The Man From Glengarry by Ralph Connor
Chapter XXIII. A Good True Friend
It was springtime and the parks and avenues were in all the dainty splendor of their new leaves. The afternoon May sun was flooding the city with gold and silver light, and all the air was tremulous with the singing of birds. A good day it was to live if one could only live in the sunny air within sight of the green leaves and within sound of the singing birds. A day for life and love it was; at least so Kate thought as she drew up her prancing team at the St. Clair house where Harry stood waiting for her.
"Dear Kate," he cried, "how stunning you are! I love you!"
"Come, Harry, jump up! Breton is getting excited."
"Stony-hearted wretch," grumbled Harry. "Did you hear me tell you I love you?"
"Nonsense, Harry, jump in; I'll report to Lily Langford."
"Don't tell," pleaded Harry, "and do keep Breton on all fours. This isn't a circus. You terrify me."
"We have only time to make the train, hurry up!" cried Kate. "Steady, my boys."
"Some day, Kate, those 'boys' of yours will be your death or the death of some of your friends," said Harry, as he sprang in and took his place beside Kate. "That Breton ought to be shot. It really affects my heart to drive with you."
"You haven't any, Harry, you know that right well, so don't be alarmed."
"Quite true," said Harry, sentimentally, "not since that night, don't you remember, Kate, when you--"
"Now, Harry, I only remind you that I always tell my girl friends everything you say. It is this wedding that's got into your blood."
"I suppose so," murmured Harry, pensively; "wish it would get into yours. Now seriously, Kate, at your years you ought--"
"Harry," said Kate, indignantly, "I really don't need you at the station. I can meet your aunt quite well without you. Shall I set you down here, or drive you to the office?"
"Oh, not to the office, I entreat! I entreat! Anything but that! Surely I may be allowed this day! I shall be careful of your sensitive points, but I do hope this wedding of Maimie's will give you serious thoughts."
Kate was silent, giving her attention doubtless to her team. Then, with seeming irrelevance, she said: "Didn't I see Colonel Thorp yesterday in town?"
"Yes, the old heathen! I haven't forgiven him for taking off Ranald as he did."
"He didn't take off Ranald. Ranald was going off anyway."
"How do you know?" said Harry.
"I know," replied Kate, with a little color in her cheek. "He told me himself."
"Well, old Thorp was mighty glad to get him; I can tell you that. The old sinner!"
"He's just a dear!" cried Kate. "Yes, he was glad to get Ranald. What a splendid position he gave him."
"Oh, yes, I know, he adores you like all the rest, and so you think him a dear."
But this Kate ignored for the team were speeding along at an alarming pace. With amazing skill and dash she threaded her way through the crowded streets with almost no checking of her speed.
"Do be careful," cried Harry, as the wheels of their carriage skimmed the noses of the car-horses. "I am quite sure my aunt will not be able to recognize me."
"And why not?"
"Because I shall be gray-haired by the time I reach the station."
"There's the train I do believe," cried Kate, flourishing her whip over her horses' backs. "We must not be late."
"If we ever get there alive," said Harry.
"Here we are sure enough."
"Shall I go to the train?"
"No, indeed," cried Kate. "Do you think I am going to allow any one to meet my Aunt Murray but myself? I shall go; you hold the horses."
"I am afraid, really," cried Harry, pretending terror.
"Oh, I fancy you will do," cried Kate, smiling sweetly, as she ran off to meet the incoming train. In a few moments she returned with Mrs. Murray and carrying a large, black valise.
"Hello, auntie dear," cried Harry. "You see I can't leave these brutes of Kate's, but believe me it does me good to see you. What a blessing a wedding is to bring you to us. I suppose you won't come again until it is Kate's or mine."
"That would be sure to bring me," cried Mrs. Murray, smiling her bright smile, "provided you married the right persons."
"Why, auntie," said Harry, dismally, "Kate is so unreasonable. She won't take even me. You see she's so tremendously impressed with herself, and all the fellows spoil her."
