Harold Bindloss.

Delilah of the Snows



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"That, of course, was very different."

Hetty smiled. "Yes," she said. "When one is a girl it usually is."

Ingleby, who was very drowsy, did not seem quite sure what to make of this, and gazed meditatively at the fire.

"That stone hearth wasn't there when I left," he said. "Who made it, Hetty?"

"Tomlinson. Tom went round to tell the boys about the bakery, and Tomlinson came over to show him how to build the oven."

"And he made this chair? Now I think of it we hadn't one before, and Tom certainly didn't make it. It's too comfortable."

"Yes," said Hetty.

"And he built the new shed?"

"He certainly did!"

Ingleby seemed by no means pleased. "It seems to me," he said severely, "that Tomlinson has been doing a good deal here. Now, you ought to know that when you want any improvements made you have only to ask Tom and me."

"Could you build a chimney like that one?"

"No," said Ingleby decisively. "If I must be honest, I don't think I could. Still, there wasn't the least occasion to ask Tomlinson. He must have been here more than once?"

"I believe he was here three or four times."

"Why did he come so often?"

Hetty laughed. "He said it was to see how Tom was getting on with the oven."

"Of course!" said Ingleby. "Well, I suppose one excuse was as good as another. One would, however, fancy that Tomlinson had quite enough to do looking after his mine."

Hetty flashed a swift glance at him, but Ingleby was not looking at her. He was too drowsy to be quite sure of what he felt, but the fact that Tomlinson had been there on several occasions was far from pleasing him. Just then Tom Leger came in with the kettle which he had boiled on the fire outside, and Ingleby roused himself.

"I suppose you have struck nothing on the claim?" he said.

"No," said Leger. "Only a trace of colour, but I don't want to talk of that to-night. You can tell us about your journey when you have had supper."

Ingleby did so, though the narrative was distinctly tame in its unvarnished conciseness until he came to his meeting with Esmond. He had no desire that Hetty should know what he had endured on her account, while it is, after all, difficult to make another person understand what one feels like when worn-out to the verge of exhaustion. Ingleby did not attempt it, but his tone changed a trifle as he tried to picture the policeman floundering in the river. Leger laughed softly, but the firelight showed a little flash in Hetty's eyes.

"Splendid!" she said, and her voice had a little vindictive ring.

Leger looked up with a whimsical smile.

"You appear almost as angry with the man as Walter was," he said.

"Well," replied Hetty sharply, "so I am."

It did not occur to Ingleby to wonder why the fact that the policeman had attempted to drive him off the trail should cause her so much indignation, and when Hetty abruptly asked a question calculated to give a different trend to the subject Leger answered her.

"I fancy I should have endeavoured to let him scrape by if I had been there," he said.

"Crowding a police officer of that kind into a river may be soothing to one's ruffled temper, but I can't help concluding that it's likely to turn out expensive."

Ingleby did not answer this, and shortly afterwards retired to the tent, where he spent the next ten hours in dreamless sleep. He rose a little later than usual next morning, but did his accustomed work at the mine, though Leger fancied he was a trifle preoccupied during most of the day. Shortly before they left their task in the evening they saw Tomlinson climbing the trail to their camp with a heavy burden on his shoulders. The miner had apparently got rid of it when they met him coming back, and smiled in a deprecatory fashion in answer to Ingleby's inquiring glance.

"I struck a fir that was full of resin knots when I was chopping props," he said. "It kind of struck me Miss Leger would have some use for them at the bakery, and I just took one or two along."

Ingleby appeared rather more reflective than ever when the big miner went on, and finally laid his hand on his companion's shoulder.

"Of course, it's not exactly my business, but are you wise in encouraging that man to prowl about the shanty continually, Tom?" he said.

Leger looked at him in astonishment. "I'm not aware of having done it, but if it pleases him to come there why shouldn't he?"

"I suppose it doesn't occur to you that there is anything unusual in the fact that a man whose time is worth a good deal just now should spend several hours of it hacking pine knots out of trees and then scramble two miles with as much as a horse could carry on his back over an infamous trail?"

"You mean that he does not do it to please you or me?"

"Yes," said Ingleby. "That is it exactly. Of course, I know I'm taking an unwarranted liberty, but if I had felt that Hetty could have had any liking for him I should not have mentioned it to you. Still, don't you think it might be better if she didn't see so much of him?"

Leger laughed. "So far, at least, she hasn't shown the smallest sign of recognizing the merits of the fortunate Tomlinson."

Ingleby looked down across the pines. "We are old friends, and you won't mind my saying that I'm very glad."

