Masters of the Wheat-Lands - Harold Bindloss - ebook

Masters of the Wheat-Lands ebook

Harold Bindloss

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Opis

In the Spartan simplicity on the prairie there were many young Englishmen. They are looking for some elegance of culture or sophistication in the woman they marry. And few of these women are willing to do hard work to help a man. At the heart of the plot is a love story, where the main characters have to prove that they can do anything for their second half.

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Liczba stron: 522

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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 Traveling 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. The barn 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 melting 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 which 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 neighbors, who had driven there across several leagues of prairie, a supper in his barn. A big rusty stove, brought in for the occasion, stood in the center of the barn floor. Its pipe glowed in places a dull red, and now and then Stukely 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 dancing at the moment, sat upon the various substitutes for chairs. A keg of hard Ontario cider had been provided for the refreshment of the guests, and it was open to anybody to ladle up what he wanted with a tin dipper. A haze of tobacco smoke drifted in thin blue wisps beneath the big nickeled lamps, and 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 odors 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, spare, straight of limb and bronzed by frost and snow-blink, for though scarcely half of them were Canadian born, the prairie, as a rule, swiftly sets its stamp upon the newcomer. Also, there was something in the way they held themselves and put their feet down that suggested health and vigor, and, in the case of most of them, a certain alertness and decision of character. Some were from English cities, a few from those of Canada, and some from the bush of Ontario; but there was a similarity among them for which the cut and tightness of their store clothing did not altogether account. They lived well, though 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, sat upon a barrel-head sawing at a fiddle, and the shrill scream of it filled the barn. To tone he did not aspire, but he played with Caledonian nerve and swing, and kept the snapping time. It was mad, harsh music of the kind that sets the blood tingling, causes 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 struck clanging chords from the lower strings.

In the cleared space they were dancing 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 rural France, which was, however, characteristic of the present country.

The Englishman has set no distinguishable impress upon the prairie. It has absorbed him with his reserve and sturdy industry, and apparently the Canadian from the cities is also lost in it, too, for his is the leaven that works through the mass slowly and unobtrusively, while the Scot and the habitant of French extraction have given the life of it color and individuality. Extremes meet and fuse on the wide white levels of the West.

An Englishman, however, was the life of that dance, and he was physically a larger man than most of the rest, for, as a rule, the Colonial born run to wiry hardness rather than to solidity of frame. Gregory Hawtrey was tall and thick of shoulder, though the rest of him was in fine modeling, and he had a pleasant face of the English blue-eyed type. Just then it was shining with boyish merriment, and indeed an irresponsible gayety was a salient characteristic of the man. One would have called him handsome, though his mouth was a trifle slack, and though a certain assurance in his manner 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 neighbors 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 about him to Stukely.

“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,” said Sager. “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 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,” remarked 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 responded, “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 toward 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 that 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 rather a large proportion in that country, and their garments were not at all costly or beautiful. The fabrics were, for the most part, the cheapest obtainable, and the wearers had fashioned their gowns with their own fingers, in the scanty interludes between washing, and baking, and mending their husbands’ or fathers’ clothes. The faces of the women 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 heavier than the men’s. One or two of the women clearly had 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 vigor which barely 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 were, indeed, no women in Stukely’s barn to compare with her in that respect, a fact that she recognized.

“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 money, and they thrash out four bushels of hard wheat for Hawtrey’s three.”

Stukely made a little gesture of concurrence, for he dimly realized 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 neighbors 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 asked.

“No,” answered Hawtrey; “I’d want another team, anyway, and I can’t raise the money; it’s hard to get out here.”

“Plenty under the sod,” declared 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 quick 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 replied. “You see, I’ve put the screw on them rather hard the last few years.”

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

There was a certain wryness in the young man’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 upon whom he bestowed an epithet indicative of affection had attached no significance to it. They had wisely decided that he did not mean anything.

The Scottish fiddler’s voice broke in.

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