By this time Kate had the reins and Harry had climbed into the back seat.
"Dear old auntie," he said, kissing his aunt, "I am really delighted to see you. But to return to Kate. Look at her! Doesn't she look like a Roman princess?"
"Now, Harry, do be sensible, or I shall certainly drive you at once to the office," said Kate, severely.
"Oh, the heartlessness of her. She knows well enough that Colonel Thorp is there, and she would shamelessly exult over his abject devotion. She respects neither innocent youth nor gray hairs, as witness myself and Colonel Thorp."
"Isn't he a silly boy, auntie?" said Kate, "and he is not much improving with age."
"But what's this about Colonel Thorp?" said Mrs. Murray. "Sometimes Ranald writes of him, in high terms, too."
"Well, you ought to hear Thorp abuse Ranald. Says he's ruining the company with his various philanthropic schemes," said Harry, "but you can never tell what he means exactly. He's a wily old customer."
"Don't believe him, auntie," said Kate, with a sagacious smile. "Colonel Thorp thinks that the whole future of his company and of the Province depends solely upon Ranald. It is quite ridiculous to hear him, while all the time he is abusing him for his freaks."
"It must be a great country out there, though," said Harry, "and what a row they are making over Confederation."
"What do you mean, Harry?" said Mrs. Murray. "We hear so little in the country."
"Well, I don't know exactly, but those fellows in British Columbia are making all sorts of threats that unless this railway is built forthwith they will back out of the Dominion, and some of them talk of annexation with the United States. Don't I wish I was there! What a lucky fellow Ranald is. Thorp says he's a big gun already. No end of a swell. Of course, as manager of a big concern like the British-American Coal and Lumber Company, he is a man of some importance."
"I don't think he is taking much to do with public questions," said Kate, "though he did make a speech at New Westminster not long ago. He has been up in those terrible woods almost ever since he went."
"Hello, how do you know?" said Harry, looking at her suspiciously; "I get a fragment of a note from Ranald now and then, but he is altogether too busy to remember humble people."
"I hear regularly from Coley. You remember Coley, don't you?" said Kate, turning to Mrs. Murray.
"Oh, yes, that's the lad in whom Ranald was so interested in the Institute."
"Yes," replied Kate; "Coley begged and prayed to go with Ranald, and so he went."
"She omits to state," said Harry, "that she also 'begged and prayed' and further that she outfitted the young rascal, though I've reason to thank Providence for removing him to another sphere."
"How does it affect you?" said Mrs. Murray.
"Why, haven't you heard, Aunt Murray, of the tremendous heights to which I have attained? I suppose she didn't tell you of her dinner party. That was after you had left last fall. It was a great bit of generalship. Some of Ranald's foot-ball friends, Little Merrill, Starry Hamilton, that's the captain, you know, and myself among them, were asked to a farewell supper by this young lady, and when the men had well drunk--fed, I mean--and were properly dissolved in tears over the prospect of Ranald's departure, at a critical moment the Institute was introduced as a side issue. It was dear to Ranald's heart. A most effective picture was drawn of the Institute deserted and falling into ruins, so to speak, with Kate heroically struggling to prevent utter collapse. Could this be allowed? No! a thousand times no! Some one would be found surely! Who would it be! At this juncture Kate, who had been maintaining a powerful silence, smiled upon Little Merrill, who being distinctly inflammable, and for some mysterious reason devoted to Ranald, and for an even more mysterious reason devoted to Kate, swore he'd follow if some one would lead. What could I do? My well-known abilities naturally singled me out for leadership, so to prevent any such calamity, I immediately proposed that if Starry Hamilton, the great foot-ball chief, would command this enterprise I would follow. Before the evening was over the Institute was thoroughly manned."
"It is nearly half true, aunt," said Kate.
"And by our united efforts," continued Harry, "the Institute has survived the loss of Ranald."
