THE FOUR CANADIAN HIGHWAYMEN
THE FOUR CANADIAN HIGHWAYMEN
JOSEPH EDMUND COLLINS
THE ROBBERS OF MARKHAM SWAMP.
BY EDMUND COLLINS
The following story is founded on fact everybody about this part of
Canada who is not deaf having heard of the gang at Markham Swamp.
I have no doubt that some of my friends who are in the habit of
considering themselves "literary" will speak with despair and
disparagement of myself when they read the title of this book. They
will call it "blood and thunder" and will see that I am on my way to
Well these people are my friends after all and I shall not open a
quarrel with them. For they themselves have tempted the public with
stupid books and essays; and they failed in finding buyers. Therefore
they have demonstrated for me that a stupid book doesn't pay; and I
will not even for my best friend write anything but what the people
will buy from me. I am not a Fellow of the R.S.C. and if I produced
anything dreary I could not look for the solace of having that
discerning association clap their hands while I read my manuscript.
As to my subject being blood and thunder as some of the _litterateurs_
will describe it I have only to say that the author of _Hard Cash_
wrote more than a dozen short stories laid upon lines similar to mine.
A young man fighting for a place in literature and for bread and
butter at the same time need not blush at being censured for adopting
a literary field in which Charles Reade spent so many years of his
By-and-by when I drive a gilded chariot and can afford to wait for
books with quieter titles and more dramatic worth to bring me their
slow earnings I shall be presumptuous enough to set such a star
before my ambition as the masters of English fiction followed.
TORONTO 1st August 1886.
THE PRETTY ASTER AND MR. HAM
A GATHERING STORM
TO THE EDGE OF MARKHAM SWAMP.
THE ROBBERS OF MARKHAM SWAMP.
THE WAYS OF ROBBER LIFE.
ROBBERS AT HOME AND ABROAD.
UNDERGROUND MYSTERIES OF THE SWAMP
DISCIPLINE AND OTHER INCIDENTS
BURIED ALIVE IN HIS ROOM
SCENES LEADING TO THE CLIMAX
THE CAPTURE OF THE 'MOST' BEAUTIFUL MAIDEN.
'ALL'S WELL THAT END'S WELL.'
MARY HOLT'S ENGAGEMENT
THE FOUR CANADIAN HIGHWAYMEN;
THE ROBBERS OF MARKHAM SWAMP.
THE PRETTY ASTER AND MR. HAM.
It was the autumn of the year and the dress of the Canadian woods
at that season forty years ago differed little from the gaudy garbs
of now. Near a small village not far from the town of Little York I
choose as the place for the opening of this true story.
The maple of all the trees in the forest was the only one so far
frost-smitten and sun-struck. The harvests had been gathered and the
only tenants of the fields were flocks of pigeons that came to feed
among the stubble; for many a ripe ear fell from the heads in the
tying of the sheaves; many a shower of the golden grain had fallen as
the load drawn by slow oxen lurched and swayed along the uneven
Nestling in a grove of primeval pines that sentinelled the placid
shining waters of the Don stood a low wide-eaved cottage. It was
completely clad in ivy; and upon the eastern side there was a dull
copper tinge through the matted masses of the Virginia creeper.
Many of the earlier flowers had faded; but the pinks and the poppies
were still rich in blood; and the sunflower sturdily held up its
yellow face like 'a wizened sorcerer of old' as a fair and gifted
friend of my acquaintance puts it. The cottage and the grounds about
it were the property of an English gentleman of taste and means. The
nearest dwelling had an air of luxury and round about it stretched
wide areas of land from which the harvest of wheat and oats had been
taken. Here and there in the distance a group of boys might be seen
with their fishing rods in their hands; for at that day the Don
stream was not foul by the drainage of fields and shrunken from the
downpour of the sun and from the loss of its sheltering forest.
Trout and often salmon-trout went into its quiet retreats in the face
of the spring freshets; and many a congregation of foam bubbles did
it hold upon its breast to screen the greedy vigilant speckled trout.
In a little summer house through whose latticed sides the gadding
vines were so interlocked and twined as to remind you of the legend
of Salmacis and Hermes' son sat a girl. Her wide-brimmed hat rested
upon the seat beside her and round about it was a double girdle of
ivy as if twining there. Looking through the door of the dainty
place you could not see the girl's face; for she had turned her head
and her chin was resting upon her slim white hands as she read from
a book that lay upon her lap.
Her hair you could see for it hung over her shoulders and down her
white dress like 'a gold flag over a sail.' For myself I usually
prefer dark hair for women; but ah! who could have gainsaid the glory
of those luxurious coils that hung over that sweet neck and draping
the curving shoulders! Through the open doorway the sun streamed upon
it; and the soft tangles gleamed like ruddy gold. Hence you will see
that the colour was not that insipid 'blonde' with which shallow
girls may adorn their heads for the sum of ten cents.
