THE SKY PILOT IN NO MAN'S LAND
By Ralph Connor
I. ONLY A MISSIONARY
II. ON THE RED PINE TRAIL
III. A QUESTION OF CONSCIENCE
V. THE WAR DRUM CALLS
VI. THE MEN OF THE NORTH
VII. BARRICADES AND BAYONETS
VIII. A QUESTION OF NERVE
IX. SUBMARINES, BULLPUPS AND OTHER THINGS
XI. THE NEW MESSAGE
XII. A MAN OF GOD
XIII. INTENSIVE TRAINING
XIV. A TOUCH OF WAR
XV. THINNING RANKS
XVI. THE PASSING OF McCUAIG
XVII. LONDON LEAVE AND PHYLLIS
XVIII. A WEDDING JOURNEY
XIX. THE PILOT'S LAST PORT
XX. "CARRY ON"
THE SKY PILOT IN NO MAN'S LAND
ONLY A MISSIONARY
High upon a rock, poised like a bird for flight, stark naked, his satin skin shining like gold and silver in the rising sun, stood a youth, tall, slim of body, not fully developed but with muscles promising, in their faultless, gently swelling outline, strength and suppleness to an unusual degree. Gazing down into the pool formed by an eddy of the river twenty feet below him, he stood as if calculating the distance, his profile turned toward the man who had just emerged from the bushes and was standing on the sandy strand of the river, paddle in hand, looking up at him with an expression of wonder and delight in his eyes.
"Ye gods, what a picture!" said the man to himself.
Noiselessly, as if fearing to send the youth off in flight, he laid his paddle on the sand, hurriedly felt in his pockets, and swore to himself vigorously when he could find no sketch book there.
"What a pose! What an Apollo!" he muttered.
The sunlight glistening on the beautiful white skin lay like pools of gold in the curving hollows of the perfectly modelled body, and ran like silver over the rounded swellings of the limbs. Instinct with life he seemed, something in his pose suggesting that he had either alighted from the golden, ambient air, or was about to commit himself to it. The man on the sand continued to gaze as if he were beholding a creature of another world.
"Oh, Lord! What lines!" he breathed.
Slowly the youth began to move his arms up to the horizontal, then to the perpendicular, reaching to the utmost of his height upon his toe tips, breathing deep the while. Smoothly, slowly, the muscles in legs and thighs, in back, in abdomen, in chest, responding to the exercise moved under the lustrous skin as if themselves were living things. Over and over again the action was repeated, the muscles and body moving in rhythmic harmony like some perfect mechanism running in a bath of oil.
"Ye gods of Greece!" breathed the man. "What is this thing I see? Flesh or spirit? Man or god?" Again he swore at himself for neglecting to bring his sketch book and pencil.
"Hello, father! Where are you?" A girl's voice rang out, high, clear, and near at hand.
"Good Lord!" said the man to himself, glancing up at the poised figure. "I must stop her."
One startled glance the youth flung down upon him, another in the direction of the voice, then, like a white, gleaming arrow he shot down, and disappeared in the dark pool below.
With his eyes upon the water the man awaited his reappearing. A half minute, a full minute he waited, but in vain. Swiftly he ran toward the edge of the pool. There was no sign anywhere of the youth.
Ghastly pale and panting, the man ran, as far round the base of the rock as the water would allow him, seeking everywhere signs of the swimmer.
"Hello, father! Oh, there you are!" Breaking through the bushes, a girl ran to him.
"What is it, pater? You are ill. What is the matter?"
"Good heavens! he was there!" gasped the man, pointing to the high rock. "He plunged in there." He pointed to the pool. "He hasn't come up. He is drowned."
"Who? What are you saying? Wake up, father. Who was there?"
"A boy! A young man! He disappeared down there."
"A young man? Was he—was he—dressed?" inquired the girl.
"Dressed? No. No."
"Did he—did he—hear me—calling?"
"Of course he did. That's what startled him, I imagine. Poor boy! I fear he is gone."
"Did he fall in, or did he dive?"
"He seemed to dive, but he has not come up. I fear he is gone."
"Oh, nonsense, father," said the girl. "I bet you he has swum round the bend. Just go over the rock and see."
"God grant it!" said her father.
He dropped his paddle, ran up over the rock and down into the little dell on the other side that ran down to the water's edge. There he saw a tent, with all the accompaniments of a well ordered camp, and a man cooking breakfast on a small fire.
"Well, I'll be combusticated!" he said to himself, weakly holding to a little poplar tree.
"I say!" he cried, "where is he? Has he come in? Is he all right?"
"Who?" said the man at the fire.
"The boy on the rock."
The man gazed at him astonished, then as if suddenly grasping his meaning, replied,
"Yes, he came in. He's dressing in the tent."
"Well, I'll be condumbusticated!" said the man. "Say! what the devil does he mean by scaring people out of their senses in that way!"
The man at the fire stood gazing at him in an utterly bewildered way.
"If you will tell me exactly what you are after, I may be able to help you."
The other drew slowly near the fire. He was still pale, and breathing quickly.
"Hello, dad, is breakfast ready?" came a cheery voice from the tent.
"Thank God, he is alive apparently," said the man, sinking down on a log beside the fire. "You must pardon me, sir," he said. "You see, I saw him take a header into the pool from that high rock over yonder, and he never came up again. I thought he was drowned."
The man at the fire smiled.
"The young villain gave you a fright, did he? One of his usual tricks. Well, as his father, and more or less responsible for him, I offer the most humble apology. Have you had breakfast?"
"Yes. But why did he do such a thing?"
"Ask him. Here he comes."
Out from the tent came the youth in shorts, the warm glow of his body showing through the filmy material.
"Hello!" he cried, backing toward the tent door. "You are the man with the paddle. Is there by any chance a lady with you, or did I hear a lady's voice over there? I assure you I got a deuce of a fright."
"You gave me the supreme fright of my life, young man, I can tell you that."
"But I surely heard a lady's voice," said the youth.
"You did. It was my daughter's voice, and it was she who suggested that you had swum around the bend. And she sent me over here to investigate."
"Oh, your daughter. Excuse me," said the youth. "I shall be out in a few minutes." He slid into the tent, and did not reappear.
The man remained chatting with the youth's father for a few minutes, then rising said,
"Well, I feel better. I confess this thing gave me something of a shock. But come round and see us before we go. We shall be leaving in an hour."
The man at the fire promised to make the visit, and the other took his departure.
A few minutes later the youth reappeared.
"Is breakfast ready?" he cried. "My, but I'm hungry! But who is he, dad?"
"Sit down," said his father, "and get your breakfast while it is hot."
"But who is he, dad?" persisted the youth.
"Who is he?" said his father, dishing up the bacon. "An oil explorer, an artist, a capitalist, an American from Pittsburgh, the father of one child, a girl. Her mother is dead. Nineteen years old, athletic, modern type, college bred, 'boss of the show' (quotation). These are a few of the facts volunteered within the limited space of his visit."
"What's he like, dad?"
"Like? Like an American."
"Now, dad, don't allow your old British prejudices to run away with your judgment."
"On the contrary, I am perfectly charmed. He is one of those Americans who capture you at once, educated, frank, open, with that peculiar charm that Britishers will not be able to develop for many generations. An American, but not of the unspeakable type. Not at all. You will like him."
"I am sure I shall," replied the youth. "I liked his voice and his face. I like the Americans. I met such nice chaps at college. So clever, and with such a vocabulary."
"Vocabulary? Well, I'm not too sure as to the vocabulary part of it."
"Yes, such bright, pat, expressive slang, so fresh and in such variety. So different from your heavy British slang, in which everything approaching the superlative must be one of three things, 'ripping,' with very distinct articulation on the double p, or 'top hole,' or 'awfully jolly.' More recently, I believe, a fourth variation is allowed in 'priceless.'
"Ah, my boy, you have unconsciously uttered a most searching criticism on your American friends. Don't you know that a vocabulary rich in slang is poverty stricken in forceful and well chosen English? The wealth of the one is the poverty of the other."
"Where is he going?" enquired the boy.
"Out by way of Edmonton, Calgary, Moose Jaw, Minneapolis, so on to Pittsburgh. Partner with him, young lawyer, expert in mines, unmarried. He is coming back in a couple of months or so for a big hunt. Wants us to join him. Really extraordinary, when you come to think of it, how much information he was able to convey in such a short space of time. Marvellous gift of expression!"
"What did you say, dad?"
"Say? Oh, as to his invitation! Why, I believe I accepted, my boy. It seemed as if I could do nothing else. It's a way he has."
"Is—is the daughter to be along?"
"Let me see. What did he say? Really, I don't know. But I should judge that it would be entirely as she wished. She is—"
"Boss of the show, eh?"
"Exactly. Most vivid phrase, eh?"
"Very. And no doubt aptly descriptive of the fact."
In half an hour the breakfast was finished, and the elder man got his pipe a-going.
"Now, dad, you had better go along and make your call, while I get things together here."
"What! You not going! No, no, that won't do, my boy. It was about you they were concerned. You were the occasion of the acquaintanceship. Besides, meeting in the wilderness this way we can't do that sort of thing, you know."
"Well, dad, frankly, I am quite terrified of the young lady. Suppose she should start bossing us. We should both be quite helpless."
"Oh, nonsense, boy! Come along. Get your hat."
"All right, I'll come. On your head be the consequences, dad. No. I don't need a hat. Fortunately I put on a clean shirt. Will I do, dad? You know I'm 'scairt stiff,' as Harry Hobbs would say."
His father looked him over, but there was nothing critical in his glance. Pride and love filled his eyes as they ran over his son's face and figure. And small wonder! The youth was good to look upon. A shade under six feet he stood, straight and slim, strength and supple grace in every move of his body. His face was beautiful with the beauty of features, clean cut and strong, but more with the beauty of a clear, candid soul. He seemed to radiate an atmosphere of cheery good nature and unspoiled simplicity. He was two years past his majority, yet he carried the air of a youth of eighteen, in which shyness and fearlessness looked out from his deep blue eyes. It was well that he wore no hat to hide the mass of rich brown hair that waved back from his forehead.
