Delilah of the Snowsскачать книгу бесплатно
Beside it rose two desolate frame houses, a crude structure of galvanized iron, and a towering water tank, but that was all, and beyond them the gleaming rails ran straight to the rim of the empty wilderness. Nothing moved on its interminable levels; the dingy sky seemed suffused with heat, and along the track a smell that was stronger than the reek of creosote rose from the baked and fissured earth. The withered grass was of the same tint as the earth save where the clay on the bank of a coul?e showed a harsh red, and the vast stretch of dusty prairie seemed steeped in the one dreary grey. This, she reflected with a sinking heart, was the land of promise to which she had journeyed five thousand miles to find a home; but, though the track was suggestively littered with empty provision cans, there was as yet very little sign of the milk and honey.
Hetty was usually sympathetic, but the sight of the frowsy passengers and unwashed children wandering aimlessly round the station aroused in her a curious impatience that was tinged with disgust that hot afternoon. She wanted to be alone, and noticing an ugly trestle bridge a mile or so ahead followed the rails until she came to it. A river swirled beneath it; but it, too, was utterly devoid of beauty, for the banks of it were crumbling sun-baked clay, and it swept by a dingy, slatey green, thick with the mud brought down by the Rockies' glaciers. However, it looked cool, and she climbed down until she found a place she could stand on, and laved her arms and face in it. Then, as it happened, a piece of the crumbling clay broke away, and one foot slipped in above the ankle, while the skirt of her thin dress trailed in the water too. It was a trifling mishap, but Hetty was overwrought, and when she had climbed back and taken off and emptied the little shoe she sat down on the dusty grass and sobbed bitterly. She felt insignificant and lonely in that great empty land, and its desolation crushed her spirits.
She did not know how long she sat there, but at last there were footsteps behind her, and she coloured a little and strove to draw the shoeless foot beneath the hem of the dripping skirt when she saw Ingleby smiling down upon her. Then she remembered that the sleeves of the thin blouse were still rolled back, and the crimson grew plainer in her wet cheeks as with a little adroit movement she shook them down. Ingleby smiled again, in a complacent, brotherly fashion which she found strangely exasperating just then, and sitting down beside her took one of her hot hands.
"Crying, Hetty? That will never do," he said.
Hetty glanced at him covertly. His face was compassionate, but there was rather toleration than concern in it, and she pulled her hand away from him.
"I wasn't – at least, not exactly," she said. "And if I was, it was the weather – and why don't you go away?"
Ingleby smiled again, in a manner which while kind enough had yet a lack of comprehension in it that made her still angrier.
"People don't generally cry about the weather," he said.
"Well," said the girl sharply, "some of them say things they shouldn't.
I heard you – in a crowded car, too."
She stopped abruptly, as she remembered the scanty privacy of the Colonist train, and that she was supposed to have been asleep about the time Ingleby had allowed his temper to get the better of him. He, however, only laughed.
"Hetty," he said, "what is the matter? I always thought you brave, and I have almost a right to know."
"I think you have," and there was a little flash in Hetty's eyes. "It was you who brought us here, and this is a horrible country. It frightens me."
Ingleby was a trifle perplexed, and showed it. He had known Hetty Leger for four or five years, and had never seen her in a mood of the kind before. It also occurred to him, as it did every now and then, that, although she was not to be compared with Miss Coulthurst, Hetty was in her own way beautiful. Just then a pretty plump arm showed beneath the unfastened sleeve of the thin blouse, and the somewhat dusty hair with the tint of pale gold in it, lying low on the white forehead, matched the soft blue eyes, though there was a hint of more character than is usually associated with her type in Hetty's white and pink face. Ingleby noticed all this with impersonal appreciation, as something which did not greatly concern him.
"Well," he said, "I'm sorry, and by no means sure I'm very much pleased with the country myself; but I don't quite see what else I could have done in the circumstances. Still, it hurts me to see you unhappy."
Hetty turned to him impulsively. "Never mind me. I'm an ungrateful little – beast. That's the fact, and you needn't try to say anything nice – I know I am. If it hadn't been for you Tom would have been in prison now."
Ingleby looked out across the endless dusty levels. "I'm sure the country must be a good deal better than it looks – when one gets used to it," he said a trifle dubiously. "Anyway, we are three to one against it, and needn't be afraid of it while we stick together. That is the one thing we must make up our minds to do."
"There was a time when you didn't seem very sure you wanted Tom and me."
"Didn't you feel that I was right a little while ago?"
