THE LOG CABIN

The log cabin had reached the interesting stage at which its framework
was complete, and the immediate task was to nail thin bark-covered
boards upon it. After that it was to be thatched. Then it was to be
lined with match-boarding.

Harry had built every bit of the framework himself, with such help as
Jane and Pobbles could give him in lifting and holding the timbers in
place, not without some risk to limb if not to life. He had drawn out
his constructional plan, from careful study of a book. Then he had had
the timbers prepared at the sawmills four miles away, and he and the
children had fetched them in a farm cart. It had taken them weeks to
get the framework finished, but they had made a very good job of it
between them. As they hurried up through the wood to the clearing upon
the edge of which the cabin stood, Jane and Pobbles were full of
excitement at the thought of work to come which they could really do
themselves. So far, it had been helping Harry, which was pleasurable
enough, but not to be compared with the pleasure that was to come.

Harry let them chatter without much response, but made the pace towards
the clearing so fast that they had to run to keep up with him. He was
excited too. He was doing something real, from the beginning. He had
invented something and had already carried out the most difficult part
of it, meeting the difficulties as they came, and surmounting them. All
the rest would be easy enough until it came to the thatching. He
proposed to do that himself too. Watching a thatcher at work on a barn
had first put the idea of building a log cabin into his head. He
thought he knew how it was done, and he could always ask the old
thatcher questions; but he was not going to let him lay a finger on the
roof of the cabin, nor even stand by and direct. Jane and Pobbles might
do whatever lay within their power; it would have been he who had taught
them and directed them in everything.

They came to the clearing—a space of bright green turf nibbled short by
rabbits, surrounded mostly by oaks interspersed with glistening hollies
and here and there a graceful deliciously green beech. The cabin stood
back among the trees, its squared timbers showing white and new against
the background of green and russet. Harry paused and put his head on one
side to contemplate it, and a grin of pure pleasure lit up his face. “A
very workmanlike job so far,” he said. “Come on, we’ll get the whole of
the front covered in this morning.”

They worked at a rate unknown to members of Trades Unions, measuring and
sawing up the boards, and nailing them fast to the posts. Harry did all
the sawing, Jane and Pobbles took it in turns to nail one end of a board
while he nailed the other. They quarrelled a little over this until
Harry stopped them. Jane was of the opinion that Pobbles did not drive
in a nail as well as she did. Pobbles was of the contrary opinion.
There were only two hammers between the three of them, but Harry was to
provide a third for the afternoon. They were to have a picnic tea at
the cabin, after lessons, and hoped to see the walls roughly finished
before dusk fell.

The brooding summer noon did not daunt these eager labourers. It was
more like real work to sweat under the hot sun. Harry took off his coat
at the start and turned up his shirt sleeves. Pobbles did the same in
imitation of him. Jane, having nothing that she could reasonably take
off, contented herself with rolling up her sleeves and warning Pobbles
that he would catch cold, which gave him an opening that he was not slow
to take advantage of. “Men don’t catch cold when they’re working,” he
said, and took off his waistcoat. Jane had to admit inferiority, for
once.

They worked till the last possible minute, and met again at the first
possible minute in the afternoon. The game which they made of their
work was more entrancing now than it had been in the morning. The tasks
of the day were done, and the long summer evening stretched infinitely
before them. Moreover, the cabin, with its front all boarded in, was
now beginning to look like a cabin and not the skeleton of one; and a
picnic is always a picnic to happy youth, however inadequate the viands.
They were not inadequate on this occasion. All three labourers had
brought baskets. A fire was to be lit and tea made—billy tea, of which
Harry had learnt the recipe from a book. The meal was to be an adequate
substitute for what they would have eaten indoors. Harry was to be
excused dinner for it. The children had their freedom until half-past
eight.