"You'll do, boy," said his father, in a voice whose rigid evenness of tone revealed the emotion it sought to conceal. "You'll take all the shine from me, you young beggar," he added in a tone of gruff banter, "but there was a time—"
"WAS a time, dad? IS, and don't tell me you don't know it. I always feel like a school kid in any company when you're about.
'When the sun comes out All the little stars run in,'"
he sang from a late music hall effusion. "Why, just come here and look at yourself," and the boy's eyes dwelt with affectionate pride upon his father.
It was easy to see where the boy got his perfect form. Not so tall as his son, he was more firmly knit, and with a kind of dainty neatness in his appearance which suggested the beau in earlier days. But there was nothing of weakness about the erect, trim figure. A second glance discovered a depth of chest, a thickness of shoulder and of thigh, and a general development of muscle such as a ring champion might show; and, indeed, it was his achievements in the ring rather than in the class lists that won for Dick Dunbar in his college days his highest fame. And though his fifty years had slowed somewhat the speed of foot and hand, the eye was as sure as ever, and but little of the natural force was abated which once had made him the glory of the Cambridge sporting youth, and which even yet could test his son's mettle in a fast bout.
On the sandy shore of the river below the eddy, they found the American and his party gathered, with their stuff ranged about them ready for the canoes.
"Ah, here you are, sir," said the American, advancing hat in hand. "And this is your son, the young rascal who came mighty near giving me heart failure this morning. By the way, I haven't the pleasure of knowing your name."
"My name is Richard Dunbar, and this is my son Barry."
"My name is Osborne Howland, of Pittsburgh, and this is my daughter Paula. In bloomers, as you see, but nevertheless my daughter. Meet also my friend and partner, Mr. Cornwall Brand."
The party exchanged greetings, and spent some moments giving utterance to those platitudes which are so useful in such circumstances, a sort of mental marking time preparatory to further mutual acquaintance.
The girl possessed that striking, dashing kind of brunette beauty that goes with good health, good living, and abundance of outdoor exercise. She carried herself with that air of assured self-confidence that comes as the result of a somewhat wide experience of men, women and things. She quite evidently scorned the conventions, as her garb, being quite masculine, her speech being outspoken and decorated with the newest and most ingenious slang, her whole manner being frankly impulsive, loudly proclaimed.
But Barry liked her at once, and made no pretence of concealing his liking. To her father, also, he was immediately drawn. As to Cornwall Brand, between whom and the girl there seemed to exist a sort of understanding, he was not so sure.
For half an hour or so they stood by the river exchanging their experiences in these northern wilds, and their views upon life in the wilderness and upon things in general. By a little skilful managing the girl got the young man away from the others, and then proceeded to dissect and classify him.
Through the open woods along the river bank they wandered, pausing here and there to admire the view, until they came to an overhanging bank at the entrance to a somewhat deep gorge, through which the river foamed to the boiling rapids below. It was indeed a beautiful scene. The banks of the river were covered with every variety of shrub and tree, except where the black rocks broke through; between the banks the dark river raged and fretted itself into a foam against its rocky barriers; over them arched the sky, a perfect blue.
"What a lovely view!" exclaimed the girl, seating herself upon the edge of the bank. "Now," she said, "tell me about yourself. You gave my pater a fearful fright this morning. He was quite paralysed when I came on him."
"I am very sorry," said the youth, "but I had no intention—"
"I know. I told him not to worry," replied the girl. "I knew you would be all right."
"And how, pray?" said the young man, blushing at the memory of his startling appearance upon that rock.
"I knew that any fellow who could take that dive wouldn't likely let himself drown. I guessed, too, that if you heard me hoot—"
"I did," said the youth.
"You sure would get slippy right away."
"I guess you were pretty well startled yourself, weren't you?" said the girl, pursuing the subject with cool persistence.
"Rather," said the young man, blushing more violently, and wishing she would change the subject. "You are going out?" he enquired.
"Too bad," he said, his disappointment evident in his tone.
"When are you going out? But who are you, anyway?" asked the girl. "You have to tell me that."
"My life story, so to speak?"
"It's very short and simple, like the annals of the poor," he replied. "From England in infancy, on a ranch in northern Alberta for ten years, a puny little wretch I was, terribly bothered with asthma, then"—the boy hesitated a moment—"my mother died, father moved to Edmonton, lived there for five years, thence to Wapiti, away northwest of Edmonton, our present home, prepared for college by my father, university course in Winnipeg, graduated in theology a year ago, now the missionary in charge of Wapiti and the surrounding district."
"A preacher!" said the girl, her face and her tone showing her disappointment only too plainly.
"Not much of a preacher, I fear," said the young man with a smile. "A missionary, rather. That's my story."
She noticed with some chagrin that he did not ask for hers.
"What are you doing here?" she enquired.
He hesitated a moment or two.
"Dad and I always take a trip into the wilds every summer." Then he added after a few moments' pause, "But of course we have other business on hand up here."
"Business? Up here?"
"Yes. Dad has some." He made as if to continue, but changed his mind and fell into silence, leaving her piqued by his reserve and by his apparent indifference to the things concerning herself. She did not know that he was eagerly hoping that she would supply this information.
At length he ventured, "Must you go away to-day?"
"I don't suppose there's any 'must' about it."
"Why not stay?"
"Why should I?"
"Oh, it would be jolly," he cried. "You see, we could—explore about here—and,"—he ended rather lamely,—"it's a lovely country."
"We've seen a lot of it. It IS lovely," she said, her eyes upon his face as if appraising him. "I should like to know you better," she added, with sudden and characteristic frankness, "so I think we will stay. But you will have to be awfully good to me."
"Why, of course," he cried. "That's splendid! Perfectly jolly!"
"Then we had better find father and tell him. Come along," she ordered, and led the way back to the camp.
The young man followed her, wondering at her, and giving slight heed to the chatter she flung over her shoulder at him as she strode along through the bushes.
"What's the matter with you?" she cried, facing round upon him. "You were thinking about me, I know. Confess, now."
"I was," he acknowledged, smiling at her.
"What were you thinking? Tell me," she insisted.
"I was thinking—" He paused.
"Go on!" she cried.
"I was thinking of what your father said about you."
"My father? About me? What did he say? To you?"
"No. To dad."
"What was it? Tell me. I must know." She was very imperious in her manner. The youth only smiled at her.
"Go on!" she said impatiently.
"I think possibly your father was right," he replied, "when he said you 'boss the show.'"
"Oh, that's what he said, eh? Well, I guess he's about right."
"But you don't really?"
"Don't what? 'Boss the show'? Well, I boss my own show, at any rate. Don't you?"
"Don't I what, exactly? Boss the show? Well, I don't think we have any 'show,' and I don't believe we have any 'boss.' Dad and I just talk things over, you see."
"But," she insisted, "some one in the last analysis must decide. Your menage, no matter how simple, must have a head. It is a law of the universe itself, and it is the law of mankind. You see, I have done some political economy."
"And yet," said the young man, "you say you run your own show?"
"Exactly. Every social organism must have a head, but every individual in the organism must live its own free life. That is true democracy. But of course you don't understand democracy, you Canadians."
"Aha! There you are! You Americans are the most insular of all the great peoples of the world. You know nothing of other people. You know only your own history and not even that correctly, your own geography, and your own political science. You know nothing of Canada. You don't know, for instance, that the purest form of democracy on this American continent lies outside the bounds of the U. S. A."
"In Canada?" she asked scornfully. "By the way, how many Canadians are there?"
"Yes, I know. We are a small people," he said quietly, "but no more real democracy exists anywhere in the world than in this country of mine. We are a small people, but," he said, with a sweep of his hand toward the west and the north, "the future is with us. The day is coming when along this waterway great cities shall be, with factories and humming industries. These plains, these flowing hills will be the home of millions of men, and in my lifetime, too."
His eyes began to glow, his face to shine with a rare and fascinating beauty.
"Do you know the statistics of your country? Do you know that during the last twenty years the rate of Canada's growth was three times greater than ever in the history of the United States? You are a great commercial nation, but do you know that the per capita rate of Canada's trade to-day is many times that of the United States? You are a great agricultural people, but do you know that three-quarters of the wheat land on this continent is Canadian, and that before many years you will be coming to Canada for your wheat, yes, and for your flour? Do you see that river? Do you know that Canada is the richest country in the world in water power? And more than that, in the things essential to national greatness,—not these things that you can see, these material things," he said, sweeping his hand contemptuously toward the horizon, "but in such things as educational standards, in administration of justice, in the customs of a liberty loving people, in religious privileges, in everything that goes to make character and morale, Canada has already laid the foundations of a great nation."
He stopped short, abashed, the glow fading from his face, the light from his eyes.
"Forgive me," he said, with a little laugh. "I am a first class ass. I fear I was blowing like a fog horn. But when you touch Canada you release something in me."
While he was speaking her eyes never left his face. "Go on!" she said, in a voice of suppressed emotion, "go on. I love to hear you."
Her wonted poise was gone; she was obviously stirred with deep emotion.
"Go on!" she commanded, laying her hand upon his arm. "Don't stop. Tell me more about—about Canada, about anything," she added impatiently.
A warm, eager light filled her eyes. She was biting her lips to still their tremor.
"There's plenty to tell about Canada," he said, "but not now. What started me? Oh, democracy. Yes, it was you that began it. Democracy? After all, it is worth while that the people who are one day to fill this wide land should be truly democratic, truly free, and truly great."
Once more the light began to burn in his eyes and in his face.
"Ah, to have a hand in that!"
"And you," she said in a low voice, "you with all that in you, are only a preacher."
"A missionary," he corrected.
"Well, a missionary. Only a missionary."
Disappointment and scorn were all too evident in her voice.
"ONLY a missionary. Ah, if I could only be one. A missionary! With a mission and a message to my people! If only I had the gift of tongues, of flaming, burning, illuminating speech, of heart-compelling speech! To tell my people how to make this country truly great and truly free, how to keep it free from the sordid things, the cruel things, the unjust, the unclean, the loathsome things that have debased and degraded the older nations, that are debasing and degrading even your young, great nation. Ah, to be a missionary with a tongue of fire, with a message of light! A missionary to my people to help them to high and worthy living, to help them to God! ONLY a missionary! What would you have me? A money-maker?"
