Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Black Rock by Ralph Connor

Part 4 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

churchyard. I waited long for the old careless, reckless spirit
to appear, but he was never the same again. The change was
unmistakable, but hard to define. He seemed to have resolved his
life into a definite purpose. He was hardly so comfortable a
fellow to be with; he made me feel even more lazy and useless than
was my wont; but I respected him more, and liked him none the less.
As a lion he was not a success. He would not roar. This was
disappointing to me, and to his friends and mine, who had been
waiting his return with eager expectation of tales of thrilling and
bloodthirsty adventure.

His first days were spent in making right, or as nearly right as he
could, the break that drove him to the west. His old firm (and I
have had more respect for the humanity of lawyers ever since)
behaved really well. They proved the restoration of their
confidence in his integrity and ability by offering him a place in
the firm, which, however, he would not accept. Then, when he felt
clean, as he said, he posted off home, taking me with him. During
the railway journey of four hours he hardly spoke; but when we had
left the town behind, and had fairly got upon the country road that
led toward the home ten miles away, his speech came to him in a
great flow. His spirits ran over. He was like a boy returning
from his first college term. His very face wore the boy's open,
innocent, earnest look that used to attract men to him in his first
college year. His delight in the fields and woods, in the sweet
country air and the sunlight, was without bound. How often had we
driven this road together in the old days!

Every turn was familiar. The swamp where the tamaracks stood
straight and slim out of their beds of moss; the brule, as we used
to call it, where the pine-stumps, huge and blackened, were half-
hidden by the new growth of poplars and soft maples; the big hill,
where we used to get out and walk when the roads were bad; the
orchards, where the harvest apples were best and most accessible--
all had their memories.

It was one of those perfect afternoons that so often come in the
early Canadian summer, before Nature grows weary with the heat.
The white gravel road was trimmed on either side with turf of
living green, close cropped by the sheep that wandered in flocks
along its whole length. Beyond the picturesque snake-fences
stretched the fields of springing grain, of varying shades of
green, with here and there a dark brown patch, marking a turnip
field or summer fallow, and far back were the woods of maple and
beech and elm, with here and there the tufted top of a mighty pine,
the lonely representative of a vanished race, standing clear above
the humbler trees.

As we drove through the big swamp, where the yawning, haunted gully
plunges down to its gloomy depths, Graeme reminded me of that night
when our horse saw something in that same gully, and refused to go
past; and I felt again, though it was broad daylight, something of
the grue that shivered down my back, as I saw in the moonlight the
gleam of a white thing far through the pine trunks.

As we came nearer home the houses became familiar. Every house had
its tale: we had eaten or slept in most of them; we had sampled
apples, and cherries, and plums from their orchards, openly as
guests, or secretly as marauders, under cover of night--the more
delightful way, I fear. Ah! happy days, with these innocent crimes
and fleeting remorses, how bravely we faced them, and how gaily we
lived them, and how yearningly we look back at them now! The sun
was just dipping into the tree-tops of the distant woods behind as
we came to the top of the last hill that overlooked the valley, in
which lay the village of Riverdale. Wooded hills stood about it on
three sides, and, where the hills faded out, there lay the mill-
pond sleeping and smiling in the sun. Through the village ran the
white road, up past the old frame church, and on to the white manse
standing among the trees. That was Graeme's home, and mine too,
for I had never known another worthy of the name. We held up our
team to look down over the valley, with its rampart of wooded
hills, its shining pond, and its nestling village, and on past to
the church and the white manse, hiding among the trees. The
beauty, the peace, the warm, loving homeliness of the scene came
about our hearts, but, being men, we could find no words.

'Let's go,' cried Graeme, and down the hill we tore and rocked and
swayed to the amazement of the steady team, whose education from
the earliest years had impressed upon their minds the criminality
of attempting to do anything but walk carefully down a hill, at
least for two-thirds of the way. Through the village, in a cloud
of dust, we swept, catching a glimpse of a well-known face here and
there, and flinging a salutation as we passed, leaving the owner of
the face rooted to his place in astonishment at the sight of Graeme
whirling on in his old-time, well-known reckless manner. Only old
Dunc. M'Leod was equal to the moment, for as Graeme called out,
'Hello, Dunc.!' the old man lifted up his hands, and called back in
an awed voice: 'Bless my soul! is it yourself?'

'Stands his whisky well, poor old chap!' was Graeme's comment.

As we neared the church he pulled up his team, and we went quietly
past the sleepers there, then again on the full run down the gentle
slope, over the little brook, and up to the gate. He had hardly
got his team pulled up before, flinging me the lines, he was out
over the wheel, for coming down the walk, with her hands lifted
high, was a dainty little lady, with the face of an angel. In a
moment Graeme had her in his arms. I heard the faint cry, 'My boy,
my boy,' and got down on the other side to attend to my off horse,
surprised to find my hands trembling and my eyes full of tears.
Back upon the steps stood an old gentleman, with white hair and
flowing beard, handsome, straight, and stately--Graeme's father,
waiting his turn.

'Welcome home, my lad,' was his greeting, as he kissed his son, and
the tremor of his voice, and the sight of the two men kissing each
other, like women, sent me again to my horses' heads.

'There's Connor, mother!' shouted out Graeme, and the dainty little
lady, in her black silk and white lace, came out to me quickly,
with outstretched hands.

'You, too, are welcome home,' she said, and kissed me.

I stood with my hat off, saying something about being glad to come,
but wishing that I could get away before I should make quite a fool
of myself. For as I looked down upon that beautiful face, pale,
except for a faint flush upon each faded cheek, and read the story
of pain endured and conquered, and as I thought of all the long
years of waiting and of vain hoping, I found my throat dry and
sore, and the words would not come. But her quick sense needed no
words, and she came to my help.

'You will find Jack at the stable,' she said, smiling; 'he ought to
have been here.'

The stable! Why had I not thought of that before? Thankfully now
my words came--

'Yes, certainly, I'll find him, Mrs. Graeme. I suppose he's as
much of a scapegrace as ever, and off I went to look up Graeme's
young brother, who had given every promise in the old days of
developing into as stirring a rascal as one could desire; but who,
as I found out later, had not lived these years in his mother's
home for nothing.

'Oh, Jack's a good boy,' she answered, smiling again, as she turned
toward the other two, now waiting for her upon the walk.

The week that followed was a happy one for us all; but for the
mother it was full to the brim with joy. Her sweet face was full
of content, and in her eyes rested a great peace. Our days were
spent driving about among the hills, or strolling through the maple
woods, or down into the tamarack swamp, where the pitcher plants
and the swamp lilies and the marigold waved above the deep moss.
In the evenings we sat under the trees on the lawn till the stars
came out and the night dews drove us in. Like two lovers, Graeme
and his mother would wander off together, leaving Jack and me to
each other. Jack was reading for divinity, and was really a fine,
manly fellow, with all his brother's turn for rugby, and I took to
him amazingly; but after the day was over we would gather about the
supper table, and the talk would be of all things under heaven--
art, football, theology. The mother would lead in all. How quick
she was, how bright her fancy, how subtle her intellect, and
through all a gentle grace, very winning and beautiful to see!

Do what I would, Graeme would talk little of the mountains and his
life there.

'My lion will not roar, Mrs. Graeme,' I complained; 'he simply will

'You should twist his tail,' said Jack.

'That seems to be the difficulty, Jack,' said his mother, 'to get
hold of his tale.'

'Oh, mother,' groaned Jack; 'you never did such a thing before!
How could you? Is it this baleful Western influence?'

'I shall reform, Jack,' she replied brightly.

'But, seriously, Graeme,' I remonstrated, 'you ought to tell your
people of your life--that free, glorious life in the mountains.'

'Free! Glorious! To some men, perhaps!' said Graeme, and then fell
into silence.

But I saw Graeme as a new man the night he talked theology with his
father. The old minister was a splendid Calvinist, of heroic type,
and as he discoursed of God's sovereignty and election, his face
glowed and his voice rang out.

Graeme listened intently, now and then putting in a question, as
one would a keen knife-thrust into a foe. But the old man knew his
ground, and moved easily among his ideas, demolishing the enemy as
he appeared, with jaunty grace. In the full flow of his triumphant
argument, Graeme turned to him with sudden seriousness.

