The Girl from Keller’s

Contents:
Author: Harold Bindloss

Chapter XIV Sadie Finds a Friend

The sun shone hot on the rippling grass, but it was cool on the shady veranda where Helen sat in a basket chair. A newspaper lay close by and the loose leaves fluttered now and then, but she did not notice that it was in some danger of blowing away. She had been occupied since early morning, but was not quite asleep, for she was vaguely conscious of a rhythmic drumming. By and by she raised her head with a jerk and glanced at the watch on her wrist. It was three o’clock and she had been dozing for an hour. Then the drumming fixed her attention and she saw a rig lurch along the uneven trail. The horses were trotting fast and there were two people in the light wagon.

Helen saw that one was Charnock. The other, who held the reins, was, no doubt, his wife, and Helen was sorry that Festing was at work beyond the rise. She would have liked him to be there when she received her visitors, but did not think it prudent to send for him. The rig was near the house now, and as she got up her dress moved the newspaper, which was caught by a draught and blew down the stairs and across the grass. It flapped in the fresh wind and fell near the horses’ feet.

This was too much for the range-bred animals to stand, and they reared and plunged, and then began to back away from the fluttering white object. Charnock jumped out and ran towards their heads, but Sadie raised her whip with a gesture of command.

"Don’t butt in, Bob; I’m going to take them past."

Charnock stood back obediently, though his alert pose hinted that he was ready to run forward if he were needed, and Helen studied his companion.

Sadie, dressed in black and white, with a black feather in her white hat, was braced back on the driving seat, with one hand on the reins while she used the whip. There was a patch of bright color in her face, her eyes flashed, and the rigidity of her figure gave her an air of savage resolution. She looked a handsome virago as she battled with the powerful horses, which plunged and kicked while the wagon rocked among the ruts. Helen watched the struggle with somewhat mixed feelings. This was the girl for whom Bob had given her up!

After an exciting minute or two Sadie forced the horses to pass the fluttering paper, and then pulled them up.

"Where’s Stephen?" she asked.

Helen said he was harrowing on the other side of the rise, and Sadie, getting down, signed to Charnock.

"Put the team in the stable, and then go and look for Festing. Don’t come back too soon."

Then she came towards the house and Helen felt half-annoyed and halfamused. Stephen did not like to be disturbed when he was busy, and she knew what he thought of Bob. Moreover, she wondered with some curiosity what Mrs. Charnock had to say to her. Sadie sat down and waited until she recovered breath.

"You know who I am," she remarked presently. "Bob can drive all right, but he’s too easy with the team. I don’t see why I should get down before I want because the horses are scared by a paper."

"Perhaps it was better to make them go on, but they nearly upset you," Helen agreed with a smile.

Sadie gave her a steady, criticizing glance, but her naïve curiosity softened her rudeness.

"Well, I wanted to see you. Looks as if Bob was a fool, in one way, but I guess I can see him through what he’s up against on the prairie better than you."

Helen had been prejudiced against Mrs. Charnock, but her blunt sincerity was disarming. Besides, she had expected something different; a hint of defiance, or suspicious antagonism.

"It’s very possible," she said. "Everything is strange here. I feel rather lost sometimes and have much to learn."

Sadie studied her closely, and after pondering for a few moments resumed: "When I was driving over I didn’t know how I was going to take you; in fact, I’ve been bothering about it for some time. I thought you might be dangerous."

"You thought I might be dangerous!" Helen exclaimed with rising color. "Surely you understand—"

"Now you wait a bit and let me finish! Well, I might have come now and then, found out what I could, and given you a hint or two, until we saw how things were going to be. But that’s not my way, and I reckon it’s not yours. Very well. We have got to have a talk and put the thing over. To begin with, I somehow feel I can trust you, and needn’t be disturbed."

"Then I’m afraid you are rash," Helen rejoined with a resentment that was softened by a touch of humor. "You can’t form a reliable opinion, because you don’t know me."

"That’s so, but I know Bob."

