LADY MERTON COLONIST
MRS. HUMPHRY WARD
FRONTISPIECE BY ALBERT STERNER
Towards the end of this story the readers of it will find an account of an "unknown lake" in the northern Rockies, together with a picture of its broad expanse, its glorious mountains, and of a white explorers' tent pitched beside it. Strictly speaking, "Lake Elizabeth" is a lake of dream. But it has an original on this real earth, which bears another and a real name, and was discovered two years ago by my friend Mrs. Schaeffer, of Philadelphia, to whose enchanting narratives of travel and exploration in these untrodden regions I listened with delight at Field, British Columbia, in June, 1908. She has given me leave to use her own photograph of the "unknown lake," and some details from her record of it, for my own purposes; and I can only hope that in the summers to come she may unlock yet other secrets, unravel yet other mysteries, in that noble unvisited country which lies north and northeast of the Bow Valley and the Kicking Horse Pass.
MARY A. WARD.
LADY MERTON, COLONIST
"I call this part of the line beastly depressing."
The speaker tossed his cigarette-end away as he spoke. It fell on the railway line, and the tiny smoke from it curled up for a moment against the heavy background of spruce as the train receded.
"All the same, this is going to be one of the most exciting parts of Canada before long," said Lady Merton, looking up from her guide-book. "I can tell you all about it."
"For heaven's sake, don't!" said her companion hastily. "My dear Elizabeth, I really must warn you. You're losing your head."
"I lost it long ago. To-day I am a bore—to-morrow I shall be a nuisance. Make up your mind to it."
"I thought you were a reasonable person!—you used to be. Now look at that view, Elizabeth. We've seen the same thing for twelve hours, and if it wasn't soon going to be dark we should see the same thing for twelve hours more. What is there to go mad over in that?" Her brother waved his hand indignantly from right to left across the disappearing scene. "As for me, I am only sustained by the prospect of the good dinner that I know Yerkes means to give us in a quarter of an hour. I won't be a minute late for it! Go and get ready, Elizabeth—"
"Another lake!" cried Lady Merton, with a jump. "Oh, what a darling! That's the twentieth since tea. Look at the reflections—and that delicious island! And oh! what are those birds?"
She leant over the side of the observation platform, attached to the private car in which she and her brother were travelling, at the rear of the heavy Canadian Pacific train. To the left of the train a small blue lake had come into view, a lake much indented with small bays running up among the woods, and a couple of islands covered with scrub of beech and spruce, set sharply on the clear water. On one side of the lake, the forest was a hideous waste of burnt trunks, where the gaunt stems—charred or singed, snapped or twisted, or flayed—of the trees which remained standing rose dreadfully into the May sunshine, above a chaos of black ruin below. But except for this blemish—the only sign of man—the little lake was a gem of beauty. The spring green clothed its rocky sides; the white spring clouds floated above it, and within it; and small beaches of white pebbles seemed to invite the human feet which had scarcely yet come near them.
"What does it matter?" yawned her brother. "I don't want to shoot them. And why you make such a fuss about the lakes, when, as you say yourself, there are about two a mile, and none of them has got a name to its back, and they're all exactly alike, and all full of beastly mosquitoes in the summer—it beats me! I wish Yerkes would hurry up." He leant back sleepily against the door of the car and closed his eyes.
"It's because they haven't got a name—and they're so endless!—and the place is so big!—and the people so few!—and the chances are so many—and so queer!" said Elizabeth Merton laughing.
"What sort of chances?"
"Chances of the future."
"Hasn't got any chances!" said Philip Gaddesden, keeping his hands in his pockets.
"Hasn't it? Owl!" Lady Merton neatly pinched the arm nearest to her. "As I've explained to you many times before, this is the Hinterland of Ontario—and it's only been surveyed, except just along the railway, a few years ago—and it's as rich as rich—"
"I say, I wish you wouldn't reel out the guide-book like that!" grumbled the somnolent person beside her. "As if I didn't know all about the Cobalt mines, and that kind of stuff."
"Did you make any money out of them, Phil?"
"No—but the other fellows did. That's my luck."
"Never mind, there'll be heaps more directly—hundreds." She stretched out her hand vaguely towards an enchanting distance—hill beyond hill, wood beyond wood; everywhere the glimmer of water in the hollows; everywhere the sparkle of fresh leaf, the shining of the birch trunks among the firs, the greys and purples of limestone rock; everywhere, too, the disfiguring stain of fire, fire new or old, written, now on the mouldering stumps of trees felled thirty years ago when the railway was making, now on the young stems of yesterday.
"I want to see it all in a moment of time," Elizabeth continued, still above herself. "An air-ship, you know, Philip—and we should see it all in a day, from here to James Bay. A thousand miles of it—stretched below us—just waiting for man! And we'd drop down into an undiscovered lake, and give it a name—one of our names—and leave a letter under a stone. And then in a hundred years, when the settlers come, they'd find it, and your name—or mine—would live forever."
"I forbid you to take any liberties with my name, Elizabeth! I've something better to do with it than waste it on a lake in—what do you call it?—the 'Hinterland of Ontario.'" The young man mocked his sister's tone.
Elizabeth laughed and was silent.
The train sped on, at its steady pace of some thirty miles an hour. The spring day was alternately sunny and cloudy; the temperature was warm, and the leaves were rushing out. Elizabeth Merton felt the spring in her veins, an indefinable joyousness and expectancy; but she was conscious also of another intoxication—a heat of romantic perception kindled in her by this vast new country through which she was passing. She was a person of much travel, and many experiences; and had it been prophesied to her a year before this date that she could feel as she was now feeling, she would not have believed it. She was then in Rome, steeped in, ravished by the past—assisted by what is, in its way, the most agreeable society in Europe. Here she was absorbed in a rushing present; held by the vision of a colossal future; and society had dropped out of her ken. Quebec, Montreal and Ottawa had indeed made themselves pleasant to her; she had enjoyed them all. But it was in the wilderness that the spell had come upon her; in these vast spaces, some day to be the home of a new race; in these lakes, the playground of the Canada of the future; in these fur stations and scattered log cabins; above all in the great railway linking east and west, that she and her brother had come out to see.
For they had a peculiar relation to it. Their father had been one of its earliest and largest shareholders, might indeed be reckoned among its founders. He had been one, also, of a small group of very rich men who had stood by the line in one of the many crises of its early history, when there was often not enough money in the coffers of the company to pay the weekly wages of the navvies working on the great iron road. He was dead now, and his property in the line had been divided among his children. But his name and services were not forgotten at Montreal, and when his son and widowed daughter let it be known that they desired to cross from Quebec to Vancouver, and inquired what the cost of a private car might be for the journey, the authorities at Montreal insisted on placing one of the official cars at their disposal. So that they were now travelling as the guests of the C.P.R.; and the good will of one of the most powerful of modern corporations went with them.
They had left Toronto, on a May evening, when the orchards ran, one flush of white and pink, from the great lake to the gorge of Niagara, and all along the line northwards the white trilliums shone on the grassy banks in the shadow of the woods; while the pleasant Ontario farms flitted by, so mellowed and homelike already, midway between the old life of Quebec, and this new, raw West to which they were going. They had passed, also—but at night and under the moon—through the lake country which is the playground of Toronto, as well known, and as plentifully be-named as Westmoreland; and then at North Bay with the sunrise they had plunged into the wilderness,—into the thousand miles of forest and lake that lie between Old Ontario and Winnipeg.
And here it was that Elizabeth's enthusiasm had become in her brother's eyes a folly; that something wild had stirred in her blood, and sitting there in her shady hat at the rear of the train, her eyes pursuing the great track which her father had helped to bring into being, she shook Europe from her, and felt through her pulses the tremor of one who watches at a birth, and looks forward to a life to be—
"Dinner is ready, my lady."
"Thank Heaven!" cried Philip Gaddesden, springing up. "Get some champagne, please, Yerkes."
"Philip!" said his sister reprovingly, "it is not good for you to have champagne every night."
Philip threw back his curly head, and grinned.
"I'll see if I can do without it to-morrow. Come along, Elizabeth."
They passed through the outer saloon, with its chintz-covered sofas and chairs, past the two little bedrooms of the car, and the tiny kitchen to the dining-room at the further end. Here stood a man in steward's livery ready to serve, while from the door of the kitchen another older man, thin and tanned, in a cook's white cap and apron, looked benevolently out.
"Smells good, Yerkes!" said Gaddesden as he passed.
The cook nodded.
"If only her ladyship'll find something she likes," he said, not without a slight tone of reproach.
"You hear that, Elizabeth?" said her brother as they sat down to the well-spread board.
Elizabeth looked plaintive. It was one of her chief weaknesses to wish to be liked—adored, perhaps, is the better word—by her servants and she generally accomplished it. But the price of Yerkes's affections was too high.
"It seems to me that we have only just finished luncheon, not to speak of tea," she said, looking in dismay at the menu before her. "Phil, do you wish to see me return home like Mrs. Melhuish?"
Phil surveyed his sister. Mrs. Melhuish was the wife of their local clergyman in Hampshire; a poor lady plagued by abnormal weight, and a heart disease.
"You might borrow pounds from Mrs. Melhuish, and nobody would ever know. You really are too thin, Lisa—a perfect scarecrow. Of course Yerkes sees that he could do a lot for you. All the same, that's a pretty gown you've got on—an awfully pretty gown," he repeated with emphasis, adding immediately afterwards in another tone—"Lisa!—I say!—you're not going to wear black any more?"