'Look here, father! I was born a Calvinist, and I can't see how
any one with a level head can hold anything else, than that the
Almighty has some idea as to how He wants to run His universe, and
He means to carry out His idea, and is carrying it out; but what
would you do in a case like this?' Then he told him the story of
poor Billy Breen, his fight and his defeat.

'Would you preach election to that chap?'

The mother's eyes were shining with tears.

The old gentleman blew his nose like a trumpet, and then said

'No, my boy, you don't feed babes with meat. But what came to

Then Graeme asked me to finish the tale. After I had finished the
story of Billy's final triumph and of Craig's part in it, they sat
long silent, till the minister, clearing his throat hard and
blowing his nose more like a trumpet than ever, said with great

'Thank God for such a man in such a place! I wish there were more
of us like him.'

'I should like to see you out there, sir,' said Graeme admiringly;
'you'd get them, but you wouldn't have time for election.'

'Yes, yes!' said his father warmly; 'I should love to have a chance
just to preach election to these poor lads. Would I were twenty
years younger!'

'It is worth a man's life,' said Graeme earnestly. His younger
brother turned his face eagerly toward the mother. For answer she
slipped her hand into his and said softly, while her eyes shone
like stars--

'Some day, Jack, perhaps! God knows.' But Jack only looked
steadily at her, smiling a little and patting her hand.

'You'd shine there, mother,' said Graeme, smiling upon her; 'you'd
better come with me.' She started, and said faintly--

'With you?' It was the first hint he had given of his purpose.
'You are going back?'

'What! as a missionary?' said Jack.

'Not to preach, Jack; I'm not orthodox enough,' looking at his
father and shaking his head; 'but to build railroads and lend a
hand to some poor chap, if I can.'

'Could you not find work nearer home, my boy?' asked the father;
'there is plenty of both kinds near us here, surely.'

'Lots of work, but not mine, I fear,' answered Graeme, keeping his
eyes away from his mother's face. 'A man must do his own work.'

His voice was quiet and resolute, and glancing at the beautiful
face at the end of the table, I saw in the pale lips and yearning
eyes that the mother was offering up her firstborn, that ancient
sacrifice. But not all the agony of sacrifice could wring from her
entreaty or complaint in the hearing of her sons. That was for
other ears and for the silent hours of the night. And next morning
when she came down to meet us her face was wan and weary, but it
wore the peace of victory and a glory not of earth. Her greeting
was full of dignity, sweet and gentle; but when she came to Graeme
she lingered over him and kissed him twice. And that was all that
any of us ever saw of that sore fight.

At the end of the week I took leave of them, and last of all of the

She hesitated just a moment, then suddenly put her hands upon my
shoulders and kissed me, saying softly, 'You are his friend; you
will sometimes come to me?'

'Gladly, if I may,' I hastened to answer, for the sweet, brave face
was too much to bear; and, till she left us for that world of which
she was a part, I kept my word, to my own great and lasting good.
When Graeme met me in the city at the end of the summer, he brought
me her love, and then burst forth--

'Connor, do you know, I have just discovered my mother! I have
never known her till this summer.'

'More fool you,' I answered, for often had I, who had never known a
mother, envied him his.

'Yes, that is true,' he answered slowly; 'but you cannot see until
you have eyes.'

Before he set out again for the west I gave him a supper, asking
the men who had been with us in the old 'Varsity days. I was
doubtful as to the wisdom of this, and was persuaded only by
Graeme's eager assent to my proposal.

'Certainly, let's have them,' he said; 'I shall be awfully glad to
see them; great stuff they were.'

'But, I don't know, Graeme; you see--well--hang it!--you know--
you're different, you know.'

He looked at me curiously.

'I hope I can still stand a good supper, and if the boys can't
stand me, why, I can't help it. I'll do anything but roar, and
don't you begin to work off your menagerie act--now, you hear me!'

'Well, it is rather hard lines that when I have been talking up my
lion for a year, and then finally secure him, that he will not

'Serve you right,' he replied, quite heartlessly; 'but I'll tell
you what I'll do, I'll feed! Don't you worry,' he adds soothingly;
'the supper will go.'

And go it did. The supper was of the best; the wines first-class.
I had asked Graeme about the wines.

'Do as you like, old man,' was his answer; 'it's your supper, but,'
he added, 'are the men all straight?'

