Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

pering pines of the Laurentian wilderness. Imrie danced and jested with all alike, from the fourteen-stone matron, who had once been a Cheshire dairy-drudge, and now managed a stalwart husband and many head of stock, to the yellow-haired ex-attendant of a London bar, who worshipped him secretly. He found this damsel's languishing looks strangely irritating, but he danced twice with her because her brother was a good friend of his, while her next partner was a university graduate, who drove about the prairie vending patent medicines.

Still, all the time he longed for the graceful presence of Constance Wyllard, and wondered when he would see her again. No news had reached him now for many weeks; there was only the one hurried letter whose message was hope and work. Meanwhile, away back towards its dim edge where the stars shone brighter above the horizon, glimmering streaks of radiance moved across the prairie, while here and there wreaths of vapor obscured the sweep of indigo. The grass was tinder dry, and the fires, lighted how no man knows, rioted among it. One grew steadily brighter, and when a pale crimson reflection topped the crest of a rise several of those present remembered with misgivings that they had not ploughed the full count of furrows round their possessions, as by law required, which will often, but not always, check a prairie fire. Others also regretted the fact that the matted grass was creeping across their guards again, and so little by little the merriment slackened, until a clamor broke out, when with a rapid beat of hoofs ringing through the deepening silence a man on a lathered horse rode up out of the night.

"Biggest fire I've seen for five years coming down from the east," he said. "Heading straight for Carrington; even the green sloo couldn't stop it, and Wyl

lard's holding a fortune in his strawpile granary, with his guards half grown up."

Then one or two of Imrie's guests said many things, for they remembered the ironical rejection of friendly advice, as others did the manner in which the autocrat of Carrington in time of drought bargained for their stock. He had the means to sink artesian wells, which they had not, and must therefore sell or lose their stock, and all this rose up clearly now. For a few moments an ugly thought entered Imrie's mind. If that wheat were destroyed one barrier between him and Constance Wyllard, in the shape of a heavy bank balance, would vanish with it, but he also felt he could not meet the girl's clear eyes if he held his hand. So he flung it from him, and in a sudden hush sent his voice ringing across the assembly.

"There's a neighbor's homestead threatened," he said. "Stop, you need not tell me no man knows better that he hasn't always a pleasant tongue, but it's a common danger, and I'm going to help him. Who is coming with me?"

Then through the murmurs a woman's voice rose up, "We can understand Mr. Imrie wanting to go. Who is going to help him to please Constance Wyllard?" It was the barmaid who spoke, and when a growl of disapproval answered her, Imrie commenced again:

"I thought it was an open secret that Miss Wyllard was in England, and her father had closed the doors of Carrington to me," he said, "Some day, who knows how soon it may be, our turn will come. He staked heavily on it and won that crop, and if you can stand by and see him ruined I can't."

This time there was approbation, and the messenger said, "Good man! I'm going. Jasper here's coming along, too. Miss Wyllard is back any way, with that gilt-edged Britisher fooling round

her, for I saw them helping the old man to turn out the stock. Carrington took it as usual, cool as a blizzardhard clean grit he is all through-with his paid hands away hauling wheat into the elevators."

That settled the matter. In frantic hurry they saddled or yoked the horses, and ten minutes later with a cry of "Good luck" from the women ringing behind them, a very mixed cavalcade swept out into the silence of the moonlit prairie, leaving a yellow-haired girl staring with fierce eyes after them. There was a thunder of hoofs on the matted sod, a great bouncing of wheels, the clods whirled up in the faces of those who rode behind, and Imrie, leading the van, swaying easily to the gray horse's strides, spoke to the double team that hauled a gang-plough in his box-wagon. The beasts knew his voice and responded gallantly, the slender wagon body creaked under its heavy load, and even Jasper, who lurched on the driving seat, was startled when, breast-high in crackling grass that went down before them, Imrie rushed the wagon jolting through a dried-up sloo, like a field-gun badly needed going to the front.

Then as they pounded up the slope of a rise a wavy line of crimson appeared not very far away on the other side, the smoke that rose above it blotting out the stars, and reaching the incline the pace grew furious, for all realized there was no time to lose. Reckless of murderous badger-hole or rolling nigger-head stone, neck and neck, or wheel to wheel, with the weaker streaming away behind, pounding, clattering, jolting, the stronger held on, the cool wind screaming past them, and spume flakes whirling up, until at last a loom of buildings rose out of the prairie, and they drew rein before the homestead of Carrington. Swinging himself to earth Imrie raised his broad felt hat as he stood before its owner and his

daughter, but Evanson Wyllard was as the messenger had said, a hard man all through, and there was neither panic nor dismay in face or bearing as he waited them.

"We heard a fire was coming this way in a hurry. These were my guests to-night, and I brought them along to help," said Imrie; and the grim autocrat answered quietly, "I am much indebted to all of you. As it happens, also, my men are away."

"No time to fool in talking," shouted the breathless Jasper. "Where's your ploughs, Carrington? Some one turn out and hitch on his fresh horses," and inside five minutes Imrie found himself gripping the lines of the big gang. plough. Nevertheless, the hands that clenched them had, for a moment, held the slender fingers of Constance Wyllard, and her low voice even then vibrated in his ears, "He will never forget it; I know his ways. It was like you, Harry."

"I'm used to horses if I'm not much of a farmer," said a voice close by. "You seem to be managing things. Can you tell me what to do?" and Imrie glancing round, saw his rival, Wyllard's distant kinsman.

"Yes; you can find grain-bags and soak them at the well. When the smoke rolls down thick come back to me," he answered, hurriedly, and there was a crackle of matted fibres as the triple shares of the gang-plough ripped through the sod, while Imrie looked over his shoulder a moment. Behind him rose the splendid wooden buildings. of Carrington with thousands of dollars. worth of wheat lying in several huge strawpile granaries. These are mere mounds of straw heaped many feet thick about a willow framing which when packed by wind and snow, form an efficient store. In front stretched the flickering wall of fire, and their task was simply to plough a broad belt of furrows between it and its prey.

Then he shouted to the horses, the whip cracked like a rifle, and the black loam curled in waves away from the mould-board's slide, while, with a great trampling, single ploughs and teams came surging along behind.

Before they reached the turning a sea of fire came roaring slowly and irresistibly towards them across the tindery grass, while wisps of pungent smoke blew down into Imrie's eyes. The beasts plunged viciously, and he had to hurry to the leaders' heads, for that was a double team, while he was several times lifted from his feet when they strove to rear upright. But he restrained them, and was flung down and trodden on when they reached the turning, only to rise again hatless, gasping, with blood upon his face, to lead the gang-plough back first along the return line. With a cloud of sparks hurled aloft by the draught it made, the great crimson crescent, roaring horribly, was close upon them now, and he could scarcely see the teams behind through the wreaths of smoke. The horses were nearly frantic, and would have mastered him, but an English voice came out of the vapor, "Rather wild, are they not? Let me help you," and Imrie was glad to frankly accept his rival's assistance. It needed the utmost strength of both to hold the beasts to their work, but they cheered on one another, and the treble furrow was finished somehow, while, when Imrie slipped the clevis at the end of it, the team bolted incontinently.

Then through the thud of hoofs and crackling of the fire, whose fierce heat already scorched them, Jasper's voice rang out, "Let the beasts all go. Guess they'll find their own way clear of it. Handy with the grain bags; there's another circus just beginning now."

The wet sacks were soaked ready. Wyllard and his daughter had seen to that, while, when Constance staggered towards him, dripping, under a heavy

burden, Imrie ceased his protests as with the glare of the flame upon her face she said, "When the rest are doing so much, I must take my part, too."

The fire rolled up to the first of the furrows, and halted a moment there, stretching out tongues of flame towards the withered grass tufts that showed between, ready to seize upon them as a bridge to help it across to the wealth of fuel waiting behind. Sometimes it also passed that bridge, but scorched and panting men stretched out along the line flung themselves upon it and thrashed it down with the soaked bags. Here and there wind-blown sparks took hold, and amid hoarse shouting a dozen fresh fires started at once, while in answer blackened men, whose clothing smouldered in places, poured in and strove to smother the incipient blaze. They fought the flame with the same dogged endurance that sustained them in their struggle against frost and drought, and for a mad space the battle went on in heat like that of a furnace, and a smother of suffocating vapor. Then a further shout was raised that one granary blazed, and Imrie, with his rival, was first to rush towards the sheet of flame. "Not very nice to look at," gasped the latter, who, by this time, had been turned into a sorry spectacle. "Still, if you know how to start I'll help you. Best fun, if there wasn't so much at stake, I've had for many a day."

The fire was licking the lower side of the huge strawpile and the two stood breathless a moment while Imrie considered a plan of attack. Then as they moved towards it Jasper grasped his shoulder. "Come back, you idiots," he said. "All the men on this prairie couldn't save it now. I'll fell you with the shovel before you try it. No use burning yourself to death for nothing."

Recognizing the attempt was hopeless rather than that it was dangerous,

they did so, while next moment a breathless roar of triumph went up, for two divided walls of fire passed on down wind across the prairie, and, save for the one burning strawpile, Carrington homestead stood unharmed between. Blackened, dripping, burned, with a nasty pain in his side, Imrie followed by the others, approached its entrance; and Wyllard, who was in almost as evil a case, raised his hat as he met them and said, with an unusual tremor in his voice: "Men and neighbors, I cannot sufficiently thank you for what you have done this night, and I ask the forgiveness of some for any ill-considered things I may have said. There are events, which, as perhaps one or two of you know, embitter the temper of any man. And now, in token of a new friendship, will you favor me by accepting my hospitality? Mr. Imrie, I would like a few words with you."

The men refused civilly-their wives would be anxious about them, they said; but when Constance Wyllard, with a light in her eyes, also thanked them, a hoarse cheer went up, and she blushed when another for Imrie following it died away far down the fireseamed prairie. Walking very stiffly, for his side pained him, Imrie approached the threshold of Wyllard's house, where he said, "Those are my friends behind. The last time we met you did not treat me as such. May I ask upon what footing you receive me now ?"

[ocr errors]

Then Wyllard's face softened, and his gray moustache twitched as he silently held out his hand to him. Imrie staggered as he passed into the long, birch-built hall, where the heads of wolves and deer reeled before him, then tried to recover himself, saying, "It is nothing. One of the horses kicked me, I think," as Constance Wyllard with a low cry ran towards him.

Still, two men had seen and read the

look in her face. One was her English suitor, and he set his teeth as he slipped out into the night, while the autocrat of Carrington smiled grimly. He recognized the inevitable, for he loved his daughter after his own fashion, and it hurt him to yield. Then Jasper, who had come in for the keg of cider which Constance Wyllard insisted upon the helpers emptying by way of a stirrupcup, created a needed diversion by seizing Imrie's arm and saying, "Used up? no wonder, after being stamped on by a double team. With due respect to Miss Wyllard, we're going to take him home. Mrs. Jasper's great on doctoring, and we owe Imrie considerable."

Imrie felt too dizzy to protest; what Wyllard said he could not recall, but he remembered that when some one propped him against bags of prairie hay in a wagon, it was Constance who placed the cushion under his head. Then with mutual goodwill the settlers drove1 away, making the night unlovely with strange songs of victory, while Imrie leaned back on the haysacks in halfdazed content, and almost forgot the pain he felt. The portly Mrs. Jasper, who tied bandages round him, said there were no bones broken; then she smeared oil on the worst of the burns, and gave him something cool to drink after which he sank into a sleep that lasted ten hours, while it was about the time he wakened that the young Englishman entered Wyllard's room.

"It's hard to explain, sir, but I'm going back-to get over it," he said. "I saw Miss Wyllard's face when he came in, and I know after last night there isn't a ghost of a chance for me. He seems a very fine fellow, too; your pardon, I really cannot help it-confound him!"

Then the ruler of Carrington smiled drily as he answered, "Spoken well and straightforwardly. I had already formed the same opinion."

It was two days later when Imrie,

who had lost some of his usual color and still moved stiffly, was driven over to Carrington, and spent half an hour in private with its owner, who had requested him to do so. What passed between them only the two men knew, but Imrie went straight from that interview into the presence of Constance Wyllard, and felt, when at last her head rested on his shoulder, that he The Argosy.

would have fought prairie fires forever for such a consummation. There was a wedding later, when for the first time since its building, all the settlers within a radius of twenty miles assembled at Carrington, and, somewhat against his wishes, Imrie's bride did not come to him empty-handed, for that harvest had set his feet at last upon the road to prosperity.

Harold Bindloss.

A RUN THROUGH ST. HELENA.*

Our first view of St. Helena gave the singular impression of a huge enshrouded mummy lying stretched upon its back, the King and Queen Peaks on the left giving the idea of feet, the Turk's Head in the centre looking like hands folded in front, and the great Barn Rock representing a monster head. The thin veil of mist brooding over the island obscured for the time details in the landscape so as to heighten the somewhat weird appearance. As we drew nearer, the rain ceased and, clear and imposing before us, stood St. Helena as a solid fortress of rock. We sailed for some time close under the great sea walls, and were charmed with the prismatic coloring cast by the rising sun on the damp, bare battlements of rock. As we kept on, Flagstaff Hill, rising to a height of 2,000 feet, and the Sugar Loaf-a striking, conical-shaped hill of nearly that altitude-came in view. At the foot of the latter are two batteries, one at a hundred and another at two hundred feet above the sea-level, and both adding to the picturesqueness of the place. In Flagstaff Bay, between the Barn and Sugar Loaf, flew

This sketch was written some years since. but we give it as picturing features of permanent interest.

hundreds of sea-birds, some white, others dark-brown, fishing vigorously, and presenting in tableau vivant a proverb of their own-"It's the early bird that catches the fish." About seven o'clock we rounded the Sugar Loaf, and slowly crept southwest down the coast towards the anchorage, which extends only about a mile from the shore. Every instant as we forged ahead new points of interest met us; precipitous gorges, with sides of barren rock running back until they revealed some distant island oasis of spring-green grass, overlooked by a white-faced house; great masses of scoriated rock of many shapes, every peak of which, facing the sea, seemed to bear a battery or hold on its shoulders a cannon. Before we had reached Rupert Bay, James's Town, stood revealed in so far as projecting Munden Point will allow. And very well it looked with its old-fashioned quay, its pretty church spire and white houses wedged in between hills of no mean elevation, starting up precipitously on either side.

After landing, one of our first expeditions was to Ladder Hill-the western promontory of James's Bay, which rises almost perpendicularly to an altitude of 800 feet above the sea. Straight

« ZurückWeiter »