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Title: The Yoke of Life (1930)
Author: Frederick Philip Grove (1879-1948)
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Language: English
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Title: The Yoke of Life (1930)
Author: Frederick Philip Grove (1879-1948)











"Ah, que le monde est grand à la
clarté des lampes!"

Chapter I


In front of a white and diminutive but well-built cottage in the "bush"
a small boy sat on the bare back of an enormous plow-horse. His span,
from knee to knee, was just sufficient to straddle the beast. He was
thin-faced and thin-limbed, bareheaded and barefooted; his light,
uncombed hair, sticking up stiffly and irregularly in all directions,
was bleached by the sun in a strange gradation of almost contrasting
colours, from a dull ash-blond to a sheeny white; his legs were tanned
to a greyish brown, a colour which testified to a hardening process
brought about by exposure not only to light and heat, but to wind, rain,
and cold as well. In one hand he held the halter-line with which he had
been guiding his horse. From his mere size one would have judged his age
to be ten or eleven; but the expression of his face betrayed him to be
at least three or four years older than that.

From out of the porch of the little cottage--a screened porch, hung with
striped awnings which moved lazily in the evening breeze--a strangely
melodious and cultivated voice issued forth. It seemed strange, of
course, only by reason of the contrast in which it as well as the
cottage stood to the surrounding wilderness in which the charred stumps
of burnt trees were the most prominent feature.

"Well," that voice said, "if there is any one within thirty miles whose
word I should take on a matter of this kind, Len, it is you. Yet I can
only say that I must see with my own eyes before I believe. Should you
recognise the bird if you saw a good picture?"

"I think so," replied the boy with a lisp.

"Come in for a moment. It won't take more than a minute. Those cows of
yours went south. I saw them. Towards the old Lund place, along the dam.
You'll catch them."

At the first word of invitation, the boy had slipped off the back of the
horse as a grown person might slip off a hay-stack. He tied the beast to
the stump of a tree and entered the porch.

There, a figure of medium height had risen. The boy confronted the owner
of the voice, a bearded man considerably over middle age, clad in
loose-fitting, somewhat shabby clothes. Within easy reach of a deck
chair books were lying about on the floor and, balanced, on the narrow
ledge of the balustrade which surrounded the porch. As the man moved, he
did so with a pronounced limp: he had a club-foot. This was Mr. John
Adam Crawford, principal of Balfour High School and a noted
ornithologist who had built himself a modest summer home in this

The door in the rear of the little porch led into a diminutive kitchen
whence Mr. Crawford turned to the left into a room no larger than the
porch the walls of which were covered from floor to ceiling with
home-made book-shelves. A large, flat-topped desk occupied its centre;
and an oaken arm-chair and a wicker lounge completed its furniture.
Beyond, facing the front of the cottage, there was a small bed-room with
its door standing open.

Mr. Crawford reached up to one of the shelves for a book. Turning its
pages, he held it at the level of the boy's eyes and pointed to the
picture of an American magpie.

"Yes," the boy said with conviction. "That's it."

"Very well," Mr. Crawford said, dubiously. "I have never seen the bird
within sixty miles of this longitude. I should get a horse, I suppose.
The trouble is, my holidays will be over in a week."

"You'll go away again?"


"I wish you could be our teacher."

"So do I, Len. So do I. It can't be done."

"The school where you teach is much larger, isn't it?"

"It's a high school," Mr. Crawford said with a sigh. "But perhaps in a
few years. . . ."

"You wouldn't care to teach in a country school, would you?"

"It isn't that, Len. On the contrary, I should like it better than what
I am doing. I think the work more important, too. You don't understand.
It's a question of salary. You see, I have children, too."

"Have you?" the boy asked shyly.

"Yes, two boys. They are nearly grown-up. They are at college. When
they finish there, I might be able to do what I should like to do; and
that is to teach boys like yourself."

"Our school is going to be nice, I think. The carpenter says it will be
finished by the first of October."

"Will it? And have you a teacher yet?"

"I don't know. The Department is going to send one out, they say.
Whatever that may mean."

"Well, you want to get busy, Len. How old are you now?"

"I'm fourteen."

"You will have to work hard to catch up. You are seven or eight years

"Yes," Len said dreamily. "I'll work hard all right. . . ."

"But?" the man encouraged kindly.

"I don't know whether I'll get much of a chance."

There was a moment's pause. The man looked down on the boy with an
expression of infinite sympathy. He knew the conditions in pioneer
settlements of the bush where the labour of women and children was not
only an asset but an indispensable necessity; for, while the father
created future wealth by clearing the land, the rest of the family had
to make the living by selling butter and eggs, produced under
circumstances which made mere trifles into hard tasks demanding patience
and endurance worthy of better rewards.

The boy had drawn one of his feet up and was rubbing, with it, the
mosquito and fly-punctured calf of the other leg. One of his hands was
resting on the corner of the desk. His body was going through curious,
almost writhing contortions. It seemed he had a question to ask.

Mr. Crawford, wishing to help him, half divined what was in his mind.
"You would like to learn a great deal, would you not, Len?"

"Yes," the boy said, looking up into the man's face, with a side-way
motion of his own thin but well-shaped head. "Would a teacher in our
school take up more advanced work at all?"

"That would depend on who the teacher is."

"Would you?"

"Yes, if I saw any need for it."

"I'm afraid," the boy went on, "I shall have to stay at home next year.
I've heard my stepfather say the law doesn't require him to send me."

"I see," Mr. Crawford nodded. "What should you like to do with yourself
when you grow up, Len?"

"I don't know," the boy replied, much embarrassed. "I think I should
like to be a teacher myself."

"Well," Mr. Crawford said slowly, "you'd have a long tedious task

"I suppose. . . . You have two sons at college, you said?"


"What do they learn at college?"

Mr. Crawford gave a short laugh. "Not much," he said. "They might learn
many things. All that the great men of the past have thought and

"About the world and other countries; and about God?"


"I'd like to do that. What is a great man?"

"One who has thought and known more and more deeply than others."

"So that he can make inventions?"

"That, too. Though the greatest hardly do that."

"What do they do?"

"They explore the human heart and mind and help other men to understand

The boy sighed. Suddenly his dreamy expression dropped from him. "Well,"
he said, "I must go. Father went to McDougall; I must get the cows in
before he gets home. Otherwise there will be a scolding."

"I hope," Mr. Crawford said, "there would not be anything worse."

The boy laughed in an embarrassed way, stopping at the door. "There
might," he said.

"Well," Mr. Crawford said comfortingly, "we'll hope for the best.
Good-by, Len. And if I should not see you again before I leave, good
luck in school."

"Thanks," the boy said, and slipped out with remarkable speed.

Outside, he led his big horse alongside the charred stump to which he
had tied it, found a foothold on top, and scrambled on to the animal's

A minute later he was crossing a huge ditch running from north to south
and bridged by a culvert. Beyond it, he turned on to a dam thrown up on
the bank of the ditch which angled to the south-east; in spite of its
narrow, round top, rough with rain-washed gullies, it showed by the ruts
cut into its marly clay that it was used as a road.

The sun had meanwhile sunk towards the west, beyond a gravelly ridge
with a low, grassy slough behind it and, at the horizon, the dense, dark
forest of poplars.

To the east of the dam, a dismal, alkaline swamp stretched low, green in
places, with sedges, dock, and flags; the rest of its sunk expanse
showing dark-brown muck with whitish incrustations.

Farther south, the dam angled across this swampy slough which turned to
the south-west, widening out where the gravel ridge ran its headland
into it like the spur of a cape. Thence, southward, the dam skirted the
bush that swept east to the very shores of the Lake which, to the boy,
was as distant and wonderful as fairyland.

At this point he crossed the ditch once more, by a culvert; for from now
on the dam lay on its western bank.

To beguile the time, as his slow-trotting horse went south, the
undersized boy began to move about on the vast back of his mount,
striking attitudes which, to a spectator, would have looked silly.

At the same time, however, he kept a sharp look-out for the cows which
he was supposed to find.

Twelve miles or so farther on there was a creek, Grassy Creek by name,
to which cattle liked to migrate; for it was the only spot within reach
of a day's tramp where they could immerse themselves in water without
getting caught in sucking mud underneath; everywhere else open water was
underlain by swamp. So long as there had been no frost to kill the
mosquitoes, cattle were always craving for water to cool their feverish

"I hope not," the boy said audibly. "I hope not!"--Meaning he hoped they
had not gone as far as that.

But for mile after mile he went on and saw no sign of them. The sun had
touched the horizon and was dipping behind it.

At last Len saw a huge spruce tree ahead, outtopping the poplars all
around. It stood close to the road, guarding like a sentinel a homestead
in the margin of the forest where once a family of Swedes had tried to
wrest a home from the bush. Mr. Lund, half lame and half blind, had one
day, many years ago, gone into bush or swamp and never been seen again.
The rest of the family had moved away. Now, a Ukrainian settler lived
there, doing well because he profited from the labour the Lunds had
wasted on the place.

The landscape which, a few minutes ago, had still been a sombre green
began to be redrawn by the rising dusk in grey and black. Len hurried
his mount on: in him was the dread of the dark which is common to all
such children as people the landscape with the creations of their brain.

When he reached the clearing of the yard, however, just beyond the great
spruce tree, he pulled his horse in. His heart was in his throat: the
scene looked so bewitched in its utter stillness. Over the whole of the
open space which lay like a niche in the woods, and reaching out into
the swampy slough to his right, there was spread, like a ceiling, a thin
layer of smoke, snow-white, but quite opaque and marvellously level. It
arose from a smudge in the cow-lot over which a straight pillar of smoke
stood in the air, motionless like a pillar of stone; it was only two or
three inches in diameter and reached up to a height of twenty or thirty
feet above the ground, eight or ten above the dam, and from that point
spread out in a level sheet which floated like a lid over all the

The boy on the horse was sorely tempted to turn back and to flee. This
was a witch's habitation in an enchanted forest!

Yet he hesitated. What would happen if he did not bring the cows? He had
always brought them.

That moment, from the cow-lot in the clearing, a man's voice sounded up.
"That you, Len?"

"Yes." The boy's voice sounded hoarse.

"Looking for your cows? They came along all right. I turned them back an
hour ago. They're over west, behind the ridge."

"Thanks," said the boy, reassured. "I better hurry."

This short colloquy with a voice which he recognised--he had not seen
Mr. Philiptyuk though he had searched the cow-lot with his eyes--had
restored his confidence in the sanity of things; it had even imparted a
certain exuberance of spirits to him, so that he turned his horse and
galloped away, whistling merrily to keep himself company.

When he had gone three or four miles, still staying on the dam, he came
once more to the point where it first changed to the other side of the
ditch and then angled into the slough which turned east, thence to sweep
north and finally west again till it lost itself in the bush north-west
of his home.

It was opposite this point that the huge gravel ridge on which Mr.
Crawford's cottage was built ran out into the slough.

Len left the dam and turned west. He could still just make out his
directions. The greys of the landscape had deepened; but they had not
yet merged completely with the blacks. He looked over his shoulder. Yes,
the first stars had sprung from out of the depth of the sky. There was
nothing to worry about.

He rounded the spur of the ridge. He could not trot his horse here; for
all about, like charred monuments, burnt stumps were sticking up,
bristly, from the ground; and between them there was a dense
entanglement of raspberry canes, dogwood, and young aspen saplings.

He reached the far side of the ridge before it was too late for him to
see the stumps. Then he left the picking of the path entirely to his

It was, however, so uncannily still that slowly the noises made by the
horse began to take on an almost supernatural quality which once more
made him hold his breath.

Then, suddenly, he saw a point of light ahead. It proceeded from a lamp
burning in Mr. Crawford's cottage. It showed the direction.

He had hardly become reassured by its recognition when a new terror
assailed him, making his heart miss a beat. Then it, too, was recognised
for what it was; and, once recognised, it proclaimed that his worries
were over. The terror arose from the fact that not many rods in front of
him a cow lowed, suddenly, angrily, persistently; the sound contained a
warning and a threat. That lowing he knew. It proceeded from Bessie, the
lead cow, summoning her reluctant herd to follow her home.

"Hi-yah!" the boy sang out, swinging both arms, forgetful of the fact
that the darkness made his gesture futile.

He stopped his horse; all about, great, lumbering beasts struggled to
their feet, lifting their rumps from their recumbent positions. Slowly
the whole herd gathered to a knot in front and began to move. Bessie
ceased lowing; and the horse fell in line behind.

Like a caravan travelling through the night they proceeded north. Within
half an hour the waning moon rose in the east, grinning over the
landscape from the rim of the world. By her wan light Len recognised the
east-west road which led past the newly built cottage. Only a little
over two miles now!

He edged over to the north in order to get the cows to follow the road
and to prevent them from entering the bush beyond. When he passed the
cottage, he saw a man's figure silhouetted against the light which fell
from the open door of the kitchen into the half luminous tent of the

"Hello!" Len sang out cheerfully.

"You found them, did you?" Mr. Crawford's voice came back. By contrast
to the haunted night it sounded wonderfully friendly.

"Yes," he said. "No trouble at all. Mr. Philiptyuk had turned them for

"Fine. Well, good-night."


A little further on, Len executed another manoeuvre to make sure that the
herd would turn north and file into the slough. Once there, they would
follow the dry trail which skirted it, winding in and out over the
burnt-over bush of the ridge and finally cutting through it to the
north-west till it reached the road which led past the farm.

Every now and then one of the cows stopped and lowed for water, lifting
its nose. Water they would find at home now, and they knew it; yet they
were slow; and Len was hungry.

But their very stops in order to low brought an unexpected ally. The
ground seemed suddenly to break into life with the barking of a dog.
Rover had heard them; and though he never left the yard for very long,
he had come to meet his young master.

His barks were answered by the howls of a pack of wolves in the bush to
the west. Len listened and recognised them as coyotes, not
timber-wolves; no danger from them! The dog, racing about, drove the
herd into a trot. Len did not like that; for he knew that the swinging
udders of the running beasts would spill milk right and left; and if he
happened to meet his stepfather on the grade, there would be sharp
words. But what could he do? Let them run if they must!

A few minutes later his horse gripped the flank of the grade and bounded
up. To the right, as he turned east, the light of the house shone cosily
out into the night. This was a self-contained world, closed off from the
rest of the universe.

In the now white lustre of the moon, the boy loomed high on his
plow-horse as, in twos and threes, the cows filed across the pole
culvert and into the open gate of the yard beyond the ditch. A moment
later he followed them, slipped to the ground, and closed the gate.

A short run-way, fenced on both sides, led past the house to the back
yard with the cow-lot in its north-east corner. Crazed with thirst, the
herd enacted the nightly scene of pushing and shouldering each other
around the trough in the centre of the yard.

The backdoor of the house had opened; and a boy smaller than Len had
shot forth, running fast on bare feet to reach the pump first; and there
he was ineffectually working away, for his weight was insufficient to
swing the handle of the pump through a large enough angle.

Behind him, in the luminous rectangle of the door, appeared the form of
a fat woman of medium height, wiping her face with the corner of her
apron. "Where were they, Len?" she asked.

"South of Mr. Crawford's, west of the ridge; but I didn't know. I went
as far as Philiptyuk's, along the dam."

"Ya-ya-ya-yah!" the woman sighed, shaking her head. "Well, drink the
cows; and then come in for supper."

The cows drank for half an hour; one by one they filed off into the lot;
and when the last had gone, Len closed them up.

The boys ran a race to the house which Len magnanimously allowed his
smaller brother to win.

The backdoor led into the kitchen which occupied an almost central
position in the house. To the east, a stairway led up; to the west, a
large living room opened from the far corner. The inside of the frame
building remained unfinished; no lath and plaster, not even an inner
boarding had ever been applied to the joists. A summer day's heat still
lingered in the rooms, and the smell of sun-parched wood mingled with
the odour of cooking.

In a high chair, near the hot stove on which steamed a pan of dish
water, sat a baby.

"Father at home yet?" Len asked of Charlie in a whisper.

"No," Charlie answered; and, "tagging" his brother, he ran into the
living room where he jumped up on an extension couch the springs of
which creaked under his feet.

Mrs. Kolm, the mother, had filled a plate with soggy potatoes over which
she poured melted lard, brown with long frying. She made the impression
of being dispirited to an uncommon degree.

Len sat down on an upended box, took the plate from her hand, reached
for a spoon, and began to eat ravenously.

But he had not taken many bites before the rumbling of a wagon crossing
the culvert sounded through the house. Len put his plate down on the
table and rose.

"Eat your supper first," his mother said sharply, busying herself at the
stove where she broke three eggs into the sizzling lard.

Len resumed his plate with a dubious look. Charlie dived from the living
room into the stairway where he sat down on one of the steps.

A minute or so went by before the wagon stopped in the yard. A strong
voice called impatiently, "Whoa, there!"

It was so still that the thud of the driver's feet could be heard as he
jumped to the ground. Steps crossing the yard resounded as if going over
a wooden floor.

The door flew open; and there entered a man who had to stoop in order to
remain clear of the lintel. His shadow which, as the door closed, rose
behind him against the wall made him appear still taller than he was.
The breadth of his shoulders was enormous; and above them stood a head
in which the sockets of the eyes, in the light of the lamp which came
from below, looked like dark caverns in which small, light-blue eyes
flitted to and fro.

"Why isn't Len coming?" he asked sharply; his voice betrayed him to be a
young man still, younger probably than his wife.

"The boy's got to eat supper first," the mother said defiantly.

"So?" the man growled. "Didn't get home till now, eh?"

"No. He had to go nearly to the creek to find the cows."

"That so?" This time the voice was less harsh, with a peculiar undertone
almost of humour. Then, harshly again, "Well, hurry up. Get through and
put the horses in."

Len who, during this skirmish, had allowed his eye to travel from one to
the other, said, "Yes, father," and made a little more haste.

The man at the door reached for a chair, tested its strength by tilting
it and pressing down with his hand on its back before using it as his
seat. He removed his shoes and rose again.

"Where's Charlie?" he asked in his commanding way.

"Here," the little fellow said, showing his head around the partition
between kitchen and stairway.

"Here?" the man repeated, almost roaring; for he needed to raise his
voice only a very little in order to produce an intimidating effect.

"Here, father," Charlie corrected himself.

"That's better," said the man. "Run and get the parcels from the wagon.
What you can't carry, you leave. If you drop anything, I'll drop you."

The boy shot past him and came to a stop at the door.

"Well," the man asked, "why don't you run?"

The boy was in a flurry. "I can't open the door. You are standing
against it."

"Who's you?"

"Father, I mean."

"Once more, the whole thing."

"You are standing against it, father."

"All right." The giant stepped forward; the boy shot out.

Len had finished his supper. He looked for a crust of bread, carefully
wiped his plate, and put it down, taking the crust along.

As he tried to slip out, the man spoke once more. "Turn the horses out
when you've taken the harness off."

"Yes, father."

The woman raised the pan; and the eggs' sizzled and crackled in the
lard. Her husband stepped up to the baby, lifted it out of the chair,
and raised it to his head. It reached for his nose. He laughed, tossed
it, and put it down again. Then he went past his wife who paid no
attention to him and entered the living room where he sat down in a
rickety easy-chair hardly strong enough to carry his weight.

In the centre of this room stood a large kitchen table one end of which
was laid for his supper. Along the north wall stood the lounge; along
the unbroken west wall, a sort of sideboard loaded with bric-a-brac, the
remnants of a small bourgeois household of the better class. There were
four straight-backed chairs, the cheapest that could be bought, and two
easy-chairs, old, decrepit, the stuffing showing through the rents of
the covers.

In a few minutes his wife brought his supper; whereupon he rose, sat
down at the table, and ate in silence.

Meanwhile the boys--for Len helped Charlie before he attended to his own
work--had taken a number of parcels into the kitchen; and Len had
staggered in with a bag of flour on his back.

Next, Len unhitched the horses and led them into the stable where, by
the light of a lantern, he took their harness off. In order to reach the
backbands, he had to use a big packing case to stand on while Charlie
unbuckled the belly straps. With all the strength of his undersized body
he took hold of the harness while Charlie led the horses out from under.
Thus he repaid his brother for the help he had given in unloading the
parcels. At last the weary beasts which had that day gone thirty-four
miles were let out through the backdoor of the barn; and with a
tremendous effort Len lifted the heavy harness to the huge wooden pegs
provided for it.

Then came a bit of frolic. It consisted in backing the wagon against the
fence of the yard. The ground being uneven, each wheel, in topping the
little hillocks, sent the vehicle this way or that; and the apparent
wilfulness of the heavy wagon gave rise to a good deal of fun; for the
boys admonished and scolded it like a living being. The task
accomplished, work ended in a game of tag about the wheels.

Between the two brothers there was a difference in age of three years;
but it did not show proportionately in their sizes; nor, just now, in
any difference of maturity.

A few minutes later, however, the mother appeared in the lighted
rectangle of the door, carrying three pails; and though Charlie
continued to flit in and out between the wheels, tagging in the dark
imaginary playmates and the excited dog, Len stopped at once, ran to
meet his mother, and reached for one of her pails.

He and his mother went into the cow-lot, took a milking-stool each from
the rail-fence, squatted down, and began to milk. The mother, having
filled her pail first, took Len's to finish it; and Len carried hers to
the house.

There, he had to move a chair behind the door alongside the separator
which had previously been covered with rags but now stood resplendent,
the only thing in the room which looked really clean. Climbing up on the
chair, he emptied his brimful pail into the bowl and then returned to
the cow-lot. He received the second pail from his mother and handed her
the empty one. Thus, milking went on for another hour; and when it was
finished, the separator bowl held two pails; and three more were
waiting on the floor to be emptied.

All the time Charlie had been standing by the rail-fence, not so much
looking on, for in spite of the moonlight it was too dark to see far in
this realm of shadows, as keeping close for company's sake. He had
jumped about from foot to foot, imagining that he was "floe-running" in
the ditch. Floe-running was the great game in the thaw-up: square cakes
of ice were cut out with the axe, not quite large enough to support a
boy, but sufficiently buoyant to offer his foot resistance when he was
swiftly running over a string of them, stepping on each and springing
for the next floe before the last one sank.

When milking was finished, all three went to the house, and Mrs. Kolm
started the separator for Len. As soon as it was running, Len, standing
on the chair, kept it at its even speed. Whenever that speed slackened
or was exceeded, a warning bell began to ring; and when the bell rang
too often, a man's huge figure appeared in the doorway, greatly dreaded.
The mother watched the bowl and the two pails, refilling the former and
replacing the latter whenever needed.

Charlie was keeping out of sight. It was past his bed-time; and there
was no escape unless he remained unseen. He was sitting in the stairway
again, enjoying himself with being awake. The baby had been put to bed
while the boys were unhitching the horses.

Thus the hour-hand on the battered alarm clock advanced to the figure
eleven. In the living room, Mack Kolm had risen with a great stretching
and yawning; he was tired and sleepy, for he had done a day's work,
driving: not exactly hard work in the doing of it, but exhausting in its
effects. Yet there remained one task which traditionally was reserved
for him. In the stable, at the back of the yard, stood two little calves
to be fed by hand; and in the pen east of it, there were ten or twelve
little pigs that had gone hungry in expectation of that milk which was
at last available for them.

So, while his wife prepared to wash the dishes, he entered the kitchen,
put his shoes on again, and took two of the pails of skimmed milk while
Len stood ready with the lantern to light him.

Man and boy had hardly left the house when the mother stepped into the
opening of the stairway. Charlie, startled by her sudden appearance,
jumped and scared her.

"Oh, mamma," he said, "I kept so still! I thought you'd never think of
me if I kept quiet."

"Run along now," she said. "Before he comes in again."

"Night-night!" the boy called. "Are you going to bring me a light?"

"You don't need a light. The moon is shining."

"All right!" sang the child and ran upstairs.

The door opened, and Mack Kolm took the last of the milk. When he came
back, Len followed him and deposited the lantern by the door. His mother
was washing the dishes; he reached for a towel.

It was a quarter to twelve when this work was done.

"Go to bed now," Mrs. Kolm said, hanging the wet towel on a nail.

"Good-night, mother."


Since the boys had grown too big to share the cot upstairs, Len slept on
the couch in the living room. He sat down and began to undress. His
mother brought him a pillow and a grey blanket. Mack Kolm looked on as
if nothing concerned him.

At last Len said, "Good-night, father."

Mack slowly turned his head. He was sitting once more in the easy-chair,
one leg thrown over its arm. "Sleep fast," he said. "We'll haul hay
tomorrow from the meadow. I'll call you at five."

Mrs. Kolm stuck her head through the door. "Len isn't going to get up at
five," she said with stolid defiance.

"We'll see about that," her husband replied indifferently. "I suppose I
can wake the whole house if I set myself to it."

"He'll go to sleep again. Why do you pick on him?" She entered the room
with a few of her better cups and saucers.

"Pick on him?" he repeated with a vast surprise in his voice. "Do you
call it picking on him when I try to bring him up right? No child of
mine is going to grow up a loafer."

"He isn't your child. He's mine." The woman's hands trembled as she
rearranged the knick-knacks on the sideboard.

"You seem to be itching for a fight?"

"I am itching to blast you."

"That so? Well, I don't want to quarrel with you."

"You never do, do you?"

"No. But if you want to know whose word goes here, just say so." He

For a moment the woman handled picture postcards, half broken cups, and
dusty flower vases with nervous fingers.

"I'm waiting."

"Waiting for what?"

"For you to do or say something that doesn't suit." He waited in vain.
"Len," he sang out once more. "I'll call you at five. You'll help your
mother to milk; and at half past six you'll be ready to start for the
meadow. Understand?"

"Yes, father."

Mack waited a moment longer, his face to the door. Then, slowly, he
turned, with a sidelong glance at his wife.

She tossed her head; but she did not speak.

"All right," said Mack Kolm, again with that humorous undertone in his
voice. Then, picking up the lamp, in an almost friendly way, "Come on,
Anna. Time to go to bed, I guess."

Chapter II


It was two and a half years later.

Through the enormous drifts of the frozen slough two horses were
plunging, a sorrel and a bay, drawing a cutter which pitched and rolled
in the snow like a boat in a sea. An ineffectual morning sun glared down
on the waste created by the night's blizzard. The landscape--the drifts,
the bare trees, and even the sky--looked ice-cold, windswept, and
hostile. The absolute quiet of the atmosphere and the indifference of
the sun intensified that impression, just as the song of a bird on a
battle-field emphasizes its horrors.

In the cutter sat a bearded old man who, in picking his road, exerted
himself as much as did the horses in travelling it. He wore an old fur
coat, fur cap, and huge gauntlets of fur. His lower body was rolled up
in a goat-skin robe.

As he neared the east-west grade, which the wind had swept bare of snow,
he caught sight of two boys walking and sometimes running along to the
west. Between them there was now a considerable difference in height.

The man in the cutter sang out, "Hoih-o! Len, wait!"

A few minutes later, having swung up on the grade, he stopped and
admitted the boys under his robe. Neither Len nor Charlie wore mitts;
both were clad in "mackinaw" coats and, under them, in blue-denim
overalls. Grey cotton caps were insufficient to protect their scalps
against the piercing cold. Down the cheeks of the smaller boy tears were
running, congealing on the way.

Len, in taking his seat beside Mr. Crawford, nodded shyly. Charlie gave
no sign of recognition. Mr. Crawford, in clicking his tongue, reached
with one hand under the robe and drew up a round-bellied hot-water
bottle of crockery which he handed to the smaller boy.

"Put that between your knees," he said. "Hold your hands against it."
Then he threw the robe over the child's head and shoulders, burying him
out of sight.

The horses shot along; a warm stable awaited them at the end of their
journey. At the next crossing of trails they waited for a little girl of
possibly twelve who, clad in a thin gingham dress, but wrapped in a
multitude of shawls and scarves which left only a narrow strip of eyes
exposed, struggled valiantly through snow knee-deep and unbroken.

"Come on, Helen," Mr. Crawford called; and, bending forward, made sign
for her to climb up on the seat behind his back.

Thus they went for another mile and came to a trail which debouched from
the south. There, in the corner, almost hidden by the bush, lay a
homestead consisting of three small log buildings.

The cutter stopped for a moment; and a line of five scholars filed from
a path through the brush which grew almost level with the grade. The
first to come was a boy, six feet tall and perhaps sixteen years old;
the next, a girl, thin and slender, nearest to the boy in age; behind
her, two more boys and another girl, all diminishing in size like the
pipes of an organ.

Somehow the smaller ones piled into the sleigh, two crouching down in
front, stepping on the teacher's toes; one crawling in with Charlie
under the robe. The oldest two stood with one foot on the runner, with
the other on the draw-bar, hands on the dash-board.

Slowly the vehicle got under way again, first through the dense bush,
smoothly enough; but where the grade swung up and drifts were flung
across it, snow was thrown aloft by the horses' feet, now in the form of
dust, now of slabs, according as the wind had piled it. Thus the last
mile was covered; and the school appeared south of the road.

This was a pleasant building put up by the provincial government, highly
up-to-date, with all its windows on one, the eastern side, and a
fresh-air intake projecting from its wall like a blunt nose. At the
north end an entrance hall jutted out, housing a cloak-room; and the
whole was painted in a pleasing colour-scheme of cream and brown. It had
only one drawback: it was built for looks, to enhance the prestige of
some official in the capital; for, though wood was piled into the
jacketed furnace as if it did not cost any labour to cut it, water would
freeze on its floor at mid-day.

A moment after the school had appeared, the view opened, to the north,
on a farm yard of a somewhat unusual kind in the pioneer bush. It was
dominated by a two-story frame house painted pink. A large, frame-built
barn stood straight behind it, unpainted, it is true, but so solidly put
together that its very outside promised warmth and comfort behind its
walls. Beyond the barn, a forty-acre field was cleared.

The newness of things almost made it appear as if this establishment had
been transposed from somewhere else: it had not grown as the result of
native conditions: it stood in the untamed wilderness without a
background in time.

The horses went on till they reached a culvert bridging the ditch and
leading into this yard. There, as they slowed down for the turn, first
the big boy, then the girl dropped off their perches; and, as the driver
brought the team to a stop, three more of the children emerged from the
box of the cutter. These were the pupils from the last homestead: their
parents, the Hausmans, were not on speaking terms with Mr. Jackson,
owner of the farm beyond the ditch.

A few minutes later, when the sleigh had stopped in front of the barn,
Len, Helen, and Charlie also emerged. Helen and Charlie ran into the
open door which beckoned with the welcome warmth exhaled by six horses
and as many cows. Len bent down and unhooked the traces while Mr.
Crawford drew the lines through the bit-rings of the bridles.

That moment, from the background of the roomy stable, the figure of an
old, loose-jointed man appeared, handsome in the way of old age, with
bushy eyebrows and a snow-white, hanging moustache. He was holding a
pitch-fork in one of his hands.

"Well," he said to the teacher, "brought your usual load, eh?"

"Yes. Eight of them, two thirds of the bunch. If I could I'd get the
rest of them, too. But I can't go two ways at a time."

"That's so," Mr. Jackson agreed, looking roguishly at the two smaller
children in the barn. "Well, I hope these youngsters appreciate what you
are doing for them."

"No more than anybody would do."

The horses were ready to be taken in. Mr. Jackson led the way. Len took
the halter-shanks and turned into the first stall. Charlie was standing
in the drive way and shaking his hands as if he were trying to throw the
cold on the floor. His face was recovering its humorous twinkle.

"Well, Charlie," Mr. Jackson said, "have you learnt to count? One,
three, eleven, two . . ."

"Nonsense," Charlie said laughing. "You want to fool me."

"I'll be dashed," Mr. Jackson said, half laughing himself. "That's the
way they learnt me when I was a youngster. Do you know the best way to
take the smart out of your fingers quick?"

"No, I don't."

"Hold them into the hide of a nine-year old mule. Now that's a nine-year

"But it ain't a mule!"

"Isn't it?" Mr. Jackson feigned surprised. "Well, now, I may be
mistaken. I never had much eddication. I thought it were a mule."

"No, you didn't."

"Well, you know best. Can you read yet, Charlie?"

"A little."

"Well, well! I must get you to come and read to me from them new-fangled
books you've got in school. Me and Mary are poor hands at reading. I
went to school but one year when I was eleven. I've near forgotten all I
ever knew."

"I don't suppose," Mr. Crawford said, joining the group, "you find it
much of a loss at that."

"Can't say I do. When I read, I've got to have my finger on the word and
to move my lips. Mary says it's a disgrace."

"Well," Mr. Crawford mused, standing on his sound leg and leaning
against a stanchion between stalls, "as the world wags, we've got to
cram information into the children's heads instead of making men and
women out of them."

"You're saying something!" the old man agreed, shaking his head. "Sounds
different from what the last teacher said. Slip of a girl with her bit
of high-school eddication, coming in here and saying, 'These people are
only half civilised!'--Tell you, sir. When a person needs to have his
finger on the word and to move his lips when he reads, he ain't so apt
to read trash. It takes a mighty good book to stand such reading."

"There is something in that, no doubt."

"I'll tell you, Mr. Crawford, I've looked into that library which the
department of eddication sends out and makes us pay for whether we want
it or not. It's a disgrace. That's what it is."

"You want to be charitable, Mr. Jackson. Government folk have enough to
do holding on to their jobs."

"There's need to be charitable," the old farmer nodded. "Over in Europe
they've rushed into war. What the Sam Blazes do they want war for? And
here they do the next best thing and give these children a hand-picked
library of high-toned books."

Mr. Crawford had drawn his watch and turned to go. "Well, children," he
said, reaching for his cane. "We'd better go over to school. You'll give
my ponies a bit of hay, Mr. Jackson?"

"I will, sir," the old man replied.

Half an hour later the work in the little school was in full swing.
There were only twelve children; but apart from the beginners' class
which comprised six scholars, there were as many grades as pupils.
Class-teaching was impossible.

Len who sat by himself was wrestling at almost the same time with the
mechanical difficulties of reading and writing and such abstruse
subjects as the principles of geometry and advanced arithmetic. While
his reasoning powers flew ahead to explore the limits of the human mind
in the conceptions of space and time, he was still troubled with the
technical stumbling blocks of the mere arts. He was a poor writer and
felt ashamed of it; when reading, he was always tempted to grasp at the
meaning of a sentence as a whole, instead of spelling it out word for
word. Consequently, he was subject to attacks of despondency alternating
with spells of exaltation. For the first time since he had gone to
school--during the first year five teachers had followed each other; the
next year he had stayed at home--he felt that he was getting sympathy
and real help. He worshipped Mr. Crawford as a dog worships his master.
Charlie excelled him in the elementary things; Charlie was always
showing up well. He was receiving good teaching at an age when it was
most needed. But, though Mr. Crawford never praised Len in the class
and, on trifling occasions, was rather severer with him than with
others, Len knew with that certainty which comes only from revelation or
intuition that this teacher had consented to take this school for his
sake alone. Why that should be, he could not tell; but he knew that it
was so. Len was sixteen years old; his stepfather did not need to send
him to school any longer; it was Mr. Crawford who had induced him to do
so; and Len was grateful. Ever since he had first realised his power to
assimilate knowledge, a new ideal had sprung up in him, dimly realised,
till at last it had taken shape.

One day he was going to master all human knowledge in all its branches.
Whatever any great thinker or poet or scientist had thought and
discovered, he was going to make his own. If only Mr. Crawford continued
to teach in this little school, he felt sure of his help. He could
hardly know as yet how comprehensive his ambition was.

Throughout the first morning period he worked at fever heat, solving
problems, first in arithmetic, then in geometry. He sat alone in a seat
of the easternmost aisle, next to the windows.

The central aisle was taken up by the three lower grades comprising all
but two pupils. The western aisle, like the eastern one, held one child,
Lydia Hausman, of nearly Len's age.

As Len squirmed in his seat, drawing one leg up and sitting on it,
pulling his hair, grinding his teeth, and shaking his head in his
absorption--all which manoeuvres seemed to facilitate thinking--he was
now and then aware that Lydia who had finished her assignment in formal
arithmetic of the fourth grade and was studying her reading lesson
looked his way and smiled to herself. He found this attention which she
gave him very disturbing and, with his lips moving in unison with his
thought, he turned to the window, looking up into the sky and fidgeting
because even then he felt her look on the back of his head. Though, in
that position, the upper and more mobile strata of his mind continued to
grope along the lines and angles of his conceptions, the lower strata
remained pervaded with a feeling of discomfort produced by the
consciousness that the girl, in her own hidden thoughts, was making fun
of his dogged endeavours. At last, frowning with absent anger, he turned
and stared at her, trying to purchase peace for his work by sacrificing
a minute or so to the open warfare of contemptuous looks. But that made
matters worse; for, though she averted her eyes as soon as his met hers
squarely, a slow blush spread over her face, from her throat upwards;
and in spite of her freckled nose she was pretty, with that slightly
unhealthy prettiness which overwork and consequent anaemia often produce
in girls of the pioneer districts. For reasons unknown to him, this
distracted his mind to such an extent that he fidgeted more than ever
and lost the thread of his thought.

Just then Mr. Crawford stopped by the side of a seat in the central
aisle and began to speak.

"You don't mean to say that that is the best you can do, Henry? You will
write that over again. If you can't finish it to my satisfaction within
fifteen minutes, you will lose your recess and stay in."

The boy to whom these words were addressed was Henry Kugler, like most
of the children, of Russo-German descent. Next to Len, he was the oldest
scholar; unlike Len, he had been going to school for many years, for his
father, before taking up his homestead in the bush, had worked in the
city. There, in a city school, the boy had been promoted into the fourth
grade, chiefly, as Mr. Crawford explained, for reasons of accommodation,
whole classes being moved up in order to make room for those that
followed. The successive teachers of Macdonald School had not cared to
make any change in a grading sanctioned by city authorities. But Mr.
Crawford, on taking charge, had put him back into the third grade,
saying that he would be promoted as soon as he was able to do the work
required of him. From rebellion and ill-will, the boy had ever since
done his work, not as well as he could, but as badly as he dared; and at
home his parents had upheld him in his insurgency.

Scowling and muttering to himself, he set to work again, copying out the
exercise which he had just finished.

Len, at the master's voice, had turned and was looking at Henry.

Seeing his glance, Mr. Crawford came limping to his side.

"What is it, Len?" he asked sternly.

"I'm all tangled up," Len answered, squirming.

"Let me see your figure. That is right. Have you tried to use your

"Yes, but . . ."

He did not proceed; for with a long, slender finger Mr. Crawford pointed
to the sides of two triangles, grouping them into pairs.

"I've got it," Len exclaimed and smiled an embarrassed smile at the man
by his side; and at once he bent over his exercise and began to write in
his hieroglyphic scrawls.

Mr. Crawford left him and returned to the central aisle.

Fifteen minutes later, the teacher stepped to the front of the class.
"Put your books away," he said; and, having waited a moment,
". . . Tention! Turn! Stand!"

The class went through the accustomed movements.

"Turn! March!"

The class was dismissed. As far as the cloak-room they went in good
order; but beyond the class-room door the usual pushing and shuffling
began as everybody tried to be first to get his wraps.

Then, crowding through the open door, they rushed into the yard which
was buried under fresh snow. Led by Ernest Hausman, the smaller children
began at once to play a game of hare and hounds, attended with much
laughter and shouting. The older ones gathered behind the south end of
the building where even in a wind there was shelter.

Henry Kugler, thick-set and burly, swore under his breath.

Willy Hausman, the biggest boy in school, tall, lank, strong, and
good-natured by reason of his physical superiority, hearing him, gave
him a push and teased, "You were in a hurry all right!"

"That's all he can do," Henry replied contemptuously, throwing his back
against the building. "He can't teach me anything! He doesn't know
enough himself. So he makes me copy over what I have done. The sneak! He
can't say the work is wrong. Whether it's right or not, he can't tell!"

"Don't talk such nonsense!" Len said, blushing.

"Don't tell me what to say, you baby!"

"He knows more than any teacher we've ever had!" Len asserted stoutly,
leaning against the corner of the school-house.

"Bosh!" Henry cried. "You should go to school in the city!"

"He's been a high-school teacher all his life!"

"Why does he come to a rotten little place like this, then? If he has,
they probably fired him."

"That's a lie!" Len had turned white with anger.

"T. P.! T. P.! T. P.!" Henry mocked.

This appellation, "teacher's pet," introduced into the vocabulary of
Macdonald School by the very boy who uttered it, was the worst insult
that could be offered to any scholar. It implied that he to whom it was
addressed "curried favour" with the teacher or "catered" to him,
betraying the interests of his natural allies, his fellow-pupils. It
provoked Len's anger, however, not so much on his own account as because
it threw an aspersion on the master's impartiality.

Henry, though a year or so younger, was stronger and heavier than Len;
yet the latter's fist shot out instantly; and in a moment the two boys
were entangled in a coil on the snow, hitting each other, rolling over,
kicking. The four or five scholars present formed an excited circle
about the combatants. Only Willy Hausman slipped around the corner and
ran for the door. He knew from experience that it was best to let the
teacher settle such affairs.

But by the time Mr. Crawford came limping along, the fight was decided.
Len had been worsted. His nose was dripping blood, and one of his eyes
was closing up.

"Well," Mr. Crawford said; and it was strange that he could speak so
grimly, "you know the rules. You will hold your hands up. Fighting's the
one thing we've got a strap for in this school. Who began it?"

"I did," Len said under the condemnatory silence of the standers-by who
deserted his cause as soon as it was apparent that he, like the rest,
would have to bow to the law.

"Very well," Mr. Crawford went on. "You will take the double tale. Go
and wash the blood off your face before you report. You," turning to
Henry, "take your seat meanwhile." And he wheeled about and returned to
the school-room, followed by Henry who aped his walk.

Len had already applied snow to his nose and stopped the flow of blood.
Then, still excited from the fight, he went to the front and entered the
cloak-room where wash-basin and water pitcher stood on a little shelf.

Much to his annoyance, Lydia Hausman entered behind him and stopped by
his side, her face pale and her eyes wide. When he straightened, he
questioned her with an angry look.

"I didn't think you would fight," she said, her voice apologetic.

Len snorted contemptuously.

"There's still some blood," she said. "Let me wipe it." And she reached
for a paper towel, dipped it in water, and wiped his cheek.

This brought her close to Len who was smaller than she. By some
revelation he suddenly knew that she was pretty. As, with his eyes half
closed, his look rested on her bosom, he saw, with a feeling new in his
experience, that the edge of her dress below the throat rose and fell
with her breath. She, by some influence born from proximity, became
conscious of his look and blushed; and he, stepping back and looking
into her face, reddened seeing it. He turned and entered the class-room
with that strange feeling which may have stood between Adam and Eve when
the serpent had whispered his message. "_Eritis sicut Deus scientes
bonum et malum_."

Len was glad when he had taken his punishment; the momentary sting in
his hands filled him with a sort of moral exaltation. Henry received his
share with stolid indifference.

The class reassembled; and Mr. Crawford heard the junior grades read.

During these exercises Len followed the lessons; for, though he was
fully able to read a book beyond his years and to gather the meaning
from the page, he stumbled over syllables and words whenever he was to
read aloud and at sight; just as in writing he could put together a
really good composition provided the reader was willing to overlook the
many mistakes in spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure; yet
grammar, a reasoning subject, was one of his strongest points. When his
turn came, he was merely asked to read a dozen lines of Evangeline which
he had carefully prepared and to retell in a few words the contents of
four pages of Tom Brown's School Days which had been assigned for
cursory reading. He acquitted himself reasonably well; but Mr. Crawford
merely nodded in silence as he stopped.

Dinner recess came.

Having dismissed the class, Mr. Crawford remained in the room till the
children had eaten their lunch. He insisted on paper towels being used
as table-cloths. Then everybody was turned out; and he himself went
across the road to the house where Mary Jackson had prepared his dinner.
Mary was a small, nervous old maid with a fine, pinched face and quick
movements. She greeted the teacher with a friendly smile.

"Well," she asked, "did everything run smoothly today?"

"Not altogether," Mr. Crawford replied, sitting down at the table. "I
had to use the strap."

"Is that so?"

"Thus a man makes rules for the conduct of others and gets entangled

Mary laughed a low, gliding laugh. She did not quite understand; but it
was easy to see that she more than admired Mr. Crawford. The shy,
flitting glances of her eyes, averted forthwith, betrayed something
little short of worship and adoration.

Old Mr. Jackson, her father, stood in the door. He threw up his hands
and wagged his head. "I once served on a jury," he said. "When I lived
in the city, that was. We had a case. . . . Well, I don't remember the
details. Every one of the jurors agreed that he'd have done the same as
the prisoner. But we had to find him guilty, and he went to the

Mr. Crawford nodded. "But it troubled you, didn't it?"

"It did," Mr. Jackson agreed.

"All law is unintelligent. It is no respecter of persons. But the person
is after all the only thing that should be respected. When I came to
this school last fall, small as it is, it was a perfect hornets' nest of
spite and fight. I laid down the rule that whoever was caught fighting
should get the strap. I don't believe in the strap."

"You are wrong! You are wrong!" Mr. Jackson wagged.

"Well, we don't see it that way nowadays. I don't say we get better
results. On the whole, the growing generation is too soft."

"Go into the towns to see it!"

"Father," Mary said, stopping in her tripping run with a cup in her
hand, "you forget that Mr. Crawford knows the town perhaps better than

"That is why I left it," Mr. Crawford said with a look at Mary. "When I
was a child, in Ontario, we boys had ambition. My own ambition was no
less than one day to leave the impress of my mind upon the age."

"Money and amusement," Mr. Jackson crowed. "Those are the only ambitions
our youngsters have."

"In city and town," Mr. Crawford agreed. "And, of course, to a certain
extent even in the country. But now and then you find even today a boy
or a girl who has ideals. Perhaps ideals is not the word. It is
something deeper than that. I have a case in point. There is a deep,
instinctive urgency in the boy, a striving after the highest to which
he can never give scope without an education; but it was there before he
had ever looked into a school."

"You are speaking of Len," Mary said with her gliding smile.

"Yes. For a western child he is remarkable. He is a genius in his way.
All he needs is an opportunity. He has the fire. It was he who got the
strap today."

"Won't hurt him," Mr. Jackson said grimly. "It'll take a little of the
froth out'n him."

"I wish I could put a little more of the froth into him rather."

"And Len was fighting?" Mary asked, drawing her hands along her forearms
in a nervous motion.

"He and Henry. I don't know what it was about. Len confessed to having
begun it."

"I believe," Mary said, standing by the table, "I can explain that.
There is only one thing Len would fight about; and that is your good
name. The Kuglers have been going about for weeks, talking. Their theory
is that you know less than their boy."

"Is that so?" Mr. Crawford smiled up at her, stroking his beard.

"We all know, of course," Mary added quickly, "what a sacrifice you made
in coming here. And it's appreciated, Mr. Crawford."

"I don't worry. But don't speak of sacrifice. I consider it a privilege
to help a boy like Len; or Charlie, for that matter; though as a scholar
he is not what his brother is. As for the money . . . I've lived
frugally for forty years. My own boys have enlisted."

"Have you heard from them?"

"They are still in camp."

"They have made the offer. You have reason to be proud."

Mr. Crawford shrugged his shoulders. "There are many sides to that
question. In a crisis, it is easy to offer one's life; especially when
the chances are that you will not be killed. I fear the excitement of
war was a welcome relief from the tedious, hard exactions of peace."

"Well," Mr. Jackson said, "my two good-for-nothing boys enlisted because
they had never made so much money with so little work."

"Father!" Mary exclaimed uncomfortably. "You should not say that!"

