John Elliot senior, fifty-five years old, small, slender, grey of
hair and beard, but carrying himself erectly, clad in a grey suit--
he despised overalls--was crossing his sloping yard to the barn
which stood north-east of the house, higher up on the bare hill-
side, separated from the plantations about the dwelling by a dry
gully. He was going to hitch a horse to the buggy; for his wife
was getting ready to call on Mary, her third-oldest daughter who
lived in town.
Halfway up the slope John Elliot stopped and looked back, allowing
his troubled eyes to survey the yard and the fields to south and
The yard occupied the north-west corner of the homestead. The part
surrounding the dwelling was sheltered by young poplar trees
planted by Mrs. Elliot some fifteen years ago.
Opposite, across the road--it was still a mere trail--a second yard
faced it, enclosed by the straggling, low buildings--stable,
granary, shack--of his oldest son's homestead. The farms comprised
three hundred and twenty acres each; for east and west of the
homesteads, properly speaking, stretched two "preemptions." This
was the short-grass country of the new province of Saskatchewan; a
half section of land was considered the least on which a farmer
could make a living.
In fact, John junior, still only twenty-four years old, had not
found even that enough. The spirit of this new west possessed him,
craving vast and ever vaster spaces. He had done shallow breaking
over large fields; and, garnering, by sheer luck, according to his
father, two or three crops in succession, he had first rented, then
bought a third quarter. He had hardly done any plowing since. He
seeded on stubble land, scratching it, with the disk, into the
semblance of a seed-bed. This year, according to his father, he
was reaping what he had sown. It was a dry summer; his grain,
though it was the end of July, stood no more than three or four
inches high, ripe or dried out. Everywhere the brown, drab earth
showed, over the bare clay hills, between the thin rows of scraggy,
In this moment of survey John Elliot senior's eye swept south. In
a long "draw" or hollow his own field stretched from west to east.
Even there the grain stood none too thickly; but it was two and a
half feet high and, though headed, in spite of the unbroken drought
of five weeks still green: eighty acres, on a fallowed field.
"You can't fool the land!" John Elliot muttered as he turned and
proceeded to the barn.
The mere fact that his son was farming his own land was contrary to
his wishes. Six years ago, when John junior had become entitled to
file on a homestead, he had done so against his father's protest
who wanted him to remain on his own farm, seeing that it would be
his one day. Ever since, his father had been critical and still
more morose than was his habit. That his sons-in-law went their
own way was in the nature of things; but that his flesh and blood
left him was a source of sorrow.