The Sky Pilot in No Man's Land by Ralph Connor
Chapter I. Only a Missionary
High upon a rock, poised like a bird for flight, stark naked, his satin skin shining like gold and silver in the rising sun, stood a youth, tall, slim of body, not fully developed but with muscles promising, in their faultless, gently swelling outline, strength and suppleness to an unusual degree. Gazing down into the pool formed by an eddy of the river twenty feet below him, he stood as if calculating the distance, his profile turned toward the man who had just emerged from the bushes and was standing on the sandy strand of the river, paddle in hand, looking up at him with an expression of wonder and delight in his eyes.
"Ye gods, what a picture!" said the man to himself.
Noiselessly, as if fearing to send the youth off in flight, he laid his paddle on the sand, hurriedly felt in his pockets, and swore to himself vigorously when he could find no sketch book there.
"What a pose! What an Apollo!" he muttered.
The sunlight glistening on the beautiful white skin lay like pools of gold in the curving hollows of the perfectly modelled body, and ran like silver over the rounded swellings of the limbs. Instinct with life he seemed, something in his pose suggesting that he had either alighted from the golden, ambient air, or was about to commit himself to it. The man on the sand continued to gaze as if he were beholding a creature of another world.
"Oh, Lord! What lines!" he breathed.
Slowly the youth began to move his arms up to the horizontal, then to the perpendicular, reaching to the utmost of his height upon his toe tips, breathing deep the while. Smoothly, slowly, the muscles in legs and thighs, in back, in abdomen, in chest, responding to the exercise moved under the lustrous skin as if themselves were living things. Over and over again the action was repeated, the muscles and body moving in rhythmic harmony like some perfect mechanism running in a bath of oil.
"Ye gods of Greece!" breathed the man. "What is this thing I see? Flesh or spirit? Man or god?" Again he swore at himself for neglecting to bring his sketch book and pencil.
"Hello, father! Where are you?" A girl's voice rang out, high, clear, and near at hand.
"Good Lord!" said the man to himself, glancing up at the poised figure. "I must stop her."
One startled glance the youth flung down upon him, another in the direction of the voice, then, like a white, gleaming arrow he shot down, and disappeared in the dark pool below.
With his eyes upon the water the man awaited his reappearing. A half minute, a full minute he waited, but in vain. Swiftly he ran toward the edge of the pool. There was no sign anywhere of the youth.
Ghastly pale and panting, the man ran, as far round the base of the rock as the water would allow him, seeking everywhere signs of the swimmer.
"Hello, father! Oh, there you are!" Breaking through the bushes, a girl ran to him.
"What is it, pater? You are ill. What is the matter?"
"Good heavens! he was there!" gasped the man, pointing to the high rock. "He plunged in there." He pointed to the pool. "He hasn't come up. He is drowned."
"Who? What are you saying? Wake up, father. Who was there?"
"A boy! A young man! He disappeared down there."
"A young man? Was he--was he--dressed?" inquired the girl.
"Dressed? No. No."
"Did he--did he--hear me--calling?"
"Of course he did. That's what startled him, I imagine. Poor boy! I fear he is gone."
"Did he fall in, or did he dive?"
"He seemed to dive, but he has not come up. I fear he is gone."
"Oh, nonsense, father," said the girl. "I bet you he has swum round the bend. Just go over the rock and see."
"God grant it!" said her father.
He dropped his paddle, ran up over the rock and down into the little dell on the other side that ran down to the water's edge. There he saw a tent, with all the accompaniments of a well ordered camp, and a man cooking breakfast on a small fire.
"Well, I'll be combusticated!" he said to himself, weakly holding to a little poplar tree.
"I say!" he cried, "where is he? Has he come in? Is he all right?"
"Who?" said the man at the fire.
"The boy on the rock."
The man gazed at him astonished, then as if suddenly grasping his meaning, replied,
"Yes, he came in. He's dressing in the tent."
"Well, I'll be condumbusticated!" said the man. "Say! what the devil does he mean by scaring people out of their senses in that way!"
