"For instance in preaching, eh!" said Dr. Kane.
"Aye, in preaching or in political oratory," replied the minister.
At this, however, the old piper shook his head doubtfully.
"You do not agree with Mr. Munro in that?" said the M.P.P.
"No," replied Sutherland, "speaking iss one thing, piping iss another."
"And that is no lie, and a mighty good thing too it is," said Dr. Kane flippantly.
"It iss no lie," replied the old piper with dignity. "And if you knew much about either of them you would say it deeferently."
"Why, what is the difference, Mr. Sutherland?" said Dr. Kane, anxious to appease the old man. "They both are means of expressing the emotions of the soul, you say."
"The deeference! The deeferenee iss it? The deeference iss here, that the pipes will neffer lie."
There was a shout of laughter.
"One for you, Kane!" cried the Reverend Harper Freeman. "And," he continued when the laughing had ceased, "we will have to take our share too, Mr. Munro."
But the hour for beginning the programme had arrived and the secretary climbed to the platform to announce the events for the day.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" he cried, in a high, clear, penetrating voice, "the speech of welcome will be delivered toward the close of the day by the president of the Middlesex Caledonian Society, the Honourable J. J. Patterson, M.P.P. My duty is the very simple one of announcing the order of events on the programme and of expressing on behalf of the Middlesex Caledonian Society the earnest hope that you all may enjoy the day, and that each event on the programme will prove more interesting than the last. The programme is long and varied and I must ask your assistance to put it through on schedule time. First there are the athletic competitions. I shall endeavour to assist Dr. Kane and the judges in running these through without unnecessary and annoying delays. Then will follow piping, dancing, and feasting in their proper order, after which will come the presentation of prizes and speeches from our distinguished visitors. On the platform over yonder there are places for the speakers, the officials, and the guests of the society, but such is the very excellent character of the ground that all can be accommodated with grand stand seats. One disappointment, and one only, I must announce, the Band of the Seventh, London, cannot be with us to-day."
"But we will never miss them," interpolated the Reverend Alexander Munro with solemn emphasis.
"Exactly so!" continued Fatty when the laugh had subsided. "And now let's all go in for a good old time picnic, 'where even the farmers cease from grumbling and the preachers take a rest.' Now take your places, ladies and gentlemen, for the grand parade is about to begin."
The programme opened with the one hundred yard flat race. For this race there were four entries, Cahill from London, Fullerton from Woodstock, La Belle from nowhere in particular, and Wilbur Freeman from Maplehill. But Wilbur was nowhere to be seen. The secretary came breathless to the platform.
"Where's Wilbur?" he asked his father.
"Wilbur? Surely he is in the crowd, or in the tent perhaps."
At the tent the secretary found his brother nursing a twisted ankle, heart-sick with disappointment. Early in the day he had injured his foot in an attempt to fasten a swing upon a tree. Every minute since that time he had spent in rubbing and manipulating the injured member, but all to no purpose. While the pain was not great, a race was out of the question. The secretary was greatly disturbed and as nearly wrathful as ever he allowed himself to become. He was set on his brother making a good showing in this race; moreover, without Wilbur there would be no competitor to uphold the honour of Maplehill in this contest and this would deprive it of much of its interest.
"What the dickens were you climbing trees for?" he began impatiently, but a glance at his young brother's pale and woe-stricken face changed his wrath to pity. "Never mind, old chap," he said, "better luck next time, and you will be fitter too."
Back he ran to the platform, for he must report the dismal news to his mother, whose chief interest in the programme for the day lay in this race in which her latest born was to win his spurs. The cheery secretary was nearly desperate. It was an ominous beginning for the day's sports. What should he do? He confided his woe to Mack and Cameron, who were standing close by the platform.
"It will play the very mischief with the programme. It will spoil the whole day, for Wilbur was the sole Maplehill representative in the three races; besides, I believe the youngster would have shown up well."
"He would that!" cried Mack heartily. "He was a bird. But is there no one else from the Hill that could enter?"
"No, no one with a chance of winning, and no fellow likes to go in simply to be beaten."
"What difference?" said Cameron. "It's all in a day's sport."
"That's so," said Mack. "If I could run myself I would enter. I wonder if Danny would—"
"Danny!" said the secretary shortly. "You know better than that. Danny's too shy to appear before this crowd even if he were dead sure of winning."
"Say, it is too bad!" continued Mack, as the magnitude of the calamity grew upon him. "Surely we can find some one to make an appearance. What about yourself, Cameron? Did you ever race?"
"Some," said Cameron. "I raced last year at the Athole Games."
Fatty threw himself upon him.
"Cameron, you are my man! Do you want to save your country, and perhaps my life, certainly my reputation? Get out of those frills," touching his kilt, "and I'll get a suit from one of the jumpers for you. Go! Bless your soul, anything you want that's mine you can have! Only hustle for dear life's sake! Go! Go! Go! Take him away, Mack. We'll get something else on!"
Fatty actually pushed Cameron clear away from the platform and after him big Mack.
"There seems to be no help for it," said Cameron, as they went to the tent together.
"It's awful good of you," replied Mack, "but you can see how hard Fatty takes it, though it is not a bit fair to you."
"Oh, nobody knows me here," said Cameron, "and I don't mind being a victim."
But as Mack saw him get into his jersey and shorts he began to wonder a bit.
"Man, it would be great if you should beat yon Frenchman!" he exclaimed.
"Yes! La Belle. He is that stuck on himself; he thinks he is a winner before he starts."
"It's a good way to think, Mack. Now let us get down into the woods and have a bit of a practise in the 'get away.' How do they start here? With a pistol?"
"No," replied Mack. "We are not so swell. The starter gives the word this way, 'All set? Go!'"
"All right, Mack, you give me the word sharp. I am out of practise and I must get the idea into my head."
"You are great on the idea, I see," replied Mack.
"Right you are, and it is just the same with the hammer, Mack."
"Aye, I have found that out."
For twenty minutes or so Cameron practised his start and at every attempt Mack's confidence grew, so that when he brought his man back to the platform he announced to a group of the girls standing near, "Don't say anything, but I have the winner right here for you."
"Why, Mr. Cameron," cried Isa, "what a wonder you are! What else can you do? You are a piper, a dancer, a hammer-thrower, and now a runner."
"Jack-of-all-trades," laughed Perkins, who, with Mandy, was standing near.
"Yes, but you can't say 'Master of none,'" replied Isa sharply.
"Better wait," said Cameron. "I have entered this race only to save Mr. Freeman from collapse."
"Collapse? Fatty? He couldn't," said Isa with emphasis.
"Lass, I do not know," said Mack gravely. "He looked more hollow than ever I have seen him before."
"Well, we'll all cheer for you, Mr. Cameron, anyway," cried Isa. "Won't we, girls? Oh, if wishes were wings!"
"Wings?" said Mandy, with a puzzled air. "What for? This is a RACE."
"Didn't you never see a hen run, Mandy?" laughed Perkins.
"Yes, I have, but I tell you Mr. Cameron ain't no hen," replied Mandy angrily. "And more! He's going to win."
"Say, Mandy, that is the talk," said Mack, when the laugh had passed. "Did you hear yon?" he added to Cameron.
"It is a good omen," he said. "I am going to do my best."
"And, by Jingo! if you only had a chance," said Mack, "I believe you would lick them all."
At this Fatty bustled up.
"All ready, eh? Cameron, I shall owe you something for this. La Belle kicked like a steer against your entering at the last minute. It is against the rules, you know. But he's given in."
Fatty did not explain that he had intimated to La Belle that there was no need for anxiety as far as the "chap from the old country" was concerned; he was there merely to fill up.
But if La Belle's fears were allayed by the secretary's disparaging description of the latest competitor, they sprang full grown into life again when he saw Cameron "all set" for the start, and more especially so when he heard his protest against the Frenchman's method in the "get away."
"I want you to notice," he said firmly to Dr. Kane, who was acting as starter, "that this man gets away WITH the word 'Go' and not AFTER it. It is an old trick, but long ago played out."
Then the Frenchman fell into a rage.
"Eet ees no treeck!" sputtered La Belle. "Eet ees too queeck for him."
"All right!" said Dr. Kane. "You are to start after the word 'Go.' Remember! Sorry we have no pistol."
Once more the competitors crouched over the scratch.
"All set? Go!"
Like the releasing of a whirlwind the four runners spring from the scratch, La Belle, whose specialty is his "get away," in front, Fullerton and Cameron in second place, Cahill a close third. A blanket would cover them all. A tumult of cheers from the friends of the various runners follows them along their brief course.
"Who is it? Who is it?" cries Mandy breathlessly, clutching Mack by the arm.
"Cameron, I swear!" roars Mack, pushing his way through the crowd to the judges.
"No! No! La Belle! La Belle!" cried the Frenchman's backers from the city. The judges are apparently in dispute.
"I swear it is Cameron!" roars Mack again in their ears, his eyes aflame and his face alight with a fierce and triumphant joy. "It is Cameron I am telling you!"
"Oh, get out, you big bluffer!" cries a thin-faced man, pressing close upon the judges. "It is La Belle by a mile!"