I ran them over in my mind.

'Yes; I think so.'

If not, don't you help them down; and anyway, you can't be too
careful. But don't mind me; I am quit of the whole business from
this out.' So I ventured wines, for the last time, as it happened.

We were a quaint combination. Old 'Beetles,' whose nickname was
prophetic of his future fame as a bugman, as the fellows
irreverently said; 'Stumpy' Smith, a demon bowler; Polly Lindsay,
slow as ever and as sure as when he held the half-back line with
Graeme, and used to make my heart stand still with terror at his
cool deliberation. But he was never known to fumble nor to funk,
and somehow he always got us out safe enough. Then there was
Rattray--'Rat' for short--who, from a swell, had developed into a
cynic with a sneer, awfully clever and a good enough fellow at
heart. Little 'Wig' Martin, the sharpest quarter ever seen, and
big Barney Lundy, centre scrimmage, whose terrific roar and rush
had often struck terror to the enemy's heart, and who was Graeme's
slave. Such was the party.

As the supper went on my fears began to vanish, for if Graeme did
not 'roar,' he did the next best thing--ate and talked quite up to
his old form. Now we played our matches over again, bitterly
lamenting the 'if's' that had lost us the championships, and wildly
approving the tackles that had saved, and the runs that had made
the 'Varsity crowd go mad with delight and had won for us. And as
their names came up in talk, we learned how life had gone with
those who had been our comrades of ten years ago. Some, success
had lifted to high places; some, failure had left upon the rocks,
and a few lay in their graves.

But as the evening wore on, I began to wish that I had left out the
wines, for the men began to drop an occasional oath, though I had
let them know during the summer that Graeme was not the man he had
been. But Graeme smoked and talked and heeded not, till Rattray
swore by that name most sacred of all ever borne by man. Then
Graeme opened upon him in a cool, slow way--

'What an awful fool a man is, to damn things as you do, Rat.
Things are not damned. It is men who are; and that is too bad to
be talked much about but when a man flings out of his foul mouth
the name of Jesus Christ'--here he lowered his voice--'it's a
shame--it's more, it's a crime.'

There was dead silence, then Rattray replied--

'I suppose you're right enough, it is bad form; but crime is rather
strong, I think.'

'Not if you consider who it is,' said Graeme with emphasis.

'Oh, come now,' broke in Beetles. 'Religion is all right, is a
good thing, and I believe a necessary thing for the race, but no
one takes seriously any longer the Christ myth.'

'What about your mother, Beetles?' put in Wig Martin.

Beetles consigned him to the pit and was silent, for his father was
an Episcopal clergyman, and his mother a saintly woman.

'I fooled with that for some time, Beetles, but it won't do. You
can't build a religion that will take the devil out of a man on a
myth. That won't do the trick. I don't want to argue about it,
but I am quite convinced the myth theory is not reasonable, and
besides, it wont work.'

'Will the other work?' asked Rattray, with a sneer.

'Sure!' said Grame; 'I've seen it.'

'Where?' challenged Rattray. 'I haven't seen much of it.'

'Yes, you have, Rattray, you know you have,' said Wig again. But
Rattray ignored him.

'I'll tell you, boys,' said Graeme. 'I want you to know, anyway,
why I believe what I do.'

Then he told them the story of old man Nelson, from the old coast
days, before I knew him, to the end. He told the story well. The
stern fight and the victory of the life, and the self-sacrifice and
the pathos of the death appealed to these men, who loved fight and
could understand sacrifice.

'That's why I believe in Jesus Christ, and that's why I think it a
crime to fling His name about!'

'I wish to Heaven I could say that,' said Beetles.

'Keep wishing hard enough and it will come to you,' said Graeme.

'Look here, old chap,' said Rattray; 'you're quite right about
this; I'm willing to own up. Wig is correct. I know a few, at
least, of that stamp, but most of those who go in for that sort of
thing are not much account'

'For ten years, Rattray,' said Graeme in a downright, matter-of-
fact way, 'you and I have tried this sort of thing'--tapping a
bottle--'and we got out of it all there is to be got, paid well for
it, too, and--faugh! you know it's not good enough, and the more
you go in for it, the more you curse yourself. So I have quit this
and I am going in for the other.'

'What! going in for preaching?'

'Not much--railroading--money in it--and lending a hand to fellows
on the rocks.'

'I say, don't you want a centre forward?' said big Barney in his
deep voice.

'Every man must play his game in his place, old chap. I'd like to
see you tackle it, though, right well,' said Graeme earnestly. And
so he did, in the after years, and good tackling it was. But that
is another story.

'But, I say, Graeme,' persisted Beetles, 'about this business, do
you mean to say you go the whole thing--Jonah, you know, and the
rest of it?'

Graeme hesitated, then said--

'I haven't much of a creed, Beetles; don't really know how much I
believe. But,' by this time he was standing, 'I do know that good
is good, and bad is bad, and good and bad are not the same. And I
know a man's a fool to follow the one, and a wise man to follow the
other, and,' lowering his voice, 'I believe God is at the back of a
man who wants to get done with bad. I've tried all that folly,'
sweeping his hand over the glasses and bottles, 'and all that goes
with it, and I've done with it'

'I'll go you that far,' roared big Barney, following his old
captain as of yore.

'Good man,' said Graeme, striking hands with him.

'Put me down,' said little Wig cheerfully.

Then I took up the word, for there rose before me the scene in the
League saloon, and I saw the beautiful face with the deep shining
eyes, and I was speaking for her again. I told them of Craig and
his fight for these men's lives. I told them, too, of how I had
been too indolent to begin. 'But,' I said, 'I am going this far
from to-night,' and I swept the bottles into the champagne tub.

'I say,' said Polly Lindsay, coming up in his old style, slow but
sure, 'let's all go in, say for five years.' And so we did. We
didn't sign anything, but every man shook hands with Graeme.

And as I told Craig about this a year later, when he was on his way
back from his Old Land trip to join Graeme in the mountains, he
threw up his head in the old way and said, 'It was well done. It
must have been worth seeing. Old man Nelson's work is not done
yet. Tell me again,' and he made me go over the whole scene with
all the details put in.

But when I told Mrs. Mavor, after two years had gone, she only
said, 'Old things are passed away, all things are become new'; but
the light glowed in her eyes till I could not see their colour.
But all that, too, is another story.



A man with a conscience is often provoking, sometimes impossible.
Persuasion is lost upon him. He will not get angry, and he looks
at one with such a far-away expression in his face that in striving
to persuade him one feels earthly and even fiendish. At least this
was my experience with Craig. He spent a week with me just before
he sailed for the Old Land, for the purpose, as he said, of getting
some of the coal dust and other grime out of him.

He made me angry the last night of his stay, and all the more that
he remained quite sweetly unmoved. It was a strategic mistake of
mine to tell him how Nelson came home to us, and how Graeme stood
up before the 'Varsity chaps at my supper and made his confession
and confused Rattray's easy-stepping profanity, and started his own
five-year league. For all this stirred in Craig the hero, and he
was ready for all sorts of heroic nonsense, as I called it. We
talked of everything but the one thing, and about that we said not
a word till, bending low to poke my fire and to hide my face, I

'You will see her, of course?'

He made no pretence of not understanding but answered--

'Of course.'

'There's really no sense in her staying over there,' I suggested.

'And yet she is a wise woman,' he said, as if carefully considering
the question.

'Heaps of landlords never see their tenants, and they are none the

'The landlords?'

'No, the tenants.'

'Probably, having such landlords.'

'And as for the old lady, there must be some one in the connection
to whom it would be a Godsend to care for her.'

'Now, Connor,' he said quietly, 'don't. We have gone over all
there is to be said. Nothing new has come. Don't turn it all up

Then I played the heathen and raged, as Graeme would have said,
till Craig smiled a little wearily and said--

'You exhaust yourself, old chap. Have a pipe, do'; and after a
pause he added in his own way, 'What would you have? The path
lies straight from my feet. Should I quit it? I could not so
disappoint you--and all of them.'

And I knew he was thinking of Graeme and the lads in the mountains
he had taught to be true men. It did not help my rage, but it
checked my speech; so I smoked in silence till he was moved to say--

'And after all, you know, old chap, there are great compensations
for all losses; but for the loss of a good conscience towards God,
what can make up?'

But, all the same, I hoped for some better result from his visit to
Britain. It seemed to me that something must turn up to change
such an unbearable situation.