Mr. Crawford reached for his cane and rose. "The test will come when the
war is over. I suppose Len has looked after my ponies?"

The afternoon wore on with its round of grammar, history, geography, and
singing; and school was dismissed.

Again eight children piled into Mr. Crawford's cutter; and as he drove
along, he dropped them till only Len and Charlie remained.

"Many chores to do in winter?" he asked of the boy by his side.

"No. I have to get wood and water and to milk some cows."

"Time to read at night?"


"What are you going to do with yourself later on?"

"I don't know. I shall farm, I suppose."

"Is that what you would like to do?"

"I like the farm. What else could I do?"

"Well," Mr. Crawford proceeded. "I have been wanting to speak to you
about this. You said once you would like to teach. If you could attend
school for another year, you could pass your Entrance examination. After
that, in another two years, you could finish high school. A few months'
attendance at Normal would give you a certificate. There are few
doctors, lawyers, and ministers in this country who have not been
teachers at some time of their lives. You would have leisure to study
and a chance to save money to go to college. Teaching may be a
stepping-stone towards other things. Not that I think little of the
farmer. The farmer who has an education is more nearly a complete man
than anyone else. But have you the body, the physical strength?"

Len looked dreamily ahead. "It is hard work."

"What a man does to make a living, matters little. It matters much what
his influence is in life. I have that," and Mr. Crawford moved his
club-foot. "So I became a teacher and worked up in that line. Not
because I wanted to make more money; but because I hungered and thirsted
after a higher and truer idea of life. That hunger and thirst itself is
happiness, Len. We shall never still it. We shall never find truth. But
we must strive after it without standing still. You have the spark. I
wish I could fan it into a flame."

Len's eyes gleamed and glittered. All the muscles in his shivering body
tightened with the exaltation of his mind. His vision took the shape of
a glorious sunrise, the only kind of glory which he knew. He felt as if
he were wrapped in solitude; the words of the man by his side were
coming from a great distance. Len was in the presence of revelation; and
what was revealed to him was the majesty of his self. Thus, Len's
teacher asked forgiveness of a boy he had punished.

Chapter III


Once more eighteen months had gone by. It was summer when, one morning
about nine o'clock, Mr. Crawford's buggy drove into Kolm's yard and
through the pole-gate, beyond, into the bush that surrounded the fields.
Within a few minutes he reached the clearing where wheat stood five
inches high: a good, even stand on cleared land, ten or fifteen acres of
it, running north and south.

To the west, there was a newly-cleared strip freshly broken where four
people were at work, a man, a woman, and two boys. At the edge, a baby
sat on a blanket, propped up with pillows which lacked their slips. Near
the northern end, where the man and one of the boys were working, stood
a wagon hitched with two horses.

Mr. Crawford alighted and tied his drivers to a tree.

Kolm who had seen him went on with his work; and everybody took his clue
from him. Like the rest, he was barefooted; but his head was covered
with a cotton cap. His enormous chest showed its hairy skin, for the
faded blue shirt, much patched on elbows and shoulder-blades, was open
in front. His legs were encased in soiled and torn black-denim

Len who, in the meantime, had grown extraordinarily, as if he were going
to make up for past neglect, looked all too slender; both he and Charlie
were similarly attired. But Charlie, in spite of his smaller size,
looked healthier, more resistant and robust than his brother. Len
struggled with the stones which he lifted into the wagon-box, straining
every muscle with the effort of desperation; Charlie pulled at the roots
which he helped his mother to pile as a boy playing football calls to
his aid every ounce of endeavour of which he is capable.

The woman wore a shawl over her head. She was ghastly pale. Her gingham
dress was hanging unevenly about her bare legs. She had not seen the man
who was approaching; and when he greeted her, she stopped, startled, and
dropped her root. As if to suppress the sudden pounding of her heart by
outward pressure, she raised a hand to her breast.

"You scared me," she said with a wan smile on her yellow face.

"I'm sorry," Mr. Crawford said, passing on with a nod.

Charlie sang out a pleasant "Hello!" But, without stopping, he pulled at
his root with all his might, as though he were "showing off."

Next, Mr. Crawford passed Len who smiled as he lifted his thin face.

By this time Kolm who had been swinging his pick to loosen an enormous
stone from the clinging soil had dropped his tool and was throwing the
sweat off his forehead with a crooked finger of his left. His right
hand he was wiping along the leg of his trousers.

"How are you?" he asked, looking at the caller out of his small and
honest but cavernous eyes.

Mr. Crawford stopped as he shook hands, standing on one leg and
supporting himself by his cane. "Clearing?" he asked.

"Breaking," the giant corrected. "The clearing is done in winter."

"What will that bring you up to?"

"Twenty-three acres, more or less."

"A nice field; and bush soil. Hard to break and so on; but it gives the
yield. What with present prices, you should do well."

Kolm laughed. "High prices cut both ways. The farmer who is established
and has his equipment is making money. But we beginners. . . . If there
were no debt!"

"Well, it seems, even a small farm like yours should easily carry a
thousand or so . . ."

Again Kolm laughed. "Tell you," he said. "Put a debt of a thousand on a
raw bush farm, and you might just as well put a rope around the farmer's
neck. Look how we work. The whole family's slaving away. From dawn till
dark. What for? We work for the Jew. And the lawyer. To stave off
foreclosure. . . . Of course," he went on, flinging an arm, "we are
getting there. A few more years, and a little good luck! Once out of
debt, never in again! I wouldn't buy a cup on credit."

"You have learned your lesson? . . . Now, Mr. Kolm, I came to speak to
you about certain things. Do you mind if I see your wife and the boys
before I do so?"

Kolm looked surprised; but he said readily enough, "Not at all. Go as
far as you like."

During this short colloquy none of the other three members of the family
had for a moment stopped work. All three had cast an occasional furtive
glance on the group by the wagon, wondering what the men might be
talking about. But even Charlie had gone on pulling up roots as if he
were anxious to win a foreman's approval.

It was he to whom Mr. Crawford went first. "Well, you ride after the
cows now, don't you?"

"Yes, sir," Charlie said with humorous mock alacrity.

"When do you get to bed at night?"

"Half past ten, eleven o'clock--if I find the cows right away."

"And if you don't?"

"It may be midnight before the milking's done."

"Do you find it hard to get up in the morning?"

The boy grinned roguishly.

"Bed feels good, eh?"

"You bet!" the boy replied with precocious emphasis.

Mr. Crawford passed on to the woman who lowered her eyes. Hers was not
the bashfulness of a girl unused to being addressed by a stranger;
rather that of a woman who has seen better days and is ashamed to be
found in her poverty. She gave a flabby hand to the caller.

"You don't look well, Mrs. Kolm. This is heavy work."

"It's got to be done."

"Might I ask when you had your last child?"

A startled look came into the woman's eyes which evaded those of the
man. Then she pointed to the margin of the field. "She's a little over a
year old," she said.

"How many have you had altogether?"

"Five. Two are dead. And of course . . ." she added as if she were
concealing something.


"I've had several miscarriages since."

"When was the last?"

"Three days ago."

"You did not stay in bed very long?"

"In bed?" she repeated. The jaundiced colour of her face had given way
to a glowing, unhealthy copper red. "It rained the next day; so I stayed
at the house."

"But you did the housework and milked at night? . . . You have not
always lived on the farm?"

"No. For the last ten years now." For a moment she stood silent. Then,
as if a dam had been removed, "Yes. If only my first man had lived! He
had a head on him. He could manage things. I never did any hard work. We
had a hired man. It was he"--with a scarcely perceptible nod towards
Kolm. "My first man built the house. If he had lived, it wouldn't be
what it is. He was handy, you know. He could do all sorts of things. The
stable, too, he built. This man can't do a thing but work like a

"Don't be unjust," Mr. Crawford interrupted her. "I understand he had to
take over debt and encumbrances."

"Yes," she replied with a sudden abandon. "There was debt. You can't run
a farm without debt. I was a fool to marry this man. What could they
have done except take the farm. I'd have gone back to the city and hired

"Perhaps," Mr. Crawford said. "But once you are established, where is
there a life that can compare in independence and security with that of
the farmer?"

The woman laughed. "Why are you not farming yourself?"

Mr. Crawford touched his foot with his cane. "The reason is there."

A few minutes later Mr. Crawford returned to the place where he had
first spoken to Kolm. Kolm had meanwhile driven his wagon to the edge of
the clearing and was unloading a perch or so of stone. While the teacher
waited for him to return, Charlie and his mother were kindling a pile of
roots and brush. Soon it flamed up in the morning sun, disengaging a
thick, acrid column of smoke which, at the height of the tree-tops in
the bush, blew away to the south like a plume.

As the wagon returned, Mr. Crawford nodded to the giant. "Could I speak
to you alone for a few minutes?" he asked with a look at Len.

"Go and help Charlie," Kolm said to the boy.

"Mr. Kolm," the teacher went on when the boy was out of ear-shot,
"before I say anything else, I should like to explain my visit to you.
Len has not been in school for over a year now. Once in a life-time a
teacher meets with a boy or a girl who convinces him that he is destined
for the highest things if he is given a chance. Such a boy is Len. Not
to give him the chance would be a crime if it were wilfully done. To
give it would be the greatest service any man can do his country. That
must explain why I am here. There is no other motive. Believe me, I am

Kolm cleared his throat. "I have no doubt about that."

"Mr. Kolm," the teacher went on, "you cannot but be aware of the fact
that Len is not very strong."

Kolm laughed an embarrassed laugh and scratched his head.

"I don't mean only that he has no great muscular strength. But I
understand that his father died of consumption. If you overwork the boy,
he will go the same way."

"That so?" Kolm asked. "They say, it's hereditary."

"Not the disease. But the predisposition."

"And he's got that?"

"He is bound to have it."

"Well, now," Kolm said, "you are putting this thing up to me as if it
were I who has to decide. I don't know that that's fair."

Mr. Crawford lifted himself to a sitting position in the rear of the
wagon box.

"Do you know what I'm up against?" Kolm went on. "I married into this
family, taking over the children and the debt. I did it because I saw
that something had to be done for them. Some fools think I fell into a
soft bed. That's nonsense. We are getting there, sure enough. But it
takes every bit of the work of every one on the place. It will take

"How about other settlers here in the bush? There isn't one left out of
every five that started. Where are they? They put in three, four years
of their lives and then go back to the town to work for wages. New
settlers come and take their places; and they, too, leave in their turn.
It takes three, four settlers in succession before one can make it a go.
Each profits from the labour the last one put in.

"Take Jackson. He bought his place; he had money, not made on the farm.
There were forty acres cleared on the place when he took it over. He's
the fourth to try his hand. The third one proved up. But the moment he
did, he was lost because he owed money. Best thing for him, too. He
could never have made a success. Hausman may pull through. He doesn't
need to prove up till he's out of debt.

"How about the rest? Did you see the pile of lumber I've got in my yard?
Do you know where it comes from? You've seen deserted clearings in the
bush, with the remnants of buildings in ruins. That's where the lumber
comes from. It's rotting there in the shade. I might as well have it.

"Money? I never see money from one end of the year to the other. When I
take wheat to town, I take the ticket over to the implement agent
without cashing it. Glad if it pays the interest. Cream cheques? They go
to the store. Cord wood? We get what we need in clothes.

"To run this place so as to owe a little less at the end of every year
takes all the work and planning a man and a woman and two children can
do. And unless we have luck, we cannot do that."

"Mr. Kolm," the teacher said, "suppose things take a little more time if
you let Len go to school in winter. Three more years, and he could teach
in this school and make money for you."

"Perhaps," the giant said stolidly. "If we could wait. But we can never
wait. Last year we had two hundred bushels of potatoes to sell. They
went up to a dollar or so in spring. We needed flour in the fall and got
forty cents. The man who can wait for a higher price is the man who
doesn't need it. What does it say in the Bible? To him that has shall be
given. That's the law of the world.

"I leave it to you. Here I sit in the bush. I want to do the right
thing. By the family and by the country. I can make this homestead a go;
or I can make a teacher out of the boy. Take your choice."

"Put it this way," Mr. Crawford said mercilessly, "you can make the boy
happy; and you can kill him."

Kolm shrugged his shoulders. "This wilderness," he said, "eats us up.
They tell us before we come to this country that they will give us free
land. They don't tell us that what they really want is our free labour
in clearing it and making it fit for human beings to live in. I don't
complain, you know. I am merely stating facts as I see them. When I
married this woman, I knew what I was letting myself in for. I preferred
it to going back into wage slavery over there. I still think I can make
it a go. But I need the help of the boy and--the woman."

"Since you mention the woman. . . . I won't put it harshly. But a
pregnant woman should not work in the field. And during the last month
she should do nothing that could be called work."

"That so?" Kolm asked. "How about the rest of the women around?"

"Exactly. Whence this appalling mortality among the children?
Miscarriages outnumber the normal births. If that is a law, it is no law
of God's. How is it that your wife looks a woman of fifty? I don't
suppose she is more than . . ."

"Thirty-five," Kolm replied, throwing up his hands. "Don't tell me it's
my fault. If you do, I'll do something desperate."

"It's the fault of the circumstances. But perhaps, Mr. Kolm, you could
do something to mitigate the harshness of it."

The giant looked from the man to the woman who worked in the distance.
With a sudden movement, as of rage, he straightened and shouted across
the field. "Anna!" he called. And, when the woman looked up, "Go home!
Go home, I say! Do the work at the house!" And, turning back to the
caller whose look betrayed that the course of events rather frightened
him, he added, "I don't want it said that I ruin the woman. As for the
boy, if things go well this fall, I'll send him to school, in winter,
when harvest is over."

Mr. Crawford sprang down from his seat. "Thanks," he said. "I know, Mr.
Kolm, you are making a sacrifice; and I appreciate it."

The giant's movement was one of despair.

Chapter IV


But things did not go well.

On the eighth of August the heat had been unbearable from early in the
morning on, with the air so surcharged with moisture that the
perspiration of the body did not evaporate, standing in beads on
forehead and hands and causing acute discomfort. Such is the atmosphere
before the grand spectacular events of summer on the prairies: tornado,
thunder-storm, or hail.

Shortly after dinner there was an indefinable change. No wind sprang up;
but the aspen leaves trembled as in the spasm of a sob.

Then, suddenly, things began to develop fast. Huge, vaulted clouds rose
into the sky as if from nowhere. Quick little rushes of wind flitted
this way and that; and there was a noticeable fall in temperature. A
flash of lightning winked over the darkening landscape, followed by an
unearthly silence.

Every manifestation of the powers above entered the vast, still dome of
the sky as words spoken behind the wings enter a darkened stage. Yet
this stage was not dark but rather lighted with a weird,
incomprehensible radiance which made colours and details of form stand
out with marvellous brilliance and distinctness and at an enormous
distance. From the correction line, where Mr. Crawford's cottage stood,
an upland meadow in the Dusky Mountains to the west showed, under the
lid of the clouds, like an emerald in the black velvet of the forest. It
was over thirty miles away.

A seething, whitish festoon of cloud drew nearer from the north-west,
rolling along like a cylindrical, revolving broom. Every now and then it
was whitely illumined by a flash which was at last followed by nearer
and nearer thunder.

Abruptly, then, with a fierce onslaught of wind which bent the young
poplars everywhere to the breaking point, there was a drumming noise
which rapidly increased in volume. Everywhere hail rebounded from the
ground, from everything that offered resistance. The first hailstones
melted as soon as they touched the heat-saturated soil where they had
flattened the lowlier plants. Then, with the size of the stones
increasing till they were as large as sparrows' eggs, they began to
cover the ground. The leaves of the trees were first shredded, then torn
off, and pounded into a pulp.

A white terror of light seemed to rend the world asunder and to stab
every eye, followed by a fierce, rattling peal which made the hearer
tremble by virtue of its diabolical significance.

Thus the hail continued to fall for half an hour, drumming down on all
the landscape.

When it was over, ice lay four inches deep on the ground. The world
seemed to stand in ruins. Everywhere the green screen of foliage was
gone; once more the black, charred stumps stood out in bold relief. The
atmosphere was chilled as by the first snow-fall of a coming winter; yet
there was the smell of crushed green things in the air.

Man ventured out to look at his losses.

A mile west of the school, Hausman and Willy, his oldest son, were
standing on the bush road which led south and staring at what had been a
wheat field.

Hausman, tall, slender, sallow, and pock-pitten, shrugged his shoulders
and mumbled, "That's what was to put shoes on the children's feet; and
clothes on the back of the woman. A man works and works till he's worn
out. The crop grows fine. Wheat is two dollars. Hail wipes it out. Take
a rope and go into the bush . . ."

Two and a half miles farther east, Kolm and Len were working, up to
their knees in mud and water, to raise the sheep shed on to some stones.
Dead chickens were lying about in the yard as if they had been killed by
lightning. A cow lowed by the side of her calf which had been slain. The
sheep bleated in a panic. In the house, not a pane of glass had been
left whole.

Kolm, too, was talking, half to himself, half to Len. "That should make
those bloodsuckers shake in their boots!" he said. "They are waiting to
get their interest and a payment on capital account! Why don't they say,
We've got a common stake in the country, you and I. You give the work;
we give the tools; we shall share the profit and the loss! But the hail
doesn't hit them. I lose all; they nothing. They merely add the
interest to the principal and have a better strangle-hold on me."

Len listened but did not stop in his work.

At night, in order to be alone for a moment and to surrender himself to
his feelings, he went behind the barn and stood there, barefooted,
shivering in the chill that seemed to breathe from the bush. A
rebellious impulse made him assert that even now he would not
acknowledge defeat: far countries he was going to see with his eyes:
strange thoughts he was going to master with his mind: all the beauty
there was in the world he was going to grasp with his soul! . . .

When his stepfather called, "Len, time to start milking!" he had to
clear his throat before he could answer, "Yes, father, I'm coming."

A few weeks later, the Kolms were sitting in the living room of the
house and entertaining a guest.

This guest was Mr. Joseph, a thick-set, broad-shouldered man of
thirty-five or so, with small, blue eyes looking out into the world,
half scared, half with a cunning alertness. The sparse hairs of his
short, brown moustache seemed to grow in all directions at once. He wore
a blue suit of old-country cut, built for a life-time. The cloth was so
thick and heavy that the seams had never yet flattened out.

He had come along with the Kolms from Macdonald School where services
had been conducted in the morning by the Lutheran pastor of Odensee, a
small Russo-German village south-east of Macdonald.

Mr. Joseph was a recent settler who had "homesteaded" a quarter section
in the bush three miles north-west of Kolm's place. The conversation was
carried on in German.

"You walked?" Kolm exclaimed at a certain point in the conversation.

"Yes," Joseph replied. "It took a week. They have a government office in
the city. They advised me to go to the bush in the winter. I don't know
. . ." He shrugged his shoulders and looked from one to the other.

"And you walked home again?" Kolm's mind had clung to this one fact,
amazing to him.

"Yea. They'd have given me a ticket if I had signed down. You get your
transportation both ways. McDougall is halfway to Deer River; that's
where the camp is, close to Elk Lake. But I don't want to be alone. It
is bad enough here. I keep thinking of my family over there."

"Pretty bad," Kolm nodded. "Heard from them recently?"

"Not a word for over a year. The Russian mail goes through Germany."

"Yea," Kolm said. "And nothing comes through. How many children, did you

"Six. And two are big boys by now. Eight or nine years old."

"What did you say they'll pay you there in the bush?"

"Thirty-five dollars a month and board. But I'm afraid to go so far

"Len," Kolm called as if the boy had been far away and not sitting next
to him in the same room.

"Yes, father?"

"How'd you like to go along with Joseph?"

"Might be all right."

"How'd he suit you?" Kolm asked his guest.

"Will they take him?" Joseph asked hesitatingly.

"Why not?"

"He's only eighteen. As far as I'm concerned, he'd be all right. He
speaks English."

"Sure," Kolm said.

Joseph pondered. "I'll tell you," he said at last. "If Len promises to
meet me at McDougall when I pass through, I'll go back to the city and

"What? Walk in again?"

"Sure. That's nothing."

"What do you say, Len?"

"All right," the boy replied.

"Six months at thirty-five dollars. That would pay the interest if
nothing else."

"They might not pay him so much," Joseph suggested.

"Well, say at thirty!"

"I'll see," Joseph said.

"How about your wood?" Mrs. Kolm asked, looking up from where she had
been sitting idle by the window.

"Well?" Kolm asked sharply; she was interfering in things which did not
concern her.

"Who's going to haul it?" she asked ironically; she liked to disturb her
husband's plans.

"Who? Who's there but Charlie?"

"Charlie? Charlie can't handle a team."

"Time he'd learn," Kolm replied undisturbedly.

This pleased Charlie greatly. He nudged Len with his elbow.

"Come on," he whispered. And the two boys slipped out.

There was no snow on the ground yet. It was the season of the Indian
summer though the landscape, deprived, by the hail, of its veil of
green, looked wintry and bare.

"Say," Charlie said, hopping and fidgeting as soon as they were in the
yard. "I am going to haul. Did you hear?"

"Yes," Len said. "You won't like it so well after awhile."

"Pshaw! Why not?"

"It's cold in winter."

"I'll get mitts. And Bill Hausman is going to haul. I'll be going with

"Yes," Len said, "you can tie your horses behind his load."

"And sit with Bill!"

"You'll miss school."

"Doesn't matter!" Charlie said. "I'm nearly fifteen."

Whenever the boys were alone, they spoke English.

"You better go in," Len said callously. "I want to have a walk."

"I'll come along," Charlie begged, springing from the toes of one foot
to those of the other and kicking his heels.

"No," Len said shortly, "you won't."

"You can't go without asking!" That was Charlie's revenge for Len's
refusal of his company.

Len went abruptly into the house.

As he often did these days, he felt the need for solitude, for
introspection, for an observation of his natural surroundings,
undisturbed by any human presence.

Shortly after, he left the yard and crossed the road.

The warm, bronzed air of the fall lay over the bush. In its aisles Len
lost himself. Vague things were astir in him: things which he could not
have shared with another.

He was eighteen years old. His body had, during the last few years, gone
through an astonishing development. Seen alone, he looked tall and
sturdy. It was only when seen with other boys of his age, Willy Hausman,
for instance, that he still looked undersized and flat of chest. Yet his
features had remained thin, his nose peaked. His movements were awkward
with the angularity of adolescence.

For awhile, as he threaded the bush at random, his thoughts remained
articulate, concerned with the two men in the house. If he could have
had his choice, he would have gone to school. But he knew that that
could not be; and he had accepted the fact. It would be work in the
bush. Heavy work. Well, he was not afraid of heavy work; at home or
elsewhere, what did it matter? To go away and to see something of the
world meant adventure. Distance had the glimmer of fairylands; travel,
the allurements of the ideal. Perfection was anywhere but at home. Even
a trip to McDougall or Poplar Grove had about it something exotic.
Poplar Grove was only three miles from the great Lake, and it had long
been a dream of his to see that lake one day. In towns people lived a
different life; more comfortable, more indolent. The peculiar kind of
schooling he had gone through had made Len a dreamer of dreams. Vistas
had opened into strange realms of the mind. He did not question their
value; they lured him. Others had gone the mysterious paths of
knowledge: how could he think but that for him, too, they were worth

Life stretched ahead: life at this stage of adolescence is something
mysterious. There was much to do; there was also much time to do it in:
years and years! What did it matter if he lost a winter?

Yes, he would go. He would travel into foreign parts and mingle with men
from all over the country. He would sit at camp fires at night; he would
listen to much that others had to tell.

These things flitted past his mind in half-discerned outlines: snatches
of thought, feeling, perception. His whole being seemed to float in a
sea of unknown things: the world was wide and infinite in his mind.

Having gone at random, swayed and dominated by an obscure reaching out
of the impulses urging in him towards life, he found himself at the edge
of the Big Slough. South, in the margin of the bush which seemed to
curve away into infinity a small white spot appeared: Mr. Crawford's
cottage. Len realised with a pang that nothing drew him there. Mr.
Crawford had done much for him in the past; no doubt he would do more
for him in the future; but in the poignant present he had no place. Mr.
Crawford represented mind, not soul; in Len it was the soul which was

He sat down on a log, feeling vaguely unhappy. A longing was in him,
unrecognised as such: a first adumbration that a human being is, in mind
and soul, imperfect by itself; that somewhere in this world it must find
its complement. A half is seeking the other half which will complete it
into a self-contained whole. The first wing-reaches of this awaking are
always painful: they are never understood by the one who suffers from
them. If they were, the purpose of life would be thwarted. They are the
most delicate thing there is in human growth: more delicate in a boy
than in a girl; and the most disastrous thing that can happen to the
young, emerging soul is to have its mysterious stirrings coarsely

Vaguely Len rose and went on. A strange, bitter-sweet unrest seemed to
impel him.

Beyond the slough, the bush stood virgin, bare, mysterious: it was dead
and living at the same time; for the trees, prematurely deprived of
their leaves by the hail, were trying to repair the damage done. Buds
that had been only half developed when the hail broke the protecting
leaves had swollen with the pressure of the sap deflected into them, in
order to put forth a new crop of belated leaves. The boy did not know
this; his knowledge of nature was not theoretic; it was pragmatic,
taking the facts and interpreting them in terms of moods.

It was the first time that he experienced anything like this, a longing
for a sympathy in nature. As, by the lack of a teacher's guidance, his
mind had been delayed in applying its growth to the task of acquiring
formal knowledge, thereby giving it a power to grasp which was hampered
only by his incomplete mastery of mechanical details, thus his soul,
too, had failed to find objects to expend its energies on till it had
grown in strength and was now flooding even his physical consciousness.

The aspect of these woods with their irregular border-line along the
slough--here receding and forming a bay, there jutting boldly forward
into a bluff--seemed to give that repose; he went on.

His age, full of enigmatic developments concentrated into a few hours,
saturated with what is commonly spread out over years of scarcely
perceptible unfolding, was preëminently that of the mythic poets who
project into nature the procreations of that awe in which they stand of
themselves, in the forms of fabulous concrescences of incongruous parts
which they harmonise into imaginable wholes.

Len had hardly entered the bush on the east side of the slough when he
stood arrested. His heart was pounding so that he could hear its thud;
he felt the tremour of its beat running through his frame. He stared
straight ahead. Among the bare boles of the snow-white aspens, dead and
yet alive, he seemed to discern a shape. It was a fabulous creature:
the body that of a large deer; the head almost that of a small but
nobly-shaped horse, especially in its gesture of startled attention; and
from its forehead there sprang a single horn, spirally wound or twisted,
but perfectly straight, and ending in a fine point three feet above the
head. The glassy and immovable eye of the creature seemed to have
gathered in it the whole essence of shy, wild nature with which our
northern woods surprise us. Even in summer these woods seem to be
pervaded with a chilly, virgin atmosphere; slight shivers seem to run
through them: such shivers as run through the wild horse of the prairie
when it first feels the touch of bridle or rope.

In a moment the vision he had seen was gone; it had resolved itself into
what he knew by the name of a jumping deer. Standing as it did among the
small growth of young aspen boles, beyond a thicket of older trees, it
had appeared, as to size, hugely exaggerated: the horn on its forehead
was no more than the branch of one of the boles. But, as the picture
which he had seen decomposed itself into its elements, Len felt sorry
with that sadness which overcomes us when we see or hear a beautiful
marvel rationally explained.

Two or three years ago he would have been thrilled by that rational
explanation: then the most wonderful thing in his experience had been
the awaking of the mind which found delight even in the multiplication
table. Now he was ready to scorn and spurn the merely reasonable things.
The unexplainable made its appeal: poetry, mystic significance,
religious symbolism. But, since he had not yet entered the realm of
literature, his urge was denied its natural outlet.

He went on; and as he did so, the rational explanation of what he had
seen fell away; the vision itself remained.

Again he sat down; there was no real thought in him; nothing proceeding
from one definite point to another. His soul swayed to the slightest
adumbration of things seen or heard. Sometimes, of an evening, when the
air was almost breathless with stillness, the notes of an accordion
would float over the bush, played somewhere in a new clearing by one who
was alone as Len's soul. As he sat there in the bush, on a half-decayed
tree trunk, absent-mindedly breaking fragments of bark and throwing them
aimlessly on the ground, detached notes and bars seemed actually to
reach his ear; he could not have told whether he heard them or merely
imagined he did. With them, little bits of visions arose and flitted
away again; persistent among them being one which might, to a more
experienced eye, have revealed their origin. It was the sight of the
edge of a dress on a slender, girlish bosom, rising, falling in the
rhythm of a breath; it was followed by that of a blushing throat, thin
and white, anaemically white, making the flood of colour surging out of a
body all the more of a marvel.

At last, when this vision arose once more, it became so disturbing that
Len got to his feet. With half-closed eyes and half-parted lips he stood
and held his breath, conscious that he himself blushed all over his
body, the blood slowly rising into his face with a feeling of heat.

Suddenly the eternal wonder of the growing being seemed as of its own
accord to take a direction. Something in him seemed to whisper, "Ye
shall be as God, knowing good and evil!"

For some reason which he avoided explaining to himself, he turned west
and began to step briskly along. He looked up at the sun. It might be
three o'clock. He was glad it was not yet time to go home.

Half an hour later he came, still threading the poplar forest, to
Hausman's line fence. He was on the point of turning back; for he seemed
half aware that he had obeyed a shameful impulse. But after a moment's
hesitation he climbed the fence and passed on, over half-cleared ground
from which all large timber had been removed. South of him the young
bush thinned out entirely: beyond, lay the strip of Hausman's field.
There, walking would have been easier; but he was reluctant to emerge
into the open space, as if he were bent on a furtive errand. Then he
came to the yard fence and stopped.

South of the cabin he saw two or three groups of children: Willy with
other boys of his age, was sitting on the tongue of a wagon; Lydia
carried a baby, tossing it up and down; the smaller children were
playing hide-and-seek about the barn. A dog was chasing about, worrying
a rag which Ernest tried to pull away. The Hausmans, too, had
callers--as who had not in the bush on church days?

As Len stood there, looking on and half wishing to join the others, yet
hesitating to do so, Lydia suddenly called one of the older girls who,
in their white muslin dresses, were sitting on a bench. Len could
distinctly hear her voice.

"Minnie," she said, "you take the baby for awhile, will you?"

And Minnie did.

Lydia went to the back of the yard, past the well and the granary which
was, as is often the case on a pioneer homestead, the best-built
structure on the place.

Len knew he had come to see her. Some obscure instinct told him that she
could interpret for him what he had felt that afternoon; and, having
scarcely passed the stage where a boy looks with contempt on girls and
would not for the world let others see that they interest him, he
hesitated about entering the yard. But he waited.

For five minutes he waited in vain. Then a dry, crackling sound of
breaking twigs startled him in his rear. He veered about; and there
stood Lydia, thin, slender, delicate like the deer he had seen.

"I saw you from the yard," she said; and a blush, rising from her bare
throat, spread slowly over her face.

Len, looking at her, remembered his own blush earlier in the day, when
he had felt himself blushing all over his body. A strange weakness came
over him. But he controlled himself and deliberately falsified his
attitude by assuming a swagger in his gait as he approached her. "Let's
go for a walk," he said.

"All right," the girl answered shyly, smiling up into his face. She was
fully as tall as Len; but her narrow, sloping shoulders made her look
frail and extremely light. Something of the blush still lingered in her
face which now looked very alluring in white and rose. Her smooth,
flaxen hair, gathered in a knot above the nape of her neck, had, from
the shadows cast by the boles, dark-golden glimmers in it. Len had never
seen her like that: she was a bud opening in the summer air. Last winter
she had still worn her hair in two long braids.

She was stepping along ahead of him. He had a near view of her neck
where a few short, silky hairs were curling into the hollow of the nape;
and as he looked at them, his heart began to pound.

She wore a dress of white lawn, much worn with many washings and
somewhat ill-fitting, too; but that Len did not see. To him she looked
surprisingly beautiful and alluring. He was glad he had come. Reality
excelled all visions.

They went on in silence, winding their way through the bush. There
seemed to be nothing in the whole world to speak about. Yet speech
seemed imperative. They might have done what they longed to do and never
said a word: what they longed to do was to touch each other; but neither

At last, when they came to the edge of the field, Lydia stopped; the
moment she did so, Len felt he must speak and cleared his throat.

"Are you going to go to school next winter?"

"I may." She lowered her eyes. "Let's sit for awhile," she added,
pointing to the fallen trunk of a tree. "Are you?"

"No." Deliberately he put a note of indifference into his voice. "I am
going away."

She looked up.

"To Deer River. To work in a lumber camp."

"Deer River? Where is that?"

"North-west. Two hundred miles from here."

A silence fell. "When?" Lydia breathed.

"I don't know. Soon. I am going with Joseph." As, before, he had forced
a swagger into his gait, so he now forced a swagger into his voice. He
acted under an impulse to worry and torture her. But with a quick glance
at her face he saw that all her colour had disappeared. Yet he felt a
savage satisfaction. "I suppose you are glad?" he asked.

"Why should I be glad?"

"Oh," he said. "Just so."

She stared at him, her dark-blue eyes wide open.

"You like Henry Kugler. I'll be out of the way."

"No," she replied with the ghost of a voice. "I don't like him."

"He's strong."

"He's a bully."

Len's feeling of satisfaction deepened.

"You," she hesitated. "You seem to be glad you won't go to school?"

He stretched a leg in front of him. "I can't be going to school forever.
I am getting too old to sit with the kids. A man's got to make his

The girl was silent. "Then," she said after awhile, not without a note
of coquetry, "I don't think I want to go either."

They looked at each other and reddened.

Len rose and stepped close till his hand touched her shoulder. At that
they shrank from each other. Yet, when he sat down again, it was close
to her.

"I thought you were fond of learning?" she asked.

"Yes," Len said with an effect as if he were dropping a mask. "It's all
nonsense. I didn't mean what I said. I don't know whether I want to go
or not. I shall have to, I think. But I'd rather stay, now." Slowly and
tentatively he lifted his hand behind her and put it about her

Bending forward and contracting, as it were, she sank into his arms.
They kissed and drew apart again.

For a long while they sat by each other, a half-guilty look in their
eyes. Then, as if by no volition of their own, their fingers met; and an
electric current passed from one to the other.

Len cleared his throat. "Lydia, I shall have to go. I should prefer to
go to school. I want to be a teacher. Oh, I don't know. Mr. Crawford
does not think I should be a farmer. I am not very strong. And I should
like to learn. I should like to learn all there is to be learned and be
a great man. But it is a long way off. I should have to go to school for
three more years. Then I could teach; and that, Mr. Crawford says, is
only a beginning. But if I get that far, I should have a chance. To get
there, I'd do anything on earth. I think I shall work at my books even
in the lumber camp."

"Yes," she whispered, "you've always done well."

"It isn't that. Others do well; but they do it by hard work. I can't
express what I mean." He looked at the sun and rose.

Eyes lowered, she did likewise and waited.

Len, seeing it, hesitated himself. His mind was groping about for
something to say which might convey a fraction of what he felt. Nothing
seemed adequate. His breast expanded; he stammered, "Lydia, will you
think of me when I'm gone?"

"Always," she whispered half audibly.

Once more they stood.

Then, with a look and a smile at each other, they parted.

But they had not gone a dozen paces before Len turned. "Lydia!"

"Yes?" She had known that there must be something to follow.

"Will you meet me again? Here? Next Sunday?"

That did not release the tension; but it was something to look forward
to. "I'll wait for you here," she said and nodded.

When next they looked back, the bush stood between them.

Len gained the road and stepped out briskly. It was the time of the
evening when the sun, though still shining, has lost his power to
illumine and to heat. Nighthawks were circling through the quiet air,
veering and careening in their bold, freaky flight. In Len, a sweet,
cool, chaste exaltation arose, in keeping with the quality of the hour.

He passed the cross-roads leading north to where the Dicks lived, the
youngest in age of the settlers in this district. A fleeting thought of
Helen Dick crossed his mind. She was a mere child; he was old and wise,
knowing much of life; that life which he was going to conquer!

He went on and on and came in sight of the yard and house which had been
home to him. Since he had left the place a few hours ago, he had sailed
the seven seas and been away for years. He was changed: strong, yet
weary: an adventurer coming home from a raid. He could have sung out to
announce his coming; for in him sang the blood of youth.

The house, in the evening light, looked unchanged, unchangeable,
homelike, sheltered; it suggested a family circle, protection, rest. He
carried a secret in his heart which nobody shared who lived in that

That moment his stepfather issued from the door, preceded by the guest
of the afternoon. They came to the open gate and stopped, conversing.
They looked grey and dark down there, as if they had arrayed themselves
on purpose to fit and blend into the evening landscape.

Len slanted down from the grade. He had to pass by them.

But his stepfather spoke. "Well, you got back, did you? Wait a moment. I
have talked it over with Joseph. He'll see whether he can get you a job
with that outfit. Maybe you have thought it over yourself? He wants you
to repeat that you are willing to go. You are not afraid to leave home,
are you?"

"No. I'm not afraid."

"And you'll go?"

"Yes, I'll go."

"That's all right, then," Kolm concluded, and looked at his guest.

"I guess so," Joseph said. "I'll start tomorrow. I'll write when he is
to meet me."

Len went on, feeling all of a sudden committed.

Chapter V


Weeks had gone by. Len was busy on the farm where his stepfather did the
last work on the new breaking while the boys still gathered stones and

At last Charlie began to go to school again; and, strange to say, he
seemed willing and even anxious to do so. The fact was that the Dicks
had decided to send Helen. Mr. Crawford sent word that he wished to see

The Kolms had heard nothing from Joseph except that Len would find some
"job" at Deer River, but that they would not go till there was snow on
the ground.

Len had met Lydia every Sunday; and the thought of the separation filled
him with a vague dread. When Charlie began to go to school, old longings
and ambitions revived and plucked at his heart. But he had given a
promise; and the new consideration with which his stepfather treated him
as the future earner of money felt grateful.

When, on November 7, he called on his old teacher, the grey, lowering
sky seemed to bring the time of departure threateningly near.

Mr. Crawford, as was his way, said many strange things.

"I have put aside a little pile of books for you. Just stories I want
you to read. And a few plays. Good literature. Take them along. There
will be Sundays even in camp. I wish you would write me of your
experiences and of your reading. These books will further you on your
way. Don't give up, Len. You have a start. Not all of an education is
necessarily acquired at school. No schooling can give you the brains; at
best it can teach you how to use them. Don't believe either that you are
getting too old for that sort of thing. You will meet with fools who
will sneer at you because you aim high. Don't listen to them."

And, after awhile, he went on. "You are of the stuff of which wise men
are made, Len, not learned men. What, in all branches of knowledge we
really investigate is ourselves. Perfect knowledge would be no more than
an accurate tracing out of the limitations of the human mind. You may
not get all the facts. But one day, I hope, you will understand that
that does not matter. A man may be learned without being fit for
anything but the gathering of fact to fact unless he has the spark
divine. If he has, facts are nothing. It is the road that matters, not
the goal."

The boy sat silent, enslaved by the man's personality.

"Good-by," he said at last. "And thanks!" And awkwardly he stumbled
through the door, squeezing the parcel of books under his arm.

As Len, at the gate, clambered on to the big horse's back, the old man
stood at the window looking on, half thinking, half muttering to
himself. "What a shame! To think of the boys in towns or cities, sons of
well-to-do merchants, lawyers, cabinet ministers, squandering in a month
what would enable this child to get his start in life. What do they do
at school? At best they are anxious to secure their 'standing' from year
to year! But in a pioneer district genius is left to exhaust itself in
the fight against adversity!"

Len was riding north. A flurry of snow had thickened during the hour he
had spent at the teacher's cottage. It was now whirling about him in
dense flakes. Already the grass of the slough was bending under the
cover which was to conceal it for the rest of the winter.

Len was in a strange state of mind, resembling that in which a believer
of the Catholic church may be after having confessed and received a
plenary absolution from the vicar of God. Never before had he felt with
the same convincing force that this man loved him.

He sat on his horse with his head drawn into the collar of his sweater,
to prevent the snow from finding its way down his neck. He shivered
though he remained unconscious of it. In him burned a fire which made
him insensible to the external cold. Great and glorious, life stretched
before him: far away, dimly seen, on its horizon, stood a goal. That
goal was greatness.

When, arrived at home, he was tying his horse in its stall, Charlie
suddenly shot out from somewhere, slapped him on his arm, cried, "Tag,"
and dodged away again.

Len had not yet recalled himself from the world in which he had lived
but now. A moment later, however, he stood ready, every muscle taut
though he preserved his absent mien.

Charlie, thinking him disinclined to play, approached.

Len watched; and as soon as his brother was near enough, he sprang and
caught him by the neck, tagging him half a dozen times on his back.
Charlie yelled with surprise and threw himself down on a pile of hay in
one of the stalls. The horses raised their heads and looked over the
partitions at the disturbing noise.

"I've got you, you whippersnapper!" Len said grimly.

"I know something," Charlie hinted, trying to squirm away.

But Len held him while he sat down by his brother's recumbent body. "Now
tell what you know."

"I won't!"

Len began to tickle his sides.

"Yes, yes!" Charlie yelled. "Don't tickle! I'll tell!"

Len straddled him. "All right. I am waiting."

A moment's pause. Then Charlie tried once more to free himself by a
violent struggle.

"Oh-o!" Len said. "Is that your game? I'll teach you to cheat!" And he
resumed the task of tickling his brother into submission. "Ready now to
keep faith?" he asked at last.

"Sure," Charlie cried, exhausted with laughing.

"All right." Len sat back.

"Father went to Jackson's. He got a letter."

"From whom?"

"From Joseph."

Len rose from his brother's body. The abstraction which had pervaded his
face returned. "When?" he asked moodily.

"When what? Oh, yes. Thursday night."

Len picked the awns of skunk grass from his trousers; and, taking the
parcel of books which he had balanced on the partition between two
stalls, he went over the thickening blanket of snow to the house.

His mother was working in the kitchen; his stepfather, reclining in the
living room.

From the woman's indignantly defiant attitude Len gathered that there
had been a quarrel. Whenever the relation between his parents obtruded
itself, he felt embarrassed. He was judicious beyond his years; and in
the light of new knowledge new angles in that relationship were
constantly being revealed to him. So far he had always sided with his
mother; but he began to feel critical with regard to her.

As he entered the living room to deposit his parcel, Kolm rose,
stretched himself, and, raising his voice, for the benefit or the
provocation of his wife, he said, "Len, I have word from Joseph. You go
on Thursday night."

In the kitchen, pot or pan slammed down on the stove with a clatter.

Len looked at the man who stood in front of him. To his relief he saw a
smile on his lips.

Kolm stepped forward, filling the frame of the door to the kitchen.
"Softly, Anna," he said mockingly; "what's that pot done to you?"

"Out with you!" she yelled at him, pointing to the yard door.

Kolm took a step, turned his wife around so that he stood behind her
back, caught her elbows in his hands, and held her. Then he bent forward
as a lover might whisper into the ear of his mistress, "What's eating
you? Need a straightening out? Come upstairs. I'll give it to you."

The woman went limp under his laugh. In a sudden relaxation of all her
muscles she sank against his chest. He bent down to her as if to plant a
kiss on her mouth; but with a sudden turn of her head, she brought that
mouth up to his ear and bit its lobe.

"Hi!" he yelled. "You hussy!" And again he laughed. "That's the way I
like you, you cat!" Releasing her, he touched her with his elbow and,
with a leering look, pointed to the stairway.

"No!" she said, stamping her foot.

But he looked steadily into her eye. "Not now, eh?"

She, vanquished, whispered half fondly, "No. Think of the children!"

"All right," he whispered back. "I can wait." And he left the room.

Len had been standing motionless. He had heard every word. His face was
flaming with colour. Reaching for one of the books, he dropped to the
couch and acted as if he were absorbed in reading. A moment later his
mother peered in to see whether he had listened or not. . . .

In the afternoon, both boys asked for leave of absence. Charlie slipped
away through the bush to go to Dicks'. Len went along the grade to the

When he reached Hausman's corner, he climbed through the fence and
turned south till he came to the clearing which divided the farm.

At the usual place nobody waited to meet him. But then it was early. He
stamped about in the new-fallen snow.

Thus he waited and waited. Half an hour went by; and nobody came. He
felt worried and desolate.

Then, suddenly, he descried Lydia's figure flitting through the bush
with a preoccupied air.

"Len," she cried breathlessly, as soon as their hands had touched. "I
can't stay but a moment. Mr. Smith from Odensee is here. He's come to
hire me for the winter, for housework. I slipped out. But if I stayed
away any length of time, they'd be sure to notice."

"I . . ." Len stammered. "I'm going on Thursday, at night."

"I am going today."


"Yes," Lydia went on excitedly. "Mrs. Smith is expecting a baby. She is
sickly. There are six children, and she needs help."

"Then you won't go to school?"

"To school!" She spurned the very idea, her face flushed in a way which
seemed to estrange her. She looked tempting but quite unfamiliar to Len.
"He'll pay me five dollars a month. Oh Len, I am glad!"

He looked at her; her animation seemed so foreign.

"You silly!" she cried, kissing him. "You can write to me there, don't
you see? Miss Lydia Hausman, care of Mr. Aleck Smith, Odensee."

"Yes," Len agreed wistfully. "I could not have written here."

"No. And for me it will be less tedious while I am waiting. I hate the
bush. It's all open fields down there. The Smiths are rich. They hailed
out like ourselves. But you should hear Mr. Smith! That's nothing, he
says. If I have a crop once in three years, I'm all right!"

Len mused. This was not what he had counted on. He had been willing to
go with Joseph so long as he knew this girl would be waiting and pining
for him in the bush. Jealousy fastened on to his heart and sucked his
life-blood. "There are lots of other boys there!" he said.

She laughed, but her laughter hurt. "I must go," she cried. "I am
getting wet. They will notice if I stay too long." But she still looked
at him, half provoking, half amused.

"Well," Len sighed. And then he bent forward and touched her cheek with
a finger.

Again she laughed and brushed his lips with hers. "Len," she whispered
coquettishly, "don't look at another girl!"

His arms were about her; and as he kissed her again and again, she
closed her eyes and smiled. At last, disengaging herself, she stepped
back and waved her hand at him with a nervous gesture. And again she was
by his side. "Len," she said, "don't stand like a block. Say something.
In spring you'll be back. And so shall I!"

But he found nothing to say. How could she laugh? He reached for her
hands. "Good-by!" he whispered.

"Good-by, Len! Don't look at anyone else, do you hear?"

Dumbly he shook his head.

For a moment longer she waited. "Good-by!"


She ran; and when she turned once more, she saw him rapidly striding

He could not have said what it was; but his heart was wrenched by a vast
pain, by an unspeakable woe not to be grasped by thought.

Chapter VI


The weather was wintry but mild.

The leave-taking between mother and son had been brief and almost
wordless. "Write when you get there," she had said.

Charlie had climbed on to the load of the sleigh to accompany his
brother for a short piece of the road; for, since his stepfather was
going to town, he remained at home for the day.

As they were gliding west, Len looked back to the house. At the window
of the living room he saw his mother's head and waved his hand. A moment
later the farmstead had been absorbed by the bush.

Kolm stopped the team and turned to Charlie. "Get off," he said.

Charlie looked at Len. His lips twitched.

"Don't blubber!" Len whispered. "Be good! Bye-bye."

"Bye-bye!" the younger boy answered as he climbed down over the

"And mind you go after the cows not later than five!" Kolm sang out.

White and thin, Len sat in his place; and as the horses walked on, he
saw his brother standing in the road, hesitating and disconsolate.

