Read CHAPTER XI - An Informative Visitor of My Brave and Gallant Gentleman, free online book, by Robert Watson, on

That afternoon, prompt at two o’clock, a whistle sounded beyond the point and, shortly afterwards, the steamboat Siwash, north bound, entered the Bay.

Jake and I were waiting at the end of the wharf, seated in a large, wide-beamed, four-oared boat, with Mike, the dog, still eyeing me suspiciously, crouching between his master’s feet.

We had a raft and half a dozen small rowing boats of all shapes and conditions, strung out, Indian file, from our stern. Every available thing in Golden Crescent Bay that could float, down to a canoe and an old Indian dug-out, we borrowed or requisitioned for our work. And, with this long procession in tow, we pulled out and made for the steamer, which came to a standby in the deep water, three hundred yards from the shore.

The merchandise was let down by slings from the lower deck, and we had to handle the freight as best we could, keeping closely alongside all the while.

A dozen times, I thought one or another of the boats would be overturned and its contents emptied into the Bay. But luck was with us. Jake spat tobacco juice on his hands every few minutes and sailed in like a nigger. Our clothes were soon moist through and through, and the perspiration was running over our noses long before our task was completed. But finally the last package was lowered and checked off by the mate and myself, a clear receipt given; and we (Jake and I) pushed for the shore, landing exhausted in body but without mishap to the freight.

Jake fetched some fresh clams to my kitchen for convenience and, after slapping half a plug of tobacco in his cheek, he started in and cooked us a savoury concoction which he called “chowder,” made with baked clams mixed in hot milk, with butter and crumbled toast; all duly seasoned: while I smoked my pipe and washed enough dishes to hold our food, and set the table for our meal.

Already, I had discovered that dish-washing was the bugbear of a kitchen drudge’s existence, be the kitchen drudge female or male. I had only done the job three or four times, but I had got to loathe and abhor the operation. Not that I felt too proud to wash dishes, but it seemed such a useless, such an endless, task. However, I suppose everything in this old world carries with it more or less of these same annoyingly bad features.

At any rate, I never could make up my mind to wash a dish until I required it for my next and immediate meal.

We dined ravenously, and throughout the proceeding, Mike sat in the doorway, keeping close watch that I did not interfere with the sacred person of his lord and master, Jake Meaghan.

Rested and reinvigorated, we set-to with box-openers, hammers and chisels, unpacking and unpacking until the thing became a boring monotony.

Canned milk, canned beef, canned beans, canned salmon, canned crabs, canned well-nigh-everything; bottled fruits, bottled pickles, bottled jams and jellies, everything bottled that was not canned; bags of sugar, flour, meal, potatoes, oats and chicken feed; hardware galore, axes, hammers, wedges, peevies, cant hoops, picks, shovels, nails, paints, brooms, brushes and a thousand other commodities and contrivances the like of which I never saw before and hope never to see again.

Never, in all my humble existence, did I feel so clerky as I did then.

I checked the beastly stuff off as well as I could, taking the Vancouver wholesalers’ word for the names of half the things, for I was quite sure they knew better than I did about them.

With the assistance of Jake, as “hander-up,” I set the goods in a semblance of order on the shelves and about the store.

We worked and slaved as if it were the last day and our eternal happiness depended on our finishing the job before the last trump sounded its blast of dissolution.

By the last stroke of twelve, midnight, we had the front veranda swept clean of straw, paper and excelsior, and all empty boxes cleared away; just in time to welcome the advent of my first Sabbath day in the Canadian West.

Throughout our arduous afternoon and evening, what a surprise old Jake was to me! Well I knew that he was hard and tough from years of strenuous battling with the northern elements; but that he, at his age and with his record for hard drinking, should be able to keep up the sustained effort against a young man in his prime and that he should do so cheerfully and without a word of complaint, save an occasional grunt when the steel bands around some of the boxes proved recalcitrant, and an explosive, picturesque oath when the end of a large case dropped over on his toes, was, to me, little short of marvellous.

Already, I was beginning to think that Mr. K. B. Horsfal had erred in regard to his man and that it was Jake Meaghan who was twenty-four carat gold.

