ALTON OF SOMASCO
A Romance of the Great Northwest
By HAROLD BINDLOSS
"Winston of the Prairie," "The Dust of Conflict," "The Cattle Baron's Daughter," "The Young Traders," etc.
By R. MARTINE REAY
A. L. BURT COMPANY, PUBLISHERS
BY FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
This Edition Issued in March, 1906.
I THE FIRST ENCOUNTER II AT TOWNSHEAD'S RANCH III HARRY THE TEAMSTER IV HALLAM OF THE TYEE V THE HEIR OF CARNABY VI MISS DERINGHAM MAKES FRIENDS VII ALTON BLUNDERS VIII HALLAM'S CONFEDERATE IX MISS DERINGHAM FEELS SLIGHTED X THE UNDELIVERED MESSAGE XI CONFIDENCE MISPLACED XII IN VANCOUVER XIII THE SOMASCO CONSOLIDATED XIV THE COMPACT XV ON THE TRAIL XVI CAUSE FOR ANXIETY XVII ALONE XVIII IN THE WILDERNESS XIX FOUL PLAY XX THE NICKED BULLET XXI OKANAGAN'S ROAD XXII MISS DERINGHAM DECIDES XXIII THE AWAKENING XXIV HALLAM TRIES AGAIN XXV ALTON IS SILENT XXVI WITHOUT COUNTING THE COST XXVII THE FORCE OF CALUMNY XXVIII ALTON FINDS A WAY XXIX THE PRICE OF DELAY XXX SEAFORTH'S REINSTATEMENT XXXI "THE THIRD TIME" XXXII ALTON HOLDS HIS HAND XXXIII MISS DERINGHAM'S CONFESSION XXXIV THE CONSUMMATION
ALTON OF SOMASCO
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.
They went on, winding along steep hillsides, splashing through sparkling rivers, and lurching through the dim shadow of the bush, until when the saffron sunset flamed along the peaks they came to the head of a long declivity. On the one hand the snow towered in awful white purity, on the other scattered firs sloped sharply down into a hollow until they were lost in the fleecy vapours that streamed athwart them. "Sit tight," said the teamster. "It's eight miles to Hobart's ranch, and there's no time to lose if we're going to get in there to-night."
He shook the reins, and the girl clutched the side of the wagon as she felt the lash of the wind and noticed how the firs rushed past. It was jolting horribly, and she was relieved when as the trail grew steeper she saw the man tightening his grip on the reins and heard the grating of the brake. It ceased suddenly, one of the horses stumbled, then flung up its head, and they were going down faster than ever, while the man had flung his shoulders back and was dragging at the reins. It dawned upon Miss Deringham that something had gone wrong and the team were running away.
There was now only white mist beneath them and the roar of water. Trees came whirling up out of it, rock and bush swept past, while now and then the wheels hung almost over the edge of the declivity, and the girl could look down upon the sombre firs in the haze below. After one glance, however, she felt that it would not be well for her to do so. Suddenly one of the horses stumbled again, and the teamster flung her father the reins. "Get hold," he said. "Line's in the trace-hook."
He was over the front of the wagon next moment, and the girl gasped as she saw him crawl out with an arm across the back of one of the galloping horses and his knees on the pole. It looked horribly dangerous, and probably was, for the wagon was lurching furiously down the declivity. Then he leaned out and downwards over the horse, clawing at something desperately, and Miss Deringham would have shut her eyes if she could have done so. In place of it she stared fascinated at the clinging figure while the trees flashed past, until it was evident that the man had accomplished his task. How he got back she did not know, but he was once more on the driving-seat when his voice reached her breathlessly.
"Get a good hold. I'm going to put them at the hill when I can," he said.
They swept on until the hillside sloped more gently on the one hand, and the teamster flung, himself backwards, dragging at the reins. The wagon, tilting, swung partly round, then there was a horrible lurching, and the lathered beasts were floundering up a slope, smashing down the undergrowth and fern, until the vehicle stopped suddenly with a crash. The man sprang down and Miss Deringham and her father lost no time in following him, while when at last the team stood still trembling, he crawled out from under the wagon and turned to them.
"That brake never was much good," he said. "One of the beasts stumbling jerked the line into the hook there, and the fore-wheel beam gave out when we struck the tree. I'm most afraid we'll have to stop right here tonight!"