Hetty said nothing for a space. She was quick-witted, and not infrequently understood her companion rather better than he understood himself, while recollecting the half-shy delicacy which occasionally characterized him she felt a trifle comforted. It was not, she fancied, to please himself that he had been willing to leave her behind, and she watched him covertly as he, too, sat silent, gazing at the prairie with thoughtful eyes. He was not, she was quite aware, as clever as her brother, and he certainly had his shortcomings – in fact, a good many of them; but for all that there was something about him which, so far as she was concerned, set him apart from any other man. Exactly what it was she persuaded herself that she did not know, or, at least, made a brave attempt to do so, for it was evident that he had only a frank, brotherly regard for her. Still, the silence was getting uncomfortable, and she flung a question at him.
"How much have we left?" she asked.
Ingleby laughed, somewhat ruefully. "Eight dollars, I believe. Still, we shall cross the Rockies to-morrow, and start at once to heap up riches. We are certainly going to do it, as others have; and you will never be frightened any more."
Hetty had a stout heart of her own, but nevertheless she was glad of the reassuring grasp he laid upon her shoulder as she looked out across the muddy river and desolate, grey-white plain. However, she smiled at him, and once more they sat silent until a curious and unexpected thing happened.
Far away on the rim of the prairie there was a stirring of the haze, and a dim smear of pinewoods grew out of the dingy vapour. Then a vista of rolling hills rose to view, and was lost in mist again, until high above them all a great serrated rampart of never-melting snow gleamed ethereally against a strip of blue. It was a brief, bewildering vision, sudden as the shifting of a gorgeous transformation scene, and then the vapours rolled down again; but they felt that they had looked upon an unearthly glory. Hetty turned to her companion with a little gasp.
"Oh," she said, "it was wonderful!"
"It was real, at least," said Ingleby. "Your first glimpse of the country to which I have brought you. I think we shall be happy there – and we will remember afterwards that we saw it together."
Again the little pink tinge crept into Hetty's cheek, but she said nothing, and Ingleby's glance rested on the shoe, which he had not noticed before.
"Hetty," he said severely, "do you want to catch cold? What is that doing there?"
Hetty essayed to draw her foot farther beneath the hem of the dusty skirt, and the colour grew a trifle plainer in her face; but Ingleby made a little reproachful gesture, and taking up the shoe rubbed it with his handkerchief.
"Now," he said, "I'm going to the bridge. Put it on!"
He turned away; but the leather was stiff with water, and Hetty struggled fruitlessly with the buttons, and when she rejoined him Ingleby noticed that she was walking somewhat awkwardly.
"Stand still a minute," he said. "You can't limp back along the track like that."
He dropped on one knee, and Hetty turned her face aside when he looked up again.
"It is such a pretty little foot," he said.
Then as they went back together they met Leger on the trestle. He said nothing, but though he endeavoured to hide it there was concern in his sallow face.
The afternoon was clear and cool, but bright sunlight filled a glade among the towering pines which creep close up to the western outskirts of Vancouver City. They are very old and great of girth, and though here and there a path or carriage drive has been hewn through the strip of primeval wilderness the municipal authorities have been wise enough to attempt no improvement upon what nature has done for them, and Stanley Park remains a pleasance whose equal very few cities possess. It is scented ambrosially with the odours of balsam and cedar; deep silence fills the dim avenues between the colonnades of towering trunks; and from every opening one looks out upon blue water and coldly gleaming snow.
On the afternoon in question the stillness was rudely broken by a murmur of voices, unmodulated and sharp with an intonation which sounds especially out of place in the wilderness, though it is heard there often enough, from the redwoods of Oregon to where Alaskan pines spring from ten feet of snow. A crowd of people were scattered about the glade, and while some were dressed in "store clothes" and a few in coarse blue jean the eyes of all were turned towards the stump of a great cedar, sawn off a man's height above the ground, which formed a natural platform for a speaker whose address had astonished most of them. Ingleby and Leger lay a little apart from the rest, where the sunlight fell faintly warm upon the withered needles, while Hetty was seated near them upon a fallen fir, displeasure in her eyes and her lips set together. Her eyebrows also seemed unusually straight, as they often did when she was angry, and that gave to her delicately pretty face a curious appearance of severity one would scarcely have expected to find there. She was dressed tastefully, for she earned a sufficiency as a boarding-house waitress.
Ingleby, who lay nearest her, looked up at her with a little smile.
