A TALE OF THE ROCKIES
By Ralph Connor
I. THE OLD STONE MILL
II. THE DAUGHTER OF THE MANSE
III. THE RAISING
IV. THE DANCE
V. THE NEW TEACHER
VI. THE YOUNG DOCTOR
VII. THE GOOD CHEER DEPARTMENT
VIII. BEN'S GANG
IX. LOVE'S TANGLED WAYS
X. FOR A LADY'S HONOUR
XI. IOLA'S CHOICE
XII. HE THAT LOVETH HIS LIFE
XIII. A MAN THAT IS AN HERETIC REJECT
XIV. WHOSOEVER LOOKETH UPON A WOMAN
XV. THE SUPERINTENDENT'S METHODS
XVI. THE CHALLENGE OF DEATH
XVII. THE FIGHT WITH DEATH
XVIII. THE MEDICAL SUPERINTENDENT OF THE CROW'S NEST
XIX. THE LADY OF KUSKINOOK
XX. UNTIL SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN
XXI. TO WHOM HE FORGAVE MOST
XXII. THE HEART'S REST
XXIII. THE LAST CALL
XXIV. FOR LOVE'S SAKE
THE OLD STONE MILL
There were two ways by which one could get to the Old Stone Mill. One, from the sideroad by a lane which, edged with grassy, flower-decked banks, wound between snake fences, along which straggled irregular clumps of hazel and blue beech, dogwood and thorn bushes, and beyond which stretched on one side fields of grain just heading out this bright June morning, and on the other side a long strip of hay fields of mixed timothy and red clover, generous of colour and perfume, which ran along the snake fence till it came to a potato patch which, in turn, led to an orchard where the lane began to drop down to the Mill valley.
At the crest of the hill travellers with even the merest embryonic aesthetic taste were forced to pause. For there the valley with its sweet loveliness lay in full view before them. Far away to the right, out of an angle in the woods, ran the Mill Creek to fill the pond which brimmed gleaming to the green bank of the dam. Beyond the pond a sloping grassy sward showed green under an open beech and maple woods. On the hither side of the pond an orchard ran down hill to the water's edge, and at the nearer corner of the dam, among a clump of ancient willows, stood the Old Stone Mill, with house attached, and across the mill yard the shed and barn, all neat as a tidy housewife's kitchen. To the left of the mill, with its green turf-clad dam and placid gleaming pond, wandered off green fields of many shading colours, through which ran the Mill Creek, foaming as if enraged that it should have been even for a brief space paused in its flow to serve another's will. Then, beyond the many-shaded fields, woods again, spruce and tamarack, where the stream entered, and maple and beech on the higher levels. That was one way to the mill, the way the farmers took with their grist or their oats for old Charley Boyle to grind.
The other way came in by the McKenzies' lane from the Concession Line, which ran at right angles to the sideroad. This was a mere foot path, sometimes used by riders who came for a bag of flour or meal when the barrel or bin had unawares run low. This path led through the beech and maple woods to the farther end of the dam, where it divided, to the right if one wished to go to the mill yard, and across the dam if one wished to reach the house. From any point of view the Old Stone Mill, with its dam and pond, its surrounding woods and fields and orchard, made a picture of rare loveliness, and suggestive of deep fulness of peace. At least, the woman standing at the dam, where the shade of the willows fell, found it so. The beauty, the quiet of the scene, rested her; the full sweet harmony of those many voices in which Nature pours forth herself on a summer day, stole in upon her heart and comforted her. She was a woman of striking appearance. Tall and straight she stood, a figure full of strength; her dark face stamped with features that bespoke her Highland ancestry, her black hair shot with silver threads, parting in waves over her forehead; her eyes deep set, black and sombre, glowing with that mystic light that shines only in eyes that have for generations peered into the gloom of Highland glens.
"Ay, it's a bonny spot," she sighed, her rugged face softening as she gazed. "It's a bonny spot, and it would be a sore thing to part it."
As she stood looking and listening her face changed. Through the hum of the mill there pierced now and then the notes of a violin.
"Oh, that weary fiddle!" she said with an impatient shake of her head. But in a few moments the impatience in her face passed into tender pity. "Ah, well, well," she sighed, "poor man, it is the kind heart he has, whateffer."
She passed down the bank into the house, then through the large living-room, speckless in its thrifty order, into a longer room that joined house to mill. She glanced at the tall clock that stood beside the door. "Mercy me!" she cried, "it's time my own work was done. But I'll just step in and see—" She opened the door leading to the mill and stood silent. A neat little man with cheery, rosy face, clean-shaven, and with a mass of curly hair tinged with grey hanging about his forehead, was seated upon a chair tipped back against the wall, playing a violin with great vigour and unmistakable delight.
"The mill's a-workin', mother," he cried without stopping his flying fingers, "and I'm keepin' my eye upon her."
She shook her head reproachfully at her husband. "Ay, the mill is workin' indeed, but it's not of the mill you're thinking."
"Of what then?" he cried cheerily, still playing.
"It is of that raising and of the dancing, I'll be bound you."
"Wrong, mother," replied the little man exultant. "Sure you're wrong. Listen to this. What is it now?"
"Nonsense," cried the woman, "how do I know?"
"But listen, Elsie, darlin'," he cried, dropping into his Irish brogue. "Don't you mind—" and on he played for a few minutes. "Now you mind, don't you?"
"Of course, I mind, 'The Lass o' Gowrie.' But what of it?" she cried, heroically struggling to maintain her stern appearance.
But even as she spoke her face, so amazing in its power of swiftly changing expression, took on a softer look.
"Ah, there you are," cried the little man in triumph, "now I know you remember. And it's twenty-four years to-morrow, Elsie, darlin', since—" He suddenly dropped his violin on some meal bags at his side and sprang toward her.
"Go away with you." She closed the door quickly behind her. "Whisht now! Be quate now, I'm sayin'. You're just as foolish as ever you were."
"Foolish? No mother, not foolish, but wise yon time, although it's foolish enough I've been often since. And," he added with a sigh, "it's not much luck I've brought you, except for the boys. They'll do, perhaps, what I've not done."
"Whisht now, lad," said his wife, patting his shoulder gently, for a great tenderness flowed over her eloquent face. "What has come to you to-day? Go away now to your work," she added in her former tone, "there's the hay waiting, you know well. Go now and I'll watch the grist."
"And why would you watch the grist, mother?" said a voice from the mill door, as a young man of eighteen years stepped inside. He was his mother's son. The same swarthy, rugged face, the same deep-set, sombre eyes, the same suggestion of strength in every line of his body, of power in every move he made and of passion in every glance. "Indeed, you will do no such thing. Dad'll watch the grist and I'll slash down the hay in no time. And do you know, mother," he continued in a tone of suppressed excitement, "have you heard the big news?" His mother waited. "He's coming home to-day. He's coming with the Murrays, and Alec will bring him to the raising."
A throb of light swept across the mother's face, but she only said in a voice calm and steady, "Well, you'd better get that hay down. It'll be late enough before it is in."
"Listen to her, Barney," cried her husband scornfully. "And she'll not be going to the raising today, either. The boy'll be home by one in the morning, and sure that's time enough."
Barney stood looking at his mother with a quiet smile on his face. "We will have dinner early," he said, "and I'll just take a turn at the hay."
She turned and entered the house without a word, while he took down the scythe from its peg, removed the blade from the snath and handed it to his father.
"Give it a turn or two," he said; "you're better than me at this."
"Here then," replied his father, handing him the violin, "and you're better at this."
"They would not say so to-night, Dad," replied the lad as he took the violin from his father's hands, looking it over reverently. In a very few minutes his father came back with the scythe ready for work; and Barney, fastening it to the snath, again set off up the lane.
THE DAUGHTER OF THE MANSE
Two hours later, down from the dusty sideroad, a girl swinging a milk pail in her hand turned into the mill lane. As she stepped from the glare and dust of the highroad into the lane, it seemed as if Nature had been waiting to find in her the touch that makes perfect; so truly, in all her fresh daintiness, did she seem a bit of that green shady lane with its sweet fragrance and its fresh beauty.
It had taken sixteen years of wholesome country life to round that supple form into its firm lines of grace, and to tint those moulded cheeks with the dainty bloom that seemed a reflection from the thistle heads that nodded at her through the snake fence. It had taken sixteen years of pure-hearted, joyous living to lend those eyes, azure as the sky above, their brave, clear glance; sixteen years of unsullied maidenhood to endow her with that divine something of mystery which, with its shy reserve and fearless trust, awakens reverence and rebukes impurity as with the vision of God.
Her sunbonnet, fallen back from her yellow hair, shining golden in the sun, revealed a face strong, brave and kind, with just a touch of pride. The pride showed most, however, in the poise of her head and the carriage of her shoulders. But when the mobile lips parted in a smile over the straight rows of white teeth one forgot the pride and thought only of the soft persuasive lips.