They went on in silence, reclining on the load of potatoes which Kolm
had decided to take along. For miles and miles they went on. The grade
came to an end in a dry slough, sending a blunt nose into the lower
levels. Bands of willow formed criss-cross patterns there, and the trail
turned south.

At last they emerged into a denser settlement, widely cleared, where
every quarter section held a prosperous farmstead. That was the village
of Odensee, seven miles east of McDougall, the town.

Again they were on a grade. Len knew the village; for before the
Jacksons had taken over the post office at Macdonald, he had sometimes
gone here on horseback to fetch the mail.

As they glided along, Len braced himself for a question and cleared his
throat. "Father," he asked, "where does Mr. Smith live?"

"What?" Kolm asked. "Schmidt? Why do you want to know?"

Len reddened. "Oh," he said, "just so."

But Kolm looked at him and whistled. "Ah-a!" he said. "Oh-o! That's
where the wind lies, eh?" And without answering he turned his back.

Len bit his lip, sitting white and still.

They passed farm after farm and neared the half-mile turn to the south
where a tobacco-brown school-house stood at the corner.

Kolm turned and nodded his head. "That's Schmidt's."

Len winced. A large, white-painted house with a veranda, prosperous and
haughty, looked discouragement. Nothing stirred in the yard.

But at the very moment when the horses turned, a slender white figure
appeared at an upstairs window, waving a hand.

It was too late for Len to respond, for the view was cut off by the
school-house; and beyond, a fringe of trees intervened.

Shortly before noon, they pulled into town, a straggling village with
three streets converging towards the station. A huge red-brick house was
the first they came to, followed by a two-roomed school.

Between stores, lumber-yard, livery stable, and bank they drove on till
they reached the station. Kolm jumped to the ground and tied his horses
to a telephone post. Len took his bundle and climbed down.

Having jerked the cream can from the load, Kolm mounted the steps to the
platform. Len had never yet seen a railway track.

In the waiting room a clean-shaven little man sat with his back to the
wicket, fingering a clicking piece of apparatus.

They waited.

At last, without turning, the operator asked, "What is it?"

"I've got a cream can."

"All right."

Len was impressed with the insignificance of his self.

"I'd like a receipt," Kolm said after a further wait.

Len was struck by the submissive note in Kolm's voice.

The operator grumbled; but, after a minute or so, he rose and began to
fill out a blank on the shelf of the wicket.



"Spell that."

Kolm did. "Here's a boy," he added. "He's going to go out on the two
o'clock north. Can he leave his bundle?"

"He cannot," the operator replied with indignant decision. "What do you
think this is? A cloak-room?"

Kolm laughed, embarrassed.

When they left, Len still lugged the bundle which was heavy with books.

"Well," Kolm said when he had untied the horses, "we'll try to sell the
potatoes, I guess."

They reached a store on the southernmost street. Kolm threw the lines to
Len, saying, "Wait," and springing to the ground.

Len felt vaguely but immensely depressed. This was not what he had
imagined travelling to be. He wished he were back on the farm.

Kolm reappeared. "Don't want them," he said. "Drive on." And he went
ahead on the sidewalk.

The horses pulled. Len knew how to handle them, but men frightened him.

Once more they stopped at a store. Once more Kolm, having entered,
reappeared. "Don't want them either. We'll have to try the Jew."

Again he led the way, this time going west till they were nearly back at
the station. In front of a store, dry-goods, brooms, strings of
work-boots, and similar wares were displayed in the open. A short, fat,
bearded old Jew stood in the door, blinking in the sunshine.

"What have you got?" he asked with a hard stare at Kolm and Len.


The Jew raised his pudgy hands to the height of his shoulders, palms
forward, and cast a despondent glance to heaven.

"Don't want them?"

"Eferybody's bringing potatoes. There is nothing else in the gountry!"
the Jew replied.

Two young men, sleek, fastidiously dressed and shaved, appeared in the
door, smiling; and, looking down on the load, they whispered to each
other. They were unmistakably sons of the old man below them.

"Potatoes have no price at all this year," one of them said.

"Damn funny," Kolm said grimly. "They feed as many mouths as ever."

One of the young men spoke to the father who shrugged his shoulders,
raised his hands, and turned into the door with a gesture of disgust.

"Tell you, Kolm," the young man said. "It's turning colder. You can't
take that load home without freezing it. I don't want your potatoes; but
I'd like to help you out. If you'll dump them for ten cents a bushel,
I'll take them. Just to oblige."

"I'll be hanged first," Kolm replied.

The two Jews laughed. "As you please."

Kolm clicked his tongue. "See you later. See you in hell!"

For hours they lingered about the station. The sun was obscured by a
haze; and it did turn cold.

At last Kolm spoke. "I was going to give you a dollar."

"What for?"

"You might need a few cents."

Then silence again. But about four o'clock Kolm spoke once more. "I'll
have to go. I'll have the potatoes frozen on me if I don't."

Len nodded. "I'll go along for a piece," he said. The truth of the
matter was that he wished to postpone the moment of parting.

They drove east and then north till they came to the first turn in the
road. Then something happened which was unique in Len's experience. Kolm
began to swear in a truly terrifying way. At the same time he left the
road for its grassy margin and began to turn. The horses, not
understanding the manoeuvre, behaved awkwardly. Kolm gathered the ends of
the lines in his hand and lashed them brutally. In a brisk trot they
returned to town; and Kolm drew in in front of the Jewish store.

One of the fashionable young men appeared in the door. "Changed your
mind?" he asked.

"What was the blood-sucker price you offered?" Kolm looked straight

"Ten cents a bushel--in trade."

Again Kolm swore. "Doggone you for a dirty Jew! I want a dollar in

The young man smiled. "All right. Drive into the lane."

"Better go in first and ask the hog that begot you."

"No need. This is a private speculation of mine."

"Speculation?" Kolm repeated. "It's a safe game. You'll sell them at two
dollars in spring."

"I hope you're a prophet!" the young man smiled.

In the store, Kolm bought a half bag of flour and a quarter's worth of
sugar, leaving without so much as nodding to clerk or owners. His
deep-sunk eyes looked moody; the droop in the shoulders of his body
betrayed his dejection. Len had never seen him thus: he was out of place
in town: he needed the bush and the fields for his background.

Again they left the village, and a mile or so beyond the turn Kolm
stopped. "You better go back now, Len," he said gently. "You've got your
bundle to carry. You understand, I hope. When the train pulls in, you
want to be on the platform and look sharp for Joseph. Sit in the waiting
room; it's warm there. Take the rest of the lunch. And here's the
dollar. Put it where you can't lose it. Joseph's got your ticket. There
is nothing to pay. When you get there, write to your mother. And don't
send any money till Christmas."

"All right," Len said, climbing over the side of the sleigh.

"Good-by. And be good."

"Good-by, father," Len replied and placed his hand into that of the man.
He winced under its pressure.

Then the sleigh was briskly disappearing around the bend of the road.
Len shouldered his bundle to start life on his own account.

The rest of the afternoon was an eternity of tedious waiting. Len sat in
the room provided for that purpose at the station. In the dusk of the
evening the operator passed by him as he left his office.

"What are you waiting for?" he asked.

"I'm going out on the two o'clock train."

"Got your ticket?"


"Can't wait here without a ticket. Can't buy a ticket at night."

"I am to meet a man. He's got my ticket. He comes by the train."

"Where are you going?"

"Elk Lake."

The man whistled. "Working for the Deer River outfit?"


"Do they take kids?"

Len shrugged his shoulders. "I am to meet Joseph."

"Ever been in a train before?"


"Tell you. I've got to lock up. The night operator doesn't come till
midnight. I'll tell him to wake you in time for the train. You lie down
on that bench and sleep."

"All right. Thanks."

This was the first bit of kindness Len had received from a stranger; and
it made him feel less homesick. Within a few minutes he was sound asleep
on the bench.

It seemed, however, as though he had not slept more than a few minutes
before he felt himself shaken by the shoulder.

"Train's due in a quarter of an hour," a strange voice said.

"All right." Excitement invaded Len like a flood.

Two coal-oil lamps, fastened to the wall by brackets, illumined the
scene. The air was heavy with the smell of garlic. Five figures were
lying on the benches which lined two walls; on the floor, too, half a
dozen men reclined, some snoring stertorously. It was a sight of
unrestrained abandonment to rest. They looked like beings from an
underground world: mis-shapen dwarfs released from a cave.

Len pulled himself up, grasped his bundle, and, stepping carefully over
the recumbent figures, climbed to the door. When he opened it and the
icy air struck into the room, a raucous voice swore at him.

Outside, Len stood shivering. Strange things seemed to be going on in
the darkness of the air, supernatural things. A wooden arm, with a green
light at its shoulder, raised itself against the glittering stars. Len's
heart pounded. At the north end of the platform dim shapes were handling
things while a small, round lantern bobbed up and down. No train was in

Being assailed by the sudden, fierce cold of the night, Len tried to
return into the waiting room where the presences were human at least.
But when he opened the door, the air from the inside smote him like a
bodily blow: it bore the hot, mephitic stench of the exhalations of
human bodies mixed with the smell of garlic. Just as a mumbled curse
became articulate, he shrank back.

That moment, far in the south, a whistle shrilled through the air.

Len took a firmer hold on his bundle. Out of the night, a dim radiance
seemed to condense; objects began to cast shadows as though they were
emanations of their solidity. He turned to the south.

A fiery eye had appeared in the distance, so white that it blinded him.
The rails alongside the platform began to heave in its glimmer, emitting
incomprehensible sounds. The light increased till it assumed the quality
of a pitiless incandescence. In his excitement Len did not even feel
that his teeth were chattering and his knees shaking.

He looked north. A group of men had sprung out of the darkness, handling
huge trunks which glistened wetly in the snow-white glare. Beyond, the
grain elevators loomed as in daylight. But all about, darkness stood
like a towering scaffold. Again he turned south. There, a roaring
monster came rolling along, blinding everything with its single, evil
eye. Pale and smoke-blackened, a man was leaning from the cab of the
engine, peering ahead. Then darkness fell again. Len felt as if he must
madly rush about till he landed under the feet of the moving monster. If
behind him there had been a field or the bush, he would have run,
flinging up his arms. But behind him, as if to increase the terror, the
door was opened and slammed, opened and slammed, three or four times in
succession. Those goblins that had been sleeping and snoring in their
hot den, on benches and floor, had come to life and were rushing past

The train came to a stop; here and there a word was shouted. From the
corner of the station, where the steps led up from the street, two or
three figures appeared, going to the cars. A few people alighted.

Len stood helpless. It seemed an eternity since the train had come to a
stop. Was he going to be left behind? A strange, deep voice sang out
from somewhere. "All aboard!" At the sound of that voice Len felt the
need for instant action. Short, hissing sounds came from in front.

That moment somebody pushed him. "Len!" he heard his name called. "Come
on! Run!" It was Joseph.

Already the train was gathering motion. Joseph ran; Len followed.

Catching hold of a hand-rail, Joseph walked on with the puffing train.
"Quick!" he shouted in German. "Jump!"

With the effort of desperation Len threw his bundle into the dark hole
to which Joseph pointed and scrambled after it, falling on to the
platform of the train. Joseph followed him with a swing of his body at
the very moment when the platform of the station was slipping away from
under his feet.


"Amer savoir qu'on tire du voyage!"

Chapter I


Len and Joseph arrived in camp in the dusk of evening, after a tramp of
sixteen miles from the station which was commonly designated by the word
"town", though this town consisted of no more than two stores, a
boarding house, and the siding of the "D. R. L. & W. Co." which was
flanked by its long, narrow sheds.

Where the road which had brought them north, through a dense forest of
trees--poplar, spruce, and larch--opened into the enormous clearing of
the camp, the shorter west end of the rectangle was occupied by office
and store buildings. Opposite the road gap stood the "cook house"; east
of it, four long, low, shed-like structures which provided the sleeping
quarters for the men. Opposite these, along the south edge, rose stables
and shops, shed-like and low like the rest of the buildings. The
material used in their construction consisted of huge logs which gave
them an air of unusual permanency and durability though they had just
been erected for a single winter's operations. All about the clearing,
the dense forest stood black and mysterious. In spite of the bright
lights shining forth from office and cook house the camp looked
deserted. The ground was covered with hard-beaten snow.

They "checked in" at the office.

As they entered the room which, for a temporary structure, looked
remarkably finished, a tall, thin man extricated himself from a swivel
chair at the desk to the left, behind a counter which divided the
available space. He had been reclining, his feet propped up on the desk
top, and was smoking a cigarette through a tube.

Apparently they did not need to state their errand, for the tall man
reached under the counter and produced, in the most leisurely way, an
enormous book. He was unmistakably a Jew: his reddish-yellow, curled
hair and his eagle nose betrayed him. Len felt intimidated by the
fastidious elegance of his clothes, the high white collar around his
neck, and the long, immaculate flexibility of his fingers.

Slowly the Jew turned the pages of the book. At last he took a
gold-mounted fountain pen from the upper left-hand pocket of his white
vest and held it poised over the page.

"Name?" he asked, raising one thin, copper-coloured eyebrow at Joseph
and tilting his head so as to keep the smoke of his cigarette from
entering his eye.

"Karl Joseph."

"Hired in the city?"

Joseph produced a card which the Jew took with pointed fingers as though
he feared to soil himself by the contact. He placed it along the entry
he was making in the book and copied slowly whatever items he needed.
Then he turned to his desk, taking a sheet of paper from a drawer, and
glanced down a list of type-written names. When he found the one he was
looking for, he carefully checked it off.

Next he raised the other eyebrow at Len. "Name?" he repeated.

"Leonard Sterner."

Again Joseph held out a card.

The Jew took it, glanced at it, and raised both eyebrows at once. "How
is that?" he asked with an exaggerated air of suspicion. "The name given
here is Len Kolm."

"Kolm is my stepfather's name," Len explained uneasily.

The Jew clicked his tongue as if he had just received an exquisite item
of scandalous gossip. But he began to write in the most unruffled
serenity of indifference. "Spell," he said.

Next the Jew took two little card-board squares, stepped to the wall
where the ground-plans of four buildings were displayed, made two marks
on one of them, wrote a figure each on the tickets, and flicked them
over as the dealer in a game of cards deals out a deck.

"Bunk-house one," he said with great distinctness.

"When do we start?" Joseph asked.

"Tomorrow. Since you are here."

"And where?"

"Ask the camp boss."

"Who is he?"

"You'll find out."

"Do we get supper tonight?"

"Cook house," the Jew said wearily as if he were neither used nor
inclined to be questioned this way.

"Do we get our wages here?" Joseph asked anxiously.

But the Jew waved a disdainful hand to the door.

Outside, they went along the front of the buildings in the margin of the
clearing to the north. These buildings were numbered with figures five
feet high.

In "Bunk-House One" they found a pleasant-faced young fellow with
gold-flashing teeth and round, ruddy cheeks who assigned them their
beds. He introduced himself as Charlie, the bull-cook. By the time they
had deposited their bundles, it was pitch-dark outside; and the clearing
burst into life with the crews returning from the skidways.

The bull-cook directed them to the cook house; and when Joseph, by
gestures, apologetic and ostentatiously exaggerated, asked where they
could clean up, he told them that there was a wash-room behind the cook
house. They turned, between the rows upon rows of bunks, to the door of
the huge, low hall heated by three large, round-bellied iron stoves. But
before they reached it, a crowd of big, bustling figures broke in,
laughing and joking or quiet and sedate according as they were young or
middle-aged. For a moment it seemed like a sea of humanity surging up.
Then they dispersed to their bunks as a crest-wave flattens out on the
beach. Outside, far in the east, the ruddy dawn of an almost full moon
stood behind the lattice tracery of tree tops.

In the cook house, consisting of dining room and kitchen, both lighted
by glaring gasoline lamps, they were placed, by one of the "cookies" or
flunkeys, at one of the ten long tables, each set for sixteen men, which
ran through the room in a north-south direction. An eleventh table stood
at right angles to these, at the far end, opposite the door. The men who
were crowding in wore sheep-skins and trousers tucked into high-laced
boots; and they continued to laugh and to chatter only as far as the
door, going silent as they entered and removed their caps as in church.
Nobody sat down at the single table which stood at right angles to the

As soon as they were seated, they "fell to" without waiting for others,
with the huge appetites of those who have worked all day in the open
winter air. All dishes were of grey enamel ware. Every now and then
somebody, without a word, raised an empty platter above his head; and
immediately one of the flunkeys jumped for it, to disappear through a
door into the kitchen whence, within a minute or so, he brought it back
filled. The food was good and rich, consisting of braised meat,
potatoes, gravy, bread and butter, and pies and cakes in enormous
numbers. There was a choice of tea, coffee, and milk.

After awhile the door opened once more and a man came in whom nobody
needed to name. It was the boss, huge, massive, imperturbable. Without
a look at anyone he removed his sheep-skin and fur cap which a cookie
took from him, proceeded along the walls to the centre of the single
table at right angles to the rest, and sat down on the only chair to be
found in the place. A waiter ran and bent to his side as, in a low,
friendly, but curt voice, he gave his order. Within a few minutes he was
served individually.

Two or three others dropped in after him and took their seats at his
table. But, like the rest of the crew, these sat on benches and helped
themselves from the common platters loaded with food.

Len's eyes always strayed back to the boss.

This man had a straw-yellow shock of short hair which stood up in all
directions; his face, consisting of enormous curved and bulging
surfaces, was divided by a moustache of the same colour and texture as
his hair. His light-blue eyes, restless in their sockets, were strangely
small for so large a head.

Most of the time, he sat very still, bent over his plate from which he
picked a bite now and then, absent-mindedly. His eyes roamed over the
room, without a corresponding motion of his head. He gulped a glass of
milk and, as he caught the eye of one of the flunkeys, moved a finger,
pointing to the empty glass. The flunkey sprang to his side to refill
it. He gave the slightest of nods in acknowledgment. He ate very

A number of men finished their meal and rose, some rolling cigarettes,
some filling their pipes, and some chewing tooth-picks as they put on
their caps and filed out. The places of a few were retaken by others who

Joseph also finished and sat back with a grunt of satisfaction. "Feels
good," he said to Len, in German.

Half a dozen looks were raised to his face at the sound of the foreign
language. Nobody else spoke except in a whisper.

Joseph grinned and broke into apologetic shrugs as he scrambled to his
feet and stepped back over the bench. Len, feeling embarrassed at the
breach of etiquette committed by him, rose to follow.

But the eye of the big man at the centre of the odd table had also
flashed up at Joseph and now lighted on Len. When it did so, it
flickered as in a signal; and a finger of the hand that lay on the
table, by the side of the plate, was raised as if to stay him.

Len rounded the table.

The boss pushed his chair back, sitting sideways, and pointed with a
finger to the corner of a bench.

Feeling limp and unhappy in anticipation, Len sat down.

"What do they call you?"

"Len Sterner."

"Len," the big man repeated in a deep, rumbling voice, not unkindly.
"How old are you?"

"Eighteen," Len said with a sinking feeling.

The boss looked up. "Why did you give your age as twenty?"

"I didn't," Len said, not daring to look the man in the face. "Mr.
Joseph with whom I came did. He was afraid they might not take me."

"What is it to him?"

"He has never been out to a place like this and did not want to go
alone. He is a neighbour of ours."

"Your father is a farmer?"

"Yes. He is my stepfather. We were hailed out last summer."

The big man gave the slightest of nods. Then he rose. "You stay in camp
tomorrow. You can help the bull-cook. I saw you are limping. I shall try
you on team-work. I am afraid you are too light." And he turned slowly

"Please!" Len said in his fear of being rejected.

The big man stopped.

Many eyes were curiously fastened on Len and the boss. "If it can be
done at all," Len stammered, "I am willing to do anything."

"We'll see," the boss replied and strode off. At the door, he shouldered
into his sheep-skin, stuck his fur cap on his head, and went out.

A few days later, having tried him at several light jobs, the boss
placed Len in the cook house as a cookie or flunkey.

As soon as his duties--waiting at the tables, peeling potatoes, scraping
carrots, etc.--had become a routine to Len, he lived, for the next two
months, in the camp but not of it, except in as much as his work
compelled him to take notice of it.

In the morning, he had to rise an hour before the crews; at night, he
had to work an hour or two later; and Sunday was no holiday for anyone
employed in the cook house. But every day he had two hours off in the
afternoon and used them for reading and writing: and his pay was the
same as that of a sawyer, thirty dollars a month, without the sawyer's
expense of providing heavy outdoor clothing.

Once more he immersed himself in his studies; in fact, he devoted more
time to them than they had ever received at home except when he had
actually been going to school. All day long he worked in a sort of
feverish haste as if the fulfilment of his tasks were a mere preliminary
to his two hours of leisure; and he rejoiced when he could add an extra
fifteen minutes to that allowance of time.

Yet it goes without saying that his immediate surroundings, those of the
cook house, obtruded themselves upon his attention.

The amount of food, for instance, which was needed to feed the crews was
a subject of everlasting wonder to him. Daily half a beef was brought
over from the store building. It was left to thaw and then cut up. Two
bags of flour were consumed in a day; a bag and a half of sugar; immense
quantities of prunes, raisins, dates; and lard by the five-gallon can.
It was a never-ceasing stream from the store house, through the kitchen,
into the famished digestive organs of this many-mouthed monster, the
crew, which converted it into labour that showed in the form of logs cut
from the forests, finally to figure as so and so much profit on the
books of that abstract being, the "company".

As for the kitchen itself and its government, the head-cook bore the
nickname "the ogre". He owed it partly to his deformity--an undercook
had one day struck him in his right eye with a red-hot poker--and partly
to his temper which was savage. When he grew angry at anyone, he would
throw boiling water or sizzling lard at him. Complaints on that score
were common; and Mr. Smith, the boss, spoke sharply to him more than
once. On the other hand, he had been with the company for many years;
and he kept the commissary department running like clock-work. He was
perhaps sixty years old.

Occasionally, on Sunday nights, when supper was served at five, work
being done, this head-cook would sit on one of the large mixing tables,
a long tin ladle in one hand, and become communicative, telling of the
adventures of his youth. He was a Roumanian by birth and had been a
ship's cook on the Black Sea and other waters. He knew every little
"hole" on the Levant coasts. To his memory, Odessa, Constantinople,
Smyrna, and Beirut were as present as the stores at Deer River; and he
would talk of them with the disdain of the cosmopolite speaking to a
crowd of backwoods men. When asked how he came to be stranded in the
bush of the Canadian north-west--in summer he worked at the company's
saw-mill, down at Elk Lake--he would wink grotesquely with his one
sound, grey eye and snicker, "You'd like to know that story, eh? I
believe you, kid!" And he would get down from his throne on the mixing
table, throw his ladle clatteringly on one of the two huge ranges, and
walk lankly out, slamming the door between kitchen and dining room.

The two undercooks were pleasanter, if less interesting men, one of them
being a short, fat, round-faced fellow who looked as if he had Chinese
blood in him which he probably had. This man would take every second
Saturday and Sunday off, disappear in the bush, and return early on
Monday morning, in time to start work at four, but exhibiting the signs
of having weathered a "spree". It was known that he debauched himself
with drink and other vices. He was very silent about these absences;
though he made no secret of it that he always drew his half month's pay
before he left and that he never had a cent when he returned. Like the
head-cook he lived entirely in these woods. In summer he acted as cookie
in the smaller camp on the lake.

The three other flunkeys were as uninteresting specimens of pioneer farm
youth as Len himself. They jeered at Len's habits; and especially made
fun of him when, at Christmas, he drew his cheque and sent it by
registered mail to his stepfather without retaining a cent for himself.
Mr. Bright, the clerk, arranged the matter for him.

By that time he had read half a dozen plays of Shakespeare's, as many
stories, and two little volumes of poetry--great literature which filled
him with a vague wonder and a dumb longing for an incomprehensible
mastery in spiritual realms.

Apart from the kitchen crew, Joseph formed his one link with the world
of living realities.

Joseph had become a "chainer". Whenever the sawyers had finished their
task and a tree lay prostrate on the ground, two "limbers" went to work,
lopping off branches and twigs--the slash--till the trunk lay straight
and sheer. A second saw-gang did the measuring and cutting up of the
trunk into what were called "commercial lengths": twenty-four, twenty,
sixteen, twelve, or eight feet long: the less of the latter there were,
the better. But many things had to be considered in deciding the length:
among others that the planks ultimately to be cut from the logs must be
reasonably free of serious knot-holes which would detract from the value
of the lumber. This task completed, the chainers took charge, grouping
the logs in a convenient way and putting the chains about them so as to
have them ready for the "skid teamsters" who, working with single horses
in the aisles of the bush, dragged them into piles where they remained
for the "hook-men" who took them to the big sleighs, sixteen feet wide,
on which, by the half dozen at a time, they were loaded with the help of
a cable worked by four horses. Since the operations were continually
shifting from place to place, it was next to impossible to instal
automatic machinery. Horses, of which there were over a hundred in camp,
supplied the power throughout.

This whole organisation of the work remained hidden from Len till after
Christmas when a great change came over him; but it formed the
background for his life even now, through his association with Joseph.
It was not his work that troubled Joseph; it was his leisure time.

Every evening he waited impatiently for Len, standing outside the cook
house. When Len was late, Joseph swore and scolded. That was what he had
taken the boy along for, he said; he could not bear to be alone. His
temper was hot.

The two of them would go into the dark night, along one of the newly cut
roads, Len shivering with the cold, for he still wore his thin mackinaw
coat which was too small for him. As soon as they were beyond ear-shot
of the camp, Joseph would stop and perhaps sit down on a log; and he
would begin one of his ever-repeated Jeremiads.

"It's bad," he would say. "It's bad."

Len did not ask questions. He knew what was bad. He knew that all Joseph
wanted was somebody to listen to him.

"My wife isn't well," Joseph went on. "She's got six children on her
hands. I was ready to let her come. Then the war broke out. Curse
Russia! Curse Germany! Why did the war have to come just then? I don't
mind about myself. Let them put me in an internment camp! If I thought
they'd exchange me and send me over there, I'd go and do something so
they'd lock me up. I'd go to the city and yell in a crowded place, To
hell with the British! I'd make something that looks like a bomb; and
I'd throw it into their Parliament building. I want my wife! For a
week, or a day, or an hour! One hour with her, and I'd be willing to be
shot. Oh hell!" he yelled.

"I shouldn't worry," Len said timidly. "She's all right, as likely as

"She's pretty," Joseph said despondently. "She is the prettiest woman
I've ever seen. I was mad about her. There were dozens of others she
could have had; but she took me! And when she'd borne me child after
child, every year a child, and they all lived, then the devil came and
tempted me and said, Go away to America: they give you land there; and
you can be a master instead of a man. Then you can give her all she
would like to have. And I fell and went. I worked; and I sent her money;
and some I saved. And when I had enough to pay their fares, the war
broke out. At first I thought it would be over in a few weeks. What are
they fighting for anyway, the fools? It's lasted three years now. Three
years!" And he sat and groaned, "If I could only see her! Just once! For
a night or a day!"

"Wouldn't that make it all the harder afterwards?" Len asked.

"You don't know," Joseph said. "You're a child! You've never had a wife!
They'll all be after her, over there--the young fellows that go to the
wars. They don't care what they do. What's a sin more, they say, when
we're going to die anyway? Let's get a little pleasure first. She's
pretty, I tell you. She's twenty-eight now."

"Well," Len said, "while there's life, there is hope."

"It's easy for you to talk!" And Joseph trailed off into a series of
inarticulate moans which ended in what was almost a howl.

Once he threw himself down in the snow and cried and cried like a child,
disconsolate; and nothing would comfort him.

Then, after Christmas, simultaneously with the great change that came
over Len, the two drifted apart. Joseph seemed "to go to the devil"; and
Len lost his interest in books.

The latter was largely due to the fact that other men and their
destinies began to absorb him. Real life pulsated all about him; and
suddenly it took on a glowing, alluring appearance which it had never

There was, for instance, Bill Faryon, the filer, whose work was always
done at night. He had his stand in a corner of the blacksmith shop,
slantways across the clearing from the cook house. He was a slender,
thin-faced man with a dreamy and yet debauched-looking eye and very
peculiar hands. His fingers were long and slender, with square tips,
finely shaped; the nails at their ends, though ragged and dirty, showed
a neat form and a delicate colour like those of Mr. Crawford. Len found
that Bill spoke German and French as fluently as his native English. He
hardly ever spoke to anyone and took to Len only when he heard that this
boy had books in camp. It seemed strange that a man interested in books
should be the very one who, quite against his intention, inspired Len
with a sort of contempt for them.

Bill was, in daytime, forever reclining in his bunk; and there Len began
to call on him in the afternoon. As soon as Bill caught sight of him, he
shouldered into his shabby sheep-skin; and the two would stroll through
the bush or, when the weather was severe, sit in the blacksmith shop,
screened from view by the machinery with which it was fitted. Among the
books which Mr. Crawford had given to Len were several volumes of
annotated editions of Shakespeare's plays. One of them was Richard II.
Len soon found that Bill Faryon knew this play as well as he knew his
catechism. Bill explained to him what had puzzled him in the character
of the Lancastrian king; and though Len did not understand it all, he
gained a great deal. "He's the type of an artist," Bill said. "He should
have been a poet instead of a king. He never draws a practical
conclusion from any situation. He merely tries to see himself as a
dramatic hero in interesting attitudes."

Len, wondering where a filer could have come by such knowledge and
insight, asked him one day, "How do you come to do this work, Bill?
You've had an education, have you not?"--To Len an education was still
something definite and measurable; you either have it or not; there were
no gradations.--"I?" Bill asked. "I used to be professor of Germanic
languages in Queen's university"--"That's one of the highest schools in
the country, is it not?"--"Yea," Bill answered with intentional and
contemptuous vulgarity in his tone. "But morally it's no better than
this camp. They talk of civilisation! Civilisation! What's brought me
here? Drink. Drink and women. I don't care. I am cured. I am as well off
here as anywhere else."

Len learned that Bill was married and had ten children.

In bad weather, as has been mentioned, they sat in the blacksmith
shop. There, Archibald Lang worked with one helper at repairing chains,
sleigh-runners, crow-bars, axes, and similar tools. To Len it became a
pleasure to watch "Archie", a tall, thin, lank man, always black from
his work, with arms which seemed to be composed of muscles of steel.
His clean-shaven face looked grimly morose. He was a Mennonite of the
second generation, perhaps forty years old. To watch him, he was the
slowest man Len had ever seen; and yet, once he had attacked a piece
of work, he finished it, while he seemed to be merely brooding over
his task, in less time than it would have taken anyone else. Suppose
he needed a hammer or a file while welding and called for his helper
to hand it to him; then he would spend more time in pronouncing his
words--"Here--give--me--that--hammer!"--than it took him to do the rest
of the work; for every motion of his told. As a matter of fact, the
helper had probably guessed at the first word what was wanted and handed
it to him; but "Archie" went on with his sentence, muttering along,
loose-lipped, even after his still unuttered request had been fulfilled.
One day the helper who, in this respect, was Archie's antipode, said
banteringly, "Shut up, Archie. You've got what you want!" But Archie,
having finished his task, slowly straightened his back, looked
reproachfully at the young fellow, and, with exasperating slowness and
seriousness, repeated the sentence, almost roaring the last words out;
and then he stood there, with a quivering nether lip, staring every one
who was laughing out of countenance.

The last one of Len's closer friends--he seemed to have a talent for
picking those who were in some way peculiar--was Charlie Ford, the
"bull-cook" in bunkhouse number one.

Charlie was always laughing, always joking, always ready to oblige. He
furnished warm water for washing to those who owned wash-basins of their
own, for ten cents a week. Yet there was one subject on which he spoke
in allusions only; and that was money. "Thirty dollars a month for five
months," he would say. "That isn't half enough for me."--"But it's all
you get, isn't it?"--"Yes. Sure. That's what the company pays
me."--"Well," Len said, "you make a little on the side, melting snow and
selling hot water for washing and shaving."--"That's nothing," Charlie
replied airily. "Cigarette money. No. I've two or three fellows working
for me."--"How do you mean, working for you?"--"I mean what I say. They
are my slaves. They work and gamble. I draw their pay and their winnings
for them."--Len stared incredulously. "Go on. You are fooling."--"All
right, kid, all right. Have it your way. You're innocent."

Everybody called Len "kid"; even Joseph had taken the habit, in spite
of the fact that Len was rapidly growing.

The second bunkhouse had a rather unsavoury reputation: that of a
"rough-house," a den of gambling, vice, and iniquities. At first, that
reputation had kept Len at a distance; but slowly all he heard gathered
into an almost irresistible attraction--the attraction which hot, spicy,
unclean things have for the unformed mind.

Yet, even about this attraction there was something higher. From all
over the country these men had flowed together here; as if from many
points of the compass strings were gathered and tied in a knot. When he
followed one of these strings backward, out into the world, it led,
often with many ramifications, to other knots, each representing a
little world in which there were joys and sorrows, pleasures and
worries, in which there was life. The distance became something which no
longer seemed to be alien; it seemed no longer to be vaguely reposeful;
it, too, pulsated, seethed, and throbbed with passions, feelings,
thoughts. Len's old desire for book knowledge seemed strangely futile.
Some conception arose in him of the web of events, each single one
determining in some way many others; all being interrelated and woven
into an inextricable mass. What is commonly called education seemed
suddenly largely a matter of words.

All these men that surrounded him were uneducated; even the "boss"; and
he liked them.

A new idea arose in him: the idea of "the world's work." That work was
done by these men; and they had no education; the one who presumably
"had one," Bill Faryon, the filer who sharpened the saws at night, could
not use it; what he needed was clever fingers, not a trained mind. A
great doubt arose in Len. The general value placed on education seemed
to be an imposition, a fraud.

As if to confirm him in this conviction, a young man appeared in camp
shortly after Christmas. He did not mingle with the crews. He was the
son of one of the owners, sent into camp to gain a practical insight
into the workings of a lumber camp. He spent a week in each of the three
establishments which the company operated within their timber lease.

This young man who had had all the opportunities which money could buy
for him did not seem to be clever in speech or practical work. He tried
his hand at every tool that was used; but the men laughed at him. The
camp boss, though outwardly respectful enough, sometimes shot a quick
glance at one of the "hands"--whenever the young Croesus had uttered some
egregious imbecility. Yet, without question he was accepted and spoken
of as an educated man.

On the first day of his stay in camp, the boss brought him to the cook
house to show him the arrangements there. "That's the kitchen, is it?"
he asked, scarcely deigning to look at Len and the other cookies who
stood lined up. "Are my meals prepared there, too? . . . No. Don't show
me the beastly place. It would spoil my appetite."

An education seemed a mere bauble, to wave in order to dazzle the
common crowd which had not looked behind the scenes as he, Len, had
done. Over against it stood Life, with a capital letter.

Soon after, he went one evening to the second bunkhouse.

It was a Saturday night, and not a few of its inmates had gone to
"town," some of them walking, some riding the dray which was used to
cart in the supplies. The remainder of the men were gathered in three
groups. One, nearest the door, consisted of some ten or fifteen young
fellows who were sitting on their bunks, nearly in the dark; when Len
entered, they were listening to the teller of a story. A second group
was gathered about an improvised table of planks placed crosswise over
two bunks at the east end of the room; they were playing poker, for high
stakes; and they had usurped about half of the lanterns available in the
bunkhouse. The dim light cast their tense and excited countenances into
strong relief. They were alternately noisy and breathlessly quiet.
Whenever anyone spoke singly, so that his words could be understood, his
speech seemed to be interlarded with profanity. To Len's amazement
Joseph was one of this group. The third crowd clustered more irregularly
at the opposite end of the house. Dice claimed their attention.

Besides, two or three odd figures were dimly reclining alone in their
bunks, in the half-light left between the two groups of gamblers.

As Len walked from place to place, his feet knocked against a whiskey
bottle which went rolling over the floor. At last, unseen, he stopped
behind the first group, near the door.

The men assembled there had just burst into a roar of laughter.

"That reminds me," a voice said when the laughter subsided. "I was
threshing out west last fall, near Cheval Mort. I was hauling wheat to
town. It was ten miles to go; and whenever a fellow went to town over
dinner time, the boss gave him a meal ticket so he could get his eats at
a dinky little hotel. There was a pretty waitress there; Annie was her
name. I never felt quite sure about her. Sometimes I thought a fellow
stood all kinds of a chance. But, doggone it, I was never sure of the
minx. Well, one day I came in, and Annie was gone. By jingo, I felt
sorry. A mangy old hag came to wait on me. I ate my dinner, and when she
brings me the coffee, I asks, kind of casual-like, Annie gone?--Yes, the
old hag says. Got fired.--Well, I says, I'm sorry. Annie and I were
pretty good friends. I am doggone sorry.--At that the old hag looks at
me, kind of funny, with her eyes swimming, and says, I'm just as good as
she. And I've the same number. Four, on the top floor."

Again a roar of laughter went up from the group. Len did not understand
what they were laughing about.

"It goes to show!" said another voice. "It just goes to show! There
ain't none of them. . . ."

"I cussed myself for a damn fool," the first voice said. "I'd hesitated
and waited and missed my chance."

"But say," a third voice struck in, "did you take the hint? With the old
one, I mean?"

"Sure," the first voice replied. "Surest thing you know. Put a towel
over her face. The rest of her wasn't bad."

And a third roar of laughter drowned the voice.

Len felt hot and red; he turned away. "There ain't none of them," the
fellow had said; that sentence he understood.

Unaccountably, he suddenly saw the serious and worried face of Mr.
Crawford in his cottage on the burnt-over ridge.

He went on at random. Shortly he found himself standing at the
improvised table at which the game of poker was going on. Right opposite
him sat Joseph, but his eye was lowered, following something that was
proceeding on the boards. The atmosphere was charged and tense. A word
or two, snapped out, seemed to crackle with sparks of excitement, Joseph
thumped the boards in front of him and roared out a word, breathless.

"I call you, you piker!" somebody said sharply.

Cards were flung down. Joseph's eye almost burst from its socket. He
half rose from his seat and broke into a string of curses, in German.
That moment his eye met Len's as it flickered erratically through the
half-dark room. A change came over him; all his muscles relaxed. Then he
rose altogether and left the table where some jeered at him while others
merely frowned. He joined Len, took his arm, and led him to the door.

They were no sooner outside than Joseph, in a voice of self-accusation
and disgust, said, "I am a beast!"

They left the clearing of the camp and struck out into one of the
familiar bush trails. It was pitch-dark; not a star flickered in the
black vault overhead. A wind, strangely warm for the season, moaned and
wailed through the aisles of the trees.

Joseph groaned. "Why don't you look after me?" he snarled at Len.
"That's what I took you along for. I've gambled away two months' wages
tonight. I could have bought another cow with the money. You're no good.
It isn't enough that a man gets separated from wife and children, he
must go to the devil besides. Ack!" he moaned. "If only I knew! If I'd
only get a letter! Perhaps she thinks I am dead by this time. Perhaps
she thinks it's best to take another man who can look after her!"

Thus he launched into another one of his interminable series of
complaints and regrets; and Len listened with a new knowledge sprung
from a new and immense curiosity about life.

Some time in February the whole crew became restless. They had been in
the bush now for over three months, as effectually separated from those
with whom they were affiliated in the outside world as if they had been
behind the iron bars of a prison. Even among the older and steadier men
this restlessness manifested itself in the hurry with which, on mail
days, they rushed to the office after working hours. The younger men
were inordinately impatient for Saturday to come around; the
inclination to leave camp on Saturday night and to go to town became

Len had never felt any desire to go there; all he needed he could buy at
the company's store in camp where prices were lower than in town. But in
town there were strangers to be met; the stores with their hundreds of
cases full of "soft" drinks seemed to exercise an irresistible
attraction. Numbers of the men managed to get drunk there and even to
smuggle whiskey back into the camp.

The only two who seemed to be quite unaffected by this restlessness were
the camp boss and the head-cook. Even Archie and Bill Faryon succumbed
to the impatience for their mail.

One Saturday night, right after quitting time, Joseph rushed into the
kitchen, calling Len. "Come on," he said, grinning and shrugging with
devilment. "I'm going to town. Come along. No time to wait for supper.
We'll get in on the dray. Make quick. Ask the cook."

Somehow Len felt stampeded by Joseph's urgency. Had he stopped to think
for a moment, he would have declined to go; and his refusal might have
sobered Joseph. But before he was really aware of what he was doing, he
was stammering out his demand for leave to the head-cook who stood by
the range, his big tin ladle in one hand and poking with a long fork in
a panful of meat with the other.

The tall, evil-looking man did not at once answer. But suddenly he
turned about, touched Len's head playfully with the greasy bowl of his
ladle, and said, "Sure. Run along, kid. If it gives you pleasure."

The fact was, Len had never before asked for any such privileges; all
others had; and the work in the kitchen was always light on Saturday

In less than a minute Len was running across to the stable, shouldering
into his mackinaw coat. Joseph was already calling to him from the dray
to which two young fellows were hitching a team of horses.

The camp boss passed and stopped. Following some impulse of which he
felt half ashamed, Len eclipsed himself in the dark behind Joseph's

"Ken," said the camp boss, dimly seen in the light of the stars.

"Yes, sir."

"You're responsible for the team. No galloping, you understand?"

"I'll be responsible," Kenneth answered. "Never fear, boss."

The camp boss went on.

Five minutes later the vehicle threaded the chasm of the bush road.
Thirty or forty men had crowded on to the dray. Len and Joseph were
fortunate in having found sitting room. Most of the men stood up; and
whenever the driver saw his chance, he made his team jump, so that half
a dozen or more of them tumbled off. Then he trotted his horses swiftly
along, leaving those who had dropped off behind where they swore at him
or begged him to wait. Those who had managed to hold on laughed; shouts
and imprecations rang out into the still night like so many
profanations. There was a faint light by this time from the rising moon.

In about two hours they came upon the little town which Len had not seen
since he had first alighted from the train. It presented, apart from the
fact that it was night this time, a very different picture; for many men
had arrived before them from the other two camps.

At two or three points of the long triangle which had the station for
its base and the bush, with the two stores embedded in it, for its
sides, while at its apex stood the unpainted boarding house built of
raw, sappy lumber, fires were burning about which groups of men stood or
squatted, talking or listening.

To the left lay the large store, brilliantly lighted by gasoline lamps;
to the right, the smaller store, also lighted, though with an inferior
brilliancy, coal-oil being used there. Even from every window of the
boarding house lights shone forth into the moon-lit, snow-floored woods.

When they had alighted, Joseph and Len stood for a moment forlornly
alone. In sudden glee Joseph nudged Len and said, "Come on."

They went to the larger store and entered.

The inside of the vast, low room was crowded with men, nearly all of
them young, who chattered, laughed, and pushed and crowded each other.
Two boys and a girl of twelve or fourteen were slipping through the
throng, flushed, and trying to keep up with the orders for "soft"
drinks. A counter ran around three sides of the room; behind it, cases
filled with bottles were piled high. A broad-shouldered, short, bearded
man and, opposite, his wife, a towering woman, were stolidly handing out
the bottles by the half dozen. The atmosphere reeked with sweaty
exhalations, smoke, and heat.

Joseph stopped one of the boys and purchased two bottles from him; they
contained a bright-green, poisonous-looking liquid. He took two straws
from a vase-like vessel on the counter and handed one of them to Len;
when he removed the caps with the help of a key, the liquid burst into
violent foam and spilled copiously on the floor.

Joseph's expression was that of a smiling embarrassment, ready to break
into giggles; he enjoyed merely being in a crowd.

Len tasted the contents of his bottle, pursing his mouth in disgust. For
a moment he looked away; and when he turned back, Joseph had disappeared
from his side. Len retreated to the door and poured the remainder of the
liquid into the snow.

When he re-entered, he placed the empty bottle on the counter and
squeezed through to the back of the room where he found Joseph in a
group of men who were making fun of him. Feeling half responsible for
the man, he stepped up and pulled him by his sleeve. But Joseph scowled
and shook him off. The two by Joseph's sides took him by one arm each
and triumphantly marched him to the door, swearing that they would make
him "perform."

Len did not know what to do with himself. He went out into the night and
lingered, feeling miserable. He went to the shed behind the store where
the horses were tied. There he strolled from beast to beast and patted
them on rumps, necks, and noses. While he did so, three young fellows
entered, peered about, and swore. "Drat him!" one of them said. "He
ain't here yet. What ails him? Run into some mounties?" They turned

Len also issued forth again, into the triangle in front of the stores.
There he approached one of the fires, with its group of listening
loafers. He spent an hour or so at the edge of the crowd, listening with
the rest. By that time he was in a queer state of mind. His eyes had
been opened with regard to vast realms of knowledge which had so far
been closed to him. It was not book-knowledge; it was knowledge of the
nether realms of life. Yet this new knowledge did not make him glad; it
made him feel guilty. At a given stage of the proceedings whiskey had
suddenly appeared in the various groups; and most of the men had imbibed
pretty freely.

In a sort of disconsolate exhilaration he turned back with a sudden
thought of Joseph. Over the whole triangle he went from fire to fire,
looking for the man. Thus he came to its apex where, behind a screen of
bare poplar trees, the boarding house stood to the left. Sharp shadows
patterned the snow in black and white.

Startlingly Charlie Ford, the bull-cook, came running around a corner
and stopped, espying Len. "Hello, kid," he said pleasantly. "Looking for
your pardner?"


"He's in there, stewed," Charlie said, pointing to the boarding house.
"Some fellows having their fun with him. Walk right in. It's a public

Hesitatingly Len went to the door and opened it. It led into a large
hall fitted as a dining room. Laughter greeted him. Somebody jumped up,
took his arm, and marched him forward into a narrow corridor behind the
hall. From an open door at its end shrieks and shouts rang forth. The
man who had taken his arm, pushed him forward.

Within the room, the most striking sight was a woman dressed in a loose,
glossy, pink wrap which left her arms and her bosom bare. She was
struggling against a man who, seated in a chair, held her down on his
knees. Two or three young fellows and as many girls--the latter in
similar attire as the big woman--were looking on and laughing.

At that moment the man in the chair began to tickle the woman in order
to break her resistance. She bent forward with a scream; and Len
suddenly saw the man's face, flushed with unholy excitement, its eyes
glazed with drink. It was Joseph's.

Len veered and slipped out. As soon as he was in the open, he turned
north and started afoot on his sixteen-mile tramp back to camp.

Chapter II


Meanwhile Len had written and received a number of letters.

He had written to his mother, telling her not to worry about him; and
she had answered giving him the news of the settlement: once or twice a
week his stepfather and Charlie went to town, with two teams, taking
between them three cords of wood which brought three dollars a cord; the
money thus earned was being laid by for the purchase of seed-grain;
Willy Hausman and his father had gone south, to the margin of the Big
Marsh where they, too, worked in the bush, for a Swede by name of Niels
Lindstedt; Mr. Jackson was at Minor where he had found inside work at
his old trade as a plasterer; Helen Dick's father had gone to the city
and was working in a meat-packing plant. Thus the little settlement at
Macdonald School was trying to weather the disastrous year which had
made everybody poor.

To Mr. Crawford, Len had despatched four heavy letters, holding each,
besides a brief report about his personal well-being, many sheets of
closely-written compositions; most of them, up to Christmas, being
summaries of what he had read; though the longest of them all, the last
one, had dealt with the camp and what he had seen and learned there.

Mr. Crawford had answered all but this last one by brief notes. The
account of the camp, however, sent some time early in February, brought
a longer and more detailed comment.

