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The Way of the West by Nellie McClung

 

(Reprinted by permission of The Globe, Toronto.)

Thomas Shouldice was displeased, sorely, bitterly displeased: in fact, he was downright mad, and being an Irish Orangeman, this means that he was ready to fight. You can imagine just how bitterly Mr. Shouldice was incensed when you hear that the Fourth of July had been celebrated with flourish of flags and blare of trumpets right under his very nose—in Canada—in British dominions!

The First of July, the day that should have been given up to "doin's," including the race for the greased pig, the three-legged race, and a ploughing match, had passed into obscurity, without so much as a pie-social; and it had rained that day, too, in torrents, just as if Nature herself did not care enough about the First to try to keep it dry.

The Fourth came in a glorious day, all sunshine and blue sky, with birds singing in every poplar bluff, and it was given such a celebration as Thomas had never seen since the "Twelfth" had been held in Souris. The American settlers who had been pouring into the Souris valley had—without so much as asking leave from the Government at Ottawa, the school trustees, or the oldest settler, who was Thomas himself—gone ahead and celebrated. Every American family had brought their own flagpole, in "joints," with them, and on the Fourth immense banners of stars and stripes spread their folds in triumph on the breeze.

The celebration was held in a large grove just across the road from Thomas Shouldice's little house; and to his inflamed patriotism, every firecracker that split the air, every cheer that rent the heavens, every blare of their smashing band music, seemed a direct challenge to King Edward himself, God bless him!

Mr. Shouldice worked all day at his hay-meadow, just to show them! He worked hard, too, never deigning a glance at their "carryin's on," just to let them know that he did not care two cents for their Fourth of July.

His first thought was to feign indifference, but when he saw the Wilsons, the Wrays, the Henrys, Canadian-bred and born, driving over to the enemy's camp, with their Sunday clothes on and big boxes of provisions on the "doggery" of their buckboards, his indifference fled and was replaced by profanity. It comforted him a little when he reflected that not an Orangeman had gone. They were loyal sons and true, every one of them. These other ignorant Canadians might forget what they owed to the old flag, but the Orangemen—never.

Thomas's rage against the Yankees was intensified when he saw Father
O'Flynn walking across the plover slough. Then he was sure that the
Americans and Catholics were in league against the British.

A mighty thought was conceived that day in the brain of Thomas Shouldice, late Worshipful Master of the Carleton Place Loyal Orange Lodge No. 23. They would celebrate the Twelfth, so they would; he'd like to see who would stop them. Someone would stand up for the flag that had braved a thousand years of battle and the breeze. He blew his nose noisily on his red handkerchief when he thought of this.

They would celebrate the Twelfth! They would "walk." He would gather up "the boys" and get someone to make a speech. They would get a fifer from Brandon. It was the fife that could stir the heart in you! And the fifer would play "The Protestant Boys" and "Rise, Sons of William, Rise!" Anyone that tried to stop him would get a shirt full of sore bones!

Thomas went home full of the plan to get back at the invaders! Rummaging through his trunk, he found, carefully wrapped with chewing tobacco and ground cedar, to keep the moths away, the regalia that he had worn, proudly and defiantly, once in Montreal, when the crowd that obstructed the triumphal march of the Orange Young Britons had to be dispersed by the "melitia." It was a glorious day, and one to be remembered with pride, for there had been shots fired and heads smashed.

His man, a guileless young Englishman, came in from mowing, gaily whistling the refrain the Yankee band had been playing at intervals all afternoon. It was "Dixie Land," and at first Thomas did not notice it. Rousing at last to the sinister significance of the tune, he ordered its cessation, in rosy-hued terms, and commended all such Yankee tunes and those that whistled them to that region where popular rumor has it that pots boil with or without watching.

Thomas Shouldice had lived by himself for a number of years. It was supposed that he had a wife living somewhere in "the States," which term to many Canadians indicates a shadowy region where bad boys, unfaithful wives and absconding embezzlers find refuge and dwell in dim security.