"Well," said Leger, who glanced at him sharply, "I can't quite see why you should be. The man has an excellent character, and I like him. He has also, what some folks would consider of as much importance, a profitable mine."

"Still, he isn't half good enough for her," persisted Ingleby.

Leger did not speak for a moment, and during the somewhat embarrassing silence his face grew a trifle grave. Then, he said quietly, "I fancy that is a point for Hetty to decide."

XII
THE MAJOR'S BEAR

Darkness had closed down on the hillside, and supper was over, when Ingleby and Leger lounged on a cedar log outside the shanty. Hetty lay close by in the deer-hide chair, and Tomlinson had stretched his long limbs just clear of the fire. He lay placidly smoking, with no more than an occasional deferential glance at Hetty. Now and then the flickering firelight touched his face and showed the harsh lines of its rugged chiselling and the steadiness of his contemplative eyes. Tomlinson, it was generally admitted, could do more with axe and shovel than most of the men in that valley, but a certain deliberateness of speech and gesture characterized him in repose. He was a man who worked the harder when it was necessary because he seldom wasted an effort.

It was slowly he raised his head and glanced at Hetty. "The boys can get away with another twenty loaves this week," he said. "Jake figured you'd have seven or eight more of them from the gully workings coming in. They told him they'd no use for flapjacks or grindstones when they could get bread like that."

"Very well," said Hetty. "I'll have an extra batch ready on Saturday."

She cast a little quick glance at Ingleby, for it was gratifying that he should have this testimony to the quality of her bakery, though it was scarcely necessary. The venture had, in fact, been a success from the commencement, and though Hetty's flour was rapidly running out she found it just as profitable to bake what the miners brought her at a tariff which in few other regions would have been thought strictly moderate. She was also as popular as her bread, for she turned nobody away, though there were men in that valley with neither money nor provisions left who had failed to find even the colour of gold. Her boys, she said, would strike it rich some day, and one must risk a little now and then; but it is not given to many women to win the faith and homage accorded her by most of them in return for a handful of flour. Tomlinson, however, had not delivered all his message yet.

"I ran up against Wolverine Gordon yesterday," he said. "He wants more salt in his bread. Says that sweet dough's ruining his digestion, and if you can't fix it to suit him he'll do his own baking. I guess I'd let the old insect have his salt by the handful."

Hetty laughed good-humouredly. "I must try to please him."

Tomlinson watched her with grave, reflective eyes. "Gordon was 'most glad to eat cedar bark not long ago," he said. "Did you ever get a dollar out of him?"

"That," said Hetty quietly, "is not your business, Mr. Tomlinson."

The long-limbed miner apparently ruminated over this.

"Well," he said, "I guess it isn't, but you just let me know when you want any debts collected. I figure I could be quite smart at it."

"They do it with a gun in your country?" asked Leger.

Tomlinson held up a hard and distinctly large-sized hand. "No, sir! If ever I get that on one of the fakirs who sling ink at us I guess I'll make my little protest."

There was silence for a minute or two, and during it the beat of hoofs came out of the valley. They drew nearer, and Tomlinson laughed softly as he glanced at the listeners' faces.

"Hall Sewell! He's coming back," he said.

"Mr. Sewell is across the divide ever so far away," said Hetty.

"Well," said the big prospector, "that cayuse of his is coming up the trail 'most too played out to put its feet down."

It was five minutes later when Sewell appeared leading the horse, which was in almost as sorry a case as he was. His jean garments hung about him torn to rags, and his face was gaunt and drawn with weariness and hunger. He stood still, smiling at them, in the uncertain light of the fire.

"I've come back – warned off by the police as usual," he said. "In the language of the country, nobody seems to have any use for me."

The naive admission appealed to Hetty as much as the signs of privation, which were plain upon him, did, and stirred her more than any account of a successful mission would have done. Sewell was, perhaps, aware of this, for he had the gift of pleasing women.

"Well," she said, "where else would you come to? Whenever you want it there's room here for you. Walter, take his horse, and then spread his blankets out near the fire. Tom, you'll get another trout and fill the kettle."

They did her bidding, though Ingleby wondered a little as he set about it, for Hetty had astonished him somewhat frequently of late. He had long regarded her as a girl devoid of intellectuality, to be petted with brotherly kindliness and taken care of in case of necessity, and it had never occurred to him until he came to Canada that there was any depth of character in Hetty Leger. It was, in fact, almost disconcerting to find that she had changed into a capable woman who had by her enterprize alone enabled him and her brother to hold on to their claim. She was virtually mistress now, as the commands she had given him indicated; but, while it afforded him a gratification he did not quite understand to do her bidding, it was a trifle difficult to accustom himself to the position.