"I cannot tell you how overjoyed I am, Harry, that both of my boys are taking hold of such good work, you here and Ranald in British Columbia. He must have a very hard time of it, but he speaks very gratefully of Colonel Thorp, who, he says, often opposes but finally agrees with his proposals."
Harry laughed aloud. "Agrees, does he? And do you know why? I remember seeing him one day, and he was in a state of wild fury at Ranald's notions. I won't quote his exact words. The next day I found him in a state of bland approval. Then I learn incidentally that in the meantime Kate has been giving him tea and music."
"Don't listen to his mean insinuations, auntie," said Kate, blushing a little.
Mrs. Murray turned and looked curiously into her face and smiled, and then Kate blushed all the more.
"I think that may explain some things that have been mysterious to me," she said.
"Oh, what, auntie?" cried Harry; "I am most anxious to know."
"Never mind," said Mrs. Murray; "I will explain to Kate."
"That won't help me any. She is a most secretive person, twiddles us all round her fingers and never lets us know anything until it's done. It is most exasperating. Oh, I say, Kate," added Harry, suddenly, "would you mind dropping me at the florist's here?"
"Why? Oh, I see," said Kate, drawing in her team. "How do you do, Lily? Harry is anxious to select some flowers," she said, bowing to a very pretty girl on the sidewalk.
"Kate, do stop it," besought Harry, in a low voice, as he leaped out of the carriage. "Good by, auntie, I'll see you this evening. Don't believe all Kate tells you," he added, as they drove away.
"Are you too tired for a turn in the park," said Kate, "or shall we drive home?"
A drive is always pleasant. Besides, one can talk about some things with more freedom in a carriage than face to face in one's room. The horses require attention at critical moments, and there are always points of interest when it is important that conversation should be deflected from the subject in hand, so since Mrs. Murray was willing, Kate turned into the park. For an hour they drove along its shady, winding roads while Mrs. Murray talked of many things, but mostly of Ranald, and of the tales that the Glengarry people had of him. For wherever there was lumbering to be done, sooner or later there Glengarry men were to be found, and Ranald had found them in the British Columbia forests. And to their people at home their letters spoke of Ranald and his doings at first doubtfully, soon more confidently, but always with pride. To Macdonald Bhain a rare letter came from Ranald now and then, which he would carry to Mrs. Murray with a difficult pretense of modesty. For with Macdonald Bhain, Ranald was a great man.
"But he is not quite sure of him," said Mrs. Murray. "He thinks it is a very queer way of lumbering, and the wages he considers excessive."
"Does he say that?" asked Kate. "That's just what Colonel Thorp says his company are saying. But he stands up for Ranald even when he can't see that his way is the best. The colonel is not very sure about Ranald's schemes for the men, his reading-room, library, and that sort of thing. But I'm sure he will succeed." But Kate's tone belied her confident words.
Mrs. Murray noticed the anxiety in Kate's voice. "At least we are sure," she said, gently, "that he will do right, and after all that is success."
"I know that right well," replied Kate; "but it is hard for him out there with no one to help him or to encourage him."
Again Mrs. Murray looked at Kate, curiously.
"It must be a terrible place," Kate went on, "especially for one like Ranald, for he has no mind to let things go. He will do a thing as it ought to be done, or not at all." Soon after this Kate gave her mind to her horses, and in a short time headed them for home.
"What a delightful drive we have had," said Mrs. Murray, gratefully, as Kate took her upstairs to her room.
"I hope I have not worried you with my dismal forebodings," she said, with a little laugh.
"No, dear," said Mrs. Murray, drawing her face down to the pillow where Kate had made her lay her head. "I think I understand," she added, in a whisper.
Then Kate laid her face beside that of her friend and whispered, "Oh, auntie, it is so hard for him"; but Mrs. Murray stroked her head softly and said: "There is no fear, Kate; all will be well with him."
