Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Harding of Allenwood
Author: Bindloss, Harold, 1866-1945
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Harding of Allenwood" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



HARDING OF ALLENWOOD



[Illustration: "'PICK UP YOUR SKIRT,' HE SAID BLUNTLY; 'IT GETS
STEEPER.'"--Page 32]



HARDING OF ALLENWOOD

BY HAROLD BINDLOSS

AUTHOR OF PRESCOTT OF SASKATCHEWAN,
WINSTON OF THE PRAIRIE, ETC

WITH FRONTISPIECE IN COLOR

[Illustration]

GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS  NEW YORK

Copyright, 1915, by
FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY

All rights reserved



CONTENTS

 CHAPTER                                          PAGE
       I  THE PIONEERS                               1
      II  PORTENTS OF CHANGE                        14
     III  AT THE FORD                               26
      IV  THE OPENING OF THE RIFT                   36
       V  THE SPENDTHRIFT                           48
      VI  THE MORTGAGE BROKER                       56
     VII  AN ACCIDENT                               67
    VIII  AN UNEXPECTED ESCAPE                     79
      IX  A MAN OF AFFAIRS                          92
       X  THE CASTING VOTE                         103
      XI  THE STEAM PLOW                          118
     XII  THE ENEMY WITHIN                         132
    XIII  THE TRAITOR                              145
     XIV  A BOLD SCHEME                            156
      XV  HARVEST HOME                             169
     XVI  THE BRIDGE                               182
    XVII  A HEAVY BLOW                             192
   XVIII  COVERING HIS TRAIL                       203
     XIX  THE BLIZZARD                             215
      XX  A SEVERE TEST                            225
     XXI  THE DAY OF RECKONING                     236
    XXII  THE PRICE OF HONOR                       245
   XXIII  A WOMAN INTERVENES                       255
    XXIV  A GREAT TRIUMPH                          264
     XXV  THE REBUFF                               276
    XXVI  DROUGHT                                  287
   XXVII  THE ADVENTURESS                          298
  XXVIII  FIRE AND HAIL                            308
    XXIX  A BRAVE HEART                            318
     XXX  THE INHERITANCE                          326



HARDING, OF ALLENWOOD



CHAPTER I

THE PIONEERS


It was a clear day in September. The boisterous winds which had swept
the wide Canadian plain all summer had fallen and only a faint breeze
stirred the yellowing leaves of the poplars. Against the glaring blue of
the northern sky the edge of the prairie cut in a long, straight line;
above the southern horizon rounded cloud-masses hung, soft and white as
wool. Far off, the prairie was washed with tints of delicate gray, but
as it swept in to the foreground the color changed, growing in strength,
to brown and ocher with streaks of silvery brightness where the withered
grass caught the light. To the east the view was broken, for the banks
of a creek that wound across the broad level were lined with
timber--birches and poplars growing tall in the shelter of the ravine
and straggling along its crest. Their pale-colored branches glowed among
the early autumn leaves.

In a gap between the trees two men stood resting on their axes, and rows
of logs and branches and piles of chips were scattered about the
clearing. The men were dressed much alike, in shirts that had once been
blue but were now faded to an indefinite color, old brown overalls, and
soft felt hats that had fallen out of shape. Their arms were bare to the
elbows, the low shirt-collars left their necks exposed, showing skin
that had weathered, like their clothing, to the color of the soil.
Standing still, they were scarcely distinguishable from their
surroundings.

Harding was thirty years old, and tall and strongly built. He looked
virile and athletic, but his figure was marked by signs of strength
rather than grace. His forehead was broad, his eyes between blue and
gray, and his gaze gravely steady. He had a straight nose and a firm
mouth; and although there was more than a hint of determination in his
expression, it indicated, on the whole, a pleasant, even a magnetic,
disposition.

Devine was five years younger and of lighter build. He was the handsomer
of the two, but he lacked that indefinite something about his companion
which attracted more attention.

"Let's quit a few minutes for a smoke," suggested Devine, dropping his
ax. "We've worked pretty hard since noon."

He sat down on a log and took out an old corncob pipe. When it was
filled and lighted he leaned back contentedly against a friendly stump.

Harding remained standing, his hand on the long ax-haft, his chin
slightly lifted, and his eyes fixed on the empty plain. Between him and
the horizon there was no sign of life except that a flock of migrating
birds were moving south across the sky in a drawn-out wedge. The wide
expanse formed part of what was then the territory of Assiniboia, and is
now the province of Saskatchewan. As far as one could see, the soil was
thin alluvial loam, interspersed with the stiff "gumbo" that grows the
finest wheat; but the plow had not yet broken its surface. Small towns
were springing up along the railroad track, but the great plain between
the Saskatchewan and the Assiniboine was, for the most part, still a
waste, waiting for the tide of population that had begun to flow.

Harding was a born pioneer, and his expression grew intent as he gazed
across the wilderness.

"What will this prairie be like, Fred, when those poplars are tall
enough to cut?" he said gravely, indicating some saplings beside him.
"There's going to be a big change here."

"That's true; and it's just what I'm counting on. That's what made me
leave old Dakota. I want to be in on the ground-floor!"

Harding knit his brows, and his face had a concentrated look. He was not
given to talking at large, but he had a gift of half-instinctive
prevision as well as practical, constructive ability, and just then he
felt strangely moved. It seemed to him that he heard in the distance the
march of a great army of new home-builders, moving forward slowly and
cautiously as yet. He was one of the advance skirmishers, though the
first scouts had already pushed on and vanished across the skyline into
the virgin West.

"Well," he said, "think what's happening! Ontario's settled and busy
with manufactures; Manitoba and the Dakotas, except for the sand-belts,
are filling up. The older States are crowded, and somebody owns all the
soil that's worth working in the Middle West. England and Germany are
overflowing, and we have roughly seven hundred miles of country here
that needs people. They must come. The pressure behind will force them."

"But think what that will mean to the price of wheat! It's bringing only
a dollar and a half now. We can't raise it at a dollar."

"It will break the careless," Harding said, "but dollar wheat will come.
The branch railroads will follow the homesteads; you'll see the
elevators dotting the prairie, and when we've opened up this great
tableland between the American border and the frozen line, the wheat
will pour into every settlement faster than the cars can haul it out.
Prices will fall until every slack farmer has mortgaged all he owns."

"Then what good will it do? If the result is to be only mortgages?"

"Oh, but I said every _slack_ farmer. It will clear out the incompetent,
improve our methods. The ox-team and the grass trail will have to go.
We'll have steam gang-plows and graded roads. We'll have better machines
all round."

"And afterward?"

Harding's eyes sparkled.

"Afterward? Then the men with brains and grit who have held on--the
fittest, who have survived--will come into such prosperity as few
farmers have ever had. America, with her population leaping up, will
have less and less wheat to ship; England will steadily call for more;
we'll have wheat at a price that will pay us well before we're through.
Then there'll be no more dug-outs and log-shacks, but fine brick
homesteads, with all the farms fenced and mechanical transport on the
roads. It's coming, Fred! Those who live through the struggle will
certainly see it."

Harding laughed and lifted his ax.

"But enough of that! If we're to get our homesteads up before the frost
comes, we'll have to hustle."

The big ax flashed in the sunshine and bit deep into a poplar trunk; but
when a few more logs had been laid beside the rest the men stopped
again, for they heard a beat of hoofs coming toward them across the
prairie. The trees cut off their view of the rider, but when he rounded
a corner of the bluff and pulled up his horse, they saw a young lad,
picturesquely dressed in a deerskin jacket of Indian make, decorated
with fringed hide and embroidery, cord riding-breeches, and polished
leggings. His slouch hat was pushed back on his head, showing a handsome
face that had in it a touch of imperiousness.

"Hello!" he said, with a look of somewhat indignant surprise. "What are
you fellows doing here?"

Harding felt amused at the tone of superiority in the youngster's voice;
yet he had a curious, half-conscious feeling that there was something he
recognized about the boy. It was not that he had met him before, but
that well-bred air and the clean English intonation were somehow
familiar.

"If you look around you," Harding smiled, "you might be able to guess
that we're cutting down trees."

The boy gave an imperious toss of his head.

"What I meant was that you have no right on this property."

"No?"

"It belongs to us. And logs large enough for building are scarce enough
already. As a matter of fact, we're not allowed to cut these ourselves
without the Colonel's permission."

"Haven't met him yet," said Devine dryly. "Who's he?"

"Colonel Mowbray, of Allenwood Grange."

"And who's Colonel Mowbray? And where's Allenwood Grange?"

The boy seemed nettled by the twinkle in Devine's eyes, but Harding
noticed that pride compelled him to hide his feelings.

"You can't cut this lumber without asking leave! Besides, you're
spoiling one of our best coyote covers."

"Kyotes!" exclaimed Devine. "What do you do with 'em?"

The youngster stared at him a moment in disdain.

"We have a pack of hounds at the Grange," he then condescended to
answer.

"Hunt them! Well, now, that's mighty strange. I'd have thought you'd
find arsenic cheaper. Then if you were to lie out round the
chicken-house with a gun----"

The boy cut him short.

"If you want these logs, you must ask for them. Shall I tell the Colonel
you are coming to do so?"

"Well, sonny," drawled Devine, "you just run along home and send
somebody grown-up. We might talk to him."

"As it happens," the boy said with great dignity, "Kenwyne is in the
bluff. I must warn you not to touch a tree until you see him."

Without another word he turned and rode off.

During the conversation Harding had been studying him closely. The
well-bred reserve in his manner, which, while peremptory, was somehow
free from arrogance, compelled the man's admiration.

"From the Old Country," he said with a laugh, "and a bit high-handed,
but there's sand in him. Do you know anything about Allenwood?"

"Not much, but I heard the boys talking about it at the railroad store.
It's a settlement of high-toned Britishers with more money than sense.
They play at farming and ride round the country on pedigree horses."

"The horse the boy rode was certainly a looker!" Harding commented,
swinging his ax once more.

As it sliced out a chip with a ringing thud, and another, and yet
another, the boy returned, accompanied by a well-mounted older man with
a sallow face and very dark eyes and a languidly graceful air. The man
was plainly dressed but he wore the stamp Harding had noticed on the
youngster; and again there flashed through Harding's mind the
half-indistinct thought that these people were familiar to him.

"I understand that you insist upon cutting this timber," Kenwyne began.

"Yes," Harding replied. "And I was surprised when your friend here said
it belonged to Colonel Mowbray."

"He went too far, but it does belong to him in a sense. The Colonel
founded the settlement when very few other people thought of leaving
Manitoba, and he had the usual option of cutting all the wood he wanted
on unoccupied land. We have always got it here, and as we have done all
the road-making and general improvements in the neighborhood, we have
come to look upon it as our own."

"Is that your bridge across the creek?"

"Yes; and it's not a bad job, I think. We had a good deal of trouble
digging out the grade in the ravine."

"Well, interfering with bridges is not a habit of mine; so we'll let
your trail stand. But I could make you divert it to the proper road
reserve."

"Ah!" exclaimed Kenwyne. "That sounds significant."

"Precisely. This bluff and the section it stands on belong to me; the
transfer was registered at the land office a week ago."

"Then I think there's nothing more to be said."

"Oh," Harding responded with a smile, "you might tell your Colonel that
when he wants any lumber he may cut it if he'll let me know!"

Kenwyne laughed.

"Thanks!" he said. "It's a generous offer, but I can't promise that
Colonel Mowbray will avail himself of your permission. I wish you good
afternoon."

He rode away with his companion, and an hour later Harding and Devine
threw their axes on their shoulders and struck out across the prairie.
The sun had dipped, the air was getting cool, and on the clean-cut
western horizon a soft red flush faded beneath a band of vivid green.

At the foot of a low rise the men stopped.

"I'll be around the first thing in the morning," Devine said.

"Then you're not coming to supper?"

"No," Devine answered reluctantly; "I guess not. I've been over twice
this week, and Hester has enough to do without extra cooking for me."

"As you wish," said Harding, and they separated in a friendly manner.

When he was alone Harding went on briskly, walking with an elastic step
and looking far ahead across the shadowy plain. It was a rich land that
stretched away before him, and a compact block of it belonged to him. It
was virgin soil, his to do with as he liked. He thought that he could
make good use of it; but he had no illusions; he knew all about prairie
farming, and was prepared for a hard struggle.

Crossing the rise, he headed for a glow of light that flickered in the
gloom of a small birch bluff, and presently stopped at a tent pitched
among the trees. Two big red oxen were grazing by the edge of the bluff,
a row of birch logs lay among the grass beside a pile of ship-lap
boards, and some more of the boards had been roughly built into a
pointed shack. In front of this a young girl bent over a fire that
burned between two logs. All round, except where the wood broke the
view, the wilderness rolled away, dim and silent.

Hester Harding looked up with a smile when her brother stopped. She
resembled him, for she had his direct, thoughtful glance and fine
proportions. Her face and hands were browned by sun and wind, but,
although she had worked hard from childhood, she wore no coarsening
stamp of toil. Her features were good, and the plain print dress she had
made in her scanty spare time became her.

"Tired, Craig?" she asked in a pleasant voice.

"Not quite as fresh as I was at sun-up," Harding smiled. "We got
through a good deal of work to-day and I'll soon be able to make a start
with the house. We'll have to rush the framing to get finished before
the frost."

While they ate their simple supper they talked about his building plans,
and he answered her questions carefully; for Hester had keen
intelligence, and had shared his work and ambitions for the past few
years. For the most part, their life had been hard and frugal. Until
Craig reached the age of eighteen, he had helped his father to cultivate
his patch of wheat-soil in an arid belt of North Dakota. Then the father
had died, leaving about a thousand dollars besides his land and teams,
and the lad had courageously taken up the task of supporting his mother
and sister. Two years afterward, Mrs. Harding died, and Craig, at the
age of twenty, set himself to consider the future.

During his management of the farm he had made more money than his father
had ever made, but the land was poor and incapable of much improvement.
On the other hand, Dakota was getting settled and homesteads were
becoming valuable, and Craig determined to sell out and invest the money
in a larger holding in a thinly populated part of Manitoba. Hester went
with him to Canada; and when the advancing tide of settlement reached
their new home, Craig sold out again, getting much more than he had paid
for his land, and moved west ahead of the army of prairie-breakers which
he knew would presently follow him. It was a simple plan, but it needed
courage and resourcefulness. He spoke of it to Hester when he lighted
his pipe after the meal.

"It was a notion of Father's that one should try to anticipate a big
general movement," he remarked. "'Keep a little in front; the pioneers
get the pickings,' he once told me. 'If you follow the main body, you'll
find the land swept bare.' He had a way of saying things like that; I
learned a good deal from him."

"He knew a good deal," said Hester thoughtfully. "He was more clever
than you are, Craig, but he hadn't your habit of putting his ideas into
practise. I've sometimes thought he must have lost heart after some big
trouble long ago, and only made an effort now and then for Mother's
sake. It's strange that we know nothing about him except that he came
from the Old Country."

Craig had often wondered about his father, for the man had been somewhat
of an enigma to him. Basil Harding had lived like his neighbors, who
were plain tillers of the soil, and he never spoke of his English
origin, but now and then he showed a breadth of thought and refinement
of manner that were not in keeping with his environment. Mrs. Harding
was the daughter of a Michigan farmer, a shrewd but gentle woman of
practical turn of mind.

"I wonder," Craig said, "how much Mother knew?"

"She must have known something. Once or twice, near the end, I think she
meant to tell us, for there was something troubling her, but the last
stroke came so suddenly, and she never spoke." Hester paused, as if lost
in painful memories, and then went on: "It was very strange about that
money you got."

Craig nodded. When he was twenty-one a Winnipeg lawyer had turned over
to him five thousand dollars on condition that he remain in Canada, and
make no attempt to communicate with his father's relatives.

"Yes," he said. "And something happened this afternoon that puzzled me."

He told Hester about his meeting with the men from Allenwood.

"The curious thing about it," he added, "is that as I watched the boy
sitting on his fine blooded horse and heard him speak, I felt as if I'd
once lived among high-toned English people and could somehow understand
what he was thinking. But of course I never had a horse like his, and we
were born in a rough shack on a poor Dakota farm. Can one inherit one's
ancestors' feelings and memories?"

"It's very strange," mused Hester.

Harding laughed.

"Well, anyway, I'm a farmer," he said. "I stand upon my own
feet--regardless of ancestors. What I am is what I make of myself!"

He moved off toward the tent.

"It's getting late," he called back to her.

But for a long time Hester sat beside the sinking fire. Her brother,
whom she loved and admired, differed slightly, but noticeably in one or
two respects, from any of the prairie farmers she had known. Though it
was hard to procure books, he had read widely and about other subjects
than agriculture. Odd tricks of thought and speech also suggested the
difference; but she knew that nobody else except her mother had noticed
it, for, to all intents, Craig was merely a shrewd, hard-working grower
of wheat.

Then the girl's face grew gentle as she thought of Fred Devine. He had
proved very constant and had several times made what was then a long and
adventurous journey to see her. Now, when his father had given him a
few hundred dollars, he had followed Craig, and she was ready to marry
him as soon as he could make a home for her. At present he was living in
a dug-out in a bank, and must harvest his first crop before he could
think about a house.

When the fire had died down to a few smoldering coals, Hester got up and
looked about her. The moon hung, large and red, above the prairie's rim;
the air was sharp and wonderfully exhilarating. Behind the tent the
birch leaves rustled softly in the bluff, and in the distance a coyote
howled. There was no other sound; it was all very still and strangely
lonely; but the girl felt no shrinking. On her mother's side she sprang
from a race of pioneers, and her true work was to help in the breaking
of the wilderness.



CHAPTER II

PORTENTS OF CHANGE


The moon was above the horizon when Kenwyne pulled up his horse to a
walk opposite Allenwood Grange. The view from this point always appealed
to the artist in Kenwyne. The level plain was broken here by steep,
sandy rises crowned with jack-pines and clumps of poplar, and a shallow
lake reached out into the open from their feet. A short distance back
from its shore, the Grange stood on a gentle slope, with a grove of
birches that hid the stables and outbuildings straggling up the hill
behind.

As Kenwyne saw it in the moonlight across the glittering water, the
house was picturesque. In the center rose a square, unpretentious
building of notched logs; but from this ship-lap additions, showing
architectural taste, stretched out in many wings, so that, from a
distance, the homestead with its wooded back-ground had something of the
look of an old English manor house. It was this which made the colonists
of Allenwood regard it with affection. Now it was well lighted, and the
yellow glow from its windows shone cheerfully across the lake.

The foundations of the place had been laid in unsettled times, after the
Hudson Bay fur-traders had relinquished their control of the trackless
West, but before the Dominion Government had established its authority.
The farmers were then spreading cautiously across the Manitoban plain,
in some fear of the Metis half-breeds, and it was considered a bold
adventure when the builder of the Grange pushed far out into the
prairies of the Assiniboine. He had his troubles, but he made his
holding good, and sold it to Colonel Mowbray, who founded the Allenwood
settlement.

On the whole, the colony had succeeded, but Kenwyne saw that it might
become an anachronism in changing times. He had noted the advance of the
hard-bitten homesteaders who were settling wherever the soil was good,
and who were marked by sternly utilitarian methods and democratic ideas.
Before long Allenwood must cast off its aristocratic traditions and
compete with these newcomers; but Kenwyne feared that its founder was
not the man to change.

As he rode slowly past the lake, a man came toward him with a gun and a
brace of prairie-chickens.

"Hello, Ralph!" he said. "Have you forgotten that it's council night?"

"I'm not likely to forget after the rebuke I got for missing the last
meeting," Kenwyne replied. "Do you happen to know what kind of temper
the Colonel is in, Broadwood?"

"My opinion is that it might be better. Gerald Mowbray has turned up
again, and I've noticed that the old man is less serene than usual when
his son's about. In fact, as we have to bear the consequences, I wish
the fellow would stay away."

While Broadwood and Kenwyne were discussing him on the hillside, Colonel
Mowbray sat in his study at the Grange, talking to the elder of his two
sons. The room was small and plainly furnished, with a map of the
territory on the matchboarded wall, a plain table on which lay a few
bundles of neatly docketed papers, and a stove in one corner.
Account-books filled a shelf, and beneath there was a row of
pigeonholes. The room had an air of austere simplicity with which
Colonel Mowbray's appearance harmonized.

He was tall, but spare of flesh, with an erect carriage and an
autocratic expression. His hair was gray, his eyes were dark and keen,
and his mouth was unusually firm; but the hollowness of his face and the
lines on his forehead showed advancing age. He was a man of some
ability, with simple tastes, certain unchangeable convictions, and a
fiery temper. Leaving the army with a grievance which he never spoke
about, and being of too restless a character to stay at home, he had
founded Allenwood for the purpose of settling young Englishmen upon the
land. He demanded that they be well born, have means enough to make a
fair start, and that their character should bear strict investigation.
Though the two latter conditions were not invariably complied with, his
scheme had prospered. Mowbray was generous, and had taken the sons of
several old friends who did not possess the capital required; while the
discipline he enforced had curbed the wayward. For the most part, the
settlers regarded him with affection as well as respect; but he had
failed most signally with his own son, who now stood rather awkwardly
before him.

After serving for a year or two in India as an engineer lieutenant,
Gerald Mowbray met with an accident which forced him to leave the army.
He made an unsuccessful start on another career, and had of late been
engaged upon a Government survey of the rugged forest-belt which runs
west to the confines of the Manitoban plain. He was a handsome,
dark-complexioned man, but looked slacker and less capable than his
father.

"I think five hundred pounds would clear me," he said in an apologetic
tone. "If I could pay off these fellows, it would be a great relief, and
I'd faithfully promise to keep clear of debt in future."

"It seems to me I've heard something of the kind on previous occasions,"
Mowbray returned dryly. "There's a weak strain in you, Gerald, though I
don't know where you got it. I suppose a thousand pounds would be
better?"

Gerald's eyes grew eager; but the next moment his face fell, for he knew
his father's methods, and saw his ironical smile.

"Well," he said cautiously, "I could straighten things out if I had five
hundred."

"With what you got from your mother!"

Gerald winced. His mother never refused him, even though he knew that it
often meant sacrifice on her part.

"To save our name," Mowbray said sternly, "and for that reason only, I
am going to let you have three hundred pounds. But I warn you, it's the
last you'll get. You may as well know that it is hard to spare this."

Gerald looked his surprise.

"I thought----"

Mowbray interrupted him.

"My affairs are not so prosperous as they seem; but I rely on you not to
mention the fact. Now you may go. But, remember--there's to be no more
money thrown away!"

When Gerald closed the door, Mowbray took down one of his account-books,
and sat still for a long time studying it. He had never been rich, but
he had had enough, and as the settlement grew up he had felt justified
in selling to newcomers, at moderate prices, land which he had got as a
free grant. Now, however, the land was nearly all taken up. For a time
he bred cattle, but this had scarcely paid; then the development of the
milling industry and the building of elevators rendered wheat-growing
possible, and though the grain had to be hauled a long way, Mowbray made
a small profit. Prices, however, were falling, and land nearer the
railroad was coming into cultivation.

With a gloomy air, Mowbray closed the book and went down to preside over
the council which was held periodically and, as a rule, ended in an
evening of social amusement.

The hall was large and square, with matchboarded walls and a pointed
roof. In an open hearth a log fire burned cheerily, although two large
windows were opened wide to let in the September air. Bunches of wheat
and oats of unusual growth hung upon the walls, suggesting the settlers'
occupation; but it was significant that the grain was surmounted by a
row of the heads of prairie antelope, as well as moose and caribou from
the North. They were farmers at Allenwood, but they were sportsmen
first.

About a dozen men were sitting round a table when Mowbray entered, but
they rose and waited until he took his place. They varied in age from
twenty to forty, and in their easy manners and natural grace one
recognized the stamp of birth. Evening dress was not the rule at
Allenwood, and while some wore white shirts and city clothes, others
were attired picturesquely in red-laced blue vests and fringed deerskin.
Their brown faces and athletic figures indicated a healthy life in the
open, but they had too gallant and careless an air for toilers.

A few suggestions for the improvement of the trails were made and
discussed; and then Mowbray turned to Kenwyne, who had spent the
afternoon looking for suitable logs for the bridge-stringers.

"Did you and Lance find anything?" Mowbray asked.

Kenwyne was waiting for this opening to make what he felt was an
important announcement.

"We went to the bluff," he said. "What we found was two homesteaders
cutting down all the best trees."

"Homesteaders!"

Mowbray frowned and the others looked interested.

"You warned them off, of course!"

"Lance did. But one of the fellows retorted that the timber was his."

"Impossible!" Mowbray said sharply. "The nearest preemption is six miles
off--and that's too close!"

"It appears that the man has just bought the section on our western
range-line. He referred me to the land register, if I had any doubt. I'm
afraid you must take it for granted, sir, that we are going to have
neighbors."

"Never!" Mowbray brought his fist down on the table with a resounding
blow. "We may not be able to turn out these intruders, but I decline to
consider them neighbors of ours." He turned to the others. "You must
see that this is disturbing news. We came here to live in accordance
with the best English traditions, and although we had to put up with
some hardships, there were compensations--abundant sport, space, and
freedom. In a sense, the country was ours, with its wood and water, as
far as we cared to ride. Now every homestead that is built restricts
what we have regarded, with some justice, as our rights. We took heavy
risks in settling here when people believed it was economically
impossible to farm at Allenwood."

There was a murmur of approval.

"These fellows will put an end to our running range horses and cattle,"
one man said. "If many of them come into the district, we may have to
put down the coyote hounds, and ask permission before we course a
jack-rabbit. Then they could make us divert our trails to the road
reserves."

"Something of that kind may happen," Kenwyne interposed. "But the fellow
I met seemed inclined to be friendly. Said he'd let our trail stand and
we might cut what wood we wanted, provided we get his permission."

Mowbray drew himself up haughtily.

"Although you recognize the lesser drawbacks," he said, "I'm afraid you
miss the most important point. I must remind you that this settlement
was founded to enable a certain stamp of Englishmen to enjoy a life that
was becoming more difficult without large means at home. A man with
simple tastes could find healthy occupation out of doors, keep a good
horse, and get as much shooting as he wanted. So long as his farming
covered, or nearly covered, his expenses, that was all that was
required. We have not discouraged the making of money, but I must
frankly say that this was not our object. Now I see threats of change.
We may be brought into contact, and perhaps into opposition, with men
whose motives are different. Their coming here has to me a sinister
meaning."

"Allenwood has been a success," said Broadwood; "one can't deny it--but
I think we owe a good deal to our having settled in a new and
undeveloped country. The experiment turned out well because we got the
land cheap and wheat was dear. Now I foresee a sharp fall in prices, and
it seems to me that we may have to revise our methods to suit the times.
In future, we may find it difficult to live upon our farms unless we
work them properly. I'm afraid we can't stand still while Canada moves
on--and I'm not sure that it's a great misfortune."

"Do you admire modern methods?" somebody asked. "If you do, you'd better
study what things are coming to in America and England. There is not a
hired man at Allenwood who is not on first-rate terms with his master;
do you want to under-pay and over-drive them or, on the other hand, to
have them making impossible demands, and playing the mischief by a
harvest strike? I agree with our respected leader that we don't want to
change."

"But tell us about these intruders," Mowbray said to Kenwyne. "What sort
of men are they?"

"Well, first of all, they're workers; there's no mistaking that. And I'd
judge that they came from the States--Dakota, perhaps."

"That is to say, they're hustlers!" a lad broke in. "Couldn't we buy
them out before they get started, sir?"

"It would cost us something to buy a section, and we would have to work
part of it to pay the new taxes. Then the fellows would probably find
out that it was an easy way of getting a good price; and we couldn't
keep on buying them out. We have all the land we want, and must be
careful whom we allow to join us."

"I think we should try to keep an open mind," Kenwyne suggested. "It
might pay us to watch the men and see what they can teach us. Sooner or
later we shall have to improve our farming, and we may as well begin it
gradually. After all, it's something to gather two bushels of wheat
where only one grew."

Mowbray looked at him sternly.

"I'm sorry to see you and Broadwood taking this line, Ralph; but I've
long suspected that your views were not quite sound. Frankly, I'm afraid
of the thin end of the wedge." He turned to the others. "You will
understand that there can be no compromise. We shall continue to live as
English gentlemen and have nothing to do with the grasping commercialism
that is getting a dangerous hold on the older countries. I will do my
best to keep Allenwood free from it while I have the power."

"Whatever my private opinions are, I think you know you can rely on my
loyal support in all you do for the good of the settlement, sir,"
Kenwyne replied. "Now that we have the matter before us, it might be
well if you told us how we are to treat these Americans. We're bound to
meet them."

"I cannot suggest discourtesy, since it would be foreign to your
character and against our traditions; but I do not wish you to become
intimate with them."

When the meeting broke up an hour later, Broadwood walked home with
Kenwyne. It was a small and unpretentious house that perched on the
hillside beyond the lake, but the room the men entered was comfortably
furnished. A few photographs of officers in uniform, the football team
of a famous public school, and the crew of an Oxford racing boat, hung
on the pine-board walls.

"We must have a talk," said Kenwyne. "I feel that these fellows'
settling here is important; it's bound to make a difference. I know the
type; one can't ignore them. They'll have to be reckoned with, as
friends or enemies."

"In spite of the Colonel's opinion, I believe their influence will be
for good. What Allenwood needs most is waking up." Broadwood laughed.
"It's curious that we should agree on this. Of course, my marriage is
supposed to account for my perversion; but one can understand Mowbray's
painful surprise at you. Your views ought to be sound."

"What is a sound view?"

"At Allenwood, it's a view that agrees with Mowbray's."

"Let's be serious," Kenwyne replied. "There's something to be said for
his contention, after all. We have got along pretty well so far."

"Yes; but the settlement has never been self-supporting. Mowbray got the
land for nothing and sold it in parcels, as he was entitled to do,
spending part of the price on improvements from which we all benefit.
Then a number of the boys got drafts from home when they lost a crop.
We have been living on capital instead of on revenue; but the time is
coming when this must stop. Our people at home can't keep on financing
us, and the land is nearly all taken up."

"Well, what follows?"

"Allenwood will shortly have to earn its living," Broadwood answered,
laughing. "This will be a shock to some of our friends, but even with
wheat going down the thing shouldn't prove insuperably difficult."

"We may have wheat at less than a dollar. Look at the quantity of good
land that's available, and the character of the men who're coming in.
They'll live on revenue, in dug-outs and fifty-dollar shacks, and all
they don't spend on food will go into new teams and implements. They
don't expect an easy time, and won't get it, but we'll have to meet
their competition. Personally, I don't think that's impossible. I
believe we're their equals in brain and muscle."

"We used to think we were superior," Broadwood smiled. "Our conservative
sentiments will be our greatest difficulty."

"I'm afraid we'll have to get rid of them."

"Mowbray will never throw his traditions overboard."

"No. I see trouble ahead," said Kenwyne.

"It's an awkward situation, I'll admit. Instead of Mowbray's leading us,
we'll have to carry him along, so to speak, without his knowing it. As
he's not a fool, the thing may need more tact than we're capable of. For
all that, he must remain leader."

"Of course," said Kenwyne simply. "He made Allenwood. We must stick to
him."

Long after Broadwood had gone, Kenwyne stood at the door of his house,
looking out over the lake. There was no wind, and the prairie was very
silent. Stretching back in the moonlight to the horizon, its loneliness
was impressive; but Kenwyne was not deceived. He knew that the tide of
population and progress had already passed its boundaries and was
flowing fast up every channel, following the railroad, the rivers, and
the fur-traders' trails. It would wash away the old landmarks and
undermine every barrier that Mowbray could raise. Kenwyne wondered what
would happen when Allenwood was surrounded by the flood. After all, it
depended upon the settlers whether the inundation proved destructive or
fertilizing.



CHAPTER III

AT THE FORD


A few days after the council, Beatrice, Colonel Mowbray's only daughter,
sat talking with her mother in the drawing-room at the Grange. Beatrice
had returned on the previous evening from a visit to England, and it
struck her, perhaps by contrast with the homes of her mother's friends,
that the room had a dingy, cheerless look. The few pieces of good
furniture which Mowbray had brought with him had suffered during
transport and showed signs of age; the others, sent out from Toronto,
were crudely new. Rugs and curtains were faded, and there were places
that had been carefully mended. The matchboarded walls looked very bare.
More than all, it struck the girl that her mother seemed listless and
worn.

Mrs. Mowbray was a gentle, reserved woman. She was still beautiful, but
the years she had spent upon the prairie had left their mark on her. She
had lost her former vivacity and something of her independence of
thought; and, except to those who knew her well, her character seemed
colorless. Mowbray was considerate of his wife, but there was no room
under his roof for two directing wills or more than one set of opinions.
For all that, Mrs. Mowbray wore an air of quiet dignity.

Beatrice had a trace of her father's imperious temper. She looked very
fresh, for a life spent largely out of doors had given her a vigorous,
graceful carriage as well as a fine, warm color, and had set a sparkle
in her deep-blue eyes. There was a hint of determination about her
mouth, and her glance was often proud. She was just twenty-two, and the
fashionable English dress set off her gracefully outlined and rather
slender figure.

As she looked at her mother her face grew thoughtful.

"You are not looking well, Mother dear," she said.

"I am not ill," Mrs. Mowbray answered in a tired voice. "It has been a
very hot and trying summer, and the crop was poor. That had its effect
upon your father. Then you have heard that Gerald----"

There was a quick, indignant flash in Beatrice's eyes.

"Yes, I know! Of course, I stand up for him to outsiders, but I'm
getting ashamed of Gerald. His debts must have been a heavy tax on
Father. I think that too much has been done for the boys. I have nothing
to complain of; but we're not rich, and I'm afraid you have had to
suffer."

"My dear, you mustn't question your father's judgment."

Beatrice smiled.

"I suppose not, and my criticism would certainly be wasted; still, you
can't expect me to have your patience."

She went to one of the long windows in the drawing-room and threw it
open wide.

"How I love the prairie!" she exclaimed, looking out over the vast plain
that stretched away to a sky all rose and purple and gold.

A tired smile crept into her mother's face.

"It has its charm," she said; "but, after all, you have been away at
school, and have not seen much of it. One has to do without so much
here, and when you have gone through an unvarying round of duties day
after day for years, seeing only the same few people and hearing the
same opinions, you find it dreary. One longs to meet clever strangers
and feel the stir and bustle of life now and then; but instead there
comes another care or a fresh responsibility. You don't realize yet what
a bad harvest or a fall in the wheat market means; for, while the men
have their troubles, in a settlement like Allenwood, the heaviest burden
falls upon the women."

"You must have had to give up a good deal to come here," Beatrice said.

"I loved your father, and I knew that he could not be happy in England,"
was the simple answer.

Beatrice was silent for a few moments. It was the first time she had
understood the sacrifice her mother had made, and she was moved to
sympathy. Then, in the flighty manner of youth, she changed the subject.

"Oh, I must tell you about dear Mr. Morel!" Catching an alert look in
her mother's eyes, Beatrice laughed. Then, with a quick, impulsive
movement, she crossed the floor, took her mother's face between both her
hands, and kissed it. "No," she answered the question that had not been
spoken; "Mr. Morel is a lovely old man who lives all alone, with just
his servants, at Ash Garth, in a fine old house full of art treasures
that seem to have been collected from all over the world. And there's a
rose garden between the lawn and the river, and a big woods all round.
Mr. Morel is charming, and he was particularly kind to me, because he
and Uncle Gordon are such great friends."

"Did you see much of him?"

"Oh, yes; and I like him. But, Mother," Beatrice lowered her voice
dramatically, "there's a mystery in his life. I'm sure of it! I asked
Uncle Gordon; but if he knew he wouldn't tell. Then I tried to question
Mr. Morel----"

"Why, Beatrice!"

The girl laughed at her mother's shocked tone.

"Don't worry, Mother dear. He didn't know I was questioning him. And I
do love a mystery! All I learned was that it has something to do with
Canada. Whenever I talked about the prairie he looked so sad, and once I
even thought I saw tears in his eyes."

Beatrice's brows came together in a perplexed frown; then she laughed
gently.

"Mysteries have a fascination for me," she said; "I like to puzzle them
out. But I must leave you now; for I promised to go see Evelyn this
afternoon. I may not get home until late."

Half an hour later Beatrice was in the saddle riding across the bare
sweep of prairie to one of the distant homesteads. When she reached the
river, the stream was turbid and running fast, but a narrow trail
through the poplars on its bank led to the ford, and she urged her horse
into it fearlessly. On the other side the trail was very faint, and a
stake upon a rise indicated where the crossing was safe. A large grass
fire was burning some miles away, for a tawny cloud of smoke trailed
across the plain.

Beatrice spent a pleasant hour with her friend and started home alone as
dusk was falling. The sky was clear, and the moon hung some distance
above the horizon. A cold breeze had sprung up, and the grass fire had
grown fiercer. Beatrice could see it stretching toward the river in a
long red line; and after a while she rode into the smoke. It grew
thicker and more acrid; she could not see her way; and her horse was
getting frightened. When an orange glare leaped up not far away, the
animal broke into a gallop, pulling hard, and after some trouble in
stopping it Beatrice changed her direction. She was not afraid of
prairie fires, which, as a rule, can be avoided easily, but this one
would necessitate her making a round.

She found it difficult to get out of the smoke, and when she reached the
river it was at some distance above the stake. She could not ride back,
because the fire was moving up from that direction, cutting her off. She
glanced dubiously at the water. It ran fast between steep,
timber-covered banks. She did not think she could get down to it, and
she knew there was only one safe ford. Still, she could not spend the
night upon the wrong bank, and the fire was drawing closer all the time.
Worse still, her horse was becoming unmanageable. She rode upstream for
a mile; but the river looked deep, and the eddies swirled in a
forbidding way; the bank was abrupt and rotten, and Beatrice dared not
attempt it. In front, the moon, which was getting higher, threw a clear
light upon the water; behind, the smoke rolled up thickly to meet her.
The fire was closing in upon the stream. With his nostrils filled with
the sting of the smoke, the horse reared and threatened to dash over the
crumbling bank. Beatrice, realizing her danger, turned him back
downstream and gave him the rein.

She did not hope to reach the ford--there was a wall of impenetrable
fire and smoke between her and the stake; she could not attempt the
river where the bank was so steep and the current so swift.

With her own eyes smarting, and her breathing difficult, Beatrice
suddenly leaned forward and patted the trembling horse. He had not been
able to run far with his lungs full of smoke, and he had now stopped in
a moment of indecision.

"Good boy!" she coaxed, in a voice that was not quite steady. "Go a
little farther, and then we'll try the river."

"_Hello!_" came out of the darkness; and through the acrid haze she saw
a man running toward her.

She hailed him eagerly; but when he reached her she was somewhat
disconcerted to notice that he was not, as she had expected, one of the
Allenwood settlers.

She saw that he was waiting for her to speak.

"I want to get across, and the fire has driven me from the ford," she
said.

"Where are you going?"

"To the Grange."

"By your leave!"

He took the bridle and moved along the bank, though he had some trouble
with the frightened horse. When they had gone a few yards he turned
toward an awkward slope.

"Is this crossing safe?" Beatrice asked in alarm.

"It's not good," he answered quietly. "I can take you through."

Beatrice did not know what gave her confidence, because the ford looked
dangerous, but she let him lead the stumbling horse down to the water.
The next moment the man was wading knee-deep, and the stream frothed
about the horse's legs. The current was swift and the smoke was thick
and biting, but the man went steadily on, and they were some distance
from the bank when he turned to her.

"Pick up your skirt," he said bluntly; "it gets steeper."

Beatrice laughed in spite of her danger. The man certainly did not waste
words.

When they were nearly across, the moon was suddenly hidden behind a dark
cloud, and at that moment the horse lost its footing and made a frantic
plunge. Beatrice gasped. But her fright was needless, for her companion
had firm control of the animal, and in another few moments they were
struggling up the bank.

As they left the timber and came out of the smoke, into the broad
moonlight, she told him to stop, for the saddle had slipped in climbing
the bank. Then, for the first time, they saw each other clearly.

He was a big man, with a quiet brown face, and Beatrice noticed his
start of swift, half-conscious admiration as he looked up at her. It
caused her no embarrassment, because she had seen that look on the faces
of other men, and knew that she was pretty; but she failed to estimate
the effect of her beauty on a man unaccustomed to her type. Sitting with
easy grace upon the splendid horse, she had a curiously patrician air.
He noticed her fine calm, the steadiness of her deep-blue eyes, and the
delicate chiseling of her features; indeed, he never forgot the picture
she made, with the poplars for a background and the moonlight on her
face.

"Thank you; I'm afraid you got very wet," she said. "I know my way now."

"You can't ride on," he answered. "The cinch buckle's drawn."

"Oh!"

"You'd better come on to my place. My sister will look after you while I
fix it." He smiled as he added: "Miss Mowbray, I presume? You may have
heard of me--Craig Harding, from the section just outside your line."

"Oh!" Beatrice repeated. "I didn't know we had neighbors; I have been
away. Have you met any of the Allenwood people?"

"A sallow-faced man with dark eyes."

"Kenwyne," said Beatrice. "He's worth knowing. Anybody else?"

"There was a lad with him; about eighteen, riding a gray horse."

"Yes; my brother Lance."

Harding laughed softly.

"That's all," he said; "and our acquaintance didn't go very far."

Beatrice wondered at his amusement, and she gave him a curious glance.
He was dressed in old brown overalls, and she thought he had something
of the look of the struggling farmers she had seen in Manitoba,
hard-bitten men who had come from the bush of Ontario, but there was a
difference, though she could not tell exactly where it lay. Harding's
clothes were old and plain, and she could see that he worked with his
hands, yet there was something about him which suggested a broader mind
and more culture than she associated with the rude preemptors. Then,
though he was curt, his intonation was unusually clean.

She asked him a few questions about his farm, which he answered
pleasantly. They were walking side by side along one of the prairie
trails, and he was leading the horse. The breeze had fallen and the
night was unusually still, broken only by a coyote calling insistently
to his mate; the wide, bare prairie ahead of them lay bathed in
moonlight.

Presently a light twinkled across the plain; and Beatrice welcomed it,
because, in spite of the precautions she had taken, her long skirt was
wet and uncomfortable.

When they reached the camp they found Hester busy cooking at a fire.
Behind her stood a rude board shelter and a tent, and farther off the
skeleton of a house rose from the grass.

Beatrice studied Hester Harding with interest. Though she found her
simply dressed, with sleeves rolled back and hands smeared with flour,
the prairie girl made a favorable impression on her. She liked the
sensitive, grave face, and the candid, thoughtful look.

While the girth was being mended, the girls talked beside the fire. Then
Harding saddled his own horse, and he and Beatrice rode off across the
prairie. When the lights of the Grange were visible he turned back; and
soon afterward Beatrice was laughingly relating her adventure to her
mother and Lance.

"So it was Harding who helped you!" Lance exclaimed. "I made a rather
bad blunder in talking to him the other day--told him he mustn't cut
some timber which it seems was his. But, I must say, he was rather
decent about it."

He looked at his sister curiously, and then laughed.

"On the whole," he added, as she started up the stairs, "it might be
better not to say anything about your little experience to the Colonel.
I'm inclined to think it might not please him."

Beatrice saw that her mother agreed with Lance, and she was somewhat
curious; but she went on up to her room without asking any questions.

She began to feel interested in Harding.



CHAPTER IV

THE OPENING OF THE RIFT


A week after his meeting with Beatrice Mowbray, Harding went out one
morning to plow. He was in a thoughtful mood, but it was characteristic
that he did not allow his reflections to interfere with his work. His
house was unfinished, and the nights were getting cold; but neither
Hester nor he placed personal comfort first, and there was a strip of
land that must be broken before the frost set in.

It was a calm morning and bright sunshine poured down upon the grass
that ran back, growing faintly blue in the distance, until it faded into
the mellow haze that shut in the wide circle of prairie. Here and there
the smooth expanse was broken by small, gleaming ponds and wavy lines of
timber picked out in delicate shades of indigo and gray, but the
foreground was steeped in strong color. Where the light struck it, the
withered grass shone like silver; elsewhere it was streaked with yellow
and cinnamon. The long furrows traced across it were a rich
chocolate-brown, and the turned-back clods had patches of oily
brightness on their faces. The leaves in a neighboring bluff formed
spots of cadmium; and even the big breaker plow, painted crude green and
vermilion, did not seem out of place. It was a new implement, the best
that Harding could buy, and two brawny red oxen hauled it along. Oxen
are economical to feed and have some advantages in the first stages of
breaking land, but Harding meant to change them for Clydesdale horses
and experiment with mechanical traction. He used the old methods where
they paid, but he believed in progress.

As he guided the slowly moving beasts and watched the clods roll back,
his brown face was grave; for he had been troubled during the past seven
days. When he looked up at Beatrice Mowbray on the river bank something
strange and disturbing had happened to him. He was not given to
indulgence in romantic sentiment and, absorbed as he had been, first by
the necessity of providing for his sister and himself, and afterward by
practical ambitions, he had seldom spared a thought to women. Marriage
did not attract him. He felt no longing for close companionship or
domestic comfort; indeed, he rather liked a certain amount of hardship.
True, his heart had once or twice been mildly stirred by girls he had
met. They were pretty and likable--otherwise he would not have been
attracted, for his taste was good.

In some respects, Harding was primitive; but this, perhaps, tended to
give him a clearer understanding of essential things, and he had a vague
belief that he would some day meet the woman who was destined to be his
true mate. What was more, he would recognize her when he saw her.

And when he had looked up at Beatrice in the moonlight, standing out,
clear cut, against the somber background of poplars, the knowledge that
she was the one woman had rushed over him, surging through him as strong
as the swift-running river through which he had brought her. But, now
that the thing had happened, he must grapple with a difficult situation.
He knew his own value, and believed that he had abilities which would
carry him far toward material success; but he also knew his limitations
and the strength of the prejudices that would be arrayed against him.
That he should hope to win this girl of patrician stock was, in a sense,
ludicrous. Yet he had read courage in her, and steadfastness; if she
loved him, she would not count too great any sacrifice she made for his
sake. But this was only one side of the matter. Brought up as she had
been, she might not stand the strain of such a life as his must be for a
time. A deep tenderness awoke within him; he felt that she must be
sheltered from all trouble and gently cared for.

Harding suddenly broke into a grim laugh. He was going much too
fast--there was no reason to believe that the girl had given him a
passing thought.

With a call to the oxen he went on with his plowing, and the work
brought him encouragement. It was directly productive: next fall the
prairie he ripped apart would be covered with ripening grain. He had
found that no well-guided effort was lost: it bore fruit always--in his
case, at the rate of twenty bushels of wheat, or fifty bushels of oats,
to the acre. When the seed was wisely sown the harvest followed; and
Harding had steadily enlarged his crop. Now he had made his boldest
venture; and he looked forward to the time when his labor should change
the empty plain into a fertile field.

A jolt of the plow disturbed him, and as he looked up the oxen stopped.
The share had struck hard ground. On one side, a sinuous line of trail,
rutted by wheels and beaten firm by hoofs, seamed the prairie; on the
other, the furrows ran across and blotted it out. It was a road the
Allenwood settlers used, and Harding knew well what he was doing when he
plowed into it. Still, the land was his and must produce its proper
yield of grain, while to clear the trail with his implements would
entail much useless labor. He had no wish to be aggressive, but if these
people took his action as a challenge, the fault would be theirs. It was
with a quiet, determined smile that he called to the oxen and held down
the share.

At noon he turned the animals loose, and going back to camp, felt his
heart throb as he saw Beatrice Mowbray talking to Hester. A team stood
near by, and the boy he had met in the bluff was stooping down beside a
light four-wheeled vehicle. Beatrice gave Harding a smile of recognition
and went on talking, but her brother came up to him.

"The pole came loose," he explained; "and I thought you might lend me
something to fasten it with."

"Certainly," Harding said, stooping to examine the damaged pole. "It
won't fasten," he added. "It's broken between the iron straps, and
there's not wood enough to bolt them on again."

Lance frowned.

"That's a nuisance!"

"I will give you a pole," Harding said. "There is some lumber here that
will do."

He picked up a small birch log as he spoke, and, throwing it upon two
trestles, set to work with an ax. When he had it about the right size,
Lance interrupted him.

"That's good enough. I'll get it smoothed off when the carpenter comes
out from the settlement."

"That is not my plan," Harding smiled. "I like to finish a job."

He adjusted a plane, and Beatrice watched him as he ran it along the
pole. It had not struck her hitherto that one could admire the simple
mechanical crafts, but she thought there was something fine in the
prairie farmer's command of the tool. She noticed his easy poise as he
swung to and fro, the rhythmic precision of his movements, and the
accurate judgment he showed. As the thin shavings streamed across his
wrist the rough log began to change its form, growing through gently
tapered lines into symmetry. Though he had only his eye to guide him,
Beatrice saw that he was skilfully striking the balance between strength
and lightness, and it was a surprise to find elements of beauty in such
a common object as a wagon-pole. She felt that Harding had taught her
something when he turned to Lance, saying:

"There! I guess we can put that in."

The irons were soon refitted, and while Lance harnessed the team,
Beatrice came to Harding with a smile.

"Thank you!" she said. "It's curious that you should help me out of a
difficulty twice within a week."

Harding flushed.

"If you should happen to meet with another, I hope I'll be near," he
returned.

"You like helping people?"

He pondered this longer than she thought it deserved.

"I believe I like straightening things out. It jars me to see any one in
trouble when there's a way of getting over it; and I hate to see effort
wasted and tools unfit for work."

"Efficiency is your ideal, then?"

"Yes. I don't know that it ever struck me before, but you have hit it.
All the same, efficiency is hard to attain."

Beatrice looked at him curiously.

"I don't believe you are really a carpenter," she said.

"Unless you have plenty of money when you start breaking prairie, you
have to be a number of things," he answered, smiling. "Difficulties keep
cropping up, and they must be attacked."

"Without previous knowledge or technical training?"

He gave her a quick, appreciative glance.

"You have a knack of getting at the heart of things!" he said in his
blunt way. "It's not common."

Beatrice laughed, but she felt mildly flattered. She liked men to treat
her seriously; and so few of them did. Somehow she felt that Harding was
an unusual man: his toil-roughened hands and his blunt manner of speech
were at variance with the indefinite air of culture and good-breeding
that hovered round him. There was strength, shown plainly; and she felt
that he had ability--when confronted with a difficult problem he would
find the best solution. It was interesting to lead him on; but she was
to find him ready to go much farther than she desired.

"I hope making the new pole for us wasn't too much trouble," she said
lightly.

"It gives me keen pleasure to be of any use to you," he said.

The color swept into Beatrice's face, for he was looking at her with an
intent expression that made it impossible to take his remark lightly.
She was angry with herself for feeling confused while he looked so cool.

"That sounds rather cheap," she replied with a touch of scorn.

"My excuse is that it's exactly what I felt."