He turned swiftly upon her, a magnetic, compelling personality. From the furious scorn in his voice and in his flaming face she visibly shrank, almost as if he had struck her.
"No!" she breathed. "Nothing else. Only a missionary."
Silent she stood, as if still under the spell of his words, her eyes devouring his face.
"How your mother would have loved you, would have been proud of you," she said in a low tone. "Is—is there no one else to—to rejoice in you?" she asked shyly, but eagerly.
He laughed aloud. "There's dad, dear old dad."
"And no one else?" Still with shy, eager eyes she held him.
"Oh, heaps," he cried, still laughing.
She smiled upon him, a slightly uncertain smile, and yet as if his answer somehow satisfied her.
"Good-bye," she said impulsively, offering her hand.
"But you are not going! You're staying a few days!" he gasped.
"No, we're going. We're going right away. Goodbye," she said. "I don't want those others to see. Goodbye. Oh, it's been a wonderful morning! And,—and—a friend is a wonderful discovery."
Her hand held his in a strong, warm grasp, but her eyes searched his face as if seeking something she greatly desired.
"Good-bye. I am sorry you are going," he said, simply. "I want to know you better."
"Do you?" she cried, with a sudden eagerness in her voice and manner. Then, "No. You would be disappointed. I am not of your world. But you shall see me again," she added, as if taking a new resolve. "We are coming back on a big hunt, and you and your father are to join us. Won't you?"
"Dad said we should," said the youth, smiling at the remembrance.
"And you?" she said, with a touch of impatience.
"If things can so arrange themselves—my work, I mean, and dad's."
"But, do you want to? Do you really want to?" she asked. "I wish I knew. I hate not to understand people. You are hard to know. I don't know you. But you will come?"
"I think so," said the young man. "Of course a fellow's work comes first, you know."
"Work?" she cried. "Your work? Oh, your missionary work. Oh, yes, yes. I should like to see you at it. Come, let us go."
Mr. Cornwall Brand they found in a fever of impatience. He had the trip scheduled to a time table, and he hated to be forced to change his plans. His impatience showed itself in snappy commands and inquiries to his Indian guides, who, however, merely grunted replies. They knew their job and did it without command or advice, and with complete indifference to anything the white man might have to say. To Paula the only change in his manner was an excess of politeness.
Her father, however, met her with remonstrances.
"Why, Paula, my dear, you have kept us waiting."
"What's the rush, pater?" she enquired, coolly.
"Why, my dear, we are already behind our schedule, and you know Cornwall hates that," he said in a low voice.
"Cornwall!" said Paula, in a loud voice of unmistakable ill temper. "Does Cornwall run this outfit?"
"My dear Paula!" again remonstrated her father.
She turned to him impatiently, with an angry word at her lips, caught upon Barry's face a look of surprise, paused midway in her passion, then moved slowly toward him.
"Well," she asked, in an even, cold voice, "what do you think about it? And anyway," she dropped her voice so that none heard but himself, "why should you halt me? Who are you, to give me pause this way?"
"Only a missionary," he answered, in an equally low tone, but with a smile gentle, almost wistful on his face.
As with a flash the wrathful cloud vanished.
"A missionary," she replied softly. "God knows I need one."
"You do," he said emphatically, and still he smiled.
"Come, Paula," called Cornwall Brand. "We are all waiting."
Her face hardened at his words.
"Good-bye," she said to Barry. "I am coming back again to—to your wonderful Canada."
"Of course you are," said Barry, heartily. "They all do."
He went with her to the canoe, steadied her as she took her place, and stood watching till the bend in the river shut them from view.
"Nice people," said his father. "Very fine, jolly girl."
"Yes, isn't she?" replied his son.
"Handsome, too," said his father, glancing keenly at him.
"Is she? Yes, I think so. Yes, indeed, very," he added, as if pondering the matter. "When do we move, dad?"
A look of relief crossed the father's face.
"This afternoon, I think. We have only a few days now. We shall run up Buffalo Creek into the Foothills for some trout. It will be a little stiff, but you are fit enough now, aren't you, Barry?" His voice was tinged with anxiety.
"Fit for anything, dad, thanks to you."
"Not to me, Barry. To yourself largely."
"No," said the boy, throwing his arm round his father's shoulder, "thanks to you, dear old dad,—and to God."
ON THE RED PINE TRAIL
On the Red Pine trail two men were driving in a buckboard drawn by a pair of half-broken pinto bronchos. The outfit was a rather ramshackle affair, and the driver was like his outfit. Stewart Duff was a rancher, once a "remittance man," but since his marriage three years ago he had learned self-reliance and was disciplining himself in self-restraint. A big, lean man he was, his thick shoulders and large, hairy muscular hands suggesting great physical strength, his swarthy face, heavy features, coarse black hair, keen dark eyes, deepset under shaggy brows, suggesting force of character with a possibility of brutality in passion. Yet when he smiled his heavy face was not unkindly, indeed the smile gave it a kind of rugged attractiveness. He was past his first youth, and on his face were the marks of the stormy way by which he had come.
He drove his jibing bronchos with steady hands. No light touch was his upon the reins, and the bronchos' wild plunging met with a check from those muscular hands of such iron rigidity as to fling them back helpless and amazed upon their hocks.
His companion was his opposite in physical appearance, and in those features and lines that so unmistakably reveal the nature and character within. Short and stout, inclined indeed to fat, to his great distress, his thick-set figure indicated strength without agility, solidity without resilience. He had a pleasant, open face, with a kindly, twinkling blue eye that goes with a merry heart, with a genial, sunny soul. But there was in the blue eye and in the open face, for all the twinkles and the smiles, a certain alert shrewdness that proclaimed the keen man of business, and in the clean cut lips lay the suggestion of resolute strength. A likable man he was, with an infinite capacity for humour, but with a bedrock of unyielding determination in him that always surprised those who judged him lightly.
The men were friends, and had been comrades more or less during those pioneer days that followed their arrival in the country from Scotland some dozen years ago. Often they had fallen out with each other, for Duff was stormy of temper and had a habit of letting himself swing out upon its gusts of passion, reckless of consequences; but he was ever the one to offer amends and to seek renewal of good relations. He had few friends, and so he clung the more closely to those he had. At such times the other would wait in cool, good-tempered but determined aloofness for his friend's return.
"You can chew your cud till you're cool again," he would say when the outbreak would arise. But invariably their differences were composed and their friendship remained unbroken.
The men sat in the buckboard, leaning forward with hunched shoulders, swaying easily to the pitching of the vehicle as it rattled along the trail which, especially where it passed over the round topped ridges, was thickly strewn with stones. Before them, now on the trail and now ranging wide over the prairie, ran a beautiful black and white English setter.
"Great dog that, Sandy," said Duff. "I could have had a dozen birds this afternoon. A wonderful nose, and steady as a rock."
"A good dog, Stewart," assented Sandy, but with slight interest.
"There ain't another like him in this western country," said the owner of the dog with emphasis.
"Oh, I don't know about that. There are some very good dogs around here, Stewart," replied Sandy lightly.
"But I know. And that's why I'm saying there ain't his like in this western country, and that's as true as your name is Sandy Bayne."
"Well, my name is Sandy Bayne, all right, but how did he come out at the Calgary trials?"
"Aw, those damned gawks! They don't know a good dog from a he-goat! They don't know what a dog is for, or how to use him."
"Oh, now, Stewart," said Sandy, "I guess Willocks knows a dog when he sees one."
"Willocks!" said his friend with scorn. "There's where you're wrong. Do you know why he cut Slipper out of the Blue Ribbon? Because he wouldn't range a mile away. Darned old fool! What's the good of a point a mile away! Keeps you running over the whole creation, makes you lose time, tires yourself and tires your dog; and more than that, in nine cases out of ten you lose your bird. Give me a close ranger. He cleans up as he goes, keeps your game right at your hand, and gets you all the sport there is."
"Who beat you, Stewart, in the trials?"
"That bitch of Snider's."
"Man! Stewart, that's a beautiful bitch! I know her well. She's a beautiful bitch!" Sandy began to show enthusiasm.
"Oh, there you go! That's just what those fool judges said. 'Beautiful dog! Beautiful dog!' Suppose she is! Looks ain't everything. They're something, but the question is, does she get the birds? Now, Slipper there got three birds to her one. Got 'em within range, too."
"Ah, but Stewart, yon's a good bitch," said Sandy.
"Look here!" cried his friend, "I have bred more dogs in the old country than those men ever saw in their lives."
"That may be, Stewart, but yon's a good bitch," persisted Sandy.
For a mile more they discussed the merits of Slipper and of his rivals, Sandy with his semi-humorous chaff extracting quiet amusement from his friend's wrath, and the latter, though suspecting that he was being drawn, unable to restrain his passionate championship of his dog.
At length Sandy, wearying of the discussion, caught sight of a figure far before them on the trail.
"Who is that walking along there?" he enquired.
Together they ran over the names of all who in this horse country were unfortunate enough to be doomed to a pedestrian form of locomotion.
"Guess it's the preacher," said Duff finally, whose eyes were like a hawk's.
"He's been out at my place Sunday afternoon," said Sandy, "but I haven't met him myself. What sort is he?"
"Don't ask me. I sometimes go with the madame to church, but generally I fall asleep. He's no alarm clock."
"Then you can't tell what sort of a preacher he is," said Sandy with a twinkle in his eye. "You can't hear much when you are asleep."
"I hear enough to know that he's no good as a preacher. I hear they're going to fire him."
"I tell you what it is, Stewart," said Sandy, "I don't believe you would know a good sermon if you heard one."
"What's that you say? I've heard the best preachers in the country that breeds preachers, in the country where preachers grow like the berries on the bramble bushes. I know preaching, and I like good preaching, too."
"Oh, come off, Stewart! You may be a good judge of dogs, but I'm blowed if I am going to take you as a judge of preachers."
"The same qualities in all of them, dogs, horses, preachers," insisted Duff.
"How do you make that out?"
"Well, take a horse. He must be a good-looker. This preacher is a good-looker, all right, but looks ain't everything. Must be quick at the start, must have good action, good style, staying power, and good at the finish. Most preachers never know when to finish, and that's the way with this man."