Immediately after dinner Kate carried Mrs. Murray with her to her own room, and after establishing her in all possible comfort, she began to read extracts from Coley's letters.
"Here is the first, auntie; they are more picturesque than elegant, but if you knew Coley, you wouldn't mind; you'd be glad to get any letter from him." So saying Kate turned her back to the window, a position with the double advantage of allowing the light to fall upon the paper and the shadow to rest upon her face, and so proceeded to read:
DEAR MISS KATE: We got here--("That is to New Westminster.") last night, and it is a queer town. The streets run every way, the houses are all built of wood, and almost none of them are painted. The streets are full of all sorts of people. I saw lots of Chinamen and Indians. It makes a feller feel kind o' queer as if he was in some foreign country. The hotel where we stopped was a pretty good lookin' place. Of course nothin' like the hotel we stopped at in San Francisco. It was pretty fine inside, but after supper when the crowd began to come in to the bar you never saw such a gang in your life! They knew how to sling their money, I can tell you. And then they begun to yell and cut up. I tell you it would make the Ward seem like a Sunday school. The Boss, that's what they call him here, I guess didn't like it much, and I don't think you would, either. Next morning we went to look at the mills. They are just sheds with slab roofs. I don't think much of them myself, though I don't know much about mills. The Boss went round askin' questions and I don't think he liked the look of them much either. I know he kept his lips shut pretty tight as we used to see him do sometimes in the Institute. I am awful glad he brought me along. He says I have got to write to you at least once a month, and I've got to take care of my writin' too and get the spellin' right. When I think of the fellers back in the alleys pitchin' pennies I tell you I'd ruther die than go back. Here a feller feels he's alive. I wish I'd paid more attention to my writin' in the night school, but I guess I was pretty much of a fool them days, and you were awful good to me. The Boss says that a man must always pay his way, and when I told him I wanted to pay for them clothes you gave me he looked kind o' funny, but he said "that's right," so I want you to tell me what they cost and I will pay you first thing, for I'm goin' to be a man out in this country. We're goin' up the river next week and see the gangs workin' up there in the bush. It's kind o' lonesome here goin' along the street and lookin' people in the faces to see if you can see one you know. Lots of times I though I did see some one I knew but it wasn't. Good by, I'll write you soon again.
"The second letter," Kate went on, "is written from the camp, Twentymile Camp, he calls it. He tells how they went up the river in the steamer, taking with them some new hands for their camp, and how these men came on board half drunk, and how all the way up to Yale they were drinking and fighting. It must have been horrible. After that they went on smaller boats and then by wagons. On the roads it must have been terrible. Coley seems much impressed with the big trees. He says:
"These big trees are pretty hard to write about without sayin' words the Boss don't allow. It makes you think of bein' in St. Michaels, it's so quiet and solemn-like, and I never felt so small in all my life. The Boss and me walked the last part of the way, and got to camp late and pretty tired, and the men we brought in with us was all pretty mad, but the Boss never paid no attention to 'em but went whistlin' about as if everything was lovely. We had some pork and beans for supper, then went to sleep in a bunk nailed up against the side of the shanty. It was as hard as a board, but I tell you it felt pretty good. Next day I went wanderin' 'round with the foreman and the Boss. I tell you I was afraid to get very far away from 'em, for I'd be sure to get lost; the bush is that thick that you can't see your own length ahead of you. That night, when the Boss and me and the foreman was in the shanty they call the office, after supper, we heard a most awful row. 