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Authors: Frederick Philip Grove

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Settlers of the Marsh

BOOK: Settlers of the Marsh
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PENGUIN CLASSICS

SUNSHINE SKETCHES OF A LITTLE TOWN

FREDERICK PHILIP GROVE
was born Felix Paul Grève in Radomno, West Prussia (now Poland), in 1879. He studied
philology
and archeology in
Bonn
and Rome, and became a prolific translator of World Literature. In 1912, Grove arrived in Manitoba, Canada, where he worked as a schoolteacher in rural areas. He married fellow teacher Catherine Wiens in 1914, and in 1922 settled in Rapid City, Manitoba, to teach and write. The Groves moved to Ontario in the fall of 1929, where he was briefly an editor with
Graphic Publishers
. Grove is the author of numerous books, including
Over Prairie Trails
,
Settlers of the Marsh
,
A Search for America
,
Our Daily Bread
, and
Fruits of the Earth
. He died in 1948 in Simcoe, Ontario.

PENGUIN CANADA

Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Penguin Classics edition copyright © Penguin Group (Canada), 2006.

This edition is an unabridged reprint of
Settlers of the Marsh
, published in 1925 by The
Ryerson Press.

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

Publisher's note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental
.

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ISBN-13: 978-0-670-06509-7

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication data available upon request.

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To Arthur L. Phelps

CONTENTS

I Mrs. Lund

II Niels

III Ellen

IV Mrs. Lindstedt

V Bobby

VI Ellen Again

A N
OTE ON THE
T
EXT

This Penguin Classics edition is a reprint of the first edition of 1925, published by The Ryerson Press. Obvious errors have been silently corrected. A U.S. edition was published by George H. Doran in New York in the same year. McClelland & Stewart published its New Canadian Library editions in 1966 and 1989, respectively.

CHAPTER ONE
MRS. LUND

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.

“Cold?” asked Nelson.

“Not very,” Niels answered deprecatingly.

“We're over half,” Nelson said. “No use turning back. If we keep north, we must hit Grassy Creek, road or no road.”

They plodded on. That they were not on the trail there could be no doubt any longer; they felt the low brush impeding their steps.

Sometimes they stumbled; Niels laughed apologetically; Nelson swore under his breath. But they kept their sides to the wind and went on.

Both would have liked to talk, to tell and to listen to stories of danger, of being lost, of hair-breadth escapes: the influence of the prairie snowstorm made itself felt. But whenever one of them spoke, the wind snatched his word from his lips and threw it aloft.

A merciless force was slowly numbing them by ceaseless pounding. A vision of some small room, hot with the glow and flicker of an open fire, took possession of Niels. But blindly, automatically he kept up with his companion.

Suddenly they came to larger bush. Not that they saw it; but they heard the soughing of the wind through its aisles and its leafless boughs; and they felt the unexpected shelter.

They stopped.

“Danged if I know where we are,” said Nelson in English; and he began to beat the air with the stick which he had cut for himself, going forward towards whatever gave the shelter.

The stick cracked against something hard.

“Well,” Nelson exclaimed, again in English, “
I'll be doggoned
!” He had stepped forward and put his hand against the wall of a building. “We've hit something here.”

Niels kept close.

At the top of his voice Nelson shouted, “Hi there! Anybody in?” And again he beat against the wall.

They edged and groped along and came to a tiny window which was just then illumined by the flicker of a match.

“Hello!” Nelson sang out in his booming voice. “Open up, will you?”

And, having felt his way a little farther along the building, he came to a door which he recognised as such when his hand struck the knob. He rattled it and hammered the jamb with his fist.

They were on the south side of the house, sheltered from the wind which whistled through trees that stood very near.

A light shone forth from the window. Whoever was inside had lighted a lamp. Nelson redoubled his shouts and knocks. They waited.

At last, after a seemingly endless interval, a bolt was withdrawn, and the door opened the least little bit.

Impetuously Nelson pushed it open altogether.

In its frame stood an old man of perhaps sixty-five, bent over, grey, with short, straggling hair and beard and hollow eyes, one of which was squinting. He held a shotgun in his hands, with one finger on the trigger.

“What you want?” he asked in the tone of distrust.

“Let's in,” sang Nelson. “We're lost. Caught in the storm.”

“No can,” the old man replied with forbidding hostility. “Get on.” His threatening gesture was unmistakable.

“You Swedish?” asked Nelson in his native tongue.

The old man hesitated as if taken off his guard by the personal question. “Naw,” he said at last, still in English. “Icelandic. Get on.”

“Listen here,” Nelson reasoned, persisting in his use of Swedish, “you aren't going to turn us out into a night like this, are you? Let's in and get warm at least.”

“No can,” the old man repeated. “Get on.”

“Say,” Nelson insisted. “We're going to Amundsen's to dig a well for him. We come from Minor. We don't know where we are or how to get there.”

“One mile east and four mile norr,” the old man said without relenting.

A draft slammed the door, nearly catching Nelson's hand in the crack. But quick as a flash the giant reached for the knob and held it before the old man could push the bolt into place.

The old man, however, had also reached out; and with unexpected strength he did not allow the door to open for more than an inch. Through this opening he pushed the barrel of the gun right into Nelson's face.

BOOK: Settlers of the Marsh
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