The Broken Trail - Harold Bindloss - ebook

The Broken Trail ebook

Harold Bindloss

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Construction master Cassidy was popular with the people around him. Although he was a strict employer, everyone was pleased with his work. He did a lot of difficult railway work in western Canada. But how will his character affect his reputation and performance?

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Liczba stron: 375

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Contents

I. Shadow Lake

II. Harden Goes Fishing

III. Walthew's Responsibility

IV. Friendship's Call

V. Anne Harden

VI. Moonlight and Shadow

VII. The Signal

VIII. Emerson Takes a Plunge

IX. The Strange Path

X. Emerson Drives On

XI. Harden's Double

XII. Emerson Takes Cover

XIII. Solway Sands

XIV. Anne's Inspiration

XV. Rebel Youth

XVI. The Search Party

XVII. Garnet Moves On

XVIII. Anne Takes Control

XIX. Garnet Tries Persuasion

XX. Harden Capitulates

XXI. Harden Looks in Front

XXII. Keith Comes Home

XXIII. Contact

XXIV. The Watershed

XXV. The Valley Road

XXVI. Whitrigg Flow

XXVII. Keith Gets Busy

XXVIII. Cherry Garth

XXIX. Garnet Delivers the Bonds

XXX. Garnet Shuts the Gate

XXXI. A True Bill

XXXII. Keith Plays Out His Part

XXXIII. Homeward Bound

I

SHADOW LAKE

A puff of wind touched the dark pines and the branches gently shook. Blue ripples trailed across the water; and then all was quiet and the lake shone like glass. Where the trees rolled down the bank the broken reflections joined, and one saw, as in a mirror, straight trunks, rigid branches, and worn, round-backed rocks. For long only the Indians and Metis trappers knew Shadow Lake, but since the railroad pierced the woods, tourists and fishing-parties paddled up its lonely reaches and pitched their camp in the Ontario wilds.

The sun was low, supper was over, and a noisy group occupied the flat in front of the big double tent. For the most part they were young, but two or three whose youth was past had left their stores and offices at the little town near the lake’s end to share the campers’ holiday. Three or four young men and women were from Winnipeg offices, but where they were not relations all were friends. In summer the quiet woods called, and by Shadow Lake the tangled pines rolled across the rocks as they had done from the beginning.

A little apart from the noisy group, two young men, lying in the warm gravel, smoked and talked with languid satisfaction. Keith Harden was soon to be married, and in a few days Garnet Emerson would start for the Old Country on the first holiday he had taken since he was a boy. Their friendship had begun some time since in the far Northwest. Harden now was agent for an important Montreal bank; Emerson was a contractor, and had prospered when the wooden settlement at Miscana Forks grew to a small town.

“I wrote my folks that you would look them up, and they hope you’ll stop for some time,” Harden remarked. “I believe you don’t know the Old Country?”

Emerson smiled. He was tall and thin, and although he carried himself like a soldier, his poise and the firmness of his shoulders indicated that he had used the ax. His skin was brown and his laugh was frank, but he was not a boy. When he was quiet, one remarked his steady thoughtful look and the lines on his face. Garnet Emerson had known hardship and adventure.

“For all our independence and commercialism, we’re a sentimental lot, and England’s yet the Old Country. My father was an American and my mother emigrated when she was a girl. She married in Dakota, and is long since dead. All the same, now I can take a holiday, I feel I’m going back.”

“It is queer,” Harden agreed. “Although we are frankly North American, and Washington, D.C., is rather our model than Westminster, Britain’s home. Well, it’s not important, and I have some grounds tobe satisfied where I am–But do you remember your people?”

“The picture’s indistinct. I think the old man was a typical pioneer: quiet, pretty grim, and, in a sense, indomitable. Anyhow, I seem to remember his laboring fourteen hours a day on the barren preëmpted farm. Sometimes I see my mother: a thin, tired woman, but gentler than our roughneck neighbors’ wives. Well, I think the hard job and the bad years broke them, and when they were gone their creditors seized the farm. A queer old fellow from St. Louis, a bit of a crank and something of a scholar, took me to his home. His farming was not high grade, but he gave me books I would not have got at a settlement school–However, since I’m going to stop with them, I want to know about your folks.”