"Your composition," the teacher wrote, "swarms with mistakes in
spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure. These are defects which
you could readily remedy if you had another year or so of schooling.
Don't let such trifles discourage you. I want to say emphatically that
your description of the camp and its inmates is such as to convey a
picture more vivid than it is given to many a professional writer to
draw. Behind the letter-page there arises a view into that rectangular
clearing with its radiating roads, its long, low log buildings, and its
seething population--a view which, though I hesitate saying it, compels
me to say that your gifts are the very exceptional ones of him who is
born with the seeing eye."

Len read and reread this letter; and it gave him a feeling of a strange
exhilaration; as if he must step before some altar and offer vows to the
All-Highest. But this feeling wore off and was at last lost in an almost
ironical and yet half compassionate attitude towards the grey-beard in
the cottage at home.

In him, a development was being accomplished which led him away from
studies and academic ambitions. This development was fostered by his
correspondence with Lydia. Her letters also he read and reread many
times till he knew them almost by heart. When he was engaged in his
homely work, setting the tables or peeling potatoes or scraping roots,
incomplete phrases would float to the surface of his mind--phrases which
he felt such an overpowering desire to complete that at last he went out
under some pretext to take the letter in which they occurred from his
pocket and to glance it over. By and by, as the winter rolled on, he
came to distinguish three clearly demarcated phases in the girl's

He had no names for them; or he might have called the first the romantic
stage. "Just think," Lydia wrote. "Here I am sitting down to write to my
lover from whom I am separated because he has gone to foreign parts. A
few weeks ago we met in the bush. Do you remember the tree trunk, Len,
on which we used to sit? We were children, Len. Children. Is not that
fallen tree trunk something wonderful for you now? It is for me. I
wonder whether you feel as much older as I do than when I saw you last.
We were close together, sitting on that trunk; and we had nothing to say
to each other. We blushed when we touched. Now I could almost wish we
were separated by an ocean. Don't you think the longing of one lover for
another is the sweetest thing in all the world? Much sweeter than their
actual meeting? I do. If all went smoothly, I should not care for love.
What I like best is to dream of you."

The letter from which this was an extract was written in answer to one
of Len's which, to his thoughtful retrospection, seemed utterly
prosaic, stiff, and juvenile. He had asked her a number of
matter-of-fact questions. Not one of these was answered. Nor was a
question asked with regard to the material side of his life.

At first Len felt disappointed. Then the flights of her fancy
intoxicated him. He felt shallow as compared with her. He tried to
visualise her as she had been sitting in that big, prosperous house of
her employer when she wrote to him. He saw her in an attic room, writing
at a little table pushed close to the window so as to catch the light of
a waning day. Her eyes were wide with dreams. Yes, he was shallow. It
was she who gave colour to the visions of the past. A new world seemed
to open: the world of a fanciful play on sentiment and sensation. Little
was needed to open that world to him: he was a reader. His next letter
to her swarmed with quotations. "The course of true love never did run
smooth." At first it sounded false to him; it did not closely coincide
with his feeling; it was like superimposing intricate embroidery on a
plain cloth. But the very depth and truth of his feeling made him wish
above all to please her. He span himself into an artificial world; it
gave him delights he had not known. That had been before he had turned
away from his books.

The curious thing was that at the very moment when he had fully imbued
himself with this mood Lydia had already outgrown it.

This time he had asked no questions; but her letter consisted of answers
to such as he might have asked. Had Len been critically trained, he
might have called this her worldly phase. "You know, Len," she wrote,
"the Smiths are wealthy. Mrs. Smith has been an invalid for a number of
years. Since the birth of her last baby, a month ago--it died within a
week--she has been quite unable to walk; she is now wheeled about in a
chair. The doctor says it is inflammatory rheumatism. In addition to
myself, there is now a nurse in the house: an ugly old woman. She does
nothing except look after Mrs. Smith. Money means nothing here. Mr.
Smith is the man to do everything in the most handsome way. He goes to
town a good deal, often staying away for a whole day or longer; and Mrs.
Smith is much alone. On Sundays, many people call. The women, or the
ladies, I believe I should say, sit with Mrs. Smith; the men stand about
in the yard or in the stables, smoking and talking; and the young people
come to the kitchen to visit. There are three or four young men who, I
believe, are in love with me. They ask me to come for a walk or a ride
with them. You understand, of course, that I do not go. I tell them that
I am no longer heart-free and that my love is engaged elsewhere. They
try to joke and to get the name of the lucky one. I tell them that my
knight is far away and will be one of the great on earth. They laugh at
that; but I look scornfully down on them till they feel small though
they would never acknowledge it."

This letter and others like it filled Len with a vague uneasiness. The
village where she lived had always seemed to him to be a superior sort
of place. It had the glamour which, to the dweller in the bush,
surrounds all denser congregations of men. Age brings to any settlement
on the plains an appearance of prosperity which may be very deluding.
Prosperity imparts to a district an air of civilisation and culture
which, be it ever so superficial, awes those whose lot remains poverty.
The few children from Odensee whom he had known as a boy had been ready
at repartee: they had used stereotyped forms of speech, slang phrases
which, though they indicate the very reverse, namely a lack of real
originality and thought, have for him who hears them for the first time
the great impressiveness of genuine wit, testifying to an agility of the
mind which seems marvellous. It was very disquieting to think that Lydia
was surrounded by such a worldly, accomplished atmosphere. Life in the
village seemed to be something less serious, something more frivolous
than life in the bush. Len was singularly and not altogether joyfully
affected by such expressions as "I am no longer heart-free"--"my love is
engaged." They seemed to be a little too fluent to agree with the tense
seriousness of his own sentiments. They sounded as if she were
displaying to the world what she should have hidden in her heart.
Nevertheless, to appease the anguish of his soul, he adopted her

But already, had he seen things more clearly, that would have been vain.
For in February the third phase of her growth unfolded itself. Had he
known the world, he might have called it the materialistic phase. "Len,"
she wrote, "I am glad I had this chance to go to Odensee. I begin to
consider my stay here as no more than a stepping-stone to better
things. If you achieve your ambition, I want to be worthy of you. I lose
no opportunity of preparing myself for a wider life. Mrs. Smith, I am
glad to say, is very helpful. She has lived in the city; and she has
taken a liking to me. I can hardly understand any longer how I ever
stayed at home so long. Father fetched me last Sunday; he was at home
himself for three days. I must say the house in the bush looks
unbearably cramped and poverty-stricken. I could hardly endure it after
what I had been used to here. Both father and mother are terribly
old-fashioned, though I hope to educate mother to saner views. They
objected to my using a little powder on my face. Father was worse than
mother. He even made sarcastic remarks about the dress I wore. I had
made it myself, from an old dress of Mrs. Smith's. I think it very
pretty, of black sateen, with trimmings of cream-coloured Japanese silk.
Imagine that mother asked me for money! Well, I made it clear that I
mean to have my earnings for myself. I did not tell her that, since
Christmas, my pay has been doubled; which is only right, of course, for
I do all the work now. I did not tell mother, either, that I have bought
myself a complete new dress of navy-blue taffeta for which I paid
fifteen dollars. I ordered it from the R. S. Paterson company in the
city, through their catalog.

"Mr. Smith is very very nice to me. On my birthday, three weeks ago, he
gave me ten dollars extra, besides a gold locket. I have not mentioned a
word of that at home. I believe there would have been a row about it.
They will have to get used to my new ways first. As it was, father
wanted me to stay at home; but mother stepped in and talked him out of
that. I told her I should run away. I hate the bush and the hard life
there. Mr. Smith told me one day that thirty years ago, when he was a
young fellow, his farm had also been all bush. Even now we are only a
few miles from its edge. But, of course, it has long since been all
cleared. There are only a few trees about the yard; and they are planted
ones. Don't you think planted trees ever so much nicer? Mr. Smith says I
am quite right in hating the bush. A pretty girl like myself, he says,
should not think of living there. I believe it was just the least bit
naughty of him to say that. He likes to pay compliments. But when I
talked of the city he laughed. I wonder what he meant; he would not tell
me. I believe he wants to keep me here. But he is very jolly. He always
pumps the water and carries it into the house; and the two twins, Alvin
and Ivan, must fill the wood-box for me. I have more work now in other
ways. I don't think Mr. Smith is much younger than father; but he is not
half so old-fashioned. He likes to joke and to be pleasant. If he were
not married and had no children, he would be just like the other young
fellows who say they are in love with me. He knows, of course, of our

This letter and others like it troubled Len much more than he cared to
acknowledge. So far, Lydia had been something removed from all earthly
experience. His realisation of her had been something spiritual, almost
mystical: like the vision of the unicorn in the enchanted leafless
forest. Whenever he visualised her, he saw the edge of a thin dress
under a white throat rising and falling with the rhythm of her breath;
or golden glimmers in flaxen hair over the nape of a translucent neck,
with the striped shadows of white aspen boles flitting over it in the
bush. Things sweet and incomprehensible surged through him then. She had
been an ideal, apart from cares and desires.

It was characteristic that his first realisation of a common humanity
between them should have arisen out of her letters to him. He was on the
threshold of a discovery which eluded him. That discovery was of the
fact that she was not a mere projection of the vague stirrings in
himself; that she led a life of her own over which he had no control; or
rather, that he had seen in her so far only that projection of his vague
stirrings to which no reality could correspond.

A new picture intruded; the concrete picture of an individuality
discovering herself through no contact with him. This new picture
disturbed him in two ways: he regretted the loss of his dream of her;
and he wished to know more and more about her as she really was. He felt
that he did not know her at all. At the same time he was conscious that
in this new curiosity about her there was something less exalted than
there had been in his old dream of her. As she revealed herself in her
letters, and as, simultaneously, his knowledge of the world widened
out, a new, carnal, and jealous element stole into his thought of her,
intensely disquieting.

A great impatience took hold of him. When, of an afternoon, during those
hours when he had formerly studied and read, he was alone in the dining
room of the cook house, he walked up and down, flooded by wellings-up
within him of vague fears and incomprehensible forebodings. He wanted to
go home and be near the girl; for she was his.

His new knowledge, gained in the camp, made him see dangers to his
future. He reached the point where, in walking up and down, he raised
clenched fists to ceiling or sky; and his thin face was set with painful
efforts at subduing his agitation. He tried to make things clear to
himself; and he arrived merely at a feeling of impotent, helpless
exasperation: a resentment against being imprisoned by circumstance. The
very sight of the camp became unbearable to him: it seemed to mean an
identification of man with Joseph and with all the iniquities which he
half divined in the constitution of things male. He could have started
out walking to get to the girl.

His impatience was bound up with his realisation in Lydia of a separate
entity, a being different from the one he had thought her to be. What he
had thought to be love, ardent adoration, the presentiment of heavenly
mysteries to be revealed at some future time, a deification of things
within himself, gave way to passion. That she was different from what he
had thought her seemed to make her all the more desirable, making it
imperative that the mysteries between them should be revealed at a
nearer date, soon, now!

Powder? One day he took a little flour into the wash-room and rubbed it
on his face, in front of the distorting mirror there. He discovered that
hair had begun to sprout on his chin and lips!

To see her, to feel her touch!

He became wistful and tried to visualise her as she was, in her silks,
with powder on her face. If this was love, it was a scourge!

Money! She spent on herself what she earned. He had bought a single pair
of shoes at the company store; and the price was charged against his
wages. Apart from that, he had not spent a cent! How different from him
Lydia must be! But even that seemed a charm now that her transformation
in his thought of her became complete.

One day he asked the camp boss when the camp would break up.

"Getting homesick?" the older man asked. "Hard to tell. It depends on
the weather. About the twenty-fifth." It was the second of March.

From that moment on Len counted the days, glad with every morning's
five-o'clock bell that the tale of those which remained was diminished
by another unit.

Chapter III


When the four o'clock night train, south bound, pulled into McDougall,
Kolm was there with his sleigh to take Len home. The greeting, on the
pitch-dark platform, was of the briefest. Kolm and Len shook hands and
said, "Hello!" That was all. Joseph had also alighted; but he neither
smiled nor spoke. He merely nodded--a greeting lost in the gloom of
night. A few minutes later they pulled away from the station, Joseph and
Len sitting side by side in the box.

The going was heavy; for most of the snow had melted, and the resulting
mud was only slightly frozen over, so that the runners cut deep ruts
into the surface of the road.

Len felt strange. Between him and his stepfather there was something
new; he had felt it in the handshake with which he had been greeted. His
stepfather acknowledged him as a man.

"Well," Kolm said to Joseph, "Len stuck it out."

"Yah," Joseph replied with perfect indifference.

There was silence again; the sleigh was grinding through marly mud or
gliding smoothly over remnants of snow-drifts.

"Well," Kolm said at last, "that should help. You've got no debts. You
must have a hundred and fifty dollars clear."

"I should," Joseph said dully.

"Len sent a hundred and forty-three dollars home."

"He got his."

"Didn't you?"


"You don't mean to say that they didn't pay you?"

"They paid me all right."

"Well . . ."

"He gambles," Len said briefly.

Kolm, without speaking, whistled through his teeth.

Len thought of Charlie Ford. "I've got two or three fellows working for
me. I draw their pay."

They drove for an hour, Kolm wrestling with what he had heard. "Do you
mean to say you've no money left from the winter's work?"

"Not a cent," Joseph said without looking up into the grey dawn from
where he sat, his knees drawn up, his back humped against the side of
the sleigh-box.

Kolm laughed. "Well," he said, "I'll be jiggered!"

They made two turns. Len was half asleep. Daylight came.

"I see Schmidt's up," Kolm said. He disdained pronouncing the name in
the English fashion. "I think I want to see him for a moment."

Len sat up and looked at his stepfather who winked at him.

Just beyond the corner of the school they entered a yard.

"Hello," Kolm said; Smith came from the stable to meet them.

"Hello!" Smith was in overalls and did not look so dapper now as when he
went visiting or to town.

"Got any seed-wheat left?"

"A little. But I want cash. Three dollars a bushel."

"How much have you got?"

"Forty or fifty bushels."

"All right," Kolm said, nudging Len with his foot. "I'll take forty
bushels. Will you hold them for me?"


Len had half raised himself, looking towards the house. There, in the
backdoor, a young lady had appeared, dressed in light-coloured gingham,
with a white dusting-cap on her head. It took him several seconds before
he recognised her.

Lydia, too, stared at him. Her lips parted and broke into a peculiar
smile the exact shade of which it would have been hard to define.

Len's heart went pounding. He rose to his feet and vaulted over the side
of the sleigh-box. A moment later he stood in front of the girl who was
still smiling her rigid smile. She merely touched his hand.

"Come in," she whispered as she recovered herself and turned back into
the kitchen.

Len followed.

But she had stopped just inside the door.

Trembling all over, he reached for her with both his hands. But she
caught his wrists and held him back. "Not here!" she said.


"Two weeks from Sunday! Then I'll be home for the day. Not here!"

Unaccountably sobered, Len stood before her. "Are you . . ." he
stammered. "Are you going to stay at home?"

"No," she replied with recovered composure. "I'll stay here for the
summer. I'll be home for the day only. You come to the house."

"All right." Len was still trembling.

"You have grown," Lydia smiled with a touch of archness.

"So have you."

"I!" She shrugged her shoulders. "I've grown fat, that is all. I used to
be taller than you; you are half a head taller than I am now."

"Well . . ."

"Till two weeks from Sunday."



Again they touched hands. Disappointed, Len turned to the door. But, in
a sudden impulse, retaining him, she lifted her lips to his. His knees
almost giving way, he bent and kissed her; and with a disconcertingly
feline grace she rubbed her cheek against his.

A moment later Len rejoined the group at the sleigh.

"Won't you come in and have breakfast?" Smith was saying.

"No, thanks," Kolm replied.

But Joseph rose. "I'll stay if I may."


"I've got to find work," Joseph said gloomily to Kolm by way of
explanation as he climbed to the ground.

Kolm nodded, clicked his tongue, and turned his horses.

As they were driving along again, Kolm, too, sat down, looking at Len
out of his cavernous eyes.

Being immersed in thought, Len did not notice it. He had been away for
five months; and in the interval the world had changed. He found it hard
to fit himself back into his old surroundings. Lydia was like a stranger
to him. Yet he had kissed her! He himself had changed, of course. But he
hardly knew how much. It was most disturbing to find that his memory
picture of those whom he had left behind did no longer tally with the
realities. The world was in a flux. The very foundations of life seemed
to rock.

Out of this new, strange world, came Kolm's voice. "Potatoes are two and
a quarter in the city."

It took Len several minutes before he saw the relevancy of the remark.
When he did, he said quaintly, "I still have that dollar."

They went on and on and reached the Macdonald grade. Keeping in the
edge of the bush, for the grade was bare of snow, they turned east.

As they passed the school and, north of it, Jackson's farm, Kolm nodded
across the road and said, "Dick's home. I guess times are hard for city
folk, too." Dick was Mr. Jackson's oldest son, a travelling salesman of
whom a strange story was told.

When Mr. Jackson had been left a widower, twenty years ago, he had
advertised in an English paper for a housekeeper fond of children,
hinting at ultimate intentions of marriage. He had been living in the
Minor district at the time, six miles from town. The younger boys had
been mere children. He picked a girl from the two or three who had
applied and sent the money for her passage out. She had come; and when
she was expected to arrive at Minor, he had sent Dick with the buggy to
fetch her. For a day or so Dick had not returned; and when he did come
home, he had introduced the lady by his side as his wife. Finding her
young and good to look at, he had persuaded her that his father was much
too old for her; and she had been willing to marry the son of the man
who had paid for her passage. But retribution had followed quickly. She,
not knowing the country, had, during the winter, gone driving by
herself, dressed in clothes much too light. She had encountered a
blizzard and lost the road. When she was found, both her feet had had to
be amputated; and Dick who moved into the city had since had a crippled
wife at his house. She walked on wooden stumps; and they had no

Len did not know Dick; but he had heard something of his reputation
which was not of the best. Yet, what did it matter to him?

When they passed Hausman's place, Kolm spoke for the third time. "I
don't think Fred's going to make it after all."

"He was working out, was he not?"

"Yah. But he could not stand it. He's got a weak back. He's proved up
and mortgaged his place. I don't think there was always bread in the
house last winter."

Len felt immensely depressed.

Another two miles; and, with the sun warming the air, they swung up on
the grade, just as a boy who looked strangely tall and strong issued
from the house beyond. Len raised himself to his knees.

"That isn't Charlie?"

"You bet," Kolm replied.

Len leaned over the side of the box as the boy came running.

"By golly!" Charlie exclaimed with a swagger. "If it isn't Len!"

Len had tears in his eyes. But he controlled his voice. "Going to
school?" he asked.

"Sure," Charlie replied. "Where else? Though I don't have to go."

"Well," Len went on, his manner almost paternal, "don't talk nonsense.
Run along, you scamp!"

"See you later!" Charlie said airily and strode off.

Then the vehicle stopped in the yard. The backdoor of the house opened,
and a fat, flabby woman, grey of skin, and wrinkled before her time,
stood in its frame, wiping her eyes with the corner of an apron.

Len alighted and ran up to her; she was barefooted and did not come
through the mud to meet him; but when he reached her, she fell on his
neck and sobbed. Len felt embarrassed; and as soon as she released him,
he turned away and helped his stepfather to unhitch.

When they re-entered the house, Len seemed to miss something; and
suddenly he asked, "Where is the baby?"

His mother stood bent over the stove, arrested in her movement.

Kolm cleared his throat; but it was half a minute before he said, "The
poor little beggar died at Christmas. We thought it would be useless to
worry you."

A little over two weeks went by. Len fitted himself back into this
world. Kolm had given him an account of how his money had been spent,
handing him twenty-five dollars to keep; he was accepted on a new

On the third Sunday after his return, Len went in the afternoon to call
at the Hausman homestead.

The fact that he made this a formal call was significant; in times past
he would have dropped in on a week-day and in his working clothes. This
time, looking forward to the occasion, he had gone to town on Saturday,
the first time he had ever done so on his own account, taking a cream
can to the station and then going to a store in order to spend part of
the money which his stepfather had returned to him out of his earnings.
He had never yet had a Sunday suit. On Sundays, both he and Charlie had
worn a newer suit of working clothes; but now he had bought himself that
Sunday suit.

Walking along the grade, he presented an appearance unusual for him. To
town or city people he would have looked grotesque. His suit, of a
heather-grey mixture of cotton and wool, ill-fitting and stiff with
newness, was too ostensibly worn as a symbol of budding prosperity; his
striped shirt and the stiff celluloid collar about his neck, with a
plaid-pattern sateen tie, were too unmistakably causing him acute
discomfort; and his high-toed shoes, at two and a half dollars wartime
price, were too palpably ephemeral and unserviceable on a rock-strewn
grade of the wilderness. He was self-conscious and appeared to advantage
to no eye except his mother's, and enviable only to Charlie.

Mr. Hausman, a tall, sallow-skinned, pockmarked man of forty, had come
home a few weeks ago: the work in the bush had proved too heavy for him.

The children, Ernest and Aleck, little Lena and Dolly, the baby, were
playing about in yard and stable.

So, when Len entered the two-roomed house, he found none but man and
wife and their daughter Lydia assembled in the kitchen. Mrs. Hausman was
a very short, very fat woman who, though her family had not increased
for two or three years, was always with child; she was friendly and
pleasant and bustled about in ostentatious hospitality.

Both parents considered Len's call as an honour; and both saw instantly
the significance of his appearance. Had he dropped in in a casual way,
in his working clothes, they would have taken his call for no more than
a neighbourly friendliness; they would have talked of the weather and
the winter that had gone by, in the manner peculiar to farmers all over
the world. As it was, his call admitted of one interpretation only: he
was formally asking to be admitted as the accepted suitor for the hand
of their oldest daughter.

Len's self-consciousness arose from the fact that he was fully aware of
this. His stepfather had enlightened him as to his prospective ownership
of half the parental farm. When his real father had died, the homestead,
just ready to be "proved up"--for in the bush the possession of a given
number of cattle was accepted as equivalent to so much breaking--had
fallen to his mother as her natural inheritance; had it been "patented"
at the time of her second marriage, it would have remained her
legitimate marriage portion. But, since it was still registered as crown
land at the time, it was reserved for the two children from her first
marriage, with all the improvements made on the place. Anything added to
these improvements, in breaking or building, became at once part and
parcel of the inheritance of the boys. Kolm, in other words, was working
for Charlie and Len. The point was that he had no choice in the matter.
For, had he left the place to work his own claim, adjoining the farm,
the implement companies would at once have seized the equipment which
he needed to carry on his work.

Len, then, was heir to a property unencumbered by debt. He was a more
desirable son-in-law than any other young man of the district; and the
Hausmans as well as other people, everybody, in fact, except Len and
Charlie themselves, had always known this.

Lydia, on the other hand, was portionless. Though she might in time lay
by some small sum by saving her wages as a domestic servant, she would
always, economically, remain Len's inferior. Were she married to him,
however, her help on the farm would enable her husband to create capital
by clearing land while she made the living for him and herself and a
possible family; cows and chickens are the staple stand-by of the
pioneer during the first ten years on new land.

Thus, when Len entered, both parents rose and shook him solemnly by the
hand. Lydia who was sitting at the table looked up and smiled. It was
clear that she, too, knew what Len's appearance signified.

Len nodded to her and reddened. He had been half aware of the meaning
that would attach to his call when he had bought the clothes in which he
made it. The trouble was that, at a glance, he divined that, in Lydia's
eyes, he played a slightly ridiculous part. The village boys at Odensee,
could outdo him in this business of "dressing-up."

He had also, at a glance, seen something of the girl's own appearance.
She was clad in a navy-blue silk gown--it was that fifteen dollar
purchase of hers of which she had written to him; and, being cut low at
the neck, it left the upper part of her white bosom bare. A little gold
locket dangled there, suspended by a chain of incredible thinness. Her
very light-coloured hair was done up loosely, with waves and curls in
it. The skin of her face was of velvety smoothness; her lips, like a
scarlet flower on snow-white silk. Her eyes had the blue of the violet
of the woods, liquid, transparent, with backgrounds of deeper blue
behind. But what struck him more than anything else, so much so that,
after a first, fleeting glance, his eye returned to them for a second
glimpse, was her arms: long, slender arms, almost thin, and encased,
with a most alluring effect, in tight sleeves of shiny dark silk from
which her hands issued like pink petals; and these arms rested with
their pointed elbows on the oil-cloth of the table, her hands being
loosely joined, with her chin leaning on the knuckle of an index finger
bent upward. Altogether she presented a picture which took his breath
away; for some time he dared not look at her again.

Lydia had specially dressed for Len. Not that she did not dress in the
same way for others in the village. But she would not have dared to
appear thus under the parental roof. She had brought her things in a
borrowed suitcase and shown them to her mother, telling her that she
expected Len and hinting at further developments. She could not have
used powder and rouge had she not first won over her mother into
compliance. Her mother had spoken to her father, alone.

By dint of avoiding to turn his eyes in her direction, Len recovered his
composure to the point where he could respond to the conversation which
developed as he took the chair offered to him.

The room contained a small cast-iron cook-stove, a table, a bench, four
chairs, a few shelves for the dishes, and a box on which stood a water
pail. The rough log walls were white-washed; the raw plank floor,
painstakingly scrubbed--a fact which was all the more conspicuous for
the few muddy foot-prints on it. The door to the bed-room which was
crowded with four bedsteads stood open.

The conversation limped along, concerned, first with the weather and the
prospects for seeding, then with Len's stay in the lumber camp. It he
described at length, a task in which he excelled and which relieved him
of his self-consciousness.

Then, suddenly, he blushed, for he saw Mrs. Hausman nudge her husband,
just when he was on the point of asking some further question, for
Hausman was inclined to listen at length.

"Well, yah, all right," he stammered, noting the broad nod of his wife
towards the bed-room, and rose. He stretched with exaggerated
ostentation, to show how tired he was, and said, "I guess I'll have a
snooze. You too?"

His wife rose at once and bustled about at the stove. "I guess so," she
said. "We'll have a nap. Lydia will entertain you, Len. When we get up,
we'll have a cup of coffee. I'll put the kettle on the stove."

The pretext was too transparent not to call up a second blush in Len's
face; and the blush deepened when, in his embarrassment, he cast a quick
glance at Lydia and saw her ironical smile.

To give the girl "her chance," the parents retired, after having shouted
strict injunctions to the smaller children in the yard not to come into
the house to disturb. When Mrs. Hausman followed her husband into the
bed-room, she drew the door discreetly shut.

For a minute or two Len and Lydia sat in a tense silence. While the
parents had been present, neither had spoken to the other. That fact
seemed to consolidate into an almost opaque presence which held them

At last Lydia rose, went past the table to the little square window in
the south wall of the house, and looked out into the yard. Then, humming
a tune, she returned to her seat. Her movement seemed to intensify the

Len had followed her with his eyes, averting them when she, in
returning, cast a glance at him and smiled. Her step had been light and
tripping, as if she had no weight. Len's embarrassment was gone; but his
brain was hard at work, trying to formulate a change in her of which he
was conscious and which had burst upon him the moment he had seen her on
the morning of his return.

The silence lengthened. It became like a bubble which is being blown,
growing, stretching the film of soapy water, iridescent in the fine,
wavy, and trembling colours of the rainbow, and imparting to both--but
more to him than to her--the feeling of an increasing tension as,
mentally, they regarded it, in fear of the moment when it would burst.

At last Len spoke. He did not look at her as he did so; he was intent
only on finding the exact expression for the change which he had
observed. His words seemed hardly to be addressed to her.

"Under the eaves of our sheep shed," he said, "there hangs a pupa,
attached to the boards by a fine, thin stalk. It is greyish brown and
quite plain. It looks like the wood and has been there since last fall.
Inside of it something is growing; and soon it will burst its shell. It
will be a butterfly, checkered in gold and black."

Lydia listened. While he spoke, the tension seemed to increase for her,
whereas for him it decreased. Her eyes serious and wondering, she looked
at him, seeing his profile with peaked nose and pointed chin. His head
was bent forward, his mouth twisted sideways with the intensity of his
thought. It was a new sight to her, and yet not new; for it reminded her
of him as he had been in the class-room of the school where he had
always sat alone because he had outstripped his fellow pupils. And as
she looked, the bubble seemed to grow till its tension became painful.

He ceased; but she still looked at him, with eyes wide and deeply blue.
Whatever he might wish to convey was not the sort of nonsense she was
accustomed to from the lips of other boys. A month ago this difference
would still have made him appear less attractive to her; now she forgot
that his clothes were laughable.

His head moved, and he looked full into her eyes. Little ripples of
expectation ran along her spine. And then the bubble burst,
precipitating her into a strange confusion of feelings.

"That is you," he said. "While you were at home, you were the pupa. You
have burst your shell and become a butterfly."

Nobody had ever spoken to her like that. Had she felt critical, she
would probably have laughed. This was so ponderous, far-fetched,
round-about. The point was that she did not feel the least inclined to
be critical. She felt frightened. She had consented to see him, had
played with the idea of seeing him again as a child plays with the idea
of destroying a valuable toy. In her late thoughts of him he had figured
as a strangely rustic being, scarcely human; he had been identified with
the bush; and she hated the bush. Yet, in the eyes of her parents, a
more or less definite engagement with him, to be broken at will, would
cover up a multitude of sins. Now she saw that she would not be able to
play with him; at this moment he exercised an almost supreme power over
her. She wished she were able to wipe out the last few months and give
herself unreservedly to him.

He rose. "Lydia," he said, "I am much changed; and so are you. We have
both seen something of the world; though I doubt whether you have seen
as much as I. Girls don't, I believe." He stopped and looked at her, a
vague expression in his eyes.

She was afraid he would touch her. This was one of the supreme moments
of her life. Girls don't, she thought; and in confusion she answered.
"They do."

Suddenly, as he looked down on her, he saw in her once more the shy,
trembling child whom he had kissed in the bush. He came close to the
table, drew his chair up, and sat down opposite her. His arm rested on
the table; his look seemed to be turned inward; by a mere chance his
hand touched hers.

Even as it happened, she tried to prevent it but could not. Tears filled
her eyes and made her angry at herself.

A vague gesture of his seemed to embrace the world. "I wish I could tell
you! Girls do, you say. I don't believe it. I can't. If they did, they
would curse the beast in man. Somewhere is paradise; but all about is
hell. And those who live in hell, since they can't enter paradise, throw
at least brands of the fire of their torment into it. I have looked into
that hell. But to me, where you are, is Eden."

The girl listened, half comprehending, half unconscious of what he said.
She was torn between two desires: the desire to rend the veil of this
boy's illusions and to stand revealed; and the desire to envelop him in
deception, to shield him from knowledge, to protect his picture of her
from profanation. She was suddenly inclined to quarrel with fate. Why
had he gone? Would she have stayed even though she had known what would
happen? She saw the picture of herself as she had been. No. What she
had been, she would not want to be again even though she might be what
he thought her.

"Lydia," he went on. "I have seen a good deal; I have thought even more.
My conclusions would startle Mr. Crawford."

That name came like balm. To her Mr. Crawford was a kindly but laughable
figure. At thought of him she could smile.

"Ambition!" Len said. "In years past I thought I should like to be a
teacher; and perhaps I should like it still. But no longer because it
would move me up into a higher sphere. It would simply be easier for me
than farming. Money? Why, money!" he exclaimed with a gesture of fine

Lydia looked up, cool and ironical, "I want lots of money!"

"Lydia, listen," he pleaded with sudden passion. "Suppose I were a
well-to-do farmer. I work all day. At night I come home. What should I
find in the house? What should I be looking for but you? Now suppose I
am poor and live on a homestead in the bush. All day I slave and toil.
At night I go home; and again I find you. It's the same."

Her eyes looked into a dreamy distance. "Perhaps," she said. "In a way.
But wouldn't it make a difference whether you found me in rags or in
some pretty thing that costs money?"

"Not to me."

"Len," she said, speaking as to a child, "you said before that I had
come like a butterfly from a pupa. Do you deny that my dress made me
look prettier in your eyes?"

He looked at her in bewilderment. It was true. A sweet scent proceeded
from her; it had enveloped him ever since he had drawn his chair to the
table. Now, since his painstakingly acquired philosophy had gone to
pieces, he felt entirely under the spell of her purely physical
attraction for him; and his blush conveyed this knowledge to her.

She realised and rejoiced in the possession over him of a power which
she had consciously exercised over others. She bent forward.

His gaze rested on her cheek which seemed to bloom; it was so delicately
white; and her lips seemed to blossom forth like scarlet petals, letting
him divine the teeth behind.

"Len," she said, "I can't help being what I am. I hate the bush and all
the hard work. Look at my mother! I don't want to be as she is."

His head was awhirl. "I had hoped we'd marry soon."

"And your plans?"

He hung his head.

She rose to her feet and stood close. She thought of others. They
flattered and wooed her. This boy was different and aimed at different
things. She bent down to him, resting her elbows on the table and
bringing her head very close to his. "Len," she whispered, "I like you.
Half a year ago I thought I loved you. But we were children. I had made
up my mind that we had better break off. But since I saw you again, the
other day. . . . . I don't know. I wish we could. But you are much too
young. Look at the people that live here in the bush, the young people,
the Dicks. What do they get out of their lives? Work, work, work!"

"And while they work, they live!"

"No. They exist. Len!" she whispered; for some inebriety was mounting to
her head, not unknown to her, and sweeping her off her balance; she
might have broken it by a retreat; but she flouted resistance. "I like
you! I want you to think and to dream of me. I want to feel that I
possess you even when I am not with you. But marriage? Now? That would
destroy it all." Her eyes were swimming. And suddenly she went on, as if
in the same breath, "Len, kiss me!"

Her head was within less than an inch of his; stray wisps of loose hair
touched his cheek; his eyes roamed over her head, her face,
foreshortened as he saw it; over her shoulders, her bosom. Her dress was
hanging down below her throat, bent over as she was; and as his eye
searched for that edge of her blouse which he had seen in his visions,
as a symbol of her virginity, he saw, instead, the edge of her
undergarments heaving over rounded breasts.

His brain was in a whirl; prickling currents were sweeping through him.
A minute ago, his whole being had been mind; now it was all sense. He
felt he was being conquered by something which was not his own, ordinary
self; as if another self were rising within him, eclipsing _him_--what
was "he" in himself--and merging him into the fiery sea of his blood.

For a moment he struggled; and then he yielded. As if in an electric
discharge, head touched head. His hands grasped her; he rose and
pressed her head to his, kissing her mouth, eyes, cheeks, hair, in a
paroxism of passion.

The table being between them, she would have fallen forward had she not,
by a twisting motion, turned around. Her arms were about his neck; and
thus she half lay, half hung till the sudden ecstasy had exhausted
itself. She was breathless, flushed; her hair was disarranged; her dress
twisted about her body; the chain of her locket broken. A moment both
stood facing each other, once more separated by the table.

Len was conscious of a feeling of shame and guilt. Yes, his feelings
suffered almost a revulsion as he looked at her and saw her half
triumphant, half terrified smile. In that smile there was something
which called him. It was not discovery; it was recognition. Had there
not been that shade of superiority and knowledge in her smile, he would
have spoken and claimed her as his very own; but, though he could not
have expressed what had dawned upon him, he was dimly aware that she who
stood before him was Eve indeed, but after the fall.

He turned, went to the window, and stood, looking out.

Lydia stepped to the little mirror which hung on the wall by the box
with the pail of water. There she rearranged her hair, letting it down
and putting it up again; and she straightened her dress.

Had he seen her, there was that in her eyes which might have inflamed
him to some sudden deed of violence for which he would not have been
accountable in the least. He might have killed her in order to save her
for himself. But he did not turn.

Things were being moved on the stove. Outside, in the yard, the children
were playing at hide-and-seek, chasing each other about the granary.

A few minutes later, the clattering of things on the stove having been
agreed upon as a signal, Lydia's mother burst into the room, followed
shortly by her yawning husband.

Chapter IV


An hour or so later Len and Lydia went out to the road to have a walk
and turned south into the bush trail.

Len was in that peculiar state of mind in which we try to make clear to
ourselves what is going on in our subliminal consciousness. He was
diffidently feeling along the lanes of his mind.

He had reached that dangerous stage of adolescence in which the
instinctive contempt of the boy for the girl changes into a feeling of
dependence which may lead to a deification of the other sex or to a
revolt against that very deification: he had passed the stage where he
might have fallen a prey to entire degradation. He was living through
that septennium of his unfolding life in which we establish our whole
spiritual outlook; in the very next decisive period he would have to
establish his attitude to the world.

Having, if only for a moment, yielded to the purely physical part of the
attraction which this girl exercised on him, he felt almost defiled;
and, naturally, he was inclined to cast the blame on the girl. Being
young, and the higher and the lower in him being at war, he vacillated
between the iconoclastic interpretation of his experience, which, as a
corollary, would have implied the violent profanation of what was best
in him, and an assertion of his own purity, resulting--for deification
was impossible for the moment--in hatred of her who had threatened a
revelation of the fact that in him the same man lurked as in Joseph and

Yet a short time sufficed to lead him back to the other path. His
intellectual aspirations had after all been so ardent and irresistible
that, by a sort of inertia, they carried him past the gate through which
he might have entered the lower world. And, as soon as he had passed it,
an entirely new aspect of the matter presented itself.

Between him and this girl there was an everlasting bond. Their union was
in no need of mutual vows. It might have led to such vows had the
present feeling been reciprocal. Len knew that in this girl, for better
or worse, he had met his fate: forever after she would obsess him.
Whether she was his or not, he was hers. Only thus could he save
himself. Had he been mentally freer, less earthbound, he might have
exclaimed like the poet, "If I love you, what business is that of
yours?" They might build their world together; or he might build his
alone. But even though he did so, he would have to build it with a view
to her: no other woman would ever take her place in his soul and mind.
He had seen in her what might make him a beast; for that he substituted
what might make him a god. As in him, there was something god-like in
her, different though it might be. And he subordinated himself, not to
her, but as a part is subordinated to the whole, the whole consisting
of the two of them united. They were equinascent, of equal rights and
equal worth; and, whether she saw it or not, they fitted together: they
formed the possible whole.

The girl by his side had remained as silent as he. In her, too, a change
was taking place. She had felt that she had outgrown this boy; and yet
she had intended to retain him in the retinue of her admirers. She had
looked down on his innocence, at the same time half doubting it. The
change in her was due to the fact that, in the whirl of physical
passion, he had refrained from going farther than he had gone. For a
moment, as he had held her clasped, she had felt his hand on her
breasts; she had felt herself sinking; that feeling she knew. A
triumphant thought had flashed through her. "I have him!" But a second
later it had been revealed that the touch had been accidental only.

Again and again, as they walked, she approached him till their shoulders
touched. She took his arm and drew it about her waist; and, since he did
not resist, she leaned her head on his shoulder.

Her mind was active, half impelled by anger; yet not without a trace of
anguish mixed into it. She must rekindle in him the spark, even though
from it sprang a conflagration which might consume them both.

They came to a point where a foot-path turned back to the school.

"Let's go west," Lydia said and stopped; on the trail they would not
meet anyone.

"All right," Len answered absently.

The path was narrow for two; they went, their arms intertwined, their
bodies in contact. The bush was dense; snow still lay in the shade of
thickets. But between them no currents flowed.

They came to an open, low grade where the slush of the thawing masses
formed a pool.

Lydia stopped. "I'm afraid we shall have to turn back."

"It's dry over there," Len said. "I'll carry you across."

She laughed as if she were reluctant. But when he held out his hands,
she entrusted herself to him, sitting in a loop formed by his arms,
encircling his neck with her hands. He stepped slowly out. Her head was
beside his own, above his shoulder; the heat of her body communicated
itself to his; his senses almost succumbed to the intoxication of her
scents. She bent still closer, putting her lips to his ear, and breathed
into it. She allowed her head to sink altogether and kissed the hairy
nape of his neck. She even pressed her breasts to his shoulder which had
become supersensitive to the contact of her flesh. He stopped and
whispered, closing his eyes, "Lydia!"

She whispered back, "Len; Len!"

Her breath was hot; he felt her heart beating faster. His own was
pounding. He stood and swayed.

Then he stepped out again, and a moment later he put her down on the
other side of the pool. As he did so, she looked up into his eyes and
then lowered her own. She stood there, his hand-maid, to do with as he
pleased. With that look of hers she had given herself.

He was very white. Like hot waves feelings, thoughts, visions ran
through him, shaking his body. One vision dealt him a blow: the woman at
Deer River in Joseph's arms. As by a miracle he became cool; his was the
responsibility; his forehead knitted itself into a frown; and, taking
her arm, he went on along the path.

A wave of heat flowed through her, flooding her scarlet. She had offered
herself and had been rejected!

Shortly they reached the school yard; the low tangle of brush left the
view unimpeded.

Half a dozen children were playing about the building. They nodded shyly
as these two passed.

Lydia disengaged her arm.

When they reached the road, they saw Mr. Jackson in his yard.

"Hello," the old man called across, "back home, Len?"

"I came on Thursday, two weeks ago."

"Won't you go in? Mary's in the house."

Len looked at Lydia. She nodded indifferently.

They turned to the culvert and entered the yard.

"You've grown, young man," Mr. Jackson said as he shook hands.

"Miss Hausman, I think?" he added, a little coolly; for some reason her
parents were not on speaking terms with him. "Go to the house, Len. Walk
right in."

Lydia hesitated. "I'll be back in a moment," Len said. "I'll just shake
hands with Mary."

But when he returned, Lydia had strolled over to the garden-lot, close
to the fence. She was not alone. Mr. Jackson had gone to the stable for
which he had been bound when he had seen the pair on the grade. The man
who was with her wore city clothes such as Len had seen on people who
called at the farm, collectors and agents of implement firms.

A vague, uncertain pain settled about his heart. He hung back. The pair
stood by the rail fence, close together. The stranger--whom he guessed
to be Dick Jackson, Mr. Jackson's oldest son--was speaking animatedly,
standing straight and handsome. He was laughing and waving a hand.

Lydia, so much he could see even from a distance, had blushed; and she,
too, was laughing in a half embarrassed way.

Len approached. The stranger was wearing a light-coloured suit of
tweeds, a soft, low collar, and a striped silk necktie. He had no hat on
his head; and his abundant, sleek hair, well-brushed, was almost grey.
The nearer Len came, the more distinct became the speech of this city
man; till at last he stopped, just before he would have understood every

Dick Jackson was facing the road and did not see him; but Lydia had her
eyes fastened straight on his. She half frowned and half smiled. It
would have been hard to say whether smile and frown were for Len or for
the stranger's speech.

Although Len, in an impulse to abstain from intrusion, had stopped just
before he could actually hear what was being said, he knew at once what
was going on between the two. The stranger spoke too animatedly not to
betray, as in a sort of pantomime, his whole meaning; and Lydia's
response, disguised though it was by a sort of conventional display of
contrary reactions, showed through this very display with an almost
disconcerting transparency.

The stranger bowed and gesticulated, raising himself on the tips of his
toes and, for emphasis, dropping back on his heels, every movement of
his characterised by that exaggeration which rather underlined than made
up for his undoubtedly insincere and stilted flattery of the girl who
stood facing him.

Lydia listened as if disapproving of what she heard; but she listened;
and she even did so with an effort. Every now and then, a quick laugh
confirmed that nothing of what the stranger said was lost on her. Even
when, in apparently angry protest, she stamped her foot, it was easily
seen that anger and protest were feigned in compliance with what would
have been expected from any girl in the great game of flirtation.

There came a point where Lydia answered not only by gestures but by
words as well. A quick exchange of brief, fencing sentences seemed to
bring the dialogue to a sort of climax. The stranger's gestures took on
a theatrical quality which he was at no pains to disguise. Lydia
accented whatever she might be saying by brief nods of her head; for
she knew well that she looked most alluring in motion.

To Len the whole scene had something unreal, as if it were the mere
harrying projection of an evil dream into the light of day.

All the time Lydia's eyes had been fastened on him. He was pale; a
worried frown furrowed his brow.

The fixity of her look produced at last an impression on Dick Jackson;
and he turned. For the fraction of a second he seemed startled at the
discovery that there had been a looker-on, if not a listener. But his
smooth, handsome, and rakish face smiled as he spoke.

"I am sorry. Name is Dick Jackson." He bowed from the hip, ironically;
and, catching Len's muttered reply, "Leonard Sterner? Oh, yes, I have
heard of you. The great scholar. Mary's been singing your praises. The
pedagogue of this institution of learning over there, a limping old man,
has taken you under his wing, I understand. Deservedly, no doubt, Mr.
Sterner. Don't think I wish to detract from your merits or from the
merits of scholarship . . .

"I was telling this young lady a bit of the truth, Mr. Sterner. By
George, I am stunned. But she insists on taking it all for wilful
flattery. May I appeal to you, young man? It appears she was in your
company. Why should she? I take that fact for a confirmation of all I
have said. Why should you be walking with a young lady except because
you find her charming? I warn you, Mr. Leonard. You are not alone in
that opinion. You had better look out!"

Both Len and Lydia had changed colour while this flow of words eddied
past them; but the change had been in an opposite sense.

Dick Jackson was looking from one to the other, obviously and with
undisguised superiority "playing" Len like a fish hooked at the end of a
line. Lydia was unmistakably ashamed of the awkwardness of her escort;
and as unmistakably was Len a prey to impotent anger. Impotent anger is
never alluring to a girl. She wants her escort to excel in company; and
Len had nothing to offer when he was plainly called upon to down the
unexpected rival who had crossed his path.

Yet Lydia was far from being this middle-aged man's dupe. She had heard
others plead in much the same vein, though never with such assurance and
fluency, nor with that easy disregard of even the pretence at sincerity.
In a mysterious way this awkward boy of the bush still held an appeal
for her. It would have taken very little to reëstablish her faith in
him; but even that little was wanting. She could have excused any
clumsiness in his rejoinder; she would have approved had he turned away
in silent contempt.

Instead, he stammered, plainly disconcerted. With a look at the
westering sun, he managed to stutter, "We should be on our way."

"I think so," she said. But she hesitated as she left her post at the

"Must you go indeed?" Dick Jackson exclaimed in mock sorrow. "I assure
you, I am full of regrets. Do you live at home?"

"No," she said curtly.

Dick waited a moment as if he expected some further explanation. Then he
laughed. "Well, beauty like yours will be found and seen. We shall meet
again. Meanwhile, good-by."

"Good-by," Lydia said with an almost imperceptible smile; and she cast a
half apologetic look at the man who stood there in overdone admiration.
That look had the effect of a shrug.

He laughed mockingly.

Len muttered a word or so; and as he led the girl away, he walked as
through a nightmare.

They went to the culvert, crossed it, climbed the flank of the grade,
and turned east.

Lydia, on the far side of Len, did not move her head till they had
almost passed the yard; but then, seeing from the corner of her eye that
the man down there was waving his hand, she could not resist the
temptation, smiled, and turned just sufficiently to let him see that she
smiled. A moment later, the homestead had been swallowed up by the bush.

At the entrance to Hausman's yard they stopped. Lydia waited for Len to
say the next word. He could have done much by the mere expression of
contempt for the easy talker whom they had left behind; the trouble was
that he felt no contempt for him.

Lydia's look was one of deliberate coquetry. Len trembled as he caught
that look. Then, with a shrug of his shoulders, he flung out an arm. It
was an awkward gesture; but somehow it seemed to speak of things deeper
or higher than anything in the man who had waved his hand.
Unfortunately, there was nothing amusing in Len; and there was much that
was so in Dick Jackson and--others.

