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Though he was born and died in England, Harold Bindloss spent much of his youth traveling the world, and he was particularly enamored of the forests of Canada, where he would later set many of his Western novels. In Alton of Somasco, small-time logger Harry Alton has big plans for his land -- and the ambitions and smarts to make his dream a reality. But when a conniving British businessman shows up with some startling news, Alton's livelihood is suddenly at risk. Harold Edward Bindloss (1866 – December 30, 1945) was an English novelist who wrote many adventure novels set in western Canada. Bindloss was born in Liverpool in 1866. According to his New York Times obituary: Mr Bindloss was more than 30 years old before he began writing. Previously he had roamed the world, farming in Canada and working in southern climes as a cargo heaver, a planter, and at other jobs. Broken by malaria he returned to England forty-five years ago and took up office work. But he lost his job when his health broke down and turned to writing in which he found his true vocation. He published some forty novels between the years 1902 and 1943. Many of his books had their locale in Canada. He returned to London. In 1898, he published his first book, a non-fiction account based on his travels in Africa, called In the Niger Country. This was followed by dozens of novels. Bindloss died in Carlisle, England.
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ALTON OF SOMASCO
Copyright © 2018 by Harold Bindloss.
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations em- bodied in critical articles or reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organiza- tions, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Sheba Blake Publishing
Book and Cover design by Sheba Blake Publishing
First Edition: May 2018
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE FIRST ENCOUNTER
It was snowing slowly and persistently, as it had done all day, when Henry Alton of Somasco ranch stood struggling with a half-tamed Cayuse pony in a British Columbian settlement. The Cayuse had laid its ears back, and was describing a circle round him, scattering mud and snow, while the man who gripped the bridle in a lean, brown hand watched it without impatience, admiringly.
"Game!" he said. "I like them that way. Still, it isn't every man could seize a pack on him, and you'll have to let up three dollars on the price you asked me."
Now three dollars is a considerable proportion of the value of an Indian pony fresh from the northern grass lands, with the devil that lurks in most of his race still unsubdued within him, but the rancher who owned him did not immediately reject the offer. Possibly he was not especially anxious to keep the beast.
"Oh, yes," said a bystander. "He's game enough, and I'd ask the boys to my funeral if I meant to drive him at night over the lake trail. After being most kicked into wood-pulp Carter hasn't any more use for him, and I'll lay you a dollar, Alton, you and your partner can't put the pack on him."
Perhaps the Cayuse was tired, or desirous of watching for an opportunity, for it came to a standstill, snorting, with its wicked eyes upon the man, who laughed a little and shoved back the broad hat from his forehead as he straightened himself. The laugh rang pleasantly, and the faint twinkle in Alton's eyes was in keeping with it. They were grey, and steady when the light sank out of them, and the rest of the bronzed face was shrewd and quietly masterful. He wore a deerskin jacket fancifully embroidered, blue canvas overalls, and gum boots to the knee, while, though all of them needed repair, the attire was picturesque, and showed its wearer's lean symmetry. The man's age was apparently twenty-five, and eight years' use of the axe had set a stamp of springy suppleness upon him. He had also wrested rather more than a livelihood from the Canadian forest during them.
All round him the loghouses rose in all their unadorned dinginess beneath the sombre pines, and the largest of them bore a straggling legend announcing that it was Horton's store and hotel. A mixed company of bush ranchers, free prospectors, axemen, and miners lounged outside it in picturesque disarray, and high above rose a dim white line of never-melting snow.
"Well," said Alton, "it's time this circus was over, anyway, and if Carter will take my bid I'll clinch that deal with you. Have the pack and seizings handy, Charley."
The rancher nodded, and Alton got a tighter grip on the bridle. Then the Cayuse rose upright with fore-hoofs lifted, and the man's arm was drawn back to strike. The hoofs came down harmlessly, but the fist got home, and for a moment or two there was a swaying and plunging of man and beast amidst the hurled-up snow. Then the Cayuse was borne backwards until the vicinity of the hotel verandah left no room for kicking, and another man hastily flung a rope round the bundles he piled upon its back. He was also tolerably capable, and in another minute the struggle was over. The Cayuse's attitude expressed indignant astonishment, while Alton stood up breathless, with his knuckles bleeding.
"I'll trouble you for that dollar, and I'll keep him now," he said. "Can you wait until I come down next week, Carter?"
"Oh, yes," said the rancher. "Your promise is good enough for a year or two."
The speaker was a sinewy bushman in curiously patched overalls with a bronzed and honest face, and he turned aside with a little gesture of dislike, when a man of a very different stamp pushed by him. The latter wore a black felt hat and a great fur-lined coat, while his face was pale and fleshy and his eyes were cunning. His appearance suggested prosperity and a life of indulgence in the cities, and when he stopped in front of Alton the latter would have lost little by any comparison between the pair. The pose of his sinewy figure and the clear brownness of his skin spoke of arduous labour, sound sleep, and the vigour that comes from a healthful occupation. The steady directness of his gaze and quiet immobility of his face also conveyed an indefinite suggestion of power and endurance, and there was a curious grace in his movements when he turned courteously towards the stranger.
"You soon fixed him, packer," said the city man.
Alton laughed. "The boys mostly call me rancher," said he. "Still, it don't count for much, and I do some packing occasionally."
"That's all right," said the stranger sharply, for there was something in Alton's answer which made him inclined to assert his dignity. "Everybody seems to be a rancher hereaway, and you mayn't be too proud to put through a job for me."
Alton nodded, and glanced at the speaker questioningly.
"No. If it would fit in," he said.
"I'm Hallam," said the other man. "Hallam and Vose, of the Tyee mineral claim. They've been fooling things up yonder, big pump's given out, and I've a few hundred pounds of engine fixings back at the railroad I want brought in by to-morrow."