"But that, as you will realize, is quite impossible," said Deringham, glancing towards his daughter.
The man nodded. "It looks that way now, but you wait until I've fixed things up," said he. "Then if you feel like walking eight miles I'll go on with you."
The girl noticed the swift orderliness of all he did as she watched him take out the horses and tether them, tear down armfuls of cedar-twigs, and then pack them between some flour-bag's and the side of the wagon, over which he stretched a strip of waterproof sheeting. Then he made a fire, disappeared into the mist, and coming back with the kettle, strode into the bush again. In the meanwhile Deringham, looking into the wagon, pointed to the twigs.
"Do you think you could sleep there?" he said.
The girl glanced at the twigs. They looked soft and springy, and had a pleasant aromatic fragrance, while the covering sheet was thick.
"I know I could not walk eight miles," she said. "Where has our accomplished companion gone to?"
Deringham laughed. "To look for something for supper in the bush, I believe," he said. "I also fancy if there is anything eatable in the vicinity he will find it."
The snows above had lost their brilliancy, and it was dark below, when the teamster returned with several fine trout which he skewered upon a barberry stem. He also brought a deerhide bag from the wagon, and presently announced that supper was ready, while Alice Deringham, who long afterwards remembered that meal, enjoyed it considerably more than she would have believed herself capable of doing a few days earlier. She had travelled far in search of something new, and this was the first time she had tasted the biting green tea with the reek of the smoke about it from a blackened pannikin. Grindstone bread baked in a hole in the ground was also a novelty, and the crumbling flakes of salmon smoked by some Siwash Indian a delicacy, while she wondered if it was only the keen mountain air which made the flesh of the big trout so good, or whether it owed anything to skilful cookery.
There was also, by way of background, the glow of the fire flickering athwart the great columnar trunks which ran up into the dimness above her, and the cold glimmer of the snows with a pale star beyond them when the red flame sank, while the hoarse roar of an unseen river emphasized the silence. At first she felt there was something unreal and theatrical about it all. The light that blazed up and died, awful serenity of the snow, and the vast impenetrable shadows filled with profound silence, seemed all part of a fervidly-imagined spectacle; but as the silence deepened and gained upon her the position was reversed, and she seemed to feel that this was the reality, the environment man was created for, and she, wrapped in the tinsel of civilization, out of place in the primeval wilderness. Her father, immaculate as ever in his travelling tweeds, with his lean, pallid face, also jarred upon the picture, and Harry the teamster, bronzed by frost and sun, with the stain of the soil upon him, alone a part of its harmonies. They seemed no longer harsh and barbaric, but vast and subtle, and she felt she must go back to the simplicity she had laid aside before she could grasp their meaning.
It was the man who first broke the silence. "I was wondering if you would like a cigar, sir?" he said.
Deringham glanced at the Indian-wrought case, which was singularly artistic, somewhat dubiously, but remembering that something was due to their host, drew a cigar out and lighted it. He said nothing for a minute, and then turned to the teamster.
"Wherever did you get cigars of that kind from? They are far better than any I could find in Winnipeg," he said.
Miss Deringham noticed the man's eyes close a trifle, and fancied that very little would call the steely sparkle she had seen when the pack-ponies blocked the trail into them.
"Well," he said quietly, "a friend of mine sent them me, and I believe they came from Cuba. We don't raise cigars of any kind in British Columbia."
Miss Deringham saw her father's face, and felt quietly amused. He could, she knew, assume a manner which went far to carry him smoothly through discontented share-holders' meetings, but it seemed that the men who dwelt in the wilderness were at least as exigent as those who dwelt in London. Deringham, however, glanced at the speaker.
"The least said is often the soonest mended, but if you think——" he said.
The teamster laughed. "It should come from me, but the fact is I was worrying about that wagon and forgot," he said. "Now, if there is anything I can tell you about this country."
"I wonder," said Alice Deringham, "whether you know Mr. Alton of Somasco."
"Oh, yes," said the man, with a little smile.
"You have worked for him possibly?" said the girl.
Harry the teamster nodded. "Considerably harder than I ever did for anybody else," he said.
The next question required some consideration, and he appeared to ruminate over it. "You mean what kind of man he is?" he said. "Well, he's not very much to look at, and there are a good many things he don't know."
