Harold Bindloss.

The Buccaneer Farmer Published in England under the Title Askew's Victory online

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soon he would be too late.

Railton sat gloomily by the fire. He had had rheumatic fever, and the
damp cold racked his aching joints; besides, there was nothing for him to
do. He had called in his neighbors to value his flock, but he knew, to a
few pounds, what their judgment would be. Hayes Would presently arrive,
and Railton would be asked to pay, or give security for, the shortage,
which was impossible. Hayes knew this and meant to break his lease.
Perhaps the hardest thing was that the shortage was small; if the next
lambing season were good, he could pay. But Hayes would not wait.

Although Railton was too proud to beg for help from his neighbors, he had
gone to the bank. Osborn, however, used the same bank, and it looked as
if Hayes had given the manager a hint, because he refused a loan. Askew
had offered a hundred pounds, but this was not enough, and even if Kit
arrived with the sheep from Swinset, Railton could not find the rest of
the money. However, the arrival of the Herdwicks would make a difference,
and he did not altogether give up hope. By and by he tried to get up, and
sitting down again with a groan, beckoned his wife.

"Martha, you might gan to door."

Mrs. Railton, knowing what he meant, went to the porch. It was
lighter outside and the hillside was growing distinct. She thought
something moved on the path beside the beck, and turned to her
daughter, who had followed.

"What's yon by the water, Lucy?"

Lucy was silent for a few moments and then said quietly, "I think
it's sheep!"

She watched the path. The mist made a puzzling background and her eyes
were getting dazzled; but there was something. Then she heard a chair jar
on the flags and glanced at Railton, who leaned forward.

"Weel?" he said. "Canna you speak? Is neabody coming yet?"

Lucy threw another glance up the dale and her heart beat. An
indistinct row of small dark objects moved along the path, with two
tall figures behind.

"Kit's coming down the beck; he's brought the Herdwicks!" she cried.

"Canny lad!" said Railton, and leaning back limply, wiped his face.
His forehead was wet with sweat, for he was weak and the suspense had
been keen.

The sheep vanished behind a wall, and Lucy began to put fresh food on the
table. Mrs. Railton hung a kettle on a hook above the fire, and then
turned with a start as a girl came into the porch.

"Miss Osborn!" she exclaimed.

Grace advanced calmly, although there was some color in her face, because
she knew the others were surprised that she had come.

"Is Mr. Hayes here?" she asked.

"Mayhappen he's at the pens," Lucy replied. "I thought I heard his car."

"Then I missed him at the cross-roads," said Grace. "I was going to
Allerby, and my father asked me to give him a note when he stopped at
Lawson's." She hesitated, and then resumed impulsively: "Perhaps I
oughtn't to have come on; but I wanted to do so."

They knew what she meant, but nobody answered, and Grace sat down on a
bench by the table.

"Will you give the note to Mr. Hayes? Has Kit Askew brought the
Swinset sheep?"

"He's coming now," said Lucy, picking up the note, and Grace's
eyes sparkled.

"I knew he would bring them; I told him he must."

Lucy went out and Grace asked Railton about his pains. While they talked
somebody shouted outside, and the old man, getting up with an effort,
hobbled to the door.

"Hoad on; dinna close t' pen," a man called. "Here's Kit and t' lot
fra Swinset."

Three of four more shouted and Grace, who had followed Railton, thought
there was a note of triumph in their cries. Then dogs began to bark,
somebody opened a gate, and a flock of Herdwicks, leaping out with wet
fleeces shaking, and hoofs clicking on stone, ran across a shallow pool
where the beck had overflowed.

A few minutes afterwards, Kit came in. He looked tired, his face was
rather haggard, and his clothes were wet. Tom, the shepherd, followed and
sat down by the fire.

"It was nea an easy job, but we manished it," he said. "Swinset sheep is
thief sheep, but they're none a match for Kit's oad dog."

Kit stopped abruptly as he crossed the floor and his heart beat. "Ah!" he
said. "Miss Osborn?"

Grace smiled as she got up and gave him her hand. "Well done! Have you
brought them all? But of course you have!"

"They're in the pen," Kit answered, with some embarrassment.

Then Railton stood up, leaning awkwardly on his stick.

"I've misdoubted your new-fashioned plans, and ken that I was wrang.
There's nea ither lad in aw t' dale could ha' browt Herdwicks doon
Bleatarn ghyll last neet. Weel, t' oad ways for t' oad men, but I'se
niver deny again that the young and new are good."

