E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE UNKNOWN WRESTLER
H. A. CODY
Author of "Under Sealed Orders," "Rod of the Lone Patrol," Etc.
McCLelland, Goodchild & Stewart Publishers :: :: :: Toronto
Copyright, 1918, By George H. Doran Company
To All True Wrestlers this book is Sympathetically Dedicated
I STREET MUSIC II WHERE FLOWS THE TIDE III CONSCIENCE MONEY IV SECRET PLANS V PUT TO THE TEST VI DOWN BY THE RIVER VII MENDING THINGS VIII HOME FOR REPAIRS IX EVENING GLOW X PRIDE AND IMPUDENCE XI THE FACE AT THE DOOR XII ASTRAY ON THE HILLS XIII NOTICE TO QUIT XIV SETTLING THINGS XV A WET DAY XVI TWIN FIRES XVII CRUEL AS THE GRAVE XVIII SILENT STRIFE XIX WARMER THAN HE EXPECTED XX CONFIDENCE XXI OUTDONE XXII COMPELLED TO SERVE XXIII DISPELLING THE CLOUDS XXIV EMPTY HEARS SOMETHING XXV PERVERTING JUSTICE XXVI ON THE ROCKS XXVII THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE XXVIII KNUCKLING UNDER XXIX THE CHALLENGE XXX BY THE OLD PINE TREE
THE UNKNOWN WRESTLER
There was no room for him on the sidewalk, so he took up his position beyond the curbstone. The light from the large arc-lamp overhead, exposed the old man's thin white hair, withered face and threadbare clothes. His sightless eyes were turned toward the passing throng, and his head was slightly bent in an expectant attitude. But the hand that drew the wheezy bow across the strings of the violin often faltered, and the broken music, instead of attracting, repelled the crowds. The player was tired and longed for rest. But the fire of an overmastering purpose burned in his soul and kept him steadfast to his post.
The girl standing by his side was both weary and embarrassed. Her hand trembled as she held out her father's soft felt hat to receive the coins which were so very few. It was quite evident that she was new to this business, for her cheeks were flushed crimson owing to the remarks she occasionally heard.
"Listen to that old man sawing wood," one gaily-dressed young fop laughingly jested to his companion.
"Filing his saw, I should say," was the sarcastic reply. "It's a wonder to me that such a noise is allowed on a street like this."
"But see the girl," the other insisted, "isn't she a beauty! Look at her cheeks. My! they are some colour. She seems new to her job. Suppose we give her a jolt. I'd like to hear what she'd say. Perhaps she isn't as innocent as she seems."
They had stopped several rods away and were watching the girl as they talked. Presently they retraced their steps, and when they came near where she was standing, one of them surged suddenly against her, causing her to drop the hat in alarm and start back, while the few coins rolled out upon the hard stones. Her cry of dismay caused the old man to stop playing and turn quickly toward her.
"What is the matter, Nan?" he anxiously enquired.
"Oh, let us go away," the girl pleaded. "We are not safe here, and I am so frightened. Two men pushed against me and knocked the hat out of my hand. I know they did it on purpose, for they went away laughing. Oh, what is that?" and she leaned eagerly forward as a commotion took place among the crowd a short distance away.
While the young men were performing their cowardly prank, a man was intently watching all that was taking place. He had been observing the blind violinist and the timid girl for several minutes. In his eyes was an expression of sympathy, which changed at once to intense anger at the act of the two heartless fops. He stepped quickly forward and confronted them.
"What right had you to interfere with that girl?" he demanded.
"It's none of your business," replied the one who had done the deed. "You get out of our way, and do it quick at that, or it won't be well with you."
At once a heavy hand was laid upon his shoulder, and the gripping fingers of that hand caused him to wince and try to tear himself away. A sudden fear smote his heart as he looked up into the blazing eyes of the man before him. He was beginning to respect that towering form with the great broad shoulders and the hand that seemed to weigh a ton and the gripping fingers that were closing like a vise. He suspected that this was a plain-clothes man in the Police service, and the thought filled him with a nameless dread. He glanced around for his companion, but he was nowhere to be seen.
"What do ye want me to do?" he at length gasped.
"Go pick up those coins, and then apologise to the girl for your rudeness," was the reply.
"Good heavens! I can't do that, ye know. What will me chums say?"
"Never mind what they will say. They'll say a great more if I have to drag you there by the coat collar. So get a move on at once."
The victim looked helplessly around upon the crowd which had gathered, as if expecting some assistance. But not a friendly face could he behold. All seemed to be greatly amused at his plight.
The voice was calm but the clutching fingers were becoming almost unbearable. There was nothing else for the young man to do, so with a face as pale as death he turned and walked slowly back to where the old violinist and the girl were standing.
"Now, pick up the coins," was the imperious command.
The culprit at once obeyed, and groped around as well as he could but nothing could he find. Several street urchins, who had been ahead of him, now stood near and jeered at his fruitless efforts. At length, straightening himself up, he turned to his captor. The perspiration was streaming down his face, and he looked the picture of misery.
"I can't find anything," he gasped.
"Well, then, apologise to the girl. Tell her you are sorry for what you did and that you will never do such a thing again."
With trembling lips the young man stammered forth a few broken words as he stood facing the surprised and abashed girl. It was hard to understand what he said, but that did not really matter. His punishment had been severe, and his captor felt somewhat satisfied.
"Now, clear out," he ordered, "and be thankful all the rest of your days that you have escaped so easily."
Scarcely had he finished speaking ere a large police officer forced his way through the crowd. He grasped the situation in an instant, and when he saw the man standing near the culprit, a light of recognition came into his eyes.
"Shall I take him, sir?" he asked, at the same time giving the salute.
"No, Sergeant, I think we had better let him go this time," was the reply. "He has been taught a lesson already which he is not likely to forget."
