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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 14


"His stately mien as well implied
A high-born heart, a martial pride,
As if a Barons crest he wore,
And, sheathed in crimson, trod the shore."
—Scott.

ALL, this time Rob was learning his life lesson, All though one would watch him closely to guess it.

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 Quebec.)

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 cut.

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 him.

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 hame."


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