reserved and formal as he was, the man could be honest, and it was evident that his few quiet words had made almost as deep an impression as the outbreak to which she had been impelled. There was another rather awkward silence; and then Weston, who seemed to have forgotten the others, made a little abrupt movement.

"What had my son to do with you?" he asked.

The question was flung at Kinnaird, but Ida saw that it was a relief to him when she answered it.

"My father hired him. He was our camp-packer, the man who set up the tents, made the fires, and poled the canoes," she said.

Weston stood up and, looking hard at Kinnaird, straightened himself. His face was an unpleasant red, and there was badly-suppressed anger in his eyes.

"Time is getting on, and we have rather a long drive," he said. "I may ask Miss Stirling's leave to call on her later. In the meanwhile, if Mrs. Kinnaird will excuse us--"

His hostess made no attempt to keep him; and, as he moved away, his daughter stopped for a moment beside Ida's chair.

"I don't know whether what you have done was excusable or not, but you have, at least, succeeded in making the breach between Clarence and his father wider than ever," she said. "That was probably what you intended?"

Ida was momentarily puzzled.

"Intended?" she said. "If either of you had done your brother justice, I don't think I should have mentioned him at all."

Miss Weston smiled scornfully and moved away, but the blood crept into the face of the girl she left. That she had outraged these people's sense of their importance she felt reasonably sure, and their resentment, which she admitted was, perhaps, more or less warranted, did not trouble her, but the drift of Miss Weston's last observation filled her with anger. They evidently regarded her as a raw Colonial, endued with no sense of what was fitting, who could not expect to be countenanced by an insolvent land-owning family. This was amusing; but the suggestion that she recognized the fact, and because of it had endeavored to alienate Clarence Weston from his relatives, who had apparently been very glad to get rid of him, was a very different matter. However, she recovered her composure with an effort, and succeeded in taking a part in the general conversation which broke out when Weston drove away.

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