'What's that?' says the Boss. 'O, that's nothin',' says the foreman; 'the boys is havin' a little fun, I guess.' He didn't say anything, but went on talkin', but in a little while the row got worse, and we heard poundin' and smashin'. 'Do you allow that sort of thing?' says the Boss. 'Well,' he says, 'Guess the boys got some whiskey last night. I generally let 'em alone.' 'Well,' says the Boss, quiet-like, 'I think you'd better go in and stop it.' 'Not if I know myself,' says the foreman, 'I ain't ordered my funeral yet.' 'Well, we'll go in and see, anyway,' says the Boss. I tell you I was kind o' scared, but I thought I might as well go along. When we got into the sleepin' shanty there was a couple of fellers with hand-spikes breakin' up the benches and knockin' things around most terrible. 'Say, boys,' yelled the foreman, and then he began to swear most awful. They didn't seem to pay much attention, but kept on knockin' around and swearin'. 'Come, now,' says the foreman, kind o' coaxin' like, 'this ain't no way to act. Get down and behave yourselves.' But still they didn't pay no attention. Then the Boss walked up to the biggest one, and when he got quite close to 'em they all got still lookin' on. 'I'll take that hand-spike,' says the Boss. 'Help yourself,' says the man swingin' it up. I don't know what happened, it was done so quick, but before you could count three that feller was on his knees bleedin' like a pig and the hand-spike was out of the door, and the Boss walks up to the other feller and says, 'Put that hand-spike outside.' He begun to swear. 'Put it out,' says the Boss, quiet-like, and the feller backs up and throws his hand-spike out. And the Boss up and speaks and says, 'Look here, men, I don't want to interfere with nobody, and won't while he behaves himself, but there ain't goin' to be any row like that in this camp. Say, you ought to have seen 'em! They sat like the gang used to in the night school, and then he turned and walked out and we all follered him. I guess they ain't used to that sort of thing in this camp. I heard the men talkin' next day pretty big of what they was goin' to do, but I don't think they'll do much. They don't look that kind. Anyway, if there's goin' to be a fight, I'd feel safer with the Boss than with the whole lot of 'em."
"The letter after this," went on Kate, "tells of what happened the Sunday following."
"We'd gone out in the afternoon, Boss and me, for a walk, and when we got back the camp was just howlin' drunk, and the foreman was worst of all. They kind o' quieted down for a little when we come in and let us get into the office, but pretty soon they began actin' up funny again and swearin' most awful. Then I see the Boss shut up his lips hard, and I says to myself 'Look out for blood.' Then he starts over for the bunk shanty. I was mighty scared, and follered him close. Just as we shoved open the door a bottle come singin' through the air and smashed to a thousand bits on the beam above. 'Is that the kind of cowards you are?' says the Boss, quite cool. He didn't speak loud, but I tell you everybody heard him and got dead still. 'No, Boss,' says one feller, 'not all.' 'The man that threw that bottle,' says the boss, 'is a coward, and the meanest kind. He's afraid to step out here for five minutes.' Nobody moved. 'Step up, ye baste,' says an Irishman, 'or it's mesilf will kick ye out of the camp.' And out the feller comes. It was the same duck that the Boss scared out of the door the first night. 'Sthand up till 'im Billie,' says the Irishman; 'we'll see fair play. Sthand up to the gintleman.' 'Billie,' says the Boss, and his eyes was blazin' like candles; 'yer goin' to leave this camp to-morrow mornin'. You can take your choice; will you get onto your knees now or later?' With that Billie whipped out a knife and rushes at him; but the Boss grabs his wrist and gives it a twist, and the knife fell onto the floor. The Boss holds him like a baby, and picks up the knife and throws it into the fire. 'Now,' says he, 'get onto your knees. Quick!' And the feller drops on his knees, and bellered like a calf.