"Are you going to take him up?" inquired Sandy, for they were now close upon the man walking before them.
"Oh, I guess not," replied Duff. "I haven't much use for him."
"Say, what's the matter with him? He looks rather puffed out," said Sandy. "Better take him up."
"All right," replied Duff, pulling up his bronchos. "Good day. Will you have a ride? Mr. Barry Dunbar, my friend Mr. Bayne."
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Bayne," said Barry, who was pale and panting hard. "Thanks for the lift. The truth—is—I'm rather—done up. A touch of asthma—the first—in five years. An old trouble of mine."
"Get up here," said Sandy. "There's room for three in the seat."
"No—thank you,—I should—crowd you,—all right behind here. Beastly business—this asthma. Worse when—the pollen—from the plants—is floating—about—so they say. I don't know—nobody does—I fancy." They drove on, bumping over the stones, Barry gradually getting back his wind. The talk of the men in the front seat had fallen again on dogs, Stewart maintaining with ever increasing vehemence his expert knowledge of dogs, of hunting dogs, and very especially of setter hunting dogs; his friend, while granting his knowledge of dogs in general, questioning the unprejudiced nature of his judgment as far as Slipper was concerned.
As Duff's declarations grew in violence they became more and more elaborately decorated with profanity. In the full tide of their conversation a quiet voice broke in:
"Too many 'damns.'"
"What!" exclaimed Duff.
"I beg your pardon!" said Sandy.
"Too many 'damns,'" said Barry, looking quietly at Duff.
"Dams? Where?" said Duff, looking about.
"Beaver dams, do you mean?" enquired Sandy. "I don't see any."
"Too many 'damns,'" reiterated Barry. "You don't need them. You really don't need them, you know, and besides, they are not right. Profanity is quite useless, and it's wicked."
"Well, I'll be damned!" said Stewart in a low voice to his friend. "He means us."
"And quite right, too," said Sandy solemnly. "You know your English is rotten bad. Yes, sir," he continued, turning round to Barry, "I quite agree with you. My friend is quite unnecessarily free in his speech."
"Yes, but you are just the same, you know," said Barry. "Not quite so many, but then you are not quite so excited."
"Got you there, old sport," grunted Duff, highly amused at Sandy's discomfiture. But to Barry he said, "I guess it's our own business how we express ourselves."
"Yes, it is, but, pardon me, not entirely so. There are others in the world, you know, and you must consider others. The habit is a bad habit, a rotten habit, and quite useless—silly, indeed."
Duff turned his back upon him. Sandy, giving his friend a nudge, burst into a loud laugh.
"You are right, sir," he said, turning to Barry. "You are quite right."
At this point Slipper created a diversion.
"Hello!" said Duff. "Say! Look at him!" He pointed to the dog. "Ain't he a picture!"
A hundred yards away stood Slipper, rigid, every muscle, every hair taut, one foot arrested in air.
"I'll just get those," said Duff, slipping out of the buckboard and drawing the gun from beneath the seat. "Steady, old boy, steady! Hold the lines, Sandy."
He moved quickly toward the dog who, quivering with that mysterious instinct found in the hunting dog, still held the point with taut muscles, nose and tail in line.
"Hello!" Barry called out. "It isn't the season yet for chicken. I say, Mr. Duff," he shouted, "it isn't the chicken season, you know."
"Better leave him alone," said Sandy.
"But it isn't the season yet! It is against the law!" protested Barry indignantly.
Meantime Stewart Duff was closing up cautiously behind Slipper.
"Forward, old boy! Ste-e-e-ady! Forward!" The dog refused to move. "Forward, Slipper!"
Still the dog remained rigid, as if nailed to the ground.
Slowly the dog turned his head with infinite caution half round toward his master, as if in protest.
"Hello, there!" shouted Barry, "you know—"
Just as he called there was on all sides a great whirring of wings. A dozen chicken flew up from under Duff's feet. Bang! Bang! went his gun.
"Missed, as I'm a sinner!" exclaimed Sandy. "I thought he was a better shot than that."
Back came Duff striding wide toward the buckboard. Fifty yards away he shouted:
"Say! what the devil do you mean calling like that at a man when he's on the point of shooting!" His face was black with anger. He looked ready to strike. Barry looked at him steadily.
"But, I was just reminding you that it was not the season for chicken yet," he said in the tone of a man prepared to reason the matter.
"What's that got to do with it! And anyway, whose business is it what I do but my own?"
"But it's against the law!"
"Oh, blank the law! Besides—"
"Besides it isn't—well, you know, it isn't quite sporting to shoot out of season." Barry's manner was as if dealing with a fractious child.
Duff, speechless with his passion, looked at him as if not quite sure what form his vengeance should take.
"He's quite right, Stewart," said his friend Sandy, who was hugely enjoying himself. "You know well enough you are down on the farmer chaps who go pot hunting before season. It's rotten sport, you know."
"Oh, hell! Will you shut up! Can't I shoot over my dog when he points? I'm not out shooting. If I want to give my dog a little experience an odd bird or two don't matter. Besides, what the—"
"Oh, come on, Stewart! Get in, and get a move on! You know you are in the wrong. But I thought you were a better shot than that," added Sandy.
His remark diverted Duff's rage.
"Better shot!" he stormed. "Who could shoot with a—a—a—" he was feeling round helplessly for a properly effective word,—"with a fellow yelling at you?" he concluded lamely. "I'd have had a brace of them if it hadn't been for him."
"In that case," said Barry coolly, "I saved you from the law."
"Saved me from the law! What the devil do you mean, anyway?" said Stewart. "If I want to pick up a bird who's to hinder me? And what's the law got to do with it?"
"Well, you know, I'm not sure but it might have been my duty to report you. I feel that all who break the game laws should be reported. It is the only way to stop the lawless destruction of the game."
Barry spoke in a voice of quiet deliberation, as if pondering the proper action in the premises.
"Quite right, too," said Sandy gravely, but with a twinkle in his blue eye. "They ought to be reported. I have no use for those poachers."
Duff made no reply. His rage and disgust, mingled with the sense of his being in the wrong, held him silent. No man in the whole country was harder upon the game poachers than he, but to be held up in his action and to be threatened with the law by this young preacher, whom he rather despised anyway, seemed to paralyse his mental activities. It did not help his self-control that he was aware that his friend was having his fun of him.
At this moment, fortunately for the harmony of the party, their attention was arrested by the appearance of a motor car driven at a furious rate along the trail, and which almost before they were aware came honking upon them. With a wild lurch the bronchos hurled themselves from the trail, upsetting the buckboard and spilling its load.
Duff, cumbered with his gun, which he had reloaded, allowed one of the reins to drop from his hands and the team went plunging about in a circle, but Barry, the first to get to his feet, rushed to the rescue, snatched the reins and held on till he had dragged the plunging bronchos to a halt.
The rage which had been boiling in Duff, and which with difficulty had been held within bounds, suddenly burst all bonds of control. With a fierce oath he picked up the gun which he had thrown aside in his struggle with the horses, and levelled it at the speeding motor car.
"For God's sake, Stewart, stop!" shouted Bayne, springing toward his friend.
Barry was nearer and quicker. The shot went off, but his hand had knocked up the gun.
"My God, Stewart! Are you clean crazy!" said Bayne, gripping him by the arm. "Do you know what you are doing? You are not fit to carry a gun!"
"I'd have bust his blanked tires for him, anyway!" blustered Duff, though his face and voice showed that he had received a shock.
"Yes, and you might have been a murderer by this time, and heading for the pen, but for Dunbar here. You owe him more than you can ever pay, you blanked fool!"
Duff made no reply, but busied himself with his horses. Nor did he speak again till everything was in readiness for the road.
"Get in," he then said gruffly, and that was his last word until they drove into the village.
At the store he drew up.
"Thank you for the lift," said Barry. "I should have had a tough job to get back in time."
Duff grunted at him, and passed on into the store.
"I am very glad to have met you," said Bayne, shaking hands warmly with him. "You have done us both a great service. He is my friend, you know."
"I am afraid I have offended him, all the same. But you see I couldn't help it, could I?"
Bayne looked at his young, earnest face for a moment or two as if studying him, then said with a curious smile, "No, I don't believe you could have helped it." And with that he passed into the store.
"What sort of a chap is that preacher of yours?" he asked of the storekeeper.
"I don't know; he ain't my church. Ask Innes there. He's a pillar."
Bayne turned to a long, lean, hard-faced man leaning against the counter.
"My name is Bayne, from Red Pine, Mr. Innes. I am interested in knowing what sort of a chap your preacher is. He comes out to our section, but I never met him till to-day."
"Oh, he's no that bad," said Innes cautiously.
"Not worth a cent," said a little, red headed man standing near. "He can't preach for sour apples."
"I wadna just say that, Mr. Hayes," said Innes.
"How do you know, Innes?" retorted Hayes. "You know you fall asleep before he gets rightly started."
"I aye listen better with ma eyes shut."
"Yes, and snore better, too, Mac," said Hayes. "But I don't blame you. Most of them go to sleep anyway. That's the kind of preacher he is."
"What sort of a chap is he? I mean what sort of man?"
"Well, for one thing, he's always buttin' in," volunteered a square-built military looking man standing near. "If he'd stick to his gospel it wouldn't be so bad, but he's always pokin' his nose into everything."
"But he's no that bad," said Innes again, "and as for buttin' in, McFettridge, and preachin' the gospel, I doubt the country is a good deal the better for the buttin' in that him and his likes have done this past year. And besides, the bairns all like him."
"Well, that's not a bad sign, Mr. Innes," said Sandy Bayne, "and I'm not sure that I don't like him myself. But I guess he butts in, all right."
"Oh, ay! he butts in," agreed Innes, "but I'm no so sure that that's no a part of his job, too."
A QUESTION OF CONSCIENCE
The Dunbars lived in a cottage on a back street, which had the distinction of being the only home on the street which possessed the adornment of a garden. A unique garden it was, too. Indeed, with the single exception of Judge Hepburn's garden, which was quite an elaborate affair, and which was said to have cost the Judge a "pile of money," there was none to compare with it in the village of Wapiti.