He sat down and while Mrs. Railton began to bustle about the table Grace
stole away. She knew she ought not to have come, and had done so with a
feeling of rebellion against her father's harshness, although she tried
to persuade herself that Hayes was most to blame. Now she was glad the
note made a pretext for the visit; she had shown the Railtons her
sympathy and had thanked Kit. After all, he had perhaps gone to look for
the sheep because she told him; she rather hoped he had, and rejoiced
with the others at his success.

Grace admitted that she liked Kit Askew. He was resolute but modest, and
had just done a bold deed by which he had nothing to gain. Railton's
praise had moved her, because she knew the dalesfolk's reserve and that
the farmer would not, without good grounds, have spoken as he did.
Moreover, she knew the fells, and it was something of an exploit to bring
the sheep from Swinset in the storm. Kit was, of course, a farmer's son,
but he was plucky and generous; besides, she approved his steady look,
well-balanced, muscular figure, and clean brown skin. Then she blushed
and began to wonder what she would say about her visit to Mireside when
she went home.

In the meantime, Kit ate his breakfast, and soon afterwards Peter Askew
came in and began to talk to Railton. Until the valuation was agreed upon
there was nothing for them to do, and it was some time before the men
returned from the pens. They were plain farmers with rather hard, brown
faces, and stood about the fire in half-embarrassed silence while Hayes
sat down at the table and opened his pocket-book.

"We have made up the tally," he began, and Railton interrupted.

"Counting in the lambs and ewes fra Swinset?"

"They are counted," Hayes replied. "I'll give you particulars of the
different lots."

He read out some figures and then turned to the group by the fire. "I
think we are all agreed?"

"Aw, yis," said one. "It's as near as yan can mak' it, withoot sending
flock to auction."

Hayes turned to Railton. "Are you satisfied?"

"We willunt fratch. Mayhappen two or three lots would fetch anither pound
or two, but we'll ca' it fair."

"Then we must thank these gentlemen," said Hayes, who shut his
pocket-book and took out a document. "As there is some other business and
they have given us some time, we need not keep them."

The men looked at one another and Peter Askew said, "If Railton doesn't
mind, we'd sooner stop."

"Stop if you like," Railton agreed. "You've got me a just reckoning and
you're neebors aw."

"It's not necessary," Hayes objected. "The business we have to transact
is private."

"They ken it," Railton replied in a stubborn voice. "I've bid them stop
and the hoose is mine until Mr. Osborn turns me oot."

"Very well. You know the sum due to the landlord. Are you ready to pay?"

"I canna pay. It's weel you ken."

"Then, can you give security for the debt?"

"I canna and wadn't give it if I could. There's ways a cliver agent can
run up a reckoning, and when you want Mireside I'll have to gan."

"Then, I'm afraid we shall be forced to break the lease and take measures
to recover the sum due."

"Hoad on a minute!" said one of the group, who turned to Railton. "Would
you like to stop?"

"I would like; I've lived at Mireside sin' I was born. There's another
thing: it's none too good a time for a sale o' farming stock, and when
I've paid Osborn, I'll need some money to mak' anither start. Then
may-happen a dry spring wold put me straight."

"It ought to; you're not much behind," Peter agreed. "Weel, you ken I'm
generally willing to back my judgment, and noo it seems there's others
think like me."

"In a sense, the lease does not run out yet," Kit interposed. "It has
rather reached the half-term, because by our custom Railton is entitled
to take it up again for an equal period if he and the landlord agree
about the necessary adjustment. Our leases really cover a double term."

Hayes turned to him with an ironical smile. "Do you know much about
tenant law?" he asked.

"No," said Kit, rather dryly. "I made some studies when I could get the
books, but they didn't take me far. In fact, I imagine that in this
neighborhood there's very little law and much precedent, which has
generally been interpreted for the landlord's advantage. There are old
Barony laws and Manor rights, and my notion is that nobody knows exactly
how he stands. But we'll let this go. If Railton pays his fine, you will
have some trouble to get rid of him."

Hayes agreed and Railton looked up with a puzzled air.

"But I canna pay," he said dully.

The farmer who had interrupted Hayes took out a bulky envelope and
crossed the floor.

"Well," he said, "I think you're wrang. Your friends have been talking
aboot the thing and wadn't like t' see you gan." He gave Railton the
envelope, adding: "It's a loan."

