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   Chapter 9 THE LEAGUE’S REVENGE

Black Rock: A Tale of the Selkirks By Ralph Connor Characters: 19209

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


As we stood outside of Craig's shack in the dim starlight, we could not hide from ourselves that we were beaten. It was not so much grief as a blind fury that filled my heart, and looking at the faces of the men about me I read the same feeling there. But what could we do? The yells of carousing miners down at Slavin's told us that nothing could be done with them that night. To be so utterly beaten, and unfairly, and with no chance of revenge, was maddening.

'I'd like to get back at 'em,' said Abe, carefully repressing himself.

'I've got it, men,' said Graeme suddenly. 'This town does not require all the whisky there is in it'; and he unfolded his plan. It was to gain possession of Slavin's saloon and the bar of the Black Rock Hotel, and clear out all the liquor to be found in both these places. I did not much like the idea; and Geordie said, 'I'm ga'en aifter the lad; I'll hae naethin' tae dae wi' yon. It's' no' that easy, an' it's a sinfu' waste.'

But Abe was wild to try it, and Shaw was quite willing, while old Nelson sternly approved.

'Nelson, you and Shaw get a couple of our men and attend to the saloon. Slavin and the whole gang are up at the Black Rock, so you won't have much trouble; but come to us as soon as you can.'

And so we went our ways.

Then followed a scene the like of which I can never hope to see again, and it was worth a man's seeing. But there were times that night when I wished I had not agreed to follow Graeme in his plot. As we went up to the hotel, I asked Graeme, 'What about the law of this?'

'Law!' he replied indignantly. 'They haven't troubled much about law in the whisky business here. They get a keg of high wines and some drugs and begin operations. No!' he went on; 'if we can get the crowd out, and ourselves in, we'll make them break the law in getting us out. The law won't trouble us over smuggled whisky. It will be a great lark, and they won't crow too loud over the League.'

I did not like the undertaking at first; but as I thought of the whole wretched illegal business flourishing upon the weakness of the men in the mines and camps, whom I had learned to regard as brothers, and especially as I thought of the cowards that did for Nixon, I let my scruples go, and determined, with Abe, 'to get back at 'em.'

We had no difficulty getting them out. Abe began to yell. Some men rushed out to learn the cause. He seized the foremost man, making a hideous uproar all the while, and in three minutes had every man out of the hotel and a lively row going on.

In two minutes more Graeme and I had the door to the ball-room locked and barricaded with empty casks. We then closed the door of the bar-room leading to the outside. The bar-room was a strongly built log-shack, with a heavy door secured, after the manner of the early cabins, with two strong oak bars, so that we felt safe from attack from that quarter.

The ball-room we could not hold long, for the door was slight and entrance was possible through the windows. But as only a few casks of liquor were left there, our main work would be in the bar, so that the fight would be to hold the passage-way. This we barricaded with casks and tables. But by this time the crowd had begun to realise what had happened, and were wildly yelling at door and windows. With an axe which Graeme had brought with him the casks were soon stove in, and left to empty themselves.

As I was about to empty the last cask, Graeme stopped me, saying, 'Let that stand here. It will help us.' And so it did. 'Now skip for the barricade,' yelled Graeme, as a man came crashing through the window. Before he could regain his feet, however, Graeme had seized him and flung him out upon the heads of the crowd outside. But through the other windows men were coming in, and Graeme rushed for the barricade, followed by two of the enemy, the foremost of whom I received at the top and hurled back upon the others.

'Now, be quick!' said Graeme; 'I'll hold this. Don't break any bottles on the floor-throw them out there,' pointing to a little window high up in the wall.

I made all haste. The casks did not take much time, and soon the whisky and beer were flowing over the floor. It made me think of Geordie's regret over the 'sinfu' waste.' The bottles took longer, and glancing up now and then I saw that Graeme was being hard pressed. Men would leap, two and three at a time, upon the barricade, and Graeme's arms would shoot out, and over they would topple upon the heads of those nearest. It was a great sight to see him standing alone with a smile on his face and the light of battle in his eye, coolly meeting his assailants with those terrific, lightning-like blows. In fifteen minutes my work was done.

'What next?' I asked. 'How do we get out?'

'How is the door?' he replied.

I looked through the port-hole and said, 'A crowd of men waiting.'

