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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 15. The Superintendent's Methods
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The Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 15. The Superintendent's Methods Post by :angiecook Category :Long Stories Author :Ralph Connor Date :May 2012 Read :1775

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The Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 15. The Superintendent's Methods

CHAPTER XV. THE SUPERINTENDENT'S METHODS

The Superintendent was spending the precious hours of one of his rare visits at home in painful plodding through his correspondence. For it was part of the sacrifice his work demanded, and which he cheerfully made, that he should forsake home and wife and children for his work's sake. The Assembly's Convener found him in the midst of an orderly confusion of papers of different sorts.

"How do you do, sir?" The Superintendent's voice had a fine burr about it that gripped the ear, and his hand a vigour and tenacity of hold that gripped the outstretched hand of the Assembly's Convener and nearly brought the little man to the floor. "Sit down, sir, and listen to this. Here are some of the compensations that go with the Superintendent's office. This is rich. It comes from my friend, Henry Fink, of the Columbia Forks in the Windermere Valley. British Columbia, you understand," noticing the Convener's puzzled expression. "I visited the valley a year ago and found a truly deplorable condition of things. Men had gone up there many years ago and settled down remote from civilization. Some of them married Indian wives and others of them ought to have married them, and they have brought up families in the atmosphere and beliefs of the pagans. Would you believe it, I fell in with a young man on the trail, twenty years of age, who had never heard the name of our Saviour except in oaths? He had never heard the story of the Cross. And there are many others like him. At the Columbia Forks the only institution that stands for things intellectual is a Freethinkers' Club, the president of which is a retired colonel of the British Army, a man of fine manners, of some degree of intelligence and reading, but, I have reason to believe, of bad life. His is the dominant influence in the community if we except my friend, Mr. Henry Fink, or, as he is known locally, 'Hank Fink.' Hank is a character, I assure you. A Yankee from the Eastern States, the son of a Scotch mother. Has a cattle ranch, runs a store which supplies the scattered ranchers, prospectors, and miners with the necessaries of life, and keeps a stopping place. Is postmaster, too. In fact, Hank is pretty much the whole village. He has lived in that country some fifteen years. Has a good Canadian wife, and a flock of small children. He is a rara avis in that country from the fact that he hates whiskey. He hates it almost as much as he does Colonel Hicks and his Freethinking Club. When I visited the village, for some reason or other Hank took me up, the Scotch blood in him possibly recognising kinship. He gave me his store to preach in, took me all about the country, and in a week had a mission organized on a sound financial basis. His methods were very simple, very direct, and very effective. He estimated the amount each man should pay and announced this fact to the man, who generally acquiesced. I didn't probe too deeply into Hank's motives, but it seemed to give him considerable satisfaction to learn that Colonel Hicks was filled with indignant and scornful rage at the proposal to establish a Christian mission in that remote valley. It grieved the Colonel to think that after so many years of immunity they should at last be called upon to tolerate this particularly offensive appendage to an effete civilization. I noticed that Hank's English always broke down in referring to the Colonel. Well, we sent in Finlayson a year ago this spring, you remember. Strong man, good preacher, conscientious fellow. Thought he would do great work. You know Finlayson? Well, this is the result." Here he picked up Hank's letter. "This would hardly do for the Home Mission report," continued the Superintendent, with a twinkle in his keen grey eyes:


"COLUMBIA FORKS, WINDERMERE, B. C.

"DEAR SIR:--I take my pen to write you a few lines to let you know how things is goin'. Well, sir, I want to tell you this station is goin' to the devil. (Judging from what I saw of the place, it hadn't far to go.) Your preacher ain't worth a cuss. I don't say he ain't good fer some people, but he ain't our style. (Mr. Finlayson would doubtless agree with that.) He means well, but he ain't eddicated up to the West. You remember how we got the boys all corralled up nice an' tame when you was here. Well, he's got 'em wild. Couldn't reach 'em with a shotgun. He throwed hell fire at 'em till they got scart an' took to the hills till you can't get near 'em no more'n mountain goats. So they have all quit comin'--I don't count Scotty Fraser, for he would come, anyway--except me an' Monkey Fiddler an' his yeller dog. You can always count on the dog. Now, sir, this is your show, not mine. But I was born an' raised a Presbyteryn down East, an' though I haven't worked hard at the business for some years, it riles me some to hear Col. Hicks an' a lot of durned fools that has got smarter than God Almighty Himself shootin' off against the Bible an' religion an' all that. (We needn't read too closely between the lines at this point.) Send a man that don't smell so strong of sulphur an' brimstone, who has got some savey, an' who will know how to handle the boys gentle. They ain't to say bad, but just a leetle wild. Send him along, an' we will stay with him an' knock the tar out of that bunch of fools.