Alton glanced at the pack-beasts waiting unloaded outside the store, and shook his head. "I'm sorry I can't trade with you," he said. "You see, I've promised another man to pack up some stores for him."
Hallam made a gesture of impatience. "Then you can let him wait," he said. "This deal will pay you better. You can put your own price on it."
Alton's eyelids came down a little, and the stranger seemed to find his glance disconcerting. "You don't seem to understand. I promised the other man to bring up his things," he said.
"Well," said Hallam, "come along into the shanty yonder, and have a drink with me. We may fix up some way of getting over the difficulty."
"Sorry!" said Alton with a suspicious quietness. "I don't drink much, anyway, and then only with the boys who know me."
"Hey!" said Hallam. "You are talking like a condemned Englishman."
"I can't help that," said Alton. "I am a Canadian, but if you want another reason, it wouldn't suit me to drink with you, anyway. You see, you didn't do the square thing with one or two friends of mine who worked on the Tyee."
He turned on his heel, and Hallam, who was a man of some importance in the cities, gasped with astonishment and indignation.
"What is that fellow?" he said.
The man laughed, and answered him in the bushman's slowest drawl. "You don't know much, or you wouldn't ask," said he. "He's Alton of Somasco, but if he lives long enough he will be one of the biggest men in this country."
Hallam said nothing, but there was a curious look in his face which puzzled the rancher. It suggested that he had heard of Alton, and something more.
Meanwhile Alton entered the store, where the man who kept it pointed to a litter of packages strewn about the floor and sundry bags upon the counter.
"That's Townshead's lot, and those are Thomson's things," he said, and turned aside to listen to a rancher who came in smiling.
Alton took up a big cotton bag marked Townshead, tossed it aloft and caught it, and then shook his head dubiously. "That's rather too light for ten pounds. You want to try her on the scales again," he said.
The storekeeper, who was also a magistrate, grinned good-humouredly. "It's good enough for the money, anyway," said he. "But what's the matter with the Tyee dollars, Harry, that you wouldn't do Hallam's packing?"
Alton glanced at him gravely. "I think not," said he. "Put another pound or two into her, and I'll pay you on your invoice for the last lot you sent me. Otherwise I'm going to whittle down that bill considerably. You see Townshead is too shaky to come down, and he can't live on nothing."
"And the Lord knows when he'll pay you," said the storekeeper. "It's a good twelve months since he sent a dollar to me."
Alton laughed a little. "I can wait," he said. "Fill that bag up again. Get hold of the truck, Charley."
Charles Seaforth, who was apparently younger, and certainly a trifle more fastidious about his attire than his comrade, shouldered a flour bag, and twenty minutes later he and Alton tramped out of the settlement with three loaded beasts splashing and floundering in front of them. It was almost dark now, though a line of snow still glimmered white and cold high up beyond the trees until the trail plunged into the blackness of the forest. Then the lights of the settlement were blotted out behind them, the hum of voices ceased, and they were alone in the primeval silence of the bush. The thud and splash of tired hoofs only served to emphasize it, the thin jingle of steel or creak of pack-rope was swallowed up and lost, for the great dim forest seemed to mock at anything man could do to disturb its pristine serenity. It had shrouded all that valley, where no biting gale ever blew, from the beginning, majestic in its solitary grandeur and eternally green. Pine and hemlock, balsam and cedar, had followed in due succession others that had grown to the fulness of their stature only in centuries, and their healing essence, which brings sound sleep to man's jaded body and tranquillity to his mind, had doubtless risen like incense when all was made very good.
Now Alton loved the wilderness, partly because he had been born in it, and because he had a large share of the spirit of his race. He had also seen the cities, and they did not greatly please him, though he had watched their inhabitants curiously and been taught a good deal about them by what he read in books, which to the wonder of his associates he would spend hardly-earned dollars upon. It was more curious that he understood all he read, and sometimes more than the writer apparently did, for Alton was not only the son of a clever man, but had seen Nature in her primitive nakedness and the human passions that usually lie beneath the surface, for man reverts a little and the veneer of his civilization wears through in the silent bush.
Thus he plodded on contentedly on his twelve-mile march, with the snow and the mire beneath it reaching now and then to his knee, until his companion stopped beside a little bark shanty and lighted a lantern.
"Thomson's dumping-place already," he said, pulling a burst cotton bag out of the sack of sundries upon the Cayuse pony's back. "Some of it has got out, and Jimmy was always particular about the weight of his sugar. Well, the rest of it must be in the bottom somewhere, and if you'll hold the sack up I'll shake it into my hat."
Alton's hat was capacious, and he had worn it during the two years which had elapsed since his last visit to Vancouver, but it did not seem to occur to him that it was in any way an unusual receptacle for sugar. His companion, however, laughed a little as he stirred the sticky mass round with his wet fingers.
"There is no use giving him our tobacco and matches in," said he. "Here are the letters Mrs. Neilson gave me at the post-office, too."
Alton took the letters, and his face grew a trifle grim under the flickering light of the lantern as he thrust them crumpled into his pocket. "From England, and they will keep," he said. "There's nobody I'm anxious to hear from in that country. Now we'll go on again, Charley."
The Cayuse, however, objected, and there was a struggle before Alton convinced it that resistance would be useless, while presently the trail grew steeper and the roar of water came out of the darkness before them.
"This," said Alton gravely, "is a great country, but it's mighty unfinished yet, and it kind of hurts me to see all that power wasted."
"Wasted?" said Seaforth, smiling. "Don't the salmon swim in it, and the bear and deer come down to drink?"
"Oh, yes," said Alton. "And sometimes the Siwash wash themselves in it too, but that's not the question. This earth wasn't made for the bear and deer, and they've thousands of poor folks they can't find a use for back there in the old country. Isn't that so, Charley?"
Seaforth, who was a young Englishman of good upbringing, laughed. "I have no reason for doubting it," said he. "In any case, none of my worthy relations had any use for me. Still, I don't see the connection exactly."