When the crowd saw that there was to be no more excitement, it quickly dispersed, and the stream of humanity surged along the street as before. The policeman, too, moved away, leaving the girl and her protector standing near each other.
"You have had a hard time to-night," the man remarked. "I am so sorry those rascals gave you such trouble."
"Oh, it was so kind of you to come to our assistance," the girl replied. "My father is very tired, and the little money we made is all gone."
"May I have your violin for a while, sir?" the stranger asked turning to the violinist, at the same time taking the instrument gently from the trembling hands. "You must be very tired."
During the whole of the scene the old man had been trying to comprehend the meaning of the commotion. His daughter was too greatly excited to explain anything. But when he heard the stranger speak to him he at once complied with his request and allowed him to take his beloved instrument. The girl slipped her hand in his and squeezed it hard, and then stood watching her kind protector.
The latter lifted the violin quickly to his shoulder, faced the crowded street, and drew the bow across the strings. There was a great difference now in the playing, and many people paused to listen. There was something which appealed to them in the music which was pouring forth. It stirred their nobler feelings and aroused in them the spirit of sympathy for the poor and unfortunate. They comprehended the purpose of the musician when they saw the feeble old man and the girl standing nearby. The hearts of many were strangely stirred, and they vied with one another in dropping money into the dusty hat which the girl was again holding forth. Silver mingled with bills, and the girl's face grew bright and her heart happy the heavier the hat became. It seemed to her like a wonderful dream, and that the player was a fairy who had come to her assistance. She wanted to watch him and listen to the music he was making, but she had little time for that, as she had to pay attention to the money she was collecting.
Suddenly the music stopped and when the girl turned her head she saw the stranger handing the violin to her father. She wanted to speak to him, to thank him for his kindness, but before she could act he had disappeared among the crowd.
As the music ceased, so did the giving, and the unheeding crowd once more surged on its way. But the girl did not care, as she had all the money she could manage.
"Let us go now, father," she said. "We have done well to-night, and I am so anxious to know how much we have."
"Yes, Nan, let us be off at once," the old man wearily replied. "I am greatly confused and do not fully understand all that has taken place. You must thank the stranger for his kindness, though. His music was wonderful."
"But he has gone, father. He vanished among the crowd, and I am afraid that I shall never see him again. Oh, he was splendid! How I wish you could have seen him."
"But I heard him speak, Nan, and listened to his playing, so that was something."
They were standing close to each other, talking as simply as if they were completely alone. In her great innocence, Nan did not realise that greedy eyes were watching the bulging hat she was still holding before her, and that itching hands were but waiting an opportunity to snatch away the treasure.
They had turned to leave the place, when a policeman suddenly appeared before them.
"I have been instructed to accompany you home," he briefly informed them.
Into the girl's eyes came a look of fear which the policeman was not slow to notice.
"Don't be afraid, Miss," he remarked. "It is for your welfare that I am here. It is not safe for you to go alone through the streets with all that money. There are people watching you already to snatch it away from you."
"Are there?" and the girl looked fearfully around. "I don't see them."
"No, I know you don't. But they are watching you, nevertheless, so let us go at once."
"Who sent you here to help us?" the girl enquired, as they moved along by the side of the policeman. "Was it that kind man who played so nicely?"
"I received orders to come," was the reply. "That is all I can tell you. But I think you had better let me carry that money," he added, "perhaps it will be safer with me."
The girl was only too glad to comply with his request, for she was beginning to get quite nervous as they moved along through the crowds. She imagined now that many people were following them in order to steal their treasure.
It was quite a distance they had to travel, and very glad was the old man when at length they stopped before the door of a house on a narrow street.
"You live here?" the policeman asked, as he handed the hat with the money to the girl.
"Oh, no," was the reply. "We are only staying here for the night. We live in the country. This is a boarding place, and we have been here before. We are very grateful to you for your kindness, sir, and we shall never forget you."
"It's all in the night's work," the policeman replied. "But be careful of that money. Keep a good watch over it."
"Indeed I shall," and the girl hugged it close to her breast. "It means so much to us."
The policeman moved away, and then stopped and watched the house for a few minutes after the old man and the girl had entered the building.
"Good Lord! what innocents," he muttered to himself. "They wouldn't have got half a block with that money if I hadn't been along. I wonder how they'll make out getting away. Live in the country, the girl said. They should stay there, then. The city's certainly no place for such as them."
WHERE FLOWS THE TIDE
After Douglas Stanton had handed back the violin to the blind musician, he stood a little distance off and watched to see what would happen. He felt quite interested in the old man and the girl, and longed to know something about them. Why were they thus appealing to the crowds for money? The man did not seem like the ordinary street musician, as there was something dignified and refined in his manner. The girl was unusually timid. He could not forget the big blue eyes which had turned to him in gratitude for his assistance, and he had noticed how clean and neat was her simple dress.
"Queer couple that, sir; mere babies."
The man turned suddenly and saw the police sergeant standing by his side.
"Do you know who they are?" Douglas enquired.
"No; never saw them before. But they're such kids that I feel sorry for them, and so ordered Hawkins to see that they got safe home."
"It was good of you, Sergeant, to do that. But, say, I didn't know you were on this beat. When did you leave the water-front?"
"Last night, sir. Flemming's down there now. You know him, I think; he was with me for a while last spring when things were lively there."
"Yes, I remember quite well. He helped us in that Fenston row."
"He's the one, and a good man, too. But I did like that beat, as I was on it so long. It is too tame up here, and you know I'm fond of a bit of excitement now and then."
"You got it down there all right, didn't you, especially when the docks were full?"
"You bet," and the sergeant smacked his lips as past scenes came to his mind. "But it's quiet at the docks now. I haven't seen you there for the last few days, sir."
