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If Any Man Sin By H. A. Cody Characters: 13078

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

After the Christmas excitement life settled down to a quiet monotony in the little cabin at the mouth of the Quaska River. Nance played day after day with her doll and other toys, and never seemed to grow weary of them. Martin visited his traps each day, and during the long evenings remained at home. There was no work he could do upon the interior of the building, so he had very little to occupy his time. Nance always went to bed early, after she had several stories told to her. Silence then brooded over the place, broken only by the crackling of the fire and the sound of the violin, upon which Martin would play when the mood was upon him. There was nothing else for him to do but sit and smoke, alone with his own thoughts.

For a while he was contented with this quietness and solitude. But Martin was a man, not a beast of the pen, and he possessed something besides a mere body. There was a power within him which refused to be still. It was ever active, like the ceaseless throb of the engine concealed within the ship. He had known other things. He knew what it was to study, to think, and to aspire. His training had made him so, and he could not endure a life of inactivity.

For the first time since entering the wilderness an insatiable longing came upon him for books, or reading matter of some kind. He thought of his well-filled shelves in his old parish. What a pride he had taken in his library, and what joy had always been his when he could be alone for a while with his favourite authors. But now he had nothing, not even a scrap of a newspaper. He looked around the barren room, and a tremor shook his body as he realised what little chance there was of ever having those rude walls adorned with books. And what an opportunity for reading, he mused, by the bright light of the open fire.

He was thinking thus one evening when the door softly opened and Taku and Quabee glided into the room, and squatted upon the floor to his left. Martin was pleased that they had come, as he was beginning to be quite fond of these two well-behaved natives. The only difficulty he had was in talking with them. He did not understand their language, while their knowledge of the English tongue was most meagre. Otherwise they would have proven most congenial company.

By their manner he knew that they had come for some special purpose, for they were unusually silent, and sat for a time without saying a word. Martin offered Taku a plug of tobacco, which the latter took, filled his pipe, and then handed it over to his wife. Soon large volumes of smoke were filling the room, while expressions of satisfaction rested upon the faces of the visitors.

"Good!" Taku ejaculated, looking at Martin. "Fine squaw, eh?" and he motioned towards Quabee.

Martin nodded.

"You teach 'um all sam' white man, eh?" Taku continued.

"What's that?" Martin inquired. "Me no savvey."

"You mak' 'um spik all sam' white man?"

"Oh, I see. You want to speak white man's tongue? you want to talk as I do?"

"Ah, ah, all sam'."

"Maybe so," was the slow reply. "I'll think it over. You come in the morning."

"You mak' Injun sling, eh?"

"Do what?"

"Sling, all sam' dis," and Taku began to hum the air of a tune he had learned.

"Where did you hear that?" Martin asked somewhat sharply.

"At post. White squaw mak' beeg box sling all sam' dis," and the Indian tapped upon the floor with his fingers, imitating some one playing an organ.

"And did she sing, too?" Martin questioned.

"Ah, ah."

"And you savvey it, eh?"

"Ah, ah. Me sling all sam' white squaw. Me no savvey talk," and he shook his head in a disconsolate manner.

"You want to savvey the words, do you?"

"Ah, ah."

"Well, then, I shall think about it. You come to me in the morning. Savvey?"

"Ah, ah. Me savvey."

When the Indians had departed Martin sat for a long time in deep meditation. An uneasy feeling possessed him. He knew very well now that the hunters who had gone to the post for supplies had come in contact with the missionaries there, and had attended service. They would go back again, and each time they would hear and learn more about the teaching of the Church. Soon they would hold service among themselves, and sing the hymns as well.

Presently an idea flashed into his mind, which somewhat startled him. It was not unlikely that the missionary, knowing of these Indians, would visit them from time to time and hold service among them. Again the bishop's warning came to him. He was surely learning now how true were those words. He paced rapidly up and down the room. What should he do? Must he leave this place, and the cabin upon which he had expended so much labour, and depart? If he did so where could he go from the influence of the Church?

A sudden thought stabbed his mind, which caused him to pause in the middle of the room. Why had not the idea come to him before? he asked himself. He crossed at once to the chair he had recently left, and sat down. He wished to think it all out very carefully. The Church had cast him off, and he had fled from its influence. He had been always on the defensive. Why not change his position and assume the aggressive? The Church was nothing to him now except the great disturber of his peace of mind. Although he was only one, yet why should he not show that he could retaliate? Why run away like a cur? Would it not be better for him to use his influence and oppose the onward march of the Church into the valley of the Quaska? He would teach the Indians the English language, and when they could understand him intelligently he would speak to them about the Church, and it would not be to its advantage, either.

The conclusion Martin arrived at this night did not trouble him in the least. He believed that he was justified in the course he was about to pursue. He wondered why he had not done this before. More than once the idea came to his mind that he would like to go back to the ways of civilisation and expose the Church. He knew many things about it which were not generally known, for he had been within the inner circle. He had seen much sham, hypocrisy, and even downright sin in the fold. He could tell of the strife, and division which often existed; of the incessant struggle for high positions; of the jealousy and envy which were so common. Oh, yes, he would unfold a tale which would startle the world. He thought of all these things as he lay that night in his bunk. Not once did there come to him a realisation of his own misde

eds, but only those of others.