Harden thoughtfully filled his pipe. A phrase of Garnet’s stuck–his mother was gentler than her neighbors. Perhaps it accounted for something; perhaps the St. Louis crank, who was also a scholar, had influenced the boy. Anyhow, Garnet Emerson was not the rude plainsman type. Although he had known poverty, one remarked a touch of cultivation and a sort of fastidiousness. His driving force and shrewdness was perhaps his father’s legacy; Garnet’s inheritance, so to speak, was mixed. It persuaded Harden to a frankness he had not altogether thought to use.

“Oh, well,” he said, “until the sun is lower, there’s not much use in fishing, and I don’t want to leave camp before the launch arrives. Besides, now I’m soon to bemarried, I sometimes look back and try to recapture my boyhood and picture the relations I haven’t seen for long. At all events, I’ll risk your getting bored–

“My folks are Borderers, and Copshope’s in the bleak hills where Scotland and England join. In a way, perhaps, it’s important, because the Scottish Borderer inherits two rather conflicting veins. His ancestors were swashbuckling cattle-thieves; and grim Covenanters, not unlike the New England Puritans about whom Hawthorne wrote. Afterwards they were hard-drinking, reckless sportsmen and poachers; and sober, parsimonious supporters of the Presbyterian kirk. You see, the jarring veins survive, and sometimes the Borderer doesn’t know for which type he stands. My mother was sternly religious and she declared the old warning stood: The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are on edge.

“Copshope is old, but the Hardens are not properly lairds; the house is small and the estate is but a strip of barren moor. We were merchants, stockbrokers, and so forth. All the same, we held Copshope for longer than we know; when a Harden prospered he went home. As a rule, the bogs absorbed his fortune and his son or nephew returned to the exchange. For the most part, our interest and speculations were Canadian; one or two of us were officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company.”

“Until Riel’s rebellion, the Hudson’s Bay ruled the Northwest and their chiefs were Scots,” Emerson remarked. “But go on. I’m not at all bored."

“My father was a Glasgow merchant,” Harden resumed. “When my grandfather died he was able to take Copshope, but I don’t think he’s rich. I never knew him rash or extravagant; he’s just and kind, and as a rule marked by traditional Scottish calm. In fact, he’s a pretty good example of the old-fashioned kirk elder–”

He stopped to get a light and smiled when he went on: “All the same, I doubt if the old man was always like that; his brothers certainly are not, and I’ve known his eyes sparkle at their jokes about some youthful exploit. In fact, sometimes one vaguely senses the old moss-trooper vein. Anyhow, you’ll like him. For my sake, he’ll give you a Borderer’s welcome, and he’ll urge you to stop, for your own sake.

“Perhaps the portrait’s not very accurate, for I was not at Copshope much. As soon as I was old enough, they sent me to Loretto–a Scottish public school–and then I went to Montreal. I rather think my stepmother could account for it, but I was willing, and our Canadian interest got me a post at the bank.”

“I had hoped your mother would be my host,” Emerson remarked. “For one thing, I haven’t yet met a lady of Mrs. Harden’s sort. But what is she like?”

Harden’s look got reflective; Emerson thought he frowned.

“To draw my stepmother is hard. On the whole, she was kind, and when Anne and I were boy and girl she indulged us. I hardly knew my mother, and for a time I was Madam’s champion. You see, my father soonremarried; I think when Anne was but twelve months old.”

“Then Anne is your own sister? Mr. Harden maybe felt that to bring up a girl was a woman’s job.”

“His sister was keen to take us both,” Harden replied, and Emerson saw his frown was distinct. Keith perhaps had felt the old man was, in a sense, not loyal to his first wife.

“We’ll let it go,” Harden resumed. “The second Mrs. Harden has some useful qualities, and Copshope has prospered by her firm rule. In fact, I admit she’s all a good Scottish housewife ought to be. She’s a loyal supporter of the established church; her friends are sober, locally-important folk. You feel she’d have nothing to do with the other sort. Although Mrs. Harden likes to be the laird’s lady, she uses the proper rules. I’m not ironical.”

