The Foreigner: A Tale of Saskatchewan
Chapter XIII Brown


Two weeks of life in the open, roaming the prairie alone with the wolf hounds, or with French after the cattle, did much to obliterate the mark which those five days left upon Kalman's body and soul. From the very first the boy had no difficulty in mastering the art of sticking on a broncho's back, partly because he was entirely without fear, but largely because he had an ear and an eye for rhythm in sound and in motion. He conceived clearly the idea by watching French as he loped along on his big iron grey, and after that it was merely a matter of translating the idea into action. Every successful rider must first conceive himself as a rider. In two weeks' time Kalman could sit the buckskin and send him across the prairie, swinging him by the neck guide around badger holes and gopher holes, up and down the steep sides of the Night Hawk ravine, without ever touching leather. The fearless ease he displayed in mastering the equestrian art did more than anything else to win him his place in the old half-breed Mackenzie's affection.

The pride of the ranch was Black Joe, a Percheron stallion that French a year before had purchased, with the idea of improving his horse stock to anticipate the market for heavy horses, which he foresaw the building of railroads would be sure to provide. Black Joe was kept in a small field that took in a bit of the bluff and ran down to the lake, affording shelter, drink, and good feeding.

Dismay, therefore, smote the ranch, when Mackenzie announced one morning that Black Joe had broken out and was gone.

"He can't be far away," said French; "take a circle round towards the east. He has likely gone off with Garneau's bunch."

But at noon Mackenzie rode back to report that nowhere could the stallion be seen, that he had rounded up Garneau's ponies without coming across any sign of the stallion.

"I am afraid he has got across the Eagle," said French, "and if he has once got on to those plains, there will be the very deuce to pay. Well, get a move on, and try the country across the creek first. No, hold on. I'll go myself. Throw the saddle on Roanoke; I'll put some grub together, for there's no time to be lost."

Kalman started up and stood eagerly expectant. French glanced at him.

"It will be a hard ride, Kalman; I am a little afraid."

"Try me, sir," said the boy, who had unconsciously in conversation with French dropped much of his street vernacular, and had adopted to a large extent his master's forms of speech.

"All right, boy. Get ready and come along."

While the horses were being saddled, French rolled up into two neat packs a couple of double blankets, grub consisting of Hudson's Bay biscuits, pork, tea and sugar, a camp outfit comprising a pan, a teapail, and two cups.

"So long, Mackenzie," said French, as they rode away. "Hold down the ranch till we get back. We'll strike out north from here, then swing round across the Night Hawk toward the hills and back by the Eagle and Wakota, and come up the creek."

To hunt up a stray beast on the wide open prairie seems to the uninitiated a hopeless business, but it is a simple matter, after all. One has to know the favourite feeding-grounds, the trails that run to these grounds, and have an idea of the limits within which cattle and horses will range. As a rule, each band has its own feeding-grounds and its own spots for taking shelter. The difficulties of search are enormously increased by the broken character of a rolling bluffy prairie. The bluffs intercept the view, and the rolls on the prairie can hide successfully a large bunch of cattle or horses, and it may take a week to beat up a country thickly strewn with bluffs, and diversified with coulees that might easily be searched in a single afternoon.

The close of the third day found the travellers on Wakota trail.

"We'll camp right here, Kalman," said French, as they reached a level tongue of open prairie, around three sides of which flowed the Eagle River.

Of all their camps during the three days' search none was so beautiful, and none lived so long in Kalman's memory, as the camp by the Eagle River near Wakota. The firm green sward, cropped short by a succession of campers' horses,--for this was a choice spot for travellers,--the flowing river with its soft gurgling undertone, the upstanding walls of the poplar bluffs in all the fresh and ample beauty of the early summer drapery, the over- arching sky, deep and blue, through which peeped the shy stars, and the air, so sweet and kindly, breathing about them. It was all so clean, so fresh, so unspoiled to the boy that it seemed as if he had dropped into a new world, remote from and unrelated to any other world he had hitherto known.

They picketed their horses, and with supper over, they sat down before their fire, for the evening air was chill, in weary, dreamy delight. They spoke few words. Like all men who have lived close to Nature, whether in woods or in plains, French had developed a habit of silence, and this habit, as all others, Kalman was rapidly taking on.

As they reclined thus dreamily watching the leaping fire, a canoe came down the river, in the stern of which sat a man whose easy grace proclaimed long practice in the canoeman's art. As his eyes fell upon the fire, he paused in his paddling, and with two or three swift flips he turned his canoe toward the bank, and landing, pulled it up on the shore.