"No"—said Lady Merton, "no—I am not going to wear black any more." The words came lingeringly out, and as the servant removed her plate, Elizabeth turned to look out of the window at the endless woods, a shadow on her beautiful eyes.
She was slenderly made, with a small face and head round which the abundant hair was very smoothly and closely wound. The hair was of a delicate brown, the complexion clear, but rather colourless. Among other young and handsome women, Elizabeth Merton made little effect; like a fine pencil drawing, she required an attentive eye. The modelling of the features, of the brow, the cheeks, the throat, was singularly refined, though without a touch of severity; her hands, with their very long and slender fingers, conveyed the same impression. Her dress, though dainty, was simple and inconspicuous, and her movements, light, graceful, self-controlled, seemed to show a person of equable temperament, without any strong emotions. In her light cheerfulness, her perpetual interest in the things about her, she might have reminded a spectator of some of the smaller sea-birds that flit endlessly from wave to wave, for whom the business of life appears to be summed up in flitting and poising.
The comparison would have been an inadequate one. But Elizabeth Merton's secrets were not easily known. She could rave of Canada; she rarely talked of herself. She had married, at the age of nineteen, a young Cavalry officer, Sir Francis Merton, who had died of fever within a year of their wedding, on a small West African expedition for which he had eagerly offered himself. Out of the ten months of their marriage, they had spent four together. Elizabeth was now twenty-seven, and her married life had become to her an insubstantial memory. She had been happy, but in the depths of the mind she knew that she might not have been happy very long. Her husband's piteous death had stamped upon her, indeed, a few sharp memories; she saw him always,—as the report of a brother officer, present at his funeral, had described him—wrapped in the Flag, and so lowered to his grave, in a desert land. This image effaced everything else; the weaknesses she knew, and those she had begun to guess at. But at the same time she had not been crushed by the tragedy; she had often scourged herself in secret for the rapidity with which, after it, life had once more become agreeable to her. She knew that many people thought her incapable of deep feeling. She supposed it must be true. And yet there were moments when a self within herself surprised and startled her; not so much, as yet, in connection with persons, as with ideas, causes—oppressions, injustices, helpless suffering; or, as now, with a new nation, visibly striking its "being into bounds."
During her widowhood she had lived much with her mother, and had devoted herself particularly to this only brother, a delicate lad—lovable, self-indulgent and provoking—for whom the unquestioning devotion of two women had not been the best of schools. An attack of rheumatic fever which had seized him on leaving Christchurch had scared both mother and sister. He had recovered, but his health was not yet what it had been; and as at home it was impossible to keep him from playing golf all day, and bridge all night, the family doctor, in despair, recommended travel, and Elizabeth had offered to take charge of him. It was not an easy task, for although Philip was extremely fond of his sister, as the male head of the family since his father's death he held strong convictions with regard to the natural supremacy of man, and would probably never "double Cape Turk." In another year's time, at the age of four and twenty, he would inherit the family estate, and his mother's guardianship would come to an end. He then intended to be done with petticoat government, and to show these two dear women a thing or two.
* * * * *
The dinner was good, as usual; in Elizabeth's eyes, monstrously good. There was to her something repellent in such luxurious fare enjoyed by strangers, on this tourist-flight through a country so eloquent of man's hard wrestle with rock and soil, with winter and the wilderness. The blinds of the car towards the next carriage were rigorously closed, that no one might interfere with the privacy of the rich; but Elizabeth had drawn up the blind beside her, and looked occasionally into the evening, and that endless medley of rock and forest and lake which lay there outside, under the sunset. Once she gazed out upon a great gorge, through which ran a noble river, bathed in crimson light; on its way, no doubt, to Lake Superior, the vast, crescent-shaped lake she had dreamed of in her school-room days, over her geography lessons, and was soon to see with her own eyes. She thought of the uncompanioned beauty of the streams, as it would be when the thunder of the train had gone by, of its distant sources in the wild, and the loneliness of its long, long journey. A little shiver stole upon her, the old tremor of man in presence of a nature not yet tamed to his needs, not yet identified with his feelings, still full therefore of stealthy and hostile powers, creeping unawares upon his life.
"This champagne is not nearly as good as last night," said Philip discontentedly. "Yerkes must really try for something better at Winnipeg. When do we arrive?"
"Oh, some time to-morrow evening."
"What a blessing we're going to bed!" said the boy, lighting his cigarette. "You won't be able to bother me about lakes, Lisa."
But he smiled at her as he spoke, and Elizabeth was so enchanted to notice the gradual passing away of the look of illness, the brightening of the eye, and slight filling out of the face, that he might tease her as he pleased.
Within an hour Philip Gaddesden was stretched on a comfortable bed sound asleep. The two servants had made up berths in the dining-room; Elizabeth's maid slept in the saloon. Elizabeth herself, wrapped in a large cloak, sat awhile outside, waiting for the first sight of Lake Superior.
It came at last. A gleam of silver on the left—a line of purple islands—frowning headlands in front—and out of the interminable shadow of the forests, they swept into a broad moonlight. Over high bridges and the roar of rivers, threading innumerable bays, burrowing through headlands and peninsulas, now hanging over the cold shining of the water, now lost again in the woods, the train sped on its wonderful way. Elizabeth on her platform at its rear was conscious of no other living creature. She seemed to be alone with the night and the vastness of the lake, the awfulness of its black and purple coast. As far as she could see, the trees on its shores were still bare; they had temporarily left the spring behind; the North seemed to have rushed upon her in its terror and desolation. She found herself imagining the storms that sweep the lake in winter, measuring her frail life against the loneliness and boundlessness around her. No sign of man, save in the few lights of these scattered stations; and yet, for long, her main impression was one of exultation in man's power and skill, which bore her on and on, safe, through the conquered wilderness.
Gradually, however, this note of feeling slid down into something much softer and sadder. She became conscious of herself, and her personal life; and little by little her exultation passed into yearning; her eyes grew wet. For she had no one beside her with whom to share these secret thoughts and passions—these fresh contacts with life and nature. Was it always to be so? There was in her a longing, a "sehnsucht," for she knew not what.
She could marry, of course, if she wished. There was a possibility in front of her, of which she sometimes thought. She thought of it now, wistfully and kindly; but it scarcely availed against the sudden melancholy, the passion of indefinite yearning which had assailed her.
The night began to cloud rapidly. The moonlight died from the lake and the coast. Soon a wind sprang up, lashing the young spruce and birch growing among the charred wreck of the older forest, through which the railway had been driven. Elizabeth went within, and she was no sooner in bed than the rain came pelting on her window.
She lay sleepless for a long time, thinking now, not of the world outside, or of herself, but of the long train in front of her, and its freight of lives; especially of the two emigrant cars, full, as she had seen at North Bay, of Galicians and Russian Poles. She remembered the women's faces, and the babies at their breasts. Were they all asleep, tired out perhaps by long journeying, and soothed by the noise of the train? Or were there hearts among them aching for some poor hovel left behind, for a dead child in a Carpathian graveyard?—for a lover?—a father?—some bowed and wrinkled Galician peasant whom the next winter would kill? And were the strong, swarthy men dreaming of wealth, of the broad land waiting, the free country, and the equal laws?
* * * * *
Elizabeth awoke. It was light in her little room. The train was at a standstill. Winnipeg?
A subtle sense of something wrong stole upon her. Why this murmur of voices round the train? She pushed aside a corner of the blind beside her. Outside a railway cutting, filled with misty rain—many persons walking up and down, and a babel of talk—
Bewildered, she rang for her maid, an elderly and precise person who had accompanied her on many wanderings.
"Simpson, what's the matter? Are we near Winnipeg?"
"We've been standing here for the last two hours, my lady. I've been expecting to hear you ring long ago."
Simpson's tone implied that her mistress had been somewhat crassly sleeping while more sensitive persons had been awake and suffering.
Elizabeth rubbed her eyes. "But what's wrong, Simpson, and where are we?"
"Goodness knows, my lady. We're hours away from Winnipeg—that's all I know—and we're likely to stay here, by what Yerkes says."
"Has there been an accident?"
Simpson replied—sombrely—that something had happened, she didn't know what—that Yerkes put it down to "the sink-hole," which according to him was "always doing it"—that there were two trains in front of them at a standstill, and trains coming up every minute behind them.
"My dear Simpson!—that must be an exaggeration. There aren't trains every minute on the C.P.R. Is Mr. Philip awake?"
"Not yet, my lady."
"And what on earth is a sink-hole?" asked Elizabeth.
Elizabeth had ample time during the ensuing sixteen hours for inquiry as to the nature of sink-holes.
When she emerged, dressed, into the saloon—she found Yerkes looking out of the window in a brown study. He was armed with a dusting brush and a white apron, but it did not seem to her that he had been making much use of them.
"Whatever is the matter, Yerkes? What is a sink-hole?"
Yerkes looked round.
"A sink-hole, my lady?" he said slowly—"A sink-hole, well, it's as you may say—a muskeg."
"A place where you can't find no bottom, my lady. This one's a vixen, she is! What she's cost the C.P.R.!"—he threw up his hands. "And there's no contenting her—the more you give her the more she wants. They give her ten trainloads of stuff a couple of months ago. No good! A bit of moist weather and there she is at it again. Let an engine and two carriages through last night—ten o'clock!"
"Gracious! Was anybody hurt? What—a kind of bog?—a quicksand?"