If any man ever did deserve two breakfast cups brimful of whisky, neat, before turning in, it was old, walrus-moustached, weather-battered, baby-eyed, sour-dough Jake, in the small, early hours of that Sabbath morning.

I slept that night like a dead thing, and the sun was high in the heavens before I opened my eyes and became conscious again of my surroundings.

I looked over at the clock. Fifteen minutes past ten! I threw my legs over the side of the bed, ashamed of my sluggardliness.

Then I remembered, it was Sunday morning.

Oh! glorious remembering! Sunday, –­with nothing to do but attend to my own bodily comforts.

I pulled my legs back into the bed in order to start the day correctly. I lay and stretched myself, then, very leisurely, always remembering that it was the Sabbath, I put one foot out and then the other, until, at last, I stood on the floor, really and truly up and awake.

Jake had been around. I could see traces of him in the yard, though he was nowhere visible in the flesh.

After I had breakfasted and made my bed (I know little Maisie Brant, who used to make my bed away back over in the old home little Maisie who had wept at my departure, would have laughed till she wept again, had she seen my woful endeavours to straighten out my sheets and smooth my pillow. But then, she was not there to see and laugh and I was quite satisfied with my handiwork and satisfied that I would be able to sleep soundly in the bed when the night should come again) I hunted the shelves for a book.

Stevenson, Poe, Scott, Hugo, Wells, Barrie, Dumas, Twain, Emerson, Byron, Longfellow, Burns, which should it be?

Back along the line I went, and chose oh, well! an old favourite I had read many times before.

I hunted out a hammock and slung it comfortably from the posts on the front veranda, where I could lie and smoke and read; also where I could look away across the Bay and rest my eyes on the quiet scene when they should grow weary.

Late in the afternoon, when I was beginning to grow tired of my indolence, I heard the thud, thud of a gasoline launch as it came up the Bay. It passed between Rita’s Isle and the wharf, and held on, turning in to Jake Meaghan’s cove.

I wondered who the visitor could be, then I went back to my reading.

Not long after, a shadow fell across my book and I jumped up.

“Pray, don’t let me disturb you, my son,” said a soft, well-modulated, masculine voice. “Stay where you are. Enjoy your well-earned rest.”

A little, frail-looking, pale-faced, elderly gentleman was at my elbow.

He smiled at me with the smile of an angel, and my heart went out to him at once, so much so that I could have hugged him in my arms.

“My name is William Auld,” he continued. “I am the medical missionary. What is yours, my son?”

He held out his hand to me.

“George Bremner,” I replied, gripping his. “Let me bring you a chair.”

I went inside, and when I returned he was turning over the leaves of my book.

“So you are a book lover?” he mused. “Well, I would to God more men were book lovers, for then the world would be a better place to live in, or rather, the men in it would be better to live among.

Victor Hugo, ’Les Misérables’! ” he went on. “To my mind, the greatest of all novelists and the greatest of all novels.”

He laid the book aside, and sought my confidences, not as a preacher, not as a pedagog, but as a friend; making no effort to probe my past, seeking no secrets; but all anxiety for my welfare; keen to know my ambitions, my aspirations, my pastimes and my habits of living; open and frank in telling me of himself. He was a man’s man, with the experience of men that one gets only by years of close contact.

“For twenty years it has been God’s will to allow me to travel up and down this beloved coast and minister to those who need me.”

“You must like the work, sir,” I ventured.

“Like it! oh! yes, yes, –­I would not exchange my post for the City Temple of London, England.”

“But such toil must be arduous, Mr. Auld, for you are not a young man and you do not look altogether a robust one.”

He paused in meditation. “It is arduous, sometimes; to-day I have talked to the men at eight camps and I have visited fourteen families at different points on my journey. But, if I were to stop, who would look after my beloved people in the ranches all up the coast; who would care for my easily-led, simple-hearted brethren in the logging camps, every one of whom knows me, confides in me and looks forward to my coming; not one of whom but would part with his coat for me, not one who would harm a hair of my head. I shall not stop, Mr. Bremner, I have no desire to stop, not till God calls me.

