Chapter XI. The Wake

The wake was an important feature in the social life of the people of Indian Lands. In ancient days, in the land of their forefathers, the wake had been deemed a dire necessity for the safeguarding of the dead, who were supposed to be peculiarly exposed to the malicious attacks of evil spirits. Hence, with many lighted candles, and with much incantation, friends would surround the body through the perilous hours of darkness. It was a weird and weary vigil, and small wonder if it appeared necessary that the courage and endurance of the watchers should be fortified with copious draughts of "mountain dew," with bread and cheese accompaniments. And the completeness of their trust in the efficacy of such supports was too often evidenced by the condition of the watchers toward the dawn of the morning. And, indeed, if the spirits were not too fastidious, and if they had so desired, they could have easily flown away, not only with the "waked," but with the "wakers" as well.

But those days and those notions had long passed away. The wake still remained, but its meaning and purpose had changed. No longer for the guarding of the dead, but for the comfort of the living, the friends gathered to the house of mourning and watched the weary hours. But Highland courtesy forbade that the custom of refreshing the watchers should be allowed to die out, and hence, through the night, once and again, the whisky, bread, and cheese were handed around by some close friend of the family, and were then placed upon the table for general use. It was not surprising that, where all were free to come and welcome to stay, and where anything like scantiness in providing or niggardliness in serving would be a matter of family disgrace, the wake often degenerated into a frolic, if not a debauch. In order to check any such tendency, it had been the custom of late years to introduce religious services, begun by the minister himself and continued by the elders.

As the evening fell, a group of elders stood by the back door of Long John Cameron's sorrow-stricken home, talking quietly over the sad event and arranging for the "exercises" of the night. At a little distance from them sat Yankee, with Ranald beside him, both silent and listening somewhat indifferently to the talk of the others. Yankee was not in his element. He was always welcome in the homes of his comrades, for he was ready with his tongue and clever with his fingers, but with the graver and religious side of their lives he had little in common. It was, perhaps, this feeling that drew him toward Macdonald Dubh and Ranald, so that for weeks at a time he would make their house his home. He had "no use for wakes," as he said himself, and had it not been that it was one of the gang that lay dead within, Yankee would have avoided the house until all was over and the elders safely away.

Of the elders, only four were present as yet: Donald Ross, who was ever ready to bring the light of his kindly face to cheer the hearts of the mourners; Straight Rory, who never, by any chance, allowed himself to miss the solemn joy of leading the funeral psalm; Peter McRae, who carried behind his stern old face a heart of genuine sympathy; and Kenny Crubach, to whom attendance at funerals was at once a duty and a horror.

Donald Ross, to whom all the elders accorded, instinctively, the place of leader, was arranging the order of "the exercises."

"Mr. McCuaig," he said to Straight Rory, "you will take charge of the singing. The rest of us will, in turn, give out a psalm and read a portion of Scripture with a few suitable remarks, and lead in prayer. We will not be forgetting, brethren," said old Donald, "that there will be sore hearts here this night.'

Straight Rory's answer was a sigh so woeful and so deep that Yankee looked over at him and remarked in an undertone to Ranald, "He ain't so cheerful as he might be. He must feel awful inside."

"It is a sad and terrible day for the Camerons," said Peter McRae.

"Aye, it is sad, indeed," replied Donald Ross. "He was a good son and they will be missing him bad. It is a great loss."

"Yes, the loss is great," said Peter, grimly. "But, after all, that is a small thing."

Straight Rory sighed again even more deeply than before. Donald Ross said nothing.

"What does the old duck mean, anyhow?" said Yankee to Ranald.

The boy made no reply. His heart was sick with horror at Peter's meaning, which he understood only too well.

"Aye," went on Peter, "it is a terrible, mysterious Providence, and a heavy warning to the ungodly and careless."

"He means me, I guess," remarked Yankee to Ranald.

"It will perhaps be not amiss to any of us," said Kenny Crubach, sharply.

"Indeed, that is true," said Donald Ross, in a very humble voice.

"Yes, Mr. Ross," said Peter, ignoring Kenny Crubach, "but at times the voice of Providence cannot be misunderstood, and it will not do for the elders of the church to be speaking soft things when the Lord is speaking in judgment and wrath."

Donald was silent, while Straight Rory assented with a heartrending "Aye, aye," which stirred Yankee's bile again.

"What's he talkin' about? He don't seem to be usin' my language," he said, in a tone of wrathful perplexity. Ranald was too miserable to answer, but Kenny was ready with his word.

