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WHAT NECESSITY KNOWS
Author of "Beggars All," etc
Longmans, Green, and Co.
15 East Sixteenth Street
Typography by J.S. Cushing & Co., Boston.
TO MY BROTHER
JOHN REDPATH DOUGALL
THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED
WITH REVERENCE AND AFFECTION
One episode of this story may need a word of explanation. It is reported
that while the "Millerite" or Adventist excitement of 1843 was agitating
certain parts of North America, in one place at least a little band of
white-robed people ascended a hill in sure expectation of the Second
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Advent, and patiently returned to be the laughing stock of their
neighbours. This tradition, as I heard it in my childhood, was repeated
as if it embodied nothing but eccentricity and absurdity, yet it
naturally struck a child's mind with peculiar feelings of awe and
pathos. Such an event appeared picturesque matter for a story. It was
not easy to deal with; for in setting it, as was necessary, in close
relation to the gain-getting, marrying and giving in marriage, of the
people among whom it might occur, it was difficult to avoid either
giving it a poetic emphasis which it would not appear to have in reality
or degrading it by that superficial truth often called realism, which
belittles men. Any unworthiness in the working out of the incident is
due, not so much to lack of dignity in the subject, or to lack of
material, as to the limitations of the writer's capacity.
Lest any of my countrymen should feel that this story is wanting in
sympathy with them, I may point out that it does not happen to deal with
Canadians proper, but with immigrants, most of whom are slow to identify
themselves with their adopted Country; hence their point of view is here
necessarily set forth.
I would take this opportunity to express my obligation to my
fellow-worker, Miss M.S. Earp, for her constant and sympathetic
criticism and help in composition.
EDINBURGH, June, 1893.
"_Necessity knows no Law._"
WHAT NECESSITY KNOWS
"It is not often that what we call the 'great sorrows of life' cause us
the greatest sorrow. Death, acute disease, sudden and great
losses - these are sometimes easily borne compared with those intricate
difficulties which, without name and without appearance, work themselves
into the web of our daily life, and, if not rightly met, corrode and
tarnish all its brightness."
So spoke Robert Trenholme, Principal of the New College and Rector of
the English church at Chellaston, in the Province of Quebec. He sat in
his comfortable library. The light of a centre lamp glowed with shaded
ray on books in their shelves, but shone strongly on the faces near it.
As Trenholme spoke his words had all the charm lent by modulated voice
and manner, and a face that, though strong, could light itself easily
with a winning smile. He was a tall, rather muscular man; his face had
that look of battle that indicates the nervous temperament. He was
talking to a member of his congregation who had called to ask advice and
sympathy concerning some carking domestic care. The advice had already
been given, and the clergyman proceeded to give the sympathy in the form
His listener was a sickly-looking man, who held by the hand a little boy
of five or six years. The child, pale and sober, regarded with
incessant interest the prosperous and energetic man who was talking to
"Yes, yes," replied the troubled visitor, "yes, there's some help for
the big troubles, but none for the small - you're right there."
"No," said the other, "I did not say there was no help. It is just those
complex difficulties for which we feel the help of our fellow-men is
inadequate that ought to teach us to find out how adequate is the help
of the Divine Man, our Saviour, to all our needs."
"Yes, yes," said the poor man again, "yes, I suppose what you say is
But he evidently did not suppose so. He sidled to the door, cap in hand.
The clergyman said no more. He was one of those sensitive men who often
know instinctively whether or not their words find response in the heart
of the hearer, and to whom it is always a pain to say anything, even the
most trivial, which awakes no feeling common to both.
Trenholme himself showed the visitors out of his house with a genial,
kindly manner, and when the departing footsteps had ceased to crunch the
garden path he still stood on his verandah, looking after the retreating
figures and feeling somewhat depressed - not as we might suppose St. Paul
would have felt depressed, had he, in like manner, taken the Name for
which he lived upon his lips in vain - and to render that name futile by
reason of our spiritual insignificance is surely the worst form of
profanity - but he felt depressed in the way that a gentleman might who,
having various interests at heart, had failed in a slight attempt to
promote one of them.