Jane had changed her clothes, and wore, instead of the cotton frock of
the morning, an outgrown coat and skirt, already laid aside “to be given
away.” The reason for this apparent feminine vagary became manifest
when, arrived on the scene of action, she took off the coat, which was
uncomfortably tight, and rolled up the sleeves of the shirt she wore
beneath it. She was now at least as much like a pioneer as Pobbles.

In their imaginative adaptable brains they were pioneers in very truth.
Harry was as serious about it as the children, though he was too old for
any childish game of make-believe. “Now we’ll knock off for an hour,”
he said, when one of the end walls had been boarded in, and the desire
for bodily sustenance became urgent. “We must get the roof on before
the rains begin, but we’re well ahead, and it’s better to keep at it
steadily than to work ourselves out.”

He was in some imagined country of the new world, where the first duty
was to provide shelter before attacking the primeval woods and bringing
the soil into cultivation. The soft English glade, upon which the
shadows of English oaks and beeches were beginning to lengthen under the
westering sun, was transformed in his imagination to a clearing in some
tropical forest, or in the backwoods of Australia or Canada. The
Castle, the Vicarage, the village, were wiped out. They were very far
away from all such signs of ancient civilization, very far too from all
possibility of replenishing their stores, if these should be wastefully
used. He asked Jane to count the eggs carefully. “If there’s one over,
Tom had better have it,” he said.

Tom was Pobbles, so called only on such occasions as this. Jane
understood perfectly. She was the woman of the party, and it lay with
her to adjust and husband the stores, also to support the head of it in
his designs. On such terms she was willing to shoulder her burden of
womanhood, and rather regretted having approximated her attire to that
of the men. “You’d better put your jacket on now you’ve left off
working,” said Harry, throwing a glance not altogether of approval at
her shirt, which she wore open at the neck, as he and the virile Tom
wore theirs. She obeyed meekly, and went into the cabin to put on her
tie as well, also the hat which she had discarded. “We ought to nail up
a bit of looking-glass inside,” she said, as she came out, and before
she joined in picking up sticks for the fire she went into the wood
where some late hyacinths were still to be found, and fastened a bunch
of them on her breast.

Thus far they might make believe, acting as if they were a backwoods
party, but not bringing the pretence to the point of utterance. They
both laughed at Pobbles when he said: “We’d better stick together when
we’re picking up sticks, or one of us may get scalped in the wood,” and
Jane said: “We’re helping Harry; he’s not playing a silly game with us.”
Pobbles thought it would have been more amusing if they had boldly
played the game which seemed to be in their thoughts no less than in
his, but accepted the correction, and half understood it. Harry, who
was so wonderful at making things, would belittle himself by playing
children’s games about them.

But there was no diminution in his dignity when he showed that his mind
was full of the reality of what they were playing at. They sat on the
chips and sawdust outside the cabin, when they had devoured everything
in their baskets, and talked. Harry leant against the new built wall of
the cabin with his legs stretched out in front of him, his dog at his
feet, and Pobbles leant against the wall beside him, in as near an
imitation of his attitude as he could contrive without making himself
too uncomfortable. Jane reclined gracefully on her elbow, and
occasionally pulled her too-short skirt over her knees. The shadows of
the trees had perceptibly lengthened. There were two hours of daylight
yet, but the heat had declined, and the evening freshness was mingled
with the evening peace. The cuckoo was calling, now here now there, and
its grey form could be seen sometimes flitting from tree to tree across
the glade. The rabbits were out at the far end of it, and the wood
pigeons were swinging home to the high woods behind them. But of human
occupation, besides their own, the world seemed empty. They were secure
in their retreat.

“It must be a grand thing, you know,” Harry said, “to find a new place
in the world which you can make what you like of. Supposing this were
really right away from everywhere, in a new country, we should begin
just like this, with a cabin a bit bigger but much the same in plan.
Then we should make our garden round about it. After that we should
prepare our fields. We should cut down trees, for more building when we
wanted it, and for logs for burning in the winter. We should have our
animals; we should have everything that we wanted round us, and what we
hadn’t got we should have to do without until we could go and bring it
from the nearest town, which might be hundreds of miles away. There’d be
a tremendous lot to do every day, but you’d like doing it, and you’d see
the whole thing grow and grow till you had a splendid place which you
had made out of nothing, and hundreds of people working on it.”