“I see you have been making changes even in your short time here,” he said, pointing to the store.

“Yes! I think Jake and I did fairly well yesterday,” I answered, not a little proudly.

“Splendidly, my boy! And, do you know, your coming here means a great deal. It is the commencement of a new departure, for your store is going to prove a great boon to the settlers. They have been talking about it and looking forward to it ever since it was first mooted.

“But it will not be altogether smooth sailing for you, for you must keep a close rein on your credit.”

It struck me, as he spoke, that he was the very man I was desirous of meeting regarding what I considered would prove my stumbling block.

“Can you spare me half an hour, sir, and have tea with me?” I asked.

“Yes! gladly, for my day’s service is over, all but one call, and a cup of tea is always refreshing.”

I showed him inside and set him in my cosiest chair. While I busied with the table things, washing some dishes as a usual preliminary, I approached the subject.

“Mr. Auld, I wished to ask your advice, for I am sure you can assist me. My employer, Mr. Horsfal, has given me a free hand regarding credit to the settlers. I know none of them and I am afraid that, without guidance, I may offend some or land the business in trouble with others. Will you help me, sir?”

“Why of course, I’ll help.”

He took a sheet of paper from his pocket and commenced to write, talking to me as he did so.

“You know, if times are at all good, you can trust the average man who owns the ranch he lives on to pay his grocery bills sooner or later. Still, if I were you, I wouldn’t let any of them get into debt more than sixty or seventy dollars, for they do not require to, and, once they get in arrears, they have difficulty in getting out.

“It is the floating population, the here-to-day-and-away-to-morrow people who should not be given credit. And, Mr. Bremner, if you desire to act in kindness to the men themselves, do not allow the loggers, who come in here, to run up bills for themselves personally. Not that they are more dishonest than other people, far from it. I find it generally the other way round, but they are notoriously improvident; inclined, God bless them, to live for the fleeting moment.

“In many ways they are like children in their simplicity and their waywardness, and their lot is not one of roses and honeysuckle. They make good money and can afford to pay as they go. If they cannot pay, they can easily wait for what they want until they can, for they are well fed and well housed while in the camps.”

We sat down at the table together.

“There is a list, George. May I call you George? It is so much more friendly.”

I nodded in hearty approval.

“It is not by any means complete, but it contains the principal people among your near-hand neighbours. You can trust them to pay their last cent: Neil Andrews, Semple, Smith, Johannson, Doolan, MacAllister and Gourlay.

“Any others who may call, make them pay; and I shall be glad to inform you about them when I am this way again.”

“How often do you come in here, Mr. Auld?”

“I try to make it, at least, once in two weeks, but I am not always successful. I like to visit Jake Meaghan. Poor, old, faithful, plodding Jake, how I tried, at first, to extract the thorn from his flesh the accursed drink! I talked to him, I scolded him, I threatened him, but, poor Jake, he and his whisky are one, and nothing but death will ever separate them.”

Suddenly his face lit up and his eyes seemed to catch fire.

“And who are we to judge?” he said, as if denying some inward question. “What right have we to think for a moment that this inherent weakness shall deprive Jake Meaghan of eternal happiness? He is honest; he does good in his own little sphere; he harms no one but himself, for he hasn’t a dependent in the world. He fills a niche in God’s plan; he is still God’s child, no matter how erring he may be. He is some mother’s son. George, I am fully persuaded that my God, and your God, will not be hard on old Jake when his time comes; and, do you know, sometimes I think that time is not very far off.”

We sat silent for a while, then the minister spoke again:

“Tell me, George, have you met any of your neighbours yet?”

“Only two,” I said, “Jake, and Rita Clark.”

He raised his white, bushy eyebrows.

“So you have met Rita! She’s a strange child; harboured in a strange home.”

He sighed at some passing thought.