The man at the fire stood gazing at him in an utterly bewildered way.
"If you will tell me exactly what you are after, I may be able to help you."
The other drew slowly near the fire. He was still pale, and breathing quickly.
"Hello, dad, is breakfast ready?" came a cheery voice from the tent.
"Thank God, he is alive apparently," said the man, sinking down on a log beside the fire. "You must pardon me, sir," he said. "You see, I saw him take a header into the pool from that high rock over yonder, and he never came up again. I thought he was drowned."
The man at the fire smiled.
"The young villain gave you a fright, did he? One of his usual tricks. Well, as his father, and more or less responsible for him, I offer the most humble apology. Have you had breakfast?"
"Yes. But why did he do such a thing?"
"Ask him. Here he comes."
Out from the tent came the youth in shorts, the warm glow of his body showing through the filmy material.
"Hello!" he cried, backing toward the tent door. "You are the man with the paddle. Is there by any chance a lady with you, or did I hear a lady's voice over there? I assure you I got a deuce of a fright."
"You gave me the supreme fright of my life, young man, I can tell you that."
"But I surely heard a lady's voice," said the youth.
"You did. It was my daughter's voice, and it was she who suggested that you had swum around the bend. And she sent me over here to investigate."
"Oh, your daughter. Excuse me," said the youth. "I shall be out in a few minutes." He slid into the tent, and did not reappear.
The man remained chatting with the youth's father for a few minutes, then rising said,
"Well, I feel better. I confess this thing gave me something of a shock. But come round and see us before we go. We shall be leaving in an hour."
The man at the fire promised to make the visit, and the other took his departure.
A few minutes later the youth reappeared.
"Is breakfast ready?" he cried. "My, but I'm hungry! But who is he, dad?"
"Sit down," said his father, "and get your breakfast while it is hot."
"But who is he, dad?" persisted the youth.
"Who is he?" said his father, dishing up the bacon. "An oil explorer, an artist, a capitalist, an American from Pittsburgh, the father of one child, a girl. Her mother is dead. Nineteen years old, athletic, modern type, college bred, 'boss of the show' (quotation). These are a few of the facts volunteered within the limited space of his visit."
"What's he like, dad?"
"Like? Like an American."
"Now, dad, don't allow your old British prejudices to run away with your judgment."
"On the contrary, I am perfectly charmed. He is one of those Americans who capture you at once, educated, frank, open, with that peculiar charm that Britishers will not be able to develop for many generations. An American, but not of the unspeakable type. Not at all. You will like him."
"I am sure I shall," replied the youth. "I liked his voice and his face. I like the Americans. I met such nice chaps at college. So clever, and with such a vocabulary."
"Vocabulary? Well, I'm not too sure as to the vocabulary part of it."
"Yes, such bright, pat, expressive slang, so fresh and in such variety. So different from your heavy British slang, in which everything approaching the superlative must be one of three things, 'ripping,' with very distinct articulation on the double p, or 'top hole,' or 'awfully jolly.' More recently, I believe, a fourth variation is allowed in 'priceless.'
"Ah, my boy, you have unconsciously uttered a most searching criticism on your American friends. Don't you know that a vocabulary rich in slang is poverty stricken in forceful and well chosen English? The wealth of the one is the poverty of the other."
"Where is he going?" enquired the boy.
"Out by way of Edmonton, Calgary, Moose Jaw, Minneapolis, so on to Pittsburgh. Partner with him, young lawyer, expert in mines, unmarried. He is coming back in a couple of months or so for a big hunt. Wants us to join him. Really extraordinary, when you come to think of it, how much information he was able to convey in such a short space of time. Marvellous gift of expression!"
"What did you say, dad?"
"Say? Oh, as to his invitation! Why, I believe I accepted, my boy. It seemed as if I could do nothing else. It's a way he has."
"Is--is the daughter to be along?"
"Let me see. What did he say? Really, I don't know. But I should judge that it would be entirely as she wished. She is--"
"Boss of the show, eh?"
"Exactly. Most vivid phrase, eh?"