"'Let's pray,' says some one, and the crowd howls. 'Give us yer hand, Boss,' says the Irishman. 'Yer the top o' this gang.' The Irishman shoves out his clipper, and the Boss takes it in an easy kind of a way. My you o't to seen that Irishman squirm. 'Howly Mither!' he yells, and dances round, 'what do ye think yer got?' and he goes off lookin' at his fingers, and the Boss stands lookin' at 'em, and says, 'You'r a nice lot of fellers, you don't deserve it; but I'm goin' to treat you fair. I know you feel Sunday pretty slow, and I'll try to make it better for you; but I want you to know that I won't have any more row in this camp, and I won't have any man here that can't behave himself. To-morrow morning, you,' pointin' at the foreman, 'and you, Billie,' and you, pointin' at another chap, leave the camp, and they did too, though they begged and prayed to let 'em stay, and by next Sunday we had a lot of papers and books, with pictures in 'em, and a bang-up dinner, and everything went nice. I am likin' it fine. I'm time-keeper, and look after the store; but I drive the team too every chance I get, and I'd ruther do that a long way. But many a night I tell you when the Boss and me is alone we talk about you and the Institute fellers, and the Boss--"
"Well, that's all," said Kate, "but isn't it terrible? Aren't they dreadful?"
"Poor fellows," said Mrs. Murray; "it's a very hard life for them."
"But isn't it awful, auntie? They might kill him," said Kate.
"Yes, dear," said Mrs. Murray, in a soothing voice, "but it sounds worse to us perhaps than it is."
Mrs. Murray had not lived in the Indian Lands for nothing.
"Oh, if anything should happen to him?" said Kate, with sudden agitation.
"We must just trust him to the great Keeper," said Mrs. Murray, quietly, "in Whose keeping all are safe whether there or here."
Then going to her valise, she took out a letter and handed it to Kate, saying: "That's his last to me. You can look at it, Kate."
Kate took the letter and put it in her desk. "I think, perhaps, we had better go down now," she said; "I expect Colonel Thorp has come. I think you will like him. He seems a little rough, but he is a gentleman, and has a true heart," and they went downstairs.
It is the mark of a gentleman to know his kind. He has an instinct for what is fine and offers ready homage to what is worthy. Any one observing Colonel Thorp's manner of receiving Mrs. Murray would have known him at once for a gentleman, for when that little lady came into the drawing-room, dressed in her decent silk gown, with soft white lace at her throat, bearing herself with sweet dignity, and stepping with dainty grace on her toes, after the manner of the fine ladies of the old school, and not after the flat-footed, heel- first modern style, the colonel abandoned his usual careless manner and rose and stood rigidly at attention.
"Auntie, this is my friend, Colonel Thorp," said Kate.
"Proud to know you madam," said the colonel, with his finest military bow.
"And I am glad to meet Colonel Thorp; I have heard so much of him through my friends," and she smiled at him with such genuine kindliness that the gallant colonel lost his heart at once.
"Your friends have been doing me proud," he said, bowing to her and then to Kate.
"Oh, you needn't look at me," said Kate; "you don't imagine I have been saying nice things about you? She has other friends that think much of you."
"Yes," said Mrs. Murray, "Ranald has often spoken of you, Colonel Thorp, and of your kindness," said Mrs. Murray.
The colonel looked doubtful. "Well, I don't know that he thinks much of me. I have had to be pretty hard on him."
"Why?" asked Mrs. Murray.
"Well, I reckon you know him pretty well," began the colonel.
"Well, she ought to," said Kate, "she brought him up, and his many virtues he owes mostly to my dear aunt's training."
"Oh, Kate, you must not say that," said Mrs. Murray, gravely.
"Then," said the colonel, "you ought to be proud of him. You produced a rare article in the commercial world, and that is a man of honor. He is not for sale, and I want to say that I feel as safe about the company's money out there as if I was settin' on it; but he needs watching," added the colonel, "he needs watching."
"What do you mean?" said Mrs. Murray, whose pale face had flushed with pleasure and pride at the colonel's praise of Ranald.
"Too much philanthropy," said the colonel, bluntly; "the British- American Coal and Lumber Company ain't a benevolent society exactly."
"I am glad you spoke of that, Colonel Thorp; I want to ask you about some things that I don't understand. I know that the company are criticising some of Ranald's methods, but don't know why exactly."
"Now, Colonel," cried Kate, "stand to your guns."
"Well," said the colonel, "I am going to execute a masterly retreat, as they used to say when a fellow ran away. I am going to get behind my company. They claim, you see, that Ranald ain't a paying concern."
