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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter XLVIII - The Bar-room Tragedy

WORD of Jamie’s death had spread with rapidity, as disastrous news always does in a country settlement, and long before Mr. Rolphe arrived, the home of the widow was filled with neighbours. The widow stayed in her little parlour, with her daughters and a few women friends. She was pale and spent, but calm and resigned. Such comfort as could be administered by her friends was offered, but these Scottish women well understood Mrs. McNabb’s nature; they realised that mere words were of no avail, so they contented themselves by assisting in such little preparations as were necessary before the arrival of the body.

The moments seemed weighted with lead, so slowly did they pass, but the sound of wheels was at last heard, and in a moment all was bustle and suppressed excitement. The casket was deposited in the little parlour, and soon the lid was removed and the widow and her children were permitted to view by themselves the face of the departed.

Mr. Rolphe’s greeting of Mrs. McNabb when she came to speak to him, after the scene at the casket, was respectfully sympathetic, and as cordial as the occasion would admit. He gazed earnestly into her pale, fine face, and as he took her hands in his own and pressed them warmly, he yielded to what appeared to be an impulse of the moment, and bending, reverently kissed her brow.

"I am honoured," he said, "in meeting the mother of such sons. I have brought your last born home to you, and although his voice is stilled, the work he did will live after him. Many a home in New York is blessing his name; for under Heaven he was permitted to bring light and hope to many weary mothers’ hearts and succour to many famishing children. Why this promising life should be cut off in the midst of such great usefulness and necessity is one of those mysteries we are not permitted to penetrate."

Taking her hand, he led her reverently to a seat, and placing himself beside her, related to the mother the story of her son’s death.

"No doubt," he began, "you knew of his devotion to the rescue work among the saloons of our city. The lad had an inveterate hatred of the drink traffic, and I think I never knew any one so terribly in earnest in a desire to see it utterly annihilated. He often told me that it was the pictures of want, squalor, and misery among the unfortunate wives and children of drink’s victims that impelled him. And when Jamie enlisted in any cause he was a real force and a valiant soldier.

"I am not going to recount the work he did," continued Mr. Rolphe. "You will hear all about that from lips other than mine, for one of the men who established the drunkard’s rescue home on Broad Street, in connection with which Jamie cooperated, will be here, and if you agree, will preach the boy’s funeral sermon. He has long desired to visit some friends in Canada, and so took the present opportunity of coming. He will tell you all about your son’s work. I must confine myself to telling you of the manner in which he met his death.

"There was a family named Sheppard living down on one of the streets that lead to the river, which Jamie had become intensely interested in, for the mother was a Canadian, and belonged to a good family in Montreal. She had four interesting children, but the dark shadow caused by drink had entered the home. Sheppard had fallen from a good social position to be a poor despised drunkard. Naturally the family was speedily reduced to the direst want, and it was only by plying the needle, while her children sold newspapers, that it was possible to keep body and soul together. This was the way Jamie first knew about Sheppard; he saw him reeling along the street one night, and Jamie, learning his address from a policeman, took him home and sat with him and his wife, until the former’s stupor had passed, when he learned all their sad history.

"Well, your son had a terrible time with poor Sheppard, and had he not possessed the patience of Job, he would have relinquished the task of reform long ago. But he stuck manfully to the work, and every time the poor drunkard would fall, Jamie would hasten to the rescue and endeavour to stand him upon his feet again. He told me he could not endure the hopeless expression that would flit across Mrs. Sheppard’s face, whenever he exhibited the least symptom of despair in regard to her husband’s case. ‘For he is my husband, after all,’ she would say to him, ‘and I can’t give him up.’ And so Jamie persevered.

"Last Friday night, as he was quitting the railway office, one of Sheppard’s children, very much excited, accosted him and said her mother wanted to see him at once about the father, and would he please lose no time. Jamie hurried to Sheppard’s apartments, and was met at the door by the unhappy woman, who told him that her husband was in a terrible condition at the saloon around the corner.

"Jamie hurried to the place, followed by Mrs. Sheppard. He entered the grogshop, while the woman remained at the door. A number of brawling, intoxicated men were quarrelling as he went in, while upon the floor lay poor Sheppard, helplessly drunk. One of the men gave him a kick, telling him to get up.

"Jamie expostulated with him, and was immediately set upon by the entire semi-inebriated gang. He would have succeeded in extricating himself but for the interference of the landlord, who, because of Jamie’s notoriety as an enemy of the saloon, had conceived a deep-seated aversion to him. Passing from behind the bar to the room where the scuffle was going on, he directed the operations of the inebriates that were attacking the young man. One of these — a foreigner— fired a pistol which he kept concealed in his coat. The aim was deadly; and poor Jamie fell.

"A messenger from his bedside reached me two hours after the crime, and I hurried to obey the summons. I found him calm and resigned. The surgeon had given him to understand that he could not recover, although he might linger for some hours. I remained with him till the end came, which was not until ten o’clock the next morning. His mind never wandered for a moment, and when he felt that the end was at hand, he asked me to turn him on his right side, so that he might take a last look at the sun. He complained of thirst during his last hours, and often said that if he could just stoop down at the old spring on the farm and drink a long, cooling draught, he could die easily. He talked about you all, and said how much he would like to live, because he wanted to do something in life to make his mother proud of him."

"My poor boy, my noble Jamie!" sobbed the widow, burying her face in her hands.

"Yes," went on Mr. Rolphe, "and he recalled many incidents connected with his life on the farm. After he had made me write down a score of messages to his old friends and schoolmates in the settlement, which I promised to deliver, he closed his eyes for a time and appeared to rest. When he opened them again, he seemed to wonder for a moment where he was. Then, coming to himself, he said there was one thing upon his mind, about which he had hesitated to speak.

"‘Speak freely to me, my boy,’ I said. Then he told me he had always feared the loneliness of a cemetery; and he asked that he be buried beneath his favourite apple-tree, at the foot of the old orchard. He wanted to be near the brook and the animals he loved so well, and he wanted to be near his brothers and sisters. I promised him that his wish should be carried out. He grew weaker very rapidly, and soon lapsed into unconsciousness. But he opened his eyes at length. I had lifted the window, and the curtain being up, the morning sun was streaming into the room. When he recognised it, he smiled, and whispering a word about the glory of the eternal sunshine, he closed his eyes and was gone."

And so we buried Jamie beneath his favourite apple-tree at the foot of the orchard. The brook runs close to his humble sepulchre, murmuring its soft music. The memory of Jamie has faded from the minds of most of those who knew him in childhood, but the brook has not forgotten him, nor will it ever forget him. He asked for its companionship, and until the Heavens are rolled up that companionship will not be withheld.

* * * * * * * * *

Long years afterwards Willie and I visited Jamie’s grave in the old orchard. The mound had disappeared and the grass was growing over the spot. The place is marked by a simple white marble slab with Jamie’s name and the date of his death engraved upon it, while underneath are these words suggested by the widow from her favourite fourteenth chapter of John :

"I will come again and receive you unto myself, that
where I am, there ye may be also."

Many changes have been wrought in our lives, and in the lives and fortunes of those dear to us, since we laid Jamie to rest, and I think it was because Willie’s mind and mine were so filled with thoughts concerning these changes, and of reminiscences we could not drive away, that we were silent as we stood by the grave, watching the sun sink into the glorious west beyond the great horizon of forest.

The brook flowed on with its music. The music was tranquillising to us, and the quietness and placidity of the scene almost made us envy poor Jamie his peaceful repose. I think Willie felt, as I did, that Jamie had chosen the most enviable spot on earth for his long slumber, in the peace of the old orchard and homestead.

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