In the following days the air was adrift with rumours about Melrud. Carried by clouds of blind belief, stoked by trends towards malignancy, incredible stories started to circulate. The dog was given a bad name, but he had absconded, thus could not be hanged.
However, not everybody partook in these character assassinations. Some refused to collect stones for the rabble to throw. After all this was Canada in the fifties, where particularly in the west traces of sincerity and stoutheartedness still lingered. Self-willed men, though becoming a rarity fast, were now as then stomping around the wild mountains of British Columbia.
Such a man was Thomas Shark, an eccentric of the West. He had remained impervious to the fickle mores of conventions, a fortress impregnable to this day. He was well known in mining circles as an oddball, but of sterling character. Ten years ago he prospected up and down the Goldstream River, where he discovered the mother lode. Resulting prestige and prosperity did not change him, he went his way as before, because he knew of no other, nor did he wish to find one.
Despite approaching age he had remained fiercely independent, he bore the indelible stamp of a spirit that not so long ago graced the wilds of British Columbia. This incorruptible trailblazer stood up for Melrud, whom he knew. Their path had crossed a few times, and without exception they met and parted on friendly terms. Once they even prospected together without a hitch.
Shark found out about Melrud’s troubles. Saddling one horse, loading the other with gear and provisions, he went on the trail leading to town. Arriving there he read the local newspaper. The write-up about Melrud hit his eyes and raised his ire. It was grossly unfair, and mendacious besides. Giving it not a second thought he marched in a beeline to the local press. Tying both horses to a nearby tree, he entered the premises. He knew the editor with whom he had crossed swords more often than once. Stepping over the threshold he hollered:
“Come on out, Brent, I have something to say.”
Brent Howard, the editor, had little use for this antediluvian, as he called him. That’s why he hesitated to make a move. Shark was in no mood to shilly-shally; he thundered:
“Show yourself, my man, let me look in your false eyes, and show me the hand that writes such tripe.”
The editor knew from experience that ignoring Shark was not an option. A row would ensue, upsetting everyone for the rest of the day.
“I wish the great Fiend would carry that fellow off,” he expelled under his breath as Shark stepped into his office.
“What do you want?” he snapped.
“A retraction,” Shark bellowed.
“Retraction of what?”
“That calumnious article about the Swede.”
“Yes, him. I want you to repudiate it.”
Howard made a wry face. Glancing at his typesetter, who was unable to suppress a smirk, he advised firmly:
“I will do no such thing.”
Shark pulled out a sheet of paper from somewhere which bore his handwriting.
“Alright then, print this in the next issue, it’s the truth. I want to see it on the first page,” Shark commanded.
The editor creased his forehead visibly annoyed, yet he took the proffered sheet and read it.
“Hm, hm,” he murmured, and read it again, hoping to find something objectionable.
He was no stranger to Shark’s high-flown style of expression, which left no doubts about his intentions. Howard was a fair man, certainly not vindictive.
“I will print it,” he acquiesced, “but not on the first page.”
They haggled a while, and what a demonstration that was. Shark shook the tree of righteous wrath, which was a treat to see. He stomped back and forth, cutting the air with one or the other hand, while berating the editor, who pretended to hear and see none of it. But if the truth had been known, he felt relieved, for it eased his conscience. Condemning Melrud to satisfy a perceived loathing by the public, had made him feel guilty. A rebuttal should balance the scale. They agreed to have the article, a letter really, to appear on the second page.
Odour of Rectitude