CAPTAIN POTT'S MINISTER By FRANCIS L. COOPER
Illustrated By JOHN GOSS
BOSTON LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.
Copyright, 1922, By Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co. All Rights Reserved Captain Pott's Minister
Printed in U. S. A. Norwood Press BERWICK & SMITH CO. Norwood, Mass.
FACING PAGE "Then, let me hear you say you love me!" (page 335) Frontispiece "Now, see here, Beth, there ain't no use of your pretending to me." 146 "There ain't money enough in the world to make me do that." 242 Miss Pipkin had been disturbed by the noise. 262
CAPTAIN POTT'S MINISTER
The sound of voices suddenly arrested Captain Pott's fork in mid-air, and the morsel of untasted salt-mackerel dangled uncertainly from the points of the dingy tines as he swung about to face the open door. Fork and mackerel fell to the floor as the seaman abruptly rose and stalked outside. The stern features of the rugged old face sagged with astonishment as he blinked at the small army of men swarming over his littered yard.
"'Mornin', Cap'n," cheerily called Hank Simpson, the village storekeeper, as he approached the irate man on the stoop.
Captain Pott was so completely jarred out of his usual complacency that for once he had nothing to say. He forgot even to swear. As the significance of the movements of the intruders suddenly dawned upon him he mutely glared at Hank from beneath blackened and swollen eyelids.
"The women-folks said that you'd be wantin' to make your place look peart, bein' as the new minister is goin' to stay here with you," explained Hank, who was apparently the leader of the group. "When we men-folks heard that they was goin' to clean up on the inside we thought it wouldn't be no more than neighborly for us to pitch in and give you a hand with the outside."
It was evident that the Captain did not relish the explanation, for he bristled with dangerous hostility as he took a step forward. But before he could refer Hank Simpson and his entire male army to a certain warm climate where he thought they might go with mutual advantage to himself and them, the morning breeze carried within earshot another note, higher in the scale, but unmistakable in significance. Silently the old man stood and dumbly watched a procession of petticoats march up to his gate and turn into the cinder path.
The female army took possession of the house even as the men had taken possession of the yard, and he who had commanded mutinous crews on the briny deep fled and took refuge in the shade of a spreading elm near the well. Mrs. Eadie Beaver, the Captain's next-door neighbor, approached him, requested that he pitch in and help, and then as quickly beat a retreat before the fierce glare. Hank Simpson once asked where they might burn the accumulated trash. The answer was unsatisfactory though forceful. Hank declared, "Them instructions is wuth a heap, Cap'n, but unless you've got a trap-door to them parts hereabout, I reckon we'll have to do the crematin' some other way."
All the shutters on the old house were thrown wide open, and sunshine and air were allowed to penetrate corners where dust and cobwebs had held undisputed sway for years. Through the open windows came the sound of tack-hammer and puller, the moving of tables, sideboards, and chairs, and of every other article of furniture that was not actually built into the walls. From his place beneath the elm the Captain heard all these sounds, and watched his old pieces being piled in a confused mass about the front yard. He was smoking incessantly, and swearing no less frequently.
From up the road came the sharp thud of beating hoofs. As horse and rider came into view he deliberately turned in the opposite direction. At the gate the rider drew rein and swung lithely to the ground. Many young admirers gathered quickly about the hitching-post, but the girl was too swift for them. With a friendly nod and smile she tossed her reins to a bashful youngster, and tripped up the path to where the seaman was standing.
The daughter of the senior Elder of the Little River church had always been fond of Captain Pott. When but an infant she had looked up into the clear blue eyes, adoration and love in her own. During childhood she had sat contentedly on his knee, or on a stool at his feet, listening with rapt interest to his stories of adventure by land and sea. The Captain had never been able to spin the wild yarns commonly known to be his habit when Elizabeth Fox was his only audience. This was not due to any fear that she would have detected fraud in his impossible tales, but to the fact that he could not lie when the gaze of her big blue eyes was fastened on him.
To-day she edged near and waited for recognition. Locks of her fair hair, shaken loose by her ride, went straying bewitchingly over her face and forehead. The smile in her eyes crept down to the corners of her mouth as she sought the averted face above her. But all she could glimpse were violent motions of one ragged point of his moustache as it kept imperfect time with the unseen end which was being viciously chewed.
At length, the irresistible little attraction at his side proved too strong for the Captain's stubbornness, and he looked down into her big blue eyes. At sight of his own blackened and swollen lids Elizabeth uttered a sharp cry. She took the roughened hand in hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. But her deep concern was quickly followed by a ripple of laughter. Hers was a laugh that was as good to see as to hear. The Captain smiled a wholly unintentional smile and returned the pressure of her hand.
"Dear me, Uncle Josiah!" she exclaimed. "You look so like a terrible old storm-cloud! And those awful eyes! Where on earth did you get them?"
"Cal'late I feel a heap sight worse than I look, Beth. That set of females——"
"But your black eyes!" she interrupted. "Who made them like that? Has some one been fighting you?"
"A feller handed 'em out to me last night, and I didn't happen to be in a position to refuse 'em," he replied, his grisly weather-browned features lighting up with a wry smile.
"Who dared strike you like that!"
"Now, don't you worry, Beth. It ain't as bad as it looks. You see, I was on my way over from the station last night from the late city train. When I got to the top of the hill I sot down for a spell, and while I was thinking, I looked down on my place. I see a light in the pantry window flicker up, die down, and then settle into a steady glow. I cal'lated it must be pirates aboard the old craft, so I tore down the hill like blazes and busted into the house. Something struck me like a ton of brick, and I went down. I never see so many stars in all my life. The next thing I heard was a voice asking if I was hurt, and saying, 'You'll pardon me, sir.'" He chuckled with his first sign of mirth. "When I got my senses back there was a big feller sitting on me, nearly choking off my wind. He brung out one of them lightning-bug flashlights and turned it full on me, and then shouted like a maniac, 'Why, it's Cap'n Pott!' 'That's me, but who in hell be you?' I'm telling you just as I said it. He told me his name was Mack McGowan. Well, I was real glad to see him till he told me he was the new preacher and was going to live with me. Eadie Beaver had put him up in my house a week ago. I was mad as hops when he told me that, and I was going to throw him out, but,"—again he chuckled,—"well, I didn't."
"You thought caution was the better part of valor, is that it?" questioned Elizabeth.
"Something like that, Beth. I cal'late we'd best say nothing to a soul about this. There'd be some who wouldn't understand the details of the transaction. It was sort of confidential, as you might say, and there'd be them who'd blame Mr. McGowan for what he wa'n't exactly responsible for."
"Oh! Can't I tell it? It's really too good to keep. And then," she added seriously, "people might think you have been really fighting. Don't you think it would be best to tell what actually happened?"
"Mighty little any of them would care how I got my shine. But I cal'late it would be best for the parson if we'd keep it quiet."
"Very well, Uncle Josiah. He is really going to live with you, isn't he?"
"Don't that look like it?" he asked, pointing his pipe-stem toward the house.
"But that is for you, too."
"For me? You'd see that set of females getting down on their prayer-bones for an old sinner like me, except to ask God A'mighty to strike me dead. I ain't that popular, not yet."
"Captain Pott, I don't like that one bit! I canceled all my engagements in the city when Father told me the other day what the ladies of the church were planning to do for you. I did it just to help you, and now——"
"There, there, Beth." The old man reached out and touched her arm. "Excuse me, Beth. I feel like a cantankerous old sore-headed bear this morning. Of course, you come home to help me. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."
"They mean well, too," she loyally defended her neighbors.
"It was awful nice of you," he replied, ignoring her reference to those at work in the house. "It's worth it to put up with that whole pack inside just to have you come."
"There, now, I have my good old Uncle back again." She had always called him Uncle. "But tell me, why do you feel so badly?"
"About them in there?" He jerked his thumb toward the house.
"No-o. I think I can understand your feelings about them. I feel the same way sometimes. If I were the minister it would take all of my religion during the week so I'd have nothing to preach on Sunday. But, there! Father must never hear of my saying that."
"He ain't likely to hear it from me."
"Have you quarreled with Father again?" She stared apprehensively.
Denial sprang to the Captain's lips, but when he looked into her eyes and saw there the expression of eagerness, he turned away.
"You have!" she averred. "I thought so! And after Father was so kind as to let you have the money to repair and paint your house!"
"Beth, we ain't exactly quarreled. Leastwise, he ain't," he finished lamely.
"Uncle Josiah, why will you and Father never understand each other? Father is so kind and good, and so are you, and yet you are never able to agree. Why is it?" she implored.
"Too much alike, I cal'late. But honest, Beth, I ain't got nothing particular against your father, and if I had I'd sink my feelings to Davy's locker for your sake. The trouble is, I've been expecting too much, and I ain't got any right to ask your father to put himself out for an old hulk like me."
"What sheer nonsense! I've half a mind to scold you. Of course, Father is willing to put himself out for you. Only this morning he said he would do all in his power to get a ship for you to command."
"He's said something like that to me, too, several times."
"Then he'll do it, if you will only be patient. Father always keeps his word."
"You ain't seen the new parson yet, have you?" asked the seaman, anxious to change a dangerous subject.
"How could I, when I've just reached home? Father tells me he is a real Prince Charming," she finished, with a wicked little laugh.
"Is he, really, Uncle Josiah?"
"He ain't so bad on looks, if that's what you're driving at."
"Father says he must be very strong, too."
"I cal'late he ain't lacking on that p'int, neither," agreed the Captain, blinking his swollen eyelids.
Elizabeth laughed heartily.
"Oh! By the way, what did you and your handsome minister do to Father last night?"
"Is your pa ailing, too?"
"He says he is quite lame, and when I asked him what the matter was, he only smiled, and told me to find out from you. Did your minister take him for a burglar, too?"
"Is that all your father said about it?"
"Yes, except that it was his own fault."
