Elizabeth peered through the gloom, and saw the gleam of water. The train ran along beside it for a minute or two, then the gathering darkness seemed to swallow it up.
“No, a canal, fed from the Bow River—far ahead of us. We are in the irrigation belt—and in the next few years thousands of people will settle here. Give the land water—the wheat follows! South and North, even now, the wheat is spreading and driving out the ranchers. Irrigation is the secret. We are mastering it! And you thought”—he looked at her with amusement and a kind of triumph—“that the country had mastered us?”
There was something in his voice and eyes, as though not he spoke, but a nation through him. “Splendid!” was the word that rose in Elizabeth’s mind; and a thrill ran with it.
The gloom of the afternoon deepened. The showers increased. But Elizabeth could not be prevailed upon to go in. In the car Delaine and Philip were playing dominoes, in despair of anything more amusing. Yerkes was giving his great mind to the dinner which was to be the consolation of Philip’s day.
Meanwhile Elizabeth kept Anderson talking. That was her great gift. She was the best of listeners. Thus led on he could not help himself, any more than he had been able to help himself on the afternoon of the sink-hole. He had meant to hold himself strictly in hand with this too attractive Englishwoman. On the contrary, he had never yet poured out so frankly to mortal ear the inmost dreams and hopes which fill the ablest minds of Canada—dreams half imagination, half science; and hopes which, yesterday romance, become reality to-morrow.
He showed her, for instance, the great Government farms as they passed them, standing white and trim upon the prairie, and bade her think of the busy brains at work there—magicians conjuring new wheats that will ripen before the earliest frosts, and so draw onward the warm tide of human life over vast regions now desolate; or trees that will stand firm against the prairie winds, and in the centuries to come turn this bare and boundless earth, this sea-floor of a primeval ocean, which is now Western Canada, into a garden of the Lord. Or from the epic of the soil, he would slip on to the human epic bound up with it—tale after tale of life in the ranching country, and of the emigration now pouring into Alberta—witched out of him by this delicately eager face, these lovely listening eyes. And here, in spite of his blunt, simple speech, came out the deeper notes of feeling, feeling richly steeped in those “mortal things”—earthy, tender, humorous, or terrible—which make up human fate.
Had he talked like this to the Catholic girl in Quebec? And yet she had renounced him? She had never loved him, of course! To love this man would be to cleave to him.