"So I should have fancied," said the girl, more to herself than the listener, and wondered whether it was an effect of the firelight or the curious twinkle had once more flashed into his eyes. "You do not seem to like him?" she said.
The man looked into the fire. "The trouble is I know how mean he is," he said.
"Mean?" said the girl. "That is niggardly?"
"No," said Harry; "I don't think he's niggardly. It's another word for low down in this country. You see he has always had to work hard for a living, and never had time to teach himself the nice little ways you folks have in England. He's just a big rough rancher who has fought pretty toughly for his own hand, and that's apt to take the gentleness out of a man, and make him what you would call coarse and brutal."
The girl seemed to shiver. "Is there nothing to say on the other side?" she said.
"Well," said the teamster reflectively, "I think he means well, and never took more than his right from any man, while there are people who would as soon have his word as its value in dollar bills."
"You seem to know him suspiciously well," said Miss Deringham sharply.
"I do," said Harry simply, as he stood up. "Anyway, as well as most people. You know where I fixed your bed up, sir, when you want to turn in. There's nothing in this bush, miss, that would hurt you."
He stepped back into the shadows, and the camp seemed lonely without him, while as the girl shivered in the cold wind, Deringham glanced at her curiously.
"Well?" he said.
Then the red crept into his daughter's cheeks and a sparkle Into her eyes. "It will take a very long time to get used to. I could almost hate the man," she said,
"It is hard to lose one's inheritance," said Deringham dryly.
The flush grew a trifle plainer in his daughter's cheek. "It is not the value of the land," she said. "But think of such a man, a brutal, cattle-driving boor, ruling at Carnaby where my mother lived."
"Still," said Deringham, "the value is not inconsiderable, and Carnaby would have been yours some day."
The girl made a gesture of impatience. "That is not my complaint," she said. "I could have let it pass without bitterness to an Englishman who would have lived in it in accordance with the traditions of his race, but this man——"
"Will no doubt cut down the timber, open the fireclay pits, and desecrate the park with brickworks," he said. "That is, unless he has convivial proclivities, and, finding himself ostracized, fills Carnaby with turf and billiard-room blacklegs."
The girl ground her heel viciously into the mould. "Have you any reason for going into these details?" she said.
Deringham watched her closely. "I only wished you to understand the position, and to remember that you and I are both to some extent at the mercy of our rancher kinsman," he said.
He left her presently to seek the couch the teamster had prepared for him, and Miss Deringham retired to the wagon. She found the bed of cedar-twigs comfortable, but it was some time before she slept and dreamed that a stranger dressed in coarse blue jean was holding high revel in the Carnaby she loved. She was awakened by the howl of a wolf, and lay still shivering, until she saw the tall, dusky figure of the Canadian approach the fire and stand there as if on guard with the red light upon him. Then with a curious sense of security she went to sleep again.
HALLAM OF THE TYEE
The morning was still and warm when the driver of the wagon pulled up his team where four trails met in the shadow of the bush. Miss Deringham had somewhat to her astonishment passed the night very comfortably and enjoyed the breakfast their companion provided. The bracing cold of sunrise, when all the bush was steeped in fragrance and a wonderful freshness came down from the snow, had also brought her a curious exhilaration, as well as a tinge of colour into her cheeks, and now she was sensible of a faint regret and irritation when the man glanced towards her deprecatingly.
"It would please me to drive you straight through to the settlement, but there's a load of things I want at Calhoun's up yonder," he said.
He pointed to a trail that turned off sharply, and the girl glanced at her father somewhat blankly. "And what are we to do?" said she.
"Well," said the man, "you can wait here until Barscombe comes along. He'll be riding in to the settlement presently, and would be glad to take you for a dollar or two."
"But we might have to wait a long time," said the girl with a trace of imperiousness. "It would suit us considerably better to go on with you."
"Sorry!" said the man gravely. "I can't take you. Calhoun's a busy man, and he'll be waiting up at the ranch for me. I told him I was coming."
There was now no doubt about the colour in Miss Deringham's face. Few of her wishes bad been denied her hitherto, and most of the men she had met had been eager to do her bidding, while the scarcely qualified refusal of this one came as a painful astonishment. The fact that she should be left in the lonely forest to avoid keeping some rude rancher waiting was distinctly exasperating.
