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Title: Black Rock: A Tale of the Selkirks
Author: Connor, Ralph
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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BLACK ROCK

A TALE OF THE SELKIRKS


By Ralph Connor



INTRODUCTION


I think I have met “Ralph Conner.” Indeed, I am sure I have--once in a
canoe on the Red River, once on the Assinaboine, and twice or thrice on
the prairies to the West. That was not the name he gave me, but, if I
am right, it covers one of the most honest and genial of the strong
characters that are fighting the devil and doing good work for men
all over the world. He has seen with his own eyes the life which he
describes in this book, and has himself, for some years of hard and
lonely toil, assisted in the good influences which he traces among its
wild and often hopeless conditions. He writes with the freshness and
accuracy of an eye-witness, with the style (as I think his readers will
allow) of a real artist, and with the tenderness and hopefulness of a
man not only of faith but of experience, who has seen in fulfillment the
ideals for which he lives.

The life to which he takes us, though far off and very strange to our
tame minds, is the life of our brothers. Into the Northwest of Canada
the young men of Great Britain and Ireland have been pouring (I was
told), sometimes at the rate of 48,000 a year. Our brothers who left
home yesterday--our hearts cannot but follow them. With these pages
Ralph Conner enables our eyes and our minds to follow, too; nor do I
think there is any one who shall read this book and not find also that
his conscience is quickened. There is a warfare appointed unto man upon
earth, and its struggles are nowhere more intense, nor the victories of
the strong, nor the succors brought to the fallen, more heroic, than on
the fields described in this volume.

GEORGE ADAM SMITH.



BLACK ROCK


The story of the book is true, and chief of the failures in the making
of the book is this, that it is not all the truth. The light is not
bright enough, the shadow is not black enough to give a true picture of
that bit of Western life of which the writer was some small part. The
men of the book are still there in the mines and lumber camps of the
mountains, fighting out that eternal fight for manhood, strong, clean,
God-conquered. And, when the west winds blow, to the open ear the sounds
of battle come, telling the fortunes of the fight.

Because a man’s life is all he has, and because the only hope of the
brave young West lies in its men, this story is told. It may be that the
tragic pity of a broken life may move some to pray, and that that divine
power there is in a single brave heart to summon forth hope and courage
may move some to fight. If so, the tale is not told in vain.

C.W.G.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER I

CHRISTMAS EVE IN A LUMBER CAMP


CHAPTER II

THE BLACK ROCK CHRISTMAS


CHAPTER III

WATERLOO. OUR FIGHT--HIS VICTORY


CHAPTER IV

MRS. MAVOR’S STORY


CHAPTER V

THE MAKING OF THE LEAGUE


CHAPTER VI

BLACK ROCK RELIGION


CHAPTER VII

THE FIRST BLACK ROCK COMMUNION


CHAPTER VIII

THE BREAKING OF THE LEAGUE


CHAPTER IX

THE LEAGUE’S REVENGE


CHAPTER X

WHAT CAME TO SLAVIN


CHAPTER XI

THE TWO CALLS


CHAPTER XII

LOVE IS NOT ALL


CHAPTER XIII

HOW NELSON CAME HOME


CHAPTER XIV

GRAEME’S NEW BIRTH


CHAPTER XV

COMING TO THEIR OWN



CHAPTER I


CHRISTMAS EVE IN A LUMBER CAMP


It was due to a mysterious dispensation of Providence, and a good deal
to Leslie Graeme, that I found myself in the heart of the Selkirks for
my Christmas Eve as the year 1882 was dying. It had been my plan to
spend my Christmas far away in Toronto, with such Bohemian and boon
companions as could be found in that cosmopolitan and kindly city. But
Leslie Graeme changed all that, for, discovering me in the village of
Black Rock, with my traps all packed, waiting for the stage to start
for the Landing, thirty miles away, he bore down upon me with resistless
force, and I found myself recovering from my surprise only after we had
gone in his lumber sleigh some six miles on our way to his camp up in
the mountains. I was surprised and much delighted, though I would not
allow him to think so, to find that his old-time power over me was still
there. He could always in the old ‘Varsity days--dear, wild days--make
me do what he liked. He was so handsome and so reckless, brilliant in
his class-work, and the prince of half-backs on the Rugby field, and
with such power of fascination, as would ‘extract the heart out of a
wheelbarrow,’ as Barney Lundy used to say. And thus it was that I
found myself just three weeks later--I was to have spent two or three
days,--on the afternoon of the 24th of December, standing in Graeme’s
Lumber Camp No. 2, wondering at myself. But I did not regret my changed
plans, for in those three weeks I had raided a cinnamon bear’s den and
had wakened up a grizzly--But I shall let the grizzly finish the tale;
he probably sees more humour in it than I.

The camp stood in a little clearing, and consisted of a group of three
long, low shanties with smaller shacks near them, all built of heavy,
unhewn logs, with door and window in each. The grub camp, with cook-shed
attached, stood in the middle of the clearing; at a little distance was
the sleeping-camp with the office built against it, and about a hundred
yards away on the other side of the clearing stood the stables, and near
them the smiddy. The mountains rose grandly on every side, throwing up
their great peaks into the sky. The clearing in which the camp stood was
hewn out of a dense pine forest that filled the valley and climbed half
way up the mountain-sides, and then frayed out in scattered and stunted
trees.

It was one of those wonderful Canadian winter days, bright, and with a
touch of sharpness in the air that did not chill, but warmed the blood
like draughts of wine. The men were up in the woods, and the shrill
scream of the blue jay flashing across the open, the impudent chatter
of the red squirrel from the top of the grub camp, and the pert chirp of
the whisky-jack, hopping about on the rubbish-heap, with the long, lone
cry of the wolf far down the valley, only made the silence felt the
more.

As I stood drinking in with all my soul the glorious beauty and the
silence of mountain and forest, with the Christmas feeling stealing into
me, Graeme came out from his office, and, catching sight of me, called
out, ‘Glorious Christmas weather, old chap!’ And then, coming nearer,
‘Must you go to-morrow?’

‘I fear so,’ I replied, knowing well that the Christmas feeling was on
him too.

‘I wish I were going with you,’ he said quietly.

I turned eagerly to persuade him, but at the look of suffering in his
face the words died at my lips, for we both were thinking of the awful
night of horror when all his bright, brilliant life crashed down about
him in black ruin and shame. I could only throw my arm over his shoulder
and stand silent beside him. A sudden jingle of bells roused him, and,
giving himself a little shake, he exclaimed, ‘There are the boys coming
home.’

Soon the camp was filled with men talking, laughing, chaffing, like
light-hearted boys.

‘They are a little wild to-night,’ said Graeme; ‘and to morrow they’ll
paint Black Rock red.’

Before many minutes had gone, the last teamster was ‘washed up,’ and
all were standing about waiting impatiently for the cook’s signal--the
supper to-night was to be ‘something of a feed’--when the sound of
bells drew their attention to a light sleigh drawn by a buckskin broncho
coming down the hillside at a great pace.

‘The preacher, I’ll bet, by his driving,’ said one of the men.

‘Bedad, and it’s him has the foine nose for turkey!’ said Blaney, a
good-natured, jovial Irishman.

‘Yes, or for pay-day, more like,’ said Keefe, a black-browed, villainous
fellow-countryman of Blaney’s, and, strange to say, his great friend.

Big Sandy M’Naughton, a Canadian Highlander from Glengarry, rose up in
wrath. ‘Bill Keefe,’ said he, with deliberate emphasis, ‘you’ll just
keep your dirty tongue off the minister; and as for your pay, it’s
little he sees of it, or any one else, except Mike Slavin, when you’re
too dry to wait for some one to treat you, or perhaps Father Ryan, when
the fear of hell-fire is on to you.’

The men stood amazed at Sandy’s sudden anger and length of speech.

‘Bon; dat’s good for you, my bully boy,’ said Baptiste, a wiry little
French-Canadian, Sandy’s sworn ally and devoted admirer ever since the
day when the big Scotsman, under great provocation, had knocked him
clean off the dump into the river and then jumped in for him.

It was not till afterwards I learned the cause of Sandy’s sudden wrath
which urged him to such unwonted length of speech. It was not simply
that the Presbyterian blood carried with it reverence for the
minister and contempt for Papists and Fenians, but that he had a vivid
remembrance of how, only a month ago, the minister had got him out of
Mike Slavin’s saloon and out the clutches of Keefe and Slavin and their
gang of bloodsuckers.

Keefe started up with a curse. Baptiste sprang to Sandy’s side, slapped
him on the back, and called out, ‘You keel him, I’ll hit (eat) him up,
me.’

It looked as if there might be a fight, when a harsh voice said in a
low, savage tone, ‘Stop your row, you blank fools; settle it, if you
want to, somewhere else.’ I turned, and was amazed to see old man
Nelson, who was very seldom moved to speech.

There was a look of scorn on his hard, iron-grey face, and of such
settled fierceness as made me quite believe the tales I had heard of his
deadly fights in the mines at the coast. Before any reply could be
made, the minister drove up and called out in a cheery voice, ‘Merry
Christmas, boys! Hello, Sandy! Comment ca va, Baptiste? How do you do,
Mr. Graeme?’

‘First rate. Let me introduce my friend, Mr. Connor, sometime medical
student, now artist, hunter, and tramp at large, but not a bad sort.’

‘A man to be envied,’ said the minister, smiling. ‘I am glad to know any
friend of Mr. Graeme’s.’

I liked Mr. Craig from the first. He had good eyes that looked straight
out at you, a clean-cut, strong face well set on his shoulders, and
altogether an upstanding, manly bearing. He insisted on going with Sandy
to the stables to see Dandy, his broncho, put up.

‘Decent fellow,’ said Graeme; ‘but though he is good enough to his
broncho, it is Sandy that’s in his mind now.’

‘Does he come out often? I mean, are you part of his parish, so to
speak?’

‘I have no doubt he thinks so; and I’m blowed if he doesn’t make the
Presbyterians of us think so too.’ And he added after a pause, ‘A dandy
lot of parishioners we are for any man. There’s Sandy, now, he would
knock Keefe’s head off as a kind of religious exercise; but to-morrow
Keefe will be sober, and Sandy will be drunk as a lord, and the drunker
he is the better Presbyterian he’ll be; to the preacher’s disgust.’ Then
after another pause he added bitterly, ‘But it is not for me to throw
rocks at Sandy; I am not the same kind of fool, but I am a fool of
several other sorts.’

Then the cook came out and beat a tattoo on the bottom of a dish-pan.
Baptiste answered with a yell: but though keenly hungry, no man would
demean himself to do other than walk with apparent reluctance to his
place at the table. At the further end of the camp was a big fireplace,
and from the door to the fireplace extended the long board tables,
covered with platters of turkey not too scientifically carved, dishes
of potatoes, bowls of apple sauce, plates of butter, pies, and smaller
dishes distributed at regular intervals. Two lanterns hanging from the
roof, and a row of candles stuck into the wall on either side by means
of slit sticks, cast a dim, weird light over the scene.

There was a moment’s silence, and at a nod from Graeme Mr. Craig rose
and said, ‘I don’t know how you feel about it, men, but to me this looks
good enough to be thankful for.’

‘Fire ahead, sir,’ called out a voice quite respectfully, and the
minister bent his head and said-- ‘For Christ the Lord who came to save
us, for all the love and goodness we have known, and for these Thy gifts
to us this Christmas night, our Father, make us thankful. Amen.’

‘Bon, dat’s fuss rate,’ said Baptiste. ‘Seems lak dat’s make me hit
(eat) more better for sure,’ and then no word was spoken for quarter of
an hour. The occasion was far too solemn and moments too precious for
anything so empty as words. But when the white piles of bread and the
brown piles of turkey had for a second time vanished, and after the
last pie had disappeared, there came a pause and hush of expectancy,
whereupon the cook and cookee, each bearing aloft a huge, blazing
pudding, came forth.

‘Hooray!’ yelled Blaney, ‘up wid yez!’ and grabbing the cook by the
shoulders from behind, he faced him about.

Mr. Craig was the first to respond, and seizing the cookee in the same
way, called out, ‘Squad, fall in! quick march!’ In a moment every man
was in the procession.

‘Strike up, Batchees, ye little angel!’ shouted Blaney, the appellation
a concession to the minister’s presence; and away went Baptiste in a
rollicking French song with the English chorus--

          ‘Then blow, ye winds, in the morning,
             Blow, ye winds, ay oh!
           Blow, ye winds, in the morning,
             Blow, blow, blow.’

And at each ‘blow’ every boot came down with a thump on the plank floor
that shook the solid roof. After the second round, Mr. Craig jumped upon
the bench, and called out--

‘Three cheers for Billy the cook!’

In the silence following the cheers Baptiste was heard to say, ‘Bon!
dat’s mak me feel lak hit dat puddin’ all hup mesef, me.’

‘Hear till the little baste!’ said Blaney in disgust.

‘Batchees,’ remonstrated Sandy gravely, ‘ye’ve more stomach than
manners.’

‘Fu sure! but de more stomach dat’s more better for dis puddin’,’
replied the little Frenchman cheerfully.

After a time the tables were cleared and pushed back to the wall, and
pipes were produced. In all attitudes suggestive of comfort the men
disposed themselves in a wide circle about the fire, which now roared
and crackled up the great wooden chimney hanging from the roof. The
lumberman’s hour of bliss had arrived. Even old man Nelson looked a
shade less melancholy than usual as he sat alone, well away from the
fire, smoking steadily and silently. When the second pipes were well
a-going, one of the men took down a violin from the wall and handed
it to Lachlan Campbell. There were two brothers Campbell just out from
Argyll, typical Highlanders: Lachlan, dark, silent, melancholy, with the
face of a mystic, and Angus, red-haired, quick, impulsive, and devoted
to his brother, a devotion he thought proper to cover under biting,
sarcastic speech.

Lachlan, after much protestation, interspersed with gibes from his
brother, took the violin, and, in response to the call from all sides,
struck up ‘Lord Macdonald’s Reel.’ In a moment the floor was filled with
dancers, whooping and cracking their fingers in the wildest manner. Then
Baptiste did the ‘Red River Jig,’ a most intricate and difficult series
of steps, the men keeping time to the music with hands and feet.

When the jig was finished, Sandy called for ‘Lochaber No More’; but
Campbell said, ‘No, no! I cannot play that to-night. Mr. Craig will
play.’

Craig took the violin, and at the first note I knew he was no ordinary
player. I did not recognise the music, but it was soft and thrilling,
and got in by the heart, till every one was thinking his tenderest and
saddest thoughts.

After he had played two or three exquisite bits, he gave Campbell his
violin, saying, ‘Now, “Lochaber,” Lachlan.’

Without a word Lachlan began, not ‘Lochaber’--he was not ready for that
yet--but ‘The Flowers o’ the Forest,’ and from that wandered through
‘Auld Robin Gray’ and ‘The Land o’ the Leal,’ and so got at last to that
most soul-subduing of Scottish laments, ‘Lochaber No More.’ At the first
strain, his brother, who had thrown himself on some blankets behind the
fire, turned over on his face, feigning sleep. Sandy M’Naughton took
his pipe out of his mouth, and sat up straight and stiff, staring into
vacancy, and Graeme, beyond the fire, drew a short, sharp breath. We
had often sat, Graeme and I, in our student-days, in the drawing-room at
home, listening to his father wailing out ‘Lochaber’ upon the pipes, and
I well knew that the awful minor strains were now eating their way into
his soul.

Over and over again the Highlander played his lament. He had long since
forgotten us, and was seeing visions of the hills and lochs and glens of
his far-away native land, and making us, too, see strange things out
of the dim past. I glanced at old man Nelson, and was startled at the
eager, almost piteous, look in his eyes, and I wished Campbell would
stop. Mr. Craig caught my eye, and, stepping over to Campbell, held out
his hand for the violin. Lingeringly and lovingly the Highlander drew
out the last strain, and silently gave the minister his instrument.

Without a moment’s pause, and while the spell of ‘Lochaber’ was still
upon us, the minister, with exquisite skill, fell into the refrain of
that simple and beautiful camp-meeting hymn, ‘The Sweet By and By.’
After playing the verse through once, he sang softly the refrain. After
the first verse, the men joined in the chorus; at first timidly, but
by the time the third verse was reached they were shouting with throats
full open, ‘We shall meet on that beautiful shore.’ When I looked at
Nelson the eager light had gone out of his eyes, and in its place was
kind of determined hopelessness, as if in this new music he had no part.

After the voices had ceased, Mr. Craig played again the refrain, more
and more softly and slowly; then laying the violin on Campbell’s knees,
he drew from his pocket his little Bible, and said--

‘Men, with Mr. Graeme’s permission, I want to read you something this
Christmas Eve. You will all have heard it before, but you will like it
none the less for that.’

His voice was soft, but clear and penetrating, as he read the eternal
story of the angels and the shepherds and the Babe. And as he read, a
slight motion of the hand or a glance of an eye made us see, as he
was seeing, that whole radiant drama. The wonder, the timid joy,
the tenderness, the mystery of it all, were borne in upon us with
overpowering effect. He closed the book, and in the same low, clear
voice went on to tell us how, in his home years ago, he used to stand on
Christmas Eve listening in thrilling delight to his mother telling him
the story, and how she used to make him see the shepherds and hear the
sheep bleating near by, and how the sudden burst of glory used to make
his heart jump.

‘I used to be a little afraid of the angels, because a boy told me they
were ghosts; but my mother told me better, and I didn’t fear them any
more. And the Baby, the dear little Baby--we all love a baby.’ There was
a quick, dry sob; it was from Nelson. ‘I used to peek through under
to see the little one in the straw, and wonder what things swaddling
clothes were. Oh, it was all so real and so beautiful!’ He paused, and I
could hear the men breathing.

‘But one Christmas Eve,’ he went on, in a lower, sweeter tone, ‘there
was no one to tell me the story, and I grew to forget it, and went away
to college, and learned to think that it was only a child’s tale and was
not for men. Then bad days came to me and worse, and I began to lose my
grip of myself, of life, of hope, of goodness, till one black Christmas,
in the slums of a faraway city, when I had given up all, and the devil’s
arms were about me, I heard the story again. And as I listened, with
a bitter ache in my heart, for I had put it all behind me, I suddenly
found myself peeking under the shepherds’ arms with a child’s wonder at
the Baby in the straw. Then it came over me like great waves, that His
name was Jesus, because it was He that should save men from their sins.
Save! Save! The waves kept beating upon my ears, and before I knew, I
had called out, “Oh! can He save me?” It was in a little mission meeting
on one of the side streets, and they seemed to be used to that sort of
thing there, for no one was surprised; and a young fellow leaned across
the aisle to me and said, “Why! you just bet He can!” His surprise that
I should doubt, his bright face and confident tone, gave me hope
that perhaps it might be so. I held to that hope with all my soul,
and’--stretching up his arms, and with a quick glow in his face and
a little break in his voice, ‘He hasn’t failed me yet; not once, not
once!’

He stopped quite short, and I felt a good deal like making a fool of
myself, for in those days I had not made up my mind about these things.
Graeme, poor old chap, was gazing at him with a sad yearning in his dark
eyes; big Sandy was sitting very stiff, and staring harder than ever
into the fire; Baptiste was trembling with excitement; Blaney was openly
wiping the tears away. But the face that held my eyes was that of
old man Nelson. It was white, fierce, hungry-looking, his sunken eyes
burning, his lips parted as if to cry.

The minister went on. ‘I didn’t mean to tell you this, men, it all came
over me with a rush; but it is true, every word, and not a word will I
take back. And, what’s more, I can tell you this, what He did for me
He can do for any man, and it doesn’t make any difference what’s behind
him, and’--leaning slightly forward, and with a little thrill of pathos
vibrating in his voice--‘O boys, why don’t you give Him a chance at you?
Without Him you’ll never be the men you want to be, and you’ll never get
the better of that that’s keeping some of you now from going back home.
You know you’ll never go back till you’re the men you want to be.’
Then, lifting up his face and throwing back his head, he said, as if to
himself, ‘Jesus! He shall save His people from their sins,’ and then,
‘Let us pray.’

Graeme leaned forward with his face in his hands; Baptiste and Blaney
dropped on their knees; Sandy, the Campbells, and some others, stood up.
Old man Nelson held his eyes steadily on the minister.

Only once before had I seen that look on a human face. A young fellow
had broken through the ice on the river at home, and as the black water
was dragging his fingers one by one from the slippery edges, there came
over his face that same look. I used to wake up for many a night after
in a sweat of horror, seeing the white face with its parting lips, and
its piteous, dumb appeal, and the black water slowly sucking it down.

Nelson’s face brought it all back; but during the prayer the face
changed, and seemed to settle into resolve of some sort, stern, almost
gloomy, as of a man with his last chance before him.

After the prayer Mr. Craig invited the men to a Christmas dinner next
day in Black Rock. ‘And because you are an independent lot, we’ll charge
you half a dollar for dinner and the evening show.’ Then leaving a
bundle of magazines and illustrated papers on the table--a godsend to
the men--he said good-bye and went out.

I was to go with the minister, so I jumped into the sleigh first, and
waited while he said good-bye to Graeme, who had been hard hit by the
whole service, and seemed to want to say something. I heard Mr. Craig
say cheerfully and confidently, ‘It’s a true bill: try Him.’

Sandy, who had been steadying Dandy while that interesting broncho was
attempting with great success to balance himself on his hind legs, came
to say good-bye. ‘Come and see me first thing, Sandy.’

‘Ay! I know; I’ll see ye, Mr. Craig,’ said Sandy earnestly, as Dandy
dashed off at a full gallop across the clearing and over the bridge,
steadying down when he reached the hill.

‘Steady, you idiot!’

This was to Dandy, who had taken a sudden side spring into the deep
snow, almost upsetting us. A man stepped out from the shadow. It was old
man Nelson. He came straight to the sleigh, and, ignoring my presence
completely, said--

‘Mr. Craig, are you dead sure of this? Will it work?’

‘Do you mean,’ said Craig, taking him up promptly, ‘can Jesus Christ
save you from your sins and make a man of you?’

The old man nodded, keeping his hungry eyes on the other’s face.

‘Well, here’s His message to you: “The Son of Man is come to seek and to
save that which was lost.”’

‘To me? To me?’ said the old man eagerly.

‘Listen; this, too, is His Word: “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no
wise cast out.” That’s for you, for here you are, coming.’

‘You don’t know me, Mr. Craig. I left my baby fifteen years ago
because--’

‘Stop!’ said the minister. ‘Don’t tell me, at least not to-night;
perhaps never. Tell Him who knows it all now, and who never betrays a
secret. Have it out with Him. Don’t be afraid to trust Him.’

Nelson looked at him, with his face quivering, and said in a husky
voice, ‘If this is no good, it’s hell for me.’

‘If it is no good,’ replied Craig, almost sternly, ‘it’s hell for all of
us.’

The old man straightened himself up, looked up at the stars, then back
at Mr. Craig, then at me, and, drawing a deep breath, said, ‘I’ll try
Him.’ As he was turning away the minister touched him on the arm, and
said quietly, ‘Keep an eye on Sandy to-morrow.’

Nelson nodded, and we went on; but before we took the next turn I looked
back and saw what brought a lump into my throat. It was old man Nelson
on his knees in the snow, with his hands spread upward to the stars,
and I wondered if there was any One above the stars, and nearer than the
stars, who could see. And then the trees hid him from my sight


CHAPTER II

THE BLACK ROCK CHRISTMAS


Many strange Christmas Days have I seen, but that wild Black Rock
Christmas stands out strangest of all. While I was revelling in my
delicious second morning sleep, just awake enough to enjoy it, Mr. Craig
came abruptly, announcing breakfast and adding, ‘Hope you are in good
shape, for we have our work before us this day.’

‘Hello!’ I replied, still half asleep, and anxious to hide from the
minister that I was trying to gain a few more moments of snoozing
delight, ‘what’s abroad?’.

‘The devil,’ he answered shortly, and with such emphasis that I sat bolt
upright, looking anxiously about.

‘Oh! no need for alarm. He’s not after you particularly--at least not
to-day,’ said Craig, with a shadow of a smile. ‘But he is going about in
good style, I can tell you.’

By this time I was quite awake. ‘Well, what particular style does His
Majesty affect this morning?’

He pulled out a showbill. ‘Peculiarly gaudy and effective, is it not?’

The items announced were sufficiently attractive. The ‘Frisco Opera
Company were to produce the ‘screaming farce,’ ‘The Gay and Giddy Dude’;
after which there was to be a ‘Grand Ball,’ during which the ‘Kalifornia
Female Kickers’ were to do some fancy figures; the whole to be followed
by a ‘big supper’ with ‘two free drinks to every man and one to the
lady,’ and all for the insignificant sum of two dollars.

‘Can’t you go one better?’ I said.

He looked inquiringly and a little disgustedly at me.

‘What can you do against free drinks and a dance, not to speak of the
“High Kickers”?’ he groaned.

‘No!’ he continued; ‘it’s a clean beat for us today. The miners and
lumbermen will have in their pockets ten thousand dollars, and every
dollar burning a hole; and Slavin and his gang will get most of it.
But,’ he added, ‘you must have breakfast. You’ll find a tub in the
kitchen; don’t be afraid to splash. It is the best I have to offer you.’

The tub sounded inviting, and before many minutes had passed I was in
a delightful glow, the effect of cold water and a rough towel, and that
consciousness of virtue that comes to a man who has had courage to face
his cold bath on a winter morning.

The breakfast was laid with fine taste. A diminutive pine-tree, in a pot
hung round with wintergreen, stood in the centre of the table.

‘Well, now, this looks good; porridge, beefsteak, potatoes, toast, and
marmalade.’

‘I hope you will enjoy it all.’

There was not much talk over our meal. Mr. Craig was evidently
preoccupied, and as blue as his politeness would allow him. Slavin’s
victory weighed upon his spirits. Finally he burst out, ‘Look here! I
can’t, I won’t stand it; something must be done. Last Christmas this
town was for two weeks, as one of the miners said, “a little suburb of
hell.” It was something too awful. And at the end of it all one young
fellow was found dead in his shack, and twenty or more crawled back to
the camps, leaving their three months’ pay with Slavin and his suckers.

‘I won’t stand it, I say.’ He turned fiercely on me. ‘What’s to be
done?’

This rather took me aback, for I had troubled myself with nothing of
this sort in my life before, being fully occupied in keeping myself out
of difficulty, and allowing others the same privilege. So I ventured
the consolation that he had done his part, and that a spree more or
less would not make much difference to these men. But the next moment
I wished I had been slower in speech, for he swiftly faced me, and his
words came like a torrent.

‘God forgive you that heartless word! Do you know--? But no; you don’t
know what you are saying. You don’t know that these men have been
clambering for dear life out of a fearful pit for three months past, and
doing good climbing too, poor chaps. You don’t think that some of them
have wives, most of them mothers and sisters, in the east or across the
sea, for whose sake they are slaving here; the miners hoping to save
enough to bring their families to this homeless place, the rest to make
enough to go back with credit. Why, there’s Nixon, miner, splendid chap;
has been here for two years, and drawing the highest pay. Twice he has
been in sight of his heaven, for he can’t speak of his wife and babies
without breaking up, and twice that slick son of the devil--that’s
Scripture, mind you--Slavin, got him, and “rolled” him, as the boys say.
He went back to the mines broken in body and in heart. He says this is
his third and last chance. If Slavin gets him, his wife and babies will
never see him on earth or in heaven. There is Sandy, too, and the rest.
And,’ he added, in a lower tone, and with the curious little thrill of
pathos in his voice, ‘this is the day the Saviour came to the world.’
He paused, and then with a little sad smile, ‘But I don’t want to abuse
you.’

‘Do, I enjoy it, I’m a beast, a selfish beast’; for somehow his intense,
blazing earnestness made me feel uncomfortably small.

‘What have we to offer?’ I demanded.

‘Wait till I have got these things cleared away, and my housekeeping
done.’

I pressed my services upon him, somewhat feebly, I own, for I can’t bear
dishwater; but he rejected my offer.

‘I don’t like trusting my china to the hands of a tender-foot.’

‘Quite right, though your china would prove an excellent means of
defence at long range.’ It was delf, a quarter of an inch thick. So I
smoked while he washed up, swept, dusted, and arranged the room.

After the room was ordered to his taste, we proceeded to hold council.
He could offer dinner, magic lantern, music. ‘We can fill in time for
two hours, but,’ he added gloomily, ‘we can’t beat the dance and the
“High Kickers.”’

‘Have you nothing new or startling?’

He shook his head.

‘No kind of show? Dog show? Snake charmer?’

‘Slavin has a monopoly of the snakes.’

Then he added hesitatingly, ‘There was an old Punch-and-Judy chap here
last year, but he died. Whisky again.’

‘What happened to his show?’

‘The Black Rock Hotel man took it for board and whisky bill. He has it
still, I suppose.’

I did not much relish the business; but I hated to see him beaten, so
I ventured, ‘I have run a Punch and Judy in an amateur way at the
‘Varsity.’

He sprang to his feet with a yell.

‘You have! you mean to say it? We’ve got them! We’ve beaten them!’ He
had an extraordinary way of taking your help for granted. ‘The miner
chaps, mostly English and Welsh, went mad over the poor old showman, and
made him so wealthy that in sheer gratitude he drank himself to death.’

He walked up and down in high excitement and in such evident delight
that I felt pledged to my best effort.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘first the poster. We must beat them in that.’

He brought me large sheets of brown paper, and after two hours’ hard
work I had half a dozen pictorial showbills done in gorgeous colours and
striking designs. They were good, if I do say it myself.

The turkey, the magic lantern, the Punch and Judy show were all there,
the last with a crowd before it in gaping delight. A few explanatory
words were thrown in, emphasising the highly artistic nature of the
Punch and Judy entertainment.

Craig was delighted, and proceeded to perfect his plans. He had some
half a dozen young men, four young ladies, and eight or ten matrons,
upon whom he could depend for help. These he organised into a vigilance
committee charged with the duty of preventing miners and lumbermen from
getting away to Slavin’s. ‘The critical moments will be immediately
before and after dinner, and then again after the show is over,’ he
explained. ‘The first two crises must be left to the care of Punch and
Judy, and as for the last, I am not yet sure what shall be done’; but
I saw he had something in his head, for he added, ‘I shall see Mrs.
Mavor.’

‘Who is Mrs. Mavor?’ I asked. But he made no reply. He was a born
fighter, and he put the fighting spirit into us all. We were bound to
win.

The sports were to begin at two o’clock. By lunch-time everything was in
readiness. After lunch I was having a quiet smoke in Craig’s shack when
in he rushed, saying--

‘The battle will be lost before it is fought. If we lose Quatre Bras, we
shall never get to Waterloo.’

‘What’s up?’

‘Slavin, just now. The miners are coming in, and he will have them in
tow in half an hour.’

He looked at me appealingly. I knew what he wanted.

‘All right; I suppose I must, but it is an awful bore that a man can’t
have a quiet smoke.’

‘You’re not half a bad fellow,’ he replied, smiling. ‘I shall get the
ladies to furnish coffee inside the booth. You furnish them intellectual
nourishment in front with dear old Punch and Judy.’

He sent a boy with a bell round the village announcing, ‘Punch, and
Judy in front of the Christmas booth beside the church’; and for
three-quarters of an hour I shrieked and sweated in that awful little
pen. But it was almost worth it to hear the shouts of approval and
laughter that greeted my performance. It was cold work standing about,
so that the crowd was quite ready to respond when Punch, after being
duly hanged, came forward and invited all into the booth for the hot
coffee which Judy had ordered.

In they trooped, and Quatre Bras was won.

No sooner were the miners safely engaged with their coffee than I heard
a great noise of bells and of men shouting; and on reaching the street
I saw that the men from the lumber camp were coming in. Two immense
sleighs, decorated with ribbons and spruce boughs, each drawn by a
four-horse team gaily adorned, filled with some fifty men, singing and
shouting with all their might, were coming down the hill road at full
gallop. Round the corner they swung, dashed at full speed across the
bridge and down the street, and pulled up after they had made the
circuit of a block, to the great admiration of the onlookers. Among
others Slavin sauntered up good-naturedly, making himself agreeable to
Sandy and those who were helping to unhitch his team.

‘Oh, you need not take trouble with me or my team, Mike Slavin. Batchees
and me and the boys can look after them fine,’ said Sandy coolly.

This rejecting of hospitality was perfectly understood by Slavin and by
all.

‘Dat’s too bad, heh?’ said Baptiste wickedly; ‘and, Sandy, he’s got
good money on his pocket for sure, too.’ The boys laughed, and Slavin,
joining in, turned away with Keele and Blaney; but by the look in his
eye I knew he was playing ‘Br’er Rabbit,’ and lying low.

Mr. Craig just then came up, ‘Hello, boys! too late for Punch and Judy,
but just in time for hot coffee and doughnuts.’

‘Bon; dat’s fuss rate,’ said Baptiste heartily; ‘where you keep him?’

‘Up in the tent next the church there. The miners are all in.’

‘Ah, dat so? Dat’s bad news for the shantymen, heh, Sandy?’ said the
little Frenchman dolefully.

‘There was a clothes-basket full of doughnuts and a boiler of coffee
left as I passed just now,’ said Craig encouragingly.

‘Allons, mes garcons; vite! never say keel!’ cried Baptiste excitedly,
stripping off the harness.

But Sandy would not leave the horses till they were carefully rubbed
down, blanketed, and fed, for he was entered for the four-horse race
and it behoved him to do his best to win. Besides, he scorned to hurry
himself for anything so unimportant as eating; that he considered hardly
worthy even of Baptiste. Mr. Craig managed to get a word with him before
he went off, and I saw Sandy solemnly and emphatically shake his head,
saying, ‘Ah! we’ll beat him this day,’ and I gathered that he was added
to the vigilance committee.

Old man Nelson was busy with his own team. He turned slowly at Mr.
Craig’s greeting, ‘How is it, Nelson?’ and it was with a very grave
voice he answered, ‘I hardly know, sir; but I am not gone yet, though it
seems little to hold to.’

