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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Patrol Of The Sun Dance Trail - Chapter 11. Smith's Work
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The Patrol Of The Sun Dance Trail - Chapter 11. Smith's Work Post by :Wille26 Category :Long Stories Author :Ralph Connor Date :May 2012 Read :2304

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The Patrol Of The Sun Dance Trail - Chapter 11. Smith's Work

CHAPTER XI. SMITH'S WORK

The short September day was nearly gone. The sun still rode above the great peaks that outlined the western horizon. Already the shadows were beginning to creep up the eastern slope of the hills that clambered till they reached the bases of the great mountains. A purple haze hung over mountain, hill and rolling plain, softening the sharp outlines that ordinarily defined the features of the foothill landscape.

With the approach of evening the fierce sun heat had ceased and a fresh cooling western breeze from the mountain passes brought welcome refreshment alike to the travelers and their beasts, wearied with their three days' drive.

"That is the last hill, Moira," cried her sister-in-law, pointing to a long slope before them. "The very last, I promise you. From the top we can see our home. Our home, alas, I had forgotten! There is no home there, only a black spot on the prairie."

Her husband grunted savagely and cut sharply at the bronchos.

"But the tent will be fine, Mandy. I just long for the experience," said Moira.

"Yes, but just think of all my pretty things, and some of Allan's too, all gone."

"Were the pipes burned, Allan?" cried Moira with a sudden anxiety.

"Were they, Mandy? I never thought," said Cameron.

"The pipes? Let me see. No--no--you remember, Allan, young--what's his name?--that young Highlander at the Fort wanted them."

"Sure enough--Macgregor," said her husband in a tone of immense relief.

"Yes, young Mr. Macgregor."

"My, but that is fine, Allan," said his sister. "I should have grieved if we could not hear the pipes again among these hills. Oh, it is all so bonny; just look at the big Bens yonder."

It was, as she said, all bonny. Far toward their left the low hills rolled in soft swelling waves toward the level prairie, and far away to the right the hills climbed by sharper ascents, flecked here and there with dark patches of fir, and broken with jutting ledges of gray limestone, climbed till they reached the great Rockies, majestic in their massive serried ranges that pierced the western sky. And all that lay between, the hills, the hollows, the rolling prairie, was bathed in a multitudinous riot of color that made a scene of loveliness beyond power of speech to describe.

"Oh, Allan, Allan," cried his sister, "I never thought to see anything as lovely as the Cuagh Oir, but this is up to it I do believe."

"It must indeed be lovely, then," said her brother with a smile, "if you can say that. And I am glad you like it. I was afraid that you might not."

"Here we are, just at the top," cried Mandy. "In a minute beyond the shoulder there we shall see the Big Horn Valley and the place where our home used to be. There, wait Allan."

The ponies came to a stand. Exclamations of amazement burst from Cameron and his wife.

"Why, Allan? What? Is this the trail?"

"It is the trail all right," said her husband in a low voice, "but what in thunder does this mean?"

"It is a house, Allan, a new house."

"It looks like it--but--"

"And there are people all about!"

For some breathless moments they gazed upon the scene. A wide valley, flanked by hills and threaded by a gleaming river, lay before them and in a bend of the river against the gold and yellow of a poplar bluff stood a log house of comfortable size gleaming in all its newness fresh from the ax and saw.

"What does it all mean, Allan?" inquired his wife.

"Blest if I know!"

"Look at the people. I know now, Allan. It's a 'raising bee.' A raising bee!" she cried with growing enthusiasm. "You remember them in Ontario. It's a bee, sure enough. Oh, hurry, let's go!"

The bronchos seemed to catch her excitement, their weariness disappeared, and, pulling hard on the bit, they tore down the winding trail as if at the beginning rather than at the end of their hundred and fifty mile drive.

"What a size!" cried Mandy.

"And a cook house, too!"

"And a verandah!"

"And a shingled roof!"

"And all the people! Where in the world can they have come from?"

"There's the Inspector, anyway," said Cameron. "He is at the bottom of this, I'll bet you."

"And Mr. Cochrane! And that young Englishman, Mr. Newsome!"

