Thurston of Orchard Valley - Harold Bindloss - ebook

Thurston of Orchard Valley ebook

Harold Bindloss

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This is a story about a bold and intelligent engineer. He dared to do business on the Canadian border. From meeting real friends, making enemies and falling in love with Miss Helen Savin. The moral of this book is shown at the end. And in the end must overcome them.

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Liczba stron: 487

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Contents

I. "THURSTON'S FOLLY"

II. A DISILLUSION

III. GEOFFREY'S FIRST CONTRACT

IV. GEOFFREY MAKES PROGRESS

V. THE LEGENDS OF CROSBIE GHYLL

VI. MILLICENT'S REWARD

VII. THE BREAKING OF THE JAM

VIII. A REST BY THE WAY

IX. GEOFFREY STANDS FIRM

X. SAVINE'S CONFIDENCE

XI. AN INSPIRATION

XII. GEOFFREY TESTS HIS FATE

XIII. A TEST OF LOYALTY

XIV. THE WORK OF AN ENEMY

XV. A GREAT UNDERTAKING

XVI. MILLICENT TURNS TRAITRESS

XVII. THE INFATUATION OF ENGLISH JIM

XVIII. THE BURSTING OF THE SLUICE

XIX. THE ABDUCTION OF BLACK CHRISTY

XX. UNDER THE STANLEY PINES

XXI. REPARATION

XXII. A REPRIEVE

XXIII. THE ULTIMATUM

XXIV. AN UNEXPECTED ALLY

XXV. MILLICENT'S REVOLT

XXVI. A RECKLESS JOURNEY

XXVII. MRS. SAVINE SPEAKS HER MIND

XXVIII. LESLIE STEPS OUT

XXIX. A REVELATION

CHAPTER I

“THURSTON’S FOLLY”

It was a pity that Geoffrey Thurston was following in his grandfather’s footsteps, the sturdy dalefolk said, and several of them shook their heads solemnly as they repeated the observation when one morning the young man came striding down the steep street of a village in the North Country. The cluster of gray stone houses nestled beneath the scarred face of a crag, and, because mining operations had lately been suspended and work was scarce just then, pale-faced men in moleskin lounged about the slate-slab doorsteps. Above the village, and beyond the summit of the crag, the mouth of a tunnel formed a black blot on the sunlit slopes of sheep-cropped grass stretching up to the heather, which gave place in turn to rock out-crop on the shoulders of the fell. The loungers glanced at the tunnel regretfully, for that mine had furnished most of them with their daily bread.

“It’s in t’ blood,” said one, nodding toward the young man. “Ay, headstrong folly’s bred in t’ bone of them, an’ it’s safer to counter an angry bull than a Thurston of Crosbie Ghyll. It’s like his grandfather–roughed out of the old hard whinstane he is.”

A murmur of approval followed, for the listeners knew there was a measure of truth in this; but it ceased when the pedestrian passed close to them with long, vigorous strides. Though several raised their hands half-way to their caps in grudging salute, Geoffrey Thurston, who appeared preoccupied, looked at none of them. Notwithstanding his youth, there were lines on his forehead and his brows were wrinkled over his eyes, while his carriage suggested strength of limb and energy. Tall in stature his frame looked wiry rather than heavily built. His face was resolute, for both square jaw and steady brown eyes suggested tenacity of purpose. The hands that swung at his sides had been roughened by labor with pick and drill. Yet in spite of the old clay-stained shooting suit and shapeless slouch hat with the grease on the front of it, where a candle had been set, there was a stamp of command, and even refinement, about him. He was a Thurston of Crosbie, one of a family the members of which had long worked their own diminishing lands among the rugged fells that stretch between the West Riding and the Solway.

