Part 1 out of 3
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THE BLACK CREEK STOPPING-HOUSE
NELLIE L. McCLUNG
_To the Pioneer Women of the West, who made life tolerable, and even
comfortable, for the others of us; who fed the hungry, advised the
erring, nursed the sick, cheered the dying, comforted the sorrowing,
and performed the last sad rites for the dead;
The beloved Pioneer Women, old before their time with hard work,
privations, and doing without things, yet in whose hearts there was
always burning the hope of better things to come;
The godly Pioneer Women, who kept alive the conscience of the
neighborhood, and preserved for us the best traditions of the race;
To these noble Women of the early days, some of whom we see no more,
for they have entered into their inheritance, this book is respectfully
dedicated by their humble admirer,
"_Let me live in a house by the side of the road, and be a friend of
THE BLACK CREEK STOPPING-HOUSE--
I. The Old Trail
II. The House of Bread
III. The Sailors' Rest
IV. Farm Pupils
V. The Prairie Club-House
VI. The Counter-Irritant
VII. Ladies' Day at the Stopping-House
VIII. Shadows of the Night
IX. His Evil Genius
X. Da's Turn
XI. The Blizzard
XII. When the Day Broke
THE RUNAWAY GRANDMOTHER
THE RETURN TICKET
THE UNGRATEFUL PIGEONS
YOU NEVER CAN TELL
A SHORT TALE OF A RABBIT
THE ELUSIVE VOTE
THE WAY OF THE WEST
THE BLACK CREEK STOPPING-HOUSE
_THE OLD TRAIL._
When John Corbett strolled leisurely into the Salvation Army meeting in
old Victoria Hall in Winnipeg that night, so many years ago now, there
may have been some who thought he came to disturb the meeting.
There did not seem to be any atmospheric reason why Mr. Corbett or
anyone else should be abroad, for it was a drizzling cold November
night, and the streets were muddy, as only Winnipeg streets in the old
days could be--none of your light-minded, fickle-hearted, changeable
mud that is mud to-day and dust to-morrow, but the genuine, original,
brush-defying, soap-and-water-proof, north star, burr mud, blacker than
lampblack, stickier than glue!
Mr. Corbett did not come to disturb the meeting. His reason for
attending lay in a perfectly legitimate desire to see for himself what
it was all about, he being happily possessed of an open mind.
Mr. Corbett would do anything once, and if he liked it he would do it
again. In the case of the Salvation Army meeting, he liked it. He liked
the music, and the good fellowship, and the swing and the zip of it
all. More still, he liked the blue-eyed Irish girl who sold _War Crys_
at the door. When he went in he bought one; when he came out he bought
all she had left.
The next night Mr. Corbett was again at the meeting. On his way in he
bought all the _War Crys_ the blue-eyed Irish girl had. Every minute he
liked her better, and when the meeting was over and an invitation was
given to the anxious ones to "tarry awhile," Mr. Corbett tarried. When
the other cases had been dismissed Mr. Corbett had a long talk with the
captain in charge.
Mr. Corbett was a gentleman of private means, though he was accustomed
to explain his manner of making a livelihood, when questioned by
magistrates and other interested persons, by saying he was employed in
a livery stable. When further pressed by these insatiably curious
people as to what his duties in the livery stable were, he always
described his position as that of "chamber maid." Here the magistrates
and other questioners thought that Mr. Corbett was disposed to be
facetious, but he was perfectly sincere, and he had described his work
more accurately than they gave him credit for. It might have been more
illuminative if he had said that in the livery stable of Pacer and
Kelly he did the "upstairs" work.
It was a small but well appointed room in which Mr. Corbett worked. It
had an unobtrusive narrow stairway leading up to it. The only furniture
it contained was several chairs and a round table with a well-concealed
drawer, which opened with a spring, and held four packs and an assorted
variety of chips! Its one window was well provided with a heavy blind.
Here Mr. Corbett was able to accommodate any or all who felt that they
would like to give Fortune a chance to be kind to them.
The night after Mr. Corbett had attended the Salvation Army meeting,
his "upstairs" room was as dark inside as it always appeared to be on
the outside. Two anxious ones, whose money was troubling them, had to
be turned away disappointed. Mr. Corbett had left word downstairs that
he was going out.
After Mr. Corbett had explained the situation to the Salvation Army
captain, the captain took a day to consider. Then Mrs. Murphy, mother
of Maggie Murphy who sold _War Crys_, was consulted. Mrs. Murphy had
long been a soldier in the Army, and she had seen so many brands
plucked from the burning that she was not disposed to discourage Mr.
Corbett in his new desire to "do diff'rent."
Soon after this Mr. Corbett, in his own words, "pulled his freight"
from the Brunswick Hotel, where he had been a long, steady boarder, and
installed himself in the only vacant room in the Murphy house, having
read the black and white card in the parlor window, which proclaimed
"Furnished Rooms and Table Board," and regarding it as a providential
opportunity for him to see Maggie Murphy in action!
Having watched Maggie Murphy wait on table in the daytime and sell _War
Crys_ at night for a week or more, Mr. Corbett decided he liked her
methods. The way she poised a tray of teacups on her head proclaimed
her a true artist.
At the end of two weeks Mr. Corbett stated his case to Mrs. Murphy and
"I've a poor hand," he declared; "but I am willing to play it out if
Maggie will sit opposite me and be my partner. I have only one gift--
I'm handy with cards and I can deal myself three out of the four aces--
but that's not much good to a man who tries to earn an honest living. I
am willing to try work--it may be all right for anything I know. If
Maggie will take me I'll promise to leave cards alone, and I'll do
whatever she thinks I ought to do."
Maggie and her mother took a few days to consider. On one point their
minds were very clear. If Maggie "took" him, he could not keep any of
the money he had won gambling--he would have to start honest. Mr.
Corbett had, fortunately, arrived at the same conclusion himself, so
that point was easily disposed of.
"It ain't for us to be hard on anyone that's tryin' to do better," said
Maggie's mother, as she rolled out the crust for the dried-apple pies.
"He's wasted his substance, and wasted his days, but who knows but the
Lord can use him yet to His honor and glory. The Lord ain't like us,
havin' to wait until He gets everything to His own likin', but He can
go ahead with whatever comes to His hand. He can do His work with poor
tools, and it's well for Him He can, and well for us, too."
Maggie Murphy and John Corbett were married.
John Corbett got a job at once as teamster for a transfer company, and
Maggie followed her mother's example and put a sign of "Table Board" in
the window. They lived in this way for ten years, and in spite of the
dismal prognostications of friends, John Corbett worked industriously,
and did not show any desire to return to his old ways! When he said he
would do what Maggie told him it was not the rash promise of an eager
lover, for Mr. Corbett was never rash, and the subsequent years showed
that his purpose was honest to fulfil it to the letter.
Maggie, being many years his junior, could not think of addressing him
by his first name, and she felt that it was not seemly to use the
prefix, so again she followed her mother's example, and addressed him
as her mother did Murphy, senior, as "Da."
It was in the early eighties that Maggie and John Corbett decided to
come farther west. The cry of free land for the asking was coming to
many ears, and at Maggie's table it was daily discussed. They sold out
the contents of their house, and, purchasing oxen and a covered wagon,
they made the long overland journey. On the bank of Black Creek they
pitched their tent, and before a week had gone by Maggie Corbett was
giving meals to hungry men, cooking bannocks, frying pork, and making
coffee on her little sheet-iron camp-stove, no bigger than a biscuit-
The next year, when the railroad came to Brandon, and the wheat was
drawn in from as far south as Lloyd's Lake, the Black Creek Stopping-
House became a far-famed and popular establishment.
_THE HOUSE OF BREAD_.
Across the level plain which lies between the valley of the Souris and
the valley of the Assiniboine there ran, at this time, three trails.
There was the deeply-rutted old Hudson Bay trail, over which went the
fabulously heavy loads of fur long ago--grass-grown now and broken with
badger holes; there was "the trail," hard and firm, in the full pride
of present patronage, defying the invasion of the boldest blade of
grass; and by the side of it, faint and shadowy, like a rainbow's
understudy, ran "the new trail," strong in the certainty of being the
trail in time.
For miles across the plain the men who follow the trail watch the steep
outlying shoulder of the Brandon Hills for a landmark. When they leave
the Souris valley the hills are blue with distance and seem to promise
wooded slopes, and maybe leaping streams, but a half-day's journey
dispels the illusion, for when the traveller comes near enough to see
the elevation as it is, it is only a rugged bluff, bald and bare, and
blotched with clumps of mangy grass, with a fringe of stunted poplar at
After rounding the shoulder of the hill, the thick line of poplars and
elms which fringe the banks of Black Creek comes into view, and many a
man and horse have suddenly brightened at the sight, for in the shelter
of the trees there stands the Black Creek Stopping-House, which is the
half-way house on the way to Brandon. Hungry men have smelled the bacon
frying when more than a mile away, and it is only the men who follow
the trail who know what a heartsome smell that is. The horses, too,
tired with the long day, point their ears ahead and step livelier when
they see the whitewashed walls gleaming through the trees.
The Black Creek Stopping-House gave not only food and shelter to the
men who teamed the wheat to market--it gave them good fellowship and
companionship. In the absence of newspapers it kept its guests abreast
with the times; events great and small were discussed there with
impartial deliberation, and often with surprising results. Actions and
events which seemed quite harmless, and even heroic, when discussed
along the trail, often changed their complexion entirely when Mrs.
Maggie Corbett let in the clear light of conscience on them, for even
on the very edge of civilization there are still to be found finger-
posts on the way to right living.
Mrs. Maggie Corbett was a finger-post, and more, for a finger-post
merely points the way with its wooden finger, and then, figuratively,
retires from the scene to let you think it over; but Maggie Corbett
continued to take an interest in the case until it was decided to her
Black Creek, on whose wooded bank the Stopping-House stands, is a deep
black stream which makes its way leisurely across the prairie between
steep banks. Here and there throughout its length are little shallow
stretches which show a golden braid down the centre like any peaceful
meadow brook where children may with safety float their little boats,
but Black Creek, with its precipitous holes, is no safe companion for
any living creature that has not webbed toes or a guardian angel.
