The Touch of Fate by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Mrs. Major Hill was in her element. This did not
often happen, for in the remote prairie town of the
Canadian Northwest, where her husband was stationed,
there were few opportunities for match-making.
And Mrs. Hill was—or believed herself to be—a born
Major Hill was in command of the detachment of Northwest
Mounted Police at Dufferin Bluff. Mrs. Hill was wont to
declare that it was the most forsaken place to be found in
Canada or out of it; but she did her very best to brighten it up,
and it is only fair to say that the N.W.M.P., officers and men,
seconded her efforts.
When Violet Thayer came west to pay a long-promised
visit to her old schoolfellow, Mrs. Hill's cup of happiness
bubbled over. In her secret soul she vowed that Violet should
never go back east unless it were post-haste to prepare a wedding
trousseau. There were at least half a dozen eligibles
among the M.P.s, and Mrs. Hill, after some reflection, settled
on Ned Madison as the flower of the flock.
"He and Violet are simply made for each other," she told
Major Hill the evening before Miss Thayer's arrival. "He has
enough money and he is handsome and fascinating. And
Violet is a beauty and a clever woman into the bargain. They
can't help falling in love, I'm sure; it's fate!"
"Perhaps Miss Thayer may be booked elsewhere already,"
suggested Major Hill. He had seen more than one of his wife's
card castles fall into heartbreaking ruin.
"Oh, no; Violet would have told me if that were the case.
It's really quite time for her to think of settling down. She
is twenty-five, you know. The men all go crazy over her,
but she's dreadfully hard to please. However, she can't help
liking Ned. He hasn't a single fault. I firmly believe it is
And in this belief Mrs. Hill rested securely, but nevertheless
did not fail to concoct several feminine artifices for the
helping on of foreordination. It was a working belief with her
that it was always well to have the gods in your debt.
Violet Thayer came, saw, and conquered. Within thirty-six
hours of her arrival at Dufferin Bluff she had every one of
the half-dozen eligibles at her feet, not to mention a score or
more ineligibles. She would have been surprised indeed had it
been otherwise. Miss Thayer knew her power, and was somewhat
unduly fond of exercising it. But she was a very nice girl
into the bargain, and so thought one and all of the young men
who frequented Mrs. Hill's drawing-room and counted it
richly worth while merely to look at Miss Thayer after having
seen nothing for weeks except flabby half-breed girls and
Madison was foremost in the field, of course. Madison was
really a nice fellow, and quite deserved all Mrs. Hill's encomiums.
He was good-looking and well groomed—could sing and
dance divinely and play the violin to perfection. The other
M.P.s were all jealous of him, and more so than ever when
Violet Thayer came. They did not consider that any one of
them had the ghost of a chance if Madison entered the lists
Violet liked Madison, and was very chummy with him
after her own fashion. She thought all the M.P.s were nice
boys, and they amused her, for which she was grateful. She
had expected Dufferin Bluff to be very dull, and doubtless it
would pall after a time, but for a change it was delightful.
The sixth evening after her arrival found Mrs. Hill's room
crowded, as usual, with M.P.s. Violet was looking her best in a
distracting new gown—Sergeant Fox afterwards described it
to a brother officer as a "stunning sort of rig between a cream
and a blue and a brown"; she flirted impartially with all the
members of her circle at first, but gradually narrowed down to
Ned Madison, much to the delight of Mrs. Hill, who was
hovering around like a small, brilliant butterfly.
Violet was talking to Madison and watching John Spencer
out of the tail of her eye. Spencer was not an M.P. He had some
government post at Dufferin Bluff, and this was his first call
at Lone Poplar Villa since Miss Thayer's arrival. He did not
seem to be dazzled by her at all, and after his introduction had
promptly retired to a corner with Major Hill, where they
talked the whole evening about the trouble on the Indian reservation
at Loon Lake.
Possibly this indifference piqued Miss Thayer. Possibly
she considered it refreshing after the servile adulation of the
M.P.s. At any rate, when all the latter were gathered about the
piano singing a chorus with gusto, she shook Madison off and
went over to the corner where Spencer, deserted by the Major,
whose bass was wanted, was sitting in solitary state.
