SKOOKUM CHUCK FABLES
BITS OF HISTORY, THROUGH THE MICROSCOPE
(Some of which appeared in the Ashcroft Journal)
Author of "Songs of a Sick Tum Tum," and some others
Copyright, Canada, 1915, by R.D. Cumming
It is more difficult to sell a good book by a new author than it is to sell a poor one by a popular author, because the good book by the new author must make its way against great odds. It must assert itself personally, and succeed by its own efforts. The book by the popular author flies without wings, as it were. The one by the well-known author has a valuable asset in its creator; the one by the new author has no asset but its own merits.
I am not contending by the above that this is a good book; far from it. Some books, however, having very little literary recommendation, may be interesting in other ways.
There are several things instrumental in making for the success of a book: first, the fame of the author; second, the originality of the theme or style; third, the extent of the advertising scheme, and fourth, the proximity of the subject matter to the heart and home of the reader; and this last is the reason for the "Skookum Chuck Fables."
If the following stories are not literature, they are spiced with familiar local sounds and sights, and they come very close to every family fireside in British Columbia. For this reason I hope to see a copy in every home in the province.
SKOOKUM CHUCK FABLES: PAGE
OF THE ROLLING STONE 9
OF CULTUS JOHNNY 17
OF THE BOOBY MAN 24
OF HARD TIMES HANCE 35
OF THE TOO SURE MAN 55
OF THE UNLOVED MAN 60
OF THE CHIEF WHO WAS BIGGER THAN HE LOOKED 66
OF SIMPLE SIMON UP TO DATE 72
OF THE HIGH CLASS ESKIMO 79
OF THE SWEET YOUNG THINGS 89
OF THE TWO LADIES IN CONTRAST 97
OF THE RUSE THAT FAILED 100
OF THE REAL SANTA CLAUS 107
OF THE RETREAT FROM MOSCOW 113
OF SICAMOUS 118
OF THE UBIQUITOUS CAT 122
BITS OF HISTORY:
OF THE FOOLHARDY EXPEDITION 127
OF THE LAWS OF LYCURGUS 133
OF JOAN OF ARC 138
OF VOICES LONG DEAD 144
OF THE WHITE WOMAN WHO BECAME AN INDIAN SQUAW 151
THROUGH THE MICROSCOPE 157
Of the Rolling Stone
Once upon a time in a small village in Bruce County, Province of Ontario, Dominion of Canada, there lived a man who was destined to establish a precedent. He was to prove to the world that a rolling stone is capable at times of gathering as much moss as a stationary one, and how it is possible for the rock with St. Vitus dance to become more coated than the one that is confined to perpetual isolation. Like most iconoclasts he was of humble birth, and had no foundation upon which to rest the cornerstone of his castle, which was becoming too heavy for his brain to support much longer.
His strong suit was his itinerate susceptibility; but his main anchorage was his better five-fifths. One of his most monotonous arguments was to the effect that the strenuousness of life could only be equalled by the monotony of it, and that it was a pity we had to do so much in this world to get so little out of it.
"Why should a man be anchored to one spot of the geographical distribution like a barnacle to a ship during the whole of his mortal belligerency?" he one day asked his wife. "We hear nothing, see nothing, become nothing, and our system becomes fossilized, antediluvian. Why not see everything, know everything? Life is hardly worth while, but since we are here we may as well feed from the choicest fruits, and try for the first prizes."
Now, his wife was one of those happy, contented, sweet, make-the-best-of-it-cheerily persons who never complained even under the most trying circumstances. It is much to the detriment of society that the variety is not more numerous, but we are not here to criticise the laws that govern the human nature of the ladies. This lady was as far remote from her husband in temperament as Venus is from Neptune. He was darkness, she was daylight; and the patience with which she tolerated him in his dark moods was beautiful though tragic. It was plain that she loved him, for what else in a woman could overlook such darkness in a man?
"You see," he would say, "it is like this. Here I am slaving away for about seventy-five dollars per month, year in and year out. All I get is my food and clothing—and yours, of course, which is as much necessary, but is more or less of a white man's burden. No sooner do I get a dollar in my hand than it has to be passed along to the butcher, baker, grocer, dressmaker, milliner. Are our efforts worth while when we have no immediate prospects of improvement? And then the monotony of the game: eat, sleep, work; eat, sleep, work. And the environs are as monotonous as the occupations. I think man was made for something more, although a very small percentage are ever so fortunate as to get it. Now, I can make a mere living by roaming about from place to place as well as I can by sitting down glued to this spot that I hate, and then I will have the chance of falling into something that is a great deal better, and have an opportunity to see something, hear something, learn something. Here I am dying by inches, unwept, unhonoured and unsung."
To be "blue" was his normal condition. His sky was always cloudy, and with this was mingled a disposition of weariness which turned him with disgust from all familiar objects. With him "familiarity bred contempt." One day when his psychological temperament was somewhat below normal the pent up thunder in him exploded and the lightning was terrible:
"Here I am rooted to one spot," he said, "fossilized, stagnant, wasting away, dead to the whole world except this one little acre. And what is there here? Streets, buildings, trees, fences, hills, water. Nothing out of the ordinary; and so familiar, they have become hateful. Why, everything in the environment breeds weariness, monotony, a painfully disgusting sameness. The same things morning, noon and night, year after year. Why, the very names of the people here give me nervous prostration. Just think—Cummings, Huston, Sanson, Austin, Ward, McAbee, Hobson, Bailey, Smith, Black, Brown, White—Bah! the sound of them is like rumors of a plague. I want to flee from them. I want to hear new names ringing in my ears. And I hate the faces no less than I do the names. I would rather live on a prairie where you expect nothing; and get it—anything so long as it is new."
Now, that which is hereditary with the flesh cannot be a crime. The victim is more to be pitied in his ancestral misfortune, and the monkey from which our hero sprang must have been somewhat cosmopolitan.
Of course his wife had heard such outbreaks of insanity from him before, so she only laughed, thinking to humor him back to earth again with her love and smiles.
"Conditions are not so bad in Bruce county as you paint them," she said, "and if you do not go about sniffing the air you will not find so many obnoxious perfumes. Why, I love the locality; and I like the people. And I like you, and my home; and I am perfectly satisfied with everything. Things might be a great deal worse. You should have no complaint to make. You have a steady situation, a good master, a beautiful home, plenty to eat—and then you have me," she exclaimed, as though her presence should atone for all else in the world that he did not have. And perhaps a treasure of this kind should have been a valuable asset, and an antidote against all mere mundane cares.
"Look out through the parlor door," she continued. "Could anything be more beautiful? The sun is just setting. The lake is asleep. See the reflection of the trees beneath its surface. How peaceful, how restful! My mind is just like the lake—perfectly at ease. Why do you not control your storm and calm down like the lake? Look at the tall shadows of the contented firs reaching away out across its bosom. How like a dream."
"Bah! Don't mention lake to me. I hate the sight of it. I have seen it too long. It is too familiar. It is an eyesore to me. I am weary of it all. I want a rest. Here comes Brown now. Let me hide in the cellar. It would be hypocrisy to remain here and smile welcome to him when I hate the sight of his physiognomy and detest the sound of his name. No, he has gone by. He does not intend to call. Thank heaven. Five minutes of his society would be equal to ten years in purgatory. New sights, new scenes, new voices, new faces; all these are recreation to a mentally weary constitution."
"I would consider it a crime to leave this beauty spot," said his wife, "and it is a sin against heaven to decry it."
"Then I am a sinner and a criminal," said the hereditary crank, "because I hate it and am going to leave. I will take fifty dollars and go, and if I do not return with fifty thousand I will eat myself. I have said all there is to say. Those dull, uninteresting faces give me the nighthorse. I am going to-morrow. Of course you remain, because it is more expensive to travel double than single," he snorted, "and I have not the plunks."
He embarked into the big world a few days later with his wife's warm kiss burning his lips—faithful even in his unfaithfulness. She was cheerful for some time, thinking that he would return, but the magnetism which attracted him to the woman whom he had picked from among the swarming millions was of very inferior voltage.
He wandered about Canada and the United States for about two years. He had many ups and downs. On the average he made enough to induce his soul to remain in his body in anticipation of something better. To do him justice he remitted all odd coin to his wife in Bruce county, and he wrote saying he was perfectly happy in his new life. He awoke one morning and found himself in the "Best" Hotel, Ashcroft, British Columbia, Dominion of Canada, and the first thing he saw was the sand-hill. He thought Ashcroft was the most desolate looking spot he had ever seen. It looked like a town that had been located in a hurry and had been planted by mistake on the wrong site.