‘All you want for a grip is what your hand can cover. What would you
have? And besides, do you know why you are not gone yet?’

The old man waited, looking at the minister gravely.

‘Because He hasn’t let go His grip of you.’

‘How do you know He’s gripped me?’

‘Now, look here, Nelson, do you want to quit this thing and give it all
up?’

‘No, no! For heaven’s sake, no! Why, do you think I have lost it?’ said
Nelson, almost piteously.

‘Well, He’s keener about it than you; and I’ll bet you haven’t thought
it worth while to thank Him.’

‘To thank Him,’ he repeated, almost stupidly, ‘for--’

‘For keeping you where you are overnight,’ said Mr. Craig, almost
sternly.

The old man gazed at the minister, a light growing in his eyes.

‘You’re right. Thank God, you’re right.’ And then he turned quickly
away, and went into the stable behind his team. It was a minute before
he came out. Over his face there was a trembling joy.

‘Can I do anything for you to-day?’ he asked humbly.

‘Indeed you just can,’ said the minister, taking his hand and shaking it
very warmly; and then he told him Slavin’s programme and ours.

‘Sandy is all right till after his race. After that is his time of
danger,’ said the minister.

‘I’ll stay with him, sir,’ said old Nelson, in the tone of a man taking
a covenant, and immediately set off for the coffee-tent.

‘Here comes another recruit for your corps,’ I said, pointing to Leslie
Graeme, who was coming down the street at that moment in his light
sleigh.

‘I am not so sure. Do you think you could get him?’

I laughed. ‘You are a good one.’

‘Well,’ he replied, half defiantly, ‘is not this your fight too?’

‘You make me think so, though I am bound to say I hardly recognise
myself to day. But here goes,’ and before I knew it I was describing
our plans to Graeme, growing more and more enthusiastic as he sat in his
sleigh, listening with a quizzical smile I didn’t quite like.

‘He’s got you too,’ he said; ‘I feared so.’

‘Well,’ I laughed, ‘perhaps so. But I want to lick that man Slavin. I’ve
just seen him, and he’s just what Craig calls him, “a slick son of the
devil.” Don’t be shocked; he says it is Scripture.’

‘Revised version,’ said Graeme gravely, while Craig looked a little
abashed.

‘What is assigned me, Mr. Craig? for I know that this man is simply your
agent.’

I repudiated the idea, while Mr. Craig said nothing.

‘What’s my part?’ demanded Graeme.

‘Well,’ said Mr. Craig hesitatingly, ‘of course I would do nothing till
I had consulted you; but I want a man to take my place at the sports. I
am referee.’

‘That’s all right,’ said Graeme, with an air of relief; ‘I expected
something hard.’

‘And then I thought you would not mind presiding at dinner--I want it to
go off well.’

‘Did you notice that?’ said Graeme to me. ‘Not a bad touch, eh?’

‘That’s nothing to the way he touched me. Wait and learn,’ I answered,
while Craig looked quite distressed. ‘He’ll do it, Mr. Craig, never
fear,’ I said, ‘and any other little duty that may occur to you.’

‘Now that’s too bad of you. That is all I want, honour bright,’ he
replied; adding, as he turned away, ‘you are just in time for a cup of
coffee, Mr. Graeme. Now I must see Mrs. Mavor.’

‘Who is Mrs. Mavor?’ I demanded of Graeme.

‘Mrs. Mavor? The miners’ guardian angel.’

We put up the horses and set off for coffee. As we approached the
booth Graeme caught sight of the Punch and Judy show, stood still in
amazement, and exclaimed, ‘Can the dead live?’

‘Punch and Judy never die,’ I replied solemnly.

‘But the old manipulator is dead enough, poor old beggar!’

‘But he left his mantle, as you see.’

He looked at me a moment

‘What! do you mean, you--?’

‘Yes, that is exactly what I do mean.’

‘He is great man, that Craig fellow--a truly great man.’

And then he leaned up against a tree and laughed till the tears came.
‘I say, old boy, don’t mind me,’ he gasped, ‘but do you remember the old
‘Varsity show?’

‘Yes, you villain; and I remember your part in it. I wonder how you can,
even at this remote date, laugh at it.’ For I had a vivid recollection
of how, after a ‘chaste and highly artistic performance of this
mediaeval play’ had been given before a distinguished Toronto audience,
the trap door by which I had entered my box was fastened, and I was left
to swelter in my cage, and forced to listen to the suffocated laughter
from the wings and the stage whispers of ‘Hello, Mr. Punch, where’s the
baby?’ And for many a day after I was subjected to anxious inquiries as
to the locality and health of ‘the baby,’ and whether it was able to be
out.

‘Oh, the dear old days!’ he kept saying, over and over, in a tone so
full of sadness that my heart grew sore for him and I forgave him, as
many a time before.

The sports passed off in typical Western style. In addition to the usual
running and leaping contests, there was rifle and pistol shooting, in
both of which old man Nelson stood first, with Shaw, foreman of the
mines, second.

The great event of the day, however, was to be the four-horse race,
for which three teams were entered--one from the mines driven by Nixon,
Craig’s friend, a citizens’ team, and Sandy’s. The race was really
between the miners’ team, and that from the woods, for the citizens’
team, though made up of speedy horses, had not been driven much
together, and knew neither their driver nor each other. In the miners’
team were four bays, very powerful, a trifle heavy perhaps, but well
matched, perfectly trained, and perfectly handled by their driver. Sandy
had his long rangy roans, and for leaders a pair of half-broken
pinto bronchos. The pintos, caught the summer before upon the Alberta
prairies, were fleet as deer, but wicked and uncertain. They were
Baptiste’s special care and pride. If they would only run straight
there was little doubt that they would carry the roans and themselves to
glory; but one could not tell the moment they might bolt or kick things
to pieces.

Being the only non-partisan in the crowd I was asked to referee. The
race was about half a mile and return, the first and last quarters being
upon the ice. The course, after leaving the ice, led up from the river
by a long easy slope to the level above; and at the further end curved
somewhat sharply round the Old Fort. The only condition attaching to the
race was that the teams should start from the scratch, make the turn of
the Fort, and finish at the scratch. There were no vexing regulations as
to fouls. The man making the foul would find it necessary to reckon
with the crowd, which was considered sufficient guarantee for a fair and
square race. Owing to the hazards of the course, the result would depend
upon the skill of the drivers quite as much as upon the speed of the
teams. The points of hazard were at the turn round the Old Fort, and at
a little ravine which led down to the river, over which the road passed
by means of a long log bridge or causeway.

From a point upon the high bank of the river the whole course lay in
open view. It was a scene full of life and vividly picturesque. There
were miners in dark clothes and peak caps; citizens in ordinary garb;
ranchmen in wide cowboy hats and buckskin shirts and leggings, some
with cartridge-belts and pistols; a few half-breeds and Indians in
half-native, half-civilised dress; and scattering through the crowd the
lumbermen with gay scarlet and blue blanket coats, and some with knitted
tuques of the same colours. A very good-natured but extremely uncertain
crowd it was. At the head of each horse stood a man, but at the pintos’
heads Baptiste stood alone, trying to hold down the off leader, thrown
into a frenzy of fear by the yelling of the crowd.

Gradually all became quiet, till, in the midst of absolute stillness,
came the words, ‘Are you ready?’, then the pistol-shot and the great
race had begun. Above the roar of the crowd came the shrill cry of
Baptiste, as he struck his broncho with the palm of his hand, and swung
himself into the sleigh beside Sandy, as it shot past.

Like a flash the bronchos sprang to the front, two lengths before the
other teams; but, terrified by the yelling of the crowd, instead of
bending to the left bank up which the road wound, they wheeled to the
right and were almost across the river before Sandy could swing them
back into the course.

Baptiste’s cries, a curious mixture of French and English, continued to
strike through all other sounds till they gained the top of the slope
to find the others almost a hundred yards in front, the citizens’ team
leading, with the miners’ following close. The moment the pintos caught
sight of the teams before them they set off at a terrific pace and
steadily devoured the intervening space. Nearer and nearer the turn
came, the eight horses in front, running straight and well within their
speed. After them flew the pintos, running savagely with ears set back,
leading well the big roans, thundering along and gaining at every bound.
And now the citizens’ team had almost reached the Fort, running hard,
and drawing away from the bays. But Nixon knew what he was about, and
was simply steadying his team for the turn. The event proved his wisdom,
for in the turn the leading team left the track, lost a moment or two in
the deep snow, and before they could regain the road the bays had swept
superbly past, leaving their rivals to follow in the rear. On came the
pintos, swiftly nearing the Fort. Surely at that pace they cannot make
the turn. But Sandy knows his leaders. They have their eyes upon the
teams in front, and need no touch of rein. Without the slightest change
in speed the nimble-footed bronchos round the turn, hauling the big
roans after them, and fall in behind the citizens’ team, which is
regaining steadily the ground lost in the turn.

And now the struggle is for the bridge over the ravine. The bays in
front, running with mouths wide open, are evidently doing their best;
behind them, and every moment nearing them, but at the limit of their
speed too, come the lighter and fleeter citizens’ team; while opposite
their driver are the pintos, pulling hard, eager and fresh. Their temper
is too uncertain to send them to the front; they run well following, but
when leading cannot be trusted, and besides, a broncho hates a bridge;
so Sandy holds them where they are, waiting and hoping for his chance
after the bridge is crossed. Foot by foot the citizens’ team creep
up upon the flank of the bays, with the pintos in turn hugging them
closely, till it seems as if the three, if none slackens, must strike
the bridge together; and this will mean destruction to one at least.
This danger Sandy perceives, but he dare not check his leaders.
Suddenly, within a few yards of the bridge, Baptiste throws himself upon
the lines, wrenches them out of Sandy’s hands, and, with a quick swing,
faces the pintos down the steep side of the ravine, which is almost
sheer ice with a thin coat of snow. It is a daring course to take, for
the ravine, though not deep, is full of undergrowth, and is partially
closed up by a brush heap at the further end. But, with a yell, Baptiste
hurls his four horses down the slope, and into the undergrowth. ‘Allons,
mes enfants! Courage! vite, vite!’ cries their driver, and nobly do the
pintos respond. Regardless of bushes and brush heaps, they tear their
way through; but, as they emerge, the hind bob-sleigh catches a root,
and, with a crash, the sleigh is hurled high in the air. Baptiste’s
cries ring out high and shrill as ever, encouraging his team, and never
cease till, with a plunge and a scramble, they clear the brush heap
lying at the mouth of the ravine, and are out on the ice on the river,
with Baptiste standing on the front bob, the box trailing behind, and
Sandy nowhere to be seen.

Three hundred yards of the course remain. The bays, perfectly handled,
have gained at the bridge and in the descent to the ice, and are leading
the citizens’ team by half a dozen sleigh lengths. Behind both comes
Baptiste. It is now or never for the pintos. The rattle of the trailing
box, together with the wild yelling of the crowd rushing down the bank,
excites the bronchos to madness, and, taking the bits in their teeth,
they do their first free running that day. Past the citizens’ team like
a whirlwind they dash, clear the intervening space, and gain the flanks
of the bays. Can the bays hold them? Over them leans their driver,
plying for the first time the hissing lash. Only fifty yards more. The
miners begin to yell. But Baptiste, waving his lines high in one hand
seizes his tuque with the other, whirls it about his head and flings it
with a fiercer yell than ever at the bronchos. Like the bursting of a
hurricane the pintos leap forward, and with a splendid rush cross the
scratch, winners by their own length.

There was a wild quarter of an hour. The shantymen had torn off their
coats and were waving them wildly and tossing them high, while the
ranchers added to the uproar by emptying their revolvers into the air in
a way that made one nervous.

When the crowd was somewhat quieted Sandy’s stiff figure appeared,
slowly making towards them. A dozen lumbermen ran to him, eagerly
inquiring if he were hurt. But Sandy could only curse the little
Frenchman for losing the race.

‘Lost! Why, man, we’ve won it!’ shouted a voice, at which Sandy’s rage
vanished, and he allowed himself to be carried in upon the shoulders of
his admirers.

‘Where’s the lad?’ was his first question.

The bronchos are off with him. He’s down at the rapids like enough.’

‘Let me go,’ shouted Sandy, setting off at a run in the track of the
sleigh. He had not gone far before he met Baptiste coming back with his
team foaming, the roans going quietly, but the bronchos dancing, and
eager to be at it again.

‘Voila! bully boy! tank the bon Dieu, Sandy; you not keel, heh? Ah!
you are one grand chevalier,’ exclaimed Baptiste, hauling Sandy in and
thrusting the lines into his hands. And so they came back, the sleigh
box still dragging behind, the pintos executing fantastic figures on
their hind legs, and Sandy holding them down. The little Frenchman
struck a dramatic attitude and called out--

‘Voila! What’s the matter wiz Sandy, heh?’

The roar that answered set the bronchos off again plunging and kicking,
and only when Baptiste got them by the heads could they be induced to
stand long enough to allow Sandy to be proclaimed winner of the race.
Several of the lumbermen sprang into the sleigh box with Sandy and
Baptiste, among them Keefe, followed by Nelson, and the first part of
the great day was over. Slavin could not understand the new order
of things. That a great event like the four-horse race should not
be followed by ‘drinks all round’ was to him at once disgusting and
incomprehensible; and, realising his defeat for the moment, he fell into
the crowd and disappeared. But he left behind him his ‘runners.’ He had
not yet thrown up the game.

Mr. Craig meantime came to me, and, looking anxiously after Sandy in
his sleigh, with his frantic crowd of yelling admirers, said in a gloomy
voice, ‘Poor Sandy! He is easily caught, and Keefe has the devil’s
cunning.’

‘He won’t touch Slavin’s whisky to-day,’ I answered confidently.

‘There’ll be twenty bottles waiting him in the stable,’ he replied
bitterly, ‘and I can’t go following him up.’

‘He won’t stand that, no man would. God help us all.’ I could hardly
recognise myself, for I found in my heart an earnest echo to that prayer
as I watched him go toward the crowd again, his face set in strong
determination. He looked like the captain of a forlorn hope, and I was
proud to be following him.


CHAPTER III

WATERLOO. OUR FIGHT--HIS VICTORY


The sports were over, and there remained still an hour to be filled
in before dinner. It was an hour full of danger to Craig’s hopes of
victory, for the men were wild with excitement, and ready for the most
reckless means of ‘slinging their dust.’ I could not but admire the
skill with which Mr. Craig caught their attention.

‘Gentlemen,’ he called out, ‘we’ve forgotten the judge of the great
race. Three cheers for Mr. Connor!’

Two of the shantymen picked me up and hoisted me on their shoulders
while the cheers were given.

‘Announce the Punch and Judy,’ he entreated me, in a low voice. I did so
in a little speech, and was forthwith borne aloft, through the street to
the booth, followed by the whole crowd, cheering like mad.

The excitement of the crowd caught me, and for an hour I squeaked and
worked the wires of the immortal and unhappy family in a manner hitherto
unapproached by me at least. I was glad enough when Graeme came to tell
me to send the men in to dinner. This Mr. Punch did in the most
gracious manner, and again with cheers for Punch’s master they trooped
tumultuously into the tent.

We had only well begun when Baptiste came in quietly but hurriedly and
whispered to me--

‘M’sieu Craig, he’s gone to Slavin’s, and would lak you and M’sieu
Graeme would follow queek. Sandy he’s take one leel drink up at de
stable, and he’s go mad lak one diable.’

I sent him for Graeme, who was presiding at dinner, and set off for
Slavin’s at a run. There I found Mr. Craig and Nelson holding Sandy,
more than half drunk, back from Slavin, who, stripped to the shirt, was
coolly waiting with a taunting smile.

‘Let me go, Mr. Craig,’ Sandy was saying, ‘I am a good Presbyterian. He
is a Papist thief; and he has my money; and I will have it out of the
soul of him.’

‘Let him go, preacher,’ sneered Slavin, ‘I’ll cool him off for yez. But
ye’d better hold him if yez wants his mug left on to him.’

‘Let him go!’ Keefe was shouting.

‘Hands off!’ Blaney was echoing.

I pushed my way in. ‘What’s up?’ I cried.

‘Mr. Connor,’ said Sandy solemnly, ‘it is a gentleman you are, though
your name is against you, and I am a good Presbyterian, and I can give
you the Commandments and Reasons annexed to them; but yon’s a thief, a
Papist thief, and I am justified in getting my money out of his soul.’

‘But,’ I remonstrated, ‘you won’t get it in this way.’

‘He has my money,’ reiterated Sandy.

‘He is a blank liar, and he’s afraid to take it up,’ said Slavin, in a
low, cool tone.

With a roar Sandy broke away and rushed at him; but, without moving
from his tracks, Slavin met him with a straight left-hander and laid him
flat.

‘Hooray,’ yelled Blaney, ‘Ireland for ever!’ and, seizing the iron
poker, swung it around his head, crying, ‘Back, or, by the holy Moses,
I’ll kill the first man that interferes wid the game.’

‘Give it to him!’ Keefe said savagely.

Sandy rose slowly, gazing round stupidly.

‘He don’t know what hit him,’ laughed Keefe.

This roused the Highlander, and saying, ‘I’ll settle you afterwards,
Mister Keefe,’ he rushed in again at Slavin. Again Slavin met him again
with his left, staggered him, and, before he fell, took a step forward
and delivered a terrific right-hand blow on his jaw. Poor Sandy went
down in a heap amid the yells of Blaney, Keefe, and some others of the
gang. I was in despair when in came Baptiste and Graeme.

One look at Sandy, and Baptiste tore off his coat and cap, slammed them
on the floor, danced on them, and with a long-drawn ‘sap-r-r-r-rie,’
rushed at Slavin. But Graeme caught him by the back of the neck, saying,
‘Hold on, little man,’ and turning to Slavin, pointed to Sandy, who was
reviving under Nelson’s care, and said, ‘What’s this for?’

‘Ask him,’ said Slavin insolently. ‘He knows.’

‘What is it, Nelson?’

Nelson explained that Sandy, after drinking some at the stable and a
glass at the Black Rock Hotel, had come down here with Keefe and the
others, had lost his money, and was accusing Slavin of robbing him.

‘Did you furnish him with liquor?’ said Graeme sternly.

‘It is none of your business,’ replied Slavin, with an oath.

‘I shall make it my business. It is not the first time my men have lost
money in this saloon.’

‘You lie,’ said Slavin, with deliberate emphasis.

‘Slavin,’ said Graeme quietly, ‘it’s a pity you said that, because,
unless you apologise in one minute, I shall make you sorry.’

‘Apologise?’ roared Slavin, ‘apologise to you?’ calling him a vile name.

Graeme grew white, and said even more slowly, ‘Now you’ll have to take
it; no apology will do.’

He slowly stripped off coat and vest. Mr. Craig interposed, begging
Graeme to let the matter pass. ‘Surely he is not worth it.’

‘Mr. Craig,’ said Graeme, with an easy smile, ‘you don’t understand. No
man can call me that name and walk around afterwards feeling well.’

Then, turning to Slavin, he said, ‘Now, if you want a minute’s rest, I
can wait.’

Slavin, with a curse, bade him come.

‘Blaney,’ said Graeme sharply, ‘you get back.’ Blaney promptly stepped
back to Keefe’s side. ‘Nelson, you and Baptiste can see that they stay
there.’ The old man nodded and looked at Craig, who simply said, ‘Do the
best you can.’

It was a good fight. Slavin had plenty of pluck, and for a time forced
the fighting, Graeme guarding easily and tapping him aggravatingly about
the nose and eyes, drawing blood, but not disabling him. Gradually there
came a look of fear into Slavin’s eyes, and the beads stood upon his
face. He had met his master.

‘Now, Slavin, you’re beginning to be sorry; and now I am going to show
you what you are made of.’ Graeme made one or two lightning passes,
struck Slavin one, two, three terrific blows, and laid him quite flat
and senseless. Keefe and Blaney both sprang forward, but there was a
savage kind of growl.

‘Hold, there!’ It was old man Nelson looking along a pistol barrel. ‘You
know me, Keefe,’ he said. ‘You won’t do any murder this time.’

Keefe turned green and yellow, and staggered back, while Slavin slowly
rose to his feet.

‘Will you take some more?’ said Graeme. ‘You haven’t got much; but mind
I have stopped playing with you. Put up your gun, Nelson. No one will
interfere now.’

Slavin hesitated, then rushed, but Graeme stepped to meet him, and
we saw Slavin’s heels in the air as he fell back upon his neck and
shoulders and lay still, with his toes quivering.

‘Bon!’ yelled Baptiste. ‘Bully boy! Dat’s de bon stuff. Dat’s larn him
one good lesson.’ But immediately he shrieked, Gar-r-r-r-e a vous!’

He was too late, for there was a crash of breaking glass, and Graeme
fell to the floor with a long deep cut on the side of his head. Keefe
had hurled a bottle with all too sure an aim, and had fled. I thought
he was dead; but we carried him out, and in a few minutes he groaned,
opened his eyes, and sank again into insensibility.

‘Where can we take him?’ I cried.

‘To my shack,’ said Mr. Craig.

‘Is there no place nearer?’

‘Yes; Mrs. Mavor’s. I shall run on to tell her.’

She met us at the door. I had in mind to say some words of apology, but
when I looked upon her face I forgot my words, forgot my business at her
door, and stood simply looking.

‘Come in! Bring him in! Please do not wait,’ she said, and her voice was
sweet and soft and firm.

We laid him in a large room at the back of the shop over which Mrs.
Mavor lived. Together we dressed the wound, her firm white fingers,
skilful as if with long training. Before the dressing was finished
I sent Craig off, for the time had come for the Magic Lantern in the
church, and I knew how critical the moment was in our fight. ‘Go,’ I
said; ‘he is coming to, and we do not need you.’

In a few moments more Graeme revived, and, gazing about, asked, ‘What’s,
all this about?’ and then, recollecting, ‘Ah! that brute Keefe’; then
seeing my anxious face he said carelessly, ‘Awful bore, ain’t it? Sorry
to trouble you, old fellow.’

‘You be hanged!’ I said shortly; for his old sweet smile was playing
about his lips, and was almost too much for me. ‘Mrs. Mavor and I are in
command, and you must keep perfectly still.’

‘Mrs. Mavor?’ he said, in surprise. She came forward, with a slight
flush on her face.

‘I think you know me, Mr. Graeme.’

‘I have often seen you, and wished to know you. I am sorry to bring you
this trouble.’

‘You must not say so,’ she replied, ‘but let me do all for you that I
can. And now the doctor says you are to lie still.’

‘The doctor? Oh! you mean Connor. He is hardly there yet. You don’t know
each other. Permit me to present Mr. Connor, Mrs. Mavor.’

As she bowed slightly, her eyes looked into mine with serious gaze, not
inquiring, yet searching my soul. As I looked into her eyes I forgot
everything about me, and when I recalled myself it seemed as if I
had been away in some far place. It was not their colour or their
brightness; I do not yet know their colour, and I have often looked into
them; and they were not bright; but they were clear, and one could look
far down into them, and in their depths see a glowing, steady light.
As I went to get some drugs from the Black Rock doctor, I found myself
wondering about that far-down light; and about her voice, how it could
get that sound from far away.

I found the doctor quite drunk, as indeed Mr. Craig had warned; but his
drugs were good, and I got what I wanted and quickly returned.

While Graeme slept Mrs. Mavor made me tea. As the evening wore on I told
her the events of the day, dwelling admiringly upon Craig’s generalship.
She smiled at this.

‘He got me too,’ she said. ‘Nixon was sent to me just before the sports;
and I don’t think he will break down to-day, and I am so thankful.’ And
her eyes glowed.

‘I am quite sure he won’t,’ I thought to myself, but I said no word.

After a long pause, she went on, ‘I have promised Mr. Craig to sing
to-night, if I am needed!’ and then, after a moment’s hesitation, ‘It
is two years since I have been able to sing--two years,’ she repeated,
‘since’--and then her brave voice trembled--‘my husband was killed.’

‘I quite understand,’ I said, having no other word on my tongue

‘And,’ she went on quietly, ‘I fear I have been selfish. It is hard to
sing the same songs. We were very happy. But the miners like to hear me
sing, and I think perhaps it helps them to feel less lonely, and keeps
them from evil. I shall try to-night, if I am needed. Mr. Craig will not
ask me unless he must.’

I would have seen every miner and lumberman in the place hideously drunk
before I would have asked her to sing one song while her heart ached. I
wondered at Craig, and said, rather angrily--

‘He thinks only of those wretched miners and shantymen of his.’

She looked at me with wonder in her eyes, and said gently, ‘And are they
not Christ’s too?’

And I found no word to reply.

It was nearing ten o’clock, and I was wondering how the fight was going,
and hoping that Mrs. Mavor would not be needed, when the door opened,
and old man Nelson and Sandy, the latter much battered and ashamed, came
in with the word for Mrs. Mavor.

‘I will come,’ she said simply. She saw me preparing to accompany her,
and asked, ‘Do you think you can leave him?’

‘He will do quite well in Nelson’s care.’

‘Then I am glad; for I must take my little one with me. I did not put
her to bed in case I should need to go, and I may not leave her.’

We entered the church by the back door, and saw at once that even yet
the battle might easily be lost.

Some miners had just come from Slavin’s, evidently bent on breaking up
the meeting, in revenge for the collapse of the dance, which Slavin
was unable to enjoy, much less direct. Craig was gallantly holding his
ground, finding it hard work to keep his men in good humour, and so
prevent a fight, for there were cries of ‘Put him out! Put the beast
out!’ at a miner half drunk and wholly outrageous.

The look of relief that came over his face when Craig caught sight of us
told how anxious he had been, and reconciled me to Mrs. Mavor’s singing.
‘Thank the good God,’ he said, with what came near being a sob, ‘I was
about to despair.’

He immediately walked to the front and called out--

‘Gentlemen, if you wish it, Mrs. Mavor will sing.’

There was a dead silence. Some one began to applaud, but a miner said
savagely, ‘Stop that, you fool!’

There was a few moments’ delay, when from the crowd a voice called out,
‘Does Mrs. Mavor wish to sing?’ followed by cries of ‘Ay, that’s it.’
Then Shaw, the foreman at the mines, stood up in the audience and said--

‘Mr. Craig and gentlemen, you know that three years ago I was known as
“Old Ricketts,” and that I owe all I am to-night, under God, to Mrs.
Mavor, and’--with a little quiver in his voice--‘her baby. And we all
know that for two years she has not sung; and we all know why. And what
I say is, that if she does not feel like singing to-night, she is not
going to sing to keep any drunken brute of Slavin’s crowd quiet.’

There were deep growls of approval all over the church. I could have
hugged Shaw then and there. Mr. Craig went to Mrs. Mavor, and after a
word with her came back and said--

‘Mrs. Mavor, wishes me to thank her dear friend Mr. Shaw, but says she
would like to sing.’

The response was perfect stillness. Mr. Craig sat down to the organ
and played the opening bars of the touching melody, ‘Oft in the Stilly
Night.’ Mrs. Mavor came to the front, and, with a smile of exquisite
sweetness upon her sad face, and looking straight at us with her
glorious eyes, began to sing.

Her voice, a rich soprano, even and true, rose and fell, now soft, now
strong, but always filling the building, pouring around us floods of
music. I had heard Patti’s ‘Home, sweet Home,’ and of all singing that
alone affected me as did this.

At the end of the first verse the few women in the church and some men
were weeping quietly; but when she began the words--

     ‘When I remember all
     The friends once linked together,’

sobs came on every side from these tender-hearted fellows, and Shaw
quite lost his grip. But she sang steadily on, the tone clearer and
sweeter and fuller at every note, and when the sound of her voice died
away, she stood looking at the men as if in wonder that they should
weep. No one moved. Mr. Craig played softly on, and, wandering through
many variations, arrived at last at

     ‘Jesus, lover of my soul.’

As she sang the appealing words, her face was lifted up, and she saw
none of us; but she must have seen some one, for the cry in her voice
could only come from one who could see and feel help close at hand. On
and on went the glorious voice, searching my soul’s depths; but when she
came to the words--

     ‘Thou, O Christ, art all I want,’

she stretched up her arms--she had quite forgotten us, her voice had
borne her to other worlds--and sang with such a passion of ‘abandon’
that my soul was ready to surrender anything, everything.

Again Mr. Craig wandered on through his changing chords till again he
came to familiar ground, and the voice began, in low, thrilling tones,
Bernard’s great song of home--

     ‘Jerusalem the golden.’

Every word, with all its weight of meaning, came winging to our souls,
till we found ourselves gazing afar into those stately halls of Zion,
with their daylight serene and their jubilant throngs. When the singer
came to the last verse there was a pause. Again Mr. Craig softly played
the interlude, but still there was no voice. I looked up. She was very
white, and her eyes were glowing with their deep light. Mr. Craig looked
quickly about, saw her, stopped, and half rose, as if to go to her,
when, in a voice that seemed to come from a far-off land, she went on--

     ‘O sweet and blessed country!’

The longing, the yearning, in the second ‘O’ were indescribable. Again
and again, as she held that word, and then dropped down with the cadence
in the music, my heart ached for I knew not what.

The audience were sitting as in a trance. The grimy faces of the miners,
for they never get quite white, were furrowed with the tear-courses.
Shaw, by this time, had his face too lifted high, his eyes gazing far
above the singer’s head, and I knew by the rapture in his face that he
was seeing, as she saw, the thronging stately halls and the white-robed
conquerors. He had felt, and was still feeling, all the stress of
the fight, and to him the vision of the conquerors in their glory was
soul-drawing and soul-stirring. And Nixon, too--he had his vision; but
what he saw was the face of the singer, with the shining eyes, and, by
the look of him, that was vision enough.

Immediately after her last note Mrs. Mavor stretched out her hands to
her little girl, who was sitting on my knee, caught her up, and, holding
her close to her breast, walked quickly behind the curtain. Not a sound
followed the singing: no one moved till she had disappeared; and then
Mr. Craig came to the front, and, motioning to me to follow Mrs. Mavor,
began in a low, distinct voice--

‘Gentlemen, it was not easy for Mrs. Mavor to sing for us, and you
know she sang because she is a miner’s wife, and her heart is with the
miners. But she sang, too, because her heart is His who came to earth
this day so many years ago to save us all; and she would make you love
Him too. For in loving Him you are saved from all base loves, and you
know what I mean.

‘And before we say good-night, men, I want to know if the time is not
come when all of you who mean to be better than you are should join in
putting from us this thing that has brought sorrow and shame to us and
to those we love? You know what I mean. Some of you are strong; will you
stand by and see weaker men robbed of the money they save for those far
away, and robbed of the manhood that no money can buy or restore?

‘Will the strong men help? Shall we all join hands in this? What do you
say? In this town we have often seen hell, and just a moment ago we were
all looking into heaven, “the sweet and blessed country.” O men!’ and
his voice rang in an agony through the building--‘O men! which shall be
ours? For Heaven’s dear sake, let us help one another! Who will?’

I was looking out through a slit in the curtain. The men, already
wrought to intense feeling by the music, were listening with set faces
and gleaming eyes, and as at the appeal ‘Who will?’ Craig raised high
his hand, Shaw, Nixon, and a hundred men sprang to their feet and held
high their hands.

I have witnessed some thrilling scenes in my life, but never anything
to equal that: the one man on the platform standing at full height,
with his hand thrown up to heaven, and the hundred men below standing
straight, with arms up at full length, silent, and almost motionless.

For a moment Craig held them so; and again his voice rang out, louder,
sterner than before--

‘All who mean it, say, “By God’s help I will.”’ And back from a hundred
throats came deep and strong the words, ‘By God’s help, I will.’

At this point Mrs. Mavor, whom I had quite forgotten, put her hand on
my arm. ‘Go and tell him,’ she panted, ‘I want them to come on Thursday
night, as they used to in the other days--go--quick,’ and she almost
pushed me out. I gave Craig her message. He held up his hand for
silence.

‘Mrs. Mavor wishes me to say that she will be glad to see you all, as in
the old days, on Thursday evening; and I can think of no better place to
give formal expression to our pledge of this night’

There was a shout of acceptance; and then, at some one’s call, the long
pent-up feelings of the crowd found vent in three mighty cheers for Mrs.
Mavor.

‘Now for our old hymn,’ called out Mr. Craig, ‘and Mrs. Mavor will lead
us.’

He sat down at the organ, played a few bars of ‘The Sweet By and By,’
and then Mrs. Mavor began. But not a soul joined till the refrain was
reached, and then they sang as only men with their hearts on fire can
sing. But after the last refrain Mr. Craig made a sign to Mrs. Mavor,
and she sang alone, slowly and softly, and with eyes looking far away--

     ‘In the sweet by and by,
     We shall meet on that beautiful shore.’

There was no benediction--there seemed no need; and the men went quietly
out. But over and over again the voice kept singing in my ears and in
my heart, ‘We shall meet on that beautiful shore.’ And after the
sleigh-loads of men had gone and left the street empty, as I stood with
Craig in the radiant moonlight that made the great mountains about
come near us, from Sandy’s sleigh we heard in the distance Baptiste’s
French-English song; but the song that floated down with the sound of
the bells from the miners’ sleigh was--

     ‘We shall meet on that beautiful shore.’

‘Poor old Shaw!’ said Craig softly.

When the last sound had died away I turned to him and said--

     ‘You have won your fight.’

‘We have won our fight; I was beaten,’ he replied quickly, offering
me his hand. Then, taking off his cap, and looking up beyond the
mountain-tops and the silent stars, he added softly, ‘Our fight, but His
victory.’

And, thinking it all over, I could not say but perhaps he was right.


CHAPTER IV

MRS. MAVOR’S STORY


The days that followed the Black Rock Christmas were anxious days and
weary, but not for the brightest of my life would I change them now;
for, as after the burning heat or rocking storm the dying day lies
beautiful in the tender glow of the evening, so these days have lost
their weariness and lie bathed in a misty glory. The years that bring us
many ills, and that pass so stormfully over us, bear away with them the
ugliness, the weariness, the pain that are theirs, but the beauty, the
sweetness, the rest they leave untouched, for these are eternal. As
the mountains, that near at hand stand jagged and scarred, in the far
distance repose in their soft robes of purple haze, so the rough present
fades into the past, soft and sweet and beautiful.