He looked up indifferently as Violet shimmered down on
the divan beside him. Sergeant Robinson, who was watching
them jealously from the corner beyond the palms, and would
have given his eyes, or at least one of them, for such a favour,
mentally vowed that Spencer was the dullest fellow he had
ever put those useful members on.
"Don't you sing, Mr. Spencer?" asked Violet by way of
beginning a conversation, as she turned her splendid eyes full
upon him. Robinson would have lost his head under them,
but Spencer kept his heroically.
"No," was his calmly brief reply, given without any bluntness,
but with no evident intention of saying anything more.
In spite of her social experience Violet felt disconcerted.
"If he doesn't want to talk to me I won't try to make him,"
she thought crossly. No man had ever snubbed her so before.
Spencer listened immovably to the music for a time. Then
he turned to his companion with a palpable effort to be civilly
"How do you like the west, Miss Thayer?" he said.
Violet smiled—the smile most men found dangerous.
"Very much, so far as I have seen it. There is a flavour
about the life here that I like, but I dare say it would soon pall.
It must be horribly lonesome here most of the time, especially
"The M.P.s are always growling that it is," returned
Spencer with a slight smile. "For my own part I never find
Violet decided that his smile was very becoming to him
and that she liked the way his dark hair grew over his forehead.
"I don't think I've seen you at Lone Poplar Villa before?"
"No. I haven't been here for some time. I came up tonight
to see the Major about the Loon Lake trouble."
"Otherwise you wouldn't have come," thought Violet.
"Flattering—very!" Aloud she said, "Is it serious?"
"Oh, no. A mere squabble among the Indians. Have you
ever visited the Reservation, Miss Thayer? No? Well, you
should get some of your M.P. friends to take you out. It would
be worth while."
"Why don't you ask me to go yourself?" said Violet audaciously.
Spencer smiled again. "Have I failed in politeness by not
doing so? I fear you would find me an insufferably dull
So he was not going to ask her after all. Violet felt piqued.
She was also conscious of a sensation very near akin to disappointment.
She looked across at Madison. How trim and
dapper he was!
"I hate a bandbox man," she said to herself.
Spencer meanwhile had picked up one of Mrs. Hill's
novels from the stand beside him.
"Fools of Habit," he said, glancing at the cover. "I see it is
making quite a sensation down east. I suppose you've read
"Yes. It is very frivolous and clever—all froth but delightful
froth. Did you like it?"
Spencer balanced the novel reflectively on his slender
"Well, yes, rather. But I don't care for novels as a rule. I
don't understand them. The hero of this book, now—do you
believe that a man in love would act as he did?"
"I don't know," said Violet amusedly. "You ought to be a
better judge than I. You are a man."
"I have never loved anybody, so I am in no position to
decide," said Spencer.
There was as little self-consciousness in his voice as if he
were telling her a fact concerning the Loon Lake trouble. Violet
rose to the occasion.
"You have an interesting experience to look forward to,"
Spencer turned his deep-set grey eyes squarely upon her.
"I don't know that. When I said I had never loved, I meant
more than the love of a man for some particular woman. I
meant love in every sense. I do not know what it is to have an
affection for any human being. My parents died before I can
remember. My only living relative was a penurious old uncle
who brought me up for shame's sake and kicked me out on
the world as soon as he could. I don't make friends easily. I
have a few acquaintances whom I like, but there is not a soul
on earth for whom I care, or who cares for me."
"What a revelation love will be to you when it comes,"
said Violet softly. Again he looked into her eyes.
"Do you think it will come?" he asked.
Before she could reply Mrs. Hill pounced upon them. Violet
was wanted to sing. Mr. Spencer would excuse her,
wouldn't he? Mr. Spencer did so obligingly. Moreover, he got
up and bade his hostess good night. Violet gave him her hand.
"You will call again?" she said.
Spencer looked across at Madison—perhaps it was accidental.