It was the evening of one of the balmy days of a late Indian summer. The
stars of the Canadian sky had faded and become invisible in the light of
a moon that hung low and glorious, giving light to the dry,
sweet-scented haze of autumn air. Trenholme looked out on a neat garden
plot, and beyond, in the same enclosure, upon lawns of ragged,
dry-looking grass, in the centre of which stood an ugly brick house,
built apparently for some public purpose. This was the immediate
outlook. Around, the land was undulating; trees were abundant, and were
more apparent in the moonlight than the flat field spaces between them.
The graceful lines of leafless elms at the side of the main road were
clearly seen. About half a mile away the lights of a large village were
visible, but bits of walls and gable ends of white houses stood out
brighter in the moonlight than, the yellow lights within the windows.
Where the houses stretched themselves up on a low hill, a little white
church showed clear against the broken shadow of low-growing pines.
As Trenholme was surveying the place dreamily in the wonderful light,
that light fell also, upon him and his habitation. He was apparently
intellectual, and had in him something of the idealist. For the rest, he
was a good-sized, good-looking man, between thirty and forty years of
age, and even by the moonlight one might see, from the form of his
clothes, that he was dressed with fastidious care. The walls and
verandah, of his house, which were of wood, glistened almost as brightly
with white paint as the knocker and doorplate did with brass lacquer.
After a few minutes Trenholme's housekeeper, a wiry, sad-eyed woman,
came to see why the door was left open. When she saw the master of the
house she retired in abrupt, angular fashion, but the suggestion of her
errand recalled him from his brief relaxation.
In his study he again sat down before the table where he had been
talking to his visitors. From the leaves of his blotting-paper he took a
letter which he had apparently been interrupted in writing. He took it
out in a quick, business-like way, and dipped his pen in the ink as
though, to finish rapidly; but then he sat still until the pen dried,
and no further word had been added. Again he dipped his pen, and again
let it dry. If the first sentence of the letter had taken as long to
compose as the second, it was no wonder that a caller had caused an
The letter, as it lay before him, had about a third of its page written
in a neat, forcible hand. The arms of his young college were printed at
the top. He had written: -
My dear brother, - I am very much concerned not to have heard
from you for so long. I have written to your old address in Montreal,
but received no answer.
Here came the stop. At last he put pen to paper and went on: -
Even though we have disagreed as to what occupation is best for
you to follow, and also as to the degree of reserve that is desirable
as to what our father did, you must surely know that there is nothing
I desire more than your highest welfare.
After looking at this sentence for a little while he struck his pen
through the word "highest," and then, offended with the appearance of
the obliteration, he copied this much of the letter on a fresh sheet and
When he continued, it was on the old sheet. He made a rough copy of the
letter - writing, crossing out, and rewriting. It seemed that the task to
which he had set himself was almost harder than could appear possible,
for, as he became more absorbed in it, there was evidence of discomfort
in his attitude, and although the room was not warm, the moisture on his
forehead became visible in the strong light of the lamp above him. At
length, after preliminary pauses had been followed by a lengthened
period of vigorous writing, the letter was copied, and the writer sealed
it with an air of obvious relief.
That done, he wrote another letter, the composition of which, although
it engaged his care, was apparently so much pleasanter, that perhaps the
doing of it was chosen on the same principle as one hears a farce after
a tragedy, in order to sleep the more easily.
This second letter was to a lady. When it was written, Trenholme pulled
an album from a private drawer, and looked long and with interested
attention at the face of the lady to whom he had written. It was the
face of a young, handsome girl, who bore herself proudly. The fashion of
the dress would have suggested to a calculating mind that the portrait
had been taken some years before; but what man who imagines himself a
lover, in regarding the face of the absent dear one in the well-known
picture, adds in thought the marks of time? If he had been impartial he
would have asked the portrait if the face from which it was taken had
grown more proud and cold as the years went by, or more sad and
gentle - for, surely, in this work-a-day world of ours, fate would not be
likely to have gifts in store that would wholly satisfy those eager,
ambitious eyes; but, being a man no wiser than many other men, he looked
at the rather faded phonograph with considerable pleasure, and asked no
It grew late as he contemplated the lady's picture, and, moreover, he
was not one, under any excuse, to spend much time in idleness. He put
away his album, and then, having personally locked up his house and said
good-night to his housekeeper, he went upstairs.
