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- You Never Know Your Luck, Volume 1. - 2/10 -


CHAPTER I

"PIONEERS, O PIONEERS"

If you had stood on the borders of Askatoon, a prairie town, on the pathway to the Rockies one late August day not many years ago, you would have heard a fresh young human voice singing into the morning, as its possessor looked, from a coat she was brushing, out over the "field of the cloth of gold," which your eye has already been invited to see. With the gift of singing for joy at all, you should be able to sing very joyously at twenty-two. This morning singer was just that age; and if you had looked at the golden carpet of wheat stretching for scores of miles, before you looked at her, you would have thought her curiously in tone with the scene. She was a symphony in gold--nothing less. Her hair, her cheeks, her eyes, her skin, her laugh, her voice they were all gold. Everything about her was so demonstratively golden that you might have had a suspicion it was made and not born; as though it was unreal, and the girl herself a proper subject of suspicion. The eyelashes were so long and so black, the eyes were so topaz, the hair was so like such a cloud of gold as would be found on Joan of Are as seen by a mediaeval painter, that an air of faint artificiality surrounded what was in every other way a remarkable effort of nature to give this region, where she was so very busy, a keynote.

Poseurs have said that nature is garish or exaggerated more often than not; but it is a libel. She is aristocratic to the nth degree, and is never over done; courage she has, but no ostentation. There was, however, just a slight touch of over-emphasis in this singing-girl's presentation--that you were bound to say, if you considered her quite apart from her place in this nature-scheme. She was not wholly aristocratic; she was lacking in that high, social refinement which would have made her gold not so golden, her black eyelashes not so black. Being unaristocratic is not always a matter of birth, though it may be a matter of parentage.

Her parentage was honest and respectable and not exalted. Her father had been an engineer, who had lost his life on a new railway of the West. His widow had received a pension from the company insufficient to maintain her, and so she kept boarders, the coat of one of whom her daughter was now brushing as she sang. The widow herself was the origin of the girl's slight disqualification for being of that higher circle of selection which nature arranges long before society makes its judicial decision. The father had been a man of high intelligence, which his daughter to a real degree inherited; but the mother, as kind a soul as ever lived, was a product of southern English rural life--a little sumptuous, but wholesome, and for her daughter's sake at least, keeping herself well and safely within the moral pale in the midst of marked temptations. She was forty-five, and it said a good deal for her ample but proper graces that at forty-five she had numerous admirers. The girl was English in appearance, with a touch perhaps of Spanish--why, who can say? Was it because of those Spanish hidalgoes wrecked on the Irish coast long since? Her mind and her tongue, however, were Irish like her father's. You would have liked her, everybody did,--yet you would have thought that nature had failed in self-confidence for once, she was so pointedly designed to express the ancient dame's colour-scheme, even to the delicate auriferous down on her youthful cheek and the purse-proud look of her faintly retrousse nose; though in fact she never had had a purse and scarcely needed one. In any case she had an ample pocket in her dress.

This fairly full description of her is given not because she is the most important person in the story, but because the end of the story would have been entirely different had it not been for her; and because she herself was one of those who are so much the sport of circumstances or chance that they express the full meaning of the title of this story. As a line beneath the title explains, the tale concerns a matrimonial deserter. Certainly this girl had never deserted matrimony, though she had on more than one occasion avoided it; and there had been men mean and low enough to imagine they might allure her to the conditions of matrimony without its status.

As with her mother the advertisement of her appearance was wholly misleading. A man had once said to her that "she looked too gay to be good," but in all essentials she was as good as she was gay, and indeed rather better. Her mother had not kept boarders for seven years without getting some useful knowledge of the world, or without imparting useful knowledge; and there were men who, having paid their bills on demand, turned from her wiser if not better men. Because they had pursued the old but inglorious profession of hunting tame things, Mrs. Tyndall Tynan had exacted compensation in one way or another--by extras, by occasional and deliberate omission of table luxuries, and by making them pay for their own mending, which she herself only did when her boarders behaved themselves well. She scored in any contest--in spite of her rather small brain, large heart, and ardent appearance. A very clever, shiftless Irish husband had made her develop shrewdness, and she was so busy watching and fending her daughter that she did not need to watch and fend herself to the same extent as she would have done had she been free and childless and thirty. The widow Tynan was practical, and she saw none of those things which made her daughter stand for minutes at a time and look into the distance over the prairie towards the sunset light or the grey- blue foothills. She never sang--she had never sung a note in her life; but this girl of hers, with a man's coat in her hand, and eyes on the joyous scene before her, was for ever humming or singing. She had even sung in the church choir till she declined to do so any longer, because strangers stared at her so; which goes to show that she was not so vain as people of her colouring sometimes are. It was just as bad, however, when she sat in the congregation; for then, too, if she sang, people stared at her. So it was that she seldom went to church at all; but it was not because of this that her ideas of right and wrong were quite individual and not conventional, as the tale of the matrimonial deserter will show.