Helen laughed. She ought to be angry, for Mrs. Charnock was taking an extraordinary line. But perhaps it was the best line, because it would clear the ground. She said nothing and Sadie went on:

"How do you like it here?"

"Very much. I like the open country and the fresh air. Then I think I like the people, and one has so much to do that there is not time to feel moody. It’s bracing to find every minute occupied by something useful."

"If you feel that way about it, you’ll make good. And you’ve got a fine man for your husband. When Festing first came to the bridge I didn’t know if I’d take him or Bob. In fact, I thought about it for quite a time."

Helen’s eyes sparkled. Mrs. Charnock was going too far, but she controlled her resentment.

"After all, were you not taking something for granted?"

"Well," said Sadie thoughtfully, "if I’d tried hard, I might have got Steve then, but I don’t know if I’d have been any happier with him. He’d have gone his own way and taken me along; a good way, perhaps, but it wouldn’t have been mine. Bob’s different; sometimes he has to be hustled and sometimes led, but you get fond of a man you must take care of. Then everybody likes Bob, and he kind of grows on you. I don’t know how it is, but you can’t get mad with him."

Helen thought there was something humiliating to Bob in his wife’s patience, but she was moved. Mrs. Charnock loved her husband, though she knew his faults. Then Sadie resumed in a harder voice:

"Anyhow, he’s mine and I know how to keep what belongs to me."

"I imagine you will keep him. I have no wish to take him away."

"Well, that’s why I came. I wanted to see you, and now I’m satisfied. Bob needs a friend like your husband and he puts Steve pretty high. If you can see your way to let us drive over now and then evenings----"

Helen pondered this. Stephen might object, but he was not unreasonable, and his society would certainly be good for Bob. She was not altogether pleased by the thought of the Charnocks’ visits, but Sadie’s resolve to help her husband had touched her. Then there was something flattering in the hint that she and Stephen could take a part in his reformation.

"Very well," she said. "I hope you will come when you like. It will do Stephen no harm to get a rest instead of hurrying back to work after supper."

Sadie looked grateful. "We’ll certainly come. I’ve talked to you as I’d have talked to nobody else, but you know Bob most as well as I do. But perhaps there’s enough said. Won’t you show me the house?"

Helen realized that she had made an alliance with Mrs. Charnock for Bob’s protection, and was conscious of a virtuous thrill. The work she had undertaken was good, but she remembered with faint uneasiness that she had pledged her husband to it without his consent. She showed Sadie the house, and while there was much the latter admired, she made, from her larger knowledge of the plains, a number of suggestions that Helen thought useful. By and by Bob returned with Festing for supper, and stopped for another hour. When he and Sadie had gone Festing frowned as he glanced at his watch.

"It’s too late to finish the job I wanted to do tonight," he said, and indicated the dark figures of a man and horses silhouetted against the sunset on the crest of the rise. "There’s Jules coming home. He couldn’t get on without me."

Helen pretended not to notice his annoyance. "After all, you’re not often disturbed, and a little relaxation is good. I’ve no doubt you had an amusing talk with Bob."

"Bob bored me badly, though we didn’t talk much. I was driving the disc-harrows and he lay in the grass. I had to stop for a few minutes every time I reached the turning and listen to his remarks."

"And you feel you deserve some sympathy?" Helen said with a laugh. "Well, I suppose it was an infliction to be forced to talk."

Festing’s annoyance vanished. "I mustn’t make too much of it. I really don’t object to talking when I’ve finished my work."

"When do you finish your work, Stephen?"

"That’s a fair shot! In summer, I stop when it’s too dark to see. The annoying thing wasn’t so much the stopping as Bob’s attitude. He lay there with his pipe, looking as if nothing would persuade him to work, and his smile hinted that he thought delaying me an excellent joke. I believe I was polite, but certainly hope he won’t come back."

Helen thought it was not the proper time to tell him about the invitation she had given Sadie, and she said, "Idleness seems to jar you."

"It does. I dislike the man who demands the best to eat and drink and won’t use his brain or muscle if he can help. In this country, the thing’s immoral; the fellow’s obviously a cheat. We live by our labor, raising grain and cattle—"

"But what about the people in the towns?"