"By a mile, is it?" shouts Mack. "Then go and hunt your man!" and with a swift motion his big hand falls upon the thin face and sweeps it clear out of view, the man bearing it coming to his feet in a white fury some paces away. A second look at Mack, however, calms his rage, and from a distance he continues leaping and yelling "La Belle! La Belle!"
After a few moments' consultation the result is announced.
"A tie for the first place between La Belle and Cameron! Time eleven seconds! The tie will be run off in a few minutes."
In a tumult of triumph big Mack shoulders Cameron through the crowd and carries him off to the dressing tent, where he spends the next ten minutes rubbing his man's legs and chanting his glory.
"Who is this Cameron?" enquired the M.P.P., leaning over the platform railing.
Quick came the answer from the bevy of girls thronging past the platform.
"Cameron? He's our man!" It was Mandy's voice, bold and strong.
"Your man?" said the M.P.P., laughing down into the coarse flushed face.
"Yes, OUR man!" cried Isa MacKenzie back at him. "And a winner, you may be sure."
"Ah, happy man!" exclaimed the M.P.P. "Who would not win with such backers? Why, I would win myself, Miss Isa, were you to back me so. But who is Cameron?" he continued to the Methodist minister at his side.
"He is Haley's hired man, I believe, and that first girl is Haley's daughter."
"Poor thing!" echoed Mrs. Freeman, a kindly smile on her motherly face. "But she has a good heart has poor Mandy."
"But why 'poor'?" enquired the M.P.P.
"Oh, well," answered Mrs. Freeman with hesitation, "you see she is so very plain—and—well, not like other girls. But she is a good worker and has a kind heart."
Once more the runners face the starter, La Belle gay, alert, confident; Cameron silent, pale, and grim.
"All set? Go!" La Belle is away ere the word is spoken. The bell, however, brings him back, wrathful and less confident.
Once more they stand crouching over the scratch. Once more the word releases them like shafts from the bow. A beautiful start, La Belle again in the lead, but Cameron hard at his heels and evidently with something to spare. Thus for fifty yards, sixty, yes, sixty-five.
"La Belle! La Belle! He wins! He wins!" yell his backers frantically, the thin-faced man dancing madly near the finishing tape. Twenty yards to go and still La Belle is in the lead. High above the shouting rises Mack's roar.
"Now, Cameron! For the life of you!"
It was as if his voice had touched a spring somewhere in Cameron's anatomy. A great leap brings him even with La Belle. Another, another, and still another, and he breasts the tape a winner by a yard, time ten and three fifths seconds. The Maplehill folk go mad, and madder than all Isa and her company of girl friends.
"I got—one—bad—start—me! He—pull—me back!" panted La Belle to his backers who were holding him up.
"Who pulled you back?" indignantly cried the thin-faced man, looking for blood.
"That sacre startair!"
"You ran a fine race, La Belle!" said Cameron, coming up.
"Non! Peste! I mak heem in ten and one feeft," replied the disgusted La Belle.
"I have made it in ten," said Cameron quietly.
"Aha!" exclaimed La Belle. "You are one black horse, eh? So! I race no more to-day!"
"Then no more do I!" said Cameron firmly. "Why, La Belle, you will beat me in the next race sure. I have no wind."
Under pressure La Belle changed his mind, and well for him he did; for in the two hundred and twenty yards and in the quarter mile Cameron's lack of condition told against him, so that in the one he ran second to La Belle and in the other third to La Belle and Fullerton.
The Maplehill folk were gloriously satisfied, and Fatty in an ecstasy of delight radiated good cheer everywhere. Throughout the various contests the interest continued to deepen, the secretary, with able generalship, reserving the hammer-throwing as the most thrilling event to the last place. For, more than anything in the world, men, and especially women, love strong men and love to see them in conflict. For that fatal love cruel wars have been waged, lands have been desolated, kingdoms have fallen. There was the promise of a very pretty fight indeed between the three entered for the hammer-throwing contest, two of them experienced in this warfare and bearing high honours, the third new to the game and unskilled, but loved for his modest courage and for the simple, gentle heart he carried in his great body. He could not win, of course, for McGee, the champion of the city police force, had many scalps at his girdle, and Duncan Ross, "Black Duncan," the pride of the Zorras, the unconquered hero of something less than a hundred fights—who could hope to win from him? But all the more for this the people loved big Mack and wished him well. So down the sloping sides of the encircling hills the crowds pressed thick, and on the platform the great men leaned over the rail, while they lifted their ladies to places of vantage upon the chairs beside them.
"Oh, I cannot see a bit!" cried Isa MacKenzie, vainly pressing upon the crowding men who, stolidly unaware of all but what was doing in front of them, effectually shut off her view.
"And you want to see?" said the M.P.P., looking down at her.
"Oh, so much!" she cried.
"Come up here, then!" and, giving her a hand, he lifted her, smiling and blushing, to a place on the platform whence she with absorbing interest followed the movements of big Mack, and incidentally of the others in as far as they might bear any relation to those of her hero.
And now they were drawing for place.
"Aha! Mack is going to throw first!" said the Reverend Alexander Munro. "That is a pity."
"It's a shame!" cried Isa, with flashing eyes. "Why don't they put one of those older—ah—?"
"Stagers?" suggested the M.P.P.
"Duffers," concluded Isa.
"The lot determines the place, Miss Isa," said Mr. Freeman, with a smile at her. "But the best man will win."
"Oh, I am not so sure of that!" cried the girl in a distressed voice. "Mack might get nervous."
"Nervous?" laughed the M.P.P. "That giant?"
"Yes, indeed, I have seen him that nervous—" said Isa, and stopped abruptly.
"Ah! That is quite possible," replied the M.P.P. with a quizzical smile.
"And there is young Cameron yonder. He is not going to throw, is he?" enquired Mr. Munro.
"He is coaching Mack," explained Isa, "and fine he is at it. Oh, there! He is going to throw! Oh, if he only gets the swing! Oh! Oh! Oh! He has got it fine!"
A storm of cheers followed Mack's throw, then a deep silence while the judges took the measurement.
"One hundred and twenty-one feet!"
"One hundred and twenty-one!" echoed a hundred voices in amazement.
"One hundred and twenty-one! It is a lie!" cried McGee with an oath, striding out to personally supervise the measuring.
"One hundred and twenty-one!" said Duncan Ross, shaking his head doubtfully, but he was too much of a gentleman to do other than wait for the judges' decision.
"One hundred and twenty-one feet and two inches," was the final verdict, and from the crowd there rose a roar that rolled like thunder around the hills.
"It's a fluke, and so it is!" said McGee with another oath.
"Give me your hand, lad," said Duncan Ross, evidently much roused. "It iss a noble throw whateffer, and worthy of beeg Rory himself. I haf done better, howeffer, but indeed I may not to-day."
It was indeed a great throw, and one immediate result was that there was no holding back in the contest, no playing 'possum. Mack's throw was there to be beaten, and neither McGee nor even Black Duncan could afford to throw away a single chance. For hammer-throwing is an art requiring not only strength but skill as well, and not only strength and skill but something else most difficult to secure. With the strength and the skill there must go a rhythmic and perfect coordination of all the muscles in the body, with exactly the proper contracting and relaxing of each at exactly the proper moment of time, and this perfect coordination is a result rarely achieved even by the greatest throwers, but when achieved, and with the man's full strength behind it, his record throw is the result.
Meantime Cameron was hovering about his man in an ecstasy of delight.
"Oh, Mack, old man!" he said. "You got the swing perfectly. It was a dream. And if you had put your full strength into it you would have made a world record. Why, man, you could add ten feet to it!"
"It is a fluke!" said McGee again, as he took his place.
"Make one like it, then, my lad," said Black Duncan with a grim smile.
But this McGee failed to do, for his throw measured ninety-seven feet.
"A very fair throw, McGee," said Black Duncan. "But not your best, and nothing but the best will do the day appearingly."
With that Black Duncan took place for his throw. One—twice—thrice he swung the great hammer about his head, then sent it whirling into the air. Again a mighty shout announced a great throw and again a dead silence waited for the measurement.
"One hundred and fourteen feet!"
"Aha!" said Black Duncan, and stepped back apparently well satisfied.
It was again Mack's turn.
"You have the privilege of allowing your first throw to stand," said Dr. Kane.
"Best let it stand, lad, till it iss beat," advised Black Duncan kindly. "It iss a noble throw."
"He can do better, though," said Cameron.
"Very well, very well!" said Duncan. "Let him try."
But Mack's success had keyed him up to the highest pitch. Every nerve was tingling, every muscle taut. His first throw he had taken without strain, being mainly anxious, under Cameron's coaching, to get the swing, but under the excitement incident to the contest he had put more strength into the throw than appeared either to himself or to his coach. Now, however, with nerves and muscles taut, he was eager to increase his distance, too eager it seemed, for his second throw measured only eighty-nine feet.
A silence fell upon his friends and Cameron began to chide him.
"You went right back to your old style, Mack. There wasn't the sign of a swing."
"I will get it yet, or bust!" said big Mack between his teeth.
McGee's second throw went one hundred and seventeen feet. A cheer arose from his backers, for it was a great throw and within five feet of his record. Undoubtedly McGee was in great form and he might well be expected to measure up to his best to-day.
Black Duncan's second throw measured one hundred and nineteen feet seven, which was fifteen feet short of his record and showed him to be climbing steadily upward.
Once more the turn came to Mack, and once more, with almost savage eagerness, he seized the hammer preparatory to his throw.
"Now, Mack, for heaven's sake go easy!" said Cameron. "Take your swing easy and slow."
But Mack heeded him not. "I can beat it!" he muttered between his shut teeth, "and I will." So, with every nerve taut and every muscle strained to its limit, he made his third attempt. It was in vain. The measure showed ninety-seven feet six. A suppressed groan rose from the Maplehill folk.
"A grand throw, lad, for a beginner," said Black Duncan.
The excitement now became intense. By his first throw of one hundred and twenty-one feet two, Mack remained still the winner. But McGee had only four feet to gain and Black Duncan less than two to equal him. The little secretary went skipping about aglow with satisfaction and delight. The day was already famous in the history of Canadian athletics.
Again McGee took place for his throw, his third and last. The crowd gathered in as near as they dared. But McGee had done his best for that day, and his final throw measured only one hundred and five feet.
There remained yet but a single chance to wrest from Mack Murray the prize for that day, but that chance lay in the hands of Duncan Ross, the cool and experienced champion of many a hard-fought fight. Again Black Duncan took the hammer. It was his last throw. He had still fifteen feet to go to reach his own record, and he had often beaten the throw that challenged him to-day, but, on the other hand, he had passed through many a contest where his throw had fallen short of the one he must now beat to win. A hush fell upon the people as Black Duncan took his place. Once—twice—and, with ever increasing speed, thrice he swung the great hammer, then high and far it hurtled through the air.
"Jerusalem!" cried Mack. "What a fling!"
"Too high," muttered Black Duncan. "You have got it, lad, you have got it, and you well deserve it."
"Tut-tut, nonsense!" said Mack impatiently. "Wait you a minute."
Silent and expectant the crowd awaited the result. Twice over the judges measured the throw, then announced "One hundred and twenty-one feet." Mack had won by two inches.
A great roar rose from the crowd, round Mack they surged like a flood, eager to grip his hands and eager to carry him off shoulder high. But he threw them off as a rock throws back the incoming tide and made for Duncan Ross, who stood, calm and pale, and with hand outstretched, waiting him. It was a new experience for Black Duncan, and a bitter, to be second in a contest. Only once in many years had he been forced to lower his colours, and to be beaten by a raw and unknown youth added to the humiliation of his defeat. But Duncan Ross had in his veins the blood of a long line of Highland gentlemen who knew how to take defeat with a smile.
"I congratulate you, Mack Murray," he said in a firm, clear voice. "Your fame will be through Canada tomorrow, and well you deserve it."
But Mack caught the outstretched hand in both of his and, leaning toward Black Duncan, he roared at him above the din.
"Mr. Ross, Mr. Ross, it is no win! Listen to me!" he panted. "What are two inches in a hundred and twenty feet? A stretching of the tape will do it. No, no! Listen to me! You must listen to me as you are a man! I will not have it! You can beat me easily in the throw! At best it is a tie and nothing else will I have to-day. At least let us throw again!" he pleaded. But to this Ross would not listen for a moment.
"The lad has made his win," he said to the judges, "and his win he must have."
But Mack declared that nothing under heaven would make him change his mind. Finally the judges, too, agreed that in view of the possibility of a mistake in measuring with the tape, it would be only right and fair to count the result a tie. Black Duncan listened respectfully to the judges' decision.
"You are asking me a good deal, Mack," he said at length, "but you are a gallant lad and I am an older man and—"
"Aye! And a better!" shouted Mack.
"And so I will agree."
Once more the field was cleared. And now there fell upon the crowding people a hush as if they stood in the presence of death itself.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" said the M.P.P. "Do you realise that you are looking upon a truly great contest, a contest great enough to be of national, yes, of international, importance?"
"You bet your sweet life!" cried the irrepressible Fatty. "We're going some. 'What's the matter with our Mack?'" he shouted.
"'HE'S—ALL—RIGHT!'" came back the chant from the surrounding hills in hundreds of voices.
"And what's the matter with Duncan Ross?" cried Mack, waving a hand above his head.
Again the assurance of perfect rightness came back in a mighty roar from the hills. But it was hushed into immediate silence, a silence breathless and overwhelming, for Black Duncan had taken once more his place with the hammer in his hand.
"Oh, I do wish they would hurry!" gasped Isa, her hands pressed hard upon her heart.
"My heart is rather weak, too," said the M.P.P. "I fear I cannot last much longer. Ah! There he goes, thank God!"
"Amen!" fervently responds little Mrs. Freeman, who, in the intensity of her excitement, is standing on a chair holding tight by her husband's coat collar.
Not a sound breaks the silence as Black Duncan takes his swing. It is a crucial moment in his career. Only by one man in Canada has he ever been beaten, and with the powers of his antagonist all untried and unknown, for anyone could see that Mack has not yet thrown his best, he may be called upon to surrender within the next few minutes the proud position he has held so long in the athletic world. But there is not a sign of excitement in his face. With great care, and with almost painful deliberation, he balances the hammer for a moment or two, then once—twice—and, with a tremendous quickening of speed,—thrice—he swings, and his throw is made. A great throw it is, anyone can see, and one that beats the winner. In hushed and strained silence the people await the result.
"One hundred and twenty-one feet nine."
Then rises the roar that has been held pent up during the last few nerve-racking minutes.
"It iss a good enough throw," said Black Duncan with a quiet smile, "but there iss more in me yet. Now, lad, do your best and there will be no hard feeling with thiss man whateffer happens."
Black Duncan's accent and idioms reveal the intense excitement that lies behind his quiet face.
Mack takes the hammer.
"I will not beat it, you may be sure," he says. "But I will just take a fling at it anyway."
"Now, Mack," says Cameron, "for the sake of all you love forget the distance and show them the Braemar swing. Easy and slow."
But Mack waves him aside and stands pondering. He is "getting the idea."
"Man, do you see him?" whispers his brother Danny, who stands near to Cameron. "I believe he has got it."
Cameron nods his head. Mack wears an impressive air of confidence and strength.
"It will be a great throw," says Cameron to Danny.
"Easy and slow" Mack poises the great hammer in his hand, swinging it gently backward and forward as if it had been a boy's toy, the great muscles in arms and back rippling up and down in firm full waves under his white skin, for he is now stripped to the waist for this throw.
Suddenly, as if at command, the muscles seem to spring to their places, tense, alert. "Easy." Yes, truly, but by no means "slow." "Easy," the great hammer swings about his head in whirling circles, swift and ever swifter. Once—and twice—the great muscles in back and arms and back and legs knotted in bunches—thrice!
"Ah-h-h!" A long, wailing, horrible sound, half moan, half cry, breaks from the people. Mack has missed his direction, and the great hammer, weighted with the potentialities of death, is describing a parabola high over the heads of the crowding, shrieking, scattering people.
"Oh, my God! My God! Oh, my God! My God!" With his hands covering his eyes the big man is swaying from side to side like a mighty tree before a tempest. Cameron and Ross both spring to him. On the hillsides men stand rigid, pale, shaking; women shriek and faint. One ghastly moment of suspense, and then a horrid sickening thud; one more agonising second of silence, and then from a score of throats rises a cry:
"It's all right! All right! No one hurt!"
From five hundred throats breaks a weird unearthly mingling of strange sounds; cheers and cries, shouts and sobs, prayers and oaths. In the midst of it all Mack sinks to his knees, with hands outstretched to heaven.
"Great God, I thank Thee! I thank Thee!" he cries brokenly, the tears streaming down his ghastly face. Then, falling forward upon his hands, he steadies himself while great sobs come heaving from his mighty chest. Cameron and Ross, still upholding him, through the crowd a man comes pushing his way, hurling men and women right and left.
"Back, people! And be still." It is the minister, Alexander Munro. "Be still! It is a great deliverance that God has wrought! Peace, woman! God is near! Let us pray."
Instantly all noises are hushed, hats come off, and all up the sloping hills men and women fall to their knees, or remain standing with heads bowed, while the minister, upright beside the kneeling man, spreads his hands towards heaven and prays in a voice steady, strong, thrilling:
"Almighty God, great and wonderful in Thy ways, merciful and gracious in Thy providence, Thou hast wrought a great deliverance before our eyes this day. All power is in Thy hands. All forces move at Thy command. Thine hand it is that guided this dread hammer harmless to its own place, saving the people from death. It is ever thus, Father, for Thou art Love. We lift to Thee our hearts' praise. May we walk softly before Thee this day and alway. Amen!"
"Amen! Amen!" On every hand and up the hillsides rises the fervent solemn attestation.
"Rise, Mr. Murray!" says the minister in a loud and solemn voice, giving Mack his hand. "God has been gracious to you this day. See that you do not forget."
"He has that! He has that!" sobs Mack. "And God forgive me if I ever forget." And, suddenly pushing from him the many hands stretched out towards him, he stumbles his way through the crowd, led off by his two friends towards the tent.
"Hold on there a minute! Let us get this measurement first." It was the matter-of-fact, cheery voice of Fatty Freeman. "If I am not mistaken we have a great throw to measure."
"Quite right, Mr. Freeman," said the minister. "Let us get the measurement and let not the day be spoiled."