Deringham, however, smiled a little as he took a wallet from his pocket. "I can understand it, because I am also a busy man when I'm at home," he said. "It is a question of the value of your time and Mr. Calhoun's apparently?"
Though he possibly did not realize it Deringham's tone was a trifling condescending, and there was something in it which suggested that he believed anything could be bought with money. He was, however, a little astonished when the man regarded him gravely out of eyes that closed a trifle.
"That's just where you're wrong," said he. "If I could have taken you on to save the lady waiting it would have pleased me. As it is, I can't, you see."
He said nothing more, but dismounting pulled the boxes out of the wagon and laid some travelling wraps upon one of them, while Miss Deringham affected not to see what he was doing. "And how long will it be before Barscombe passes?" said she.
"It can't be more than two hours," said the teamster quietly. "All you have to do is to sit there and wait for him."
He took off his broad hat when the others alighted, and Miss Deringham noticed there was a trace of courtliness in his simplicity. Then he strode past her father, who was taking something out of his wallet, and swung himself lightly into the wagon. He spoke to the team, there was a creak and rattle, and next moment the vehicle was lurching down the trail. Deringham stood still a moment, his fingers inside the wallet and mild wonder in his eyes, and then smiled a little as his daughter turned towards him. There was a faint pink flush of anger in her cheeks.
"The dollar does not appear to retain its usual influence in this part of Canada," he said dryly. "Possibly, however, the man was too embarrassed by your evident displeasure to remember his hire."
Miss Deringham saw the twinkle in her father's eyes and laughed a little. "I don't think he was," she said. "Had that been the case one could have forgiven him more easily. Well, I wonder how long Barscombe will keep us waiting."
Deringham made a whimsical gesture of resignation. "In the meantime I notice that our late conductor has arranged a comfortable seat for you," he said.
The girl sat down, and looked about her. It was very still in the bush, and the sound of running water drifted musically out of the silence. From somewhere in the distance there also came a curious drumming which she did not know then was made by an axe, but it presently ceased, and the song of the river rose alone in long drowsy pulsations. In front of and behind her stretched the rows of serried trunks which had grown to vastness of girth and stateliness with the centuries, and the girl, who was of quick perceptions, felt instinctively the influence of their age and silence. There was, it seemed, something intangible but existent in this still land of shadow which reacted upon her pleasantly after the artificial gaieties and glitter of surface civilization. Her impatience and irritation seemed to melt, and the time slipped by, until she was almost drowsy when with an increasing rattle another wagon came jolting down the trail.
Its driver pulled up, and regarded them with placid astonishment, but he was amenable to the influence of Deringham's wallet, and they took their places in the vehicle. There was nothing remarkable about the man, and he ruminated gravely when as they stopped to let the horses drink Deringham asked him a question concerning their late companion.
"It might have been Thomson," he said. "A big man, kind of solid and homely?"
"No," said Miss Deringham reflectively. "I should scarcely describe him as homely."
"Well," said the other, "if you told me the kind of wagon I might guess at him."
Deringham described the vehicle as well as he was able, and the stranger nodded. "That's Jimmy Thomson's outfit all right," said he. "What did he charge you?"
Miss Dillingham laughed. "It is curious that he charged us nothing," said she.
"Well," said the stranger gravely, "that was blame unlike Jimmy. There's only one man in this country would do that kind of thing, and as he hasn't a wagon to fit what you're telling me, it couldn't he him."
Miss Deringham had purposed asking who the man in question was, but the driver started his team just then, and an hour later drove them into the sleepy settlement and carried their boxes into Horton's hotel. He gravely invited Deringham to drink with him, and appearing mildly astonished went about his business when the latter declined. Deringham smiled at his daughter.
"There are, as one might expect, men of somewhat different type in this country, but I prefer the first one," said he.
Miss Deringham also fancied that she did so, though she did not admit it, and that evening was made acquainted with yet another and more different one. Horton as usual served supper at six o'clock, and all his guests were expected to partake of reasty pork, potatoes, flapjacks, green tea and fruits at the same table. To this he made no exception, and would not have done so for the premier, and when a small company of axemen and free prospectors filed in Deringham and his daughter took their places amidst the rest.
The room was long and bare, boarded with rough-sawn cedar, and furnished chiefly by the benches that ran down either side of the plain table; but the aromatic smell of the wood was stronger than that of stale tobacco, and the company avoided more than quietly respectful glances at the daintily-dressed Englishwoman.
