The Second Chance by Nellie L. McClung
Chapter XX. On the Quiet Hillside
They shall go out no more, oh ye, Who speak earth's farewell thro' your tears, Who see your cherished ones go forth And come not back, thro' weary years. There is a place-there is a shore From which they shall go out no more.
----Kate Tucker Goode.
When sympathetic neighbours came to stay with Mrs. Cavers that night, and "sit up" with the dead man, she gently refused their kind offer. "It is kind of you, dear friends," she said, "but I would rather stay alone to-night. It is the last thing I can do for him, and I shall not be lonely. I've sat here plenty of nights waiting for him, not knowing how he would come home--often afraid he would be frozen to death or kicked by the horses--but to-night he is safe from all that, and I am not worrying about him at all. I've got him all to myself, now, and I want to sit here with him, just him and me. Take Libby Anne with you, Martha. I am thinking of a sweet verse that seems to suit me now: 'They shall go out no more.' That's my comfort now; he is safe from so many things."
The next day was the funeral, a cloudless day of glittering sunshine and bright blue sky. The neighbours came for miles; for Bill's death and the closing of the bar had made a profound impression.
"I wonder will Sandy Braden come," Thomas Perkins said, as he tied his horse to a seeder in the yard. "Bill was a good customer of his, and I wouldn't be surprised if Sandy came."
"You're a good guesser, Thomas," another man said, "for here he comes."
"Sandy'll open up again, I think," said George Steadman, "in a few days, when he gets over this a little. He's foolish if he doesn't, with the busy time just startin', and money beginnin' to move."
"Well, I don't know," said Sam Motherwell. "From what I hear, Sandy says he's got his medicine, and won't take chances on getting any more. It'll be a good thing for the town if he has closed for keeps. Sandy has made thousands of dollars over his bar."
"Well," George Steadman said; in his most generous tone, "I don't begrudge it to him. Sandy's a decent fellow, and he certainly never made it out of me or mine. He's a fool if he closes up now, but if he does, some one else will open up. I believe a bar is a help to the town all right!"
"It hasn't been much of a help here," Thomas Perkins said, waving his hand at the untidy barnyard.
"Oh, well, this is an exception. There's always some man like Bill that don't know when to quit. This business here is pretty rough on me, though," Mr. Steadman said, in a truly grieved tone; "losin' my tenant just before harvest; but I blame nobody but Bill himself. He hasn't used me square, you all know that."
"Stop, George, stop!" The broad Scotch of Roderick Ray's voice had not been heard before in the conversation. "Hoo hae we used Bill? He was aye fond o' it an' aye drank it to his hurt an' couldna stop. What hae we done to help him? Dye think it fair to leave a trap-door open for a child to fall doon? An' if ye found him greetin' at the bottom, wad ye no tak him up an' shut the door? Puir Bill, we found him greetin' an' bruised an' sore mony times, but nane o' us had the humanity to try to shut the door until he fell once too often, an' could rise na more, an' now Sandy himsel' has shamed us a', an' I tell ye, he'll no open it again, for he has better bluid in him nor that; and our sins will lie upon our own heads if we ever let yon death-trap be opened again!"
Just then Sandy Braden, wearing a black suit, drove into the yard and tied up his horse.
* * *
The little house was filled to overflowing with women; the men stood bareheaded around the door. Mrs. Cavers sat beside the coffin with an arm around Libby Anne. Mrs. Steadman, with the cerise roses still nodding in her hat, said on the way home that it did seem queer to her that Mrs. Cavers and Libby Anne did not shed a tear. Mrs. Steadman did not understand that there is a limit even to tears and that Libby Anne in her short years had seen sadder sights than even this.
The Reverend John Burrell conducted the funeral.
"Shall we gather at the river?" he gave out as the first hymn. Some sang it falteringly; they had their own ideas of Bill's chances in the next world, and did not consider the "river" just the proper figure of speech to describe it.