As she sprang up the green turf, she drew in deep breaths of clover-scented air, and exclaimed aloud, "Oh, this is good!" She peeped through the snake fence at the luscious rich masses of red clover. "What a bed!" she cried; "I believe I'll try it." Over the fence she sprang, and in a thorn tree's shade, deep in the fragrant blossoms, she stretched herself at full length upon her back. For some minutes she lay in the luxury of that fragrant bed looking up through the spreading thorn tree branches to the blue sky with its floating, fleecy clouds far overhead. The lazy drone of the bees in the clover beside her, the languorous summer airs swaying into gentle nodding the timothy stalks just above her head, and all the soothing sounds of a summer morning, that many-voiced choir that sings to the great God Nature's glad content that all is so very good, rested and comforted the girl's heart and body, making her know as she had not known before how very weary she had been and how deep an ache her heart had held.
"Oh, it's good!" she cried again, stretching her hands at full length above her head. "I wish I could stay for one whole day, just here in the clover with the bees and the birds and the trees and the clouds and the blue sky, no children, no dinner, no tidying up."
As she lay there it seemed to her as if she had thrown off for the moment the load she had been carrying for many months. For a year she had tried to fill in the minister's household her mother's place. Without a day's warning the burden had been laid upon her shoulders, but with the fine courage that youth and love combine to give, denying herself even the poor luxury of indulgence of the grief that had fallen upon her young heart, she had given herself, without thought of anything heroic in her giving, to the caring for the house and the household, and the comforting as best she could of her father, suddenly bereft of her who had been to him not wife alone, but comrade and counsellor as well. Without a thought, she had at once surrendered all the bright plans that she, with her mother, had cherished for the cultivation of her varied talents, and had turned to the dull, monotonous routine of household duties with never a thought but that she must do it. There was no one else.
"I believe I am tired," she said again aloud; then letting her heart follow her eyes into and beyond the blue above her, she cried softly, "O mother, how tired you must have been with it all, and how much you did for me! For me, great, big lump that I am! Dear little mother. Oh, if I had only known! Oh, we were all so thoughtless!" She stretched up her hands again to the blue sky with its fleecy clouds. "For your sake, mother dear," she whispered. Not often had any seen those brave eyes dim with tears. Not often since that day when they had carried her mother out from the Manse and left her behind with the weeping, clinging children, and even now she hastily wiped the tears away, chiding herself the while. "I never saw HER cry," she said to herself, "not once, except for some of us. And I will try. I MUST try. It is hard to give up," and again the tears welled up in the brave blue eyes. "Nonsense," she cried impatiently, sitting up straight, "don't be a big, selfish baby. They're just the dearest little darlings in the world, and I'll do my best for them."
Her moment of self-pity was gone in a flood of shamed indignation. She locked her hands round her knees and looked about her. "It is a beautiful world after all. And how near the beauty is to us; just over the fence and you are in the thick of it. Oh, but this is great!" Once more she rolled in an ecstasy of luxurious delight in the clover and lay again supine, revelling in that riot of caressing sounds and scents.
She sprang up alert and listening. "That is old Charley, I suppose, or Barney, perhaps, sharpening his scythe." She climbed up the conveniently jutting ends of the fence rails and looked over the field.
"It's Barney," she said, shading her eyes with her hand; "I wonder he does not cut his fingers." She sat herself down upon the top rail and leaned against the stake.
"My! what a sweep," she said in admiring tones as the young man swayed to and fro in all the rhythmic grace of the mower's stride, swinging easily now backward the curving blade and then forward in a cutting sweep, clean and swift, laying the even swath. Alas! the clattering machine-knives have driven off from our hay-fields the mower's art with all its rhythmic grace.
Those were days when men were famous according as they could "cut off the heels of a rival mower." There are that grieve that, one by one, from field and from forest, are banished those ancient arts of daily toil by which men were wont to prove their might, their skill of hand and eye, their invincible endurance. But there still offer in life's stern daily fight full opportunity to prove manhood in ways less picturesque perhaps, but no less truly testing.
Down the swath came Barney, his sinewy body swinging in very poetry of motion.
"Doesn't he do it well!" said the girl, following with admiring eyes every movement of his well-poised frame. "How big he is! Why—" and her blue eyes widened with startled surprise, "he's almost a man!" The tint of the thistle bloom deepened in her cheek. She glanced down and made as if to spring to the ground; then settling herself resolutely back against her fence stake, she exclaimed, "Pshaw! I don't care. He is just a boy. Anyway, I'm not going to mind Barney Boyle."
On came the mower in mighty sweeps, cutting the swath clean out to the end.
"Well done!" cried the girl. "You'll be cutting off Long John's heels in a year or so."
"A year or so! If I can't do it to-day I never can. But I don't want to blow."
"You needn't. They're all talking about you, with your binding and pitching and cradling, and what not."
"They are, are they? Who is good enough to waste breath on me?"
"Oh, everybody. The McKenzie girls were just telling me the other day."
"Oh, pshaw! I ran away from their crowd, but that's nothing."
"And I suppose you have not an idea how nice you look as you go swinging along?"
"Do I? That's the only time then."
"Oh, now you're fishing, and I'm not going to bite. Where did you learn the scythe?"
"Where? Right here where we had to, Dick and I. By the way, he's coming home to-day." He glanced at her face quickly as he said this, but her face showed only a frank pleasure.
"To-day? Good. Won't your mother be glad?"
"Yes. And some other people, too," said Barney.
"And who, particularly?"
A sudden shyness seemed to seize the young man, but recovering himself, "Well, I guess I will, myself, a little. This is the first time he has ever been away. We never slept a night apart from each other as long as I can mind till he went to college last year. He used to put his arm just round me here," touching his breast. "I'll tell you the first nights after he went I used to feel for him in the dark and be sick to find the place empty."
"Well," said the girl doubtfully, "I hope he won't be different. College does make a difference, you know."
"Different! Dick! He'd better not. I'll thrash the daylights out of him. But he won't be different. Not to us, nor," he added shyly, "to you."
"Oh, to me?" She laughed lightly. "He had better not try any airs with me."
"What would you do?" inquired Barney. "You couldn't take it out of his hide."
"Oh, I'd fix him. I'd take him down," she replied with a knowing shake of her head.
"Poor Dick! He's in for a hard time," replied Barney. "But nothing can change Dick. And I am awful glad he's coming to-day, in time for the raising, too."
"The raising? Oh, yes. The McLeods'. Yes, I remember. And," regretfully, "a big supper and a big spree afterwards in the new barn."
"Are not you going?" inquired Barney.
"I don't know. They want me to go to help, but I don't think I'll go. I don't think father would like me to go, and,"—a pause—"anyway, I don't think I can get away."
"Oh, pshaw! Get Old Nancy in. She can take care of the children for once. You would like the raising. It's great fun."
"Oh! wouldn't I, though? It's fine to see them racing. They get so wild and yell so."
"Well, come on then. You must come. They'll all be disappointed, if you don't. And Dick is coming that way, too. Alec Murray is to bring him on his way home from town." Again Barney glanced keenly at her face, but he saw only puzzled uncertainty there.
"Well, I don't know. We'll see. At any rate, I must go now."
"Wait," cried Barney, "I'll go with you. We're having dinner early to-day." He hung up the scythe in the thorn tree and threw the stone at the foot.
"I wish you would promise to come," he said earnestly.
"Do you, really?" The blue eyes turned full upon him.
"Of course I do. It will be lots better fun if you are there." The frank, boyish honesty of his tone seemed to disappoint the blue eyes. Together in silence they set off down the lane.
"Well," she said, resuming their conversation, "I don't think I can go, but I'll see. You'll be playing for the dancing, I suppose?"
"No. I won't play if Dan is around, and I guess he'll be there. I may spell him a little perhaps."
"Then you'll be dancing yourself. You're great at that, I know."
"Me? Not much. It's Dick. Oh, he's a dandy! He's a bird! You ought to see him! I'll make him do the Highland Fling."
"Oh, Dick, Dick!" she cried impatiently, "everything is Dick with you."
Barney glanced at her, and after a moment's pause said, "Yes. I guess you're right. Everything is pretty much Dick with me. Next to my mother, Dick is the finest in all the world."
At the crest of the hill they stood looking silently upon the scene spread out before them.
"There," said Barney, "if I live to be a hundred years, I can't forget that," and he waved his hand over the valley. Then he continued, "I tell you what, with the moon just over the pond there making a track of light across the pond—" She glanced shyly at him. The sombre eyes were looking far away.
"I know," she said softly; "it must be lovely."
Through the silence that followed there rose and fell with musical cadence a call long and clear, "Who-o-o-hoo."
"That's mother," said Barney, answering the call with a quick shout. "You'll be in time for dinner."
"Dinner!" she cried with a gasp. "I'll have to get my buttermilk and other things and hurry home." And she ran at full speed down the hill and into the mill yard, followed by Barney protesting that it was too hot to run.
"How are you, Mrs. Boyle?" she panted. "I'm in an awful hurry. I'm after father's buttermilk and that recipe, you know."
Mrs. Boyle's eyes rested lovingly upon her flushed face.
"Indeed, there's no hurry, Margaret. Barney should not be letting you run."
"Letting me!" she laughed defiantly. "Indeed, he had all he could do to keep up."
"And that I had," said Barney, "and, mother, tell her she must come to the raising."
"And are you not going?" said the older woman.
"I don't think so. You know father—well, he wouldn't care for me to be at the dance."
"Yes, yes, I know," quickly replied Mrs. Boyle, "but you might just come with me and look quietly on. And, indeed, the change will be doing you good. I will just call for you, and speak to your father this afternoon."