They were quiet men with grave and steady eyes, and though they ate as if feeding was a serious business, and they had no time to waste, there was nothing in their converse that jarred upon the girl. Indeed, she saw one break off in a story whose conclusion she fancied might not have pleased her when a comrade glanced at him deprecatingly. In another ten minutes they filed out again, and Deringham smiled at his daughter. "What do you think of them?" he said.
The girl laughed. "Ostriches," she said. "Of course, I guess your thoughts. You were wondering if my kinsman resembles them. How long do we stay here?"
Deringham glanced at her covertly, and noticed the faint sparkle in her eyes and the scornful set of her lips. "That depends," he said, "partly upon our kinsman's attitude, for if he offered us hospitality we should probably stay a little. You were also right, my dear, as usual."
The girl's pose grew a trifle more rigid, and the fingers of one hand seemed to close vindictively. "It is grotesque—almost horrible, isn't it?" she said.
Her father nodded. "It might be," he said. "Still, as you know, the Carnaby affairs are involved, and there is a possibility of contesting his claim under the somewhat extravagant will. It is not altogether improbable that I shall find means of persuading him to stay here with his cows and pigs."
Deringham slightly accentuated part of the sentence, and again a faint tinge of colour crept into the face of the girl and vindictiveness into her eyes, for she understood him. The man who had on his deathbed bequeathed Carnaby to his grandson had driven out the young man's father years ago, and approaching dissolution had possibly somewhat clouded his faculties when he made the will. Deringham, who had married into the Alton family, and figured as a legatee, was, with the exception of the disinherited, the nearest of kin, and it had been generally expected that Carnaby would fall to his daughter; but perhaps in an endeavour to treat both sides fairly, its dying owner had, in the face of his lawyer's protests, inserted one clause which, for financial reasons, rendered a second union between the houses of Alton and Deringham distinctly advisable. There was, however, a high spirit in the girl, and she looked at her father steadily.
"But you were left the money, or most of it?" she said.
"Yes," said Deringham grimly. "I was left the money."
The girl asked nothing further, for there was something in the man's face which warned her not to press that subject. She knew that her father had long acted as financial adviser to the late owner of Carnaby, but it was not astonishing that Deringham had not told her he had exceeded the discretion allowed him, and been singularly unfortunate in his speculations.
She rose, and a man who like themselves had finished his meal leisurely followed them outside into the verandah. He smiled as he drew out a chair for the girl, and then sat down opposite her father with a card in his hand.
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Deringham. I'll introduce myself," said he.
Deringham took the card handed him, and glanced with an air of quiet indifference at the stranger, while his daughter looked apparently straight past him towards the climbing pines. Nevertheless, she had seen the man, and was not pleased with him. He had a somewhat fleshy face, beady black eyes with a boldness in them that was more akin to insolence than courage, and a full-lipped, mobile mouth. His dress was correct enough, though he wore a somewhat ample ring with a diamond in it, and his watchchain was too heavy and prominent, but there was a suggestion of coarseness about him. Her father, leaning forward in his chair with an air of languid curiosity, the card in his slender fingers, appeared his antithesis, and yet the girl fancied there was a resemblance in the expression of the two faces. She also felt her dislike for the stranger increased when she saw for the first time the look of greed and cunning in his face reflected in that of her father. She had hitherto only pictured him as a skilful financier, but now she saw qualities she had never suspected in him revealed as by a daring caricature.
"Willard Hallam," Deringham read aloud. "Hallam and Vose. Land and mining agents. Advances made on mineral claims."
"Yes," said the stranger, smiling. "That's me."
Deringham made no comment, but laid the card down beside him. "I wonder," he said indifferently, "how you came to know me."
The chilling evenness of his voice seemed to irritate the other man, and Alice Deringham was conscious of a faint amusement as she glanced at them. Deringham in his tweed travelling attire, which, worn with apparent carelessness, seemed to hang with every fold just where it should be, was wholly at his ease, and there was a trace of half-expressed toleration in his thin, finely-cut face, while Hallam appeared to become coarse and embarrassed by comparison. He probably did not feel so, for diffidence of any kind is not common in the West, but he may have realized that in any delicate fencing the advantage would lie with Deringham. Both, producing nothing and living upon the toil of their fellows, played the same game, but, while the stakes and counters are very similar, one played it in Vancouver and the other in London, where a more subtle finesse is demanded from the players.