“Shall you do that, when you’re quite grown up, Harry?” asked Pobbles.
“I think I shall. I know a good deal about it already, and I can easily
learn some more.”

Jane forbore to rebuke his assumption of knowledge, having one to make
on her own account. “I used to think I should hate having to sew and
learn to cook,” she said. “But I shouldn’t mind it if I was living in a
log cabin. I can cook some things already. I suppose it would be more
fun to be a man, but a woman would have to ride and all that, if she
lived in a new country; and she could ride astride.”

“It’s only when things begin to get a little settled that women go at
all,” said Harry, dashing these dreams. “The real pioneers go alone,
and carry everything they want with them on horseback. It must be
glorious to ride for day after day in a country where no white man has
ever been before, and at last to come to some lovely place where he can
make a settlement.”

“There’s no reason why a woman shouldn’t do that too,” said Jane. “She
could go alone herself, if the man didn’t want her. She could dress
like a man.”

Pobbles exploded with mirth, at some cryptic joke of his own. “A pretty
fool she’d look if the Redskins caught her!” he said.

“Shut up,” said Jane sharply, relinquishing her dreams of a woman’s
empire, “or I’ll punch your head.”

“Shut up both of you,” said Harry, “and don’t spoil things by
quarrelling. You’d never do for that sort of life if you couldn’t spend
five minutes without flying at one another. You’d have to spend weeks
and months together without seeing another living soul.”

“But you’d be there,” said Pobbles. “You’d keep her in order.”

“Shall you ever do it, Harry, do you think?” asked Jane. “I should like
to come too, if you do. I could wait behind till you’d found the right
place, and then Tom and I could come on together.”

“Perhaps I shall some day,” said Harry, for whom time and youth seemed
to stretch ahead illimitably. “But not until after I’ve been in the army
for some years. And I couldn’t be away long from Royd. I might just go
pioneering, and leave somebody else to work up the place I’ve found.”

“Oh, you could leave Jane and me,” said Pobbles. “And you could come
there and see us sometimes. You would find we had worked it up better
each time you came.”

“I shouldn’t care about it unless Harry was there all the time,” said
Jane. “Besides, I am going into the army too. I read about a girl in
Russia who fought all through the wars, and nobody found her out. I
shall be in Harry’s regiment, but he won’t tell anybody. You can too,
Pobbles, when you’re old enough.”

Harry looked at her, and laughed with great enjoyment. He had just seen
the woman coming out in her, and been mildly entertained by it through
his seriousness. Now she was a sexless child again. “You’re one in a
thousand, Jane,” he said. “Of course you shall join my regiment, and
Pobbles too. We’ll have some jolly times, and when it comes to fighting
we three will stick together.”

Jane did not mind being laughed at by Harry, and was pleased at the
prospect held out to her. She took off her jacket, when they set to
work again at the cabin, and threw away the bluebells, wondering why she
had picked them.

Dusk was falling as Harry made his way up through the wood and across
the park homewards. The air was very still, and the sweet scents of the
earth, dissolved in dew, rose like incense. Usually his impressionable
untroubled mind would have leapt to the message of his senses, and he
would have exulted in the beauty that lay all around him, sublimated by
the spell of oncoming night. But as his feet brushed the moisture from
the grass, and stirred the cool scents to greet his nostrils, he looked
down and not up as his way was. A vague discontent was upon his spirit,
which was not quite unhappiness though near akin to it.

The vision of a free life in a free untouched land had come to him. For
the first time in his happy boyhood he felt himself bound by his lot.
The great world, with its endless varieties of adventure and invitation
to be doing and living, lay beyond his horizons and he had never crossed
them.

