Chapter XXIV. The West
 

The meeting of the share-holders of the British-American Lumber and Coal Company was, on the whole, a stormy one, for the very best of reasons--the failure of the company to pay dividends. The annual report which the president presented showed clearly that there was a slight increase in expenditure and a considerable falling off in sales, and it needed but a little mathematical ability to reach the conclusion that in a comparatively short time the company would be bankrupt. The share-holders were thoroughly disgusted with the British Columbia end of the business, and were on the lookout for a victim. Naturally their choice fell upon the manager. The concern failed to pay. It was the manager's business to make it pay and the failure must be laid to his charge. Their confidence in their manager was all the more shaken by the reports that had reached them of his peculiar fads--his reading-room, library, etc. These were sufficient evidence of his lack of business ability. He was undoubtedly a worthy young man, but there was every ground to believe that he was something of a visionary, and men with great hesitation intrust hard cash to the management of an idealist. It was, perhaps, unfortunate for Mr. St. Clair that he should be appealed to upon this point, for his reluctance to express an opinion as to the ability of the manager, and his admission that possibly the young man might properly be termed a visionary, brought Colonel Thorp sharply to his feet.

"Mr. St. Clair," said the colonel, in a cool, cutting voice, "will not hesitate to bear testimony to the fact that our manager is a man whose integrity cannot be tampered with. If I mistake not, Mr. St. Clair has had evidence of this."

Mr. St. Clair hastened to bear the very strongest testimony to the manager's integrity.

"And Mr. St. Clair, I have no doubt," went on the colonel, "will be equally ready to bear testimony to the conspicuous ability our manager displayed while he was in the service of the Raymond and St. Clair Lumber Company."

Mr. St. Clair promptly corroborated the colonel's statement.

"We are sure of two things, therefore," continued the colonel, "that our manager is a man of integrity, and that he has displayed conspicuous business ability in his former positions."

At this point the colonel was interrupted, and his attention was called to the fact that the reports showed an increase of expenditure for supplies and for wages, and on the other hand a falling off in the revenue from the stores. But the colonel passed over these points as insignificant. "It is clear," he proceeded, "that the cause of failure does not lie in the management, but in the state of the market. The political situation in that country is very doubtful, and this has an exceedingly depressing effect upon business."

"Then," interrupted a share-holder, "it is time the company should withdraw from that country and confine itself to a district where the market is sure and the future more stable."

"What about these fads, Colonel?" asked another share-holder; "these reading-rooms, libraries, etc? Do you think we pay a man to establish that sort of thing? To my mind they simply put a lot of nonsense into the heads of the working-men and are the chief cause of dissatisfaction." Upon this point the colonel did not feel competent to reply; consequently the feeling of the meeting became decidedly hostile to the present manager, and a resolution was offered demanding his resignation. It was also agreed that the board of directors should consider the advisability of withdrawing altogether from British Columbia, inasmuch as the future of that country seemed to be very uncertain. Thereupon Colonel Thorp rose and begged leave to withdraw his name from the directorate of the company. He thought it was unwise to abandon a country where they had spent large sums of money, without a thorough investigation of the situation, and he further desired to enter his protest against the injustice of making their manager suffer for a failure for which he had in no way been shown to be responsible. But the share-holders refused to even consider Colonel Thorp's request, and both the president and secretary exhausted their eloquence in eulogizing his value to the company. As a compromise it was finally decided to continue operations in British Columbia for another season. Colonel Thorp declared that the reforms and reorganization schemes inaugurated by Ranald would result in great reductions in the cost of production, and that Ranald should be given opportunity to demonstrate the success or failure of his plans; and further, the political situation doubtless would be more settled. The wisdom of this decision was manifested later.

The spirit of unrest and dissatisfaction appeared again at the next annual meeting, for while conditions were improving, dividends were not yet forthcoming. Once again Colonel Thorp successfully championed Ranald's cause, this time insisting that a further test of two seasons be made, prophesying that not only would the present deficit disappear, but that their patience and confidence would be amply rewarded.

Yielding to pressure, and desiring to acquaint himself with actual conditions from personal observation, Colonel Thorp concluded to visit British Columbia the autumn preceding the annual meeting which was to succeed Ranald's period of probation.