"No?" said Alton. "Well, it's simple. We have the gold and silver, and the coal and iron, too, while it don't strike one that these forests were put here just to look pretty."
"The metals you allude to take some trouble in getting out," said Seaforth dryly.
Alton nodded. "Of course," he said. "That's what man got his brains for, and the one difference between a white man and a Siwash is that he's always striking for something better."
Seaforth laughed. "You are trying to get at something, as usual," said he.
"Yes," said Alton gravely. "I generally am. Well, I can see what we don't want of these forests sailing sawn up to China, and this river sprinkled with sawmills and wood-pulp factories. Then I can hear the big dynamoes humming, and the thump of the mine stamps run with the current the men who put them down will get for nothing. What we're wasting round Somasco is going to feed ten thousand people by and by."
"It's a big idea," said Seaforth reflectively. "Still, I don't know that if it were ever put through the place would look any prettier--and the question is, who's going to set the whole thing running?"
"God knows," said Alton gravely. "But somebody will, and if I live long enough I'll make a shot at it. Oh, yes, it's very pretty as it is, but the greatest thing in this world is man, and it was made as it is for him to master."
"You have curious notions for a Canadian bush rancher," said Seaforth. "You are, however, really an Englishman, aren't you?"
"No," said Alton grimly. "My father used to be, but he was too much of my way of thinking and they fired him out of the country. It's a thing I don't like to talk of, Charley, and just now I'm a low-down packer hauling in a pile of truck I'll never get paid for. Steady, come up. There's nothing going to hurt you, Julius Caesar."
The snarling and spitting of a panther came out of the darkness, and it was only by main force Alton dragged the Cayuse past. Then he laughed a little. "It's a pity we didn't bring a rifle along," he said. "Panthers must have been made for something, or they wouldn't be here, but it's a beast a white man has no kind of use for."
It was an hour later, and snowing fast, when they climbed out of the valley and floundered over shale and slippery rock amidst scattered pines to the forking of the trail. One arm of it dipped again, and wound through a deep sheltered hollow to the Somasco ranch, the other ran straight along the hillside to Townshead's dwelling. The hillside was also steep, the beasts were tired, and the trail was very bad. Seaforth glanced at his comrade when they stopped a moment, and saw him dimly, tugging at the Cayuse's bridle, through the snow.
"It's a long way to Townshead's. Still, I think we can make it out," he said.
Alton laughed. "We have got to. There's not generally too much to eat at that house, and they'll want the things," he said.
There was another struggle with the Cayuse, which appeared reluctant to face a treacherous ascent whose slope was somewhat steeper than the pitch of an average roof, but once more Alton conquered, and they dragged the beasts up, and then floundered on doggedly beside them, seeing nothing but a dim pine or two through the snow. Now and then there was a rattle and a rush beneath them, followed by a faint splash, and Seaforth shivered a little, knowing that the shingle they dislodged had plunged into a lonely lake lying far below. Still Alton said nothing, but floundered on, apparently as cheerfully as though he would be well paid for the risk he ran, until he crawled down into the sliding whiteness, when a hide strip burst and some of Townshead's packages were scattered about the face of a precipitous declivity.
Seaforth held his breath a moment as, gripping the bridle of a trembling beast, he watched him until the dim moving figure sank into the snow. He could hear the wash of the unfrozen lake, and knew there was no foothold on the slippery rock which sloped almost sheer to it through the darkness close beneath. Then a voice came up, "Wasn't there a dry goods package of some kind, Charley?"
"There was," shouted Seaforth. "But come up with what you've got, and leave it."
A faint laugh answered him, and through the moaning of the pines he caught the words, "If it's not over the edge here, I'm going to get the thing."
Seaforth said nothing further. He knew his comrade too well, and could picture him clinging by hand and heel as he crawled along the brink of the declivity with the lake below, and gasped from relief when once more a dim whitened object lurched up out of the snow.
"Got them all," said Alton cheerfully. "That last one was just on the edge, and it took some thinking before I could get at it. Still, I guessed it was some kind of dress stuff for the girl, and if we lost it it might be a long while before she got another."
They relashed the packages and went on again, floundering through steadily deepening snow, until once more the roar of water met them as they dipped into a hollow. It grew louder rapidly, and presently Alton pulled the Cayuse up on the brink of a river. It came down frothing out of a haze of sliding snow, tumbling with a hoarse growl about the great dim boulders, whirled and tossed in a white confusion down the wild race of a rapid, and was lost again. How far the other bank was there was nothing to show, for even the scattered pines behind the men were hidden now, and Seaforth stared at the tumult of froth before him very dubiously.
"She's pretty full to-night," he said. "It has got to be attempted, but I'm not quite sure how we're going through."
Alton laughed a little, and brought his hand down on the Cayuse pony's flank. "Well, if you'll come along behind me you will see," said he.
Seaforth was waist-deep next minute, and the water was horribly cold. Then he was washed against a boulder, and fancied that one of the pack-beasts kicked him in its floundering. In any case one knee seemed to grow suddenly useless, but he was not very sure of anything just then, for a burst of spray filled his eyes, and the bottom appeared to slip from under him. He found foothold again in a moment or two, and dimly saw Alton's head and shoulders above the back of a plunging beast, while another was apparently swimming somewhere between them. Then the one Seaforth led stumbled, and they went away down stream together, clawing for a foothold with the shingle slipping under them, until there was a thud as they brought up against another boulder. As he was not sensible of any especially painful blow Seaforth decided that it was the pony which had struck the rock, and had just come to this decision when his feet were swept from under him, and, still clinging to the bridle, he was pressed against the stone while the river frothed and roared about him.