Railton's hand shook as he took out a bundle of bank-notes. "You're good
neebors," he said in a strained voice. "But I dinna think I ought to tak'
your money. There's a risk."

"Not much risk in backing an honest man," the other rejoined, and taking
the notes from Railton gave them to Hayes. "Noo, if you'll count these - "

Hayes' face was inscrutable as he flicked over the notes. "The total's
correct. It's an awkward bundle; a check would have been simpler."

"A check has the drawback that it must be signed," Kit remarked with a
meaning smile. "We're modest folk, and nobody was anxious to write
himself down the leader."

"I see!" said Hayes. "I don't know if you're modest; but you're certainly
cautious."

"Anyhow, we're aw in this," said one of the others.

"So it seems. I hope you won't lose your money," Hayes rejoined dryly and
took out a fountain pen. "Well, here's your receipt, Mr. Railton. I don't
think there is anything more to be said."

He put the receipt on the table and when he went away a farmer laughed.

"O'ad Hayes is quiet and cunning as a hill fox, but my lease has some
time to go and he canna put us aw oot."

Railton tried to thank them, while Mrs. Railton smiled with tears in her
eyes, but the dales folk dislike emotion and as soon as it was possible
the visitors went away.

An hour or two afterwards Grace heard about the matter from the sick wife
of a farmer, whom she had gone to see, and when she went home thought she
had better not confess that she had taken Hayes' note to Mireside. When
Osborn joined his wife and daughter at the tea-table in the hall after
some disappointing shooting, his remarks about his tenants were
rancorous. Grace thought it prudent not to talk and left the table as
soon as she could. When she had gone, Osborn frowned and getting up
savagely kicked a log in the grate.

"I got a nasty knock this morning," he said. "It's not so much that I
mind letting Railton stop; I hate to feel I've been baffled and made the
victim of a plot."

"After all, wasn't it rather Hayes's idea than yours that Railton ought
to go?" Mrs. Osborn ventured.

"It was; there's some comfort in that! You don't like Hayes much."

"I don't know that I dislike him. I'm not sure I trust him."

"Well," said Osborn thoughtfully, "I sometimes feel he's keenest about my
interests when they don't clash with his, and this last affair was a
pretty good example of nepotism. For all that, his nephew would have been
a better tenant and have paid a higher rent." He paused and knitted his
brows angrily as he resumed: "However, it's done with, and one can't
blame Railton for holding on to his lease. What I hate to feel is, the
others plotted to baffle me. The land is mine, but I'd sooner get on well
with my tenants."

"One cannot, so to speak, have it both ways," Mrs. Osborn remarked
timidly.

"Oh, I know what you mean! But I don't think I'm a harsh landlord. If
money was not quite so scarce, I might be generous. In fact, I don't
know that I'd have agreed to turning Railton out if it hadn't been for
Gerald's confounded debts and his allowance at Woolwich. That's a
fresh expense."

Mrs. Osborn thought the expense did not count for much by comparison with
her husband's extravagance; but he had been rather patient and she must
not go too far.

"Well," she said, "you have got Railton's fine."

"It is not a large sum," Osborn answered with a frown. "I need the money,
but in a sense I'd sooner it had not been paid. Anyhow, I'd sooner it had
not been paid like that. The others' confounded organized opposition
annoys me."

"They were forced to subscribe to a fund if they wanted to help."

"Just so; but they probably wouldn't have thought about subscribing if
Askew hadn't suggested it. They're an independent lot and believe in
standing on their own feet. For a time after I got Tarnside, they used a
sensible, give-and-take attitude; it's only recently they've met with
stupid, sullen suspicion."

"Perhaps it was rather a mistake to give Bell the coal yards' lease."

"The coal yards had nothing to do with it," Osborn declared. "The
trouble began earlier, and I've grounds for believing it began at
Ashness. If I was rich enough, I'd buy the Askews out. They know I've no
power over them and take advantage of the situation. The old man was a
bad example for the others, but his son, with his raw communistic
notions, is dangerous. If I could get rid of the meddling fool somehow,
it would be a keen relief."

He came back to the table and picked up a cup of tea. Then, grumbling
that it had gone cold, he put it down noisily and went out.