"And old Thatcher!"

"And Mrs. Cochrane, and Mr. Dent, and, oh, there's my friend Smith! You remember he helped me put out the fire."

Soon they were at the gate of the corral where a group of men and women stood awaiting them. Inspector Dickson was first:

"Hello, Cameron! Got back, eh? Welcome home, Mrs. Cameron," he said as he helped her to alight.

Smith stood at the bronchos' heads.

"Now, Inspector," said Cameron, holding him by hand and collar, "now what does this business mean?"

"Mean?" cried the Inspector with a laugh. "Means just what you see. But won't you introduce us all?"

After all had been presented to his sister Cameron pursued his question. "What does it mean, Inspector?"

"Mean? Ask Cochrane."

"Mr. Cochrane, tell me," cried Mandy, "who began this?"

"Ask Mr. Thatcher there," replied Mr. Cochrane.

"Who is responsible for this, Mr. Thatcher?" cried Mandy.

"Don't rightly know how the thing started. First thing I knowed they was all at it."

"See here, Thatcher, you might as well own up. I am going to know anyway. Where did the logs come from, for instance?" said Cameron in a determined voice.

"Logs? Guess Bracken knows," replied Cochrane, turning to a tall, lanky rancher who was standing at a little distance.

"Bracken," cried Cameron, striding to him with hand outstretched, "what about the logs for the house? Where did they come from?"

"Well, I dunno. Smith was sayin' somethin' about a bee and gettin' green logs."

"Smith?" cried Cameron, glancing at that individual now busy unhitching the bronchos.

"And of course," continued Bracken, "green logs ain't any use for a real good house, so--and then--well, I happened to have a bunch of logs up the Big Horn. I guess the boys floated 'em down."

"Come away, Mrs. Cameron, and inspect your house," cried a stout, red-faced matron. "I said they ought to await your coming to get your plans, but Mr. Smith said he knew a little about building and that they might as well go on with it. It was getting late in the season, and so they went at it. Come away, we're having a great time over it. Indeed, I think we've enjoyed it more than ever you will."

"But you haven't told us yet who started it," cried Mandy.

"Where did you get the lumber?" said Cameron.

"Well, the lumber," replied Cochrane, "came from the Fort, I guess. Didn't it, Inspector?"

"Yes," replied the Inspector. "We had no immediate use for it, and Smith told us just how much it would take."

"Smith?" said Cameron again. "Hello, Smith!" But Smith was already leading the bronchos away to the stable.

"Yes," continued the Inspector, "and Smith was wondering how a notice could be sent up to the Spruce Creek boys and to Loon Lake, so I sent a man with the word and they brought down the lumber without any trouble. But," continued the Inspector, "come along, Cameron, let us follow the ladies."

"But this is growing more and more mysterious," protested Cameron. "Can no one tell me how the thing originated? The sash and doors now, where did they come from?"

"Oh, that's easy," said Cochrane. "I was at the Post Office, and, hearin' Smith talkin' 'bout this raisin' bee and how they were stuck for sash and door, so seein' I wasn't goin' to build this fall I told him he might as well have the use of these. My team was laid up and Smith got Jim Bracken to haul 'em down."

"Well, this gets me," said Cameron. "It appears no one started this thing. Everything just happened. Now the shingles, I suppose they just tumbled up into their place there."

"The shingles?" said Cochrane. "I dunno 'bout them. Didn't know there were any in the country."

"Oh, they just got up into place there of themselves I have no doubt," said Cameron.

"The shingles? Ah, bay Jove! Rawthah! Funny thing, don't-che-naow," chimed in a young fellow attired in rather emphasized cow-boy style, "funny thing! A Johnnie--quite a strangah to me, don't-che-naow, was riding pawst my place lawst week and mentioned about this--ah--raisin' bee he called it I think, and in fact abaout the blawsted Indian, and the fire, don't-che-naow, and all the rest of it, and how the chaps were all chipping in as he said, logs and lumbah and so fowth. And then, bay Jove, he happened to mention that they were rathah stumped for shingles, don't-che-naow, and, funny thing, there chawnced to be behind my stable a few bunches, and I was awfully glad to tu'n them ovah, and this--eh--pehson--most extraordinary chap I assuah you--got 'em down somehow."