"I know you haven't, and you won't see me there again for some time. I'm going down to-night to have one more look at the old place."
"Why, not going away!" the sergeant exclaimed in surprise.
"That's about it."
"My, my! What in the world shall we do without you! There'll be no one to take an interest in things down there now."
"Oh, there'll be plenty, I guess."
"You're the first one who ever did, and I'm damned sure those high-brows won't follow your lead. Not a bit of it! They're too much taken up with their pink teas, and such things, and wouldn't think of soiling their nice hands with dock trash."
The sergeant was on his favourite subject now, and his temper was rising. Douglas had heard his opinions before, and was not anxious to listen to them again.
"I must be off now, Sergeant. I shall always remember your kindness."
"But you'll be sure to give us a call, sir? The missus will feel all cut up if you don't."
"Yes, I'll be around as soon as I can. So, good-night."
The worthy sergeant stood and watched him as he moved away.
"Too bad," he muttered. "We can't afford to lose the likes of him. Wonder where in the world he's going. I've always said we couldn't keep him forever, and I guess I was right. It must be a mighty big thing that would take him away from the docks. He should be a chief of police instead of being nothing but a go-cart."
While the sergeant was thus musing, Douglas moved as rapidly as possible along the crowded streets. He wished to get away from the commotion of the throngs that he might consider the thoughts that were uppermost in his mind. Keeping steadily on, he at length reached the street running along the front of the harbour. It was a narrow street, dimly lighted, with huge warehouses on both sides. There was little traffic now, as this was a winter port, and the big ocean liners did not come here during the summer months. It was not a desirable locality, especially at night, and most people shunned the place. The few Douglas met were either hurrying to get away as soon as possible or slinking slowly along, preferring this gloomy abode to the brightly-lighted parts of the city.
The street at length became wider where the docks ran out into the harbour. At several of these small steamers were lying, and a number of sailing craft. Here men were busy loading and unloading the vessels. Douglas did not stop to watch them, as at other times, but kept steadily on until he reached the last dock which was entirely deserted. One electric light shed its beams out over the water, which was kept burning as a guide to incoming boats. Down this dock he walked, and when he came close to the water he stood for a while and looked out over the harbour. It was an inspiring sight to see the lights gleaming on the opposite shore, and from the passing tugs and other vessels.
Here a large warehouse ran along one side of the dock almost to the water's edge. Just around the nearest corner was a steamer's broken shaft, and noticing this, Douglas sat down upon it to rest. It was almost high tide, and the water lapped lazily against the dock. There was a restful quietness here, and Douglas enjoyed the respite from the busy crowds. Below the dock several small tugs were moored, and the sound of voices came to him occasionally from that direction. He thought of the last time he had visited this place, and how the dock then was the scene of such hustling commotion, for a big ocean liner was all ready to leave. She had gone and had left not a visible trace behind. So it would be with him, he mused. Soon he himself would be away, and the life of the city would go on the same and none would remember him. His thoughts drifted to the principal ones who were responsible for his going, and his face hardened, while his hands clenched. He knew what they would say when they heard of it. There would be a slight lifting of the eyebrows, no more than good breeding would allow. It would be mentioned at afternoon teas, and at card-tables. He could imagine what some of them would say. "Poor fellow, his head was somewhat turned with that dock work. He will learn wisdom as he gets older." Yes, such remarks as these would be made, and then he would be entirely forgotten.
He remained musing in this fashion for some time, lost to the world around him. He was going away—he knew not whither, defeated for a while but not beaten. He had the future before him, and he would make good. If he could not do it here, he would in some other place.
The sound of voices at last aroused him. It came from his left, and he peered around the corner of the warehouse. For a few seconds he could see no one, but he knew there were people not far off who were talking in a most earnest manner. Presently, out of the darkness stepped a man and a woman, and passed directly under the electric lamp. He saw their faces distinctly, especially the woman's, which was strained and haggard, as she listened to her companion. As they came nearer and stood close to the edge of the dock, it was possible for Douglas to overhear parts of the conversation. He could not see their faces now, though he could observe their forms, and he knew that the woman was standing near the water, and it was quite evident that she was weeping.
"But you promised me, Ben; you really did," she was saying.
"I know I did, Jean, but we must wait a while," was the reply.
"But we cannot wait," the woman urged. "You know how serious it is if we delay much longer. All will know, and I shall be disgraced."
"Tut, tut," and the man stamped angrily upon the floor of the dock. "Don't talk so foolishly. A few weeks won't make any difference."
"How long do you think?" the woman asked.
"Oh, five or six, I should imagine."
"No, I tell you that will be too late. It must not be longer than two. Promise me that it will not be more than that."
"Well, I promise," the man slowly assented.
"Swear to it, then," the woman demanded. "Place your left hand upon your heart, and hold your right hand up to heaven, and swear by Him who is watching and listening that you will be true to your word."
A coarse, brutal laugh came from the man's lips.
"Won't you believe me?" he demanded.
"Not unless you swear."
"Well, I won't, so that's the end of it."
At these words the woman gave a low moan, and what she said Douglas could not hear. Whatever it was it made the man angry and he again stamped his foot.
"What do I care?" he growled. "You can go to the snivelling old idiot and tell him all you want to."
"Oh, Ben!" and the woman laid a hand upon his arm, "how can you say such things?"
With a curse he flung her hand away, and then in a twinkling he gave her a push, and before she could recover herself she had gone backwards over the edge of the dock. With a frightened cry she disappeared, and the man, instead of trying to rescue her, leaped aside and vanished into the darkness.