Melancholy touched him so seldom that it was a discomfort to be
resisted. He wondered what made him sad at the thought of being tied to
Royd, which had hitherto been a paradise of enjoyment to him. He stood
still as he came out from among the trees and looked across the park to
the dark mass of the Castle, in which lights were glimmering here and
there, making it more romantic and beautiful even than when seen in the
day-time. And as he looked, the momentary sadness fell from him, and he
smiled with pleasure at the scene so familiar yet always showing itself
in some new emanation of beauty. He was coming to the age at which he
could no longer be satisfied with it as holding everything in life. The
shadow of unrest had just fallen upon him, but it would not be yet that
he would walk in it.

As he neared the Castle a white figure, dimly seen in the dusk, detached
itself from the gloom that lay about the massive walls and came towards
him along the trodden path by which he was hastening. He recognized it
as that of his mother, who not infrequently came out to meet him like
this when he had begged off dinner and came back after it. It usually
gave him pleasure to find her waiting for him in this way. There was
not, perhaps, very much in common between them, but he knew how much he
was to her, and his chivalry went out towards her, in love and a sense
of protection.




To-night he was conscious of the least little sense of discomfort in
meeting her. His time was so fully taken up, with his work indoors and
his innumerable pursuits out of doors, that neither his mother nor his
grandmother saw very much of him except at meal-times, and less than
ever in the summer-time. It was part of the wisdom of Lady Brent that
he was left as free as he was. But he was sensitive to the atmosphere
around him, and of late when the inmates of the Castle had been together
it had been uncomfortable. Wilbraham, while they had done their work
together, had been much as usual, but at table he had been morose and
snappy. The two women had obviously put constraint upon themselves to
be easy and natural before him, but the coldness and irritation between
them had peeped through. There had been nothing to cause him to reflect
upon something wrong, and the cause of it; he had been full of his own
devices and forgotten all about the discomfort at home the moment he was
away from it. But the discomfort was there. Perhaps it had had to do
with the vague discontent that had just come upon him and passed away.
But the sight of his mother coming to meet him brought it back ever so
little. Whatever his dreams for the future, whether at home or abroad,
the whims and vagaries of his elders if indulged in must shut them off.
Going away from Royd meant going away from them; Royd itself must lose
some of its glamour if life there was to be troubled by their jars.

But he remembered now, as he called to his mother and hurried his steps
to meet her, that the cloud had seemed to have lifted itself somewhat at
luncheon that day. Wilbraham, at any rate, had recovered his equanimity
entirely, and had been good-humoured and talkative; and Lady Brent had
been suave, when for some days she had seemed covered with prickles.
Only his mother had been subdued, with traces of past tears about her
eyes.

He reproached himself that he had not taken much notice of these signs
of disturbance in her. He had been too busy with his schemes for the
afternoon, about which he had talked freely, as he was encouraged to
talk about everything that interested him. He had felt instinctively
that any sort of chatter from him would be welcomed. But he had escaped
as soon as possible after luncheon and forgotten all about the tension
until now.

“Well, little mother!” he said as he came up to her. “Ought you to be
out at this time of night without a wrap or anything?”

He had a clear, rather high-pitched voice that was music in her ears.
She loved him anew for the kindness in it, and for the question which
showed that he was careful of her. He put his arm round her shoulder
and kissed her, and his hand went down to her waist and remained there
as she turned to walk with him. All this thrilled her with pleasure,
and her voice shook a little as she answered him, though she tried to
keep it level.

“Oh, I’m all right, dear,” she said. “It’s very warm. Shall we go into
the garden for a little? It’s lovely there now.”

“Yes; let’s,” he said at once, though he had intended to go in and
forage for food, for he was hungry again.

