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from The Moccasin Maker
William Briggs, Toronto, 1913.
[Author's Note. The "Onondaga Jam" occurred late in the seventies, and this tale is founded upon actual incidents in the life of the author's father, who was Forest Warden on the Indian Reserve.]
I have never been a good man, but then I have never pretended to be one, and perhaps that at least will count in my favor in the day when the great dividends are declared.
I have been what is called "well brought up" and I would give some years of my life to possess now the money spent on my education; how I came to drop from what I should have been to what I am would scarcely interest anyone if indeed I were capable of detailing the process, which I am not. I suppose I just rolled leisurely down hill like many another fellow.
My friends, however, still credit me with one virtue; that is an absolute respect for my neighbor's wife, a feeling which, however, does not extend to his dollars. His money is mine if I can get it, and to do myself justice I prefer getting it from him honestly, at least without sufficient dishonesty to place me behind prison bars.
Some experience has taught me that when a man is reduced to getting his living, as I do, by side issues and small deals, there is no better locality for him to operate than around the borders of some Indian Reserve.
The pagan Indian is an unsuspicious fool. You can do him up right and left. The Christian Indian is as sharp as a fox, and with a little gloved handling he will always go in with you on a few lumber and illicit whiskey deals, which means that you have the confidence of his brethren and their dollars at the same time.
I had outwitted the law for six years. I had smuggled more liquor into the Indian Bush on the Grand River Reserve and drawn more timber out of it to the Hamilton and Brantford markets than any forty dealers put together. Gradually, the law thinned the whole lot out all but me; but I was slippery as an eel and my bottles of whiskey went on, and my loads of ties and timber came off, until every officer and preacher in the place got up and demanded an inspection.
The Government at Ottawa awoke, stretched, yawned, then printed some flaring posters and stuck them around the border villages. The posters were headed by a big print of the British Coat of Arms, and some large type beneath announced terrible fines and heavy imprisonments for anyone caught hauling Indian timber off the Reserve, or hauling whiskey on to it. Then the Government rubbed its fat palms together, settled itself in its easy chair, and snored again.
I? Oh, I went on with my operations.
And at Christmas time Tom Barrett arrived on the scene. Not much of an event, you'd say if you saw him, still less if you heard him. According to himself, he knew everything and could do everything in the known world; he was just twenty-two and as obnoxiously fresh a thing as ever boasted itself before older men.
He was the old missionary's son and had come up from college at Montreal to help his father preach salvation to the Indians on Sundays, and to swagger around week-days in his brand new clerical-cut coat and white tie.
He enjoyed what is called, I believe, "deacon's orders." They tell me he was recently "priested," to use their straight English Church term, and is now parson of a swell city church. Well! they can have him. I'll never split on him, but I could tell them some things about Tom Barrett that would soil his surplice at least in my opinion, but you never can be sure when even religious people will make a hero out of a rogue.
The first time I ever saw him he came into "Jake's" one night, quite late. We were knocked clean dumb. "Jake's" isn't the place you would count on seeing a clerical-cut coat in.
It's not a thoroughly disreputable place, for Jake has a decent enough Indian wife; but he happens also to have a cellar which has a hard name for illicit-whiskey supplies, though never once has the law, in its numerous and unannounced visits to the shanty, ever succeeded in discovering barrel or bottle. I consider myself a pretty smart man, but Jake is cleverer than I am.
When young Barrett came in that night, there was a clatter of hiding cups. "Hello, boys," he said, and sat down wearily opposite me, leaning his arms on the table between us like one utterly done out.
Jake, it seemed, had the distinction of knowing him; so he said kind of friendly-like,
"Hello, parson sick?"
"Sick? Sick nothing," said Barrett, "except sick to death of this place. And don't 'parson' me! I'm 'parson' on Sundays; the rest of the six days I'm Tom Barrett Tom, if you like."
We were dead silent. For myself, I thought the fellow clean crazy; but the next moment he had turned half around, and with a quick, soft, coaxing movement, for all the world like a woman, he slipped his arm around Jake's shoulders, and said, "Say, Jake, don't let the fellows mind me," Then in a lower tone "What have you got to drink?"
Jake went white-looking and began to talk of some cider he'd got in the cellar; but Barrett interrupted with, "Look here, Jake, just drop that rot; I know all about you." He tipped a half wink at the rest of us, but laid his fingers across his lips. "Come, old man," he wheedled like a girl, "you don't know what it is to be dragged away from college and buried alive in this Indian bush. The governor's good enough, you know treats me white and all that but you know what he is on whiskey. I tell you I've got a throat as long and dry as a fence rail "
No one spoke.
"You'll save my life if you do," he added, crushing a bank note into Jake's hand.