Once more he felt that it was horribly cold, and flung a wet arm about the rock, but the power seemed to go out of him, and he wondered vacantly whether the pony would be able to extricate itself and him. It floundered spasmodically for a while, and then lay still. How long this continued Seaforth did not know, but it was more than twelve hours since he had left Somasco, and he had plodded up and down steep hillsides, over rock and boulder, and through deep mire and snow, most of the time, while there are limits to the domination the will of any man may exercise over his worn-out body.
Seaforth had commenced to realize, still with a curious absence of concern which was possibly the result of cold and fatigue, that as the pony could not help him it might be too late very soon unless he made a vigorous effort to help himself, when he heard a shout, and something came slowly through the sliding whiteness in his direction. Then there was another shout, and when somebody dragged the pony clear of the boulder he held on by the bridle and went floundering waist-deep up stream. The water, however, now sank rapidly, and soon he was clear of it to the knee. Then there was a clatter of hoofs on slippery rock, and he lurched dripping and gasping into the partial shelter of the pines. Somebody smote him on the shoulder, and he heard Alton's voice, "Get hold and hustle. We'll fetch Townshead's in an hour or so."
AT TOWNSHEAD'S RANCH
It was chilly and damp in the log-walled living-room of the Townshead homestead, which stood far up in a lonely valley amidst the scattered pines. The room was also bare and somewhat comfortless, for the land was too poor to furnish its possessor with more than necessities, and Townshead not the man to improve it much. He lay in an old leather chair beside the stove, a slender, grey-haired man with the worn look of one whose burden had been too heavy for him. His face was thin and somewhat haggard, his long, slender hand rather that of an artist than a bush rancher, and his threadbare attire was curiously neat. He wore among other somewhat unusual things an old red velvet jacket, and there was a little cup of black coffee and a single cigar of exceptional quality on the table beside him.
Townshead was, in fact, somewhat of an anachronism in a country whose inhabitants exhibit at least a trace of primitive and wholesome barbarity. One could have fancied him at home among men of leisure and cultivated tastes, but he seemed out of place in a log-built ranch in the snow-wrapped wilderness swept by the bitter wind. Perhaps he realized it, for his voice was querulous as he said, "I wonder if you have forgotten, Nellie, that we were sitting warm and safe in England five years ago tonight."
Nellie Townshead looked up quickly over her sewing from the other side of the stove, and for a moment there was something akin to pain in her eyes. They were clear brown eyes, and it was characteristic that they almost immediately brightened into a smile, for while the girl's face resembled her father's in its refinement, there was courage in it in place of weariness.
"I am afraid I do, though I try not to, and am generally able," she said.
Townshead sighed. "The young are fortunate, for they can forget," he said. "Even that small compensation is, however, denied to me, while the man I called my friend is living in luxury on what was yours and mine. Had it been any one but Charters I might have borne it better, but it was the one man I had faith in who sent us out here to penury."
Townshead was wrong in one respect, for it was the weakness of an over-sensitive temperament which, while friends were ready to help him, had driven him to hide himself in Western Canada when, as the result of unwise speculations, financial disaster overtook him. His daughter, however, did not remind him of this, as some daughters would have done, though she understood it well enough, and a memory out of keeping with the patter of the snow and moaning of the wind rose up before her as she looked into the twinkling stove. She could recall that night five years ago very well, for she had spent most of it amidst lights and music, as fresh and bright herself as the flowers that nestled against her first ball dress. It was a night of triumph and revelation, in which she had first felt the full power of her beauty and her sex, and she had returned with the glamour of it all upon her to find her father sitting with his head in his hands at a table littered with business papers. His face had frightened her, and it had never wholly lost the look she saw upon it then, for Townshead was lacking in fibre, and had found that a fondness for horses and some experience of amateur cattle-breeding on a small and expensive scale was a very poor preparation for the grim reality of ranching in Western Canada.
Presently his daughter brushed the memories from her, and stood, smiling at the man, straight and willowy in her faded cotton dress with a partly finished garment in her hands, which frost and sun had not wholly turned rough and red.
"Your coffee will be getting cold. Shall I put it on the stove?" she said.
Townshead made a little grimace. "One may as well describe things correctly, and that is chickory," he said. "Still, you may warm it if it pleases you, but I might point out that, indifferent as it is, preserved milk which has gone musty does not improve its flavour."
The girl laughed a little, though there was something more pathetic than heartsome in her merriment. "I am afraid we shall have none to-morrow unless Mr. Seaforth gets through," she said. "I suppose you have not a few dollars you could give me, father?"
"No," said Townshead, with somewhat unusual decisiveness; "I have not. You are always asking for dollars. What do you want them for?"
"Mr. Seaforth has packed our stores in for a long while, and we have paid him nothing," said the girl, while a little colour crept into her face.
Townshead made a gesture of weariness. "The young man seems willing to do it out of friendship for us, and I see no reason why we should not allow him, unless he presumes upon the trifling service," he said. "To do him justice, however, he and his comrade have always shown commendable taste."
The girl smiled a little, for considering their relative positions in a country where a man takes his station according to his usefulness the word "presume" appeared incongruous. "Still, I should prefer not to be in their debt," she said.
"Then we will free ourselves of the obligation with the next remittance Jack sends in," said Townshead impatiently.
The girl's face grew troubled. "I am afraid that will not be for some little time," she said. "Poor Jack. You surely remember he is lying ill?"
"It is especially inconvenient just now," said Townshead querulously. "It has also been a sore point with me that a son of mine should hire himself out as a labourer. I am sorry I let him go, the more so because the work upon the ranch is getting too much for me."
Nellie Townshead said nothing, though she sighed as she pictured the young lad, who had been stricken by rheumatic fever as a result of toiling waist-deep in icy, water, lying uncared for in the mining camp amidst the snows of Caribou. She did not, however, remind her father that it was she who had in the meanwhile done most of the indispensable work upon the ranch, and Townshead would not in any case have believed her, for he had a fine capacity for deceiving himself.
