IN THE MAKING
LIDA F. DIAZ
THAT phonograph bleating from the frontier town hotel —was there in the length
and breadth of Canada another quite so rasping in tone? Did other hammers boast the same penetrating power of irritation and other pioneer towns witness such a fungus growth of scaffoldings? Was it never
possible to be free from the clung-clung of iron upon wood?
Elinor Meredith, standing by the door of her bungalow, swept dissatisfied eyes over its squat ugliness, the discontent in them deepening as they turned to the one street of wooden side-walks and crude dwellings that lay at the foot of the hill. She clenched her hands in sudden, passionate revolt.
But there was. the call to be madeMrs. Huckley had said:
“Come and have a cup of tea on Wednesday, informallike. Several other friends you know will be dropping in. Bring your work—or are all the baby things ready?”
And Elinor had felt that the' words and the smile that accom' panied them were an invasion of her privacy, coming from a stranger—for strangers these western women and she must always remain, even though they met several times daily.
She gave a last look to her window boxes. How well the
flowers were growing, and what a brave showing they made against the dead white of the walls—a tangle of color, every one of them planted and tended by her hands, and repaying her care in beauty and fragrance. She must see to it that they were transplanted into pots next month, for the early fall nights were already in this high altitude.
As she neared Mrs. Huckley’s house, loud laughter and the clatter of china caused Elinor to quicken her steps.
“Come right in,” cried Mrs. Huckley, a white-haired, kindly faced woman, one of the early pioneers. “Take that chair and make yourself at home. We’re very.glad to see you—only wish you’d drop in oftener.”
“I’m busy,” began Elinor, and checked herself. She wouldn’t stoop to the conventional lie. Only this morning, she had been bemoaning to herself for the hundredth time that she hadn’t a piano to make the hours pass more pleasantly and quickly.
“We were talking of the Nordin wedding,” said one of the women. “Did you hear about it? Milly Griggs from Mile 43 and Ned Nordin.”
“Ned Nordin!” The words came with a gasp from Elinor. x“Herb was telling me only the other day that he
lived a hundred miles North and that there were only a few white men in. the place, and of course, no white women. How dreadful!”
“If your husband had to go up there, would you let him go alone?” The woman who had spoken last turned a direct look upon her.
Elinor crimsoned as much at the sharp tone as at the question itself. These women were so abrupt. ' They had no social niceties.
“Herb! Why of course not. I’d never be parted from Herb.
But he wouldn’t consider going to such a place. How will she spend her time?”
“The ' same way those of us did who came up here years ago,” replied the woman dryly. “Work, read,, tend to her husband and home and raise her children. The country will grow, and some years from now, she’ll find herself living in a flourishing community. See how this town is growing. It was practically bush when I came up five years ago,
and look at it now! That’s the fascination of the West, watching the growth.”
“I like to live where things are made, not in the making,” smiled Elinor. “Where there are concerts and lectures and théâtres.”
“There’s talk of a moving picture show opening up on Hull’s lot,” put in another woman.
A PICTURE show! Elinor could imagine how crude the pictures would be. These women might appreciate them—they were so ordinary, their tastes so unformed! Her eyes roamed to a bookcase by the window—
Thackeray, Dickens, Stevenson— s u re 1 y Mrs. Huckley did not read these books. Still
Elinor smiled at the tiny mite by her side. “We suffer to some purpose, we women of the West,” she whispered.
less did it seem possible to imagine her hard-working, joke-loving husband enjoying them. Why had they gone to the expense? Elinor was puzzled.
“Did you read the account of the Victoria Government House-ball?” she asked,
for the sake of making conversation. The remark was received with scant interest. Yes, they had read about it. Very fine doings, beautiful dresses. Lady H—had worn a dress of lavender satin. By the way, Melissa Brown had ordered a dress of that color from an eastern store. Interest blazed at once; tongues wagged. Would the color suit Melissa? Mrs. Smith had advised her to have heliotrope; lavender was rather trying. Elinor sighed impatiently. What was the use of trying to make friends with these Western women? They had no interests in the world apart from their own narrow circle. If only she could get away from this confining atmosphere!
