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Title:      Fruits of the Earth (1933)
Author:     Frederick Philip Grove (1879-1948)
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Language:   English
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      Fruits of the Earth (1933)
Author:     Frederick Philip Grove (1879-1948)






Contents


Author's Note

PART I--ABE SPALDING

  1.  The Homestead

  2.  The Idyll

  3.  First Neighbours

  4.  Husband and Wife

  5.  The School

  6.  The Great Flood

  7.  Election

  8.  The District

  9.  The Child

 10.  The Crop

 11.  Success

 12.  The Bridge


PART II--THE DISTRICT

 13.  The Prairie

 14.  The Changing District

 15.  Abe's Household

 16.  The Campaign

 17.  The Poll

 18.  Jim

 19.  The New School

 20.  Marion

 21.  Changes

 22.  The Christmas Dinner

 23.  The School-House

 24.  The Lure of the Town

 25.  Distress

 26.  Haying

 27.  Ruth

 28.  The Conflict

 29.  Abe

Map of Spalding District

Map of Somerville Road




Author's Note


When Joseph Conrad in 1917 reissued Nostromo, he accompanied it by
an author's note the first two paragraphs of which so exactly fit
the case of the present book that I cannot refrain from reprinting
them here, substituting the present title for Nostromo and Jane
Atkinson for Typhoon.  Jane Atkinson is an unpublished novel which,
at the time of its completion, I considered the last volume of what
I have come to call my (still largely unpublished) Prairie Series.

"Fruits of the Earth is the most anxiously meditated of the longer
novels which belong to the period following upon the completion
[Conrad says 'publication'] of Jane Atkinson.

"I don't mean to say that I became then conscious of any impending
change in my mentality and in my attitude towards the tasks of my
writing life.  And perhaps there was never any change, except in
that mysterious, extraneous thing which has nothing to do with the
theories of art; a phenomenon for which I cannot in any way be held
responsible.  What, however, did cause me some concern was that
after finishing the last story of the Prairie Series it seemed
somehow that there was nothing more in the world to write about.

"This so strangely negative but disturbing mood lasted some little
time; and then, as with many of my longer stories, the first hint
for Fruits of the Earth came to me in the shape" [here I leave
Conrad's text] of certain hints dropped by a real-estate dealer
with whom I was driving along over the prairie, regarding the
history of a certain farm which we were passing.

This farm was such as to suggest a race of giants who had founded
it; but on inquiry I found that it was held by tenants who tilled a
bare ten per cent of its acreage.  In a barn built for half a
hundred horses they kept a team of two sorry nags; and they
inhabited no more than two or three rooms of the outwardly palatial
house.

I have since found many more farms like that in Manitoba; and in
every case I have investigated their history.  Slowly, the
composite impression gained grew into a compelling urge; and the
result was the present story.

F. P. G.




PART I

Abe Spalding



ONE

The Homestead


When, in the summer of 1900, Abe Spalding arrived in the village of
Morley, in the municipality of Somerville, Manitoba, he had been
travelling in the caboose of a freight train containing a car with
four horses and sundry implements and household goods which
belonged to him.  He came from the old Spalding homestead in Brant
County, Ontario.

He had visited the open prairie a year before and, after careful
investigation, filed a claim on the south-west quarter of section
five in the township beginning four miles north of Morley.  He had
had good and valid reasons for choosing that particular location.
The neighbourhood as such he had fixed on because his twin sister
Mary, who a few years ago had married a doctor by name of Vanbruik,
and who up to 1897 had lived in the county seat, was at present,
for somewhat obscure reasons, domiciled in this very village of
Morley, where her husband, having sold his practice, was conducting
the business of a general merchant.  The particular quarter section
on which Abe Spalding had filed seemed, to the casual observer, to
offer no advantage over any other that was available; but he had
found that, while the water which covered the district in the
spring of the year stood for months on other parts, this quarter,
and the whole section to which it belonged, as well as the sections
north and south of it, dried several weeks in advance of the rest
of the prairie.  Further, he had been informed that the province
was on the point of drawing two gigantic ditches through the
district, one of them being surveyed to pass exactly along the
south line of section five.  These ditches were not primarily
designed to drain a seemingly irreclaimable swamp, but rather to
relieve an older settlement farther west, around the town of
Torquay; but, while they were not meant to drain the land which he
had chosen, he had shrewdly seen that they could not help improving
matters.  With his mind's eye he looked upon the district from a
point in time twenty years later; and he seemed to see a prosperous
settlement there.  The soil was excellent, and there was no
fundamental farming problem except that of drainage.  Lastly, he
was not the first settler to make the venture; the two quarters
composing the north half of the section had been taken up a decade
ago.  The men who owned them, it was true, had not been able to
make a success; they had left after having wasted their substance
and energy; but not before they had received their patents, which
they held on the chance that the land might in time become worth a
few dollars per acre.  A third settler, a bachelor by name of Hall,
was actually in residence on the quarter adjoining Abe's claim to
the west.

Abe came from a small Ontario farm of eighty acres, half of which,
on account of rock and sharp declivities in its formation, could
not be tilled.  He was possessed by "land hunger"; and he dreamt of
a time when he would buy up the abandoned farms from which all
buildings had been removed; and, who knows, perhaps even the
quarter where Hall was squatting in his sod-hut.  In his boldest
moments he saw himself prosperous on so great a holding and even
reaching out north; for the section there adjoining was No. 8,
held, as part of the purchase price paid by the Dominion for the
rights of sovereignty in the west, by that ancient institution, the
Hudson's Bay Company.  In any other place, where his land would
have been surrounded by crown land, any one might have limited
Abe's expansion by settling next to him; for no settler could
acquire more than a hundred and sixty acres by "homesteading."
Here, all things going well, Abe might hope one day to possess two
square miles; for the Hudson's Bay Company held its lands only in
order to sell them.  Abe was a man of economic vision.

As the lumbering freight train banged and clattered to a stop near
the little station, in what was euphemistically called "the yard"--
distinguished by nothing but a spur of the track running past a
loading platform to the three grain elevators along its southern
edge--Abe alighted from the caboose and stood for a moment
irresolutely by its side.  The conductor had told him that the car
containing his chattels was going to be shunted to the loading
platform, where it would be ready in an hour or so.  Abe was not
anxious to go to his sister's house; but his impulsive and
impatient temperament made him desirous, above all, to get over
that interval of waiting without being too conscious of his wasting
time.

He swung about and strode swiftly across to the station, where a
few idlers were lounging.  Emerging on the east-west road, he found
himself at the west end of the village, which had nothing in its
aspect that could be called urban.  The buildings of Main Street
were aligned on one side of this road into which three short by-
streets debouched from the north; to the south, the growth of the
settlement was arrested by the right-of-way, no buildings but the
grain elevators having been erected beyond it.  Like the whole
landscape, Main Street was treeless; and only the side-streets were
shaded by tall cottonwoods which seemed to lose themselves, to the
north, in what resembled a natural bluff--a deceptive semblance,
for all trees had been planted.  Main Street, with its single row
of buildings, hardly deserved the name of a street, just as the
agglomeration of houses hardly deserved the name of a village; it
formed a mere node in the road running, in a straight line, from
Somerville in the east to Ivy in the west, a distance of twenty-two
miles.

Just beyond the first side-street rose the one building which gave
the street a measure of distinction; a store unusual for a small
prairie town by reason of its dimensions as well as of the solidity
of its red-brick structure; it might have stood in the streets of
any small city.  The whole of its long, two-storied façade
consisted of large show-windows filled with a miscellaneous and
effectively arranged exhibit of what could be bought inside, the
assortment including everything from farm implements and furniture
to groceries and tobacco.

Behind the store, facing west, on the first side-street, stood the
one residence which, like the store, had an air approaching
dignity.  That was where Abe's sister lived; and the store was the
Vanbruik Department Store, owned by her husband and managed by a
high-salaried young man, Mr. Diamond.

Abe was very fond of his sister Mary; he wished he had sent her a
wire message announcing his arrival so that she might have met him.
A frown settled on his large round face, under the peak of the grey
tweed cap which he wore.  If he hesitated about calling at the
house, it was on account of his brother-in-law, the mysterious
doctor who a few years ago had suddenly given up his large
flourishing practice at Somerville to turn merchant.  Coming as Abe
did from a small Ontario farm, inherited five years ago from his
father who had died a sudden death, and now advantageously sold to
an industrial concern, Abe had the prejudice of the man who made
his living by what he called "work" against the merchant who made
"money" by calculation.  Besides, Dr. Vanbruik was in everything
Abe's antipode, physically as well as temperamentally.  The mere
fact that the doctor was a professional man had seemed to place Abe
at a disadvantage in what little intercourse they had had.  The
doctor was a graduate of Queen's; and Kingston stood, to Abe, for
all that was provincial in the spirit of Ontario; it seemed
strangely eastern; it represented all that Abe had abandoned in
coming west.  Abe had deliberately chosen the material world for
the arena of his struggles; the doctor, though he had turned
merchant, seemed to live in a world of the spirit.  Mary had, with
Abe's own early consent, received a high-school and college
education as the equivalent of her equity in the farm, there being
only two children.  The cost of her education had been defrayed by
placing a mortgage of five thousand dollars on the parental place.
Mary, too, therefore, was in a sense Abe's superior, though Abe was
fully aware of the difference between an informational education
and native intelligence, in which latter he did not feel himself to
be deficient.  Yet he could not help begrudging his sister that
refinement of manners and forms which is imparted by the association
with cultured men and women: he begrudged it while secretly admiring
and imitating it.  This was all the more the case with his brother-
in-law, who had a way of quietly listening to an argument and then
settling it by a display of superior information.

Physically, Abe was extraordinarily tall, measuring six feet four;
the doctor was almost correspondingly small, for he lacked an exact
twelve inches of Abe's stature.  Abe was built in proportion to his
height, broad-shouldered and deep-chested; the doctor was slender
and fine-limbed, and yet he stooped.  Temperamentally, Abe was
impulsive, bearing down obstacles by sheer impetuosity; the doctor
was deliberate, hesitant even, weighing every aspect of a matter
before aligning himself.  Consequently, at the age of thirty, with
his life a blank page before him, Abe was disinclined to seek the
company of this man who, besides, was his senior by fifteen years,
having lived his life.

The struggle between Abe's desire to let his sister help him over
the next hour or so and his disinclination to meet his brother-in-
law was plainly visible in his face, which, above any pair of
shoulders but his, would have looked disproportionately large.  And
there was still another reason for his hesitancy.  Before leaving
Ontario Abe had married Ruth, against the, at least implied, advice
of Mary and her husband.  When, a year ago, he had mentioned his
intention, neither had voiced any open disapproval; but, in the
course of the few weeks which he had spent at Morley, they had
somehow conveyed a lack of enthusiasm over it, now by a silence,
now by a hesitant question.  "Will she be able to adapt herself to
rural conditions?"  "Won't she suffer from the unavoidable
isolation on a pioneer farm?"  For Ruth was the daughter of
smalltown merchants; her father had a bake-shop at Brantford; her
mother, a confectionery operated in conjunction.  The worst of it
was that Abe himself had his misgivings when he pondered the
matter; to have his own unvoiced fears put forward by others, if
ever so tentatively, disconcerted him.  The conclusion could not be
evaded that he had been in love with a face and a figure rather
than a mind or soul.

Yet he strode impulsively forward at last, diagonally crossing the
sleepy street of the ugly village and hoping that his brother-in-
law would not be at home.

That hope was fulfilled.  His sister met him in the door of the
wide-spaced living-room in the white house which was surrounded by
an extensive veranda.  At sight of her brother, Mary exclaimed:

"Abe! . . .  Why in the world did you not let me know?"

Abe shrugged his shoulders; but he bent down and kissed her cheek.

"Charles isn't in," Mary said.  "He went to the city on business."

Mary, too, was tall, even somewhat large and rather heavy.

"I'm in town only for an hour or so," Abe said as they were sitting
down--Abe on the large, grey chesterfield, his sister in an arm-
chair of the same colour and design.  "I have my stuff in the train
and I'm going out at once."

"Surely not," Mary said, scanning his face through her glasses.
"Or do you intend to come back to-night?"

"I don't think so.  I want to start work."

"Not to-day, Abe?"

"Not to-day, perhaps.  I have a tent along.  I want to do as much
breaking as I can this summer; and to build.  Ruth will be out in a
week or two."

Mary gave him a quick look.  "So you got married after all?  Why
did you not let us know?"

"It was all done so suddenly.  I sold the place and didn't know
where to go.  We got married, and two days later I started west."

"Why did you not bring her?  She could have stayed with me."

"I came by a freight train and had the horses to look after.  I'll
put up a shack at once."

Mary nodded and rose.  "I'll get you a cup of tea, shall I?"

"I won't decline."

When Mary had left the room, Abe sat for a few minutes, looking
straight ahead.  Then he rose and walked about, stopping in the bay
window which looked to the street, turning again and stepping over
to a library table covered with books.  Of these he picked up one
or two, and, finding that they were poetry, dropped them again,
resuming his walk.

"I had a late dinner," Mary said when she returned.  "I won't
partake, if you don't mind."  She moved a small low table to her
brother's side, placing the tray upon it, and went out again to
fetch the tea.

When she brought it, Abe helped himself.

"Why not let Ruth come at once, Abe?" Mary asked shortly.  "You
know I'd be glad to have her."

"Oh, well--"  Then bluntly, "I believe she'd rather not."

There was a pause.

"And the old farm is sold?  I can hardly believe it."

Abe, knowing that he was unjust, took that remark to hold a vague
reproach.  "What could I do?  Eighty acres!  And mortgaged at
that."

Seeing that the money raised by the mortgage had paid for her
education.  Mary might have been offended in turn.  But she
smoothed all occasion of offence away.  "It was the logical thing
to do.  The same amount of work put in here is bound to bring
better results.  We have both gone west, after all.  You will miss
the trees, though."

"I shall plant trees here,"

"I suppose.  But no cedars."

"No," Abe said after a silence.  "Nor hard maples."

This addition to what his sister had said restored the inner
understanding between them; they spoke of their old home for a
while.

Then Abe rose.

"You won't return for the night?" Mary asked once more.

"No.  I shall have to keep an eye on the horses."

Half an hour later Abe was unloading his chattels at the platform,
leading his horses out first and then manoeuvring his wagon into a
position where he could pile it high with a minimum of lost motion.
Having taken as much as he could, he hitched two horses in front--
Belgians these--and tied a team of Percherons behind.  Thence,
driving along the trail between track and elevators, he went west
till he was opposite the station building.  There, leaving his
teams, he crossed the right-of-way and spoke to the agent, to tell
him he would return for the remainder of his goods next morning.

At last he climbed to the top of his load and started north for the
six-mile trek over open prairie.

A few hundred yards from the Somerville Line, as the east-west road
was called, he reached that flat and unrelieved country which, to
the very horizon, seemed to be a primitive wilderness.  North,
east, and west, nothing showed that looked like a settlement, and
the impression of an utter loneliness was perhaps even enhanced by
the knowledge that somewhere it harboured at least one man by name
of Hall, half-crazed with work and isolation, and destined to be
Abe's neighbour.  As for others, the two who, probably under an
impulse to huddle close together in this immensity, had a decade
ago filed on the two northern quarters of the same section, they
were gone, and having "proved up" on their claims, had vanished
again in the outer world.

Abe's brief call at his sister's had somewhat unsettled him.  For a
year he had mentally lived on that open, flat prairie, planning and
adjusting himself.  He needed room; he needed a country which would
give scope to the powers he felt within him.  Forbidding as it
looked, this was that country.  But Mary's casual remark about the
cedars had reawakened in him the vision of the old farm as a place
to live in: the house in its cluster of cedars, with the gnarled
apple trees in the orchard behind; with the old furniture in the
rooms--not very comfortable perhaps, but harmonious in the half-
light admitted by the scanty windows half closed with vines:
mellowed into unity by being lived in through generations.  Here,
everything was of necessity new and raw.  Ruth in the midst of
this?  She knew nothing of what she was going into except that Abe
was to create some sort of home for her: Ruth, whom a year or so
ago he had met casually when buying oranges in a store. . . .

Well, he would conquer this wilderness; he would change it; he
would set his own seal upon it!  For the moment, one hundred and
sixty acres were going to be his, capable of being tilled from line
to line!

He would conquer!  Yet, as he looked about, he was strangely
impressed with this treeless prairie under the afternoon sun.
This utterly undiversified country looked flat as a table-top.
Differences in level, small as they might be, must exist.  Why,
otherwise, should there be bare soil here and there, with the
smooth and cracked surface of a dried mudhole in clay?  Whereas
elsewhere the greyish-green, silky prairie grass grew knee-high.
Why should the spring floods which he had not yet seen drain away
to the east, into the river which carried them to the great lake?
Why should it have been observed by those who had preceded him that
certain sections of this wilderness dried sooner in spring than
others?  There must be undulations in the soil.

A year ago, Abe had scanned the district from a purely utilitarian
point of view.  Apart from the bush land in the far north, this had
been almost the last district where free land was still available.
Within it he had looked for depth of topsoil, for nearness to
possible neighbours, for a convenient distance from a shipping-
point.

Nothing but such considerations had had any influence with him a
year ago.  That the general conformation of a landscape might have
to be considered, such an idea he would have laughed at.  Yet this
prairie seemed suddenly a peculiar country, mysteriously endowed
with a power of testing temper and character.  But that was exactly
what he had wanted: a "clear proposition" as he had expressed it,
meaning a piece of land capable of being tilled from line to line,
without waste areas, without rocky stretches, without deeply-cut
gullies which denied his horses a foothold.  He wanted land, not
landscape; all the landscape he cared for he would introduce
himself.

Yet, half unbeknown to him, there was a dream: of a mansion such as
he had seen in Ontario, in the remnants of a colonial estate--a
mansion dominating an extensive holding of land, imposed upon that
holding as a sort of seigneurial sign-manual.  Dominating this
prairie.

Had he undertaken more than he could do?

So far he had allowed his horses to idle along the faint trail.  At
this thought he straightened on top of the tent which covered his
household goods.  There, just ahead of him, came the turn; so far
he had gone north, covering four miles in that direction.  Now two
miles west; and then look out for the stake which marked his
corner.

He shook the lines over the backs of the horses and looked up.
There did not seem to be even birds about!  But this immense and
utter loneliness merely aroused him to protest and contradiction:
he would change this prairie, would impose himself upon it, would
conquer its spirit!

At last he arrived on his claim and stopped just within his lines.
Before he climbed to the ground, he scanned the quarter section
immediately west.  On close scrutiny the monotony of the flatness
proved to be broken there by what, at this distance, looked like
two blisters in the soil: sod-hut and sod-stable of his neighbour;
built by cutting with a spade squares of the prairie turf, matted
with ancient roots, and using them like enormous flat bricks.  Not
thus was he going to build his first abode!

He slipped to the ground and unhooked his horses, throwing the
traces over their backs; then he hitched them all four abreast and,
behind them, strode over to Hall's place.

Hall was at home: a short, fat man of forty.  As he issued from the
sod-shack, which had two small square windows and a plank door
fitted into its shaggy wall, he betrayed no surprise.

"Well," he said, "you got here, eh?"

"Yes," Abe replied.  "Can I water the horses?"

"Sure.  Help yourself.  Help yourself to anything you can find on
the god-damn place."

"Have a crop in, I suppose?"

"They's seed in the ground; an' it's up.  Quite a height, too."

"How much?"

"Thirty acres.  But whether it's going to make a crop--"  And the
man shrugged his shoulders and flung an arm which came naked out of
a sleeve ripped from the shoulder down.

"What's wrong with it?"

"Put in too doggone late.  Water didn't go till nearly June."
There the man stood, hardly raised, mentally and in his aspirations,
above the level of that prairie from which he had come to wrest a
living.  "Truth to tell, if you want to know, if it were to do over
again, I wouldn't do it.  That's flat."

Abe nodded.  "Well, I'll take the horses down to the pool."

"Help yourself.  Anything you can use, just help yourself."

"I see you've a drag-shovel there."

"Take it.  Take it.  It ain't mine.  But the fellow what owns it
ain't hardly going to come back for it.  He's done and gone."

Again Abe nodded.  "Shall have to dig a pool myself."  And he
turned away with his horses to where, behind the stable, a dam of
yellow subsoil circled the waterhole in which a supply of the
precious liquid remained from the previous thaw-up and the summer
rains.

Half an hour later, back in the south-east corner of his own claim,
Abe tied the horses to the wheels of his wagon, took a steel
measuring-line from a pocket, and marked off a hundred and twenty
yards to west and north.  That was to be the site of his farmstead.
It was done half in protest against a rising discouragement; and,
yielding completely to that need for a protest, he returned to his
wagon, threw the tail-gate out, and pulled from under the load a
huge hand-plough, which he lowered to the ground with a supreme
effort.  For a while he was busy fitting evener and trees to the
implement.  Then, looking up at the sun, which was approaching the
western horizon, he hitched his horses in front.

"Get up there!" he shouted; and, throwing the plough over, so that
the share slipped smoothly along the ground, he went north, to the
point where, from his measurements, the line of his yard was to be.
Reversing the plough, he slanted the point into the virgin prairie
and began to step out behind his team, throwing his weight now to
right, now to left, according as the plough threatened to be thrown
out of the ground by such resistances as the soil afforded.  Thus
he drew a furrow around the site of the yard; and, having finished
it, he returned once more to the point whence he had started and
began the task of breaking his first field.  He did shallow
ploughing; for he knew that the prairie should be broken and back-
set.  As he stepped along, he did double work: he guided his plough
and counted his steps; and when he had taken three hundred and
eighty strides he turned, for on the trip west he had figured out
that that line squared would give him thirty acres.

At the end of his back-furrow he stopped and hesitated.  Should he
let it go and put up his tent, so as to have shelter for the night?
If he was to have a meal, he must get ready for cooking.

No.  He reversed the plough for another furrow; and once he was
committed to more than one round, he stayed with the work till it
was too dark to see.  He was here to conquer.  Conquer he would!
Before long he had opened ten furrows; the sun was down; and still
he went on.  A slight mist formed close to the ground, and he had
the peculiar feeling as though he were ploughing over an
appreciable fraction of the curvature of the globe; for whenever he
turned at the north end of his furrow; he could no longer see his
wagon, as though it were hidden behind the shoulder of the earth.

By the time he left off it was after ten and quite dark.  He had
gone sixteen rounds.  He unhitched and unharnessed near the wagon,
fed his horses a modicum of oats poured on the ground, staked them
out, and supped on bread and raw bacon.  Then he rolled up in a
blanket under the wagon, with the tent for a groundsheet, and fell
at once into a dreamless sleep.



TWO

The Idyll


A year had gone by.  Again Abe Spalding was in town, driving a team
of rangy bronchos hitched to a topless buggy.  He had taken a can
of cream to the station, to be shipped to the city.  Every motion
of his betrayed hurry.  Having dispatched the can, he drove to the
Vanbruik store and, among the many other teams that were slanting
back into the road, tied his horses to the rail of steel piping
which ran along the sidewalk in front of the windows.

As he entered the swing-door, clad in a dark-coloured suit of
combination overalls--jacket and trousers in one--and began to make
his way through the crowd--for the store was flourishing and
attracted custom by special Saturday sales, one of which was in
progress--the manager of the establishment espied him from his
vantage-point on the mezzanine landing of the flight of stairs
leading to the upper story where furniture, rugs, and similar goods
were displayed.

This manager, Mr. Diamond, was a smart young man of good build and
appearance, well dressed, with a dash of metropolitan refinement,
his blue-serge trousers being sharply creased, his linen spotless,
his face freshly shaved to the quick.  That he went about in shirt-
sleeves seemed done, not to spare his coat or to make him
comfortable, but to put himself on a level with the crowd.  He was
a shrewd business man, willing to give liberal discounts for the
sake of a quick turnover; yet hard to deal with when a note given
in payment was not redeemed in time or when a long-term credit was
asked for.  To such pleas the doctor was less inaccessible; he had
been known to take over a debt owing to the store, accepting a
personal note and allowing it to be forgotten.  Mr. Diamond's motto
was "Cash and Carry"; though with such as worried more over their
debts than their bills receivable he urged the convenience of a
charge-account.  To travelling salesmen he said, "We discount our
bills."  He would not have been out of place in a large city store;
but this rural establishment he might own one day.

As he caught sight of Abe, he came running down the stairs.  That
Abe was singled out for personal attention may have been due to the
fact that he was the owner's brother-in-law; but it was sufficiently
explained by the consideration that he had one of the largest and
most reliable monthly accounts, which he settled with "cream
cheques."

Mr. Diamond flashed a gold-filled smile.  "Anything for you.  Abe?"

"Yes," Abe replied and produced a slip of paper on which Ruth had
written out a list of her needs.  "Have these put into my buggy.
The bronchos, right at the door."  The better customers' horses
were known to the clerks as well as the customers themselves.

"I'll have it attended to at once."  And Mr. Diamond held up a
finger to one of the white-frocked clerks.

"The doctor at the store?" Abe asked.

"I don't think so.  He'll be at the house."

But the manager led the way to look about, for the store was too
large to be swept by a glance.  Abe's physical superiority reduced
the other man to a mere satellite.  He himself looked like a fact
of nature.

They made the round without finding the doctor.  Abe stood
irresolute.  In the course of the year he had learned not to resent
his brother-in-law's ways any longer.  But now he half blamed his
sister for the fact that she and Ruth did not pull together.

"I am going to the post office," he said at last.  "I won't be
back.  I am in a hurry."  He always was.

"No need."  Mr. Diamond nodded.  "You'll find your things in the
box."

Abe passed through a door and went briskly along the sidewalk
fronting a second, much smaller store conducted by a tiny, square-
bodied Jew.  Crossing the second street, the far corner of which
was occupied by a hardware store, he reached, a few hundred yards
beyond, a white frame building in which the post office was housed.

Like every place accessible to the Saturday crowd, the public room
was filled with people who stood about conversing, the weekly trip
to town being made quite as much for the sake of the social
intercourse it afforded as for the purpose of trading.  All these
men came from south of "the Line."  It would have been easy for Abe
to strike up acquaintances and to have himself admitted to the
general conversation about the weather, the prospects of the crops,
and provincial or municipal politics.  But he merely nodded; and,
under a general cessation of the buzzing talk, a few of those
present silently and casually returned his nod.  As if to expedite
matters, they stepped aside and opened a lane for him to pass on to
the wicket.

The reason for this reception was that Abe had not only made no
advances but had even met such advances as were made to him with an
attitude of reserve.  He was considered proud; and he did look down
on people satisfied with a success which secured a mere living.
His goal was farther removed than theirs, and the very fact that he
had so far realized few of his ambitions made him the more
reticent; he was not going to allow himself to be judged by what he
had done rather than by what he intended to do.

Having received from the aged postmaster that bundle of circulars
which constituted his weekly mail, he left as briskly as he had
entered.

He went to his sister's house, where Mary met him at the door.

"You'll stay for a while?  I'll make a cup of tea?"

"I just want to see Charles for a moment."

"He's in the study."  Mary looked queerly at her brother.  When she
had so much wished to have him in the district, he kept aloof!

The study was a small room opposite the dining-room.  In contrast
to the rest of the house its floor was bare; the general impression
it made was that of an untidy litter.  Its walls were lined with
unstained bookshelves made by a local carpenter; the furniture
consisted of a table strewn with papers, a roll-top desk, and two
Morris chairs in one of which the doctor was sitting, a book in his
hand; the seat of the other was encumbered with pamphlets and
letters.

As Abe entered, Dr. Vanbruik looked at him over his glasses,
dropped the hand holding the book, bent forward to sweep the
encumbrances of the other chair to the floor, and said unsmilingly:
"Sit down, Abe."

If the doctor's whole physique was small, his face was diminutive.
It looked contracted, as if its owner lived in a perpetual
concentration of thought.  His dark clothes, though old, still bore
traces of having been well tailored; but the creases at shoulders,
elbows, and knees were worn in beyond the possibility of being
removed by pressing.  He had his right foot drawn up on his left
knee and, with his free hand, was nursing its ankle.

As Abe sat down, there was a moment's silence.

"Hall's ready to sell," Abe said at last.  "He's entitled to prove
up if he gets the buildings he needs."

The doctor nodded.  "You know my views.  The farmer who isn't
satisfied to be a farmer makes a mistake.  You want to be a
landowner on a large scale.  You'll find you can't get the help you
will need.  At least you won't be able to hold it."

Abe gave a short laugh.  "Machines."

"Well, we might thresh it all out again.  It would lead nowhere."

"What I want to know is this," Abe said.  "I could put up the
buildings for Hall; or I could buy them and haul them out.  But
it's illegal for him to pledge the place before he has his patent.
You have known him in a business way.  Is he going to do what he
promises when I can't force him?"

"No.  You want his farm.  If he owes you money when he proves up,
he will sell to the man who offers cash, if he can find him."

"I offer him eight hundred dollars."

"Don't pay a cent till he turns his title over."

"He must have that house, worth three hundred dollars.  And
meanwhile he must live."

"Get more work out of him."

"That's your advice, is it?"

"If you must have more land, that's the way to go about it.  As for
Hall, I wouldn't trust him across the road."

Abe rose.  "That's what I wanted to know.  I must be going."

As he passed through the living-room, Mary stopped her brother.
"You won't stay?  Not for half an hour?"

"I can't.  Work's waiting."

"It's Saturday.  Other farmers have time."

"They!"

"How's the baby?"

"All right as far as I know."

"Ruth?"

"The same."

Mary stood and looked at him.  Abe laughed, patted her back, bent
down to kiss her, and turned to the door.

As he backed out of the row of vehicles in front of the store he
looked at his watch.  He had acquired the trick of timing himself
on his drives.  When the trail was dry, he tried to beat his own
record, cutting off seconds from the time required.

He was sitting bolt upright and held his lines tight; the wheels
bounded over the road.  It took him twenty-four minutes to cover
the four miles to the turn west.  Having made the turn, he used the
whip, just flicking the horses' rumps.

As he approached his claim he looked about.  What he had achieved
in a year might justify pride.  There was a two-roomed shack, built
like a shed.  East of it lay a pile of poplar boles, hauled from
the river, a distance of twenty-five miles, in winter; there was a
year's fuel left, well-seasoned now.  Along the west edge of the
yard stood a frame stable large enough to house six horses and four
cows, but too small right now.  The yard was fenced with woven
wire; and a strip thirty-two feet wide, inside the fence, was
ploughed and kept black, to be planted with four rows of trees next
spring.  South of the stable loomed two large haystacks, cut of the
wild prairie grass west of Hall's.  North of the barn there was a
huge water pool, forty by a hundred feet, fifteen feet deep.  The
whole south line, too, was fenced; with barbed wire only, it was
true; but the posts were of imported cedar; and along the other
lines posts and coils of wire were laid out, the posts all pointed,
ready to be driven into the ground with a wooden maul after the
next soaking rain.  North of the yard lay the field, forty acres of
good wheat.  The remaining hundred-odd acres were all broken; black
as velvet they stretched away as far as one could see.  That being
so, Abe needed more land; with more land he would need help; a good
thing that so far he had a thriftless neighbour willing to work for
wages rather than to attend to his own claim.

Abe had lived through one spring flood.  For three weeks in April
Ruth had never left the square plot about the shack where he had
piled the earth dug from the pool, thus securing the house from
being invaded by water and doing away with the eyesore of the raw
clay at the same time; he himself had had to don rubber hip-boots
to cross his yard.  But the flood had run out in time for seeding.
One trouble was that the water had spread the seeds of foul weeds
all over his land.  Where the prairie remained unbroken, the grass
had held its own, apart from small patches where skunk-tail had
gained a foothold.  But on the breaking where his crop was seeded,
a damnable mixture of charlock, thistle, and tumbling mustard had
sprung up with the wheat.  These pests the water had brought from
the older settlements to the west, in the famous Torquay district,
south-east of Grand Pré Plains where, so they said, farming was
already becoming a problem.

One other change Abe noted as he drove into his yard.  South-west,
seven miles away as the crow flies, a new grain elevator was being
constructed, at a flag station called Bays, after the oldest
settler south of the Somerville Line.  That building, with
glistening planks still unpainted, was a reminder that the country
was being settled; land was going to rise in value; it was time to
secure one's share of the prairie; no longer did a half section
seem such a bountiful slice of the universe to build a mansion on.

As he drove to the house, Abe looked again at his watch.  He had
made the trip in thirty-three minutes and thirty-five seconds,
cutting twenty-five seconds off his last record.

Ruth, in a long, dark print dress, was standing in the door, a
smile on her pretty face and a child a few months old in her arms.
She was not exactly small; but she was getting plump; and the
plumper she grew the less tall she seemed.

Abe answered her smile by a nod, alighted, and at once carried the
box with her groceries and empty cream can into the house.  Then,
from old habit, he glanced at the sun; and without a word, he took
the baby, helped the young woman to a seat in the buggy, and,
returning the child to her keeping, reached for the lines to drive
to the stable.

In front of the open slide-doors he unhitched, allowing the horses
to go to the huge trough of corrugated iron which reached through
the yard-fence into the field beyond.  Between trough and pool
stood the pump, which he worked vigorously for five minutes.  When
the bronchos had drunk their fill, he entered the stable and
stuffed their mangers with hay; having tied them, he slipped the
harness off their backs.  Next, he filled the mangers and feed-
boxes of the remaining stalls and finally went to the door where he
stood for several minutes, one hand raised to its frame, shouting
at the top of his voice, "Come on--come on--come on!"

This was the signal for the work-horses and the cows to return to
the stable; and since they were always fed a measure of oats and a
handful of shorts, a scarcely visible cluster of animals began at
once to move from the open prairie towards the farmstead.  As soon
as Abe saw that they were on their way, he ceased calling, turned
back into the stable and turned the drivers out into the yard.
There being no room for all his stock in the barn, he had to feed
in relays.  Then he went to the gate and waited for the rest of the
horses to come.  Even his waiting he seemed to do briskly, calling
again for the horses when they lingered to snatch another bite of
good grass.  At last they started their nightly comedy of a
struggle between their love of freedom and their love of oats.
Invariably the desire of the belly conquered; and, leaving the more
deliberate cows behind, they entered the yard in a galloping rush,
tossing their heads, and raising their tails.  The cows followed at
a walk, breaking into a short run only as they passed the master
who impatiently closed the gate behind them.

All this while Ruth had been sitting in the buggy and looking on.
A somewhat empty smile never left her lips.  Was this routine of
the farm still new enough to her to retain its charm?  Or was she
so intensely in love with her vigorous and swift-moving husband
that she was unwilling to lose a minute of his company?

Abe was occasionally conscious of a twinge of impatience with her--
or was it with himself?  He would have liked to say something; what
was there to say?  He had tried to speak of his plans; the topic,
endlessly repeated, had exhausted itself.  Sometimes she looked as
though she were waiting; for what?  He was doing his best.

The milking next, for evening was coming fast.  Meanwhile, in the
house, supper was waiting; and Abe was conscious of being hungry.

Ruth descended from the buggy and stood in the door, looking on.  A
year ago she had tried her hand at the traditional woman's task,
with poor success.  Laughing at herself, she had given it up; and
Abe preferred to do all outside work himself.

Together they went to the house, Abe carrying the brimming pails.
At the table, nothing was being said, either, beyond such brief
words as were called for by the task in hand.  Abe was thinking of
his coming negotiations with Hall; Ruth--of what?

Supper over, Abe separated the cream while Ruth cleared the table
and washed the dishes.  It was seven o'clock; but the sun was still
high.  Abe carried the skimmed milk to the pig-pen beyond the pool.

When he returned, he stopped in the centre of the yard.  "Coming
out?" he called to Ruth who was still in the shack.

She came to the door.  "Might as well."

Might as well!  Yet every bit of work was Abe's.

They went to the field where the wheat stood knee-high, being in
the shot-blade; and for two hours they went about pulling weeds;
bright-yellow charlock and paler tumbling mustard.  As always, Abe
worked like a whirlwind; Ruth languidly, she being pregnant.  Abe
kept slapping neck and hands, for mosquitoes were bad.  Ruth
laughed, immune.

Suddenly Abe straightened and listened.  "By jingo!" he exclaimed.

"What is it?" Ruth asked; for she, too, had caught a faint
pulsation in the air.

"The ditchers," Abe said.  "Come on!"  And, turning, he ran for the
yard, leaving Ruth behind.

The sun was almost setting; and as they passed through the gate
where Abe had waited, they saw, straight west, little puffs of
steam and smoke rising into the clear evening air.

"It IS the ditching machine," Abe said.  "They'll get past here
after all this summer.  I'll hitch up to-morrow; we'll have a look
at them."

He took Ruth's arm and, bending down to kiss her, led her back to
the field where they rogued for another hour till it was too dark
to distinguish weeds from grain.  The weeds Abe piled in the
margin, at right angles to a rope which he had brought and by the
help of which he swung the huge bundle on his back.  Thus, through
the dusk, they returned to the yard where Abe kindled a fire with
chips from the wood pile, smothering the flames with the green
weeds till they disengaged a dense, acrid smoke which dispelled the
increasingly troublesome mosquitoes.  Ruth brought two chairs from
the shack; and they sat down in the smudge, Abe in the thickest of
it, Ruth near the margin.

They had been sitting there for half an hour, Abe yawning with that
abandon which comes from overwhelming drowsiness, when, from the
trail beyond the fence, a voice sounded across:  "Seen the
ditchers?"

Abe and Ruth gave a start.  "Yes," Abe said.  "Heard and seen
them."

"Both?"

"What do you mean?"

"They're working on both lines," said Hall's voice.  "They're
nearer on the south line."

"Come," Abe said to Ruth; and again he took her arm.

"Do you mean to say they work at night?" Abe asked at the gate.

Hall laughed and spat.  "They had better.  They've contracted to
finish the work before freeze-up."

The bright glare of a headlight was visible against the dark sky
from which the pallor of the sunset had vanished; and farther south
a second similar light pointed eastward, less brightly, for these
three humans were not in the line of its focus.

"That there machine," Hall said, pointing ineffectively with a
chewed-off pipe-stem, "is two miles south.  It's the bigger one;
they work three steam-shovels there; that's why they've overtaken
this here devil.  They've shipped in two carloads of forriners,
Ukarainians, dodgast them.  I was thinking of asking fer a job my
own self.  But the white man don't stand a chancet in this country
any longer."

"That reminds me," Abe said.  "I'm going to build a granary.  You
can get a job right here."

"All right, bo'.  What about that there house you were talking of?"

"I'll get you the house.  Trouble is, I'll have to owe you the
money it costs.  You have to sign under oath that the house is
yours."

Hall chuckled.  "So long as I gets my money when I pull out."

"You don't need to pull out till you've got it."

"That's so.  It's all right then.  I'm danged if I stays on this
prairie a day longer than I've got to."

Three, four miles to the west, lights shifted, crossing the pointed
finger of the headlight.  The night seemed to intensify into a more
palpable blackness; and the pulse of the engine ceased.
Startlingly, two or three of the movable lights were reversed,
pointing converging beams backward, against the face of the machine
that was straddling the ditch it excavated.  Magically, it seemed
drawn nearer.

"Something wrong," Hall said, spitting.  "Lighting up for repairs."

They stood and stared but could not, of course, see what was going
on.  The second outfit was visibly forging ahead.  Whenever Abe
looked away for a second, he noticed the progress made in the
interval.

"That there outfit," Hall said, "lifts three yards of dirt at a
bite; the ditch is forty feet wide and thirty deep; but that there
monster digs it at the rate of two rods an hour.  Twenty rods in a
ten-hour day; that's two miles a month.  They're speeding her up
now to five miles a month, what with night work and more help.
They've got to finish her, or they lose their deposit."

"That so?  How do you know?"  Abe felt Ruth pressing against him.

Hall, however, did not take the slightest notice of her.  Again he
spat.  "I've been down.  Foreman told me."

"Well," Abe said, turning away, "I was thinking of hitching up and
driving down myself to-morrow, it being Sunday."

"No work on Sundays," Hall said.  "Stop at midnight.  Wait till
Monday."

Abe was fingering the gate.  "No time on weekdays."

"You're in a blasted hurry.  Learn better by-m-by.  When do I start
on that there granary of yours?"

"Report on Monday.  We'll haul the lumber . . .  Good night."

And once more husband and wife sat in silence within the smudge
till the excitement of the trip to the road had worn off and
drowsiness reconquered body and mind.



THREE

First Neighbours


Again a year had gone by; and Abe, with the help of a huge steam-
tractor rented from Anderson, the round-faced young hardware dealer
in town, and operated by Bigelow, the powerful, club-footed
blacksmith, had hauled out for Hall a three-roomed farm-house which
he had bought from Wilson, postmaster at Morley.  The price, three
hundred dollars, had been figured, as Dr. Vanbruik had advised,
against the wages which Abe owed Hall for work done during the
year.

It was in that spring of 1902 that Nicoll first came out to look
the district over.  He was renting a farm along the southern edge
of Grand Pré Plains.

"Renting!" he said to Abe.  "You don't know what that means.  No
chance to do as I think best.  My landlord wants me to summer-
fallow eighty acres.  'Very well,' I say, 'give me a lease so that
I can count on some return from my labour.  Unless I know that I
can crop that fallow next year, I won't earn wages for my work.'
'I can hardly do that,' he says.  'I may want to sell; or another
tenant may offer a better rent.'  Then,' I say, 'I'll crop what I
till or go where I can do so.'  'You've got your living,' he says;
'what more do you want?'  I always leave my land better than I
found it; but it's no use.  I have to have land of my own.  I have
my own horses and implements, such as they are.  And I've a little
money besides.  I've GOT to have land of my own."

"The land's here," Abe said, irritated by the man's hesitation, yet
liking him.  "It has its drawbacks, like any land.  It's subject to
floods coming down from the hills.  They bring weeds.  But I'm
farming.  Seems to me I'm getting ahead; though, of course, it's
hard to say where you stand in this game.  So far I've been tying
my money down, what little I had.  But this year I'll have a crop
of a hundred and fifty acres; and it's doing well.  I came when
there wasn't even a ditch.  We are getting the better of the water.
I'm buying more land and proving up on the homestead.  Seems to me
I'm on the safe side."

"It looks that way," Nicoll said.

But he did not, that year, file on the quarter section which he had
picked and decided upon.

In the summer of 1903 he returned.  During the previous fall Abe
had built a huge barn and added a room to the shack, financing his
operations by using his last capital and borrowing at the
Somerville bank--a process which he found surprisingly easy.  True
enough, it was a short-term loan of only fifteen hundred dollars;
but, after threshing, he had paid off only eight hundred, covering
the balance by a renewal note.  In the spring he had planted a
four-rowed wind-break of black poplar, with spruces interspersed
along the north and west lines of the yard.  There were other
changes which Nicoll inspected and duly admired.  The whole of what
was now Abe's half section was fenced; and the land was divided by
a cross-fenced pasture of twenty acres, extending from the rear of
his huge, red, curb-roofed barn for twenty rods west and for half a
mile north.  In the house which he had bought for Hall lived Bill
Crane who had been a notorious idler in town but who, having
married, seemed to have changed his ways, for young Mrs. Crane
could often be heard shrilly driving her man to work in the
morning.  Hall, having received eight hundred dollars, had turned
over to Abe his newly acquired title and left for parts unknown.
Abe had a hundred acres of this new land under crop; and sixty
acres were freshly broken when Nicoll appeared.  The total number
of horses on the place was eleven now, not counting three colts
born in the new barn.  Ten cows were being milked; and there were
steers and heifers besides, and pigs and fowl.

Nicoll, medium-sized, middle-aged, bearded, deliberate, went about
and looked at it all.  "You say you came here with a few wagon-
loads of truck and slept on the ground for the first two weeks?"

"That's what I said."  They were standing in the open door of the
magnificent barn.  Opposite, in front of the house--for with the
new room and the gable roof it was hardly a shack any longer--two
youngsters played about; and a cradle stood in the shade north of
the building.  This cradle held a little girl called Mary, after
her aunt, though, to avoid confusion, her parents had resolved to
change the name to Marion, which was the first name of Ruth's
mother.

Nicoll smiled up at Abe, sighing.  It would have been hard to
define his expression.  Ordinarily he seemed to look into himself
rather than at the things surrounding him.  Now he seemed ready to
be impressed.  At times his look verged on adoration and yet seemed
on the point of turning on itself and, in a smile half veiled by
the reddish beard streaked with grey, of becoming tinged with a
gentle irony.  Abe was by far the younger man of the two; but the
way in which Nicoll looked at him might have suggested that he gave
him credit for superior wisdom and experience while at the same
time half mocking at it.

In spite of the fact that Abe could not understand the man's
hesitation he was attracted.  To him the world was a thing to be
conquered, waiting to take the impress of his mind and will.
Nicoll seemed rather to look for a niche to slip into, unnoticed
and unobserved.

"You," Nicoll said at last, "were of course in a different position
when you arrived.  "You had capital."

"I had five thousand dollars."

Nicoll seemed to shrink within himself.  "As I said," he muttered,
with his curious smile.  "Dukes and lords . . ."  He had said
nothing of the kind; but perhaps he had thought it.

"But look what I've got!" Abe said impulsively.  "This barn cost me
three thousand dollars.  My stock is worth two any day.  And all
that"--indicating, by a sweep of his arm, the fields with their
crops-"is clear profit, not to mention the rest of my equipment.  I
had nothing but a hand plough when I came.  Before I'm through,
I'll be farming whole sections of land, ploughing with tractors, an
acre every two minutes."

"No doubt," Nicoll said.  "Dukes and lords.  How about the margin?"

"The profit?  Before I'm through, I'll build a house over there fit
to stand in any city."

Nicoll repeated, "No doubt!" not hesitatingly this time, but
decisively.  "Not a doubt on earth! . . .  But I didn't mean it
that way.  Do you find time to live?  Besides, I've half a score of
kids."

"I've three," Abe said with a laugh.  "There hasn't been time for
more.  What we want.  A population.  What do I want more than
anything else?  I'll tell you.  Neighbours."

Nicoll laughed; and, with an intonation almost of archness which
sat strangely on a man of his age, he added, "To buy out?"

Abe frowned but took no offence.  "Tell you.  I'll buy out every
no-account fellow who settles next to me.  Rather than let his
claim revert to weeds which would be a menace to me.  But if a man
shows he can make a success, I'll help him all I can.  Why, man,"
he burst out vigorously, "I'll tell you why I need neighbours.
Because I need roads; because I need cross-ditches and other
improvements.  And as the kids grow up, I'll need a school.  That's
why I need neighbours.  There's been a Yankee snooping around.  I
don't like him.  A runt of a fellow, with an eye and a nose like a
terrier dog.  I've encouraged him.  Why?  Because he might know the
business end of a rake from the handle.  And Germans have been
looking the district over, from the reserve down south.  Even a
Ukrainian came last fall; had been working on the ditching machine.
I'd like to have men of my own colour about.  But rather than stay
alone, let niggers and Chinamen come."

"Good farmers," Nicoll said pensively, "those Germans and
Ukrainians.  And Chinamen, too. . . .  I believe I'm going to do
it.  I'm not quite ready.  But that corner suits me to the ground
if it can be farmed."

"I've been steering others away from the place."

"I believe I will," Nicoll said, and went to his buggy as though to
start at once for the land-titles office.

But in the spring of 1904 there was no sign yet of any Nicoll in
the district.

Abe had suddenly seen himself forced to buy a third quarter of
land, unless, indeed, he had been willing to let it go to someone
else.  It was the north-west quarter, and, together with other
parcels in other districts, it had been put up for public sale.
Abe had been taken by surprise; and though the price was low, he
had had to borrow at the bank.  Not that it mattered; but his
increased acreage demanded an ever-rising investment in implements;
and Ruth was plainly getting impatient about the house.  What could
he do?  He could not afford to let the land go to any one else.
If, for a few more years, they had to put up with a house less
roomy and less well built than their hired man's, it could not be
helped.  He had bidden the land in, paying seven hundred and fifty
dollars for it.

Yet he was worried and restless.  He was in debt.  He worked
frantically; he even pulled weeds again by hand, a thing he had not
done for a year or two; and he did it alone now; for Ruth no longer
kept him company.  The crop did not promise so well that year; the
flood had been slow in running out; and after that there was a
drought; in patches the wheat was turning yellow before it had
headed out.  It was, of course, impossible to rogue three hundred
acres of grain; he did what he could.  Yet there were odd little
twinges of a lack of confidence.  With his thirst for conquest he
lived dangerously, always assuming new debts before the old ones
were paid off; he was discounting the future; he was selling
himself into slavery.  Such curious, harrying thoughts could be
shaken off only by desperate spurts of work.  Never was the day's
task finished before eleven at night; he never sat about with Ruth
any longer.  The hired man had his more or less defined hours; Abe
had not.  Conscience-stricken over his neglect of Ruth, he tried to
compensate for it by an occasional ostentation of solicitude.
There were four children now: two boys and two girls, the name of
the youngest being Frances.  He urged Ruth to get help for the
house.  Ruth asked scornfully, "Where should I put a girl?  In the
hay-loft?"  Yes, yes, the house was too small.

All this was worrying Abe when, one evening, Nicoll drove into the
margin of the field where Abe was roguing.  Sitting in his old,
wobbly buggy, he asked whether he could spend the night in the
barn.

"Sure," Abe said.  "Had your supper?"

"Had a bite in town.  Well, I am coming at last."

"To stay?"

"Not yet.  We'll move next spring.  But I've filed on the place."

"A wonder nobody got ahead of you."

"That risk I had to take.  But I'm coming; provided I can count on
getting occasional work on your place for a year or two."

Abe laughed.  "You're a godsend.  Want to start tonight?"

"Not this summer.  I've only a few weeks to spare before harvest.
I need that for building.  But if you say I can make enough to pay
my store bill next summer, I'll go to town tomorrow and buy the
lumber I need.  I must have the house.  There's been another kid
during the year."

"Same here.  A girl.  Number four."  Nicoll's coming would solve
Abe's most pressing problem: that of help for the summer-fallowing
while he and Bill did the breaking on the new quarter.  An
extensive fallow had become imperative unless he was willing to
look on while his acres were being fouled with weeds.  "I've bought
a new quarter," he added.

By way of answer, Nicoll looked at Abe with his queer, half-ironic
smile.  "I'm honestly tired," he said.

"I haven't the time to feel tired," Abe replied.

Thus the spring of 1905 saw Abe's desire for a neighbour fulfilled.
North of the bridge across the ditch a house had been built, with a
commodious, roofed-over porch.  Behind it, a small stable with a
granary as a lean-to on one side, and a henhouse on the other.  A
strip of ploughing, for the wind-break, surrounded the two acre-
yard.  West of it, twenty acres of new breaking extended to the
north.

Blessings, like disasters, have a habit of coming in pairs.  Two
miles east of what was henceforth to be known as Nicoll's Corner, a
log-shack went up, south of the ditch.  For a long while neither
Abe nor Nicoll knew who was building in this furtive way.  Whoever
it was did his hauling and fitting at night, after dark.  For hours
there was a continual going and coming about the place by lantern
light.  Nicoll at last rode over on horseback.  He reported to Abe
that the walls of a house twenty by eighteen feet were going up
there.  Not a soul had been visible about the place.

The next time Abe was at Somerville he dropped in at the land-
titles office and inquired.  The man had given his name as Shilloe;
he was a Ukrainian who had little English.  When filing his claim
he had produced naturalization papers.  He lived at a town called
The Coulee, eight miles south-west of Somerville, where he was
employed as a section man by the Great Prairie Railroad.

Abe felt encouraged.  For five years he had been alone; now he was
going to have two neighbours at once.  They would help to bring in
other settlers.  He had also noticed that the ditch along the
Somerville Line was being deepened and widened; it had been taken
over by the provincial government.  But when he mentioned at Morley
that this was evidently being done to attract settlers, he was
laughed at.  It was done, he was told, to attract votes to a
certain party.

As for Nicoll, he and Abe became more than neighbours that summer;
they became friends.  Considering their almost antipodal outlook on
life, this was a remarkable fact. . . .

Abe was breaking the newly acquired quarter section; and,
belatedly, he was fallowing the south-west quarter.  This ploughing
Nicoll did while Bill Crane helped Abe with his breaking.
Sometimes it happened that Abe and Nicoll met at the line dividing
the two quarters where Abe had taken down his fence and replaced it
by a shallow ditch.

Often, when they met, Nicoll jumped across to join Abe while the
horses rested; and they talked; sometimes, as is often the case
with farmers, on curious and recondite subjects.

Thus Wilson, the postmaster at Morley, having suddenly died,
leaving his daughter Susie in charge, Nicoll said with seeming
irrelevancy and in that light tone with which we touch on things
that disquiet us, "Strange thing, death, isn't it?"

"I don't know," Abe replied.  He had a definite aim in life: to be
the most successful farmer of a district yet to be created; he was
a materialist and felt uncomfortable when facing fundamentals.

"I wish we could know!"

Abe turned and picked up the lines of his team.  "Best not to
inquire, I guess," he said, and clicked his tongue.

When they met again, Nicoll pursued the topic.  "I read an article
recently," he said.  "The doctor gave it to me."  He meant Dr.
Vanbruik, not Dr. Schreiber, the practising physician at Morley.
"It said a life after death was impossible unless we had existed
from all eternity."

Abe's eyes swept over the landscape beyond his fences.  He did not
often allow it to do so.  Rarely, during the first years of his
life on the prairie, had he given the landscape any thought.  It
had offered a "clear proposition," unimpeded by bluffs of trees or
irregularities in the conformation of the ground; the trees he
wanted he had planted where he wanted them.  But when Nicoll spoke
as he had done, Abe felt something uncanny in that landscape.
Nicoll's words impressed him as though they were the utterance of
that very landscape itself; as though Nicoll were the true son of
the prairie, and he, Abe, a mere interloper.  Incomprehensibly he
was drawn to this man even while resenting the fact that his,
Abe's, brother-in-law should loan him things to read.  Abe read
nothing but farm papers; and in them only what might enable him to
farm more land more efficiently than any one else.

Again he picked up his lines.  But, still standing in his place, he
shrugged his shoulders.  "What of it?  Suppose we come from nothing
and go to nothing?  While I'm here, what difference does it make?"

Nicoll gave him a troubled glance.

"Get up, there!" Abe shouted, shaking the lines over the horses'
backs; and as they bent into their collars, he caught up with the
plough by running a few steps before he lifted himself to its seat.

Here and there, in the long strip of pasture, cows were grazing in
groups; others were lying down and chewing the cud.  To the east,
two miles away as the crow flies, a slight indentation of the sky-
line marked the spot where Nicoll's farmstead lay.  Shilloe's
buildings were quite invisible.  Abe's own barn was so far the only
landmark to be seen from Morley.

Conquest of that landscape depended on ways and means of speeding
up the work.  Abe owned three quarter sections now.  No doubt the
man who held the remaining quarter of the section would turn up one
day prepared to sell.  Abe would have a square mile then; how could
he farm it?  Hired men?  Bill Crane needed too much supervising
right now; when he milked, he did not milk dry; when he fed, he
seemed to grudge the hay and yet wasted more than he saved.  Why in
the world, he had recently asked, did Abe not turn the horses out
at night?  Even the horses liked it better.  "They can't pick up
enough green feed to keep in trim for the work and sleep besides,"
Abe had answered.  What was the solution?  There was only one:
power-farming as it was called: machinery would do the work of many
horses and many men.  But Abe liked the response of living flesh
and bone to the spoken word and hated the unintelligent repetition
of ununderstood activities which machines demanded.  Yet sooner or
later he must come to that; he would have to run the farm like a
factory; that was the modern trend. . . .

At noon, when the men went to the yard for dinner, two little boys,
four and three years old, crossed from the house to the open door
of the barn, plying their little legs as fast as they could and
holding each other by their hands.  Three teams, sixteen horses in
all--for Bill and Nicoll worked with six horses each, while Abe
drove his "crack" team, four full-blooded Percherons--crowded
around the water trough north of the barn.  Abe left them and
entered behind the children.

The two little boys were in the first stall opposite the door,
south of the driveway, a stall never used except to drop hay into
from above.  Abe began to take oats to the various stalls.

But as boys will do, Charlie and Jim ran to the door every now and
then, to scamper back to the protection of the stall, crowing.

They were on such a run when the first horses entered: a cunning
mare with colt at foot.  "Watch out!" Abe shouted.

The children jumped into safety; and the mare ran successively into
several stalls to stick her nose into the feed-boxes.  This was a
trick of hers to steal a mouthful of oats here or there while the
other horses filed in; but every time Abe gave a lusty shout; and,
tossing her head and slipping on the planking, she backed out
again.  The children laughed at her antics.

Abe was still carrying oats into the various stalls, greeted
wherever he went by impatient whinnyings and the thuds of shifting
feet, when Bill and Nicoll entered and distributed the hay.  The
feeding done, Bill climbed by the ladder into the loft to throw
down enough hay for the evening's feeding.  This was a special
delight for the boys, who allowed themselves to be buried as each
forkful came down.

"Bill!" Abe called when there was enough hay.

"Yah?"

"Look into the bin and see how much oats is left."

The answer came shortly:  "Not much.  A bushel or so."

"We better fill up to-night before we quit," Nicoll said.

That was it!  If all helpers were like Nicoll, it would not be bad.
Bill would never have suggested working overtime to fill up a feed
bin that was running low.  The feed was there, in the granary. . . .

Abe picked up Jim, the smaller one of the boys, and put him on his
shoulder; Charlie reached for his hand.  And, with a nod to the
other men, he strode off to the house, frowning.

He always frowned when he went to the house while Nicoll was there.
He resented it that Ruth had suggested Nicoll might take his dinner
at Bill's.  At first Abe had flatly refused to agree to such an
arrangement; but Ruth had made their meals so uncomfortable that he
had broached the matter to Nicoll who had at once consented.  "I
quite understand.  It's all right."

What was the matter with Ruth?  Much was the matter.

Immediately after dinner Abe rose from table and returned to the
yard where Nicoll joined him.  Nicoll never got tired of admiring
that barn of Abe's; but he did so with his peculiar smile which
seemed on the point of turning from admiration into irony.

"I've often wondered," he said, making futile attempts at using a
straw by way of a toothpick, "whether this sort of thing pays."

"What sort of thing?"

"Buying more and more land.  Working with hired help."

"Does it pay to farm?  Seems to me that is the question."

"I don't think it is.  While you do your own work, farming is bound
to pay.  It has paid since the world began.  You make better wages
for your labour than anywhere else and remain your own master."

"I'm hanged," Abe said, "if I'll work for a dollar a day.  That's
all I pay you.  There must be some profit over."

"You pay more than the wages.  You need two ploughs instead of one;
or three or four.  You feed two or three teams instead of one.  You
pay more in taxes.  And--Oh, well, it's all right when you hire a
neighbour with time to spare.  But when it comes to what you call a
hired man!  He won't work so hard; he won't work so well.  There's
more wear and tear on your implements, and on your horses.  Right
now, I believe, the greater your acreage, the less your yield per
acre."

This argument told; for already, within five years, Abe had to
contend against a decreasing yield.  Yet he defended himself.  "The
soil gets poorer.  You'll be up against the same thing."

"Perhaps."  Nicoll shrugged his shoulders and pushed out his lips.
"I don't say.  But the moment I gave up moving from place to place,
my yield increased. . . .  And it gets harder to find help."

"Machines," Abe said, struck by the coincidence of Nicoll's
arguments with those of his brother-in-law.

"That's so," Nicoll said pensively.  They were squatting in the
narrow strip of shade along the east wall of the barn.  "When you
hitch an engine to your plough, you know it won't slack.  But the
thing's got to be built.  You get your hired man one degree
removed.  He's going to get the better of you.  And then . . . I've
been watching these threshing outfits.  Do a lot of work.  But . . .
just for the fun of it, I threshed a strawstack over last year,
in winter time, with the fanning mill."

"And what did you find?  I've often wondered."

"I fanned a hundred and three bushels of wheat out of that stack."

"That a fact?  I'll be hanged!"

And with that Abe rose, more disquieted than ever. . . .

In the fall of the year Shilloe moved out to his claim; but not
before section crews were dismissed for the winter.  He proved to
be a pleasant, round-faced, clean-shaven man of thirty-odd, good-
looking in his way, though unmistakably Slavic.  As for his wife,
neither Abe nor Nicoll ever saw her, and whenever either of them
passed the place, a flock of children scampered for house or stable
to hide.



FOUR

Husband and Wife


Abe had been married for nearly six years; and in rapid succession
four children had arrived.  Then, there was a cessation of births.

Just what had happened between Abe and Ruth?  Neither of them knew;
they had simply drifted.  There had been a time when both had
foreseen the coming estrangement and dreaded its approach.  Both
had tried to forestall it.  Abe had asked Ruth to accompany him on
necessary drives: calls here and there, rounds of inspection when
planning operations for the following season.  Ruth had again
sought his company in the long summer evenings.  Gradually such
attempts had been abandoned till, in occasional retrospection, both
were often struck by the fact that a day, a week, a month had gone
by without their having spoken more than such few words as were
demanded by the routine of life.

Physical attraction had died in satiety, renewing itself in ever-
lengthening intervals; on Abe's part because he immersed himself
more and more in his work: he came home exhausted and overtired; on
Ruth's part because, unperceived, a revolt flamed in her against
she hardly knew what: the rural life, the isolation, the deadly
routine of daily tasks.  She had become used to exhausting her
emotional powers on the children.  These children had been born as
the natural fruit of marriage, not anticipated with any great
fervour of expectancy; yet they had come to absorb her life; for
Abe, engrossed in other things, had left them to her.  When,
occasionally, she had told him of their progress in growth or
development, he had listened absently, had treated her enthusiasm
with an ironic coolness which made her close up in her shell.  In
his presence she had ceased to let herself go in her intercourse
with them.  When she was playing with them, and he entered, a mask
fell over her face.  Gradually, she ceased to play with them.

A peculiar development was the consequence.  The children, always
thrown with her, began to take her for granted; Abe was the
extraordinary, romantic element in their lives; mostly he was away,
driving or working in the fields; he did not encourage their
familiarity; he tolerated them as an adjunct to his life; but he
was also the dispenser of such rare glories as a ride on horseback,
in buggy or wagon.  When they begged for such favours and he
briefly declined to comply with their wishes, they accepted his
verdict as that of a higher power; but they soon learned that their
mother's "no" need not be accepted.

Both Ruth and Abe were aware of these things.  Ruth resented them;
Abe, noticing that she did, took them with a humorous good nature
which had often an ironical point.  Suppose the children were noisy
and Ruth tried vainly to quiet them.  Abe waited till she had
worked herself into a state of nervous excitement, the worse for
his observant eye; then suddenly he would "settle them" by a word
of command.  His instant success had an effect as though he had
said, "I'll show you how to deal with them."  Ruth felt that it was
easy for him to retain his power over them, but that he made no
attempt of exerting it in her name or to her advantage.  Although
he corroborated her own demands, he did it in such a way as to
damage her authority rather than to confirm it.

On the rare occasions when Abe gave these things a definite
thought, he realized his own lack of consideration; but somehow he
seemed unable to remedy it.  His regret was always retrospective;
he could not foresee it.  His material struggle absorbed him to the
point where he had no energy left to ponder nice questions of
conduct and to lay down rules to govern his intercourse with wife
and children.  When, in a flash of insight, this became clear to
him, he postponed the difficulty.  The "kids" were still small; he
would take them in hand later; let him build up that farm first, an
empire ever growing in his plans.