He fell in with a Bruce county fellow there who was running a general store, and they became very friendly. He secured employment from this friend, who proved to be a philanthropist.
"I have a proposition to make to you," the friend said one day.
"What is it?" asked the iconoclast.
"Buy me out," said the philanthropist. "I have all the money I can carry. When the rainy day comes I will be well in out of the drip, and my tombstone will be 'next best' in the cemetery."
"But I have no bank balance," said the aspirant eagerly. "I have no debentures of any kind; I have not even pin money."
"Bonds are unnecessary," said the friend. "Besides, when I sell you this stock and building you will have an asset in the property. I will sell outright, take a mortgage for the balance, which you will disburse at the rate of five hundred dollars per year. You can do it and make money at the same time. You will kill two birds with half a stone. Why, in twenty years' time Rockefeller will be asking you to endorse his notes."
The sale was made and the hero jumped into a store on Railway Avenue without a seed or cell, and in a short time the moss began to grow so thick upon him that he had all the sharks in B.C. asking him for a coating. And then he wrote for his wife, whom he missed for the first time. The letter ran thus:
"Ultima Thule, B.C., March 1st. 1915.
"My Dear Wife:
"You will see by the heading of this letter that fortune has cast me off at Ashcroft, and I must congratulate myself for initiating that rolling stone 'stunt.' I have stumbled upon the richest mine in B.C. The gold is sticking out of it in chunks. The auto that you will play when you arrive will be a 'hum dinger' and no mistake. I am enclosing my cheque for $500. Buy out Tim Eaton and bring your dear self here, for I am lonely without you.
"Your hitherto demented husband."
She read it fifty times, placed it next her heart and pranced about like a five-year-old. "Now, just where is Ashcroft?" she soliloquized. None of the Bruce county aborigines seemed to know, so she consulted a world map, and she found it growing like a parasite to the Canadian Pacific Railway away in among the mountains of British Columbia.
But this was nothing. She would have risked a journey over the Atlantic in an aeroplane if it were a means of uniting her with the man who was the only masculine human in existence so far as she was concerned—the man whom she had singled out and adopted from among the millions of his kind. When they met the union was pathetic, but it was lovely. To make a woman happy, who loves you like this, should be the consummation of a man's domestic ambitions.
It was pointed out to him afterwards that, after all, the moss did not begin to grow until he had settled down in Ashcroft. So he lost his knighthood as an iconoclast.
Of Cultus Johnny
Once upon a time at Spence's Bridge, County of Yale, Province of British Columbia, on the Indian reserve, there lived two Indians named Cultus (bad) Johnny and Hias (big) Peter. They were friends until Peter got married, and then the trouble began, because they both wanted the same klootchman. They had been fishing for some time for the same fish, in the same pool in the Thompson river, and had each been favored with very encouraging nibbles. One day, however, Peter felt the tugging at his bait somewhat stronger than usual and with one jerk he pulled out his fish. Peter had stolen a march on his rival. The priest married them when Johnny was at the coast, fishing at New Westminster for the canneries. When the intelligence reached him he sat down in the bottom of the boat and for a few moments imagined himself at Spence's Bridge giving Hias Peter a Jack Johnson trouncing. To Cultus Johnny the strange preference of this woman for his rival seemed like unmitigated discrimination. Why, there was no comparison between the two when it came to worldly icties. Peter had nothing: he had no illiha, no icties of any kind; he was broke morning, noon and night. Johnny had a sixty dollar saddle, a five dollar bridle, a two and a half quirt and the best cayuse in Spence's Bridge, and worth seventy-five dollars. Peter had nothing but the wage he earned working on the C.P.R. section, which had been just enough to supply him with his daily muck-a-muck (food) before marriage. How he calculated to feed two with the one basket of o-lil-ies (berries) which had been only large enough for one, did not seem to worry the community, as such things were taking place every day and were a common occurrence, and the klootchman always seemed to survive the ordeal. And it must not be forgotten that Johnny had a seven and a half Stetson hat while all Peter could afford was a two bit cap.
It will always remain a mystery why one Indian should be more voluptuous, or gather more icties about him than another, when none of them have any visible assets from which to derive an income. Unless it be that the more voluptuous Indian works every day of his weary, aimless life, spends nothing, and hoards the residual balance like a miser, lives on the old man before marriage, and on his klootchman after, we are unable to arrive at a solution. No one knew by what means Johnny had acquired all his wealth. Perhaps he had bought all his luxuries on jaw-bone from one store while he paid cash for his muck-a-muck in another. There is one thing certain, the honest Indian is always the poorest, and in these days of the high cost of beans and bacon and rice, he has to be poorer to be more honest. Now it came to pass that one day Johnny balanced his saddle, horse, quirt and Stetson hat with Peter's nothing and argued that all the weight was in his own favor. The keeka (girl) had made a mistake. And to a man who measured everything by worldly icties this was sound argument, for the only big thing about Peter was his avoirdupois—barring his heart, of course. In the heat of his argument Johnny determined to deprive Peter of his sacred property. And among the Indians this is not nearly so hazardous or hopeless or criminal an undertaking as it may seem through an Anglo-Saxon microscope. Although a wife is considerable of an asset to a white man, she is not so to an Indian; and it may be to his advantage that he is more or less philosophical about it. The cultus Indian was at Lillooet when this skookum tumtum (good thought) occurred to him. He was cutting fire-wood with some of the Statlemulth (Lillooet Indians) in an effort to heal the wound in his left chest which had been left gaping since his recent defeat in battle. He went back to Spence's Bridge as fast as his seventy-five dollar cayuse, his sixty dollar saddle, his five dollar bridle and his two and a half quirt could carry him, and presented himself to his kith and kin. The old man gave him a warm hand-shake. They killed some fatted chickens and had the biggest time that the rancherie had ever known. Peter and his schmamch (wife) were there and old acquaintances were renewed. Johnny's strong suit with his ancient flame was his personal icties; and when Peter was otherwise engaged he asked the girl to elope with him to Kamloops or Lillooet. The next day was Sunday and Peter was going out with others on a cayuse hunt which had been planned some time before. He invited Johnny because it would not be safe to leave him in possession of the fort, and in charge of such a valuable, though fickle, asset; for a great number of the Indian women are fickle.
But Cultus Johnny declined the invitation. He was tired, and wanted to rest. Besides, he had a bridle to finish which he was plaiting from the leather cut from the legs of an old pair of cow-boy boots which he had found; it would be worth ten dollars when finished. In spite of his good intentions Johnny spent the whole day in idleness at the home of Mrs. Peter; and, as it is no insult among the Indians for a buck to propose an elopement with his neighbor's wife, because it is a very common business transaction among them, Johnny again suggested the escapade. The woman only laughed and seemed to enjoy the flirtation. But she would neither consent nor refuse. Hias Peter did not return that evening, and the next day Johnny was at the works with greater cannonading, and with more skookum tumtum than ever, and this time he was braver. He was just on the point of putting his arm around the keeka's waist when the door opened and Peter darkened the opening. They looked at one another for a few moments like two panthers about to spring at each other's throats. Hias Peter had a hias gun, and he raised it to his shoulder and glanced in a very savage and threatening way along the barrel toward Cultus Johnny's heart. Johnny dropped to the floor and begged for mercy. Now it requires some courage to shoot a fellow-being down in cold blood, although the punishment may be well deserved, so Peter lowered his rifle.
"Klatawa!" (Go!) he commanded. "Hiak!" (Quick!) he shouted. Johnny crawled on his hands and knees towards the door, and as he was creeping over the threshold Peter gave him one awful kick that sent him rolling on the ground outside. And turning to the woman: "Fooled!" he roared. "I will shoot you down like a coyote next time," he said. As the Indian is a man of few words, he drew himself up to his hias (large) size in front of her. But the woman pleaded that she was not to blame. Johnny had persisted in his attentions to her, and she could not drive him off. "If you want to get rid of him, shoot him," said Peter.
Now, among the Indians, when you covet your neighbor's wife, or have been too familiar with her, and you are caught with the goods, you do not fly into a far country for fear of your life. You still hang around, and the worst you can get is perhaps a pounding from the jealous neighbor; and the sweet environment is worth the risk.
Johnny's skookum tumtum was somewhat out of commission for a while. When he met Mrs. Peter on the street after that they grinned at each other a few times without speaking; and by and by, when they thought Peter was out of sight, they would stop and talk for a while. He asked her again to fly to Kamloops with him, and she seemed to be swinging on the balance. Johnny dwelt upon his worldly assets—his saddle, his bridle, and all his skookum icties. Peter soon realized that his wife was eating at his table and living in another man's tumtum, but he kept on chewing his beans and bacon and dried soquas (salmon) in silence, and, but for the intervention of Providence, Peter might have followed in the footsteps of Paul Spintlum.
