The Girl from Keller’s

Author: Harold Bindloss

Chapter XVIII Helen Makes a Mistake

When Festing had changed his clothes he entered the small sitting-room with an effort at cheerfulness. The room was unusually comfortable for a prairie homestead. The floor was stained, rugs were spread on the polished boards, and Helen had drawn the curtains, which harmonized in color with the big easy chairs. There were books in well-made cases, and two or three good pictures on the painted walls, while a tall brass lamp with a deep shade threw down a soft light. Helen had put a meal on the table, and Festing sat down with a feeling that was half uneasiness and half content.

While he ate he glanced at his wife. She wore a pretty and rather fashionable dress that she kept for evenings. She looked fresh and vigorous, although the summer had been hot and she worked hard; the numerous petty difficulties she had to contend with had left no mark. Her courage had always been evident, but she had shown a resolution that Festing had not quite expected. He admired it, in a way, but it was sometimes awkward when they took a different point of view.

There was a charm in coming back to a home like this when he was tired and disappointed, but its taste and comfort were now disturbing. For one thing, he had perhaps not made the best use of his privileges, and, for another, Helen might have to be satisfied with a simpler mode of life. It hurt him to think of this, because he had hoped to beautify the house still further, so that she should miss nothing she had been used to in the Old Country. It was obvious that she understood something of his misfortune, for her look was sympathetic; but she let him finish his supper before she began to talk.

"Your jacket is badly torn, Stephen," she remarked when he lighted his pipe. "And how did you cut your face?"

"The hail was pretty fierce."

"It was terrible. We never had storms like that in England. I was frightened when I thought of your being out on the prairie. But I don’t mean the small bruises. How did you cut your forehead?"

"Oh, that!" said Festing awkwardly. "I did it when I fell over a stove at the settlement. The pipe came down and I imagine the edge struck me."

"You would have known if it hit you nor not."

"Well, it might have been the top of the stove. The molding was sharp."

"But how did you fall against the stove?" Helen persisted.

Festing did not want to tell her about the fight with Wilkinson. He had resolved to say nothing about the matter until morning.

"I tripped. There was a chair in the way and it caught my foot."

Helen did not look altogether satisfied, but let the matter go.

"Has the hail done much damage to the wheat?"

"Yes," said Festing, with grim quietness. "I imagine it has done all the damage that was possible. So far as I could see, the crop’s wiped out."

They were sitting near together, and Helen, leaning forward, put her hand on his arm with a gesture of sympathy.

"Poor Stephen! I’m dreadfully sorry. It must have been a blow."

Festing’s hard look softened. "It was. When I stopped beside the wreck I felt knocked out, but getting home braced me up. I begin to feel I might have had a worse misfortune and mustn’t exaggerate the importance of the loss."

Helen was silent for a few minutes, but she was sensible of a certain relief. She was sorry for her husband, but there was some compensation, since it looked as if a ray of light had dawned on him. Although she had struggled against the feeling, she was jealous of the farm that had kept him away from her.

"I think you sowed too large a crop, and you could not have gone on working as you have done," she said. "It would have worn you out."

Festing put down his pipe and looked at her with surprise. "You don’t seem to understand that I’ll have to work harder than before."

"I don’t understand," said Helen, taking away her hand. "To begin with, it’s impossible; then I’d hoped the loss of money, serious as it is, would have made you cautious and, in a sense, more content."

"You hoped the loss of the money—!" Festing exclaimed. "Did you ever know losing money make anybody content? The thing’s absurd!"

Helen made a gesture of protest. "Stephen, dear, try to see what I mean. You have been doing too much, running too big risks, and fixing all your thought upon the farm. It has made you irritable and impatient, and the strain is telling on your health. This could not go on long, and although I’m truly sorry the wheat is spoiled, it’s some relief to know you will be forced to be less ambitious. Besides, it’s foolish to be disturbed. Neither of us is greedy, and we have enough. In fact, we have much that I hardly think you value as you ought."

"I haven’t enough; that’s the trouble."

"Oh," said Helen, "you know that all I have belongs to both."

"It doesn’t," Festing answered in a stubborn tone. "You don’t seem to realize yet that I can’t change my views about this matter. I’ve lost most of my money, but that’s no reason I should lose my wife’s. Besides, since you bought the farm, you haven’t a large sum left." He paused and indicated the handsome rugs and furniture. "Then it costs a good deal to live up to this kind of thing."

"We can change that; I can manage with less help and be more economical. There is much that we can go without. I wouldn’t mind at all, Stephen, if it would help you to take things easily."

Festing colored. "No. I can’t let you suffer for my rashness. It’s my business to give you all the comforts you need."

"Ah," said Helen, "I like you to think of me. But something’s due to pride. I wonder how much?"

"I don’t know," said Festing, rather wearily. "I’m what I am and haven’t much time to improve myself. For that matter, I’ll have less time now."

"Then what do you mean to do?"

"Make the most of what I have left. I’d hoped to give you a change this winter—take you to Montreal and go skating and tobogganing, but that’s done with. I believe I have money enough to begin again in a small way and work up. It may take me two or three years to get back to where I was, but somehow I will get back."