There was another point of friction between him and Ruth: the
house.  Ruth did not forgive him the fact that the hired man of
whom she disapproved had a better place to live in than herself.
When Abe said that this was provisional, that one day he would
build her a house which was to be the envy of everybody, she could
not summon any enthusiasm; she wanted comfort, not splendour;
convenience, not luxury.  That was the reason, too, why she adopted
an attitude hostile to the Nicolls; she envied them their house:
but the Nicolls were mere peasants; she could not rid herself of
the conceit of the city-born.

She was city-born!  In this she was handicapped.

Abe had never expected Ruth to do any farm work, not even to carry
water or fuel into the house.  Winter or summer, he rose at four in
the morning and started the fires.  He milked the cows and fed the
horses before he called her.  But that call in the morning!  In the
first year of their marriage Abe had entered the bedroom and sat
down on the edge of her bed, awakening her with a caress.  Now he
knocked at her door.

She was aware that he had begun to look critically at her.  She had
caught herself wishing that she could make herself invisible; she
was getting stout.  Not that Abe said a word about it; but she knew
he disliked stout women.  Abe was heavy himself; he weighed two
hundred and fifty pounds; but, being so tall, he did not look it.
Ruth had been slender at the time of their marriage; as she began
to put on weight, she had become shapeless as she called it.  She
suffered from it herself but resented Abe's disapproval.  Perhaps
he never meant to convey such a disapproval.  It was true that the
bed which they had so far shared was becoming uncomfortable; but
when Abe, in the fourth year, jestingly referred to the fact, his
very jest offended her, the more so since, ostentatiously, he spoke
only of his own increase in girth.  "By golly!" he said.  "Work
agrees with me.  It's about time we bought another bedstead so I
can turn around without bumping you."  A week later he brought that
new bedstead home; and henceforth they slept apart.  Ruth cried.

Nor was she unaware of her own shortcomings; she was getting less
and less careful with regard to the common amenities of life.  At
first, she had omitted the white tablecloth only when Abe was
absent from a meal.  Why go to unnecessary trouble?  It was hard
enough to keep a house tidy which, with four children in it, was
much too small.  There was a kitchen cabinet; she had a good
dinner-set; but, when pieces were broken, she replaced them with
heavy white crockery, saving her better dishes for social occasions
which never came.  When Abe saw these substitutes for the first
time, he lifted a cup in his hand and weighed it; but he never said
a word.  Next, to save steps, she took to washing the dishes in the
dining and living room, leaving them on the table for the next
meal.  Then she left the white table-cloth out altogether,
preferring oilcloth.  The room took on a dingy appearance.

In her dress, too, she became careless.  Her house-frocks were
ready-made, "out-size" garments bought from a catalogue.  Feeling
"driven," she ceased changing her aprons at meal-time.

Abe noticed all this.  The more lordly his own domain grew to be,
the less in keeping was his house.  For weeks he never said a word,
till his distaste reached an explosive pressure.  He knew that it
was dangerous to let a grievance rest till it has become impossible
to discuss it in a pleasant way.  But time and energy were lacking;
he closed his eyes while he could.  When calling on his sister at
Morley, he scanned everything and compared the way in which Mary,
with the help of a servant, ran her house.  Mary rarely mentioned
her husband; the doctor rarely mentioned his wife; but when they
did so, they spoke of each other with a great considerateness; not
exactly tenderly, but with an unvarying mutual respect which showed
that they were at one on every question of importance.  The great
secret in the doctor's life, the reason why he had given up his
flourishing practice, lay between them as something jealously
guarded from others' eyes.  Abe, presuming on his twinship, had one
day half asked Mary about it; she had at once withdrawn.  Abe
wondered whether Ruth would be as reticent, as loyal as Mary.  He
himself never even hinted to Mary of his criticism of Ruth.

Every now and then he tried to get Ruth to call on his sister.
Mary had been at the farm; the doctor kept pony and buggy for her.
But between the two women yawned an abyss.  Neither could utter a
word which found the other's approval.  Abe had hoped that Ruth
would enter into neighbourly relations with Mrs. Nicoll, a huge,
talkative, and pathetic woman who made him laugh.  But Ruth was
consciously isolating herself, making that a point of pride which
had been a grievance.  Abe mentioned it to her as a duty that she
must call on the new-comer.  "That woman and I have nothing in
common," she said.  And this led to a "scene" between husband and
wife.

"Listen here," Abe said.  "You blame me for your isolation--"

"Who says I do?"

"Nobody needs to tell me.  I feel it.  You make me feel it."

"How, if you please?"

Abe stood helpless, uncomfortably aware that Charlie's eyes were on
him from a corner of the dusky room.  He paced up and down on the
far side of the dining-table, Ruth standing in the door of the
kitchen.  Things pent up in his breast cried to be let out.  He
knew that this was the moment to shut them away in the depth of
his heart; but he was consumed by the desire to revel in his
misfortune.  He also knew that, if he went over to Ruth and kissed
her or patted her cheek, making her feel that she was something to
him, he might easily win her co-operation in the endeavour to
remove what was keeping them apart.  He could not do so.  "Oh!" he
exclaimed, shrugging his powerful shoulders and raising his hands,
"by a thousand little things, insignificant in themselves, that I
can't lay my hand on.  You know."

"Perhaps I do," she said, a white line around her lips.  "But how
about you?  Don't you show me every hour, every minute we spend
together that you disapprove of me, of all I am?"

Abe veered to face her, stung to the quick.  What if she was right?
He must conciliate her, or an abyss would open and swallow them.
"Listen here," he said, shaken, and his voice betrayed him.

She sank into a chair by the door, covering her face with an apron.
"Listen here," he repeated, steadied.  "I have my work.  It takes
every ounce of my strength; it takes every thought I am capable
of."

She looked up, her eyes dry and red.  "What is it all for?"

He looked puzzled.  "What is what all for?"

"That work.  _I_ don't know.  To me it seems senseless, useless, a
mere waste.  Work, work, work!  What for?"

He was thunderstruck.  SHE disapproved of HIM, of all he was.  But
his voice was even.  "Don't you know?"

"I don't.  I had my misgivings.  Farming!  There are farms all over
the country, down east.  But I never dreamt of anything like this.
It's like being in prison, cast off by the world.  Don't hold Mary
up to me.  She despises me and thinks you a sort of half-god or
hero.  She looks at this shack and wonders how I can exist in it.
She is right.  I wonder myself.  What can _I_ do about it?  This
isn't a country fit to live in."

"Exactly," Abe said with rising anger.  "I am making it into a
country fit to live in.  That is my task.  The task of a pioneer.
Can't you see that I need time, time, time?  In six years I've
built a farm which produces wealth.  Give me another six years, and
I'll double it.  Then I'll build you a house such as you've never
dreamt of calling your own."

"I know,  I know. . . ."

"If you know, what's the fuss about?  You said you didn't know what
the work was for.  That's it.  To build up a place any man can be
proud of, a place to leave to my children for them to be proud of."

Ruth looked up.  "Where do I come in?"

"Aren't you going to profit by my labours?"

"Profit!  You probably pride yourself on being a good provider.
You are.  I've all I want except what I need: a purpose in life."

"Don't you have the children?"

She burst into tears.

Abe drew a chair to the table and sat down by her side.  Thence he
caught sight of the boy.  "Where is Jim?" he asked.

"I don't know, daddy."

"Go.  Run along.  Find Jim and play with him."

Obediently the child slipped from his chair and left the room,
passing through the door into the dusk.

"Listen here," Abe said for the third time.  "I am willing to do
anything in my power.  Do you want to read?  Buy books or
magazines?  Whatever you wish.  Why don't you spend money on
clothes, on pretty things such as girls and young women want?"

"What for?  For whom should I doll myself up?  I am ugly.  What's
the use?  I am getting stout."

"I'll tell you," Abe went on.  "Next time I go to Somerville, I'll
open an account for you at the new bank.  I'll deposit a couple of
hundred.  I'll give you that much or more every year.  To do with
as you please.  What you need, for yourself or the children, I'll
pay for.  This is to be yours.  I don't want you to feel that you
have to give an account of what it's spent on.  I won't ask.  I
promise you that.  Use it in any way you please.  I know it's hard,
living that way, all by yourself.  It will get better.  The
children will be company soon.  That right?"

Ruth did not answer; but she was drying her tears with her apron.

Abe went to the door.  "Charlie, Jim!" he called.  "Bedtime."

And the children, who were only too well aware that something was
or had been wrong, came in at once, casting furtive glances at
their parents.  They went straight to the bedroom.

Abe returned to the barn where Bill Crane was milking.

For a while things remained normal between man and wife.  No more
than normal; they kept swinging about the neutral point, with only
one change, namely that both made an endeavour to smooth matters
over by a mutual show of tolerance and consideration.

But the essential difficulty was not removed.  Abe was uncomfortably
aware of the fact that, at the decisive moment, he had evaded the
issue.  But he had his hands full.  The weed problem was becoming
acute.  As soon as the plough had done its work, the cultivator had
to be started, followed by the drag; or the weeds would choke the
wheat next year.

Then came the harvest.  It was a good year, but the work was not
easy.  The rains had been ample; the straw was heavy; and a new
weed had made its appearance: wild buckwheat, commonly called bind-
weed.  Its long, tough vines wound themselves about wheels and
sickles of the binder till the horses could no longer pull the
machine.  Ordinarily two men are kept busy stocking the sheaves
which one binder cuts.  This year, what with the delays met by the
machine, that proportion was reversed: one good man could have kept
up with two binders.  But since Abe had fallowed a quarter section,
he could not afford to buy new implements.  He fretted when, a
dozen times a day, he saw Bill and Nicoll going idle while he stood
between horses and sickles and furiously cut and slashed at the
choking weeds.  At last, in order to keep two men busy where there
was work only for one, he made them haul the sheaves from the west
of the field to the east, to clear the stubble for ploughing.  Even
so, he knew he would be crowded for time.

Summer and fall went by.  Night after night Abe came home after
dark--hot, dusty, exhausted.  There was no time, no energy left to
devote to his household; and the fact that he knew he was
neglecting a thing of fundamental importance made him cross and
monosyllabic.  He began to have glimpses of the truth that his
dream of economic success involved another dream: that of a family
life on the great estate which he was building up.  At the early
age of thirty-six he had moments of an almost poignant realization
of "the futility of it all."

When he threshed--rather late, for no thresherman cared to come
into this district till the work in more settled areas was done--he
was disappointed; in spite of heavy sheaves the crop averaged only
nineteen bushels to the acre, with an acreage of only a quarter
section.  His income from this source was below two thousand five
hundred dollars.

Yet he deposited two hundred dollars in Ruth's bank; and eight
hundred he set aside for building.  By the time he had paid his
debt to the implement dealer and his taxes, reducing his
indebtedness at the bank by half, he had nothing left.  He told
Ruth of his deposit to her credit and the sum set aside for
enlarging the house; but he withheld the fact that he had been
unable to balance his accounts.  He expected her to express
satisfaction at the growth of her account--or was it growing?  But
she received the announcement with a mere nod and, on the doubtful
point, volunteered no information.

Winter came.  It had been Abe's intention to use coal for fuel;
but, being determined not to touch that eight hundred dollars, he
made up his mind to haul wood once more.  To do so, he had to go a
distance of forty miles, for timber of a size sufficient to make
the trip worth while could no longer be found at any point nearer
than that.  He had to stay out overnight.  He left Bill at home to
look after feeding and milking; for he did not trust him with any
but routine work.

Altogether, this was the most anxious winter he had spent on the
farm.  He resented it that he, a man farming three quarter
sections, should have to make these long, tiring drives to save a
hundred and fifty dollars.  He never spent money unreasonably; yet
he had to effect petty economies.  He MUST have more land!  He MUST
get to a point where he farmed on a scale which would double his
net income from a decreasing margin of profit.  Nicoll's way was
not his.  He could not be satisfied with the fact that, if he
killed a pig and a calf in the fall, there was meat in the house.
To him, farming was an industry, not an occupation.

Spring came.  He was planning to add two rooms to the house.  Yet,
since it was a makeshift--for never would he be satisfied with a
patchwork house--he was unwilling to go to the expense involved.
Still, Ruth must be considered.

One day, just before it was time to overhaul the implements needed
for the spring work, he stopped in town and called on his sister.
The doctor was at the store, to which a fully equipped dispensary
and drug department had just been added, an extension of the
business urgently needed since the necessity of getting prescriptions
filled still diverted a good deal of trade to Somerville.

As Abe entered, Mary mentioned the fact of her husband's absence.

"That's all right.  It was you I wanted to see."

"Sit down, Abe."

"How does it look to you, Mary?  Am I making progress?"

Mary laughed.  "You are the talk of the neighbourhood.  Never was
there a farmer like you, they say."

Abe felt comforted and encouraged.  "Sometimes I am getting
despondent.  I am everlastingly short of money."

"Is not that very natural?  You are always buying land and
equipment."

"Not always. . . .  I suppose it is foolish to worry."

"Look at what you have done.  You have three quarter sections,
clear, paid for.  And such a barn."

"I have the money to add two bedrooms to the house.  It does seem
necessary, does it not?"

"Well--"

"There isn't room for Ruth to turn around in."

"Does she complain?"

"No, no . . . I believe she resents the fact that Bill's wife has a
better place to live in than she.  It's only temporary, of course.
The fact is, I hate to spend money on a makeshift which I'll tear
down in a year or two.  I need an additional seeder and binder and
God knows what."

Mary pondered.  "I've always feared it.  She doesn't cooperate."

"I don't say that," Abe forestalled her hurriedly.

"I know.  I see what I see.  Suppose I make another attempt?"  She
looked at Abe out of friendly eyes, from behind heavy-rimmed
glasses.

Abe mused dejectedly.  Then he rose.  "Perhaps--"

"I'll go to-morrow."

"Day after.  I'll have to go to Somerville.  I've got to have that
additional seeder before the work starts." . . .

On the last of March--there was still snow on the ground--Mary, in
fur coat and close-fitting hat, alighted in the yard where Bill was
sawing wood.  He came to take horse and cutter.  The three older
children were playing about the granary.  Frances, no doubt, was
asleep.

When Ruth opened to the knock, her lips tightened.  She stepped
back, inviting her sister-in-law by a gesture to enter; her very
movement declined the other woman's kiss.

"Bill tells me Abe went away," Mary said.

"I believe he did.  He isn't in."

With a glance Mary had swept the interior of the room.  Plates were
inverted on the oilcloth of the table; cups in their saucers.  It
WAS a small room for the family of four children.  Ruth seemed
enormous in girth.  Mary removed her glasses to wipe them.  It was
hard to begin.  She had planned to admire things to find the way to
Ruth's heart.  But there was nothing to admire.  She resolved upon
perfect frankness.

"Ruth, I know it is hard.  The fact is, Abe is living through a
crisis."

Ruth stiffened.  "He has told you, has he?"

"You may think I have no right to interfere."

"I do.  Why does he not speak for himself?  Why send you?"

"It isn't as simple as all that.  He doesn't send me.  He came to
speak of his difficulties."

"He went to discuss his wife with his sister."

"Not at all.  He never mentioned you.  I'm afraid you don't quite
understand Abe.  He has a dream which is all-in-all to him.  He is
in financial troubles.  As I said, he is living through a crisis."

"He has been living through one crisis after another."

"It's the pioneer's lot.  The pioneer used to live through periods
of actual starvation.  To-day, with settled districts all around,
distress takes the form of financial stringency.  It was bound to
come.  Perhaps you don't give him full credit for what he has
achieved."

"Who says I don't?  But why buy more and more machinery and land?"

"It's the way of the west."

"But that isn't the point."

"What is, Ruth?"

"I can't discuss it."

Mary shrugged her shoulders.  "Frances asleep?" she asked at last.

Ruth rose and opened the door to the bedroom.  That room, no larger
than the dining-room, held four beds and a wardrobe.  On one of the
beds the little girl was lying, her head surrounded by yellow
curls, damp with sleep.  She was two years old.

Mary entered, bent down, and kissed the child without waking her.
Strongly moved, she turned back to the dining-room.  She had no
children of her own, much as she longed for them; and her emotion
made her forget that Ruth had shown her the child only in order to
let her see the crowded condition of the house.

"I am more than sorry, Ruth," she said as the door was closed.

Ruth went with her into the yard, wrapping her apron about her bare
arms.  She called the other children; she could afford to be
generous; her victory over her sister-in-law was but too apparent.

"This is your Aunt Mary," she said as in formal introduction.

The boys held out their hands; but Marion hid behind the skirts of
her mother.

Mary bent down, a pained look in her eyes.  "I am not only your
aunt, I am your godmother too."

But the child remained shy, and escaped.  Bill came with horse and
cutter.

"I am more than sorry, Ruth," Mary repeated, holding out her hand,
which Ruth touched with her finger-tips, a triumphant smile on her
lips. . . .

Just as Mary who had been crying, turned the corner into Main
Street on her way home, she caught sight of Abe coming from the
east and stopped to wait for him.

Abe, in the cutter drawn by his bronchos, sat erect and stern.  As
he saw her, he drew up his eyebrows in a questioning way.

Mary shook her head.  "I am afraid, Abe, Ruth is right."

Abe nodded.  "So long then."  And he proceeded on his way.

It did not matter!  Was Mary against him too?

Arrived at home, he went straight to the house.  What he had to say
had only been made harder by that ill-judged mission of Mary's.

The children were sitting at table, having their supper.  That
discomposed him; he must wait.  He entered the bedroom and changed
into overalls.  Then he went to the barn to keep himself busy.

When he returned, Ruth was waiting for him.  He spoke at once.

"Look here, Ruth.  I want you to help me.  I can't build this
spring."

"Was that the news your sister was to break to me?"

"It was not.  She didn't know.  Listen here.  I've got to have more
land.  That fellow Fairley who owns the northeast quarter saw me in
town.  I didn't know he lived there.  He wants to sell and had a
buyer offering a thousand dollars.  I couldn't afford to let the
land go into other hands.  It's vital for me to have it.  I offered
eleven hundred.  That's what he was waiting for.  I had to use the
eight hundred set aside for the new rooms.  You will consider that
a breach of faith.  I AM breaking faith with you.  But I'll add at
least one room to this shack in the fall; that's the best I can do.
I am not my own master."

Ruth laughed.  "Do you notice it at last?"

"Notice what?"

"That you are not your own master?"

Abe stared.  This extension of his meaning might be just or unjust
as you looked upon it.  "Can't be helped.  I've got to have the
land."

Again Ruth laughed.

"Ruth," Abe said stormily, "don't you see how I'm fixed?  It took
all I could do last fall to make both ends meet.  I had to use
cream cheques to pay off part of my loan at the bank.  Once I get
that quarter broken, things will ease up.  My hand was forced.  It
would be a waste of money anyway to enlarge this shack beyond
what's absolutely necessary.  In a year or two I'll build a real
house.  Surely I should be able to ask my wife to put up with
things for a while."

"If you asked her.  But you send your sister instead.  Besides,"
she added, rising and trembling with the audacity of what she was
going to say, "you could ask me if in other things you treated me
as your wife.  With strangers one keeps one's word."

"With strangers?"

"What else am I?  I am living alongside of you.  What do I know of
your dream as Mary calls it?  What do you know of me?"

Abe raised his hands and moved to leave the room.  "For goodness'
sake!" he said.  "Don't let's have another scene!  If you can't
understand, you can't understand.  I am doing my best."

When, that night, Abe had finished such chores as, in the division
of labour, fell to his share, he found the dining-room empty, which
had never happened before.  Ruth had gone to bed.



FIVE

The School


Shilloe proved an exceedingly shy but accommodating neighbour who,
once propitiated, would have gone to any length to help Nicoll or
Abe.  He had a large family, but nobody ever saw anything of the
children except their backs, when they were running away.  His wife
seemed to have the gift of making herself invisible.

In the fall of that year Abe went out of his way to secure an old
French-Canadian thresherman with his crew, his name being Victor
Lafontaine.  He lived at St. Cecile, a village along the
international highway to the city, sixteen miles north of
Somerville.  To get there, Abe went east over trackless prairie.
Twice the man was out; but, being determined, Abe made a third
trip.  Shilloe was always in the field when he passed, laboriously
breaking land with a hand-plough drawn by two pinto ponies much too
light for the work.  Abe had the queer feeling that eyes were
peering at him from behind corners or through the curtains veiling
the diminutive windows of the clay-plastered house.

But on the last of his trips he saw, on the prairie north of
Shilloe's claim, a man who, in outline, resembled his onetime
neighbour, Hall.  An old plough horse, a dirty blanket on his back,
was grazing near the ditch.  At sight of Abe the stranger made for
the trail; and Abe stopped his horses.  It was a bright, crisp
morning of the early fall.

The man who approached, medium-sized, pot-bellied, spindle-legged,
with a dirt-grey moustache dividing his face, was clad in a
multitude of successive ragged coats which increased the bulk of
his upper body and made him look even more disproportioned than he
was.

"You Spalding?" he asked when within speaking distance.

"Spalding's my name."

"I've filed on this yere homestead.  Filed on it yesterday.  Name's
Hartley.  You don't happen to have some secondhand lumber to sell?"

"No I haven't."

"Nor a horse or two?"

"I have some colts."

"No good," Hartley said.  "What I want is nags, gentle and aged.
And I want them cheap and on time."

"No," Abe said.  "I have nothing in that line."

"What's the name of the feller there at the corner?"

"Nicoll."

"How 'bout him?"

"I don't think so.  He keeps only four horses."

"Hm. . . ."

"Well," Abe said, none too favourably impressed with the stranger,
"if there is nothing else I can give you information on--"

The man eyed him in a curious way.  Then, "Don't think so.
However, seeing as I'm going to move in here, I guess I'll meet you
again."

Abe nodded and moved on.

During the next few weeks he often saw a one-horse team drawing a
little spring wagon along the road from Morley.  On top of a load
of old boards and joists, among boxes and packing crates, perched
that grotesque figure of a man who had spoken to him.

On these drives Abe found that there was, nearer the highway,
between his trail and the Somerville Line, at least one other
settlement, and a rather compact and considerable one.  He could
count a dozen farmsteads, while from the Somerville Line only two
or three could be seen.  He began to be interested in municipal
affairs; and the councillor representing Ward Six--the ward in
which Abe lived--a man called Davis, had his domicile in that
district which went by the name of Britannia.

On one occasion Abe turned farther north.  A cluster of grain
elevators came into view in line with Morley.  That was the town of
Arkwright, twelve miles west of St. Cecile where a railway branched
off from the main line, running via Arkwright and other towns to
Torquay, to describe a loop there and to return via Ferney, Morley,
and Somerville; from Morley one could go to the city by starting
either east or west.  Why was there no settlement south of the
Arkwright Line?  Some three miles north of Nicoll's Corner the
slope of the land began to change, towards a tributary of the river
which bounded the prairie in the east.  Large stretches of country,
there, consisted of an impenetrable swamp which could be crossed in
winter only.  Thus, by the mere chance of his having gone east for
a thresherman instead of south, Abe's horizon was suddenly widened.

He was beginning to worry about the slowness with which settlers
moved into the district, for his children were approaching school
age.  Already he had been amazed to hear of the frequent changes of
teachers at Morley.  These teachers were invariably young girls;
and he doubted their ability to handle a school.  That was why,
when one day he was taking his dinner at the hotel at St. Cecile,
he was much interested to find that a bearded old man who sat down
at his table proved to be a teacher who, for many years, had been a
schoolmaster in various districts near Arkwright.  His name was
Blaine.  Abe was so much interested that he gave the man his exact
location and asked him to call.

"I see you ride a bicycle," he said when the other man rose.  For
his trousers were held by steel clamps around his ankles.

"I do," said Mr. Blaine.  "But you can't cross from Arkwright
except in winter, when the bicycle is useless."

"Well," Abe added and rose to shake hands, "the snow may hold off."

Mr. Blaine was small and slender, with a head disproportionately
large for his body, and a sandy beard streaked with grey
disproportionately large for his head.  When he turned, one was
oddly reminded of a lion turning in a cage.  He wore a dark suit of
heavy cloth, his trousers hanging about his legs like curtains.

Abe heard more of him.  He was seventy years old and had come from
Ontario; he had been a high-school teacher and had married a pupil
of his.  For her he had built a small house at Arkwright where he
had been teaching at the time; but his married life had been short,
his young wife dying in childbirth and taking her baby with her
into the grave.  He had returned to rural life and now had the
distinction of being the teacher with the longest record in the
Canadian west.

One day Abe met the local school inspector at his sister's house
where he had had dinner; for Morley boasted only a fifth-rate
boarding house.  Abe heard high praise of Blaine's work, his only
trouble being that, with increasing age, he found it difficult to
secure a school.  Westerners hold experience and expertness in
small esteem; they prefer the young girl who will dance and gad
about.  "Too bad," the inspector said.  "There isn't a better man
to be found for rural work."

Abe made up his mind there and then that Mr. Blaine was to be the
teacher of his children.

But so far there was no school.  The district must have at least
five settlers before he could move in the matter.

As winter came, Hartley built a two-roomed shack on his claim, of
old, half-rotten lumber, some of it mere box-lumber, half an inch
thick.  He put no foundation under it, but propped the corners up
on railway ties placed at an angle.  There the structure perched
precariously through the winter, the wonder being that the February
winds did not blow it over.  In the spring of 1907 he covered the
outside with tar paper tacked to the walls with a network of lath.
He had brought a stove and put a flue-pipe through the roof.

Soon after, Nicoll came to Abe's one day, about seed-oats.  Abe and
Bill were at work, filling the loft of the barn with hay against
the spring work.  Nicoll at once climbed up, reached for a fork,
and helped for an hour or so.

"Say, Abe," he said after a while, "I'm going to have a new
neighbour."

Abe, who stood on top of the load, looked up.  "Who's that?"

"Fine, upstanding sort of man.  Name's Stanley.  He's got only one
arm; the other was caught by the belt of a threshing machine and
torn clean out.  They took him twenty miles to the hospital.  A
wonder he lived.  A big fellow, your build, though not so tall."

"Great news," Abe said.  "Where is he going to locate?"

"A mile north of my line.  East of the trail."

"Any children?"

"Six.  One boy, five girls.  The boy's thirteen."

"Nicoll," Abe said in sudden elation, "we'll get that school!"

"We surely shall."

Again the blessing did not come singly.  East of the new Stanley
homestead, where building operations began at once, another
Ukrainian settled down, a small, determined man with a reddish-
brown moustache on his Slavic face, his name Nawosad.  More, two
miles south of Nicoll's Corner somebody was building a sod-hut.
This proved to be a young Mennonite by name of Hilmer, a quiet,
well-built, almost handsome lad, so far unmarried.  His clothes
were black, down to his shirt.  He fenced a small corral for the
two oxen with which he started to break land.  He lived in complete
isolation, though, when spoken to, he answered with a ready
courtesy which sat quaintly on his broken English.

At once Nicoll's Corner became the social centre of the settlement.
Nicoll had drawn a shallow ditch along the south line of his yard,
bridged, in front of his gate, by a culvert.  North of the fence, a
wind-break was beginning to grow.  There, of an evening or a Sunday
afternoon, the settlers would assemble, sitting on the culvert,
their feet dangling in the ditch; and all affairs that concerned
the district were discussed, besides many questions concerning God
and the universe.  Only two men appeared rarely: Abe Spalding and
Jack Hilmer.

And there, in the summer of 1908, the school district was formed.

By that time it was known that Abe planned to buy the section north
of his holdings; rumour had it that he was getting wealthy.  He had
had a bumper crop last year and was building concrete pig-pens.
That Hudson's Bay section, then, must form the north-west corner of
the district; which placed the south line at the "first" ditch,
half-way between Nicoll's Corner and the Somerville Line.  Hilmer's
claim would be just within the district.  According to law they
could include twenty square miles.  That brought the east line to a
point just beyond Hartley's and Shilloe's claims.  It looked as
though all these settlers had picked their location with that very
thing in view.

What, next, was to be the name of the district?  Various more or
less far-fetched proposals came from Hartley, who never missed a
meeting; but whenever he mentioned some new impossibility it was
greeted by a silence which condemned it.

One evening, late in June, Stanley rose and addressed the others in
a brief, formal speech.  All except Abe were present: Shilloe and
Nawosad were sitting nearest the road, both resting elbows on their
knees and looking at the ground.  Hartley, a willow-switch which he
used as a whip in his hand, sat in the centre of the group.
Stanley had had the place next to him; and, nearest the gate,
Nicoll was squatting on his heels.  Hilmer was standing behind them
all, ready to eclipse himself.

It was a warm night, with no stars visible; and a fine haze had
overspread the sky: the only sort of night which is ever warm on
the prairie, where radiation is swift.  A slight breeze wafted the
scent of fresh-mown hay from the west: as usual, Abe had been the
first to start haying.  No doubt that was why he was absent; he was
always busy.

"Gentlemen," Stanley said, "why is the town of Morley called by
that name?  Where does the name Arkwright come from?  I could
easily multiply instances.  It is a time-honoured custom on these
prairies to attach the name of the first permanent settler to town,
station, or district."

"Hear, hear!" Nicoll said without moving.  "Just what I had in
mind.  There's only one name fitting for this school we are going
to build.  If there's a man among you who hasn't had help or advice
from that first permanent settler, he hasn't asked for it, that is
all."

"Well, now," Hartley began, "I don't see that we should be so
doggone obsequious as to bow down before wealth--"

"Gentlemen," Stanley exclaimed, raising his one arm to impose
silence, "are you ready for the question?  It has been moved by
myself and seconded by Mr. Nicoll that the district be called
Spalding School District.  I can't see much in the dark; so I'll
ask those in favour to stand."

All but Hartley and Hilmer rose; the latter was standing already.

"Contrary?"

Hilmer squatted down; and Hartley did not rise.

"Carried."

Nicoll, who helped Abe next day in haying, brought him the news.

Abe listened in silence; but he experienced a thrill.  That moment
his aspirations underwent an extension which embraced the whole
district.  He suddenly felt it to be inevitable that, in the long
run, he should enter municipal politics and look after the district
which bore his name.  There was the matter of roads; with
increasing traffic the trail to town had become almost impassable;
with deep ruts cut into it in spring, it held water till late in
summer and remained a mire for months on end; and was it not
intolerable that during the flood the district should be cut off
from the rest of the world?

Since that spring when he had been confronted with what he
considered the necessity of buying the fourth quarter of his
section, Abe had recovered his economic balance.  He might have
built a house this year.  But, having added the fourth room to the
old building, he had postponed more ambitious changes till he would
be in a position to "do things right."  Ruth's opposition had put
him on his mettle; to justify what he had done so far, he must
carry out his plans, which were ever extending in scope.  He would
have to acquire the Hudson's Bay section; nor would it do to wait
too long; land values were rising.  For that purchase he would have
to prepare in other ways: he must have at least one tractor of the
most powerful type, to speed up the work in the spring and the
fall; perhaps he would have to build another shack for a second
man.  In spite, then, of his undoubted prosperity, he was as much
preoccupied with things to be done as ever; his life lay in the
future; for the sake of that future he slaved from dawn till dark.
What he had achieved was little compared with what remained to be
done.

All the more did he feel flattered by the recognition which was
coming from the later settlers.  As matters proceeded and took
definite shape, he even felt a twinge of jealousy at the thought
that the moving spirit in these things was Nicoll, not he.

Yet that was natural.  Abe had already suggested that Nicoll be the
secretary-treasurer of the district.  It was generally taken for
granted that the school was to stand on the corner opposite
Nicoll's place, south of the ditch.  Nicoll would be the one most
available if teacher or inspector wished to communicate with the
school board.

Two weeks later the organization meeting took place.  If the school
was to be opened in the fall, there was need for hurry.

This meeting had been called by the school inspector for two
o'clock in the afternoon.  Every settler attended.  From the moment
when Abe appeared on the porch of Nicoll's house, where a table and
a few chairs had been placed, he had the curious feeling that
nothing really needed to be discussed: it had all been agreed upon
beforehand.  A loan of two thousand dollars was to be taken up,
secured by debentures; three trustees were to be elected; and
Stanley proposed that they be the first three settlers of the
district.  Even when Shilloe, in confusion, declined for his part
and suggested Hartley, it seemed as though this had been
prearranged.

The election over, the inspector proposed that the new board hold
its first meeting at once, in his presence, to elect chairman and
secretary.  Shilloe, Nawosad, Hilmer, and Stanley retired to the
culvert; the board meeting was adjourned five minutes later.  Abe
had been elected chairman for the year, Nicoll secretary-treasurer.
The inspector took his departure in a great hurry; all this was
mere routine to him; and Abe and others felt defrauded of that
formality and ceremony in the proceedings which they had felt
entitled to expect.

Somewhat grimly, as the inspector drove through the gate in his
buggy; Abe said, "Well, that's that."

A moment later, Stanley was shaking him by the hand, congratulating
him on his election.  "Nobody," he said, "expected anything else.
We know you'll do the right thing by the district."

In the background, on the porch of the house, Mrs. Nicoll appeared,
huge, smiling, overflowing her clothes, and surrounded by half a
dozen of her younger children.  Her head seemed lost in upper
shadows; and her smile poured a blessing on the finished
proceedings.  Abe nodded to her; Stanley lifted his wide straw hat;
Hartley stared; and the other three shifted uneasily on their feet.

Henceforth all school business proceeded automatically.  Plans
arrived, and one of them was recommended by the inspector.  The
board met and endorsed the inspector's choice.  Abe never spoke; he
sat in his chair, feeling oddly that they were tools through which
others worked their will.  The matter of the debenture issue was
attended to by the provincial government; and they were told that
they might proceed with construction, arranging for credit at one
of the Somerville banks.  Law and usage prescribed all proceedings.
Tenders were asked for.  A single bid was necessarily accepted.
Twice Abe and Nicoll had to go to Somerville to sign papers at the
municipal office.  Matters took their course.

At home, Abe broke the news one night at the supper table.  "Well,"
he said, assuming an air of importance which he did not feel,
"we're going to have a school at last.  No loafing next winter."

"Good," exclaimed Charlie, nearly eight years old; though he spoke
as if sitting in the council of grown-ups, he fidgeted with
excitement.

"Where's the school going to be?" Jim asked pertly.

"All settled," Abe replied with that assumption of irony with which
he invariably treated the children.  "Opposite Nicoll's Corner."

Ruth stared, not so much because she objected to the site as
because she resented Abe's way of communicating accomplished facts.
"That is over two miles to go.  How about the winter when the snow
is deep?"

Abe did not answer at once.  He resented the sharp tone in which
the objection was raised.  "It's the centre of the district," he
said at last.  "Somebody has to be on the outskirts.  Most of us
are.  Hartley and Shilloe are as far away.  Stanley and Nawosad a
mile and a half.  Hilmer nearly two."

"Hilmer has no family."

"That can be remedied by and by.  I can best afford to be far away.
The Hartley and Shilloe kids will have to walk, I suppose."

"And we, daddy?"  This from Marion who, in a coltish way, was
growing into a particularly pretty little girl.

"I'll get you a pony and buggy for fall and spring; and a box-
cutter for winter.  When it storms, you'll go in the bob-sleigh."

"Hurrah!" Jim crowed.

"Have you a teacher yet?" Charlie asked pensively.

"No.  But I've one in mind. . . ."

During the rest of the summer three carpenters worked on the school
site; and occasionally Hartley put in what he called a day's work.
This arrangement was made on Abe's suggestion; Hartley had hinted
that Nicoll was "making a fortune out of the thing"; for the
carpenters boarded at this place.

Meanwhile the summer's work was proceeded with; and late in August
harvest began.  Nicoll and his oldest boy Tom worked for Abe; and
so did Shilloe, Nawosad, and Hilmer; for Abe had two binders going
at last.

On one occasion, when Abe was resting his horses, Nicoll, having
finished his round, came over to chat for a moment.

"Some crop!" he said admiringly.

"Too many weeds," Abe replied.

But Nicoll laughed.  "If you go on like that, you'll be knighted
one day.  Sir Abe of Spalding Hall."

"Some Hall!"  And Abe waved his arm toward the patchwork house.

"That'll come."

With an emphasis which seemed uncalled for, Abe replied, "You bet
it'll come.  You bet your life!"  And he reached for the lines.
When he returned to the spot, he called Nicoll.

"About that school," he said.  "It's time to engage a teacher.
This is a meeting of the board.  There's a quorum present."

"A meeting must be duly called," Nicoll objected.

"Nonsense.  Unless you and I run that school, they're going to make
a mess of it."

Nicoll scratched his greying head.  "Thinking of any one, Abe?"

"Yes.  I've got him picked."

"Him?  Is it a man?"

"It is.  Old man Blaine, from up north, Arkwright way."

Nicoll stroked his beard.  "Tell you frankly, Abe, we'll have
trouble over that.  I'd rather have a girl myself for the little
tots."

"Blaine's all right.  Ask the inspector.  An old bachelor's as good
as a girl.  And he'll keep the boys in order."

"I don't know," Nicoll said doubtfully.

But Abe cut him short by reaching for his lines.  He was a power in
his district.  Yet--

Even in his own house he met opposition.  Once more Charlie asked
one evening at supper, "Have you a teacher yet, daddy?"

"You bet."  At this time Abe often used slang phrases.

"Who is it, daddy?"

"Old man by the name of Blaine."

"A man?" Ruth exclaimed, stiffening.

"Mighty good man at that."

"If it's to be a man, I won't send Frances."

"Suit yourself.  I want the boys kept in order.  No slip of a girl
for me!"  He was so angry that he rose and left the house.

Yet, when he saw Nicoll again, he condescended to argue.  "You know
as well as I do that we can't keep a girl in the district.  Talk it
over with my brother-in-law.  Most of the time children spend in
school they are readjusting themselves.  Every new teacher brings
new methods."

Nicoll hesitated.  "We'll have to have a meeting over it, Abe."

"Have that meeting if you must.  But not till we're agreed."

"I guess you know best, Abe."

"I do.  I've thought this over from every angle.  You ride the
binder tomorrow.  I'll get Hartley to stook.  I'll go and see
Blaine."

It was the first time that Abe left his work for the sake of public
business; it showed Nicoll how important the matter seemed to him.

Two weeks later a special meeting was held.  It took less than five
minutes, but it gave Abe a foretaste of what public business might
be.  As before, the scene was Nicoll's porch; the next meeting
would be held in the school which was nearing completion.

"The matter before the board is the engagement of a teacher."

"Move we advertise," said Hartley.

"Well," Nicoll drawled uncomfortably, "there is an application
supported by a recommendation from the inspector."

For a minute or so there was silence.  They made a strange group
under the lamp.  Nicoll was stout, Abe stouter, Hartley fat.
Hartley, quite at his ease, glanced from Abe to Nicoll, from Nicoll
to Abe.

"Move we advertise," he repeated doggedly.

"Let's deal with the application first," Abe said at last.  "Just
read it, Nicoll."

Nicoll did so.

"We'll dispense with the formal motion," Abe went on.  "Those in
favour signify in the usual way."

Nicoll raised his hand.

"Contrary?"

Hartley raised his.

"I've the casting vote."  Abe said.  "I'm for accepting."

Again Hartley, ragged and cynical, glanced from one to the other.

"That's settled, then.  Motion to adjourn?"

A minute later Abe and Nicoll rose.  Hartley kept his seat.

Abe knew what this man was going to say to Stanley and the rest;
but he felt he was doing what was best for the district, as time
would show.  He was content to force his better judgment on them if
need be.

What Hartley said was this:  "By golly!  If that wasn't cut and
dried!  I'll be hanged if it wasn't!"



SIX

The Great Flood


With the last year of the decade a series of three wet seasons
began, bringing momentous developments.

Hilmer had built a frame shack of three rooms, a long, shed-like
building facing the road.  His mother, a woman of sixty or so, had
joined him, bringing two children of ten and eleven respectively
and a man much younger than herself to whom she had recently been
married.  This man, Grappentin by name, did not settle down on the
place but appeared and disappeared periodically.  Mrs. Grappentin
owned another farm, in trust for the two children of her second
marriage, south of the Somerville Line.  This farm her third
husband was supposed to work; but it was said that he allowed it
"to go to the devil"; that, when the spirit moved him, he went and
fetched horse or cow or a piece of equipment to sell and to spend
the proceeds on drink or intercourse with loose women.  Mrs.
Grappentin became a frequent visitor to most farms in the district.
Vigorously she strode over the prairie, a grotesque sight, for she
was lean and ugly and resembled the idea which children have of a
witch in the woods.  She would sit about and gossip in broken
English till she was given a trilling something--a piece of meat, a
small bag of grain, or a handful of eggs; when, with fantastic
praises of the givers, she would promptly take her leave.  All of
which she did, under protest of her son, as a means of paying for
"her keep."  There was only one place where she never called, and
that was Abe's.

Abe, early in 1910, surprised the district by acquiring the whole
of the Hudson's Bay section north of his place, for which he was
variously reported to have paid from four to eight thousand dollars
"spot cash."  As a matter of fact, he paid three thousand six
hundred--four hundred dollars more than the price quoted to him
when he had made the first inquiry regarding the land.  With values
rising, he could not wait.

Spring opened with heavy rains.  Just as the first great thaw had
begun to honeycomb the deep snow which covered the prairie, a
blinding snowstorm turned into a washing downpour--a thing unusual
for the latitude.  As a rule, the thaw proceeded by stages,
interrupted by sharp frosts which stayed the waters; and the land
would be bare of snow before the flood came from the hills.  This
year the rain condensed a process which ordinarily took a month
into the short space of a week.  The winter's snow melted within a
few days; and the rain added to the flood.  The sky remained
clouded; and no check retarded the thaw.

Nor did the water seem to move for a day or two except in the
ditches, whose presence was indicated by dirty-white foam-lines
streaking the otherwise mud-coloured expanse.  Underneath, the
ground remained frozen.  Nobody could leave his house except in
hip-boots of rubber.

The first twenty-four hours Abe remained at home.  Although the
foundation of the barn was raised well above the ground, the flood
stood two inches deep on its floor.  One of the granaries still
held grain.  Throughout the first day Abe worked with Bill at the
task of raising it, going from corner to corner, jacking the
building up by a few inches, and forcing pieces of planking under
it.  The cellar of the house brimmed with water.

The second day, he walked over to Nicoll's, in hip-boots; and there
he found a crowd assembled in the yard: Stanley, Nawosad, Shilloe,
and Hartley.  He heard of much damage done.

The bridge had been carried away; Hartley's shack had been swept
from the railway ties and tilted up; wife and children were
climbing about on a slanting floor; Shilloe had had to abandon his
place; Blaine, who had converted what was meant to be a teacher's
office in the school into a small bedroom, was a prisoner there,
without food, for he had been boarding at Nicoll's.

"Where did you go?" Abe asked of Shilloe.

"To Mr. Stanley's.  I am staying in his granary."

Stanley and Nicoll had no damage to report except that their
cellars were flooded and the floors of their stables covered with
water.

Abe assumed command.  "We must get Blaine out."

"By golly!" Hartley exclaimed.  "This isn't a country fit to live
in, what with no roads--"

"We'll get the roads," Abe said briefly, and, turning to Shilloe,
"Take one of Nicoll's horses and go to my place.  Tell Bill to
hitch up the Percherons and bring them along, with a wagon.  Tie
Nicoll's horse behind.  You take the Clyde team.  Put some eveners
into the wagon, and all the chains and ropes you can find."

"All right."  And the Ukrainian went to the stable, splashing.

"What are you going to do, Abe?" Nicoll asked.

"Get the culvert back into place.  We can't leave Blaine there."

Shilloe and Hartley had turned their horses out to shift for
themselves, for there were haystacks scattered through the meadows.

Abe sent Nawosad and Stanley to get a team and a wagon with which
to rescue the Hartleys.  Nicoll harnessed his horses.

An hour went by; then, splashing the water over their heads,
plunging and all but beyond control--for the slippery ground made
it hard for them to keep their feet--Abe's eight horses came from
the west, with Bill standing in the wagon-box, dripping and
drenched at every step with ice-cold water though he was hooded in
canvas.

Abe, in hip-boots, short slicker coat, and wide-brimmed
southwester, was the only one who had adequate protection against
rain and spray.  He took over the wagon and dismissed Bill.  "Tell
my wife," he said.  "I may not be home before night."

Nicoll hooked his four horses together and, paying out their lines,
climbed into the rear of the wagon.  Shilloe rode one of the four
Clydes.

"If it gets any worse--" Nicoll said dubiously.

"It won't," Abe replied.  "But we've got to be able to get out.
When we get this culvert into place, we must see about Hilmer's.
Come on, Hartley.  We need every hand we can get."

When all was ready, he swung his lines over the sleek backs of his
Percherons; and they started with a rush, throwing the water house-
high, for it covered their knees.  As they left the wind-break
behind, they saw Nawosad and Bill Stanley, a lad of fifteen now,
coming from the north.  Stanley himself had remained at home, for
the boy had two arms.  Without stopping, Abe waved to them to fall
into line.  This was an emergency in which his captaincy went
unchallenged.  None of those who saw him that day disputed his
leadership for years to follow.  He did not complain; he accepted
things as they were and did what had to be done.

There had been trouble about the school.  But nobody denied any
longer that Blaine's work was more than satisfactory.  Yet, had it
not been for Abe, he would never have been called into the
district; and Abe upheld him when a feeling, characteristic of the
west, asserted itself that it was time for a change.  After the
work of this spring, opposition ceased; and this was going to be of
importance shortly.

Davis, councillor and road-boss for the ward, had visited the
district a year ago.  He had promised to get these settlers a road
to town; but last fall it had become known that he had used his
influence to have his own outlet to the Somerville Line raised by a
foot and surfaced with gravel.  Abe was the only man who could be
opposed to him with any chance of success; but when, during the
winter, matters had been discussed at Nicoll's Corner, Hartley and
one or two others had been afraid of entrusting Abe with power: he
might use it too autocratically.  Meanwhile Davis was offering
inducements right and left to secure his own re-election.  After
this spring, there was only one feeling from which even Hartley
dared not openly dissent.  Abe might refuse to consult them; but he
was the man to do the right thing.

Arrived at the point where the culvert had lodged slantwise across
the ditch, with the swirling current tugging at it, Abe stopped the
horses, of which there were eighteen in all.  To the south,
Shilloe's buildings seemed to float on a lake; to the north,
Hartley's shanty stood tilted up.  Abe sent Nawosad with Stanley's
two horses to take the family out on Hartley's hayrack.  "Take them
to my place.  To the empty granary.  Let them take their own
beddings.  Tell Bill to look after them in the line of food."  He
glanced at Hartley, as much as to say he had better join his family
for the moment; but Hartley did not stir from the floor of the
wagon-box.

Abe, Bill Stanley, Shilloe, and Nicoll descended into the water
which stood here nearly two feet deep.

Together they fastened a chain to a corner of the culvert, securing
it to projecting timbers.  To this chain they fastened two four-
horse eveners, close to the corner; then, leading the chain
forward, they fastened one evener to its end; and another, a matter
of ten feet behind it, in such a way as to make Nicoll's team
straddle the chain.  Abe and Shilloe gathered the lines of the last
two teams, and Nicoll and Bill Stanley took charge of those in
front.

At a signal from Abe, following the brisk question, "Ready there?"
all the horses bent forward; and the culvert slipped to the
northern bank of the ditch.  A few timbers crashed with splintering
sounds.

Abe shouted a signal to stop and to breathe the horses.  Then they
swung on to the trail to the west.  The broken braces underneath
stayed behind; and the sledding of the structure, buoyed up by the
water, grew easier at once.  Again Abe called a halt.

"You'd better unhook, Nicoll.  We'll manage with three teams.  Go
back for the wagon.  We'll need the chains."

And forward again, the horses plunging wherever they met with soft
footing.  When the water was thrown aloft in sheets, Shilloe and
Bill Stanley laughed.  Abe's broad face never moved under the
projecting southwester; he took the brunt of it all; unlike the
others, he stayed behind his horses, watching them closely, for
Beaut, the leader, was with colt.

At last they had covered the mile and a half and came to the
crossing.  But the biggest piece of work remained to be done: the
culvert, forty feet long, had to be manoeuvred across the swirling
ditch; they waited for Nicoll.  Nawosad passed them, with the
Hartleys on the rack.  Hartley himself had, after all, chosen to
join them and was reclining on a miscellaneous assortment of
bedding.

Abe frowned when he saw him.  Was he going to be content to let
others rescue him and his without lending a hand?

There followed three hours of titanic struggle.  With poles and
timbers they pushed the culvert into the wild current, often
themselves in danger of slipping into deep water.  The near corner
was anchored, by a long chain, to Nicoll's corner post, with enough
slack to let the structure swing to the edge of the ditch.  Another
chain was fastened to the far corner which would be the forward one
on the other bank.  That chain lay coiled on the floating floor.
Three times they almost succeeded in lodging the culvert against
the far bank; one of them ran to pick up the coiled chain and to
take the leap; but whenever the strength of a man was withdrawn,
the culvert, caught broadside on by the current, swung back and
frustrated all that had been done.

Meanwhile, at the school which faced them with its northern row of
windows, there was a spectator.  Old man Blaine, as people called
him, stood on the cement stoop of the trim, white building, his
trousers clasped at the bottom as if he expected to use the bicycle
for his escape.  He looked on out of haggard eyes, a soft felt hat
on his grey hair, his sandy, grey-streaked beard reaching to his
waist.  He seemed to stoop under the weight of his head,
unconscious of the cold drizzle which interposed a veil between him
and the men, so that he looked like a creature of mist.

Nobody, so far, had thought of stopping for a meal when Nicoll
proposed to fetch Tom, his oldest boy, to help.  They must have
another hand.  But Abe shook his head and pointed to the south
where a black spot was approaching out of the rain-dimmed distance,
cleaving the surface of the huge lake.  Hilmer had seen them from
his place.

They rested, waiting.

When Hilmer arrived, Abe shouted directions.  And once more they
manoeuvred the culvert into the stream till its far point touched
the submerged bank on the other side.  Hilmer showed that he could
at least carry out instructions.  With a jump he landed on the
raft, picked up the chain, and was back on the flooded prairie
before the culvert had swung out again too far to take the leap.
Heedless of the fact that he was getting drenched to his shoulders,
he ran till the chain was taut and gave it two or three quick turns
around the corner post of the school yard.  But still the culvert
lay at an angle.  So Abe slackened the chain on the north side,
allowing the culvert to drift till it bridged the ditch at right
angles.  Hilmer joined the other men.

The next problem was how to get a team across.  But, Hilmer
reporting that his culvert was still in place, though in need of
being anchored, Abe changed his mind.  "We'll go down by and by,"
he said.  "Let's have something to eat.  You go home," he added to
Bill Stanley.  "We won't need you again.  Take your team and get
into dry clothes."

"How about Blaine?" Nicoll asked.

"I'll carry him over.  Can you feed us all?"

Half an hour later, Abe, carrying the teacher on his back, entered
Nicoll's yard where the horses were munching hay and oats from the
box of a wagon, up to their hocks in water.

At the house, dinner was ready.  Two tall, slender girls and the
enormous woman waited on the famished crew; three big boys and a
host of smaller girls sat about in the dim room, devouring every
word that was spoken.  To them this was a red-letter day: the men
were heroes and giants fighting the elements.  Outside, the rain
was thickening again.

It was past five o'clock when Abe, leaving his Clydes at Nicoll's
Corner, himself straddling the Percheron gelding, tackled the task
of taking horses and wagon across a culvert which moved under foot.
Two or three times he made the attempt; but when their feet touched
the floating edge of the timbers, the horses reared and backed
away.  At last Nicoll, Shilloe, and Hilmer bestrode one each of the
other horses; and though they still scattered water all about them,
their riders forced them on.

At Hilmer's Corner they anchored the bridge; it was dark by that
time; but for fear that the worst might happen and they be cut off
from the world, they did not give in till all was safe.  It was
midnight before Abe got home; and the rain was falling with that
steady swish with which it falls on a sea becalmed.



SEVEN

Election


The district needed a new man on the council.  Davis, huge, bottle-
shaped, the typical politician, could not be trusted.  He abused
his position for the sake of his "pickings."

The trail town became a thing to be dreaded.

So far, the traveller had been able to avoid the worst spots by
circling over the prairie.  But the road-allowance was being
fenced.  Blaine had filed on the school quarter and was enclosing
it.  He had no intention of farming; but Abe had promised to haul
his cottage over from Arkwright if he secured the land to place it
on.  It looked as if Blaine were permanently established in the
district; Abe's ascendancy in matters of local policy seemed
assured.

The three quarter sections remaining between Nicoll's and Hilmer's
Corners had been filed on by three brothers, young fellows who
intended to farm in partnership.  In imitation of a commercial firm
they called themselves Topp Brothers Limited.  They, too, started
operations by fencing their long strip of land.

This made the problem of the road vital.  Often one of the settlers
got stuck on his way to town, especially after a rain, when the
water stood yard-deep in the ruts.

Davis promised whatever was asked for.  "I'll do my best, fellows.
I'll see that you get what you need."  But he had disappointed them
once too often.  Besides, while it was known that the council had
already discussed the situation in plenary session, Davis tried to
create the impression that everything depended on him.  At least he
allowed it to be inferred when they were assembled in groups; by
appointment he met the settlers at Nicoll's Corner and made a
speech.  But he overshot his mark.  At a time when everybody was
busy seeding, he kept dropping in on individual farmers.  Who was
looking after his place?  He could not afford to hire help; how,
then, could he neglect his fields unless his position--to which no
salary was attached apart from mileage fees--yielded "pickings"
enough to carry him through the year?  He used his very need for
money as a plea; and to such a plea most of the settlers were
accessible enough; they all knew that need for money.  Poor devil!
The trouble was he could not be trusted.

The ward comprised, in addition to Spalding District, Davis's own
settlement and the village of Morley.  Who was to take Davis's
place?

Abe's prestige had grown enormously.  He owned the biggest holding,
not only in the ward but in the municipality.  He paid the highest
taxes.  His progress was watched even at Somerville.  He was buying
a tractor.  Hilmer, Nawosad, and Shilloe were fencing his new
section.  Abe, Bill Crane, and Nicoll had all they could do to get
his seed into the ground; he seeded eight hundred acres.

Nicoll was sent to sound him as to his willingness to "run" for a
seat on the council.  Having long played with the idea, Abe did not
decline; but he refused to canvass the ward.  "Elect me if you want
to," he said.  "I'll act.  But I won't go around and beg for votes.
If you think I can do something for you, it's up to you.  I won't
stir a finger."  He pleaded the urgency of his work; but it was
known to be pride which prompted his refusal to do the usual thing.
This gave a few men from Britannia District the material to work
against him.  "Give Spalding power," they said, "and he'll rule you
with an iron rod."

Among those, on the other hand, who were most active in the
interest of Abe's election was Blaine.  As soon as the roads were
dry, he straddled his bicycle every Saturday to go to town.  His
huge head with the long beard floated over the handle bar,
trembling on a slender, corded neck; he did not go fast; but he
pedalled along as though automatically.

Thus he passed the cottage which the Topp brothers were building in
the centre of their long holding--a neat little thing twenty feet
square, perched on a high foundation, with a porch in front.  And
next Hilmer's shack where old Mrs. Grappentin followed his progress
from a window or through the open door.  "There he goes," she would
say in German, "to win votes for the duke and lord!"  This name had
stuck.

He would spend all day in town, talking to the farmers from the
east half of the ward; he knew everybody who was not a new-comer to
the prairie: years ago, he had taught in Britannia District.

One day, when Abe and Bill were disking the new breaking, such as
there was of it, the rattling noise of a motor car running with
exhausts wide open caught Abe's ear.  He was facing north and
nearing the line of the Hudson's Bay section; and soon he saw a
curious vehicle lumbering over the prairie from the north-east: it
was that once familiar sight of an ancient Ford car of the first
vintage, covered in all sorts of places with tarnished brass.  It
jolted and tilted and tossed along, with an ever-increasing
bellowing noise at which the horses pricked their ears; for, level
as the prairie looked, it was by no means as smooth as it appeared
to the eye.  Everything about this car shook and rattled; the cloth
of the top dangled behind in strips like a bunch of streamers; the
fenders were suspended with binder-twine.

The car came to a stop in front of Abe's horses which were prancing
with fright.  The driver alighted, vaulting briskly over the door
without opening it; and he came at once to where Abe was sitting
perched on his harrow.  Small and clad in grey overalls, the man
looked more like a schoolboy than an adult of forty years.  His
face was freckled; his eyes grey-blue; his hair reddish.  Abe
recognized the Yankee who had been "snooping about" in the district
before Nicoll's time.

"Hello, Spalding," he greeted Abe informally and in a business-like
way.  "Running for councillor, I hear.  Remember me?  Wheeldon, in
case you've forgotten.  From Destouches, Iowa.  I've filed on the
north-west quarter of eleven."  He pointed over his shoulder
towards Stanley's place.  "I'm thinking of moving out next spring.
Provided you and I can come to terms."  This on a rising note.

"Come to terms?"--distantly; these two had disliked each other at
sight.

"I want road work for two men and two teams for three months, at
current rates.  I'm willing to pay the usual rake-off."

"I am not a councillor yet," Abe said, stiffening.

Wheeldon laughed.  "That's all right.  Subject to your being
elected.  I've fixed the other fellow.  He's O.K."

Abe saw a lane of new vision opening up.  "What's your offer?" he
asked, sitting motionless.

"The usual thing.  Ten per cent."

"The other fellow took it?"

"Like a shot."

"How much down?"

Again Wheeldon laughed.  "Thought you'd be all right.  Trouble is I
can't afford a payment down.  I'll endorse the first cheque over to
you.  It's between gentlemen."

"You've got the horses?"

"I have."

"What about buildings?"

"I've got the wherewithal to build this fall."

"Why the road work, then?"

"A year's living.  Second year I'll have a crop."

"What are you doing at present?  Farming?"

"I'm a tinsmith.  Work's falling off.  What with mass production in
the factories."

Abe sat silent.  Then he spoke.  "As for the deal you propose.  I
don't do that sort of thing.  But we want the settlers.  If you
move in, we'll look after you.  There'll be six or eight miles of
road to be built next summer.  If I'm road-boss, I'll use local
labour if I can get it.  Some of us don't want the job though we'll
keep a team on the road if it's needed.  You can figure out what
your share will be."

Wheeldon looked pensively at Abe.  "The straight game, eh?  That's
one way, of course.  Something new.  It's as good as a promise?"

"It's as good as a contract," Abe said slowly.

"Fine.  I'm in a hurry.  Shake."

And he returned to his car, abstracting a jack from the litter in
the back seat.  Having raised one of the rear wheels, he put the
car in gear, cranked, and, as the engine started with a roar,
adjusted the levers under the steering wheel.  Having replaced the
gears in neutral, he pushed the car off the jack and, a moment
later, turned to the east.

Abe sat and looked.  Instinctively he had wiped his hand on his
trousers.  Was that the way it was done?  His contempt for the man
had an undercurrent of pity for one who had to have recourse to
such means of making a living.  "A nice story to tell on the
platform!" he muttered.

A week later Abe went to town to get some repairs done at the
blacksmith shop.  While Bigelow hobbled about between forge and
vice, rotund, swarthy, and preoccupied, Abe sat on the frame of a
plough.

Placing Abe's broken guide-rod on the anvil, the blacksmith spoke
between hammer-blows.  "Fellow from south of the border.  Name's
Wheeldon, I think.  Davis says--got promise of road work from you.
That right?"

"Quite right."

"Looks bad, Abe."

"Looks bad if local work's to be done by local labour?"

"That all?"

"That's all."

"No promise in return?"

Abe hesitated and frowned.  "Tell you.  I'm not campaigning.  But
did Davis give you to understand that Wheeldon made me a promise?"

"He allowed that conclusion to be drawn."

"Then he allowed himself to lie.  Wheeldon offered me ten per cent.
Same as he offered Davis.  Davis took it.  I didn't."

Bigelow remained silent till Abe had paid for the work.  Then he
added, "You'll have my vote."

"Not that I'm asking for it, you know. . . ."

Before going home, Abe did some shopping at the Vanbruik store.  As
usual, Mr. Diamond came to meet him.

"Well," he said, "the campaign is becoming interesting, with one of
the candidates missing all meetings!"

"Meetings being held?"

"Quite a few.  Informal most of them.  But Davis is always there."

"He'll have things all his way, I suppose?"

"That's the funny part of it.  The more meetings he holds, the less
votes he has left.  If he did all he promises, he'd beggar the
county."

When harvest began, Abe forgot about the election.  Every settler
worked on his place.  He bought a third binder; and, long expected,
the great tractor arrived at last.  When it was driven over from
Somerville, people came to their doors and stared.  Henry Topp,
oldest of the three brothers, acted as engineer.  One of the
difficulties had been to find a man who could operate such
machinery; Henry Topp had moved in; and like other difficulties
confronting Abe, this one had vanished.  Two binders were hitched
behind the huge engine which used kerosene for fuel.  With Henry,
who was small, his two brothers came to stook: David, second in
age, medium-sized, quiet, efficient; and Slim, the youngest, barely
nineteen years old but already six feet in height, boisterous, raw-
boned, a youth who thought nothing of walking to town to meet a
girl when the day's work was finished.

Meanwhile a house went up on the north-west quarter of eleven,
north of Stanley's homestead, with two carpenters at work.

Thus, by the time harvest was finished, there were twelve resident
ratepayers in the district, including Blaine.  The ward comprised
one hundred and five votes, so that Spalding District furnished,
after all, only a small fraction of the electorate.

The decisive battle for which the ward had prepared itself during
the summer was fought when all fall work was finished, on the third
Tuesday of the month of December.

Two weeks before, Abe's nomination had been duly recorded at the
municipal office at Somerville, Nicoll acting as proposer and
Bigelow as seconder.  Davis being renominated, a poll was
necessary.  Anderson's implement shed, north of his hardware store,
was the polling place, with Dr. Vanbruik acting as deputy returning
officer and Mr. Diamond as polling clerk.  The shed was heated by a
number of coal-oil stoves and lighted--for windows were small and
scanty--by a gasoline lamp suspended above the table on which stood
the ballot box.

Davis was present as was his right; in addition, two farmers of his
district acted as his authorized agents.  Abe had not even come to
town, but Nicoll was there to represent him.  "One witness to the
proceedings," Abe had said.  In a corner of the shed a space was
curtained off where the electors were to mark their ballots.

The forenoon went by quietly, forty-two electors from the east half
of the ward presenting themselves.  All of them winked at or spoke
to Davis and his agents.  Occasionally Davis or one of his agents
followed an elector into the store which served as a waiting-room.
Such electors climbed into their buggies or wagons and left the
village, going east; and an hour or so later they returned with a
passenger.  There was a crowd, it is true; but all remained quiet.
Young Anderson improved the occasion by turning over a large stock
of mechanical toys.

Several people presented themselves who were not resident in the
ward though they owned land there.  These voted "on certificate";
that is, they had procured a certificate stating that they had the
right to vote at this time and place.  Their appearance gave the
proceedings an air of importance unusual in municipal elections.

When, at noon, Davis left the polling station to have his dinner,
Nicoll followed him.  In the store, Davis became elatedly vocal.
"Boys," he said, "it's a walkover.  Forty-two votes and none for
the enemy!"