Captain Pott chuckled. "I feared he wa'n't going to see it that way last night. Eadie Beaver put the parson in here while I was in the city on a special trip. She came over the day I left last week, and said it would be real nice if he could live with me and eat with her. I told her I'd see about shipping a parson in my house, meaning I'd have nothing to do with him. Well, she went ahead and bunked him here, thinking I'd meant it was all right. It 'pears she done it against your father's ideas, too. So he come over last night and tried to get Mr. McGowan to move out. That made me madder than what Eadie had done, so I asked him right then if he was willing to stay. He said he was. Your pa got sore, and started real dignified to go home. The candle that Mr. McGowan had been using was on the floor, and your pa's heel hit it. His cane went up and he went down. His high hat took a swim in a bucket of soapy water that the parson had been using to swab decks with."
"Father is so very dignified! It must have been quite funny," she commented, between paroxysms of laughter. "I wish I could have seen him!"
"'Twas a mite funny. I fished his beaver out the pail, and he made off holding it away from him like it was p'ison."
Sudden seriousness on the part of the girl caused the Captain to look in the direction of her gaze. A tall young man had emerged from the back door of the house, pail in hand. He came hurriedly toward the well.
"That's him," confirmed the seaman in answer to a look from Elizabeth.
"He? A minister?"
"You see now why I wa'n't strong enough to throw him out, don't you? I cal'late Eadie Beaver would say the Lord took my strength away, but the Lord don't need to give that feller a hand. He's a hull host to himself."
"He doesn't look in the least like one," declared Elizabeth.
"He doesn't? Why, his arm is as big——"
"No, no! I mean he doesn't look like a minister."
"He ain't like none I ever see. He used to ship with me during the summer months when he was in school, and he's man clean to the ground. I can't see why in tarnation a big feller like him wants to take up such a sissy's job of piloting a lot of women to heaven."
"But it isn't that kind of work, unless one makes it such," she defended.
Mr. McGowan came to a halt on the opposite edge of the well-curbing. It was very unladylike, and Elizabeth knew it, but in spite of herself she continued to stare.
"Let me interduce you," suggested the Captain.
"Thank you, I'd better run along and help those in the house."
But she failed to suit the action to the word, and for the simple reason that the gaze of two perfectly normal young people became normally entangled. At length, a flood of color crept slowly into the girl's cheeks, and she smiled.
"I—I beg your pardon for——" began the minister.
"Here, young feller," cut in the Captain as Mr. McGowan turned away, "I want to interduce you to my best friend, Miss Elizabeth Fox. This here is the new minister, Beth, Mack McGowan."
Elizabeth cordially extended her hand. "I've been hearing very interesting stories about your prowess, Mr. McGowan."
"I trust they are true."
"Indeed, they are. Captain Pott told me."
"I did make quite an impression on him," replied Mr. McGowan as he looked at the seaman's swollen eyelids. "I fear you've heard prejudiced accounts of me."
"I don't like them that way one bit," laughed Elizabeth, "even if a clergyman did do it."
"See here! I ain't going to stand this insinuating any longer," interposed the Captain, his good humor fully restored. "I cal'late they might want a hand to help swab decks, so I'll be going."
"But, Uncle Josiah,——"
"I know, Beth. I've been unpleasant, but being as you have come from the city to help me clean up the old craft, I'd otter show my appreciation by bossing the crew."
He seized the pail from the not unwilling minister, filled it from the well-bucket, and went to the kitchen to report for duty.
"Do you think you'll like Little River well enough to wish to remain?" asked Elizabeth.
"Yes, I think I shall. Mr. Simpson has been telling me about your brother, and about his far-sightedness in organizing the Athletic Club."
"Did Mr. Simpson tell you how the club came to be formed in the first place?"
"No, but I think it a splendid idea. I hope the boys will let me be one of them."
She eyed him curiously. "Father sees no good in the organization. I do. Most of the boys are Harold's friends,—Harold is my brother,—but there are some who are not friendly to any one except the Innkeeper. I think you ought to know that the decent ones were one time in the Sunday school, but because some of your church members would not try to understand them, they were forced to go to the Inn to set up their gymnasium."
"Isn't the Inn as good a place as any?"
"I prefer not to say. You'll doubtless find that out for yourself."
"That is one thing I intend to find out. I've an invitation to visit the rooms."
"Indeed, so soon? And do you really mean to go?"
"Certainly. Why not?"
"I suppose there is no reason why you should not. But——" she paused.
"I've heard that sort of statement several times to-day, and invariably with the little 'but' at the end. I'm curious to know why my presence at the Inn will cause any disturbance. Is that the inference?"
"Other ministers have tried to get hold of the boys, but they went at it wrong, and failed," she said.
"I'll try to go at the matter from the right end," he replied, smiling.
"Will you go if you find yourself opposed?"
"I think I can interest the boys sufficiently to overcome any opposition from the Innkeeper, if that is what you mean."
"What if the opposition comes from other sources?"
"From the members of the church?"
"Why should they interfere with me?"
"But suppose they do?"
"I'll go, anyway," he answered decidedly.
"I'm glad to hear you say that, and I trust you will be able to help the members of the club," she said quietly. "But, there! I really must be going. The ladies will think I have deserted them."
Elizabeth smiled, and the minister followed the smile down from her eyes to the corners of her mouth. He made the mental observation that he had never seen a more beautiful face. As she ran lightly up the path, he watched her, unmindful of several pairs of observing eyes focused knowingly in his direction.
When the day was over, and the furniture restored where the greater part belonged, the "Cleaning Bee" gradually broke up. Captain Pott declared to Elizabeth: "It wa'n't half so bad a day as I cal'lated it would be, and it's many a year since the old craft has looked so neat and togged up."
That evening the Captain sat on his back doorstep, smoking his pipe, and thinking. He thought about the transformation wrought by the hand of women inside the house. He heaved a sigh, and thought of Clemmie Pipkin. If she were only able to forget all the past and consent to his oft-repeated proposal, but——He had thought that all out before, and had brought all his persuasive powers against the citadel of her heart, but to no avail. A new light dawned upon him. Perhaps——
Mr. McGowan came round the corner of the house. The Captain rose to meet him.
"Mack, how'd you like to go out to the Jennie P. with me? That's the name of my power-boat out there in the harbor. I thought it might be sort of restful to take a little cruise after this house-cleaning typhoon."
"That's a splendid idea, Cap'n. It will seem like old times to get aboard a vessel with you, though it is only a power-boat."
"And, Mack, if there's any time I can step in and help you pilot the salvation craft you've signed up with, just you let me know. It ain't likely I'll be much good to you, but——"
The two men gripped hands. Little did they know that night as they peacefully sailed round the inlet just what the future was to demand in the way of a fulfilment of that promise.
During the following weeks Mr. McGowan continued to grow in favor with the people of the church and village. Every Sunday the little chapel was crowded. His sermons, practical in thought, simple in language, and direct in delivery, were discussed about the tables of the country folk during Sunday dinner. The boys of the Athletic Club had received him cordially, not only because of his athletic ability, but because he had proved himself a good fellow. Elder Fox had strenuously opposed intimate relationships between the club and former ministers, but he made no attempt to interfere with Mr. McGowan, although he remained skeptical as to the wisdom of such secular tendencies. Sim Hicks, the keeper of the Inn, did not like the minister, and declared he would oust him from the community if it were the last act of his life.
The one man who responded most naturally, whole-heartedly, and with simple loyalty to the power of the young man's personality was Captain Josiah Pott. These two became close companions, and one evening Mrs. Eadie Beaver remarked concerning it:
"Ain't you glad I got him in with you, Josiah?"
"Cal'late I am, Eadie. I was mad at first, but it's beginning to mean a heap to me to have him here."
"You always seemed so lonely when you'd come home, and I'd see your light in the setting-room window. It don't seem that way now when I look across."
"It is real nice and homelike having him in the house."
"I'm glad it's different for you," declared his next-door neighbor as she looked about the room. "Things look real trim since the painters got through."
The seaman's face clouded. "It took a sight more than I thought it would, though, and it ain't going to be easy to pay back to Jim what I borrowed to do the repairing with."
"Now, don't you go to crossing any bridges till you get to 'em. The Lord will provide when the time comes."
"Cal'late He might, but I've always noticed that it's safer to help Him a mite on the perviding question."
"Well, ain't you helping? You're doing the janitor work at the church, and that helps some. And, then, you'll get a ship one of these days, mark my word. Mr. Fox said as much to Harry just the other day."
"I ain't so sure of that, Eadie," remarked the Captain doubtfully. It was reasonably clear to his mind that the Elder had a fish to fry in thus starting reports of his willingness to secure a command for the Captain, and it was also reasonably clear that sooner or later he would catch a whiff of the frying fat which would indicate the breed of that fish. Till then, the Captain must be content to wait.
"By the way, Josiah, have you heard that the day has been all set for the installation service?" asked Mrs. Beaver. "Mr. Fox is arranging it, and it's going to be a great time."
"What are they aiming to do?"
"Why, don't you know? An installation service is a meeting where all the ministers of other towns come in and say nice things about our minister. Elder Fox says this one will be a special one, because some one has said that Mr. McGowan ain't sound in church doctrine, being as he graduated from what is called a 'New Theology' school. Mr. Fox says he's going to prove that ain't so."
"What's all that got to do with him being a man?"
"I guess it ain't got much to do with that. But you know there is a difference between being just a man and being a real minister."
The Captain looked at her oddly. "And they're planning to change him from one to the other, is that the idea?"
"No-o, not that exactly. But Mr. Fox thinks it would be a good time to show all the people that Mr. McGowan is orthodox. There will be ministers here from everywhere. The Reverend Mr. Means is coming out from New York."
"If they're all like that feller, they'll be a hot lot."
"Josiah Pott! Haven't you any respect for the cloth?"
"Not for the kind he wears, I ain't. I'd say his cloth is a sort of sheep's clothing, same as the Bible speaks of."
"If you can't talk decent I sha'n't stay," said Mrs. Beaver. She bridled past him, and on into her own yard.
What Mrs. Beaver had said concerning plans for the installation service was true. Elder Fox was carrying the full responsibility, for he wished to make this meeting one long to be remembered. He selected with great care those who were to sit on the council. The Reverend Mr. Means had been chosen for two reasons, first that he was a personal friend of the Elder, and second because his presence would add dignity to the occasion. It was even arranged that the city clergyman should be made moderator.
The eventful day arrived, and with it dignitaries of city and countryside. It was a fearfully hot humid day in July, one of those days when to move about was torment, and to work was torture. Not a breath of air stirred. The clergymen were plainly enervated as they descended from the various vehicles which had conveyed them over from Little River. The Reverend Mr. Means mopped his face as the chauffeur assisted him from the Elder's limousine. He greeted every one with deep sonorous tones. His manner was graciously condescending, but never once familiar. He made his way up the steps of the chapel with what was evidently meant for a majestic stride, but his heavy frame turned it into a decided waddle. He shook hands with a chosen few, all the while looking far above their heads as though his vision were not of this world.
The Captain watched the clergyman till he had disappeared behind the vestibule doors, and then remarked to Mrs. Beaver, "Them kind ain't hard to sight. I could sight that feller a mile in the offin', on a dark night, with my eyes shut! If Mack McGowan was that kind, he'd get to stay here about twenty-four hours, and then he'd smell fire and brimstone."
Mrs. Beaver surprised the seaman with a wry smile and vigorous nod.
Mr. McGowan arrived in due season under tow of the Elder. Mr. Fox led him before the clergyman from the city, who was lounging near an open window in the front of the auditorium.
"How do you do, Brother Fox!" boomed the deep voice of Mr. Means. "And is this the fortunate young man who has been called to this delightful little town?"
"Yes, this is Mr. McGowan. Mr. McGowan, this is the Reverend Mr. Means from New York City."
The studied dignity of the visiting clergyman seemed to receive a decided shock as he rolled up out of his chair. He stood before the candidate to whom the Elder had introduced him and forgot to look at the ceiling. He had been caught off his guard, and through the momentary look of recognition there flitted across his flabby features an expression that was far from ecclesiastical. But it was gone as quickly as it had come, and the Reverend Mr. Means was once more his complacent unperturbed self.
"Ho! So this is our candidate? So!" he exploded. "I am glad, Mr. McGowan, to shake your hand, and perhaps we'd better do it now, for we might not so desire when the grilling is over. So!" He laughed vociferously at his rude joke, and offered his fish-like palm.
"I'm glad to see you again," lied the candidate, cheerfully.
"Again?" echoed the man, his mirth suddenly controlled by well-feigned astonishment. "Again?"
"Have you so soon forgotten how strongly you opposed me last year when I was up before the New York Presbytery for ordination?"
"So? Really so? Ah! Yes. I do remember, now that you call it to mind. That probably accounts for the familiarity of your face. But I did not oppose you for personal reasons, I assure you. It was because of your radical theological beliefs. I do not allow personal reasons to enter into my religious activities."
"But why should you have personal reasons for not wishing to see me ordained?"
"Just so! Just so! I did not mean to say I had any. But, as you doubtless remember, my brethren overruled my objections, and although I greatly regret the theological laxity of our Presbytery, I am willing to abide by the decision of the majority. So!"
He dismissed the two men with a wide gesture, and dropped back into his chair. When Mr. Fox and his charge were out of sight, Mr. Means motioned to Mr. Harry Beaver. He whispered in the little man's ear, and indicated the groups of ministers gathered here and there about the room.
Harry Beaver had the misfortune to stutter, and in his eagerness to make himself understood he would support himself, stork-like, on one leg, and pump the other up and down with frantic jerks. Mr. Beaver's services were invaluable in such cases as this when gossip was to be repeated, for his stuttering compelled him to leave just enough unsaid to make his news the more startling. He was seen slowly pumping his way from group to group, and there followed in his wake the buzz of low whisperings.
When Elder Fox later saw these signs, he was greatly perturbed. He went directly to the Reverend Mr. Means and demanded particulars. On hearing what the clergymen had to say, the Elder declared that this was neither the time nor the place to air theological differences. The city clergyman leaned forward to whisper a further explanation, but was interrupted by Mr. Beaver, who announced that he had finished his task. Mr. Means looked at his watch, declared it was time to open the session, and rapped sharply for order.
Minor matters of business were quickly dispatched, and Mr. Means—according to the prearranged plan—was duly elected moderator.
"Brethren and sisters," he roared in his most effective tones, "we now come to the most important, and, I hope, the most delightful part of this program. We are to be favored with a statement from the Reverend Mr. McGowan, who is the candidate for installation as pastor of this very beautiful church. The members of the council will be given an opportunity to question Mr. McGowan after he has read to us his statement. A word of caution needs to be uttered: you are to confine your questions to theological matters as they may affect the fellowship of the ministers and churches represented to-day by pastor and delegate. Mr. McGowan will please come forward."
Mr. McGowan came forward in more ways than one. He concisely stated his belief in applied Christianity, and followed with a program for future work in the village. His short statement left the council under the spell of an embarrassed silence. But the first question broke the silence, and was followed by others both new and old, which were hurled at the head of the candidate like shots from a rapid-fire gun.
Captain Pott stood the fusillade as long as his patience permitted, and then retreated to the quiet of the out-of-doors, where he dragged a box into the shade of the building, and lit his pipe. Here Elizabeth Fox found him, when she, too, felt the need of a little fresh air.
"Uncle Josiah, did you ever hear anything so ridiculous? Why did you come out here?"
"I felt sort as if I was coming up into a reg'lar twister, and thought it would be safer to reef a mite and make for ca'm waters. My head begun to whirl, and I cal'lated I'd best weigh anchor while my soundings was good."
"But isn't it bad form for you to desert like this?" she asked, her big eyes dancing mischievously.
"I ain't exactly deserting, I cal'late. If I'd been able to pitch into that crew and shake the devil out of 'em, I'd stayed on deck. But——"
"I want you to go back with me. It's getting too funny to miss!"
"I ain't got much hankering for them officers' meeting, Beth. It makes me feel like busting chairs on their heads."
"But you must go back! You should hear what he is saying to them. Come!"
Before the seaman could obey the summons, Miss Edna Splinter emerged from the rear door. She hurried toward the two. Miss Splinter was one of those fine spinsters which one so often finds stranded in small villages located near large cities. She was one of the few friends of the Captain in Little River.
"It's the most disgusting thing I ever saw or heard!" declared Miss Splinter, angrily stamping her foot.
"It's really too funny for words!" exclaimed Elizabeth.
"What in tarnation is he doing to them?"
"Doing to them!" flashed Miss Splinter indignantly. "My word! It's what they're trying to do to him. It is positively disgraceful."
The seaman decided that a scene which could have such opposite effects on two of his best friends must at least be interesting. He knocked the tobacco from his pipe and followed them inside. As he listened, his interest grew, not so much in the ecclesiastical storm of big words, as in the wildly gesticulating clergymen. The moderator had risen and was rapping loudly for order.
"Brethren!" he thundered. "It is time that we recognize some of our laymen. I see Mr. Harry Beaver of this church asking for the floor. Mr. Beaver may speak."
"M-Mr. Ch-chairman, does M-Mr. Mc-McGowan b-believe in e-ev——"
The unfortunate man blinked, backed, pumped, emitted a series of hissing sounds like escaping steam, but remained hopelessly stuck. Those round him dodged his foot gestures, and smiled appreciatively, while those not engaged in trying to escape mutilation of corns, encouragingly suggested words such as everlasting, everpresent, etc., which might have bearing on the subject previously under discussion. The little man spurned them all with vigorous backings and increased hissings. At last, between a discouraged hiss and a triumphant sputter, the awful word rolled out.
"Evolution!" he shouted, and sat down.
After the laughter had subsided, the moderator demanded that the candidate answer the question.
"Yes, Mr. Moderator."
Mr. Means was on his feet in an incredibly short time for one so bulky. "Then, you deny here in the face of these wise men, as you did before your superiors in the New York Presbytery, the creation story of the Bible?"
"I did not deny it then, and I do not deny it now."
"Brethren, we have the right to an explanation from our young brother. I was denied that privilege at the time of his ordination. But I consider his contradictory statements so serious a thing that I shall give you the opportunity that was denied me."
Elder Fox, plainly nettled by the turn affairs had taken, rose and demanded the floor.
"Brother Fox!" vociferously acknowledged the moderator.
"We have no right to carry this senseless discussion further. There has not yet been sounded—er—the note of fellowship that should prevail among the brethren," declared the Elder, eyeing the chairman. Very gently stroking his side-whiskers, he continued: "We have sprung at our young friend—er—as if he were before a jury, condemned and found guilty of a felony. Why should we trouble him about things that are not fundamental to our faith?"
Captain Pott muttered something under his breath. Never before had he known of the Elder and the city minister disagreeing.
"That is the very question," expostulated the moderator. "Mr. McGowan has attacked every sacred doctrine of the church, for he has said what is equivalent to the statement that my ancestors were monkeys. What other interpretation can be given to the doctrine of evolution? If it does not contradict every sacred belief of our past, then I am no theologian."
The old seaman chuckled, and several shocked faces were turned in his direction.
"Perhaps it would help if Mr. McGowan would tell us just what he does believe in regard to the book of Genesis," suggested Mr. Fox.
"It is the story of human redemption."
With a nod of satisfied approval, the Elder sat down, and the moderator crumpled up.
Captain Pott irreverently observed to Elizabeth: "I cal'late that there Means is left for once with his sails flopping, without no idea as to what his longitude is."
A little wizened-looking man smiled cordially and addressed the chair, but the "chair" seemed oblivious to all about him.
"Should not the ministry of to-day place greater emphasis on the philosophy of life than upon time-worn theology that has come to us from the middle ages?" asked the man.
"We should preach both where they affect life; neither where they do not," was the quick response.