Hallam, however, smiled. "I don't know that you will be pleased when I tell you, but this should explain things," he said. "Of course, since your company took hold out here I have heard of you."
Deringham took the Colonial Journal handed him, glanced down a paragraph, and passed it to his daughter. "Your maid!" he said. "I fancied it was a mistake to part with her, my dear. It is evident she has not gone home."
Alice Deringham unconsciously drew herself up a trifle, as her eyes ran down the column. It was headed "Another missing heir," and ran: "We are getting used to having our railroad-shovelling and trail-cutting done by scions of the British aristocracy, and seldom ask them what they did in the old country so long as they behave themselves decently in this one. Twice recently, as mentioned in these columns, the successor to an English property of some value was discovered, in the one case peddling oranges, and in the other digging a rancher's ditches, while now we have another instance in the Somasco valley. It appears that long ago there was a family quarrel at Carnaby, England, and though we do not know what it was all about, the owner of what we understand is an encumbered estate turned out his son, who had the good sense to come out to this country, where he did pretty well. He died and left a son, Mr. Henry Alton, well known in the Somasco district, who appears to be a credit to the country which took his father in. The owner of Carnaby dying later, left the ancestral property to him, and, as in this case there does not seem to be a wicked uncle, Mr. Deringham, the next of kin and a distinguished London financier who has, we believe, had some dealings in local mines, has come out to look for him. Mr. Alton of Somasco will probably stop right where he is if he is the sensible man his neighbours seem to think him."
"That's correct?" said Hallam, glancing at Deringham.
"I knew who you were when I saw you."
"Yes," said Deringham. "The taste is questionable, but I can't deny its comparative accuracy."
"Then," said Hallam, "Alton stands between you and this Carnaby property?"
"I believe so," said Deringham quietly.
"It's a big estate?" said Hallam, and Alice Deringham, who knew his capabilities, wondered when her father would effectually silence this presumptuous stranger. In the meanwhile he, however, showed no intention of doing so.
"No," he said languidly. "It is a small one, and heavily in debt. I presume you know rancher Alton by the interest you show in him?"
"Yes," said Hallam, "and I don't like him."
Deringham scarcely glanced at his daughter, but she realized that her presence was not especially desired, and when she rose and went back into the building her father glanced steadily at Hallam.
"I wonder why you told me that," he said.
Hallam laughed. "Well, I generally talk straight, and I feel like that," he said. "Now, they don't keep anything that doesn't burn a hole in you here, and I've a bottle of English whisky. Don't see any reason why you shouldn't take a drink with me?"
"No," said Deringham indifferently. "I am, however, a somewhat abstemious man."
Hallam went into the building and returned with a cigar-case and a bottle. The contents of both were good, and Deringham sat languidly glancing over the curling smoke towards the glimmering snow. It towered white and cold against a pale green, shining high above climbing pines and dusky valley, while the fleecy mist crept higher and higher athwart the serried waves of trees that fell to the river hollow. Alice Deringham saw it, and drinking in the wonderful freshness that came down from the peaks and permeated the silence of the valley, realized a little of that great white rampart's awful serenity. She also wondered vacantly what the two men on the verandah were talking about; but in this she was wrong, for Hallam, overcharged with Western vivacity, was talking, and her father waiting quietly.
"No," said the former, returning to the subject with an affectation of naive directness. "I don't like Alton, and I figure he don't like me. Nothing wrong with the man that I know of, but I'm not fond of anybody who gets in my way, and Alton of Somasco has taken out timber rights all over the valley where we're running the Tyee. He got in with his claim a day or two ahead of me."
"A capable man?" said Deringham quietly.
"Oh, yes," said the other. "He's capable, so far as he sees, but the trouble is he doesn't see quite far enough. Now, there's not room enough for two men with notions round about Somasco, and a one-horse rancher can't fight men with money, so Alton's got hold of a good deal bigger contract than he can carry through. Anyway, now I've told you what I think of your relation, you can if you feel like that let right go of me."
Deringham smiled a little. "This," he said, "is the best whisky I have tasted in Canada."