He was a young man of middle height, stoutly built, and with a strong, good-natured face.

"Good evening," he said in a cheery voice, "camped for the night?"

"Yes, camped for the night," replied French.

"I have a tent up stream a little way. I should be glad to have you camp with me. It is going to be a little chilly."

"Oh, we're all right, aren't we, Kalman?" said French.

The boy turned and gave him a quick look of perfect satisfaction. "First rate! You bet!"

"The dew is going to be heavy, though," said the stranger, "and it will be cold before the night is over. I have not much to offer you, only shelter, but I'd like awfully to have you come. A visitor is a rare thing here."

"Well," said French, "since you put it that way we'll go, and I am sure it is very decent of you."

"Not at all. The favour will be to me. My name is Brown."

"And mine is French, Jack French throughout this country, as perhaps you have heard."

"I have been here only a few days, and have heard very little," said Brown.

"And this," continued French, "is Kalman Kalmar, a friend of mine from Winnipeg, and more remotely from Russia, but now a good Canadian."

Brown gave each a strong cordial grasp of his hand.

"You can't think," he said, "how glad I am to see you."

"Is there a trail?" asked French.

"Yes, a trail of a sort. Follow the winding of the river and you will come to my camp at the next bend. You can't miss it. I'll go up in the canoe and come down to meet you."

"Don't trouble," said French; "we know our way about this country."

Following a faint trail for a quarter of a mile through the bluffs, they came upon an open space on the river bank similar to the one they had left, in the midst of which stood Brown's tent. That tent was a wonder to behold, not only to Kalman, but also to French, who had a large experience in tents of various kinds. Ten by twelve, and with a four-foot wall, every inch was in use. The ground which made the floor was covered with fresh, sweet-smelling swamp hay; in one corner was a bed, neat as a soldier's; in the opposite corner a series of cupboards made out of packing cases, filled, one with books, one with drugs and surgical instruments, another with provisions. Hanging from the ridge-pole was a double shelf, and attached to the back upright were a series of pigeon-hole receptacles. It was a wonder of convenience and comfort, and albeit it was so packed with various impedimenta, such was the orderly neatness of it that there seemed to be abundance of room.

At the edge of the clearing Brown met them.

"Here you are," he cried. "Come along and make yourselves at home."

His every movement was full of brisk energy, and his voice carried with it a note of cheery frankness that bespoke the simplicity and kindliness of the good and honest heart.

In a few moments Brown had a fire blazing in front of the tent, for the night air was chill, and a heavy dew was falling.

"Here you are," he cried, throwing down a couple of rugs before the fire. "Make yourselves comfortable. I believe in comfort myself."

"Well," said French, glancing into the tent, throwing himself down before the fire, "you apparently do, and you have attained an unqualified success in exemplifying your belief. You certainly do yourself well."

"Oh, I am a lazy dog," said Brown cheerfully, "and can't do without my comforts. But you don't know how glad I am to see you. I can't stand being alone. I get most awfully blue and funky, naturally nervous and timid, you know."

"You do, eh?" said French, pleasantly. "Well, if you ask me, I believe you're lying, or your face is."

"Not a bit, not a bit. Good thing a fellow has a skin to draw over his insides. I'd hate the world to see all the funk that there is in my heart."

French pulled out his pipe, stirred up its contents with his knife, struck a match, and proceeded to draw what comfort he could from the remnants of his last smoke. The result was evidently not entirely satisfactory. He began searching his pockets with elaborate care, but all in vain, and with a sigh of disappointment he sank back on the rug.

"Hello!" said Brown, whose eyes nothing seemed to escape, "I know what you're after. You have left your pouch. Well, let that be a lesson to you. You ought not to indulge habits that are liable any moment to involve you in such distress. Now look at you, a big, healthy, able-bodied man, on a night like this too, with all the splendour and glory of sky and woods and river about you, with decent company too, and a good fire, and yet you are incapable of enjoyment. You are an abnormality, and you have made yourself so. You need treatment. I am going to administer it forthwith."

He disappeared into his tent, leaving Kalman in a fury of rage, and French with an amused smile upon his face. After a few moments' rummaging Brown appeared with a package in his hand.