"Judgment and wrath," he echoed, quickly. "The man would require to be very skillful whatever in interpreting the ways of Providence, and very bold to put such a meaning into the death of a young man such as Malcolm yonder." The little man's voice was vibrating with feeling.

Then Yankee began to understand. "I'll be gol-blamed to a cinder!" he exclaimed, in a low voice, falling back upon a combination that seemed more suitable to the circumstances. "They ain't sendin' him to hell, are they?" He shut up the knife with which he had been whittling with a sharp snap, and rising to his feet, walked slowly over to the group of elders.

"Far be it from me to judge what is not to be seen," said Peter. "But we are allowed and commanded to discern the state of the heart by the fruits."

"Fruits?" replied Kenny, quickly. "He was a good son and brother and friend; he was honest and clean, and he gave his life for another at the last."

"Exactly so," said Peter. "I am not denying much natural goodness, for indeed he was a fine lad; but I will be looking for the evidence that he was in a state of grace. I have not heard of any, and glad would I be to hear it."

The old man's emotion took the sharpness out of Kenny's speech, but he persisted, stoutly, "Goodness is goodness, Mr. McRae, for all that."

"You will not be holding the Armenian doctrine of works, Mr. Campbell?" said Peter, severely. "You would not be pointing to good works as a ground of salvation?"

Yankee, who had been following the conversation intently, thought he saw meaning in it at last.

"If I might take a hand," he said, diffidently, "I might contribute somethin' to help you out."

Peter regarded him a little impatiently. He had forgotten the concrete, for the moment, in the abstract, and was donning his armor for a battle with Kenny upon the "fundamentals." Hence he was not too well pleased with Yankee's interruption. But Donald Ross gladly welcomed the diversion. The subject was to him extremely painful.

"We will be glad," he said to Yankee, "to hear you, Mr. Latham."

"Well," said Yankee, slowly, "from your remarks I gathered that you wanted information about the doings of--" he jerked his head toward the house behind him. "Now, I want to say," he continued, confidentially, "you've come to the right shop, for I've ate and slept, I've worked and fought, I've lived with him by day and by night, and right through he was the straightest, whitest man I ever seen, and I won't except the boss himself." Yankee paused to consider the effect of this statement, and to allow its full weight to be appreciated; and then he continued: "Yes, sir, you may just bet your--you may be right well sure," correcting himself, "that you're safe in givin'"--here he dropped his voice, and jerked his head toward the house again--"in givin' the highest marks, full value, and no discount. Why," he went on, with an enthusiasm rare in him, "ask any man in the gang, any man on the river, if they ever seen or heard of his doin' a mean or crooked thing, and if you find any feller who says he did, bring him here, and, by"--Yankee remembered himself in time--"and I give you my solemn word that I'll eat him, hat and boots." Yankee brought his bony fist down with a whack into his hand. Then he relapsed into his lazy drawl again: "No, siree, hoss! If it's doin's you're after, don't you be slow in bankin' your little heap on his doin's."

Donald Ross grasped Yankee's hand and shook it hard. "I will be thanking you for that word," he said, earnestly.

But Peter felt that the cause of truth demanded that he should speak out. "Mr. Latham," he said, solemnly, "what you have been saying is very true, no doubt, but if a man is not 'born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.' These are the words of the Lord himself."

"Born again!" said Yankee. "How? I don't seem to get you. But I guess the feller that does the right thing all round has got a purty good chance."

"It is not a man's deeds, we are told," said Peter, patiently, "but his heart."

"There you are," said Yankee, warmly, "right again, and that's what I always hold to. It's the heart a man carries round in his inside. Never mind your talk, never mind your actin' up for people to see. Give me the heart that is warm and red, and beats proper time, you bet. Say! you're all right." Yankee gazed admiringly at the perplexed and hopeless Peter.

"I am afraid you are not remembering what the Apostle Paul said, Mr. Latham," said Peter, determined to deal faithfully with Yankee. "'By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.'"

It was now Yankee's turn to gaze helplessly at Peter. "I guess you have dropped me again," he said, slowly.

"Man," said Peter, with a touch of severity, "you will need to be more faithful with the Word of God. The Scriptures plainly declare, Mr. Latham, that it is impossible for a man to be saved in his natural state."

Yankee looked blank at this.

"The prophet says that the plowing and sowing, the very prayers, of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord."