This was not church, however, and briskly applying a light whisk-broom to the coat, she hummed one of the songs her father taught her when he was in his buoyant or in his sentimental moods, and that was a fair proportion of the time. It used to perplex her the thrilling buoyancy and the creepy melancholy which alternately mastered her father; but as a child she had become so inured to it that she was not surprised at the alternate pensive gaiety and the blazing exhilaration of the particular man whose coat she now dusted long after there remained a speck of dust upon it. This was the song she sang:

"Whereaway, whereaway goes the lad that once was mine? Hereaway I waited him, hereaway and oft; When I sang my song to him, bright his eyes began to shine-- Hereaway I loved him well, for my heart was soft.

"Hereaway my heart was soft; when he kissed my happy eyes, Held my hand, and pressed his cheek warm against my brow, Home I saw upon the earth, heaven stood there in the skies-- 'Whereaway, whereaway goes my lover now?'"

"Whereaway goes my lad--tell me, has he gone alone? Never harsh word did I speak, never hurt I gave; Strong he was and beautiful; like a heron he has flown-- Hereaway, hereaway will I make my grave.

"When once more the lad I loved hereaway, hereaway, Comes to lay his hand in mine, kiss me on the brow, I will whisper down the wind, he will weep to hear me say-- 'Whereaway, whereaway goes my lover now?'"

There was a plaintive quality in the voice of this russet maiden in perfect keeping with the music and the words; and though her lips smiled, there was a deep, wistful look in her eyes more in harmony with the coming autumn than with this gorgeous harvest-time.

For a moment after she had finished singing she stood motionless, absorbed by the far horizon; then suddenly she gave a little shake of the body and said in a brisk, playfully chiding way:

"Kitty Tynan, Kitty Tynan, what a girl you are!" There was no one near, so far as eye could see, so it was clear that the words were addressed to herself. She was expressing that wonder which so many people feel at discovering in themselves long-concealed characteristics, or find themselves doing things out of their natural orbit, as they think. If any one had told Kitty Tynan that she had rare imagination, she would have wondered what was meant. If anyone had said to her, "What are you dreaming about, Kitty?" she would have understood, however, for she had had fits of dreaming ever since she was a child, and they had increased during the past few years--since the man came to live with them whose coat she was brushing. Perhaps this was only imitation, because the man had a habit of standing or sitting still and looking into space for minutes--and on Sundays for hours--at a time; and often she had watched him as he lay on his back in the long grass, head on a hillock, hat down over his eyes, while the smoke from his pipe came curling up from beneath the rim. Also she had seen him more than once sitting with a letter before him and gazing at it for many minutes together. She had also noted that it was the same letter on each occasion; that it was a closed letter, and also that it was unstamped. She knew that, because she had seen it in his desk--the desk once belonging to her father, a sloping thing with a green-baize top. Sometimes he kept it locked, but very often he did not; and more than once, when he had asked her to get him something from the desk, not out of meanness, but chiefly because her moral standard had not a multitude of delicate punctilios, she had examined the envelope curiously. The envelope bore a woman's handwriting, and the name on it was not that of the man who owned the coat--and the letter. The name on the envelope was Shiel Crozier, but the name of the man who owned the coat was J. G. Kerry--James Gathorne Kerry, so he said.

Kitty Tynan had certainly enough imagination to make her cherish a mystery. She wondered greatly what it all meant. Never in anything else had she been inquisitive or prying where the man was concerned; but she felt that this letter had the heart of a story, and she had made up fifty stories which she thought would fit the case of J. G. Kerry, who for over four years had lived in her mother's house. He had become part of her life, perhaps just because he was a man,--and what home is a real home without a man?--perhaps because he always had a kind, quiet, confidential word for her, or a word of stimulating cheerfulness; indeed, he showed in his manner occasionally almost a boisterous hilarity. He undoubtedly was what her mother called "a queer dick," but also "a pippin with a perfect core," which was her way of saying that he was a man to be trusted with herself and with her daughter; one who would stand loyally by a friend or a woman. He had stood by them both when Augustus Burlingame, the lawyer, who had boarded with them when J. G. Kerry first came, coarsely exceeded the bounds of liberal friendliness which marked the household, and by furtive attempts at intimacy began to make life impossible for both mother and daughter. Burlingame took it into his head, when he received notice that his rooms were needed for another boarder, that J. G. Kerry was the cause of it. Perhaps this was not without reason, since Kerry had seen Kitty Tynan angrily unclasping Burlingame's arm from around her waist, and had used cutting and decisive words to the sensualist afterwards.

There had taken the place of Augustus Burlingame a land-agent--Jesse Bulrush--who came and went like a catapult, now in domicile for three days together, now gone for three weeks; a voluble, gaseous, humorous fellow, who covered up a well of commercial evasiveness, honesty and


You Never Know Your Luck, Volume 1. - 2/10

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