"Well," said Yerkes, resuming his dusting, and speaking with polite obstinacy, "muskegs is what they call 'em in these parts. They'll have to divert the line. I tell 'em so, scores of times. She was at this game last year. Held me up twenty-one hours last fall."
When Yerkes was travelling he spoke in a representative capacity. He was the line.
"How many trains ahead of us are there? Yerkes?"
"Two as I know on—may be more."
"Three or four, my lady."
"And how long are we likely to be kept?"
"Can't say. They've been at her ten hours. She don't generally let anyone over her under a good twenty—or twenty-four."
"Yerkes!—what will Mr. Gaddesden say? And it's so damp and horrid."
Elizabeth looked at the outside prospect in dismay. The rain was drizzling down. The passengers walking up and down the line were in heavy overcoats with their collars turned up. To the left of the line there was a misty glimpse of water over a foreground of charred stumps. On the other side rose a bank of scrubby wood, broken by a patch of clearing, which held a rude log-cabin. What was she to do with Philip all day?
Suddenly a cow appeared on the patch of grass round the log hut. With a sound of jubilation, Yerkes threw down his dusting brush and rushed out of the car. Elizabeth watched him pursue the cow, and disappear round a corner. What on earth was he about?
Philip had apparently not yet been called. He was asleep, and Yerkes had let well alone. But he must soon awake to the situation, and the problem of his entertainment would begin. Elizabeth took up the guide-book and with difficulty made out that they were about a hundred miles from Winnipeg. Somewhere near Rainy Lake apparently. What a foolishly appropriate name!
The shout startled her. Looking out she saw a group of passengers grinning, and Yerkes running hard for the car, holding something in his hand, and pursued by a man in a slouch hat, who seemed to be swearing. Yerkes dashed into the car, deposited his booty in the kitchen, and standing in the doorway faced the enemy. A terrific babel arose.
Elizabeth appeared in the passage and demanded to know what had happened.
"All right, my lady," said Yerkes, mopping his forehead. "I've only been and milked his cow. No saying where I'd have got any milk this side of Winnipeg if I hadn't."
"But, Yerkes, he doesn't seem to like it."
"Oh, that's all right, my lady."
But the settler was now on the steps of the car gesticulating and scolding, in what Elizabeth guessed to be a Scandinavian tongue. He was indeed a gigantic Swede, furiously angry, and Elizabeth had thoughts of bearding him herself and restoring the milk, when some mysterious transaction involving coin passed suddenly between the two men. The Swede stopped short in the midst of a sentence, pocketed something, and made off sulkily for the log hut. Yerkes, with a smile, and a wink to the bystanders, retired triumphant on his prey.
Elizabeth, standing at the door of the kitchen, inquired if supplies were likely to run short.
"Not in this car," said Yerkes, with emphasis. "What they'll do"—a jerk of his thumb towards the rest of the train in front—"can't say."
"Of course we shall have to give them food!" cried Lady Merton, delighted at the thought of getting rid of some of their superfluities.
Yerkes showed a stolid face.
"The C.P.R.'ll have to feed 'em—must. That's the regulation. Accident—free meals. That hasn't nothing to do with me. They don't come poaching on my ground. I say, look out! Do yer call that bacon, or buffaler steaks?"
And Yerkes rushed upon his subordinate, Bettany, who was cutting the breakfast bacon with undue thickness, and took the thing in hand himself. The crushed Bettany, who was never allowed to finish anything, disappeared hastily in order to answer the electric bell which was ringing madly from Philip Gaddesden's berth.
"Conductor!" cried a voice from the inner platform outside the dining-room and next the train.
"And what might you be wanting, sir?" said Bettany jauntily, opening the door to the visitor. Bettany was a small man, with thin harrassed features and a fragment of beard, glib of speech towards everybody but Yerkes.
"Your conductor got some milk, I think, from that cabin."
"He did—but only enough for ourselves. Sorry we can't oblige you."
"All the same, I am going to beg some of it. May I speak to the gentleman?"
"Mr. Gaddesden, sir, is dressing. The steward will attend to you."
And Bettany retired ceremoniously in favour of Yerkes, who hearing voices had come out of his den.
"I have come to ask for some fresh milk for a baby in the emigrant car," said the stranger. "Looks sick, and the mother's been crying. They've only got tinned milk in the restaurant and the child won't touch it."
"Sorry it's that particular, sir. But I've got only what I want."
"Yerkes!" cried Elizabeth Merton, in the background. "Of course the baby must have it. Give it to the gentleman, please, at once."
The stranger removed his hat and stepped into the tiny dining-room where Elizabeth was standing. He was tall and fair-skinned, with a blonde moustache, and very blue eyes. He spoke—for an English ear—with the slight accent which on the Canadian side of the border still proclaims the neighbourhood of the States.
"I am sorry to trouble you, madam," he said, with deference. "But the child seems very weakly, and the mother herself has nothing to give it. It was the conductor of the restaurant car who sent me here."
"We shall be delighted," said Lady Merton, eagerly. "May I come with you, if you are going to take it? Perhaps I could do something for the mother."
The stranger hesitated a moment.
"An emigrant car full of Galicians is rather a rough sort of place—especially at this early hour in the morning. But if you don't mind—"
"I don't mind anything. Yerkes, is that all the milk?".
"All to speak of, my lady," said Yerkes, nimbly retreating to his den.
Elizabeth shook her head as she looked at the milk. But her visitor laughed.
"The baby won't get through that to-day. It's a regular little scarecrow. I shouldn't think the mother'll rear it."
They stepped out on to the line. The drizzle descended on Lady Merton's bare head and grey travelling dress.
"You ought to have an umbrella," said the Canadian, looking at her in some embarrassment. And he ran back to the car for one. Then, while she carried the milk carefully in both hands, he held the umbrella over her, and they passed through the groups of passengers who were strolling disconsolately up and down the line in spite of the wet, or exchanging lamentations with others from two more stranded trains, one drawn up alongside, the other behind.
Many glances were levelled at the slight Englishwoman, with the delicately pale face, and at the man escorting her. Elizabeth meanwhile was putting questions. How long would they be detained? Her brother with whom she was travelling was not at all strong. Unconsciously, perhaps, her voice took a note of complaint.
"Well, we can't any of us cross—can we?—till they come to some bottom in the sink-hole," said the Canadian, interrupting her a trifle bluntly.
Elizabeth laughed. "We may be here then till night."
"Possibly. But you'll be the first over."
"How? There are some trains in front."
"That doesn't matter. They'll move you up. They're very vexed it should have happened to you."
Elizabeth felt a trifle uncomfortable. Was the dear young man tilting at the idle rich—and the corrupt Old World? She stole a glance at him, but perceived only that in his own tanned and sunburnt way he was a remarkably handsome well-made fellow, built on a rather larger scale than the Canadians she had so far seen. A farmer? His manners were not countrified. But a farmer in Canada or the States may be of all social grades.
By this time they had reached the emigrant car, the conductor of which was standing on the steps. He was loth to allow Lady Merton to enter, but Elizabeth persisted. Her companion led the way, pushing through a smoking group of dark-faced men hanging round the entrance.
Inside, the car was thick, indeed, with smoke and the heavy exhalations of the night. Men and women were sitting on the wooden benches; some women were cooking in the tiny stove-room attached to the car; children, half naked and unwashed, were playing on the floor; here and there a man was still asleep; while one old man was painfully conning a paper of "Homestead Regulations" which had been given him at Montreal, a lad of eighteen helping him; and close by another lad was writing a letter, his eyes passing dreamily from the paper to the Canadian landscape outside, of which he was clearly not conscious. In a corner, surrounded by three or four other women, was the mother they had come to seek. She held a wailing baby of about a year old in her arms. At the sight of Elizabeth, the child stopped its wailing, and lay breathing fast and feebly, its large bright eyes fixed on the new-comer. The mother turned away abruptly. It was not unusual for persons from the parlour-cars to ask leave to walk through the emigrants'.
But Elizabeth's companion said a few words to her, apparently in Russian, and Elizabeth, stooping over her, held out the milk. Then a dark face reluctantly showed itself, and great black eyes, in deep, lined sockets; eyes rather of a race than a person, hardly conscious, hardly individualised, yet most poignant, expressing some feeling, remote and inarticulate, that roused Elizabeth's. She called to the conductor for a cup and a spoon; she made her way into the malodorous kitchen, and got some warm water and sugar; then kneeling by the child, she put a spoonful of the diluted and sweetened milk into the mother's hand.
* * * * *
"Was it foolish of me to offer her that money?" said Elizabeth with flushed cheeks as they walked back through the rain. "They looked so terribly poor."
The Canadian smiled.
"I daresay it didn't do any harm," he said indulgently. "But they are probably not poor at all. The Galicians generally bring in quite a fair sum. And after a year or two they begin to be rich. They never spend a farthing they can help. It costs money—or time—to be clean, so they remain dirty. Perhaps we shall teach them—after a bit."
His companion looked at him with a shy but friendly curiosity.
"How did you come to know Russian?"
"When I was a child there were some Russian Poles on the next farm to us. I used to play with the boys, and learnt a little. The conductor called me in this morning to interpret. These people come from the Russian side of the Carpathians."
"Then you are a Canadian yourself?—from the West?"
"I was born in Manitoba."
"I am quite in love with your country!"
Elizabeth paused beside the steps leading to their car. As she spoke, her brown eyes lit up, and all her small features ran over, suddenly, with life and charm.