I have set myself to recall the pain and anxiety of those days and
nights when we waited in fear for the turn of the fever, but I can only
think of the patience and gentleness and courage of her who stood beside
me, bearing more than half my burden. And while I can see the face
of Leslie Graeme, ghastly or flushed, and hear his low moaning or the
broken words of his delirium, I think chiefly of the bright face bending
over him, and of the cool, firm, swift-moving hands that soothed and
smoothed and rested, and the voice, like the soft song of a bird in the
twilight, that never failed to bring peace.

Mrs. Mavor and I were much together during those days. I made my home
in Mr. Craig’s shack, but most of my time was spent beside my friend. We
did not see much of Craig, for he was heart-deep with the miners, laying
plans for the making of the League the following Thursday; and though he
shared our anxiety and was ever ready to relieve us, his thought and his
talk had mostly to do with the League.

Mrs. Mavor’s evenings were given to the miners, but her afternoons
mostly to Graeme and to me, and then it was I saw another side of her
character. We would sit in her little dining-room, where the pictures on
the walls, the quaint old silver, and bits of curiously cut glass, all
spoke of other and different days, and thence we would roam the world
of literature and art. Keenly sensitive to all the good and beautiful in
these, she had her favourites among the masters, for whom she was ready
to do battle; and when her argument, instinct with fancy and vivid
imagination, failed, she swept away all opposing opinion with the swift
rush of her enthusiasm; so that, though I felt she was beaten, I was
left without words to reply. Shakespeare and Tennyson and Burns she
loved, but not Shelley, nor Byron, nor even Wordsworth. Browning she
knew not, and therefore could not rank him with her noblest three; but
when I read to her ‘A Death in the Desert,’ and, came to the noble words
at the end of the tale--

     ‘For all was as I say, and now the man
     Lies as he once lay, breast to breast with God,’

the light shone in her eyes, and she said, ‘Oh, that is good and great;
I shall get much out of him; I had always feared he was impossible.’
And ‘Paracelsus,’ too, stirred her; but when I recited the thrilling
fragment, ‘Prospice,’ on to that closing rapturous cry--

     ‘Then a light, then thy breast,
     O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
     And with God be the rest!’--

the red colour faded from her cheek, her breath came in a sob, and she
rose quickly and passed out without a word. Ever after, Browning was
among her gods. But when we talked of music, she, adoring Wagner,
soared upon the wings of the mighty Tannhauser, far above, into regions
unknown, leaving me to walk soberly with Beethoven and Mendelssohn.
Yet with all our free, frank talk, there was all the while that in her
gentle courtesy which kept me from venturing into any chamber of her
life whose door she did not set freely open to me. So I vexed myself
about her, and when Mr. Craig returned the next week from the Landing
where he had been for some days, my first question was--

‘Who is Mrs. Mavor? And how in the name of all that is wonderful and
unlikely does she come to be here? And why does she stay?’

He would not answer then; whether it was that his mind was full of the
coming struggle, or whether he shrank from the tale, I know not; but
that night, when we sat together beside his fire, he told me the story,
while I smoked. He was worn with his long, hard drive, and with the
burden of his work, but as he went on with his tale, looking into the
fire as he told it, he forgot all his present weariness and lived again
the scenes he painted for me. This was his story:--

‘I remember well my first sight of her, as she sprang from the front
seat of the stage to the ground, hardly touching her husband’s hand. She
looked a mere girl. Let’s see--five years ago--she couldn’t have been a
day over twenty three. She looked barely twenty. Her swift glance swept
over the group of miners at the hotel door, and then rested on the
mountains standing in all their autumn glory.

‘I was proud of our mountains that evening. Turning to her husband, she
exclaimed: “O Lewis, are they not grand? and lovely, too?” Every miner
lost his heart then and there, but all waited for Abe the driver to give
his verdict before venturing an opinion. Abe said nothing until he had
taken a preliminary drink, and then, calling all hands to fill up, he
lifted his glass high, and said solemnly--

‘“Boys, here’s to her.”

‘Like a flash every glass was emptied, and Abe called out, “Fill her up
again, boys! My treat!”

‘He was evidently quite worked up. Then he began, with solemn emphasis--

‘“Boys, you hear me! She’s a No. 1, triple X, the pure quill with a bead
on it: she’s a--,” and for the first time in his Black Rock history Abe
was stuck for a word. Some one suggested “angel.”

‘“Angel!” repeated Abe, with infinite contempt. “Angel be blowed,” (I
paraphrase here); “angels ain’t in the same month with her; I’d like
to see any blanked angel swing my team around them curves without a
shiver.”

‘“Held the lines herself, Abe?” asked a miner.

‘“That’s what,” said Abe; and then he went off into a fusilade of
scientific profanity, expressive of his esteem for the girl who had
swung his team round the curves; and the miners nodded to each other,
and winked their entire approval of Abe’s performance, for this was his
specialty.

‘Very decent fellow, Abe, but his talk wouldn’t print.’

Here Craig paused, as if balancing Abe’s virtues and vices.

‘Well,’ I urged, ‘who is she?’

‘Oh yes,’ he said, recalling himself; ‘she is an Edinburgh young
lady--met Lewis Mayor, a young Scotch-English man, in London--wealthy,
good family, and all that, but fast, and going to pieces at home. His
people, who own large shares in these mines here, as a last resort
sent him out here to reform. Curiously innocent ideas those old country
people have of the reforming properties of this atmosphere! They send
their young bloods here to reform. Here! in this devil’s camp-ground,
where a man’s lust is his only law, and when, from sheer monotony, a man
must betake himself to the only excitement of the place--that offered
by the saloon. Good people in the east hold up holy hands of horror at
these godless miners; but I tell you it’s asking these boys a good deal
to keep straight and clean in a place like this. I take my excitement
in fighting the devil and doing my work generally, and that gives me
enough; but these poor chaps--hard worked, homeless, with no break or
change--God help them and me!’ and his voice sank low.

‘Well,’ I persisted, ‘did Mavor reform?’

Again he roused himself. ‘Reform? Not exactly. In six-months he had
broken through all restraint; and, mind you, not the miners’ fault--not
a miner helped him down. It was a sight to make angels weep when Mrs.
Mavor would come to the saloon door for her husband. Every miner would
vanish; they could not look upon her shame, and they would send Mavor
forth in the charge of Billy Breen, a queer little chap, who had
belonged to the Mavors in some way in the old country, and between them
they would get him home. How she stood it puzzles me to this day; but
she never made any sign, and her courage never failed. It was always a
bright, brave, proud face she held up to the world--except in church;
there it was different. I used to preach my sermons, I believe, mostly
for her--but never so that she could suspect--as bravely and as cheerily
as I could. And as she listened, and especially as she sang--how she
used to sing in those days!--there was no touch of pride in her face,
though the courage never died out, but appeal, appeal! I could have
cursed aloud the cause of her misery, or wept for the pity of it. Before
her baby was born he seemed to pull himself together, for he was
quite mad about her, and from the day the baby came--talk about
miracles!--from that day he never drank a drop. She gave the baby over
to him, and the baby simply absorbed him.

‘He was a new man. He could not drink whisky and kiss his baby. And
the miners--it was really absurd if it were not so pathetic. It was the
first baby in Black Rock, and they used to crowd Mavor’s shop and peep
into the room at the back of it--I forgot to tell you that when he
lost his position as manager he opened a hardware shop, for his people
chucked him, and he was too proud to write home for money--just for a
chance to be asked in to see the baby. I came upon Nixon standing at the
back of the shop after he had seen the baby for the first time, sobbing
hard, and to my question he replied: “It’s just like my own.” You can’t
understand this. But to men who have lived so long in the mountains that
they have forgotten what a baby looks like, who have had experience of
humanity only in its roughest, foulest form, this little mite, sweet
and clean, was like an angel fresh from heaven, the one link in all that
black camp that bound them to what was purest and best in their past.

‘And to see the mother and her baby handle the miners!

‘Oh, it was all beautiful beyond words! I shall never forget the shock
I got one night when I found “Old Ricketts” nursing the baby. A drunken
old beast he was; but there he was sitting, sober enough, making
extraordinary faces at the baby, who was grabbing at his nose and
whiskers and cooing in blissful delight. Poor “Old Ricketts” looked as
if he had been caught stealing, and muttering something about having to
go, gazed wildly round for some place in which to lay the baby, when in
came the mother, saying in her own sweet, frank way: “O Mr. Ricketts”
 (she didn’t find out till afterwards his name was Shaw), “would you mind
keeping her just a little longer?--I shall be back in a few minutes.”
 And “Old Ricketts” guessed he could wait.

‘But in six months mother and baby, between them, transformed “Old
Ricketts” into Mr. Shaw, fire-boss of the mines. And then in the
evenings, when she would be singing her baby to sleep, the little shop
would be full of miners, listening in dead silence to the baby-songs,
and the English songs, and the Scotch songs she poured forth without
stint, for she sang more for them than for her baby. No wonder they
adored her. She was so bright, so gay, she brought light with her when
she went into the camp, into the pits--for she went down to see the men
work--or into a sick miner’s shack; and many a man, lonely and sick
for home or wife, or baby or mother, found in that back room cheer and
comfort and courage, and to many a poor broken wretch that room became,
as one miner put it, “the anteroom to heaven.”’

Mr. Craig paused, and I waited. Then he went on slowly--

‘For a year and a half that was the happiest home in all the world, till
one day--’

He put his face in his hands, and shuddered.

‘I don’t think I can ever forget the awful horror of that bright fall
afternoon, when “Old Ricketts” came breathless to me and gasped, “Come!
for the dear Lord’s sake,” and I rushed after him. At the mouth of
the shaft lay three men dead. One was Lewis Mavor. He had gone down to
superintend the running of a new drift; the two men, half drunk with
Slavin’s whisky, set off a shot prematurely, to their own and Mavor’s
destruction. They were badly burned, but his face was untouched. A miner
was sponging off the bloody froth oozing from his lips. The others were
standing about waiting for me to speak. But I could find no word, for my
heart was sick, thinking, as they were, of the young mother and her baby
waiting at home. So I stood, looking stupidly from one to the other,
trying to find some reason--coward that I was--why another should bear
the news rather than I. And while we stood there, looking at one another
in fear, there broke upon us the sound of a voice mounting high above
the birch tops, singing--

     “Will ye no’ come back again?
     Will ye no’ come back again?
     Better lo’ed ye canna be,
     Will ye no’ come back again?”

‘A strange terror seized us. Instinctively the men closed up in front of
the body, and stood in silence. Nearer and nearer came the clear, sweet
voice, ringing like a silver bell up the steep--

          “Sweet the lav’rock’s note and lang,
             Liltin’ wildly up the glen,
           But aye tae me he sings ae sang,
             Will ye no’ come back again?”

‘Before the verse was finished “Old Ricketts” had dropped on his
knees, sobbing out brokenly, “O God! O God! have pity, have pity, have
pity!”--and every man took off his hat. And still the voice came nearer,
singing so brightly the refrain,

     ‘“Will ye no’ come back again?’

‘It became unbearable. “Old Ricketts” sprang suddenly to his feet, and,
gripping me by the arm, said piteously, “Oh, go to her! for Heaven’s
sake, go to her!” I next remember standing in her path and seeing her
holding out her hands full of red lilies, crying out, “Are they not
lovely? Lewis is so fond of them!” With the promise of much finer ones I
turned her down a path toward the river, talking I know not what folly,
till her great eyes grew grave, then anxious, and my tongue stammered
and became silent. Then, laying her hand upon my arm, she said with
gentle sweetness, “Tell me your trouble, Mr. Craig,” and I knew my agony
had come, and I burst out, “Oh, if it were only mine!” She turned quite
white, and with her deep eyes--you’ve noticed her eyes--drawing the
truth out of mine, she said, “Is it mine, Mr. Craig, and my baby’s?”
 I waited, thinking with what words to begin. She put one hand to her
heart, and with the other caught a little poplar-tree that shivered
under her grasp, and said with white lips, but even more gently, “Tell
me.” I wondered at my voice being so steady as I said, “Mrs. Mavor, God
will help you and your baby. There has been an accident--and it is all
over.”

‘She was a miner’s wife, and there was no need for more. I could see
the pattern of the sunlight falling through the trees upon the grass. I
could hear the murmur of the river, and the cry of the cat-bird in the
bushes, but we seemed to be in a strange and unreal world. Suddenly she
stretched out her hands to me, and with a little moan said, “Take me to
him.”

‘“Sit down for a moment or two,” I entreated.

‘“No, no! I am quite ready. See,” she added quietly, “I am quite
strong.”

‘I set off by a short cut leading to her home, hoping the men would be
there before us; but, passing me, she walked swiftly through the trees,
and I followed in fear. As we came near the main path I heard the sound
of feet, and I tried to stop her, but she, too, had heard and knew. “Oh,
let me go!” she said piteously; “you need not fear.” And I had not
the heart to stop her. In a little opening among the pines we met the
bearers. When the men saw her, they laid their burden gently down upon
the carpet of yellow pine-needles, and then, for they had the hearts of
true men in them, they went away into the bushes and left her alone
with her dead. She went swiftly to his side, making no cry, but kneeling
beside him she stroked his face and hands, and touched his curls with
her fingers, murmuring all the time soft words of love. “O my darling,
my bonnie, bonnie darling, speak to me! Will ye not speak to me just one
little word? O my love, my love, my heart’s love! Listen, my darling!”
 And she put her lips to his ear, whispering, and then the awful
stillness. Suddenly she lifted her head and scanned his face, and then,
glancing round with a wild surprise in her eyes, she cried, “He will not
speak to me! Oh, he will not speak to me!” I signed to the men, and as
they came forward I went to her and took her hands.

‘“Oh,” she said with a wail in her voice; “he will not speak to me.”
 The men were sobbing aloud. She looked at them with wide-open eyes of
wonder. “Why are they weeping? Will he never speak to me again? Tell
me,” she insisted gently. The words were running through my head--

     ‘“There’s a land that is fairer than day,”

and I said them over to her, holding her hands firmly in mine. She gazed
at me as if in a dream, and the light slowly faded from her eyes as she
said, tearing her hands from mine and waving them towards the mountains
and the woods--

‘“But never more here? Never more here?”

‘I believe in heaven and the other life, but I confess that for a moment
it all seemed shadowy beside the reality of this warm, bright world,
full of life and love. She was very ill for two nights, and when the
coffin was closed a new baby lay in the father’s arms.

‘She slowly came back to life, but there were no more songs. The miners
still come about her shop, and talk to her baby, and bring her their
sorrows and troubles; but though she is always gentle, almost tender,
with them, no man ever says “Sing.” And that is why I am glad she sang
last week; it will be good for her and good for them.’

‘Why does she stay?’ I asked.

‘Mavor’s people wanted her to go to them,’ he replied.

‘They have money--she told me about it, but her heart is in the grave
up there under the pines; and besides, she hopes to do something for the
miners, and she will not leave them.’

I am afraid I snorted a little impatiently as I said, ‘Nonsense! why,
with her face, and manner, and voice she could be anything she liked in
Edinburgh or in London.’

‘And why Edinburgh or London?’ he asked coolly.

‘Why?’ I repeated a little hotly. ‘You think this is better?’

‘Nazareth was good enough for the Lord of glory,’ he answered, with
a smile none too bright; but it drew my heart to him, and my heat was
gone.

‘How long will she stay?’ I asked.

‘Till her work is done,’ he replied.

‘And when will that be?’ I asked impatiently.

‘When God chooses,’ he answered gravely; ‘and don’t you ever think but
that it is worth while. One value of work is not that crowds stare at
it. Read history, man!’

He rose abruptly and began to walk about. ‘And don’t miss the whole
meaning of the Life that lies at the foundation of your religion. Yes,’
he added to himself, ‘the work is worth doing--worth even her doing.’

I could not think so then, but the light of the after years proved him
wiser than I. A man, to see far, must climb to some height, and I was
too much upon the plain in those days to catch even a glimpse of distant
sunlit uplands of triumphant achievement that lie beyond the valley of
self-sacrifice.


CHAPTER V

THE MAKING OF THE LEAGUE


Thursday morning found Craig anxious, even gloomy, but with fight
in every line of his face. I tried to cheer him in my clumsy way by
chaffing him about his League. But he did not blaze up as he often did.
It was a thing too near his heart for that. He only shrank a little from
my stupid chaff and said--

‘Don’t, old chap; this is a good deal to me. I’ve tried for two years to
get this, and if it falls through now, I shall find it hard to bear.’

Then I repented my light words and said, ‘Why! the thing will go sure
enough: after that scene in the church they won’t go back.’

‘Poor fellows!’ he said as if to himself; ‘whisky is about the only
excitement they have, and they find it pretty tough to give it up; and
a lot of the men are against the total abstinence idea. It seems rot to
them.’

‘It is pretty steep,’ I said. ‘Can’t you do without it?’

‘No; I fear not. There is nothing else for it. Some of them talk of
compromise. They want to quit the saloon and drink quietly in their
shacks. The moderate drinker may have his place in other countries,
though I can’t see it. I haven’t thought that out, but here the only
safe man is the man who quits it dead and fights it straight; anything
else is sheerest humbug and nonsense.’

I had not gone in much for total abstinence up to this time, chiefly
because its advocates seemed for the most part to be somewhat
ill-balanced; but as I listened to Craig, I began to feel that perhaps
there was a total abstinence side to the temperance question; and as to
Black Rock, I could see how it must be one thing or the other.

We found Mrs. Mavor brave and bright. She shared Mr. Craig’s anxiety
but not his gloom. Her courage was of that serene kind that refuses to
believe defeat possible, and lifts the spirit into the triumph of final
victory. Through the past week she had been carefully disposing her
forces and winning recruits. And yet she never seemed to urge or
persuade the men; but as evening after evening the miners dropped into
the cosy room downstairs, with her talk and her songs she charmed them
till they were wholly hers. She took for granted their loyalty, trusted
them utterly, and so made it difficult for them to be other than true
men.

That night Mrs. Mavor’s large storeroom, which had been fitted up with
seats, was crowded with miners when Mr. Craig and I entered.

After a glance over the crowd, Craig said, ‘There’s the manager; that
means war.’ And I saw a tall man, very fair, whose chin fell away to
the vanishing point, and whose hair was parted in the middle, talking
to Mrs. Mavor. She was dressed in some rich soft stuff that became her
well. She was looking beautiful as ever, but there was something quite
new in her manner. Her air of good-fellowship was gone, and she was
the high-bred lady, whose gentle dignity and sweet grace, while very
winning, made familiarity impossible.

The manager was doing his best, and appeared to be well pleased with
himself. ‘She’ll get him if any one can. I failed,’ said Craig.

I stood looking at the men, and a fine lot of fellows they were. Free,
easy, bold in their bearing, they gave no sign of rudeness; and, from
their frequent glances toward Mrs. Mavor, I could see they were always
conscious of her presence. No men are so truly gentle as are the
Westerners in the presence of a good woman. They were evidently of
all classes and ranks originally, but now, and in this country of real
measurements, they ranked simply according to the ‘man’ in them. ‘See
that handsome, young chap of dissipated appearance?’ said Craig; ‘that’s
Vernon Winton, an Oxford graduate, blue blood, awfully plucky, but quite
gone. When he gets repentant, instead of shooting himself, he comes to
Mrs. Mavor. Fact.’

‘From Oxford University to Black Rock mining camp is something of a
step,’ I replied.

‘That queer-looking little chap in the corner is Billy Breen. How in
the world has he got here?’ went on Mr. Craig. Queer-looking he was. A
little man, with a small head set on heavy square shoulders, long
arms, and huge hands that sprawled all over his body; altogether a most
ungainly specimen of humanity.

By this time Mrs. Mavor had finished with the manager, and was in the
centre of a group of miners. Her grand air was all gone, and she was
their comrade, their friend, one of themselves. Nor did she assume the
role of entertainer, but rather did she, with half-shy air, cast herself
upon their chivalry, and they were too truly gentlemen to fail her. It
is hard to make Western men, and especially old-timers, talk. But
this gift was hers, and it stirred my admiration to see her draw on a
grizzled veteran to tell how, twenty years ago, he had crossed the Great
Divide, and had seen and done what no longer fell to men to see or do
in these new days. And so she won the old-timer. But it was beautiful to
see the innocent guile with which she caught Billy Breen, and drew him
to her corner near the organ. What she was saying I knew not, but poor
Billy was protesting, waving his big hands.

The meeting came to order, with Shaw in the chair, and the handsome
young Oxford man secretary. Shaw stated the object of the meeting in a
few halting words; but when he came to speak of the pleasure he and all
felt in being together in that room, his words flowed in a stream, warm
and full. Then there was a pause, and Mr. Craig was called. But he knew
better than to speak at that point. Finally Nixon rose hesitatingly;
but, as he caught a bright smile from Mrs. Mavor, he straightened
himself as if for a fight.

‘I ain’t no good at makin’ speeches,’ he began; ‘but it ain’t speeches
we want. We’ve got somethin’ to do, and what we want to know is how to
do it. And to be right plain, we want to know how to drive this cursed
whisky out of Black Rock. You all know what it’s doing for us--at least
for some of us. And it’s time to stop it now, or for some of us it’ll
mighty soon be too late. And the only way to stop its work is to quit
drinkin’ it and help others to quit. I hear some talk of a League, and
what I say is, if it’s a League out and out against whisky, a Total
Abstinence right to the ground, then I’m with it--that’s my talk--I move
we make that kind of League.’

Nixon sat down amid cheers and a chorus of remarks, ‘Good man!’ ‘That’s
the talk!’ ‘Stay with it!’ but he waited for the smile and the glance
that came to him from the beautiful face in the corner, and with that he
seemed content.

Again there was silence. Then the secretary rose with a slight flush
upon his handsome, delicate face, and seconded the motion. If they would
pardon a personal reference he would give them his reasons. He had come
to this country to make his fortune; now he was anxious to make enough
to enable him to go home with some degree of honour. His home held
everything that was dear to him. Between him and that home, between him
and all that was good and beautiful and honourable, stood whisky. ‘I am
ashamed to confess,’ and the flush deepened on his cheek, and his lips
grew thinner, ‘that I feel the need of some such league.’ His handsome
face, his perfect style of address, learned possibly in the ‘Union,’
but, more than all, his show of nerve--for these men knew how to value
that--made a strong impression on his audience; but there were no
following cheers.

Mr. Craig appeared hopeful; but on Mrs. Mavor’s face there was a look of
wistful, tender pity, for she knew how much the words had cost the lad.

Then up rose a sturdy, hard-featured man, with a burr in his voice
that proclaimed his birth. His name was George Crawford, I afterwards
learned, but every one called him Geordie. He was a character in his
way, fond of his glass; but though he was never known to refuse a drink,
he was never known to be drunk. He took his drink, for the most part,
with bread and cheese in his own shack, or with a friend or two in a
sober, respectable way, but never could be induced to join the wild
carousals in Slavin’s saloon. He made the highest wages, but was far too
true a Scot to spend his money recklessly. Every one waited eagerly
to hear Geordie’s mind. He spoke solemnly, as befitted a Scotsman
expressing a deliberate opinion, and carefully, as if choosing his best
English, for when Geordie became excited no one in Black Rock could
understand him.

‘Maister Chairman,’ said Geordie, ‘I’m aye for temperance in a’ things.’
There was a shout of laughter, at which Geordie gazed round in pained
surprise. ‘I’ll no’ deny,’ he went on in an explanatory tone, ‘that I
tak ma mornin’, an’ maybe a nip at noon; an’ a wee drap aifter wark in
the evenin’, an’ whiles a sip o’ toddy wi’ a freen thae cauld nichts.
But I’m no’ a guzzler, an’ I dinna gang in wi’ thae loons flingin’ aboot
guid money.’

‘And that’s thrue for you, me bye,’ interrupted a rich Irish brogue, to
the delight of the crowd and the amazement of Geordie, who went calmly
on--

‘An’ I canna bide yon saloon whaur they sell sic awfu’-like stuff--it’s
mair like lye nor guid whisky,--and whaur ye’re never sure o’ yer richt
change. It’s an awfu’-like place; man!’--and Geordie began to warm
up--‘ye can juist smell the sulphur when ye gang in. But I dinna care
aboot thae Temperance Soceeities, wi’ their pledges an’ havers; an’
I canna see what hairm can come till a man by takin’ a bottle o’ guid
Glenlivet hame wi’ him. I canna bide thae teetotal buddies.’

Geordie’s speech was followed by loud applause, partly appreciative of
Geordie himself, but largely sympathetic with his position.

Two or three men followed in the same strain advocating a league for
mutual improvement and social purposes, but without the teetotal pledge;
they were against the saloon, but didn’t see why they should not take a
drink now and then.

Finally the manager rose to support his ‘friend, Mistah--ah--Cwafoad,’
ridiculing the idea of a total abstinence pledge as fanatical and indeed
‘absuad.’ He was opposed to the saloon, and would like to see a club
formed, with a comfortable club-room, books, magazines, pictures, games,
anything, ‘dontcheknow, to make the time pass pleasantly’; but it was
‘absuad to ask men to abstain fwom a pwopah use of--aw--nouwishing
dwinks,’ because some men made beasts of themselves. He concluded by
offering $50.00 towards the support of such a club.

The current of feeling was setting strongly against the total abstinence
idea, and Craig’s face was hard and his eyes gleamed like coals. Then he
did a bit of generalship. He proposed that since they had the two plans
clearly before them they should take a few minutes’ intermission in
which to make up their minds, and he was sure they would be glad to have
Mrs. Mavor sing. In the interval the men talked in groups, eagerly, even
fiercely, hampered seriously in the forceful expression of their opinion
by the presence of Mrs. Mavor, who glided from group to group, dropping
a word here and a smile there. She reminded me of a general riding along
the ranks, bracing his men for the coming battle. She paused beside
Geordie, spoke earnestly for a few moments, while Geordie gazed solemnly
at her, and then she came back to Billy in the corner near me. What she
was saying I could not hear, but poor Billy was protesting, spreading
his hands out aimlessly before him, but gazing at her the while in
dumb admiration. Then she came to me. ‘Poor Billy, he was good to my
husband,’ she said softly, ‘and he has a good heart.’

‘He’s not much to look at,’ I could not help saying.

‘The oyster hides its pearl,’ she answered, a little reproachfully.

‘The shell is apparent enough,’ I replied, for the mischief was in me.

‘Ah yes,’ she replied softly, ‘but it is the pearl we love.’

I moved over beside Billy, whose eyes were following Mrs. Mavor as she
went to speak to Mr. Craig. ‘Well,’ I said; ‘you all seem to have a high
opinion of her.’

‘An ‘igh hopinion,’ he replied, in deep scorn. ‘An ‘igh hopinion, you
calls it.’

‘What would you call it?’ I asked, wishing to draw him out.

‘Oi don’t call it nothink,’ he replied, spreading out his rough hands.

‘She seems very nice,’ I said indifferently.

He drew his eyes away from Mrs. Mavor, and gave attention to me for the
first time.

‘Nice!’ he repeated with fine contempt; and then he added impressively,
‘Them as don’t know shouldn’t say nothink.’

‘You are right,’ I answered earnestly, ‘and I am quite of your opinion.’

He gave me a quick glance out of his little, deep-set, dark-blue eyes,
and opened his heart to me. He told me, in his quaint speech, how again
and again she had taken him in and nursed him, and encouraged him, and
sent him out with a new heart for his battle, until, for very shame’s
sake at his own miserable weakness, he had kept out of her way for many
months, going steadily down.

‘Now, oi hain’t got no grip; but when she says to me to-night, says
she, “Oh, Billy”--she calls me Billy to myself’ (this with a touch of
pride)--‘“oh, Billy,” says she, “we must ‘ave a total habstinence league
to-night, and oi want you to ‘elp!” and she keeps a-lookin’ at me with
those heyes o’ hern till, if you believe me, sir,’ lowering his voice to
an emphatic whisper, ‘though oi knowed oi couldn’t ‘elp none, afore oi
knowed oi promised ‘er oi would. It’s ‘er heyes. When them heyes says
“do,” hup you steps and “does.”’

I remembered my first look into her eyes, and I could quite understand
Billy’s submission. Just as she began to sing I went over to Geordie and
took my seat beside him. She began with an English slumber song,
‘Sleep, Baby, Sleep’--one of Barry Cornwall’s, I think,--and then sang
a love-song with the refrain, ‘Love once again’; but no thrills came to
me, and I began to wonder if her spell over me was broken. Geordie, who
had been listening somewhat indifferently, encouraged me, however, by
saying, ‘She’s just pittin’ aff time with thae feckless sangs; man,
there’s nae grup till them.’ But when, after a few minutes’ pause,
she began ‘My Ain Fireside,’ Geordie gave a sigh of satisfaction. ‘Ay,
that’s somethin’ like,’ and when she finished the first verse he gave me
a dig in the ribs with his elbow that took my breath away, saying in a
whisper, ‘Man, hear till yon, wull ye?’ And again I found the spell
upon me. It was not the voice after all, but the great soul behind that
thrilled and compelled. She was seeing, feeling, living what she sang,
and her voice showed us her heart. The cosy fireside, with its bonnie,
blithe blink, where no care could abide, but only peace and love, was
vividly present to her, and as she sang we saw it too. When she came to
the last verse--

          ‘When I draw in my stool
             On my cosy hearth-stane,
           My heart loups sae licht
             I scarce ken’t for my ain,’

there was a feeling of tears in the flowing song, and we knew the words
had brought her a picture of the fireside that would always seem empty.
I felt the tears in my eyes, and, wondering at myself, I cast a stealthy
glance at the men about me; and I saw that they, too, were looking
through their hearts’ windows upon firesides and ingle-neuks that
gleamed from far.

And then she sang ‘The Auld Hoose,’ and Geordie, giving me another
poke, said, ‘That’s ma ain sang,’ and when I asked him what he meant,
he whispered fiercely, ‘Wheesht, man!’ and I did, for his face looked
dangerous.

In a pause between the verses I heard Geordie saying to himself, ‘Ay, I
maun gie it up, I doot.’

‘What?’ I ventured.

‘Naething ava.’ And then he added impatiently, ‘Man, but ye’re an
inqueesitive buddie,’ after which I subsided into silence.

Immediately upon the meeting being called to order, Mr. Craig made his
speech, and it was a fine bit of work. Beginning with a clear statement
of the object in view, he set in contrast the two kinds of leagues
proposed. One, a league of men who would take whisky in moderation; the
other, a league of men who were pledged to drink none themselves, and to
prevent in every honourable way others from drinking. There was no long
argument, but he spoke at white heat; and as he appealed to the men
to think, each not of himself alone, but of the others as well, the
yearning, born of his long months of desire and of toil, vibrated in
his voice and reached to the heart. Many men looked uncomfortable and
uncertain, and even the manager looked none too cheerful.

At this critical moment the crowd got a shock. Billy Breen shuffled
out to the front, and, in a voice shaking with nervousness and emotion,
began to speak, his large, coarse hands wandering tremulously about.

‘Oi hain’t no bloomin’ temperance horator, and mayhap oi hain’t no right
to speak ‘ere, but oi got somethin’ to saigh (say) and oi’m agoin’ to
saigh it.

‘Parson, ‘ee says is it wisky or no wisky in this ‘ere club? If ye
hask me, wich (which) ye don’t, then no wisky, says oi; and if ye hask
why?--look at me! Once oi could mine more coal than hany man in the
camp; now oi hain’t fit to be a sorter. Once oi ‘ad some pride and
hambition; now oi ‘angs round awaitin’ for some one to saigh, “Ere,
Billy, ‘ave summat.” Once oi made good paigh (pay), and sent it ‘ome
regular to my poor old mother (she’s in the wukus now, she is); oi
hain’t sent ‘er hany for a year and a ‘alf. Once Billy was a good fellow
and ‘ad plenty o’ friends; now Slavin ‘isself kicks un hout, ‘ee does.
Why? why?’ His voice rose to a shriek. ‘Because when Billy ‘ad money
in ‘is pocket, hevery man in this bloomin’ camp as meets un at hevery
corner says, “‘Ello, Billy, wat’ll ye ‘ave?” And there’s wisky at
Slavin’s, and there’s wisky in the shacks, and hevery ‘oliday and hevery
Sunday there’s wisky, and w’en ye feel bad it’s wisky, and w’en ye feel
good it’s wisky, and heverywhere and halways it’s wisky, wisky, wisky!
And now ye’re goin’ to stop it, and ‘ow? T’ manager, ‘ee says picters
and magazines. ‘Ee takes ‘is wine and ‘is beer like a gentleman, ‘ee
does, and ‘ee don’t ‘ave no use for Billy Breen. Billy, ‘ee’s a beast,
and t’ manager, ‘ee kicks un hout. But supposin’ Billy wants to stop
bein’ a beast, and starts a-tryin’ to be a man again, and w’en ‘ee
gets good an’ dry, along comes some un and says, “‘Ello, Billy, ‘ave a
smile,” it hain’t picters nor magazines ‘ud stop un then. Picters and
magazines! Gawd ‘elp the man as hain’t nothin’ but picters and magazines
to ‘elp un w’en ‘ee’s got a devil hinside and a devil houtside a-shovin’
and a-drawin’ of un down to ‘ell. And that’s w’ere oi’m a-goin’
straight, and yer bloomin’ League, wisky or no wisky, can’t help me.
But,’ and he lifted his trembling hands above his head, ‘if ye stop the
wisky a-flowin’ round this camp, ye’ll stop some of these lads that’s
a-followin’ me ‘ard. Yes, you! and you! and you!’ and his voice rose to
a wild scream as he shook a trembling finger at one and another.

‘Man, it’s fair gruesome tae hear him,’ said Geordie; ‘he’s no’ canny’;
and reaching out for Billy as he went stumbling past, he pulled him down
to a seat beside him, saying, ‘Sit doon, lad, sit doon. We’ll mak a man
o’ ye yet.’ Then he rose and, using many r’s, said, ‘Maister Chairman,
a’ doot we’ll juist hae to gie it up.’

