Upon a slight swell of prairie stood
the Outpost manse of Big River, the sole and only
building in the country representative of the great
Church which lay behind it, and which, under able statesmanship,
was seeking to hold the new West for things high and
good. The Big River people were proud of their
manse. The minister was proud of it, and with
reason. It stood for courage, faith, and self-denial.
To the Convener and Superintendent, in their hours
of discouragement, this little building brought cheer
and hope. For, while it stood there it kept touch
between that new country and what was best and most
characteristic in Canadian civilisation, and it was
for this that they wrought and prayed. But, though
to people and minister, Convener and Superintendent,
the little manse meant so much, the bareness, the
unloveliness, and, more than all, the utter loneliness
of it smote Shock with a sense of depression.
At first he could not explain to himself this feeling.
It was only after he had consciously recognised the
picture which had risen in contrast before his mind
as the home of the Fairbanks, that he understood.
“I could never bring her to
such a house as this,” was his thought.
“A woman would die here.”
And, indeed, there was much to depress
in the first look at the little board building that
made a home for the McIntyres, set down on the treeless
prairie with only a little wooden paling to defend
it from the waste that gaped at it from every side.
The contrast between this bare speck of human habitation
and the cosy homes of his native Province, set each
within its sheltering nest of orchard and garden, could
hardly, have been more complete. But as his eyes
ran down the slope of the prairie and up over the
hills to the jagged line of peaks at the horizon,
he was conscious of a swift change of feeling.
The mighty hills spoke to his heart.
“Yes, even here one might live
contented,” he said aloud, and he found himself
picturing how the light from those great peaks would
illumine the face that had grown so dear within the
last few months.
“And my mother would like it
too,” he said, speaking once more aloud.
So with better heart he turned from the trail to the
little manse door. The moment he passed within
the door all sense of depression was gone. Out
of their bare little wooden house the McIntyres had
made a home, a place of comfort and of rest.
True, the walls were without plaster, brown paper
with factory cotton tacked over it taking its place,
but they were wind-proof, and besides were most convenient
for hanging things on. The furniture though chiefly
interesting as an illustration of the evolution of
the packing box, was none the less serviceable and
comfortable. The floors were as yet uncarpeted,
but now that April was come the carpets were hardly
missed. Then, too, the few choice pictures upon
the walls, the ingenious bookcase and the more ingenious
plate and cup-rack displaying honest delf and some
bits of choice china, the draping curtains of muslin
and cretonne, all spoke of cultivated minds and refined
tastes. Staring wants there were, and many discrepancies
and incongruities, but no vulgarities nor coarseness
nor tawdriness. What they had was fitting.
What was fitting but beyond their means these brave
home-makers did without, and all things unfitting,
however cheap, they scorned. And Shock, though
he knew nothing of the genesis and evolution of this
home and its furnishings, was sensible of its atmosphere
of quiet comfort and refinement. The welcome of
the McIntyres was radiant with good cheer and hearty
It was partly the sea-rover in his
blood, making impossible the familiar paths trodden
bare of any experience that could stir the heart or
thrill the imagination, but more that high ambition
that dwells in noble youth, making it responsive to
the call of duty where duty is difficult and dangerous,
that sent David McIntyre out from his quiet country
home in Nova Scotia to the far West. A brilliant
course in Pictou Academy, that nursing mother of genius
for that Province by the sea, a still more brilliant
course in Dalhousie, and afterwards in Pine Hill,
promised young McIntyre anything he might desire in
the way of scholastic distinction. The remonstrance
of one of his professors, when he learned of the intention
of his brilliant and most promising student to give
his life to Western mission work, was characteristic
of the attitude of almost the whole Canadian Church
of that day.
“Oh, Mr. McIntyre!” said
the Professor, “there is no need for such a
man as you to go to the West.”
Equally characteristic of the man was McIntyre’s
“But, Professor, someone must
go; and besides that seems to me great work, and I’d
like to have a hand in it.”
It was the necessity, the difficulty,
and the promise of the work that summoned young McIntyre
from all the openings, vacancies, positions, and appointments
his friends were so eagerly waving before his eyes
and set him among the foot-hills in the far front
as the first settled minister of Big River, the pride
of his Convener’s heart, the friend and shepherd
of the scattered farmers and ranchers of the district.
Once only did he come near to regretting his choice,
and then not for his own sake, but for the sake of
the young girl whom he had learned to love and whose
love he had gained during his student days. Would
she leave home and friends and the social circle of
which she was the brightest ornament for all that
he could offer? He had often written to her,
picturing in the radiant colours of his own Western
sky the glory of prairie, foot-hill, and mountain,
the greatness and promise of the new land, and the
worth of the work he was trying to do. But his
two years of missionary experience had made him feel
the hardship, the isolation, the meagreness, of the
life which she would have to share with him.