The crowd cheered.

They left the store.  The whole north side of the street was lined
with wagons, buggies, democrats.

From the west, along the sidewalk, come Aganeta, Mary Vanbruik's
maid, carrying a tray with the doctor's luncheon.  She was a big
girl, high-bosomed, high-coloured.  On her feet she wore a pair of
man's goloshes.  As she approached the crowd, she shouted.
"Careful there!"

A young fellow veered about, jumped aside with exaggerated
gallantry, and, as she faced him, laughing, pinched her cheek.
She, unable to defend herself, stamped a foot, holding her tray
aloft.  Emboldened by the laughter of the crowd, the young fellow
sidled in and tried to plant a kiss on the nape of her neck.  She
turned unexpectedly and, raising one of her heavy-booted feet,
kicked him squarely in the pit of the stomach.  He slipped and
fell.  This time the crowd cheered the girl.

That moment Nicoll stepped forward and relieved her of the tray.

The girl, enraged, abandoned it and threw herself on her assailant
before he could rise.  Under her weight he fell back; and, taking
his head in both her hands, she knocked it repeatedly on the
sidewalk.  Then she ran to the door of the store where Nicoll had
preceded her.  Dazed, the young fellow picked himself up, laughing
sheepishly.

Davis returned immediately after dinner.  Aganeta had just gathered
the doctor's dishes and left the room with a furious look,
muttering something about the "Davis crowd."

Davis, on the ground that an elector was present, at once objected
to the latter's voting.  The elector was Nicoll.

But Dr. Vanbruik overruled the protest.  "Mr. Spalding's agent can
hardly be presumed to be influenced by such a remark."

Davis took note of the incident in a statement signed by his
agents.

Not before three o'clock did the voting become brisk again.  The
new wave of electors was led by Shilloe.  Davis "challenged" his
vote.  "I require the elector to be sworn."

Dr. Vanbruik picked up a printed form and read the oath required
from an elector whose right to vote is doubted or challenged.  This
formality took ten minutes.

Hartley came next and went unchallenged.  Then followed half a
dozen residents of Morley; and Davis challenged every one.  It was
nearly four when they had voted.  A huge crowd was dammed back in
the store.

Nicoll was worried.  If Davis went on challenging votes, not half
of Abe's supporters would get a chance at the poll before the
closing hour.  He turned to the doctor.  "May I ask the opposing
candidate a question?"

"I don't see what could prevent you."

Nicoll turned to Davis.  "Do you intend to challenge all voters
opposed to you?"

Davis laughed.  "I'll challenge as many as I see fit to challenge."

The doctor, though ignoring Nicoll's silent appeal, yet spoke to
the man guarding the door.  "Call Mr. Anderson, please."

When young Anderson looked in, the doctor asked him to get hold of
Mr. Watt, the provincial constable.

"He's right at the door."

"Ask him in, will you?  Ready for the next voter."

The elector entered and was challenged.  The constable, handsomely
filling his uniform, followed.

By this time there was tension inside and outside the room.  The
store was packed with those waiting.  Even children had squeezed in
when school had closed.  Davis's tactics were transparent: he had
had his henchmen vote in the morning, "rolling up" forty per cent
of the total for himself.  Now he was holding up his opponents.
Such a proceeding did not fall under the heading of "corrupt
practices" as defined by law.  But even if it had done so, Abe
would never have condescended to an appeal to the courts; and Davis
knew it.

"Don't let the next man enter," Dr. Vanbruik said.  Then he raised
his voice.  "Mr. Watt, I, deputy returning officer of this polling
place of the hamlet of Morley, charge you to swear in a sufficient
number of deputies to handle the crowd.  You will next, by
telephone, get into touch with the clerk of the municipality and
give him a message as coming from me.  Please take the message in
writing.  It is this:  'The vote polled at this station is so far
fifty-one; there are fifty-four more votes to be cast.  Since one
of the candidates pursues the policy of challenging indiscriminately,
I can at best handle six votes an hour.  We need at once a number
of deputy returning officers to handle the vote within the time
required by law, with full equipment.'"

The officer saluted and, admitting the next man, left the room.

Davis changed his tactics at once.  Leaving one of his agents
behind, he gave the other a signal and pushed his way through the
now hostile crowd in the store.  In the street, he crossed the
driveway and the dry ditch to the fence of the right-of-way.
There, nobody being near to overhear, he jotted a few names on a
piece of paper.  "Here," he said to Searle, the agent.  "I'll go
back and send Armstrong out.  Between you get hold of every one on
this list.  You'll find the needful in my buggy at the livery
stable.  I rely on you that these fellows don't vote."

"All right, boss."

"Look sharp now."

In the polling room the voting proceeded smoothly.

At a quarter to five a car arrived in front of the store, stopping
in the middle of the street.  A small, stout man with a pointed
grey beard alighted.  This was Mr. Silcox, municipal secretary,
respected by every one.  The crowd, now quiet enough, opened a lane
to let him pass.

The doctor looked up when Mr. Silcox entered.  "The trouble seems
to be over, Silcox."

Silcox nodded but remained at the door.  Behind him, Searle looked
in, raising three fingers to Davis.  Ninety-nine votes had been
polled.  Davis felt sure of forty-five.  It was a matter of five
votes to him.

But no more electors appeared.  A drowsy silence settled on the
room, accentuated by the sizzling of the gasoline lamp.  In street
and store, people stood about in whispering groups.  The result?
That would be announced next day at Somerville, at the hour of
noon. . . .

Davis and Nicoll went to hear the announcement.  Nicoll brought the
news to Morley where Abe met him at the post office.  One of the
ninety-nine votes had been rejected, having a cross against each of
the names.  The remainder were divided evenly between the two
candidates.  Mr. Silcox who had the casting vote had declared
Abraham David Spalding elected.

Late in the afternoon, Abe entered the Vanbruik store in company
with his brother-in-law.  At sight of them a number of farmers who
had come to town to hear the news broke into cheers.

The doctor, with dry humour, turned to a young man and asked, "Whom
are you cheering for?"

A blank look came into the face of the rustic.  "I don't know."

"Well . . . who's elected?"

"I don't know.  Davis, I guess."

The doctor laughed in his mirthless way, saying to Abe, "That's the
sort of people you are going to represent."



EIGHT

The District


With his election to the council Abe became the undisputed leader
of his district.  Yet it did not make him popular among those who
were temperamentally opposed to him.

In the spring of 1911, as soon as seeding was finished, the long-
expected road work began, with Abe as road-boss.  It was late in
the year; for, while in 1910 the flood had arrived with unheard-of
suddenness, subsiding as quickly, it came this year in successive
steps of unusual slowness, taking three weeks to run out.  Again
there were rains; but they did not start till the bulk of the
winter's snow was gone.  Yet well into the month of May these rains
kept turning into snow.  It was June before people had time for
anything but farm work; and the road work was repeatedly
interrupted by the necessity of using such dry spells as there were
for haying.

Abe found the additional drain on his time which his duties as a
councillor involved almost more of a burden than he could bear; for
he was consciously working up to a grand climax in his farming
operations.  In 1910 he had had six hundred acres under wheat; his
crop had been of more than twelve thousand bushels; yet his margin
of profit had been small.  He found that the greater the acreage,
the higher the cost of tillage per acre.  It would be the same this
year; but he still felt convinced that only by increasing his
acreage could he reach a point where his total return would once
more show a disproportionate profit.  In the course of years of
planning he had evolved a scheme whereby, once his land was broken--
as it would be this summer--he would fallow a certain part of his
land every year for a given number of years; and periodically there
would be one year in every twelve when no fallow was needed.  On
such a year he counted for the realization of his bolder dreams;
and it would come for the first time in 1912.  Whenever he thought
of it, he was visited by fears.  Not all years yielded equally
well; it depended on the sort of season it happened to be.  To work
for eleven years in hopes of getting the proper return for his
labour in the twelfth was plainly in the nature of gambling.  If
that twelfth year was a year of subnormal yield, it would prove
disastrous.  In order to put in a wheat crop of twelve hundred
acres, he would either have to have a considerable reserve of
capital or to strain his credit to the breaking point.  Yet he had
been lucky so far; he must count on his luck to continue.  Only
once had he been really straitened: when he had suddenly seen
himself forced to buy land before he was ready.  Such a contingency
could not repeat itself: he had all the land he could get.
Besides, he had lived through even that crisis and come out on top.
But there was so much more at stake now.  He strained every muscle;
he effected every possible economy in order to be prepared for that
great year when his whole acreage would be under crop.

So, when the crews began to work on the road, starting at the north
end, two miles from Nicoll's Corner, he found it impossible to be
here and there, supervising, and to attend to his own farm as well;
supervision was needed everywhere.  His bronchos were never turned
out on pasture; they stood ready at all times, harnessed and
bridled.  The road work had to be pressed forward at an unusual
rate.  It was hard to get enough teams.  Abe fairly begged Nicoll
and Stanley to put four horses each on shovels.  Hilmer, Shilloe,
Nawosad, and the younger Topp boys were "holding scrapers"; they
guided the handles of the drag-shovels as the teamsters drove them
up from the newly-opened ditch.  Hartley, with a two-horse team,
did the ploughing, loosening the soil for the scrapers.  None of
these had the four horses necessary to operate a drag.  Remained
Wheeldon with two teams, and Nicoll and Bill Stanley with one each.
Five men without horses could have looked after twice as many
teams.

The spring of 1910 had given conclusive proof that the road was
needed.  If there had been a grade, the flood would not have cut
them off.  Abe, of course, needed the road more than any one else.
He did more hauling than the rest of them together.  So, when he
appeared in his buggy and found the crews resting, he looked more
like a taskmaster to them than the benefactor who had won them that
road and the chance of making money at the expense of the county.
They resented it that Abe had taken Henry Topp away by offering him
five dollars a day to operate his tractor.

Hartley and Wheeldon did not hesitate voicing such sentiments when
Abe was not present.  "He's got an easy job talking!  Sitting in
his buggy collecting mileage."

But Nicoll who acted as foreman spoke up.  "That's where you're
wrong.  Abe won't collect a cent for mileage.  He wants the road."

"Right, mister," Hartley said.  "He wants the road; and we are to
build it for him."

"As to that, he pays half the tax-bill of the whole district."

Wheeldon and Hartley gave more trouble than the rest together.
Wheeldon wanted the money even more urgently than Hartley; he was
ambitious; Hartley was satisfied not to go hungry from day to day.
But even Wheeldon threatened to quit unless more frequent rests
were called than Nicoll thought necessary.  Hartley did leave once.
But when Abe engaged an outsider to replace him, he abandoned that
policy.

Yet these two trouble-makers found allies and abettors in the two
younger Topp brothers, especially Slim who, in the afternoon when
the heat grew oppressive, groaned and swore as though completely
exhausted.  But when Nicoll told him to take an hour off, with
corresponding loss of pay, he laughed, danced a jig, and shouted,
"Hi!  Look here, you fellows!"  And, catching his drag by handle
and clevis, he lifted it stalking in huge strides after the fidgety
team, and threw it down again when he reached the bottom of the
ditch.

The net result was that the district defined itself into three
groups, one of which was formed by Abe alone.  There was, first,
the Nicoll-Stanley group, consisting of these two who saw Abe more
or less as he was: autocratic, intolerant of opposition, but
absolutely fair and concerned with nothing but the welfare of the
district.  Hilmer and the Ukrainians belonged to this group; they
regarded him as superior in knowledge as well as in power and
wealth.  The group opposed to them was led by Wheeldon.  Behind him
trailed Hartley and the three Topp brothers, more perhaps, at least
in the case of David and Slim, from a desire for mischief than from
any reasoned opposition to Abe.

This grouping showed itself most distinctly when, on Sunday
afternoon, or when a rain had stopped the work, both groups met at
Nicoll's Corner.  There, great discussions were held these days.
The culvert took the place of a sort of community hall.  Sometimes
even old man Blaine came over on his bicycle which he laid down in
the grass by the roadside.  When he appeared, there would be a
sudden silence; and he knew they had been talking of him.  As
elsewhere in rural districts of the west, the teacher was the most
common topic of discussion.  The school is the one institution over
which the district has immediate and absolute control; and every
ratepayer thinks himself entitled to a share in the running of it
which is in inverse proportion to his qualifications.  Nobody
denied any longer that the children were making progress; the
inspector's reports were brilliant.  Yet when Blaine had filed on
the school quarter, murmurs had been renewed.  Did he presume
himself so secure of his tenure?  Was he counting on remaining for
the rest of his days?  Did he think, because Spalding supported
him, nobody could dislodge him?  In winter Abe had hauled his
cottage from Arkwright, a diminutive building with three tiny rooms
and a corner porch.  Even Nicoll had thought this step incautious;
but Abe had allayed his fears.  "We are just as independent as
ever.  Blaine's getting up in years.  He wants a roof over his
head, that's all.  When we don't want him any longer, he'll
retire."  Wheeldon was all the more allusive these days since Abe
had taken occasion to point out that, not being a British subject,
he had no say in matters of the school.

With rare exceptions Abe kept away from these meetings; he had no
time; he was not "a mixer."  When he happened to pass while a
meeting was in progress, however, a feeling almost of envy came
over him: HE was everlastingly living in the future; that future
might never come; HE could not stop to look about; HE must plan and
calculate.  Life was slipping by, unlived.

He, too, was aware when, that summer, he passed the spot for the
first time, that a silence fell at his approach.  Like Blaine he
divined that they had been talking of him.  At the culvert he drew
his horses in; but the animation had dropped out of the
conversation which turned to the weather and the crops.

Democracy had been the topic.

"Democracy!" Hartley had sneered.  "If this district isn't run by
one single man, I'd like to see one that is."

Nicoll had answered:  "Democracy means putting the right man in the
right place.  That's what we've got our vote for; not to interfere
with every detail.  Look at the school.  It's the best school for
many miles around.  I'll be the first to oppose Abe when he can't
show me that he's right.  But to put him down BECAUSE he's right is
silly, not democratic."

"Yeah!" Wheeldon had exclaimed.  "But I'd like to see him drive a
team on the road."

"There's another point," Nicoll had replied.  "We've been wanting
that road for years.  We put Abe on the council, and we get it.  We
don't get the frills which Davis promised: concrete bridges and a
culvert for every farm.  Ask any one on the council.  For the first
time there's system in the road-building of the municipality.
Trunk roads are built; nobody gets a little private drive-way for
himself.  I don't blame Abe for not working on the road.  I can
hardly afford it myself.  And I've only eighty acres under crop and
four horses to provide with hay."

On another occasion, rain having stopped work in the early
afternoon, Abe used the unexpected leisure to go to town.  As he
passed the culvert, the conversation did not stop.  Old man Blaine
was present though the mud had prevented him from using his
bicycle.  The conversation had taken a quasi-scientific turn.

"Say," Henry Topp exclaimed, "how can a man walk faster than a
train?"

His brothers laughed.  Nawosad and Shilloe bent their heads to
listen.  Only Hilmer was absent.

Stanley, sitting at the far end of the culvert, portly yet alert,
his single elbow resting on his knee, said quietly, "He can't."

"I've seen it.  By gosh and by gum, I've seen it!  Perhaps I should
say jump, not walk."

"No," Nicoll said, "Nonsense!"

The whole group, comprising ten men, exclusive of Abe, was in that
relaxed, lazy state of mind and body which, in the country, is
induced by the fact that an event beyond man's control has decreed
a holiday.  Not even the Sunday brings such utter relaxation of
tensions; for the Sunday is, after all, part of an established
routine.  The relaxation is all the greater when this rain happens
to come on a Saturday.

"Well," Henry went on, "they were shunting a freight train in the
yard at Morley.  The train was moving quite fast.  And there was a
fellow walking on top of a box-car, in the same direction in which
the train was moving; and when he came to the end of the car, he
went right on and jumped to the one in front."

Nicoll, reclining on a plank at the edge of the ditch, raised
himself to a position of attention.  "You're joshing."

"By golly, no.  I saw it with my own eyes."

Stanley laughed.  "What next?  He jumped from one car to another.
That's nothing.  Four or five feet.  But the car was moving, you
say.  How do you explain that?"

Blaine, sitting nearest the road, was whittling a weedstalk with
his pocket knife.  "I've seen that myself," he said.  "I could do
it.  You could do it.  Nothing mysterious about it."

"Well, explain," Henry challenged.  "Now show your science."

"Science"--this with the emphasis of authority--"never explains."

"What's the use of science if it doesn't explain?" Nicoll asked.
"I thought that's what science was for."

"Science gathers facts and puts them in order.  Then they become
law."

"Now you're talking!" said Henry.  "Laws have to be obeyed.  If
you've got a law, you've got an explanation.  If any one asks me
why I pay taxes, I say because it's the law that I should if I can.
Out with your law!"

The reference to taxes brought a laugh.

"It isn't so simple," Blaine said.  "I've forgotten most of my
science.  But it's something like this.  The motion of the car puts
something into the man that carries him over; and they call it
inertia."

There was a silence as if at an anti-climax.  Nobody cared to
contradict; but nobody was quite convinced.

Abe stirred, picking up his lines.  "Too much rain," he said.

"We could do with a dry spell," Stanley agreed.

"Well, I must go," and Abe shook his lines.  The thin wheels of his
buggy were picking up wide rims of mud.

The silence continued till he was out of earshot.  Then, "Going to
town!" said Hartley with a sneer.

Nicoll looked at him, a question in his eye.

"That's the place for politicians."

"Well," Stanley said, "Spalding's hardly a politician."

"At any rate," Nicoll added, "he's straight as a die."

"And he'll go far," Blaine said slowly, his head bent over his
knees.  "Most progressive man in the district."

"Doing well," Stanley nodded.  "Considering he's been on his place
no more than twelve years."

"No trick!"  This from Hartley.  "With money to start with."

Besides these men who were in constant though half-formal contact
with Abe, there were the women.  To him they remained vague; but he
was to them a huge figure of somewhat uncertain outlines,
resembling the hero of a saga.  What most of them saw in their
immediate surroundings was squalor, poverty, and desperate
struggle; what they heard of him grew into the conception of wealth
and magic success, especially since he allotted work and paid out
public money.  When Hartley quitted work, his wife looked to Abe
for the reason.  To him she looked for his reinstatement.  At Abe's
place every one could earn wages in seeding or harvest; and most of
them did; their own harvests were barely sufficient to cover
payments on live stock and implements.  He piped, and they danced;
and even though some of them swore at him before they went to his
dance-floor, Abe remained a hero and a saga-figure, loved by few,
hated by some, but willy-nilly admired by all.

Nobody, not even Nicoll, had an idea of the tension in which Abe
was getting ready for the great and decisive year.  Nobody knew how
he worried.  He worried about everything, about the weather, the
flood, and about help; for it was clear that he could not hold Bill
Crane.  He had found another man, Harry Stobarn; but he disliked
him and did not trust him with his stock.  Bill was getting
restless and talked of taking up land himself; he did not know when
he had a good thing, for Abe had raised his wages by five dollars a
month, in spite of the fact that he gave less and less value for
his money.  Abe felt as though he were staking his whole existence
on a single throw next year: twelve hundred acres under wheat!  The
cost of putting that crop in the ground!  If the season proved
inauspicious? . . .

These thoughts never left him.  The present season was wet: rain
followed rain; the straw was too long; and when the ears should
have been setting and filling out, even the blades remained green.

Never did these thoughts leave him; and they were passing through
his mind as, on that Saturday afternoon, he drove south on his way
to town.  Slowly he drove, for the road was heavy; and the mud
picked up by the wheels measured a foot across.  It was still
cloudy; and on all sides the prairie looked as though lifted up to
the sky.

From everywhere eyes were focused on him as he drove along.  Nobody
ever went to or came from town but everybody in the district knew
it.  The prairie is too open for any move to remain hidden.  When a
caller came to a settler, all of them knew and talked of it at
once; when a settler went to call somewhere else, remarks were made
in every house.

Thus, as Abe approached Hilmer's Corner, there was a discussion
going on about him in the Mennonite's shack.

This shack, the roof of which slanted from front to rear, was
divided into three rooms.  At the north end was a bedroom where the
Grappentins lodged at night.  Next came a large, hall-like space
which served as the general living-room and Hilmer's workshop
combined; for Hilmer plied the trade of a harnessmaker; and south
of it followed his own bedroom, a mere cubicle six feet in width.
When Mrs. Grappentin's husband was at home, the children were at
night bedded down on the floor of the shop; when he was absent,
they slept in his bed.

On the Saturday in question, the whole family was assembled in the
central room.  The children were playing in a corner; at one of the
two small windows piercing the front wall sat old Mrs. Grappentin,
looking out; her head resembled a bird of prey perched on her
shoulders, her hooked nose corresponding to its beak.  Near her, on
a canted chair, lounged a middle-aged man of ferocious aspect, with
prominent teeth slanting forward in his mouth, below a straggling
red moustache; his blotchy, purplish complexion betrayed him to be
addicted to the copious use of liquor.  This was the third husband
of Hilmer's mother--a man who had married the older woman under the
promise that he would work the farm left to her by her second
husband; but it proved that he had done so chiefly in order to
extract, through her, from her industrious eldest son the
wherewithal to support his idle, drunken, dissipated life.  While
he had money, he was never at home.

Young Hilmer himself, in black sateen shirt and black cotton
trousers, a small black cap on his head, for he was sensitive to
draughts, was working in the centre of the room, in front of the
open door, where on two planks supported on trusses a set of
harness in need of repairs was spread out.  His chief characteristic
was introspectiveness.

Among the grown-ups a desultory conversation went on in German.

The mother at the window was the first to see Abe coming from the
north; and from that moment on an unbroken stream of abuse flowed
from her lips.  "Da kommt der grosse Herr!" she exclaimed.  "There
comes the great lord!  Silent and haughty as ever, looking over the
land as if he owned the world.  Pride comes before the fall!
What's made him so great?  What has he done?  He settled down here
when this was a wilderness, with money in his pocket, that is all.
He made it hard for his neighbours, so he could buy their land
cheap.  And then he waited till we came and made it worth money.
He's been lording it ever since, running school and ward and
county--die Grafschaft--as if he had not only the money but the
knowledge and the power and the right all to himself.  When any
one else wants something, he puts his foot down and says he
mustn't . . ."

"Sein Sie doch still, Frau Mutter!--Be quiet, Mrs. Mother!" said
her son, walking about with awl and waxed thread.  Yet, in spite of
his ostentatious preoccupation with the work in hand, he too,
bending forward, peered through the door at the proud figure of Abe
behind his bronchos.  "Everybody lives in his own way.  He lives in
his.  I've never heard it said except by his enemies that he has
acquired land and position by anything but hard work and ability,
Mrs. Mother."

Grappentin, the stepfather, spat contemptuously on the scoured
floor which was covered with a thin layer of white sand from the
river.  "Hard work!  Nobody gets rich by hard work.  He's played
his tricks, I'll warrant, the son-of-a-gun!--Der Hundekel!"

"Now, now, Herr Stiefvater!" Hilmer muttered.  "I don't like to
hear such things said in my house.  I am glad Mr. Spalding has made
a success.  It shows what I may be able to do, with hard work and
industry."

"Look at him, look at him!" the woman screeched.  "There he goes
around by the field!  As if the road were not good enough!  Perhaps
he has done something there by which he's got all his money!"

"Hush, hush, Mrs. Mother!" exclaimed Hilmer as though oppressed by
the vicious imagination of the old woman.  "I know better.  And so
do you.  The mud is deep at the spot.  A regular hole."

"I can't stand the sight of the great and rich.  It wasn't to see
them that we came to this country."

"Right, Mrs. Mother.  We came to get great and rich ourselves."

Grappentin burst into a guffaw; but Hilmer worked quietly on.
Grappentin rose, bent his arms over his head, and stretched with a
yawn.

"Look at that!" the old woman cried; for, beyond the trail, Abe's
horses were taking the sharp, slippery incline to the culvert in
wild bounds, nearly upsetting the buggy.  Mrs. Grappentin broke
into a shrill senile laugh.  "I wish he had broken his neck!--Ich
wollt er haett sich den Hals gebrochen!"

"For shame, Mrs. Mother!" Hilmer reproved without looking up.

Grappentin stood before the young man in a spreading sprawling
attitude, hands on hips.  "Would you mind," he said with an ironic
imitation of Hilmer's sobriety, "would you mind, Mr. Stepson,
telling me why the great lord is always alone and does not mix with
the rest of us as other Christian people do?"

Hilmer fixed a mild but steady eye on the other man, holding it
there for a moment, before he answered.  "Because," he said at
last, "he thinks greater thoughts and aims higher than all the rest
of us do."



NINE

The Child


It was in connection with his work on the council that Abe
succeeded in solving the problem of finding a successor for Bill
Crane.

Ward One of the municipality, in its south-east corner, was
represented by a man called Rogers with whom Abe found himself
voting most of the time.  One needed only to look at this man to
see that he was of a different type from the rest of the
councillors.  The council was divided into two groups, three of its
members being typical politicians, as was Mr. Eastham, the reeve;
these four were ostensibly also farmers; but they occupied their
farms chiefly for the purpose of qualifying for their political
positions; their income came from "pickings."

They were opposed by Rogers, Abe, and a Mennonite from the so-
called Reserve by name of Bickert.

But Rogers was different from all others.  He owned and operated a
farm; but he worked it along English lines.  He was what is
commonly called a "remittance man," i.e. being a younger son of a
landed family, he drew an independent income from an estate in
England.  He preserved a distinctly English accent and used words
which, though comprehensible to the others, yet marked him off as
belonging to a different level of education.  From the beginning he
felt drawn to Abe, and admittedly because Abe was Mary Vanbruik's
brother.  While the doctor had practised at Somerville, Mr. Rogers
had been a frequent caller at his house; and Mary had spent
weekends at the Rogers place.  Though of medium height, Rogers
looked tall and slender; his handsome, tanned face with the
appressed ears was divided by a short, brown moustache.  He was
always well dressed; yet he never looked as though dressed for the
occasion; he felt too much at home in his clothes.

Now and then, some matter being put to the vote, he would raise a
smiling glance to Abe's eyes; and Abe invariably understood its
meaning.  Invariably, in such cases, they voted together, supported
by Bickert; and the reeve gave his casting vote to the other side.

After meetings, Rogers and Abe often spent a few minutes in
conversation; and one day, towards the end of the summer, the
subject of the brief exchange of words was the problem of help.

"I," Rogers said, "always advertise for Ukrainian families new to
the country.  I keep an Englishman or two besides.  For the routine
work I prefer the foreigners; they are willing and reliable."

"How much do you pay?"

"I give them house and garden; they help themselves to all the milk
they want.  In addition I pay the man three hundred dollars; and
the woman at the rate of a dollar a day when her help is required."

"Do they stay?"

"Till they take up land.  Three, four years.  One man has been with
me for twelve years now.  He gets four hundred."

"How much do you farm?"

"Three quarters, nearly.  The river cuts away a corner of my land."

"I'll try that," said Abe.

The consequence was that, just before harvest, Bill Crane left Abe.
A Ukrainian by name of Horanski moved into the house west of the
yard.  Abe fenced a three-acre lot for him; for he had a family of
five children.  Abe wanted to give him a chance of making
additional money by raising potatoes and garden truck.  Horanski
was a squarely-built man of middle age who knew no English but
proved adaptable and indefatigable in his work.  Nor did his wife,
a broad, comfortable woman, shrink from such tasks as she could do.
Abe was ready for the coming year.

The yield of the crop in the fall of 1911 turned out better than
Abe had expected.  He threshed late, Victor Lafontaine furnishing
machine and crew as he had done for a number of years.  Consequently,
fall-ploughing remained incomplete.  Yet, when the first frost came,
more than a thousand acres were ready for the seeder.  In a
reasonably early spring, the tractor would take care of the rest.
The whole district was aware of the extraordinary preparations which
Abe was making; and the whole district adjusted itself.  Since work
a-plenty could be had for the asking, people held back on their own
land while wages flowed.

Abe now planned building a new barn, partly in order to separate
cows from horses, partly because his ever-increasing store of
machinery would find room in its eastern half, for the open shed
admitted the snow in winter.  As for the house, he might have built
that fall; but he wanted to be sure that he could, next summer,
carry on without using his credit at the bank, so that the whole
crop would be available for what he might care to do.  Once he had
built, Ruth was never again to complain about lack of space!

When spring opened up, without extraordinary developments, there
was the usual rush of work.  The tractor, driven by Henry Topp,
drew a ten-share plough; behind it, drawn by horses, trailed two
disks; and endless units of drags were followed in turn by the
seeders of which there were six, two belonging to Nicoll and
Stanley.  The weather was singularly propitious; but the more
propitious it seemed, the more Abe worried.

He had heard it said by old-timers from south of the Line that wet
years run in threes, as do dry years, with one normal year
completing a seven-year cycle.  A few of the weather-wise even went
so far as to say that, the first year, it was the spring which was
wet; the second year, it was the summer; the third year, it would
be the fall; and the year 1911 had borne them out.  Neither a wet
spring nor a wet summer did Abe any harm.  In 1910 and 1911 he had
had a surplus of hay, so that he had been able to give a whole
stack of such as were short of roughage.  Even Wheeldon had taken
advantage of the offer.  As for the grains, the straw had been
heavy; and it had "lodged"--had been laid down by the heavy rains--
so that it had been hard to cut; but the yield had been above the
average of nineteen bushels per acre.  Most settlers had complained
that half their crops had been "drowned."  If it had not been for
the detested road work, there would have been outright distress.

Abe worried; too much was at stake.  If the prediction of the old-
timers came true, the wet weather would come in the fall--the only
time when it could ruin him.  Before long it was clear to Ruth and
Mary that Abe was living through a new crisis.  But this time he
did not drown his worries in work; more often he was seen stalking
along the margins of his enormous fields, inspecting his crops.
The work he left more and more to the broad, obsequious Ukrainian
and his wife, there being no fallow to plough.  Mrs. Horanski was
glad to earn an extra five or ten dollars a month by doing the
milking; and Abe thought it good policy to give her all the work
she wanted.

When Abe stalked about his fields, he did not pull weeds as in the
past; what could be done with an acreage of two square miles?  And
his idle walks led to a new development in his life.

One night when the children were playing about the house, the
weather being just right for the crops, neither too hot nor too
cool, and the soil just right, neither too wet nor too dry, Abe's
oldest boy, now a child of eleven, spied his father north of the
yard and, obeying an impulse, left Jim and the girls and joined
that man who was almost a stranger to him.  He took his hand and
walked along as though he respected his worries and were getting
God knew what enjoyment out of it.

Encouraged by his father's toleration of his presence, Charlie
sought him out again next Sunday morning when Abe had inspected the
empty stalls of the barn; the horses had long since been fed, the
cows milked, and both turned out into the pasture which ran north
for two whole miles, comprising now eighty acres.

Thence Abe meant to go to the west field, to circle it--a walk of
five miles--and to see the young wheat in that part of his
holdings.  There had been no rain for a week; and though the plants
did not yet suffer from lack of moisture, a little rain would not
be unwelcome, to keep conditions as nearly ideal as they had been
so far.

The morning was bright and clear.  It seemed almost too bright and
clear; not a cloudlet showed: a rare thing for a Manitoba summer
day which is normal only when flat-bottomed, round-topped clouds
sail whitely through the blue.

As Abe turned to the gate, Charlie took his hand and hopped along
by his side.  They passed through the gap in the windbreak, now
twenty feet high, and out on to the road.  Towns were dotting the
distant skyline, raised by the mirage.  Silver-white vapour mirrors
were overlying the land.  Every blade of grass sparkled with dew.

They passed the wind-break and the pasture; Horanski's house, north
of them, made almost the impression of an independent farm.  Here,
Abe meant to turn into the fields; but there was a tug at his arm.

"Daddy," said a sing-song voice, "I know a vesper sparrow's nest on
the road past the field.  Won't you come along to see it?"

"Can't you go alone?" Abe had stopped.

"Sure.  But I'd like to show you, daddy."

Abe felt vaguely flattered.  "What's a vesper sparrow?"

"Don't you know?"

"Did you before you went to school?"

"Didn't they teach you about birds when you were a boy?"

"They taught us to read and write and figure."

"We learn lots of things besides."

"Well, you haven't answered my question, sonny."  Abe never called
Charlie "sonny" except when he was teasing him.  On such occasions,
the word had become habitual since years ago when Abe had happened
to use it Charlie had tearfully protested, "I AM no sonny."

"A small bird as big as a sparrow, with white stripes in his tail."

"Haven't all sparrows white stripes in their tails?"

"Only juncos and vesper sparrows."

"That so?  And where do they build their nests?"

"On the ground."

Even at this point the conversation had become an adventure to Abe--
an excursion into the mysterious realms of childhood.  "Well," he
asked, "where is that nest of yours?"

The boy led the way west, south of the farm.  They had left
Horanski's place a few hundred yards behind when the child
exclaimed, "Oh, look, daddy!  There on the fence.  That's a vesper
sparrow."

"Is that the one from your nest, do you think?"

The boy considered.  "No.  It's too far."

"How far is it?"

"Quite a piece.  More than half a mile."

They went on.  Both were in their Sunday clothes, though Abe wore
no coat.  The sky was undergoing one of those sudden and subtle
changes which follow a cloudless sunrise; it lost its polished
appearance and became dull.  A breeze sprang up from the north-
west.

"I'll tell you," said Abe.  "Maybe we had better go another day.
It looks like a shower.  What do you say?"

"Oh no, daddy!  Come on."

The sky became whitish.  But they went on along the trail which
lost itself in the prairie.  Now and then there was a tug on Abe's
arm; for the child picked up clods of earth and shied them across
the ditch to their left into the meadow beyond.  For every step Abe
took, the boy took two or three, jumping ahead and doubling back.
Abe mused.  He was making this child happy; and that made him happy
in turn: with a happiness unknown to him at less magic times: this
hour was fraught with something which redeemed the workaday week.
Why had he never enjoyed it before?  With a pang he realized that
he was missing much in life.

He felt poignantly that he loved the child; that he approved of his
very existence; that he must tie him to his heart by a bond.  The
boy was himself re-arisen; finer, slenderer, more delicate, more
exquisitely tempered.  It affected him like a miracle bursting on
earthly eyes.

As they approached the south-west corner of Abe's holdings, Charlie
abandoned his other pursuits and stayed by his side.  "Ssh!" he
said and, with the exaggeration of childhood, began to walk on
tiptoe, sideways, restraining his father as if they were stalking
game.  "There!" he whispered tensely as, a rod ahead, a bird flew
up with a startled chirp.

When they reached the nest, built of dry blades of grass and
cunningly concealed in a hummock, a few inches above the
surrounding level, the boy went into ecstasies of delight.  "Oh,
daddy, come quick, come quick!  They're hatched.  Look at the
little ones!  They're all mouth!  Oh, come, daddy!  What's that
yellow stuff around their beaks?"

Abe came and bent over the boy who was on his knees.

They stood and looked, the mother bird anxiously fluttering near
and perching plaintively on the wire of the fence.

Suddenly Abe felt a heavy drop of rain and straightened.  From the
north-west a low-fringed cloud came sweeping along, aquiver with
lightning.  Half a mile ahead of them the long, silky grass was
wildly waving in the wind which had not reached them yet.  Abe felt
worried.  As for himself, he might spoil a suit of clothes; but the
child was apt to take vicious colds.  In the corner of the wild
land ahead stood the remnant of a haystack.

"Run," he said, leading the way in huge strides to the stack.

The child followed, putting forth all the powers in his thin body
to keep up with his father.  It took only a few minutes; but they
had barely reached the shelter when the squall struck.  The fact
that they were in a pocket of calm gave them a delicious feeling of
being saved and of an isolation which they shared.  As the rain
swept over, it blotted with veil after veil all things to the east.
Abe scooped a hollow in the wall produced by the hay-knife.  There
they squatted as in a cave.

A brief rattling shower passed east, shot with hail and followed by
a lull.  Then, with a sharp flash of lightning and a simultaneous
bellow of thunder, a steady downpour began, slanted by the wind.
Abe winced at the flash; but the child remained unconscious of the
storm.  He was dancing about from foot to foot in front of his
father.  "Oh, daddy, it makes me SO HAPPY to see those little
birds!"  And, after a while, "I wonder, will they get wet?"

"I don't think so," said Abe.  "The mother is sitting on the nest."

"Mr. Blaine says we must never disturb a bird when it rains."

A second flash was followed by a long, rolling peal of thunder
which ended with a sharp, detached explosion.  The boy laughed at
the peculiar rhythm.  "That sounds like a crocodile lifting his
tail," he said.

Abe joined in his laugh.

The boy snuggled against his father's knee.  "Like this," and he
ran his hand along Abe's thigh, using two fingers as legs; then,
laying hand and forearm down and bending his fingers up, backward,
"Like that," he said.

"Do you know what a crocodile is?"

"Of course!"  And, turning, he looked out from under the shaggy
roof of the cave.  Drops were falling from the edge of the opening.
"That's like a curtain of beads."  He was never at rest, twitching
with vitality.

Abe felt as though he had been lonely for years.  He drew the boy
between his knees.  "Do you like to go to school?"

"Yes."  But it was said without enthusiasm.

"Much?"

"Ye-es."  This time there was distinct hesitation.

"Why?"

"That's where Mr. Blaine is."

"You like him, do you?"

Charlie turned, playing with his father's watch-chain.  "Don't
you?"

Abe laughed.  "I don't matter.  Do all the children like him?"

"Some do; some don't.  Some say he's too strict."

"That's what a teacher is supposed to be."

"The Hartley kids have been to school elsewhere.  They say it's
nicer to have a lady teacher."

"You think so too?"

"No."

"Well, you'll keep Mr. Blaine."

They remained where they were till the storm was over.  Pools of
water dotted the prairie.  They could not get home dry-shod.  But
the clouds were dispersing, and the sun shone through their rents.
When they reached the first cross-ditch, a black, turbulent current
was running into the master ditch south of the trail.

They came to the nest.  "I wonder," said Charlie, "whether they are
all right?  Oh, daddy!" he cried as the mother bird flew up.
"They're quite dry.  There's water all around; but the nest is
dry."

"The mother bird knows where to build.  She knows about rain."

When they entered the yard, Abe felt a poignant regret that the
hour was over. . . .

A week later, a Presbyterian minister held divine service at the
school.  Although Abe was indifferent, he took his family.  During
the following night Abe was in the deepest of his sleep when he
felt a pull at the covers of his bed.  "Yes," he said, starting up
into a sitting posture.  And a moment later he became aware of
Charlie standing by his side, barefooted, shivering in his night-
gown.  "Daddy," he whispered, "I had such a terrible dream.  May I
come into your bed?"  Abe threw his blankets back; and the child
dived in.

On Saturday, Abe said to Ruth at dinner, "Let Charlie put on his
good suit.  I'm taking him along to town."

Ruth did not reply.  She had grown still stouter.  The features of
her face had hardened, heavy, unlovely; her waist-line had
disappeared.  She had abandoned the last attempt at making herself
attractive.

On the way to town, Abe was in no hurry.  Haying was in full swing;
but a competent man was in charge; never had he put as much
confidence in any one as in Horanski.  The season still remained
ideal.

Abe was thinking of that night when the child had come to his bed.
He had not closed his eyes again.  Why had the boy not gone to his
mother?  Was it the new relationship between father and son?

"What were you dreaming about," he asked when they were well on
their way, "that night when you came to my bed?"

"Devils," said Charlie succinctly.

"What?"

"Devils."

"What are they?"

The boy fidgeted, various expressions chasing each other over his
delicate features.  "Oh, I can't tell.  Terrible things."

Abe looked at the child.  What was going on in that little head
with its fine, fair hair?  Love him as he might, he could only feel
what the boy permitted him to feel.

But Charlie became confidential.  "Daddy, can God do anything He
wants to do?"

"I suppose so."

The child pondered, "I've been praying for something; ever since we
went to church the other day.  But I haven't got it."

Abe felt overwhelmed with the difficulty of the situation.  He must
not even smile at the child.  "We know nothing about God," he said
hesitatingly.  "I don't.  But there are people who think they know
all about him.  They tell us that sometimes, when we ask for a
thing, we don't get it because it wouldn't be good for us to have
it."

"Oh!"  The boy pondered again; and, with sudden irrelevancy,
"Daddy, how do children come into the world?"

Abe was thunderstruck.  Of all questions this was the one he
was least prepared to answer.  He realized at once that his
relationship to the boy had reached a crucial point.  He could not
refuse to answer; he could not evade; he could not deceive; for the
child would detect any reluctance, any evasion, any untruth.  The
boy had had contact with others; the school had interposed itself
between parent and child.  On his reply would depend which way, in
years to come, this boy would turn for truth, to his father or to
his classmates.  Abe must make a bid for the child's absolute and
utter confidence.  It seemed a daring thing to do, contradicting
all conventions.  Like a tremendous weight, the responsibility of
parenthood settled down on Abe.  So far he had given more thought
to municipal problems than to the welfare of his children.  No
other course, therefore, remained open but to trust his instinct.

"I don't know," he said slowly, "how much you can understand of
this.  You saw Beaut, the mare, in the spring, didn't you?"

"Before she had the colt, you mean?"

"Yes.  And you've seen a change since the colt arrived?"

"She isn't so big."

"Exactly.  That colt, you see, had grown inside her body."

The boy laughed; and the laugh sounded almost silly; but Abe
divined that it sprang from excitement.

"In the same way a child grows within the mother."

Again the boy laughed his excitedly silly laugh.  "Then only
mothers can have children?"

"Only mothers."

For the third time came that laugh.  Then a thoughtful pause; and
next an almost pouting question.  "But, daddy, how does it get in?
And how does it get out?"

"That I'll tell you when you are older.  Listen, Charlie."

"Yes?"

"Other boys will tell you things.  They don't know.  You didn't
know.  How could you?  Few parents tell their children."

"I have asked mother."

"Have you?  Now let's make an agreement.  I promise you to tell you
the truth as far as you can understand it.  I may tell you to wait.
I may tell you I don't know myself.  But I won't tell you an
untruth.  In return I ask you one single thing.  Don't ask other
boys for information which they can't give.  Come to me.  Will you
do that?"

"Yes," Charlie said; and once more he laughed, but in a different
key.  Then, boastfully, "Sure!  I'll always come to you, daddy.
You tell me the truth.  NOW I KNOW.  Shall I tell you what I've
been praying for?"  He was standing and playing with the lapel of
Abe's coat.

"Well?"

"But you mustn't laugh!  I've been asking God for a baby."

Abe did laugh; and the boy laughed with him.  Both laughed at the
silly child which Charlie had been--

One day Abe stopped at the school as he passed it.  Although these
were holidays, Abe found Blaine in the building where he spent most
of his time reading.  As Abe entered, the old man looked up from
his desk, his steel-rimmed glasses on the tip of his nose.

Abe nodded and squeezed his bulk into one of the larger seats.
This was an up-to-date classroom, spacious and airy; and the
windows, all on the north side, looked out on the prairie east of
Nicoll's.

"Blaine," Abe said, "I've never asked you how the kids are getting
on.  I didn't want you to think that as the chairman of the board I
asked for special consideration.  But I'm beginning to realize that
I know nothing about them."

"I've wondered," Blaine said.  "The only one inclined to give
trouble is Jim.  He doesn't like school.  The girls are up to
grade."

"And Charlie?"

"Well, Charlie!" the old man said slowly, looking queerly at Abe.
"I don't know whether you realize--"

"What do you mean?" Abe asked huskily.

"It's hard to put into words. . . ."

Something passed between the two men, like an electric current.

Abe rose, a lump in his throat.  "I know," he said; and awkwardly
he stood for a moment before he nodded and turned away.

Henceforth there was a secret understanding between them.



TEN

The Crop


Throughout that summer of 1912 Abe never ceased worrying about his
crop.  Things going well, he was apt to feel that some disaster was
preparing itself.  Never did the grain suffer from excessive
moisture or lack of it.  Never a blade turned yellow before the
second week in August; and then a golden spell brought the very
weather for ripening wheat.  The straw was of good height but did
not lodge.  The stand was remarkably thick and even; and not on
Abe's place only but throughout the district and even south of the
Somerville Line and in the river valley to the east.  Unless some
major disaster intervened, a late hailstorm or a prairie fire,
unheard-of wealth would be garnered that fall throughout the
southern part of the province.  Even though, with such a crop, the
price of wheat was bound to fall, there would be plenty.  Abe
estimated his yield at forty bushels per acre.  The grade could
hardly be less than Number One Northern, coveted by every grower of
wheat.  Unless some major disaster interfered, this crop would
place him at the goal of his ambitions.  But could it be that no
disaster was to come?  He felt as though a sacrifice were needed to
propitiate the fates.  He caught himself casting about for
something he might do to hurt himself, so as to lessen the
provocation and challenge his prospect of wealth must be to
whatever power had taken the place of the gods.

He had read of such crops; he had heard tales told.  South of the
Big Marsh, a man had bought a farm on credit for ten thousand
dollars, with only his equipment and his industry on the asset side
of his balance sheet; his first crop was said to have paid for the
farm.  Such cases were used by the great transportation companies
to advertise the west.  They were on everybody's lips.  But Abe
knew that against them stood hundreds of cases of failure, of bare
livings made by the hardest work.  Was his going to be the one case
in a thousand?

Yet, no matter how he looked at things, even allowing the price of
wheat to fall to an exceptionally low level, UNLESS SOME MAJOR
DISASTER INTERFERED, he was bound to see his material wishes
fulfilled.  Twelve hundred acres under wheat!  Forty bushels per
acre.  At, say, sixty cents a bushel--surely, that was the lowest
possible price?  Thirty thousand dollars were growing in his
fields--a fortune sufficient for his needs.

This was the harvest for which he had worked through all these
years since he had first bought additional land.  Slowly, as his
holdings increased, the plan had dawned on him to arrange the
rotation forced on him by the problem of weeds in such a way as to
make it possible once in a decade to put his whole area under crop,
staking a decade's work on a throw of the dice: a venture so costly
as to make failure seem a catastrophe.

Everywhere the young were elated at the prospect; everywhere the
aged, the old-timers, in the Mennonite Reserve, for instance, shook
their heads.  Wet years had always come in a three-year succession.
This year spring had been normal; summer, a marvel of favouring
conditions: no human intelligence, endowed with the power of
determining seasonal events, could have planned things in a more
auspicious way.  But there was still time for rains to come; and if
they came now, they would come at the one and only time at which
they could endanger all Abe's work.  He might not be able to cut
his wheat; being cut, the grain might sprout in the stook and be
ruined.  The fall was his vulnerable point, his only one.

Already, in certain districts, people spoke of a year in the early
nineties when, in the settlements to the west, it had been
impossible to thresh in the fall.  The crops had stood in the
fields through the winter, to be threshed in spring.  Farmers had
considered themselves lucky to save a fraction of their wealth.
Could nothing be done to save all?  In August Abe did what he had
never done before.  He went great distances into the districts to
the west: to Ivy, eleven miles from Morley; and thence south-west,
to Wheatland and Ferney, standing about in stores and listening to
the gossip of farmers.  Wherever he went, reports were the same:
unless something went wrong at the last moment, it would be a
bumper crop.  One danger was pointed out: before this, an early
killing frost had overtaken the west.  When Abe reached home, he
went into his fields and rubbed a sample of his wheat from ears
here and there till he arrived at the conclusion that his crop was
safe; frost might lower the grade; it could not ruin the whole.

Others who shook their heads in anticipation of what must go wrong
were fatalists in spite of misgivings.  What must come would come;
no use trying to fight; no use worrying.  Too bad if anything
happened; but if it did, it could not be helped.

But Abe rebelled at that thought.  He was changing.  His ambitions
had been material ones; but there were other things in life, dimly
seen as in a mist.  A happiness based on things not material was
blindly emerging.  Abe was a slave to the soil; till he had
satisfied that soil which he himself had endowed with the power of
enslaving him, he must postpone all other things; only when he had
done what he must do, would he have time and energy for anything
else.  This crop he must have.

And cutting started.  Abe began with two binders drawn by horses:
the problem of help was acute.  Harvest was general.  Abe asked
Nicoll for his boy Tom, seventeen years old.  Nicoll was obstinate.

"I'll hurry things along," he said.  "I'll let the girls stook.
Loan me a binder and a team, and I'll let Tom drive my own outfit;
I'll drive yours.  That way I'll get through in half the time.
When I finish I'll come with three boys.  But I can't afford to let
my sixty acres wait.  With an additional binder it's a question of
two, three days."

Abe went to see Henry Topp and received the same answer.  It was
late at night when he got home; he harnessed five horses to one of
his binders and drove it over to Nicoll's Corner.  It was after
midnight.

People had heard him for miles around; sounds carry far over the
prairie.  Next morning Stanley came to Abe's asking for a repair
part for his binder.  He spoke in a peculiar vein.  "You know,
Spalding, I can drive a team; but I can't stook with one arm.  When
such an affliction comes, you learn patience.  When I look at you,
I see myself as I used to be.  I thought I could force things.
I've learned to trust in the Lord.  That's what's wrong with us
all; we have lost our faith.  You are going to have that crop or to
lose it; and if you're to lose it, nothing that YOU can do will
save it for you."

Abe looked at the man who had spoken with an insistence unusual
between people who are not intimate.  "That may be," he said.  "But
it may also be that God helps them that help themselves."

He could not afford to sit back and look on.  A few days later, the
weather remaining incredibly golden, Abe's harvest got into its
stride.  He paid his stookers three dollars a day: wages unheard of
except in threshing, and they drew every hand.  Even Stanley sent
Bill; and Harry Stobarn came from a distance of ten miles--a man
who was to play a part in Abe's destinies two years later.

On Sunday Abe went to Somerville to fetch a fifth binder: what was
the cost of a binder when such a crop was at stake?  Three acres of
wheat would pay for the machine.  Abe was still financing on last
year's crop; not a cent did he owe at the bank.

Twice, during the first day, there was trouble with the two oldest
binders.  Abe sent to town; the assistant to one of the grain
buyers was a binder expert; henceforth this man, drawing five
dollars a day, remained in the field, driving the bronchos hitched
to a buggy, available wherever a binder stopped.  A supply of
repair parts lay in the box.

At noon, the whole crew was fed at Horanski's where the woman
seemed glad of this overflow of harvest joy lapping about her door.
At five, a lunch was served to the men, with beer or coffee to
drink as they preferred.  The binder expert brought baskets full of
sandwiches and jugs full of coffee and beer to the field.  Abe's
driving power told; for two weeks, work in the fields became an
orgy.

Then, just before the end, a slight rain fell like a warning.  It
was after dinner; by night they would have finished.  The rain
ceased almost as soon as it had begun; but work had to be
suspended.  Abe was in a panic.  When, three days later, on 3rd
September, the last sheaf was stooked, some of the binders and the
tractor were at the northern line of the Hudson's Bay section; the
stooks stood so close together that it was impossible to take the
machines across the field.  In a buoyancy of exultation, Abe took a
pair of pliers from the tool-box of the nearest binder and went to
the fence to pull the staples holding the wires to the posts.  The
whole caravan crossed over to the wild land in the west and circled
the farm in the dusk.

Two days later a heavy rain fell.  But dry weather followed
immediately and continued for several days.  Yet signs began to
multiply that more rain was to follow.  Abe lived in a frenzy of
worry.  If all went well, there were forty thousand dollars' worth
of wheat in the stooks.  Abe, full of forebodings, began to wish
for an early frost.

On 11th September Abe was up at four in the morning, feeding the
horses himself from sheer nervousness; for more than a year now he
had left such chores entirely to Horanski who seemed famished for
work; but Abe felt as though, by keeping himself even uselessly
busy, he was doing his share to avert a disaster; nobody would be
able to say that he had been sitting idly by while his crops were
being ruined.

Always he had thought fastest and to the best effect when at work.
He could never grasp all the bearings of a problem sitting down; at
work, difficulties seemed to solve themselves as by magic.

Thus, having done the chores at the barn, all but the milking, he
climbed into the loft, taking a lantern, to throw down hay for the
day; and, happening to look into the grain bin, he saw that there
was little oats left near the chute.  He climbed in and, with a
half-bushel scoop, shovelled the grain over from the talus-slopes
of the margin.

Suddenly he straightened under the impact of a thought.

Yes, HE WOULD STACK HIS CROP!

Nobody throughout the length and breadth of the river valley had to
his knowledge ever stacked his grain.  In thirteen years he had not
seen conditions which might make it necessary or desirable to do
so.  It would cost hundreds of dollars; he would have to pay
threshing wages.  Yet, since threshermen would not come into the
district till the work in more densely settled parts was done, his
crop would be safe.

He dropped his scoop, climbed out of the bin and down the ladder.

That moment Horanski entered the barn.

"Quick," Abe said.  "I've done the feeding.  Take Pride.  Make the
round south of the ditch.  Four dollars a day.  Let the Topp
brothers and Hilmer bring a hayrack each.  Start at six.  Hurry up
now."

Horanski was jumping.  "Ya, ya.  But what?"

"Never mind.  Hurry.  We stack."

Abe had four ordinary wagons; only two of them were still fitted
with hayracks; in threshing, boxes were needed.  By almost
superhuman exertion he managed to tilt the boxes of the other two
to the ground and to replace them by flat racks lying near the
shed.  Having done so, he did not go to the house to light the fire
in the kitchen but took Bay, Pride's sister, from her stall, threw
a blanket over her back, and in a minute was galloping east to see
Nicoll.

Nicoll, harvest being done and threshing far afield, came down in
his night-wear when he heard Abe's frantic hammering.  When Abe
told him what he wanted, he was amazed.  "Surely not.  Nobody ever
stacks here."

"Never mind what others do.  Four dollars a day for man or boy.
Six for a man with rack and team."

With that he was away.  Similar scenes were enacted at Shilloe's,
Hartley's, Nawosad's, Stanley's.  Back to the farm in the grey of
dawn.

Even now he did not go to the house for breakfast.  He harnessed
eight horses and hitched them to the racks in the yard.  Daylight
came, and with it the first helpers arrived.

Abe started them at once to gather sheaves, north of the yard.  He
drew a load of hay to the margin of the field and spread it on the
ground.  By half-past six the whole crew had arrived; eleven
hayracks were gathering sheaves; Abe and Nicoll were stacking.

At seven, Charlie appeared beyond the fence.  "Daddy, daddy!"

It was several minutes before Abe heard.  "What is it?"

"Aren't you coming in for breakfast?"

"No.  Bring me a cup of coffee and a slice of bread."

The day was white and hazy, a distant, rayless sun lighting the
world.  At noon, they changed horses rather than give those they
had been using time to digest.  At night they went on till it was
dark.  Only then did it strike Abe that this was the night of the
council meeting at Somerville.  He had never yet missed a meeting.
"Can't be helped," he muttered, "I've got to save that crop."

Two stacks had been finished, thirty feet in diameter, twenty high:
giant stacks thatched with hay.  The third one, just begun, Abe
covered with a tarpaulin, working by lantern light.

But it did not rain next day.  Hilmer reported that he had seen
threshing south of the Line.  Surely all was going to be well;
there was no need for this extra expense?  He meant kindly, wishing
to save Abe money even though part of it flowed into his own
pocket.

Abe knew that not a man in his crew approved of what he was doing.
They were glad to take his cash but thought him crazy to spend it.

At ten o'clock Wheeldon appeared in his rattling car.  "What the
hell--" he began.

Abe stared.  They called Henry Topp the "runt"; this man was a
pigmy.

"Who's ever heard of such a thing?" Wheeldon asked.  "In a semi-
arid country as this claims to be."

"Never mind," Slim Topp shouted.  "Come on.  Lend a hand."

"Be hanged if I do.  What sort of wages are you fellows licking
up?"

"I pay threshing wages," Abe said.

"I'm going south," Wheeldon boasted.  "I'll bring a fellow back to
thresh me at once."

"Nothing like trying."

Wheeldon returned in the afternoon.

"What luck?" Horanski asked from where he was pitching sheaves to
the fifth great stack that was rising into the air.

"Every doggone fellow laughs at the idea of coming up here."

Abe heard what he said.  "If you want a job--"

"By golly, I believe I do."

"To-morrow morning at six.  Bring a rack."

The third day dawned grey and threatening.  By eight o'clock Abe
moved the scene of operations to a point west of the pasture.  With
the menace of a clouded sky overhead, the men worked feverishly,
Horanski setting a frantic pace.  In routine work nobody would have
exerted himself; but this was so quixotic that work seemed sport or
play.

That night, with a high wind from the east, slight drizzles began
to sweep over the prairie like painters' brushes, continuing for
more than a day.  Then a dry sunny spell; but it did not turn warm.
As soon as the stooks dried in the fields, everybody went south,
east, west, to induce a thresherman to come, using Abe's huge crop
for a bait.  Threshing fees were running high; there were reports
of heavier rains in the south.  Nicoll reported several engines to
be stuck on the roads.  Victor Lafontaine tried to get through; in
vain.

Once more Abe sent word around.  Four and a half dollars a day!
Already a few doubted the wisdom of working for wages.  Yet, when
the Topp brothers and even Wheeldon came--the latter saying, "By
gosh, four and a half is too good to miss!"--Nicoll and the others
threw their misgivings to the wind.

And things looked brighter again.  Soon frost would come.  In
freezing weather the crops would be safe.  But Abe stacked.

The scene of operations had shifted to the Hudson's Bay section
when one afternoon a large, new car appeared on the trail west of
the field.  A tall man in city clothes alighted.  He climbed the
fence and came to the stack where Abe and Nicoll were working.

"Well, well, well!" said Mr. Rogers, for it was he; "you must be
anticipating foul weather, Mr. Spalding."

"I am playing safe," Abe replied and slipped to the ground.

"What are you afraid of?"

"Nothing, nothing at all."

"Threshing is beginning to be general again."

"Some machines are stuck right now."

"They were in too much of a hurry after the rain.  I can understand
a man stacking if he farms in a small way.  But you--"

There was a pause.  Then Abe asked, "Any business you came for?"

"Why, yes.  Let's step aside.  You know Mr. Eastham's term as reeve
expires in December.  There is a certain deal pending.  Some of us
have been waiting for just what is going on.  We want an honest man
for the place.  In fact, we want you."

"For reeve?"

"For reeve.  Will you accept nomination?"

"I don't know."  Municipal honours were far from Abe's mind just
now.

"It won't take more of your time than you are already giving to the
public business.  You are the only man from a north ward who can
swing the south wards as well."

"I wouldn't canvass."

"One of the assets which we are counting on.  The position you take
on that point is known.  It will win us more votes than anything
else.  One joint meeting, adroitly managed.  You say a few words--"

"I am not a speaker."

"Again, all the better."

"I'll think it over."  Abe's eyes were on the horizon.

"I'd like to take your answer back."

"All right," Abe decided.  "I'll run."

"Good!"  And, picking up a sheaf, "There's weight in that.  Well,
so long.  I see why you were absent from the last meeting." . . .

On 25th September Abe finished stacking his crop.  Next day it
began to rain; and, with low welts of cloud driven over the prairie
by dismal winds, ever shifting, it went on raining, with few let-
ups, till 20th October.  The ditches ran full; water began to stand
in the fields.

This fall of 1912, when farmers throughout the south of the
province could not thresh, is still being used to date certain
events.  "You remember," people will say, "that was the year
before--or the year after--the fall when we could not thresh."  The
stooks stood in water.  Everywhere people prayed for frost.
Ordinarily an early freeze-up is undesirable; even if the crops
escape, it interferes with ploughing; which means that work will be
late next spring.  But that year it rained and rained; and when the
rains began, it turned warm again.

Abe might have exulted.  Instead, he felt like a man who has,
without knowing it, crossed a lake covered with thin ice.  The fact
that he had been very near to losing the greatest crop he had ever
raised drove home to him how much uncertainty there is even in the
most fundamental industry of man.  If he had not stacked!

Day after day, clad in a glistening slicker, he went into his
drenched fields and, with the rain descending fitfully about him,
reached into his stacks, extending a long arm, and made sure that
no moisture was penetrating the sheaves.  He had an old book on
farming, printed in England, and re-read the chapters that treated
of stacking.  A good deal was said of the sweating of grain which
improves its quality.  He watched that process, rubbing a handful
of grain from the ears, to look at the kernels and to compare them
with the pictures in the book.

With nothing to do in field or yard, he took once more to going to
town.  The village was always crowded now; for everybody was, as to
leisure, in the same position as Abe; what was the use of sitting
at home and worrying?  In town, they had at least company.  Abe
heard people describing what was happening to their crops: the
grain sprouting in the stooks, the roots weaving the sheaves into a
solid, cohering mass.

Of his own wheat Abe took handfuls to the elevators.  Number One
Northern.  "Have you threshed?" the buyers asked.  "I have
stacked."  And the buyers whistled through their teeth.  Abe's crop
became famous.

Threshermen sought him out.  The general disaster hit them as hard
as any one else.  "Say, Abe," one would say; "Say, Spalding,"
others; a few went as far as, "Say, Mr. Spalding--have you made
arrangements for threshing yet?"  "No."  And the men would underbid
each other, coming down from sixteen cents a bushel which had been
the peak to fifteen, twelve, ten cents.  Abe listened; but
suddenly, without giving an answer, he walked away.  "Getting
queer," some said.  "His good luck's affecting his mind."  A man
who had spoken to him before drew him aside.  "Abe, there's no
chance of moving my outfit till after the freeze-up.  But you've
stacked.  Good crop, they say.  I wouldn't want this known.  But
I'll thresh you for six and a half."  And when Abe made a motion to
leave him, he detained him by a finger on his arm.  "Abe, listen.
I'll knock another quarter of a cent off."  But Abe turned away,
the thresherman staring after him.  On forty thousand bushels a
quarter of a cent meant a saving of a hundred dollars.

Mr. Diamond surpassed himself in smiles.  "Some weather, Abe.  But
you can laugh.  You were wise.  How about a new fur coat for the
winter?"

"We'll see."

"Want to buy this store, Abe?"--with a broad laugh.

Abe was restless; it seemed incredible that he should have escaped.

On 21st October, a grey, chilly day, but without rain at last, Abe
saw Nicoll at his stable as he drove past.  Anxious for company, he
turned into the yard, cutting a deep, sharp rut into the ground
which looked like the bottom of a freshly drained pool.

Nicoll came dejectedly and stood between the wheels of the buggy.

"How's your wheat?"

"Bad.  Think the rain's over?"

"Hard to tell.  I hope so."

"Not that it matters."

"Is it as bad as that?"

"It's as bad as can be."

"I'm sorry.  Thought I'd ask.  So long."

"So long, Abe."

From the culvert bridging the ditch Abe looked down on the slow,
yellow flood which ran even with the banks.  He had done it!  Next
year he would build.  But never again would he allow himself to be
caught without a threshing outfit of his own!

In town he met Eastham, the reeve.

"Hello, Spalding," the latter said.  "Running against me?"

"I?"  For in his preoccupation he had not thought of it again.

"So they say," the squarely built man with the big, red moustache
said ironically and grimly.

"Come to think of it, they did ask me."

"When you ran for the council, you got in by the skin of your
teeth."

"That's a fact," Abe said.  "You know I don't do any campaigning.
You'll have it all your own way.  I won't stir a finger."

"Well-l-l," Mr. Eastham said and raised a hand to the edge of his
expensive hat of soft grey felt. . . .

In the district, people were more excited over the fact that Abe
had saved his crop than that they were losing theirs.

"What I'd like to know," said Henry Topp, "is how he could tell."

"He's a wise one," Hartley replied.  "If he hadn't stacked, we'd
have threshed, I bet."

"Nonsense!" Stanley exclaimed.  "You'd have worked on a threshing
crew while threshing lasted.  But no outfit would have come in
here.  We're out of the way.  He had the luck."

"He has the luck every time!" Henry said.

But it was left to Mrs. Grappentin to find the true solution of the
problem: Abe was in league with the devil, or he would never have
thought of stacking.  And Hartley and Henry laughed enough to split
their sides.

On 25th October it rained again; but the rain turned into snow, and
it froze up.  The crops, half ruined by sprouting, froze to the
ground: the fields looked like skating rinks.  Not one of the
farmers threshed that fall; and when they did, next spring, the
yield was low; the grade was "no grade"; the grain was sold for
feed.



ELEVEN

Success


Incidentally, Abe was, that winter, elected reeve of the
municipality, "by acclamation"; for his candidacy hotly contested
for a while, remained unopposed at the last moment.

Rumours were afloat about a deal engineered by Mr. Eastham and his
henchmen.  At the meeting which Abe had missed, they had done a
clever stroke.  It had been moved that the council resolve itself
into "committee of the whole."  The difference between an ordinary
meeting and a meeting in committee consisted in the fact that the
deliberations of the council were public, whereas, in committee,
the members could be pledged to secrecy.  Rogers and Bickert had
connived at this move.

The matter which was up for discussion was the application of a
foreign railway for permission to extend its yards so as to permit
their being linked with certain territories on which the railway
wished to erect repair shops.  The scheme was in the interests of
the town of Somerville; and the town council had given a favourable
decision; but a piece of road needed belonged to the municipality;
and the site of the future shops was in private hands.  The railway
submitted two alternative plans.  Both involved concessions from
the municipality as well as the town; but which of two private
holdings was to be acquired, depended on the previous decision of
the municipality with regard to its roads.  The council made its
decision in committee.  A few days later Rogers, who had seen
through the scheme, found undeniable evidence of the fact that the
farm which the railway would have to acquire had changed hands just
before that meeting of the council in committee.  Ostensibly, the
buyer was a man unknown in the district; but Rogers suspected him
to be a dummy.  Shortly after, rumour insisted that an unheard-of
price had been paid by the railway for the land.  Rogers went on
with his campaign for Spalding as though he knew nothing.  But on
the morning of nomination day he sprang a mine by dropping a casual
hint of certain disclosures to be made shortly.  The very vagueness
of his threat, pronounced with the utmost urbanity, made the
information on which it rested seem vastly more definite than it
was; and he was careful not to make a positive statement which
might betray how little he knew.  Eastham was in town and showed a
bold front; but at twelve o'clock, when nominations closed, a
thrill went through the town: Mr. Eastham had declined renomination.
Rogers boldly treated this as an admission of guilt and made his
assertions specific.  When, in the afternoon, friends of the reeve
went to his house to plead with him about the necessity of a blunt
denial, they were told that Eastham had gone to the city.  Before
the day was over, Rogers's guess that he had crossed the border was
confirmed by a telegram addressed to Mrs. Eastham.

It was a week before Abe heard of his election, for he was
threshing.  When he did, it did not mean much to him: he was
planning beyond his boldest dreams.

The threshing was done by Victor Lafontaine who brought his old
steam engine and the huge separator over the snow from St. Cecile.
No bundle wagons were needed.  The separator was drawn between two
stacks, and Nicoll and Horanski pitched sheaves while a dozen teams
hauled the grain away.  There were three granaries in Abe's yard,
each holding seven thousand bushels.  These were attended to by
three teams; nine hauled directly to town.  Even at that it was
necessary at times to thresh on the ground.  Huge sheets of
tarpaulin were spread on the snow; the grain was shovelled into a
pile and covered with other tarpaulins weighted down with whatever
could be found in a country devoid of stones.  If the indicator at
the grain spout of the separator was correct, over seventeen
thousand bushels of wheat were left in the fields.  Twenty-one
thousand bushels were waiting in the granaries; more than fourteen
thousand had been sold outright, with the price of wheat rising
sharply.  Besides, there were barley and oats, vastly more than
needed for feed and seed: these were stored in the loft of the
barn.

Even Ruth gasped when she heard the figures from the children.  She
could not defend herself against a feeling of admiration for the
man who had saved such a crop.

One night at last, coming home late and sitting down wearily at the
table to have his belated supper, Abe said grimly, "That's that!"

"Finished?" Ruth asked.

"Finished," he replied.

He had recently bought a gasoline lamp which hung suspended above
the table, shedding a cruel light on everything in the room.  Abe
felt this evening to mark an epoch in his life.  He was awed by his
own achievement.  In the whole world there seemed nothing left for
him to do.

He looked at Ruth who was waiting on him.  For years they had lived
side by side, speaking of nothing but the trivial matters of the
day.  They hardly knew whether they were in agreement on the
fundamental questions of life.  Were there such questions?

Abe had been dimly aware of changes going on about him.  The years
were piling up.  He had given it no thought; it could not be
helped.  Slow work, the work of the farm!  Every step took a year.
But the last step had been taken.  He could afford to look back.

Yes, there, in the door of the kitchen, stood Ruth.  That was how
she looked; not a sight to make a man's glance linger.  Between her
heavy bust and her wide, massive hips, the last trace of a
waistline had vanished.  In the short, wide face, the wrinkles
furrowing cheeks and forehead showed a thickness of skin such as to
preclude any delicacy in the mouldings which increasing years were
bound to bring.  Her expression betrayed a sense of disappointment
with life.

Abe was aware of a wave of distaste flooding through him.  This
feeling he tried to hold down by sheer force.  He averted his
glance.  He was afraid that anything he might say would widen the
estrangement between them rather than bridge it; about her dress,
for instance, with its heavy, cast-iron folds; or about the
incomprehensibly unattractive, grey-brown cloth of which it was
made; or about the way in which she tied her hair into a knot on
top of her head.

And this room!  Dingy and dismal.  The inexorable light showed up
its threadbare, worn-out fittings.

He pushed his cup back and, without looking up, said, "Well, all
this is going to be changed at last!"  It was meant as a
consolation; as conveying a sense of his own shortcomings; he was
sorry that he had left Ruth in such surroundings for so long.  He
had been an unconscionable time in fulfilling his promise.  After
all, she had had to live in the place; to him, it had been just a
lair to go to at night.

Ruth sat down at the table.  The silence was full of unexpected
meanings.  "Abe," she said, looking first down then straight at
him.  "I don't know--"  And tears ran down her cheeks.

Uncomfortably he leaned back in his chair.

"This crop," Ruth went on: "it means a fortune.  Why build?"

Abe gasped.  "Why build?  What else?"

"We have enough to live on.  Move to town."

"Do you mean retire?"

"Perhaps."

"Do you know that I am not yet fifty?"

"Well--"  Ruth moved a dish with nervous fingers.  "I feel sixty."

Abe stared at her.  She looked it, too.  His fault?  Partly.  But
he could not help himself.  For years he had been careful not to
touch on matters which might provoke a scene; he had done so for
his own sake: in order not to be disturbed in his work and his
plannings.  All his energy had been claimed by the farm, summer and
winter.  In winter he had cleaned his seed three, four times; all
his wheat had been hauled to town between fall and spring.  No
doubt, to be thus left alone had been hard for the woman.

"Abe," Ruth began once more, trying to be considerate.  "You work
and work and work.  What for?"

Abe felt he had reached the limit of his endurance.  Yet he kept
his temper under control.  "What does any one work for?  We work
because we must, I suppose.  We are all going to die one day if
that's what you mean.  But before we die, we want to find some
satisfaction.  You ask me to give up when that satisfaction is
within reach."

Ruth hesitated.  The sacrifice she demanded was beyond the man's
power to give.  It was beyond her power to yield.  Yet he was
human; so was she.  Was there no common ground between them?  She
made a last attempt.  "Look what this life has made of me.  When I
am to talk to any one but the children, I am nervous.  Rather than
go to town and show myself, I stay at home, day in day out, year in
and year out."

Abe had risen.  He felt shaken.  He pitied the woman.  Yet, was it
his fault?  A vague gesture preceded speech.  "Isn't that just
where you are wrong?  You should force yourself.  Here's a whole
district, but nobody comes to see us.  Why not?  Because you don't
go to see anybody.  They think you consider yourself better than
they are.  They say we're stuck-up.  I've got to mix with the men
whether I want to or not.  But are they wrong?  I have wider
ambitions and bolder aims than they.  If you and Mary don't pull
together, there are other women.  Make friends.  For God's sake
try!"

"This life has taken the desire away."

"This life!  Do you realize that it's the freest, most independent
life on earth?  Your part in it is your own making.  I--"  And he
shook his head in utter disgust--"I can't live in town.  Years ago
you bore me a grudge because you had to live in this patched-up
shack.  I want to raze it and give you a real house.  If I've left
you to live here, I've done so in order not to put up another
makeshift.  It would have been waste of money.  Sooner or later I
was going to be in a position to do things right.  I am in that
position now."

Ruth rose as if to break off.  "Build if you must."

But now he would not accept that verdict.  "You act as if it were
my fault that things are as they are.  You act as if I were to
blame because you've got stout.  You make your whole life a silent
reproach to me.  I can only say there are other stout women.  They
can't help it.  But they try at least to remain a little
attractive.  I've never grudged you money; not when I was hardest
up.  Every year I've given you a few hundred dollars.  I've
promised not to ask you how you spend it.  But I will ask.  Have
you spent it?  Have you spent any of it?

"No."

"Why not?  That's what money is for.  To be spent."

"What should I spend money on myself for?  Living as I do."

"There you go.  Turning around in a circle like a dog chasing his
tail.  For my sake.--For the sake of the children."

"Perhaps the children will thank me one day that there are a few
pennies left when they're needed."

Abe threw up his hands.  "Let me look after that.  I'll double what
I've been giving you.  I'll treble it.  I'll write you a cheque for
a thousand dollars to-night.  But spend it!  Spend at least part of
it."

"I will," she challenged, "if you build."

Abe stood as if struck speechless.  "If I build!  I'll build.  Of
that you may be sure.  I'd rather build with your cooperation than
otherwise.  But build I shall.  What else should I do?  Go to town?
Open up a butchershop?  Lick my fingers for other people's dirty
cash?"  And, slamming the door behind him, he went to pace the
frozen, snow-covered ground.

Shortly after the new year Abe left the farm to go to the city.
Horanski was in charge; a crew had been hired to haul the grain.
In thirteen years this was the first time that he had gone away.
He had offered to take Ruth and the children.  Ruth had declined.

When he returned towards the end of the month, he gave orders that
every sleigh going to town with wheat was to bring home a load of
red brick which was piled along the railway track.  He put Horanski
to work cleaning the seed.  He himself was rarely at home.  Many
people asked for a job, from town and from south of the Line.  He
investigated their circumstances and gave work or denied it
according to the urgency of the case.  People learned to depend on
him.

He spent long hours at Somerville, in conference with Duncan and
Ferris, implement dealers.  A contractor from the city came to
measure the ground between the old house and the wind-break in
front where the brick was being piled.  Other supplies were brought
out: rolls upon rolls of ornamental fence-wire; hardwood for
floors, to be stored in the granaries as they were being emptied;
windows and doors; cement for foundations and sills; parts of some
complicated machinery to be assembled on the farm; coils upon coils
of insulated copper wire; building paper; bundles of lath and
green-stained shingles; shiplap and scantling; no end of things;
the district buzzed with their list.

Abe was secretive; he had plans and papers; ground plans and
elevations; he showed them to no one.

"Well, Abe," Nicoll said, "I suppose you'll do this thing as you do
everything, on the large scale, won't you?"

"Large enough for my family, if that's what you mean."

"Spalding Hall?"

Abe made neither answer nor motion.

"What's all that machinery?"

"Motor and dynamo."

"Electric light for the house?"

"Light and power."

Nicoll nodded.  "I see.  I see." . . .

"You would think," said Mrs. Grappentin, "he's building a village."

"He gives bread to the district," Hilmer replied.  "Wenn die
Koenige baun, haben die Kaerrner zu tun.--When kings build, the
teamsters find work, Mrs. Mother." . . .

Every load that went to Abe's place was watched and discussed; and
not only in the district, in town as well.  Day after day load
after load went out, throughout February and March.

Mr. Diamond was enthusiastic.  "That's the way, Abe.  I've always
believed in you.  Show them how to farm." . . .

The brick had been hauled; and still there was wheat.  To the
amazement of his men Abe gave orders to bring lumber now.  He did
not explain; but carload after carload of lumber was shunted on to
the siding at Morley--huge timbers such as are used for frame and
flooring of barns.  These he piled at the north end of the yard, in
front of the granaries.

The thaws came, and the flood appeared.  It ran out, and everywhere
farmers began to thresh.  Abe fretted; he could not get help.  He
had to be satisfied with a small acreage of wheat.  By the time
Henry Topp came to operate the tractor it was too late to seed
anything but barley.

Then, in the beginning of June, a string of bunk wagons came from
town, drawn by Abe's horses: little houses on wheels, one of them
fitted as a cook-house.  Other things followed: an excavating
machine with a steam engine; a concrete mixer; many things.  All
were put just inside the wind-break: a regular village with all
sorts of shops.

Abe had to be everywhere: in the field where the spring work was
still going on: in the yard where the exact location of the great
house depended on his say-so.  It was more than he could do.  Often
the foreman directing the work came out to the field; or he waited
for Abe late at night to discuss this or that.  The crew, forty-odd
men, consisted almost entirely of "foreigners"--men willing to
work, pleasant, obliging; but rough and wild-looking not a few of
them were.

And the children had to be kept within bounds; there was danger
among the machines where chains dangled and derricks swung while
horses struggled with their loads of wet earth to be dumped on the
trail past Horanski's.  Would that trail be mud, mud for ever
after?

Yet when Abe, years hence, looked back on this summer of 1913, it
seemed as if never in his life had he been happier than at that
time.  When the foreman asked a question, on Abe's answer depended
something akin to creation: for decades or centuries that spot of
his yard would present itself to the world as he willed it.

Then, excavations being finished on the sites of both house and
barn, the scene cleared itself up; and concrete was poured into
moulds.  This was the most important part of the work: there must
be no water in cellar, engine room, and manure pit.  Pitch was
enclosed between two layers of concrete to make the foundations
waterproof.

Whenever Abe went to look at anything, the children came running;
for holidays began and they were at home.  Without him, they were
not allowed to cross a certain line where he had stretched a rope.
Jim was rapidly outgrowing Charlie; the latter putting all growth
into mental and nervous development; Jim, into muscle and sinew.
The girls, Marion and Frances, offered a similar contrast; Marion
was tall, yet otherwise she resembled Charlie; Frances was short
but resembled Jim in disposition.  Both girls were exceptionally
pretty in their individual ways.

On the building site, Charlie, now twelve years old, showed by his
questions that he was trying to visualize the building as a whole;
and Abe showed him the elevations.  Jim, less than a year his
junior, was curious to see how the concrete mixer worked, how
mortar was made, how it hardened between the bricks.  The girls
looked on.

New excavations began; trenches were dug across the yard, from the
house and both barns; just east of the pool they united.  In these,
pipes were sunk below the frost-line, for the water supply.  Before
the floors were laid, all sorts of machines were set up in the
basement: pumps, to be operated by electricity, a washing machine
with a rotary drier; the furnace was installed, and sheet iron
coal-bins fitted in.

"How could you think of all that, daddy?" Jim asked.

Abe felt flattered; but he destroyed the child's belief in
his omniscience.  "I've employed an architect to write the 
specifications.  He's responsible for it all."

"Does he get paid for that?"

"Of course.  I paid him six hundred dollars for the plans."

Jim whistled.

Ruth betrayed no interest.  Yet, with the warmer weather, she
changed for the first time in years to light-coloured clothing.
Not all of her new things were to Abe's taste; nor did they all fit
well; but she had made an attempt, and he gave her credit for it.
He went further.  One day he returned from Somerville with a
parasol of pearl-grey silk; she stared as she thanked him; the
thought of the money it had cost appalled her; yet he had thought
of her while in town.  He promptly bought her a fur coat, of grey
Siberian squirrel.

Haying began.  The work in the field became frantic.

Meanwhile the walls of the house went up.  The crew that had been
pouring concrete moved to the barn.  Electricians wired house and
farm buildings: horse-barn, granaries, pig-pens, and the large hen-
house the front wall of which was replaced by canvas.  Two poles
were erected in the yard; and power wires slung overhead.  Four
huge incandescent bulbs were suspended there: even the yard was to
be lighted.

"Spalding," said Hartley, "is wiring his hen-house."

"What?" Wheeldon asked.  "Chickens going to lay by electricity?"

"Exactly," Nicoll replied.  "If you want to get eggs in winter,
you've got to give the hens as much light as in summer."

"I'd put a lantern behind the roost," Wheeldon said.

And the crowd at Nicoll's corner laughed an Homeric laugh--only
Nicoll looked worried.

It became known that Abe had spent a week at the Agricultural
College near the city, a new institution in course of construction.

"College farming!" said Wheeldon.

And Hartley added, "If I'd enough money to build a pig-pen like
what I hear they've got there, I'd live in it myself."

"I believe you," Nicoll parried.

Yet Abe was anxious.  Once more he had started a vast machinery
going which he had controlled at the outset but which had begun to
control him instead.  The cost of the building had been fixed at
fifteen thousand dollars; but point after point came up for
reconsideration.  This or that, the foreman said, could be done at
the original figure; but . . .  And Abe invariably decided for the
better way which involved increased expense.  Whenever that was
done, the foreman made him sign an order authorizing the alteration
in the plan.  What would the total be when all was finished?  Abe
knew only that the total was growing, growing.

The roof was raised.  More machinery arrived in town.  This was for
the new barn: hay-slings, elevators to raise the grain into bins;
grain crushers; pumps for the milking room; cooling vats for the
cream; a huge cream separator to be driven by electricity.  The
district marvelled.

But more than anything else was one piece of machinery discussed,
with long, flexible tubes that ended in rubber cups.  Many a guess
was made as to its purpose before any one dared to ask Abe.  Nicoll
ventured the question at last and was himself dumbfounded at the
answer.

"That's a milking machine."

The district roared with laughter.

At last, when Abe was cutting his crop, the dynamo was set up in a
roofed-over pit behind the house.  Four huge cement blocks were
cast for it to rest on; four more to carry the gasoline engine that
was to drive it; these were set to a depth of six feet below the
floor of the pit in which holes had been left when it was laid.
Nowhere did the concrete of the floor which was continuous with
that of the basement touch the cement of these blocks; the
interstices between them and the floor were filled with pitch.
This was done to prevent any vibration from reaching the house.
All this interested Jim more than anything else; he obtained
permission to stay with the electricians.

Ruth was impatient for the work to be finished.  The tall new
structure took away the light from the old house.  In fact, when
the wiring system was to be tried out, even she was quite excited.

To the last, the electricians worked in the old barn where the
wiring had given most trouble.  All lights were to have a
mysterious triple control: from a master switchboard in the dining-
room of the house; from a smaller switchboard in each of the
buildings; and from each individual light the turning on of which
started the engine.

At last the day for the trial had come.  It was half-past ten at
night when the chief electrician announced that he was ready.
There were two small lights on the gate-posts fronting the road,
with individual switches under hoods of japanned tin.  The system
was to be tested by turning one of these guidelights on--their
bulbs were frosted, so as not to blind the nocturnal traveller
seeking entrance.

The children had been allowed to remain awake for the occasion.
Who could have slept?  The men working in the field had scouted the
idea of going home.  They were assembled west of the low roof of
the pit; that roof was provided with a skylight which was open.

There they stood, breathless with excitement.  The engineer blew a
whistle as a signal that he was going to switch the gatelights on;
and as he did so, the underground cavern burst forth in a blaze of
light.  They heard nothing--which was disappointing; and, blinded,
they saw nothing either.

Then Jim exclaimed, "Look, look, she's running!"

"Is she?"--from a dozen mouths, incredulously.

But Jim pointed to the dynamo.  "See the sparks?  At the brushes."

"By golly!" someone said.

The wheels ran so true that their rotation was imperceptible.  Jim
skipped to the far side of the pit where the exhaust pierced the
low wall.  "Here you can hear it!"  And everybody followed him with
a rush.

Across the pitch-dark yard the electrician came to the house and
went up the rear steps to what was going to be the kitchen.  "I'll
turn the whole system on," he said, vanishing into the building.

Everybody ran to the gate in the ornamental fence dividing house-
yard from farm-yard.  A second later every window in house, barns,
granaries, pig-pens, and henhouse blazed forth as in the streets of
a city; even the lights overhead came on, flooding the yard as with
daylight.  Mysteriously, all about, the leaves of the wind-break
rustled in the reflection of the glow.

"Hip, hip . . ." cried a voice.

And all present broke into a cheer, the children most unreservedly.

"Well," said Ruth, herself half aglow, "and now to bed."

But they ran to hide behind the grown-ups, giving vent to their
protest by a long-drawn-out "O-oh no-oh!"

Ruth smiled and yielded when Abe said, "Let them sleep to-morrow.
I'll give them a holiday."  For school had started again.

The test was not finished.  The electrician made the round with
Abe, to turn on every light separately and to show him how the
switches controlled the machinery in house and barns.  This
electrician, whose time was valuable, intended to leave on the
morrow, delegating what was left to be done to subordinates.

One by one the men working in the field drifted away; it was past
midnight; even the children grew sleepy, and Ruth took them to the
old house.  There was nothing spectacular any longer.

And the days went by; once more the crews changed; and only the
cook remained through it all, a round-faced, pleasant little
Chinaman.  The new barn was painted; and when the new red did not
harmonize with the darkened tint of the old barn, the latter was
repainted, too.  In the house, plastering was done; woodwork was
stained; floors waxed.

Every night all lights were turned on, much to the surprise, no
doubt, of horses, cows, pigs, and chickens; and the children
verified the fact that the hens did not go to their roosts but went
on scratching in the litter of straw on the floor.

One evening Abe found a pretext to go to town after dark; and when
the children exclaimed, "Oh, daddy!  You just want to see the place
from the road!" he grew almost angry because they had so accurately
guessed his design.  But when he gave orders that the lights were
not to be turned off, and they crowed over him, he could not help
laughing himself, thereby admitting that they had been right.

He went in the buggy; and he never looked back till he had reached
town.  From the Somerville Line he peered through the night at the
pool of light on the horizon.  It did not loom high but seemed
rather to form a dent in the sky-line.  That was the proudest
moment of his life; and he raised an arm as though reaching for the
stars.

This lighting system had not formed part of the original plan; but
dreams have a way of realizing their potential growth.  The best
thing a man can say of himself is that he has grown with the growth
of his dreams.

Work in the house was not finished before the freeze-up.  The year
had been dry; the crop was fair but no more; and Abe's acreage had
been small.  He knew that he had exceeded all his estimates.  If he
wanted to furnish the house that winter, he would have to borrow.
"If he wanted?"  Not a piece of old furniture was going into that
house, no matter what the cost.  By and by he would draw the old,
patched-up place into the field beyond Horanski's, for a second
hired man.

"Never again!" he had said last year when he stacked his crop; and
the purchase of a grain separator had formed part and parcel of his
plans; but as fall had come, he had made arrangements with Victor
Lafontaine of St. Cecile.  There was no money left for machinery.

It froze up early, with no snow covering the ground; and Abe could
not haul his wheat to town.  So, in November, he went to Somerville
to make provision at the bank for credit and then took the train to
the city in order to buy the furniture for the house.  When he
returned, he had spent an additional three thousand dollars.

They moved in in December.  The old shack stood deserted behind the
mansion, a bit of an eyesore for Abe whenever he looked at his
place from anywhere but the road.

Again he urged Ruth to get help for the house, but she declined.
"Well," Abe said, "I've given you every labour-saving device known:
electric washer and drier, dish-washing machine, vacuum-cleaner,
septic tanks, bathroom, hardwood floors, and so on.  You'll have to
make out, then, as best you can."



TWELVE

The Bridge


Once more a year had gone by.  On Abe's place, hens laid eggs in
winter; cows were milked by a machine.  In the west half of the new
barn water was supplied to the animals by turning a single tap
which caused twenty drinking pails to fill.  Manure was rinsed away
by a powerful jet of water and, in well-arranged drains, run into a
concrete pit where it was rotted by fermentation and, therefore,
never froze.  The other half of the barn, accessible from stable or
yard, held tractor and implements, milkroom and workshops.

Even in the old barn things were changed.  Feed grain was elevated
directly from the tanks into huge hopper bins whence the mixture
was fed into a crusher and thence to the feed chutes.  Water was
pumped by a force-pump into an overhead tank.

At the house, there was a bathroom with a large tub and taps of hot
and cold water.  Every bedroom--there were six, one for each member
of the household--had a white-tiled wash-basin set into the wall,
it, too, with running water, hot and cold.  Nobody needed to clean
or light lamps; a switch was turned instead.  The engine was fed
with liquid fuel from an outside tank.  A huge furnace for which
Abe bought anthracite by the carload needed to be looked after only
twice a day.

Labour-saving devices galore; and they did save labour; but did
they save time?  There was less hard work; there were more errands
to run; there was more fixing to do: annoying little jobs which,
though he did not admit it, made Abe very impatient.  Occasionally
he had to send for a mechanic.  There was less labour; but there
was more ill temper.

The milking took less time; but when Horanski, who still proved
skilful and adaptable, had finished with the cows, his wife had to
clean and scald no end of tubes and bowls.

Perhaps Abe had, in 1913, not given quite as much thought and
energy to the field work as he might have done.  Perhaps the
fertility of the soil was beginning to show the effects of many
croppings.  The yield, that fall, had been disappointing: less than
fifteen bushels per acre; the fallow had not been extensive enough;
there had been little fall-ploughing.  In 1914, spring was late;
Abe owed money; more than he had ever owed before.  His credit was
unquestioned; he could borrow when he pleased; but it was
imperative that he seed a large acreage, larger than could be
properly prepared.  In desperation he did what he had never done
yet; he seeded stubble, merely disking four hundred acres cropped
the year before.

1913 had been dry.  According to the weather-lore of the old-timers
two more dry years were due.  But 1914 denied their doctrine; there
was plenty of rain.  Abe was favoured by his usual luck.  Had there
been a drought as in 1913, his stubble seeding would have been a
total loss; it had been a total loss for the Topp brothers and
others when, after the disaster of 1912, they had threshed in
spring and neglected their land.

For the first time, the district seemed actually retarded in its
progress by the opportunity which Abe offered the settlers of
making good wages.  Nicoll and Stanley, it was true, forged slowly
ahead; even Wheeldon did well.  But Nawosad, Hilmer, Shilloe, and
the Topps were always working for Abe instead of attending to their
own farms.  How Hartley held out was a mystery.  He peddled
groceries and patent medicines; but who could make a living by such
means?

In the fall of the year, war had come in Europe.  As for the
district, another quarter section, west of Hartley's, had been
filed on by a young man by the name of McCrae; but he promptly
enlisted.  An example thus being set, further enlistments followed.
First Dave Topp went, then Bill Stanley, glad, people said, to get
away from home where it was now praying and Bible-reading from
morning till night; and finally Tom Nicoll and Slim Topp left
together.  Henry Topp, too, volunteered; but, being below the
minimum height, he was rejected.  All which meant that Abe was
suddenly deprived of half his help.

Nobody thought as yet that the war was going to have far-reaching
consequences for the settlement; but it upset many plans.

Every Saturday that summer, Abe had taken Charlie along when he
went to town or when he worked in the field.  There, he had as
usual ridden a sulky plough drawn by his great Percheron team in
which by that time Jim and Beaut had been replaced by two colts of
the mare.

Having the boy between his knees, Abe allowed him to hold the lines
and to turn at the end of a furrow; it was time to initiate him
into the work of the farm.  He would soon finish his eighth grade
at school.

When, after the outbreak of the war, Abe saw himself deprived of
his local supply of labour, he began to dream of the time when his
boys would be able to assist in the field.  In the fall, having
somehow managed to do his harvesting with what help was still
available in the district, he went finally far afield, before
threshing started, to find additional hands.  He took Bill Crane
back who was glad to come, for his family had multiplied; and a man
he had occasionally employed before, Harry Stobarn, from east of
Morley.  These two "bached it," in the old, patched-up house.  But
still he was short of help; the more so since his crop was widely
scattered over his land.

When at last the fields east of the pasture had been cleaned up,
the lay-out of the remaining areas was as follows.  The threshing
machine occupied the centre of the north-west quarter of the
Hudson's Bay section, a mile and a quarter from the east-west road
to Nicoll's Corner.  There, the work had been proceeding for a day
or two.  Two trails led south, worn into the soil of stubble and
fallow by many haulings.  One of them angled south-west and crossed
the line of the farm near its corner; thence it followed the fence,
on the wild land, till it reached the east-west road.  This trail
was used by the teams going directly to town, of which there were
six.  The second trail angled to the south-east, to a gate in the
fence enclosing the pasture; leading out again on the far side and,
through the east field, into the yard north of the house.  This
second trail was used by the teams hauling to the granaries.

Even though Abe sent part of his wheat to town, more than half of
it had to be stored on his place.  The four-horse teams working
here were hitched to huge grain tanks; and often it was necessary
to fasten a wagon behind, triple-boxed, such as the teamsters used
who went to town.

It was the last day of September, about ten o'clock.  Abe's tank
stood under the spout.  Horanski had taken the last but one load;
Nicoll, the last; and both had been double loads.  Relief was
expected; the first teams that had gone to town must soon be back,
anxiously waited for; it was no easy task for even four horses to
draw a tank holding a hundred bushels and a wagon-load of sixty
over a distance of a mile and a half; nor for the men to empty them
at the granary and to get back to the field before the engine blew
its warning whistle.

Yet, while a tank was being filled, there was time to rest; and Abe
had always enjoyed these intervals of leisure.  The engine was
humming its harvest song, fed with straw by a swarthy young
Frenchman; and two more of Victor Lafontaine's sons were pitching
sheaves from their bundle wagons to the feeding platform of the
vibrating and shaking separator.  The air was filled with chaff and
dust which gave a bronzed colour to the sunlight as it filtered to
the ground.  All the men were grey with that dust; the chaff stuck
in their hair and eyebrows.

The engine was placed at right angles to what wind there was, to
lessen the danger of sparks being blown into the ever-growing
strawstack.  The breeze being from the north, Abe could not see the
trails.  Throughout the field, bundle wagons were scattered among
the stooks.

Victor, small, mouse-eyed, sixty years old, kept crawling and
climbing about, under and over his antediluvian engine, oil-can in
hand.  Abe was fond of the man who, year after year, substituted
sons of his own for one or two of his hired helpers.

At the feeding platform, two empty wagons were being replaced by
fresh ones.  Abe was leaning against a front wheel of his tank;
but, seeing that the wheat had reached the height of the spout, he
lifted himself on the hub of the wheel and shovelled the grain to
the rear.

At that moment he became aware of a slight commotion.  The drivers
on their loads ceased work and looked to the south; and so did
Victor Lafontaine who stood poised on the boiler of the engine.

Suddenly Victor exclaimed, "Oh, oh, oh!" disapprovingly.

Abe dropped to the ground and circled the engine.

Harry Stobarn was returning from town with an empty wagon.
Apparently something had gone wrong in the harness; for he had
jumped to the ground and run to the head of the horses where he was
cruelly tearing at their bridles.  The horses reared, trying to
back away.  He jumped aside and aimed a vicious kick at the flank
of one of the Clydes.  The horse, beside himself, plunged and,
carrying his mate away, was off at a gallop.  Stobarn, shouting and
waving his arms, started in pursuit.  All this at a distance of
half a mile.

Abe and such of the Frenchmen as were near ran to head the horses
off.  Abe was the first to reach them.  As soon as he laid hold of
their bridles, they stopped, breathing heavily.

Harry came running, the picture of spitting fury.  "The doggone--"
he shouted, on the point of having another go at the horses.

But Abe stepped in.  "Get off my place!" he said sharply.

"What?" shouted Harry.  "Gimme my wages, you bully; then I'll go."

"Get off my place," Abe repeated.  Insult made him quiet.  "You'll
find the cheque in your mail to-morrow.  I don't carry cash about
in the field."  He turned back to the horses, stroking their noses.

Harry looked from one to the other; but the young Frenchmen took
their cue from Victor who gave no encouragement.  Pushing his hat
back from a beady brow, Stobarn said, "Don't ask me to work for you
again."

"Small chance."

Harry turned away, performing antics to cover his retreat.

The French lads ran; and Abe took the horses to the engine and left
them; they were willing enough to stand.

Meanwhile the separator had run idle; but the work was resumed as
though nothing had happened.  Horanski was returning from the yard
with his empty tank.  When Abe's load was full, he swung the spout
over to Harry's empty wagon.  Horanski drove into place behind.
Abe fastened the triple box which Stobarn would have taken to his
tank and drove away.  He had seemed quiet enough; but only now did
he master his anger.  Too bad!  They had just been able to keep
pace with the machine; now they would have to thresh on the ground--
an undesirable proceeding in open weather.  Part of the grain was
sure to spoil.

As he neared the first gate of the pasture, Nicoll came from the
yard.  Leaving their gates open, they passed each other in silence.

When Abe had unloaded by shovelling the grain back into the hopper
whence the elevator raised it to the trap in the roof of the
granary, he entered the east half of the new barn to fetch a
tarpaulin to take to the field.  Movable granaries of corrugated
iron, that was what he needed.  Well, another year . . .  But when
he had left the yard and was crossing the pasture, a new thought
struck him.  Charlie had driven horses; most settlers allowed even
smaller and younger boys to take loads to town.  At the worst, it
was a matter of two loads for the day.  It was Saturday; the boy
was at home.  If he gave him the old team, the greys which Hilmer
was driving, surely the boy could manage?

Horanski was coming to meet him; another load was going out to the
west; that must be Henry or Shilloe; a third team was coming empty
from town.  Abe stopped.  "Go to the house," he said to the
Ukrainian.  "Tell Charlie I want him.  Let him have lunch and come
along with you."

"All right," Horanski replied and drove on.

At the engine, Nicoll was filling his second load.  Abe did not
drive into place behind him; town teams had the precedence.  Nicoll
went on, and Hilmer took his place.  Abe told him to change horses,
giving him the team which Stobarn had driven.  "You go straight
back," he said, handling him fifty cents.  "Get a bite in town and
feed at the livery stable."  Hilmer's team he led to a rack full of
fresh hay, brought out for the bundle teams.  A dozen boxes were
standing on the ground; he poured a measure of oats into two of
them.

Hilmer pulling out, Abe filled Stobarn's wagon before he drove his
own tank into place.  But he had hardly done so when Bill Crane
arrived; and so he let him take Stobarn's wagon, giving him the
same directions which he had given Hilmer.  Crane's wagon he
manoeuvred alongside his tank and filled it over the top of the
latter.  Horanski was approaching on the trail from the yard; and
while Abe was waiting for him, he dispatched the first empty bundle
wagon to the Ukrainian's house where Mrs. Horanski, aided by one of
the Nicoll girls, had prepared dinner for the crew.  The noon
intermission was at hand.

Horanski came; another team from town was in sight.  Abe made room
under the spout by driving ahead.

"Here, Charlie," he said, for the boy had climbed to the ground.
"I want you to take a load to town.  Can you do it?"

"Sure, daddy."

"All right.  There it is.  Climb up."  And he helped him.  "Had
your dinner?  To elevator one; the first from the crossing.  Listen
here.  While you have the load, you walk the horses.  When you
drive up the incline, hold your lines tight.  On the platform, let
the man do the work.  On the way home, you can trot half the way."

The boy nodded and clicked his tongue.

Victor Lafontaine had been watching father and son.  As Abe turned
back to his load, the Frenchman caught his eye and smiled.  "Nice
kid," he said.

Abe looked at his watch.  "Fill Horanski's tank.  Then dinner."
And he, too, drove on, separated from Charlie only by a narrow
strip; for half a mile the trails hardly diverged.  Abe met the
hayrack bringing the dinner for the crew.  Mrs. Horanski stood,
precariously balanced, among baskets of food and boilers of coffee.
As she passed him, she nodded with a smile at Charlie who laughed
proudly back at her.

Then, just as father and son reached the point where their trails
divided sharply, the whistle of the engine blew, giving the signal
to stop work.  The shrill sound made Charlie jump; and smilingly he
looked back at his father, waving his hand; then he disappeared
from sight.

Two hours went by.  Abe had had his lunch at home and was back in
the field filling his tank.

Wheat, wheat, wheat ran from the spout.

Then, just as in the morning, Victor and his lads stared south.

Abe looked up at the old man's face which he saw in three-quarter
profile.  He was conscious only of the sunlight playing in the
snow-white bristles of the stubble of his beard.  Incomprehensibly,
a wave of fear invaded him, aroused by the puzzled expression on
the man's face.

Again, as in the morning, Abe dropped to the ground and circled the
engine.

On the trail from the yard a dust cloud was trailing along.  It
took Abe a second or so to make out, at the apex of the fan-shaped
cloud, a man on horseback tearing along at a terrific speed.  He
was riding a draught-horse, which fact was betrayed by the
lumbering though furious gallop.  He had just crossed the pasture.

"He leapt the gate," Victor said from behind Abe's back.

Abe did not answer.  Who could it be?  Whence did he come?  A dull
and ever-increasing disquietude took hold of him.

Suddenly he recognized the rider.  It was Bill Crane.  He should
have been back by this time.  The horse he was riding was clearly
doing its utmost; yet Bill was wildly lashing it with a long line.

Everybody in the whole field was aware of the rider's approach; all
work had slowed down.

Then, at a distance of a quarter of a mile, the horse stumbled in
full career and fell, throwing the rider who rolled over two or
three times, to leap up and to fall again, fighting for breath and
reeling.

Abe veered on Lafontaine.  "For God's sake, shut that engine off!"

Victor jumped; the hum subsided into silence.

Bill had stopped, struggling for his voice.  "Charlie!" he yelled.
"Charlie's got hurt."

Abe's knees gave under him.  "Where?  How?" he shouted.

"Hilmer's bridge.  Load went over him!"  Bill was still staggering
forward; apparently he had been hurt by his fall.

"Hurt?" Abe asked as if groping for a clue.

"Load went right over him."

For a moment it looked as if Abe were going to ask more questions.
Then he turned and ran for the lead team of his grain tank.
Feverishly he unhooked one of the horses, a Percheron colt, and,
gathering the long line into loops, vaulted on his back.  Lashing
the heavy horse into a gallop, he shot past the engine out on the
trail.  Everywhere the bundle drivers were unhooking their horses.
Abe's mind was singularly lucid.  He noticed a number of things
which, in the light of the tragedy with which he seemed to be
threatened only so far, as though it might still be averted by
speed, were mere trifles.  Thus Bill lay motionless on the ground;
the horse, a Clyde, was breathing but foundered.  "That horse," Abe
said to himself, "will never get up again."  From the south-west,
two teams were returning. . . .  Precious time would be lost in the
yard; for the colt he was riding could not stand the pace.  With
his eyes, Abe searched for the gate of the pasture; the trail was
winding; he wanted to strike a straight line.

Nicoll and Horanski were in the pasture.  What in the world were
they doing?  Then he understood.  Bill had shouted to them in
passing; they were catching Old Sire for him.  Old Sire was an
ancient racehorse, a hard and fast rider, recently acquired for a
debt which Blake had owed him, an old loafer at Morley who attended
all municipal race-meets.

Now they had him; and Nicoll was running for the gate to open it.
Abe neither veered nor stopped.  The moment he passed through the
gate, he vaulted off the colt and ran on with the gathered
momentum.  In half a dozen bounds he reached Old Sire, the bony
iron-grey, and was on his back.  Horanski, with a swing of his arm,
threw the halter-shank aloft; and, the horse already gripping the
ground, the line hit Abe across his face like a whip.  In less than
a minute the horse doubled his speed.  Never before had Abe asked a
horse to give him the very last of his strength; but Old Sire
caught the infection as though memories of the racetrack had
returned to him.  The far gate of the pasture was open; but Abe
held the horse at right angles to the fence which he took at a
leap.

Straight on, over barley stubble, till they reached Abe's east
line.  Again Old Sire took the fence; and they were on the prairie.
In five minutes they made Nicoll's Corner.  Then south over the
culvert.

Everything seemed quiet and peaceful.  The sun seemed to stand
still over the plain, his heatless rays bronzed even here.  Chaff
and dust from many threshing fields had spread over all this world.

Ahead, at Hilmer's Corner, there was a congestion.  North of the
bridge stood a wagon or two; between the road and Hilmer's yard
half a dozen horses were grazing.  From the yard, an old woman
stared dully at the man who came tearing along.  Beyond, one wagon
on the bridge; three, four farther on.  To the west, a car in the
ditch.

A moment later, Abe saw it all.  Pole and neck-yoke of the wagon on
the bridge were trailing; the horses had been unhitched.  Beyond,
Bill's empty wagon barred the road.  The load north of the bridge
was Nawosad's; and as Abe vaulted to the ground, the Ukrainian
stepped aside.  Abe ran past him.

On the culvert, a group of men were crouching or kneeling to the
right of the wagon.  The first was Anderson; on the far side was
Hilmer, looking strangely stern.  Between them, Dr. Vanbruik, on
his knees, bending over the motionless body of Abe's child which
lay between the wheels, for it had not been moved.  Below the bare
ribs of the chest was a horrible depression, discoloured; even the
doctor averted his eyes as he applied the stethoscope.

Abe felt, saw, heard nothing.  Yet he asked a question.

Without looking up, Dr. Vanbruik shrugged a shoulder.

Mechanically Abe repeated his question.  "Dead, you say?"

The doctor gave him a brief, direct look and bent down again.

Abe, feeling the ground giving way beneath him, walked blindly on
to the end of the culvert, staggered through the ditch, took a few
steps over the open prairie, and fell forward on his face. . . .

An hour later, Charlie's body was taken home in Bill's wagon.  The
lads from the field who had arrived followed on horseback.  The
load which the boy was to have taken to town was pushed to the side
of the road.  At a word from the doctor, Anderson had returned to
town to fetch Mrs. Vanbruik.  At Nicoll's Corner his car caught up
with the procession and passed it in silence.

In the yard, they were met by Ruth, Mary Vanbruik, and the three
children.  The girls were crying; Jim stood pale and silent, awed
by the fact that never again would he tease Charlie, nor Charlie
him.

Ruth did not cry; but her face was tragically set and hollow when
Anderson carried the body past her, up the steps, through the hall,
and into the great living-room of the house where he placed it on
the chesterfield.  Nobody was in a condition to say anything.
Nobody even asked how the thing had happened till many days later.

In the field, Nicoll took charge.  Abe sat about as though his mind
were affected.  Dr. Vanbruik went to Somerville to attend to the
formalities.  Old Mrs. Crane was sent for to lay the body out.

Mary Vanbruik stayed with Ruth.  All neighbours who had not already
been working for Abe came to help, even Wheeldon; and it was from
the threshing field that the doctor finally pieced the story
together.

Charlie and Bill had been approaching Hilmer's culvert at the same
time, Charlie from the north, Bill from the south, with Bill a
trifle nearer to it than Charlie.  But the culvert could be crossed
by only one wagon at a time; and the boy, seeing that Bill, with
his empty wagon had the advantage over him, had, half in jest,
urged his horses into a brisker pace, swinging the loose ends of
their lines over their backs.  Bill, wishing to let the boy win the
race, had held his horses in.  But at both ends of the culvert the
many haulings had worn away the earth; so that a vehicle going at
any speed was bound to hit the timbers of the bridge with a jolt;
and the horses, knowing that, with the boy urging them on, had
taken the incline at a bound.  When the jolt came, the child had
been thrown up into the air; and, the wagon below him being
retarded, he had lost his seat and fallen between horses and wagon.
Bill, from the far end of the culvert, had been yelling frantically,
"Whoa, whoa, there!"  And the horses, knowing his voice and seeing
him blocking the road, had stopped; but not till the front wheels
had passed over Charlie's body, just below the ribs.

Death, Dr. Vanbruik said when he had been called by Hilmer, had
been instantaneous.




PART II

The District




THIRTEEN

The Prairie


The years went by.

Abe had been stunned; but it did not show in his work.  It was true
that he pursued it in a grim and cheerless way, unaffected by the
things stirring every one else to his depths: the events of the
war.

For a while he had been inclined to do as Ruth had wished him to
do: to give everything up and to go away; it was Ruth who had kept
him from following the impulse.  Then he had voiced an intention of
withdrawing at least from his public duties; that step, Dr.
Vanbruik had dissuaded him from taking.  At last, as if driven by a
force which lashed him on, he had resumed his work at a pace which
appalled his neighbours.  He had bought a threshing machine and
added more labour to the load he was carrying already; but he had
soon found that the thresherman's trade and the farmer's business
were incompatible.  While he threshed others' crops, his own fall-
ploughing remained undone; in spring, the work was gone through in
a rush; nothing was done as it should have been done.  In the third
year of the war, he showed a return of his old shrewdness by
selling his outfit at peak price and realizing a profit.

Incidentally he had begun to read.  One of the things which make up
the fundamental web of life--that background of life which no so-
called progress can change--had bidden him halt on his way; and as
he realized that, his old preoccupations had suddenly seemed
futile.  When all a man's gifts have been bent on the realization
of material and realizable ends, the time is bound to come, unless
he fails, when he will turn his spiritual powers against himself
and scoff at his own achievements.

If, at one time, he had thought that machines were going to bring
the millennium, he came to see now that the machine itself is
nothing; what is needed is the mechanical mentality; and that he
did not have.  The use of machines might "pay" in a money sense; it
did not pay in terms of human life.  The thing done is nothing: the
doing everything.  He began to formulate such things to himself; he
tried to find how he felt about things and to put that feeling into
words.

He also listened more patiently to others, trying to get their
point of view.  He became intimate with his brother-in-law.  Often
he went to town to talk to him though he never stayed long.
Perhaps it was partly because Mary and Ruth had found a way of
getting along with each other.

Every time a new contingent went overseas from the municipality,
Abe saw them off, not with a speech as might have been expected
from the reeve; but a look here, a pressure of the hand there were
worth more than a speech.  Throughout the municipality there were
people now who, when Abe was attacked--as he often was, for he
carried things with a high hand--rallied to his defence and
silenced his opponents.

Between Ruth and Abe a new relationship had sprung up.  It arose
from the mutual recognition of the right of every human being to
live his own life.  Ruth encouraged Abe in the very things which
she had once opposed, proposing innovations and improvements in
house and farm; and Abe recognized this yielding of her spirit to
his or to what she still thought was his.  Abe gave her a free hand
with regard to the children.  Marion, the older girl, was, in 1917,
sent to the high school at Somerville where she boarded out, of
course; Jim and Frances were still attending the district school;
but already it was understood that Jim was to join Marion if at
last he passed his entrance to high school examinations.  He was a
year older than Marion but behind her in school.

As for the children, Abe felt lost.  At first, after Charlie's
death, he had borne them an outright grudge because they lived
when the boy was dead.  In 1915, he had one day come upon the three
as they were playing on the lawn east of the house.  He had given no
more than a glance; but it had produced an utter silence.  As Abe
passed on, Jim and Frances had resumed their game; but Marion,
twelve years old, had withdrawn behind the old house to cry.  A
distant bond had established itself between him and this older girl:
she resembled Charlie.  "When his ambitions were realized . . ." Abe
had thought in the past.  They were realized; but there was still
much to think about, though it was of a different kind these days.

The farm?  It had lost its right to exist.  Yet Abe enlisted Jim's
help in spring and fall.  Since Hilmer, Shilloe, and Nawosad had in
a modest way become prosperous; since Hartley had turned agent,
selling brooms and brushes now; since Bill Crane and others, lured
by a soldier's pay and a separation allowance, had enlisted, while
conscription had claimed the younger men, outside help could simply
not be had any longer.  Immigration had ceased; and that was the
reason why the old house had never been moved.  Now even Horanski
had filed a "cancellation claim" on the school quarter where Blaine
had squatted down years ago.

Blaine and Horanski had come to a mutually profitable arrangement,
for Blaine was willing to pay for the lot on which his cottage
stood.  The current year, 1918, was the last which Horanski was to
spend on Abe's farm.  Yet Abe gave the problem little thought.  The
children, he felt, would drift away; for whom should he go on
working on that large scale on which he had worked in the past?  He
would retrench.

He had other things to think of.  Often, strangers wondered when
they saw him; occasionally Ruth shook her head.

He would stand at a corner of his huge house and look closely at
brick and mortar.  It was five years since the house had been
built.  Five years only!  Yet already little sand grains embedded
in the mortar were crumbling away; already the edges of the bricks
were being rounded by a process of weathering.  When he bent and
looked closely at the ground, near the wall, he saw a thin layer of
red dust mixed with those sand grains.  The weathering process
would go on and on; and what would come of it?  Dr. Vanbruik told
him of the clay mounds covering the sites of ancient Babylonian
cities, loaning him a book or two on excavations.  The moment a
work of man was finished, nature set to work to take it down again.
A queer thought, that.  And so with everything, with his machines,
his field, his pool; they were all on the way of being levelled to
the soil again.  What would happen when the supply of iron ores was
exhausted?  For that supply had its limits.  This great mechanical
age was bound to come to an end; and the resources of the planet
would be scattered all over its surface.

Abe looked about and seemed to see for the first time.  There were
his wind-breaks, tall, rustling trees, full-grown: poplars
interspersed with spruces, maturing.  They would age and decay and
die; already some showed black knots of disease; others, their bark
having burst, grew huge buttresses resembling proud flesh.  They
would die and decay; unless they reseeded themselves as they seemed
to do; then they would spread and conquer his fields and the
prairie, converting it into a forest-clad plain.  Yet, if that
prairie were capable of bearing a forest, would not the forest have
invaded it long ago?

Even the prairie was engaged in a process which would do away with
it.  Abe looked at the ditches running full of a muddy flood; and
his mind lost itself in the mysteries of cosmic change.

Sometimes, on his way from Somerville, when he came from a meeting
of the council, or from having taken Marion back to school--his
mind seemed to hover over the landscape as in flight.

There was the Somerville Line which passed through the village of
Morley, hesitating on its way, forming something like the node in
the stem of a plant, to run on again, to the west.  Man's work!

North of that line--in the past it had been the same south of it--
stretched the flat prairie, unique in America.  The exceedingly
slight slope with which it drained northeast to the river was
hardly perceptible; it amounted to less than a foot in a mile.  To
the casual glance, it seemed flat as a table-top.  No native
irregularity, whether of soil accumulation or plant growth, broke
its monotony.  Whatever relieved the sky-line was man's work.  The
only native growth was the long, slender prairie grass which, in a
summer breeze, gave the surface of the soil the appearance of a
sheet of watered silk.

Once the buffalo had roamed here, supplying the eye with contours
to rest on; they had been replaced by these scattered homes of man.
A phenomenon characteristic of this prairie, though not restricted
to it, lent it some interest: the frequency of mirages.  Often a
distant strip of land was lifted above the horizon like a low-flung
cloud; a town or a group of farmsteads, ordinarily hidden behind
the intervening shoulder of the world, stood up clearly against the
whitish sky which only overhead shaded off into a pale blue.  The
strip of featureless air between the mirage and the solid earth
below was of that silvery, polished whiteness which we see
otherwise only in the distant mirror of a smooth sheet of water.

On this prairie, near things often seemed to be distant--a haystack
no more than a quarter of a mile away loomed gigantic as though
separated from the eye by two or three miles.  Far things,
especially such as in themselves loomed high--the huge storage
granaries along the railways, for instance--seemed near.  In
certain states of the atmosphere, the layered air worked like a
lens: roofs five, six miles away showed details of construction as
though magnified by the glass.

Far in the west, a low swinging line indicated the series of hills
which, geologists tell us, once formed the shore of the lake whose
bottom has become the prairie.  Occasionally, though rarely--mostly
prior to one of the major storms of the summer season--these hills,
too, seemed lifted and drawn nearer, but without the silvery strip
below which was characteristic of the mirages on the unbroken
prairie.

In the particular section where Abe's life as chronicled here
unfolded itself, a traveller might, at the time, have gone in an
east-west direction for a hundred miles without finding the
slightest change in the essentials of the landscape.  Two railway
lines had been built, both branching from the international trunk
line which ran roughly north-south, parallel to the highway.  Both
turned west in almost straight lines, twenty-five miles apart,
till, at the foot of the western hills, they joined in a loop.
Both were strung with towns at intervals of ten or twelve miles.
From a distance, all looked alike, their salient features
consisting in the tall, spire-like elevators which dominate western
landscapes everywhere; below them clustered a few stores, a few
dozen dwellings, and such groups or lines of trees as the aesthetic
sense of their inhabitants had impelled them to plant.

But had such a traveller chosen to go from north to south, he would
have been arrested at regular intervals by those enormous ditches,
all running parallel to each other and sloping, at the rate of four
feet in a mile, towards the river which bounds this steppe of the
prairie in the east.  To those who lived here, these ditches were
of importance not only because they were the only means which
enabled them to grow their crops by carrying away the water which
once flooded the prairie for months at a stretch; but also because
they determined the distances which the settler had to travel when
going from one point to another not in exactly the same latitude.
They could be crossed only where bridges were provided, which was
once in four miles.  People might be neighbours, their yards
separated by nothing but a ditch; yet they might have to travel
four miles to get from one farm to the other.

Even at the time these man-made diggings impressed the beholder who
came from a distance, with perceptions undulled by familiarity--and
it was less than twenty years since they had been dug--like the
prehistoric remains of a system devised by some mightier race gone
to its accountings; so completely had the prairie grass obliterated
the traces of the tools used in their excavation.

Altogether it is even to-day a landscape which in spite of the ever
encroaching settlements of man, seems best to be appreciated by a
low, soaring flight, as by that of the marsh-hawk so commonly seen
in the open season.  Wild life is little abundant.  Gophers--even
they are rare--field mice, an occasional rabbit, meadow-larks,
blackbirds--especially the redwing--and ground sparrows, in
addition to hawks and burrowing owls, pretty well exhaust the
native share of the vertebrate orders.  Insects are represented by
a few butterflies and enormous numbers of beetles and crickets--
subterranean kinds--with clouds upon clouds of mosquitoes in spring
and early summer.  Birds that are recent immigrants congregate
about towns and farms surrounded by wind-breaks.

Owing to the peculiar difficulties of drainage with which the
farmer has to contend, man remains distinctly an interloper; the
floods, though tamed, have not been done away with by the ditches;
and in places these ditches have furnished the soil for willow-
thickets which are choking them up.  True, where the water once
used to stand for months, it now stood only for weeks, at least in
those elusive seasons which farmers call normal; but these weeks
came toward the end of April and often the beginning of May when
seeding was in full swing elsewhere; and the land, being the
lowest, except in the far north, of the prairie provinces, seems to
attract early frosts which hinder the due maturing of the grains
when seeding was delayed by the flood in spring.

Such as live here, brought by those accidents of choice which
commonly determine location in a new country: the nearness to the
western metropolis, the possibility of breaking large tracts
without the previous labour of clearing away stumps or stones, the
vicinity of friends or relations, or lastly a predilection for this
peculiar, melancholy landscape, bred into the blood by some atavism
of sentimental tendency, are developing what is so far exceedingly
rare on this cosmopolitan continent, namely, a distinct local
character and mentality.

If they have lived here for some time, a decade or longer, and have
stayed on in the face of all the inevitable and unforeseen
discouragements and difficulties, so that the landscape has had
time to enforce in them a reaction to its own character, they seem
slow, deliberate, earth-bound.  In their features lingers something
wistful; in their speech, something hesitating, groping, almost
deprecatory and apologetic; in their silences, something almost
eloquent.

It is a landscape in which, to him who surrenders himself, the
sense of one's life as a whole seems always present, birth and
death being mere scansions in the flow of a somewhat debilitated
stream of vitality.  It is not surprising, then, that, physical
facts notwithstanding, the difference in the mood produced by day
or night, or by summer or winter, seems less pronounced than
elsewhere.  True, the average day is hot in summer; and the night
is cold.  But the discomfort caused by the heat does not seem
essentially different from the discomfort caused by the cold; the
effect of both partakes of the effect of a lid placed over slow
ebullition.  Perhaps the time best fitted to bring out the
characteristic impression of the landscape is neither noon nor
midnight but the first grey dawn of day, especially a dull day; or
the first dim dusk of night, that dusk in which horizons become
blurred and the height of human buildings seems diminished.  And
similarly the time of year most in harmony with the scene is
neither summer nor winter; but rather the first few days of spring
while the snow still lies in dirty patches and, from the heights in
the west, the floods send down their first invading trickles which
follow the imperceptible hollows of the ground; or the first drear
approach of November days, with indurating winds and desolate
flurries of snow in the air.

The prevailing silence--for, apart from man's dwellings, not even
the wind finds anything to play its tunes on--is accentuated rather
than disturbed by the sibilant hum, in early summer, of the myriads
of mosquitoes that haunt the air, bred in stagnant pools, and the
shrill notes, in the early autumn, of the swarm of black crickets
that literally cover the soil.  That silence, like the flat
landscape itself, has something haunted about it, something almost
furtive. . . .

Abe, now that he was becoming conscious of this landscape at last,
and of its significance, could at first hardly understand that he,
of all men, should have chosen this district to settle in, though
it suited him well enough now.  But even that became clear.  He had
looked down at his feet; had seen nothing but the furrow; had
considered the prairie only as a page to write the story of his
life upon.  His vision had been bounded by the lines of his farm;
his farm had been floated on that prairie as the shipwright floats
a vessel on the sea, looking not so much at the waves which are to
batter it as at the fittings which secure the comfort of those
within.  But such a vessel may be engulfed by such a sea.

When, these days, he approached his place, the place built to
dominate the prairie, he succumbed to the illusion that he who had
built it was essentially different from him who had to live in it.
More and more the wind-break surrounding his yard seemed to be a
rampart which, without knowing it, he had erected to keep out a
hostile world.  Occasionally the great house seemed nothing less
than a mausoleum to enshrine the memory of a child.

Abe felt defeated; at least in so far as he was what he had been;
perhaps that defeat would slowly become apparent to the outside
world.  But the world defeats only him who has already been
defeated in his heart.  And was it a defeat?  He was changing his
aim; that aim was now to live on, not in a material sense, through
his economic achievement, but in what he did for district and
municipality.  No rural school of the west had ever been guided
like his; no municipality had weathered the war like that of
Somerville.  As far as his economic ambitions went, he had reached
his goal.  He might go on making money; what for?  Material
aspirations meant nothing.  He had the house; and he found no
pleasure in it.  For fifteen years he had dreamed of what he would
do when he had it; now it seemed useless.

Economically, the war had been hard on him.  The price of wheat had
been fixed for the farmer; for nobody else had the price of
anything been fixed; by legislation, the farmer had been the prey
of all preying interests.  Everybody else in the district felt the
same way; nobody was surprised at the fact that Abe had arrested
progress.  He was biding his time.  For outwardly he had changed
little.  He had replaced his ageing bronchos by another driving
team, still more magnificent.  When he drove to town, he sat as
straight in buggy or sleigh as ever.  He spoke as little; whatever
he had to say was always concerned with business; and it was always
said to the point.

Abe was well-to-do.  Did he not show it by the way in which his
children were dressed?  Was not Marion, at Somerville, paying
thirty dollars a month for her board?  Abe might be a little
heavier and older.  He was as headstrong as ever.  Was he not
running school and district?

How was it, then, that he was more and more discussed?  That it was
necessary for his friends to contradict such assertions as that he
was "land poor," that he had sunk his wealth in the soil which,
sooner or later, he would find himself unable to till?  That the
time was coming when he would have to withdraw from the offices
which he held?  That others would shortly take hold?



FOURTEEN

The Changing District


The fact was there was unrest in the district; and that unrest was
greatly increased by the coming of another settler.  The story of
John Elliot's coming was that of the rise in the price of flax.

Throughout the years of the war, flax had shown erratic tendencies;
now its price was soaring towards a peak.  John Elliot had
repeatedly appeared in the district to look things over.  He was a
short, stout, round-shouldered man of thirty, with a round, full
face, tanned brick-red from his eyebrows down; above that line, his
bulging forehead was white, protected by a wide-brimmed sombrero.
He had been farming in the short-grass country of Saskatchewan, a
wheat district pure and simple.  He seemed to have money and an
equipment superior to that of any one but Abe; and he was what Abe
was not, a "mixer."  Though he was ugly--his mouth was large, and
his nether lip shovel-shaped and pendent--he made friends at once.
He was always laughing and joking, displaying gold-filled teeth.
Even while travelling, he wore a white-and-blue checked shirt and a
pair of cotton trousers; and somehow he conveyed the impression
that he was too well off to need the appearance of prosperity.

He wanted land; and flax land at that.  Nearly the whole district
was flax land; and plenty of it was available.  The trouble was
that a man could homestead only a hundred and sixty acres.  "Do you
think I'd be satisfied with a measly quarter?  I want a half at the
least.  Any of you fellows willing to sell?  Good night, boys.
Nothing doing.  Not for me.  What's that?  Hudson's Bay land?
Where?"

The south half and north-west quarter of section twenty-six,
opposite Hilmer's Corner, were vacant; and these three quarters,
like Abe's north section, were part of that twentieth of land which
was left to the Company when they surrendered their sovereignty.

"Ye-es," John Elliot said.  That might suit him.

But land values had gone up since the war.  Abe had bought his
section for three thousand six hundred dollars.  Now the price was
four thousand dollars a quarter section.  Time to pay in?  Pay ten
per cent down; the balance within thirty years.

One day somebody picked up the news at Somerville that a deal had
been struck.  Rumour, always willing to believe what flatters the
interests of the many, had it that Elliot had paid spot cash for
the land; but a private loan company registered a mortgage on the
land which amounted to three thousand dollars more than the
purchase price.

Still, it was staggering.  Twenty years ago the site of a farm had
not been worth taking; right now a quarter section could be had for
the asking.  And just because one quarter section was not enough
for this man, he bought three quarters for twelve thousand dollars.
As always in a boom so called, a temporary, disproportionate, and
unjustified rise in price was taken for permanent; a condition that
was bound to produce the corresponding slump.

"By gosh!" Wheeldon said at Nicoll's Corner.  "What's the bright
idea?"

"High finance," Henry Topp replied.

"The idea is flax," said Stanley.

Henry's brother Dave, invalided home during the previous winter,
nodded in that peculiar way which he had brought back from overseas
and which made people say that "he was not all there" any longer.

Nicoll, too, rarely smiled these days; his eldest boy Tom had been
killed in action.  "I suppose the man knows what he's doing."

And Stanley shrugged his armless shoulder.  "If the war lasts--"

At which more than one head nodded; and everybody resolved that
next year he, too, was going to "take a shot at flax."

"Look here," Wheeldon said into the silence.  "The fellow's got
children.  We should have him on the school board."

The silence of the others remained unbroken.  Everybody knew
that Wheeldon was driving at.  As soon as the war was over,
consolidation was going to be an issue throughout the ward.  More
and more children in Spalding District had reached or were about to
reach high-school age.  As elsewhere in the Canadian west it was an
ever-present problem what to do with or for adolescent children.
There was land a-plenty; but it takes money to start a boy.  Hiring
out on the farm did not pay, though Horanski was drawing fifty
dollars a month and had land for garden and potato patch, milk, and
fuel besides.  In the city and in construction camps a man could
earn three or four dollars a day.  Shilloe's and Nawosad's eldest
boys had gone.  Bill Stanley and the third Nicoll boy, Stan, made
no secret of it that, if they returned from the wars, they had no
intention of going back to the farm.  And it was worse for the
girls; for opportunities to get married were lacking: with half the
youth of the country dead in Flanders or disabled at home, it
seemed imperative that parents should train their daughters to make
a living of their own.  If a high-school education were within
reach, girls could be nurses or teachers.  Teachers' salaries were
rising; and it was easy to become a teacher.  A hundred dollars a
month was being paid!

Years ago Abe had put in a good word for the plan of consolidating
half a dozen rural districts into one educational centre at Morley;
but incomprehensibly he had turned against the scheme, without
volunteering reasons for his change of front.  It took Nicoll's
stubborn loyalty not to abandon an allegiance thus sorely tried.

Ever since Spalding District had been formed Abe had sat in the
chair; and Nicoll had been secretary-treasurer.  The third position
on the board had been successively filled by Hartley, Stanley, and
Wheeldon.  As soon as Wheeldon was naturalized he had tried to have
himself elected; but there had been a feeling that it was best not
to embarrass Abe.  At last, however, Abe himself had said, "Put him
in office.  Let him air his complaints at the meetings of the
board.  If he can convince one of us, he will have his way."  Since
his election, business had been conducted in a more formal manner.
Thus, in the spring of 1917, Nicoll had been in need of a small sum
of money due to him for having taken the census of the district;
and Abe had simply signed the cheque.  Wheeldon had kicked up a
row.  Such accounts must be passed at a regular meeting of the
board.  "Not," he said to Nicoll, "that I grudge you the cheque.
You'd have got it anyway.  But it isn't business; and it isn't
legal."  He was right; but in the rush of seeding it was
inconvenient to hold a meeting.  Most ratepayers considered the
matter a trifle not worth the ado that was being made about it.
Yet Wheeldon was beginning to have a following: Hartley, Henry
Topp, and others.

The issue of consolidation was going to become acute as soon as
peace came.  If, therefore, Wheeldon suggested that John Elliot
should be on the board, it could have only one meaning: that he
should take Spalding's place.  The district was growing; McCrae
would move in when he returned from overseas; Horanski would have
the vote when he left Abe.  Others were looking for land; and as
new settlers moved in, Spalding's prestige would wax or wane
according to the attitude of the older settlers with regard to him.
Already Wheeldon considered himself as one of the founders of the
community.  A priority of five or ten years in the date of
settlement became negligible in the consideration of seniority.

"While I'm single," said Henry Topp, "I don't give a tinker's
damn."

"That's where you're wrong," Wheeldon replied.  "That's not what
_I_ call citizenship!"  That word was just becoming the slogan of
the hour.

"Oh well," Henry drawled, "I'll act the fool and make you laugh."
And the way in which he danced his shoulders and moved his fingers,
as though playing an accordion, did fetch a laugh from the meeting.

Other things troubled the district.  Since Bill Stanley had gone to
the wars, against his father's wish, yes, defying his orders, the
latter had become filled with missionary zeal.  The world as it was
was going to come to an end; and the kingdom of God on earth was
going to be established.  He and others of his creed, he said, had
long prophesied the coming of that war which was shaking the
foundations of the present world.  By strange interpretations of
certain passages in Holy Writ he was pointing out that the course
of events in Europe had been predicted hundreds of years before the
birth of Christ.  Though nobody could follow his exegesis or
believe in his prophecies, he succeeded in stirring the district
into metaphysical shivers.  Especially David Topp, who, since the
war, had become quiet and introspective, gave himself over to
silent and melancholy musings.  "We must better our lives!  We must
live more closely in accordance with what our Lord preached when He
walked on earth!"  Such things he said in a tense and laboured
voice and with unalterable conviction.  His preachments, as people
called them, made the more impression since they came from a
brother of the man who remained an absolute scoffer.  David spoke
of his intention of leaving Henry to his perdition and breaking up
the partnership of the brothers.

Shilloe, Nawosad, Horanski attended meetings at Morley where a
preacher from the city conducted services in Anderson's shop; for
the two churches in town were closed to what many called a freak
religion.

Hartley and Wheeldon did not take sides in the endless discussions.
But Hilmer made long trips on Sundays to attend such services as
were held in his own church in the so-called Reserve.

While most of the settlers listened when Stanley talked, awed
though unconvinced, Henry Topp contradicted.  "That's all nonsense!
Talk of the soul.  There ain't no such thing.  Ask any doctor.
They've searched men's bodies.  They haven't even found the seat of
the soul."

"Exactly!  If they had, the soul might be physical; but it isn't."

Perhaps Nicoll was most profoundly disquieted; he had always been
given to metaphysical speculation.  Yet he adhered to conclusions
arrived at long ago.  "I don't know what the soul is.  But as it
arises with the growth of the body, it must disappear with death.
If it were to continue for ever, it could not have had a beginning
either."

"Like everywhere else," Stanley argued, "it was created.  And like
everything else it will remain unless god uncreates it.  All those
who refuse to listen God will destroy.  But those who find truth
will be called into the kingdom.  Millions now living will never
die." . . .

Horanski still lived on Abe's place; but he broke a small field on
his own quarter, seeding it to barley.  Jim stayed at home for
three weeks to help Abe; and Ruth raised no objection.  Throughout
the district new land was broken; and Abe did not even look for
additional help.  He, Horanski, and Jim did what they could; and
the rest remained undone.  He enlarged his pasture, seeding down a
wide strip of his fields.  Every one experimented with flax; but
Abe did not.

After seeding John Elliot reappeared.  He was not going to move out
that summer after all; he had been unable to sell his place in
Saskatchewan.  This fact lost him part of his prestige.  Still, he
walked and talked as if he meant business, and as if, once ready,
he would do unheard-of things.  As for the price he had paid for
his land, that was nothing; one crop--what HE'D call a crop--would
pay it off.

When Wheeldon heard that he was in town, he hunted him up.  "Too
bad," he said, "you aren't coming at once.  There's an election
ahead.  For the school board.  You'd be our man."

"You bet."  John Elliott pushed his sombrero back on the huge,
sandy-haired dome of his almost bald skull, inserted his thumbs in
the loops of his braces, and, splitting his face by a broad,
exaggerated smile, "I'm the natural chairman."

"What about consolidation?"

"Ye-es.  I've heard.  I'm in favour.  Who's not?"

"That's the point," Wheeldon said.  "There'll be opposition.  This
district's been run for many years by one single man."

"Spalding?"  John Elliot stretched himself in an endeavour to look
down on Wheeldon who, however, was but slightly shorter than he.

"That's the man."

"Well-l-l," Elliot drawled, in that way which made people doubt
whether he meant what he said, "we'll have to take him down a
notch, I suppose.  You don't mean to say consolidation's an issue
now?"

"Not while the war lasts."

"Don't worry.  That war'll last another year or two.  If it doesn't
you'll see me here in a hurry.  I'll build a shack this fall."

"Will you be able to sell out west?"

"Like a shot!" Elliot said, raising a finger and slanting his head.
"When the war stops, there'll be a rush to the land."

And, soon after, carpenters began to erect a barn on Elliot's land.

Every step was watched by Mrs. Grappentin, who was alone with her
son, the two children having gone to live with cousins of theirs;
of her husband, the last thing reported--told by herself--was that
he had fetched a team of oxen from her farm; these he had promptly
sold at Somerville for what they would bring.  Mrs. Grappentin had
been compelled to insert a notice in the town paper that she would
not be responsible for debts contracted by the man.  She herself
continued to visit in the district, retailing gossip in broken
English.

"Yes," she said, "a good thing, this.  That man Elliot moving in.
A fine man he.  A man of understanding and wealth.  And not proud.
Such a barn he is building!  Three-inch lumber throughout!  Bigger
than the barns on the other place.  As big as the two together."

Which, however, nobody with eyes in his head could credit.  It was
apparent that it would not be larger than half of one of Abe's
barns.

The fact was that Abe had begun to weigh like a substantial shadow
on the district.  Did not Stanley have as nice a house as one could
wish to have?  A rectangular structure with a bay window in the
south wall and a porch at the corner, pleasantly painted white,
with roof, doors, and windows brown.  He, too, had planted trees;
and he had a good barn, a granary and a hen-house.  But his hens
did not lay by electricity.

A granary Wheeldon did not have so far; nor had he planted trees;
and his house was only oiled, not painted.  But he was a good
farmer.  With some people he would have carried more weight had he
not been jealous.  "He hates Spalding," Stanley observed to Nicoll.
"Not because Spalding is rich; but because he is tall and broad.
When Spalding is around, Wheeldon feels like a pup.  I'm not a
small man myself; and if we didn't have Spalding, I believe
Wheeldon would make ME a present of his dislike."  Nicoll laughed.
With him, it was a matter of personal pride that everybody's
achievement was measured by Abe's.

So, when at the end of the summer another prospective settler
looked the district over and found his way to Nicoll, asking where
he might pick up second-hand lumber to build stable and shack, he
referred him to Abe.  For Abe still had the old house, crowding
against the new one and detracting, in a rear view, from its
impressiveness.

This new man became the butt of all jokes in the district.  His
name was Schweigel; and he was a Jew, well known in the settlements
south of the Line where he had been a pedlar for a decade.  He was
fat, round-faced, with the hands of a plump woman.  When he spoke,
he held these hands clasped in front of his face, waving them
forward and backward to give emphasis to his shrill, piping voice.
He was always imploring whomever he happened to talk to, either to
give information or to sell at a less exacting price whatever he
had to spare.  In this, he was extraordinarily successful, for
people almost gave him what he wanted, taking out part of their
price in laughing at him.  He came with a horse lame on three legs
and kicking with the fourth at each step while drawing the skeleton
of a spring wagon on top of which, in a long coat of raw hide,
perched the Jew.  A Jew farmer was in himself a novelty; but Moses
Schweigel supplied inexhaustible mirth.

For some reason Henry Topp, in speaking of him for the first time,
called him Itzig; and in spite of the passionate protests of the
man the name stuck.  Over and over he would spell and pronounce his
real name; Henry provoked him to do so.  "What is that confounded
doggone, Yiddish name of yours, Itzig?"  And Schweigel spelt it,
lisping the sibilant.  Henry could hardly suppress his laughter,
for the Jew pronounced every letter with the fervency of prayer.
"And how do you pronounce that gibberish?"--"Shou-i-gel!"--"Well,"
Henry said, "that's too twisted for my outlandish tongue, Itzig."
Whenever Schweigel heard that name, he lifted his hands as though
stung by a needle.

He had filed on the south-west quarter of twenty-seven, west of
Hilmer's, much to Mrs. Grappentin's disgust; and with only two
horses, both crippled, he managed to break a patch of ten acres.
Out of half of Abe's old house he put together a small hut in which
he lived with a beautiful young woman and two little children
"pretty as angels"; his stable fitted the two crippled horses like
a glove, people said.  As for feed, he was not ashamed to beg it:
an armful here, a few trusses there, carrying them home on his back
in a ragged sheet of canvas; and soon he had a little stack.
Whenever, on these trips, he passed Hilmer's Corner, Mrs.
Grappentin, standing in door or gate, shouted abuse at the bent
figure under its load.  "Look at the yellow one!  Taking home what
he did not work for!"  Yet, as for work, nobody slaved as
indefatigably as he; and scarcely had the weather, in the fall,
become the least bit inclement, when he was out again with his
little wagon, clad in his long, loose horse-hide coat, with the
mangy hair outside, and drove amazing distances to buy eggs and
fowls to ship to the city, making a handsome profit on each
transaction.

Horanski, too, built a shack before threshing time, using the
remainder of the lumber from Abe's old house.  That shack, of two
rooms, stood in the extreme south-west corner of his land.  Several
of his children being still of school age, he was favourably
placed.

Finally, just before the armistice, young McCrae turned up; and
before the freeze-up he had his place fenced.  A neat, shed-like
shack was built which, however, he did not occupy during the
winter.

With all these new settlers coming in, it was doubtful how things
would stand should it come to a "show-down" between Spalding and
Wheeldon.  That such a decision was at hand, nobody doubted any
longer.



FIFTEEN

Abe's Household


It would have been hard to tell whether the metaphysical
disquietudes that rippled through the district found an echo in
Abe.  He had never taken part in the discussions.  He had kept
himself to himself.  Instinctively he despised the intellectual
powers of most of the "crowd."  But he brooded; and in his
broodings he sought help from his brother-in-law and old man
Blaine.  Their conversations were all of a type.

Sometimes he went through the great house, speaking to no one, his
face clouded.  Ruth respected that privacy which his mood seemed to
demand.  Absently he looked at this or that; at the furniture--
chesterfield, arm-chairs, and rug--of the living-room which reached
across the whole front of the building, only the hall being taken
out; or at the dining-room in the centre of the house; at the "den"
where his little desk stood, with three or four shelves full of
books and a library table strewn with papers; even at pantry and
kitchen behind.  Then he turned and entered the hall where there
were hooks for hats and coats and a gun-rack with two guns which
had never been used since Charlie had first started to go to
school--for even in the fall when a steer and two pigs had to be
killed for winter meat Abe had always left the farm for the day,
hiring the butcher at Morley to do the work.  And ultimately he
went upstairs to look into room after room, winding up at the east
room which was locked.

For a while he hesitated at the door; but at last he unlocked it,
entered, and looked about in the half light, blinds and curtains
being drawn; at the bed, still made up; at the chest of drawers
which still held a boy's clothing; at the open cupboard by the
window where a few books stood, a few toys lay about, and a few
curiosities were arranged in a sort of display: stones found on the
prairie, plants dried and pressed, half decayed now, bird feathers,
and a football which Abe always touched as if to make sure that it
had long since become soft.

Having finished his round, he went to the barn and hitched his
drivers to buggy or sleigh to go to town.  There he stood about in
the store and finally, having inquired whether the doctor was in,
which he rarely was, he went to his sister's house.

Mary received him at the door and asked a few questions about his
health which was always good, about Ruth and the children, and,
seeing he was in his monosyllabic mood, she said briefly, "Charles
is in the den."

Abe entered the den; and the doctor went through the ever-repeated
ceremony of clearing a chair for him.  "Sit down," he said.

They sat in silence, the doctor sucking the stem of his pipe.

"I can't understand it," Abe said with darkening brow.

The doctor did not answer at once.  When he did, his tone was
didactic; he had said the same thing so often.  "We can't know,
Abe.  But where knowledge is denied, faith comes in."

"Faith in what?"

"In whatever we have made the canon of our lives."

Another silence.  Then, "What is yours?"

"I have discarded so-called beliefs.  But there are obligations
left, the more exacting since they are not imposed from without.
Courage and fortitude; the search after truth--"

"If you can't know, what is truth?"

The doctor's small face seemed to contract.  "That which we feel to
be in harmony with the best and deepest within us."

Abe brooded.  Then, in a whisper, "Where's the kid?"

The doctor nursed the ankle of a foot with the palm of a hand.
But before he could answer, Abe had resumed, "I can see him move.
I can hear his voice.  I can feel his arm about my neck.  Where
is he?"  A silence again.  "HE!" Abe cried.  "The rest of the
body. . . ."

An hour or so later, he entered Spalding School.  Perhaps it was
five o'clock in the afternoon, and the schoolmaster was engaged in
the task of putting away maps, books, and papers used during the
day.

Abe sat down in one of the larger seats; and for minutes, while the
old man went on with his work, not a word was spoken.  Blaine, too,
had learned to recognize and respect Abe's moods.  He knew how
surcharged this giant was with perplexities.  At last Blaine sat
down, skinny, ridged hands clasped about a thin knee, huge head
bent forward, trembling on its pedicel, with the long, curly, snow-
white beard touching his thighs.  On his short, fleshy nose reposed
steel-rimmed glasses; and the ruddy cushions of flesh which formed
his cheeks seemed singularly clear-skinned and transparent.  He
stared through the windows.

Abe stirred.  "How old are you, Blaine?"

"Seventy-seven, Abe.  Getting up in years."

"Your time's coming.  Ever think of it?"

"Yes. . . .  Yes. . . ."

"Believe in an after life?"

"I don't know.  I have my doubts."

Abe looked at him.  "A man must up his mind one way or the other."

Blaine's beard trembled.  Then, slowly, "If sixty years ago my
father had heard any one say that he doubted, he would have thought
him insane or wicked.  I believe in God; but it isn't the God my
father believed in.  He's changed."

"How?"

The old man stared at his questioner.  "It's all for the best, they
say.  That doesn't go down with me."

The dreaded question came.  "Where's the kid?"

The old man flung his hand in a helpless gesture. . . .

Abe often thought of Nicoll who had lost a boy in the war, taking
his loss with great fortitude.  Was he right?  He had been right in
many things.  Nicoll was the only man who understood him, Abe.  All
the others, friend and foe, thought of him as unchanged; and they
imposed their conception of him on all who were moving in.

But not, of course, on Ruth.

As in the case of many marriages, the lines of Abe's and Ruth's
lives had neither merged nor diverged; they had run parallel.  Both
were mellowed by age and sorrow.  Just how deeply Ruth grieved, Abe
did not know; it was not his way to talk about it.  Only his
silence showed how deeply he had been moved; and he reaped what he
sowed, namely silence.

Outwardly, and that was all Abe could judge by, Ruth had made an
understanding between them very difficult.  In this house with its
polished floors, its oaken stairway, its wide, high windows, its
shiny metal appliances which saved labour and demanded it, she did
all the work herself and did it faithfully and well.  So there was
no time left to dress in; from morning till night she went about in
the same house-dresses of dark print to which she had reverted.
The two girls, especially Marion, were never behind the latest
fashions; every few months they had new dresses; no expense was
spared to make them attractive; and they were attractive.  What
little vanity Ruth might once have had she had transferred to her
children.  What did it matter how she looked herself?  No wonder
that, on the rare occasions when she went to town, or when the
Vanbruiks came to the farm, Ruth, "dressed up," looked even more
awkward, more "countrified" than on weekdays at home; she had no
taste; and her daughters were not quite old enough to guide her.

When she scanned herself in a mirror--as a rule she used it only as
an indispensable means of putting hairpins and clothes in the
approximately right places--she felt amazed at the change she had
undergone in the last twenty years.  Her massive jaw sprang forward
from a triple chin; the skin of her neck was heavily corrugated.
The line from her shoulder-blades sloped forward to the top of her
head.  On her back, the flesh bulged as much as on her bosom.  In
walking, she balanced her weight on one foot before she lifted the
other.

It was tragic that this mockery of the human form should yet be the
seat of poignant emotions.  Abe did not doubt the fact; though
tears, when he surprised her weeping, seemed facile to him.  He
withdrew: as though sorrow were a privilege reserved for himself.

But often they sat together of an evening now: Ruth sewing, Abe
reading large-tomed books.  They sat in the dining-room; both had
sat too long on straight-backed chairs to feel at ease in an arm-
chair.  Perhaps the children were doing their home-work; or they
were in bed.

Both Frances and Jim were backward in school; they did not apply
themselves; they were preparing for a life of things among which
scholarship held no place.  In the spring of 1918, Jim had tried
for the third time to pass his entrance examinations; he had failed
again.

One evening Abe spoke of that.  "He should help me on the farm.
He's no good at school."

"He can help you throughout the summer," Ruth said.  "In winter I
want him to attend."  She dropped her sewing, looking up at Abe.

"What's the use if he can't pass that examination?"

"He can go on to high school," Ruth said primly.  "I have written
to the Department of Education.  Since he lost time through work in
the field, they permit him to proceed."

Abe mused.  "If he hasn't the brains--"

"All the more does he need the schooling.  People with brains get
through life somehow; the rest need instruction."

"A novel theory," Abe said listlessly.

"I want Jim to go to Somerville next fall," Ruth went on briskly.
"If there is any trouble about the expense, I have the money."

"If it's got to be, I'll finance it, of course." . . .

Frances was still a grade behind Jim; but Blaine had said she would
be ready for high school within a year.  She was only a little over
fourteen, a very pretty girl, plump as Ruth had been, but with
Abe's fine, light hair.  She was prettiest when she was hot; her
hair assumed a natural curliness, and her pallid complexion took on
a rose tint.  When, at the beginning of summer, Marion came home
for the holidays, Abe was greatly struck by the change in her.  Her
aunt had brought her out in the car; Abe had not seen her yet when
he entered the dining-room for his supper; she looked like a
strange young woman.

She was standing in the far corner, diagonally opposite the kitchen
door through which Abe entered.  She was holding her hands behind
her back, a smile on her lips.  Abe thought the pose arranged for
effect; and the sight came indeed like a calculated surprise.  It
was the first time he saw her with her hair done up: beautiful
hair, the dark brown of her mother's when young, with golden tints
in reflected light.  Her face showed that bony, thin-fleshed grace
which had been Charlie's.  Her body, tall and slender--the opposite
of Frances's build--yet fully developed, held a note new to him in
attitude and expression.  She wore a maroon-coloured dress of light
silk, very plainly cut, too plainly for a girl of not quite
sixteen: too well adapted to display the forms of a young woman.
According to the fashion it was open at the neck and reached just
below the knee.  The sleeves, wide, transparent, revealed long,
slender arms.  She came quickly forward, put an arm about Abe's
shoulders, kissed him as he bent down, and stepped back.  "Hello,
daddy," she said with a laugh as of abated breath.  "I hope you are
well?"

"Sure," he said, sitting heavily down at the head of the table.
"Why shouldn't I be well?  What are all the lights on for?"

Marion, with a silvery laugh, switched them off.

"Well," Abe asked in the course of supper.  "Do you think you
passed in your examinations?"

"I think so, daddy."  Which was said very readily, with a note of
politeness foreign to ordinary intercourse in farmers' families.

Abe's eye was on Jim.  Where in the world did these two get their
complexions?  Both were dark-skinned, with ruddy cheeks; but Marion
had an almost Spanish morbidezza of the flesh and a velvet bloom on
ivory and red.  That thin-fleshed slenderness of facial contour,
too, they had in common.  But what was beautiful in Marion was
coarsened in Jim to an angular boniness.  Jim was the only one of
the children who promised to vie in height with his father.  At
seventeen he stood six feet tall.  But one feature of his head was
repulsive: his large, prominent ears showed a peculiar deformity:
their lobes pointed horizontally forward. . . .

The weeks went by.  In the field, Jim was as good as a man.  And,
as fall came, Abe made arrangements for the boy to board at the
same house with Marion, to attend high school at Somerville.

The crop was a failure.  Drought was the trouble this time.  In a
drought Abe suffered more than his neighbours.

Twice before Abe had lived through a crisis: never through one like
this.  It would have relieved him to speak of his worries; but a
habit of silence had established itself between man and wife.
Every year Abe had given Ruth a cheque; and since the year of the
great crop that cheque had been for a thousand dollars.  In 1917,
what with this cheque and the expense of sending Marion to
Somerville, Abe had, for the first time, found himself unable to
pay his taxes.  The payment to Ruth was in the nature of a debt of
honour on which he must not default; it had precedence over every
other demand on his purse.  He had waived all replacements on the
farm; yet, throughout the year, he had not succeeded in
straightening out his tax bill.

This fall, the wheat crop averaged eight bushels to the acre, on
five hundred acres.  The grade was low; his net income from the
crop was less than three thousand six hundred dollars.  The payment
to Ruth and the cost of having two children in town consumed half
his surplus.  Horanski who was leaving had to be paid in full.
When Abe balanced his accounts, he had less than a thousand dollars
left to see him through till next fall.  The taxes, amounting to
more than a thousand dollars a year, would have to stand over
again.

At bottom, there was nothing to worry about.  Everywhere on earth
the farmer suffers set-backs through failure of the crop.  Abe had
had two bad years in succession; it was unlikely that another would
follow.  A single fair crop--twenty bushels to the acre--would take
care of his indebtedness.  His credit at the bank was good; he had
owed money before.  The trouble was that in previous years he had
been expanding; income had been bound to increase.  He was
retrenching now; he was reorganizing his operations on a smaller
scale.  Well, his land was broken; his difficulties were momentary
only.

Abe being reeve of the municipality, the business of the
corporation had, during the last few years, rested largely in his
hands.  Throughout the war he had enforced a policy of the
strictest economy: all new road work had been postponed; nothing
had been done except what could not be left over.  Statistics
showed that no other municipality in the province was in a better
financial position.  This policy would, of course, involve an
enormous expense when the war was over.  The ditches, for instance,
would have to be looked after; for, though the province had
established the drainage system, the various municipalities had
been saddled with the cost of upkeep; and for years the council had
been aware of the fact that a considerable amount of work would
have to be done to preserve their efficiency; in various places the
banks had caved in; in others, deposits of silt choked the flow of
the water; east of Spalding District, willows had invaded the
bottom, damming all current.  For this work funds had been set
aside, invested in war bonds.  The fact that the taxes on two
sections of land were unpaid could not possibly prevent the
municipality from doing all that could be expected.  Abe would see
to that; in case of need he would go to the bank: at the worst, he
would borrow from Ruth. . . .

But that fall the war did come to an end.



SIXTEEN

The Campaign


With the armistice, the question of consolidation was an issue
overnight, a long-prepared and hard-fought issue which was to
unleash every dormant passion in the district and to divide its
population into sharply differentiated camps.  Abe forgot his
personal worries and, for the first time, came out in a partisan
fight.

How long-prepared the issue was Abe did not know till he stood in
the battle.  It became a test of the standing he had won in the
community.  At once, Wheeldon and he stood opposed as the leaders
of two hostile factions.

John Elliot had moved in, after all; the moment hostilities had
ceased in Europe, he had sold his place in Saskatchewan.  For a few
weeks the Elliots lived in a granary: John, his wife, a thin,
cityfied woman who had once been a stenographer, and their three
children, two girls and a boy.  Meanwhile a small, square cottage
was being run up by two carpenters: the Elliot glory was fading
fast.

Another new settler, a Russo-German from White Russia, moved on to
the south-west quarter of twenty-eight, a mile and a half west of
Hilmer's Corner, a short, wiry man by name of Baker, sullen and
silent, with whom nobody became acquainted to any extent.  He
brought the total of farmsteads in the district up to sixteen.
Only one settler, the youngest Topp, was still overseas, apart from
Bill Stanley who was not going to return.  Thus, since women had
received the vote, the number of electors was twenty-nine.

But the campaign reached far beyond Spalding District.  Seven
schools were involved; three north of the Somerville Line,
including the hamlet of Morley; and four south of it.  The
armistice had hardly been signed before nobody spoke of anything
but consolidation.

It went without saying that in town there was a solid majority for
the scheme.  The town had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Every prairie town is anxious to secure any building to be put up
without regard to the cost.  Stores and residences are makeshifts;
false fronts and shoddy work prevail.  A large public building
gives town or village tone and stability.  Besides, though Morley
was already the distributing centre of the territory, the daily
concourse of children from many districts would concentrate certain
trades in town, such as the candy trade, not to be despised.  The
construction work would bring in carpenters, masons, and other
craftsmen who would leave money behind; and finally there would be
at least four, probably five or six teachers who, paid in part by
the provincial government, would live or board in town, to say
nothing of the traffic and repair work brought by the vans that
they were to convey the children to and from school.

Every townsman, with the exception of Dr. Vanbruik, who stood
aloof, became a booster for the scheme, in true American fashion:
not a farmer came to town but found himself tackled by three or
four enthusiastic canvassers trying to convince him of the
superiority of a graded over an ungraded school.  The inspector
fanned the zeal of the townsmen; he was paid for that sort of work;
it was considered a feather in his cap if he put the scheme
through.  The superiority of a graded over an ungraded school being
granted, the chief argument was the acknowledged fact that the
operation of a consolidated school involved no more expense for the
individual district than the operation of their ungraded school had
done.  The excess in actual cost would be taken care of by
provincial grants.

For a while Abe merely listened.  He had never taken an active part
in any campaign; this time he must: his whole nature revolted
against the scheme.  He saw the fallacies in the arguments
advanced.  He did not allow the fact that the cost of operation was
bound to be in excess of former costs to be obscured by the fact
that the distribution of that cost would be provincial instead of
municipal.  He saw that the district would lose control over what
he considered its own affairs.  He suspected that even such share
of the cost as would remain incident upon each single farm would be
greater than it had been in the separate districts.  He knew from
his own experience that children taken from the farm and
transplanted into the environment of the town tended to grow away
from the land and the control of their parents; ultimately they
would look down on those parents and their ways, having themselves
had the advantage of a surrounding which seemed more advanced.
Above all, he felt in this innovation the approach of an order in
which the control of the state over the individual would be
strengthened through a conformity against which he rebelled.  The
scheme was in keeping with the spirit of the machine age: the
imparting of information would be the paramount aim, not the
building of character; spiritual values were going to be those of
the intellect only.  This he felt dimly; and since he could not
have clearly explained it, it crystallized into an all the more
powerful instinctive aversion.

When he discussed the matter with Dr. Vanbruik, the latter seemed
unwilling to commit himself.  He had no experience with the scheme.

What Abe needed was clear-cut arguments that would appeal to the
practical sense of the settlers: he knew he could never make them
understand objections which he realized but faintly himself.

Early in the new year, he left home for several days.  To do so was
becoming a difficult matter; Horanski had to be coaxed before he
agreed to ride over morning and night to attend to Abe's chores.

Abe went to Ferney and thence north.  Torquay had a consolidated
school.  There was another purely rural consolidation sixteen miles
north.  He gathered facts and figures a-plenty and heard of other
schools which he should visit.  He went on to Balfour and to Minor,
in the bush country of Manitoba.  In the district of Minor he found
that the cost of educating the children was the highest per capita
in the province.  When, in the middle of January, he came home, he
was armed indeed.

For weeks on end he spent most of his time in town, waylaying
settlers of his district as they came in: Shilloe, Nawosad, Hilmer,
Baker, the Topps, John Elliot, Stanley, and even Nicoll.  He used
only arguments which they could understand.  Shilloe, Nawosad, and
Hilmer were easily convinced.  Baker listened but would not give
any promise; Baker was careful and thrifty; he had built a log-
house on his place and worked in town as a carpenter: had he been
promised employment?

Next Abe spoke to the Topp brothers who nodded to all he said.
Henry assured him almost too readily that he was opposed to the
scheme.  "I'm not going to pay a cent for all this tomfoolery.  I'm
a bachelor and intend to remain one, no matter what Wheeldon says."

Stanley and Nicoll were the two who, in the immediate present, had
most to gain from the scheme; they had children, the majority
girls, of high-school age.  Abe modified his arguments.  Granting
that consolidation was desirable, was it wise to enter upon it now?
"You may think hard times are over.  I tell you hard times are only
beginning.  The war has to be paid for.  Prices will rise not fall,
except for the products of the farm.  It would have been wiser to
build during the war."

"Even so," Nicoll replied, "it was a matter of duty not to take
people away from essential industries.  How long should we wait?"

"Hard to tell.  Four, five years."

Nicoll and Stanley laughed.  "Till it's too late to do us any
good." . . .

John Elliot listened, but while doing so he kept shifting his
sombrero; he was standing sideways, hand on hip, looking up askance
at Abe's face as at the stars.  He exaggerated most of his motions.

"Tell you frankly," he said when Abe had finished, "I consider my
own advantage only.  I want my kids to attend high school and
college.  I've never gone to school much myself though I had the
chance.  I've come to see that I'm under a disadvantage."

"Let them consolidate without us.  We can come in any time."

"Naw," Elliot replied.  "Can't tell what we'll do later.  If my
vote counts for anything, I'm going to make sure that we're in
it." . . .

Abe did not give up.  Having exhausted his economic arguments, he
began to hint at those underlying his opposition.

One day late in February Nicoll met Abe at the corner.  "I'm sorry,
Abe," he said, "but you're backing the wrong horse.  Consolidation
is bound to carry.  You are going to lose prestige by your defeat."

"I don't care," Abe replied with such a power of emphasis as almost
to shake Nicoll's convictions.  "I am right; you are wrong.  I
can't explain my real objections; but that makes them no less
valid.  I've been right before.  If we hadn't had Blaine, there
wouldn't be a child ready for high school now; we'd have had change
after change; the kids would have stuck in grade five."

"I know, Abe, I know.  This is different."

"In what way?  You think one thing; I think another.  If this
district goes in, every settler will be sorry one day.  That's why
I fight the thing."

Nicoll hesitated.  "They attribute personal motives to you."

"What personal motives could there be?"

"They say you want the distinction of being the only one who can
send his children to high school."

"Nicoll!  If consolidation carries, my children will attend the
local school.  If I had my will, they'd be kept at home.  But I
leave that sort of thing to my wife." . . .

Early in March Schweigel came to Abe's yard.

"Oh, Mis-ter Spalding," he exclaimed, clasping his hands in front
of his face, "what a place!"  And he looked at house, barns, and
wind-breaks.  "The abode of kings!"  He alighted from his wagon,
grotesque in his long horse-hide coat which flapped about him like
a tent.  His face, hairless except for a furry little beard below
the chin, beamed like the moon.  "This is farming indeed!"  And his
voice trailed off in a treble of admiration.

Abe stood towering at a distance.  "Anything I can do for you?"

"Oh, mister, if you would!  A little hay.  Just a little.  My poor
horses have nothing to eat.  I'll pay.  I have brought my goods.  A
piece of print for your lady.  Curtains for the house.  Needles and
thread.  Whatever you wish.  A pair of rubbers for yourself."

"Never mind," said Abe.  "You needn't pay for a bit of feed."

"Mister!" the Jew exclaimed; and it was hard to say whether he
implored Abe to accept a trifle or adored him for refusing to do
so.

"Help yourself!" Abe said with a sweep of his arm towards the
haystack in the yard; and he made as if to turn away.

"You are like a king who commands," the Jew cried rapturously; "and
the rabble runs.  You shall have my vote."

Abe frowned.  "As for your vote, you will do as you think best, I
am not asking for support."

"You don't need to ask, mister.  Your wishes are known."

"My wishes," Abe said sharply, "have nothing to do with it.  When I
argue, I do so to give facts which the people may not know."

"Who would dare to go against you, mister?"

"Help yourself," Abe repeated and strode away.

When the Jew left the yard, his lame little horse could hardly draw
the load, though the man lent all the help he could by pushing from
behind. . . .

During the next two weeks five of the seven districts concerned
held their meetings to decide the question.  Even into this matter
of assigning the dates calculation entered.  Next to Morley,
Britannia District was most enthusiastically in favour of the
measure; and therefore it was the first to hold its meeting; the
vote was unanimous.  Morley held back.  The promoters of the scheme
knew that any movement gathers momentum by its own progress.  The
final stage of the campaign must be opened by a favourable vote;
but had it been the vote of Morley itself, the example might have
worked the wrong way.  Followed three districts south of the Line.
In all three the measure was carried.  Then came Morley; and
Spalding was next.  Five districts, therefore, were pledged; a
sixth one was sure to follow: Bays.  Spalding was the only really
doubtful one; and that only on account of Abe's influence.
Whenever probabilities were weighed, the result seemed uncertain.
But Wheeldon was confident.  "Wait and see!" he said.

The night of the meeting came.

From half-past seven on the ratepayers and their women began to
assemble at the school where a gasoline lamp was suspended from a
hook in the ceiling: that lamp had once lighted Abe's old house.

Shortly before eight came a mild surprise.  McCrae appeared
accompanied by a young lady who presumably was his wife.  He was
little known in the district, and people looked curiously at the
pair.  The lady was young, pretty, bashful; smilingly she looked
about from under a lowered brow.  McCrae had just moved out; as a
returned man he had received clear title to his land, in addition
to financial help for the purchase of equipment.  They sat next to
the Schweigels who had so far drawn the lion's share of attention.
Mrs. Schweigel was more than pretty; she was a beauty; and she was
surprisingly well dressed.

Apart from these two all the women were middle-aged or elderly; in
their apparel, fashion was strikingly disregarded.  The Ukrainian
women were sitting together, separated from their men who lined the
wall opposite the windows.  One of these women looked jaundiced, in
contrast to Shilloe, her husband, who was handsome in his Slavic
way.

Then the two Elliots entered; and Mrs. Elliot was scanned with
curiosity; she was delicate and carried herself in a haughty way.
Her presence put a stop to the last whisper of conversation.  A
dead silence fell, broken only by a cough here and there.

Nicoll was sitting gravely alongside the teacher's desk.

Then, following each other in rapid succession, the protagonists of
the occasion arrived.  First Wheeldon, small, erect, filled with
the sense of his own importance, accompanied by his wife, still
smaller, in spite of the enormously high hat by which she sought to
correct this deficiency of nature.  Then Abe, huge, towering,
reaching up, as he passed along the aisle, into the shadows above
the cone of light shed by the lamp.  Ruth waddled to the first seat
from the door.

Abe went straight to the front where he nodded to Nicoll and,
bending down, asked him a question.  As he straightened, his glance
swept over the assembly.  Not a ratepayer was missing.  To his
surprise he saw Nicoll's two eldest daughters.  Had they the vote?

The meeting was opened by the usual formula; Abe asked Nicoll to
read the minutes of the last public meeting.  While this was done,
he sat down, his face expressive of the utmost indifference.  Yet,
as his eye alighted on Wheeldon, his lips straightened.  The point
at issue was not so much consolidation as the question who should,
in future, determine the policy of the district.  The discussion to
follow was mere pretence; the vote would go as Abe or his opponent
was favoured.

Nicoll finished.  Abe called for a motion to adopt or amend the
minutes.  Mover and seconder rose so promptly that Abe felt at once
he was merely taking part in a prearranged play.  Yet, the
formalities having been gone through, he rose and stated the
purpose of the meeting, known to all.  "The question is open for
discussion."

There was a minute's profound silence.  A tension spread through
the room, as though people knew what was to follow.  All eyes were
on Abe; through them the tension flowed into him.

Then the chief surprise was sprung.  Wheeldon rose and, from a
paper in his hand, read a motion to decide the question at issue by
a poll.  Elliot promptly rose and seconded the motion.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Abe said, "it has been moved and seconded
that the question be decided by poll.  We are assembled here to
discuss that question.  I have no objection to a poll, but--"

Wheeldon had risen and stood waiting.  Abe looked at him without
completing his sentence.

"Mr. Chairman," Wheeldon said pugnaciously, "there is a motion
before the meeting.  It is customary to put such a motion to the
vote."

Abe frowned.  Was the intention to muzzle him?  "Ladies and
gentlemen, you have heard the motion.  All in favour--Against--"

But the show of hands left a doubt.  "The secretary will count
hands."

Nicoll rose and went through the aisles.  There were nine votes
against the motion.  "In favour--"  Eleven in favour.  Which meant
that eleven had withheld their votes.

"Carried," Abe said.  "There will be a poll.  I repeat, it seems to
me we came here to discuss the question at issue--"

Again Wheeldon was on his feet.  "I move we adjourn."

Henry Topp seconded this motion; and it was carried.

Abe rose.  "Just a moment."  He bent down to Nicoll.  As he
straightened, nobody could have told that the course the meeting
had taken affected him in the least.  "The poll will, according to
law, be held in this school, on April the second, one week from to-
day, between the hours of nine in the morning and five in the
afternoon.  Mr. Nicoll will act as returning officer; Mr. Blaine as
clerk.  The meeting is adjourned."  And, without stopping to speak
to any one, he went out, backed his cutter away from the fence,
behind the long rows of vehicles slanting into the ditch.  There he
sat, waiting for Ruth who was speaking to one or two of the women.
Their roles had been exchanged.



SEVENTEEN

The Poll


During the week, Abe left his farm only twice, on Friday and
Sunday, to fetch Marion and Jim from Somerville and to take them
back.  Apart from that, he prepared for the spring work.

Most people felt that the meeting had been used to settle the old
score of envy.  Spalding had gained by what appeared to be a
defeat.  To the new settlers, the old score meant nothing.  Abe was
a picturesque figure personifying such as was possible in the west.

Abe was ready to sink his personal wish in the general will.  So
far, democracy was a reality to him.  Nor was he going to weaken
what he felt to have been a moral victory; he would look on in
silence.  He was now convinced that his side would carry the day;
Wheeldon had miscalculated.  He had always claimed that Abe carried
things with a high hand; if it was true, which Abe would not have
admitted, Wheeldon had shown himself an apt pupil: what could have
been more high-handed than the way in which he had imposed his will
on the meeting?  What drove Wheeldon to this revenge?  That he had
been unsuccessful in his attempt to bribe him; and that he was so
small of stature!

If Abe did nothing, Wheeldon did a great deal.  From his gate Abe
saw the old car on the road to town, travelling at a furious rate,
dangerous while there was snow on the ground; or it was standing in
front of one of the farmsteads, outlined against the windy, white
sky.

The poll opened on Tuesday at nine o'clock.  Nicoll was at the
desk, ballot-box and all the paraphernalia of a formal election
before him.  Beside him sat Blaine, his bearded head trembling over
his papers.  Not a person appeared before one in the afternoon;
then, as is usual in rural elections, the whole vote was polled in
an hour.

Wheeldon was the first to enter.  He presented a certificate signed
by the secretary of the municipality stating that he was entitled
to be present in the polling room and to scrutinize such electors
as might appear.  A similar certificate, he said, had been mailed
to Mr. Spalding.

Nicoll was puzzled.  Every person entitled to vote was known to
him.  There could be no reason for challenging votes.  His own
honesty, he thought, was unquestioned.  Such things were done in
provincial or federal, perhaps even municipal elections where
unknown people might appear.  But in a school vote?  However, it
was perfectly legal; all rules applying to municipal elections also
applied to a poll taken in a school district.  If the machinery of
the law was to be set in motion to no purpose, he, Nicoll, could
not object.

To no purpose?  A purpose there was.  Nicoll felt vaguely
disturbed.

Outside, there was a confused noise of voices.  The electors were
gathering in the school yard.  It was a mild day; the road to town
was soft though snow still remained in the ditches.  For another
ten minutes nobody entered.  Wheeldon was sitting in one of the
school seats.

Then Stanley opened the door.  Nicoll looked up and saw that at
least a majority of the ratepapers and their wives were assembled.
They were improving the occasion by turning it into a social
affair.  Perhaps only Abe was not yet present; him Nicoll would
have seen on his way, through the window.  He handed Stanley a
ballot paper and pointed to the cloakroom in which he was to mark
it.

Nicoll's musing proceeded.  Abe had never fraternized; neither had
he ever canvassed before.  "Elect me or not; you know your
interests."  This time, however, Abe had condescended to argue.

Nicoll did not understand why Abe opposed the new order.  There was
that irrationality of all human decisions which arise from our
nature and which, ex post facto, we prop and strengthen by
arguments and reasons from which they do not spring.  Even material
interests count for little where something deeper is at stake.  Abe
was maintaining two children in town; yet he opposed a scheme
designed to throw a not inconsiderable fraction of the expense on
the public purse.  Nicoll had known Abe too long to believe that he
took his stand for selfish reasons.  No matter what Wheeldon and
others said, he had never decided a question involving others on
the basis of private considerations.

As the voting proceeded, Nicoll looked from time to time at
Wheeldon.  Did Wheeldon act from purely interested motives?  Not
one of his children was of high-school age.  But Wheeldon, though
naturalized in Canada, remained at heart a citizen of the United
States, and considering the ways of the country of his birth the
best in the world, felt it incumbent upon him to keep alive the
tradition or fiction that the Yankee is more progressive than any
one else on earth.  Change seemed progress to him.  Wheeldon
opposed Abe on principle.  To outsiders, Abe looked like an
imperturbable mass in repose; he had begun to move slowly and
deliberately; when he spoke and acted, it seemed as though words
and actions were based on things deeper than the impulses which
caused others to speak or act.  This gave him that appearance of an
assumed superiority antagonizing those who themselves laid claim to
a measure of superiority over others.  Abe had a way of looking at
Wheeldon as if he were lowering down on one whom it was scarcely
worth his while to annihilate; though Nicoll knew that such was
largely unintentional.

Wheeldon's presence in the polling room had a purpose; and it was
directed against Abe.  Though Abe and Nicoll were, for the first
time, irreconcilably aligned on opposite sides, Nicoll trembled at
the thought that Abe might go down to defeat.

The voting proceeded briskly.  Whenever one elector left the
building another entered.  All smiled or frowned at Wheeldon's
presence.

Blaine, his glasses slipped down to the tip of his nose, his
leonine head quivering over the poll book, searched for the name of
the voter and, with a trembling hand, checked it off.  During these
intervals, such a drowsy silence fell over the room that it was
almost possible to understand what was being said outside.

By two o'clock, four-fifths of the votes were polled.  Nobody had
left the school yard; everybody seemed to be waiting for a climax
to come.  Outside the yard, half a score of sleighs and cutters
stood aligned; the horses, with blankets under the harness or robes
thrown over it, stood motionless in the snow, their heads hanging
low.

Nicoll sat, looking out through the windows.  Across the corner lay
his own yard, surrounded by a wind-break of poplars, bare of
leaves.  Black boughs and twigs traced an irregular lattice-work
against the ever whitish sky.  Here and there a branch was strung
with swollen, bulbous knots.  Fifteen years ago Abe had warned him
against cottonwoods, the popular tree for planting on the prairie.
"Quick to grow; but they don't last."  He had been right, of
course.  Down to the nature of the wind-breaks, the district bore
the imprint of Abe's mind.

Yet, Nicoll and Abe were aligned on opposite sides!

Suddenly the room was stirred by the touch of drama.  Looking out
through the windows, Nicoll felt his muscles tightening.  Blaine
raised his trembling head.  Wheeldon twisted himself around in his
seat.

At the corner, Abe was swinging up on the culvert, its timbers
resounding under the hoofs of his horses.  In his long, low cutter
he was sitting by the side of his wife.  He was driving briskly,
touching his black hackneys with the whip as they slowed on the
culvert which was bare of snow.  He sat motionless, impressive, in
an old raccoon coat and a wedge-shaped cap of muskrat.  Both were
bare of fur in places; but on Abe they looked like royal attire.
His smooth-shaven face, deeply lined, stern and inexorable, was
like a red, weathered mask.

Ruth, in the squirrel coat which he had given her long ago and
which had had to be widened from year to year, massive though she
was, looked dwarfed by his side.

Somehow it was known in the district that Ruth would vote against
her husband; her appearance, as two dozen pairs of eyes scanned the
pair, confirmed that rumour.  There were those in the crowd who, in
Abe's place, would have left their wives at home; and some accorded
him a grudging respect because he could give the other side its
due.  Two or three, in their hearts, cried out, "Damn him!"  For
the mere fact that he had not joined the crowd an hour ago but came
at his own time and pleasure, driving briskly up to cast his vote,
and, no doubt, intending to leave as briskly, for he did not enter
the row of vehicles but, having passed the school, turned in the
margin of the road and stopped behind the sleighs, in the ditch--
that mere fact marked him off from the rest of the settlers; HE was
no mixer; HE followed a lonely path--worst of crimes in western
Canada.

In the schoolroom, an enormous and incomprehensible tension took
hold of Nicoll.  From the moment Abe had come within sight, the
stream of voters had ceased.  The few who had not yet cast their
votes waited to give Abe the precedence.  Irrationally, Nicoll had
a foreboding: something hovered over the building which was
catastrophic.

Outside, Abe, heavily and slowly alighting, was seen to exchange a
word with his wife, presumably offering to let her go first.  But
she shook her head, and he handed her the lines, turning away.  The
crowd looked on in silence, half sullen, half expectant; a few had
a welcoming smile on their lips.  As Abe entered through the gate
by the flagpole, he nodded.  A lane opened to the door.  He went on
without stopping.

In the room, the air of tension became enormously intensified by
the fact that Wheeldon rose as the doorknob turned.

Abe went straight on through the central aisle, taking notice of
Wheeldon's presence only by the slightest raising of one brow.  He
nodded to Nicoll and Blaine and reached for a ballot paper.

At this, Wheeldon took a step forward.  "Mr. Returning Officer, I
object to Mr. Spalding's voting."

Abe frowned.  Nicoll and Blaine looked up, startled.  Was this man
out of his sense?  Challenge Abe Spalding?

"Do you mean to say--"

"I challenge his right to vote.  You know your duty.  Tender the
oath."

Nicoll shrugged his shoulders and turned to Blaine.  "A Bible
around?"

Blaine was so excited that, in trying to open a lower drawer of the
desk, he went down on his knees.  A moment later, Nicoll placed a
worn copy of the Bible on the edge of the desk-top.

Abe stood motionless.  Wheeldon had the right to challenge any
voter.  In tendering the oath, Nicoll was doing no more than his
duty.  Abe had only the vaguest idea of the wording of that oath.
He knew he could be asked to swear that he was the man named in the
voter's list.  But not even Wheeldon could possibly doubt that.

Nicoll opened a copy of the Public Schools Act at the page where
the various schedules were printed.  He looked up, confused, "You
know--"

"I know.  Go ahead."

Nicoll read slowly, Abe speaking after him, word for word, with
only the person changed from the second to the first.  Blaine was
filling in a blank form of Abe's signature.

"I swear I am the person named or purported to be named in the list
of ratepayers shown to me.

"That I am a natural born subject of His Majesty and of the full
age of twenty-one years.

"That I have not voted before at this election.

"That I have not directly or indirectly received any reward or
gift; nor do I expect to receive any reward or gift for the vote
which I tender at this election.

"That I have not received anything, nor has anything been promised
to me, directly or indirectly, either to induce me to vote at this
election, or for loss of time, travelling expenses, hire of team,
or any other service connected with this election.

"And that I have not, directly or indirectly, paid or promised
anything to any person to induce him either to vote or to refrain
from voting at this election."

The atmosphere, during these proceedings, was that of an unbearable
anxiety on one side of the desk; of scorn on the other; as though
Abe, by the tone of his voice, were saying, "When is this farce to
end?"  Yet, when he repeated the last paragraph, a though flitted
through his mind:  "That's what he expected I could not swear to."

But there was one short paragraph left; and Nicoll read it.

The thunderbolt fell; Abe's voice ceasing repeating the words.

That paragraph, as read, bore the wording, "And that you are not
indebted to the municipality in respect of taxes other than taxes
for the current year.  So help you God."

Abe's voice droned on, "And that I am not indebted to the
municipality in respect of taxes--"  And then it ceased.

A storm of impulses raced through Abe's mind.  As if he were
reaching out into the universe for a cosmic weapon to strike his
opponent down.  He would write a cheque for the amount, overdrawing
his account at the bank; he would give an order on his brother-in-
law; he would step into the road and ask Ruth for the loan of the
money. . . .

The world was falling to pieces.  Nobody in the district had ever
been debarred from voting on such a score.  Many a time, no doubt,
many a one, if that was the law, had been technically in default.
Every one, probably; he, Abe, never.  This thing dishonoured.  He
had tried to cast a vote to which he was not entitled.  He had held
office in district and municipality and was not entitled to either.
Things had gone on because nobody had happened to object.  Nobody
ever did object when the voter was a bona-fide settler.  The letter
of the law was disregarded to uphold its spirit; now the letter of
the law was invoked to thwart its spirit.  He, Abe Spalding, who
had made this district--for how many settlers would have held out
unless he had helped them: unless he had given them work; unless,
on occasion, he had given them food or feed?--HE was being deprived
of his vote; and it was done according to the letter of the law!
Then the law itself was evil!

He realized that none of his impulses would change the situation;
that situation was without remedy.  For the second time in his life
he stood face to face with an unalterable fact.  The first time the
hand of God had advanced the fact; this time it was the hand of
man!

Mentally, as he stood there, he shook himself free of all bonds of
office.  Never again would he meddle in public affairs!

Yet, if, five minutes ago, he had been a tree in the forest, he was
now a tree at the root of which the axe had been laid!

All this time--it was less than a minute since Nicoll had ceased
speaking--the others in the room had been staring at him, two of
them as profoundly shaken as himself; the third one triumphant.  In
Abe's face, not a muscle had moved.  But Nicoll realized what this
meant to the district.  In his breast cried a voice, "Go on, Abe!
For God's sake, go on!  What are you waiting for?"  Blaine's head
swayed and trembled.

Wheeldon's lips were twisted in a thin smile, not altogether of
triumph.  He realized that he had released in that imperturbable
giant more than he had known to exist in his depth.  He had not
meant to bring him to the ground; he had meant merely to indent his
armour.

Without a word, without a sound, without a flicker of eye, brow, or
facial muscle, yet white-lipped, Abe veered, retraced his steps to
the door, and went out, allowing the door to slam behind his back.

Outside, the crowd had been laughing; for since John Elliot's
coming Henry Topp had found his match; the two had been "performing"
for the crowd.  At Abe's sight, a silence fell; the lane opened;
and without glancing right or left, Abe passed on to his cutter.

There, Ruth rose and shook herself free of the rugs.

"Never mind," Abe said gently.  "Sit down.  We are going home."

"I haven't voted."

"You can't vote.  Stay where you are.  I have been disqualified."

Ruth sank back, her knees giving way beneath her.

Abe reached for the lines and clicked his tongue before he had
entered the sleigh.  The horses, stall-fed, jumped forward.  He
stepped in and hit the seat with a heavy thud.

One single laugh was heard behind--Henry Topp's. . . .

At midnight, Abe drove to town with two letters.  One was addressed
to Stanley Nicoll; the other to Mr. Silcox, secretary of the
municipality of Somerville.  They contained his resignations
as a trustee of Spalding School District and as reeve of the
municipality respectively.  To the latter, Ruth's cheque for the
amount of his arrears in taxes was attached; to the former, the
stub of the cheque-book recording the payment.

Never again!  Never again!  But what?



EIGHTEEN

Jim


Consolidation was carried in Spalding District by a majority of
one; in spite of the fact that Nicoll--who never mentioned it till
many years later when even Abe could laugh over it--had voted
against the measure, by way of protest against the method used to
defeat Abe Spalding.

The manner in which Abe took his defeat was quite independent of
the outcome of the poll.  He might have contested the result; for
Nicoll, who made it a point to inquire, found that no less than
three others had voted without being entitled to do so, for the
very reason for which Abe had been debarred.  It also became known
that Henry Topp had changed sides on the promise of his appointment
as van-driver for the district; Wheeldon, had he been challenged,
so Nicoll suspected, would have lost his vote because it was he who
had made that promise to Henry.  Nicoll told Abe; but Abe refused
to make use of the information.

Nor would he reconsider his resignation as reeve.  Rogers and
others no sooner heard of it than they came to see him; he listened
to what they had to say: never before had the council been in
greater need of his level-headedness and honesty; never had his
ward been in greater need of his championship; for that very
spring, the heaviest snowfalls of the season coming in April, the
ditches refused to function.  When Abe had heard them, he said one
single word, "No," and turned his back.

Nicoll thought it worth his while to take at least the sting out of
Abe's defeat by speaking to him alone.  He intercepted him on his
way back from town.  When Abe crossed the culvert, he stepped right
into the road so as to force him to stop.  Abe frowned as he drew
in.

"Listen here, Abe," Nicoll said.  "There'll be an election.  We
shall have one trustee on the consolidated board.  Will you stand?"

"Haven't you realized yet that I was disqualified?"

"That was mere chance.  You are in good standing again.  Surely,
Abe, you are not going to bear us all a grudge because Wheeldon--"

"Wheeldon was within his rights.  There is nothing to be said."

"If you decline, he is going to be on that board himself.  We want
you.  I could promise you an almost unanimous vote."

Abe clicked his tongue.  "I have washed my hands of it."

"Abe," Nicoll pleaded, striding along by the side of the sleigh,
one hand on the back of the seat, "if men like you refuse, politics
is bound to be the dirty game it is.  It isn't democratic--"

"Democratic!"  Abe sneered with darkening brow.  "I'll tell you
what your precious democracy is.  A system devised to keep the man
who stands out from the common crowd down to the common level.
That is all."

And, Nicoll falling back, he drove on more quickly.

Although it had been nearly dark, Abe had seen a hurt expression in
Nicoll's face which haunted him without softening him.  For the
moment it made his mood all the more savage.  "Why can't they leave
me alone?"

At the house, it was different.  In speaking to Ruth, Abe's tone
was more than usually considerate.  Yet he promptly arranged for
the repayment of her loan to him; he sold half a dozen Percheron
colts, a score of steers, and a few milch cows.  Abe having no help
but Jim's, the measure was dictated by considerations other than
financial.

He would have time now!  Time for his family and for--what?

Meanwhile the lateness of the spring began to worry the district.
Snow lay deep again; and it was the third week of April before the
thaw recommenced.  As is common in such years, the weather softened
with a heavy rain shot with sleet.  The flood which should have
subsided by 1st May was just coming down by that date; and since
the stages of successive thaws were omitted, it was unusually
abundant, especially since the flow in the ditches was sluggish.
Culverts and bridges were dislodged; and Abe witnessed, for the
first time, a distinct current over his fields.  In the barns, the
beasts could not lie down.  Only house, granaries, and hen-house
remained dry.  Abe reaped the benefit of double-walled foundations
now; not a drop of water entered his cellar.

Often, while this second great flood lasted, he went in his big
hip-boots to the gate of his yard to look on from a distance while
the other settlers worked on the bridges with teams of sixteen
horses, drawing them back into place and anchoring them.  In
previous years he would have organized the work; he had taught them
in the past how to do it.  Nobody would have dreamt of presenting
the municipality with a bill for work done; and the council, on the
other hand, would have been powerfully urged to prevent a
recurrence of such an event.

Well, let them work out their own salvation now!  Abe did not go
near them.  He took his spy-glass and watched them from the gap in
his wind-break; and when things went wrong, the culvert floating
off again after it had been dragged into place, but did not laugh;
he merely grunted.

Seeding time came, and Abe fetched Jim.  Together they ploughed.

Meanwhile curious, seismic movements shook the grain markets.
Government control of the price of wheat had been continued; and
all the speculative impulses let loose by the cessation of
hostilities were directed towards the other grains, oats, barley,
flax.  Flax was selling around five dollars a bushel, three hundred
per cent of the normal price.  The very lateness of the spring
favoured flax as a crop for the district.  But seed rose to seven
and eight dollars a bushel.  Farmers had no money; the municipality
had to help.  Rogers was filling the vacancy left by Abe's
resignation; and he headed a committee to deal with the situation,
the outcome being that every farmer was to receive a small
allotment of seed flax, according to the acreage under cultivation
of his farm, the price to be a lien on the crop.

Abe would have been entitled to a considerable fraction of the seed
set aside for his ward.  But he declined.  He did not wish to have
further credit dealings with the municipality.  But when Jim, who,
having been in town for many months, seemed suddenly to have grown
up, attacked his father's policy, Abe defended it on purely
economic grounds.  Flax was selling at an abnormal price, true; but
last year no more than the normal acreage had been devoted to it.
This year that acreage would be enormously increased.  That was the
way, he explained to Jim--a hit-or-miss way, wasteful and cruel--in
which abnormal market conditions corrected themselves.  The
increased acreage brought a glut; the glut a disastrous drop in
price.  Even three dollars a bushel, with abnormal seed-prices,
abnormal wages, and a yield of eight bushels to the acre, would
mean a loss to the farmer.  The price would fall even lower.

Sound reasoning--for normal times.  But Abe was merely justifying
his disinclination, not only to take seed on credit, but to go with
the crowd.  He had five hundred acres ready.  He seeded wheat.

Jim was almost as tall as his father, though of course not of his
massive and powerful build.  Reports from Somerville High School
had denounced him as mischievous.  It is not uncommon to call that
mischief in a boy which is the premature and inconvenient
manifestation of propensities in which valuable gifts are
foreshadowed.  When Abe had taken Jim to task, half indulgently,
the boy had admitted that he had tampered with such apparatus as
was used in the teaching of science.  He assured his father he had
meant no harm; he had been curious to see how this apparatus
worked.  Abe, while not absolving him, had accepted his word.  On
another occasion Abe received a letter from the principal,
complaining that Jim was disrespectful.  Jim explained that, during
a lesson in physics, he had expressed his disbelief in a fact
asserted by the pedagogue.  "It slipped out of me."  Abe asked for
details.  The fact in question was that a bullet shot from a gun in
an absolutely horizontal direction would touch absolutely level
ground at precisely the same moment as a bullet merely dropped from
the height of the muzzle of that gun.  By his impulsive exclamation
Jim had, according to Dr. Vanbruik, merely shown the true
scientific spirit which refuses to accept facts of observation
without verifying them.  Abe refused to punish the boy and, in a
note to the principal, told him of his decision.  In this he was
confirmed by Jim's protestation that physics was his favourite
subject at school.

Jim was a born mechanic.  When Abe saw him adjusting his disk-
harrow and asked where he had learned that, Jim told him that he
had spent most of his leisure time at Duncan and Ferris's implement
shop.

"Do you mean to say working?"

Jim grinned and pulled out a roll of bills.  "I made fifty dollars
last month putting seeders together."

Abe nodded.

"Say, daddy," Jim asked, "can I do with this as I please?"

"It's your money."

Yet, personally, Jim was clumsy; his voice was hoarse.

One day, coming home at noon, they found Ruth "in a taking."  It
was washing day; something had gone wrong with the electric
machine; she was using a rubbing board to get at least part of the
work done.  Jim promptly went into the basement.  Within ten
minutes he returned.  "I've fixed that for you, mother; it was a
short."

Abe knew what that meant; but he could not have effected the
repair.  Yet he disliked Jim's syncopation of speech.  Since
Charlie's death he had not used a slang word.

Jim worked on the farm for three weeks; Abe did not ask for more.
By himself he seeded stubble to barley; he was not going to look
for outside help; by the middle of June he started work on his
fallows.

Throughout the spring Marion had not been home; it was her second
year in high school, and there were Saturday lessons and reviews;
when school closed, she and Jim went to Morley by train, and their
aunt brought them out in her car.

Mary had not yet left when Abe came home in the dusk of the longest
day of the year.  Brother and sister met near the car in the outer
yard.

"Abe," Mary said, "why don't you drop in as you used to do?"

"I've been busy.  I have no help."

"But you've been in town.  You've been at the store."

"I haven't been fit for company.  You've brought the children?"

"Yes, I don't know where Jim is.  Marion's at the house."

"Get in.  I'll crank the car.  Don't worry.  We'll see."

The car swinging out, Abe looked gloomily after it.  He went to the
back of the house where the cellar of the old house, now covered
with planks, was slowly caving in; Abe had never found time to fill
the hole.

At that moment Jim issued from the new barn, depositing two pails
at its door and bringing another to the house.  "Hello, dad," he
sang.  "I've done your milking.  That spotty one, isn't she a
corker?"

"I leave the calf with her.  If you milk her, she should be tied."

"Oh," said Jim, "but I milked with the machine."

Abe said nothing.  Since Horanski had left, he had done the milking
by hand.  This boy of his had the spirit of the machine.

That night, Abe lay awake for many hours, puzzling over his
relation to the children.  While they were little, he had been
preoccupied with the farm; while they were adolescent, he had been
immersed in public business.  Why should he think about these
things now when it was painful to do so?  Why indeed, except
because he had withdrawn from that material world in which alone he
had felt at home?  They were preparing to depart and to enter that
world which he had left.  At the best could he hope to meet them at
a cross-roads to catch a glimpse of them as they vanished along
paths of their own.

At night, the next day, Jim dressed in his town clothes.  "I'll
walk to town, dad.  I've got a deal on with Anderson."

"Take the pony," Abe said.

"No, thanks.  I'll walk."

When, late at night, Jim came home, Abe was still sitting up; for
though he had not objected to Jim's going to town, he yet felt that
he could not go to bed before he returned.  Jim entered the lighted
yard with a great clatter and clanging; it sounded as though long
iron rods were being dragged over cobblestone pavement.  Abe rose
from his chair in the dining-room where he and Ruth had been
sitting.

In the yard, Jim received him with an embarrassed laugh; he was
sitting on the floor of a single-seated Ford car which was stripped
of everything inessential: running boards, fenders, top, cushions.
So that was the deal he had had on with Anderson.

"What did you pay for the pile of junk?" Abe asked.

"Seventy-five.  Fifty in cash; a note for the balance."

"Whose note?"

"Mine."

"You are a minor.  Your note isn't worth the paper it's written
on."

"Right.  But Anderson's endorsement makes it good.  My credit
stands high."

Abe was silent.  Then, contemptuously, "Looks like a plucked
chicken."  And, indeed, the machine looked high-legged and naked.

The name stuck while Jim kept the car.  He placed it in the old
open implement shed between the granaries; henceforth, every rainy
day, he tinkered there, tightening bolts, painting the body,
disassembling and reassembling intricate parts till the whole car
was transformed.

One day Abe, suspending the ploughing on the fallow, told Jim at
noon to get the buggy ready.  It was time to look at the hay.

"Come on, dad," said Jim.  "Be a sport.  Let's go in my racer."

The girls laughed, for Abe had never yet entered a car.

Abe did not answer; reluctantly he felt that he must indulge the
boy: he half resented it that Jim should thus take the lead.  When
they went into the yard, the girls accompanied them; and Ruth stood
at the window of the den to see them start.

Bumping about in the low body in which they reclined, they shot
through the gate and turned west, with the exhaust of the engine
emitting a deafening bellow.  They went all over the western
meadows.  "All right," Abe said at last.  "We'll go ahead a week
from to-morrow."

They turned.  "Say, dad," Jim asked, "there's a chance of selling
this outfit for a hundred and twenty-five.  I can get a real car
for three hundred from Duncan and Ferris.  They'll take my note for
the balance.  If you pay me fifty dollars a month and time and a
half for overtime, I should be able to clear that off in three
months."

"I might not have work for you on those terms."

"That'll be all right.  I can get a job elsewhere.  Lots of farmers
asking me in town."

"That so?"  Abe felt a pang in his heart.  This boy also had the
commercial spirit.  He did not feel that he was debasing himself by
working for the highest bidder: an effect of his stay in town.  Did
he not know that his father would rather give him any sum than let
him go to work away from home?

The summer went by.  Repeatedly Jim had criticized his father's
methods; especially had he disapproved of Abe's refusal to "go into
flax."

"Look here," Abe said one day, "who's built the best farm in this
district?"

"I know, dad.  But this time you're wrong."

"We'll see."

Throughout the district excitement prevailed.  Abe had only wheat,
the price of which was fixed; he was in no hurry; HE had no flax.

Everybody else had at least a few acres of his crop.  Henry Topp
had the largest acreage of all; it took the incentive of a gambling
interest to make him work.  The only thing which had prevented
people from seeding more flax had been the cost of seed; now it
looked as if the price of the market might run as high as that of
seed in spring.

As usual, threshing started south of the Somerville Line; it had
hardly begun when a new factor entered into the situation.
Unheard-of wages were being offered to teamsters who had horses and
tanks for hauling flax to town before the price broke; for, once
the crop began to move, nobody expected that price to hold.  Few
threshermen, so far, would consider threshing wheat.  Flax was the
crop of the year.  Yet, when a decline in the price level was
followed by a prompt recovery, there was a retardation in the
movement of the crop.  A man with a hundred bushels to sell might
make fifty dollars by waiting a day.

The consequence was that every farmer went to town from day to day
and sat about at the elevator to listen to the announcement of the
fluctuations in price which were made from hour to hour.  At a
given moment, when the price, having broken, stiffened again, there
would be a frantic bidding for teams or a sudden rush of selling;
for a few shrewd men came on top of the load which they parked to
wait for a rise; when it came, they ran for their teams and drove
up to the platform to sell before the next drop.  Others, observing
that every fall in price was made up for shortly by a rise beyond
the previous level, took their loads home at night, to make an
additional profit next day.

Into this excitement fell, like a bomb, the announcement that John
Elliott who had only a small crop, for little was broken on his
place, had been offered twenty thousand dollars for his land.
Still more astounding, he declined, holding out for five thousand
more.  The would-be buyer, however, acquired two farms south of the
Line instead.  The district was drunk with the spirit of
speculation.

Jim, who went often to town now, at night, brought the story home;
and when farmers at last offered five, six, eight dollars, not for
a day's work, but for hauling a load over a distance of four or
five miles, he announced that he, too, was going to pick up easy
money.

To his amazement Abe said briefly, "No.  You won't."

Jim looked at his father.  "Why not, dad?"

"Because I say so."

"But dad--"  However, seeing his father's frown, he did not insist.
"At any rate, I wish you'd give me the morning, dad.  I'd like to
see how things are going at the elevators."

"You can have the morning.  But you won't haul."

"All right, dad."

Jim reached the first elevator south of the track at eight o'clock.
A crowd was assembled.  A number of farmers were leaving to fetch
their flax; the price stood at the fabulous level of five dollars
and sixty cents.  The situation was the more exciting since the
price was expected to break any moment; once broken, it would
tumble till it reached its normal level of less than two dollars.

Jim backed his second-hand touring car into the row of vehicles
south of the elevator and returned to the incline.  He saw Elliott,
Wheeldon, Horanski, Hartley, and Nicoll, with a crowd of strangers,
and excitedly nodded to them all.  On the dumping platform a score
of men were standing about, among them Henry Topp.  Of the two
buyers, one was sitting in the engine room, next to the telephone;
the other, loading a car on the track.  All business except that of
flax was suspended.

A farmer, who, the day before, had brought a load of wheat had met
with a curious situation.  His wheat had graded number two; but the
buyer told him that he had only one bin with storage for wheat
available; unfortunately it was partly filled with grain that had
graded number five; if he would let his wheat go at that grade, he
could sell; if not, he would have to take the load home again.  The
difference between the grades amounted to twenty-five cents or
fifteen dollars the load.  The farmer had tried the other
elevators; and, curiously, the same situation had prevailed there.
He needed money; he had come eighteen miles; his horses were tired
and not of the strongest.  He sold.  At once a rumour sprang up
that this was a put-up game to "do" the farmer; a few years later
such things drove thousands into the pools.

Suddenly an announcement was made:  "Five-seventy-five."

Henry Topp jumped like a clown in a circus.  "They call me the
runt!" he yelled.  "But I'm the guy who pays the fair price.  Ten
dollars a load."

A thick-set bearded Mennonite stolidly outbade him.  "Ten and a
half."

Suppose a man took seventy bushels in a load, this was fifteen
cents a bushel for hauling.  But nobody stirred.  With flax close
to six dollars a bushel, something spectacular was expected to
happen.  Should the price break, the scramble for teams would be
even more frantic.  When wages offered reached twelve dollars a
load, with nobody taking the offer, Henry Topp had an inspiration.
Jim, with most of the others, was sitting on the railing of the
incline, his long legs drawn up angularly, his spine bent into an
arc, his cap pushed back.

"Eat my shirt!" Henry yelled.  "And boots too, doggone you!  I'll
pay by the bushel.  A quarter a bushel!"  And to emphasize what he
had said, he hurled his cap to the ground and trampled on it,
turning his heels and grinding it into the cinders of the driveway.

His bid was followed by silence; it sobered the crowd.  They were
figuring out what that amounted to by the load; just as previously
everybody had figured out what a bid by the load amounted to by the
bushel.

But the silence was only momentary.  First Elliot, then two others
outbade Henry Topp.  A few teams aligned at the bottom of the
incline; one, a four-horse team with a hundred-bushel tank, pulled
up to the platform.  People's thoughts were diverted: that man was
going to take home five hundred and seventy-five dollars for his
load.  What did it matter what was paid for hauling?  Bidding rose
to thirty-five cents.

Bedlam broke loose.  Nobody considered the distance.  What did it
matter?  Nobody would get more than one load per team to town
before the price broke.  If it broke now, so much the worse for the
farmer, that was all.

Wheeldon, however, waxed indignant.  "Hi there!" he shouted.  "Do
you call that fair play?  It's robbery!  That's what I call it."

Elliot turned on him, a broad grin on his red, round face.  "Forty
cents," he said, bowing to Wheeldon as if handing a bouquet to a
lady.

Everybody gasped.  Twenty-four dollars for a small load!  An hour's
work with a team of horses!

"Dammit!" Henry Topp yelled at Elliot's back, "why don't you say
fifty?  Are you tight?"  And with a war-whoop which made the horses
nodding up the incline raise startled heads, he swung his arms,
cheering, and shouted, "Half a dollar a bushel.  Come on, you
loafers!"

In the entrance to the platform, the buyer appeared.  "Five
eighty."

This increased the commotion.  Lightning-quick, deals were struck.
Everybody offered half a dollar.  Horanski and Nawosad, though they
had flax to sell themselves, closed with Wheeldon; they had to
fetch their wagons, for they had walked to town.  Wheeldon would
take them in his car.  Hartley and Shilloe closed with Elliot;
Hilmer and an outsider with Henry Topp.  Nicoll had brought one of
his three loads along.  A man from south of the Line spoke to Jim;
no settler from Spalding District would have offered Abe's son a
job.

There was a rush for cars and teams.  Elliot came over to Jim.
"Gimme a ride?"  He had a wagon but handed it over to Shilloe.

When Jim started in the wake of Wheeldon, he carried seven people,
two squatting on his running boards.

Nobody knew that a townsman had also been watching developments.
Before noon Anderson had a string of new Ford cars coming in from
Somerville, ready to take some of the easy money.

John Elliott sat with Jim in the front seat.  "By jingo," he said.
"I believe I'll buy a car to-night."

"Unless the price breaks," Jim added.

"Go on.  That price will hold for years!"

As a matter of fact, Elliot did buy a Ford car that night; and so
did Henry Topp and Wheeldon.

The road was in a poor state of repair; but Wheeldon ahead of Jim,
drove with reckless expertness; and Jim, dropping his passengers at
their respective destinations, followed closely in his wake.

When Wheeldon stopped to set Horanski down, it struck Jim that the
Ukrainian, too, had flax; and yet he was going to haul for
Wheeldon.  "Horanski," he shouted after him, "haven't you flax of
your own?"

The Ukrainian did not stop in his run.  "Sure," he called back over
his shoulder; "sell him to-morrow."

When Jim got home, he found his father in the east half of the new
barn, putting his binders away for the winter.

"Dad!" he called in his hoarse, loud voice, from the door.  "Flax
is nearly six dollars.  Fifty cents for hauling a bushel."

Abe straightened his back and looked at Jim without speaking.

"You were wrong this time!" Jim went on and plunged into a report
of what he had witnessed.

Abe listened without betraying his thoughts.  He was fifty years
old; he felt older; but he did not mean to surrender the lead just
yet.  His own crop was by no means a failure; it had been seeded at
small cost; it was wheat, which meant food for man.  He could
afford to despise easy money; he had declined to undertake what he
abhorred, a speculation.

Jim went to town again next morning.  Elliot had sold at five-
ninety, Wheeldon at five-ninety-eight; and still the price rose.
When Horanski brought his single load, he received six dollars and
three cents a bushel.

But it snowed up on 9th October.  Nobody in the district did any
fall ploughing.  All the work was left till spring.

Shortly, the new school was opened at Morley.  It was a holiday for
the neighbourhood; a deal of speech-making was to be done; and Ruth
went with Jim and the girls in Jim's car.  Abe stayed at home.



NINETEEN

The New School


Every now and then, during the summer, Abe had seen something of
the great building going up just east of the town.

It was an imposing structure comprising six classrooms, laboratories,
teachers' offices, and an assembly hall; the whole built in the
form of the letter H.  A long, shed-like stable marked the east
line of the five-acre yard, large enough to accommodate six summer
and six winter vans with twelve horses.  The summer vans resembled
such stage coaches as had been in use twenty years ago; the winter
vans, mounted on bob-sleighs, had box-like canvas tops with a flue-
pipe projecting from the roofs.  Inside there was a driver's seat;
behind it, a stove screwed to the floor; and two benches running the
length of the van.

The school was administered by a board consisting of one trustee
from each district, Spalding District being represented by
Wheeldon.  The local school remained closed.  Mr. Blaine retired.

As the time approached, Ruth spoke one evening of the advantage it
would be for Marion if she continued at Somerville for her last
year.

Abe mused in silence.  "Very well," he said at last.  "But if Jim
and Frances are to go, they will go to Morley.  Consolidation has
been forced on me.  I want to see how this thing works out."

"I am speaking only of Marion," Ruth replied.

Marion, accordingly, was taken back to Somerville.  Abe was only
too willing to make concessions.

On 1st November, the van service opened, with Henry Topp in charge
of Spalding District.  The route was prescribed by the board; and
when his schedule was announced, Abe laughed.  His was the first
place at which the driver was to stop in the morning; thence he was
to return to Nicoll's Corner; then to go north, to pick up
Wheeldon's, Stanley's, Nawosad's children; back again to Nicoll's
Corner; east to Hartley's and Shilloe's; a third time back to the
corner, to admit Nicoll's children: then south.  By the time the
van reached the school, Abe's children had travelled fourteen
miles; and the van held thirty-one children.  Jim and Frances had
to board the conveyance at a quarter-past seven, before daylight in
winter.  It was true that, correspondingly, they reached home at
night so much earlier; for apart from Nicoll's children they were
the first to be set down of those who lived north of the second
ditch.  Even so, however, they never came home before five.  In
1920, the van was to start from the northernmost point; in 1921
from the point farthest east.

To this aspect of the matter Ruth had never given a thought; and
she was dismayed.  Often, during the winter, the children were late
in getting to school; at night, it was often six and later when
they got home.

Jim took things cheerfully.  He was glad of the opportunity the new
system afforded of meeting and associating with all the boys of his
age.  Few were in the same grade; for, since there had never been a
high school within reach, not many had covered the work of the
first year.  But that did not matter.  He frankly proclaimed that
he liked the system.

It was different with Frances.  In spite of her plumpness she was
pale and of delicate health; she suffered from headaches.  Often
she felt excessively tired; and that made her ill-humoured.  "Oh,"
she would say when Jim, his work finished, tried to entice her into
a game of cards or checkers, "leave me alone.  All I want is to go
to bed."  On Fridays, she heaved a great sigh.  "Thank the Lord!
Another week gone!"

She was nearly sixteen.  Physically, she developed rapidly, though
she remained small.  Her face assumed a new and alluring
prettiness, a plump and slightly anaemic charm, with fair curls
hanging down in front of her ears.  Abe watched and said nothing.

Every night after supper Ruth insisted on the two children doing
their homework under her eyes.  Two hours were reserved for the
task.  Jim sat down without a protest; but he often hid a cheap
novel under his books.  Frances groaned.

One Friday evening, however, shortly before Christmas, Frances,
too, seemed willing enough.  She and her brother occupied opposite
seats at the dining table, under the frosted bowl of electric
bulbs.  Ruth sat at the far end in one of the straight-backed
chairs, sewing.  Opposite her sat Abe, turning the leaves of a
great tome with illustrations of ancient buildings.  Behind Ruth,
in one of the deep, grey chairs from the living-room, Marion
reclined, stitching a silky piece of lingerie--her usual occupation
when at home.

For an hour a profound silence had reigned in that solemn room when
Frances ceased writing and looked up with a laugh.

"Miss Garston gave us for a composition topic, 'Why I like
Consolidation,'" she said.  "Anyone want to read what I've written?"

With a deep frown on his massive face, as though recalling himself
from the infinity of space, Abe held out a hand.  Frances handed
the sheet of paper over with another laugh; she had hardly expected
her father to ask for it.  As he proceeded, she nervously chewed
her pencil.

"Why I like Consolidation," Abe read.  "The fact is, I don't like
it at all.  I have to get up at half-past five in the morning.
Breakfast I have at a quarter past six.  Before seven I leave the
house, warmly wrapped, to walk to the corner of my father's farm.
At seven I hand myself over to the jailer who takes me to school.
He tries to bandy impertinent jokes with me.  In the van it is hot,
and I take my wraps off.  For the first half-hour it is not too
bad.  I have at least ample room.  Then we pick up a bunch of nine
children from three families.  Four of them smell of garlic; some
of unwashed bodies and unclean clothes.  After another three-
quarters of an hour we pick up eleven children, nearly all of them
objectionable on the score of smell.  The air we breathe over and
over begins to be so foul that it nauseates me.  Whenever the van
stops, I bend forward to get a whiff of the delicious cold draught.
By this time I am sitting on my wraps; for we are crowded.  I hate
to do that, for I have nice clothes and like to take care of them.
None of the other children will sit still.

"At twenty minutes past nine we reach school and are handed over to
a new set of jailers.  I am so stupefied with bad air and so tired
with jolting that to study is the last thing on earth I want to do.
But that is what we are sent for.  I should like the work if I
reached school fresh after a reasonable night's rest.  As it is, I
know that whatever I may still be able to do is not worth doing.
All day long I watch the clock and resent that it is so slow.  The
only oasis in the desert of the day is the noon recess when I go
down town.

"At four o'clock, which comes as a great relief at last, I must
hand myself back to the jailer of the morning, for another drive of
sixty or ninety minutes in evil-smelling captivity.  When I get
home, I have no life left and certainly no desire to write a good
composition on 'Why I dislike Consolidation.'"

Abe sat and frowned, his eyes on infinity.  As for the contents of
this exercise, it confirmed his aversion to the whole system.  He
might have laughed at it.  But over and beyond what he had read, he
had received a shattering revelation of the character of the girl.
That she was precocious he had known; children were precocious
these days.  But she was advanced in a way which he could not have
defined.

It was Frances who broke the silence in which everybody looked at
the father.  "I don't think I'll hand that in," she said.

"Why not?"  It had been half a minute before Abe spoke.

"They'd can me."

"'Can you?'  Can't you speak decent English?"

"Expel me, then."

"Let them try!"  Abe got heavily to his feet.  "You make a clean
copy and hand it in.  If they object, you tell them I've read it
and approved."

Frances looked at him with an uncertain light in her eyes.

"I want this sheet," Abe said.  "Stay where you are.  Write it
over."

He turned to pace the room.  In that writing the girl's soul lay
bared; could he allow her to show it to others?  There was passion
in that exercise.  Had Ruth not heard, he would have retracted.

Ruth pushed her glasses back on her bulging forehead.  "Let me see
that, Frances."

In a strange impulse Abe went through the swing-door into the
white-tiled kitchen to reach for the sheepskin in the narrow closet
by the side of the wash-basin.  For an hour or longer he paced the
yard; and not till the lights had flashed on upstairs did he re-
enter the house.

Ruth was in the dining-room; she never went to bed before him now.

For a few minutes, Abe walking up and down, there was the silence
usual between them.  Then Ruth dropped her sewing.

"Abe," she said, looking up, "what can we do about Frances?"

He stopped and pondered, weighing her.  Did she see the problem?

"Can't we make an arrangement for the children to drive
themselves?"

No.  She did not see the problem.  Then, as if awaking, "You wanted
consolidation, did you not?"

"I want the high school."

Abe stood silent.  "You have a problem on your hands," he said at
last, "in that girl of yours."

"She is yours as well as mine, Abe."

"Is she?"

This was cruel thrust.  In years gone by Ruth had consciously tried
to raise the children so that they would be more hers than his.
But Abe regretted what he had said; he knew only too well that he
himself had failed his children in the past.

"You have a problem on your hands in the girl," he repeated; "and
every parent in the district will have a similar problem."

"Just what do you mean by that, Abe?"

"Unless you feel it, I cannot explain," Abe replied.

On Christmas Day the Spaldings had dinner in town with the
Vanbruiks.  The weather was mild; for a week it had thawed every
day; the eaves of all buildings were strung with icicles; and from
the ground their drippings grew up in corresponding cones.

Dinner over, the two women withdrew upstairs; the girls went for a
walk; Jim disappeared.  The conversation of the men turned to the
school.

"I can't say that I like what I see," the doctor said.  "Here are
two hundred children coming in from the country, fifty adolescents,
a few young men and women: all released from patriarchal homes into
comparative freedom.  The common objection to all public schools--
that, in a moral sense, they level down, not up--takes on the
proportions of a menace.  All become unified--standardized, they
call it--in a common smartness.  Not to know, say, do certain
things stamps a boy as a 'sissy.'  They smoke, they use objectionable
language, and worse.  Above all, they acquire the slang of the day--
a stereotyped language capable of expressing only coarsened
reactions.  It is the same with the girls, of course.  They are
suddenly brought into contact with the conveniences of an advanced
material civilization: post office, telephone, and so on. They
conduct correspondences of which they keep their parents in
ignorance.  Over the telephone, they speak to distant friends.  I
have overheard such conversations.  The sort of letters they write I
had an opportunity to see when chance placed one in my hands.  It
was lost in the store.  Since I know neither writer nor addressee, I
am not violating any confidence in letting you see it.  I kept it as
a document."

He rose slowly--he was over sixty-five--went to his desk and
abstracted a paper from one of its drawers.  Abe opened it and
read:

"My dear Vi,--Oh boy!  I'm all tipsy and raring to go.  Oh kid!  Ma
has relented.  I'm going to attend a swell dance tomorrow night
where the Tip Top Orchestra is playing.  My togs are ready, compact
filled, hair frizzed and all.  Of course, Ma doesn't know; but Jack
will be there with bells on.  She thinks he's at Torquay yet.  But
this once I am going to have a fling.  Dash it, though!  I was mad
at Jack the other day, a week ago.  You know that nifty compact he
gave me last Xmas?  He smashed it; and I gave him Hail Columbia.
He'll bring me a new one to-morrow night; that'll be jake with me.
Didn't I feel punk, though!

"Last night I met Agnes Strong on the ice.  For the love of Pete!
How that Jane carries on!  I'd be ashamed of myself, honest to
cats, I should.  You know Frank Smith, the new sheik?  He's sweet
on me, and, of course, I encourage him.  Want some fun.  But Agnes
is cuckooed about him since he took her to a dance last week.  It
makes me puke to see her.  Well, so long, kiddo.  Must ring off.
Think of me to-morrow night, all dolled up.  Frank says I'm a spiff
looker.  Hug me tight.  See you in the funnies!--Pansy Blossom."

"The worst of that sort of thing," the doctor said after a while,
"is not the moral degeneracy which it may or may not imply.  It is
the coarsening of a whole generation." . . .

At night, Abe gave Ruth that letter to read; she was amazed; but,
of course, "HER girls would never condescend to a thing like that."

A few weeks later, having thought matters over, Abe went to town.
It so happened that, in the store, Mr. Diamond mentioned casually
that Mrs. Vanbruik was in.  Abe, following up a half-matured
thought, said at once, "I'd like to see her for a moment."

But someone else was speaking to her.  While waiting, Abe asked to
see his account.  When the book-keeper, an elderly man of military
bearing, brought him his ledger page, Abe, amazed at the total,
turned to the manager.  "What are these items here, dry goods, with
three amounts of thirty, twenty-five, and forty-five dollars?"

"Let me see."  Mr. Diamond, taking the paper, disappeared in the
crowd.  "Those," he said, returning, "were dresses for the young
ladies, ordered through a traveller on approval.  Miss Frances took
them out, and Mrs. Spalding signed the bills."

Abe nodded as Mary approached, in fur coat, but without a hat on
her still brown hair.

"Hello, Mary," Abe said grimly.  "Ruth would like to put Frances
out to board.  The drives are too much for her.  Would you take the
girl?"

Mary hesitated.  "Personally, yes.  But I must consult Charlie."

"Of course," Abe said.  "No hurry.  It's quite a responsibility to
assume.  I want the girl under strict supervision."

"I see," Mary said.  "Very well, Abe.  I'll talk it over."

Thus, in February, Frances was taken to town to live with her aunt,
coming home for the week-end only.  Ruth did not know that Abe was
trying, belatedly, to shoulder part of the responsibility for this
children; she thought he had given in to her wishes and felt
properly grateful.

When seeding time came and throughout the district people were
getting ready for a record acreage of flax, Abe said, "I'll stick
to wheat," and when he saw to what an enormous expense people went
in order to put their crops into the ground--no ploughing had been
done in the fall--he felt justified on that score alone.  Unless
the price remained around five dollars a bushel, where it still
stood in spring, every bushel raised would mean a loss.  But the
gambling spirit had taken hold of the farmers; and had there been a
prophet, they would not have listened to him.  Harry Stobarn and
Bill Crane were working for Elliot, at six dollars a day.
Horanski, instead of hiring out himself, imported unskilled
countrymen of his from the city; even Hilmer doubled his acreage by
hiring a man.  Wheeldon, Henry Topp, and others plunged to a
ruinous extent.  But all had credit at the bank.  Abe Spalding,
they said, had lost his grip.

His acreage, even of wheat, being unexpectedly small, he had seed
left when he finished.  Early in June he took it to town to sell.

He had just turned his horses beyond the elevator when he noticed
that, near the crossing, the man who had preceded him had stopped
and jumped to the ground.  Abe knew him slightly; he was living
three miles east of Morley, south of the track.  As Abe approached,
the man laid a mittened hand on the edge of his tank, lifting
himself to the stepping board.  "I want to talk to you," he said.
"Drive to the side."

Abe did as bidden.

"You're Spalding from up north, aren't you?  My name is Simpson.
You've a girl going to that school over there?  I know her.  I have
one myself.  The two've been chums.  I've seen them together.

"A week or so ago--it was the 1st June; I remember the date because
I was hitching up to go to Somerville about a note at the bank; and
the east-bound train was going by.  My yard's right alongside the
track.  And there I saw your girl in the cab of the engine, sitting
on the knees of the engineer.  No.  I know her well.  Plump sort of
a chit.  Round cheeks and fair, curly hair.  I know her.  I've seen
her often enough with my girl.  The train was slowing down to go
into that siding at Willett. . . .  Well, I thought you should
know.  She recognized me, by the way.  Looked straight at me and
stopped, laughing.  The rest's up to you."  And Simpson dropped
back to the ground.

Abe stood, the lines slack in his hand.  He could not think
clearly; he had the almost physical sensation of a wish that he
were dead.  What do?  Go to the school and annihilate it with all
it contained?  Go to his sister's to talk it over?  Go home to
hide?

He went to the school, entered, and knocked at the principal's
door.  A tall, gaunt young man appeared.

"My name's Spalding.  I want a list of the days on which my
daughter Frances has been absent from school."

"Just a moment."  The principal returned into the classroom.  When
he rejoined Abe, he led the way to a small room in the central part
of the building where he bade Abe sit down.  He himself went to
fetch the register of attendance.  "For what month?" he asked.

"May and June."

The principal jotted down a few dates on a pad of paper.  For June,
there was only one, the third of the month.

"How about the first?" Abe asked.

"1st June?  That was a Saturday."

Abe stared.  Then Frances had been at home that day.  He felt
baffled.  "Thanks," he said at last.  "And now I want the girl."

"Very well, sir."

When Frances appeared, she looked apprehensive.  Was it guilt
betraying itself?  Abe said nothing, however, and led the way.

At Mary's house, his sister met them.  "What is wrong, Abe?"  Abe
motioned her and Frances to sit down.  "Why," he asked the girl
whose pallid face was flushed, "were you absent from school on 3rd
June, last Monday?"

"I was ill."

Abe looked at his sister, and Mary nodded.  "I don't remember the
date.  But I can look it up."

"Never mind.  Any other day on which you missed school recently?"

"Not that I--" Mary began.

"Yes, auntie.  The last Friday in May.  Don't you remember?  I had
a terrible headache in the morning.  I went home in the afternoon."

Mary looked as though in doubt.  "What is the meaning of this,
Abe?"

"On that day Frances left here as if she were going to school but
did not turn up there."

There was the slightest pause before Frances said, "I never!"

"Be careful," Abe threatened, "I've witnesses to prove what I say."

"Abe," Mary repeated, "will you tell me what are you driving at?"

"That day she was in the cab of the engine on the east-bound
train."

Frances rose in a paroxysm of sobbing.

"How could she have got back?" Mary asked.

"I don't know.  I'll find out."

"Just a moment, Abe," Mary said.  "The train leaves at nine-ten.
It gets to Somerville at ten-twenty.  There's no way of coming back
till three-forty-five the next day."

"She was seen."

"What is the date?" Mary asked, reaching for a calendar.

Abe hesitated.  "That is the one point on which I am not sure.
31st May or 3rd June."

"Where does the doubt come in?"

"I don't care to explain just yet."

Frances dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief.  "Don't you remember,
auntie?  I went to school in the afternoon and then home.

"I don't remember, my dear."

"Friday?" Abe asked.  "According to the register you were in school
that day."

At last Frances said, "Mistakes will occur."

"They will."  Abe rose to leave the house.

He went to the station.  He had thought of freight trains.

"Can you look up the dates on which freight trains have gone west
of late?"

"Can I?" Kellogg, the agent, said; and, taking a file from the
shelf above the wicket, he turned its pages.  "Not a one for two
weeks.  They've all been going east.  Apart from the regulars,
there was only a special.  31st May, going west in the morning and
east at night.  Field-day at Ferney.  The east-bound mixed was run
on the siding at Willett."  Willett being a flag station half-way
to Somerville.

"Thanks," Abe said and left.

He returned to the school which was being dismissed for the noon
recess.  He found the principal in the hall.  "My daughter claims
she missed school on Friday morning, 31st May," he said.

"Just a moment."  The principal swung lankily on his heels.  Miss
Carston, the high-school assistant, was coming down the stairway.
"Miss Carston," he said, "this is Mr. Spalding.  Could there be a
mistake in your register?  Mr. Spalding claims his daughter was
absent on Friday morning, 31st May.  Your register marks her
present."

Miss Carston, a short, stout woman, frowned.  "Mistakes will occur.
But wait.  31st May?  No.  That morning we had a monthly test in
French.  Frances was present.  I have her paper here."

"Thanks," Abe said and turned away.

He left town on the east road, going to Simpson's.

"Yes," Simpson said as, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand,
he came from the shack.  "You can see for yourself.  This is where
I was."  And, placing a toothpick between his teeth, he led the way
to the stable.  "The train was slowing down to go into the siding.
Another train was coming down the line as I left the yard."

"But that was 31st May."

"1st June.  I had a note to renew before noon."

"You are sure about the date?"

"Absolutely."

"1st June was a Saturday.  The girl was at home.  Can I phone the
bank for a confirmation?"

"If you want to."

Abe returned to town and waited till one o'clock for the bank to
reopen.  When he called the manager over the telephone, Simpson's
renewal of his note was confirmed as of 1st June.

The evidence was hopelessly confused. . . .

At night, Abe gave a detailed account to Ruth, without disguising
the fact that all seemed contradictory to a degree.

"Frances is truthful," Ruth said with conviction.

"But she says she was at home on Friday morning.  The teacher says
she was at school; and she can prove it."

Ruth spoke placidly.  "We are human, Abe.  Frances is a decent
girl."

"I hope so.  I can't make it out.  I have tried to deal with the
case.  I have failed.  I leave it to you."

A few days later Abe met his brother-in-law in the store.

"Bad business, Abe," said the doctor with more emphasis than he was
in the habit of giving to his words.

"I know, but what could I do?"

"Hard to say.  But a suspicion cast on a girl's character does not
remain without effect.  If she is innocent, it is a revelation to
her."

Abe looked into an abyss.

That night, the matter came up once more between Ruth and Abe.  Jim
had gone to bed.  Ruth was sewing at her end of the table.  Abe was
pacing the room, still baffled by his inability to see clear.

"Ruth," he said at last in a more moving tone than he had used for
years, "you seem to feel sure of the girl.  I hold you responsible."

Ruth looked up, resting her hands.  "I am satisfied that Frances is
truthful.  I assume the responsibility. . . .  Abe," she added
after a while, responding to his tone, "I can't see what you worry
about.  Surely you don't believe the girl has been seduced?"

Abe drew a deep breath.  For a moment it seemed in the profound
silence which followed as though he were growing beyond the
proportions of a mere man.  When he spoke, his voice held a quality
which sent little shivers over Ruth's spine.  "I can't help myself.
When Charlie died, he took something of me into his grave.  I have
been living like a shadow of myself these half-dozen years. . . .
Seduced?  The word is yours.  But I want to say this, if a child of
mine went wrong, in the sense in which the word is commonly used--"
His look, as he swayed back against the frame of the door, had
something erratic; and though he did not raise his voice, it
assumed tone and pitch of an outbreak of primitive passion.  "If
that happened . . . I'd rather see that child dead before me in her
coffin!"

And, having spoken, he seemed to shrink once more into his mere
human form.  Ruth sat, bent forward, staring into his face, white-
lipped because she had had a revelation of his inner nature.



TWENTY

Marion


School had closed, and Marion had come home, changed again.  Abe
felt more deeply disturbed than ever.

On 14th July, a Sunday, he was in the meadow west of his land,
sitting with Jim in the latter's car.  He was looking at the grass;
it being short, they would have to cut a very large area.

Square miles of land!  What for?  To live on; not to know why or
what for. . . .

Jim's voice broke in on his musings.  "If you want help, I can get
a man for you, dad."  And he mentioned McCrae, the returned man who
had settled west of Hartley's.  Jim knew that Abe would not engage
any one who had worked for him before.  "You'd have to pay three
dollars for a ten-hour day; and time and a half for overtime."

"All right," Abe said listlessly.  "You want him?"

"I suppose."

They turned to go back to the farm.  Abe had of late fallen into
the habit, whenever he was outside on his yard, of scanning the
horizon.  The weather was dry, the distance clear.  Suddenly, the
car crawling slowly over the prairie, Abe focused his eyes on a
moving point in the south-east, just north of town.  His eyes had
learned to interpret the smallest trifles at great distances.  It
was not long before he knew that the moving point was a car.

"I wonder who that may be," he said half to himself.

"Who?  Oh, I see," Jim said, following the direction of his
father's glance; his chin was resting on the wheel.  "That must be
young Harrison.  He's coming here, I bet."

Abe frowned.  "Who's Harrison?"

"Don't you know?"  Jim laughed.  "I thought you did.  Young lawyer
at Somerville.  Bright young chap.  Lots of money.  Well, sis would
hardly tell you.  I bet mother knows all about it, though."

"About what?"

"Well-l-l," Jim squirmed, "he's Marion's beau."

Abe's heart missed a beat.  All about him a life was lived of which
he knew nothing.

On the trail south of the farm Jim speeded up.  In the yard, he
alighted at once.  "I'll tip sis off," he said.

But that precaution proved unnecessary; for Abe was still sitting
in the car which had stopped in the middle of the yard, when, on
the steps of the house, the three women appeared, festively clad:
Ruth in a long skirt of black satin, with a crêpe-de-chine blouse
and a white fichu; Marion in a gown of light, clinging cloth,
mouse-grey, boldly trimmed with a flame-red border; Frances in her
ordinary Sunday clothes, a watchful expression on her precociously
saucy face.  Jim was coming from behind the house, tall, jaunty,
conceited in spite of his ugly ears; he, too, wore a new suit and a
sailor hat.  Slowly Abe left the seat of the car.  He was in
striped shirt-sleeves, though he wore a good pair of trousers and
his vest, with a laundered collar and a blue silk tie; on Sundays
he dressed when the chores were done.  He did not cross the yard
but looked at the family picture before him.  He had dreamt of such
scenes in the past; this might be fulfilment. . . .

A low, expensive, single-seated car, light blue, swung into the
yard and smoothly came to a stop at the little gate of the house-
yard.

A smallish young man in blue-serge suit with very wide trousers--
aggressively new and well-made, the coat excessively short--
manoeuvred himself from behind the wheel and, taking off a light-
grey hat of soft felt, uncovering abundant, glossy rather long
black hair parted in the centre, eagerly rounded the car to meet
Marion with outstretched hand.

The girl, greeting him with a smile which seemed to surge forward
in short little bursts of almost laughter, turned slowly, without
releasing his hand, and introduced him to mother and sister.

To Abe it looked like a puppet-show.  "So this," he thought, "is
the way such things are managed these days."

Marion, at a loss, looked across to him; and he, feeling sorry for
her, obeyed the appeal in her eye and relinquished the door of the
car on which he had been leaning.

He and Mr. Harrison were introduced and shook hands.

Jim nodded familiarly in the background.  "Hello, Bud!  How are
you?"

A general conversation ensued, guided by Marion and designed to
bridge the awkwardness of the moment.  Mr. Harrison was bringing
news: the Saturday papers of the city had carried the results of
the high-school examinations.  Marion, Jim, and Frances had passed,
though Jim with two "conditions"; it was more than he had expected.

Oh yes, the weather was marvellous; not a bit too warm.  No, it had
been no trouble to find the place; how could one mistake it?

Abe's glance rested on Frances; the expression in her face startled
him: a luring, greedy, jealous smile with which she watched her
older sister and the young man.

Marion, though taking part in the conversation with fluent
readiness, seemed far away.  But whenever her eye met that of the
young man, a radiance rose into her smile which was invariably
followed by the glow of a blush.  Again little bursts of laughter
broke from her lips, revealing strong ivory teeth.  Unconscious of
the fact that she betrayed her whole heart, she yielded, body and
soul, to a power that swayed her as the wind sways a tree, its
leaves flashing silvery undersides.  From the very day when she had
come home a month ago Abe had half divined it; it had been ever
present with him, disturbing the flow of his moods.

A moment later Marion executed an adroit manoeuvre by separating
the two men from the group.  "Father," she said, "Mr. Harrison is
dying to see the farm.  Will you show him?  We shall get dinner
meanwhile."

Abe led the way; and as he did so, he saw from the corner of his
eye a significant little by-play between the girl and her brother.
With a broad, teasing smile Jim made a motion as if to join the
men; but Marion, in sudden alarm, detained him by a touch on his
arm.  Jim laughed, scratched his head, and stood back.

As Abe and young Mr. Harrison crossed the yard to the old barn, the
latter kept up a patter of talk.  It might seem strange that,
living in an agricultural country as he did, he had never been on a
farm; yet such was the fact.  Born and raised in the city, having
no relatives in the west, his father, the judge, having come from
Nova Scotia, he had seen the open country only from train or car.
He had often felt it a handicap that he knew nothing of the work of
his clients. . . .

"Well," Abe said as they reached the open door of the barn, "if you
want to see stock, Sunday's a bad time.  Horses and cows are out on
pasture.  They may be a mile or two north."

"Anything.  It's all new to me."  In the door he turned.  "A world
in itself," he said.  "The trees shut it off."  The wind-breaks
with their lofty, rustling tops were at their best just then.

"It isn't as it used to be.  We are more dependent on the town."

"I suppose so.  There is less isolation.  The car has changed
that."

Abe did not answer.

Perhaps nothing on earth so reflects the Sunday spirit of rest as a
large, high, and empty barn, with the light entering through the
rows of dusty windows above the stalls.  The very smell of hay and
musty straw contributes to it.  The air, pervaded with the
slightest taint of ammonia and impelled by the currents which enter
through the doors as if it were cooled by them, moves in a
leisurely, lazy way.  The world of work and worry seems far
removed, veiled by a curtain of unreality.  Time stands still.  The
paths which the sunspots trace over floor and walls are deprived of
their significance as indicating the flow of the hours.  The
rectangles of brilliant light lie like palpable flakes, their edges
curved and curled up by the chaff.

Abe felt disturbed by the presence of this stranger which reminded
him of the fact that life called for decisions binding on all time
to come.

Nothing was said for a while as the two strolled along side by
side, the one huge and powerful, but stiffened by work and
advancing years; the other dwarfed by his side, but lithe and
young.

"That is the cow barn," Abe said as they recrossed the yard.

Again they passed through the building, Abe handling a lever here
or pressing a button there to illustrate the working of the
equipment.

A small door led from the stable into the milk room; and thence
into the east half where the implements were stored.

Between the new barn and the granaries lay the cool shade of the
towering structure.  West of the lane, just inside the wind-break,
glistened the pond, a smooth sheet of water.

"Nothing much to see," Abe said; yet he unfastened the door of the
last of the granaries through which a wave of intensely hot air,
laden with the smell of sun-parched timbers, struck their faces.
Inside, in the semi-darkness, they saw, suspended from the ridge of
the roof, huge tins filled with binder-twine and other things which
had to be protected from mice.  Against the partitions dividing the
bins from the aisle, garden tools leaned; bags were piled in lots
of two dozen each.

"I have three granaries," Abe said, pointing by a swing of his arm.
"We use a trap in the roof to fill them.  For the rough grains I
have bins in the lofts of the barns."  And, after a short, frowning
pause, he added, "Well-l-l," and led the way to the house. . . .

The sight of Marion in the presence of her lover haunted Abe for
weeks.  He tried to define the change in her; and whenever he did,
he seemed to see a grey-white cloud just before the dawn and
suddenly turned into a roseate marvel by the rays of the rising
sun.

But there were other moods, induced by critical thought.  This
thing had come upon him with amazing swiftness.  Why?  Because
nature plays human beings a scurvy trick in allowing a blind
instinct to mature before thought and insight are sufficiently
developed to act as a check.  It was he, the father, who must
counterbalance it.

Trifles changed in the day's routine.  Abe still rose at half-past
three; but instead of lighting the fire himself, he knocked at
Jim's door and left it to him to do so.  After a while Abe even
proposed that Jim get breakfast for the two of them.  Henceforth
nobody stirred in the house till, all chores being done, the men
had gone to the field.

McCrae was a small, wiry young fellow with a red, smiling face
which impressed perhaps by reason of a striking ugliness rather
than by reason of beauty, though the latter was not entirely
missing.  For two-thirds of its area, including nose, forehead,
lips, and one cheek, its skin was glossy and of a silky texture, as
if it had been scalded in his childhood.  Nose and lips were
slightly asymmetrical, giving him a look of evil boldness which
might have been repulsive had it not been in such perfect harmony
with the swaggering nonchalance of his bearing.  As it was, his
very deformity lent an additional attraction to him.

Jim and McCrae were on the most friendly terms; they never met in
the meadow without a challenge of wits.

Abe worked harder than either.  Whenever he stopped, the power of
consecutive thought seemed to leave him.  Yet, at every halt
necessitated by the horses' need for a rest, he looked about over
the prairie as if to verify that every landmark was still in its
place.  For miles around nothing stirred in the fields unnoticed by
him.  Wheeldon, Stanley, Nawosad, Nicoll, Shilloe, Horanski, Topp,
Elliot, Hilmer, and Schweigel--all were ploughing; wherever they
went in their fields, a dust cloud trailed after them; for the soil
was excessively dry, cracked with dryness; too dry to plough.  Only
weeds thrived in such weather; and to keep them down, the ploughing
had to be done.  As usual Abe was the only one who was haying so
far.

Marion?  No doubt Ruth expected him to agree to the projected match
without hesitation.  The young man seemed desirable enough.
Perhaps he was as eligible a husband for the girl as he, her
father, could have picked.  But how know?  The responsibility
rested with him; and he felt singularly disinclined to take risks.
Was he getting old?  All his life consisted in taking risks.

At dinner Abe met his three children around the board; and with
them McCrae; for Ruth, yielding to necessity, had offered to give
him his meals.  Even at table Abe was preoccupied.  An occasional
scrap of the conversation he caught caused him surprise; Jim,
McCrae, and Frances had much to laugh about.  Marion smiled in an
absent way.

In the midst of haying Abe left the farm on Saturday at noon, three
weeks after young Harrison's first visit to the place.  The other
settlers were waiting for a rain which would make the grass grow.
Abe knew better; he even left the wind-rows on the ground over
Sunday.

In town, he had a half-hour's consultation with his brother-in-law,
and together they went to Somerville in the latter's car, to gather
information about the young lawyer.  Between them, they talked
every angle of the matter over; and when Abe reached home late in
the day, he had made up his mind to speak to his daughter.

After supper, he switched the light on in the den and lingered in
the dining-room.  Marion, too, stayed behind, as if anticipating
what was to follow.  Ruth and Frances were in the kitchen where
Marion rarely helped now.  Abe caught the girl's eye and nodded
towards his little room.  As they entered, he closed the door
behind his back.

"Sit down," he said in a kindly voice, pointing to a chair at the
end of the library table; and on his heavy, broad forehead appeared
his settled frown.  He wished to say what was in his mind in such a
way as to spare her.  But no matter how he might put it, it was
bound to hold a note of reproach.  In the sharp light of an
unshaded bulb black shadows came into his face.  "I wish you had
let me know about this sooner."

"Everything happened within a few hours," Marion said.  "We met at
a young people's club, and I wrote mother the next day."

Abe could hardly ask why she had not written to him.  "Everything?"

"Before I knew it, I was engaged to be married."

"At seventeen years?  There are laws; and those who made them were
guided by the wisdom of the ages."

"They put the age below which a girl may not marry at sixteen."

"With the consent of the parents."

"That consent . . ."

"I cannot give within a year."

Pallor spread over the face of the girl; the look in her eyes
became tragic.  But her voice was tinged by a challenge.  "In a
year I won't need any one's consent."

Abe placed a hand on the table between them as if he were reaching
for hers.  "You won't be without it."

"Father," the girl cried, rising in the ecstasy of her passion.
"You don't understand.  We cannot wait.  We cannot live without
each other.  A year. . . .  If you understood, you would not keep
us apart.  I felt so sure that all would be well as soon as I came
home. . . ."

"All will be well," Abe said almost impatiently.  "But you must
wait.  That is all there is to say."  And, with a shrug of his
shoulders, he left the room while the girl sank back on her
chair. . . .

At night, when the children had gone to bed, anxious to escape the
charged atmosphere of the dining-room, Abe and Ruth confronted each
other.  It was she who spoke first.

"Just what is your objection to John, Abe?"  He stopped in his
walk.  "I have no objection to him.  I have made inquiries.  But
the girl is too young to think of marriage."

"Marion IS rather young.  But hardly too young to be happy."

"Let her be happy in the way of her years."

"It is too late to consider that."

"That is not my fault."

"You mean it was I who sent her to high school?"

"Exactly."

"It proves that I was right.  Whom could she meet in a place like
this?  Henry Topp?  The time would have come when she would have
wanted a home of her own.  She would have had to take what she
could get."

"She would have had the maturity to make her choice."

"When there would have been no choice to make."

"She fell a victim to the first man bold enough to make love to
her."

"Do you think a girl like Marion could live in a town for three
years without more than one man trying to make love to her?"

"And to that you were willing to expose your child?"

"You are old-fashioned, Abe."

"That means I am sensible."

"Marion has seen others.  Young people have their meetings these
days.  She has chosen well."

Abe took several turns through the room.  "She is in her puberty,"
he said at last.  "Just ready to develop her inner life.  Satisfy
sexual instincts at that stage, and higher things cease."

Ruth looked up.  "Abe, I hear your brother-in-law through you."

"My brother-in-law has seen much of life.  I am not ashamed to
admit that I learn from him."  Abe sat down.  "Ruth!  You speak as
if you wished to hurt my pride.  I have no pride left.  I am
anxious to do what seems right to me according to my lights.  I
will be frank.  This comes at a time when it disturbs me greatly.
I wish we could see eye to eye.  Is it so much that I ask?  I want
her to wait a year, that is all."

And for the moment, Ruth being under the influence of Abe's plea,
it did not seem much.  Ten years later it would seem a trifle.  Yet
she could hardly give in quite gracefully.  "Since she needs your
consent," she said, "she will have to wait, I suppose."

And there, for the time being, the matter rested.



TWENTY-ONE

Changes


Next day, Mr. Harrison arrived in the early afternoon and had a
long interview with Abe from which he emerged frowning.  Yet a
formal engagement was recognized to exist between the lovers.
Henceforth he came every Sunday and often, on weekdays, at night.
Marion, Frances, he, and Jim played ball on the lawn east of the
house; and Marion and he had long walks in the windbreaks where
regular footpaths were becoming established among the trees.  In
the evenings, Ruth went with them, allowing the young people to
pair off by themselves.  At ten or eleven, the patient lover
returned to Somerville in his car.

Time went by; and the district was shaken by things hardly noticed
at Abe's farm.  The crops had suffered from drought; partly because
the spring work had been poorly done.  Everybody except Abe had
strained his credit in securing help at peak prices in order to put
flax in the ground.  But in mid-summer the price of that flax had
broken at last, with the yield averaging less than five bushels an
acre.

"Well," Jim said to Abe, "this time you were right."

From week to week farmers watched the market, hoping it would
recover.  But, once broken, the price tumbled steadily till, late
in the fall, it reached pre-war levels.  All farm products fell in
value in 1920, but none to the same ruinous extent; and therefore
no land depreciated to the same extent as flax land.

It was staggering.  John Elliot who, a year ago, had declined an
offer of twenty thousand dollars was now anxious to sell but could
find no buyer.  He was told that he could not expect to get more
than a thousand dollars a quarter.  His annual interest charges
would, under changed conditions, have paid for a farm.

Henry Topp, who had not succeeded in renewing his contract to drive
the school van--Baker had taken his place--was in a similar plight;
and Hilmer and the Ukrainians were hiring out by the month.

Again all eyes were focused on Abe Spalding.  It was a repetition
of his spectacular achievement of 1912, though in a negative sense.
His crop was nothing to boast of; but it was raised at insignificant
cost.

During the fall, a renewal of neighbourly relations came about
between Nicoll and Abe.  Nicoll's son Dick came home from overseas,
with Slim Topp.  According to the Soldier Settlement Act of 1919,
they were entitled to financial assistance by the Federal
Government: a loan of three thousand dollars for building, stock,
and equipment.  Dick, who had brought a wife from England, was
still in the city but had filed a claim on the quarter west of his
father's.  Nicoll, seeing Abe pass one day, came out to the road.

"I've been thinking, Abe," he said as if there had never been any
break in their friendship.  "Dick's coming home.  Do you figure on
putting another man on your place?"

Abe was looking straight ahead; his heart was beating faster.  He
had missed the friendly contact with his neighbour.  "Do you mean
Dick . . . ?"

"No.  I'd like to buy the house you have on your place."

"Oh?  Yes, I might sell it."

"How much do you want?"

Abe mused, then, in an impulse of generosity, "Two hundred dollars
if you haul it yourself."

"I'll haul it," Nicoll replied, "as soon as there's snow."

Abe nodded and clicked his tongue.  Few words to pass between them!
But they were precious to him.  Yet, this was a first step towards
the dismemberment of his farm.

Snow fell in November.  One morning Nicoll came with ten horses,
four trucks, a load of timbers, and a number of men to draw away
the house.

Abe was feeding his horses when he saw them passing; and for half
an hour he went on with his work.  Already he had laid down the
fence in front of the lot; Nicoll would notice that he had made
things easy for him.  After breakfast he did more; he went over to
help.  Among the men Abe noticed McCrae, Hilmer, and Shilloe.
Abe's help was welcome, for he had moved a house before.  As though
it went without saying that, where he appeared, he would take the
lead, everybody watched him, ready to assist, though it was Nicoll
who spoke when explicit orders were needed.

This aid given to Nicoll set Abe thinking of another man whom, for
no reason whatever, he had included in his stubborn avoidance of
contacts: old man Blaine.  The next time he passed his cottage, he
stopped and went in.  On the opposite quarter the frame of a new,
unfinished structure was standing like a skeleton against the sky:
Slim Topp's new barn.  Neither he nor Dave Topp could live in peace
with Henry any longer; and so the partnership had been dissolved.
That gave Abe his opening as he knocked at Blaine's kitchen door.
"Getting married?" he asked with a nod across the road.

"So they say; so they say," the old man replied in a childish
treble.  "He came back without a scratch."

Abe went through the kitchen into the living-room beyond.  Two
rocking-chairs, a table, and a few bookshelves were covered with
dust, testifying to the old man's diminishing eyesight.

As Blaine followed him, Abe realized with a shock how much his old
friend had aged.  While he had been at work, something outside him
had sustained him; when he had retired, he had been left without
that support.  He looked shrunk; his limbs were like thin rods
housed in his clothes.  His hoary beard, white as snow, seemed the
only part of his body undiminished in size.  His step was
uncertain.  As Abe sat down, the old man stood in the door and
grinned at him.

"How old are you now?" Abe asked, speaking as to a child.

"Eighty," replied the senile voice proudly.  "Eighty years and
sixty-three days.  And sound as a dollar."

Abe looked out of the window.  "I see you had a garden."  He
inferred the fact from such dry vines as were standing up through
the snow.

"Yes.  I grew all the plants in the house.  I've got a great
recipe."  He looked about to make sure they were alone.  "No ladies
around, eh?"  And he tittered.  "I wrote to my brother in Ontario
for a pound of sheep manure.  The real thing.  Of that I made a
decoction--boiled it for three hours.  That's a sweet smell!  With
that I watered the plants.  Made them grow like a miracle.  You
must try that one day."  He was standing unsteadily, supporting
himself now with one hand now with the other against the frame.

"All right," Abe said, too painfully impressed to wish for a longer
stay.  "I must move on.  I was going to town."

But Blaine, anxious to detain his caller, began to talk 
precipitately.  "They say they are going to use the school as a
community hall and have dances there.  Slim Topp has learned to
play the saxophone; and McCrae, over there, hits it off on the
trombone."  And he imitated the notes of these instruments, using
his hands like a trumpet.

"You keeping all right?" Abe asked, not having the heart to leave.

"Fine," Blaine boasted.  "I take a walk every day.  I still have
the bicycle.  But I'd rather walk now, all the way to Horanski's.
His missus bakes my bread for me; and he brings me candy from town.
I have a sweet tooth, Abe.  How are the little ones?"

"The little ones?  Oh, Marion's going to be married next year.  Jim
and Frances are attending high school in town."

The old man looked sobered; but comprehension was beyond his
powers.  The near past had disappeared; he was living in years far
removed from the present.  "There was another one, wasn't there?  A
boy, Charlie? . . .  Or was he not yours?"

"He was mine," Abe said.  "He is dead.  Good-bye, Blaine."

The decay of the human faculties impressed him as part of the human
tragedy inherent in the fundamental conditions of man's life on
earth.  That was a thing ever present now.  What, as compared with
this fact--that, having lived, we must die--did such inessentials
matter as economic success or the fleeting happiness of the moment?

When, at Somerville, he turned into Main Street, identical with the
highway in town, he caught sight of young Harrison on the sidewalk
to his right and stopped to speak to him.  A few commonplace
remarks were exchanged.  Then Abe asked, "Have you told your
father?"

"My father?  Yes, I have told him."

"Does he agree?"

"He disadvises.  He does not object."

"What's his reason?"

"He thinks a professional man married is a professional man
arrested in his career."

After a brief silence Abe nodded and drove on.  On his way home, he
was steeped in thought.

He knew nothing of what was going on in the district.  Yet, as he
passed Hilmer's Corner, he was conscious of a pair of malicious
eyes in a wrinkled face following his progress from a square little
window in the shack.  Hilmer who had returned with the freeze-up
was busy at the stable behind the house.  Within, old Mrs.
Grappentin was muttering to herself.  "The great lord is going to
build his fortunes still higher!  A lawyer to be his son-in-law!
He has grown too great for the likes of us!  Too great indeed!"

For, as a consequence of the respect for any sort of education
common to the peasant classes of Europe, this fact, known to every
one, that a professional man was going to marry into the family,
had almost succeeded in changing her attitude to Abe as a person.

Opposite Hilmer's, there was John Elliot's vastly greater
establishment, well-kept, apart from a pile of opened tins near the
house, a four-roomed cottage painted brown.

Abe noticed these things; before they became a thought, he had
reverted to that girl in his house who, during the last few months,
had so greatly changed.  Throughout the weeks she was listless now,
her face pale, her features drawn; only on Sundays did she revive.
Abe was aware of the fact that between her and her mother there was
often a pleasant and lively exchange of words; but when he entered,
a silence fell.  With a pang Abe realized that, in the eyes of the
girl, he lived as a sort of doom personified, as a law from the
verdict of which there is no appeal.  The misconception put him on
the defensive; he justified himself to himself.  But as a matter of
fact he felt far from certain that what he did was the right thing
to do.

A great task was ahead of him: the task of making clear to himself
what his life had been worth to him; and this necessity filled him
with a passionate longing for peace and moral support within his
own house.  No matter what he had said in the past, his isolation
in the district weighed heavily on him.  Since that August day when
Harrison had interviewed him, he had seemed isolated even in his
house.

All these things were coming to a head now, as a consequence of
many things: of his renewed though slight contact with Nicoll; of
the way in which Blaine's sight had affected him; even of his
instinctive revolt against the opinion of Judge Harrison.  Abe had
had an unavowed suspicion that the judge's hostile attitude, never
admitted by his son, had been against Marion as the daughter of a
mere farmer.  That was not the case.  His objection was based on
the opinion that marriage meant the end of ambition.  But even
ambition might be enhanced by the right marriage.  Abe was suddenly
inclined to think that Marion was the proper wife for the man.  Why
not let her have her desire?

Had he indeed lost his grip that such thoughts should come?  How
about the farm?  He no longer raised crops to compare with that of
1912.  Yet, a few days ago he had heard John Elliot say in town,
"Thank the Lord it was a poor crop.  The greater the yield, the
greater the loss!"  That, at any rate, was not his, Abe's case.  He
was earning enough to carry him from year to year.

But he wanted peace and goodwill in his house; and thus, a week or
so before Christmas, he proposed to Ruth that they invite the
Vanbruiks and young Harrison for their Christmas dinner.  Ruth
agreed at once.  A year ago, the Spaldings had been the guests of
the Vanbruiks; this was an opportunity to reciprocate.

From that moment on Abe nursed a secret plan.  Every night when his
family was assembled in the dining-room, he sat at the end of the
table, apparently absorbed in a book or a paper, in reality
watching Marion.  Had she risen from that arm-chair in the corner
of the room, and had she come to him to put an arm about him and to
say, "I know you are against me only because you think you see more
clearly into the future than I do, not because you wish to inflict
pain upon me," he would, for the moment, have been entirely happy.



TWENTY-TWO

The Christmas Dinner


Abe slept little during the night before Christmas.  Dimly and
distantly he was aware, long before he rose, that the threatened
break in the fine winter weather preceding the festival had come at
last.

Dimly and distantly. . . .  There had been a time when they would
all have been aware of it in a very direct way; when the old house
would have shaken and quivered under the impact of the blows which
the wind levelled at its walls; when, even in bed, they would have
shrunk into the smallest possible space in order to retain the
warmth of their bodies.  That had been before the wind-breaks had
attained the height and density with which they protected them;
before the great quadrangle of the yard had been closed by the
double row of buildings in the north; and, above all, before that
great house of his had been erected in which one had to listen
closely in order to hear the tumult of the blizzard which raced and
raged over the open prairie.

It was four o'clock.  As a rule Abe rose at that hour; today he
lingered in bed.  It was not cold in the room, nor anywhere in the
house.  But he indulged in a feeling of infinite comfort; this was
what he had striven for; this brought home his achievement.

But a disquieting thought arose.  This was the day on which he was
to carry out his secret plan.  Young Harrison's presence was
essential to its success; what if the blizzard prevented his
coming?

Abe switched on the reading light at the head of his bed and swung
his feet to the floor.  He went to the window to look out; but it
was too dark to see.  Hurriedly he dressed.  When he had done so,
he went down into the basement to shake the furnace into life.  He
called no one; nor did he light the kitchen fire.

Instead, he went out through the front door; and as he stood on the
stoop, he shivered, drawing his sheepskin more closely about him.
To realize the fury of the storm, one had to be in it.

Sheltered as the yard was, it was bitterly cold out there.  In the
huge enclosure the air swayed in canting sheets, now horizontal,
now tilted, rising and falling as if the flawed blast of the wind
were reaching down now and then into the basin of comparative calm;
or as if it found a sudden entrance along the ground, through the
windbreak, throwing the snow aloft in a fine, dusty, prickling
spray.

He made his way to the barn; and, having entered, he felt impressed
with the perfect shelter which even his brute beasts enjoyed.  Not
a stable on the windswept prairie offered such protection; on the
inside the door was covered with a fur of hoar-frost.

He was greeted by a vast stir of feet and a multiple nicker.
Groping for the switch, he flashed a light on.  He shook himself to
expel the icy air; and slowly, deliberately, he fed his horses.

He went from place to place, looking after cows, pigs, and fowl.
It was the same thing everywhere; the shelter was perfect.  At last
he milked--by hand as he had always done.

It was six when he re-entered the sleeping house.  He sat down in
the rarely-used living-room.  On any other day he would have fallen
asleep; but the furious blizzard of the prairie forces the hearer
to listen.  This wind, with its onsets and lulls and its sudden
cannonading attacks, infuses into the blood a rhythm which defies
sleep.  Will anything withstand it?  Or is it going to level the
work of man, turning a slow and gradual destruction into a
cataclysm momentary and catastrophic?

Repeatedly Abe went out again.  Slowly a grey light crept into
things, and the short, crepuscular day began.  Abe lighted the fire
in the kitchen.  It was all settled: tonight, at supper, he would
make the announcement; the date would be set.  Provided the groom
arrived!

At half-past eight Abe went to the stairway and called: a great
shout which woke every one in the house; then he shouldered into
his sheepskin to issue forth into the yard for the dozenth time.

There was light to see by.  Above, the hollow of the yard was
covered as with a lid: a moving, scurrying lid consisting of
infinitely small particles, some of which, dropping into the calm
of the space enclosed by wind-break and buildings, were arrested in
their wild flight, caught in the stagnant, swaying air where they
filtered to the ground, to be swept up again and whirled aloft in
fluttering sheets which rocked according to the whim of eddying
counter-currents within the shelter belts.  Again Abe went all over
his yard. . . .

Let the girl have her wish!

Lights flashed on in the house.  Abe waited; but at last, expecting
breakfast to be ready, he entered through the shed at the rear.

In the kitchen all but Jim were busy, their faces flushed, tongues
babbling, for they found the presents which, the night before, had
been scattered over the dining table.  Abe was greeted with a shout
of "Merry Christmas!" and answered like the beloved head of a
family, giver of all good gifts to them.  His eye sought a face and
found it.

In entering he had admitted a whiff of icy air; and for a moment he
stood in an evanescent cloud arising from the condensation of the
moisture in the room.  Huge and tall he towered in the door, dusted
over from head to foot with a fine, glittering snow.  What a
contrast to the girl in her beige-coloured dress of georgette silk
over which she had donned a large starched overall apron of pale-
blue cambric!

She had shed that air of suffering and languor which she had worn
for months except on Sundays; never before had she shed it so
completely.  Yet a slight change came over her at sight of her
father.

They had breakfast.  And after breakfast Abe went out again,
restless and disturbed.  It was partly the effect of the weather.

Even though the poplars stood bare and leafless, the wind bent and
twisted them, straining at every twig and bough, whipping their
swaying tops.  Everything that could move moved under the impact of
that aerial turmoil; everything that could rattle rattled; and
since trees and timbers were frozen to the core, the sum total of
the sounds produced was that of a dry, feverish chatter which set
the nerves on edge as though things had a sort of insane voice of
their own.  The twigs which broke in the girdle of trees snapped
with the splintering crackle of rifle fire.  When, in a down-sweep
of the captured air, the hard, fine granules of the snow, which had
no trace of their crystalline structure left, hit the ground or the
roofs of the lower buildings, they did so with a swishing sound.
And to all that was added the music of the air itself which, like a
floating shroud, kept swinging and swaying.

Abe's powerful physique enjoyed the flooding turbulence as others
may enjoy a dip through rolling breakers of brine.

Again he went to the house.  "It's doubtful," he said in the
kitchen.

Ruth and the girls looked at him; and so did Jim who was helping.

On Marion's face lay a peculiar smile.  "Would you go yourself?"

"I don't believe a horse would face that wind."

Marion shrugged her shoulders.  "I don't know about uncle and
auntie; but John will come!"  This was said with unalterable
conviction.

The noon hour came.  The girl knew no doubt.  Abe went upstairs to
change into his Sunday clothes.

In the old coonskin coat which had belonged to his father before
him, he went to the gate of his yard.  He knew it was impossible to
see far on the prairie; he had always liked the feeling of
isolation produced by a blizzard, as if the farm were shut off from
all the entanglements of contact with a turbulent world: that world
which demanded a surrender of individual freedom and independence
and with which he need have nothing more to do.  Knowing that in
house and granaries provisions were stored which would secure the
continuance of life for weeks, he felt the very fierceness and
aggressiveness of this winter orgy as enhancing rather than
diminishing the sense of safety: no matter what might happen in the
outer world, this farm was a world in itself which would endure
while he lasted, defying the forces of nature.

The great farm gate, open as always in winter, creaked on its
hinges.  Outside, the flying snow swooped to the ground like a
sloping roof, hiding even the ditch.  Everything was sketched in
white and grey.  No, they could not come.  They could never hold
their direction.

The drift-laden wind leapt the shelter of the yard as a hunting
animal might leap stone or shrub in its way; the very ground seemed
to be slipping forward.  Since the trees formed a trap for whatever
snow fell below the carrying blast, the fence was half buried.

Without thought of what he was doing, Abe turned west, close to the
fence.  Twenty rods from the gate the wind-break bent to the north.
Beyond, the field of vision was closed by flying, whirling, streaky
walls of drift.  Abe went on to that corner, stopping in the sharp-
rested wave of closely packed snow which traversed the road like a
boldly flung promontory, losing itself in the ditch which was
completely filled.  The world seemed to end beyond the wind-break.
The snow came in waves and flaws; but these spectral waves did not
advance in straight lines; and so there were no vistas between them
such as occur between vertical veils of mist.  Sometimes those
sheet-like waves were thrown down by a canting of the wind; then
they looked like enormous, airy beings which stretched aloft before
they blotted themselves on their faces in a unison of supplication.
At other times, a sheet resolved itself, under the impact of an
adventitious blow, into a rounded thing bounding along like a
galloping animal multiplied a thousand-fold in size: and before it
had crossed the road, it, too, was flung down by a chute of the
gale or blown aloft, disintegrated into its elements.

Glowing with inner warmth, Abe turned.  He was at peace with
himself; the question which had disturbed him was settled.  This
inner peace was enhanced into positive happiness by the reaction to
the turmoil about.

He reached the gate and went on, from a mere aversion to enter yard
or house.  He came to the eastern corner of the windbreak.  No,
that prairie, ordinarily so open, did not exist to the eye.
Nothing was left but the farm behind his back, nothing of all the
world.

Convinced, and sorry in the conviction, that no callers could come,
he was on the point of turning once more when he was caught up in a
whirl of a different kind.

From out of the swaying drifts to the east two horses emerged whose
jingling bells became audible with startling suddenness as they
entered the shelter belt; their nostrils raised and wide, with
icicles hanging from nose and lips, they plunged through the snow.
Abe had just time to leap aside.  But they, no less startled than
he, reared and upset the cutter, throwing its inmates into the
snow.  They were on the point of bolting in a panic when Abe leapt
forward and caught their bridles.

From behind came the sound of muffled laughter.  Three figures,
hardly recognizable in their wraps, struggled to their feet.  Two
of them, one tall and strong, the other short and spare, showed no
trace of their faces which were hidden by woollen scarfs; the last,
of medium height, had its eyes bare in a slit between fur cap and
wrappings.

Abe felt almost disappointed at their arrival; but he remembered
his duty as host.  "I didn't think you would venture out," he said.

"We'd never have started," said Mary, laughing and shaking the snow
from her coat, her voice sounding as though she were singing
against the wind.  "But Mr. Harrison came at nine; and he swore he
would be responsible for our safe arrival."

"I got you here, did I not?" young Harrison laughed.

"You might have been lost!"

"We WERE lost half a dozen times.  But Charlie and I never stirred
from our seats.  We left it to Mr. Harrison to find his way back to
the road."

Abe was leading the horses by their bridles; the guests followed.

"Better go to the house," he said as he stopped at the barn.

"You go," young Harrison said to the Vanbruiks, untying the scarf
from around his head.  "I'll help Mr. Spalding."

Abe took the sleigh into the driveway of the barn and watered the
horses at the inside trough.  "You'll have to stay overnight."

"We'll see," said John,

At the house, all lights had been turned on, for even at midday it
remained murky.  In the kitchen the last preparations for dinner
were going forward.  Like Ruth, the girls, and Mary Vanbruik, Jim
had donned an overall apron.  Somehow, this seemed to impart even
to the aprons of the women the character of a disguise.

When Abe and John entered, the latter joined those in the kitchen;
and the gaiety reached a climax when, in addition to donning an
apron, he twisted a towel into a turban and, reaching for a ladle,
walked about like a chef supervising the work.  His disguise was
all the more comically effective as the apron served to set off his
blue shirt with the excessively wide trousers which he affected.

Abe and the doctor sat down in the living-room.

During the next half-hour--whenever the swing-door from the kitchen
admitted someone to the dining-room--a burst of voices and laughter
ran through the house.  Once Mary came to the door and spoke to her
brother.  "I should have been sorry to miss this.  It is lovely out
here in this weather."

Abe followed her with his eyes as she returned to the kitchen.  In
spite of her age she looked like a girl.

Shortly after, the ladies passed through the room to run out into
the hall and upstairs.  Even Ruth seemed rejuvenated.  They removed
their aprons, touched up their hair, and "powdered their noses," as
the doctor expressed it.  When they returned, they stood for a
moment in the living-room, laughing and jesting.  John, still in
his cook's disguise, appeared in the door and announced solemnly,
bowing and swinging his ladle, that "madame was served."

This brought a new burst of laughter; and Dr. Vanbruik, "rising to
the occasion"--he always used set phrases when he was jesting--
offered his arm to Ruth.  Abe did the same with his sister; and,
the girls following, they took their seats.  John contrived to
divest himself with magic speed of apron and turban.

Ruth had taken out her best dinner set and the sterling flatware
which Abe had given her on completion of the house.  The tablecloth
was of cut-work embroidery; and the whole arrangement of the room
betrayed the endeavour, not unsuccessful, to produce an impression
of festive splendour.  Abe, expecting his guests to stay for the
night, the first time such a thing had happened, was conscious of a
feeling of satisfaction.  Ruth deserved credit.

The doctor exerted his conversational powers, though even to-day he
could not entirely remove the impression that he was descending
into a lower arena when mingling with his fellow beings; but he
succeeded in making himself agreeable to his nieces and Ruth; which
meant that he indulged in an old-fashioned, cumbersome sort of
banter.

"Uncle!" Marion exclaimed on such in an occasion, with a flash of
her even teeth.  "You are trying to fluster me."

"To judge from your blush, I succeeded," he said, looking at her
through his gold-rimmed glasses.

"I may have blushed--"

"You are still blushing.  Never mind.  Even a plain girl grows
pretty when the colour mounts to her hair.  And you--"

"Now you are going to say what you don't mean."

"You contradict to give emphasis to my words.  Admit it."

"Not at all!"

"Of course," he went on, "that is as it should be.  Who does not
like to be praised?  And you, I was going to say, are far from
plain.  I appeal to Mr. Harrison's judgment."

John looked at her, laughing.  Her blushes deepened.

"Perhaps," the doctor still pursued the subject, with a bow to the
young man, "that appeal is hardly fair."

"John," Marion cried, "I forbid you to answer."

Which brought a laugh around the board.  Ruth felt perhaps even
more flattered than the girl herself.

Dinner over, Jim went to the hall and climbed into a suit of
overalls to feed the strange horses.

"I'll go along," said John Harrison.

"All right, Bud."

"And I!" Frances joined in.

But Ruth objected.  "You and I, my dear, are going to do the
dishes."

"Let her go," Mary said.  "I'll help you."

So the girls, too, put on coats and wraps.  Jim ran to the kitchen
to fetch his sheepskin from the narrow closet.  Rapid whispers
sprang up in the hall; the girls intended to race him to the
stable.  But Jim divined their intention, and in spite of their
hurry he reached the corner of the house at the very moment when
they descended the steps of the stoop.  They were nearer the gate
in the fence of the house-yard; but, presuming on this advantage,
they failed to put forth their best effort; and Jim defeated them
by vaulting the fence.  Yet none of them gave up.  On such a day it
seemed the only fit way of locomotion to run as fast as one could;
it sent a glow of health into the cheeks and gave all eyes the
polish of jewels.  Marion's looked like veined agate, harmonizing
with her complexion of ivory and red, in striking contrast to her
sister's which was pure white and apple-blossom pink.

Being the only one properly dressed, Jim did the work in his noisy,
slapdash way, shouting raucously and elbowing the horses aside.

Marion and John had gone to the west door which led into the run-
way and the pasture beyond.  This door was exposed to the full
impact of the wind, there being a gap in the trees behind.
Ineffectively Marion pulled at its handle; but when John grasped
one of the diagonal timbers which braced it, it gave abruptly,
admitting blasts of bitter cold air awhirl with snow-dust which
swept along the floor of the building, stirring up chaff and dust.
Jim shouted at them.

"Hi there!  What do you think you are doing?"

"Never mind," Marion said, laughing.  "That's a good boy."

Jim, coming over, removed his mitt and took her chin in his hand,
bending her head back till her eyes met his.

She laughed and shook the imprisoned head; but as she did so,
bright tears were scattered from the corners of her eyes.

"What's that?" Jim asked in a whisper.

"I could laugh and weep at the same time.  You don't understand,
Jim."

"I don't?" he asked.  "I have eyes in my head."

With a startled look Marion freed herself.

Frances had gone through the wings of the barn, picking her way
between the rumps of the horses in their stalls.  From childhood on
she had liked the smell of the barn and shown a morbid interest in
animals kept on the farm; her father had often sharply sent her
away.

Marion's glance became pointed, as if she were warning her brother
not to betray her to the girl.  She turned; and, her eye alighting
on John, her face melted in a smile.

Jim bent down for the gallon measure which he had used and which he
now threw under the hinged cover of the feed box.

When he returned, John, Marion, and Frances were standing by the
cutter in which the guests had come, in the transverse driveway.
They were shaking out the robes.

"That's that," said Jim.  "Go back to the house?"

"You go, Jim," Marion answered.  "Take Frances.  John and I are
going to have a walk.  I love to be out in weather like this."

"I'll go with you," said Frances.

"No, you won't."  With the authority of an elder sister.

"I guess I can go if I want to."

"We can't keep you from having a walk.  But ours we are going to
have by ourselves."

Jim took a little note-book from an inner pocket and scribbled a
line or two.  Then he tore the page out and crushed it in his palm.
Above them, the loft boomed with the wind like a resonance board.
As he returned the notebook to his pocket, he "tagged" Frances.

"Come on, sis," he cried.  "You're it!"  And with a leap he reached
the door to the yard.

Frances ill-humouredly ran after him, overtaking him before he had
had time to push the door back.

For a minute they stood, tagging and retagging each other as fast
as they could; Frances, with hard slaps of her gauntleted hand; Jim
barely touching her arm with quick reaches of two extended fingers.
"You're it!"--"No, you!"--"You!"--"You!"

Jim, working with one free hand and his heels, had pushed the door
open bit by bit; and just as Frances was on the point of bursting
into tears, he had widened the crack sufficiently to slip out,
still continuing the game.  Catching Marion's eye, he winked and
tossed her the crumpled ball of paper in his hand.  Tagging Frances
a last time--"You're it!"--he twisted himself from under her hand
and escaped across the yard.  At the fence he waited; and when
Frances felt sure she could reach him, he retreated skilfully to
the stoop of the house.  Again he waited, letting her approach
before he disappeared into the hall.

John and Marion had been watching them through the crack of the
barn door.  There could be no doubt; Jim was luring Frances away
with his antics!  They looked at each other.  Then they closed the
door, leaving a crack less than an inch wide to look through with a
single eye.  Dusk was settling over the storm-ridden prairie.

That done, Marion turned to the nearest light and unfolded the
paper which Jim had tossed her.  Her look became troubled.  "Third
tree, second row north of runway.  That is the place where the
suitcase is hidden.  Jim knows."

"So long as he does not talk!" John said, bursting into activity.
"Quick.  Watch the door."

And he ran to the stall where the horses stood.  Backing them out,
he led them to the sleigh; but he had difficulty in making the off
horse step over the pole.  Marion left her post to help him.  She
was less awkward with horses than he.

Both were feverishly excited.  They worked together now, though
Marion stepped back to the door every few seconds, to peer out.
Jim, knowing their secret, must be playing into their hands.  They
wrapped up in robes and scarfs which John pulled from under the
seat, together with overshoes and caps.  For a second they looked
at each other in their disguise.  They kissed and, running to the
west door, united their efforts in pushing it far enough back for
the sleigh to pass through.  Then Marion returned once more to the
yard door, to wave a futile hand at the house where all was quiet.
A second later, they pushed it shut.  They were leaving an
unmistakable trail, for the floor of the driveway was at once
covered with snow.  It could not be helped.  Outside, the wind
would obliterate their tracks.

"The weather's all in our favour," said John as he climbed in.

"It's glorious!" Marion cried back.

They drove into the gap of the wind-break, and Marion pointed to a
tree on their right.  John, alighting, withdrew a suitcase from
under the snow. . . .

At the house, Jim, in sudden alarm, spoke to his mother; and Ruth
appearing in the door of the living-room, signalled to Abe to
follow her into the kitchen.

"Abe," she said breathlessly, "John and Marion--"

"Where?" Abe exclaimed, divining the plot; at a bound he was at the
closet and reached for his sheepskin.

"At the barn," Ruth answered.

Abe rushed through the back-door.

John Harrison had not yet returned to the sleigh when Abe laid a
hand on Marion's shoulder.  "This will not do," he said gently.

Marion felt as though she were going to faint.

"Come to the house," Abe went on, speaking now to John as well as
to her.  "We shall set the date.  I withdraw my objection."

"Daddy!" Marion cried.

"Come in," he repeated.  "As far as I am concerned you can be
married on New Year's Day.  But the wedding must be from the
house."

Marion's arms closed about her father's neck.



TWENTY-THREE

The School-House


Abe looked aged and tired.  Throughout the district people watched
him.  It did not seem as if the marriage of his daughter had made
him happy; again he took to driving about, often returning only
after dark.

On one such occasion, he passed the old school-house at night when
the building was brilliantly lighted, probably with the lamp which
he had given years ago.  The sound of music issued through its
walls.

Abe stopped on the culvert and looked back.  Through the windows in
the north wall he saw human shapes moving in the figures of a
dance.  The music was more distinct on this side.

He alighted and walked over to the building.  The music ceased, and
the dancers stopped.  Standing close to one of the windows, he saw
someone pouring from a bottle into glasses held by half a dozen
young men and women.  He retraced his steps to the cutter.  When he
reached his gate, the small lights on the gate-posts which had been
out of order for some time were incandescent: Jim would never stay
on the farm!

Abe's life had taken on an almost furtive cast when, in municipality
and district, movements arose to draw him back into politics.

In the municipality, a leader was needed to co-ordinate those
activities which had been suspended during the war.  Nobody had
forgotten the single-minded economy with which Abe had administered
the business; many municipalities had gone into the hands of
receivers; Somerville had never been in a sounder financial
condition than at the time when Rogers took Abe's place for the
remainder of the latter's term as reeve.  Rogers had declined re-
election; a new man had taken office; and already there was
dissatisfaction.  The roads were deteriorating; grades built at
great expense were sinking back into a primeval swamp; the ditches
were choked; farmers were suffering from the sudden deflation after
the war; and, as in the way of farmers all over the world, they
blamed the Government for their plight which was often the effect
of their own improvidence; taxes were rising; incomes decreasing;
public money was spent to no purpose; relief was given only in such
districts as were directly represented on the council.  It was the
old story of democratic institutions exploited for the benefit of
individuals.

Rogers, meeting Abe at Somerville, pleaded with him.  He claimed to
be voicing the wish of a large majority in urging Abe to accept
nomination next fall.  Abe did as he had done before: he listened;
but, having listened, he shook his head and drove on.  Rogers
changed his tactics and came back to the attack.  He asked Abe
about the methods he used in haying; for Abe had the reputation of
being the "uncrowned champion stacker" of the west.  Abe did not
know that Roger's sole purpose was to bring him into contact with
public opinion once more; for the scheme which Rogers proposed
sounded reasonable enough in itself.  He offered to loan Abe two of
his men if Abe, in return, would come to direct operations on his
place for an equal number of days.  The offer was flattering, for
it assumed that Abe's help was worth the help of two men in return.
Rogers claimed that his haying was done at a cost out of proportion
to the value of the roughage secured.  Abe promised.

Locally, in Spalding District, it was Nicoll, of course, who voiced
what he called the wishes of many.  When asked who they were, he
named Stanley, Horanski, Hilmer, Shilloe, Elliot, and others.  The
complaints centred around the use to which the old school was put.
Nicoll spoke of unbearable scandals.  In spite of nation-wide
prohibition liquor flowed freely at these dances which had become
weekly, even twice-weekly affairs.  Worse things were mentioned.
Seeing that these meetings were sponsored by the returned men, a
number of farmers, including Nicoll, had allowed their daughters to
go.  Some, like the Ukrainians, having once allowed it, found
themselves unable to stop it.  Girls from other districts came in:
undesirable elements from town and city.  To his amazement Abe was
told that three or four children had been born out of wedlock; more
were expected; the dances had degenerated into drunken orgies.  The
names mentioned as those of the guilty were McCrae and Henry and
Slim Topp.  McCrae, according to Nicoll, though a married man,
could not be trusted with any woman.

Abe had nothing to say for those implicated, least of all for
McCrae; but he needed the man; he was the only one on whom he could
count when he wanted help; the others were making progress on their
own farms; not many were working at a profit; but land once broken
must be cultivated.  John Elliot, for instance, had to work from
dawn to dark in order to make at least part of his interest
payments, helping to make the country prosperous while he remained
poor himself.

"What could I do about it?" Abe asked.

"It's the school board," Nicoll said.  "They rent the building to
this gang.  The school should be sold.  But Wheeldon refuses to
propose anything of the sort; he depends on the votes of these men.
He wants to run the district.  We need a man who will stand up for
the good of the whole.  We need you, Abe."

Abe laughed mirthlessly.  "You put consolidation over on me; now
you want me to run it for you."

"I know, Abe.  But something has to be done.  Wherever there are
children going to school, they are getting out of hand."

"That's it, is it?  Are you finding it out?"

Nicoll looked gloomy.  "Even the little ones."

"Of course."

"Are we simply old-fashioned, Abe?"

"That may be; the fact remains that you are losing control."

"We are between the devil and the deep sea," Nicoll said.

But Abe replied in a tone of finality:  "You have made your bed,
you must lie in it."

Yet Nicoll did not give up.  He, too, was becoming an influence in
the community; his corner now consisted of three farms; his third
son Stan was taking up land.  But his two youngest sons had taken
the infection of the age and refused to work at home except for
wages.  Besides, Dick, now the oldest one, had given at least part
of his allegiance to the gang.  Nicoll felt old age approaching:
the district had gone wild: nobody wanted to farm any longer; they
wanted to make money instead.

Nicoll tried Elliot.  "I know," Elliot said, "you must count me
out.  I have my hands full.  Get Spalding.  My children are small.
If things go on the way they're going when they grow up, I'll know
what to do."

"I wish you'd tell me what that is," Nicoll said.

Elliot looked at him, pushed his sombrero back, and wiped his brow.
Then, with a savage fling of his long arms, "Take the shotgun out
and go after the gang."

In the surrounding towns, Somerville, Morley, Ferney, Torquay,
Arkwright, Spalding District was beginning to bear a "hard name."
Whenever McCrae and his cronies appeared--and wherever a dance was
held, they furnished the music--social events, staid and wooden as
they had been in the past, degenerated into drunkenness and
immorality.  Their professed intention was to show the older people
post-war life.

Just before thaw-up of 1921, the oldest Stanley girl, somewhat
"simple"--rumour said praying and fasting had made her so--
disappeared from the district.  The reason assigned by the one-
armed man, that an aunt in the city wished to have one of her
nieces with her, satisfied nobody; Nawosad had heard Stanley
forbidding his yard to McCrae.  Three Ukrainian girls were reported
to have "gone wrong."  Indignation waxed furious.  But since, with
the disintegration of the district, the meetings at Nicoll's Corner
had ceased, there was no way for public opinion to crystallize and
to express itself.  Hartley was peddling groceries and buying
chickens in competition with Schweigel.  Shilloe, Nawosad, Hilmer
had withdrawn during the war; as former Austrians and Russo-Germans
they were under a cloud, perhaps more in their own imagination than
in the minds of responsible settlers; though Henry Topp had done a
great deal to make them feel that way, and Wheeldon not much less.
The only public opinion which was organized was that of the gang.

Since, however, Nicoll did not despair of ultimately winning Abe
back to his abandoned leadership, he was glad, in spring, of an
opportunity to render Abe a great service.

The two great floods through which the district had lived were
those of 1910 and 1919.  People derived a comforting thought from
the interval that had elapsed between them.  But Nicoll and a few
others, more clear-sighted, were well aware that the flood of 1919
had been caused only by the neglected state of the ditches.  They
saw with concern that, in spite of all their complaints, nothing
had been done in 1920.  When the flood of 1921 arrived, disastrous
in its sequel, they were ready with their "I told you so."  The
flood was less in volume than normal; but its effect was worse than
that of either of the great floods.

If Abe had been cooperating with his district, Nicoll and others
said, the disaster would have been avoided.  He would, in 1920,
have organized a volunteer crew to do what had to be done.  True,
nobody needed to stir a finger unless paid by the municipality; and
that was the answer Nicoll had received from every one he had
approached; though Nicoll knew what should be done, he lacked that
compelling element which forced others to fall in line, be it
against their will and inclination.  Abe would have furnished ten
or sixteen horses; and the rest would have followed.

The flood came late; it covered the fields to a depth of only a few
inches; Abe's yard remained dry.  But very little of the water ran
out.  The ditches filled; and in them as well as the fields the
flood stood stagnant.  Slowly it disappeared; the weather having
turned hot, most of it simply evaporated, leaving an alkaline slime
behind.  This slime ultimately dried into a whitish, hygroscopic
incrustation which liquefied nightly by imbibing the dew, thus
preventing the ground from drying.

It was a general condition: a new Egyptian plague afflicting the
district and a large part of the province.  There was a panic.  The
drought of the previous year, combined with the decline in the
value of farm products, had prepared the minds of the people to
expect the worst.  The old superstition--or was it observation?--
that disastrous years run in threes was revived.  Farmers cast
about in their minds for ways and means of weathering evil times.
One single product commanded a price above the normal: hay.

In Spalding District and east and west of it the greater part of
the land was wild prairie.  Nobody had ever worried about hay;
since less than half the land was cultivated, every settler had
more wild land to cut from than he owned.  So far, nobody had even
known that there were ways of securing the exclusive right of
cutting grass on a given area.

But this spring the flood had hardly disappeared when people came
from south of the Line, from twenty, thirty miles away, and
inquired, often in a secretive and circuitous manner, which were
the best meadows; and, having received ungrudging information, they
disappeared and were, for the time being, not seen again.  Nicoll,
happening to drop in at the municipal office at Somerville, was
asked by the secretary why the settlers of Spalding District
allowed the best hay lands to pass into the hands of outsiders.  He
learned that these outsiders had secured haying permits from
province and Crown which gave them the exclusive right to cut on
such areas as were designated in their permits.  For these they had
paid certain fees.  Incidentally, Nicoll received one item of news
which he promptly communicated to Abe.

This was that Wheeldon had taken out a permit for the section west
of Abe's land.  Abe frowned.  Within the district, that section
was, by prescription, considered almost as part of his farm.

Money was scarce; Nicoll himself was in a bad plight.  Abe saw it
all at a glance and promptly went to Somerville.

On the way, he thought the situation over with the utmost care.  If
this was going to be a wet year, and though there might be little
rain, the soil was bound to be wet for at least part of the summer--
meadowlands might be inaccessible to horses and such heavy
machinery as was used in haying.  There was one section, however,
even more than a section, south of his farm, which had a gravelly
subsoil, forming part of the slight ridge on which his own land
lay; it was higher than the rest of the district.  In dry years,
therefore, the grass was thin and short.  Every trip into that
meadow involved such loss of time for him as was required to travel
four miles, to Nicoll's Corner and back again, for there was no
other bridge to cross the ditch.  In an exceptionally wet season,
however, it would prove his salvation.

At Somerville he found that the section in question was available.
He wrote a cheque and secured a permit from the Crown.

When he met Nicoll, he said, "I'll let you have what you need on
shares."

"All right," Nicoll said.  He still felt hurt by the way in which
Abe restricted their intercourse to business; but there had been
years when they had never exchanged a word.

Seeding time came and went, and no work was done in the district.
Gumbo clay cannot be ploughed till the clods are dry enough to
crumble; but wherever one stepped on the soil, one slipped; the
crust was an alkaline smear.  Even Abe did nothing till the second
half of May had arrived.  In Nicoll's fallow water stood in the
furrows; the ridges looked like brown sugar melting in the flood.
It was the same with all the fields along the road to town; the
road itself, though graded up to a height of two or three feet
above the prairie, was deeply rutted; and the ruts remained full of
water.  In front of Hilmer's, the grade had been washed out in
1919; and there remained a bad hole.  Baker drove his van with four
horses, at six and a half dollars a day.  The ditches held the
water like irrigation ditches--a curse instead of a blessing.
People talked of suing province or municipality for their losses.

Meanwhile, a perhaps trifling occurrence disturbed Abe at Easter
which came on 27th March that year, the roads, though still frozen,
were almost bare of snow.  On Thursday before the festival Abe was
taking a cream-can to town; and, thinking of his children, he
arranged to get there about four o'clock.

As soon as he issued from his gate, he began, according to his
habit, to scan the horizon; and he was at once aware of something
moving on the road from town.  At once also, like the prairie
dweller he had become, he followed that moving point with his eyes.

Suddenly he noticed that the car--for nothing but a car could have
moved so fast--had come to a stop, half-way between town and
Hilmer's Corner.  No settler had ever squatted down there; not even
good grass grew in that alkaline marsh.

Then his attention was claimed by an unexpected snowdrift remaining
in the trail.  His horses were high-strung and restive and plunged
in passing through.  One of the traces broke; and in order to
affect a temporary repair, Abe had to descend to the road.

When he resumed his seat, he swept the horizon again, searching for
the spot he had seen; but a point at rest is not so easily found as
a point in motion.  His horses fell into a trot at the very moment
when the point began to move once more.  There was no doubt any
longer about its being a car.  North of Hilmer's, it dipped steeply
down into the hole, slowed, and rose again.  Then it became more
distinct; and the two vehicles would have met at Nicoll's Corner
had not Abe held his hackneys back: they were not entirely broken
to cars.  The car was slowing down and came to a stop on the
culvert south of the corner.  Some person who was with the driver
alighted on the far side and stood a moment, talking or waiting.
Then the car moved on.

Abe had just reached Nicoll's wind-break when, to his amazement, he
recognized in the person who had alighted his own daughter Frances.
Waves of anger and passion ran through him.  Was the school-house
thrusting itself across his path?  For the car had turned east; it
was McCrae's.

Abe turned at Nicoll's gate and waited.  When the girl reached him,
she had just subdued the worst of a furious blush.  "Hello," she
said briefly and climbed to her father's side, the fact that he had
waited becoming a summons.  The cream-can being in her way, she had
an excuse for turning her back to her father.

A hundred impulses urged Abe to angry speech; but he touched his
horses with the whip in silence.  When they had entered the yard,
Abe drove to the small gate and tied the lead horse.  Frances made
at once for the house.  "Wait for me in the living-room!" Abe said
grimly.  When he followed her, he saw Ruth coming down from
upstairs.

"How did you come to be in that man's car?" he asked.

Frances, plump, dimpled, with large blue eyes in a flushed face,
winced at the sound of his voice.  But she raised her glance to
meet his with an almost hostile stare.  "School was dismissed at
three.  He happened to pass and offered the ride.  Why shouldn't I
take it?"

"Why did the car stop so long on the road?"

"Stop?  Where?"

"On the road.  North of town."

"Oh, that!  Engine trouble.  How should I know?"

Abe stood and lowered down on the girl.  Behind him, Ruth filled
the door, silent, straight-lipped.  All sorts of things passed
through his mind: he did not know the girl very well; he doubted
whether Ruth knew her.  McCrae had a most unsavoury reputation;
though he employed him, he objected to contact between him and
members of his household.  Yet he thought of a remark of his
brother-in-law's:  "A suspicion cast on a girl's character does not
remain without its effect on the girl."

"Listen here," he said with an effort to speak evenly.  "No matter
what happens, you don't accept favours from that man.  If I ever
see you with him again, that's the end of your school days.  You
understand?"

"I understand you," Frances said, callous, sullen, defiant.

Abe scowled; but after a moment's hesitation he turned, passing
Ruth in the door, left the house, and drove to town.

Again and again when Nicoll had told him of the goings-on in the
school, he had said to himself that he would not interfere; the
thing was none of his business; he was living in isolation; HIS
daughter, the only one left, would never attend any dance organized
by the gang.

But he lived in the district after all; these people of the gang
were his neighbours.  No one can live in isolation unless his
neighbours allow him to do so; and not only him but his to boot.

Would the day come when he would be forced to interfere?



TWENTY-FOUR

The Lure of the Town


On the 30th April, a Saturday, Abe happened to overhear part of a
conversation between Jim and Ruth.

He was in the shed behind the house, putting on his hip-boots; and
the door to the kitchen stood ajar.  Abe was on the point of
closing it when he heard the first words and refrained.

"Why," Ruth was saying, "has your recommendation been refused?"

This referred to the final high-school examinations on which Jim
was to write in June.  At the time, no candidate could write on any
examination without the teacher's recommendation.  In the final
year, this recommendation referred only to the character of the
candidate; but neither Ruth nor Abe knew that.  In the lower grades
the certificate of the school was accepted for certain subjects;
and the recommendation referred partly to the work done in the
class.

"I don't know," Jim replied evasively.

"How did you make out in the Easter tests?"

"None too well."

"Jim," his mother pleaded, "I want you so to do well at school."

"I know, mother.  But it's all such nonsense.  And without that
recommendation I can't write."

"You are over twenty, Jim.  I'll apply to the department again.
They have given credit for work on the farm before."

"Not for the final year."

"How do you know?  Then it means another year."

"Mother," the boy exclaimed, "what's the use?  I want to be a
mechanic.  I don't need any standing for that.  I simply can't get
along at school.  Duncan and Ferris offer me a hundred a month.
I'd take it for a while.  But I'll tell you.  There's a chap by
name of Cope who's going to open a high-class garage at Somerville.
He offers me a partnership if I can come in with two thousand
dollars.  I could borrow the money."

"I'll GIVE it to you the moment you finish high school."

"What's the use!" Jim cried in desperation.

"I shall never give my consent to your leaving school before you
are through.  I insisted on that in Marion's case.  Make up your
mind that I shall insist on it with you."

At this moment she noticed that the door was open and closed it.

Abe had heard enough and watched.  The conversation had the result
that Jim went back to school on Monday.

All about, boys were leaving the land.  Their education was
bringing them in contact with what appeared to them to be a world
wider than that of the farm.  Abe hardly knew whether he would hold
Jim if he could.  There was good stuff in the boy; he was old
enough to know what he wanted.

Yet the thought was weariness.  What was to become of the farm?
What had all the work been for if Jim refused to take it up where
his father must leave it?  He might just as well have "mined" the
soil and taken from it what it would give.  Instead, he had built
house and barns and acquired two square miles of land, to be
divided among his descendants!

On Tuesday, 17th May, Abe took the seeder out on the fallow; even
now he had to leave many places untouched because they were too
wet.  There was no work for more than a single man.

He was on the long narrow strip east of the pasture, when, about
eleven o'clock, he saw Jim coming home, afoot.  But not before
twelve did he leave the field.  Impersonally he wondered what might
have happened.  At half-past twelve, the usual hour, he entered the
house.

Jim, visibly nervous, was sitting in the kitchen, a strange figure
of dejection for a boy six feet tall.  Ruth's eyes were red.

Abe went to the wash-basin, stripped off his smock, pushed his
shirt-sleeves up, and prepared with great deliberation for his
ablutions.  While he slowly cleaned hands, arms, face, and head,
Ruth was going about between kitchen and dining-room.  The fact
that Abe accepted his son's presence without comment had something
profoundly disquieting.

Having finished, he turned to the dining-room.  "Well, let's have
dinner first!"  He meant his tone to be humorous; but the word
"first" had the effect that neither Ruth nor Jim made more than a
pretence at eating.  Abe ate slowly with relish, a still more
disconcerting fact.  But at last he pushed his chair back.

"Well," he said, "what's your story?"

"I didn't get my recommendation."

"That I know.  But why did you leave school to-day when your mother
wished you to continue?"

The mother sat motionless; Jim was playing with a fork.

Abe waited.  At last, again in that disquieting, half humorous
tone, "Out with it now!  What is your story?"

Jim collected himself.  "Well, they'd been hinting at school--"

"Who's they?"

"The teachers."

"Been hinting at what?"

"That I'd better stay at home."

"My own opinion.  But what business is it of theirs?  I am paying
toward that school and the salaries."

"They say I am holding the whole class back."

"How?"

Jim, not understanding his father, was on the point of becoming
defiant.  He shrugged his shoulders.

"What I want to know is why you left school to-day.  Why not
yesterday or to-morrow?  What has happened today?"

"The board met last night."

"What's the board got to do with it?"

Jim braced himself.  "They told me the board had resolved--"

"Out with it! . . .  I'll tell you.  They've expelled you.  Right?"

"It amounts to that," Jim said with a shrug.  Only shrugs could
express his full meaning.

"What for?"

"Oh, I don't know."

Unreasonable anger surged in Abe, not against the boy but against
the school system which they had set up to defy him.  "You don't
know?  I'll have to go to town then, to find out.  I have no
objection to your leaving school.  I don't want a boy of mine to
press the school bench, advertising the fact that he has no brains.
But they can't expel him without reasons.  Unless their reasons are
mighty good, back you go."

The boy looked doubtfully at his father, realizing at last that he
was an ally.  "Their reasons are good enough," he said, ready at
last to explain.  "I've goaded them into doing what they have done.
I want to go to work.  I didn't want to leave the way Marion tried
to."

"Leave?  If you quit school, you'll help on the farm, I suppose."

"No, father.  I don't like the dust and the dirt.  I'm a mechanic."

"You like the grease and the dirt better than the dust and the
dirt, do you?"

Jim disregarded his father's sarcasm.  "You said you don't want me
to advertise the fact that I have no brains.  It isn't a question
of brains.  All decent boys leave school.  Only the sheiks stick it
out."

"What's a sheik?"

Jim laughed.  "A boy that runs after girls and thinks more of the
way his necktie is tied than of what he wants to do in the world."

"Go on," Abe said.

"If I'd applied myself, I could have done as well as the next one.
I don't want to learn silly verses by heart and French phrases.  I
don't want to be a writer chap.  I want to do a man's work.  Work
in which brains count.  Not turn furrows."

"They've taught you to despise what your father's doing, eh?"

"That's what they say," Jim defended himself.  "He's got no brains,
they say; he'll never make anything but a farmer."

"They say that, do they?"  Abe's tone required no answer.  "And so
you want to leave father and mother?"

Ruth redoubled her sobbing.

"I've had a job waiting for me for two years.  Since I left
Somerville."  Jim spoke as an equal now, confiding what was in his
heart.  "I've given this school game a try-out.  It hasn't advanced
me an inch.  And now I want to quit."  With a laugh, he added,
"I've given the teachers a run for their money anyway."

"And they've expelled you," Abe said evenly.  "Nothing to boast of.
What did you do, by the way?"

But Jim was serious again.  "Unless they had expelled me, mother
would never have let me quit."

"And you don't want the farm?"  Abe rose as if to leave the room.
But he turned in the door.  "All we can do on earth is to make our
living, directly or in a roundabout way.  I don't mean to hold you.
But I've built this house and these barns to keep my children on
the farm.  If you go, my work is for nothing.  I have no pleasure
in it myself any longer.  If you stay, half the farm is yours.  To-
day if you want it.  Think it over.  Then let me know."  With that
he went out.

About four o'clock Abe heard the hum of Jim's car in the yard.
When he reached the southern edge of the field, he waited.

"You've come to say good-bye?" he asked when Jim arrived.

"Yes, I am going to town."  Jim hesitated.  "I want to say one more
thing, father.  If I cared for a farm, I'd take up a homestead
myself, to build a place of my own."

Abe looked at Jim.  That was the way he had felt himself. . . .

A week later, rain having stopped the work again, Abe went to
Somerville, made inquiries about a certain Mr. Cope, saw him, and
entered into an agreement with him whereby he, Abe, became a
sleeping partner in the new firm of Spalding, Spalding, and Cope.
He invested five thousand dollars in the venture.



TWENTY-FIVE

Distress


Although Abe co-operated in the matter of his son's establishment,
he became very taciturn when Jim had left.

This reacted on his relations to the rest of the district where,
during the summer of 1921, as a consequence of the economic
situation, he might have re-established his former prestige; for
many of those even who were hostile to him began to realize that a
leader was needed.  The peculiarity of the situation consisted in
this: that, while prices of farm products continued to decline,
such commodities as the farmer had to buy were reaching their peak.
What with the failure of the farmers to complete their seeding
operations, things worked up to a climax which only Abe could
remedy.  But matters of actual fact were not the only ones to enter
as factors into the situation.  The war had unsettled men's minds.
There was a tremendous new urge towards immediacy of results; there
was general dissatisfaction.  Irrespective of their economic
ability, people craved things which they had never craved before.
Democracy was interpreted as the right of everybody to everything
that the stimulated inventive power of mankind in the mass could
furnish in the way of conveniences and luxuries.  Amusements became
a necessity of daily life.  A tendency to spend recklessly and to
use credit on a scale hitherto unknown was linked with a pronounced
weakening of the moral fibre.  In the homes of the Hartleys,
McCraes, Wheeldons, Topps, gramophones and similar knick-knacks
made their appearance; young men wore flashy clothes, paying or
owing from forty to a hundred dollars for a suit.  Girls wore silk
stockings, silk underwear, silk dresses; and nothing destroys
modesty and sexual morality in a girl more quickly than the
consciousness that suddenly she wears attractive dessous.  This
orgy of spending had been enormously stimulated by the easy money
of the flax boom; and the rate of expenditure was hardly retarded
by the subsequent disaster of the slump.  A standard of expenditure
once arrived at is not so easily abandoned as established.

So far, the district had been a grain district.  Only Abe had, to
any extent, raised cattle.  In that disastrous spring land could
not be worked; credit was at once cut off.  Instead of being able
to go to the bank and borrow, the settlers were molested by
collectors trying to squeeze water out of a stone; their mail
consisted of dunning letters.  Against the holdings of not a few
legal judgments were secured, among them McCrae.  As Abe was
seeding, people came humbly and asked, "How are the chances for a
job?"  He looked at them and replied laconically, "Not a chance on
earth, now."

And haying permits could not be had on credit.  To make this
situation doubly ironic, hay was the only thing of which there was
an abundance and which, nevertheless, stubbornly held to its price.

This seemed puzzling; but as, with the advancing season, the truly
dramatic condition unfolded itself, it found its natural
explanation.  The abundance of grass proceeded from the very
circumstance which prevented its being harvested.  And this was
general, brought about by an excess of rain.  In the rolling parts
of the country, the rains had neither delayed seeding nor prevented
the growth of the grain.  But on the flat prairie the ground never
dried out; and so it could not absorb the rains which began with
the early summer.  What grain had been seeded was drowned.  But
through the natural selection which had been going on for centuries
and millennia, the prairie grasses had adjusted themselves to
excessive moisture; they grew knee-high, hip-high in places.  In
the rolling parts of the country only such areas as, by reason of
their low, sloughy character, had never been tilled were left to
the native growth; and consequently, what applied to the hay of the
plain applied to the hay of the hills as well: hay land remained
inaccessible to horses and heavy machinery; where the soil was not
covered with water, it was so soft that a harvest of the grass was
out of the question.  In places, stacks of last year's hay rotted
in the meadows because they could not be taken out.  In Spalding
District meadows were bottomless; the roads, with ruts filled and
ditches overflowing, were mires of mud; in going to town, farmers
used four horses and wagons.

The rains continued through the whole of June.  Two, three sunny
days were at once followed by devastating thunderstorms which
spared no corner.  The traditional haying season went by with
nothing done.

To make matters worse, this combination of a surplus of the growing
grass with a scarcity of the marketable product began to cut with a
double edge.  Few settlers had hay left from the previous year.
When their stock began to suffer--they could not even turn the
beasts out without danger of seeing them engulfed--those who had
money or credit shipped in hay from across the border or from
Ontario.  Farmers were bidding against each other and against city
buyers; the price of hay rose and rose.  End of May it had been
twelve dollars a ton; by the end of June when, before the war, wild
hay had been three dollars, it sold at twenty.  Timothy and clover
went as high as thirty-two.

One dry day in June Abe went into his field to look at the ruin of
his wheat.  He saw Wheeldon and Nawosad on the section west of his
farm, cutting by hand.  Hip-boots on their legs, they stood in
water; when they swung their scythes, jets of spray flew over their
heads.  There was no way of getting the fodder they needed except
by such antiquated methods.  They gathered their cuttings in
bundles secured by ropes and carried them on their backs to a point
north of the Hudson's Bay section where a hayrack stood, hitched
with eight horses.  That hayrack stood aslant, on the point of
toppling over.  When, late in the day, the men tried to draw their
load away, they broke a wheel and went home on horseback.  Even
that green feed turned black with decay.

When Wheeldon had secured the west section as it was commonly
called he had disregarded Abe's prescriptive claim.  Some had
rejoiced at his boldness in doing so; others said now, "It served
Wheeldon right."  That section, in dry years, yielded the best and
most abundant fodder; it was low, with a subsoil of impermeable
clay.  In any other year, Wheeldon might simply have looked
elsewhere for hay; but every single spot which was not irreclaimable
swamp had been pre-empted by a permit.  Permit holders objected to
any encroachment on their rights.  Wheeldon did cut a strip north of
his farm where in a dry year there would have been only a scab of
turf.  Horanski promptly presented him with a claim for damages
amounting to fifty dollars.  Threatened with legal proceedings,
Wheeldon paid by a note without securing the hay.  Not only the
settlers of the district watched jealously over their rights;
people living at a distance paid local men for looking after their
interests, such as Anderson, the hardware dealer, or Elliot or
Baker.

Just how dramatic the situation had become was brought home to Abe
when, around the middle of July, a dairy man from near the city,
having looked the land over, offered him five hundred dollars for
a sub-permit valid for one quarter-section.  Abe declined.
Incidentally he bought on a falling market steers and heifers
wherever he could.  He held the purse-strings; and though he
occasionally paid more than was asked, many looked at his deals
with the green eye of jealousy.

Wheeldon could not cut; Horanski might have cut but could not reach
his meadow; Abe alone might have taken hundreds of tons of green
feed off his land; to reach it, he had the dam formed by the soil
taken from the ditch; but he held off; he could not have cured the
grass.

The district was awed.  Even Wheeldon's treachery turned to
Spalding's profit.  There was no hurry about cutting; the grass did
not mature; like any other crop it needed dry weather to ripen.
Dry weather would come.  The longer it was delayed, the more
pronounced would Spalding's advantage be over the rest of the
district.  Wealth untold would be his.  "A marvellous man!" most
settlers said.  Others asked, "How does he do it?"  And a small
minority exclaimed, "What the devil--"

Towards the middle of July a dry spell came, lasting five days.
For three days Abe waited anxiously.  On the fourth he took a
trench plough and eight horses and made the trip around Nicoll's
Corner and over the dam to his meadow.  Working with a four-horse
team and changing horses every two hours, he cross-ditched the
section from north to south.  It was not a neat job; but that did
not matter.  For two days he worked with dogged determination,
ploughing and reploughing a fourteen-foot furrow till he reached
the gravel underneath.

He had barely finished when a three-day rain of unheard-of violence
started, with sheet-lightning and rolling thunder all around.  This
rain produced a situation with which it seemed impossible to cope.

South of Nicoll's farm, beyond the ditch, a lake was produced
resembling the spring flood, a mile and a half long from north to
south, and half a mile wide, covering the Topp holdings.  It was
ten inches deep, with soft mud underneath.  The water massed itself
on the west side of the road to town which acted as a dam, most of
the flood coming from the drainage shed by Abe's meadow; and slowly
the lake backed towards that meadow.  The Topp buildings stood in
water, their cellars drowned; but neither Slim nor Henry minded it
so long as the flood backed into Abe's hay land.  Spalding was,
after all, not going to get away with his devil's luck or whatever
it was, be it only his confounded shrewdness or initiative; all his
ditching and cross-ditching was not going to help him.

They could not know that Abe's heart was anywhere but in his work.
In 1912 he had exulted in his victory; that he had worried at the
time was forgotten; he saw only the contrast of the past with the
present.  Now he fought because farm and weather ruled him with a
logic of their own.

And then the amazing thing happened.  During the night of the third
day the grade which held the water broke.  Beginning as a mere
trickle, the runnel soon became a washout; the water disappeared
from the Topp holdings and flooded Horanski's and Elliot's instead.
Abe's hay land lay high and dry while the current played havoc with
the road to town.

It was unnatural; it could not be.  Was he possessed of superior
powers?  Or had he gone by night and opened the road?  Mrs.
Grappentin said you could weaken a dam by thinking of it.  The
devil would do the rest.

Nobody remembered that Abe, in 1899, had simply shown ordinary
sagacity in the choice of his location.  So long as the ditches had
functioned, that sagacity had not been conspicuous; circumstances
had restored conditions as they had been before the advent of these
ditches.  But nobody gave Abe credit for his foresight except
Nicoll.  Everything, at all times, people said, was in Spalding's
favour.  To him that hath shall be given.  Had Wheeldon not
forestalled him, he would have had the west section; and though
Nicoll laughed at such an idea, even Stanley, Wheeldon, and Elliot
had an uncanny feeling that to his horses it would not have been
inaccessible.  "Perhaps not," Nicoll said.  "He would have found a
way to drain it in time."

Abe gave no thought to such matters.  A more oppressing thing held
him in its grip: he had worked and slaved: what for?  His great
house was useless: the three people left in it would have had ample
room in the patchwork shack.  Soon he and Ruth would be alone, lost
in that structure which, from behind the rustling wind-breaks,
looked out over that prairie which it had been built to dominate.

And then dry, settled weather came at last.  The crop failure was
general; the compensation, peculiar to Abe.  Wild hay, for
immediate delivery, stood at twenty-five dollars a ton.

Abe went to town.  Opposite Blaine's cottage there was a gap in the
road twenty feet long and four feet deep.  The fields beyond looked
like the sleek, smooth bottom of a gigantic mud-hole.

Abe called Rogers over the telephone; and the latter promised to
bring his two men at once; they were to board at Nicoll's.

Nicoll would come with two boys; in addition, Abe hired McCrae to
help in the field; and he made it known that everybody who had a
team would find work in hauling the hay to the track in town.



TWENTY-SIX

Haying


The weather held.  Elsewhere, the wheat harvest began; in Spalding
District there was no wheat.  Abe had started the cutting of the
hay at the southern edge of his meadow.  For a few days, another, a
Mennonite crew had been working south of it, on the spur of high
land that lost itself west of Scheigel's.  For two weeks the work
had gone on, and Abe moved north.  For the week of 17th August a
last strip remained.  Roger's two young Englishmen were delighted
at the chance of learning his methods.

On the afternoon of that first Monday of the second half of August
the whole life of the landscape seemed to come to a focus in that
meadow, now mamillated with stacks of hay.  Nowhere else was any
work possible.  The haystacks stood uniform over the field, thirty
feet wide at the base, tapering to the top, a hundred feet long,
their longitudinal axis running from north-west to south-east, in
the direction of the prevailing winds.  Only the northernmost edge
of the field, twenty rods wide, was still bare, the cut hay lying
in wind-rows or, farther west, in such swaths as were being
gathered up even then by the rakes.  These rakes were being
operated by Nicoll's two youngest boys, Bill and Norman, fourteen
and fifteen years old.

The life of the meadow centred at a point directly south of the gap
in Abe's wind-break where a new stack was growing up.  Two enormous
"bucks," drawn by two four-horse teams each, swept the wind-rows up
and drew the hay to the stack which, so far, looked perilously tall
and slender like a spire.  At the unfinished end a huge scaffolding
of heavy timbers slanted to the top, forming an angle of thirty
degrees with the level prairie.

There, between the last two planks of the scaffold, reaching into
the air like horns or jumping board, Abe worked with his fork,
putting a semblance of order into the chaotic masses of freshly-
cured hay.  His movements were slow and deliberate.  A glance
showed that he was no longer young; a stranger might have placed
his age even higher than it was.  The methodical sweeps of his arms
were performed with that economy of motion and effort which comes
with long experience and which counts the cost, in energy as well
as time, of every lifting of the fork.  Thus, standing up to his
knees and often his hips in loose hay, he worked forkful after
forkful upwards, the base of the stack taking care of itself.

His glance did not roam far over the field.  Yet there was present
to his mental vision the whole area in which the work went on.
East of the stack stood two wagons with low boxes, their tongues
trailing on the ground.  The bucks described ever-widening circles;
and the horse-drawn rakes, never resting, swept wind-row after
wind-row into place farther west.  The work, proceeding in an
apparently leisurely way, was surprisingly fast in its results,
chiefly because it was so thoroughly organized, though also because
the capacity of these bucks was immense: whenever one of them swept
up to the stack, and they came in steady succession, two tons of
hay were lifted to the top.

To such as had known Abe in years gone by he looked weary and grey.
He wore a khaki-coloured suit of overalls.  In his face, the ruddy
colour of his skin was overlain by a layer of dust and chaff.  At
this northern end of the meadow, the grass contained an admixture
of skunk-tail the seed of which was annually spread by the flood;
and the barbed awns of this grassy weed were sticking in his hair
and eyebrows, giving him the hoary appearance of some rustic
harvest god.

In the short intervals of rest he stood leaning on his fork and
allowed his small, blue eyes to sweep the horizon, hardly moving
his head.  The weather was incredibly golden; the light, bronzed.

Once every ten or fifteen minutes Abe's full, though silent,
attention was claimed by one or other of the bucks which, having
scooped up a wind-row of hay, swept into position, south-east of
the stack, in line with its axis.  There it stopped for a few
seconds to give the horses a breathing space before their last,
desperate effort in forcing their load over the inclined planks to
the top of the scaffold.  They came on, at first slowly, merely
bending their weights into their collars; then, urged by the
drivers, faster and faster; till, when the buck struck the upward
slanting planks, they strained every muscle, clamping their feet
like grappling-hooks into the yielding soil, while behind them
the long chains to which the eveners were fastened rose with the
buck which their pull lifted up; and those eveners, finally,
quivered high above their rumps, one on each side of the stack.  
Simultaneously, their drivers became vocal: Nicoll and the
Englishmen calling their horses by their names and shouting, "Get
up, there! Now! Get up! Get up!" McCrae cursing and swearing while
he swung loose lines down on straining rumps and arching backs.

The buck was hanging in the air, perched on the last projecting
planks of the scaffold, holding its load on wide, pointed, wooden
prongs set in the huge cross timbers which were the exact length of
the width of the stack; and the horses, in order not to let it
slide back, dug their forefeet into the ground while, with their
heads, they reached for such stray wisps of hay as littered the
ground.

Abe, meanwhile, had climbed to the top of the stack and, thence,
stepped across to a plank below the horns of the scaffold.  Having
passed under the buck, he tilted the evenly poised machine with a
single reach of his powerful arms; and an avalanche of hay poured
down the sloping unfinished end of the stack.  Then he bent to let
the buck pass over his head as the horses backed away and allowed
it to slip to the ground.  Next they swung around in a huge half
circle; the buck was hooked on to the lower timbers of the
scaffold; and the latter was pulled back a foot or so.  The hooks
were reversed, and the buck swung free, these prongs which, on the
previous trip, had stood upright now sweeping the ground.  Abe
stepped back to the stack and worked quietly on, finishing off the
top to a thatch.

As he worked, his consciousness, apart from definite thoughts, was
made up of three distinct and separate complexes which yet remained
intertwined and blurred in their demarcations.

One of them was composed of such elements of his immediate
surroundings as obtruded on his senses: the hayfield with its crew;
the ditch bordering the field to the north, brimful of water, the
trail beyond; his farmstead within its wind-break, with the roofs
of barns and house out-topping the autumnally dark-green trees and
a vista through the gap of the gate to the yard; the illimitable
horizon to the west; the district with its roads and its two
bridges, one of them of fatal memory, to the east; and the hamlet
of Morley.  But his consciousness of this landscape also comprised
many things unseen: the towns of Somerville and St. Cecile beyond
the horizon, joined by the highway to the city sixty miles away.
More than that: as it extended in space to things imperceptible to
the eye, so it extended in time beyond the present; it comprised
the two-roomed and later three- and four-roomed shack in which he
had lived for fourteen years till it had been replaced by that
palatial structure with its green roof: a possession of no value
now, a mere ostentation.

The second complex concerned itself with the economic situation
that had arisen during the last few years.  Abe had failed to take
advantage of the flax boom; and, therefore, he had escaped the
disaster of the slump.  For two years he had done no fall-
ploughing; and his seeming neglect had turned to his profit.  This
hay crop represented unheard-of wealth.  He had bought steers and
heifers by the dozen and the score, to convert the poorer parts of
this crop into gold; he would once more live up to the obligation
of his wealth and give the district work; he would, in the bank and
in sound investments, replace all that the house and the new barn
had taken seven years ago, and more. . . .

The third complex was that concerned with his own personal life and
its extension into the life of a family.  Over there, in that
house, Ruth was alone.  Frances, seventeen years old and just
promoted into the final high-school grade, had been sent to town in
the little buggy which he had bought for his children to drive to
school in; for none of the men could be spared.  How Ruth spent her
days when she was alone Abe had often wondered.  But to his
household belonged other children: even Charlie who haunted a room
in that house as a mere memory now, slowly paling; and Marion who
had moved into the city where her husband had bought a partnership
in a great law firm; and Jim who preferred the grease and the dirt
to the dust and the dirt and was part owner of a prosperous garage
at Somerville, selling high-priced cars.  Incomprehensibly, there
was also Frances, a source of disquietude even to Ruth.  Like so
many others she had grown out of hand.  She did not rebel or
disobey; but she lived a life of her own, admitting no one into her
confidence.  And further, there were the Vanbruiks in town: Abe's
sister Mary, ageing, brave in her loneliness, disappointed of
children; and the enigmatic doctor, owner of the most flourishing
business outside of the city, yet professing that he could not
afford to buy any but the cheapest car: a doctor who had abandoned
his practice and to whom many turned when they were in distress.

All these things were present to Abe.  His mind hovered over his
life as the marsh-hawk hovers over the prairie lifted to the sky.

It was between three and four o'clock when the first of the three
complexes was invaded by a new element.

The landscape of the prairie is so vast that a stranger might think
a new detail must be of considerable magnitude or striking colour
or outline to attract attention.  But it is also so simple and
unrelieved that he who knows it detects the most insignificant
change, especially when it arises along the well-known lines of the
roads.

As Abe proceeded in his work, slowly and deliberately, yet without
a break, he became aware that once more something was moving on the
road from town, five miles away in a direct line.  Every now and
then he raised his eyes and looked.  A stranger would not have
found what attracted Abe's attention without having it pointed out
to him.

In years long gone by, Abe would have refused to allow such a
trifle to intrude on his thought; it would have seemed a fit
occupation for such as Hartley or Mrs. Grappentin.  It was his
disinclination to spy upon his possible neighbours, more perhaps
than his disinclination to be spied upon, which had induced him to
plant his wind-break all around his yard; south of the Somerville
Line, wind-breaks were drawn only north and west of the buildings;
for south and east winds were rarely violent and never cold.  Abe
had excluded all views; even on himself his place had made the
impression of a walled castle.  Nicoll, Stanley, and Shilloe had
followed his plan.  The district bore the imprint of his mind.

Along the road from town a black spot was crawling north.  Abe had
learned to interpret such things with an unfailing accuracy: it was
a buggy coming from town.

Now Abe had been in the field all day and knew that no buggy had
gone to town but his.  Strangers visiting the district, salesmen
and collectors, did not travel in horse-drawn vehicles.  This was a
small buggy drawn by a single horse: Frances was coming home.

Nothing strange about that.  Ruth had been in need of supplies from
the store and had wished to send Mary a message.  The girl, having
attended to her errands, was coming home.  Nothing strange about
that.

Yet, as the buggy crept north--the pony was ageing--Abe felt
disquieted.  When it had crossed the ditch at Hilmer's Corner,
horse and vehicle became articulated against the sky, distorted by
the mirage.  The horse looked like a long, cylindrical body with
mere hair-lines for its legs, as a child would draw it with a few
strokes of the pencil.  Behind it, the box floated on a silver
surface, its wheels eclipsed by the eddies set up by the horse in
the wavy air.

The only strange thing about it was that, in the morning, Frances
had worn a light dress; and whoever sat on the near side of the
buggy now wore dark clothes.  Once seen and noted, this seemed
sufficient to disquiet Abe.  Who was with the girl?

Abe was still watching the buggy as it approached the washout in
the grade when his attention was claimed by a buck which swung into
line with the skids of the scaffold.  Yet even while, with
automatic precision, he dumped the load, he kept an eye on the
vehicle as the horse hesitated on the brink and gingerly descended
into the gap, completely eclipsed by the mirage.  By the time the
horses were circling away, the vehicle had reached the bridge at
Nicoll's Corner.  Before Abe began to work the newly-dumped load
upwards, he stood for a moment leaning on the handle of his fork,
up to his hips in hay.

The buggy turned at the corner, and the mystery resolved itself.
Frances was not alone; but the person with her was a woman.  At
least there was nothing in her companion for gossip to take hold
of; for Abe knew that everybody in the district, down to the men
and boys in the field, had watched the vehicle as closely as he
himself.

A few minutes later, the woman with Frances revealed her identity
by a characteristic motion in readjusting herself on her seat, it
was Mary.  Quietly Abe went on creating order out of chaos.

Steadily the slow-trotting horse approached beyond the ditch; again
a buck claimed Abe's attention.  As he dumped it, he glanced about.
Another half-day would finish their work.

When the buck departed, Abe could no longer see the buggy; it had
disappeared behind the stack.  He went on with his work; but when
he had finished, he took a few plunging steps upward, steadying
himself with his fork, till he could look over the top of the now
considerably lengthened stack, straight into his yard, through the
gap in the wind-break.  The buggy had turned in and was heading for
the little gate in the fence of the house-yard.  With the back of
his hand Abe wiped the sweat off his brow.

Never before had Mary come in a vehicle not her own, except on that
Christmas Day when Marion had tried to elope.  But this was summer;
the doctor kept a small car which Mary drove.  How did she intend
to go home?  Did she mean to stay overnight?  It must have been
something of importance which had brought her out.  Abe waited till
she and Frances had alighted, tying the horse to the gatepost in
which there was a ring.  Then, on the way to the house, they
disappeared behind the wind-break.  Abe returned to his work.  Had
he been on his own side of the full-flowing ditch, he would have
gone to the house to inquire; as it was, his gate, twenty rods
away, was four miles distant.

For the rest of the afternoon a certain disquietude did not leave
him, not even when, about six o'clock, he saw Mary returning to
town, alone, in the buggy.  He was restless.  More and more
frequently he looked about to see whether the next buck was not yet
coming, as though to accelerate the work.  Not that the speed would
have made any difference, for the work would go on till dark in any
case.  It was just a feeling of impatience with a day which seemed
unwilling to end.

Behind the wind-break, the house stood undisturbed, its dark-red
walls showing here and there between the thinning masses of
foliage.  At times the pleasant picture darkened to his eye till it
seemed silent and sinister, holding a secret.  Till Mary had
departed, the little horse had stood between its shafts, knock-
kneed, its head hanging low.

At last the dark rose like a wave rolling up from the east.  The
mown grass and the stubble became beaded with dew, its scent
intensified.  Dusk comes fast on the level prairie, and with a
tremendously accentuated contrast against the bright light of day.
Horizons are hazy; the sun, perhaps still above the rim of the
world, loses its power of orienting such light as remains.  It
turns into a vermilion disk.  Dampness wells up with a chill . . .
And still the work went on.

But at last, all sorts of uncanny changes having taken place, work
had to stop.  Abe spoke to Nicoll; and Nicoll sent a call through
the thickening twilight, a signal for the boys to gather at the
stack where Abe did the last capping-off.  Then he, too, slipped to
the ground, while his helpers unhooked the horses from the draw-
chains of the bucks.

The ground being saturated with moisture, the lower air, heated by
contact with the soil, had drunk itself full of vapour during the
day.  But radiation is swift on flat, unrelieved ground; and, with
the gathering dusk, the moisture held by the air began to condense
into a thick white mist.  Already horses and men were wading about
in this mist which, so far, lay knee-high.  This gave a peculiar
detached air to the scene: the day was done; the time to rest at
hand; and a great, overwhelming lassitude came over the workers.

One of the two wagons east of the stack, Abe's, held two clothes-
baskets filled with the dishes in which the noonday meal had been
brought; besides, earthenware jugs which had held water, repair
parts for mowers and rakes, a few spare forks, and a tin box used
as a stove to make coffee on, with such of the hay for fuel as was
rejected because it held too much skunk-tail.  The other wagon,
Nicoll's, was filled with fresh hay.  Abe threw his fork into the
former and spread a canvas sheet over its contents.

McCrae and Nicoll were hitching two horses each to the wagons; the
Englishmen were stringing the others together into two lines, one
long, consisting of Abe's ten Clydes; the other short, of two
horses, which were Nicoll's.  These they tied behind the wagons.

The mist was rising.  At this moment the horses that had been
working beyond the gully came galloping in like a herd of wild
beasts, with cocked ears flicking forward and backward: horses are
easily frightened in a mist at night.  With them came McCrae's
pony.  Two of the draught horses that came thundering in bore their
riders, the Nicoll boys.

For a minute the scene was one of utter confusion; for all horses
pranced and stirred as if expecting an attack; some reared, others
whinnied.  Nicoll spoke a word of reproach to the boys, in subdued
accents; but their voices and laughter sounded unnaturally loud.
The mist was still rising, forming in ever-higher layers.  Then the
horses that had arrived last disappeared as they had come.  McCrae
had captured his mount.  The others galloped away to the east,
along the dam; and the laughter and the shouts of the boys echoed
over the plain.

Abe climbed into the front of his wagon and took the lines.  It was
now so dark that he could no longer see his companions.  He stood
and listened, inferring the progress made from sounds.

"Ready?" he asked at last.

A grunt answered him, as if those who had no driving to do were too
exhausted for articulate speech.  The caravan started, the horses
following the wagons like trains of satellites.  Without raising
himself from the floor of Abe's wagon where he was reclining,
McCrae lighted a cigarette; and the flicker of the match showed Abe
standing in front.  The horses moved their ears; the mist enveloped
them all.

They went on for half an hour.  Apart from the creaking of the
wheels there was silence till the hollow thud of the horses' hoofs
proclaimed that they had turned on to the bridge.  Abe stopped with
a "Whoa there!"

McCrae jumped to the ground.  His leap scared the pony which had
been tied to the stepping board, and it wheeled, straining at the
line.  When McCrae had untied it, it backed away till it stood in
front of Abe's horses so that, when Abe clicked his tongue, they
fidgeted but did not move.  McCrae had rolled another cigarette
and, hooking the pony's bridle over a shoulder, proceeded to light
it.

As the match flared up, its flame illuminated the raw, cynical face
of the man and the wide, quivering nostrils of his frightened
mount.  All about, it threw a momentary sphere of visibility into
the enveloping mist; and the pony, head raised, its eyes full of
fright, was trying to break away.  McCrae, once more in the dark,
vaulted on to the bare back of the animal and galloped away through
the night.  By the gentle way in which Abe said, "Get up!" he
seemed to express his disapproval of the man's methods in dealing
with animals.

As he went on, Nicoll's wagon drew up behind him; and "Good night"
sounded on every hand.  Abe had turned west.

When he reached his barn and unhooked his horses, throwing the
traces over their backs, he touched their rumps one by one, a
signal that they might go and drink at the outside trough.  The
yard was unlighted.  Abe had expressed his opinion that it was a
waste to turn lights on when only he was working in the yard at
night.  Darkness felt grateful.

The last hour of the day's work had come: the hour he liked best.
As he entered the horse barn, switching on a single light, he was
greeted by a nicker from those of the animals which had come in
from the pasture at dark.  The horses that had drunk at the trough
filed in and went to their stalls; and, as Abe moved about,
carrying them their rations, they turned their heads and touched
his arm with exploring noses.  Having finished, he stood for a
moment in the open door.

The things of the day had fallen away before the utter peace of the
night.  Abe's disquietude was a mere memory now.  The tiny droplets
of the mist held, dissolved in them, a trace of the wood smoke from
the chimney of the kitchen which imparted to them a scent as of
spring.

Yet a remnant of curiosity remained; and before he went to the new
barn to admit the cows crowding about its western door, he crossed
over to the house through the driving gate north of the barn.  The
back doors of shed and kitchen stood open; and the light from the
kitchen fell through the shed on the ground.  Toned down by the
mist, it, too, held a note of peace and drowsiness.  Abe looked at
his watch: a little after ten.  The house was plunged in utter
silence.  Nothing stirred; curiosity vanished.  In a strange
impulse Abe reached for the coal-oil lantern.  He did not light it
till he was in the cow barn.

Having admitted the cows, some twenty of them, for steers and
heifers were left in the pasture, he distributed hay and shorts--
crushed wheat with most of the flour removed--fetched a milking
stool, washed his hands, and squatted down by the side of one of
the two cows which were to be milked; the rest had their calves at
foot.

For many years Abe had not milked by lantern light.  That he did so
now, carried him back through the years to a time when he had been
filled with ambition; when yard and barns as they were had existed
only in dreams.  He had been happy then; all his wishes had been of
a realizable kind; he had lived in a future which he desired; that
future had come disappointingly.  Youth and the ardent urge; age
and poignant regret: where was the life in between?  Peace and
happiness?  He sought them in the past.  In the present were only
exhaustion and weariness: weariness even unto death. . . .  Yet
this was the last turning point in Abe's life.

He took the milk to the separator in the milk room; and after a
while, breathing deeply in the fresh, misty air, he took the
skimmed milk to the pig-pen where he stirred barley chop into it
before he poured it into the troughs, the animals squealing as they
shouldered each other aside.

It was past eleven when, carrying the cream pail, he entered the
house.  Ruth was sitting in the dining-room, half asleep no doubt
as was her custom when Abe was late.  As he bent over the wash-
basin, she came and busied herself at the white-panelled range.

It had never been Abe's way to speak readily.  All things come to
him who waits.  What did it matter?  Having finished, he turned,
his limbs feeling heavy as lead.  His question, when it was uttered
at last, came as though advanced against some resistance.  "Frances
in bed?"

"Yes," Ruth said without turning from the stove where the eggs were
sizzling.  "It's quite late."

"I know."  That was all.

Abe entered the dining-room and dropped into his chair.  When Ruth
placed his supper before him, he ate slowly, enjoying the
additional drowsiness induced by the food.  He was half conscious
of the fact that Ruth had not mentioned Mary's call.  He looked at
her where she sat sewing; but he lowered his eyes again to his
plate.  He felt drugged with sleep.  When he pushed his chair back
and rose, stretching, he had almost forgotten about Mary.  Sleep!
"Well," he said, omitting the rest which was obvious.

But Ruth, putting her sewing away, said casually, "Mary was here."

"So I saw."  He felt disinclined to go into that now.

"She had a telephone message from Rogers," Ruth went on.  "He has
started cutting and wants you for stacking."

"Was that what she came for?"

"Yes.  He'll call for you and his men to-morrow after dinner."

"All right."

"Whom are you going to get for the chores?"

"McCrae, I suppose."

Ruth winced.  Abe hesitated at the door, frowning.  But no.  Not
now.  Let it go.  Still, he asked, "Why did Mary not come in the
car?"

"Charles was in the city.  She'll send the buggy back with a boy."

"That's all right."  A moment longer he lingered.  There was
something strange.  Mary might have sent the message through
Frances.  But he gave in to his desire for sleep.  He yawned.
"Good night."



TWENTY-SEVEN

Ruth


Ruth did not sleep that night.  She cried into her pillow.  In the
dark, what had happened came back with cruel vividness; every word
that had been spoken during Mary's visit.

Entering the house, Mary had nodded, saying nothing by way of
greeting but "Ruth!"  Frances had slunk in, a picture of dejection.

"You better sit down, Ruth," Mary had said in the living-room.

"Why?  What is wrong?"

"Sit down before I tell you."

Frightened, Ruth had obeyed.

Mary, too, had sat down.  "I am bringing Frances home as you see.
She can't be trusted out of sight.  The girl is with child."

"No!"

"No use saying no, Ruth.  She has confessed."

There had been a silence, Ruth staring at Frances with tears in her
eyes.  The girl, head bent, had stood pale but defiant.  No
admission was needed.  Once attention had been called to it, her
condition was evident.

"You might at least have told me," Ruth said bitterly to her child.
"It would have saved half the disgrace."

"It's plainly to be seen," Mary had sternly gone on.  "But I'll
admit I did not suspect her till this afternoon.  I was in the
garden.  Across the fence was Ethel Reilly with another girl.
"Look at that Spalding kid!" one said to the other.  "Surely, she's
got herself into trouble?"  I couldn't see Frances.  But it struck
me at once with the force of conviction.  Only in the morning I had
been thinking that she had grown astonishingly stout since school
had closed.  But you are stout yourself; and it hadn't been
striking so far."

"I wasn't stout when I was her age," Ruth had said.

"Perhaps not.  But she's been at home for two months, and you have
noticed nothing yourself.  I have blamed and blamed myself ever
since.  When she came in, I charged her with the fact.  She denied
it.  I made her undress; and she broke down and admitted it all . . .
No use crying, Ruth, now the thing's done.  I came because I
knew Abe wasn't at home.  The problem is how to keep it from his
knowledge."

"How CAN it be kept from his knowledge?"

"That you will have to think out.  I wonder whether you realize
what this would mean to him.  He would kill the man."

"Who IS the man?"

"Let Frances tell you.  I don't mean to go into the details of the
sordid story.  But the man is married and has a family of his own.
That ghost of an excuse Frances has.  But it is all the worse for
Abe."

"Why?"

"Ruth, I know what this must mean to you.  I don't want to be
harsh.  But I must speak.  I wish to God I had said long ago what I
have to say.  You have not always been the right wife for Abe.
When you saw what it meant to carve a farm out of raw prairie, you
gave up and threw the whole burden on him.  You thought your
children should have a freer and easier life.  You taught them to
look for fulfilment of their wishes away from home.  They have
learned the lesson."

"If you want to speak ill of my children--"

"I am not speaking ill of them.  If you had given them the right
kind of home, this would not have happened.  Marion would not have
married against Abe's wishes.  Jim would have stayed at home.
Frances would be a decent girl.  What has Abe left?  He works like
a slave to preserve that semblance of a home which he thinks he
still has.  He is over fifty.  He has always worked too hard.  And
this is what you hold in reserve for him.  Go if you want to.  Tell
him what you have done, yes, you!  Tell him that this girl and a
scoundrel have brought shame on his greying head.  Do!  And see
what will come of it."

Ruth had listened, half in despair half in revolt.  Some of the
things Mary had said were true; others were not.  What did it
matter?  If Abe could be spared, he must be spared, with that she
agreed.

"He will kill the man!" Mary had repeated.

"If he is a married man, he deserves it."

"But what about Abe?  He will hang."

Ruth had started to her feet with a cry.

Mary had gone on speaking passionately.  All that had stood between
the two women had come from her lips, things just and unjust.  To
Ruth they had seemed irrelevant.  Mary had concluded by saying, "He
will do justice regardless of consequences."

Yes, so Ruth had thought at that moment of emotional upheaval.  Abe
stood at the centre of it all.  She understood him better than his
sister.  He must be protected.  The whole load of the crisis
settled down on her shoulders.  "Have you a plan?" she had asked.

"That," Mary had said, rising and going to the window, "I will tell
you when Frances has told you what she has told me.  Better take
her upstairs and keep her there, out of Abe's sight."

Ruth, with the uneasy memory in her mind of what Abe had said at
the mere thought of just what had happened, had done as Mary bade;
and in this room where she spent the night Frances had told the
tale of that ride from town in McCrae's car.  Ruth had shuddered;
but the thought of Abe had saved her from breaking down.  As,
during the night, she lay there, she was torn between two desires:
that of saving Abe and that of handing "that man" over to him.  A
ruthless power had twisted her purpose into its opposite.  An
easier and higher life than she had led!

Abe was the child's father; he was the man to punish the offender;
and yet he must be spared.  Much of what Mary had said Ruth was
willing to admit.  It had come to the point where Abe, with all his
faults, meant manhood to her, power, tenacity, perseverance in the
face of adversity; yes, and forbearance.  The very things which she
had resented in him she had come to admire.  He must be spared.
And a crooked little by-thought had crept in: by sparing him, she
could protect the girl from his wrath.  For already Ruth was
building a defence around her child; in defending her she was
defending herself.  McCrae alone was to blame; he must be punished,
or she would lose her faith in life!

Abe must be kept in ignorance: that, the two women had agreed upon.
A plan had suggested itself to Mary, starting from the coincidence
of Mr. Rogers's telephone call; so she had made a definite
arrangement for her brother to be fetched in the afternoon of the
following day.  Abe being out of the way, she would run Ruth and
Frances to the city where Marion's approaching confinement would
furnish a pretext for this visit of her sister.  Frances would
remain in the city till all was over; she need never even see her
own child; that remained to be arranged for.

There seemed to be no flaw in this plan, provided Ruth was willing
to let McCrae go unpunished.  That Ruth might for a moment weigh
her desire for his punishment against the necessity of keeping the
thing from Abe had never occurred to Mary.  But Ruth plotted and
planned till she seemed to see a way of achieving both ends.
McCrae must be punished; he was the guilty one; Frances was his
innocent victim.  His punishment would restore to Ruth a measure of
confidence in herself.

She had reached no definite conclusion yet when Abe stirred to rise
for the day.  He stretched and yawned in his room, stretched and
yawned.

Frances was innocent.  Ruth had told Mary so.  "Force was used."

"Why is force not used against other girls?"

"We don't need to discuss that," Ruth had said. . . .

She must get up to prepare breakfast and pack the noonday lunch.
She waited till Abe had gone to the barn.  Then, having washed, she
slipped down to the kitchen. . . .

At ten o'clock a boy from town brought the buggy, leading a saddle-
horse behind.  He came to the house and brought Ruth a note.

"I have arranged everything.  Rogers will call for Abe at three.  I
shall come for you to-morrow morning at seven.--Mary."

"There is no answer," Ruth had said to the messenger. . . .

McCrae looked at Abe with a supercilious glance when he asked him
that morning whether he would look after his stock for a few days.

"Sure.  Going away?"

"Yes.  I am going to help Mr. Rogers stack his hay."

McCrae even inquired, "Leaving the missus and daughter at home?"

Abe nodded.

The mist had crawled south; the day was as brilliant as ever; the
work would be finished by noon.

Abe could not remember the time when he had worked in such utter
peace.  Last night resignation had come to him.  In no other way
could he find happiness: a life in the present, looking neither
backward nor forward.  The air was crisp; the warmth of the rising
sun felt grateful.

When, at two o'clock, his haying finished, he returned to the
house, Frances had lain down with a headache.

Abe planned retrenchments: cross-fence his farm a mile north; seed
the Hudson's Bay section to grass; keep stock there; rebuild life
on a smaller scale; do things in a leisurely way; enjoy the doing
of them; taste every season, every hour, every task to the full!
Had he done so years ago, he would have saved much of life.

Shortly after three Rogers drove into the yard.  Abe admired the
man.  Perfect in poise and control, endowed with the ease of
speech, he took pleasure out of life; he never overreached himself;
he spoke to his daughters as though flirting with them.  The
crow's-feet about his eyes came from much laughter.  Abe felt as if
he were going on a holiday.

Ruth watched from behind the curtains of a window.  They went
through the barns, the pig-pen, the fowl house.  When they returned
to the car, they were laughing. . . .

Till Abe came back, all action was transferred to Ruth.  She was
gliding down a smooth river which plunged over a ledge of rock to a
whirlpool beneath.  She had seen Niagara in her youth.

For a moment, when the car swung out through the gate, she felt
overwhelmed with the desire to call Abe back.  She went to an arm-
chair and sank down.  Exhaustion hung over her like a threat.
Glimpses of thought were endowed with a life of their own: of the
dead child; of Jim who had not yet come home; of Marion who
preferred to go to a hospital and did not call her mother to her
side.  And now this!

She rose.  No use thinking; action was needed.  She busied herself.

She must see a lawyer.  The law was supposed to be just; if it was,
it would protect her.  Yet, HAD it protected her?  This thing was
done against all law!  Then the law must set it right again!

A lawyer?  Which lawyer?  Her son-in-law?  No.  Her other children,
too, must be protected from even the knowledge of this thing.

She would have to get rid of Mary.  Mary must not know of her plan.
She would argue that it was imperative to let the man go unpunished.
That, Ruth could not concede.  Never had she thought it possible
that she should hate a man as she hated him who had brought this
wreckage into her life.  Again she began to plan, to weigh every
circumstance.  Yes, if she could hand the man over into the grip of
the law, he would be removed from Abe; even for Abe her plan was
best.

At night, she grimly watched the object of her hatred jauntily
going about the yard and glancing up at the windows of the house,
looking for an opportunity of seeing the girl, no doubt.

Then, right after dark, feeling the unescapable need for rest, she
made preparations for going to bed.

Frances had kept out of her way all day, coming down only for her
meals.  She avoided all discussion.

After another sleepless night, Ruth rose on Wednesday excited and
confused.  As she pulled at the laces of her corsets, she burst
into tears.  She must find a lawyer. . . .  But the difficulty
about Mary remained unsolved.

She went to waken Frances and returned to her room.  Ruth, too, was
overwhelmed with the feeling of the uselessness of this great
house.  She looked at the costly fittings of her room: bedstead,
dresser, chest of drawers, rug. . . .

Before she went downstairs, she returned to the girl's room.  She
found her laying out her best clothes; she had rouged and powdered
her face.  "Frances!" she cried in an undefinable voice.

"Nonsense, mother!"  Then, in a changed tone, "Mother, come here!"
And, in a whisper, "I'm afraid, mother.  Does it hurt much?"

"Too late to think of that," Ruth replied and turned away.

The two were sitting at the breakfast table when the purr of a car
in the yard announced Mary's arrival.  They rose to get their hats.

It was another cloudless day, with the sun emerging hotly out of
the eastern haze.  The run to the city took three hours--a stifling
run for the first thirty miles; for Mary kept the curtains of the
car closed against prying eyes till they had left St. Cecile
behind.  Ruth sat with Mary in the front; Frances in the tonneau,
dressed as for a conquest.  On the way, Mary explained the
arrangements she had made.  Frances would go to a private hospital
where such cases were taken care of.  When they approached the
city, the sun stood high in the sky, burning down through a hot,
blue, charged air which made beads of perspiration stand on every
brow.

In the city, thanks to Mary's foresight, everything concerning
Frances was attended to by noon.  When the two women were alone,
Mary asked, "I suppose you want to look in on Marion?"

Here was the looked-for pretext.  "When do you wish to leave?"

"I'll run you out.  I'll have lunch with Charles's sister.  I can
fetch you after that.  It will be time if we leave at four."

"Set me down at the Corner of Grande Pré," Ruth said; for she knew
that to be the principal business street.  "I want to go to a store
and I'll take a street car.  We'll meet in front of the Parliament
Buildings."

Mary nodded and turned left at the next corner.  When Ruth had
alighted, she watched the car out of sight.  She had no desire to
call on Marion; other things were on her mind; she must do what she
had never done before: she must act for herself.

She walked down the chief business artery of the city, looking
uncouth and out of place.  She kept scanning the signs in doors and
windows, paying no attention to the passers-by who stared at her
funny little mauve hat, many years old.  She was melting with the
heat but did not feel her discomfort.

She went a mile before she saw a sign such as she was looking for.
It was across the street, in an upper window, "Craig, McPherson,
McPherson, Barristers and Attorneys-at-Law."  She crossed the maze
of the driveway, crowded with street cars, automobiles, and
delivery wagons; and within a few minutes she found herself in a
huge building where a man whom she asked beckoned her into a
crowded elevator.  She had to hold on to herself not to betray how
unfamiliar it all was to her.  When the cage shot up, she gave a
half-stifled scream.  Yet she kept her head by sheer effort.  The
elevator coming to a stop, the attendant touched her arm, naming a
number and pointing a direction.

In a large deserted office a young lady approached her between the
desks.  With arrogant politeness she asked Ruth for her errand.

"I wish to see Mr. McPherson."

"Junior or senior, madam?"

"Senior," Ruth answered at random.

The young lady disappeared, not without smiling to herself at
Ruth's hat.  A few minutes later an elderly man came to the
partition dividing the office, small, cool, distant, bored.

"I am Mr. McPherson, madam.  What can I do for you?"

"Could I see you privately for a moment?"

The elderly man hesitated before he swung a small gate in the
railing open.  Ruth followed him into a private office.  At a
motion of the lawyer's she sat down on the edge of a chair.

"Mr. McPherson," she said, "I want to consult you about a case.
What can a person do when a man has taken advantage of a girl?"
She wondered at her own fluency.

Mr. McPherson smiled.  "We don't handle such cases, madam.  You
want to see Mr. Inkster of Inglewood, Inkster, and McIntosh.  He
will give you competent advice."

Ruth rose.  "Mr. Inkster?"

"I'll see whether he is in."  He reached for the receiver of a
telephone and made an inquiry.  "One block east.  You will find him
there."

At the offices of Inglewood, Inkster, and McIntosh, Ruth had to
wait half an hour before she was admitted.  When she entered the
private room, she found a middle-aged man of powerful build who
held his half-bald head to one side where his chin jerked over his
shoulder.  His face was expressive of utter disillusionment.  He
did not rise or look up from his papers as he asked her to be
seated and to state her case.

She repeated the question which she had asked Mr. McPherson.

"I can't tell without knowing the details.  It is for you to know
whether you want to disclose them or not."

Ruth told the story as she knew it; and now and then the lawyer
jotted down a note on a pad of paper.  He seemed to pay the closest
attention, but whether to her story or to his papers was hard to
say.  He asked a few questions, so brutal that she winced.  She
quailed before his indifference; but she answered to the best of
her knowledge.

Then, "You say the girl was innocent before this happened?"

"I do."

The man shot her a shrewd glance.  "Does she use rouge?"

Ruth bridled.  "I don't see--"

Mr. Inkster smiled at his papers.  "You wouldn't, madam.  My
question is answered."  He leaned back, relaxing, spreading out.
"May I ask what your purpose is in proceeding against the man?"

"Surely he should be punished for ruining the life of a child?"

Again he smiled.  "If your story is strictly true, madam; if you
can persuade a jury to accept it, you may have a case.  I won't say
offhandedly on what charge: rape or seduction of a girl under
eighteen.  I do not mean to cast any doubt on your veracity, madam.
But there are two sides to every case.  A conviction is never
certain.  Every trial is full of surprises.  May I call your
attention to another thing?  If the girl was not strictly innocent,
the trial is bound to bring the fact to light.  I do not say that
she was not; understand me, madam.  I am merely putting the case
for your consideration.  You may not be fully informed.  Parents
rarely are.  In that case, a trial can bring only additional
sorrow.  But even if she was strictly innocent when this thing
happened, you might, if you knew how such trials are necessarily
conducted, not wish to expose your daughter to the sort of cross-
examination which she will have to undergo.  The opposing lawyer
will ply her with questions about the minutest and most unsavoury
details of the act. . . ."

Ruth gasped.  "Will he be able to get a lawyer?"

Mr. Inkster's broad body swung forward, his head jerking over his
shoulder.  "Even the guilty are entitled to the protection of the
law, madam.  I'll be quite frank.  If what has happened to your
daughter had happened to mine, I should not proceed.  Suppose her
essentially innocent.  I assure you, a girl that has stood in the
witness-box in a trial for rape or seduction can never again be
called innocent in any sense but that of the law.  She knows human
nature in its worst aspects more thoroughly than any one except a
criminal lawyer.  From what she learns in the trial she can never
recover.  Her imagination is sullied for life.  That is the way
this thing looks to me; and I should know."

Ruth was speechless.  The lawyer's eyes remained on his papers.

At last she recovered sufficiently to ask, "What is your advice?"

"That depends on your reason for proceeding against the man.  As
for the thing itself, it is done; nothing can undo it."

"I want him punished."

Mr. Inkster raised a weary hand.  "The full rigour of the law!  If
I were without a conscience, madam, I should confirm you in that
wish."

"Cannot the girl be left out of the proceedings?"

"She cannot."

Ruth rebelled.  "If that is justice--"

The lawyer spoke tentatively.  "Are there other considerations,
madam?  Financial ones?"

"No.  Except inasmuch as they might embarrass the man."

"In that case you might do almost anything with him, provided you
get him to admit the fact before witnesses."

"That would be very hard to do."

"May I suggest a proceeding?"

"If you please."

"Suppose you sign an information in blank.  I shall have it filled
in with due care.  I shall get a warrant for the man's arrest and
send a detective down.  You procure another witness and hide the
two in your house.  Invite the man in under some pretext and talk
matters over so as to make him involve himself.  Get his admission,
as if you were willing to compromise.  The detective will place him
under arrest and take him to the city.  He will engage counsel and
ask to be admitted to bail.  Bail will be granted; but the sum
fixed will depend on the girl's previous innocence.  He may know
more than you.  The sum imposed will tell us.  That he will claim
knowledge of the girl's bad character goes without saying.  Every
man accused of such things does.  It will depend on the degree to
which he can substantiate his claim.  If the trial judge
disbelieves him, bail may be as high as a thousand dollars; but if
he makes his defence plausible, it may be as low as two hundred.
We force him to show his cards; you will have time to consider
whether you want to proceed or not.  A trial offers small chance of
success when a man can show cause why his bail should be low.  If
bail is high, it remains to be considered whether you wish to
expose the girl to a trial or not.  If the problem is money, that
is the time to settle out of court."

Ruth became hopeful once more.  "We can get an arrest, then?"

"You can get an arrest on any kind of a charge."

"That is something," Ruth muttered.

"You agree to the plan?"

"I believe I do."

"If you will take a seat in the waiting-room, I will have the
papers prepared when my secretary returns from her luncheon.  We
need your signature.  In an hour you will be able to go home.
Sixty miles, you said?  The detective will be down by five to-
morrow.  Will that do?"

"Yes.  The man comes at six to do the chores at my place."

At four o'clock, Ruth met Mary on Broadway.  For the moment she
felt as if her action had invested her with a consciously heroic
attitude towards life.



TWENTY-EIGHT

The Conflict


Ruth had succeeded in evading Mary's questions and declined her
offer to stay with her at the farm.  But as soon as her sister-in-
law had left, she surrendered to fears and doubts.  She suspected
the world to be vastly more complex than it appeared to be.  New
and unforeseen possibilities constantly arose before her
imagination.  The man was a returned soldier; did that give him
privileges before the law?  He had friends in the district; would
they defend and help him?

There was the difficulty of procuring a witness.  Whom could she
ask?  How was she to induce McCrae to come into the house?  What,
when she had him there, was she going to say?  If she could not
adequately punish, she craved the satisfaction of striking at least
a telling blow.

But her hatred was complicated by such a longing for Abe and his
support as she had never felt before.  Love?  What was love!  She
wished for a quiet, harmonious life by his side--a life of mutual
forbearance if not understanding.  But with this secret in her
heart, how could she ever look Abe in the face again?

She had taken on herself a responsibility in which she needed the
support of him in whom she discovered herself to believe more
unconditionally than in God.  When she had rebelled against him in
the past, she had done so not the least because she had felt that
she could never fulfil his expectation of her.  She was not what he
had thought her to be; thence had sprung a devastating jealousy of
an ideal in his heart.

Repeatedly Ruth sat down, in dining- or living-room, and later at
the foot of her bed, to abandon herself to a paroxysm of sobbing.

Again the unchained emotional possibilities dormant in her took
their direction against McCrae; him she hated so that she could
have annihilated the world to annihilate him.  What he had done,
made her past life one utter, dismal failure.  The intensity of her
hatred appalled her.  He MUST be punished though it meant ruin to
herself.

Whom could she ask to act as witness?  Whom but Nicoll!

Night came, and practical things demanded to be done.  She must see
Nicoll.  With the need for action her agitation subsided.  She
waited till it was quite dark before she went to the road to break
into a needless run; but when the unwonted exertion affected her
heart, she forced herself to go at a more leisurely gait.

She passed Dick Nicoll's new place which looked deserted; but the
windows of the school were ablaze with light; there, the young
people were assembled for a dance.  A dance!

When she reached the gate of the farm at the corner, a light was
moving near the stables.  She stopped and called.

The light approached.  "Mrs. Spalding?" Nicoll asked, surprised.

"Mr. Nicoll, I have come to ask you to do me a favour."

"Anything I can do--"

"Will you come to the house to-morrow, between four and five, and
listen to a conversation.  I need a witness."

Nicoll looked at her uncomprehendingly.

"I am in great need of help."

"Of course, I'll come.  But what is it?"

"You will hear.  You must arrange to get there without being seen.
Abe is away.  It's McCrae who mustn't see you."

"I'll go through the field.  It is muddy, but--"

"Thanks," Ruth said.  She had spoken evenly throughout; but as she
turned away, her knees shook. . . .

Another night without sleep: a vague, chaotic night, full of
tossings and lapses, accelerated heartbeats and bottomless voids.

And a morning, seemingly endless, yet regretted when it was gone.

As the afternoon wore on, a dull, feverish excitement invaded her,
with no articulate thought, only feelings undefined and full of
menace.

It was hardly four o'clock when a sound in the yard proclaimed the
fact that a car had arrived.  Ruth ran to the window in Abe's den.
A medium-sized stranger was coming to the house.

"Mrs. Spalding?" he asked at the door, with a liveliness of speech
in contrast to the mournful expression of his face.  "Stuart, P.P.,
from headquarters, request Mr. Inkster."

"Come in," Ruth said faintly.

The man laughed mirthlessly.  "The cah, madam.  We'd bettah not
leave the cah in the yahd.  I have a drivah along."

"I'll show you."  And, running, she led the way to the new barn.

"All-l-l right," said the stranger, looking in.  "Be at the house
in a minute."

Ruth felt no longer exhausted; but she hardly knew what she was
doing.  In the kitchen, she caught herself in the act of putting on
an apron as if to wash the dishes which had accumulated since
Tuesday.

The detective reappeared.  "Your man isn't heah yet?"

"My man? . . .  Oh, McCrae.  No, I don't expect him till six
o'clock."

"A witness?"

"Will be here any moment."

"Does the man suspect?"

"I don't think so."

"That's the dining-room?  No, leave the blinds drawn.  A den?
All-l-l right.  We'll be in theah.  You get your man into this room
heah . . ."

There was a knock at the back door.  It was Nicoll; returning, she
introduced the men to each other.

"P.P.," the stranger said in explanation.

"McCrae is going to be arrested," Ruth said to make it all clear.
Nicoll betrayed no surprise.  Perhaps he understood.

Ruth did wash the dishes, leaving the men to themselves.  Nicoll
was on the point of lighting a cigarette when the detective stopped
him. . . .

McCrae appeared a few minutes to six, on horseback.  Ruth was
upstairs watching from Jim's window.  She ran down to tell the
detective.

"Don't be in hurry," the stranger advised.  "Call him in casually."

She returned to her post at the upper window.  McCrae was behind
the barn, calling to horse and cows, "Come on--come on--come on!"

Half an hour went by; the horses came; and McCrae fed them.

Impatient for action, Ruth went down again.  Again the stranger
warned her against hurry.  "He mustn't suspect a trap."

If only it were over.  A plan was forming in her mind.  Yet she
wished she could postpone it all.  Once more she returned upstairs.

McCrae was in the cow barn.  Again half an hour went by.  For the
third time he appeared, carrying two pails of skimmed milk.  A dull
shock went through Ruth at his sight.  How she hated him!  How she
hated every jaunty motion of his!  She went down; and the detective
nodded to her, all but closing the door of the den; she went to the
shed.

Five minutes later, she saw the man returning from the pig-pen,
holding his head high, his cap aslant on his skull.  Ruth's
excitement reached such a pitch that she feared she would fall and
scream.

Now!  As by a miracle her mind became clear.  McCrae was on the
point of turning the corner of the barn when she ran out, her bulk
shaking.  "Mr. McCrae!"  She marvelled at the friendliness which
she succeeded in putting into her voice.  She was listening to its
sound.

He stopped in his tracks.

"Would you mind coming in for a moment?  I want you to do me a
favour."

"Sure," he replied in cynical surprise.  "Not at all."

Ruth was conscious of the fact that she could not readjust her
features from the ghastly smile she had put on.  Yet she said
coolly, "Come right in," as she led the way through shed and
kitchen.  "Sit down."  She moved a chair in the dining-room.  "Are
the fields drying?"

"They're drying, yes.  Unless we get more rain."

"Well," Ruth said evenly, "nobody wants more rain."

"Guess not."  McCrae looked about the room.  "You all alone?"

"Yes.  My daughter is away."

"That so?"

Ruth, taking the bull by the horns, turned full on him, one arm on
the table.  "Mr. McCrae, why did you take advantage of Frances?"

His eyes narrowed; but he held his smile.  "I?  Take advantage of
Frances?"

"Yes."

"Who says I did?"

"She does."

"Frances, eh?"

"I got Abe out of the way to talk matters over.  I was afraid he
might go to extremes."

"He doesn't know?"

"He doesn't suspect."

The young man sat very still.  His smile vanished as if he were
dropping a mask.  "Mrs. Spalding, I love Frances."

Ruth winced.  But as she went on, she might have been discussing a
trifle of no importance.  "Then why did you take advantage of her?"

"I don't know," he replied with a despondent shrug of his
shoulders.  "Something in me does these things.  I can't help
myself."

"You don't know why.  But you don't deny the fact?"

"I don't deny."

Ruth's resolution gave way.  Her bosom heaving, she burst into
tears.

The young man felt shaken.  Resting one elbow on the table and
ruffling his hair, he looked up.  "Where is Frances?"

"I won't tell you."

"Mrs. Spalding, we must talk this over."

"What is there to talk about?"

"You take this too hard.  What difference does it make?  Not many
girls marry to-day without having had to do with a man."

Through her tears Ruth looked straight at him.  "Is that so?"

"Believe me, you are old-fashioned.  These things mean nothing."

"Does a child mean nothing?"

He leaned back, bewildered.  "There's a child?  Surely not yet?"

"Not yet, of course," Ruth said dryly.

Again he ruffled his hair.  "I'll have to take care of the child."

"In your own family?"

"No!" he said precipitately.  "Grace mustn't know."

"How can you keep it a secret?"

"I'll pay for the child's keep."

"And the other expenses?"  Ruth sat as if driving a bargain,
uncertain whether she had gone far enough.

"I'll pay for everything.  As sure as I live."

"Where is the money to come from?"

"I'll find it.  I'll borrow.  I have friends."

"Then," Ruth lifted herself to her feet, unable to go on, "you will
have to ask them first to go bail for you."

The detective stepped forth, baring the badge on his vest.

"I suppose that will do?" Ruth asked.

"That will do nicely, madam.  Thank you."  He stepped to McCrae's
side and fastened a handcuff around his right wrist.

McCrae, standing rigid, made no resistance.  "Mrs. Spalding," he
said, "I'll get a divorce from Grace and marry Frances."

"Marry Frances!"  Then, scornfully, "I thought you loved your wife
so much that you did not even want her to know."

"You'll be sorry for this!" he threatened in sudden anger.

Nicoll stirred in the den.  McCrae, becoming aware of this further
presence, turned to the man by his side.  "Can I see my wife?"

"Right-o!  Take you theah myself," the constable answered politely.

Half an hour later, certain papers having been signed by Ruth and
Nicoll, these two were left alone for a moment.

"I'm sorry," Nicoll said, clasping his grey beard pensively with
one hand.  "That's all I can say, Mrs. Spalding."

Ruth nodded, in tears.  "You'll act as though you knew nothing?"

"Of course," Nicoll replied and took his leave. . . .

That night, Ruth slept from sheer exhaustion: a dull, dead sleep
annulling reality.  Next morning, not a memory seemed left of what
she had gone through.  She lay between sleeping and waking,
listening for sounds to tell her that Abe was stirring.  When the
ghost of a memory returned, she sat up; and inconsequently the fact
that she was stout and unwieldy interfered with the realization of
other things.  She cried.  She was all alone, helpless and alone.
That was what twenty-one years had brought her to.  Twenty-one
years ago she had been full of hope, joy, pride.  Only now did she
understand Abe.  But if he had remained faithful to her it was
because other things had occupied him to the exclusion of guilty
thoughts: not because he had desired only her.  The struggle which
that insight had cost her had made her hard; but she did not blame
him.  She rose and went to the dresser to put her clothes on before
the mirror, looking at herself with that distaste which, in the
past, she had often thought she saw in Abe's face.

Then she went down.  The huge, empty house oppressed her.  She took
her breakfast in the kitchen, standing, feeling desolate.

Then she left the house to do the chores which, but for her, would
remain undone.  By doing them, she was asking Abe's forgiveness.
The bitterness of a past decade was gone.  Would Abe ever seek her
because he needed her as she needed him?  That would redeem her
life. . . .

She was glad to find the work hard as she carried oats and hay. . . .

The morning wore on.  Another hot day.  The season of storms was
past: this was the last of the summer before the fall.  From all
about, as Ruth went to and fro, the deafening trilling of the
crickets invaded the oasis of the yard.  The sky was filled with
the haze which, disappearing, left the atmosphere dry with summer
dust.  For the first time Ruth, too, felt the immensity of the
prairie like a menace: as if she must get away from its threat.
Yet she dreaded the house.

As the morning merged into noon, her excitement gained on her
again.  Her pulse was fast; she could hear the thud of her heart.
At last she went in and mechanically tidied the rooms.  Then she
went upstairs and lay down on her bed.  The house, the farm, all
life were disorganized.

What did it mean?  The law!  The common justification of punishment
is its deterrent effect.  With that justification something was
wrong: punishment arose from another cause: from the feeling which
invaded her when she thought of McCrae: he deserved death because
she must revenge herself; his death would give her satisfaction.
Oh, how she needed Abe!  How absolutely she would trust him!

"You take this too hard. . . .  These things mean nothing."  That
was not Abe's view.  Yet, what had happened, had happened.  It
could not be changed.  Suddenly she regretted what she had done.
Her hatred had exhausted itself by being indulged in.  She felt
uncertain again. . . .

The day went by.  Ruth did not even think of rising for her dinner.
She had to get these things clear in her mind.

They were clear as night fell; and a measure of firmness returned.
The whole trend of her resolutions had been reversed.  She would go
to town in the morning and, over the telephone, withdraw the
charge.  Others were involved; let them act; she must save what was
left to her: the chance of a peaceful old age with Abe.  Mary had
been right; she, Ruth, had made a mistake.  If she withdrew in
time, the man would be careful what he said.  Abe might still be
kept in ignorance.

On Saturday morning, having done the chores, she dressed for the
trip and hitched the aged pony to what had been the children's
buggy.

By ten, the weather still being unchanged, she arrived at Morley.
Her conveyance she left at the livery stable.

Thence she went to the telephone office to put in a long-distance
call for Mr. Inkster.  She waited till the connection was made,
surprised to find nothing disturbed in the routine of things.

She was going to undo what she had done.  She felt that she was
going to act on a lower plane: listening to the voice of
expediency.  Like Abe she had been urged on by the fundamental
revolt against injustice: by the age-old desire to replace the
blind flow of events and the yielding to impulse by something
conformable to human reason; by the need to make a moral order
prevail where chaos had ruled.  This man had transgressed the law
that is born within us; she had tried to vindicate that law by
invoking another, made by men, never doubting that in the result
the two were identical.  She had done exactly what Abe would have
done.  In doing what she was going to do, she was frustrating the
very course which he would have taken.  She was plunged back into
uncertainty.

A bell rang in the toll booth.  "Mr. Inkster is on the wire."

Blindly she stumbled into the booth, her hands trembling.  "That
Mr. Inkster?  Mrs. Spalding speaking."

"Oh, yes.  The preliminary hearing is over.  McCrae is out on
bail."

"He is out?" Ruth asked in amazement.

"He handled his case very skilfully.  He had witnesses on hand to
confirm his assertions."

Ruth trembled from head to foot.  She knew that the operator was
listening in.  How could she put her question without letting her
into the secret?  "What was the sum?" she stammered.

"Two hundred dollars."

A cry broke from the woman in the booth.

"In my opinion," the lawyer went on, callous to implications
conveyed by his words, "a trial, therefore, will offer no chance."

Ruth felt a sudden revulsion which impelled her in the very
direction which she meant to reverse.  She could not accept the
verdict implied.  She would have been willing to withdraw a charge
which offered a chance of success.  To do so under defeat was
bitter.  "What happened?"

"He made it appear highly probable that the girl--"

"It went without saying that he would try to do that."

"That he would try.  Not that he would succeed."

"Succeed?  With whom?"

"With the magistrate and--myself."

"You don't mean to say--"

"It went like most cases.  His witness was willing to go under
oath."

"Who was it?"

"I forget the name--an engineer with one of the railways."

Ruth was unconscious of the fact that she was holding the receiver
in her hand.  She did not grasp the words she heard.  Then she
realized that the man would never be silent when he triumphed.  He
would boast of the fact.  "What do you advise?" she asked at last.

"Settle out of court.  If it's a question of money, now is the
time."

"But it is not."

"You gave me to understand--"

"I wanted him punished.  I wanted justice done.  I wanted--"

"Mrs. Spalding, all this leads to nothing.  Will you kindly
instruct me whether to get in touch with defendant's counsel?"

"No."  Then, seeing no way out, she did under compulsion what she
had come to do of her own free will.  "I withdraw the charge."

"Very well," said the voice at the other end of the wire.  "I shall
send the papers for your signature by to-morrow's mail."

Mechanically Ruth replaced the receiver and left the booth.  The
operator called after her.  She had forgotten to pay the fee.

She was in a turmoil.  She did not believe in the guilt of the
girl.  How could a daughter of hers be guilty?  The path of the law
was closed; but the desire to see the man punished revived in all
its strength.

Where was she to go?  Not to Mary's house.  There she would go when
her mind was made up.  To protect Abe was no longer an issue with
Ruth.  She knew she was vastly more at one with him than his
sister.  Through her own feelings she had had another revelation of
Abe.  Abe must come at once.  Human law left her without support.
The letter killeth. . . .

She went to the end of Main Street where the road led north.  She
turned and went on into the open prairie.  In front of the trees
which screened the village in the north, she would be invisible
from Hilmer's and Elliot's houses.  She crossed the ditch and went
east to the grove of poplars invading the prairie.  There she sat
down on the ground.

A long while she cried, her feeling of helplessness and impotence
poignant.  Her whole being was once more a single urge and impulse:
to crush that man!  For a decade she had lived only in her children
and through them.  And this man had arisen. . . .

Then the chaos of her feelings resolved itself again into that call
for Abe.  She staggered to her feet.  There was only one course
left.

Mary and the doctor were at home.  For the first time in Ruth's
experience, there was disagreement between man and wife.

"You know?" Ruth asked as she sat down.

"About the arrest?" Mary asked with acerbity.  "It's the talk of
the countryside.  The papers report it."

"You will find it was a useless step, Ruth," said the doctor.

"The man must be punished."

"It is not a case for the law."

"He is out on bail."

The doctor nodded.  "So the papers say.  I should withdraw the
charge."

"And let the man go unpunished?"

"It is my belief that no flagrant wrong goes unpunished."

"If you had listened to me," Mary said, "you would not have started
this.  The more you bestir yourself, the sooner Abe will know."

"The sooner Abe knows," said the doctor, "the better."

Ruth looked at him.  Was he an ally?

"Frances," he went on, "is Abe's child as well as Ruth's.  You want
to keep him in ignorance.  It cannot be done; if it could, it would
be wrong.  When he hears of it, we shall all be to blame in his
eyes."

"He will do something rash!" Mary exclaimed.

"No matter what he will do.  Nobody has the right to do it for
him."

"You said," Ruth interposed, "this is not a case for the law.  For
whom is it a case?"

"For me and others.  For all who know of it.  This thing is vastly
more ramified than you think; and not only McCrae is involved.  I
have talked to a number of people who do not know that Frances is
among the victims.  For two years there has been talk.  Half the
district has run wild.  There's the oldest Hartley boy; there is
Henry Topp; and Slim.  It is a whole gang.  The district has been
without its leader.  It has been run in opposition to its natural
leader.  That is an acknowledged fact.  McCrae and others, it is
said, cannot be trusted with woman or girl for the space of
minutes.  I have urged certain parents to take action; we wished to
place the guilt.  In this case, at last, we know.  One man, at
least, will be an outlaw henceforth.  His neighbours will close
their doors against him.  No merchant in town will sell him
supplies.  On the road, people will refuse him the time of the day.
Unless he can live on his farm as in the wilderness, he will have
to leave."

"And do elsewhere as he has done here," Ruth said.

"That risk we must take.  We shall find out where he goes and shall
warn his neighbours.  Wherever he goes, this will follow him."

Mary moved.  "That is all very well.  But how about Abe?  If he is
to be told, it would have been better to tell him in the first
place."

"Exactly," the doctor said.  "Who proposed to keep it from him?"

"I did not propose to bring an action behind his back."

"I wanted to see the man punished," Ruth cried in despair.

"And to punish him you were willing to expose your husband to
danger!"

"My husband's place is by my side!"

Mary raised her hands in angry protest.

The doctor cleared his throat.  "Mary, I do not like to act against
your wish.  But I agree with Ruth.  If her action, ill-advised as
it was, has cleared the air for the recognition that Abe must be
told, then I am glad it was taken.  Abe will hear of it in any
case: the question is merely from whom."

"Not from me."

"Very well.  There is Ruth.  She is the only person in the world
who has both the right and the duty to tell him.  Abe will not act
on impulse.  I know what I should do; I think I know what he will
do.  But no matter what is to be done, it is for him to do it.  To
deprive him of the possibility to act for himself is to deprive him
of his birthright.  Besides, as you say, it cannot be done."

"Then," Mary said, "I wash my hands of the whole affair."

"Just a moment, Mary.  I do not wish to go against your wishes; but
I cannot act against my own judgment.  Let me put a case.  Suppose
we had children; suppose I knew that a child of ours had run up
against such a thing; and suppose I kept it from you, and you found
out."

Mary stared at her husband.  It had been the most cruel 
disappointment of her life when, twenty-five years ago, he had told
her that she must never have children.  Since that day the fact had
not been touched on between them except in a painful silence.  By
mentioning it now, he placed the whole case on a different plane.
She had thought him only mildly interested.  This argument
undeceived her.  SHE had made the mistake which strangers often
made about him: she had under-estimated his emotional involvement,
intense to a degree of passion.  He was voicing a protest against
the violation of a fundamental right: the right of every human
being to determine his own course of action.  She thought she knew
Abe; she thought she knew exactly what he would do.  She felt sorry
for him; more than she could express.  But if her husband thought
that Abe, no matter what might be the consequence, would have
wanted to know; if he thought Abe would consider himself deprived
of his very freedom unless he were told, then, indeed, there was no
way but to tell him.  "I hope you are right," she said.  "What do
you suppose?"

The doctor smiled at her from where he sat, his right foot drawn up
on his left knee.  "I advise to withdraw the charge."

"The charge has been withdrawn."

"Good.  Then I shall without delay run down in the car and fetch
Abe home.  What do you say, Ruth?"

"I think so," Ruth said with an immense relief in her voice.



TWENTY-NINE

Abe


When Abe, in the field, was told that his brother-in-law was
waiting for him at the gate of Rogers's yard, the mood of the last
day spent in his own meadow still persisted.  He had resigned
himself; he would rebuild life on a smaller scale.  There was peace
ahead; rest after a feverish life.  Ruth, too, would be willing to
give and to take. . . .

He crossed the field and yard and went to the highway.  "Anything
wrong?" he asked when he saw the doctor behind the wheel of his
car.

"Ruth wants you, Abe."

"All right.  I'll be back in a minute.  I must wash."

A quarter of an hour later they were gliding north along the
highway, in silence.

"Abe," said the doctor after a while, "I want to tell you
something."

Abe looked up, still half withdrawn.

"I want to tell you why I gave up my practice."

Again there was a silence before the doctor went on:

"One night, twenty-four years ago, I was called out of bed by a
message summoning me to the house of a farmer whom I knew slightly.
I was called in as a consultant; a doctor from St. Cecile was in
charge.  When I arrived, after a drive of fifteen miles, I found a
competent nurse in the house.  Everything was ready for an
emergency operation.  I met my colleague in the parlour; and he
told me about the course of the illness without giving me his own
diagnosis.  It was he who had called me in, not the patient's wife.
At the bedside, I made my own diagnosis with the greatest care.
When I returned to my colleague, I found we were in complete
agreement.  An immediate operation seemed to offer the only chance
of life.  But there was one trouble.  The condition of the
respiratory organs contra-indicated an ether anaesthesia.  It was a
serious case.  If our diagnosis was correct--and we did not doubt
it--delay spelt danger.  On the other hand, so long as there was a
ghost of a chance of recovery without the operation, it was our
duty to wait and to get an anaesthetic other than ether.  The
chances of the patient's living through an ether anaesthesia were
one in ten.  No other anaesthetic was available; we were many hours
from the nearest source of supply; it was before the day of the
car; and it was winter.  My colleague had been prepared to proceed
even before I arrived.  That I came in time was a tremendous relief
to him.  We weighed every possibility; we decided not to wait and
reported accordingly to the patient's wife, not disguising the fact
that the operation might be fatal.  She placed her husband in our
hands.  As soon as the incision was made, the man died under the
anaesthetic.  My colleague, bent over the body while the nurse and
I tried artificial respiration, looked up at me, ghastly white.  A
glance showed me that our diagnosis had been mistaken.  If we had
waited, the man would have lived."

Abe sat and pondered, resenting the fact that this tale should be
intruded on his mood.  "Why," he asked, "do you tell me that now?"

"Abe," said the doctor, "I never trusted myself again.  My
colleague had a more robust conscience.  He is in practice to-day.
I sold out."

"That I understand.  But why tell me to-day?"

"Nobody knows except that colleague, Mary, and you.  I tell you
because it might be well for you to know before you go home.  It
has ruined my career and darkened my life.  I was a young man then
and have been an old man since.  A human life was given into my
hands, and I took it.  Of that fact I cannot dispose.  Not even to-
day does it avail me that I acted according to the best of my
knowledge; not that probably any other consultant would have made
the same mistake.  We never see all the facts of a case.  The
greatest in my profession might have erred.  Few, perhaps, leave
this life without having to look back on similar errors.  But all
that is beside the point.  We act and blunder.  We can never tell.
Perhaps this knowledge may help to sustain you."

Abe sat silent, huge, disturbed.  "Sustain me in what?"

The doctor shrugged a shoulder and raised a hand from the wheel.

Again there was silence.  The prairie to both sides of the highway
was as flat as in Spalding District; but it was densely settled;
and every farmstead was sheltered by wind-breaks and drained by
shallow ditches.  To the east, the bush fringe of the river closed
the horizon.

In the north, the grain elevators of Somerville rose up; and in
twenty minutes they turned west in the centre of the town.

"Any one sick?" Abe asked as the car sped into the open country
again which here looked less cared for, even the road being
rougher.

"It isn't that."

Abe half turned to his companion.  "Well, tell me, what is it?"

"Ruth wants you.  Be patient."

They were nearing Morley when Abe's groping thought hit on the
school-house in his district.  That district was claiming him.  He
would have to obey the call. . . .

The car passed Morley School.  "Ruth is with Mary," the doctor
said.  "We shall pick her up."

At the house Ruth came down the steps as the car came to a stop.
Abe noticed every detail: the faded mauve hat, too small and too
glossy, the dress of black, flowered voile, too tight over the
hips.  In times past he would have been touched by distaste at her
sight; to-day he saw that this woman, human like himself, was
stirred to her depth; and he noticed her immense relief at his
return.  He nodded to Mary who stood on the stoop and, in answer,
raised her brows.

At the stable, Ruth and the doctor remained in their seats while
Abe fetched the horse.  It was four o'clock.  While they waited,
the whistle of the afternoon train which was late shrilled over the
prairie from the east.  When the buggy was ready, Ruth alighted;
and the doctor, with a brief nod, backed his car away.

Abe turned into Main Street.  To their left, the train was slowing
down for the stop at the station, two hundred yards ahead.  The
ordinarily deserted platform burst into momentary life.  Bags were
thrown from the mail car; cream cans clattered from the van.  A few
passengers alighted as the buggy passed in the rear of the
buildings.

Abe happened to look at Ruth.  Her face held the same expression of
a veiled reticence which he had seen in the doctor and Mary.

Then several things happened at once.

From the group of people who had alighted and were now passing out,
one figure detached itself at a run.  Abe was on the point of
pulling the pony to a stop; but Ruth reached for the whip in its
socket and brought it down on the horse's back.  People stopped,
laughing.

The little horse broke into a trot and, at a second blow from the
whip, into a gallop.

The man who had started to run was still following them, shouting.
Abe, whose attention was claimed by the horse, did not understand
all he said, but he caught a few words about "getting even with the
whole Spalding outfit."  He had not recognized the man.

Then came Ruth's voice.  "Don't stop.  I must talk to you first."

The whip coming down a third time, the horse took the turn to the
north at a gallop, with the buggy running precariously on two
wheels.

For several minutes Abe did not speak.  When he did, his voice held
a note of weary patience.  "Was that McCrae at the station?"

"Yes."

"You mustn't get so upset about things. . . .  Is Frances alone?"

Ruth's heart pounded.  "Take me home first.  Then I shall tell
you."

Abe nodded; a deep, trench-like frown settled on his brow.

They came to the second mile-crossing with the bridge over the so-
called first ditch.  Beyond, to the right, John Elliot was crossing
his yard, swinging his long arms, his bullet head bent to one side.
As he heard the rumble of the buggy on the culvert, he stopped and
turned.  Seeing Abe, he broke into a sort of gallop to intercept
him.

To the left, an old woman, working on a flower bed close to the
road, in front of Hilmer's shack, rested from her labours, leaning
on the handle of her hoe, her wide, ragged skirt hanging unevenly
about her broomstick legs.  She stared at the two, the man in the
buggy, straight and stern, and the other by his side, one hand on a
wheel.

"I've been wanting to see you, Spalding," Elliot said.  "Things
can't go on the way they're going down there at the school.
Drinking and dancing all night and every night.  And worse things.
It's got to be stopped.  We have to have someone else on the board.
We're all agreed that you are the man.  But I've promised, if you
refuse, I'll run myself."

Abe nodded.  Then, to the other's amazement, he said slowly, "I
suppose I'll have to go on that board."

"All right.  I am with you.  And so is every decent settler."

As Abe moved on, Mrs. Grappentin shouted after him; but as she
spoke in German, he did not understand.  "Ah now!" she called.  "Is
the great lord stepping down from his shining height?  Now he's got
a whore in the family like other common folk?"  And she broke into
a cackling laugh, waving her hand after the buggy in the greeting
of fellowship.  Grappentin, her sponging husband who had come back
since his stepson was working for wages again, stepped into the
open door and joined in her villainous laugh, spitting tobacco
juice into a bed of blooming asters.

A shudder ran down Abe's spine at the sound; and Ruth paled.  The
voice, unintelligible though it was, sounded like the voice of the
prairie which lay swooning under the afternoon sun.

They passed Dave Topp's place, a one-roomed shed resembling a
granary.  He lived very quietly now and played his violin of an
evening in front of his door.  Next, Henry Topp's yard, unchanged
in all these years.  Of the three brothers, only Slim succeeded in
making his place look like a farm; but people said that, at the
rate at which he spent money, he would never "make his place a go,"
to say nothing of paying his debt to the Government.  His new white
house presented a striking contrast to Horanski's establishment
across the road with its low, dark buildings in keeping with the
soil.  Yet Horanski was said to be making money.

Old man Blaine's cottage followed next, to the right and just south
of the school which had become the abode of iniquity.  A curtain
moved in the window; and behind the pane trembled a leonine head.
Man passes, they say; his work remains.  Does it?  It seemed vain
in the face of the composure of this prairie.  This was the
district: farmsteads to east, west, south, and north: and that
district was calling for Abe.  Dare he decline to take hold?

Nicoll's wind-break across the corner was mature now, too; and when
the buggy turned the corner, Abe almost felt compassionate eyes
peering after him.  At the gate, he caught a glimpse of a stout,
towering female in the shade, no doubt muttering in her pathetic
way, "There goes the fallen hero!  The shame and pity of it!"  In
days long past Abe had laughed at her dramatic ways.

And on, past Dick Nicoll's, for another two miles, to his own place
which, for a while, would stand as a monument to man's endeavour.
South of the ditch, the meadow stretched away, mamillated with
haystacks.

Alighting at the little gate near the house, Abe said with sombre
sobriety, "Go in.  I'll turn the pony out.  I won't need him
again."

A lump rose in Ruth's throat.  His was a commonplace remark,
meaning only that, for the day, Abe's driving was done.  Yet, in
the light of Mary's forebodings, it had a sinister sound.  "Abe,
I'll go with you."

He looked at her.  Then, "Come along if you want to."

And so, as in years long gone by, Ruth stood in the door of the
barn as Abe stripped the harness off the pony's back and turned him
out.

Then, side by side, they went to the house and sat down in the
dining-room.  Abe was visibly, painstakingly collecting his
thoughts.

"Tell me in detail just what you have done," he said at last.

Ruth told her story without the slightest attempt to shield man or
girl: for her, something more than Frances was at stake.

Abe listened patiently, letting her go back and forth over the
story and asking her to repeat certain statements--as that
regarding the significance of the amount at which bail had been
fixed.  At last he nodded.  "You did right.  You did right even in
getting me out of the way.  I might not have had the patience to go
through with it."  And, after a while, "It is a case where the law
fails us."

"Then the law is evil," Ruth cried.

"No.  It is merely imperfect."  And again he sat and pondered, Ruth
torturing a handkerchief in her hands.  "You have done," he
repeated, "what I should have done.  I am glad it isn't to do over
again."

"I felt that the man must be punished," Ruth said as if still in
self-defence.

"I could not have done what you did in getting the admission from
the man," Abe said, rising.  "It clears the case.  And now I want
to be alone for a while.  Don't follow me; and don't worry."

He went out and across the yard, through the old barn, into the
pasture where he stared unseeingly at horses and cows.  Every now
and then a tremor ran through his body.

In the hall of the house stood a gun-rack; and he thought of it.
He might load one of these guns, go down to the man's shack, call
him out, and shoot him down like a dog.  His hand seemed to close
about the weapon where stock and barrel join, a finger on the
trigger. . . .

But what would be gained by it?  Abe's body relaxed.  The district,
the municipality, the province, the country would be supplied with
a thrill, to be forgotten the next day or the day after; and then
the matter would pass into the void of oblivion, to be revived
perhaps now and then in tales around the stove.

What else?  The district was calling.  There, too, he had started a
machinery which he could not stop and which imposed its law upon
him.  But suddenly he felt that, if he followed its call, that
district would rally about him: the Ukrainians, Hilmer, the Jew,
and Baker; Dave Topp, Stanley, Elliot, Nicoll--a clear majority
over the gang--the moment he gave them a chance to align themselves
by his side.  The gang had been running the district because he,
Abe, had stood aloof.

Resignation?  The thing he had dreamt of for a week had been no
resignation at all: he had nursed his anger and shut himself off.
He had meant to do what, in his weariness, seemed fulfilment of his
desires.  True resignation meant accepting one's destiny; to him,
it meant accepting the burden of leadership; and the moment he saw
that, he felt at one with the district, with his brother-in-law who
had told him his story, with Ruth in her sorrow, and, strangely,
with himself; for here was something to do once more: the gang
would vanish into thin air.  His own life had been wrong, or all
this would not have happened.  He had lived to himself and had had
to learn that it could not be done. . . .

There were further searchings, painfully probing; but all led to
the same result.  "Yes," he muttered to himself, "I'll go on. . . .
To the end. . . .  Whatever it may be."

And when, in the dusk, he returned to the house where he knew Ruth
was waiting in distress and anxiety, his mind was made up.

He sat down in the dining-room; and in a sudden impulse Ruth came
to his side and half bent over him.  "Abe," she said, "for my sake,
let him go."

He placed his hand on hers which rested on the table; and for the
first time in many years, he felt her touch on his shoulder.  "I
can hardly do that," he said with an effort.  "He is not alone in
his doings.  And this is my district, founded by me and bearing my
name.  Shall his example stand for all time to come?  What would it
mean?  That a man can do as he pleases, living the life of the
beast within him.  If Frances was in any way to blame, that is her
concern.  But McCrae is not a giddy boy.  If he were, I'd make him
marry the girl and keep him straight.  But look at the case.  He is
married.  He has children of his own.  He is a ratepayer, entitled
to office if he can muster followers enough to elect him as
Wheeldon did.  He enjoys all the rights and privileges of others.
Has he none of their duties?  I had withdrawn from the district; I
did wrong; and this has risen up against me.  I see my duty again.
It is out of cases of self-help that the law has arisen; whatever I
do will have its effect on the law; or at least on its interpretation
within this district.  No, I shall have to act.  I shall have to
drive him out."

Ruth was tense, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"I have wronged the district," he went on.  "And, Ruth, I have
wronged you."

She sobbed convulsively; her hand gripped his shoulder.

"And I have wronged my children as well," he added painfully.

"Abe--"  But she could not speak.

"You thought I should kill him," he went on more composedly.  "It
would not serve the case.  On that score you may be at rest.  The
district as well as I will have to live this down; it will have to
vindicate me and itself by casting him out.  I shall have to take
office again, and not only here but in the municipality as well."

At ten o'clock, that night, Abe was at Nicoll's Corner, looking
across at the meeting place of the gang; and then, through the
utter darkness of a moonless night, he approached the building.  As
he came in line with the open door, he could see through the whole
of the classroom to the far end where the three musicians sat:
Slim, Henry, and a stranger.  Abe stopped for a second and then
went on till he was mounting the concrete steps and entering the
vestibule.  He passed the cloakroom to his left and the partition
of the office to his right.  Up to the moment when he actually
entered the dance-floor where half a dozen couples were turning, he
was in deep shade, for the gasoline lamp which lighted the dancers
was suspended close to the ceiling.

His appearance there, in the entrance, caused an instant hush.  The
music broke off, and the dancing ceased.  Two couples near the door
disappeared at once behind his back.  All others stood and stared.

Among the musicians, Henry Topp had risen.  Through the door of the
office, Abe was dimly aware of a group of girls sitting on chairs.
McCrae was not present.  Abe turned slowly, surveying the scene.
The deep, trench-like frown on his brow made him look formidable.

"Who has the key to this building?" he asked.

Strangely, Slim Topp held it out to him.

He took it and went on, "This building is closed."  He looked like
an irresistible force of nature; and his composure seemed uncanny.

For a second no one stirred.  Then Henry Topp tried to spring.
"Hold on!" he yelled.  But Slim who was almost as tall as Abe held
him back.

"Here, let me go!" Henry roared.

And a girl, a stranger to the district, dressed in an excessively
short and provokingly open sleeveless dress--she was more than a
little tipsy--asked with a hiccup, "What does that guy want?"

Abe fixed a look on her under which she was silenced.

"Go home," he said, standing perfectly still.

"I'll be jiggered," Henry Topp said from behind Abe's back; and,
though his brother held him, he executed a dance step and,
pantomimically, aimed a blow at Abe's head.  A tall, gawky youth
burst into a guffaw which ceased abruptly in the general silence;
he reddened.

Abe, still standing perfectly still, was patiently waiting.  Yet,
to these people, his seeming mildness gave his words a compelling
power, more than one of them shivered at his sight.

"Oh, come on!" Slim Topp said at last with an embarrassed grin.

Everybody was half convinced that Abe was insane.

There was a movement towards the door.  The girls from the office
slipped into the cloakroom.  A moment later there was a stampede.

Only Henry Topp still wriggled in his brother's grasp.  "Hold on,
there!" he shouted.

"Shut up!" Slim hissed in his ear.  "What's the use?  Let's go!"

"Oh, all right then!"  And arm in arm the two brothers followed the
others, swaggering.  Slim carried his saxophone; Henry his violin.
In the cloakroom, there was a scramble.  A moment later the school-
house was empty except for Abe who locked the windows and turned
the lamp off.

Outside, there was whispering and excited talk.  Then Slim blew a
rally on the saxophone, from the road.  A burst of laughter
answered him, sounding weirdly through the night.  Then a shout and
a summons to meet at Slim's house; and an answer from two or three,
"No, I'm going home."  And, within five or ten minutes, silence
utter and complete.

Abe went out, locked the door, and turned away. . . .

The news of his action spread through the district that very night;
and there were not a few who breathed the traditional sigh of
relief.



THE END




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