‘Give it up?’ called out Nixon. ‘Give up the League?’

‘Na! na! lad, but juist the wee drap whusky. It’s nae that guid onyway,
and it’s a terrible price. Man, gin ye gang tae Henderson’s in Buchanan
Street, in Gleska, ye ken, ye’ll get mair for three-an’-saxpence than
ye wull at Slavin’s for five dollars. An’ it’ll no’ pit ye mad like yon
stuff, but it gangs doon smooth an’ saft-like. But’ (regretfully) ‘ye’ll
no’ can get it here; an’ a’m thinkin’ a’ll juist sign yon teetotal
thing.’ And up he strode to the table and put his name down in the book
Craig had ready. Then to Billy he said, ‘Come’ awa, lad! pit yer name
doon, an’ we’ll stan’ by ye.’

Poor Billy looked around helplessly, his nerve all gone, and sat still.
There was a swift rustle of garments, and Mrs. Mavor was beside him,
and, in a voice that only Billy and I could hear, said, ‘You’ll sign
with, me, Billy?’

Billy gazed at her with a hopeless look in his eyes, and shook his
little, head. She leaned slightly toward him, smiling brightly, and,
touching his arm gently, said--

‘Come, Billy, there’s no fear,’ and in a lower voice, ‘God will help
you.’

As Billy went up, following Mrs. Mavor close, a hush fell on the men
until he had put his name to the pledge; then they came up, man by
man, and signed. But Craig sat with his head down till I touched his
shoulder. He took my hand and held it fast, saying over and over, under
his breath, ‘Thank God, thank God!’

And so the League was made.


CHAPTER VI

BLACK ROCK RELIGION


When I grow weary with the conventions of religion, and sick in my soul
from feeding upon husks, that the churches too often offer me, in
the shape of elaborate service and eloquent discourses, so that in my
sickness I doubt and doubt, then I go back to the communion in Black
Rock and the days preceding it, and the fever and the weariness leave
me, and I grow humble and strong. The simplicity and rugged grandeur of
the faith, the humble gratitude of the rough men I see about the table,
and the calm radiance of one saintly face, rest and recall me.

Not its most enthusiastic apologist would call Black Rock a religious
community, but it possessed in a marked degree that eminent Christian
virtue of tolerance. All creeds, all shades of religious opinion, were
allowed, and it was generally conceded that one was as good as another.
It is fair to say, however, that Black Rock’s catholicity was negative
rather than positive. The only religion objectionable was that insisted
upon as a necessity. It never occurred to any one to consider religion
other than as a respectable, if not ornamental, addition to life in
older lands.

During the weeks following the making of the League, however, this
negative attitude towards things religious gave place to one of keen
investigation and criticism. The indifference passed away, and with it,
in a large measure, the tolerance. Mr. Craig was responsible for the
former of these changes, but hardly, in fairness, could he be held
responsible for the latter. If any one, more than another, was to be
blamed for the rise of intolerance in the village, that man was Geordie
Crawford. He had his ‘lines’ from the Established Kirk of Scotland, and
when Mr. Craig announced his intention of having the Sacrament of the
Lord’s Supper observed, Geordie produced his ‘lines’ and promptly handed
them in. As no other man in the village was equipped with like spiritual
credentials, Geordie constituted himself a kind of kirk-session, charged
with the double duty of guarding the entrance to the Lord’s Table, and
of keeping an eye upon the theological opinions of the community, and
more particularly upon such members of it as gave evidence of possessing
any opinions definite enough for statement.

It came to be Mr. Craig’s habit to drop into the League-room, and toward
the close of the evening to have a short Scripture lesson from the
Gospels. Geordie’s opportunity came after the meeting was over and Mr.
Craig had gone away. The men would hang about and talk the lesson over,
expressing opinions favourable or unfavourable as appeared to them good.
Then it was that all sorts of views, religious and otherwise, were aired
and examined. The originality of the ideas, the absolute disregard of
the authority of church or creed, the frankness with which opinions
were stated, and the forcefulness of the language in which they were
expressed, combined to make the discussions altogether marvellous.
The passage between Abe Baker, the stage-driver, and Geordie was
particularly rich. It followed upon a very telling lesson on the parable
of the Pharisee and the Publican.

The chief actors in that wonderful story were transferred to the Black
Rock stage, and were presented in miner’s costume. Abe was particularly
well pleased with the scoring of the ‘blanked old rooster who crowed so
blanked high,’ and somewhat incensed at the quiet remark interjected by
Geordie, ‘that it was nae credit till a man tae be a sinner’; and
when Geordie went on to urge the importance of right conduct and
respectability, Abe was led to pour forth vials of contemptuous wrath
upon the Pharisees and hypocrites who thought themselves better
than other people. But Geordie was quite unruffled, and lamented
the ignorance of men who, brought up in ‘Epeescopawlyun or Methody’
churches, could hardly be expected to detect the Antinomian or Arminian
heresies.

‘Aunty Nomyun or Uncle Nomyun,’ replied Abe, boiling hot, ‘my mother was
a Methodist, and I’ll back any blanked Methodist against any blankety
blank long-faced, lantern-jawed, skinflint Presbyterian,’ and this
he was eager to maintain to any man’s satisfaction if he would step
outside.

Geordie was quite unmoved, but hastened to assure Abe that he meant
no disrespect to his mother, who he had ‘nae doot was a clever enough
buddie, tae judge by her son.’ Abe was speedily appeased, and offered to
set up the drinks all round. But Geordie, with evident reluctance, had
to decline, saying, ‘Na, na, lad, I’m a League man ye ken,’ and I was
sure that Geordie at that moment felt that membership in the League had
its drawbacks.

Nor was Geordie too sure of Craig’s orthodoxy; while as to Mrs. Mavor,
whose slave he was, he was in the habit of lamenting her doctrinal
condition--

‘She’s a fine wumman, nae doot; but, puir cratur, she’s fair carried awa
wi’ the errors o’ thae Epeescopawlyuns.’

It fell to Geordie, therefore, as a sacred duty, in view of the laxity
of those who seemed to be the pillars of the Church, to be all the
more watchful and unyielding. But he was delightfully inconsistent when
confronted with particulars. In conversation with him one night after
one of the meetings, when he had been specially hard upon the ignorant
and godless, I innocently changed the subject to Billy Breen, whom
Geordie had taken to his shack since the night of the League. He was
very proud of Billy’s success in the fight against whisky, the credit of
which he divided unevenly between Mrs. Mavor and himself.

‘He’s fair daft aboot her,’ he explained to me, ‘an’ I’ll no’ deny but
she’s a great help, ay, a verra conseederable asseestance; but, man, she
doesna ken the whusky, an’ the inside o’ a man that’s wantin’ it. Ay,
puir buddie, she diz her pairt, an’ when ye’re a bit restless an thrawn
aifter yer day’s wark, it’s like a walk in a bonnie glen on a simmer
eve, with the birds liltin’ aboot, tae sit in yon roomie and hear her
sing; but when the night is on, an’ ye canna sleep, but wauken wi’ an’
awfu’ thurst and wi’ dreams o’ cosy firesides, and the bonnie sparklin’
glosses, as it is wi’ puir Billy, ay, it’s then ye need a man wi’ a guid
grup beside ye.’

‘What do you do then, Geordie?’ I asked.

‘Oo ay, I juist gang for a bit walk wi’ the lad, and then pits the
kettle on an’ maks a cup o’ tea or coffee, an’ aff he gangs tae sleep
like a bairn.’

‘Poor Billy,’ I said pityingly, ‘there’s no hope for him in the future,
I fear.’

‘Hoot awa, man,’ said Geordie quickly. ‘Ye wadna keep oot a puir cratur
frae creepin’ in, that’s daein’ his best?’

‘But, Geordie,’ I remonstrated, ‘he doesn’t know anything of the
doctrines. I don’t believe he could give us “The Chief End of Man.”’

‘An’ wha’s tae blame for that?’ said Geordie, with fine indignation.
‘An’ maybe you remember the prood Pharisee and the puir wumman that cam’
creepin’ in ahint the Maister.’

The mingled tenderness and indignation in Geordie’s face were beautiful
to see, so I meekly answered, ‘Well, I hope Mr. Craig won’t be too
strict with the boys.’

Geordie shot a suspicious glance at me, but I kept my face like a summer
morn, and he replied cautiously--

‘Ay, he’s no’ that streect: but he maun exerceese discreemination.’

Geordie was none the less determined, however, that Billy should ‘come
forrit’; but as to the manager, who was a member of the English Church,
and some others who had been confirmed years ago, and had forgotten much
and denied more, he was extremely doubtful, and expressed himself in
very decided words to the minister--

‘Ye’ll no’ be askin’ forrit thae Epeescopawlyun buddies. They juist ken
naething ava.’

But Mr. Craig looked at him for a moment and said, “Him that cometh
unto Me I will in no wise cast out,”’ and Geordie was silent, though he
continued doubtful.

With all these somewhat fantastic features, however, there was no
mistaking the earnest spirit of the men. The meetings grew larger
every night, and the interest became more intense. The singing became
different. The men no longer simply shouted, but as Mr. Craig would
call attention to the sentiment of the hymn, the voices would attune
themselves to the words. Instead of encouraging anything like emotional
excitement, Mr. Craig seemed to fear it.

‘These chaps are easily stirred up,’ he would say, ‘and I am anxious
that they should know exactly what they are doing. It is far too serious
a business to trifle with.’

Although Graeme did not go downstairs to the meetings, he could not but
feel the throb of the emotion beating in the heart of the community.
I used to detail for his benefit, and sometimes for his amusement, the
incidents of each night. But I never felt quite easy in dwelling upon
the humorous features in Mrs. Mavor’s presence, although Craig did not
appear to mind. His manner with Graeme was perfect. Openly anxious to
win him to his side, he did not improve the occasion and vex him with
exhortation. He would not take him at a disadvantage, though, as I
afterwards found, this was not his sole reason for his method. Mrs.
Mavor, too, showed herself in wise and tender light. She might have been
his sister, so frank was she and so openly affectionate, laughing at his
fretfulness and soothing his weariness.

Never were better comrades than we four, and the bright days speeding so
swiftly on drew us nearer to one another.

But the bright days came to an end; for Graeme, when once he was able
to go about, became anxious to get back to the camp. And so the last day
came, a day I remember well. It was a bright, crisp winter day.

The air was shimmering in the frosty light. The mountains, with their
shining heads piercing through light clouds into that wonderful blue of
the western sky, and their feet pushed into the pine masses, gazed down
upon Black Rock with calm, kindly looks on their old grey faces. How
one grows to love them, steadfast old friends! Far up among the pines
we could see the smoke of the engine at the works, and so still and so
clear was the mountain air that we could hear the puff of the steam, and
from far down the river the murmur of the rapids. The majestic silence,
the tender beauty, the peace, the loneliness, too, came stealing in upon
us, as we three, leaving Mrs. Mavor behind us, marched arm-in-arm down
the street. We had not gone far on our way, when Graeme, turning round,
stood a moment looking back, then waved his hand in farewell. Mrs. Mavor
was at her window, smiling and waving in return. They had grown to
be great friends these two; and seemed to have arrived at some
understanding. Certainly, Graeme’s manner to her was not that he bore
to other women. His half-quizzical, somewhat superior air of mocking
devotion gave place to a simple, earnest, almost tender, respect, very
new to him, but very winning.

As he stood there waving his farewell, I glanced at his face and saw for
a moment what I had not seen for years, a faint flush on Graeme’s cheek
and a light of simple, earnest faith in his eyes. It reminded me of
my first look of him when he had come up for his matriculation to the
‘Varsity. He stood on the campus looking up at the noble old pile, and
there was the same bright, trustful, earnest look on his boyish face.

I know not what spirit possessed me; it may have been the pain of the
memory working in me, but I said, coarsely enough, ‘It’s no use, Graeme,
my boy; I would fall in love with her myself, but there would be no
chance even for me.’

The flush slowly darkened as he turned and said deliberately--

‘It’s not like you, Connor, to be an ass of that peculiar kind.
Love!--not exactly! She won’t fall in love unless--’ and he stopped
abruptly with his eyes upon Craig.

But Craig met him with unshrinking gaze, quietly remarking, ‘Her heart
is under the pines’; and we moved on, each thinking his own thoughts,
and guessing at the thoughts of the others.

We were on our way to Craig’s shack, and as we passed the saloon Slavin
stepped from the door with a salutation. Graeme paused. ‘Hello, Slavin!
I got rather the worst of it, didn’t I?’

Slavin came near, and said earnestly, ‘It was a dirty thrick altogether;
you’ll not think it was moine, Mr. Graeme.’

‘No, no, Slavin! you stood up like a man,’ said Graeme cheerfully.

‘And you bate me fair; an’ bedad it was a nate one that laid me out; an’
there’s no grudge in me heart till ye.’

‘All right, Slavin; we’ll perhaps understand each other better after
this.’

‘An’ that’s thrue for yez, sor; an’ I’ll see that your byes don’t get
any more than they ask for,’ replied Slavin, backing away.

‘And I hope that won’t be much,’ put in Mr. Craig; but Slavin only
grinned.

When we came to Craig’s shack Graeme was glad to rest in the big chair.

Craig made him a cup of tea, while I smoked, admiring much the deft
neatness of the minister’s housekeeping, and the gentle, almost
motherly, way he had with Graeme.

In our talk we drifted into the future, and Craig let us see what were
his ambitions. The railway was soon to come; the resources were, as yet,
unexplored, but enough was known to assure a great future for British
Columbia. As he talked his enthusiasm grew, and carried us away. With
the eye of a general he surveyed the country, fixed the strategic points
which the Church must seize upon. Eight good men would hold the country
from Fort Steele to the coast, and from Kootenay to Cariboo.

‘The Church must be in with the railway; she must have a hand in the
shaping of the country. If society crystallises without her influence,
the country is lost, and British Columbia will be another trap-door to
the bottomless pit.’

‘What do you propose?’ I asked.

‘Organising a little congregation here in Black Rock.’

‘How many will you get?’

‘Don’t know.’

‘Pretty hopeless business,’ I said.

‘Hopeless! hopeless!’ he cried; ‘there were only twelve of us at first
to follow Him, and rather a poor lot they were. But He braced them up,
and they conquered the world.’

‘But surely things are different,’ said Graeme.

‘Things? Yes! yes! But He is the same.’ His face had an exalted look,
and his eyes were gazing into far-away places.

‘A dozen men in Black Rock with some real grip of Him would make things
go. We’ll get them, too,’ he went on in growing excitement. ‘I believe
in my soul we’ll get them.’

‘Look here, Craig; if you organise I’d like to join,’ said Graeme
impulsively. ‘I don’t believe much in your creed or your Church, but
I’ll be blowed if I don’t believe in you.’

Craig looked at him with wistful eyes, and shook his head. ‘It won’t do,
old chap, you know. I can’t hold you. You’ve got to have a grip of some
one better than I am; and then, besides, I hardly like asking you now’;
he hesitated--‘well, to be out-and-out, this step must be taken not for
my sake, nor for any man’s sake, and I fancy that perhaps you feel like
pleasing me just now a little.’

‘That I do, old fellow,’ said Graeme, putting out his hand. ‘I’ll be
hanged if I won’t do anything you say.’

‘That’s why I won’t say,’ replied Craig. Then reverently he added, ‘the
organisation is not mine. It is my Master’s.’

‘When are you going to begin?’ asked Graeme.

‘We shall have our communion service in two weeks, and that will be our
roll-call.’

‘How many will answer?’ I asked doubtfully.

‘I know of three,’ he said quietly.

‘Three! There are two hundred miners and one hundred and fifty
lumbermen! Three!’ and Graeme looked at him in amazement. ‘You think it
worth while to organise three?’

‘Well,’ replied Craig, smiling for the first time, ‘the organisation
won’t be elaborate, but it will be effective, and, besides, loyalty
demands obedience.’

We sat long that afternoon talking, shrinking from the breaking up; for
we knew that we were about to turn down a chapter in our lives which we
should delight to linger over in after days. And in my life there is but
one brighter. At last we said good-bye and drove away; and though many
farewells have come in between that day and this, none is so vividly
present to me as that between us three men. Craig’s manner with me was
solemn enough. ‘“He that loveth his life”; good-bye, don’t fool with
this,’ was what he said to me. But when he turned to Graeme his whole
face lit up. He took him by the shoulders and gave him a little shake,
looking into his eyes, and saying over and over in a low, sweet tone--

‘You’ll come, old chap, you’ll come, you’ll come. Tell me you’ll come.’

And Graeme could say nothing in reply, but only looked at him. Then they
silently shook hands, and we drove off. But long after we had got
over the mountain and into the winding forest road on the way to the
lumber-camp the voice kept vibrating in my heart, ‘You’ll come, you’ll
come,’ and there was a hot pain in my throat.

We said little during the drive to the camp. Graeme was thinking hard,
and made no answer when I spoke to him two or three times, till we came
to the deep shadows of the pine forest, when with a little shiver he
said--

‘It is all a tangle--a hopeless tangle.’

‘Meaning what?’ I asked.

‘This business of religion--what quaint varieties--Nelson’s, Geordie’s,
Billy Breen’s--if he has any--then Mrs. Mavor’s--she is a saint, of
course--and that fellow Craig’s. What a trump he is!--and without his
religion he’d be pretty much like the rest of us. It is too much for
me.’

His mystery was not mine. The Black Rock varieties of religion were
certainly startling; but there was undoubtedly the streak of reality
though them all, and that discovery I felt to be a distinct gain.


CHAPTER VII

THE FIRST BLACK ROCK COMMUNION


The gleam of the great fire through the windows of the great camp gave
a kindly welcome as we drove into the clearing in which the shanties
stood. Graeme was greatly touched at his enthusiastic welcome by the
men. At the supper-table he made a little speech of thanks for their
faithfulness during his absence, specially commending the care and
efficiency of Mr. Nelson, who had had charge of the camp. The men
cheered wildly, Baptiste’s shrill voice leading all. Nelson being called
upon, expressed in a few words his pleasure at seeing the Boss back, and
thanked the men for their support while he had been in charge.

The men were for making a night of it; but fearing the effect upon
Graeme, I spoke to Nelson, who passed the word, and in a short time the
camp was quiet. As we sauntered from the grub-camp to the office where
was our bed, we paused to take in the beauty of the night. The moon rode
high over the peaks of the mountains, flooding the narrow valley with
mellow light. Under her magic the rugged peaks softened their harsh
lines and seemed to lean lovingly toward us. The dark pine masses stood
silent as in breathless adoration; the dazzling snow lay like a garment
over all the open spaces in soft, waving folds, and crowned every stump
with a quaintly shaped nightcap. Above the camps the smoke curled up
from the camp-fires, standing like pillars of cloud that kept watch
while men slept. And high over all the deep blue night sky, with its
star jewels, sprang like the roof of a great cathedral from range to
range, covering us in its kindly shelter. How homelike and safe seemed
the valley with its mountain-sides, its sentinel trees and arching roof
of jewelled sky! Even the night seemed kindly, and friendly the stars;
and the lone cry of the wolf from the deep forest seemed like the voice
of a comrade.

‘How beautiful! too beautiful!’ said Graeme, stretching out his arms. ‘A
night like this takes the heart out of me.’

I stood silent, drinking in at every sense the night with its wealth of
loveliness.

‘What is it I want?’ he went on. ‘Why does the night make my heart ache?
There are things to see and things to hear just beyond me; I cannot get
to them.’ The gay, careless look was gone from his face, his dark eyes
were wistful with yearning.

‘I often wonder if life has nothing better for me,’ he continued with
his heartache voice.

I said no word, but put my arm within his. A light appeared in the
stable. Glad of a diversion, I said, ‘What is the light? Let us go and
see.’

‘Sandy, taking a last look at his team, like enough.’

We walked slowly toward the stable, speaking no word. As we neared the
door we heard the sound of a voice in the monotone of one reading. I
stepped forward and looked through a chink between the logs. Graeme was
about to open the door, but I held up my hand and beckoned him to me. In
a vacant stall, where was a pile of straw, a number of men were grouped.
Sandy, leaning against the tying-post upon which the stable-lantern
hung, was reading; Nelson was kneeling in front of him and gazing into
the gloom beyond; Baptiste lay upon his stomach, his chin in his hands
and his upturned eyes fastened upon Sandy’s face; Lachlan Campbell sat
with his hands clasped about his knees, and two other men sat near him.
Sandy was reading the undying story of the Prodigal, Nelson now and then
stopping him to make a remark. It was a scene I have never been able
to forget. To-day I pause in my tale, and see it as clearly as when I
looked through the chink upon it years ago. The long, low stable, with
log walls and upright hitching-poles; the dim outlines of the horses
in the gloom of the background, and the little group of rough, almost
savage-looking men, with faces wondering and reverent, lit by the misty
light of the stable-lantern.

After the reading, Sandy handed the book to Nelson, who put it in his
pocket, saying, ‘That’s for us, boys, ain’t it?’

‘Ay,’ said Lachlan; ‘it is often that has been read in my hearing, but
I am afraid it will not be for me whatever,’ and he swayed himself
slightly as he spoke, and his voice was full of pain.

‘The minister said I might come,’ said old Nelson, earnestly and
hopefully.

‘Ay, but you are not Lachlan Campbell, and you hef not had his
privileges. My father was a godly elder in the Free Church of Scotland,
and never a night or morning but we took the Books.’

‘Yes, but He said “any man,”’ persisted Nelson, putting his hand on
Lachlan’s knee. But Lachlan shook his head.

‘Dat young feller,’ said Baptiste; ‘wha’s hees nem, heh?’

‘He has no name. It is just a parable,’ explained Sandy.

‘He’s got no nem? He’s just a parom’ble? Das no young feller?’ asked
Baptiste anxiously; ‘das mean noting?’

Then Nelson took him in hand and explained to him the meaning, while
Baptiste listened even more eagerly, ejaculating softly, ‘ah, voila!
bon! by gar!’ When Nelson had finished he broke out, ‘Dat young feller,
his name Baptiste, heh? and de old Fadder he’s le bon Dieu? Bon! das
good story for me. How you go back? You go to de pries’?’

‘The book doesn’t say priest or any one else,’ said Nelson. ‘You go back
in yourself, you see?’

‘Non; das so, sure nuff. Ah!’--as if a light broke in upon him--‘you go
in your own self. You make one leetle prayer. You say, “Le bon Fadder,
oh! I want come back, I so tire, so hongree, so sorree”? He, say, “Come
right ‘long.” Ah! das fuss-rate. Nelson, you make one leetle prayer for
Sandy and me.’

And Nelson lifted up his face and said: ‘Father, we’re all gone far
away; we have spent all, we are poor, we are tired of it all; we want
to feel different, to be different; we want to come back. Jesus came to
save us from our sins; and he said if we came He wouldn’t cast us
out, no matter how bad we were, if we only came to Him. Oh, Jesus
Christ’--and his old, iron face began to work, and two big tears slowly
came from under his eyelids--‘we are a poor lot, and I’m the worst of
the lot, and we are trying to find the way. Show us how to get back.
Amen.’

‘Bon!’ said Baptiste. ‘Das fetch Him sure!’

Graeme pulled me away, and without a word we went into the office and
drew up to the little stove. Graeme was greatly moved.

‘Did you ever see anything like that?’ he asked. ‘Old Nelson! the
hardest, savagest, toughest old sinner in the camp, on his knees before
a lot of men!’

‘Before God,’ I could not help saying, for the thing seemed very real to
me. The old man evidently felt himself talking to some one.

‘Yes, I suppose you’re right,’ said Graeme doubtfully; ‘but there’s a
lot of stuff I can’t swallow.’

‘When you take medicine you don’t swallow the bottle,’ I replied, for
his trouble was not mine.

‘If I were sure of the medicine, I wouldn’t mind the bottle, and yet it
acts well enough,’ he went on. ‘I don’t mind Lachlan; he’s a Highland
mystic, and has visions, and Sandy’s almost as bad, and Baptiste is an
impulsive little chap. Those don’t count much. But old man Nelson is a
cool-blooded, level-headed old fellow; has seen a lot of life, too.
And then there’s Craig. He has a better head than I have, and is as
hot-blooded, and yet he is living and slaving away in that hole, and
really enjoys it. There must be something in it.’

‘Oh, look here, Graeme,’ I burst out impatiently; ‘what’s the use of
your talking like that? Of course there’s something in it. I here’s
everything in it. The trouble with me is I can’t face the music. It
calls for a life where a fellow must go in for straight, steady work,
self-denial, and that sort of thing; and I’m too Bohemian for that, and
too lazy. But that fellow Craig makes one feel horribly uncomfortable.’

Graeme put his head on one side, and examined me curiously.

‘I believe you’re right about yourself. You always were a luxurious
beggar. But that’s not where it catches me.’

We sat and smoked and talked of other things for an hour, and then
turned in. As I was dropping off I was roused by Graeme’s voice--

‘Are you going to the preparatory service on Friday night?’

‘Don’t know,’ I replied rather sleepily.

‘I say, do you remember the preparatory service at home?’ There was
something in his voice that set me wide awake.

‘Yes. Rather terrific, wasn’t it? But I always felt better after it,’ I
replied.

‘To me’--he was sitting up in bed now--‘to me it was like a call to
arms, or rather like a call for a forlorn hope. None but volunteers
wanted. Do you remember the thrill in the old governor’s voice as he
dared any but the right stuff to come on?’

‘We’ll go in on Friday night,’ I said.

And so we did. Sandy took a load of men with his team, and Graeme and I
drove in the light sleigh.

The meeting was in the church, and over a hundred men were present.
There was some singing of familiar hymns at first, and then Mr. Craig
read the same story as we had heard in the stable, that most perfect of
all parables, the Prodigal Son. Baptiste nudged Sandy in delight,
and whispered something, but Sandy held his face so absolutely
expressionless that Graeme was moved to say--

‘Look at Sandy! Did you ever see such a graven image? Something has hit
him hard.’

The men were held fast by the story. The voice of the reader, low,
earnest, and thrilling with the tender pathos of the tale, carried the
words to our hearts, while a glance, a gesture, a movement of the body
gave us the vision of it all as he was seeing it.

Then, in simplest of words, he told us what the story meant, holding us
the while with eyes, and voice, and gesture. He compelled us scorn the
gay, heartless selfishness of the young fool setting forth so jauntily
from the broken home; he moved our pity and our sympathy for the
young profligate, who, broken and deserted, had still pluck enough to
determine to work his way back, and who, in utter desperation, at last
gave it up; and then he showed us the homecoming--the ragged, heart-sick
tramp, with hesitating steps, stumbling along the dusty road, and then
the rush of the old father, his garments fluttering, and his voice heard
in broken cries. I see and hear it all now, whenever the words are read.

He announced the hymn, ‘Just as I am,’ read the first verse, and then
went on: ‘There you are, men, every man of you, somewhere on the road.
Some of you are too lazy’--here Graeme nudged me--‘and some of you
haven’t got enough yet of the far country to come back. May there be a
chance for you when you want to come! Men, you all want to go back home,
and when you go you’ll want to put on your soft clothes, and you won’t
go till you can go in good style; but where did the prodigal get his
good clothes?’ Quick came the answer in Baptiste’s shrill voice--

‘From de old fadder!’

No one was surprised, and the minister went on--

‘Yes! and that’s where we must get the good, clean heart, the good,
clean, brave heart, from our Father. Don’t wait, but, just as you are,
come. Sing.’

They sang, not loud, as they would ‘Stand Up,’ or even ‘The Sweet By and
By,’ but in voices subdued, holding down the power in them.

After the singing, Craig stood a moment gazing down at the men, and then
said quietly--

‘Any man want to come? You all might come. We all must come.’ Then,
sweeping his arm over the audience, and turning half round as if to move
off, he cried, in a voice that thrilled to the heart’s core--

‘Oh! come on! Let’s go back!’

The effect was overpowering. It seemed to me that the whole company
half rose to their feet. Of the prayer that immediately followed, I
only caught the opening sentence, ‘Father, we are coming back,’ for
my attention was suddenly absorbed by Abe, the stage-driver, who was
sitting next me. I could hear him swearing approval and admiration,
saying to himself--

‘Ain’t he a clinker! I’ll be gee-whizzly-gol-dusted if he ain’t a
malleable-iron-double-back-action self-adjusting corn-cracker.’ And
the prayer continued to be punctuated with like admiring and even
more sulphurous expletives. It was an incongruous medley. The earnest,
reverent prayer, and the earnest, admiring profanity, rendered chaotic
one’s ideas of religious propriety. The feelings in both were akin; the
method of expression somewhat widely diverse.

After prayer, Craig’s tone changed utterly. In a quiet, matter-of-fact,
businesslike way he stated his plan of organisation, and called for all
who wished to join to remain after the benediction. Some fifty men were
left, among them Nelson, Sandy, Lachlan Campbell, Baptiste, Shaw, Nixon,
Geordie, and Billy Breen, who tried to get out, but was held fast by
Geordie.

Graeme was passing out, but I signed him to remain, saying that I wished
‘to see the thing out.’ Abe sat still beside me, swearing disgustedly at
the fellows ‘who were going back on the preacher.’ Craig appeared amazed
at the number of men remaining, and seemed to fear that something was
wrong. He put before them the terms of discipleship, as the Master put
them to the eager scribe, and he did not make them easy. He pictured the
kind of work to be done, and the kind of men needed for the doing of it.
Abe grew uneasy as the minister went on to describe the completeness of
the surrender, the intensity of the loyalty demanded.

‘That knocks me out, I reckon,’ he muttered, in a disappointed tone; ‘I
ain’t up to that grade.’ And as Craig described the heroism called for,
the magnificence of the fight, the worth of it, and the outcome of it
all, Abe ground out: I’ll be blanked if I wouldn’t like to take a hand,
but I guess I’m not in it.’ Craig finished by saying--

‘I want to put this quite fairly. It is not any league of mine; you’re
not joining my company; it is no easy business, and it is for your whole
life. What do you say? Do I put it fairly? What do you say, Nelson?’

Nelson rose slowly, and with difficulty began--

‘I may be all wrong, but you made it easier for me, Mr. Craig. You said
He would see me through, or I should never have risked it. Perhaps I am
wrong,’ and the old man looked troubled. Craig sprang up.

‘No! no! Thank God, no! He will see every man through who will trust
his life to Him. Every man, no matter how tough he is, no matter how
broken.’

Then Nelson straightened himself up and said--

‘Well, sir! I believe a lot of the men would go in for this if they were
dead sure they would get through.’

‘Get through!’ said Craig; ‘never a fear of it. It is a hard fight, a
long fight, a glorious fight,’ throwing up his head, but every man
who squarely trusts Him, and takes Him as Lord and Master, comes out
victor!’

‘Bon!’ said Baptiste ‘Das me. You tink He’s take me in dat fight, M’sieu
Craig, heh?’ His eyes were blazing.

‘You mean it?’ asked Craig almost sternly.

‘Yes! by gar!’ said the little Frenchman eagerly.

‘Hear what He says, then’; and Craig, turning over the leaves of his
Testament, read solemnly the words, ‘Swear not at all.’

‘Non! For sure! Den I stop him,’ replied Baptiste earnestly; and Craig
wrote his name down.

Poor Abe looked amazed and distressed, rose slowly, and saying, ‘That
jars my whisky jug,’ passed out. There was a slight movement near the
organ, and glancing up I saw Mrs. Mavor put her face hastily in her
hands. The men’s faces were anxious and troubled, and Nelson said in a
voice that broke--

‘Tell them what you told me, sir.’ But Craig was troubled too, and
replied, ‘You tell them, Nelson!’ and Nelson told the men the story of
how he began just five weeks ago. The old man’s voice steadied as he
went on, and he grew eager as he told how he had been helped, and how
the world was all different, and his heart seemed new. He spoke of his
Friend as if He were some one that could be seen out at camp, that he
knew well, and met every day.

But as he tried to say how deeply he regretted that he had not known all
this years before, the old, hard face began to quiver, and the steady
voice wavered. Then he pulled himself together, and said--

‘I begin to feel sure He’ll pull me through--me! the hardest man in the
mountains! So don’t you fear, boys. He’s all right.’

Then the men gave in their names, one by one. When it came to Geordie’s
turn, he gave his name--

‘George Crawford, frae the pairish o’ Kilsyth, Scotland, an’ ye’ll juist
pit doon the lad’s name, Maister Craig; he’s a wee bit fashed wi’ the
discoorse, but he has the root o’ the maitter in him, I doot.’ And so
Billy Breen’s name went down.

When the meeting was over, thirty-eight names stood upon the communion
roll of the Black Rock Presbyterian Church; and it will ever be one of
the regrets of my life that neither Graeme’s name nor my own appeared
on that roll. And two days after, when the cup went round on that first
Communion Sabbath, from Nelson to Sandy, and from Sandy to Baptiste, and
so on down the line to Billy Breen and Mrs. Mavor, and then to Abe, the
driver, whom she had by her own mystic power lifted into hope and faith,
I felt all the shame and pain of a traitor; and I believe, in my heart
that the fire of that pain and shame burned something of the selfish
cowardice out of me, and that it is burning still.

The last words of the minister, in the short address after the table
had been served, were low, and sweet, and tender, but they were words of
high courage; and before he had spoken them all, the men were listening
with shining eyes, and when they rose to sing the closing hymn they
stood straight and stiff like soldiers on parade.

And I wished more than ever I were one of them.


CHAPTER VIII

THE BREAKING OF THE LEAGUE


There is no doubt in my mind that nature designed me for a great
painter. A railway director interfered with that design of nature, as he
has with many another of hers, and by the transmission of an order for
mountain pieces by the dozen, together with a cheque so large that I
feared there was some mistake, he determined me to be an illustrator and
designer for railway and like publications. I do not like these people
ordering ‘by the dozen.’ Why should they not consider an artist’s finer
feelings? Perhaps they cannot understand them; but they understand my
pictures, and I understand their cheques, and there we are quits. But
so it came that I remained in Black Rock long enough to witness the
breaking of the League.

Looking back upon the events of that night from the midst of gentle and
decent surroundings, they now seem strangely unreal, but to me then they
appeared only natural.