"A number of them handle our products and supply us with tools. Of course, there are speculators and real-estate boomsters who gamble with our earnings, but their job is not as easy as it looks. They run big risks and bear some strain. Still, if it was left to me, I’d make them plow."

Helen laughed. "You’re rather drastic, Stephen; but if one takes the long view, I dare say you are right."

"Then let’s take the narrowest view we can. When a farmer who hasn’t much money loafs about the poolroom and lies on his back, smoking, it’s plain that he’s taking advantage of somebody else. Perhaps the thing’s shabbiest when he puts his responsibilities on his wife. That’s what Bob does."

"I’m afraid he does," Helen admitted, and mused, while Festing lighted his pipe.

Stephen was not a prig and she recognized the justice of his arguments, but he was rather hard and his views were too clear-cut. He saw that a thing was good or bad, but could not see that faults and virtues sometimes merged and there was good in one and bad in the other.

"Well," she said, "I like Mrs. Charnock, and she is certainly energetic and practical. She went over the house and suggested some improvements. For example, you are building a windmill pump for the cattle, and it wouldn’t cost very much to bring a pipe to the house. A tap is a great convenience and would save Jules’ time filling up the tank."

"It will need a long pipe and cost more than Sadie thinks, but I’ll have it done. However, I wish I had thought of it and she hadn’t made the suggestion. I don’t want Sadie interfering with our house."

"But you don’t dislike Mrs. Charnock."

"Not in a way; but I don’t know that I want to see her here. Sadie has a number of good points, but she’s rather fond of managing other folks’ affairs. Then she’s not your kind."

On the whole, Helen was not displeased. Mrs. Charnock’s bold statements that she could have got Stephen if she had wanted had jarred, but it looked as if she had made an empty boast.

"I thought you were a democrat," she remarked, smiling.

"So I am, in general; but when it’s a matter of choosing my wife’s friends, I’m an exclusive aristocrat. That’s the worst of having theories; they don’t apply all round."

Helen thought his utilitarian dislike of idleness was open to this objection, but it was not the time to urge Bob’s cause. She would wait for another opportunity, when Stephen had not been delayed, and she made him a humorous curtsey.

"Sometimes you’re rather bearish, and sometimes you’re very nice," she said, and went into the house.

The Charnocks returned a week later and came again at regular intervals, while Helen rode over to their house now and then. Festing refused to accompany her and sometimes grumbled, but on the whole tolerated Charnock’s visits so long as they did not delay his work. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with that, for he was uneasily conscious that he had set himself too big a task. His dislike to using his wife’s money had spurred him on, and he had sown a very large crop at a heavy expense for labor, horses, and machines. Now he must spare no effort to get his money back, and much depended on the weather. Indeed, he was beginning to feel the strain of the unrelaxing exertion and care about details, and this sometimes reacted upon his temper. Still he must hold out until the crop was reaped, after which he could go easy during the winter months.

One hot afternoon, he lay under a mower in a sloo where the melted snow had run in spring and the wild grass now grew tall. It made good hay and the fierce sun had dried it well, so that he had only to cut and haul it home; but something had gone wrong with the machine, and after taking out the broken knife he dismantled the driving gear. When he crawled out, with a greasy cogwheel in his hand, he was soaked with perspiration and his overalls were stained by oil. The mosquitoes, that did not as a rule venture out in the strong wind and sun, had bitten him badly while he lay in the grass.

"You had better wait for ten minutes and take a smoke," said Charnock, who had come up quietly and sat in the shade of the partly-loaded wagon. "You’ll get on faster when you have cooled down."

"You believe in waiting, don’t you?" Festing rejoined.

Charnock laughed. "I feel justified in going slow just now. Sadie has given me a day off, and when she doesn’t think I ought to work it certainly isn’t necessary. It saves you some bother if you can leave that sort of thing to your wife."

"Pshaw!" said Festing. "You make me tired."