"I am an instructor in philosophy in the high school over at Marble Point, and I was led by your last reply concerning your belief in the book of Genesis to believe you are somewhat of a philosopher. Do you not think that philosophy will touch life more quickly than theology?"
"Religion is something that has outgrown both the classroom and the cloister. It is the anonymous religion that we must take into account in the future if the church is to progress with the needs of men."
It was the voice of the Captain who broke the silence of surprise which followed the unusual statement.
"I want to know!" came the seaman's exclamation in a hoarse stage whisper.
Every face in the room seemed to register the same question. Mr. McGowan smiled and explained.
"By anonymous religion I mean every ideal striving for the right and truth, wherever it is found, and by whatever name it may be known. It may be found outside the church as readily as within it. Wherever good is found, the church should make use of it, whether it is counted orthodox or not."
First one, and then another, was on his feet, till the moderator was powerless to moderate. Some exclaimed for, and others declaimed against, the candidate. Still others fired broadside after broadside into all present.
"It ain't much like a heavenly craft, that there ark, now, is it?" queried the Captain of his two friends. "Smells more like brimstone round these parts than it does like heavenly ozone."
Mr. Fox assumed command, and under his steady hand and head the spiritual elements began slowly to calm.
"In all my life," he lamented, "I have never seen such proceedings in the house of God. The parish committee arranged this meeting—er—for the purpose of fellowship, and you have seen fit to make of it child's play. It is time for us to recognize that Mr. McGowan is big enough, and broad enough, to supply the needs of a community like this. The very fact that he has not satisfied each of your unreasonable demands is evidence that he is competent to meet all of them, if we give him time. I make the motion—er,—Mr. Moderator, that we proceed with the installation of the candidate without further delay or discussion."
The motion was seconded, and put to a vote. There were only a few who had the temerity to register themselves as negative in the face of what the leading layman had said. Elder Fox suggested that the vote be made unanimous.
"Brethren," protested the Reverend Mr. Means, slowly rising from the depths of the easy chair, "before that vote is taken to make the will of this council unanimous, I wish to have it fully understood that I am opposed, bitterly opposed, to the calling of unorthodox men to our pulpits. It is atrocious, and I shall wash my hands of the whole affair. I regret very much that our beloved Brother Fox has forced me to disagree with him, and if he is of the same opinion still, I shall have to ask him to take the chair while the vote he has called for is being registered."
Mr. Fox took the chair, and the motion passed without one dissenting voice. Adjournment to the kitchen parlors followed, and when that vote was taken the voice of him who had washed his hands of the action of the council was heard booming an affirmative near the Captain's ear.
The bounteous provisions warmed heart and stomach, and that fact, together with some persuasion from Elder Fox, led the city minister to the decision that he would lose nothing if he remained to deliver his prepared address. And he did himself proudly. Even Captain Pott could find no fault with the impassioned words of the speaker. He was heard to remark, however, "Them there things he said wa'n't what was inside by a damn sight, but just smeared on like honey."
It was late that night when the Captain reached home after closing the church building. The minister was in his study, and the old man tapped lightly on the door.
"Won't be disturbing your peaceful meditations about that meeting if I come in for a spell, will I?"
Assured he would not, he entered. He took a chair on the opposite side of the table and drew out his pipe.
"There ain't no wind so fierce that it don't blow you some good," he philosophized, as with deliberation he scratched a match on his trouser-leg. "I'd never hoped to see Jim Fox stand up to that city feller the way he did."
"What did you think of the whole thing, anyway, Cap'n?"
"Well, so far as I could get the drift, I'd think that there theology stuff would be purty dry picking. But it was mighty interesting the way you met up with 'em at every p'int. I was real 'feared that Jim Fox would get aboard their band-wagon when he see the way things was going against you."
The minister nodded.
"And the way the Means feller washed his hands! Wa'n't that good as a show, and then getting up and preaching like Gabriel afterward? Mack, you ain't got no idea what he made me think of, have you?"
"Not in the least. What?"
"I heard a preacher tell a yarn once about a pilot washing his hands in hell. It struck me queer about there being a river in hell. If it's as hot down there as I've heard it described, you'd think the surroundings would sizzle her up. But that's what the preacher said about this pilot, whose last name I rec'lect was Pontyhouse. His stay was to be purty tolerable long with his Satanic majesty. I've always felt sorry for that chap, seemed kind of lonely, but as I figger it out he's going to have company one of these hot days."
Mr. McGowan looked up.
"You just bet he is. I knew that Means chap afore he took to religion, and if he's slated for heavenly bliss I'm going to put in my papers for the other place, alongside the scrubbing pilot."
"I mean that one of us is going to keep that feller company in hell. Beyond that you'll have to guess," said the Captain, rising. "Only don't you tie too tight to Means, that's all. Good night, I'm going to turn in."
"All right, Cap'n, I'll promise," replied Mr. McGowan, smiling appreciatively.
"You'd best go to bed, too, Mack. You're mighty tired."
But the minister did not follow his friend's advice about retiring. He sat at his desk. The angry men of the afternoon slowly faded from his thoughts, and into the center of his consciousness came the vision of the loveliest face he had ever seen. He recalled the words of frank approval with which Miss Fox had met him after the evening service, and the cordial manner she had shown. Not that he was in love with one of the members of his church. That would never do. But there was something different about the Elder's daughter, something which appealed to his sense of the beautiful. This, he told himself, he could enjoy without overstepping the conventions.
The next day he was to dine at the Fox home.
On the following evening, just as early as the rules of propriety would permit, Mr. McGowan turned into the private road that led up to the Fox estate. He walked slowly along the wide avenue beneath the spreading elms and stately chestnuts. He had dined with the Elder many times during the few months he had been in the village, but on those other occasions Elizabeth had been absent. The house had always seemed cold and forbidding both outside and inside. As he came out of the shaded roadway into the sweeping semicircle described before the main entrance to the house, he caught himself wondering if the stiff interior would seem softened by the presence of the girl. He began at once to chide himself for entertaining such a sentimental notion, but before he could finish the rebuke the door swung back, and Elizabeth Fox stood in the opening. She was dressed in a simple blue frock of clinging stuff, which set off the perfect lines of her athletic body. The blue of her eyes took on a deeper hue as though to harmonize with the shade of her gown.
"Good evening, Mr. McGowan. We are so glad you could come. Father will be right down."
The minister's emotions played leap-frog with his heart, and he stumbled awkwardly on the upper step. He made some stupidly obvious observation concerning the condition of the weather as he followed his hostess into the library. He realized that he was acting strangely for one who had reached the supposedly practical view of life where all sentiment is barred from social intercourse with the fair sex, but he also realized that he was powerless to check the surge of what he now felt within. With kaleidoscopic rapidity there flashed through his mind every occasion when he had been with Miss Fox, from the first meeting beneath the elm-tree in the Captain's yard to the present time, and he recognized what it was that had sent scurrying his practical views of life. He was in love, not with the beauty of this girl, but with her. That love had come like the opening strains of a grand symphony, subtly and gently disturbing his emotional equilibrium, but with accumulative effect the transitions had come with the passing weeks, till now every interest in his life seemed to be pouring out into the one emotion he felt.
Elizabeth had preceded him into the library, and was standing motionless before the mantel. She became suddenly aware of what was going on within the mind of Mr. McGowan, and a shy embarrassment crept into her eyes.
Simultaneously, an unreasoning determination took possession of the minister. Unconsciously, he began to move in her direction, unmindful of the sound of footfalls on the stair. Only one step remained between Mr. McGowan and Elizabeth when Elder Fox entered the room.
"I trust I'm not intruding——"
The Elder began nervously to stroke his chops. His breath came heavily, shutting off his words. A hunted look leaped into his eyes as he studied the tense face of the eager young man. Could it be possible that the fears of the Reverend Mr. Means—privately made known to the Elder after the installation service—had foundation in fact? Or had the suggestion of Mr. Means lodged in the Elder's mind, playing havoc with his imagination?
Mr. McGowan drew off to the far end of the mantel, and began, figuratively, to kick himself. He had often declared that a man in love was the biggest mule on earth, and now here he was, the king of them all, a genuine descendant of Balaam's mount with all his asinine qualities, but lacking his common mule sense.
"I—I beg your pardon," he stammered.
"There is no occasion for excuses," graciously replied the girl. "Father, Mr. McGowan and I were——" She paused, blushing in confusion. "Really, Mr. McGowan, what were we saying?"
She laughed, and it was so infectious that the men forgot to look serious, and joined with her.
"I should say—er—that you have put the matter in a very diplomatic way," observed the Elder, apparently once more himself. "No explanations are necessary—er—I assure you. I was once a young man, and have not forgotten that fact. I apologize, Mr. McGowan, if by my attitude I appeared—er—to misjudge you. The trouble was with me, not with you. An odd fancy momentarily got the upper hand of me, and upset me for an instant. Make yourself quite at home, sir."
It was not long till they were called to table, and in the discussion of parish matters the strangeness of the Elder's action was for the time being relegated to the background.
"You have doubtless heard a hundred times to-day how proud we all were of the way you answered the questions yesterday," commented the Elder enthusiastically. "You showed a fine spirit, too, sir, one—er—which some of the older men might well emulate."
"I feel greatly indebted to you, Mr. Fox, for the final outcome."
The Elder waved his hand as though lightly to brush aside such words of praise, and yet in the same movement he modestly acknowledged that without his aid the young minister could have done nothing.
"I might also add, that we are delighted with the work you are doing at the church," continued the Elder magnanimously. "It is—er—very good. Though I am still a little dubious about your associations down at the club, still——"
"Father's ambition is to have all the pews filled," broke in Elizabeth, attempting to divert her father from a delicate topic.
"No, my dear. That is hardly my position. There must never be a sacrificing of principle, even for the sake of full pews. A full church—er—is not the most important part of parish work. Am I not right, Mr. McGowan?"
"Quite right, if that is the end sought in itself."
"I am convinced from what you said yesterday that you will furnish us—er—with both. I am confidently looking forward to one of our most prosperous years."
"Both?" queried the minister.
"Yes. I am old-fashioned enough to believe in the need of—er—the saving power of the gospel. Full pews without that would make our church the sounding of brass and the tinkling of cymbal. We must have the old-time power in our churches to-day, Mr. McGowan."
"You think Little River needs reforming, Father?"
"That is exactly the point I make: it is more than reformation we need, it is conversion. Take the Athletic Club, for example. Will reform stop them? No, sir, no more than a straw-stack would stop a tornado. They need—er—a mighty thunderbolt from heaven, and I hope that you will let God use you, sir, as the transmitting agency."
A picture of himself occupying the place of Zeus, holding in his hand the lightnings of heaven, flitted through the minister's mind. He smiled faintly. Elizabeth evidently caught what was in the young man's mind, for she met his glance with a merry twinkle.
"Really, Father, don't you think Mr. McGowan would look out of place as a lightning-rod, even on Little River Church?"
"I was speaking figuratively, my dear," he replied, somewhat crestfallen that his reference should be thus irreverently treated. "The boys in that club are a reckless lot, and they are doing the work—er—of the devil. They must be brought to repentance."
"I don't think that is fair, Father. The church is not wholly without blame for what those boys have done," declared Elizabeth emphatically. "What did we do to keep them from going out and organizing as they have?"
"No doubt we did make mistakes in the beginning, but our errors do not atone for their sins."
"There, Beth, never mind. We can never agree on that point, and we should not entangle Mr. McGowan in our differences. I only hope he will do all in his power to make them see the sinfulness of their ways."
Conversation turned into other channels under the direction of Elizabeth. They were discussing modern fiction when the door at the end of the hall swung back with a bang and a loud halloo echoed through the house. Elizabeth sprang up from her place and ran to the dining-room door just as a tall young man bounded through. He came up erect at sight of the stranger.
"Harold!" cried Elizabeth. "When did you come?"
"Just now. Didn't my war-whoop announce me?"
"But how did you get over from Little River station?"
"Why didn't you telephone? I'd have come over to meet you."
"Needed the exercise. Hello, Dad."
The Elder greeted the young man with a cold nod. His hand trembled slightly as he stiffly extended it.
"We are just a short time at table. Will you join us?"
"Be glad to, Dad. I'm starved," he declared, eyeing the minister as he drew up a chair.
"Oh, Mr. McGowan, please excuse us!" cried Elizabeth. "This is my brother. Harold, this is our new minister, Reverend Mr. McGowan. Harold comes home so seldom that I fear his unexpected arrival demoralized our manners."
"Delighted to meet you, Mr. McGowan," cordially greeted Harold. "Heard of you before I got in sight of the house."
The young men gripped each other's hands. Consternation took possession of the Elder. Had his son fully understood?
"Mr. McGowan is the minister at our little church," he said significantly.
"That's what Beth just said. Didn't I say the right thing to him, Dad? Want me to start all over again like I had to when I was a kid?"
He eyed the minister with a curious expression as they took their seats about the table.
"Maybe Dad wants me to repeat some verses to you. Used to do it and get patted on the head."
Mr. McGowan laughed heartily, but the Elder showed his displeasure.
"That will do, Harold," he commanded sternly. "I shall not allow profane jesting about sacred things in my house."
"Closet next, is it? Never mind, Dad, I'll try not to shock you again. Haven't had much hankering for closets since I got shut up in that hole over in Sydney. They called it a prison, but it was more like a potato-pit than anything else."
"Sydney?" questioned the minister.
"Yes, Australia. You see, Mr. McGowan, I was a real prodigal for more than two years. Chased out to California after I graduated from Yale, and got mixed up out there in another fellow's scrape. To save my skin I shipped on a freighter to Australia. Over there I tried to save another poor devil from the lock-up, and got in bad with the authorities. Yes, I was a real prodigal, always trying to help the other fellow out of trouble and getting the worst end of it every time. The only difference between me and the Bible chap was that Father did not heap treasure on me when I left, and didn't kill the fatted calf when I returned."
During this recital the Elder had fidgeted to the end of his chair. "I cannot see, son, why you persist in telling of your wickedness to everybody. It's a thing rather to be ashamed of."
"I acknowledge that, Dad, but the closet idea suggested it to my mind. Then, perhaps, it's not a bad idea for Mr. McGowan to know the worst side of me first. I spent about a week in that hole they called a prison," he said turning to the minister, "and seven days there couldn't be very easily effaced from my memory unless I went bugs and had an awful lapse. But the result was not so bad, for that place proved to be my swine-pen where I came to myself. It was just about as much like a pig-sty as any place I ever didn't sleep in.... Do you happen to know anything about Sydney, Mr. McGowan?"
"Not much. I know it's quite a trading center, but most of my information is second-hand."
"It is the best trading center on the Australian coast. An odd case came to the office from there last week. You know, perhaps, that I'm a member of the Starr and Jordan law firm in New York. Well, our branch office in Sydney referred this case to our office in London, and they, in turn, sent it over here. The reason it was transferred here is that the documents say the client now lives in America. I happened to be put on the case because I knew a little about Sydney. The same case has been up several times, it seems, for some woman over there keeps pounding away at it. The queer part of it is that the trail has been followed up to a certain point and then lost at that point every time. It is the same old story of what is happening every day. Relatives of a wealthy trader left Sydney several years ago, the trader died, and the heirs to his fortune can't be found. The strange part of it is that these people can be traced as far as America without the slightest trouble, and then, without any apparent reason, they suddenly drop out of existence as completely as though they had been kidnapped and carried to a desolate island. So little data has been collected from the other side that the firm has decided to send me over to Sydney. It promises to be quite an adventure. That's why I came home to-night, Dad. I'm leaving in the morning."
Elder Fox had been listening intently, and at mention of the proposed trip he grew pale.
"I—er—should not go if I were you, Harold. They may arrest you again. The police of Australia have a way of remembering things against former prisoners."
"How do you know so much about the police of Australia?"
"I've read it, sir," hastily explained the Elder.
"But I've got to go, Dad. They'll not pinch me. They found the right chap before they let me go, and couldn't do enough for me when they discovered their mistake.... You say you've never visited Sydney, Mr. McGowan?"
"I was born there. But I don't remember anything about the place, as we moved away when I was a mere lad. I've often heard my father speak about it. He was a trader there in the early days."
"May I see your father to-night?" asked Harold eagerly. "He may be able to save me a trip over. Where does he live?"
"He is not living. He and Mother both died a few years after coming to America. The climate was too severe for them."
"I beg your pardon," apologized Harold. "I didn't know. I'm so anxious to get news of this man that I rush in where angels would fear to tread."
"That is perfectly all right. It's no more than natural that you should think he would be able to help you in your search."
"Yes. He could have doubtless given me valuable information concerning the traders of his day, and thus have put me on the trail of my client. This man was arrested on some charge trumped up by two scamps, but was later released and exonerated. They'd arrest a man over there for looking at his own watch if he happened to cross his eyes while doing it. At the time when my client was in trouble the convict-ships were in business."
The Elder dropped back from the edge of his chair which he had held since the beginning of the conversation. He gave his son a look of dumb appeal. With an effort he straightened and glared vacantly across the table.
"I was aboard the convict-ship Success while she was in the New York harbor this spring," commented the minister. "I don't see how civilized men could think out so many different modes of torture and remain civilized, let alone human."
"Nor I. I was aboard the old tub, too. That was the ship my client was on. It was when she first came out."
The Elder was acting queerly.
"Dad, what's wrong?" asked Harold, with concern.
"Nothing,—er—nothing. Only I do wish you would not take this trip. Can't you send some one else?"
"I'm afraid not. You see, I'm not my own boss. No, Dad, I can't get out of it."
Harold had never seen his father so concerned for his welfare, and it greatly affected him.
"They won't trouble me, not in the least. To ease your mind I'll go under an assumed name, if you say so. But I must get my data at the source concerning this man Adoniah Phillips, if——"
The Elder was sipping his coffee, and his cup fell into the saucer with a crash, breaking both fragile pieces into fragments. The contents were sprayed over the linen, and drops stained the Elder's white waistcoat.
"Father!" cried Elizabeth. "What is the matter? You are ill!"
He did not answer. He turned an ashen face toward Mr. McGowan, and with a wild stare studied that young man's face. The two men sprang to the old man's assistance, but as the minister reached out his hand Mr. Fox gave a startled cry and threw up his arm as though to ward off a blow.
"Go back to your seats!" ordered the Elder thickly. "Do not mind me. I'm all right, or shall be in a few seconds."
He fought helplessly for self-control.
"Come, Dad, you must go to your room," declared Harold, taking his father tightly by the arm.
"I'm not ill, sir," answered the father, stubbornly. "But it might be as well for me to retire from the table. You need not trouble, Mr. McGowan. I shall get on quite well with my son's assistance," he affirmed, waving the minister back.
Mr. Fox drew his handkerchief across his perspiring forehead, and dazedly eyed the stained cloth. "I'm sorry, Beth, very sorry I was so awkward."
"Don't mind the cloth, Father," begged the girl tearfully.
"You remain with Mr. McGowan, Beth. I shall soon be quite myself. Fainting spell, I guess."
Harold led his father from the room. Elizabeth turned to the minister.
"Oh, Mr. McGowan! Is it—do you think——Oh! I can't say it! It's too awful!"
"We must telephone for the doctor at once. It may be serious."
"Then, you do think it's a stroke! What shall we do!"
Mr. McGowan telephoned for the doctor, and when he arrived he sent him at once to the Elder's room. The physician entered unannounced, stopped short on the threshold, and stared at the two men who were in the midst of a heated discussion.
Elizabeth met the doctor as he came down the stair.
"Miss Fox, will you be kind enough to tell me if your father has had bad news, or sudden grief?"
"Not that I know of, Doctor. Harold had just told him that he must start for Australia to-morrow when Father nearly fainted. That is all that happened."
