The Times' Red Cross Story Book/The Miracle

For works with similar titles, see The Miracle.

The Miracle

A Tale of the Canadian Prairie

By Ralph Stock

Artists' Rifles

The old man slowly shook his head and looked out through the ranch-house window to where the sea of yellow grass merged into the purple haze of the horizon.

"I'm sorry, Dode," he said in his gruff drawl, "blamed sorry."

The young man stood before him choking back words he longed to utter and twisting his hat out of recognition in the effort. Words! Of what use had they ever been with Joe Gilchrist? All his life he had used as few as possible himself and shown little patience with those who did otherwise—why should it be different now?

"Blamed sorry," the colourless voice repeated. "I had no notion things were going this way or I'd have put 'em straight right away. It'll hurt all the more now, I guess, but I can't help it, Dode—you're not the man, that's all."

"Why?" The other's voice carried resentment. "What's the matter with me, anyway?"

The grizzled head turned slowly, the keen, deep-set eyes, surrounded by a tracery of minute wrinkles from looking into, long distances, rested on the young man's troubled face in a level, emotionless scrutiny.

"Nothing," said Joe Gilchrist. "As a man—nothing, or you wouldn't have been my foreman the last ten years; but as a husband for Joyce——" He smiled faintly and shook his head.

At that moment Dode Sinclair could have killed this man whose life he had saved more than once. He knew the iron resolve behind that smile and shake of the head.

"I'm the man she chose," he jerked out.

"At seventeen," was the quiet rejoinder.

"She's a woman."

Joe Gilchrist tilted his head to one side and scratched his cheek. It was a habit of his when anything puzzled him.

"She chose you, did she? Who's she had to choose from?"

Dode Sinclair opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, and fell to twisting his hat with renewed vigour.

"Well," he began awkwardly, there was Dave Willet and that dude school-master on Battle Creek and——"

"And you want to tell me Dave Willet and a dude schoolmaster on Battle Creek's a fair show for a girl?" The old man paused. "You can't, Dode—not me."

Dode looked down at a pair of work-worn riding-boots, then up into the other's face.

"What's the matter with Dave Willet?" he demanded hotly, "or a dozen others who'd give their ears for her? I know we're not fit to lick her boots; what man would be? but we're as good as most round these parts."

"Ah, these parts," muttered the old man, "these parts. But they ain't the world, Dode. You've got to get that into your head, though maybe it'll be a job."

"They're good enough for me."

"And me, and the rest of us; but they're not good enough for my daughter."

"She doesn't say that."

"No, because she's never seen anything else——" Joe Gilchrist broke off with a gesture of uneasiness. "Shut that door; I want to ask you something."

The young man obeyed mechanically, and when he turned, the other was leaning forward in the pine pole-rocker, whittling flakes from a plug of tobacco.

"I want to ask you what you think I've been doing the last fifteen years," he drawled. "You ought to know, but if you don't, I'll put you wise. I've been tryin' to make money out of breeding horses. It ain't daisy-pickin', but after hopin' a bit, despairin' a bit, and workin' a bit, I've made it—there it is on four legs in a pretty middlin' bunch of horses, and what's it for? Me? You know my wants, Dode Sinclair. No, it's for Joyce. Joyce's got to have her chance."

He stopped abruptly, with an indrawing of his thin lips that the other knew well, and commenced to rub the tobacco between his horny palms.

Dode Sinclair still stared at his boots.

"You're going to take her East," he muttered. "You're going back on the prairie."

Joe Gilchrist rose slowly from his chair and pointed through the window with the stem of his pipe.

"You see Tin Kettle buttie," he said evenly, "there to the east of Hungerford Lake: when they read my will they'll find they've got to pack me up there someway—in the democrat, I guess—but that's where I'm goin' to be, and I'm tellin' you now so's you'll remember when you feel like sayin' I've gone back on the prairie. But—Joyce's got to have her chance."

He stood looking out of the window for a space, then turned with the air of one disposing of an unpleasant topic.

