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   Chapter 21 IN PORT

Mrs. Falchion, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 19165

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

That night I could not rest. It was impossible to rid myself of the picture of Mrs. Falchion as I had seen her by the precipice in the storm. What I had dared to hope for had come. She had been awakened; and with the awakening had risen a new understanding of her own life and the lives of others. The storm of wind and rain that had swept down the ravine was not wilder than her passions when I left her with Justine in the dark night.

All had gone well where the worst might have been. Roscoe's happiness was saved to him. He felt that the accident to him was the penalty he paid for the error of his past; but in the crash of penalties Mrs. Falchion, too, was suffering; and, so far as she knew, must carry with her the remorse of having seen, without mercy, her husband sink to a suicide's grave. I knew that she was paying a great price now for a mistaken past. I wished that I might make her remorse and sorrow less. There was a way, but I was not sure that all would be as I wished. Since a certain dreadful day on the 'Fulvia', Hungerford and I had held a secret in our hands. When it seemed that Mrs. Falchion would bring a great trouble and shame into Roscoe's life, I determined to use the secret. It must be used now only for Mrs. Falchion's good. As I said in the last chapter, I had received word that somebody was coming whose presence must take a large place in the drama of these events: and I hoped the best.

Until morning I lay and planned the best way to bring things to a successful issue. The morning came-beautiful after a mad night. Soon after I got up I received a note, brought by a boy from Viking, which gave me a thrill of excitement. The note requested me to go to Sunburst. But first I sent a note to Mrs. Falchion, begging her in the name of our new friendship not to leave the mountains that day. I also asked that she would meet me in Sunburst that evening at eight o'clock, at a place indicated by me. I asked for a reply by the messenger I sent, and urged her to ask no questions, but to trust me as one who only wished to do her a great service, as I hoped her compliance would make possible. I waited for the reply, and it bore but the one word-"Yes."

Greatly pleased, I started down the valley. It was still early when I reached Sunburst. I went directly to the little tavern from whence the note had come, and remained an hour or more. The result of that hour's conversation with the writer of the note was memorable, as was the hour itself. I began to hope fondly for the success of my scheme.

From the tavern I went to the village, with an elation hardly disturbed by the fact that many of the salmon-fishers were sullen, because of foolish depredations committed the evening before by idle river-men and mill-hands of Viking. Had I not been so occupied with Mrs. Falchion and an event wherein she must figure, I should have taken more seriously the mutterings of the half-breeds, the moroseness of the Indians, and the nervous threatenings of the white fishers: the more so because I knew that Mr. Devlin had started early that morning for the Pacific Coast, and would not be back for some days.

No two classes of people could be more unlike than the salmon-fishers of Sunburst and the mill-hands and river-drivers of Viking. The life of the river-men was exciting, hardy, and perilous; tending to boisterousness, recklessness, daring, and wild humour: that of the salmon-fishers was cheerful, picturesque, infrequently dangerous, mostly simple and quiet. The river-driver chose to spend his idle hours in crude, rough sprightliness; the salmon-fisher loved to lie upon the shore and listen to the village story-teller,-almost official when successful,-who played upon the credulity and imagination of his listeners. The river-driver loved excitement for its own sake, and behind his boisterousness there was little evil. When the salmon-fisher was roused, his anger became desperately serious. It was not his practice to be boisterous for the sake of boisterousness.

All this worked for a crisis.

From Sunburst I went over to Viking, and for a time watched a handful of river-drivers upon a little island in the centre of the river, working to loosen some logs and timber and foist them into the water, to be driven down to the mill. I stood interested, because I had nothing to do of any moment for a couple of hours. I asked an Indian on the bank to take his canoe and paddle me over to the island. He did so. I do not know why I did not go alone; but the Indian was near me, his canoe was at his hand, and I did the thing almost mechanically. I landed on the island and watched with great interest the men as they pried, twisted and tumbled the pile to get at the key-log which, found and loosened, would send the heap into the water.