"But how?" said Mrs. Murray.
Then the colonel enumerated the features of Ranald's management most severely criticised by the company. He paid the biggest wages going; the cost of supplies for the camps was greater, and the company's stores did not show as large profits as formerly; "and of course," said the colonel, "the first aim of any company is to pay dividends, and the manager that can't do that has to go."
Then Mrs. Murray proceeded to deal with the company's contentions, going at once with swift intuition to the heart of the matter. "You were speaking of honor a moment ago, Colonel. There is such a thing in business?"
"Certainly, that's why I put that young man where he is."
"That means that the company expect him to deal fairly by them."
"That's about it."
"And being a man of honor, I suppose he will also deal fairly by the men and by himself."
"I guess so," said the colonel.
"I don't pretend to understand the questions fully, but from Ranald's letters I have gathered that he did not consider that justice was being done either to the men or to the company. For instance, in the matter of stores--I may be wrong in this, you will correct me, Colonel--I understand it was the custom to charge the men in the camps for the articles they needed prices three or four times what was fair."
"Well," said the colonel, "I guess things were a little high, but that's the way every company does."
"And then I understand that the men were so poorly housed and fed and so poorly paid that only those of the inferior class could be secured."
"Well, I guess they weren't very high-class," said the colonel, "that's right enough."
"But, Colonel, if you secure a better class of men, and you treat them in a fair and honorable way with some regard to their comfort you ought to get better results in work, shouldn't you?"
"Well, that's so," said the colonel; "there never was such an amount of timber got out with the same number of men since the company started work, but yet the thing don't pay, and that's the trouble. The concern must pay or go under."
"Yes, that's quite true, Colonel," said Mrs. Murray; "but why doesn't your concern pay?"
"Well, you see, there's no market; trade is dull and we can't sell to advantage."
"But surely that is not your manager's fault," said Mrs. Murray, "and surely it would be an unjust thing to hold him responsible for that."
"But the company don't look at things in that light," said the colonel. "You see they figure it this way, stores ain't bringing in the returns they used to, the camps cost a little more, wages are a little higher, there ain't nothing coming in, and they say, Well, that chap out there means well with his reading-rooms for the mill hands, his library in the camp, and that sort of thing, but he ain't sharp enough!"
"Sharp enough! that's a hard word, Colonel," said Mrs. Murray, earnestly, "and it may be a cruel word, but if Ranald were ever so sharp he really couldn't remove the real cause of the trouble. You say he has produced larger results than ever before, and if the market were normal there would be larger returns. Then, it seems to me, Colonel, that if Ranald suffers he is suffering, not because he has been unfaithful or incompetent, but because the market is bad, and that I am certain you would not consider fair."
"You must not be too hard on us," said the colonel. "So far as I am concerned, I think you are right, but it is a hard thing to make business men look at these things in anything but a business way."
"But it should not be hard, Colonel," said Mrs. Murray, with sad earnestness, "to make even business men see that when honor is the price of dividends the cost is too great," and without giving the colonel an opportunity of replying, she went on with eager enthusiasm to show how the laws of the kingdom of heaven might be applied to the great problems of labor. "And it would pay, Colonel," she cried, "it would pay in money, but far more it would pay in what cannot be bought for money--in the lives and souls of men, for unjust and uncharitable dealing injures more the man who is guilty of it than the man who suffers from it in the first instance."
"Madam," answered the colonel, gravely, "I feel you are right, and I should be glad to have you address the meeting of our share- holders, called for next month, to discuss the question of our western business."
"Do you mean Ranald's position?" asked Kate.
"Well, I rather think that will come up."
"Then," said Mrs. Murray, unconsciously claiming the colonel's allegiance, "I feel sure there will be one advocate at least for fair and honorable dealing at that meeting." And the colonel was far too gallant to refuse to acknowledge the claim, but simply said: "You may trust me, madam; I shall do my best."