Jake looked at me. The same thought flashed on us both; if we could get this church student on our side Well! Things would be easy enough and public suspicion never touch us. Jake turned, resurrected the hidden cups, and went down cellar.
"You're Dan McLeod, aren't you?" suggested Barrett, leaning across the table and looking sharply at me.
"That's me," I said in turn, and sized him up. I didn't like his face; it was the undeniable face of a liar small, uncertain eyes, set together close like those of a fox, a thin nose, a narrow, womanish chin that accorded with his girlish actions of coaxing, and a mouth I didn't quite understand.
Jake had come up with the bottle, but before he could put it on the table Barrett snatched it like a starving dog would a hunk of meat.
He peered at the label, squinting his foxy eyes, then laughed up at Jake.
"I hope you don't sell the Indians this," he said, tapping the capsule.
No, Jake never sold a drop of whiskey to Indians, the law, you know, was very strict and
"Oh, I don't care whatever else you sell them," said Barrett, "but their red throats would never appreciate fine twelve-year-old like this. Come, boys."
"So you're Dan McLeod," he continued after the first long pull, "I've heard about you, too. You've got a deck of cards in your pocket haven't you? Let's have a game."
I looked at him, and though, as I said in the beginning, I'm not a good man, I felt honestly sorry for the old missionary and his wife at that moment.
"It's no use," said the boy, reading my hesitation. "I've broken loose. I must have a slice of the old college life, just for to-night."
I decided the half-cut of Indian blood on his mother's side was showing itself; it was just enough to give Tom a good red flavoring and a rare taste for gaming and liquor.
We played until daylight, when Barrett said he must make his sneak home, and reaching for his wide-brimmed, soft felt preacher's hat, left having pocketed twenty-six of our good dollars, swallowed unnumbered cups of twelve-year-old and won the combined respect of everyone at Jake's.
The next Sunday Jake went to church out of curiosity. He said Tom Barrett "officiated" in a surplice as white as snow and with a face as sinless as your mother's. He preached most eloquently against the terrible evil of the illicit liquor trade, and implored his Indian flock to resist this greatest of all pitfalls. Jake even seemed impressed as he told us.
But Tom Barrett's "breaking loose for once" was like any other man's. Night after night saw him at Jake's, though he never played to win after that first game. As the weeks went on, he got anxious-looking; his clerical coat began to grow seedy, his white ties uncared for; he lost his fresh, cheeky talk, and the climax came late in March when one night I found him at Jake's sitting alone, his face bowed down on the table above his folded arms, and something so disheartened in his attitude that I felt sorry for the boy. Perhaps it was that I was in trouble myself that day; my biggest "deal" of the season had been scented by the officers and the chances were they would come on and seize the five barrels of whiskey I had been as many weeks smuggling into the Reserve. However it was, I put my hand on his shoulder, and told him to brace up, asking at the same time what was wrong.
"Money," he answered, looking up with kind of haggard eyes. "Dan, I must have money. City bills, college debts everything has rolled up against me. I daren't tell the governor, and he couldn't help me anyway, and I can't go back for another term owing every man in my class." He looked suicidal. And then I made the plunge I'd been thinking on all day.
"Would a hundred dollars be any good to you?" I eyed him hard as I said it, and sat down in my usual place, opposite him.
"Good?" he exclaimed, half rising. "It would be an eternal godsend." His foxy eyes glittered. I thought I detected greed in them; perhaps it was only relief.
I told him it was his if he would only help me, and making sure we were quite alone, I ran off a hurried account of my "deal," then proposed that he should "accidentally" meet the officers near the border, ring in with them as a parson would be likely to do, tell them he suspicioned the whiskey was directly at the opposite side of the Reserve to where I really had stored it, get them wild-goose chasing miles away, and give me a chance to clear the stuff and myself as well; in addition to the hundred I would give him twenty per cent. on the entire deal. He changed color and the sweat stood out on his forehead.
"One hundred dollars this time to-morrow night," I said. He didn't move. "And twenty per cent. One hundred dollars this time to-morrow night," I repeated.
He began to weaken. I lit my pipe and looked indifferent, though I knew I was a lost man if he refused and informed. Suddenly he stretched his hand across the table, impulsively, and closed it over mine. I knew I had him solid then.
"Dan," he choked up, "it's a terrible thing for a divinity student to do; but " his fingers tightened nervously. "I'm with you!" Then in a moment, "Find some whiskey, Dan. I'm done up."
He soon got braced enough to ask me who was in the deal, and what timber we expected to trade for. When I told him Lige Smith and Jack Jackson were going to help me, he looked scared and asked me if I thought they would split on him. He was so excited I thought him cowardly, but the poor devil had reason enough, I supposed, to want to keep the transaction from the ears of his father, or worse still the bishop. He seemed easier when I assured him the boys were square, and immensely gratified at the news that I had already traded six quarts of the stuff for over a hundred dollars' worth of cordwood.
