Изображения страниц
PDF

“PASSING THE LAST OF THE UGLY LITTLE HOUSES AND THE HIGH-FRONTED STORE BUILDINGS''

[graphic]

foreign accent; “up toward John Herrick's house, only not so far.” He went in and shut the door abruptly, and Beatrice could hear his voice inside calling roughly, “Christina, Christina!” He had a roll of large papers in his hand, posters that he had evidently been putting up along the way, for she had noticed them on trees and fence-posts nearer town. They seemed to announce some sort of meeting, with English words at the top, repeated below in more than one language, to judge by the odd, foreign printing. She had felt a hot flash of indignation at the man's surly tone, but in a moment she had forgotten him completely as she and Buck went scrambling up the steep and difficult road. She came at last to a tiny bridge. Broken Bow Creek, which was little more than a series of pools in the parched stream-bed in the valley, was here a singing rivulet, flowing below the rude crossing amid a group of silvery aspen-trees. At the left of the trail she could see a gate, a set of bars hung between two rough posts. It was with a beating heart that she dismounted to take them down for Buck to pass. Once inside, she would be on her own ground. The agility of a mountain-bred pony was so new to her that she was much astonished, after she had removed two of the bars, to have Buck step over the remaining three as neatly as a dog would have done. She slipped into the saddle again, making a greater success than at the first attempt, and followed the nearly invisible path. The huge straight pine-trees stood in uneven ranks all about her, their branches interweaving overhead, the ground covered with their red-brown needles that muffled the sound of the horse's hoofs. Up and up they went, with the splash of falling water sounding louder and ever louder. Here atlast was the place she sought —a square, sturdy cabin of gray logs chinked with white plaster, with a solid field-stone chimney and a sloping roof drifted over with pine-needles. She slid from the saddle and stood upon the rugged door-step. Here was her house, her very own! It was a larger dwelling than she had expected and very solidly and substantially built. Wooden bars had been nailed across the doors and windows, and she had, moreover, forgotten to obtain the keys from Dan O'Leary, so that she could not go in. She could, however, peep through the casement windows and see the low-ceilinged rooms, the rough stairs, and the wide fireplace. The

big trees nodded overhead, the roar of the waterfall came from beyond the house, the creek, rushing and tumbling, slid away down the mountain-side. Somebody had planted pansies on both sides of the step, pansies that crowded and jostled each other as they only can in the cool air of the high mountains, spreading sheets of gleaming color over the barren soil. With a quivering sigh, Beatrice sat down upon the door-stone. “Mine!” she said out loud, just to see how it would sound. “Mine!” It took a long time to explore the place thoroughly. Behind the cabin was the tumbling cascade that identified the place; a

plunge of foaming waters over a high ledge,

with a still black pool below, shot with gleams of sunshine and full of darting trout. Beyond the stream, almost hidden from sight by the high slope of the ravine, was the roof of another house, a larger one than hers, with a group of chimneys sending forth a curl of smoke to indicate that here were neighbors. Looking up the course of the brook, she could see where the dense shadows of the pine grove ended and the waters ran in brighter sunshine on the higher slope. Buck, with his bridle over the post at the cabin door, at last whinnied insistently to call her back. He had been searching for tufts of grass between the stones and nipping at the pansies, but had not found them to his liking. His impatience, as well as the creeping shadows in the valley below, reminded her that evening was near, in spite of the clear sunlight higher up the mountain-side. Reluctantly she mounted and, with many a glance backward at her house, rode slowly down the trail. Through an opening in the trees she caught a glimpse, as she descended, of the house beyond the stream. She could even see a man ride up to the door and a girl of about her own age come running out to greet him. Then a drop in the path hid both house and people abruptly from her view. A figure came into sight, moving ahead of her through the trees, a woman, very tall and lean, with a basket on her arm. “Some one has been berrying on my land,” Beatrice reflected, with a throb of pride at the thought of her proprietorship. The stranger had a yellow handkerchief covering her hair and a green shawl slanting across her shoulders. She had a foreign look that reminded Beatrice, somehow, of that surly man at the cottage door from whom she had asked the way. Almost unconsciously she reined Buck into a slower pace, then noticed with a sinking heart that the woman had looked back and was waiting at the barred gate to intercept her as she and her horse came out into the road.