The sunset colours were still there, but they were
laid upon ragged rock, lonely hill, and wind-swept,
empty prairie. It took him days of hard riding
and harder thinking to give final form to the last
paragraph of his letter:
“I have tried faithfully to
picture my life and work. Can you brave all this?
Should I ask you to do it? My work, I feel, lies
here, and it’s worth a man’s life.
But whether you will share it, it is for you to decide.
If you feel you cannot, believe me, I shall not blame
you, but shall love and honour you as before.
But though it break my heart I cannot go back from
what I see to be my work. I belong to you, but
first I belong to Him who is both your Master and mine.”
In due time her answer came.
He carried her letter out to a favourite haunt of
his in a sunny coolie where an old creek-bed was marked
by straggling willows, and there, throwing himself
down upon the sloping grass, he read her message.
“I know, dear, how much that
last sentence of yours cost you, and my answer is
that were your duty less to you, you would be less
to me. How could I honour and love a man who,
for the sake of a girl or for any sake, would turn
back from his work? Besides, you have taught me
too well to love your glorious West, and you cannot
daunt me now by any such sombre picture as you drew
for me in your last letter. No sir. The
West for me! And you should be ashamed and
this I shall make you properly repent ashamed
to force me to the unmaidenly course of insisting
upon going out to you, ’rounding you up into
a corral’ that is the correct phrase,
is it not? and noosing, no, roping you there.”
When he looked up from the letter
the landscape was blurred for a time. But soon
he wondered at the new splendour of the day, the sweetness
of the air, the mellow music of the meadow-lark.
A new glory was upon sky and earth and a new rapture
in his heart.
“Wonderful!” he exclaimed.
“Dear little soul! She doesn’t know,
and yet, even if she did, I believe it would make
Experience proved that he had rightly
estimated her. For a year and a half she had
stood by her husband’s side, making sunshine
for him that no clouds could dim nor blizzards blow
out. It was this that threw into her husband’s
tone as he said, “My wife, Mr. Macgregor,”
the tenderness and pride. It made Shock’s
heart quiver, for there came to him the picture of
a tall girl with wonderful dark grey eyes that looked
straight into his while she said, “You know I
will not forget.” It was this that made
him hold the little woman’s hand till she wondered
at him, but with a woman’s divining she read
his story in the deep blue eyes, alight now with the
memory of love.
“That light is not for me,”
she said to herself, and welcomed him with a welcome
of one who had been so recently and, indeed, was still
The interval between supper and bed-time
was spent in eager talk over Shock’s field.
A rough map, showing trails, streams, sloughs, coolies,
and some of the larger ranches lay before them on the
“This is The Fort,” said
McIntyre, putting his finger upon a dot on the left
side of the map. “Twenty-five miles west
and south is Loon Lake, the centre of your field,
where it is best that you should live, if you can;
and then further away up toward the Pass they tell
me there is a queer kind of ungodly settlement ranchers,
freighters, whisky-runners, cattle thieves, miners,
almost anything you can name. You’ll have
to do some exploration work there.”
“Prospecting, eh?” said Shock.
“Exactly. Prospecting is
the word,” said McIntyre. “The Fort
end of your field won’t be bad in one way.
You’ll find the people quite civilised.
Indeed, The Fort is quite the social centre for the
whole district. Afternoon teas, hunts, tennis,
card-parties, and dancing parties make life one gay
whirl for them. Mind you, I’m not saying
a word against them. In this country anything
clean in the way of sport ought to be encouraged,
but unfortunately there is a broad, bad streak running
through that crowd, and what with poker, gambling,
bad whisky, and that sort of thing, the place is at
times a perfect hell.”
“Whisky? What about the
Police? I have heard them well spoken of,”
“And rightly so. They are
a fine body of men with exceptions. But this
infernal permit system makes it almost impossible to
enforce the law, and where the Inspector is a soak,
you can easily understand that the whole business
of law enforcement is a farce. Almost all the
Police, however, in this country are straight fellows.
There’s Sergeant Crisp, now there
is not money enough in the Territories to buy him.
Why, he was offered six hundred dollars not long ago
to be busy at the other end of the town when the freighters
came in one night. But not he. He was on
duty, with the result that some half dozen kegs of
whisky failed to reach their intended destination.
But there’s a bad streak in the crowd, and the
mischief of it is that the Inspector and his wife set
the pace for all the young fellows of the ranches about.
And when whisky gets a-flowing there are things done
that it is a shame to speak of. But they won’t
bother you much. They belong mostly to Father
“Father Mike, a Roman Catholic?”
“No, Anglican. A very decent
fellow. Have not seen much of him. His people
doubtless regard me as a blooming dissenter, dontcherknow.