"Very. And no doubt aptly descriptive of the fact."
In half an hour the breakfast was finished, and the elder man got his pipe a-going.
"Now, dad, you had better go along and make your call, while I get things together here."
"What! You not going! No, no, that won't do, my boy. It was about you they were concerned. You were the occasion of the acquaintanceship. Besides, meeting in the wilderness this way we can't do that sort of thing, you know."
"Well, dad, frankly, I am quite terrified of the young lady. Suppose she should start bossing us. We should both be quite helpless."
"Oh, nonsense, boy! Come along. Get your hat."
"All right, I'll come. On your head be the consequences, dad. No. I don't need a hat. Fortunately I put on a clean shirt. Will I do, dad? You know I'm 'scairt stiff,' as Harry Hobbs would say."
His father looked him over, but there was nothing critical in his glance. Pride and love filled his eyes as they ran over his son's face and figure. And small wonder! The youth was good to look upon. A shade under six feet he stood, straight and slim, strength and supple grace in every move of his body. His face was beautiful with the beauty of features, clean cut and strong, but more with the beauty of a clear, candid soul. He seemed to radiate an atmosphere of cheery good nature and unspoiled simplicity. He was two years past his majority, yet he carried the air of a youth of eighteen, in which shyness and fearlessness looked out from his deep blue eyes. It was well that he wore no hat to hide the mass of rich brown hair that waved back from his forehead.
"You'll do, boy," said his father, in a voice whose rigid evenness of tone revealed the emotion it sought to conceal. "You'll take all the shine from me, you young beggar," he added in a tone of gruff banter, "but there was a time--"
"Was a time, dad? Is, and don't tell me you don't know it. I always feel like a school kid in any company when you're about.
'When the sun comes out All the little stars run in,'"
he sang from a late music hall effusion. "Why, just come here and look at yourself," and the boy's eyes dwelt with affectionate pride upon his father.
It was easy to see where the boy got his perfect form. Not so tall as his son, he was more firmly knit, and with a kind of dainty neatness in his appearance which suggested the beau in earlier days. But there was nothing of weakness about the erect, trim figure. A second glance discovered a depth of chest, a thickness of shoulder and of thigh, and a general development of muscle such as a ring champion might show; and, indeed, it was his achievements in the ring rather than in the class lists that won for Dick Dunbar in his college days his highest fame. And though his fifty years had slowed somewhat the speed of foot and hand, the eye was as sure as ever, and but little of the natural force was abated which once had made him the glory of the Cambridge sporting youth, and which even yet could test his son's mettle in a fast bout.
On the sandy shore of the river below the eddy, they found the American and his party gathered, with their stuff ranged about them ready for the canoes.
"Ah, here you are, sir," said the American, advancing hat in hand. "And this is your son, the young rascal who came mighty near giving me heart failure this morning. By the way, I haven't the pleasure of knowing your name."
"My name is Richard Dunbar, and this is my son Barry."
"My name is Osborne Howland, of Pittsburgh, and this is my daughter Paula. In bloomers, as you see, but nevertheless my daughter. Meet also my friend and partner, Mr. Cornwall Brand."
The party exchanged greetings, and spent some moments giving utterance to those platitudes which are so useful in such circumstances, a sort of mental marking time preparatory to further mutual acquaintance.
The girl possessed that striking, dashing kind of brunette beauty that goes with good health, good living, and abundance of outdoor exercise. She carried herself with that air of assured self- confidence that comes as the result of a somewhat wide experience of men, women and things. She quite evidently scorned the conventions, as her garb, being quite masculine, her speech being outspoken and decorated with the newest and most ingenious slang, her whole manner being frankly impulsive, loudly proclaimed.
But Barry liked her at once, and made no pretence of concealing his liking. To her father, also, he was immediately drawn. As to Cornwall Brand, between whom and the girl there seemed to exist a sort of understanding, he was not so sure.
For half an hour or so they stood by the river exchanging their experiences in these northern wilds, and their views upon life in the wilderness and upon things in general. By a little skilful managing the girl got the young man away from the others, and then proceeded to dissect and classify him.
