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- The World For Sale, Volume 2. - 10/28 -
"He's skinned this time all right," was Marchand's reply. "To-morrow'll be the biggest day Manitou's had since the Indian lifted his wigwam and the white man put down his store. Listen--hear them! They're coming!"
He raised a hand for silence, and a rumbling, ragged roar of voices could be heard without.
"The crowd have gone the rounds," he continued. "They started at Barbazon's and they're winding up at Barbazon's. They're drunk enough to-night to want to do anything, and to-morrow when they've got sore heads they'll do anything. They'll make that funeral look like a squeezed orange; they'll show Lebanon and Master Ingolby that we're to be bosses of our own show. The strike'll be on after the funeral, and after the strike's begun there'll be--eh, bien sur!"
He paused sharply, as though he had gone too far. "There'll be what?" whispered the other; but Marchand made no reply, save to make a warning gesture, for Barbazon, the landlord, had entered behind the bar.
"They're coming back, Barbazon," Marchand said to the landlord, jerking his head towards the front door. The noise of the crowd was increasing, the raucous shouts were so loud that the three had to raise their voices. "You'll do a land-office business to-night," he declared.
Barbazon had an evil face. There were rumours that he had been in gaol in Quebec for robbery, and that after he had served his time he had dug up the money he had stolen and come West. He had started the first saloon at Manitou, and had grown with the place in more senses than one. He was heavy and thick-set, with huge shoulders, big hands, and beady eyes that looked out of a stolid face where long hours, greed and vices other than drink had left their mark. He never drank spirits, and was therefore ready to take advantage of those who did drink. More than one horse and canoe and cow and ox, and acre of land, in the days when land was cheap, had come to him across the bar-counter. He could be bought, could Barbazon, and he sold more than wine and spirits. He had a wife who had left him twice because of his misdemeanours, but had returned and straightened out his house and affairs once again; and even when she went off with Lick Baldwin, a cattle-dealer, she was welcomed back without reproaches by Barbazon, chiefly because he had no morals, and her abilities were of more value to him than her virtue. On the whole, Gros Barbazon was a bad lot.
At Marchand's words Barbazon shrugged his shoulders. "The more spent to-night, the less to spend to-morrow," he growled.
"But there's going to be spending for a long time," Marchand answered. "There's going to be a riot to-morrow, and there's going to be a strike the next day, and after that there's going to be something else."
"What else?" Barbazon asked, his beady eyes fastened on Marchand's face.
"Something worth while-better than all the rest." Barbazon's low forehead seemed to disappear almost, as he drew the grizzled shock of hair down, by wrinkling his forehead with a heavy frown.
"It's no damn good, m'sieu'," he growled. "Am I a fool? They'll spend money to-night, and tomorrow, and the next day, and when the row is on; and the more they spend then, the less they'll have to spend by-and-by. It's no good. The steady trade for me--all the time. That is my idee. And the something else--what? You think there's something else that'll be good for me? Nom de Dieu, there's nothing you're doing, or mean to do, but'll hurt me and everybody."
"That's your view, is it, Barbazon?" exclaimed Marchand loudly, for the crowd was now almost at the door. "You're a nice Frenchman and patriot. That crowd'll be glad to hear you think they're fools. Suppose they took it into their heads to wreck the place?"
Barbazon's muddy face got paler, but his eyes sharpened, and he leaned over the bar-counter, and said with a snarl: "Go to hell, and say what you like; and then I'll have something to say about something else, m'sieu'."
Marchand was about to reply angrily, but he instantly changed his mind, and before Barbazon could stop him, he sprang over the counter and disappeared into the office behind the bar.
"I won't steal anything, Barbazon," he said over his shoulder as he closed the door behind him.
"I'll see to that," Barbazon muttered stolidly, but with malicious eyes.
The front door was flung open now, and the crowd poured into the room, boisterous, reckless, though some were only sullen, watchful and angry. These last were mostly men above middle age, and of a fanatical and racially bitter type. They were not many, but in one sense they were the backbone and force of the crowd, probably the less intelligent but the more tenacious and consistent. They were black spots of gathering storm in an electric atmosphere.
All converged upon the bar. Two assistants rushed the drinks along the counter with flourishes, while Barbazon took in the cash and sharply checked the rougher element, who were inclined to treat the bar as a place for looting. Most of them, however, had a wholesome fear of Barbazon, and also most of them wished to stand well with him--credit was a good thing, even in a saloon.
For a little time the room was packed, then some of the more restless spirits, their thirst assuaged, sallied forth to taste the lager and old rye elsewhere, and "raise Cain" in the streets. When they went, it became possible to move about more freely in the big bar-room, at the end of which was a billiard-table. It was notable, however, that the more sullen elements stayed. Some of them were strangers to each other. Manitou was a distributing point for all radiations of the compass, and men were thrown together in its streets who only saw one another once or twice a year-when they went to the woods in the Fall or worked the rivers in the Summer. Some were Mennonites, Doukhobors and Finlanders, some Swedes, Norwegians and Icelanders. Others again were birds of passage who would probably never see Manitou in the future, but they were mostly French, and mostly Catholic, and enemies of the Orange Lodges wherever they were, east or west or north or south. They all had a common ground of unity--half-savage coureurs-de-bois, river-drivers, railway-men, factory hands, cattlemen, farmers, labourers; they had a gift for prejudice, and taking sides on something or other was as the breath of the nostrils to them.
The greater number of the crowd were, however, excitable, good-natured men, who were by instinct friendly, save when their prejudices were excited; and their oaths and exclamations were marvels of droll ingenuity. Most of them were still too good-humoured with drink to be dangerous, but all hoped for trouble at the Orange funeral on principle, and the anticipated strike had elements of "thrill." They were of a class, however, who would swing from what was good-humour to deadly anger in a minute, and turn a wind of mere prejudice into a hurricane of life and death with the tick of a clock. They would all probably go to the Orange funeral to-morrow in a savage spirit. Some of them were loud in denunciation of Ingolby and "the Lebanon gang"; they joked coarsely over the dead Orangeman, but their cheerful violence had not yet the appearance of reality.
One man suddenly changed all that. He was a river-driver of stalwart proportions, with a red handkerchief round his neck, and with loose corded trousers tucked into his boots. He had a face of natural ugliness made almost repulsive by marks of smallpox. Red, flabby lips and an overhanging brow made him a figure which men would avoid on a dark night.
"Let's go over to Lebanon to-night and have it out," he said in French. "That Ingolby--let's go break his windows and give him a dip in the river. He's the curse of this city. Holy, once Manitou was a place to live in, now it's a place to die in! The factories, the mills, they're full of Protes'ants and atheists and shysters; the railway office is gone to Lebanon. Ingolby took it there. Manitou was the best town in the West; it's no good now. Who's the cause? Ingolby's the cause. Name of God, if he was here I'd get him by the throat as quick as winkin'."
He opened and shut his fingers with spasmodic malice, and glared round the room. "He's going to lock us out if we strike," he added. "He's going to take the bread out of our mouths; he's going to put his heel on Manitou, and grind her down till he makes her knuckle to Lebanon--to a lot of infidels, Protes'ants, and thieves. Who's going to stand it? I say-bagosh, I say, who's going to stand it!"
"He's a friend of the Monseigneur," ventured a factory-hand, who had a wife and children to support, and however partisan, was little ready for that which would stop his supplies.
"Sacre bapteme! That's part of his game," roared the big river-driver in reply. "I'll take the word of Felix Marchand about that. Look at him! That Felix Marchand doesn't try to take the bread out of people's mouths. He gives money here, he gives it there. He wants the old town to stay as it is and not be swallowed up."
"Three cheers for Felix Marchand !" cried some one in the throng. All cheered loudly save one old man with grizzled hair and beard, who leaned against the wall half-way down the room smoking a corncob pipe. He was a French Canadian in dress and appearance, and he spat on the floor like a navvy--he had filled his pipe with the strongest tobacco that one man ever offered to another. As the crowd cheered for Felix Marchand, he made his way up towards the bar slowly. He must have been tall when he was young; now he was stooped, yet there was still something very sinewy about him.
"Who's for Lebanon?" cried the big river-driver with an oath. "Who's for giving Lebanon hell, and ducking Ingolby in the river?"
"I am--I am--I am--all of us!" shouted the crowd. "It's no good waiting for to-morrow. Let's get the Lebs by the scruff to-night. Let's break Ingolby's windows and soak him in the Sagalac. Allons--allons gai!"
Uproar and broken sentences, threats, oaths, and objurgations sounded through the room. There was a sudden movement towards the door, but the exit of the crowd was stopped by a slow but clear voice speaking in French.
"Wait a minute, my friends!" it cried. "Wait a minute. Let's ask a few questions first."
"Who's he?" asked a dozen voices. "What's he going to say?" The mob moved again towards the bar.
The big river-driver turned on the grizzled old man beside the bar- counter with bent shoulders and lazy, drawling speech.
"What've you got to say about it, son?" he asked threateningly.
"Well, to ask a few questions first--that's all," the old man replied.
"You don't belong here, old cock," the other said roughly.
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