The banks, which are of a spongy black loam, grow a heavy crop of
coarse meadow grass, interspersed in the late summer with the umbrella-
like white clusters of water hemlock.
* * * * *
About a mile from the Stopping-House there stood a strange log
structure, the present abode of Reginald and Randolph Brydon, late of
H.M. Navy, but now farmers and homesteaders. The house was built in
that form of architecture known as a "Red River frame," and the corners
were finished in the fashion called "saddle and notch."
Whatever can be done to a house to spoil its appearance had been done
to this one. There was a "join" in each side, which was intended, and a
bulge which was accidental, and when the sailor brothers were unable to
make a log lie comfortably beside its neighbor by using the axe, they
resorted to long iron spikes, and when these split the logs, as was
usually the case, they overcame the difficulty by using ropes.
What had brought the Brydon brothers to Manitoba was a matter of
conjecture in the Black Creek neighborhood. Some said they probably
were not wanted at home; others, with deeper meaning, said they
probably _were_ wanted at home; and, indeed, their bushy eyebrows,
their fierce black eyes, the knives which they carried in their belts,
and their general manner of living, gave some ground to this
The Brydon brothers did not work with that vigor and zeal which brings
success to the farmer. They began late and quit early, with numerous
rests in between. They showed a delightfully child-like trust in Nature
and her methods, for in the springtime, instead of planting their
potatoes in the ground the way they saw other people doing it, they
sprinkled them around the "fireguard," believing that the birds of the
air strewed leaves over them, or the rain washed them in, or in some
mysterious way they made a bed for themselves in the soil.
They bought a cow from one of the neighbors, but before the summer was
over brought her back indignantly, declaring that she would give no
milk. Randolph declared that he knew she had it, for she had plenty the
last time he milked her, and that was several days ago--she should have
more now. It came out in the evidence that they only took from the cow
the amount of milk that they needed, reasoning that she had a better
way of keeping it than they had. The cow's former owner exonerated her
from all blame in the matter, saying that "Rosie" was all right as a
cow; but, of course, she was "no bloomin' refrigerator!"
There was only one day in the week when the Brydon brothers could work
with any degree of enjoyment, and that was on Sunday, when there was
the added zest of wickedness. To drive the oxen up and down the field
in full view of an astonished and horrified neighborhood seemed to take
away in large measure from the "beastliness of labor," and then, too,
the Sabbath calm of the Black Creek valley seemed to stimulate their
imagination as they discoursed loudly and elaborately on the present
and future state of the oxen, consigning them without hope of release
to the remotest and hottest corner of Gehenna. But the complacent old
oxen, graduates in the school of hard knocks and mosquitoes, winked
solemnly, switched their tails and drowsed along unmoved.
The sailors had been doing various odd jobs around the house on Sundays
ever since they came, but had not worked openly until one particular
Sunday in May. All day they hoped that someone would come and stop them
from working, or at least beg of them to desist, but the hot afternoon
wore away, and there was no movement around any of the houses on the
plain. The guardian of the morals of the neighborhood, Mrs. Maggie
Corbett, had taken notice of them all right, but she was a wise woman
and did not use militant methods until she had tried all others; and
she believed that she had other means of teaching the sailor twins the
advantages of Sabbath observance.
About five o'clock the twins grew so uproariously hungry they were
compelled to quit their labors, but when they reached their house they
were horrified to find that a wandering dog, who also had no respect
for the Sabbath, had depleted their "grub-box," overlooking nothing but
the tea and sugar, which he had upset and spilled when he found he did
not care to eat them.
Then it was the oxen's turn to laugh, for the twins' wrath was all
turned upon each other. Everything that they had said about the oxen,
it seemed, was equally true of each other--each of them had confidently
expected the other one to lock the door.
There was nothing to do but to go across to the Black Creek Stopping-
House for supplies. Mrs. Corbett baked bread for them each week.
Reginald, with a gun on his shoulder, and rolling more than ever in his
walk, strolled into the kitchen of the Stopping-House and made known
his errand. He also asked for the loan of a neck-yoke, having broken
his in a heated argument with the "starboard" ox.
Mrs. Corbett, with a black dress and white apron on, sat, with folded
hands, in the rocking-chair. "Da" Corbett, with his "other clothes" on
and his glasses far down on his nose, sat in another rocking-chair
reading the life of General Booth. Peter Rockett, the chore boy, in a
clean pair of overalls, and with hair-oil on his hair, sat on the edge
of the wood-box twanging a Jew's-harp, and the tune that he played bore
a slight resemblance to "Pull for the Shore."
Randolph felt the Sunday atmosphere, but, nevertheless, made known his
"The bread is yours," said Mrs. Corbett, sternly; "you may have it, but
I can't bake any more for you!"
"W'y not?" asked Reginald, feeling all at once hungrier than ever.
"Of course I am not saying you can help it," Mrs. Corbett went on,
ignoring his question. "I suppose, maybe, you do the best you can. I
believe everybody does, if we only knew it, and you haven't had a very
good chance either, piratin' among the black heathen in the islands of
the sea; but the Bible speaks plain, and old Captain Coombs often told
us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, and I can't encourage
Sunday-breakin' by cookin' for them that do it!"
"We weren't breakin', really we were only back-settin'," interposed
"I don't wish to encourage Sabbath-breakin'," repeated Mrs. Corbett,
raising her voice a little to prevent interruptions, "by bakin' for
people who do it, or neighborin' with people who do it. Of course there
are some who say that the amount of work that you and your brother do
any day would not break the Sabbath." Here she looked hard at her man,
John Corbett, who stirred uneasily. "But there is no mistakin' your
meanin', and besides," Mrs. Corbett went on, "we have others besides
ourselves to think of--there's the child," indicating the lanky Peter
The "child" thus alluded to closed one eye--the one farthest from Mrs.
Corbett--for a fraction of a second, and kept on softly teasing the
"Now you need not glare at me so fierce, you twin." Mrs. Corbett's
voice was still full of Sunday calm. "I do not know which one of you
you are, but anyway what I say applies to you both. Now take that look
off your face and stay and eat. I'll send something home to your other
Having delivered her ultimatum on the subject of Sunday work, Mrs.
Corbett became quite genial. She heaped Reginald's plate with cold
chicken and creamed potatoes, and, mellowed by them and the comfort of
her well-appointed table, he was prepared to renounce the devil and all
his works if Mrs. Corbett gave the order.
_THE SAILORS' REST_.
When Reginald reached home he found his brother in a state of mind
bordering on frenzy, but when he shoved the basket which Mrs. Corbett
had filled for him toward Randolph with the unnecessary injunction to
"stow it in his hold," the lion's mouth was effectively closed. When he
had finished the last crumb Reginald told him Mrs. Corbett's decree
regarding Sunday work, and found that Randolph was prepared to abstain
from all forms of labor on all days in the week if she wished it.
That night, after the twins had washed the accumulated stock of dishes,
and put patches on their overalls with pieces of canvas and a sail
needle, and performed the many little odd jobs which by all accepted
rules of ethics belong to Sunday evening's busy work, they sat beside
the fire and indulged in great depression of spirits!
"She can't live forever," Reginald broke out at last with apparent
irrelevance. But there was no irrelevance--his remark was perfectly in
He was referring to a dear aunt in Bournemouth. This lady, who was
possessed of "funds," had once told her loving nephews--the twins--that
if they would go away and stay away she might--do something for them--
by and by. She had urged them so strongly to go to Canada that they
could not, under the circumstances, do otherwise. Aunt Patience Brydon
shared the delusion that is so blissfully prevalent among parents and
guardians of wayward youth in England, that to send them to Canada will
work a complete reformation, believing that Canada is a good, kind
wilderness where iced tea is the strongest drink known, and where no
more exciting game than draughts is ever played.
Aunt Patience, though a frail-looking little white-haired lady, had, it
seemed, a wonderful tenacity of life.
"She'll slip her cable some day," Reginald declared soothingly. "She
can't hold out much longer--you know the last letter said she was
"Failin' fast!" Randolph broke in impatiently. "It's us that's failin'
fast! And maybe when we've waited and waited, and stayed away for 'er,
she'll go and leave it all to some Old Cats' 'Ome or Old Hens' Roost,
or some other beastly charity. I don't trust 'er--'any woman that 'olds
on to life the way she does--'er with one foot in the grave, and 'er
will all made and everything ready."
"Well, she can't last always," Reginald declared, holding firmly to
this one bit of comfort.
The next news they got from Bournemouth was positively alarming! She
was getting better. Then the twins lost hope entirely and decided to
treat Aunt Patience as one already dead--figuratively speaking, to turn
her picture to the wall.
"Let her live as long as she likes," Reginald declared, "if she's so
jolly keen on it!"
When they decided to trust no more to the deceitfulness of woman they
turned to another quarter for help, for they were, at this time,
"uncommonly low in funds."
It was Randolph who got the idea, one day when he was sitting on the
plow handle lighting his pipe.
"Wot's the matter with us gettin' out Fred for our farm pupil? He's got
some money--they say he married a rich man's daughter--and we've got
"He's only a 'alf-brother!" said Reginald, at last, reflectively.
"That don't matter one bit to me," declared Randolph, generously, "I'll
treat him just the same as I would you!"
Reginald shrugged his shoulders eloquently.
"What about his missus?" asked Reginald, after a silence.
"She can come," Randolph said, magnanimously. "We'll build a piece to
The more they talked about it the more enthusiastic they became. Under
the glow of this new project they felt they could hurl contempt on Aunt
Patience and her unnatural hold on life.
"I don't know but what I would rather take 'elp from the livin' than
the dead, anyway," Reginald said, virtuously, that night before they
went to bed.
"They're more h'apt to ask it back, just the same," objected Randolph.
"I was just goin' to say," Reginald began again, "that I'd just as soon
take 'elp from the livin' as the dead, especially when there ain't no
They began at once to write letters to their long-neglected brother
Fred, enthusiastically setting forth the charms of this new country.