One day Cultus Johnny and his sister went across the river to fish. They cast their nets directly across from the rancherie, beneath an angry-looking, hungry, threatening, overhanging gravel bed. He and his father and his father's fathers had fished there time out of memory. The old men of the village were squatted here and there weaving nets for the fishing season. Squaws were bringing in bundles of tree branches on their backs for firewood; others were scraping the flesh from raw deer-skins, stretched on frames which leaned against buildings. Some young fellows, among whom was Hias Peter, were rolling up driftwood from the river. Children were capering about, laughing and shouting. Dogs were barking, cats mewing, roosters crowing. There was nothing but joy, and peace, and harmony. It was just such a scene as may be witnessed on a bright sunny day at any Indian village in the dry-belt at any time. Suddenly there was a rush and a roar and a plunge of waters. The whole mountain across from the rancherie had fallen into the river with one mad roar like thunder, and the water was thrown up upon the village and its helpless inmates. In a moment the peaceful scene was one of death and torture. Men, women and children were struggling helplessly in the water and trying in vain to reach the higher benches. At the next moment the water receded and carried many back struggling into the channel of the river. Hias Peter found himself, with others, struggling among logs, timbers and debris of every description. Just before the water receded he saw his wife and heard her yell for help. He seized her skirt and dragged her to safety, clinging to a friendly sage brush. For a moment Peter thought that, so far as he was personally concerned, she was scarcely worth saving; but it is very unnatural to allow a fellow being to drown before your eyes and make no attempt to save him. And perhaps our worst enemy could rely on us for protection under similar circumstances. But where was Cultus Johnny and his sister all this time? The whole world lay on top of them, and that is all we know. They were never seen again.
Mrs. Peter looked across the river and sighed.
Mr. Peter looked across the river and gave a grunt in his own language.
A million tons of earth were holding down Cultus Johnny.
Of the Booby Man
Once upon a time in Ashcroft there lived a "gink" who was very much wrapped up in himself. At a local social function he took the prize one day for being the most unpopular man in the community; and this caused him to sit up nights, and study himself as others saw him flitting across his unattractive and uneventful stage. The winning of this prize spoke to him with greater accent than could the exploding of a sixteen-inch German gun, and it sent a quiver through his entire avoirdupois. It was not only an appalling revelation to him to know that he was unpopular, but it was a disgrace to his pedigree right back to the days of Samuel De Champlain, so he began to paw the bunch grass and seek revenge. First he dug among the archives of history for a solution. There must be some reason for this disgraceful blur on his life pages. Why was he the most unpopular man on these sand downs? Why was he an outcast? Why was he the Job of Ashcroft society? Now, just why was he unpopular? Had he boils, like Job? Was he an undesirable citizen? Was he a German, or an Austrian, or a Turk? Was he inflicted with some loathsome disease? Was he a plague? Had some false reputation preceded him into the community? Had he a cantankerous disposition? Was he repulsive in appearance? Was he mean, stingy? Was he stupid, ignorant, uneducated, brainless? No, personally he could not plead guilty of acquaintance with any of the above disqualifications. Among the archives of his past Ashcroft history he found some tell-tale manuscripts, the contents of which had never appealed to him until after the booby prize episode. In plain English, he found written facts which were as bold as the violation of Belgian neutrality. Incidents which had seemed very commonplace and unworthy of notice before, now loomed up on those pages and presented themselves to him as giants of the utmost importance. For instance, in looking up the records connected with the forming of the Ashcroft Rinks he found that he had not been consulted in the matter. His name was missing from that interesting page of Ashcroft history. However, when the time arrived for the forming of a company to finance the erection of the building, great interest was taken in his bank account, and the promoters knocked very early one morning at his door seeking endorsement to purchase shares in the joint stock company which was about to be born. At the meeting for the election of directors to take charge of the affairs of the company he was again surrounded by the same zero atmosphere. He was not even nominated as a prospective member. His name had never been suggested. He was never consulted when anything serious was the point of debate. It had not occurred to him to become incensed at this frigid zone attitude on the part of his associates. He had not been expecting any handout, so he was not disappointed. He had been too much absorbed in his own personal affairs, too much wrapped up in himself, and could detect no grounds for offence. At the annual election of officers for the Curlers, although a member for ten years, it had never occurred to any in the association to suggest his name as a probable pillar for the upholding of the business portion of the club. Again his presence was not suspected, and he may as well have been in Iceland. Although present incarnate, he was to all intent and purpose only in the invisible spirit.
When the hospital idea was being introduced the social thermometer in the vicinity was again standing at the zero point; and he remembered that he had never had the honor of being invited by the society to any of the annual pioneer banquets. He had received the alien "hand-out" upon all occasions, and had the same status in the community as a Chinaman. Of course, being hitherto so much wrapped up in personality, he took no notice of his social mercury, which always stood at its minimum. And then, as the management of the various institutions had been placed in hands which were, undoubtedly, more able and willing to cope with the difficulties than he, and as everybody seemed satisfied, there was no occasion for him raising his voice in protest throughout the dumb wilderness. Being personally very much occupied with his own stamp mill, and the percentage of the pay-rock, he was just as pleased that no local burden should be placed across the apex of his spinal pillar. But now he had arrived at a point where the road divided. New scenes must be introduced into his play—new machinery installed. Through the microscope he saw that present conditions could not be allowed to prevail. He was losing much valuable mineral over the dump. He was angry. The sensitiveness of his nature had received a shock; he had been shown up as the most unpopular man in Ashcroft. It was time for him to have the mercury brought near to the fire. The next time prizes were being handed around his arm would be the longest, and his voice the loudest; and they would not be booby prizes neither. He had known men of a few weeks standing only, rise to the very apex of popularity, while he, with his ten years initiation, had not yet developed brains enough, in the estimation of the Ashcroft people, that would justify them in placing in his charge the management of the most trivial social affair. What had he done that this measure should be constantly graduated out to him? Well, things would be different. He would "can" personality and take up the "big mitt" of public things. But how was this revolution in the private disposition of a man to be accomplished? He had discovered the result, but not the cause; so he began rooting among the sage brush of the sand downs for the foundation stone of his social submergence.
"I have it!" he shouted one day. "If one wishes to make a puncture in the affairs of this world one must assert himself; one must smite the table top with one's fist every morning before breakfast. One must assume such an atmosphere that the whole community will be cognizant of one's presence, to-day, to-morrow, and all the time. One must assert one's personality. I have been asleep, stagnant, dormant, an Egyptian mummy. I have allowed others to take the cream while I have been passively contented with the whey. I have allowed others to elbow me to one side like a log languishing in the eddy of a river. Henceforth I will be in the centre of the stream. I will rush down with the torrent and be "It" in the Ashcroft "smart set" illumination.
"There will be no public works in future that does not bear my signature. In a word, I will assert myself, lock, stock and barrel."
So he hit out upon a new highway with the determination to be popular. He neglected his own stamp-mill that the work might be carried out to a successful issue. He engaged others to take charge of the tail race and dump, with which he would not trust his brother on previous occasions. In fact, he left the steam of the mill at high pressure to look after itself that he might have an unhampered course in the asserting of himself. He invaded immediately all the dances, carnivals, dinners and parties. He was both Liberal and Conservative in politics. He was the "guy" with the "big mitt" and the vociferous vocabulary at all the local functions. He even joined the church. He tumbled into popularity as quickly as the Kaiser tumbled into the European war; and he elbowed his way into the run-way for all offices. Previously bright stars were dimmed by the brilliancy of his superior luminosity. He became a parasite at the local stores and clubs, and was a wart on the grocer's counter. He became a whirlwind of popularity. He was as much in the advance as he had before been in the rear, and, if there was any German trench to take, he was always first to jump into it. He had the big voice in every local eruption. Every time he batted he made a home run. He even made initiative suggestions for schemes which were more or less amalgamated with reason and insanity. It is said that he was first at the dances, and first in the hearts of the ladies. It is certain he was the first to invent the sewerage system idea; and the patents were applied for before the final endorsements had been secured.