Composure in difficult circumstances was one of the characteristics of
her family, yet Beatrice felt at a loss. Harding, she thought, was not
the man to yield to a passing impulse or transgress from unmeaning
effrontery; but this made the shock worse.

Lance saved the situation by announcing that the team was ready.

As the buggy jolted away across the plain, Beatrice sat silent. She felt
indignant, humiliated, in a sense; but thrilled in spite of this. The
man's tone had been earnest and his gaze steadfast. He meant what he
said. But he had taken an unwarrantable liberty. Nobody knew anything
about him except that he was a working farmer. Her cheeks burned as she
realized that she had, perhaps, been to blame in treating him too
familiarly. Then her anger began to pass. After all, it was easy to
forgive sincere admiration, and he was certainly a fine type--strong and
handsome, clever with his hands, and, she thought, endowed with unusual
mental power. There was something flattering in the thought that he had
appreciated her. For all that, he must be given no opportunity for
repeating the offense; he must be shown that there was a wide gulf
between them.

Lance broke in upon her thoughts.

"I like that fellow," he said. "It's a pity he isn't more of our kind."

Beatrice pondered. Harding was not of their kind; but she did not feel
sure that the difference was wholly in favor of the Allenwood settlers.
This struck her as strange; as it was contrary to the opinions she had
hitherto held.

"Why?" she asked carelessly.

"We might have seen something of him then."

"Can't you do so now, if you wish?"

"I'm not sure. It might not please the Colonel--you know his opinions."

Beatrice smiled, for she had often heard them dogmatically expressed.

"After all, what is there he could object to about Harding?" she asked.

"Not much in one sense; a good deal in another. You can't deny that the
way one is brought up makes a difference. Perhaps the worst is that he's
frankly out for money--farming for dollars."

"Aren't we?"

"Not now. We're farming for pleasure. But Kenwyne and one or two others
think there'll have to be a change in that respect before long."

"Then we'll be in the same position as Harding, won't we?"

"I suppose so," Lance admitted. "But the Colonel won't see it; and I
can't say that he's wrong."

"It seems rather complicated," Beatrice said dryly.

She was surprised to find herself ready to contend for Harding, and
rather than inquire into the cause of this, she talked about Allenwood
affairs until they reached home.

Harding, back at his plowing, was thinking of Beatrice. He knew that he
had spoken rashly, but he did not regret it. She now knew what he
thought of her, and could decide what course to take. He smiled as he
imagined her determining that he must be dropped, for he believed the
mood would soon pass. He did not mean to persecute the girl with
unwelcome attentions, but it would not be easy to shake him off. He was
tenacious and knew how to wait. Then, the difference between them was,
after all, less wide than she probably imagined. Harding had kept
strictly to his compact not to try to learn anything of his father's
people in England; but, for all that, he believed himself to be the
girl's equal by birth. That, however, was a point that could not be
urged; and he had no wish to urge it. He was content to stand or fall by
his own merits as a man; and if Beatrice was the girl he thought her,
she would not let his being a working farmer stand in the way. This, of
course, was taking it for granted that he could win her love. He was
ready to fight against her relatives' opposition; but, even if he had
the power, he would put no pressure on the girl. If he was the man she
ought to marry, she would know.

A breeze got up, rounded clouds with silver edges gathered in the west,
streaking the prairie with patches of indigo shadow, and the air grew
cooler as the sun sank. The big oxen steadily plodded on, the dry grass
crackled beneath the share as the clods rolled back, and by degrees
Harding's mind grew tranquil--as generally happened when he was at work.
He was doing something worth while in breaking virgin ground, in
clearing a way for the advancing host that would people the wilderness,
in roughing out a career for himself. Whatever his father's people
were, his mother sprang from a stern, colonizing stock, and he heard and
thrilled to the call for pioneers.

As the sun sank low, a man pulled up his horse at the end of the trail
and beckoned Harding. There was something imperious in his attitude, as
he sat with his hand on his hip, watching the farmer haughtily; and
Harding easily guessed that it was Colonel Mowbray. He went on with his
furrow, and only after he had driven the plow across the grass road did
he stop.

"Are you Mr. Harding, the owner of this section?" demanded the head of
Allenwood.

"Yes."

"Then I must express my surprise that you have broken up our trail."

"It was necessary. I dislike blocking a trail, but you can go round by
the road."

"You can see that it's soft and boggy in wet weather."

"Five minutes' extra ride will take you over gravel soil inside the
Allenwood range."

"Do you expect us to waste five minutes whenever we come this way?"

"My time is valuable, and if I let your trail stand it would cost me a
good deal of extra labor. I must have a straight unbroken run for my
machines."

"So, sooner than throw an implement out of gear while you cross the
trail, you take this course! Do you consider it neighborly?"

Harding smiled. He remembered that in Manitoba any help the nearest
farmer could supply had been willingly given. At Allenwood, he had been
left alone. That did not trouble him; but he thought of Hester,
enduring many discomforts in her rude, board shack while women
surrounded by luxury lived so near.

"I can't see any reason why I should be neighborly," he replied.

Mowbray glanced at him with a hint of embarrassment.

"Have you any complaint against us?"

"None," said Harding coolly. "I only mentioned the matter because you
did so."

He imagined that Mowbray was surprised by his reserve.

"You may be able to understand," the Colonel said, "that it's rash for
an intruding stranger to set himself against local customs, not to speak
of the discourtesy of the thing. When a new trail is made at Allenwood,
every holder is glad to give all the land that's needed."

"Land doesn't seem to be worth as much to you as it is to me, judging
from the way you work it. Every rod of mine must grow something. I don't
play at farming."

Mowbray grew red in the face, but kept himself in hand.

"Do you wish to criticize our methods?" he demanded.

"I've nothing to do with your methods. It's my business to farm this
section as well as it can be done. I've no wish to annoy your people;
but you do not use the trail for hauling on, and I can't change my plans
because they may interfere with your amusements."

"Very well," Mowbray answered coldly. "There is nothing more to be
said."

He rode away and Harding started his oxen. It might have been more
prudent to make a few concessions and conciliate the Colonel, but
Harding could not bring himself to do so. It seemed a shabby course. It
was better that the Allenwood settlers should know at the beginning how
matters stood and of what type their new neighbor was.

From all that Harding had learned of Colonel Mowbray, he felt that this
stretch of grassland would not be turned into a glowing sea of wheat
without more than one conflict between himself and the head of
Allenwood.



CHAPTER V

THE SPENDTHRIFT


Kenwyne felt pleasantly languid as he lounged in a basket-chair after
his evening meal. He had been back-setting land since daybreak. Holding
the plow was an occupation almost unknown to the Allenwood settlers, who
left all the rougher work to their hired men. Kenwyne, however, was of a
practical turn of mind; and, having invested all his money in his farm,
he meant to get some return. He occasionally enjoyed a run with the
coyote hounds, or a day's shooting when the migrating geese and ducks
rested among the sloos; but for the most part he stuck steadily to his
work and, as he bought the latest implements, he was considered richer
than he really was. Though thirty, he was unmarried; an elderly Scottish
housekeeper looked after him.

One of the obstacles to Allenwood's progress was that the bachelors
outnumbered the married men; and the difficulty seemed insuperable. The
settlers belonged to an exclusive caste, and few young Englishwomen of
education and refinement had shown themselves willing to face the
hardships of the prairie life; though these were softened at Allenwood
by many of the amenities of civilization. Moreover, it was known to the
rasher youths, who occasionally felt tempted by the good looks of the
daughters of the soil, that Colonel Mowbray sternly discountenanced
anything of the nature of a _mésalliance_, and that the married women
would deal even more strictly with the offenders. Broadwood, for
example, had broken the settlement's traditions, and he and his Canadian
wife had suffered.

While Kenwyne was reading an old newspaper, Gerald Mowbray sauntered in.
He had a careless, genial manner that made him a favorite, but there was
a hint of weakness in his face, and Kenwyne had never trusted him. It
was known that he had been wild and extravagant; but at Allenwood that
was not generally regarded as a grave drawback. They were charitable
there; several of the younger men, who now made good settlers, had left
England at their relatives' urgent request, after gaining undesirable
notoriety.

Gerald selected a comfortable chair and passed his cigar-case to
Kenwyne.

"They're good," he said. "I had them sent from Montreal."

"No, thanks," replied Kenwyne. "I've given up such extravagances, and
stick to the labeled plug. I don't want to be officious, but it might be
better if you did the same."

Gerald smiled.

"You're rather a sordid beggar, Ralph; but as that's often a sign of
prosperity, it makes me hopeful. I want you to lend me two hundred
pounds."

"Impossible!" said Kenwyne firmly.

"One hundred and fifty, then?"

"Equally out of the question. All I have is sunk in stock, and earmarked
for next year's operations." Kenwyne paused and considered. He knew the
chances were slight that the money would ever be returned; yet he
respected Colonel Mowbray, and his loyalty extended to the family of the
head of Allenwood. "Why do you want the money?" he asked.

"I suppose I'll have to tell you. It goes back to India--what you might
call a 'debt of honor.' I borrowed the money in London to square it; and
thought when I came to Canada I'd be too far away for the London fellow
to put undue pressure on me. Oh, I meant to pay sometime, when I was
ready; but the fellow transferred the debt to a man at Winnipeg, who has
sent me a curt demand with an extortionate bill of expenses. Now I have
to pay."

"I suppose you have been round the settlement?"

"Yes; but I haven't collected much. In fact, I'm afraid I'll have to
pledge my farm."

"You can't do that. Our foundation covenant forbids a settler to
alienate his land without the consent of a majority in the council,
subject to the president's veto. Your father would certainly use his
veto."

"Very true," Gerald agreed. "However, I don't propose to alienate my
land--only to pawn it for a time."

"It's against the spirit of the deed."

"I've nothing to do with its spirit. The covenant should say what it
means, and it merely states that a settler shall not sell to any person
who's not a member of the colony. I'm not going to sell."

"You're going to do a dangerous thing," Kenwyne warned him.

"Then the remedy is for you to let me have a thousand dollars," Gerald
said quickly.

"It is impossible; but I will try to raise five hundred. I suppose the
Colonel does not know you have come to me?"

"I rely upon your not letting him know." Gerald smiled in that
ingratiating way that won him many friends. "I'm deeply grateful, and
you're a good sort, Ralph, though in some ways you differ from the rest
of us. I don't know where you got your tradesman's spirit."

"It won't be so singular before long," Kenwyne answered with dry
amusement. "Even now, Broadwood and one or two others----"

"Broadwood doesn't count. He married a girl of the soil."

"He loves her, and she makes him a good wife."

"Yes, but it was a mistake. You know our traditions."

Kenwyne laughed, and nodded toward the open window, through which they
heard the sound of cheerful whistling approaching them along the trail.

"I suspect that's Broadwood now," he said.

"Well, I must be going. I will call for the check to-morrow."

Gerald left as Broadwood entered.

"I can guess what he wanted. He was at my place," Broadwood said, as he
took the seat Gerald had vacated.

"Ah! I'll wager he didn't go away empty-handed," Kenwyne smiled.

"Perhaps I'm betraying a confidence in admitting it. Anyway, I felt that
one ought to help him for the family's sake, lest he get into worse
trouble; and I could afford the loan. Since I married I've been making
some money. But I want to ask you about this Harding. What kind of
fellow is he?"

"I like what I've seen of him. Why?"

"Effie has been talking about his sister. Seemed to think it was unkind
to leave the girl alone--in want, perhaps, of odds and ends a woman
could supply. I think she has made up her mind to go see her."

"I'm not sure that would meet with general approval. What did you say?"

"I seldom give my opinion on these matters," Broadwood answered with a
laugh. "On the whole, I think Effie's right; and I suspect that knowing
the thing won't please the others gives it a charm. After all, she
hasn't much reason for respecting their prejudices. At first, they
nearly drove us out of Allenwood."

"I'm glad you didn't go. Your wife is steadily gaining ground, and the
others will be glad to copy her after a while."

"That's my idea; we'll have to work our land. Have you ever thought what
the Colonel could do with his big block, if he had the capital?"

"_And_ the wish!" said Kenwyne. "The obstacle is his point of view.
Besides, all of it isn't really his: Mrs. Mowbray, Beatrice, and the
boys have a share. Of course, his taking the lots as one gives him a
solid vote in the council, and with the veto he has on certain points
makes him an absolute ruler."

"So long as his family support him!"

"Can you imagine their doing the contrary?"

"I've thought the Colonel's position was least secure from an attack
within," Broadwood answered thoughtfully. "It doesn't follow that a
man's family is bound to agree with him. Gerald's a dark horse, and one
can't predict what he'll do, except that it will be what suits himself.
Lance is young and headstrong; and Beatrice has a mind of her own....
But I really came to ask your opinion about this sketch of a new stable.
I must buy another team."

They discussed the plan for the new building until it grew late and
Broadwood went home.

The following day Gerald Mowbray left Allenwood for Winnipeg. It was a
dismal, wet evening when he arrived; and Winnipeg was not an attractive
city at that time. There were a few fine stores and offices on Main
Street; Portage Avenue was laid out, and handsome buildings were rising
here and there; but, for the most part, the frame houses had a
dilapidated, squalid look. Rows of pedlers' shacks stretched back from
the wooden station, the streets were unpaved, and the churned-up prairie
soil lay in sticky clods upon the rude plank sidewalks. Dripping teams
floundered heavily through the mire. Although the city was beginning to
feel the stir of commercial activity, the dark corners were devoted to
questionable amusements.

Gerald had supper at his hotel, and afterward found the time hang upon
his hands. The general lounge was badly lighted, and its uncovered floor
was smeared with gumbo mud from the boots of the wet men who slouched in
to the bar. The door kept swinging open, letting in cold draughts; and
Gerald could find nobody to talk to. He had not enough money to pay off
his debt, but thought he had sufficient to enable him to make some
compromise with his creditor, and so had determined to see what could be
done. It was, however, impossible to spend the dismal evening at the
hotel, and he knew where excitement might be found at a moderate
cost--that is, if one were cautious and lucky.

Going out, he made his way toward a side street running down to the
river, and noticed the keen glance an armed Northwest policeman gave him
as he turned the corner. Gerald thought it a desirable spot to station
the constable.

A ramshackle frame house down the street was glaringly illuminated, and
Gerald, entering, found a number of men and one or two women in two
gaudily furnished rooms. There was another room at the back where
refreshments were dispensed without a license. For the most part, the
men were young, brown-faced fellows who had spent the summer on the
lonely plains; but a few had a hard and sinister look. The girls were
pretty and stylishly dressed, but they had a predatory air.

In one corner of the room an exciting poker game seemed to be in
progress. At the other end a roulette table was surrounded by a crowd of
eager players. Gerald was fond of games of chance, and he saw ahead of
him a pleasant evening. Leaning against the bar, he was merely an
onlooker for a while. The glare of light and the air of excitement, the
eager faces of the players and the click of the balls fascinated him.

He had not been drinking heavily; yet to his annoyance he felt a trifle
unsteady when at last he strolled over to the roulette table. His first
mistake was to take a five-dollar bill from the wallet which contained
the money to pay his debt. More than one pair of greedy eyes saw the
thick wad of paper currency; and from that moment Gerald was a marked
man in the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the gray hour preceding daybreak, when, sick and dizzy, Gerald
stumbled back to his hotel, he found that he had only ten dollars
remaining of the amount that had been entrusted to him to settle his
debt. Ten dollars would not pay his hotel bill, even.

He woke about noon, his head aching severely. He could form no definite
idea as to what was best to be done. One thing, however, was certain: No
one at Allenwood must know how he had spent the preceding evening. His
relatives had no reason for believing his conduct irreproachable, but so
long as he did not thrust his failings upon their notice they ignored
them. Then, the revelation of how he had lost the money given him would
no doubt lead to his banishment from Allenwood; and except for a small
allowance from his mother's English property, he had no resources. The
survey he had been engaged upon was abandoned for a time, and he could
find no other employment. He must hold on at Allenwood, trusting that
something would turn up, and augmenting his income by the small sums he
might win from the younger men at cards. First of all, however, he must
call upon his creditor; it was a disagreeable task, but one that could
not be shirked.



CHAPTER VI

THE MORTGAGE BROKER


Davies sat at his desk sorting a bundle of papers. His office, a large
room in a smart, new building, was elaborately furnished; but the
furnishings spelled expense rather than taste. The walls were hung with
maps of the Canadian territories, plans of new town sites, and
photographs of buildings. Davies was one of a class that was, for a
time, to exercise a far-reaching influence on the Western prairie. His
business was to sell the new settlers land--which was seldom paid for on
the spot; the agent being willing to take what he could get and leave
the balance on mortgage. He also lent money to farmers who had suffered
from bad seasons, or who rashly determined to extend their operations
with borrowed capital.

Interest was then very high, and the scratch-farming generally practised
was not productive. Crops on the half-worked soil suffered from drought
and blight, and often ripened too late to escape the autumn frost; yet,
in spite of these disadvantages, the influx of new settlers forced up
the price of land. As a rule, the unfortunate farmer soon became
indebted to local storekeepers as well as to the man from whom he had
bought his holding. When he harvested a good crop, he paid off some
arrears of interest, and perhaps kept a few dollars to go on with; but
he seldom got out of debt, and so toiled on, living with stern
frugality, while the money-lender pocketed his earnings. Shylock ran no
risk, since the security was good and he could sell up the defaulter.
For a time, many of the small homesteaders struggled with dire poverty,
in spite of legislation intended to protect them; and it was not until a
succession of good harvests and the gradual development of the country
enabled them to break the yoke of the usurer that a tide of prosperity
flowed across the plains.

Davies was an unfavorable specimen of his class. There were some land
and mortgage agents who dealt fairly with their clients and even ran
some risk in keeping them on their feet; but Davies was cunning,
grasping, and pitiless.

When Gerald entered he gave him a curt nod, snapped a rubber band around
the papers, placed them carefully in a pigeonhole in his desk, and then
turned to his caller.

"Mr. Mowbray! I expected to see you sooner. Guess you have come to
settle your account."

Gerald found it hard to keep his temper. He had an aristocratic contempt
for all traders, and had, even in Canada, generally been treated with
some deference.

"In the first place, I don't see what you have to do with this debt," he
began. "I borrowed from parties in London, and I'm responsible to them."

"Here's my authority," Davies said, handing him a letter. "Whether the
lender instructed me to collect the money for him, or made other
arrangements doesn't matter to you. I can give you a receipt that will
stand good as soon as you put up the money."

"Unfortunately, that is more than I can do."

Davies did not look surprised.

"What's your proposition?" he asked.

"I'll think over yours," Gerald answered as coolly as he could.

Davies studied him for a moment or two. Gerald's expression was
supercilious, but his face did not indicate much strength of character.
Besides, the only justification for arrogance that Davies recognized was
the possession of money.

"You're the son of Colonel Mowbray of Allenwood, aren't you? Your people
hold a good piece of land there."

"You seem to know all about me. I'd better warn you, however, that you
won't find my relatives willing to pay my debts."

Davies smiled.

"I could try them. They might do something if I stated my claim."

This was what Gerald had feared, and he could not hide his alarm.

"It will save you trouble if you realize that you wouldn't get a
dollar," he said hastily.

Davies was silent for a few moments. As a matter of fact, he was by no
means anxious to be paid. Allenwood was isolated as yet, and the land
accordingly not worth much, but the homesteads were unusually good and
the advance of cultivation and settlement would largely increase their
value. Davies wanted a hold on Allenwood which might be turned to
advantage later, and he now saw an opportunity for getting it. Young
Mowbray obviously objected to having his friends learn how he was
situated, and this would make him easier to manage.

"Well," Davies said, "you have some land there, haven't you? What's the
acreage, township, and range?"

Gerald named them, and Davies made some calculations on a piece of paper
before he looked up.

"If I find this all right in the land register, I'll cancel your London
debt, and take a mortgage on your holding," he said, handing Gerald the
paper he had been writing on. "Here's an outline of the terms."

"The interest's extortionate!"

"If you think so, go round the town and see if you can find anybody
who'll be more liberal. If not, you can come back to-morrow and we'll
fix up the deal."

Davies felt safe in making the suggestion. He did not think Gerald had
much business ability, and trusted to his reluctance to make his
embarrassments known. Besides, the mortgage brokers had their hands full
and were not all so confident of the rapid advance of settlement as
Davies was. Indeed, there were men who declared that the country was
being opened up too rapidly, and predicted a bad set-back.

Gerald left Davies' office with a faint hope of being able to find a
safer way out of the difficulty. To give his land in pledge would be a
violation of the covenant that bound the Allenwood settlers. It was an
offense that his father and his neighbors could not forgive. He shrank
from the dangerous course; but the day went by without his finding any
escape, and the next morning he called on Davies and the mortgage was
signed.

While Gerald was at Winnipeg, Mrs. Broadwood startled the settlement at
Allenwood by calling on Harding's sister. The visit was prompted by
sympathy for the lonely prairie girl; but, coupled with that, Mrs.
Broadwood delighted in the feeling that all the Allenwood women would
disapprove of her course. She was small and pretty, with plenty of
determination and an exuberant cheerfulness which contact with her
husband's friends had somewhat toned down; and there was about her an
air of homely Western frankness that was charming.

When she reached Harding's camp, Hester sat sewing in the sun. The girl
made a remarkably pretty picture, she thought, seated beside a pile of
prairie hay, with a few purple asters springing up at her feet and,
behind her, a ragged pine-tree drooping its branches to the ground. And
over all the gold of sunshine.

"You look like a priestess of the sun!" Mrs. Broadwood greeted her,
laughing.

Hester smiled in response.

"I'm sitting outside because it's rather damp and cold in the shack,"
she said. "As you see, our house isn't finished yet."

She rose as she spoke, and came forward, and Mrs. Broadwood looked at
her admiringly. Hester was tall and naturally dignified, and her
characteristic expression was grave composure. Besides, her visitor
remarked the excellent taste and fit of her simple dress.

"I'm sure we're going to be friends," said Mrs. Broadwood.

"I hope so," Hester answered simply.

The visitor found a seat in the prairie hay, and sinking down in the
soft grass, she breathed the smell of wild peppermint with delight. She
noticed the hearth of parallel logs, with a big kerosene can, used as a
washing boiler, hanging from a tripod at one end; the camp oven; the
sawing frame; and the scented cedar shingles strewn about beside the
framework of the house. All these things were familiar, for she was one
of the pioneers.

"My!" she exclaimed. "This _is_ nice! Makes me feel homesick."

"It must be a change from Allenwood," Hester answered with a smile.

"That's why I like it! I'm quite happy there; but this is the kind of
place where I belong. Twice before I met my husband I helped make a new
home on the plains, and this spot reminds me of the last time. We fixed
camp by Stony Creek in early summer, when the grass was green and all
the flowers were out. There were rows of the red prairie lilies. I never
saw so many!--and I remember how the new birch leaves used to rustle in
the bluff at night. Thinking of it somehow hurts me." She laughed
prettily. "I'm what Tom calls a sentimentalist."

"So am I," said Hester; "so you needn't stop."

"Well, I remember everything about the night we put in our stakes--Sally
baking bannocks, with the smoke going straight up; the loaded wagons in
a row; the tired horses rolling in the grass; and the chunk of the boys'
axes, chopping in the bluff. Though we'd been on the trail since sun-up,
there was work for hours, bread to bake and clothes to wash; and when we
went to sleep, a horse got his foot in a line and brought the tent down
on us. It was all hard in those days, a hustle from dawn to dark; but
now, when things are different, I sometimes want them back. But I
needn't tell you--I guess you know!"

"Yes; I know," said Hester. "Perhaps it's the work we were born for."

She was silent for a few moments, looking far out over the prairie; then
she asked abruptly:

"What are the Allenwood people like?"

"They're much the same as you and I, but they wear more frills, and when
you rub against those who use the most starch you find them prickly.
Then, they've some quaint notions that Walter Raleigh or Jacques Cartier
must have brought over; but, taking them all round, they're a straight,
clean crowd." She looked intently at Hester. "Somehow you make me feel
that you belong to them."

Hester smiled. Mrs. Broadwood was impulsive and perhaps not always
discreet, but Hester thought her true.

"I don't understand that," she replied. "Though I think my mother was a
woman of unusual character, she came from the Michigan bush. My father
was English, but he had only a small farm and didn't bring us up
differently from our neighbors. Still, he had different ideas and bought
a good many books. Craig and I read them all, and he would talk to us
about them."

"Craig's your brother? I've seen him once or twice. Tell me about him."

Hester nodded toward the trail that wormed its way across the prairie. A
girl was riding toward them.

"Beatrice Mowbray," Mrs. Broadwood said; "the best of them all at
Allenwood, though sometimes she's not easy to get on with."

When Beatrice joined them, Mrs. Broadwood repeated her suggestion. She
was frankly curious, and Hester was not unwilling to talk about her
brother. Indeed, she made the story an interesting character sketch, and
Beatrice listened quietly while she told how the lad was left with a
patch of arid soil, and his mother and sister to provide for. Hester
related how he braved his neighbors' disapproval of the innovations
which they predicted would lead him to ruin, and by tenacity and
boldness turned threatened failure into brilliant success. Then losing
herself in her theme, she sketched the birth of greater ambitions, and
the man's realization of his powers. Beatrice's eyes brightened with
keen approval. She admired strength and daring, and Hester had drawn a
striking picture of her brother.

When the visitors rose to go, Harding appeared. He had come, he
explained, for an ox-chain clevis.

"I have another visit to make," Beatrice said, when he had helped her to
mount. "The shortest way is across the ravine and there used to be a
trail, unless you have plowed it up."

"No," he laughed; "I mean to improve that one. However, as it's not very
good, and there's an awkward place, I'll show you the way down."

They left the camp together, and Harding was not pleased to notice no
difference in the girl's attitude to him. He had not expected her to
show embarrassment, but he would not have minded a dignified aloofness.
It looked as if she had not thought it worth while to resent his
boldness when they last met. For all that, it made his heart beat fast
to be near her.

Beatrice glanced toward the dark-brown line of the fall plowing.

"Do you know what our people are saying about you? You haven't shown
much regard for your neighbors' feelings."

"I'd try to respect their needs."

"Well, that is something. Still, the trail was at least convenient, and
it had stood for a number of years."

"I'm afraid some more of the old landmarks will have to go. These are
changing times."

"And I suppose there's satisfaction in feeling that you are leading the
way?"

"I can't claim that," Harding answered with a smile. "As a matter of
fact, we're following a plain trail; the fur-traders blazed it for us
before the railroad came; and I dare say your father had broken ground
at Allenwood when I was learning to harness a team."

"It doesn't seem to make you diffident. Now, I agree with my friends
that there's a good deal to admire in the old order."

"That's so. All that's best in it will stay; you can't destroy it. In a
way, it's a comforting thought because we can't stand still, and
progress means a fight."

"And yet some people believe in throwing away the weapons our fathers
have used and proved."

Harding laughed.

"When they're fine steel, that's foolish; but we might be allowed to rub
off the rust and regrind them."

Beatrice liked his half-humorous manner, which she suspected covered a
strong sincerity. Besides, she had asked for his opinions; he had not
obtruded them. She gave him a quick glance of scrutiny as he led her
horse down the steep, brush-encumbered trail into the ravine; and she
admitted to herself that he improved on acquaintance. One got used to
his rough clothes and his line of thought which differed so widely from
the views held at Allenwood.

Yellow birch leaves shone about them, the pale-tinted stems were
streaked with silver by the sinking sun, and the ravine was filled with
heavy blue shadow. There was something strangely exhilarating in the
light, glowing color and the sharp wind; and Beatrice felt her senses
stirred. Then she noticed Harding's set lips and the concentrated look
in his eyes. He seemed to be thinking earnestly and perhaps exercising
some self-restraint. She suddenly recalled his presumption the last time
they were together. She had not carried out her plan of avoiding him,
but she thought it might be better to run no risk.

"I mustn't take you any farther," she said. "The trail is good up the
other side."

"All right," he acquiesced. "Turn out at the big poplar."

He stood there in the sunset, his rough felt hat in his hand, the
slanting rays playing through his fair hair, watching her until she and
her horse coalesced with the blue shadows of the hillside.

It would not be easy to win her, he knew. First, there was the life she
had led, in what a different environment from the rough, pioneer one
that he had known! Then there were the prejudices of her relatives to
consider. She must come to him happily, without one regret.

Harding sighed; but his jaws set determinedly. He had been taught, as a
child, that the sweetest apples hang on the highest branches: they are
not easy to reach, but, once secured, they are worth the having.



CHAPTER VII

AN ACCIDENT


With the help of men from the railroad settlement Harding finished his
house and made it weather-proof before the frost struck deep into the
soil. Plowing was now impossible, but there was much to be done. The
inside of the dwelling had to be fitted up, and logs were needed for the
stables he must build in the spring. Trees large enough for the purpose
were scarce; and where coal is unobtainable, cutting wood for fuel keeps
the settler busy during the rigorous winter. Harding might have
simplified his task by buying sawed lumber, but the long railroad
haulage made it expensive, and he never shrank from labor which led to
economy. He was not a niggard, but he had ambitions and he saw that his
money must be made productive if those ambitions were to be gratified.

He was coming home one evening with Devine, bringing a load of wood on
his jumper-sled. It had been a bitter day, and the cold got keener as a
leaden haze crept up across the plain. There was still a curious gray
light, and objects in the immediate foreground stood out with harsh
distinctness. The naked branches of the poplars on the edge of the
ravine they skirted cut sharply against the sky, and the trail, which
ran straight across the thin snow, was marked by a streak of dingy blue.
The wind was fitful, but when it gathered strength the men bent their
heads and shivered in their old deerskin jackets.

As the oxen plodded on, Devine looked round at the sled rather
anxiously.

"Hadn't you better throw some of these logs off, Craig?" he suggested.
"It's a heavy load, and I'm afraid there's a blizzard working up. We
want to get home before it breaks."

"The oxen can haul them," Harding replied. "We'll get nothing done for
the next few days, and we have our hands plumb full this winter."

"I used to think I was a bit of a hustler," Devine said, "but you sure
have me beat."

"If I'm not mistaken, we'll get a lie-off to-morrow." Harding struck one
of the oxen with his mittened hand. "Pull out, Bright, before you
freeze!"

The big animals moved faster, and the tired men plodded on silently.
There is no easy road to wealth on the wheatlands of the West; indeed,
it is only by patient labor and stoic endurance that a competence can be
attained. Devine and his comrade knew this by stern experience, and,
half frozen as they were, they braced themselves for the effort of
reaching home. They must adapt their pace to the oxen's, and it was not
quick enough to keep them warm.

As they approached a bluff, Harding looked up.

"Somebody riding pretty fast!" he said.

A beat of hoofs, partly muffled by the snow, came down the bitter wind,
and a few moments later a horseman appeared from behind the trees. He
was indistinct in the gathering gloom, but seemed to be riding
furiously, and Harding drew the oxen out of the trail.

"One of the Allenwood boys. Young Mowbray, isn't it?" said Devine.

The next moment Lance Mowbray dashed past them, scattering the snow. The
horse was going at a frantic gallop, the rider's fur coat had blown
open, his arms were tense, and his hands clenched on the bridle. His
face was set, and he gazed fixedly ahead as if he did not see the men
and the sledge.

"It's that wild brute of a range horse," Harding remarked. "Nearly
bucked the boy off the last time he passed my place. Something in the
bluff must have scared him; he has the bit in his teeth."

"Looks like it," Devine agreed. "Young Mowbray can ride, but I'm
expecting trouble when he makes the timber."

They turned and stopped to watch, for the Allenwood trail ran down the
side of the ravine among the trees not far away. Horse and rider rapidly
grew indistinct and vanished over the edge of the hollow. Then there was
a dull thud and the beat of hoofs suddenly broke off. The deep silence
that followed was ominous.

"Throw the load off, and bring the oxen!" cried Harding as he started to
run along the trail.

He was breathless when he reached the edge of the declivity; but he saw
nothing when he looked down. A blurred network of trunks and branches
rose from the shadowy depths with a pale glimmer of snow beneath; that
was all, and there was no sound except the wail of the rising wind.
Plunging straight down through the timber, Harding made for a bend of
the trail where there was a precipitous bank, and on reaching it he saw
a big, dark object lying in the snow some distance beneath him. This
was the horse; its rider could not be far away. When he scrambled down
he found the boy lying limp and still, his fur cap fallen off and his
coat torn away from his body. His face looked very white, his eyes were
closed, and he did not answer when Harding spoke. Kneeling down, he saw
that the lad was alive but unconscious. Nothing could be done until
Devine arrived.

It was a relief when he heard the oxen stumbling through the brush.
Presently Devine came running up, and after a glance at the boy turned
and felt the horse.

"Stone dead! What's the matter with Mowbray?"

"Some ribs broken, I suspect," said Harding. "Bring the sled close up.
We've got to take him home."

They laid Lance on the jumper, and Harding stripped off his own skin
coat and wrapped it round the boy.

"The shock's perhaps the worst thing, and he feels cold."

Both had had some experience of accidents in a country where surgical
assistance could seldom be obtained, and Devine nodded agreement.

"Guess we'll have trouble in hauling up the grade and getting to
Allenwood before the blizzard, but we've got to make it."

The opposite slope was rough and steep, and the jumper too wide to pass
easily between the trees. They had to lift it, and help the oxen here
and there; but they struggled up and then found that their difficulties
were not over when they reached the open plain. The wind had risen while
they were in the hollow and was now blowing the dry snow about. It had
grown dark and the trail was faint.

"Might be wiser to take him to your homestead," Devine suggested; "but
they'll be able to look after him better at the Grange. Get a move on
the beasts, Craig; we've no time to lose."

Harding urged the oxen, which stepped out briskly with their lighter
load, but he had some difficulty in guiding them, though Devine went
ahead to keep the trail. It was impossible to see any distance, and
there was no landmark on the bare white level; the savage wind buffeted
their smarting faces and filled their eyes with snow. The cold struck
through Harding's unprotected body like a knife, but he went on
stubbornly, keeping his eyes on Devine's half-distinguishable figure. He
was sorry for the unconscious youngster, but he did not glance at him.
This was a time when pity was best expressed in action.

They had gone about two miles when the blizzard broke upon them in a
blinding cloud of snow and the cold suddenly increased. Though he wore a
thick jacket, Harding felt as if his flesh had changed to ice; his hands
were numb, and his feet seemed dead. He knew the risk he ran of being
crippled by frostbite; but to take his coat back might cost Lance his
life.

They had been struggling forward for a long time when Devine stopped and
came back.

"We've been off the trail for the last ten minutes," he said. "Guess
it's got snowed up."

It was a bald statement of an alarming situation. Their only guide had
failed them, and unless they could soon find shelter all must perish. It
might, perhaps, be possible to keep moving for another hour or two, and
then they would sink down, exhausted, to freeze. Yet, having faced
similar perils and escaped, they were not utterly dismayed.

"The long rise can't be very far off," Harding said hopefully. "If we
could make it, there's a little coulée running down the other side. Then
we ought to see the Grange lights when we strike the lake."

His voice was scarcely audible through the roar of the icy gale, but
Devine caught a word or two and understood.

"Then," he shouted back, "you want to keep the wind on your left cheek!"

It was the only guide to the direction of the blast, for the snow
whirled about them every way at once, and sight was useless amid the
blinding haze. Feeling, however, to some extent remained, and although
their faces were freezing into dangerous insensibility, so long as they
kept their course one side was still a little more painful than the
other. They struggled on, urging the jaded oxen, and dragging them by
their heads where the drifts were deep. The snow seemed to thicken as
they went. They could not see each other a yard or two apart, and the
power that kept them on their feet was dying out of them. Both had been
working hard since sunrise, and weary flesh and blood cannot long endure
a furious wind when the thermometer falls to forty or fifty below.
Nothing broke the surface of the plain except the blowing waves of snow
that swirled across their course and beat into their faces. It seemed
impossible that they could keep on. Hope had almost left them when
Devine suddenly called out:

"It's surely rising ground!"

Harding imagined by the oxen's slower pace, and his own labored
breathing, that his comrade was right, but the rise was gradual and
extensive. They might wander across it without coming near the lake; but
they could take no precautions and much must be left to chance.

"Get on!" he said curtly.

By the force of the wind which presently met them he thought they had
reached the summit. Somewhere near them a watercourse started and ran
down to the lake; but the men could not tell which way to turn, although
they knew that the decision would be momentous. One way led to shelter,
the other to death in the snowy wilds.

"Left and down!" Harding cried at a venture.

They trudged on, Devine a few paces in front picking out the trail, and
Harding urging forward the snow-blinded oxen. They had not gone more
than a few yards when Devine suddenly disappeared. There was a rush of
loosened snow apparently falling into a hollow, and then his voice rose,
hoarse but exultant.

"We've struck the coulée!"

He scrambled out and it was comparatively easy to follow the ravine
downhill; and soon after they left it the surface grew unusually level,
and no tufts of withered grass broke the snow.

"Looks like the lake," said Devine. "We'll be safe once we hit the other
side."

Harding was nearly frozen, and he began to despair of ever reaching the
Grange; but he roused himself from the lethargy into which he was
sinking when a faint yellow glimmer shone through the swirling snow. It
grew brighter, more lights appeared, and they toiled up to the front of
a building. With some trouble Devine found the door and knocked.

It was opened in a few moments by Gerald Mowbray, who stood looking out
in surprise.

Devine briefly explained.

"If it's likely to scare his mother, get her out of the way," he added.
"We have to bring him in at once. Send somebody for the oxen, and show
us where to go!"

"Wait a moment and I'll meet you," said Gerald, hastening into the
house.

When he disappeared, Devine turned to Harding.

"Get hold! You don't want to shake him, but the coats will keep him
pretty safe."

With some trouble they carried him in, passed through a vestibule, and
came with shuffling steps into a large hall. It was well lighted, and so
warm that Harding felt limp and dizzy from the sudden change of
temperature. His skin burned, the blood rushed to his head, and he
stopped for fear he should drop his burden. Gerald, it seemed, had not
had time to warn the people in the hall, and Beatrice rose with a
startled cry. One or two women sat with white faces, as if stupefied by
alarm, and two or three men got up hurriedly. Harding indistinctly
recognized Colonel Mowbray among them.

"Be quick! Get hold of him!" he called to the nearest.

He was replaced by two willing helpers, and, half dazed and not knowing
what to do, he slackly followed the others up the middle of the floor.
All who were not needed stood watching them, for they made a striking
group as they moved slowly forward, carrying what seemed to be a
shapeless bundle of snowy furs. Devine was white from head to foot, a
bulky figure in his shaggy coat and cap, though the bent forms of the
other men partly concealed him; Harding came alone, walking unsteadily,
with the snow falling off him in glistening powder, his face haggard,
and his frost-split lips covered with congealed blood.

As the little group passed on, following Gerald, Harding suddenly
reeled, and, clutching at the back of a chair, fell into it with a
crash. After that he was not sure of anything until some one brought him
a glass of wine, and soon afterward Devine came back with Gerald.

"My mother begs you will excuse her, but she'll thank you before you
go," he said. "The Colonel hopes to see you shortly, but he's busy with
Lance, and we're fortunate in having a man who should have been a
doctor. Now if you'll come with me, I'll give you a change of clothes.
Your oxen are in the stable."

"We can't stay," remonstrated Harding.

"It's impossible for you to go home."

"That's true," said Devine, touching Harding's arm. "Better get up,
Craig, before the snow melts on you."

Gerald gave them clothes, and then, saying that he was needed, left them
alone. After they had changed, Devine found his way to the stable to see
if the oxen were any the worse, and Harding went back to the hall. A
group of men and women were talking in low voices, but no one spoke to
him, and he sat down in a corner, feeling awkward and uncomfortable in
his borrowed garments. Evidently the Mowbrays had been entertaining some
of their neighbors who, to judge by scraps of conversation he overheard,
thought they would better take their leave but doubted if they could
reach home. Harding knew that he could not do so, but he felt averse to
accepting Mowbray's hospitality, and he feared that Hester would be
anxious about his safety.

He was still sitting in the corner when Beatrice came up to him.

"I'm afraid you have been neglected, but you can understand that we are
rather upset," she said.

"How is your brother?" Harding asked.

"Better than we thought at first. One of our friends has bandaged him.
There are two ribs broken, but he declares he now feels fairly
comfortable."

"I'm afraid he's exaggerating, but it's a good sign. Anyway, I'm glad to
hear he's conscious."

"He was conscious before you brought him home. He says he tried to speak
to you, but you didn't hear him."

"That's possible," Harding replied. "The trail wasn't very good--and we
were busy."

Beatrice gave him a strange look.

"So one would imagine! There was probably no trail at all. Two of our
friends who live half a mile off don't think they can get back. It's
fortunate for us that you and your partner had the strength and
courage----"

"What could we do?" Harding asked. "You wouldn't have expected us to
leave him in the bluff?"

Beatrice's eyes sparkled, and a flush of color crept into her face.
Harding thought she was wonderfully beautiful, and feared it was unwise
to look at her lest he should make a fool of himself.

"I can't say that I wouldn't have expected you to give him your coat;
but that was very fine of you," she said. "You must have known the risk
you took. When you came in you looked worse than he did."

It struck Harding as significant that she should have noticed his
appearance in the midst of her alarm; but it might not mean much, after
all. Women were often more observant than men.

"Then I ought to have been ashamed. It was the shock we were afraid of.
You see, after a bad accident there's often a collapse, and when one's
in that state even moderate cold is dangerous."

"How do you know these things?" Beatrice asked.

"When you live as we do, you learn something about accidents," he
answered.

Beatrice gave him a look that thrilled him.

"I promised Lance that I would not stay but a minute," she said; "but I
will send Mr. Kenwyne to look after you." She added in a lower voice: "I
have not attempted to thank you, but you must believe that we're very,
very grateful."

Harding's eyes followed her across the room and lingered on her when she
stopped a moment to speak with one of the neighbors. Kenwyne's voice at
his elbow roused him.

"Colonel Mowbray expects you to remain here, but on the whole I think
you'd better come with me," Kenwyne was saying. "They're naturally in
some confusion, and my farm isn't very far. I think my team can make
it."

Harding was glad to get away quietly, but he left a message that he
hoped to call in the morning for his oxen and for news of Lance.



CHAPTER VIII

AN UNEXPECTED ESCAPE


On the morning after the accident Colonel Mowbray sat at breakfast with
his wife and daughter. The gale had fallen in the night, and although
the snow lay deep about the house, Gerald had already gone out with a
hired man to see how the range horses, which were left loose in the
winter, had fared during the storm. Lance was feverish, but there was
nothing in his condition to cause anxiety, and he was in charge of a man
whom some youthful escapade had prevented from obtaining a medical
diploma. There were one or two others of his kind at Allenwood whose
careers had been blighted by boyish folly. Breakfast had been well
served, for everything went smoothly at the Grange; in spite of the low
temperature outside, the room was comfortably warm, and the china and
the table appointments showed artistic taste.

Colonel Mowbray looked thoughtfully stern.

"Perhaps it was as well Kenwyne took the Americans home last night," he
remarked.

"You asked them to stay," Beatrice said, with more indignation than she
cared to show; "and after what they did----"

Mowbray cut her short.

"I cannot deny that we are heavily in their debt, and I shall take the
first opportunity for thanking them. In fact, if I can make any return
in the shape of practical help, I shall be glad. All the same, to have
had them here would have meant our putting them on a more intimate
footing than might be wise."

Beatrice smiled, but said nothing. She respected her father, but the
thought of his helping such a man as Harding was amusing.

"From what I've heard about Mr. Harding, I don't think he would have
presumed upon it," Mrs. Mowbray replied. "Besides, it looks as if we
owed Lance's life to him and his companion and I really don't see why
you object to the man. Of course, it was tactless of him to plow up our
trail, but he was within his rights."

Mowbray looked at her sharply. His wife was generally docile and seldom
questioned his decisions, but she now and then showed an unexpected
firmness.

"I don't object to him, personally. For that matter, I know very little
about him, good or bad," he said; and his tone implied that he was not
anxious to learn anything more. "It is rather what he stands for that I
disapprove of."

"What does he stand for?"

"What foolish people sometimes call Progress--the taint of
commercialism, purely utilitarian ideas; in short, all I've tried to
keep Allenwood free from. Look at England! You know how the old friendly
relations between landlord and tenant have been overthrown."

"I wonder whether they were always friendly?" Beatrice interposed.

"They ought to have been friendly, and in most of the instances I can
think of they were. But what can one expect when a rich tradesman buys
up a fine estate, and manages it on what he calls 'business lines'? This
must mean putting the screw of a merciless competition upon the farmer.
On the other hand, you see men with honored names living in extravagant
luxury without a thought of their duty to their land, gambling on the
Stock Exchange--even singing in music halls. The country's in a bad way
when you read of its old aristocracy opening hat shops."

"But what are the poor people to do if they have no money?" Beatrice
asked.

"The point is that they're being ruined by their own folly and the
chaotic way things have been allowed to drift; but the other side of the
picture's worse. When one thinks of wealth and poverty jostling each
other in the towns; oppressive avarice and sullen discontent instead of
helpful cooperation! The community plundered by trusts! Industries
wrecked by strikes! This is what comes of free competition and contempt
for authority; and the false principle that a man must turn all his
talents to the making of money is at the root of it all."

It was a favorite hobby of the Colonel's, and Mrs. Mowbray made no
remark; but Beatrice was pleased to see that he had forgotten Harding.

"You would have made a good feudal baron," she said with a smile. "Your
retainers wouldn't have had many real grievances, but you would always
have been on the king's side."

"The first principle of all firm and successful government is that the
king can do no wrong."

"We don't challenge it at Allenwood, and it really seems to work well,"
Beatrice answered lightly; and then, because Mowbray insisted on formal
manners, she turned to her mother. "And now, with your permission, I had
better go to Lance."

When she left them Mowbray frowned.

"There's another matter I want to talk about," he said. "I'm inclined to
think we'll have to do away with the card tables when the younger people
spend the evening with us."

"But you're fond of a game!"

"Yes. I'll confess that a close game of whist is one of my keenest
pleasures, and if I finish two or three dollars to the good it adds to
the zest. For all that, one must be consistent, and I've grounds for
believing there has been too much high play of late. The offenders will
have to be dealt with if I can find them out."

Mrs. Mowbray knew that her husband's first object was the good of the
settlement, and that he would make any personal sacrifice to secure it.

"We can have music, or get up a dance instead," she suggested; and added
anxiously: "You don't think that Gerald----"

"I'd have grave suspicions, only that he knows what to expect," Mowbray
answered grimly. "Something might be learned from Lance, but it would
not be fair to ask."

"He wouldn't tell," Mrs. Mowbray said stoutly, knowing her husband's
sense of honor. "Do you think it's serious enough to be disturbed
about?"

"I'm afraid so, although at the moment I can hardly judge. A game of
cards in public, for strictly moderate points, or a small wager on a
race, can do the boys no harm; but as soon as the stake gets large
enough to be worth winning for itself, it leads to trouble; and
systematic, secret gambling is a dangerous thing. As a matter of fact, I
won't have it at Allenwood. At present I can do nothing but keep a
careful watch."

An hour later Mrs. Mowbray was sitting with Lance, when word was brought
her that Harding had called.

"Let him come up here, if only for a minute," Lance begged.

"Well, but it must not be longer," his mother consented.

Harding bowed to her respectfully when he entered the room; then he
turned to Lance with a smile.

"Glad to see you looking much better than I expected."

Lance gave him his hand, though he winced as he held it out, and his
mother noticed Harding's quick movement to save him a painful effort.
There was a gentleness that pleased her in the prairie man's face.

"I don't want to embarrass you, but you'll understand how I feel about
what you did for me," said Lance. "I won't forget it."

"Pshaw!" returned Harding. "We all get into scrapes. I wouldn't be here
now if other people hadn't dragged me clear of a mower-knife, and once
out of the way of a locomotive when my team balked in the middle of the
track."

"I don't suppose any of the fellows gave you his clothes with the
thermometer at minus forty. But I won't say any more on that point. Was
my horse killed?"

"On the spot!"

Lance looked troubled.

"Well, it was my own fault," he said slowly. "I was trying a new
headstall, and I wasn't very careful in linking up the bit."

He began to talk about the latest types of harness, and listened with
obvious interest to Harding's views on the subject, but after a while
his voice grew feeble, and his mother interrupted.

"You'll come back and see me when I'm better, won't you?" he asked
eagerly.

Harding made a vague sign of assent, and left the room with Mrs.
Mowbray. When they reached the hall, she stopped him.

"You did us a great service last night--I can find no adequate way of
expressing my gratitude," she said.

Harding saw that she had not spoken out of mere conventional politeness.

"I think you make too much of it. Certainly, it was fortunate we
happened to come along; the rest followed. But I can understand how you
feel--I had a good mother."

She was pleased by his reply, and she had watched him closely while he
talked to Lance. The man was modest and yet quietly sure of himself. He
had shown no awkwardness, and his rather formal deference to herself was
flattering. She somehow felt that he would not have offered it solely on
account of her station.

"I'm glad to see your son looking pretty bright," Harding went on.

"You roused him. He was very listless and heavy until you came."

"I'm afraid I talked too much; it's a way I sometimes have." Harding
smiled. Then he looked at her directly. "He asked me to come back."

Mrs. Mowbray knew he was shrewd enough to take a hint, and that she
could without discourtesy prevent his coming; still, she did not wish to
do so. She had heard her husband's views, to which she generally
deferred; but she liked Harding, and he had saved her son's life.
Moreover, she had a suspicion that his influence would be good for the
boy.

"I hope you will come whenever it pleases you," she said with quiet
sincerity.

"It will please me very much. I'll make use of the privilege as long as
he finds that I amuse him."

Harding went home with a feeling of half-exultant satisfaction. Lance,
for whom he had a rather curious liking, had been unmistakably glad to
see him and, what was more important, Mrs. Mowbray was now his friend.
For all that, he knew that tact was needed: the Colonel, while no doubt
grateful, did not approve of him, and he must carefully avoid doing
anything that might imply a readiness to take advantage of the slight
favor he had been granted. Harding was not an adventurer, and the
situation was galling to his pride, but he was shrewd and was willing to
make some sacrifice if it gave him an opportunity for seeing Beatrice.

When Harding returned a week later he met the girl for a few moments,
and had to be content with this. Lance brightened up noticeably when he
talked to him, and as he was leaving pressed him to come again; but the
unqualified doctor, whom he met in the hall, did not seem satisfied with
the patient's progress.

Harding waited for a while before he went back. He found Mrs. Mowbray
alone on his arrival, and thought she looked anxious when he asked how
Lance was getting on.

"He doesn't seem to improve as quickly as he ought, and Mr. Carson's
puzzled," she said. "He tells me the injury is not serious enough to
account for my boy's low condition, but he keeps restless and feverish,
and doesn't sleep." Then, after a moment, she added confidentially: "One
could imagine that he has something on his mind."

"Have you any suspicion what it is?"

