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   Chapter 6 BLACK ROCK RELIGION

Black Rock: A Tale of the Selkirks By Ralph Connor Characters: 17602

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


When I grow weary with the conventions of religion, and sick in my soul from feeding upon husks, that the churches too often offer me, in the shape of elaborate service and eloquent discourses, so that in my sickness I doubt and doubt, then I go back to the communion in Black Rock and the days preceding it, and the fever and the weariness leave me, and I grow humble and strong. The simplicity and rugged grandeur of the faith, the humble gratitude of the rough men I see about the table, and the calm radiance of one saintly face, rest and recall me.

Not its most enthusiastic apologist would call Black Rock a religious community, but it possessed in a marked degree that eminent Christian virtue of tolerance. All creeds, all shades of religious opinion, were allowed, and it was generally conceded that one was as good as another. It is fair to say, however, that Black Rock's catholicity was negative rather than positive. The only religion objectionable was that insisted upon as a necessity. It never occurred to any one to consider religion other than as a respectable, if not ornamental, addition to life in older lands.

During the weeks following the making of the League, however, this negative attitude towards things religious gave place to one of keen investigation and criticism. The indifference passed away, and with it, in a large measure, the tolerance. Mr. Craig was responsible for the former of these changes, but hardly, in fairness, could he be held responsible for the latter. If any one, more than another, was to be blamed for the rise of intolerance in the village, that man was Geordie Crawford. He had his 'lines' from the Established Kirk of Scotland, and when Mr. Craig announced his intention of having the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper observed, Geordie produced his 'lines' and promptly handed them in. As no other man in the village was equipped with like spiritual credentials, Geordie constituted himself a kind of kirk-session, charged with the double duty of guarding the entrance to the Lord's Table, and of keeping an eye upon the theological opinions of the community, and more particularly upon such members of it as gave evidence of possessing any opinions definite enough for statement.

It came to be Mr. Craig's habit to drop into the League-room, and toward the close of the evening to have a short Scripture lesson from the Gospels. Geordie's opportunity came after the meeting was over and Mr. Craig had gone away. The men would hang about and talk the lesson over, expressing opinions favourable or unfavourable as appeared to them good. Then it was that all sorts of views, religious and otherwise, were aired and examined. The originality of the ideas, the absolute disregard of the authority of church or creed, the frankness with which opinions were stated, and the forcefulness of the language in which they were expressed, combined to make the discussions altogether marvellous. The passage between Abe Baker, the stage-driver, and Geordie was particularly rich. It followed upon a very telling lesson on the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.

The chief actors in that wonderful story were transferred to the Black Rock stage, and were presented in miner's costume. Abe was particularly well pleased with the scoring of the 'blanked old rooster who crowed so blanked high,' and somewhat incensed at the quiet remark interjected by Geordie, 'that it was nae credit till a man tae be a sinner'; and when Geordie went on to urge the importance of right conduct and respectability, Abe was led to pour forth vials of contemptuous wrath upon the Pharisees and hypocrites who thought themselves better than other people. But Geordie was quite unruffled, and lamented the ignorance of men who, brought up in 'Epeescopawlyun or Methody' churches, could hardly be expected to detect the Antinomian or Arminian heresies.

'Aunty Nomyun or Uncle Nomyun,' replied Abe, boiling hot, 'my mother was a Methodist, and I'll back any blanked Methodist against any blankety blank long-faced, lantern-jawed, skinflint Presbyterian,' and this he was eager to maintain to any man's satisfaction if he would step outside.

Geordie was quite unmoved, but hastened to assure Abe that he meant no disrespect to his mother, who he had 'nae doot was a clever enough buddie, tae judge by her son.' Abe was speedily appeased, and offered to set up the drinks all round. But Geordie, with evident reluctance, had to decline, saying, 'Na, na, lad, I'm a League man ye ken,' and I was sure that Geordie at that moment felt that membership in the League had its drawbacks.

Nor was Geordie too sure of Craig's orthodoxy; while as to Mrs. Mavor, whose slave he was, he was in the habit of lamenting her doctrinal condition-

'She's a fine wumman, nae doot; but, puir cratur, she's fair carried awa wi' the errors o' thae Epeescopawlyuns.'

It fell to Geordie, therefore, as a sacred duty, in view of the laxity of those who seemed to be the pillars of the Church, to be all the more watchful and unyielding. But he was delightfully inconsistent when confronted with particulars. In conversation with him one night after one of the meetings, when he had been specially hard upon the ignorant and godless, I innocently changed the subject to Billy Breen, whom Geordie had taken to his shack since the night of the League. He was very proud of Billy's success in the fight against whisky, the credit of which he divided unevenly between Mrs. Mavor and himself.

'He's fair daft aboot her,' he explained to me, 'an' I'll no' deny but she's a great help, ay, a verra conseederable asseestance; but, man, she doesna ken the whusky, an' the inside o' a man that's wantin' it. Ay, puir buddie, she diz her pairt, an' when ye're a bit restless an thrawn aifter yer day's wark, it's like a walk in a bonnie glen on a simmer eve, with the birds liltin' aboot, tae sit in yon roomie and hear her sing; but when the night is on, an' ye canna sleep, but wauken wi' an' awfu' thurst and wi' dreams o' cosy firesides, and the bonnie sparklin' glosses, as it is wi' puir Billy, ay, it's then ye need a man wi' a guid grup beside ye.'

