The Prospector by Ralph Connor
III. The Voice in the Wilderness
The Superintendent had come from the West on his spring round-up. New settlements in anticipation of and following the new Railway, old settlements in British Columbia valleys, formed twenty years ago and forgotten, ranches of the foot-hill country, the mining camps to the north and south of the new line--these were beginning to fire the imagination of older Canada. Fresh from the new and wonderful land lying west of the Great Lakes, with its spell upon him, its miseries, its infamies, its loneliness aching in his heart, but with the starlight of its promise burning in his eyes, he came to tell the men of the Colleges of their duty, their privilege, their opportunity waiting in the West. For the most part his was a voice crying in the wilderness. Not yet had Canadians come to their faith in their Western Empire. Among the great leaders were still found those who poured contempt upon the project of the trans-continental railway, and even those who favoured the scheme based their support upon political rather than upon economic grounds. It was all so far away and all so unreal that men who prided themselves upon being governed by shrewd business sense held aloof from western enterprises, waiting in calm assurance for their certain collapse. Still, here and there men like Bompas, McLean, McDougall, and Robertson were holding high the light that fell upon prairie and foothill, mountain peak and canyon, where speculators, adventurers, broken men, men with shamed names seeking hiding, and human wolves seeking their prey were pouring in.
Discouraged with the results of his work in the Eastern Colleges, the Superintendent arrived at Knox, and to-night he stood facing the crowd of students and their friends that filled the long Dining Hall to overflowing. With heart hot from disappointment and voice strident with intensity of emotion, he told of the things he had seen and heard in that great new land. Descriptions of scenery, statistics, tales humorous and pathetic, patriotic appeal, and prophetic vision came pouring forth in an overwhelming flood from the great man, whose tall, sinewy form swayed and rocked in his passion, and whose Scotch voice burred through his sonorous periods. "For your Church, for your fellowmen, for Canada," rang out his last appeal, and the men passed out into the corridor toward the Entrance Hall, silent or conversing in low, earnest tones. There was none of the usual chaffing or larking. They had been thinking great thoughts and seeing great visions.
"I want to thank you for asking me in to-night, Lloyd," said The Don. His voice was quiet and his fine eyes were lustrous with light. "That man ought to be in Parliament. I shall see that country soon, I hope. What a master he is! What a grasp! What handling of facts! There's a great Canadian, I say, and he ought to be in Parliament."
The men gathered round, for the great 'Varsity half back was well known and well liked in that company; but they all knew him as one of the gay 'Varsity set, and some of the older men knew, too, that in his early college career were passages that neither he nor his friends cared to remember. Hence all of them, but especially Shock, whom he loved, and Lloyd, whom he greatly admired, listened with surprise to The Don's enthusiastic words, for they both had stood beside him in those dark days, and had played toward him the brother's part. The men waited in silence for Lloyd's reply. They knew him to be by far the strongest man in the college, the readiest in debate, as well as the most popular in the pulpit; but, with the sure instinct of college men, they had come to recognise his ambitious spirit, and, indeed, to be more influenced by it than they would have cared to acknowledge.
"Yes," said Lloyd, "it was certainly a statesman-like address. It contained all the elements of a great speech. But he--of course-- well--he sees only one thing--The West."
"That's right," said little Brown, who had come in at Shock's earnest invitation, and because he was anxious to hear about the new country from one who was coming to be recognised as an authority, "he sees one thing sure enough. I say, what a drummer he'd make! Talk like that is worth 100 a minute to any firm. I'll put my Governor on to him. When that chap opened his sample case he wouldn't talk weather and politics, and then sidle up to business. Not much! He'd give them Brown's Axle Oil, Brown's Baking Powder, or anything else of Brown's he was showing, till his customer would see nothing but Brown's Axle Oil and Brown's Baking Powder all over his shop, and he'd be reaching for the whole output. One thing! You bet!"
A general laugh of approval followed Brown's speech.
"That's true enough," said Lloyd in a tone of calm superiority, "but there is other work to do and other places to do it in."
"The Park Church, for instance, eh, Lloyd?" suggested the voice slyly.
"Why not?" answered Lloyd. "The centres must be manned--that's a safe principle in strategy."
"Certainly," cried another voice ironically. "Our neglected masses!"
"Yes, and neglected classes, too." Lloyd's tone was earnest and sincere.
"I agree with you, Lloyd," said The Don emphatically, "if any fellows need to be, ah--well--shaken up, you know, it's us poor devils who attend the city churches. For my part, I would like to see you in the Park Church, and I promise you I would go regularly."
On all sides there was frank approval of The Don's position, while Lloyd, flushed and laughing, lightly replied: "Oh, there won't be any trouble, I fancy, in getting a man for the Park Church."
"Not in the least, I assure you," said Brown. "Brown Bros., Commission Merchants, etc., etc., will undertake to supply men in half-dozen lots willing for a consideration to offer themselves upon the altar of Park Church."
"There's more than willingness necessary, unfortunately, and besides, lots of men would be willing to go West," answered Lloyd.
"Yes, and lots of men deucedly unwilling, too, from what your old man there says, not to speak of the young lady, who apparently must also be willing. Oh! I say, wasn't that a great yarn; and if ever that chap gets a look at himself from that particular point. of view, that 'll be the time to buy him."
"Brown, my boy," said The Don solemnly, "your limitations are obvious. The commercial in you has run to seed."
"That may be, but I can spot a man that knows how to show his goods, and when that old gentleman set forth the West in those high lights of his, I tell you what, I almost wished I was a Theologue."
"What a pity you are not," replied The Don thoughtfully, "for apparently they want strong men." At which the crowd again laughed
"What's the matter with Shock?" suggested someone; "he's a good strong man." There was a general laugh.
"You're the man, Shock. You would clear out those saloons."
"Can you ride a broncho, Shock?"
At the good-natured chaff Shock blushed a deeper red than usual. No one expected much of poor Shock. Indeed, most of his classmates wondered if he would ever "get a place," and none more than Shock himself.
But Brown, resenting the laugh and its all too evident implication, replied indignantly: "You bet Shock's the man for the West, or any place else where solid men are wanted, and where Shock goes there will be something doing! And," striking an attitude, "the country will be the better for it! Oh, I am a Canadian!" he continued, smiting his breast dramatically. "Come along, Shock, we've got an appointment," and Brown, linking his arm affectionately through that of his big friend, stuck his cap on the back of his head and marched off whistling "The Maple Leaf."
"Say!" he cried, as he passed out into the street, "won't a lot of those fellows volunteer, or will they hunt round for a nice little bunk in Ontario?"
"Many would like to go if they could," said Shock thoughtfully, "but you know there are many things that must be considered."
"Young ladies, eh?" asked Brown with a laugh.
"Oh! didn't he tell that yarn well? It was great. But I'd hate to be the fellow."
"But you are not fair," replied Shock. "A man can't answer every appeal. He must think what he is fit for, and, in short, where he is called to work. There's Lloyd, now--"
"Oh, Lloyd!" broke in Brown impatiently. "He's a quitter."
"Not he. He's anything but that."
"No," owned Brown, "he's not a quitter, but he puts in overtime thinking of what's good for Lloyd. Of course, I do that sort of thing myself, but from a fellow like Lloyd one expects something better."
Soon they were at Shock's door.
"Come in," said Shock cordially, "mother will be glad to see you."
And Brown went in.