A TALE OF THE SELKIRKS
By Ralph Connor
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.
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.
CHRISTMAS EVE IN A LUMBER CAMP
THE BLACK ROCK CHRISTMAS
WATERLOO. OUR FIGHT—HIS VICTORY
MRS. MAVOR'S STORY
THE MAKING OF THE LEAGUE
BLACK ROCK RELIGION
THE FIRST BLACK ROCK COMMUNION
THE BREAKING OF THE LEAGUE
THE LEAGUE'S REVENGE
WHAT CAME TO SLAVIN
THE TWO CALLS
LOVE IS NOT ALL
HOW NELSON CAME HOME
GRAEME'S NEW BIRTH
COMING TO THEIR OWN
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
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.'
'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.
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.
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."'