It was the Good Friday ball that wrecked the League. For the fact that
the promoters of the ball determined that it should be a ball rather
than a dance was taken by the League men as a concession to the new
public opinion in favour of respectability created by the League. And
when the manager’s patronage had been secured (they failed to get Mrs.
Mavor’s), and it was further announced that, though held in the Black
Rock Hotel ballroom--indeed, there was no other place--refreshments
suited to the peculiar tastes of League men would be provided, it was
felt to be almost a necessity that the League should approve, should
indeed welcome, this concession to the public opinion in favour of
respectability created by the League.

There were extreme men on both sides, of course. ‘Idaho’ Jack,
professional gambler, for instance, frankly considered that the whole
town was going to unmentionable depths of propriety. The organisation of
the League was regarded by him, and by many others, as a sad retrograde
towards the bondage of the ancient and dying East; and that he could not
get drunk when and where he pleased, ‘Idaho,’ as he was called, regarded
as a personal grievance.

But Idaho was never enamoured of the social ways of Black Rock. He was
shocked and disgusted when he discovered that a ‘gun’ was decreed by
British law to be an unnecessary adornment of a card-table. The manner
of his discovery must have been interesting to behold.

It is said that Idaho was industriously pursuing his avocation in
Slavin’s, with his ‘gun’ lying upon the card-table convenient to
his hand, when in walked policeman Jackson, her Majesty’s sole
representative in the Black Rock district. Jackson, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson,
or ‘Stonewall,’ as he was called for obvious reasons, after watching the
game for a few moments, gently tapped the pistol and asked what he used
this for.

‘I’ll show you in two holy minutes if you don’t light out,’ said Idaho,
hardly looking up, but very angrily, for the luck was against him. But
Jackson tapped upon the table and said sweetly--

‘You’re a stranger here. You ought to get a guide-book and post
yourself. Now, the boys know I don’t interfere with an innocent little
game, but there is a regulation against playing it with guns; so,’
he added even more sweetly, but fastening Idaho with a look from
his steel-grey eyes, ‘I’ll just take charge of this,’ picking up the
revolver; ‘it might go off.’

Idaho’s rage, great as it was, was quite swallowed up in his amazed
disgust at the state of society that would permit such an outrage upon
personal liberty. He was quite unable to play any more that evening, and
it took several drinks all round to restore him to articulate speech.
The rest of the night was spent in retailing for his instruction stories
of the ways of Stonewall Jackson.

Idaho bought a new ‘gun,’ but he wore it ‘in his clothes,’ and used it
chiefly in the pastime of shooting out the lights or in picking off
the heels from the boys’ boots while a stag dance was in progress in
Slavin’s. But in Stonewall’s presence Idaho was a most correct citizen.
Stonewall he could understand and appreciate. He was six feet three,
and had an eye of unpleasant penetration. But this new feeling in the
community for respectability he could neither understand nor endure. The
League became the object of his indignant aversion, and the League
men of his contempt. He had many sympathisers, and frequent were the
assaults upon the newly-born sobriety of Billy Breen and others of the
League. But Geordie’s watchful care and Mrs. Mavor’s steady influence,
together with the loyal co-operation of the League men, kept Billy safe
so far. Nixon, too, was a marked man. It may be that he carried himself
with unnecessary jauntiness toward Slavin and Idaho, saluting the former
with, ‘Awful dry weather! eh, Slavin?’ and the latter with, ‘Hello, old
sport! how’s times?’ causing them to swear deeply; and, as it turned
out, to do more than swear.

But on the whole the anti-League men were in favour of a respectable
ball, and most of the League men determined to show their appreciation
of the concession of the committee to the principles of the League in
the important matter of refreshments by attending in force.

Nixon would not go. However jauntily he might talk, he could not trust
himself, as he said, where whisky was flowing, for it got into his nose
‘like a fish-hook into a salmon.’ He was from Nova Scotia. For like
reason, Vernon Winton, the young Oxford fellow, would not go. When they
chaffed, his lips grew a little thinner, and the colour deepened in
his handsome face, but he went on his way. Geordie despised the ‘hale
hypothick’ as a ‘daft ploy,’ and the spending of five dollars upon a
ticket he considered a ‘sinfu’ waste o’ guid siller’; and he warned
Billy against ‘coontenancin’ ony sic redeeklus nonsense.’

But no one expected Billy to go; although the last two months he had
done wonders for his personal appearance, and for his position in the
social scale as well. They all knew what a fight he was making, and
esteemed him accordingly. How well I remember the pleased pride in his
face when he told me in the afternoon of the committee’s urgent request
that he should join the orchestra with his ‘cello! It was not
simply that his ‘cello was his joy and pride, but he felt it to be a
recognition of his return to respectability.

I have often wondered how things combine at times to a man’s
destruction.

Had Mr. Craig not been away at the Landing that week, had Geordie not
been on the night-shift, had Mrs. Mavor not been so occupied with the
care of her sick child, it may be Billy might have been saved his fall.

The anticipation of the ball stirred Black Rock and the camps with a
thrill of expectant delight. Nowadays, when I find myself forced to
leave my quiet smoke in my studio after dinner at the call of some
social engagement which I have failed to elude, I groan at my hard lot,
and I wonder as I look back and remember the pleasurable anticipation
with which I viewed the approaching ball. But I do not wonder now any
more than I did then at the eager delight of the men who for seven days
in the week swung their picks up in the dark breasts of the mines, or
who chopped and sawed among the solitary silences of the great forests.
Any break in the long and weary monotony was welcome; what mattered
the cost or consequence! To the rudest and least cultured of them the
sameness of the life must have been hard to bear; but what it was to men
who had seen life in its most cultured and attractive forms I fail to
imagine. From the mine, black and foul, to the shack, bare, cheerless,
and sometimes hideously repulsive, life swung in heart-grinding monotony
till the longing for a ‘big drink’ or some other ‘big break’ became too
great to bear.

It was well on towards evening when Sandy’s four horse team, with a
load of men from the woods, came swinging round the curves of the
mountain-road and down the street. A gay crowd they were with their
bright, brown faces and hearty voices; and in ten minutes the whole
street seemed alive with lumbermen--they had a faculty of spreading
themselves so. After night fell the miners came down ‘done up slick,’
for this was a great occasion, and they must be up to it. The manager
appeared in evening dress; but this was voted ‘too giddy’ by the
majority.

As Graeme and I passed up to the Black Rock Hotel, in the large
store-room of which the ball was to be held, we met old man Nelson
looking very grave.

‘Going, Nelson, aren’t you?’ I said.

‘Yes,’ he answered slowly; ‘I’ll drop in, though I don’t like the look
of things much.’

‘What’s the matter, Nelson?’ asked Graeme cheerily. ‘There’s no funeral
on.’

‘Perhaps not,’ replied Nelson, ‘but I wish Mr. Craig were home.’ And
then he added, ‘There’s Idaho and Slavin together, and you may bet the
devil isn’t far off.’

But Graeme laughed at his suspicion, and we passed on. The orchestra was
tuning up. There were two violins, a concertina, and the ‘cello. Billy
Breen was lovingly fingering his instrument, now and then indulging
himself in a little snatch of some air that came to him out of his
happier past. He looked perfectly delighted, and as I paused to listen
he gave me a proud glance out of his deep, little, blue eyes, and went
on playing softly to himself. Presently Shaw came along.

‘That’s good, Billy,’ he called out. ‘You’ve got the trick yet, I see.’

But Billy only nodded and went on playing.

‘Where’s Nixon?’ I asked.

‘Gone to bed,’ said Shaw, ‘and I am glad of it. He finds that the safest
place on pay-day afternoon. The boys don’t bother him there.’

The dancing-room was lined on two sides with beer-barrels and
whisky-kegs; at one end the orchestra sat, at the other was a table with
refreshments, where the ‘soft drinks’ might be had. Those who wanted
anything else might pass through a short passage into the bar just
behind.

This was evidently a superior kind of ball, for the men kept on their
coats, and went through the various figures with faces of unnatural
solemnity. But the strain upon their feelings was quite apparent, and it
became a question how long it could be maintained. As the trips through
the passage-way became more frequent the dancing grew in vigour and
hilarity, until by the time supper was announced the stiffness had
sufficiently vanished to give no further anxiety to the committee.

But the committee had other cause for concern, inasmuch as after supper
certain of the miners appeared with their coats off, and proceeded to
‘knock the knots out of the floor’ in break-down dances of extraordinary
energy. These, however, were beguiled into the bar-room and ‘filled up’
for safety, for the committee were determined that the respectability of
the ball should be preserved to the end. Their reputation was at stake,
not in Black Rock only, but at the Landing as well, from which most of
the ladies had come; and to be shamed in the presence of the Landing
people could not be borne. Their difficulties seemed to be increasing,
for at this point something seemed to go wrong with the orchestra.
The ‘cello appeared to be wandering aimlessly up and down the scale,
occasionally picking up the tune with animation, and then dropping it.
As Billy saw me approaching, he drew himself up with great solemnity,
gravely winked at me, and said--

‘Shlipped a cog, Mishter Connor! Mosh hunfortunate! Beauchiful
hinstrument, but shlips a cog. Mosh hunfortunate!’

And he wagged his little head sagely, playing all the while for dear
life, now second and now lead.

Poor Billy! I pitied him, but I thought chiefly of the beautiful, eager
face that leaned towards him the night the League was made, and of the
bright voice that said, ‘You’ll sign with me, Billy?’ and it seemed to
me a cruel deed to make him lose his grip of life and hope; for this is
what the pledge meant to him.

While I was trying to get Billy away to some safe place, I heard a
great shouting in the direction of the bar, followed by trampling and
scuffling of feet in the passage-way. Suddenly a man burst through,
crying--

‘Let me go! Stand back! I know what I’m about!’

It was Nixon, dressed in his best; black clothes, blue shirt, red tie,
looking handsome enough, but half-drunk and wildly excited. The highland
Fling competition was on at the moment, and Angus Campbell, Lachlan’s
brother, was representing the lumber camps in the contest. Nixon looked
on approvingly for a few moments, then with a quick movement he seized
the little Highlander, swung him in his powerful arms clean off the
floor, and deposited him gently upon a beer-barrel. Then he stepped
into the centre of the room, bowed to the judges, and began a sailor’s
hornpipe.

The committee were perplexed, but after deliberation they decided to
humour the new competitor, especially as they knew that Nixon with
whisky in him was unpleasant to cross.

Lightly and gracefully he went through his steps, the men crowding in
from the bar to admire, for Nixon was famed for his hornpipe. But when,
after the hornpipe, he proceeded to execute a clog-dance, garnished with
acrobatic feats, the committee interfered. There were cries of ‘Put him
out!’ and ‘Let him alone! Go on, Nixon!’ And Nixon hurled back into the
crowd two of the committee who had laid remonstrating hands upon him,
and, standing in the open centre, cried out scornfully--

‘Put me out! Put me out! Certainly! Help yourselves! Don’t mind me!’
Then grinding his teeth, so that I heard them across the room, he added
with savage deliberation, ‘If any man lays a finger on me, I’ll--I’ll
eat his liver cold.’

He stood for a few moments glaring round upon the company, and then
strode toward the bar, followed by the crowd wildly yelling. The ball
was forthwith broken up. I looked around for Billy, but he was nowhere
to be seen. Graeme touched my arm--

‘There’s going to be something of a time, so just keep your eyes
skinned.’

‘What are you going to do?’ I asked.

‘Do? Keep myself beautifully out of trouble,’ he replied.

In a few moments the crowd came surging back headed by Nixon, who was
waving a whisky-bottle over his head and yelling as one possessed.

‘Hello!’ exclaimed Graeme softly, ‘I begin to see. Look there!’

‘What’s up?’ I asked.

‘You see Idaho and Slavin and their pets,’ he replied.

‘They’ve got poor Nixon in tow. Idaho is rather nasty,’ he added, ‘but
I think I’ll take a hand in this game; I’ve seen some of Idaho’s work
before.’

The scene was one quite strange to me, and was wild beyond description.
A hundred men filled the room. Bottles were passed from hand to hand,
and men drank their fill. Behind the refreshment-tables stood the
hotelman and his barkeeper with their coats off and sleeves rolled up to
the shoulder, passing out bottles, and drawing beer and whisky from two
kegs hoisted up for that purpose. Nixon was in his glory. It was
his night. Every man was to get drunk at his expense, he proclaimed,
flinging down bills upon the table. Near him were some League men he
was treating liberally, and never far away were Idaho and Slavin passing
bottles, but evidently drinking little.

I followed Graeme, not feeling too comfortable, for this sort of thing
was new to me, but admiring the cool assurance with which he made his
way through the crowd that swayed and yelled and swore and laughed in a
most disconcerting manner.

‘Hello!’ shouted Nixon as he caught sight of Graeme. ‘Here you are!’
passing him a bottle. ‘You’re a knocker, a double-handed front door
knocker. You polished off old whisky-soak here, old demijohn,’ pointing
to Slavin, ‘and I’ll lay five to one we can lick any blankety blank
thieves in the crowd,’ and he held up a roll of bills.

But Graeme proposed that he should give the hornpipe again, and the
floor was cleared at once, for Nixon’s hornpipe was very popular, and
tonight, of course, was in high favour. In the midst of his dance Nixon
stopped short, his arms dropped to his side, his face had a look of
fear, of horror.

There, before him, in his riding-cloak and boots, with his whip in his
hand as he had come from his ride, stood Mr. Craig. His face was pallid,
and his dark eyes were blazing with fierce light. As Nixon stopped,
Craig stepped forward to him, and sweeping his eyes round upon the
circle he said in tones intense with scorn--

‘You cowards! You get a man where he’s weak! Cowards! you’d damn his
soul for his money!’

There was dead silence, and Craig, lifting his hat, said solemnly--

‘May God forgive you this night’s work!’

Then, turning to Nixon, and throwing his arm over his shoulder, he said
in a voice broken and husky--

‘Come on, Nixon! we’ll go!’

Idaho made a motion as if to stop him, but Graeme stepped quickly
foreword and said sharply, ‘Make way there, can’t you?’ and the crowd
fell back and we four passed through, Nixon walking as in a dream, with
Craig’s arm about him. Down the street we went in silence, and on to
Craig’s shack, where we found old man Nelson, with the fire blazing, and
strong coffee steaming on the stove. It was he that had told Craig, on
his arrival from the Landing, of Nixon’s fall.

There was nothing of reproach, but only gentlest pity, in tone and touch
as Craig placed the half-drunk, dazed man in his easy-chair, took off
his boots, brought him his own slippers, and gave him coffee. Then, as
his stupor began to overcome him, Craig put him in his own bed, and came
forth with a face written over with grief.

‘Don’t mind, old chap,’ said Graeme kindly.

But Craig looked at him without a word, and, throwing himself into a
chair, put his face in his hands. As we sat there in silence the door
was suddenly pushed open and in walked Abe Baker with the words, ‘Where
is Nixon?’ and we told him where he was. We were still talking when
again a tap came to the door, and Shaw came in looking much disturbed.

‘Did you hear about Nixon?’ he asked. We told him what we knew.

‘But did you hear how they got him?’ he asked, excitedly.

As he told us the tale, the men stood listening, with faces growing
hard.

It appeared that after the making of the League the Black Rock Hotel man
had bet Idaho one hundred to fifty that Nixon could not be got to drink
before Easter. All Idaho’s schemes had failed, and now he had only three
days in which to win his money, and the ball was his last chance. Here
again he was balked, for Nixon, resisting all entreaties, barred his
shack door and went to bed before nightfall, according to his invariable
custom on pay-days. At midnight some of Idaho’s men came battering at
the door for admission, which Nixon reluctantly granted. For half an
hour they used every art of persuasion to induce him to go down to the
ball, the glorious success of which was glowingly depicted; but Nixon
remained immovable, and they took their departure, baffled and cursing.
In two hours they returned drunk enough to be dangerous, kicked at the
door in vain, finally gained entrance through the window, hauled Nixon
out of bed, and, holding a glass of whisky to his lips, bade him drink.
But he knocked the glass sway, spilling the liquor over himself and the
bed.

It was drink or fight, and Nixon was ready to fight; but after parley
they had a drink all round, and fell to persuasion again. The night was
cold, and poor Nixon sat shivering on the edge of his bed. If he would
take one drink they would leave him alone. He need not show himself so
stiff. The whisky fumes filled his nostrils. If one drink would get
them off, surely that was better than fighting and killing some one or
getting killed. He hesitated, yielded, drank his glass. They sat about
him amiably drinking, and lauding him as a fine fellow after all. One
more glass before they left. Then Nixon rose, dressed himself, drank all
that was left of the bottle, put his money in his pocket, and came down
to the dance, wild with his old-time madness, reckless of faith and
pledge, forgetful of home, wife, babies, his whole being absorbed in one
great passion--to drink and drink and drink till he could drink no more.

Before Shaw had finished his tale, Craig’s eyes were streaming with
tears, and groans of rage and pity broke alternately from him. Abe
remained speechless for a time, not trusting himself; but as he heard
Craig groan, ‘Oh, the beasts! the fiends!’ he seemed encouraged to
let himself loose, and he began swearing with the coolest and most
blood-curdling deliberation. Craig listened with evident approval,
apparently finding complete satisfaction in Abe’s performance, when
suddenly he seemed to waken up, caught Abe by the arm, and said in a
horror-stricken voice--

‘Stop! stop! God forgive us! we must not swear like this.’

Abe stopped at once, and in a surprised and slightly grieved voice
said--

‘Why! what’s the matter with that? Ain’t that what you wanted?’

‘Yes! yes! God forgive me! I am afraid it was,’ he answered hurriedly;
‘but I must not.’

‘Oh, don’t you worry,’ went on Abe cheerfully; ‘I’ll look after that
part; and anyway, ain’t they the blankest blankety blank’--going off
again into a roll of curses, till Craig, in an agony of entreaty,
succeeded in arresting the flow of profanity possible to no one but a
mountain stage-driver. Abe paused looking hurt, and asked if they did
not deserve everything he was calling down upon them.

‘Yes, yes,’ urged Craig; ‘but that is not our business.’

‘Well! so I reckoned,’ replied Abe, recognising the limitations of the
cloth; ‘you ain’t used to it, and you can’t be expected to do it; but it
just makes me feel good--let out o’ school like--to properly do ‘em up,
the blank, blank,’ and off he went again. It was only under the pressure
of Mr. Craig’s prayers and commands that he finally agreed ‘to hold in,
though it was tough.’

‘What’s to be done?’ asked Shaw.

‘Nothing,’ answered Craig bitterly. He was exhausted with his long ride
from the Landing, and broken with bitter disappointment over the ruin of
all that he had laboured so long to accomplish.

‘Nonsense,’ said Graeme; ‘there’s a good deal to do.’

It was agreed that Craig should remain with Nixon while the others of us
should gather up what fragments we could find of the broken League. We
had just opened the door, when we met a man striding up at a great pace.
It was Geordie Crawford.

‘Hae ye seen the lad?’ was his salutation. No one replied. So I told
Geordie of my last sight of Billy in the orchestra.

‘An’ did ye no’ gang aifter him?’ he asked in indignant surprise, adding
with some contempt, ‘Man! but ye’re a feckless buddie.’

‘Billy gone too!’ said Shaw. ‘They might have let Billy alone.’

Poor Craig stood in a dumb agony. Billy’s fall seemed more than he
could bear. We went out, leaving him heart-broken amid the ruins of his
League.


CHAPTER IX

THE LEAGUE’S REVENGE


As we stood outside of Craig’s shack in the dim starlight, we could not
hide from ourselves that we were beaten. It was not so much grief as
a blind fury that filled my heart, and looking at the faces of the men
about me I read the same feeling there. But what could we do? The yells
of carousing miners down at Slavin’s told us that nothing could be done
with them that night. To be so utterly beaten, and unfairly, and with no
chance of revenge, was maddening.

‘I’d like to get back at ‘em,’ said Abe, carefully repressing himself.

‘I’ve got it, men,’ said Graeme suddenly. ‘This town does not require
all the whisky there is in it’; and he unfolded his plan. It was to gain
possession of Slavin’s saloon and the bar of the Black Rock Hotel, and
clear out all the liquor to be found in both these places. I did not
much like the idea; and Geordie said, ‘I’m ga’en aifter the lad; I’ll
hae naethin’ tae dae wi’ yon. It’s’ no’ that easy, an’ it’s a sinfu’
waste.’

But Abe was wild to try it, and Shaw was quite willing, while old Nelson
sternly approved.

‘Nelson, you and Shaw get a couple of our men and attend to the saloon.
Slavin and the whole gang are up at the Black Rock, so you won’t have
much trouble; but come to us as soon as you can.’

And so we went our ways.

Then followed a scene the like of which I can never hope to see again,
and it was worth a man’s seeing. But there were times that night when I
wished I had not agreed to follow Graeme in his plot. As we went up to
the hotel, I asked Graeme, ‘What about the law of this?’

‘Law!’ he replied indignantly. ‘They haven’t troubled much about law in
the whisky business here. They get a keg of high wines and some drugs
and begin operations. No!’ he went on; ‘if we can get the crowd out, and
ourselves in, we’ll make them break the law in getting us out. The law
won’t trouble us over smuggled whisky. It will be a great lark, and they
won’t crow too loud over the League.’

I did not like the undertaking at first; but as I thought of the whole
wretched illegal business flourishing upon the weakness of the men
in the mines and camps, whom I had learned to regard as brothers, and
especially as I thought of the cowards that did for Nixon, I let my
scruples go, and determined, with Abe, ‘to get back at ‘em.’

We had no difficulty getting them out. Abe began to yell. Some men
rushed out to learn the cause. He seized the foremost man, making a
hideous uproar all the while, and in three minutes had every man out of
the hotel and a lively row going on.

In two minutes more Graeme and I had the door to the ball-room locked
and barricaded with empty casks. We then closed the door of the bar-room
leading to the outside. The bar-room was a strongly built log-shack,
with a heavy door secured, after the manner of the early cabins, with
two strong oak bars, so that we felt safe from attack from that quarter.

The ball-room we could not hold long, for the door was slight and
entrance was possible through the windows. But as only a few casks of
liquor were left there, our main work would be in the bar, so that the
fight would be to hold the passage-way. This we barricaded with casks
and tables. But by this time the crowd had begun to realise what had
happened, and were wildly yelling at door and windows. With an axe which
Graeme had brought with him the casks were soon stove in, and left to
empty themselves.

As I was about to empty the last cask, Graeme stopped me, saying, ‘Let
that stand here. It will help us.’ And so it did. ‘Now skip for the
barricade,’ yelled Graeme, as a man came crashing through the window.
Before he could regain his feet, however, Graeme had seized him and
flung him out upon the heads of the crowd outside. But through the
other windows men were coming in, and Graeme rushed for the barricade,
followed by two of the enemy, the foremost of whom I received at the top
and hurled back upon the others.

‘Now, be quick!’ said Graeme; ‘I’ll hold this. Don’t break any bottles
on the floor--throw them out there,’ pointing to a little window high up
in the wall.

I made all haste. The casks did not take much time, and soon the whisky
and beer were flowing over the floor. It made me think of Geordie’s
regret over the ‘sinfu’ waste.’ The bottles took longer, and glancing up
now and then I saw that Graeme was being hard pressed. Men would leap,
two and three at a time, upon the barricade, and Graeme’s arms would
shoot out, and over they would topple upon the heads of those nearest.
It was a great sight to see him standing alone with a smile on his face
and the light of battle in his eye, coolly meeting his assailants with
those terrific, lightning-like blows. In fifteen minutes my work was
done.

‘What next?’ I asked. ‘How do we get out?’

‘How is the door?’ he replied.

I looked through the port-hole and said, ‘A crowd of men waiting.’

‘We’ll have to make a dash for it, I fancy,’ he replied cheerfully,
though his face was covered with blood and his breath was coming in
short gasps.

‘Get down the bars and be ready.’ But even as he spoke a chair hurled
from below caught him on the arm, and before he could recover, a man had
cleared the barricade and was upon him like a tiger. It was Idaho Jack.

‘Hold the barricade,’ Graeme called out, as they both went down.

I sprang to his place, but I had not much hope of holding it long. I had
the heavy oak bar of the door in my hands, and swinging it round my head
I made the crowd give back for a few moments.

Meantime Graeme had shaken off his enemy, who was circling about him
upon his tip-toes, with a long knife in his hand, waiting for a chance
to spring.

‘I have been waiting for this for some time, Mr. Graeme,’ he said
smiling.

‘Yes,’ replied Graeme, ‘ever since I spoiled your cut-throat game in
‘Frisco. How is the little one?’ he added sarcastically.

Idaho’s face lost its smile and became distorted with fury as he
replied, spitting out his words, ‘She--is--where you will be before I am
done with you.’

‘Ah! you murdered her too! You’ll hang some beautiful day, Idaho,’ said
Graeme, as Idaho sprang upon him.

Graeme dodged his blow and caught his forearm with his left hand and
held up high the murderous knife. Back and forward they swayed over the
floor, slippery with whisky, the knife held high in the air. I wondered
why Graeme did not strike, and then I saw his right hand hung limp from
the wrist. The men were crowding upon the barricade. I was in despair.
Graeme’s strength was going fast. With a yell of exultant fury Idaho
threw himself with all his weight upon Graeme, who could only cling to
him. They swayed together towards me, but as they fell I brought down
my bar upon the upraised hand and sent the knife flying across the room.
Idaho’s howl of rage and pain was mingled with a shout from below, and
there, dashing the crowd right and left, came old Nelson, followed by
Abe, Sandy, Baptiste, Shaw, and others. As they reached the barricade it
crashed down and, carrying me with it, pinned me fast.

Looking out between the barrels, I saw what froze my heart with horror.
In the fall Graeme had wound his arms about his enemy and held him in
a grip so deadly that he could not strike; but Graeme’s strength was
failing, and when I looked I saw that Idaho was slowly dragging both
across the slippery floor to where the knife lay. Nearer and nearer his
outstretched fingers came to the knife. In vain I yelled and struggled.
My voice was lost in the awful din, and the barricade held me fast.
Above me, standing on a barrel-head, was Baptiste, yelling like a demon.
In vain I called to him. My fingers could just reach his foot, and
he heeded not at all my touch. Slowly Idaho was dragging his almost
unconscious victim toward the knife. His fingers were touching the
blade point, when, under a sudden inspiration, I pulled out my penknife,
opened it with my teeth, and drove the blade into Baptiste’s foot. With
a blood-curdling yell he sprang down and began dancing round in his
rage, peering among the barrels.

‘Look! look!’ I was calling in agony, and pointing; ‘for heaven’s sake,
look! Baptiste!’

The fingers had closed upon the knife, the knife was already high in
the air, when, with a shriek, Baptiste cleared the room at a bound, and,
before the knife could fall, the little Frenchman’s boot had caught the
uplifted wrist, and sent the knife flying to the wall.

Then there was a great rushing sound as of wind through the forest, and
the lights went out. When I awoke, I found myself lying with my head on
Graeme’s knees, and Baptiste sprinkling snow on my face. As I looked up
Graeme leaned over me, and, smiling down into my eyes, he said--

‘Good boy! It was a great fight, and we put it up well’; and then he
whispered, ‘I owe you my life, my boy.’

His words thrilled my heart through and through, for I loved him as only
men can love men; but I only answered--

‘I could not keep them back.’

‘It was well done,’ he said; and I felt proud. I confess I was thankful
to be so well out of it, for Graeme got off with a bone in his wrist
broken, and I with a couple of ribs cracked; but had it not been for the
open barrel of whisky which kept them occupied for a time, offering too
good a chance to be lost, and for the timely arrival of Nelson, neither
of us had ever seen the light again.

We found Craig sound asleep upon his couch. His consternation on waking
to see us torn, bruised, and bloody was laughable; but he hastened to
find us warm water and bandages, and we soon felt comfortable.

Baptiste was radiant with pride and light over the fight, and hovered
about Graeme and me giving vent to his feelings in admiring French and
English expletives. But Abe was disgusted because of the failure at
Slavin’s; for when Nelson looked in, he saw Slavin’s French-Canadian
wife in charge, with her baby on her lap, and he came back to Shaw and
said, ‘Come away, we can’t touch this’; and Shaw, after looking in,
agreed that nothing could be done. A baby held the fort.

As Craig listened to the account of the fight, he tried hard not to
approve, but he could not keep the gleam out of his eyes; and as I
pictured Graeme dashing back the crowd thronging the barricade till he
was brought down by the chair, Craig laughed gently, and put his hand
on Graeme’s knee. And as I went on to describe my agony while Idaho’s
fingers were gradually nearing the knife, his face grew pale and his
eyes grew wide with horror.

‘Baptiste here did the business,’ I said, and the little Frenchman
nodded complacently and said--

‘Dat’s me for sure.’

‘By the way, how is your foot?’ asked Graeme.

‘He’s fuss-rate. Dat’s what you call--one bite of--of--dat leel bees,
he’s dere, you put your finger dere, he’s not dere!--what you call him?’

‘Flea!’ I suggested.

‘Oui!’ cried Baptiste. ‘Dat’s one bite of flea.’

‘I was thankful I was under the barrels,’ I replied, smiling.

‘Oui! Dat’s mak’ me ver mad. I jump an’ swear mos’ awful bad. Dat’s
pardon me, M’sieu Craig, heh?’

But Craig only smiled at him rather sadly. ‘It was awfully risky,’ he
said to Graeme, ‘and it was hardly worth it. They’ll get more whisky,
and anyway the League is gone.’

‘Well,’ said Graeme with a sigh of satisfaction, ‘it is not quite such a
one-sided affair as it was.’

And we could say nothing in reply, for we could hear Nixon snoring in
the next room, and no one had heard of Billy, and there were others of
the League that we knew were even now down at Slavin’s. It was thought
best that all should remain in Mr. Craig’s shack, not knowing what might
happen; and so we lay where we could and we needed none to sing us to
sleep.

When I awoke, stiff and sore, it was to find breakfast ready and old man
Nelson in charge. As we were seated, Craig came in, and I saw that he
was not the man of the night before. His courage had come back, his face
was quiet and his eye clear; he was his own man again.

‘Geordie has been out all night, but has failed to find Billy,’ he
announced quietly.

We did not talk much; Graeme and I worried with our broken bones,
and the others suffered from a general morning depression. But, after
breakfast, as the men were beginning to move, Craig took down his Bible,
and saying--

‘Wait a few minutes, men!’ he read slowly, in his beautiful clear voice,
that psalm for all fighters--

     ‘God is our refuge and strength,’

and soon to the noble words--

     ‘The Lord of Hosts is with us;
     The God of Jacob is our refuge.’

How the mighty words pulled us together, lifted us till we grew ashamed
of our ignoble rage and of our ignoble depression!

And then Craig prayed in simple, straight-going words. There was
acknowledgement of failure, but I knew he was thinking chiefly of
himself; and there was gratitude, and that was for the men about him,
and I felt my face burn with shame; and there was petition for help,
and we all thought of Nixon, and Billy, and the men wakening from their
debauch at Slavin’s this pure, bright morning. And then he asked that we
might be made faithful and worthy of God, whose battle it was. Then we
all stood up and shook hands with him in silence, and every man knew a
covenant was being made. But none saw his meeting with Nixon. He sent us
all away before that.

Nothing was heard of the destruction of the hotel stock-in-trade.
Unpleasant questions would certainly be asked, and the proprietor
decided to let bad alone. On the point of respectability the success of
the ball was not conspicuous, but the anti-League men were content, if
not jubilant.

Billy Breen was found by Geordie late in the afternoon in his own
old and deserted shack, breathing heavily, covered up in his filthy,
mouldering bed-clothes, with a half-empty bottle of whisky at his side.
Geordie’s grief and rage were beyond even his Scotch control. He spoke
few words, but these were of such concentrated vehemence that no one
felt the need of Abe’s assistance in vocabulary.

Poor Billy! We carried him to Mrs. Mavor’s home; put him in a warm bath,
rolled him in blankets, and gave him little sips of hot water, then of
hot milk and coffee; as I had seen a clever doctor in the hospital treat
a similar case of nerve and heart depression. But the already weakened
system could not recover from the awful shock of the exposure following
the debauch; and on Sunday afternoon we saw that his heart was failing
fast. All day the miners had been dropping in to inquire after him, for
Billy had been a great favourite in other days, and the attention of the
town had been admiringly centred upon his fight of these last weeks. It
was with no ordinary sorrow that the news of his condition was received.
As Mrs. Mavor sang to him, his large coarse hands moved in time to the
music, but he did not open his eyes till he heard Mr. Craig’s voice in
the next room; then he spoke his name, and Mr. Craig was kneeling beside
him in a moment. The words came slowly--

‘Oi tried--to fight it hout--but---oi got beaten. Hit ‘urts to think
‘E’s hashamed o’ me. Oi’d like t’a done better--oi would.’

‘Ashamed of you, Billy!’ said Craig, in a voice that broke. ‘Not He.’

‘An’--ye hall--‘elped me so!’ he went on. ‘Oi wish oi’d ‘a done
better--oi do,’ and his eyes sought Geordie, and then rested on Mrs.
Mavor, who smiled back at him with a world of love in her eyes.

‘You hain’t hashamed o’ me--yore heyes saigh so,’ he said looking at
her.

‘No, Billy,’ she said, and I wondered at her steady voice, ‘not a bit.
Why, Billy, I am proud of you.’

He gazed up at her with wonder and ineffable love in his little eyes,
then lifted his hand slightly toward her. She knelt quickly and took it
in both of hers, stroking it and kissing it.

‘Oi haught t’a done better. Oi’m hawful sorry oi went back on ‘Im. Hit
was the lemonaide. The boys didn’t mean no ‘arm--but hit started the
‘ell hinside.’

Geordie hurled out some bitter words.

‘Don’t be ‘ard on ‘em, Geordie; they didn’t mean no ‘arm,’ he said, and
his eyes kept waiting till Geordie said hurriedly--

‘Na! na! lad--a’ll juist leave them till the Almichty.’