CHAPTER II CHRISTINA'S LETTER

THE yellow pony, stamping and sidling, came to an unwilling stop before the sturdy figure that blocked the way. Beatrice began to see that the twilight had made the woman seem unduly terrifying and that her face, while it was sunburned almost to the color of leather, was merely a square, stolid one, with keen blue eyes and heavy fair hair showing under the picturesque head-handkerchief. With one hard, big hand, the stranger was feeling within her dress, and as Beatrice came close, she held up a letter. “I saw you in the town yesterday and you looked kind. I want you to read my letter to me. I cannot read English myself. I am from Finland. My name is Christina Jensen. The letter is from my boy.” She spoke with a strong accent that, while it was somewhat like that of the man of whom Beatrice had asked the way, was not unpleasant, for her voice was rich and clear. The girl thought, as she looked into the upturned face, that she had never seen such eager, appealing eyes. “You can't read?” Beatrice exclaimed, forgetting politeness in her surprise. “My own language, yes, but not yours. My boy Olaf made me learn to talk English plain, but I was always too busy with my two hands to learn to read or write. Read, read, please, before it is too dark to see the letter.” Beatrice spread out the paper on the pommel of the saddle. “Why,” she said, glancing at the date, “it is nearly a year old!” “Yes,” returned the woman, nodding heavily, “ten months ago he wrote it from his ship in Marseilles. I have nearly worn it out carrying it around and having it read to me. But it is only kind people I ask to read it now, for some begin to say, ‘Your Olaf will never come back.’” “Is this his first voyage?” the girl asked. “Yes, but he was always bound he would be a sailor. His father was drowned at sea when we still lived in Finland and when Olaf was a baby. I brought my boy to this country then, where I could support him better; and what a credit and a comfort to me

he has been! He was wild to go in the Navy when the war began, but he was too young, so it was not until last year that he slipped away, as I had always feared he would. He hardly even said good-by to me, and this is my only letter from him. But I talk too long, you will not be able to see.” Once more Beatrice turned to the paper and began: “My dear Mother: I expect you think I am never going to send you a letter—" She read through to the end, thinking that it sounded affectionate, but contained little news beyond the fact that the writer was going to China. “He gives an address in San Francisco where they will forward an answer,” she observed, as she folded the paper and handed it back. “What did you write to him?” To her surprise she saw big tears stand suddenly in Christina's eyes. “Ah, Thorvik would not let me ask any one, and I could n’t write myself,” she said. “And my Olaf is such an American he cannot read my language. That is perhaps why he has not written again and has not come home.” Then, seeing Beatrice's puzzled look, she explained more fully, although it was difficult to make plain her foreign notion that women are subject to the men in their houses. “It was my brother who would not permit me—Thorvik, once a good Finn like myself, but now—oh, so different. He was to come over to us some years ago, but the war broke out and he went, instead, into the Russian army. When there was peace again he came to us, but how that time in Russia had changed him! He is full of wild talk of revolution and tyrants and destroying capital. He and Olaf never agreed. It was what made my boy unhappy at home and why he went from us at last.” Beatrice leaned forward in her saddle with sudden interest. “Do you live in a little cottage half-way up the hill above Ely? That man I saw there when I rode by-is that your brother?” Christina nodded. “And if you could write to your son,” the girl pursued, “what would you say?” “I would say, ‘Come home!’” cried Christina. “Over and over I would say, ‘Come home, if it is only for a week or a day between voyages'; I would say, ‘Come still, no matter what happened before you went away.’” Beatrice felt in the pocket of her ridingskirt. There were a note-book and pencil there, she felt sure, for she had made a list of supplies to be bought in the village before she set out on her ride. “Do you want me to put down the address and write to your son for you?” she offered. “Oh, if you would!” said Christina. “And you would never tell Thorvik?” “There is no danger of that,” Beatrice assured her. “And I think, somehow, that your boy will come back.” She could not tell, herself, what made her offer such a definite opinion. There was something she liked about the words of the letter: I went ashore at Marseilles, and it is such a strange place that before I had been there an hour I wanted to stay a year. But loafing does n’t suit me, so I am off again for Hong Kong, but I'll not forget you, Mother, not even on the other side of the world.

She folded the worn page once again, gave it to Christina, and rode on. To her own surprise, she had that pleasant, satisfied feeling, that comes with the making of a new friend. After a few rods, she turned to look back and saw the Finnish woman still looking after her. Beatrice raised her hand in a quick gesture of leave-taking. It was a slight move, but it had important consequences, since it seemed to cement their regard for each other and to strengthen Christina in a wavering resolution. She came swiftly down the road, calling in her clear, full voice: “Stop, I must tell you something.” When she came to Buck's side she began with quick questioning that would have sounded impertinent had it not been so earnest. “Why did you come here, to Ely? long are you going to stay?" Briefly Beatrice explained about her aunt's health and the arrangements her father had made. “I believe Aunt Anna wanted to come because she had been here once before,” she concluded rather vaguely. “I don't seem to remember if she told me when or why she came. We are to stay for the summer.” “The place has changed since she was here, even since your father was here,” Christina declared. “There is a whole army of foreign laborers, Slavs, Poles, what the men call Bohunks, working on this irrigation project to water the valley. There is a strike brewing—ah, do I not know? my brother Thorvik talks of nothing else. It is he who urges them on. When such a thing breaks out, Ely will not be a good place for you and your aunt and your sister.”