Hallam laughed. "Well," he said, "I'm glad I met you, especially as you'll no doubt stop here a little, and size up the mineral resources of the country. There's lots of information lying round that should be useful to you. Anyway, you made a big mistake when you took up the Peveril. Dropped a good many dollars that time, didn't you?"
Deringham's face grew a trifle grim. "As you probably know just what the mistake cost us there is no use in me denying it," said he.
"Well," said Hallam sympathetically, "one can't always come out on top, and if you're stopping down at Vancouver I may be of some use to you, and you to me. If you'll come up to-morrow I'll show you the Tyee, and I've something better still up the valley."
"I'm sorry," said Deringham indifferently; "I'm going through to Somasco!"
Hallam glanced at him steadily. "Of course you are," said he. "Well, I've told you nothing Alton doesn't know, and I've letters to answer. You'll excuse me?"
Deringham rose with him, and strolling along the verandah together they stopped a moment at the door, close by where Alice Deringham sat at an open window. It was growing dark now, but the last of the afterglow was flung down into their faces by the snow, and it seemed to the girl that the resemblance between them had grown stronger. Her father's appeared a trifle less refined in its chiselling than it had been, and there was a look which did not please her in his eyes. It suggested cupidity and cunning in place of intellectuality.
"Well," said Hallam, "you'll call on me at Vancouver anyway, and it's possible we may be some use to each other."
The hint of a confidence or understanding between them which the man's tone conveyed irritated the girl, but she saw that her father did not resent it. "Yes," he said. "If I think I can benefit by your co-operation in any way I will not fail to let you know."
Hallam went in, and Deringham leaned upon the verandah balustrade smoking tranquilly while the shadows that left the rolling mist behind crept higher and higher up the climbing pines until at last they touched and smeared into dimness the ethereal snow. Then the girl rose with a shiver and turned towards her father as Horton lighted the big lantern at the door. Deringham's face was, she fancied, a trifle haggard.
"I wonder why you have borne with that man so long," she said.
Deringham smiled a little. "There are many kinds of men, and presumably all of them are useful in their place," said he.
THE HEIR OF CARNABY
The sun was dipping towards the black ridge of firs on the shoulder of a hill when Deringham and his daughter rode down the winding trail into the Somasco valley. The girl gazed about her with eager curiosity, but the man who rode in silence apparently saw nothing, and it was only when his horse stumbled into a rut that he glanced round for a moment abstractedly. Deringham had much to occupy his mind just then, for while it was generally understood that he had made the journey at a physician's recommendation, he had reasons for choosing British Columbia to recuperate in.
He still retained control of the finances of Carnaby with the concurrence of the trustees, who were country gentlemen of no business capacity, and as it suited the family lawyer to remain on good terms with him nothing more than a very perfunctory account of his stewardship had been demanded. The late owner of Carnaby had been a man of simple tastes and unbending pride, who had a faint contempt for his kinsman, and refrained from inquiries respecting finances while there was no stoppage of supplies. There were one or two men who suspected that Deringham had profited by his relative's supineness, but it was only a vague surmise, and they did not know that the legacy bequeathed him had little more than an apparent value. Deringham had been unfortunate in his latest ventures, and could foresee considerable difficulty in extricating himself from a distinctly unpleasant position if the new heir decided to take immediate possession of his property. The latter had, however, shown no great desire to do so, and Deringham had accepted a commission from the trustees to ascertain his intentions.
A company of which he was one of the promoters had also invested somewhat unhappily in Western mines, and Deringham, who purposed to see what could be done with the depreciated securities, intended that the expenses of his sojourn in the mountain province should be borne by the shareholders. He had acquired considerable facility in the art of managing them, but the owner of Carnaby was an unknown quantity and Deringham was anxious.
Presently his daughter reined in her pony. "Stop a moment, father. That must be the ranch," she said.
The man drew bridle, and for a moment forgot his perplexities as he gazed at the scene before him. Far down in the valley lay a still blue lake with a great white peak shining ethereally at its northern end. Dark pines rolled about it, growing smaller and smaller up the hillside until they dwindled with spires clean cut against the azure into a gossamer filigree. Between them and the water stupendous forest shrouded all the valley, save where an oblong of pale verdure ran back from the fringe of boulders and was traversed by the frothing streak of a river whose roar came up hoarsely across the pines in long pulsations.