"Oh, I don't know, Mrs. Boyle. I hardly think I ought."
"Hoots, lassie! Come away, then, into the milk-house."
Back among the overhanging willows stood the little whitewashed log milkhouse, built over a little brook that gurgled clear and cool over the gravelly floor.
"What a lovely place," said Margaret, stepping along the foot stones.
"Ay, it's clean and sweet," said Mrs. Boyle. "And that is what you most need with the milk and butter."
She took up an earthen jar from the gravelly bed and filled the girl's pail with buttermilk.
"Thank you, Mrs. Boyle. And now for that recipe for the scones."
"Och, yes!" said Mrs. Boyle. "There's no recipe at all. It is just this way—" And she elucidated the mysteries of sconemaking.
"But they will not taste a bit like yours, I'm sure," cried Margaret, in despair.
"Never you fear, lassie. You hurry away home now and get your dinner past, and we will call for you on our way."
"Here, lassie," she cried, "your father will like this. It is only churned th' day." She rolled a pat of butter in a clean linen cloth, laid it between two rhubarb leaves and set it in a small basket.
"Good-bye," said the girl as she kissed the dark cheek. "You're far too kind to me."
"Poor lassie, poor lassie, I would I could be kinder. It's a good girl you are, and a brave one."
"Not very brave, I fear," replied the girl, as she quickly turned away and ran up the hill and out of sight.
"Poor motherless lassie," said Mrs. Boyle, looking after her with loving eyes; "it's a heavy care she has, and the minister, poor man, he can't see it. Well, well, she has the promise."
The building of a bank-barn was a watershed in farm chronology. Toward that event or from it the years took their flight. For many summers the big boulders were gathered from the fields and piled in a long heap at the bottom of the lane on their way to their ultimate destination, the foundation of the bank-barn. During the winter, previous the "timber was got out." From the forest trees, maple, beech or elm—for the pine was long since gone—the main sills, the plates, the posts and cross-beams were squared and hauled to the site of the new barn. Hither also the sand from the pit at the big hill, and the stone from the heap at the bottom of the lane, were drawn. And before the snow had quite gone the lighter lumber—flooring, scantling, sheeting and shingles—were marshalled to the scene of action. Then with the spring the masons and framers appeared and began their work of organising from this mass of material the structure that was to be at once the pride of the farm and the symbol of its prosperity.
From the very first the enterprise was carried on under the acknowledged, but none the less critical, observation of the immediate neighbourhood. For instance, it had been a matter of free discussion whether "them timbers of McLeod's new barn wasn't too blamed heavy," and it was Jack McKenzie's openly expressed opinion that "one of them 'purline plates' was so all-fired crooked that it would do for both sides at onct." But the confidence of the community in Jack Murray, framer, was sufficiently strong to allay serious forebodings. And by the time the masons had set firm and solid the many-coloured boulders in the foundation, the community at large had begun to take interest in the undertaking.
The McLeod raising was to be an event of no ordinary importance. It had the distinction of being, in the words of Jack Murray, framer, "the biggest thing in buildin's ever seen in them parts." Indeed, so magnificent were its dimensions that Ben Fallows, who stood just five feet in his stocking soles, and was, therefore, a man of considerable importance in his estimation, was overheard to exclaim with an air of finality, "What! two twenty-foot floors and two thirty-foot mows! It cawn't be did." Such was, therefore, the magnitude of the undertaking, and such the far-famed hospitality of the McLeods, that no man within the range of the family acquaintance who was not sick, or away from home, or prevented by some special act of Providence, failed to appear at the raising that day.
It was still the early afternoon, but most of the men invited were already there when the mill people drove up in the family democrat. The varied shouts of welcome that greeted them proclaimed their popularity.
"Hello, Barney! Good-day, Mrs. Boyle," said Mr. McLeod, who stood at the gate receiving his guests.
"Ye've brought the baby, I see, Charley, me boy," shouted Tom Magee, a big, good-natured son of Erin, the richness of whose brogue twenty years of life in Canada had failed to impoverish.
"We could hardly leave the baby at home to-day," replied the miller, as with tender care he handed the green bag containing his precious violin to his wife.
"No, indeed, Mr. Boyle," replied Mr. McLeod. "The girls yonder would hardly forgive us if Charley Boyle's fiddle were not to the fore. You'll find some oats in the granary, Barney. Come along, Mrs. Boyle. The wife will be glad of your help to keep those wild colts in order yonder, eh, Margaret, lassie?"
"Indeed, it is not Margaret Robertson that will be needing to be kept in order," replied Mrs. Boyle.
"Don't you be too sure of that, Mrs. Boyle," replied Mr. McLeod. "A girl with an eye and a chin like that may break through any time, and then woe betide you."
"Then I warn you, don't try the curb on me," said Margaret, springing lightly over the wheel and turning away with Mrs. Boyle toward the house, which was humming with that indescribable but altogether bewitching medley of sounds that only a score or two of girls overflowing with life can produce.
"Come along, Charley," roared Magee. "We're waitin' to make ye the boss."
"All right, Tom," replied the little man, with a quiet chuckle. "If you make me the boss, here's my orders, Up you get yourself and take hold of the gang. What do you say, men?"
"Ay, that's it." "Tom it is." "Jump in, Tom," were the answering shouts.
"Aw now," said Tom, "there's better than me here. Take Big Angus there. He's the man fer ye! Or what's the matter wid me frind, Rory Ross? It's the foine boss he'd make fer yez! Sure, he'll put the fire intil ye!"
There was a general laugh at this reference to the brilliant colour of Rory's hair and face.
"Never you mind Rory Ross, Tom Magee," said the fiery-headed, fiery-hearted little Highlander. "When he's wanted, ye'll not find him far away, I'se warrant ye."
There was no love lost between the two men. Both were framers, both famous captains, and more than once had they led the opposing forces at raisings. The awkward silence following Rory's hot speech was relieved by Charley Boyle's ready wit.
"We'll divide the work, boys," he said. "Some men do the liftin' and others the yellin'. Tom and me'll do the yellin'."
A roar of laughter rose at Tom's expense, whose reputation as a worker was none too brilliant.
"All right then, boys," roared Tom. "Ye'll have to take it. Git togither an' quit yer blowin'." He cast an experienced eye over the ground where the huge timbers were strewn about in what to the uninitiated would seem wild confusion.
"Them's the sills," he cried. "Where's the skids?"
"Right under yer nose, Tom," said the framer quietly.
"Here they are, lads. Git up thim skids! Now thin, fer the sills. Grab aholt, min, they're not hot! All togither-r-r—heave! Togither-r-r—heave! Once more, heave! Walk her up, boys! Walk her up! Come on, Angus! Where's yer porridge gone to? Move over, two av ye! Don't take advantage av a little man loike that!" Angus was just six feet four. "Now thin, yer pikes! Shove her along! Up she is! Steady! Cant her over! How's that, framer? More to the east, is it? Climb up on her, ye cats, an' dig in yer claws! Now thin, east wid her! Togither-r-r—heave! Aw now, where are ye goin'? Don't be too rambunctious! Ye'll be afther knockin' a hole in to-morrow mornin'. Back a little now! Whoa! How's that, framer? Will that suit yer riverence? All right. Now thin, the nixt! Look lively there! The gurls are comin' down to pick the winners, an a small chance there'll be fer some of yez."
And so with this running fire of exhortation, more or less pungent, the sills were got in place upon the walls, pinned and spliced.
"Now thin, min fer the bints!"
The "bents" were the cross sections of heavy square timbers which, fastened together with cross ties, formed the framework of the barn. Dividing his men into groups, the bents were put together on the barn floor, and, one by one, raised into their places, each one being firmly joined to the one previously erected.
"Mind yer braces, now, an' yer pins!" admonished Tom. "We don't want no slitherin' timbers round here when we get into the ruction a little later on!"
In spite of all Tom's tumultuous vocal energy, it was nearly five before the last bent was reached. One by one they had fitted into their places, but not without some few hitches, each of which was the occasion for an outburst of exhortations on the part of the boss, more or less sulphurous, although the presence of the ladies interfered very considerably with Tom's fluency in this regard. He worked his men like galley slaves, and rowed them unmercifully. But for the most part they took it all with good humour, though some few who had the misfortune to fall specially under his tongue began to show signs that the lash had bitten into the raw. The timbers of the last bent were specially heavy, and the men, more or less fagged with their hard driving, didn't spring to their work with the alacrity that Tom deemed suitable.
"At it, min!" he roared. "Snatch it alive! Begob, ye'd think it was plate glass ye're liftin', ye're so tinder about it! Now thin! Togither-r-r—heave! Once again, heave! Ye didn't git it an inch that time! Stidy there a minute! Here you min on that pike, what in the blank, blank are ye bunchin' in one ind loike a swarm av bees on a cowld day! Shift over there, will ye!"
In obedience to the word two pike-poles were withdrawn at the same moment, leaving only a single pike with Big Angus and two others to sustain the full weight of the heavy timbers. Immediately the bent swayed backward as if to fall upon the throng below. Some of the men sprang back from under the huge bent. It was a moment of supreme peril.
"Howld there, fer yer lives, ye divils!" howled Tom, "or the hull of ye'll be in hell in two howly minutes."