Yet, in a sudden impulse, Lydia bent forward, drew Len's head down, and
kissed him. Before he could respond, she was gone.

Chapter V


Often now, thoughts that were mere outlines flitted through Len's
brain--like cloud-masses in which we think we recognise familiar shapes
that change before we can make their recognition precise.

Spring work started, and Len did his share.

Life had claimed him; he had been willing to let all his aspirations go.
The girl had pointed him back to them. She wanted money! Very well. He
called on Mr. Crawford.

As ever, Mr. Crawford spoke a good deal, dispensing wisdom. "Don't
embalm your experience, Len. Leave it a living thing. If you put the
label of a judgment on it and call it an opinion, it is a mummy and
nothing else. An opinion formed is part of ourselves, limiting growth in
that direction. A multitude of other judgments follow in its wake. We
are no longer free."

Dusk rose in the tiny room. Mr. Crawford sat up on his lounge.

"Most of our former experiences are mere skeletons," he went on. "And so
is knowledge and education for the average man." Speaking of the camp,
he said, "You haven't improved your caligraphy there; but you have
assimilated a vision."

"Yes," Len said with sudden decision. "But there remains this point. I
also want to improve my fortunes. I want to see something coming out of
what I do."

"You revert to what is called a formal education? You want academic

"I believe I do," Len said.

Mr. Crawford looked at him and mused. "Len," he said at last, "there are
two months left. Will you come here at night? When the work on the farm
is done? I will see you through. You can pass your examinations in June.
You will then be entitled to enter high school. We shall find a way for
that, too, by-and-by."

"If you will give me the time?" Len replied. "I shall get Charlie to do
my share of the night-work."

"Then that is settled," said Mr. Crawford.

Darkly, during the next few weeks, thoughts came and went, sometimes no
more than adumbrated, sometimes taking shape and forcing a cessation of
all other activity, making Len's mind into a seething chaos. His
stepfather readily consented to the plan proposed by Mr. Crawford; but
Len carried it out in unceasing revolt. For all that, he felt, it was
too late.

What drove him into revolt was the fact that he was asked to reacquire
in a formal way a knowledge which he already possessed; the time for
such studies would have been five years ago. To reason, step for step,
through a geometrical demonstration seemed equivalent to naming every
muscle at work in his limbs while he walked. Through his experience in
the camp his mind had become used to dealing with facts in an intuitive
way. It was facts he wanted. But facts count for little in geometry. He
could grasp all the facts involved in a year's course by a single day of
reading. Consequently, he was unconscious of an increase in power
through what he learned. If he could have flown over the field,
assimilating results instead of remembering the method by which the
results were arrived at, he might have caught the infection of an
inebriety radiated by Mr. Crawford. Mr. Crawford saw "beauty" in a
demonstration and in an analysis in grammar. Len felt worm-eaten with

When, at ten o'clock, he returned from Mr. Crawford's and sat down to
study for another hour, the thought of Lydia or Dick Jackson would send
him to his feet, staring wildly. His stepfather being in the room, the
boy would as suddenly come to himself again and sit down, white with the
effort of repressing his passion. When he was alone, he would walk to
and fro till he trembled and shook with a feeling of the urgent
necessity of action. Action was needed; not this trifling with
inconsequential bits of knowledge. His books seemed baubles.

Yet he had undertaken this task for Lydia's sake. She wanted money;
money is not made on pioneer farms until after many years of seemingly
futile work. He had sworn not to see her again till he had something
tangible to show for his work. He must pass his examinations.

Sometimes, feeling a part of himself to be in danger, he wished to
despise the world and everybody in it. He tried to revisualise the first
of his meetings with the girl; he could not do so. The mere thought of
her evoked the vision of the one single moment just before she had lain
in his arms, in the kitchen of the homestead to the west. That vision
sent a wave of hot blood into his brain, flooding it opaquely and
blotting out all articulate thought.

She had more than half slipped away from him. Why? Doubt directed
blasphemies against fate, providence, God. He cursed the powers that had
directed his life. The effect was the opposite of what he would have
expected. His passion redoubled.

At last he sought refuge in an artifice. He saw Lydia etherealised,
de-carnalised; she was Miranda; _she_ might have been _his_ redemptress.
He pictured her as she had looked when Dick Jackson was speaking to her.
She had held back; _she_ had shown the man that contempt which Len
should have shown him. Baseness had attacked her; she had resisted. She
stood before his mental vision, untouched, all the more desirable for
having been tempted, white in immaculate innocence. In order to justify
his condemnation of the world, he needed to idealise her; and he did so
with the facility of his youth. She must be enshrined so that she might
save him; him, the flesh had begun to trouble. To give in to the flesh
meant utter ruin. The spirit in him needed reincarnation and found it in
a fiction of her.

Work helped; and he worked indefatigably.

In thinking of things which she had said, he omitted all those which did
not agree with the new picture of her. When she had said money, she had
meant achievement. When she had spoken of pretty clothes, they were to
attract none but him. She was worthy of all the world could possibly
give her. She was worth striving for, serving for, like Rachel in the
story. In spite of his distaste for them, he kept at his studies with a
dogged pertinacity.

May came and went; June opened up.

The field work consisted once more of breaking. Charlie drove the team
of the bush-plow which Kolm guided; Len picked and piled stones and
brush. The mother, who once more looked forward to a confinement,
remained at home.

One day Kolm ran his plow-point against a rock of unusual size. He drew
a new furrow, plowing deep, trying to catch the stone at a point nearer
its centre of gravity. The five horses came to a stop.

Kolm threw his plow to one side and called for Len. The three of them
attacked the soil surrounding the stone with picks and shovels. They
were baffled by an impossible task. Len suggested burning.

The boys piled brush and limbs and roots on top and fired them. Kolm
unhitched; and Len and he drew barrels of water from the well. When the
huge fire had died down, they brushed the embers off and upset their
water-barrels over the heated boulder. With noises like pistol-shots, it
cracked under the sudden contraction, throwing exfoliated fragments of
granite in all directions. But it did not split perpendicularly and lay
there, as much of an impediment as ever.

Kolm stood and scratched his head. His obstinacy was aroused. He kicked
at the stone. "We'll get you yet, my boy," he said.

But it was supper time; and they went home.

At the table, Kolm said to Len, "Jackson's got dynamite at his place.
They blast their stumps. I wouldn't waste good money on stumps. But I've
more than half a mind to try it on that rock."

"I'll take one of the mares," Len said, "and get a stick."

"Two," Kolm said, rising. "I'll drill the hole under that pebble."

Mr. Jackson, grey and loose-jointed, was standing on the grade in front
of his yard. As Len, for whom he had a fondness, approached, he flung an
arm aloft which bent like a flail, with a wide, all-embracing gesture.
It was the hour of sunset: a marvellously quiet evening on which a lamp
would have burned without a flicker in the open air. The bush stood
black, rigid, breathless against a flaming west.

"Look at that," the old man said, his voice sounding hushed in the
vastness of space. "Wherever the world is as God made it, it's glory!
Only where man sits down, it's spiled!"

For a moment Len stood, infected by the mood of the other man. Then he
mentioned his errand; and together they went, in the paling of the dusk,
into the yard.

Mr. Jackson stopped, looking about in evident distaste. "And look at
that!" This time the gesture embraced the stable, still reeking with the
winter's smells, the manure pile, the house. "Young man," he said, "I
see you keep working. You learn something; and it doesn't take you away
from the land. Work, work, young man. I've three boys; and all three are
good-for-nothings. One went to the city; and home he comes only when he
needs money. What's money? Money! It won't feed you. The other two went
to the wars. They're in Sandgate, Kent, walking the roads instead of
raising wheat and barley to repair the damage the crazy fools have done
in Europe."

At mention of Mr. Jackson's oldest son, Len's heart had taken a jump.
"Mr. Dick," he said. . . . "He's a commercial traveller, isn't he?"

"So he says," Mr. Jackson replied. "Seems to me he's an apron-chaser and
little else. I've been feeding him and his wife."----

On his way home, Len felt exalted by contrast to the degradation into
which his rival had fallen by his own father's testimony.

It was dark when he reached the field. Kolm had drilled a slanting hole
under the rock. He inserted the two sticks of dynamite to which he had
attached the fuse. Then he applied the match.

"Run!" he shouted. "Run!" And in huge strides he made for the bush
himself, through the last of the dusk.

Two minutes later a huge, dull detonation rocked the air; earth and
fragments of stone burst from the ground as from a crater.

For the first time in many weeks Len felt a zest in what he did. Dick
Jackson loomed less menacingly over his mental horizon.

Chapter VI


Shortly after, Len wrote on his Entrance examinations, under Mr.
Crawford's supervision.

July came; and one Saturday Mr. Crawford passed Kolm's farm, drove in
and, finding Len, told him that he was going to town. The marking of the
examination papers was finished; and he was going to speak to a friend
of his, over the wire, to find out how matters stood. He asked Len to
call on him the following morning.

So, on Sunday, shortly after ten o'clock, Len got the mare ready and
went south along the Big Slough. He had made up his mind to go on to
Odensee if he had passed; for the first time since Dick Jackson had
discomfited him he was going to see Lydia who could not know how much he
had matured in the interval. He felt a man now. As a man, he had
mastered his impatience and deferred all conclusions which he might have

Mr. Crawford met him excitedly at the gate. "Congratulations!" he said
with a smile in his wrinkled eyes. For the first time it struck Len how
much the man had aged of late.

"I passed?" he asked.

"You passed first in the province."

Len looked up. What was that?

"Your papers ranked above those of all other candidates in the province.
Tomorrow, your name and, as soon as they can get it, your picture will
be broadcast over the west."

It was a moment of triumph. This was the rock on which he would build
his career!

Len was invited to stay for an early dinner, consisting of milk, bread,
and the first fruits of a little garden, for Mr. Crawford was a
vegetarian. Dinner over, Len's picture was taken with the help of a
camera. When he took leave of Mr. Crawford, he said exultantly, "I shall
be a university professor yet!"

"You will be the spokesman of the humble and poor in spirit!"

Then Len was riding along the correction line which led straight into
Odensee. He felt wonderfully sure of himself. He would go on with his
academical work and master the high school course within two years. Then
he and Lydia could be married.

Soon he urged his horse into a lumbering gallop. A mile or two east of
the village he came to cleared land. On both sides the bush fell away.
Open farms lay ahead. The grade was high where it emerged from the
forest. The land in front lay spread out like a fan half opened.

What he saw was accomplishment, wilderness conquered. Behind him lay
endeavour, dumb, feeling its way with groping arms. Which was the land
he belonged to? He felt a stranger where he was. Cut here and there by
bands of trees spread out for wind-breaks, the level country lost
itself in the distance where darkly, hazily, the Dusky Mountains rose.
Whitish vapour banks of clouds enclosed the horizon, their outlines
washed into the pale blue of the sky. The distance, like the future, was

Len rode on. In half an hour he stopped at the gate of the yard which
was his goal. Two or three buggies stood slanting out into the grassy
margin of the road, the horses tied to fence-posts, preempting what
little shade there was. In the yard a car stood, empty.

Len dismounted and tied his horse. With a sultry heat the sun burned
down on the spot. He opened the gate and crossed the yard to the big,
curb-roofed stable, both doors of which stood open, so that he looked
right through it into a little thicket of plum trees behind. He wanted
to see whether he could stable his mount.

The whole barn was empty. He was on the point of turning back to fetch
his horse when a voice which electrified him smote his ear, followed by
a laugh from several throats. He went through the driveway and looked
out through the open door at the rear. But instantly he shrank back.
Without will or decision of his own he became a listener-in, petrified
at what he saw and heard.

Three young men were standing in a semi-circle about a girl.

The girl, head bent back, in a characteristic pose of hers, was leaning
against the wall of a granary to the right. The expression of her face
was that of supercilious contempt. Two of the young men were laughing;
the third, in the centre, frowned with a concentration of anger which
made his small face looked wizened, shrivelled, bloodless.

"You promised," the latter said. "You are a jilt, a flirt, a cheat! Do
you deny that you promised?"

"I have changed my mind," the girl said insolently. "I don't want you. I
don't even want to see you, ever!"

"She's promised half a dozen times to marry _me_!" one of the laughers
expostulated to him who was so much in earnest. "She doesn't want to
marry at all."

"No," she said. "I don't. Nobody from this burg at least. No farmer. The
man who wants to marry me must come in a sixty-horse power car."

"I'll get the car. I'll sell my farm."

"To do what?"--This with a smile of contempt.

"Anything. Go to town. I can work. Lydia!" he begged abjectly. "Listen.
It's silly to talk here in the presence of others. You promised to come
with me this afternoon. Keep that promise. Give me an hour, half an
hour, fifteen minutes, alone."

"Not a second!" she replied, her hands behind her back.

The young man in the centre, of small build, but sturdy, a sinister
tenseness in his face, stood with fists clenched as though he were going
to throw himself on her.

The second laugher put a hand on his shoulder. "Listen, Gus," he said.
"Be sensible. You should know her by this time. Don't get excited.
She's promised every one she knows to marry him. That doesn't mean
anything with her. Does it, Liddy?"

The girl frowned. "Not where you are concerned," she said.

He laughed. "Do you hear it, Gus? It's no more than three weeks ago that
she swore everlasting love to me. On this very spot. She kissed and
hugged me as if there were nobody on earth that was dearer to her. She's
kissed and hugged you. You know what she's like. You are not going to do
anything foolish on account of a girl like that?"

The girl tossed her head. "I am not going to stand here to be insulted!"
she said with a motion to escape.

But the young man called Gus forestalled her. "Lydia," he said grimly,
"you can't get away like that. If you do, something terrible is going to
happen. You can have the pick of the men. . . ."

Lydia fixed her eye on him, and he went silent. "I can have the pick of
the men," she repeated. "That's why I don't want you nor any one of you.
I want you to leave me alone. I don't want you!"

Once more she tried to escape and succeeded. In less than a second she
was in the barn and stood, confronting Len. A gasp broke from her; and
in the same breath she added, "Nor you, either!" flinging the words at
him as if she were flinging a stone. Breaking into a run, she swept by

Len followed her; but for the fraction of a second he had stood stunned;
and when he reached the front door, she was gone.

From behind the barn shouts and a yell rang forth. The backdoor of the
house opened, and Mr. Smith stepped out. With a glance at Len whom he
did not recognise he crossed the yard and went past the stable to the
scene behind.

Hardly knowing what he did, Len returned to the gate where his horse was
still cropping the short grass as far as the halter-rope permitted. He
untied the slip-knot, threw the rope over the horse's neck, and vaulted
on his back. A second later he was wildly galloping along the low,
smooth grade to the east.

Chapter VII


The sequel of the scene behind the barn which Len had witnessed became a
matter of public record; and though one of the actors in that sequel was
never discovered, Len could easily supply his name to himself. Yet it
took more than a year before he succeeded in piecing the events together
in his mind.

Lydia had been frightened by Gus Kahler's threat. She had taken
flattery, courtship, love-making as her dues; she had taken them from
anyone because they were pleasurable for the moment. The very readiness
with which she had given promises had seemed to guard her against
serious consequences. The first real admiration with which she had met
had taken her captive. But as admirers multiplied, she had looked upon
them as no more than so many pawns in a game of chess. To be kissed, to
be held in somebody's arms: who could base a claim on such trifles? She
allowed these things because she craved them, craved them from anyone,
from Len as well as from others; from him, for some mysterious reason,
more than from others. Then, suddenly, she grew cautious; she had
learned that beauty has a market value.

Dick Jackson had appeared on the scene: first at Macdonald, setting her
ears a-tingle with fluent, flattering talk; then at Odensee where he
had met her two or three times. He had written letters, full of plans:
in the country, she was throwing herself away; she must come to the
city. Almost against her will, as though she were caught in a tangle and
forced on by the logic of things, she had conceived the plan to use him
as a stepping stone.

For awhile Gus Kahler had seemed to be a real conquest. Young as he was,
he owned two quarter sections of land. He had been the only child of his
parents. He wanted a wife. Had he insisted on an immediate marriage, she
would have accepted him; but he wanted to build a new house. When the
house was finished, her horizon had widened so as to include the great
city. Gus appeared in a new light: though in no way mis-shapen, the very
contraction of his features and limbs made him appear like a dwarf and a
hump-back. She began to avoid him.

Then Dick Jackson actually proposed to carry her off. He would come for
her in a car, on Sunday, July sixteen; she was to meet him at the gate
of the school yard, at ten o'clock at night. There would be no moon.
Flight with him seemed to cut the Gordian knot of her perplexities. Len
she would forget.

Lydia was ready for Dick Jackson: her few things were tied up in a
bundle and deposited in a corner of the garden adjoining the school
yard. All she needed to do was to slip through the fence and walk across
to the gate. But, of course, that very day Gus must turn up and ask her
to come for a ride in his car. The whole quarrel had arisen from her
refusal. She was not going to take the risk of outstaying her time. To
escape him, she had sought the company of others among her admirers. Gus
had followed her; and the rest Len had witnessed.

When Lydia had escaped from the barn, she had slipped around the house
and into the garden which, along its eastern edge, was bordered by a
thicket of currant bushes and raspberry canes. Between these she had
dropped to the ground.

She crouched there for hours.

In the yard, somebody started the car and ran it out to the road. From
the door of the house, her employer called her name. . . .

Slowly the sun was obscured; distant rumblings heralded a thunder-storm.
Carefully she rose and made her way, half crouching, to the west edge of
the garden where a long line of sweet-corn canes offered a scanty
shelter. Then a dust cloud swept over the landscape; a few drops of rain
fell. She peered out; the road was deserted. Fearing a wetting,
everybody had sought the shelter of his home.

She fetched her bundle, crawled through the fence, and ran for the
school which was never locked.

It was most unlikely that anyone should visit there on a Sunday; and yet
she did not feel entirely safe in the class-room. She hid in a closet
where storm windows were stored. It was dark there; and she would be
safe from detection. Thunder rolled; but the storm swept by without
breaking. Yet, the sky having clouded over, night fell early. From the
moment when dusk had closed in, she remained tense, listening with all
her might for the signal, three hoots of the horn: long, short, short.
Suddenly she thought of Len as he had stood in the barn, speechless,
struck dumb. She laughed at the memory, but not without a strange
foreboding that his sight would haunt her through many years to come.

At last the darkness became black and impenetrable. The smell of the
smoke of cow-smudges pervaded the building. She forced her thoughts back
to Dick Jackson. She began to fear that something might have happened to
prevent him from coming. "I shall walk to Minor!" she said to herself;
for flight now seemed the only way out. Taking her bundle, she slipped
into the open.

A dense, black tent of cloud made the atmosphere feel close and hot.
There was a smell of dampness and mist; veil above veil of smudge smoke
made the air impenetrable to the eye. With the utmost care she closed
the door behind her.

And slowly, on the tips of her toes, she made for the road. When she
reached the gate, she was on the point of passing through when she saw
two ruddy spots of light moving through the blackness right in front.
She divined rather than saw two men sitting on the rail which braced the
gate-post to the next fence-post north; they were smoking. Noiselessly
she retreated, turning to her right.

She had hardly climbed through the fence when she saw, far to the south,
two bright lights close together, like the glittering eyes of some huge
beast. Her heart was pounding; that must be Dick's car!

She turned south again. Dick had written "at the gate." She must get as
close to the gate as she dared to go.

A minute later the hum of the engine became audible. In the middle of
the road little protuberances of the soil began to catch the light. The
car approached with amazing speed. Bushes, trees, fence-posts sprang
into a momentary glare and were eclipsed again.

The car, roaring now, swung to the east, leaving the road and running
over its grassy margin, curving for the turn. The two wide pencils of
light swept over the school-house, throwing it into a veiled relief
through the layers of smoke. Then they picked out other objects: the two
men sitting on the fence-rail; they were the two boys of the afternoon
who had laughed. The horn sang out: long, short, short. The next moment
she realised with dismay that the bright glare had swept over her,
revealing her to every eye that might chance to look. She jumped up and

Then the pencil of light revealed another sight. On the far side of the
road stood the tense figure of Gus Kahler, gun in hand.

She screamed and plunged forward.

A shot rang out.

The door to the tonneau of the car was opened, and she fell in.

An unearthly yell was the signal for an explosion of uproar.

A second shot.

The car, its engine roaring, began to glide to the south, rapidly
picking up speed.

Gus Kahler's first shot had entered Rudolph's knee, plowing up along the
thigh and entering the abdomen. The man fell off his perch.

"Damn you!" Henry, his neighbour, called out. "You have shot Rudolph!"

"Sorry," Gus replied coolly. "It was meant for her."

He placed the stock of the gun on the road and bent over it.
Deliberately he took its muzzle into his mouth. The fingers of his hand
fumbled at the trigger; the second shot shattered his skull.

From the house across the road a man came running with a lantern;
another followed. From everywhere human figures seemed to rise out of
the ground. And when they surveyed the scene, they found one man dead,
the other dying.


"Où Saint Antoine a vu surgir comme des laves
"Les seins nus et pourprés de ses tentations."

Chapter I


The excitement that had followed the happenings on the highway at
Odensee had been intense for awhile; but, as is commonly the case in
backwoods settlements, it had subsided almost as quickly as it had
arisen; and things had settled back into their usual routine.

Nothing mattered to Len. Love and learning: two things he had valued;
but the disaster in which the former was shattered destroyed the value
of the latter as well. A year ago hail had withdrawn him from study; a
new disaster was to withdraw him from the despair of love.

One night, shortly after Lydia's flight, work having been finished
early, owing to the fact that there had been a rain, the whole Kolm
family was assembled in the sitting room of the house. All of them,
except Len, were in a festive mood. A good rain in summer was a thing to
rejoice in. It not only did more good than any amount of work could have
done; it also proclaimed the next day a holiday.

Kolm, armed with a little dictionary, reclined in his easy-chair,
reading one of Len's books. Every few minutes he gave a huge, contented
yawn, in anticipation of the pleasures of rest and sleep.

His wife sat by the table, an old, tattered album in her hands, filled
with picture postcards, a legacy from her first husband.

Startlingly, about eleven o'clock, a knock sounded at the door.

Mrs. Kolm sprang to her feet, holding a hand against her heart. "I
thought I'd die!" she said.

Kolm had risen. Book in hand, he went to the kitchen door and called,
"Come in!"

Joseph appeared, pale, dishevelled, without hat, soaked with mud up to
his hips, and carrying a sooty, bespattered lantern.

"Are your horses in?" he asked without a greeting.

"No," Kolm replied. "We turned them out."

"They're in the slough!" Joseph said grimly.

Kolm shrugged his shoulders. "Well?"

"Quick!" Joseph shouted. "There's been a cloud-burst south. The water's
backing into the slough. They're drowning."

Kolm snapped out a curse. "Len, Charlie!" he roared. "Lanterns! Ropes!"
And, dropping his book, he burst into a fury of activity.

In less than five minutes they were running, all four, along the
south-east trail, through the bush west of the slough, Joseph leading.

The night was pitch-dark, very quiet, with a fine, drizzling rain still
falling. It seemed all the darker for the three little spheres of
visibility surrounding the bobbing lanterns.

Joseph talked breathlessly. "I was over to Kurtz's, two miles east of
the dam. And stayed for supper. Kurtz loaned me the lantern. I'd never
have got out without it. I tried to cut across the slough. And got in to
my hips. The swamp sucks."

They came out on the slough trail, slipping and stumbling. Kolm and Len
were grimly, Charlie almost pleasurably excited. They passed a
depression in the slough; and Joseph raised his lantern: the hollow was
filled with oozing water; yet the surrounding parts looked deceptively

"I can't understand it," Kolm gasped. "Such a bit of rain! Just right
for the crops!"

"Down south it was a cloud-burst," Joseph repeated. "It's backing up."

"There are underground channels," Len threw in.

In another few minutes they came to the spot. Again Joseph stopped and
raised his lantern above his head.

The black, mucky soil of the slough was churned up into the semblance of
black, pitch-like froth. The trail on which they stood was firm; it was
held together by the roots of the tree stumps and the living brush which
covered the ridge to the west.

"They got out," Joseph said, for in the thin light thrown by the
lanterns nothing seemed to stir in the slough beyond the shiny, creamy
confusion of the churned-up spot.

But that very moment the rattling sneeze of a horse sounded as if the
beast were trying to clear its obstructed respiratory organs.

"Quick!" Kolm shouted. "Get some brush together. Dry stuff. Light a
fire, so we can see."

Len was already plunging into the thickets, searching for dry wood.
Charlie, hardly as yet comprehending, plunged after him.

"Here," Len said grimly, "take the lantern and light me."

A pile of dry wood, superficially wetted by the rain, was soon thrown up
on the trail, all four working in silence. The crackling of the branches
and poles which they gathered sounded oddly as though some enormous
beast were crashing through the brush in the night. Then Kolm, standing
by the pile, shaved a dry stick into thin flakes with his pocket knife.
Len, Joseph, Charlie went on gathering fuel.

A match flared up and, with the shavings, was applied to the base of the
brush pile. Dense clouds of steam and smoke surged upward; and a moment
later the cowl of darkness lifted. Crackling and hissing, the whole pile
kindled; the flames shot upward in the draught created by their own heat
as if blown by bellows.

All four stood and peered across the slough which they could not enter.
Wetly glistening, grey droplets of rain streaked the field of vision.
Then, like a picture developing on a photographic film, the outline of a
scene of horror grew upon their sight. Two gleaming points were the eyes
of one of the horses which, half immersed in the mud, had reared up,
pawing. Mud was dripping from its head and mane. Its blood-red nostrils
were fiercely dilated. Its quivering lips were the picture of
death-whipped panic. From the side of its arching neck a bloody trickle
ran into the slough. Its hind legs held by the clinging, enveloping,
impeding swamp, it pawed the air with its fore-legs.

"That's the mare," Len said. "She's bleeding."

As if to furnish an explanation, the bush behind them broke into yelps
and howls.

"Timber wolves!" Kolm said. "They've chased them in."

Now that he saw the extent of the calamity, he was strangely quiet. He
reached for the ropes which Joseph had dropped.

The flames behind them, kindled quickly, as quickly died down.

"Charlie," Kolm said, "attend to the fire. Len, get more fuel. Joseph,
here, help with the ropes."

Feverishly the work proceeded, the two men knotting the odds and ends
together, the boys gathering a new pile of wood.

The presence of the shadowy figures on the trail seemed to have given
the horses a direction for their desperate struggles.

"Len," Kolm shouted. "Light!"

He had a sufficient length of rope to try a throw at the head of the
mare. The crackling flames shot up again, this time rising to a height
of ten, fifteen feet. The semi-circle of the slough illumined by the
light extended; and in the irradiation of this brightness the whole
scene of the disaster outlined itself.

The very slough seemed to move. In one place, four twitching legs stuck
up into the air; in another, a horse lay on its side, immersed in the
mud, but twisting its head upward; that head looked as if moulded of
chocolate-brown, wet clay.

Then, just as the flames leapt highest, Kolm was ready to throw the loop
of his rope. The mare, seeing the dry ridge ahead--she was facing the
fire, gathered all her failing strength into one mighty effort and pawed
and struggled forward. Her foot seemed to strike something that offered
resistance. Kolm's rope flew out; and the loop caught over her head.
But, simultaneously, piercingly, blood-curdlingly, the universal cry of
animal distress stabbed the night. What the mare had struck with her
fore-foot was the prostrate, half immersed body of another horse.

The two men pulled; the boys stood tensely behind. The mare struggled up
and raised herself out of the clinging mire. Splashing, sucking noises
were intermingled with the shouts of the men.

Then Kolm and Joseph stumbled back and fell.

In an instinctive realisation of the help which the rope afforded, the
mare had rigidly bent her head upward and backward. But the animal on
which she tried to gather her four feet for a desperate leap went into
convulsions beneath her; and, deprived of her foothold, she pitched
forward, into the mud. Her hind legs shot out into the air, scattering
mud all about; her whole body contracted and whipped out like a steel
spring of enormous power before she went limp and collapsed.

Kolm had gathered himself to his feet and was throwing the ropes over
his shoulder. The flames were dying down. Len reached for more of the
fuel which lay ready to hand.

"No," Kolm said. "It's useless. I can't look on any longer. They're for
the wolves."

Chapter II


When apprised of the loss of the horses, Mrs. Kolm became voluble the
moment Joseph had left.

"I've always said it," she flared up at her husband as he was sitting in
his easy-chair, stunned and speechless. "You are no good. Where are we
now? Here we sit in the bush, with a crop of twenty-five acres, and not
a horse to harvest it with. It's just like you! Great big lump of a
good-for-nothing! No brains! Ah yah! You can gape; and that's all you
can do! I told you years ago, it's no good trying to farm in this
country. Let's go to town, I said. Let's run a butcher shop. Good money
in that! But no! It didn't matter what I said. Not a bit. You had that
bug in your head and wanted to be a farmer. It is laughable! When in the
old country you'd been a factory hand!"

"Yah, yah," the man cried in desperation. "Whose farm is this, yours or
mine? What would you have done if I hadn't come along? Given it away, I
suppose? You couldn't sell. Who'd buy in this bush? And start in town
with thousands of dollars of debt? I didn't buy those horses. They were
here. They aren't paid for yet. It took a man with brains to buy without
money. All I'm good for is to pay for them."

"Sure!" Mrs. Kolm yelled. "Who but a fool would have turned them out in
weather like this?"

Kolm laughed a bitter laugh. "Why didn't you say that before? What was
the matter with the weather? Easy talking now. There isn't any feed on
the place. That's why I turned them out."

"What harm would it have done them to go without feed for a night?
Better than drown in a slough, it seems to me!"

"It's the wolves," Kolm said meekly.

At that, his wife seemed to explode. She stood in the kitchen door,
grabbed a wooden ladle, and stepped up to the man as if to belabour him
with her weapon. "The wolves? No. It's you, you fool!"

Charlie was sitting on the couch, staring with a bewildered look. Len
stood in the corner where he had fastened a shelf for his books.

At the last word of his mother's he veered and came forward, touching
her on her arm. "Leave him alone," he said. "He's got enough to worry
him. What do you want to quarrel for? You know as well as he that it
isn't his fault if the horses are lost."

His mother, amazed at his interference, flinched at the hardness of his
voice. She shook his hand off. "You side with him, do you?"

"I do," Len said, "when he's in the right."

Kolm was still sitting in his easy-chair. He looked up at Len. It seemed
ludicrous that this boy should have interfered between his wife turned
termagant and him who could have crushed her with a blow.

"What's got into you?" he asked admiringly.

Len shrank. Not that he was afraid of his stepfather. He shrank from
that in himself which had driven him to interfere; he had judged; and
his judgment had driven him to act, like a man.

"Nothing," he said. "But what is the use of quarrelling?"

"You're right," Kolm said briefly. "Charlie, to bed."

"Yes, father," Charlie said as though he were still no more than a
child. Nobody in the house seemed to notice that Charlie, too, had grown
to be nearly a man. "Good night."

"Good night."

Next morning Kolm went all over the place as if he were appraising
things and weighing their significance. When he stepped over the
pole-gate that led to the bush trail and the fields, he was joined by

Len had, during the night, probed into every wish of his own and weighed
it against every duty as he had come to perceive it.

Kolm looked at him. With a queer sort of embarrassment he realised that
he valued the good opinion of this boy. In former times he had often
bullied his wife and provoked her till she worked herself into a rage.
He had been tempted to do so last night; but a new shame had held him
back. Kolm was convinced that in sexual matters Len had remained
innocent; suddenly he understood that it was not from ignorance but from
deliberate choice; and that gave the boy a moral superiority over the
older man. But Len had also behaved as if he were going to assume
command; and that Kolm resented; all his instincts were autocratic.

Side by side they went in silence through the bush-fringe. The trail was
wet; pools of water stood in the hollows. The young, vigorous trees were
hung with droplets which shivered down on them when head or shoulder
touched branch or bole. The morning was summer-cool; the sky, uniformly

They came to the first of the fields: thirteen acres under wheat, five
under oats. The black leaf-mould which formed the soil was firm and
crumbly. The crop stood well.

Again they threaded the bush and emerged on the second field: seven
acres of wheat, more advanced than that on the other strip: it stood in
the shot-blade. The leaves of the plants were stiff, almost bursting
with their fulness of moisture.

Kolm shrugged his shoulders as he looked over the field. "Just what was
needed," he said. "But!" And after awhile he added almost reminiscently,
"Twenty acres of wheat at twenty-five bushels at two dollars a bushel. A
thousand dollars would cut quite a slice off our debt." His tone implied
that he was speaking of what might have been.

On Len's brow sat a frown. A disk-harrow stood on the trail which
skirted the field. He sat down on the tongue.

Kolm did the same, sunk in thought.

"You think of quitting?" Len asked.

Kolm shrugged his shoulders. "What's to be done?"

"That's the question. Go to town? Work for wages?"

"They all do it," Kolm said. "Hausman will be the next."

Again they sat in silence for some time. Then Len enquired, "How much is
owing on the horses?"

"Two hundred or thereabout," Kolm replied. "That crop would have paid
it. The largest, the best we've had. Might run to thirty bushels an

"That crop is going to pay it," Len said. "And if I've got to cut it by

Kolm laughed. "What are we going to live on meanwhile? We can't haul
cream without horses."

"Sell the cattle."

"There's a lien-note on them and all their increase."

"Pay the note off. There'll be something over. Keep a cow or two, so
you've milk for the house and a few pigs." Len was patting Rover, the
dog that had followed them.

"Cut by hand!" Kolm exclaimed. "Who's going to bind it?"

Len played his trump card; he had not lain sleepless in vain. "Oxen," he
said, "will both cut and bind it. We'll stack it as always. Thresh from
the stack, and you don't need horses. As soon as harvest is finished,
I'll hire out. My wages for the winter will pay for half the team
anyway. We'll sell what we can. Oxen need less feed than horses."

Kolm sat and mused. He had fighting blood in him. "Work for wages!" he
said to himself. "Have a boss! Take orders! Be dependent on the whims
of a man!"

"Instead of on God and what he sends," Len added.

Another silence ensued. Kolm half turned and touched the boy with his
elbow. He nodded backwards, chuckled, and spoke, "She wants me to go to
town and be a butcher!"

Len nodded. A strange exaltation invaded him. He sat in the council of
grown-ups. He felt very near the man by his side. "What did you come to
this country for?" he asked with seeming irrelevance and was electrified
by the man's response.

Kolm slapped his knee. "Exactly!" he roared and stood up.

Len also rose. "I'll work out," he said. "I don't mind. So long as this
place is here to come back to. There's Charlie, also. This place is as
much his as mine."

"How about teaching?" Kolm asked.

Len shrugged his shoulders.

"Aren't you sorry?"

"Doesn't matter," Len said.

"By golly!" Kolm exclaimed. "I tell you, Len, it will be a black day for
me when I'll have to leave this place. You'll go to the camp in winter?"

"If I don't find anything better," Len said.

"We'll beat them yet!" Kolm exclaimed.

An hour later they were again facing Len's mother. She glanced from Kolm
to Len, feeling that there was a new bond between them.

"Well?" she asked, standing in the kitchen and looking into the living

Neither Kolm nor Len answered at once. Kolm let himself down into his

"Crop's good," he said at last. "Rain was just what we needed."

She turned and rattled pots and pans on the stove.

Kolm looked at Len, who sat down, shrugging his shoulders.

The silence lengthened. At last Kolm rose and cleared his throat. He
stood in the kitchen door, looking at his wife. The expression on his
face was hard to define; it was a mixture of irony and sullen challenge.
"We'll harvest . . ." he began.

But she veered and faced him. "There won't be any harvest if I can help

"There won't?" he asked, his tone changing into that of good-natured
banter. "I don't know about that. Somebody'll harvest it if we don't.
However, that's neither here nor there. The point is you want to quit.
That's right, isn't it?"

"Right? You bet it's right. I've had enough."

"Now listen here, Anna," he went on, still in that half-humorous drawl
of his. "Let's reason this out. Don't let's be rash. We'll do what pays

"It would have paid you long ago to move to town!"

"Maybe it would. We'll grant that. Fact is, we didn't do it. The farm
was yours. You stayed. You made the mistake. You made another mistake.
You married me."

"You're right," she scoffed without stopping her work.

Kolm laughed. "Trouble is, can't be helped. No use talking of past
mistakes. If the farm were yours or mine, we could leave and be rid of
debt at least. We'd be beggars; but we'd be out of debt. As it is, if we
leave, we'll have all our debt left. As for the horses, I'll pay up."

She stared at him. "Pay up?"

"Yea. We can't sell cream any longer. I'll sell the cows."

She laughed. "You wouldn't have caught my first man in any such fool


"No. He'd have found some way to wriggle out of that."

"Oh yes," he nodded. "He had brains!"

"He had. He'd have sold the cattle and buried the money."

"And cheated his creditors. I have no gift that way. I have no brains."

"You're right," she said once more. "You're a blasted fool!"

Kolm frowned. "Steady now!"

"Yes," she screamed, losing control over herself. "Your honesty consists
in letting us work like slaves and starving us to boot."

"Starving you? Listen here, Anna, you can't say that. We've always had
our three squares a day."

"Three squares! As if that made life! I haven't a friend anywhere
around. I haven't a person I can talk to! There's the Hefter-woman east,
and the Hausman-she west. The one's a whore; and the other's a cluck
sitting over her nest. I want a neat little parlor, be it ever so

"All right!" Kolm roared, losing control over his temper in turn. "All
that we know. All that we've heard a thousand times if we've heard it
once. Let me tell you. I married you nine years ago because I took pity
on you; not because of your pretty eyes. You thought I married you
because I wanted a farm with ten acres broken on it. I didn't. I had a
homestead of my own. I broke the ten acres on this place myself. I was
your hired man. Hired man! Did I ever get my wages? I could have broken
that much on my own place and not be encumbered with you and yours. And
the debt I assumed! You bet I'd never have owed two thousand dollars or
more if that first man of yours hadn't had so much brains and done so
much fool buying. You can have your choice. I'll stay and try once more
to make this place a go. I'm not beaten. If I'm beaten within a year,
I'll quit myself. But not before that. You can stay or you can go. But
if you go, you go alone. And if I'm to be anyone's hired man, I go back
to Europe as soon's the war's over. You can take your choice."

She looked at him, cowed. At last she stammered, "How'd you harvest
without any horses?"

"With oxen."

"Who's going to pay for a team of oxen?"

"Len will."

"Oh-o! This is a put-up job between you? That's the way you've figured
it out?"

"That's the way!"

She turned to the stove and busied herself.

"Well," Kolm said, "which is to be?"

"You'll see in a day or two," she said.

"The dooce take the woman!" Kolm laughed and went out, slamming the

Chapter III


The oxen were bought, the cattle sold. Len had signed the notes jointly
with Kolm. Fall work proceeded.

Lydia! Whenever the name emerged, it coupled itself with fragments of
visions. These caused a tightening of the heart or a releasing of its
valves so that the blood, in a sudden burst, rushed more freely and
fully through the sluices of his veins, according as they showed him the
heaving edge of a simple dress which moved with her bosom, the first
blushes slowly mounting from body to head, the mere outline of her
slender, lithe, and well-shaped form--or, in her later phases, the bold,
challenging look of her violet eyes, the angry assurance of the toss of
her head, the sensuous and yet cool abandonment to his caresses in the
kitchen of her parental house.

He tried to put these visions away; they would emerge. With his head
bent sideways, in the tenseness of his effort to reduce his feelings to
a mere play of thought or mind, he drove his oxen in front of the
whirring binder.

In order to submerge the obsession of the past, he tried to shape his
plans for the future; only to find that all his plans were sketched with
that undercurrent of an aim at a final conquest of the girl; at a union
with her in life or death.

He tried to think scornfully of her. He thought of every trifle in their
short, ardent intercourse which stood, at the bar of a moral tribunal,
as an indictment against her. She had flown--with whom? It never
occurred to him, such was his intuitive grasp of her essence, that she
might have gone alone. In all his experience there was only one single
thing at which a girl could aim; and that was to join her fortunes to
those of a man. She more than others! She had trifled with him; she had
trifled with at least three men besides. No doubt she was trifling with
a fifth one right now. She had said that whoever wanted her must have
money; having money meant to Len almost the same as being a merchant;
and the idea of a merchant was linked in his mind with that of the old
Jew in McDougall. That man sat like an ogre on his money-chest. Len's
whole being revolted.

Yet, the old Jew had sons; they were young. But even at that he felt
repelled: racial prejudices gathered into an almost physical sense of

Suddenly he saw her standing against the garden fence in old Mr.
Jackson's yard. Dick stood before her, pouring out his flatteries. Of
course! The somebody with whom she had gone was Dick Jackson. His
prosperity was a sham: he was sponging on his old father. What of it?
Was it necessary to be prosperous in order to delude a girl like Lydia?
Not at all; it was necessary only to appear so.

Len's silent contempt poured itself out over this man and over the
world which he deceived; and with that world, over the girl who formed
part of it. He forgot that he himself had been deceived till his eyes
had been opened by a chance remark of his father. From the moment on
when he himself had seen through the man, he had expected others to see
through him. If they did not, they deserved his scorn. Yes, he scorned
and despised the girl!

Why, then, as he rode the binder, did he look so steadily into the bush
to his left, away from Charlie and Kolm who were stooking? Why did hot,
scalding tears tremble in the corners of his eyes? If he despised her,
did not that settle all things? But, despising her, he despised the
world; despising the world, he despised himself: his life, his future,
everything. There was nothing left to work for, to live for; there was
no sense in being alive, in going on with no matter what.

Yet youth was strong in him. He could not entrench himself in
misanthropic isolation: build himself into a monument of moral
perfection at the foot of which the writhing world seethed like a pit
filled with abominations. The world was there, on a level with him, on
all sides; the world was his match. He had read snatches of Byron's
poems; there was a collection of German verse at home in which scathing
lines of Heine's were prominent. It was the first time in his life that
he became conscious of the help which art affords to a soul in labour.
Byronic contempt embraced its own essence: if he, too, became
despicable, the world and he could meet on equal terms.

Where had she gone? Where but to the city?

He, too, would go to the city. He would plunge into the abyss. He would
probe the depths. Can the lamb sympathise with the wolf? Or the wolf
with the lamb? Let us all be wolves. Then we can sympathise.

The whole trend of his thought was reversed.

In order to drown himself in work, he had accepted the offer of Mr.
Crawford to help him in getting a start at high-school work. Since July
he had been drilling himself in Latin and French declensions and
conjugations. "Amo, amas, amat." Thus the reversal had its beginning.
His, Len's picture had been sent out in the papers all over the western
provinces. He had won a great prize. She would see that picture; she
would know that he was not a mere country lad who could be pushed aside.
She would feel sorry. Genius?

Who was he? Was he different from others? He thought of the exultation
of his spirit a few months ago. He had reached for the stars--for the
space of half an hour. "I shall be a university professor yet!" Of
course, he would. A new driving force entered him; a new buoyancy. If
nothing else, she should feel sorry for what she had done. One day they
would meet. If she was lost to him, they could weep together over what
might have been!

Once more he felt launched on the road. Every step brought him nearer to
a distant goal: it was a physical thing which loomed in the distance.
The harder he worked, the sooner would he reach it!

At last they stacked; and harvest was finished. One day Len made his
last call on Mr. Crawford who looked now so old, so old. He had recently
had word of the death in action of his two sons. All the more did he
seem to love Len. He wrote for him two letters of introduction to former
pupils of his, both living in the city. He repeated his old
admonishings: "Never give up!"

A day or two later it happened that Len and Charlie were hauling hay
from a meadow west of the farm. The last load which the slow-plodding
oxen drew home had been loaded in the dusk of the coming night. Charlie
was sleepy. His head sank on Len's shoulder. Suddenly, half overcome
with drowsiness, he flung an arm, hugging his brother to him.

"Len," he whispered, "don't you think Helen's a heavenly name?"

Len started. "Don't talk nonsense!" he said. But a strange tenderness
for this boy who had but yesterday been a child welled through him.

The last day which he was going to spend at home appeared, a Sunday. In
the afternoon the Dicks called, bringing Helen.

The parents were both young people themselves, strong and healthy, and
agreed on all things of life. Len watched them. Whenever a question was
addressed to one of them, they consulted by a look before either
answered. Mrs. Dick carried a baby a few months old. A boy of ten never
left her, holding on to her skirts.

Helen, the oldest, an exceedingly bashful and pretty girl, of somewhat
over sixteen, tall for her age, and given to blushes, had stayed
behind, in the yard, with Charlie, when the visitors entered. Between
them, there had been an air of collusion.

After awhile Len left the house and looked about. There was nothing to
be seen of the pair. But somewhere in the bush behind the yard Rover
barked. Without any particular thought Len followed the direction of the
sound which led him to the bush trail along the fields.

Helen and Charlie were sitting together, there. Len thought of Charlie's
words, spoken a few nights ago on the load of hay. Those two were
undoubtedly growing towards each other. Come to think of it, there were
only two astonishing things about the affair: how they met and how
Charlie, almost a man, should be still so much of a child. An
overpowering desire to spy upon them invaded Len.

He saw them quite suddenly as he rounded a bend in the trail.

Helen was sitting on the usual seat of wanderers in the bush, a fallen
log; Charlie was lying on his back at her feet and shying stones into
the stubble field.

The dog, watching Charlie, jumped and barked till he threw and then ran
after the missile; but when he had found it, he did not bring it back;
he merely sniffed at it and returned from his chase, looking silly. Both
Helen and Charlie laughed at him; and he, embarrassed and half angered
at their laugh, in the way of dogs, barked, wagging his tail and lying
down, his head on his outstretched front feet.

Neither boy nor girl were self-conscious now. They did not seem to have
gone beyond taking pleasure in each other's company. Then Charlie
uttered some nonsense; Helen laughed; but there was a sudden shyness in
the sound.

Len, in approaching, made a quite unnecessary noise to call attention to
his presence.

"Hello," Charlie sang out, "here comes big brother."

That, too, seemed a capital joke; for Helen laughed at it.

The dog came to lick Len's hand. "Hello!" Len greeted the girl.

Blushes came and went through her white face as she returned his

"Has your father started cutting?" Len asked, though he knew all about
it from the mouth of that father himself.

"He has finished," she replied.

Charlie rose from the ground and frowned fiercely. It was clear, he
considered Len's presence as an unjustifiable intrusion. Looking at
Helen, he laughed. Then he spoke grandiloquently, "Big brother! Big,
hairy brother!"--With a touch on Len's downy chin.

Len was half inclined to resent this; but, seeing Helen laugh, he
preferred to join her.

"I have the honour of submitting a problem to you," Charlie went on.
"Two is company. Three is a crowd. We are three."

"There is a remedy, isn't there?" Len replied.

"A dead sure remedy."

"How would it be, then, if you took yourself off?"

Helen laughed.

Charlie bent down for a stone. "Big brother," he said as he shied it
over the field, "you go east; and I shall go west, taking Helen along.
No need for bloodshed."

Len smiled. "No need indeed. I was going west myself. I want to look at
the other field."

"Then we shall stay where we are," Charlie said to Helen.

Again she answered this sally by a blush and a laugh.

Len went on.

"Len," Charlie sang after him. "I didn't mean it."

"Don't worry," Len said.

The incident seemed to place Len still more in a category by himself.
During the musings of the next half hour he arrived at a strange
conclusion. They started with a feeling of instability in himself: as
though his usual centre of gravity had shifted; as though, if he shared
a common humanity with those of his family, he did not rest his weight
on it; or, if he tried to do so, as if he must inevitably fall. He did
not fit into his surroundings any longer: his aims were different aims.

