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Snapshots from the North Pacific
Letters written by the Right Rev. Bishop Ridley (Late of Caledonia).

Edited by Alice J. Janvrin.

London: Church Missionary Society, 1904.

Chapter V. In Journeyings Often

"My heart has gone before my feet,
Which now shall tread the trail ye beat
Through forests new. . . .'

TWO letters were received from the Bishop in 1891, giving an account of a journey up the Skeena River, one addressed to the C.M.S. and published in the Gleaner, the other to the S.P.G. The latter, being more full of description and interesting detail, is given here, as published in the S.P.G. Annual Report of 1890-91. It is dated December 15th, 1890:--

"The excessively stormy weather has delayed the expected mail steamer, and given mo a day's grace for giving some account of the Skeena and Cassiar Mission work.

"I am too old a sailor to dwell on perils by water, though sailors are licensed to spin yarns. Whoever goes about a great deal by the small and frail craft that often do duty for missionaries' boats on the river or on the open sea must needs get into alarming situations. To the beginner they are terrifying, and, of course, sometimes dangerous. But the old salt has steadier nerves, and, because of oft deliverances, comes to think he has a charmed life. Some time ago, in returning from a visit to an Indian Mission where I heard the missionary was sick, I was caught in so furious a fair wind that my crew became as silent as fish as we swept over the huge waves in my trusty open boat under sail. For miles we kept company with the American mail steamer, though eventually she left us far behind. A stretch of forty miles in the open sea, at nine miles an hour at least, in an open boat, speaks for itself to a sailor. It would mean to a landsman constant dread of being engulfed. The muscular effort in controlling the sheet and the tiller taxed all my powers, and left a legacy of aches for many days.

"During my stay there I saw the work as I had not before. It keeps the missionary constantly at work. I am sorry to say that among my many patients two Indians from the interior died. I thought I had seen them consigned to their last resting-place when I buried them near to the grave of dear Sheldon. But, in October, when I was returning from my long journey in the interior, I met the same dead ones on the river. I met at least thirty canoes returning, full of Indians, who had finished their summer's work on the coast, and were going home with the proceeds. Over two of the canoes floated little black flags, signs of a corpse on board. Before the funerals I was surprised at the length of time they kept the coffins in their huts. Happily they were tin-lined and soldered down, and therefore air-tight. Outside they were covered with black cloth, and decorated with white and red rosettes. ... I found that the colours were symbolical, and it is both curious and touching to know some of the inner thoughts in this connection. The red signifies the pardoning blood, and the white, the purity becoming a newly baptized Christian--for both had been baptized early in the season, having been prepared the year before. Not a few come to Essington for a livelihood, and go home with a new hope of eternal life.

"Among other Indians I met in the interior were Old Lthim and his family, whom I baptized last year at Essington. Others, whom I had forgotten, recognize,! me, and came forward from among their heathen tribesmen, and claimed kinship in the faith with me There were several others at different places, and I could not but admire their robust faith that shrank not from constant prayer in public among these ignorant but proud pagans.

"The Methodists have lately begun a Mission where we had some converts won at Ussington, but they are steady in their allegiance, and cling to me as the official representative of the Church they love.

"These autumnal journeys that I take annually are tedious and costly. When canoeing I find time for reading. This last autumn I made a much more accurate survey of the Skeena River than has been attempted before. The result is a map on a large scale which I have found time to make, and that I am by this mail sending to the Surveyor-General, in the hope that it will forward the settlement of immigrants on the excellent land I saw in different places. In one district I walked in one day thirty-miles over a splendid country fit for the plough, where in years to come there will be fine farms.

"Dec. 16th.

