ALL IS WELL, THAT ENDS WELL_ THE TRAIL OF THE TRAMP_ CHAPTER SIXTEEN_
Joe's sojourn at his brother's home had reached the fifth year, and although he outwardly gave every indication of being perfectly satisfied, his visit had actually been a continued torture to him, for his brother became from day to day more insistent to pay their mother at Rugby the long intended visit. Joe, who had never yet dared to acquaint his brother with the truth concerning her disappearance, found it the hardest task of his life to dissuade Jim from making the journey and to find plausible excuses to prevent him from sending a letter to Rugby.
The "skeleton in the closet" rattled ever more threateningly. "Next Spring," was Jim's ultimate reply, while his fist came angrily down upon the parlor table, after he and Joe had another of their evermore heated arguments as to the why and why not they should visit their mother, "Dorothy and the children and I will certainly visit Rugby, and if you do not care to join us to see her, we shall go without you," and then he arose and left the room.
Singular indeed are the ways of Providence, for with the arrival of Spring a Canadian colonization agent found his way into the fertile valley of the Arkansas, where every acre of land was pre-empted and worth a huge price. Backed by an unlimited number of well written pamphlets which he freely distributed, he described Canada as equal to the land of Canaan; that homesteads were begging there for settlers and that land would bountifully produce anything, considering the northern latitude.
Jim, who had saved a large portion of the annual income the ranch had earned became greatly interested in that part of the colonizer's story, in which he spoke of the enormous dividends that investments would bring, and when the agent explained to him that at a small additional outlay he could combine a Canadian trip with his journey to Rugby, this settled the matter.
There was not a single loop hole left for Joe to prevent the journey, and when Jim and his wife commenced to pack their trunks, ready to leave for Canada on the coming morning, with or without Joe, the latter with a heavy heart followed suit, intending to ease as much as possible his brother's grief when Jim discovered that his journey to Rugby had been made in vain.
In the morning Mr. Holmes drove Joe, Jim and his wife and children to the railroad station, but when the brothers asked at the ticket window for a round trip ticket to Canada, via Rugby, they were informed—to the dismay of Jim and to the joy of Joe, as this spelled additional delay—that the ticket would be only good for stop-overs upon their return journey.
Soon they were aboard their train, and while Jim and his family had the time of their lives, Joe could hardly conceal the dread which racked his conscience when he thought how pitifully different would be their homeward trip.
The outward journey ended at Edmonton, the hustling "Gate City to the Arctic", and then they commenced their return trip, stopping at Saskatoon, the beautiful "Hub City of the Saskatchewan"; at Regina, that stately "Queen City of the North West;" at Calgary, the "Gem City of the Rockies", and travelled from the latter to Winnipeg, the "Chicago of Canada."
They intended that Winnipeg should be their last stop, as from there they meant to return via Rugby to their Colorado ranch.
While viewing the sights of cosmopolitan Winnipeg with its wide streets and beautiful avenues, their progress was stopped in front of the City Hall by policemen, who held back a curious crowd, while they were unloading several patrol wagons filled with oddly dressed foreigners. Joe pushed himself close to one of the policemen and inquired the reason of their arrest, and the obliging guardian of the peace explained to him that they were "Doukhobors", a religious sect that on account of persecution had left Russia, and although they made first-class settlers, some of them had been arrested on account of queer practices which conflicted with the laws of Canada, and which, despite repeated warnings, they refused to discontinue.
By this time the prisoners had been transferred into the city hall, and the officer volunteered to see to it that Joe and his friends would find a good vantage point from where they could watch a Canadian court trial. Joe accepted the officer's kind offer, and the latter opened a path through the densely crowded court room for the McDonalds, who were soon standing at the railing that separated the prisoners from the public.
Amongst the more than a score of prisoners were several women, all of whom were old hags with the exception of one, who was really good looking considering that she wore the same homely, gray homespun dress and black shawl that did service for headwear, worn by all the women of her sect.
All noise subsided when the judge entered the court room. He was a stern-faced gentleman, and wore a white wig and a black robe, which, although they gave him the appearance of a patriarch, also added greatly to the austerity of his exalted office.
It was against the tenets of the Doukhobors to employ legal counsel to defend them, and so the trial was quickly finished. The young woman was the only one amongst them who could understand the English language, and she answered the judge's questions, and when the sentence had been passed, the others in their anxiety to hear from her how long a term they had been condemned to, almost mobbed her, and in the struggle the black shawl covering her head fell to the floor.
"Look, Jim, look!" shouted Joe to his brother above the din the Doukhobors made, while at the same time he pointed towards the young woman's head, upon which one braid of white hair stood plainly out against a black braid on each side of it. "She is the first human being I ever saw or heard of that had the birth-mark of the McDonald's." Then a vague suspicion flashed through his mind and he asked the officer to bring the woman over to where he was standing so he could question her concerning her past.