Therefore it was that Colonel Thorp found himself on the coast steamship Oregon approaching the city of Victoria. He had not enjoyed his voyage, and was, consequently, in no mood to receive the note which was handed him by a brisk young man at the landing.

"Who's this from, Pat," said the colonel, taking the note.

"Mike, if you please, Michael Cole, if you don't mind; and the note is from the boss, Mr. Macdonald, who has gone up the country, and can't be here to welcome you."

"Gone up the country!" roared the colonel; "what the blank, blank, does he mean by going up the country at this particular time?"

But Mr. Michael Cole was quite undisturbed by the colonel's wrath. "You might find the reason in the note," he said, coolly, and the colonel, glaring at him, opened the note and read:

"MY DEAR COLONEL THORP: I am greatly disappointed in not being able to meet you. The truth is I only received your letter this week. Our mails are none too prompt, and so I have been unable to re-arrange my plans. I find it necessary to run up the river for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, thinking that possibly you might like to see something of our country, I have arranged that you should join the party of the Lieutenant Governor on their trip to the interior, and which will take only about four weeks' time. The party are going to visit the most interesting districts of our country, including both the famous mining district of Cariboo and the beautiful valley of the Okanagan. Mr. Cole, my clerk, will introduce you to Mr. Blair, our member of Parliament for Westminster, who will present you to the rest of the party. Mr. Blair, I need not say, is one of the brightest business men in the West. I shall meet you at Yale on your return. If it is absolutely impossible for you to take this trip, and necessary that I should return at once, Mr. Cole will see that a special messenger is sent to me, but I would strongly urge that you go, if possible.

"With kind regards."

"Look here, young man," yelled the colonel, "do you think I've come all this way to go gallivanting around the country with any blank, blank royal party?"

"I don't know, Colonel," said young Cole, brightly; "but I tell you I'd like mighty well to go in your place."

"And where in the nation is your boss, and what's he after, anyway?"

"He's away up the river looking after business, and pretty big business, too," said Coley, not at all overawed by the colonel's wrath.

"Well, I hope he knows himself," said the colonel.

"Oh, don't make any mistake about that, Colonel," said young Cole; "he always knows where he's going and what he wants, and he gets it." But the colonel made no reply, nor did he deign to notice Mr. Michael Cole again until they had arrived at the New Westminster landing.

"The boss didn't know," said Coley, approaching the colonel with some degree of care, "whether you would like to go to the hotel or to his rooms; you can take your choice. The hotel is not of the best, and he thought perhaps you could put up with his rooms."

"All right," said the colonel; "I guess they'll suit me."

The colonel made no mistake in deciding for Ranald's quarters. They consisted of two rooms that formed one corner of a long, wooden, single-story building in the shape of an L. One of these rooms Ranald made his dining-room and bedroom, the other was his office. The rest of the building was divided into three sections, and constituted a dining-room, reading-room, and bunk-room for the men. The walls of these rooms were decorated not inartistically with a few colored prints and with cuts from illustrated papers, many and divers. The furniture throughout was home-made, with the single exception of a cabinet organ which stood in one corner of the reading-room. On the windows of the dining-room and bunk-room were green roller blinds, but those of the reading-room were draped with curtains of flowered muslin. Indeed the reading-room was distinguished from the others by a more artistic and elaborate decoration, and by a greater variety of furniture. The room was evidently the pride of the company's heart. In Ranald's private room the same simplicity in furniture and decoration was apparent, but when the colonel was ushered into the bedroom his eye fell at once upon two photographs, beautifully framed, hung on each side of the mirror.

"Hello, guess I ought to know this," he said, looking at one of them.

Coley beamed. "You do, eh? Well, then, she's worth knowin' and there's only one of her kind."

"Don't know about that, young man," said the colonel, looking at the other photograph; "here's one that ought to go in her class."

"Perhaps," said Coley, doubtfully, "the boss thinks so, I guess, from the way he looks at it."

"Young man, what sort of a fellow's your boss?" said the colonel, suddenly facing Coley.

"What sort?" Coley thought a moment. "Well, 'twould need a good eddication to tell, but there's only one in his class, I tell you."

"Then he owes it to this little woman," pointing to one of the photographs, "and she," pointing to the other, "said so."

"Then you may bet it's true."

"I don't bet on a sure thing," said the colonel, his annoyance vanishing in a slow smile, his first since reaching the province.