"The district assigned to the Rector of Essington formerly reached the Hudson Bay Co.'s forts, a month's travel from the coast, and the gold mines yet more distant. The expense of travelling has so increased that I cannot provide the money to send a missionary the round annually. My autumnal visit has to do double duty. One little bit of my experience will interest you. As soon as the miners who had married Indian women knew that I had determined on instituting a Girls' Home on my return to the coast, they wanted to give me their little girls. I brought away with me one little mite, and another came on soon after, and are now, with others, comfortably settled in the new home. The child I brought with me shrank from my Indians, saying she did not like to sleep with Siwashes, a corruption of the French sauvages. But my tent measures eight feet by six only, and into it are stowed my kitchen-box, provision-case, valise, gun, and bed! The walls arc: eighteen inches high, and my head just clears the ridgepole! A less lavish enjoyment of space must content me that I may entertain the rosy-cheeked little maiden who objected to Siwashes. I stow her away to leeward, with my waterproof and overcoat as a bed and my thin coat as pillow. She had two blankets, but one was soaking wet. The single one I doubled over her, and then tucked her up with one of my own. 'Where is your pillow?" I asked. 'Me and Eddie (her smaller brother) had one, and I gave it to him.' This made me love the little soul. She slept better than I did, for that night the frost was, I thought, bitter. I was also short of wraps, which partly accounted for it. But the tent, which was dripping when I pitched it, was so stiff with the frost next morning that we had to drag it into the river to thaw it before we could safely fold it. To fold canvas tightly when hard frozen is to break the fibre; so also a frozen rope can easily be broken. That night I had other company. The sudden change from a wet southerly wind to the sharp nor'-wester made the tent sought after by the many forest mice. They kept me awake most of the night, though I was accustomed to their intrusion. Now and then one would be swept suddenly from my face. One sought his way to his nest through my ear, but he was too fat to get far in. Another nestled in my beard, and might have had a comfortable berth if it had not been so restless. As bedfellows they are not objectionable so long as they keep their feet still, but they will not. The most worrying was he who kept scraping under my pillow among the springy branches of the hemlock pine. I scuffled, turned over my pillow, pounded it and spoke angry words, and all in vain. I was trying to sleep in his forest, and he would not stop nibbling his favourite bark to allow a tired bishop to be there without taxing his patience. He was an unfeeling little republican, and I still have a grudge against him. But they are not as obnoxious as rats.

"Late on Saturday night, long after dark, we reached a village that has long been deserted as a winter residence. The gardens are very good, and some families came from Essington and Metlakatla to plant potatoes there. We had to climb some rocks for about two hundred feet before we came to the plain trail. Leaving our canoe moored, we struggled up the steep, bearing only what we wanted over Sunday. My load was my bedding. The lantern-bearer was next in front of me. After about a half-mile walk we came to the houses. Two were lighted up. Prom one, as we neared it, floated sounds of song. We stopped and listened, and through the wooden walls we could hear every word uttered in prayer. These praying Indians had assembled as they were accustomed to on the coast, and though a week's journey from their coast homes, and unconscious that their Bishop was within a yard of the leader, they observed their duty to God as duly as if they were within the sound of the church bell. My heart throbbed with gratitude to God for shining into these simple souls and making them more Christ-like than myriads at home satiated with privilege.

"We slept that night in a house belonging to my Indian captain, who formerly lived here, but for years past has been at Metlakatla. We soon had a blazing lire, and after supper sought rest. Before I lay down my captain asked me to climb up the ladder into a small attic. 'Look,' said he. 'Well, I only see potatoes.' Then he gave mo one, and pointed out the marks of some small rodents' teeth. 'Poor rats! poor rats! Alas! your labour is lost. I shall bag these potatoes.' So the captain seemed to pity the bushy-tailed rats which had dug out from the garden all the small-sized ones they could mouth, and had managed to carry them one by one between the outer and inner lining of the wooden house straight up from the foundations to the attic. There must have been two hundredweight there spread out to dry in readiness for a hard winter.

"I pitied the rats, and more so when as I awoke I found one dead in a trap. In his agony he had dragged the trap close to my bed, and so seemed to appeal for justice against his murderer. They are the bravest little animals I know. They are absolutely fearless. At the next village, where I slept in another deserted house, they swarmed; and though I kept a lantern burning all night, they vainly attempted to get on a table on which my breakfast was spread over night so as to have no delay next morning. That night I wished all rats were trapped. I had been teaching a schoolroom full of Indians for three hours up to 11.30 p.m., and then came the rats. Before daylight I was again in my canoe, and I have not forgiven them. But they are surpassed in wanton cruelty by mosquitoes. They keep their victim in a fever, but by their blood-letting prevent it from reaching a dangerous height, only to preserve him alive for further sport. I know from experience that they are to be reckoned among the enemies to the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Perhaps you smile and think them feeble folk. They have made me black in the face. I have shut up my tent with swarms of these plagues, like such as worried Pharaoh. Then I have lighted a fire and produced the most disgusting of smoke nuisances, until my eyes filled with tears that made channels down my sooty face. I have then lain down and seen those monsters cling to the tent until asphyxiated and then drop off dying, and I gloating over this wholesale destruction. Some few revive, but they are then tamer than an English gnat.

"When travelling on the livers a mid-day halt is called by the captain of the canoe, who can tell the time by God's great clock. 'Look out for drift-wood,' is his order to the Indian in the bow, who, as soon as he sees some on the bank, calls out, 'Lak O! lak O!' which means, 'Fire O! fire O!' Quickly the axes are swung by ready hands, and soon the kettles boil. Off go our hats, grace is said. Dinner over, we start afresh to struggle onward against the swift current.

"One day several canoes hauled alongside to get the benefit of our fire just as we were about to push from the bank. Out poured a crowd of Indians, young and old, with their many wolf-like dogs. The moment I was recognized many were suddenly seized with hacking coughs. On they came, the lameness of some increasing every moment. Sores are unbound, hands pressed on those parts that suffer from indigestion, the symptoms are graphically described. If I gravely listen as I open my medicine chest, taking care to have a kettle full of pure river water at hand; pots of ointment become lighter, sticking-plaster is disposed of; pills are wrapped in fresh leaves, teacups brought for cough mixture; salts and senna are begged for. The serious eases are carefully attended to; the half real pretenders, without a sound organ (so they say) in their bodies, are treated with grave sympathy, and large doses of medicated water made nasty. Faith they mix with it and get cured, so they say. I am known for hundreds of miles as a medicine-man.

"Among this crowd was an Indian whose head I put together eight years ago, after he had been most shockingly cut and bruised by a fall over the steep bank of the frozen river from a height of quite four hundred feet. He was sitting on his sleigh drawn by his dog team; the trail was very slippery, and sloped towards the steep. He could stop it and away he went, sleigh, dogs, and all, with ever increasing velocity, until his head came in intact with rough stones at the bottom, and there he lay senseless and bleeding. I was called and get him thought himself a hero! Now he remembered my surgery, and regarded me as a sort of property, walking round and round me, muttering all the time something I could not distinguish, and then stopped and declared he was quite ready to hear me preach; he would listen long and go far, he would hear no one else! So I had my reward, you see. The picture I saw in him is not to be forgotten. I suppose he was dressed. He was covered from his neck to his knees with rags of many colours, toned down with a rich brown of pervading dirt. I saw no buttons--he was knotted together, like the old woman whose coating of loathsome garments, in rags, had to be peeled off before I could set the stethoscope on her chest. Then the odour! Such poor old Heathen never change or cleanse their clothes until, for obvious reasons, the torment becomes past endurance. My ragged friend had not reached that stage. The Christians are never in such case; cleanliness with them attends on godliness.

"I never choose to encamp beside such a crowd, but at a distance not too far to be traversed after supper by lantern light. In such cases I spend an hour beside their camp fire speaking of the kingdom of God. Sometimes my crew go with me, and then we sing as well as pray, which is very delightful on the river's bank or in among the forest trees when it is stormy.

"Their dogs are villainous thieves because ill-fed; they howl, they cannot bark like our faithful companions. One night, while I slept, they entered my tent, and before I was quite roused by their noise they had gnawed through my provision box. I awoke in time to save my victuals, and drove them helter skelter from the tent. But they are dangerous brutes to attack with bare feet. When the canoes are deeply laden the dogs have to find their way along the banks, which are sometimes very precipitous. Then their sagacity is remarkable. In winter they are used to draw the sleighs, and therefore are valuable. We met an old man seeking his lost dogs, which we had seen the day before and tried to entice thorn to follow. Delighted was the old man when he heard his dogs were not many miles below, and on he trudged to save them.

"This was kinder than some other Indians we passed one day in their camp. They told a sad story of three hunters being lost high up among the mountains, but they made no search, which surprised me. Towards sundown that day we were pushing on in-shore, under some steep cliffs, when we heard strange sounds overhead. There were the three lost men laden with parts of mountain sheep, so that, they could not starve. The fresh snow had covered their tracks so that they became bewildered. We set them right with much pleasure, and they pushed on with revived hopes. How gladly would we direct them to a heavenly rest!

"Another day we overtook a canoe with a party ashore towing it. For the sake of a stretch I got out of mine and had a long walk. Harnessed with two Indian women was a white man from Glasgow, who had lost his money in the gold mines, and was now working his passage and dependent on Indians for food.

"Another day I met one of my clergy, and he waded with his long India rubber boots on from the bank to my canoe, and we transacted a good deal of missionary business while his crew were skinning and cutting up some venison. The day before I had in his absence been among his people, ministering to and advising them in matters they had kept open for my decision. The day before that, at another station, I had confirmed seven candidates, the first company of confirmees in the interior. For the first time were Indians of that nation admitted to the Holy Communion.

"It is often very lonely on these large Canadian rivers. Yet there are ceaseless matters of interest occurring, such as meeting with wild beasts, at very close quarters sometimes; finding rare plants, shooting ducks, geese, and frequently swans, which means abundance of fresh food, no small matter to hard-working men living and sleeping in the open air. One night after I had got between my blankets I heard a loud outcry, and jumped up to see what was the matter. The captain had gone to the beach to see if the river was swelling or falling, and, returning, stumbled over a porcupine. A few minutes later I smelled, as I thought, a burning blanket, and called out a warning. 'No, we are roasting the porcupine,' was the answer. I tried it next day, but it was too tough for me. Young bear is really nice, so also young mountain sheep, but the mature ones have a flavour that one must be educated up to before it can be enjoyed.

"The scenery will yet become famous. If my crew were asked what impression that trip made on them they would use one word--'rain, rain, rain.' Perhaps they might add--'wind, wind.' For one whole week it rained day and night. We camped amid the trees, whose tops were bent by the gale, while at the roots we were sheltered. Now and then one would fall with a loud crash--a very unpleasant sound to one in a tent close by. But, at last, during the night, the change came; instead of great drops falling on my bare head when I thrust it out to see to the camp fire, I looked up and saw between the branches stars shining as they only do on frosty nights. The river gliding past made soft music with which harmonized the muffled tones of the distant rapid. How much better than a roaring tempest! Next morning a thick mist rose from the river and had encrusted everything with beauty, helped by Father Frost. What a lovely robe had been woven under the twinkling stars! Then rose the sun and mastered the power that wrought such loveliness in the dark. But greater glories are now revealed. The eastern sun made the mountains blush. Swift is the transformation as the sun scaled the sky. There stood the lordly mountains, lately enshrouded by black clouds of tempest, but now from base to summit wrapped in purest snow, their pinnacles rising miles into the blue expanse.

"How I rejoiced in the vastness of the translucent blue hung over a world of beauty, in the spotless whiteness adorning the mountain crests, and in the bewitching beauty of the autumnal foliage that exhibited Divine skill in painting even the trembling leaf!

"Then came night again, and with it higher delights. Across a branch of the river a camp fire shot up among the trees. After our evening meal, as we sat gazing into our own friendly fire, we heard, borne on the still night air, sweet sounds of holy song. There, we then knew, were . Christian Indians, praising the Lord Jesus we also loved. Then followed silence. We knew they then were praying. We prayed in our hearts. Sweet is the communion of saints. What was the river between? Our hearts were one in faith and hope and love. No delight like this on earth. Talk about missionary perils and hardships!--there is not a drawing-room in London where heaven seems so nigh as it does to us sometimes in our wanderings.

"On our side we lifted up our thankful voices, tuned all the better because of the emotion caused by the song beyond the river. Across there our praise would kindle holy thoughts in the hearts of the tired Indians as they lay stretched out to sleep. I then prayed with my crew, and we all lay down without a care to rest and sleep, though the beasts of the forest move and seek their meat from God. From God, therefore, we were safe.

"So pass days and nights till the work is done. But the perfect rest remaineth to the people of God. Whoever would enter into the rest ought first to labour, not to win it, but to please Him who offers it freely to all who love Him."

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