How

“But strikes mean just parades and people carrying banners and talking on street-corners,” Beatrice protested. She had seen industrial unrest at home and had thought very little of it. What she did fear was the long journey which had been so difficult for her aunt and which it seemed impossible to face soon again. “Strikes are not the same in the West. Men carry something besides banners in the parades, and talking on street-corners ends in fights. You had better take your aunt away.” “It does not seem possible,” Beatrice replied, “but thank you for telling me.” Again she said good-by and rode on, feeling only a little uneasy, for, she reflected, “To live with such a man as that brother would make any one think that things were going wrong.” Dinner that night, in the candle-lit diningroom, with the noiseless Chinaman serving delicious food, was very welcome to the hungry Beatrice. Aunt Anna, looking very frail and weary, but still able to sit up in her cushioned chair, was at the head of the table, with one tall chestnut-haired niece at her right, and with the other, the younger one, the pink and plump Nancy who was always laughing and nearly always asking questions, sitting at her left. “Joe Ling is a good cook,” observed Beatrice, with satisfaction, as they were going to bed. “He is,” returned Nancy, with something of a sigh, “but I don't think I understand Chinamen. Their faces don't ever seem to change and you can't tell what they are thinking. They look as though they knew everything in the world.” Nancy had undertaken the housekeeping, since she had more domestic tastes than her sister, yet she had already found the new and strange difficulties of this establishment in Ely rather appalling. “I sometimes wonder a little,” she went on after a pause, “why Aunt Anna wanted so much to come here. Who was with her when she came to Ely long ago?” “It seems to me I heard her talking of it to Dad,” Beatrice answered, “and that she said something about her—her brother.” “Her brother—why she has n’t any but Father,” objected Nancy. “If she had, we would know about him. It could n’t be.” Beatrice was thinking so deeply that she paused in brushing her hair. “It does seem as though I remembered about some such person, oh, a very long time ago, when we were little. It was some one younger than Dad or Aunt Anna, with yellow hair like hers. He used to come up to the nursery to play with us, and then all of a sudden he did n’t come any more and no one talked about him, so I just forgot.” Nancy had turned out the light and had gone to the window to put up the curtain when she called her sister with a sudden cry. “Oh, look!” she cried in terror, as Beatrice came to her side. The big, ramshackle building on the next block, used as a meeting-place by the workmen, was plainly visible in the dark. Its shutters were thrown back and its doors wide open, as though the air within had become stifling beyond endurance. The place was packed with men, but no orderly company as at an ordinary meeting. They were all standing, some of them had climbed upon the benches, and every one seemed to be shouting at once. In the depths of the hall, almost beyond where they could see, somebody was waving a red flag. Presently a group of men came rushing down the steps, then more and more, until the street was filled with a darkfaced, shouting throng, waving hats, bandanas and banners, and shouting together in such a babel of foreign tongues that it was impossible to guess what they said. “It is the strike!” Beatrice gasped. “Christina did not say it would come so soon or be

so—so terrible.” After a moment's pause she added, “That is her brother Thorvik at the head of them all. I wonder where he is leading them and what they mean to do.” The man below, looking up suddenly, saw the girls in the window and gave them a scowling look of such fierce hatred that they shrank back into the room and did not look forth again until the last of the shouting, disorderly procession had passed. Then there was a moment of silence until Nancy sniffed suddenly and declared: “I smell Smoke!” Before Beatrice could answer, they heard in the next room the voice of Aunt Anna, who had been awakened by the uproar. “It is just a public meeting breaking up,” Beatrice reassured her, although the sharp smell of burning wood began to fill the room as the blue smoke drifted in at the open window. There was the crack of a revolver-shot in the distance, then another that sounded nearer. A moment later there came a thunderous knocking at the door below. “Shall I go down? Shall I answer it?” Beatrice wondered desperately. She looked at Aunt Anna, thin, weak, and exhausted, lying upon the bed, she heard outside the crash of falling timbers and a great roar of voices as a shower of red sparks went sailing past the window. Then she went slowly and hesitatingly down the stairs as the knocking grew louder and louder.

[merged small][merged small][graphic]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »