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An Apostle of the North
Memoirs of the Right Reverend William Carpenter Bompas, D.D.

By H.A. Cody, B.A.

London: Seeley, 1908.

Chapter XVIII. Light at Eventide (1906)

"God's finger touched him and he slept."

IN a famous picture an old warrior, scarred in many a fierce battle, is seen hanging up his sword; his work ended, he could afford to rest. But not so with Bishop Bompas, the faithful soldier of the Cross. No thought of ease entered his mind, but only more work for the Master. As St. Paul of old handed on his commission to St. Timothy, so did this veteran apostle of a later day pass on the torch to a younger son in the faith, that he might be free for other work. Then came the end, the last scene in the life of this noble man.

Far away in dear old England, 7,000 miles from a quiet grave in the great Canadian north land, the following account of those last days has been beautifully written as a loving tribute by her, the faithful wife, who for long years bore with the devoted Bishop the burden and heat of the day:

"The storms on Lake Bennett, on the shores of which Carcross is situated, are at times pretty severe. The winds blow in gusts down the steep mountain gullies, and toss into fury the waters of the lake. The depth of that lake between Carcross and Bennett is very great. It has often been sounded and no bottom reached. Many a hastily run-up scow, full of brave, enterprising miners, has been wrecked on these waters, and many a nameless grave in the white man's territory marks the resting-place of some poor fellow who was strong to venture, but had not learnt to realize the many dangers and vicissitudes of a miner's life. But the lake has its periods of calm no less than those of turmoil and unrest. Mark it on some evening of summer, when scarcely a ripple stirs its surface. The reflection of the mountains on the water is so clear and vivid that one is tempted to doubt which is the reality and which is the shadow.

"Such a calm, such a change from turmoil into peace, marked the evening of the life we have been considering. We believe that God's servants have been given a premonition of the approach of death. The Bishop had laid his plans some months ahead, and made necessary preparations for a winter down the river. He had always been remarkable for physical strength and energy. For his winter travelling he was always seen running, with the jaunty pace of the northern tripper, ahead of his sledge. He was ever ready to help the men hauling up a boat at some of the portages, or in pushing it down the bank into the river. Among our party it was always the Bishop who insisted on charging himself with the heaviest articles, and it was only within the last two years that he abstained from hauling water from the lake for the whole of our household. But symptoms of some diminution of strength and vigour in this strong man were beginning to show themselves. The eyes that had pored so long with imperfect light over the pages of Hebrew and Syriac, in which he so delighted, were failing, and had to be strengthened by glasses stronger and yet stronger still. Since his last attack of scurvy he had lost all sense of smell or taste. No one could be with the Bishop many hours without observing an expression of weariness and dejection in his countenance, which was as intense as it was pathetic. He was often heard whispering, 'Courage, courage.' To more than one of his friends he had given his impression that he had not long to live. To his brother he wrote just a year before his death: 'For myself, I am most thankful to be in this happy retirement. When the time comes, I hope for as tranquil an earthly ending as that of our brother George, though perhaps mine may be more sudden, and possibly not even in my bed.'

"The Bishop's burden of responsibility had of late years been greatly increased by the advent of the white men. The population of the diocese had increased sevenfold and at rapid strides. The problem of providing for the spiritual needs of these people, and especially of keeping the Indians from the allurements of the whisky traffic and the snares of the gambling-table, was weighing heavily upon him. But the darkest hour is the hour before the dawn; the labourer's task was nearly accomplished. The Rev. I. O. Stringer had been nominated by the Bishop and approved by the Church Missionary Society and the Canadian Board of Missions as successor to Bishop Bompas in the See of Selkirk (Yukon). He was a good man and an earnest Churchman, and had had some years' experience of mission-work among the Indians of Peel River and the Esquimaux of Herschel Island, at the mouth of the Mackenzie. Mr. Stringer was consecrated Bishop in St. John's Cathedral, Winnipeg, December 17, 1905, and his arrival in Selkirk Diocese was ardently looked for. With him was expected the Rev. A. E. O'Meara, of Toronto, to be placed in charge of the newly started mission at Conrad, twelve miles from Carcross, the centre of a new mining camp.

"And so, with the mission staff a little better equipped, with the work of the diocese passing into younger and less toilworn hands, our Bishop could now turn his thoughts to his own plans for the coming months. The Church Missionary Society had suggested to him a retiring pension, but this he declined to accept, unless he continued in some department of the work of the mission. His great desire now, and one which had for a long time past occupied his thoughts, was to start a new mission on Little Salmon River, where there are often congregated together 200 Indians who have seldom come within sound of the Gospel. But Bishop Stringer and others dissuaded him from the new venture, thinking that the work of starting a new mission, with the prospect of having to build a house and get in supplies for the coming winter, was one for which neither the Bishop himself nor his wife, at their advanced age, were fitted. Accepting this disappointment as God's will, Bishop Bompas prepared to go down the river to Forty Mile, helow Dawson. Now was there hustle and unrest on the mission premises at Carcross preparatory to the departure.

"A passage for the Bishop and Mrs. Bompas and two Indian girls had been secured on one of the river steamers to sail on Monday. This was Saturday, June 9, a day calm and bright as our summer days in the far North mostly are. The Bishop was as active as ever on that day. Twice he had walked across the long railway-bridge, and his quick elastic step had been commented on as that of a young man. Later he had been up to the school, and on to the Indian camp to visit some sick Indians. Then he went home, and remained for some time in conversation with Bishop Stringer, into whose hands he had already committed all the affairs of the diocese. Then the mission-party dined together, and at eight o'clock they all reassembled for prayers. After prayers the Bishop retired to his study and shut the door.

"Was there, we wonder, any intimation of the coming rest in the breast of that stalwart warrior, whose end of life was now so near as to be reckoned, not by hours, but by minutes only? Was there any consciousness of having fought a good fight, and finished his course? We know not. Sitting on a box, as was his custom, he began the sermon which proved to be his last. Presently the pen stopped: the hand that so often had guided it was to do so no more. Near him was one of his flock, an Indian girl, who needed some attention, and as lie arose he leaned his elbow on a pile of boxes. And while standing there the great call came; the hand of God touched him, and the body which had endured so much fell forward. When Bishop Stringer reached his side a few minutes later, the Indian girl was holding his head in her lap. Nothing could be done, and without a struggle, without one word of farewell, the brave soul passed forth to a higher life.

"And so the tale is told, the chapter ended, of that life begun seventy-two years since. A suffering, quiet, uneventful life, and yet, we hope, not all unfruitful of God's glory, and of souls won for the fold of the Good Shepherd. Most aptly do the words of the poet apply to him:

"'O good grey head which all men knew,
O voice from which their omens all men drew,
O iron nerve to true occasion true,
O fallen at length that tower of strength
Which stood four-square to all the winds that blew.
Such was he whom we deplore.
The long self-sacrifice of life is o'er.'

"The awe and silence which overspread the camp and school and mission that night and the following day were very striking. By the morning of Sunday, tidings of the Bishop's death had been flashed to Ottawa and London and all down the river. On Tuesday morning notices of the Bishop's life and work were in many American and Canadian newspapers, with his portrait.

"The funeral had to be on Monday, June 11, the Festival of St. Barnabas (the Son of Consolation). Messages came from the Indians down the river, as well as from friends elsewhere, expressing deepest sympathy with Mrs. Bompas in the terrible shock she had sustained. The Indians heard with extreme satisfaction that their friend and Bishop had once expressed a wish to be buried among them. Two of them came and offered to dig his grave, adding, 'You no pay me.' In the Indian cemetery, therefore, beautifully situated less than a mile from Carcross, was the grave made ready. The mountains, clad with their dark pine-woods, looked down grave and solemn on the Indians' burial-ground. There were not many graves, but they were well and carefully kept and tended, for they were all friends who lay there, and we knew the life and history of each one. Below the cemetery were the waters of the lake, in summer ever studded with swift canoes or white man's row-boats, or the steamer Gleamer and smaller vessels. But on this day there was no movement on the lake. All vessels had their flags half-mast high, and deferred their sailing that their captains and men might attend the funeral. It took place at five o'clock. On account of the distance, only two of the Bishop's clergy were able to take part in the solemn service, Mr. O'Meara, of Conrad, and Mr. Cody, of Whitehorse.

"The little church of St. Saviour's was now filled with all the white population of Carcross and all the Indians who had come to do honour to the great man who had fallen in their midst. The two hymns chosen from the Hymnal Companion were most appropriate--one, 'For all the Saints,' telling of the triumph of the saints of God after earth's hard fight; the other, 'Jesus lives,' breathing forth the blessed hope of victory over the grave and a glorious resurrection. The service was conducted by Bishop Stringer, assisted by the two clergymen, and then the dear Bishop's body was lifted into a boat waiting at the foot of the bank, and rowed by two natives over water as smooth as glass to the cemetery. Three white men and three Indians carried the body from the shore to the grave, and, after the beautiful service had been read, the children of the Indian mission-school came one by one and dropped into the grave their little offerings of wild flowers, which had been gathered for the occasion.

"There is a humble grave in one of the loveliest and most secluded spots in the Yukon territory. Dark pine-forests guard that grave. During the winter months pure untrodden snow covers it. It is enclosed by a rough fence made of fir-wood, which an Indian woodman cut down and trimmed, leaving the bark on, and then fixed strong and stable around the grave. But none will disturb that spot, no foot of man or beast will dishonour it; the sweet notes of the Canadian robin and the merry chirp of the snow-bird are almost the only sounds which break the silence of that sacred place. The Indians love that grave; the mission children visit it at times with soft steps and hushed voices to lay some cross of wild flowers or evergreen upon it. There is a grey granite headstone with the words, 'In the peace of Christ,' and the name and age of him who rests beneath. It is the grave of Bishop Bompas."

"On the night of the Bishop's death," says Bishop Stringer, "one group of Indians after another came to the Bishop's house, with sorrow depicted on each face as they asked at first if the sad news were true, and then other questions, showing their deep concern. In the morning they came one by one to look for the last time on the face of him who was always their friend. Never more could he listen patiently to all their troubles--never again would he get up from the midst of his work and tramp off half a mile to their camps to see a sick person, and give all the relief possible in medicine, food, and clothing, and, above all, advice in their many adversities and, oftentimes, complicated troubles.

"The day after the funeral an Indian and his wife arrived on foot from Skagway. As Mrs. Bompas went out to shake hands with them as old friends, she said, 'Bishop has gone.' The woman looked interested, thinking she meant he had gone to visit some of the other missions. Mrs. Bompas tried to explain. 'Bishop dead three days,' she said. Then the truth seemed to dawn on the Indian woman, and she repeated, with rising inflection, 'Bishop dead? Bishop dead? Bishop dead?' at the same time giving vent to such a wail as I scarcely ever heard from a human being. I then realized more than ever how much the loss of our dear Bishop meant to his own people, the Indians."

All men had a profound respect for Bishop Bompas, especially the hardy prospectors. They had endured so much on the lonely trails that they looked upon him as one of themselves, who had not spent his life in ease and luxury, hut struggling with Nature at her sternest. In speaking of the late Bishop, a prospector at Carcross said:

"I feel as if I had lost my hest friend. Sometimes some of us were hard up, no funds and no food; but we always felt we could turn to the Bishop for help. We knew that to knock at his door and ask him if there was any odd job we could do meant always, and especially if the Bishop knew we were hard up, that he would find something for us to do--now some wood to get, or, again, some stove-pipe to fix, or a few nails to drive for Mrs. Bompas, or some other work that would give him the opportunity to pay us sufficient to keep soul and body together."