The minister then read that old story of the poor man who went down to Jericho and fell among thieves. Mr. Burrell's long experience with men had made him a plain and pointed speaker, and given him that rare gift, convincing earnestness. Now he laid his hand on the coffin and spoke in a clear, ringing voice, that carried easily to every person in the house and to those who stood around the door.
"Here is a man who is a victim of our laws," he said, in beginning. "This is not an exceptional case. Men are being ruthlessly murdered every day from the same cause; this is not the only home that it has darkened. It is going on all over this land and all the time because we are willing, for the sake of a few dollars' revenue, to allow one man to grow rich on the failings of others. We know the consequences of this; we know that men will be killed, body and soul, that women will go broken-hearted, that little children will be cheated of their childhood. This scene to-day--the dead man in his coffin, the sad-faced wife and child, the open grave on the hillside--is a part of the Traffic. They belong to the business just as much as the sparkling decanters and the sign above the door. Every one of you, no doubt, has foretold this day. I wonder have you done anything to prevent it? Let none of us presume to judge the brother who has gone. I would rather take my chances before the judgment-seat of God with him, the victim, who has paid for his folly with his life, than with any one of you who have made this thing possible. 'Ye who are strong ought to bear the infirmity of the weak.' I do not know how it will be with this man when he comes to give an account of himself to God, but I do know that God is a loving, tender Father, who deals justly and loves mercy, and in that thought to-day we rest and hope. Let us pray."
"Impress this scene on our heart, to-day, dear Lord," he prayed; "this man cut down in his prime; this woman old with sorrow, not with years; this child, cheated of her father's love. Let us ask ourselves how long will we sit idly by, not caring. And oh, God, we pray Thee to bless the one man who, among us all, has said that as far as he is responsible this traffic shall cease; bless him abundantly, and may his troubled heart find peace. May he never forget that there is a fountain where all sin and uncleanness may be washed away. Remind our hearts this day of how He died to save us from the sins of selfishness and greed, and ever lives to cheer and guide us. Let us hear the call that comes to us to-day to do a man's part in protecting the weak, the helpless, and the young. Let the love of this woman for her husband call to our remembrance Thy unchanging love for us, and if it be in keeping with Thy divine laws, may the precious coin of her unfaltering devotion purchase for him a holding in the heavenly country. For the sake of Thy dear Son we ask it."
The funeral went slowly along the well-beaten road that skirts the sand-hills of the Assiniboine, and crawled like a long black snake through the winding valley of Oak Creek, whose banks were hanging with wild roses and columbine, while down in the shady aisles of the creek bed, under the stunted oak that gives it its name, pink and yellow lady's slippers gave out their honeyed fragrance.
"It is hard to die and leave all this behind," Thomas Perkins said; looking down the valley, where the breezes rippled the leaves. "I always think it must be hard to snuff out in June or July and have to pass out without knowin' how the crop'll turn out; but I guess now, from what I've heard, when the clock strikes quittin'time, a fellow won't be worryin' about the crops."
On the quiet hill, dotted with spruce, that looks down on the Souris, they laid Bill Cavers away. Very gently the coffin was lowered into its sandy bed as the minister read the beautiful words of the burial service and the neighbours and friends stood silent in the presence, the majestic presence of Death. Just before the sand was filled in, Ellen Cavers, tearless still, kissed the roses she held in her hand and dropped them gently on the coffin.
One by one the neighbours walked away, untied their horses, and drove slowly down the hill, until Libby Anne and her mother were left alone. Bud and Martha were waiting at the gate for them. Mrs. Cavers, looking up, noticed that one man stood with bowed head near the gate. It was Sandy Braden, his face white and full of sadness.
Mrs. Cavers walked over to where he stood and held out her hand. "Mr. Braden," she said, looking at him with a glimmer of tears in her gentle eyes.
He took her hand, so cruelly seamed and workworn; his was white and plump and well-kept. He tried to speak, but no words came.
Looking up she read his face with a woman's quick understanding. "I know," she said.