Produced by Donald Lainson
A TALE OF THE SELKIRKS
By Ralph Connor
I think I have met "Ralph Conner." Indeed, I am sure I have - once in a
canoe on the Red River, once on the Assinaboine, and twice or thrice on
the prairies to the West. That was not the name he gave me, but, if I
am right, it covers one of the most honest and genial of the strong
characters that are fighting the devil and doing good work for men
all over the world. He has seen with his own eyes the life which he
describes in this book, and has himself, for some years of hard and
lonely toil, assisted in the good influences which he traces among its
wild and often hopeless conditions. He writes with the freshness and
accuracy of an eye-witness, with the style (as I think his readers will
allow) of a real artist, and with the tenderness and hopefulness of a
man not only of faith but of experience, who has seen in fulfillment the
ideals for which he lives.
The life to which he takes us, though far off and very strange to our
tame minds, is the life of our brothers. Into the Northwest of Canada
the young men of Great Britain and Ireland have been pouring (I was
told), sometimes at the rate of 48,000 a year. Our brothers who left
home yesterday - our hearts cannot but follow them. With these pages
Ralph Conner enables our eyes and our minds to follow, too; nor do I
think there is any one who shall read this book and not find also that
his conscience is quickened. There is a warfare appointed unto man upon
earth, and its struggles are nowhere more intense, nor the victories of
the strong, nor the succors brought to the fallen, more heroic, than on
the fields described in this volume.
GEORGE ADAM SMITH.
The story of the book is true, and chief of the failures in the making
of the book is this, that it is not all the truth. The light is not
bright enough, the shadow is not black enough to give a true picture of
that bit of Western life of which the writer was some small part. The
men of the book are still there in the mines and lumber camps of the
mountains, fighting out that eternal fight for manhood, strong, clean,
God-conquered. And, when the west winds blow, to the open ear the sounds
of battle come, telling the fortunes of the fight.
Because a man's life is all he has, and because the only hope of the
brave young West lies in its men, this story is told. It may be that the
tragic pity of a broken life may move some to pray, and that that divine
power there is in a single brave heart to summon forth hope and courage
may move some to fight. If so, the tale is not told in vain.
CHRISTMAS EVE IN A LUMBER CAMP
THE BLACK ROCK CHRISTMAS
WATERLOO. OUR FIGHT - HIS VICTORY
MRS. MAVOR'S STORY
THE MAKING OF THE LEAGUE
BLACK ROCK RELIGION
THE FIRST BLACK ROCK COMMUNION
THE BREAKING OF THE LEAGUE
THE LEAGUE'S REVENGE
WHAT CAME TO SLAVIN
THE TWO CALLS
LOVE IS NOT ALL
HOW NELSON CAME HOME
GRAEME'S NEW BIRTH
COMING TO THEIR OWN
CHRISTMAS EVE IN A LUMBER CAMP
It was due to a mysterious dispensation of Providence, and a good deal
to Leslie Graeme, that I found myself in the heart of the Selkirks for
my Christmas Eve as the year 1882 was dying. It had been my plan to
spend my Christmas far away in Toronto, with such Bohemian and boon
companions as could be found in that cosmopolitan and kindly city. But
Leslie Graeme changed all that, for, discovering me in the village of
Black Rock, with my traps all packed, waiting for the stage to start
for the Landing, thirty miles away, he bore down upon me with resistless
force, and I found myself recovering from my surprise only after we had
gone in his lumber sleigh some six miles on our way to his camp up in
the mountains. I was surprised and much delighted, though I would not
allow him to think so, to find that his old-time power over me was still
there. He could always in the old 'Varsity days - dear, wild days - make
me do what he liked. He was so handsome and so reckless, brilliant in
his class-work, and the prince of half-backs on the Rugby field, and
with such power of fascination, as would 'extract the heart out of a
wheelbarrow,' as Barney Lundy used to say. And thus it was that I
found myself just three weeks later - I was to have spent two or three
days, - on the afternoon of the 24th of December, standing in Graeme's
Lumber Camp No. 2, wondering at myself. But I did not regret my changed
plans, for in those three weeks I had raided a cinnamon bear's den and
had wakened up a grizzly - But I shall let the grizzly finish the tale;
he probably sees more humour in it than I.
The camp stood in a little clearing, and consisted of a group of three
long, low shanties with smaller shacks near them, all built of heavy,
unhewn logs, with door and window in each. The grub camp, with cook-shed
attached, stood in the middle of the clearing; at a little distance was
the sleeping-camp with the office built against it, and about a hundred
yards away on the other side of the clearing stood the stables, and near
them the smiddy. The mountains rose grandly on every side, throwing up
their great peaks into the sky. The clearing in which the camp stood was
hewn out of a dense pine forest that filled the valley and climbed half
way up the mountain-sides, and then frayed out in scattered and stunted
It was one of those wonderful Canadian winter days, bright, and with a
touch of sharpness in the air that did not chill, but warmed the blood
like draughts of wine. The men were up in the woods, and the shrill
scream of the blue jay flashing across the open, the impudent chatter
of the red squirrel from the top of the grub camp, and the pert chirp of
the whisky-jack, hopping about on the rubbish-heap, with the long, lone
cry of the wolf far down the valley, only made the silence felt the
As I stood drinking in with all my soul the glorious beauty and the
silence of mountain and forest, with the Christmas feeling stealing into
me, Graeme came out from his office, and, catching sight of me, called
out, 'Glorious Christmas weather, old chap!' And then, coming nearer,
'Must you go to-morrow?'
'I fear so,' I replied, knowing well that the Christmas feeling was on
'I wish I were going with you,' he said quietly.
I turned eagerly to persuade him, but at the look of suffering in his
face the words died at my lips, for we both were thinking of the awful
night of horror when all his bright, brilliant life crashed down about
him in black ruin and shame. I could only throw my arm over his shoulder
and stand silent beside him. A sudden jingle of bells roused him, and,
giving himself a little shake, he exclaimed, 'There are the boys coming
Soon the camp was filled with men talking, laughing, chaffing, like
'They are a little wild to-night,' said Graeme; 'and to morrow they'll
paint Black Rock red.'
Before many minutes had gone, the last teamster was 'washed up,' and
all were standing about waiting impatiently for the cook's signal - the
supper to-night was to be 'something of a feed' - when the sound of
bells drew their attention to a light sleigh drawn by a buckskin broncho
coming down the hillside at a great pace.
'The preacher, I'll bet, by his driving,' said one of the men.
'Bedad, and it's him has the foine nose for turkey!' said Blaney, a
good-natured, jovial Irishman.
'Yes, or for pay-day, more like,' said Keefe, a black-browed, villainous
fellow-countryman of Blaney's, and, strange to say, his great friend.
Big Sandy M'Naughton, a Canadian Highlander from Glengarry, rose up in
wrath. 'Bill Keefe,' said he, with deliberate emphasis, 'you'll just
keep your dirty tongue off the minister; and as for your pay, it's
little he sees of it, or any one else, except Mike Slavin, when you're
too dry to wait for some one to treat you, or perhaps Father Ryan, when
the fear of hell-fire is on to you.'
The men stood amazed at Sandy's sudden anger and length of speech.
'Bon; dat's good for you, my bully boy,' said Baptiste, a wiry little
French-Canadian, Sandy's sworn ally and devoted admirer ever since the
day when the big Scotsman, under great provocation, had knocked him
clean off the dump into the river and then jumped in for him.
It was not till afterwards I learned the cause of Sandy's sudden wrath
which urged him to such unwonted length of speech. It was not simply
that the Presbyterian blood carried with it reverence for the
minister and contempt for Papists and Fenians, but that he had a vivid
remembrance of how, only a month ago, the minister had got him out of
Mike Slavin's saloon and out the clutches of Keefe and Slavin and their
gang of bloodsuckers.
Keefe started up with a curse. Baptiste sprang to Sandy's side, slapped
him on the back, and called out, 'You keel him, I'll hit (eat) him up,
It looked as if there might be a fight, when a harsh voice said in a
low, savage tone, 'Stop your row, you blank fools; settle it, if you
want to, somewhere else.' I turned, and was amazed to see old man
Nelson, who was very seldom moved to speech.
There was a look of scorn on his hard, iron-grey face, and of such
settled fierceness as made me quite believe the tales I had heard of his
deadly fights in the mines at the coast. Before any reply could be
made, the minister drove up and called out in a cheery voice, 'Merry
Christmas, boys! Hello, Sandy! Comment ca va, Baptiste? How do you do,
'First rate. Let me introduce my friend, Mr. Connor, sometime medical
student, now artist, hunter, and tramp at large, but not a bad sort.'
'A man to be envied,' said the minister, smiling. 'I am glad to know any
friend of Mr. Graeme's.'
I liked Mr. Craig from the first. He had good eyes that looked straight
out at you, a clean-cut, strong face well set on his shoulders, and
altogether an upstanding, manly bearing. He insisted on going with Sandy
to the stables to see Dandy, his broncho, put up.
'Decent fellow,' said Graeme; 'but though he is good enough to his
broncho, it is Sandy that's in his mind now.'
'Does he come out often? I mean, are you part of his parish, so to
'I have no doubt he thinks so; and I'm blowed if he doesn't make the
Presbyterians of us think so too.' And he added after a pause, 'A dandy
lot of parishioners we are for any man. There's Sandy, now, he would
knock Keefe's head off as a kind of religious exercise; but to-morrow
Keefe will be sober, and Sandy will be drunk as a lord, and the drunker
he is the better Presbyterian he'll be; to the preacher's disgust.' Then
after another pause he added bitterly, 'But it is not for me to throw
rocks at Sandy; I am not the same kind of fool, but I am a fool of
several other sorts.'
Then the cook came out and beat a tattoo on the bottom of a dish-pan.
Baptiste answered with a yell: but though keenly hungry, no man would
demean himself to do other than walk with apparent reluctance to his
place at the table. At the further end of the camp was a big fireplace,
and from the door to the fireplace extended the long board tables,
covered with platters of turkey not too scientifically carved, dishes
of potatoes, bowls of apple sauce, plates of butter, pies, and smaller
dishes distributed at regular intervals. Two lanterns hanging from the
roof, and a row of candles stuck into the wall on either side by means
of slit sticks, cast a dim, weird light over the scene.
There was a moment's silence, and at a nod from Graeme Mr. Craig rose
and said, 'I don't know how you feel about it, men, but to me this looks
good enough to be thankful for.'
'Fire ahead, sir,' called out a voice quite respectfully, and the
minister bent his head and said - 'For Christ the Lord who came to save
us, for all the love and goodness we have known, and for these Thy gifts
to us this Christmas night, our Father, make us thankful. Amen.'
'Bon, dat's fuss rate,' said Baptiste. 'Seems lak dat's make me hit
(eat) more better for sure,' and then no word was spoken for quarter of
an hour. The occasion was far too solemn and moments too precious for
anything so empty as words. But when the white piles of bread and the
brown piles of turkey had for a second time vanished, and after the
last pie had disappeared, there came a pause and hush of expectancy,
whereupon the cook and cookee, each bearing aloft a huge, blazing
pudding, came forth.
'Hooray!' yelled Blaney, 'up wid yez!' and grabbing the cook by the
shoulders from behind, he faced him about.
Mr. Craig was the first to respond, and seizing the cookee in the same
way, called out, 'Squad, fall in! quick march!' In a moment every man
was in the procession.
'Strike up, Batchees, ye little angel!' shouted Blaney, the appellation
a concession to the minister's presence; and away went Baptiste in a
rollicking French song with the English chorus -
'Then blow, ye winds, in the morning,
Blow, ye winds, ay oh!
Blow, ye winds, in the morning,
Blow, blow, blow.'
And at each 'blow' every boot came down with a thump on the plank floor
that shook the solid roof. After the second round, Mr. Craig jumped upon
the bench, and called out -
'Three cheers for Billy the cook!'
In the silence following the cheers Baptiste was heard to say, 'Bon!
dat's mak me feel lak hit dat puddin' all hup mesef, me.'
'Hear till the little baste!' said Blaney in disgust.
'Batchees,' remonstrated Sandy gravely, 'ye've more stomach than
'Fu sure! but de more stomach dat's more better for dis puddin','
replied the little Frenchman cheerfully.
After a time the tables were cleared and pushed back to the wall, and
pipes were produced. In all attitudes suggestive of comfort the men
disposed themselves in a wide circle about the fire, which now roared
and crackled up the great wooden chimney hanging from the roof. The
lumberman's hour of bliss had arrived. Even old man Nelson looked a
shade less melancholy than usual as he sat alone, well away from the
fire, smoking steadily and silently. When the second pipes were well
a-going, one of the men took down a violin from the wall and handed
it to Lachlan Campbell. There were two brothers Campbell just out from
Argyll, typical Highlanders: Lachlan, dark, silent, melancholy, with the
face of a mystic, and Angus, red-haired, quick, impulsive, and devoted
to his brother, a devotion he thought proper to cover under biting,
Lachlan, after much protestation, interspersed with gibes from his
brother, took the violin, and, in response to the call from all sides,
struck up 'Lord Macdonald's Reel.' In a moment the floor was filled with
dancers, whooping and cracking their fingers in the wildest manner. Then
Baptiste did the 'Red River Jig,' a most intricate and difficult series
of steps, the men keeping time to the music with hands and feet.
When the jig was finished, Sandy called for 'Lochaber No More'; but
Campbell said, 'No, no! I cannot play that to-night. Mr. Craig will
Craig took the violin, and at the first note I knew he was no ordinary
player. I did not recognise the music, but it was soft and thrilling,
and got in by the heart, till every one was thinking his tenderest and
After he had played two or three exquisite bits, he gave Campbell his
violin, saying, 'Now, "Lochaber," Lachlan.'
Without a word Lachlan began, not 'Lochaber' - he was not ready for that
yet - but 'The Flowers o' the Forest,' and from that wandered through
'Auld Robin Gray' and 'The Land o' the Leal,' and so got at last to that
most soul-subduing of Scottish laments, 'Lochaber No More.' At the first
strain, his brother, who had thrown himself on some blankets behind the
fire, turned over on his face, feigning sleep. Sandy M'Naughton took
his pipe out of his mouth, and sat up straight and stiff, staring into
vacancy, and Graeme, beyond the fire, drew a short, sharp breath. We
had often sat, Graeme and I, in our student-days, in the drawing-room at
home, listening to his father wailing out 'Lochaber' upon the pipes, and
I well knew that the awful minor strains were now eating their way into
Over and over again the Highlander played his lament. He had long since
forgotten us, and was seeing visions of the hills and lochs and glens of
his far-away native land, and making us, too, see strange things out
of the dim past. I glanced at old man Nelson, and was startled at the
eager, almost piteous, look in his eyes, and I wished Campbell would
stop. Mr. Craig caught my eye, and, stepping over to Campbell, held out
his hand for the violin. Lingeringly and lovingly the Highlander drew
out the last strain, and silently gave the minister his instrument.
Without a moment's pause, and while the spell of 'Lochaber' was still
upon us, the minister, with exquisite skill, fell into the refrain of
that simple and beautiful camp-meeting hymn, 'The Sweet By and By.'
After playing the verse through once, he sang softly the refrain. After
the first verse, the men joined in the chorus; at first timidly, but
by the time the third verse was reached they were shouting with throats
full open, 'We shall meet on that beautiful shore.' When I looked at
Nelson the eager light had gone out of his eyes, and in its place was
kind of determined hopelessness, as if in this new music he had no part.
After the voices had ceased, Mr. Craig played again the refrain, more
and more softly and slowly; then laying the violin on Campbell's knees,
he drew from his pocket his little Bible, and said -
'Men, with Mr. Graeme's permission, I want to read you something this
Christmas Eve. You will all have heard it before, but you will like it
none the less for that.'
His voice was soft, but clear and penetrating, as he read the eternal
story of the angels and the shepherds and the Babe. And as he read, a
slight motion of the hand or a glance of an eye made us see, as he
was seeing, that whole radiant drama. The wonder, the timid joy,
the tenderness, the mystery of it all, were borne in upon us with
overpowering effect. He closed the book, and in the same low, clear
voice went on to tell us how, in his home years ago, he used to stand on
Christmas Eve listening in thrilling delight to his mother telling him
the story, and how she used to make him see the shepherds and hear the
sheep bleating near by, and how the sudden burst of glory used to make
his heart jump.
'I used to be a little afraid of the angels, because a boy told me they
were ghosts; but my mother told me better, and I didn't fear them any
more. And the Baby, the dear little Baby - we all love a baby.' There was
a quick, dry sob; it was from Nelson. 'I used to peek through under
to see the little one in the straw, and wonder what things swaddling
clothes were. Oh, it was all so real and so beautiful!' He paused, and I
could hear the men breathing.
'But one Christmas Eve,' he went on, in a lower, sweeter tone, 'there
was no one to tell me the story, and I grew to forget it, and went away
to college, and learned to think that it was only a child's tale and was
not for men. Then bad days came to me and worse, and I began to lose my
grip of myself, of life, of hope, of goodness, till one black Christmas,
in the slums of a faraway city, when I had given up all, and the devil's
arms were about me, I heard the story again. And as I listened, with
a bitter ache in my heart, for I had put it all behind me, I suddenly
found myself peeking under the shepherds' arms with a child's wonder at
the Baby in the straw. Then it came over me like great waves, that His
name was Jesus, because it was He that should save men from their sins.
Save! Save! The waves kept beating upon my ears, and before I knew, I
had called out, "Oh! can He save me?" It was in a little mission meeting
on one of the side streets, and they seemed to be used to that sort of
thing there, for no one was surprised; and a young fellow leaned across
the aisle to me and said, "Why! you just bet He can!" His surprise that
I should doubt, his bright face and confident tone, gave me hope
that perhaps it might be so. I held to that hope with all my soul,
and' - stretching up his arms, and with a quick glow in his face and
a little break in his voice, 'He hasn't failed me yet; not once, not
He stopped quite short, and I felt a good deal like making a fool of
myself, for in those days I had not made up my mind about these things.
Graeme, poor old chap, was gazing at him with a sad yearning in his dark
eyes; big Sandy was sitting very stiff, and staring harder than ever
into the fire; Baptiste was trembling with excitement; Blaney was openly
wiping the tears away. But the face that held my eyes was that of
old man Nelson. It was white, fierce, hungry-looking, his sunken eyes
burning, his lips parted as if to cry.
The minister went on. 'I didn't mean to tell you this, men, it all came
over me with a rush; but it is true, every word, and not a word will I
take back. And, what's more, I can tell you this, what He did for me
He can do for any man, and it doesn't make any difference what's behind
him, and' - leaning slightly forward, and with a little thrill of pathos
vibrating in his voice - 'O boys, why don't you give Him a chance at you?
Without Him you'll never be the men you want to be, and you'll never get
the better of that that's keeping some of you now from going back home.
You know you'll never go back till you're the men you want to be.'
Then, lifting up his face and throwing back his head, he said, as if to
himself, 'Jesus! He shall save His people from their sins,' and then,
'Let us pray.'
Graeme leaned forward with his face in his hands; Baptiste and Blaney
dropped on their knees; Sandy, the Campbells, and some others, stood up.
Old man Nelson held his eyes steadily on the minister.
Only once before had I seen that look on a human face. A young fellow
had broken through the ice on the river at home, and as the black water
was dragging his fingers one by one from the slippery edges, there came
over his face that same look. I used to wake up for many a night after
in a sweat of horror, seeing the white face with its parting lips, and
its piteous, dumb appeal, and the black water slowly sucking it down.
Nelson's face brought it all back; but during the prayer the face
changed, and seemed to settle into resolve of some sort, stern, almost
gloomy, as of a man with his last chance before him.
After the prayer Mr. Craig invited the men to a Christmas dinner next
day in Black Rock. 'And because you are an independent lot, we'll charge
you half a dollar for dinner and the evening show.' Then leaving a
bundle of magazines and illustrated papers on the table - a godsend to
the men - he said good-bye and went out.
I was to go with the minister, so I jumped into the sleigh first, and
waited while he said good-bye to Graeme, who had been hard hit by the
whole service, and seemed to want to say something. I heard Mr. Craig
say cheerfully and confidently, 'It's a true bill: try Him.'
Sandy, who had been steadying Dandy while that interesting broncho was
attempting with great success to balance himself on his hind legs, came
to say good-bye. 'Come and see me first thing, Sandy.'
'Ay! I know; I'll see ye, Mr. Craig,' said Sandy earnestly, as Dandy
dashed off at a full gallop across the clearing and over the bridge,
steadying down when he reached the hill.
'Steady, you idiot!'
This was to Dandy, who had taken a sudden side spring into the deep
snow, almost upsetting us. A man stepped out from the shadow. It was old
man Nelson. He came straight to the sleigh, and, ignoring my presence
completely, said -
'Mr. Craig, are you dead sure of this? Will it work?'
'Do you mean,' said Craig, taking him up promptly, 'can Jesus Christ
save you from your sins and make a man of you?'
The old man nodded, keeping his hungry eyes on the other's face.
'Well, here's His message to you: "The Son of Man is come to seek and to
save that which was lost."'
'To me? To me?' said the old man eagerly.
'Listen; this, too, is His Word: "Him that cometh unto Me I will in no
wise cast out." That's for you, for here you are, coming.'
'You don't know me, Mr. Craig. I left my baby fifteen years ago