"Then, I see no occasion for this. There is nothing organically wrong so far as I can discover. But I shall take his blood pressure to-morrow just to be on the safe side. Call me any time during the night if anything out of the ordinary happens. Keep him perfectly quiet. Good night."
Harold called Elizabeth from the head of the stair.
"Excuse me, Mr. McGowan. I shall send my brother right down."
"Please, don't do that. Your father will need you both. I shall be going."
"I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed, offering her hand. "You will come again, very soon, won't you?"
"I shall call in the morning to inquire about your father."
"Thank you. Good night."
Mr. McGowan took his hat from the hall-tree and left the house. As he walked very slowly through the avenue of trees a strange passage from the Bible kept tantalizing his attention. "Behold, a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.... Then there was no breath in them.... Then from the four winds the breath came into them, and they lived."
Half provoked for allowing these words to arouse suspicion, he tried to cast them out. But the effect of them remained. He had witnessed the coming together of the dry bones of a past. Were the four winds from the four corners of the earth to give them life? Had he unwittingly helped to furnish the dry bones with breath?
He had gone but a short distance when he heard footsteps behind him.
"One minute, Mr. McGowan," called Harold Fox. "Come with me, please."
He drew the minister aside into the path that led into the lower gardens. Once in the deeper shadows, Harold stopped.
"What have you to do with this man Phillips?" he demanded.
"What's that? Why, Mr. Fox——"
"I'd no sooner got Dad to his room than he began to mumble that you were to blame for his condition," cut in the lawyer. "He connected you in no favorable way with some woman in Australia. This man Phillips was involved, too, from what I could gather. I was questioning him when the doctor arrived, and after he was gone I could get nothing more out of him. I hate to go to Australia with him like this, and I have every reason to surmise that I won't need to go if you tell me all you know."
"I'm very sorry for your father's condition, but I see no way to help you. I don't see why he should connect me with his condition. How long ago did all this happen to your client?"
"About twenty-five years ago."
"Then it's ridiculous to associate me with any such trouble. I was not more than born, if, indeed, that. In what way does it all affect your father, anyway?"
"That I don't know. It's a mystery to me."
"I should gladly give you aid if it were possible."
"I'm only asking that you tell me all you know."
"All an infant in arms would know would be of little value, I fear."
"But you must know something by hearsay. Father would not take this turn out of a clear sky. There must be a little moisture where there are so many clouds."
"But, Mr. Fox, I've told you——"
"See here, Mr. McGowan," broke in Harold impatiently, "don't think me thickheaded. I've been practising law long enough to smell a rat when it's round. Father knows something, and he knows you know something. In some way it involves him. His trouble to-night was purely mental."
"Suppose I am connected with all this mystery in some way, how on earth can a man call on a child's empty memory——"
"You're stalling, Mr. McGowan. Don't try that alibi stuff with me. It simply won't go."
"You refuse to accept my statement of ignorance concerning this man?"
"I most certainly do. You and Dad are passing the buck. I thought from all reports that you would stand up to any proposition like a man, no matter how unpleasant."
"There is nothing for me to stand up to, Mr. Fox."
"You absolutely refuse to tell me what you know?"
"I absolutely refuse, for I know absolutely nothing."
Harold Fox studied the set features of the minister in the dim light of the moon. He then cordially extended his hand.
"Pardon me, sir. I believe you. But there's something damned crooked somewhere, and I intend to ferret it out. If Dad's in it——Well, I hope to the Lord he isn't. You'd better watch your p's and q's pretty close, for Dad mentioned the fact that Mr. Means has it in for you, and the two of them can make it hell for you. I'm sorry to say that, but it's God's truth. I wouldn't trust Means with a pet skunk. I never have liked the fellow. I've said too much. Good night, and good luck."
Harold abruptly left, and Mr. McGowan walked slowly and heavily from the garden into the road that led toward the sea.
* * * * *
Following that night, things began to happen with lightning-like rapidity. A spirit of distrust and suspicion sprang up among the members of the little church over night. The congregations dwindled down, till within a month they were not one-half their original size. But in spite of the friction that was grinding at the religious machinery, Mr. McGowan went on steadily about his work. He visited the Inn more frequently, and won no little renown among the members of the club. But here he also had his enemies, and they were becoming bolder in proportion as the church grew more hostile toward its minister. Sim Hicks, the keeper of the Inn, began an open fight against Mr. McGowan's intrusions, declaring he would make good a former threat to oust the "Psalm-singer" from the village.
One evening Mr. McGowan returned to his study deeply perplexed. What was the meaning in the unjust persecution? Not that he complained; his difficulty was rather his inability to get at the bottom of it all. He stood before his window gazing absently out into the gathering dusk, when Captain Pott quietly opened the door and entered.
"Can I come in, Mack?"
"I'd love to have you. I need company."
"Anything special wrong? I've been noticing you're getting awful thin of late. Ain't Eadie's cooking agreeing with you?"
"I'm afraid that food cooked to the queen's taste wouldn't agree with me these days."
"Ain't in love, be you? I've heard tell how it affects people like that."
The young man turned toward his friend. The wry smile with which he tried to divert the seaman did not hide the hurt expression in his eyes. The Captain caught the expression.
"Thought likely," he observed, pulling at his moustache. "But that ain't no reason for you losing sleep and flesh over, unless she ain't in love with you."
"There's no reason why she should be."
"Tush, tush, son. Don't ever try to hurry 'em. Let her take all the time she wants. Women are funny that way."
"Cap'n," said the minister in tense earnestness, "there is something vitally wrong in this town, and I can't seem to find out what it is."
"I know," nodded the Captain.
"Then I wish you would enlighten me."
"I cal'late I can't do that, Mack. All I can see is that there's something like mutiny brewing aboard your salvation sloop, and mutiny is a mighty funny thing. You can't put your finger on it and say, 'Lo, here, or lo, there,' according to scripture. Ain't that right?"
"You have certainly stated the situation much better than I could hope to."
"I was only hoping you wouldn't see it."
"I don't see it, and that's my whole trouble. I can only see the results. I can't say that this one or that one is to blame, for the thing seems to be in the very air."
"I know just how you feel, Mack. That's where a skipper is hog-tied against taking any action. You just sort of feel that there's something devilish afoot, but you don't know enough what it is to be ready to meet it. Puts me in mind of a song I heard once aboard one of my ships. One of the new mates sang it, and called it the microbe song. I ain't got any idea where he picked it up, but it went like this:
"'Johnnie, don't you see 'em on my head and chin, All them powerful microbes, both outside and in? Johnnie, up and smite 'em, counting every one, With the strength that cometh with the pork and bun.
"'Johnnie, don't you feel 'em, how they work within, Striving, crowding, pulling, kicking just like sin? Johnnie, don't you tremble, never be downcast, Gird ye for the battle, we'll kill 'em while it lasts.
"'Johnnie, don't you hear 'em, how they speak ye fair: "All of us are shipmates, not a bunk is bare!" Johnnie, answer boldly: "While we breathe we smite!" And peace shall follow battle, day shall end in night.'"
Mr. McGowan laughed heartily as the Captain brought his song to an unmusical close.
"That song ain't got much music in it, leastwise not as I sung it, but it's got a heap of truth. Fact is, Mack, I'm as chuck full of them damn microbes as you be, and I ain't able to smite 'em. They are right in here,"—he tapped his head,—"and though I ain't able to say for sure, yet I've got a purty good idea that they're outside, too, and making a heap of trouble in this here burg.
"Now, take those pirates down to the Inn," continued the seaman. "There's something brewing down there, and it smells like hell-fire to me that's doing the boiling. Sim Hicks and his gang are whooping it up a mite too lively for comfort. That's microbe army number one. Then, there's Harry Beaver. He says they won't board you after your month is up."
"May army number two quickly advance! I shall gladly and willingly surrender."
"Hey? What's that? Where in the name of the ship's cook would you go, I'd like to know?"
"Right where? You board with me?"
The old seaman's face slowly lighted up with appreciation as he fully grasped the meaning of Mr. McGowan's words, and then suddenly clouded.
"No, Mack. There ain't no sense in that," he declared, shaking his head emphatically. "I can keep soul and body together, but what I get on with would kill you. There's worse things in the world than Eadie's biscuits. No, I ain't going to listen to any such out-and-out murder as my cooking would commit."
"Don't you think we could hire some one to come in and get our meals?" asked the minister.
"I'm 'feared that ain't possible. And even if it was it would cause more talk about town. There's enough gossip aboard the old salvation craft to sink her now, beam-fust."
"Why should it cause talk for some one to take care of the house for us, and get our meals?"
"Why should any of this gab be floating round at all? There ain't no sense in it, but that don't stop it. Mack,"—the Captain leaned eagerly toward his young friend,—"don't tell me nothing you don't want to, but what happened up to Jim Fox's house that night you ate there the last time? Things ain't been going smooth since then. I hear he acted mighty queer. Was you to blame for it in any way?"
"Did Harold Fox talk to you before he left?"
"No. Harold ain't the gossiping kind."
"Some one has evidently been talking to you."
"Ain't denying that, Mack. There's plenty of 'em in this burg that's ready to talk, and I'd have to be deaf, dumb, and blind, not to get some of the gab. The doctor told more than he ought, I guess."
"It might pay him to take a few lessons in keeping his mouth closed," impatiently commented Mr. McGowan.
"I know, Mack. I reckon he was pumped pretty hard."
"That doesn't excuse him for——"
"There, Mack, don't get mad. I was asking you for your own good. There's something mighty mysterious about that affair, and I thought if you'd tell me just what took place that we'd be able to do something before that gang of rough-necks down to the Inn get the bits in their teeth."
"I don't see what the men at the Inn have to do with all this."
"They ain't got much to do with it, except to use it for a lever to pry you loose from the fellers who do like you. There's real trouble of some sort being hatched down there, but I ain't sure just what it's like. Maybe there ain't no use my worrying you with these suspicions, but watch them skunks at the Inn, and don't give 'em the inside of the track. Cal'late you'd best go over to supper, and see if Harry's going to shut off the rations."
Three days after this conversation Mr. McGowan's month was up, and the hammer of Mr. Beaver's authority came down. Captain Pott stood in his door, watching the pantomime as Mr. Beaver pumped, backed, stuttered, and blinked out the minister's dismissal from his wife's table. The Captain had an extra griddle on the stove when Mr. McGowan returned. Without question or comment he indicated a chair, and the minister smiled like a schoolboy as he drew it up before the place at the Captain's table which he was to occupy from now on.
"Best eat 'em while they're sizzling hot," invited the Captain, dumping a turnerful of cakes on the empty plate.
When the men had divided the last flapjack, the minister announced that he was going for a stroll along the beach.
He was no sooner out of sight than over came Mrs. Beaver, carrying a large tin filled with biscuits. Captain Pott took them to the pantry, and returned with the empty pan.
"Thanks, Eadie. Mr. McGowan will sure appreciate them."
"Oh, Josiah! I hope he won't blame me for what's happened."
"Cal'late he won't blame you," said the seaman sympathetically.
"Why are things so upset in town against him?"
"I ain't able to answer that, Eadie. It does seem that the old ark is going through quite a squall, don't it?"
"Has Harry said anything to you?"
"Not yet, he ain't, and if I sight him fust he ain't going to say anything. I ain't got time for him to get his pumps working on me."
"You mark my word, he will say something, and don't you believe one word when he does. I don't see what's got into him. Somebody has bewitched him."
The Captain stared at her. Here were signs of a new kind of microbe, and he could make neither head nor tail of it. It was next to the miraculous for Mrs. Beaver to espouse an unpopular cause when there was interesting gossip to repeat.
"You don't say!" exclaimed the seaman.
"I do say. Hank Simpson is the only man in this town beside you who's got back-bone enough to stand by himself! He'd struck Harry last night if that Hicks hadn't held him off. I wish he had hit him hard, maybe it would have brought him to his senses."
"Are you trying to tell me that Harry's got the gossiping fever?"
"Not only that, but what he's saying is pure lies. I can't see why he wants to do other people's dirty work," complained the unhappy woman.
"I cal'late you'd best give me some idea about this here yarn he's spinning, so's I can lay for him with a spike."
"It's about Mr. McGowan, and what he's telling ain't true, and I know it!" Her voice broke into short dry sobs. "He says our minister is doing things down to the Inn that ain't right. And, then, that Reverend Mr. Means was up again the other day, and told Mr. Fox something. Harry won't tell me what it was, but he keeps saying it's awful scandalous."
"Well, Eadie, if I was you I'd quit spilling all that brine, for it ain't wuth it."
"But, Josiah, it is worth it. They're trying to ruin Mr. McGowan, and he's such a fine man. Won't you stop Harry's talking in some way? Won't you go to Mr. Fox?"
"Me go to Jim? What in tarnation would you have me say to him?"
"I don't care what you say, but make him understand that he's to leave Harry alone, and stop him telling what ain't so."
"Maybe he's the one who has made Harry believe it is so. In that case, I'm 'feared my views on the subject might set off some real fireworks."
"But you must make him believe you! Can't you say something?"
"I ain't sartin but I might say a thing or two, and they won't be words fit for a prayer-meeting, either."
"Then, you will speak to him?" she asked eagerly.
"We'll see, Eadie. Maybe I'll do something, too. But I cal'late we'd best begin as Scripture says, right here at home."
"You mean you'll speak to Harry? What will you say?"
"I ain't got it all figured out yet being as we're camped on this here sand-heap. If I was aboard ship I'd kick him down the deck and up again, then into the hatches for a little tonic for disobeying orders. Beyond that, I ain't able to say right offhand."
Mrs. Beaver clutched the back of a chair. "Oh, don't hurt my Harry! He's all I've got!"
"He ain't wuth boasting about, Eadie. But being as he is all you've got in the way of earthly possession, and being as we're on land, I cal'late I won't do harm. But if I was you I'd steer him clear of these channels for a spell till I calm down a mite."
"O dear! I've made a mistake coming to you, and I hoped you'd help me. I shouldn't have told you!"
"We won't argue that p'int."
"Whatever shall I do!"
"The fust thing I'd do,"—suggested the Captain, slowly nodding his head for emphasis,—"would be to use a little discipline on your fust mate."
"But I can't make Harry mind any more!"
The pitiful figure gave the Captain an uneasy feeling as he tried to return her pathetic gaze. He replied kindly:
"Eadie, you've always held a purty tight rein over that husband of yours, about the best I ever see drawn over a prancing colt. You'd best tighten up a mite on them reins, right sudden-like."
"But I haven't any power over him now. He's that worked up that I can't even talk to him. He shuts me right up."
"What's that? You can't handle that little shrimp?"
She uttered a cry, and looked past the Captain, through the dining-room door, into the hall. The seaman turned in the direction of her wild and distracted gaze. Mr. Beaver, more wild and distracted than his spouse, stood in the door, the incarnation of burning passion and pent up fury.
"W-What are you d-doing in this m-man's house?" he shouted, his shrill voice breaking into a ferocious shriek, as he blinked and pointed at his frightened wife.
Captain Pott was so surprised that he merely gaped at the infuriated little man.
"Harry, please don't!" pleaded Mrs. Beaver, drawing back against the wainscoting.
"C-Come out of h-here!" hissed her husband. He brought his heel down with such vehemence that he chipped off a splinter from the threshold.
"Best stand back, Eadie, and be careful not to touch him," advised the Captain, eyeing the human cyclone with amusement and amazement. "Looks mighty dangerous, and sort as if he might go off."
Harry met these words with a blazing glare.
"Cal'late you'd best come in and cool off a mite, Harry. You seem sort of het up."
"W-Woman, c-come w-with m-me!" spluttered Mr. Beaver.
He strutted round the room, well out of the Captain's reach, and back again toward the door, looking for the world like a young barnyard fowl. But his wife did not follow.
"She ain't going just yet. We was having a quiet-like chat when you busted in here, and I cal'late we'd best make it three-sided, that is, if you ain't got no reasonable objection to raise. Come, you ain't in that rush."
Harry bounded toward the door. So, also, did the Captain. A heavy hand fell on the shoulder of the little man and spun him about.
"It's real nice of you to come in like this for a friendly conflab," said the seaman, dangerously pleasant.
"M-Man, t-take your h-hand off m-me! H-How dare y-you a-assault m-me! I'll h-have the law on y-you!"
"That's all right, Harry." The expression on the Captain's face contrasted sharply with his quiet words. "There'll be plenty of time for that. I've been feeling real slighted because you ain't been to see me for some time. Cal'late a little conversation will do us both a heap of good, and clear up the air a mite."
Mr. Beaver again started for the door, but the Captain reached it first. He closed it, turned the key in the lock, and put the key in his pocket.
"Now, suppose you spin the yarn to me that you've been spreading round town," he said, slowly filling his pipe and offering the pouch to Harry Beaver.
Mr. Beaver spurned the weed of peace with a ferocious glare. With a little coaching the Captain brought out the story. The gist of the matter was that Mr. Beaver considered McGowan morally lax in the free way he was mixing with the boys at the Inn.
"Let's get this straight. Who is the feller you're talking about? Just repeat his name to me."
"M-McGowan!" defiantly repeated Mr. Beaver.
"When mentioning him to me,"—requested the Captain in a tone that made the other man start with apprehension,—"you'll call him Mr. McGowan. Understand that?"
Mr. Beaver seemed fully to understand, for he obeyed. When he had finished his yarn of sheer nonsense, Captain Pott slowly laid his pipe on the table and his hand on the little man's collar. He led him to the door, and opened it. Harry tugged like a bull-pup on the end of a leash, so that when the Captain released his hold—with ever so slight a shove—Mr. Beaver described a spread-eagle on the cinder path.
"If you repeat that rotten truck to another soul, I ain't going to be responsible for what happens to you!" He shot each word at the kicking figure from between set teeth, and brushed one hand over the other as though to clean them of filth.
Mrs. Beaver ran to her husband, lifted him out of the cinders, and patted the ashes from his clothing. Harry Beaver stood irresolutely for a moment, and violently shook his fist at the man standing in the door.
"Y-You'll p-p-pay for this!" He spit out words and cinders with gasping breath.
Captain Pott went inside. He washed his breakfast dishes. He was by no means as calm as he appeared. The whole day through he fed the fires of his anger. That night he urged the minister to stay at home. He even begged him not to go to the Inn. Mr. McGowan asked the reason for his deep concern. The Captain could give none, except to say that the microbes were working overtime. But duty called more loudly than his friend's fears, and Mr. McGowan went that evening to the Inn. An hour later the Captain's intuition got the upper hand of his judgment, and he followed.
An ominous murmur of voices, with a deep growling undertone, floated up from the improvised gymnasium in the basement as Captain Pott entered the swinging doors of Willow-Tree Inn. This was followed by a more ominous silence. The seaman bounded down the steps. The sight that met his gaze caused him to stop short. On each side of the low room men and boys were drawn up in lines, and the division was as clean cut as though chosen for a tug of war. The doors at the far end of the gymnasium swung back, and a stranger, stripped to the waist, stepped gingerly into the room. Sim Hicks met the man, and began to tie a pair of boxing gloves to his hands. While the Captain looked on in utter amazement, the doors again swung back, and Mack McGowan entered. He did not appear surprised at sight of the crowd, as large audiences had become quite the common thing during his boxing lessons. Hank Simpson came from out the shadows and reluctantly tied another pair of gloves to the hands of Mr. McGowan.
"What in tarnation is the meaning of this damn exhibition?" demanded the Captain, turning to Jud Johnson, the plumber.
"It means there's dirty work on."
"You mean there's been a crooked deal put over on Mack?"
The plumber nodded.
"Who in hell——"
"Swearing ain't going to do no good, Cap'n. The parson don't stand for it down here," cut in Jud.
"Whose doing is this?"
"We've got a pretty good idea who the cur is, but we ain't exactly sure."
"Where'd he come from?"
"Who brung him in here?"
"We ain't just sure of that, yet."
"What in h—— What's he cal'lating to do?"
"He figures to lick the tar out of the parson. And by the blazes of the inferno, if he does——"
It was plain that civil war was to ensue if the contest went against Mr. McGowan.
"How'd he git into such a scrape?"
"It looks like the work of that d—I wish the parson would let me swear for once—Sim Hicks."
"You mean Hicks brought him in?"
"He come in here more'n a week ago and asked Mr. McGowan to give him some lessons. Now the devil's to pay, and if we ain't 'way off Hicks happens to be that devil."
"For God's sake stop asking me questions or I'll cut loose and turn the air blue round here."
"There ain't a feller living that can fight Mack on a week of training," declared the seaman.
"No one said he'd had no more'n a week of training."
"I don't give a tinker's dam if he's had all the training in creation, he can't lick Mack McGowan and do it fair."
Jud shot the Captain a look of approval. "Them kind don't fight fair."
"But, Jud, I don't see the meaning of it, anyway."
"Then you're a heap sight blinder'n I thought. This thing's all fixed up to help Hicks get the parson out of town. When the news of this fight gets out into the church, they'll oust him like a shot from a cannon."
"Then why don't you fellers stop it afore it starts?" blazed the Captain.
"Stop nothing. Hank's tried it, already."
Hank Simpson came across the room to where the Captain stood, looking woe-begone.
"The minister says our fears ain't got no foundation about that feller being crooked, and he won't listen to reason," declared the dejected Hank.
"By the Almighty, he'll listen to me!" exclaimed the Captain.
"He wouldn't listen to his own mother if she was here. He says if what we suspect is true, he couldn't show the white feather now. He's the best sport I've ever seen, and I hate to see him beat up by that white-livered slugger."
"I sha'n't see it!"
Captain Pott started toward the ring that was rapidly forming about the boxers. He caught the minister's glance. He halted. In that glance there was an expression which the Captain had come to recognize and respect. Mack McGowan was going to take his medicine, or give it, and no one was to interfere during the dose. The seaman dropped back into the shadow of the stair.
The boxers faced each other. There was no doubt left in the minds of the onlookers as to the profession of the stranger as he squared off for action. The minister recognized, too, the trap that had been set for him, but he gave no evidence of worry. He met the malicious grin of the other with a friendly, but grim smile.
The stranger lost no time in preliminaries. He thought himself in full possession of the minister's boxing ability, and he showed a great amount of over-confidence. He had studied the other's speed, he had spied into his style, he had tested his reach. Certainly, with all this knowledge, he should have a picnic. He had been very careful on all occasions to appear as nothing more than a novice. He was not unmindful of the other's endurance, but hoping to make a quick end of the matter, he tried to force the minister under full headway at once. He went at him in a whirlwind rush. It seemed to the observers that Mr. McGowan must certainly be swept from the floor.
But the minister was not caught off his guard. He quickly guessed the other's intention. With a swiftness that took the breath of the onlookers, he stepped aside, drew in his left toe under his right heel, and faced to the right. It was done in a flash! With one long step he swung out to the left of his adversary. Out of the range of terrific blows, he smiled and made a closer study of his opponent, eye and brain alert for information. It took but a moment, and he was facing the stranger before the man was ready to meet him.
The Captain had never seen his young friend box with greater ease, although the odds were against him in weight. He warded off blow after blow with a precision that was maddening to the other. His foot-work was as quick as that of a cat, and as sure. Again and again the stranger would rush in with deadly intent, only to find himself blocked, or to back away severely punished.
A breathless suspense hushed all rooting. The minister had dropped his guard! Even the other boxer hesitated, as though he could not believe his own eyes. Mr. McGowan had thrown back his head and shoulders as though he had partially lost his foothold. The city boxer rushed in and swung for the other's heart with all his weight behind the blow. When it was too late he saw his mistake. He had been led into a trap, and the very movement which had drawn the blow made it ineffective. With lightning-like swiftness the minister stepped forward, delivered three blows on his opponent's head with bewildering rapidity, and recovered himself with ease and without exertion. The stranger recoiled, and for an instant appeared to be under the impulse to run. But blind rage seized him as his unexpected punishment began to sting, and he came back like a madman. Mr. McGowan shoved aside or blocked the terrific shower of fists with a coolness and precision that drove the stranger momentarily insane. He bellowed like a mad bull. He began to slug with the force of a pile-driver without any pretense to fairness. He leaped from left to right, and back again, like an orangutan stirred to frenzied anger. Mr. McGowan tried to stop him by calling time, but with a foul oath he shot a stiff arm into the minister's abdomen. Decidedly jarred, Mr. McGowan swayed back under the impact of the foul, but recovered his footing in time to meet the other with a blow full in the face. The stranger rushed in again, but Mr. McGowan ducked, landed his glove with a heavy jar on his adversary's body, and cut the man's lip with a right swing as he sprang to safety.
The sight and smell of his own blood sent the city pugilist into a crazed frenzy. He threw his elbow into the minister's throat and hurled him against the wall. Holding him there as though in a vise he landed a wicked hook under the left ear. Sim Hicks gave an immoderate laugh. A shout went up from the few who favored the stranger. A deep growl was the answer from Hank Simpson and his following as they sprang forward. They seized Mr. McGowan, tore him away from the maddened pugilist, and led him to a box. Hank steadied him while Jud Johnson massaged the bruised neck and bathed the bleeding ear. Sim Hicks crossed to where they were at work.
"Have you got enough?" he asked with a sneer.
"No! And by thunder, you ain't got all that's coming to you, neither," growled Jud.
Mr. McGowan leaned heavily against Hank Simpson. As it was apparent that his mind was beginning to clear, Sim Hicks came closer.
"Are you ready to call quits and stop your damned meddling in my affairs?" persisted the Innkeeper.
Mr. McGowan shook his head, slowly. Then, with a start, he straightened. Between the uprights of the stair-banister he had see two faces peering down into the room. As his vision cleared a little more he saw that one face was set between silky chops.
Captain Pott had not taken his eyes from the minister's face, but now he followed the direction of his startled gaze.
"If it ain't that damned menagerie, Fox and Beaver!"
One of the two figures slipped up and out. The other, deeply engrossed, did not budge. The Captain gave a mirthless chuckle and quietly crept up the stair. He seized the heels of Mr. Beaver, dragged him bumping down the stair, and dropped him beneath one of the lights. He gripped the little man's collar, glanced menacingly into the distorted face, and remarked:
"Paying off some of them infernal debts you spoke of?"
"L-Let m-m-me g-go! L-Looking's f-f-free, ain't it?" His thin voice rose with each word till it reached a hissing shriek.
"Yes, the show seems to be free. And if I'm any judge, it's just begun, so you may as well come down for it all."
Sim Hicks was swearing so loudly that the seaman turned in that direction. The Innkeeper was shaking his fist in the minister's face. Captain Pott dragged the squirming Beaver across the room.
"See here, Sim, you'd best shet that trap-door of yours, it's letting out too much blue smoke, and the dominee don't permit swearing among the boys. Cal'late I can give you some assistance if you're needing it," said the seaman, coming uncomfortably near. "As for that there slugger of yourn, he's nothing but a white-livered cur of a coward."
"You take back those words, or I'll make you swallow them one at a time!"
The threat came from the city pugilist, and the Captain swung about to face him.
"This here is my friend you hurt,"—the seaman's eyes flashed with fury as he jerked his thumb toward the minister,—"and I cal'late you'd best apologize for what you've done to him."
"Why, you doddering old idiot! If you didn't want your little pet hurt, you'd best have kept him home. I understand he's your special hobby."
"You'd best apologize," repeated the Captain in dangerous calm.
The pugilist laughed hoarsely. "When I do it will be in a hotter place than where we are to-night. I did nothing——"
"Don't lie to me! I see what you done. Either you fight like a man,—even if you ain't one,—or by the lord Harry——"
For emphasis he clutched the collar he still held, and Mr. Beaver squirmed as though in fear of being hurled bodily into the face of the city boxer. Sim Hicks sprang at the Captain's throat with a fierce leap and an angry growl. But Sim picked himself up from a corner and rubbed the blood from his streaming nose. The sight of the cringing Innkeeper seemed to have a temporary effect upon the pugilist, but he quickly recovered and bristled defiantly.
"You damned city cur! If you don't fight fair I'll measure you out on the same spot!"
"You go to the devil!" said the man with a sneer.
"When I do I'll take a white-livered, yellow-haired cur along. You take that grin off your face and stand up to Mack like a man. I'll act as pilot from now on, and if I sight any more of your dirty tricks, may the Lord have mercy on you, for I won't. Pitch in!"
The two men obeyed and faced each other. Except for a slight tightening of the lips, Mr. McGowan gave no sign of having suffered from the severe punishment because of the other man's foul. Those who had been standing about the box, now jostled the other faction out of the ring, and pressed closely about the Captain.
During the next fifteen minutes the boxers worked swiftly. Although the stranger had publicly defied the seaman's orders to fight fair, yet it was apparent to all that he was obeying them. Only once did he attempt a foul. The Captain's quick eyes saw, and with a thundering command that shook the room he checked the pugilist's stiff arm movement to the throat. Then the end came. Mr. McGowan brought forward his head and shoulders with his usual lightning-like swiftness in order to draw a lead before the other was prepared for it, and at the same time he accompanied the movement with a quick jerking back of his left hand as though suddenly changing his mind. The city man did the rest. He halted. Mr. McGowan stepped to the left just as the other delivered his spent blow, and with the added weight of his moving body landed his right glove against the stranger's ear. This was quickly followed with a crashing upper-cut to the heavy jaw. There was a loud rending and ripping of splintered wood as the big man fell through one of the thin panels of the partition. He slid to the floor and lay motionless amidst the wreckage.