All this happened so quickly that Douglas hardly realised what had taken place before it was all over. His first impulse was to spring after the man who had committed the cowardly deed. But the thought of the woman down there in the water deterred him and caused him to hasten at once to her assistance. Anxiously he peered over the edge, and at length saw a hand thrust above the surface. It took him but an instant to tear off his coat and hurl himself into the water below. A few powerful strokes brought him close to the woman, and he was enabled to reach out and clutch her with a firm grip ere she again disappeared. Fortunate it was for him that he was a strong swimmer, and he was thus able to hold the woman's head above water while he slowly worked his way toward the lower side of the dock, where he hoped to find a landing place. He had not proceeded far, however, ere a rowboat shot suddenly out from the shore, and a deep voice hailed him.
"Hold on a minute!" was the order. Soon the boat was near, and both Douglas and the woman were hauled aboard.
"What have ye got there? A woman?" the boatman asked.
"Yes," was the brief response.
"Thought so," the rescuer laconically remarked. "Screamed when she went over, didn't she?"
"I thought so. They all do that. It was her I heard all right."
"What, is such a case as this common?" Douglas asked in surprise.
"Well, I couldn't say it is common, but forty odd years in and around this harbour afford one some queer sights. But here we are."
The boatman swung his craft around and drew it up by the side of a tugboat which was lying at its wharf. It did not take long to lift the woman from the rowboat up to the deck above.
"Have you a light?" Douglas enquired. "I want to see whether this woman is dead or alive."
"Oh, she's alive all right," was the reply. "Ye can't knock the likes of her out with a little dip like that. But I'll get the light, if ye want it."
It did not take the old man long to bring a lantern, and when the light fell upon the woman's face she moved her head and gave a slight moan.
"She's all right," the boatman remarked. "The best thing to do is to phone fer the ambulance. The hospital's the place fer her. She'll have a decent place fer the night, anyway, and they'll fix her up there. There's a phone in the drug-store just around the corner."
Douglas realised that this was the best course to pursue and, wet though he was, he sprang ashore and hurried up the street. It took him only a few minutes to reach the drug-store, where he sent in a hurry call for the ambulance. He paid no attention to the curious looks cast upon his drenched figure by several people who were standing near. In fact, he had forgotten how wet he was, so interested was he in obtaining aid for the unfortunate woman as speedily as possible.
Upon his return to the tug, he found the old man keeping guard.
"How is she now?" he asked.
"Ye can see fer yourself," and the boatman swung around his lantern as he spoke.
Douglas now had more time to observe the face of the woman before him. Her head, resting on an old coat, turned slightly to one side, was partly covered by a wealth of jet-black hair, forming a striking contrast to the face which was so very white. It was a face of considerable beauty, though lines of care were plainly visible. She seemed but a girl lying there, and as Douglas looked at her an intense anger smote his soul, and he longed to lay his hands upon the wretch who had tried to destroy her.
"Why are such brutes allowed their freedom?" he asked turning toward the boatman.
"Hey, what is that you say?" was the reply.
"I wonder why human brutes are permitted to have their freedom, and injure a woman such as that?"
"You saw the deed, then?"
"Yes, I happened to be on the dock over there, when she was pushed into the water by her companion. He disappeared before I could get my hands on him."
"Oh, that is always the way. The women are the ones who suffer while the men get scot-free. But, say, here is the car now."
It did not take long to transfer the woman from the tug to the ambulance, and when the car had departed, Douglas turned to the boatman.
"I wish to thank you for what you have done to-night, sir. But for your timely assistance I fear I should have had a hard time getting ashore."
"Oh, never mind your thanks," was the reply. "I'm mighty glad that I was nearby to give a hand. It does one good sometimes to help a poor creature in distress. But you had better hustle and change your wet clothes or the ambulance will have to come fer you next."
"You're right, I do feel chilly, so good-night."
"Good-night," was the reply, "and when ye want any help with that scoundrel, just call upon Cap' Dodges, of the 'Nancy Staines.'"
The rector of St. Margaret's was visibly annoyed as he hung up the telephone receiver. "Confound that fellow," he muttered, "where can he be? I have phoned to him six times and can get no answer. I shall not call him again. I'm really glad he's going for he gets on my nerves with all his odd notions." Turning to his desk, he continued his work upon his sermon for next Sunday morning.
It was a large, comfortable study, and the walls were well lined with books. Dr. Rannage was noted far and wide as a deep student, as well as a great preacher. The people of St. Margaret's were proud of their rector's ability, and listened, so they often told him, with delight to his intellectual sermons. He was particularly at home when dealing with the Major and Minor Prophets or on the Textual Criticism of the Bible. Regular Pastoral Visitation he disliked, and left most of such work to his curate, though occasionally he called upon the most influential members of his flock. He was a special favourite in social circles, and being a brilliant afterdinner speaker he was much in demand to grace numerous festive gatherings. Little wonder, then, that Dr. Rannage had no time for anything else but the preparation of his Sunday sermons, of which work he was very fond.
To-night, however, he could not concentrate his thoughts upon his subject. His mind would wander, and several times he found himself thinking of the dinner he had that evening with his Bishop. He knew that the position of Archdeacon was vacant, and he was fondly hoping that he would be favoured with the appointment. It would be another step, so he mused, up the ecclesiastical ladder leading to the Episcopate.
He had forgotten all about his sermon and was thinking deeply of the prospects of his advancement, when his curate, Douglas Stanton, entered the room unannounced.
"You are over half an hour late, Stanton," Dr. Rannage chided, as he motioned his visitor to a chair. "What is the meaning of this?"
"I am very sorry," Douglas replied, as he took the proffered chair. "I intended to be here on time, but was unavoidably detained."
"I dined with the Bishop to-night," and Dr. Rannage toyed with a small paper-weight as he spoke, "and was forced to leave in the midst of a most important discussion in order to keep my appointment with you."
"What were you discussing?" Douglas enquired.