The Thurstons had been a reckless, hard-living race, with a stubborn, combative disposition. Most of them had found scope for their energies in wresting a few more barren acres from the grasp of moss and moor; but several times an eccentric genius had scattered to the winds what the rest had won, and Geoffrey seemed bent on playing the traditional rôle of spendthrift. There were, however, excuses for him. He was an ambitious man, and had studied mechanical science under a famous engineer. Perhaps, because the surface of the earth yielded a sustenance so grudgingly, a love of burrowing was born in the family. Copper was dear and the speculative public well disposed towards British mines. When current prices permitted it, a little copper had been worked from time immemorial in the depths of Crosbie Fell, so Geoffrey, continuing where his grandfather had ceased, drove the ancient adit deeper into the hill, mortgaging field by field to pay for tools and men, until, when the little property had well-nigh gone, he came upon a fault or break in the strata, which made further progress almost impossible.

When Thurston reached the mouth of the adit, he turned and looked down upon the poor climbing meadows under the great shoulder of the Fell. Beyond these, a few weatherbeaten buildings, forming a rude quadrangle pierced by one tall archway, stood beside a tarn that winked like polished steel. He sighed as his glance rested upon them. For many generations they had sheltered the Thurstons of Crosbie; but, unless he could stoop to soil his hands in a fashion revolting to his pride, a strange master would own them before many months had gone. An angry glitter came into his eyes, and his face grew set, as, placing a lighted candle in his hat, he moved forward into the black adit.

Twenty minutes had passed when Thurston stood on the brink of a chasm where some movement of the earth’s crust had rent the rocks asunder. Beside him was a mining engineer, whose fame for skill was greater than his reputation for integrity. Both men had donned coarse overalls, and Melhuish, the mining expert, held his candle so that its light fell upon his companion as well as upon the dripping surface of the rock. Moisture fell from the wet stone into the gloomy rift, and a faint monotonous splashing rose up from far below. Melhuish, however, was watching Thurston too intently to notice anything else. He was a middle-aged man, with a pale, puffy face and avaricious eyes. He was well-known to speculative financiers, who made much more than the shareholders of certain new mining companies.

“It’s interesting geologically–wholly abnormal considering the stratification, though very unfortunate for you,” said Melhuish. “I give you my word of honor that when I advised you to push on the heading I never expected this. However, there it is, and unless you’re willing to consider certain suggestions already made, I can’t see much use in wasting any more money. As I said, my friends would, under the circumstances, treat you fairly.”

Thurston’s face was impassive, and Melhuish, who thought that his companion bore himself with a curious equanimity for a ruined man, did not see that Thurston’s hard fingers were clenched savagely on the handle of a pick.

“I fancied you understood my opinions, and I haven’t changed them,” said Geoffrey. “I asked you to meet me here to-day to consider whether the ore already in sight would be worth reduction, and you say, ‘No.’ You can advise your friends, when you see them, that I’m not inclined to assist them in a deliberate fraud upon the public.”

Melhuish laughed. “You are exaggerating, and people seem perfectly willing to pay for their experience, whether they acquire it over copper, lead or tin. Besides, there’s an average commercial probability that somebody will find good ore after going down far enough, and your part would be easy. You take a moderate price as vendor, we advancing enough to settle the mortgage. Sign the papers my friends will send you, and keep your mouth shut.”

“And their expert wouldn’t see that fault?” asked Geoffrey. Melhuish smiled pityingly before he answered:

“The gentlemen I speak of keep an expert who certainly wouldn’t see any more than was necessary. The indications that deceived me are good enough for anybody. Human judgment is always liable to error, and there are ways of framing a report without committing the person who makes it. May I repeat that it’s a fair business risk, and whoever takes this mine should strike the lead if sufficient capital is poured in. It would be desirable for you to act judiciously. My financial friends, I understand, have been in communication with the people who hold your mortgages.”

Geoffrey Thurston’s temper, always fiery, had been sorely tried. Dropping his pick, he gripped the tempter by the shoulder with fingers that held him like a vice. He pressed Melhuish backward until they stood within a foot of the verge of the black rift. Melhuish’s face was gray in the candle-light as he heard the dislodged pebbles splash sullenly into the water, fathoms beneath. He had heard stories of the vagaries of the Thurstons of Crosbie, and it was most unpleasant to stand on the brink of eternity, in the grasp of one of them.