The year passed, however, and when I looked into Craig's face again
I knew that nothing had been changed, and that he had come back to
take up again his life alone, more resolutely hopeful than ever.

But the year had left its mark upon him too. He was a broader and
deeper man. He had been living and thinking with men of larger
ideas and richer culture, and he was far too quick in sympathy with
life to remain untouched by his surroundings. He was more tolerant
of opinions other than his own, but more unrelenting in his
fidelity to conscience and more impatient of half-heartedness and
self-indulgence. He was full of reverence for the great scholars
and the great leaders of men he had come to know.

'Great, noble fellows they are, and extraordinarily modest,' he
said--'that is, the really great are modest. There are plenty of
the other sort, neither great nor modest. And the books to be
read! I am quite hopeless about my reading. It gave me a queer
sensation to shake hands with a man who had written a great book.
To hear him make commonplace remarks, to witness a faltering in
knowledge--one expects these men to know everything--and to
experience respectful kindness at his hands!'

'What of the younger men?' I asked.

'Bright, keen, generous fellows. In things theoretical, omniscient;
but in things practical, quite helpless. They toss about great
ideas as the miners lumps of coal. They can call them by their book
names easily enough, but I often wondered whether they could put
them into English. Some of them I coveted for the mountains. Men
with clear heads and big hearts, and built after Sandy M'Naughton's
model. It does seem a sinful waste of God's good human stuff to see
these fellows potter away their lives among theories living and
dead, and end up by producing a book! They are all either making or
going to make a book. A good thing we haven't to read them. But
here and there among them is some quiet chap who will make a book
that men will tumble over each other to read.'

Then we paused and looked at each other.

'Well?' I said. He understood me.

'Yes!' he answered slowly, 'doing great work. Every one worships
her just as we do, and she is making them all do something worth
while, as she used to make us.'

He spoke cheerfully and readily as if he were repeating a lesson
well learned, but he could not humbug me. I felt the heartache in
the cheerful tone.

'Tell me about her,' I said, for I knew that if he would talk it
would do him good. And talk he did, often forgetting me, till, as
I listened, I found myself looking again into the fathomless eyes,
and hearing again the heart-searching voice. I saw her go in and
out of the little red-tiled cottages and down the narrow back lanes
of the village; I heard her voice in a sweet, low song by the bed
of a dying child, or pouring forth floods of music in the great new
hall of the factory town near by. But I could not see, though he
tried to show me, the stately gracious lady receiving the country
folk in her home. He did not linger over that scene, but went back
again to the gate-cottage where she had taken him one day to see
Billy Breen's mother.

'I found the old woman knew all about me,' he said, simply enough;
'but there were many things about Billy she had never heard, and I
was glad to put her right on some points, though Mrs. Mavor would
not hear it.'

He sat silent for a little, looking into the coals; then went on in
a soft, quiet voice--

'It brought back the mountains and the old days to hear again
Billy's tones in his mother's voice, and to see her sitting there
in the very dress she wore the night of the League, you remember--
some soft stuff with black lace about it--and to hear her sing as
she did for Billy--ah! ah!' His voice unexpectedly broke, but in a
moment he was master of himself and begged me to forgive his
weakness. I am afraid I said words that should not be said--a
thing I never do, except when suddenly and utterly upset.

'I am getting selfish and weak,' he said; 'I must get to work. I
am glad to get to work. There is much to do, and it is worth
while, if only to keep one from getting useless and lazy.'

'Useless and lazy!' I said to myself, thinking of my life beside
his, and trying to get command of my voice, so as not to make quite
a fool of myself. And for many a day those words goaded me to work
and to the exercise of some mild self-denial. But more than all
else, after Craig had gone back to the mountains, Graeme's letters
from the railway construction camp stirred one to do unpleasant
duty long postponed, and rendered uncomfortable my hours of most
luxurious ease. Many of the old gang were with him, both of
lumbermen and miners, and Craig was their minister. And the
letters told of how he laboured by day and by night along the line
of construction, carrying his tent and kit with him, preaching
straight sermons, watching by sick men, writing their letters, and
winning their hearts; making strong their lives, and helping them
to die well when their hour came. One day, these letters proved
too much for me, and I packed away my paints and brushes, and made
my vow unto the Lord that I would be 'useless and lazy' no longer,
but would do something with myself. In consequence, I found myself
within three weeks walking the London hospitals, finishing my
course, that I might join that band of men who were doing something
with life, or, if throwing it away, were not losing it for nothing.
I had finished being a fool, I hoped, at least a fool of the
useless and luxurious kind. The letter that came from Graeme, in
reply to my request for a position on his staff, was characteristic
of the man, both new and old, full of gayest humour and of most
earnest welcome to the work.