In the meanwhile Tomlinson, who chafed inwardly because no commands had been laid on him, lay, with respectful admiration, watching her prepare Sewell's supper. When it was ready Sewell made an excellent meal, and then stretched himself out wearily on a pile of branches near the fire. The red light flickered uncertainly upon the towering trunks behind him, and now and then fell upon the long-limbed Tomlinson lying in the shadow and Hetty sitting in her deer-hide chair with Ingleby and Leger stretched close at her feet. It never occurred to her that there was anything anomalous in this. They were, in the phraseology of the country, her boys, and though Hetty Leger was far from clever she had the comprehension that comes of sympathy, and she understood and ruled them as a woman with greater intellect probably could not have done. The night was cool and still, and the hoarse murmur of the river came up in pulsations across the pines.

"After a long journey through the bush this is exceptionally nice, even though it is a little rough on Miss Leger," said Sewell, with a quiet smile. "Her cares are increasing, for another of her boys has come home a trifle the worse for wear to-night, but I scarcely think she minds. It is the women who never do mind that are worth all the rest."

Once more Ingleby was astonished and gratified. Sewell was, of course, a speaker by profession, but there was a vibration in his voice which signified that this was more than a passing compliment. Ingleby believed implicitly in Sewell, and the fact that the man he looked up to should regard Hetty as he evidently did had naturally its effect on him, since it not infrequently needs the appreciation of others to make clear the value of that which lies nearest to one. Hetty, however, as usual evinced no originality.

"When you came in one would have fancied it was quite a long while since you were a boy," she said.

"Now and then I feel it is. Men who lead the life I do grow old rapidly, you see. We are, in fact, nurtured on the storm, but that is really no reason why we shouldn't occasionally like to rest in the sunshine."

"It has been dark 'most an hour," said Tomlinson the practical.

Sewell turned and glanced at him reproachfully. "It is always sunshine where Hetty Leger is."

"Well," said Hetty, with a little laugh, "you haven't seen me when the dough won't rise, and I don't like idle boys. They get into mischief. What are you going to do?"

"Peg down a claim and earn my living virtuously. I have, you see, tried mining already. I like this end of the valley, and because you have made me one of the family I fancy I'll put up a shanty here. That brings on the question of provisions, and when I was clambering down the range I came upon two or three black-tail deer. I'm going back to get one as soon as the stiffness has worn off me. Will you or Leger come with me, Ingleby?"

"Walter will go," said Hetty.

Ingleby turned towards her slowly, and she noticed the jaded look in his face, which was a trifle hollow as well as bronzed. He had toiled with a fierce, feverish impatience for long weeks at two profitless claims, and mind and body felt the strain. Still, he remembered that it was some time since he had contributed anything to the common fund.

"I've ever so much on hand," he said. "Send Tom."

Hetty made a little authoritative gesture. "Tom couldn't hit a deer to save his life, and my boys are expected to do what they're told. You will take him, Mr. Sewell, and if you let him come back to the claim in less than a week I'll be vexed with you."

Ingleby, who knew that Hetty could be persistent, permitted Sewell to arrange the expedition; and when the latter retired shortly afterwards, Tomlinson, who had said very little, looked up.

"You like that man?" he asked.

"Of course!" said Hetty. "If I hadn't I wouldn't have had him here."

Tomlinson said nothing further, but Hetty laughed when he glanced inquiringly at Ingleby.

"You needn't ask Walter. There are two people he believes in before anybody else, and Mr. Sewell's one of them."

"And I guess I know who the other is," said Tomlinson, who was a trifle tactless now and then.

Hetty looked at him instead of at Ingleby.

"No," she said reflectively, "I don't think you do. It doesn't matter who she is, anyway, and you haven't told me what you think of Mr. Sewell."

Tomlinson, who watched her with steady eyes, sat silent a moment as though ruminating over something he could not quite understand. Then he said, "The man has grit. Still, I haven't much use for his notion of going round trailing out trouble."

"It isn't difficult to find it," said Ingleby.

"Well," said Tomlinson, "I'm not going to light out when it comes along my way; but I guess I'll wait until it does, like a sensible man, and just now I have no use for any. Our folks in Oregon are poor, and if my luck holds out there's an old woman who's had 'bout as much trouble as she can bear going to have an easy time the rest of her life."

He stopped a moment and rose leisurely to his feet. "Well, I'll go along now. I guess Sewell means well. Good night."