They dwelt on the freedom of the life, the abundance of game, and the
view! They made a great deal of the view, and certainly there was
nothing to obstruct it, for the prairie lay a dead level for ten miles
north of them, only dotted here and there with little weather-bleached
warts of houses like their own, where other optimists were trying to
make a dint in the monotony.
The letters which went east every mail were splendid productions in
their way, written with ease and eloquence, and utterly untrammeled by
any regard for facts.
Their brother responded just as they hoped he would, and the twins were
greatly delighted with the success of their plan.
Events of which the twins knew nothing favored their project and made
Fred and his wife glad to leave Toronto. Evelyn Grant had bitterly
estranged her father by marrying against his wishes. So the proposal
from Randolph and Reginald that they come West and take the homestead
near them seemed to offer an escape from much that was unpleasant.
Besides, it was just at the time when so many people were hearing the
call of the West.
At the suggestion of his brothers, Fred sent in advance the money to
build a house on his homestead. But the twins, not wishing to make any
mistake, or to have any misunderstanding with Fred, built it right
beside their own. Fred sent enough money to have a frame building put
up but the twins decided that logs were more romantic and cheaper. It
was a remarkable structure when they were through with it, stuck
against their own house, as if by accident, and resembling in its
irregularity the growth of a freak potato. Cables were freely used;
binder twine served as hinges on the doors and also as latches.
They gave as a reason for sticking the new part against their own
irregularly that they intended to use the alcoves for verandahs!
They agreed to put in Fred's crop for him--for a consideration; to put
up hay; to buy oxen. Indeed, so many kindly offices did they agree to
perform for him that Fred had advanced them, in all, nearly two
The preparations were watched with great interest by the neighbors, and
the probable outcome of it all was often a topic of conversation at the
Black Creek Stopping-House.
June in Manitoba, when the tender green of grass and leaf is bathed in
the sparkling sunshine; when the first wild roses are spilling their
perfume on the air, and the first orange lilies are lifting their glad
faces to the sun; when the prairie chicken, intent on family cares,
runs cautiously beside the road, and the hermit thrushes from the
thickets drive their sweet notes into the quiet evening. It is a time
to remember lovingly and with sweet gratitude; a time when the love of
the open prairie overtakes us, and binds us fast in golden fetters.
There is no hint of the cruel winter that is waiting just around the
corner, or of the dull autumn drizzle closer still; there is nothing
but peace and warmth and beauty.
As the old "Cheyenne," the only sidewheeler on the Assiniboine,
churning the muddy water into creamy foam, made its way to the green
shore at Curry's Landing, Fred and Evelyn Brydon, standing on the
narrow deck, felt the grip of the place and the season. Even the
captain's picturesque language, as he directed the activities of the
"rousters" who pulled the boat ashore, seemed less like profanity and
more like figure of speech.
The twins had made several unfruitful journeys to the Landing for their
brother and his wife, for they began to go two days before the
"Cheyenne" was expected, and had been going twice a day since, all of
which had been carefully entered in their account book!
Their appearance as they stood on the shore, sneering at the captain's
directions to his men from the superior height of their nautical
experience, was warlike in the extreme, although they were clothed in
the peaceful overalls and smock of the farmer and also had submitted to
a haircut at the earnest instigation of Mrs. Corbett, who threatened to
cut off all bread-making unless her wishes were complied with!
Evelyn, who had never seen her brothers-in-law, looked upon them now in
wonder, and she could see their appearance was somewhat of a surprise
to Fred, who had not seen them for many years, and who remembered them
only as the heroes of his childhood days.
They greeted Fred hilariously, but to his wife they spoke timidly, for,
brave as they were in facing Spanish pirates, they were timid to the
point of flight in the presence of women.
As they drove home in the high-boxed wagon, the twins endeavored to
keep up the breezy enthusiasm that had characterized their letters.
They raved about the freedom of the West; they went into fresh raptures
over the view, and almost deranged their respiratory organs in their
praises of the air. They breathed in deep breaths of the ambient
atmosphere, chewed it up with loud smacks of enjoyment, and then blew
it out, snorting like whales. Evelyn, who was not without a sense of
humor, would have enjoyed it all, and laughed _at_ them, even if she
could not laugh with them, if she could have forgotten that they were
her husband's brothers, but it is very hard to see the humorous in the
grotesque behavior of those to whom we are "bound by the ties of duty,"
if not affection.
A good supper at the Black Creek Stopping-House and the hearty
hospitality of Mrs. Corbett restored Evelyn's good spirits. She
noticed, too, that the twins tamed down perceptibly in Mrs. Corbett's
Mrs. Corbett insisted on Fred and his wife spending the night at the
"Don't go to your own house until morning," she said. "Things look a
lot different when the sun is shining, and out here, you see, Mrs.
Fred, we have to do without and forget so many things that we bank a
lot on the sun. You people who live in cities, you've got gas and big
lamps, and I guess it doesn't bother you much whether the sun rises or
doesn't rise, or what he does, you're independent; but with us it is
different. The sun is the best thing we've got, and we go by him
considerable. Providence knows how it is with us, and lets us have lots
of the sun, winter and summer."
Evelyn gladly consented to stay.
Mrs. Corbett, observing Evelyn's soft white hands, decided that she was
not accustomed to work, and the wonder of how it would all turn out was
heavy upon her kind Irish heart as she said goodbye to her next
A big basket of bread and other provisions was put into the wagon at
the last minute. "Maybe your stove won't be drawin' just right at the
first," said Maggie Corbett, apologetically. As she watched Evelyn's
hat of red roses fading in the distance she said softly to herself:
"Sure I do hope it's true that He tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,
tho' there's some that says that ain't in the Bible at all. But it
sounds nice and kind anyway, and yon poor lamb needs all the help He
can give her. Him and me, we'll have to do the best we can for her!"
Mrs. Corbett went over to see her new neighbor two or three days after.
In response to her knock on the rough lumber door, a thin little voice
called to her to enter, which she did.
On the bare floor stood an open trunk from which a fur-trimmed pale
pink opera cloak hung carelessly. Beside the trunk in an attitude of
homesickness huddled the young woman, hair dishevelled, eyes red. Her
dress of green silk, embroidered stockings and beaded slippers looked
out of place and at variance with her primitive surroundings.
When Mrs. Corbett entered the room she sprang up hastily and apologized
for the untidiness of her house. She chattered gaily to hide the
trouble in her face, and Mrs. Corbett wisely refrained from any
apparent notice of her tears, and helped her to unpack her trunks and
set the house to rights.
Mrs. Corbett showed her how to make a combined washstand and clothes
press out of two soap boxes, how to make a wardrobe out of the head of
the bed, and set the twin sailors at the construction of a cookhouse
where the stove could be put.
When Mrs. Corbett left that afternoon it was a brighter and more
liveable dwelling. Coming home along the bank of Black Creek, she was
troubled in mind and heart for her new neighbor.
"This is June," she said to herself, "and wild roses are crowdin' up to
her door, and the meadow larks are sittin' round all over blinkin' at
the sun, and she has her man with her, and she ain't tired with the
work, and her hands ain't cracked and sore, and she hasn't been there
long enough to dislike the twins the way she will when she knows them
better, and there's no mosquitoes, and she hasn't been left to stay
alone, and still she cries! God help us! What will she do in the long
drizzle in the fall, when the wheat's spoilin' in the shock maybe, and
the house is dark, and her man's away--what _will_ she do?"
Mrs. Brydon spent many happy hours that summer at the Stopping-House,
and soon Mrs. Corbett knew all the events of her past life; the
sympathetic understanding of the Irish woman made it easy for her to
tell many things. Her mother had died when she was ten years old, and
since then she had been her father's constant companion until she met
She could not understand, and so bitterly resented, her father's
dislike of Fred, not knowing that his fond old heart was torn with
jealousy. She and her father were too much alike to ever arrive at an
understanding, for both were proud and quick-tempered and imperious,
and so each day the breach grew wider. Just a word, a caress, an
assurance from her that she loved him still, that the new love had not
driven out the old, would have set his heart at rest, but with the
cruel thoughtlessness of youth she could see only one side of the
affair, and that her own.
At last she ran away and was married to the young man, whom her father
had never allowed her to bring to see him, and the proud old man was
left alone in his dreary mansion, brooding over what he called the
heartlessness of his only child.
Mrs. Corbett, with her quick understanding, was sorry for both of them,
and at every opportunity endeavored to turn Evelyn's thoughts towards
home. Once, at her earnest appeal, after she had got the young woman
telling her about how kind her father had been to her when her mother
died, Evelyn consented to write him a letter, but when it was finished,
with a flash of her old imperious pride, she tore it across and flung
the pieces on the floor, then hastily gathered them up and put them in
One half sheet of the letter did not share the fate of the remainder,
for Mrs. Corbett intercepted it and hastily hid it in her apron pocket.
She might need it, she thought.
_THE PRAIRIE CLUB-HOUSE._
The tender green of the early summer deepened and ripened into the
golden tinge of autumn as over the Black Creek Valley the mantle of
harvest was spread.
Only a small portion of the valley was under cultivation, for the
oldest settler had been in only for three years; but it seemed as if
every grain sowed had fallen upon good soil and gave promise of the
Across John Corbett's ten acres of wheat and forty acres of oats the
wind ran waves of shadow all day long, and the pride of the land-owner
thrilled Maggie Corbett's heart over and over again.
Not that the lady of the Stopping-House took the time to stand around
and enjoy the sensation, for the busy time was coming on and many
travellers were moving about and must be fed. But while she scraped the
new potatoes with lightning speed, or shelled the green peas, all of
her own garden, her thoughts were full of that peace and reverent
gratitude that comes to those who plant the seed and see it grow.
It was a glittering day in early August; a light shower the night
before had washed the valley clean of dust, and now the hot harvest sun
poured down his ripening rays over the pulsating earth. To the south
the Brandon Hills shimmered in a pale gray mirage. Over the trees which
sheltered the Stopping-House a flock of black crows circled in the blue
air, croaking and complaining that the harvest was going to be late. On
the wire-fence that circled the haystack sat a row of red-winged
blackbirds like a string of jet beads, patiently waiting for the oats
to ripen and indulging in low-spoken but pleasant gossip about all the
other birds in the valley.
Within doors Mrs Corbett served dinner to a long line of stoppers. Many
of the "boys" she had not seen since the winter before, and while she
worked she discussed neighborhood matters with them, the pleasing
sizzle of eggs frying on a hot pan making a running accompaniment to
The guests at Mrs. Corbett's table were a typical pioneer group--
homesteaders, speculators, machine men journeying through the country
to sell machinery to harvest the grain not yet grown; the farmer has
ever been well endowed with hope, and the machine business flourishes.
Mrs. Corbett could talk and work at the same time, her sudden
disappearances from the room as she replenished the table merely
serving as punctuation marks, and not interfering with the thread of
the story at all.
When she was compelled by the exigencies of the case to be present in
the kitchen, and therefore absent in the dining-room, she merely
elevated her voice to overcome distance, and dropped no stitch in the
"New neighbor, is it, you are sayin', Tom? 'Deed and I have, and her
the purtiest little trick you ever saw--diamond rings on her, and silk
skirts, and plumes on her hat, and hair as yalla as gold."
"When she comes over here I can't be doin' my work for lookin' at her.
She was brought up with slathers of money." This came back from the
"cheek of the dure", where Mrs. Corbett was emptying the tea leaves from
the teapot. "But the old man, beyant, ain't been pleased with her since
she married this Fred chap--he wouldn't ever look at Fred, nor let him
come to the house, and so she ran away with him, and no one could blame
her either for that, and now her and the old man don't write at all, at
all--reach me the bread plate in front of you there, Jim--and there's
bad blood between them. I can see, though, her and the old man are fond
o' one another!"
"Is her man anything like the twin pirates?" asked Sam Moggey from Oak
Creek; "because if he is I don't blame the old man for being mad about
it." Sam was helping himself to another quarter of vinegar pie as he
Mrs. Corbett could not reply for a minute, for she was putting a new
bandage on Jimmy MacCaulay's finger, and she had the needle and thread
in her mouth.
"Not a bit like them, Sam," she said, as soon as she had the bandage in
place, and as she put in quick stitches; "no more like them than day is
like night--he's only a half-brother, and a lot younger. He's a
different sort altogether from them two murderin' villains that sits in
the house all day playin' cards. He's a good, smart fellow, and has
done a lot of breakin' and cleanin' up since he came. What he thinks of
the other two lads I don't know--she never says, but I'd like fine to
"Sure, you'll soon know then, Maggie," said "Da" Corbett, bringing in
another platter of bacon and eggs and refilling the men's plates.
In the laugh that followed Maggie Corbett joined as heartily as any of
"Go 'long with you, Da!" she cried; "sure you're just as anxious as I
am to know. We all think a lot of Fred and Mrs. Fred," she went on,
bringing in two big dishes of potatoes; "and if you could see that
poor, precious lamb trying to cook pork and beans with a little wisp of
an apron on, all lace and ribbons, and big diamonds on her fingers,
you'd be sorry for her, and you'd say, 'What kind of an old tyrant is
the old man down beyant, and why don't he take her and Fred back?' It's
not wrastlin' round black pots she should be, and she's never been any
place all summer only over here, for they've only the oxen, and altho'
she never says anything, I'll bet you she'd like a bit of a drive, or
to get out to some kind of a-doin's, or the like of that."
While Mrs. Corbett gaily rattled on there was one man at her table who
apparently took no notice of what she said.
He was a different type of man from all the others. Dark complexioned,
with swarthy skin and compelling black eyes, he would be noticeable in
any company. He was dressed in the well-cut clothes of a city man, and
carried himself with a certain air of distinction.
Happening to notice the expression on his face, Mrs. Corbett suddenly
changed the conversation, and during the remainder of the meal watched
him closely with a puzzled and distrustful look.
When the men had gone that day and John Corbett came in to have his
afternoon rest on the lounge in the kitchen, he found Maggie in a self-
"Da," she began, "the devil must have had a fine laugh to himself when
he saw the Lord puttin' a tongue in a woman's head. Did ye hear me
to-day, talking along about that purty young thing beyant, and Rance
Belmont takin' in every word of it? Sure and I never thought of him
bein' here until I noticed the look on that ugly mug of his, and mind
you, Da, there's people that call him good-lookin' with that heavy jowl
of his and the hair on him growin' the wrong way on his head, and them
black eyes of his the color of the dirt in the road. They do say he's
just got a bunch of money from the old country, and he's cuttin' a wide
swath with it. If I'd kept me mouth shut he'd have gone on to Brandon
and never knowed a word about there being a purty young thing near. But
I watched him hitchin' up, and didn't he drive right over there; and I
tell you, Da, he means no good."
"Don't worry, Maggie," John Corbett said, soothingly. "He can't pick
her up and run off with her. Mrs. Fred's no fool."
"He's a divil!" Maggie declared with conviction. "Mind you, Da, there
ain't many that can put the comaudher on me, but Rance Belmont done it
Mr. Corbett looked up with interest and waited for her to speak.
"It was about the card-playin'. You know I've never allowed a card in
me house since I had a house, and never intended to, but the last day
Rance Belmont was here--that was away last spring, when you were away--
he begins to play with one of the boys that was in for dinner. Right in
there on the sewin'-machine in plain sight of all of us I saw them, and
I wiped me hands and tied up me apron, and I walked in, and says I,
'I'll be obliged to you, Mr. Belmont, to put them by,' and I looked at
him, stiff as pork. 'Why, certainly, Mrs. Corbett,' says he, smilin' at
me as if I had said somethin' pleasant. I felt a little bit ashamed,
and went on to sort of explain about bein' brought up in the Army and
all that, and he talked so nice about the Army that you would have
thought it was old Major Morris come back again from the dead, and
pretty soon he had me talkin' away to him and likin' him; and says he,
'I was just going to show Jimmy here a funny trick that can be done
with cards, but,' says he, 'if Mrs. Corbett objects I wouldn't offend
her for the world!' Now here's the part that scares me, Da--me, Maggie
Murphy, that hates cards like I do the divil; says I to him, 'Oh, go
on, Mr. Belmont; I don't mind at all!' Now what do you think of that,
John Corbett sat thinking, but he was not thinking of what Maggie
thought he was thinking. He was wondering what trick it was that Rance
Belmont had showed Jimmy Peters!
When Fred Brydon made the discovery that his two brothers spent a great
deal of their time in the pleasant though unprofitable occupation of
card-playing with two or three of the other impecunious young men of
the neighborhood, he remonstrated with them on this apparent waste of
time. When he later discovered that they were becoming so engrossed in
the game that they had but little time to plant, sow or reap, or do any
of the things incidental to farm life, he became very indignant indeed.
The twins naturally resented any such interference from their farm
pupil. They told him that he was there to learn farming, and not to
give advice to his elders.
Nearly everyone agrees that card playing is a pleasant and effective
way of killing time for people who wait for a long delayed train at a
lonely wayside station. This is exactly the position in which the twins
found themselves. So, while Aunt Patience, of Bournemouth, tarried and
procrastinated, her loving nephews across the sea, thinking of her
night and day, waited with as good grace as they could and played the
Unlike the twins, Fred Brydon liked hard work, and applied himself with
great energy to the work of the farm, determined to disprove his angry
father-in-law's words that he would never make a success of anything.
The fact that the twins were playing for money gave Fred some uneasy
moments, and the uncomfortable suspicion that part of his money was
being used in this way kept growing upon him.
He did not mention any of these things to Evelyn, for he knew it was
hard for her to keep up friendly relations with Reginald and Randolph,
and he did not want to say anything that would further predispose her
However, Evelyn, with some of her father's shrewdness, was arriving at
a very correct estimate of the twins without any help from anyone.
The twins had enjoyed life much better since the coming of their
brother and his wife. They quite enjoyed looking out of the fly-specked
window at their brother at work with the oxen in the fields. Then, too,
the many flattering remarks made by their friends in regard to their
sister-in-law's beauty were very grateful to their ears.
One day, in harvest time, when something had gone wrong with their
binder, and Fred had sent to Brandon for a new knotter, the twins
refused to pay for it when it came, telling him that he could pay for
it himself. Fred paid for it and worked all afternoon without saying
anything, but that evening he came into their part of the house and
told them he wanted a detailed statement of how his money had been
The twins were thoroughly hurt and indignant. Did he think they had
cheated him? And they asked each other over and over again, "Did
anybody ever hear of such ingratitude?"
The next day Evelyn made a remark which quite upset them. She told them
that if Fred did all the work he should have more than half the crop.
The twins did not like these occurrences. Instinctively they felt that
a storm was coming. They began to wonder what would be the best way to
The prairie-dwellers have a way of fighting a prairie fire which is
very effective. When they see the blue veil of smoke lying close to the
horizon, or the dull red glare on the night sky, they immediately start
another fire to go out and meet the big fire!
Some such thought as this was struggling in the twins' brains the day
that Rance Belmont came over from the Stopping-House, and in his
graceful way asked Mrs. Brydon to go driving with him, an invitation
which Fred urged her to accept. When the drive was over and Rance came
in to the twins' apartments, and on their invitation had a game with
them and lost, they were suddenly smitten with an idea. They began to
see how it might be possible to start another fire!
_LADIES' DAY AT THE STOPPING-HOUSE._
The glory of the summer paled and faded; the crimson and gold of the
harvest days had fled before the cold winds of autumn, and now the
trees along the bank of the creek stood leafless and bare, trembling
and swaying as if in dread of the long winter that would soon be upon
them. The harvest had been cut and gathered in, and now, when the
weather was fine, the industrious hum of the threshing-machine came on
the wind for many miles, and the column of blue smoke which proclaimed
the presence of a "mill" shot up in all directions.
At the Black Creek Stopping-House the real business of the year had
begun, for every day heavily-loaded wheat wagons wound slowly over the
long trail on their way to Brandon, and the Stopping-House became the
foregathering place of all the farmers in the settlement. At noon the
stable yard presented a lively appearance as the "boys" unhitched their
steaming teams and led them to the long, straggling straw-roofed
stables. The hay that John Corbett had cut on the meadows of Black
Creek and stacked beside the stables was carried in miniature stacks
which completely hid the man who carried them into the mangers, while
the creaking windlass of the well proclaimed that the water-troughs
were being filled. The cattle who foraged through the straw stack in
the field near by always made the mistake of thinking that they were
included in the invitation, much to the disgust of Peter Rockett, the
chore boy, who drove them back with appropriate remarks.
Inside of the Stopping-House the long dining-room, called "the room,"
was a scene of great activity. The long oilcloth-covered table down the
centre of the "room" was full of smoking dishes of potatoes and ham and
corned beef, and piled high with bread and buns; tin teapots were at
each end of the table and were passed from hand to hand. There were
white bowls filled with stewed prunes and apricots and pitchers of
"Goldendrop" syrup at intervals down the table.
Table etiquette was fairly well observed--the person who took the last
of the potatoes was in duty bound to take the dish out to the kitchen
and replenish it from the black pot which stood on its three legs on
the back of the kitchen stove. The same rule applied to the tea and the
bread. Also when one had finished his meal the correct plan of
procedure was to gather up his plate, knife and fork and cup and saucer
and carry them out to the kitchen, where Mrs. Corbett or Peter Rockett
hastily washed them to be ready for the next one.
When entering the Black Creek dining-room with the purpose of having a
meal there were certain small conventions to be observed. If a place
was already set, the newcomer could with impunity sit down and proceed
with the order of business; if there was no place set, but room for a
place to be set, the hungry one came out to the kitchen and selected
what implements he needed in the way of plate and knife and proceeded
to the vacancy; if there was not a vacant place at the table, the
newcomer retired to the window and read the _Northern Messenger_ or the
_War Cry_, which were present in large numbers on the sewing-machine.
But before leaving the table conversation zone, it was considered
perfectly legitimate to call out in a loud voice: "Some eat fast, some
eat long, and some eat both ways," or some such bright and felicitous
remark. It was a bitter cold day in November--one of those dark, cold
days with a searching wind, just before the snow comes. In Mrs.
Corbett's kitchen there was an unusual bustle and great excitement, for
the women from the Tiger Hills were there--three of them on their way
to Brandon. Mrs. Corbett said it always made her nervous to cook for
women. You can't fool them on a bad pudding by putting on a good sauce,
the way you can a man. But Mrs. Corbett admitted it was good to see
There was Mrs. Berry and her sister, Miss Thornley, and Mrs. Smith.
They had ridden fifteen miles on a load of wheat, and had yet another
fifteen to go to reach their destination. In spite of a long, cold and
very slow ride, the three ladies were in splendid condition, and as
soon as they were thawed out enough to talk, and long before their
teeth stopped chattering, they began to ask about Mrs. Corbett's
neighbor, young Mrs. Brydon, in such a way, that, as Mrs. Corbett
afterwards explained to Da Corbett, "you could tell they had heard
"Our lads saw her over at the Orangemen's ball in Millford, and they
said Rance Belmont was with her more than her own man," said Mrs.
Berry, as she melted the frost from her eyebrows by holding her face
over the stove.
"Oh, well," Mrs. Corbett said, "I guess all the young fellows were
makin' a lot of her, but sure there's no harm in that."
Miss Thornley was too busy examining her feet for possible frostbites
to give in her contribution just then, but after she had put her
coldest foot in a wash-basin of water she said, "I don't see how any
woman can go the length of her toe with Rance Belmont, but young Mrs.
Brydon went to Brandon with him last week, for my sister's husband
heard it from somebody that had seen them. I don't know how she can do
Mrs. Corbett was mashing potatoes with a gem-jar, and without stopping
her work she said: "Oh, well, Miss Thornley, it's easy for you and me
to say we would not go out with Rance Belmont, but maybe that's mostly
because we have never had the chance. He's got a pretty nice way with
him, Rance has, and I guess if he came along now with his sorrel pacer
and says to you, 'Come on, Miss Thornley,' you would get on that boot
and stocking in two jiffies and be off with him like any young girl!"
Miss Thornley mumbled a denial, and an angry light shone in her pale
Mrs. Smith was also full of the subject, and while she twisted her hair
into a small "nub" about the size, shape and color of a peanut, she
expressed her views.
"It ain't decent for her to be goin' round with Rance Belmont the way
she does, and they say at the dance at Millford she never missed a
dance. Since Rance has got his money from England he hasn't done a
thing but play cards with them twins and take her round. I don't see
how her man can put up with it, but he's an awful easy-goin' chap--just
the kind that wouldn't notice anything wrong until he'd come home some
night and find her gone. I haven't one bit of respect for her."
"Oh, now, Mrs. Smith, you're too hard on her. She's young and pretty
and likes a good time." Mrs. Corbett was giving her steel knives a
quick rub with ashes out of deference to the lady stoppers. "It's easy
enough for folks like us," waving her knife to include all present, "to
be very respectable and never get ourselves talked about, for nobody's
askin' us to go to dances or fly around with them, but with her it's
different. Don't be hard on her! She ain't goin' to do anything she
But the ladies were loath to adopt Mrs. Corbett's point of view. All
their lives nothing had happened, and here was a deliciously exciting
possible scandal, and they clung to it.
"They say the old man Grant is nearly a millionaire, and he's getting
lonely for her, and is pretty near ready to forgive her and Fred and
take them back. Wouldn't it be awful if the old man should come up here
and find she'd gone with Rance Belmont?"
Mrs. Berry looked anxiously around the kitchen as if searching for the
"Oh, don't worry," declared Mrs. Corbett; "she ain't a quitter. She'll
stay with her own man; they're happy as ever I saw two people."
"If she did go," Miss Thornley said, sentimentally, "if she did go, do
you suppose she'd leave a note pinned on the pin-cushion? I think they
When the ladies had gone that afternoon, and while Mrs. Corbett washed
the white ironstone dishes, she was not nearly so composed and
confident in mind as she pretended to be.
"Don't it beat the band how much they find out? I often wonder how
things get to be known. I do wish she wouldn't give them the chance to
talk, but she's not the one that will take tellin'--too much like her
father for that--and still I kind o' like her for her spunky ways.
Rance is a divil, but she don't know that. It is pretty hard to tell
what ought to be done. This is surely work for the Almighty, and not
for sinful human beings!"
That night Mrs. Corbett took her pen in hand. Mrs. Corbett was more at
home with the potato-masher or the rolling-pin, but when duty called
her she followed, even though it involved the using of unfamiliar
She wrote a lengthy letter to Mr. Robert Grant, care of The Imperial
Lumber Company, Toronto, Ontario:
"Dear and respected sir," Mrs. Corbett wrote, "I take my pen in hand to
write you a few things that maybe you don't know but ought to know, and
to tell you your daughter is well, but homesick sometimes hoping that
you are enjoying the same blessings as this leaves us at present. Your
daughter is my neighbor and a blessed girl she is, and it is because I
love her so well that I am trying to write to you now, not being handy
at it, as you see; also my pen spits. As near as I can make out you and
her's cut off the same cloth; both of you are touchy and quick, and, if
things don't suit you, up and coming. But she's got a good heart in her
as ever I see. One day she told me a lot about how good you were to her
when her mother died, and about the prayer her mother used to tell her
to say: 'Help papa and mamma and Evelyn to be chums.' When she came to
that she broke right down and cried, and says she to me, 'I haven't
either of them now!' If you'd a-seen her that day you'd have forgot
everything only that she was your girl. Then she sat down and wrote you
a long letter, but when she got done didn't she tear it up, because she
said you told her you wouldn't read her letters. I saved a bit of the
letter for you to see, and here it is. We don't any of us see what made
you so mad at the man she got--he's a good fellow, and puts up with all
her high temper. She's terrible like yourself, excuse me for saying so
and meaning no harm. If she'd married some young scamp that was soaked
in whiskey and cigarettes you'd a-had something to kick about. I don't
see what you find in him to fault. Maybe you'll be for telling me to
mind my own business, but I am not used to doing that, for I like to
take a hand any place I see I can do any good, and if I was leaving my
girl fretting and lonely all on account of my dirty temper, both in me
and in her, though for that she shouldn't be blamed, I'd be glad for
someone to tell me. If you should want to send her a Christmas present,
and she says you never forgot her yet, come yourself. It's you she's
fretting for. You can guess it's lonely for her here when I tell you
she and me's the only women in this neighborhood, and I keep a
stopping-house, and am too busy feeding hungry men to be company for
"Hoping these few lines will find you enjoying the same blessings,
The writing of the letter took Mrs. Corbett the greater part of the
afternoon, but when it was done she felt a great weight had been lifted
from her heart. She set about her preparations for the evening meal
with more than usual speed.
Going to the door to call Peter Rockett, she was surprised to see Rance
Belmont, with his splendid sorrel pacer, drive into the yard. He came
into the house a few minutes afterwards and seemed to be making
preparations to stay for supper.
A sudden resolve was formed in Mrs. Corbett's mind as she watched him
hanging up his coat and making a careful toilet at the square looking-
glass which hung over the oilcloth-covered soap box on which stood the
wash-basin and soap saucer. She called to him to come into the pantry,
and while she hurriedly peeled the potatoes she plunged at once into
"Rance," she began, "you go to see Mrs. Brydon far too often, and
people are talking about it."
Rance shrugged his shoulders.
"Now, don't tell me you don't care, or that it's none of my business,
though that may be true."
"I would never be so lacking in politeness, however true it might be!"
he answered, rolling a cigarette.
Mrs. Corbett looked at him a minute, then she broke out, "Oh, but you
are the smooth-tongued gent!--you'd coax the birds off the bushes; but
I want to tell you that you are not doing right hanging around Mrs.