Then Mrs. Mavor sang softly, smoothing his hand, ‘Just as I am,’ and
Billy dozed quietly for half an hour.

When he awoke again his eyes turned to Mr. Craig, and they were troubled
and anxious.

‘Oi tried ‘ard. Oi wanted to win,’ he struggled to say. By this time
Craig was master of himself, and he answered in a clear, distinct
voice--

‘Listen, Billy! You made a great fight, and you are going to win
yet. And besides, do you remember the sheep that got lost over the
mountains?’--this parable was Billy’s special delight--‘He didn’t beat
it when He got it, did he? He took it in His arms and carried it home.
And so He will you.’

And Billy, keeping his eyes fastened on Mr. Craig, simply said--

‘Will ‘E?’

‘Sure!’ said Craig.

‘Will ‘E?’ he repeated, turning his eyes upon Mrs. Mavor.

‘Why, yes, Billy,’ she answered cheerily, though the tears were
streaming from her eyes. ‘I would, and He loves you far more.’

He looked at her, smiled, and closed his eyes. I put my hand on his
heart; it was fluttering feebly. Again a troubled look passed over his
face.

‘My--poor--hold--mother,’ he whispered, ‘she’s--hin--the--wukus.’

‘I shall take care of her, Billy,’ said Mrs. Mavor, in a clear voice,
and again Billy smiled. Then he turned his eyes to Mr. Craig, and from
him to Geordie, and at last to Mrs. Mavor, where they rested. She bent
over and kissed him twice on the forehead.

‘Tell ‘er,’ he said, with difficulty, ‘’E’s took me ‘ome.’

‘Yes, Billy!’ she cried, gazing into his glazing eyes. He tried to lift
her hand. She kissed him again. He drew one deep breath and lay quite
still.

‘Thank the blessed Saviour!’ said Mr. Craig, reverently. ‘He has taken
him home.’

But Mrs. Mavor held the dead hand tight and sobbed out passionately,
‘Oh, Billy, Billy! you helped me once when I needed help! I cannot
forget!’

And Geordie, groaning, ‘Ay, laddie, laddie,’ passed out into the fading
light of the early evening.

Next day no one went to work, for to all it seemed a sacred day. They
carried him into the little church, and there Mr. Craig spoke of his
long, hard fight, and of his final victory; for he died without a fear,
and with love to the men who, not knowing, had been his death. And there
was no bitterness in any heart, for Mr. Craig read the story of the
sheep, and told how gently He had taken Billy home; but, though no word
was spoken, it was there the League was made again.

They laid him under the pines, beside Lewis Mavor; and the miners threw
sprigs of evergreen into the open grave. When Slavin, sobbing bitterly,
brought his sprig, no one stopped him, though all thought it strange.

As we turned to leave the grave, the light from the evening sun came
softly through the gap in the mountains, and, filling the valley,
touched the trees and the little mound beneath with glory. And I thought
of that other glory, which is brighter than the sun, and was not sorry
that poor Billy’s weary fight was over; and I could not help agreeing
with Craig that it was there the League had its revenge.


CHAPTER X

WHAT CAME TO SLAVIN


Billy Breen’s legacy to the Black Rock mining camp was a new League,
which was more than the old League re-made. The League was new in its
spirit and in its methods. The impression made upon the camp by Billy
Breen’s death was very remarkable, and I have never been quite able to
account for it. The mood of the community at the time was peculiarly
susceptible. Billy was one of the oldest of the old-timers. His decline
and fall had been a long process, and his struggle for life and manhood
was striking enough to arrest the attention and awaken the sympathy of
the whole camp. We instinctively side with a man in his struggle for
freedom; for we feel that freedom is native to him and to us. The sudden
collapse of the struggle stirred the men with a deep pity for the beaten
man, and a deep contempt for those who had tricked him to his doom. But
though the pity and the contempt remained, the gloom was relieved and
the sense of defeat removed from the men’s minds by the transforming
glory of Billy’s last hour. Mr. Craig, reading of the tragedy of Billy’s
death, transfigured defeat into victory, and this was generally accepted
by the men as the true reading, though to them it was full of mystery.
But they could all understand and appreciate at full value the spirit
that breathed through the words of the dying man: ‘Don’t be ‘ard on ‘em,
they didn’t mean no ‘arm.’ And this was the new spirit of the League.

It was this spirit that surprised Slavin into sudden tears at the
grave’s side. He had come braced for curses and vengeance, for all knew
it was he who had doctored Billy’s lemonade, and instead of vengeance
the message from the dead that echoed through the voice of the living
was one of pity and forgiveness.

But the days of the League’s negative, defensive warfare were over.
The fight was to the death, and now the war was to be carried into
the enemy’s country. The League men proposed a thoroughly equipped and
well-conducted coffee-room, reading-room, and hall, to parallel the
enemy’s lines of operation, and defeat them with their own weapons upon
their own ground. The main outlines of the scheme were clearly defined
and were easily seen, but the perfecting of the details called for all
Craig’s tact and good sense. When, for instance, Vernon Winton, who had
charge of the entertainment department, came for Craig’s opinion as to
a minstrel troupe and private theatricals, Craig was prompt with his
answer--

‘Anything clean goes.’

‘A nigger show?’ asked Winton.

‘Depends upon the niggers,’ replied Craig with a gravely comic look,
shrewdly adding, ‘ask Mrs. Mavor’; and so the League Minstrel and
Dramatic Company became an established fact, and proved, as Craig
afterwards told me, ‘a great means of grace to the camp.’

Shaw had charge of the social department, whose special care it was to
see that the men were made welcome to the cosy, cheerful reading room,
where they might chat, smoke, read, write, or play games, according to
fancy.

But Craig felt that the success or failure of the scheme would largely
depend upon the character of the Resident Manager, who, while caring
for reading-room and hall, would control and operate the important
department represented by the coffee-room.

‘At this point the whole business may come to grief,’ he said to Mrs.
Mavor, without whose counsel nothing was done.

‘Why come to grief?’ she asked brightly.

‘Because if we don’t get the right man, that’s what will happen,’ he
replied in a tone that spoke of anxious worry.

‘But we shall get the right man, never fear.’ Her serene courage never
faltered. ‘He will come to us.’

Craig turned and gazed at her in frank admiration and said--

‘If I only had your courage!’

‘Courage!’ she answered quickly. ‘It is not for you to say that’; and
at his answering look the red came into her cheek and the depths in her
eyes glowed, and I marvelled and wondered, looking at Craig’s cool face,
whether his blood were running evenly through his veins. But his voice
was quiet, a shade too quiet I thought, as he gravely replied--

‘I would often be a coward but for the shame of it.’

And so the League waited for the man to come, who was to be Resident
Manager and make the new enterprise a success. And come he did; but the
manner of his coming was so extraordinary, that I have believed in the
doctrine of a special providence ever since; for as Craig said, ‘If he
had come straight from Heaven I could not have been more surprised.’

While the League was thus waiting, its interest centred upon Slavin,
chiefly because he represented more than any other the forces of the
enemy; and though Billy Breen stood between him and the vengeance of the
angry men who would have made short work of him and his saloon, nothing
could save him from himself, and after the funeral Slavin went to his
bar and drank whisky as he had never drunk before. But the more he drank
the fiercer and gloomier he became, and when the men drinking with him
chaffed him, he swore deeply and with such threats that they left him
alone.

It did not help Slavin either to have Nixon stride in through the crowd
drinking at his bar and give him words of warning.

‘It is not your fault, Slavin,’ he said in slow, cool voice, ‘that you
and your precious crew didn’t sent me to my death, too. You’ve won your
bet, but I want to say, that next time, though you are seven to one, or
ten times that, when any of you boys offer me a drink I’ll take you to
mean fight, and I’ll not disappoint you, and some one will be killed,’
and so saying he strode out again, leaving a mean-looking crowd of men
behind him. All who had not been concerned in the business at Nixon’s
shack expressed approval of his position, and hoped he would ‘see it
through.’

But the impression of Nixon’s words upon Slavin was as nothing compared
with that made by Geordie Crawford. It was not what he said so much
as the manner of awful solemnity he carried. Geordie was struggling
conscientiously to keep his promise to ‘not be ‘ard on the boys,’ and
found considerable relief in remembering that he had agreed ‘to leave
them tae the Almichty.’ But the manner of leaving them was so solemnly
awful, that I could not wonder that Slavin’s superstitious Irish nature
supplied him with supernatural terrors. It was the second day after the
funeral that Geordie and I were walking towards Slavin’s. There was a
great shout of laughter as we drew near.

Geordie stopped short, and saying, ‘We’ll juist gang in a meenute,’
passed through the crowd and up to the bar.

‘Michael Slavin,’ began Geordie, and the men stared in dead, silence,
with their glasses in their hands. ‘Michael Slavin, a’ promised the lad
a’d bear ye nae ill wull, but juist leave ye tae the Almichty; an’ I
want tae tell ye that a’m keepin’ ma wur-r-d. But’--and here he raised
his hand, and his voice became preternaturally solemn--‘his bluid is
upon yer han’s. Do ye no’ see it?’

His voice rose sharply, and as he pointed, Slavin instinctively glanced
at his hands, and Geordie added--

‘Ay, and the Lord will require it o’ you and yer hoose.’

They told me that Slavin shivered as if taken with ague after Geordie
went out, and though he laughed and swore, he did not stop drinking till
he sank into a drunken stupor and had to be carried to bed. His little
French-Canadian wife could not understand the change that had come over
her husband.

‘He’s like one bear,’ she confided to Mrs. Mavor, to whom she was
showing her baby of a year old. ‘He’s not kees me one tam dis day.
He’s mos hawful bad, he’s not even look at de baby.’ And this seemed
sufficient proof that something was seriously wrong; for she went on to
say--

‘He’s tink more for dat leel baby dan for de whole worl’; he’s tink more
for dat baby dan for me,’ but she shrugged her pretty little shoulders
in deprecation of her speech.

‘You must pray for him,’ said Mrs. Mavor, ‘and all will come right.’

‘Ah! madame!’ she replied earnestly, ‘every day, every day, I pray la
sainte Vierge et tous les saints for him.’

‘You must pray to your Father in heaven for him.’

‘Ah! oui! I weel pray,’ and Mrs. Mavor sent her away bright with smiles,
and with new hope and courage in her heart.

She had very soon need of all her courage, for at the week’s end her
baby fell dangerously ill. Slavin’s anxiety and fear were not relieved
much by the reports the men brought him from time to time of Geordie’s
ominous forebodings; for Geordie had no doubt but that the Avenger of
Blood was hot upon Slavin’s trail; and as the sickness grew, he became
confirmed in this conviction. While he could not be said to find
satisfaction in Slavin’s impending affliction, he could hardly hide his
complacency in the promptness of Providence in vindicating his theory of
retribution.

But Geordie’s complacency was somewhat rudely shocked by Mr. Craig’s
answer to his theory one day.

‘You read your Bible to little profit, it seems to me, Geordie: or,
perhaps, you have never read the Master’s teaching about the Tower of
Siloam. Better read that and take that warning to yourself.’

Geordie gazed after Mr. Craig as he turned away, and muttered--

‘The toor o’ Siloam, is it? Ay, a’ ken fine aboot the toor o’ Siloam,
and aboot the toor o’ Babel as weel; an’ a’ve read, too, about the
blaspheemious Herod, an’ sic like. Man, but he’s a hot-heided laddie,
and lacks discreemeenation.’

‘What about Herod, Geordie?’ I asked.

‘Aboot Herod?’--with a strong tinge of contempt in his tone. ‘Aboot
Herod? Man, hae ye no’ read in the Screepturs aboot Herod an’ the
wur-r-ms in the wame o’ him?’

‘Oh yes, I see,’ I hastened to answer.

‘Ay, a fule can see what’s flapped in his face,’ with which bit of
proverbial philosophy he suddenly left me. But Geordie thenceforth
contented himself, in Mr. Craig’s presence at least, with ominous
head-shakings, equally aggravating, and impossible to answer.

That same night, however, Geordie showed that with all his theories he
had a man’s true heart, for he came in haste to Mrs. Mavor to say:

‘Ye’ll be needed ower yonder, a’m thinkin’.’

‘Why? Is the baby worse? Have you been in?’

‘Na, na,’ replied Geordie cautiously, ‘a’ll no gang where a’m no wanted.
But yon puir thing, ye can hear ootside weepin’ and moanin’.’

‘She’ll maybe need ye tae,’ he went on dubiously to me. ‘Ye’re a kind
o’ doctor, a’ hear,’ not committing himself to any opinion as to my
professional value. But Slavin would have none of me, having got the
doctor sober enough to prescribe.

The interest of the camp in Slavin was greatly increased by the illness
of his baby, which was to him as the apple of his eye. There were a few
who, impressed by Geordie’s profound convictions upon the matter,
were inclined to favour the retribution theory, and connect the baby’s
illness with the vengeance of the Almighty. Among these few was Slavin
himself, and goaded by his remorseful terrors he sought relief in drink.
But this brought him only deeper and fiercer gloom; so that between her
suffering child and her savagely despairing husband, the poor mother was
desperate with terror and grief.

‘Ah! madame,’ she sobbed to Mrs. Mavor, ‘my heart is broke for him. He’s
heet noting for tree days, but jis dreenk, dreenk, dreenk.’

The next day a man came for me in haste. The baby was dying and the
doctor was drunk. I found the little one in a convulsion lying across
Mrs. Mavor’s knees, the mother kneeling beside it, wringing her hands in
a dumb agony, and Slavin standing near, silent and suffering. I glanced
at the bottle of medicine upon the table and asked Mrs. Mavor the dose,
and found the baby had been poisoned. My look of horror told Slavin
something was wrong, and striding to me he caught my arm and asked--

‘What is it? Is the medicine wrong?’

I tried to put him off, but his grip tightened till his fingers seemed
to reach the bone.

‘The dose is certainly too large; but let me go, I must do something.’

He let me go at once, saying in a voice that made my heart sore for him,
‘He has killed my baby; he has killed my baby.’ And then he cursed the
doctor with awful curses, and with a look of such murderous fury on his
face that I was glad the doctor was too drunk to appear.

His wife hearing his curses, and understanding the cause, broke out into
wailing hard to bear.

‘Ah! mon petit ange! It is dat wheeskey dat’s keel mon baby. Ah! mon
cheri, mon amour. Ah! mon Dieu! Ah, Michael, how often I say that
wheeskey he’s not good ting.’

It was more than Slavin could bear, and with awful curses he passed
out. Mrs. Mavor laid the baby in its crib, for the convulsion had
passed away; and putting her arms about the wailing little Frenchwoman,
comforted and soothed her as a mother might her child.

‘And you must help your husband,’ I heard her say. ‘He will need you
more than ever. Think of him.’

‘Ah oui! I weel,’ was the quick reply, and from that moment there was no
more wailing.

It seemed no more than a minute till Slavin came in again, sober, quiet,
and steady; the passion was all gone from his face, and only the grief
remained.

As we stood leaning over the sleeping child the little thing opened its
eyes, saw its father, and smiled. It was too much for him. The big man
dropped on his knees with a dry sob.

‘Is there no chance at all, at all?’ he whispered, but I could give
him no hope. He immediately rose, and pulling himself together, stood
perfectly quiet.

A new terror seized upon the mother.

‘My baby is not--what you call it?’ going through the form of baptism.
‘An’ he will not come to la sainte Vierge,’ she said, crossing herself.

‘Do not fear for your little one,’ said Mrs. Mavor, still with her arms
about her. ‘The good Saviour will take your darling into His own arms.’

But the mother would not be comforted by this. And Slavin too, was
uneasy.

‘Where is Father Goulet?’ he asked.

‘Ah! you were not good to the holy pere de las tam, Michael,’ she
replied sadly. ‘The saints are not please for you.’

‘Where is the priest?’ he demanded.

‘I know not for sure. At de Landin’, dat’s lak.’

‘I’ll go for him,’ he said. But his wife clung to him, beseeching him
not to leave her, and indeed he was loth to leave his little one.

I found Craig and told him the difficulty. With his usual promptness, he
was ready with a solution.

‘Nixon has a team. He will go.’ Then he added, ‘I wonder if they would
not like me to baptize their little one. Father Goulet and I have
exchanged offices before now. I remember how he came to one of my people
in my absence, when she was dying, read with her, prayed with her,
comforted her, and helped her across the river. He is a good soul, and
has no nonsense about him. Send for me if you think there is need. It
will make no difference to the baby, but it will comfort the mother.’

Nixon was willing enough to go; but when he came to the door Mrs. Mavor
saw the hard look in his face. He had not forgotten his wrong, for day
by day he was still fighting the devil within that Slavin had called to
life. But Mrs. Mavor, under cover of getting him instructions, drew him
into the room. While listening to her, his eyes wandered from one to the
other of the group till they rested upon the little white face in the
crib. She noticed the change in his face.

‘They fear the little one will never see the Saviour if it is not
baptized,’ she said, in a low tone.

He was eager to go.

‘I’ll do my best to get the priest,’ he said, and was gone on his sixty
miles’ race with death.

The long afternoon wore on, but before it was half gone I saw Nixon
could not win, and that the priest would be too late, so I sent for Mr.
Craig. From the moment he entered the room he took command of us all.
He was so simple, so manly, so tender, the hearts of the parents
instinctively turned to him.

As he was about to proceed with the baptism, the mother whispered to
Mrs. Mavor, who hesitatingly asked Mr. Craig if he would object to using
holy water.

‘To me it is the same as any other,’ he replied gravely.

‘An’ will he make the good sign?’ asked the mother timidly.

And so the child was baptized by the Presbyterian minister with holy
water and with the sign of the cross. I don’t suppose it was orthodox,
and it rendered chaotic some of my religious notions, but I thought more
of Craig that moment than ever before. He was more man than minister, or
perhaps he was so good a minister that day because so much a man. As he
read about the Saviour and the children and the disciples who tried to
get in between them, and as he told us the story in his own simple
and beautiful way, and then went on to picture the home of the little
children, and the same Saviour in the midst of them, I felt my heart
grow warm, and I could easily understand the cry of the mother--

‘Oh, mon Jesu, prenez moi aussi, take me wiz mon mignon.’

The cry wakened Slavin’s heart, and he said huskily--

‘Oh! Annette! Annette!’

‘Ah, oui! an’ Michael too!’ Then to Mr. Craig--

‘You tink He’s tak me some day? Eh?’

‘All who love Him,’ he replied.

‘An’ Michael too?’ she asked, her eyes searching his face, ‘An’ Michael
too?’

But Craig only replied: ‘All who love Him.’

‘Ah, Michael, you must pray le bon Jesu. He’s garde notre mignon.’ And
then she bent over the babe, whispering--

‘Ah, mon cheri, mon amour, adieu! adieu! mon ange!’ till Slavin put
his arms about her and took her away, for as she was whispering her
farewells, her baby, with a little answering sigh, passed into the House
with many rooms.

‘Whisht, Annette darlin’; don’t cry for the baby,’ said her husband.
‘Shure it’s better off than the rest av us, it is. An’ didn’t ye hear
what the minister said about the beautiful place it is? An’ shure he
wouldn’t lie to us at all.’ But a mother cannot be comforted for her
first-born son.

An hour later Nixon brought Father Goulet. He was a little Frenchman
with gentle manners and the face of a saint. Craig welcomed him warmly,
and told him what he had done.

‘That is good, my brother,’ he said, with gentle courtesy, and, turning
to the mother, ‘Your little one is safe.’

Behind Father Goulet came Nixon softly, and gazed down upon the little
quiet face, beautiful with the magic of death. Slavin came quietly and
stood beside him. Nixon turned and offered his hand. But Slavin said,
moving slowly back--

‘I did ye a wrong, Nixon, an’ it’s a sorry man I am this day for it.’

‘Don’t say a word, Slavin,’ answered Nixon, hurriedly. ‘I know how you
feel. I’ve got a baby too. I want to see it again. That’s why the break
hurt me so.’

‘As God’s above,’ replied Slavin earnestly, ‘I’ll hinder ye no more.’
They shook hands, and we passed out.

We laid the baby under the pines, not far from Billy Breen, and the
sweet spring wind blew through the Gap, and came softly down the valley,
whispering to the pines and the grass and the hiding flowers of the New
Life coming to the world. And the mother must have heard the whisper in
her heart, for, as the Priest was saying the words of the Service, she
stood with Mrs. Mavor’s arms about her, and her eyes were looking far
away beyond the purple mountain-tops, seeing what made her smile. And
Slavin, too, looked different. His very features seemed finer. The
coarseness was gone out of his face. What had come to him I could not
tell.

But when the doctor came into Slavin’s house that night it was the old
Slavin I saw, but with a look of such deadly fury on his face that I
tried to get the doctor out at once. But he was half drunk and after his
manner was hideously humorous.

‘How do, ladies! How do, gentlemen!’ was his loud-voiced salutation.
‘Quite a professional gathering, clergy predominating. Lion and Lamb
too, ha! ha! which is the lamb, eh? ha! ha! very good! awfully sorry to
hear of your loss, Mrs. Slavin; did our best you know, can’t help this
sort of thing.’

Before any one could move, Craig was at his side, and saying in a clear,
firm voice, ‘One moment, doctor,’ caught him by the arm and had him out
of the room before he knew it. Slavin, who had been crouching in his
chair with hands twitching and eyes glaring, rose and followed, still
crouching as he walked. I hurried after him, calling him back. Turning
at my voice, the doctor saw Slavin approaching. There was something so
terrifying in his swift noiseless crouching motion, that the doctor,
crying out in fear ‘Keep him off,’ fairly turned and fled. He was too
late. Like a tiger Slavin leaped upon him and without waiting to strike
had him by the throat with both hands, and bearing him to the ground,
worried him there as a dog might a cat.

Immediately Craig and I were upon him, but though we lifted him clear
off the ground we could not loosen that two-handed strangling grip. At
we were struggling there a light hand touched my shoulder. It was Father
Goulet.

‘Please let him go, and stand away from us,’ he said, waving us back.
We obeyed. He leaned over Slavin and spoke a few words to him. Slavin
started as if struck a heavy blow, looked up at the priest with fear in
his face, but still keeping his grip.

‘Let him go,’ said the priest. Slavin hesitated. ‘Let him go! quick!’
said the priest again, and Slavin with a snarl let go his hold and stood
sullenly facing the priest.

Father Goulet regarded him steadily for some seconds and then asked--

‘What would you do?’ His voice was gentle enough, even sweet, but there
was something in it that chilled my marrow. ‘What would you do?’ he
repeated.

‘He murdered my child,’ growled Slavin.

‘Ah! how?’

‘He was drunk and poisoned him.’

‘Ah! who gave him drink? Who made him a drunkard two years ago? Who has
wrecked his life?’

There was no answer, and the even-toned voice went relentlessly on--

‘Who is the murderer of your child now?’

Slavin groaned and shuddered.

‘Go!’ and the voice grew stern. ‘Repent of your sin and add not
another.’

Slavin turned his eyes upon the motionless figure on the ground and
then upon the priest. Father Goulet took one step towards him, and,
stretching out his hand and pointing with his finger, said--

‘Go!’

And Slavin slowly backed away and went into his house. It was an
extraordinary scene, and it is often with me now: the dark figure on the
ground, the slight erect form of the priest with outstretched arm and
finger, and Slavin backing away, fear and fury struggling in his face.

It was a near thing for the doctor, however, and two minutes more
of that grip would have done for him. As it was, we had the greatest
difficulty in reviving him.

What the priest did with Slavin after getting him inside I know not;
that has always been a mystery to me. But when we were passing the
saloon that night after taking Mrs. Mavor home, we saw a light and
heard strange sounds within. Entering, we found another whisky raid
in progress, Slavin himself being the raider. We stood some moments
watching him knocking in the heads of casks and emptying bottles. I
thought he had gone mad, and approached him cautiously.

‘Hello, Slavin!’ I called out; ‘what does this mean?’

He paused in his strange work, and I saw that his face, though resolute,
was quiet enough.

‘It means I’m done wid the business, I am,’ he said, in a determined
voice. ‘I’ll help no more to kill any man, or,’ in a lower tone, ‘any
man’s baby.’ The priest’s words had struck home.

‘Thank God, Slavin!’ said Craig, offering his hand; ‘you are much too
good a man for the business.’

‘Good or bad, I’m done wid it,’ he replied, going on with his work.

‘You are throwing away good money, Slavin,’ I said, as the head of a
cask crashed in.

‘It’s meself that knows it, for the price of whisky has riz in town
this week,’ he answered, giving me a look out of the corner of his eye.
‘Bedad! it was a rare clever job,’ referring to our Black Rock Hotel
affair.

‘But won’t you be sorry for this?’ asked Craig.

‘Beloike I will; an’ that’s why I’m doin’ it before I’m sorry for it,’
he replied, with a delightful bull.

‘Look here, Slavin,’ said Craig earnestly; ‘if I can be of use to you in
any way, count on me.’

‘It’s good to me the both of yez have been, an’ I’ll not forget it to
yez,’ he replied, with like earnestness.

As we told Mrs. Mavor that night, for Craig thought it too good to
keep, her eyes seemed to grow deeper and the light in them to glow more
intense as she listened to Craig pouring out his tale. Then she gave him
her hand and said--

‘You have your man at last.’

‘What man?’

‘The man you have been waiting for.’

‘Slavin!’

‘Why not?’

‘I never thought of it.’

‘No more did he, nor any of us.’ Then, after a pause, she added gently,
‘He has been sent to us?’

‘Do you know, I believe you are right,’ Craig said slowly, and then
added, ‘But you always are.’

‘I fear not,’ she answered; but I thought she liked to hear his words.

The whole town was astounded next morning when Slavin went to work in
the mines, and its astonishment only deepened as the days went on, and
he stuck to his work. Before three weeks had gone the League had bought
and remodelled the saloon and had secured Slavin as Resident Manager.

The evening of the reopening of Slavin’s saloon, as it was still called,
was long remembered in Black Rock. It was the occasion of the first
appearance of ‘The League Minstrel and Dramatic Troupe,’ in what
was described as a ‘hair-lifting tragedy with appropriate musical
selections.’ Then there was a grand supper and speeches and great
enthusiasm, which reached its climax when Nixon rose to propose the
toast of the evening--‘Our Saloon.’ His speech was simply a quiet, manly
account of his long struggle with the deadly enemy. When he came to
speak of his recent defeat he said--

‘And while I am blaming no one but myself, I am glad to-night that this
saloon is on our side, for my own sake and for the sake of those who
have been waiting long to see me. But before I sit down I want to say
that while I live I shall not forget that I owe my life to the man that
took me that night to his own shack and put me in his own bed, and met
me next morning with an open hand; for I tell you I had sworn to God
that that morning would be my last.’

Geordie’s speech was characteristic. After a brief reference to the
‘mysteerious ways o’ Providence,’ which he acknowledged he might
sometimes fail to understand, he went on to express his unqualified
approval of the new saloon.

‘It’s a cosy place, an’ there’s nae sulphur aboot. Besides a’ that,’ he
went on enthusiastically, ‘it’ll be a terrible savin’. I’ve juist been
coontin’.’

‘You bet!’ ejaculated a voice with great emphasis.

‘I’ve juist been coontin’,’ went on Geordie, ignoring the remark and the
laugh which followed, ‘an’ it’s an awfu’-like money ye pit ower wi’ the
whusky. Ye see ye canna dae wi’ ane bit glass; ye maun hae twa or three
at the verra least, for it’s no verra forrit ye get wi’ ane glass. But
wi’ yon coffee ye juist get a saxpence-worth an’ ye want nae mair.’

There was another shout of laughter, which puzzled Geordie much.

‘I dinna see the jowk, but I’ve slippit ower in whusky mair nor a hunner
dollars.’

Then he paused, looking hard before him, and twisting his face into
extraordinary shapes till the men looked at him in wonder.

‘I’m rale glad o’ this saloon, but it’s ower late for the lad that canna
be helpit the noo. He’ll not be needin’ help o’ oors, I doot, but there
are ithers’--and he stopped abruptly and sat down, with no applause
following.

But when Slavin, our saloon-keeper, rose to reply, the men jumped up
on the seats and yelled till they could yell no more. Slavin stood,
evidently in trouble with himself, and finally broke out--

‘It’s spacheless I am entirely. What’s come to me I know not, nor how
it’s come. But I’ll do my best for yez.’ And then the yelling broke out
again.

I did not yell myself. I was too busy watching the varying lights in
Mrs. Mavor’s eyes as she looked from Craig to the yelling men on the
benches and tables, and then to Slavin, and I found myself wondering if
she knew what it was that came to Slavin.


CHAPTER XI

THE TWO CALLS


With the call to Mr. Craig I fancy I had something to do myself. The
call came from a young congregation in an eastern city, and was based
partly upon his college record and more upon the advice of those among
the authorities who knew his work in the mountains. But I flatter myself
that my letters to friends who were of importance in that congregation
were not without influence, for I was of the mind that the man who could
handle Black Rock miners as he could was ready for something larger than
a mountain mission. That he would refuse I had not imagined, though I
ought to have known him better. He was but little troubled over it. He
went with the call and the letters urging his acceptance to Mrs. Mavor.
I was putting the last touches to some of my work in the room at the
back of Mrs. Mavor’s house when he came in. She read the letters and the
call quietly, and waited for him to speak.

‘Well?’ he said; ‘should I go?’

She started, and grew a little pale. His question suggested a
possibility that had not occurred to her. That he could leave his work
in Black Rock she had hitherto never imagined; but there was other work,
and he was fit for good work anywhere. Why should he not go? I saw the
fear in her face, but I saw more than fear in her eyes, as for a moment
or two she let them rest upon Craig’s face. I read her story, and I was
not sorry for either of them. But she was too much a woman to show her
heart easily to the man she loved, and her voice was even and calm as
she answered his question.

‘Is this a very large congregation?’

‘One of the finest in all the East,’ I put in for him. ‘It will be a
great thing for Craig.’

Craig was studying her curiously. I think she noticed his eyes upon her,
for she went on even more quietly--

‘It will be a great chance for work, and you are able for a larger
sphere, you know, than poor Black Rock affords.’

‘Who will take Black Rock?’ he asked.

‘Let some other fellow have a try at it,’ I said. ‘Why should you waste
your talents here?’

‘Waste?’ cried Mrs. Mavor indignantly.

‘Well, “bury,” if you like it better,’ I replied.

‘It would not take much of a grave for that funeral,’ said Craig,
smiling.

‘Oh,’ said Mrs. Mavor, ‘you will be a great man I know, and perhaps you
ought to go now.’

But he answered coolly: ‘There are fifty men wanting that Eastern
charge, and there is only one wanting Black Rock, and I don’t think
Black Rock is anxious for a change, so I have determined to stay where I
am yet a while.’

Even my deep disgust and disappointment did not prevent me from seeing
the sudden leap of joy in Mrs. Mavor’s eyes, but she, with a great
effort, answered quietly--

‘Black Rock will be very glad, and some of us very, very glad.’

Nothing could change his mind. There was no one he knew who could take
his place just now, and why should he quit his work? It annoyed me
considerably to feel he was right. Why is it that the right things are
so frequently unpleasant?

And if I had had any doubt about the matter next Sabbath evening would
have removed it. For the men came about him after the service and let
him feel in their own way how much they approved his decision, though
the self-sacrifice involved did not appeal to them. They were too truly
Western to imagine that any inducements the East could offer could
compensate for his loss of the West. It was only fitting that the West
should have the best, and so the miners took almost as a matter of
course, and certainly as their right, that the best man they knew should
stay with them. But there were those who knew how much of what most men
consider worth while he had given up, and they loved him no less for it.

Mrs. Mavor’s call was not so easily disposed of. It came close upon
the other, and stirred Black Rock as nothing else had ever stirred it
before.

I found her one afternoon gazing vacantly at some legal documents spread
out before her on the table, and evidently overcome by their contents.
There was first a lawyer’s letter informing her that by the death of her
husband’s father she had come into the whole of the Mavor estates, and
all the wealth pertaining thereto. The letter asked for instructions,
and urged an immediate return with a view to a personal superintendence
of the estates. A letter, too, from a distant cousin of her husband
urged her immediate return for many reasons, but chiefly on account
of the old mother who had been left alone with none nearer of kin than
himself to care for her and cheer her old age.

With these two came another letter from her mother-in-law herself. The
crabbed, trembling characters were even more eloquent than the words
with which the letter closed.

‘I have lost my boy, and now my husband is gone, and I am a lonely
woman. I have many servants, and some friends, but none near to me, none
so near and dear as my dead son’s wife. My days are not to be many. Come
to me, my daughter; I want you and Lewis’s child.’

‘Must I go?’ she asked with white lips.

‘Do you know her well?’ I asked.

‘I only saw her once or twice,’ she answered; ‘but she has been very
good to me.’

‘She can hardly need you. She has friends. And surely you are needed
here.’

She looked at me eagerly.

‘Do you think so?’ she said.

‘Ask any man in the camp--Shaw, Nixon, young Winton, Geordie. Ask
Craig,’ I replied.

‘Yes, he will tell me,’ she said.

Even as she spoke Craig came up the steps. I passed into my studio and
went on with my work, for my days at Black Rock were getting few, and
many sketches remained to be filled in.

Through my open door I saw Mrs. Mavor lay her letters before Mr. Craig,
saying, ‘I have a call too.’ They thought not of me.

He went through the papers, carefully laid them down without a word
while she waited anxiously, almost impatiently, for him to speak.

‘Well?’ she asked, using his own words to her; ‘should I go?’

‘I do not know,’ he replied; ‘that is for you to decide--you know all
the circumstances.’

‘The letters tell all.’ Her tone carried a feeling of disappointment. He
did not appear to care.

‘The estates are large?’ he asked.

‘Yes, large enough--twelve thousand a year.’

‘And has your mother-in-law any one with her?’

‘She has friends, but, as she says, none near of kin. Her nephew looks
after the works--iron works, you know--he has shares in them.’

‘She is evidently very lonely,’ he answered gravely.

‘What shall I do?’ she asked, and I knew she was waiting to hear him
urge her to stay; but he did not see, or at least gave no heed.

‘I cannot say,’ he repeated quietly. ‘There are many things to consider;
the estates--’

‘The estates seem to trouble you,’ she replied, almost fretfully. He
looked up in surprise. I wondered at his slowness.

‘Yes, the estates,’ he went on, ‘and tenants, I suppose--your
mother-in-law, your little Marjorie’s future, your own future.’

‘The estates are in capable hands, I should suppose,’ she urged, ‘and my
future depends upon what I choose my work to be.’

‘But one cannot shift one’s responsibilities,’ he replied gravely.
‘These estates, these tenants, have come to you, and with them come
duties.’

‘I do not want them,’ she cried.

‘That life has great possibilities of good,’ he said kindly.

‘I had thought that perhaps there was work for me here,’ she suggested
timidly.

‘Great work,’ he hastened to say. ‘You have done great work. But you
will do that wherever you go. The only question is where your work
lies.’

‘You think I should go,’ she said suddenly and a little bitterly.

‘I cannot bid you stay,’ he answered steadily.

‘How can I go?’ she cried, appealing to him. ‘Must I go?’

How he could resist that appeal I could not understand. His face was
cold and hard, and his voice was almost harsh as he replied--

‘If it is right, you will go--you must go.’

Then she burst forth--

‘I cannot go. I shall stay here. My work is here; my heart is here. How
can I go? You thought it worth your while to stay here and work, why
should not I?’

The momentary gleam in his eyes died out, and again he said coldly--

‘This work was clearly mine. I am needed here.’

‘Yes, yes!’ she cried, her voice full of pain; ‘you are needed, but
there is no need of me.’

‘Stop, stop!’ he said sharply; ‘you must not say so.’

‘I will say it, I must say it,’ she cried, her voice vibrating with
the intensity of her feeling. ‘I know you do not need me; you have your
work, your miners, your plans; you need no one; you are strong. But,’
and her voice rose to a cry, ‘I am not strong by myself; you have made
me strong. I came here a foolish girl, foolish and selfish and narrow.
God sent me grief. Three years ago my heart died. Now I am living again.
I am a woman now, no longer a girl. You have done this for me. Your
life, your words, yourself--you have showed me a better, a higher life,
than I had ever known before, and now you send me away.’

She paused abruptly.

‘Blind, stupid fool!’ I said to myself.

He held himself resolutely in hand, answering carefully, but his voice
had lost its coldness and was sweet and kind.

‘Have I done this for you? Then surely God has been good to me. And you
have helped me more than any words could tell you.’

‘Helped!’ she repeated scornfully.

‘Yes, helped,’ he answered, wondering at her scorn.

‘You can do without my help,’ she went on. ‘You make people help you.
You will get many to help you; but I need help, too.’ She was standing
before him with her hands tightly clasped; her face was pale, and her
eyes deeper than ever. He sat looking up at her in a kind of maze as she
poured out her words hot and fast.

‘I am not thinking of you.’ His coldness had hurt her deeply. ‘I am
selfish; I am thinking of myself. How shall I do? I have grown to depend
on you, to look to you. It is nothing to you that I go, but to me--’ She
did not dare to finish.

By this time Craig was standing before her, his face deadly pale. When
she came to the end of her words, he said, in a voice low, sweet, and
thrilling with emotion--

‘Ah, if you only knew! Do not make me forget myself. You do not guess
what you are doing.’

‘What am I doing? What is there to know, but that you tell me easily to
go? She was struggling with the tears she was too proud to let him see.

He put his hands resolutely behind him, looking at her as if studying
her face for the first time. Under his searching look she dropped her
eyes, and the warm colour came slowly up into her neck and face; then,
as if with a sudden resolve, she lifted her eyes to his, and looked back
at him unflinchingly.

He started, surprised, drew slowly near, put his hands upon her
shoulders, surprise giving place to wild joy. She never moved her eyes;
they drew him towards her. He took her face between his hands, smiled
into her eyes, kissed her lips. She did not move; he stood back from
her, threw up his head, and laughed aloud. She came to him, put her head
upon his breast, and lifting up her face said, ‘Kiss me.’ He put his
arms about her, bent down and kissed her lips again, and then reverently
her brow. Then putting her back from him, but still holding both her
hands, he cried--

‘Not you shall not go. I shall never let you go.’

She gave a little sigh of content, and, smiling up at him, said--

‘I can go now’; but even as she spoke the flush died from her face, and
she shuddered.

‘Never!’ he almost shouted; ‘nothing shall take you away. We shall work
here together.’

‘Ah, if we could, if we only could,’ she said piteously.

‘Why not?’ he demanded fiercely.

‘You will send me away. You will say it is right for me to go,’ she
replied sadly.

‘Do we not love each other?’ was his impatient answer.

‘Ah! yes, love,’ she said; ‘but love is not all.’

‘No!’ cried Craig; ‘but love is the best’

‘Yes!’ she said sadly; ‘love is the best, and it is for love’s sake we
will do the best.’

‘There is no better work than here. Surely this is best,’ and he
pictured his plans before her. She listened eagerly.

‘Oh! if it should be right,’ she cried, ‘I will do what you say. You are
good, you are wise, you shall tell me.’

She could not have recalled him better. He stood silent some moments,
then burst out passionately--

‘Why then has love come to us? We did not seek it. Surely love is of
God. Does God mock us?’

He threw himself into his chair, pouring out his words of passionate
protestation. She listened, smiling, then came to him and, touching his
hair as a mother might her child’s, said--

‘Oh, I am very happy! I was afraid you would not care, and I could not
bear to go that way.’

‘You shall not go,’ he cried aloud, as if in pain. ‘Nothing can make
that right.’

But she only said, ‘You shall tell me to-morrow. You cannot see
to-night, but you will see, and you will tell me.’

He stood up and, holding both her hands, looked long into her eyes, then
turned abruptly away and went out.

She stood where he left her for some moments, her face radiant, and her
hands pressed upon her heart. Then she came toward my room. She found me
busy with my painting, but as I looked up and met her eyes she flushed
slightly, and said--

‘I quite forgot you.’

‘So it appeared to me.’

‘You heard?’

‘And saw,’ I replied boldly. ‘It would have been rude to interrupt, you
see.’

‘Oh, I am so glad and thankful.’

‘Yes; it was rather considerate of me.’

‘Oh, I don’t mean that,’ the flush deepening; ‘I am glad you know.’

‘I have known some time.’

‘How could you? I only knew to-day myself.’

‘I have eyes.’ She flushed again.

‘Do you mean that people--’ she began anxiously.

‘No; I am not “people.” I have eyes, and my eyes have been opened.’

‘Opened?’

‘Yes, by love.’

Then I told her openly how, weeks ago, I struggled with my heart and
mastered it, for I saw it was vain to love her, because she loved a
better man who loved her in return. She looked at me shyly and said--

‘I am sorry.’

‘Don’t worry,’ I said cheerfully. ‘I didn’t break my heart, you know; I
stopped it in time.’

‘Oh!’ she said, slightly disappointed; then her lips began to twitch,
and she went off into a fit of hysterical laughter.

‘Forgive me,’ she said humbly; ‘but you speak as if it had been a
fever.’

‘Fever is nothing to it,’ I said solemnly. ‘It was a near thing.’ At
which she went off again. I was glad to see her laugh. It gave me time
to recover my equilibrium, and it relieved her intense emotional strain.
So I rattled on some nonsense about Craig and myself till I saw she was
giving no heed, but thinking her own thoughts: and what these were it
was not hard to guess.

Suddenly she broke in upon my talk--

‘He will tell me that I must go from him.’

‘I hope he is no such fool,’ I said emphatically and somewhat rudely,
I fear; for I confess I was impatient with the very possibility of
separation for these two, to whom love meant so much. Some people take
this sort of thing easily and some not so easily; but love for a woman
like this comes once only to a man, and then he carries it with him
through the length of his life, and warms his heart with it in death.
And when a man smiles or sneers at such love as this, I pity him, and
say no word, for my speech would be in an unknown tongue. So my
heart was sore as I sat looking up at this woman who stood before me,
overflowing with the joy of her new love, and dully conscious of the
coming pain. But I soon found it was vain to urge my opinion that she
should remain and share the work and life of the man she loved. She only
answered--

‘You will help him all you can, for it will hurt him to have me go.’

The quiver in her voice took out all the anger from my heart, and before
I knew I had pledged myself to do all I could to help him.

But when I came upon him that night, sitting in the light of his fire,
I saw he must be let alone. Some battles we fight side by side, with
comrades cheering us and being cheered to victory; but there are fights
we may not share, and these are deadly fights where lives are lost and
won. So I could only lay my hand upon his shoulder without a word. He
looked up quickly, read my face, and said, with a groan--

‘You know?’

‘I could not help it. But why groan?’

‘She will think it right to go,’ he said despairingly.

‘Then you must think for her; you must bring some common-sense to bear
upon the question.’

‘I cannot see clearly yet,’ he said; ‘the light will come.’

‘May I show you how I see it?’ I asked.

‘Go on,’ he said.

For an hour I talked; eloquently, even vehemently urging the reason and
right of my opinion. She would be doing no more than every woman does,
no more than she did before; her mother-in-law had a comfortable home,
all that wealth could procure, good servants, and friends; the estates
could be managed without her personal supervision; after a few years’
work here they would go east for little Majorie’s education; why should
two lives be broken?--and so I went on.

He listened carefully, even eagerly.

‘You make a good case,’ he said, with a slight smile. ‘I will take time.
Perhaps you are right. The light will come. Surely it will come. But,’
and here he sprang up and stretched his arms to full length above his
head, ‘I am not sorry; whatever comes I am not sorry. It is great to
have her love, but greater to love her as I do. Thank God! nothing can
take that away. I am willing, glad to suffer for the joy of loving her.’

Next morning, before I was awake, he was gone, leaving a note for me:--


‘MY DEAR CONNOR,--I am due at the Landing. When I see you again I think
my way will be clear. Now all is dark. At times I am a coward, and
often, as you sometimes kindly inform me, an ass; but I hope I may never
become a mule.

I am willing to be led, or want to be, at any rate. I must do the
best--not second best--for her, for me. The best only is God’s
will. What else would you have? Be good to her these days, dear old
fellow.--Yours, CRAIG.’


How often those words have braced me he will never know, but I am a
better man for them: ‘The best only is God’s will. What else would you
have?’ I resolved I would rage and fret no more, and that I would worry
Mrs. Mavor with no more argument or expostulation, but, as my friend had
asked, ‘Be good to her.’


CHAPTER XII

LOVE IS NOT ALL


Those days when we were waiting Craig’s return we spent in the woods
or on the mountain sides, or down in the canyon beside the stream that
danced down to meet the Black Rock river, I talking and sketching and
reading, and she listening and dreaming, with often a happy smile upon
her face. But there were moments when a cloud of shuddering fear would
sweep the smile away, and then I would talk of Craig till the smile came
back again.

But the woods and the mountains and the river were her best, her wisest,
friends during those days. How sweet the ministry of the woods to her!
The trees were in their new summer leaves, fresh and full of life. They
swayed and rustled above us, flinging their interlacing shadows upon
us, and their swaying and their rustling soothed and comforted like the
voice and touch of a mother. And the mountains, too, in all the glory of
their varying robes of blues and purples, stood calmly, solemnly about
us, uplifting our souls into regions of rest. The changing lights and
shadows flitted swiftly over their rugged fronts, but left them ever as
before in their steadfast majesty. ‘God’s in His heaven.’ What would you
have? And ever the little river sang its cheerful courage, fearing not
the great mountains that threatened to bar its passage to the sea. Mrs.
Mavor heard the song and her courage rose.

‘We too shall find our way,’ she said, and I believed her.

But through these days I could not make her out, and I found myself
studying her as I might a new acquaintance. Years had fallen from her;
she was a girl again, full of young warm life. She was as sweet as
before, but there was a soft shyness over her, a half-shamed, half-frank
consciousness in her face, a glad light in her eyes that made her all
new to me. Her perfect trust in Craig was touching to see.

‘He will tell me what to do,’ she would say, till I began to realise how
impossible it would be for him to betray such trust, and be anything but
true to the best.

So much did I dread Craig’s home-coming, that I sent for Graeme and
old man Nelson, who was more and more Graeme’s trusted counsellor and
friend. They were both highly excited by the story I had to tell, for I
thought it best to tell them all; but I was not a little surprised
and disgusted that they did not see the matter in my light. In vain I
protested against the madness of allowing anything to send these two
from each other. Graeme summed up the discussion in his own emphatic
way, but with an earnestness in his words not usual with him.

‘Craig will know better than any of us what is right to do, and he will
do that, and no man can turn him from it; and,’ he added, ‘I should be
sorry to try.’

Then my wrath rose, and I cried--

‘It’s a tremendous shame! They love each other. You are talking
sentimental humbug and nonsense!’

‘He must do the right,’ said Nelson in his deep, quiet voice.

‘Right! Nonsense! By what right does he send from him the woman he
loves?’

‘“He pleased not Himself,”’ quoted Nelson reverently.

‘Nelson is right,’ said Graeme. ‘I should not like to see him weaken.’

‘Look here,’ I stormed; ‘I didn’t bring you men to back him up in his
nonsense. I thought you could keep your heads level.’

‘Now, Connor,’ said Graeme, ‘don’t rage--leave that for the heathen;
it’s bad form, and useless besides. Craig will walk his way where his
light falls; and by all that’s holy, I should hate to see him fail; for
if he weakens like the rest of us my North Star will have dropped from
my sky.’

‘Nice selfish spirit,’ I muttered.

‘Entirely so. I’m not a saint, but I feel like steering by one when I
see him.’

When after a week had gone, Craig rode up one early morning to his shack
door, his face told me that he had fought his fight and had not been
beaten. He had ridden all night and was ready to drop with weariness.

‘Connor, old boy,’ he said, putting out his hand; ‘I’m rather played.
There was a bad row at the Landing. I have just closed poor Colley’s
eyes. It was awful. I must get sleep. Look after Dandy, will you, like a
good chap?’

‘Oh, Dandy be hanged,!’ I said, for I knew it was not the fight, nor the
watching, nor the long ride that had shaken his iron nerve and given him
that face. ‘Go in and lie down I’ll bring you something.’

‘Wake me in the afternoon,’ he said; ‘she is waiting. Perhaps you will
go to her’--his lips quivered--‘my nerve is rather gone.’ Then with a
very wan smile he added, ‘I am giving you a lot of trouble.’

‘You go to thunder!’ I burst out, for my throat was hot and sore with
grief for him.

‘I think I’d rather go to sleep,’ he replied, still smiling. I could not
speak, and was glad of the chance of being alone with Dandy.

When I came in I found him sitting with his head in his arms upon the
table fast asleep. I made him tea, forced him to take a warm bath,
and sent him to bed, while I went to Mrs. Mavor. I went with a fearful
heart, but that was because I had forgotten the kind of woman she was.

She was standing in the light of the window waiting for me. Her face
was pale but steady, there was a proud light in her fathomless eyes, a
slight smile parted her lips, and she carried her head like a queen.

‘Come in,’ she said. ‘You need not fear to tell me. I saw him ride home.
He has not failed, thank God! I am proud of him; I knew he would be
true. He loves me’--she drew in her breath sharply, and a faint colour
tinged her cheek--‘but he knows love is not all--ah, love is not all!
Oh! I am glad and proud!’

‘Glad!’ I gasped, amazed.

‘You would not have him prove faithless!’ she said with proud defiance.

‘Oh, it is high sentimental nonsense,’ I could not help saying.

‘You should not say so,’ she replied, and her voice rang clear. ‘Honour,
faith, and duty are sentiments, but they are not nonsense.’

In spite of my rage I was lost in amazed admiration of the high spirit
of the woman who stood up so straight before me. But, as I told how worn
and broken he was, she listened with changing colour and swelling bosom,
her proud courage all gone, and only love, anxious and pitying, in her
eyes.

‘Shall I go to him?’ she asked with timid eagerness and deepening
colour.

‘He is sleeping. He said he would come to you,’ I replied.

‘I shall wait for him,’ she said softly, and the tenderness in her tone
went straight to my heart, and it seemed to me a man might suffer much
to be loved with love such as this.

In the early afternoon Graeme came to her. She met him with both hands
outstretched, saying in a low voice--

‘I am very happy.’

‘Are you sure?’ he asked anxiously.

‘Oh, yes,’ she said, but her voice was like a sob; ‘quite, quite sure.’

They talked long together till I saw that Craig must soon be coming, and
I called Graeme away. He held her hands, looking steadily into her eyes
and said--

‘You are better even than I thought; I’m going to be a better man.’

Her eyes filled with tears, but her smile did not fade as she answered--

‘Yes! you will be a good man, and God will give you work to do.’

He bent his head over her hands and stepped back from her as from a
queen, but he spoke no word till we came to Craig’s door. Then he said
with humility that seemed strange in him, ‘Connor, that is great, to
conquer oneself. It is worth while. I am going to try.’

I would not have missed his meeting with Craig. Nelson was busy with
tea. Craig was writing near the window. He looked up as Graeme came in,
and nodded an easy good-evening; but Graeme strode to him and, putting
one hand on his shoulder, held out his other for Craig to take.

After a moment’s surprise, Craig rose to his feet, and, facing him
squarely, took the offered hand in both of his and held it fast without
a word. Graeme was the first to speak, and his voice was deep with
emotion--

‘You are a great man, a good man. I’d give something to have your grit.’

Poor Craig stood looking at him, not daring to speak for some moments,
then he said quietly--

‘Not good nor great, but, thank God, not quite a traitor.’

‘Good man!’ went on Graeme, patting him on the shoulder. ‘Good man! But
it’s tough.’

Craig sat down quickly, saying, ‘Don’t do that, old chap!’

I went up with Craig to Mrs. Mavor’s door. She did not hear us coming,
but stood near the window gazing up at the mountains. She was dressed in
some rich soft stuff, and wore at her breast a bunch of wild-flowers. I
had never seen her so beautiful. I did not wonder that Craig paused with
his foot upon the threshold to look at her. She turned and saw us.
With a glad cry, ‘Oh! my darling; you have come to me,’ she came with
outstretched arms. I turned and fled, but the cry and the vision were
long with me.

It was decided that night that Mrs. Mavor should go the next week. A
miner and his wife were going east, and I too would join the party.

The camp went into mourning at the news; but it was understood that
any display of grief before Mrs. Mavor was bad form. She was not to be
annoyed.

But when I suggested that she should leave quietly, and avoid the pain
of saying good-bye, she flatly refused--

‘I must say good-bye to every man. They love me and I love them.’

It was decided, too, at first, that there should be nothing in the way
of a testimonial, but when Craig found out that the men were coming to
her with all sorts of extraordinary gifts, he agreed that it would
be better that they should unite in one gift. So it was agreed that I
should buy a ring for her. And were it not that the contributions were
strictly limited to one dollar, the purse that Slavin handed her when
Shaw read the address at the farewell supper would have been many times
filled with the gold that was pressed upon the committee. There were no
speeches at the supper, except one by myself in reply on Mrs. Mavor’s
behalf. She had given me the words to say, and I was thoroughly
prepared, else I should not have got through. I began in the usual
way: ‘Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, Mrs. Mavor is--’ but I got no
further, for at the mention of her name the men stood on the chairs and
yelled until they could yell no more. There were over two hundred and
fifty of them, and the effect was overpowering. But I got through my
speech. I remember it well. It began--

‘Mrs. Mavor is greatly touched by this mark of your love, and she will
wear your ring always with pride.’ And it ended with--

‘She has one request to make, that you will be true to the League, and
that you stand close about the man who did most to make it. She wishes
me to say that however far away she may have to go, she is leaving her
heart in Black Rock, and she can think of no greater joy than to come
back to you again.’

Then they had ‘The Sweet By and By,’ but the men would not join in the
refrain, unwilling to lose a note of the glorious voice they loved to
hear. Before the last verse she beckoned to me. I went to her standing
by Craig’s side as he played for her. ‘Ask them to sing,’ she entreated;
‘I cannot bear it.’

‘Mrs. Mavor wishes you to sing in the refrain,’ I said, and at once the
men sat up and cleared their throats. The singing was not good, but at
the first sound of the hoarse notes of the men Craig’s head went down
over the organ, for he was thinking I suppose of the days before them
when they would long in vain for that thrilling voice that soared high
over their own hoarse tones. And after the voices died away he kept
on playing till, half turning toward him, she sang alone once more the
refrain in a voice low and sweet and tender, as if for him alone. And
so he took it, for he smiled up at her his old smile full of courage and
full of love.

Then for one whole hour she stood saying good-bye to those rough,
gentle-hearted men whose inspiration to goodness she had been for five
years. It was very wonderful and very quiet. It was understood that
there was to be no nonsense, and Abe had been heard to declare that he
would ‘throw out any cotton-backed fool who couldn’t hold himself down,’
and further, he had enjoined them to remember that ‘her arm wasn’t a
pump-handle.’

At last they were all gone, all but her guard of honour--Shaw, Vernon
Winton, Geordie, Nixon, Abe, Nelson, Craig, and myself.

This was the real farewell; for, though in the early light of the next
morning two hundred men stood silent about the stage, and then as it
moved out waved their hats and yelled madly, this was the last touch
they had of her hand. Her place was up on the driver’s seat between Abe
and Mr. Craig, who held little Marjorie on his knee. The rest of the
guard of honour were to follow with Graeme’s team. It was Winton’s
fine sense that kept Graeme from following them close. ‘Let her go out
alone,’ he said, and so we held back and watched her go.

She stood with her back towards Abe’s plunging four-horse team, and
steadying herself with one hand on Abe’s shoulder, gazed down upon us.
Her head was bare, her lips parted in a smile, her eyes glowing with
their own deep light; and so, facing us, erect and smiling, she drove
away, waving us farewell till Abe swung his team into the canyon road
and we saw her no more. A sigh shuddered through the crowd, and, with a
sob in his voice, Winton said: ‘God help us all.’

I close my eyes and see it all again. The waving crowd of dark-faced
men, the plunging horses, and, high up beside the driver, the swaying,
smiling, waving figure, and about all the mountains, framing the picture
with their dark sides and white peaks tipped with the gold of the rising
sun. It is a picture I love to look upon, albeit it calls up another
that I can never see but through tears.

I look across a strip of ever-widening water, at a group of men upon the
wharf, standing with heads uncovered, every man a hero, though not a man
of them suspects it, least of all the man who stands in front, strong,
resolute, self-conquered. And, gazing long, I think I see him turn again
to his place among the men of the mountains, not forgetting, but every
day remembering the great love that came to him, and remembering, too,
that love is not all. It is then the tears come.

But for that picture two of us at least are better men to-day.


CHAPTER XIII

HOW NELSON CAME HOME


Through the long summer the mountains and the pines were with me. And
through the winter, too, busy as I was filling in my Black Rock sketches
for the railway people who would still persist in ordering them by the
dozen, the memory of that stirring life would come over me, and once
more I would be among the silent pines and the mighty snow-peaked
mountains. And before me would appear the red-shirted shantymen or
dark-faced miners, great, free, bold fellows, driving me almost mad with
the desire to seize and fix those swiftly changing groups of picturesque
figures. At such times I would drop my sketch, and with eager brush
seize a group, a face, a figure, and that is how my studio comes to be
filled with the men of Black Rock. There they are all about me. Graeme
and the men from the woods, Sandy, Baptiste, the Campbells, and in many
attitudes and groups old man Nelson; Craig, too, and his miners, Shaw,
Geordie, Nixon, and poor old Billy and the keeper of the League saloon.

It seemed as if I lived among them, and the illusion was greatly helped
by the vivid letters Graeme sent me from time to time. Brief notes came
now and then from Craig too, to whom I had sent a faithful account of
how I had brought Mrs. Mavor to her ship, and of how I had watched her
sail away with none too brave a face, as she held up her hand that bore
the miners’ ring, and smiled with that deep light in her eyes. Ah!
those eyes have driven me to despair and made me fear that I am no great
painter after all, in spite of what my friends tell me who come in to
smoke my good cigars and praise my brush. I can get the brow and hair,
and mouth and pose, but the eyes! the eyes elude me--and the faces of
Mrs. Mavor on my wall, that the men praise and rave over, are not such
as I could show to any of the men from the mountains.

Graeme’s letters tell me chiefly about Craig and his doings, and about
old man Nelson; while from Craig I hear about Graeme, and how he and
Nelson are standing at his back, and doing what they can to fill the gap
that never can be filled. The three are much together, I can see, and I
am glad for them all, but chiefly for Craig, whose face, grief-stricken
but resolute, and often gentle as a woman’s, will not leave me nor let
me rest in peace.

The note of thanks he sent me was entirely characteristic. There were
no heroics, much less pining or self-pity. It was simple and manly, not
ignoring the pain but making much of the joy. And then they had their
work to do. That note, so clear, so manly, so nobly sensible, stiffens
my back yet at times.

In the spring came the startling news that Black Rock would soon be
no more. The mines were to close down on April 1. The company, having
allured the confiding public with enticing descriptions of marvellous
drifts, veins, assays, and prospects, and having expended vast sums of
the public’s money in developing the mines till the assurance of their
reliability was absolutely final, calmly shut down and vanished. With
their vanishing vanishes Black Rock, not without loss and much deep
cursing on the part of the men brought some hundreds of miles to aid the
company in its extraordinary and wholly inexplicable game.

Personally it grieved me to think that my plan of returning to Black
Rock could never be carried out. It was a great compensation, however,
that the three men most representative to me of that life were soon to
visit me actually in my own home and den. Graeme’s letter said that in
one month they might be expected to appear. At least he and Nelson were
soon to come, and Craig would soon follow.

On receiving the great news, I at once looked up young Nelson and
his sister, and we proceeded to celebrate the joyful prospect with a
specially good dinner. I found the greatest delight in picturing the
joy and pride of the old man in his children, whom he had not seen for
fifteen or sixteen years. The mother had died some five years before,
then the farm was sold, and the brother and sister came into the city;
and any father might be proud of them. The son was a well-made young
fellow, handsome enough, thoughtful, and solid-looking. The girl
reminded me of her father. The same resolution was seen in mouth and
jaw, and the same passion slumbered in the dark grey eyes. She was not
beautiful, but she carried herself well, and one would always look at
her twice. It would be worth something to see the meeting between father
and daughter.

But fate, the greatest artist of us all, takes little count of the
careful drawing and the bright colouring of our fancy’s pictures, but
with rude hand deranges all, and with one swift sweep paints out the
bright and paints in the dark. And this trick he served me when, one
June night, after long and anxious waiting for some word from the west,
my door suddenly opened and Graeme walked in upon me like a spectre,
grey and voiceless. My shout of welcome was choked back by the look in
his face, and I could only gaze at him and wait for his word. He gripped
my hand, tried to speak, but failed to make words come.

‘Sit down, old man,’ I said, pushing, him into my chair, ‘and take your
time.’

He obeyed, looking up at me with burning, sleepless eyes. My heart was
sore for his misery, and I said: ‘Don’t mind, old chap; it can’t be so
awfully bad. You’re here safe and sound at any rate,’ and so I went on
to give him time. But he shuddered and looked round and groaned.

‘Now look here, Graeme, let’s have it. When did you land here? Where is
Nelson? Why didn’t you bring him up?’

‘He is at the station in his coffin,’ he answered slowly.

‘In his coffin?’ I echoed, my beautiful pictures all vanishing. ‘How was
it?’

‘Through my cursed folly,’ he groaned bitterly.

‘What happened?’ I asked. But ignoring my question, he said: ‘I must see
his children. I have not slept for four nights. I hardly know what I
am doing; but I can’t rest till I see his children. I promised him. Get
them for me.’

‘To-morrow will do. Go to sleep now, and we shall arrange everything
to-morrow,’ I urged.

‘No!’ he said fiercely; ‘to-night--now!’

In half an hour they were listening, pale and grief-stricken, to the
story of their father’s death.

Poor Graeme was relentless in his self-condemnation as he told how,
through his ‘cursed folly,’ old Nelson was killed. The three, Craig,
Graeme, and Nelson, had come as far as Victoria together. There they
left Craig, and came on to San Francisco. In an evil hour Graeme met a
companion of other and evil days, and it was not long till the old fever
came upon him.

In vain Nelson warned and pleaded. The reaction from the monotony and
poverty of camp life to the excitement and luxury of the San Francisco
gaming palaces swung Graeme quite off his feet, and all that Nelson
could do was to follow from place to place and keep watch.

‘And there he would sit,’ said Graeme in a hard, bitter voice, ‘waiting
and watching often till the grey morning light, while my madness held me
fast to the table. One night,’ here he paused a moment, put his face in
his hands and shuddered; but quickly he was master of himself again, and
went on in the same hard voice--‘One night my partner and I were playing
two men who had done us up before. I knew they were cheating, but could
not detect them. Game after game they won, till I was furious at my
stupidity in not being able to catch them. Happening to glance at Nelson
in the corner, I caught a meaning look, and looking again, he threw me
a signal. I knew at once what the fraud was, and next game charged the
fellow with it. He gave me the lie; I struck his mouth, but before
I could draw my gun, his partner had me by the arms. What followed I
hardly know. While I was struggling to get free, I saw him reach for his
weapon; but, as he drew it, Nelson sprang across the table, and bore him
down. When the row was ever, three men lay on the floor. One was Nelson;
he took the shot meant for me.’

Again the story paused.

‘And the man that shot him?’

I started at the intense fierceness in the voice, and, looking upon the
girl, saw her eyes blazing with a terrible light.

‘He is dead,’ answered Graeme indifferently.

‘You killed him?’ she asked eagerly.

Graeme looked at her curiously, and answered slowly--

‘I did not mean to. He came at me. I struck him harder than I knew. He
never moved.’

She drew a sigh of satisfaction, and waited.

‘I got him to a private ward, had the best doctor in the city, and sent
for Craig to Victoria. For three days we thought he would live--he was
keen to get home; but by the time Craig came we had given up hope. Oh,
but I was thankful to see Craig come in, and the joy in the old man’s
eyes was beautiful to see. There was no pain at last, and no fear. He
would not allow me to reproach myself, saying over and over, “You would
have done the same for me”--as I would, fast enough--“and it is better
me than you. I am old and done; you will do much good yet for the boys.”
 And he kept looking at me till I could only promise to do my best.

‘But I am glad I told him how much good he had done me during the last
year, for he seemed to think that too good to be true. And when Craig
told him how he had helped the boys in the camp, and how Sandy and
Baptiste and the Campbells would always be better men for his life
among them, the old man’s face actually shone, as if light were coming
through. And with surprise and joy he kept on saying, “Do you think
so? Do you think so? Perhaps so, perhaps so.” At the last he talked of
Christmas night at the camp. You were there, you remember. Craig had
been holding a service, and something happened, I don’t know what, but
they both knew.’

‘I know,’ I said, and I saw again the picture of the old man under the
pine, upon his knees in the snow, with his face turned up to the stars.

‘Whatever it was, it was in his mind at the very last, and I can never
forget his face as he turned it to Craig. One hears of such things:
I had often, but had never put much faith in them; but joy, rapture,
triumph, these are what were in his face, as he said, his breath coming
short, “You said--He wouldn’t--fail me--you were right--not once--not
once--He stuck to me--I’m glad he told me--thank God--for you--you
showed--me--I’ll see Him--and--tell Him--” And Craig, kneeling beside
him so steady--I was behaving like a fool--smiled down through his
streaming tears into the dim eyes so brightly, till they could see no
more. Thank him for that! He helped the old man through, and he helped
me too, that night, thank God!’ And Graeme’s voice, hard till now, broke
in a sob.

He had forgotten us, and was back beside his passing friend, and all his
self-control could not keep back the flowing tears.

‘It was his life for mine,’ he said huskily.

The brother and sister were quietly weeping, but spoke no word, though I
knew Graeme was waiting for them.

I took up the word, and told of what I had known of Nelson, and his
influence upon the men of Black Rock. They listened eagerly enough, but
still without speaking. There seemed nothing to say, till I suggested
to Graeme that he must get some rest. Then the girl turned to him, and,
impulsively putting out her hand, said--

‘Oh, it is all so sad; but how can we ever thank you?’

‘Thank me!’ gasped Graeme. ‘Can you forgive me? I brought him to his
death.’

‘No, no! You must not say so,’ she answered hurriedly. ‘You would have
done the same for him.’

‘God knows I would,’ said Graeme earnestly; ‘and God bless you for your
words!’ And I was thankful to see the tears start in his dry, burning
eyes.

We carried him to the old home in the country, that he might lie by the
side of the wife he had loved and wronged. A few friends met us at the
wayside station, and followed in sad procession along the country road,
that wound past farms and through woods, and at last up to the ascent
where the quaint, old wooden church, black with the rains and snows of
many years, stood among its silent graves. The little graveyard sloped
gently towards the setting sun, and from it one could see, far on every
side, the fields of grain and meadowland that wandered off over softly
undulating hills to meet the maple woods at the horizon, dark, green,
and cool. Here and there white farmhouses, with great barns standing
near, looked out from clustering orchards.

Up the grass-grown walk, and through the crowding mounds, over which
waves, uncut, the long, tangling grass, we bear our friend, and let
him gently down into the kindly bosom of mother earth, dark, moist, and
warm. The sound of a distant cowbell mingles with the voice of the last
prayer; the clods drop heavily with heart-startling echo; the mound is
heaped and shaped by kindly friends, sharing with one another the
task; the long rough sods are laid over and patted into place; the old
minister takes farewell in a few words of gentle sympathy; the brother
and sister, with lingering looks at the two graves side by side, the old
and the new, step into the farmer’s carriage, and drive away; the sexton
locks the gate and goes home, and we are left outside alone.

Then we went back and stood by Nelson’s grave.

After a long silence Graeme spoke.

‘Connor, he did not grudge his life to me--and I think’--and here the
words came slowly--‘I understand now what that means, “Who loved me and
gave Himself for me.”’

Then taking off his hat, he said reverently, ‘By God’s help Nelson’s
life shall not end, but shall go on. Yes, old man!’ looking down upon
the grave, ‘I’m with you’; and lifting up his face to the calm sky, ‘God
help me to be true.’