Mrs. Mavor's reply was like herself--

'I knew you would not long be content with the making of pictures,
which the world does not really need, and would join your friends
in the dear West, making lives that the world needs so sorely.'

But her last words touched me strangely--

'But be sure to be thankful every day for your privilege. . . . It
will be good to think of you all, with the glorious mountains about
you, and Christ's own work in your hands. . . . Ah! how we would
like to choose our work, and the place in which to do it!'

The longing did not appear in the words, but I needed no words to
tell me how deep and how constant it was. And I take some credit
to myself, that in my reply I gave her no bidding to join our band,
but rather praised the work she was doing in her place, telling her
how I had heard of it from Craig.

The summer found me religiously doing Paris and Vienna, gaining a
more perfect acquaintance with the extent and variety of my own
ignorance, and so fully occupied in this interesting and wholesome
occupation that I fell out with all my correspondents, with the
result of weeks of silence between us.

Two letters among the heap waiting on my table in London made my
heart beat quick, but with how different feelings: one from Graeme
telling me that Craig had been very ill, and that he was to take
him home as soon as he could be moved. Mrs. Mavor's letter told me
of the death of the old lady, who had been her care for the past
two years, and of her intention to spend some months in her old
home in Edinburgh. And this letter it is that accounts for my
presence in a miserable, dingy, dirty little hall running off a
close in the historic Cowgate, redolent of the glories of the
splendid past, and of the various odours of the evil-smelling
present. I was there to hear Mrs. Mavor sing to the crowd of
gamins that thronged the closes in the neighbourhood, and that had
been gathered into a club by 'a fine leddie frae the West End,' for
the love of Christ and His lost. This was an 'At Home' night, and
the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, of all ages and
sizes were present. Of all the sad faces I had ever seen, those
mothers carried the saddest and most woe-stricken. 'Heaven pity
us!' I found myself saying; 'is this the beautiful, the cultured,
the heaven-exalted city of Edinburgh? Will it not, for this, be
cast down into hell some day, if it repent not of its closes and
their dens of defilement? Oh! the utter weariness, the dazed
hopelessness of the ghastly faces! Do not the kindly, gentle
church-going folk of the crescents and the gardens see them in
their dreams, or are their dreams too heavenly for these ghastly
faces to appear?'

I cannot recall the programme of the evening, but in my memory-
gallery is a vivid picture of that face, sweet, sad, beautiful,
alight with the deep glow of her eyes, as she stood and sang to
that dingy crowd. As I sat upon the window-ledge listening to the
voice with its flowing song, my thoughts were far away, and I was
looking down once more upon the eager, coal-grimed faces in the
rude little church in Black Rock. I was brought back to find
myself swallowing hard by an audible whisper from a wee lassie to
her mother--

'Mither! See till yon man. He's greetin'.'

When I came to myself she was singing 'The Land o' the Leal,' the
Scotch 'Jerusalem the Golden,' immortal, perfect. It needed
experience of the hunger-haunted Cowgate closes, chill with the
black mist of an eastern haar, to feel the full bliss of the vision
in the words--

'There's nae sorrow there, Jean,
There's neither cauld nor care, Jean,
The day is aye fair in
The Land o' the Leal.'

A land of fair, warm days, untouched by sorrow and care, would be
heaven indeed to the dwellers of the Cowgate.

The rest of that evening is hazy enough to me now, till I find
myself opposite Mrs. Mavor at her fire, reading Graeme's letter;
then all is vivid again.