CHAPTER VIII

GRACE FINDS A WAY


Soon after the reckoning at Mireside, the snow melted off the fells and
for a month dark rain clouds from the sea rolled up the dale. They broke
upon the hill tops in heavy showers, gray mist drifted about the wet
slopes, the becks roared in the ghylls, and threads of foam that wavered
in the wind streaked the crags. In the bottom of the valley it was never
really light, water flowed across the roads, and the low-standing
farmsteads reeked with damp.

All this was not unusual and the dalesfolk would have borne it patiently
had fuel not been short. Large fires were needed to dry the moisture that
condensed in the flagged kitchens and soaked the thick walls, but coal
could not be got at a price the house-wives were willing to pay. Some
would have had to stint their families in food had they bought on Bell's
terms, and the rest struggled, for the common cause, against the mould
that gathered on clothing and spoiled the meal. They grumbled, but their
resolution hardened as the strain got worse, while Bell waited rather
anxiously for them to give way.

His yards were full and more coal was coming in, but he saw that if he
let the farmers beat him his power to overcharge them another time would
be gone. The new combine was dangerous, since the cooperative plan might
be extended to the purchase of chemical manures, seed, and lime. In the
meantime, there was plenty of peat, stacked so that it would escape much
damage, on Malton Head; but Askew and his friends could not get it down.
Carts could not be used on the fells and the clumsy wooden sledges the
farmers called stone-boats would not run across the boggy moor. The few
loads Kit brought down at the cost of heavy labor were carried off by
anxious house-wives as soon as they arrived.

The weather was helping the monopolist, but he could not tell if a change
to frost would be an advantage or not. Although it would make the need
for coal felt keenly, it might simplify the transport of peat. When Bell
thought about it, and the colliery company's bills came in, he felt
disturbed, but he was stubborn and would not lower his price yet.

At length the rain stopped, and after a heavy fall of snow keen frost
began. The white fells glittered in cold sunshine that only touched the
bottom of the dale for an hour or two. The ice on the tarn was covered,
so that skating was impossible, and Thorn, feeling the need for
amusement, had a few sledges made. He had learned something about
winter sports in Switzerland, and one afternoon stood with a party of
young men and women at the top of Malton Head. They had practised with
a pair of skis farther down the hill, where one or two were sliding on
a small Swiss luge, but Thorn wanted to find a long run for his
Canadian-pattern toboggan.

Grace stood near him; her face touched with warm color and her eyes
sparkling as she looked about. She did not altogether approve of Alan
Thorn, but she was young and vigorous and enjoyed the sport. Besides, she
loved the high fells and now they looked majestic in the pale sunshine.
They were not all white; dark rocks with glittering veins edged the
snowfield, and the scarred face of Force Crag ran down where the shoulder
of the moor broke off four hundred feet below. Where the sun did not
strike, the snow was a curious delicate gray, and the bottom of the dale
was colored an ethereal blue. The pale-gray riband, winding in a graceful
curve round the crag, marked the old green road that was sometimes used
for bringing down dry fern, and Grace's face got thoughtful as she noted
a row of men and horses some distance off. She imagined they were Askew
and his helpers.

In the meantime, Thorn studied her with artistic satisfaction. He had an
eye for female beauty and the girl looked very well in her rather shabby
furs. Her pose was light and graceful, her figure finely modeled, and he
liked the glow the cold had brought to her skin. Moreover, he liked her
joyous confidence when they tried the luge on a risky slide. She was as
steady-nerved and plucky as a man, and was marked by a fine
fastidiousness that did not characterize other girls he knew.

"I think this is about the best spot we have seen," he said. "The drop
is steep but regular, although I expect we'll be breathless when we get
to the bottom. Would you like to try? If not, perhaps somebody else
will come."

He looked at the others, and they looked at the white declivity. It was
much longer than any they had gone down, and a girl laughed.

"To begin with, we'll watch you. I was upset on the last slide and it's
rather a long way to roll down to the dale."

Grace lay down on a cushion with her head just behind the toboggan's
curved front; Thorn found room farther back, with his legs in the snow,
and amidst some laughter and joking the others pushed; them off. The
surface was hard, and for a time the toboggan ran smoothly and steadily;
then the pace got faster, and showers of snow flew up like spray. It beat
into Grace's eyes and whipped her face, until she bent her head in the
shelter of the curled front.

The sharp hiss the steel runners made was louder, the wind began to
scream, and she got something of a shock when she cautiously looked up.
It was hard to see through the snowy spray, but the top of the crag
looked ominously near. Glancing down hill with smarting eyes, she thought
the slope, which, from the top, had seemed to fall evenly to the dale,
was also inclined towards the crag. She could not see much of the latter,
but there was a fringe of dark rock where the white declivity broke off.