"In cases like yours," he said gravely, "I prescribe vapores nicotinenses. I hope you have forgotten your Latin. Here is a brand, a very special brand, which I keep for decoy purposes. Having once used this, you will be sure to come back again. Try that," he cried in a threatening tone, "and look me in the eye."

The anger fled from Kalman's face, and he began to understand that their new friend had been simply jollying them, and he sincerely hoped that neither he nor French had noticed his recent rage.

French filled his pipe with the mixture, lit it, and took one or two experimental draws, then with a great sigh he threw himself back upon the rug, his arms under his head, and puffed away with every symptom of delight.

"See here, Brown," he said, sitting up again after a few moments of blissful silence, "this is 'Old London,' isn't it?"

"See here, French, don't you get off any of your high British nonsense. 'Old London,' indeed! No, sir, that is 'Young Canada'; that is, I have a friend in Cuba who sends me the Prince of Wales brand."

French smoked on for some moments.

"Without being rude, how much of this have you in stock?"

"How much? Enough to fill your pipe whenever you come round."

"My word!" exclaimed French. "You don't dispense this to the general public, do you?"

"Not much, I don't," said Brown. "I select my patients."

"Thank you," said French. "I take this as a mark of extreme hospitality. By the way, where is your own pipe?"

"I have abjured."

"What."

"Abjured."

"And yet you have many of the marks of sanity."

"Sanity! You just note it, and the most striking is that I don't have a pipe."

"Expound me the riddle, please."

"The exposition is simple enough. I am constitutionally lazy and self-indulgent, and almost destitute of self-control--"

"And permit me to interject without offence, an awful liar," said French pleasantly. "Go on."

"I came out here to work. With a pipe and a few pounds of that mixture--"

"Pounds! Ah!" ejaculated French.

"I would find myself immersed in dreamy seas of vaporous and idle bliss--do you catch that combination?--and fancy myself, mark you, busy all the time. It is the smoker's dementia accentuated by such a mixture as this, that while he is blowing rings he imagines he is doing something--"

"The deuce he does! And he is jolly well right."

"So, having something other to do than blow rings, I have abjured the pipe. There are other reasons, but that will suffice."

"Abundantly," said French with emphasis, "and permit me to remark that you have been talking rot."

Brown shook his head with a smile.

"Now tell me," continued French, "what is your idea? What have you in view in planting yourself down here? In short, to put it bluntly, what are you doing?"

"Doing nothing, as yet," said Brown cheerfully, "but I want to do a lot. I have got this Galician colony in my eye."

"I beg your pardon," said French, "are you by any chance a preacher?"

"Well, I may be, though I can't preach much. But my main line is the kiddies. I can teach them English, and then I am going to doctor them, and, if they'll let me, teach them some of the elements of domestic science; in short, do anything to make them good Christians and good Canadians, which is the same thing."

"That is a pretty large order. Look here, now," said French, sitting up, "you look like a sensible fellow, and open to advice. Don't be an ass and throw yourself away. I know these people well. In a generation or two something may be done with them. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, you know. Give it up. Take up a ranch and go cattle raising. That is my advice. I know them. You can't undo in your lifetime the results of three centuries. It's a hopeless business. I tried myself to give them some pointers when they came in first, and worried a good deal about it. I got myself disliked for my pains and suffered considerable annoyance. Now I leave them beautifully alone. Their suspicions have vanished and they no longer look at me as if I were a thief."

Brown's face grew serious. "It's a fact, they are suspicious, frightfully. I have been talking school to them, but they won't have a school as a gift. My Church, the Presbyterian, you know, offers to put up a school for them, since the Government won't do anything, but they are mightily afraid that this is some subtle scheme for extracting money from them. But what can you expect? The only church they know has bled them dry, and they fear and hate the very name of church."

"By Jove! I don't wonder," said French.

"Nor do I."

"But look here, Brown," said French, "you don't mean to tell me,--I assure you I don't wish to be rude,--but you don't mean to tell me that you have come here, a man of your education and snap--"

"Thank you," said Brown.

"To teach a lot of Galician children."

"Well," said Brown, "I admit I have come partially for my health. You see, I am constitutionally inclined--"

"Oh, come now," said French, "as my friend Kalman would remark, cut it out."

"Partially for my health, and partially for the good of the country. These people here exist as an undigested foreign mass. They must be digested and absorbed into the body politic. They must be taught our ways of thinking and living, or it will be a mighty bad thing for us in Western Canada. Do you know, there are over twenty-five thousand of them already in this country?"