'We'll have to make a dash for it, I fancy,' he replied cheerfully, though his face was covered with blood and his breath was coming in short gasps.

'Get down the bars and be ready.' But even as he spoke a chair hurled from below caught him on the arm, and before he could recover, a man had cleared the barricade and was upon him like a tiger. It was Idaho Jack.

'Hold the barricade,' Graeme called out, as they both went down.

I sprang to his place, but I had not much hope of holding it long. I had the heavy oak bar of the door in my hands, and swinging it round my head I made the crowd give back for a few moments.

Meantime Graeme had shaken off his enemy, who was circling about him upon his tip-toes, with a long knife in his hand, waiting for a chance to spring.

'I have been waiting for this for some time, Mr. Graeme,' he said smiling.

'Yes,' replied Graeme, 'ever since I spoiled your cut-throat game in 'Frisco. How is the little one?' he added sarcastically.

Idaho's face lost its smile and became distorted with fury as he replied, spitting out his words, 'She-is-where you will be before I am done with you.'

'Ah! you murdered her too! You'll hang some beautiful day, Idaho,' said Graeme, as Idaho sprang upon him.

Graeme dodged his blow and caught his forearm with his left hand and held up high the murderous knife. Back and forward they swayed over the floor, slippery with whisky, the knife held high in the air. I wondered why Graeme did not strike, and then I saw his right hand hung limp from the wrist. The men were crowding upon the barricade. I was in despair. Graeme's strength was going fast. With a yell of exultant fury Idaho threw himself with all his weight upon Graeme, who could only cling to him. They swayed together towards me, but as they fell I brought down my bar upon the upraised hand and sent the knife flying across the room. Idaho's howl of rage and pain was mingled with a shout from below, and there, dashing the crowd right and left, came old Nelson, followed by Abe, Sandy, Baptiste, Shaw, and others. As they reached the barricade it crashed down and, carrying me with it, pinned me fast.

Looking out between the barrels, I saw what froze my heart with horror. In the fall Graeme had wound his arms about his enemy and held him in a grip so deadly that he could not strike; but Graeme's strength was failing, and when I looked I saw that Idaho was slowly dragging both across the slippery floor to where the knife lay. Nearer and nearer his outstretched fingers came to the knife. In vain I yelled and struggled. My voice was lost in the awful din, and the barricade held me fast. Above me, standing on a barrel-head, was Baptiste, yelling like a demon. In vain I called to him. My fingers could just reach his foot, and he heeded not at all my touch. Slowly Idaho was dragging his almost unconscious victim toward the knife. His fingers were touching the blade point, when, under a sudden inspiration, I pulled out my penknife, opened it with my teeth, and drove the blade into Baptiste's foot. With a blood-curdling yell he sprang down and began dancing round in his rage, peering among the barrels.

'Look! look!' I was calling in agony, and pointing; 'for heaven's sake, look! Baptiste!'

The fingers had closed upon the knife, the knife was already high in the air, when, with a shriek, Baptiste cleared the room at a bound, and, before the knife could fall, the little Frenchman's boot had caught the uplifted wrist, and sent the knife flying to the wall.

Then there was a great rushing sound as of wind through the forest, and the lights went out. When I awoke, I found myself lying with my head on Graeme's knees, and Baptiste sprinkling snow on my face. As I looked up Graeme leaned over me, and, smiling down into my eyes, he said-

'Good boy! It was a great fight, and we put it up well'; and then he whispered, 'I owe you my life, my boy.'

His words thrilled my heart through and through, for I loved him as only men can love men; but I only answered-

'I could not keep them back.'

'It was well done,' he said; and I felt proud. I confess I was thankful to be so well out of it, for Graeme got off with a bone in his wrist broken, and I with a couple of ribs cracked; but had it not been for the open barrel of whisky which kept them occupied for a time, offering too good a chance to be lost, and for the timely arrival of Nelson, neither of us had ever seen the light again.

We found Craig sound asleep upon his couch. His consternation on waking to see us torn, bruised, and bloody was laughable; but he hastened to find us warm water and bandages, and we soon felt comfortable.

Baptiste

was radiant with pride and light over the fight, and hovered about Graeme and me giving vent to his feelings in admiring French and English expletives. But Abe was disgusted because of the failure at Slavin's; for when Nelson looked in, he saw Slavin's French-Canadian wife in charge, with her baby on her lap, and he came back to Shaw and said, 'Come away, we can't touch this'; and Shaw, after looking in, agreed that nothing could be done. A baby held the fort.