Thomas's devotion to the Orange Order was nothing short of a passion. He believed that but for its institution and perpetuation Protestant blood would flow like water. He always spoke of the "Stuarts" in an undertone, as if he were afraid they might even yet come back and make "rough house" for King Edward.

There were only two Catholic families in the neighborhood, and peaceable, friendly people they were, too; but Thomas believed they should be intimidated to prevent trouble. "The old spite is in them," he told himself, "and nothing will show them where they stand like a 'walk.'"

The next day Thomas left his haying and rounded up the faithful. There were seven members of the order in the community, all of whom were willing to stand for their country's honor. There was James Shewfelt, who was a drummer, and could play the tunes without the fife at all. There was John Barker, who did a musical turn in the form of a twenty- three verse ballad beginning:

  "When Popery did flourish in
    Dear Ireland o'er the sea,
  There came a man from Amsterdam
    To set ould Ireland free!
  To set ould Ireland free, boys,
    To set ould Ireland free,—
  There came a man from Amsterdam
    To set ould Ireland free!"

There was William Breeze, who was a little hard of hearing, but loyal to the core. He had seven boys in his family, so there was still hope for the nation. There was Patrick Mooney, who should have been wearing the other color if there is anything in a name. But there isn't. There was John Burns, who had been an engineer, but, having lost a foot, had taken to farming. He was the farthest advanced in the order next to Thomas Shouldice, having served a term as District Grand Master, and was well up in the Grand Black Chapter. These would form the nucleus of the procession. The seven little Breezes would be admitted to the ranks if their mother could find suitable decoration for them. Of course, the weather was warm and the subject of clothing was not so serious as it might have been.

Thomas drove nineteen miles to the nearest town to get a speaker and a fifer. The fifer was found, and, quite fortunately, was open for engagement. The speaker was not so easily secured. Thomas went to the Methodist missionary. The missionary was quite a young man and had the reputation of being an orator. He listened gravely while his visitor unfolded his plan.

"I'll tell you what to do, Mr. Shouldice," he said, smiling, when the other had finished the recital of his country's wrongs. "Get Father O'Flynn; he'll make you a speech that will do you all good."

Thomas was too astonished for words. "But he's a Papist!" he sputtered at last.

"Oh, pshaw! Oh, pshaw! Mr. Shouldice," the young man exclaimed; "there's no division of creed west of Winnipeg. The little priest does all my sick visiting north of the river, and I do his on the south. He's a good preacher, and the finest man at a deathbed I ever saw."

"This is not a deathbed, though, as it happens," Thomas replied, with dignity.

The young minister threw back his head and laughed uproariously. "Can't tell that until it is over—I've been at a few Orange walks down East, you know—took part in one myself once."

"Did you walk?" Thomas asked, brightening.

"No, I ran," the minister said, smiling.

"I thought you said you took part," Thomas snorted, with displeasure.

"So I did, but mine was a minor part. I stood behind the fence and helped the Brennan boys and Patrick Costigan to peg at them!"

"Are ye a Protestant at all?" Thomas roared at him, now thoroughly angry.

"Yes, I am," the minister said, slowly, "and I am something better still; I am a Christian and a Canadian. Are you?"

Thomas beat a hasty retreat.

The Presbyterian minister was away from home, and the English Church minister—who was also a young man lately arrived—said he would go gladly.

The Twelfth of July was a beautiful day, clear, sparkling and cloudless. Little wayward breezes frolicked up and down the banks of Moose Creek and rasped the surface of its placid pools, swollen still from the heavy rains of the "First." In the glittering sunshine the prairie lay a riot of color; the first wild roses now had faded to a pastel pink, but on every bush there were plenty of new ones, deeply crimson and odorous. Across the creek from Thomas Shouldice's little house, Indian pipes and columbine reddened the edge of the poplar grove, from the lowest branches of which morning-glories, white and pink and purple, hung in graceful profusion.

Before noon a wagon filled with people came thundering down the trail.
As they came nearer Thomas was astonished to see that it was an
American family from the Chippen Hill district.

"Picnic in these parts, ain't there?" the driver asked.

Thomas was in a genial mood, occasioned by the day and the weather.