At the cry Barney and Rory sprang to Angus's side and threw themselves upon the pike. Immediately they were followed by others, and the calamity was averted.
"Up wid her now thin, me lads, God bliss ye!" cried Tom. But there was a new note in Tom's voice, the note that is heard when men stand in the presence of serious danger. There was no more pause. The bent was walked up to its place, pinned and made secure. Tom sprang down from the building, his face white, his voice shaking. "Give me yer hand, Barney Boyle, an' yours, Rory Ross, for be all the saints an' the Blessid Virgin, ye saved min's lives this day!"
Around the two crowded the men, shaking their hands and clapping them on the back with varied exclamations. "You're the lads!" "Good boys!" "You're the stuff!" "Put it there!"
"What are ye doin' to us?" cried Rory at last; "I didn't see anything happen. Did you, Barney?"
"We did, though," answered the crowd.
For once Tom Magee was silent. He walked about among the crowd chewing hard upon his quid of tobacco, fighting to recover his nerve. He had seen as no other of the men the terrible catastrophe from which the men had been saved. It was Charley Boyle that again relieved the strain.
"Did any of you hear the cowbell?" he said. "It strikes me it's not quitting time yet. Better get your captains, hadn't you?"
"Rory and Tom for captains!" cried a voice.
"Not me, by the powers!" said Tom.
"Oh, come on, Tom. You'll be all right. Get your men."
"All right, am I? Be jabbers, I couldn't hit a pin onct in the same place, let alone twice. By me sowl, min, it's a splash of blood an' brains I've jist been lookin' at, an' that's true fer ye. Take Barney there. He's the man, I kin tell ye."
This suggestion caught the crowd's fancy.
"Barney it is!" "Rory and Barney!" they yelled.
"Me!" cried Barney, seeking to escape through the crowd. "I have never done anything but carry pins and braces at a raising all my life."
There was a loud laugh of scorn, for no man in all the crowd had Barney's reputation for agility, nerve and quickness.
"Carry pins, is it?" said Tom. "Ye can carry yer head level, me boy. So at it ye go, an' ye'll bate Rory fer me, so ye will."
"Well then," cried Barney, "I will, if you give me first choice, and I'll take Tom here."
"Hooray!" yelled Tom, "I'm wid ye." So it was agreed, and in a few minutes the sides were chosen, little Ben Fallows falling to Rory as last choice.
"We'll give ye Ben," said Tom, whose nerve was coming back to him. "We don't want to hog on ye too much."
"Never you mind, Ben," said Rory, as the little Englishman strutted to his place among Rory's men. "You'll earn your supper to-day with the best of them."
"If I cawn't hearn it I can heat it, by Jove!" cried Ben, to the huge delight of the crowd.
And now the thrilling moment had arrived, for from this point out there was to be a life-and-death contest as to which side should complete each its part of the structure first. The main plates, the "purline" plates, posts and braces, the rafters and collar beams, must all be set securely in position. The side whose last man was first down from the building after its work was done claimed the victory. In two opposing lines a hundred men stood, hats, coats, vests and, in case of those told off to "ride" the plates, boots discarded. A brawny, sinewy lot they were, quick of eye and steady of nerve, strong of hand and sure of foot, men to be depended upon whether to raise a barn or to build an empire. The choice of sides fell to Rory, who took the north, or bank, side.
"Niver fret, Barney," cried Tom Magee, who in the near approach of battle was his own man again. "Niver ye fret. It's birrds we are, an' the more air for us the better."
Between the sides stood the framer ready to give the word.
"Aren't they splendid!" said Margaret in a low tone to Mrs. Boyle, her cheek pale and her blue eyes blazing with excitement. "Oh, if I were only a boy!"
"Ay," said Mrs. Boyle, "ye'd be riding the plate, I doubt."
"Wouldn't I, though! My! they're fine!" answered the girl, with her eyes upon Barney. And more eyes than hers were upon the young captain, whose rugged face showed pale even at that distance.
"Now then, men," cried the framer. "Mind your pins. Are you ready?" holding his hat high in the air.
"Ready," answered Rory.
"Git then!" he cried, flinging his hat hard on the ground. Like hounds after a hare in full sight, like racers springing from the tape, they leaped at the timbers, every man to his place, yelling like men possessed. At once the admiring female friends broke into rival camps, wildly enthusiastic, fiercely partisan.
"Well done, Rory! He's up first!" cried a girl whose brilliant complexion and still more brilliant locks proclaimed her relationship to the captain of the north side.
"Huh! Barney'll soon catch him, you'll see," cried Margaret. "Oh, Barney, hurry! hurry!"
"Indeed, he will need to hurry," cried Rory's sister, mercilessly exultant. "He's up! He's up!"
Sure enough, Rory, riding the first half of his plate over the bent, had just "broken it down," and in half a minute, seized by the men detailed for this duty, it was in its place upon the posts. Like cats, three men with mauls were upon it driving the pins home just as the second half was making its appearance over the bent, to be seized and placed and pinned as its mate had been.
"He's won! He's won!" shrieked Rory's admiring faction.
"Barney! Barney!" screamed his contingent reproachfully.
"Well done, Rory! Keep at it! You've got them beaten!"
"Beaten, indeed!" was the scornful reply. "Just wait a minute."
"They're at the 'purlines'!" shrieked Rory's sister, and her friends, proceeding to scream wildly after the female method of expressing emotion under such circumstances.
"My!" sniffed a contemptuous member of Barney's faction, suffering unutterable pangs of humiliation. "Some people don't mind making a show of themselves."
"Oh, Barney! why don't you hurry?" cried Margaret, to whose eager spirit Barney's movements seemed painfully and almost wilfully slow.
But Barney had laid his plans. Dividing his men into squads, he had been carrying out the policy of simultaneous preparation, and while part of his men had been getting the plates to their places, others had been making ready the "purlines" and laying the rafters in order so that, although beaten by Rory in the initial stages of the struggle, when once his plates were in position, while Rory's men were rushing about in more or less confusion after their rafters, Barney's purlins and rafters moved to their positions as if by magic. Consequently, though when they arrived at the rafters Barney was half a dozen behind, the rest of his rafters were lifted almost as one into their places.
At once the ranks of Barney's faction, which up to this point had been enduring the poignant pangs of what looked like humiliating defeat, rose in a tumult of triumph to heights of bliss inexpressible, save by a series of ear-piercing but altogether rapturous shrieks.
"They're down! They're down!" screamed Margaret, dancing in an ecstasy of joy, while hand over hand down posts, catching at braces, slipping, sliding, springing, the men of both sides kept dropping from incredible distances to the ground. Suddenly through all the tumultuous shouts of victory a heart-rending scream rang out, followed by a shuddering groan and dead silence. One-half of Rory's purlin plate slipped from its splicing, the pin having been neglected in the furious haste, and swinging free, fell crashing through the timbers upon the scurrying, scrambling men below. On its way it swept off the middle bent Rory, who was madly entreating a laggard to drop to the earth, but who, flung by good fortune against a brace, clung there. On the plate went in its path of destruction, missing several men by hairs' breadths, but striking at last with smashing cruel force across the ankle of poor little Ben Fallows, in the act of sliding down a post to the ground. In a moment two or three men were beside him. He was lifted up groaning and screaming and carried to an open grassy spot. After some moments of confusion Barney was seen to emerge from the crowd and hurry after his horse. A stretcher was hastily knocked together, a mattress and pillow placed thereon, to which Ben, still groaning piteously, was tenderly lifted.
"I'll go wid ye," said Tom Magee, throwing on his coat and hat.
Before they drove out of the yard the little Englishman pulled himself together. "Stop a bit, Barney," he said. He beckoned Rory to his side. "Tell them," he said between his gasps, "not to spoil their supper for me. I cawn't heat my share, but I guess perhaps I hearned it."
"And that you did, lad," cried Rory. "No man better, and I'll tell them."
The men who were standing near and who had heard Ben's words broke out into admiring expletives, "Good boy, Benny!" "Benny's the stuff!" till finally someone swinging his hat in the air cried, "Three cheers for Benny!" and the feelings of the crowd, held in check for so many minutes, at length found expression in three times three, and with the cheers ringing in his ears and with a smile upon his drawn face, poor Ben, forgetting his agony for the time, was borne away on his three-mile drive to the doctor.
The raising was over, but no man asked which side had won.
The dance was well on when Barney and Tom drove up to the McLeods' gate. They were met by Margaret and Barney's mother, who, with a group of girls and Mr. McLeod, had been waiting for them. As they drove into the yard they were met at once with eager questions as to the condition and fate of the unhappy Ben.
"Ben, is it?" said Tom. "Indeed, it's a hero we've discovered. He stud it like a brick. An' I'm not sure but there are two av thim," he said, jerking his thumb toward Barney. "Ye ought to have seen him stand there houldin' the light an' passin' the doctor sthrings, an' the blood spoutin' like a stuck pig. What happened afther, it's mesilf can't tell ye at all, for I was restin' quietly by mesilf on the floor on the broad av me back, an' naither av thim takin' annythin' to do wid me except to drown me wid watther betune times. Indeed, it's himsilf is the born doctor, an' so he is," continued Tom, warming to his theme, "for wid his hands red wid blood an' his face as white as yer apron, ma'am, niver a shiver did he give until the last knot was tied an' the last stitch was sewed. Bedad! there's not a man in the county could do the same."
There was no stopping Tom in his recital, and after many attempts Barney finally gave it up, and began unhitching his horse. Meantime the sound of the dancing had ceased, and suddenly up through the silence there rose a voice in song to the accompaniment of some stringed instrument. It was an arresting voice. The group about the horse stood perfectly still as the voice rose and soared and sank and rose again in an old familiar plantation air.
"Who in thunder is that?" cried Barney, turning to his mother.
But his mother shook her head. "Indeed, I know not, but it's likely yon strange girl that came out from town with the Murrays."
"I know," cried Teenie Ross, Rory's sister, with a little toss of her head, "Alec told me. She is the girl who has come to take the teacher's place for a month. She is the niece of Sheriff Hossie. Her father was a colonel in the Southern army, California or Virginia or some place, I don't just remember. Oh! I know all about her, Alec told me," continued Teenie with a knowing shake of her ruddy curls. "And she'll have a string of hearts dangling to her apron, if she wears one, before the month is out, so you'd better mind out, Barney."
But Barney was not heeding her. "Hush!" he said, holding up his hand, for again the voice was rising up clear and full into the night silence. Even Teenie's chatter was subdued and no one moved till the verse was finished.
"She'll be needing a boarding house, Barney," continued Teenie wickedly. "You'll just need to take her with you to the Mill."
"Indeed, and there will be no such lassie as yon in my house," said the mother, speaking sharply.
"She has no mother," said Margaret softly, "and she will need a place."
"Yes, that she will," replied Mrs. Boyle, "and I know very well where she will be going, too, and you with four little ones to do for, not to speak of the minister, the hardest of the lot." Mrs. Boyle was evidently seriously angered.
"Man! What a voice!" breathed Barney, and, making fast the horse to the waggon, he set off for the barn apparently oblivious of all about him.
"Begorra, ma'am, an' savin' yer prisince, there's nobody knows what's in that lad. But he'll stir the world yit, an' so he will. An' that's what the ould Doctor said, so it was."
When Barney reached the barn floor the Southern girl had just finished her song, and with her guitar still in her hands was idly strumming its strings. The moonlight fell about her in a flood so bright as to reveal the ivory pallor of her face and the lustrous depths of her dark eyes. It was a face of rare and romantic beauty framed in soft, fluffy, dark hair, brushed high off the forehead and gathered in a Greek knot at the back of her head. But besides the beauty of face and eyes, there was an air of gentle, appealing innocence that awakened the chivalrous instincts latent in every masculine heart, and a lazy, languorous grace that set her in striking contrast to the alert, vigorous country maids so perfectly able to care for themselves, asking odds of no man. When the singing ceased Barney came out of the shadow at his father's side, and, reaching for the violin, said, "Let me spell you a bit, Dad."
At his voice Dick, who was across the floor beside the singer, turned quickly and, seeing Barney, sprang for him, shouting, "Hello! you old whale, you!" The father hastily pulled his precious violin out of danger.
"Let go, Dick! Let go, I tell you!" said Barney, struggling in his brother's embrace; "stop it, now!"
With a mighty effort he threw Dick off from him and stood on guard with an embarrassed, half-shamed, half-indignant laugh. The crowd gathered near in delighted expectation. There was always something sure to happen when Dick "got after" his older brother.
"He won't let me kiss him," cried Dick pitifully, to the huge enjoyment of the crowd.
"It's too bad, Dick," they cried.
"So it is. But I'm not going to be put off. It's a shame!" replied Dick, in a hurt tone. "And me just home, too."
"It's a mean shame, Dick. Wouldn't stand it a minute," cried his sympathisers.
"I won't either," cried Dick, preparing to make an attack.
"Look here, Dick," cried Barney impatiently, "just quit your nonsense or I'll throw you on the floor there and sit on you. Besides, you're spoiling the music."
"Well, well, that's so," said Dick. "So on Miss Lane's account I'll forbear, provided, that is, she sings again, as, of course, she will."
It was Dick's custom to assume command in every company where he found himself.
"What is it to be? 'Dixie'?"
"Yes! Yes!" cried the crowd. "'Dixie.' We'll give you the chorus."
After a little protest the girl struck a few chords and dashed off into that old plantation song full of mingling pathos and humour. Barney picked up his father's violin, touched the strings softly till he found her key and then followed in a subdued accompaniment of weird chords. The girl turned herself toward him, her beautiful face lighting up as if she had caught a glimpse of a kindred spirit, and with a new richness and tenderness she poured forth the full flood of her song. The crowd were entranced with delight. Even those who had been somewhat impatient for the renewal of the dance joined in calls for another song. She turned to Dick, who had resumed his place beside her. "Who is the man you wanted so badly to kiss?" she asked quietly.
"Who?" he cried, so that everyone heard. "What! don't you know? That's Barney, the one and only Barney, my brother. Here, Barney, drop your fiddle and be introduced to Miss Iola Lane, late from Virginia, or is it Maryland? Some of those heathen places beyond the Dixie line."
Barney dropped the violin from his chin, came over the floor, and awkwardly offered his hand. With easy, lazy grace she rose from the block where she had been sitting.
"You accompany beautifully," she said in her soft Southern drawl; "it's in you, I can see. No one can ever be taught to accompany like that."
"Oh, pshaw! That's nothing," said Barney, eager to get back again to his shadow, "but if you don't mind I'll try to follow you if you sing again."
"Certainly," cried Dick, "she'll sing again. What will you give us now, white or black?"
"Plantation, of course," said Barney brusquely.
"All right. 'Kentucky home,' eh?" cried Dick.
The girl looked up at him with a saucy, defiant look. "Do they all obey you here?"
"That's what," cried Alec Murray, "especially the girls."
She hesitated a few moments, evidently meditating rebellion, then turning to Barney, who was playing softly the air that had been asked for, "You, too, obey, I see," she said.
"Generally—, always when I like," he replied, continuing to play.
"Oh, well," shrugging her shoulders, "I suppose I must then." And she began:
"The sun shines bright on de old Kentucky home."
Again that hush fell upon the crowd. The face of the singer, with its dark, romantic beauty touched with the magic of the moonlight, the voice soft, mellow, vibrant with passion, like the deeper notes of a 'cello, supported by the weird chords of Barney's violin, held them breathless. No voice joined in the chorus. As she sang, the subtle telepathic waves came back from her audience to the girl, and with ever-deepening passion and abandon she poured forth into the moonlit silence the full throbbing tide of song. The old air, simple and time-worn, took on a new richness of tone colour and a fulness of volume suggestive of springs of unutterable depths. Even Dick's gay air of command surrendered to the spell. As before, silence followed the song.
"But you did not do your part," she said, smiling up at him with a very pretty air of embarrassment.
"No," said Dick solemnly, "we didn't dare."
"Sing again," said Barney abruptly. His voice sounded deep and hoarse, and Dick, looking curiously at him, said apologetically, "Music, when it's good, makes him quite batty."
But Iola ignored him. "Did you ever hear this?" she said to Barney. She strummed a few chords on her guitar. "It's only a little baby song, one my old mammy used to sing."
"Sleep, ma baby, close youah lil winkahs fas', Loo-la, Loo-la, don' you gib me any sass. Youah mammy's ol', an' want you to de berry las', So, baby, honey, let dose mean ol' angels pass.
"Sleep, ma baby, mammy can't let you go. Sleep, ma baby, de angels want you sho! De angels want you, guess I know, But mammy hol' you, hol' you tight jes' so.
"Sleep, ma baby, close youah lil fingahs, Meah, Loo-la, Loo-la, tight about ma fingahs heah, De dawk come close, but baby don' you nebbeh feah, Youah mammy'll hol' you, hol' you till de mawn appeah.
"Sleep, ma baby, why you lie so col', so col'? Loo-la, Loo-la, do Massa want you for His fol'? But, baby, honey, don' you know youah mammy's ol' An' want you, want you, oh, she want you jes' to hol'."
A long silence followed the song. The girl laid her guitar down and sat quietly looking straight before her, while Barney played the refrain over and over. The simple pathos of the little song, its tender appeal to the mother-chords that somehow vibrate in all human hearts, reached the deep places in the honest hearts of her listeners and for some moments they stood silent about her. It was with an obvious effort that Dick released the tension by crying out, "Partners for four-hand reel." Instantly the company resolved itself into groups of four and stood waiting for the music.
"Strike up, Barney," cried Dick impatiently, shuffling before Iola, whom he had chosen for his partner. But Barney, handing the violin to his father, slipped back into the shadow where his mother and Margaret were standing. The boy's face was pale through its swarthy tan.
"Come away," he said to his mother in a strained, unnatural voice.
"Isn't she beautiful?" cried Margaret impulsively.
"Is she? I didn't notice. But great goodness! What a voice!"
"Um, some will be thinking so, I doubt," said Mrs. Boyle grimly, with a sharp glance at her son.
But Barney had become oblivious to her words and glances. He moved away as in a dream to make ready for the home going of his party, for soon the dancers would be at Sir Roger's. Nor did he waken from his dream mood during the drive home. He could hear Dick chattering gaily to Margaret and his mother of his College experiences, but except for an occasional word with his father he sat in silence, gazing not upon the fields and woods that lay in all their moonlit glory about them, but upon that new world, vast, unreal, yet vividly present, whose horizon lay beyond the line of vision, the world of his imagination, where he must henceforth live and where his work must lie. For the events of the afternoon had summoned a new self into being, a self unfamiliar, but real and terribly insistent, demanding recognition. He could not analyse the change that had come to him, nor could he account for it. He did not try to. He lived again those great moments when, having been thrust by chance into the command of these fifty mighty men, he had swung them to victory. He remembered the ease, the perfect harmony with which his faculties had wrought through those few minutes of fierce struggle. Again he passed through the awful ordeal of the operation, now holding the light, now assisting with forceps or cord or needle, now sponging away that ghastly red flow that could not be stemmed. He wondered now at his self-mastery. He could see again his fingers, bloody, but unshaking, handing the old doctor a needle and silk cord. He remembered his surprise and pity, almost contempt, for big Tom Magee lying on the floor unable to lift his head; remembered, too, the strange absence of anything like elation at the doctor's words, "My boy, you have the nerve and the fingers of a surgeon, and that's what your Maker intended you to be."
But he let his mind linger long and with thrilling joy through the interlude in the dance. Every detail of that scene stood clearly limned before his mind. The bare skeleton of the new harp, the crowding, eager, tense faces of the listeners, his mother's and Margaret's in the hindmost row, his brother standing in the centre foreground, the upturned face of the singer with its pale romantic loveliness, all in the mystery of the moonlight, and, soaring over all, that clear, vibrant, yet softly passionate, glorious voice. That was the final magic touch that rolled back the screen and set before him the new world which must henceforth be his. He could not explain that touch. The songs were the old simple airs worn threadbare by long use in the countryside. It was certainly not the songs. Nor was it the singer. Curiously enough, the girl, her personality, her character, worthy or unworthy, had only a subordinate place in his thought. He was conscious of her presence there as a subtle yet powerful influence, but as something detached from the upturned face illumined in the soft moonlight and the stream of heart-shaking song. She was to him thus far simply a vision and a voice, to which all the psychic element in him made eager response. As he drove into the quiet Mill yard it came upon him with a shock of pain that with the old life he had done forever. He felt himself already detached from it. The new self looking out upon its new world had shaken off his boyhood as the bursting leaf shakes off the husks of spring.
As Dick's gay exclamation of delight at sight of the old home fell upon his ear a deeper pain struck him, for he vaguely felt that while his brother still held his place in the centre of the stage, that stage had immeasurably extended and was now peopled with other figures, shadowy, it is true, but there, and influential. His brother, who with his mother, or, indeed, perhaps more than his mother, had absorbed his boyish devotion, must henceforth share that devotion with others. Upon this thought his brother's voice broke in.
"What's the matter, old chap? Is there anything wrong?"
The kindly tone stabbed like a knife.
"No, no. Nothing, Dick."
"Yes, but there is. You're not the same." At the anxious appeal in the voice Barney stood for a moment steadily regarding his brother, for whom he could easily give his life, with a troubled sense of change that he could not analyse to himself, much less explain to his brother.
"I don't know, Dick—I can't tell you—I don't think I am the same." A look of startled dismay fell swiftly down upon the frank, handsome face turned toward him.
"Have I done anything, Barney?" said the younger boy, his dismay showing in his tone.
"No, no, Dick, boy, it has nothing to do with you." He put his hands on his brother's shoulders, the nearest thing to an embrace he ever allowed himself. "It is in myself; but to you, my boy, I am the same." His speech came now hurriedly and with difficulty: "And whatever comes to me or to you, Dick, remember I shall never change to you—remember that, Dick, to you I shall never change." His breath was coming in quick gasps. The younger boy gazed at his usually so undemonstrative brother. Suddenly he threw his arms about his neck, crying in a broken voice, "You won't, Barney, I know you won't. If you ever do I don't want to live."
For a single moment Barney held the boy in his arms, patting his shoulder gently, then, pushing him back, said impatiently, "Well, I am a blamed old fool, anyway. What in the diggins is the matter with me, I don't know. I guess I want supper, nothing to eat since noon. But all the same, Dick," he added in a steady, matter-of-fact tone, "we must expect many changes from this out, but we'll stand by each other till the world cracks."
After Dick had gone upstairs with his father, Barney and his mother sat together talking over the doings of the day after their invariable custom.
"He is looking thin, I am thinking," said the mother.
"Oh, he's right enough. A few days after the reaper and a few meals out of your kitchen, mother, and he will be as fit as ever."
"That was a fine work of yours with the doctor." The indifferent tone did not deceive her son for a moment.
"Oh, pshaw, that was nothing. At least it seemed nothing then. There were things to be done, blood to be stopped, skin to be sewed up, and I just did what I could." The mother nodded slightly.
"You did no more than you ought, and that great Tom Magee might be doing something better than lying on his back on the floor like a baby."
"He couldn't help himself, mother. That's the way it struck him. But, man, it was fine to see the doctor, so quick and so clever, and never a slip or a stop." He paused abruptly and stood upright looking far away for some moments. "Yes, fine! Splendid!" he continued as in a dream. "And he said I had the fingers and the nerve for a surgeon. That's it. I see now—mother, I'm going to be a doctor."
His mother stood and faced him. "A doctor? You?"
The sharp tone recalled her son.
"Yes, me. Why not?"
Her son understood her perfectly. His mind went back to a morning long ago when his mother, putting his younger brother's hand in his as they set forth to school for the first time, said, "Take care of your brother, Bernard. I give him into your charge." That very day and many a day after he had stood by his brother, had fought for him, had pulled him out of scraps into which the younger lad's fiery temper and reckless spirit were frequently plunging him, but never once had he consciously failed in the trust imposed on him. And as Dick developed exceptional brilliance in his school work, together they planned for him, the mother and the older brother, the mother painfully making and saving, the brother accepting as his part the life of plodding obscurity in order that the younger boy might have his full chance of what school and college could do for him. True to the best traditions of her race, the mother had fondly dreamed of a day when she should hear from her son's lips the word of life. With never a thought of the sacrifice she was demanding, she had drawn into this partnership her elder son. And thus to the mother it seemed nothing less than an act of treachery, amounting to sacrilege, that Barney for a single moment should cherish for himself an ambition whose realisation might imperil his brother's future. Barney needed, therefore, no explanation of his mother's cry of dismay, almost of horror. He was quick with his answer.
"Dick? Oh, mother, do you think I was forgetting Dick? Of course nothing must stop Dick. I can wait—but I am going to be a doctor."
The mother looked into her son's rugged face, so like her own in its firm lines, and replied almost grudgingly, "Ay, I doubt you will." Then she added hastily, as if conscious of her ungracious tone, "And what for should you not?"
"Thank you, mother," said her son humbly, "and never fear we'll stand by Dick."
Her eyes followed him out of the room and for some moments she stood watching the door through which he had passed. Then, with a great sigh, she said aloud: "Ay, it is the grand doctor he will make. He has the nerve and the fingers whatever." Then after a pause she added: "And he will not fail the laddie, I warrant."
THE NEW TEACHER
The new teacher was distinctly phenomenal from every point of view. Her beauty was a type quite unusual where rosy-cheeked, deep-chested, sturdy womanhood was the rule. Even the smallest child was sensible of the fascination of her smile, which seemed to emanate from every feature of her face, so much so that little Ruby Ross was heard to say: "And do you know, mother, she smiles with her nose!" The almost timid appeal in her gentle manner stirred the chivalry latent in every boy's heart. Back of her appealing gentleness, however, there was a reserve of proud command due to the strain in her blood of a regnant, haughty, slave-ruling race. But in her discipline of the school she had rarely to fall back upon sheer authority. She had a method unique, but undoubtedly effective, based upon two fundamental principles: regard for public opinion, and hope of reward. The daily tasks were prepared and rendered as if in the presence of the great if somewhat vague public which at times she individualized, as she became familiar with her pupils, in the person of father or mother or trustee, as the case might be. And with marvellous skill she played this string, albeit occasionally she struck a false note.
"What would your father think, Lincoln?" she inquired reproachfully of little Link Young. Link's father was a typical Down Easterner, by name Jabez Young or, as he was more commonly known, "Maine Jabe," for his fondness of his reminiscence of his native State. "What would your father think if he saw you act so rudely?"
"Dad wouldn't care a dang."
Instantly conscious of her mistake, she hastened to recover.
"Well, Lincoln, what do you think I think?"
Link's Yankee assurance sank abashed before this direct personal appeal. He hung his head in blushing silence.
"Do you know, Lincoln, you might come to be a right clever gentleman if you tried hard." A new idea lodged itself under Link's red thatch of hair and a new motive stirred in his shrewd little soul. Here was one visibly present whose good opinion he valued. At all costs that good opinion he must win.
The whole school was being consciously trained for exhibition purposes. The day would surely come when before the eyes of the public they would parade for inspection. Therefore, it behooved them to be ready.
But more important in enforcing discipline was the hope of reward. This principle was robbed of its more sordid elements by the nature of the reward held forth. A day of good conduct and of faithful work invariably closed with an hour devoted to histrionic and musical exercise. To recite before the teacher and to hear the teacher recite was worth considerable effort. To sing with the teacher was a joy, but to hear the teacher sing to the accompaniment of her guitar was the supreme of bliss. It was not only an hour of pleasure to the pupils, but an hour of training as well. She initiated them into the mysteries of deep breathing, chest tones, phrasing, and expression, and such was their absorbing interest in and devotion to this study, that in a few weeks truly remarkable results were obtained. The singing lesson invariably concluded with a plantation song from the teacher; and with her memory-gates wide open to the sunny South of her childhood, and with all her soul in her voice, she gave them her best, holding them breathless, laughterful, or tear-choked, according to her mood and song.
It was by such a song that Mr. Jabez Young, driving along the road on his way to the store, was suddenly arrested and rendered incapable of movement till the song was done. In amazed excitement he burst forth to old Hector Ross, the Chairman of the Trustee Board, who happened to be in the store:
"Gol dang my cats! What hev yeh got in the school up yonder? Say! I couldn't git my team to move past that there door!"
"What's matter, Mr. Young?"
"Why, dang it all! I'll report to the Reeve. Fust thing yeh know there'll be a string-a-teams from here to the next concession blockin' that there road in front of the school!"
"Why, what's the matter with the school, Mr. Young?" inquired old Hector, in anxious surprise.
"Why, ain't ye heard her? Say! down in Maine I paid a dollar one 'time to hear a big singer, forgit her name, but she was 'lowed to be the dangdest singer in all them parts. But, Gol dang my cats to cinders! she ain't any more like that there teacher of yours than my old Tom cat's like the angel that leads the choir in Abram's bosom!"
"That is very interesting, Mr. Young. And I suppose you won't mind paying a little extra school rate now," said Hector, with a shrewd twinkle in his eye.
"Extra school rate! I tell yeh what, I'll charge up my lost time to the trustees! But danged if I wouldn't give a day's pay to hear that song again!"
In application of this principle of reward for merit, the teacher introduced a subordinate principle which proved effective when all else failed. The school was made corporately and jointly responsible for the individual. The offence of one was the offence of all, the merit of one the merit of all. Thus every pupil was associated with her in the business of securing good lessons and exemplary conduct. As the day went on each misdemeanour was gravely, and in full view of the school, marked down upon the blackboard. The merits obtained by any pupil were in like manner recorded. The day closing with an adverse balance knew no hour of song. Woe to the boy who, dead to all other motives of good conduct, persisted in robbing the school of its hour of delight. In the case of Ab Maddock, big, impudent, and pachydermous, it took Dugald Robertson, the minister's son, just half an hour's hard fighting to extract a promise of good behaviour. Dugald was in the main a thoughtful, peaceable boy, the most advanced pupil in the entrance class, and a great mathematician. At first he was inclined to despise the teacher, setting little store by her beautiful face and fascinating smile, for on the very first day he discovered her woful mathematical inadequacy. Arithmetic was her despair. With algebraic formulae and Euclid's propositions her fine memory saved her. But with quick intuition she threw herself frankly upon the boy's generosity, and in the evenings together they, with Margaret's assistance, wrestled with the bewildering intricacies of arithmetical problems. Her open confession of helplessness, and her heroic attempts to overcome her defects, made irresistible appeal to the chivalrous heart of the little Highland gentleman. Thenceforth he was her champion for all that was in him.
But the teacher's weakness in mathematics was atoned for, if atonement there be for such a weakness, by the ample strength of her endowments in those branches of learning in which imagination and artistic sensibility play any large part. And a far larger part, and far more important, do these Divine gifts play than many wise educationists conceive. The lessons in history, in geography, and in reading ceased to be mere memory tasks and became instinct with life. The whole school would stay its ordinary work to listen while the teacher told tales of the brave days of old to the history class, or transformed the geography lessons into excursions among people of strange tongues dwelling in far lands. But it was in the reading lessons that her artistic talents had full play. The mere pronouncing and spelling of words were but incidents in the way of expression of thought and emotion. After a whole week of drilling which she would give to a single lesson, she would arrest the class with the question, "What is the author seeing?" and with the further question, "How does he try to show it to us?" Reading, to her, consisted in the ability to see what the author saw and the art of telling it, and to set forth with grace that thing in the author's words.
In the writing class her chief anxiety was to avoid blots. Every blot might become an occasion of humiliation to teacher and pupils alike. "Oh, this will never do! They must not see this!" she would cry, rubbing out with infinite care and pains the blot, and rubbing in the horror of such a defilement being paraded before the eyes of the vague but terrible "they."
Thus the pathway trodden in the school routine was, perchance, neither wide nor far extended, but it was thoroughly well trodden. As a consequence, when the day for the closing exercises came around both teacher and pupils had become so thoroughly familiar with the path and so accustomed to the vision of the onlooking public that they faced the ordeal without dread, prepared to give forth whatever of knowledge or accomplishment they might possess.
A fortunate rainy day, making the hauling of hay or the cutting of fall wheat equally impossible, filled the school with the parents and friends of the children. The minister and the trustees were dutifully present. Of the mill people Dick and his mother appeared, Dick because his mother insisted that a student should show interest in the school, his mother because Dick refused to go a step without her. Barney came later, not because of his interest in the school, but chiefly, he declared to himself, conscious of the need of a reason, because there was nothing much else to do. The presence of "Maine" Jabe might be taken as the high water mark of the interest aroused throughout the section in the new teacher and her methods.
The closing exercises were, with a single exception, a brilliantly flawless exhibition. That exception appeared in the Euclid of the entrance class. The mathematics were introduced early in the day. The arithmetic, which dealt chiefly with problems of barter and sale of the various products of the farm, was lightly and deftly passed over. The algebra class was equally successful. In the Euclid class it seemed as if the hitherto unbroken success would come to an unhappy end in the bewilderment and confusion of Phoebe Ross, from whom the minister had asked a demonstration of the pons asinorum. But the blame for poor Phoebe's bewilderment clearly lay with the minister himself, for in placing the figure upon the board with the letters designating the isosceles triangle he made the fatal blunder of setting the letter B at the right hand side of the base instead of at its proper place at the left, as in the book. The result was that the unhappy Phoebe, ignoring the figure upon the board and depending entirely upon her memory, soon plunged both the minister and herself into confusion hopeless and complete. But the quick eye of the teacher had detected the difficulty, and, going to the board, she erased the unfamiliar figure, saying, as she did so, in her gentle appealing voice, "Wait, Phoebe. You are quite confused, I know. We shall wipe the board clean and begin all over." She placed the figure upon the board with the designating letters arranged as in the book. "Now, take your time," she said with deliberate emphasis. "Let A, B, C be an isosceles triangle." And thus, with her feet set firmly upon the familiar path, little Phoebe slipped through that desperate maze of angles and triangles with an ease, speed, and dexterity that elicited the wonder and admiration of all present, the minister, good man, included. Upon Barney, however, who understood perfectly what had happened, the incident left a decidedly unpleasant impression. Indeed, the superficiality of the mathematical exercises as a whole awakened within him a feeling of pain which he could not explain.
When the reading classes were under review the school passed from the atmosphere of the superficial to that of the real. Never had such reading been heard in that or in any other common school. The familiar sing-song monotony of the reading lesson was gone and in its place a real and vivid picturing of the scenes described or enacted. It was all simple, natural, and effective.
The exercises attained an easy climax with the recitations and singing which closed the day. Here the artistic gifts of the teacher had full scope. There was an absence of all nervous dread in the performers. By some marvellous power she caught hold and absorbed their attention so that for her chiefly, if not entirely, they recited or sang. In the singing, which terminated the proceedings, the triumph of the day was complete. A single hymn, two or three kindergarten action songs, hitherto unheard in that community, a rollicking negro chorus; and, at the last, "for the children and the mothers," the teacher said, one soft lullaby in which for the first time the teacher's voice was heard, the low, vibrant tones filling the room with music such as in all their lives they had never listened to. It was a fine sense of artistic values that cut out the speeches and dismissed the school in the ordinary way. The full tide of their enthusiasm broke upon her as minister, trustees, parents, and all crowded about her, offering congratulations. Her air of shy grace with just a touch of nonchalant reserve served in no small degree to heighten the whole effect of the day.
The mill people walked home with the minister and Margaret.
"Isn't she a wonder?" cried Dick. "What has she done to those little blocks? Why, they don't seem the same children!"
"Yes, yes," replied the minister, "it is quite surprising, indeed."
"In their mathematics, though, there was some thin skating there for a while," continued Dick.
"Yes, yes, the little lassie became confused. But she recovered herself cleverly."
"Yes, indeed," said Dick, with a slight laugh. "That was a clever bit of work on the part of the teacher."
"Oh, shut up, Dick!" said Barney sharply.
"Oh, well," replied Dick, "no one expects mathematics from a girl, anyway."
"Do you hear the conceit of him?" said his mother indignantly, "and Margaret there can show all of you the way."
"Yes, that's true, mother, but Margaret is a wonder, too. But whatever you say, the reciting and singing were good. Even little Link Young was quite dramatic. They say that 'Maine' Jabe for the first time in his life is quite reckless in regard to the school rates."
"We will just wait a year," said his mother. "It is a new broom that sweeps clean."
"Now, mother, you are too hard to please."
"Perhaps," she replied, grimly closing her lips.
As they reached the manse gate the minister, who had evidently been pondering Dick's words, said, "Well, Mrs. Boyle, we have had a delightful afternoon, whatever, a remarkable exhibition. Yes, yes. And after all it is a great matter that the children should be taught to read and recite well. And it was no wonder that the poor thing would seek to make it easy for the little girl. And Margaret will need to take Dugald over his mathematics, I fear, before he goes up to the entrance." At which remark the painful feeling which the reciting and singing had caused Barney to forget for the time, returned with even greater poignancy.
But in all the section there was only one opinion, and that was that, at all costs, the teacher's services must be retained. For once, the trustees realised that no longer would they depend for popularity upon the sole qualification of their ability to keep down the school rate. It was, perhaps, not the most diplomatic moment they chose for the securing of the teacher's services for another year. It might be that they were moved to immediate action by the apparent willingness on her part to leave the matter of re-engagement an open question. On all hands, however, they were applauded as having done a good stroke of business when, there and then, they closed their bargain with the teacher, although at a higher salary, as it turned out, than had ever been paid in the section before.
THE YOUNG DOCTOR
Barney's jaw ran along the side of his face, ending abruptly in a square-cut chin, the jaw and chin doing for his face what a ridge and bluff of rock do for a landscape. They suggested the bed rock of character, abiding, firm, indomitable. Having seen the goal at which he would arrive, there remained only to find the path and press it. He would be a doctor. The question was, how? His first step was to consult the only authority available, old Doctor Ferguson. It was a stormy interview, for the doctor was of a craggy sort like Barney himself, with a jaw and a chin and all they suggested. The boy told his purpose briefly, almost defiantly, as if expecting scornful opposition, and asked guidance. The doctor flung difficulties at his head for half an hour and ended by offering him money, cursing his Highland pride when the boy refused it.
"What do I want with money?" cried the doctor. He had lost his only son three years before. "There's only my wife. And she'll have plenty. Money! Dirt, fit to walk on, to make a path with, that's all! Had my boy lived, God knows I'd have made him a surgeon. But—" Here the doctor snorted violently and coughed, trumpeting hard with his nose. "Confound these foggy nights! I'll put you through."
"I'll pay my way," said Barney almost sullenly, "or I'll stay at home."
"What are you doing here, then?" he roared at the boy.
"I came to find out how to start. Must a man go to college?"
"No," shouted the doctor again; "he can be a confounded fool and work up by himself, a terrible handicap, going up for the examinations till the last year, when he must attend college."
"I could do that," said Barney, closing his jaws.
The doctor looked at his face. The shut jaws looked more than ever like a ledge of granite and the chin like a cliff. "You can, eh? Hanged if I don't believe you! And I'll help you. I'd like to, if you would let me." The voice ended in a wistful tone. The boy was touched.
"Oh, you can!" he cried impulsively, "and I'll be awfully thankful. You can tell me what books to get and sometimes explain, perhaps, if you have time." His face went suddenly crimson. He was conscious of asking a favour.
The old doctor sat down, rejoicing greatly in him, and for the first time treated him as an equal. He explained in detail the course of study, making much of the difficulties in the way. When he had done he waved his hand toward his library.
"Now, there are my books," he cried; "use them and ask me what you will. It will brush me up. And I'll take you to see my cases and, by God's help, we'll make you a surgeon! A surgeon, sir! You've got the fingers and the nerves. A surgeon! That's the only thing worth while. The physician can't see further below the skin than anyone else. He guesses and experiments, treats symptoms, trys one drug then another, guessing and experimenting all along the line. But the knife, boy!" Here the doctor rose and began to pace the floor. "There's no guess in the knife point! The knife lays bare the evil, fights, eradicates it! Look at that boy Kane, died three weeks ago. 'Inflammation,' said the physician. Treated his symptoms properly enough. The boy died. At the postmortem"—here the doctor paused in his walk, lowering his voice almost to a whisper while he bent over the boy—"at the post-mortem the knife discovered an abscess on the vermiform appendix. The discovery was made too late." These were the days before appendicitis became fashionable. "Now, listen to me," continued the doctor, even more impressively, "I believe in my soul that the knife at the proper moment might have saved that boy's life! A slight incision an inch or two long, the removal of the diseased part, a few stitches, and in a couple of weeks the boy is well! Ah, boy! God knows I'd give my life to be a great surgeon! But He didn't give me the fingers. Look at these," and he held up a coarse, heavy hand; "I haven't the touch. And besides, He brought me my wife, the best thing I've got in the world, and my baby, which settled the surgeon business forever. Now listen, boy! You've got the nerve—plenty of men have that—but you've also got the fingers, which few men have. With your touch and your steady nerve and your mechanical ingenuity—I've seen your machines, boy—you can be a great surgeon! But you must know your subject. You must think, dream, sleep, eat, drink bones and muscles and sinews and nerves. Push everything else aside!" he cried, waving his great hands. "And remember!"—here his voice took a solemn tone—"let nothing share your heart with your knife! Leave the women alone. A woman has no business in science. She distracts the mind, disturbs the liver, absorbs the vital powers, besides paralysing the finances. For you, let there be one woman, your mother, at least till you are a surgeon. Now, then, there are my books and all my spare time at your command." At these words the boy's face, which had caught the light and glow of the old man's enthusiasm, fell.
"Well, what now?" cried the doctor, reading his face like a book.
"I have no right to take your books or your time."
The doctor sprang to his feet with an oath. The boy also rose and faced him, almost as if expecting a blow. For a moment they stood steadfastly regarding each other, then the doctor's old face relaxed, his eyes softened. He put his big hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Now, by the Lord that made you and me!" he said, "we were meant for a team, and a team we'll make. I'll help you and I'll make you pay." The boy's face brightened.
"How?" he cried eagerly.
"We'll change work." The doctor's old eyes began to twinkle. "I want fall ploughing done and my cordwood hauled."
"I'll do it!" cried Barney. A light broke in his eyes and flooded his face. At last he saw his path.
"Here," said the doctor, taking down a book, "here's your Gray." And turning the leaves, "Here's what happened to Ben Fallows. Read this. And here's the treatment," pulling down another book and turning to a page, "Read that. I'll make Ben your first patient. There's no money in it, anyway, and you can't kill him. He only needs three things, cleanliness, good cheer, and good food. By and by we'll get him a leg. Here's that Buffalo doctor's catalogue. Take it along. Now, boy, I'll work you, grind you, and you'll go for your first examination next spring."
"Next spring!" cried Barney, aghast, "not for three years."
"Three years!" snorted the doctor, "three fiddlesticks! You can do this first examination by next spring."
"Yes. I could do it," said Barney slowly.
The doctor cast an admiring glance at the line of jaw on the boy's face.
"But there's the mortgage and there's Dick's college."
"Dick's college? Why Dick's and not yours?"
The boy's rugged face changed. A tender light fell over it, filling in its cracks and canyons.
"Because—well, because Dick must go through. Dick's clever. He's awful clever." Pride mingled with the tenderness in look and tone. "Mother wants him to be a minister, and," he added after a pause, "I do, too."
The old doctor turned from him, stood looking out of the window a few minutes, and then came back. He put his hands on the boy's shoulders. "I understand, boy," he said, his great voice vibrating in deep and tender tones, "I, too, had a brother once. Make Dick a minister if you want, but meantime we'll grind the surgeon's knife."
The boy went home to his mother in high exultation.
"The doctor wants me to look after Ben for him," he announced. "He is going to show me the dressings, and he says all he wants is cleanliness, good cheer, and good food. I can keep him clean. But how he is to get good cheer in that house, and how he is to get good food, are more than I can tell."
"Good cheer!" cried Dick. "He'll not lack for company. How many has she now, mother? A couple of dozen, more or less?"
"There are thirteen of them already, poor thing."
"Thirteen! That's an unlucky stopping place. Let us hope she won't allow the figure to remain at that."
"Indeed, I am thinking it will not," said his mother, speaking with the confidence of intimate knowledge.
"Well," replied Dick, with a judicial air, "it's a question whether it's worse to defy the fate that lurks in that unlucky number, or to accept the doubtful blessing of another twig to the already overburdened olive tree."
"Ay, it is a hard time she is having with the four babies and all."
"Four, mother! Surely that's an unusual number even for the prolific Mrs. Fallows!"
"Whisht, laddie!" said his mother, in a shocked tone, "don't talk foolishly."
"But you said four, mother."
"Twins the last twice," interjected Barney.
"Great snakes!" cried Dick, "let us hope she won't get the habit."
"But, mother," inquired Barney seriously, "what's to be done?"
"Indeed, I can't tell," said his mother.
"Listen to me," cried Dick, "I've got an inspiration. I'll undertake the 'good cheer.' I'll impress the young ladies into this worthy service. Light conversation and song. And you can put up the food, mother, can't you?"
"We will see," said the mother quietly; "we will do our best."
"In that case the 'food department' is secure," said Dick; "already I see Ben Fallows making rapid strides toward convalescence."
It was characteristic of Barney that within a few days he had all three departments in full operation. With great tact he succeeded in making Mrs. Fallows thoroughly scour the woodwork and whitewash the walls in Ben's little room, urging the doctor's orders and emphasizing the danger of microbes, the dread of which was just beginning to obtain in popular imagination.