"Oh, that's all right," said French, "but they'll learn our ways fast enough. And as for teaching their children, pardon me, but it seems to me you are too good a man to waste in that sort of thing. Why, bless my soul, you can get a girl for fifty dollars a month who would teach them fast enough. But you--now you could do big things in this country, and there are going to be big things doing here in a year or two."

"What things?" said Brown with evident interest.

"Oh, well, ranching, farming on a big scale, building railroads, lumber up on the hills, then, later, public life. We will be a province, you know, one of these days, and the men who are in at the foundation making will stand at the top later on."

"You're all right," cried Brown, his eyes alight with enthusiasm. "There will be big things doing, and, believe me, this is one of them."

"What? Teaching a score of dirty little Galicians? The chances are you'll spoil them. They are good workers as they are. None better. They are easy to handle. You go in and give them some of our Canadian ideas of living and all that, and before you know they are striking for higher wages and giving no end of trouble."

"You would suppress the school, then, in Western Canada?" said Brown.

"No, not exactly. But if you educate these fellows, you hear me, they'll run your country, by Jove! in half a dozen years, and you wouldn't like that much."

"That's exactly it," replied Brown; "they'll run your country anyhow you put it, school or no school, and, therefore, you had better fit them for the job. You have got to make them Canadian."

"A big business that," said French.

"Yes," replied Brown, "there are two agencies that will do it."

"Namely."

"The school and the Church."

"Oh, yes, that's all right, I guess," losing interest in the discussion.

"That's my game too," said Brown with increasing eagerness. "That's my idea,--the school and the Church. You say the big things are ranches, railroads, and mills. So they are. But the really big things are the things that give us our ideas and our ideals, and those are the school and the Church. But, I say, you will be wanting to turn in. You wait a minute and I'll make your bed."

"Bed? Nonsense!" said French. "Your tent floor is all right. I've been twenty years in this country, and Kalman is already an old timer, so don't you start anything."

"Might as well be comfortable," said Brown cheerfully. "I have a great weakness for comfort. In fact, I can't bear to be uncomfortable. I live luxuriously. I'll be back in a few minutes."

He disappeared behind a bluff and came back in a short time with a large bundle of swamp-grass, which he speedily made into a very comfortable bed.

"Now then," he said cheerfully, "there you are. Have you any objection to prayers? It is a rule of this camp to have prayers night and morning, especially if any strangers happen along. I like to practise on them, you know."

French nodded gravely. "Good idea. I can't say it is common in this country."

Brown brought out two hymn books and passed one to French, stirred up the fire to a bright blaze, and proceeded to select a hymn. Suddenly he turned to Kalman. "I say, my boy, do you read?"

"Sure thing! You bet!" said Kalman indignantly.

"Educated, you see," said French apologetically. "Street University, Winnipeg."

"That's all right, boy. I'll get you a book for yourself. We have lots of them. Now, French, you select."

"Oh, me? You better go on. I don't know your book."

"No, sir," said Brown emphatically. "You have got to select, and you have got to read too. Rule of the camp. True, I didn't feed you, but then--I hesitate to speak of it--perhaps you remember that mixture."

"Do I? Oh, well, certainly, if you put it that way," said French. "Let's see, all the old ones are here. Suppose we make it a good old-fashioned one. How will this do?" He passed the book to Brown.

"Just the thing," said Brown. "'Nearer, my God, to Thee.' Can you find it, Kalman?"

"Why, cert," said Kalman.

French glanced apologetically at Brown.

"Recently caught," he explained, "but means no harm."

Brown nodded.

"Proceed with the reading," he said.

French laid down his pipe, took off his hat, Kalman following his example, and began to read. Instinctively, as he read, his voice took a softer modulation than in ordinary speech. His manner, too, became touched with reverent dignity. His very face seemed to grow finer. Brown sat listening, with his face glowing with pleasure and surprise.

"Fine old hymn that! Great hymn! And finely read, if I might say so. Now we'll sing."

His voice was strong, true, and not unmusical, and what he lacked of finer qualities he made up in volume and force. His visitors joined in the singing, Kalman following the air in a low sweet tone, French singing bass.

"Can't you sing any louder?" said Brown to Kalman. "There's nobody to disturb but the fish and the Galicians up yonder. Pipe up, my boy, if you can. I couldn't sing softly if I tried. Can he sing?" he enquired of French.