While the judge and the barristers were engaged in writing the commitment papers, Joe asked the woman to tell him who was her mother, and when she pointed at a wrinkled hag, he had the policeman stand the latter beside her daughter, who now acted as interpreter. Now Joe had Jim's daughter stand beside the younger woman, and when the old hag noted the resemblance between the two she paled and commenced to weep. Aided by the policeman, and the promise that if the Doukhobor woman told the truth concerning the young woman's parentage she would not be molested, and greatly influenced by the fact that her sect, like the Quakers, consider telling an untruth a mortal sin, she told the following story:
While she and her husband in company with many others of their sect were crossing the Atlantic, during the stormy winter voyage, her only child, a little girl, died and was buried at sea. They landed in America and were loaded aboard an immigrant train, which several days later stopped in a snow covered prairie. Looking out of the coach window, the bereaved mother saw a little tot, just the size of their own "Maritzka", playing in the snow below the window, and yearning for her departed baby she had climbed from the train and petted the little child, who instead of being frightened by the strange woman, permitted her to kiss its rosy cheeks, and while she felt the tot's chubby hands and soft limbs, the mother love which she used to lavish upon her own Maritzka got the upper hand of her, and noting that no one was guarding this smiling baby girl, and that no homes were near, she could not resist the temptation to have this child replace the one God had taken from her. Realizing that the child's clothing did not match her own, she quickly undressed the tot, and after she had wrapped it in her shawl she climbed aboard the train, which at this moment commenced to pull away. While she dressed the child in the clothes which had belonged to her own child, she discovered that she had overlooked a locket that hung around its neck, and that ever since that day had kept this place. She now caused her kidnapped daughter to take off and hand this locket to Joe, and when he opened it he found his late father's and his mother's picture in it, and an inscription that read, "Henry McDonald to Ethel, his wife."
Then Joe and Jim quickly proved to the young woman that they were truly her brothers, and promised her that they would properly look after her every need if she would part with the foreign woman, who, in her ignorance, had not only spoiled her life, but had caused her father's death. She consented to go with them and took a tearful farewell of the Doukhobor woman, who had been a mother to her all these years, and although poor herself, had provided her with a fair education.
The story of the strange finding of their long lost sister traveled through the court room, and when it came to the attention of the judge, he suspended the young woman's sentence so her brothers could take her back with them to the States. He was anxious to hear from their own lips the story of the strange recovery, and he induced Joe to repeat to him every fact connected with the loss and the finding of their sister. After Joe had finished, the judge seemed so well pleased with the story he told, that he begged them to be seated so he could send for a reporter of Winnipeg's leading paper, "The Manitoba Free Press", so all the world could read of the wonderful recovery of their sister. They gladly consented, and then the judge gave whispered instructions to a messenger.
When the messenger returned the judge arose from his chair and met him half way across the court room, and both entered an adjacent jury chamber, from which the judge a few minutes later emerged and beckoned to the McDonalds to join him in this room. When they entered the jury chamber they found themselves in the presence of an elderly lady seated at a table, whose silvery hair lent an added charm to the sad expression of her face, and whom the judge introduced as the reporter sent by the "Free Press" to write their interesting story for that paper.
Joe then repeated the story of the mysterious disappearance of their baby sister, and while he narrated her recovery after so many years, his strange tale caused the attentively listening lady reporter to exclaim: "How wonderful are the ways of our Lord." When Joe had finished the judge inquired of the brothers what their intentions were concerning their sister's future, to which question Jim answered that they would take the earliest train to Rugby and that he thought it would be best to leave her there in care of their mother and their eldest brother Donald.
While he was talking the judge had taken off his wig and laid aside his robe. Hardly had Jim finished unfolding his plan, than the judge wheeled around, and when the brothers looked in the direction of his uplifted finger, which was pointing towards the back of his head, to their complete amazement they saw there the same strange streak of snow white hair that distinguished every member of the McDonald family. Ere they could utter a single syllable the judge again faced them and told them that he himself, was their brother Donald McDonald, and that after they ran away from home he and their mother had emigrated to Canada, where by hard work and frugality they had managed to send him to a university, from which, after he had studied law, he had gradually been promoted to a judgeship.
Joe, whose conscience had troubled him ever since the fatal moment when his unopened letter had been returned to him from Rugby, broke the profound silence that prevailed in the room after the judge's revelation as to his identity, by asking the one question ever supreme in his mind. He wished to know if his newly found brother Donald could not tell them their mother's present address, so he and Jim could hasten to her and beg her pardon for all the trouble their running away from their home must have caused her.
Tears were welling into the judge's eyes when he pointed to the lady at the table, and then with his voice choking with emotion he said: "This lady is not a reporter, but is our own dear mother, and I am sure that she will gladly forgive you for your thoughtless boyish prank, for you plainly show how grieved and repentant you are, and how anxious you will henceforth be to atone by true filial devotion in the future for the nameless woe you have brought upon her life in the past."
As if spurred on by a common impulse, Joe and Jim humbly knelt before the sweet faced lady in whose careworn face they readily recognized the countenance of their own once so happy mother, and pleaded for her forgiveness. While they were still waiting for the words which would end a penance stretching over twenty weary years, she arose from her chair, and trembling with emotion lifted her withered arms high above her head, and with a face that bespoke the joy which had at last blessed her life, she pronounced this benediction:
"Oh, Henry McDonald, my dear departed husband, how I wish that at this happy moment you were standing beside me to assist me in blessing those who have come home, and praising the good Lord above us from now until my children bury me, for having this day, after so many sorrowful years, mercifully answered my tearful prayers."
This maternal blessing was followed by a most affectionate greeting and then the happy family repaired to Judge Donald McDonald's stately mansion where they further celebrated their reunion.
When some weeks later Joe and Jim and the latter's family returned to the Buena Vista ranch they not only had their sister Helen accompany them, but had persuaded their beloved mother to take a pleasure trip to their Colorado home, and according to the latest reports the judge is having the time of his life trying to induce the happy mother to return to her home in Canada.
This was Canada Joe's story.