In place of it she spread out some masculine garments about the stove and coloured a trifle when her father glanced at her inquiringly. "The creek must be running high and Mr. Alton and his partner will be very wet," she said. "I am warming a few of Jack's old things for them. They cannot go back to Somasco to-night, you know."
"I confess that it did not occur to me," said Townshead languidly. "No, I suppose one could scarcely expect them to, and we shall have to endure their company."
A faint sparkle that had nothing to do with laughter crept into the girl's eyes, for there were times when her father tried her patience. "I wonder if it occurred to you that we shall probably starve to-morrow unless Mr. Alton, who is apparently not to be paid for it, makes what must be a very arduous march to-night?" she said.
"I'm afraid it did not," said Townshead, with a fine unconcern. "I think you understand, my dear, that I leave the commissariat to you, and you have a way of putting things which jars upon one occasionally."
A little trace of colour crept into the girl's cheek, but it faded again as she sat down beside the stove. Still, now and then she pricked her fingers with the needle, which she had not done before, and finally laid down the fabric and laughed softly. "There is," she said, "something distinctly humorous in the whole position."
"You," said her father, "had always a somewhat peculiar sense of humour."
"Well," said his daughter with a slight quiver of her lips, "I feel that I must either cry or laugh to-night. Do you know there is scarcely enough for breakfast in the house, and that I am dreadfully hungry now?"
Townshead glanced at her reproachfully. "Either one or the other would be equally distasteful to me," he said.
The girl sighed, and turned away to thrust a few small billets into the stove. She chose them carefully, for the big box whose ugliness she had hidden by a strip of cheap printed cotton was almost empty. The hired man, seeing no prospect of receiving his wages, had departed after a stormy interview, and shortly after his son followed him. Townshead discovered that sawing wood was especially unsuited to his constitution. Then the girl increased the draught a little and endeavoured to repress a shiver. The house was damp for want of proper packing, and the cold wind that came down from the high peaks moaned about it eerily. It was also very lonely, and the girl, who was young, felt a great longing for human fellowship.
Her father presently took up a book, and there was silence only broken by the rattle of loose shingles overhead and the soft thud against the windows of driving snow, while the girl sat dreaming over her sewing of the brighter days in far-off England which had slipped away from her for ever. Five years was not a very long time, but during it her English friends had forgotten her, and one who had scarcely left her side that memorable night had, though she read of the doings of his regiment now and then, sent her no word or token. A little flush crept into her cheek as, remembering certain words of his, she glanced at her reddened wrists and little toil-hardened hands. She who had been a high-spirited girl with the world at her feet then, was now one of the obscure toilers whose work was never done. Still, because it was only on rare occasions that work left her leisure to think about herself, it had not occurred to her that she had lost but little by the change. The hands that had once been soft and white were now firm and brown, the stillness of the great firs and cedars had given her a calm tranquillity in place of restless haste, and frost and sun the clear, warm-tinted complexion, while a look of strength and patience had replaced the laughter in her hazel eyes.
Suddenly, however, there was a trampling in the snow and a sound of voices, followed after, an interval by a knocking at the door. It swung open, and two whitened objects loaded with bags and packages strode into the room. The blast that came in with them set the lamp flickering, and sent a chill through the girl, but she rose with a smile when rancher Alton stood, a shapeless figure, with the moisture on his bronzed face, beside the stove.
"Take those things through into the kitchen, Charley," he said. "I think we've got them all, Miss Townshead. I hope, sir, you are feeling pretty well."
Townshead made some answer with a slight bend of his head, but Alton appeared a trifle dubious when the girl offered him hospitality.
"I'm afraid the beasts are used up, or I wouldn't think of it," he said.
Nellie Townshead's eyes twinkled as she glanced at him. "Could you not have put it in another way?" she said.
Alton laughed, and brushed his fingers across the top of the stove. "Well, it doesn't sound quite right, but after all the meaning's the great thing," he said. "This place isn't warm enough for you, Miss Nellie."
He turned and walked to the wood-box, and after glancing into it carefully straightened out its covering. Then he strode towards the door, and stopped a moment before he opened it. "Excuse!" he said simply. "No, don't you worry; I know just where the saw and lantern are, and Charley, who comes from the old country, can talk to you for me."
He went out in another moment, but the fact that he was very weary did not escape the attention of the girl, who also noticed the absence of any unnecessary questions or explanations. Alton was, she knew already, one who did things the better because he did them silently. Still, it was Seaforth whom, when nobody observed her, her eyes rested most upon.
It was half an hour before the former returned with a load of scented firewood upon his back, and, saying nothing, filled the box with it, packing each piece where it best fitted deliberately but swiftly; then he passed through the room into an adjoining one, and returned attired picturesquely in Jack Townshead's overalls, which were distinctly too small for him. By this time supper was ready, and Seaforth, also dressed in borrowed garments, seated at the table, but though Miss Townshead had not lost the stamp of refinement she brought with her from England. and her father was dignified and precise, Alton showed no embarrassment. He also listened patiently to Townshead's views on ranching and the mining prospects of that region, though he was already looked up to as a master of the former industry, and contrived meanwhile that the girl made a good meal instead of attending to him. When it was finished he unfolded a carefully wrapped up packet, and took an envelope out of it, though Miss Townshead noticed that several others he laid down were crumpled and wet.
"Here is a letter for you," he said.
He glanced at the girl questioningly as she took it up, and fingered one of the envelopes upon the table. "Excuse?" he said.
Nellie Townshead smiled and nodded, and then, knowing that the communication handed her was of no importance, watched him covertly as he tore open a long blue envelope. There were documents inside it, and the man's fingers shook a little as he spread out one of them. Then bewildered astonishment crept into his eyes, and was replaced by a flash of something very like anger, after which his face grew suddenly impassive, and he thrust the documents all together into his pocket.
