The Story He Told That Night

Charles Shirley August 1 1911

The Story He Told That Night

Charles Shirley August 1 1911

The Story He Told That Night

Charles Shirley

THERE are nights in the Mount Royal Club in Montreal, when one, or two, or three of the old railroad pioneers of Canada drop into favorite lounging places and talk. And if only the newspapermen of Canada might hear all that they say, all the old stories they recall and the jokes they tell on one another—to say nothing of the “tips” that they drop concerning the plans and ambitions of the Canadian Pacific and its younger competitors—they would no longer complain of the dearth of material and the scarcity of inspiration for Canadian fiction.

Sometimes a newspaperman does find himself in the lounge corner with one or another of the older C. P. R. pioneers, or sometimes, with a whole group. At such times the talk, although it is as free as ever, is understood to be sacred and only the minor bits of gossip, fragments of yarns and old jokes, can be made into copy for the press.

This night the crowd had reassembled. One of them had just come back from England, where he was preparing the way for the launch of a great bond issue— nothing to do with the C.P.R. at all. Another was just in from Cuba, another from New York, and a fourth from a piece of fruit land he has an interest in. in British Columbia. It is not always that they meet; not always that they take the time to sit in a circle, with the button convenient, and mention the old days of the C.P. R. For somehow or another, the old days when the Rocky Mountains lay across Alberta like a challenging barrier, to keep men out of British Columbia, and when the Canadian Pacific sent out all the

heroes it could find to assail the ancient hills and drill a path through them— these days are almost sacred, and not to be spoken of lightly, and before strangers. The history of the days and the nights when engineers, contractors and even the humble navvies, sweated and schemed to smuggle the steel through to the Pacific, under the very noses of the mountains, has never been really written, and probably it never will be. For the men who have the material, who endured and experienced and accomplished are a stolid sort of fellows, suspicious of publicity and awkward in the handling of words about themselves.

"That was a II-of a horse you used

to ride,” said the Cuban, looking across and nodding at H.D.

“Eh?” returned H.D., recalling his wits, which had apparently been woolgathering, “which do you mean? The hunter I bought the other day? Oh. it’s

“No. The yellow cayuse.”

“What yellow cayuse?”

“The one vou tried to kill. You-”

“Phew! that one.” H.D. dropped off into another revery. “That one! What made you think of that?”

"I saw one in San Diego the other day just like it. I thought maybe it was the same horse. It looked worn enough.” H.D. knocked the ashes from his cigar. “Hmph!” he muttered.

The rest of the circle, being discreet, said nothing.

“ T isn't fair to recall that, old yarn,” he sain with a laugh. “I’ve learned to shoot since then, and I bet I could kill it in one shot at a hundred now.

But I liked that horse after all. Poor little devil.”

Nothing hut smoke from the circle.

Cuban said nothing. Everybody tried to look bored, sq as to encourage the story. A sign of interest from any one eye would have put a string around il.D.’s tongue, and tied it down.

“I bought that little horse from an Indian,” began the great man, recalling the day when he was an assistant engineer on the construction of the C.P.R. through the Rockies, “and it cost me nothing but a salmon rod, which I was fool enough to have brought along in my kit. The Indian said the horse came from Mexico. Said he was a “luck” horse, and had been swapped and traded all the way from Arizona up and over the forty-ninth. I needed the horse and didn’t need the rod. The Indian coveted the rod and we swapped. I had a lot of fun out of that horse.”

More smoke ascended, uninterrupted, from the circle of cigars.

“That horse,” went on the former employe of the Canadian Pacific, “was the luckiest brute you ever saw.”

“Hmph!” sniffed the Cuban, skeptically.

“But it was, I tell you,” H.D. went on. “You mayn’t have thought much of it, because it was yellow, and because all you ever saw it do was standing outside the draughting shanty waiting for me, but it was a good little horse. Better than the string you used to ride and kill in those days.”

“Hmph!” repeated the other, with still greater indifference.

_ “Why I had that pony in a little corral with a lot of other horses one time, and there was a big chunk of mud slid down one night and wiped out the whole corail. Killed every horse in the place—but one !

