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- Northern Lights, Volume 4. - 10/13 -


"Food was absolutely forbidden, but he got it from another patient early this morning while the nurse was out for a moment. It has killed him."

"'Twas the least he could do, but no credit's due him. It was to be. I'm not envying Father Bourassa nor her there with him."

Varley made no reply. He was watching the receding storm with eyes which told nothing.

Finden spoke once more, but Varley did not hear him. Presently the door opened and Father Bourassa entered. He made a gesture of the hand to signify that all was over.

Outside, the sun was breaking through the clouds upon the Western prairie, and there floated through the evening air the sound of a child's voice singing beneath the trees that fringed the river:

"Will you come back, darlin'? Never heed the pain and blightin', Never trouble that you're wounded, that you bear the scars of fightin'; Here's the luck o' Heaven to you, Here's the hand of love will brew you The cup of peace-ah, darlin', will you come back home?"

WATCHING THE RISE OF ORION

"In all the wide border his steed was the best," and the name and fame of Terence O'Ryan were known from Strathcona to Qu'appelle. He had ambition of several kinds, and he had the virtue of not caring who knew of it. He had no guile, and little money; but never a day's work was too hard for him, and he took bad luck, when it came, with a jerk of the shoulder and a good-natured surprise on his clean-shaven face that suited well his wide grey eyes and large, luxurious mouth. He had an estate, half ranch, half farm, with a French Canadian manager named Vigon, an old prospector who viewed every foot of land in the world with the eye of the discoverer. Gold, coal, iron, oil, he searched for them everywhere, making sure that sooner or later he would find them. Once Vigon had found coal. That was when he worked for a man called Constantine Jopp, and had given him great profit; but he, the discoverer, had been put off with a horse and a hundred dollars. He was now as devoted to Terence O'Ryan as he had been faithful to Constantine Jopp, whom he cursed waking and sleeping.

In his time O'Ryan had speculated, and lost; he had floated a coal mine, and "been had"; he had run for the local legislature, had been elected, and then unseated for bribery committed by an agent; he had run races at Regina, and won--he had won for three years in succession; and this had kept him going and restored his finances when they were at their worst. He was, in truth, the best rider in the country, and, so far, was the owner also of the best three-year-old that the West had produced. He achieved popularity without effort. The West laughed at his enterprises and loved him; he was at once a public moral and a hero. It was a legend of the West that his forbears had been kings in Ireland like Brian Borhoime. He did not contradict this; he never contradicted anything. His challenge to all fun and satire and misrepresentation was, "What'll be the differ a hundred years from now!"

He did not use this phrase, however, towards one experience--the advent of Miss Molly Mackinder, the heiress, and the challenge that reverberated through the West after her arrival. Philosophy deserted him then; he fell back on the primary emotions of mankind.

A month after Miss Mackinder's arrival at La Touche a dramatic performance was given at the old fort, in which the officers of the Mounted Police took part, together with many civilians who fancied themselves. By that time the district had realised that Terry O'Ryan had surrendered to what they called "the laying on of hands" by Molly Mackinder. It was not certain, however, that the surrender was complete, because O'Ryan had been wounded before, and yet had not been taken captive altogether. His complete surrender seemed now more certain to the public because the lady had a fortune of two hundred thousand dollars, and that amount of money would be useful to an ambitious man in the growing West. It would, as Gow Johnson said, "Let him sit back and view the landscape o'er, before he puts his ploughshare in the mud."

There was an outdoor scene in the play produced by the impetuous amateurs, and dialogue had been interpolated by three "imps of fame" at the suggestion of Constantine Jopp, one of the three, who bore malice towards O'Ryan, though this his colleagues did not know distinctly. The scene was a camp-fire--a starlit night, a colloquy between the three, upon which the hero of the drama, played by Terry O'Ryan, should break, after having, unknown to them, but in sight of the audience, overheard their kind of intentions towards himself.

The night came. When the curtain rose for the third act there was exposed a star-sown sky, in which the galaxy of Orion was shown with distinctness, each star sharply twinkling from the electric power behind- a pretty scene evoking great applause. O'Ryan had never seen this back curtain--they had taken care that he should not--and, standing in the wings awaiting his cue, he was unprepared for the laughter of the audience, first low and uncertain, then growing, then insistent, and now a peal of ungovernable mirth, as one by one they understood the significance of the stars of Orion on the back curtain.

O'Ryan got his cue, and came on to an outburst of applause which shook the walls. La Touche rose at him, among them Miss Molly Mackinder in the front row with the notables.