“It looks as if you tried to be just,” Emerson rejoined.

“Oh, well,” said Harden, “I feel Mrs. Harden is not altogether my mother’s type, and sometimes when I was back for holidays, I sensed a sort of antagonism; jealousy is perhaps the proper word. Yet I could not bother her, and she was kind to Anne, whom she had perhaps some ground to think an obstacle, because the old man is not at all the sort to indulge his fresh wife at his daughter’s expense. Anyhow, it’s done with, and when my house is fixed Anne is coming out to stay with me.”

He put up his pipe, and by and by a strange wild calllike mocking laughter pierced the creeping shadow. Emerson turned his head and saw a ripple trail behind a small dark object in a quiet bay. For a moment or two the ripple stopped; and then a splash broke the surface and the bird was gone.

“A loon!” said Harden. “Something scared the bird. I thought a branch shook by the point.”

“I did not. Besides, if a branch did shake, I doubt if you could see.”

“It’s queer, but when I was at Pierced Rock in the morning I thought somebody lurked about in the underbrush. In fact, I crept round through the trees, but saw no marks. Then, two days since, I found a pretty good new pipe on the rocks behind our tent. None of our friends claim the pipe.”

Emerson thought it strange. Keith was not the man to imagine somebody had stolen after him when he went fishing. Anyhow, he had not imagined he found the pipe. But there was no use in bothering about it, and another party was camped by the lake.

“If somebody meant to rob you, he’d watch out for you in town,” he said. “A bank manager does not carry his keys and wallet about the woods.”

“That is so,” Harden agreed. “Besides, now I’ve built my house, I’m nearly broke. Well, the sun will soon be off the water and the trout ought to feed, but I mustn’t start until the launch arrives. You see, unless Walthew is satisfied he can carry on, I must pull out in the morning. We expect to put across a big transaction for the Brockenhurst Company."

Walthew was his cashier, and the Brockenhurst Company was the main support of the little town. Their wood-working mills down the river were large, but they were planning to build a new factory, and Emerson, to some extent by Harden’s help, had secured a valuable contract.

“There’s the launch!” he said.

An engine throbbed behind the trees and a boat swung round a point. Foam curled about her bows, and where, but a few years since, only the half-breeds’ paddles disturbed the shadows, her propeller churned a long white wake. She stopped near the camp, and the party by the tent climbed across the rocks.

“A box of groceries, and a letter for Mr. Harden; that’s all tonight,” said a young fellow on board, and started his engine.

Harden tore the envelope. “All’s right and I have got two more days. Looks as if Walthew is glad for me to stay. The boy’s ambitious, and when I am not about he likes to take control. Anyhow, I’m off up the lake. The trout are rising and I haven’t yet got a good fish.”

“Won’t you wait and try at sun-up, Keith?” said a girl. “Bob is going to play the banjo and we want you to sing.”

Harden hesitated. He was going to marry Margaret Forbes, but he was a fisherman and his luck had not been good.

“I’ll be back in an hour, and we don’t start ourconcerts until it’s dark. So far, Bob and Jake have got the laugh on me, but I mean to beat them both.”

“Then you have got some job!” said a young man. “Where are you going?”

Harden laughed. “I’m sure an angler, Tom. When I’m not broke, my wallet is my friend’s, and if he wants my canoe, it’s his; but I will not put him wise where the big trout feed. Your job’s to help me pack the fish up the beach, and I’ll soon be back with a load.”

He pushed a canoe into the water and with a long, easy stroke drove her across the lake. For a few minutes his braced figure and the swift canoe cut the sunset, and then they melted in the shadows by the rocks. Harden was singing a song of the old French voyageurs, and when the words and the paddle’s measured splash died away Emerson and Miss Forbes sat down among the stones. Emerson acknowledged Margaret Forbes’ charm. He liked her modern frankness and touch of humor, and he knew she was not a fool.

“Keith is as keen as a boy for fishing, and Walthew’s note has made him happy,” she remarked.

“Perhaps it’s not strange,” said Emerson: “He gets two more days in camp, but I expect the chance to go fishing does not account for all.”

Margaret gave him a smile, but the smile vanished and she knitted her brows.

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