'What do you do then, Geordie?' I asked.

'Oo ay, I juist gang for a bit walk wi' the lad, and then pits the kettle on an' maks a cup o' tea or coffee, an' aff he gangs tae sleep like a bairn.'

'Poor Billy,' I said pityingly, 'there's no hope for him in the future, I fear.'

'Hoot awa, man,' said Geordie quickly. 'Ye wadna keep oot a puir cratur frae creepin' in, that's daein' his best?'

'But, Geordie,' I remonstrated, 'he doesn't know anything of the doctrines. I don't believe he could give us "The Chief End of Man."'

'An' wha's tae blame for that?' said Geordie, with fine indignation. 'An' maybe you remember the prood Pharisee and the puir wumman that cam' creepin' in ahint the Maister.'

The mingled tenderness and indignation in Geordie's face were beautiful to see, so I meekly answered, 'Well, I hope Mr. Craig won't be too strict with the boys.'

Geordie shot a suspicious glance at me, but I kept my face like a summer morn, and he replied cautiously-

'Ay, he's no' that streect: but he maun exerceese discreemination.'

Geordie was none the less determined, however, that Billy should 'come forrit'; but as to the manager, who was a member of the English Church, and some others who had been confirmed years ago, and had forgotten much and denied more, he was extremely doubtful, and expressed himself in very decided words to the minister-

'Ye'll no' be askin' forrit thae Epeescopawlyun buddies. They juist ken naething ava.'

But Mr. Craig looked at him for a moment and said, "Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out,"' and Geordie was silent, though he continued doubtful.

With all these somewhat fantastic features, however, there was no mistaking the earnest spirit of the men. The meetings grew larger every night, and the interest became more intense. The singing became different. The men no longer simply shouted, but as Mr. Craig would call attention to the sentiment of the hymn, the voices would attune themselves to the words. Instead of encouraging anything like emotional excitement, Mr. Craig seemed to fear it.

'These chaps are easily stirred up,' he would say, 'and I am anxious that they should know exactly what they are doing. It is far too serious a business to trifle with.'

Although Graeme did not go downstairs to the meetings, he could not but feel the throb of the emotion beating in the heart of the community. I used to detail for his benefit, and sometimes for his amusement, the incidents of each night. But I never felt quite easy in dwelling upon the humorous features in Mrs. Mavor's presence, although Craig did not appear

to mind. His manner with Graeme was perfect. Openly anxious to win him to his side, he did not improve the occasion and vex him with exhortation. He would not take him at a disadvantage, though, as I afterwards found, this was not his sole reason for his method. Mrs. Mavor, too, showed herself in wise and tender light. She might have been his sister, so frank was she and so openly affectionate, laughing at his fretfulness and soothing his weariness.

Never were better comrades than we four, and the bright days speeding so swiftly on drew us nearer to one another.

But the bright days came to an end; for Graeme, when once he was able to go about, became anxious to get back to the camp. And so the last day came, a day I remember well. It was a bright, crisp winter day.

The air was shimmering in the frosty light. The mountains, with their shining heads piercing through light clouds into that wonderful blue of the western sky, and their feet pushed into the pine masses, gazed down upon Black Rock with calm, kindly looks on their old grey faces. How one grows to love them, steadfast old friends! Far up among the pines we could see the smoke of the engine at the works, and so still and so clear was the mountain air that we could hear the puff of the steam, and from far down the river the murmur of the rapids. The majestic silence, the tender beauty, the peace, the loneliness, too, came stealing in upon us, as we three, leaving Mrs. Mavor behind us, marched arm-in-arm down the street. We had not gone far on our way, when Graeme, turning round, stood a moment looking back, then waved his hand in farewell. Mrs. Mavor was at her window, smiling and waving in return. They had grown to be great friends these two; and seemed to have arrived at some understanding. Certainly, Graeme's manner to her was not that he bore to other women. His half-quizzical, somewhat superior air of mocking devotion gave place to a simple, earnest, almost tender, respect, very new to him, but very winning.

As he stood there waving his farewell, I glanced at his face and saw for a moment what I had not seen for years, a faint flush on Graeme's cheek and a light of simple, earnest faith in his eyes. It reminded me of my first look of him when he had come up for his matriculation to the 'Varsity. He stood on the campus looking up at the noble old pile, and there was the same bright, trustful, earnest look on his boyish face.

I know not what spirit possessed me; it may have been the pain of the memory working in me, but I said, coarsely enough, 'It's no use, Graeme, my boy; I would fall in love with her myself, but there would be no chance even for me.'

The flush slowly darkened as he turned and said deliberately-

'It's not like you, Connor, to be an ass of that peculiar kind. Love!-not exactly! She won't fall in love unless-' and he stopped abruptly with his eyes upon Craig.