Elinor set out on her homeward way with a sinking heart. She must try to persuade Herb to leave this town. Surely clever and popular as he was he would have no difficulty in securing employment in a more' congenial part of the country. She suddenly remembered that it had been her intention to call for mail. As she turned her
steps to the primitive post office, she was greeted cheerily by a woman sitting on her porch, slicing potatoes.
“Going to get your mail?”
Elinor nodded rather curtly, vouchsafing no reply. Her mental criticism regarding people who did not mind their own business was very scathing, how-
ever, and, had she been aware of it, the neighbor who was visiting Mrs. Robbins would have considered herself all the more justified in her remark:
“She’s a proud little baggage. Easy to see she considers herself vastly superior to us ‘western women’ as she calls us. You’d think she came from another country altogether.”
“She’s only a girl, and she’s expecting a child and feels ill and lonesome,” replied Mrs. Robbins, “I’ll put out some of my elderberry wine and call her in for a glass as she comes by.”
But Elinor chose to return by a lane back of the houses. For one thing, Simeon, the half wit, who had conceived a dog-like devotion for her, was propped up against the hotel door and she did not feel equal to a disjointed conversation with him. She had found two letters; one for herself and one for Herb, the latter addressed in a woman’s handwriting that was not familiar. His mother and sisters lived in the East. This postmark was from a town that he had lately visited in connection with a lumber company in process of formation and of which he hoped to be appointed manager.
Elinor felt a prick of annoyance, though the next moment, when she recalled Herb’s frank, boyish face, with wide-open eyes that met your gaze squarely, and shock of fair hair growing straight up from his forehead, she could have laughed at herself. Of course he would show her the letter and it would prove to be some trifling matter. However, when she handed him the envelope that evening, he barely looked at it and thrust it into his pocket-book.
“Are you not going to read your letter?” she asked.
“Presently. It’s nothing important. I want my supper now, Ellie, I’m starving.”
IT WAS evident that he did not intend to show her the letter, and Elinor was nettled. Early in their married life, they had agreed that their correspondence should be private, but letters were usually handed over as soon as read. It must be some bill. The trifling occurrence would not leaVe her mind, however, but clung with the persistence of a burr. She attributed this to the dullness of the life she led and to the absence of anything else to occupy her mind. ' ,
“Herb,” she asked, when they had washed and put away the dishes and she had comfortably settled herself under the lamp with her sewing, “have you decided upon making this town our home?”
“Why, yes. I thought we would grow up with it. Sinclair told me when I was in Edmonton that the management of the new lumber mill is practically mine. It will be a fine thing for us to be so well established in a town as promising as this one.”
How enthusiastic he was! From the first he had given his allegiance to the frontier town. What glowing accounts he had written of it! Would she ever forget the sinking of her heart when she joined him in the ugly little white house he had had built for them.
“Promising—” she repeated slowly. “That’s the spirit of the West— promises and dreams. What if the promises don’t come true?”
“In this case there’s more than a promise. See the land around— every acre full of richness. All we need is settlers and they’re beginning to pour in. But Ellie, the dream—does it count for nothing? This Canada of ours, hasn’t it been built
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up out of dreams and visions, back of the hard work?”
“Herb, you’re a dreamer at heart, and I’m the practical one of the family. I want the tangible, the good things of life—pleasant surroundings, cultured people. What is there here to take their place? There may be better chances for making money, but is money everything in life?”
“Heaven forbid! But Ellie, what do you object to in the people here? Surely they’re kind. See how Miss Morrison
runs in to help you with your work whenever she can.”
“Phoebe! Oh, she’s different. She trained in a large hospital in Ottawa. I can’t understand why she stays here when she could take up private nursing in any city in Canada.”
“That’s just it. She likes being here; likes the freedom—the newness, the fascination of the life.”
“What is it, Herb—the fascination, I
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mean? If only I could feel like you and Phoebe do about this town!”
“It’s mighty hard to put into words, Ellie.” He was pacing the room restlessly. “In an old civilization, everything is cut and dry. Here things are in the making, and we ourselves help to make them what they are.”
“But oh! it’s dull!” The wail came from Elinor’s very heart. “And the people are so commonplace—so rough. Oh, Herb! couldn’t we go somewhere where life is more interesting?”