"Get up, Charley, and bring the tray along," he said.
Miss Townshead glanced at him sharply. "What do you wish to do?" she said.
"Wash up," said Alton simply. "I don't know how you fix these things in England, but this is a good Canadian custom. Stir around, Charley."
"But," said the girl, "you don't know where the things are."
"Well," said Alton, smiling, "I figure I can find them."
He laid the cups and dishes on the tray, gave it to Seaforth, and disappeared down a passage carrying the kettle, but not before Miss Townshead had noticed that while his comrade, who had apparently been used to the smoother side of life in England, displayed some awkwardness, everything the big rancher did seemed appropriate, and, because removing plates is not a man's task, she wondered at it. They came back presently, and by that time the girl, who had opened some of the packages, held a roll of fabric upon her knee.
"If you can find a splash anywhere I'll forfeit a dollar. Charley's good at mopping up," said Alton gravely. "I'm afraid that stuff's a little wet, but it was the Cayuse's fault. He started in kicking and burst the rope, you see."
"It would have been wetter if it had gone into the lake," said Seaforth.
"The lake?" said the girl.
Seaforth nodded. "Yes," he said. "It was on the Tyee trail the pony commenced kicking."
The girl looked up sharply, and there was a subdued brightness in her eyes, for she had more than once shivered when leading her horse along that perilous trail. Alton felt for his comrade's leg under the table and kicked it grievously.
"There wasn't any trouble, and the snow was soft," said he. "You're going to make a dress of that stuff, Miss Nellie?"
"Yes," said the girl. "I could, however, wish the stuff was better."
Alton smiled gravely. "Of course!" he said. "Still, it don't count for much. You would look like a picture in anything."
Nellie Townshead glanced at him sharply, and for a moment there was a faint sparkle in her eyes, for she had a trace of temper.
"Whatever made you say that?" said she.
Alton laughed. "I really don't quite know. I just felt I had to," he said with a naive simplicity. "I wouldn't have done it if I had thought it would vex you."
After this he listened while his comrade talked--and Seaforth on occasion could talk gracefully--until at last he said, "England's not so very big, Miss Nellie. I wonder if you know a place called Carnaby."
"Yes," said the girl. "I once went to see rather a fine old hall there."
"Carnaby Grange?" said Alton quietly.
"Yes," said the girl with a trace of curiosity. "We spent some little time in the grounds. They lie deep in the woods, and there is a famous rose garden."
"Yes," said Alton. "All kinds of roses. And the old place? Tell me about it!"
"Is very picturesque," said the girl. "It looked quiet and grey, and almost stately under its ivy that autumn day, but I could scarcely describe it you. You have nothing like it in Canada."
"No," said Alton gravely. "I have seen nothing like it in Canada. But wasn't there a lake?"
The girl glanced at him curiously. "There was," she said. "I remember it lay shining before us between the woods. It was very beautiful, quieter and calmer than our lakes in Canada."
A slight flush crept through the bronze in Alton's face, which grew a trifle grim, and a light into his eyes. "There is a lake at Somasco where you can see the white peaks lie shining, and the big Wapiti come down to drink," he said. "There are cedars and redwoods about it which except for a few in California, haven't their equal in the world, but there's nothing about that lake or valley that's quiet or calm. It's wild and great and grand. No. They've nothing of that kind in the old country. Are not Abana and Pharfar better than all the waters of Israel?"
"Apposite!" said Townshead. "You apparently read the Scriptures?"
"Sometimes," said Alton simply. "They get hold of me. Those old fellows went right down to the bed rock of human nature back there in Palestine, and it strikes me there's no great difference in that between now and then."
"When," said Townshead smiling, "I was a King in Babylon."
"No," said Alton reflectively. "You're a little late on time. The Christian slave don't quite fit in."
Townshead glanced at him sharply, and said nothing, for the rancher had once or twice already somewhat astonished him.
"Well," said Alton, "tell me, Miss Nellie, were the lilies where the ashes hung over the lake? I want to know all about Carnaby."
The girl seemed somewhat thoughtful, and a trifle astonished, but she made the best use of her memory, and Alton listened gravely. "Yes," he said. "I seem to see it. The rose garden on the south side, the big lawn, and the lake. There's a little stream on the opposite side of it that comes down through the fern from the big beech wood."
"But," said the girl, "how could you know that?"
"I think I must have dreamt it," said Alton gravely. "Or perhaps my father told me. He used to talk of Carnaby, and I feel I know it well."
The girl stared at him in her wonder. "But what is Carnaby to you?" she said.
Alton rose up, and stood still a moment, somewhat grim in face. "It should have been my father's, and now when I don't know that I want it, I think it's mine," he said. "Anyway, I'm kind of tired, and I think I'll turn in. Excuse me."
He went out, and Nellie Townshead glanced at his comrade. "Do you know what he means?" she said.
Seaforth smiled and shook his head. "I've never seen Harry taken that way before," he said. "Still, we'll hope he'll be better to-morrow. He has been through a good deal to-day."
Miss Townshead did not appear contented, but she changed the topic. "Then what did you mean when you spoke about the dress packet?"
"I'll tell you," said Seaforth, "if you don't tell Harry. Well, when the packet slipped down to the edge of the big drop I'm not sure that the price of two ranches would have induced most men to follow it."
"But why did Mr. Alton go?" said the girl, with an expression which was not quite the one the man had expected to see in her face.
Seaforth smiled. "He may have fancied you wanted it. Anyway, Harry is a little obstinate occasionally, and when a thing looks difficult he can't resist attempting it. In the language of my adopted country that's the kind of man he is. Now I think I had better go after him, because I fancy he wants soothing after that last speech of his."