"Who was it inquired?" asked Cameron.

"Don't naow him in the least. But it's the chap that seems to be bossing the job."

"Oh, that's Smith," said Cochrane.

"Smith!" said Cameron, in great surprise. "I don't even know the man. He was good enough to help my wife to beat back the fire. I don't believe I even spoke to him. Who is he anyway?"

"Oh, he's Thatcher's man."

"Yes, but--"

"Come away, Mr. Cameron," cried Mrs. Cochrane from the door of the new house. "Come away in and look at the result of our bee."

"This beats me," said Cameron, obeying the invitation, "but, say, Dickson, it is mighty good of all these men. I have no claim--"

"Claim?" said Mr. Cochrane. "It might have been any of us. We must stand together in this country, and especially these days, eh, Inspector? Things are gettin' serious."

The Inspector nodded his head gravely.

"Yes," he said. "But, Mr. Cochrane," he added in a low voice, "it is very necessary that as little as possible should be said about these things just now. No occasion for any excitement or fuss. The quieter things are kept the better."

"All right, Inspector, I understand, but--"

"What do you think of your new house, Mr. Cameron?" cried Mrs. Cochrane. "Come in. Now what do you think of this for three days' work?"

"Oh, Allan, I have been all through it and it's perfectly wonderful," said his wife.

"Oh nothing very wonderful, Mrs. Cameron," said Cochrane, "but it will do for a while."

"Perfectly wonderful in its whole plan, and beautifully complete," insisted Mandy. "See, a living-room, a lovely large one, two bedrooms off it, and, look here, cupboards and closets, and a pantry, and--" here she opened the door in the corner--"a perfectly lovely up-stairs! Not to speak of the cook-house out at the back."

"Wonderful is the word," said Cameron, "for why in all the world should these people--?"

"And look, Allan, at Moira! She's just lost in rapture over that fireplace."

"And I don't wonder," said her husband. "It is really fine. Whose idea was it?" he continued, moving toward Moira's side, who was standing before a large fireplace of beautiful masonry set in between the two doors that led to the bedrooms at the far end of the living-room.

"It was Andy Hepburn from Loon Lake that built it," said Mr. Cochrane.

"I wish I could thank him," said Moira fervently.

"Well, there he is outside the window, Miss Moira," said a young fellow who was supposed to be busy putting up a molding round the wainscoting, but who was in reality devoting himself to the young lady at the present moment with open admiration. "Here, Andy," he cried through the window, "you're wanted. Hurry up."

"Oh, don't, Mr. Dent. What will he think?"

A hairy little man, with a face dour and unmistakably Scotch, came in.

"What's want-it, then?" he asked, with a deliberate sort of gruffness.

"It's yourself, Andy, me boy," said young Dent, who, though Canadian born, needed no announcement of his Irish ancestry. "It is yourself, Andy, and this young lady, Miss Moira Cameron--Mr. Hepburn--" Andy made reluctant acknowledgment of her smile and bow--"wants to thank you for this fireplace."

"It is very beautiful indeed, Mr. Hepburn, and very thankful I am to you for building it."

"Aw, it's no that bad," admitted Andy. "But ye need not thank me."

"But you built it?"

"Aye did I. But no o' ma ain wull. A fireplace is a feckless thing in this country an' I think little o't."

"Whose idea was it then?"

"It was yon Smith buddie. He juist keepit dingin' awa' till A promised if he got the lime--A kent o' nane in the country--A wud build the thing."

"And he got the lime, eh, Andy?" said Dent.

"Aye, he got it," said Andy sourly. "Diel kens whaur."

"But I am sure you did it beautifully, Mr. Hepburn," said Moira, moving closer to him, "and it will be making me think of home." Her soft Highland accent and the quaint Highland phrasing seemed to reach a soft spot in the little Scot.

"Hame? An' whaur's that?" he inquired, manifesting a grudging interest.

"Where? Where but in the best of all lands, in Scotland," said Moira. "Near Braemar."