"Dinner'll be ready in half an hour, sir," said Coley, swearing allegiance in his heart to the man that agreed with him in regard to the photograph that stood with Coley for all that was highest in humanity.

"John," he said, sharply, to the Chinese cook, "got good dinner, eh?"

"Pitty good," said John, indifferently.

"Now, look here, John, him big man." John was not much impressed. "Awful big man, I tell you, big soldier." John preserved a stolid countenance.

"John," said the exasperated Coley, "I'll kick you across this room and back if you don't listen to me. Want big dinner, heap good, eh?"

"Huh-huh, belly good," replied John, with a slight show of interest.

"I say, John, what you got for dinner, eh?" asked Coley, changing his tactics.

"Ham, eggs, lice," answered the Mongolian, imperturbably.

"Gee whiz!" said Coley, "goin' to feed the boss' uncle on ham and eggs?"

"What?" said John, with sudden interest, "Uncle boss, eh?"

"Yes," said the unblushing Coley.

"Huh! Coley heap fool! Get chicken, quick! meat shop, small, eh?" The Chinaman was at last aroused. Pots, pans, and other utensils were in immediate requisition, a roaring fire set a-going, and in three-quarters of an hour the colonel sat down to a dinner of soup, fish, and fowl, with various entrees and side dishes that would have done credit to a New York chef. Thus potent was the name of the boss with his cook.

John's excellent dinner did much to soothe and mollify his guest; but the colonel was sensitive to impressions other than the purely gastronomic, for throughout the course of the dinner, his eyes wandered to the photographs on the wall, and in fancy he was once more in the presence of the two women, to whom he felt pledged in Ranald's behalf. "It's a one-horse looking country, though," he said to himself, "and no place for a man with any snap. Best thing would be to pull out, I guess, and take him along." And it was in this mind that he received the Honorable Archibald Blair, M. P. P., for New Westminster, president of the British Columbia Canning Company, recently organized, and a director in half a dozen other business concerns.

"Colonel Thorp, this is Mr. Blair, of the British Columbia Canning Company," said Coley, with a curious suggestion of Ranald in his manner.

"Glad to welcome a friend of Mr. Macdonald's," said Mr. Blair, a little man of about thirty, with a shrewd eye and a kindly frank manner.

"Well, I guess I can say the same," said Colonel Thorp, shaking hands. "I judge his friends are of the right sort."

"You'll find plenty in this country glad to class themselves in that list," laughed Mr. Blair; "I wouldn't undertake to guarantee them all, but those he lists that way, you can pretty well bank on. He's a young man for reading men."

"Yes?" said the colonel, interrogatively; "he's very young."

"Young, for that matter so are we all, especially on this side the water here. It's a young man's country."

"Pretty young, I judge," said the colonel, dryly. "Lots of room to grow."

"Yes, thank Providence!" said Mr. Blair, enthusiastically; "but there's lots of life and lots to feed it. But I'm not going to talk, Colonel. It is always wasted breath on an Easterner. I'll let the country talk. You are coming with us, of course."

"Hardly think so; my time is rather limited, and, well, to tell the truth; I'm from across the line and don't cater much to your royalties."

"Royalties!" exclaimed Mr. Blair. "Oh, you mean our governor. Well, that's good rather, must tell the governor that." Mr. Blair laughed long and loud. "You'll forget all that when you are out with us an hour. No, we think it well to hedge our government with dignity, but on this trip we shall leave the gold lace and red tape behind."

"How long do you propose to be gone?"

"About four weeks. But I make you a promise. If after the first week you want to return from any point, I shall send you back with all speed. But you won't want to, I guarantee you that. Why, my dear sir, think of the route," and Mr. Blair went off into a rapturous description of the marvels of the young province, its scenery, its resources, its climate, its sport, playing upon each string as he marked the effect upon his listener. By the time Mr. Blair's visit was over, the colonel had made up his mind that he would see something of this wonderful country.