"Yes, it's a good country," said the Canadian, rather drily. "It's going to be a great country. Is this your first visit?"
But the conversation was interrupted by a reproachful appeal from Yerkes.
"Breakfast, my lady, has been hotted twice."
The Canadian looked at Elizabeth curiously, lifted his hat, and went away.
"Well, if this doesn't take the cake!" said Philip Gaddesden, throwing himself disconsolately into an armchair. "I bet you, Elizabeth, we shall be here forty-eight hours. And this damp goes through one."
The young man shivered, as he looked petulantly out through the open doorway of the car to the wet woods beyond. Elizabeth surveyed him with some anxiety. Like herself he was small, and lightly built. But his features were much less regular than hers; the chin and nose were childishly tilted, the eyes too prominent. His bright colour, however—(mother and sister could well have dispensed with that touch of vivid red on the cheeks!)—his curly hair, and his boyish ways made him personally attractive; while in his moments of physical weakness, his evident resentment of Nature's treatment of him, and angry determination to get the best of her, had a touch of something that was pathetic—that appealed.
Elizabeth brought a rug and wrapped it round him. But she did not try to console him; she looked round for something or someone to amuse him.
On the line, just beyond the railed platform of the car, a group of men were lounging and smoking. One of them was her acquaintance of the morning. Elizabeth, standing on the platform waited till he turned in her direction—caught his eye, and beckoned. He came with alacrity. She stooped over the rail to speak to him.
"I'm afraid you'll think it very absurd"—her shy smile broke again—"but do you think there's anyone in this train who plays bridge?"
"Certainly. There is a game going on at this moment in the car behind you."
"Is it—is it anybody—we could ask to luncheon?—who'd come, I mean," she added, hurriedly.
"I should think they'd come—I should think they'd be glad. Your cook, Yerkes, is famous on the line. I know two of the people playing. They are Members of Parliament."
"Oh! then perhaps I know them too," cried Elizabeth, brightening.
He laughed again.
"The Dominion Parliament, I mean." He named two towns in Manitoba, while Lady Merton's pink flush showed her conscious of having betrayed her English insularity. "Shall I introduce you?"
"Please!—if you find an opportunity. It's for my brother. He's recovering from an illness."
"And you want to cheer him up. Of course. Well, he'll want it to-day." The young man looked round him, at the line strewn with unsightly debris, the ugly cutting which blocked the view, and the mists up-curling from the woods; then at the slight figure beside him. The corners of his mouth tried not to laugh. "I am afraid you are not going to like Canada, if it treats you like this."
"I've liked every minute of it up till now," said Elizabeth warmly. "Can you tell me—I should like to know—who all these people are?" She waved her hand towards the groups walking up and down.
"Well, you see," said the Canadian after a moment's hesitation, "Canada's a big place!"
He looked round on her with a smile so broad and sudden that Elizabeth felt a heat rising in her cheeks. Her question had no doubt been a little naive.
But the young man hurried on, composing his face quickly.
"Some of them, of course, are tourists like yourselves. But I do know a few of them. That man in the clerical coat, and the round collar, is Father Henty—a Jesuit well known in Winnipeg—a great man among the Catholics here."
"But a disappointed one," said Lady Merton.
The Canadian looked surprised. Elizabeth, proud of her knowledge, went on:
"Isn't it true the Catholics hoped to conquer the Northwest—and so—with Quebec—to govern you all? And now the English and American immigration has spoilt all their chances—poor things!"
"That's about it. Did they tell you that in Toronto?"
Elizabeth stiffened. The slight persistent tone of mockery in the young man's voice was beginning to offend her.
"And the others?" she said, without noticing his question.
It was the Canadian's turn to redden. He changed his tone.
"—The man next him is a professor at the Manitoba University. The gentleman in the brown suit is going to Vancouver to look after some big lumber leases he took out last year. And that little man in the Panama hat has been keeping us all alive. He's been prospecting for silver in New Ontario—thinks he's going to make his fortune in a week."
"Oh, but that will do exactly for my brother!" cried Elizabeth, delighted. "Please introduce us."
And hurrying back into the car she burst upon the discontented gentleman within. Philip, who was just about to sally forth into the damp, against the entreaties of his servant, and take his turn at shying stones at a bottle on the line, was appeased by her report, and was soon seated, talking toy speculation, with a bronzed and brawny person, who watched the young Englishman, as they chatted, out of a pair of humorous eyes. Philip believed himself a great financier, but was not in truth either very shrewd or very daring, and his various coups or losses generally left his exchequer at the end of the year pretty much what it had been the year before. But the stranger, who seemed to have staked out claims at one time or another, across the whole face of the continent, from Klondyke to Nova Scotia, kept up a mining talk that held him enthralled; and Elizabeth breathed freely.
She returned to the platform. The scene was triste, but the rain had for the moment stopped. She hailed an official passing by, and asked if there was any chance of their soon going on. The man smiled and shook his head.
Her Canadian acquaintance, who was standing near, came up to the car as he heard her question.
"I have just seen a divisional superintendent. We may get on about nine o'clock to-night."
"And it is now eleven o'clock in the morning," sighed Lady Merton. "Well!—I think a little exercise would be a good thing."
And she descended the steps of the car. The Canadian hesitated.
"Would you allow me to walk with you?" he said, with formality. "I might perhaps be able to tell you a few things. I belong to the railway."
"I shall be greatly obliged," said Elizabeth, cordially. "Do you mean that you are an official?"
"I am an engineer—in charge of some construction work in the Rockies."
Lady Merton's face brightened.
"Indeed! I think that must be one of the most interesting things in the world to be."
The Canadian's eyebrows lifted a little.
"I don't know that I ever thought of it like that," he said, half smiling. "It's good work—but I've done things a good deal livelier in my time."
"You've not always been an engineer?"
"Very few people are always 'anything' in Canada," he said, laughing. "It's like the States. One tries a lot of things. Oh, I was trained as an engineer—at Montreal. But directly I had finished with that I went off to Klondyke. I made a bit of money—came back—and lost it all, in a milling business—over there"—he pointed eastwards—"on the Lake of the Woods. My partner cheated me. Then I went exploring to the north, and took a Government job at the same time—paying treaty money to the Indians. Then, five years ago, I got work for the C.P.R. But I shall cut it before long. I've saved some money again. I shall take up land, and go into politics."
"Politics?" repeated Elizabeth, wishing she might some day know what politics meant in Canada. "You're not married?" she added pleasantly.
"I am not married."
"And may I ask your name?"
His name, it seemed, was George Anderson, and presently as they walked up and down he became somewhat communicative about himself, though always within the limits, as it seemed to her, of a natural dignity, which developed indeed as their acquaintance progressed. He told her tales, especially, of his Indian journeys through the wilds about the Athabasca and Mackenzie rivers, in search of remote Indian settlements—that the word of England to the red man might be kept; and his graphic talk called up before her the vision of a northern wilderness, even wilder and remoter than that she had just passed through, where yet the earth teemed with lakes and timber and trout-bearing streams, and where—"we shall grow corn some day," as he presently informed her. "In twenty years they will have developed seed that will ripen three weeks earlier than wheat does now in Manitoba. Then we shall settle that country—right away!—to the far north." His tone stirred and deepened. A little while before, it had seemed to her that her tourist enthusiasm amused him. Yet by flashes, she began to feel in him something, beside which her own raptures fell silent. Had she, after all, hit upon a man—a practical man—who was yet conscious of the romance of Canada?
Presently she asked him if there was no one dependent on him—no mother?—or sisters?
"I have two brothers—in the Government service at Ottawa. I had four sisters."
"Are they married?"
"They are dead," he said, slowly. "They and my mother were burnt to death."
She exclaimed. Her brown eyes turned upon him—all sudden horror and compassion.
"It was a farmhouse where we were living—and it took fire. Mother and sisters had no time to escape. It was early morning. I was a boy of eighteen, and was out on the farm doing my chores. When I saw smoke and came back, the house was a burning mass, and—it was all over."
"Where was your father?"
"My father is dead."
"But he was there—at the time of the fire?"
"Yes. He was there."
He had suddenly ceased to be communicative, and she instinctively asked no more questions, except as to the cause of the conflagration.
"Probably an explosion of coal-oil. It was sometimes used to light the fire with in the morning."
"How very, very terrible!" she said gently, after a moment, as though she felt it. "Did you stay on at the farm?"
"I brought up my two brothers. They were on a visit to some neighbours at the time of the fire. We stayed on three years."
"With your father?"
"No; we three alone."
She felt vaguely puzzled; but before she could turn to another subject, he had added—
"There was nothing else for us to do. We had no money and no relations—nothing but the land. So we had to work it—and we managed. But after three years we'd saved a little money, and we wanted to get a bit more education. So we sold the land and moved up to Montreal."
"How old were the brothers when you took on the farm?"
"Wonderful!" she exclaimed. "You must be proud."
He laughed out.
"Why, that kind of thing's done every day in this country! You can't idle in Canada."
They had turned back towards the train. In the doorway of the car sat Philip Gaddesden lounging and smoking, enveloped in a fur coat, his knees covered with a magnificent fur rug. A whisky and soda had just been placed at his right hand. Elizabeth thought—"He said that because he had seen Philip." But when she looked at him, she withdrew her supposition. His eyes were not on the car, and he was evidently thinking of something else.