I could not keep the truth from her. I knew it would be folly to
try. So I read straight on till I came to the words--

'He has had mountain fever, whatever that may be, and he will not
pull up again. If I can, I shall take him home to my mother'--when
she suddenly stretched out her hand, saying, 'Oh, let me read!' and
I gave her the letter. In a minute she had read it, and began
almost breathlessly--

'Listen! my life is much changed. My mother-in-law is gone; she
needs me no longer. My solicitor tells me, too, that owing to
unfortunate investments there is need of money, so great need, that
it is possible that either the estates or the works must go. My
cousin has his all in the works--iron works, you know. It would be
wrong to have him suffer. I shall give up the estates--that is
best.' She paused.

'And come with me,' I cried.

'When do you sail?'

'Next week,' I answered eagerly.

She looked at me a few moments, and into her eyes there came a
light soft and tender, as she said--

'I shall go with you.'

And so she did; and no old Roman in all the glory of a Triumph
carried a prouder heart than I, as I bore her and her little one
from the train to Graeme's carriage, crying--

'I've got her.'

But his was the better sense, for he stood waving his hat and

'He's all right,' at which Mrs. Mavor grew white; but when she
shook hands with him, the red was in her cheek again.

'It was the cable did it,' went on Graeme. 'Connor's a great
doctor! His first case will make him famous. Good prescription--
after mountain fever try a cablegram!' And the red grew deeper in
the beautiful face beside us.

Never did the country look so lovely. The woods were in their
gayest autumn dress; the brown fields were bathed in a purple haze;
the air was sweet and fresh with a suspicion of the coming frosts
of winter. But in spite of all the road seemed long, and it was as
if hours had gone before our eyes fell upon the white manse
standing among the golden leaves.

'Let them go,' I cried, as Graeme paused to take in the view, and
down the sloping dusty road we flew on the dead run.

'Reminds one a little of Abe's curves,' said Graeme, as we drew up
at the gate. But I answered him not, for I was introducing to each
other the two best women in the world. As I was about to rush into
the house, Graeme seized me by the collar, saying--

'Hold on, Connor! you forget your place, you're next.'

'Why, certainly,' I cried, thankfully enough; 'what an ass I am!'

'Quite true,' said Graeme solemnly.

'Where is he?' I asked.

'At this present moment?' he asked, in a shocked voice. 'Why,
Connor, you surprise me.'

'Oh, I see!'

'Yes,' he went on gravely; 'you may trust my mother to be
discreetly attending to her domestic duties; she is a great woman,
my mother.'

I had no doubt of it, for at that moment she came out to us with
little Marjorie in her arms.

'You have shown Mrs. Mavor to her room, mother, I hope,' said
Graeme; but she only smiled and said--

'Run away with your horses, you silly boy,' at which he solemnly
shook his head. 'Ah, mother, you are deep--who would have thought
it of you?'

That evening the manse overflowed with joy, and the days that
followed were like dreams set to sweet music.

But for sheer wild delight, nothing in my memory can quite come up
to the demonstration organised by Graeme, with assistance from
Nixon, Shaw, Sandy, Abe, Geordie, and Baptiste, in honour of the
arrival in camp of Mr. and Mrs. Craig. And, in my opinion, it
added something to the occasion, that after all the cheers for Mr.
and Mrs. Craig had died away, and after all the hats had come down,
Baptiste, who had never taken his eyes from that radiant face,
should suddenly have swept the crowd into a perfect storm of cheers
by excitedly seizing his tuque, and calling out in his shrill

'By gar! Tree cheer for Mrs. Mavor.'

And for many a day the men of Black Rock would easily fall into the
old and well-loved name; but up and down the line of construction,
in all the camps beyond the Great Divide, the new name became as
dear as the old had ever been in Black Rock.

Those old wild days are long since gone into the dim distance of
the past. They will not come again, for we have fallen into quiet
times; but often in my quietest hours I feel my heart pause in its
beat to hear again that strong, clear voice, like the sound of a
trumpet, bidding us to be men; and I think of them all--Graeme,
their chief, Sandy, Baptiste, Geordie, Abe, the Campbells, Nixon,
Shaw, all stronger, better for their knowing of him, and then I
think of Billy asleep under the pines, and of old man Nelson with
the long grass waving over him in the quiet churchyard, and all my
nonsense leaves me, and I bless the Lord for all His benefits, but
chiefly for the day I met the missionary of Black Rock in the
lumber-camp among the Selkirks.

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest