"His stately mien as well
A high-born heart, a martial pride,
As if a Barons crest he wore,
And, sheathed in crimson, trod the shore."
ALL, this time Rob was
learning his life lesson, All though one would watch him closely to guess
A fine manly lad he was,
head set squarely on his shoulders, step firm, yet springy with the
elasticity of youth.
Already he was boss—and
over men nearly three times his age, compelling respect and obedience.
Sandy would have marvelled,
had he seen him. Where had he learned this woodcraft, and how had he got
this knowledge of human nature? for a colonel of a regiment, or a captain
at sea, with a crew collected from the four quarters of the globe, 'have
no more need for special qualifications for the office than has a shanty
boss, are no more autocratic in their power, nor have they a greater
diversity of men to keep at work and at peace. Accidents happen ; enmities
are bred and nurtured; sides are taken; something very like vendettas are
established between factions, and this in the heart of the primeval
forest. A cool, steady head—and yet, paradoxical as it may seem, a quick
and ready one—was required, besides a practical idea of what a tree
standing would make in square or round timber. (Heavy shipments of square
timber were made in those days; now, very few rafts of square timber reach
Rob was all of these
things. He was good on an emergency, he held out well, and could out-guess
many a man fifty years in the limits on how many feet a tall pine would
Oh! those days in the sweet
pine woods, resting on Nature's calm heart; thinking deep, solemn
thoughts; gathering strength to wrestle with the many phases of human
passion. Is there a living germ of pure, true humanity, it is fed,
nourished, developed. But not even the quiet shadows of the vast pine
forest can resuscitate a dead germ; and this is why Rob had warring
elements to curb in this domain where he was absolute monarch.
Once, and once only, did he
have to demonstrate this.
There was everything
there—English, Scotch, Irish, French, with two or three Indians: big,
brawny red-shirted men, with heads in yellow and red, brown and black, and
eyes that in their normal condition were blue, and black, and gray; but
Sunday found many of them more noticeable for the red streaks caused by
bursted veins, and not over half the men went to work of a Monday morning.
All day Sunday cards were played, sometimes harder than wood was chopped
through the week.
"Terry Magane, ye spalpeen!
ye've an ace up yer sleeve!" started the row which, for as long as he
lived established Rob's supremacy in the shanties. He never gave up
lumbering until the years crept on him that make all men want to lay aside
the axe and take up the staff. After a few years as shanty boss he became
boss of the limits—one of Canada's lumber kings, a power in the land, and
an employer to whom his men would rather go than to each other.
"Bad cess to yez fer a lyin'------!"
a blow followed the sentence, in process of which the cause of the dispute
fell from Terry's sleeve to the floor.
At this Terry's friends,
mortified at the exposé, considered the only way out of it was to "bate"
Mike's following until their memory would carry them no further back than
to the smart of their bruises. Without waiting for preliminaries, each man
set to work on his own account; the shanty floor (this shanty was floored
with boards) groaned under their heavy tread as they swayed back and
forth, some "in holts" wrestling, some fighting with their fists; the
non-combatants, in imminent danger of being trampled under foot, edged
away as fast as they could and scrambled up into the bunks. L,-------'s
shanty was all in one, a building seventy-five feet long, the huge
fire-place at one end, where the sweetest of bread was baked in big,
round, flat-bottomed kettles with iron lids, and where pork and beans that
it makes one hungry to think of were cooked, for a Boston chef can do no
greater justice to this dish than a Canadian shanty cook.
Batiste had finished
cleaning up after supper, had ranged his pots and kettles in their corner,
and was just now trying to, so far as possible, efface himself, lest evil
befal him from the fight now progressing without the slightest regard to
army tactics. Squeals were heard from the other Frenchmen, as they were
endeavoring to do the same: it was not their fight, and where they could
not get in a rap without receiving one in return, they were remaining
strictly neutral, though an effort to gain strictly neutral territory took
them to the floor on all-fours, away from the fists and brawny arms of the
beligerents. The table, a not very secure structure, was upset, the round
blocks used as seats were rolling about on the floor; the Indians were in
a far corner of the dormitory, sitting on the floor with their knees drawn
up to their chins, grunting disapproval of the whole affair—tomahawks
would have settled matters much more satisfactorily.
With the fighting men, the
more they fought the harder they fought; bones were broken through ugly
falls over the rolling blocks; three or four men were hanging on to their
opponents with bull-dog tenacity. Matters had reached a serious stage when
Rob arrived. He had been perhaps a quarter of a mile away, thinking over
the happy, care-free past, planning for a useful future; even though what
his heart cried out for were denied him, he still had a place to fill in
the body politic, and, please God, he would fill it as a man should.
Sounds of strife reached him: there was need for action immediately
—thought could wait. Five minutes brought him to the shanty door. Nearest
him was a powerful, maddened Irishman, clutching by the throat, and fast
choking the life out of, one of his own countrymen.
"Maguire, ye're killin' yon
mon! leave go!" yelled Rob; but Maguire paid not the slightest heed.
Another man, McIntyre,
hauled his victim between Rob and Maguire.
"Be jabers! 'tis a foine
fight intirely, an' we'll not stop fur that babby! Yez wur all in the
shanties whin he was in his cradle!" landing the blows thick and fast—his
opponent, blinded from blood-trickling wounds, rarely making a return blow
tell. Rob squared himself, planted his left foot firmly forward, caught
McIntyre round the waist, bent him over and rested him on his own hip
until he secured the right hold, then flung him away among Batiste's
kettles, as easy as another man would handle a bag of chaff; turned, with
a side rush against Maguire's arm, broke his grip on the other's throat,
then straight from the shoulder he struck him a smart blow on the chest;
and Maguire fell, a heap of over two hundred pounds of pretty rough
citizenship, jarring the shanty and rattling the pots until McIn-tyre was
roused from his uneven couch.
"Gin there's ony mair
fechtin' in this shanty, I'll tak a haun in 't mysel'! Ye're oop here tae
work, no' t' murder ane anither. Pick oop yon table ye hae thrawn doon, 'n
the bit blocks ; wash yersel's 'n sit doon like Christians, an' no be
rampin' roun' like wild beasties!"
There was no "if you
please" about it, and there was that in Rob's demeanor which showed he
intended to be obeyed. He was a bad man to handle as he stood there, thin,
lithe, wiry, every muscle firm and hard as steel, and there was a
disagreeable look in his eyes, they were Douglas eyes, and monarchs had
quailed before them ere now.
Maguire and McIntyre were
picking themselves up dazed, and in a muddled fashion were trying to
figure out how it all came about. Without a word the men turned to do as
they were told. Long years after Rob's performance was talked of as "Th'
purtiest thing iver ye see'."
A man was despatched for
Dr. Wright, everybody turned in and helped everybody else, the fight was
over and ever after that Rob was in every sense the Boss.
When spring came he went to
Quebec with some rafts, then on to Boston to confer with a firm of
ship-builders. More than a year passed before he saw the Ninth Line again.
Letters had been received giving a hint of the estrangement between the
families and something of the cause; Sandy said in substance that Margaret
had flouted Phemie because Douglas wanted to marry her; but as Sandy also
wrote Phemie did not want the lad, he somehow got the idea it was because
Phemie had said no to Douglas that Margaret was incensed. Rob's position
in the matter was that of some of our politicians. Phemie was his sister,
it was quite natural he should espouse her quarrel, no matter what the
cause; but Margaret was Jean's mother, and this so far as Margaret's side
of the affair was concerned, was an "extenuating circumstance."
It mattered not that Jean
had preferred someone else to him, she was Jean still. How glad he was now
that he had never told her of his hopes, her soft woman's heart would have
always had this to sorrow over. For there was but one fair woman for him;
when he could not have her near him he'd have none. But he'd not waste his
life; bye and bye he would like to go to her (happen she'd hae lads o' her
ain then)—a choke always accompanied this thought—and she would clasp his
hand and say, "Rob, ye hae dune weel" And he knew she would not say this
unless he had done well—not in the amassing of wealth or the gain of
position and influence, but in living as knowing it is not all of life to
live, living that the call might be, "Friend, come up higher."
Among the men there had
been no attempt at "preaching," no effort to change their hereditary
religious views, no cant. When a Roman Catholic priest came up, as they
did several times during the season, every opportunity was given that
their ministrations might bear fruit of good behavior. Once Elder Case
came; his years were telling on his once robust frame but the downright,
positive, abrupt, convincing manner was there—and how the Indians welcomed
They each helped Rob
himself, and strengthened his hands. Insensibly a change came over "the
gang." Father McCarthy's practical talks, that never beat about the bush
or etherialized earthly sins; Elder Case's sterling livable piety; and Rob
McGregor's every-day-in-the-week example had a wholesome active effect—by
Spring the place became known as "McGregor's praying shanty." If there was
not much praying out loud there was hymn singing, which, done in the
proper spirit, has just as Christianizing effect.
Rob had written Douglas,
but in his mistaken views of the situation, had said things that hurt
Douglas sorely, so his letter was not answered; therefore in a year not a
word of any sort relating to Jean had reached him. Early in the golden
October of forty-one, he again turned his face for "juist a look in at