As Craig listened to the account of the fight, he tried hard not to approve, but he could not keep the gleam out of his eyes; and as I pictured Graeme dashing back the crowd thronging the barricade till he was brought down by the chair, Craig laughed gently, and put his hand on Graeme's knee. And as I went on to describe my agony while Idaho's fingers were gradually nearing the knife, his face grew pale and his eyes grew wide with horror.

'Baptiste here did the business,' I said, and the little Frenchman nodded complacently and said-

'Dat's me for sure.'

'By the way, how is your foot?' asked Graeme.

'He's fuss-rate. Dat's what you call-one bite of-of-dat leel bees, he's dere, you put your finger dere, he's not dere!-what you call him?'

'Flea!' I suggested.

'Oui!' cried Baptiste. 'Dat's one bite of flea.'

'I was thankful I was under the barrels,' I replied, smiling.

'Oui! Dat's mak' me ver mad. I jump an' swear mos' awful bad. Dat's pardon me, M'sieu Craig, heh?'

But Craig only smiled at him rather sadly. 'It was awfully risky,' he said to Graeme, 'and it was hardly worth it. They'll get more whisky, and anyway the League is gone.'

'Well,' said Graeme with a sigh of satisfaction, 'it is not quite such a one-sided affair as it was.'

And we could say nothing in reply, for we could hear Nixon snoring in the next room, and no one had heard of Billy, and there were others of the League that we knew were even now down at Slavin's. It was thought best that all should remain in Mr. Craig's shack, not knowing what might happen; and so we lay where we could and we needed none to sing us to sleep.

When I awoke, stiff and sore, it was to find breakfast ready and old man Nelson in charge. As we were seated, Craig came in, and I saw that he was not the man of the night before. His courage had come back, his face was quiet and his eye clear; he was his own man again.

'Geordie has been out all night, but has failed to find Billy,' he announced quietly.

We did not talk much; Graeme and I worried with our broken bones, and the others suffered from a general morning depression. But, after breakfast, as the men were beginning to move, Craig took down his Bible, and saying-

'Wait a few minutes, men!' he read slowly, in his beautiful clear voice, that psalm for all fighters-

'God is our refuge and strength,'

and soon to the noble words-

'The Lord of Hosts is with us;

The God of Jacob is our refuge.'

How the mighty words pulled us together, lifted us till we grew ashamed of our ignoble rage and of our ignoble depression!

And then Craig prayed in simple, straight-going words. There was acknowledgement of failure, but I knew he was thinking chiefly of himself; and there was gratitude, and that was for the men about him, and I felt my face burn with shame; and there was petition for help, and we all thought of Nixon, and Billy, and the men wakening from their debauch at Slavin's this pure, bright morning. And then he asked that we might be made faithful and worthy of God, whose battle it was. Then we all stood up and shook hands with him in silence, and every man knew a covenant was being made. But none saw his meeting with Nixon. He sent us all away before that.

Nothing was heard of the destruction of the hotel stock-in-trade. Unpleasant questions would certainly be asked, and the proprietor decided to let bad alone. On the point of respectability the success of the ball was not conspicuous, but the anti-League men were content, if not jubilant.

Billy Breen was found by Geordie late in the afternoon in his own old and deserted shack, breathing heavily, covered up in his filthy, mouldering bed-clothes, with a half-empty bottle of whisky at his side. Geordie's grief and rage were beyond even his Scotch control. He spoke few words, but these were of such concentrated vehemence that no one felt the need of Abe's assistance in vocabulary.

Poor Billy! We carried him to Mrs. Mavor's home; put him in a warm bath, rolled him in blankets, and gave him little sips of hot water, then of hot milk and coffee; as I had seen a clever doctor in the hospital treat a similar case of nerve and heart depression. But the already weakened system could not recover from the awful shock of the exposure following the debauch; and on Sunday afternoon we saw that his heart was failing fast. All day the miners had been dropping in to inquire after him, for Billy had been a great favourite in other days, and the attention of the town had been admiringly centred upon his fight of these last weeks. It was with no ordinary sorrow that the news of his condition was received. As Mrs. Mavor sang to him, his large coarse hands moved in time to the music, but he did not open his eyes till he heard Mr. Craig's voice in the next room; then he spoke his name, and Mr. Craig was kneeling beside him in a moment. The words came slowly-

'Oi tried-to fight it hout-but--oi got beaten. Hit 'urts to think 'E's hashamed o' me. Oi'd like t'a done better-oi would.'