"You can round up. The boy'll be here any day after a week. I'm sellin' half the bunch. You're to run the place when—we go."

Dode Sinclair turned on his heel. At the door he hesitated, then looked back at the thin bent figure by the window.

"Maybe the prairie won't let you," he said.

When he had gone Joe Gilchrist stood motionless, staring at the door.

"What the dickens does he mean by that?" he growled, and frowned as he lit his pipe.

Joyce Gilchrist was perched on the corral-poles when Dode came out to her.

"He won't listen to me," he said, tracing dejected patterns in the dust with his spur. "Says you've got to have your chance."

"Chance?—what chance?" Joyce looked down at him wonderingly.

"Chance of getting a better man than me."

The girl was at his side in a flash, looking into his face with anxious interrogation.

"Dode, Dode, what do you mean?—what does he mean?"

"He means he's going to take you away, Joyce—East, where the guys come from. He's been working for that the last fifteen years—and, God help me!—so have I, without knowin' it. The horses is a pretty considerable bunch now, and——"

"But I won't go," flashed the girl; "I won't go, Dode." Her hand was on his arm. "I'll talk him over."

"You'll never do that," said Dode. "Never. I know Joe better'n you, though he is your dad. He's got that queer set look;—besides, he's right."


"Yes, he always is. You've made good—you ought to go East and live swell. This is no country for a woman."

"You say that?"

"He says it, and he's always right."

"But you don't say it—you don't say it, Dode!"

Her hands were on his shoulders now, he could feel her warm breath on his face.

"My God!" he burst out, "you know I love every inch and atom of you." His hands were trembling at his sides. "You know that I'd do anything—anything—but we can't go against him. Someway I couldn't do it—I'd feel I'd stolen you—that I wasn't giving you what was your due. He's right; he's always right."

The girl stamped a small work-worn riding-boot in the dust. "I wish—I wish all the horses were dead! I wish we had to start all over again. I won't go, so there! I'll talk to him; he'll say yes; you see——"

She left him and hurried towards the house, a slim figure of health and lightness in a short, dun-coloured riding-skirt and dilapidated soft felt hat.

Dode Sinclair watched her go.

"Nothing short of a miracle will make him say that," he mused.

And he was right.

For the next week the grass flats below the Gilchrist ranch echoed with the thunder of galloping hoofs and the shrill whinnying of mare and foal. From every point of the compass horses flowed into the valley, with distended nostrils and untrimmed manes and tails streaming in the wind. Some had never yet seen a house, and at sight of the low line of pine-log stables and corrals turned tail and fled in terror, until overtaken and headed back by tireless riders on steaming mounts.

On the final day Joyce Gilchrist helped her father to mount the old piebald cayune that he loved, and rode down with him to inspect the herd. Dode Sinclair saw them coming and turned swiftly on his companion, a lean wire of a man in the unpretentious, workmanlike uniform of the North-West Mounted Police.

"Here they come," he said in a voice harsh with apprehension. "If you don't want to see an old man drop dead—an old man that's done more for you fellers than any one on the range—take your men and horses into that stable."

The policeman followed his glance and saw two black dots moving slowly down the trail.

"He's got to know," he said sternly.

"Yes, he's got to know—ain't that enough? Curse it, man, can't you see there's ways of doin' these things? Sudden like that—it'd break him up."

"Joe Gilchrist knows how to take his medicine."

"No man better; but I know him, I tell you—the horses are his life. There's time enough for him to know."

"Three days," replied the policeman shortly. "The regulations allow three days for glanders. He's bound to know then—why not now?"

Dode Sinclair laid his hands on the other's shoulders and looked into his stern-set face.

"Because I'm asking you, Jim," he said. "Maybe your memory's short; maybe you forget the early days now you're a corporal. Try back a bit—try back to the spring of 1900, when the chinook came and thawed out the Warlodge mushy a bit previous, and you thought it'd bear and it didn't; and the elegant fix I found you in——"

"You don't need to tell me, Dode," said the other, looking away up the trail. But you know what Fenton's like, and——" Suddenly he threw back his head. "Well!—open the door, then!"

Joe Gilchrist rode slowly through the herd. Some of the brood mares he knew by name—had known them for fifteen years.

See that pot-bellied grey with the roan foal?" he said to Dode. "Got her for fifteen dollars off the Indians at Red Deer. We've had her fifteen years, and she's had twelve foals. Seems to me she's about done now, though. Got that peaked look."

"Hasn't lost her winter coat yet," Dode answered shortly, and moved on towards the edge of the herd. "Ragged, that's all."

Pretty middlin' bunch," mused the old man. He had never been known to say more about his horses. "Pretty middlin'."

"Sure," said Dode, and watched the pinto ambling up the trail. Then he dismounted and opened the stable door.

"I'm leaving two men," said the policeman. "You can corral them to-night, and the vet'll be along to-morrow."

Dode leant against the stable and watched him mount.

"How many d'you think——" he began.

"The vet'll be along to-morrow," the other repeated shortly, and set spurs to his horse.

The next day and the next the grass-flat corrals creaked and strained and rattled while an endless procession of horses fought and worked its way along the narrow chutes, halted a brief moment while one of its number was subjected to the "squeeze" and a minute examination by a sweating police vet, and passed on, some to another corral and some—pitiably few—to the open prairie and freedom.

Dode Sinclair watched the work like a man in a trance.

When it was done the corral gate was flung open and the horses it had held were headed up the valley and still up to where it ended in a deep gully of gumbo and yellow gravel. On three sides the animals were hemmed in by almost sheer cliff a hundred feet high; on the fourth by ten N.W. Mounted Policemen with levelled rifles and set faces.

There is only one cure for glanders.

"Queer that buyer don't come," said Joe Gilchrist.

Three days before Dode Sinclair had ridden out to meet a florid little man in a livery buggy on the town trail, and after five minutes' conversation the latter had turned his horses and driven off in a cloud of dust.

"Blamed queer. They'll be losing flesh if they're herded much longer."

Towards evening the old man became restless—both Joyce and Dode noticed it, but neither was quite prepared when returning from the west field to find the homestead empty, except for the Chinese cook, and the pinto cayune gone from the stables.

"He's gone to have a look at the herd," Dode said.

"But alone, and on pinto!" exclaimed the girl. "You know how she stumbles. I must go and find him."

"She stumbles, but she don't fall," said Dode. "Let him be—this once. Alone—that's the best way for him to find out."

He told her all, while Joyce sat like one turned to stone. When he had done, she looked up into his face.

"Then—then we have got to start all over again," she whispered.

"Pretty near."

Dode looked out through the window. The setting sun was dyeing the sea of yellow grass a rich auburn, and Joyce was at his side, but his thoughts were with the lone rider down on the grass flats. He would find the corrals empty, the gates open. He would follow the tracks up the coolie, and still up, until he came to the deep gully of gumbo and yellow gravel. Dode remembered that the "ewe-necked" grey with the roan foal lay at the outside of the ghastly circle, her mild eyes staring glassily down the valley. Beyond that his thoughts refused to travel.

It was eight o'clock before Joe Gilchrist returned. He stabled the pinto himself and came into the sitting-room, where Joyce and Dode sat pretending to read, with his usual slow, heavy step. The pine-pole rocker creaked, and they could hear him whittling at his plug of tobacco, but they could not bring themselves to look up.

"Bit dull to-night, ain't you?" he queried suddenly. His voice was so natural that for a fleeting moment Dode thought it impossible that he could know. But when he looked up, there was no longer any doubt in his mind. The strong old face was drawn and haggard, in spite of the smile he had summoned to his lips. His keen eyes were levelled on the younger man in a penetrating but not unkindly look.

"I guess you were right, Dode," he drawled. "The prairie knows how to cure swelled head."

And the other two knew that the miracle had come to pass.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1962, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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