HARRY THE TEAMSTER
The sun was on the hill slopes, and there was a dazzling glare of snow, when Miss Alice Deringham stood with her travelling dress fluttering about her on the platform of the observation car as the Pacific express went thundering down a valley of British Columbia. The dress, which was somewhat dusty, had cost her father a good deal of money, and the hat that was sprinkled with cinders had come from Paris; while the artistic simplicity of both had excited the envy of the two Winnipeg ladies who, having failed to make friends with Miss Deringham during the journey, now sat watching her disapprovingly in a corner of the car. The girl was of a type as yet not common in Western Canada, reserved, quietly imperious, and annoyingly free from any manifestation of enthusiasm. She had also listened languidly to their most racy stories with a somewhat tired look in her eyes.
They were, however, fine eyes of a violet blue, and gold hair with a warmer tinge in it clustered about the broad white forehead, while the rest of the girl's face was refined in its modelling, if a trifle cold in expression and colouring. Miss Deringham was also tall, and as she stood with one little hand on the rail and the other on the brim of the hat the wind would have torn away from her, her pose displayed a daintily-proportioned figure. The girl was, however, as oblivious of her companions as she was of the dust, and her eyes were at last keen with wonder. She had seen nothing which resembled the panorama that unrolled itself before her as the great mountain locomotives sped on through the primeval wilderness, and the wild beauty of it left a deeper mark on her because her Canadian journey had been more or less a disappointment.
Alice Deringham had tasted of the best that England had to offer in the shape of sport and scenery, art and music, and had grown a little tired of it all; while, when her father had announced his intention of crossing the Canadian Dominion, partly on an affair of business and partly for the benefit of his health, she had gladly accompanied him in the hope of seeing something new. Deringham was a promoter and director of English companies, but his daughter having the fine disdain for anything connected with finance which occasionally characterizes those who have never felt the lack of money, asked him a few questions concerning one object of his journey. She only knew that the Carnaby estate, which would in the usual course have reverted to her, had been unexpectedly willed to the son of a man its late owner had disinherited, on conditions. The man, it appeared, was dead, and Deringham desired to see whether any understanding or compromise could be arrived at with the one son he had left behind in Western Canada.
To become the mistress of Carnaby Hall would have pleased Alice Deringham, but, as she had already realized there was no great hope of that, she had prepared to enjoy her Canadian journey. It had, however, fallen short of her expectations. Ontario reminded her of southern Scotland, and there was nothing to impress one who had seen the Highlands when the cars ran into the confusion of rock and forest, lake and river, along the Superior shore. Winnipeg in no way appealed to her, and she grew weary as they swept out past straggling wooden towns into the grass lands of the West.
The towns rose stark from the prairie in unsoftened ugliness, and there was nothing to stir the imagination in the great waste of sun-bleached grass. Day by day, while the dust whirled by them, and the gaunt telegraph posts came up out of the far horizon and sank into the east, they raced across the wide levels. The red dawns burned behind them, the sunsets flamed ahead, and still there was only dust and grass, chequered here and there with bands of stubble, while driving grit and ugliness were the salient features of the little stations they stopped at.
Miss Deringham had read enough to learn that pistol and bandolier had long gone out of fashion in Western Canada, where, indeed, they had rarely formed a necessary portion of the plainsman's attire, but she had expected a little vivid colour and dash of romance. The stock-riders she saw at the station were, however, for the most part dress in faded jean, and many of them appeared to speak excellent English, while the wheat-growers rode soberly in dusty and dilapidated wagons. Still the romance was there, though in place of the swashbuckling cavalier she found only quiet, slowly-spoken men, with patience most plainly stamped upon their sun-darkened faces. Their hands were hard with the grip of the bridle and plough-stilt in place of the rifle, and the struggle they waged was a slow and grim one against frost and drought and adverse seasons.
There was, however, a transformation when she awoke one morning and found the Rockies had been left behind, and they were roaring down through the passes of British Columbia. This was a new, and apparently unfinished, world, a land of tremendous mountains, leagues of forests, such as her imagination had never pictured, and untrodden heights of never-melting snow. Glacier, blue lake, river droning through shadowy canons, rushed by, and the glamour of it crept into the heart of the girl, until as they swept down into the valley with a river two thousand feet below, she felt she was at last in touch with something strange and new.
Presently the hoot of the whistle came ringing up the pass, wheels screamed discordantly, and the pines below flitted towards them a trifle more slowly. Then, as they swung rocking round the face of a crag and a cluster of wooden buildings rose to view, Deringham came out upon the platform. He was a tall, slightly-built man, with a pallid face and keen but slightly shifty eyes, and bore the unmistakable stamp of the Englishman.
"That must be our alighting-place, and I am not sure how we are to get on," he said. "It is, I understand, a long way to Somasco, and when we get there I really do not know whether we shall find any accommodation suitable for you. It might have been better if you had gone on to our friends, the Fords, at Vancouver."
Alice Deringham laughed a little. "I don't think you need worry. Mr. Alton will, no doubt, take us in," she said. "A little primitive barbarity would not be unpleasant as a novelty."
A trace of something very like anger crept into Deringham's eyes. It was not very perceptible, for he seldom showed much of what he felt, but his daughter noticed it. "It is somewhat unfortunate that we shall probably have to avail ourselves of the young man's hospitality," he said. "You understand, my dear, that he is a kinsman of your own, and, unless he can be persuaded to relinquish his claim, the owner of Carnaby. Still, I have hopes of coming to terms with him. The charges upon the land are very burdensome."
Alice Deringham's face grew a trifle scornful. "You will do your best," she said. "The thought of one of these half-civilized axemen living at Carnaby is almost distressful to me. In fact, I feel a curious dislike to the man even before I have seen him."
There was another hoot of the whistle, a little station grew larger down the track, and here and there a wooden house peeped out amidst the slowly-flitting trees. Then the cars stopped with a jerk, and Miss Deringham stepped down from the platform. Her first glance showed her long ranks of climbing pines, with a great white peak silhouetted hard and sharp above them against the blue. Then she became conscious of the silver mist streaming ethereally athwart the sombre verdure from the river hollow, and that a new and pungent smell cut through the odours of dust and creosote which reeked along the track. It came from a cord of cedar-wood piled up close by, and she found it curiously refreshing. The drowsy roar of the river mingled with the panting of the locomotive pump, but there was a singular absence of life and movement in the station until the door of the baggage-car slid open, and her father sprang aside as her trunks were shot out on to the platform. A bag or two of something followed them, the great engines panted, and the dusty cars went on again, while it dawned upon Alice Deringham that her last hold upon civilization had gone, and she was left to her own resources in a new and somewhat barbarous land.
There were no obsequious porters to collect her baggage, which lay where it had alighted with one trunk gaping open, while a couple of men in blue shirts and soil-stained jeans leaned upon the neighbouring fence watching her with mild curiosity. Her father addressed another one somewhat differently attired who stood in the door of the office.
"There is a hotel here, but they couldn't take you in," said the man. "Party of timber-right prospectors came along, and they're kind of frolicsome. They might find you a berth on the verandah, but I don't know that it would suit the lady. It mixes things up considerable when you bring a woman."
Deringham glanced at his daughter, and the girl laughed. "Then is there any means of getting on to Cedar Valley?" she said.
The man slowly shook his head. "You might walk, but it's close on forty miles," he said. "Stage goes out on Saturday."
Deringham made a gesture of resignation. "I never walked forty miles at once in my life," he said. "Can you suggest anything at all? We cannot well live here on the platform until Saturday."
"No," said the man gravely. "I don't figure I could let you. Well, now I wonder if Harry could find room for you."
He shouted, and a man who was carrying a flour-bag turned his head and then went on again until he hove his load into a two-horse wagon, while Miss Deringham noticed that although the bag was stamped 140 lbs. the man trotted lightly across the metals and ballast with it upon his shoulders. Then he came in their direction, and she glanced at him with some curiosity as he stood a trifle breathless before them. He wore a blue shirt burst open at the neck which showed his full red throat, and somewhat ragged overalls. The brown hair beneath his broad felt hat was whitened with flour, and his bronzed face was red with the dust. Still he stood very straight, and it was a good face, with broad forehead and long, straight nose, while the effect of the solid jaw was mitigated by something in the shape of the mobile lips. The grey eyes were keen and steady until a sympathetic twinkle crept into them, and Miss Deringham felt that the man understood her position.
"Well," he said. "What's the difficulty?"
The station agent explained laconically, and the stranger gravely took off his battered hat. "My wagon's pretty full, but I can take you through," he said.
"It would be a favour," said Deringham, taking out a roll of bills. "I should, of course, be glad to recompense you for your trouble."
For a moment the man's eyes closed a trifle, then he laughed, and Miss Deringham noticed that there was nothing dissonant in his merriment. "Well," he said lightly, "there will be plenty time to talk of that. These are your things, miss?"
The girl nodded, and wondered when, heaving up the biggest trunk as though it weighed nothing at all, he laid it carefully in the wagon, because she remembered having to fee two hotel porters lavishly for handling it in Liverpool. He stopped, however, and glanced at the second one with a faint trace of embarrassment. It had burst open, and several folds of filmy fabric projected.
"My hands are floury. You might be able to shut it up," he said.
Miss Deringham stooped over the box that he might not see her face. It was merely the skirt of an evening dress which had displayed itself, but she had guessed what the man was thinking, and remembering his excuse was not displeased with him. When the box was in the wagon she took out a dollar, and then for no special reason put it back again. The man was a bush teamster, but she did not feel equal to offering him a piece of silver. She swung herself up into the wagon with her foot in his hand, and wondered whether it could be by intent that he stood bare-headed while she did it. Then her father climbed in, and the man at the station laughed as he said, "What's the odds, Harry, you don't spill the whole freight on the dip to the ford?"
The teamster, who made no answer, shook the reins, and they went lurching over a horrible trail down the valley, while Miss Deringham delightedly breathed in the scent of the cedars and felt the lash of snow-chilled wind bring the blood to her face. She, however, wished that the bundle of straw which served as seat would not move about so much, and fancied her father would have been more comfortable had he not been menaced by a jolting piece of machinery. Their progress was rudely interrupted presently, for the teamster standing upright reined the horses in on their haunches, and the girl saw a line of loaded ponies straggling up the winding trail. One of the men who plodded behind them glanced at the driver of the wagon with an ironical grin, and Miss Deringham saw a warmer colour creep into the sun-darkened cheek. This was, she fancied, a man with a temper.
"Now," he said, and then stopped suddenly. The other man's grin became more pronounced. "You can start in," he said. "We're not bashful."
The teamster said nothing, but a faint twinkle replaced the anger in his eye, when as they started again Miss Deringham glanced at him questioningly. "That," he said, "wasn't quite fair to me. They knew I couldn't talk back, you see."
Miss Deringham laughed, and when an hour or two later he pulled the horses up beside a lake and made one or two alterations to enhance her comfort, glanced at him again.
"Did you come out here from England?" said she.
The man's face grew a trifle grim. "No," he said gravely. "Whatever could have made you think that of me?"
There were reasons why the girl could not explain, and the man stretched out an arm with a little proud gesture that became him curiously. "I am a Canadian first and last," said he. "Isn't this country good enough for anybody?"
Miss Deringham was forced to admit that it apparently was. A blue lake gleaming steely blue in the sunlight stretched away before them between the towering firs, and beyond it lay an entrancing vision of great white peaks.
"You do not like England, then?" said she.
The teamster smiled a little. "That," he said, "is not a fair question to ask me. You and your father live there, don't you?"
Miss Deringham felt that she had trespassed, but was astonished that this teamster should have wit enough to silence her with a compliment. She also decided that he should not have the opportunity again.
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