Yet, in spite of all that Trenholme's pleasure in the letter and the
possession of the photograph might betoken, the missive, addressed to a
lady named Miss Rexford, was not a love-letter. It ran thus: -
I cannot even feign anger against "Dame Fortune," that, by so
unexpected a turn of her wheel, she should be even now bringing you
to the remote village where for some time I have been forced to make
my home, and where it is very probable I shall remain for some years
longer. I do, of course, unfeignedly regret the financial misfortune
which, as I understand, has made it necessary for Captain Rexford
to bring you all out to this young country; yet to me the pleasure of
expecting such neighbours must far exceed any other feeling with
which I regard your advent.
I am exceedingly glad if I have been able to be of service to Captain
Rexford in making his business arrangements here, and hope all
will prove satisfactory. I have only to add that, although you must
be prepared for much that you will find different from English life,
much that is rough and ungainly and uncomfortable, you may feel
confident that, with a little patience, the worst roughness of
colonial life will soon be overcome, and that you will find compensation
a thousand times over in the glorious climate and cheerful prospects of
this new land.
As I have never had the pleasure of meeting Captain and Mrs. Rexford, I
trust you will excuse me for addressing this note of welcome to you,
whom I trust I may still look upon as a friend. I have not forgotten the
winter when I received encouragement and counsel from you, who had so
many to admire and occupy you that, looking back now, I feel it strange
that you should have found time to bestow in mere kindness.
Here there followed courteous salutations to the lady's father and
mother, brothers and sisters. The letter was signed in friendly style
and addressed to an hotel in Halifax, where apparently it was to await
the arrival of the fair stranger from some other shore.
It is probable that, in the interfacings of human lives, events are
happening every moment which, although bearing according to present
knowledge no possible relation to our own lives, are yet to have an
influence on our future and make havoc with our expectations. The train
is laid, the fuse is lit, long before we know it.
That night, as Robert Trenholme sealed his letters, an event took place
that was to test by a strange influence the lives of these three
people - Robert Trenholme, the lady of whom he thought so pleasantly, and
the young brother to whom he had written so laboriously. And the event
was that an old settler, who dwelt in a remote part of the country, went
out of his cabin in the delusive moonlight, slipped on a steep place,
and fell, thereby receiving an inward hurt that was to bring him death.
The Indian summer, that lingers in the Canadian forest after the fall of
the leaves, had passed away. The earth lay frozen, ready to bear the
snow. The rivers, with edge of thin ice upon their quiet places,
rolled, gathering into the surface of their waters the cold that would
so soon create their crystal prison.
The bright sun of a late November day was shining upon a small lake that
lay in the lonely region to the west of the Gaspé Peninsula near the
Matapediac Valley. There was one farm clearing on a slope of the wild
hills that encircled the lake. The place was very lonely. An eagle that
rose from the fir-clad ridge above the clearing might from its eminence,
have seen other human habitations, but such sight was denied to the
dwellers in the rude log-house on the clearing. The eagle wheeled in the
air and flew southward. A girl standing near the log-house watched it
with discontented eyes.
The blue water of the lake, with ceaseless lapping, cast up glinting
reflections of the cold sunlight. Down the hillside a stream ran to join
the lake, and it was on the more sheltered slope by this stream, where
grey-limbed maple trees grew, that the cabin stood. Above and around,
the steeper slopes bore only fir trees, whose cone-shaped or spiky
forms, sometimes burnt and charred, sometimes dead and grey, but for the
most part green and glossy, from shore and slope and ridge pointed
always to the blue zenith.
The log-house, with its rougher sheds, was hard by the stream's ravine.
About the other sides of it stretched a few acres of tilled land. Round
this land the maple wood closed, and under its grey trees there was a
tawny brown carpet of fallen leaves from which the brighter autumn
colours had already faded. Up the hillside in the fir wood there were
gaps where the trees had been felled for lumber, and about a quarter of
a mile from the house a rudely built lumber slide descended to the lake.
It was about an hour before sundown when the eagle had risen and fled,
and the sunset light found the girl who had watched it still standing in
the same place. All that time a man had been talking to her; but she
herself had not been talking, she had given him little reply. The two
were not close to the house; large, square-built piles of logs, sawn
and split for winter fuel, separated them from it. The man leaned
against the wood now; the girl stood upright, leaning on nothing.
Her face, which was healthy, was at the same time pale. Her hair was
very red, and she had much of it. She was a large, strong young woman.
She looked larger and stronger than the man with whom she was
conversing. He was a thin, haggard fellow, not at first noticeable in
the landscape, for his clothes and beard were faded and worn into
colours of earth and wood, so that Nature seemed to have dealt with him
as she deals with her most defenceless creatures, causing them to grow
so like their surroundings that even their enemies do not easily observe
them. This man, however, was not lacking in a certain wiry physical
strength, nor in power of thought or of will. And these latter powers,
if the girl possessed them, were as yet only latent in her, for she had
the heavy and undeveloped appearance of backward youth.
The man was speaking earnestly. At last he said: -
"Come now, Sissy, be a good lassie and say that ye're content to stay.
Ye've always been a good lassie and done what I told ye before."
His accent was Scotch, but not the broad Scotch of an entirely
uneducated man. There was sobriety written in the traits of his face,
and more - a certain quality of intellectual virtue of the higher stamp.
He was not young, but he was not yet old.
"I haven't," said the girl sullenly.
He sighed at her perverseness. "That's not the way I remember it. I'm
sure, from the time ye were quite a wee one, ye have always tried to
please me. - We all come short sometimes; the thing is, what we are
trying to do."
He spoke as if her antagonism to what he had been saying, to what he was
yet saying, had had a painful effect upon him which he was endeavouring
The girl looked over his head at the smoke that was proceeding from the
log-house chimney. She saw it curl and wreathe itself against the cold
blue east. It was white wood smoke, and as she watched it began to turn
yellow in the light from the sunset. She did not turn to see whence the
yellow ray came.
"Now that father's dead, I won't stay here, Mr. Bates." She said "I
won't" just as a sullen, naughty girl would speak. "'Twas hateful enough
to stay while he lived, but now you and Miss Bates are nothing to me."
"Nothing to ye, Sissy?" The words seemed to come out of him in pained
"I know you've brought me up, and taught me, and been far kinder to me
than father ever was; but I'm not to stay here all my life because of
"Bairn, I have just been telling ye there is nothing else ye can do just
now. I have no ready money. Your father had nothing to leave ye but his
share of this place; and, so far, we've just got along year by year, and
that's all. I'll work it as well as I can, and, if ye like, ye're
welcome to live free and lay by your share year by year till ye have
something to take with ye and are old enough to go away. But if ye go
off now ye'll have to live as a servant, and ye couldn't thole that, and
I couldn't for ye. Ye have no one to protect ye now but me. I've no
friends to send ye to. What do ye know of the world? It's unkind - ay,
and it's wicked too."
"How's it so wicked? You're not wicked, nor father, nor me, nor the
men - how's people outside so much wickeder?"
Bates's mouth - it was a rather broad, powerful mouth - began to grow hard
at her continued contention, perhaps also at the thought of the evils of
which he dreamed. "It's a very _evil_ world," he said, just as he would
have said that two and two made four to a child who had dared to
question that fact. "Ye're too young to understand it now: ye must take
my word for it."
She made no sort of answer; she gave no sign of yielding; but, because
she had made no answer, he, self-willed and opinionated man that he was,
felt assured that she had no answer to give, and went on to talk as if
that one point were settled.
"Ye can be happy here if ye will only think so. If we seem hard on ye in
the house about the meals and that, I'll try to be better tempered. Ye
haven't read all the books we have yet, but I'll get more the first
chance if ye like. Come, Sissy, think how lonesome I'd be without ye!"
He moved his shoulders nervously while he spoke, as if the effort to
coax was a greater strain than the effort to teach or command. His
manner might have been that of a father who wheedled a child to do
right, or a lover who sued on his own behalf; the better love, for that
matter, is much the same in all relations of life.
This last plea evidently moved her just a little. "I'm sorry, Mr.
Bates," she said.
"What are ye sorry for, Sissy?"
"That I'm to leave you."
"But ye're not going. Can't ye get that out of your head? How will ye
"In the boat, when they take father."
At that the first flash of anger came from him. "Ye won't go, if I have
to hold ye by main force. I can't go to bury your father. I have to stay
here and earn bread and butter for you and me, or we'll come short of
it. If ye think I'm going to let ye go with a man I know little about - "
His voice broke off in indignation, and as for the girl, whether from
sudden anger at being thus spoken to, or from the conviction of
disappointment which had been slowly forcing itself upon her, she began
to cry. His anger vanished, leaving an evident discomfort behind. He
stood before her with a weary look of effort on his face, as if he were
casting all things in heaven and earth about in his mind to find which
of them would be most likely to afford her comfort, or at least, to put
an end to tears which, perhaps for a reason unknown to himself, gave
him excessive annoyance.
"Come, Sissy" - feebly - "give over."
But the girl went on crying, not loudly or passionately, but with no
sign of discontinuance, as she stood there, large and miserable, before
him. He settled his shoulders obstinately against the wood pile,
thinking to wait till she should speak or make some further sign.
Nothing but strength of will kept him in his place, for he would gladly
have fled from her. He had now less guidance than before to what was
passing in her mind, for her face was more hidden from his sight as the
light of the sinking sun focussed more exclusively in the fields of
western sky behind her.
Then the sun went down behind the rugged hills of the lake's other
shore; and, as it sank below their sharp outlines, their sides, which
had been clear and green, became dim and purple; the blue went out of
the waters of the lake, they became the hue of steel touched with
iridescence of gold; and above the hills, vapour that had before been
almost invisible in the sky, now hung in upright layers of purple mist,
blossoming into primrose yellow on the lower edges. A few moments more
and grey bloom, such as one sees on purple fruit, was on these vast
hangings of cloud that grouped themselves more largely, and gold flames
burned on their fringes. Behind them there were great empty reaches of
lambent blue, and on the sharp edge of the shadowed hills there was a
line of fire.
It produced in Bates unthinking irritation that Nature should quietly go
on outspreading her evening magnificence in face of his discomfort. In
ordinal light or darkness one accepts the annoyances of life as coming
all in the day's work; but Nature has her sublime moments in which, if
the sensitive mind may not yield itself to her delight, it is forced
into extreme antagonism, either to her or to that which withholds from
joining in her ecstasy. Bates was a man sensitive to many forces, the
response to which within him was not openly acknowledged to himself. He
was familiar with the magnificence of sunsets in this region, but his
mind was not dulled to the marvel of the coloured glory in which the
daylight so often culminated.
He looked off at the western sky, at first chiefly conscious of the
unhappy girl who stood in front of him and irritated by that intervening
shape; but, as his vision wandered along the vast reaches of illimitable
clouds and the glorious gulfs of sky, his mind yielded itself the rather
to the beauty and light. More dusky grew the purple of the upper mists
whose upright layers, like league-long wings of softest feather held
edge downward to the earth, ever changed in form without apparent
movement. More sparkling glowed the gold upon their edges. The sky
beneath the cloud was now like emerald. The soft darkness of purple
slate was on the hills. The lake took on a darker shade, and daylight