Through the open woods along the river bank they wandered, pausing here and there to admire the view, until they came to an overhanging bank at the entrance to a somewhat deep gorge, through which the river foamed to the boiling rapids below. It was indeed a beautiful scene. The banks of the river were covered with every variety of shrub and tree, except where the black rocks broke through; between the banks the dark river raged and fretted itself into a foam against its rocky barriers; over them arched the sky, a perfect blue.
"What a lovely view!" exclaimed the girl, seating herself upon the edge of the bank. "Now," she said, "tell me about yourself. You gave my pater a fearful fright this morning. He was quite paralysed when I came on him."
"I am very sorry," said the youth, "but I had no intention--"
"I know. I told him not to worry," replied the girl. "I knew you would be all right."
"And how, pray?" said the young man, blushing at the memory of his startling appearance upon that rock.
"I knew that any fellow who could take that dive wouldn't likely let himself drown. I guessed, too, that if you heard me hoot--"
"I did," said the youth.
"You sure would get slippy right away."
"I guess you were pretty well startled yourself, weren't you?" said the girl, pursuing the subject with cool persistence.
"Rather," said the young man, blushing more violently, and wishing she would change the subject. "You are going out?" he enquired.
"Too bad," he said, his disappointment evident in his tone.
"When are you going out? But who are you, anyway?" asked the girl. "You have to tell me that."
"My life story, so to speak?"
"It's very short and simple, like the annals of the poor," he replied. "From England in infancy, on a ranch in northern Alberta for ten years, a puny little wretch I was, terribly bothered with asthma, then"--the boy hesitated a moment--"my mother died, father moved to Edmonton, lived there for five years, thence to Wapiti, away northwest of Edmonton, our present home, prepared for college by my father, university course in Winnipeg, graduated in theology a year ago, now the missionary in charge of Wapiti and the surrounding district."
"A preacher!" said the girl, her face and her tone showing her disappointment only too plainly.
"Not much of a preacher, I fear," said the young man with a smile. "A missionary, rather. That's my story."
She noticed with some chagrin that he did not ask for hers.
"What are you doing here?" she enquired.
He hesitated a moment or two.
"Dad and I always take a trip into the wilds every summer." Then he added after a few moments' pause, "But of course we have other business on hand up here."
"Business? Up here?"
"Yes. Dad has some." He made as if to continue, but changed his mind and fell into silence, leaving her piqued by his reserve and by his apparent indifference to the things concerning herself. She did not know that he was eagerly hoping that she would supply this information.
At length he ventured, "Must you go away to-day?"
"I don't suppose there's any 'must' about it."
"Why not stay?"
"Why should I?"
"Oh, it would be jolly," he cried. "You see, we could--explore about here--and,"--he ended rather lamely,--"it's a lovely country."
"We've seen a lot of it. It Is lovely," she said, her eyes upon his face as if appraising him. "I should like to know you better," she added, with sudden and characteristic frankness, "so I think we will stay. But you will have to be awfully good to me."
"Why, of course," he cried. "That's splendid! Perfectly jolly!"
"Then we had better find father and tell him. Come along," she ordered, and led the way back to the camp.
The young man followed her, wondering at her, and giving slight heed to the chatter she flung over her shoulder at him as she strode along through the bushes.
"What's the matter with you?" she cried, facing round upon him. "You were thinking about me, I know. Confess, now."
"I was," he acknowledged, smiling at her.
"What were you thinking? Tell me," she insisted.
"I was thinking--" He paused.
"Go on!" she cried.
"I was thinking of what your father said about you."
"My father? About me? What did he say? To you?"
"No. To dad."
"What was it? Tell me. I must know." She was very imperious in her manner. The youth only smiled at her.
"Go on!" she said impatiently.
"I think possibly your father was right," he replied, "when he said you 'boss the show.'"
"Oh, that's what he said, eh? Well, I guess he's about right."
"But you don't really?"
"Don't what? 'Boss the show'? Well, I boss my own show, at any rate. Don't you?"