I was down helping dig out Tommy Burns—remember Tommy, that used to run an engine on old number One, with the ballast? Well, as we were fishing around in the mud for Tommy, there was the yellow nag, sniffing at the fresh mud and trying to make a meal off a bit of moss that had remained on the top of the slide. He was mud from the hoofs up and from the end of his tail forward. It was sticking in his eyelashes and it weighed down his ears. But there he was

“A week after that I lent him to a fellow. He and another man were riding along a path. Thirteen tons of rock slid over a ledge and killed the man who was riding my horse, the man who was on the other horse, and his horse, too—and left the yellow one.

“There were dozens of stories like that.”

“Yes, but tell the real one. Tell the' end of it.”

“Oh—oh, about the shooting — oh — well,” he hesitated. “Well it was this way. I was riding along with him one day on a pretty narrow ledge, when the ledge gave way. This was after I’d had him two years, I guess. It was a bit exciting. I don’t know if any of you fellows ever fell over a cliff, but-

“I did once,” muttered a white bearded man, with a strangely seamed and lined face. “Fell into the Kicking Horse.” “Oh, then, you know what it’s like, only this time that I took my tumble I lit in a tree.”

“Tree is a good thing to light in,” remarked a man who is now with another

road. “I remember a case once-”

“Oh, no,” interrupted another, “a tree is as like as not to kill you. You never know how it’ll catch you. Best thing to do if you’re working in that kind of country, I used to find, was to keep your knees up, your head down, shut your eyes and mouth and let yourself go. I knew a fellow that was getting out timber for

the snow sheds, and he-”

“Wait,” commanded H.D. “Who’s talking? You fellows started this story, and I’m going to finish, so Tut out vour noise,’ as Dan would say.”

They laughed and became silent again. “I tell you I lit in a tree. The tree was above a ledge of rock which was about fifteen feet further down, beside the creek which ran along the bottom of the gulch. For about four minutes the tree held me up. I could hear it creaking and feel it bending, but I could have stayed there long enough to get down only that the wind was blowing a bit, and it put an extra pressure on the thing, and the branches gave way and dumped me on the ledge.

_ “For quite awhile the air was full of bits of rock and dirt, but there was nothing serious, so I began to look around for the pony. He was lying in a heap on a ledge, not far from me. His eyes were closed and he was groaning.

“Well—I took one shot. I missed. Then I took another and cut a bit out of his ear. I guess I must have been a bit shaky, for I tried a third, and just grazed his nose. The first two shots didn’t bother him, but he seemed to resent the one passing his nose. All of a sudden he clambered up, shook himself and jumped into the water?”

“Drowned?” suggested one of the circle. “Not a bit. Three days afterward, after I had sent back to head office for duplicates of the plans that I was carrying in the saddle-bags, I came across the beggar. He was browsing on the trail about a mile from where I had left him, only upstream. I found the plans as dry as they

were before, and the dhorse was

sound as ever.”

“What’d you do with him?”

“Sold him.”

“Hmph !”

That was the end of the story. There was nq comment. Somebody bought.

There were two lime squashes, three cigars and a white rock in the order, which showed the kind of a crowd it was.

One of the men, who is deeply interested in coal and steel, started to talk about he laymen’s missionary movement as a business proposition, and the economic effect of foreign missionaries. He had long since ceased to be a C.P.R. man, though it was C.P.R. that made him.

Two others started discussing William Mackenzie.

One remarked that he had bought a new painting, and was going home to see how he’d hang it. It was 1 a.m.

Somebody told him to stay while he recalled a story of old Senator Wully Gibson, when he was re-building the Victoria Tube bridge. Then from that the conversation drifted to the question of a bridge from Ahe British Columbia mainland to the Island of Vancouver. Which started a talk on steel bridges, in the middle of which the newspaperman left, being dizzy with technicality.

But looking back at the depleted circle as he left the room, he observed three wonderful men still sitting there, who had not only made the C.P.R. possible, who had not only given the Dominion some of its first heroes, who had not only made the secret beauties of the mountains accessible to the traveler — but who had made Confederation possible.

FRIENDSHIP unlocks the door to honest criticism. It should be as ready to condemn as to extol. The reproof of a friend outweighs the praise of an acquaintance.

TACT is not an attribute of any station or mode of life. It depends not on mind or observation, but is an instinct which is the most rare of all gifts. Tact compensates for the lack of many things.

PEOPLE generally have for us the same sentiments that we experience toward them. There is nothing so susceptible as mutual regard — therefore be kindly disposed.