Suddenly Geoffrey dropped his hands. “You need better nerves in your business, Melhuish,” he said quietly. “One would hardly have fancied you would be so startled at a harmless joke intended to test them for you. There have been several spendthrifts and highly successful drunkards in my family, but, with the exception of my namesake, who was hanged like a Jacobite gentleman for taking, sword in hand, their despatches from two of Cumberland’s dragoons, we have hitherto drawn the line at stealing.”

“I’m not interested in genealogy, and I don’t appreciate jests of the sort you have just tried,” Melhuish answered somewhat shakily. “I’ll take your word that you meant no harm, and I request further and careful consideration before you return a definite answer to my friends’ suggestions.”

“You shall have it in a few days,” Geoffrey promised; and Melhuish, who determined to receive the answer under the open sunlight, and, if possible, with assistance near at hand, turned toward the mouth of the adit. Because he thought it wiser, he walked behind Geoffrey.

The afternoon was not yet past when Thurston stood leaning on the back of a stone seat outside a quaint old hall, which had once been a feudal fortalice and was now attached to an unprofitable farm. Because the impoverished gentleman, who held a long lease on the ancient building, had let one wing to certain sportsmen, several of Geoffrey’s neighbors had gathered on the indifferently-kept lawn to enjoy a tennis match. Miss Millicent Austin sat in an angle of the stone seat. Her little feet, encased in white shoes, reposed upon a cushion that one of the sportsmen had insisted on bringing to her. Her hands lay idly folded in her lap. The delicate hands were characteristic, for Millicent Austin was slight and dainty. With pale gold hair and pink and white complexion, she was a perfect type of Saxon beauty, though some of her rivals said the color of her eyes was too light a blue. They also added that the blue eyes were very quick to notice where their owner’s interests lay.

An indefinite engagement had long existed between the girl and the man beside her, and at one time they had cherished a degree of affection for each other; but when the merry, high-spirited girl returned from London changed into a calculating woman, Geoffrey was bound up, mind and body, in his mine, and Millicent began to wonder whether, with her advantages, she might not do better than to marry a dalesman burdened by heavy debts. They formed a curious contrast, the man brown-haired, brown-eyed, hard-handed, rugged of feature, and sometimes rugged of speech; and the dainty woman who appeared born for a life of ease and luxury.

“Beauty and the beast!” said one young woman to her companion as she laid by her racquet. “I suppose he has the money?”

“Unless his mine proves successful I don’t think either will have much; but if Miss Austin is a beauty in a mild way, he’s a noble beast, one very likely to turn the tables upon a rash hunter,” was the answer. “And yet he’s stalking blindly into the snare. Alas, poor lion!”

“You seem interested in him. I’m not partial to wild beasts myself,” remarked her companion, and the other smiled as she answered:

“Hardly that, but I know the family history, and they are a curious race with great capabilities for good or evil. It all depends upon how they are led, because nobody could drive a Thurston. It is rather, I must confess, an instinctive prejudice against the woman beside him. I do not like, and would not trust, Miss Austin, though, of course, except to you, my dear, I would not say so.”

The young speaker glanced a moment towards the pair, and then passed on with a slight frown upon her honest face, for Thurston bent over his companion with something that suggested deadly earnestness in his attitude, and the spectator assumed that Millicent Austin’s head was turned away from him, because she possessed a fine profile and not because of excessive diffidence. Nor was the observer wrong, for Millicent did little without a purpose, and was just then thinking keenly as she said:

“I am very sorry to hear about your misfortune, Geoffrey, but there is a way of escape from most disasters if one will look for it, you know, and if you came to terms with them I understand those London people would, at least, recoup you for your expenditure.”

“You have heard of that!” exclaimed Geoffrey sharply, displeased that his fiancée, who had been away, should betray so accurate a knowledge of all that concerned his business affairs.

“Of course I did. I made Tom tell me. You will agree with them, will you not?” the girl replied.

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