"Don't I what, exactly? Boss the show? Well, I don't think we have any 'show,' and I don't believe we have any 'boss.' Dad and I just talk things over, you see."
"But," she insisted, "some one in the last analysis must decide. Your menage, no matter how simple, must have a head. It is a law of the universe itself, and it is the law of mankind. You see, I have done some political economy."
"And yet," said the young man, "you say you run your own show?"
"Exactly. Every social organism must have a head, but every individual in the organism must live its own free life. That is true democracy. But of course you don't understand democracy, you Canadians."
"Aha! There you are! You Americans are the most insular of all the great peoples of the world. You know nothing of other people. You know only your own history and not even that correctly, your own geography, and your own political science. You know nothing of Canada. You don't know, for instance, that the purest form of democracy on this American continent lies outside the bounds of the U. S. A."
"In Canada?" she asked scornfully. "By the way, how many Canadians are there?"
"Yes, I know. We are a small people," he said quietly, "but no more real democracy exists anywhere in the world than in this country of mine. We are a small people, but," he said, with a sweep of his hand toward the west and the north, "the future is with us. The day is coming when along this waterway great cities shall be, with factories and humming industries. These plains, these flowing hills will be the home of millions of men, and in my lifetime, too."
His eyes began to glow, his face to shine with a rare and fascinating beauty.
"Do you know the statistics of your country? Do you know that during the last twenty years the rate of Canada's growth was three times greater than ever in the history of the United States? You are a great commercial nation, but do you know that the per capita rate of Canada's trade to-day is many times that of the United States? You are a great agricultural people, but do you know that three-quarters of the wheat land on this continent is Canadian, and that before many years you will be coming to Canada for your wheat, yes, and for your flour? Do you see that river? Do you know that Canada is the richest country in the world in water power? And more than that, in the things essential to national greatness,--not these things that you can see, these material things," he said, sweeping his hand contemptuously toward the horizon, "but in such things as educational standards, in administration of justice, in the customs of a liberty loving people, in religious privileges, in everything that goes to make character and morale, Canada has already laid the foundations of a great nation."
He stopped short, abashed, the glow fading from his face, the light from his eyes.
"Forgive me," he said, with a little laugh. "I am a first class ass. I fear I was blowing like a fog horn. But when you touch Canada you release something in me."
While he was speaking her eyes never left his face. "Go on!" she said, in a voice of suppressed emotion, "go on. I love to hear you."
Her wonted poise was gone; she was obviously stirred with deep emotion.
"Go on!" she commanded, laying her hand upon his arm. "Don't stop. Tell me more about--about Canada, about anything," she added impatiently.
A warm, eager light filled her eyes. She was biting her lips to still their tremor.
"There's plenty to tell about Canada," he said, "but not now. What started me? Oh, democracy. Yes, it was you that began it. Democracy? After all, it is worth while that the people who are one day to fill this wide land should be truly democratic, truly free, and truly great."
Once more the light began to burn in his eyes and in his face.
"Ah, to have a hand in that!"
"And you," she said in a low voice, "you with all that in you, are only a preacher."
"A missionary," he corrected.
"Well, a missionary. Only a missionary."
Disappointment and scorn were all too evident in her voice.
"Only a missionary. Ah, if I could only be one. A missionary! With a mission and a message to my people! If only I had the gift of tongues, of flaming, burning, illuminating speech, of heart- compelling speech! To tell my people how to make this country truly great and truly free, how to keep it free from the sordid things, the cruel things, the unjust, the unclean, the loathsome things that have debased and degraded the older nations, that are debasing and degrading even your young, great nation. Ah, to be a missionary with a tongue of fire, with a message of light! A missionary to my people to help them to high and worthy living, to help them to God! Only a missionary! What would you have me? A money-maker?"
He turned swiftly upon her, a magnetic, compelling personality. From the furious scorn in his voice and in his flaming face she visibly shrank, almost as if he had struck her.
"No!" she breathed. "Nothing else. Only a missionary."
Silent she stood, as if still under the spell of his words, her eyes devouring his face.
