Chapter XX. How Bill Favored "Home-Grown Industries"
 

The building of the Swan Creek Church made a sensation in the country, and all the more that Bronco Bill was in command.

"When I put up money I stay with the game," he announced; and stay he did, to the great benefit of the work and to the delight of The Pilot, who was wearing his life out in trying to do several men's work. It was Bill that organized the gangs for hauling stone for the foundation and logs for the walls. It was Bill that assigned the various jobs to those volunteering service. To Robbie Muir and two stalwart Glengarry men from the Ottawa lumber region, who knew all about the broadaxe, he gave the hewing down of the logs that formed the walls. And when they had done, Bill declared they were "better 'an a sawmill." It was Bill, too, that did the financing, and his passage with Williams, the storekeeper from "the other side" who dealt in lumber and building material, was such as established forever Bill's reputation in finance.

With The Pilot's plans in his hands he went to Williams, seizing a time when the store was full of men after their mail matter.

"What do you think ov them plans?" he asked innocently.

Williams was voluble with opinions and criticism and suggestions, all of which were gratefully, even humbly received.

"Kind ov hard to figger out jest how much lumber 'll go into the shack," said Bill; "ye see the logs makes a difference."

To Williams the thing was simplicity itself, and, after some figuring, he handed Bill a complete statement of the amount of lumber of all kinds that would be required.

"Now, what would that there come to?"

Williams named his figure, and then Bill entered upon negotiations.

"I aint no man to beat down prices. No, sir, I say give a man his figger. Of course, this here aint my funeral; besides, bein' a Gospel shop, the price naterally would be different." To this the boys all assented and Williams looked uncomfortable.

"In fact," and Bill adopted his public tone to Hi's admiration and joy, "this here's a public institooshun" (this was Williams' own thunder), "condoocin' to the good of the community" (Hi slapped his thigh and squirted half way across the store to signify his entire approval, "and I cherish the opinion"--(delighted chuckle from Hi)-- "that public men are interested in this concern."

"That's so! Right you are!" chorused the boys gravely.

Williams agreed, but declared he had thought of all this in making his calculation. But seeing it was a church, and the first church and their own church, he would make a cut, which he did after more figuring. Bill gravely took the slip of paper and put it into his pocket without a word. By the end of the week, having in the meantime ridden into town and interviewed the dealers there, Bill sauntered into the store and took up his position remote from Williams.

"You'll be wanting that sheeting, won't you, next week, Bill?" said Williams.

"What sheetin' 's that?"

"Why, for the church. Aint the logs up?"

"Yes, that's so. I was just goin' to see the boys here about gettin' it hauled," said Bill.

"Hauled!" said Williams, in amazed indignation. "Aint you goin' to stick to your deal?"

"I generally make it my custom to stick to my deals," said Bill, looking straight at Williams.

"Well, what about your deal with me last Monday night?" said Williams, angrily.

"Let's see. Last Monday night," said Bill, apparently thinking back; "can't say as I remember any pertickler deal. Any ov you fellers remember?"

No one could recall any deal.

"You don't remember getting any paper from me, I suppose?" said Williams, sarcastically.

"Paper! Why, I believe I've got that there paper onto my person at this present moment," said Bill, diving into his pocket and drawing out Williams' estimate. He spent a few moments in careful scrutiny.

"There ain't no deal onto this as I can see," said Bill, gravely passing the paper to the boys, who each scrutinized it and passed it on with a shake of the head or a remark as to the absence of any sign of a deal. Williams changed his tone. For his part, he was indifferent in the matter.

Then Bill made him an offer.

"Ov course, I believe in supportin' home-grown industries, and if you can touch my figger I'd be uncommonly glad to give you the contract."

But Bill's figure, which was quite fifty per cent. lower than Williams' best offer, was rejected as quite impossible.

"Thought I'd make you the offer," said Bill, carelessly, "seein' as you're institootin' the trade and the boys here 'll all be buildin' more or less, and I believe in standin' up for local trades and manufactures." There were nods of approval on all sides, and Williams was forced to accept, for Bill began arranging with the Hill brothers and Hi to make an early start on Monday. It was a great triumph, but Bill displayed no sign of elation; he was rather full of sympathy for Williams, and eager to help on the lumber business as a local "institooshun."

Second in command in the church building enterprise stood Lady Charlotte, and under her labored the Hon. Fred, The Duke, and, indeed, all the company of the Noble Seven. Her home became the centre of a new type of social life. With exquisite tact, and much was needed for this kind of work, she drew the bachelors from their lonely shacks and from their wild carousals, and gave them a taste of the joys of a pure home-life, the first they had had since leaving the old homes years ago. And then she made them work for the church with such zeal and diligence that her husband and The Duke declared that ranching had become quite an incidental interest since the church-building had begun. But The Pilot went about with a radiant look on his pale face, while Bill gave it forth as his opinion, "though she was a leetle high in the action, she could hit an uncommon gait."

With such energy did Bill push the work of construction that by the first of December the church stood roofed, sheeted, floored and ready for windows, doors and ceiling, so that The Pilot began to hope that he should see the desire of his heart fulfilled--the church of Swan Creek open for divine service on Christmas Day.

During these weeks there was more than church-building going on, for while the days were given to the shaping of logs, and the driving of nails and the planing of boards, the long winter evenings were spent in talk around the fire in my shack, where The Pilot for some months past had made his home and where Bill, since the beginning of the church building, had come "to camp." Those were great nights for The Pilot and Bill, and, indeed, for me, too, and the other boys, who, after a day's work on the church, were always brought in by Bill or The Pilot.

Great nights for us all they were. After bacon and beans and bannocks, and occasionally potatoes, and rarely a pudding, with coffee, rich and steaming, to wash all down, pipes would follow, and then yarns of adventures, possible and impossible, all exciting and wonderful, and all received with the greatest credulity.

If, however, the powers of belief were put to too great a strain by a tale of more than ordinary marvel, Bill would follow with one of such utter impossibility that the company would feel that the limit had been reached, and the yarns would cease. But after the first week most of the time was given to The Pilot, who would read to us of the deeds of the mighty men of old, who had made and wrecked empires.

What happy nights they were to those cowboys, who had been cast up like driftwood upon this strange and lonely shore! Some of them had never known what it was to have a thought beyond the work and sport of the day. And the world into which The Pilot was ushering them was all new and wonderful to them. Happy nights, without a care, but that The Pilot would not get the ghastly look out of his face, and laughed at the idea of going away till the church was built. And, indeed, we would all have sorely missed him, and so he stayed.