"Orange walk and picnic!" he replied, waving his hand toward the bluff, where a few of the faithful were constructing a triumphal arch.

"Something like a cake-walk, is it?" the man asked, looking puzzled.

Mr. Shouldice stared at him incredulously.

"Did ye never hear of Orangemen down yer way?" he said.

"Never did, pard," the man answered. "We've peanut men, and apple women, and banana men, but we've never heard much about orange men. But we're right glad to come over and help the show along. Do you want any money for the races?"

"We didn't count on havin' races; we're havin' speeches and some singin'."

The Yankee laughed good-humoredly.

"Well, friend, I pass there; but mother here is a W.C.T.U.-er from away back. She'll knock the spots off the liquor business in fifteen minutes, if you'd like anything in that line."

His wife interposed in her easy, drawling tones: "Now, Abe, you best shet up and drive along. The kids are all hungry and want their dinners."

"We'll see you later, partner," said the man as they drove away.

Thomas Shouldice was mystified. "These Americans are a queer bunch," he thought; "they're ignorant as all get out, but, gosh! they're friendly."

Over the hill to the south came other wagons filled with jolly picnickers, who soon had their pots boiling over quickly-constructed tripods.

Thomas, who went over to welcome them, found that nearly all of them were the very Americans whose unholy zeal for their own national holiday had so embittered his heart eight days before.

They were full of enquiries as to the meaning of an Orange walk. Thomas tried to explain, but, having only inflamed Twelfth of July oratory for the source of his information, he found himself rather at a loss. But the Americans gathered that it was something he used to do "down East," and they were sympathetic at once.

"That's right, you bet," one gray-haired man with a young face exclaimed, getting rid of a bulky chew of tobacco that had slightly impeded his utterance. "There's nothin' like keepin' up old institootions."

By two o'clock fully one hundred people had gathered.

Thomas was radiant. "Every wan is here now except that old Papist, O'Flynn," he whispered to the drummer. "I hope he'll come, too, so I do. It'll be a bitter pill for him to swallow."

The drummer did not share the wish. He was thinking, uneasily, of the time two years ago—the winter of the deep snow—when he and his family had been quarantined with smallpox, and of how Father O'Flynn had come miles out of his way every week on his snowshoes to hand in a roll of newspapers he had gathered up, no one knows where, and a bag of candies for the little ones. He was thinking of how welcome the priest's little round face had been to them all those long, tedious six weeks, and how cheery his voice sounded as he shouted, "Are ye needin' anything, Jimmy, avick? All right, I'll be back on Thursda', God willin'. Don't be frettin', now, man alive! Everybody has to have the smallpox. Sure, yer shaming the Catholics this year, Jimmy, keeping Lent so well." The drummer was decidedly uneasy.

There is an old saying about speaking of angels in which some people still believe. Just at this moment Father O'Flynn came slowly over the hill.

Father O'Flynn was a typical little Irish priest, good-natured, witty, emotional. Nearly every family north of the river had some cause for loving the little man. He was a tireless walker, making the round of his parish every week, no matter what the weather. He had a little house built for him the year before at the Forks of the Assiniboine, where he had planted a garden, set out plants and flowers, and made it a little bower of beauty; but he had lived in it only one summer, for an impecunious English couple, who needed a roof to cover them rather urgently, had taken possession of it during his absence, and the kind- hearted little father could not bring himself to ask them to vacate. When his friends remonstrated with him, he turned the conversation by telling them of another and a better Man of whom it was written that He "had not where to lay His head."

Father O'Flynn was greeted with delight, by the younger ones especially. The seven little Breezes were very demonstrative, and Thomas Shouldice resolved to warn their father against the priest's malign influence. He recalled a sentence or two from "Maria Monk," which said something like this: "Give us a child until he is ten years old, and let us teach him our doctrine, and he's ours for evermore."

"Oh, they're deep ones, them Jesuits!"

Father O'Flynn was just in time for the "walk."

"Do you know what an Orange walk is, father?" one of the American women asked, really looking for information.