"Braemar?"

"Aye, Braemar. I have only come four days ago."

"Aye, an' did ye say, lassie!" said Andy, with a faint accession of interest. "It's a bonny country ye've left behind, and far enough frae here."

"Far indeed," said Moira, letting her shining brown eyes rest upon his face. "And it is myself that knows it. But when the fire burns yonder," she added, pointing to the fireplace, "I will be seeing the hills and the glens and the moors."

"'Deed, then, lassie," said Andy in a low hurried voice, moving toward the door, "A'm gled that Smith buddie gar't me build it."

"Wait, Mr. Hepburn," said Moira, shyly holding out her hand, "don't you think that Scotties in this far land should be friends?"

"An' prood I'd be, Miss Cameron," replied Andy, and, seizing her hand, he gave it a violent shake, flung it from him and fled through the door.

"He's a cure, now, isn't he!" said Dent.

"I think he is fine," said Moira with enthusiasm. "It takes a Scot to understand a Scot, you see, and I am glad I know him. Do you know, he is a little like the fireplace himself," she said, "rugged, a wee bit rough, but fine."

"The real stuff, eh?" said Dent. "The pure quill."

"Yes, that is it. Solid and steadfast, with no pretense."

Meanwhile the work of inspecting the new house was going on. Everywhere appeared fresh cause for delighted wonder, but still the origin of the raising bee remained a mystery.

Balked by the men, Cameron turned in his search to the women and proceeded to the tent where preparations were being made for the supper.

"Tut tut, Mr. Cameron," said Mrs. Cochrane, her broad good-natured face beaming with health and good humor, "what difference does it make? Your neighbors are only too glad of a chance to show their goodwill for yourself, and more for your wife."

"I am sure you are right there," said Cameron.

"And it is the way of the country. We must stick together, John says. It's your turn to-day, it may be ours to-morrow and that's all there is to it. So clear out of this tent and make yourself busy. By the way, where's the pipes? The folk will soon be asking for a tune."

"But I want to know, Mrs. Cochrane," persisted Cameron.

"Where's the pipes, I'm saying. John," she cried, lifting her voice, to her husband, who was standing at the other side of the house. "Where's the pipes? They're not burned, I hope," she continued, turning to Cameron. "The whole settlement would feel that a loss."

"Fortunately no. Young Macgregor at the Fort has them."

"Then I wonder if they are here. John, find out from the Inspector yonder where the pipes are. We will be wanting them this evening."

To her husband's inquiry the Inspector replied that if Macgregor ever had the pipes it was a moral certainty that he had carried them with him to the raising, "for it is my firm belief," he added, "that he sleeps with them."

"Do go and see now, like a dear man," said Mrs. Cochrane to Cameron.

From group to group of the workers Cameron went, exchanging greetings, but persistently seeking to discover the originator of the raising bee. But all in vain, and in despair he came back to his wife with the question "Who is this Smith, anyway?"

"Mr. Smith," she said with deliberate emphasis, "is my friend, my particular friend. I found him a friend when I needed one badly."

"Yes, but who is he?" inquired Moira, who, with Mr. Dent in attendance, had sauntered up. "Who is he, Mr. Dent? Do you know?"

"No, not from Adam's mule. He's old Thatcher's man. That's all I know about him."

"He is Mr. Thatcher's man? Oh!" said Moira, "Mr. Thatcher's servant." A subtle note of disappointment sounded in her voice.

"Servant, Moira?" said Allan in a shocked tone. "Wipe out the thought. There is no such thing as servant west of the Great Lakes in this country. A man may help me with my work for a consideration, but he is no servant of mine as you understand the term, for he considers himself just as good as I am and he may be considerably better."

"Oh, Allan," protested his sister with flushing face, "I know. I know all that, but you know what I mean."

"Yes, I know perfectly," said her brother, "for I had the same notion. For instance, for six months I was a 'servant' in Mandy's home, eh, Mandy?"

"Nonsense!" cried Mandy indignantly. "You were our hired man and just like the rest of us."

"Do you get that distinction, Moira? There is no such thing as servant in this country," continued Cameron. "We are all the same socially and stand to help each other. Rather a fine idea that."