Brydon the way you do."
"Does she object?" he asked, in the same even tone, as he slowly struck
a match on the sole of his boot.
"She's an innocent little lamb," Mrs. Corbett cried, "and she's lonely
and homesick, and you've taken advantage of it. That poor lamb can't
stand the prairie like us old pelters that's weatherbeaten and gray and
toughened--she ain't made for it--she was intended for diamond rings
and drawing-rooms, and silks and satins."
Rance Belmont looked at her, still smiling his inexplicable smile.
"I can supply them better than she is getting them now," he said.
Mrs. Corbett gave an exclamation of surprise.
"But she's a married woman," she cried, "and a good woman, and what are
you, Rance? Sure you're no mate for any honest woman, you blackhearted,
smooth-tongued divil!" Mrs. Corbett's Irish temper was mounting higher
and higher, and two red spots burned in her cheeks. "You know as well
as I do that there's no happiness for any woman that goes wrong. That
woman must stand by her man, and he's a good fellow, Fred is; such a
fine, clean, honest lad, he never suspects anyone of being a crook or
meanin' harm. Why can't you go off and leave them alone, Rance? They
were doin' fine before you came along. Do one good turn, Rance, and
take yourself off."
"You ask too much, Mrs. Corbett. I find Mrs. Brydon very pleasant
company, and Mr. Fred does not object to my presence."
"But he would if he knew how the people talk about it."
"That is very wrong of them, and entirely unavoidable," Rance answered,
calmly, "But the opinion of the neighbors has never bothered me yet,"
he continued; "why should it in this instance?"
Mrs. Corbett's eyes flashed ominously.
"Do you know what I'd do if it was my girl you were after?" she asked,
pausing in her work and fixing her eyes on him.
"Something very unpleasant, I should say, by the tone of your voice--
and, by the way, you are pointing your potato knife at me--"
Mrs. Corbett with an effort controlled her temper.
"I believe, Mrs. Corbett, you would do me bodily injury. What a
horrible thought, and you a former officer in the Salvation Army!"
Rance was smiling again and enjoying the situation. "What a thrilling
headline it would make for the Brandon _Sun_: 'The Black Creek
Stopping-House scene of a brutal murder. Innocent young man struck down
in his youth and beauty.' You make me shudder, Mrs. Corbett, but you
look superb when you rage like that; really, you women interest me a
great deal. I am so fond of all of you!"
"You're a divil, Rance!" Mrs. Corbett repeated again. "But you ain't
goin' to do that blessed girl any harm--she's goin' to be saved from
you some way."
"Who'll do it, I wonder?" Rance seemed to triumph over her.
"There is One," said Maggie Corbett, solemnly, "who comes to help when
all other help fails."
"Who's that?" he asked, yawning.
Maggie Corbett held up her right hand.
"It is God!" she said slowly. Rance laughed indulgently. "A myth--a
name--a superstition," he sneered; "there is no God any more."
"There is a God," she said, slowly and reverently, for she was Maggie
Murphy now, back to the Army days when God walked with her day by day,
"and He can hear a mother's prayer, and though I was never a mother
after the flesh, I am a mother now to that poor girl in the place of
the one that's gone, and I'm askin' Him to save her, and I've got me
answer. He will do it."
There was a gleam in her eyes and a white glow in her face that made
Rance Belmont for one brief moment tremble, but he lighted another
cigarette and with a bow of exaggerated politeness left the room.
The days that followed were anxious ones for Mrs. Corbett. Many
stoppers sat at her table as the Christmas season drew near, and many
times she heard allusions to her young neighbor which filled her with
apprehension. She had carefully counted the days that it would take her
letter to reach its destination, and although there had been time for a
reply, none came.
_SHADOWS OF THE NIGHT_.
It was a wind-swept, chilly morning in late November, and Evelyn
Brydon, alone in the silent little house, stood at the window looking
listlessly at the dull gray monochrome which stretched before her.
The unaccustomed housework had roughened and chapped her hands, and the
many failures in her cooking experiments, in spite of Mrs, Corbett's
instructions, had left her tired and depressed, for a failure is always
depressing, even if it is only in the construction of the things which
This dark morning it seemed to her that her life was as gray and
colorless as the bleached-out prairie--the glamor had gone from
She and Fred had had their first quarrel, and Fred had gone away dazed
and hurt by the things she had said under the stress of her anger. He
was at a loss to know what had gone wrong with Evelyn, for she had
seemed quite contented all the time. He did not know how the many
little annoyances had piled up on her; how the utter loneliness of the
prairie, with its monotonous sweep of frost-killed grass, the deadly
sameness, and the perpetual silence of the house, had so worked upon
her mind that it required but a tiny spark to cause an explosion.
The spark he had supplied himself when he had tried to defend his
brothers from her charges. All at once Evelyn felt herself grow cold
with anger, and the uncontrolled hasty words, bitterer than anything
she had ever thought, utterly unjust and cruel, sprang to her lips, and
Fred, stung to the quick with the injustice of it, had gone away
without a word.
It was with a very heavy heart that he went to his work that day; but
he had to go, for he was helping one of the neighbors to thresh, and
every dry day was precious, and every man was needed.
All day long Evelyn went about the house trying to justify herself. A
great wave of self-pity seemed to be engulfing her and blotting out
every worthier feeling.
The prairie was hateful to her that day, its dull gray stretches cruel
and menacing, and a strange fear of it seemed to possess her.
All day she tried to busy herself about the house, but she worked to no
purpose, taking up things and laying them down again, forgetting what
she was going to do with them; strange whispering voices seemed to
sound in the room behind her, trying to tell her something--to warn
her--and it was in vain that she tried to shake off their influence.
Once or twice she caught a glimpse of a black shadow over her shoulder,
just a reflecting vanishing glimpse, and when she turned hastily round
there was nothing there, but the voices, mocking and gibbering, were
louder than ever.
She wished Fred would come. She would tell him that she hadn't meant
what she said.
As the afternoon wore on, and Fred did not make his appearance, a
sudden deadly fear came over her at the thought of staying alone. Of
course the twins occupied the other half of the house, and to-night, at
least, she was glad of their protection.
Suddenly it occurred to her that she had heard no sound from their
quarters for a long time. She listened and listened, the silence
growing more and more oppressive, until at last, overcoming her fears,
she went around and tried the door. Even the voices of her much-
despised brothers-in-law would be sweet music to her ears.
The door was locked and there was no response to her knocks.
An old envelope stuck in a sliver in the door bore the entry in lead-
pencil, "Gone Duck Shooting to Plover Slough," for it was the custom of
the twins to faithfully chronicle the cause of their absence and their
probable location each time they left home, to make it easy to find
them in the event of a cablegram from Aunt Patience's solicitors!
Evelyn turned away and ran back to her own part of the house. She
hastily barred the door.
The short autumn day was soon over. The sun broke out from the dull
gray mountain of clouds and threw a yellow glare on the colorless
field. She stood by the window watching the light as it faded and paled
and died, and then the shades of evening quickly gathered. Turning
again to replenish the fire, the darkness of the room startled her.
There was a shadow under the table like a cave's mouth. Unaccustomed
sounds smote her ear; the logs in the house creaked uncannily, and when
she walked across the floor muffled footfalls seemed to follow her.
She put more wood in the stove and tried to shake off the apprehensions
which were choking her. She lit the lamp and hastily drew down the
white cotton blind and pinned it close to keep out the great pitiless
staring Outside, which seemed to be peering in at her with a dozen
white, mocking, merciless faces.
In the lamp's dim light the shadows were blacker than ever; the big
packing-box threw a shadow on the wall that was as black as the mouth
of a tunnel in a mountain.
She noticed that her stock of wood was running low, and with a mighty
effort of the will she opened the door to bring in some from a pile in
the yard. Stopping a minute to muster up her courage, she waited at the
open door. Suddenly the weird cry of a wolf came up from the creek
bank, and it was a bitter, lonely, insistent cry.
She slammed the door, and coming back into the room, sank weak and
trembling into a chair. A horror grew upon her until the beads of
perspiration stood upon her face. Her hands grew numb and useless, and
the skin of her head seemed stiff and frozen. Her ears were strained to
catch any sound, and out of the silence there came many strange noises
to torment her overstrained senses.
She thought of Mrs. Corbett at the Stopping-House, and tried to muster
courage to walk the distance, but a terrible fear held her to the spot.
The fire died out, and the room grew colder and colder, but huddled in
a chair in a panic of fear she did not notice the cold. Her teeth
chattered; spots of light danced before her tightly-shut eyes. She did
not know what she was afraid of; a terrible nameless fear seemed to be
clutching at her very heart. It was the living, waking counterpart of
the nightmare that had made horrible her childhood nights--a gripping,
overwhelming fear of what might happen.
Suddenly something burst into the room--the terrible something that she
had been waiting for. The silence broke into a thousand screaming
voices. She slipped to the floor and cried out in an agony of terror.
There was a loud knocking on the door, and then through the horrible
silence that followed there came a voice calling to her not to be
She staggered to the door and unbarred it, and heard someone speak
again in blessed human voice.
The door opened, and she found herself looking into the face of Rance
Belmont, and her fear-tortured eyes gave him a glad welcome.
She seized him by the arm, holding to him as a child fear-smitten in
the night will hold fast to the one who comes in answer to his cries.
Rance Belmont knew how to make the most, yet not too much, of an
advantage. He soothed her fears courteously, gently; he built up the
fire; he made her a cup of tea; there was that strange and subtle
influence in all that he said and did that made her forget everything
that was unpleasant and be happy in his presence.
A perfect content grew upon her; she forgot her fears--her loneliness--
her quarrel with Fred; she remembered only the happy company of the
Under the intoxication of the man's presence she ceased to be the
tired, discouraged, irritable woman, and became once more the Evelyn
Grant whose vivacity and wit had made her conspicuous in the brightest
She tried to remind herself of some of the unpleasant things that
neighborhood gossip said of Rance Belmont--of Mrs. Corbett's dislike of
him--but in the charm of his presence they all faded into vague
There was flattery, clever, hidden flattery, which seemed like
adoration, in every word he spoke, every tone of his voice, every
glance of his coal-black eyes, that seemed in some way to atone for the
long, gray, monotonous days that had weighed so heavily upon her
"Are you always frightened when you are left alone?" he asked her.
