Chapter XXII. How the Swan Creek Church was Opened

When, near the end of the year, The Pilot fell sick, Bill nursed him like a mother and sent him off for a rest and change to Gwen, forbidding him to return till the church was finished and visiting him twice a week. The love between the two was most beautiful, and, when I find my heart grow hard and unbelieving in men and things, I let my mind wander back to a scene that I came upon in front of Gwen's house. These two were standing alone in the clear moonlight, Bill with his hand upon The Pilot's shoulder, and The Pilot with his arm around Bill's neck.

"Dear old Bill," The Pilot was saying, "dear old Bill," and the voice was breaking into a sob. And Bill, standing stiff and straight, looked up at the stars, coughed and swallowed hard for some moments, and said, in a queer, croaky voice:

"Shouldn't wonder if a Chinook would blow up."

"Chinook?" laughed The Pilot, with a catch in his voice. "You dear old humbug," and he stood watching till the lank form swayed down into the canyon.

The day of the church opening came, as all days, however long waited for, will come--a bright, beautiful Christmas Day. The air was still and full of frosty light, as if arrested by a voice of command, waiting the word to move. The hills lay under their dazzling coverlets, asleep. Back of all, the great peaks lifted majestic heads out of the dark forests and gazed with calm, steadfast faces upon the white, sunlit world. To-day, as the light filled up the cracks that wrinkled their hard faces, they seemed to smile, as if the Christmas joy had somehow moved something in their old, stony hearts.

The people were all there--farmers, ranchers, cowboys, wives and children--all happy, all proud of their new church, and now all expectant, waiting for The Pilot and the Old Timer, who were to drive down if The Pilot was fit and were to bring Gwen if the day was fine. As the time passed on, Bill, as master of ceremonies, began to grow uneasy. Then Indian Joe appeared and handed a note to Bill. He read it, grew gray in the face and passed it to me. Looking, I saw in poor, wavering lines the words, "Dear Bill. Go on with the opening. Sing the Psalm, you know the one, and say a prayer, and oh, come to me quick, Bill. Your Pilot."

Bill gradually pulled himself together, announced in a strange voice, "The Pilot can't come," handed me the Psalm, and said:

"Make them sing."

It was that grand Psalm for all hill peoples, "I to the hills will lift mine eyes," and with wondering faces they sang the strong, steadying words. After the Psalm was over the people sat and waited, Bill looked at the Hon. Fred Ashley, then at Robbie Muir, then said to me in a low voice:

"Kin you make a prayer?"

I shook my head, ashamed as I did so of my cowardice.

Again Bill paused, then said:

"The Pilot says there's got to be a prayer. Kin anyone make one?"

Again dead, solemn silence.

Then Hi, who was near the back, said, coming to his partner's help:

"What's the matter with you trying, yourself, Bill?"

The red began to come up in Bill's white face.

"'Taint in my line. But The Pilot says there's got to be a prayer, and I'm going to stay with the game." Then, leaning on the pulpit, he said:

"Let's pray," and began:

"God Almighty, I ain't no good at this, and perhaps you'll understand if I don't put things right." Then a pause followed, during which I heard some of the women beginning to sob.

"What I want to say," Bill went on, "is, we're mighty glad about this church, which we know it's you and The Pilot that's worked it. And we're all glad to chip in."

Then again he paused, and, looking up, I saw his hard, gray face working and two tears stealing down his cheeks. Then he started again:

"But about The Pilot--I don't want to persoom--but if you don't mind, we'd like to have him stay--in fact, don't see how we kin do without him--look at all the boys here; he's just getting his work in and is bringin' 'em right along, and, God Almighty, if you take him away it might be a good thing for himself, but for us--oh, God," the voice quivered and was silent "Amen."

Then someone, I think it must have been the Lady Charlotte, began: "Our Father," and all joined that could join, to the end. For a few moments Bill stood up, looking at them silently. Then, as if remembering his duty, he said:

"This here church is open. Excuse me."

He stood at the door, gave a word of direction to Hi, who had followed him out, and leaping on his bronco shook him out into a hard gallop.

The Swan Creek Church was opened. The form of service may not have been correct, but, if great love counts for anything and appealing faith, then all that was necessary was done.