But Craig met him with unshrinking gaze, quietly remarking, 'Her heart is under the pines'; and we moved on, each thinking his own thoughts, and guessing at the thoughts of the others.

We were on our way to Craig's shack, and as we passed the saloon Slavin stepped from the door with a salutation. Graeme paused. 'Hello, Slavin! I got rather the worst of it, didn't I?'

Slavin came near, and said earnestly, 'It was a dirty thrick altogether; you'll not think it was moine, Mr. Graeme.'

'No, no, Slavin! you stood up like a man,' said Graeme cheerfully.

'And you bate me fair; an' bedad it was a nate one that laid me out; an' there's no grudge in me heart till ye.'

'All right, Slavin; we'll perhaps understand each other better after this.'

'An' that's thrue for yez, sor; an' I'll see that your byes don't get any more than they ask for,' replied Slavin, backing away.

'And I hope that won't be much,' put in Mr. Craig; but Slavin only grinned.

When we came to Craig's shack Graeme was glad to rest in the big chair.

Craig made him a cup of tea, while I smoked, admiring much the deft neatness of the minister's housekeeping, and the gentle, almost motherly, way he had with Graeme.

In our talk we drifted into the future, and Craig let us see what were his ambitions. The railway was soon to come; the resources were, as yet, unexplored, but enough was known to assure a great future for British Columbia. As he talked his enthusiasm grew, and carried us away. With the eye of a general he surveyed the country, fixed the strategic points which the Church must seize upon. Eight good men would hold the country from Fort Steele to the coast, and from Kootenay to Cariboo.

'The Church must be in with the railway; she must have a hand in the shaping of the country. If society crystallises without her influence, the country is lost, and British Columbia will be another trap-door to the bottomless pit.'

'What do you propose?' I asked.

'Organising a little congregation here in Black Rock.'

'How many will you get?'

'Don't know.'

'Pretty hopeless business,' I said.

'Hopeless! hopeless!' he cried; 'there were only twelve of us at first to follow Him, and rather a poor lot they were. But He braced them up, and they conquered the world.'

'But surely things are different,' said Graeme.

'Things? Yes! yes! But He is the same.' His face had an exalted look, and his eyes were gazing into far-away places.

'A dozen men in Black Rock with some real grip of Him would make things go. We'll get them, too,' he went on in growing excitement. 'I believe in my soul we'll get them.'

'Look here, Craig; if you organise I'd like to join,' said Graeme impulsively. 'I don't believe much in your creed or your Church, but I'll be blowed if I don't believe in you.'

Craig looked at him with wistful eyes, and shook his head. 'It won't do, old chap, you know. I can't hold you. You've got to have a grip of some one better than I am; and then, besides, I hardly like asking you now'; he hesitated-'well, to be out-and-out, this step must be taken not for my sake, nor for any man's sake, and I fancy that perhaps you feel like pleasing me just now a little.'

'That I do, old fellow,' said Graeme, putting out his hand. 'I'll be hanged if I won't do anything you say.'

'That's why I won't say,' replied Craig. Then reverently he added, 'the organisation is not mine. It is my Master's.'

'When are you going to begin?' asked Graeme.

'We shall have our communion service in two weeks, and that will be our roll-call.'

'How many will answer?' I asked doubtfully.

'I know of three,' he said quietly.

'Three! There are two hundred miners and one hundred and fifty lumbermen! Three!' and Graeme looked at him in amazement. 'You think it worth while to organise three?'

'Well,' replied Craig, smiling for the first time, 'the organisation won't be elaborate, but it will be effective, and, besides, loyalty demands obedience.'

We sat long that afternoon talking, shrinking from the breaking up; for we knew that we were about to turn down a chapter in our lives which we should delight to linger over in after days. And in my life there is but one brighter. At last we said good-bye and drove away; and though many farewells have come in between that day and this, none is so vividly present to me as that between us three men. Craig's manner with me was solemn enough. '"He that loveth his life"; good-bye, don't fool with this,' was what he said to me. But when he turned to Graeme his whole face lit up. He took him by the shoulders and gave him a little shake, looking into his eyes, and saying over and over in a low, sweet tone-

'You'll come, old chap, you'll come, you'll come. Tell me you'll come.'

And Graeme could say nothing in reply, but only looked at him. Then they silently shook hands, and we drove off. But long after we had got over the mountain and into the winding forest road on the way to the lumber-camp the voice kept vibrating in my heart, 'You'll come, you'll come,' and there was a hot pain in my throat.

We said little during the drive to the camp. Graeme was thinking hard, and made no answer when I spoke to him two or three times, till we came to the deep shadows of the pine forest, when with a little shiver he said-

'It is all a tangle-a hopeless tangle.'

'Meaning what?' I asked.

'This business of religion-what quaint varieties-Nelson's, Geordie's, Billy Breen's-if he has any-then Mrs. Mavor's-she is a saint, of course-and that fellow Craig's. What a trump he is!-and without his religion he'd be pretty much like the rest of us. It is too much for me.'

His mystery was not mine. The Black Rock varieties of religion were certainly startling; but there was undoubtedly the streak of reality though them all, and that discovery I felt to be a distinct gain.

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