“It’s a queer world, or rather, it’s a good world with queer people in it. One would expect to find love and harmony in the home every time away up here, but it does not always follow. Old Margaret Clark is the gentlest, dearest, most patient soul living. Andrew Clark is a good man in every way but one, but in that one he is the Rock of Gibraltar itself, or, to go nearer the place of his birth, Ailsa Craig, that old milestone that stands defiantly between Scotland and Ireland. Andrew Clark is immovable. He is hard, relentless, fanatical in his ideas of right and wrong; cruel to himself and to the woman he vowed to love and cherish. Oh! he sears my heart every time I think of him. Yet, he is living up to his idea of what is right.”

The white-haired old gentleman, bearer of the burdens of his fellows, did not confide in me as to the nature of Andrew Clark’s trouble, and it was not for me to probe.

“As for Rita,” he pursued, “poor, little Rita! she is no relative of either Margaret or Andrew Clark. She is a child of the sea. Hers is a pitiful story, and I betray no confidences in telling you of it, for it is common property.

“Fourteen years ago a launch put into the Bay and anchored at the entrance to Jake’s cove. There were several ladies and gentlemen in her, and one little girl. They picnicked on the beach and, in the evening, they dined aboard, singing and laughing until after midnight. Jake was the only one who saw or heard them, and he swears they were not English-spoken. Though they were gay and pleasure-loving, yet they seemed to be of a superior class of people.

“He awoke before daylight, fancying he heard screams in the location of The Ghoul Rock. He got up and, so certain was he that he had not been mistaken, he got into his boat and rowed out and round The Ghoul, for the night was calm, but everything was quiet and peaceful out there.

“Next morning, while Joe Clark was scampering along the shore, he came across the unconscious form of a little girl about four years old, clad only in a nightdress and roped roughly to an unmarked life-belt. Joe carried her in to his grandfather, old Andrew, who worked over her for more than an hour; and at last succeeded in bringing her round.

“All she could say then was, “Rita, Rita, Rita,” although, about a year afterwards, she started to hum and sing a little Spanish dancing song. A peculiar reversion of memory, for she certainly never heard such a song in Golden Crescent.

“Jake swears to this day that she belonged to the launch party, who must have run sheer into The Ghoul Rock and gone down.

“Little boy Joe pleaded with his grandfather and grandmother to keep the tiny girl the sea had given them, and they did not need much coaxing, for she was pretty and attractive from the first.

“Inquiries were set afoot, but, from that day to this, not a clue has been found as to her identity; so, Rita Clark she is and Rita Clark she will remain until some fellow, worthy of her I hope, wins her and changes her name.

“I thought at one time, Joe Clark would claim her and her name would not be changed after all, but since Joe has seen some of the outside world and has been meeting with all kinds of people, he has grown patronising and changeable with women, as he is domineering and bullying with men.

“He treats Rita as if he expected her to be continually at his call should he desire her, and yet he were at liberty to choose when and where he please.”

“But, does Rita care for him?” I asked.

“Seems so at times,” he answered, “but of late I have noticed a coldness in her at the mention of his name; just as if she resented his airs of one-sided proprietorship and were trying to decide with herself to tolerate no more of it.

“I tried to veer round to the subject with Joe once, but he swore an oath and told me to mind my own affairs. What Joe Clark needs is opposition. Yet Joe is a good fellow, strong and daring as a lion and aggressive to a degree.”

I was deeply interested as the old minister told the story, and it was like bringing me up suddenly when he stopped. I had no idea how fast the time had been passing.

Well I could understand now why this Rita Clark intuitively hated The Ghoul Rock. Who, in her place, would feel otherwise?

The Rev. William Auld rose from the table.

“I must go now, my son, for the way is long. Thanks so much for the rest and for your hospitality. My only exhortation to you is, stand firm by all the principles you know to be true; never lose hold of the vital things because you are here in the wilds, for it is here the vital things count, more than in the whirr of civilisation.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ll try,” I said. “You will come again, I hope.”

“Certainly I shall. Even if you did not ask me, for that is my duty.

“If you accompany me as far as Jake’s cove, where my launch is, I think I can furnish you with a paper from your countryside. I have friends in the city, in the States and in England, who supply me, every week, with American and Old Country papers. There are so many men from both lands in the camps and settled along the coast and they all so dearly love a newspaper. I generally try to give them what has been issued nearest their own home towns.”