Any garden on that bare, wind-swept prairie meant toil and infinite pains, but a garden like that of the Dunbars represented in addition something of genius. In conception, in design, and in execution the Dunbars' garden was something apart. Visitors were taken 'round to the back street to get a glimpse of the Dunbars' cottage and garden.
The garden was in two sections. That at the back of the cottage, sheltered by a high, close board fence covered with Virginia creeper, was given over to vegetables, and it was quite marvellous how, under Richard Dunbar's care, a quarter of an acre of ground could grow such enormous quantities of vegetables of all kinds. Next to the vegetable garden came the plot for small fruits—strawberries, raspberries, currants, of rare varieties.
The front garden was devoted to flowers. Here were to be found the old fashioned flowers dear to our grandmothers, and more particularly the old fashioned flowers native to English and Scottish soil. Between the two gardens a thick row of tall, splendid sunflowers made a stately hedge. Then came larkspur, peonies, stocks, and sweet-williams, verbenas and mignonette, with borders of lobelia and heliotrope. Along the fence were sweet peas, for which Alberta is famous.
But it was the part of the garden close about the front porch and verandah where the particular genius of Richard Dunbar showed itself. Here the flowers native to the prairie, the coulee, the canyon, were gathered; the early wind flower, the crowfoot and the buffalo bean, wild snowdrops and violets. Over trellises ran the tiny morning-glory, with vetch and trailing arbutus. A bed of wild roses grew to wonderful perfection. Later in the year would be seen the yellow and crimson lilies, daisies white and golden, and when other flowers had faded, golden rod and asters in gorgeous contrast. The approach to the door of the house was by a gravel walk bordered by these prairie flowers.
The house inside fulfilled the promise of the garden. The living room, simple in its plan, plain in its furnishing, revealed everywhere that touch in decorative adornment that spoke of the cultivated mind and refined taste. A group of rare etchings had their place over the mantel above a large, open fireplace. On the walls were to be seen really fine copies of the world's most famous pictures, and on the panels which ran 'round the walls were bits of pottery and china, relics of other days and of other homes.
But what was most likely to strike the eye of a stranger on entering the living room was the array of different kinds of musical instruments. At one end of the room stood a small upright piano, a 'cello held one corner, a guitar another; upon a table a cornet was deposited, and on the piano a violin case could be seen, while a banjo hung from a nail on the wall.
Near the fireplace a curiously carved pipe-rack hung, with some half dozen pipes of weird design, evidently the collection of years, while just under it a small table held the utensils sacred to the smoker.
When Barry entered he found the table set and everything in readiness for tea.
"Awfully sorry I'm too late to help you with tea, dad. I have had a long walk, and quite a deuce of a time getting home."
"All right, boy. Glad you are here. The toast is ready, tea waiting to be infused. But what happened? No, don't begin telling me till you get yourself ready. But hurry, your meeting hour will be on in no time."
"Right-o, dad! Shame to make a slavey of you in this way. I'll be out in a jiffy."
He threw off his coat and vest, shirt and collar, took a pail of water to a big block in the little shed at the back, soused his head and shoulders in it with loud snorting and puffing, and emerged in a few minutes looking refreshed, clean and wholesome, his handsome face shining with vigorous health.
Together they stood at the table while the son said a few words of reverent grace.
"I'm ravenous, dad. What! Fried potatoes! Oh, you are a brick."
"No. That reminds me of my thrilling tale, which I shall begin after my third slice of toast, and not before. You can occupy the precious minutes, dad, in telling me of your excitements in the office this afternoon."
"Don't sniff at me. I had a few, though apparently you think it impossible in my humdrum grey life."
"Good!" said Barry, his mouth full of toast. "Go on."
"Young Neil Fraser is buying, or has just bought, the S.Q.R. ranch. Filed the transfer to-day."
"Neil Fraser? He's in my tale, too. Bought the S.Q.R.? Where did he get the stuff?"
"Dough, the dirt, the wherewithal, in short the currency, dad."
"Barry, you are ruining your English," said his father.
"Yum-yum. Bully! Did you notice that, dad? I'm coming on, eh? One thing I almost pray about, that I might become expert in slinging the modern jaw hash. I'm appallingly correct in my forms of speech. But go on, dad. I'm throwing too much vocalisation myself. You were telling me about Neil Fraser. Give us the chorus now."
"I don't like it, boy," said his father, shaking his head, "and especially in a clergyman."
"But that's where you are off, dad. The trouble is, when I come within range of any of my flock all my flip vocabulary absolutely vanishes, and I find myself talking like a professor of English or a maiden lady school ma'am of very certain age."
"I don't like it, boy. Correct English is the only English for a gentleman."
"I wonder," said the lad. "But I don't want to worry you, dad."
"Oh, as for me, that matters nothing at all, but I am thinking of you and of your profession, your standing."
"I know that, dad. I sometimes wish you would think a little more about yourself. But what of Neil Fraser?"
"He has come into some money. He has bought the ranch."
Barry's tone expressed doubtful approval. "Neil is a good sort, dad, awfully reckless, but I like him," said Barry. "He is up and up with it all."
"Now, what about your afternoon?" said his father.
"Well, to begin with, I had a dose of my old friend, the enemy."
"Barry, you don't tell me! Your asthma!" His father sat back from the table gazing at him in dismay. "And I thought that was all done with."
"So did I, dad. But it really didn't amount to much. Probably some stomach derangement, more likely some of that pollen which is floating around now. I passed through a beaver meadow where they were cutting hay, and away I went in a gale of sneezing, forty miles an hour. But I'm all right now, dad. I'm telling you the truth. You know I do."
"Yes, yes, I know," said his father, concern and relief mingling in his voice, "but you don't know how to take care of yourself, Barry. But go on with your tale."
"Well, as I was panting along like a 'heavey horse,' as Harry Hobbs would say,—not really too bad, dad,—along comes that big rancher, Stewart Duff, driving his team of pinto bronchos, and with him a chap named Bayne, from Red Pine Creek. He turned out to be an awfully decent sort. And Duff's dog, Slipper, ranging on ahead, a beautiful setter."
"Yes, I have seen him."
They discussed for a few moments the beauties and points of Duff's Slipper, for both were keen sportsmen, and both were devoted to dogs. Then Barry went back to his tale and gave an account of what had happened during the ride home.
"You see Slipper ranging about got 'on point' and beautiful work it was, too. Out jumped Duff with his gun, ready to shoot, though, of course, he knew it was out of season and that he was breaking the law. Well, just as Slipper flushed the birds, I shouted to Duff that he was shooting out of season. He missed."
"Oh, he was properly wrathful at my spoiling his shot," cried the young man.
"I don't know that I blame him, Barry," said his father thoughtfully. "It is an annoying thing to be shouted at with your gun on a bird, you know, extremely annoying."
"But he was breaking the law, dad!" cried Barry indignantly.
"I know, I know. But after all—"
"But, dad, you can't sit there and tell me that you don't condemn him for shooting out of season. You know nothing makes you more furious than hearing about chaps who pot chicken out of season."
"I know, I know, my boy." The father was apparently quite distressed. "You are quite right, but—"
"Now, dad, I won't have it! You are not to tell me that I had no business to stop him if I could. Besides, the law is the law, and sport is sport."
"I quite agree, Barry. Believe me, I quite agree. Yet all the same, a chap does hate to have his shot spoiled, and to shout at a fellow with his gun on a bird,—well, you'll excuse me, Barry, but it is hardly the sporting thing."
"Sporting! Sporting!" said Barry. "I know that I hated to do it, but it was right. Besides talk about 'sporting'—what about shooting out of season?"
"Yes, yes. Well, we won't discuss it. Go on, Barry."
"But I don't like it, dad. I don't like to think that you don't approve of what I do. It was a beastly hard thing to do, anyway. I had to make myself do it. It was my duty." The young man sat looking anxiously at his father.
"Well, my boy," said his father, "I may be wrong, but do you think you are always called upon to remonstrate with every law breaker? No, listen to me," he continued hurriedly. "What I mean is, must you or any of us assume responsibility for every criminal in the land?"
Barry sat silent a moment, considering this proposition.
"I wish I knew, dad. You know, I have often said that to excuse myself after I have funked a thing, and let something go by without speaking up against it."
"Yes. Funked standing up for the right thing, you know."
"Funked it!" said his father again. "You wouldn't do that, Barry?"
"Oh, wouldn't I, though? I am afraid you don't know me very well, dad. However, I rather think I had started him up before that, you know. You won't like this either. But I may as well go through with it. You know, he was swearing and cursing most awfully, just in his ordinary talk you know, and that is a thing I can't stand, so I up and told him he was using too many 'damns.'"
"You did, eh?" In spite of himself the father could not keep the surprise out of his voice. "Well, that took some nerve, at any rate."
"There you are again, dad! You think I had no right to speak. But somehow I can't help feeling I was right. For don't you see, it would have seemed a bit like lowering the flag to have kept silent."
"Then for God's sake speak out, lad! I do not feel quite the same way as you, but it is what you think yourself that must guide you. But go on, go on."
"Well, I assure you he was in a proper rage, and if it hadn't been for Bayne I believe he would have trimmed me to a peak, administered a fitting castigation, I mean."
"He would, eh?" said the father with a grim smile. "I should like to see him try."
"So should I, dad, if you were around. I think I see you—feint with the right, then left, right, left! bing! bang! bung! All over but the shiver, eh, dad? It would be sweet! But," he added regretfully, "that's the very thing a fellow cannot do."
"Cannot do? And why not, pray? It is what every fellow is in duty bound to do to a bully of that sort."
"Yes, but to be quite fair, dad, you could hardly call Duff a bully. At least, he wasn't bullying me. As a matter of fact, I was bullying him. Oh, I think he had reason to be angry. When a chap undertakes to pull another chap up for law breaking, perhaps he should be prepared to take the consequences. But to go on. Bayne stepped in—awfully decent of him, too,—when just at that moment, as novelists say, with startling suddenness occurred an event that averted the impending calamity. Along came Neil Fraser, no less, in that new car of his, in a whirlwind of noise and dust, honking like a flock of wild geese. Well, you should have seen those bronchos. One lurch, and we were on the ground, a beautiful upset, and the bronchos in an incipient runaway, fortunately checked by your humble servant. Duff, in a new and real rage this time, up with his gun and banged off both barrels after the motor car, by this time honking down the trail."
