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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Major - Chapter 13. A Day In September
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The Major - Chapter 13. A Day In September Post by :utopiart Category :Long Stories Author :Ralph Connor Date :May 2012 Read :2742

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The Major - Chapter 13. A Day In September

CHAPTER XIII. A DAY IN SEPTEMBER

A September day in Alberta. There is no other day to be compared to it in any other month or in any other land. Other lands have their September days, and Alberta has days in other months, but the combination of September day in Alberta is sui generis. The foothill country with plain, and hill, and valley, and mighty mountain, laced with stream, and river, and lake; the over-arching sheet of blue with cloud shapes wandering and wistful, the kindly sun pouring its genial sheen of yellow and gold over the face of the earth below, purple in the mountains and gold and pearly grey, and all swimming in air blown through the mountain gorges and over forests of pine, tingling with ozone and reaching the heart and going to the head like new wine--these things go with a September day in Alberta.

And like new wine the air seemed to Jack Romayne as the Packard like a swallow skimmed along the undulating prairie trail, smooth, resilient, of all the roads in the world for motor cars the best. For that day at least and in that motor car life seemed good to Jack Romayne. Not many such days would be his, and he meant to take all it gave regardless of cost. His sister's proposal to call at the Gwynnes' house he would have rejected could he have found a reasonable excuse. The invitation to the Gwynne girls to accompany them on their shoot he resented also, and still more deeply he resented the arrangement of the party that set Kathleen next to him, a close fit in the back seat of the car. But at the first feeling of her warm soft body wedged closely against him, all emotions fled except one of pulsating joy. And this, with the air rushing at them from the western mountains, wrought in him the reckless resolve to take what the gods offered no matter what might follow. As he listened to the chatter about him he yielded to the intoxication of his love for this fair slim girl pressing soft against his arm and shoulder. He allowed his fancy to play with surmises as to what would happen should he turn to her and say, "Dear girl, do you know how fair you are, how entrancingly lovely? Do you know I am madly in love with you, and that I can hardly refrain from putting this arm, against which you so quietly lean your warm soft body, about you?" He looked boldly at the red curves of her lips and allowed himself to riot in the imagination of how deliciously they would yield to his pressed against them. "My God!" he cried aloud, "to think of it."

The two ladies turned their astonished eyes upon him. "What is it, Jack? Wait, Tom. Have you lost something?"

"Yes, that is, I never had it. No, go on, Tom, it cannot be helped now. Go on, please do. What a day it is!" he continued. "'What a time we are having,' as Miss Nora would say."

"Yes, what a time!" exclaimed Nora, turning her face toward them. "Mrs. Waring-Gaunt, I think I must tell you that your husband is making love to me so that I am quite losing my head."

"Poor things," said Mrs. Waring-Gaunt. "How could either of you help it?"

"Why is it that all the nice men are married?" inquired Nora.

"I beg your pardon, Miss Nora," said Jack in a pained voice.

"I mean--why--I'm afraid I can't fix that up, can I?" she said, appealing to Mrs. Waring-Gaunt.

"Certainly you can. What you really mean is, why do all married men become so nice?" said Mrs. Waring-Gaunt.

"Oh, thank you, the answer is so obvious. Do you know, I feel wild to-day."

"And so do I," replied Kathleen, suddenly waking to life. "It is the wonderful air, or the motor, perhaps."

"Me, too," exclaimed Jack Romayne, looking straight at her, "only with me it is not the air, nor the motor."

"What then!" said Kathleen with a swift, shy look at him.

"'The heart knoweth its own bitterness and a stranger intermeddleth not with its joy.'"

"That's the Bible, I know," said Kathleen, "and it really means 'mind your own business.'"

"No, no, not that exactly," protested Jack, "rather that there are things in the heart too deep if not for tears most certainly for words. You can guess what I mean, Miss Kathleen," said Jack, trying to get her eyes.

"Oh, yes," said the girl, "there are things that we cannot trust to words, no, not for all the world."

"I know what you are thinking of," replied Jack. "Let me guess."

"No, no, you must not, indeed," she replied quickly. "Look, isn't that the mine? What a crowd of people! Do look."

Out in the valley before them they could see a procession of teams and men weaving rhythmic figures about what was discovered to be upon a nearer view a roadway which was being constructed to cross a little coolee so as to give access to the black hole on the hillside beyond which was the coal mine. In the noise and bustle of the work the motor came to a stop unobserved behind a long wooden structure which Nora diagnosed as the "grub shack."

"In your English speech, Mr. Romayne, the dining room of the camp. He is certainly a hustler," exclaimed Nora, gazing upon the scene before them.

"Who?" inquired Mrs. Waring-Gaunt.

"Ernest Switzer," said Nora, unable to keep the grudge out of her voice. "It is only a week since I was up here and during that time he has actually made this village, the streets, the sidewalks--and if that is not actually a system of water pipes."

"Some hustler, as you say, Miss Nora, eh, what?" said Tom.

"Wonderful," replied Nora; "he is wonderful."

Jack glanced at the girl beside him. It seemed to him that it needed no mind-reader to interpret the look of pride, yes and of love, in the wonderful blue-grey eyes. Sick as from a heavy blow he turned away from her; the flicker of hope that his brother-in-law's words had kindled in his heart died out and left him cold. He was too late; why try to deceive himself any longer? The only thing to do was to pull out and leave this place where every day brought him intolerable pain. But today he would get all he could, to-day he would love her and win such poor scraps as he could from her eyes, her smiles, her words.

"Glorious view that," he said, touching her arm and sweeping his hand toward the mountains.

She started at his touch, a faint colour coming into her face. "How wonderful!" she breathed. "I love them. They bring me my best thoughts."

Before he could reply there came from behind the grub shack a torrent of abusive speech florid with profane language and other adornment and in a voice thick with rage.

"That's him," said Nora. "Some one is getting it." The satisfaction in her voice and look were in sharp contrast to the look of dismay and shame that covered the burning face of her sister. From English the voice passed into German, apparently no less vigorous or threatening. "That's better," said Nora with a wicked glance at Romayne. "You see he is talking to some one of his own people. They understand that. There are a lot of Germans from the Settlement, Freiberg, you know."

As she spoke Switzer emerged from behind the shack, driving before him a cringing creature evidently in abject terror of him. "Get back to your gang and carry out your orders, or you will get your time." He caught sight of the car and stopped abruptly, and, waving his hand imperiously to the workman, strode up to the party, followed by a mild-looking man in spectacles.

"Came to see how you are getting on, Switzer, eh, what?" said Tom.

"Getting on," he replied in a loud voice, raising his hat in salutation. "How can one get on with a lot of stupid fools who cannot carry out instructions and dare to substitute their own ideas for commands. They need discipline. If I had my way they would get it, too. But in this country there is no such thing as discipline." He made no attempt to apologise for his outrageous outburst, was probably conscious of no need of apology.

"This is your foreman, I think?" said Nora, who alone of the party seemed to be able to deal with the situation.

"Oh, yes, Mr. Steinberg," said Switzer, presenting the spectacled man.

"You are too busy to show us anything this afternoon?" said Nora sweetly.

"Yes, much too busy," said Switzer, gruffly. "I have no time for anything but work these days."

"You cannot come along for a little shoot?" she said, innocently. Nora was evidently enjoying herself.

"Shoot!" cried Switzer in a kind of contemptuous fury. "Shoot, with these dogs, these cattle, tramping around here when they need some one every minute to drive them. Shoot! No, no. I am not a gentleman of leisure."

The distress upon Kathleen's face was painfully apparent. Jack was in no hurry to bring relief. Like Nora he was enjoying himself as well. It was Tom who brought about the diversion.

"Well, we must go on, Switzer. Coming over to see you one of these days and go over the plant. Treasurer's got to know something about it, eh, what?"

Switzer started and looked at him in surprise. "Treasurer, who? Are you to be treasurer of the company? Who says so? Mr. Gwynne did not ask--did not tell me about it."

"Ah, sorry--premature announcement, eh?" said Tom. "Well, good-bye. All set."

The Packard gave forth sundry growls and snorts and glided away down the trail.

Nora was much excited. "What's this about the treasurership?" she demanded. "Are you really to be treasurer, Mr. Waring-Gaunt? I am awfully glad. You know this whole mine was getting terribly Switzery. Isn't he awful? He just terrifies me. I know he will undertake to run me one of these days."

"Then trouble, eh, what?" said Waring-Gaunt, pleasantly.

After a short run the motor pulled up at a wheat field in which the shocks were still standing and which lay contiguous to a poplar bluff.

"Good chicken country, eh?" said Tom, slipping out of the car quietly. "Nora, you come with me. Quiet now. Off to the left, eh, what? You handle Sweeper, Jack."

"I'll drive the car," said Mrs. Waring-Gaunt. "Go on with Jack, Kathleen."

"Come on, Miss Kathleen, you take the gun, and I'll look after the dog. Let me have the whistle, Tom."

They had not gone ten yards from the car when the setter stood rigid on point. "Steady, old boy," said Jack. "Move up quickly, Miss Kathleen. Is your gun ready? Sure it's off safe?"

"All right," said the girl, walking steadily on the dog.

Bang! Bang! went Nora's gun. Two birds soared safely aloft. Bang! Bang! went Kathleen's gun. "Double, by jove! Steady, Sweeper!" Again the dog stood on point. Swiftly Jack loaded the gun. "Here you are, Miss Kathleen. You will get another," he said. "There are more here." As he spoke a bird flew up at his right. Bang! went Kathleen's gun. "Another, good work." Bang! went Nora's gun to the left. "Look out, here he comes," cried Jack, as Nora's bird came careening across their front. It was a long shot. Once more Kathleen fired. The bird tumbled in the air and fell with a thump right at their feet.

Sweeper, released from his point, went bounding joyfully over the stubble. Jack rushed up toward the girl, and taking her hand in both of his, shook it warmly. "Oh, splendid, partner, splendid, great shooting!"

"Oh, it was easy. Sweeper had them fast," said Kathleen. "And that last shot was just awfully good luck."

"Good luck! Good Lord! it was anything but luck. It was great shooting. Well, come along. Oh, we're going to have a glorious day, aren't we, partner?" And catching hold of her arm, he gave her a friendly little shake.

"Yes," she cried, responding frankly to his mood, "we will. Let's have a good day."

"Where did you learn to shoot?" inquired Jack.

"Nora and I have always carried guns in the season," replied Kathleen, "even when we were going to school. You see, Larry hates shooting. We loved it and at times were glad to get them--the birds, I mean. We did not do it just for sport."

"Can your sister shoot as well as you?"

"Hardly, I think. She pulls too quickly, you see, but when she steadies down she will shoot better than I."

"You are a wonder," said Jack enthusiastically.

"Oh, not a wonder," said the girl.

"Wait till I get the birds back to the car," he cried.

"He-l-l-o," cried his sister as he came running. "What, four of them?"

"Four," he answered. "By jove, she's a wonder, isn't she. She really bowls me over."

"Nonsense," said his sister in a low voice. "She's just a fine girl with a steady hand and a quick eye, and," she added as Jack turned away from her, "a true heart."

"A true heart," Jack muttered to himself, "and given to that confounded bully of a German. If it had been any other man--but we have got one day at least." Resolutely he brushed away the thoughts that maddened him as he ran to Kathleen's side. Meantime, Tom and Nora had gone circling around toward the left with Sweeper ranging widely before them.

"Let's beat round this bluff," suggested Kathleen. "They may not have left the trees yet."

Together they strolled away through the stubble, the girl moving with an easy grace that spoke of balanced physical strength, and with an eagerness that indicated the keen hunter's spirit. The bluff brought no result.

"That bluff promised chickens if ever a bluff did," said Kathleen in a disappointed voice. "We'll get them further down, and then again in the stubble."

"Cheer-o," cried Jack. "The day is fine and we are having a ripping time, at least I am."

"And I, too," cried the girl. "I love this, the open fields,--and the sport, too."

"And good company," said Jack boldly.

"Yes, good company, of course," she said with a quick, friendly glance. "And you ARE good company to-day."

"To-day?"

"Yes. Sometimes, you know, you are rather--I don't know what to say--but queer, as if you did not like--people, or were carrying some terrible secret," she added with a little laugh.

"Secret? I am, but not for long. I am going to tell you the secret. Do you want to hear it now?"

The note of desperation in his voice startled the girl. "Oh, no," she cried hurriedly. "Where have we got to? There are no birds in this open prairie here. We must get back to the stubble."

"You are not interested in my secret, then?" said Jack. "But I am going to tell you all the same, Kathleen."

"Oh, please don't," she replied in a distressed voice. "We are having such a splendid time, and besides we are after birds, aren't we? And there are the others," she added, pointing across the stubble field, "and Sweeper is on point again. Oh, let's run." She started forward quickly, her foot caught in a tangle of vetch vine and she pitched heavily forward. Jack sprang to catch her. A shot crashed at their ears. The girl lay prone.

"My God, Kathleen, are you hurt?" said Jack.

"No, no, not a bit, but awfully scared," she panted. Then she shrieked, "Oh, oh, oh, Jack, you are wounded, you are bleeding!"

He looked down at his hand. It was dripping blood. "Oh, oh," she moaned, covering her face with her hands. Then springing to her feet, she caught up his hand in hers.

"It is nothing at all," he said. "I feel nothing. Only a bit of skin. See," he cried, lifting his arm up. "There's nothing to it. No broken bones."

"Let me see, Jack--Mr. Romayne," she said with white lips.

"Say 'Jack,'" he begged.

"Let me take off your coat--Jack, then. I know a little about this. I have done something at it in Winnipeg."

Together they removed the coat. The shirt sleeve was hanging in a tangled, bloody mass from the arm.

"Awful!" groaned Kathleen. "Sit down."

"Oh, nonsense, it is not serious."

"Sit down, Jack, dear," she entreated, clasping her hands about his sound arm.

"Say it again," said Jack.

"Oh, Jack, won't you sit down, please?"

"Say it again," he commanded sternly.

"Oh, Jack, dear, please sit down," she cried in a pitiful voice.

He sat down, then lay back reclining on his arm. "Now your knife, Jack," she said, feeling hurriedly through his pockets.

"Here you are," he said, handing her the knife, biting his lips the while and fighting back a feeling of faintness.

Quickly slipping behind him, she whipped off her white petticoat and tore it into strips. Then cutting the bloody shirt sleeve, she laid bare the arm. The wound was superficial. The shot had torn a wide gash little deeper than the skin from wrist to shoulder, with here and there a bite into the flesh. Swiftly, deftly, with fingers that never fumbled, she bandaged the arm, putting in little pads where the blood seemed to be pumping freely.

"That's fine," said Jack. "You are a brick, Kathleen. I think--I will--just lie down--a bit. I feel--rather rotten." As he spoke he caught hold of her arm to steady himself. She caught him in her arms and eased him down upon the stubble. With eyes closed and a face that looked like death he lay quite still.

"Jack," she cried aloud in her terror. "Don't faint. You must not faint."

But white and ghastly he lay unconscious, the blood still welling right through the bandages on his wounded arm. She knew that in some way she must stop the bleeding. Swiftly she undid the bandages and found a pumping artery in the forearm. "What is it that they do?" she said to herself. Then she remembered. Making a tourniquet, she applied it to the upper arm. Then rolling up a bloody bandage into a pad, she laid it upon the pumping artery and bound it firmly down into place. Then flexing the forearm hard upon it, she bandaged all securely again. Still the wounded man lay unconscious. The girl was terrified. She placed her hand over his heart. It was beating but very faintly. In the agony and terror of the moment as in a flash of light her heart stood suddenly wide open to her, and the thing that for the past months had lain hidden within her deeper than her consciousness, a secret joy and pain, leaped strong and full into the open, and she knew that this man who lay bleeding and ghastly before her was dearer to her than her own life. The sudden rush of this consciousness sweeping like a flood over her soul broke down and carried away the barrier of her maidenly reserve. Leaning over him in a passion of self-abandonment, she breathed, "Oh, Jack, dear, dear Jack." As he lay there white and still, into her love there came a maternal tender yearning of pity. She lifted his head in her arm, and murmured brokenly, "Oh, my love, my dear love." She kissed him on his white lips.

At the touch of her lips Jack opened his eyes, gazed at her for a moment, then with dawning recognition, he said with a faint smile, "Do--it--again."

"Oh, you heard," she cried, the red blood flooding face and neck, "but I don't care, only don't go off again. You will not, Jack, you must not."

"No--I won't," he said. "It's rotten--of me--to act--like this and--scare you--to death. Give me--a little--time. I will be--all right."

"If they would only come! If I could only do something!"

"You're all right--Kathleen. Just be--patient with me--a bit. I am feeling--better every minute."

For a few moments he lay quiet. Then with a little smile he looked up at her again and said, "I would go off again just to hear you say those words once more."

"Oh, please don't," she entreated, hiding her face.

"Forgive me, Kathleen, I am a beast. Forget it. I am feeling all right. I believe I could sit up."

"No, no, no," she cried. "Lie a little longer."

She laid his head down, ran a hundred yards to the wheat field, returning with two sheeves, and made a support for his head and shoulders. "That is better," she said.

"Good work," he said. "Now I am going to be fit for anything in a few moments. But," he added, "you look rather badly, as if you might faint yourself."

"I? What difference does it make how I look? I am quite right. If they would only come! I know what I will do," she cried. "Where are your cartridges?" She loaded the gun and fired in quick succession half a dozen shots. "I think I see them," she exclaimed, "but I am not sure that they heard me." Again she fired several shots.

"Don't worry about it," said Jack, into whose face the colour was beginning to come back. "They are sure to look us up. Just sit down, won't you please, beside me here? There, that's good," he continued, taking her hand. "Kathleen," he cried, "I think you know my secret."

"Oh, no, no, please don't," she implored, withdrawing her hand and hiding her face from him. "Please don't be hard on me. I really do not know what I am doing and I am feeling dreadfully."

"You have reason to feel so, Kathleen. You have been splendidly brave, and I give you my word I am not going to worry you."

"Oh, thank you; you are so good, and I love you for it," she cried in a passion of gratitude. "You understand, don't you?"

"I think I do," he said. "By the way, do you know I think I could smoke."

"Oh, splendid!" she cried, and, springing up, she searched through his coat pockets, found pipe, pouch, matches, and soon he had his pipe going. "There, that looks more like living," said Kathleen, laughing somewhat hysterically. "Oh, you did frighten me!" Again the red flush came into her face and she turned away from him.

"There they are coming. Sure enough, they are coming," she cried with a sob in her voice.

"Steady, Kathleen," said Jack quietly. "You won't blow up now, will you? You have been so splendid! Can you hold on?"

She drew a deep breath, stood for a minute or two in perfect silence, and then she said, "I can and I will. I am quite right now."

Of course they exclaimed and stared and even wept a bit--at least the ladies did--but Jack's pipe helped out amazingly, and, indeed, he had recovered sufficient strength to walk unhelped to the car. And while Tom sent the Packard humming along the smooth, resilient road he kept up with Nora and his sister a rapid fire of breezy conversation till they reached their own door. It was half an hour before Tom could bring the doctor, during which time they discussed the accident in all its bearings and from every point of view.

"I am glad it was not I who was with you," declared Nora. "I cannot stand blood, and I certainly should have fainted, and what would you have done then?"

"Not you," declared Jack. "That sort of thing does not go with your stock. God knows what would have happened to me if I had had a silly fool with me, for the blood was pumping out all over me. But, thank God, I had a woman with a brave heart and clever hands."

When the doctor came, Mrs. Waring-Gaunt went in to assist him, but when the ghastly bloody spectacle lay bare to her eyes she found herself grow weak and hurried to the kitchen where the others were.

"Oh, I am so silly," she said, "but I am afraid I cannot stand the sight of it."

Kathleen sprang at once to her feet. "Is there no one there?" she demanded with a touch of impatience in her voice, and passed quickly into the room, where she stayed while the doctor snipped off the frayed patches of skin and flesh and tied up the broken arteries, giving aid with quick fingers and steady hands till all was over.

"You have done this sort of thing before, Miss Gwynne?" said the doctor.

"No, never," she replied.

"Well, you certainly are a brick," he said, turning admiring eyes upon her. He was a young man and unmarried. "But this is a little too much for you." From a decanter which stood on a side table he poured out a little spirits. "Drink this," he said.

"No, thank you, Doctor, I am quite right," said Kathleen, quietly picking up the bloody debris and dropping them into a basin which she carried into the other room. "He is all right now," she said to Mrs. Waring-Gaunt, who took the basin from her, exclaiming,

"My poor dear, you are awfully white. I am ashamed of myself. Now you must lie down at once."

"No, please, I shall go home, I think. Where is Nora?"

"Nora has gone home. You won't lie down a little? Then Tom shall take you in the car. You are perfectly splendid. I did not think you had it in you."

"Oh, don't, don't," cried the girl, a quick rush of tears coming to her eyes. "I must go, I must go. Oh, I feel terrible. I don't know what I have done. Let me go home." She almost pushed Mrs. Waring-Gaunt from her and went out of the house and found Tom standing by the car smoking.

"Take her home, Tom," said his wife. "She needs rest."

"Come along, Kathleen; rest--well, rather. Get in beside me here. Feel rather rotten, eh, what? Fine bit of work, good soldier--no, don't talk--monologue indicated." And monologue it was till he delivered her, pale, weary and spent, to her mother.

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