Bishop Stringer, who records this conversation, also mentions that on the Mackenzie River he once met a miner who had been in Dawson in the early days. "When asked if he knew Bishop Bompas, he said he thought he had not seen him. When he was described as a pioneer in the land, he suddenly exclaimed, 'Oh yes; that's the man who wrote the book. I have often seen him and spoken to him. Many of us have read his book. The miners know him as "the man who wrote the book."' He referred to the 'History of the Mackenzie River Diocese,' which contains much matter of interest to the miner about the North."

The letters received by Mrs. Bompas were full of the sincerest sympathy. Some were from the men of the "Old Brigade," who had stood shoulder to shoulder with the Bishop in his great fight against the powers of darkness. Beautiful as well as pathetic are the words of the Venerable Archdeacon McDonald, from Winnipeg:

"He was a man dear to me, and I thank God for the abundant grace that was bestowed upon him, enabling him to labour patiently and persistently among the natives, for whose sake he became a missionary. I cannot forget that it was to replace me he first came to the North, when, as it was thought, my earthly course was nearly run, and I would have to lay down the Banner of the Cross. Nobly has he borne the standard; he has fought the fight of faith, he has finished his course, and has gone to receive, with the Apostle Paul and all who love the appearing of our sweet Saviour Christ, the crown of righteousness which shall be bestowed upon them. . . . Thus another landmark has gone. Bishop Bompas achieved a great reputation for devotedness and saintliness and the most heroic courage. Like our great Pattern, he constantly went about doing good. He counted not his life dear unto him, but exposed it many times in his great Master's cause. He has left a splendid record and example for all Bishops and clergy. You and the Bishop have done a magnificent work in that northern region--a work that has blessed not only the Indians, but, in an indirect way, the entire Church of God."

Dr. Matheson, Archbishop of Rupert's Land, wrote:

"On my arrival from England yesterday I was met with the sad news of the death of my very dear friend. I am deeply pained, as he was a lifelong friend, and I loved him. He was so loyal and true to his friends. How we ought to thank God for giving to the Church such a man as Bishop Bompas! Even without his great work, the very example is such an inspiration. Humble, unselfish, devoted, great in simple-mindedness--these are the words which seem to come to one when thinking of our departed brother. . . . Accept my heartfelt sympathy. With frail body, yet dauntless spirit, you have shared in all the trials of that great missionary hero's life, and now you are alone, and yet not alone. Oh no. God does seem to come so near to us at these times."

From Alaska, Bishop Howe sent the following message:

"The passing away of your good husband was to him a euthanasia, a translation into the rest and joy of Paradise, for which his heroic life and work had ever pointed and aimed. To him the translation from warfare into peace, from the sight that is dim into the perfect light and presence of the King in His beauty, is a joy beyond all other joys. . . . The world has lost one of the greatest missionary heroes of the age, and his beautiful life of service and unselfish labours will long continue tis an inspiration and blessing to many who, through the dear Lord, have looked to your husband, and seen in him an exemplar of the faith such as, God helping them, they fain would be."

One more letter must be given of the many testimonies sent, and this is from the Rev. A. J. Doull, of Westmount, Montreal.

"You have this comfort, that not only has the noble Bishop passed to the rest and joy of Paradise, but that he has left behind a name and an example that cannot and will not be forgotten so long as the Canadian Church remains in our land, and her history is read by those who come after us. God never leaves Himself without witnesses, and it is a great encouragement and help to feel that an age so prone to worldliness and indifference has also been the age which has produced Bishop Bompas, a man truly Apostolic in self-denying work, fervent zeal, and devoted consecrated love. The Church in Canada has a tremendous work to do, and she needs the brightest examples that can be put before her sons and daughters to inspire them to go in and possess the good land. Truly may we bless God that such an example has been provided at this crisis in her history, the example of the first Bishop of Selkirk."

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