Next day Coley took him over the company's mills, and was not a little disappointed to see that the colonel was not impressed by their size or equipment. In Coley's eyes they were phenomenal, and he was inclined to resent the colonel's lofty manner. The foreman, Mr. Urquhart, a shrewd Scotchman, who had seen the mills of the Ottawa River and those in Michigan as well, understood his visitor's attitude better; and besides, it suited his Scotch nature to refuse any approach to open admiration for anything out of the old land. His ordinary commendation was, "It's no that bad"; and his superlative was expressed in the daring concession, "Aye, it'll maybe dae, it micht be waur." So he followed the colonel about with disparaging comments that drove Coley to the verge of madness. When they came to the engine room, which was Urquhart's pride, the climax was reached.

"It's a wee bit o' a place, an' no fit for the wark," said Urquhart, ushering the colonel into a snug little engine-room, where every bit of brass shone with dazzling brightness, and every part of the engine moved in smooth, sweet harmony.

"Slick little engine," said the colonel, with discriminating admiration.

"It's no that bad the noo, but ye sud hae seen it afore Jem, there, took a hand o' it--a wheezin' rattlin' pechin thing that ye micht expect tae flee in bits for the noise in the wame o't. But Jemmie sorted it till it's nae despicable for its size. But it's no fit for the wark. Jemmie, lad, just gie't its fill an' we'll pit the saw until a log," said Urquhart, as they went up into the sawing- room where, in a few minutes, the colonel had an exhibition of the saw sticking fast in a log for lack of power.

"Man, yon's a lad that kens his trade. He's frae Gleska. He earns his money's warth."

"How did you come to get him?" said the colonel, moved to interest by Urquhart's unwonted praise.

"Indeed, just the way we've got all our best men. It's the boss picked him oot o' the gutter, and there he is earnin' his twa and a half a day."

"The boss did that, eh?" said the colonel, with one of his swift glances at the speaker.

"Aye, that he did, and he's only one o' many."

"He's good at that sort of business, I guess."

"Aye, he kens men as ye can see frae his gang."

"Doesn't seem to be able to make the company's business pay," ventured the colonel.

"D'ye think ye cud find one that cud?" pointing to the halting saw. "An that's the machine that turned oot thae piles yonder. Gie him a chance, though, an' when the stuff is deesposed of ye'll get y're profit." Urquhart knew what he was about, and the colonel went back with Coley to his rooms convinced of two facts, that the company had a plant that might easily be improved, but a manager that, in the estimation of those who wrought with him, was easily first in his class. Ranald could have adopted no better plan for the enhancing of his reputation than by allowing Colonel Thorp to go in and out among the workmen and his friends. More and more the colonel became impressed with his manager's genius for the picking of his men and binding them to his interests, and as this impression deepened he became the more resolved that it was a waste of good material to retain a man in a country offering such a limited scope for his abilities.

But after four weeks spent in exploring the interior, from Quesnelle to Okanagan, and in the following in and out the water- ways of the coast line, the colonel met Ranald at Yale with only a problem to be solved, and he lost no time in putting it to his manager.

"How in thunder can I get those narrow-gauge, hidebound Easterners to launch out into business in this country?"

"I can't help you there, Colonel. I've tried and failed."

"By the great Sam, so you have!" said the colonel, with a sudden conviction of his own limitations in the past. "No use tryin' to tell 'em of this," swinging his long arm toward the great sweep of the Fraser Valley, clothed with a mighty forest. "It's only a question of holdin' on for a few years, the thing's dead sure."

"I have been through a good part of it," said Ranald, quietly, and I am convinced that here we have the pick of Canada, and I venture to say of the American Continent. Timber, hundreds of square miles of it, fish--I've seen that river so packed with salmon that I couldn't shove my canoe through--"

"Hold on, now," said the colonel, "give me time."

"Simple, sober truth of my own proving," replied Ranald. "And you saw a fringe of the mines up in the Cariboo. The Kootenai is full of gold and silver, and in the Okanagan you can grow food and fruits for millions of people. I know what I am saying."

"Tell you what," said the colonel, "you make me think you're speakin' the truth anyhow." Then, with a sudden inspiration, he exclaimed: "By the great Sammy, I've got an idea!" and then, as he saw Ranald waiting, added, "But I guess I'll let it soak till we get down to the mill."

"Do you think you could spare me, Colonel?" asked Ranald, in a dubious voice; "I really ought to run through a bit of timber here."

"No, by the great Sam, I can't! I want you to come right along," replied the colonel, with emphasis.

"What is he saying, Colonel?" asked Mr. Blair.