"We were considering the best methods of dealing with the submerged population of our city; that is, those unfortunate beings who inhabit the slums and the waterfront."
"Did you arrive at any definite conclusion?"
"We had not time; for, as I have just mentioned, I was forced to come away to meet you."
"And while you were discussing methods of helping the unfortunate, I was rescuing one from the water down at Long Wharf."
Douglas spoke slowly, and he watched to see the effect of his words. But Dr. Rannage did not seem to notice the implied sarcasm, nor the sharp contrast between theory and practice.
"So that is what you were doing, eh?" the latter questioned. "You seem to enjoy being down there."
"I enjoy helping the unfortunate, and because I am not allowed to continue the work, I have sent in my resignation."
"But you must remember that you have a duty to the parish as a whole, and not to one portion of it only."
"Haven't I tried to do my duty? I have visited in season and out of season, and worked like a dog for the two years I have been with you."
"But I have received complaints that you are unsociable, and that you refuse all invitations to, ah, friendly gatherings and such like affairs."
"You mean card-parties and afternoon teas, I suppose," Douglas sharply replied. "If so, I plead guilty. Haven't I taken a keen interest in the Boy Scouts, the Young Men's Club, the Sunday School, and dear knows what? Any spare time I had I spent at the water-front in an effort to follow my Master's example of putting my religion into practice. How dare I waste my time sipping tea at this house and that, and talking nice little nothings to the butterflies who gather there, when there is so much to be done, and precious souls to be helped and saved?"
"But the butterflies, of whom you speak so contemptuously, need to be helped as well."
"No one knows that better than I do," Douglas bitterly assented. "But until they are willing to throw aside their vain pretensions of being the salt of the earth and better than others, I am afraid little can be done. They dislike me because I speak my mind too freely, and refuse to waste my time at their senseless gatherings. They desire some one who will flatter their vanity and condone their idleness."
"You are making serious charges, young man," Dr. Rannage severely replied. His curate's words had hit him hard, and he winced, for he knew how true they were. "If that is the feeling you entertain for innocent amusements, it is just as well you should sever your connection with this parish. When do you expect to leave?"
"And where do you intend to go?"
"I have not the slightest idea. The future to me is a complete blank. Something will turn up, I suppose. If not, I have two hands and a strong body."
"Look here, Stanton," and Dr. Rannage swung suddenly around on his swivel chair, "you must not get downhearted."
"I am not," was the reply.
"Well, perhaps you are not, but I do not like the idea of your going from me with nothing in view. Do you know the parish of Rixton?"
"Yes, I have heard of it, though I know very little about it."
"It seems that it has been vacant for some time, and it is most difficult to get any one to go there. By the way, I met Mr. Simon Stubbles at dinner to-night. He is the leading man at Rixton, and the Bishop and I were much impressed with him. He is very wealthy, so I understand; has a large sawmill, and carries on extensive lumbering operations. He is greatly concerned about the spiritual welfare of Rixton, and is most anxious that a suitable clergyman should be sent there. He is quite willing to contribute liberally if the right man is found."
"Why did the last one leave?" Douglas asked.
"He was not big enough for the work, so I learned from the brief conversation I had with Mr. Stubbles. It is a most difficult parish, composed principally of mill-men, woodsmen, and a few farmers. It seems that the last clergyman used no tact at all in dealing with them, and thus antagonised everybody, Mr. Stubbles included."
"So you think that I would suit, do you?" and Douglas looked quizzically at Dr. Rannage.
"I believe you are just the man for the place."
"What makes you think so?"
"Because you know the ways of such people. You were born in the country, were you not?"
"Why not let young Harmon have a try there? He is one of your boys, and has just been ordained. Would it not be well for him to win his spurs in a parish such as Rixton?"
"Oh, but he is a banker's son, you know, and we could not think of sending him there."
"So I supposed," was the bitter reply, "though I never for a moment imagined that you would so candidly acknowledge it."
"Acknowledge what?" Dr. Rannage queried.
"That because Harmon is a banker's son he would not be sent to an out-of-the-way country parish. His father is influential and can influence those in authority, so he is booked for an important charge in Silverton, so I understand. I am merely the son of a poor, honest farmer, and so any old place will do for me."
"See here, young man, you have no right to talk that way," Dr. Rannage retorted. "If you continue, I shall be compelled to report you to the Bishop."
"Report all you like, but you both know it's true, and you cannot deny it. Harmon barely scraped through college, but he is considered a gentleman's son, and understands the ways of polite society. Mark my words, his career will be followed with great interest, and everything he does will be noted and favourably commented upon. It will not be long before he will be an Archdeacon, or a Dean, and finally a Bishop."
"Are you jealous of Harmon?" Dr. Rannage asked. "That is the only conclusion I can draw from your sarcastic remarks."
"Jealousy has nothing to do with it," was the quick reply. "It is merely justice that I demand, a right for every man to be judged according to what he is and does, irrespective of what his father is, or any influence he may exert. The Church is the last place where such injustice should be allowed. But, there, what is the use of my talking to you or any one else, when you attribute my feeling to jealousy?"
Douglas had risen, and stood with his hat in his hand ready to depart.
"So you don't feel inclined to try Rixton, then?" Dr. Rannage asked. He was quite amused at his curate's words, and considered them merely the outburst of a hot-headed youth. Douglas noted this, and with a great effort controlled himself.
"I shall consider the matter very carefully," was his reply. "If I decide to go, I shall report to the Bishop."
"Wait a minute," Dr. Rannage ordered as Douglas was about to leave the room. "There is something I almost overlooked. You received your cheque for last month, I suppose?"
"Yes, the treasurer gave it to me several days ago."
"There was a meeting of the vestry last night, and I mentioned that you had sent in your resignation," Dr. Rannage explained.