"By Jove! he deserved it," said the father. "Those motor fellows make me long to do murder at times."
"That's because you have no car, Dad, of course."
"Did he hit him, do you think?"
"No. My arm happened to fly up, the gun banged toward the zenith. Nothing doing!"
"Well, Barry, you do seem to have run foul of Mr. Duff."
"Three times, dad. But each time prevented him from breaking the law and doing himself and others injury. Would you have let him off this last time, dad?"
"No, no, boy. Human life has the first claim upon our care. You did quite right, quite right. Ungovernable fool he must be! Shouldn't be allowed to carry a gun."
"So Bayne declared," said Barry.
"Well, you have had quite an exciting afternoon. But finish your tea and get ready for the meeting. I will wash up."
"Not if I know it, dad. You take your saw-horse and do me a little Handel or Schubert. Do, please," entreated his son. "I want that before meeting more than anything else. I want a change of mood. I confess I am slightly rattled. My address is all prepared, but I must have atmosphere before I go into the meeting."
His father took the 'cello, and after a few moments spent in carefully tuning up, began with Handel's immortal Largo, then he wandered into the Adagio Movement in Haydn's third Sonata, from thence to Schubert's Impromptu in C Minor, after which he began the Serenade, when he was checked by his son.
"No, not that, dad, that's sickening. I consider that the most morally relaxing bit of music that I know. It frays the whole moral fibre. Give us one of Chopin's Ballades, or better still a bit of that posthumous Fantasie Impromptu, the largo movement. Ah! fine! fine!"
He flung his dish-cloth aside, ran to the piano and began an accompaniment to his father's playing.
"Now, dad, the Largo once more before we close." They did the Largo once and again, then springing from the piano Barry cried: "That Largo is a means of grace to me. There could be no better preparation for a religious meeting than that. If you would only come in and play for them, it would do them much more good than all my preaching."
"If you would only take your music seriously, Barry," replied his father, somewhat sadly, "you would become a good player, perhaps even a great player."
"And then what, dad?"
His father waved him aside, putting up his 'cello.
"No use going into that again, boy."
"Well, I couldn't have been a great player, at any rate, dad."
"Perhaps not, boy, perhaps not," said his father. "Great players are very rare. But it is time for your meeting."
"So it is, dad. Awfully sorry I didn't finish up those dishes. Let them go till I return. I wish you would, dad, and come along with me." His voice had a wistful note in it.
"Not to-night, boy, I think. We will have some talk after. You will only be an hour, you know."
"All right, dad," said Barry. "Some time you may come." He could not hide the wistful regret of his tone.
"Perhaps I shall, boy," replied his father.
It was the one point upon which there was a lack of perfect harmony between father and son. When the boy went to college it was with the intention of entering the profession of law, for which his father had been reading in his young manhood when the lure of Canada and her broad, free acres caught him, and he had abandoned the law and with his wife and baby boy had emigrated to become a land owner in the great Canadian west.
Alas! death, that rude spoiler of so many plans, broke in upon the sanctity and perfect peace of that happy ranch home and ravished it of its treasure, leaving a broken hearted man and a little boy, orphaned and sickly, to be cared for. The ranch was sold, the rancher moved to the city of Edmonton, thence in a few years to a little village some twenty-five miles nearer to the Foothills, where he became the Registrar and Homestead Inspector for the district.
Here he had lived ever since, training the torn tendrils of his heart about the lad, till peace came back again, though never the perfect joy of the earlier days. Every May Day the two were wont to go upon an expedition many miles into the Foothills, to a little, sunny spot, where a strong, palisaded enclosure held a little grave. So little it looked, and so lonely amid the great hills. There, not in an abandonment of grief, but in loving and grateful remembrance of her whose dust the little grave now held, of what she had been to them, and had done for them, they spent the day, returning to take up again with hearts solemn, tender and chastened, the daily routine of life.
That his son should grow to take up the profession of law had been the father's dream, but during his university course the boy had come under the compelling influence of a spiritual awakening that swept him into a world filled with new impressions and other desires. Obeying what he felt to be an imperative call, the boy chose the church as his profession, and after completing his theological course in the city of Winnipeg, and spending a year in study in Germany, while still a mere youth he had been appointed as missionary to the district of which his own village was the centre.
But though widely separate from each other in the matter of religion, there were many points of contact between them. They were both men of the great out-of-doors, and under his father's inspiration and direction the boy had come to love athletic exercises of all kinds. They were both music-mad, the father having had in early youth a thorough musical education, the boy possessing musical talent of a high order. Such training as was his he had received from his father, but it was confined to one single instrument, the violin. To this instrument, upon which his father had received the tuition of a really excellent master, the son devoted long hours of study and practice during his boyhood years, and his attainments were such as to give promise of something more than an amateur's mastery of his instrument. His college work, however, interfered with his music, and to his father's great disappointment and regret he was forced to lay aside his study of the violin. On the piano, however, the boy developed an extraordinary power of improvisation and of sight reading, and while his technique was faulty his insight, his power of interpretation were far in excess of many artists who were his superiors in musical knowledge and power of execution. Many were the hours the father and son spent together through the long evenings of the western winter, and among the many bonds that held them in close comradeship, none was stronger than their common devotion to music.
Long after his son had departed to his meeting the father sat dreaming over his 'cello, wandering among the familiar bits from the old masters as fancy led him, nor was he aware of the lapse of time till his son returned.
"Hello! Nine-thirty?" he exclaimed, looking at his watch. "You have given them an extra dose to-night."
"Business meeting afterwards, which didn't come off after all," said his son. "Postponed till next Sunday." With this curt announcement, and without further comment he sat down at his desk.
But after a few moments he rose quickly, saying, "Let us do some real work, dad."
He took up his violin. His father, who was used to his moods, without question or remark proceeded to tune up. An hour's hard practice followed, without word from either except as regarded the work in hand.
"I feel better now, dad," said the young man when they had finished. "And now for a round with you."
"But what about your wind, boy? I don't like that asthma of yours this afternoon."
"I am quite all right. It's quite gone. I feel sure it was the pollen from the beaver meadow."
They cleared back the table and chairs from the centre of the room, stripped to their shirts, put on the gloves and went at each other with vim. Their style was similar, for the father had taught the son all he knew, except that the father's was the fighting and the son's the sparring style. To-night the roles appeared to be reversed, the son pressing hard at the in-fighting, the father trusting to his foot work and countering with the light touch of a man making points.
"You ARE boring in, aren't you?" said the father, stopping a fierce rally.
"You are not playing up, dad," said his son. "I don't feel like soft work to-night. Come to me!"
"As you say," replied the father, and for the next five minutes Barry had no reason to complain of soft work, for his father went after him with all the fight that was in him, so that in spite of a vigorous defence the son was forced to take refuge in a runaway game.
"Now you're going!" shouted the son, making a fierce counter with his right to a hard driven left, which he side-stepped. It was a fatal exposure. Like the dart of a snake the right hand hook got him below the jaw, and he was hurled breathless on the couch at the side of the room.
"Got you now!" said his father.
"Not quite yet," cried Barry. Like a cat he was on his feet, breathing deep breaths, dodging about, fighting for time.
"Enough!" cried his father, putting down his hands.
"Play up!" shouted Barry, who was rapidly recovering his wind. "No soft work. Watch out!"
Again the father was on guard, while Barry, who seemed to have drawn upon some secret source of strength, came at him with a whirlwind attack, feinting, jabbing, swinging, hooking, till finally he landed a short half arm on the jaw, which staggered his father against the wall.
"Pax!" cried the young man. "I have all I want."
"Great!" said his father. "I believe you could fight, boy, if you were forced to."
In the shed they sluiced each other with pails of water, had a rub down and got into their dressing gowns.
"I feel fine, now, dad, and ready for anything," said Barry, glowing with his exercise and his tub. "I was feeling like a quitter. I guess that asthma got at my nerve. But I believe I will see it through some way."
"Yes?" said his father, and waited.
"Yes. They were talking blue ruin in there to-night. Finances are behind, congregation is running down, therefore the preacher is a failure."
"Well, lad, remember this," said his father, "never let your liver decide any course of action for you. Some good stiff work, a turn with the gloves, for instance, is the best preparation I know for any important decision. A man cannot decide wisely when he feels grubby. Your asthma this afternoon is a symptom of liver."
"It is humiliating to a creature endowed with conscience and intellect to discover how small a part these play at times in his decisions. The ancients were not far wrong who made the liver the seat of the emotions."
"Well," said his father, "it is a good thing to remember that most of our bad hours come from our livers. So the preacher is a failure? Who said so?"
"Oh, a number of them, principally Hayes."
"Thank God, and go to sleep," said his father. "If Hayes were pleased with my preaching I should greatly suspect my call to the ministry."
"But seriously, I am certainly not a great preacher, and perhaps not a preacher at all. They say I have no 'pep,' which with some of them appears to be the distinctive and altogether necessary characteristic of a popular preacher."
"What said Innes?" enquired his father.
"Did you ever hear Innes say much? From his silence one would judge that he must possess the accumulated wisdom of the ages."
"When he does talk, however, he generally says something. What was his contribution?"
"'Ah, weel,' said the silent one, 'Ah doot he's no a Spurgeon, not yet a Billy Sunday, but ye'll hardly be expectin' thae fowk at Wapiti for nine hundred dollars a year.' Then, bless his old heart, he added, 'But the bairns tak to him like ducks to water, so you'd better bide a bit.' So they decided to 'bide a bit' till next Sunday. Dad, at first I wanted to throw their job in their faces, only I always know that it is the old Adam in me that feels like that, so I decided to 'bide a bit' too."
"It is a poor job, after all, my boy," said his father. "It's no gentleman's job the way it is carried on in this country. To think of your being at the bidding of a creature like Hayes!"
He could have said no better word. The boy's face cleared like the sudden shining of the sun after rain. He lifted his head and said,
"Thank God, not at his bidding, dad. 'One is your Master,'" he quoted. "But after all, Hayes has something good in him. Do you know, I rather like him. He's—"
"Oh, come now, we'll drop it right there," said his father, in a disgusted tone. "When you come to finding something to like in that rat, I surrender."