"Yes, fine," cried Moira, "but--" and she paused, her face still flushed.

"Who's Smith? is the great question," interjected Dent. "Well, then, Miss Cameron, between you and me we don't ask that question in this country. Smith is Smith and Jones is Jones and that's the first and last of it. We all let it go at that."

But now the last row of shingles was in place, the last door hung, the last door-knob set. The whole house stood complete, inside and out, top and bottom, when a tattoo beat upon a dish pan gave the summons to the supper table. The table was spread in all its luxurious variety and abundance beneath the poplar trees. There the people gathered all upon the basis of pure democratic equality, "Duke's son and cook's son," each estimated at such worth as could be demonstrated was in him. Fictitious standards of values were ignored. Every man was given his fair opportunity to show his stuff and according to his showing was his place in the community. A generous good fellowship and friendly good-will toward the new-comer pervaded the company, but with all this a kind of reserve marked the intercourse of these men with each other. Men were taken on trial at face value and no questions asked.

This evening, however, the dominant note was one of generous and enthusiastic sympathy with the young rancher and his wife, who had come so lately among them and who had been made the unfortunate victim of a sinister and threatening foe, hitherto, it is true, regarded with indifference or with friendly pity but lately assuming an ominous importance. There was underneath the gay hilarity of the gathering an undertone of apprehension until the Inspector made his speech. It was short and went straight at the mark. There was danger, he acknowledged. It would be idle to ignore that there were ugly rumors flying. There was need for watchfulness, but there was no need for alarm. The Police Force was charged with the responsibility of protecting the lives and property of the people. They assumed to the full this responsibility, though they were very short-handed at present, but if they ever felt they needed assistance they knew they could rely upon the steady courage of the men of the district such as he saw before him.

There was need of no further words and the Inspector's speech passed with no response. It was not after the manner of these men to make demonstration either of their loyalty or of their courage.

Cameron's speech at the last came haltingly. On the one hand his Highland pride made it difficult for him to accept gifts from any source whatever. On the other hand his Highland courtesy forbade his giving offense to those who were at once his hosts and his guests, but none suspected the reason for the halting in his speech. As Western men they rather approved than otherwise the hesitation and reserve that marked his words.

Before they rose from the supper table, however, there were calls for Mrs. Cameron, calls so insistent and clamorous that, overcoming her embarrassment, she made reply. "We have not yet found out who was responsible for the originating of this great kindness. But no matter. We forgive him, for otherwise my husband and I would never have come to know how rich we are in true friends and kind neighbors, and now that you have built this house let me say that henceforth by day or by night you are welcome to it, for it is yours."

After the storm of applause had died down, a voice was heard gruffly and somewhat anxiously protesting, "But not all at one time."

"Who was that?" asked Mandy of young Dent as the supper party broke up.

"That's Smith," said Dent, "and he's a queer one."

"Smith?" said Cameron. "The chap meets us everywhere. I must look him up."

But there was a universal and insistent demand for "the pipes."

"You look him up, Mandy," cried her husband as he departed in response to the call.

"I shall find him, and all about him," said Mandy with determination.

The next two hours were spent in dancing to Cameron's reels, in which all, with more or less grace, took part till the piper declared he was clean done.

"Let Macgregor have the pipes, Cameron," cried the Inspector. "He is longing for a chance, I am sure, and you give us the Highland Fling."

"Come Moira," cried Cameron gaily, handing the pipes to Macgregor and, taking his sister by the hand, he led her out into the intricacies of the Highland Reel, while the sides of the living-room, the doors and the windows, were thronged with admiring onlookers. Even Andy Hepburn's rugged face lost something of its dourness; and as the brother and sister together did that most famous of all the ancient dances of Scotland, the Highland Fling, his face relaxed into a broad smile.

"There's Smith," said young Dent to Mandy in a low voice as the reel was drawing to a close.

"Where?" she cried. "I have been looking for him everywhere."

"There, at the window, outside."

Even in the dim light of the lanterns and candles hung here and there upon the walls and stuck on the window sills, Smith's face, pale, stern, sad, shone like a specter out of the darkness behind.

"What's the matter with the man?" cried Mandy. "I must find out."

Suddenly the reel came to an end and Cameron, taking the pipes from young Macgregor, cried, "Now, Moira, we will give them our way of it," and, tuning the pipes anew, he played over once and again their own Glen March, known only to the piper of the Cuagh Oir. Then with cunning skill making atmosphere, he dropped into a wild and weird lament, Moira standing the while like one seeing a vision. With a swift change the pipes shrilled into the true Highland version of the ancient reel, enriched with grace notes and variations all his own. For a few moments the girl stood as if unwilling to yield herself to the invitation of the pipes. Suddenly, as if moved by another spirit than her own, she stepped into the circle and whirled away into the mazes of the ancient style of the Highland Fling, such as is mastered by comparatively few even of the Highland folk. With wonderful grace and supple strength she passed from figure to figure and from step to step, responding to the wild mad music as to a master spirit.

In the midst of the dance Mandy made her way out of the house and round to the window where Smith stood gazing in upon the dancer. She quietly approached him from behind and for a few moments stood at his side. He was breathing heavily like a man in pain.

"What is it, Mr. Smith?" she said, touching him gently on the shoulder.

He sprang from her touch as from a stab and darted back from the crowd about the window.

"What is it, Mr. Smith?" she said again, following him. "You are not well. You are in pain."

He stood a moment or two gazing at her with staring eyes and parted lips, pain, grief and even rage distorting his pale face.

"It is wicked," at length he panted. "It is just terrible wicked--a young girl like that."

"Wicked? Who? What?"

"That--that girl--dancing like that."

"Dancing? That kind of dancing?" cried Mandy, astonished. "I was brought up a Methodist myself," she continued, "but that kind of dancing--why, I love it."

"It is of the devil. I am a Methodist--a preacher--but I could not preach, so I quit. But that is of the world, the flesh, and the devil and--and I have not the courage to denounce it. She is--God help me--so--so wonderful--so wonderful."

"But, Mr. Smith," said Mandy, laying her hand upon his arm, and seeking to sooth his passion, "surely this dancing is--"

Loud cheers and clapping of hands from the house interrupted her. The man put his hands over his eyes as if to shut out a horrid vision, shuddered violently, and with a weird sound broke from her touch and fled into the bluff behind the house just as the party came streaming from the house preparatory to departing. It seemed to Mandy as if she had caught a glimpse of the inner chambers of a soul and had seen things too sacred to be uttered.

Among the last to leave were young Dent and the Inspector.

"We have found out the culprit," cried Dent, as he was saying good-night.

"The culprit?" said Mandy. "What do you mean?"

"The fellow who has engineered this whole business."

"Who is it?" said Cameron.

"Why, listen," said Dent. "Who got the logs from Bracken? Smith. Who got the Inspector to send men through the settlement? Smith. Who got the lumber out of the same Inspector? Smith. And the sash and doors out of Cochrane? Smith. And wiggled the shingles out of Newsome? And euchred old Scotty Hepburn into building the fireplace? And planned and bossed the whole job? Who? Smith. This whole business is Smith's work."

"And where is Smith? Have you seen him, Mandy? We have not thanked him," said Cameron.

"He is gone, I think," said Mandy. "He left some time ago. We shall thank him later. But I am sure we owe a great deal to you, Inspector Dickson, to you, Mr. Dent, and indeed to all our friends," she added, as she bade them good-night.

For some moments they lingered in the moonlight.

"To think that this is Smith's work!" said Cameron, waving his hand toward the house. "That queer chap! One thing I have learned, never to judge a man by his legs again."

"He is a fine fellow," said Mandy indignantly, "and with a fine soul in spite of--"

"His wobbly legs," said her husband smiling.

"It's a shame, Allan. What difference does it make what kind of legs a man has?"

"Very true," replied her husband smiling, "and if you knew your Bible better, Mandy, you would have found excellent authority for your position in the words of the psalmist, 'The Lord taketh no pleasure in the legs of a man.' But, say, it is a joke," he added, "to think of this being Smith's work."

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