"No--" She hesitated. "That is, nothing definite; and as he has given me
no hint, it's possible that I'm mistaken in thinking that he is
disturbed. But you may go in; you seem to cheer him."

Harding pondered this. He had been used to people who expressed their
thoughts with frank directness, but he saw that Mrs. Mowbray was of a
different stamp. She was most fastidious, yet she had taken him into her
confidence as far as her reserve permitted. After all, there were things
which a boy would confess to a man outside his family sooner than to his
mother.

"Well," he said as meaningly as he thought advisable, "I'll do what I
can."

On entering the sick room he thought her anxiety was justified. Lance
did not look well, although he smiled at his visitor.

"I'm glad you came," he said. "It's a change to see somebody fresh. The
boys mean well but they worry me."

"You'd get tired of me if I came oftener," Harding answered with a
laugh.

They talked for a few minutes about a sheep dog that had been given to
Lance; and then, during a slight pause, the boy closed his eyes with a
sigh. Harding looked at him keenly.

"I'm told you're not sleeping well," he said; "and you don't look as fit
as you ought. I guess lying on your back gets monotonous."

"Yes," Lance answered listlessly. "Then I'm worried about losing my
horse."

"One feels that kind of thing, of course; but it wasn't an animal I'd
get attached to. Hard in the mouth, I guess, a bad buck-jumper, and a
wicked eye. On the whole, you're better off without him."

"Perhaps you're right, and I meant to sell him. I'd had offers, and the
Warrior blood brings a long price."

"Ah! That means you wanted the money?"

Lance was silent for a few moments, and then he answered half
resentfully:

"I did."

It was obvious to Harding that delicacy was required here. Mrs. Mowbray
was right in her suspicions, but if he made a mistake Lance would take
alarm. Harding feared, however, that tact was not much in his line.

"I am an outsider here," he said with blunt directness; "but perhaps
that's a reason why you can talk to me candidly. It's sometimes
embarrassing to tell one's intimate friends about one's troubles. Why
did you want the money?"

Lance flushed and hesitated, but he gathered confidence from Harding's
grave expression.

"To tell the truth, I'd got myself into an awkward mess."

"One does now and then. I've been fixed that way myself. Perhaps I can
help."

"No; you can't," Lance said firmly. "All the same, it's a relief to take
somebody into my confidence. Well, I owed a good deal of money; I'd been
playing cards."

"Do you pay debts of that kind at once?"

"Of course. It's a matter of principle; though the boys wouldn't have
pressed me."

"I'd have let them wait," said Harding. "But I don't play cards. I
suppose you borrowed the money from somebody else, and he wants it back.
Now the proper person for you to go to is your father."

Lance colored and hesitated again.

"I can't!" he blurted out with evident effort. "It's not because I'm
afraid. He'd certainly be furious--I'm not thinking of that. There's a
reason why it would hit him particularly hard. Besides, you know, we're
far from rich."

Having learned something about Gerald Mowbray, Harding understood the
lad's reticence. Indeed, he respected his loyalty to his brother.

"Very well. If you'll tell me what you owe, and where you got the money,
I may suggest something."

He had expected Lance to refuse; but, worn by pain and anxious as he
was, the boy was willing to seize upon any hope of escape. He explained
his affairs very fully, and Harding made a note of the amount and of a
name that was not unfamiliar to him.

When Lance finished his story and dropped back among his pillows with a
flushed face, there was a short silence in the room.

Harding was not, as a rule, rashly generous; but he liked the boy, and
Lance was Beatrice's brother--that in itself was a strong claim on him.
Then, Mrs. Mowbray had been gracious to him; though he was a stranger
and in a sense an intruder, she had taken him into her confidence, and
he felt a deep respect for her. There was in his mind, however, no
thought of profiting by the situation; indeed, he was frankly reluctant
to part with money which could be better employed than in paying
gambling debts.

"So you went to Davies, of Winnipeg--a mortgage broker?" he remarked.
"Who told you about him? These fellows don't lend to people they know
nothing about."

"A man introduced me," Lance said awkwardly; and Harding again suspected
Gerald.

"When you signed his note for the sum you wanted, how much did you
really get?"

Lance smiled ruefully as he told him.

"You seem to know their tricks," he added.

"Some of them," Harding replied dryly. "Now, if you'll give me your word
that you won't stake a dollar on a horse or card again, I'll take up
this debt; but I don't want your promise unless you mean to keep it."

Lance's eyes were eager, though his face was red.

"I've had my lesson. It was the first time I'd really played high, and I
was a bit excited; the room was hot and full of smoke, and they'd
brought in a good deal of whisky." Then he pulled himself up. "But I
can't let you do this; and I don't see----"

"Why I'm willing to help?" Harding finished for him. "Well, one's
motives aren't always very plain, even to oneself. Still--you can take
it that I've a pretty strong grievance against all mortgage brokers.
They've ruined one or two friends of mine, and they're going to make
trouble in this country. I'll give you a few instances."

He meant to frighten the lad, but there was no need to overstate the
truth, and his face grew stern as he related how struggling farmers had
been squeezed dry, and broken in spirit and fortune by the
money-lender's remorseless grasp. Lance was duly impressed, and realized
how narrow an escape he had had.

"Are you willing to leave the thing entirely to me?" Harding concluded.
"You must understand that you're only changing your creditor."

"I can trust you," Lance said with feeling. "I can't tell you what a
relief it is to get out of that fellow's hands! But I ought to warn you
that he's tricky; you may have some trouble."

Harding laughed as he stood up.

"Oh, I can deal with him. Now you go to sleep and don't worry any more."

After he left, Lance lay for a while thinking over the conversation. He
was puzzled to know what had prompted Harding to come to his rescue. The
Allenwood settlers had certainly been none too friendly to the prairie
man, who was considered an outsider because he believed in work and in
progress. Lance thought that there was no selfish motive in Harding's
offer. What, then?

He suddenly shook off the thoughts and, reaching out to a table by his
bedside, rang a small handbell there. Beatrice answered it.

"I want something to eat," he said petulantly. "Not slops this time; I'm
tired of them."

His sister looked at him in surprise.

"Why, you wouldn't touch your lunch!"

"All the more reason I should want something now. You ought to be glad
I'm getting better!"

Beatrice laughed.

"It's a very sudden improvement," she said. "Mr. Harding must be a
magician. What has he done to you?"

"Harding knows a lot," Lance answered somewhat awkwardly; then added
impulsively: "In fact, I think he's a remarkably fine fellow all round."

Beatrice opened her eyes wide. Such an opinion from the son of Colonel
Mowbray was pure heresy; but she made no comment. She kissed Lance
lightly on the forehead and tripped off downstairs to order some food
for him.

Somehow, she was inclined to agree with her brother in his opinion of
the prairie man.



CHAPTER IX

A MAN OF AFFAIRS


The warmth of the big stove, which glowed a dull red in places, had
melted holes in the frost that obscured the double windows of Davies'
office, but icy draughts flowed round the room, and the temperature of
the passage outside was down to zero. From where the stove-pipe pierced
the wall, drops of a black distillate trickled down, and the office was
filled with the smell of tar and hot iron. Rents gaped in the pine
paneling, and the door had shrunk to a remarkably easy fit. The building
was new, pretentious, and supposed to be centrally heated, but Winnipeg
was then passing through the transition stage which occurs in the
history of most Western towns: emerging from rude disorder with bold but
badly guided striving toward beauty and symmetry. Civic ambition was
poorly seconded by builder's skill, and the plans of aspiring architects
were crudely materialized.

From where Davies sat he could look into the snowy street; the view was
far from pleasing. The blackened wreck of a burnt-out store confronted
the office block, and behind it straggled a row of squalid shacks.
Farther on rose a wall of concrete with rusty iron framing sticking out
of it; and a mound of cut stone and sawed lumber, left as it lay when
the frost stopped work, encroached upon the plank sidewalk. Davies,
however, was not engrossed in the view, though he had lent money upon
some adjacent building lots. A survey map of the Allenwood district lay
on his table, and he alternately studied it and gazed out of the window
with a thoughtful air.

The Allenwood soil was good, consisting, as it did for the most part, of
stiff black gumbo; it was well watered and fairly well wooded; and it
occupied the center of a fertile belt. Its position had other natural
advantages, and the configuration of the country made it probable that
with the first railroad extension a line would run past the settlement
to the American frontier. Davies had reason to believe that his view was
shared by far-seeing railroad directors; but, whether the line were run
or not, the Allenwood farms would rise in value. Davies wanted a hold on
the settlement; and he had, to some extent, succeeded in getting it. He
held a mortgage on Gerald Mowbray's homestead; it seemed possible to get
the younger brother into his power; and he was negotiating with another
embarrassed settler. On the other hand, money was tight just then, and
Davies' schemes were hampered by a lack of capital. He had written to
Lance Mowbray, pressing for some interest that was overdue, and when the
lad begged for time had curtly summoned him to Winnipeg. Now he was
expecting him, for the east-bound train had arrived.

He heard steps in the passage and looked up with some surprise as two
men entered his office. Their bronzed faces and their cheap skin coats
suggested that they worked upon the land, but there was something in the
expression and bearing of the taller man that contradicted this. Davies
was a judge of character, and he read that something as a sense of
power.

"Good-morning, gentlemen," he said, with a suave smile. "I don't believe
I have an appointment with you, but I'm always open for business."

"My name is Harding," said the taller man; "and this is my partner, Mr.
Devine. You were expecting Lance Mowbray, of Allenwood; I've come
instead."

Davies would have preferred dealing with young Mowbray himself; this
substitute made him feel somewhat uneasy. After careful inquiries into
Mowbray's affairs, Davies did not expect to get the overdue interest.
What he wanted was to renew the loan at a higher rate as the price of
waiting.

Harding got down to business at once.

"Mowbray owes you some interest; I've come to pay it."

Davies' eyes narrowed.

"Rather a long and expensive journey, if that was all that brought you,"
he said with a sneer. "A check would have done."

"You seemed to think an interview needful; and I don't propose to bear
the cost," Harding answered quietly. "Anyway, now that I'm here I'll pay
up the principal, if we can come to terms."

"There are no terms to be arranged. I'll settle the account on receipt
of the sum Mowbray borrowed and the interest."

"I'll give you what he got," said Harding coolly.

Davies pondered a moment. The offer had been a shock to him, for it
suggested that Mowbray had found a way of escape. That meant that his
hold on Allenwood would be weakened. Harding looked shrewd and
businesslike; there was little possibility of hoodwinking such a man.

"Do you expect me to abandon my rights?" he asked.

"I'm here to look after Mowbray's. You charged him what you call
expenses, which you didn't incur. Guess you'll have to prove them if you
take the case to court."

"One has to make inquiries about the security when lending money."

"As a matter of fact, you knew the security was bad. Mowbray told you
that his land was held in trust until he was twenty-one. What you traded
on was his fear of the deal coming to his people's knowledge. I guess
his brother gave you all the information you required."

Davies' start indicated that the shot, made at a venture, had reached
its mark. He grew angry, but he quickly saw that this was no time to
lose his temper.

"It's a pretty cool proposition you make," he said.

"It's fair, and I don't press you to agree. Stick to your full claim, if
you like, and you'll get your interest on what you actually lent, but on
nothing more until payment of the principal is due. Then we'll give you
all the trouble we can. But your hold on the boy is gone now that you
know the money's ready."

Davies was forced to recognize that his debtor had escaped him; and, as
it happened, he was pressed for money.

"Well," he conceded, "it's a small matter, after all. I'll give you a
receipt if you'll put down the amount."

"I'd rather my bank paid this; it keeps a record. Then I want Mowbray's
note as well as the receipt."

Harding handed him a check, and Davies looked at it in surprise.

"You have made another deduction!"

"Certainly. You demanded an interview, and I've knocked off my fare to
Winnipeg. Now where's the note?"

Davies produced it, and then looked at him with an ironical grin.

"It's all straight, and I hope you're satisfied. A farmer, aren't you?
May I suggest that you have mistaken your profession?"

Harding laughed good-naturedly as he pocketed the papers.

"I don't know. My belief is that a farmer doesn't lose anything by
studying business methods."

When they reached the street, Harding turned to Devine.

"I've learned something I wanted to know," he said. "That fellow has a
mortgage on Gerald Mowbray's land. He's playing a deep game."

"I don't see what he's getting after."

"Allenwood. It's worth plotting for."

"I guess he'd find the Colonel a pretty big obstacle. Anyway, it's not
our business."

"No," Harding replied with a thoughtful air. "As far as I can see at
present, it's not my business.... Now we'll look up the steam-plow man."

They found the implement dealer disengaged, and spent the afternoon in
his store before Harding, who insisted upon several variations in the
standard design, finally ordered a steam gang-plow. The agent was struck
by the aptness of many of Harding's suggestions about improvements, and
he invited the men to his hotel for the evening. When they parted he
frankly admitted that he had picked up some useful hints. He also
surmised that Harding had learned all that was worth knowing about new
machines.

The two men left Winnipeg the next day, and Devine went to report to
Hester while Harding stopped at the Grange to see Lance.

The boy greeted him eagerly, and his eyes glistened with relief when
Harding handed him the papers.

"I'll square it off, every dollar, as soon as I can," he said. "In fact,
I feel so much about it that I can't express myself--if you'd been in my
place, you would understand. I see he didn't claim all my note called
for. How did you beat him down?"

"I knew the man I had to deal with," Harding smiled. "What you have to
do is to keep clear of debt in future."

"I've given you my word; but I can't get out of debt to you." Lance
looked at him with frank admiration. "You beat the fellow at his own
game!" he exclaimed.

Harding held out his hand.

"I must go now," he said; "I promised to meet Kenwyne and Broadwood.
We'll settle how you're to pay me the next time I come."

Mrs. Mowbray was waiting for him in the hall below.

"I want to thank you," she said to him. "I don't know what you have done
to my boy, but he is so very much better."

Harding met the gaze she quietly fixed on him. He saw that she knew
there was some secret between him and her son, but had confidence enough
to ask no questions.

"For one thing," he answered lightly, "I've given him some good advice,
which I think he'll act on."

"He seems to have a respect for your judgment--and I feel he's not
mistaken."

"That's very kind," said Harding. "I hope I shall be able to keep your
good opinion; though you may find it shaken by and by."

Mrs. Mowbray looked at him keenly, and then laid her hand gently on his
arm.

"You have helped my boy to get better and, whatever may happen, that
goes a long way," she said.

When Harding left her he felt that in Mrs. Mowbray he would have a
staunch ally in his fight for Beatrice.

He returned to the Grange one afternoon about a week later, and found
Beatrice alone. Lance, after his long confinement, had gone for his
first drive, and his mother had accompanied him to see that he kept the
robes properly wrapped about him. The Colonel and Gerald were at a
neighbor's.

Beatrice gave him her hand cordially.

"I am glad of this opportunity for seeing you alone, because there's
something I want to ask of you," she said.

"I shall do anything I can to please you."

"It's really something I want you not to do."

"Ah!" Harding smiled. "That's often harder."

They had entered a room which Beatrice and her mother used. It was not
large, and it was scantily furnished, but most of the articles it
contained, though worn and battered, were good. Curtains, rugs, and
chairs were of artistic design, and their faded coloring was harmonious.
By contrast with the rude prairie homesteads he had lived in, all that
Harding saw struck a note of luxurious refinement. What was more, the
room seemed somehow stamped with its occupants' character. Colonel
Mowbray, he knew, seldom entered it; it was the retreat of the two
delicate, high-bred women he admired. He felt it was a privilege to be
there. The unusual surroundings reacted upon him, and emphasized in a
curious way his companion's grace and charm.

For a few moments after they were seated, Beatrice was silent, gazing
thoughtfully before her. Her hair shone where the light touched it, and
reminded Harding of the glitter of a prairie lake on a breezy, sunny
day; her face was in profile, its fine chiseling forced up by a faded
purple curtain behind her, which harmonized agreeably with the
straw-colored dress that fell about her figure in graceful lines. As it
happened, Beatrice was feeling somewhat embarrassed. She had a favor to
ask, and she shrank with unusual timidity from placing herself in the
man's debt. She believed that he had saved her brother's life and
afterward rendered him some valuable service; but he had done this of
his own accord, and it would be different were he to comply with her
request.

"You have been urging some plans on Kenwyne and Broadwood," she began.

"You have heard about that! However, they didn't need urging; they
agreed with me about the necessity for the thing."

"It's possible." There was a touch of haughtiness in Beatrice's tone.
"Ralph Kenwyne has always been something of a revolutionary; and we know
where Broadwood gets his ideas."

"From his wife? You can't expect me to condemn them. She was brought up
as I was and thinks as I do."

Beatrice saw she was not beginning well and changed her ground.

"After all, that's not an important point. I suppose you know my father
is bitterly opposed to your plans?"

"I was afraid so. It's unfortunate."

"Then can't you see that it would be better to give them up?"

Harding felt disturbed but determined. He was keenly anxious to please
the girl, but to yield in this matter would be to act against his
principles. She did not know what she was asking.

"No," he said; "I can't see that."

"Do you consider it good taste to encourage our friends to thwart their
acknowledged leader?"

"It looks bad, as you put it," Harding replied. "For all that, a
leader's business is to lead. He can't keep his followers standing still
when they want to move on. Their wishes must be respected. Despotic
authority's out of date."

"What is the use of choosing a ruler if he isn't to be obeyed?" she said
haughtily.

"It sounds logical," Harding replied; "but it doesn't always work."

Beatrice was struggling hard with her wounded pride. Although on the
whole broadminded, she had inherited some of the convictions of her
caste; and, being the only daughter of the head of the settlement, she
had been treated with more deference by the men at Allenwood than was
perhaps good for her. It had cost her an effort to ask a favor from
Harding, but she had not doubted the result, and his refusal was a
shock. That the man who now proved obdurate had boldly shown his
admiration for her, made it worse. Yet, because she believed her cause
was good, she determined to disregard her injured feelings.

"If you persist in your plans, it will hurt Colonel Mowbray, and lead to
dissention here," she argued. "Why must you try to bring in these
changes? We have done very well as we are."

He rose and stood with his hand on a chair-back, looking steadily at
her; and she noticed with half-grudging approval the strength of his
figure and the resolution in his quiet, brown face.

"The trouble is that you can't continue as you are. Allenwood's
threatened from outside, and I'm not sure it's safe within."

"Is that your business?"

The cold pride in her tone hurt, for it implied that she regarded him as
an intruding stranger.

"In a way, yes; but we'll let that drop. If I could have pleased you by
giving up a personal advantage, I'd have gladly done so; but this is a
bigger thing. It isn't a matter of being content with a smaller crop;
it's letting land that was meant to be worked lie idle, wasting useful
effort, and trying to hold up a state of things that can't last. If I
give way, I'll be going back on all I believe in and betraying a trust."

Beatrice laughed scornfully; and saw him wince.

"I want you to understand what's behind this movement," he continued
gravely. "Your people can't keep Allenwood for a place of amusement much
longer, and some of those who see this have asked my help. I've
promised and I can't draw back. Besides, to break new soil and raise
good wheat where only the wild grasses grow is the work I was meant for;
the one thing worth while I'm able to do. I'd feel mean and ashamed if I
held off and let the waste go on."

"Of course, it would be too great a sacrifice to make for a prejudiced
old man, who has nevertheless always placed the good of Allenwood first,
and an inexperienced, sentimental girl!"

Harding flushed at the taunt. It was very hard to displease her, but he
would not be justified in giving way, and he thought that later, when
she understood better, she would not blame him for being firm. Moreover,
his temper was getting short.

"That's neither kind nor fair," he said. "Separate or together, your
people and I must move on. We can't stand still, blocking the way, and
defying Nature and the ordered procession of things. This land was made
for the use of man, and he must pay with hard work for all it gives
him."

"I am sorry you take that view; but there seems nothing further to be
said." She rose as she spoke. "I'm afraid it's impossible that we should
agree."

He left at once, and drove home in a downcast mood. No doubt, he had
disappointed her badly. He had not even had the tact to make his refusal
graceful; she must think him an iconoclastic boor, driven by a rude
hatred of all that she respected. Still, he had tried to be honest; he
could not shirk the task he was clearly meant to do. The struggle,
however, had tried him hard, and he drove with set lips and knitted
brows across the great white waste, oblivious of the biting cold.



CHAPTER X

THE CASTING VOTE


It was a bitter evening. The snow on the crests of the rises glittered
like steel; the hollows were sharply picked out in blue. The frost was
pitiless, and a strong breeze whipped up clouds of dry snow and drove
them in swirls across the plain. A half moon, harshly bright, hung low
above the western horizon, and the vast stretch of sky that domed in the
prairie was sprinkled with stars.

Harding and Devine were on their way to attend a council meeting at the
Grange. Wrapped, as they were, in the thick driving-robe, with their fur
caps pulled well down, they could not keep warm. The cold of the icy
haze seemed to sear the skin. Harding's woolen-mittened hand was numbed
on the reins, and he feared that it was getting frostbitten.

"It's fierce to-night," Devine remarked. "Do you think there'll be a
good turn-out of the Allenwood boys?"

"The cold won't stop them. I expect the Colonel has sent round to whip
them up."

"I guess you're right. Do you know, now that I've met one or two of them
I see something in you and Hester that's in them. Can't tell you what it
is, but it's there, and it was plainer in your father. What are they
like when you get to know them?"

"Much the same as the rest of us."

"The rest of us! Then you don't claim to be different from the general
prairie crowd?"

Harding frowned.

"I suppose I wouldn't mind being thought the best farmer in the
district," he said; "but that's all the distinction I care about."

"You'll get that easy enough. You've gone ahead fast, Craig, and you're
going farther; but you may have some trouble on the way. When a man
breaks a new trail for himself and leaves other men behind, it doesn't
make them fond of him."

"Oh, I have no delusions on that point. To attain success, one cannot
hope to travel a balmy road."

"Why do you want to rope in the Allenwood boys?" Devine asked curiously.

"The reason's plain. You and I might make the steam-plow pay, but the
price is high, and we can't do much more alone. If you want the best
economy in farming, you must have cooperation. It's easier to buy
expensive tools if you divide the cost."

"I see that. But have you no other reason? You don't feel that you'd
like to make friends with these people and, so to speak, have them
acknowledge you?"

"No," said Harding firmly. Since his talk with Beatrice he had felt a
curious antagonism to the whole Allenwood settlement.

It was too cold to talk much, and the men drove on in silence until the
lights of the Grange twinkled out across the plain. Ten minutes later
they entered the big hall, and Harding cast a quick glance about. He
noticed the clusters of wheat-ears and the big moose-heads on the wall,
the curious Eastern weapons and the English sporting guns that
glistened beneath them, and the fine timbering of the pointed roof. He
did not think there was another homestead to compare with this between
Winnipeg and the valleys of British Columbia; but it was the company
that seized his attention. It looked as if every man in the settlement
were present; and they were worth the glance he gave them. Dressed with
picturesque freedom, they were, for the most part, handsome men, with
powerful frames and pleasant, brown faces. Harding knew they had
courage and intelligence, yet he felt that there was something
lacking--something hard to define. He thought of them as without the
striving spirit; as too content.

One or two gave him a welcoming smile, and there was a slight general
movement when he sat down. Mowbray, however, looked up with some
surprise from the head of the long table.

"After certain favors Mr. Harding has done me, it would be singularly
inappropriate if I questioned his coming here as my guest. On the other
hand, the presence of any outside person at our council is irregular."

"May I explain?" Kenwyne said. "Mr. Harding and his partner came by my
invitation to give us some information about matters of which he knows
more than any one else. They will, of course, take no other part in the
proceedings."

Mowbray bowed. "I am satisfied. Mr. Harding will understand that a
president must show due regard to form."

His manner was courteous, yet Harding was conscious of a subtle
antagonism between them. To some extent, it was personal, but its roots
struck deeper; it was the inevitable hostility between the old school
and the new. Mowbray was a worthy representative of the former.
Fastidiously neat in his dress, though his clothes were by no means of
the latest cut, and sitting very upright, he had an air of dignity and
command. He might be prejudiced, but it was obvious that he was neither
dull nor weak.

"We have," he said, taking up a paper, "a motion of some importance
before us. It is proposed that we consider the advisability of
cooperating with Messrs. Harding and Devine: first, in the purchase and
use of a steam-plow; second, in the organization of a joint creamery;
and, third, in opening a sales office in Winnipeg or other convenient
center for the disposal of stock and general produce."

Putting down the paper he looked round with an ironical smile.

"You will observe that the scheme is by no means modest; indeed, it
strikes me as the most revolutionary project that has ever been
suggested in this place. It is nevertheless my duty to ask those
responsible for it to say what they can in its favor."

Kenwyne rose with a composed expression.

"Briefly, the advantages are these. With mechanical power we can plow
more land than at present and at a reduced cost."

"That is far from certain," Mowbray declared. "We cannot take it for
granted. These machines go wrong."

"With your permission, I will ask Mr. Harding to give us some figures
later. We are missing opportunities by being content with rearing only a
limited number of beef cattle. Winnipeg and Brandon are growing fast;
new towns are springing up along the railroad, and there will soon be a
demand for dairy produce that will counterbalance the rather frequent
loss of a wheat crop."

"It will mean more paid hands and working all the land," some one
objected.

"Exactly. I may add that this is our aim. The land must be developed."

There was a murmur of disapproval, but Kenwyne went on.

"Then there is reason to believe that we seldom obtain the prices we
ought to get. Stockbuyers' profits and salesmen's charges are high, and
we can't expect these gentry to look after _our_ interests. We could
best secure these by setting up an agency of our own, and hiring trained
assistance. I'm afraid we cannot claim to be successful business men."

"If that claim is ever justified, you will have to choose another
leader," Mowbray remarked. "This settlement was not founded with the
object of making money. Now, Broadwood!"

Broadwood rose with a smile.

"We must all agree, sir, that there's not much danger of the object you
mention being realized. No doubt, there are some to whom this doesn't
matter, but the rest are confronted with the necessity for making a
living, and I suspect that one or two have the trouble I've experienced
in paying my storekeepers' bills."

"Don't be personal!" some one called out.

"That strikes me as foolish," Broadwood retorted. "One can't help being
personal. We all know one another; we use one another's horses and
borrow one another's cash; and it's the necessity for doing the latter
that I wish to obviate. We all know our neighbors' needs, and I want to
show you how they can be supplied."

He had struck the right note with his easy humor; but Harding saw that
Mowbray was not pleased.

"_You_ don't need much," one cried amid laughter. "You got a bumper
harvest, and cut down your subscription to the hounds."

Broadwood smiled.

"I came out of the rut and worked. A rash experiment, perhaps, but it
didn't prove so harrowing as I feared; and there's some satisfaction in
having no debts. But my point is that you can't do much without proper
implements, and I feel that we'll have to get them. The proposal I've
the pleasure of seconding, shows you how."

He sat down, and Mowbray looked up with a sarcastic smile.

"Broadwood's remarks don't take us much farther; he seems careful to
avoid practical details. Now the first thing I notice about this scheme
is that it is founded on combination. Its proposers are right in
assuming the necessity for this, if their purpose is to secure
economical success; but such success can be bought at too high a price.
Carry the cooperative idea out to its logical conclusion, and a man
becomes a machine. He must subordinate his private judgment, he cannot
choose his course, all his movements must be regulated by central
control. Then you may get efficiency, but you destroy character,
independence, personal responsibility, all the finest attributes of
human nature. You may object that I am exaggerating; that nobody wants
this. The danger is that if you decide to go some distance, you may be
driven farther than you think. Then, Allenwood was founded to encourage
individual liberty--that settlers here might live a healthy life, free
from economic pressure; on their own land, farming it like gentlemen,
and not with bitter greed; enjoying the wind and sunshine, finding
healthy sport. We demand a high standard of conduct, but that is all. We
are bound to one another by community of ideals and traditions, and not
by the hope of dividends."

There was an outbreak of applause; then Kenwyne rose.

"The difficulty is that to lead our own lives, regardless of changing
times and in defiance of commercial principles, needs larger means than
most of us possess. The plain truth is that Allenwood has been living
upon its capital, drawing upon resources that cannot be renewed, and we
must presently face the reckoning. Some of us see this clearly, and I
think the rest are beginning to understand. If you have no objections,
sir, I will ask Mr. Harding to give us some figures."

Harding got up and stood silent for a moment or two, conscious that all
present were watching him. He felt that they were keeping the ring, and
that the affair had developed into a fight between himself and Mowbray.
Harding regretted this, because the Colonel's hostility would make the
secret hope he cherished very difficult to realize; but he could not act
against his convictions. He stood for progress--blundering progress,
perhaps--and Mowbray for the preservation of obsolete ways and means;
the conflict was inevitable. Harding might lose the first round, but he
knew that the result was certain. Vast, insuperable forces were arrayed
against his antagonist.

"To begin with, what do you expect to gain by persuading us to join
you?" Mowbray asked.

"A saving of expense and the help of the only neighbors I have at
present," Harding answered. "My partner and I are ready to go on alone,
but we can't hope to do much unassisted."

Opening the papers he had brought, he read out particulars of the cost
of plowing by horses and by steam; then statistics of American and
Canadian grain production and the fluctuations of prices.

"Where did you get the figures about the mechanical plowing?" Mowbray
asked in an ironical tone. "From the makers?"

"In the first place. I afterward checked them by information from
farmers who have used the machines."

"Very wise! These implements are expensive. Can you guarantee that they
will work satisfactorily?"

"That would be rash. I expect a certain amount of trouble."

"Skilled mechanics' wages are high. Do you recommend our keeping a man
here in case things go wrong?"

"Certainly not! If you buy a steam-plow, you must learn to keep it in
order."

Broadwood, picturing the Colonel sprawled under an oily engine, battling
with obstinate bolts, laughed aloud.

Mowbray frowned.

"Granting the accuracy of your statistics," he said, "you seem to have
proved the economy of mechanical power, when used on a large scale. But
we are not agreed upon the necessity for such a thing."

This was the opening Harding had waited for and he seized it quickly.

"At present wheat is your mainstay. How many of you will find it
profitable to grow at the current price?"

"Not many, perhaps," Mowbray admitted; and the disturbed expression of
others bore out the statement. "But is there adequate ground for
concluding it will remain at an abnormally low price?"

"It will not remain there. For the next few years it will go down
steadily."

There was a murmur of disagreement; and Mowbray smiled.

"I presume you are willing to justify this gloomy forecast?" he said.

"I'll try," answered Harding. "You have seen what one railroad has done
for Western Canada. It has opened up the country, brought wide tracts of
land into cultivation, and largely increased the wheat crop. That
increase will go on, and you will presently see rival lines tapping new
belts of fertile soil."

"But do you imply that the grain output of Western Canada can force down
prices?" a man asked with a scornful laugh. "We have all Europe for a
market. I imagine they'll use what we can send them in a few big English
towns."

It was obvious that the question met with approval, and Harding quietly
searched the faces turned toward him. He belonged by right of birth to
these men's caste, but he did not want them to own him. He asked their
help, but he could do without it, though they could not dispense with
his. Their supineness irritated him; they would not see the truth that
was luminously clear. He felt a strange compulsion to rouse and dominate
them.

"The Canadian output will soon have to be reckoned with," he said. "In
the meantime, it's the effect of a general expansion throughout the
world that I'm counting on. What has been done in Canada is being done
everywhere. Look abroad and see! The American middle West linked up with
new railroads, grain pouring out to New York and Baltimore; Californian
wheat shipments doubling, and the Walla country in Oregon all one grain
belt. They're tapping new soil in Argentina; Australia and Chile are
being exploited wherever they get rain; and British irrigation works in
Egypt and India will have their effect."

Gerald Mowbray spoke for the first time.

"One feels tempted to inquire where Mr. Harding secured this mass of
information?" he said, with a slight curl of his lips.

"You can get a good deal for a few dollars' subscription to New York
papers," Harding answered dryly. "When the snow's deep, men with no
amusements have time to read. But that's beside the question. I must now
ask you to consider the improvement in transport. Locomotives are
doubling their size and power; you have seen the new grain cars. The
triple-expansion engine is cutting down ocean freight, making distance
of no account. All countries must compete in the world's markets with
the cheapest grower. To survive in the struggle that's coming, one must
use efficient tools."

"And what will happen after the markets have been flooded?" a man asked
derisively.

"Then," said Harding gravely, "when the slack and careless have been
killed off there will be a startling change. The farming expansion can't
last; there's not enough accessible virgin land to draw upon. American
shipments will fall off; the demands of the world's growing population
will overtake the supply. Those who live through the fight will find
riches thrust upon them."

"We are losing sight of the general produce and dairy scheme," Mowbray
remarked. "Have you anything to tell us on this point?"

"Not much. Winnipeg is growing, so is Brandon, and they'll provide good
markets for farming truck; but the country that will ask for most is
British Columbia."

"Rather a long way off!" somebody commented.

"Wait and see," said Harding. "They're opening new mines and sawmills
all over the province; Columbia's aim is industrial, not agricultural,
and most of the land there is rock and forest. They're cut off from the
Pacific States by the tariff, and naturally they'll turn to us across
the Rockies. I foresee our sending general produce west instead of east.
Now, although I've taken up too much time, will you give me a minute to
read some figures?"

He paused, and with an almost involuntary burst of applause they bade
him go on. The statistics he gave were telling, clinching his arguments,
and when he sat down there was a deep murmur of approval from opponents
as well as friends. The breadth of his views and his far-reaching
knowledge appealed to them. It was the first time they had heard
anything like this at Allenwood.

After waiting a few moments for silence, Mowbray turned to Devine.

"Have you anything of interest to tell us?"

"Well," Devine said with simple earnestness, "I was raised at a prairie
homestead. I began to drive horses soon after I could walk, and ever
since I've been living on the soil. That's how I know that in the long
run scratch-farming will never pay. With Nature up against us, we can
take no chances when we break new land, for she's mighty hard to beat,
with her dry seasons, harvest frost, blight, and blowing sand. We've got
to use the best of everything man can invent and, if we're to stand for
a run of bad times, get the last cent's value for every dollar. Any
machine that won't give you the top output must be scrapped: you must
get your full return for your labor. Slouching and inefficiency lead you
straight into the hands of the mortgage man."

When he sat down, Mowbray smiled.

"Our visitors have certainly given us food for thought," the Colonel
said. "I offer them our thanks, and should now be glad to hear any fresh
opinions."

Several men spoke; some with warmth and some with careless humor.

"As we don't get much further, we will take a vote," Mowbray suggested.
"I will move the resolution as it stands. Though this has not been our
usual custom, you are entitled to a ballot."

There was silence for a moment. Mowbray's views were known, and the men
shrank from wounding him, for he did not bear opposition well. For all
that, with a fastidious sense of honor, they disdained the shield of
the secret vote.

"I think we will stick to the show of hands," Kenwyne replied.

"Very well," said Mowbray. "For the motion!"

Harding, glancing round the room, was surprised and somewhat moved to
notice that Lance's hand went up among the rest. The boy had voted
against his father. So far as Harding could judge, half the men were in
favor of the scheme.

"Against the motion!"

The hands were raised, and Mowbray counted them with care.

"Equal, for and against," he announced. "I have a casting vote, and I
think the importance of the matter justifies my using it. I declare the
motion lost."

There was an impressive silence for a few moments; then Broadwood spoke.

"Although we have decided against going on with the scheme, as a body, I
take it there is nothing to prevent any individuals who wish to do so
joining in Mr. Harding's venture?"

"I must leave you to decide how far such action is in good taste, or
likely to promote the harmony which has been the rule at Allenwood. Now
I think we can close the meeting."

When the company dispersed, Harding, Devine, and Broadwood drove home
with Kenwyne. The Scotch housekeeper opened the door for them, and
handed Kenwyne the mail which had been brought in his absence. He tore
open a newspaper and turned to the quotations.

"Wheat down sixpence a quarter at Liverpool," he said. "It will have
its effect in Chicago and Winnipeg." He dropped the paper and took off
his fur coat. "I suppose you're going on with the plan, Harding?"

"The plow's ordered."

"You're a hustler," Broadwood laughed; "but you mustn't make the pace
too hot. We've been used to going steady. What did you think of the
meeting?"

"It went better than I expected."

"We'd have had a majority only that they were afraid of the Colonel; and
I don't blame them. In a way, he made a rather pathetic figure, trying
to sweep back the tide. The old man has courage; it's a pity he won't
see that his is a lost cause."

"He can't," said Kenwyne gravely; "and we must realize that."

"Then are you going to let him ruin you?" Devine asked.

"I hope not; but we all feel that we can't disown our leader," Broadwood
answered. "I dare say you can understand that we have a hard row to
hoe."

"Well, the creamery scheme will have to be dropped," Kenwyne said; "but
there'll be plenty of work for the new plow."

"Yes," Harding replied. "If all the rest stand out, Devine and I can
keep it busy."

"How much land do you intend to break?"

Harding told him, and Kenwyne looked astonished.

"You're a bold man. If it's not an impertinence, can you finance the
thing?"

"It will take every dollar I have."

"And if you lose? The spring rains are sometimes hard enough to uproot
the young blades; or a summer hailstorm or drought may come and ruin the
crop."

Harding shrugged his shoulder.

"Those things must be considered, of course. But one never gets very far
by standing still and waiting for a disaster that may never occur.
'Nothing ventured, nothing gained,'" he quoted with a smile.



CHAPTER XI

THE STEAM PLOW


The winter passed quickly. Harding was kept fully occupied; for there
was cordwood to be cut, there were building logs to be got ready, and
the fitting up of the new house kept him busy at his carpenter's bench.
He was used to the prairie climate, and he set off cheerfully at dawn to
work in the snow all day, returning at dark, half-frozen and stiff from
swinging the heavy ax. Now and then he drove Hester to Mrs. Broadwood's,
or spent an evening with one or two others of the Allenwood settlers. He
went partly for his sister's sake, but also because he sometimes met
Beatrice at his new friends' houses, and since Lance had recovered he no
longer had an excuse for visiting the Grange. Mrs. Mowbray had always
been gracious, but he knew that the Colonel now regarded him as a
dangerous person.

Beatrice's manner puzzled him. As a rule, she was friendly, yet he could
not flatter himself that he was making much progress, and sometimes she
was distinctly aloof. He might have placed a favorable interpretation
upon her reserve, but unfortunately it was tinged with what looked very
much like hostility. Harding imagined that she was influenced by her
father; and he was troubled.

There were, however, days when his homestead rocked beneath the icy
blast, while the snow lashed the ship-lap walls, and to venture out
involved serious risk. The blizzards were often followed by bitter
evenings when the prairie lay white and silent in the Arctic frost, and
no furs would protect one against the cold. At such times, Harding sat
quietly by the red-hot stove, sometimes with a notebook in his hand, and
sometimes merely thinking hard. Many barriers stood between him and the
girl he loved, and, being essentially practical, he considered how he
could remove the worst. Beatrice had been luxuriously brought up, and he
must have material advantages to offer her; although if she were what he
believed, she would not attach undue importance to them. He was
ambitious and generally ready to take a risk, but now he was staking his
all on an abundant crop. It could not be done rashly. Adverse
contingencies must be foreseen and guarded against; all the precautions
that experience dictated must be taken. He would be ruined if he lost.

The days were lengthening, though the frost still held, when his
steam-plow arrived at the railroad settlement. No one seemed willing to
undertake its transport to Allenwood; and when a thing was extremely
difficult Harding believed in doing it himself. The machine had been
dismantled, but some of the engine-castings were massive, and the
boiler, with its large, wood-burning firebox was of considerable weight.
It must, however, be moved at once, because the frost might break, and
the prairie is impassable by loaded vehicles for a few weeks after the
thaw. As a rule, the snowfall is light on the Western plains, and
jumper-sleds are not in general use. In this instance Harding found the
long, high-wheeled wagon suit his purpose best, and he carefully
strengthened one before he set off to bring home the plow.

It was not an easy task. The high plain sloped to the railroad in
wave-like undulations, with sandy crests and timber in the hollows. In
summer, it would hardly have been possible to haul the plow across this
belt of broken country, but the few inches of beaten snow on the trail
simplified the task. For all that, Harding spent several days on the
road, moving the machine in detachments, until he came to the boiler,
which must be handled in one piece. When, with the help of several
train-men, he got it into his wagon, he knew his troubles had begun.

Leaving the settlement at dawn with Devine, they camped at sunset by a
frozen creek and got a few hours' sleep beside a fire until the cold
awakened them. After this, Harding lay thinking over the next day's work
until the sky began to whiten in the east, and it was time to get
breakfast.

They set off in the stinging cold while the crimson sunrise glared
across the snow, but it was afternoon and the teams were worn out when
they approached the ravine a few miles from home. This, they knew,
presented their greatest obstacle. The frost held, sky and air were
clear, and a nipping wind had risen. As they drew near the wavy line of
trees that marked the edge of the dip, Harding was not pleased to notice
a group of people. He had arranged for two of the Allenwood men to meet
him with some tackle, but he saw that Hester, Beatrice, Mrs. Broadwood,
and several more had accompanied them. He was not often self-conscious,
but when he had anything difficult to do he did not like onlookers. They
embarrassed him.

For all that, he felt a keen thrill of pleasure when Beatrice, with Mrs.
Broadwood, came toward him when he stopped his team on the edge of the
hollow. The sides of the ravine were clothed with leafless poplars, and
the snow shone a soft gray-blue in their shadow. In places, the slope
was very steep, and the trail, with several awkward bends, ran down
diagonally to the bridge at the bottom, shut in by rows of slender
trunks except where the ground fell away on its outer edge. A thin cloud
of steam hung over the jaded horses. Except for the sparkle in his eyes,
Harding had a very tired look when Beatrice stopped beside him.

"It will not be easy getting down," she said.

Harding smiled.

"I suppose I deserve some trouble?"

"I really think you do," Beatrice answered with a laugh. "I would have
stopped you if I could; but now the plow's here, it's too late to be
disagreeable about it--so I don't wish you any difficulty in getting
down!"

"It's a sensible attitude. Fight against a thing you don't like, but
make the best of it when it's an accomplished fact."

"I don't like steam-plows at Allenwood," said Beatrice with a flush of
color.

"Allenwood is hifalutin," Mrs. Broadwood put in. "They're trying to run
it on ideals."

"Is it necessary to separate ideals from practical efficiency?" Harding
asked.

"They don't often go together," Beatrice answered scornfully.

"There's some truth in that. But it's the fault of human nature; you
can't blame the machines."

"The machines are to be admired," the girl returned. "One blames the men
who use them with the wrong object."

Harding smiled; but before he could answer, Broadwood came up with
Kenwyne to announce that everything was ready.

"You'll have to be careful," he warned Harding. "We'll lock the back
wheels before we hook on the tackles. Will you let the front team
loose?"

"No; I may want them to swing me round the bends. First of all, I'll
take a look at what you've done."

He walked down the trail with them and examined the fastenings of a big
iron block through which ran a wire rope with a tackle at one end.

"The clevis is rather small, but it's the strongest I could find,"
Kenwyne said.

A little farther on they stopped where the bank fell nearly
perpendicularly for some distance below the outer edge of the road.

"We banked the snow up here and beat it firm," he pointed out. "For all
that, it would be wise to keep well to the inside."

"We'll shift the tackle when I get to the bend above," Harding replied,
and went down to the bridge. It was rudely built of logs and had no
parapet.

"I found the turn awkward the last time, but I see you have made it a
bit easier," he said. "Well, we'd better make a start."

Lance and one or two others joined them when they reached the top.
Harding examined the wagon and harness, and Beatrice watched him with
interest. He certainly lived up to his belief in efficiency, because she
did not think he omitted any precaution he could have taken. There was
something to admire in him as he quietly moved about beside the horses
and the ponderous mass of iron. It would not be an easy matter to
transport the load to the bottom of the gorge, but Beatrice felt that he
was at his best when confronting a difficulty.

"The locked wheels won't hold her if anything goes wrong," he said.
"Keep all the strain you can upon the rope."

They hooked it to the back axle, and Harding cautiously led the team
down the incline while Devine went to the leading horses' heads, and the
others checked the wagon with the tackle. The teams were obviously
nervous, and the pole-horses now and then lifted their haunches to hold
back the load, although they did not feel much of its weight. After some
trouble Harding got the wagon round the first turning, taking the
leaders up the side of the ravine in order to do so; but the trail ahead
was steeper, and the big drop not far below. They chocked the wheels
with logs while they moved the tackle, and Harding stood for a few
moments, breathing heavily, as he looked down into the gorge. He could
see the snowy trail wind for a short distance among the trees, and then
it dipped out of sight beyond a turn. It was beaten hard, and here and
there its surface caught a ray of light and flashed with an icy gleam.
They were half-way down; but the worst was to come.

"It's an ugly bit," he cautioned Devine. "Hold the leaders in to the
side of the hill."

They started, and as the weight came upon them the blocks screamed, and
the men began to strain against the drag of the rope. Foot by foot they
let it slip round the smooth trunk of a tree, while the women stood
watching the tall figure at the pole-horses' heads. The powerful animals
braced themselves back, slipping a yard or two now and then, while
Harding broke into a run. The cloud of steam that hung over them grew
thicker as the trees closed in; the tackle was running out and those who
held it were panting hard, but they had rope enough to reach the next
bend.

Then there was a crash and Kenwyne, reeling backward with those behind
him, fell heavily into the snow while the broken wire struck the trees.
A shout from Devine came up the hollow, and Hester clenched her hand as
she saw him flung off by a plunging horse and roll down the trail. He
dropped over the edge, but the wagon, lurching violently, went on, and
for a few moments Harding, running fast, clung to the near horse's head.
Then he let go; but instead of jumping clear, as the watchers had
expected, he grasped the side of the wagon as it passed and swung
himself up. They saw him seize the reins, standing upright behind the
driving-seat; and then the wagon plunged out of sight among the trees.

Devine, scrambling to his feet, ran madly after it and vanished; and the
men who had held the tackle picked themselves up and looked down in
dismay. There was nothing they could do. The disaster must happen before
they could possibly reach the scene. It seemed impossible that Harding
could get round the next turn.

Beatrice cast a quick glance at Hester, and felt braced by her attitude.
They were not emotional at Allenwood; but the prairie girl bore herself
with a stoic calm which Beatrice had never seen equaled there. Her
fiancé had narrowly escaped with his life, her brother was in imminent
peril, yet her eyes were steady and her pose was firm. His danger could
not be made light of, but the girl evidently had confidence in him.
Beatrice imagined that Hester had her brother's swiftness of action,
nevertheless she could wait and suffer calmly when there was nothing
else to be done. After all, stern courage was part of the girl's
birthright, for she was a daughter of the pioneers.

Beatrice did not know that her own face was tense and white. The
accident had been unexpected and unnerving. She was shaken by its
suddenness and by a dread she could not explain: it was no time for
analysis of feelings. She was watching the trail with desperate
concentration, wondering whether the wagon and its reckless driver would
break out from the trees. In a moment they did appear--the team going
downhill at a mad gallop, Harding lashing them with a loop of the reins.
There is not often a brake on a prairie wagon, and as the chain that
locked the wheels had obviously broken, Harding's intention was plain.
He meant to keep the horses ahead of the iron load that would overturn
the wagon and mangle the animals if it overtook them. This warranted his
furious speed. But the trail was narrow and tortuous, and with the heavy
weight spread over a long wheel-base, the wagon was hard to steer.
Beatrice realized this, but in spite of her horror she felt a thrill of
fierce approval.

The man was standing upright now; he looked strangely unmoved. Beatrice
supposed this was a delusion; but she could see the nerve and judgment
with which he guided the team. They were passing the spot where the bank
fell away. The wheels on one side were on its edge. Beatrice turned
dizzy. She felt that they must go over, and man and horses and wagon be
crushed to pulp beneath the heavy load. They passed; but there was a
turn not far off, and room was needed to take the curve. As they rushed
on, half hidden by the trees, she felt her breath come hard and a
contraction in her throat as she wondered whether he could get round. If
not, the load of iron would rush headlong over the fallen horses,
leaving in its path a mass of mangled flesh and pools of blood. To her
excited imagination, the boiler was no longer a senseless thing. It
seemed filled with malevolent, destructive power; she felt she hated it.

There was a tense moment; then the leading horses plunged from the trees
with the pole-team behind them, all still on their feet. Harding had
somehow steered them round. But the danger was not yet over, for the
trail shelved to one side and there was an awkward curve near the
bridge. The wagon seemed to Beatrice to be going like the toboggans she
had seen on the long slide at Montreal. It was more difficult to see as
it got farther off and the trees were thicker. Her eyes filled with
water from the intensity of her gaze, and she feared to waste a moment
in wiping them. Something terrible might happen before she could see
again. She wanted to shriek; and she might have done so only that, even
in such a moment, she remembered what was expected of the Mowbray
strain. Horses and wagon were still rushing on. Then there was a thud
and a harsh rattle: Harding was on the bridge. Another moment and the
mad beat of hoofs slackened and stopped.

Lance, waving his fur cap, broke into a harsh, triumphant yell, and the
rest of the Allenwood men set up a cheer. In the midst of it Devine
appeared, scrambling up the hill through the brush.

"He's done it! He's done it!" he cried excitedly, running up to Hester.
"It's great! She was going like an express freight on a downgrade when
he jumped up."

Hester smiled at him proudly, and he turned and started off at top speed
down the trail. They all followed, and, crossing the bridge, found
Harding standing by his blowing team. The horses' coats were foul with
sweat, and Harding's face was badly scratched, but he did not seem to
know it, and except that he was breathless he looked much as usual.

"This is quite ridiculous!" Mrs. Broadwood panted, with a keen glance at
Beatrice. "There's some excuse for Hester, but I can't see why you and I
should go running after a man who doesn't belong to either of us and
seems to feel a good deal cooler than we do!"

Beatrice flushed, but she did not answer.

"You were lucky in getting down," Kenwyne said to Harding. "We thought
you were going over the bank."

"So did I, at first," Harding answered.

Broadwood and Lance made some remarks about the accident, and Hester
watched them with a smile. There was a hint of strain in their voices,
but their manner was very matter-of-fact. She surmised that they wished
to forget their relapse into emotional excitement. She contented herself
with giving her brother a quick, expressive look.

Harding unhooked the broken wire from the back of the wagon.

"Well," he said, "we must set about getting up."

The ascending trail had a gentler slope, and there was not much risk in
climbing it; though it cost them heavy labor. With the help of a yoke of
oxen, they got the wagon up, and when the top was reached Kenwyne came
up to Harding.

"You and Devine have done enough," he said. "There should be no trouble
now. We'll lead the teams home while you take it easy."

Harding was glad to comply. He followed with Hester and Mrs. Broadwood,
because Beatrice seemed so evidently trying to avoid him.

The girl felt disturbed. When she thought that Harding could not escape,
a curious sense of personal loss had intensified her alarm. Terror, of
course, was natural; the other feeling was not to be explained so
readily. Although she disliked some of his opinions, she knew that he
attracted her. His was a magnetic nature: he exerted a strong influence
over every one; but she would not admit that she was in love with him.
That would be absurd. And yet she had been deeply stirred by his danger.