I rowed Mr. Auld over to his launch and wished him good-bye, receiving from his kindly old hands a copy of The Northern Examiner, dated three days after I had left Brammerton.

It was like meeting with an old friend, whom I had expected never to meet again. I put it in my inside pocket for consideration when I should get back to my bungalow with plenty of time to enjoy it.

I dropped in to Jake’s shack, for I had not seen him all the sleepy day. I found him sitting in perfect content, buried up over the eyes in a current issue of The Northern Lights, a Dawson newspaper, which had been in existence since the old Klondike days and was much relished by old-timers.

The dog was curled up near the stove, sleeping off certain effects; Jake was at his second cup of whisky. I left them to the peace and sanctity of their Sabbath evening and rowed back to “Paradise Regained,” as I had already christened my bungalow.

I sat down on the steps of the veranda, to peruse the home paper which the minister had left with me, and it was not long before I was startled by a flaring headline. The blood rushed from my face to my heart and seemed as if it would burst that great, throbbing organ:


My eyes scanned the notice.

“News has been telegraphed that the Earl of Brammerton and Hazelmere died suddenly of heart failure at his country residence, Hazelmere. His demise has caused a profound sensation, as it occurred on the eve of a House Party, arranged in celebration of the engagement of his son, Viscount Harry Brammerton, Captain of the Coldstream Guards, to the beautiful Lady Rosemary Granton, daughter of the late General Frederick Granton, who was the companion and dearest friend of the late Earl of Brammerton in the early days of their campaigning in the Crimea and India.”

A long obituary notice followed, concluding with the following paragraph:

“It is given out that the marriage of the present Earl with Lady Granton has been postponed and that, after the necessary business formalities have been attended to, Captain Harry will join his regiment in Egypt for a short term.

“Lady Rosemary Granton has gone to New York, at the cabled invitation of some old family friends.”

“It is understood that the Hon. George Brammerton, second and only other son of the late Earl, is presently on a long walking tour in Europe. His whereabouts are unknown and he is still in ignorance of his father’s death.”

The pain of that sudden announcement, so soon after I had left home and right on the eve of my new endeavours, no one shall ever know.

My dear old father! Angry at my alleged eccentricities sometimes, but ever ready to forgive, was gone: doubtless, passing away with a message of forgiveness to me on his lips.

And, after the pain of it, came the conflict.

Had what I had done caused or in any way hastened my father’s death? Admitting that Harry’s fault was great and unforgiveable, would it not have been better had I allowed it to remain in obscurity, at least for a time? Was the keeping of the family name unsullied, was the untarnished honour of our ancient family motto, “Clean, within and without,” of greater importance than my father’s life? Was it my duty to be an unintentional and silent partner to the keeping of vital intelligence from the fair Lady Rosemary?

Over all, had I done right or wrong?

What did duty now demand of me? Should I hurry home and face the fresh problems there which were sure to arise now that Harry had succeeded to the titles and estates? Should I remain by the post I had accepted from the hands of Mr. K. B. Horsfal and test thoroughly this new and exhilarating life which, so far, I had merely tasted?

I had no doubts as to what my inclinations and desires were. But it was not a question of inclinations and desires: it was simply one of duty.

All night long, I sat on the veranda steps with my elbows on my knees and my head in my upturned hands, fighting my battle; until, at last, when the grey was creeping up over the hills behind me and touching the dark surface of the sea in front here and there with mellow lights, I rose and went in to the house, my conscience clear as the breaking day, my mind at rest like the rose-coloured tops of the mountains.

I had no regrets. I had done as a true Brammerton should. I had done the right.

I would not go back; not yet. I would remain here for a while in my obscurity, testing out the new life and executing as faithfully as I knew how the new duties I had voluntarily assumed.

Further, for my peace of mind, so long as I remained in Golden Crescent, I decided I would not cast my eyes over the columns of any newspaper coming from the British Isles. If I were to be done with the old life, I must be done with it in every way.