NOBILITY OF THE LAND

It took an Alberta ranch and a coolly rebellious husband to convince Mrs. McGinnis, née Maggie, that your real blue-blooded aristocrat can be as human as a grocery clerk.

E. L. CHICANOT June 15 1926

NOBILITY OF THE LAND

It took an Alberta ranch and a coolly rebellious husband to convince Mrs. McGinnis, née Maggie, that your real blue-blooded aristocrat can be as human as a grocery clerk.

E. L. CHICANOT June 15 1926

NOBILITY OF THE LAND

It took an Alberta ranch and a coolly rebellious husband to convince Mrs. McGinnis, née Maggie, that your real blue-blooded aristocrat can be as human as a grocery clerk.

E. L. CHICANOT

"WE’RE going to Alberta this summer.”

Mrs. McGinnis’ brief observation bridged the space between the grapefruit and the cereal.

The family was quite accustomed to having its destinies shaped for it.

Roger McGinnis, with that degree of ennui proper to modern twenty-three, merely scowled. His sister,

Dorothy, sitting opposite him, with dark-circled eyes telling of a sequence of late nights and an excess of cocktails and cigarettes, stifled a submissive yawn. For years they had been learning their geography at first hand. This dictum meant merely the same thing over again.

The head—and least important member—of the family exhibited a show of interest.

“Where is Alberta?” he asked. “Isn’t it one of those South American countries that Volstead put on the map?”

“It is not,” said his wife triumphantly. “Alberta is in Western Canada.”

“Western Canada,” echoed McGinnis. “What’s the idea, Maggie? Are we as hard up as that for a new place todo? Don’t sound to me like your line at all. From what I know of them new countries they don’t know any better way of passing the time yet than just working.” “Ridiculous! Haven’t you read about the Prince of Wales and his ranch? That’s out in Alberta. It was that gave me my idea and I must say I think it’s a most novel one. I don’t mind admitting it’s been pretty hard at times to get people to recognize our proper place in society. This time I mean to get in on the ground floor. By the time the craze for Alberta seizes everybody else, we’ll be well established. They’ll be coming to us for advice and wanting to buy calves and things.”

“Buy calves!” The three gazed at her in amazement. “Yes, my dears,” went on the mother, smiling. “We’re going to have a ranch. I took an option on one in your father’s name yesterday. The wonder of it to me is the stampede to Alberta hasn’t started before. But the idea seems to have come to me first.”

“What idea? How do you figure all this out?”

“Well, you know the Prince of Wales has a ranch out there where he goes to live every once in a while. Then,

this Prince Eric of Denmark who got married a little while ago—I read where he had a ranch not far from Calgary. I got so interested when the idea came to me that I looked up the records and it seems the Earl of Minto, the Duke of Sutherland, and Lord Aberdeen have got ranches out there. The ranch we have taken is right next to one of the Honorable Percy Woffington, a son of the Duke of Weddlesborough. Now don’t you see the wonderful possibilities of it all?”

“Yes, I see,” said Daniel McGinnis, who had learnt to be surprised at nothing. He sighed deeply and the last vestige of what had started out to be a show of interest vanished. “I knew there was a catch somewhere. I’ve got a pretty good idea of the way those ar'socrats pursue agriculture. Now when I was a boy on the farm—” “Daniel McGinnis? How many times have I told you not to drag up those unfortunate days of your youth?” “Unfortunate nothing. Seems like those were the only happy days I ever had.”

Mrs. McGinnis turned towards her offspring with a mute gesture of helpless resignation, whilst her husband, rising wearily, wandered off to the only part of the house where there was a chance of his enjoying his pipe without interruption. Slumped back in one chair, with his feet up on another, he settled down despondently to dwell with renewed bitterness upon the disappointment of life.

DANIEL MCGINNIS had left the farm on his father’s death, the mortgages upon it being too much for his young shoulders as they were for the soil-impoverished place itself. He had laboriously picked up a knowledge of machinery and might have become a happy mechanic, contented with his lot and with his wife if a contrivance

he had invented, because it seemed to offer a natural way of conserving his energy, had not appealed to an honest employer who had patented it. Almost over night this had brought McGinnis wealth—riches which he had not wanted particularly at the time and much less soon afterwards. The manner in which his profits swelled was paralleled by a corresponding rise in his wife’s ambitions.

McGinnis, entirely against his will, had found himself a participant in a succession of battles for social recognition. His wife’s attempts to enlist him as an ally had never wholly succeeded but, one by one, he had seen the most cherished desires of his life trampled underfoot. A plain man, he cared nothing for the artificialities of a mode of living which to him was futile as it was monotonous.

And now they were going to play at ranching just for the opportunity of hobnobbing with royalty! He sighed as he knocked the ashes from his cold pipe.

ON a bright May morning the McGinnis family prepared to leave the Calgary hotel which for two weeks had sheltered them, and to cut themselves adrift from civilization by adopting the simple ranch life with all its rigors and privations.

Four servants had been engaged, four only, because Mrs. McGinnis was really serious about this simple life. A ranch foreman had been hired and it was understood that he had gathered together an appropriate and suitable assortment of livestock. There had been a period of hectic bustle on the part of Mrs. McGinnis, and of mute resignation on that of her husband. Roger and Dorothy had been more than ordinarily bored. Now the foreman had declared the ranch fit for habitation. A raw-boned, bronze-featured, blue-eyed westerner, he was waiting to take them out, apparently as much at home at the wheel of a motor car as in the saddle.

Soon they plunged into a region, bounded only by the horizon and the Rocky Mountains. The prairie was at its best. The tough buffalo grass had almost completely surrendered the sunburnt buff of fall for the verdant green of spring, and the purple crocuses dotted the plain.

The air was heady, vibrant with the promise of a new season.

With nothing but horizon-rimmed prairie to be seen stretching on every side, Daniel McGinnis underwent a transformation. He looked more human, and what was more he felt it. He gulped in the air with a zest that golf links or summer resort had never given him. He exchanged monosyllables with the taciturn individual at the wheel. His wife, who was not going to be outdone in putting the hired help at ease, leaned forward.

“Were all the cattle well when you left, Thurston?”

The foreman spat reflectively.

“Well as can be expected, ma’am,” he returned, inclining his head. “Course Lizzie, the spotted heifer, ain’t about yet since we found her mired in a slough, an’ Mildred, the imported Ayrshire, is hardly yet over bein’ the mother of twins. Ronald the Percheron has bin rather finicky about his vittles since he got the distemper. Otherwise you might say they’re all prosperin’.”

A smile cracked the features of Daniel McGinnis and approvingly he dug his companion in the ribs.

Mrs. McGinnis regarded the two backs dubiously and leaned over again.

“Do you see much of the Honorable Percy, Thurston?”

“Not much to speak of, ma’am. He’s a right industrious man, generally.”

“A great many social engagements, no doubt? He would, of course, be in great demand.”

“Well, no, he couldn’t hardly be called a social bird, though he did take in that last shindig the schoolma’am got up. I kinder think that was because She asked him particular though.”

“Quite democratic isn’t, he?”

“That’s puttin’ it mild, ma’am. I’ll bet if his lady mother had seen him some of the times I have, she’d just naturally throw a purple fit.”

Mrs. McGinnis settled down again between her offspring, murmuring something about the quaintness of ranch humor, but a little of her assurance had evapor ated.

By the time the ranch house came into view Daniel McGinnis was acting like a fish finding its native pool again after years of wandering. Mrs. McGinnis, on the contrary, felt very much an exotic, and the distance between her and her husband measurably increased. Her brood regarded the prospect with their usual boredom.

Arrived at the ranch, Mrs. McGinnis immediately was confronted with the servant problem. In the decidedly limited accommodation the four attendants seemed multiplied into a platoon. Between servants and furniture it was almost impossible to move about. Her idea of the capacity of a ranch house at once acquired a new perspective. Because there seemed nothing else to do, she stepped out on the verandah, there to encounter a sight which drove everything else from her mind. Strolling from the direction of _ the bunk house came her husband, attired in a faded blue shirt and a pair of patched denim overalls.

“Daniel, where on earth did you get those clothes?” she spluttered.

“Prom the foreman,” grinned her husband. “He’s a good scout. Not so had for a hand-me-down, eh?”

"You go right back and change again.” “Not likely. On a ranch do as the ranchers do.”

“What about those riding breeches and leggings I got for you?”

“I talked to Jim about them. He says it’s lawful here to shoot a man wearing a rig like that. Maggie, be sensible. It’s the first time I’ve been comfortable for years. Anyhow, I’m not going to take them off.” A new ring in his voice left no douht that he meant it, and for the first time in her life Mrs. McGinnis felt baffled, she tried another tack.

“Daniel, this house is too small. If we’re going to stay here we’ll have to do something about it. There’s positively no place to entertain and I don’t know where we’re all going to sleep.”

“Small nothing. Jim says it’s big for a ranch house. He says even the Honorable Percy don’t keep four servants. What about firing all but one? You used to be a wizard with flapjacks, Maggie. And I don’t want a room anyway. Jim says he can fix me up in the bunkhouse with the boys.”

For several seconds Mrs. McGinnis regarded him in speechless amazement. “Daniel McGinnis!” she gasped. “Have

you taken leave of your senses? Do you think I came out here to be insulted? Remember that you are a gentleman rancher and I am your wife. Keep the ranch help in their places.”

She would have said much more but, as she looked into his grinning face, her voice trailed off in a hopeless way and, angered and humiliated, she swept furiously inside the house.

Daniel McGinnis did sleep in the bunkhouse that night. By the time darkness had fallen, his wife was beyond caring where he slept or what became of him. She became so exasperated and fatigued as she moved from room to room in a desperate search for a little privacy, that the sight of Roger and Dorothy in one corner, cigarettes in their mouths, served only to further irritate her.

“How long is this craze going to last, mother?” asked Dorothy. “Either we’ll have to shoot a few servants or add a new wing to the building?”

“Can’t you make any sensible suggestion,” asked her mother?

A few were offered and after some mathematical calculation, the family and the help were distributed for the night.

TT SEEMED to Mrs. McGinnis that she -*■ had scarcely fallen asleep when a wild and unearthly howling brought her to her feet. Running to the window and throwing back the shutters, she saw her husband clad in his decrepit shirt and overalls, and obviously unshaved and unwashed. She opened the window.

“Say, aren’t you people up yet? Why, we’ve brought the horses up from the south pasture already. An’ say, Maggie, I haven’t forgotten a thing about sticking on a horse.”

Mrs. McGinnis fought for words.

“Do you mean to say you’ve been herding horses with the men and wokè me up to tell me about it?”

“Why sure. I thought you’d be all up. I’m going to take this ranching business seriously. I haven’t had such fun for a long time, Maggie. It’s great.”

Mrs. McGinnis fumed.

“I’m beginnng to think it was the biggest mistake I ever made consenting

to come down here. I might have known you wouldn’t behave.”

“Consenting? Say, go easy, Maggie. It was your scheme. Anyhow, I don’t care. The boys are a damn fine bunch. They think me a good scout already. And say, Maggie, I’ve got some news for you. The Honorable Percy Woffington is coming over this morning. Me and him has some business to transact.”

This announcement had the desired effect. Gradually the hard lines of his wife’s face straightened out until she fairly beamed.

“The Honorable Percy coming over! We must get breakfast over and be ready. I’ll call Dorothy.”

“I wouldn’t get het up over it. It’s like Jim said. He ain’t shucks at the social game. There isn’t any need to fuss.”

A FEW hours later the verandah suggested an advertisement in a fashion magazine. Mrs. McGinnis and her daughter were attired for a garden party or a leisurely boardwalk saunter; Roger was immaculate in tweed jacket, whipcord riding breeches, and leather leggings.

They were waiting for the visit of the Honorable Percy.

“There’s your disreputable father again with one of the hands. I do wish he would stay out of sight a while. I’d die if the Honorable saw him like that.”

Mr. McGinnis appeared to have not the slightest intention of concealing himself, however, for he came straight towards the house with his companion. The latter was a tall, fair, young man whose shirt and overalls were of the same faded fabric as his conductor’s. His nether garments were patched in a very unworkmanlike manner and a gaping hole in the bosom of the shirt revealed a good deal more bare skin than is usually considered formal. A shingle nail which was doing duty for a button had altogether too much responsibility, and his shoes did not appear to be mates. Daniel McGinnis brought him proudly forward.

“Mother, I want you should meet our neighbor, the Honorable Percy Woffington.”

The Honorable Percy inclined his head gracefully. Mrs. McGinnis was in immin-

ent danger, for a moment, of toppling ove backward. She recovered herself rapidly, conceding the effort with the skill of a post-graduate of the hard school of society. The young man’s eyes, she noticed, had turned to Dorothy and lingered there.

“The Honorable and I have been doing a little business,” interrupted Daniel.

“Forget the ‘Honorable,’ old top. Just plain Woff.”

“And do you carry on your own—er— business?” asked Mrs. McGinnis.

“Oh, rather. I’m cook, housekeeper, laundress, hired man, and the whole bally establishment.”

"And the other—er—nobility?” asked Mrs. McGinnis in a fainter, and decidedly cooler, voice.

The Honorable Percy laughed. “You’ll find we’re all pretty much the same out kere, quite on the stony side but having a topping time. We’ve managed to rather rally round the same old spot. There are several French, Russian, Italian and Danish blighters with titles camping round about.-”

“And they’re working their places themselves?”

“All except a couple of dashed impoverished Russian chappies who are assaulting the good old gumbo on someone else’s place.”

Mrs. McGinnis’ sigh was audible. The two men were distracted by a shrill whistle from the direction of the corral.

“I guess that’s Jim,” said Daniel. “He’s brought the critters up from the pasture, I guess. Me and Woff will have to float along and get our business finished.”

The Honorable Percy was still looking at Dorothy and appeared to be in no rush for other business.

“Dad, won’t you bring Mr.—Mr.— Mr. Woff back for tea this afternoon?” The young man smiled and bowed and the two went off.

For several minutes there was not a sound upon the verandah as Roger and Dorothy regarded their mother sitting slumped in her chair, a picture of hopeless defeat and utter despair.

“Well, mother,” said Roger consolingly, “there’s your brilliant scheme all shot to pieces.”

“I’ll never forgive your father,” said Mrs. McGinnis vehemently.

“Father’s done nothing. He’s come to the top of the deck. He’s the only one who’s having a good time.”

“But, isn’t he a nice boy,” said Dorothy almost to herself. “After all, mother, he is an Honorable, even if he’s not dressed up and is quite broke. Anyhow he’s different to our set.”

Roger was not inclined to take his disappointment so tranquilly.

“And me thinking he would be strong for polo, when he hasn’t a second pair of overalls and takes his exercise ploughing. Some frost, eh, sis?”

Dorothy was not looking at him but after the two retreating figures. She said nothing and Roger rose and strode off in the direction of the creek.

Mrs. McGinnis sat buried in thought for some minutes before turning to her daughter.

“We must go back right away, before your father gets too deeply anchored here. I see now what a terrible mistake I made. It’s demoralizing him and bringing out all his plebean ancestry.”

“Oh, mother, give us a day or so. We seem to be forever moving about. And really it’s great to see dad getting something out of life. It never seemed to occur to me before that he doesn’t get much.” “Well,” after some seconds hesitation, “I think it’s a colossal mistake, but at least I am going to fire three of those servants. It’s impossible to move around as it is now.”

“It would be fun to do some of the work ourselves. Just imagine the Honorable Percy doing all his own housework.” The mother regarded her daughter curiously.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you term housework fun. Well, come on in. We’ll have the poor boy to tea anyway. I don’t suppose he’s had a square meal for months.”

ON HIS return to the house that afternoon, Mr. McGinnis took some pains to conceal the satisfaction he felt when the car was requisitioned to take three of the servants back to town.

He exhibited yet more control over his feelings when, the following day, he saw his wife, with an apron about her waist, and his daughter similarly attired, busying themselves about the kitchen and the dining room. Mrs McGinnis was visibly embarrassed as she caught his eye.

“There were altogether too many servants, and I might as well be doing something myself. Heaven knows, there’s nothing else to do.”

The Honorable Percy, in a pair of grey flannels and a shooting jacket, presented quite a respectable appearance as he came in with Mr. McGinnis. Mrs. McGinnis served the tea after they had waited some time for Roger.

“Do you intend staying very long?” the Honorable Percy asked.

“Not long,” Mrs. McGinnis replied before her husband could interpose a word. “We will be returning east in a few days. A little of the simple life goes a long way, you know.”

“Oh, yes, rather. Just a hobby. I’ve roughed it before, of course, hunting and all that sort of thing. Jolly good sport, but one always wants to go t.earing off somewhere else, what?”

“And supposing you couldn’t get away?” asked Mr. McGinnis. “The way you’ve fixed yourself now, for instance?”

“Why—er—then you begin to find zest in it all, don’t you know. It’s ripping sport making the dashed old place keep you, sort of building up the old homestead, and figuring what it will be like in twenty years’ time.”

“And you really get some sort of satisfaction out of it?” put in Roger.

“Oh, yes, quite. That is, of course, putting the housekeeping strictly out. That side of it is ghastly.”

Dorothy giggled. “I’d love to see your place.”

The young man looked up seriously. “I’ll show it to you if you like. Perhaps you would walk across with me afterwards,”

After they had sat on the verandah and the men had smoked a little while, the Honorable Percy and the girl rose and wandered slowly off across the prairie in the direction of the setting sun. Roger had mysteriously disappeared at the conclusion of the meal. In silence the father and mother watched the two figures growing smaller and becoming fainter in the distance. When they were no longer visible Mrs. McGinnis went inside without saying a word. Her husband sat on, his chin in his hand, teeth clenched on an empty pipe, lost in thought.

THE following morning Mr. McGinnis announced that he had business to transact and left in the car for town. It was nightfall when he returned to the ranch in a hired buggy with the explanation that the car had broken down. Immediately afterward he announced his intention of leaving in the morning with the boys for the spring round-up.

“Round up!” said his wife “You’ll be away all day.”

“Don’t be absurd, my dear. I can’t possibly get back inside a week.”

“Then you can’t go. In a week’s time we’ll be back in the east. I’ve decided to go back immediately. Can’t you realize it’s all a horrible mistake.”

“Can’t see it, my dear. I thought it was the best thing you ever did. That’s why I closed on the option this afternoon and it’s our ranch now. That’s why I have to go on the round-up.”

“You—you what? You never did. Why what on earth are we going to do with it?” “I got it all figured out that it’s a good investment.”

“Well you can look after it alone,” returned Mrs. McGinnis conclusively. “The children and I are going in to Calgary to-morrow.”

“I’m afraid you’ll find it difficult, my dear. The car is in town being overhauled and all the broken horses are going on the round-up. There’s nothing but just broncho left.”

“Daniel McGinnis! Are you threatening me? Do you imagine you are going to keep me here against my will?”

“Maggie,” said McGinnis quietly but firmly, “you brought us down here and I just want you to give it a fair trial.”

A WEEK went by, seven calm, clear, unruffled days of Alberta springtime. For the first day Mrs. McGinnis, after definitely ascertaining that there was no possible way of getting off the ranch except on foot, fumed and raged in her room. Then, fury exhausted itself and boredom at length drove her forth to a new source of exasperation—the hopeless incompetence of the one maid. Every way she turned there seemed to be so much to do and no one to do it. She started out to instruct the girl. Although she failed to realize it, in a short time she was doing the major share of the work.

The household affairs so engrossed her that she had little time to wonder what her son and daughter were doing. After breakfast each morning Roger disappeared not to reappear until lunch time, after which he would fade away again. His departure in the morning seemed invariably to be followed by the arrival of the Honorable Percy who appeared to be neglecting his ranch in a lamentable manner. Simultaneously the latter and Dorothy would disappear.

AT THE end of a week of hard riding ■ and thoroughly satisfying living, Daniel McGinnis decided it was best to leave the outfit and return home. He had by no means been comfortable in his mind these seven days. As he cantered across the prairie, he speculated as to what he might expect to find on his return.