"Who knows?" said the boy, as if to himself. "Poor Hayes. He may be quite a wonderful man, considering all things, his heredity and his environment. What would I have been, dad, but for you?"
His father grunted, pulled hard at his pipe, coughed a bit, then looked his son straight in the face, saying, "God knows what any of us owe to our past." He fell into silence. His mind was far away, following his heart to the palisaded plot of ground among the Foothills and the little grave there in which he had covered from his sight her that had been the inspiration to his best and finest things, and his defence against the things low and base that had once hounded his soul, howling hard upon his trail.
The son, knowing his mood, sat in silence with him, then rising suddenly he sat himself on the arm of his father's chair, threw his arm around his shoulder and said, "Dear old dad! Good old boy you are, too. Good stuff! What would I have been but for you? A puny, puling, wretched little crock, afraid of anything that could spit at me. Do you remember the old gander? I was near my eternal damnation that day."
"But you won out, my boy," said his father in a croaking voice, putting his arm round his son.
"Yes, because you made me stick it, just as you have often made me stick it since. May God forget me if I ever forget what you have done for me. Shall we read now?"
He took the big Bible from its place upon the table, and turning the leaves read aloud from the teachings of the world's greatest Master. It was the parable of the talents.
"Rather hard on the failure," he said as he closed the book.
"No, not the failure," said his father, "the slacker, the quitter. It is nature's law. There is no place in God's universe for a quitter."
"You are right, dad," said Barry. "Good-night."
He kissed his father, as he had ever done since his earliest infancy. Their prayers were said in private, the son, clergyman though he was, could never bring himself to offer to lead the devotions of him at whose knee he had kneeled every night of his life, as a boy, for his evening prayer.
"Good-night, boy," said his father, holding him by the hand for a moment or so. "We do not know what is before us, defeat, loss, suffering. That part is not in our hands altogether, but the shame of the quitter never need, and never shall be ours."
The little man stepped into his bedroom with his shoulders squared and his head erect.
"By Jove! He's no quitter," said his son to himself, as his eyes followed him. "When he quits he'll be dead. God keep me from shaming him!"
The hour for the church service had not quite arrived, but already a number of wagons, buckboards and buggies had driven up and deposited their loads at the church door. The women had passed into the church, where the Sunday School was already in session; the men waited outside, driven by the heat of the July sun and the hotter July wind into the shade of the church building.
Through the church windows came the droning of voices, with now and then a staccato rapping out of commands heard above the droning.
"That's Hayes," said a sturdy young chap, brown as an Indian, lolling upon the grass. "He likes to be bossing something."
"That's so, Ewen," replied a smaller man, with a fish-like face, his mouth and nose running into a single feature.
"I guess he's doin' his best, Nathan Pilley," answered another man, stout and stocky, with bushy side whiskers flanking around a rubicund face, out of which stared two prominent blue eyes.
"Oh, I reckon he is, Mr. Boggs. I have no word agin Hayes," replied Nathan Pilley, a North Ontario man, who, abandoning a rocky farm in Muskoka, had strayed to this far west country in search of better fortune. "I have no word agin Mr. Hayes, Mr. Boggs," he reiterated. "In fact, I think he ought to be highly commended for his beneficent work."
"But he does like to hear himself giving out orders, all the same," persisted the young man addressed as Ewen.
"Yes, he seems to sorter enjoy that, too, Ewen," agreed Nathan, who was never known to oppose any man's opinion.
"He's doin' his best," insisted Mr. Boggs, rather sullenly.
"Yes, he is that, Mr. Boggs, he is that," said Nathan.
"But he likes to be the big toad in the puddle," said Ewen.
"Well, he certainly seems to, he does indeed, Ewen."
Clear over the droning there arose at this point another sound, a chorus of childish laughter.
"That's the preacher's class," said Boggs. "Quare sort o' Sunday School where the kids carry on like that."
"Seems rather peculiar," agreed Nathan, "peculiar in Sunday School, it does."
"What's the matter with young Pickles?" enquired Ewen.
The eyes of the company, following the pointing finger, fell upon young Pickles standing at the window of the little vestry to the church, and looking in. He was apparently convulsed with laughter, with his hand hard upon his mouth and nose as a kind of silencer.
"Do you know what's the matter with him, Pat?" continued Ewen.
Pat McCann, the faithful friend and shadow of young Pickles, after studying the attitude and motions of his friend, gave answer:
"It's the preacher, I guess. He's kiddin' the kids inside. He's some kidder, too," he said, moving to take his place beside his friend.
"What's he doing anyway?" said Ewen. "I'm going to see."
Gradually a little company gathered behind young Pickles and Pat McCann. The window commanded a view of the room, yet in such a way that the group were unobserved by the speaker.
"Say, you ought to seen him do the camel a minute ago," whispered Pickles.
In the little vestry room were packed some twenty children of all ages and sizes, with a number of grownups who had joined the class in charge of some of its younger members. There was, for instance, Mrs. Innes, with the two youngest of her numerous progeny pillowed against her yielding and billowy person; and Mrs. Stewart Duff, an infant of only a few weeks upon her knee accounting sufficiently for the paleness of her sweet face, and two or three other women with their small children filling the bench that ran along the wall.
"Say! look at Harry Hobbs," said Pat McCann to his friend.
Upon the stove, which in summer was relegated to the corner of the room, sat Harry Hobbs, a man of any age from his appearance, thin and wiry, with keen, darting eyes, which now, however, were fastened upon the preacher. All other eyes were, too. Even the smallest of the children seated on the front bench were gazing with mouths wide open, as if fascinated, upon the preacher who, moving up and down with quick, lithe steps, was telling them a story. A wonderful story, too, it seemed, the wonder of it apparent in the riveted eyes and fixed faces. It was the immortal story, matchless in the language, of Joseph, the Hebrew shepherd boy, who, sold into slavery by his brethren, became prime minister of the mighty empire of Egypt. The voice tone of the minister, now clear and high, now low and soft, vibrating like the deeper notes of the 'cello, was made for story telling. Changing with every changing emotion, it formed an exquisite medium to the hearts of the listeners for the exquisite music of the tale.
The story was approaching its climactic denouement; the rapturous moment of the younger brother's revealing was at hand; Judah, the older brother, was now holding the centre of the stage and making that thrilling appeal, than which nothing more moving is to be found in our English speech. The preacher's voice was throbbing with all the pathos of the tale. Motionless, the little group hung hard upon the story-teller, when the door opened quickly, a red head appeared, a rasping voice broke in:
"Your class report, Mr. Dunbar, please. We're waiting for it."
A sigh of disappointment and regret swept the room.
"Oh, darn the little woodpecker!" said Ewen from the outside, in a disgusted tone. "That's the way with Hayes. He thinks he's the whole works, and that he never can get in wrong."
The spell was broken, never to be renewed. The story hurried to its close, but the great climax failed of its proper effect.
"He's a hummer, ain't he?" exclaimed young Pickles to his friend, Pat McCann.
"Some hummer, and then some!" replied Pat.
"I'm goin' in," said Pickles.
"Aw, what for? He ain't no good preachin' to them folks. By gum! I think he's scared of 'em."
But Pickles persisted, and followed with the men and boys who lounged lazily into the church, from which the Sunday School had now been dismissed.
It appeared that the judgment of Pat McCann upon the merits of the preacher would be echoed by the majority of the congregation present. While the service was conducted in proper form and in reverent spirit, the sermon was marked by that most unpardonable sin of which sermons can be guilty; it was dull. Solid enough in matter, thoughtful beyond the average, it was delivered in a style appallingly wooden, with an utter absence of that arresting, dramatic power that the preacher had shown in his children's class.
The appearance of the congregation was, as ever, a reflection of the sermon. The heat of the day, the reaction from the long week in the open air, the quiet monotony of the well modulated voice rising and falling in regular cadence in what is supposed by so many preachers to be the tone suitable for any sacred office, produced an overwhelmingly somnolent effect. Many of them slept, some frankly and openly, others under cover of shading hands, bowed heads, or other subterfuges. Others again spent the whole of the period of the sermon, except for some delicious moments of surreptitious sleep, in a painful but altogether commendable struggle against the insidious influence of the god of slumber.
Among the latter was Mrs. Innes, whose loyalty to her minister, which was as much a part of her as her breathing, contended in a vigorous fight against her much too solid flesh. It was a certain aid to wakefulness that her two children, deep in audible slumber, kept her in a state of active concern lest their inert and rotund little masses of slippery flesh should elude her grasp, and wreck the proprieties of the hour by flopping on the floor. There was also a further sleep deterrent in the fact that immediately before her sat Mr. McFettridge, whose usually erect form, yielding to the soporific influences of the environment, showed a tendency gradually to sag into an attitude, relaxed and formless, which suggested sleep. This, to the lady behind him, partook of the nature of an affront to her minister. Consequently she considered it her duty to arouse the snoozing McFettridge with a vigorous poke in the small of the back.
The effect was instantaneously apparent. As if her insistent finger had touched a button and released an electric current, Mr. McFettridge's sagging form shot convulsively into rigidity, and impinging violently upon the peacefully slumbering Mr. Boggs on the extreme end of the bench, toppled him over into the aisle.
The astonished Boggs, finding himself thus deposited upon the floor, and beholding the irate face of Mr. McFettridge glooming down upon him, and fancying him to be the cause of his present humiliating position, sprang to his feet, swung a violent blow upon Mr. Fettridge's ear, exclaiming sotto voce:
"Take that, will you! And mind your own business! You were sleeping yourself, anyway!"
Before the astonished and enraged Mr. McFettridge could gather his wits sufficiently for action, there rang over the astonished congregation a peal of boyish laughter. It was from the minister. A few irrepressible youngsters joined in the laugh; the rest of the congregation, however, were held rigid in the grip of a shocked amazement.
"Oh, I say! do forgive me, Mr. McFettridge!" cried the young man at the desk. "It was quite involuntary, I assure you." Then, quickly recovering himself, he added, "And now we shall conclude the service by singing the seventy-ninth hymn."
Before the last verse was sung he reminded the audience of the congregational meeting immediately following, and without further comment the service was brought to a close.