But although her face could not be seen anyone looking at the
balance of the head the statuesque neck would have surmised that it
A tall lithe well-built young man who had a few moments before
entered the cottage walked into the garden from the back door. His
eye was one that the casual observer would describe as 'full of
mischief;' but behind the sunny brightness was a pensive cast. He
walked softly towards the arbour and stood for several seconds
looking at its beautiful occupant. Then in moving his foot the dry
branch of a rose-bush snapped and the girl turned her head.
'Ah it is you Roland--pardon me Mr. Gray.'
'Yes; I have come here to eat your apples and your peaches; and to
despoil the grove of their woodcock.'
'Papa said you were coming some time soon; but I did not know when.'
'Why I met him this morning at the Don Mills and told him he would
have me during the afternoon and evening. I sent that message
distinctly to you Miss Aster.'
A faint shadow passed over her face; and it was plain that she was a
little confused as she stammered:
'Papa must have misunderstood you.'
'Perhaps Miss Aster; but--well I hope he did.' At this moment
another person entered the garden. He did not come with the graceful
motion and the easy tread of Roland Gray; but moved wily a pompous
stride swinging his arms almost at right angles with his body. His
air you could only describe by the word 'howling'; and he was just
the man to immediately catch the attention of a vulgar girl. His hair
was as dark as a crow's; and it was as coarse as the bristles of a
hog. He was short and rather stout of build; was somewhat 'horsey' in
makeup; and had a face rather handsome. But that he was low-bred
there could not be the shadow of a doubt.
'I thought you had eluded me Aster' he said in the most familiar
way; 'thought you had stolen away up the river with that book.'
'Oh indeed. I have been reading here during the greater part of the
afternoon. Mr. Gray let me introduce to you Mr. Ham; Mr. Ham Mr.
Gray.' Roland bowed with much politeness; but Ham's stiff pompous
bend was an assertion of superiority.
'I have probably broken in upon your _tete-a-tete_ with this
young man Aster; so I'll take a turn out and have a jaw with your
guv'nor.' In a moment he was gone.
'This is your next door neighbour I presume Miss Aster?'
'Yes; he and papa are great friends. He consults papa upon nearly
everything that he does upon his farm; and papa in turn consults him
concerning our affairs.'
'I suspected as much. I presume that you and he are very intimate
friends. I observe that he calls you "Aster."'
'I did not ask him to do so; and since he chooses to adopt this
familiar fashion I cannot well rebuke him papa and he are such
'Then do you permit _me_ to call you Aster?'
'O indeed I wish that you would do it; and all the time.' As she
said this her eyes brightened.
'Thanks Aster. I now feel that I am on equal footing with the rest.
You are sure that you will not mind me Astering you before
_him_? Doing it frequently?'
'Not a bit. I shall be pleased; I shall be _very much_ pleased
because he seemed to take a pleasure in being familiar before you.
And we are not such great friends after all.'
'You most not talk nonsense Aster. It would never do to allow
yonder well-tilled acres that sumptuous dwelling all those flocks
of sheep and herds of sleek cattle to pass into the hands of any
other girl. Imagine pulling down the boundary line and joining the
two farms into one! Imagine how your "guv'nor"--as this well-bred Mr.
Ham styles him--would open his eyes if any other person should nave
the temerity to ask for Miss Aster.'
'Then would you be really glad to see these two farms joined in one?
To see me marry Mr. Ham?' Her tremulous eyes questioned his face
eagerly. When she began her queries there was in them a flash of
mocking mirth; but that had disappeared and there was now only to be
observed a grave questioning expression there.
My reader is probably desirous of hearing something about Aster's
face notwithstanding the assumption that it was beautiful. As a rule
we expect to find chestnut eyes with ruddy-golden hair; but this was
not the fact in Aster's case. Her eyes were the colour which men like
Theophile Gauthier attribute to Venus: they were not blue neither
were they brown; but they presented in the most fascinating _ensemble_
a grey which at night was a fathomless dusk and by day that green
which you perceive where the sea is a hundred fathoms deep. With the
light upon her eye there was a glint of emerald that witching glare
which made Becky Sharpe irresistible. Now imagine an eyebrow dark as
the raven's quill overarching such an eye and contrasting itself
with the burning gold of the hair and a skin of Parian white and
purity. Then contemplate a softness beside which the velvet upon the
petal of a pansy would seem rigid; and this eye large and timorous
and fringed with long dark lashes!
I do not like the work of cataloguing 'divine wares' especially
when my most elaborate estimate must present a picture crude and
mathematical compared with the ideal.
This girl's nose was Roman in type; and was precisely like that
which the engraver gives to Annette Marton. The nostrils were finely
chiselled betokening sensitiveness: and I may add that I have never
known anybody with a thick nostril to be sensitive.
For a moment Roland's eyes were fixed wistfully upon the girl's and
he did not answer her question. But escape from the enquiring
unflinching stare was out of the question; so he said mustering all
the courage that he could:
'Well to tell you the truth Aster I think you are twenty times
too good for this fellow Ham; and therefore I should not like to see
you marry him; to see the two farms become one.'