"Why, now you're talkin', but look here." Yankee lowered his tone. "Look here, you wouldn't go for to call"--here again he jerked his head toward the house--"wicked, would you? Fur if you do, why, there ain't any more conversation between you and me."

Yankee was terribly in earnest.

"'There is none righteous, no, not one,'" quoted Peter, with the air of a man who forces himself to an unpleasant duty.

"That's so, I guess," said Yankee, meditatively, "but it depends some on what you mean. I don't set myself up for any copy-book head-line, but as men go--men, say, just like you here--I'd put-- I'd put him alongside, wouldn't you? You expect to get through yourself, I judge?"

This was turning the tables somewhat sharply upon Peter, but Yankee's keen, wide-open eyes were upon him, and his intensely earnest manner demanded an answer.

"Indeed, if it will be so, it will not be for any merit of my own, but only because of the mercy of the Lord in Christ Jesus." Peter's tone was sincerely humble.

"Guess you're all right," said Yankee, encouragingly; "and as for-- as for--him--don't you worry about that. You may be dead sure about his case."

But Peter only shook his head hopelessly. "You are sorely in need of instruction, Mr. Latham," he said, sadly. "We cannot listen to our hearts in this matter. We must do honor to the justice of God, and the word is clear, 'Ye must be born again.' Nothing else avails." Peter's tone was final.

Then Yankee drew a little nearer to him, as if settling down to work.

"Now look here. You let me talk awhile. I ain't up in your side of the business, but I guess we are tryin' to make the same point. Now supposin' you was in for a hoss race, which I hope ain't no offense, seein' it ain't likely but suppose, and to take first money you had to perdoose a two-fifteen gait. 'Purty good lick,' says you; 'now where will I get the nag?' Then you sets down and thinks, and, says you, 'By gum, which of course you wouldn't, but supposin' says you, 'a Blue Grass bred is the hoss for that gait'; and you begin to inquire around, but there ain't no Blue Grass bred stock in the country, and that race is creepin' up close. One day, just when you was beginnin' to figure on takin' the dust to the hull field, you sees a colt comin' along the road hittin' up a purty slick gait. 'Hello,' says you, 'that looks likely,' and you begin to negotiate, and you finds out that colt's all right and her time's two-ten. Then you begin to talk about the weather and the crops until you finds out the price, and you offer him half money. Then, when you have fetched him down to the right figure, you pulls out your wad, thinkin' how that colt will make the rest look like a line of fence-posts. 'But hold on,' says you, 'is this here colt Blue Grass bred?' 'Blue Grass! Not much. This here's Grey Eagle stock, North Virginny' says he. 'Don't want her,' says you. 'What's the matter with the colt?' says he. 'Nothin', only she ain't Blue Grass. Got to be Blue Grass.' 'But she's got the gait, ain't she?' 'Yes, the gait's all right, action fine, good-looking, too, nothing wrong, but she ain't Blue Grass bred.' And so you lose your race. Now what kind of a name would you call yourself?"

Peter saw Yankee's point, but he only shook his head more hopelessly than before, and turned to enter the house, followed by Straight Rory, still sighing deeply, and old Donald Ross. But Kenny remained a moment behind the others, and offering his hand to Yankee, said: "You are a right man, and I will be proud to know you better."

Yankee turned a puzzled face to Kenny. "I say," he inquired, in an amazed voice, "do you think he didn't catch on to me?"

Kenny nodded. "Yes, he understood your point."

"But look here," said Yankee, "they don't hold that--that he is--" Yankee paused. The thought was too horrible, and these men were experts, and were supposed to know.

"It's hard to say," said Kenny, diplomatically.

"See here," said Yankee, facing Kenny squarely, "you're a purty level-headed man, and you're up in this business. Do you think with them? No monkeying. Straight talk now." Yankee was in no mood to be trifled with. He was in such deadly earnest that he had forgotten all about Ranald, who was now standing behind him, waiting, with white face and parted lips, for Kenny's answer.

"Whisht!" said Kenny, pointing into the kitchen behind. Yankee looked and saw Bella Peter and her father entering. But Ranald was determined to know Kenny's opinion.

"Mr. Campbell," he whispered, eagerly, and forgetting the respect due to an elder, he grasped Kenny's arm, "do you think with them?"

"That I do not," said Kenny, emphatically, and Yankee, at that word, struck his hand into Kenny's palm with a loud smack.

"I knew blamed well you were not any such dumb fool," he said, softening his speech in deference to Kenny's office and the surrounding circumstances. So saying, he went away to the stable, and when Ranald and his uncle, Macdonald Bhain, followed a little later to put up Peter McGregor's team, they heard Yankee inside, swearing with a fluency and vigor quite unusual with him.

"Whisht, man!" said Macdonald Bhain, sternly. "This is no place or time to be using such language. What is the matter with you, anyway?"

But Macdonald could get no satisfaction out of him, and he said to his nephew, "What is it, Ranald?"

"It is the elders, Peter McRae and Straight Rory," said Ranald, sullenly. "They were saying that Mack was--that Mack was--"

"Look here, boss," interrupted Yankee, "I ain't well up in Scriptures, and don't know much about these things, and them elders do, and they say--some of them, anyway--are sending Mack to hell. Now, I guess you're just as well up as they are in this business, and I want your solemn opinion." Yankee's face was pale, and his eyes were glaring like a wild beast's. "What I say is," he went on, "if a feller like Mack goes to hell, then there ain't any. At least none to scare me. Where Mack is will be good enough for me. What do you say, boss?"

"Be quiet, man," said Macdonald Bhain, gravely, but kindly. "Do you not know you are near to blasphemy there? But I forgive you for the sore heart you have; and about poor Mack yonder, no one will be able to say for certain. I am a poor sinner, and the only claim I have to God's mercy is the claim of a poor sinner. But I will dare to say that I have hope in the Lord for myself, and I will say that I have a great deal more for Mack."

"I guess that settles it all right, then," said Yankee, drawing a big breath of content and biting off a huge chew from his plug. "But what the blank blank," he went on, savagely, "do these fellers mean, stirring up a man's feelin's like that? Seem to be not a bad sort, either," he added, meditatively.

"Indeed, they are good men," said Macdonald Bhain, "but they will not be knowing Mack as I knew him. He never made any profession at all, but he had the root of the matter in him."

Ranald felt as if he had wakened out of a terrible nightmare, and followed his uncle into the house, with a happier heart than he had known since he had received Yankee's letter.

As they entered the room where the people were gathered, Donald Ross was reading the hundred and third psalm, and the words of love and pity and sympathy were dropping from his kindly lips like healing balm upon the mourning hearts, and as they rose and fell upon the cadences of "Coleshill," the tune Straight Rory always chose for this psalm, the healing sank down into all the sore places, and the peace that passeth understanding began to take possession of them.

Softly and sweetly they sang, the old women swaying with the music:

     "For, as the heaven in its height
        The earth surmounteth far,
      So great to those that do him fear,
        His tender mercies are."

When they reached that verse, the mother took up the song and went bravely on through the words of the following verse:

     "As far as east is distant from
        The west, so far hath he
      From us removed, in his love,
        All our iniquity."

As she sang the last words her hand stole over to Bella, who sat beside her quiet but tearless, looking far away. But when the next words rose on the dear old minor strains,

     "Such pity as a father hath
      Unto his children dear,"

Bella's lip began to tremble, and two big tears ran down her pale cheeks, and one could see that the sore pain in her heart had been a little eased.

After Donald Ross had finished his part of the "exercises," he called upon Kenny Crubach, who read briefly, and without comment, the exquisite Scottish paraphrase of Luther's "little gospel":

     "Behold the amazing gift of love
        The Father hath bestowed
      On us, the sinful sons of men,
        To call us sons of God--"

and so on to the end.

All this time Peter McRae, the man of iron, had been sitting with hardening face, his eyes burning in his head like glowing coals; and when Donald Ross called upon him for "some words of exhortation and comfort suitable to the occasion," without haste and without hesitation the old man rose, and trembling with excitement and emotion, he began abruptly: "An evil spirit has been whispering to me, as to the prophet of old, 'Speak that which is good,' but the Lord hath delivered me from mine enemy, and my answer is, 'As the Lord liveth, what the Lord said unto me, that will I speak'; and it is not easy."

As the old man paused, a visible terror fell upon all the company assembled. The poor mother sat looking at him with the look of one shrinking from a blow, while Bella Peter's face expressed only startled fear.

"And this is the word of the Lord this night to me," the elder went on, his voice losing its tremor and ringing out strong and clear: "'There is none righteous, no, not one, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.' That is my message, and it is laid upon me as a sore burden to hear the voice of the Lord in this solemn Providence, and to warn one and all to flee from the wrath to come."

He paused long, while men could hear their hearts beat. Then, raising his voice, he cried aloud: "Woe is me! Alas! it is a grievous burden. The Lord pity us all, and give grace to this stricken family to kiss the rod that smites."

At this word the old man's voice suddenly broke, and he sat down amid an awful silence. No one could misunderstand his meaning. As the awful horror of it gradually made its way into her mind, Mrs. Cameron threw up her apron over her head and rocked in an agony of sobs, while Long John sat with face white and rigid. Bella Peter, who had been gazing with a fascinated stare upon the old elder's face while he was speaking his terrible words, startled by Mrs. Cameron's sobs, suddenly looked wildly about as if for help, and then, with a wild cry, fled toward the door. But before she had reached it a strong hand caught her and a great voice, deep and tender, commanded her: "Wait, lassie, sit down here a meenute." It was Macdonald Bhain. He stood a short space silent before the people, then, in a voice low, deep, and thrilling, he began: "You have been hearing the word of the Lord through the lips of his servant, and I am not saying but it is the true word; but I believe that the Lord will be speaking by different voices, and although I hev not the gift, yet it is laid upon me to declare what is in my heart, and a sore heart it is, and sore hearts hev we all. But I will be thinking of a fery joyful thing, and that is that 'He came to call, not the righteous, but sinners,' and that in His day many sinners came about Him and not one would He turn away. And I will be remembering a fery great sinner who cried out in his dying hour, 'Lord, remember me,' and not in vain. And I'm thinking that the Lord will be making it easy for men to be saved, and not hard, for He was that anxious about it that He gave up His own life. But it is not given me to argue, only to tell you what I know about the lad who is lying yonder silent. It will be three years since he will be coming on the shanties with me, and from the day that he left his mother's door, till he came back again, never once did he fail me in his duty in the camp, or on the river, or in the town, where it was fery easy to be forgetting. And the boys would be telling me of the times that he would be keeping them out of those places. And it is not soon that Dannie Ross will be forgetting who it was that took him back from the camp when the disease was upon him and all were afraid to go near him, and for seex weeks, by day and by night, watched by him and was not thinking of himself at all. And sure am I that the lessons he would be hearing from his mother and in the Bible class and in the church were not lost on him whatever. For on the river, when the water was quiet and I would be lying in the tent reading, it is often that Mack Cameron would come in and listen to the Word. Aye, he was a good lad"--the great voice shook a little--"he would not be thinking of himself, and at the last, it was for another man he gave his life."

Macdonald stood for a few moments silent, his face working while he struggled with himself. And then all at once he grew calm, and throwing back his head, he looked through the door, and pointing into the darkness, said: "And yonder is the lad, and with him a great company, and his face is smiling, and, oh! it is a good land, a good land!" His voice dropped to a whisper, and he sank into his seat.

"God preserve us!" Kenny Crubach ejaculated; but old Donald Ross rose and said, "Let us call upon the name of the Lord." From his prayer it was quite evident that for him at least all doubts and fears as to poor Mack's state were removed. And even Peter McRae, subdued not so much by any argument of Macdonald Bhain's as by his rapt vision, followed old Donald's prayer with broken words of hope and thanksgiving; and it was Peter who was early at the manse next morning to repeat to the minister the things he had seen and heard the night before. And all next day, where there had been the horror of unnamable fear, hope and peace prevailed.

The service was held under the trees, and while the mother and Bella Peter sat softly weeping, there was no bitterness in their tears, for the sermon breathed of the immortal hope, and the hearts of all were comforted. There was no parade of grief, but after the sermon was over the people filed quietly through the room to take the last look, and then the family, with Bella and her father, were left alone a few moments with their dead, while the Macdonald men kept guard at the door till the time for "the lifting" would come.

After Long John passed out, followed by the family, Macdonald Bhain entered the room, closed the lid down upon the dead face, and gave the command to bear him forth.

So, with solemn dignity, as befitted them, they carried Big Mack from his home to Farquhar McNaughton's light wagon. Along the concession road, past the new church, through the swamp, and on to the old churchyard the long procession slowly moved. There was no unseemly haste, and by the time the last words were spoken, and the mound decently rounded, the long shadows from the woods lay far across the fields. Quietly the people went their ways homeward, back to their life and work, but for many days they carried with them the memory of those funeral scenes. And Ranald, though he came back from Big Mack's grave troubled with questions that refused to be answered, still carried with him a heart healed of the pain that had torn it these last days. He believed it was well with his friend, but about many things he was sorely perplexed, and it was this that brought him again to the minister's wife.