Helen? She was the natural mate for Charlie; she was exactly the girl
he, Len, would have picked for him; she was like her mother; and her
mother was a peerless mate for her husband: cool, chaste, competent in
a limited sphere: the Dicks never had made the mistake of
over-capitalising a pioneer homestead as his, Len's father had done; as
the Hausmans were doing and so many others.

He, Len, was uprooted. Lydia was not what he had thought her to be. Was
she lost to him? Lost or not, she had given him the data for an ideal
after which he must strive though he knew he could never find it.
Perhaps he would be a celibate; for, though he might meet with a woman
who was all he demanded, he would no longer recognise her unless she
came in Lydia's guise. What was it that bound him to this girl who had
left him? A common curiosity about life in its primal aspects? The
desire to see and to know even though seeing and knowing might
precipitate him and her into the abyss. Yet--he had seen in Lydia what
she was not. Coolly, deliberately, in a purely geometric fashion, he
tried to explain to himself what had happened to him. He had seen
certain points that belonged to a certain figure. Through them, he had
drawn a figure of his own which did not coincide with the real figure;
and to this imaginary figure--a product of his mind and soul--he had
enslaved himself. Therefore he would have to go through life incomplete.
For, do what he would, the data from which he had constructed his ideal
proceeded from her who was lost to him.

He was in a white-clouded mood. The world as it was did not agree with
the world as it should be; he forgave it for being what it was; but he
forgave it sadly. He could not expect that things should come up to his
expectations. He, being the apex of creation, looked back on its lower
manifestations and saw all the previous errors; in a moral sense, he
could have made a better piece of work of it!

If there was, below these thoughts, an uncomfortable realisation of
their inadequacy, it was suppressed. Were they not founded on a basis
broader than the experience of all those whom he knew? Had he not seen
the world? A camp in the bush is as truly an epitome of the whole as
anything else. Is it? Woman was omitted from it, except for the
distorting mirror of tales and the woman at the boarding house. He would
test and correct his view of the world by a comparison in the city. But
it was not from the slenderness of the basis of fact on which his
judgment of the world was built that the uncomfortable feeling sprang;
for he remained unconscious of it. It sprang from the hidden knowledge
that in his reconstruction of the past there was a fundamental flaw. He
knew that, since his return from camp, he had approached Lydia, not with
the heights but with the depths of his being. Not the uppermost, but the
nethermost strata of his essence had been the bridge between them. If
guilt there was, they were equally guilty. This, had he pursued his
thought, would have been its conclusion.

Next morning, he set out for the city, walking, as Joseph had done.
Threshing operations were in full swing in the open prairie; and he
expected to work his way as he went. He would have liked to swing east,
in order to follow the shores of the lake which had been a fairyland to
him since boyhood; but there he would be in the bush; and duty demanded
that he reach the country of the southern farms as soon as he could. He
went straight south.

He had dinner at Lindstedt's place and slept at night in a stook, in a
field a few miles north of Balfour.

In the grey of the following morning he crossed the bridge into town.
The streets were still deserted; the whole place breathed an air of
sleep. Beyond the bridge, hotel and drugstore; a crossing of roads;
three elevators to the left; two straight ahead; a mill built of

Len turned south. The stations of rival railways close together; to the
left, a residential quarter clustered on the bank of the Muddy River.
And, as he went on, he was between fields again. The town was an
incident, casual, of small importance. The road lay ahead. To the left,
the sun rose crimson from greyish vapours ill defined.

He was on the road; and the road was lonely.

At home, Charlie was milking now, shivering in the morning chill as he
sat down, in the lot, between the great beasts, the two of them that
were left. His mother stood over the stove, glad of the heat which it
gave. And his stepfather, perhaps, looked out from the door of the barn
and thought, "Where is he now?"

Well, he was swinging along the dusty road, munching the last piece of
bread he had taken from home, his bundle slung over his shoulder. An odd
feeling came over him that, as he put mile after mile between himself
and that home of his childhood, he was severing his real connection with
it forever; not of his own free will, but driven by that force which
rules our lives.

Chapter IV


On a frosty November morning Len had his first sight of the city. The
accident of finding work had taken him from the plains of Grand Pre
north so that he had half circled the metropolis before he approached
it. He was about eighteen miles north of it when he wound up with his
farm work. Threshing had been finished the night before; and with
daybreak he had started out, reaching the brow of a hill at sunrise. To
his right, a group of enormous buildings lowered over the plains: the
great prison.

At the very horizon to the south, a broken skyline showed where this
centre of western Canada rose. A snow-white plume of smoke and steam
blew east in a sharp west wind. His heart swelled within him. That city
meant much. Knowledge perhaps; or opportunity; but, as likely, doom and
death. With great strides he wound down the slope.

At sundown he entered the streets and soon found a lodging with a
kindly, big, and invalid lady in a street of the north end. Tired as he
was, he went out to see what could be seen of the city at night.

Huge, yellow street cars thundered past him in the middle of the
driveway; automobiles glided along in unbroken streams; the entrances
to moving picture halls blared their light at him; and as he went south,
an ever increasing current of humanity seemed to engulf him.

He came to a place where the great thoroughfare--lined, here, with shops
that bore foreign inscriptions--dipped down to a subway below a railway
station. Enormous arc-lights threw their domes of visibility aloft like
luminous cowls into an atmosphere murky with steam and smoke, and
against buildings that seemed to tower one above the other. A train
rumbled by overhead.

Len stopped and stood, watching the lights that seemed to be shifting
about as the convoluted clouds of steam into which they fell moved and
whirled. His heart sank within him: intelligences more than human must
be directing this chaos if order evolved out of it. He was a grain of
sand on a beach over which superior beings walked, crushing and grinding
him unconcernedly.

Beyond the subway, the brilliancy of the illuminations redoubled. Fiery
legends, stationary or periodically changing and shifting, traced
themselves into the vacant air above the roofs of the buildings.

He thought of his first experience with a train. A year ago! No more! He
had learned to smile at the child he had been. Yet, conquer the city?
This city every inhabitant of which had recently looked at his picture
in the papers? Here he stood; nobody recognised him. Courage failed him
to go on; and he turned back.

Next morning, after a restless night, disturbed by the thousandfold
mysterious noises of the never-sleeping city, he took stock of himself.
Twice he had sent thirty dollars home. And he had thirty left, a great
sum. Yet, two or three times, in his wanderings, he had spent a whole
dollar in a day. Threshing wages were not going to continue. Could he
hope to find work in this place where the simplest problem was solved in
a complicated way?

He counted his money. There were twenty-four dollars left out of thirty;
and his rent was paid a week in advance. Panic seized him. In that room
of his there were a bed, a dresser, a wash-stand, a little table, a
chair. He did not need all that. But there was nothing simpler to be
had. Poor people did not seem to exist in this gutter of the country's
wealth. Yet, his lodging was only a hall bed-room of the kind with which
thousands of gay clerks are barely satisfied.

Go home? He could not acknowledge defeat. The train? Would this city
prove to be as harmless? Strange to say, there was one trifling point
which, more than others, shook his confidence when he thought of it:
last night he had found himself unable to extinguish the electric light
in his room.

He dressed and went out, leaving the light still burning.

It was cold and wintry, the streets still dark. Main Street looked
singularly desolate under the bluish arc-lights. Now and then a motor
car flashed by, its curtains closed. The few people who were abroad wore
heavy, great-collared overcoats; white clouds were blowing from their
mouths. Half in self-pity, half in irony he looked down at himself: he
was encased in a new, stiff suit of overalls, his shoulders squeezed
into that famous old mackinaw coat which did not reach to his hips any
longer and which was bursting in a dozen seams. He owned a pair of
leather mitts, cotton-lined; but he had left them in his room. He
shivered and dug his hands into the side-pockets of his coat so that his
elbows, sticking out, gave him the appearance of a hump-back. For awhile
he stood at a corner, lost, disconsolate.

A huge man in a fur coat, with a number strapped to his sleeve, his head
covered with a wedge-shaped fur cap, strolled leisurely by. Len felt his
eye resting on himself, and his feeling of discomfort reached a climax.
He set out to cross the great street.

Following the opposite sidewalk, he turned south. Big, box-like
buildings alternated with squeezed-in, small shops.

Suddenly a huge sign, black on white, caught his eye like a greeting.
"D. R. L. & W. Co." And below, in five-foot letters, "Lumber, Wood, and
Coal." This sign occupied the slanting corner of a huge, level yard
surrounded by a board-fence.

Len felt as if he had met an old friend. As he peered through the gate,
he half expected to see the "camp boss" stepping out of some building.
But nothing stirred in the deserted yard.

As he stepped back, his eye fell on a little blackboard by the side of
the gate. "Teamsters wanted. Apply at office."

Teamsters? Where was the office?

He skirted the board-fence and came to a little building, strangely
small in this environment. On its wide window it bore, in gold letters,
the same inscription as the sign at the corner. He stopped and tried the
door. It had a glass panel; and on it, too, there was a gold-lettered
inscription, "Hours 9 to 12 and 2 to 5."

Involuntarily he looked at the sky to see what time it might be.

Walking briskly, he went on. Again he came to the subway, and it held no
terrors. He had thought of the waiting room at the station.

Above him, a red-brick building towered into the night. Beyond, a
park-like space was set into the street. The lower part of the façade of
the station glittered with glass and brass.

A huge dome-like hall, with rows upon rows of dark-wooden seats; a line
of wickets; a news-stand; and a great clock in the wall, its hour-hand
pointing to the V. Four hours to wait: he felt as the man who fell among
thieves must have felt when the Levite went past him. Yet he sat down.

At nine o'clock sharp he was at the office of the D. R. Company.

All sorts of doubts had come to assail him.

In front, at the curb, a huge truck of coal stood drawn up, hitched with
a team of magnificent Clydes. A man in working-clothes, black with
coaldust, stood by the door.

Just then a gentleman arrived, unlocked the door, and entered, followed
by the swarthy teamster. Len waited.

The teamster reappeared, pulling on his mitts, and climbed up on the
load. As he drove away, turning to the south, Len followed him, now
fast, now slowly. He was going to see what this teamster would do with
his load, thus to learn whether he was equal to the work himself.

At the next crossing, the truck turned west. To Len this seemed an
adventurous undertaking; for by this time street cars and motor cars
followed each other in unbroken succession. But the teamster seemed
quite unconcerned.

They threaded side streets, narrower and quieter than Main Street. At
last the truck stopped in front of a house. The teamster climbed down
from his load and went to the backdoor. When he returned, he drove on
till he reached a lane. Two more turns; and he entered a back yard,
opened a lid in the side of the house--it was a coal-chute--backed his
truck against it, and, by a number of manipulations, tilted the hopper
of the wagon so that, with a clatter, the coal ran out. Part of it
entered the chute; the rest was spilt on the ground. The man reached for
a shovel and threw the spilt coal into the chute. At last, with grimy
fingers, he drew a slip of paper from the breast pocket of his overalls
and rang the bell at the door. A lady appeared, signed the paper, and
handed it back.

Again Len was dogging the wagon and followed it for more than an hour.
In the outskirts of the city they came to an enormous yard where a track
of the railway ran up a high trestle spur, sixty feet above the ground.
Beneath it coal lay in piles forty feet high; and dozens of trucks,
similar to the one he had been following, stood backed against these
piles. Three, four were coming in empty; and as many left, filled up, at
every moment. A man with a bunch of papers in his hand was running to
and fro on a platform at which the departing loads were weighed and
despatched. All about, gay banners of smoke, white, grey, and black,
were blowing east from a dozen smoke-stacks bristling into the blue of
the sky. The sun shone down on it all: the same sun that shone down on
forest and field.

Len hailed one of the departing teamsters and was invited to climb up on
the load. At four o'clock, he went to the office and was at once engaged
as a member of the company's teaming force, at wages of three dollars a

For a few days he was attached to the truck of another driver, so as to
give him a chance to become familiar with the lay-out of the city. He
bought a map and studied it at night, taking long walks to interpret it
correctly. Within a week the work had become a routine.

The city no longer daunted or awed him. It amused him, instead. What
amused him was the seeming futility of most of its pursuits; he had not
yet become critical enough to see their serious side. As during the
first months in the lumber camp, he lived by himself, without friends or
acquaintances: in the city, but not of it.

As in the camp, his mind was turned towards study. He had two letters of
Mr. Crawford's to deliver. Twice, during the first Sunday, he made an
attempt at delivering one of them.

He went to the address indicated on the envelope. It was in one of the
residential streets of the better class, far in the west end. The house
was large, set back in a well-treed lot; it was built of red brick, with
a roof of green concrete tile, a curving driveway leading up to a roofed
entrance. The place breathed an aristocratic aloofness which seemed to
repel him. He went by without entering the grounds.

An hour later, when he had once more screwed up his courage, he
returned. This time he did not stop to consider but boldly entered. He
wore the "store suit" bought at McDougall. His work having accustomed
him to do so, he rang at the backdoor. A young lady in black, with a
small white apron, opened and asked for his errand. He stammered the
name of Mr. Crawford's former pupil. "Mr. Pennycup isn't at home. He's
at church, conducting his Bible Class." Len stammered an excuse and
turned away. The young lady, scanning him from head to foot, had hardly
been able to suppress a smile. He made no attempt to renew the call.

Then, early in December, one evening, the card handed him by the
despatcher bore Mr. Pennycup's address. In going there, he made a slight
detour, passed through the street of his lodgings, and fetched the
letter, writing his own name and address on the back of the envelope. An
hour later he was in the backyard of 254, Alexandra Street.

Chance favoured him; for, as he rang the bell at the backdoor, a
medium-sized, fastidiously dressed man of forty appeared, thrusting his
sharp-featured head through the door.

"Well, yes," he said at sight of Len. "I wonder, young man, whether you
would come down into the basement for a moment. Bring your shovel,
please. The chute is choked up."

Len was led through a white-tiled kitchen where the young lady in black
recognised him with wide eyes; through the back of a corridor which gave
him a glimpse of a carpeted hall in front; and thence down a stairway
into the cellar.

Mr. Pennycup led the way, shaking out his cuffs as he arrived at the
bottom. "Now there, you see," he said, pointing into the coal bin, with
an exaggerated swing of his arm. He made the impression as though he
were gathering for a leap, his hips and shoulders being in a permanent
state of tension; and as he spoke, he raised himself on his toes. But he
was cheerful and polite; too much so, perhaps; he was trying to treat
Len as a sort of human being.

"Now," Mr. Pennycup said after a minute or so, "that's fine. That will
do splendidly. Sincerely obliged to you, young man. Might I ask you to
accept . . ." fingering a small coin.

Len straightened his back. "You are Mr. Pennycup?" And, when the other's
amazed look betrayed that he was, "I have a letter for you from Mr.

"Crawford?" Mr. Pennycup balanced himself on the balls of his feet and
shot the cuffs of his shirt-sleeves forward, in the motion of receiving
the message. "Not John Adam surely? Well, well! What do you think about
that? You don't mean it, young man, do you?"

All this was very finely said; the fiction that Len was a human being
like Mr. Pennycup himself was almost kept up. The master of the house
opened the letter, stepped to one of the dusty electric bulbs to read
it, and allowed the envelope to flutter to the floor.

"Well, well," Mr. Pennycup said, folding the letter. "I dare say you are
busy on week-days. Let me see. How would Sunday suit you? Next Sunday
afternoon at five o'clock. We'll have a cup of tea in the library. Yes,
Sunday at five. We'll have a nice chat."

"All right," said Len and made for the stairway.

Mr. Pennycup followed him to the kitchen door, smiling a strange smile
as he nodded his farewell.

On Sunday, at five o'clock sharp, Len, clad in his store suit and a new,
short sheep-skin coat, rang the bell of the backdoor.

The young lady in black opened, looked at him, and said half humorously,
"When you don't deliver coal, you should ring at the front, Mr.

In spite of himself Len reddened.

"This way, please." And the brisk young lady led the way to the hall. A
slide door to the right was pushed back, and Mr. Pennycup emerged,
reaching out his hand with a great show of cordiality.

"Well, well, there you are. Come right in. Put your coat anywhere."

Len entered a lofty room which, from ceiling to floor, was lined with
book-shelves. A desk, flanked by revolving book-stands, occupied one
corner. Deep, leather-covered chairs stood about at various angles. From
the tall, curtained windows, the subdued light of a wintry evening fell
into the room. Mr. Pennycup pressed a button in the wall near the door;
and from four frosted globes in the ceiling the room was flooded with a
diffused radiance which was singularly soft to the eyes.

"Sit down, Mr. Sterner," said the host. "Make yourself at home. I shall
be delighted, delighted indeed, to hear from my old teacher." He was
closing the curtains by pulling tasselled cords. Before he sat down, he
pressed the button of a bell in the frame of the door. "And now," as he
subsided into one of the low, deep chairs, "tell me, please. The letter,
I see, is dated from McDougall. Is that a town? Is he teaching there?"

"No," Len said; and, as briefly as he could, he gave an account of how
and where Mr. Crawford lived.

Mr. Pennycup laughed. "That sounds like him. He was always queer. I have
been told--I don't know of my own knowledge; my interests lie along
literary lines--that at one time, years ago, he might have had almost
any kind of preferment in academic work, as a university teacher of
biology. An offer was made, so I understand, and declined. I have not
seen him for . . . oh, a good many years. And you tell me, he's been
teaching in a one-roomed country school?"

Len had nothing to say. It seemed strange indeed.

"Well," Mr. Pennycup went on, "John Adam Crawford will leave his mark
somehow. And you were his pupil? You live in that district?"

At this moment the door opened; and the young lady from the kitchen
wheeled a tea-wagon in, glittering with glass, silver, and thin-shelled

"Very good," Mr. Pennycup said. "Thanks, Minnie. Thanks."

And, shooting out the snow-white cuffs of his shirt, Mr. Pennycup busied
himself pouring tea and offering his young, embarrassed guest a plate
with diminutive sandwiches. Then, as though recollecting himself, he
went on. "Eh? Yes. Well, well! Let us talk of yourself. I am most
anxious to understand just what my old friend John Adam expects me to
do. He speaks in the highest terms of you. Terms, in fact, which would
sound extravagant to anyone who does not know him. I hesitate about
repeating them. I know your present occupation. I became aware of it the
other day. In just what way could I be of service?"

"I don't know. Mr. Crawford mentioned that you are a teacher."

Mr. Pennycup gave a short laugh. "I don't do any teaching at all. I
haven't done any for quite a number of years. I am engaged in the
administration of what is probably the largest high school in the west.
I am more of an employment agent than a teacher. We graduate hundreds of
young people every year. They go out into life; and we try to establish
them. My personal contact with them is of the briefest. Through the
members of the staff, of course. . . . By directing; by submitting
suggestions to the authorities. . . . Just what are your plans?"

"I don't even know that I have any plans. I should like to make use of
my spare time."

"Night school!" Mr. Pennycup became pensive. "But the classes which we
conduct at night are elementary. I understand you have passed your
entrance examinations?"

"I have even read quite a little beyond. I have taken some French and

"You have? Well, how about continuing your reading course? You are under
a necessity of making your living?"


"And could you not--excuse me if I seem to presume; I am actuated by the
desire to further your plans--could you not try to make it in a more
genteel occupation? I mean by other than manual labour?"

"I don't know. Before I came to the city, I worked in threshing. Here, I
took the first job that was offered."

"Wisely, no doubt. But I fancy it must be tiring."

"Not as tiring as work on the farm. I have definite hours."

"Hm!" Mr. Pennycup mused sympathetically. "On the farm it is from dawn
to dark, eh?"

"And longer. Not that I mind it. If I had had my choice, I should have
stayed on the farm; at least so long as Mr. Crawford stayed."

"But you had no choice?"

"We lost our horses last summer," Len explained. "I undertook to pay for
a team of oxen."

"I see. I see. Yes, yes. I understand. How are conditions up in your
district? Pretty good? I mean, on the whole. I understand yours is a
special case. Are the farmers prosperous?"

"Not very. It is a pioneer district."

"Ah yes!" Mr. Pennycup deposited his cup. "The rural problem! I have
often wondered what could be done. Have you books there? A circulating
library? Do lecturers come out in university extension work? Nothing,
eh? Life must be dreary. The emptiness of it! The terrible emptiness!
Stale, monotonous, dreary!"

Len felt a strange revulsion. This man antagonised him.

Mr. Pennycup rose to his feet, took a turn through the room, and
stopped. "Don't you think there is only one solution? The English way."

Len looked blank.

"The gentleman farmer. The man who owns or rents the land and manages
the business, hiring the actual labour done."

"We'd be labourers instead of farmers," Len said.

"Perhaps." Mr. Pennycup was struck by the astuteness of the remark.

"I doubt whether we'd like it."

"Coolies!" Mr. Pennycup exclaimed. "Cheap labour is the problem. Why not
import a few hundred thousand coolies? The land has to be cultivated.
Let the white man manage; let the yellow man toil!"

Len drew the strange conclusion that this educated man was a fool. "We
don't complain," he said at last. "We want nothing but equal
opportunities with the people who live in cities."

"Ah, yes. We are getting away from the topic. Suppose I could do
something for you in this way that I helped you to find work along
different lines?"

"Would there be more money in it?" Len asked.


"But not immediately? Then it would not help me at present."

"Understand me," Mr. Pennycup cried. "I wish to do what I can. But to
tell you the truth, I don't quite see . . ."

"You cannot indicate to me how I might get help in working my way
through the first two high-school grades during the winter?"

"Not unless you do it by private study. It would be very hard. If it is
books you need, there is the public library."

"I have a letter to Dr. Lockhart."

"The very man!" Mr. Pennycup exclaimed. "He will do all he can."

Len rose.

"Another thing," Mr. Pennycup went on. He was clearly desirous to do
what was in his power short of committing himself to any expenditure of
time or money. "I am a member of various associations and committees.
There are public lectures given by university men. All you need to do is
to watch the public prints. If you happen to pass through Park Street,
step into the vestibule of the Arts Building. A list of all lectures to
be delivered is posted there. Other lectures are put on by other
organisations. I shall be delighted to send you tickets. Will you leave
me your address?"

Len felt for a pencil.

Mr. Pennycup handed him one, gold-mounted, and drew a sheet of paper
forward on the desk.

"I've been delighted," he said, balancing himself on his toes and
shooting out his cuffs. "Delighted, I assure you. Drop in again and
report your progress."

Awkwardly Len found his way into the hall, shouldered into his
sheep-skin, shook hands, and was in the snow-covered street.

He did not know that he was being watched from a window of the house;
nor that, when he was out of sight, a sash was raised to air the
library. The man who raised it, muttered to himself, "Coolies! the very
thing! No real civilisation has ever existed without slavery in one form
or other!"

Chapter V


One day Len passed one of the great high schools of the city at the very
moment when school was being dismissed. He stopped his team and looked
across the spacious yard. As the pupils crowded through the huge doors,
two things struck him: the disproportionate number of girls among them;
and the low age prevailing among the scholars.

Both facts depressed him. He had the right to attend high school.
Suppose a lucky chance freed him of his economic necessities. Would he
want to sit among these youngsters and imbibe at twenty what they were
mastering at fourteen? Would he want to sit among these girls who
belonged to a class which seemed to be above him?

Yet, theirs was not the thirst for knowledge, a vital necessity of his
innermost being. Knowledge to them was a means of securing "standing";
for certain careers or modes of making a living a certain academic
standing was required. He despised them.

As he drove on again, he reflected that his own life was empty and
hollow. He did not object to the outward forms of his life; did not wish
for better clothes, for more sumptuous meals. His work was part of the
world's work which had to be done. Why should not he do his share? But
in his leisure hours, be they few or many, he wanted once more to live
the life of a scholar. The flame rekindled in him. Lydia was lost. He
would read, read.

Through a street canyon, between enormously high buildings, where
traffic ebbed and flowed at a furious rate, he came out into the great
avenue which was the city's main artery. A few doors east of the
crossing was a book-store. He drove into a lane and stopped his horses.

Black as he was, he ran back, afoot, and entered the store. A
fashionable customer shrank from contact with him; he paid no heed. By
dint of assiduity he gained the attention of a clerk and named half a
dozen text-books which, a few minutes later, he received done up in a
parcel. He paid for them and returned to his team. They were texts
prescribed, not for the first, but the third high-school year.

A fortnight later, before leaving his room in the morning, he pocketed
Mr. Crawford's letter to the custodian of the public library. For
several days he did not happen to pass the building, and he carried the
letter about for a week. When at last he found time, it happened to be
the noon hour. The building looked palatial in a park-like square; but
Len had by this time conquered his shyness. He entered and asked a young
lady for Dr. Lockhart. He was told that the doctor had gone out for his
lunch; he left his letter. Two days later he called again; and again the
doctor was out; but he had left word that Mr. Sterner was to be given
any book he might ask for.

Len laughed. "I don't want books so much as advice on what to read."

"In what line?" the young lady asked encouragingly.

"Literature, history, anything."

"Just a moment." In a few minutes the young lady returned with a volume
entitled, "History of English Literature."

Len signed a slip of paper, gave his address, asked for something to
wrap the book up in, and returned to his team.

Henceforth he worked at night and in every spare moment. His
exceptionally retentive memory enabled him to ponder problems in
algebra, geometry, physics while driving through the less crowded
streets and thoroughfares even when at work.

One of the men who shovelled coal at the yard, so Len discovered, was a
French-Canadian. Tentatively, Len used, in conversation with him, a few
of the French phrases which he knew. The young man gave him a bright
smile. From that day on there was a secret bond between them. They
managed with remarkable frequency to get together. With ever increasing
intensity Len worked at his French grammar; his vocabulary increased
with astonishing speed.

Life seemed to assume a new meaning, to glow in colours once more. Eight
hours of work; eight hours of pleasure in pursuit of knowledge; eight
hours of sleep; and sometimes one or two hours were nibbled off the
latter allotment. Len wrote to Mr. Crawford about his progress.

Two or three times he attended lectures. The first one dealt with
"Travel in the Roman Empire." Lantern slides opened a new world to him;
he resumed his work in Latin. The next one dealt with "Dombey and Son,"
giving an appreciation of the work of Dickens and analysing this
particular book in detail. It steeped him in a new glow: the desire
awoke to know of great writers and to visualise their work, intuitively,
with a comprehensive eye, to see what they had been rather than done.
The third one dealt with the starry heavens: he felt bewildered. This
lecturer had given his whole life to the study of one little corner of
the knowledge of the world; and he, Len, wished to embrace it all! Yet
his enthusiasm and the thrill of conquest were infinitely precious to
him. It would not do to dwell too much on the futility of his dreams.

Three months went by. He no longer thought of Lydia; he no longer
brooded over the labyrinthine tangles of life. He lived at last.

One day he took stock. Mr. Crawford had sent him a syllabus of the
studies prescribed for high-school students. In the one department which
he had dreaded, mathematics, he had actually covered the whole course.
He could hardly believe it. Again and again he compared the notes of the
syllabus with the pages of his text-books, especially in algebra. It was
true. He felt an enormous accession of power.

The following Sunday he tested himself. At the back of the text-book a
series of examination papers were given. He found nothing that he could
not do. So, one day, when he passed the Arts Building of the university,
he felt emboldened to stop his team, in the midst of high-powered cars,
and to run in.

In the huge hall from which two broad flights of steps ran up, he saw a
door marked "Registrar," with a direction, "Walk In." He followed this
summons and faced a young lady--all things seemed to be done by young
ladies these days. She looked startled as she saw his coaldust-blackened

But he had considerable practice, by this time, in addressing the most
disconcerting young ladies--maids. "Pardon me," he said, "I should like
to get some information."

"Yes?" she smiled sweetly.

"I have heard a person can enroll for university courses without

"As an extramural student?"

"Extramurally, yes. What is required for that purpose?"

"Matriculation standing."

"Standing? If the person has the necessary knowledge?"

"How can he show knowledge without proving his standing? Have you passed
high-school examinations?"

"No. I have passed my Entrance. First in the province."


Len, with humorously exaggerated pride, produced the paper in which his
picture had appeared.

In the background a grey-haired, erect man passed from one room to
another. He had caught a word or two of the conversation. The young lady
turned and looked at him. "Mr. Greig," she said, "have you a moment to

Mr. Greig lent a kindly ear. "You will have to pass examinations," he

"There is no way of dispensing with that?"

"None. If you know the work, there is no reason to wish it, either. You
can write on part of them in June; on the remainder in September. Then
you can enroll for the fall term in October. I'll give you a calendar
which will explain the requirements in detail."

"Thanks," Len said, took the proffered pamphlet, and left.

All about, the life of the great city pulsed. Len felt as though he were
living like a hermit on a desert isle. "I shall be a university
professor yet!" When, a year later, he looked back on this time of his
life, it struck him how near he had been to his goal.

Had he turned his back on all this? Had he deliberately given up the
studies which had made him happy? No. Some other power had taken command
and hurled him out of his orbit into a different world.

Several things coincided to bring that result about. For one thing, he
caught a cold. For Len, a cold was always associated with fever. Fever
made him light-headed, reckless. And the very day when this condition
was at its height, he had an encounter.

Late in the evening, he was driving back to the coal-yard to stable his
team. The cinder road wound along between warehouses and sheds.
Suddenly, in front of him, he saw another truck going the same way.

On its seat sat a humped-over figure which looked familiar.

Had Len been gifted with foresight, he would have delayed in order to
avoid a meeting. But for the moment he was glad to see anyone whom he
knew and who came from the same part of the country as he. That man he
would make "perform" for his amusement.

He trotted his horses and sang out, "Hi! Joseph!"

The other turned, stopped, and sprang to the ground. "Hello!" he said in
furtive glee. "Since when have you been here?"

"Since threshing." Len smiled at the reversal in their respective
positions; he felt the older, maturer, steadier of the two. "And you?"

"A month." Joseph giggled as if he had met the companion of former

"Well, let's put the horses in. We can talk on the way home."

Joseph returned to his truck and went on.

When they left the yard, a devil-may-care spirit invaded Len. He took
the older man's arm; together they struck south in search of adventure.
Len had never yet boarded a street car. When they did so, he displayed
the air of a habitué, holding out a dollar bill to the conductor.

They found seats. "Seen the folks lately?" Len asked.

"No. I haven't been near them. I've sold my horses and the cow. Dick's
clearing for me. I make better wages working out."

Len laughed. "Too lonesome? You for the gay life, eh?"

Joseph shrugged his shoulders.

Len, feeling none of the responsibility for this man which he had felt
in the lumber camp, wished to stir him up. An uncontrollable fit of
laughter seized him. When they neared the street of his lodgings, he
rose. "Let's wash up at my place," he said. "Then we'll go downtown. To
Deer River, eh?"

They alighted. "Sure," said Joseph with a sudden grin, breaking into
shrugs of devilment. "Some woman up there at Deer River!"

"You were nicely mixed up with her," Len agreed. "Drink, gambling, and
women are your three long suits, eh?"

They dipped into the darkness of the side street as into a cave. It was
a mild evening of the birth of spring. Foreign figures: bearded Jews and
portly Greek women were standing on the steps of the little houses. From
a fruit store the jabber of Italian voices came in quick staccato. In
front of them, through the dark, two young fellows strode along,
conversing in the finger language of the dumb.

Like a wave of hot air the intoxication of the crowded city life struck
Len who had so far walked through it inviolate.

The man by his side pressed his arm. "But that was nothing. The city for
me! I tell you, the women here! lots of them! Thousands!"

Again Len laughed. He had the man going.

In Len's room, Joseph gave him fifty dollars to put away. Len thrust the
money into a drawer, under his shirts. In a whirlwind of hurry they
tidied themselves.

Ten minutes later they were in the street again.

"Where do you eat?" Len asked.

"I've got a place," Joseph said. "With women. Come on."

Arm in arm they turned into Main Street. They went on straight ahead
till they had passed the subway. Beyond, they turned east, past the
station, into a quarter entirely unknown to Len. Dark side streets were
lighted only by coloured bulbs on the porches of houses. Joseph turned
into one of them.

"Where are you going?" Len asked, his heart pounding.

"I told you," Joseph replied tensely. He stopped in front of a house and
searched for its number. Then he climbed two steps; and when he had rung
the bell, a female face peered through a crack between door-frame and
blind. The door was cautiously opened.

Inside, the air was heavy with scents. A frosted globe diffused a pink
light. The woman who had opened the door was by no means young; her face
was stiff with paint. She moved with a business-like briskness.
Apparently she knew Joseph; for without word or smile she opened a door
into the room opposite the entrance.

"Supper for two," Joseph said with his habitual grin and shrug.

She nodded gravely and closed the door on them.

The room was furnished like any bourgeois dining room: couch, heavy
curtains, table, and six chairs. The walls were decorated with pictures
of nudes.

Joseph greedily inhaled the musty smell of powder that floated on the
air, baring his splendid teeth. Len felt immensely sobered.

After awhile a second woman entered, carrying table linen over her arm.
She was large and stout, moving like a tower in a pink kimono. Her feet
were bare in satin slippers; her face, none too young, glaring in its
contrasts of artificial reds and whites: her hair was black. With an
amused expression she glanced from Len to Joseph, from Joseph to Len.

"Hello, Alice," Joseph greeted her.

Without answering, she continued her scrutiny for another second. Then
she nodded to Joseph. "Hello, chuck," she said in a babyish voice. "What
lamb do you bring us there?"

"Friend of mine," Joseph said, putting his arm about her waist.

She pecked a kiss at his cheek and disengaged herself.

"Supper for two, the madam said. You mean for four?"

"Sure." He approached her again.

"Here!" she admonished. "Business before pleasure!" She slipped out.

She had hardly left the room when Len turned to Joseph. "I don't think I
want this sort of thing."

Joseph grinned at him. "Don't be silly!"

"Are you going to stay?"

Joseph laughed. "After supper? Sure. We'll go to a picture show."

Len grasped at that. "I've never seen a picture show."

The woman returned, laying the table.

Len and Joseph watched her in silence. A girl, attired as a maid, helped
with the work.

"Do I dress?" the woman called Alice asked.

"Sure," Joseph said. "We'll go to a show. Lots of time, though."

A few minutes later another girl entered, dressed like Alice though she
wore stockings. She curtsied in mockery and smiled. She was pretty,
fair-haired, small, and young; and she had finely-shaped limbs.

Len's heart leapt into his throat. Lydia's figure and face stood before
his mind's eyes. The girl resembled her.

She, too, looked smilingly from one to the other. Then she drew a chair
close to Len's and sat down. As she did so, she allowed her kimono to
fall apart in front and was revealed in her undergarments, lacy, silky

Len felt alternately hot and cold.

She, seeing his plight, laughed and patted him on his cheek, drawing her
kimono about herself.

Helplessly Len frowned and rose. But she caught him by his sleeve and
drew him down again. A moment later he felt as though liquid fire were
running through his body; his brain was swamped by he knew not what; his
senses reeled.

The girl had sat down on his knees; her arms were about his neck; she
pressed his head to her naked bosom. Then, with a silvery laugh, she
sprang up and ran out.

Once more Len rose and staggered to the door. Joseph tried to hold him;
but he tore himself loose; and without noticing that he left his cap
behind, he escaped into the street.

That was the last time he was to see Joseph; for the man never claimed
the money he had left with Len. As a matter of fact, he became, in the
course of the night, embroiled in a fight and was arrested.

Chapter VI


Len had been wandering the streets for hours. He did not know what was
wrong. Somehow he could not find his way to where he wanted to go. Where
_did_ he want to go? He could not tell. He had seen Lydia, that was all
he knew. He did not even remember that it had been a mere vision.

As the night wore on, he felt strangely light. Was he ill? More likely
he was inspired. His thoughts raced along, sketching conceptions of
seemingly vast import in snatches.

This night was a turning-point in his life.

Knowledge? Once before, in the camp, knowledge had seemed trivial; but
never before had the futility of such a thing as learning been so
convincingly clear to him. Life, life was everything. It seemed as
though he knew very clearly just what he meant by that word "life".

He visualised his own parental homestead, Hausman's, Dick's. They were
the ones that raised the food to feed the crowd of parasites!

Pennycup, Greig, the registrar of the university, the young lady at the
public library: all these danced past his excited mental vision as in a
kaleidoscope; they were the parasites.

He stopped and laughed. Joseph's face had flashed upon the screen of
his mind. He flung his arms wildly: _he_ was a homesteader!

With an abrupt sobering of all his faculties he looked about. He was in
a part of the city which he did not know. The streets were dark. Huge,
box-like buildings with rows upon rows of windows, all without a light,
seemed to crowd in upon him from all sides. In a sudden panic he began
to run.

Ahead of him was a bridge. It seemed as though that bridge came
galloping to meet him. A minute later he stopped, hugging its parapet.
Below, the wide, white trough of the river lay as in a dream. A
half-moon rode high in the sky. The moon!

As in a nightmare, the city seemed to sink away. An irresistible longing
for the open country came over him. He wanted to leave the city behind,
to tramp into the fields and the woods.

Feeling weak, he squatted down on his heels, leaning back against the
concrete supports of the parapet. Feeling hot, he opened his sheep-skin.
Where was the country?

Confusion invaded his brain. With his mind's eye he saw a stiff derby
hat. Into it he must break three eggs, being careful that none of the
white got into it, only the yolks. What do with the whites? Let them run
on the pavement! The yolks he must beat with an egg-beater. Yes, that
would solve the problem. Yet, it was not altogether clear. He reached
for the derby hat, struggling to his feet.

He stood and looked about. Shaking his head, he wiped the sweat from his
brow. "What nonsense!" he muttered. "What deuced nonsense!"

He went on and stopped again. What was it? Ah yes, he wanted to find the
open road away from the city.

Certainly, yes! Where should the doubt come in? Forward march!

The short rest had refreshed him; he felt light again and stepped
briskly out. Sick? Yes, he was sick. What of it? As soon as he breathed
the open air of the woods, he would be well.

Again a kaleidoscopic procession of pictures flashed through his brain,
like moving pictures reeled off at a tremendously accelerated pace.
Lydia? There she stood, her shoulder-blades glued against a building,
her head flung back, beautiful, desirable, alluring, pure! Three men
stood about her, snarling. "Pack of wolves!" Len yelled.

The sound of his voice brought him to himself. Frightened, he looked
back and went rapidly on.

The neck of a horse bent upward. A fire at the edge of the slough. His
stepfather, gigantic, shadowy, hurling a rope . . .

In passing, a sign caught his eye. He went back and read it
painstakingly as though the mechanics of reading were still troubling
him. "Northern Fish Company." As he went on, he kept repeating these
three words, saying them in all sorts of cadences, with varying
intonations, now questioningly, now threateningly, now like an
imprecation in a commination service. It was a game. At last his
inflections became ironic, Byronic, pathetic like the ravings of Lear on
the heath.

The lights of the great station building at the corner of Main Street
were ahead. As he reached it, he felt suddenly tired to death. The clock
showed that it was late, between two and three. He was hungry; but above
all he was tired.

Somehow, thence, he reached his lodgings.

Arrived in his room, he seemed quite sane. He wound and set his alarm
clock and lay down on his bed without undressing.

A second later, so it seemed, the alarm went off. He shivered in the
chill of his stuffy room. But he washed, searched for his cap, and, not
finding it, sat down again. He saw a letter lying on his dresser,
pocketed it, rose, and went out. At seven o'clock he reported at the
barn to take his team out.

"Shovellers have gone on strike," the stable boss said, standing in the
drive way of the huge barn as Len put the harness on the horses. "You'll
have to do your own shovelling." And he gave Len a card. The first
morning deliveries were always directed by him.

"All right," Len said.

As he began to shovel, he was instantly in a cold sweat. He took his
sheep-skin off and stood, letting the morning breeze pass through his
jeans. He was the only man who had reported so far.

He stood, leaning on his shovel. Visions invaded him.

He was riding in a palanquin, elephants crowding against him right and
left. Through a mist-veiled valley he was riding down to the plains: fir
trees loomed high and gaunt into the grey of dawn. Plumes nodded all
about. At the head of the great beast he was now riding, a small,
white-turbaned figure in green silk breeches, with a red silk sash about
his hips, was trotting along afoot, swinging his goad. He himself was
the rajah, reclining on cushions, leading his men down to the plains for
a raid.

The foreman spoke to him. "Are you sick?"

"No. I'm all right." In a frenzy of hurry he finished his load.

He drove to the scales.

"What did you do with your hat?" the foreman asked.

"Don't know."

"Out on a spree last night?"

"You bet," Len replied as he climbed up on his load.

As he drove out of the yard, his teeth chattered. But he thought quite
clearly. "Doggone it all!" he mumbled. "I must wrest another three
dollars from this swollen belly of wealth!"

He looked down on the nodding horses and lapsed. Like a moving platform,
his mind seemed to slip from under him. Hours seemed to go by.

Then he came to for a moment, in a bedlam of noise. Three, four
policemen were standing about his truck. Voices shouted. A bell clanged
persistently. His team stood crosswise in front of a street car. He
tried to sit up. He was on Grand Pre Avenue, holding up the traffic.

Then he felt himself lifted. He struggled; he sank, sank, sank. He was
laid down and felt swift motion. He yelled to the horses to go faster,
faster! A cool hand was placed on his head.

Chapter VII


A month or so later, having weathered an attack of pneumonia, Len
insisted prematurely on being dismissed from the hospital. He had some
money: arrears of wages due him and fifty dollars which he found among
his laundry and the presence of which he could not explain. The same day
he took the night train for McDougall.

The series of events which caused Len to depart thus suddenly had been
revealed in a number of letters.

After Len's departure in the fall of the year, the crop had been
threshed; its proceeds had proved sufficient, not only to cover the
interest charges on the debt, but even to pay off close to five hundred
dollars on capital account. But it had led to another violent quarrel
between Kolm and his wife.

When Kolm and Charlie, one afternoon, were bagging the first load of
wheat, standing each bag as it was filled on end in the sleigh box to be
taken to town next day, Mrs. Kolm watched from the window of the kitchen
in the north wall of the house. Stepfather and son came in late at

When supper was finished, Kolm turned to his wife and asked, "What's
eating you?" for she betrayed her ruffled temper by throwing dishes and
pans about.

"Where are you going to take that grain?" she asked.

"Where? To McDougall, of course."

"You're a fool!" she said and went into the kitchen, slamming the door.

Kolm looked at Charlie, who was by this time taking Len's place in the
stepfather's confidence, and gravely winked at him.

"Search me!" Charlie said and threw himself down on the lounge.

Kolm brooded for awhile; then he rose and went to the door.

"Say," he said to his wife. "Mind telling me what's up?"

"I've told you," she snapped. "You're a fool."

"That's a well-known fact," Kolm said. "But what brings it to mind just

"That wheat's the only thing we've got to sell!"

"Not altogether. There's a little barley, and some oats."

"You're dense! You haven't an ounce of brains!"

"I know, I know." Then, explosively, "What in hell are you driving at?"

She laughed. "As if there were no elevators elsewhere!"

"McDougall happens to be the nearest place; and I owe money there."

"Exactly," she said with enormous indifference. "All right. All right!"

He, pressing the two jambs of the door with his elbows and its lintel
with the top of his head, stood and stared. "You mean I can get the cash
at Poplar Grove and defraud my creditors. That happens not to be my way.
What good would it do? They would enquire and find out."

"This place is going to blazes anyway."

"I don't know about that."

"How are you going to make a living without cream to sell?"

"Remains to be seen. I'm going to run a store bill. It's the first time
I do it. It's the first time I can. If I pay that wheat in on my debts,
I'll have credit."

"And who's going to pay the store bill?"


"Len! Do you think he'll carry you on his back all his life?"

"I don't. If I help him to get this place into shape, he'll help me to
get established on mine. It's between him and me."

"That wheat'd make a nice first payment on a good business in town."

"I am not going to run like a hare from the hounds."

"You talk of socialism. Here's a chance to even the score."

"Socialism isn't dishonesty. I'll hold my head up wherever I go."

"You're a fool!"

"Listen," he yelled. "I told you I'd quit if I can't make it a go within
a year. Stick to your bargain, will you?"

"Have it your way," she said, subsiding. "But when I go, I go for good!"

"I won't keep you," he answered, went out, and slammed the door so that
the house shook.

Charlie, in the adjoining room, shrugged his shoulders. These quarrels
left him unconcerned. That was the difference between him and Len. He
had an unbounded confidence in himself. He was going to farm. He, too,
relied on Len. Len would help him to hold the farm even though his
parents left it! There was nothing sentimental in his attachment to the
place. He had been born there; had grown up there; he could not imagine
any other kind of life; he would never leave it. He was planted and
rooted there.

Len's remittances amounted to eighty dollars by Christmas. Kolm took the
money orders to Neuman, the man from whom they had bought the oxen,
endorsed them over to him, and reduced the debt on the team. Then Kolm
made his big mistake. He expected another hundred and fifty dollars from
Len before seeding. Instead of keeping some money against the day the
Jew would "shut down on him," he thought of paying the whole of the debt
due for the ox-team, in order to save eight percent. For three more
months in succession he endorsed Len's remittances over to Neuman,
clearing the team. Two more remittances would clear the store bill.

Meanwhile he cut timber and cleared the usual strip of land. Last year's
cutting lay ready, seasoned, to be sold. But he could not haul without
horses; oxen are slow.

The next time flour, sugar, tea were needed, Kolm, having gone to town,
was asked by the Jew to come to the office. He was shown his account,
amounting to eighty dollars, and asked what he intended to do about it.

What did they expect a farmer to do about a bill in spring?

"Do you own your land?" the Jew asked.


"You see," the Jew said cryptically.

"I don't. I don't see at all!"

The Jew began to speak of hard times, of the tightness of the money
market. Kolm must pay up. The end of the war had made things harder
instead of easier.

"I can't," Kolm said. "I'll pay half of it within a week or two."

"Give me a note," the Jew said, "signed by yourself and your step son."

Kolm brooded. "All right."

The note was made out. He sat down to drop a line to Len, explaining and
enclosing the note. When he returned from the office to the store, he
was politely but firmly told, by one of the young men, that he might
have whatever he could pay for in cash.

There was not much in this to feel alarmed at. Yet sombre misgivings
would not be laid. Not a word did Kolm say to his wife to explain his
failure to bring what she had asked for. She accepted it with an ironic
smile which was hard to bear.

He waited a day to rest his oxen and then went to Polar Grove. There
were two stores there: one kept by an Armenian Jew who was trying to
conduct a cash-and-carry business; the other, by an old trader in furs
and those goods which Indians buy; his trade with a few of the white
settlers was a side line with him.

Kolm called at the latter store, stated his case frankly and asked for
credit till threshing time. The trader, a small, bearded, cautious,
silent man, nodded to a packing case, inviting Kolm to sit down. Then he
disappeared through a door behind which he used the telephone. Kolm
shrugged his shoulders; he knew what that meant.

When the trader re-entered, he began to weigh out sugar into paper bags.

Kolm rose. "Well?" he asked.

The trader, grey and dark, shrugged his shoulders. "I can do nothing for
you," he said in an almost hostile voice.

Kolm went out, cursing himself for a fool at not having known that
traders are traders and play a safe game.

A week went by; and a second week. Not a word from Len. Provisions at
home reached the ebb of famine.

Kolm returned to McDougall. He took a load of wood: that would mean four
dollars; enough for a week.

At the store, the old Jew faced him. "Do you have the note?"

"No. The boy hasn't answered yet."

"He doesn't want to."

"He may be sick."

The Jew gave him a contemptuous look. "It is a _refus_," he said,
pronouncing the word in the French way.

Kolm looked blank. "I want a half bag of flour," he said, throwing down
his four dollars.

The Jew raised a finger to one of his sons; and when the young man came,
smiling urbanely, the old man said briefly, "Put a half bag of flour
into Kolm's sleigh." Then, looking at Kolm, he nodded to the office.

Arrived there, he sat down and filled out two notes which he pushed over
to Kolm to sign. One was for forty, the other for forty-two dollars.

Kolm frowned. "Doggone you," he said, "make that one fifty and give me a
whole bag of flour and some sugar and tea."

Without a word the Jew complied.

When Kolm returned to the store, the Jew preceding him, the latter
touched a bag of flour with his finger and placed a twenty-pound package
of sugar and a pound of tea on the counter. Kolm bent down, shouldered
the bag, picked the packages up, and strode out. The half bag of flour
he placed on the steps of the store and then slowly drove off with his
team of oxen.

On Saturday, mail-day, Charlie went to Jackson's for the mail. Kolm was
waiting at the gate when he returned. No letter from Len. Instead,
there was a letter from the bank at McDougall, notifying him that two
demand notes were awaiting his attention within three days.

On Monday Kolm went back to town.

"I know," said the manager of the bank. "It's a dirty shame. I wish you
had consulted me before signing those notes. Do you own anything on
which there is no lien?"

"My oxen," Kolm said. "They are really Len's. That was the
understanding. But I have nothing to show for it."

"He could sue them out," the banker said. "Sure he hasn't gone back on

Kolm shrugged his shoulders. "I'd stake my life on that."

"It's a dirty shame. But your only hope is with Baum himself. He can
withdraw the notes. Otherwise we have to protest; and he'll seize the

Kolm rose and left. He went to the store.

"What dirty trick are you trying to play?" he asked without preamble.

The old man raised his eyebrows.

"I told you I can't pay. I gave you the notes. Isn't that enough?"

"Notes are worth nothing unless they are paid."

"I'll pay in the fall."

"You'll pay them now."

"Doggone it," Kolm roared. "I have nothing."

"You've got the oxen, fully paid up."

Kolm laughed mirthlessly.

"Give me one of them; I'll cancel the bill."

"Might as well take both."

"I will," said the Jew. "Tomorrow. There will be costs. Give me one
today, and I'll give you forty dollars in cash."

"What good is one ox to me?"

The Jew raised his hands, palms forward.

"Quit that!" Kolm shouted, angered by the Semitic gesture. "What is your

"Don't mind if I tell you. I have the mate to one of yours in the shed."

"Oh-o!" Kolm laughed. "That's it, is it? I'll queer that for you. You
won't get that ox!" He turned and left the store.

Half an hour later he was driving a bargain with a cattle-dealer at the
livery stable. He sold the oxen for two hundred and seventy-five
dollars, received the cheque, and went to the bank.

"The dirty brute!" Kolm said to the manager. "I queered his game. I sold
the team and got the cash."

Mr. McClung, the banker, discharged the notes. "What are you going to

"I'm through," Kolm said savagely. "I quit."

The banker whistled. "There will be a sale," he said.

"Let there be. I'm through. Good-by."

Ten minutes after that he hired himself out at the livery stable, on
wages of forty-five dollars a month, the hostler to move him into town.
He rented a small shack beyond the track, at eight dollars a month,
paying one month's rent in advance. His sleigh he left at the livery
barn: it was among the things on which he owed money.

At three o'clock he set out for the tramp home, carrying a hundred and
eighty dollars in cash in his pocket. "That money is Len's," he
muttered. "I'm hanged if I don't hand it to him as soon as I see him."

When he entered his house, at night, his wife looked white and scared.
"Where are the oxen?" she asked.

"Where you'll be tomorrow night. Get busy. Pack up."

Charlie, who had heard this, "put two and two together" as he expressed
it to himself. As soon as the chores were done, he slipped out. He went
two miles east, to see a neighbour by name of Hahn. To him Charlie hired
out for the spring work, by the day; he still trusted Len to do what
would enable him to stay on the farm.

At noon, next day, a dray appeared in the yard. The Kolms were ready;
within an hour all that by the law of the land could not be seized, was
loaded. Not a word had been exchanged about this move between man and
wife. But Mrs. Kolm, as she climbed up on the load, in shawl and
antediluvian bonnet, was crying.

Charlie, tall, lank, but muscular, in shirt-sleeves and without cap, was
defiant. To his surprise Kolm anticipated his refusal to leave. "You
aren't coming?"


"All right, then. I won't need to worry about what stock there is
left." Suddenly, with a confidential note in his voice, he asked,
"What's the idea?"

Charlie shrugged his shoulders. His defiance changed into a feeling of

"Say good-by to your mother."

When the dray had gone, Charlie went through the house: the couch had
been left in the living room; in the kitchen, a little table and a
chair. There was also a two-lidded wood-stove, its sleeve unconnected
with the black flue hole in the ceiling. The fact that Kolm had carried
it down and left it seemed to betray that he had known that Charlie
would stay behind. Upstairs, the boy found a pile of rusted stove-pipes;
and thoughtfully he carried them down . . .

A week or so later, Len appeared on the scene. He was thin and pale. A
straggling, whitish beard framed his chin and made him look twice as old
as he was.

What he did not know of the happenings at Macdonald, he heard in silence
from the lips of his mother who seemed no better satisfied now than
ever. His stepfather handed him a hundred and eighty dollars. He went to
the stable and hired a team to take him to the farm.

That farm, when he reached it, looked deserted. Stable, cow-lot,
sheep-shed were empty; but the yard was littered with the usual array of
half-rusted implements.

He went to the house and found nobody in kitchen or living room.

Yet, in the latter a pail stood on the floor, half filled with water,
with scouring brush and mop by its side; half the floor was wet; from
brush and mop a trickle of water was running over the unwetted part of
the floor. Len turned to go upstairs.

In the farthest corner of the second attic room he came upon the figure
of a girl, trembling, her eyes wide, her face white. But at Len's sight
she flushed scarlet. It was Helen Dick.

She had grown surprisingly; she looked like a doe, pretty with youth and

"Hello," Len said. "Well, since you are here, you know perhaps where to
find Charlie?"

"At Hahn's."

"Are you keeping house for him?"

"No. I come for an hour or so, just to keep things decent."

"I won't disturb you," Len said. "I'll send the boy who drove me out
after Charlie. I'll go to the stable and wait there."

The girl blushed. "You can stay. I didn't know who it was. I don't mind

"All right then," Len laughed.

They went down, and Len directed the driver where to go. Helen resumed
her work. "Well, well," Len said when he re-entered. "You two must be
engaged to be married."

Helen laughed, brushing her hair back with the wrist of a wet hand.
"Have been," she said, "since we were that high." The brush flew over
the splintered boards again; soap foamed; the mop wiped it up. "You've
been ill?"

"Yes, I've been ill."

"Charlie felt sure of it since you didn't write. Len wouldn't go back on
me, he said over and over again."

Len smiled reminiscently. "Good boy!" he said.

"The best in the world!" Helen asserted boldly.

Len smiled. "And you're going to be married soon?"

"As soon as we can. He's eighteen. Another year . . ."

"Why wait that long?"

Helen looked up, blushing.

"The farm is his," Len said.

"His and yours."

"No," Len said. "I have thought it all out. I give him my share."

"But he can't work without horses."

"He'll have the horses."

"And the machinery."

"We'll see about that, too."

"You're a brick," Helen said after a short, surprised silence.

When the rumble of the buggy sounded across from the grade, Helen rose
as if to take flight.

"Don't run," Len said.

"Sure," she replied. "Charlie and I meet at night. Once a day is quite
enough till . . ." And again she blushed.

Charlie greeted Len in his characteristic way. "By golly if it isn't
Len! You look like a ghost. What's the matter with you?"

Charlie was clean-limbed and strong: the beginning and starting-point of
a race of farmers.

They talked matters over; and Len returned to McDougall.

There he spent a week; when he returned to the farm, he drove a team of
mares; another team, of colts, was tied behind. He, being a land-owner,
had credit where Kolm had had none.

Spring work was done. The brothers lived together and "bached it." The
weeks flew by. In June, Kolm's creditors held a sale. Len bought the
whole outfit, paying fifty cents on the dollar of what was owing on it.
He had just turned twenty-one.

One day, when the last of the spring work was finished, Len went over to
Jackson's. Old Mr. Jackson was ill. When he passed the school, his heart
sank; he had not yet called on Mr. Crawford. He would go one day soon,
he said to himself; not now. There would be a new teacher in the school
for the fall term. Mr. Crawford had resigned on the score of old age.

In Jackson's yard, Len went to the pink house and knocked.

Mary opened the door. "Why, Len!" she exclaimed and grasped his hand. "I
did not think you'd forget us. Father has been talking of you. Yes, you
can see him. But you must not stay long."

Mr. Jackson was lying very straight in his bed, a shadow of his former
self. But his voice was strong and resonant.

"Hello, young man," he said, "You've come home, have you? I've been
thinking of you. You were in the city. Going back?"

"I think so," said Len and sat down by the bed.

"Well now, do you know what caviare is?"

"No, I don't."

"Pickled fish eggs. I've eaten it once in my life. And I've had a
craving for it ever since. I've been wanting to ask Mary to write you so
you might see whether you could get it. Caviare, that's what they call
it. You try."

"I will," Len said. "With pleasure."

"They tell me I'm going to die," the old man went on. "Well, I've lived
my life. I haven't found what I wanted exactly. That you, Cathleen?"

"It's I, father, Mary."

The last rays of the setting sun cast a ruddy radiance into the room.
The old man's eyes looked sunken and dull; his hands lay white and limp
on the counterpane.

At a look of Mary's, Len rose.

"Yes, yes," the old man said, becoming aware of the motion. "Caviare,
don't forget!"

"I won't," Len said and went out.

Downstairs, Len saw tears in Mary's eyes as she turned to him.

"I think it is cruel," she said, her voice shaking. "I know it is wicked
of me to speak as I do. But I can't think any longer that God is just.
So many good-for-nothings who've never tried to make a home are allowed
to live; and my dad must die! The house, the whole world seems changed
since the doctor said he could not get better."

"There is no hope?" Len asked gently.

"None, the doctors say. We've had a specialist up from the city. He may
last three weeks or three months, he said. It's cancer."

"I'll think of the caviare," Len said.

"Don't trouble. He has asked for such things before. And when we get
them, he looks at them and won't touch them at all."

Len held out his hand. "I hope he won't suffer too much."

"Thanks," Mary said. "Thanks also for coming. He has always liked you,

Len hesitated. He wished to say something and searched for words. Words
seemed inadequate. Suddenly he nodded, turned to the door, and went out.

A week later he returned to the city where he found work with his former
employers. At harvest time he was back on the farm.

Charlie exclaimed at his sight. He was tall, thin, hollow-chested; and
sometimes he could not conceal the fact that he suffered from pains in
the side. He looked greatly aged and wore a long beard.

"You are not doing the right thing by yourself," Charlie said.

"Perhaps not," Len replied, thinking of how he had, night after night,
walked the streets of the city until late hours.

When the grain was stacked, Charlie and Helen were married at the church
in Odensee.

Len gave them a cooking-range for a wedding present; the parents of the
bride equipped their bed-room; Kolm gave a kitchen table.

The next day, Charlie drove Len to Poplar Grove, whence a mixed train
would take him back to the city.

During that long train ride he was obsessed by the premonition that he
had seen the home farm for the last time. He had a plan. That plan must
be carried out. By this time, his preoccupation with Lydia was complete
and, so he felt, fatal. He must find her; and, having found her, he must
redeem himself of what he now called the curse of sex. His former dreams
he smiled at. Education? Education must come at an earlier or later
stage. Adolescence had interfered with its elementary phases: it had
been wrecked on the turbid waters of the awakened instincts of sex. The
city appeared to him like a maelstrom in which the skiff of his life was
caught. He refused to adapt himself to its ways; he still wore
sheep-skin and overalls; but it revenged itself by holding out his


"O Mort, vieux capitaine, il est temps, levons l'ancre!
"Ce pays nous ennuie. O Mort, appareillons!"

Chapter I


Len was back at his old work of draying and delivering coal. It had not
seemed worth while to look for different work--work, perhaps, which
involved less sudden changes from overexertion to absolute idleness in
the already wintry air. This was the year 1919 when it snowed up on
October 8.

He no longer read nor thought. He was absorbed in one single thing which
seemed all-important.

Every night he walked the streets, ever on the look-out for a face and a
figure. He felt sure that he would finally meet her.

On Main Street and Grand Pre Avenue he became a familiar sight. Young
girls with painted and powdered masks--girls who had often seen
him--nudged each other when they saw him and giggled. Boys who smoked
innumerable cigarettes burst into guffaws and turned to look after him.
Older people pressed each other's arms and said. "There is the poor man
again. He looks so ill!" Policemen winked at passers-by who caught their
eye, as much as to say, "Looney, ain't he?"

On Sundays, he went in the morning from church to church; from park to
park in the afternoon.

Months went by. On every pay-day, when he received his cheque, he
deposited two thirds of it in the bank which operated the branch at
McDougall, with directions to credit it on the notes held against him.
The crop, he had been informed, had cancelled half the debt and still
left enough over to provide for Charlie and Helen throughout the winter.
Kolm held his "job" at the livery stable but was, in spare time,
branching out as a wheelwright on his own account. In his rare letters
he spoke of his determination finally to return to the bush and to work
his own homestead. He hinted that even Len's mother was beginning to see
that the town was no place for them. Mr. Jackson had died shortly before
Christmas. The Hausmans were on the point of giving up.

As he walked the streets, Len peered into every female face.

Prosperity seemed to have flooded the city like a tidal wave. It was the
time of the first adjustments after the war, when prices and, therefore,
profits and wages were highest. With this prosperity had come a fever of
extravagance. Fur coats and fur trimmed wraps were in vogue; jewelry
shops were disgorging their treasures. Even artisan's wives and
daughters were flashing rings on their fingers, with diamonds set in
gold or platinum. Paint and powder concealed every face. Fashion decreed
skirts reaching scarcely below the knee. The world of women seemed to
have gone mad with the ostentation of sex. In midwinter they wore almost
transparent silk stockings; their busts rose like flowers from the
calyxes of their furry wraps. Waists were of the filmiest kind, showing
silk undergarments in the colours of the rainbow and betraying rather
than concealing the breasts underneath. Shop-windows were gorgeous with
silk and satins made up into drawers and vests.

Len did not criticise. He accepted it all as a fact; such was the world.
But he acknowledged that this heady perfume of sex went to his own head
as well. Sometimes he was shocked to find that, when he looked at this
or that girl, he saw her in imagination as he had seen the girl that had
sat down on his knees. At other times, he cursed himself when he found
his thought travelling along such lines; and he cursed the world and all
the facts of sex. Once or twice, in the darker side streets, he was
accosted. He went sternly on, without stopping or listening; and always
Lydia stood before his mind's eye, leaning back against a building, at
bay, with three men surrounding her, sneering or imploring. Her he
purified, deified in his thought.

If she had chosen the wrong path, the path of evil, whose was the fault?
Is it the fault of lambs that wolves devour them? Was the thing he had
seen in the north-east quarter of this city the fault of the women? He
was not clear-headed enough to see that any social evil is necessarily
the fault of both parties to the bargain, the victims as well as the
victimisers. He answered that nobody was to blame but the men. Perhaps
the truth of it was that this attitude helped him to prop up his
ever-dwindling self-respect. "Look!" he could say. "I am as sorely
tempted, more sorely tempted than any of you. I do not yield!" More
sorely tempted? Yes, for he was by this time convinced that overwork had
brought on disease and that he would shortly die.

At other times he followed a different line of thought. He had admired
Lydia. Others had done so. Her effect on them, in her ignorance of the
world of men, she could ascribe to one cause only: to the power of
beauty. She had been hard pressed. She resolved to cut herself free.
With what in view? With what, indeed, but to make use of the power which
she had discovered? Was it any wonder?

Thus he sought to justify her. He saw well enough that he was only
justifying himself, his own intoxication with the thought of her. He had
met her at the critical moment of his life. Her critical moment had not
happened to coincide with his. Had they coincided, they would have been
united forever. That such had been possible, he felt convinced; in this
conviction there seemed to brood something like an adumbration of the
cruelty of his fate. Whenever it arose above the horizon, as a
half-recognition of possibilities thwarted, like a half-clouded moon
above a dim landscape, he veered at once to the side, to a contemplation
of his other aspirations. All things had come to him ill-adjusted in
point of time. Had he met that girl of the brothel at the right moment,
he might have loved her!

One day he thought once more of education. All systems of education were
the work of blunderers. Yet willy-nilly even blunderers were under the
influence of the wisdom of the ages. Millennia had proved certain
periods in the lives of the young to be best adapted for the mastering
of certain things. With that fundamental arrangement pioneer conditions
had interfered; they had interfered with everything else in his life!

The thought of the girl in the brothel--it was March when it came, a
year after the brief intersection of their orbits--set his mind working
along a new line. His quest was for Lydia. Lydia resembled that girl.
Where was he more likely to run across her than at one of the picture
halls of the city? All the world frequented them.

Henceforth, he waited every night before one of these halls till an
out-coming stream of spectators proclaimed a recess. Mostly he stood in
that gorge of light, the entrance, scanning every person issuing forth
into the street. Occasionally, as he became known in these haunts of
what is called pleasure, an usher would gruffly tell him to be gone. He
would look at the man, out of his big, blue, sunken eyes, would step up
to the ticket-vendor's glass booth, purchase his admission, walk through
the crowded auditorium, looking right and left, and, with the darkening
of the lights, walk out again.

April came. At the coal yard, most of the men were "laid off." Len asked
to be transferred to the wood yard; his record with the company being
good, his request was granted. He must not leave the city till he had
been successful in his quest!

Strange to say, he was successful at last.

One evening, when he stood in the light-flooded entrance to one of the
picture halls--of a warm, spring-like night--he saw a couple, arm in
arm, coming down the steps from the long corridor leading to the rear
of the building.

The woman, flimsily but gaudily dressed in cheap finery, brutally
painted in scarlet, white, and black, seemed to stop and to shrink at
his sight; for he stood gaunt, bearded, hollow-eyed. She withdrew her
arm from that of her escort, a middle-aged man, short, fat, with a
smirking face. His eyes followed her gaze. When he saw Len, he laughed.

But the woman had already left him and was walking straight up to the
spectral apparition. "Len!" she said.

It was only then that he recognised her. He fell in a heap.

When he recovered his consciousness, he was lying on a couch in a small
office. Nobody was with him except the woman who had addressed him in
the entrance to the hall.

"Are you better?" she asked.

She had taken off her coat and stood beside him in a tight-fitting dress
of dark silk, her figure exactly as it had been years ago, in the
log-house of the bush. Her face, though hardly changed in outline, was
slightly plumper; but between chin and cheeks there were sharp lines.
Her voice, though he recognised it at once, had a metallic ring which
was new. Her motions as well as her speech proclaimed her strangely
mature, as though she were centuries old, contemporary with the sphinx
and the women of Babylon.

Silently his eyes roamed about; he did not answer.

With a movement of swift grace she bent over him. "Len," she said, "do
you hear me, dear?" It was the tone of an empress.

He looked at her face and her bosom and nodded.

Tears dropped from her eyes on his breast. "You are terribly changed,"
she said.

He tried to sit up; she helped him; "Where are we?" he asked.

"In the office of the superintendent," she answered. "They carried you
in here. Shall I send for a doctor?"

He shook his head; and she sat down by his side.

Again he looked her over with an absent eye. Something seemed to hold
him by the throat.

With one of her white, soft hands she reached for one of his. "You were
waiting for somebody?" she asked indefinably.

At last he spoke, his voice hard and matter-of-fact, almost weary. "I
was waiting for you."

There was a catch in her voice, between a sob and a laugh, as she asked,
"Did you see me go in?"

"No. I've been looking for you for many months. In the streets and in
places like this." Were not these well-known facts?

She sank down before him, burying her face. His hand rested on her head,
and slowly he began to stroke it. The hair was cut short at the level of
her ear-lobes. Suddenly the room turned with him; and to steady himself,
he gripped her shoulders. "I don't feel well," he said. "I must get

By main force she pulled herself together. "Where do you live?"

He named street and number of the house.

She rose and put on coat and hat and held his sheep-skin for him.

When she opened the door, they issued into the now dark corridor of the
picture hall. There, a man was shrugging into his coat.

"Better?" he asked.

"Yes, thanks," Lydia replied and, taking Len's arm to support him, she
led him down into the glaring street.

"Shall we take a car?"

"No," Len said, breathing deeply. "I am better. We'll walk."

In the course of half an hour they reached Len's lodgings. They had not
spoken another word.

Arrived in the room where he had lived since he had first come to the
city, he sat down on the bed. Fever was in him. He lay back; and Lydia
drew the chair to his side. A few minutes later he was asleep. For
awhile Lydia sat still and stiff.

Then she rose and lifted Len's feet to the bed, placing a pillow under
his head. She had no sooner finished than there was a knock at the door.

Outside stood a big, towering woman in a faded kimono. She measured the
girl confronting her with a look. The exaggeration of paint and powder
and a subtle something proclaimed Lydia for what she was; but she did
not lower her eyes. It was not effrontery which upheld her; it was
courage. "Hm!" said the woman. "I thought so."

"He is ill," said Lydia. "He must not be disturbed."

"Then you may tell him whenever he wakes that I shall be needing his
room tomorrow night."

Lydia was on the point of pleading; but, seeing the set lines in the
woman's face, she refrained. "Very well." And she closed the door.

Before she sat down again, she removed Len's shoes and extinguished the

Twice, during the night, Len awoke. He was in a sweat but not delirious.
Once he asked, "Are you there, Lydia?" The second time he merely reached
out with a groping hand and touched her shoulder.

Startlingly, with the greying of dawn, the alarm clock rang.

At once Len swung his feet to the floor. For a moment he looked at the
girl as though taken by surprise. Then he nodded and mechanically began
preparations for going to work.

"Did you sit up all night?"

Lydia smiled a faint smile.

"Better rest now. I am going to work. We'll have breakfast together,
though. Then you return to this room and wait."

"We can't stay here," she objected.

He was washing. "Oh?" was all he said.

"I'll find lodgings. A small furnished suite."

He nodded and went on with his preparations. Having washed, he made a
bundle of his belongings.

Lydia had straightened her hair and removed her make-up.

They went out and down to Main Street. There, they entered a lunch

"Can you get your things?" he asked when they were seated.

She lowered her eyes. "No."

For a moment he stared at her with raised eyebrows. "Northcope Avenue?"
he asked gently.

By way of answer, a scarlet blush flooded her face.

"This is pay-day," he said. "I've a little over ten dollars left. You
take that. I've sixty-five dollars coming. Thirty-five I am sending
home. You must arrange that we get along on the balance till the end of
the month."

"Where do we meet? And when?" Lydia asked.

"Here. At half past twelve."

That was all.

Lydia wanted to ask a question; but Len waved it aside before it was
uttered. He took all things for granted. Ten minutes later he left her
to go to work.

At noon he found her waiting for him in the street. He felt very queer.
His head was light, his limbs heavy.

Lydia greeted him with an almost animated smile. "I did not go in," she
said, "I've found a place and prepared a meal at home."

"All right. I'm afraid I can't go back to work. It's on me again."

They returned to the very street where Len had had his lodgings. Wedged
in between two tall warehouses stood a small store. Lydia took him into
a lane and thence into a backyard piled with empty boxes; an outside
stairway led to a small apartment above the store. It consisted of two
little attic rooms and a "kitchenette," scantily furnished.

Lydia had two fried pork chops ready. Len sat down and closed his eyes.
"I cannot eat," he said. Whereupon Lydia assisted him to his bed and
helped him to undress. He asked her to notify the company for which he

Within an hour he was as delirious as he had been a year ago. Lydia grew
frightened and finally, towards evening, went down into the store to ask
for the address of a doctor.

The doctor came, sounded Len's chest, and looked grave. "You are his

"No," she said with the courage of desperation.

"Who are his people? And where do they live?"

"His stepfather farms between McDougall and Poplar Grove."

The doctor nodded. "You intend to look after him?"


"Best place for him is the hospital."

When Lydia looked up, there was a pitiful appeal in her eyes. She had
only just found Len. "No. I'll nurse him. I am sure he would want me

"Very well. Absolute rest. No excitement. No solid food. Soups and
egg-nogs. I'll write a prescription. A tablespoonful in water four times
a day. Let me warn you, young lady. He will try to get out of bed. If
you let him, he's lost. You should know what you're undertaking. He must
be watched day and night. Lots of fresh air. Have the window open at
all times. Sure you are able to look after him?"

"Quite sure," Lydia replied, though she quaked inwardly.

The doctor nodded, appraising her. He wrote his prescription. Seeing her
handle her small roll of bills, he said, "That will be two dollars. I'll
be in again tomorrow morning. Good night."

Len lay quiet; and Lydia left him to ask the storekeeper to send someone
to the drugstore. She bought a few tins of soup and returned upstairs.
Again she prepared to sit up through the night.

The medicine came; and she wakened Len. He took his draught obediently
and without comment. The air entering through the open window was cold;
so, fetching some bedding from the other room, she wrapped up in a
blanket and, without undressing, lay down on the floor.

It was not till morning that she had a sample of what she would have to
go through before long. Len tried to get up. In a second she was on her
feet, begging and coaxing and holding his covers down. Then she fought
and wrestled, throwing her weight upon him till, exhausted, he gave in.
It had taken all her strength. The same thing was repeated a few hours

When the doctor came, his first question was, "Did he try to get up?"

"Twice," she said grimly.

"Did he succeed?"


"Well, you have courage and a sense of duty. I'll leave some pills. An
hour after the first one, give him a sponge bath. You know how?"


He explained. "Listen here," he added. "You have an idea now what you
are up against. This may last four weeks. It's going to tell on your
strength. Whenever he's quiet, day or night, you rest, do you hear?
Better move that other bed into this room. And take your meals
regularly. If _you_ slip a notch, _he_'ll suffer for it. I see how it
is; or I'd insist on the hospital. But if you do your duty, by yourself
as well as by him, he is better off here."

A week went by; the attempts at violence ceased. To that extent Lydia's
worries were lessened. But the little store of money had dwindled to a
last five-dollar bill and some small change. The manifestations of the
delirium in which Len hovered became mental. His bed had been moved to a
point whence he could look out through the window, at the blank wall of
the neighbouring warehouse.

One morning he began to talk. At first he rattled off words and
sentences which she did not understand. "Amo, amas, amat." At a
tremendous speed. Lydia, who had no night-wear, was up at once, half
naked, and by his side. He paid no attention to her. Feverishly she
dressed in the flimsy silks which she had worn when they met. The vocal
phenomena frightened her.

An hour or so later he pointed with a half-raised head out of the
window. "Go down there," he said, "and ask the two women what they want
of me."

Her heart missed a beat. "There is nobody there," she said gently.

His voice came in a nagging tone. "Don't you see them? They've been
watching me for the last two days. The old women in black shawls. Go
down and ask them."

Despair invaded her. Was his mind going? "Len," she said, "there is
nobody there, dear."

"Don't I have eyes in my head?" he asked angrily.

"Len!" She put her arms about him. "Lie down, dear! You mustn't forget
that you are delirious."

"Delirious!" he thundered in a hollow voice. "Can't a person be sick
without being out of his mind? I'll go myself."

"No, no," she cried. "I am going." And she ran out, pretending that she
was going down. When she returned, he had sunk back, asleep.

She told the doctor about it, and he laughed. "Don't you know better
than to contradict a delirious patient? Humour him. Pretend to do what
he tells you to, every time."

A week later, all strength seemed to leave Len. Lydia was alarmed anew.
In anxiety she waited for the visit of the doctor. To her surprise he
said, "We've saved him. His strength was unnatural. It was the fever in
him eating up his vitality at a terrific rate. If all goes well, he'll
be on his feet in three or four weeks. You can move your bed back to the
other room. What he needs now is sleep and very nourishing food. Rare
beef, beef-tea, raw eggs, and milk, milk. I won't call every day any
longer. When you need me, use the telephone. Otherwise I'll just drop
in when I pass."

Great news! But where take nourishing food?

Shortly after, Len being very weak but perfectly clear in his mind, he
asked, "Does the money still hold out?"

Lydia was very white; but she said lightly, "Oh, yes."

Henceforth she often sat with him hand in hand. Occasionally they spoke;
but always about the small, indifferent things of the moment, above all
of his desire to see the budding trees, the green grass, and the Lake,
the Lake!

Both knew that there was something to clear up between them, something
enormous. Both, by a mutual understanding, avoided to touch on it or
even to approach it. When, by inadvertence, one of them mentioned
anything that had occurred in the past, he instantly stopped with a
wistful look and changed the subject.

They lived like brother and sister. Lydia never entered Len's room
except fully dressed. In daytime she began to read to him from one or
other of the dozen books which she had brought in his bundle from his
former lodgings. Strange and incomprehensible books they seemed to her;
George Eliot's Adam Bede, Macaulay's History of England, Shakespeare,
Shelley, Keats. She would read a passage; and he would ask her to repeat
it, many times, till she read it as he wanted it read.

One day Len asked what date it was. It was near the middle of May. In
sharp anguish quick thoughts shot through her mind. "It'll soon be May."

"You still have money?"

"Yes. I am very careful."

He looked at her as she moved about in the room, noticing that her dress
was fringed at the bottom; there were tears in her waist, carefully
mended. "You'll be needing clothes," he said.

She laughed; but it sounded artificial.

One day, with her assistance, he made an attempt to rise. He managed to
sit up for half an hour. At night, the doctor dropped in.

"My friend," he said, "you are lucky. I doubt whether you'd have pulled
through in a hospital. One thing no hospital can give."

Out of cavernous eyes Len looked a question.

"What that is?" the doctor asked and laughed. "It's love."

Lydia turned away.

A week later Len had his first few minutes' walk on Lydia's arm. When
they returned to their rooms, Len sat musing. "The trees are far
advanced for this time of year," he said at last.

"Yes," Lydia replied. "It has been an early spring."

Soon they were taking short street car rides to the parks. Tulips,
crocuses, narcissi were in bloom. For Len, however, that was less
striking than that, in a foot-path arched over by the young foliage of
shrubs and trees he saw sweet colt's-foot and strawberry blossoms; and
violets peeped out from under matted leaves. Lydia noticed his look and
picked a few, her face scarlet. She would not be able to keep up the
fiction that his illness had been of short duration.

One day they walked down Main Street, to the office of the D. R.
Company. The manager greeted Len pleasantly. "Well, sick again?"

Len nodded. "Yes," he said. His voice was changed to a deep bass. "Shall
I find work with you once more?" On the counter stood a calendar from
which a huge "26" stood out. "On May first?" he added.

"June, you mean," the manager corrected. "I guess so. You've always
given satisfaction."

Len cast a slow look at Lydia. She stood scarlet.

"You got married, too?" the manager asked.

"Yes," Len said absently.

"Well, good luck to you. Report at the wood yard on June first."

Len nodded and turned to the door.

At night, when he had gone to bed, Lydia watched till she thought he was
asleep. Then she slipped into her own room and made up for the street.
She turned the light off and stood in the dark, listening. Hearing
nothing, she groped forward. But her heart jumped into her throat; a
hand had reached out of the blackness and was holding her wrist. The
light flashed on, and Len stood before her. Without a word, he looked
into her face; and when he left her, he turned the key in her door. Next
morning, after a sleepless night full of despair, she rose from her bed
and found the door unlocked. She went to prepare breakfast. Len was
fully dressed. A parcel lay on his bed. They ate in silence, avoiding
each other's eyes.

At last Len spoke. "Take that parcel to 324 Grand Pre Avenue. That's a
second-hand book-store. Have you car-fare?"

She nodded.

"Take what you can get. Has the rent been paid?"

Again she nodded.

"On the way watch for a second-hand clothes-shop. There's my sheep-skin.
I paid twenty dollars for it. We'll sell it. Meanwhile I'll write

A day or two later Len and Lydia met the doctor. He spoke of a holiday.
"Why not go to the farm for a month? But not to work. Just to loaf
about. Lie in the sun on the grass."

Len was silent for a minute or so. "I'll do something of the sort, but
not yet."

When they reached the park, Len saw a boat on the bank of the river.
"The Lake!" he said. "I wonder whether I could handle a boat?"

They went down to the water's edge; and a small man followed them, clad
in "sport" shirt and corduroy trousers.

"Hire a boat, sir?"

"How much?"

"Fifty cents an hour."

"All right."

The man brought the sculls. Len who had seen them handled helped Lydia
to enter the boat and followed. The man, noticing that Len was awkward,
gave directions. Soon Len managed to move the boat after a fashion, and
an hour's practice made him much less helpless.

"I'll do that every Sunday," he said when they landed. "I want to be
expert before we take our holiday."

On the first of June he returned to work. On the third of the month, the
sum of fifty dollars reached him, sent by Charlie who wrote that, if he
had a crop, he would be free of debt in the fall.

There was no trouble about the work. Wood Len had handled at home.

He and Lydia went on living like brother and sister. At times, Len was
strangely abstracted and given to musing. When their conversation
approached dangerous topics, he turned it aside with a frown.

Every Sunday they went to the park where Len practised rowing. One day
he asked the owner of the boat how much he would sell it for.

"I'll take twenty dollars. You want to buy her?"

"No. I was wondering, that is all."

"Good, sturdy little craft, you know."

"Would she stand the lake?"

"Why not? Cross small waves and hold alongside the big ones. Not, of
course, a heavy sea."

"Have you ever been out on the lake?"

"Sure," the man said. "I've been fishing in the northern basin."

"How high do the waves run there?"

"Two, three feet in an ordinary wind. In a gale, of course. . . ."

"How high?" Len repeated.

"Ten, fifteen feet."

Len nodded.

The month went by. On the last day he asked for his cheque at the office
and gave notice that he would not be back. When he came home, he sat for
a long while, staring at Lydia. "We'll leave tomorrow," he said at last.

She paled. "Where to?"

"The Lake. Not this one. Our Lake. I've had three wishes since I was I.
One of them was to possess all knowledge. Another, to see the Lake.
Within a week it will be fulfilled."

Lydia looked at him. He was in a state of exaltation, as though the
fever were on him again. Her throat felt dry. She could not speak.

"The third wish," he added, "was to possess you."

Chapter II


Next morning, after having cashed his cheque, Len made several
purchases. The bundle which, about noon, he carried to the station held,
besides his own few belongings, Lydia's things--including one of the two
gingham dresses which she had bought--and a small, wedge-shaped tent. He
had spent twenty dollars on his outfit. They boarded the train to Grand
Pre and, having reached the small city, took a connecting branch line to
the north till they arrived at what is called "The Landing" at the
southern end of what for Len had always been The Lake. The Landing
proved to be a small village, flanked on both sides by long lines of
summer cottages of the well-to-do. A large shed by the waterside bore
the legend, "Boats for Hire or Sale." Leaving Lydia, with the bundle, at
the station, Len went down to that shed.

A red-headed Swede was willing enough to show his wares.

To the right, a sandy beach stretched round a bend in the shore. The
lake itself was smooth as a mirror. To the left, an inlet narrowed into
a wooded cove. Len looked about casually; but he felt far from casual; a
dull excitement seethed in his blood.

He picked a fair-sized boat, a heavy craft with uncouth oars, but
promising stability in the hands of an unpractised sailor. The price
demanded, eighteen dollars, he paid without bargaining. Then he went to
a store in the short street that led inland. He bought a stack of tinned
provisions, two large, square tins of biscuits, two packages of matches,
a tin kettle, and many other things of which they had made a careful
list while travelling in the train. All which he carried down to the
boat, depositing them in the bows.

At last he returned to the station, picked the bundle up, and nodded to
Lydia. "Come."

It was between five and six o'clock when the red-headed Swede pushed
their boat from the pier. Len dipped his oars, heading north-west.

The evening was the typical, quiet summer evening of the northern
prairie. Through the day a sharp south wind had been blowing. Now it
stood with folded wings of haze above the landscape, poised. The sun, in
the west, was a crimson ball, heatless, rayless, scarcely distinguished
in incandescence, though in colour, from the surrounding wall of glowing
vapour. The forest which, from a slight ridge a few miles inland, swept
right down to the water's edge, stood breathless in an intoxication of
rest, after the feverish swaying and tossing of the day. Here and there,
a swampy meadow stretched lazily through a hollow between the higher
reaches of the bush.

As soon as, having rounded a small headland, they were out of sight of
the town, Len frequently rested his arms on the oars and looked about
in a hushed sort of way, passive, as if he allowed himself to be soaked
and penetrated in every pore by the enormity of the towering peace
around. After the fever of the city this was rest. He had almost
forgotten what an evening was. The stillness at once released all the
inner springs of feeling and thought and crushed or smoothed over their
outward manifestations.

Lydia lay in the back of the boat, reclining on bundles of baggage and
holding the lines of the rudder. She, too, felt the influence of the
landscape; but more than it she felt the reflection of it which came to
her through the medium of Len. Her eyes were half closed as she watched
him. She was acutely conscious of the fact that they were floating
towards their destiny. Surrendering herself, she folded her hands.

An hour went by, two hours, three. For half an hour, perhaps, they had
been out of sight of land. Then a huge, detached point hove into view in
front, looking like an island.

The sun was nearing the horizon. Already, though the sun had not yet
set, the light about them had the quality of dusk. Coolness breathed up
from the water. Len rested more and more frequently. Once he consulted a
pocket map.

"Let me try to row," Lydia said at last.

Without an answer Len half rose, leaning on the gunwales, to exchange
places. She took his seat; and after half an hour which made her flushed
and excited, she managed to catch on, in a manner, to the mechanics of
the thing.

Nearer and nearer they came to that forest headland which proved to be a
mere promontory reaching out from the west.

The sun touched the horizon and dipped below it. Great, hollow,
mysterious, night stood over the lake to the east.

Once more they exchanged places; and in the last light of day they
touched the shore.

That shore resembled here a small cliff, of black soil, overhung by the
huge canopy of an enormous, spreading, ash-leaved maple, a tent in
itself. Len tied the boat to its roots.

A few minutes later he had a fire blazing in a small hollow behind the
tree where the camp site was open to the sky. He dipped water from the
lake and laid out the wherewithals of a supper for Lydia to prepare. He
himself fell to work on the tent which he tied to a horizontal branch of
the tree, right on the shore.

Lydia, as she went about, making tea and frying bacon, was a prey to
conflicting feelings. So far they had been three: he, she, and the
landscape. The landscape was obliterated by the night as the city had
never been. Only he and she were left.

The light of the fire had built a smaller, narrower world into the
immensity, shutting the shadows out. But there was a suggestion about
the absence of actual walls as if that immensity lurked or hovered
about, ready to spring and to seize her; ready also, should there be
need, to come to her help. She could not have told which was the more
terrible, the relentless night over the waters or the silent, bearded
man under the tree. She felt as if something were gripping her throat.

Every now and then, when she raised kettle or pan from the brush with
which she fed the fire, she saw the sphere of their artificial microcosm
enlarged by the light that flared up, picking out trees or grey,
glistening stones a little farther away. Thus the fact was driven home
again that this small world created by the light of the fire was
surrounded by another huge world of unknown or at least unseen things.
Fear drank at her heart; but fear, not of that unknown world beyond the
line of light; it seemed strangely friendly as compared with that man
who was working away in the shadows of the tree, preparing for the
night. Why had he taken her here?

They ate in silence. Len cast curious glances about, out of his sunken,
haggard eyes, which now made her heart leap with hope, now dropped it
into unfathomed depths of despair.

When they finished, Len went down to the boat and pulled it up on the
low cliff of the land till it tilted to a level position, its stern
jutting out over the water. The fire died down.

Then they sat, wordless, at the edge of the shore; and now, since that
world within the world was obliterated till there was nothing left of it
but a few darkly glowing embers, heatless, rayless as the sun had been,
the outer world reasserted itself in dimly seen outlines which seemed to
become visible only as a sound proceeded from them--perhaps from some
small animal or from a bird prowling on his nightly errands. Apart from
these alien sounds, the silence was enormous as the night.

Len and Lydia each had his own thoughts; heart-wringing thoughts
perhaps; for there seemed to be no bridge from one to the other. Each
felt that, had the other spoken, he would have thrown himself at that
other's feet; a conflagration of passion would have created a third
world full of rays unseen but perceived by what lay beyond the realm of
the senses. Yet this feeling was vague; so much so that it could only be
marvelled at in awe, longed for in despair, not expressed by even so
much as a sigh. They seemed to be sitting on the shores of the sea of
life and looking out over its dimly gleaming waters. Their essence was
incorporeal, ghostly, gigantic in outline, hardly divined. Undisguised
by clothes or flesh, their souls faced each other and feared the
contact. For between them stood something which was enormous as the

Again hours went by. In front of them, far to the east, the ghost of a
pale irradiation defined itself over the sleeping waters. Almost
simultaneously the leaping of a fish startled them, a big, heavy fish
that fell back with a splash.

After a moment Lydia laughed a low, hushed laugh, raising a hand to her
throat. That laugh recalled them to the knowledge that they were still
in the flesh, not yet disembodied.

Lydia gripped Len's arm. "Look!"

He was leaning against the elbow of a root, in front of her; she was
sitting erect, behind and above him.

The irradiation above the waters defined itself; a huge, red, swollen
half-moon had risen and became visible through the pall of haze. They
looked and looked; and as it rose--"it", for it was sexless now--it
contracted till it hung above the lake, an ordinary half-moon in its
waning phase. All about, a pale world became visible. The night was so
exceedingly calm that they saw the reflection of the moon in the lake
sharply defined, as it is rarely seen in a lake though often in a deep
pool in the hills: there was no lane of light leading to their feet as
in rippled water.

This seemed to break the enchantment instead of enhancing it. Len rose
with a sigh; and Lydia followed him to the tent. He had not kissed her
since they had met again. She could have thrown herself at his feet,
clasping his knees in agony or supplication. He looked tall and broad,
solemn and unapproachable in the night as he lifted the tent flap and
tied it back. He struck a match on the sole of his boot to show her the
arrangement he had made.

The tent was divided into two compartments, by a piece of canvas
stretched lengthwise through its centre.

"You'll find your bundle at the far end," he said, pointing. Then,
bending, he entered his side. "Good night," he said, not harshly; but
with a friendliness which was hard to bear.

She bent down and crawled in. The bed for which Len had gathered dry
sedges from the drift fringe on the open shore south of the sheltering
tree was not uncomfortable; the welfare of her body was provided for!
She lay and listened. He was undressing for the night. He rolled up in
his blanket and sank back with a sigh of satisfaction. Very soon, his
breathing showed him to be asleep.

Lydia lay awake, dozed, awoke again, listened, looked, feared, and
quieted herself. For an hour or longer she cried into the crook of her
arm. Again there was a world within the world: the tent, dimly luminous
with the increasing light of the moon. That little world was the heart
of the great world outside, throbbing with the beat of that heart of
hers, a cave of misery. Death would have been mercy.

Again she wept, soundlessly, conscious of nothing outside; conscious
only of the pulse in her veins. At last exhaustion did its work; she
became aware of physical discomforts. Removing shoes and stockings, she
loosened her clothes and fell asleep.

A huge, soughing moan running through the world awakened her. Sharp,
crackling sounds seemed to play a tune to that accompaniment. Then,
through the moan, a muffled roar reached her ear; and, within that roar,
rhythmical also, but in shorter, almost breathless intervals, a lapping
sound, strangely angry. The tent, this world within the world, was hot
and brightly illumined by a sun in which the shadows of branches and
leaves danced and leapt. The tent itself was dancing and moving. It felt
as though the solid earth had come to life. Frightened, she sat up and
called. No answer. She called again; and again no answer. She lay down
to lift the partition: Len was gone.

In a second she was outside, barefooted, clad only in her gingham dress.
Thus she emerged from the second tent of the whipping tree branches
which swept low, lashed by a furious south wind.

She understood. The moan came from the forest; the roar, from the lake.
They were on the point of the headland. On its south-east shore,
breakers were rolling in; along its north-east edge, in the lee, short,
lapping waves were hitting the little cliff with angry slaps. The wind
flattened her dress against her body; behind her, its hem crackled like
the flap of the tent. The huge maple stood huddled and humped under the
wind, bending its shoulders into a round dome. The hollow where the fire
had been was flooded; the boat was gone.

She ran out to the point where they had been sitting last night; her
short hair blew open in the wind. And then she saw Len.

Fully dressed, he stood up to his breast in water, struggling with the
boat which had filled, trying to work it around into the lee of the
land. The sight of the lake, seething with white-caps, frightened her.
Len could not swim. But he had seen her and turned. His beard lay
flattened against his chin. He tried to shout; but a wave caught full
against his body, nearly throwing him over and splashing the water high
over his head. At that he laughed. How young he looked.

She ran to the north edge of the point. They were on an island now; for
the breakers swept right across the hollow in the bush. She entered the
water which was shallow, sloping slowly, the bottom consisting of
gravelly sand. A minute later she reached the boat; and jointly they
secured it on the lee shore, both laughing. She was wet to her waist;
he, to his shoulders. Head and hair were splashed with water.

A new sense of happiness came over her: they had worked together!

"I saw cows and a house over there," Len said. "I'll bail the boat. Go
and see whether we can get milk. The water is too muddy for tea."

"Will the people be up?"

He looked at the sun. "It is close to seven."

She thought of a wrist-watch which had remained behind in the city
because she had not happened to wear it on the night when they had met.
She turned to the tent to get her shoes.

"My coat's lying on the floor," Len called after her. "You'll find money
in the left side pocket." Having tied the boat, he came for a pail and
saw her drying her feet. "Better try to get used to going barefooted,"
he said. He was barefooted himself and had rolled his trousers up to his
knees. Both laughed at her flapping, clinging skirt as she rose to her

An hour later, after breakfast, Lydia asked, "Are we going to stay till
the wind dies down?"

"No. We'll sail to that point over there."


"Are you afraid?"

She hesitated. The question seemed to have a deeper meaning. Then,
lowering her eyes under his look, "Not while we are together."

They packed up. Len inserted one of the oars in the mast-socket of the
boat, in the forward thwart, and tied the sheet of canvas to it,
securing its corners by two short ropes. For himself he prepared a seat
in the stern where he fastened the tiller over the rudder. Forward, he
spread the tent on the floor, with their bundles for pillows. Sun and
wind had dried their clothes.

"The water has taken the starch out of that gingham," Lydia said,
looking down at herself.

"It looks more natural now," Len replied. He consulted his map. "The
lake is twenty-five miles wide here," he said.

After a few vain attempts at controlling the speed of the boat, they
scudded along before the wind, tossing wildly over the waves of the bay
which grew higher the farther they left their camp site behind. The
spray flew aloft and ahead of them as it was caught up in the wind.
Through the upper reaches of the atmosphere vapour sheets hurried north;
and the light of the sun grew less and less defined. The wind was hot
like the breath of a desert.

On and on they went; their only salvation being in keeping straight
before the wind. Once or twice the animal instinct of self-preservation
drove Lydia into a protest. Len laughed. "Get used to the presence of
death," he said. "This wind means death to thousands of creatures. I
saw, this morning, fish stranded on the shore, and crows waiting to
devour them. I saw the holes of rats and gophers filled. We are no more
life than they, little as we may think of them in our ignorance."

At noon, Len tried to land. But he was no sailor. He knew from books
that it was possible to run into the wind; but how it was done, he could
not tell. He made the attempt on the weather shore of a point, but he
soon found himself in the margin of the surf; once they entered among
the breakers, they would be swamped; if they capsized, they would
certainly lose their provisions and might lose their boat. How he
managed, he could not have explained. But he succeeded in turning the
craft till they ran parallel to the combers, dipping and rolling as the
waves heaved and subsided under their keel. They shipped water and
laughed. Lydia now sat down and bailed.

Again they were in the open bay, the white-caps swirling and eddying
under them. His unsuccessful attempt at landing had taught Len to steer
clear of headlands. In the middle of the afternoon, when they were
munching some biscuits, they saw, on a beach-crest to the west, among
stunted poplars and willows, the village of an Indian Reserve.

"We go past," Lydia said.

"Past everything," Len nodded. "This tub is in the hands of a thing
mightier than we. I may have to sail all night since I don't know how to

"The wind will die down, won't it?"

"Not tonight."

Lydia felt strangely. Len was committed to the wind; and she to him. How
did he know that the wind would not die down? She had never valued the
lore of the wild. But when she spoke, she used a word he had used,
pronouncing it with a shame-faced laugh. "Will this tub hold together?"

"Unless we strike rocks."

She felt very near to him. This word which she had never before heard
applied to a boat was a bond between them; it stamped them as belonging
together, marked off from the world. Consciously she picked up other
words; and during the days that followed, the two acquired a language
known only to them. Before night a second term had been added to this
rudimentary vocabulary. "The bunk seems solid as compared with this,
doesn't it?"

"The bunk?" Their bed in the tent, of course. She smiled. "The bunk is
wet," she said, with the same shame-faced laugh.

At five or six o'clock they were as by a miracle enabled to land. There
was an island ahead. Breakers thundered to their right as well as to
their left. A sand-bank in the open lake intercepted the waves rolling
in. "That must be a reef," Len said. "If we had hit it, we might have
been drowned." A shiver ran down Lydia's spine.

They were sailing into the strait between main shore and island. Len had
noticed that Lydia had changed colour. "The dead population of the earth
is greater than the living one," he said.

She looked at him; his eyes were ahead. "I suppose so," she murmured.

Within a few seconds, their sail began to flap; they had run into the
lee of the island and were in a "slick". Len sounded the depth with his
oar. To their common surprise they were in no more than two feet of
water. Instead of using the oar for poling, Len sprang overboard and
pushed the boat, wading. He rounded the headland. "Better get into
shelter," he said, bending over the stern. "There will be a storm

"How do you know?" Her face was very close to his.

"I've lived in the bush."

"So have I."

"No," he said. "There are two of you. One has so far only lived in my
imagination; the other has lived in a mistaken dream of the world."

A dream of the world! How far all that seemed!

"This sort of thing takes the starch out," he said.

"The starch?"

"The vanity and pretence of the world: the starch from your dress. It is
just as serviceable without it." And he nodded to the crumpled, shrunk
gingham about her bare legs.

Shortly after, they landed at a diminutive sand beach between two copses
of willow. Behind them, a thicket of willow and, outtopping it, balsam
poplar formed an impenetrable wall shutting the beach off from the rest
of the world.

Partly because it was earlier in the day than it had been last night,
partly because there was a new thing between them, they did all the work
in common this time. The shelter in which they were was perfect. Behind
them, willows and poplars were pressed into rounded domes by the wind;
those to both sides of their beach stood perfectly still. The very
smallness of this refuge on the north or lee shore of the headland--it
was no more than twenty feet from west to east--again made of it a world
within the world. Overhead, the wind careered; behind them, the moan of
the willows seemed stationary. Theirs was a haven of rest.

They unloaded the boat and drew it up on the sand, inverting it and
propping its landward edge up with short pieces of drift. Under this
improvised roof they stored their provisions. Their tent they pitched in
the edge of the bush screen behind.

Together they built a fire of drift wood, fried bacon, made tea. The
water for the latter they dipped from the lake, allowing it to stand
till the mud had settled. Both were barefooted, bareheaded; Len had his
trousers rolled up.

For an hour after supper they were busy about their camp. In the last
light of the palely setting sun, Len had a dip in the lake, telling
Lydia that he was going to strip. She, respecting the implied wish for
privacy, strolled west along the shore. A few hundred feet farther on,
she found a second beach, exactly like the first. So she, too, stripped
and entered the water; between them, the willow copse ran out into the
lake. As by a common impulse they invaded deeper water till they could
see each other dimly; and each called the other's name, laughing and
splashing. When they met again, they were dressed as before. Yet there
was the consciousness of a new nearness.

The sun had set; and suddenly, with the effect of magic, the whole
vapour masses of the sky were suffused with a lurid, angry purple. When
it paled, the clouds remained a uniform tint of grey. . . .

As the night before, they looked for a place to sit down. But, as if he
made it a point, Len inverted their relative position. Lydia reclined in
front; he sat erect behind her. For awhile they talked. Lydia felt an
almost childish need to use again those words--"tub," "bunk,"
"starch"--with their new meanings. Then they lapsed into silence,
listening to the moan of the wind in the thicket behind, and to the
distant, rhythmical roar of the breakers; they tasted fully this
bleakness of the night.

Lydia shivered. She bent back as though to find Len's eye. But that very
moment she felt the touch of his hand on her shoulder. "In two or three
days," he said, "we shall be near Poplar Grove. From there I am going to
go home. I shall leave you alone for a day or two. When I get back, it
will be between you and me."

Lydia sat very still. It sounded like a promise; and yet it sounded also
like a threat. She reached for his hand and touched it. But in less than
a second their fingers fell apart again.

Len was thinking. Always, even during his recent convalescence, she had
disturbed his senses; she had done so yesterday in the boat; and later
on the beach. She did so no longer. Since they had met, he had never
been able to forget that he was a man, she a woman. Even his beard had
added to this realisation of his manhood.

She was a woman. But that meant, not so much something different from
himself, as something essentially rather the same. Sex was an important
factor of character; but it was subordinated to greater facts.

From this recognition arose a new line of thought. He had taken her into
the wilderness to have her inescapably to himself. He had wanted to
possess and to kill her; and perhaps to kill himself after that. This
plan of his seemed inadequate now. His mind struck out along new paths.
Where they would lead him, did not yet appear. Meanwhile he saw in her
an equal who must be consulted about the course to be taken. He tried to
make clear to himself what kind of a change had come over her during the
day. The mincing step, considered so feminine by those who lived in
towns or cities, had disappeared. She stepped along in big, frank
strides. Her movements were no longer calculated to fascinate or allure;
they were sincere. She had dropped all the pretences of sex. He searched
in his memory for that which might have brought about such a change. He
found nothing. It had come like a miracle: the miracle of spring which
comes in a night of the month of May.

As if to banish thought, he suddenly spoke once more of their future. "I
hope," he said, "we shall have nice weather in a day or two. Then we
shall proceed. Twenty-four miles north of Poplar Grove there is another
village. Beyond that, the narrows and absolute wilderness." He paused
and hesitated. Then, with something welling up within him from his
depths and communicating itself to her, so that she hung breathless on
his words. "The account which we two have to settle concerns us alone.
We must have that wilderness to do it in."

Chapter III


Three days later they landed in a sort of cove situated in a shallow bay
behind a huge, beach-like sand-bank running, from a point a mile or so
north, like a spit into the lake. Len secured the tent, pulled the boat
out of the water, inverted it, and arranged all things in such a way
that Lydia would be safe even if a storm should blow up. Huge, primeval
trees sheltered the spot from all sides except due east; and there,
beyond the sand spit, the lake stretched away to the very horizon. In
the morning, when Lydia awoke, he was gone.

With a pang she realised how desperately lonely the day would be.
Nothing to do but to wait. Perhaps Len would be back by night; perhaps
not. She knew her doom was overtaking her. There was still time to evade
it. Len had given her this opportunity to escape; he had left the
remainder of his money with her; enough to take her to the city. The
town, three miles inland, was the end of steel. She thought it strange
that she was not even tempted to take the hint.

The wilderness! There was no one to give help or to interfere. What
would Len do to her? He would kill her. She cried a little when she
thought of it. Life seemed sweet since she had felt his hand on her
shoulder. But she could not leave; could not think of it. Death? Rather
death than what she had lived through in the city! Nothing is as inhuman
as humanity in the mass; humanity as embodied in its institutions. Why
had she thrown in her lot with Len? Because she had had two years' time
to regret and repent. She would follow him to the end of the world even
though he might be demented. They had met again; they would not part
again. The finger of God was discernible in their meeting. Yet, between
them stood those two years!----

Meanwhile Len, clad in shirt, overalls, and boots, had reached the Big
Ridge and entered Poplar Grove from the north. In one of his pockets he
carried a few biscuits. He was swinging along in big strides, never
stopping in town, and turned west along the correction line which led to
Mr. Crawford's cottage.

A mile or so from town, a farmer overtook him, driving a wagon. Len was
offered a ride and accepted. Remarks were exchanged about the weather
and the crops. The farmer, Kurtz by name, was known to Len; but Len
remained unrecognised. Asked for his name, he gave it.

"Not living hereabouts?"

"No. I live along the lake."

"Going to McDougall?"

"No. I have business with a man by name of Crawford."

"The teacher?"


"Getting old," the farmer said. "A strange man, they tell me."

"Know a man by name of Kolm?"

"Kolm? From Macdonald? Sure."

"He's living in town, isn't he?"

"Part of the time," the ponderous farmer replied. "He has a homestead in
the bush, next to where he used to live. He wants to go back there. He's
built a shack. Starting all over."

"His wife with him?"

"Yes." Adding, "You can't make a townsman out of a farmer."

Len nodded. After that, apart from occasional remarks on one side or the
other, they proceeded in silence. The landscape assumed the character of
the muskeg bush, familiar to Len. It was still early in the morning when
the farmer stopped his team at a culvert bridging the ditch north of the
road. "I am home," he said.

"Thanks for the ride." And Len climbed over the wheel. Within another
hour he was within sight of the Big Slough. Beyond, the little white
cottage stood on the burnt-over ridge. Why had he come?

He was in perplexity; he wanted a direction from someone. But could
anyone interfere between him and Lydia? This trip had been made in an
impulse of cowardice! He had hoped to evade making the decision himself.

Yet he had also come because he owed it to the man who lived in that
cottage not to depart without a word of farewell. That man had first
planted hope in his life.

When he knocked at the screen door, a man much older than he whom he had
known came to the door. He did not seem to recognise Len. His beard and
hair were snow-white; neither had been cut for a long while. He stooped
over his cane, both hands on its knob.

Then, in a feeble voice, "Oh, it is Len, is it?"

Was it only two years since Len had seen this man? Yet, he himself was
perhaps more fundamentally changed than the teacher.

"Come in," the voice said.

Len entered and shook a fleshless hand, taking it in both of his.

They passed through the kitchen into the study where Mr. Crawford at
once sank down on the couch. Len sat and looked.

"Yes, yes," the old man nodded. "It's I, Len. The days of our years are
three-score and ten. I always knew I should go quickly once I stopped
work. I still play with that." Waving his hand at the desk where papers
were scattered, with watercolour sketches of butterflies.

As he sat and looked, Len knew that he could not even ask for advice;
already he understood that he could not accept whatever counsel might be
offered. The best he might have hoped for was to have cleared his own
thoughts by trying to explain them to another.

"Well," the old man said, "how are things with you, Len? I have
sometimes hoped you would write one day. You said in your last letter
you were going to try."

"Yes. I thought so at the time. I have twice been ill since then and
have given up. But I came to thank you once more for all you have done
for me." His voice shook.

The old man gave an appallingly senile nod and lay back. "Reading and
writing," he said, "are one way to beguile one's time. I haven't the
leisure any longer. I have my accounts to settle with God. That is the
final thing you come to at last. There's a new craze abroad, I hear.
Radio! Telephone, telegraph, railways, airplanes, gramophones, cinema,
radio--all of a kind. Pretty toys. To create them we have made half the
world of men into slaves--slaves that till the field and slaves that
fire the engines to turn the wheels. There's only one state of society
in which you can do without slaves: where all men are free because they
live in voluntary poverty and simplicity. And that you find in the
wilderness only."

"The wilderness," Len said in order to break the silence that fell.
"That is where I am going."

The old man re-opened his eyes which had fallen shut, looking at Len as
if he did not understand how he came to be there. Len felt that he was
nothing any longer to this man: his was the problem of death, not of
life: he had turned to the wall and faced another world. Let them who
have the strength wrestle with the inconsequential details of the day!
For awhile Len sat in silence. Then he became aware that his old teacher
was asleep. He rose and tiptoed to the door. The old man's eyes were on
him, wide open; his lips seemed to mutter words. But the eyes closed
again; and Len went out.

On the road, he hesitated once more; and suddenly he saw, coming along
the trail in the margin of the Big Slough, a buggy with a woman in the
seat. That trail he had gone innumerable times as a boy and a youth; he
would never go it again! The feeling of the irrevocable flight of time
overwhelmed him.

The buggy was old and rickety, its wheels wobbling on the cones of their
axles. A moment later he was hailed. The woman was Helen.

She drew in by his side. "Coming home with me, Len?"

He shook his head. "I can't." His eyes swept over her; she was with

Her face coloured under his look. "Charlie will scold if I tell him I
saw you and did not bring you along."

"You must tell him I cannot come. I have work that demands that I be
calm and undisturbed. The farm is his. That is what I have worked for
during the last three years: to save the farm for him and you. Don't ask
any questions. Between you and Charlie all is well?"

"Of course. But. . . ."

"No," Len repeated with a painful look in his eye. "Tell him also that
within a few days all will be well between Lydia and me. I shall never
come home again."

Her eyes were wide with horror. "Len, what are you going to do?"

"I don't know myself yet," he answered. "But I am as nearly content as I
can be after what has happened. Where are you going?"

"To bring Mr. Crawford his dinner. He cannot look after himself any
longer. We have offered to take him into the house. He won't have it. So
I go every day for an hour and do his work."

"Mother's with Kolm?"

"Yes. They are poorer than ever. But she works with him. They are
clearing land. Charlie loans him the tools he needs. He is going to
break for him next spring. Kolm will pay for the breaking with work."

"The debt?"

"Will be cleared off this fall. Len, you must come."

"Don't tempt me. Lydia is waiting."

"In the city?"

"Don't ask. No. At the lake shore." And extending his hand, he added,
"Good-by, Helen. I was worried about that man in the cottage. I came
because I had not seen him for two years."

The young woman looked at him, wondering what was behind it all.

"Good-by," he repeated; and this time she took his hand. He held it,
drew her forward, and kissed her forehead. Then he strode away to the
east, along the grade.

He was wincing with sobs. The anguish of parting had not been spared him
as he had hoped; and the bitterness of all leave-takings, all final
things closed about his heart like the grip of a hand.

He was profoundly disturbed by this encounter. He had thought he had
found his way through the labyrinth and seen a door that led beyond.
Life called again. Regrets of what might have been swayed his soul.
Might it still be, perhaps? A place in the bush--he and she? Tears ran
down his cheeks and were caught in his beard before they fell. He
thought of the new Lydia whom he had seen, resurrected and unlike her
who had stirred impure blood; unlike also the deified, ethereal being of
his fancy years ago. She was earthly, flesh and blood; yet purified by
he knew not what. He knew not what? By love.

Could they still be the perfect whole, he and she?

Yes, he said to himself; and the warmth of life flowed once more through
veins chilled by death.

On and on he went, mile after mile, without seeing road or bush, without
seeing the farms he passed, lonely, self-contained places, worlds within
the world, like that of his dream; without seeing the sunlight even
which began to slant from behind; without seeing the birds and the
animals of the forest about him. Far away to the east, in the evening
light, the Ridge appeared, a rise in the ground, with larches and
spruces outtopping the poplar forest. And suddenly he stood as though
struck by lightning.

A thought had flashed through his brain and lamed him like a hemorrhage.
No. Life was not for him. That thought decided all things. His road lay
clear ahead and led into death. But this side of death, this side of
the mysterious portal, there lay fulfilment.

Again sobs welled up in him like a flood. His whole frame shook under
the impact of a certainty which hit him like a physical blow.

It was certainty, doing away with all doubt. Terrible as the thought had
been, it had done what all musings had been unable to do. It had removed
the last hesitation; it had removed the last regret.

When, late at night, he reached the lake shore and found boat and tent
where he had left them, he stopped and listened.

Lydia's voice came from the tent. "Are you back, Len?"

"Yes," he said. His heart had missed a beat. She had not fled!

"And all is well?"

"All is well," he replied.

Chapter IV


Four days later they came, still going north, to a point where they saw
land on both sides.

Both the great lakes have such a constriction called The Narrows, where
a limestone ridge--the same in both, running roughly east to west--sends
its rock-ribs, strewn with granite, into the depression filled by the
waters. In the case of the western lake the west shore is fully wooded,
the forest alternating only with swampy meadows where soil and water are
caught and held in huge pockets of the underlying rock. On the east
shore, bare ledges crop out in monotonous succession, forming bold
formations of low, hilly promontories and capes. Beyond, both lakes
widen out again. At the northern end of The Narrows, the real wilderness
begins, inhabited only by Indian, half-breed trapper, and fisherman,
living in dispersion.

There, then, Lydia expected her fate to be decided. Meanwhile, nothing
seemed to be changed in her relationship to Len; yet, everything was

Perhaps the bond between them had merely been drawn a little closer. In
an analysis of its component parts, it consisted of very small things
indeed: of a look of understanding, a touch of the fingers, a word from
that ever growing language of theirs to which they had given a meaning
unknown to others. There were no others any longer; they had passed the
last village; in fact, there had been no others since they had taken to
the lake. They might have used any language whatever; for they did not
use words for the purpose of concealing their meaning. Yet, this
language seemed to group them apart within the community of mankind, to
which after all they belonged. Besides, these words took on a
completeness of meaning, a fulness of significance which, in ordinary
language, would have demanded many words and circumlocutions. They
smiled whenever they used one of these terms.

Lydia had become more expert at handling the boat than Len. She never
"crabbed" her oars any longer; with the improvised sail, she managed to
go almost at right angles to the wind. As soon as her initial lack of
familiarity had worn off, she seemed naturally to take to the water as
Len took to horses and other animals.

For two or three days, with varying winds, they sailed up through the
narrowing channel, with the land in view east and west. Bold headlands
projected into the water; deep, wide bays opened up between them. The
wind had blown prevailingly from the north-west, piling the waters into
the southern basin. But just at the time when they encountered the first
rocky islands and reefs in the throat of the Narrows, it sprang around
to the south again. The consequence was that, as soon as they entered
the strait, they were caught in a current which swept them north,
irresistibly, like doom.

They lingered. Tacitly both Len and Lydia seemed to agree on
procrastination. Daily they went on; but they travelled no more than two
or three hours; till, in fact, they saw some delightful spot which
seemed to invite them.

The landscape changed. Evergreen trees prevailed: larches, pines,
spruces, and the small balsam fir. The floor of the woods was white with
the four-lobed dogwood bunchberry unknown in their native bush.
Strawberries and raspberries abounded in profusion.

During the last few nights Len seemed to be given to quotation. Mostly
he quoted Shelley; though Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Coleridge came in for
their share. When he began to recite, he watched Lydia for signs of her
response; and when he discovered in her eye the glimmer of inebriety
engendered by the rhythm, he launched his voice and chanted whole poems
into the rising dark. Their favourite was Shelley's "Ode to Night."
Somehow both understood that this tendency of Len's sprang from the
desire to make her understand his old aspirations; she did understand.
With tears running down her cheeks she sat and listened, in a vain
regret that these aspirations were a thing of the past.

Their direct intercourse remained unimpassioned, cool, almost humorous.
Words of deeper import seemed to be forbidden.

On the night of the third day in the straits they camped just south of
its narrowest, northernmost gorge which was more properly called The
Narrows. That night, the south wind which, during the last few days, had
at no time been strong died down completely; simultaneously, the sky
clouded over into a uniform vault of grey. When they attended to what
had now become the routine of pitching camp, there was a touch of
wistfulness and sadness about them; as of a foreboding that they were
shortly going to be driven out from the garden of Eden.

Next morning, they awoke into a cold, grey dawn. A chill east wind was
blowing, not very strong, but such as to make them shiver: a wind which
seemed to presage ill fortune and the anguish of loneliness and desolate
care. Without words they broke camp and embarked.

Soon the current, still running from the south, swept them through the
last portal, no more than a mile in width, and out into the wider
reaches of the northern basin. To the west lay open water, rough with
waves which rolled before the wind. To the east, the projecting
rock-ribs formed two more headlands which ran out to the north-west like
two twin capes. The first and nearer one was wooded down to the water;
the second, far one was bare. Len was rowing; Lydia, handling the

As the lake widened out, Len rested his oars and scanned the horizon
ahead. The same thought awoke in both: to run to the east shore and to
land in some cove on the wooded promontory; there to wait till the
weather turned golden again: to linger in Eden. But to land on the east
shore was in itself a new departure and equivalent to leaving Eden
behind. Always, so far, they had camped on the west shore. Len hesitated
about the decision.

Lydia made a motion as if to change places. He nodded.

When the change was made, she rowed ahead, turning the bows to the east.
Len who held the tiller might have reversed the direction; but he used
the rudder only to keep the boat to a straight course.

With hardly a stop for breathing Lydia rowed on. Meanwhile the wind
began to shift, springing into more northerly quarters and sending a
cold spray over the bows.

On and on they went; and within two or three hours they were in the bay
between the two eastern headlands, nearing the point of the far one. It
seemed to be a white cliff of limestone, with not a tree or shrub to
clothe its nakedness.

When they reached the point, Len steered the boat into a berth behind a
small rib of rock. The water was deep; no shelving beach stopped the
boat; it floated free even when it touched the very flank of the rock.
He put his hand on that flank and nodded to Lydia who had shipped her
oars. She rose, climbed forward over the thwarts, reached for the rope,
and sprang ashore. When Len followed her, she looked up. "Bunk?" The
smile with which the word was spoken was pitiful.

He shook his head. "We'll run over there," nodding his head towards the
second, wooded headland which they had passed. He secured the boat. The
little craft was as safe as a liner in the slip of her dock.

They turned and went to the very point of the cape.

The landscape had the grandeur of death. Widely-flung ledges of
limestone formed a giant's stairway of terraces, low cliff looming above
cliff as if indicating successive shorelines of the lake. Each of these
cliffs showed, on the outside, its original stratification, erosion
having eaten out the softer parts; and each was composed of so many
shelves. Dark-brown lichen glued to the smoother surfaces formed the
only trace of vegetation on this storm and wave-battered promontory.

But the most curious feature consisted in the topmost layer of each of
these terraces which ascended like so many steps to a height of perhaps
a hundred feet above the lake. In each and every case, this top layer
was broken up into circular, plate-like fragments, a foot or a foot and
a half in diameter, resembling the half of a cymbal. Like the half of a
cymbal, each fragment was concave above and convex below--an effect of
the tilting action of strong wind and the dissolving power of rain
gathered in its centre. As the veering wind sprang to the north-west,
these plates of rock began to move, first desultorily, then in unison,
in a tilting, rolling motion, their edges striking the smooth and hard
surface of the layer below with a sharp, rapping sound which trailed off
into a grinding noise as the contact ran around the circumference. The
effect was uncanny and weird. Lydia shivered as she heard it for the
first time.

More and more, as they stood and looked, the wind veered around,
settling at last into a steady, moaning blow of no great force. But it
was sufficient to keep the plates moving and revolving all over the

Len sat down, looking about him with hollow and cavernous eyes. The
thought of death was on him; death was proclaimed by the very tongues of
the rock. Lydia stood, feeling cast-away and desolate.

At last she took courage and spoke. "Let us go, Len."

He shook his head. "I want to taste this to the dregs. Sit down."

She obeyed. But if she had not yet known what was coming, if the whole
situation had not pointed to the inevitable issue of it all, this whim
of Len's would have told her. Of late, she had mostly sat in front of
him; he had liked to touch her hair or her shoulder with his hand. She
sat behind him now: they were worlds apart.

Thus, under a grey and dismal sky, they listened to that eery music of
the rock which sounded like the chattering of teeth, but of teeth set in
a death's-head without flesh or skin: it was like the insane laughter of
the grim reaper himself.

At last Len rose, a light in his eyes. He looked at Lydia and, seeing
that the tears trembled under her lashes without falling, he reached for
her arm; for the first time since they had met again, he drew her to
him and kissed her brow. She shivered under that kiss.

They returned to the boat and re-embarked, Len taking the oars. He
pushed off into the bay and turned, heading across to the southern
peninsula. The wind was not yet strong enough to raise a surf. They went
close inshore and scanned various little inlets with regard to their
suitability for a camping site.

Several times Lydia said, "This is all right"; but Len shook his head.
"We want something we'll be satisfied with for some time."

It was late in the afternoon when they found what he wanted; a small
beach between thickets of pine raised aloft on bold granite domes. The
shelter was perfect. In one place, the granite dyke which formed the
western wall leaned over at the apex of the beach, in such a way as to
make it possible, in case of rain, to dispense with the tent. As if the
rocks held the heat, it was warmer in this inlet than out on the lake.

They beached the boat and inverted it, taking care to do so where it
would be in the shade should the sun come out.

Several times, while they worked, Lydia straightened and stood as if
listening: she was trying to determine the bitter-sweet flavour of these
hours. They could be lived but once; she wanted to fix their memory for

Once or twice the sound of the rock cymbals on the northern cape reached
her ear; and she shivered. Then she felt as though she had given herself
into the power of a maniac; as if all this which she had mutely agreed
to were sheer insanity. But when she looked at Len, she knew that she
must follow where he led; yes, that they must go together, neither of
them leading or lagging behind.

The work done, they strolled about as was their custom.

Again, as he had done on the headland of the laughter of death, he
leaned on her arm. They explored the bush, exclaimed at lichens, mosses,
and flowering plants which they found. They even exaggerated their
interest in them to disguise the fact that they knew the last stage of
their relationship to be opening up.

Then night closed in, not as a new presence, but as a mere
intensification and thickening, as it were, of the quality of the day
that had gone. They returned to camp and kindled a fire.

Both were conscious of the fact that, whenever that fire died down, the
last act of the tragedy of their lives would begin. So, with unusual
noise and laughter even, they built a huge pyre which, for awhile,
illumined the whole hollow of the beach. To the north, the water was
restless and vocal. A waxing moon made the vapour tent of the sky half
luminous over their heads.

But when both became aware of the artificiality of their merriment, they
sat back and watched the fire consuming itself till there was nothing
left but the darkly glowing embers from which a whiff of wind
penetrating their retreat now and then peeled off a silky film of
whitish ash. Even that dark-red glow blackened at last; and still they
were sitting, leaning against some rocks which were scattered over the
beach and which the irradiation from the fire had warmed.

The darkness in the hollow was complete. Overhead, the wind moaned
through the pines.

Lydia's heart missed a beat when, sharp and harsh, Len's voice pierced
the night.

Chapter V


"If you had been," Len said, "what I thought you could be for me, Lydia,
you would have doubled and trebled my manhood."

The silence which followed was breathless with anguish.

"I have thought and thought till I was almost numb with the effort. Now
I must act."

Another silence.

Len stirred. "I am afraid I am going to crush you," he said.

Lydia had drawn her knees to her chin, her arms clasped about them. A
smile played on her lips; could it have been seen, it would have looked

Len's presence seemed to dissolve into no more than a voice sounding
through the night. "Here we are in the wilderness, you and I. When I was
a child, not so long ago, I realised one day that I was incomplete; that
to have full life, I must find my other half. I thought I had found it
in you. I still think so. That is why I am here. But there are two years
of which I know nothing. And I must know."

Again there was a long silence. Then, with a catch in her voice, Lydia
spoke. "I was in a . . . house."

Hours seemed to pass in the compass of minutes. "Were you . . . innocent
when you entered that house?"

"Mr. Smith . . ." she said as if out of burning fires.

"Dick Jackson?" Len asked.

"No. I went with him. I tried to pay the price. I could not. I fled from
him in the city." All this as though in half angry protest.

Then, again after hours condensed into minutes, "Why did you come to me
when you saw me that night a few months ago?"

"Oh Len!" Her voice was like a bell that is cracked. "You are cruel."

"I know. Don't you see that I can't help myself? This is the reckoning,
the final casting up of accounts."

"I loved you. Had come to love you. The thought of you had been the only
thing which upheld me. The only thing which kept me from going to
pieces, from turning wicked and profligate."

"You did not write."

"How could I? How could I? I wanted to meet you; but I could not call
for help."

"You met me."

"It was all so different from what I had imagined. I had thought, should
I ever meet you, I should ask you whether you still loved me or not. If
you did, I was going to tell you all and to ask you whether you could
forget and forgive. I knew you would say no. And then I was going to
throw myself before a train or a street car. But you were ill. Oh Len,
even now I'd be willing to let things go on . . ."

"I know, I know," said the voice from the dark. "We could not. We are
human." And, after a pause, "I am not through with you yet. I have
another question. Let me speak for awhile. There is a thought that came
to me when I left you a few days ago.

"One day, more than a year ago, I was myself in one of those houses. A
man by name of Joseph had taken me there. I did not know there were such
things in the world. There was a girl who came, thinking I was looking
for that sort of thing. She wore a kimono and under it nothing but her
undergarments, all of silk. She sat down by my side, letting the kimono
fall open. And later she sat down on my knees . . ." The voice came
painfully through the night. The invisible figure of the speaker had
risen to its feet.

"And you?" Lydia asked in a mere thread of a voice. "Did you stay?"

"No!" A current seemed to flow through the darkness, conveying something
of the struggle in the man. Then his voice broke out again, like a cry
of distress. "Lydia . . . Did you ever . . . do the same?"

At that she threw herself down at his feet, grovelling in the sand,
reaching for his knees, blindly and writhingly. Sobs convulsed her whole
body. "Len! You are cruel, cruel!"

He raised his hands, clenched to heaven, and stepped back so that she
fell forward. His voice was hoarse as he cried through serried teeth.
"Answer. Did you?"

"Len!" a wail; and another one, "I can't."

"Enough!" he cried, stepping back still farther.

Five minutes went by. Lydia lay on her face, sobbing soundlessly into
her hands. Len stood, leaning against the rock behind and bending over
in agony.

Then, once more, he stood over her, swaying. "That is not all yet. But
before I go on, let me ask you this. We cannot live together; but we can
die. Are you willing?"

Slowly she controlled her sobs as he waited for her answer. She sat up.
When her voice came, it was indifferent; it had the sere sound of
falling leaves. "What do you think I came here for? Death will be a

"Then for the last," the voice said from above. "You must have liked the
life you were leading. You went out again, at night, when I was ill!"

He sank down, exhausted.

But she had sprung up. She was pacing the beach, exclaiming in
inarticulate sounds to the dark vault of heaven, waving her arms as
though to fight off unspeakable misery.

He rose, profoundly shaken, as he saw her dim outline against the half
luminous clouds. For the moment she was to him no more than a human
being in the extremity of distress. He tried to touch her. She recoiled.

"Don't touch me!" she cried. "This is more than I can bear! I . . .
I . . . Oh, why does not lightning strike me? Oh . . . Oh!" And once
more she became incoherent.

He followed her.

She veered and faced him in the dark. "Stand still! Don't come near me!
I have something to say. But when it is said, I am going into the water.
Don't hold me!"

He stood, transfixed by the quality of her voice; but he stood swaying.

Tonelessly she went on. "You were ill. There was no money. I . . ."

He was on her. He held her wrist. She struggled. He jerked her back as
she made a last attempt to escape.

For a moment it was as if he were towering above her in the dark. Then
he placed his hands on her shoulders; and her will vanished under his.

And, for the last time that night, his voice rang out into the darkly
glimmering bay. "Lydia!" it said, "in the sight of the almighty God, you
are my wife!"

Chapter VI


The north-west wind had swept the sky; a small, driving shower during
the night had been all it had brought of rain. As the wind freshened and
grew into a gale, the sun rose in the east, clear and bright. By ten
o'clock, the waters of the lake, so recently piled into the northern
expanse, were on their march back into the southern basin, proceeding in
huge waves which broke on the rocky promontories of the Narrows,
splashing up into the air to a height of thirty and forty feet.

A violent and gurgling current raced through the deep and narrow
channel, its direction reversed now. It was these currents that bared
the rock of every vestige of newly-formed soil. Towards the south, the
channel slowly contracted, with steep flanks, forcing the waves which
rolled in from the north-west to rear and rise in height as they
diminished in width. The gorge through which they rolled at the
narrowest point made the impression of a rapid in a swift-flowing,
treacherous stream, but on a vastly larger scale.

From the dome of a huge granite block, two human figures looked down on
that chaos which glittered in greenish blue and gold, reflected and
refracted from the sharp, trenchant eye of the sun. All the waters
seemed to be crowding south in glee for this tumble. Only between the
two capes lay the slick of the bay, just ruffled by the fierce blast of
the wind till, just inshore, below the limestone headland, it was

The two listened; all night they had been able to hear the dry rattling
voices of those rock cymbals on the second cape. The wind was too
boisterous now; what they heard was no more than its infuriated,
sibilant whistling through the crannies of the rock and the aisles of
the forest behind them.

In their attitude, as they stood there, hair and clothes fluttering in
the wind, there was something new. Their arms were interlocked; their
bodies nestled against each other; their eyes were soft.

Yesterday nobody would have taken them for anything but brother and
sister; nobody would, today, have mistaken them for aught but man and

Yet, as they gazed into the turmoil of the waters, there was in their
eyes that which did not speak of the mere happiness of a union newly
consummated. Beyond and behind the undeniable tenderness of their looks
lay a certain wistfulness and expectancy.

Each seemed to wait for the other to say something; to utter, in one
single word, a feeling or a change in feeling which would do away with
something that stood, not between them, but behind them, towering over
them, hovering over their heads.

Neither, perhaps, could have explained what it was. As far as it could
be expressed, their fate or doom seemed to have paled like a star before
the dawn of the sun. Yet when, after awhile, they turned back from the
sight spread at their feet, tears were trembling in the eyes of the

They went along the south shore of the headland where the fury of the
polished wind passed overhead and they were screened by the shaggy
forest that covered the promontory.

They spent the greater part of the day on this, the lee side of the
headland; partly because unexpectedly they had here come upon a last
visual link with humankind; for on the opposite shore of this second bay
of the Narrows stood the white log cabin of an Indian fisherman and
trapper. About it, as it looked across to them, scarcely discernible for
the distance, small figures moved. There, a common, every-day life was

To them, life had become a dream, hardly understood.

At noon, they went berry-picking.

It was not till, after many hours of reclining in mossy hollows,
protected from the wind, they noticed that the westering sun assumed the
golden radiance of evening that they seemed to awake to another life.

Out of the dreamy and lazy day grew the fretful night.

Morning found them in their tent, her head resting on his breast; his
arms clasped about her.

The wind had ceased. A hot summer day was well on its way.

When they had risen, Len took the hatchet he had brought and went into
the bush to cut dry branches for their fire.

Lydia, alert as soon as he had gone, went down to the beach and slipped
under the inverted boat. It was clear, she was counting the tins that
held their provisions. A thought expressed the result of her
investigation. "Six days at most! There is no chance of returning
south!" Yet, as a last resort, there was the cabin of the Indian
fisherman which they had seen in the throat of the fjord-like bay.

When Len returned, carrying an armful of brushwood, Lydia was back at
the tent, preparing the kettle for tea. Her dark-blue eyes deepened with

Close to the overhanging flank of the western granite rib, there was a
bed of moss, deep, soft, and moist. Len carried a sheet of canvas over
there and spread it out, throwing a blanket on top. Reclining on these,
they spent the day half asleep, half awake; rising at such times only as
demanded their work in the preparation of meals. Half asleep they were,
in a common oblivion of self; half awake, in the lulling consciousness
of mutual contact.

Three days went thus; their stores were dwindling.

On the fourth day they awoke to a yearning for activity. For the first
time they separated. Len had brought two hooks and improvised a fishing
tackle. Lydia took a pail and hunted for berries.

Simultaneously, the impulse had arisen in both: from the desire to stave
off the final moment; or at least, not to have it forced on them by
sheer starvation.

Yet this separation itself was fatal: it gave both of them time to
extricate themselves from the intoxication of contact and sense. When, a
few hours later, they met again, they seemed for some time strange to
each other; they spoke in order to conceal, not to reveal their thought.
Neither, however, could hide from the other the purpose of that
separation. Len had caught a pickerel and a gold-eye; Lydia had picked a
quart of strawberries. They did not draw on their stores.

It was the same the next day and the day after that. At night, they
spoke more frequently. Len recited poetry again; Lydia listened. A world
outside themselves re-arose into existence.

One evening he recited himself into a state of spiritual exaltation
which seemed to remove him far from her, into a different realm where
she longed to follow without quite succeeding.

He paced the beach. From beyond the tall spires of the northern trees a
full moon bathed the bay in front of their beach. Not a breath stirred.

"Art!" he said suddenly. "Literature! Two, three years ago my only aim
was to know all that. Perhaps to dabble in it myself. It expresses what
we feel. It makes our feelings conscious. It makes us articulate. There
are many moods in me of which I should have remained unaware had I not
read. There are perhaps a few moods which I might have expressed myself
had I not been swamped by other things, by life, by . . ."

He stopped as if he had looked into an abyss.

"There is another sort of life which is life," he went on after a pause,
pacing the sand. "The life of most men is no more than a mere existence.
That other life is the life of my brother; straightforward, frank, God's
life in its lowest terms. Yet God's life is full of beauty because it is
simple and sincere. We thinkers are rebels all, offspring of Satan
. . ."

The last few days had been life in its lowest terms! Before the eye of
the listening woman a vision arose. "Len . . ."

He stopped. "Yes?"

"I don't know. Perhaps it is wrong of me to say it. I, too, have been
thinking." Her voice sounded far away as if it came from the land of
dreams incapable of fulfilment, of dreams still-born. It invested her
words with a fulness of meaning as if they must overflow with what they
could not express.

In Len's throat a lump seemed to swell. He went and sat by her side. At
that she burst into tears. "Speak," he said softly.

"Oh Len!" she cried; and, half sobbing, half smiling, her head sinking
to his knees, she went on, "What is poverty? Life . . . Life itself is
sweet. A cabin in the bush. A single room. . . . Here on this beach!
Work, work, work! The night together. Farming perhaps; or fishing. It
takes so little . . ."

Very tenderly, but immensely sobered, Len took her head and lifted it to
free himself. For a moment she hardly knew what was happening to her.

Again he was pacing the sand, a few yards away; but this time a great
turmoil lashed him to his very depths.

"Len!" she cried once more; for she realised that she had made
impossible the very thing she had longed for, even an extension in time
of what they possessed.

"I know," he said. "I know! Did you think I had not thought of that?
Because I was thinking of it, I left you at Poplar Grove. Lydia, it is
still time. I will take you back. Leave me to face it alone."


He, as though crushed by the things enormous that were welling up in
him, "Too late! Too late!"

"Len, we could go together."

His gesture was wild: that of the branches of a wind-tossed tree.

She raised herself into a sitting posture.

"No," he said tonelessly. "Lydia! We talked things over the other night.
I meant to crush you, then. I was crushed myself. I don't want to blame
you; I want to state facts. We are we. We cannot help ourselves. When we
went out into the wilderness, I meant to kill you and then to kill
myself. I found I could not. Thus we should have gone along, each by
himself. We cannot live, but we can die together."

"Death?" she said and shivered. "Life is sweet . . . now."



"Suppose we did what you suggest. I have thought of it myself. It cannot
be done. One day, when you are in my arms, I should suddenly see you,
with my mind's eyes, as I saw that girl!"

Her voice was a cry in the night. Her head sank low.

"I should rush away and kill you, then. You would go alone. Our present
union before God would be sullied."

She reached for his hand.

"Lydia," he cried, fighting his sobs. "I will vow to you if you agree
. . . . This cannot go on. . . . That thing stands behind us and over us,
always, ready to step between us. I do not blame you. But it is there.
If one night I do not come to you, then you will know that the thing has
arrived; that the spectre of the past has arisen and given the signal.
That sign I will give you; it will be time, then, to make an end. And if
you agree, we shall die together."

The woman drew herself up by his hand. A smile as of another world
hovered on her lips. From her, too, sense had fallen like an embroidered
cloak. Her spirit, awakened, stood by his side. Arm in arm, without
words, they paced the beach for over an hour.

Chapter VII


Three more days went by. The wind had veered to the south again; in the
course of a day and a night the sky had clouded.

Len was restless. He put his fish-hooks out in the morning; but he soon
left them, roaming alone over rocks and beaches and watching the lake.
The water, under pressure of the wind, was rising in the northern basin.

He found a place whence he could see the limestone headland to the
north; he looked at it for hours and hours, across the bay.

Lydia gathered berries or sat in the tent. A final resolve gave her very
step a sort of solemnity.

Something was approaching. Lydia displayed herself to him. He responded
by brutal caresses.

Her eyes seemed to turn inward. Once or twice, during the second day of
the south wind, he had the uncanny impression as if he were fondling a
corpse. She was reading the signs.

At night, that day, when they had been sitting together till late after
dark, he suddenly pressed her against his body, crushing her breasts,
and then thrust her from him.

She rose and went to the tent where she sat down and waited for hours.

About midnight, she emerged, went to the fire, renewed the fuel till it
blazed up, and waited again.

The flames illumined the whole of their retreat. To east and west the
glittering rocks sprang up, surmounted by a hood of coniferous trees. To
the south, the inlet narrowed in an angle; there stood the tent. To the
north, the beach lay open to the bay; sharp, lapping sounds proceeded
from there.

As if looking for Len, she went all about the cove. Then she took a
brand from the fire and threw it into the tent which flared up and was
consumed in five minutes. She returned to the fire and sat down.

She listened to the wind which had sprung into the north. It was
freshening, blowing stronger and stronger. From time to time she
replenished the fire.

Still the wind was freshening. By three o'clock in the morning it was
blowing a gale. It whistled and moaned; and the enormous spruce trees,
outlined in black against the pale clouds scudding under the waning
moon, began to sway and to toss their tops as if in wild gestures.

With the dawn, Len returned. The wind was so boisterous by that time
that she had not heard him approach. She winced as he stepped into the
sphere of light cast by the fire.

He looked about, saw the burnt tent, and nodded.

She rose; and together they went to the boat and turned it on to its
keel. Underneath, a few tins were left. Len scattered them with a kick
of his foot.

He put the oars into place and threw the blanket from the moss bed under
the rock dyke on the floor of the craft. They pushed it into the water.
The short waves, refracted into the bay, hit its flanks with sharp,
slapping sounds.

Len looked about, holding the rope. His eyes were hollow. Then he
shrugged his shoulders and bent his look on Lydia. She, too, nodded,
climbing in. A moment later he followed.

When the sun rose, dissolving the scudding clouds from the sky, they
were in the bay; Len pulled straight across, into the lee of the
limestone headland. When they came inshore, he followed its curves,
sometimes running the boat into a "slip" between two dykes and resting
for half an hour or longer.

It was past the noon hour when they reached the point. Here, the water
was in a wild turmoil, backwater eddies being set up by the fierce
current sweeping past the cape in stationary waves through which the
water seemed to shoot as through a cataract.

A last time Len ran the boat into a slip; when they had landed, he
pulled it half up on the rock ledge.

The clatter of the cymbals was fierce; yet, as the wind rose and fell,
there was a wild music in it.

They went to the utmost point, looking out over the seething waste of
water. The sky was deep-blue and clear; the wind, what the fishermen
around the lake call a "roaring north-wester." The noise was deafening,
what with the wind and the clattering stones which rolled and tilted all
about, rapping the underlying terraces with their rims.

In front, the waves broke over the lower and outer ledges, sending
fountains of spray into the air where they splashed against the next
higher cliff.

Len and Lydia came to a point where, in the almost continuous spray of
the breaking waves, a rainbow played, springing up and falling, and
springing up again. With the ghost of a smile they looked at each other.

Then they sat down within the shelter of a ledge, enfolding each other
with their arms and nestling body against body. Thus they remained for
two or three hours, while the wind seemed to blow with an ever
increasing fury.

At last Len disengaged himself and rose to his feet. She followed his
example; and their eyes met. Are you ready? his look seemed to ask. I am
ready, hers seemed to reply.

They returned to the boat. Len glanced at the westering sun.

The boat being relaunched, Len entered first. In the space between the
rear thwart and the stern he spread the blanket and over it, crosswise,
laid the rope, doubling it, with a loop to the left and the two loose
ends to the right.

Then he nodded to Lydia.

A moment later, with a few strokes of the oars, he headed the craft into
the turmoil beyond the point of the cape. The boat leapt. When the
current caught it, broadside on, it whirled about. He shipped the oars
and beckoned to Lydia.

Side by side they lay down on the floor; and Len lashed their bodies
together with the rope that had served as a painter.

Their lips met; his hands clasped her head; hers, his. Their eyes were
closed. They drifted for hours.

At almost the precise moment when the sun touched the horizon in the
west, they entered the gorge of the Narrows; but they did not know where
they were; they never looked up.

The gorge is strewn with rocky reefs. The never-ceasing motion had
hypnotised them into an ecstasy beyond that of a mere human union. But
when, in a sudden downward swing, as they were topping a huge, standing
wave, and with a drenching rain of spray, the keel struck, so that the
boat shivered into a thousand fragments, every muscle of their bodies
sprang into activity, clasping more closely, clinging more desperately
to that which was not shivered like brittle glass.

It was a single blow; then the softness of a bed; then a brief struggle
for breath; then infinite comfort, a feeling of sinking, sinking, a
sudden subsiding; and then . . . the end.

* * * * *

In a large, unpainted frame house a young woman was lying on a white
bed, wrestling with an enormity within her, yelling with the pain of
giving birth. An older woman, short, fat, grey, dispirited-looking,
acted as midwife.

In the kitchen, below, a mere boy was pacing up and down, groaning, "My
God! My God!"

Outside, in the yard, a giant was carrying a huge forkful of hay to the
stable when, behind him, he suddenly heard the crunching of the wheels
of a buggy and turned.

"This the Sterner place?" a broad Scotsman asked, holding the lines of
his brisk, rangy team of drivers.


"Are you Mr. Sterner?"

"My name's Kolm. I am the stepfather of the Sterner boys."

"I came over from Hnafur. There were two corpses washed ashore, lashed
together. Landed on a sand-spit. A man and a woman. The man carried a
card in his pocket, with the name and the section number of this place.
There's a pencilled direction that his share of the farm is to go to his
brother. We want someone to identify the body."

"I'll come," Kolm said. "Wait a minute. Don't go to the house. They
needn't know just yet."

When, a week later, the new-born child was christened, he was given the
name of Leonard, in commemoration of one who was dead and as a promise,
perhaps, that he should have the opportunities which his older namesake
had lacked.


1) Correction Line.--In the survey of western Canada, north-south lines
are laid out straight, that is, at a uniform distance from each other;
since, however, meridians approach each other toward the pole, the
survey lines would deviate from these meridians more and more the
farther north they reach; this is corrected every twenty-four miles; the
north-south line is moved over to east or west, as the case may be. An
east-west road at this point, has, therefore, no continuous cross-roads.
It is called a correction line.

2) To Prove up.--A free grant of land, under the Dominion Lands Act,
became the property of the settler only when he had proved that he had
complied with the requirements of the law, in other words, when he had
"proved up."

3) Slough.--Any depression in the otherwise flat soil, often swampy or
filled with water; or merely overgrown with long grass.

4) Slick--The smooth water in the lee of a wind-break when open water is


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