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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 X. Regions Beyond

"To-morrow God will show the way."

IN British Columbia missionary work has been carried on inland by means of the rivers, which, as roads are nonexistent, are practically the only means of transit. In this way the Naas and Skeena Rivers had been utilized for the carrying of the Gospel message, and the Stikine River, further north, had, it will be remembered, also been attempted. However, the time had come when more definite efforts were made to reach the Stikine Indians, and the remaining letters will chiefly have to do with this extension. The Bishop writes with enthusiasm of the natural features, and also of the adventurous life which he had to live in those wilds:--

"Metlakatla, Aug. 18ft, 1896.

"Have you not found that the 'regions beyond' are always an attraction to missionaries? Thirty years ago I chafed behind the frontiers of the Punjab, as if the British side had not difficulties enough! Then the spirit of adventure bred in British bone might have had a large share in this yearning to go forward; but now I am too old to be carried away by that--I had nearly added 'that nonsense.' It is not nonsense, however, but a national quality God has implanted for set purposes. A worn-out charger puts on war-like airs in his paddock at the bugle's call, and we applaud his quenchless spirit. So I fancy even worn-out missionaries will say in their hearts, 'Go ahead, boys,' as they see in young soldiers of the Cross a desire to break through old lines right and left.

"It is for Committees to restrain undue ardour, not quench it. I am neither young nor worn out, but seasoned by long service, and therefore I write under responsibility when I state a case for extension. Secretaries and Committee-men will shake their heads and smile; but let the readers of this letter only send them the money or money's worth, and then they will smile as they vote extension.

"I want an enterprising but determined bachelor, very self-contained, yet full of the Spirit as the chief qualification. He will want a log-cabin first, and later a larger building for church and school purposes. Within a few weeks he will do as another did when he showed me his hands blistered through using his axe. I could only comfort him by saying, if he stuck to it his hands would harden. The language will be the sooner learnt without a wife to pity him. A little but increasing knowledge of medicine will add to his value.

"This is just the post for a man of private means. How I shall welcome him! How much, do you ask? Say £150 a year--a little more if he be dyspeptic the first year. Then a little less, because he will cat anything, unless there should be a doctor about with his awful yarns. A bacteric and germ-hunting doctor is a nuisance in a climate where bacteria go a-begging and starve on ozone.

"But suppose some reader can on a pinch lend to the Lord £150 per annum, and so support a substitute! Would this not be something tangible for the Master's sake? Something must be done, because prayer will not cease, and this is the modus operandi of all our extension.

"When I began to write I had no intention of making this appeal, which makes me hope it comes from above. My sole intention was to describe my recent journey into the regions beyond. In April last I left home for a visit to the headwaters of the Skeena River, and returning on May 18th, stopped here twenty minutes to exchange some clothing. Then I started for the Stikine River, about 190 miles to the north-west.

We stopped first at Fort Simpson, twenty miles distant, where I preached twice and held a confirmation. Our course then lay across a good stretch of ocean, so that, because the steamer was intended for river navigation, we had to wait for a smooth sea before sailing. In fine weather the rule is for the westerly wind to calm down at night; so we started soon after midnight. Off we sailed under the stars and dew, extracting phosphorescent light from the deep by our great stern-wheel. There was a long but easy swell, into which we plunged at twelve miles an hour, holding forth as by an invisible hand an arc of light amid the sparkling foam from our bows.

"By sunrise we had turned from the ocean into one of the Alaskan channels northward, formed by countless islands. Here, though it was twelve miles wide at first, the swell began to subside. By the time we had neared the eastern shore it was impossible to distinguish the mountains' feet bathed in the still sea from their imprint, except by halving the beautiful picture--half reality, half reflection.

"Then Zephyrus, waking up, made of the surface a palimpsest, writing on the picture of earth the characters of heaven. The myriad ripples removed the mountains, that a path of golden brilliants might be paved by the sun to run his race over. God's Spirit is doing greater things than these over the sea of life.

"We had to run out of our course into a sheltered bay in Mary Island to clear at the U.S. Custom House; then crossed the broad channel to a white spot on the shore of Annette Island, where the Zimshian colony migrated in 1887. The whiteness turned out to be a noble waterfall, alongside which we moored to fill our water-tanks. Away again at a rattling pace over the laughing waves that the west wind piped to louder as the day advanced.

"The sky was cloudless, but its lovely blue was rivalled by the ultracerulean of the sea. The gulls, making merry in and out of our smoke and steam, never failed to examine any fragment dropped overboard. Great eagles, alarmed, bent the boughs from which they took flight. Bears are now in season, and abound; wolves troop after the deer; whales spout and dive, raising high in the air their broad tails before they sink with a gurgling splash; porpoises rollick beside us without dreading our stern-wheel, which would mangle them without mercy. I used to pity the halibut when I saw it fighting the voracious dogfish, but since I found the latter's backbone in the other's stomach I pity neither.

"Islands everywhere, with their tops snow-clad in May! Not a rood of turf anywhere, or an open glade, or a level spot big enough for bowls. Trees stretch their branches over the waves by which they are kept in trim--trees right away to the snow where Christmas lasts the whole year--so many trees that you wish Nature were less bountiful in clothing these steep mountains standing out of the great deep. Whether the green is grey or the grey green, I cannot decide. The only variation is where the deeper soil of the valleys nourishes the bigger trees, which are doubtless green; so that the vast forests are only veined by the narrow valleys or ravines, where the deep shadows are almost black.

"Night falls over the again calm sea, and now, instead of the reduplicated shore and the powdered peaks photographed on the burnished surface as they were at sundown, the dark reflection in-shore would be sombre, but for the elastic stars floating on the ebony mirror, the counterpart of all but the fixity of the starry splendour above.

"Tired with watching the varied moods of God's handiwork, we thankfully moor alongside the wharf at Port Wrangel. There we take on our cargo and a large number of horses for our destination at the head of navigation on Stikine River. Half-way across to the river's mouth, as we steam along, we see anchored off the only salmon-cannery, a full-rigged ship that lately brought the workers and materials. By-and-by she will ship the produce of their summer work, and sail away to distant shores.

"A few hours' steaming takes us through the U.S. territory into our own. The entrance to the river is encumbered with vast sand-banks, so that we could not pass over until high water, and then by a passage so tortuous that only a local pilot knows the shifting windings.

"Our pilot from Port Wrangel was a wizened old Indian shaking with palsy, and so impressed with the importance of his temporary charge that he bought a new suit of clothes with the money to be earned. So small was he for his garments that they seemed to be nearly empty. He posted himself opposite the big Zimshian quartermaster at the wheel, who, as soon as the bar was crossed, steered his own course, much to the disgust of the new suit of clothes.

"What a vista in mountain snow-land burst on us as we turned into the first long reach of the river! Range after range abutted on the river, so that the valleys opened to us as we steamed past, each with its glacier, giving the mountains an appearance of a serried line of gigantic sentinels guarding the avenue, rather than a magnificent defile opening into the treasures of the snow.

"At Wrangel, in the one poor little garden, I saw there were daisies and pansies, lettuce and radishes. The willows on the river's mouth were putting on their spring verdure, three weeks later in the season than the Skeena I had lately left, which had then arrayed itself in summer attire.

"In the space of two hours we had left all this behind and plunged again into winter. Not only wore the mountains all snow-clad, but the islands and sand-bars were buried to the water's edge. As we proceeded, deeper and deeper was the covering, until it was six feet thick.

"About fifty miles from the entrance, after passing many lesser glaciers, we reached the largest, where we donned our overcoats and shivered. The timber dwindled as we approached it until it became a mere scrub under its shadow--again it became stalwart as we left the sprawling monster behind. The present right bank was the former edge of the moraine--now the glacier has receded 400 yards, and is still shrinking, though its curved face measures fully three and a half miles, and its top edge is 200 feet above the river. It issues from the broad valley about five miles back, and is spread out like a fan on a bed of its own making. It is said (but I doubt it) that with all its ramifications the ice area of this one glacier is equal to 200 square miles. The scattered granite boulders, often as large as a room, found many miles from their first bed, testify to the former desolation.

"The strange thing was to see the aspen growing on the river banks, standing out of deep snow, opening their buds and looking like pale gold from a distance. With icy water percolating round their roots, snow above, and an atmosphere in the daytime nearly to freezing point, they were still true to the call of their Easter summons. Dauntless, hopeful children of God, what a lesson in faith ye teach us!

"After passing through the coast range, the birthplace of snow, the scene changes as if by magic. On the eastern slopes summer like a queen reigned supreme, less than fifty miles from the throne of winter in the same merry month of May.

"On arriving at our destination, 180 miles from the coast, I saw strawberry blossom and other flowers in bloom on the 23rd of that month. The mountains were much less lofty than the coast range, and free from snow. Three days' steaming against an average current of six miles an hour, but often swifter, took us not only into bright sunshine, but so hot that I was glad to wear a straw hat on shore, and in the daytime spread my blankets over my stout little tent.

"One evening after we had moored to the bank a huge bear came down the mountain to inspect us. A bevy of our sporting passengers rushed to their cabins for their rifles, and began stalking the brute until they got within seventy yards. Poor beast, I thought, your tough hams will soon simmer in the galley! Seven deadly weapons are emptied at his feet! Forward rush the sportsmen, each sure lie sent the fatal bullet! We, the lookers on, saw the dust peppering poor bruin, till he scuttled nimbly round a rocky point, alarmed seriously, no doubt, but less ashamed of his flight than were his pursuers on their crestfallen return to the ship. After relieving themselves by graphic proofs of the misbehaviour of their rifles--no one cared to allude to the subject, or speak of bears. All had been too eager, and missed.

"We ran short of firewood, which is expected to be found ready cut and stacked on the shore, and this is how we got supplies. Mooring the steamer alongside a great drift pile, strong hawsers were hitched onto suitable trees, which, by means of the steam capstan, were dragged out of the tangled mass and piled high across our bows. Then, off we went, and all hands set to work to saw it into four-foot lengths as we steamed ahead, and so lost but little time. The fire-box holds about eighty cubic feet of fuel, and is kept full and roaring madly to supply the two six-foot cylinders with steam at 130 pounds pressure per square inch. In this way an incredibly large quantity of fuel is consumed.

"In what other part of the world such weird but impressive scenery can be enjoyed from a steamer's deck I cannot tell. The first impression causes ceaseless wonder and admiration. One's eyes dilate as avenues through which, as in a vision, the stately spirits of the white-robed mountains and of the circle of infinite blue troop into the soul to consecrate it wholly to God.

"Happily you are not bound to present my raptures to your readers. My idea has been to, once for all, present to them my own first impressions, which may help them and the coming man to realize what the land is like now lying in spiritual darkness, but which not long hence will be bathed in heaven's light and resound with songs of praise ascribed by Christian Indians to Him Who, before lie made the mountains, planned their redemption.

"We arrived at our destination at 9 a.m. on Sunday, May 24th, the Queen's birthday. For the first time two steamers arrived there together, and began discharging cargo as if Sunday were Monday. It was such a race that every man and boy that could be found was employed at two shillings an hour! As both ships were to leave at daylight next day, and it was late before the work was done, I could get no one to help me in landing my luggage and pitching the tent. It must be done, and I had to do it, but almost groaned over my rheumatic elbow.

"The whites are settled in log cabins facing the main river; the Indians on the steep sides of the creek that here falls into the river. My object was to get among the latter. It was hard to find a level spot anywhere near, and to do so I was forced to climb at least 150 feet above the river. The chosen place was between three log cabins, very smelly on account of the neighbourhood of uncivilized Indians.. There I perched beside the deafening creek. Just above! was the burying-ground, perhaps sixty feet higher, on the edge of the fiat which was formerly the bed of the river, nearly two hundred feet above its present level. A more picturesque situation it would be hard to find, but most difficult of approach. To get there the creek must be crossed by a shaky corduroy bridge, and then a climb up the steep bank, composed of the glacial gravel, full of boulders, that has a trick of slipping from under one's feet or rolling down when disturbed, The creek had cleft a passage through basaltic rocks, which stand half a mile back from the river bank, and left precipices on either side a thousand feet high. Outside this gorge the mad down-rush of water had an easy task to sweep a narrow passage through the gravel to now into the Stikine.

"That Sunday morning was spent in carrying my belongings from the ship to the spot described, and pitching my little 10 by 8 foot tent without assistance. In the main river valley there was a strong wind, but it was calm in the sheltered creek; so that, besides the great heat, there were the mosquitoes to attend to. This was difficult with both arms employed. I think it did the elbow good, because the pain was less at the finish than at the start.

This looked like a bad beginning of a Bishop's Sunday, and certainly not justified by anything short of compulsion. I believe it was an object lesson to the whites, worth the unwonted toil, for it showed that lawn sleeves do not cover soft arms or spare them the dignity of labour.

"Now look inside the tent. At the far end lie my blankets; then comes a camp table and chair. Near the door stands a small paraffin cooking-stove beside my kitchen box, which contains pots, pans, and provisions. Before dishing up my dinner I gathered some beautiful flowers to decorate my table as a reminder of home. Too busy to prepare lunch, I had put a biscuit into my pocket and washed it down with a draught of iced water from the creek. You should have seen my dinner. Talk about the privations of missionaries, you people are the ascetics! Listen! In my box was a piece of beef, roasted at home three weeks before. It was sweet, but a little green with mildew in the chinks. Remove the mildew and slice thin. Slice two potatoes. Pour some salad oil into the frying pan, boil it on the stove. Arrange the sliced potatoes, to which, when nearly browned, add the beef; make room for dropping in two raw eggs! By the time these are cooked your dinner is ready. On removing the frying pan, put on the kettle, with just water enough to pour over a tea tabloid and till the cup. This used, pour more water into the kettle to warm up for washing dishes. Can the Lord Mayor beat this? Whoso calls this conceit must be jealous, or destitute of honest pride in the first of arts.

"During this operation my tent is filled with little children, whom I coaxed in and rewarded with sugar cubes. I was also able, besides satisfying my hunger, to gratify my visitors with fragments of my meal, which were tit-bits to them. My hospitality was so much valued that I could not get rid of the little brownies so as to wash up alone, and, as they say in Yorkshire, 'side things a bit,' or in Devonshire, make it 'bitty.' There they sat watching my operations, and learning how to clean plates without letting the dogs lick them. I regarded these live curiosities as future candidates for school, baptism, and confirmation, and dear dirty little things they are, raw productions of nature. There is policy as well as kindness in all this, because if you can win the children, they are so naturally disobedient that the parents will not be able to restrain them from coming, and where they go their seniors follow. After singing to them a little, I went for a short walk, they toddling after me, and the two biggest, following my example, gathered flowers.

"As soon as the ships were unloaded I went down to the tired workers and asked if they were too weary to come to a service. At once the big store, which was full of boxes and bales, was roughly arranged, and two lamps lighted. All crowded in, Indians and whites. I stood inside the counter and drew from under it an open box of soap to kneel on. The light was so poor that I did not see the treacle spilt on the counter and dripping from it on my soap-box. Before I could read a Lesson I had to wipe the treacle from my Bible on a bale of bear-skins beside me. The light was so religiously dim that my congregation could not read from the hymn-books I had lent them, so that I had to sing two solos, which appears to have pleased the Indians immensely, though they could not understand a word.

"By the following Sunday I had made many friends, among them a ten-year-old half-breed. He had picked up some English by running about among the gold-miners, and became useful in telling me the names of things in the new language. He was more dressed than his confreres, and a leading spirit among them. He had a bright face and a pair of eyes sparkling with intelligence, mischief, and fun, under the shadow of a felt hat whose brims slouched nearly to his shoulders. The coat was man's size, matching the trousers, which wore docked just below the knee. His boots, if laid aside, will tit him seven years hence. No laces! There was real cleverness in preventing all but his hat from slipping from his shoulders to his foot. When on a visit he was propriety itself, especially as to his boots. At other times, happy lad, he owed nothing to the shoemaker and not much more to the tailor. By becoming my shadow he prevented others from crowding me, and was always ready to expel the too intrusive. Had I so wished it I daresay he would have tried to cook and chore for me, but I prefer to be my own maid-of-all-work.

"On the second Sunday morning, before I was dressed, he worked himself under the wall of my tent, and after he had arranged his hat, sat in silence watching me. Then he shared my breakfast, and finally ran off to the store with my Bible and Prayer-book. Back he scrambled, and we started down together, but not before he had startled me with a shrill cry that brought a number of red-arid-blue things swiftly down the opposite bank from a height of quite six hundred feet above us. 'What did you say' I asked. 'I say,' he proudly answered, 'come, come, devils, come hour singing man.' He often used profane language without suspecting it was not classical English.

"On entering the store he missed the red-and-blue things, and rushed out again, his voice dying in the distance, but, like a shepherd's dog he rounded up my flock and brought them, Indian like, stately enough now, though panting after the long descent from the mountains. Most of them were young women and girls; the old ones filed in more slowly to hear the singing man. All listened as if they profited, but none understood. It appealed to their religious instincts and conveyed a sort of satisfaction that awoke a craving for some unknown good.

"I rose with the sun next morning and saw the steamer sail for the coast, and then returned to an early breakfast.

"Among my first visitors were Dandy Jim and his one-eyed wife. She had formerly lived with a white miner, for whom he had worked, and both had picked up a strange assortment of English. Another visitor was a pretty halfbreed woman with her two children, one four years old, and the younger two. She was one of those women, ladies born, who have not to consider before doing the proper thing. Though ignorant as any, she was refined and modest, a genuine lily among thorns. She liked to come to see me, but always had a female companion, and behaved like a princess. Her partner, I wish I could write husband, lived about two hundred miles in the interior, as agent of the storekeeper whose store was our church. He had left strict injunctions that whenever any clergyman of the Church of England should visit the country his beautiful blue-eyed children should be baptized, the two storekeepers to stand as sponsors. This most unlikely thing happened. I had the elder boy with me daily, and taught the little chap some prayers with as much of the faith as he could understand, and the day before I left the settlement I baptized them. The mother herself at the last moment desired baptism, but I felt that she was too densely ignorant to be admitted into the Church without further instruction. This was the first sacrament ever celebrated in this vast district as large as Scotland.

"Never did I work harder than during this first visit to the dark regions. Though I had to devote some time to domestic duties, I spent fully twelve hours a day studying the language, by the help of those Indians I have named and others who wore tried in succession. The material collected on paper is quite sufficient for compiling a small grammar, which I hope to prepare at my leisure for the coming missionary. Daily I had preached to puzzled but eager listeners; among them some whose drunken volubility was disturbing, and profanity disgusting. At first they liberally offered me whisky, when I told them I never drank what destroys the man and loosens the beast in him. You see in what manner civilization improves the Indian without the Gospel. What murderers we are!

"I was a little shocked to the very last to find that my scholars thought of God as a very good man out of sight: but they were all taking pains to learn, and did learn quickly, considering their unfathomable ignorance.

"Dandy Jim sulked over the whisky and sheered off, but I went to him even in his cups, so that at last he and his wife promised with shocking oaths (in English) to 'shut down on it.' Fortunately he got a sharp attack of rheumatism, which brought out my medicine-chest. Though I cannot cure myself, I relieved him through the use of that powerful ally.

"A white man called me to see his sick woman, who was suffering from heart disease, and she also found relief. He was really devoted to her, and, but for the fear of grieving his parents, would marry her. Through the capsizing of a canoe in a rapid he was in peril of drowning, when she, a mere girl, at her own risk, saved him from a watery grave. 'I couldn't but take her after that,' said he, 'could I?'

"Dandy Jim had adopted an orphan boy, who, like my other chum, was devoted to me. He was willing to give him to me, and my first fast friend was of the same mind; but a few hours before I was to leave by steamer, their dread of expatriation got the better of their ambition. Dandy Jim finding this out, and fearing his boy would hide himself, took away his clothes to keep him in the cabin. When I embarked neither could be found, but about half a mile lower down the river, as we wore passing at quite fifteen miles an hour, they emerged from the thicket and gesticulated energetically, but I could not hear their voices distinctly because of the noise made by the engines. We hope to get them some day. The seed sown will grow.

"During my visit the weather was superb; a pleasant breeze blew up or down the river daily, and the sun shone without intermission. In the creek the heat was great and mosquitoes active, so in the morning I used to pin my blankets together with long thorns and arrange them on the roof of my tent; but even then the thermometer rose to 93 degrees Fahr. inside at noon. At night I was glad to roll myself in all the blankets because of the cold.

"The principal village of these Kaiya Dheni (or Tinne) is twelve miles distant, but during the summer it is deserted. To the north-west are the Tagish, and to the east are the Kaska, or Cassiar, as miners call them.

"Physically, they are more slim than the coast Indians, but quite as strong and intelligent. The traders tell me they are fine hunters, and from the miners I heard that those who worked for them were fairly industrious; so that they are not in the state of savagery I had heard described.

"No white man has studied their language, which is probably allied to the Athabascan family; but I found they did not recognize any words in the Bishop of Selkirk's Tinne translations. Here I want to post a man of God who will love these people and seek to save them. He must have a pioneer's spirit.

"I used to set the blue-eyed four-year-old on my knee and tell him of the child Jesus, of His dear love and His precious death for him. His eyes, full of wonder, were fixed on mine, and he would say, 'Mother never told me this. Why did not mother tell me?' I knew why: she did not know. When I told him God loved him, he would say, 'What is it?' and then, 'Where is He? Who told Him about me?' 'Is He older than you? Did you see Him?' The mother was almost as simple as her child and as ignorant of divine things.

"I would not think of denying that there is a repulsive side to Heathenism such as the missionary cannot but see and feel when he becomes familiar with it. Be sure it is no work for physically or mentally feeble men to enter upon; it requires the best qualities the best men are endowed with. I mean not the cleverest, but God's best men.

"In all that morals can accomplish, among all the loftiest ambitions that burn within us, of all human activities and glorious endeavours, there is nothing so great, so honourable, and so productive of results unbounded by time as the pioneer pouring of heavenly thought into a new language and binding new tribes to God by conscious sonship."

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