Hawtrey’s Deputy - Harold Bindloss - ebook

Hawtrey’s Deputy ebook

Harold Bindloss

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In the fashion of the high prairie, romance and trust are acquired, lost, destroyed and acquired again... Sketchy mortgages and vague speculations will make us guess. The main character goes on a strange sea adventure to stop thinking about unhappy love. This is a story about a love triangle with unusual plot twists.

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Liczba stron: 537

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Contents

I. SALLY CREIGHTON

II. SALLY TAKES CHARGE

III. WYLLARD ASSENTS

IV. A CRISIS

V. THE OLD COUNTRY

VI. HER PICTURE

VII. AGATHA DOES NOT FLINCH

VIII. THE TRAVELLING COMPANION

IX. THE FOG

X. DISILLUSION

XI. AGATHA'S DECISION

XII. WANDERERS

XIII. THE SUMMONS

XIV. AGATHA PROVES OBDURATE

XV. THE BEACH

XVI. THE FIRST ICE

XVII. DEFEAT

XVIII. A DELICATE ERRAND

XIX. THE PRIOR CLAIM

XX. THE FIRST STAKE

XXI. GREGORY MAKES UP HIS MIND

XXII. A PAINFUL REVELATION

XXIII. THROUGH THE SNOW

XXIV. THE LANDING

XXV. NEWS OF DISASTER

XXVI. THE RESCUE

XXVII. IN THE WILDERNESS

XXVIII. THE UNEXPECTED

XXIX. CAST AWAY

XXX. THE LAST EFFORT

XXXI. WYLLARD COMES HOME

CHAPTER I

SALLY CREIGHTON

The frost outside was bitter, and the prairie, which rolled back from Lander’s in long undulations to the far horizon, gleamed white beneath the moon, but there was warmth and brightness in Stukely’s wooden barn. It stood at one end of the little, desolate settlement, where the trail that came up from the railroad thirty miles away forked off into two wavy ribands that melted into a waste of snow. Lander’s consisted then of five or six frame houses and stores, a hotel of the same material, several sod stables, and a few birch-log barns; and its inhabitants considered it one of the most promising places in Western Canada. That, however, is the land of promise, a promise that is in due time usually fulfilled, and the men of Lander’s were, for the most part, shrewdly practical optimists. They made the most of a somewhat grim and frugal present, and staked all they had to give–the few dollars they had brought in with them, and their powers of enduring toil–upon the roseate future.

Stukely had given them, and their scattered neighbours, who had driven there across several leagues of prairie, a supper in his barn, and a big rusty stove, which had been brought in for the occasion, stood in the midst of it. Its pipe glowed in places a dull red, and Stukely now and then wondered uneasily whether it was charring a larger hole through the shingles of the roof. On one side of the stove the floor had been cleared; on the other benches, empty barrels, and tables were huddled together, and such of the guests as were not at the moment dancing sat upon them indiscriminately. A keg of hard Ontario cider had been provided for their refreshment, and it was open to anybody to ladle up what he wanted with a tin dipper, while a haze of tobacco smoke drifted in thin blue wisps beneath the big nickelled lamps. In addition to the reek of it, the place was filled with the smell of hot iron which an over-driven stove gives out, and the subtle odours of old skin coats.

The guests, however, were accustomed to an atmosphere of that kind, and it did not trouble them. For the most part, they were lean and spare, bronzed by frost and snow-blink, and straight of limb, for, though scarcely half of them were Canadian born, the prairie, as a rule, swiftly sets its stamp upon the newcomer. There was also something in the way they held themselves and put their feet down that suggested health and vigour, and, in the case of most of them, a certain alertness and decision of character. Some hailed from English cities, a few from those of Canada, and some from the bush of Ontario; but there was a similarity between them which the cut and tightness of their store clothing did not altogether account for. They lived well if plainly, and toiled out in the open unusually hard. Their eyes were steady, their bronzed skin was clear, and their laughter had a wholesome ring.

A fiery-haired Scot, a Highlander of the Isles, sat upon a barrel-head sawing at a fiddle, and the shrill scream of it filled the barn. Tone he did not aspire to, but he played with Caledonian verve and swing, and kept the snapping time. It was mad, harsh music of the kind that sets the blood tingling and the feet to move in rhythm, though the exhilarating effect of it was rather spoiled by the efforts of the little French Canadian who had another fiddle and threw in clanging chords upon the lower strings.

They were dancing in the cleared space what was presumably a quadrille, though it bore almost as great a resemblance to a Scottish country dance, or indeed to one of the measures of Bretonne France, which was, however, characteristic of the country. The Englishman has set no distinguishable impress upon the prairie. It has absorbed him with his reserve and sturdy industry, and the Canadian from the cities is apparently lost in it, too, for theirs is the leaven that works through the mass slowly and unobtrusively, and it is the Scot and the habitant of French extraction who have given the life of it colour and individuality. Extremes meet and fuse on the wide white levels of the West.

It was, however, an Englishman who was the life of that dance, and he was physically a bigger man than most of the rest, for as a rule, at least, the Colonial born run to wiry hardness rather than solidity of frame. Gregory Hawtrey was tall and thick of shoulder, though the rest of him was in fine modelling, and he had a pleasant face of the English blue-eyed type. Just then it was suffused with almost boyish merriment, and indeed an irresponsible gaiety was a salient characteristic of the man. One would have called him handsome, though his mouth was a trifle slack, and there was a certain assurance in his manner that just fell short of swagger. He was the kind of man one likes at first sight, but for all that not the kind his hard-bitten neighbours would have chosen to stand by them through the strain of drought and frost in adverse seasons.

As it happened, the grim, hard-faced Sager, who had come there from Michigan, was just then talking to Stukely about him.

“Kind of tone about that man–guess he once had the gold-leaf on him quite thick, and it hasn’t all worn off yet,” he said. “Seen more Englishmen like him, and some folks from Noo York, too, when I took parties bass fishing way back yonder.”

He waved his hand vaguely, as though to indicate the American Republic, and Stukely agreed with him. They were also right as far as they went, for Hawtrey undoubtedly possessed a grace of manner which, however, somehow failed to reach distinction. It was, perhaps, just a little too apparent, and lacked the strengthening feature of restraint.

“I wonder,” said Stukely reflectively, “what those kind of fellows done before they came out here.”

He had expressed a curiosity which is now and then to be met with on the prairie, but Sager, the charitable, grinned.

“Oh,” he said, “I guess quite a few done no more than make their folks on the other side tired of them, and that’s why they sent them out to you. Some of them get paid so much on condition that they don’t come back again. Say”–and he glanced towards the dancers–”Dick Creighton’s Sally seems quite stuck on Hawtrey by the way she’s looking at him.”

Stukely assented. He was a somewhat primitive person, as was Sally Creighton, for that matter, and he did not suppose she would have been greatly offended had she overheard his observations.

“Well,” he said, “I’ve thought that, too. If she wants him she’ll get him. She’s a smart girl–Sally.”

There were not many women present–perhaps one to every two of the men, which was, however, rather a large proportion in that country, and none of their garments were particularly elegant. The fabric was, for the most part, the cheapest obtainable, and they had fashioned it with their own fingers in the scanty interludes between washing, and baking, and mending their husbands’ or fathers’ clothes. Their faces were a trifle sallow and had lost their freshness in the dry heat of the stove. Their hands were hard and reddened, and in figure most of them were thin and spare. One could have fancied that in a land where everybody toiled strenuously their burden was the heavier. One or two of them had clearly been accustomed to a smoother life, but there was nothing to suggest that they looked back to it with regret. As a matter of fact, they looked forward, working for the future, and there was patient courage in their smiling eyes.

Creighton’s Sally, who was then tripping through the measure on Hawtrey’s arm, was native born. She was young and straight–straighter in outline than the women of the cities–with a suppleness which was less suggestive of the willow than a rather highly-tempered spring. She moved with a large vigour which only just fell short of grace, her eyes snapped when she smiled at Hawtrey, and her hair, which was of a ruddy brown, had fiery gleams in it. Anyone would have called her comely, and there was, indeed, no women in Stukely’s barn to compare with her in that respect, which was a fact she recognised, while every line and pose of her figure seemed expressive of an effervescent vitality.

“Oh yes,” said Sager reflectively; “she’ll get him sure if she sets her mind on it, and there’s no denying that they make a handsome pair. I’ve nothing against Hawtrey either: a straight man, a hustler, and smart at handling a team. Still, it’s kind of curious that while the man’s never been stuck for the stamps like the rest of us, he’s made nothing very much of his homestead yet. Now there’s Bob, and Jake, and Jasper came in after he did with half the dollars, and they thrash out four bushels of hard wheat for Hawtrey’s three.”

Stukely made a little gesture of concurrence, for he dimly realised the significance of his companion’s speech. It is results which count in that country, where the one thing demanded is practical efficiency, and the man of simple, steadfast purpose usually goes the farthest. Hawtrey had graces which won him friends, boldness of conception, and the power of application; but he had somehow failed to accomplish as much as his neighbours did. After all, there must be a good deal to be said for the man who raises four bushels of good wheat where his comrade with equal facilities raises three.

In the meanwhile Hawtrey was talking to Sally, and it was not astonishing that they talked of farming, which is the standard topic on that strip of prairie.

“So you’re not going to break that new piece this spring?” she said.

“No,” said Hawtrey; “I’d want another team, anyway, and I can’t raise the dollars; they’re hard to get out here.”

“Plenty under the sod,” said Sally, who was essentially practical. “That’s where we get ours, but you have to put the breaker in and turn it over. You”–and she flashed a swift glance at him–”got most of yours from England. Won’t they send you any more?”

Hawtrey’s eyes twinkled as he shook his head. “I’m afraid they won’t,” he said. “You see, I’ve put the screw on them rather hard the last few years.”

“How did you do that?” said Sally. “Told them you were thinking of coming home again?”

There was a certain wryness in her companion’s smile, for though Hawtrey had cast no particular slur upon the family’s credit he had signally failed to enhance it, and he was quite aware that his English relatives did not greatly desire his presence in the Old Country.

“My dear,” he said, “you really shouldn’t hit a fellow in the eye that way.”

As it happened, he did not see the girl’s face just then, or he might have noticed a momentary change in its expression. Gregory Hawtrey was a little casual in speech, but so far most of the young women he bestowed an epithet of that kind upon had attached no significance to it. They had wisely decided that he did not mean anything. In another moment or two the Scottish fiddler’s voice broke in.

“Can ye no’ watch the music? Noo it’s paddybash!” he cried.

His French Canadian comrade waved his fiddle-bow protestingly.

“Paddybashy! V’la la belle chose!” he said with ineffable contempt, and broke in upon the ranting melody with a succession of harsh, crashing chords.

Then it apparently became a contest as to which could drown the other’s instrument, and the snapping time grew faster, until the dancers gasped, and men with long boots encouraged them with cries and stamped a staccato accompaniment upon the benches or on the floor. It was savage, rasping music, but one player infused into it the ebullient verve of France, and the other was from the misty land where the fiddler learns the witchery of the clanging reel and the swing of the Strathspey. It is doubtless not high art, but there is probably no music in the world that fires the blood like this and turns the sober dance to rhythmic riot. Perhaps, too, it gains something that gives it a closer compelling grip amidst the prairie snow.

Hawtrey, at least, was breathless when it ceased, and Sally’s eyes flashed with the effulgence of the Northern night when her partner found her a resting-place upon an upturned barrel.

“No,” she said, “I won’t have any cider.” She turned and glanced at him imperiously. “You’re not going for any more either.”

It was, no doubt, not the speech a well-trained English maiden would have made, but, though Hawtrey smiled rather curiously, it fell inoffensively from Sally’s lips. Though it is not always set down to their credit, the brown-faced, hard-handed men as a rule live very abstemiously in that country, and, as it happened, Hawtrey, who, however, certainly showed no sign of it, had already consumed rather more cider than anybody else. He made a little sign of submission, and Sally resumed their conversation where it had broken off.

“We could let you have our ox-team to do that breaking with,” she said. “You’ve had Sproatly living with you all winter. Why don’t you make him stay and work out his keep?”

Hawtrey laughed. “Sally,” he said, “do you think anybody could make Sproatly work?”

“It would be hard,” the girl admitted, and then looked up at him with a little glint in her eyes. “Still, I’d put a move on him if you sent him along to me.”

She was a rather capable young woman, but Hawtrey was very dubious of her ability to accomplish as much as this. Sproatly was an Englishman of good education, though his appearance seldom suggested it, who drove about the prairie in a waggon vending cheap oleographs and patent medicines most of the summer, and contrived to obtain free quarters from his bachelor acquaintances during the winter. It is a hospitable country, but there were men round Lander’s who when they went away to work in far-off lumber camps, as they sometimes did, nailed up their doors and windows to prevent Sproatly getting in.

“Does he never do anything?” Sally added.

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