"Don't know. Sing up, Kalman, if you can," said French.

Then Kalman sat up and sang. Strong, pure, clear, his voice rose upon the night until it seemed to fill the whole space of clearing and to soar away off into the sky. As the boy sang, French laid down the book and in silence gazed upon the singer's face. Through verse after verse the others sang to the end.

"I say, boy," said Brown, "you're great! I'd like to hear you sing that last verse alone. Get up and try it. What do you say?"

Without hesitation the boy rose up. His spirit had caught the inspiration of the hymn and began,

"Or if on joyful wing
Cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon, and stars forgot,
Upward I fly,
Still all my song shall be,
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee!"

The warm soft light from the glow still left in the western sky fell on his face and touched his yellow hair with glory. A silence followed, so deep and full that it seemed to overflow the space so recently filled with song, and to hold and prolong the melody of that exquisite voice. Brown reached across and put his hand on the boy's shoulder.

"Boy, boy," he said solemnly, "keep that voice for God. It surely belongs to Him."

French neither spoke nor moved. He could not. Deep floods were surging through him. For one brief moment he saw in vision a little ivy-coloured church in its environment of quiet country lanes in far-away England, and in the church, the family pew, where sat a man stern and strong, a woman beside him and two little boys, one, the younger, holding her hand as they sat. Then with swift change of scene he saw a queer, rude, wooden church in the raw frontier town in the new land, and in the church himself, his brother, and between them, a fair, slim girl, whose face and voice as she sang made him forget all else in heaven and on earth. The tides of memory rolled in upon his soul, and with them strangely mingled the swelling springs rising from this scene before him, with its marvellous setting of sky and woods and river. No wonder he sat voiceless and without power to move.

All this Brown could not know, but he had that instinct born of keen sympathy that is so much better than knowing. He sat silent and waited. French turned to the index, found a hymn, and passed it over to Brown.

"Know that?" he asked, clearing his throat.

"'For all thy saints'? Well, rather," said Brown. "Here, Kalman," passing it to the boy, "can you sing this?"

"I have heard it," said Kalman.

"This is a favourite of yours, French?" enquired Brown.

"Yes--but--it was my brother's hymn. Fifteen years ago I heard him sing it."

Brown waited, evidently wishing but unwilling to ask a question.

"He died," said French softly, "fifteen years ago."

"Try it, Kalman," said French.

"Let me hear it," said the boy.

"Oh, never mind," said French hastily. "I don't care about having it rehearsed now."

"Sing it to me," said Kalman.

Brown sang the first verse. The boy listened intently. "Yes, I can sing it," he said eagerly. In the second verse he joined, and with more confidence in the third.

"There now," said Brown, "I only spoil it. You sing the rest. Can you?"

"I'll try."

Without pause or faltering Kalman sang the next two verses. But there was not the same subtle spiritual interpretation. He was occupied with the music. French was evidently disappointed.

"Thank you, Kalman," he said; "let it go at that."

"No," said Brown, "let me read it to you, Kalman. You are not singing the words, you are singing the notes. Now listen,

'The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon, to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.
Hallelujah!'

There it is. Do you see it?"

The boy nodded.

"Now then, sing," said Brown.

With face aglow and uplifted to the western sky the boy sang, gaining confidence with every word, till he himself caught and pictured to the others the vision of that "golden evening." When he came to the last verse, Brown stopped him.

"Wait, Kalman," he said. "Let me read that for you. Or better, you read it," he said, passing French the book.

French took the book, paused, made as if to give it back, then, as if ashamed of his hesitation, began to read in a voice quiet and thrilling the words of immortal vision.

"From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,

Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host."

But before the close his voice shook, and ended in a husky whisper. Touched by the strong man's emotion, the boy began the verse in tones that faltered. But as he went on his voice came to him again, and with a deeper, fuller note he sang the, great words,

"Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Hallelujah!"

With the spell of the song still upon them Brown prayed in words simple, reverent, and honest, with a child's confidence, as if speaking to one he knew well. Around the open glade with its three worshippers breathed the silent night, above it shone the stars, the mysterious stars, but nearer than night, and nearer than the stars, seemed God, listening and aware.

Through all his after years Kalman would look back to that night as the night on which God first became to him something other than a name. And to French that evening song and prayer were an echo from those dim and sacred shrines of memory where dwelt his holiest and tenderest thoughts.

Next day, Black Joe, tired of freedom, wandered home, to the great joy of the household.


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