It was well on in the afternoon and he was nearing the end of his journey. He had just crested a little hill and was about to open the gate into the south pasture of his own ranch when his attention was arrested by the presence of an overalled figure in the coulee He had to look intently for some time before he could assure himself that it was his son who was moving from one creek bank to the other. Roger was so absorbed in what he was doing that he was unconscious of being observed. Daniel watched his son’s movements for several minutes before the puzzled expression on his face gave way to a smile of comprehension. He slowly backed away from the gate, went back •{“{* *}•■{•

over the hill, and circled round to approach the house from another direction.

Dismounting while he was still some distance from the house, he approached quietly and crept up the verandah steps. The door was wide open and he could see inside the kitchen. His wife stood over the stove, an apron about her waist much as he remembered her in the first days of their married life. She was giving the maid a lesson in the art of pie making and both were so engrossed they did not hear him slip away for his horse.

He was returning from stabling the cayuse when he spied the Honorable Percy on the other side of the corral making for his own ranch. Daniel waved to him and would have passed on, but the young man turned back. After the exchange of a few words the two turned together and proceeded across the prairie towards the Honorable Percy’s ranch, talking earnestly.

It was some time before Daniel McGinnis returned. Out of the darkness he broke in upon his family. They greeted him with unwonted cordiality. Even his wife seemed to be disarmed by his broad grin.

“Well, now you’re through with your stupid round-up I hope you’ve got sense enough to take us home,” she said, after he had talked at some length of his week’s experiences.

“Has it been as bad as that, Maggie?” he said quietly.

“Don’t misunderstand me, Daniel,” said his wife hastily. “It’s the children I’m thinking of. It was for their sakes I came down here. It was a mistake and we must think of their future. There is nothing for them to do, no one for them to associate with.”

“Maggie, if I weren’t quite convinced you were wrong I’d feel very uneasy just now. This ranching business has gone to my head. You were responsible for taking this ranch and I kind of thought I’d like to make a move on my own account. So, I’ve bought another.”

“Daniel McGinnis! You idiot! Are you clean crazy? Do you mean you’ve spent all your money?”

“Most of it. Anyhow, we’ve got lots of land.”

“Have you lost your senses? You mean that you’ve deliberately made your family poor?”

“Not exactly. We’ve got two pretty big ranches, which is a great deal more than most people have. This ranching is going to be a business now instead of a hobby. The only difference is that in future we’ll have to work for what we get.” “You’re mad, absolutely mad. I refuse to stay. My poor children—ruined.” “Not at all. They’ll be as well off as ever. I’ve got it all figured out, with the one exception of the winter feeding which is bothering us just a little bit. After we’ve got around that it’ll be plain sailing.”

Roger who had listened without putting in a word, jumped to his feet excitedly.

“I’ve got that settled, dad,” he interjected. “Its dead easy—irrigation. I’ve been mucking about in the creek for days. I did learn something at college, you know, and that south pasture lies just right for irrigation. It’s simple engineering and inexpensive. That’ll give us more than three hundred acres for alfalfa. Oh, boy, just turn me loose on it.”

“Fine,” commented the elder McGinnis, smiling. “You’ll stay, Roger. And Dorothy?” he said, turning from his son to his daughter. “Do you think you could be satisfied looking after the house for two hard-working ranchers?”

“Why, sure, dad, I guess so. But don’t figure on keeping me too long. You see that ridiculous Percy didn’t want to marry me because we had too much money. Perhaps he’ll see it differently now we’re land poor.”

“Dorothy!” exclaimed her mother, starting up. “Marry the Honorable Percy! That alters everything, of course. If you are going to settle down here, why I’ll just naturally have to stay near my daughter and son-in-law. Daniel, imagine, an Honorable for a son-in-law!”

Mr. McGinnis’ feelings were fast getting the better of him and he made for the door.

“Dad,” called Roger after him. “You forgot to tell us where the new ranch is.” “So I did,” said Daniel McGinnis, halting in the doorway. “It adjoins this one. I bought it from the Honorable Percy. He said he needed the money to start housekeeping on.”