Early in the morning Taku and Quabee came to the cabin, bringing with them so many other Indians that the room could hardly hold them all. Martin looked upon them with something akin to despair, although he determined to do the best he could to instruct them. He chose the simplest words at first, using the common articles with which they were familiar as illustrations. The natives were most anxious to learn, and repeated the words over and over again with remarkable patience. Time was nothing to them, and in fact they would have remained all day if Martin had been willing to instruct them. But a lesson of two hours was all that he could endure, especially as the atmosphere in the room had become almost unbearable. When he stopped, and signified that there would be no more teaching that day his scholars made no movement to depart. They remained squatted upon the floor with an expression of expectation upon their faces, which Martin could not understand.

At length Taku rose slowly to his feet, and stood before the white man.

"Injun wait," he began. "Injun lak' sling all sam' white squaw," and he jerked his thumb toward the east.

These words were received with much approval by the assembled natives. Martin well understood what they meant, and his heart beat rapidly. What should he do? Should he teach these Indians to sing the hymns of the Church which had cast him out, or should he poison their minds by telling them that such things were all nonsense? The Indians were observing him closely, and it seemed as if they were watching the struggle which was going on in his mind. Their eyes appeared to reproach him, and for relief he lifted the violin from its case, and began to tune up the instrument.

While he thus stood in the valley of decision Martin glanced towards Nance, sitting quietly by Quabee's side. Her sweet innocent face was turned towards him, and her bright eyes were following his every movement. He glanced towards the expectant natives. They were Nance's companions, and would be for years to come. Suppose he denied them their request now, and turned their minds against religious teaching, what would be the outcome? What had he to offer them instead? By influencing them for good it would be a benefit to Nance as well.

His hands trembled as he continued to thrum upon the strings. How could he turn against the Church? He thought of his parents, and remembered what noble lives they had led, and the peace and comfort they had received through that very Church which he was now on the verge of opposing. Then his mind flashed to Beryl. Beryl! What a vision rose before him. How could he deny the Church of which she was such a devoted member? What did all the sham and pretence amount to in comparison with her! A Church which could produce such characters as his parents and Beryl, how could he fight against it?

By this time the Indians were becoming restless. They were talking among themselves, and although Martin could not understand what they were saying, it was not hard for him to detect a distinct note of anger. This brought him to himself, and put an end to his indecision. He thought of the Bishop's words, and a scornful laugh broke from his lips, as he rose from the stool on which he had been sitting, and laid the violin upon the table. What a fool he had been, he told himself, for having wavered even for an instant. Why should he teach these natives the hymns of the Church? If he began now there would be no end. They would come every day, demanding more. No, it should not be. It was far better not to begin, no matter how angry the Indians might be.

When the natives understood that the white man would not play for them, and that the instructions for the day were ended, they departed surly and dejected. But Martin did not care what they said or thought. He had made up his mind to oppose the Church, and he was not to be turned aside any more. Twice, at least, during the past year he had been weak, and had given way, but it must never happen again.

That night after the simple supper was over, the few dishes washed and put away, Nance climbed upon Martin's knee.

"Tell me about the beautiful flower, please," she pleaded, laying her head contentedly against his shoulder.

"What flower, dear? Heart's Ease?"

"No, not that one now. The other one, you know, which could sing so lovely."

"Oh!" Martin caught his breath. He was surprised that Nance should make such a request when he had been thinking so much about Beryl all through the day.

"Why do you wish to hear about her, little one?" he asked after a pause.

"'Cause I like her. I think about her so much, and how pretty she must be."

"Yes, she is pretty, Nance, and so very, very good."

"What's her name, daddy?"


"Oh, isn't that a funny name for a flower!"

"It is. But you see this flower is a woman."

"A woman!" Nance sat up straight, and looked full into Martin's face. "I'm so glad. It's much nicer than being just a flower. You called her that in play, didn't you?"

"Yes, Nance, just in play."

"And is she a really real woman?"

"A real woman, Nance; the most beautiful I ever saw."

"More beautiful than my own mamma?"

Martin started at this unexpected question. A picture rose before him of the white face of a dead woman, lying in the Indian lodge on the bank of the great river beyond the mountains. How could he answer the child?

"I never knew your dear mamma, little one," he at length replied. "I never talked to her. But I know Beryl, and have heard her sing."

"Does she love little girls?"

"Yes. She loves everything that is good and beautiful."

"Does she love you, daddy?"

"I-I am not sure," Martin stammered, while a flush came into his face. "I am not beautiful, neither am I good."

"Yes, you are," and Nance twined her little arms around his neck. "You are so beautiful and good that anybody would love you. I do, anyway."

Martin could say no more. A lump rose in his throat, and a strange feeling took possession of him. The simplicity and innocent prattle of this child were unnerving him. He told her that it was getting late, and that she must go to bed. As he bent over her and gave her the usual good-night kiss she looked up earnestly into his face.

"When I am a big woman," she said, "I want to be just like Beryl. Do you think I will, daddy?"

"I trust so," was the quiet reply. "But go to sleep now, and we'll talk about it to-morrow."

* * *

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