"I think not," he said. "If, as you say, love will come some
time, it would be a very unpleasant revelation if it came in
hopeless guise, and one never knows what may happen."
Miss Thayer was conscious of a distinct fluttering of her
heart as she went across to the piano. This was a new sensation
for her, and worthy of being analyzed. After the M.P.s had
gone she asked Mrs. Hill who Mr. Spencer was.
"Oh, John Spencer," said Mrs. Hill carelessly. "He's at the
head of the Land Office here. That's really all I know about
him. Jack says he is a downright good fellow and all that, you
know. But he's no earthly good in a social way; he can't talk or
he won't. He's flat. So different from Mr. Madison, isn't he?"
"Very," said Violet emphatically.
After Mrs. Hill had gone out Violet walked to the nearest
mirror and looked at herself with her forefinger in the dimple
of her chin.
"It is very odd," she said. She did not mean the dimple.
Spencer had told her he was not coming back. She did not
believe this, but she did not expect him for a few days. Consequently,
when he appeared the very next evening she was surprised.
Madison, to whom she was talking when Spencer
entered, does not know to this day what she had started to say
to him, for she never finished her sentence.
"I wonder if it is the Loon Lake affair again?" she thought
Mrs. Hill came up at this point and whisked Madison off
for a waltz. Spencer, seeing his chance, came straight across
the room to her. Sergeant Robinson, who was watching them
as usual, is willing to make affidavit that Miss Thayer
After his greeting Spencer said nothing. He sat beside her,
and they watched Mrs. Hill and Madison dancing. Violet
wondered why she did not feel bored. When she saw Madison
coming back to her she was conscious of an unreasonable
anger with him. She got up abruptly.
"Let us go out on the verandah," she said imperiously. "It
is absolutely stifling in here."
They went out. It was very cool and dusky. The lights of
the town twinkled out below them, and the prairie bluffs
behind them were dark and sibilant.
"I am going to drive over to Loon Lake tomorrow afternoon
to look into affairs there," said Spencer. "Will you go
Violet reflected a moment. "You didn't ask me as if you
really wanted me to go," she said.
Spencer put his hand over the white fingers that rested on
the railing. He bent forward until his breath stirred the tendrils
of hair on her forehead.
"Yes, I do," he said distinctly. "I want you to go with me to
Loon Lake tomorrow more than I ever wanted any thing in my
Later on, when everybody had gone, Violet had her bad
quarter of an hour with Mrs. Hill. That lady felt herself
"I think you treated poor Ned very badly tonight, Vi. He
felt really blue over it. And it was awfully bad form to go out
with Spencer as you did and stay there so long. And you
oughtn't to flirt with him—he doesn't understand the game."
"I'm not going to flirt with him," said Miss Thayer calmly.
"Oh, I suppose it's just your way. Only don't turn the poor
fellow's head. By the way, Ned is coming up with his camera
tomorrow afternoon to take us all."
"I'm afraid he won't find me at home," said Violet sweetly.
"I am going out to Loon Lake with Mr. Spencer."
Mrs. Hill flounced off to bed in a pet. She was disgusted
with everything, she declared to the Major. Things had been
going so nicely, and now they were all muddled.
"Isn't Madison coming up to time?" queried the Major
"Madison! It's Violet. She is behaving abominably. She
treated poor Ned shamefully tonight. You saw yourself how
she acted with Spencer, and she's going to Loon Lake with
him tomorrow, she says. I'm sure I don't know what she can
see in him. He's the dullest, pokiest fellow alive—so different
from her in every way."
"Perhaps that is why she likes him," suggested the Major.
"The attraction of opposites and all that, you know."
But Mrs. Hill crossly told him he didn't know anything
about it, so, being a wise man, he held his tongue.
During the next two weeks Mrs. Hill was the most dissatisfied
woman in the four districts, and every M.P. down to
the rawest recruit anathemized Spencer in secret a dozen
times a day. Violet simply dropped everyone else, including
Madison, in the coolest, most unmistakable way.
One night Spencer did not come to Lone Poplar Villa. Violet
looked for him to the last. When she realized that he was
not coming she went to the verandah to have it out with herself.