"Then you are going on as before; concentrating all your mind upon the farm, taking no rest, denying yourself every pleasure you might have had?"

"I’m afraid that’s the only way. It’s a pretty grim outlook, but I think I can stand the strain."

"Then I suppose I must try," said Helen, very quietly.

She was silent afterwards, and Festing lit his pipe. Something stood between them, and she felt that it was not less dangerous because their motives were good. Had they differed from selfishness, agreement might have been easier, but an estrangement that sprang from principle was hard to overcome. She wanted to help her husband and keep him to herself; he meant to save her hardship and carry out a task that was properly his. But perhaps their motives were not so fine as they looked. Suppose there was shabby jealousy on her side, and false pride on his? Well, Stephen was tired and could not see things in the proper light, and it was some relief when he got up and went out. Helen picked up a book, in the hope of banishing her uneasy thoughts.

Next morning Festing came in for breakfast, feeling gloomy and preoccupied. He had not slept much and got up early to examine the damaged grain. It looked worse than he had thought and, for the most part, must be burned off the ground. There were patches that might, with difficulty, be cut, but he hardly imagined the stooks would pay for thrashing. Moreover, he had bought and fed a number of expensive Percheron horses, which ought to have been used for harvesting and hauling the grain to the railroad, and had engaged men at lower wages than usual, on the understanding that he kept them through the winter. Now there was nothing for both to do, although their maintenance would cost as much as before.

He read Kerr’s letter again. If he had not been married, it would have given him a chance of overcoming his difficulties. A man and a team of horses could do all that was required on the farm in winter, and he could have taken the others to British Columbia. Kerr would arrange for free transport, and, if he was lucky, he might earn enough on the railroad to cover part of his loss. But this was impossible. He could not leave Helen.

Then there was the other matter. He had not yet told her what Wilkinson had said, but she must be told, and Bob’s visits must stop. The trouble was that he had already vexed her by refusing her help, and this would not make his delicate task easier. Besides, he was not in the mood to use much tact. His nerves were raw; the shock he had got had left him savage and physically tired. For all that, the thing could not be put off.

He said nothing until breakfast was over, and then, asking Helen to come with him, went on to the veranda. The sun was hot, the sky clear, and thin steam drifted across the drenched plain. Had the storm come without the hail a few weeks sooner, it would have saved his crop; but now the vivifying moisture seemed to mock him. It had come too late; the wheat had gone. Struggling with a feeling of depression, he turned to his wife.

"There’s something we must talk about; and I hope you’ll be patient with me if you get a jar."

He leaned against the balustrade, nervously fingering his pipe, and Helen sat down opposite. She felt curious and disturbed.

"Well?" she said.

"To begin with, I’ll tell you what happened at the settlement yesterday. You must remember that the statements are Wilkinson’s."

Helen’s color rose, and when he stopped her face was flushed and her eyes were very bright.

"Ah," she said in a strained voice. "But what did you do?"

Festing smiled rather grimly. "I dragged the brute about the floor and threw him into the street. I don’t know that it was a logical denial of the slander, but it was what the others expected and I had to indulge them."

"And that was how you cut your forehead?"

"Yes," said Festing, and for a few moments Helen tried to regulate her thoughts.

She felt shocked and disgusted, but did not mean to let her anger master her, because there were matters that must be carefully weighed. Indeed, it was something of a relief to dwell upon the first. To hear of Festing’s thrashing her traducer had given her a pleasant thrill, but all the same she vaguely disapproved. He had not taken a dignified line and had really made things worse. It was humiliating to feel that she had been the subject of a vulgar poolroom brawl.

"Could you not have found a better way to silence him?" she asked.

"I could not. I was afraid you wouldn’t like it, but you must try to understand that I was forced to play up to local sentiment. English notions of what is becoming don’t hold good here; you can’t stop a man like Wilkinson with a supercilious look. If I’d let the thing go, the boys would have thought his statements true, and the tale is bad enough to deal with."

Helen gave him a steady look, but her color was high and her face was hard.

"But you know it isn’t true!"

"Of course," said Festing, with quiet scorn. "All that the brute insinuated is absolutely false. Bob’s a fool, but he knows you, and I’m beginning to think he’s a little in love with his wife."

"Ah," said Helen, "I knew you knew. But I felt I must hear you say so."

Festing hesitated. One difficulty had vanished, but there was another, and he hoped Helen would see his point of view.

"For all that, in a way, there was some truth in the story; enough, in fact, to make it dangerous, and I think you have been rash. Bob has been here too often, and you will remember I objected to his coming."

"You did," said Helen. "You were rather disagreeable about it; but you objected because he liked to talk and kept you from your work."

"He certainly talked. General conversation is all right in English country houses where nobody had much to do, but casual chatterers who insist on talking when you’re busy are a disgusting nuisance in Canada. However, I don’t think that’s worth arguing about."

"It is not," said Helen, with a smile. "Besides, I know your opinions about that point. What do you wish me to do?"

"Warn Sadie to keep Bob at home. There’s no reason she shouldn’t visit you, but you can’t go there."