"Wants to run off and leave me to paddle my way home alone. Not much! I tell you what, we have some important business to do before I go East. You hear me?"

"And besides, Macdonald, I want you for that big meeting of ours next week. You simply must be there."

"You flatter me, Mr. Blair."

"Not a bit; you know there are a lot of hot-heads talking separation and that sort of thing, and I want some level-headed fellow who is in with the working men to be there."

And as it turned out it was a good thing for Mr. Blair and for the cause he represented that Ranald was present at the great mass- meeting held in New Westminster the next week. For the people were exasperated beyond all endurance at the delay of the Dominion in making good the solemn promises given at the time of Confederation, and were in a mood to listen to the proposals freely made that the useless bond should be severed. "Railway or separation," was the cry, and resolutions embodying this sentiment were actually proposed and discussed. It was Ranald's speech, every one said, that turned the tide. His calm logic made clear the folly of even considering separation; his knowledge of, and his unbounded faith in, the resources of the province, and more than all, his impassioned picturing of the future of the great Dominion reaching from ocean to ocean, knit together by ties of common interest, and a common loyalty that would become more vividly real when the provinces had been brought more closely together by the promised railway. They might have to wait a little longer, but it was worth while waiting, and there was no future in any other policy. It was his first speech at a great meeting, and as Mr. Blair shook him warmly by the hand, the crowd burst into enthusiastic cries, "Macdonald! Macdonald!" and in one of the pauses a single voice was heard, "Glengarry forever!" Then again the crowd broke forth, "Glengarry! Glengarry!" for all who knew Ranald personally had heard of the gang that were once the pride of the Ottawa. At that old cry Ranald's face flushed deep red, and he had no words to answer his friends' warm congratulations.

"Send him East," cried a voice.

"Yes, yes, that's it. Send him to Ottawa to John A. It's the same clan!"

Swiftly Mr. Blair made up his mind. "Gentlemen, that is a good suggestion. I make it a motion." It was seconded in a dozen places, and carried by a standing vote. Then Ranald rose again and modestly protested that he was not the man to go. He was quite unknown in the province.

"We know you!" the same voice called out, followed by a roar of approval.

"And, besides," went on Ranald, "it is impossible for me to get away; I'm a working man and not my own master."

Then the colonel, who was sitting on the platform, rose and begged to be heard. "Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, I ain't a Canadian--"

"Never mind! You can't help that," sang out a man from the back, with a roar of laughter following.

"But if I weren't an American, I don't know anything that I'd rather be." (Great applause.) "Four weeks ago I wouldn't have taken your province as a gift. Now I only wish Uncle Sam could persuade you to sell." (Cries of "He hasn't got money enough. Don't fool yourself.") "But I want to say that this young man of mine," pointing to Ranald, "has given you good talk, and if you want him to go East, why, I'll let him off for a spell." (Loud cheers for the colonel and for Macdonald.)

A week later a great meeting in Victoria indorsed the New Westminster resolutions with the added demand that the railway should be continued to Esquinalt according to the original agreement. Another delegate was appointed to represent the wishes of the islanders, and before Ranald had fully realized what had happened he found himself a famous man, and on the way to the East with the jubilant colonel.

"What was the great idea, Colonel, that struck you at Yale?" inquired Ranald, as they were fairly steaming out of the Esquinalt harbor.

"This is it, my boy!" exclaimed the colonel, slapping him on the back. "This here trip East. Now we've got 'em over the ropes, by the great and everlasting Sammy!" the form of oath indicating a climax in the colonel's emotion.

"Got who?" inquired Ranald, mystified.

"Them gol-blamed, cross-road hayseeds down East." And with this the colonel became discreetly silent. He knew too well the sensitive pride of the man with whom he had to deal, and he was chiefly anxious now that Ranald should know as little as possible of the real object of his going to British Columbia.

"We've got to make the British-American Coal and Lumber Company know the time of day. It's gittin'-up time out in this country. They were talkin' a little of drawin' out." Ranald gasped. "Some of them only," the colonel hastened to add, "but I want you to talk like you did the other night, and I'll tell my little tale, and if that don't fetch 'em then I'm a Turk."

"Well, Colonel, here's my word," said Ranald, deliberately, "if the company wish to withdraw they may do so, but my future is bound up with that of the West, and I have no fear that it will fail me. I stake my all upon the West."