"I will make the man swallow his words who awarded me that booby prize," he thundered; and he was going the right way about it. He imposed his individuality with emphasis. He was taken by the hand and dragged along cheerfully. He found himself coveted and envied now, where, before, he had almost been denied citizenship. He was now a qualified voter, where, before, he had been disfranchised. He found himself in the front ranks of all social movements, for he had asserted himself with an accent. It was a case of applied personality with him, and it was developing just as he had anticipated. Of course it was a superficial personality; it had no intrinsic value, but it answered the purpose. He received many important appointments. He was created secretary to the School Board, secretary to the Ashcroft Rinks, secretary to the Hospital, secretary to the Ashcroft Hockey boys, secretary to the Ladies' Knitting Guild, secretary to the Ladies' Auxiliary. In fact, he was unanimously chosen an official in all the local public works which had no salary attached to them. But then, he was gaining in popularity, and what did it matter if his office was filled to overflowing with exotic paraphernalia, he was reaching that apex to which he had aspired, and the emolument was a mere bagatelle. The booby prize, after all, had been the foundation of his success.
So things went on and he became the most talked of man in the town. When any difficulty arose he was the first to be consulted. The town found it necessary to come to him for information on every local scheme that had its birth in the local cerebrum, for no one else was capable of handling any emergency and carrying it through to a successful conclusion.
Just about this time the sewerage epidemic took possession of the town, and became an insane contagion. Meetings were held at various places to discuss the matter, and at last the government agent allowed the court house to be used gratis for that purpose. Of course our hero and two other victims were appointed commissioners to investigate. His salary was the same as he received from his various secretaryships.
It was proposed to mortgage the town for forty years to the provincial government for its endorsement to local bonds, and the commissioners were empowered to have the alleys and necessary places surveyed with a view to ascertaining the magnitude of the undertaking, and the amount of the collateral which it would be necessary to raise in England, upon the endorsed bonds, to push the work through to a successful conclusion. The victims set to work with full knowledge of the stupendous responsibility which had been slung, yoke-like, across their shoulders. Surveyors were engaged, and an expert calculator was summoned to give an estimate of the cost of such an undertaking. The estimate was placed at $75,000.00. This enlightenment gave the community a volcanic eruption; an epidemic of "cold feet" took possession of them, and they retired to warm these extremities at their respective air-tight heaters. In the meantime the commissioners had guaranteed payment to the experts whom they had engaged, and their personal notes were urgently requested. The expenses which they had incurred amounted to about five hundred dollars. When the vouchers were hawked about town for endorsements they received the "high ball," and the victims found it necessary to "make good" from their personal rainy day deposits. The unpopular man took a sly glance back at the ancient happy hunting-grounds antedating his booby prize days.
It was just about this time that an agent of the Independent Trust Company drifted into town "incidentally," and became acquainted with the boys. He made it known in a sort of casual way that he was disposing of shares in the said company, which were valued at more than they were worth—that is, were worth more than their valuation. To keep up the "bluff" the unpopular man bought a thousand "plunks" worth of shares.
"Now," said the shark, "since you have shown so much confidence in my company by purchasing shares, you can prove your patriotism more fully by placing a substantial deposit with the Independent Trust. This will help maintain the company on solid footing, and ensure you higher dividends on your stock. I will give you my personal guarantee that your money will be safer, and more productive than it would be in the Bank."
The "boob" seized the bait like a trout in the Bonaparte, and made a deposit of five thousand dollars. Shortly afterwards the company went into liquidation, and his six thousand dollars sailed away with the worthless liquid into the sea of oblivion.
About this same time, when his popularity was at its zenith, and was rivalling that of Dr. Cook, the fake discoverer of the North Pole, another shark came down with the rain selling the most marvellous money-making scheme ever offered to the public of British Columbia. This was X.Y.Z. Fire Insurance shares, which he was disposing of at a great sacrifice.
"Let me sell you some shares in the only 'real thing' that has been offered to the public since the flood," he tempted.
The victim was so much under the shark's influence that he was hypnotized.
"Certainly," he said. "Write me down for five hundred 'doughbaby's' worth."
"You mean a thousand," said the shark.
"No," said the "gink," timidly, "I have only five hundred in my sock; that will be as much as my pack will carry."
"Exactly; that is just right. You see, you are buying a thousand dollars worth of goods with only five hundred dollars worth of cash. The shares are fifty dollars each, with a cash payment of twenty-five dollars, and the balance subject to call. This balance will never be called for, because on no occasion has an insurance company been known to call in its balance of subscribed stock; and the X.Y.Z. is not going to establish a precedent in this respect. You will have twenty shares for five hundred dollars. In other words, you will draw interest on one thousand dollars, and only have five hundred invested. Was ever a business so philanthropic in its foundation?"
Our hero grabbed the bait like a pure-bred sucker, and handed out his last asset.
A few weeks later the company was in the hands of receivers with all its assets vaporized. The popular man found himself on the "rocks." Being popular for a short time had proved a very expensive expedition for him. The retreat rivalled that of the Kaiser's retreat from Paris. It was so sudden that the town heard the thud and felt the jar. The unpopular man realized that it is wiser to remain in one's natural element even if it is necessary to sacrifice many of the first prizes. Perhaps it is better to go after the prizes for which we are qualified, than to aspire to elevations which we are unable to hold intelligently.
The unpopular man backed himself up into his burrow, and for a time the silence around town was embarrassing.
Of Hard Times Hance
Once upon a time on the foothills in the environs of Clinton, Lillooet District, Province of British Columbia, there lived a "mossback" who was as happy as the 22nd day of June is long in each year. At initiative conclusions he would be classified with the freak species of humanity, but beneath his raw exterior there lurked rich mines which the moss kept a secret from the inquisitive, avaricious world.
He owned and operated an extensive ranch from which he encouraged enough vegetation to feed himself, his pigs, his horses, his cattle, his chickens, and his dog; and this, apparently, was all they derived from the great, green earth. But the asset side of our "mossback's" yearly balance sheet always made the liability side ashamed of itself. The asset increased annually, and the hidden treasure grew to alarming proportions. This growth was carefully salted away at the appropriate salting-down season, when the pork barrels were brought out of the dark cellars, dusted, scrubbed, and refilled with the carcasses of those animals which had been his companions for the greater part of a year. He was a standing joke with the "hands" on the ranch, for he was the most dilapidated of the whole gang, although the owner, and was reputed to be wealthy.
But he was a man with a purpose in life, and that was more than a great many could say. He was chronically eccentric. When he first located on the homestead which had since become so valuable an asset, he had determined to live with one purpose in view, and that was to expand financially with the toil of his hands and the sweat of his brow, and then, when he had acquired sufficient sinking fund, to emerge suddenly into the limelight of society and shine like a newly polished gem. So he wandered up and down the trail which his own feet and the feet of his cayuse had worn through the woods, up the creek, along the face of the mountains, and away down to the limy waters of the Fraser on the other side of the perpetual snows.
There was a fascination for him on this old trail; it had become as part of his life, of his very soul. Sometimes he would be rounding up cattle. Sometimes he would be hunting mowich (deer), or driving off the coyotes. All his plans and schemes were built on trail foundation. He could not think unless he was tramping the trail through the woods, and down the valleys. Here is where all his castles were constructed; and, from the trail observatory, he saw his new life spring into being, when the time would be ripe.
In time the coin grew so bulky that it became a burden to him. It had grown very cumbersome. He might at any time resurrect himself into that new world of his, but there was no occasion for haste; he was very happy and contented; besides, it would mean leaving the old trail and things. He had his balance banked in a strong box which he buried in a hole under his bed, and the fear grew upon him that some mercenary might discover its lurking-place and relieve him of the burden of responsibility. This was the only skeleton which lurked in the man's closet. It was the only cloud in his sky; the rest of the zenith was sunshine and gladness. To the neighbors and itineraries he had been preaching hard times for twenty years, although the whole earth suspected the contrary. He became known throughout the width and breadth of Yale, Lillooet and Cariboo as "Hard Times Hance." Although diplomatically reserved and unsociable, he was more popular and famed than he suspected. Peculiarity is a valuable advertisement.
His outward appearance and mode of life certainly justified the above appendix to his personality, and it was so blazoned that it could be seen and heard all over British Columbia. He had but one competitor, and that was "Dirty Harry," who at one time frequented the streets of Ashcroft. No other name could have distinguished him so completely from the other members of the human family.
His overalls, which were once blue, had become pale with age, and had adopted a dishrag-white color; and one of the original legs had been patched out of existence. His Stetson hat, which had left the factory a deep brown, now approached the color of his terrestrial real estate. His "jumper" had lost its blue and white "jail bird" stripe effect, and was now a cross between a faded Brussels carpet and a grain sack. To save buying boots he wore his last winter's overshoes away into the summer, while his feet would blister in discomfort. Braces were a luxury which he could not endure, so he supported his superfluously laundried overalls with a strand of baling-rope which had already served its time as a halter guy. His feet had never known the luxury of a factory or home-knitted stocking since he had graduated from the home crib, but were put off with gunny sacking which had already seen active service as nose bags for the cayuses.