"I hope your brother will take no harm," he said to her, as they approached the car. "Can I be of any service to you in Winnipeg?"
"Oh, thank you. We have some introductions—"
"Of course. But if I can—let me know."
An official came along the line, with a packet in his hand. At sight of Elizabeth he stopped and raised his hat.
"Am I speaking to Lady Merton? I have some letters here, that have been waiting for you at Winnipeg, and they've sent them out to you."
He placed the packet in her hand. The Canadian moved away, but not before Elizabeth had seen again the veiled amusement in his eyes. It seemed to him comic, no doubt, that the idlers of the world should be so royally treated. But after all—she drew herself up—her father had been no idler.
She hastened to her brother; and they fell upon their letters.
"Oh, Philip!"—she said presently, looking up—"Philip! Arthur Delaine meets us at Winnipeg."
"Does he? Does he?" repeated the young man, laughing. "I say, Lisa!—"
Elizabeth took no notice of her brother's teasing tone. Nor did her voice, as she proceeded to read him the letter she held in her hand, throw any light upon her own feelings with regard to it.
The weary day passed. The emigrants were consoled by free meals; and the delicate baby throve on the Swede's ravished milk. For the rest, the people in the various trains made rapid acquaintance with each other; bridge went merrily in more than one car, and the general inconvenience was borne with much philosophy, even by Gaddesden. At last, when darkness had long fallen, the train to which the private car was attached moved slowly forward amid cheers of the bystanders.
Elizabeth and her brother were on the observation platform, with the Canadian, whom with some difficulty they had persuaded to share their dinner.
"I told you"—said Anderson—"that you would be passed over first." He pointed to two other trains in front that had been shunted to make room for them.
Elizabeth turned to him a little proudly.
"But I should like to say—it's not for our own sakes—not in the least!—it is for my father, that they are so polite to us."
"I know—of course I know!" was the quick response. "I have been talking to some of our staff," he went on, smiling. "They would do anything for you. Perhaps you don't understand. You are the guests of the railway. And I too belong to the railway. I am a very humble person, but—"
"You also would do anything for us?" asked Elizabeth, with her soft laugh. "How kind you all are!"
She looked charming as she said it—her face and head lit up by the line of flaring lights through which they were slowly passing. The line was crowded with dark-faced navvies, watching the passage of the train as it crept forward.
One of the officials in command leapt up on the platform of the car, and introduced himself. He was worn out with the day's labour, but triumphant. "It's all right now—but, my word! the stuff we've thrown in!—"
He and Anderson began some rapid technical talk. Slowly, they passed over the quicksand which in the morning had engulfed half a train; amid the flare of torches, and the murmur of strange speech, from the Galician and Italian labourers, who rested on their picks and stared and laughed, as they went safely by.
"How I love adventures!" cried Elizabeth, clasping her hands.
"Even little ones?" said the Canadian, smiling. But this time she was not conscious of any note of irony in his manner, rather of a kind protectingness—more pronounced, perhaps, than it would have been in an Englishman, at the same stage of acquaintance. But Elizabeth liked it; she liked, too, the fine bare head that the torchlight revealed; and the general impression of varied life that the man's personality produced upon her. Her sympathies, her imagination were all trembling towards the Canadians, no less than towards their country.
"Mr. Delaine, sir?"
The gentleman so addressed turned to see the substantial form of Simpson at his elbow. They were both standing in the spacious hall of the C.P.R. Hotel adjoining the station at Winnipeg.
"Her ladyship, sir, asked me to tell you she would be down directly. And would you please wait for her, and take her to see the place where the emigrants come. She doesn't think Mr. Gaddesden will be down till luncheon-time."
Arthur Delaine thanked the speaker for her information, and then sat down in a comfortable corner, Times in hand, to wait for Lady Merton.
She and her brother had arrived, he understood, in the early hours at Winnipeg, after the agitations and perils of the sink-hole. Philip had gone at once to bed and to slumber. Lady Merton would soon, it seemed, be ready for anything that Winnipeg might have to show her.
The new-comer had time, however, to realise and enjoy a pleasant expectancy before she appeared. He was apparently occupied with the Times, but in reality he was very conscious all the time of his own affairs and of a certain crisis to which, in his own belief, he had now brought them. In the first place, he could not get over his astonishment at finding himself where he was. The very aspect of the Winnipeg hotel, as he looked curiously round it, seemed to prove to him both the seriousness of certain plans and intentions of his own, and the unusual decision with which he had been pursuing them.
For undoubtedly, of his own accord, and for mere travellers' reasons, he would not at this moment be travelling in Canada. The old world was enough for him; and neither in the States nor in Canada had he so far seen anything which would of itself have drawn him away from his Cumberland house, his classical library, his pets, his friends and correspondents, his old servants and all the other items in a comely and dignified way of life.
He was just forty and unmarried, a man of old family, easy disposition, and classical tastes. He had been for a time Member of Parliament for one of the old Universities, and he was now engaged on a verse translation of certain books of the Odyssey. That this particular labour had been undertaken before did not trouble him. It was in fact his delight to feel himself a link in the chain of tradition—at once the successor and progenitor of scholars. Not that his scholarship was anything illustrious or profound. Neither as poet nor Hellenist would he ever leave any great mark behind him; but where other men talk of "the household of faith," he might have talked rather of "the household of letters," and would have seen himself as a warm and familiar sitter by its hearth. A new edition of some favourite classic; his weekly Athenaeum; occasional correspondence with a French or Italian scholar—(he did not read German, and disliked the race)—these were his pleasures. For the rest he was the landlord of a considerable estate, as much of a sportsman as his position required, and his Conservative politics did not include any sympathy for the more revolutionary doctrines—economic or social—which seemed to him to be corrupting his party. In his youth, before the death of an elder brother, he had been trained as a doctor, and had spent some time in a London hospital. In no case would he ever have practised. Before his training was over he had revolted against the profession, and against the "ugliness," as it seemed to him, of the matters and topics with which a doctor must perforce be connected. His elder brother's death, which, however, he sincerely regretted, had in truth solved many difficulties.
In person he was moderately tall, with dark grizzled hair, agreeable features and a moustache. Among his aristocratic relations whom he met in London, the men thought him a little dishevelled and old-fashioned; the women pronounced him interesting and "a dear." His manners were generally admired, except by captious persons who held that such a fact was of itself enough to condemn them; and he was welcome in many English and some foreign circles. For he travelled every spring, and was well acquainted with the famous places of Europe. It need only be added that he had a somewhat severe taste in music, and could render both Bach and Handel on the piano with success.
His property was only some six miles distant from Martindale Park, the Gaddesdens' home. During the preceding winter he had become a frequent visitor at Martindale, while Elizabeth Merton was staying with her mother and brother, and a little ripple of talk had begun to flow through the district. Delaine, very fastidious where personal dignity was concerned, could not make up his mind either to be watched or laughed at. He would have liked to woo—always supposing that wooing there was to be—with a maximum of dignity and privacy, surrounded by a friendly but not a forcing atmosphere. But Elizabeth Merton was a great favourite in her own neighbourhood, and people became impatient. Was it to be a marriage or was it not?
As soon as he felt this enquiry in the air, Mr. Delaine went abroad—abruptly—about a month before Elizabeth and her brother started for Canada. It was said that he had gone to Italy; but some few persons knew that it was his intention to start from Genoa for the United States, in order that he might attend a celebration at Harvard University in honour of a famous French Hellenist, who had covered himself with glory in Delaine's eyes by identifying a number of real sites with places mentioned in the Odyssey. Nobody, however, knew but himself, that, when that was done, he meant to join the brother and sister on part of their Canadian journey, and that he hoped thereby to become better acquainted with Elizabeth Merton than was possible—for a man at least of his sensitiveness—under the eyes of an inquisitive neighbourhood.
For this step Lady Merton's consent was of course necessary. He had accordingly written from Boston to ask if it would be agreeable to them that he should go with them through the Rockies. The proposal was most natural. The Delaines and Gaddesdens had been friends for many years, and Arthur Delaine enjoyed a special fame as a travelling companion—easy, accomplished and well-informed.
Nevertheless, he waited at Boston in some anxiety for Elizabeth's answer. When it came, it was all cordiality. By all means let him go with them to the Rockies. They could not unfortunately offer him sleeping room in the car. But by day Lady Merton hoped he would be their guest, and share all their facilities and splendours. "I shall be so glad of a companion for Philip, who is rapidly getting strong enough to give me a great deal of trouble."
That was how she put it—how she must put it, of course. He perfectly understood her.
And now here he was, sitting in the C.P.R. Hotel at Winnipeg, at a time of year when he was generally in Paris or Rome, investigating the latest Greek acquisitions of the Louvre, or the last excavation in the Forum; picnicking in the Campagna; making expeditions to Assisi or Subiaco; and in the evenings frequenting the drawing-rooms of ministers and ambassadors.
He looked up presently from the Times, and at the street outside; the new and raw street, with its large commercial buildings of the American type, its tramcars and crowded sidewalks. The muddy roadway, the gaps and irregularities in the street facade, the windows of a great store opposite, displeased his eye. The whole scene seemed to him to have no atmosphere. As far as he was concerned, it said nothing, it touched nothing.
What was it he was to be taken to see? Emigration offices? He resigned himself, with a smile. The prospect made him all the more pleasantly conscious that one feeling, and one feeling only, could possibly have brought him here.
"Ah! there you are."
A light figure hurried toward him, and he rose in haste.