"Aren't we getting too near?" she shouted.

"Nearer than I thought," Thorn gasped. "Not sure I can swing the sledge.
Can you get back and help?"

Grace braced herself. Alan's nerve was good, but there was a disturbed
note in his voice; besides he would not have asked her help unless it was
needed. Wriggling back cautiously, she got level with Thorn, although
there was not much room for them side by side. Her feet and the seam of
her short dress brushed in the snow and tore up the surface. She felt the
looser stuff beneath foam about her gaiters, but this was an advantage.
The drag would help to stop the sledge, and if she could put an extra
pressure on one side, to some extent direct it. Still they were going
very fast and at first she was nearly pulled off. She tightened her grasp
with her hands until she felt her gloves split, and then risked another
glance ahead.

The rocks were very close, but the sledge had passed the top, and she
could see a few yards down the dark side as they followed the curving
edge of the crag. The sledge was now running nearly straight down the
hill, but the curve bent in towards them, and she could not tell if they
would shoot past the widest spot or plunge over.

"Perhaps you had better let go," Thorn said hoarsely.

Grace shook her head. If she dropped off, it was uncertain whether she
would stop until she had rolled some distance; perhaps she might not stop
before she reached the edge of the crag. Anyhow, she did not mean to let
go, and tried to catch the snow with her toes in an effort to help Thorn
to steer the sledge. It swerved a little but rushed on again, and she saw
that the edge of the rock curved in yet. She doubted if they were far
enough off to get past the bend.

Then she saw that Thorn had slipped farther back in order to increase the
drag of his legs. His face was dark with blood and she heard his heavy
breathing as he tried to change their course. She helped all she could
while the snow rolled across her dress, and then for a moment lifted her
head. Powdered snow beat into her face and nearly blinded her, but she
thought there was now an unbroken slant in front. They must have passed
the middle of the bend, although Thorn was between her and the side on
which it lay and she was not sure yet. She remembered with horrible
distinctness how she had once stood at the bottom of the crag and seen a
stone that rolled over the top smash upon the rocks.

"Try again!" Thorn gasped. "Swing her to the right!"

Grace let her body slip back. The thrust and drag were telling, for the
sledge had swerved, and then there came a few seconds of keen suspense.
After this she heard Thorn draw a labored breath and felt his hand on
her waist.

"We're past. Hitch yourself up before you're pulled off," he said.

With some trouble Grace got back to her place and lay still, while her
heart thumped painfully and something rang in her ears. The reaction had
begun and she knew she could not move if Thorn wanted help again. It
looked, however, as if he did not, and some moments afterwards she saw
that the way was clear ahead. She wondered whether they would stop before
they reached the bottom of the dale and how far it was. The round
sheepfold in the first field looked no larger than a finger ring. She was
getting numb and the rush of bitter air took away her breath.

"Hold tight!" Thorn shouted presently and she noted that the hillside
broke off not far in front.

Since there were no crags near the spot, it was obvious that they had
come to an extra steep pitch, the brow of which prevented her from seeing
the bottom. Next moment the sledge seemed to leave the ground and leap
forward. Grace thought that for some yards they traveled through the air,
and then the hiss of the runners that had suddenly stopped became a
scream. The speed was bewildering and a haze of fine snow streamed past.
By and by, however, this began to thin, the speed slackened, and Thorn
gave a warning shout. She felt him try to turn the sledge, but they were
going too fast; the light frame canted and turned over, and they rolled
off into the snow. When Grace got up and shook herself, fifty yards lower
down, she saw Thorn standing by the righted sledge. He came to meet her
as she toiled back and his eyes sparkled.

"By George!" he said, "you are fine. You're a thorough sport!"

Grace colored. The compliment was obviously frank and not premeditated;
perhaps she deserved it, but she did not want Thorn to praise her. His
manners were good, but somehow he often jarred. He had not, within her
memory, said anything that could justly offend her, and although he was a
neighbor and there were no secrets in the dale, she had not known him do
a shabby thing. Yet, on the whole, he rather repelled than attracted her.
She studied him as he came down the hill.

He was a big, handsome man, and it was, of course, ridiculous to dislike


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Online LibraryHarold BindlossThe Buccaneer Farmer Published in England under the Title Askew's Victory → online text (page 5 of 22)