He turned away, and when he lumbered into the shadow of the pines Leger smiled at Ingleby.

"It seems to me that Tomlinson's recommendation didn't go very far," he said.

Ingleby laughed, a trifle scornfully. "Did you expect anything else? When a man who could have made himself almost anything he wished gives himself up to a life of privation for the good of his fellows, it's a little gained when men of Tomlinson's description are willing to admit that he probably has good intentions."

He retired to sleep shortly afterwards, for he and Leger commenced their labours at sunrise every day. A week later, towards dusk one evening, he and Sewell stopped near the edge of a deep ravine some distance from their camp in the ranges.

The torrent which had worn it out moaned far down in the shadow below, and the sombre firs rolled up to the edge of it two hundred yards away. Thickets of tall fern and salmon-berry hung over the brink, and for a score of yards or so a slope of soil and gravel sprinkled with tufts of juniper and dwarf firs ran down steeper than a roof. Then it broke off abruptly, and from where they stood Ingleby could not see the bottom of the gulf beneath, though he knew that the depth of such ca?ons is often several hundred feet. They had left their camp that morning, and one small black-tail deer, which Sewell had shot, was all they had to show for a day of strenuous labour.

"No way of getting across there," said Sewell as he flung himself down at the foot of a cedar. "It's a little unfortunate, too, because from what Tomlinson said it's a good bear country on the opposite side. One deer won't last very long even if we can manage to dry it, and there are parts of the black bear that are a good deal nicer than you might suppose."

"Have you ever tried them?" asked Ingleby.

Sewell laughed. "I have. In fact, I lived on black bear for rather longer than I cared about when I was up in the ranges once before. It's not unlike pork. I mean the kind the Canadian usually keeps for home consumption."

That a man, who could probably get nothing else, should have lived on bear meat is, of course, not necessarily any great recommendation, but the fact tended to increase Ingleby's respect for his companion. There was, it seemed, very little that Sewell had not done or borne for the cause of the Democracy, and Ingleby had already indued him with the qualities of Garibaldi. Other men, older and shrewder than he was, are, however, occasionally addicted to idealization; and Sewell could certainly ride and shoot as well as he could rouse the hopes and passions of the multitude – which was a good deal. Ingleby, who could do neither, had the Englishman's appreciation of physical capability, and it had once or twice been a grief to him to discover that other exponents of the opinions Sewell held were flabby, soft-fleshed men whose appearance warranted the belief that the adoption of the simple laborious life they lauded would promptly make an end of them.

The hard and wiry Sewell, who, while he preached his gospel, earned his bread by bodily toil, a man of comely presence and finished courtesy, Spartanly temperate in everything but speech, with unquestioned physical as well as moral courage, approached in his opinion the Paulinian ideal. It was, however, seldom that he permitted it to become apparent, for Ingleby, like most men who shape their lives by them, kept his deeper thoughts to himself, and on that occasion he complained about a boot which had split in an untimely fashion at a seam, until Sewell looked up.

"Did you hear anything?" he asked.

Ingleby, who had not lived very long in the bush, naturally heard nothing until the sudden crash of a rifle was flung back by the hillside. Then there was a sharp smashing of undergrowth, and it was plain to him that a beast of some description was travelling through the bush.

"A bear!" exclaimed Sewell. "The small black kind go straight at everything which lies between them and their covert. I fancy that one's partly crippled, too. It's your shot. If he breaks cover you might stop him for the man he belongs to."

Ingleby took up the rifle he was not greatly accustomed to, and waited, crouching, with his eyes on the forest and one foot drawn under him while the snapping and crackling drew nearer, until a shambling form lurched out of a thicket. Then, while the foresight, which he could not keep still, wobbled all over it, he pressed the trigger, or, at least, attempted to do so as the miner to whom the rifle belonged had instructed him. He felt the butt jar his shoulder, and the smoke blew in his eyes, while a man burst out of the undergrowth. There was no sign of the bear, and Ingleby fancied it had plunged over the edge of the ravine. The man was red in face, and gasped as he brandished his rifle in their direction.

"Who the devil are you trying to shoot?" he said.

He did not stop, however; and Sewell, who recognized him as Major Coulthurst, sprang to his feet, and sent a warning shout after him.

"Hold on, sir. There's a big gully right in front of you," he said.

The major did not seem to hear him, and next moment there was a crash as he floundered through a thicket. Then he disappeared suddenly, and Ingleby felt a little shiver run through him as he heard a suggestive rattle of stones.



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