'Ashamed of you, Billy!' said Craig, in a voice that broke. 'Not He.'

'An'-ye hall-'elped me so!' he went on. 'Oi wish oi'd 'a done better-oi do,' and his eyes sought Geordie, and then rested on Mrs. Mavor, who smiled back at him with a world of love in her eyes.

'You hain't hashamed o' me-yore heyes saigh so,' he said looking at her.

'No, Billy,' she said, and I wondered at her steady voice, 'not a bit. Why, Billy, I am proud of you.'

He gazed up at her with wonder and ineffable love in his little eyes, then lifted his hand slightly toward her. She knelt quickly and took it in both of hers, stroking it and kissing it.

'Oi haught t'a done better. Oi'm hawful sorry oi went back on 'Im. Hit was the lemonaide. The boys didn't mean no 'arm-but hit started the 'ell hinside.'

Geordie hurled out some bitter words.

'Don't be 'ard on 'em, Geordie; they didn't mean no 'arm,' he said, and his eyes kept waiting till Geordie said hurriedly-

'Na! na! lad-a'll juist leave them till the Almichty.'

Then Mrs. Mavor sang softly, smoothing his hand, 'Just as I am,' and Billy dozed quietly for half an hour.

When he awoke again his eyes turned to Mr. Craig, and they were troubled and anxious.

'Oi tried 'ard. Oi wanted to win,' he struggled to say. By this time Craig was master of himself, and he answered in a clear, distinct voice-

'Listen, Billy! You made a great fight, and you are going to win yet. And besides, do you remember the sheep that got lost over the mountains?'-this parable was Billy's special delight-'He didn't beat it when He got it, did he? He took it in His arms and carried it home. And so He will you.'

And Billy, keeping his eyes fastened on Mr. Craig, simply said-

'Will 'E?'

'Sure!' said Craig.

'Will 'E?' he repeated, turning his eyes upon Mrs. Mavor.

'Why, yes, Billy,' she answered cheerily, though the tears were streaming from her eyes. 'I would, and He loves you far more.'

He looked at her, smiled, and closed his eyes. I put my hand on his heart; it was fluttering feebly. Again a troubled look passed over his face.

'My-poor-hold-mother,' he whispered, 'she's-hin-the-wukus.'

'I shall take care of her, Billy,' said Mrs. Mavor, in a clear voice, and again Billy smiled. Then he turned his eyes to Mr. Craig, and from him to Geordie, and at last to Mrs. Mavor, where they rested. She bent over and kissed him twice on the forehead.

'Tell 'er,' he said, with difficulty, ''E's took me 'ome.'

'Yes, Billy!' she cried, gazing into his glazing eyes. He tried to lift her hand. She kissed him again. He drew one deep breath and lay quite still.

'Thank the blessed Saviour!' said Mr. Craig, reverently. 'He has taken him home.'

But Mrs. Mavor held the dead hand tight and sobbed out passionately, 'Oh, Billy, Billy! you helped me once when I needed help! I cannot forget!'

And Geordie, groaning, 'Ay, laddie, laddie,' passed out into the fading light of the early evening.

Next day no one went to work, for to all it seemed a sacred day. They carried him into the little church, and there Mr. Craig spoke of his long, hard fight, and of his final victory; for he died without a fear, and with love to the men who, not knowing, had been his death. And there was no bitterness in any heart, for Mr. Craig read the story of the sheep, and told how gently He had taken Billy home; but, though no word was spoken, it was there the League was made again.

They laid him under the pines, beside Lewis Mavor; and the miners threw sprigs of evergreen into the open grave. When Slavin, sobbing bitterly, brought his sprig, no one stopped him, though all thought it strange.

As we turned to leave the grave, the light from the evening sun came softly through the gap in the mountains, and, filling the valley, touched the trees and the little mound beneath with glory. And I thought of that other glory, which is brighter than the sun, and was not sorry that poor Billy's weary fight was over; and I could not help agreeing with Craig that it was there the League had its revenge.

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