A number of the congregation, among them Barry's father, departed.
"Sit down, Neil," said Mrs. Innes to Neil Fraser. "You'll be wanted I doot." And Neil, protesting that he knew nothing about church business, sat down.
At the back of the church were gathered Harry Hobbs, young Pickles, and others of the less important attendants of the church, who had been induced to remain by the rumour of a "scrap."
By a fatal mischance, the pliant Nathan Pilley was elected chairman. This gentleman was obsessed by the notion that he possessed in a high degree the two qualities which he considered essential to the harmonious and expeditious conduct of a public meeting, namely, an invincible determination to agree with every speaker, and an equally invincible determination to get motions passed.
In a rambling and aimless speech, Mr. Pilley set forth in a somewhat general way the steps leading up to this meeting, and then called upon Mr. Innes, the chairman of the Board of Management, to state more specifically the object for which it was called.
Mr. Innes, who was incurably averse to voluble speech, whether public or private, arose and said, in rolling Doric:
"Weel, Mr. Chair-r-man, there's no much to be done. We're behind a few hundred dollars, but if some one will go about wi' a bit paper, nae doot the ar-rear-rs wad soon be made up, and everything wad be ar-richt."
"Exactly," said Mr. Pilley pleasantly. "Now will some one offer a motion?"
Thereupon Mr. Hayes was instantly upon his feet, and in a voice thin and rasping exclaimed:
"Mr. Chairman, there's business to be done, and we are here to do it, and we're not going to be rushed through in this way."
"Exactly, Mr. Hayes, exactly," said Mr. Pilley. "We must give these matters the fullest consideration."
Then followed a silence.
"Perhaps Mr. Hayes—" continued the chairman, looking appealingly at that gentleman.
"Well, Mr. Chairman," said Mr. Hayes, with an appeased but slightly injured air, "it is not my place to set forth the cause of this meeting being called. If the chairman of the board would do his duty"—here he glared at the unconscious Mr. Innes—"he would set before it the things that have made this meeting necessary, and that call for drastic action."
"Hear! Hear!" cried Mr. Boggs.
"Exactly so," acquiesced the chairman. "Please continue, Mr. Hayes."
Mr. Hayes continued: "The situation briefly is this: We are almost hopelessly in debt, and—"
"How much?" enquired Neil Fraser, briskly interrupting.
"Seven hundred dollars," replied Mr. Hayes, "and further—"
"Five hundred dollars," said Mr. Innes.
"I have examined the treasurer's books," said Mr. Hayes in the calmly triumphant tone of one sure of his position, "and I find the amount to be seven hundred dollars, and therefore—"
"Five hundred dollars," repeated Mr. Innes, gazing into space.
"Seven hundred dollars, I say," snapped Mr. Hayes.
"Five hundred dollars," reiterated Mr. Innes, without further comment.
"I say I have examined the books. The arrears are seven hundred dollars."
"Five hundred dollars," said Mr. Innes calmly.
The youngsters at the back snickered.
"Go to it!" said Harry Hobbs, under his breath.
Even the minister, who was sitting immediately behind Harry, could not restrain a smile.
"Mr. Chairman," cried Mr. Hayes, indignantly, "I appeal against this interruption. I assert—"
"Where's the treasurer?" said Neil Fraser. "What's the use of this chewin' the rag?"
"Ah! Exactly so," said the chairman, greatly relieved. "Mr. Boggs—Perhaps Mr. Boggs will enlighten us."
Mr. Boggs arose with ponderous deliberation.
"Mr. Chairman," he said, "in one sense Mr. Hayes is right when he states the arrears to be seven hundred dollars—"
"Five hundred dollars A'm tellin' ye," said Mr. Innes with the first sign of feeling he had shown.
"And Mr. Innes is also right," continued Mr. Boggs, ignoring the interruption, "when he makes the arrears five hundred dollars, the two hundred dollars difference being the quarterly revenue now due."
"Next week," said Mr. Innes, reverting to his wonted calm.
"Exactly so," said the chairman, rubbing his hands amiably; "so that the seven hundred dollars we now owe—"
This was too much even for the imperturbable Mr. Innes.
He arose in his place, moved out into the aisle, advanced toward the platform, and with arm outstretched, exclaimed in wrathful tones:
"Mon, did ye no hear me tellin' ye? I want nae mon to mak' me a le-ear."
At this point Mr. Stewart Duff, who had come to convey his wife home, and had got tired waiting for her outside, entered the church.
"Oh, get on with the business," said Neil Fraser, who, although enjoying the scene, was becoming anxious for his dinner. "The question what's to be done with the five hundred dollars' arrears. I say, let's make it up right here. I am willing to give—"
"No, Mr. Chairman," shouted Mr. Hayes, who was notoriously averse to parting with his money, and was especially fearful of a public subscription.
"There is something more than mere arrears—much more—"
"Ay, there is," emphatically declared Mr. McFettridge, rising straight and stiff. "I'm for plain speakin'. The finances is not the worst about this congregation. The congregation has fallen off. Other churches in this village has good congregations. Why shouldn't we? The truth is, Mr. Chairman,"—Mr. McFettridge's voice rolled deep and sonorous over the audience—"we want a popular preacher—a preacher that draws—a preacher with some pep."
"Hear! hear!" cried Mr. Boggs. "Pep's what we want. That's it—pep."
"Pep," echoed the chairman. "Exactly so, pep."
"More than that," continued Mr. McFettridge, "we want a minister that's a good mixer—one that stands in with the boys."
"Hear! Hear!" cried Mr. Boggs again.
"A mixer! Exactly!" agreed the chairman. "A mixer!" nodding pleasantly at Mr. Boggs.
"And another thing I will say," continued Mr. McFettridge, "now that I am on my feet. We want a preacher that will stick to his job—that will preach the gospel and not go meddlin' with other matters—with politics and such like."
"Or prohibition," shouted Harry Hobbs from the rear, to the undiluted joy of the youngsters in his vicinity.
The minister shook his head at him.
"Yes, prohibition," answered Mr. McFettridge, facing toward the rear of the church defiantly. "Let him stick to his preaching the gospel; I believe the time has come for a change and I'm prepared to make a motion that we ask our minister to resign, and that motion I now make."
"Second the motion," cried Mr. Boggs promptly.
"You have heard the motion," said the chairman, with business-like promptitude. "Are you ready for the question?"
"Question," said Mr. Hayes, after a few moments' silence, broken by the shuffling of some members in their seats, and by the audible whispering of Mrs. Innes, evidently exhorting her husband to action.
"Then all those in favour of the motion will please—"
Then from behind the organ a little voice piped up, "Does this mean, Mr. Chairman, that we lose our minister?"
It was Miss Quigg, a lady whose years no gallantry could set below forty, for her appearance indicated that she was long past the bloom of her youth. She was thin, almost to the point of frailness, with sharp, delicately cut features; but the little chin was firm, and a flash of the brown eyes revealed a fiery soul within. Miss Quigg was the milliner and dressmaker of the village, and was herself a walking model of her own exquisite taste in clothes and hats. It was only her failing health that had driven her to abandon a much larger sphere than her present position offered, but even here her fame was such as to draw to her little shop customers from the villages round about for many miles.
"Does this mean, sir, that Mr. Dunbar will leave us?" she repeated.
"Well,—yes, madam—that is, Miss, I suppose, in a way—practically it would amount to that."
"Will you tell me yes or no, please," Miss Quigg's neat little figure was all a-quiver to the tips of her hat plumes.
"Well," said the chairman, squirming under the unpleasant experience of being forced to a definite answer, "I suppose,—yes."
Miss Quigg turned from the squirming and smiling Mr. Pilley in contempt.
"Then," she said, "I say no. And I believe there are many here who would say no—and men, too." The wealth of indignation and contemptuous scorn infused into the word by which the difference in sex of the human species was indicated, made those unhappy individuals glance shamefacedly at each other—"only they are too timid, the creatures! or too indifferent."
Again there was an exchange of furtive glances and smiles and an uneasy shifting of position on the part of "the creatures."
"But if you give them time, Mr. Chairman, I believe they will perhaps get up courage enough to speak."
Miss Quigg sat down in her place behind the organ, disappearing quite from view except for the tips of her plumes, whose rapid and rhythmic vibrations were eloquent of the beating of her gallant little heart.
"Exactly so," said the chairman, in confused but hearty acquiescence. "Perhaps some one will say something."
Then Mr. Innes, forced to a change of position by the physical discomfort caused by his wife's prodding, rose and said,
"I dinna see the need o' any change. Mr. Dunbar is no a great preacher, but Ah doot he does his best. And the bairns all like him."
Then the congregation had a thrill. In the back seat rose Harry Hobbs.
"I'm near forty years old," he cried, in a high nasal tone that indicated a state of extreme nervous tension, "and I never spoke in meetin' before. I ain't had no use for churches and preachers, and I guess they hadn't no use for me. You folks all know me. I've been in this burg for near eight years, and I was a drinkin', swearin', fightin' cuss. This preacher came into the barn one day when I was freezin' to death after a big spree. He tuk me home with him and kep' me there for two weeks, settin' up nights with me, too. Let me be," he said impatiently to Barry, who was trying to pull him down to his seat. "I'm agoin' to speak this time if it kills me. Many a time I done him dirt sence then, but he stuck to me, and never quit till he got me turned 'round. I was goin' straight to hell; he says I'm goin' to heaven now." Here he laughed with a touch of scorn. "I dunno. But, by gum! if you fire him and do him dirt, I don't know what'll become of me, but I guess I'll go straight to hell again."
"No, Harry, no you won't. You'll keep right on, Harry, straight to heaven." It was the preacher's voice, full of cheery confidence.
Mrs. Innes was audibly sniffling; Mrs. Stewart Duff wiping her eyes. It was doubtless this sight that brought her husband to his feet.
"I don't quite know what the trouble is here," he said. "I understand there are arrears. I heard some criticism of the minister's preaching. I can't say I care much for it myself, but I want to say right here that there are other things wanted in a minister, and this young fellow has got some of them. If he stays, he gets my money; if he doesn't, no one else does. I'll make you gentlemen who are kicking about finances a sporting proposition. I'm willing to double my subscription, if any other ten men will cover my ante."