“Half of them commandeered,” said Hastings, with a shrug. “The Government valuers have been all over them these last weeks. They’re splendid timber, you know. There’s been a timber camp the other side of the hills a long while. They’ve got Canadians, and no doubt they’ll move on here.”
Miss Henderson made another quick movement. She said nothing, however. She was staring at the woods, which shone in the glow now steadily creeping up the hill, and Hastings thought she was protesting from the scenery point of view.
“Well, the Government must have the wood,” he said, with resignation. “We’ve got to win the war. But it does seem a pity.”
“I don’t know that I should have taken the farm,” she said, under her breath—
“If you had known? I wish I’d thought to tell you. But it was really only settled a few days ago.”
“I don’t like having a lot of strange men about the farm,” she said abruptly, “especially when I have girls to look after.”
“Oh, the camp’s a long way from the farm,” he said consolingly. “And these woods will come last.”
Still Miss Henderson’s face did not quite recover its cheerfulness. She looked at her watch.
“Don’t let me keep you, Mr. Hastings. I’ll lock up the house, if you’ll tell me where to leave the key.”
He showed her where to put it, in a corner of the stable, for him to find on the morrow. Then, in her rapid way, Miss Henderson offered him the post of bailiff on the farm, from the date of her entry. He agreed at once; his salary was settled, and he departed with a more cheerful aspect than when he arrived. The hopefulness and spring of youth had long since left him, and he had dreaded the new experience of this first meeting with a woman-farmer, from whom he desired employment simply because he was very badly off, he was getting old, and Mr. Wellin’s widow had treated him shabbily. He had lost his nerve for new ventures. But Miss Henderson had made things easy. She had struck him as considerate and sensible—a “good sort.” He would do his best for her.
Rachel Henderson, left to herself, did not immediately re-enter the house. She went with a face on which the cloud still rested to look at the well which was to be found under the cart-shed, at the eastern end of the house.
It was covered with a wooden lid which she removed. Under the shed roof there was but little light left. A faint gleam showed the level of the water, which, owing to the long drought, was very low. Hastings had told her that the well was extremely deep—–150 feet at least, and inexhaustible. The water was chalky but good. It would have to be pumped up every morning for the supply of the house and stables.
The well had a brick margin. Rachel sat down upon it, her eyes upon that distant gleam below. The dusk was fast possessing itself of all the farm, and an evening wind was gustily blowing through the cart-shed, playing with some old guano sacks that had been left there, and whistling round the corners of the house. Outside, Rachel could hear the horse fidgeting, and old Jonathan coughing—no doubt as a signal to her that she had kept him long enough.