"If one wishes to acquire wealth in this world," he would say, "one must make a great many personal sacrifices." So he lived on and waxed wealthy at the expense even of the simplest of domestic comforts.
The improvements with which he had enhanced the value of his ranch were much in keeping with his personal appearance, and they could be recognized as brothers with the least difficulty. The fences, which had refused to retain their youth against the passing years, had their aged and feeble limbs supported with thongs and makeshifts of every description; and where their pride had rebelled against such ingratitude, they were smothered beneath the limbs of fallen trees, which had been felled on the spot to serve as substitutes. His flumes were knock-kneed and bow-legged, and in places they had no legs at all. Their sides were warped and bulged with the alternate damp and drouth, heat and cold. The lumber was bleached white, and porous with decay. It was with difficulty they could be persuaded to remain at their water-carrying capacity. The ditches were choked with willows and maples to such an extent that they were abandoned only in spots where they asserted themselves, and refused to convey the necessary irrigation stream. Here they would burst their sides with indignation, and had to be repaired. The barns, stables and chicken-houses had for years been threatening to collapse unless supplied with some stimulant; so numerous false-works had been erected, outside and in, to retain them within their confines. The harness, which had originally been made of leather, betrayed very little trace of this bovine enveloper, but was composed chiefly of baling-rope and wire which had been picked up at random on the ranch as the occasion demanded. The various sections of the wheels of his wagons remained in intimate association with each other because they were submerged in the creek every night; the moisture keeping the wood swelled to its greatest diameter. One day's exposure to the drouth, without the convenient assistance of the creek water, would have been sufficient to cause the wheels to fall asunder. In this respect the unsuspecting creek was an asset of incalculable value. The boxes of his wagons could boast of nothing up to date, that was not possessed by the wheels; and in many cases the tongues and whiffletrees and neck-yokes had been substituted by raw maples or birch secured on the ranch. His unwritten law was to buy nothing that would cost money, and to import nothing that could be produced on the farm even if it was only a poor makeshift substitute. No part was ever replaced until it had gone hopelessly on strike, and necessity was his only motive power when it came to repairs. The general conditions were suggestive of the obsolete.
In the midst of all this ruin and decay, however, there was sunshine, and the heart of Hard Times Hance was warm and buoyant, cheerful and hopeful, and even if he did live upon the husks which the swine did eat, he derived from his life a great deal more pleasure than the world gave him credit for. He had his future to live for. He had his life all mapped out, and that was more than a great many could boast of. For breakfast he had mush, for dinner he had beans and bacon, and for supper he had bacon and beans and Y.S. tea. And he was just as happy eating this fare with his knife as the Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of British Columbia could be with his cereal, consomme, lobster salad, charlotte russe, blanc mange, cafe noir, or any other dainty and delicate importation. Bananas, oranges and artichokes had no place on his bill-of-fare. Besides, after he had eaten a meal he had no space for such delicacies. And he could always wash his meal down with the famous Y.S. tea stand-by; and, on top of this, a few long draws at his kin-i-kin-nick (sort of Indian tobacco) pipe. And then there were no restrictions upon his mode of feeding his face. He could eat with his knife with impunity. There was no etiquette-mad society digging him in the ribs, and jerking on the reins in protestation at every one of his natural inclinations; and he could use his own knife to butter his sourdough bread. For a man who expected to emerge into the sunshine of society, he was giving himself very inadequate training. He was as near the aboriginal as it was possible for a white man to approach. He was a Siwash (male Indian) with one exception—his love of the coin. But then, he had an object in this ambition; and a fault, if it is a means to a worthy end, must be commended. He had this propensity developed to the most pronounced degree. It was a disease with him, for which there was no cure. In outward appearance he was a typical B.C. specimen of the obsolete "coureur de bois" of eastern Canada during the seventeenth century.
The interior of his "dug-out" was more like an Indian kik-willy (ancient Indian house) than the dwelling of a modern Anglo-Saxon. The walls were composed of the rough timbers, and the chinks were stuffed with rags and old newspapers. A few smoke-begrimed pictures were hanging on the walls, and a calendar of the year 1881 still glared forth in all its ancient uselessness, leading one back into a past decade. If he broke the rules of etiquette by eating with his knife, he also smashed those of modesty by utilizing his air-tight heater as a cuspidor, for it was streaked white with evaporated saliva.
How this crude bud ever anticipated blooming out into a society blossom was a conundrum. Perhaps he had some secret method buried in the same box with his hoarded coin. His long evenings were passed reading the Family Herald and Weekly Star and the Ashcroft Journal by candle-light; for those were the only papers he would subscribe for. His bed consisted of, first, boards, then straw, then sacking; and it had remained so long without being frayed out that it had become packed as hard as terra firma. His blankets had not seen the light of day, nor enjoyed the fresh cool breezes for many long years. His one window was opaque with the smoke of many years' accumulation. Although his chickens had a coop of their own where they roosted at night, they ran about the floor of his "dug-out" in the daytime looking for crumbs that fell from the poor man's table; and his cat, through years of criminal impunity, would sit on the table at mealtime and help himself to the victuals just as the spirit moved him. A stump had been left standing when the cabin was built; it had been hewn at the appropriate elevation of a chair. This was near his air-tight heater, and his favorite position was to sit there with his feet propped against the stove and smoke by candle-light; and sometimes he would sit in the dark to save candles. His other furniture consisted of "Reindeer" brand condensed milk and blue-mottled soap boxes, which he had acquired at times from F.W. Foster's general store at Clinton.
Hard Times Hance was living on first principles; but then, if a man wishes to save any coin in this world he must make great personal sacrifices; and so he was perfectly happy in his temporary aboriginal condition. There were no restrictions upon him. He was even outside the circumference of any ministerial jurisdiction, and had never been cautioned about the hereafter. Like an Indian, he moved just as the impulse seized him. How this man expected to submit to the personal restrictions and embargoes imposed by modern fashions and society was known only to himself. The song of the forest had been his only concert; the whisper of the creek his sole heart companion. When occasion permitted he would wander the entire day on the high mountains, at the end of his trail, hunting for game, and little caring whether he found it or not, so long as he had the wild and congenial environs to admire and embrace. What was city life in comparison with this?
At last the day arrived when he realized that he must develop wings, so he wrapped himself up in a cocoon; and while the metamorphosis was in process of development he had ample time to study Hamlet's soliloquy. It would mean a divorce from everything he held dear; a parting with his very soul. It would mean the most sorrowful widowhood that could be imposed on man. It would be equivalent to leaving this earth and taking up his abode in Mars. He must sacrifice his love for the creek and the trail. He must renounce his freedom and go into social slavery. It was the emerging from the woods into the prairie; the coming from darkness into the light; a resurrection from the dead. In future he must tread the smooth cement walk between cultivated lawns and plants, instead of climbing the rude, uneven trail obstructed by fallen trees and surrounded with vegetation in its wildest and most primeval forms. He would walk the polished mahogany floor with patent boots, instead of the terrestrial one of his dug-out with obsolete overshoes.
But it must be. For years he had been preparing and planning. The object of his past had been a preparation for a better future; and why not? Others enjoyed the good things of this life, and why not he? Had he not paid the price. Others reaped where they had not sown; he had sown, yes, sown in persecution, now he would reap in envious joy. He had lived the first half of his life in squalor and darkness, that the latter half might be clean and cheerful. When he had set out in his young days to live his pre-arranged history it was with an ambition to be wealthy, no matter by what means it should be acquired, so long as it was honest. Now he was wealthy. He had been poor; now he was rich, and money would put the world at his feet, which henceforth had been over his head. He had been an animal; from now on he would be human.
But in his enthusiasm of development he forgot that he had grown attached to the wild, aboriginal life; that the parting might snap thongs and inflict wounds which even time would not mend or cure. At times the creek would sing, and the trail would speak, but he banished the tempters from his mind to make room for his illuminating prospects, and his wings continued to grow towards maturity. He struggled and freed himself from the cocoon. He went to Vancouver a caterpillar and returned a butterfly, and the earthquake which accompanied his debut was equal to that which destroyed San Francisco. He had sold his farm, which included the creek, and the trail, and the dug-out, and his salt pork barrel, for a song, and with his coin and icties about him, and in his lately acquired form, he invaded Clinton with an accentuated front. The street was lined with people as though a procession had been going by—all the sweet and familiar sounds and sights had been sacrificed criminally, and he was on his way to sip honey from flower to flower.
He sounded about Clinton for some time for a suitable anchorage on which to materialize the plans and specifications of his mansion, but he did not drive a stake, because Clinton was very much inferior to his "class" ideal; it had no electric light, and no water system. So he migrated south to Ashcroft, and there he pre-empted a large lot and made arrangements for the foundation of his castle. Out of the ground in a short period arose one of the most up-to-date bungalows. While the building was in course of construction Hard Times Hance, who had repudiated this headline, moved about in his dress suit, stiff hat, silk gloves, and a cane, and gave such orders to the contractor as he saw fit. He was looked upon as the most remarkable freak that had ever invaded the dry belt. And he sprang into society spontaneously. The people clamored for him. Progressive socials were arranged in his honor at all the leading social centres in their eagerness to cultivate his society. Some had faint recollections of having seen him at times, others claimed to have heard of him at his hermitage, but they all pretended to have known him personally and thoroughly, and many even suspected that he possessed more, intrinsically, than he had revealed superficially. He was the lion of the hour, and he did not forget to hand around the coin in his efforts to retain the position which he had secured.
When his mansion was turned over by the contractor, and had been accepted by the architect, he issued invitations to one of the most magnificent social functions which had ever erupted at Ashcroft. Those who were invited were flattered, and those who were not called were grossly insulted and wondered what disqualified them. They danced the "tango," and the "bango," and the "flango," and all the "light fantastics" until their feet went on strike, and their ear drums had become phonographic and reproduced the music with a perpetual motion which could not be stopped. Every lady was eager to reveal the dancing secrets to mine host, and before the evening was over he could waltz, tango, and do many of the up-to-date ridiculous "stunts."
And then they dined on a French dinner. It was cooked in French style, and they ate it in French; and then they drank French toasts to the King of England, the Governor-General of Canada, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and the gentlemen drank to the ladies in general all over the world. Then the ladies proposed a French toast to "mine host." Not one of them could speak French, although a few of them could repeat, parrot-like, the words "Parlez-vous Francais?" but they only knew it as a "foreign phrase" which sounded extremely cultured.
And the menu was as follows: "Canape of Anchovies," "Celery en Branch," "Potage a la Reine," "Consomme au Celeri," "Calves' Sweetbreads a la Rothschilds," "French Lamb Chops a la Nelson," "Cafe noir," etc., etc.
In the midst of all this foreign celestialism mine host forgot the creek, the trail, the dug-out, the beans and bacon, and the kin-i-kin-nick pipe; and he prided himself on his rapid and agreeable transition into swift channels of life. He was taking to society as a duck takes to water.
In mode of living, as well as in personal appearance, it was the greatest metamorphosis that had ever taken place in a human being in the memory of man. It was a miniature "Log Cabin to White House" episode. He furnished his castle with the most elaborate fittings and ornaments that the world could produce. He had steam heated rooms and electric lighting from cellar to attic. Every floor was carpeted with the most expensive of imported Brussels. The walls were most elaborately painted and decorated. To secure a final footing in society he had acquired a collection of obsolete paintings, which were very unattractive and vulgar, and could only have been of value as heirlooms to some private family. These were conspicuously displayed on the panelled walls, in partnership with other more or less modest busts and imaginary landscapes. His ceilings were frescoed and figured in most extravagant, but unappealing designs. It was plainly seen that the building had been erected more to satisfy the taste and please the eye of the architect, who had received an unrestricted contract, than for acceptance by the purchaser. The furnishings were very much in keeping with the fixtures and fittings, and his musical instruments were all electrically-automatic machines; and his "canned" music filled the halls and stairways from morning till night. There was no modern convenience or indulgence that he did not lasso and drag home to his castle.
Before, he had wallowed in the one extreme of society, but now he lolled at the other. While before he had been neglected and despised by his fellow rivals, he was now courted, and admired, and feasted almost to death: so much does the possession of the coin-asset change people's opinions with regard to others.
His auto was the envy of all the chauffeurs and private car owners in the interior, and there was great rivalry among the licensed drivers as to who should secure the position as his private chauffeur. One engineer offered his services gratis to have the privilege of sitting behind such wind-shields.
Hard Times Hance persuaded himself that he had reached his "Utopia," and that his past forty years of loneliness and savagery was the price he had paid for the present heaven-rivalling blessings.
A man of his standing in society could not long remain in single dormancy; he was therefore besieged by many of the fair sex. This was very pleasing and flattering to him, although he concealed his appreciation. Of course a palace such as his, without a wife, was like a garden of Eden without an Eve. He had no one to use the electric vacuum cleaner on his linoleums and tapestries. He had no one to meet him when he reached home to take his hat, and gloves, and cane, and place them on the hall rack. He had no one to kiss and afford companionship throughout the long evenings, no one to arrange for social entertainments and meet and welcome the guests; no one to direct and manage the culinary department, and place the furniture in appetizing arrangement. Of course he had the Chinese cook, but he was stale and without spice. There were millions of qualified candidates in the world, looking for partners, who would be more than pleased to have the opportunity to manipulate his vacuum cleaner.
No sooner had he made up his mind to organize a family partnership concern than he set out to have the necessary forms of contract drafted and prepared. A great many fair ones nominated themselves as candidates for election, but as he was living under Christian methods he could only accept one—which was annoying—no matter how eager he may have been to Mormonize himself. They fluttered around him like moths about an electric arc, and they even deserted their former pre-emptions for the new float prospects. In due course the successful candidate was introduced to the Legislature as a new member.
The nuptials over, they migrated in the fall with the swallows to California, on their honeymoon, and, after escaping the earthquake, returned to their happy and beautiful home. There was a great eruption among the marriageable prospects of Ashcroft, because many of them had dropped a real bone into the water in snapping at the illusory shadow.
An indignation meeting was arranged at which it was resolved that the least prepossessing and most unlikely of the nominees had secured the winning majority. But love is a very contrary commodity, and a defect may be a virtue in the eyes of a hero-worshipper; and "My Lady" was serenely happy in spite of her unpopularity with her rivals. Hard Times Hance had sprouted from pauperdom and had bloomed into princedom, and his newly acquired partner placed the final mouldings and decorations to his life.
They gave frequent balls and banquets, and the most select society in the environs clamored for admittance. To his wife the prince was a modern Aladdin. She had but to wish and the wish was granted. "Eaton's" catalogue was her Bible, and it was her only food between meals; packages arrived daily with the regularity of the Vancouver Province. She had a standing order there for hats, dresses and kimonas, to be rushed out the moment the fashions changed. While before Hance had taken a pleasure in saving, he now had a mania for spending money; and their merry marriage bells continued to ring for a few sweet years without ceasing.
But gradually the spell wore off the self-made prince. The little creek, the long trail, the deep woods, the dug-out, and the salt pork barrel loomed up occasionally before his mind's eye. In absent-minded dreams he would find himself wandering among the stock on the range at his old ranch; or he would be drinking water from the creek in the old-fashioned, natural way; or chasing a deer at the other end of the long trail. His wife's sweet voice would recall him to the immediate, and in her presence he would regret his meditations. But it would be but temporary. What profits a man to gain the world, if he lose his peace of mind? "What! I unhappy among all this kingly paraphernalia, and with a queen wife?" he would ask himself, going down into the basement to replenish the furnace. With every shovelful of coal he would curse himself for his feebleness of mind.
The charm was beginning to wear off. The sound of the singing creek and the wild wood noises were beginning to knock at his door. He was beginning to long for the old, wild life—the life of the wild man of the woods. He was like a coyote in confinement, walking backward and forward at the bars seeking release. He was a fish out of water gasping for its natural element, and his soul was languishing within him.
He made desperate but vain efforts to enjoy his beautiful environs, and for a long time he sustained the "bluff." The piano became a bore to him; its music was not half so sweet as the creek song. The tapestry was not half so pleasing to the eye as the green foliage of the trees had been; his cement walk not so agreeable to his feet as had been the long, wild trail. The "icties" which had cost him thousands of dollars became to him like so much junk, and his beautiful home became a prison—so much does man become attached to mother earth. Among all this junk one jewel still continued persistently to shine, however, and that gem was his wife; she was all he had left, next his heart, to balance against the thousands of dollars which he had squandered. A man's best comfort is his wife, and Hance had fallen into the trap in the usual man-like way.
His attraction for the modern in society had dwindled down to a single item—his love for his wife; and between this fire, and the fire of the old life, he remained poised. Of course it would be madness to suggest that she return with him to the woods and adopt the Adam and Eve mode of society, so he kept his skeleton securely locked up.
He had sold his farm for a song, but now he found it could not be re-bought for real money. The situation was hopeless. There was no retracing of steps. But still the old sounds could not be divorced from his ears; and the old salt-pork barrel was an unpardonable culprit. If he could only sit once again on the old stump which had not been hewn away in the centre of his dug-out, it would be a source of joy to him. If he could only smoke the old kin-i-kin-nick pipe, his appetite would be satisfied.
One day he climbed into his auto and made a bee-line for the old ranch. He would have a rock on that old stump if it should cause a scandal in society. But the spot where the dug-out once stood was now bare. The cabin had been burned to the ground by the new proprietors. He went home like a whipped cur. A link in his beautiful past had vanished. An impassable chasm, of his own making, yawned between him and his desire, and he cursed the day which lured him away from his natural, green pastures.
One day he disappeared entirely, and when he did not return for several days, and his wife was insane with grief, a search party was sent out in quest of him. They found him camping on the old trail, dressed in his aboriginal attire, eating beans and bacon with his knife, and chewing venison Indian fashion.
"This is the only square meal I have had since I left the woods," he said, when they captured him; and he filled his pipe with kin-i-kin-nick and puffed the sweet, mild fumes. He had returned to his natural element.
"I have been rounding up stock," he said, "and I shot this buck just over the hill there. Here, dig in, it is jake."
He had to live among the steers, and the coyotes, and the wild trails in accordance with his early training; original things were his food. Society, and his wife, demanded that he remain on the surface, but his aboriginal inclinations lured him to the woods; so, during six months of every year he was an Indian to all intents and purposes. Early in May he would load a cayuse with beans, bacon, canned milk, frying pan and blankets, and with this treasure he would take to the hills and bask the livelong summer among the junipers, the firs, and the spruces; and he would eat huckleberries, choke-cherries and soap-o-lalies, and smoke kin-i-kin-nick until his complexion assumed the tan of the Chilcoten Indian.
The lure of the limelight had been great, but it had worn off just as soon as he had a surfeit of its false glories. He found that beans and bacon eaten with a knife were sweeter and more wholesome than "blanc mange," "consomme," or "cafe noir" cooked in French style, and served by a French chef.
Of the Too Sure Man
Once upon a time, in the town of Lillooet, county of Lillooet, Province of British Columbia, there lived a man who was so sure of his footing that he closed his eyes and floundered along in the dark. When people told him there were chasms in front of him, or that there was ice on the trail ahead, he would not believe them, but put his fingers in his ears so that he could not hear, and thus became deaf and blind to his own interests. The people pestered him so much about his folly, and he learned to hate them so much for their interference in his personal matters, that he crossed the names of all his friends from his list of social possibilities, would recognize none of them, and refused to speak even when addressed; he thus became a blind, deaf and dumb mute. The result was that he ultimately slipped upon the ice on the trail, and fell into a chasm and has not been seen since. It was in the first days of the Lillooet quartz discoveries. Gold had been mined from Cayuse Creek, Bridge River, and the Fraser River, in uncountable ounces, in the free state, by the placer or hydraulic process of mining, for a great number of years, but the source of supply from which the free gold had originated had not yet been located. It was even doubted if there was any source of supply, although it was generally conceded that all gold was originally pilfered by the streams and rivers from the hard quartz-rocks of which the great mountains of Cayuse Creek and Bridge River were formed. While some of the miners contented themselves with making wing-dams, turning streams from their natural courses, and scraping about the mud and gravel of the exposed beds for the pure, free gold, picking up nuggets at sight and capturing the "dust" with quicksilver, others, looking for bigger game, climbed the high mountains, tore the moss from their sides to expose the rock, and pounced upon every piece of "float" which would indicate the possible existence of a "mother lode" somewhere near at hand or higher up.
The Too Sure Man of this story was one of the latter. He had found a piece of "float rock" with a shining speck in it near where the nigger's cabin now stands on Cayuse Creek in the vicinity of Lillooet, and he traced it to the very spot where it had dropped from the mountain above. There he discovered a ledge several feet wide full of shining specks, and he traced it with his eyes right to the bed of the creek.
"All mine! All mine!" he shouted.
Now, he was a poor man, and he had a family—which made him poorer; but the sight of this precious piece of "float" with the gold sticking out of it, and the possession of this enormous ledge of gold-bearing quartz made him a millionaire in an instant. Here was a whole mountain "lousy" with gold, all his! Why, Solomon or Vanderbilt would be so small in the puddle that he would splash mud on them with his superior tread in the sweet "very soon."
Now, the B.C. law prevented him from staking off the entire Lillooet district for himself, so he took in a friend (who luckily died before the crash came), and they appropriated as large a portion each of the district as the Government at that time would allow. Both of those men had good, steady, paying jobs at the time of the discovery, but the next day they threw down their tools—work was too cheap for them. The only thing that prevented them from buying an automobile right away on the instalment plan was the fact that the auto had not yet been invented. However, they had to do something to elevate themselves from the common, so they became extravagant in their domestic curriculum. Having no money, the stores had to "carry them." And then they had their assessment work to do on the mine to enable them to hold the claim. They hired men to do this and gave them promissory notes payable by the claim at an indefinite period. When a man ceases work and begins to live on his "rainy day" money, or on the storekeeper, it does not take very long before he accumulates a burden greater than he can carry. When he begins to totter he tries to pass some of the load over to others, and it is usually the storekeepers who are willing to assist him to the limit if his assets are in good retrospect. And what could be a greater security than a whole mountain full of gold? So the storekeepers assumed a large portion of the Too Sure Man's burden. And their loads became heavier and heavier. One day a company came along, attracted by the noise that had been made, and bonded the claims for a few hundred "plunks" down and the balance of one hundred thousand dollars in three months if they decided to take the claims over. The offer was gladly accepted, although they wondered why the company hesitated. This few hundred dollars enabled the Too Sure Man to tide his family through the winter with warm and expensive clothing from the T. Eaton Co., of Toronto, Ontario, while the local grocery man's burden got heavier and heavier. It was during, all this time that the people had been cautioning him for his personal benefit. And it was during this time that the Too Sure Man closed his ears, and his eyes, and his mouth, and became a blind, deaf and dumb mute. When the three months were up the company decamped, forfeiting their few hundred dollars, and then there was "something doing." The Too Sure Man opened his eyes and his ears and his mouth all at the same time as far as ever he could. The claim had proved a failure, there was no gold, and only a slight trace on the surface. The local storekeepers, groaning under their load, asked him to relieve them, but he might just as well have tried to lift the mountain that held his worthless quartz ledge. It was just at this point of our story that he slipped on the ice and fell into the chasm. He disappeared, bag, baggage, and family; and in truth it was the only course open to him.
To remain and work off his debt and sustain his family at the same time with the increasing pressure of the high cost of living holding him under, would have been an utter impossibility. The impending shock killed his partner, for he died before the crash came. The Too Sure Man has a burden in Lillooet supported by others which he can come and lift at any time, and welcome.
Of the Unloved Man
Once upon a time in Ashcroft a bachelor fellow realized abruptly that he had never been loved by one of the opposite sex, although he had reached the age of two score and two, and had a great longing to have one included in his assessable personal property. Now, as truth is stranger than fiction, the discovery staggered him. What was wrong? What machinery required adjusting? He had the sensation of a boycotted egg, and was in danger of spoiling before reaching the consuming market. So one day he perched himself on the sandhill and began to survey the environs for a solution to the problem. Why should he be denied this one sweet dream? Just think of it—no one had ever sympathized with him in his utter loneliness of bachelorhood. No girl had ever called him her "snooky ookums," and he had never had the opportunity of calling any fair vision his "tootsy wootsy." The horror of the situation was sufficient to stagger an empire. No girl had ever waited at the post-office corner for him. No girl had ever tapped on his office window on Railway Avenue and smiled back at him on her way home from the meat market. No girl had ever lingered outside for him that she might have the pleasure of his society home to lunch. He had to walk the bridge evenings and Sundays alone, while others went in limited liability companies.
Once, when he was ill, no angel had volunteered to smooth his pillow, and a Chinaman brought up delicacies left over from some other person's previous meal. He had no silent partner. None of the girls knew he had been ailing, and when he told them weeks after they feigned surprise. There seemed to be an unsurmountable stone wall between him and the sweet things of this world. So, day after day, in his leisure moments, he would pace the brow of the sandhill seeking in his mind for a solution to an issue that seemed unfathomable. Was he ugly? No. Was he repulsive? No. Was he a woman hater? No. Was he a criminal? No. Had he offended the fair sex in any way? No. Was he poor? No. Did he belong to the human family? Yes. With what disease then was he afflicted? Was it heredity? Could he cast the blame upon his ancestors? Up and down the Thompson valley he searched and searched but he could find no answer—even the echo would not speak. Other fellows seemed to have no difficulty in getting themselves tangled up in the meshes of real beautiful love nets. Even the young bucks who had no visible means of support for their own apparently useless avoirdupois, picked up the local gems before his eyes and had them hired out at interest to supply the new family with bread and butter. And all this in the face of the fact that he was one of the most prodigious admirers of womankind that ever left his footprints on the sands of Ashcroft.
