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The Strangest Christmas Party 1 \ nx The Unbelieving Hindoo Who Played Santa Glaus in the California Mountains Jack Cumberland Nt lie ■ tinental should have • stop construction and dose down camps, just when four unlucky wights had returned from a month's lay off. nobody knows. We took it as a blast of fate. We were broke. The Hat of financial derelicts included Dnn ald, a small station contractor; Kelly, ft foreman of :i grading camp; Jimmy, a nondescript laborer and tun nel man, who had worked everywhere between Oroville and tiie desert sta tions; and I had been connected with an engineering party. The most important member of our party was undoubted !y Ranje Singh, bat we met him as we were walking toward California. Ranje Singh \\. ]'i< t of the gorgeous orient, a r of maxims and precepts to the trming bands of Hindoos who worked along the new line. The teach -1 er was educated to eat of the white • man's food without thought of caste. Purification may be obtained in India . even when one haa been defiled to the uttermost. ]ow fell we saw the steady DM9 and savers pack trunks . BOitcaaes with envy. They were ng home to a merry Christmas. We must pay the price of riotous expend ftvire. But we envied them and felt injured by fate for we, too, would have enjoyed the delights of going home to be petted by the folks and •uwSe a lot of; who wouldn't? Most of us could have written to friends for money, and most of us were too proud to do so, being in the savage humor to taste the fruits of our own folly. By a strange coincidence we met within five miles of Chilkoot pass, and, stranger still, we were all in the same plight from the same cause, except Ranje Singh. But he was different —in a class by himself. We shall never for get Ranje Singh, especially at Christ mas, when "peace on earth and good will toward men" .-is being heralded around the world. way, it w.!.^ Christmas no4r, and there we were. The altitude was 5,000 feet, and a mountain snowstorm eddied and seethed in the high peaks above. We trudged along the uncompleted "right of way" between huge yellow banks of clay which lined the cuts. A dismal wind howled and raved through out the gray morning, and lowering banks of white <-louds warned us that snow was coming in quantities. Five miles beyond Chilkoot we over took Ranje Singh. He greeted us grave ly, with a singular, sweet smile; then his face took on an abstracted look, and he fell into line; he had forgotten us even as he walked behind the party. We wore headed west fur'the land of sunshine, orange trees and (lowers, which lay hid somewhere behind the rampart of white peaks down tiie river. Strangers, we were bound together by the universal tie of hard luck, and the fact that each of us had fallen into our unpleasant predicament from the same cause drew us closer together. Men who find their life work in canyons and tunnels become good fellows, tolerant even of grave faults in fellow men. "How much did J v spend?" Donald broke a silence whi had lasted sev eral miles. "About three hundred; and you?" queried Kelly. "Twice as much, and then some," groaned Donald. The rest of us gave sympathetic as sent to this bewailing of our common lot, for we were taking our Christmas hard. From the first the^e was manifested a strong affinity between Jimmy the nondescript and Ranje Singh. Jimmy didn't cara a continental and Ranje Singh was a fatalist. Fate could ha-m neither of them, provided it bestowed three meals per day—upon Jimmy. The Hindu could fast—he looked the part. They were a tower of strength to the rest of us, who, as Ranje said, "lived too much in the present." Then th« teacher offered material consolation. "Cheer -up. poor -western m*n, Be yon.] Beckwith I knov.- < ':• '■ t. v.-ii?rp one Ranje Singh : taught i. „ axims of, Budda. It may be a small store pro visions is there. Behold the key.". And Ran je - flourished . the key as a benevo lent; talisman. : ' v . "You're all right, Ranje Singh," ap proved Jimmy. Jimmy always gave re spectful salutation to the Hindoo. Ranje Singh, a man of urbane polite ness, inspired respect. He combined the vocation of priest and teacher with that of a skilled camp cook. He was also a doctor of philosophy with an Ox ford degree, also a traveled man of the world. In literatures and life he ex ceeded the combined knowledge of the band. He was affable and tolerant of us; we could see that he felt sorry for us as men sacrificed to materialism on the altars of western civilization. No spoken word gave us Inkling of this thought—we divined it. Sometimes for hours together Ranje Singh lagged behind lost in contempla tion of life and things which were en tirely apart from us. Jimmy thought Ranje was penniless even as we were, though he had not enlightened us as to his circumstances. "ile's a dead game sport; ain't kick ing a bit," whispered Jimmy to Donald, looking at the Hindoo's face, which was shining with exalted thought But Ranje was a fatalist—he would take starvation and death as the natural sequence of an inevitable must. The snowstorm which had been ray ing: in the high peaks all day envel oped us toward evening, driven by a furious Kale of wind. It was a cold and piercing wind, tearing through th« pass as if bent on sweeping living things to death. We had traveled thirty miles below Chllkoot that day, and as the storm broke we came within sight of a few black low cabins stand ing In the shelter of a grove of trees. "Behold heaven," said Ranjo Singh. "Heaven for the night, with food, fir* and friendsh-ip." Ranje Singh unlocked the door of his cabin and bowed us cere moniously inside with a gTave welcome. "'TIs Christmas eve, HAnJe, the night v.c !"<>:'i-.'jathor will; the old folks at home. I Wfti homeless the ftiffht, I'm obliged to ye." Jimmy voiced his grati tude gracefully. "Bah, Christmas! Anew festival given to overmuch eating and drinking," re plied the Hindu, gravely. "Holy virgin, man! 'Tis 1900 years old." Jimmy's voice bore a shocked tone. "It is but the dropping of a grain in the sands of time. Nineteen centuries, the flirt of an Insect's wing." Jimmy subsided. There may be some thing in psychic control, for the Irish man felt awed. "The Hindus is the old people, older than the Irish by hundreds of years," whispered Kelly for Jimmy's enlighten ment. Ranje Singh's cabin was neat and clean, furnished with a sheet iron stove for cooking and some rugs, which had evidently been used for a bed. Stock taking showed an ample supply of staple provisions—bacon, rice, curry, flour, chocolate and sugar. "How could you teach your country men and live like this without losing caste?" asked Donald. "They are children," smiled Ranje Singh. "I taught them virtue, sobriety and cleanliness. Every night I cooked my evening meal outside; it was of rice, and I always gave It away. My bodily well being they ascribed to the favor of the gods. 'Faith nourishes as food' is a proverb in the temples. It was not de ception, for they followed my teachings the better, thinking I was favored by the Invisible power." Ranje Singh prepared a meal fit for an eastern potentate. "Who would scoff at curried cornbeef and rice after a SO nttle walk over the Chljkoot? When night fell the storm Increased In fury. The wind howled through tha ghostly pine trees like the waJi of lost souls, shaking the walls of the cabin with furious blasts. We had prepared a stock of fuel torn from the walls of de serted cabins, and clouds of tobacco smoke puffed from contented Ups en veloped us in a haze. "It !s. the. Christmas t!m<> for you. Who "will- id: story, for I have one to relate later,'.' said: Ranje Singh. [■;'■'"!• can give you a bit of a sketch the way. I celebrated one Christmas in Can ada," f said Donald. ' L • ":'.'.\: "It was on the Georgian bay In On tario. ~My father's farm ran sheer to the water's edge by a little sheltered cove, where he kept a small schooner used for freighting lumber or cattle over to the small islands off shore. "That season was what Is culled an open winter, coming: maybe once in ten years; not much snow or lon&" spells of severe weather. Dad had cut the hay sloughs on a little island three miles out and had ferried over the old cows to eat the crop. "On Christmas eve the old man de cided to brinK the cows over to Che mainland, for tho feed was getting- low. "My youngest sister, a strapping blue eyed Canadian girl, was the best sailor in tho family, for sh* could handle the boat like a coast beachcomber. She and I were told oft! to bring the cattle across. "We set out about noon, the old man coming down to the cove to help us off. The weather waj» cold and clear, though it looked a bit hazy toward the north west. " 'You won't have no trouble with the critters; them cattle walks aboard rational as humans. 1 shouts the old man as the schooner heeled over to a spank ing off shore breeze. This was true, for they'd been ferried over twice a year ever since the yearling age, an' most of 'em was old cows. "Sis was in her glory and she steered us over to a little wharf on the island raised to deck level. Wed put hay along the tying ran, an' them cattle just bellowed for Joy at sight of us. They knew the old man had a turnip cellar on the home farm, and that tur nips was dished out liberal in the win ter along with bran and hay. With an old cow in the lead they walked aboard quietly and orderly, and we tied them up wijthout fuss of any kind. "We shoved off the landing with pike poles and started across. Then Sis gave a little frightened cry, grabbing my arm. " 'We're in for it, Donald. We've got to run. back Into the shelter of the cove.' It was time, though we were only half a mile out. The ugliest look ing squall you ever saw was bearing down upon us. Even the cattle were scared, setting up a great mooing and bellowing. "Out in the west, about five miles away, was a milky white storm, traveling ahead of a sixty mile wind. Ahead of it we could see big waves rearing and falling, looking 15 feet high at least. The water was boiling and churning in white foam, and be hind it was a lake blizzard. God! hew it did snow. A solid wall of feathery particles dry as sand. You couldn't see into it five feet. "By the time we made the. landing " and turned the cattle loose to scamper. off to the sheds, the ; > snow was six 1 inches deep on :■.'; deck. Trying the schooner up with two inch ropes. Sis and me scooted up to the log house. "The old * man was fa f Scotchman, and native thrift • mad» ? him a look ahead for emergencies.:' Stowed aw»y In a locker we found bacoa, flour, coffee and: rais , ins, enough to feed a crew of lumber jacks for a month. The rations was '• all right; we couldn't. starve. , " - ' "That blamed storm blew for a week, J bringing four J feet of snow; the open winter had 'gone a glimmering for , a : ~ false alarm. :. ■;. -, :■■,_-:■:■\. '.' ..•>■ ■ ; . ''•■},':'.;-:''-a: 'Sis was clean grit, an' didn't care a whoop only lor worrying about the folks thinking- us dead, maybe. She got a Christmas dinner ready that was the real thing, and we sung Christmas hymns to the tune of a roaring bliz zard outside. "About two weeks after the storm blew out the Ice formed thick enough for a safe crossing, and on January 16 Sis and I got home driving the cat tle ahead of us on the Ice. 'The folks was glad to see us. Dad had br-rn worrying a bit about the cof fee running out, thinking he hadn't left much. When the old lady would go to fearing. Dad would say cheerful: "'I ain't raised that girl to go sail ing the lakes in a blizzard, where the Ice devils would freeze on the schoon er 'til she'd sink." and that cheered mother up." When comment on Donald's story ceased. Ranje Singh looked around at the circle Inquiringly, but nobody vol unteered a story, for we felt that our host could entertain better. "Mine is not so much of a Christmas story as of a man,"*be*an the Hindoo. "A good man Is a good man whatever his race may be. Tills man was not in tollectual, but of a kind heart; not brilliant nor clever, but he had that which Is beyond mere attainments, a nature gentle and kindly. "My story is of the home of Christ mas. England was the scene of the story I shall tell you. In those days I studied at Oxford, languages, reli gions and philosophy. Over there"— Ranje pointed to the east —"we do not think much of western thought, but your schools are good training grounds —that is all. I sought knowlrdrre— eastern, western world knowledge—the desire to learn was In me. "I had only two friends, one a Slnga lese student from Ceylon and a young country squire Englishman. Harold Knowles was a type of his country, for he was strong and ag gressive, also firm In the belief that Britain was the safeguard of the uni verse. 1 His den was next to mine, and often he called to talk, and stayed long after his roystering companions had gone to seek further pleasure. I explained ori ental thought to him; he was not a student, but he loved to listen to the knowledge of others. Again and again he came until we were friends. "In the second year of our friend ship Christmas came. A3 usual, with the college deserted. Everybody went, each to his home. I alone wa« left. Every where faces shone with more than usual friendship. 'Once a year the Eng lish show emotion—it is at Christmas. All that was nothing to me. though it caused me to speculate. They lived in the present and I was studying, in eternities. •Late on the last night of the exodus I sat alone in my study immersed in speculative thought. The fire had burned low and outside th« snow fell gently. A knock at the door aroused me; it wag my friend Knowles. ", T came in to say ffoodby, Ranje Singh.' Then he shivered and hesitated. "'I say, old chap, it's a bit lonely for you and it's cold in here. Th© mater would welcome any friend of mine; come home with tne for the holidays.' "I shook my head and pointed to the bookshelf. ■■'.'■'!■■' am nit lonely; there «re my friends; but i wish you well,' was my reply.' . ' '.. .' - . ! ,. •. , - ■'' I "Knowles », aced in my hand a book of Persian poetry for a gift; then ;he *■♦•«>jd embarrassed, with his face very red as he »poke. .-.■ *;- : :'-"c : !''O'tJ;! fellow, you'll find a poem' on friendship | that ■- will explain my mean- Ing.' Then he was gone, still blush ing like a woman. . - . ] "In . the morning I opened my book seeking the passage Knowles had spoken of. Its message was that a friend may -do aught for a ; friend, and pinned to the page was an English banknote to the value of $100. Knowles had scribbled a line underneath to me, his friend of an alien race: 'I do not know your circumstances; -. it may :be that you need a friend's 1 friendship.' 1 ; "Three days later I. received news that Harold Knowles had been killed in the hunting field." * Ranje Singh's voice was cold and even, but the fire gleaming in his som ber eyes told that he was moved. There were no more stories, but Jim my and Kelly wore furtively wiping their eyes at the conclusion of Ranje Singh's story. The storm still blustered and raved around the cabin. The wind moaned and sobbed around the eaves as we made bed for the night. On the next day it was still too stormy to travel. By this time Ranje Singh had become a riddle to all of us. Sometimes h* spoke of going to India In a few week*. Money apparently gave him no con cern, and we thought perhaps h« would make the journey with an astral body. We thought a great deal about money, for we had none and our ne cessities were pressing. The morning we left Ranje Singh re mained at the cabin, for he said that many of his countrymen along the line were nearly destitute and might need his*%ervices to get them relief from the British consul in San Francisco. On parting he gave to each one of us a little packet which he said con tained a maxtm which might be of service to us some day. He requested us not to open them until the end of the day's travel. Ranje Singh ac companied us to the "right of way." shook hands and bowed courteously, then his eyes took on the usual spec ulative look. "I bet he forgets us before we're out of sight," said Donald. That day we walked to Spring Gar den, the second long tunnel on the road, and found quarters **f the nii*tst at the engineer's camp. iiie Doys were all away for the holidays, but the cook and the commissary man were there. Before retiring for the night we ex amined the packets presented by the Hindoo. Ranje Singh. Each packet contained ?25 In hills. A slip of paper twined around the money was written with tho maxim, "A friend may do aught for friends." It was the text of the klnJly Eng lishman, Harold Knowles, who had been a friend to Ranje Singh. The good deed of a gentle heart had been passed on to needy men of Knowles' own race. "God! boys," cried DonalJ. Til re member that story and its lesson as long as I live, ospeolallv ?t Christm^ time." And that is the way w« all felt. The dead English fox hunter had not lived tn vain, for his generous, kindly soul still lives on as an in spiration to rough men. Every Christ mas the thought will come back to each of them: "A man may do aught for a friend," for it contains the mes sage of "Peace on earth and good will toward men."