"Yours most respeckfully,

"HENRY FINK.

"P. S. When are you comin' into the valley again? If you could arrange to spend a month or two I'll guarantee we will have 'em all in nice shape.

"Yours respeckfully,

"HENRY FINK."


"I don't think you can count much from the support of a man like that," said the assembly's Convener; "I don't think he shows any real interest in the work."

"My dear sir," said the Superintendent, "don't you know he is the Chairman of our Board of Management, a most regular attendant upon ordinances and contributes most liberally to our support? And while these things in the East wouldn't necessarily indicate a change of heart, they stand for a good deal west of the Great Divide. And, at any rate, in these matters we remember gratefully the word that is written, 'He that is not against us is on our part.'"

"Well, well," said the Assembly's Convener, "it may be so. It may be so. But what's to be done with Finlayson? And where will you get a successor for him?"

"We can easily place Finlayson. He is a good man and will do excellent work in other fields. But where to get a man for Windermere is the question. Do you know anyone?"

The Assembly's Convener shook his head sadly.

"There appears to be no one in sight," said the Superintendent. "I have a number of applications here," picking up a good-sized bundle of neatly folded papers, "but they are hardly the kind to suit conditions at Windermere. Numbers of them feel themselves specially called of God to do mission work in large centres of population. Others are chiefly anxious about the question of support. One man would like to be in touch with a daily train service, as he feels it necessary to keep in touch with the world by means of the daily newspaper. A number are engaged who want to be married. Here's Mr. Brown, too fat. No move in him. Here's McKay--good man, earnest, but not adaptable, like Finlayson; won't do. Here's Garton--fine fellow, would do well, but hardly strong enough. So what are you to do? I have gone over the whole list of available men and I cannot find one suitable for Windermere."

In this the Assembly's Convener could give him no help. Indeed, from few did the Superintendent receive assistance in the securing of men for his far outposts.

Assistance came to him from an unexpected quarter. He was to meet the Assembly's Convener and some members of the Committee that evening at Professor Macdougall's for tea. The Superintendent's mind could not be kept long away from the work that was his very life, and at the table the conversation turned to the question of the chronic difficulty of securing men for frontier work, which had become acute in the case of Windermere. Margaret, who had been invited to assist Mrs. Macdougall in the dispensing of her hospitality, was at once on the alert. Why could not Dick be sent? If only that Presbytery difficulty could be got over he might go. That he would be suited for the work she was well assured, and equally certain was she that it would be good for him.

"It would save him," Margaret said to herself with a sharp sting at her heart, for she had to confess sadly that Dick had come to the point where he needed saving. She had learned from Iola the whole miserable story of Barney's visit, of his terrible indictment of his brother and the final break between them, but she had seen little of him during the past six months. From that terrible night Dick had gone down in physical and in moral health. Again and again he had written Barney, but there had been no reply. Hungrily he had come to Margaret for word of his brother, hopeful of reconciliation. But of late he had given up hope and had ceased to make inquiry, settling down into a state of gloomy, remorseful grief into which Margaret felt she dare not intrude. He occasionally met Iola at society functions, but there was an end of all intimacy between them. His only relief seemed to be in his work, and he gave himself to that with such feverish energy that his health broke down, and under Margaret's persuasion he was now at home with his mother. Thence he had written once to say that his days were one long agony. She remembered one terrible sentence. "Everything here, the house, the mill, my father's fiddle, my mother's churn, the woods, the fields, everything, everything shrieks 'Barney' at me till I am like to go mad. I must get away from here to some place where he has never been with me."

