Westerns

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Benediction

Benediction

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Tinsmith 1865

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Widow 1881

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Settlers of the Marsh

Settlers of the Marsh

Penguin Modern Classics Edition
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Excerpt

On the road leading north from the little prairie town Minor two men were fighting their way through the gathering dusk.

Both were recent immigrants; one, Lars Nelson, a giant, of three years’ standing in the country; the other, Niels Lindstedt, slightly above medium size, but compactly built, of only three months’. Both were Swedes; and they had struck up a friendship which had led to a partnership for the winter that was coming. They had been working on a threshing gang between Minor and Balfour and were now on their way into the bush settlement to the north-east where scattered homesteads reached out into the wilderness.

It was the beginning of the month of November.

Niels carried his suitcase on his back; Nelson, his new friend’s bundle, which also held the few belongings of his own which he had along. He wore practically the same clothes winter and summer.
Above five miles from town they reached, on the north road, the point where the continuous settlement ran out into the wild, sandy land which, forming the margin of the Big Marsh, intervened between the territory of the towns and the next Russo-German settlement to the north, some twenty miles or so straight ahead.

At this point the road leapt the Muddy River and passed through its sheltering fringe of bush to strike out over a sheer waste of heath-like country covered with low, creeping brush. The wind which had been soughing through the tree tops had free sweep here; and an exceedingly fine dust of dry, powdery ice-crystals began to fly — you could hardly call it snow so far.

It did not occur to Niels to utter or even harbour apprehensions. His powerful companion knew the road; where he went, Niels could go.

They swung on, for the most part in silence.

The road became a mere trail; but for a while longer it was plainly visible in the waning light of the west; in the smooth ruts a film of white was beginning to gather.

The wind came in fits and starts, out of the hollow north-west; and with the engulfing dark an ever thickening granular shower of snow blew from the low-hanging clouds. As the trail became less and less visible, the very ground underfoot seemed to slide to the south-east.

By that time they had made about half the distance they intended to make. To turn back would have given them only the advantage of going with, instead of against, the gathering gale. Both were eager to get to work again: Nelson had undertaken to dig wells for two of the older settlers in the bush country; and he intended to clear a piece of his own land during the winter and to sell the wood which he had accumulated the year before.

They came to a fork in the trail and struck north-east. Soon after the turn Nelson stopped.

“Remember the last house?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Niels, speaking Swedish.

“From there on, for twenty miles north and for ten miles east the land is open for homestead entry. But it is no good. Mere sand that blows with the wind as soon as the brush is taken off.”

They plodded on for another hour. The trail was crossed and criss-crossed by cattle paths. Which they were on, trail or cattle path, was hard to tell.

Once more Nelson stopped. “Where’s north?”

Niels pointed.

But Nelson did not agree. “If the wind hasn’t changed, north must be there,” he said pointing over his shoulder.

The snow was coming down in ever denser waves which a relentless wind threw sideways into their faces. The ground was covered now.

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