"Here, you people, don't stand there gawking like a lot of dotty chumps!" cried the secretary, striving to whip them out of the mood of horror into which they had fallen. "Get a move on! Give the judges a chance! What is it, doctor?"
The judges were consulting. At length the decision was announced.
"One hundred and twenty-nine seven."
"Hooray!" yelled Fatty, flinging his straw hat high. "One hundred and twenty-nine seven! It is a world throw! Why don't you yell, you people? Don't you know that you have a world-beater among you? Yell! Yell!"
"Three cheers for Mack Murray!" called out the Reverend Harper Freeman from the platform, swinging his great black beaver hat over his head.
It was what the people wanted. Again, and again, and yet again the crowd exhausted its pent-up emotions in frantic cheers. The clouds of gloom were rolled back, the sun was shining bright again, and with fresh zest the people turned to the enjoyment of the rest of the programme.
"Thank you, Sir!" said Fatty amid the uproar, gripping the hand of Mr. Munro. "You have saved the day for us. We were all going to smash, but you pulled us out."
Meantime in the tent Duncan Ross was discoursing to his friends.
"Man, Mack! Yon's a mighty throw! Do you know it iss within five feet of my own record and within ten of Big Rory's? Then," he said solemnly, "you are in the world's first class to-day, my boy, and you are just beginning."
"I have just quit!" said Mack.
"Whist, lad! Thiss iss not the day for saying anything about it. We will wait a wee and to-day we will just be thankful." And with that they turned to other things.
They were still in the dressing tent when the secretary thrust his cheery face under the flap.
"I say, boys! Are you ready? Cameron, we want you on the pipes."
"Harp!" said Mack. "I am going home. I am quite useless."
"And me, too," said Cameron. "I shall go with you, Mack."
"What?" cried Fatty in consternation. "Look here, boys! Is this a square deal? God knows I am nearly all in myself. I've had enough to keep this thing from going to pieces. Don't you go back on me now!"
"That is so!" said Mack slowly. "Cameron, you must stay. You are needed. I will spoil things more by staying than by going. I would be forever seeing that hammer crushing down—" He covered his face with his hands and shuddered.
"All right, Mack! I will stay," said Cameron. "But what about you?"
"Oh," said Black Duncan, "Mack and I will walk about and have a smoke for a little."
"Thanks, boys, you are the stuff!" said Fatty fervently. "Once more you have saved the day. Come then, Cameron! Get your pipes. Old Sutherland is waiting for you."
But before he set off Mack called Cameron to him.
"You will see Isa," he said, "and tell her why I could not stay. And you will take her home." His face was still pallid, his voice unsteady.
"I will take care of her, Mack, never fear. But could you not remain? It might help you."
But Mack only shook his head. His fervent Highland soul had too recently passed through the valley of death and its shadows were still upon him.
Four hours later Fatty looked in upon Mack at his own home. He found him sitting in the moonlight in the open door of the big new barn, with his new-made friend, Duncan Ross, at one door post and old Piper Sutherland at the other, while up and down the floor in the shadow within Cameron marched, droning the wild melody of the "Maccrimmon Lament." Mournful and weird it sounded through the gloom, but upon the hearts of these Highlanders it fell like a soothing balm. With a wave of his hand Mack indicated a seat, which Fatty took without a word. Irrepressible though he was, he had all the instincts of a true gentleman. He knew it was the time for silence, and silent he stood till the Lament had run through its "doubling" and its "trebling," ending with the simple stately movement of its original theme. To Fatty it was a mere mad and unmelodious noise, but, reading the faces of the three men before him in the moonlight, he had sense enough to recognise his own limitations.
At length the Lament was finished and Cameron came forward into the light.
"Ah! That iss good for the soul," said old piper Sutherland. "Do you know what your pipes have been saying to me in yon Lament?
'Yea, though I walk through Death's dark vale, Yet will I fear none ill; For Thou art with me, and Thy rod And staff me comfort still.'
And we have been in the valley thiss day."
Mack rose to his feet.
"I could not have said it myself, but, as true as death, that is the word for me."
"Well," said Fatty, rising briskly, "I guess you are all right, Mack. I confess I was a bit anxious about you, but—"
"There is no need," said Mack gravely. "I can sleep now."
"Good-night, then," replied Fatty, turning to go. "Cameron, I owe you a whole lot. I won't forget it." He set his hat upon the back of his head, sticking his hands into his pockets and surveying the group before him. "Say! You Highlanders are a great bunch. I do not pretend to understand you, but I want to say that between you you have saved the day." And with that the cheery, frisky, irrepressible, but kindly little man faded into the moonlight and was gone.
For the fourth time the day had been saved.
A SABBATH DAY IN LATE AUGUST
It was a Sabbath day in late August, and in no month of the year does a Sabbath day so chime with the time. For the Sabbath day is a day for rest and holy thought, and the late August is the rest time of the year, when the woods and fields are all asleep in a slumberous blue haze; the sacred time, too, for in late August old Mother Earth is breathing her holiest aspirations heavenward, having made offering of her best in the full fruitage of the year. Hence a Sabbath day in late August chimes marvellously well with the time.
And this particular Sabbath day was perfect of its kind, a dreamy, drowsy day, a day when genial suns and hazy cool airs mingle in excellent harmony, and the tired worker, freed from his week's toil, basks and stretches, yawns and revels in rest under the orchard trees; unless, indeed, he goes to morning church. And to morning church Cameron went as a rule, but to-day, owing to a dull ache in his head and a general sense of languor pervading his limbs, he had chosen instead, as likely to be more healing to his aching head and his languid limbs, the genial sun, tempered with cool and lazy airs under the orchard trees. And hence he lay watching the democrat down the lane driven off to church by Perkins, with Mandy beside him in the front seat, the seat of authority and of activity, and Mr. Haley alone in the back seat, the seat of honour and of retirement. Mrs. Haley was too overborne by the heat and rush of the busy week to adventure the heat and dust of the road, and to sustain the somewhat strenuous discourse of the Reverend Harper Freeman, to whose flock the Haleys belonged. This, however, was not Mrs. Haley's invariable custom. In the cooler weather it was her habit to drive on a Sunday morning to church, sitting in the back seat beside her husband, with Tim and Mandy occupying the front seat beside the hired man, but during the heat and hurry of the harvest time she would take advantage of the quietness of the house and of the two or three hours' respite from the burden of household duties to make up arrears of sleep accumulated during the preceding week, salving her conscience, for she had a conscience in the matter, with a promise that she might go in the evening when it was cooler and when she was more rested. This promise, however, having served its turn, was never fulfilled, for by the evening the wheels of household toil began once more to turn, and Mrs. Haley found it easier to worship vicariously, sending Mandy and Tim to the evening service. And to this service the young people were by no means loath to go, for it was held on fair evenings in MacBurney's woods, two miles away by the road, one mile by the path through the woods. On occasion Perkins would hitch up in the single buggy Dexter, the fiery young colt, too fiery for any other to drive, and, as a special attention to his employer's daughter, would drive her to the service. But since the coming of Cameron, Mandy had allowed this custom to fall into disuse, at first somewhat to Perkins' relief, for the colt was restless and fretted against the tie rein; and, besides, Perkins was not as yet quite prepared to acknowledge any special relationship between himself and the young lady in question before the assembled congregation, preferring to regard himself and to be regarded by others as a free lance. Later, however, as Mandy's preference for a walk through the woods became more marked, Perkins, much to his disgust, found himself reduced to the attitude of a suppliant, urging the superior attraction of a swift drive behind Dexter as against a weary walk to the service. Mandy, however, with the directness of her simple nature, had no compunction in frankly maintaining her preference for a walk with Tim and Cameron through the woods; indeed, more than once she allowed Perkins to drive off with his fiery colt, alone in his glory.
But this Sabbath morning, as Cameron lay under the orchard trees, he was firmly resolved that he would give the whole day to the nursing of the ache in his head and the painful languor in his body. And so lying he allowed his mind to wander uncontrolled over the happenings of the past months, troubled by a lazy consciousness of a sore spot somewhere in his life. Gradually there grew into clearness the realisation of the cause of this sore spot.
"What is the matter with Perkins?" he asked of Tim, who had declined to go to church, and who had strolled into the orchard to be near his friend.
"What is the matter with Perkins?" Cameron asked a second time, for Tim was apparently too much engaged with a late harvest apple to answer.
"How?" said the boy at length.
"He is so infernally grumpy with me."
"Grumpy? He's sore, I guess."
"You bet! Ever since I beat him in the turnips that day."
"Ever since YOU beat him?" asked Cameron in amazement. "Why should he be sore against me?"
"He knows it was you done it," said Tim.
"Nonsense, Tim! Besides, Perkins isn't a baby. He surely doesn't hold that against me."
"Huh, huh," said Tim, "everybody's pokin' fun at him, and he hates that, and ever since the picnic, too, he hates you."
"But why in the world?"
"Oh, shucks!" said Tim, impatient at Cameron's density. "I guess you know all right."
"Know? Not I!"
"Honor bright, Tim," replied Cameron, sitting up. "Now, honestly, tell me, Tim, why in the world Perkins should hate me."
"You put his nose out of joint, I guess," said Tim with a grin.
"Oh, rot, Tim! How?"