They went into the garden through a tall iron gate in the wall, and
walked up and down the long bowling green, which was hidden from the
house by a high yew hedge. A fountain plashed in a pool at the far end
of it; there were no flowers to be seen just here, but the air was full
of their scent. The light had not yet faded out of the sky, but stars
were beginning to twinkle in it. The grass was close cut, but wet with
dew. He bent down to see whether she was fitly shod, and found she had
put on goloshes. She laughed at him. “Nobody can see them,” she said,
“but you like taking care of your old mother, don’t you, darling?”

“You’re not old,” said Harry; “and of course you must be taken care of.
Isn’t it lovely out here? I don’t think there can be any place so
lovely as Royd in the whole world, though I haven’t seen much of the
world, so far.”

“I think it’s lovely too,” she said. “But I shouldn’t want to stay here
always if you weren’t here. You’ve never _wanted_ to go away, have you,
Harry?”

He laughed at his remembrances. “Just for a little this afternoon, I
thought I should like to go somewhere else,” he said. “The children and
I have been building our log cabin, and I rather wished it was a real
one, quite away from everything, in some far-off country. But I suppose
I shouldn’t like to be away from Royd for very long.”

“It won’t be very long before you do go away now,” she said. “Oh, I do
hope it won’t change you, Harry dear. It’s so different, out in the
world. Sometimes I long for it, but I believe this is best, after all.
If you told me I could go to-morrow I don’t think I would now. I
wouldn’t go as long as you were here, and I knew you were happy being
here.”

“I haven’t looked forward very much to going to Sandhurst,” he said,
thoughtfully. “I shan’t be nearly so free there as I am here, and I’m
not sure I shall get on very well with the others. I’ve never had much
to do with other people of my own age.”

“No, you’re different,” she said. “But you’re much nicer. I don’t
think you’d have been so nice if you had been brought up like other
boys; or so happy, either. But you’ll have to be careful when you go
away. There are lots of temptations which other boys of your age know
about, and you don’t.”

He turned a smiling face on her. “Then hadn’t you better tell me about
them?” he said. “Do you mean drinking and gambling? I was reading a
book the other day about all that. It didn’t seem to me much of a
temptation. I suppose I shall have as much money as I want without
gambling for it, shan’t I? And why should I want to drink if I’m not
thirsty?”

She had not paid much attention to this. She was wondering whether she
dared talk to him of the life, as it appeared to her, from which he had
been kept secluded. It had been tacitly accepted, all through his
boyhood, that no mystery was to be made of it, and any questions he
might ask should be answered, but that his being kept at Royd was to be
taken as a natural thing. After her late revolt she had swung round to a
complete acceptance of the understanding by which those who were
responsible for Harry should share in the seclusion which had been laid
down as the best thing for him during his boyhood. Only so could it be
accepted without question by him. Lady Brent had triumphed, and had
shown, this evening, that she bore no malice on account of what had
lately happened. Mrs. Brent was at peace with her, and once more a
loyal supporter of her views. But there was a little jealousy and a
little egotism left. She was Harry’s mother. If any enlightenment was
to be brought to him as to what lay before him, surely she might be
considered the right person to give it! It was only because she knew
that Lady Brent would not think so that she hesitated.

“Oh, drinking and gambling,” she said, catching him up. “No, I don’t
think those would be temptations to you, brought up as you have been,
though one never knows, with young men. It’s women _I_ should be afraid
of. They’ll try to get hold of you. You see you’ll be a great catch,
Harry. And of course you’re very handsome. You’ll have to be careful
about designing women.”

No, decidedly, Lady Brent would not have approved of this kind of
warning.

It seemed to be distasteful to Harry too. “All right, mother, I’ll take
care,” he said, shortly.

“It would never do for you to marry beneath you,” she went on, rather
surprisingly, and would have gone on to amplify her statement, but that
Harry suddenly cut her short.

“I’m most frightfully hungry, mother,” he said. “Let’s go in and see if
we can get hold of anything. Then I think it will be about time for me
to go to bed.”