Every word was a caress, the tone of his voice implying that she should
never be left alone, the magnetism of his presence assuring her that
she would never be left alone again.
"I was never left alone in the evening before," she said. "I thought I
was very brave until to-night, but it was horrible--it makes me shudder
to think of it."
"Don't think!" he said gently.
"Fred thought the twins would be here, I know, or he would not have
stayed away," Evelyn said, wishing to do justice to Fred, and feeling
indefinitely guilty about something.
"The twins are jolly good company,--oh, I say!" laughed Rance, in tones
so like her brothers-in-law that Evelyn laughed delightedly. It was
lovely to have someone to laugh with.
"But where are the heavenly twins to-night?"
"I suppose they saw a flock of ducks going over, or heard the honk-honk
of wild geese," she answered. "It does not take much to distract them
from labor--and they have a soul above it, you know."
Rance Belmont need not have asked her about the twins; he had met them
on their way to the Plover Slough and had given Reginald the loan of
his gun; he had learned from them that Fred, too, was away.
"But if dear Aunt Patience will only lift her anchor all will yet be
well, and the dear twins will not need to be bothered with anything so
beastly as farm-work." His tone and manner were so like the twins that
Evelyn applauded his efforts. Then he told her the story of the cow,
and of how the twins, endeavoring to follow the example of some of the
Canadians whom they had seen locking their wagon-wheels with a chain
when going down the Souris hill, had made a slight mistake in the
location of the chain and hobbled the oxen, with disastrous results.
When he looked at his watch it was nine o'clock.
"I must go," he said, hastily rising; "it would hardly do for me to be
"What do you mean?" she asked in surprise.
"What do you suppose your husband would say if he came home and found
Evelyn flushed angrily.
"My husband has confidence in me," she answered proudly. "I don't know
what he thinks of you, but I know what he thinks of me, and it would
make no difference what company he found me in, he would never doubt
me. I trust him in the same way. I would believe his word against that
of the whole world."
She held her handsome head high when she said this.
Rance Belmont looked at her with a dull glow in his black eyes.
"I hope you are right," he said, watching the color coming in her face.
"I am right," she said after a pause, daring which she had looked at
him defiantly. He was wise enough to see he had made a false move and
had lost ground in her regard.
"I think you had better go," she said at last. "I do not like that
insinuation of yours that your presence here might be misconstrued.
Yes, I want you to go. I was glad to see you; I was never so glad to
see anyone; I was paralyzed with fear; but now I am myself again, and I
am sure Fred will come home."
There was a sneering smile on his face which she understood and
"In that case I had better go," he said.
"That is not the reason I want you to go. I tell you again that Fred
would not believe that I was untrue to him. He believes in me utterly."
She drew herself up with an imperious gesture and added: "I am worthy
of his trust."
Rance Belmont thought he had never seen her so beautiful.
"I will not leave you," he declared. "Forgive me for speaking as I did.
I judged your husband by the standards of the world. I might have known
that the man who won you must be different from other men. It was only
for your sake that I said I must go. I care nothing for his fury. If it
were the fury of a hundred men I would stay with you; just to be near
you, to hear your sweet voice, to see you, is heaven to me."
Evelyn sprang to her feet indignantly as he arose and came towards her.
Just at that moment the door opened, and Fred Brydon, having heard the
last words, stood face to face with them both!
_HIS EVIL GENIUS_.
When Fred Brydon went to his work that morning, smarting from the angry
words that Evelyn had hurled at him, everyone he met noticed how gloomy
and burdened he seemed to be; how totally unlike his former easy good-
nature and genial cheerfulness was his strange air of reserve.
They thought they knew the cause, and told each other so when he was
When he came into the kitchen to wash himself at noon he heard one of
the men say to another in an aside: "He'll be the last one to catch
He paid no particular attention to the sentence at the time, but it
stuck in his memory.
The day was fine and dry, and the thresher was run at the top of its
speed. One more day would finish the stacks, and as this was the last
threshing to be done in the neighborhood, the greatest effort was put
forth to finish it before the weather broke.
They urged him to stay the night--they would begin again at daylight--
the weather was so uncertain.
He thought, of course, that the twins were safely at home, and Evelyn
had often said that she was not afraid to stay. He had consented to
stay, when all at once the weather changed.
The clouds had hung low and heavy all day, but after sundown a driving
wind carrying stray flakes of snow began to whistle around the stacks.
The air, too, grew heavy, and a feeling of oppression began to be
The pigs ran across the yard carrying a mouthful of straw, and the
cattle crowded into the sheds. Soon the ground was covered with loose
snow, which began to whirl in gentle, playful eddies. The warmth of the
air did not in any way deceive the experienced dwellers on the plain,
who knew that the metallic whistle in the wind meant business.
The owner of the threshing machine covered it up with canvas, and all
those who had been helping, as soon as they had supper, started to make
the journey to their homes. It looked as if a real Manitoba blizzard
was setting in.
In spite of the protestations of all the men, Fred did not wait for his
supper, but set out at once on the three-mile walk home.
Evelyn's hasty words still stung him with the sense of failure and
defeat. If Evelyn had gone back on him what good was anything to him?
Walking rapidly down the darkening trail, his thoughts were very bitter
and self-reproachful; he had done wrong, he told himself, to bring her
to such a lonely place--it would have been better for Evelyn if she had
never met him--she had given up too much for his sake.
He noticed through the drifting storm that there was something ahead of
him on the trail, and, quickening his steps, he was surprised to
overtake his two brothers leisurely returning from their duck hunt.
"Why did you two fellows leave when you knew I was away? You know that
Evelyn will be frightened to be left there all alone."
Instantly all his own troubles vanished at the thought of his wife left
alone on the wide prairie.
His brothers strongly objected to his words.
"We don't 'ave to stay to mind 'er, do we?" sneered Reginald.
"Maybe she ain't alone, either," broke in Randolph, seeing an
opportunity to turn Fred's wrath in another direction.
"What are you driving at?" asked Fred in surprise.
"Maybe Rance Belmont has dropped in again to spend the evenin'--he
usually does when you're away!"
"You lie!" cried Fred, angrily.
"We ain't lyin'," declared Randolph. "Everybody knows it only you."
The words were no sooner said than Fred fell upon him like a madman.
Randolph roared lustily for help, and Reginald valiantly strove to save
him from Fred's fury. But they retreated before him as he rained his
blows upon them both.
Then Reginald, finding that he was no match for Fred in open conflict,
dodged around behind him, and soon a misty dizziness in his head told
Fred that he had been struck by something heavier than hands. There was
a booming in his ears and he fell heavily to the road.
The twins were then thoroughly frightened. Here was a dreadful and
They stood still to consider what was to be done.
"It was you done it, remember," said Randolph to Reginald.
"But I done it to save you!" cried Reginald, indignantly, "and you
can't prove it was me. People can't tell us apart."
"Anyway," said Reginald, "everybody will blame it on Rance Belmont if
he is killed--and see here, here's the jolly part of it. I'll leave
Rance's gun right beside him. That'll fix the guilt on Rance!"
"Well, we won't go home; we'll go back and stay in the shootin'-house
at the Slough, and then we can prove we weren't home at all, and
there'll be no tracks by mornin', anyway."
The twins turned around and retraced their steps through the storm,
very hungry and very cross, but forgetting these emotions in the
presence of a stronger one--fear.
But Fred was not killed, only stunned by Reginald's cowardly blow. The
soft flakes melting on his face revived him, and sitting up he looked
about him trying to remember where he was. Slowly it all came to him,
and stiff and sore, he got upon his feet. There were no signs of the
twins, but to this Fred gave no thought; his only anxiety was for
Evelyn, left alone on such a wild night.
When he entered his own house with Rance Belmont's words ringing in his
ears, he stood for a moment transfixed. His brother's words which he
had so hotly resented surged over him now with fatal conviction; also
the words he had heard at the threshing, "He'll be the last one to
catch on," came to him like the flash of lightning that burns and
uproots and destroys.
His head swam dizzily and lights danced before his eyes. He stood for a
moment without speaking. He was not sure that it wasn't all a horrible
If he had looked first at Evelyn, her honest face and flashing eyes
would have put his unworthy suspicions to flight. But Rance Belmont
with his fatal magnetic presence drew his gaze. Rance Belmont stood
with downcast eyes, the living incarnation of guilt. It was all a pose,
of course, but Rance Belmont, with his deadly gift of being able to
make any impression he wished, made a wonderful success of the part he
had all at once decided to play.
Looking at him, Fred's smouldering jealousy burst into flame.
There was an inarticulate sound in his throat, and striding forward he
landed a smashing blow on Rance Belmont's averted face.
"Oh, Fred!" Evelyn cried, springing forward, "for shame!--how could
you!--how dare you!--"
"Don't talk to me of shame!" Fred cried, his face white with anger.
"Don't blame her," Rance said in a low voice. He made no attempt to
In her excitement Evelyn did not notice the sinister significance of
his words and what they implied. She was conscious of nothing only that
Fred had insulted her by his actions, and her wrath grew as terrible as
She caught him by the shoulder and compelled him to look at her.
"Fred," she cried, "do you believe--do you dare to believe this
She shook him in her rage and excitement.
Rance Belmont saw that Fred would be convinced of her innocence if he
did not gain his attention, and the devil in him spoke again, soft,
misleading, lying words, part truth, yet all false, leaving no chance
"Don't blame her--the fault has all been mine," he interposed again.
In her blind rage again Evelyn missed the significance of his words.
She was conscious of one thought only--Fred had not immediately craved
her pardon. She shook and trembled with uncontrollable rage.
"I hate you, Fred!" she cried, her voice sounding thin and unnatural.