"Every how," said Tim, proceeding to elaborate. "First when you came here you were no good—I mean—" Tim checked himself hastily.
"I know what you mean, Tim. Go on. You are quite right. I couldn't do anything on the farm."
"Now," continued Tim, "you can do anything jist as good as him—except bindin', of course. He's a terror at bindin', but at pitchin' and shockin' and loadin' you're jist as good."
"But, Tim, that's all nonsense. Perkins isn't such a fool as to hate me because I can keep up my end."
"He don't like you," said Tim stubbornly.
"But why? Why in the name of common sense?"
"Well," said Tim, summing up the situation, "before you come he used to be the hull thing. Now he's got to play second fiddle."
But Cameron remained unenlightened.
"Oh, pshaw!" continued Tim, making further concessions to his friend's stupidity. "At the dances, at the raisin's, runnin', jumpin'—everythin'—Perkins used to be the King Bee. Now—" Tim's silence furnished an impressive close to the contrast. "Why! They all think you are just fine!" said Tim, with a sudden burst of confidence.
"All the boys. Yes, and the girls, too," said Tim, allowing his solemn face the unusual luxury of a smile.
"Aw, yeh know well enough—the Murray girls, and the MacKenzies, and the hull lot of them. And then—and then—there's Mandy, too." Here Tim shot a keen glance at his friend, who now sat leaning against the trunk of an apple tree with his eyes closed.
"Now, Tim, you are a shrewd little chap"—here Cameron sat upright—"but how do you know about the girls, and what is this you say about Mandy? Mandy is good to me—very kind and all that, but—"
"She used to like Perkins pretty well," said Tim, with a kind of hesitating shyness.
"Oh, he thought he jist owned her. Guess he ain't so sure now," added Tim. "I guess you've changed Mandy all right."
It was the one thing Cameron hated to hear, but he made light of it.
"Oh, nonsense!" he exclaimed. "But if I did I would be mighty glad of it. Mandy is too good for a man like Perkins. Why, he isn't safe."
"He's a terror," replied Tim seriously. "They are all scairt of him. He's a terror to fight. Why, at MacKenzie's raisin' last year he jist went round foamin' like an old boar and nobody dast say a word to him. Even Mack Murray was scairt to touch him. When he gets like that he ain't afraid of nothin' and he's awful quick and strong."
Tim proceeded to enlarge upon this theme, which apparently fascinated him, with tales of Perkins' prowess in rough-and-tumble fighting. But Cameron had lost interest and was lying down again with his eyes closed.
"Well," he said, when Tim had finished his recital, "if he is that kind of a man Mandy should have nothing to do with him."
But Tim was troubled.
"Dad likes him," he said gloomily. "He is a good hand. And ma likes him, too. He taffies her up."
"And Mandy?" enquired Cameron.
"I don't know," said Tim, still more gloomy. "I guess he kind of makes her. I'd—I'd jist like to take a lump out of him." Tim's eyes blazed into a sudden fire. "He runs things on this farm altogether too much."
"Buck up then, Tim, and beat him," said Cameron, dismissing the subject. "And now I must have some sleep. I have got an awful head on."
Tim was quick enough to understand the hint, but still he hovered about.
"Say, I'm awful sorry," he said. "Can't I git somethin'? You didn't eat no breakfast."
"Oh, all I want is sleep, Tim. I will be all right tomorrow," replied Cameron, touched by the tone of sympathy in Tim's voice. "You are a fine little chap. Trot along and let me sleep."
But no sleep came to Cameron, partly because of the hammer knocking in his head, but chiefly because of the thoughts set going by Tim. Cameron was not abnormally egotistical, but he was delightedly aware of the new place he held in the community ever since the now famous Dominion Day picnic, and, now that the harvest rush had somewhat slackened, social engagements had begun to crowd upon him. Dances and frolics, coon hunts and raisings were becoming the vogue throughout the community, and no social function was complete without the presence of Cameron. But this sudden popularity had its embarrassments, and among them, and threatening to become annoying, was the hostility of Perkins, veiled as yet, but none the less real. Moreover, behind Perkins stood a band of young fellows of whom he was the recognised leader and over whom his ability in the various arts and crafts of the farm, his physical prowess in sports, his gay, cheery manner, and, it must be said, the reputation he bore for a certain fierce brute courage in rough-and-tumble fighting, gave him a sort of ascendency.
But Perkins' attitude towards him did not after all cause Cameron much concern. There was another and more annoying cause of embarrassment, and that was Mandy. Tim's words kept reiterating themselves in his brain, "You've changed Mandy all right." Over this declaration of Tim's, Cameron proceeded to argue with himself. He sat bolt upright that he might face himself on the matter.
"Now, then," he said to himself, "let's have this thing out."
"Most willingly. This girl was on the way to engagement to this young man Perkins. You come on the scene. Everything is changed."
"Well! What of it? It's a mighty good thing for her."
"But you are the cause of it."
"The occasion, rather."
"No, the cause. You have attracted her to you."
"I can't help that. Besides, it is a mere passing whim. She'll get over all that?" And Cameron laughed scornfully in his own face.
"Do you know that? And how do you know it? Tim thinks differently."
"Oh, confound it all! I see that I shall have to get out of here."
"A wise decision truly, and the sooner the better. Do you propose to go at once?"
"At once? Well, I should like to spend the winter here. I have made a number of friends and life is beginning to be pleasant."
"Exactly! It suits your convenience, but how about Mandy?"
"Oh, rubbish! Must I be governed by the fancies of that silly girl? Besides, the whole thing is absurdly ridiculous."
"But facts are stubborn, and anyone can see that the girl is—"
"Hang it all! I'll go at the end of the month."
"Very well. And in the leave-taking—?"
"It is pleasant to be appreciated and to carry away with one memories, I will not say tender, but appreciative."
"I can't act like a boor. I must be decent to the girl. Besides, she isn't altogether a fool."
"No, but very crude, very primitive, very passionate, and therefore very defenseless."
"All right, I shall simply shake hands and go."
So, with the consequent sense of relief that high resolve always brings, Cameron lay down again and fell into slumber and dreams of home.
From these dreams of home Mandy recalled him with a summons to dinner. As his eye, still filled with the vision of his dreams, fell upon her in all the gorgeous splendour of her Sunday dress, he was conscious of a strong sense of repulsion. How coarse, how crude, how vulgar she appeared, how horribly out of keeping with those scenes through which he had just been wandering in his dreams.
"I want no dinner, Mandy," he said shortly. "I have a bad head and I am not hungry."
"No dinner?" That a man should not want dinner was to Mandy quite inexplicable, unless, indeed, he were ill.
"Are you sick?" she cried in quick alarm.
"No, I have a headache. It will pass away," said Cameron, turning over on his side. Still Mandy lingered.
"Let me bring you a nice piece of pie and a cup of tea."
"No," he said, "bring me nothing. I merely wish to sleep."
But Mandy refused to be driven away.
"Say, I'm awful sorry. I know you're sick."
"Nonsense!" said Cameron, impatiently, waiting for her to be gone. Still Mandy hesitated.
"I'm awful sorry," she said again, and her voice, deep, tender, full-toned, revealed her emotion.
Cameron turned impatiently towards her.
"Look here, Mandy! There's nothing wrong with me. I only want a little sleep. I shall be all right to-morrow."
But Mandy's fears were not to be allayed.
"Say," she cried, "you look awful bad."
"Oh, get out, Mandy! Go and get your dinner. Don't mind me." Cameron's tone was decidedly cross.
Without further remonstrance Mandy turned silently away, but before she turned Cameron caught the gleam of tears in the great blue eyes. A swift compunction seized him.
"I say, Mandy, I don't want to be rude, but—"
"Rude?" cried the girl. "You? You couldn't be. You are always good—to me—and—I—don't—know—" Here her voice broke.
"Oh, come, Mandy, get away to dinner. You are a good girl. Now leave me alone."
The kindness in his voice quite broke down Mandy's all too slight control. She turned away, audibly sniffling, with her apron to her eyes, leaving Cameron in a state of wrathful perplexity.
"Oh, confound it all!" he groaned to himself. "This is a rotten go. By Jove! This means the West for me. The West! After all, that's the place. Here there is no chance anyway. Why did I not go sooner?"
He rose from the grass, shivering with a sudden chill, went to his bed in the hay mow, and, covering himself with Tim's blankets and his own, fell again into sleep. Here, late in the afternoon, Tim found him and called him to supper.
With Mandy's watchful eye upon him he went through the form of eating, but Mandy was not to be deceived.
"You ain't eatin' nothin'," she said reproachfully as he rose from the table.
"Enough for a man who is doing nothing," replied Cameron. "What I want is exercise. I think I shall take a walk."
"Going to church?" she enquired, an eager light springing into her eye.
"To church? I hadn't thought of it," replied Cameron, but, catching the gleam of a smile on Perkins' face and noting the utterly woebegone expression on Mandy's, he added, "Well, I might as well walk to church as any place else. You are going, Tim?"
"Huh huh!" replied Tim.
"I am going to hitch up Deck, Mandy," said Perkins.
"Oh, I'm goin' to walk!" said Mandy, emphatically.
"All right!" said Perkins. "Guess I'll walk too with the crowd."
"Don't mind me," said Mandy.