"How your mother would have loved you, would have been proud of you," she said in a low tone. "Is--is there no one else to--to rejoice in you?" she asked shyly, but eagerly.
He laughed aloud. "There's dad, dear old dad."
"And no one else?" Still with shy, eager eyes she held him.
"Oh, heaps," he cried, still laughing.
She smiled upon him, a slightly uncertain smile, and yet as if his answer somehow satisfied her.
"Good-bye," she said impulsively, offering her hand.
"But you are not going! You're staying a few days!" he gasped.
"No, we're going. We're going right away. Goodbye," she said. "I don't want those others to see. Goodbye. Oh, it's been a wonderful morning! And,--and--a friend is a wonderful discovery."
Her hand held his in a strong, warm grasp, but her eyes searched his face as if seeking something she greatly desired.
"Good-bye. I am sorry you are going," he said, simply. "I want to know you better."
"Do you?" she cried, with a sudden eagerness in her voice and manner. Then, "No. You would be disappointed. I am not of your world. But you shall see me again," she added, as if taking a new resolve. "We are coming back on a big hunt, and you and your father are to join us. Won't you?"
"Dad said we should," said the youth, smiling at the remembrance.
"And you?" she said, with a touch of impatience.
"If things can so arrange themselves--my work, I mean, and dad's."
"But, do you want to? Do you really want to?" she asked. "I wish I knew. I hate not to understand people. You are hard to know. I don't know you. But you will come?"
"I think so," said the young man. "Of course a fellow's work comes first, you know."
"Work?" she cried. "Your work? Oh, your missionary work. Oh, yes, yes. I should like to see you at it. Come, let us go."
Mr. Cornwall Brand they found in a fever of impatience. He had the trip scheduled to a time table, and he hated to be forced to change his plans. His impatience showed itself in snappy commands and inquiries to his Indian guides, who, however, merely grunted replies. They knew their job and did it without command or advice, and with complete indifference to anything the white man might have to say. To Paula the only change in his manner was an excess of politeness.
Her father, however, met her with remonstrances.
"Why, Paula, my dear, you have kept us waiting."
"What's the rush, pater?" she enquired, coolly.
"Why, my dear, we are already behind our schedule, and you know Cornwall hates that," he said in a low voice.
"Cornwall!" said Paula, in a loud voice of unmistakable ill temper. "Does Cornwall run this outfit?"
"My dear Paula!" again remonstrated her father.
She turned to him impatiently, with an angry word at her lips, caught upon Barry's face a look of surprise, paused midway in her passion, then moved slowly toward him.
"Well," she asked, in an even, cold voice, "what do you think about it? And anyway," she dropped her voice so that none heard but himself, "why should you halt me? Who are you, to give me pause this way?"
"Only a missionary," he answered, in an equally low tone, but with a smile gentle, almost wistful on his face.
As with a flash the wrathful cloud vanished.
"A missionary," she replied softly. "God knows I need one."
"You do," he said emphatically, and still he smiled.
"Come, Paula," called Cornwall Brand. "We are all waiting."
Her face hardened at his words.
"Good-bye," she said to Barry. "I am coming back again to--to your wonderful Canada."
"Of course you are," said Barry, heartily. "They all do."
He went with her to the canoe, steadied her as she took her place, and stood watching till the bend in the river shut them from view.
"Nice people," said his father. "Very fine, jolly girl."
"Yes, isn't she?" replied his son.
"Handsome, too," said his father, glancing keenly at him.
"Is she? Yes, I think so. Yes, indeed, very," he added, as if pondering the matter. "When do we move, dad?"
A look of relief crossed the father's face.
"This afternoon, I think. We have only a few days now. We shall run up Buffalo Creek into the Foothills for some trout. It will be a little stiff, but you are fit enough now, aren't you, Barry?" His voice was tinged with anxiety.
"Fit for anything, dad, thanks to you."
"Not to me, Barry. To yourself largely."
"No," said the boy, throwing his arm round his father's shoulder, "thanks to you, dear old dad,--and to God."