"We'll never get it across the river to the markets," he said dolefully. "I came over this morning in a canoe. Ice is all out."
"What about the Onondaga Jam?" I said. He winked.
"That'll do. I'd forgotten it," he answered, and chirped up right away like a kid.
But I hadn't forgotten the Jam. It had been a regular gold-mine to me all that open winter, when the ice froze and thawed every week and finally jammed itself clean to the river bottom in the throat of the bend up at Onondaga, and the next day the thermometer fell to eleven degrees below zero, freezing it into a solid block that bridged the river for traffic, and saved my falling fortunes.
"And where's the whiskey hidden?" he asked after awhile.
"No you don't," I laughed. "Parson or pal, no man living knows or will know where it is till he helps me haul it away. I'll trust none of you."
"I'm not a thief," he pouted.
"No," I said, "but you're blasted hard up, and I don't intend to place temptation in your way."
He laughed good-naturedly and turned the subject aside just as Lige Smith and Jack Jackson came in with an unusual companion that put a stop to all further talk. Women were never seen at night time around Jake's; even his wife was invisible, and I got a sort of shock when I saw old Cayuga Joe's girl, Elizabeth, following at the boys' heels. It had been raining and the girl, a full blood Cayuga, shivered in the damp and crouched beside the stove.
Tom Barrett started when he saw her. His color rose and he began to mark up the table with his thumb nail. I could see he felt his fix. The girl Indian right through showed no surprise at seeing him there, but that did not mean she would keep her mouth shut about it next day, Tom was undoubtedly discovered.
Notwithstanding her unwelcome presence, however, Jackson managed to whisper to me that the Forest Warden and his officers were alive and bound for the Reserve the following day. But it didn't worry me worth a cent; I knew we were safe as a church with Tom Barrett's clerical coat in our midst. He was coming over to our corner now.
"That hundred's right on the dead square, Dan?" he asked anxiously, taking my arm and moving to the window.
I took a roll of bank notes from my trousers' pocket and with my back to the gang counted out ten tens. I always carry a good wad with me with a view to convenience if I have to make a hurried exit from the scene of my operations.
He shook his head and stood away. "Not till I've earned it, McLeod."
What fools very young men make of themselves sometimes. The girl arose, folding her damp shawl over her head, and made towards the door; but he intercepted her, saying it was late and as their ways lay in the same direction, he would take her home. She shot a quick glance at him and went out. Some little uneasy action of his caught my notice. In a second my suspicions were aroused; the meeting had been arranged, and I knew from what I had seen him to be that the girl was doomed.
It was all very well for me to do up Cayuga Joe he was the Indian whose hundred dollars' worth of cordwood I owned in lieu of six quarts of bad whiskey but his women-folks were entitled to be respected at least while I was around. I looked at my watch; it was past midnight. I suddenly got boiling hot clean through.
"Look here, Tom Barrett," I said, "I ain't a saint, as everybody knows; but if you don't treat that girl right, you'll have to square it up with me, d'you understand?"
He threw me a nasty look. "Keep your gallantry for some occasion when it's needed, Dan McLeod," he sneered, and with a laugh I didn't like, he followed the girl out into the rain.
I walked some distance behind them for two miles. When they reached her father's house and went in, I watched her through the small uncurtained window put something on the fire to cook, then arouse her mother, who even at that late hour sat beside the stove smoking a clay pipe. The old woman had apparently met with some accident; her head and shoulders were bound up, and she seemed in pain. Barrett talked with her considerably and once when I caught sight of his face, it was devilish with some black passion I did not recognize. Although I felt sure the girl was now all right for the night, there was something about this meeting I didn't like; so I lay around until just daylight when Jackson and Lige Smith came through the bush as pre-arranged should I not return to Jake's.
It was not long before Elizabeth and Tom came out again and entered a thick little bush behind the shanty. Lige lifted the axe off the woodpile with a knowing look, and we all three followed silently. I was surprised to find it a well beaten and equally well concealed trail. All my suspicions returned. I knew now that Barrett was a bad lot all round, and as soon as I had quit using him and his coat, I made up my mind to rid my quarters of him; fortunately I knew enough about him to use that knowledge as a whip-lash.
We followed them for something over a mile, when heaven and hell! The trail opened abruptly on the clearing where lay my recently acquired cordwood with my five barrels of whiskey concealed in its midst.
The girl strode forward, and with the strength of a man, pitched down a dozen sticks with lightning speed.
"There!" she cried, turning to Tom. "There you find him you find him whiskey. You say you spill. No more my father he's drunk all day, he beat my mother."
I stepped out.
"So, Tom Barrett," I said, "you've played the dd sneak and hunted it out!"
He fairly jumped at the sound of my voice; then he got white as paper, and then something came into his face that I never saw before. It was a look like his father's, the old missionary.
