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   Chapter 11 AMONG THE HILLS OF GOD

Mrs. Falchion, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 17157

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"Your letters, sir," said my servant, on the last evening of the college year. Examinations were over at last, and I was wondering where I should spend my holidays. The choice was very wide; ranging from the Muskoka lakes to the Yosemite Valley. Because it was my first year in Canada, I really preferred not to go beyond the Dominion. With these thoughts in my mind I opened my letters. The first two did not interest me; tradesmen's bills seldom do. The third brought a thumping sensation of pleasure-though it was not from Miss Treherne. I had had one from her that morning, and this was a pleasure which never came twice in one day, for Prince's College, Toronto, was a long week's journey from London, S.W. Considering, however, that I did receive letters from her once a week, it may be concluded that Clovelly did not; and that, if he had, it would have been by a serious infringement of my rights. But, indeed, as I have learned since, Clovelly took his defeat in a very characteristic fashion, and said on an important occasion some generous things about me.

The letter that pleased me so much was from Galt Roscoe, who, as he had intended, was settled in a new but thriving district of British Columbia, near the Cascade Mountains. Soon after his complete recovery he had been ordained in England, had straightway sailed for Canada, and had gone to work at once. This note was an invitation to spend the holiday months with him, where, as he said, a man "summering high among the hills of God" could see visions and dream dreams, and hunt and fish too-especially fish. He urged that he would not talk parish concerns at me; that I should not be asked to be godfather to any young mountaineers; and that the only drawback, so far as my own predilections were concerned, was the monotonous health of the people. He described his summer cottage of red pine as being built on the edge of a lovely ravine; he said that he had the Cascades on one hand with their big glacier fields, and mighty pine forests on the other; while the balmiest breezes of June awaited "the professor of pathology and genial saw-bones." At the end of the letter he hinted something about a pleasant little secret for my ear when I came; and remarked immediately afterwards that there were one or two delightful families at Sunburst and Viking, villages in his parish. One naturally associated the little secret with some member of one of these delightful families. Finally, he said he would like to show me how it was possible to transform a naval man into a parson.

My mind was made up. I wrote to him that I would start at once. Then I began to make preparations, and meanwhile fell to thinking again about him who was now the Reverend Galt Roscoe. After the 'Fulvia' reached London I had only seen him a few times, he having gone at once into the country to prepare for ordination. Mrs. Falchion and Justine Caron I had met several times, but Mrs. Falchion forbore inquiring for Galt Roscoe: from which, and from other slight but significant matters, I gathered that she knew of his doings and whereabouts. Before I started for Toronto she said that she might see me there some day, for she was going to San Francisco to inspect the property her uncle had left her, and in all probability would make a sojourn in Canada. I gave her my address, and she then said she understood that Mr. Roscoe intended taking a missionary parish in the wilds. In his occasional letters to me while we all were in England Roscoe seldom spoke of her, but, when he did, showed that he knew of her movements. This did not strike me at the time as anything more than natural. It did later.

Within a couple of weeks I reached Viking, a lumbering town with great saw-mills, by way of San Francisco and Vancouver. Roscoe met me at the coach, and I was taken at once to the house among the hills. It stood on the edge of a ravine, and the end of the verandah looked over a verdant precipice, beautiful but terrible too. It was uniquely situated; a nest among the hills, suitable either for work or play. In one's ears was the low, continuous din of the rapids, with the music of a neighbouring waterfall.

On the way up the hills I had a chance to observe Roscoe closely. His face had not that sturdy buoyancy which his letter suggested. Still, if it was pale, it had a glow which it did not possess before, and even a stronger humanity than of old. A new look had come into his eyes, a certain absorbing earnestness, refining the past asceticism. A more amiable and unselfish comrade man never had.

The second day I was there he took me to call upon a family at Viking, the town with a great saw-mill and two smaller ones, owned by James Devlin, an enterprising man who had grown rich at lumbering, and who lived here in the mountains many months in each year.

Mr. James Devlin had a daughter who had had some advantages in the East after her father had become rich, though her earlier life was spent altogether in the mountains. I soon saw where Roscoe's secret was to be found. Ruth Devlin was a tall girl of sensitive features, beautiful eyes, and rare personality. Her life, as I came to know, had been one of great devotion and self-denial. Before her father had made his fortune, she had nursed a frail-bodied, faint-hearted mother, and had cared for, and been a mother to, her younger sisters. With wealth and ease came a brighter bloom to her cheek, but it had a touch of care which would never quite disappear, though it became in time a beautiful wistfulness rather than anxiety. Had this responsibility come to her in a city, it might have spoiled her beauty and robbed her of her youth altogether; but in the sustaining virtue of a life in the mountains, warm hues remained on her cheek and a wonderful freshness in her nature. Her family worshipped her-as she deserved.