"You would make rather a striking picture just now, Hetty," he said. "That is a most attractive frown. I don't know where you got it, but taken together with your attitude it's – I can't think of a better comparison – almost Roman."
Hetty glanced at him sharply. Her education had not been very comprehensive, and she scarcely understood the allusion; but Ingleby, who had made it at random, was nevertheless in a measure right, for there is a recurrent type of feminine beauty, not exactly common, but to be met with among women of her station in the north of England, while they are young at least, which approaches the classical. Hetty might have posed just then as a virgin sitting with turned-down thumb.
"Well," she said, "I'm vexed with you and Tom, as well as with that man. I wish he hadn't come now when we are nice and comfortable and you are both earning good wages – at least when the steamers come in."
Ingleby shook his head reproachfully. "You have spoiled it," he said. "Hasn't she, Tom? A young woman who frowns in that imperial fashion talking of wages!"
Leger only laughed as, turning over among the fir-needles, he filled his pipe again; but Hetty was still a trifle angry.
"Of course, I don't understand you," she said. "I never do, but it's a good thing I've more sense than either of you. Now, you know what came of listening to speeches of that kind in England, and you're doing the same thing again. I've no sympathy with that man. Everybody has enough to eat and looks contented and comfortable. Why does he come here worrying them?"
Leger smiled. "I'm not sure that the contentment of ignorance is the blessing some people would like us to believe. You see, when one doesn't know what he's entitled to he's apt to be satisfied with a good deal less, while when men like Hall Sewell point out that you don't get half as much as you ought to you are apt to believe them."
Ingleby laughed, though, as Sewell's writings had stirred him to intense appreciation, even in England, he was not altogether pleased with the little twinkle in his comrade's eyes. He was quick to fire with enthusiasm, while it occurred to him that Leger was a trifle too addicted to looking at both sides of a question, and occasionally admitting the weak points of his own case with dry good-humour. He had also a shrewd suspicion that Leger was a cleverer man than himself.
"Well," he said, looking at Hetty, "if you are content to carry plates to saw-mill hands and wharf-labourers, it's more than I am to see you do so."
"Why shouldn't I?" and Hetty, who flashed a covert glance at him, noticed the tinge of heightened colour in his face and was not displeased at it. "They are all of them very civil to me, and the one who can get nothing to do as a doctor – "
"Oh, yes!" said Ingleby curtly, "I've noticed his confounded assurance. Every time I see you going round with his dinner I feel I'd like to poison him."
Leger looked up again with the twinkle in his eyes showing plainer still.
"You haven't answered her, and I'm not sure you can," he said. "She put the whole thing in a nutshell when she asked – why shouldn't she."
Ingleby was silent, but he fidgeted, and Leger grinned.
"Don't you find it a little difficult to cling to aristocratic prejudices – though I don't know how you became possessed of them – and believe in democratic theories at the same time?" he said. "One would fancy they were bound to run up against each other occasionally."
Just then an urchin with a satchel on his back came along.
"Hall Sewell's latest speeches," he said. "Fourth edition of 'The New Brotherhood' and 'The Grip of Capital.'"
"Give me them all," said Ingleby. "How much do you want?"
"A quarter," said the lad, handing him several flimsy pamphlets, and while Hetty glanced at him severely Leger laughed.
"Twenty-five cents!" he said. "It would have purchased a packet of caramels for Hetty."
"We might manage both," said Ingleby. "I'm sorry I didn't think of it earlier, Hetty. But you haven't yet told me your opinion of the man himself."
Hetty glanced at the man upon the fire-stump. He was dressed as a workman in blue jean, which seemed to her a piece of affectation, since when workmen of that city take their recreation they usually do so attired in excellent clothing; but he had a lithe, well-proportioned figure, and it became him, though neither his face, which was bronzed by exposure, nor his hands were quite in keeping with it. It was a forceful face, with keen, dark eyes in it, but the mouth was hidden by the long moustache. Hall Sewell was, in his own sphere, a famous man whose printed speeches had been read with appreciation in Europe, and he had not long ago played a leading part in a great labour dispute. He had just finished speaking and another man was somewhat apologetically addressing the assembled populace.
Hetty, who surveyed him critically, shook her head. "If you buy me any sweets now I'll throw them away," she said. "Well, he's a good-looking man."
"Oh," said Ingleby. "He's good-looking! Can't you get beyond that, Hetty?"
Hetty pursed her lips up reflectively. "Well, why shouldn't he be? It's a pleasure to see a man of that kind. There are so few of them. Still, I'll try to go a little further. Of course, he's clever. At least, everybody says so, but there's something wanting. I think he's weak."