It required some considerable skill to secure the Superintendent that evening for a few minutes alone. In whatever company he was, he was easily the centre of interest. But Margaret, even in the early days of the Manse, had been a favourite with him, and he was not a man to forget his friends. He had the rare gift of gripping them to him with "hooks of steel." Hence, he had kept in touch with her during the latter years, pitying the girl's loneliness as much as his admiration for her cheery courage and her determined independence would allow him. When Margaret found her opportunity she wasted no time.

"I have a man for you for Windermere," were her opening words.

"You have? Where have you got him? Who is he? And are you willing to spare him? Few young ladies are. But you are different from most." The Superintendent was ever a gallant.

"You remember Mr. Boyle who graduated a year ago?" Her words came hurriedly and there was a slight flush on her cheek. "There was some trouble about his license at Presbytery. That horrid old Mr. Naismith was very nasty, and Dick, Mr. Boyle, I mean--we have always been friends," she hastened to add, explaining her deepening blush, "you know his mother lived at the Mill near us. Well, since that day in Presbytery he has never been the same. His work--he is on the Daily Telegraph, you know--takes him away from--from--well, from Church and that kind of thing, and from all his friends."

"I understand," said the Superintendent, with grave sympathy.

"And he's got to be very different. He had some trouble, great trouble, the greatest possible to him. Oh, I may as well tell you. The brothers--you remember the doctor, Barney?"

"Very well," replied the Superintendent. "Strong man. Where is he now?"

"He went to Europe. Well, the brothers were everything to each other since little fellows together. Oh, it was beautiful! I never saw anything like it anywhere. They had a misunderstanding, a terrible misunderstanding. Dick was in the wrong." The Superintendent shot a keen glance at her. "No," she said, answering his glance, the colour in her face deepening into a vivid scarlet, "it was not about me, not at all. I can't tell you about it, but that, and his trouble with the Presbytery, and all the rest of it are just killing him. And I know if he got back to his own work again and away from home it would save him, and his mother, too, for she is breaking her heart. Couldn't you get him out there?"

The Superintendent saw how hard a task it had been for her to tell the story, and the sight of her eager face, the big blue eyes bright, and the lips quivering with the intensity of her feeling, deeply touched him.

"It might be possible," he said.

"Oh, I know the Presbytery difficulty," cried Margaret, with a desperate note in her voice.

"That could be arranged, I have no doubt," said the Superintendent, brushing aside that difficulty with a wave of the hand. "The question is, would he be willing to go?"

"Oh, he would go, I am sure. If you saw him and if you told him those stories about the need there is, I am sure he would go. Could you see him? There is no use to write. I do wish you could. He is such a fine boy and his mother is so set upon his being a minister." The blue eyes were bright with tears she was too brave to let fall.

"My dear young lady," said the Superintendent, his deep voice growing deeper under the intensity of his feelings, "I would do much for your sake and for your mother's. I am to visit your home early next month. I shall make it a point to see Mr. Boyle, and I promise you I shall get him if it is possible."

The sudden lifting of the burden from her heart deprived the girl of speech, but she shyly put out her hand and touched the long, sinewy fingers that lay within reach of hers in a timid caress. Instantly the fingers closed upon her hand in a grasp so strong that it seemed to drive the conviction into her heart that somehow this strong man would find a way by which Dick could be saved.


How, or by what arguments, the Superintendent overcame Dick's objections, Margaret never learned. But the full bitter tale of reasons against his ever taking up his work again, with which Dick had made himself so familiar during the past dark, dreary months, were one by one removed, and when the Superintendent left the Old Stone Mill he had secured his missionary for Windermere. It gave the Superintendent acute satisfaction to remember the flash of his missionary's blue eyes as, in answer to the warning, "You will have a hard fight of it, remember," the reply came, "A hard fight? Thank God!"

Before the year was over it fell that the Windermere valley came to be one of the mission fields that gladdened the hearts of the Home Mission Committee of the Calgary Presbytery, and especially of its doughty Convener. In the Convener's study, eight by ten, the report from the Windermere field was discussed with the ubiquitous and indefatigable Superintendent.

"An extremely gratifying record," said the Superintendent, "especially when one considers its disorganized condition a year ago."

"Yes, it's a good report," assented the Convener. "We had practically no support a year ago. Our strongest man--"

"Fink?"

"Yes. You know Hank, I see. Well, Hank's enthusiasm and devotion were hardly of what you would call the purest type. But whatever his motive, he stood by the missionary, and, do you know, it is a splendid testimony of the power of the Gospel to see the change in that same shrewd old sinner. Yes, sir, give the Gospel a chance and it will do its work." The Convener, who hated all cant and canting phrases with a perfect hatred, rarely allowed himself the luxury of an emotional outbreak. But the case of Hank Fink seemed to reach the springs of feeling that he kept hidden in the deep heart of him.

"So Boyle has done well?" said the Superintendent. "I am very glad of it. Very glad of it, for his own sake, for his mother's, and for the sake of another."

"Yes," replied the Convener, "Boyle has done a fine bit of work. He lived all summer on his horse's back and in his canoe, followed the prospectors up into the gulches and the miners to their mines, if you can call them mines, left a magazine here, a book there, a New Testament next place. And once he got his grip on a man, he never let him go. Hank told me how he found a man sick in a camp away up in a gulch and how he stayed with him for more than a week, then brought him down on his horse's back to the Forks. Yes, it's a good record. A church built at the north end of the field, another almost completed at the Forks. Really, it was very fine," continued the Convener, allowing his enthusiasm to rise. "It renews one's faith in the reality of religion to see a man jump into his work like that. They didn't pay him his salary the first half year, but he omitted to mention that in his report."

The Superintendent sat up straight. "Is he behind yet?"

"No. I mentioned the matter to Fink and explained that if the field failed it was Boyle that would suffer. His language--well," the Convener laughed reminiscently, "you have seen Hank?"

"Yes. I've seen him, I've heard him, and I've read him. But let us hope that his deeds will atone in a measure for his broken English. But," continued the Superintendent, "you have had Boyle ordained, have you not?"

"Yes. We got him ordained," replied the Convener, beginning to chuckle. A delighted, choking chuckle it was. Any missionary who had worked in his Presbytery would recognize the Convener in the dark by that chuckle. It began, if one were quick to observe, with a wrinkling about the corners of the sharp blue eyes, then became audible in a succession of small explosions that seemed to have their origin in the region of the esophagus and to threaten the larynx with disruption, until relief was found in a wide-throated peal that subsided in a second series of small explosions and gradually rumbled off into silence somewhere in the region of the diaphragm, leaving only the wrinkles about the corners of the blue eyes as a kind of warning that the whole process might be repeated upon sufficient provocation. "Yes, we got him ordained," he repeated when the chuckle had passed. "I was glad of your explanatory note about him. It guided us in our arrangements for examination."

"What happened?" inquired the Superintendent, leaning forward. He dearly loved a yarn, and he sorely hated to lose any of the more humorous incidents of missionary life, not only for the joy they brought him, but also because they furnished him with ammunition for his Eastern campaigns.

"Well, it was funny," said the Convener, his lips twitching and his eyes wrinkling, "though at one time it looked like an Assembly case with all seven of us up before the bar. You know McPherson, our latest importation in the way of ordained men? Somehow he had got wind of Boyle's trouble with the Presbytery in the East. McPherson is a fine fellow and doing good work."

"Yes," assented the Superintendent, "he's a fine fellow, but his conscience gives him a hard time now and then and works over time for other People."

"Well," continued the Convener, "McPherson came to me about the matter in very considerable anxiety. I put him off, consulted with McTavish and Murray, and we decided that Boyle was too good a man to lose, and as to his heresy, it was not hurting Windermere as far as we could learn. So it happened"--here the Convener pulled himself up short to suppress the chuckle that threatened--"it happened that just as the examination was beginning McPherson was called out, and before he had returned the trials for license and ordination had been sustained. I think on the whole McPherson was relieved, but there were some funny moments after he came back into court."

"Heresy-hunting doesn't flourish in the West," said the Superintendent. "There's no time for it. Some of the Eastern Presbyteries have too many men with more time on their hands than sense in their heads."

"Certainly there was no time lost in this case," replied the Convener. "We knew Boyle's scholarship was right. We knew his heart was sound. We knew he was doing good work for us and we knew we wanted him. We were not anxious to know anything else."

"What we want for the West," said the Superintendent, his voice vibrating in a deeper tone, "is men who have the spirit of the Gospel with the power to preach it and the love of their fellowmen, with tact to bring it to bear upon them. A little heresy, more or less, won't hurt them. Orthodoxy is my doxy, heterodoxy the other fellow's."

"In Boyle's case, I believe he was helped by his touch of heresy. It gave him a kind of brotherly feeling with all heretics. It was that more than anything else that broke up the Freethinkers' Club."

"Ah," said the Superintendent, bending eagerly forward, again on the scent, "I didn't hear that."

"Yes," said the Convener, "Fink told me about it. Boyle went to their meetings. He found them revelling in cheap scepticism of the Ingersollian type. He took the attitude of a man seeking after a working theory of life, and that attitude he stuck to--his real attitude, mind you. He encouraged them to talk, combated none of their positions and, as Hank said, 'coaxed them out into deep water and had them froggin' for their lives. He was the biggest Freethinker in the bunch.' They invited him to give a series of lectures. He did so, and that settled the Freethinkers' Club. He never blamed them for doubting anything, and I believe that's right." The Convener was a bit of a heretic himself and, consequently, carried a tender heart toward them. "Let a man doubt till he finds his faith. And that was Boyle's line. He let them doubt, but he insisted that they should have something positive to live by."

"Our friend Hank," said the Superintendent, "would be delighted."

"Delighted? I should say so. But Hank 'joins trembling with his mirth,' for Boyle got after him with the same demands."

The Superintendent was filled with delighted pride in his missionary. "That's the kind of man we want. He ought to do well in your railroad field."

"Yes," replied the Convener hesitatingly. "You think he ought to go? Windermere will be furious. I wouldn't care to go in there after Boyle is removed."

"It is hard on Windermere, but Windermere mustn't be selfish. That railroad work is most pressing, and only a man like Boyle will do. There will be from three to five thousand men in there this winter between Macleod and Kuskinook. We dare not neglect them. I have had correspondence with Fahey, the General Manager for the Crow's Nest line, and he is not unfriendly, though he would prefer us to send in medical missionaries. But that work he and his contractors ought to look after."

"There is a terrible state of things in the eastern division, I fear, from all reports," replied the Convener. "By the way, there is a young English doctor working on that eastern division from the MaCleod end who is making a great stir. Bailey is his name, I believe. He began as a navvy, but finding a lot of fellows sick, and the doctor a poor drunken fellow, Bailey, it appears, stood it as long as he could, then finally threw him out of the camp and installed himself in his place. The contractor backed him up and he has revolutionized the medical work in that direction. Murray told me the most wonderful tales about him. He must be a remarkable man. Gambles heavily, but hates whiskey and won't have it near the camp. You ought to look him up when you go in."

"I will. These camp doctors are a poor lot and the railroad people ought to feel disgraced in employing them. They draw their fifty cents per man a month, but their practice is shameful. It is a delicate matter, but I shall take this up with Fahey when I see him. He is a rough diamond, but he is fair and he won't stand any nonsense."

"And you think Boyle ought to go in?"

"Yes. On the whole, I think Boyle must go. These are a fine body of men and must be looked after. A weaker man would make a mess of things. Boyle is the man for the work. How did he seem? Cheerful?"

"No, I shouldn't call him so. But he is vastly better than when he came to us. He was low in health, I think, and his face haunted me for weeks. He strikes me as a man with a tragedy in his life."

The Superintendent said nothing. He had, in large degree, the rare gift of silence. Even with his trusted lieutenants he would break no confidence. But before he slept that night he wrote two letters, and after he had sealed and stamped them he placed them, with a pile already written, on the table and sat back in his chair indulging himself in a few moments of reverie. He saw the orderly, well-kept kitchen in the Old Stone Mill and, bending over his letter a woman, dark-faced and stern, her wavy, black hair heavily streaked with white, for during the past years the sword had pierced her heart. He saw the light break upon her tragic Highland face as she read of her boy and his well doing. With glad heart she had given him up, and now, with humble joy, she would read that her offering had been accepted.

The other letter brought to him the Macdougalls' drawing-room with all its beautiful appointments and the face of a young girl pleading for her friend. He still could see the quivering lips and hear the words of her invincible faith, "I know that if he got at his own work again it would save him." He could still feel the grateful, timid pressure of her fingers as he had pledged her his word that her desire should be fulfilled. He had kept his word and her faith had not been put to shame.

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