As she sat huddled up in a dim corner beneath a silkily
rustling western maple two M.P.s came out and, not seeing
her, went on with their conversation.
"Heard about Spencer?" questioned one.
"No. What of him?"
"Well, they say Miss Thayer's thrown him over. Yesterday
I was passing here about four in the afternoon and I saw
Spencer coming in. I went down to the Land Office and was
chatting to Cribson when the door opened about half an hour
later and Spencer burst in. He was pale as the dead, and looked
wild. 'Has Fyshe gone to Rainy River about those Crown
Lands yet?' he jerked out. Cribson said, 'No.' Then tell him
he needn't; I'm going myself,' said Spencer and out he bolted.
He posted off to Rainy River today, and won't be back for a
fortnight. She'll be gone then."
"Rather rough on Spencer after the way she encouraged
him," returned the other as they passed out of earshot.
Violet got up. All the callers were gone, and she swept in to
Mrs. Hill dramatically.
"Edith," she said in the cold, steady voice that, to those
who knew her, meant breakers ahead for somebody, "Mr.
Spencer was here yesterday when I was riding with the Major,
was he not? What did you tell him about me?"
Mrs. Hill looked at Violet's blazing eyes and wilted.
"I—didn't tell him anything—much."
"What was it?"
Mrs. Hill began to sob.
"Don't look at me like that, Violet! He just dropped in and
we were talking about you—at least I was—and I had heard
that Harry St. Maur was paying you marked attention before
you came west—and—and that some people thought you were
engaged—and so—and so—"
"You told Mr. Spencer that I was engaged to Harry St.
"No-o-o—I just hinted. I didn't mean an-any harm. I never
dreamed you'd really c-care. I thought you were just amusing
yourself—and so did everybody—and I wanted Ned
Violet had turned very pale.
"I love him," she said hoarsely, "and you've sent him
away. He's gone to Rainy River. I shall never see him again!"
"Oh, yes, you will," gasped Mrs. Hill faintly. "He'll come
back when he knows—you c-can write and tell him—"
"Do you suppose I am going to write and ask him to come
back?" said Violet wildly. "I've enough pride left yet to keep
me from doing that for a man at whose head I've thrown
myself openly—yes, openly, and who has never, in words at
least, told me he cared anything about me. I will never forgive
Then Mrs. Hill found herself alone with her lacerated feelings.
After soothing them with a good cry, she set to work
thinking seriously. There was no doubt she had muddled
things badly, but there was no use leaving them in a muddle
when a word or two fitly spoken might set them straight.
Mrs. Hill sat down and wrote a very diplomatic letter
before she went to bed, and the next morning she waylaid Sergeant
Fox and asked him if he would ride down to Rainy River
with a very important message for Mr. Spencer. Sergeant Fox
wondered what it could be, but it was not his to reason why; it
was his only to mount and ride with all due speed, for Mrs.
Hill's whims and wishes were as stringent and binding as the
rules of the force.
That evening when Mrs. Hill and Violet—the latter very
silent and regal—were sitting on the verandah, a horseman
came galloping up the Rainy River trail. Mrs. Hill excused
herself and went in. Five minutes later John Spencer, covered
with the alkali dust of his twenty miles' ride, dismounted at
The M.P.s gave a concert at the barracks that night and
Mrs. Hill and her Major went to it, as well as everyone else of
any importance in town except Violet and Spencer. They sat
on Major Hill's verandah and watched the moon rising over
the bluffs and making milk-white reflections in the prairie
"It seems a year of misery since last night," sighed Violet
"You couldn't have been quite as miserable as I was," said
Spencer earnestly. "You were everything—absolutely everything
to me. Other men have little rills and driblets of affection
for sisters and cousins and aunts, but everything in me
went out to you. Do you remember you told me the first time
we met that love would be a revelation to me? It has been
more. It has been a new gospel. I hardly dared hope you could
care for me. Even yet I don't know why you do."
"I love you," said Violet gravely, "because you are you."
Than which, of course, there could be no better reason.