"Weak!" said Ingleby indignantly. "You're wide of the mark this time, Hetty. I've read every line he has had printed, and any one could feel the uncompromising strength in it. They've put him in prison and tried to buy him, but nothing could keep a man of that kind from delivering his message."
Hetty still pursed her lips up, and when she spoke again she somewhat astonished Ingleby.
"If I were a little cleverer and richer I think that I could. That is, of course, if I wanted to," she said.
Leger looked up with a little whimsical smile. "I hope she isn't right, but she now and then blunders upon a truth that is hidden from our wisdom. Delilah is, after all, a type, you see, and one can't help a fancy that she has figured even more often than is recorded in history. Go on, Hetty."
Hetty put her head on one side. "I never could remember very much history; but that man's vain, vainer than most of you," she said. "A girl above him who pretended to believe in him could twist him round her finger."
"Above him?" said Ingleby.
Hetty looked at him curiously. "Yes. You know what everybody means by that, and it's generally a girl of that kind that men with your notions fall in love with. It's because you want so much more than is good for you that you have such notions."
"Considering that she is a girl and by no means clever, Hetty's reflections occasionally, at least, display an astonishing comprehension," said Leger. "I really don't mind admitting it, though I am her brother."
Ingleby said nothing, though he felt uncomfortable. He was fond of Hetty in a brotherly fashion, but as he had never supposed her to be indued with any intellect worth mentioning, her occasional flashes of penetration were almost disconcerting. The last one was certainly so, for there were two people of diametrically opposed opinions whom he respected above all others: one was Hall Sewell the reformer, and the other Major Coulthurst's daughter. He was glad of the opportunity for changing the subject when the man who had been speaking stopped a moment and looked at the crowd.
"I guess I'm through, and you have been patient, boys," he said. "Hall will be quite willing to answer any reasonable questions. I'll get down."
There was a little good-humoured laughter, and a man who stood forward turned to the assembly.
"Everybody knows Jake Townson, and there's no wickedness in him. He's a harmless crank," he said. "What I want to ask Hall Sewell is who's paying him to go round making trouble among people who have no use for it or him? It's a straight question."
There was a little growl of disgust as well as sardonic laughter, and while one or two angry men moved towards the speaker the man with the dark eyes stood up suddenly.
"Let him alone, boys. We don't want to use our enemies' methods, and I'm quite willing to answer him," he said. "Nobody has paid me a dollar for what I've tried to do for the cause of brotherhood and liberty, but I was offered a thousand to betray it not a month ago."
"Name the men who did it," cried somebody.
"I will," said Sewell, "when I consider the time is ripe – they may count on that, but in the meanwhile you will have to take my word for it. So far, I've been found where I was wanted – and that as our friend suggests was generally where there was trouble – but I never took five cents for reward or fee."
There was a murmur of approbation, as well as incredulity, and then a cry broke through it.
"How'd you worry along then? A man has got to live."
Sewell held his hands up, and though small and well-shaped they were scarred and brown.
"What I want – and it's very little – I can earn with the shovel and the drill. I've given your man his answer, but I'm going farther."
There was a clamour from one part of the crowd. "He's an insect. We've no use for him! Let up, Hall's talking. We're here to hear him!"
"What did I get for my pains?" said Sewell. "That's what the question comes to, and I'll tell you frankly, since, until we or our children bring in the new era, it's all that the man has to expect who believes this world can and ought to be made better. I've been ridden over by U. S. cavalry, and beaten by patrolmen's clubs. I've been hounded out of cities where I lawfully earned my bread, and sand-bagged by hired toughs. That would be a little thing if I were the only victim, but you know – you can read it in your papers almost any day – what happens to the men who have the grit to work as well as to hope for the dawn of better days for down-trodden humanity. You're to wait for it – on the other side of Jordan – your teachers say. Boys, we want it here and now, and it's coming, a little nearer every day. You have got to believe that, and when the outlook grows black get a tighter clinch upon your faith. Was it a shadow and a fancy that the men died for who went down in every struggle for the last ten years? – we needn't go back farther. Right across this prosperous continent you'll find their graves – men shot and sabred, strung to bridges and telegraph poles. Boys, we've been waiting – waiting a long while – "
He broke off abruptly, for a little, stolid park-warden and an equally unimpressed official of the Vancouver police pushed their way through the crowd.скачать книгу бесплатно