Lance and Devine had lingered in the rear, and the little group stopped
in the middle of the trail and waited for them. Then, when they moved
forward again, Beatrice and Harding were somehow thrown together, and
she checked the impulse to overtake the others when she saw that she and
the prairie man were falling behind. To avoid being alone with him would
exaggerate his importance.

"You must have known you were doing a dangerous thing when you got up on
the wagon," she said.

"I suppose I did," he replied. "But I saw that I might lose the boiler
if it went down the bank. The thing cost a good deal of money."

"You were able to remember that?"

"Certainly! Then there were the teams. It would have been a pity to let
them be killed."

Beatrice thought he might have offered a better explanation. He had
implied that anxiety about the boiler had influenced him more than
regard for his horses. She felt that she must give him an opportunity
for defending himself.

"I wonder which consideration counted most?"

He looked at her with amusement; and she flushed as she suddenly
recalled that he was sometimes very shrewd.

"Well," he said, "the main thing was to get hold of the reins--and I
don't know that it matters now."

"I suppose not," Beatrice agreed, vexed that he did not seem anxious to
make the best impression. "After all, breaking land on a large scale
must be expensive, and I understand that your plans are ambitious."

Harding glanced across the prairie: it ran back to the blue smear of
trees on the horizon, covered with thin snow, and struck a note of utter
desolation.

"Yes," he said with a gleam in his eyes. "All this looks lifeless and
useless now, but I can see it belted with wheat and oats and flax in the
fall. There will be a difference when the binders move through the grain
in rows."

"In rows!"

"We'll want a number, if all goes well. Devine's land follows my
boundary, and we must drive our plows in one straight line. We begin at
the rise yonder and run east to the creek."

The boldness of the undertaking appealed to the girl as she glanced
across the wide stretch of snow.

"It's a big thing," she said.

"A beginning. Two men can't do much, but more are coming. In a year or
two the wheat will run as far as you can see, and there'll be homesteads
all along the skyline."

They walked on in silence for a moment; then he gave her an amused
glance.

"I guess Colonel Mowbray doesn't like what I'm doing?"

"He doesn't go so far. It's to what you are persuading our friends to do
that he objects."

"That's a pity. They'll have to follow--not because I lead, but because
necessity drives."

"You're taking it for granted that it does drive; and you must see my
father's point of view."

"That I'm encouraging your people to rebel? That's not my wish, but he
can't hold them much longer--the drift of things is against him."

Beatrice's eyes sparkled. He thought she looked very charming with her
proud air and the color in her face; but he must keep his head. He was
readjusting his opinions about sudden, mutual love, and he saw that
precipitation might cost him too much. If he could not have the girl on
his own terms, he must take her on hers.

"Colonel Mowbray founded the settlement," Beatrice said, "and it has
prospered. Can't you understand his feelings when he sees his control
threatened?"

"The time when one man could hold full command has gone. He can be a
moral influence and keep the right spirit in his people, but he must
leave them freedom of action."

"That is just the trouble! It's the modern spirit which you are bringing
into the settlement that disturbs us. We managed to get along very well
before we ever heard of Mr. Harding and his steam-plow and his
wheat-binders and his creameries."

She could not keep the slight scorn out of her voice; indeed, she did
not wish to do so. But he took it good-naturedly.

"Do you know what I see?" he questioned with a smile. "A time when
Colonel Mowbray--and Colonel Mowbray's daughter," he added
teasingly--"will look with pride upon the vast acres of Allenwood turned
from waste grassland into productive fields of wheat and oats and flax;
when the obsolete horse-plow will be scrapped as old iron and the now
despised steam-plow will be a highly treasured possession of every
settler; when----"

"Never!" Beatrice interrupted emphatically. "You must understand that my
father's views and yours are as widely different as the poles--and my
father is the head of Allenwood!"

Harding looked down at the haughty face turned up to him; and a great
longing suddenly surged through him. He had never desired her more than
at that instant. His admiration showed so strongly in his eyes that the
blood swept into Beatrice's face.

"Bee!" Lance called back to them. "Mrs. Broadwood wants you to verify
what I'm telling her about the collie pup."

Beatrice loved her brother for the interruption.



CHAPTER XII

THE ENEMY WITHIN


It was getting late, but the Allenwood Sports Club prolonged its sitting
at the Carlyon homestead. The institution had done useful work in
promoting good fellowship by means of healthful amusements, but recently
its management had fallen into the hands of the younger men, and the
founders contented themselves with an occasional visit to see that all
was going well. Some, however, were not quite satisfied, and Mowbray
entertained suspicions about the Club. He was an autocrat, but he shrank
from spying, or attempting to coerce a member into betraying his
comrades. Some allowance must be made for young blood; and, after all,
nothing that really needed his interference could go on, he felt,
without his learning about it. Nevertheless, he had a disturbing feeling
that an undesirable influence was at work.

Carlyon's room was unusually well furnished, and several fine London
guns occupied a rack on the matchboarded wall. The cost of one would
have purchased a dozen of the Massachusetts-made weapons which the
prairie farmers used. The photograph of a horseman in English hunting
dress with M.F.H. appended to the autograph was equally suggestive, and
it was known that Carlyon's people had sent him to Canada with money
enough to make a fair start. Unfortunately, he had not realized that
success in farming demands care and strenuous work.

He sat with a flushed, excited face at a rosewood table, upon which the
cigar ends, bottles, and glasses scarcely left room for the cards he was
eagerly scanning. Gerald Mowbray leaned back in his chair, watching him
with a smile. Emslie, the third man, wore a disturbed frown; opposite
him, Markham sat with a heavy, vacant air.

"Your luck's changing, Carlyon," Gerald said; "but we must stop at this
round. Markham's half asleep--and I'm not surprised, considering what
he's drunk; and the Colonel will wonder where I've been, if I stay much
longer."

Carlyon drained his glass.

"Very well," he consented, with a harsh laugh and a glitter in his eyes.
"As I've a good deal to get back, I'll double and throw my Percheron
team in. Does that take you?"

Markham immediately became alert.

"I think not. Go on, Gerald!"

Gerald put down a card, Emslie followed with a deepening frown, but
Markham chuckled as he played. Carlyon started, and then with an obvious
effort pulled himself together. For the next few moments all were quiet,
and the stillness was emphasized by the patter of the falling cards.
Then Carlyon pushed his chair back noisily and looked at the others, his
face pale and set.

"I thought it was a certainty; there was only one thing I forgot," he
said in a strained voice.

Markham leaned forward heavily.

"Fellows who play like you can't afford to forget, my boy. Know better
next time; let it be a lesson."

Carlyon glanced at a notebook and took out a wad of bills which he tried
to count.

"Sorry, but I seem to be five dollars short; don't know when you'll get
it, but I'll send the horses to the next Brandon sales. I dare say
somebody will help me with my plowing."

"Don't be an ass!" said Gerald. "Throwing in the team was a piece of
silly bluff. We're not going to take advantage of it."

Emslie nodded agreement; and Markham drawled:

"Don't want his splay-footed beasts, and won't lend him my good
Clydesdales to spoil. Count out the bills, Gerald; his hand is shaking."

Carlyon protested that he was a sportsman and paid his debts, but they
overruled him.

"Silly thing to do, unless you're made," Markham declared. Then he
turned to Gerald. "What's become of the younger brother? Never see him
now."

"Oh, he's reformed. On the whole, it's just as well, for there's not
room for two gamblers in the family. Besides, the Americans seem to have
got hold of him: they live like Methodists."

"You mean the girl has? Devilish handsome; has a grand way of looking at
you. Ask Carlyon; he knows."

Carlyon colored under Markham's broadly humorous gaze.

"Miss Harding won't trouble herself about Lance," he said. "I may add
that she doesn't appreciate a graceful compliment."

"Smacked your face?" suggested Markham with a chuckle. "Must be going.
Give me my coat."

A newspaper and some letters fell out of a pocket as he put it on, and
he picked them up.

"Quite forgot. Met the mail-carrier as I was driving in. Better look
what wheat is doing."

Carlyon eagerly opened the paper.

"Down again two cents at Chicago! Winnipeg will follow."

"There's a certain cure," said Markham thickly. "All stop plowing. If
you do nothing long enough, 'must send the market up. Call it a
brilliant idea; wonder nobody else thought of it. You look sober,
Emslie. Come and help me into my rig."

They went out, and a few minutes afterward a furious beat of hoofs and a
rattle of wheels rang out across the prairie.

"I hope he will get home without breaking his neck," Carlyon said to
Gerald.

"Oh, Markham can take care of himself. But we have something else to
think about now."

"That's true," Carlyon agreed with a depressed air. "I took your advice
and told that fellow in the Pit to buy wheat; but I wish I'd heard
Harding's speech at the council before I made the deal. Now it's clear
that I'm dipped pretty deep." He picked up the letters that were
scattered among the cards and started as he saw the embossed stamp on
one of them. "It's from my broker; I'll soon know the worst."

Gerald, lighting a cigarette, watched the tense expression of the boy's
face as he read the letter, and for a few moments nothing was said.
Carlyon looked crushed, but Gerald's position was too serious to allow
of his sympathizing much. Taking advantage of his friends' love of
excitement, he had won a number of small sums at cards, but this was of
no account against what he owed. After a moment Carlyon laid a statement
of account before him.

"You can see how much I'm out."

"Can't you carry it over?"

"Impossible," Carlyon answered dejectedly. "I didn't actually buy the
grain; I've got to find the difference. Besides, what would be the use
of holding on, if wheat's still going to drop?"

"It's awkward," Gerald agreed. "You might get some exemption under the
Homesteads Act, but this broker could sell you up. Would your people do
anything?"

"They won't be asked. Things were not going well with them when I left,
and I guess they find it hard enough to keep Dick at college and provide
for the girls. They gave me a good start, but it was understood that I'd
get nothing more."

"Then the only remedy is to borrow the money here."

Carlyon laughed.

"Who'd lend it to me? Besides, if the Colonel knew how I was fixed, he'd
turn me out of the settlement."

"I know a man in Winnipeg who does this kind of business, but he'd
charge you high and want a bond. That means he'd seize your land in a
year or two if you couldn't pay."

"The other fellow would seize it now," Carlyon said with eagerness. "If
I could get the money, I'd have time to see what could be done, and
something might turn up. Will you introduce me?"

The matter was arranged before Gerald left; and two days later they were
in Winnipeg. They found Davies willing to do business. Indeed, after
making a few difficulties as an excuse for raising the interest, he
supplied Carlyon with the money he needed, and when the men left his
office he lighted a cigar with a satisfied smile. He now held two
mortgages on land at Allenwood, and he thought that he could make good
use of them if, as he expected, the loans were not repaid. Then it was
possible that Mowbray might bring him another customer. He saw a big
profit for himself, and trouble for the Allenwood settlers, when the
reckoning came.

Shortly after Gerald's visit to Winnipeg, one of his neighbors returned
from England, where he had gone to look into matters connected with some
property he had recently inherited. His absence had been a relief to
Beatrice, and she was especially disturbed to learn that on his arrival
he had spent an hour in private talk with her father. Brand had
continually shown strong admiration for her, which she by no means
reciprocated. She did not actually dislike the man; but his attentions
annoyed her. She knew, however, that he enjoyed Colonel Mowbray's full
approval. He came of good family and his character was irreproachable;
moreover, being past forty, he had outgrown all youthful rashnesses. Of
rather handsome person and polished manners, Brand was generally
characterized by staid gravity, and Mowbray considered his views
exceptionally sound.

Beatrice was keenly curious about what he had said to her father. She
imagined that her mother knew, but no hint was given to her, and when
she met Brand it was always in the company of others and there was
nothing to be gathered from his manner. It was, however, not often that
he displayed his sentiments.

The thaw had begun when she walked home from the Broadwood farm one
afternoon. The snow had vanished as if by magic, and shallow lagoons
glittered among the bleached grass. The sky was a brilliant blue, and
rounded clouds with silver edges rolled across it before the fresh
northwest breeze which would blow persistently until summer was done.
Their swift shadows streaked the plain and passed, leaving it suffused
with light. There was a genial softness in the air.

Beatrice picked her way cautiously toward a straggling bluff, for the
ponds along its edge had overflowed and the ground was marish. On
reaching the woods she stopped in a sheltered nook to enjoy the
sunshine. The birches and poplars were bare, but their stems were
changing color and the twigs had lost their dry and brittle look. The
willows in a hollow were stained with vivid hues by the rising sap, and
there was a flush of green among the grass. Small purple flowers like
crocuses were pushing through the sod. From high overhead there fell a
harsh, clanging cry, and the girl, looking up, saw a flock of brent
geese picked out in a wedge against the sky. Behind came a wedge of
mallard, and farther off, gleaming snowily, a flight of sandhill cranes.
Spring was in the air; the birds had heard its call, and were pressing
on toward the polar marshes, following the sun. Beatrice felt a curious
stirring of her blood. It was half pleasant, half painful, for while she
responded to the gladness that pervaded everything the sunshine kissed,
she was conscious of a disturbing longing, a mysterious discontent. She
would not try to analyze her feelings, but she felt that her life was
narrow and somehow incomplete.

She was startled presently by a drumming of hoofs; and she frowned as
Brand rode out of the bluff. He had seen her, and she decided not to try
to avoid him by walking on. If she must face a crisis, it was better to
get it over. Brand got down and turned to her with a smile. He looked
well in his wide, gray hat and his riding dress, for the picturesqueness
of the fringed deerskin jacket, which was then the vogue at Allenwood,
did not detract from his air of dignity. His features were regular, but
his expression was somewhat cold.

"I'm glad we have met, and I'll confess that I expected to find you
here. In fact, I came to look for you," he said with a smile.

Beatrice knew what was coming. While she felt that it would be better to
meet the situation frankly, she nevertheless shrank from doing so.

"I have seen so little of you since you came home," she said, partly to
defer his declaration, "that I haven't had an opportunity for expressing
my sympathy."

"It was a shock," he answered. "I hadn't seen either of my cousins since
they were boys, but we were good friends then, and I never expected to
succeed them. Their yacht was run down at night, and when the steamer
got her boat out only the paid hand was left."

"Will you go back to England now to live?"

"I think I'll stay at Allenwood. One gets used to Western
ways--although there's a good deal to be said for either course, and it
doesn't altogether depend on me."

Beatrice hesitated a moment, then:

"There is some one else to please?" she asked with charming innocence.

Brand drew a quick breath as he gazed at the young face so near him. She
was leaning against a poplar trunk, the sun fretting her with gold
between the bare branches, the wind caressing a few loose strands of
hair that were blown across her cheek.

"I will please the girl I hope to marry," he said in a strained voice.
"She loves the prairie, and she shall have her choice. I think you know,
Beatrice, that I have long been waiting for you."

Beatrice was annoyed to find herself blushing.

"I'm sorry," she faltered. "You know I tried to show you--you must see
it was difficult."

"It is not your fault that I wouldn't take a hint," he answered quietly.
"But you are very young; and I knew that I would never change."

"You thought I might?"

"I hoped so. I was afraid that after the romantic admiration you have
had from the boys, you might find me too matter-of-fact and staid. But
there was a chance that you might get used to that, and I made up my
mind to be patient."

"I'm sorry, for your sake, that you waited."

Her glance was gently regretful, and he read decision in it, but he was
a determined man.

"It seems I haven't waited long enough," he returned with a faint smile.
"But while you will grow more attractive for a long time yet, I have
reached my prime, and inheriting the English property rather forced my
hand. After all, our life here is bare and monotonous--you would have a
wider circle and more scope in the Old Country."

Beatrice liked his terseness and in some ways she liked and respected
him. Moreover she was offered a beautiful English country house, a
position of some influence, and friends of taste and rank.

"You were very considerate," she said. "But I'm afraid what you wish is
impossible."

"Wait!" he begged. "I haven't said much about myself, but I believe I
appreciate you better than any of the boys is capable of doing; I could
carry your wishes further and take more care of you." He paused with a
grave smile. "I'm not a romantic person, but I think I'm trustworthy.
Then, it would please your father."

"Ah! You have told him?"

"Yes; and he was good enough to express his full approval."

Beatrice's face was disturbed, but she answered frankly:

"Though I know you won't take an unfair advantage of his consent, I wish
you hadn't gone to him. It may make things more difficult for me. And
now, please understand that I cannot marry you."

Brand's lips came together in a straight line. He did not have a
pleasant look; but his voice was unusually suave when he answered:

"It looks as if I must face my disappointment. I'll do nothing that
might embarrass you. All the same, I warn you that I shall not despair."

"You must not think of me," Beatrice said firmly. "I'm very sorry, but
I want to save you trouble."

He quietly picked up his horse's bridle.

"You are going home? May I walk with you as far as the trail-forks?"

Beatrice could not refuse this, and he talked pleasantly about Allenwood
matters until he left her. She went on alone in a thoughtful mood. She
wished that Brand had not made his offer, because she knew that her
refusal had been a blow, and she did not like to think that she had
wounded him. Moreover, his quiet persistence might still prove
troublesome. Perhaps it was unfortunate that she could not return his
affection; for Brand had many good qualities, and her father approved of
him. Then, with a thrill of perplexing emotion, she thought of Harding.
In some respects, he was too practical and matter-of-fact; but she knew
that his character had another side. While he worked and planned, he had
dreams of a splendid future which she thought would be realized. He was
a visionary as well as a man of affairs; virile, daring, and beneath the
surface generous and tender. It was curious how she knew so much about
him, yet she felt that she was right.

Harding was, however, barred out, so to speak; divided from her by
conventions and traditions that could not be broken, unless, indeed,
love warranted the sacrifice. But she would not admit that she loved
him. He loved her, she knew; but that was not enough. It was all
complicated; nothing seemed right. She no longer noticed the sunshine or
the bracing freshness of the wind as she moved on across the plain with
downcast eyes.

Nerving herself for the encounter, she told her father that evening,
and he sat silent for a few moments, looking hard at her while she stood
by his writing table with an embarrassed air.

"It seems to me you are very hard to please," he said.

"Perhaps I am," she answered. "But I don't like him enough."

"I suppose that's an adequate reason, but I regret it keenly. It would
have been a relief to know your future was secure, as it would have been
with Brand."

Beatrice was touched. He had not taken the line she expected, and she
saw that he was anxious.

"Perhaps it's better that you should learn the truth," he went on. "For
the last few years my affairs have not gone well. Gerald's extravagance
has been a heavy drain; Lance is young and rash; and I feel now that the
prosperity of Allenwood is threatened. The American made me realize
that. In fact, the fellow has brought us trouble ever since he came."

"Perhaps it might be wise to take a few of the precautions he
recommended," Beatrice suggested, eager to lead him away from the
subject of Brand.

Mowbray's eyes flashed with anger.

"No! If we are to be ruined, I hope we'll meet our fate like
gentlemen--and it may not come to that. We have struggled through
critical periods before, and can make a good fight yet without using
detestable means."

Beatrice was troubled. She admired her father's pride and courage, but
she had an uncomfortable suspicion that he was leading a forlorn hope.
Unflinching bravery was not the only thing needful: one could not face
long odds with obsolete weapons.

"But they are not all detestable," she urged. "You could choose the
best--or, if you like, the least offensive."

"Compromise is dangerously easy; when you begin, you are apt to go all
the way. I didn't expect this from you. I believed my own family
staunch, and I must say it's a shock to find the tradesman's spirit in
my children. Even Lance shows the taint. He actually is planning to sell
his riding horses and buy some machine that will save a hired man's
wages!"

Beatrice smiled.

"Perhaps that is better than following Gerald's example. But you mustn't
be unjust. You know that none of us would think of thwarting you."

She crossed over to the back of his chair and put her arms around him.

"I'm sorry you are disappointed about Mr. Brand," she said softly; "but
I know you'll forgive me."

Before he could answer, she had slipped out of the room. She went at
once to find her mother.

"Your father would never force you to marry a man you do not care for,"
Mrs. Mowbray assured her. "So far as that goes, you have nothing to
fear."

"What do you mean?" Beatrice asked in alarm.

Her mother's eyes were anxious, and there was a warning in the look she
gave the girl.

"My dear, you would not find him compliant if you wished to marry a man
he did not approve of."

Beatrice stooped to flick an imaginary piece of lint off of her skirt.
She did not want her mother to see her face just then.

"After all," she answered, far more confidently than she felt, "that may
never happen."



CHAPTER XIII

THE TRAITOR


The prairie was bright with sunshine, and the boisterous west wind was
cut off by a bluff where Harding sat amid a litter of dismantled
machinery. Behind him the newly opened birch leaves showed specks of
glowing green, and a jack-rabbit, which had put off its winter coat and
was now dappled white and gray, fed quietly, with a watchful eye turned
toward the unconscious man; in front, the vast sweep of grass that
flashed with a silvery gleam as it bowed to the wind was broken by the
warm chocolate hue of a broad strip of plowing. The rows of clods, with
their polished faces, stretched across the foreground; and on their
outer edge Devine, dressed in overalls the color of the soil, drove a
team of big, red oxen.

Harding, however, was absorbed in the study of several brass rings and
coils of packing that had formed the gland of a pump. Near by stood a
giant plow with a row of shares, looking out of place among the earth
and grass with its glaring paint, its ugly boiler, and its sooty stack,
though the work that it had done was obvious. Something had gone wrong,
and Harding was trying to locate the trouble. The delay was
embarrassing, for he had a wide stretch of land to break, and the loss
of even an hour was serious. There was not a trained mechanic in the
neighborhood; and if the plow were likely to give him trouble, the
sooner he learned to master it the better. Every part of the machine
seemed to be perfect; yet the steam had gone down on the previous
evening, and he must find out the reason. It was exasperating work.

While Harding was struggling with the pump, Beatrice came along the
trail through the bluff. Her companion, Banff, one of Lance's many dogs,
had trailed off through the bushes, his nose to the ground, and she was,
for the moment, alone. When she caught sight of Harding she stopped
irresolutely. She felt that it might be wiser to pass on without
disturbing him; yet something compelled her to wait.

She stood watching him. He attracted her--that much she admitted; but
she persuaded herself that it was only because he was interesting to
talk to and, unlike the other men she knew, he said things that made one
think.

Harding was so deep in his machinery problem that he did not see her. He
was once more fitting the different parts together, when Banff came
bounding out of the bushes with a glad bark and the little gray rabbit
scuttled off through the briars.

Harding turned quickly; and Beatrice saw his eyes light up.

"I'm glad you've come," he said, emptying a box of tools and turning it
upside down. "That isn't a bad seat--and the sun's pleasant here."

Beatrice noticed that he took it for granted that she would remain; but,
after all, he had some reason for this, for they seldom passed without
stopping to speak when they met.

"Has the machine gone wrong?" she asked, sitting down where the sunlight
fell upon her.

"Yes, pretty badly. I can't find out what's the matter. I suppose you
think it's a just punishment for bringing such things to Allenwood?"

She laughed.

"Well, you gave our friends some offense when you brought your plow over
and broke Kenwyne's land."

"I expected that. There'll no doubt be more remarks when I break the
piece of stiff gumbo on Lance's holding."

Beatrice looked up sharply.

"You mean to do that? You must know it will cause trouble," she said
with a frown.

"I'm sorry to displease you; but this is something that must be done."

"Why must it? Do you wish Lance to offend his father?"

"No; but Colonel Mowbray has no cause for complaint. He gave the land to
Lance on the understanding that he worked it; there's no reason why he
should object to his using the best implements. Then, Lance is your
brother and I don't want to see him ruined."

Beatrice blushed under his frank gaze; and because she was annoyed at
doing so, she flung out a taunt:

"Do you think the only way of escaping ruin is to copy you?"

Harding laughed. He loved her in that mood. She looked so alluring with
a little frown between her brows and just the suspicion of a pout on her
lips.

"You see," he explained, in a voice that he might have used to an
offended child, "your Allenwood friends will have to make a change
soon, or they'll suffer. And their attitude is not logical. Your father
doesn't ask them to cultivate with the spade; they've dropped the
ox-teams and bought Clydesdales; they've given up the single furrow and
use the gang-plow. Why not go on to steam? After all, you're not
standing still: you're moving forward a little behind the times. Why not
keep abreast of them, or push on ahead?"

"It sounds plausible," she admitted. "In a way, perhaps, you're right;
but----"

"I know. There's much that's fine and graceful in the customs of the
past. But you can't preserve them without some adaptation. We're a new
nation working in the melting pot. All the scum and dross comes to the
top and makes an ugly mess, but the frothing up clarifies the rest. By
and by the product will be run out, hard, true metal."

"You're an optimist."

Harding laughed.

"I'm talking at random; it's a weakness of mine."

Beatrice sat silent a moment, looking out over the stretch of brown
furrows.

"Do you intend to continue the breaking to where your partner is at
work?" she asked, putting her thoughts into words.

"I'm going farther back. You can see our guide-poles on the top of the
last ridge."

"But isn't it rash to sow so much, unless you have a reserve to carry
you over a bad harvest? Suppose the summer's dry or we get autumn
frost?"

"Then," said Harding grimly, "there'll be a disastrous smash. I've no
reserve: I'm plowing under every cent I have--staking all upon the
chances of the weather."

"But why do you take such a risk? Doesn't it daunt you?"

He saw a gleam of sympathetic approval in her eyes. She had courage: it
was in the blood of those who stood for lost causes. Suddenly swept off
his feet, he determined to follow the lead she unconsciously had given
him.

"Well," he said, leaning forward on the big plow, "I'll tell you."

He paused with a smile, for he saw that the position he accidentally had
taken was unfortunate. He had associated himself with the machine which,
in a sense, materialized the difference between her people and him. He
did not change his position; instead, one hand moved caressingly over
the clumsy plow while he spoke.

"One gets easily nothing that's worth having; it must be worked and
schemed and fought for. I took the risk for you!"

Beatrice started and an indignant flush suffused her face. She was
alarmed and angry, and yet the shock she felt was not surprise. He had
once given her a plain warning, and she had continued to see him. Her
traditions took arms against him, old prejudices revived, and her pride
was wounded, but something in her turned traitor, and she felt a strange
responsive thrill.

"You do not know what you are saying," she said haughtily, rising from
the tool-box and turning toward a spot of bare ground where the dog was
digging energetically. "Here, Banff!" Then, obeying some impulse which
she did not understand, she added to Harding: "You scarcely know
anything about me!"

"When I met you that night at the river and saw your face in the
moonlight, I knew all that was needful."

The answer moved the girl. She wondered whether one could fall in love
that way. But she must end the interview and escape from an embarrassing
position.

"I am sorry our acquaintance has led to this; I would have prevented it
if I could," she said. "And now, good-afternoon!"

Harding straightened up, and one hand clenched.

"Stop! We're going to thrash this matter out."

His manner was commanding and Beatrice waited, although she was not used
to obeying.

"You were angry at first," he said. "You are rather angry now; but I did
you no wrong."

"I admit that. But I wish this hadn't happened. It has spoiled
everything."

"Then you liked me as a friend?"

"Yes," Beatrice answered hesitatingly; "I'll be frank. You are different
from the men I know."

"Then what have you against me as a lover? Character, person, manners,
or opinions?"

She was silent a moment, feeling that she ought to go away. In staying
she was trifling with danger; but after all he had a right to be heard.

"Oh, I know your people's point of view," he went on; "but I think it is
not altogether yours. In one respect, they're wrong. My mother was the
daughter of a bush pioneer, and in all that's most important I'm her
son; but my father belonged to your own rank. He was brought up as an
English gentleman. I'll show you the evidence I have of this some day,
though it makes no difference."

"It must make a difference," Beatrice insisted with a surprised look.

"It can make none. For some reason his relatives cast him off, and
declined to claim me. I don't know why, and I shall never trouble to
find out. I tell you this because I think you ought to know. It is as
Craig Harding, the prairie farmer, that I stand or fall; my own faults
and merits are the only things that count."

"It's a bold claim you make."

"Well," he said, "so far, I've been clearing the ground. The sure
foundation is the bed-rock of human nature, and we must settle this as
man and woman. I know what you are; I knew when I first saw you; and I
want you. I need you, Beatrice. My love is great enough to master any
doubt you may have, and to hold you safe from all harm. Then, if all
goes well, I can give you what you wish, and put you where you want to
be. The woman I marry will have a wider influence than the wife of any
man at Allenwood; a small matter in the real scale of things, but with
so much against me I must urge all I can." He paused and stretched out
his hands. "You are not afraid, Beatrice. It is not too great a venture
for you?"

She stood still, with a tense expression, struggling against something
that drew her toward him. Prudence, training, and prejudice, urged her
to resist, and yet she was on the point of yielding.

"I _am_ afraid," she said. "Only one thing could justify such a risk."

"That's true; it's what encourages me. You couldn't have made me love
you as I do, unless you were able to give love in return."

She was silent, knowing that what he said was true.

He took a step nearer her, and his own face was tense.

"If you can declare you care nothing at all for me, that it would cause
you no regret if you never saw me again, I'll make the best fight I can
with my trouble and leave you alone for good. You will answer honestly?"

The color swept into her face, for she felt compelled to speak the naked
truth.

"I can't go so far as that," she said in a low voice. "I should feel
regret."

"Then the rest will follow! Why do you hesitate?"

She smiled, for the matter was too serious for trivial embarrassment,
and she knew the man would force her to deal frankly with plain issues.

"You seem so sure?"

"I am, of myself."

"The difficulty is that I'm not an isolated individual, but a member of
a family, and belong to a race that has its code of rules. I must think
of the shock to my parents and my friends; all the pain that any rash
act of mine might give to others. They may be wrong, but what they think
I feel, in a half-instinctive way, that reasoning can't change. I should
have to stand upon defense against my subconscious self."

"I know," he said gently. "But the choice is one that many have to make.
One must often stand alone. It's true that I have all to gain and you
all to risk; but, Beatrice----"

He broke off, and held out both hands appealingly to her.

"Beatrice!"

The girl was deeply stirred. She had not expected him to plead like
this. In her world one took things for granted and implied instead of
asserting them. At Allenwood he was spoken of as a rude, materialistic
iconoclast, but she had found him a reckless idealist; although he made
her feel that instead of being impractical he was dealing with stern
realities. She would have made the great adventure only that she was not
sure of her own heart yet. The consequences were too serious for one to
risk a mistake.

She stood motionless, her eyes veiled by her dark lashes, and he knew
the struggle that was going on within her. In his own eyes there was a
great yearning; but a birthright of the pioneer is patience.

"I'm afraid you ask too much," she said at last. "If you like, you may
think I am not brave enough." She raised her eyes to his; and winced at
the pain she saw there. But she went on bravely: "Had things been
different, I might perhaps have married you, but I think our ways are
separate. And now you must let me go, and not speak of this again."

He bowed, and it struck Beatrice that there was a great dignity in his
bearing.

"Very well," he answered gravely. "I will not trouble you again unless,
in one way or another, you give me permission."

She turned away, and he stood still until long after she and the dog
had disappeared in the bluff. Then he roused himself with a laugh.

"I won't get her this way!" he said half aloud, and picked up some of
the fittings of the pump.

Beatrice went straight to her mother, for there was strong confidence
between the two.

"So you refused him!" Mrs. Mowbray said, after listening silently while
Beatrice was telling her of the interview. "Did you find it hard?"

"Yes," she answered slowly; "harder than I thought. But it was the only
way."

"If you felt that, dear, it certainly was so."

Beatrice looked up in surprise, but her mother's face was quietly
thoughtful.

"You can't mean that I did not do right?"

"No; there's a heavy penalty for leaving the circle you were born in and
breaking caste. It would have hurt me to see you suffer as you must have
done. Only the very brave can take that risk."

The girl was puzzled. Her mother agreed with her, and yet she had
faintly reflected Harding's ideas.

"Well," Beatrice said, "I shrink from telling Father."

"I'm not sure that he need know. It would disturb him, and he might do
something that we should regret. On the whole, I think you had better
visit our friends in Toronto as you were asked. They would be glad to
have you for the summer."

"Do you wish me to run away?" Beatrice asked in surprise.

"It might be better for both. Harding is not one of us, but I think he
feels things deeply, and his is a stubborn nature. In a sense, it is
your duty to make it as easy as you can for him."

Beatrice looked at her mother curiously.

"You seem more concerned about Mr. Harding than I expected."

"He gave your brother his coat in the blizzard and saved his life," Mrs.
Mowbray answered. "That counts for something."

The girl hesitated a moment.

"Well, I'll go to Toronto," she promised.



CHAPTER XIV

A BOLD SCHEME


One morning a week or two after his meeting with Beatrice, Harding drove
his rattling engine across the plowed land. His face was sooty, his
overalls were stained with grease, and now and then a shower of cinders
fell about his head. Behind him Devine stood in the midst of a
dust-cloud, regulating the bite of the harrows that tossed about the
hard, dry clods. It was good weather for preparing the seedbed, and the
men had been busy since sunrise, making the most of it. Spring comes
suddenly in the Northwest, the summer is hot but short, and the grain
must be sown early if it is to escape the autumn frost.

When they reached the edge of the breaking, Harding stopped the engine,
and, taking a spanner from a box, turned to look about. The blue sky was
flecked with fleecy clouds driving fast before the western breeze. The
grass had turned a vivid green, and was checkered by clusters of crimson
lilies. The ducks and geese had gone, but small birds of glossy black
plumage with yellow bars on their wings fluttered round the harrows.

"Looks promising," Harding said. "The season has begun well. That's
fortunate, for we have lots to do. I'd go on all night if there was a
moon."

"Then I'm glad there isn't," Devine replied; "I want some sleep. But
this jolting's surely rough on the machine. I wasn't sure that new
locomotive type would work. She's too heavy to bang across the furrows
with her boiler on board."

"She'll last until I get my money back, which is all I want. The
rope-haulage pattern has its drawbacks, but the machine we're using
won't be on the market long. They'll do away with furnace and boiler,
and drive by gasoline or oil. I'd thought of trying that, but they
haven't got the engine quite right yet."

"You look ahead," Devine commented.

"I have to; I must make this farm pay. Now if you'll clear the harrows,
I'll tighten these brasses up."

He set to work, but while he adjusted the loose bearing Devine announced
in a whisper:

"Here's the Colonel!"

Harding saw Mowbray riding toward them, and went on with his task.
Beatrice had no doubt told her mother about his proposal, and he could
imagine the Colonel's anger if he had heard of it. Pulling up his horse
near the harrows, Mowbray sat silent, watching Harding. Fastidiously
neat in dress, with long riding gloves and a spotless gray hat, he
formed a marked contrast to the big, greasy man sprinkled with soot from
the engine.

"I regret, Mr. Harding, that after the service you did my son, I should
come with a complaint when I visit you."

"We'll let the service go; I'll answer the complaint as far as I can."

"Very well. I was disagreeably surprised to learn that you have
persuaded my friends to take a course which the majority of our council
decided against, and to which it is well known that I object."

Harding felt relieved. Mowbray did not seem to know of what he had said
to Beatrice, and his grievance did not require very delicate handling.
Harding was too proud to conciliate him, and as he could expect nothing
but uncompromising opposition, he saw no necessity for forbearance.

"The majority was one, a casting vote," he said. "If you are referring
to my plowing for some of your people, I did not persuade them. They saw
the advantage of mechanical traction and asked me to bring the engine
over."

"The explanation doesn't take us far. It's obvious that they couldn't
have experimented without your help."

"I hardly think that's so. There are dealers in Winnipeg and Toronto who
would be glad to sell them the machines. If three or four combined, they
could keep an engine busy and the cost wouldn't be prohibitive."

"Our people are not mechanics," Mowbray said haughtily.

"I'm not sure that's a matter for congratulation," Harding answered with
a smile. "But I never drove a steam-plow until a few weeks ago, and
there seems to be no reason why your friends shouldn't learn. You don't
claim that they're less intelligent than I am."

"Your talents run in this direction," Mowbray retorted with a polished
sneer.

"In a way, that's fortunate. When you're farming for a profit, you want
to be able to do a little of everything. Some of the Allenwood boys are
pretty good horse-breakers, and you approve; why managing an engine
should be objectionable isn't very plain."

"It is not my intention to argue these matters with you."

"Then what is it you want me to do?"

"To be content with using these machines on your own land. I must ask
you to leave Allenwood alone."

"I'm afraid you ask too much," Harding replied. "I can't break off the
arrangements now without a loss to your friends and myself, and I see no
reason why I should do so."

"Do you consider it gentlemanly conduct to prompt men who acknowledge me
as their leader to thwart my wishes?"

"Hardly so. Where you have a clear right to forbid anything that might
be hurtful to the settlement, I'd be sorry to interfere."

Mowbray's eyes glinted.

"Do you presume to judge between my people and me?"

"Oh, no," Harding answered with good humor. "That's not my business; but
I reserve the right to do what's likely to pay me, and to make friends
with whom I please, whether they belong to Allenwood or not."

Mowbray was silent a moment, looking down at him with a frown.

"Then there's nothing more to be said. Your only standard seems to be
what is profitable."

Mowbray rode away, and Devine laughed.

"Guess the Colonel isn't used to back talk, Craig. If he wasn't quite so
high-toned, he'd go home and throw things about. What he wants is
somebody to stand right up to him. You'll have him plumb up against you
right along; where you look at a thing one way, he looks at it another.
It's clean impossible that you should agree."

"I'm afraid that's so," said Harding. "And now we'll make a start
again."

The ribbed wheels bit the clods, and the engine lurched clumsily across
the furrows, with the harrows clattering as they tore through the
tangled grass roots and scattered the dry soil. Harding was violently
shaken, and Devine half smothered by the dust that followed them across
the breaking. It was not a dainty task, and the machine was far from
picturesque, but they were doing better work than the finest horses at
Allenwood were capable of. The sun grew steadily hotter, the lower half
of Harding's body was scorched by the furnace, and the perspiration
dripped from his forehead upon his greasy overalls, but he held on until
noon, with the steam gradually going down. The boiler was of the
water-tube type and the water about Allenwood was alkaline.

"She must hold up until supper, and I'll try to wash her out afterward,"
he said.

"You were at it half last night," Devine objected.

"That's the penalty for using new tools. They have their tricks, and
you've got to learn them. I don't find you get much without taking
trouble."

"I believe you're fond of trouble," Devine answered, laughing.

They went home together, for Devine often dined with the Hardings. They
had just finished the meal of salt pork and fried potatoes when there
was a rattle of wheels. Hester was putting the dessert--hot cakes
soaked in molasses--and coffee on the table, but she went to the door.

"A stranger in a buggy!" she announced.

Harding was surprised to see the Winnipeg land-agent getting down, but
he greeted him hospitably.

"Come in and have some dinner," he invited.

Davies entered and bowed to Hester.

"No, thanks. As I didn't know where I'd be at noon, I brought some lunch
along. But if it won't trouble Miss Harding, I'll take some coffee."

He sat down and the men lighted their pipes; and Hester studied the
newcomer as she removed the plates. He was smartly dressed and had an
alert look, but while there was nothing particular in his appearance
that she could object to, she was not prepossessed in his favor. Davies
had already noticed that the room was of a type common to the prairie
homesteads. Its uncovered floor was, perhaps, cleaner than usual when
plowing was going on, and the square stove was brightly polished, but
the room contained no furniture that was not strictly needed. There was
nothing that suggested luxury; and comfort did not seem to be much
studied. On the other hand, he had noticed outside signs of bold
enterprise and a prosperity he had not expected to find. Davies was a
judge of such matters, and he saw that his host was a man of practical
ability.

"What brought you into our neighborhood?" Harding asked.

Davies smiled.

"I'm always looking for business, and I find it pays to keep an eye on
my customers. Some of them have a trick of lighting out when things go
wrong, and leaving a few rusty implements to settle their debts.
Financing small farmers isn't always profitable."

"They can't take their land away," Devine said. "I guess you don't often
lose much in the end."

"Land!" exclaimed Davies. "I've money locked up in holdings I can't
sell, and have to pay big taxes on."

"You'll sell them all right by and by, but of course you know that,"
Harding replied. He gave the land-agent a shrewd look. "You have a call
or two to make at Allenwood, and would rather get there in the
afternoon?"

"True! The boys might find it embarrassing if I showed up just now.
They're willing to do business with me, and when they're in Winnipeg
they'll take a cigar or play a game of pool; but asking me to lunch is a
different matter." He continued smiling, but Hester, who was watching
him closely, thought there was something sinister in his amusement as he
added: "They stick to the notions they brought from the Old Country, and
I don't know that they'll find them pay."

"I shouldn't imagine all the business you'd get at Allenwood would have
made a trip from Winnipeg worth while," Harding said.

"That's so," Davies agreed, as if eager to explain. "I'd a call in
Brandon, and wanted to look up some customers in the outlying
settlements. When I got so far, I thought I'd come on and see how this
country's opening up. I notice the boys are doing pretty well."

"You don't mean at Allenwood? You haven't been there yet."

"No; this is my first trip, and I expect it will be my last. Is there
much doing yonder?"

"The land's all right. They hauled out some fine wheat last fall.
Stock's better than the usual run, and they've the finest light horses
I've seen."

"That's more in their line than farming," Davies replied. "You wouldn't
call raising horses a business proposition just now?"

Hester thought the men were fencing, trying to learn something about
each other's real opinions. Craig looked careless, but Hester was not
deceived. She knew him well, and saw that he was thinking.

"Prices are certainly low; but it strikes me you had better keep out of
Colonel Mowbray's way," Harding said. "If he suspected that any of the
boys had dealings with you, he'd make trouble, and probably insist upon
paying you off."

Davies looked hard at him. He was not prepared to admit that he had lent
money at Allenwood, but he could not tell how much Harding knew.

"One seldom objects to being paid a debt. Has the Colonel much money to
spare?"

"I don't know; I can't claim to be a friend of his."

"Well, it doesn't matter, as I've nothing to do with him. Now that I'm
here, I'll say that I'd be glad to accommodate you and your partner if
you want to extend your operations or hold on for better prices at any
time. You're putting in a big crop."

"Thanks; I don't think we'll make a deal," Devine drawled. "We don't
farm for the benefit of another man. When I haul my wheat to the
elevators I want the money myself, and not to turn it over to somebody
else, who'll leave me a few pennies to go on with."

Davies took his leave soon afterward, and Devine and Harding went back
to the plow. They had some trouble in keeping steam, and after a little
the heavy engine sank into the soft soil as they crossed a hollow where
the melting snow had run. The ribbed wheels went in deeper as they
crushed down the boggy mold, and ground up the fence posts the men
thrust under them. Before long they were embedded to the axle, and
Harding turned off the steam.

"Bring the wagon and drop me off a spade as you pass," he said. "I'll
dig her out while you drive to the bluff and cut the biggest poplar logs
you can find."

When Devine hurried away he sat down and lighted his pipe. Until he got
the spade there was nothing to be done and much to think about. To begin
with, Davies' visit had turned his attention upon a matter that had
already occupied his thoughts, and proved it worth consideration. The
Allenwood homesteads were the best in the country, the settlement was
fortunately located, and its inhabitants were people of intelligence.
Their progress had been retarded by customs and opinions out of place on
the prairie, but they might go a long way if these were abandoned. They
were farming on the wrong lines, and wasting effort, but Harding did not
think this would continue. Already some among them were pressing for a
change. Harding was ready to work his big farm alone, but he looked to
Allenwood for help that would benefit all.

The matter, however, had a more important side. Although Beatrice had
refused him he did not despair; she had shown that she did not regard
him with complete indifference. It was not his personal character, but
his position and her father's hostility that stood in the way, and these
were obstacles that might be overcome. He could expect nothing but the
Colonel's stern opposition, and he must carefully arm himself for the
fight; he did not undervalue the power of his antagonist.

Devine returned and threw him down a spade, and for the next hour
Harding worked steadily, digging a trench to the buried wheels and
beating its bottom flat. When his comrade came back they lined it with
the logs he brought, and Harding started the engine. The machine shook
and rattled, straining and panting under a full head of steam, but the
wheels churned furiously in the soil and smashed the ends of the logs
they bit upon. One big piece shot out of the trench and narrowly missed
Devine, who fell among the harrows when he jumped. Harding stopped the
engine as his friend got up.

"This won't do," he said. "We'll cut a log into short billets."

They packed some, split into sections, under the wheels, and Harding
restarted the engine.

"Now," he said, "you can shove the rest in as she grinds them down."

The wheels spun, splintering the timber, rising a few inches and sinking
again, while the big machine shook and tilted in danger of falling over.
Harding, standing on the slippery plates, opened the throttle wide, and
after a while the front rose to a threatening height while the logs
groaned and cracked.

"Stand clear!" he cried. "She's climbing out!"

The engine straightened itself with a dangerous lurch, rolled forward,
gathering speed, and ran out on to firmer ground. They had no further
trouble, and when dusk settled down and the air grew sharp, Harding drew
the fire and blew the water out of the boiler.

"After all, we have done pretty good work to-day," he said. "I'll come
back and tend to those tubes as soon as she cools."

They went home together, and after supper was finished, they sat smoking
and talking in the kitchen. It was now sharply cold outside, but the
small room was warm and cheerful with the nickeled lamp lighted and a
fire in the polished stove.

"The mortgage man was trying to play you," Devine remarked. "He
certainly didn't learn much. Do you reckon he has been lending money to
the Allenwood boys?"

"I think it's very likely."

"Then, with their way of farming and wheat going down, they won't be
able to pay him off."

"No; and he doesn't want them to pay him off," Harding answered.

"You mean he wants their farms?"

"Yes; he'll probably get them, unless somebody interferes."

"Ah!" exclaimed Devine. "Who's going to interfere? ... Now _you_ have
been thinking of something all afternoon."

Harding smiled.

"It's possible I may see what I can do," he admitted.

"You're a daisy!" Devine exclaimed. "It wouldn't surprise me if you
thought of buying up the Canadian Pacific. All the same, I don't see
where you're going to get the money. What do you think, Hester?"

Hester laid down her sewing.

"Isn't it too big a thing, Craig? You have a great deal of land now,
and even if you get a good harvest, you'd hardly have money enough to
sow another crop and leave enough to carry you over a bad season."

Harding quietly lighted his pipe, and there was silence for a few
minutes. His sister and her fiancé knew him well and had confidence in
his ability; he had so far made good, but the boldness of this last
scheme daunted them.

"Farming has two sides," he said presently. "You want to raise the best
and biggest crop you can; and then you want to handle your money well.
That's where many good farmers fail. Bank your surplus and you get
market interest, but nothing for your knowledge and experience. The
money ought to be put into new teams and the latest machines, and after
that into breaking new land. If you make a profit on two hundred acres,
you'll increase it by a third when you break a hundred acres more, not
to mention what you save by working on a larger scale. Well, I see what
could be done with a united Allenwood where every man worked jointly
with the rest, but the settlement needs a head."

"It has one. Colonel Mowbray is not likely to give up his place," Hester
answered.

"He may not be able to keep it. There's another claimant--this fellow
Davies, and he's not a fool. I can't tell you yet whether I'll make a
third. It wants thinking over."

The others did not reply. They agreed that the matter demanded careful
thought. After a short silence, Hester changed the subject.

"I saw Mrs. Broadwood to-day, and she told me that Miss Mowbray had
gone East for the summer. As she had spoken about staying at Allenwood
all the year, Mrs. Broadwood was surprised."

Harding betrayed his interest by an abrupt movement, yet he made no
answer. On the whole the news was encouraging. He would miss Beatrice,
but, on the other hand, it looked as if she had gone away to avoid him,
and she would not have done so had she been unmoved by what he said to
her. He regretted that he had driven her away; of course he might be
mistaken, but there was hope in the suspicion he entertained.

"Well," he said, after a minute or two, "I'll go along and fix that
boiler."



CHAPTER XV

HARVEST HOME


It was a good summer at Allenwood, for the June rains were prolonged.
The mornings broke cool and breezy, but, as a rule, at noon the clouds
which had sailed eastward singly began to gather in compact banks. Then
would come a roll of thunder and a deluge that might last an hour, after
which the prairie lay bright in the sunshine until evening fell. The
grass rippled across the waste in waves of vivid green, with flowers
tossing beneath the gusts like wreaths of colored foam. Wild barley
raised its spiky heads along the trails, and in the hollows the natural
hay grew rank and tall. No sand blew from the bare ridges to cut the
tender grain, which shot up apace and belted the prairie with its darker
verdure.

Harding found full scope for his energies. He worked late and early in
the fierce July heat. He had bought heavy horses because he could not
reap by steam, and he had to build barns and stables of ship-lap lumber.
Then there was prairie hay to cut, and after stripping the nearer
hollows he must drive far across the plain to seek grass long enough in
the sloos where the melted snow had run in the spring. This brought him
into collision with Mowbray, who came upon him one morning driving a
mower through dusty grass which the Colonel had marked down for his own.
Perhaps what annoyed the old man most was to see the American using an
extra horse and a knife that would cut a wider swath than any at
Allenwood. He thought this a sign of the grasping spirit of the times.

Mowbray contended that the grass was his, because it had long been cut
for use at the Grange; and Harding replied that, as the land was
unoccupied, neither had any prescriptive right and the hay could be
harvested by the firstcomer. When the Colonel grew angry, Harding
yielded the point and suggested that the sloos be mown turn about. To
this Mowbray agreed reluctantly, because he saw he could not keep in
front of a rival who had with perverse unfairness provided himself with
better implements.

After the hay was gathered Harding's new buildings had to be roofed, and
when the house grew insufferably hot Hester baked and cooked and washed
in a lean-to shed.

In the meanwhile, the grain was ripening fast, and when the riotous
Northwest wind began to die away the oats turned lemon and silver, and
the wheat burnished gold. The mornings were now sharply cold, and as the
green sunset faded the air grew wonderfully bracing.

Harding and Devine had been working steadily for fourteen hours a day,
but they must nerve themselves for a last tense effort. After the great
crop had been hauled to the elevators there would be time to rest, but
until this was done the strain both were feeling must be borne. The new
binders were got out when the Ontario harvesters, who had been engaged
by Harding's agents, began to arrive, bringing with them a Chinese cook.
Western harvesters are generously fed, and Harding would not have his
sister overtaxed.

Soon after he started his harvest, Beatrice returned from Toronto. It
was late afternoon when she drew near Allenwood. She was tired with the
long journey, but she did not object when Lance made a round which would
take them past Harding's farm. He said the longer trail was smoother.

The sun hung large and red on the horizon; the air was clear; and the
crimson light raked the great field of grain. In the foreground the
stooked sheaves, standing in long ranks, cast blue shadows across the
yellow stubble; farther back the tall wheat ran, it seemed, right across
the plain, shining in the sunset like burnished copper. Above the
crimson on the prairie's edge the sky was coldly green.

At first it was the magnitude of the field and its glow of color that
struck the girl. Harvest scenes were not new to her, and, indeed, she
seldom gazed on one without feeling stirred; but she had never seen a
harvest like this. It filled her with a sense of Nature's bounty and the
fruitfulness of the soil, but as her eyes grew accustomed to the glaring
light she noticed signs of human activity. The splendid crop had not
sprung up of itself. It was the reward of anxious thought and sturdy
labor, and she began to appreciate the bold confidence of the man who
had planted it.