"Yes, daughter, yes," the little priest answered, a shadow coming into his merry grey eyes. He gave her an evasive reply, and then murmured to himself, as he picked a handful of orange lilies: "It is an institution of the Evil One to sow discord among brothers."

The walk began.

First came the fife and drum, skirling out an Orange tune, at which the little priest winced visibly. Then followed Thomas Shouldice, in the guise of King William. He was mounted on his own old, spavined grey mare, that had performed this honorable office many times in her youth. But now she seemed lacking in the pride that befits the part. Thomas himself was gay with ribbons and a short red coat, whose gilt braid was sadly tarnished. One of the Yankees had kindly loaned a mottled buggy- robe for the saddle-cloth.

Behind Thomas marched the twenty-three-verse soloist and the other faithful few, followed by the seven Breeze boys, gay with yellow streamers made from the wrapping of a ham.

The Yankees grouped about were sorry to see so few in the procession. They had brought along three or four of their band instruments to furnish music if it were needed. As the end of the procession passed them, two of the smaller boys swung in behind the last two Breezes.

It was an inspiration. Instantly the whole company stepped into line— two by two, men, women, and children, waving their bunches of lilies!

Thomas, from his point of vantage, could see the whole company following his lead, and his heart swelled with pride. Under the arch the procession swept, stepping to the music, the significance of which most of the company did not even guess at—good-natured, neighborly, filled with the spirit of the West, that ever seeks to help along.

Everyone, even Father O'Flynn, was happier than James Shewfelt, the drummer.

The fifer paused, preparatory to changing the tune. It was the drummer's opportunity. "Onward, Christian Soldiers," he sang, tapping the rhythm on the drum. The fifer caught the strain. Not a voice was silent, and unconsciously hand clasped hand, and the soft afternoon air reverberated with the swelling cadence:

"We are not divided,
All one body we."

When the verse was done the fifer led off into another and another. The little priest's face glowed with pleasure. "It is the Spirit of the Lord," he whispered to himself, as he marched to the rhythm, his hand closely held by the smallest Breeze boy, whose yellow streamers and profuse decoration of orange lilies were at strange variance with his companion's priestly robes. But on this day nothing was at variance. The spirit of the West was upon them, unifying, mellowing, harmonizing all conflicting emotions—the spirit of the West that calls on men everywhere to be brothers and lend a hand.

The Church of England minister did make a speech, but not the one he had intended. Instead of denominationalism, he spoke of brotherhood; instead of religious intolerance, he spoke of religious liberty; instead of the Prince of Orange, who crossed the Boyne to give religious freedom to Ireland, he told of the Prince of Peace, who died on the cross to save the souls of men of every nation and kindred and tribe.

In the hush that followed Father O'Flynn stepped forward and said he thanked the brother who had planned this meeting; he was glad, he said, for such an opportunity for friends and neighbors to meet; he spoke of the glorious heritage that all had in this great new country, and how all must stand together as brothers. All prejudices of race and creed and doctrine die before the wonderful power of loving service. "The West," he said, "is the home of loving hearts and neighborly kindness, where all men's good is each man's care. For myself," he went on, "I have but one wish, and that is to be the servant of all, to be the ambassador of Him who went about doing good, and to teach the people to love honor and virtue, and each other." Then, raising his hands, he led the company in that prayer that comes ever to the lips of man when all other prayers seem vain—that prayer that we can all fall back on in our sore need:

"Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come."

Two hours later a tired but happy and united company sat down to supper on the grass. At the head of the table sat Thomas Shouldice, radiating good-will. A huge white pitcher of steaming golden coffee was in his hand. He poured a cup of it brimming full, and handed it to the little priest, who sat near him. "Have some coffee, father?" he said.

Where could such a scene as this be enacted—a Twelfth of July celebration where a Roman Catholic priest was the principal speaker, where the company dispersed with the singing of "God Save the King," led by an American band?

Nowhere, but in the Northwest of Canada, that illimitable land, with its great sunlit spaces, where the west wind, bearing on its bosom the spices of a million flowers, woos the heart of man with a magic spell and makes him kind and neighborly and brotherly!