"I hate you! One minute ago I believed you to be the noblest man on
earth; now I know you for an evil-minded, suspicious, contemptible,
dog!--a dog!--a cur! My father was right about you. I renounce you
She pulled the rings from her finger and flung them against the window,
cracking the glass across. "I will never look on your face again, I
hope. This is my reward, is it, for giving up everything for you? I
boasted of your trust in me a minute ago, but you have shamed me; you
have dragged my honor in the dust, but now I am free--and you may
believe what you please!"
She turned to Rance Belmont.
"Will you drive me to Brandon to-night?" she asked.
She put on her coat and hat without a word or a look at the man, who
stood as if rooted to the ground.
Then opening the door she went out quickly, and Rance Belmont, with
something like triumph on his black face, quickly followed her, and
Fred Brydon, bruised in body and stricken in soul, was left alone in
his desolate house.
The wind was whistling down the Black Creek Valley, carrying heavy
flakes of snow that whirled and eddied around them, as Rance Belmont
and Evelyn made their way to the Stopping-House. The stormy night
accorded well with the turmoil in Evelyn's brain. One point she had
decided--she would go back to her father, and for this purpose she
asked her companion if he would lend her one hundred dollars. This he
gladly consented to do.
He was discreet enough to know that he must proceed with caution,
though he felt that in getting her separated from her husband and so
thoroughly angry with him that he had made great progress. Now he
believed that if he could get her away from the Stopping-House his
magnetic influence over her would bring her entirely under his power.
But she had insisted on going in to the Stopping-House to see Mrs.
Corbett and tell her what she was going to do. It was contrary to
Evelyn's straightforwardness to do anything in an under-handed way, and
she felt that she owed it to Mrs.
Corbett, who had been her staunch friend, to tell her the truth of the
story, knowing that many versions of it would be told.
Mrs. Corbett was busy setting a new batch of bread, and looked up with
an exclamation of surprise when they walked into the kitchen, white
with snow. It staggered Mrs. Corbett somewhat to see them together at
that late hour, but she showed no surprise as she made Mrs. Brydon
"I am going away, Mrs. Corbett," Evelyn began at once.
"No bad news from home, is there?" Mrs. Corbett asked anxiously.
"No bad news from home, but bad news here. Fred and I have quarrelled
and parted forever!"
Mrs. Corbett drew Evelyn into the pantry and closed the door. She could
do nothing, she felt, with Rance Belmont present.
"Did you quarrel about him?" she asked, jerking her head towards the
Evelyn told her story, omitting only Rance Belmont's significant
remarks, which indeed she had not heard.
Mrs. Corbett listened attentively until she was done.
"Ain't that just like a man, poor, blunderin' things they are. Sure and
it was just his love for you, honey, that made him break out so
"Love!" Evelyn broke in scornfully. "Love should include trust and
respect--I don't want love without them. How dare he think that I would
do anything that I shouldn't? Do I look like a woman who would go
"Sure you don't, honey!" Mrs. Corbett soothed her, "but you know Rance
Belmont is so smooth-tongued and has such a way with him that all men
hate him, and the women like him too well. But what are you goin' to
do, dear? Sure you can't leave your man."
"I have left him," said Evelyn. "I am going to Brandon now to-night in
time for the early train. Rance Belmont will drive me."
Something warned Mrs. Corbett not to say all that was in her heart, so
"Sure, if I were you I wouldn't go off at night--it don't look well.
Stay here till mornin'. The daylight's the best time to go. Don't go
off at night as if you were doin' something you were ashamed of. Go in
"What do I care what people say about me?" Evelyn raged again. "They
can't say any worse than my husband believes of me. No--I am going--I
want to put distance between us; I just came in to say good-bye and to
tell you how it happened. I wanted you and Mr. Corbett to know the
truth, for you have been kind friends to me, and I'll never, never
"I'd be afraid you'd never get to Brandon tonight, honey." Mrs. Corbett
held her close, determining in her own mind that she would lock her in
the pantry if there was no other way of detaining her. "Listen to the
wind--sure it's layin' in for a blizzard. I knew that all day. The
roads will be drifted so high you'd never get there, even with the big
pacer. Stay here tonight just to oblige me, and you can go on in the
morning if it's fit."
Meanwhile John Corbett had been warning Rance Belmont that the weather
was unfit for anyone to be abroad, and the fact that George Sims, the
horse trader from Millford, and Dan Lonsbury, had put in for the night,
made a splendid argument in favor of his doing the same. Rance Belmont
had no desire to face a blizzard unnecessarily, particularly at night,
and the storm was growing thicker every minute. So after consulting
with Evelyn, who had yielded to Mrs. Corbett's many entreaties, he
agreed to remain where he was for the night. Evelyn went at once to the
small room over the kitchen, which Mrs. Corbett kept for special
guests, and as she busied herself about the kitchen Mrs. Corbett could
hear her pacing up and down in her excitement.
Mrs. Corbett hastily baked biscuits and "buttermilk bread" to feed her
large family, who, according to the state of the weather and the
subsequent state of the roads, might be with her for several days, and
while her hands were busy, her brain was busier still, and being a
praying woman, Maggie Corbett was looking for help in the direction
from which help comes.
The roaring of the storm as it swept past the house, incessantly
mourning in the mud chimney and sifting the snow against the frosted
windows, brought comfort to her anxious heart, for it reminded her that
dominion and majesty and power belong to the God whom she served.
When she put the two pans of biscuits in the oven she looked through
the open door into the "Room," where her unusual number of guests were
lounging about variously engaged.
Rance Belmont smoked cigarettes constantly and shuffled the cards as if
to read his fate therein. He would dearly have loved a game with some
one, for he had the soul of a gambler, but Mrs. Corbett's decree
against card-playing was well known.
Dan Lonsbury, close beside the table lamp, read a week-old copy of the
Brandon _Times_. George Sims, the horse-dealer, by the light of his own
lantern, close beside him on the bench, pared his corns with minute
attention to detail.
Under the wall lamp, which was fastened to the window frame, Da
Corbett, in his cretonne-covered barrel-chair of home manufacture, read
the _War Cry_, while Peter Rockett, on his favorite seat, the wood-box,
played one of the Army tunes on his long-suffering Jew's-harp.
"They can't get away as long as the storm lasts, anyway," Mrs. Corbett
was thinking, thankful even for this temporary respite, "but they'll go
in the mornin' if the storm goes down, and I can't stop them--vain is
the help of man."
Suddenly Mrs. Corbett started as if she had heard a strange and
disturbing noise; she threw out her hands as if in protest. She sat
still a few moments holding fast to the kitchen table in her
excitement; her eyes glittered, and her breath came short and fast.
She went hurriedly into the pantry, fearful that her agitation might be
noticed. In her honest soul it seemed to her that her plan, so
terrible, so daring, so wicked, must be sounding now in everybody's
In the darkness of the pantry she tried to think it out. Was it an
inspiration from heaven, or was it a suggestion of the devil? One
minute she was imploring Satan to "get thee behind me," and the next
minute she was thanking God and whispering Hallelujahs! A lull in the
storm drove her to immediate action.
John Corbett came out into the kitchen to see what was burning, for
Maggie had forgotten her biscuits.
When the biscuits were attended to she took "Da" with her into the
pantry, and she said to him, "Da, is it ever right to do a little wrong
so that good will come of it?"
She asked the question so impersonally that John Corbett replied
without hesitation: "It is never right, Maggie."
"But, Da," she cried, seizing the lapel of his coat, "don't you mind
hearin' o' how the priests have given whiskey to the Indians when they
couldn't get the white captives away from them any other way? Wasn't
"Sure and it was; at a time like that it was right to do anything--but
what are you coming at, Maggie?"
"If Rance Belmont lost all the money he has on him, and maybe ran a bit
in debt, he couldn't go away to-morrow with her, could he? She thinks
he's just goin' to drive her to Brandon, but I know him--he'll go with
her, sure--she can't help who travels on the train with her--and how'll
that look? But if he were to lose his money he couldn't travel dead
broke, could he, Da?"
"Not very far," agreed Da, "but what are you coming at, Maggie? Do you
want me to go through him?" He laughed at the suggestion.
"Ain't there any way you can think of, Da--no, don't think--the sin is
mine and I'll take it fair and square on my soul. I don't want you to
be blemt for it--Da, listen--" she whispered in his ear.
John Corbett caught her in his arms.
"Would I? Would I? Oh, Maggie, would a duck swim?" he said, keeping his
voice low to avoid being heard in the other room.
"Don't be too glad, Da; remember it's a wicked thing I'm askin' you to
do; but, Da, are you sure you haven't forgot how?"
John Corbett laughed. "Maggie, when a man learns by patient toil to
tell the under side of an ace he does not often forget, but of course
there is always the chance, that's the charm of it--nobody can be quite
"I've thought of every way I can think of," she said, after a pause,
"and this seems to be the only way. I just wish it was something I
could do myself and not be bringing black guilt on your soul, but maybe
God'll understand. Maybe it was so that you'd be ready for to-night
that He let you learn to be so handy with them. Sure Ma always said
that God can do His work with quare tools; and now, Da, I'll slip off
to bed, and you'll pretend you're stealin' a march on me, and he'll
enjoy himself all the more if he thinks he's spitin' me. Oh, Da, I wish
I knew it was right--maybe it's ruinin' your soul I am, puttin' you up
to such wickedness, but I'll be prayin' for you as hard as I can."
Da looked worried. "Maggie, I don't know about the prayin'--I was
always able to find the card I needed without bein' prayed for."
"Oh, I mean I'll pray it won't hurt you. I wouldn't interfere with the
game, for I don't know one card from another, and I'm sure the Lord
don't either, but it's your soul I'm thinkin' of and worried about.
I'll slip down with the green box--there's more'n a hundred dollars in
it. And now good-bye, Da--go at him, and God bless you--and play like
Mr. John Corbett slowly folded up the _War Cry_ and placed it in his
pocket, and when Maggie brought down the green box with their earnings
in it he emptied its contents in his pocket, and then, softly humming
to himself, he went into the other room.