Then he turned and walked briskly away, as one might who had pressing
business, or as soldiers march from a comrade’s grave to a merry tune,
not that they have forgotten, but they have still to fight.

And this was the way old man Nelson came home.


CHAPTERS XIV.

GRAEME’S NEW BIRTH


There was more left in that grave than old man Nelson’s dead body. It
seemed to me that Graeme left part, at least, of his old self there,
with his dead friend and comrade, in the quiet country churchyard. I
waited long for the old careless, reckless spirit to appear, but he was
never the same again. The change was unmistakable, but hard to define.
He seemed to have resolved his life into a definite purpose. He was
hardly so comfortable a fellow to be with; he made me feel even more
lazy and useless than was my wont; but I respected him more, and liked
him none the less. As a lion he was not a success. He would not roar.
This was disappointing to me, and to his friends and mine, who had been
waiting his return with eager expectation of tales of thrilling and
bloodthirsty adventure.

His first days were spent in making right, or as nearly right as he
could, the break that drove him to the west. His old firm (and I have
had more respect for the humanity of lawyers ever since) behaved really
well. They proved the restoration of their confidence in his integrity
and ability by offering him a place in the firm, which, however, he
would not accept. Then, when he felt clean, as he said, he posted off
home, taking me with him. During the railway journey of four hours he
hardly spoke; but when we had left the town behind, and had fairly
got upon the country road that led toward the home ten miles away, his
speech came to him in a great flow. His spirits ran over. He was like a
boy returning from his first college term. His very face wore the boy’s
open, innocent, earnest look that used to attract men to him in his
first college year. His delight in the fields and woods, in the sweet
country air and the sunlight, was without bound. How often had we driven
this road together in the old days!

Every turn was familiar. The swamp where the tamaracks stood straight
and slim out of their beds of moss; the brule, as we used to call it,
where the pine-stumps, huge and blackened, were half-hidden by the new
growth of poplars and soft maples; the big hill, where we used to get
out and walk when the roads were bad; the orchards, where the harvest
apples were best and most accessible--all had their memories.

It was one of those perfect afternoons that so often come in the early
Canadian summer, before Nature grows weary with the heat. The white
gravel road was trimmed on either side with turf of living green, close
cropped by the sheep that wandered in flocks along its whole length.
Beyond the picturesque snake-fences stretched the fields of springing
grain, of varying shades of green, with here and there a dark brown
patch, marking a turnip field or summer fallow, and far back were the
woods of maple and beech and elm, with here and there the tufted top of
a mighty pine, the lonely representative of a vanished race, standing
clear above the humbler trees.

As we drove through the big swamp, where the yawning, haunted gully
plunges down to its gloomy depths, Graeme reminded me of that night when
our horse saw something in that same gully, and refused to go past; and
I felt again, though it was broad daylight, something of the grue that
shivered down my back, as I saw in the moonlight the gleam of a white
thing far through the pine trunks.

As we came nearer home the houses became familiar. Every house had its
tale: we had eaten or slept in most of them; we had sampled apples, and
cherries, and plums from their orchards, openly as guests, or secretly
as marauders, under cover of night--the more delightful way, I fear.
Ah! happy days, with these innocent crimes and fleeting remorses, how
bravely we faced them, and how gaily we lived them, and how yearningly
we look back at them now! The sun was just dipping into the tree-tops
of the distant woods behind as we came to the top of the last hill that
overlooked the valley, in which lay the village of Riverdale. Wooded
hills stood about it on three sides, and, where the hills faded out,
there lay the mill-pond sleeping and smiling in the sun. Through the
village ran the white road, up past the old frame church, and on to the
white manse standing among the trees. That was Graeme’s home, and mine
too, for I had never known another worthy of the name. We held up our
team to look down over the valley, with its rampart of wooded hills, its
shining pond, and its nestling village, and on past to the church and
the white manse, hiding among the trees. The beauty, the peace, the
warm, loving homeliness of the scene came about our hearts, but, being
men, we could find no words.

‘Let’s go,’ cried Graeme, and down the hill we tore and rocked and
swayed to the amazement of the steady team, whose education from
the earliest years had impressed upon their minds the criminality of
attempting to do anything but walk carefully down a hill, at least
for two-thirds of the way. Through the village, in a cloud of dust,
we swept, catching a glimpse of a well-known face here and there, and
flinging a salutation as we passed, leaving the owner of the face rooted
to his place in astonishment at the sight of Graeme whirling on in his
old-time, well-known reckless manner. Only old Dunc. M’Leod was equal to
the moment, for as Graeme called out, ‘Hello, Dunc.!’ the old man lifted
up his hands, and called back in an awed voice: ‘Bless my soul! is it
yourself?’

‘Stands his whisky well, poor old chap!’ was Graeme’s comment.

As we neared the church he pulled up his team, and we went quietly past
the sleepers there, then again on the full run down the gentle slope,
over the little brook, and up to the gate. He had hardly got his team
pulled up before, flinging me the lines, he was out over the wheel, for
coming down the walk, with her hands lifted high, was a dainty little
lady, with the face of an angel. In a moment Graeme had her in his arms.
I heard the faint cry, ‘My boy, my boy,’ and got down on the other side
to attend to my off horse, surprised to find my hands trembling and my
eyes full of tears. Back upon the steps stood an old gentleman, with
white hair and flowing beard, handsome, straight, and stately--Graeme’s
father, waiting his turn.

‘Welcome home, my lad,’ was his greeting, as he kissed his son, and the
tremor of his voice, and the sight of the two men kissing each other,
like women, sent me again to my horses’ heads.

‘There’s Connor, mother!’ shouted out Graeme, and the dainty little
lady, in her black silk and white lace, came out to me quickly, with
outstretched hands.

‘You, too, are welcome home,’ she said, and kissed me.

I stood with my hat off, saying something about being glad to come,
but wishing that I could get away before I should make quite a fool of
myself. For as I looked down upon that beautiful face, pale, except for
a faint flush upon each faded cheek, and read the story of pain endured
and conquered, and as I thought of all the long years of waiting and
of vain hoping, I found my throat dry and sore, and the words would not
come. But her quick sense needed no words, and she came to my help.

‘You will find Jack at the stable,’ she said, smiling; ‘he ought to have
been here.’

The stable! Why had I not thought of that before? Thankfully now my
words came--

‘Yes, certainly, I’ll find him, Mrs. Graeme. I suppose he’s as much of
a scapegrace as ever, and off I went to look up Graeme’s young brother,
who had given every promise in the old days of developing into as
stirring a rascal as one could desire; but who, as I found out later,
had not lived these years in his mother’s home for nothing.

‘Oh, Jack’s a good boy,’ she answered, smiling again, as she turned
toward the other two, now waiting for her upon the walk.

The week that followed was a happy one for us all; but for the mother it
was full to the brim with joy. Her sweet face was full of content, and
in her eyes rested a great peace. Our days were spent driving about
among the hills, or strolling through the maple woods, or down into the
tamarack swamp, where the pitcher plants and the swamp lilies and the
marigold waved above the deep moss. In the evenings we sat under the
trees on the lawn till the stars came out and the night dews drove us
in. Like two lovers, Graeme and his mother would wander off together,
leaving Jack and me to each other. Jack was reading for divinity, and
was really a fine, manly fellow, with all his brother’s turn for rugby,
and I took to him amazingly; but after the day was over we would gather
about the supper table, and the talk would be of all things under
heaven--art, football, theology. The mother would lead in all. How quick
she was, how bright her fancy, how subtle her intellect, and through all
a gentle grace, very winning and beautiful to see!

Do what I would, Graeme would talk little of the mountains and his life
there.

‘My lion will not roar, Mrs. Graeme,’ I complained; ‘he simply will
not.’

‘You should twist his tail,’ said Jack.

‘That seems to be the difficulty, Jack,’ said his mother, ‘to get hold
of his tale.’

‘Oh, mother,’ groaned Jack; ‘you never did such a thing before! How
could you? Is it this baleful Western influence?’

‘I shall reform, Jack,’ she replied brightly.

‘But, seriously, Graeme,’ I remonstrated, ‘you ought to tell your people
of your life--that free, glorious life in the mountains.’

‘Free! Glorious! To some men, perhaps!’ said Graeme, and then fell into
silence.

But I saw Graeme as a new man the night he talked theology with his
father. The old minister was a splendid Calvinist, of heroic type, and
as he discoursed of God’s sovereignty and election, his face glowed and
his voice rang out.

Graeme listened intently, now and then putting in a question, as one
would a keen knife-thrust into a foe. But the old man knew his ground,
and moved easily among his ideas, demolishing the enemy as he appeared,
with jaunty grace. In the full flow of his triumphant argument, Graeme
turned to him with sudden seriousness.

‘Look here, father! I was born a Calvinist, and I can’t see how any one
with a level head can hold anything else, than that the Almighty has
some idea as to how He wants to run His universe, and He means to carry
out His idea, and is carrying it out; but what would you do in a case
like this?’ Then he told him the story of poor Billy Breen, his fight
and his defeat.

‘Would you preach election to that chap?’

The mother’s eyes were shining with tears.

The old gentleman blew his nose like a trumpet, and then said gravely--

‘No, my boy, you don’t feed babes with meat. But what came to him?’

Then Graeme asked me to finish the tale. After I had finished the
story of Billy’s final triumph and of Craig’s part in it, they sat long
silent, till the minister, clearing his throat hard and blowing his nose
more like a trumpet than ever, said with great emphasis--

‘Thank God for such a man in such a place! I wish there were more of us
like him.’

‘I should like to see you out there, sir,’ said Graeme admiringly;
‘you’d get them, but you wouldn’t have time for election.’

‘Yes, yes!’ said his father warmly; ‘I should love to have a chance
just to preach election to these poor lads. Would I were twenty years
younger!’

‘It is worth a man’s life,’ said Graeme earnestly. His younger brother
turned his face eagerly toward the mother. For answer she slipped her
hand into his and said softly, while her eyes shone like stars--

‘Some day, Jack, perhaps! God knows.’ But Jack only looked steadily at
her, smiling a little and patting her hand.

‘You’d shine there, mother,’ said Graeme, smiling upon her; ‘you’d
better come with me.’ She started, and said faintly--

‘With you?’ It was the first hint he had given of his purpose. ‘You are
going back?’

‘What! as a missionary?’ said Jack.

‘Not to preach, Jack; I’m not orthodox enough,’ looking at his father
and shaking his head; ‘but to build railroads and lend a hand to some
poor chap, if I can.’

‘Could you not find work nearer home, my boy?’ asked the father; ‘there
is plenty of both kinds near us here, surely.’

‘Lots of work, but not mine, I fear,’ answered Graeme, keeping his eyes
away from his mother’s face. ‘A man must do his own work.’

His voice was quiet and resolute, and glancing at the beautiful face at
the end of the table, I saw in the pale lips and yearning eyes that the
mother was offering up her firstborn, that ancient sacrifice. But not
all the agony of sacrifice could wring from her entreaty or complaint
in the hearing of her sons. That was for other ears and for the silent
hours of the night. And next morning when she came down to meet us her
face was wan and weary, but it wore the peace of victory and a glory not
of earth. Her greeting was full of dignity, sweet and gentle; but when
she came to Graeme she lingered over him and kissed him twice. And that
was all that any of us ever saw of that sore fight.

At the end of the week I took leave of them, and last of all of the
mother.

She hesitated just a moment, then suddenly put her hands upon my
shoulders and kissed me, saying softly, ‘You are his friend; you will
sometimes come to me?’

‘Gladly, if I may,’ I hastened to answer, for the sweet, brave face was
too much to bear; and, till she left us for that world of which she was
a part, I kept my word, to my own great and lasting good. When Graeme
met me in the city at the end of the summer, he brought me her love, and
then burst forth--

‘Connor, do you know, I have just discovered my mother! I have never
known her till this summer.’

‘More fool you,’ I answered, for often had I, who had never known a
mother, envied him his.

‘Yes, that is true,’ he answered slowly; ‘but you cannot see until you
have eyes.’

Before he set out again for the west I gave him a supper, asking the men
who had been with us in the old ‘Varsity days. I was doubtful as to the
wisdom of this, and was persuaded only by Graeme’s eager assent to my
proposal.

‘Certainly, let’s have them,’ he said; ‘I shall be awfully glad to see
them; great stuff they were.’

‘But, I don’t know, Graeme; you see--well--hang it!--you know--you’re
different, you know.’

He looked at me curiously.

‘I hope I can still stand a good supper, and if the boys can’t stand me,
why, I can’t help it. I’ll do anything but roar, and don’t you begin to
work off your menagerie act--now, you hear me!’

‘Well, it is rather hard lines that when I have been talking up my lion
for a year, and then finally secure him, that he will not roar.’

‘Serve you right,’ he replied, quite heartlessly; ‘but I’ll tell you
what I’ll do, I’ll feed! Don’t you worry,’ he adds soothingly; ‘the
supper will go.’

And go it did. The supper was of the best; the wines first-class. I had
asked Graeme about the wines.

‘Do as you like, old man,’ was his answer; ‘it’s your supper, but,’ he
added, ‘are the men all straight?’

I ran them over in my mind.

‘Yes; I think so.’

If not, don’t you help them down; and anyway, you can’t be too careful.
But don’t mind me; I am quit of the whole business from this out.’ So I
ventured wines, for the last time, as it happened.

We were a quaint combination. Old ‘Beetles,’ whose nickname was
prophetic of his future fame as a bugman, as the fellows irreverently
said; ‘Stumpy’ Smith, a demon bowler; Polly Lindsay, slow as ever and as
sure as when he held the half-back line with Graeme, and used to make my
heart stand still with terror at his cool deliberation. But he was
never known to fumble nor to funk, and somehow he always got us out safe
enough. Then there was Rattray--‘Rat’ for short--who, from a swell, had
developed into a cynic with a sneer, awfully clever and a good enough
fellow at heart. Little ‘Wig’ Martin, the sharpest quarter ever seen,
and big Barney Lundy, centre scrimmage, whose terrific roar and rush had
often struck terror to the enemy’s heart, and who was Graeme’s slave.
Such was the party.

As the supper went on my fears began to vanish, for if Graeme did not
‘roar,’ he did the next best thing--ate and talked quite up to his
old form. Now we played our matches over again, bitterly lamenting the
‘if’s’ that had lost us the championships, and wildly approving the
tackles that had saved, and the runs that had made the ‘Varsity crowd go
mad with delight and had won for us. And as their names came up in talk,
we learned how life had gone with those who had been our comrades of ten
years ago. Some, success had lifted to high places; some, failure had
left upon the rocks, and a few lay in their graves.

But as the evening wore on, I began to wish that I had left out the
wines, for the men began to drop an occasional oath, though I had let
them know during the summer that Graeme was not the man he had been. But
Graeme smoked and talked and heeded not, till Rattray swore by that name
most sacred of all ever borne by man. Then Graeme opened upon him in a
cool, slow way--

‘What an awful fool a man is, to damn things as you do, Rat. Things are
not damned. It is men who are; and that is too bad to be talked much
about but when a man flings out of his foul mouth the name of Jesus
Christ’--here he lowered his voice--‘it’s a shame--it’s more, it’s a
crime.’

There was dead silence, then Rattray replied--

‘I suppose you’re right enough, it is bad form; but crime is rather
strong, I think.’

‘Not if you consider who it is,’ said Graeme with emphasis.

‘Oh, come now,’ broke in Beetles. ‘Religion is all right, is a good
thing, and I believe a necessary thing for the race, but no one takes
seriously any longer the Christ myth.’

‘What about your mother, Beetles?’ put in Wig Martin.

Beetles consigned him to the pit and was silent, for his father was an
Episcopal clergyman, and his mother a saintly woman.

‘I fooled with that for some time, Beetles, but it won’t do. You can’t
build a religion that will take the devil out of a man on a myth. That
won’t do the trick. I don’t want to argue about it, but I am quite
convinced the myth theory is not reasonable, and besides, it wont work.’

‘Will the other work?’ asked Rattray, with a sneer.

‘Sure!’ said Grame; ‘I’ve seen it.’

‘Where?’ challenged Rattray. ‘I haven’t seen much of it.’

‘Yes, you have, Rattray, you know you have,’ said Wig again. But Rattray
ignored him.

‘I’ll tell you, boys,’ said Graeme. ‘I want you to know, anyway, why I
believe what I do.’

Then he told them the story of old man Nelson, from the old coast days,
before I knew him, to the end. He told the story well. The stern fight
and the victory of the life, and the self-sacrifice and the pathos of
the death appealed to these men, who loved fight and could understand
sacrifice.

‘That’s why I believe in Jesus Christ, and that’s why I think it a crime
to fling His name about!’

‘I wish to Heaven I could say that,’ said Beetles.

‘Keep wishing hard enough and it will come to you,’ said Graeme.

‘Look here, old chap,’ said Rattray; ‘you’re quite right about this;
I’m willing to own up. Wig is correct. I know a few, at least, of that
stamp, but most of those who go in for that sort of thing are not much
account’

‘For ten years, Rattray,’ said Graeme in a downright, matter-of-fact
way, ‘you and I have tried this sort of thing’--tapping a bottle--‘and
we got out of it all there is to be got, paid well for it, too,
and--faugh! you know it’s not good enough, and the more you go in for
it, the more you curse yourself. So I have quit this and I am going in
for the other.’

‘What! going in for preaching?’

‘Not much--railroading--money in it--and lending a hand to fellows on
the rocks.’

‘I say, don’t you want a centre forward?’ said big Barney in his deep
voice.

‘Every man must play his game in his place, old chap. I’d like to see
you tackle it, though, right well,’ said Graeme earnestly. And so he
did, in the after years, and good tackling it was. But that is another
story.

‘But, I say, Graeme,’ persisted Beetles, ‘about this business, do you
mean to say you go the whole thing--Jonah, you know, and the rest of
it?’

Graeme hesitated, then said--

‘I haven’t much of a creed, Beetles; don’t really know how much I
believe. But,’ by this time he was standing, ‘I do know that good is
good, and bad is bad, and good and bad are not the same. And I know
a man’s a fool to follow the one, and a wise man to follow the other,
and,’ lowering his voice, ‘I believe God is at the back of a man who
wants to get done with bad. I’ve tried all that folly,’ sweeping his
hand over the glasses and bottles, ‘and all that goes with it, and I’ve
done with it’

‘I’ll go you that far,’ roared big Barney, following his old captain as
of yore.

‘Good man,’ said Graeme, striking hands with him.

‘Put me down,’ said little Wig cheerfully.

Then I took up the word, for there rose before me the scene in the
League saloon, and I saw the beautiful face with the deep shining eyes,
and I was speaking for her again. I told them of Craig and his fight for
these men’s lives. I told them, too, of how I had been too indolent to
begin. ‘But,’ I said, ‘I am going this far from to-night,’ and I swept
the bottles into the champagne tub.

‘I say,’ said Polly Lindsay, coming up in his old style, slow but sure,
‘let’s all go in, say for five years.’ And so we did. We didn’t sign
anything, but every man shook hands with Graeme.

And as I told Craig about this a year later, when he was on his way back
from his Old Land trip to join Graeme in the mountains, he threw up his
head in the old way and said, ‘It was well done. It must have been worth
seeing. Old man Nelson’s work is not done yet. Tell me again,’ and he
made me go over the whole scene with all the details put in.

But when I told Mrs. Mavor, after two years had gone, she only said,
‘Old things are passed away, all things are become new’; but the light
glowed in her eyes till I could not see their colour. But all that, too,
is another story.


CHAPTER XV

COMING TO THEIR OWN


A man with a conscience is often provoking, sometimes impossible.
Persuasion is lost upon him. He will not get angry, and he looks at one
with such a far-away expression in his face that in striving to persuade
him one feels earthly and even fiendish. At least this was my experience
with Craig. He spent a week with me just before he sailed for the Old
Land, for the purpose, as he said, of getting some of the coal dust and
other grime out of him.

He made me angry the last night of his stay, and all the more that he
remained quite sweetly unmoved. It was a strategic mistake of mine to
tell him how Nelson came home to us, and how Graeme stood up before
the ‘Varsity chaps at my supper and made his confession and confused
Rattray’s easy-stepping profanity, and started his own five-year league.
For all this stirred in Craig the hero, and he was ready for all sorts
of heroic nonsense, as I called it. We talked of everything but the one
thing, and about that we said not a word till, bending low to poke my
fire and to hide my face, I plunged--

‘You will see her, of course?’

He made no pretence of not understanding but answered--

‘Of course.’

‘There’s really no sense in her staying over there,’ I suggested.

‘And yet she is a wise woman,’ he said, as if carefully considering the
question.

‘Heaps of landlords never see their tenants, and they are none the
worse.’

‘The landlords?’

‘No, the tenants.’

‘Probably, having such landlords.’

‘And as for the old lady, there must be some one in the connection to
whom it would be a Godsend to care for her.’

‘Now, Connor,’ he said quietly, ‘don’t. We have gone over all there is
to be said. Nothing new has come. Don’t turn it all up again.’

Then I played the heathen and raged, as Graeme would have said, till
Craig smiled a little wearily and said--

‘You exhaust yourself, old chap. Have a pipe, do’; and after a pause he
added in his own way, ‘What would you have? The path lies straight from
my feet. Should I quit it? I could not so disappoint you--and all of
them.’

And I knew he was thinking of Graeme and the lads in the mountains he
had taught to be true men. It did not help my rage, but it checked my
speech; so I smoked in silence till he was moved to say--

‘And after all, you know, old chap, there are great compensations for
all losses; but for the loss of a good conscience towards God, what can
make up?’

But, all the same, I hoped for some better result from his visit to
Britain. It seemed to me that something must turn up to change such an
unbearable situation.

The year passed, however, and when I looked into Craig’s face again I
knew that nothing had been changed, and that he had come back to take up
again his life alone, more resolutely hopeful than ever.

But the year had left its mark upon him too. He was a broader and deeper
man. He had been living and thinking with men of larger ideas and
richer culture, and he was far too quick in sympathy with life to remain
untouched by his surroundings. He was more tolerant of opinions other
than his own, but more unrelenting in his fidelity to conscience and
more impatient of half-heartedness and self-indulgence. He was full of
reverence for the great scholars and the great leaders of men he had
come to know.

‘Great, noble fellows they are, and extraordinarily modest,’ he
said--‘that is, the really great are modest. There are plenty of the
other sort, neither great nor modest. And the books to be read! I am
quite hopeless about my reading. It gave me a queer sensation to
shake hands with a man who had written a great book. To hear him make
commonplace remarks, to witness a faltering in knowledge--one expects
these men to know everything--and to experience respectful kindness at
his hands!’

‘What of the younger men?’ I asked.

‘Bright, keen, generous fellows. In things theoretical, omniscient; but
in things practical, quite helpless. They toss about great ideas as
the miners lumps of coal. They can call them by their book names easily
enough, but I often wondered whether they could put them into English.
Some of them I coveted for the mountains. Men with clear heads and big
hearts, and built after Sandy M’Naughton’s model. It does seem a sinful
waste of God’s good human stuff to see these fellows potter away their
lives among theories living and dead, and end up by producing a book!
They are all either making or going to make a book. A good thing we
haven’t to read them. But here and there among them is some quiet chap
who will make a book that men will tumble over each other to read.’

Then we paused and looked at each other.

‘Well?’ I said. He understood me.

‘Yes!’ he answered slowly, ‘doing great work. Every one worships her
just as we do, and she is making them all do something worth while, as
she used to make us.’

He spoke cheerfully and readily as if he were repeating a lesson
well learned, but he could not humbug me. I felt the heartache in the
cheerful tone.

‘Tell me about her,’ I said, for I knew that if he would talk it would
do him good. And talk he did, often forgetting me, till, as I listened,
I found myself looking again into the fathomless eyes, and hearing
again the heart-searching voice. I saw her go in and out of the little
red-tiled cottages and down the narrow back lanes of the village; I
heard her voice in a sweet, low song by the bed of a dying child, or
pouring forth floods of music in the great new hall of the factory town
near by. But I could not see, though he tried to show me, the stately
gracious lady receiving the country folk in her home. He did not linger
over that scene, but went back again to the gate-cottage where she had
taken him one day to see Billy Breen’s mother.

‘I found the old woman knew all about me,’ he said, simply enough; ‘but
there were many things about Billy she had never heard, and I was glad
to put her right on some points, though Mrs. Mavor would not hear it.’

He sat silent for a little, looking into the coals; then went on in a
soft, quiet voice--

‘It brought back the mountains and the old days to hear again Billy’s
tones in his mother’s voice, and to see her sitting there in the very
dress she wore the night of the League, you remember--some soft stuff
with black lace about it--and to hear her sing as she did for Billy--ah!
ah!’ His voice unexpectedly broke, but in a moment he was master of
himself and begged me to forgive his weakness. I am afraid I said words
that should not be said--a thing I never do, except when suddenly and
utterly upset.

‘I am getting selfish and weak,’ he said; ‘I must get to work. I am glad
to get to work. There is much to do, and it is worth while, if only to
keep one from getting useless and lazy.’

‘Useless and lazy!’ I said to myself, thinking of my life beside his,
and trying to get command of my voice, so as not to make quite a fool
of myself. And for many a day those words goaded me to work and to the
exercise of some mild self-denial. But more than all else, after Craig
had gone back to the mountains, Graeme’s letters from the railway
construction camp stirred one to do unpleasant duty long postponed, and
rendered uncomfortable my hours of most luxurious ease. Many of the old
gang were with him, both of lumbermen and miners, and Craig was their
minister. And the letters told of how he laboured by day and by night
along the line of construction, carrying his tent and kit with him,
preaching straight sermons, watching by sick men, writing their letters,
and winning their hearts; making strong their lives, and helping them
to die well when their hour came. One day, these letters proved too much
for me, and I packed away my paints and brushes, and made my vow unto
the Lord that I would be ‘useless and lazy’ no longer, but would do
something with myself. In consequence, I found myself within three weeks
walking the London hospitals, finishing my course, that I might join
that band of men who were doing something with life, or, if throwing
it away, were not losing it for nothing. I had finished being a fool,
I hoped, at least a fool of the useless and luxurious kind. The letter
that came from Graeme, in reply to my request for a position on his
staff, was characteristic of the man, both new and old, full of gayest
humour and of most earnest welcome to the work.

Mrs. Mavor’s reply was like herself--

‘I knew you would not long be content with the making of pictures, which
the world does not really need, and would join your friends in the dear
West, making lives that the world needs so sorely.’

But her last words touched me strangely--

‘But be sure to be thankful every day for your privilege. . . . It will
be good to think of you all, with the glorious mountains about you, and
Christ’s own work in your hands. . . . Ah! how we would like to choose
our work, and the place in which to do it!’

The longing did not appear in the words, but I needed no words to tell
me how deep and how constant it was. And I take some credit to myself,
that in my reply I gave her no bidding to join our band, but rather
praised the work she was doing in her place, telling her how I had heard
of it from Craig.

The summer found me religiously doing Paris and Vienna, gaining a more
perfect acquaintance with the extent and variety of my own ignorance,
and so fully occupied in this interesting and wholesome occupation
that I fell out with all my correspondents, with the result of weeks of
silence between us.

Two letters among the heap waiting on my table in London made my heart
beat quick, but with how different feelings: one from Graeme telling me
that Craig had been very ill, and that he was to take him home as soon
as he could be moved. Mrs. Mavor’s letter told me of the death of the
old lady, who had been her care for the past two years, and of her
intention to spend some months in her old home in Edinburgh. And this
letter it is that accounts for my presence in a miserable, dingy, dirty
little hall running off a close in the historic Cowgate, redolent of
the glories of the splendid past, and of the various odours of the
evil-smelling present. I was there to hear Mrs. Mavor sing to the crowd
of gamins that thronged the closes in the neighbourhood, and that had
been gathered into a club by ‘a fine leddie frae the West End,’ for
the love of Christ and His lost. This was an ‘At Home’ night, and the
mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, of all ages and sizes were
present. Of all the sad faces I had ever seen, those mothers carried the
saddest and most woe-stricken. ‘Heaven pity us!’ I found myself saying;
‘is this the beautiful, the cultured, the heaven-exalted city of
Edinburgh? Will it not, for this, be cast down into hell some day, if
it repent not of its closes and their dens of defilement? Oh! the utter
weariness, the dazed hopelessness of the ghastly faces! Do not the
kindly, gentle church-going folk of the crescents and the gardens see
them in their dreams, or are their dreams too heavenly for these ghastly
faces to appear?’

I cannot recall the programme of the evening, but in my memory-gallery
is a vivid picture of that face, sweet, sad, beautiful, alight with the
deep glow of her eyes, as she stood and sang to that dingy crowd. As I
sat upon the window-ledge listening to the voice with its flowing song,
my thoughts were far away, and I was looking down once more upon the
eager, coal-grimed faces in the rude little church in Black Rock. I was
brought back to find myself swallowing hard by an audible whisper from a
wee lassie to her mother--

‘Mither! See till yon man. He’s greetin’.’

When I came to myself she was singing ‘The Land o’ the Leal,’ the Scotch
‘Jerusalem the Golden,’ immortal, perfect. It needed experience of the
hunger-haunted Cowgate closes, chill with the black mist of an eastern
haar, to feel the full bliss of the vision in the words--

     ‘There’s nae sorrow there, Jean,
     There’s neither cauld nor care, Jean,
     The day is aye fair in
     The Land o’ the Leal.’

A land of fair, warm days, untouched by sorrow and care, would be heaven
indeed to the dwellers of the Cowgate.

The rest of that evening is hazy enough to me now, till I find myself
opposite Mrs. Mavor at her fire, reading Graeme’s letter; then all is
vivid again.

I could not keep the truth from her. I knew it would be folly to try. So
I read straight on till I came to the words--

‘He has had mountain fever, whatever that may be, and he will not
pull up again. If I can, I shall take him home to my mother’--when she
suddenly stretched out her hand, saying, ‘Oh, let me read!’ and I
gave her the letter. In a minute she had read it, and began almost
breathlessly--

‘Listen! my life is much changed. My mother-in-law is gone; she needs
me no longer. My solicitor tells me, too, that owing to unfortunate
investments there is need of money, so great need, that it is possible
that either the estates or the works must go. My cousin has his all in
the works--iron works, you know. It would be wrong to have him suffer. I
shall give up the estates--that is best.’ She paused.

‘And come with me,’ I cried.

‘When do you sail?’

‘Next week,’ I answered eagerly.

She looked at me a few moments, and into her eyes there came a light
soft and tender, as she said--

‘I shall go with you.’

And so she did; and no old Roman in all the glory of a Triumph carried a
prouder heart than I, as I bore her and her little one from the train to
Graeme’s carriage, crying--

‘I’ve got her.’

But his was the better sense, for he stood waving his hat and shouting--

‘He’s all right,’ at which Mrs. Mavor grew white; but when she shook
hands with him, the red was in her cheek again.

‘It was the cable did it,’ went on Graeme. ‘Connor’s a great doctor! His
first case will make him famous. Good prescription--after mountain fever
try a cablegram!’ And the red grew deeper in the beautiful face beside
us.

Never did the country look so lovely. The woods were in their gayest
autumn dress; the brown fields were bathed in a purple haze; the air was
sweet and fresh with a suspicion of the coming frosts of winter. But
in spite of all the road seemed long, and it was as if hours had gone
before our eyes fell upon the white manse standing among the golden
leaves.

‘Let them go,’ I cried, as Graeme paused to take in the view, and down
the sloping dusty road we flew on the dead run.

‘Reminds one a little of Abe’s curves,’ said Graeme, as we drew up at
the gate. But I answered him not, for I was introducing to each other
the two best women in the world. As I was about to rush into the house,
Graeme seized me by the collar, saying--

‘Hold on, Connor! you forget your place, you’re next.’

‘Why, certainly,’ I cried, thankfully enough; ‘what an ass I am!’

‘Quite true,’ said Graeme solemnly.

‘Where is he?’ I asked.

‘At this present moment?’ he asked, in a shocked voice. ‘Why, Connor,
you surprise me.’

‘Oh, I see!’

‘Yes,’ he went on gravely; ‘you may trust my mother to be discreetly
attending to her domestic duties; she is a great woman, my mother.’

I had no doubt of it, for at that moment she came out to us with little
Marjorie in her arms.

‘You have shown Mrs. Mavor to her room, mother, I hope,’ said Graeme;
but she only smiled and said--

‘Run away with your horses, you silly boy,’ at which he solemnly shook
his head. ‘Ah, mother, you are deep--who would have thought it of you?’

That evening the manse overflowed with joy, and the days that followed
were like dreams set to sweet music.

But for sheer wild delight, nothing in my memory can quite come up to
the demonstration organised by Graeme, with assistance from Nixon, Shaw,
Sandy, Abe, Geordie, and Baptiste, in honour of the arrival in camp
of Mr. and Mrs. Craig. And, in my opinion, it added something to the
occasion, that after all the cheers for Mr. and Mrs. Craig had died
away, and after all the hats had come down, Baptiste, who had never
taken his eyes from that radiant face, should suddenly have swept the
crowd into a perfect storm of cheers by excitedly seizing his tuque, and
calling out in his shrill voice--

‘By gar! Tree cheer for Mrs. Mavor.’

And for many a day the men of Black Rock would easily fall into the old
and well-loved name; but up and down the line of construction, in all
the camps beyond the Great Divide, the new name became as dear as the
old had ever been in Black Rock.

Those old wild days are long since gone into the dim distance of the
past. They will not come again, for we have fallen into quiet times;
but often in my quietest hours I feel my heart pause in its beat to hear
again that strong, clear voice, like the sound of a trumpet, bidding
us to be men; and I think of them all--Graeme, their chief, Sandy,
Baptiste, Geordie, Abe, the Campbells, Nixon, Shaw, all stronger, better
for their knowing of him, and then I think of Billy asleep under the
pines, and of old man Nelson with the long grass waving over him in the
quiet churchyard, and all my nonsense leaves me, and I bless the Lord
for all His benefits, but chiefly for the day I met the missionary of
Black Rock in the lumber-camp among the Selkirks.





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