"I don't," laughed Perkins, "you bet! Nor anybody else."
"And that's no lie!" sniffed Mandy, with a toss of her head.
"Better drive to church, Mandy," suggested her mother. "You know you're jist tired out and it will be late when you get started."
"Tired? Late?" cried Mandy, with alacrity. "I'll be through them dishes in a jiffy and be ready in no time. I like the walk through the woods."
"Depends on the company," laughed Perkins again. "So do I. Guess we'll all go together."
True to her promise, Mandy was ready within half an hour. Cameron shuddered as he beheld the bewildering variety of colour in her attire and the still more bewildering arrangement of hat and hair.
"You're good and gay, Mandy," said Perkins. "What's the killing?"
Mandy made no reply save by a disdainful flirt of her skirts as she set off down the lane, followed by Perkins, Cameron and Tim bringing up the rear.
The lane was a grassy sward, cut with two wagon-wheel tracks, and with a picturesque snake fence on either side. Beyond the fences lay the fields, some of them with stubble raked clean, the next year's clover showing green above the yellow, some with the grain standing still in the shock, and some with the crop, the late oats for instance, still uncut, but ready for the reaper. The turnip field was splendidly and luxuriantly green with never a sign of the brown earth. The hay meadow, too, was green and purple with the second growth of clover.
So down the lane and between the shorn fields, yellow and green, between the clover fields and the turnips, they walked in silence, for the spell of the Sabbath evening lay upon the sunny fields, barred with the shadows from the trees that grew along the fence lines everywhere. At the "slashing" the wagon ruts faded out and the road narrowed to a single cow path, winding its way between stumps and round log piles, half hidden by a luxuriant growth of foxglove and fireweed and asters, and everywhere the glorious goldenrod. Then through the bars the path led into the woods, a noble remnant of the beech and elm and maple forest from which the farm had been cut some sixty years before. Cool and shadowy they stood, and shot through with bright shafts of gold from the westering sun, full of mysterious silence except for the twittering of the sleepy birds or for the remonstrant call of the sentinel crow from his watch tower on the dead top of a great elm. Deeper into the shade the path ran until in the gloom it faded almost out of sight.
Soothed by the cool shade, Cameron loitered along the path, pausing to learn of Tim the names of plants and trees as he went.
"Ain't yeh never comin'?" called Mandy from the gloom far in front.
"What's all the rush?" replied Tim, impatiently, who loved nothing better than a quiet walk with Cameron through the woods.
"Rush? We'll be late, and I hate walkin' up before the hull crowd. Come on!" cried his sister in impatient tone.
"All right, Mandy, we're nearly through the woods. I begin to see the clearing yonder," said Cameron, pointing to where the light was beginning to show through the tree tops before them.
But they were late enough, and Mandy was glad of the cover of the opening hymn to allow her to find her way to a group of her girl friends, the males of the party taking shelter with a neighbouring group of their own sex near by.
Upon the sloping sides of the grassy hills and under the beech and maple trees, the vanguard of the retreating woods, sat the congregation, facing the preacher, who stood on the grassy level below. Behind them was the solid wall of thick woods, over them time spreading boughs, and far above the trees the blue summer sky, all the bluer for the little white clouds that sailed serene like ships upon a sea. At their feet lay the open country, checkered by the snake fences into fields of yellow, green, and brown, and rolling away to meet the woods at the horizon.
The Sabbath rest filled the sweet air, breathed from the shady woods, rested upon the checkered fields, and lifted with the hymn to the blue heaven above. A stately cathedral it was, this place of worship, filled with the incense of flowers and fields, arched by the high dome of heaven, and lighted by the glory of the setting sun.
Relieved by the walk for a time from the ache in his head, Cameron surrendered himself to the mysterious influences of the place and the hour. He let his eyes wander over the fields below him to the far horizon, and beyond—beyond the woods, beyond the intervening leagues of land and sea—and was again gazing upon the sunlit loveliness of the Cuagh Oir. The Glen was abrim with golden light this summer evening, the purple was on the hills and the little loch gleamed sapphire at the bottom.
The preacher was reading his text.
"Unto one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to every man according to his several ability, and straightway took his journey," and so on to the end of that marvellously wise tale, wise with the wisdom of God, confirmed by the wisdom of human experience.
The Reverend Harper Freeman's voice could hardly, even by courtesy, be called musical; in fact, it was harsh and strident; but this evening the hills, and the trees, and the wide open spaces, Nature's mighty modulator, subdued the harshness, so that the voice rolled up to the people clear, full, and sonorous. Nor was the preacher possessed of great learning nor endued with the gift of eloquence. He had, however, a shrewd knowledge of his people and of their ways and of their needs, and he had a kindly heart, and, more than all, he had the preacher's gift, the divine capacity for taking fire.
For a time his words fell unheeded upon Cameron's outer ear.
"To every man his own endowments, some great, some small, but, mark you, no man left quite poverty-stricken. God gives every man his chance. No man can look God in the face, not one of you here can say that you have had no chance."
Cameron's vagrant mind, suddenly recalled, responded with a quick assent. Opportunity? Endowment? Yes, surely. His mind flashed back over the years of his education at the Academy and the University, long lazy years. How little he had made of them! Others had turned them into the gold of success. He wondered how old Dunn was getting on, and Linklater, and little Martin. How far away seemed those days, and yet only some four or five months separated him from them.
"One was a failure, a dead, flat failure," continued the preacher. "Not so much a wicked man, no murderer, no drunkard, no gambler, but a miserable failure. Poor fellow! At the end of life a wretched bankrupt, losing even his original endowment. How would you like to come home after ten, twenty, thirty years of experiment with life and confess to your father that you were dead broke and no good?"
Again Cameron's mind came back from its wandering with a start. Go back to his father a failure! He drew his lip down hard over his teeth. Not while he lived! And yet, what was there in prospect for him? His whole soul revolted against the dreary monotony and the narrowness of his present life, and yet, what other path lay open? Cameron went straying in fancy over the past, or in excursions into the future, while, parallel with his rambling, the sermon continued to make its way through its various heads and particulars.
"Why?" The voice of the preacher rose clear, dominant, arresting. "Why did he fail so abjectly, so meanly, so despicably? For there is no excuse for a failure. Listen! No man NEED fail. A man who is a failure is a mean, selfish, lazy chump." Mr. Freeman was colloquial, if anything. "Some men pity him. I don't. I have no use for him, and he is the one thing in all the world that God himself has no use for."
Again Cameron's mind was jerked back as a runaway horse by a rein. So far his life had been a failure. Was there then no excuse for failure? What of his upbringing, his education, his environment? He had been indulging the habit during these last weeks of shifting responsibility from himself for what he had become.
"What was the cause of this young man's failure?" reiterated the preacher. The preacher had a wholesome belief in the value of reiteration. He had a habit of rubbing in his points. "He blamed the boss. Listen to his impudence! 'I knew thee to be a hard man.' He blamed his own temperament and disposition. 'I was afraid.' But the boss brings him up sharp and short. 'Quit lying!' he said. 'I'll tell you what's wrong with you. You've got a mean heart, you ain't honest, and you're too lazy to live. Here, take that money from him and give it to the man that can do most with it, and take this useless loafer out of my sight.' And served him right, too, say I, impudent, lazy liar."
Cameron found his mind rising in wrathful defense of the unhappy wretched failure in the story. But the preacher was utterly relentless and proceeded to enlarge upon the character of the unhappy wretch.
"Impudent! The way to tell an impudent man is to let him talk. Now listen to this man cheek the boss! 'I knew you,' he said. 'You skin everybody in sight.' I have always noticed," remarked the preacher, with a twinkle in his eye, "that the hired man who can't keep up his end is the kind that cheeks the boss. And so it is with life. Why, some men would cheek Almighty God. They turn right round and face the other way when God is explaining things to them, when He is persuading them, when He is trying to help them. Then they glance back over their shoulders and say, 'Aw, gwan! I know better than you.' Think of the impudence of them! That's what many a man does with God. With GOD, mind you! GOD! Your Father in heaven, your Brother, your Saviour, God as you know him in the Man of Galilee, the Man you always see with the sick and the outcast and the broken-hearted. It is this God that owns you and all you've got—be honest and say so. You must begin by getting right with God."
"God!" Once more Cameron went wandering back into the far away days of childhood. God was very near then, and very friendly. How well he remembered when his mother had tucked him in at night and had kissed him and had put out the light. He never felt alone and afraid, for she left him, so she said, with God. It was God who took his mother's place, near to his bedside. In those days God seemed very near and very kind. He remembered his mother's look one day when he declared to her that he could hear God breathing just beside him in the dark. How remote God seemed to-day and how shadowy, and, yes, he had to confess it, unfriendly. He heard no more of the sermon. With a curious ache in his heart he allowed his mind to dwell amid those happy, happy memories when his mother and God were the nearest and dearest to him of all he knew. It may have been the ache in his head or the oppressive languor that seemed to possess his body, but throughout the prayer that followed the sermon he was conscious chiefly of a great longing for his mother's touch upon his head, and with that a longing for his boyhood's sense of the friendly God in his heart.
And so as the preacher led them up to God in prayer, Cameron bowed his head with the others, thankful that he could still believe that, though clouds and darkness might be about Him, God was not beyond the reach of the soul's cry nor quite unmoved by human need. And for the first time for years he sent forth as a little child his cry of need, "God help me! God help me!"
There was still light enough to see. The last hymn was announced. Cameron was conscious of a deep, poignant emotion. He glanced swiftly about him. The eyes of all were upon the preacher's face while he read in slow sonorous tones the words of the old Methodist hymn:
"Come, Thou Fount of every blessing! Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;"
all except the group of young men of whom Perkins was the centre, who, by means of the saccharine medium known as conversation lozenges, were seeking to divert the attention of the band of young girls sitting before them. Among these sat Mandy. As his eye rested upon the billowy outlines of her figure, struggling with the limitations of her white blouse, tricked out with pink ribbons, he was conscious of a wave of mingled pity and disgust. Dull, stupid, and vulgar she looked. It was at her that Perkins was flipping his conversation lozenges. One fell upon her hymn book. With a start she glanced about. Not an eye except Cameron's was turned her way. With a smile and a blush that burned deep under the dull tan of her neck and cheek she took the lozenge, read its inscription, burning a deeper red. The words which she had read she took as Cameron's. She turned her eyes full upon his face. The light of tremulous joy in their lovely depths startled and thrilled him. A snicker from the group of young men behind roused in him a deep indignation. They were taking their coarse fun out of this simple-minded girl. Cameron's furious glance at them appeared only to increase their amusement. It did not lessen Cameron's embarrassment and rage that now and then during the reading of the hymn Mandy's eyes were turned upon him as if with new understanding. Enraged with himself, and more with the group of hoodlums behind him, Cameron stood for the closing hymn with his arms folded across his breast. At the second verse a hand touched his arm. It was Mandy offering him her book. Once more a snicker from the group of delighted observers behind him stirred his indignation on behalf of this awkward and untutored girl. He forced himself to listen to the words of the third verse, which rose clear and sonorous in the preacher's voice:
"Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by Thy help I'm come; And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home."
The serene assurance of the old Methodist hymn rose triumphant in the singing, an assurance born of an experience of past conflict ending in triumph. That note of high and serene confidence conjured up with a flash of memory his mother's face. That was her characteristic, a serene, undismayed courage. In the darkest hours that steady flame of courage never died down.
But once more he was recalled to the service of the hour by a voice, rich, full, low, yet of wonderful power, singing the old words. It took him a moment or two to discover that it was Mandy singing beside him. Her face was turned from him and upwards towards the trees above her, through the network of whose leaves the stars were beginning to shine. Amazed, enthralled, he listened to the flowing melody of her voice. It was like the song of a brook running deep in the forest shade, full-toned yet soft, quiet yet thrilling. She seemed to have forgotten her surroundings. Her soul was holding converse with the Eternal. He lost sight of the coarse and fleshly habiliments in the glimpse he caught of the soul that lived within, pure, it seemed to him, tender, and good. His heart went out to the girl in a new pity. Before the hymn was done she turned her face towards him, and, whether it was the magic of her voice, or the glorious splendour of her eyes, or the mystic touch of the fast darkening night, her face seemed to have lost much of its coarseness and all of its stupidity.
As the congregation dispersed, Cameron, in silence, and with the spell of her voice still upon him, walked quietly beside Mandy towards the gap in the fence leading to the high road. Behind him came Perkins with his group of friends, chaffing with each other and with the girls walking in front of them. As Cameron was stepping over the rails where the fence had been let down, one of the young men following stumbled heavily against him, nearly throwing him down, and before he could recover himself Perkins had taken his place by Mandy's side and seized her arm. There was a general laugh at what was considered a perfectly fair and not unusual piece of jockeying in the squiring of young damsels. The proper procedure in such a case was that the discomfited cavalier should bide his time and serve a like turn upon his rival, the young lady meanwhile maintaining an attitude purely passive. But Mandy was not so minded. Releasing herself from Perkins' grasp, she turned upon the group of young men following, exclaiming angrily, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Sam Sailor!" Then, moving to Cameron's side, she said in a clear, distinct voice:
"Mr. Cameron, would you please take my book for me?"
"Come on, boys!" said Perkins, with his never failing laugh. "I guess we're not in this."
"Take your medicine, Perkins," laughed one of his friends.
"Yes, I'll take it all right," replied Perkins. But the laugh could not conceal the shake of passion in his voice. "It will work, too, you bet!"
So saying, he strode off into the gathering gloom followed by his friends.
"Come along, Mr. Cameron," said Mandy with a silly giggle. "I guess we don't need them fellows. They can't fool us, can they?"
Her manner, her speech, her laugh rudely dissipated all Cameron's new feeling towards her. The whole episode filled him only with disgust and annoyance.
"Come, then," he said, almost roughly. "We shall need to hurry, for there is a storm coming up."
Mandy glanced at the gathering clouds.
"My goodness!" she cried; "it's comin' up fast. My! I hate to git my clothes wet." And off she set at a rapid pace, keeping abreast of her companion and making gay but elephantine attempts at sprightly conversation. Before Cameron's unsympathetic silence, however, all her sprightly attempts came to abject failure.
"What's the matter with you?" at length she asked. "Don't you want to see me home?"
"What?" said Cameron, abruptly, for his thoughts were far away. "Oh, nonsense! Of course! Why not? But we shall certainly be caught in the storm. Let us hurry. Here, let me take your arm."
His manner was brusque, almost rude.
"Oh, I guess I can get along," replied Mandy, catching off her hat and gathering up her skirt over her shoulders, "but we'll have to hustle, for I'd hate to have you get, wet." Her imperturbable good humour and her solicitude for him rebuked Cameron for his abruptness.
"I hope you will not get wet," he said.
"Oh, don't you worry about me. I ain't salt nor sugar, but I forgot all about your bein' sick." And with laboured breath poor Mandy hurried through the growing darkness with Cameron keeping close by her side. "We won't be long now," she panted, as they turned from the side line towards their own gate.
As if in reply to her words there sounded from behind the fence and close to their side a long loud howl. Cameron gave a start.
"Great Caesar! What dog is that?" he exclaimed.
"Oh," said Mandy coolly, "guess it's MacKenzie's Carlo."
Immediately there rose from the fence on the other side an answering howl, followed by a full chorus of howls and yelps mingled with a bawling of calves and the ringing of cow bells, as if a dozen curs or more were in full cry after a herd of cattle. Cameron stood still in bewildered amazement.
"What the deuce are they at?" he cried, peering through the darkness.
"Huh!" grunted Mandy. "Them's curs all right, but they ain't much dog. You wait till I see them fellows. They'll pay for this, you bet!"
"Do you mean to say these are not dogs?" cried Cameron, speaking in her ear, so great was the din.
"Dogs?" answered Mandy with indignant scorn. "Naw! Just or'nary curs! Come along," she cried, catching his arm, "let's hurry."
"Here!" he cried, suddenly wrenching himself free, "I am going to see into this."
"No, no!" cried Mandy, gripping his arm once more with her strong hands. "They will hurt you. Come on! We're just home. You can see them again. No, I won't let you go."
In vain he struggled. Her strong hands held him fast. Suddenly there was a succession of short, sharp barks. Immediately dead silence fell. Not a sound could be heard, not a shape seen.
"Come out into the open, you cowardly curs!" shouted Cameron. "Come on! One, two, three at a time, if you dare!"
But silence answered him.
"Come," said Mandy in a low voice, "let's hurry. It's goin' to rain. Come on! Come along!"
Cameron stood irresolute. Then arose out of the black darkness a long quavering cat call. With a sudden dash Cameron sprang towards the fence. Instantly there was a sound of running feet through the plowed field on the other side, then silence.
"Come back, you cowards!" raged Cameron. "Isn't there a man among you?"
For answer a clod came hurtling through the dark and struck with a thud upon the fence. Immediately, as if at a signal, there fell about Cameron a perfect hail of clods and even stones.
"Oh! Oh!" shrieked Mandy, rushing towards him and throwing herself between him and the falling missiles. "Come away! Come away! They'll just kill you."
For answer Cameron put his arms about her and drew her behind him, shielding her as best he could with his body.
"Do you want to kill a woman?" he called aloud.
At once the hail of clods ceased and, raging as he was, Mandy dragged him homeward. At the door of the house he made to turn back.
"Not much, you don't," said Mandy, stoutly, "or I go with you."
"Oh, all right," said Cameron, "let them go. They are only a lot of curs, anyway."
For a few minutes they stood and talked in the kitchen, Cameron making light of the incident and making strenuous efforts to dissemble the rage that filled his soul. After a few minutes conversation Cameron announced his intention of going to bed, while Mandy passed upstairs. He left the house and stole down the lane toward the road. The throbbing pain in his head was forgotten in the blind rage that possessed him. He had only one longing, to stand within striking distance of the cowardly curs, only one fear, that they should escape him. Swiftly, silently, he stole down the lane, every nerve, every muscle tense as a steel spring. His throat was hot, his eyes so dazzled that he could scarcely see; his breath came in quick gasps; his hands were trembling as with a nervous chill. The storm had partially blown away. It had become so light that he could dimly discern a number of figures at the entrance to the lane. Having his quarry in sight, Cameron crouched in the fence corner, holding hard by the rail till he should become master of himself. He could hear their explosions of suppressed laughter. It was some minutes before he had himself in hand, then with a swift silent run he stood among them. So busy were they in recounting the various incidents in the recent "chivaree," that before they were aware Cameron was upon them. At his approach the circle broke and scattered, some flying to the fence. But Perkins with some others stood their ground.