Along the wall of wheat moved a row of machines, marshaled in regular
order and drawn by dusty teams. She could see by the raw paint that most
of them were new; and, leaning back in her seat, she listened to their
rhythmic clink. Noting their even distance, and the precision with which
the sheaves they flung aside rose in stooks behind them, she saw that
there was nothing haphazard here. The measured beat of this activity
showed the firm control of a master mind. No effort was wasted: action
had its destined result; and behind this thought she had a
half-conscious recognition of man's working in harmony with Nature's
exact but beneficent laws. Duly complied with, they had covered the
waste with grain. Glancing across it, the girl felt a curious thrill.
The primeval curse had proved a blessing; seed-time and harvest had not
failed; and here, paid for by the sweat of earnest effort, was an
abundance of bread.

Moved as she was, she had a practical as well as an imaginative mind,
and she noted the difference between Harding's and the Allenwood
methods. What he had told her was true: her friends could not stand
against such forces as he directed.

"It's worth looking at," Lance remarked. "I wanted you to see it because
Harding's being talked about just now. I can't explain how he has broken
so much ground with the means at his command, but it's a triumph of
organization and ability."

"I suppose Father isn't pleased?"

Lance laughed as he flicked up his horses.

"That hardly expresses it. I rather think he regards our friend's
industry as a dangerous example; but he's most of all surprised. He
fully expected to see Harding ruined."

Just then one of the binders stopped, and its driver raised his hand.
The machines behind swung round him as they came up and fell into line
again while he busied himself with his team. A few moments later he
mounted a big, barebacked Clydesdale that came at a clumsy gallop
through the stubble and passed on down the trail.

"It's Harding," said Beatrice. "He must have run out of twine."

"I don't think so," Lance answered. "Harding's not the man to run out of
anything. It's more likely a bolt has broken, and he's going for
another; he'll have duplicates on hand."

Beatrice did not wish to appear curious about their neighbor, but she
asked one or two cautious questions as they drove on.

"Well," said Lance, "though our experiments are not exactly popular,
several of us are trying to copy him in a modest way, and I'm glad I let
him do some breaking for me by steam. The Colonel was disagreeable about
it, but he admitted my right to do as I liked; and the result is that I
have a crop partly stooked up that will make it easy to pay Harding off,
and leave me some money in hand."

"What do you mean by paying Harding off?" Beatrice asked sharply.

Lance looked confused.

"I didn't intend to mention it--you'll keep it to yourself. I'd got into
a bit of a mess shortly before I was hurt at the ravine, and Harding
paid up the money-lender I'd gone to in Winnipeg. What's more, he beat
the fellow down, so that I only had to account for what I actually got."

"Ah!" said Beatrice. "Now I understand your restlessness when you were
ill. But on what terms did Harding lend you the money?"

"He made only one condition: that I wouldn't take another bet until I
was free again. Of course, I shall insist on paying him interest.
Harding's a remarkably fine fellow, and I mean to stick to him."

Beatrice felt troubled by the keenness of her gratitude. She was fond of
Lance, but she knew his weaknesses, and she saw that Harding had
rendered him a great service. Moreover, she thought Lance's admiration
for the man was justified. He had turned the lad out of a path that led
through quagmires and set him on firm ground; his influence would be for
good.

Lance gave her the news of the settlement; and when the lights of the
Grange shone out through the creeping dark, everything else was
forgotten in the pleasure of reaching home.

Three weeks later, when the thrasher had gone and the stooked sheaves
had vanished, leaving only the huge straw wheat bins towering above the
stubble, Harding drove to the Grange one evening with Hester and Devine.
He had not entered the house for several months, and felt diffident
about the visit, but Lance had urged him to come. The Allenwood Harvest
Home was, he said, a function which everybody in the neighborhood was
expected to attend. Besides, they had been fortunate in getting a
clergyman from a distant settlement to take the service, and he was
worth hearing.

The days were shortening rapidly, and when the party reached the Grange
a row of lamps were burning in the hall. The moose heads had gone, and
in their place sheaves of grain adorned the walls. Between the sheaves
were festoons of stiff wheat ears and feathery heads of oats, warm
bronze interspersed with cadmium and silver, and garlands of dry, blue
flax. All had been arranged with taste, and the new flag that draped the
reading desk made a blotch of vivid crimson among the harmonies of
softer color. A tall, silver lamp behind the desk threw its light on
the ruddy folds, and Harding, glancing at it, felt a certain admiring
thrill. That symbol was honored at Allenwood, standing as it did for
great traditions, and peace and order and justice had followed it to the
West, but it was not for nothing that the new country had quartered the
Beaver of Industry on its crimson field.

He was shown a place with his companions, and Mowbray gave him a nod of
recognition. Harding felt that the Colonel had proclaimed a truce while
they met for thanksgiving. Lance and several others smiled at him as he
quietly looked about in search of Beatrice, whom he could not see. The
hall was filled with handsome, brown-skinned men, and there was
something fine, but in a sense exotic, in their bearing and in the faces
of the women.

All rose respectfully when a young man in white surplice and colored
hood came in. He had a strong, clean-cut face, and carried himself well,
but his manner was quietly reverent. Harding felt that these people from
the Old Country knew how things should be done, and he had a curious
sense of kinship with them. It was as if he were taking part in
something familiar; though this was the first Anglican service he had
attended.

A man at the rather battered grand piano struck a few chords, and
Harding saw Beatrice when the opening hymn began. She stood a few yards
away, but her voice reached him plainly. It was, he recognized,
singularly sweet and clear, though he knew nothing of the training and
study that had developed it. He could pick it out from the others, and
as he listened his lips quivered and a mistiness gathered in his eyes.
Harding was not, as a rule, particularly imaginative or sensitive, but
he was capable at times of a strange emotional stirring.

   "The sower went forth sowing,
    The seed in secret slept."

He had heard it sung before, and it had meant little to him, but now he
saw how true it was in a stern, practical sense.

   "Through weeks of faith and patience!"

Well, there was need of both, when glaring skies withheld all moisture
and withering winds swept the dead, gray waste. This year, however, the
prairie had blossomed under the genial warmth and rain. Bounty was the
note that the tall green wheat had struck. But the voice he loved sang
on:

   "Within an hallowed acre,
    He sows yet other grain."

The emotion he felt grew keener; memories awoke, and a line from
Longfellow ran through his mind, "Her mother's voice, singing in
Paradise." He heard the hymn, grasping its impressive analogy while he
thought of the strong, brave, patient woman who had upheld his
easy-going father at his uncongenial task. Harding knew now what he owed
his mother. He had, indeed, known it long, but love had quickened all
his senses and given him a clearer vision.

When the music stopped, he set himself to listen, with Beatrice's face
seen now and then in delicate profile. He saw that Psalm and Lesson and
Collect were chosen well, and that the order of these people's prayers,
with all its aids of taste and music, was not a mere artistic formula.
It was the embroidered sheath that held the shining sword.

Harding, however, was not the only one to feel an emotional quickening,
for there were those at Allenwood whose harvest thanksgiving was
poignant with regret. It reminded them too keenly of the quiet English
countryside where autumn mists crept among the stubble; of an ancient
church with stained glass windows and memorial brasses to those who bore
their name; of some well-loved, now sleeping beneath the sod. After all,
they were exiles, and though they had found a good country, the old one
called to them.

Mrs. Mowbray's face was sad, and her husband, who sat beside her, looked
unusually stern.

Beatrice, with all the rich imagery of harvest before her eyes and in
her ears, was thinking of one great wheatfield, and of the man who had
reclaimed it from the wilderness. She had seen him come in, and had
noticed that he looked worn. His figure was somewhat fined down and his
face was thin. It was a strong face and an attractive one; the character
it reflected was wholesome. There was nothing about the prairie man to
suggest the ascetic, yet Beatrice vaguely realized that strenuous toil
and clean ambition had driven the grosser passions out of him.

The clergyman walked to the flag-draped pulpit, and Beatrice tried to
collect her wandering thoughts. As he read out the text she started, for
it seemed strangely apposite.

      "He that soweth little shall reap little; but he that
      soweth plenteously shall reap plenteously."

She suspected him of no desire to attack the customs of his
congregation, for he must be ignorant of the line they took at
Allenwood, but his words were edged with biting truth. At first he spoke
of the great lonely land they had entered: a land that was destined to
become one of the world's granaries and, better still, a home for the
outcast and the poor. They, the pioneers, had a special duty and a
privilege--to break the way for the host that should come after them;
and of them was demanded honest service. To sow plenteously; to be
faithful in the minor things--choosing the wheat that ripened early and
escaped the frost, filling the seeder with an open hand, sparing no
effort, and practising good husbandry; and withal blazing the trail by
marks of high endeavor, so that all who followed it could see.

Then he spoke of the fruitful season and the yield of splendid grain.
The soil had returned them in full measure what they had sown, and he
pleaded that of this bounty they should give what they could spare. In
the Old Country which they loved there were many poor, and now in time
of stagnant trade the cities heard the cry of hungry children. There was
one institution which, sowing with generous recklessness, sent none away
unfed, and he begged that they would give something of their surplus.

He stopped, and Hester looked at Harding as the closing hymn began,
showing him the edge of a dollar in her glove.

"Craig," she whispered, "have you any money?"

He pressed three bits of paper into her hand, and, noticing the figures
on the margin of one, she gave him a surprised glance. His face was
unusually gentle, and there was a smile on it. She made a sign of
approval and softly doubled up the bills as she joined in the singing.

Five minutes later the congregation went out into the open air, and
Harding heard Mowbray press the clergyman to remain.

"I'm sorry, but as I'm to preach at Poplar on Sunday, I must make
Sandhill Lake to-night," he answered. "In fact, I must get away at once;
there's no moon and the trail is bad."

He climbed into his rig, and Harding, knowing there was a twenty-mile
journey before him with a dangerous ford on the way, watched him drive
off into the dark with a feeling of admiration. When he next heard about
the man it was that he had been found in winter, returning from a
distant Indian reservation, snow-blind and starving, with hands and feet
frozen.

While Harding was looking for Hester, Mrs. Mowbray came up to him.

"You must stay with the others for our supper and dance," she said. "I
have made your sister promise. I think we can sink all differences
to-night."

Harding smiled.

"I can't refuse. Somehow I feel that the differences aren't so great as
I once supposed."

"Perhaps that's true," Mrs. Mowbray answered thoughtfully. "Though I
dare say you and my husband must disagree about the means you use, you
have, after all, a good deal in common. One's object is the most
important thing."

She left him as Kenwyne came up, and went to speak to one of her
neighbors.

Mowbray had called Beatrice into his study.

"Count this for me," he said, giving her a brass tray filled with paper
currency and silver coin. "I promised I'd send it to the bank, and I may
as well make out the form before I lock the money up."

He went away to get a pen, and on coming back he looked surprised when
Beatrice told him the amount.

"There must be a mistake," he said. "We have never collected so much
before."

"I've counted it twice." Beatrice indicated three bills. "Though I think
everybody was generous, these perhaps explain the difference."

"Consecutive numbers and all fresh; from the same person obviously,"
Mowbray said and put down the bills. "Bad taste on my part and, in a
way, a breach of confidence, but you had seen them and I was surprised."
Then he counted and sealed up the money.

The supper was served in a big, wooden barn, which was afterward cleared
for dancing, and it was some time before Harding had an opportunity for
speaking to Beatrice. She could not avoid him all the evening, and she
did not wish to do so, but she was glad that he met her without
embarrassment.

"I've learned that you got Lance out of trouble," she said after they
had talked a while. "One way and another, he's deeply in your debt."

"Did he tell you?" Harding asked with a slight frown.

"No; that is, it slipped out, and I took advantage of the indiscretion."
Beatrice looked at him steadily. "It has made a difference to the boy; I
imagine he was at a dangerous turning, and you set him straight."

"You must tell nobody else."

"Do you always try to hide your good deeds?"

"I can't claim that they're numerous," Harding answered with a smile.
"Anyway, I had a selfish motive on this occasion; you see, I enjoy
beating a mortgage man."

Beatrice knew the explanation was inadequate, but she was grateful for
his reserve. He was very generous, as she had another proof, for she
knew who had given the three large bills which had surprised her father.
There was, however, nothing more to be said, and she chatted about
indifferent matters until she was called away.

Before the gathering broke up, Harding found himself seated in a corner
of the big hall talking quietly to Mrs. Mowbray. She was interested in
his farming plans and the changes he wanted made, and she listened
carefully, noting how his schemes revealed his character. Now and then
she asked a question, and he was surprised at her quick understanding.
Moreover, he felt that he had her sympathy, so far as she could loyally
give it. When, at length, he went away Mrs. Mowbray sat alone for some
minutes quietly thinking. She could find no opening for hostile
criticism. The honesty of the man's motives and his obvious ability
appealed to her.



CHAPTER XVI

THE BRIDGE


There had been rain since harvest, and the ground was soft when Harding
and his comrade stood beside their smoking teams on the slope of the
ravine. Pale sunshine streamed down between the leafless trees,
glistening upon the pools and wet wheel-ruts that marked the winding
trail. The grade was steep and the torn-up surface was badly adapted for
heavy loads. Harding frowned as he glanced at the double span of
foul-coated horses harnessed to a wagon filled with bags of grain. They
were powerful, willing animals, and it jarred on him to overdrive them,
as he had been forced to do. Besides, except for the steep ascent, he
could have taken his load to the elevators with a single team.

"I hate to abuse good horses, but we must get up," he said when he had
recovered breath. "Watch out the wagon doesn't run back when we make a
start."

Devine drove a birch log behind the wheels and then ran to the leaders'
heads and cracked his whip, while Harding called to the pole-team. For a
few moments the battering hoofs churned up the sloppy trail and the
wagon groaned and shook, the horses floundering and slipping without
moving it. Then with a harsh creak the high wheels began to turn and
they slowly struggled up the hill. Harness rattled, chain and clevis
rang, the steam from the toiling animals rose in a thin cloud, and white
smears streaked their coats as they strained at the collar. The men were
red in face and panting hard, but as they fought the grade they broke
into breathless shouts. Harding was sparing of the whip; but this was
not a time to be weakly merciful, when the load might overpower his
teams and, running back, drag them over the edge. Nor dare he stop again
and subject the animals to the cruel effort of restarting. They must get
up somehow before their strength gave out.

Running with hand upon the bridle, and splashing in the pools, he rushed
the horses at the last ascent; and then threw himself down with labored
breath in the grass.

"This won't do," he panted after a few moments. "We'll have to put up
five or six bags less, and you can figure how many extra loads that will
make before we empty the bins. Then, I hate to keep a man and team
standing by here when they could be hauling another load."

"It's one of the things a prairie farmer runs up against," Devine
remarked.

"Just so. When they can't be put right, you have got to make the best of
them; but this grade can be altered."

"It might," Devine agreed with a doubtful air. "Do you think you can
persuade the Colonel to join you?"

"No; but it's my duty to try. When you have helped Frank up, you can
take the extra team and haul in the cordwood. I'll be back from the
railroad about dark to-morrow."

In the meanwhile, Kenwyne, Broadwood, and Lance Mowbray stood among the
trees about three miles farther down the ravine, looking at the trail to
Allenwood, which led along its edge. Near it the ground fell sharply to
the creek, but the slope was regular, and small trees, blazed with the
ax at intervals, marked a smooth descending line. On the opposite side,
a gully offered an approach to the prairie at an easy gradient.

"We must have the bridge here; but it isn't a job we can manage without
assistance," said Kenwyne. "I don't want to be disrespectful, Lance, but
I hope your father enjoyed his lunch."

Lance grinned.

"As a matter of fact, he did; but unfortunately he read the paper
afterwards and the market report seemed to upset him. To make things
worse, I rashly mentioned that it bore out Harding's prognostications.
In consequence, I expect you'll need all the tact you've got."

"I wish Harding had a little more," Broadwood remarked. "I can be meek,
when it's for the good of the settlement, but our friend's too blunt."

"If he's blunt to-day, there'll be trouble," Lance replied with a
chuckle. "I imagine the Colonel's in fighting form. Here he comes!"

It was in an unusually thoughtful mood that Mowbray rode toward them.
The steady fall in the price of wheat was sufficient to cause him
anxiety, but he had further grounds for feeling disturbed. There was an
unsettling influence at work at Allenwood; plans were being mooted which
he thought originated with Harding; and, worse than all, he suspected
that his household was not altogether with him. Gerald certainly showed
unexpected sense in denouncing the innovations; but Mowbray had doubts
about Beatrice, who seemed to be cultivating Miss Harding's
acquaintance; and even his wife now and then took the part of the
offender. Besides, there were, so to speak, portents of change in the
air, and Mowbray felt that he was being driven where he did not mean to
go. He blamed Harding for this, and thought it was time he put a stop to
the fellow's encroachments. For all that, he greeted the waiting men
pleasantly when he dismounted.

"The days are getting colder, but it's a bracing afternoon," he said.
"Now, perhaps we'd better walk over the line of the proposed trail."

They took him along the side of the ravine, and Kenwyne, stopping now
and then, drew his attention to a plan he carried.

"We'll need about forty feet of log underpinning at this point, and
you'll see that it's provided for," he said. "On the next section
there's a good deal of soil to move; I have an estimate of the number of
wagon loads." Farther on he stopped again. "From here to the bridge it
will come to only a ton for every three or four yards."

Mowbray studied the plan and some sheets of figures.

"You seem to have thought the matter out very carefully," he commented.

"It needed close attention," said Broadwood.

Mowbray looked at the men keenly.

"There's a comprehensiveness about these plans and calculations that I
did not expect from you," he said dryly. "To tell the truth, I'm
somewhat surprised by them."

They did not answer this, and Kenwyne frowned in warning as he saw
Lance's amused expression.

"The trail would be useful, sir," Broadwood urged.

"I think so. Do you feel competent to make it? The scheme is bolder than
anything of the kind we have undertaken."

"We couldn't attempt it alone. Our idea is to ask for a general levy."

Mowbray nodded, for when they improved the roads at Allenwood the
settlers were called upon to supply labor or money according to the size
of their farms.

"By making an effort we might get the trail cut and the bridge built
before the frost stops us," Kenwyne said. "We couldn't finish the
grading, but the snow would give us a pretty good surface for hauling
our wheat over. The new crossing would save us nearly three miles on the
journey to the railroad, and we ought to get a good load up the easier
incline without doubling the teams."

Mowbray's suspicions grew.

"We have not found the longer distance an insurmountable disadvantage so
far. Why should it trouble you so much now?"

"Some of us have bigger crops this year," Broadwood said.

"Do you think this justifies your taxing your neighbors?"

"No," Broadwood answered incautiously. "We expect they'll follow our
example, and have as much grain as we have next season."

"I see!" Mowbray frowned. "You are working for a change. The system we
have followed so far doesn't satisfy you."

"But you cannot imagine, sir, that there's any danger to the settlement
in our growing better crops."

"Of course not. It's the taint of commercialism I object to. However,
let me look at those estimates again."

They had now nearly reached the top of the hill on the opposite side and
Mowbray, sitting down on a birch log, opened the papers. The others
looked at one another dubiously as they heard a beat of hoofs and a
rattle of wheels.

"I notice no allowance for unexpected difficulties, which are bound to
crop up," Mowbray presently remarked. "The work will, as usually
happens, prove harder than it looks. I do not see how you can finish it
before the frost comes."

"We expect to get it done, sir," Kenwyne replied. "In fact, we ventured
to ask Mr. Harding, who has helped us to work the scheme out, to meet
you here. He will be able to give you any information."

"Ah!"

Looking up, Mowbray saw Harding coming down the trail, and the loaded
wagon and the fine Clydesdale horses standing among the trees. The sight
angered him. Harding had not been ruined by his rash experiment, as
Mowbray had honestly believed would happen. On the contrary, he had
prospered, and Mowbray suspected him of a wish to flaunt his success in
the faces of his less fortunate neighbors. It was in a very
uncompromising mood that he waited for him to speak.

"If I can get the help I want from Allenwood, I'll engage to cut this
trail on the terms of the estimates," Harding said. "If extra labor is
required, I'll provide it. You can see the advantages, Colonel Mowbray:
three miles saved on the journey to the elevators, besides doing away
with the need for using an extra team on the grade. You'll save a dollar
or two a load; on a big crop the difference will be striking. The trail
will pay for itself in one season."

"I notice that you confine yourself to the monetary point of view," said
Mowbray.

"I think not. There are other advantages, but I won't speak of them now;
I'd be glad to explain anything about the work."

Mowbray's face hardened. The intruding fellow had insolently declined to
talk over any but the material benefits to be expected. It looked as if
he attached no importance to his opinions; and in one respect Mowbray
was not mistaken. Harding had ideas of progress, mutual help, and good
fellowship with which he did not expect the Colonel to sympathize.

"I do not propose to ask any questions," Mowbray said, getting up and
giving Kenwyne the plans. "I needn't keep you; this work will not be
undertaken with my sanction."

"But it can't be undertaken without it!" Broadwood protested.

"I agree with you. On such matters as a general levy I have power of
veto, and I must warn you that it will be used."

Harding turned away, somewhat red in face, and went back up the trail.
He recovered his good humor, however, when he started his horses and
walked beside them across the withered grass. The prairie was bright
with sunshine, and the wide outlook was cheering. Faint wavy lines of
trees and glistening ponds checkered the great plain; there was not a
house or trail of smoke on it. It was all raw material, ready for him
and others to make good use of.

Presently a buggy appeared over a rise, and Harding felt a thrill of
pleasure as he recognized the team and the driver. When Beatrice reached
him she checked the horses.

"You're going to the elevators with your grain?" she said. "How is it
you came by the Long Bluff?"

"I went round by Willow Gulch in the ravine."

"Then you went to meet Kenwyne and Broadwood where the new trail is to
cross? I've heard something about the matter."

"I did. And I'm afraid I offended Colonel Mowbray."

"So he has stopped the undertaking! I expected it."

"No," said Harding, with a half-humorous air. "The trail will be made,
though I won't be able to begin this season."

Beatrice looked thoughtful.

"I'm sorry about this," she said; "it may cause more trouble. Why can't
you leave us alone?"

"I'm afraid I am meddlesome. But it's hard to leave things alone when
you know they ought to be done."

"That sounds egotistical. Are you never mistaken?"

"Often, but it's generally when I get to planning what I'd like to do."

"I don't quite understand."

"It would certainly be egotistical if I bored you with my crude ideas,"
he answered, smiling.

"Never mind that. I want to know."

"Well," he said, "sometimes you look about to see how you can alter
matters and what plans you can make; but when they're made they won't
always work. It's different when you don't have to look."

Beatrice had a dim perception of what he meant, but she would let him
explain. His point of view interested her; though she knew that she ran
some risk in leading him into confidential talk.

"I don't think you have made it very clear yet."

"I meant that there are times when you see your work ready laid out.
It's there; you didn't plan it--you simply can't mistake it. Then if you
go straight ahead and do the best you can, you can't go wrong."

"But when you don't feel sure? When you haven't the conviction that it
is your task?"

"Then," he said quietly, "I think it's better to sit tight and wait.
When the time to act comes, you certainly will know."

Beatrice pondered this, because it seemed to apply with some force to
herself. He had once urged her to take a daring course, to assert her
freedom at the cost of sacrificing much that she valued. Though she had
courage, she had shrunk from the venture, because she had not the firm
conviction that it was justified. She felt drawn to Harding; indeed, she
had met no other man whom she liked so well; but there was much against
him, and nothing but deep, unquestioning love would warrant her
marrying him. That she felt such love she would not admit. It was better
to take the advice he had given her and wait. This was the easier for
her to do because she believed that he had no suspicion of her real
feeling for him.

"After all," she said, smiling, "your responsibility ends with yourself.
I don't see why you should interfere with other people. You can farm
your land as you think fit, without trying to make us copy you."

"That sounds all right; but when you come to think of it, you'll see
that neither of us can stand alone."

"We got along pretty well before you came."

"I don't doubt it. The trouble is that what was best a few years ago
isn't best now. I wish I could make your father realize that."

"Does it follow that he's mistaken because he doesn't agree with you?"

Harding laughed.

"If I were singular in my way of thinking, I'd be more modest, but all
over the country farmers are getting ready for the change. There's a big
expansion in the air, and your people can't stand out against it."

"Then I suppose we'll be crushed, and we'll deserve our fate." Beatrice
smiled at him as she started the horses. "But at least it will not be
from lack of advice!"



CHAPTER XVII

A HEAVY BLOW


Snow was drifting around the Grange before a bitter wind when Mowbray
sat in his study with a stern, anxious face. The light of the lamp on
his writing table fell upon a black-edged letter that lay beside a
bundle of documents; the big stove in a corner glowed a dull red, and
acrid fumes of burning wood escaped as the icy draughts swept in.
Mowbray's hands and feet were very cold, but he sat motionless, trying
to rally his forces after a crushing blow.

The sound of music reached him from the hall, where some of his younger
neighbors were spending the evening, and he frowned when an outbreak of
laughter followed the close of a song. He had left his guests half an
hour before, when the mounted mail-carrier had called, and he could not
force himself to rejoin them yet. He must have time to recover from the
shock he had received. Since he left the hall he had been trying to
think; but he had no control of his mind and was conscious of only a
numbing sense of grief and disaster.

He looked up as his wife came in. Her movements were generally quiet,
and when she sat down her expression was calm.

"I got away as soon as I could," she said. "I am afraid you have had bad
news."

"Very bad. Godfrey's dead!"

Mrs. Mowbray started. Godfrey Barnett was her husband's cousin. He had
been the managing director of an old-established private bank in which
Mowbray's relatives were interested, and the dividend upon some of the
shares formed an important part of the Colonel's income.

"I'm very sorry," Mrs. Mowbray said softly. "Godfrey was always a
favorite of mine. But it must have been sudden; you did not know that he
was ill."

Her heart sank as she saw her husband's face turn grim. The blow had
been heavier than she thought.

"He said something about not being up to his usual form when he last
wrote, and Alan alludes to a cablegram that should have prepared me, but
I never got it. No doubt it was overlooked. He mentions that the strain
was almost unbearable--the crisis at the office--and the inquest."

"The inquest!"

The Colonel took up an English newspaper.

"It's all here; Alan says there's nothing to add. I've been trying to
understand it, but I can't quite realize it yet. The paper and the
letter came together. I suppose he waited a few days, thinking he had
cabled."

The Colonel paused, and Mrs. Mowbray gave him a sympathetic glance, for
she knew what his forced calm cost. The Mowbrays were stern and quiet
under strain.

"Well?" she said.

"They found Godfrey dead, with a bottle of some narcotic beside him.
The doctor gave evidence that he had prescribed the drug; it seems
Godfrey couldn't sleep and his nerves had gone to bits. The man was
obviously tactful and saved the situation. The verdict was that Godfrey
had accidentally taken too large a dose."

"Ah! You don't think----"

"I dare not think--he was my cousin." Mowbray shivered and pulled
himself together. "Now for the sequel. You haven't heard the worst yet,
if one can call what follows worse."

"Don't tell me. Give me the paper."

He handed her the journal published in an English country town and she
read the long account with a feeling of deep pity. It appeared that when
news of Godfrey's death spread there had been a run on the bank.
Barnett's business was for the most part local; and struggling
shopkeepers, farmers, small professional men, and a number of the
country gentry hurried to withdraw their money. The firstcomers were
paid, but the bank soon closed its doors. Then came the inquest, and
Mrs. Mowbray wondered how the merciful verdict had been procured. It was
all very harrowing, and when she looked up her eyes were wet.

"He must have known!" she said. "It seems heartless to talk about the
financial side of the matter, but----"

"It must be talked about, and it's easier than the other. I think I know
why the bank came down, and perhaps I'm responsible to some extent. When
one of the big London amalgamations wanted to absorb Barnett's, Godfrey
consulted me. I told him I wasn't a business man, but so far as my
opinion went he ought to refuse."

"Why?"

"Barnett's was a small, conservative bank. Godfrey knew his customers;
he was their financial adviser and often their personal friend. The bank
would take some risk to carry an honest client over bad times; it was
easy with the farmers after a poor harvest. Godfrey could give and take;
he managed a respected firm like a gentleman. In short, Barnett's was
human, not a mere money-making machine."

"I can imagine that," Mrs. Mowbray responded. "Would it have been
different if he had joined the amalgamation?"

"Very different. Barnett's would have become a branch office without
power of discretion. Everything would have had to be done on an
unchangeable system--the last penny exacted; no mercy shown a client who
might fall a day behind; one's knowledge of a customer disregarded in
favor of a rule about the security he could offer. I warned Godfrey that
so far as my influence could command it, every vote that went with the
family shares should be cast against the deal; although the amalgamation
had given him a plain hint that they meant to secure a footing in the
neighborhood, whether they came to terms with Barnett's or not."

Mrs. Mowbray thought his advice to his cousin was characteristic of her
husband, and, in a wide sense, she agreed with him. He was a lover of
fair play and individual liberty; but the course Godfrey had taken was
nevertheless rash. Barnett's was not strong enough to fight a
combination which had practically unlimited capital. The struggle had
no doubt been gallant, but the kindly, polished gentleman had been
disastrously beaten. What was worse, Mrs. Mowbray suspected that her
husband was now leading a similar forlorn hope at Allenwood.

"I suppose it means a serious loss to us," she said.

"That's certain. Alan has not had time to investigate matters yet, but I
gather that my relatives do not mean to shirk their responsibility.
Barnett's, of course, was limited, but the name must be saved if
possible and the depositors paid. I will tell Alan that I strongly agree
with this."

It was rash and perhaps quixotic, but it was typical of the man, and
Mrs. Mowbray did not object.

"I'm sorry for you," she said caressingly. "It will hit you very hard."

Mowbray's face grew gentler.

"I fear the heaviest burden will fall on your shoulders; we shall have
to cut down expenses, and there's the future---- Well, I'm thankful you
have your small jointure. Things are going hard against me, and I feel
very old."

"It's unfortunate that my income is only a life interest. The boys----"

"Gerald must shift for himself; he has had more than his share. I don't
think we need be anxious about Lance. The boy seems to have a singularly
keen scent for money."

"But Beatrice!"

"Beatrice," said Mowbray, "must make a good match. It shouldn't be
difficult with her advantages. And now I suppose I'd better go down. I
think the effect of this disaster must remain a secret between us."

He locked up the papers and shortly afterward stood talking to Brand in
a quiet corner of the hall.

"If it wouldn't be an intrusion, I'd like to offer you my sympathy,
sir," Brand said. "The mail-carrier brought me a letter from my English
steward."

"Thank you; it has been a shock. Did you deal with Barnett's?"

"I understand they have handled the estate accounts for many years."

"Then you will be relieved to hear that it's probable all the depositors
will be paid."

Brand made a gesture of expostulation; but Mowbray's mind had taken a
sudden turn.

"So you haven't disposed of your English property!" he commented.

Brand's glance rested on Beatrice, who was standing near, talking to one
of the younger men. Her eyes sparkled with amusement and there was warm
color in her face. Her pose was light and graceful; she seemed filled
with eager gaiety, and Brand's expression hardened.

"No," he replied in a meaning tone; "I may want the place some day.
Perhaps I'd better warn you that I haven't given up hope yet, in spite
of my rebuff."

"I wish she'd taken you," Mowbray said frankly. "It would have been a
relief to me; but I cannot influence her."

Glancing back at Beatrice, Brand was seized by a fit of passion. He was
a strong, reserved man, who had cared little for women--he had, indeed,
rather despised them. Now he had fallen in love at forty-two, and had
been swept away. Hitherto he had generally lived up to a simple code of
honor; but restraints were breaking down. He would have the girl,
whatever it cost him or her. He knew the strength of his position. It
might be necessary to exercise patience, but the odds were on his side.

"This is a matter I must fight out for myself," he said in a hard voice.
"And I mean to win."

Mowbray looked at him in surprise. There was something new and
overbearing in the man's expression which the Colonel resented, but he
supposed he must make allowances.

"You have my good wishes," he said; "but you must understand that that's
as far as I can go."

He moved away and soon afterward Brand joined Beatrice.

"I must congratulate you on your cheerfulness," he smiled. "You seem to
cast a ray of brightness about the place to-night. It drew me. Being of
a cold nature I felt I'd like to bask in the genial warmth."

Beatrice laughed.

"That sounds stilted; one doesn't expect such compliments from you."

"No," Brand said with a direct glance. "I'm old and sober; but you don't
know what I'm capable of when I'm stirred."

"I'm not sure that I'm curious. To tell the truth, it costs me rather an
effort to be gay to-night. Somehow, there's a feeling of trouble in the
air."

Brand thought she had no knowledge of her father's misfortune--it was
unlikely that Mowbray would tell her; but she was clever enough to see
the other troubles that threatened the Grange in common with most of the
homesteads at Allenwood.

"So you face it with a laugh!" he said. "It's a gallant spirit; but I
dare say the boys make it easier for you. Trouble doesn't seem to touch
them."

He looked about the hall, noting the careless bearing of the handsome,
light-hearted young men and the three or four attractive girls. Their
laughter was gay, their voices had a spirited ring, and the room was
filled with warmth and brightness; yet he felt the presence of an
ominous shadow. This afforded him a certain gloomy satisfaction, the
meanness of which he recognized. He knew that he could not win the girl
he desired by his personal merits, but the troubles he thought were
coming might give him his opportunity.

Beatrice was presently glad of an excuse for dismissing him, and when
the others had gone she went to her father, who was standing moodily by
the hearth.

"You don't look well to-night," she said.

"I'm not ill."

"Then you're anxious."

"I must confess that I have something to think about."

"I know," said Beatrice. "Things look black just now. With the wheat
market falling----"

"What do you know about the market?" Mowbray asked in surprise.

"I read the newspapers and hear the boys talk. They're brave and take it
carelessly, but one feels----"

Mowbray gave her a keen glance.

"Well, what do you feel?"

"That I'd like to help you in any way I can. So far, I've taken all you
have given me and done nothing in return."

"You can help," he answered slowly. "It would ease my mind if you
married Brand."

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Not that! I'm sorry, but it's impossible."

He made a gesture of resignation.

"Well, I can't force you."

Beatrice was silent a moment.

"It's hard to refuse the only big thing you have ever asked," she said
hesitatingly. "I really want to help, and I feel humiliated when I see
how little I can do. Mrs. Broadwood and Hester Harding can manage a
farm; Broadwood says he only began to make money after he married." She
paused, seeing Mowbray's frown, and went on with a forced smile:
"However, I can at least cease to be an expense. I have cost you a great
deal one way and another, and now you must give me nothing more."

"I'm afraid I may have to cut down your allowance," he answered
gloomily.

"That's one thing I can save you." She looked at him with diffident
eagerness. "I've been thinking a good deal lately, and I see that if
wheat keeps getting cheaper it may be serious for us all. Couldn't we
take precautions?"

"What kind of precautions?"

"Oh, I can't tell you that--I don't know enough about farming. But
perhaps we could make some changes and economies; break more land, for
example."

"If we lose on what we have broken already, how shall we economize by
plowing more?"

"It sounds logical; but can't you save labor and reduce the average
expense by working on a large scale?"

"Perhaps. But it needs capital."

"A few new horses and bigger plows wouldn't cost very much. We are
spending a good deal of money on other things that are not directly
useful."

Mowbray looked at her with an ironical smile and Beatrice felt confused.
She remembered that she had staunchly defended her father's conservative
attitude to Harding, and now she was persuading him to abandon it.

"This is a new line for you to take," he said. "I should like to know
what has suggested it. Has Mrs. Broadwood converted you, or have you
been talking to the Americans?"

"I meet Mr. Harding now and then, and he generally talks about farming."

"I suppose you can't avoid the fellow altogether, but politeness is all
that is required. He has a habit of exaggerating the importance of
things, and he can only look at them from his point of view."

Beatrice felt guilty. Her father had not forbidden her speaking to the
man; he trusted her to remember what was due to her station. She could
imagine his anger were he to suspect that she had allowed Harding to
make love to her.

"Kenwyne and Broadwood seem to agree with him," she urged.

"They're rank pessimists; you mustn't listen to them. Try to be as
economical as you can; but leave these matters alone. You don't
understand them."

She went to her room, feeling downcast. She had failed to influence him,
but it was partly her fault that she had been unable to do so. She had
wasted her time in idle amusements, and now she must take the
consequences. Nobody except Harding would listen when she wished to talk
about things that mattered. She felt ashamed of her ignorance and of her
utter helplessness. But perhaps she might learn; she would ask Hester
Harding to teach her.



CHAPTER XVIII

COVERING HIS TRAIL


It was bitterly cold in the log-walled room at the back of the
settlement store where Gerald Mowbray sat by the red-hot stove. His
deerskin jacket and moccasins were much the worse for wear, and his face
was thin and darkened by the glare of the snow. For the past month he
had been traveling with a survey party through the rugged forest-belt of
Northern Ontario, living in the open in Arctic weather, until the
expedition had fallen back on the lonely settlement to get fresh
supplies.

All round the rude log-shacks, small, ragged pines, battered by the
wind, and blackened here and there by fire, rose from the deep snow that
softened the harsh contour of the rocky wilderness. This is one of the
coldest parts of Canada. The conifers that roll across it are generally
too small for milling, and its penetration is remarkably difficult, but
a silver vein accounted for the presence of a few hard-bitten miners.
Occasionally they ran some risk of starving when fresh snow delayed the
transport of provisions, and it was only at irregular intervals that a
mail reached them. An Indian mail-carrier had, however, arrived shortly
before the survey party, and Gerald had a letter in his hand, and a
Montreal newspaper lay beside him. The letter troubled him. He was
thankful to be left alone for a few minutes, for he had much to think
about.

Hardship and fatigue had no attractions for him, but he had grown tired
of the monotony of his life at the Grange, and as qualified surveyors
were not plentiful in the wilds, the authorities had been glad to obtain
the services of an engineer officer. Though he was only an assistant,
the pay was good, and he had thought it wise to place himself out of his
creditors' reach. Unfortunately, some of the more persistent had learned
where he had gone, and the letter contained a curt demand for the
settlement of an account. Gerald could not pay it, but the newspaper
brought a ray of hope. He had speculated with part of the money his
father had once given him to pay his debts, and the mining shares he
bought had turned out worthless. Now, however, they were unexpectedly
going up; it seemed that the company had at last tapped a vein of
promising ore. If he could hold out, he might be able to liquidate his
most pressing debts. But this creditor's demand was peremptory and he
could not see how he was to gain time. He wished the men whose harsh
voices reached him from the store would stop talking. They were rough
choppers, of whose society he had grown very tired; and the taciturn
surveyor was not a much better companion.

The surveyor came in before Gerald found a solution of his difficulties.
He was a big, gaunt man. Throwing off his ragged furs he sat down in a
broken chair and lighted his pipe.

"Thermometer's at minus fifty, but we must pull out at sun-up," he
remarked. "Now, as I have to run my corner-line as ordered and the grub
we've been able to get won't last long, I can't take all the boys and
hunt for that belt of farming land."

"Supposititious, isn't it?" Gerald suggested. "We've seen nothing to
indicate there being any soil up here that one could get a plowshare
into. Still, the authorities have rather liberal ideas of what could be
called cultivatable land."

"That's so," the surveyor agreed. "Where I was raised they used to say
that a bushman can get a crop wherever he can fire the seed among the
rocks with a shotgun. Anyway, the breeds and the Indians talk about a
good strip of alluvial bottom, and we've got to find out something about
it before we go back."

"It will be difficult to haul the stores and camp truck if you divide
the gang."

"Sure; but here's my plan." The surveyor opened a rather sketchy map. "I
take the sleds and follow the two sides of the triangle. I'll give you
the base, and two packers. Marching light, by compass, you'll join me
where the base-line meets the side; but you'll do no prospecting survey
unless you strike the alluvial bottom."

"What about provisions?"

"You can carry enough to see you through; the cache I made in advance is
within a few marches of where we meet."

It was not a task that appealed to Gerald. It would be necessary to
cross a trackless wilderness which only a few of the Hudson Bay
half-breeds knew anything about. He must sleep in the snow with an
insufficient camp outfit, and live on cut-down rations, with the risk of
starving if anything delayed him, because the weight he could transport
without a sledge was limited.

He would have refused to undertake the journey only that a half-formed
plan flashed into his mind.

"Suppose I miss you?" he suggested.

"Well," said the surveyor dryly, "that might mean trouble. You should
get there first; but I can't stop long if you're late, because we've got
to make the railroad while the grub holds out. Anyhow, I could leave you
rations for two or three marches in a cache, and by hustling you should
catch up."

Gerald agreed to this, and soon afterward he went to sleep on the floor.
It was early in the evening, but he knew that the next eight or nine
days' work would try him hard.

It was dark when the storekeeper wakened him, and after a hasty
breakfast he went out with the surveyor. Dawn was breaking, and there
was an ashy grayness in the east, but the sky was barred with clouds.
The black pines were slowly growing into shape against the faint glimmer
of the snow. The cold was piercing and Gerald shivered while the
surveyor gave him a few last directions; then he slung his heavy pack
upon his shoulders and set off down the unpaved street. There were
lights in the log shacks and once or twice somebody greeted him, but
after a few minutes the settlement faded behind and he and his
companions were alone among the tangled firs. No sound but the crunch of
snow beneath their big shoes broke the heavy silence; the small trees,
slanting drunkenly, were dim and indistinct, and the solitude was
impressive.

Gerald's lips were firmly set as he pushed ahead. Theoretically, his
task was simple; he had only to keep a fixed course and he must cut the
surveyor's line of march, but in practise there were difficulties. It
is not easy to travel straight in a rugged country where one is
continually forced aside by natural obstacles; nor can one correctly
allow for all the divergences. This, however, was not what troubled
Gerald, for the plan he had worked out since the previous night did not
include his meeting the surveyor. It was the smallness of the quantity
of provisions his party could transport that he was anxious about,
because he meant to make a much longer march than his superior had
directed.

His companions were strong, stolid bushmen, whose business it was to
carry the provisions and camp outfit. They knew nothing about
trigonometry; but they were at home in the wilds, and Gerald was glad
the weather threatened to prove cloudy. He did not want them to check
his course by the sun. Properly, it was northwest; and he marched in
that direction until it was unlikely that anybody from the settlement
would strike his trail; then he headed two points farther west, and,
seeing that the packers made no remark, presently diverged another
point.

Traveling was comparatively easy all day. Wind and fire had thinned the
bush, cleaning out dead trees and undergrowth, and the snow lay smooth
upon the outcropping rock. Here and there they struck a frozen creek
which offered a level road, and when dark came they had made an
excellent march. Gerald was glad of this, because all the food he could
save now would be badly needed before the journey was finished. For all
that, he felt anxious as he sat beside the camp-fire after his frugal
supper.

A bank of snow kept off the stinging wind; there was, fortunately, no
lack of fuel, and, sitting close to the pile of snapping branches, the
men were fairly warm; but the dark pines were wailing mournfully and
thick gloom encroached upon the narrow ring of light. The eddying smoke
leaped out of it and vanished with startling suddenness. Gerald's
shoulders ached from the weight of his pack, and the back of one leg was
sore. He must be careful of it, because he had a long way to go, and men
were sometimes lamed by snowshoe trouble.

The two packers sat, for the most part, smoking silently. Gerald now and
then gave them a pleasant word, but he did not wish their relations to
become friendly, as it was not advisable that they should ask him
questions about the march. Indeed, he shrank from thinking of it as he
listened to the savage wind in the pine-tops and glanced at the
surrounding darkness. The wilderness is daunting in winter, even to
those who know it best; but Gerald with his gambler's instincts was
willing to take a risk. If he went home with the surveyor, ruin awaited
him.

For a time he sat drowsily enjoying the rest and warmth, and then, lying
down on a layer of spruce-twigs, he went to sleep. But the cold wakened
him. One of the packers got up, grumbling, and threw more branches on
the fire, and Gerald went to sleep again.

Starting shortly before daylight, they were met by blinding snow, but
they struggled on all day across a rocky elevation. The snow clogged
their eyelashes and lashed their tingling cheeks until the pain was
nearly unbearable; still, that was better than feeling them sink into
dangerous insensibility. They must go on while progress was possible.
The loss of a day or two might prove fatal, and there was a chance of
their getting worse weather.

It overtook them two days later when they sat shivering in camp with the
snow flying past their heads and an icy blizzard snapping rotten
branches from the buffeted trees. Twigs hurtled about their ears; the
woods was filled with a roar like the sea; the smoke was blinding to lee
of the fire, and its heat could hardly reach them a yard to windward.
Gerald drank a quart of nearly boiling black tea, but he could not keep
warm. There was no feeling in his feet, and his hands were too numbed to
button his ragged coat, which had fallen open. When he tried to smoke,
his pipe was frozen, and as he crouched beneath the snow-bank he
wondered dully whether he should change his plans and face the worst his
creditors could do.

By altering his course northerly when he resumed the march he might
still strike the surveyor's line, but after another day or two it would
be too late. Still, he thought of his father's fury and the shares that
were bound to rise. If he were disowned, he must fall back upon
surveying for a livelihood. It was unthinkable that he should spend the
winter in the icy wilds, and the summer in portaging canoes over rocky
hills and dragging the measuring chain through mosquito haunted bush. He
could not see how he was to avoid exposure when Davies claimed his loan;
but something might turn up, and he was sanguine enough to be content if
he could put off the day of reckoning.

The blizzard continued the next morning and no one could leave camp;
indeed, Gerald imagined that death would have struck down the strongest
of them in an hour. But the wind fell at night, and when dawn broke
they set out again in Arctic frost. One could make good progress in the
calm air, though the glitter was blinding when the sun climbed the
cloudless sky as they followed a winding stream. Then a lake offered a
smooth path, and they had made a good march when dark fell.

In the night it grew cloudy and the temperature rose, and when they
started at daybreak they were hindered by loose, fresh snow. At noon
they stopped exhausted after covering a few miles; and the next day the
going was not much better, for they were forced to flounder through a
tangle of blown-down trees. It was only here and there that the pines
and spruces could find sufficient moisture among the rocks, and they
died and fell across each other in a dry summer.

On the seventh day after leaving the settlement the three men plodded
wearily through thin forest as the gloomy evening closed in. Their
shoulders were sore from the pack-straps, the backs of their legs ached
with swinging the big snowshoes, and all were hungry and moody.
Provisions were getting low, and they had been compelled to cut down
rations. Now the cold was Arctic, and a lowering, steel-gray sky showed
between the whitened tops of the trees. The packers had been anxiously
looking for blaze-marks all afternoon; and Gerald, knowing they would
not find them, felt his courage sink. He was numb with cold, and he
dully wondered whether he had taken too great a risk.

Presently one of the men, who had been searching some distance to the
right, joined his comrade. They spoke together and then turned back to
meet Gerald.

"Say, boss, isn't it time we struck the boys' tracks?" one asked.

"Yes," said Gerald, recognizing that much depended on how he handled the
situation. "We should have picked them up this morning."

The men were silent for a moment.

"Looks as if we'd got off our line," one of them then said resolutely.
"How were you heading?"

"Northwest, magnetic."

"No, sir. You were a piece to the west of that."

"You think so?"

The man laughed harshly.

"Sure! I was raised among the timber; guess I've broken too many trails
not to know where I'm going."

"Well," said Gerald in a confidential tone, "I didn't mention it before
because I didn't want to make you uneasy, but I'm afraid this compass is
unreliable. It hasn't been swiveling as it ought; oil frozen on the cap,
perhaps, or the card warped against the glass. I tried to adjust it once
or twice, but my fingers were too cold." He held it out awkwardly for
them to examine, and it dropped from his mittens. Clutching at it, he
lost his balance and crushed the compass beneath the wooden bow of his
shoe.

Then he stepped back with an exclamation, and the packer, dropping on
his knees, groped in the snow until he brought out the compass with its
case badly bent.

"You've fixed her for good this time; there's an old log where she
fell," he said; and he and his comrade waited in gloomy silence while
Gerald watched them.

They did not suspect him: the thing had passed for an accident; but
Gerald felt daunted by the deadly cold and silence of the bush. His
companions' faces were indistinct and their figures had lost their
sharpness; they looked shaggy and scarcely human in their ragged
skin-coats.

One of the packers suddenly threw down his load.

"We're going to camp right here and talk this thing out," he said, and
taking off his net shoe began to scrape up the snow.

Half an hour later they sat beside a snapping fire, eating morsels of
salt pork and flinty bannocks out of a frying-pan, with a black pannikin
of tea between them. The smoke went straight up; now and then a mass of
snow fell from the bending needles with a soft thud, though there was
scarcely a breath of wind.

"I reckon we've been going about west-northwest since we left the
settlement," one of the men said to Gerald. "Where does that put you?"

"Some way to the south of where I meant to be. Twenty degrees off our
line is a big angle; you can see how it lengthens the base we've been
working along while McCarthy makes his two sides. That means we've lost
most of our advantage in cutting across the corner. Then we were held up
once or twice, and we'll probably be behind instead of ahead of him at
the intersection of the lines. Tell me the distances you think we have
made."

After some argument, they agreed upon them, and Gerald drew a rude
triangle in the snow, though its base stopped short of joining one side.

"If you're right about course and distance, our position's somewhere
here," he said, indicating the end of the broken line.

This placed the responsibility for any mistake upon his companions; but
one of them had a suggestion.

"If we head a few points north, we'll certainly cut McCarthy's track."

"Yes; but we'd be behind him and he can't wait."

"Then if we stick to the line we're on, we'll join."

"If we run it far enough, but we'll have to go a long way first. It's
difficult to catch a man who's marching as fast as you are when you have
to converge at a small angle upon his track."

This was obvious as they looked at the diagram.

"What are you going to do about it?" one of the packers asked.

Gerald hesitated, because his plan might daunt them; moreover he must be
careful not to rouse their suspicion.

"We want food first of all, and we'll have to sacrifice a day or two in
finding the cache. To do so, we'll cut McCarthy's line; this won't be
hard if he's blazed it."

"You'll follow him after you find the grub?"

"No," said Gerald, "I don't think so. He can't leave us much, and we'd
probably use it all before we caught him up. The best thing we can do is
to strike nearly north for the Hudson Bay post. We might get there
before the food runs out."

There was silence for a few moments, and he waited for the others to
speak, for he had carefully ascertained the position of the factory
before he left the settlement. If they missed the remote outpost, or did
not get there soon enough, they could not escape starvation.

"Well," said the first packer, "I guess that's our only plan, but we'll
certainly have to hustle. Better get to sleep now. There'll be a moon in
the early morning, and we'll pull out then."

Gerald made a sign of agreement. His companions had taken the direction
of affairs into their own hands, and he was glad to leave it to them. It
relieved him of responsibility, and they were not likely to blunder
where error would be fatal. When they reached the factory he must find
an excuse for remaining until McCarthy arrived at the settlements and
reported the party missing. It would be mentioned in the papers, a
relief expedition might be despatched, and Gerald's creditors would wait
until the uncertainty about his fate was dissipated. He meant to delay
his reappearance as long as possible; but he knew there was a
possibility of its never being made. One took many chances in the frozen
North.



CHAPTER XIX

THE BLIZZARD


Six weeks had passed since Gerald broke his compass. With head lowered
against the driving snow, he plodded slowly across the plain behind a
team of exhausted dogs. A Hudson Bay half-breed lashed the animals, for
the sledge was running heavily, and, with the provisions all consumed,
the party must reach shelter before night. There was no wood in the
empty waste, the men were savage with hunger, and a merciless wind drove
the snow into their faces. Though scarcely able to drag himself along,
Gerald pushed the back of the sledge, and the two packers followed, each
carrying a heavy bundle of skins to ease the load upon the dogs. The
white men had tried to persuade their guide to make a cache of his
freight, but he had refused. He had served the Hudson Bay from his youth
in the grim desolation of the North, and he proudly stated that he had
never lost a skin. Gerald, finding argument useless, would have tried a
bribe, only, unfortunately, he had nothing to offer.

He had reached the factory scarcely able to walk from snowshoe lameness;
and one of the packers had a frozen foot. The Scottish agent, who was
short of stores, had not welcomed them effusively. It was, however,
impossible to turn them away; he promised them shelter, but he declined
to supply them with provisions to continue their journey. They might
stay, he said, though they must put up with meager fare, and when fresh
stores arrived from the railroad he would see what could be done.

The delay suited Gerald; he limped contentedly about the rude log-house
for some time; but when he and the packer recovered, they found that
they were expected to take part in the work of the post. When the
weather permitted, Gerald was despatched long distances with a
half-breed to collect skins from the Indian trappers; and when
snow-laden gales screamed about the log-house and it might have been
fatal to venture out of sight of it, he was employed in hauling cordwood
from the clearing.

At last some dog-teams arrived with stores, and the agent, seizing the
opportunity of sending out a load of furs, gave his guests just food
enough to carry them to the settlements and let them go with a
half-breed. The journey proved arduous, for during most of it they
struggled through tangled forest filled with fallen pines, and when at
length they reached the plains an icy wind met them in the teeth. Now,
however, they were near the end, and Gerald, stumbling along, pinched
with the bitter cold, speculated dully about the news awaiting him.

His creditors could have done nothing until they learned what had become
of him. That was something gained; and there was a probability of his
being able to pay them off. The shares he owned were going up; there
would be developments when the new shaft tapped the main body of the
ore. The tip he had got from a safe quarter when he made the purchase
was to be trusted after all. Mining companies were not run solely for
the benefit of outside investors, and the directors were no doubt
waiting for an opportune moment for taking the public into their
confidence about their long-delayed success. The last newspaper Gerald
had read, however, indicated that some information had leaked out, and
he hoped that an announcement which would send up the price had been
made while he was in the wilds.

The lashing snow gained in fury. When Gerald looked up, the dogs were
half hidden in the cloud of swirling, tossing flakes. Beyond them lay a
narrow strip of livid white, dead level, unbroken by bush or tuft of
grass. There was, however, no boundary to this contracted space, for it
extended before them as they went on, as it had done without a change
since the march began at dawn. Gerald felt that he was making no
progress and was with pain and difficulty merely holding his ground. The
half-breed struggled forward beside the dogs, white from head to foot,
but Gerald could not see the packers, and felt incapable of looking for
them. Snow filled his eyes and lashed his numbed cheeks, his lips were
bleeding, and his hands and his feet felt wooden with the icy cold.
Lowering his head against the blast, he stumbled on, pushing the back of
the sledge and seeking refuge from bodily suffering in confused thought.

After all, he had no hope of getting free from debt. The most he could
expect was to pay off the men who pressed him hardest; but that would be
enough for a time. Gerald could not face a crisis boldly; he preferred
to put off the evil day, trusting vaguely in his luck. Looking back, he
saw that he might have escaped had he practised some self-denial and
told the truth to his father and his friends. Instead, he had made
light of his embarrassments and borrowed from one man to pay another; to
make things worse, he had gambled and speculated with part of the
borrowed sums in the hope that success would enable him to meet his
obligations. Money had to be found, but Gerald would not realize that
for the man who does not possess it, the only safe plan is to work.
Sometimes he won, but more often he lost; and the Winnipeg mortgage
broker watched his futile struggles, knowing that they would only lead
him into worse difficulties.

Then Gerald began to wonder whether the half-breed, who had nothing to
guide him, could find the settlement. It seemed impossible that he could
steer a straight course across the trackless waste when he could see
scarcely fifty yards ahead. They might have wandered far off their line,
though, so far as one could judge, the savage wind had blown steadily in
front. It was a question of vital importance; but Gerald was growing
indifferent. His brain got numb, and his body was losing even the sense
of pain. The only thing he realized plainly was that he could not keep
on his feet much longer.

At last, when it was getting dark, there was a cry from the half-breed,
and one of the packers stumbled past. He shouted exultantly, the dogs
swerved off their course, and Gerald felt the sledge move faster. The
snow got firm beneath his feet and he knew they had struck a trail. It
must lead to the settlement, which could not be far ahead. Half an hour
later, a faint yellow glow appeared, the worn-out dogs broke into a run,
dim squares of houses loomed out of the snow, and lights blinked here
and there. They were obviously moving up a street, and when they stopped
where a blaze of light fell upon them Gerald leaned drunkenly upon the
sledge. The journey was over, but he was scarcely capable of the effort
that would take him out of the deadly cold.

He saw the half-breed unharnessing the dogs, and, pulling himself
together, he struggled up a few steps, crossed a veranda with wooden
pillars, and stumbled into a glaring room. It was filled with tobacco
smoke and the smell of hot iron, and its rank atmosphere was almost
unbreathable. Gerald began to choke, and his head swam as he made his
way to the nearest chair. The place, as he vaguely realized, was a
hotel, and the packers had already entered because he heard their voices
though he could not see them. There was a stove in the middle of the
room, and a group of men stood about it asking questions. Some one spoke
to him, but he did not understand what the fellow said. Reeling across
the room, he grasped the chair and fell into it heavily.

Exhausted as he was, it was some time before he recovered from the shock
caused by the change of temperature. Some one helped him to throw off
his furs, which were getting wet, and to free him of his big snowshoes.
His sensations were acutely painful, but his head was getting clear,
and, after a while, he followed a man into a colder room where food was
set before him. He ate greedily; and feeling better afterward he went
back to the other room and asked for a newspaper.

He turned to the financial reports; but he could not see the print well,
for he was still somewhat dizzy and the light was trying. The figures
danced before him in a blur, and when he found his shares mentioned it
cost him some trouble to make out the price. Then he let the paper drop,
and sat still for some minutes with a sense of confused indignation. The
shares had gone up, but only a few points. The rogues in the ring were
keeping information back until weak holders were forced to sell. It was
a swindle on the public and, what was more, it meant ruin to him. The
shares would be taken from him before they rose, because he could not
hope to hide his return from his creditors.

The safe arrival of his party would soon be reported in the newspapers;
and to disappear again would result in his being regarded as a defaulter
and a statement of his debts being sent to the Grange. He had borne all
the hardship and danger for nothing! He was no nearer escaping from his
troubles than he had been when he broke his compass in the wilds.

There was, however, one hope left. He must see Davies in Winnipeg. The
fellow was clever, and might think of something, particularly as it was
to his interest to keep Gerald on his feet. He thought he could count on
Davies' support until the loan on mortgage fell due. His thoughts
carried him no farther. He was dazed by fatigue and the shock of
disappointment.

After vacantly smoking for a while, Gerald went off to bed. His room was
singularly comfortless, but a hot iron pipe ran through it and it struck
him as luxurious by contrast with the camps in the snowy waste. Ten
minutes after he lay down he was sound asleep.

The snow had stopped the next morning, and reaching the railroad after a
long and very cold drive, he arrived in Winnipeg the following day and
went straight to Davies' office.

The broker looked up with a curious expression as Gerald came in.

"This is a surprise," he said. "We thought you were lost in the timber
belt."

"It ought to be a relief," Gerald answered, sitting down.

Davies looked amused.

"Oh, so far as my business interests go, it doesn't make much
difference. I have good security for what you owe me."

"But I suspect you're not quite ready to prove your claim to my farm."

For a few moments Davies studied Gerald's face. He wondered how much he
knew about his plans concerning Allenwood, and, what was more important,
whether he might try to thwart them. Young Mowbray was not a fool, and
these people from the Old Country had a strong sense of caste; they
stood by one another and were capable of making some sacrifice to
protect their common interests against an outsider. If Mowbray had such
feelings, he would need careful handling; but Davies was more inclined
to think him a degenerate who placed his own safety before any other
consideration.

"I don't want to prove it yet. It will be time enough when the mortgage
falls due. But what has this to do with things?"

"The trouble is that you may not be able to wait," said Gerald coolly.
"If you will read this letter, you will understand, though I'm not sure
it will be a surprise to you."

He gave Davies the letter demanding payment of his debt, and the broker
saw that he was shrewder than he thought. As a matter of fact, Davies
had been in communication with the other creditors.

"Well," he remarked, "you certainly seem to be awkwardly fixed."

"I am; but I suspect the situation's as awkward for you. This leads me
to think you'll see the necessity for helping me out of the hole. If
these fellows come down on me, their first move will be to try to seize
my land, and you'll have to produce your mortgage. This will make
trouble at Allenwood."

Davies pondered. Though he had long been scheming for a hold on
Allenwood, his position was not very strong yet. He had spent a good
deal of money over his plans and, although he was sure of getting it
back, if he were forced into premature action he would fail in the
object he aimed at. It might accordingly be worth while to spend a
further sum. On the other hand, money was getting scarce with him. Wheat
was falling, trade was slack, and land, in which he had invested his
capital, was difficult to sell. Still, it was undesirable to spoil a
promising scheme for the sake of avoiding a moderate risk.

"I understand your father's unable to pay the debt for you," he said.

"Yes; he'd probably disown me if he heard of it. I don't expect this to
interest you, but some of his neighbors have money, and when they saw
the settlement was threatened they'd raise a fund to buy you out. You
might, of course, make them wait, but if they were ready to find the
cash, you'd have to give up your mortgages when they fell due."

"If these men are so rich, why don't you ask them to lend you the
money?"

"Because I've bled them as much as they will stand, and they'd think the
matter serious enough to hold a council about. This would have the
result I've just indicated. I think you see now that you had better help
me to settle my most pressing claims."

Davies regarded him with a grim smile.

"It strikes me that your talents were wasted in the army. You might have
made your mark in my business if you'd gone into it before you took to
betting. That's your weak spot. A gambler never makes good."

"Perhaps. But what about the loan?"

"Your name wouldn't be worth five cents on paper," said Davies dryly.
"However, if you could get somebody with means to endorse it, I might be
able to discount it for you. The rate would be high."

"Men who wouldn't lend me money would be shy of giving me their
signature."

"That's so; but there's the chance that they might not be called upon to
make good. You'll have to persuade them that things are sure to change
for the better in, say, three months. Can you do so? I must have a solid
man."

Gerald sat quiet for a while, with knitted brows. He had been frank with
Davies because frankness would serve him best; but he understood that
the fellow wanted the signature of one of the Allenwood farmers because
this would strengthen his grasp on the settlement. Gerald saw ruin and
disgrace ahead, but by taking a worse risk than any he had yet run, he
might put off the disaster for three months. Procrastination and a
curious belief that things could not come to the very worst were his
besetting weaknesses. He shrank from the consequences that might result;
but he could see no other way of escape, and he looked up with a
strained expression.

"All right. I will get you a name that you can take. I shall have to go
to Allenwood."

Davies had been watching him keenly.

"Very well," he said. "Sign this, and look in again when you have got
your friend's signature."

Three days later Gerald was back in the broker's office.

"Can you negotiate it now?" he asked nervously, producing the paper.

"Yes," said Davies. "The name's good enough. I know Harding."

After deducting a high rate of interest, he gave Gerald the money, and
then locked the note away with a look of great satisfaction.

Harding's name was forged, and Davies knew it.



CHAPTER XX

A SEVERE TEST


Winter ended suddenly, as it generally does on the plains, and rain and
sunshine melted the snow from the withered grass. Then the northwest
wind awoke, and rioting across the wide levels dried the spongy sod,
while goose and crane and duck, beating their northward way, sailed down
on tired wings to rest a while among the sloos. For a week or two, when
no team could have hauled a load over the boggy trails, Harding was busy
mending harness and getting ready his implements. The machines were
numerous and expensive, but he had been forced to put off their
adjustment because it is risky to handle cold iron in the Canadian
frost. He had been unusually silent and preoccupied of late; but Hester,
knowing his habits, asked no questions. When he was ready, Craig would
tell her what was in his mind, and in the meantime she had matters of
her own to think about. All the work that could be done went forward
with regular precision, and, in spite of Harding's reserve, there was
mutual confidence between the two. Hester was quietly happy, but she was
conscious of some regret.

In a few more months she must leave her brother's house and transfer to
another the care and thought she had given him. She knew he would miss
her, and now and then she wondered anxiously whether any other woman
could understand and help him as she had done. Craig had faults and he
needed indulging.

Then, too, he sometimes gave people a wrong impression. She had heard
him called hard. Although in reality generous and often compassionate,
his clear understanding of practical things made him impatient of
incompetence and stupidity. He needed a wider outlook and more
toleration for people who could not see what was luminously plain to
him. Life was not such a simple matter with clean-cut rules and duties
as Craig supposed. Grasping its main issues firmly, he did not perceive
that they merged into one another through a fine gradation of varying
tones and shades.

Rather late one night Hester sat sewing while Harding was busy at his
writing table, his pipe, which had gone out, lying upon the papers. He
had left the homestead before it was light that morning to set his
steam-plow to work, though nobody at Allenwood had taken a team from the
stable yet. Devine had told her of the trouble they had encountered: how
the soft soil clogged the moldboards, and the wheels sank, and the
coulters crashed against patches of unthawed ground. This, however, had
not stopped Harding. There was work to be done and he must get about it
in the best way he could. At supper time he came home in very greasy
overalls, looking tired, but as soon as the meal was finished he took
out some papers, and now, at last, he laid down his pen and sat with
knitted brows and clenched hand.

"Come back, Craig!" Hester called softly.

He started, threw the papers into a drawer, and looked at his watch.

"I thought I'd give them half an hour, and I've been all evening," he
said, feeling for his pipe. "Now we'll have a talk. I told Fred to order
all the dressed lumber he wanted, and I'd meet the bill. The house he
thought of putting up wasn't half big enough; in a year or two he'd have
had to build again. Then we want the stuff to season, and there's no
time to lose if it's to be ready for you when the harvest's in."

Hester blushed prettily.

"You have given us a good deal already, Craig. We would have been
satisfied with the smaller homestead."

"Shucks!" returned Harding. "I don't give what I can't afford. You and
Fred have helped to put me where I am, and I'd have felt mean if I
hadn't given you a good start off when I'm going to spend money
recklessly on another plan. Now that all I need for the summer's paid
for, I've been doing some figuring."

"Ah! You think of buying some of the Allenwood land?"

"Yes," he said gravely. "It will be a strain, but now's the time, when
the falling markets will scare off buyers. I hate to see things go to
pieces, and they want a man to show them how the settlement should be
run. They have to choose between me and the mortgage broker. It will
cost me a tough fight to beat him, but I think I see my way."

"But what about Colonel Mowbray?"

"He's the trouble. I surely don't know what to do with him; but I guess
he'll have to be satisfied with moral authority. I might leave him
that."

Hester felt sorry for the Colonel. He was autocratic and arbitrary, his
ways were obsolete, and he had no place in a land that was beginning to
throb with modern activity. She saw the pathetic side of his position;
and, after all, the man was of a finer type than the feverish money
makers. His ideals were high, though his way of realizing them was out
of date.

"Craig," she said, "it may be better for Allenwood that you should take
control, but you're running a big risk, and somehow your plan looks
rather pitiless. You're not really hard----"

She paused and Harding smiled.

"I'm as I was made, and to watch Allenwood going to ruin is more than I
can stand for. It would be worse to let the moneylender sell it out to
small farmers under a new mortgage and grind them down until they and
the land were starved. Broadwood and one or two more will help me all
they can, but they haven't the money or the grip to run the place
alone."

"And you feel that you can do it. Well, perhaps you can, but it sounds
rash. You are very sure of yourself, Craig."

"How can I explain?" he said with a half amused, half puzzled air. "The
feeling's not vanity. I have a conviction that this is my job, and now
that I begin to see my way, I have to put it through. I'm not swaggering
about my abilities--there are smarter men in many ways at Allenwood; my
strong point is this: I can see how things are going, and feel the drift
of forces I didn't set in motion and can't control. All I do is to fall
into line and let them carry me forward, instead of standing against the
stream. The world demands a higher standard of economical efficiency;
in using the best tools and the latest methods I'm obeying the call."

"What was it that first fixed your thoughts on Allenwood?" she asked.

"Beatrice Mowbray. I'm going to marry her if I make good."

"You have no doubts about that either?"

"Oh, yes; I have plenty. I know what I'm up against; but human nature's
strongest in the end. She likes me as a man."

Hester understood him. She was to marry a man of her own station, which
would save her many perplexities, but Craig, respecting no standard but
personal merit, would have married above or beneath him with equal
boldness. It was not because he was ambitious, but because he loved her
that he had chosen Beatrice Mowbray. Yet Hester was anxious on his
account.

"It's a big risk," she said. "The girl is dainty and fastidious. There's
nothing coarse in you, but you have no outward polish. Perhaps the
tastes you have inherited may make things easier."

"Well, sometimes I have a curious feeling about these Allenwood people.
I seem to understand them; I find myself talking as they do. There was
something Kenwyne said the other night about an English custom, and I
seemed to know all about it, though I'd never heard of the thing
before."

He got up and knocked out his pipe.

"All that doesn't matter," he said whimsically. "What's important now is
that it's late, and I must have steam up on the plow by daybreak."

For the next week Harding was very busy; and then, coming back to the
house one afternoon for some engine-packing, he found Beatrice alone in
their plain living-room. She noticed the quick gleam of pleasure in his
eyes and was conscious of a response to it, but she was very calm as she
explained that Hester had gone to saddle a horse on which she meant to
ride with her to Mrs. Broadwood's.

"That should give us ten minutes," Harding said. "There's something I
once promised to show you and I may not have a better chance."

Unlocking a drawer, he took out a small rosewood box, finely inlaid.

"This was my father's. Hester has never seen it. I found it among his
things."

"It is beautiful."

Harding opened the box and handed her a photograph.

"That is my mother," he said.

Beatrice studied it with interest. The face was of peasant type, with
irregular features and a worn look. Beatrice thought the woman could not
have been beautiful and must have led a laborious life, but she was
struck by the strength and patience the face expressed.

Harding next took out a small Prayer-book in a finely tooled binding of
faded leather and gave it to her open. The first leaf bore a date and a
line of writing in delicate slanted letters: _To Basil, from his
mother._

"My father's name was Basil," Harding explained, and taking up another
photograph he placed it with its back beside the inscription in the
book. It was autographed: _Janet Harding_.

"I imagine it was sent to him with the book, perhaps when he was at
school," Harding resumed. "You will note that the hand is the same."

This was obvious. The writing had a distinctive character, and Beatrice
examined the faded portrait carefully. It was full length, and showed a
lady in old-fashioned dress with an unmistakable stamp of dignity and
elegance. The face had grown very faint, but on holding it to the light
she thought she could perceive an elusive likeness to Hester Harding.

"This lady must have been your grandmother," she remarked.

"Yes," said Harding. "I have another picture which seems to make the
chain complete."

He took it from the box and beckoned Beatrice to the window before he
gave it to her, for the photograph was very indistinct. Still, the front
of an English country house built in the Georgian style could be made
out, with a few figures on the broad steps to the terrace. In the center
stood the lady whose portrait Beatrice had seen, though she was
recognizable rather by her figure and fine carriage than her features.
She had her hand upon the shoulder of a boy in Eton dress.

"That," said Harding, "was my father."

Beatrice signified by a movement of her head that she had heard, for she
was strongly interested in the back-ground of the picture. The wide lawn
with its conventionally cut border of shrubbery stretched beyond the
old-fashioned house until it ended at the edge of a lake, across which
rounded masses of trees rolled up the side of a hill. All this was
familiar; it reminded her of summer afternoons in England two or three
years ago. Surely she had walked along that terrace then! She could
remember the gleaming water, the solid, dark contour of the beechwood on
the hill, and the calm beauty of the sunlit landscape that she glimpsed
between massive scattered oaks. Then she started as she distinguished
the tower of a church in the faded distance, its spires rising among the
tall beech-trees.

"But this is certainly Ash Garth!" she cried.

"I never heard its name," Harding answered quietly.

Beatrice sat down with the photograph in her hand. Her curiosity was
strongly roused, and she had a half disturbing sense of satisfaction.

"It looks as if your father had lived there," she said.

"Yes; I think it must have been his home."

"But the owner of Ash Garth is Basil Morel! It is a beautiful place. You
come down from the bleak moorland into a valley through which a river
winds, and the house stands among the beechwoods at the foot of the
hill."

"The picture shows something of the kind," agreed Harding, watching her
with a reserved smile.

Beatrice hesitated.

"Perhaps I could find out what became of your father's people and where
they are now."

"I don't want to know. I have shown you these things in confidence; I'd
rather not have them talked about."

"But you must see what they might mean to you!" Beatrice exclaimed in
surprise.

He moved from the window and stood facing her with an air of pride.

"They mean nothing at all to me. My father was obviously an exile,
disowned by his English relatives. If he had done anything to deserve
this, I don't want to learn it, but I can't think that's so. It was more
likely a family quarrel. Anyway, I'm quite content to leave my relatives
alone. Besides, I promised something of the kind."

He told her about the money he had received, and she listened with keen
interest.

"But did he never tell you anything about his English life?"

"No," said Harding. "I'm not sure that my mother knew, though Hester
thinks she meant to tell us something in her last illness. My father was
a reserved man. I think he felt his banishment and it took the heart out
of him. He was not a good farmer, not the stuff the pioneers are made
of, and I believe he only worked his land for my mother's sake, while it
was she who really managed things until I grew up. She was a brave,
determined woman, and kept him on his feet."

Beatrice was silent for a few moments. The man loved her, and although
she would not admit that she loved him, it was satisfactory to feel that
he really belonged to her own rank. This explained several traits of his
that had puzzled her. It was, however, unfortunate that he held such
decided views, and she felt impelled to combat them.

"But you need ask nothing from the people except that they should
acknowledge you," she urged. "Think of the difference this would make to
you and Hester. It would give you standing and position."

"Hester is going to marry a man who loves her for herself, and the only
position I value I have made. What would I gain by raking up a painful
story? The only relatives I'm proud to claim are my mother's in
Michigan, and they're plain, rugged folks."

There was something in his attitude that appealed to Beatrice. He had no
false ambitions; he was content to be judged on his own merits--a severe
test. For all that, she set some value upon good birth, and it was
distasteful to see that he denied the advantages of his descent. Then
she grew embarrassed as she recognized that what really troubled her was
his indifference to the opinion of her relatives. He must know that he
had a means of disarming her father's keenest prejudice, but he would
not use it.

"I understand that Hester knows nothing about these portraits," she
said.

"No; I've never mentioned them. It could do no good."

"Then why have you told me?"

"Well," he answered gravely, "I thought you ought to know."

"I have no claim upon the secrets you keep from your sister."

Harding was silent, and Beatrice felt annoyed. After all, she understood
why he had told her and she recognized that he had acted honestly in
doing so. Still, if he really loved her, she felt, he should not let
pride stand in the way of removing every obstacle to get her.

Hester came in and announced that the horses were ready; and soon
afterward she and Beatrice were riding together across the prairie while
Harding went doggedly back to his work.



CHAPTER XXI

THE DAY OF RECKONING


As the spring advanced, business men in Winnipeg and the new western
towns began to feel an increasing financial pressure. Money was tight,
and the price of wheat, upon which the prosperity of the country
depended, steadily fell. It was the beginning of a sharp set-back, a
characteristic feature of the sanguine West, during which all overdrafts
on the natural resources of the prairie must be met. The resources are
large, but their development is slow, depending, as it does, upon the
patient labor of the men who drive the plow, while those who live upon
the farmer are eager to get rich.

The tide of industrial progress is often irregular. There are pauses of
varying length, and sometimes recoils, when reckless traders find their
ventures stranded and in danger of being wrecked before the next impulse
of the flood can float them on. They borrow and buy too freely;
trafficking produce not yet grown; building stores and offices in excess
of the country's needs. A time comes when this is apparent, speculation
ceases, credit fails, and the new cities must wait until expanding
agriculture overtakes them. In the meanwhile, the fulfilment of
obligations is demanded and, as often happens, cannot be made.

Davies suffered among the rest. He had foreseen a set-back, but it
proved more severe than he expected. He had bought land he could not
sell, had cooperated in erecting buildings which stood empty, and had
made loans to men unable to repay them.

One morning he sat in his office, gloomily reading a newspaper which
made a bold attempt to deal optimistically with the depressing
situation. Among other news there was a report of a meeting of the
shareholders in a mining company; and this Davies studied with interest.
It was what is termed an extraordinary meeting, called to consider the
course to be adopted in consequence of the engineer's failing to reach
the ore after sinking a costly shaft; and Davies, glancing at another
column, noted that the shares had sharply fallen. Gerald Mowbray had
speculated in this stock, and Davies was then expecting a call from him.

Instead of Mowbray, Carlyon came in. The boy looked anxious, but he was
calm.

"I suppose you know what I've come about," he began.

"Yes; you're behind with your interest."

Carlyon's ease of manner was perhaps overdone, but he hid his feelings
pluckily.

"Then, as I can't pay, what are you going to do? I must know now; when
you're farming, you have to look ahead."

"I'm going to sell you up when the mortgage falls in. You have some time
yet."

"Can't you renew the loan upon any terms?"

"No," said Davies truthfully. "I would if I could. I have to meet my
engagements and money's scarce."

Carlyon got up, turning an unlighted cigar in nervous fingers, but there
was a smile in his eyes that showed he could face ruin with dignity.

"Then, if that's your last word, I needn't waste your time; and it
wouldn't be fair to blame you for my foolishness. I dare say I can find
a job as teamster; it seems the only thing that's left."

"You have grit. I'm sorry I can't keep you on your feet," Davies
answered with more feeling than Carlyon had expected.

"Thanks. Mowbray's waiting outside; I'll send him in."

Davies looked up when the door opened a few moments later. Gerald's
careless manner had gone; he showed obvious signs of strain. Indeed,
there was something in his face that hinted at desperation. Davies was
not surprised at this. After a curt greeting he took up the newspaper.

"I expect you have seen the report of the company's meeting."

"I have," said Gerald. "It doesn't leave much to the imagination. At
last, the directors have treated us with brutal frankness. I've filled
up my proxy in favor of appointing a committee to investigate."

"It can't do much good. The fellows can investigate until they're tired,
but they can't find ore that does not exist."

"It would be some comfort if they found out anything that would put the
rogues who deluded us into jail," Gerald answered savagely.

Davies smiled in a meaning way.

"Rather too drastic a proceeding." He gave the other a direct glance.
"People who play a crooked game shouldn't appeal to the law."

The blood crept into Gerald's face and he wondered with dire misgivings
what the man meant and how much he knew. He had counted on a report
from the mining engineer that would send up the value of his shares, and
had rested on this his last hope of escaping from a serious danger.
Instead, he had learned that the mine was barren. It was a crushing
blow, for he must find a large sum of money at once. The consequences
would be disastrous if he failed.

"Well," he said, "the most important point is that my shares are worth
next to nothing, and I've very little expectation of their ever going
up. I don't suppose you'd take them as security for a loan at a quarter
of their face value?"

"I would not," Davies answered firmly.

"Very well. My note falls due in a few days. What are you going to do?"

"Present it for payment."

Gerald looked at him keenly, to see if he meant it; but he could read in
the broker's imperturbable face nothing to lead him to doubt this. He
tried to pull himself together, and failed. Gerald had not inherited the
stern, moral courage of the Mowbray stock.

"You can't afford to let me drop," he pleaded in a hoarse voice. "As
soon as you take away your support the brutes I've borrowed from will
come down on me like wolves, and, to protect your interests, you'll have
to enforce your mortgage rights. I needn't point out that this will
spoil your plans. You're not ready to make your grab at Allenwood yet."

Davies heard him unmoved. He was comparing his attitude with that of the
ruined lad he had just dismissed. Carlyon was, of course, a fool who
deserved his fate, but his pluck had roused the moneylender's sympathy.
He did not mean to let it make him merciful, but he had some human
feeling, and it inspired him with contempt for Mowbray. The fellow was
clever enough to see that Davies' plans were directed against his
relatives and friends, but this had not prevented his falling in with
them for the sake of a temporary advantage. His pride was a sham; he
forgot it when it threatened to cost him something. Moreover he had not
been straight with Davies in several ways. He had a rogue's heart, but
was without the rogue's usual nerve.

"I often have to change my plans," Davies said calmly. "Just now I'm
short of money, and must get some in. Anyway, there's no secret about
the mortgage; it had to be registered."

"Of course; but I don't suppose anybody knows about it, for all that.
People don't spend their time turning up these records."

"It would be a wise precaution, when they dealt with you," Davies
answered pointedly.

Gerald did not resent the taunt.

"But you can't get your money for the note," he urged. "It's impossible
for me to meet it now."

"Or later, I guess. Well, I'll have to fall back on the endorser; he's a
solid man."

A look of terror sprang into Gerald's face.

"You can't do that!"

"Why not?"

"Well," Gerald faltered, "he never expected he'd have to pay the note."

"That's his affair. He ought to have known you better."

Gerald roused himself for a last effort.

"Renew it on any terms you like; I'll agree to whatever you demand. I
have some influence at Allenwood, and can get you other customers.
You'll find it worth while to have my help."

Davies smiled scornfully.

"You can't be trusted. You'd sell your friends, and that means you'd
sell me if you thought it would pay. I'm willing to take a risk when I
back a sport; but one can't call you that. You have had your run and
lost, and now you must put up the stakes." He took a pen from the rack
and opened a book. "There doesn't seem to be anything more to be said.
Good-morning."

Gerald left, with despair in his heart; and when he had gone Davies took
the note from his safe and examined the signature on the back with a
thoughtful air. After all, though money was tight, he might retain his
hold on Allenwood if he played his cards cleverly.

During the afternoon Carlyon and Gerald took the westbound train, and
the next evening Gerald reached the Grange. There had been a hard rain
all day, and he was wet after the long drive, but he went straight to
the study where his father was occupied. It was not dark outside yet,
but the room was shadowy and heavy rain beat against its walls. Mowbray
sat at a table by the window, apparently lost in thought, for although
there were some papers in front of him the light was too dim to read. He
glanced up with a frown when his son came in.

"If you had thought it worth while to let me know you were going to
Winnipeg, I could have given you an errand," he said, and added dryly:
"One would imagine that these trips are beyond your means."

Gerald was conscious of some shame and of pity for his father, whom he
must humble; but his fears for his own safety outweighed everything
else.

"I want you to listen, sir. There's something you must know."

"Very well," said Mowbray. "It is not good news; your voice tells me
that."

It was a desperately hard confession, and Mowbray sat strangely still, a
rigid, shadowy figure against the fading window, until the story was
finished. Then he turned to his son, who had drawn back as far as
possible into the gloom.

"You cur!" There was intense bitterness in his tone. "I can't trust
myself to speak of what I feel. And I know, to my sorrow, how little it
would affect you. But, having done this thing, why do you slink home to
bring disgrace on your mother and sister? Could you not hide your shame
across the frontier?"

It was a relief to Gerald that he could, at least, answer this.

"If you will think for a moment, sir, you will see the reason. I don't
want to hide here, but it's plain that, for all our sakes, I must meet
this note. If it's dishonored, the holder will come to you; and,
although I might escape to the boundary, you would be forced to find the
money." Gerald hesitated before he added: "It would be the only way to
save the family honor."

"Stop!" cried Mowbray. "Our honor is a subject you have lost all right
to speak about!"

For a moment or two he struggled to preserve his self-control, and then
went on in a stern, cold voice:

"Still, there is some reason in what you urge. It shows the selfish
cunning that has been your ruin."

"Let me finish, sir," Gerald begged hoarsely. "The note must be met. If
I take it up on presentation, the matter ends there; but you can see the
consequences if it's dishonored."

"They include your arrest and imprisonment. It's unthinkable that your
mother and sister should be branded with this taint!" Mowbray clenched
his hand. "The trouble is that I cannot find the money. You have already
brought me to ruin."

There was silence for the next minute, and the lashing of the rain on
the ship-lap boards sounded harshly distinct.

Gerald saw a possible way of escape, but, desperate as he was, he
hesitated about taking it. It meant sacrificing his sister; but the way
seemed safe. His father would stick at nothing that might save the
family honor.

"There's Brand," he suggested, knowing it was the meanest thing he had
ever done. "Of course, one would rather not tell an outsider; but he can
keep a secret and might help."

"Ah!" Mowbray exclaimed sharply, as if he saw a ray of hope. Then he
paused and asked with harsh abruptness: "Whose name did you use on the
note?"

"Harding's."

Mowbray lost his self-control. Half rising in his chair, he glared at
his son.

"It's the last straw!" he said, striking the table furiously. "How the
low-bred fellow will triumph over us!"

"He can't," Gerald pointed out cunningly, using his strongest argument
in an appeal to his father's prejudice. "He will know nothing about the
note if I can take it up when due."

Mowbray sank back in his chair, crushed with shame.

"It must be managed somehow," he said in a faltering voice. "Now--go;
and, for both of our sakes, keep out of my way."

Gerald left him without a word, and Mowbray sat alone in the darkness,
feeling old and broken as he grappled with the bitterest grief he had
known. There had, of course, been one or two of the Mowbrays who had led
wild and reckless lives, but Gerald was the first to bring actual
disgrace upon the respected name. The Colonel could have borne his
extravagance and forgiven a certain amount of dissipation, but it
humbled him to the dust to realize that his son was a thief and a
coward.



CHAPTER XXII

THE PRICE OF HONOR


It was very quiet in the drawing-room of the Grange, where Mrs. Mowbray
sat with an exhausted look, as if she had made an effort that had cost
her much. She had just finished speaking, and was watching Beatrice,
whose face was white and strained.

"But what has Gerald done? I think I have a right to know," the girl
broke out.

"He wrote somebody else's name on the back of a promise to pay some
money, which meant that the other man, who really knew nothing about it,
guaranteed that the payment would be made."

"But that is forgery!" Beatrice cried, aghast.

"Yes," said Mrs. Mowbray with a shudder; "I'm afraid it's forgery of a
very serious kind, because it enabled him to obtain a good deal of money
which he could not otherwise have got."

"Oh, how dreadful!" Beatrice impulsively crossed the floor and, kneeling
down beside her mother, put her arm round her. "I know how you must feel
it. And now I can understand Father's troubled look. He has been very
quiet and stern since Gerald came home."

"Your father has more trouble than you know. Perhaps I'd better tell you
about it, as you must grasp the situation. You heard that Godfrey
Barnett was dead, but you don't know that he died ruined by the failure
of the bank."

"Ah! All our money was in Barnett's, wasn't it?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Mowbray. "It has all gone."

She stopped in distress. The task of influencing the girl to take a
course she must shrink from was painful to her; but she had promised her
husband and must go on with it. There was no other way, and it was in
accordance with her traditions that the threatened honor of the family
should come before her daughter's inclinations.

"Now you can see why it's impossible for your father to save Gerald by
paying the money. It explains why he has been forced to ask help from
Brand."

Beatrice drew back from her, as if overwhelmed.

"Blow after blow! How has he borne it all? And yet he is very brave."

"You are his daughter," said Mrs. Mowbray meaningly, though she felt
that what she was doing was cruel. "You must be brave, too. I think you
see how you can make things easier for him."

"Oh!" The girl drew a quick breath. Then she rose with a hot face,
burning with fierce rebellion. "The fault is Gerald's, and he must
suffer for it! Why should I! He has always brought us trouble;
everything has been given up for the sake of the boys. Don't I know how
you have had to deny yourself because of their extravagance? It's
unjust! Not even my father has the right to ask this sacrifice from me!"

"Gerald cannot suffer alone. If he is arrested for forgery, it will
crush your father and be a stain on Lance's name as long as he lives.
Lance has been very steady since his accident, and I dare not think of
his being thrown back into his reckless ways. Then the disgrace will
reflect even more seriously on you--a girl is condemned for the sins of
her relatives. I do not speak of myself, because the worst that could
happen to me was to learn that my son had done this thing."

Beatrice's mood changed suddenly. Her high color faded and she made a
hopeless gesture.

"It's true! I feel as if I were in a trap and could not get out. It's
horrible!"

She sank down again by her mother's side and struggled for composure.

"Let us face the matter quietly," she said. "Brand is our friend; he
cannot be so ungenerous as to ask a price for his help."

"He is a hard man, and very determined."

"Yes; I know. I have been afraid of him. He made me feel he was waiting
until his opportunity came. But, for all that, I can't believe----"

Mrs. Mowbray gave her a glance of compassionate sympathy.

"Even if Brand does not claim his reward, we know what would persuade
him to do us the great service your father must ask. Can we take this
favor from him, and then deny him what he longs for? There is nobody
else who can help us, and our need is pressing."

"But I am not asking the favor!" Beatrice urged in desperation. "The
debt is not mine! It would be different if I were in Gerald's place."

"You must see that you are using a false argument," Mrs. Mowbray
answered gently. "A girl cannot separate herself in this way from her
father and brother: the family responsibilities are hers. It may sound
very harsh, but you cannot repudiate the liability Gerald has incurred.
When he did wrong, he made us all accountable."

Beatrice could not deny this. She had been taught that the family was
not a group but a unit and its honor indivisible, and she had always
been made to feel that it was her duty to reflect credit upon her name.
It was a comfortable doctrine when things went well; when things went
wrong, however, it became very cruel. Seeing no hope at all, she fell
into mute despair, and it was some time before she could rouse herself.
At last she got up with a quietly resolute expression.

"Well," she said slowly, as if it cost her a great effort, "I must try
not to disgrace you by any foolish weakness. Since this is our debt, I
must pay it. One understands that women have often done such things. It
seems as if all the burdens were laid on our shoulders--and men call us
weak!" She paused a moment, and then asked in a dead, indifferent voice:
"Whose name did Gerald forge?"

"I don't know. Your father didn't tell me. I thought he tried to avoid
it."

Moving calmly to the door, Beatrice was surprised to find Gerald waiting
in the passage outside. She gave him a steady look. Her face was white
and hard, and there was scorn in her eyes. Gerald drew back, almost as
if she had struck him.

"You have been talking to Mother?" he asked awkwardly.

"Yes," she said; "and you know what we talked about. So far as anything
I can do may count, you are safe. That, of course, was all you wanted to
know."

She saw keen relief in his face.

"After all," he urged, "Brand is a very good fellow and has many
advantages to offer."

She turned upon him with burning indignation.

"Don't be a hypocrite! You know it would not have mattered if he had
been the meanest rogue in Canada--so long as you got free."

She swept past him and left him standing in the passage with a downcast
air.

Seeking refuge in her room, she locked the door and tried to think. She
must face the situation and not let futile anger and horror overcome
her. Growing calm after a time, she began to wonder why the prospect of
marrying Brand was so repugnant. He belonged to her own station, they
had much in common, and, in a way, she liked him. Then, she had long
known that she would be expected to make a good match, and Brand had
kept his beautiful English house waiting for her; his wife would have
the position and social influence Beatrice had been taught to value. But
these things seemed worthless now.

She looked out through the open window at the prairie. It had grown
green with the rain, though clumps of bleached grass still checkered it
with silvery gray. Red lilies were opening here and there, and as she
gazed the blue shadow of a cloud swept across the plain and vanished,
leaving it bright with sunshine. Its vastness and the sense of freedom
it conveyed appealed to the girl. There was a charm in the wide horizon;
one never felt cramped upon the plains. She loved the spacious land,
and did not want to live in England.

But this was a deceptive argument. Brand would stay at Allenwood if she
wished. Indeed, she knew that he would make many a sacrifice to please
her if she married him. She must look for a better reason.

It was not hard to find, for in this crisis she must be honest with
herself. The blood crept to her face as she realized that she could not
marry Brand because she loved some one else. Now that such love was
hopeless and must be overcome, the disturbing truth was plain. She had
fenced with and tried to deny it, but when it was too late, it had
beaten her.

By way of relief, she tried to occupy her mind with another thought. Her
father had been reluctant to tell whose name Gerald had forged. Beatrice
knew that her brother would choose a man of wealth, otherwise the name
would have no weight, and she did not think he had fixed on Brand. Her
father's reticence made her feel that it must be Harding. Beatrice
thought her father unjust and foolish. Harding would not take a shabby
advantage of his position; he was generous, but, unfortunately, no help
could come from him. She could not tell her lover that her brother was a
thief; besides, this was a secret that must be carefully hidden from
everybody outside the family. Brand, she reflected with a shudder of
repugnance, would soon belong to it. There was no help anywhere.

Beatrice leaned against the window-frame, her head buried in her arms.
The soft air from the prairie swept over her caressingly, the hot
sunshine bathed her; but her heart was black with despondency. She was
in a trap--a trap set by her own brother--and no escape was possible.

She threw her head up with a sudden resolve. At least she would make the
sacrifice bravely, without murmur, as befitted the daughter of the house
of Mowbray.

Her mood changing again as quickly, she threw herself across the bed and
burst into a fit of passionate sobbing.

And while she lay there, worn with crying, her father sat in his study
talking to Brand. He related with candor what had happened, making no
attempt to hide the ugliest facts; and Brand grasped at the opportunity
opened for him. He recognized that it would give him a strong claim on
Mowbray's gratitude. It might be mean to take advantage of it; but he
had waited a long time for Beatrice, and might lose her altogether if he
let this chance slip.

"You have my sympathy, sir," he said suavely. "It must have been a great
shock; but I am glad you have taken me into your confidence, because I
can be of help. You can repay me whenever you find you can do so without
trouble."

Mowbray gave a sigh of great relief.

"Thank you, Brand. You cannot understand how you have eased my mind. I
know of no one else who would, or could, have done so much."

The Colonel sank back in his chair, and Brand noticed how worn he
looked. The younger man was conscious of a slight feeling of pity; but
he could not afford to indulge it: he must strike while the iron was
hot.

"Now that things are going so hard for you, in a financial way, it
would be some satisfaction to feel that your daughter's future was
safe," he said.

Mowbray was silent a moment. Then he answered slowly.

"Yes. I wish indeed that she could see her way to marry you."

"I will speak plainly. I have been waiting patiently, but, so far as I
can judge, I have gained nothing by this. I'm afraid I may lose all if I
wait much longer. Beatrice likes me, we agree on many points, our tastes
are similar, and I think there's every reason to hope she could be happy
with me. I could give her all that a girl brought up as she has been
could desire."

"Do you suggest that I should urge her to marry you?" Mowbray asked with
some asperity.

Brand hesitated. He knew that he was doing an unchivalrous thing, but
the passion he hitherto had kept in check mastered him.

"Well," he said, "I suppose that is what I really meant."

Mowbray looked at him in haughty surprise.

"You know I cannot refuse you; but I hardly expected you to take this
line. It might have been better if you had relied upon my gratitude and
my daughter's recognition of the service you have done us. We are not in
the habit of forgetting our debts."

"The trouble is that I cannot afford to take a risk; there is some
danger of Beatrice's becoming estranged from me. I would not press you
if I saw any strong reason why she should not be happy as my wife, but I
know of none, and I feel that this is my last chance."

"Then you mean to insist upon your claim?"

"Very reluctantly, sir."

Mowbray was silent for a moment or two, and then he looked up with a
strained expression.

"You place me in a helpless position. You make me and my family your
debtors, and then----" He broke off abruptly. "Did you mean to hint
there was some particular danger of my daughter's becoming estranged
from you?"

"Since you force me to be candid, I believe she is attracted by another
man; perhaps I ought to say interested in him. I cannot suspect any
attachment yet; but I am afraid."

"Who is he?"

Brand hesitated a moment before answering.

"I cannot give you his name, because I may be mistaken. Still, he is a
man you would strongly disapprove of."

There was suspicion in Mowbray's eyes and his face hardened.

"What you hint at surprises me, Brand; but I cannot compliment you upon
your conduct to-night. However, as Beatrice is the most interested
person, it is, I think, only right that she should be allowed to speak."

He rang, and the servant who promptly answered was sent for Beatrice.
When the door opened a few moments afterward, Mowbray was surprised to
see not his daughter but the maid.

"Miss Mowbray is ill," she announced, "and begs you to excuse her."

The maid withdrew, and Mowbray frowned.

"When must my daughter pay this debt?" he asked.

"When is the forged note due?"

"I understand that the Winnipeg fellow will bring it to me here on
Friday night."

"Then there are two days yet. I will leave Miss Mowbray free until
Friday night. In the meantime I shall expect you to use your influence
with her." He hesitated a moment, feeling that he might not be taking
the right line. "I must urge you again, sir, to consider," he finished,
"that it will be only for your daughter's good, in every way, to marry
me."

When he left, Mowbray sat motionless in his chair for a long while,
looking out over the prairie but seeing nothing in front of him. Then
with an effort he roused himself. After all, he tried to believe, it
would not be so bad for the girl. She was young; she might yet learn to
love Brand, even though she married him under compulsion. As for
Harding---- Mowbray dismissed the thought. He had no fear that his
daughter would so far forget her station: the pride of caste had been
drilled into her too strongly.



CHAPTER XXIII

A WOMAN INTERVENES


The following afternoon Beatrice rode moodily across the plain. After
another talk with her mother, she had passed a sleepless night and spent
the morning wandering restlessly to and fro. It was horribly degrading
to her to feel that Brand had bought her; but it was true, and it
destroyed the hope that time might reconcile her to her lot. She could
not forgive him that, but after all it was only part of an intolerable
situation.

On a long gradual rise her horse began to slacken speed, and she pulled
up when she reached the top. Sitting still for a time, she vacantly
looked about. The hill commanded a wide view: she could see the prairie
roll back, changing as it receded from vivid green to faint ethereal
blue on the far horizon. White clouds swept across the sky, streaking
the plain with shadows. There was something exhilarating in the picture,
but Beatrice felt that she hated it for its mocking suggestion of space
and freedom. There was no freedom at Allenwood; she was to be sold into
shameful bondage.

A gray streak of smoke that moved across the waste caught her eye. It
was Harding, harrowing by steam or perhaps bedding down his seed-wheat
with the land-packer. Beatrice thought of him with a poignant sense of
regret. He loved her, and she had deceived herself in thinking she could
not love him. She had been bound by foolish traditions and had not had
the courage to break loose. It was too late now and she must pay the
penalty of her cowardice. She longed to call Harding to her help; he was
strong enough to save her. But the family disgrace must be kept secret.
There was no way out; she seemed to be turning round and round in a
narrow cage and beating herself vainly against the bars.

As she started her horse she saw in the distance the Broadwood homestead
rising, a blur of gray buildings, and she rode toward it. She needed
sympathy, and her mother had nothing but resignation to urge. Effie
Broadwood was kind and fond of her; it would be some comfort to tell her
that she was in trouble--though of course she could not go into
particulars.

Mrs. Broadwood at once noticed the girl's troubled face, and knew that
something had gone wrong. She led Beatrice into her plain little
sitting-room and made her comfortable on a sofa. Then, sitting down
beside her, she took her hand affectionately.

"Now, dear," she said, "we can have a quiet talk. I know that something
is troubling you."

Beatrice was moved by her unaffected sympathy. She had friends at
Allenwood but she could not go to them. They would think her rather to
be envied than pitied; but this warm-hearted, unconventional woman would
understand. She longed to take her into her confidence, and although
this was impossible, the numbing despair in her heart began to melt.

"I can't tell you much; but--I suppose I shall be married soon."

Mrs. Broadwood looked keenly interested.

"Is it an Allenwood man?"

"Brand. I must tell him definitely to-morrow evening."

"Ah!" Mrs. Broadwood exclaimed. There was a pathetic note in the girl's
voice that touched her. "But if you don't want the man you have only to
let him know."

"I wish it were as easy as that!" Beatrice answered hopelessly.

Mrs. Broadwood was silent for a few moments, but her fingers clasped the
small hand under them with a comforting pressure.

"I think I understand. Your father and mother are on his side; but if
you'd hate to have him for a husband you must not sacrifice yourself."

"But I must!" said Beatrice desperately, and her forced calm suddenly
broke down. Her companion's gentleness had destroyed it, and now a
reaction from the strain she had borne had begun. "No," she added in a
broken voice, "there's no way out! I've been trying to find one and I
can't."

She buried her face in one of the pillows and broke into choking sobs.
It was weak, she felt, and not what was to be expected from a Mowbray,
but there was comfort in the bitter tears. For a while Mrs. Broadwood
let her cry, but when she began to soothe her, Beatrice roused herself.
She could not remember afterward what she said, but her confused excuses
for her emotion and her fragmentary half confidences left a disturbing
impression on Mrs. Broadwood's mind.

Beatrice rode home feeling slightly comforted, though she was no nearer
a solution of her difficulties. She had, of course, been very weak and
perhaps had said more than was wise, but she had not betrayed her
brother; and Effie Broadwood was a true friend. Beatrice was justified
in thinking so, for Mrs. Broadwood was to prove a better friend than she
suspected.

When the girl had gone, Mrs. Broadwood spent some time in thinking over
what she had heard. Although she had keen intelligence, there were
points that puzzled her; she had been given several clues, but they
broke off before they led her far. Then she decided that something might
be learned by tactfully questioning her husband, and she went about her
work until he came home in the evening. She let him finish his supper
and light his pipe before she began.

"The Mowbrays are in trouble just now, aren't they, Tom?"

"I dare say; they certainly have their difficulties. Why?"

"Beatrice rode over this afternoon and she had something on her mind.
What do you think's the matter?"

"For one thing, the Colonel must have lost a good deal since wheat began
to go down. Then I heard something about the failure of an English bank;
Lance once told me the family had shares in it. I expect the stoppage
made a difference in their income."

"That doesn't quite account for it. Do you know of anything else?"

"Gerald may have been giving them trouble again. I know he has borrowed
a good deal of money which he'd find it difficult to pay, and I'm afraid
he's been mortgaging his land."

This confirmed some of Mrs. Broadwood's suspicions; but the matter was
still far from clear.

"The Colonel would be very mad about the mortgage," she said. "Still,
it's Gerald's land, and he can do what he likes with it."

"Not altogether. He's bound by the settlement covenant, and, as his
father gave him the land, he ought to respect his opinions. Mowbray's
convinced that to let in strangers would be hurtful to Allenwood."

While feeling sure that Gerald was the cause of the Mowbrays' troubles,
Mrs. Broadwood did not think that Beatrice would marry a man she did not
care for in order to benefit the settlement. There must be another
reason.

"Suppose Gerald had already mortgaged his farm and wanted some more
money, how would he borrow it?"

"He'd find it hard, as he has no security to offer," Broadwood answered
with a smile. "I don't know much about these matters, and don't want to
know anything more, but I believe the usual plan is something like this:
you give the lender a note, an engagement to pay in, we'll say, three
months, and get somebody to endorse it. His putting down his name makes
him liable for the amount, and if the lender was satisfied about him,
he'd give you the money at once and take off as much interest as he
could."

"But who'd guarantee Gerald in that way?"

"I don't know. I certainly would not."

"He would have to be a man who was known to have money," she persisted.

"I suppose so; it would naturally make the transaction easier. But it's
not our business to pry into the Mowbrays' affairs."

"Oh, no," said Mrs. Broadwood. "Still, I was sorry for Beatrice and it
made me curious."

She changed the subject and after a time took up a book as an excuse for
silence. She wanted to think, because she now felt sure that Gerald's
financial difficulties accounted for the pressure that was being put
upon Beatrice. The girl was being forced to marry Brand because he would
supply the money to save her brother from disgrace. Mrs. Broadwood felt
that it must be disgrace and not an ordinary debt. There would, however,
be no great difficulty if he had given some one a note, for the man who
endorsed it must have known that he might be called upon to pay. But
suppose he had not heard about the transaction at all? Mrs. Broadwood
dropped her book, for she saw that she had guessed the riddle. Gerald
had not asked the man to guarantee him; he had forged his name. Taking
this for granted made everything plain.

Then she began to wonder whose name Gerald had forged. It could not be
his father's, for Mowbray was known to be far from rich. The only man
with much money at Allenwood was Brand, but Mrs. Broadwood thought it
could not be Brand, because she knew Mowbray's pride and believed that
in spite of his anxiety to keep the matter quiet he would not force his
daughter to marry a man his son had robbed. Admitting this, she must
look for some one else. Then it dawned upon her that the man was
Harding.

"What did you say?" Broadwood asked, looking up from his paper.

"I was thinking," his wife replied. "S'pose I must have thought aloud.
Anyway it wouldn't interest you. How's wheat going?"

"Down," said Broadwood, and there was silence again.

Mrs. Broadwood saw what she could do. She admitted that she might make a
deplorable mess of things if she were mistaken, but the need was serious
enough to justify some risk. She had courage and she was fond of
Beatrice.

The next afternoon she drove across the prairie to the spot where she
thought Harding was at work. She found him busy with his engine at the
end of a wide belt of plowing which the land packer had rolled down hard
and smooth.

"Craig!" she called, pulling up her horse. "I want you a minute."

He came to the step of the buck-board, dressed in greasy overalls, with
an oil smear on his hand, but she felt that he was to be trusted as she
gave him an approving glance. She liked his level look and his steady
eyes; there was force in his quiet face. He was the type of man she
admired: swift in action, free from what she called meanness, and
determined. Indeed, she felt inclined to hesitate as she thought of his
resolute character. It would be easy to set him in motion, but once that
was done he could not be stopped, and there might be startling
developments. It was rather like firing the train to a mine; and there
was a disturbing possibility that she might, after all, be wrong in her
surmises.

But she gathered up her courage; and she knew that there was no time to
be wasted.

"Craig," she said, "do you want Beatrice Mowbray?"

He started and his brown face flushed.

"I want her more than anything else in the world."

Mrs. Broadwood gave him a quick, approving nod.

"Do you know how she feels about you?"

"No. I only know what I hope."

"Well," said Mrs. Broadwood thoughtfully, "I believe she'd rather take
you than Brand."

"Brand!"

"I expect she'll be engaged to him to-night, unless you act." Mrs.
Broadwood checked him as he was about to speak. "This is your chance,
Craig; you'll never get another half as good. Listen quietly for a few
minutes."

He stood very still, without asking a question, until she had finished.

"I guess you're right," he said with set jaws; "and I know the man who
holds the note. If Beatrice is to give Brand her answer to-night, it
means that Davies is coming here to squeeze the Colonel, and if his
train's on time, he ought to make the Grange in about three hours."

"And you'll be there to meet him?"

Harding smiled.

"When I'm wanted I like to be on hand, and I guess I'm wanted pretty
badly now."

"You certainly are. I suppose you see what you must do?"

"If there's a note out with my name on it, it has got to be taken up.
You can leave the thing to me. I meet my obligations."

Mrs. Broadwood saw that he had found a more effective way of dealing
with the situation than had yet occurred to her.

"Craig," she exclaimed with frank admiration, "you're a wonder!"

He held out his hand with a twinkle of rather grim amusement.

"Anyway, I have to thank you for putting me on the track, and I'm not
going to forget it. Now I have several matters to fix up before I start
for the Grange."

She touched the horse with the whip and he stepped back.

"Good luck!" she called. "You deserve it!"



CHAPTER XXIV

A GREAT TRIUMPH


It was getting dark when Brand reached the Grange. He found Beatrice in
the hall, for she had not heard his arrival in time to get away. She met
him calmly, but after a word of greeting she did not speak, and he
hesitated.

"Well," he said with an effort, "I have come for your answer."

"Isn't it too soon?" she asked. "You haven't carried out your part of
the bargain yet."

Brand frowned in embarrassment.

"You are very bitter; but I dare say it must be hard for you to see my
conduct in a favorable light."

"I'm afraid it's impossible."

Beatrice moved toward the broad stairway.

"My father is waiting for you in the library," she said.

Taking this for a dismissal, Brand joined Mowbray in his study. He was
sorry that the lamp was lighted, because he felt disturbed, and the
Colonel's constrained manner did not set him at ease. For all that, they
forced themselves to talk about matters of no importance until Davies
was shown in.

"I came to see your son, but I meant to ask for an interview with you
before I left," the money-lender said to Mowbray, and then glanced at
Brand. "I imagine that our business had better----"

"Mr. Brand is acquainted with it, and I prefer him to remain. My son has
informed me that you hold a note of his. No doubt, you have brought it
with you?"

"You propose to pay it for him?"

"Certainly," said Mowbray with a trace of haughtiness. "Since he was
foolish enough to give you such a document it must be met."

Davies felt surprised; but he took out the paper. He had not expected it
to be met, and as he stood with it in his hand, hesitating, he was
strangely irritated by Mowbray's smile. Then he put the note on the
table, and, after examining it, Mowbray gave it to Brand, who made a
sign indicating that he was satisfied.

"Yes," he said, "it seems to be in order." Then he turned to Davies.
"We'll keep this paper; I'll give you a check."

"Presently." Davies picked up the note. When he spoke, he addressed
Mowbray. "I'll give you the note canceled in return for payment of half
the amount; the rest to stand against a purchase I want to make."

"You can have it all. I have no wish to defer payment. And I don't
understand what your purchases have to do with me."

"I'll explain. One of your young neighbors is giving up his farm. He
hasn't broken much land and the buildings are small. The place ought to
go cheap, and I'm open to buy it. Then there's a section of vacant land,
and I'm willing to pay a small sum for an option of taking it up at a
fixed price in a year's time."

Mowbray looked at him in cold surprise.

"To begin with, I cannot sell you my neighbor's property; nor can I give
you an option on the vacant lot."

"In a sense that's true, but you can fix things as I want it if you
like. Your word goes a long way in these matters."

"I see no reason why I should use my influence in your favor."

"It's impossible!" Brand interposed bluntly. "We are very careful whom
we let in at Allenwood."

"In short, you mean to keep me out," Davies suggested with an ugly
smile.

"Take it for granted that we cannot sell you the land you want."

"Very well," said Davies. "I must try to convince you that you had
better indulge me." He fingered the note. "I have not parted with this
document yet. It seems to me that there's something unusual about Mr.
Harding's signature."

As a rule, both Brand and Mowbray were capable of self-control, but the
attack was so unexpected that they showed their alarm. It had not
occurred to them that the moneylender might suspect the forgery. Indeed,
there was terror in the Colonel's face before he recovered himself, and
Brand's grew angrily red.

"You scoundrel! What do you mean?" he cried.

"Only that I'm not sure Mr. Harding would know his own writing if I
showed it to him."

Mowbray motioned Brand to be silent, and for a few moments both sat
still, feeling overwhelmed. Brand saw that it was now out of his power
to protect his companion; and the Colonel realized that the sacrifice of
his daughter might prove useless. He was in the moneylender's hands, and
to comply with his exactions would not end them. The honor of the
Mowbrays was at the rascal's mercy.

There was a knock at the door.

"Mr. Harding!" a servant announced.

"I can't see him at present," said Mowbray with a start as he heard a
quick, resolute step in the passage.

Before he finished speaking, Harding entered.

"This must look like an intrusion, and you'll have to excuse my not
waiting your leave," he said. "The fact is, I was determined to get in."

"So it seems," Mowbray answered. "Since you have succeeded, may I ask if
you came here by this gentleman's request?"

"Why, no!" Harding looked at Davies with a twinkle. "I guess my turning
up is a surprise to him."

Davies' crestfallen air bore this out, but he waited silently, and for a
moment or two neither Brand nor Mowbray spoke. The Colonel, to his
astonishment, was conscious of some relief. After all, he would rather
fall into Harding's hands than the moneylender's.

"Perhaps you will explain the object of your visit," Mowbray said, when
the silence threatened to become awkward.

"Certainly; though it ought to be plain. Mr. Davies holds a note with my
name on it, which I understand Mr. Gerald Mowbray cannot meet." He
leaned forward and took the note. "It's due to-day."

Baffled rage shone in Davies' eyes.

"You admit your liability?" he cried indignantly.

"Of course! My name's here; I don't go back on my obligations."

Mowbray looked at him with dull astonishment; and Brand, whose wits were
clearer, with reluctant admiration. He thought the farmer was playing
his part well; but Davies would not give in yet.

"Am I to understand that you acknowledge this as your signature?" he
asked in a calmer tone.

"Do you mean to tell me that you doubted it?" Harding returned. "You
haven't the reputation of being a fool. Would you have lent money on a
note you suspected was forged?"

Davies saw the game was up. Brand was Mowbray's friend, and Harding was
an obviously hostile witness. Unless he were very careful he might lay
himself open to a charge of conspiracy; and he was powerless to attack
Mowbray so long as Harding acknowledged his signature.

"Well," resumed Harding, taking out his wallet, "I guess I'll keep this
paper and give you a check."

Brand saw his last hope vanishing.

"Stop a minute!" he interposed. "You're taking too much for granted in
concluding that Gerald cannot pay. The debt is his in the first place,
and with the help of a friend he is able to find the money."

Mowbray looked up with a curious expression in which there was relief
and shame. Though he would have forced his daughter into a marriage she
shrank from, the necessity for doing so had preyed upon his mind and he
seized the chance of freeing himself of his debt to Brand. He did not
stop to reason, but acted on the vague feeling that Harding, whom he
had distrusted, would prove an easier creditor.

"Gerald cannot pay this note," he said firmly.

Brand turned to him in surprise; but he saw that Mowbray was not to be
moved, and he understood what had prompted the Colonel's sudden change.
Brand had not played a straight game, and he had lost. At the last
moment the prairie man had beaten him. All that he could do now was to
bear his defeat with dignity.

"Very well, sir," he answered, getting up. "Since I cannot be of
service, I will leave you to arrange matters with these gentlemen."

Mowbray went to the door with him, and closing it behind them laid his
hand on Brand's arm.

"You pressed me hard, but you were willing to help when I needed it
badly. I shall remember that with gratitude."

"I wish you could forget the rest, but it's too much to hope," Brand
replied; and when Mowbray went back into the room he walked moodily down
the passage.

Reaching the hall, he found Beatrice waiting there. She had seen Davies
come in and had heard of Harding's arrival, and she now wondered with
tense anxiety what was going on. She could form no conclusion and could
not ask Gerald, because he had carefully kept out of her way. Looking up
at Brand's step, she felt her heart beat with returning hope, for his
lips were set and his brows knit. He had rather the air of a man who had
received a heavy blow than that of a rejoicing lover. Something
unexpected had happened to humble him and set her free.

"Well," he said with an effort, "I have lost you. Still, I want you to
believe that I loved you."

Beatrice was trembling from the shock of relief, but she knew that it
would be cruel to show what she felt.

"I never doubted that," she answered quietly; "but you took the wrong
way."

"There was no other available. Now that I have lost, perhaps you will
forgive me. I'm going to England in a week or two; I haven't the courage
to stay here."

"I'm sorry," she said. "But to go away may be best."

Brand left her, and she leaned against the big newel-post and tried to
keep calm. The thing she dreaded most was not to happen. In some
miraculous way she was free! She wondered with keen anxiety what her
father and Harding were talking about. Davies, she knew, had left the
house a few moments after Brand.

As a matter of fact, the moneylender was promptly dismissed, with a
check for the full amount of the note; and when Mowbray returned after
closing the door behind him, Harding laid the note on the table.

"This is yours, sir," he said with a smile. "You may destroy it."

"Mine!" Mowbray showed his surprise. "You mean--you----" He stumbled
over the words. "You admit your responsibility?" he finally ended.

"Of course!"

Harding picked up the note, tore it across twice, and threw the pieces
into the open fire.

"There's an end of that," he smiled. "Since it bore my signature I
don't know that I have any claim, but you can pay me when you like. I
won't press you."

Mowbray did not answer for a moment. He felt overcome and could not
collect his thoughts. His prejudices against Harding were strong, but
they were, in a sense, impersonal. It was not the man he objected to,
but what he stood for. The fellow's generosity humbled him.

"I'm afraid I have done nothing to warrant this great kindness," he said
awkwardly. "Am I to understand that you offer it to me without
conditions, asking nothing in return?"

"No; not altogether. I guess I might choose a better time, but I feel
that you should know what I want. I'm going to ask a favor. I suppose
you no longer think of compelling Miss Mowbray to marry Brand?"

"You can take it that I do not. But what is this to you?"

"Well," Harding said with a slight unsteadiness in his voice, "I want to
ask you if you will give her to me?"

Mowbray straightened himself in his chair.

"So you, too, mean to make terms, when you know I cannot refuse!"

"No," Harding answered shortly, "I make none. If you had insisted on
Miss Mowbray's marrying Brand, I might have had something to say. All I
ask is that you give her a free choice; if she uses it to take somebody
else, I won't complain."

"That is remarkably generous," Mowbray conceded.

"We'll let that go. Perhaps my request is something of a shock, but I
want you to hear me out. If things go well with me this year, I can give
my wife every comfort you have at Allenwood, and she can lead the life
she likes best--except that I can't leave the prairie. Then there is
nothing that need separate your daughter from you. Many of her friends
are mine; they'll welcome me into the settlement. I did not go to them;
they came to me."

Mowbray knew this was true. His own younger son firmly believed in
Harding. Kenwyne, who had fastidious tastes, was his friend. There were
others Mowbray could think of, and all were men of character and
standing.

"May I ask how long you have entertained these views about my daughter?"

"Since the first time I saw her, and that was very soon after I came to
this neighborhood. I knew as soon as she spoke to me that I would never
marry any one else."

Mowbray studied him. He had not suspected Harding of romantic
tendencies, but the man was obviously serious.

"Has she any reason to suspect your feelings?" he asked.

"The best of reasons; I have told her on more than one occasion. Still,
I can't claim that she approves of me."

Had Harding made his proposal earlier, it would not have been
entertained for a moment, but Mowbray had suffered during the last few
days. He had found that it cost him more than he had expected to
disregard his daughter's inclinations, and he shrank from doing so
again. Then he owed much to Harding, who had behaved with somewhat
surprising good taste. After all, if Beatrice were fond of him--Mowbray
stopped here, feeling that the matter must be settled at once. He
determined to confront the girl with Harding and learn the truth.

"I hope to give you an answer in a few minutes," he said, and left the
room.

Somewhat to his surprise, Mrs. Mowbray agreed to his plan, and when he
went back to his study he and Harding waited until Beatrice entered. She
was highly strung but calm, though a trace of color crept into her face
as she glanced at Harding.

"Gerald is safe," Mowbray told her. "Mr. Harding, who has acted very
generously, has ensured that. Now he asks that I should allow you to
marry him."

Beatrice look startled; her face grew dead-white and her expression
strained.

"After what he has learned about us he is very rash. But this is not
generosity!"

Mowbray stopped Harding, who would have spoken.

"I see that I did not make his meaning clear. He merely asks that I
withdraw my objections, and not that I try to influence your decision. I
am willing to do the former, but you must make your choice."

Beatrice gave Harding a swift, grateful look.

"I am sorry I misunderstood. I should have known you better," she said
in a very low voice.

Then she was silent for a moment, with downcast eyes, and the two men
waited tensely. When she looked up her eyes glistened with tears; but
behind the tears there shone a great happiness.

"It is not hard to decide," she murmured, reaching her hand out timidly
toward Harding.

He grasped it eagerly, and Mowbray forced himself to smile. In spite of
the Colonel's prejudices, he felt that his daughter's quiet confidence
in the prairie man was justified.

"I sincerely wish you well," he said. He laid one hand on Harding's arm,
and there was a tremor in his voice as he continued: "We have not agreed
on many points, but I have learned that you can be trusted. I am glad to
remember it now."

"Thank you, sir," said Harding. "I know the value of what you have given
me."

After a few more words Mowbray let them go, and when they sat together
on the large black settle in a corner of the hall, the girl was
conscious of a calm tenderness for her lover that was stronger than
anything she had yet felt.

"Craig," she said softly, "I wasn't brave enough when you first urged
me, but the hesitation I then felt has gone, and I am ashamed of it. I
know that I am safe with you."

"Thank you for that," he answered and his face grew compassionate. "But
you look very tired and distressed."

"I am tired--but I'm happy." A faint flush tinted her cheeks and she
smiled shyly. "The last few days have been very trying, Craig; and when
there seemed to be no way out, then I knew that I wanted you. Now I am
still half dazed; my escape seems so wonderful!"

"I know," Harding said gently. "I was sorry for you all. It must have
been hard for your father, but one can see his point of view. You must
forget about it, dear. I am starting for Winnipeg to-morrow, and may be
there a week. You will have time to get used to things before I come
back."

"You are very considerate, and even kinder than I thought."

He smiled into her eyes.

"I am going to leave you now, because I feel that I ought to. But you
know I want to stay!"

He lifted the hand she gave him and kissed it tenderly. Then a swift
flood surged through him.

"Beatrice!" he breathed. "Oh, Beatrice! You don't know what it means to
me!"

The little fingers were nearly crushed in his strong grasp; but he
released them quickly and turned away.

"Good-by, dear!" he said.

Beatrice let him go, but her look was strangely tender and her heart
beat fast. He had shown a fine unselfishness, and a tact that was
perhaps remarkable. She had no hesitation about him now.



CHAPTER XXV

THE REBUFF


Harding spent a busy week in Winnipeg, carrying out a scheme he had
agreed upon with Broadwood, Kenwyne, and one or two others, though he
feared it would again bring him into conflict with Colonel Mowbray. He
regretted this, but he could not allow it to influence him. Allenwood,
in which he now had a strong interest, must not be allowed to suffer
because of the Colonel's old-fashioned opinions. Harding saw what ought
to be done; and he felt that to leave it undone, in order to save
himself trouble, would be weak and, in a sense, treacherous to those who
now looked to him for a lead. He could not act against his convictions;
he must do what he thought best, and take the consequences.

The storekeepers and implement dealers in the small settlements had many
bad debts, and their charges were proportionately high, but Harding did
not see why he and his friends should pay for the defaulters. Expensive
machines were needed; and new wheat was being produced which would
resist drought and ripen soon enough to escape the autumn frost; but
local dealers were unable, or perhaps too careless, to obtain the seed.
Then, Harding saw that a time was coming when mixed farming produce,
which he called truck, would be in strong demand; and it was his custom
to anticipate a need. Kenwyne and the others recognized the
desirability of this, and had agreed to open a joint agency in Winnipeg.
Harding was not sure that the expense could be recouped for a time, but
he believed the undertaking would pay in the end.

After finding a suitable office, he called on a number of business men
and the flour-millers who were then beginning what was to become the
leading industry of the city. He wanted to learn their views about the
kind of wheat best suited to their use, and to enter into direct
relations with them. On the whole, he succeeded better than he had
hoped, and had now only to appoint an agent. Two or three suitable men
had offered their services, and it was difficult to decide.

He was thinking over the matter in the newly opened office, when Gerald
came in. The Mowbray black sheep seemed to feel no embarrassment in
meeting him, for his manner was inclined to be patronizing. Sitting
down, he lighted a cigarette.

"This is a new venture. I don't know that it will meet with general
approval at Allenwood," he remarked.

"One mustn't expect too much," Harding answered. "I guess the people who
object now will come round by and by."

"I wonder how long you think it will be before my father falls into
line," said Gerald with a careless laugh. "Everything considered, I
rather admire your pluck."

Harding let this pass. It was not a tactful allusion to his engagement
to Beatrice, and he was annoyed by Gerald's manner. He had not expected
much gratitude, but the fellow did not even seem to realize that Harding
had saved him from jail.

"I suppose you know I have been turned out of Allenwood," Gerald
resumed.

Harding admitted that he had been told so.

"Since then I've heard from the Government people that they're not
likely to want me for the new survey. As a matter of fact, I'm not
sorry. The last man I went into the woods with was a sour, exacting
brute."

"They've got to be hard. It isn't easy to run a line through a rough
country."

"Nobody knows that better than I do," Gerald replied with feeling.
"Well, I've been here a week, and can't find any congenial occupation."

"You don't look worried about it."

Gerald laughed.

"Oh, I'm not, as a rule, despondent; and I knew that I could as a last
resort fall back on you. This explains my call. I believe you want an
agent to manage your office."

Harding's expression indicated ironical amusement.

"Do you think what you have just told me is a recommendation for the
job?"

"It seems to prove my need of it."

"But not your suitability. I'm not looking for a man whom nobody else
will have."

Gerald looked at him in astonishment. Though he had not given the matter
much thought, he had imagined that Harding would be glad to do him a
favor for his sister's sake. It was something of a shock to be refused.
And the manner of the refusal was mortifying. The fellow was a coarser
brute than he had thought; but Gerald did not mean to let his resentment
run away with him.

"I have a few useful qualifications," he said. "Some of the bigger
implement dealers and the heads of the milling firms are men of taste
and education. It's possible they might rather deal with me than with a
drummer fellow, or a raw farmer fresh from the soil."

"I'm fresh from the soil, but I guess I could run this end of the
business," Harding returned.

Gerald saw that he had blundered; but he did not feel beaten yet.

"Perhaps I'd better mention that I spoke to Kenwyne and Broadwood, and
they were willing that I should have the agency."

"That's so. I have a letter from Kenwyne, who says he'd like to give you
a lift, but leaves me to decide."

"Then his wishes ought to count. You must see that your position at
Allenwood won't be easy; it will need some tact to make it comfortable,
and your giving me the post would go a long distance in your favor. You
can't afford to disregard our people's feelings until you've made your
footing good."

"Can I not?" Harding's patience was exhausted. "Have I ever tried to
gain your friends' favor by indulging any of their crank notions? If
necessary, I'll put my plans through in spite of the crowd!" He checked
himself. "But this has nothing to do with the matter. You're not the man
I want."

"May I inquire what kind of a man you do want?"

"First of all, one I can trust."

Gerald colored, but he got up with some dignity and moved toward the
door.

"You may regret your decision," he said threateningly.

Harding sat silent until the door closed, and then he went over to the
window and looked out at the narrow street with a frown. He was angry,
but he did not think he had been too severe. It was plain that he might
have made things easier for himself by falling in with Gerald's
suggestion; the fellow was a favorite at Allenwood, where his last
offense was known only to one or two people. Harding had no doubt that
Mowbray would have appreciated his giving his son another chance; and
Beatrice would have thought it generous. For all that, the business of
the settlement could not be done by wastrels; and Harding felt that he
could not secure a personal advantage by a breach of trust.

Gerald's feelings about the matter were far from pleasant. Returning to
his second-class hotel he endeavored to solace them with a drink before
he sat down in the untidy lounge to consider. He had been grossly
insulted; but he persuaded himself that this did not trouble him most.
The worst was that Harding was a coarse, low-bred brute, and was,
unfortunately, going to marry Beatrice. Gerald had not hesitated about
sacrificing his sister to save himself, but it was easy for him now to
feel that she was making a grave mistake. It was perhaps curious that he
had preserved a keen sense of family pride, and a belief that people of
his station must keep up their dignity; but he was honest as far as he
went. He knew that he had by no means lived up to his creed; but, while
some allowances must be made for men, this did not apply to women. It
was essential that they should remember what was due to their birth and
rank. On no account should a well-bred girl marry beneath her.

He went to the bar for another drink, and afterward became convinced
that Beatrice's marriage to Harding could only end in disaster. It must,
therefore, be prevented. He could not see how this was to be done, but
chance might provide a means.

In the meanwhile he was confronted by the stern necessity for earning
his living. Taking up a newspaper, he studied the advertisements; but
unfortunately there seemed to be no demand for people with refined
tastes and polite accomplishments in Canada. Farm teamsters were wanted,
and shovel hands for a branch railroad; but these occupations did not
appeal to Gerald. A clerk was required at a new hotel. Well, that was
more in his line, and he set off to interview the proprietor. After a
few curt questions the man dismissed him, and Gerald spent the next day
or two moodily walking about the town, until it occurred to him that he
had better see what Davies could do. The fellow, who knew the worst of
him, owed him something. He felt much less bitter against the
moneylender, who had helped to ruin him, than he did against Harding,
whom he had injured.

Davies was disengaged when Gerald entered.

"So you're up against it!" he remarked. "Your friends at Allenwood have
no use for you?"

"It looks like that. Otherwise I wouldn't have come here."

"I see they're opening an office in this city."

"Harding's in charge. I don't get on with him."

"Well, perhaps that's natural." Davies was keen enough to notice the
rancor in Gerald's tone. He was afraid his plans about Allenwood might
have to be abandoned, but if he were able to go on with them, Harding
would prove his most dangerous opponent.

"I guess Mr. Harding talked pretty straight to you?" he suggested.

"He took an unfair advantage of my position!"

"So you thought you'd strike me for a job? I guess you know you're not
worth much."

Gerald winced at this, but he could not resent it. His father had
disowned him, and, except for a surreptitious gift from his mother, he
had no resources.

"It's plain that I can't insist upon good terms," he replied. "I quite
expected you to see it."

Davies considered. He did not suspect Mowbray of any fondness for steady
work, and he thought his services as a clerk would be dear at five
dollars a week; but the fellow was shrewd and plausible, and had what
Davies called tone. Well-brought-up young Englishmen and a few Americans
of the same stamp were coming into Manitoba looking for land, and
Mowbray, who understood these people, might act as a decoy. Then, he
knew all about Allenwood, and this knowledge might be useful later. On
the whole, Davies thought he would take the risk of employing him.

"Well," he said, "I'll make you an offer."

It was not an advantageous one for Gerald, but after some objections he
accepted it, and the next day reluctantly set to work. His occupation,
however, proved less unpleasant than he had feared, and at the end of a
few weeks Davies thought he had acted wisely. Mowbray was intelligent
and unscrupulous, his judgment was good, and Davies began to take him
into his confidence.

Harding, in the meanwhile, appointed an agent and went home. He hired a
horse at the railroad settlement, and the first of the Allenwood
farmsteads were rising above the edge of the plain when a mounted figure
appeared near a bluff that the trail skirted. The figure was small and
distant, but it cut sharp against the evening light, and Harding's heart
beat fast as he recognized it. Touching his horse with the quirt, he
rode on at a gallop and pulled up near Beatrice with an exultant gleam
in his eyes.

"This is very kind!" he cried.

She looked at him shyly, with some color in her face.

"Didn't you expect me to meet you? How far have you ridden at that
furious pace?"

"Since I saw you quite a way back. The horse wouldn't come fast enough!"

She smiled at him.

"If you are not in a great hurry to get home, let's walk as far as the
ridge," she suggested.

Harding, springing down, held out his hand, and when she slipped from
the saddle he caught her in his arms and held her fast while he kissed
her. Beatrice was not demonstrative, but he felt her arms tighten about
his neck, and the soft pressure of her cheek upon his face, and it gave
him a thrill of triumph. Now he realized all that he had won.

For a long while they did not speak. Then Beatrice freed herself with a
soft laugh, and they walked on across the prairie. But Harding would not
release one little hand, which he clung to as they climbed the trail
together.

The red sunset burned in front of them with the edge of the plain
cutting against it in a hard, straight line. Above the lurid glow the
wide arch of sky shone a vivid green, and the great sweep of grass ran
forward steeped in deepening shades of blue. There was something
mysteriously impressive in the half light and the riot of color.

"What a glorious evening!" Beatrice could not help exclaiming. "I am
glad I shall not have to leave the prairie."

The crimson flush on the skyline merged into rose and magenta and mauve.

"It is lighted up in your honor," Harding said.

"You have a pretty imagination; but I fear the gray days are more in
keeping with the life I've led. It was often rather dreary at the
Grange, and I felt that I was objectless--drifting on without a
purpose." She smiled at Harding. "You can't understand the feeling?"

"No," he said. "All my life I've had too much to do. One gets
self-centered through thinking only of one's work. It may be better to
stop now and then and look about."

"It depends upon what you see. If your surroundings never change, you
come to know them too well and begin to think that nothing different is
possible. It makes one narrow. We may both need patience, Craig, before
we learn to understand each other's point of view."

Harding realized the truth of this. They looked at many things
differently, and there were points on which their convictions were
opposed.

She gave the strong hand that held hers a slight pressure of caress.

"I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been driven out of my way
by the grass fire that night?" she questioned, woman-like.

"Nothing would have been different. I was bound to meet you sooner or
later."

She laughed contentedly, and they walked on in silence for a while.
Harding felt that he ought to tell her about Gerald, but he hesitated.

"Tell me what you have been doing in Winnipeg," she said, as if she had
divined his thoughts.

He explained his business there carefully, and Beatrice was pleased that
he took her interest and comprehension for granted.

"Gerald wanted me to make him our agent, and I refused," he ended.

She was conscious of disappointment, though she appreciated his candor.

"I'm afraid he will find things hard. Of course, it's his own fault, but
that won't make his difficulties lighter. Couldn't you have taken the
risk of giving him another chance?"

"No," said Harding. "I wanted to help him, for your sake, but I couldn't
give him the post. You see, I was acting for others as well as for
myself." He hesitated before he added: "I felt that we must have the
best man we could get."

"And you could get more reliable men than my brother! Unfortunately,
it's true. But the others were willing; Kenwyne told me so."

He looked at her in surprise, for there was a faint hardness in her
voice.

"I don't think they quite understood how important the matter is.
Anyway, they left it to me and I felt forced to do what seemed best for
all."

"Well," she said, as if puzzled, "Gerald certainly wronged you."

"That didn't count; not the wrong you mean. The greatest injury he could
have done me would have been in giving you to Brand. However, it was not
this, but his unfitness for our work that made me refuse him."

He had blundered, and Beatrice felt hurt. She could have forgiven him
for bitterly resenting Gerald's attempt to separate them, but he seemed
to consider that comparatively unimportant. There was a hard strain in
him; perhaps her father had been right in thinking him too deeply imbued
with the commercial spirit.

He helped her to the saddle, and the misunderstanding was forgotten as
they rode in confidential talk across the shadowy plain until the lights
of the Grange twinkled out ahead. Harding left her at the forking of the
trail, but he was thoughtful as he trotted home alone. He must exercise
care and tact in future. Beatrice was proud, and he feared that he had
not altogether won her yet.



CHAPTER XXVI

DROUGHT


The wheat was growing tall and changing to a darker shade; when the wind
swept through it, it undulated like the waves of a vast green sea,
rippling silver and white where the light played on the bending blades.

Harding lay among the dusty grass in a dry sloo, and Hester sat beside
him in the blue shadow of the big hay wagon. Since six o'clock that
morning Harding and Devine had been mowing prairie hay. They had stopped
long enough to eat the lunch Hester had brought them; and now Devine had
returned to his work, and sat jolting in the driving-seat of a big
machine as he guided three powerful horses along the edge of the grass.
It went down in dry rows, ready for gathering, before the glistening
knife, and a haze of dust and a cloud of flies followed the team across
the sloo. Harding's horses stood switching their tails in the sunshine
that flooded the plain with a dazzling glare.

"It was rough on Fred that you wouldn't let him finish his pipe,"
Harding said.

"He went obediently," Hester answered with a smile. "I wanted to talk to
you."

"I suspected something of the kind; but I can't see why you must stop me
now."

"You are away at daybreak and come home late."

"Very well," said Harding resignedly. "But I've got to clean up this
sloo by dark."

"Then you're not going to the Grange? You haven't been since Sunday."

"Beatrice understands that I'm busy."

"That's fortunate. It's not nice to feel neglected. Can't you take your
mind off your farming for a little while, Craig?"

"It's my job. What's more, sticking to it seems the best way of making
things easier for Beatrice. I'm an outsider at Allenwood and have got to
justify my unorthodox notions by success. I haven't much polish and I'm
not a good talker, but I can grow wheat--and luckily that comes into the
scheme."

"It may, perhaps. When are you to be married, Craig?"

"I don't know. Beatrice puts it off. I had hoped it might be after
harvest, but nothing's settled yet."

"Then you ought to be firm and insist upon fixing the wedding soon."

"I wish I could. But why?"

"Because it might be better not to leave Beatrice among her friends too
long."

Harding looked surprised.

"Since the Colonel's given in, and Gerald's gone, I don't think there is
anybody who would try to turn her against me."

"No," agreed Hester. "Her parents would be angry if she broke her
engagement. Now that they have accepted you, you can count on their
support, even if they're not quite satisfied with the match. The trouble
is that you and they belong to very different schools. They'll try to
make the best of you, but Beatrice will see how hard they find it."

"Hurrying on the wedding won't help much."

"It might. Beatrice will try to accept her husband's views, and she'll
probably find it easier than she thinks; but at present all she sees and
hears will remind her of the changes she will have to make. Things you
do will not seem right; some of your ideas will jar. Then the other
women will let her see that they feel sorry for her and think she's
throwing herself away. She'll deny it, but it will hurt."

"Perhaps that's true," said Harding. "But talking of the wedding raises
another question. I want a better house, and when I build I may as well
locate at Allenwood."

"Then you are still determined on getting control there?"

"I don't want control, but I may have to take it," Harding answered.
"The settlement will fall to bits if it's left alone, and I suspect that
I'm the only man who can hold it up. I'm glad you have talked to me.
What you've said makes it clear that I've not time to lose. Now,
however, this hay must be cut."

He led his team into the grass when Hester went away, but although he
worked hard until dark fell, his mind was busy with many things beside
the clattering machine.

A few days later he had occasion to visit Winnipeg, and after some talk
with his agent there, he asked him:

"Do you know how Davies is fixed just now, Jackson?"

"I don't know much about him personally, but men in his line of business
are feeling the set-back. They've bought options on land there's no
demand for, and can't collect accounts; farmers with money seem to have
stopped coming in; and the small homesteaders are going broke. Doesn't
seem to be any money in the country, and credit's played out."

"Then it ought to be a good time to pick up land cheap, and I want you
to find a broker who'll ask Davies what he'll take for two or three
mortgages he holds on Allenwood. My name's not to be mentioned; you must
get a man who can handle the matter cautiously."

"I know one; but, if you don't mind my asking, could you put a deal of
that kind through?"

"I must," said Harding. "It will be a strain, but the crop's coming on
well and I ought to have a surplus after harvest."

"Isn't the dry weather hurting you?"

"Not yet. We can stand for another week or two if the wind's not too
bad. Anyhow, you can find out whether Davies is inclined to trade."

When Harding went out into the street, he was met by a cloud of swirling
dust. He wiped the grit from his eyes and brushed it off his clothes
with an annoyance that was not accounted for by the slight discomfort it
caused him. The sun was fiercely hot, the glare trying, and the plank
sidewalks and the fronts of the wooden stores had begun to crack. Sand
and cement from half-finished buildings were blowing down the street;
and when Harding stopped to watch a sprinkler at work on a lawn at the
corner of an avenue where frame houses stood among small trees, the
glistening shower vanished as it fell. There were fissures in the hard
soil and the grass looked burnt. But it was the curious, hard
brightness of the sky and the way the few white clouds swept across it
that gave Harding food for thought.

The soil of the Western prairie freezes deep, and, thawing slowly,
retains moisture for the wheat plant for some time; but the June rain
had been unusually light. Moreover, the plains rise in three or four
tablelands as they run toward the Rockies, and the strength of the
northwest wind increases with their elevation. It was blowing fresh in
the low Red River basin, but it would be blowing harder farther west,
where there are broken, sandy belts. After a period of dry weather, the
sand drives across the levels with disastrous consequences to any crops
in the neighborhood. This, however, was a danger that could not be
guarded against.

The next day Jackson reported about the mortgages.

"Davies was keen on business and offered my man improved preemptions in
a dozen different townships," he said. "Pressed him to go out and take a
look at them; but when he heard the buyer wanted an Allenwood location
he wouldn't trade."

"What do you gather from that?"

"The thing seems pretty plain, and what I've found out since yesterday
agrees with my conclusions. Davies is pressed for money, but he means to
hold on to Allenwood as long as he can. A good harvest would help him
because he'd then be able to get in some money from his customers."

"A good harvest would help us all; but there's not much hope of it
unless the weather changes. In the meanwhile, we'll let the matter drop,
because I don't want to give the fellow a hint about my plans."

Nearing home on the following evening, Harding pulled up his horse on
the edge of the wheat as he saw Devine coming to meet him.

"What's the weather been like?" he asked, getting down from the rig.

"Bad," said Devine gloomily. "Hot and blowing hard."

Harding looked about as they crossed a stretch of grass that had turned
white and dry. The sunset was red and angry, but above the horizon the
sky was a hard, dark blue that threatened wind. Everything was very
still now, but the men knew the breeze would rise again soon after
daybreak. They said nothing for a time after they stopped beside the
wheat.

The soil was thinly covered with sand, and the tall blades had a yellow,
shriveled look, while the stems were bent and limp. Harding gathered a
few and examined them. They were scored with fine lines as if they had
been cut by a sharp file.

"Not serious yet, but the grain won't stand for much more of this."

"That's so," Devine agreed. "The sand hasn't got far in, but I guess it
will work right through unless we have a change. If not, there'll be
trouble for both of us this fall."

"Sure," said Harding curtly. "Bring the horse, Fred, and we'll drive on
to the rise."

They presently alighted where the plain merged into a belt of broken
country, dotted with clumps of scrub birch and poplar. It rolled in
ridges and hollows, but the harsh grass which thinly covered its surface
had shriveled and left bare banks of sand, which lay about the slopes in
fantastic shapes as they had drifted. Harding stooped and took up a
handful. It was hot and felt gritty. The broken ground ran on as far as
he could see, and the short, stunted trees looked as if they had been
scorched. Glowing red in the dying sunset, the desolate landscape had a
strangely sinister effect.

"The stuff's as hard and sharp as steel," he said, throwing down the
sand. "There's enough of it to wipe out all the crops between Allenwood
and the frontier if the drought lasts."

"What we want is a good big thunderstorm. This blamed sand-belt's a
trouble we never reckoned on."

"No," said Harding. "I took a look at it when I was picking my location,
but there was plenty of grass, and the brush was strong and green. Guess
they'd had more rain the last two or three years. I figured out things
pretty carefully--and now the only set-back I didn't allow for is going
to pull me up! Well, we must hope for a change of weather; there's
nothing else to be done."

He turned away with a gloomy face, and they walked back to the rig.
Harding had early seen that Beatrice would not be an easy prize. It was
not enough, entrancing as it was, to dream over her beauty, her
fastidious daintiness in manners and thought, her patrician calm, and
the shy tenderness she now and then showed for him. The passionate
thrill her voice and glance brought him--spurred him rather--to action.
First of all, he must work and fight for her, and he had found a keen
pleasure in the struggle. One by one he had pulled down the barriers
between them; but now, when victory seemed secure, an obstacle he could
not overcome had suddenly risen. All his strength of mind and body
counted for nothing against the weather. Beatrice could not marry a
ruined man; it was unthinkable that he should drag her down to the
grinding care and drudgery that formed the lot of a broken farmer's
wife. He was helpless, and could only wait and hope for rain.

When he had finished his work the next evening he drove over to the
Grange, feeling depressed and tired, for he had begun at four o'clock
that morning. It was very hot: a fiery wind still blew across the plain,
although the sun had set, and Beatrice was sitting on the veranda with
her mother and Mowbray. They had a languid air, and the prairie, which
had turned a lifeless gray, looked strangely dreary as it ran back into
the gathering dark.

"Not much hope of a change!" Mowbray remarked.

Beatrice gave Harding a sympathetic glance, and unconsciously he set his
lips tight. She looked cool and somehow ethereal in her thin white dress
and her eyes were gentle. It was horrible to think that he might have to
give her up; but he knew it might come to this.

"You're tired; I'm afraid you have been working too hard," Beatrice said
gently.

"The weather accounts for it, not the work," he answered. "It's
depressing to feel that all you've done may lead to nothing."

"Very true," Mowbray assented. "You're fortunate if this is the first
time you have been troubled by the feeling. Many of us have got used to
it; but one must go on."

"It's hard to fight a losing battle, sir."

"It is," said Mowbray grimly. "That it really does not matter in the end
whether you lose or not, so long as you're on the right side, doesn't
seem to give one much consolation. But your crop strikes me as looking
better than ours."

"I plowed deep; the sub-soil holds the moisture. Of course, with
horse-traction----"

Harding hesitated, but Mowbray smiled.

"I can't deny that your machines have their advantages," the Colonel
said. "They'd be useful if you could keep them in their place as
servants; the danger is that they'll become your masters. When you have
bought them you must make them pay, and that puts you under the yoke of
an iron thing that demands to be handled with the sternest economy. The
balance sheet's the only standard it leaves you--and you have to make
some sacrifices if you mean to come out on the credit side. Your finer
feelings and self-respect often have to go."

"I'm not sure they need go; but, in a way, you're right. You must strike
a balance, or the machines that cost so much will break you. For all
that, it's useful as a test; the result of bad work shows when you come
to the reckoning. I can't see that to avoid waste must be demoralizing."

"It isn't. The harm begins when you set too high a value on economical
efficiency."

Harding did not answer, and there was silence for a time. Mrs. Mowbray
had a headache from the heat, and Beatrice felt limp. She noticed the
slackness of Harding's pose and felt sorry for him. He differed from her
father, and she could not think he was always right, but he was honest;
indeed, it was his strong sincerity that had first attracted her. She
liked his strength and boldness; the athletic symmetry of his form had
its effect; but what struck her most was his freedom from what the
Canadians contemptuously called meanness. Beatrice was fastidiously
refined in some respects, and she thought of him as clean. Unconsciously
she forgave him much for this, because he jarred upon her now and then.
Her father's old-fashioned ideals were touched with a grace that her
lover could not even admire, but, watching him as he sat in the fading
light, she felt that he was trustworthy.

Mosquitos began to invade the veranda, and Mrs. Mowbray was driven into
the house. The Colonel presently followed her, and Beatrice, leaving her
chair, cuddled down beside Harding on the steps.

"Craig," she said, "you're quiet to-night."

"This dry weather makes one think; and then there's the difference
between your father and myself. He wants to be just, but there's a
natural antagonism between us that can't be got over."

"It isn't personal, dear."

"No," said Harding; "we're antagonistic types. The trouble is that you
must often think as he does--and I wouldn't have you different."

"That's dear of you, Craig. But, even if we don't agree always, what
does it matter? I like you because you're so candid and honest. You
would never hide anything you thought or did from me."

They sat there in the gathering gloom. An early owl ventured out and
hooted from his sheltered tree-top; a chorus of frogs down in the lake
sent back an indignant reply; a honeysuckle vine that climbed over the
veranda flaunted its perfumed blossoms to the hot, night air, luring
pollen-bearers.

To Harding, the worries of the day were, for the moment, forgotten: a
great peace filled him. And over the girl, as she felt his strong arm
around her, there rested a deep, satisfying sense of security and
trust.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE ADVENTURESS


Before the wheat had suffered serious damage, a few thunder showers
broke upon the plain, and Harding and his neighbors took courage. The
crop was not out of danger; indeed, a week's dry weather would undo the
good the scanty rain had done; but ruin, which had seemed imminent, was,
at least, delayed. Then Harding got news from his agent that
necessitated his return to Winnipeg, and Mrs. Mowbray and Beatrice, who
wished to visit the millinery stores, arranged to accompany him.

It was hot and dry when they reached the city, but Harding was of
sanguine temperament and, being relieved from fear of immediate
disaster, proceeded with his plans for the consolidation of Allenwood.
He could not carry them far, because even if he secured an abundant
harvest, which was at present doubtful, he would have some difficulty in
raising capital enough to outbid his rival. Acting cautiously with
Jackson's help, however, he found two men who had lent Davies money and
were now frankly alarmed by the general fall in values. One, indeed, was
willing to transfer his interest to Harding on certain terms which the
latter could not accept.

He was thinking over these matters one morning when, to his surprise, he
saw Brand crossing the street toward him. They had not met since the
evening of their encounter with Davies at the Grange, and Harding was
sensible of some constraint. Brand was a reserved man whom he had
neither understood nor liked, but he had thought him honorable until he
learned the price he had demanded for helping Mowbray.

There was no embarrassment in Brand's manner. He looked as cool and
inscrutable as usual.

"I'm rather glad we have met," he said.

"I thought you had gone back to the Old Country," Harding replied.

"No; I find it harder to sell my farm than I imagined. The settlement
covenant's the trouble, and I don't feel inclined to give the land away.
I want a talk with you. Will you come to my hotel?"

Harding agreed, and a few minutes later they sat down in a quiet corner
of the hotel lounge.

"How's your campaign against the moneylender progressing?" Brand began
abruptly.

"Then you know something about it?"

"I'm not a fool. I've been watching the game with interest for some
time. I have a reason for asking; you can be frank with me."

Harding knew when to trust a man and, in spite of what had happened, he
trusted Brand. When he had given him a short explanation, Brand seemed
satisfied.

"Very well; now I have something to say. My prejudices are against you;
they're on Mowbray's side, but I'm beginning to see that his position is
untenable. It seems I can't get a fair price for my farm, and after
spending some happy years on it, I have a sentimental affection for the
place. Don't know that I'd care to see it fall into the hands of some
raw English lad whose inexperience would be a danger to Allenwood. The
drift of all this is--will you work the land for me if we can make a
satisfactory arrangement?"

Harding hesitated.

"I don't know that I could take a favor----"

"From me? Don't make a mistake. I'm not acting out of any personal
regard for you. On the whole, I'd rather see you in control of Allenwood
than a mortgage broker; that's all."

"Thanks! On that understanding we might come to terms."

"Then there's another matter. Managing my farm won't help you much, and
I feel that I owe something to the settlement. If it looks as if the
moneylender would be too strong for you, and you're short of funds, you
can write to me. I can afford to spend something on Allenwood's
defense."

They talked it over, and when Harding left the hotel he had promised, in
case of necessity, to ask Brand's help. Moreover, although he had not
expected this, he felt some sympathy and a half reluctant liking for his
beaten rival.

During the same day Davies had a confidential talk with Gerald.

"Do you know that your mother and sister are in town with Harding?" he
asked.

"Yes; but I haven't seen them yet."

"Rather not meet Harding? Are you pleased that the man's going to marry
your sister?"

"I'm not!" Gerald answered curtly.

He stopped writing and frowned at the book in which he was making an
entry. He felt very bitter against Harding, who had insulted him, but
he was moved by a deeper and less selfish feeling. It jarred upon his
sense of fitness that his sister should marry a low-bred fellow with
whom he was convinced she could not live happily. Beatrice had lost her
head, but she was a Mowbray and would recover her senses; then she would
rue the mistake she had made. She might resent Gerald's interference and
would, no doubt, suffer for a time if he succeeded in separating her
from her lover; but men, as he knew, got over an irregular passion, and
he had no reason to believe that women were different.

"She will marry him unless something is done," Davies resumed cunningly.

"What is that to you?"

"Well, I think you can guess my hand. His marrying your sister would
give Harding some standing at Allenwood, and he's already got more
influence there than suits me. The fellow's dangerous; I hear he's been
getting at one or two of the men who backed me. But we'll quit fencing.
Do you want to stop this match?"

Although he had fallen very low, Gerald felt the humiliation of allowing
Davies to meddle with the Mowbray affairs; but he overcame his
repugnance, because the man might be of help.

"Yes," he answered shortly; "but I don't see how it can be stopped."

"You knew Coral Stanton in your more prosperous days, didn't you?"

Gerald admitted it. Miss Stanton described herself as a clairvoyante,
but although there were then in the Western cities ladies of her
profession who confined themselves to forecasting the changes of the
markets and fortune-telling, the term had to some extent become
conventionalized and conveyed another meaning. Coral had arrived in
Winnipeg with a third-rate opera company, which she left after a quarrel
with the manager's wife; and although it was known that gambling for
high stakes went on in her consulting rooms, she had for a time avoided
trouble with the civic authorities. The girl was of adventurous turn of
mind and was marked by an elfish love of mischief.

"I can't see what my knowing Coral has to do with the matter," Gerald
replied.

"Then I'll have to explain. Things have been going wrong with her since
the Ontario lumber man was doped in her rooms. The police have given her
warning, and I guess she wouldn't stick at much if she saw a chance of
earning a hundred dollars easily."

"What d'you suggest that she should do?"

"If you'll listen for a few minutes, I'll tell you."

Davies chuckled as he unfolded a plan that appealed to his broad sense
of humor; but Gerald frowned. Although likely to result to her ultimate
benefit, the plot was, in the first place, directed against his sister.
It was repugnant in several ways, but he thought it would work, for
Beatrice, like his mother, had Puritanical views. Besides, he could
think of nothing else.

"Well," he said, "will you talk to Coral?"

"Certainly not," Davies answered cautiously; "that's your part of the
business. I'll put up the money."

The following day Harding was lunching with Beatrice and her mother at
their hotel, when the waitress brought him a note. Beatrice, sitting
next to him, noticed that it was addressed in a woman's hand and was
heavily scented. Indeed, there was something she disliked in the
insidious perfume. She watched Harding as he opened the envelope and saw
that what he read disturbed him. This struck her as curious, but she did
not see the note. He thrust it into his pocket and began to talk about
something of no importance.

Beatrice thought over the incident during the afternoon, but by evening
she had banished it from her mind. After dinner they sat in the big
rotunda of the hotel. Harding was unusually quiet, but Beatrice scarcely
noticed it, for she was interested in watching the people who sauntered
in and out through the revolving glass door. They were of many different
types: wiry, brown-faced plainsmen; silent, grave-eyed fellows from the
forest belt; smart bank clerks and traders; mechanics; and a few women.
One or two seemed to be needy adventurers, but they came and went among
the rest, though it was obvious that they could not be staying at the
hotel.

Beatrice's attention was suddenly attracted by a girl who came in. She
was handsome, dressed in the extreme of fashion, and marked by a certain
rakish boldness that was not unbecoming. Beatrice was struck by the
darkness of her hair and the brilliance of her color, until she saw that
something was due to art; then she noticed a man smile at another as he
indicated the girl, and two more turn and look after her when she
passed. Thereupon Beatrice grew pitiful, ashamed and angry, for she
could not tell which of the feelings predominated; and she wondered why
the hotel people had not prevented the girl's entrance. She was pleased
to see that Harding was talking to a man who had joined him and had
noticed nothing.

Her life at the Grange had been somewhat austere, and her relatives were
old-fashioned people of high character who condemned what they called
modern laxity. For all that, the adventuress roused her curiosity, and
she watched her as she moved about the room. She drew near them, and
Beatrice thought her eyes rested strangely on Harding for a moment. A
strong scent floated about her--the same that had perfumed the note.
Beatrice was startled, but she tried to persuade herself that she was
mistaken. The adventuress passed on; but when Harding's companion left
him she came up at once and gave him an inviting smile. He looked at her
in surprise, but there was some color in his face. It was unthinkable
that he should know the girl, but she stopped beside him.

"Craig," she cooed, "you don't pretend that you've forgotten me?"

Harding looked at her coldly.

"I have never seen you before in my life!" he said emphatically.

Coral laughed, and Beatrice noticed the music in her voice.

"Aw, come off!" she exclaimed. "What you giving us? Guess you've been
getting rich and turned respectable."

Harding cast a quick glance round. Beatrice and Mrs. Mowbray sat near,
and it would be difficult to defend himself to either. The girl had made
an unfortunate mistake, or perhaps expected to find him an easy victim;
now he began to understand the note. The blood filled his face and he
looked guilty in his embarrassment and anger, for he saw that he was
helpless. The hotel people would not interfere; and to repulse the woman
rudely or run away from her was likely to attract the attention he
wished to avoid.

"You have mistaken me for somebody else," he replied uneasily.

She gave him a coquettish smile.

"Well, I guess you're Craig Harding unless you've changed your name as
well as your character. I reckoned you'd come back to me when I heard
you were in town. You ought to feel proud I came to look for you, when
you didn't answer my note."

There was something seductive and graceful in her mocking courtesy, but
Harding lost his temper.

"I've had enough! You don't know me, and if you try to play this fool
game I'll have you fired out!"

"That to an old friend--and a lady!" she exclaimed. "You've surely lost
the pretty manners that made me love you."

Harding turned in desperation, and started to the door; but she
followed, putting her hand on his shoulder, and some of the bystanders
laughed. Beatrice, quivering with the shock, hated them for their
amusement. Even if he were innocent, Harding had placed himself in a
horribly humiliating position. But she could not think him innocent. All
she had seen and heard condemned him.

Harding shook off the girl's hand and, perhaps alarmed by the look he
gave her, she left him and soon afterward disappeared, but when he
returned to the table Beatrice and her mother had gone. He was getting
cool again, but he felt crushed, for no defense seemed possible. He
could only offer a blunt denial which, in the face of appearances, could
hardly be believed.

He left the hotel and spent an hour walking about the city, trying to
think what he must do. When he returned a bell-boy brought him word that
Mrs. Mowbray wished to see him in the drawing-room. Harding went up and
found the room unoccupied except by Beatrice and her mother. The girl's
face was white, but it was stern and she had her father's immovable
look. Rising as he came in, she stood very straight, holding out a
little box.

"This is yours," she said. "I must give it back to you. You will
understand what that means."

Harding took the box, containing the ring he had given her, and steadily
met her accusing eyes, though he could see no hope for him in them.

"I suppose there's no use in my saying that it's all a mistake or a
wicked plot?"

"No; I'm afraid the evidence against you is too strong." She hesitated a
moment, and he thought he saw some sign of relenting. "Craig," she
begged, in a broken voice, "do go. I--I believed in you."

"You have no reason to doubt me now."

He turned to Mrs. Mowbray.

"Can't you be persuaded? I give you my solemn word----"

"Don't!" Beatrice interrupted. "Don't make it worse!"

"I'm sorry I must agree with my daughter's decision until I see more
reason to change it than I can hope for at present," Mrs. Mowbray
replied. "It would be better if you left us. We return to-morrow."

Her tone was final; and, with a last glance at Beatrice, Harding went
out dejectedly.



CHAPTER XXVIII

FIRE AND HAIL


On the morning after her return from Winnipeg, Beatrice sat in her
father's study, with Mowbray facing her across the table. He looked
thoughtful, but not so shocked and indignant as she had expected.

"So you are determined to throw Harding over!"

"Yes," Beatrice said in a strained voice. "It seems impossible to do
anything else."

"A broken engagement's a serious matter; we Mowbrays keep our word. I
hope you're quite sure of your ground."

"What I heard left no room for doubt."

"Did you hear the man's defense?"

"I refused to listen," said Beatrice coldly. "That he should try to
excuse himself only made it worse."

"I'm not sure that's very logical. I'll confess that Harding and I
seldom agree, but one must be fair."

"Does that mean that one ought to be lenient?" Beatrice asked with an
angry sparkle in her eyes.

Mowbray was conscious of some embarrassment. His ideas upon the subject
were not sharply defined, but if it had not been his daughter who
questioned him he could have expressed them better. Beatrice ought to
have left her parents to deal with a delicate matter like this, but
instead she had boldly taken it into her own hands. He had tried to
bring up his children well, but the becoming modesty which characterized
young women in his youth had gone.

"No," he answered; "not exactly lenient. But the thing may not be so bad
as you think--and one must make allowances. Then, a broken engagement
reflects upon both parties. Even if one of them has an unquestionable
grievance, it proves that that person acted very rashly in making a
promise in the first instance."

"Yes," said Beatrice; "that is my misfortune. I was rash and easily
deceived. I made the bargain in confiding ignorance, without reserve,
while the man kept a good deal back."

"But your mother tells me that he declared he had never seen the woman;
and Harding is not a liar."

"I used to think so, but it looks as if I were mistaken," Beatrice
answered bitterly as she turned away.

Leaving him, she found a quiet spot in the shadow of a bluff, and sat
down to grapple with her pain. It had hurt more than she had thought
possible to cast off Harding, and she could bear her trouble only by
calling pride to her aid. There was, she told herself, much about the
man that had from the first offended her, but she had made light of it,
believing him steadfast and honorable. Now she knew she had been
deceived. She had been ready to throw away all the privileges of her
station; she had disregarded her friends' opinion--and this was her
reward! The man for whom she would have made the sacrifice was gross and
corrupt; but nobody should guess that she found it strangely hard to
forget him.

Lance came upon her, there at the edge of the woods; but her head was
buried in her arms and she did not see him. The boy turned at once and
went to have a talk with his father. His expression was very resolute
when he entered Mowbray's study.

"What are you going to do about Bee's trouble, sir?" he asked abruptly.

His father gave him an amused smile.

"I haven't decided," he said. "Have you anything useful to suggest?"

"I feel that you ought to put it right."

"Can you tell me how?"

"No. Of course, it's a delicate matter; but you have a wider knowledge
and experience."

"Umh!" the Colonel grunted. "Why do you conclude that your sister's
wrong?"

"I know the man. He's not the kind she thinks."

"Your mother saw the woman, and heard what she said."

"There's been a mistake," Lance persisted. "I've a suspicion that
somebody may have put her up to it."

"Made a plot to blacken Harding, you mean? Rather far-fetched, isn't it?
Whom do you suspect?"

Lance turned red, for his father's tone was sarcastic, and he thought of
Gerald; but he could not drop a hint against his brother.

"I don't know yet, but I'm going to find out."

"When you have found out, you can tell me," Mowbray answered, and gave
the boy an approving smile. "You're quite right in standing by your
friend, and you certainly owe Harding something. If you can prove him
better than we think, nobody will be more pleased than I."

Lance had to be satisfied with this. He did not know how to set about
his investigations, but he determined to visit Winnipeg as soon as he
could.

For the next week or two there was quietness at the Grange. The dry
weather held, and boisterous winds swept the sunburned plain. The sod
cracked, the wheat was shriveling, and although in public men and women
made a brave pretense of cheerfulness, in private they brooded over the
ruin that threatened them. To make things worse, three or four days a
week, heavy clouds that raced across the sky all morning gathered in
solid banks at noon, and then, as if in mockery, broke up and drove
away. Few of the settlers had much reserve capital, and the low prices
obtained for the last crop had strained their finances; but Harding was,
perhaps, threatened most.

He had, as had been his custom, boldly trusted to the earth all he had
won by previous effort, and this year it looked as if the soil would
refuse its due return. Still, his taking such a risk was only partly due
to the prompting of his sanguine temperament. While he had hope of
winning Beatrice he must stake his all on the chance of gaining
influence and wealth. He had lost her; but after a few black days during
which he had thought of abandoning the struggle and letting things
drift, he quietly resumed his work. What he had begun must be finished,
even if it brought no advantage to himself. The disaster that seemed
unavoidable braced him to sterner effort; but when dusk settled down he
stood in the dim light and brooded over his withering wheat. Being what
he was, a man of constructive genius, it cut deep that he must watch the
grain that had cost so much thought and toil go to waste; but the red
band on the prairie's edge and the luminous green above it held only a
menace.

One day Harding drove with Devine to a distant farm, and they set out on
the return journey late in the afternoon. It was very hot, for the wind
had died away, and deep stillness brooded over the lifeless plain. The
gophers that made their burrows in the trail had lost their usual
briskness, and sat up on their haunches until the wheels were almost
upon them. The prairie-chickens the horses disturbed would not rise, but
ran a few yards and sank down in the parched grass. The sky was leaden,
and the prairie glimmered a curious, livid white. Harding's skin
prickled, and he was conscious of a black depression and a headache.

"If this only meant rain!" he exclaimed dejectedly. "But I've given up
hope."

"Something's surely coming," Devine replied, glancing at a great bank of
cloud that had changed its color to an oily black. "If this weather
holds for another week, the crop will be wiped out, but somehow I can't
believe we'll all go broke."

Harding had once thought as his comrade did, but now his optimistic
courage had deserted him. The future was very dark. He meant to fight
on, but defeat seemed certain. It would be easier to bear because he had
already lost what he valued most.

Presently the wagon wheels sank in yielding sand, and that roused him.

"Our hauling costs us high with these loose trails. I'd counted on
cutting more straw with the crop this year and using it to bind the
road. But now we may not have any grain to send out."

The plan was characteristic of him, though his dejection was not. As a
rule, straw has no value in a newly opened country, and not much is cut
with the grain, the tall stubble being burned off; but Harding had seen
a use for the waste material in improving the means of transport.

"Well," said Devine, "we'd better hustle. The team won't stand for a
storm."

Harding urged the horses, and as the wheels ran out on firm ground the
pace grew faster, and a distant bluff began to rise from the waste. When
they were a mile or two from the woods there was a rumble of thunder and
the light grew dim. The dark sky seemed descending to meet the earth,
the bluff grew indistinct, but the burned grass still retained its
ghostly whiteness. Then the temperature suddenly fell, and when a puff
of cold wind touched his face Harding used the whip. He knew what was
going to happen.

Throwing up their heads in alarm as a pale flash glimmered across the
trail, the team broke into a gallop, while the light wagon rocked and
swung as the wheels jolted over hummocks and smashed through scrubby
brush. Harding did not think he could hold the horses in the open when
the storm broke, and he did not wish to be hurled across the rugged
prairie behind a bolting team. Springing down when they reached the
trees, he and Devine locked the wheels and then stood waiting at the
horses' heads. All was now very still again, but a gray haze was closing
in. Now and then leaves stirred and rustled, and once or twice a dry
twig came down. The faint crackle it made jarred on the men's tingling
nerves.

Harding found it difficult to keep still. He slowly filled his pipe for
the sake of occupation. The match he struck burned steadily, but its
pale flame was suddenly lost in a dazzling glare as the lightning fell
in an unbroken fork from overhead to a corner of the bluff. Then the
pipe dropped and was trodden on, as the men swayed to and fro, using all
their strength to hold the plunging team. It was only for a moment they
heard the battering hoofs, for a deafening crash that rolled across the
heavens drowned all other sound, and as it died away the trees began to
moan. A few large drops of rain fell, and then, as the men watched it,
gathering a faint hope, the rain turned to hail. A savage wind struck
the bluff, the air got icy cold, and the hail changed from fine grains
to ragged lumps. Harding could hear it roar among the trees between the
peals of thunder, until the scream of wind and the groan of bending
branches joined in and formed a wild tumult of sound.

Though the men stood to lee of the woods, the hail found them out,
bruising their faces and cutting their wet hands; even their bodies
afterward felt as if they had been beaten. It raked the bluff like
rifle-fire, cutting twigs and shredding leaves, and the wild wind swept
the wreckage far to leeward. Light branches were flying, and Harding was
struck, but his grapple with the maddened horses demanded all his
thought. The lightning leaped about them and blazed through the woods,
silhouetting bending trees and the horses' tense, wet bodies, before it
vanished and left what seemed to be black darkness behind.

Then, when the men were getting exhausted, the thunder grew fainter and
the bitter wind died away. There was a strange, perplexing stillness in
the heavy gloom, until the cloud-ranks parted and a ray of silver light
broke through. The grass steamed as the beam moved across it, and
suddenly the bluff was warm and bright, and they could see the havoc
that had been made.

Torn branches hung from the poplars, slender birch-twigs lay in heaps,
and banks of hail, now changing fast to water, stretched out into the
wet, sparkling plain.

Harding's face was very stern as he picked up a handful of the icy
pieces.

"With a strong wind behind it, this stuff would cut like a knife," he
said. "Well, it has saved our putting the binders into the grain."

Devine made a sign of gloomy agreement. There was no hope left; the crop
they had expected much from was destroyed.

They clambered into the wagon and drove for some time before the first
farmstead began to lift above the edge of the plain. In the meanwhile
the hail that glistened in the grass tussocks melted away, and only a
few dark clouds drifting to the east marred the tranquillity of the
summer evening. The men were silent, but Devine understood why his
comrade drove so hard, holding straight across dry sloos where the tall
grass crackled about the wheels, and over billowy rises where the
horses' feet sank deep in sand. He was anxious to learn the worst, and
Devine feared that it would prove very bad.

At last they crossed a higher ridge and Harding, looking down, saw his
homestead lying warm in the evening light. He had often watched it rise
out of the prairie, with a stirring of his blood. It was his; much of it
had been built by his own labor; and he had won from the desolate waste
the broad stretch of fertile soil that rolled away behind it. But he now
gazed at it with a frown. As the buildings grew into shape, dark patches
of summer fallow broke the gray sweep of grass, and then the neutral
green of alfalfa and clover, running in regular oblongs, appeared.
Behind, extending right across the background, lay the wheat, a smear of
indefinite color darker than the plain. That was all they could see of
it at that distance. They were going fast, but Harding lashed the horses
in his impatience.

Devine, however, looked more closely about, and it struck him that the
ground had dried with remarkable rapidity; indeed, if he had not felt
the hail, he could hardly have believed the plain had been wet. For all
that, not venturing to hope for fear of meeting a heavier shock, he said
nothing to his comrade, and presently they dipped into a hollow. They
could not see across the ridge in front, and Harding urged his horses
savagely when they came to the ascent. The animals' coats were foul,
spume dripped from the bits, and their sides were white where the traces
slapped, but they breasted the hill pluckily. The men were grim and
highly strung, braced to meet the worst. To Harding it meant ruin and
the downfall of all his plans; to Devine his wedding put off. It might
be some years before he made good, and he feared that he could no longer
count on his comrade's help. If Harding were forced to give up his farm,
he might leave the prairie.

At last, when the suspense was telling upon both, they reached the
summit and Harding stood up to see better.

"Why, the ground has not been wet!" he exclaimed, unbelieving. "The hail
has not touched us!"

It was true; the fire and the ragged ice had passed over that belt of
prairie and left its wake of ruin farther on. Still, though the wheat
was none the worse, it was none the better. It stood as when they had
seen it last, limp from drought and cut by blowing sand. Disaster was
only suspended, not removed. But there was hope.

"Things don't look half so bad as they might!" said Harding cheerfully.
"I don't deserve it. I got savage and bitter; and bitterness is a bad
substitute for grit. Now I'll brace up, and face the future the way a
man ought!"



CHAPTER XXIX

A BRAVE HEART


Three days passed, and still no rain fell to save the withering grain.
On the evening of the fourth day, Beatrice was walking home alone from
one of the neighboring farms. She was lost in painful thought and
scarcely noticed where she was until she passed a clump of prominent
trees which she knew was at the edge of Harding's place. Then she
stopped and looked about her.

The sun had dipped, but an angry orange glow flushed the wide horizon
and the sky overhead was a cold dark blue. The great sweep of grain
caught the fading light, and Beatrice knew enough about farming to see
how it had suffered. She could not look at it unmoved; the sight was
pitiful. The wheat had cost long and patient labor, and she knew with
what hope and ambition the man who had sown it had worked. It was only
after years of strenuous toil, careful thought, and stern economy, that
he had been able to break the broad belt of prairie, and in doing so he
had boldly staked his all. Now it looked as if he had lost, and she was
grieved to see so much effort thrown away.

Harding had transgressed, but the work he did was good, and Beatrice
began to wonder how far that might atone for his lack of principle.
Human character was mixed; men might be true in many ways, and yet fall
victims to a besetting sin. But it was a sin Beatrice could not forgive.
Harding had sought the other woman while he professed his love for her.
In Beatrice, pride, fastidiousness, and Puritanical convictions
converged.

Letting her eyes travel farther along the grain, she started as she saw
him. He had not noticed her, for he stood looking at his crop. His
figure was outlined against the last of the light, and his pose was
slack and stamped with dejection. It was obvious that he thought himself
alone, for Harding was not the man to betray his troubles.

Beatrice's heart suddenly filled with pity. He must be very hard hit;
and she believed that it was not the loss of fortune he felt most.
Everything had gone against him. One could not refuse a man compassion
because his sin had found him out.

To her surprise, she felt that she must speak to him. She did not know
what she meant to say, but, half hesitating, she moved forward. Harding
looked round at her step, and the fading glow struck upon his face.

It was brown and thin, and marked by a great physical weariness. The
toil he had borne since the thaw came and the suspense he had suffered
had set their stamp on him; he looked fined down, his face had an
ascetic cast.

Beatrice caught her breath. By some strange inward power she grasped the
truth. This man had done no wrong; there was no deceit in him. What she
had believed of him was impossible! All that she had seen and heard
condemned him; there was no weak point in the evidence of his guilt; but
she trusted the prompting of her heart. Calm judgment and logical
reasoning had no place in this matter. She had wronged him. And how she
must have hurt him!

She held out both her hands, and there were tears in her eyes.

"Craig," she said, "I've come back. I couldn't stay away."

Harding could not speak. He took her into his arms--and suddenly the
earth seemed to be giving way under his feet; his brain reeled and a
great blackness settled down over him.

"Why, you're ill!" Beatrice exclaimed. "Oh, I have brought you to this!"

The anguish in her cry cut through him as he was losing consciousness,
and he pulled himself together.

"No," he smiled, "I'm not ill; but you must give me a moment to realize
that I really have you again."

They walked back the few paces to the trail. An old log lay beside it,
half buried in grass and wild flowers, and here they sat together, in
the cool stillness of the dusk, until the darkness came down and hovered
round them. Out of the early night sky, one star shone down on them,
like a blessing.

For the time being, it was nothing to them that the prairie sod was
cracked and parched, and that the destroying wind would rise again at
dawn.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the way back to the Grange, Beatrice brought up the subject which she
felt must be talked of and then dropped for good.

"How dreadfully mistaken I was about--the girl!" she said, hesitatingly.

"How did you find it out?"

"I haven't really found out anything; I'm afraid I can't explain. I
suddenly saw the truth, and wondered why I had been blind."

"Do you mean----"

"I mean that I should never have left you, Craig dear. I know that you
never saw that girl before in your life--but I did not know it until I
saw you standing there, in the wheat, this evening."

Harding dropped the hand he was holding, and caught her to him.

"Dear!" was all he said.

"Can you explain what happened in Winnipeg?" she asked as they walked on
again.

"No; I'm puzzled. But, for your sake, I shall not rest until I've
cleared myself." Then, with a sudden shock, he remembered the wheat they
had left. "But I was forgetting--I may be a ruined man."

"And I the daughter of another," Beatrice answered with a smile. "That
could make no difference, Craig; and we're not ruined yet. Still,
because I was hard and unjust at first, I should like you to remember
that I came to you when you were in trouble, and didn't ask whether you
were innocent or not."

"I'll remember it," said Harding, "as long as I live."

When they reached the house, Mowbray and his wife were sitting on the
veranda, and Lance came down the steps to meet them with his hand held
out. Neither spoke, but Harding was touched by the sincerity of his
welcome.

Beatrice ran up the steps to her mother, and Harding, after a word of
greeting turned away. He felt that, until he had cleared himself, it
would be more becoming in him to keep away from the Colonel and Mrs.
Mowbray.

The next morning Mowbray called Beatrice into his study.

"I am glad that your confidence in Harding has returned," he said. "You
must, however, understand that the situation is still awkward."

"Yes; Craig and I talked it over last night."

"You talked this matter over!" Mowbray exclaimed.

"Of course," said Beatrice calmly. "It's of some importance to me. Are
you surprised?"

"I must admit that I am. When I was young, a well-brought-up girl would
hardly have ventured to mention such subjects to her mother, much less
discuss them with her lover."

Beatrice smiled at him.

"I'm afraid your feelings must get many a rude jar in these degenerate
times. Still, you know things are changing."

"That's true," said Mowbray. "I've had cause to realize it of late. For
example, your brother Lance goes off to Winnipeg on some mysterious
business without consulting me, and only tells me in a casual manner
that he may have to go again. Respect for parents is not a
characteristic of your generation. But I want to speak about Harding."

He talked very kindly and shrewdly, and when Beatrice left him she
sought her favorite place in the shadow of a nearby bluff to think over
what he had said.

There was less wind for the next two days, and driving sand no longer
raked the grain. From early morning dingy clouds rolled up slowly from
the west, and though not a drop of rain fell the distance grew blurred.
The horses on the range were restless and galloped furiously now and
then; the gophers scurried up and down the trails; men at work grew
impatient over trifling obstacles, and often stopped to watch the
clouds. These rolled on and vanished in the east, while many an anxious
farmer wondered when the last would rise from the horizon and leave the
pitiless sky uncovered again. Thirsty wild creatures stirred in the
shadow of the bluffs and rustled through the withered grass beside the
dried-up creeks. Leaves fluttered and hung still again with a strange
limpness, their under sides exposed. It was as if the sun-scorched waste
and all that lived on it were panting for the rain. And still the clouds
that never broke rolled slowly on.

At dusk on the second evening, Beatrice and Harding walked across the
prairie, speaking in low voices, anxious and yet serene.

"What are you thinking of, Craig?" Beatrice asked presently.

"Of the weather," Harding answered. "Wondering if these clouds will
break or clear away again. It looks as if our future hung upon the
chance of a storm. If it doesn't come, there's a long uphill fight
before us; and I hate to think of what you may have to bear."

"I'm not afraid," said Beatrice. "If I stayed at Allenwood, I should not
escape. Perhaps I have missed something by getting through life too
easily. I really don't think I'm much weaker, or less capable, than
Effie Broadwood, and she's not cast down."

Harding kissed the hand he held.

"A brave heart like yours carries one a long way, but training and
experience are needed. Grit alone is not much use when you're up against
a thing you don't know how to do."

"It helps you to learn. Am I so very stupid? Don't you see, dear, that I
want to prove that I can be useful?"

"To carry heavy pails, bake, and mend old overalls? That would be an
unthinkable waste of fine material. It's your business to be your
beautiful and gracious self, a refining influence, a light in the home!"

Beatrice laughed.

"I'm afraid when you think about me you lose your usual sense. I should
be as useful if I were made of painted wax, and you'd get tired of your
goddess some day and want to break me up. I'm alive, you know. I want to
be in the midst of the strife. I hear the bugles call."

Harding kissed her tenderly.

"I'm afraid we'll have to fall in with the firing line, but it will be
my business to shield you from harm," he said.

"It's a good fight," she answered with sparkling eyes; "you have taught
me that. The flag goes steadily forward with the pioneers in the van.
There are great alkali barrens, rocks, and muskegs to be overcome, arid
plains to be watered, forests cleared, the waste places to be made
fruitful. That's why we have painted the Beaver of Industry in the
field. But we have our camp-followers--and I might have been
one--useless idlers, grafters, and dishonest contractors who rob the
fighting men."

"When we've broken the wilderness, we'll have time to deal with them;
but I'm afraid many a pioneer will go down before we march much
farther."

"Ah!" said Beatrice softly. "But whether the fight is hard or not, you
must teach me to do my part."

She stopped, holding out her hands with an excited cry:

"The rain, Craig; the rain!"

Her hands felt wet, something drummed upon her broad straw hat, and the
dust leaped up from the grass; then the quick patter ceased, and there
was stillness again. It lasted for several minutes while both stood
tense and still, scarcely venturing to hope. Then there was a roar in
the distance and a puff of cool wind, and Harding, touching the girl's
arm, hurried her forward.

"It's coming!" he said hoarsely. "Coming in earnest!"

"Oh, let's stay!" cried Beatrice. "I want to feel it's true!"

Harding laughed, but led her on, and presently they met the advancing
rain. It beat, wonderfully refreshing, on their hot faces, and soon
Beatrice's thin dress was soaked. Steam rose from the parched earth;
there was a hothouse smell, a dull roar, and a rustle among the beaten
grass, and the fading light was shut off by a curtain of falling water.
Alternating between happy laughter and silence, during which their
thankfulness became too deep for speech, they hurried toward Harding's
farm, and Beatrice threw her arms round Hester's neck when she met her
at the door.

"Oh!" she cried. "Our troubles are over! The rain! The rain!"



CHAPTER XXX

THE INHERITANCE


The rain lasted several days and saved the crops: the wheat, although
somewhat damaged, was ripening fast.

As Lance drove home from one of his mysterious absences from the Grange,
he looked out over the rippling fields with a sense of thankfulness in
his boyish heart. Harding was not to be ruined after all! The rain had
saved his fortune; and in Lance's pocket there was a paper that would
clear his name.

Beatrice met him on the steps, but he brushed past her with a smile and
hurried to his father's study, where he knew he would find the Colonel.

"I've been away several times, and now I must tell you why, sir," he
said. "You will remember that I've declared my belief in Harding all
along."

"I've no doubt he feels properly grateful," Mowbray remarked.

"I'm grateful to him. And now I have some satisfaction in being able to
prove his innocence. Read this."

He gave his father a note, and Mowbray read it aloud:

"'_I hereby declare that Craig Harding of Allenwood is a stranger to me.
I met him for the first and only time at the Rideau Hotel, Winnipeg,
and I regret that I then claimed his acquaintance._'"

"It sounds conclusive. I see it's signed 'Coral Stanton, clairvoyante.'
May I ask how you came to meet this lady and get the document?"

"Both things needed some tact, sir," Lance answered with a grin.

"So I should imagine. Rather a delicate business for one so young. You
must have seen that your motives were liable to be misunderstood."

Lance colored.

"I had to take the risk. As a matter of fact, things threatened to
become embarrassing at first. However, I got the statement."

"What did you give for it?"

"A hundred dollars; what Miss Stanton was promised."

"Then she was hired to act a part? But what made her willing to betray
her employers?"

"They deserved it," Lance answered in a curious tone. "It seems she got
into difficulties with the police and had to leave the town; the
clairvoyante business was only a blind, and somebody was robbed after
gambling at her rooms. The men who made the plot took a shabby advantage
of the situation."

"Do you know their names?"

"Yes," said Lance, hesitatingly. "If you don't mind, sir, I'd rather not
mention them."

Mowbray looked at him keenly, and then made a sign of stern agreement.

"Perhaps that's best." He was silent for a few moments, grappling with
this new pain that seared him to the heart. So Gerald had sunk to this!
"Leave the paper here, and send Beatrice to me," he said slowly.

Lance was glad to escape. He found Beatrice with her mother, and she and
Mrs. Mowbray went at once to the Colonel's study.

"Your brother took some trouble to get this for you," Mowbray said,
handing her the statement, which she read in silence.

"I will thank Lance; but this note really makes no difference," she
declared.

"That's hard to understand."

"I had Craig's word. If I had doubted him, would I have believed this
woman? But there's another matter I want to speak of. Craig didn't want
me to, but he gave me permission."

Taking out the photographs Harding had shown her, she handed them to
Mowbray. Mrs. Mowbray, looking over his shoulder, uttered an
exclamation. The Colonel, too, was startled.

"That's Ash Garth, with Janet Harding on the steps! Where did you get
them? What does it mean?"

Instead of answering, the girl glanced at her mother.

"I think it's quite plain," Mrs. Mowbray said. "Beatrice is engaged to
Basil Harding's son."

"Why was I not told before?" Mowbray asked excitedly. "He's as well born
as you are! Can't you see how it alters things?"

"Craig declares it makes no difference--and I'm beginning to agree with
him."

"That's absurd!" Mowbray exclaimed. "False pride; mistaken sentiment! We
know the advantage of springing from a good stock. Now I understand why
I sometimes felt a curious sympathy with Harding, even when I hated his
opinions."

"You gave us no reason to suspect it," Beatrice answered with a smile.
"Do you know his father's history?"

"Yes; but I don't know that I ought to tell it without his son's
permission."

"Then we'll wait," said Beatrice. "Craig will be here soon."

Harding came in a few minutes afterward, and Mowbray, giving him a
friendly greeting, handed him the letter Lance had brought, and the
photographs.

"Your father was a comrade of mine," the Colonel said. "We were both
stationed at an outpost in Northern India."

"Then you may be able to tell me something about his early life,"
replied Harding quietly. "It's a subject he never spoke of."

"I can do so. Are you willing that Beatrice and her mother should hear?"

"Yes; I don't wish to hide anything from them."

"Very well. Your father was an infantry captain and well thought of in
his regiment. His worst faults were a quick temper and a rash
impulsiveness, but he suffered for them. Before coming to India, he
married beneath him, a girl of some beauty but no education. His
relatives strongly opposed the match, and there was a quarrel with them.

"After a time Basil was ordered to a station where there was some
European society and his wife was out of her element there. The other
women of the post objected to her, and openly insulted her. Basil had
one quarrel after another on her behalf, and finally, after an unusually
stormy scene with the artillery major, Basil sent in his papers.

"His relatives refused to receive him, they cut off his allowance; but
he clung to his wife until she died a couple years later. Then he came
to Canada and vanished.

"His mother died; and one by one the others followed--all except Basil
Morel, his mother's brother."

"Ah!" Beatrice interrupted.

The Colonel glanced at her a moment, and then went on:

"Morel had a very strong affection for Basil--he was his namesake and
only nephew. Feeling that they had been too hard on him, Morel traced
Basil in Canada, wrote him a long letter, and enclosed a draft for a
thousand pounds, as part of back allowances. Basil wrote a brief and
bitter note in answer, then deposited the money in a Winnipeg bank, to
be given to his son after his death, on condition that the son never
question where it came from. This son was by the second wife; there were
no children by the first.

"Well, Basil died; the bank reported to Morel that the money had been
paid to the son; and then--the old man, living alone at Ash Garth, was
getting very lonely; he had time to brood over the injustice done Basil,
and, before he died, he wanted to make it up to Basil's son. But the son
had completely disappeared. He had left Dakota and gone to Manitoba;
from there all trace of him had vanished. Morel is now a broken old man;
but, because Basil and I were comrades, he confides many things to me,
and I know that deep down in his heart there is still a hope that he
will live long enough to find Basil's son."

The Colonel's voice was husky, and he paused a moment before he said:

"With your permission, Mr. Harding, I should like to send him a cable."

Harding nodded assent.

Beatrice was crying softly.

"Now I understand why Mr. Morel always looked so sad when I talked of
the prairie," she said brokenly. "Mother, you must have known!" she
added as an afterthought.

"Yes, but I didn't feel that it was my secret, dear," Mrs. Mowbray
answered gently.

At the Colonel's request, Harding told them of his early life; and then
he and Beatrice drove across the prairie to tell the story to Hester.
Beatrice felt that it was the girl's right to know.

Harvest came, and although the crop was lighter than he had hoped,
Harding saw that he would have a satisfactory margin. It was not so with
most of his neighbors, and when the strain of forced effort slackened,
and the smoke of the thrasher no longer streaked the stubble, there were
anxious hearts at Allenwood. Even the buoyant courage of the younger men
began to sink; hitherto they had carelessly borne their private
troubles, but now they felt that the settlement was in danger. Those who
had never taken thought before asked what must be done, and nobody could
tell them. Harding and his friends had a surprise to spring on their
neighbors, and on Davies as well, but they waited until the time was
ripe.

Then one evening Mowbray rode over to Kenwyne's homestead.

"You and Broadwood have opposed me, but I have never doubted your
sincerity," he said. "In fact, since Brand has gone, I feel I'd rather
trust you and Harding than the boys who have given me their thoughtless
support. We are threatened with grave trouble."

"We must try to justify your belief in us, sir," said Kenwyne. "What is
the trouble?"

"Carlyon, Webster, and Shepstone came to me, and confessed that they
have mortgaged their farms. To make things worse, I have a letter from
the man in Winnipeg they borrowed from, informing me that he would seize
Gerald's land unless a large sum is paid. You must see that this means
disaster to Allenwood."

Mowbray looked harassed and worn, and Kenwyne felt sorry for him.

"I suggest that you let the fellow produce his mortgages and receive him
at a council meeting. The matter's of interest to everybody."

"Then you have some scheme?" Mowbray asked eagerly.

"As it's far-reaching, we'd rather put it before the council. I'm half
afraid we can't expect your approval until you know everything; but you
should be able to command a majority if we don't convince you."

"I can do nothing to save the settlement," Mowbray said with dignity;
"and I dare not refuse to let others try, even if their ways are not
mine. We'll leave it at that. I'll call the meeting."

It was a calm, clear evening when all the Allenwood settlers assembled
in the hall at the Grange. The days were getting shorter, and a lamp or
two was lighted; but, outside, the last of the sunset glowed in a red
band along the prairie's rim. Mowbray sat at the head of the table;
Harding, Broadwood, Kenwyne, and Lance were close together; the rest
scattered about the spacious room, some half hidden in the shadow, some
where the partial illumination touched them. All were silent and
expectant; they felt it would prove a memorable night for Allenwood.

There was a rattle of wheels outside, and soon afterward Davies was
shown in. He was smartly dressed in well-cut city clothes, and his
aggressive, self-conscious air contrasted with the easy grace of the
brown-faced men in shooting jackets and fringed deerskin.

"I came here expecting a private interview," he said to Mowbray. "I do
not understand why I'm asked to meet these gentlemen, most of whom I
have not the pleasure of knowing."

"I cannot tell what you expected," Mowbray answered haughtily. "Your
business is, however, of interest to us all, and to state it now will
save some time, because nothing can be done until our council is
informed of it."

Davies' glance wandered round the room, as if in search of somebody, but
he did not notice Harding, who was in the shadow.

"Very well," he said, undoing a bundle of documents. "I hold mortgages
on land and property belonging to Gerald Mowbray, Carlyon, Webster, and
Shepstone." He read out particulars of the sums lent and interest due,
and then put the papers on the table. "You are at liberty to examine
them."

Carlyon turned to Mowbray, with a flushed face.

"They can't be contested, sir. Speaking for the others, as well as
myself, I must say that we feel our position, and are very sorry that we
have brought this trouble upon you and our friends."

Harding moved forward and picked up the mortgages, and Davies showed his
surprise. After examining the documents carefully, Harding passed them
to Broadwood, who looked over them in a silence that was accentuated by
the rattle of a loose blind as puffs of wind swept into the room.

"All right," Broadwood said, and handed a sheet of paper to each of the
debtors.

"Will you agree to these terms? Yes or no?" he asked.

One of the young men laughed hoarsely, as if from unexpected relief;
another made a glad sign of assent; and Carlyon's eyes were bright as he
turned to Broadwood.

"Agree?" he exclaimed. "We never hoped for such a chance as this!"

Broadwood put one of the papers in front of Mowbray.

"They consent, sir. We'd like your sanction."

"I cannot give it unreservedly. But as I cannot suggest anything better,
I must not refuse." Mowbray addressed Davies. "As the farms were
mortgaged against the provisions of our settlement covenant, I believe
your claim might be disputed, but I won't urge that point. The money was
borrowed and must be paid."

"With your permission, sir!" Harding took the big inkstand and placed it
before Davies. "Write a formal discharge for these debts, and I'll give
you a check."

Davies' face was hot with baffled fury, but he asked in a sneering tone:

"Will the bank make it good?"

"Here's their letter," said Harding dryly.

Davies glanced at the letter, and threw it down. Then he pulled himself
together.

"It seems," he said to Mowbray, "that you have made some arrangement to
finance these gentlemen, and they have agreed; but Mr. Gerald Mowbray
owes a much larger sum, and I have his word that he is unable to pay. He
left the matter in my hands, and before going any further I should like
to suggest that we might arrive at some understanding----"

Mowbray cut him short.

"We can make no terms with you, if that is what is meant. My son owes
you money; you must take what you are entitled to."

"But the debt is his. He must decide."

"He has decided," Harding said quietly. "Here's a telegram from him,
answering a letter of mine which he probably got after you left. He
agrees to transfer the mortgaged property to his father and another, on
terms that don't concern you. Read it."

"Ah!" cried Davies, hoarse with anger. "Mowbray has gone back on me. I
was a fool to trust him!"

Colonel Mowbray flushed, but did not answer, and Harding turned to
Davies.

"This has nothing to do with our business. Write your receipts,
including Gerald Mowbray's debt, and take your money."

Davies did so, and carefully examined the check Harding gave him. Then
he got up and made Mowbray an ironical bow. One of the men opened the
door, and he went out surlily.

There was a general movement and a murmur throughout the room,
expressing relief and a slackening of tension.

"It's a satisfaction to see the last of the fellow," one man said,
voicing the feelings of all. "The settlement has escaped a danger; but
we must be careful not to let it fall into another. May I inquire about
the agreement which Mr. Harding has made with our friends?"

Harding explained that they were to farm their land under his
instructions, paying a moderate rate of interest. A fixed sum was to be
set aside every year to redeem the loan, so that in time the debtors
would again acquire possession, and any surplus would belong to them.

"Mr. Harding's position is now very strong," the man contended. "He can,
if he wishes, dictate to the rest of us, and I think we ought to know
his plans and how he expects to profit."

There was deep silence when Harding got upon his feet and glanced round
the room. A few of the men were obviously suspicious, and one or two
hostile, but some looked willing to give him fair play and some quietly
confident in him.

"To begin with, I expect no direct profit from Allenwood," he said. "The
advantage I shall gain will be the keeping down of my working expenses
by your cooperation. With better trails we'll need fewer teams to bring
out supplies and haul in our grain; and we can avoid using two
half-empty wagons when one will take both loads. We can buy and sell on
joint lines, saving all round, and can use the latest and biggest
machines. Singly, we cannot afford them; combined, we can buy and, what
is more, keep the implements employed. But we can work out details
later. You have reached a turning-point to-night. Those of you with
private means, if there are any such, may continue to farm as a pastime,
but for the man who must live by his farming, it is serious work. There
is a time of low prices before us that will weed out the slack; but with
care and effort we can hold out until the flood of prosperity which is
coming sweeps our difficulties away. We must perfect our methods, fall
in with modern practise, and study economy. That I have now some power
here is true; I ask your help, and value it, but if needful I can do
without it. I and several more are going on, working together on the
best plan we can find, as we have begun."

A murmur of applause greeted the close of the speech, for Harding's
blunt candor had gained him the respect of his antagonists and
strengthened the loyalty of his friends.

Then Mowbray leaned forward, holding up his hand.

"We have heard Mr. Harding's intentions declared with the
straightforwardness one expects from him; and it must be clear to all
that he has freed Allenwood from a peril." He paused, and his voice was
strained as he resumed: "For a while we prospered here, and I like to
think I led you well; but the times began to change without our
recognizing it. I cannot change, but you must, for you are young; the
future lies before you. I am old, and I feel my age to-night. The
burden of rule gets heavy; I want to lay it down. You must choose
another leader who understands these times, and I think you see where a
wise choice lies."

For a moment nobody spoke, and then a unanimous cry of protest broke
out. It rang with feeling, and when it died away man after man urged
Mowbray to keep control.

He listened with a faint smile.

"I am honored by this mark of confidence," he said quietly. "But if I
consent, you must give me the helper I need, and you must follow him
with the loyalty you have always shown me. To some extent we shall
counterbalance extremes in each other, which may be for the good of all,
because I have much to learn from the present, and my helper something
from the past. I could not ask you to obey an outsider, but the man I
choose will soon become a member of my family. I nominate Mr. Harding,
who has saved the settlement."

There were cries of agreement that swelled into a storm of satisfaction,
and Harding said a few words in a voice that shook. This was a turn of
affairs he had not expected, and he was moved by Mowbray's confidence
and the number of friends he had made.

Then the council broke up, and when the last had gone Mowbray joined his
wife on the veranda, where he sat looking with tired eyes toward the
pale red glow on the skyline left by the setting sun. The prairie was
formless and shadowy, but darkness had not quite closed in.

"I feel that all this is symbolical, my dear," he said. "My day is over,
but the night has not yet come. Though it will not be by the way I
would have chosen, I may still see Allenwood safe and prosperous."

Mrs. Mowbray took his hand caressingly.

"You have led the boys well, and taught them much; they will not forget
it. You never shrank from a sacrifice that was for their good--and I
know the cost of the one you have made to-night."

"I knew I could trust to your sympathy; you haven't failed me yet," he
said gently. "I wonder why Gerald broke away from the rascal at last. I
may be wrong, but I'd like to believe that when the time came he found
he could not betray his friends; that his heart spoke, and a trace of
the honor we tried to teach him awoke to life."

"I think you're right," Mrs. Mowbray answered. "I am sure there is hope
for him."

Then she turned and her eyes rested on the dark figures of Beatrice and
Harding, who had left the house and were walking slowly across the
plain. Moving side by side, with love and confidence in their hearts,
they looked toward the east, where the dawn would rise.


THE END



JOHN FOX, JR'S.
STORIES OF THE KENTUCKY MOUNTAINS

=May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap's list.=


=THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE.=
Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

[Illustration]

The "lonesome pine" from which the story takes its name was a tall tree
that stood in solitary splendor on a mountain top. The fame of the pine
lured a young engineer through Kentucky to catch the trail, and when he
finally climbed to its shelter he found not only the pine but the
_foot-prints of a girl_. And the girl proved to be lovely, piquant, and
the trail of these girlish foot-prints led the young engineer a madder
chase than "the trail of the lonesome pine."


=THE LITTLE SHEPHERD OF KINGDOM COME.=
Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

This is a story of Kentucky, in a settlement known as "Kingdom Come." It
is a life rude, semi-barbarous; but natural and honest, from which often
springs the flower of civilization.

"Chad." the "little shepherd" did not know who he was nor whence he
came--he had just wandered from door to door since early childhood,
seeking shelter with kindly mountaineers who gladly fathered and
mothered this waif about whom there was such a mystery--a charming waif,
by the way, who could play the banjo better that anyone else in the
mountains.


=A KNIGHT OF THE CUMBERLAND.=
Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

The scenes are laid along the waters of the Cumberland, the lair of
moonshiner and feudsman. The knight is a moonshiner's son, and the
heroine a beautiful girl perversely christened "The Blight." Two
impetuous young Southerners fall under the spell of "The Blight's"
charms and she learns what a large part jealousy and pistols have in the
love making of the mountaineers.

Included in this volume is "Hell fer-Sartain" and other stories, some of
Mr. Fox's most entertaining Cumberland valley narratives.


_Ask for complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction_

GROSSET & DUNLAP, 526 WEST 26th ST., NEW YORK



GROSSET & DUNLAP'S DRAMATIZED NOVELS

THE KIND THAT ARE MAKING THEATRICAL HISTORY

=May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.=


=WITHIN THE LAW.= By Bayard Veiller & Marvin Dana.
Illustrated by Wm. Charles Cooke.

This is a novelization of the immensely successful play which ran for
two years in New York and Chicago.

The plot of this powerful novel is of a young woman's revenge directed
against her employer who allowed her to be sent to prison for three
years on a charge of theft, of which she was innocent.


=WHAT HAPPENED TO MARY.= By Robert Carlton Brown.
Illustrated with scenes from the play.

This is a narrative of a young and innocent country girl who is suddenly
thrown into the very heart of New York, "the land of her dreams," where
she is exposed to all sorts of temptations and dangers.

The story of Mary is being told in moving pictures and played in
theatres all over the world.


=THE RETURN OF PETER GRIMM.= By David Belasco.
Illustrated by John Rae.

This is a novelization of the popular play in which David Warfield, as
Old Peter Grimm, scored such a remarkable success.

The story is spectacular and extremely pathetic but withal, powerful,
both as a book and as a play.


=THE GARDEN OF ALLAH.= By Robert Hichens.

This novel is an intense, glowing epic of the great desert, sunlit,
barbaric, with its marvelous atmosphere of vastness and loneliness.

It is a book of rapturous beauty, vivid in word painting. The play has
been staged with magnificent cast and gorgeous properties.


=BEN HUR.= A Tale of the Christ. By General Lew Wallace.

The whole world has placed this famous Religious-Historical Romance on a
height of pre-eminence which no other novel of its time has reached. The
clashing of rivalry and the deepest human passions, the perfect
reproduction of brilliant Roman life, and the tense, fierce atmosphere
of the arena have kept their deep fascination. A tremendous dramatic
success.


=BOUGHT AND PAID FOR.= By George Broadhurst and Arthur
Hornblow. Illustrated with scenes from the play.

A stupendous arraignment of modern marriage which has created an
interest on the stage that is almost unparalleled. The scenes are laid
in New York, and deal with conditions among both the rich and poor.

The interest of the story turns on the day-by-day developments which
show the young wife the price she has paid.


_Ask for complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction_

GROSSET & DUNLAP, 526 WEST 26th ST., NEW YORK



GROSSET & DUNLAP'S DRAMATIZED NOVELS

Original, sincere and courageous--often amusing--the
kind that are making theatrical history.


MADAME X. By Alexandre Bisson and J. W. McConaughy.
Illustrated with scenes from the play.

A beautiful Parisienne became an outcast because her husband would not
forgive an error of her youth. Her love for her son is the great final
influence in her career. A tremendous dramatic success.


THE GARDEN OF ALLAH. By Robert Hichens.

An unconventional English woman and an inscrutable stranger meet and
love in an oasis of the Sahara. Staged this season with magnificent cast
and gorgeous properties.


THE PRINCE OF INDIA. By Lew. Wallace.

A glowing romance of the Byzantine Empire, presenting with extraordinary
power the siege of Constantinople, and lighting its tragedy with the
warm underglow of an Oriental romance. As a play it is a great dramatic
spectacle.


TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY. By Grace
Miller White. Illust. by Howard Chandler Christy.

A girl from the dregs of society, loves a young Cornell University
student, and it works startling changes in her life and the lives of
those about her. The dramatic version is one of the sensations of the
season.


YOUNG WALLINGFORD. By George Randolph
Chester. Illust. by F. R. Gruger and Henry Raleigh.

A series of clever swindles conducted by a cheerful young man, each of
which is just on the safe side of a State's prison offence. As
"Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford," it is probably the most amusing expose of
money manipulation ever seen on the stage.


THE INTRUSION OF JIMMY. By P. G. Wodehouse.
Illustrations by Will Grefe.

Social and club life in London and New York, an amateur burglary
adventure and a love story. Dramatized under the title of "A Gentleman
of Leisure," it furnishes hours of laughter to the play-goers.


GROSSET & DUNLAP, 526 WEST 26th ST., NEW YORK



FOUR TIMELY BOOKS OF INTERNATIONAL IMPORTANCE


I ACCUSE (_J'ACCUSE!_) By a German. A Scathing
Arraignment of the German War Policy.

At this vital time in the nation's history every patriotic American
should read and reread this wonderful book and learn the absurdity of
the German excuse that they wanted a "Place in the Sun."

Learn how the German masses were deluded with the idea that they were
making a defensive war to protect the Fatherland.

Let the author of this illuminating book again show the sacrilege of
claiming a Christian God as a Teutonic ally and riddle once more the
divine right of kings.


PAN-GERMANISM. By Roland G. Usher.

The clear, graphic style gives it a popular appeal that sets it miles
apart from the ordinary treatise, and for the reader who wishes to get a
rapid focus on the world events of the present, perhaps no book written
will be more interesting.

It is the only existing forecast of exactly the present development of
events in Europe. It is, besides, a brisk, clear, almost primer-like
reduction of the complex history of Europe during the last forty years
to a simple, connected story clear enough to the most casual reader.


THE CHALLENGE OF THE FUTURE. By Roland G. Usher.

A glance into America's future by the man who, in his book
PAN-GERMANISM, foretold with such amazing accuracy the coming of the
present European events. An exceedingly live and timely book that is
bound to be read and discussed widely because it strikes to the heart of
American problems, and more especially because it hits right and left at
ideas that have become deep-seated convictions in many American minds.


THE EVIDENCE IN THE CASE. By James M.
Beck, LL.D., Formerly Assistant Attorney-General
of the United States, Author of the "War and Humanity."
With an Introduction by the Hon. Joseph
H. Choate; Late U. S. Ambassador to Great Britain.

No work on the War has made a deeper impression throughout the world
than "The Evidence in the Case," a calm, dispassionate, but forceful
discussion of the moral responsibility for the present war as disclosed
by the diplomatic papers. Arnold Bennett says that it "is certainly by
far _the most convincing indictment of Germany_ in existence."


GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK



Transcriber's Note: The following typographical errors present in the
original edition have been corrected.

In Chapter II, "might become an anachorism" was changed to "might become
an anachronism".

In Chapter X, a comma was changed to a period after "a council meeting
at the Grange", and a period was changed to a comma after "If all the
rest stand out".

In Chapter XVIII, a comma was changed to a period after "He was a big,
gaunt man".

In Chapter XX, a missing quotation mark was added after "I'm obeying the
call."

In Chapter XXV, a missing period was added after "in keeping with the
life I've led".

In Chapter XXVI, "brought him spurred him rather to action" was changed
to "brought him--spurred him rather--to action".

In addition, numerous spelling and punctuation errors were corrected in
the advertisements at the back of the book.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Harding of Allenwood" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home