Herb’s head had sunk between his shoulders. He was absently smoothing out a crease on his coat.
“We’ve been over the ground before, Ellie.” He spoke gently. “I wish now I hadn’t built before you came up—but, as you know, the hotel is no fit place for a woman to stay in, and I never thought you would dislike the country. I don’t know—most of our money has gone into this house—and now, with such good prospects—can’t you bring yourself to like the town, Ellie?”
He looked so downcast that Elinor felt sorry she had spoken. The words had rushed to her lips almost independently of volition. But Herb must not be made to suffer. If only she could see this frontier town with other eyes!
“I suppose I’m fanciful just now,” she managed to smile. “Let’s say no more about it. Will you go on reading where we stopped last night?”
And Herb, on his way to the bookshelf, stopped to kiss the flushed cheek and smooth, bronze hair.
LOWERING clouds hid the sun the ' following day. Elinor rose feeling despondent and ill. For one thing, and against all reason, the incident of the letter still worried her, but not for the world would she have mentioned it to Phoebe Morrison who ran in to help her with her baking. Phoebe found Elinor on her knees before a little box that contained baby clothes. Hot tears were falling on the tiny garments as she folded and arranged them in neat piles. Phoebe made no reference to the tears.
“It’s sharp outside, but if you put on a coat I think a stroll would do you good,” she said.
“I don’t want to go out,” snapped Elinor. “It’s the same thing day after day in this dull hole. Eat, walk, sleep. Nothing to vary the monotony.”
“Elinor!” cried Phoebe sharply, “you need a scolding, just like a naughty child. You mope, thinking of the good times you had in the city, and you overlook the good times you might make for yourself here. I’ve no patience with you.”
Elinor’s quick temper flared up. “I hate everything about this place,” she fumed. “If it wasn’t that Herb would be so cut up about it, I’d be glad if the house burnt down. Then we might get away.”
Simeon, who was doing a few odd chores, had crept silently into the room as she spoke. He looked at her in adoration. “House burn?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied Elinor absently, “I think, after all, Simeon, you’re the only one who really cares for me.”
Phoebe went over to the angry girl and put her arms around her, and Elinor began to cry.
“Oh, what a little goose!” comforted Phoebe. “You’ll be laughing with me at all this nonsense a few weeks from now. Come, we’ll go for a stroll. Come too, Simeon.”
They all went, Elinor and Phoebe arm-in-arm; Simeon beside them, silent as usual and content as long as Elinor was within sight. The air was fresh and sharp. Few leaves remained on the trees, but a thick carpet of wonderful color rustled as they trod it. The lowering clouds might mean rain or an early fall of snow.
“I mustn’t forget to ask Herb to transplant my flowers,” said Elinor. '“They’ll freeze if we leave them out nights much longer.”
They left Simeon in the village and paid a few calls. In one house—they found a merry group.
“Have you heard the latest?” asked a jolly young matron. “At the dance last night, a bunch of the boys—you know how they always make fun of our sewing circle—came in dressed up in women’s clothes. They gathered at one end of the hall, and such a noise as they made,
cackling in shrill, high voices, to mimic us! It was screamingly funny.”
Elinor found something appropriate to say in reply, and soon after left for home. The small things—always of local interest . —that afforded these women so much amusement, wearied her. .Atevery meeting, the gulf seemed to widen between them. Oh, if only Herb would go back East!
As she climbed the little hill that led to the white house, she saw a figure crouching by the back door. Simeon! What was he doing there? The next moment his purpose was clear. Vividly her thoughtless words flashed across her mind. She had wished the house might burn. Simeon’s poor mind had taken her words literally. Simeon was setting fire to the house! ;
-Elinor’s very heart seemed turned to ice as she stopped, her hands clenched in a grip that hurt. Then a nauseating disgust of the town surged over her. If the house burned, Herb would be less loath to go. Anyway—anything to get away. She would leave the decision to fate! ~
SHE took a few steps downward;
hesitated, walked down _ further— turned and looked back. Simeon had done his work well. A flame was insiduously creeping up the back door; a long, pale flame, with tiny flames shooting from its base. It crept up stealthily, grew in volume and shot out red, encircling arms towards the flower boxes in the window.
At the sight, something elemental sprang into life within Elinor. Her flowers that she had planted and tended with such loving care that Herb often laughingly called them her children, scorched, killed by that snake-like flame. It must not be! Something of herself— endeavor, hope, call it by any name, flowered in the pretty blossoms. They must be saved at all costs. No other definite thought was present. Confused feelings there were in the background of her mind, but only one conscious, vital emCtiC” urging hê? on to save her flowers from destruction.
Forward she flew, crying ää shê went; “Fire! fire!” Soon she föiifid herself grappling with the now completely, demented Simeon, who had found a can of coal oil by the back door and was pouring it on the flames with shouts of laughter. People rushed up the hill. _ It seemed as if the whole town was helping the volunteer firemen in their struggle with the flames that leapt from every side of the hóuse. Then came unconciousness.
She woke to find herself between cool, fragrant Sheets, her hot head on downy pillows. On thé table beside the bed a lamp was burning, and its light shone on the titles of two books: the Bible and “The Tale of Two Cities.” Elinor stretched out a feeble arm; Mrs. Huckley, enveloped in a large apron, was instantly at the bedside. Other women moved to and fro in the room.
“The books,” said Elinor faintly, “you do read them then?”
“Bless your heart,” laughed Mrs. Huckley, “what a funny question! Why should we have paid the freight on them if we didn’t? But never mind the books. How are you feeling?”
Memory had returned now and questions poured thick and fast, but Mrs. Huckley was peremptory.
“No talking from you, young lady.
Rest is what you need. I’m taking your mother’s place to-night. What’s that? Yes, I’ll tell you everything. Herb is all right." He’s up on the hill now with the other men-folk, trying—my dear, I won’t deceive you—not much is left of the house, but bless you! that’s nothing. You’ll build another house soon enough. But listen,, do you know what’s down at the station, waiting to be put in the new house, when you do build it? A piano that Herb had Mrs. Sinclair buy in Edmonton for you. He says he got word about it yesterday, but wanted to surprise you. Now, try to rest.”
A piano! So that was the explanation of the letter. Elinor smiled a little and wept a little. Mrs. Huckley went on to explain that Dr. Gregory and Phoebe were at ■ the Martin homestead—Jim was down with pneumonia—but word had been sent to them and they would come as soon as possible. Presently Herb came in and knelt by the bed, whispering that this was surely a night of happenings. She knew about the piano? But she didn’t know that he had a wire from Sinclair and that he had been officially appointed manager of the new lumber company.
“Now I can afford to send you on a . long vacation just as soon as you are able to travel,” he said, his head on the pillow beside her.
“You won’t,” retorted Elinor faintly, but with spirit. “I’ll stay here with you and baby. That is, if you want me after you hear what I have to tell you.”
The long night dragged on between dozing and spasms of agonizing pain. Mrs. Huckley was in the room most of the time^ Other women came and went. For her, a stranger, haughty, aloof, these women were sacrificing their night’s rest. Rough and grim they might be in everyday life, too busy to give much heed to social niceties or be prodigal of pretty speeches, but could her own have rallied around her more loyally in her time of need? Elinor looked,at them with new eyes.
Following the darkness and the agony came dawn. _ The sky was broken with light. It came, cold and in streaks at first, then spread to a rosy flush, growing rapidly to a glorious splash of color. Mrs. Huckley extinguished the lamp.
“The dawn of a new day, my dear,” she said, bending over Elinor with a motherly kiss, as she placed a warm, snuggling bundle on the pillow beside her. “And your baby daughter to begin it with you!”
Just then Dr. Gregory hurried in, rubbing his hands. He seemed to bring something of the glad, rosy dawn with him.
“Well, little mother,” he said. “So you’ve given us a bride for one of our budding pioneers?”
Elinor’s eyes turned to the window. The glory was widening rapidly, invading the whole sky. A new day—a new country —a new life. Something that you loved because it was your own, to be molded out of your own hopes and endeavor and sacrifice.
Elinor smiled up at Mrs. Huckley as she pressed closer to the tiny being by her side.
“We suffer to some purpose,” she murmured, scarcely about a whisper.. “We women of the West.”