"Yes, McLeod," he answered. "And I've hunted you out. It's cost me the loss of a whole term at college and a considerable amount of self-respect, but I've got my finger on you now!"
The whole infernal trick burst right in on my intelligence. If I had had a revolver, he would have been a dead man; but border traders nowadays are not desperadoes with bowie knives and hip pockets
"You surely don't mean to split on me?" I asked.
"I surely don't mean to do anything else," he cheeked back.
"Then, Tom Barrett," I sputtered, raging, "you're the dirtiest cad and the foulest liar that ever drew the breath of life."
"I dare say I am," he said smoothly. Then with rising anger he advanced, peering into my face with his foxy eyes. "And I'll tell you right here, Dan McLeod, I'd be a hundred times a cad, and a thousand times a liar to save the souls and bodies of our Indians from going to hell, through your cursed whiskey."
I have always been a brave man, but I confess I felt childishly scared before the wild, mesmeric power of his eyes. I was unable to move a finger, but I blurted out boastfully: "If it wasn't for your preacher's hat and coat I'd send your sneaking soul to Kingdom Come, right here!"
Instantly he hauled off his coat and tie and stood with clenched fists while his strange eyes fairly spat green fire.
"Now," he fumed, "I've discarded my cloth, Dan McLeod. You've got to deal with a man now, not with a minister."
To save my immortal soul I can't tell why I couldn't stir. I only know that everything seemed to drop out of sight except his two little blazing eyes. I stood like a fool, queered, dead queered right through.
He turned politely to the girl. "You may go, Elizabeth," he said, "and thank you for your assistance." The girl turned and went up the trail without a word.
With the agility of a cat he sprang on to the wood-pile, pitched off enough cordwood to expose my entire "cellar;" then going across to Lige, he coolly took the axe out of his hand. His face was white and set, but his voice was natural enough as he said:
"Now, gentlemen, whoever cares to interrupt me will get the blade of this axe buried in his brain, as heaven is my witness."
I didn't even curse as he split the five barrels into slivers and my well-fought-for whiskey soaked into the slush. Once he lifted his head and looked at me, and the mouth I didn't understand revealed itself; there was something about it like a young Napoleon's.
I never hated a man in my life as I hated Tom Barrett then. That I daren't resist him made it worse. I watched him finish his caddish job, throw down the axe, take his coat over his arm, and leave the clearing without a word.
But no sooner was he out of sight than my devilish temper broke out, and I cursed and blasphemed for half an hour. I'd have his blood if it cost my neck a rope, and that too before he could inform on us. The boys were with me, of course, poor sort of dogs with no grit of their own, and with the axe as my only weapon we left the bush and ran towards the river.
I fairly yelled at my good luck as I reached the high bank. There, a few rods down shore, beside the open water sat Tom Barrett, calling something out to his folks across the river, and from upstream came the deafening thunder of the Onondaga Jam that, loosened by the rain, was shouldering its terrific force downwards with the strength of a million drunken demons.
We had him like a rat in a trap, but his foxy eyes had seen us. He sprang to his feet, hesitated for a fraction of a moment, saw the murder in our faces, then did what any man but a fool would have done ran.
We were hot on his heels. Fifty yards distant an old dug-out lay hauled up. He ran it down into the water, stared wildly at the oncoming jam, then at us, sprang into the canoe and grabbed the paddle.
I was murderously mad. I wheeled the axe above my shoulder and let fly at him. It missed his head by three inches.
He was paddling for dear life now, and, our last chance gone, we stood riveted to the spot, watching him. On the bluff across the river stood his half-blood mother, the raw March wind whipping her skirts about her knees; but her strained, ashen face showed she never felt its chill. Below with his feet almost in the rapidly rising water, stood the old missionary, his scant grey hair blowing across his eyes that seemed to look out into eternity amid stream Tom, paddling with the desperation of death, his head turning every second with the alertness of an animal to gauge the approaching ice-shove.
Even I wished him life then. Twice I thought him caught in the crush, but he was out of it like an arrow, and in another moment he had leapt ashore while above the roar of the grinding jam I heard him cry out with a strange exultation:
"Father, I've succeeded. I have had to be a scoundrel and a cad, but I've trapped them at last!"
He staggered forward then, sobbing like a child, and the old man's arms closed round him, just as two heavy jaws of ice snatched the dug-out, hurled it off shore and splintered it to atoms.
Well! I had made a bad blunder, which I attempted to rectify by reaching Buffalo that night; but Tom Barrett had won the game. I was arrested at Fort Erie, handcuffed, jailed, tried, convicted of attempted assault and illicit whiskey-trading on the Grand River Indian Reserve and spent the next five years in Kingston Penitentiary, the guest of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria.
Prepared by Andrew Sly