"And I suppose all the members were delighted with the news."
"Why should they? They are all business men, and look well after the temporalities of St. Margaret's. They paid tribute to your earnest work, and as a token of appreciation they asked me to give you this," and Dr. Rannage handed the young man a cheque. "I think this will prove to you better than many words how generous the members of the vestry really are."
Douglas took the cheque in his hand and studied it very carefully. In fact, he looked at it so long without saying anything that Dr. Rannage was surprised.
"Are you not satisfied with it?" he curtly asked, noting the flush which was slowly stealing over Douglas' face. "I took it upon myself to ask something for you, thinking that it would give you considerable pleasure."
"I am not considering the amount of the cheque," Douglas replied, "but something far more important. St. Margaret's is a rich church, is it not?"
"Yes, I suppose so," was the reluctant assent.
"The richest in the city?"
"Yes. But what has that to do with that cheque?" Dr. Rannage angrily retorted.
"It is heavily endowed, and there was a big surplus last Easter, according to the Year Book," Douglas continued, unheeding his rector's annoyance.
"We have good business men on the vestry," Dr. Rannage proudly explained, "and that is the main reason why we are in such excellent financial condition. They have been most careful to invest all moneys where they bring in big returns."
"What did they give me this for, then?" Douglas asked as he held forth the cheque. "It must have wrung their souls to part with one hundred dollars for nothing."
"Oh, that was given merely out of appreciation for your good work in the parish."
"Since when have they become appreciative?"
"Why, haven't they been always so?"
"If they were, they never showed any signs of it. It seemed to me just the opposite, especially when I asked them for a few hundred dollars last fall to rent a building as a shelter for the unfortunate on the water-front. They told me pretty plainly what they thought of my 'new-fangled notion,' as they called it."
"They were merely cautious, that was all," Dr. Rannage defended. "As I told you, they are all good business men, and they wished to be sure that the investment would, ah——"
"Pay," Douglas assisted, as his rector hesitated. "Yes, that was just it. They thought it wouldn't pay in dollars and cents, so they refused to have anything to do with it. The return in lives helped and souls saved did not trouble them in the least. But now, when they know that I am going, perhaps they may have had a twinge of conscience; that is, if they have any, and what they have given me is nothing more than conscience money."
These words brought Dr. Rannage suddenly to his feet. He had always prided himself upon his self-control, but such a charge made by any man, especially a mere curate, was more than he could endure.
"What do you mean by talking that way?" he demanded. "Ever since you entered this room you have been as ugly as——"
"The devil," Douglas assisted as Dr. Rannage paused. "You might as well say it as think it. If telling the truth, and telling it plainly is being ugly, then I plead guilty. I question if what I have said will be of any benefit to you, but it has done a great deal of good to me. It has somewhat relieved my mind, and that is worth something."
"You will relieve my mind, if you will go," Dr. Rannage retorted. "It is absolutely ridiculous that I should be talked to in this manner, especially after what I have done for you."
"Oh, you mean this?" and Douglas glanced at the cheque. "Well, then, I wish to show you and the members of the vestry how I value such, ahem, appreciation. Look!"
Holding the cheque up with both hands, he deliberately tore it into bits, and then, crossing the room, he threw the pieces into the fireplace.
"There, I feel better now," he quietly remarked. "So, good-night."
Before Dr. Rannage could recover from his astonishment, the study door opened and closed, and Douglas Stanton was gone.
"Hello! what's the rush?"
Douglas Stanton stopped short, and a smile overspread his face as he turned it upon the beaming countenance of the man standing before him.
"Oh, it's you, Garton, is it? I didn't see you."
"You certainly didn't. Why, you were cutting a two-forty clip."
"I'm late for tea," Douglas explained.
"So am I," Garton returned. "Just before I left the office, I was called down to the drill-shed to make a presentation to one of our men who is about to get married. Kit will be furious with me for staying so long. Women don't like to be kept waiting, you know. Kit doesn't, anyway. She says the kids will make it hot for me when I get home."
"You're a lucky brute, Garton, to have a home to go to, and a wife and such kids as yours."
"I certainly am. But, say, Stanton, come and have dinner with us."
"How can I? Your wife won't be expecting me, and I shall be intruding."
"Look here, old man," and Garton laid his hand affectionately upon his companion's shoulder, "don't you know that you are always welcome at our house? Kit will be delighted to see you, and the kids will go about crazy. They will be more than surprised, for we were afraid that we had seen the last of you."
"Well, I'll go, then," Douglas assented, and the two started off at a rapid pace.
"So you have decided to leave?" Garton asked, after they had gone a short distance.
"You've heard the news, then?" Douglas queried.
"Sure; though I doubted it at first."
"Yes, I'm going. I've just had a talk with the Bishop, and that was what kept me late."
"What did he say?"
"Oh, he doesn't mind. I'm too small a fish for him to worry about. He was so busy all the afternoon that I was kept waiting until the eleventh hour, and accordingly was favoured with only a few minutes."
Garton detected the note of bitterness in his companion's voice, and did not question him any further just then. When at length within the house, and taken possession of by the Garton "kids"—two boys and a girl—Douglas became entirely changed. There was a lively romp first of all, and it was with difficulty that Mrs. Garton could induce the children to release their victim long enough to come to dinner. Then, at the table there was a contest as to who should sit next to the guest.
It was a happy family into which Douglas had entered. This was the one home in the whole city where he could feel perfectly at his ease, for he knew that he was sincerely welcome. Ever since his coming to St. Margaret's, Charles Garton had been his firm friend. Notwithstanding his big legal practice, this brilliant lawyer was always ready and willing to assist the young curate, and Douglas found it a great comfort to go to him for advice.
"I am afraid that I am a great intruder to-night," he told Mrs. Garton. "But you must blame your husband this time."
"I shall absolve him from all his past sins for bringing you," was the smiling reply. "We were afraid that you were going to leave the city without coming to bid us good-bye."
"I hope I am not so ungrateful as that, after all your kindness to me."
"We shall miss you very much, Mr. Stanton. I hardly know how the children will get along without you."
"Oh, I shall drop in on you one of these days when you're least expecting me."
"Are you going far away?"
"Merely to Rixton."
"Rixton!" Mr. Garton exclaimed.
"Yes, why not? Some one must go there."
"Do you know anything about the place?"
"Very little. I have been told that it is a hard parish, and that the last rector was forced to leave."
"I should say it is. Why, they've killed several men there already, and do you want to be added to the number?"
"Killed them! did you say?" Douglas asked in surprise. "I never heard it was as bad as that."
"Oh, well, they didn't actually kill them, but they tried to do so, it appears, and you know what the Bible says about having murder in the heart."
Douglas made no reply to these words but went on with his dinner. It was only when he and Mr. Garton were comfortably ensconced in big chairs in the library, enjoying a quiet smoke, that Douglas referred to the subject which had been abruptly dropped.
"Do you know much about Rixton?" he asked.
"Quite a bit, from hearsay. It's a queer community, so I understand, and the Church has had a mighty hard struggle there."
"What's wrong with it, anyway?"
"I can't exactly say. But no clergyman has been able to hold his own there for years. It may have been their fault, and perhaps if the right man goes to the parish, things might be all right. I wish to goodness you were going anywhere else than to Rixton. I wonder what the Bishop is thinking about to send you to that place."
"Merely because he thinks that I know the ways of such people, as I was brought up in the country."
"We want you here in the city, though," and Garton savagely blew a great cloud of smoke across the room.
"But Dr. Rannage and the majority of the people of St. Margaret's don't want me. They are delighted to think that I am going."
"Yes, so I understand, confound their skins! They want some little snipper-snapper who can dance attendance upon all the pink-teas that are held, and shine in social circles."
"I could not suit them," Douglas slowly explained, "because the spirit of adventure runs in my veins. I would like to be a prospector or an explorer, and launch out into the unknown. As soon as I entered the Ministry, I looked around for some untouched field in which to enter. The complex life along the water-front appealed to me more than the conventional work in St. Margaret's. There are great opportunities there, especially during the winter season. But, alas! my plans have been overturned, and I must give it all up. I have often thought of the mission field, and when an opening occurs I hope to go. At present the parish of Rixton is without a clergyman, and most likely it will remain so for some time unless I go. It is a very difficult parish, so I understand, and it accordingly appeals to me. I am quite curious to know just what is the trouble, and in what way it is different from other country districts. Have you any idea?"
"It is somewhat of a puzzle to me," Garton replied. "It really should be an ideal parish, for nearly all of the people belong to our Church. Mr. Stubbles himself is a member, and senior warden, so I believe."
"You know him, then?"
"Yes, in a way. I have had some business dealings with him, and incidentally I have talked with him about Church affairs at Rixton. He has always seemed greatly interested."
"And he laid the blame, I suppose, upon the clergymen?"
"Invariably. He said they did not understand country people, and could not adapt themselves to their ways, but held severely aloof."
"There must be some other cause," Douglas mused, "and I must find out what it is."
"When do you expect to go?" Garton enquired.
"What! so soon! Why not take a holiday? You certainly need it, if any one does."
"I have asked for two months. I told the Bishop this afternoon that only on that understanding would I take charge of Rixton."
"But you have just told me that you are going there to-morrow!" Garton exclaimed.
"Look here, old man, I have a plan, and I want to tell it to you, if you will promise that you will not speak of it to any one except your wife. I know she will keep the secret."
"And I guess I can, too," Garton assented. "I keep a good many for my clients, and one more will not overburden me."
"I am going to spend my vacation in Rixton," Douglas explained. "What do you think of that?"
"What do you mean?" Garton asked in surprise.
"Simply that I am going there as an ordinary farmhand and work for my living for two months."
"Good heavens!" Garton was so astonished at this revelation that he knocked the ashes from his cigar over his clothes. "Are you going crazy, Stanton? What will the Bishop and the people of Rixton think of such a thing?"
"They are not to know anything about it until it is all over. You and Mrs. Garton will be the only ones who will be aware of this freak of mine, so if I get killed, you might give me a decent burial."
"Suppose in case of your death it should be considered wilful suicide, what then?" Garton asked, while an amused twinkle shone in his eyes. "We won't be able to get any one to read the Burial Service over you."
"Oh, I don't believe it will be as bad as that. The people won't know that I am a clergyman, and they will not think it worth while to bother a farm-hand. I shall be just plain John Handyman to them, and nothing more."
"What put such a notion into your head, anyhow?" Garton enquired.
"I wish to learn what is wrong with the parish of Rixton," was the reply. "I want to get down to bedrock, so to speak, and find out just what is the trouble."
"But how will your going as a farm-hand help you?"
"I shall have a better chance to see things in their true light. If I go as a clergyman, people will naturally be somewhat suspicious of me, and will say things behind my back which they will not say to my face. But John Handyman will be of little account in their estimation, and they will express their views in his presence freely and openly."
"Does it not seem like taking a mean advantage of them?" Garton queried.
"I can't see it that way. I wish to diagnose that parish and find out what is the trouble. There is a serious disease of some kind there, and unless I know what it is before taking charge I may make all kinds of mistakes, and thus render the work much more difficult. If, in this way, I can accomplish my object and do good to the people of Rixton, I cannot see how I shall be taking a mean advantage of them. If the fault has been with the clergymen who have been there, I want to know it; but if the people are to blame, I want to know that as well."