"Hello, Cameron!" drawled Perkins. "Did you see our cows? I thought I heard some of them down the line."
For answer Cameron launched himself at him like a bolt from a bow. There was a single sharp crack and Perkins was literally lifted clear off his feet and hurled back upon the road, where he lay still. Fiercely Cameron faced round to the next man, but he gave back quickly. A third sprang to throw himself upon Cameron, but once more Cameron's hand shot forward and his assailant was hurled back heavily into the arms of his friends. Before Cameron could strike again a young giant, known as Sam Sailor, flung his arms about him, crying—
"Tut-tut, young fellow, this won't do, you know. Can't you take a bit of fun?"
For answer Cameron clinched him savagely, gripping him by the throat and planting two heavy blows upon his ribs.
"Here—boys," gasped the young fellow, "he's—chokin'—the—life—out—of me."
From all sides they threw themselves upon him and, striking, kicking, fighting furiously, Cameron went down under the struggling mass, his hand still gripping the throat it had seized.
"Say! He's a regular bull-dog," cried one. "Git hold of his legs and yank him off," which, with shouts and laughter, they proceeded to do and piled themselves upon him, chanting the refrain—"More beef! More beef!"
A few minutes more of frantic struggling and a wild agonised scream rose from beneath the mass of men.
"Git off, boys! Git off!" roared the young giant. "I'm afraid he's hurt."
Flinging them off on either side, he stood up and waited for their victim to rise. But Cameron lay on his face, moaning and writhing, on the ground.
"Say, boys," said Sam, kneeling down beside him, "I'm afraid he's hurted bad."
In his writhing Cameron lifted one leg. It toppled over to one side.
"Jumpin' Jeremiah!" said Sam in an awed voice. "His leg's broke! What in Sam Hill can we do?"
As he spoke there was a sound of running feet, coming down the lane. The moon, shining through the breaking clouds, revealed a figure with floating garments rapidly approaching.
"My cats!" cried Sam in a terrified voice. "It's Mandy."
Like leaves before a sudden gust of wind the group scattered and only Sam was left.
"What—what are you doin'?" panted Mandy. "Where is he? Oh, is that him?" She flung herself down in the dust beside Cameron and turned him over. His face was white, his eyes glazed. He looked like death. "Oh! Oh!" she moaned. "Have they killed you? Have they killed you?" She gathered his head upon her knees, moaning like a wounded animal.
"Good Lord, Mandy, don't go on like that!" cried Sam in a horrified voice. "It's only his leg broke."
Mandy laid his head gently down, then sprang to her feet.
"Only his leg broke? Who done it? Who done it, tell me? Who done it?" she panted, her voice rising with her gasping breath. "What coward done it? Was it you, Sam Sailor?"
"Guess we're all in it," said Sam stupidly. "It was jist a bit of fun, Mandy."
For answer she swung her heavy hand hard upon Sam's face.
"Say, Mandy! Hold hard!" cried Sam, surprise and the weight of the blow almost knocking him off his feet.
"You cowardly brute!" she gasped. "Get out of my sight. Oh, what shall we do?" She dropped on her knees and took Cameron's head once more in her arms. "What shall we do?"
"Guess we'll have to git him in somewheres," said Sam. "How can we carry him though? If we had some kind of a stretcher?"
"Wait! I know," cried Mandy, flying off up the lane.
Before many minutes had passed she had returned, breathing hard.
"It's—the—-milkhouse—door," she said. "I—guess that'll—do."
"That'll do all right, Mandy. Now I wish some of them fellers would come."
Sam pulled off his coat and made of it a pillow, then stood up looking for help. His eye fell upon the prostrate and senseless form of Perkins.
"Say, what'll we do with him?" he said, pointing to the silent figure.
"Who is it?" enquired Mandy. "What's the matter?"
"It's Perkins," replied Sam. "He hit him a terrible crack."
"Perkins!" said Mandy with scorn. "Let him lie, the dog. Come on, take his head."
"You can't do it, Mandy, no use trying. You can't do it."
"Come on, I tell you," she said fiercely. "Quit your jawin'. He may be dyin' for all I know. I'd carry him alone if it wasn't for his broken leg." Slowly, painfully they carried him to the house and to the front door.
"Wait a minute!" said Mandy. "I'll have to git things fixed a bit. We mustn't wake mother. It would scare her to death."
She passed quickly into the house and soon Sam saw a light pass from room to room. In a few moments Mandy reappeared at the front door.
"Quick!" whispered Sam. "He's comin' to."
"Oh, thank goodness!" cried Mandy. "Let's git him in before he wakes."
Once more they lifted their burden and with infinite difficulty and much painful manoeuvering they got the injured man through the doors and upon the spare room bed.
"And now, Sam Sailor," cried Mandy, coming close to him, "you jist hitch up Deck and hustle for the doctor if ever you did in your life. Don't wait for nothin', but go! Go!" She fairly pushed him out of the door, running with him towards the stable. "Oh, Sam, hurry!" she pleaded, "for if this man should die I will never be the like again." Her face was white, her eyes glowing like great stars; her voice was soft and tremulous with tears.
Sam stood for a moment gazing as if upon a vision.
"What are you lookin' at?" she cried, stamping her foot and pushing him away.
"Jumpin' Jeremiah!" muttered Sam, as he ran towards the stable. "Is that Mandy Haley? Guess we don't know much about her."
His nimble fingers soon had Dexter hitched to the buggy and speeding down the lane at a pace sufficiently rapid to suit the high spirit of even that fiery young colt.
At the high road he came upon his friends, some of whom were working with Perkins, others conversing in awed and hurried undertones.
"Hello, Sam!" they called. "Hold up!"
"I'm in a hurry, boys, don't stop me. I'm scared to death. And you better git home. She'll be down on you again."
"How is he?" cried a voice.
"Don't know. I'm goin' for the doctor, and the sooner we git that doctor the better for everybody around." And Sam disappeared in a whirl of dust.
"Say! Who would a thought it?" he mused. "That Mandy Haley? She's a terror. And them eyes! Oh, git on, Deck, what you monkeyin' about? Wonder if she's gone on that young feller? I guess she is all right! Say, wasn't that a clout he handed Perkins. And didn't she give me one. But them eyes! Mandy Haley! By the jumpin' Jeremiah! And the way she looks at a feller! Here, Deck, what you foolin' about? Gwan now, or you'll git into trouble."
Deck, who had been indulging himself in a series of leaps and plunges, shying at even the most familiar objects by the road side, settled down at length to a businesslike trot which brought him to the doctor's door in about fifteen minutes from the Haleys' gate. But to Sam's dismay the doctor had gone to Cramm's Mill, six or seven miles away, and would not be back till the morning. Sam was in a quandary. There was another doctor at Brookfield, five miles further on, but there was a possibility that he also might be out.
"Say, there ain't no use goin' back without a doctor. She'd—she'd—Jumpin' Jeremiah! What would she do? Say, Deck, you've got to git down to business. We're goin' to the city. There are doctors there thick as hair on a dog. We'll try Dr. Turnbull. Say, it'll be great if we could git him! Deck, we'll do it! But you got to git up and dust."
And this Deck proceeded to do to such good purpose that in about an hour's time he stood before Dr. Turnbull's door in the city, somewhat wet, it is true, but with his fiery spirit still untamed.
Here again adverse fate met the unfortunate Sam.
"Doctor Turnbull's no at home," said the maid, smart with cap and apron, who opened the door.
"How long will he be gone?" enquired Sam, wondering what she had on her head, and why.
"There's no tellin'. An hour, or two hours, or three."
"Three hours?" echoed Sam. "Say, a feller might kick the bucket in that time."
The maid smiled an undisturbed smile.
"Bucket? What bucket, eh? What bucket are ye talkin' aboot?" she enquired.
"Say, you're smart, ain't yeh! But I got a young feller that's broke his leg and—"
"His leg?" said the maid indifferently. "Well, he's got another?"
"Yes, you bet he has, but one leg ain't much good without the other. How would you like to hop around on one leg? And he's hurt inside, too, his lights, I guess, and other things." Sam's anatomical knowledge was somewhat vague. "And besides, his girl's takin' on awful."
"Oh, is she indeed?" replied the maid, this item apparently being to her of the very slightest importance.
"Say, if you only saw her," said Sam.
"Pretty, I suppose," said the maid with a touch of scorn.
"Pretty? No, ugly as a hedge fence. But say, I wish she was here right now. She'd bring you to your—to time, you bet."
"Would she, now? I'd sort her." And the little maid's black eyes snapped.
"Say, what'll I do? Jist got to have a doctor."
"Ye'll no git him till to-morrow."
"How far oot are ye?"
"Twelve miles? Ye'll no get him a minute afore to-morrow noon."
"Say, that young feller'll croak, sure. Away from home too. No friends. All his folks in Scotland."
"Scotland, did ye say?" Something appeared to wake up in the little maid. "Look here, why don't ye get a doctor instead o' daunderin' your time here?"