"The most flattering appointment a man can have is to be chosen the custodian of one woman," he said to himself. "Life, to a man, is nothing if barred from an association of this kind."
At last in despair he wrote to a correspondence paper, and put the whole case before them.
"I am a young man, aged forty-two, unmarried. I want a solution to the problem why I am unmarried. I have tried and failed. I have had Cupid working overtime for me, but he has failed to pierce any of the bosoms I have coveted. No woman has ever loved me, and although I am aware that it is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all, I may say that this affords very poor manna for my hunger."
He received this answer:—
"Young man"—(emphasis was placed upon the young)—"you are too slow. You are asleep, stagnant, dormant, hibernating. The whole world is 'beating you to it.' Get over your baby superstition about love, and 'get busy.'"
The letter dropped from his fingers as though it had been his monthly grocery bill. "Heavens!" he exclaimed, "here is the solution to the whole mystery.—Forget love and 'get busy.'" Instead of expecting to be loved, he would love. If he could not get one who would want him, he would get one he wanted himself.
Now, he had had such an admiration for the fair sex as a whole, that he could not concentrate his attention on the individual one. He had been trying to extract a cinder from the eye of the opposition when he could not see properly owing to having a large obstacle in his own eye. However, he proceeded to "get busy." But what vision would he "get busy" on? Every woman had an attraction peculiar to herself, one of which could not be said to extinguish the other. And then, most of them were "staked off." One fellow or another had "strings" on every one he approached. But he kept on fishing with all his might. In the meantime it came to pass that the girls continued to cast their spells upon almost anyone but him; even the itinerant stranger who just chanced along "hitting the high spots," and "travelling on his face" came in for large portions of the "sweet stuff" that was being cast lavishly abroad.
It seemed cruel that he who had such an admiration for those on the other side of the house, and who had such an ambition to own one as an asset, should be so unmercifully neglected. His efforts to catch a wife by the legitimate method, according to his idea, had ended like a fishing expedition in the off season in the Thompson river. About this time he found that the nomads were catching all the fish. He made up his mind to become a nomad and be a wanderer on the face of the Cariboo district. He could not love.
He resigned his position in Ashcroft and migrated up the Cariboo road. He invaded Lillooet, Clinton, 150 Mile House, Soda Creek, Quesnel, Barkerville and Fort George. To secure a wife he became an itinerant. Within the space of a year he was back at his position at Ashcroft more lonely than ever. It was of no avail—he was hoodooed. He could not love.
At this juncture he made another and final discovery, and it was the most important one he had made at this period of his renaissance. He found out that "get busy" had two meanings. It meant "forget love of all kinds and go to it in a business-like way." This had been a chronic case of a man, in his ignorance, who was prospecting around the hills of this British Columbia of ours for a metal that had no existence. He did not know that ninety out of every hundred marriages resulted merely from convenience, or a mere desire to be married on the part of the man, and the love of a private home on the part of the woman; that nine out of the remaining ten were marriages in which one of the parties only was the love-giver, and that the remaining one was the ideal, in which love was mutual and beautiful. This Ashcroft bachelor fellow was a sentimental monstrosity. He was imbued with the superstition that one must love, and be loved, before one could marry. No aphorism could be further removed from the truth. The glaring realism dawned upon him that it was quite possible for a person to flounder through this world and be entirely immune from the love epidemic; that few people ever marry the one they do really love, that some are never sought after by one of the opposite sex during their whole life, only in a business-like way; that modern society was too busy to entertain such a silly superstition as love—that Cupid was a dead issue. He had been waiting until he fell in love or till someone fell in love with him, and thus opportunity had been knocking at his door all those years in vain. When he had joined the iconoclast society, and had shattered this pet idol of his, he began to look around for a wife in the same manner as he would for a car of Ashcroft potatoes—and he soon "landed" one branded with the "big A." And the amusing part of it is they lived happily—all of which goes to prove our contention that those who love before marriage are not always the happier after their nuptials; and sometimes it is a mere matter of making the best of a bad bargain, and you will be perfectly happy though married, even if your stock in trade of the love commodity is very much impoverished.
Of the Chief who was Bigger than He Looked
Once upon a time in the Thompson valley there lived a mighty warrior kookpi (chief) called Netaskit. He was chief of all the Shuswaps. His name had become a household word the entire length and breadth of the Pacific coast, and the tribes along the Fraser river and the Pemberton Meadows had knowledge, through many sad experiences, of his bravery and daring. Among his own people his word was law, and to show the white feather in the face of an enemy meant certain court martial and death at his hands. Although his subjects feared him, they respected him beyond belief; and to serve him was considered a great honor. It is not our purpose to convey the impression that this kookpi was cruel, treacherous, cold-blooded and selfish only, and a man who had no other ambition than war and the spoils of war. No, if he was a fiend on the battlefield, he was a lamb at home. He had a soft side that battled with the concrete in him at times. His weakness was his insane love for woman, and in his own kikwilly house (home) he was as timid as the smumtum (rabbit). His respect for Cupid had as much avoirdupois as his respect for Mars. His love for his wife was an insane love—it far outdid his love for his chiefdom. And he had a wife who was worthy of him and as faithful to him as he was to her—she adored the very skins he wore across his shoulders. Being happily united himself, and having such a respect for Cupid and the fair sex, he passed a law that no man or woman should take unto themselves a partner for life until thoroughly satisfied and convinced that the love flames between them would be of everlasting duration, and were genuine.
"Woman," he said, "was made to be loved, and not enslaved. My consideration for the welfare of our women exceeds that for our men, because man is so constituted as to be more able to take care of himself." So much was this old prehistoric chief away ahead of his dark, heathen times. But this masculine weakness of his was nearly his undoing with his warriors, as we shall see.
One day a rumor went abroad that the Statlemulth (Lillooet Indians) were making their way through the Marble Canyon, and down Hat Creek, to attack the Shuswaps on the Bonaparte, in revenge for some misdemeanor at some former time, on the part of the latter. It was just about the time of the year when the Shuswaps were in the habit of invading the Fraser river at Pavilion for their winter supply of salmon; and, to be cut off from this source of revenue would mean a great deal to the Bonaparte Indians. The invading army must be met and the entire band put to death, or made prisoners.
Telephone messages in Indian fashion were flashed from kikwilly house to kikwilly house, and in a couple of days the entire strength of the Shuswaps was gathered in a great army with Netaskit at its head. The march began at an early hour the following morning, and the enemy was met near the mouth of the canyon where they had called a halt for the purpose of hunting and putting up o-lil-ies (berries). In a moment the air was filled with war whoops, and the arrows flew thick and fast. The women took to their heels and ran the moment the fray began, and they did not stop until they reached Squilachwah (Pavilion) near the Fraser river. The smumtum and the groundhog betook themselves to the high mountains, so great was the battle, and their fright—and it is only within recent years that they have ventured back to that spot. The battle raged loud and long. Netaskit was in the thick of the fight and claimed that he had killed twenty of the enemy with his own bow. Many were wounded and slain on both sides; but the Shuswaps won the day, and they led home in triumph fifty prisoners. And now comes the most interesting part of our story. A counsel of war was held, and it was decided that the prisoners should be put to death the following day. When the time arrived, the unfortunate men were brought out, bound with thongs hand and foot and placed in line near the big chief's wigwam. Fifty victors were lined up in front of them with their bows and arrows ready to shoot at the word of command from their chief, who was pacing up and down in his dignity and anger. Suddenly the love demon took possession of him. He thought of his love for his wife—her love for him. He pictured to himself his possible death and the agony of his widow. He pictured her death and his own agony of mind at his loss. He shuddered as the messages flashed through his mind. He looked at the unfortunate victims—he thought of their women—sweethearts, wives.
"Halt!" he shouted to his men. And turning to the wretches before him he said:
"Statlemulth! listen. You have committed a great wrong in making this expedition against the Shuswaps. The Ko-cha Kookpi (god) is very angry. You should be shot dead but you can save yourselves. Listen. I will pardon every man of you who can produce a wife or a sweetheart who can prove to my satisfaction that her love for you is greater than the voice of the Thompson, and fiercer than the roar of the Fraser."
"Never!" shouted the tribesmen, and every bow and arrow was turned simultaneously upon the chief.
"Slaves! Cowards!" thundered the enraged and fearless kookpi, like a mountain lion in pain. In a moment every bow and arrow fell by its warrior's side.