Lockwood’s Choice

How Love Triumphed Over Social Ambition—An Old Problem from a New Angle

HAROLD BINDLOSS March 1 1914

Lockwood’s Choice

How Love Triumphed Over Social Ambition—An Old Problem from a New Angle

HAROLD BINDLOSS March 1 1914

Lockwood’s Choice

How Love Triumphed Over Social Ambition—An Old Problem from a New Angle

HAROLD BINDLOSS

Author of “The Concession Hunters,“ etc.

FRANCIS LOCKWOOD was disappointed with the Old Country before he had spent a month in England. He had forgotten so much, and the longed for leisure palled upon him. He came of a stubborn, and somewhat reckless, British stock, and a love of the soil he sprang from was born in him as well as certain less desirable instincts, but eight years grim struggle on the wide plains of the West had set their stamp on him. Now he could count his cattle and horses by the hundred head, and his younger son’s portion lay trebled in a Canadian bank. "Still, so far his holiday had been a failure, and he remembered how when he waited in high spirits in a Western station for the Atlantic express his shrewd grey-haired partner of Caledonian extraction said:

“Idleness is not for such as ye, and ye’ll be wearying for the plains before three, months are over. Ye have given your best to the prairie, and the prairie has prospered ye—but choose weel, Frank, if ye bring a wife back with ye. ’ ’ The partner was right, for the things the bronzed rancher had dreamed of in the scorching dust of alkali and stinging winter drifts lost their attractiveness now he could touch and handle them, while he was uneasily conscious that a certain taint in his blood held in check by the life of effort under the open heaven was manifesting its presence. So one morning he thrust aside the whisky and soda untasted in a London club.

“I’ve had enough of this and will go up and see Harry’s new place in the North,’ he said to a relative. “Unlimited loafing isn’t good for me, and there’ll be fresh air up there among the fells any way.”

He went, taking with him a trout rod, rook rifle, and sundry garments packed in a big fishing creel, for he had acquired primitive ideas on the subject of necessaries in the West, and astonished the worthy master of a little station in the North Country by insisting on carrying them fifteen miles to his brother’s house.Henry Lockwood, the stockbroker, had rented sporting rights, and a lodge where he entertained company floaters, and others at certain seasons.

“There’s a train from the junction this, afternoon, and it’s only four miles from the station to the lodge. You can’t never walk there with those things,” said the railway official; and Lockwood answered: “I’m not quite a cripple,

nor as feeble as I look. A hundred miles isn’t a long walk in my country.”

Then the station master said solemnly: “Well, may I be danged!” as he watched the stalwart Colonial brush through the heather up the face of a hill.

It was fortnight later when the latter sat with his brother one evening outside the lodge. There was a table between them with glasses upon it, and a woman ’s voice singing an Italian love song came out with the soft light of shaded candles through an open French window. It was a good voice, and Francis listened dreamily as he looked down on one of the fairest prospects in England. Great peaks rose blackly solemn against the last glimmer of afterglow, white mists filled the valley, and a tarn reflected the first starlight in a hollow below, for the hush of a summer nightfall lay heavy upon the land. The brothers were alike, and yet unlike, Henry, pale and portly, Francis, hard and lean and brown, and the former glancing at the rancher through the blue cigar smoke, said:—

“Made up your mind yet, Frank? No!—well isn’t it time you did? That cattle raising business is interesting as an experience, but you can’t contemplate remaining what your Western friends entitle a ‘cow puncher’ all the rest of your life. Sell it off, and join me; I could do with a little more capital, and there’s enough for two. Then you could marry Eveline, and, when old Crosbie dies, raise prize pigs or bullocks over here if you wanted to. It’s an open secret that you won’t get a penny of his money otherwise.”

“Aren’t you taking too much for granted?” asked Francis. “Suppose for instance Eveline wouldn’t marry me?” and the stock-broker’s eyes twinkled as he answered, “Then she’s a much less shrewd young lady than she’s supposed to be. Most men would call her handsome, and you were sweethearts once, you know. Reasonably well off, accomplished— and what more do you want?”

Francis did not answer. Indeed, he hardly knew, but by a trick of fancy his thoughts wandered to the afternoon he first tramped across the moorland into the valley. In one place a broad riband of amber-tinted water glanced athwart a shallow, and he lay watching it froth among moss-flecked boulders until there was a clatter of hoofs on shingle and he saw a slight but very shapely figure

swaying on the back of a pony which objected to the ford. Franeis, who rose, and after a struggle, led the beast through, noticed in doing so that the fair rider’s eyes yere clear and honest, as well as blue. They smiled upon him bewitehingly, and the little hand that rested on the bridle was well formed if the wrist was red. He decided it was the surroundings which had impressed him, the tarn sleeping lineless in the shadow of the crag, blue peaks, and song of sliding water, but now it seemed there was more in the picture they formed a background for—the winsome, half-shy face of his companion.