The color returned to Helen’s face and she got up. She looked stately with her air of injured pride.

"Do you mean that I should rule my conduct to suit the ideas of the drunken loafers at the settlement poolroom?"

"Oh!" said Festing impatiently, "try to be sensible! You have done a foolish thing, but you needn’t make it worse. The trouble is that those loafers’ opinions will be reflected all round the neighborhood. Wilkinson won’t say anything more; at least, he won’t when I’m about; but I can’t keep on throwing out people who agree with him."

"That is plain. If you were not so angry, the remark would be humorous."

"I’m not angry," Festing rejoined.

"Well, I am," said Helen. "And I think I have some grounds. Must I let those tipsy gossips dictate when I may see my friends?"

"Does it matter if you see them or not? You don’t really care for Bob."

"No," said Helen, trying to be calm. "In a way, I don’t care for Bob; that is, I’m glad I didn’t marry him. But I don’t see why I should stop him coming here when Sadie wants to bring him. She’s my friend, and she knows it does Bob good. I’m too angry to flatter you, Stephen, but you have some influence—"

Festing laughed. "All the influence I’ve got won’t go far with Bob. I don’t say the fellow’s vicious, but he’s an extravagant slacker and a fool, which is perhaps as bad. Anyhow, if he can be reformed at all, it’s Sadie’s business, and I’ve no doubt she finds it an arduous job. There’s no use in an outsider meddling, and your anxiety for his improvement might be misunderstood. In fact, it has been seriously misunderstood."

"You seem to have made up your mind about the matter," Helen remarked with a curious look.

"I have. Perhaps the easiest way would be for you to give Sadie a hint."

"Suppose I refuse?"

"Then I shall have to talk to Bob. After all, that might be better."

Helen flushed, but her color faded and her face got white. "You are willing to let this scurrilous gossip influence you as far as that? Do you mean to forbid my friends coming to see me?"

"I won’t have Bob hanging round my house. The wastrel has done you harm enough."

"You forget something," Helen rejoined in a strained, cold voice. "The house is mine."

She knew her mistake as she saw the change in Festing’s look, and weakly turned her head. When she looked back it was too late. His hands were clenched and his gaze was fixed.

"I—I didn’t quite mean that," she faltered.

"Anyhow, it’s true," said Festing quietly. "The farm is yours as well, and I admit you have no grounds for being satisfied with the way I’ve managed your property. You won’t have much trouble in getting a better steward."

Helen glanced at him, with a hint of fear. "But I don’t want anybody else. Do you mean to give up the farm?"

"Yes. As soon as I can arrange things for you I’m going to British Columbia for a time. I’ve been offered a railroad contract, and as it’s a job I know something about, I mayn’t fail at that."

"And you will leave me alone to face this slander?"

"The remedy’s in your hands. I’m powerless if you won’t use it. I can’t forbid Bob coming here; you can."

Helen hesitated. It was unfortunate that both were in an abnormal mood. They had borne some strain, and the shock of the disaster to the crop had left them with jangled nerves. This clouded Helen’s judgment, but reenforced her pride. She had meant well when she tried to help Sadie with Bob, and could not give way to her husband’s unreasonable prejudice. This was a matter of principle. She could help Bob and must not be daunted by vulgar gossip.

"No," she said; "I can’t break my promise to Sadie for the reasons you give. You must do what you think best."

Festing made a sign of acquiescence and went down the steps, while Helen bit her lip. She wanted to call him back, but somehow could not. It might be easier if he would look round, but he went on across the grass and his step was resolute, although his head was bent. Then she got up, and going to her room, sat down trembling. She had let her best chance go; Stephen’s resolve would stiffen, for when he had made a choice he was hard to move. Besides, he had wounded her deeply. He did not seem to understand that if he went away he would give people ground for thinking the slander true. He ought to have seen this if he had thought about her. Perhaps he had seen it and refused to let it influence him. Well, if he wanted a reconciliation, he must make the first offer.

In the meantime, Festing went to look for the foreman, whom he could trust. After some talk, the man agreed to manage the farm for the winter on the terms Festing indicated. Then the latter asked if the other men would go with him to the Pacific Slope, and finding them willing, went back to his office and carefully studied his accounts. He was glad to think that Helen had sufficient help and that the staid Scottish housekeeper would take care of her. By and by he wrote a note and then drove off to the settlement. He did not come back until next morning, but his plans were made and he only waited a telegram from Kerr. Three or four days later the telegram arrived.

"All fixed," it ran. "Pass for transport mailed. Come along soon as possible."


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: The Girl from Keller’s

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: The Girl from Keller’s

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Harold Bindloss, "Chapter XVIII Helen Makes a Mistake," The Girl from Keller’s, trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Girl from Keller’s Original Sources, accessed March 27, 2023,

MLA: Bindloss, Harold. "Chapter XVIII Helen Makes a Mistake." The Girl from Keller’s, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in The Girl from Keller’s, Original Sources. 27 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Bindloss, H, 'Chapter XVIII Helen Makes a Mistake' in The Girl from Keller’s, trans. . cited in , The Girl from Keller’s. Original Sources, retrieved 27 March 2023, from