But Lady Merton was intercepted midway by a tall man, quite unknown to Delaine.
"I have arranged everything for three o'clock," said the interloper. "You are sure that will suit you?"
"Perfectly! And the guests?"
"Half a dozen, about, are coming." George Anderson ran through the list, and Elizabeth laughed merrily, while extending her hand to Delaine.
"How amusing! A party—and I don't know a soul in Winnipeg. Arrived this morning—and going this evening! So glad to see you, Mr. Arthur. You are coming, of course?"
"Where?" said Delaine, bewildered.
"To my tea, this afternoon. Mr. Anderson—Mr. Delaine. Mr. Anderson has most kindly arranged a perfectly delightful party!—in our car this afternoon. We are to go and see a great farm belonging to some friend of his, about twenty miles out—prize cattle and horses—that kind of thing. Isn't it good of him?"
"Charming!" murmured Delaine. "Charming!" His gaze ran over the figure of the Canadian.
"Yerkes of course will give us tea," said Elizabeth. "His cakes are a strong point"; she turned to Anderson. "And we may really have an engine?"
"Certainly. We shall run you out in forty minutes. You still wish to go on to-night?"
"Philip does. Can we?"
"You can do anything you wish," said Anderson, smiling.
Elizabeth thanked him, and they chatted a little more about the arrangements and guests for the afternoon, while Delaine listened. Who on earth was this new acquaintance of Lady Merton's? Some person she had met in the train apparently, and connected with the C.P.R. A good-looking fellow, a little too sure of himself; but that of course was the Colonial fault.
"One of the persons coming this afternoon is an old Montreal fellow-student of mine," the Canadian was saying. "He is going to be a great man some day. But if you get him to talk, you won't like his opinions—I thought I'd better warn you."
"How very interesting!" put in Delaine, with perhaps excessive politeness. "What sort of opinions? Do you grow any Socialists here?"
Anderson examined the speaker, as it were for the first time.
"The man I was speaking of is a French-Canadian," he said, rather shortly, "and a Catholic."
"The very man I want to see," cried Elizabeth. "I suppose he hates us?"
"Who?—England? Not at all. He loves England—or says he does—and hates the Empire."
"'Love me, love my Empire!'" said Elizabeth. "But, I see—I am not to talk to him about the Boer War, or contributing to the Navy?"
"Better not," laughed Anderson. "I am sure he will want to behave himself; but he sometimes loses his head."
Elizabeth sincerely hoped he might lose it at her party.
"We want as much Canada as possible, don't we?" She appealed to Delaine.
"To see, in fact, the 'young barbarians—all at play!'" said Anderson. The note of sarcasm had returned to his clear voice. He stood, one hand on his hip, looking down on Lady Merton.
"Oh!" exclaimed Elizabeth, protesting; while Delaine was conscious of surprise that anyone in the New World should quote anything.
Anderson hastily resumed: "No, no. I know you are most kind, in wishing to see everything you can."
"Why else should one come to the Colonies?" put in Delaine. Again his smile, as he spoke, was a little overdone.
"Oh, we mustn't talk of Colonies," cried Elizabeth, looking at Anderson; "Canada, Mr. Arthur, doesn't like to be called a colony."
"What is she, then?" asked Delaine, with an amused shrug of the shoulders.
"She is a nation!" said the Canadian, abruptly. Then, turning to Lady Merton, he rapidly went through some other business arrangements with her.
"Three o'clock then for the car. For this morning you are provided?" He glanced at Delaine.
Lady Merton replied that Mr. Delaine would take her round; and Anderson bowed and departed.
"Who is he, and how did you come across him?" asked Delaine, as they stepped into the street.
Elizabeth explained, dwelling with enthusiasm on the kindness and ability with which the young man, since their acquaintance began, had made himself their courier. "Philip, you know, is no use at all. But Mr. Anderson seems to know everybody—gets everything done. Instead of sending my letters round this morning he telephoned to everybody for me. And everybody is coming. Isn't it too kind? You know it is for Papa's sake"—she explained eagerly—"because Canada thinks she owes him something."
Delaine suggested that perhaps life in Winnipeg was monotonous, and its inhabitants might be glad of distractions. He also begged—with a slight touch of acerbity—that now that he had joined them he too might be made use of.
"Ah! but you don't know the country," said Lady Merton gently. "Don't you feel that we must get the natives to guide us—to put us in the way? It is only they who can really feel the poetry of it all."
Her face kindled. Arthur Delaine, who thought that her remark was one of the foolish exaggerations of nice women, was none the less conscious as she made it, that her appearance was charming—all indeed that a man could desire in a wife. Her simple dress of white linen, her black hat, her lovely eyes, and little pointed chin, the bunch of white trilliums at her belt, which a child in the emigrant car had gathered and given her the day before—all her personal possessions and accessories seemed to him perfection. Yes!—but he meant to go slowly, for both their sakes. It seemed fitting and right, however, at this point that he should express his great pleasure and gratitude in being allowed to join them. Elizabeth replied simply, without any embarrassment that could be seen. Yet secretly both were conscious that something was on its trial, and that more was in front of them than a mere journey through the Rockies. He was an old friend both of herself and her family. She believed him to be honourable, upright, affectionate. He was of the same world and tradition as herself, well endowed, a scholar and a gentleman. He would make a good brother for Philip. And heretofore she had seen him on ground which had shown him to advantage; either at home or abroad, during a winter at Rome—a spring at Florence.
Indeed, as they strolled about Winnipeg, he talked to her incessantly about persons and incidents connected with the spring of the year before, when they had both been in Rome.
"You remember that delicious day at Castel Gandolfo?—on the terrace of the Villa Barberini? And the expedition to Horace's farm? You recollect the little girl there—the daughter of the Dutch Minister? She's married an American—a very good fellow. They've bought an old villa on Monte Mario."
And so on, and so on. The dear Italian names rolled out, and the speaker grew more and more animated and agreeable.
Only, unfortunately, Elizabeth's attention failed him. A motor car had been lent them in the hospitable Canadian way; and as they sped through and about the city, up the business streets, round the park, and the residential suburb rising along the Assiniboine, as they plunged through seas of black mud to look at the little old-fashioned Cathedral of St. John, with its graveyard recalling the earliest days of the settlement, Lady Merton gradually ceased even to pretend to listen to her companion.
"They have found some extremely jolly things lately at Porto D'Anzio—a fine torso—quite Greek."
"Have they?" said Elizabeth, absently—"Have they?—And to think that in 1870, just a year or two before my father and mother married, there was nothing here but an outpost in the wilderness!—a few scores of people! One just hears this country grow." She turned pensively away from the tombstone of an old Scottish settler in the shady graveyard of St. John.
"Ah! but what will it grow to?" said Delaine, drily. "Is Winnipeg going to be interesting?—is it going to matter?"
"Come and look at the Emigration Offices," laughed Elizabeth for answer.
And he found himself dragged through room after room of the great building, and standing by while Elizabeth, guided by an official who seemed to hide a more than Franciscan brotherliness under the aspects of a canny Scot, and helped by an interpreter, made her way into the groups of home-seekers crowding round the clerks and counters of the lower room—English, Americans, Swedes, Dutchmen, Galicians, French Canadians. Some men, indeed, who were actually hanging over maps, listening to the directions and information of the officials, were far too busy to talk to tourists, but there were others who had finished their business, or were still waiting their turn, and among them, as also among the women, the little English lady found many willing to talk to her.
And what courage, what vivacity she threw into the business! Delaine, who had seen her till now as a person whose natural reserve was rather displayed than concealed by her light agreeable manner, who had often indeed had cause to wonder where and what might be the real woman, followed her from group to group in a silent astonishment. Between these people—belonging to the primitive earth-life—and herself, there seemed to be some sudden intuitive sympathy which bewildered him; whether she talked to some Yankee farmer from the Dakotas, long-limbed, lantern-jawed, all the moisture dried out of him by hot summers, hard winters, and long toil, who had come over the border with a pocket full of money, the proceeds of prairie-farming in a republic, to sink it all joyfully in a new venture under another flag; or to some broad-shouldered English youth from her own north country; or to some hunted Russian from the Steppes, in whose eyes had begun to dawn the first lights of liberty; or to the dark-faced Italians and Frenchmen, to whom she chattered in their own tongues.
An Indian reserve of good land had just been thrown open to settlers. The room was thronged. But Elizabeth was afraid of no one; and no one repulsed her. The high official who took them through, lingered over the process, busy as the morning was, all for the beaux yeux of Elizabeth; and they left him pondering by what legerdemain he could possibly so manipulate his engagements that afternoon as to join Lady Merton's tea-party.
"Well, that was quite interesting!" said Delaine as they emerged.
Elizabeth, however, would certainly have detected the perfunctoriness of the tone, and the hypocrisy of the speech, had she had any thoughts to spare.
But her face showed her absorbed.
"Isn't it amazing!" Her tone was quiet, her eyes on the ground.
"Yet, after all, the world has seen a good many emigrations in its day!" remarked Delaine, not without irritation.
She lifted her eyes.
"Ah—but nothing like this! One hears of how the young nations came down and peopled the Roman Empire. But that lasted so long. One person—with one life—could only see a bit of it. And here one sees it all—all, at once!—as a great march—the march of a new people to its home. Fifty years ago, wolves and bears, and buffaloes—twelve years ago even, the great movement had not begun—and now, every week, a new town!—the new nation spreading, spreading over the open land, irresistibly, silently; no one setting bounds to it, no one knowing what will come of it!"