'Oh I did not think that you considered me in any sense a superior
girl; and I must feel highly flattered that you put a higher price
upon that superiority than upon the splendid property adjoining my
father's.' There was now the merest glint of mischief in her glance;
and she was evidently desirous that Mr. Gray should be more explicit
in his objection to the match. 'Does Mr. Gray realize what a great
compliment he has paid me a poor rustic an untutored country girl
with a little knowledge about the bees and clover and some cunning
as to the tricks of breachy cattle? Now wherefore should I _not_
marry Mr. Ham? Do I know more about the English authors or about the
French ones than he does? Am I more gifted in mathematical insight;
or do I know more about the history of kings and ancient wars? I can
paint the merest bit; and my music is attuned for little else than
the heavy heels of rustic swains and clumsy lasses. Now Mr. Ham is
more skilled in painting than I and more learned in all things
acquired from books: pray where then is the force of your objection
to this joining of hands and farms upon intellectual grounds?'
'I think you miss my meaning Aster. You cannot sum up the superiority
of character by counting the items as you "take stock" in a tradesman's
store. The highest and most captivating points in human character
especially in a woman's often have such an evasive subtlety of
outline that you can no more define them than you could the message
which some blossom blooming in a wild far place has for the human
heart as you stoop over it to drink its perfume and gloat upon its
beauty. But you ask me to be definite: will you take offence if upon
some points which present themselves to me I become _quite_
'Not by any means Mr. Gray. I am very anxious to hear everything
that you have to say.'
'Well Aster I do not admire your friend Mr. Ham. I think he is a
coarse snob; and under an exterior of brusque frankness I believe he
is deceitful and--cowardly. I should consider your union with such a
person a monstrous sacrifice.'
'Would you have me wait until some man who reaches your ideal came
and asked father for my hand? Or would you have me advertise in
William Lyon Mackenzie's newspaper. Or still another and final
alternative would you have me bloom in this sweet place all my days
'I simply would not have you marry that person Ham.'
'No other definite wish with respect to me?' Her head was bowed now
and her mischievous upward glance was very fascinating.
'I have; but I should prefer for the present to keep it to myself.'
A GATHERING STORM.
'Oh! We had better go to dinner then had we not: I presume it is
'Stay will you not wear this at dinner?' stooping for a pansy that
flourished among the late autumn blossoms.
'Keep if for remembrance when I am away.'
'Oh but flowers fade; and I could only remember you for a couple of
'Why not press it between the leaves of a book?'
'Oh I will do that; and I will remember your lecture every time
that I open the volume.'
'Thank you; but if you can't think a little bit about myself I
don't want you to bother about my lecture. You can feast yourself in
contemplation of your loud and gorgeous friend Mr. Ham.'
They had entered the house: and at the same moment Asters father and
Mr. Ham came in. It was quite plain that these two men were
confidential friends; for as they entered the room the host had his
arm within that of his guest and both were so engrossed in their
subject--talking in a low tone--that they seemed for a time
unconscious of the presence of Aster and Roland. When the host did
raise his head he simply gave a cold bow to Roland; and then bestowed
a sharp glance upon his daughter. Nor was the rudeness of the host to
end here. Turning his back upon Roland he said:
'Mr. Ham and I have been discussing the Marsh and he thinks that I
had better go on with the drainage.'
'It will bring in two years all the money expended in reclaiming
it' put in Mr. Ham. 'Don't you think so Aster?'
'I don't know Mr. Ham; I really know very little about such
matters.' At this juncture Roland's temper was asserting itself under
the slight by the rude parent; so he stepped in among the trio and
looking the girl in the face said:
'You are quite right Aster not to bother your head about bogs and
swamps. Let the men attend to all that.' The father was simply
amazed; and drawing himself up to his full height he frowned upon the
young man. He said nothing however and to break the embarrassing
silence Aster chimed in:
'I suppose that the city girls of your acquaintance never meddle in
such matters; but the truth is papa always consults me about these
'In the city' retorted her father stiffly 'young women have other
concerns; but a girl who is to become a farmer's wife should make the
management of stock and the tillage of the soil serious subjects of
'Most certainly' replied Roland; 'if a girl _is_ to become the
wife of a husbandman the farm should be her great concern. But I was
not aware that Aster had seriously contemplated taking such a step.'
'I presume sir' replied the father his voice quivering with
displeasure' that there are many of my daughter's affairs which she
does not feel bound to disclose to strangers.'
'I had thought that I might congratulate myself as one upon the list
of your daughter's friends. Was I not right Aster?
'I always felt great pleasure Mr. Gray in regarding you as my
friend as one of my most sincere friends. Her colour had risen as
she ended this sentence; and there was a slight tone of defiance in
'A fact of which I was not aware' her father replied with still
'But you should not be too hard upon Aster' put in Mr. Ham. 'Girls
thoughtlessly form friendships. You'll forgive her I know for this
indiscretion.' Aster turned upon him a look of infinite scorn.
'There is one indiscretion at least Mr. Ham for which my father
will never have to pardon me.'
'And what is that pray Aster?'
'For counting you upon my list of friends sir.'