But he is no such snob. He goes in for all their
fun hunts, teas, dances, card-parties,
and all the rest of it.”
“What, gambling?” asked Shock, aghast.
“No, no. I understand he
rakes them fore and aft for their gambling and that
sort of thing. But they don’t mind it much.
They swear by him, for he is really a fine fellow.
In sickness or in trouble Father Mike is on the spot.
But as to influencing their lives, I fear Father Mike
is no great force.”
“Why do you have a mission there
at all?” enquired Shock.
“Simply because the Superintendent
considers The Fort a strong strategic point, and there
are a lot of young fellows and a few families there
who are not of Father Mike’s flock and who could
never be persuaded to attend his church. It doesn’t
take much you know, to keep a man from going to church
in this country, so the Superintendent’s policy
is to remove all possible excuses and barriers and
to make it easy for men to give themselves a chance.
Our principal man at The Fort is Macfarren, a kind
of lawyer, land-agent, registrar, or something of
that sort. Has cattle too, on a ranch. A
very clever fellow, but the old story whisky.
Too bad. He’s a brother of Rev. Dr. Macfarren.”
“What? Dr. Macfarren of Toronto?”
“Yes. And he might be almost
anything in this country. I’ll give you
a letter to him. He will show you about and give
you all information.”
“And is he in the Church?”
Shock’s face was a study. McIntyre laughed
long and loud.
“Why, my dear fellow, we’re
glad to get hold of any kind of half-decent chap that
is willing to help in any way. We use him as usher,
manager, choir-master, sexton. In short, we put
him any place where he will stick.”
Shock drew a long breath. The
situation was becoming complicated to him.
“About Loon Lake,” continued
McIntyre, “I can’t tell you much.
By all odds the most interesting figure there is the
old Prospector, as he is called. You have heard
“No one knows him, though he
has been there for many years. His daughter,
I understand, has just come out from England to him.
Then, there’s Andy Hepburn, who runs a store,
a shrewd, canny little Scot. I have no doubt
he will help you. But you’ll know more about
the place in a week than I could tell you if I talked
all night, and that I must not do, for you must be
When he finished Shock sat silent
with his eyes upon the map. He was once more
conscious of a kind of terror of these unknown places
and people. How could he get at them? What
place was there for him and his mission in that wild,
reckless life of theirs? What had he to bring
them. Only a Tale? In the face of that vigorous,
strenuous life it seemed at that moment to Shock almost
ridiculous in its inadequacy. Against him and
his Story were arraigned the great human passions greed
of gold, lust of pleasure in its most sensuous forms,
and that wild spirit of independence of all restraint
by law of Good or man. He was still looking at
the map when Mr. McIntyre said:
“We will take the books, as they say in my country.”
“Ay, and in mine,” said Shock, coming
out of his dream with a start.
Mrs. McIntyre laid the Bible on the
table. Her husband opened the Book and read that
great Psalm of the wilderness, “Lord, thou hast
been our dwelling place,” and so on to the last
cry of frail and fading humanity after the enduring
and imperishable, “Let the beauty of the Lord
our God be upon us; and establish thou the work of
our hands upon us: yea, the work of our hands
establish thou it.”
As he listened to the vivid words
that carried with them the very scent and silence
of the hungry wilderness, there fell upon Shock’s
ears the long howl and staccato bark of the prairie
wolf. That lonely voice of the wild West round
them struck Shock’s heart with a chill of fear,
but following hard upon the fear came the memory of
the abiding dwelling place for all desert pilgrims,
and in place of his terror a great quietness fell
upon his spirit. The gaunt spectre of the hungry
wilderness vanished before the kindly presence of a
great Companionship that made even the unknown West
seem safe and familiar as one’s own home.
The quick change of feeling filled Shock’s heart
to overflowing, so that when Mr. McIntyre, closing
the Book, said, “You will lead us in prayer,
Mr. Macgregor,” Shock could only shake his head
in voiceless refusal.
“You go on, David,” said
his wife, who had been watching Shock’s face.
As Shock lay that night upon his bed
of buffalo skins in the corner, listening to the weird
sounds of the night without, he knew that for the
present at least that haunting terror of the unknown
and that disturbing sense of his own insufficiency
would not trouble him. That dwelling place, quiet
and secure, of the McIntyres’ home in the midst
of the wide waste about was to him for many a day a
symbol of that other safe dwelling place for all pilgrims
through earth’s wilderness.
“Poor chap,” said McIntyre
to his wife when they had retired for the night, “I’m
afraid he’ll find it hard work, especially at
The Fort. He is rather in the rough, you know.”
“He has beautiful honest eyes,”
said his wife, “and I like him.”
“Yes, I do,” she replied emphatically.
“Then,” said her husband, “in spite
of all appearances he’s all right.”