She checked herself. Her voice had been subdued, but there was a tremor in it. Delaine caught her up, rather helplessly.
"Ah! isn't that the point? What will come of it? Numbers and size aren't everything. Where is it all tending?"
She looked up at him, still exalted, still flushed, and said softly, as though she could not help it, "'On to the bound of the waste—on to the City of God!'"
He gazed at her in discomfort. Here was an Elizabeth Merton he had yet to know. No trace of her in the ordinary life of an English country house!
"You are Canadian!" he said with a smile.
"No, no!" said Elizabeth eagerly, recovering herself, "I am only a spectator. We see the drama—we feel it—much more than they can who are in it. At least"—she wavered—"Well!—I have met one man who seems to feel it!"
"Your Canadian friend?"
"He sees the vision—he dreams the dream!" she said brightly. "So few do. But I think he does. Oh, dear—dear!—how time flies! I must go and see what Philip is after."
Delaine was left discontented. He had come to press his suit, and he found a lady preoccupied. Canada, it seemed, was to be his rival! Would he ever be allowed to get in a word edgewise?
Was there ever anything so absurd, so disconcerting? He looked forward gloomily to a dull afternoon, in quest of fat cattle, with a car-full of unknown Canadians.
At three o'clock, in the wide Winnipeg station, there gathered on the platform beside Lady Merton's car a merry and motley group of people. A Chief Justice from Alberta, one of the Senators for Manitoba, a rich lumberman from British Columbia, a Toronto manufacturer—owner of the model farm which the party was to inspect, two or three ladies, among them a little English girl with fine eyes, whom Philip Gaddesden at once marked for approval; and a tall, dark-complexioned man with hollow cheeks, large ears, and a long chin, who was introduced, with particular emphasis, to Elizabeth by Anderson, as "Mr. Felix Mariette"—Member of Parliament, apparently, for some constituency in the Province of Quebec.
The small crowd of persons collected, all eminent in the Canadian world, and some beyond it, examined their hostess of the afternoon with a kindly amusement. Elizabeth had sent round letters; Anderson, who was well known, it appeared, in Winnipeg, had done a good deal of telephoning. And by the letters and the telephoning this group of busy people had allowed itself to be gathered; simply because Elizabeth was her father's daughter, and it was worth while to put such people in the right way, and to send them home with some rational notions of the country they had come to see.
And she, who at home never went out of her way to make a new acquaintance, was here the centre of the situation, grasping the identities of all these strangers with wonderful quickness, flitting about from one to another, making friends with them all, and constraining Philip to do the same. Anderson followed her closely, evidently feeling a responsibility for the party only second to her own.
He found time, however, to whisper to Mariette, as they were all about to mount the car:
"Mais oui—tres gracieuse!" said the other, but without a smile, and with a shrug of the shoulders. He was only there to please Anderson. What did the aristocratic Englishwoman on tour—with all her little Jingoisms and Imperialisms about her—matter to him, or he to her?
While the stream of guests was slowly making its way into the car, while Yerkes at the further end, resplendent in a buttonhole and a white cap and apron, was watching the scene, and the special engine, like an impatient horse, was puffing and hissing to be off, a man, who had entered the cloak-room of the station to deposit a bundle just as the car-party arrived, approached the cloak-room door from the inside, and looked through the glazed upper half. His stealthy movements and his strange appearance passed unnoticed. There was a noisy emigrant party in the cloak-room, taking out luggage deposited the night before; they were absorbed in their own affairs, and in some wrangle with the officials which involved a good deal of lost temper on both sides.
The man was old and grey. His face, large-featured and originally comely in outline, wore the unmistakable look of the outcast. His eyes were bloodshot, his mouth trembled, so did his limbs as he stood peering by the door. His clothes were squalid, and both they and his person diffused the odours of the drinking bar from which he had just come. The porter in charge of the cloak-room had run a hostile eye over him as he deposited his bundle. But now no one observed him; while he, gathered up and concentrated, like some old wolf upon a trail, followed every movement of the party entering the Gaddesden car.
George Anderson and his French Canadian friend left the platform last. As Anderson reached the door of the car he turned back to speak to Mariette, and his face and figure were clearly visible to the watcher behind the barred cloak-room door. A gleam of savage excitement passed over the old man's face; his limbs trembled more violently.
Through the side windows of the car the party could be seen distributing themselves over the comfortable seats, laughing and talking in groups. In the dining-room, the white tablecloth spread for tea, with the china and silver upon it, made a pleasant show. And now two high officials of the railway came hurrying up, one to shake hands with Lady Merton and see that all was right, the other to accompany the party.
Elizabeth Merton came out in her white dress, and leant over the railing, talking, with smiles, to the official left behind. He raised his hat, the car moved slowly off, and in the group immediately behind Lady Merton the handsome face and thick fair hair of George Anderson showed conspicuous as long as the special train remained in sight.
The old man raised himself and noiselessly went out upon the platform. Outside the station he fell in with a younger man, who had been apparently waiting for him; a strong, picturesque fellow, with the skin and countenance of a half-breed.
"Well?" said the younger, impatiently. "Thought you was goin' to take a bunk there."
"Couldn't get out before. It's all right."
"Don't care if it is," said the other sulkily. "Don't care a damn button not for you nor anythin' you're after! But you give me my two dollars sharp, and don't keep me another half-hour waitin'. That's what I reckoned for, an' I'm goin' to have it." He held out his hand.
The old man fumbled slowly in an inner pocket of his filthy overcoat.
"You say the car's going on to-night?"
"It is, old bloke, and Mr. George Anderson same train—number ninety-seven—as ever is. Car shunted at Calgary to-morrow night. So none of your nonsense—fork out! I had a lot o' trouble gettin' you the tip."
The old man put some silver into his palm with shaking fingers. The youth, who was a bartender from a small saloon in the neighbourhood of the station, looked at him with contempt.
"Wonder when you was sober last? Think you'd better clean yourself a bit, or they'll not let you on the train."
"Who told you I wanted to go on the train?" said the old man sharply. "I'm staying at Winnipeg."
"Oh! you are, are you?" said the other mockingly. "We shouldn't cry our eyes out if you was sayin' good-bye. Ta-ta!" And with the dollars in his hand, head downwards, he went off like the wind.
The old man waited till the lad was out of sight, then went back into the station and bought an emigrant ticket to Calgary for the night train. He emerged again, and walked up the main street of Winnipeg, which on this bright afternoon was crowded with people and traffic. He passed the door of a solicitor's office, where a small sum of money, the proceeds of a legacy, had been paid him the day before, and he finally made his way into the free library of Winnipeg, and took down a file of the Winnipeg Chronicle.
He turned some pages laboriously, yet not vaguely. His eyes were dim and his hands palsied, but he knew what he was looking for. He found it at last, and sat pondering it—the paragraph which, when he had hit upon it by chance in the same place twenty-four hours earlier, had changed the whole current of his thoughts.
"Donaldminster, Sask., May 6th.—We are delighted to hear from this prosperous and go-ahead town that, with regard to the vacant seat the Liberals of the city have secured as a candidate Mr. George Anderson, who achieved such an important success last year for the C.P.R. by his settlement on their behalf of the dangerous strike which had arisen in the Rocky Mountains section of the line, and which threatened not only to affect all the construction camps in the district but to spread to the railway workers proper and to the whole Winnipeg section. Mr. Anderson seems to have a remarkable hold on the railway men, and he is besides a speaker of great force. He is said to have addressed twenty-three meetings, and to have scarcely eaten or slept for a fortnight. He was shrewd and fair in negotiation, as well as eloquent in speech. The result was an amicable settlement, satisfactory to all parties. And the farmers of the West owe Mr. Anderson a good deal. So does the C.P.R. For if the strike had broken out last October, just as the movement of the fall crops eastward was at its height, the farmers and the railway, and Canada in general would have been at its mercy. We wish Mr. Anderson a prosperous election (it is said, indeed, that he is not to be opposed) and every success in his political career. He is, we believe, Canadian born—sprung from a farm in Manitoba—so that he has grown up with the Northwest, and shares all its hopes and ambitions."
The old man, with both elbows on the table, crouched over the newspaper, incoherent pictures of the past coursing through his mind, which was still dazed and stupid from the drink of the night before.
Meanwhile, the special train sped along the noble Red River and out into the country. All over the prairie the wheat was up in a smooth green carpet, broken here and there by the fields of timothy and clover, or the patches of summer fallow, or the white homestead buildings. The June sun shone down upon the teeming earth, and a mirage, born of sun and moisture, spread along the edge of the horizon, so that Elizabeth, the lake-lover, could only imagine in her bewilderment that Lake Winnipeg or Lake Manitoba had come dancing south and east to meet her, so clearly did the houses and trees, far away behind them, and on either side, seem to be standing at the edge of blue water, in which the white clouds overhead were mirrored, and reed-beds stretched along the shore. But as the train receded, the mirage followed them; the dream-water lapped up the trees and the fields, and even the line they had just passed over seemed to be standing in water.
How foreign to an English eye was the flat, hedgeless landscape! with its vast satin-smooth fields of bluish-green wheat; its farmhouses with their ploughed fireguards and shelter-belts of young trees; its rare villages, each stretching in one long straggling line of wooden houses along the level earth; its scattered, treeless lakes, from which the duck rose as the train passed! Was it this mere foreignness, this likeness in difference, that made it strike so sharply, with such a pleasant pungency on Elizabeth's senses? Or was it something else—some perception of an opening future, not only for Canada but for herself, mingling with the broad light, the keen air, the lovely strangeness of the scene?