I was sorry I brought the Indian with me, for though the river-drivers stopped their wild sing-song cry for a moment to call a "How!" at me, they presently began to toss jeering words at the Indian. They had recognised him-I had not-as a salmon-fisher and one of the Siwash tribe from Sunburst. He remained perfectly silent, but I could see sullenness growing on his face. He appeared to take no notice of his scornful entertainers, but, instead of edging away, came nearer and nearer to the tangle of logs-came, indeed, very close to me, as I stood watching four or five men, with the foreman close by, working at a huge timber. At a certain moment the foreman was in a kind of hollow. Just behind him, near to the Indian, was a great log, which, if loosened by a slight impulse, must fall into the hollow where the foreman stood. The foreman had his face to us; the backs of the other men were on us. Suddenly the foreman gave a frightened cry, and I saw at the same instant the Indian's foot thrust out upon the big log. Before the foreman had time to get out of the hollow, it slid down, caught him just above the ankle and broke the leg.

I wheeled, to see the Indian in his canoe making for the shore. He was followed by the curses of the foreman and the gang. The foreman was very quiet, but I could see that there was danger in his eye, and the exclamations of the men satisfied me that they were planning an inter-municipal difficulty.

I improvised bandages, set the leg directly, and in a little while we got to the shore on a hastily constructed raft. After seeing the foreman safely cared for, and giving Mr. Devlin's manager the facts of the occurrence, more than sated with my morning's experience, I climbed the mountain side, and took refuge from the heat in the coolness of Roscoe's rooms.

In the afternoon I received a note from Mrs. Falchion, saying that on the following day she would start for the coast; that her luggage would be taken to Sunburst at once; and that, her engagement with me fulfilled, she would spend a night there, not returning again to the hills. I was preparing for my own departure, and was kept very busy until evening. Then I went quickly down into the valley,-for I was late,-and trudged eagerly on to Sunburst. As I neared the village I saw that there were fewer lights-torches and fires-than usual on the river. I noticed also that there were very few fishers on the banks or in the river. But still the village seemed noisy, and, although it was dusk, I could make out much stir in the one street along which the cottages and huts ambled for nearly a mile.

All at once it came to me strongly that the friction between the two villages had consummated in the foreman's injury, and was here coming to a painful crisis. My suspicions had good grounds. As I hurried on I saw that the lights usually set on the banks of the river were scattered through the town. Bonfires were being lighted, and torches were flaring in front of the Indian huts. Coming closer, I saw excited groups of Indians, half-breeds, and white men moving here and there; and then, all at once, there came a cry-a kind of roar-from farther up the village, and the men gathered themselves together, seizing guns, sticks, irons, and other weapons, and ran up the street. I understood. I was moderately swift of foot those days. I came quickly after them, and passed them. As I did so I inquired of one or two fishers what was the trouble.

They told me, as I had guessed, that they expected an attack on the village by the mill-hands and river-drivers of Viking.

The situation was critical. I could foresee a catastrophe which would for ever unsettle the two towns, and give the valley an unenviable reputation. I was certain that, if Roscoe or Mr. Devlin were present, a prohibitive influence could be brought to bear; that some one of strong will could stand, as it were, in the gap between them, and prevent a pitched battle, and, possibly, bloodshed. I was sure that at Viking the river-drivers had laid their plans so secretly that the news of them would scarcely reach the ears of the manager of the mill, and that, therefore, his influence, as Mr. Devlin's, would not be available.

Remained only myself-as I first thought. I was unknown to a great number of the men of both villages, and familiar with but very few-chiefly those with whom I had a gossiping acquaintance. Yet, somehow, I felt that if I could but get a half-dozen men to take a firm stand with me, I might hold the rioters in check.

As I ran by the side of the excitable fishers, I urged upon one or two of them the wisdom and duty of preventing a conflict. Their reply was-and it was very convincing-that they were not forcing a struggle, but were being attacked, and

in the case would fight. My hasty persuasion produced but little result. But I kept thinking hard. Suddenly it came to me that I could place my hand upon a man whose instincts in the matter would be the same as mine; who had authority; knew the world; had been in dangerous positions in his lifetime; and owed me something. I was sure that I could depend upon him: the more so that once frail of body he had developed into a strong, well-controlled man.

Even as I thought of him, I was within a few rods of the house where he was. I looked, and saw him standing in the doorway. I ran and called to him. He instantly joined me, and we ran on together: the fishermen shouting loudly as they watched the river-drivers come armed down the hill-slope into the village.

I hastily explained the situation to my friend, and told him what we must do. A word or two assured me of all I wished to know. We reached the scene of the disorder. The fishermen were bunched together, the river on the one side, the houses and hills on the other. The river-drivers had halted not many yards away, cool, determined and quiet, save for a little muttering. In their red shirts, top boots, many of them with long black hair and brass earrings, they looked a most formidable crowd. They had evidently taken the matter seriously, and were come with the intention of carrying their point, whatever it might be. Just as we reached the space between the two parties, the massive leader of the river-drivers stepped forward, and in a rough but collected voice said that they had come determined to fight, if fighting were necessary, but that they knew what the end of the conflict would be, and they did not wish to obliterate Sunburst entirely if Sunburst accepted the conditions of peace.

There seemed no leader to the fishermen.

My friend said to me quickly: "You speak first." Instantly I stepped forward and demanded to know what the terms of peace were. As soon as I did so, there were harsh mutterings among the river-drivers. I explained at once, waving back some of the fisher-men who were clamouring about me, that I had nothing whatever to do with the quarrel; that I happened to be where I was by accident, as I had happened by accident to see the difficulty of the morning. But I said that it was the duty of every man who was a good citizen and respected the laws of his country, to see, in so far as it was possible, that there should be no breach of those laws. I spoke in a clear strong voice, and I think I produced some effect upon both parties to the quarrel. The reply of the leader was almost immediate. He said that all they demanded was the Indian who had so treacherously injured the foreman of their gangs. I saw the position at once, and was dumfounded. For a moment I did not speak.

I was not prepared for the scene that immediately followed. Some one broke through the crowd at my back, rushed past me, and stood between the two forces. It was the Indian who had injured the foreman. He was naked to the waist, and painted and feathered after the manner of his tribe going to battle. There was a wild light in his eye, but he had no weapon. He folded his arms across his breast, and said:

"Well, you want me. Here I am. I will fight with any man all alone, without a gun or arrow or anything. I will fight with my arms-to kill."

I saw revolvers raised at him instantly, but at that the man, my friend, who stood beside me, sprang in front of the Indian.

"Stop-stop!" he cried. "In the name of the law! I am a sergeant of the mounted police of Canada. My jurisdiction extends from Winnipeg to Vancouver. You cannot have this man except over my body: and for my body every one of you will pay with your lives; for every blow struck this night, there will be a hundred blows struck upon the river-drivers and mill-hands of this valley. Take care! Behind me is the law of the land-her police and her soldiery."

He paused. There was almost complete silence. He continued:

"This man is my prisoner; I arrest him."-He put his hand upon the Indian's shoulder.-"For the crime he committed this morning he shall pay: but to the law, not to you. Put up your revolvers, men. Go back to Viking. Don't risk your lives; don't break the law and make yourselves criminals and outlaws. Is it worth it? Be men. You have been the aggressors. There isn't one of you but feels that justice which is the boast of every man of the West. You wanted to avenge the crime of this morning. But the vengeance is the law's.-Stand back-Stand back!" he said, and drew his revolver, as the leader of the river-drivers stepped forward. "I will kill the first man that tries to lay his hand upon my prisoner. Don't be mad. I am not one man, I am a whole country."

I shall never forget the thrill that passed through me as I saw a man who, but a handful of months before, was neck deep in his grave, now blossomed out into a strong, defiant soldier.

There was a pause. At last the leader of the river-drivers spoke. "See," he said, "Sergeant, I guess you're right. You're a man, so help me! Say, boys," he continued, turning to his followers, "let him have the Injin. I guess he's earned him."

So saying he wheeled, the men with him, and they tramped up the slope again on their way back to Viking. The man who had achieved this turned upon the fishers.

"Back to your homes!" he said. "Be thankful that blood was not shed here to-night, and let this be a lesson to you. Now, go."

The crowd turned, slowly shambled down the riverside, and left us three standing there.

But not alone. Out of the shadow of one of the houses came two women. They stepped forward into the light of the bonfire burning near us. One of the women was very pale.

It was Mrs. Falchion.

I touched the arm of the man standing beside me. He wheeled and saw her also. A cry broke from his lips, but he stood still. A whole life-time of sorrow, trouble, and love looked out of his eyes. Mrs. Falchion came nearer. Clasping her hands upon her breast, she peered up into his face, and gasped:

"Oh-oh-I thought that you were drowned-and dead! I saw you buried in the sea. No-no-it cannot be you! I have heard and seen all within these past few minutes. YOU are so strong and brave, so great a man!... Oh, tell me, tell me, are you in truth my husband?"

He spoke.

"I was your husband, Mercy Falchion. I was drowned, but this man"-he turned and touched my shoulder-"this man brought me back to life. I wanted to be dead to the world. I begged him to keep my secret. A sailor's corpse was buried in my shroud, and I lived. At Aden I stole from the boat in the night. I came to America-to Canada-to begin a new life under a new name, never to see you again.... Do not, do not speak to me-unless I am not to lose you again; unless I am to know that now you forgive me-that you forgive me-and wish me to live-my wife!"

She put both her hands out, a strange, sorrowful look in her eyes, and said: "I have sinned-I have sinned."

He took her hands in his.

"I know," he said, "that you do not love me yet; but you may some day."

"No," she said, "I do not love you; but.... I am glad you live. Let us-go home."


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A heart-break for that kind is their salvation

A man may be forgiven for a sin, but the effect remains

A man you could bank on, and draw your interest reg'lar

Aboriginal dispersion

All he has to do is to be vague, and look prodigious (Scientist)

And even envy praised her

Audience that patronisingly listens outside a room or window

But to pay the vulgar penalty of prison-ah!

Death is a magnificent ally; it untangles knots

Death is not the worst of evils

Engrossed more, it seemed, in the malady than in the man

Every true woman is a mother, though she have no child

Fear a woman are when she hates, and when she loves

For a man having work to do, woman, lovely woman, is rocks

He didn't always side with the majority

He had neither self-consciousness nor fear

Her own suffering always set her laughing at herself

It is difficult to be idle-and important too

It is hard to be polite to cowards

Jews everywhere treated worse than the Chinaman

Learned what fools we mortals be

Love can outlive slander

Men do not steal up here: that is the unpardonable crime

One always buys back the past at a tremendous price

One doesn't choose to worry

Saying uncomfortable things in a deferential way

She had provoked love, but had never given it

Slow-footed hours wandered by, leaving apathy in their train

"Still the end of your existence," I rejoined-"to be amused?"

That anxious civility which beauty can inspire

The happy scene of the play before the villain comes in

The ravings of a sick man are not always counted ravings

The sea is a great breeder of friendship

The tender care of a woman-than many pharmacopoeias

The threshold of an acknowledged love

There are things we repent of which cannot be repaired

There is no refuge from memory and remorse in this world

Think that a woman gives the heart for pleasant weather only?

Thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart

Time a woman most yearns for a man is when she has refused him

Vanity; and from this much feminine hatred springs

Very severe on those who do not pretend to be good

What is gone is gone Graves are idolatry

Who get a morbid enjoyment out of misery

Would look back and not remember that she had a childhood

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