The music ceased, and Francis felt guilty when the singer greeted them as she moved across the terrace. Eveline was certainly handsome, but not in the least shy. She was also tall and dark, and carried herself in a manner that suggested an imperious disposition.

“Well!” repeated Henry, “What more could any man desire?” But Francis avoided the question. He had dwelt among a fearless people who, in spite of sundry eccentricities, cherished a respect for womanhood, and he hardly considered it becoming. So he replied to the former query.

“Your ways might not suit me, or your friends understand my own, and I should be longing for the wind and sun. Besides you know what there is in all of us—and out there we drink green tea. I’ve got scared of myself lately, and know that while I’m safe working, your kind of life wouldn’t be good for me. It wouldn’t be a fair deal to Eveline, you see!”

Henry Lockwood laughed. “There’s a strain of the blood in Eveline, and she knows the Lockwood ways.” “Why all this delicacy? Wine and horses and gambling have done for a good many of us, but if one must go to the devil it’s judicious to get his highest price. But here’s Maud coming to talk to you. Hadn’t you better brace yourself?”

There was wild blood in both of them, but it had hitherto driven Francis into bold enterprise instead of reckless living, and with a sharp snapping the glass splintered under his hand. “A very neat trick!” said Henry. “Not many men in the country could accomplish it, and I dare say you’re right, but they raise extravagant devils where you come from ! ’ ’

Mrs. Lockwood seated herself beside Francis, and chatted charmingly. It was

all done very gracefully, but he understood that in her opinion his distant kinswoman with an eye to certain property might take him into the bargain, and Francis suffered from an unpleasant sense of constraint in Eveline’s presence during the rest of the evening, which was quite unnecessary. Next morning he casually enquired concerning the antecedents of Miss Beatrice Ainslie, the lady of the ford, and the answer pleased him.

“She’s old Fawcett’s niece,” it ran. “Ainslie was ambitious and brought up his daughters well, while when he died ruined by experimenting on his land Fawcett took the two girls in. They’re out at five winter and summer, and as clever at butter-making and poultry as they’re pretty.”

Francis remembered that Fawcett, who wrested a bare living from a moorland farm, had asked him to inspect his cattle, and that in his adopted country those who combined clear-sighted enterprise with industrial skill formed the aristocracy. So he rode over to Fawcett’s, found he had much more in common with the shrewd North Country farmer than the city speculators who formed his brother’s guests, and returned—many times. It was pleasant to sit in the cool stone-flagged summer room looking down upon the moor and discuss the subjects he best understood, especially when Beatrice and her sister, sunnyfaced and dainty in garments wrought by their own fingers, joined them. Francis said all this was soothing, and Henry, when he heard of the visits, described him as a perverse idiot.

At last one afternoon when dingy thunder clouds rolling down from the high peaks darkened all the moor Francis found only Miss Jenny Ainslie at the farm, and that damsel said with a mischievous smile:—

“I am alone, but mother will come in presently. She enjoys talking to you. Bee?—she rode out early this morning over the pass to town.”

Mrs. Ainslie came in, and as she enjoyed talking to anybody, Lockwood spent an unpleasant half-hour listening abstractedly and worrying about the weather before he could escape, while when Jenny Ainslie watched him swing with hurried strides across the moor she smiled again significantly. There had been abundant rain that season, and when Francis floundered through the ford the peat-stained water frothed high above his knee. Then the rough track that wound through a breadth of bog trembled under his feet, and the wild cotton tufts showed up lividly against the deepening gloom. His watch told him it was barely six o’clock, but the light was fading, and a scarred hillside vanished suddenly into a haze of rain. Then there was a roll of thunder, blue fire streaked the bog, and while long reverberations filled all the hollows of the hills the rain came down in solid rods bewildering his vision.

Still all this was nothing to the sea of sulphureous flame which floods the western prairie, and he pressed on the faster feeling with his feet for solid

ground until when he breasted up a hillside the track became a river, and he was alike deafened and partly blinded. There was a roar of gravel sliding down steep screes, the crash of a boulder loosed from the heights above, and heather slope and bog were blotted out by thrashing rain amid great salvoes of celestial artillery. Lockwood, however, had passed that way before, and with the instincts of one used to pathless wastes climbed to the pass, where a faint cry reached him through the deluge, and he found Beatrice drenched and shivering struggling with a frightened pony in the partial shelter of a crag. The beast had been purchased from the smoother levels of Lancashire. She stretched out her hands appealingly saying, “I am so glad you came. I can hardly hold the pony, and he has twice tried to bolt with me.”

There was no time for ceremony, and Lockwood lifted her into the saddle as he answered, “I came to look for you, and you will be safe with me. We must hurrÿ before the floods come down.”

The beast knew its master, but as they turned homewards together, down over the slippery out-crop and across the quaking bog, speech was impossible. The deluge beat into their faces and thunder rolled in great vibrations from peak to peak above. Lockwood was glad and sorry when they reached the ford, for though the journey was nearly done all sign of guiding boulder and the islet in the centre had gone. There was only a mad rush of dark brown water and, on the further side, a narrow breadth of moorland melting into thick obscurity.

“It looks nasty,” he said. “I would not let you cross but that it would be almost impossible to find a way back to shelter through the pass. But if you will sit still and trust me there can’t be much real danger.”

“I can trust you,” said Beatrice, “implicitly.”

There was a brief struggle before Lockwood urged the unwilling beast into the flood, then driving his heels deep into the shingle he dragged it by the bridle slantwise up stream. Twice for a few seconds it lost its footing, and setting his teeth the man strained every sinew until the battering hoofs gripped stone again. Then he gasped with relief, as they came up, dripping into shoal water where the islet had been. It was only a reprieve, for the stream ran deeper on the other side, and cross they must because every hillside ran water and the river was rising fast. Also, Francis was sure at last of what he had guessed ‘before, and, as it transpired later, so was Beatrice, too.

“We can’t turn back,’ he said hoarsely. “You must not be frightened. Miss Ainslie, I would sooner lose ten lives than let anything happen to you. A few more minutes will see us through.” The girl sitting in the saddle drenched, and with a white face, tried to smile down on him as she answered:—

“I shall not be frightened with your hand on the bridle.”

With a plunge and a flounder they started again, white foam roaring level

with the girth, and the current dragging the man’s feet from under him. Once his knee was driven with violence against a boulder, and thrice the beast lost its foothold in a fiercer eddy, but Lockwood had swum his horses across the roaring Bow when chilled to a deathly coldness by the Rockies’ snow, and having learned the business in a very hard school, was fighting now for something more precious than land or cattle. So, though several times for a space of seconds the issue hung in the balance, panting, snorting, floundering, they won a shallow, and reeled out safe upon the shingle. Then Lockwood’s eyes fell upon a buckle of the girth, and a shiver that was not caused by the river water ran through him.

“Thank God! I might have lost you, Beatrice. Come down before the saddle goes,” he said, and the words came without reflection, instinctively, as did what followed, for when he stretched out a brown hand his arm followed it, and he held his dripping burden close while further breathless words succeeded. “No, I could not have lost you, Beatrice, look up and listen. You are more than all the rest of the world to me.”

It only lasted a moment, and the girl did not check him. Perhaps she was limp with cold and the re-action from terror. But it was long enough, and when he set her down gently she shook herself free, and hid her crimson face behind the pony’s neck. Then, as illluck would have it, a shout rang out, and Lockwood recognizing the voice, inwardly devoted Fawcett to a place where it never rains. He had much to say, and the farmer’s presence was decidedly superfluous. Still, he laid his hand on Beatrice’s shoulder, forced her to look at him, and commenced: “You must forgive me—I couldn’t help it. You are exhausted and shaken, not fit to listen, but I meant every word of it. You said vou could trust me, Beatrice, would it be—”

“Here’s t’pony, an’ Miss Beatrice!” an unlovely voice broke in, and two figures blundered across the moor at a run.

“Only one excuse,” said Lockwood. “You must know it, and — confound them—I can’t explain. Won’t you meet me in the beck meadow to-morrow,

early?”

Next moment Fawcett broke in upon them, and Lockwood, evading his thanks, slipped away. He had read the answer to his unspoken question in his companion’s manner, and wanted solitude to revel in the consequent exultation. Beatrice said little during her homeward journey, but circumstances seemed to conspire against her, for a storm-stayed acquaintance from the lower valley was sitting beside the great peat fire when, with brief explanations, Fawcett brought her in. Most country folk are gossips, and the lady in question was an injudicious one, for glancing at Beatrice, compassionately, she said: “She might have been drowned, poor thing. It’s weel Mr. Lockwood’s lady’s none

jealous, but many a man has lost his head over a worse-favored lass. ’ ’

Beatrice was conscious of a sudden sense of suffocation, but she stooped apparently to shake out a fold of her draggled dress, then looking up, said with an attempt at indifference, which did not deceive her mother at least, “Mr. Lockwood is not married.’

“No, but he soon will be,” was the gossip’s answer. “That’s what brought him home and his old sweetheart down to the Lodge yonder. Ay, she’s none illlooking, an’ she’s to wed him for some old man’s money. Mrs. Lockwood’s own maid was telling me.”

“Jenny, bring the dry things, I am very cold,” said Beatrice, shivering visibly, and there was a curious silenee, while the gossip wondered what was wrong when the girl went out, walking, in spite of her efforts, as one turned suddenly dizzy. It was twenty minutes later when her mother entered her room, but Beatrice still knelt, all dripping, with her face between her hands, beside the window, repeating brokenly,

“It was cruel— cruel !—h o w could he?”

“Beatrice,” said Mrs. Ainslie, laying her hand gently on the girl ’s soaking hair, “you need not tell me — I can guess. Many have suffered this way before, and the bitterness will pass. You must forget him.

Meantime, you have no right to risk catching your death.

You are ice-cold already. ’ ’

The girl rose very wearily, saying with a catch in her breath : “What

would it matter if I did? Mother, it was shameful—I can never forget.”

Next morning,

Lockwood, who found nobody in the meadow, rode up to the homestead between the clustered rocks, and so met Beatrice before she could avoid him. Seeing there was no escape she turned and faced him, raising a restraining hand when he would have swung himself out of the saddle. “I have nothing to say to you, Mr. Lockwood — the road you came lies open,” she said.

There was little trace of color in hería ce, though her eyes flashed, and the rider regarded her with a bewildered expression.

“Was it such a great offence—and the excuse insufficient?” he said. “At least, you will let me plead it clearly. Heaven knows I would cut my hand off sooner than offend you, hut I had hoped —Beatrice, you shall hear me!”

He was on his feet the next moment, but with a cold, “I can only say God

forgive you,” Beatrice turned away, and while Lockwood stared after her gnawing his moustache Fawcett came up. “Thou hast worn out thy welcome, lad,” he said. “It’s like to like, and what has such as thee to say to an honest man’s daughter?”

Lockwood mastered his fiery temper long enough to ask, “What crime have any of you against me? Will you listen to reason while I ask why Miss Ainslie—?”

“No reason of thee,” roared Fawcett. “Take the road, and let me see the last of thee. I’m main tempted to set the dogs on thee.”

Lockwood pale with fury took the road at a gallop, and during the weeks that followed made the lives of his brother’s guests a burden. He also sent a letter, which came back unopened, to Mrs. Ainslie. At last Henry Lockwood said, “You have let the prize slip through your fingers, Frank. Young Marsden has Eveline’s promise to-day,

and neither of you will get Crosbie’s money. By the way, you might be judicious. These folks can’t help chattering, and I find from one of my agricultural neighbors who disapproves of you, a tale is going round that you were making love to Miss Ainslie and engaged at the same time to Eveline. I hope there is nothing in one part of'the story?” “There is everything in it—life or death to me,” said Francis. “I would like to brand all liars and gossips tongues. Good heavens!—now I begin to see. I’m going out, Harry; you needn’t wait dinner for me.”

He went at a mad gallop on Henry’s horse of pedigree, and the latter gasped as he watched him saying, “Francis is clean mad. Not content with smashing my furniture he’s bent on killing my best horse for me. Are they all that way on the prairie?”

It was dusk when Francis found Beatrice in the beck meadow. She was gazing across the sliding water with eyes that were suspiciously hazy, and did not see him until he was close upon her. Then it was too late, and the man dismounting came forward, and laid a hard hand on either shoulder in masterful fashion.

“I understand at last,” he said simply. “How dare you, Beatrice? Miss Dane is to marry one of my brother’s friends, and neither is, nor could be, anything to me. There is only one woman in the world for me, and I hold her safe at last. Now—if you still wish it —I will make full apology.”

The apology was not apparently needed, and Lockwood’s hand slipped over the shoulder that yielded under its pressure, while the stars shone down on a sheep pool of the beck and the white mists rose like steam before the pair went back hand in hand to Fawcett’s farm.

“You are a perverted idiot,” said Henry Lockwood when Francis rode home late last night.

‘ ‘ Still, there ’s a certain method in your madness, even if she hasn’t a penny; and we’ll hope for the best. I suppose she ’s going out with you to the dismal prairie after the wedding?” “Thanks,” said Francis, drily. “Harry, you have given me a good time, and I’m obliged to you. This is a great country, the greatest of them all, but for a man with no profession, I’m choosing wisely when I take back a woman I could trust my soul to, to help, not hamper me, in a busy life under the open sunshine across the sea. After all, health, sound sleep, happiness, are worth more than ease and luxury.” “Perhaps you’re right,’ said Henry a trifle wearily. “Had the same dreams myself, but one can’t escape from destiny, and it’s too late with me.”

When Francis brought his bride home to the prairie ranch his partner applauded his choice.

“I was feared for ye, Frank, but noo I’m only glad,” he said. “She’s good, an’ clever, as well as bonny, an ye’ll go safe an’ far with that lass to guide ye.”

It came about even so, for Francis Lockwood added herd to herd and flock to flock, found scope for his reckless energy in legitimate enterprise, and was honored by his wife, while as an object lesson of what might have been, Henry, unable to meet his creditors, shot himself.