That evening Roscoe confided to me that he had not asked Ruth Devlin to be his wife, nor had he, indeed, given her definite tokens of his love. But the thing was in his mind as a happy possibility of the future. We talked till midnight, sitting at the end of the verandah overlooking the ravine. This corner, called the coping, became consecrated to our many conversations. We painted and sketched there in the morning (when we were not fishing or he was not at his duties), received visitors, and smoked in the evening, inhaling the balsam from the pines. An old man and his wife kept the house for us, and gave us to eat of simple but comfortable fare. The trout-fishing was good, and many a fine trout was broiled for our evening meal; and many a fine string of trout found its way to the tables of Roscoe's poorest parishioners, or else to furnish the more fashionable table at which Ruth Devlin presided. There were excursions up the valley, and picnics on the hill-sides, and occasional lunches and evening parties at the summer hotel, a mile from us farther down the valley, at which tourists were beginning to assemble.

Yet, all the time, Roscoe was abundantly faithful to his duties at Viking and in the settlement called Sunburst, which was devoted to salmon-fishing. Between Viking and Sunburst there was a great jealousy and rivalry; for the salmon-fishers thought that the mills, though on a tributary stream, interfered, by the sawdust spilled in the river, with the travel and spawning of the salmon. It needed all the tact of both Mr. Devlin and Roscoe to keep the places from open fighting. As it was, the fire smouldered. When Sunday came, however, there seemed to be truce between the villages. It appeared to me that one touched the primitive and idyllic side of life: lively, sturdy, and simple, with nature about us at once benignant and austere. It is impossible to tell how fresh, bracing, and inspiring was the climate of this new land. It seemed to glorify humanity, to make all who breathed it stalwart, and almost pardonable even in wrong-doing. Roscoe was always received respectfully, and even cordially, among the salmon-fishers of Sunburst, as among the mill-men and river-drivers of Viking: not the less so, because he had an excellent faculty for machinery, and could talk to the people in their own colloquialisms. He had, besides, though there was little exuberance in his nature, a gift of dry humour, which did more than anything else, perhaps, to make his presence among them unrestrained.

His little churches at Viking and Sunburst were always well attended-often filled to overflowing-and the people gave liberally to the offertory: and I never knew any clergyman, how

ever holy, who did not view such a proceeding with a degree of complacency. In the pulpit Roscoe was almost powerful. His knowledge of the world, his habits of directness, his eager but not hurried speech, his unconventional but original statements of things, his occasional literary felicity and unusual tact, might have made him distinguished in a more cultured community. Yet there was something to modify all this: an occasional indefinable sadness, a constant note of pathetic warning. It struck me that I never had met a man whose words and manner were at times so charged with pathos; it was artistic in its searching simplicity. There was some unfathomable fount in his nature which was even beyond any occurrence of his past; some radical, constitutional sorrow, coupled with a very strong, practical, and even vigorous nature.

One of his most ardent admirers was a gambler, horse-trader, and watch-dealer, who sold him a horse, and afterwards came and offered him thirty dollars, saying that the horse was worth that much less than Roscoe had paid for it, and protesting that he never could resist the opportunity of getting the best of a game. He said he did not doubt but that he would do the same with one of the archangels. He afterwards sold Roscoe a watch at cost, but confessed to me that the works of the watch had been smuggled. He said he was so fond of the parson that he felt he had to give him a chance of good things. It was not uncommon for him to discourse of Roscoe's quality in the bar-rooms of Sunburst and Viking, in which he was ably seconded by Phil Boldrick, an eccentric, warm-hearted fellow, who was so occupied in the affairs of the villages generally, and so much an advisory board to the authorities, that he had little time left to progress industrially himself.

Once when a noted bully came to Viking, and, out of sheer bravado and meanness, insulted Roscoe in the streets, two or three river-drivers came forward to avenge the insult. It was quite needless, for the clergyman had promptly taken the case in his own hands. Waving them back, he said to the bully: "I have no weapon, and if I had, I could not take your life, nor try to take it; and you know that very well. But I propose to meet your insolence-the first shown me in this town."

Here murmurs of approbation went round.

"You will, of course, take the revolver from your pocket, and throw it on the ground."

A couple of other revolvers were looking the bully in the face, and he sullenly did as he was asked.

"You have a knife: throw that down."

This also was done under the most earnest emphasis of the revolvers. Roscoe calmly took off his coat. "I have met such scoundrels as you on the quarter-deck," he said, "and I know what stuff is in you. They call you beachcombers in the South Seas. You never fight fair. You bully women, knife natives, and never meet any one in fair fight. You have mistaken your man this time."

He walked close up to the bully, his face like steel, his thumbs caught lightly in his waistcoat pockets; but it was noticeable that his hands were shut.

"Now," he said, "we are even as to opportunity. Repeat, if you please, what you said a moment ago."

The bully's eye quailed, and he answered nothing. "Then, as I said, you are a coward and a cur, who insults peaceable men and weak women. If I know Viking right, it has no room for you." Then he picked up his coat, and put it on.

"Now," he added, "I think you had better go; but I leave that to the citizens of Viking."

What they thought is easily explained. Phil Boldrick, speaking for all, said: "Yes, you had better go-quick; but on the hop like a cur, mind you: on your hands and knees, jumping all the way."

And, with weapons menacing him, this visitor to Viking departed, swallowing as he went the red dust disturbed by his hands and feet.

This established Roscoe's position finally. Yet, with all his popularity and the solid success of his work, he showed no vanity or egotism, nor ever traded on the position he held in Viking and Sunburst. He seemed to have no ambition further than to do good work; no desire to be known beyond his own district; no fancy, indeed, for the communications of his labours to mission papers and benevolent ladies in England-so much the habit of his order. He was free from professional mannerisms.

One evening we were sitting in the accustomed spot-that is, the coping. We had been silent for a long time. At last Roscoe rose, and walked up and down the verandah nervously.

"Marmion," said he, "I am disturbed to-day, I cannot tell you how: a sense of impending evil, an anxiety."

I looked up at him inquiringly, and, of purpose, a little sceptically.

He smiled something sadly and continued: "Oh, I know you think it foolishness. But remember that all sailors are more or less superstitious: it is bred in them; it is constitutional, and I am afraid there's a good deal of the sailor in me yet."

Remembering Hungerford, I said: "I know that sailors are superstitious, the most seasoned of them are that. But it means nothing. I may think or feel that there is going to be a plague, but I should not enlarge the insurance on my life because of it."

He put his hand on my shoulder and looked down at me earnestly. "But, Marmion, these things, I assure you, are not matters of will, nor yet morbidness. They occur at the most unexpected times. I have had such sensations before, and they were followed by strange matters."

I nodded, but said nothing. I was still thinking of Hungerford. After a slight pause he continued somewhat hesitatingly:

"I dreamed last night, three times, of events that occurred in my past; events which I hoped would never disturb me in the life I am now leading."

"A life of self-denial," ventured I. I waited a minute, and then added: "Roscoe, I think it only fair to tell you-I don't know why I haven't done so before-that when you were ill you were delirious, and talked of things that may or may not have had to do with your past."

He started, and looked at me earnestly. "They were unpleasant things?"

"Trying things; though all was vague and disconnected," I replied.

"I am glad you tell me this," he remarked quietly. "And Mrs. Falchion and Justine Caron-did they hear?" He looked off to the hills.

"To a certain extent, I am sure. Mrs. Falchion's name was generally connected with-your fancies.... But really no one could place any weight on what a man said in delirium, and I only mention the fact to let you see exactly on what ground I stand with you."

"Can you give me an idea-of the thing I raved about?"

"Chiefly about a girl called Alo, not your wife, I should judge-who was killed."

At that he spoke in a cheerless voice: "Marmion, I will tell you all the story some day; but not now. I hoped that I had been able to bury it, even in memory, but I was wrong. Some things-such things-never die. They stay; and in our cheerfulest, most peaceful moments confront us, and mock the new life we are leading. There is no refuge from memory and remorse in this world. The spirits of our foolish deeds haunt us, with or without repentance." He turned again from me and set a sombre face towards the ravine. "Roscoe," I said, taking his arm, "I cannot believe that you have any sin on your conscience so dark that it is not wiped out now."

"God bless you for your confidence. But there is one woman who, I fear, could, if she would, disgrace me before the world. You understand," he added, "that there are things we repent of which cannot be repaired. One thinks a sin is dead, and starts upon a new life, locking up the past, not deceitfully, but believing that the book is closed, and that no good can come of publishing it; when suddenly it all flames out like the letters in Faust's book of conjurations."

"Wait," I said. "You need not tell me more, you must not-now; not until there is any danger. Keep your secret. If the woman-if THAT woman-ever places you in danger, then tell me all. But keep it to yourself now. And don't fret because you have had dreams."

"Well, as you wish," he replied after a long time. As he sat in silence, I smoking hard, and he buried in thought, I heard the laughter of people some distance below us in the hills. I guessed it to be some tourists from the summer hotel. The voices came nearer.

A singular thought occurred to me. I looked at Roscoe. I saw that he was brooding, and was not noticing the voices, which presently died away. This was a relief to me. We were then silent again.

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