"I only wish papa were here," said Kate. "He is a share-holder, isn't he? And wish he could hear you, auntie, but he and mamma won't be home for two weeks."
"Oh, Kate," cried Mrs. Murray, "you make me ashamed, and I fear I have been talking too much."
At this point Harry came in. "I just came over to send you to bed," he said, kissing his aunt, and greeting the others. "You are all to look your most beautiful to-morrow."
"Well," said the colonel, slowly, "that won't be hard for the rest of you, and it don't matter much for me, and I hope we ain't going to lose our music."
"No, indeed!" cried Kate, sitting down at the piano, while the colonel leaned back in his easy chair and gave himself up to an hour's unmingled delight.
"You have given more pleasure than you know to a wayfaring man," he said, as he bade her good night.
"Come again, when you are in town, you are always welcome, Colonel Thorp," she said.
"You may count me here every time," said the colonel. Then turning to Mrs. Murray, with a low bow, he said, "you have given me some ideas madam, that I hope may not be quite unfruitful, and as for that young man of yours, well--I--guess--you ain't--hurt his cause any. We'll put up a fight, anyway."
"I am glad to have met you, Colonel Thorp," said Mrs. Murray, "and I am quite sure you will stand up for what is right," and with another bow the colonel took his leave.
"Now, Harry, you must go, too," said Kate; "you can see your aunt again after to-morrow, and I must get my beauty sleep, besides I don't want to stand up with a man gaunt and hollow-eyed for lack of sleep," and she bundled him off in spite of his remonstrances. But eager as Kate was for her beauty sleep, the light burned late in her room; and long after she had seen Mrs. Murray snugly tucked in for the night, she sat with Ranald's open letter in her hand, reading it till she almost knew it by heart. It told, among other things, of his differences with the company in regard to stores, wages, and supplies, and of his efforts to establish a reading-room at the mills, and a library at the camps; but there was a sentence at the close of the letter that Kate read over and over again with the light of a great love in her eyes and with a cry of pain in her heart. "The magazines and papers that Kate sends are a great boon. Dear Kate, what a girl she is! I know none like her; and what a friend she has been to me ever since the day she stood up for me at Quebec. You remember I told you about that. What a guy I must have been, but she never showed a sign of shame. I often think of that now, how different she was from another! I see it now as I could not then--a man is a fool once in his life, but I have got my lesson and still have a good true friend." Often she read and long she pondered the last words. It was so easy to read too much into them. "A good, true friend." She looked at the words till the tears came. Then she stood up and looked at herself in the glass.
"Now, young woman," she said, severely, "be sensible and don't dream dreams until you are asleep, and to sleep you must go forthwith." But sleep was slow to come, and strange to say, it was the thought of the little woman in the next room that quieted her heart and sent her to sleep, and next day she was looking her best. And when the ceremony was over, and the guests were assembled at the wedding breakfast, there were not a few who agreed with Harry when, in his speech, he threw down his gage as champion for the peerless bridesmaid, whom for the hour--alas, too short--he was privileged to call his "lady fair." For while Kate had not the beauty of form and face and the fascination of manner that turned men's heads and made Maimie the envy of all her set, there was in her a wholesomeness, a fearless sincerity, a noble dignity, and that indescribable charm of a true heart that made men trust her and love her as only good women are loved. At last the brilliant affair was all over, the rice and old boots were thrown, the farewell words spoken, and tears shed, and then the aunts came back to the empty and disordered house.
"Well, I am glad for Maimie," said Aunt Frank; "it is a good match."
"Dear Maimie," replied Aunt Murray, with a gentle sigh, "I hope she will be happy."
"After all it is much better," said Aunt Frank.
"Yes, it is much better," replied Mrs. Murray; and then she added, "How lovely Kate looked! What a noble girl she is," but she did not explain even to herself, much less to Aunt Frank, the nexus of her thoughts.