He picked up the broken knife and looked at Charnock. Bob was bantering him, exaggerating his slackness. As a matter of fact, the fellow was not so lazy as he pretended; Sadie was beginning to wake him up. Stephen did not know if he had forgiven him or not, but they had gradually dropped back into something like their old relations.

"You might take off the broken blades," he resumed. "You’ll find new ones in the box. They ought to be riveted, but if you use the short bolts and file down the nuts, I dare say they’ll run through the guides."

Then he crawled back under the machine and did not come out until he head a rattle of wheels. Wilkinson, whom he knew and disliked, stopped his team close by and began to talk to Charnock. This annoyed Festing, because he was nearly ready to replace the knife.

"I called at your place and found you were out," Wilkinson remarked. "They told me where you had gone, and when I saw Festing’s wagon I reckoned you might have gone with him. You come here pretty often, don’t you?"

"Steve’s patient," Charnock replied with a twinkle. "I’m not sure he enjoys my visits, but he puts up with them."

"Well, I want you to drive over to-morrow evening. A man you know from Winnipeg is coming to see me about a deal in Brandon building lots. The thing looks good and ought to turn out a snap."

"The trouble is I haven’t much money to invest," Charnock answered, and Festing thought he was hesitating. It looked as if Wilkinson had not seen him yet, for he was standing behind the machine.

"I understand you have a bigger interest in the farm than you had in the hotel and something might be arranged. Anyhow, come over and hear what our friend has to say."

"You’ll be a fool if you go, Bob," Festing interposed.

"I don’t know that this is your business," Wilkinson rejoined. "I haven’t suggested that you should join us."

"You know I wouldn’t join you. I had one deal with you, and that’s enough. No doubt you remember selling me the brown horse."

"You tried the horse before you bought him."

"I did. He was quiet then, but I’ve since suspected that he was doped. Anyhow, he nearly killed my hired man."

Wilkinson laughed. "You had your trial and backed your judgment. Know more about machines than horses, don’t you?"

"I didn’t know the man I dealt with then. You warranted the brute good-tempered and easy to drive. I’ll give you five dollars if you’ll take him out of the stable and harness him now."

"I haven’t time," said Wilkinson. "Didn’t charge you high and guess you’ve got to pay for learning your business. The trouble is you’re too sure about yourself and reckoned you’d make a splash at farming without much trouble. Anyhow, I don’t want to sell Charnock a horse; he’s a better judge than you."

"He’s not much judge of building lots. If your friend has got a safe snap, why do you want to let Charnock in?"

Wilkinson began to look impatient. "I came over to talk to Charnock, and if he likes the deal it’s not your affair."

"It is my affair if you stop him when he’s helping me," Festing rejoined. "If he’s a fool, he’ll talk to you some other time; if he’s wise, he won’t. Just now I’d sooner you drove off my farm."

Wilkinson gave him a curious look. "Very well. I reckon the place is yours; or your wife’s." Then he turned to Charnock. "Are you coming over, Bob?"

"No," said Charnock, irresolutely, "I don’t think I will."

He lighted his pipe when Wilkinson started his team, and presently remarked: "On the whole, I’m glad you headed him off, because I might have gone. You mean well, Stephen, but that man doesn’t like you, and I’ve sometimes thought he doesn’t like Sadie."

"It doesn’t matter if he likes me or not," said Festing. "Let’s get on with the mower.

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Chicago: Harold Bindloss, "Chapter XIV Sadie Finds a Friend," The Girl from Keller’s, trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Girl from Keller’s Original Sources, accessed August 11, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4AV6YZ7W7H4N7X7.

MLA: Bindloss, Harold. "Chapter XIV Sadie Finds a Friend." The Girl from Keller’s, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in The Girl from Keller’s, Original Sources. 11 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4AV6YZ7W7H4N7X7.

Harvard: Bindloss, H, 'Chapter XIV Sadie Finds a Friend' in The Girl from Keller’s, trans. . cited in , The Girl from Keller’s. Original Sources, retrieved 11 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4AV6YZ7W7H4N7X7.