He did not see the back curtain, or Orion blazing in the ultramarine blue. According to the stage directions, he was to steal along the trees at the wings, and listen to the talk of the men at the fire plotting against him, who were presently to pretend good comradeship to his face. It was a vigorous melodrama with some touches of true Western feeling. After listening for a moment, O'Ryan was to creep up the stage again towards the back curtain, giving a cue for his appearance.

When the hilarious applause at his entrance had somewhat subsided, the three took up their parable, but it was not the parable of the play. They used dialogue not in the original. It had a significance which the audience were not slow to appreciate, and went far to turn "The Sunburst Trail" at this point into a comedy-farce. When this new dialogue began, O'Ryan could scarcely trust his ears, or realise what was happening.

"Ah, look," said Dicky Fergus at the fire, "as fine a night as ever I saw in the West! The sky's a picture. You could almost hand the stars down, they're so near."

"What's that clump together on the right--what are they called in astronomy?" asked Constantine Jopp, with a leer.

"Orion is the name--a beauty, ain't it?" answered Fergus.

"I've been watching Orion rise," said the third--Holden was his name. "Many's the time I've watched Orion rising. Orion's the star for me. Say, he wipes 'em all out--right out. Watch him rising now."

By a manipulation of the lights Orion moved up the back curtain slowly, and blazed with light nearer the zenith. And La Touche had more than the worth of its money in this opening to the third act of the play. O'Ryan was a favourite, at whom La Touche loved to jeer, and the parable of the stars convulsed them.

At the first words O'Ryan put a hand on himself and tried to grasp the meaning of it all, but his entrance and the subsequent applause had confused him. Presently, however, he turned to the back curtain, as Orion moved slowly up the heavens, and found the key to the situation. He gasped. Then he listened to the dialogue which had nothing to do with "The Sunburst Trail."

"What did Orion do, and why does he rise? Has he got to rise? Why was the gent called Orion in them far-off days?" asked Holden.

"He did some hunting in his time--with a club," Fergus replied. "He kept making hits, he did. Orion was a spoiler. When he took the field there was no room for the rest of the race. Why does he rise? Because it is a habit. They could always get a rise out of Orion. The Athens Eirenicon said that yeast might fail to rise, but touch the button and Orion would rise like a bird."

At that instant the galaxy jerked up the back curtain again, and when the audience could control itself, Constantine Jopp, grinning meanly, asked:

"Why does he wear the girdle?"

"It is not a girdle--it is a belt," was Dicky Fergus's reply. "The gods gave it to him because he was a favourite. There was a lady called Artemis--she was the last of them. But he went visiting with Eos, another lady of previous acquaintance, down at a place called Ortygia, and Artemis shot him dead with a shaft Apollo had given her; but she didn't marry Apollo neither. She laid Orion out on the sky, with his glittering belt, around him. And Orion keeps on rising."

"Will he ever stop rising?" asked Holden.

Followed for the conspirators a disconcerting moment; for, when the laughter had subsided, a lazy voice came from the back of the hall, "He'll stop long enough to play with Apollo a little, I guess."

It was Gow Johnson who had spoken, and no man knew Terry O'Ryan better, or could gauge more truly the course he would take. He had been in many an enterprise, many a brush with O'Ryan, and his friendship would bear any strain.

O'Ryan recovered himself from the moment he saw the back curtain, and he did not find any fun in the thing. It took a hold on him out of all proportion to its importance. He realised that he had come to the parting of the ways in his life. It suddenly came upon him that something had been lacking in him in the past; and that his want of success in many things had not been wholly due to bad luck. He had been eager, enterprising, a genius almost at seeing good things; and yet others had reaped where he had sown. He had believed too much in his fellow-man. For the first time in his life he resented the friendly, almost affectionate satire of his many friends. It was amusing, it was delightful; but down beneath it all there was a little touch of ridicule. He had more brains than any of them, and he had known it in a way; he had led them sometimes, too, as on raids against cattle-stealers, and in a brush with half-breeds and Indians; as when he stood for the legislature; but he felt now for the first time that he had not made the most of himself, that there was something hurting to self-respect in this prank played upon him. When he came to that point his resentment went higher. He thought of Molly Mackinder, and he heard all too acutely the vague veiled references to her in their satire. By the time Gow Johnson spoke he had mastered himself, however, and had made up his mind. He stood still for a moment.


Northern Lights, Volume 4. - 10/13

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