Yet she scarcely spoke to Arthur Delaine, with whom one might have supposed this hidden feeling connected. She was indeed aware of him all the time. She watched him secretly; watching herself, too, in the characteristic modern way. But outwardly she was absorbed in talking with the guests.
The Chief Justice, roundly modelled, with a pink ball of a face set in white hair, had been half a century in Canada, and had watched the Northwest grow from babyhood. He had passed his seventieth year, but Elizabeth noticed in the old men of Canada a strained expectancy, a buoyant hope, scarcely inferior to that of the younger generation. There was in Sir Michael's talk no hint of a Nunc Dimittis; rather a passionate regret that life was ebbing, and the veil falling over a national spectacle so enthralling, so dramatic.
"Before this century is out we shall be a people of eighty millions, and within measurable time this plain of a thousand miles from here to the Rockies will be as thickly peopled as the plain of Lombardy."
"Well, and what then?" said a harsh voice in a French accent, interrupting the Chief Justice.
Arthur Delaine's face, turning towards the speaker, suddenly lightened, as though its owner said, "Ah! precisely."
"The plain of Lombardy is not a Paradise," continued Mariette, with a laugh that had in it a touch of impatience.
"Not far off it," murmured Delaine, as he looked out on the vast field of wheat they were passing—a field two miles long, flat and green and bare as a billiard-table—and remembered the chestnuts and the looping vines, the patches of silky corn and spiky maize, and all the interlacing richness and broidering of the Italian plain. His soul rebelled against this naked new earth, and its bare new fortunes. All very well for those who must live in it and make it. "Yet is there better than it!"—lands steeped in a magic that has been woven for them by the mere life of immemorial generations.
He murmured this to Elizabeth, who smiled.
"Their shroud?" she said, to tease him. "But Canada has on her wedding garment!"
Again he asked himself what had come to her. She looked years younger than when he had parted from her in England. The delicious thought shot through him that his advent might have something to do with it.
He stooped towards her.
"Willy-nilly, your friends must like Canada!" he said, in her ear; "if it makes you so happy."
He had no art of compliment, but the words were simple and sincere, and Elizabeth grew suddenly rosy, to her own great annoyance. Before she could reply, however, the Chief Justice had insisted on bringing her back into the general conversation.
"Come and keep the peace, Lady Merton! Here is my friend Mariette playing the devil's advocate as usual. Anderson tells me you are inclined to think well of us; so perhaps you ought to hear it."
Mariette smiled and bowed a trifle sombrely. He was plain and gaunt, but he had the air of a grand seigneur, and was in fact a member of one of the old seigneurial families of Quebec.
"I have been enquiring of Sir Michael, madam, whether he is quite happy in his mind as to these Yankees that are now pouring into the new provinces. He, like everyone else, prophesies great things for Canada; but suppose it is an American Canada?"
"Let them come," said Anderson, with a touch of scorn. "Excellent stuff! We can absorb them. We are doing it fast."
"Can you? They are pouring all over the new districts as fast as the survey is completed and the railways planned. They bring capital, which your Englishman doesn't. They bring knowledge of the prairie and the climate, which your Englishmen haven't got. As for capital, America is doing everything; financing the railways, the mines, buying up the lands, and leasing the forests. British Columbia is only nominally yours; American capital and business have got their grip firm on the very vitals of the province."
"Perfectly true!"—put in the lumberman from Vancouver—"They have three-fourths of the forests in their hands."
"No matter!" said Anderson, kindling. "There was a moment of danger—twenty years ago. It is gone. Canada will no more be American than she will be Catholic—with apologies to Mariette. These Yankees come in—they turn Englishmen in six months—they celebrate Dominion Day on the first of July, and Independence Day, for old sake's sake, on the fourth; and their children will be as loyal as Toronto."
"Aye, and as dull!" said Mariette fiercely.
The conversation dissolved in protesting laughter. The Chief Justice, Anderson, and the lumberman fell upon another subject. Philip and the pretty English girl were flirting on the platform outside, Mariette dropped into a seat beside Elizabeth.
"You know my friend, Mr. Anderson, madam?"
"I made acquaintance with him on the journey yesterday. He has been most kind to us."
"He is a very remarkable man. When he gets into the House, he will be heard of. He will perhaps make his mark on Canada."
"You and he are old friends?"
"Since our student days. I was of course at the French College—and he at McGill. But we saw a great deal of each other. He used to come home with me in his holidays."
"He told me something of his early life."
"Did he? It is a sad history, and I fear we—my family, that is, who are so attached to him—have only made it sadder. Three years ago he was engaged to my sister. Then the Archbishop forbade mixed marriages. My sister broke it off, and now she is a nun in the Ursuline Convent at Quebec."
"Oh, poor things!" cried Elizabeth, her eye on Anderson's distant face.
"My sister is quite happy," said Mariette sharply. "She did her duty. But my poor friend suffered. However, now he has got over it. And I hope he will marry. He is very dear to me, though we have not a single opinion in the world in common."
Elizabeth kept him talking. The picture of Anderson drawn for her by the admiring but always critical affection of his friend, touched and stirred her. His influence at college, the efforts by which he had placed his brothers in the world, the sensitive and generous temperament which had won him friends among the French Canadian students, he remaining all the time English of the English; the tendency to melancholy—a personal and private melancholy—which mingled in him with a passionate enthusiasm for Canada, and Canada's future; Mariette drew these things for her, in a stately yet pungent French that affected her strangely, as though the French of Saint Simon—or something like it—breathed again from a Canadian mouth. Anderson meanwhile was standing outside with the Chief Justice. She threw a glance at him now and then, wondering about his love affair. Had he really got over it?—or was that M. Mariette's delusion? She liked, on the contrary, to think of him as constant and broken-hearted!
* * * * *
The car stopped, as it seemed, on the green prairie, thirty miles from Winnipeg. Elizabeth was given up to the owner of the great farm—one of the rich men of Canada for whom experiment in the public interest becomes a passion; and Anderson walked on her other hand.
Delaine endured a wearisome half-hour. He got no speech with Elizabeth, and prize cattle were his abomination. When the half-hour was done, he slipped away, unnoticed, from the party. He had marked a small lake or "slough" at the rear of the house, with wide reed-beds and a clump of cottonwood. He betook himself to the cottonwood, took out his pocket Homer and a notebook, and fell to his task. He was in the thirteenth book:
[Greek: os d hot aner dorpoio lilaietai, o te pauemar neion an helketon boe oinope pekton arotron]
"As when a man longeth for supper, for whom, the livelong day, two wine-coloured oxen have dragged the fitted plough through the fallow, and joyful to such an one is the going down of the sun that sends him to his meal, for his knees tremble as he goes—so welcome to Odysseus was the setting of the sun": ...
He lost himself in familiar joy—the joy of the Greek itself, of the images of the Greek life. He walked with the Greek ploughman, he smelt the Greek earth, his thoughts caressed the dark oxen under the yoke. These for him had savour and delight; the wide Canadian fields had none.
Philip Gaddesden meanwhile could not be induced to leave the car. While the others were going through the splendid stables and cowsheds, kept like a queen's parlour, he and the pretty girl were playing at bob-cherry in the saloon, to the scandal of Yerkes, who, with the honour of the car and the C.P.R. and Canada itself on his shoulders, could not bear that any of his charges should shuffle out of the main item in the official programme.
But Elizabeth, as before, saw everything transfigured; the splendid Shire horses; the famous bull, progenitor of a coming race; the sheds full of glistening cows and mottled calves. These smooth, sleek creatures, housed there for the profit of Canada and her farm life, seemed to Elizabeth no less poetic than the cattle of Helios to Delaine. She loved the horses, and the patient, sweet-breathed kine; she found even a sympathetic mind for the pigs.
Presently when her host, the owner, left her to explain some of his experiments to the rest of the party, she fell to Anderson alone. And as she strolled at his side, Anderson found the June afternoon pass with extraordinary rapidity. Yet he was not really as forthcoming or as frank as he had been the day before. The more he liked his companion, the more he was conscious of differences between them which his pride exaggerated. He himself had never crossed the Atlantic; but he understood that she and her people were "swells"—well-born in the English sense, and rich. Secretly he credited them with those defects of English society of which the New World talks—its vulgar standards and prejudices. There was not a sign of them certainly in Lady Merton's conversation. But it is easy to be gracious in a new country; and the brother was sometimes inclined to give himself airs. Anderson drew in his tentacles a little; ready indeed to be wroth with himself that he had talked so much of his own affairs to this little lady the day before. What possible interest could she have taken in them!
All the same, he could not tear himself from her side. Whenever Delaine left his seat by the lake, and strolled round the corner of the wood to reconnoitre, the result was always the same. If Anderson and Lady Merton were in sight at all, near or far, they were together. He returned, disconsolate, to Homer and the reeds.
As they went back to Winnipeg, some chance word revealed to Elizabeth that Anderson also was taking the night train for Calgary.
"Oh! then to-morrow you will come and talk to us!" cried Elizabeth, delighted.
Her cordial look, the pretty gesture of her head, evoked in Anderson a start of pleasure. He was not, however, the only spectator of them. Arthur Delaine, standing by, thought for the first time in his life that Elizabeth's manner was really a little excessive.