"I see you believe in understanding the people among whom you work," Garton remarked.
"Certainly. It seems to me that too many of our clergy do not understand their parishioners, especially so in country districts. It was not always so, but changes have taken place in recent years. How well I remember my old rector, the one whose life I so revere, and principally through whose influence my mind was first turned toward the Ministry. He was a saint, if ever there was one, and he looked well after his flock. He knew his people intimately, not merely officially, but in a sympathetic and loving way. He knew them all by name, even to the smallest child. Their concerns were his, and he entered into their joys and sorrows as one of them, and not as a mere outsider. Why, it was wonderful how much he knew about farming, stock-raising, and such like. He could talk as intelligently to the men about their farms as he could to the women about their children. He was one of them; he loved them and they knew it."
Douglas' eyes shone as he thus bore testimony to the worth of his old rector, and when he suddenly ceased he sat gazing straight before him as if he beheld a vision.
"Is he living yet?" Garton asked.
"No, he died years ago, when I was about seventeen."
"He must have been a remarkable man."
"He certainly was, and his was the model parish in the whole diocese."
"Is it the same now?"
An angry light suddenly leaped into Douglas' eyes, as he turned them upon his companion's face.
"No, it is not the same," he slowly replied. "The parish has gone to pieces, and the changes which have taken place there make my heart ache."
"Why, what has been the cause?" Garton enquired.
"It is due to the men who were sent there after the death of my old rector. The first man who went had no patience with the people in their loyalty to his predecessor, and he could not bear to hear them tell of the work which had been done in the past. He became jealous, said sharp things, and turned the people against him. The next man took no interest in the things which concern an agricultural people. He openly said that he hated farming, and that he was only staying in the parish until he could get a better one. He moved on after he had driven a number of members from the Church. The third was not satisfied with the services, so he introduced many things which were distasteful to the people, especially the older members. He is there yet, but there is a sad division in the parish, and he has only a very small following. Those three men could not understand the people among whom they worked. I do not want to make the same mistake at Rixton, and so I am going to spy out the land."
"Oh, you'll make out all right," Garton replied, as he laid the butt of his cigar carefully on the ash-tray. "You'll have no trouble. Get on the good side of Stubbles, and he'll see you through. You can't afford to lose the support of such a man as that, who has so great an influence in Rixton. Anyway, if you need help, bank on me. I am always at your service. I'll bring my whole battalion to your assistance. Just send for Col. Garton of the 65th, and he'll be there with his men in no time. But, say, there's Kit at the piano; let's go and have one more good sing together, and forget all about disagreeable Church matters for the present."
PUT TO THE TEST
There was a special reason why Douglas Stanton walked slowly along the road leading from the railway station through the parish of Rixton. It was a warm, beautiful evening, and the magnificent scenery so appealed to him that he had not the heart to hurry. How good it was to be away from the noise and dust of the city! Here he could breathe the pure, fresh air, listen to the music of the birds, and rest his eyes upon meadows, flowers and trees. He felt at home, and the spirit of childhood days possessed him. He longed to wade in every brook he saw, and roll in the grass by the side of the road.
He had walked about five miles and was somewhat tired, as he was carrying a large bag over his shoulder, and his precious violin case under his arm. He was no longer dressed in his clerical garb, but was plain John Handyman in rough work-a-day clothes. He enquired the way from several people he met, and these had looked with curiosity upon the bag and box he was carrying.
"Huntin' for work, eh?" the last man he had accosted asked. "Well, Jake Jukes wants a man in the worst way. Heard him say so last night. He lives about half a mile further on. Ye can't mistake the place, for it's just across the road from the rectory."
"How will I know the rectory when I come to it?" Douglas enquired.
"Oh, ye can't mistake it very well. It is a big house with shutters on the windows, and tall grass all around. It's been closed up for about a year now."
This was just the information Douglas needed, and thanking the man, he moved on his way. Presently, the road dipped into a wooded valley, and part way down the hill, Douglas espied a large barrel overflowing with clear, sparkling water. Stopping, he opened his bag and drew forth a small tin cup. This he filled with water, and then withdrew a short distance among the trees and sat down upon the mossy ground. Mrs. Garton had thoughtfully provided him with a generous lunch, and this he now opened and spread out before him. He was hungry, so the sandwiches and cold meat seemed the best he had ever tasted. There was a piece of pie, as well as cake, for dessert, and what more could a king desire? he asked himself. How delightful it was to lie there and rest in such a quiet place. He was free to come and go as he wished, and not shackled by any rules of conventional life. The whole country was his to wander at will. Why should he not do it? He had only himself to care for, and his strong arms could provide the simple necessities of daily life. Why spend his time in the service of others, when his efforts were either misunderstood or not appreciated? He was tired of being dictated to, and told what to do. He was just as able to look after his own affairs as the Bishop and Dr. Rannage. They did not care a snap for him, neither did the Church, for that matter. He was but a fly on one of the wheels of the great ecclesiastical machine, and counted for nothing.
Such thoughts appealed to Douglas more than ever before, and he meditated upon them as he once more continued on his way. He had been trained to look with suspicion upon people who held such views, but now he realised how attractive they were, and worthy of more careful consideration. Life, after all, was not summed up in the books he had studied, nor in the knowledge he had acquired while at college. No, there was the great pulsing world all around him, and why should he go through it fettered in soul, mind and body?
Thinking thus, he came to the rectory. The gate leading into the yard was closed. This he pushed open, entered, and walked around the house. Signs of neglect and decay were most apparent. The building had not been painted for years, and the shingles on the roof were in a bad condition. Grass and weeds ran riot right up to the very windows. He tried both the front and back doors but they were fastened.
Amidst this scene of desolation, Douglas stood and looked out over the land connected with the rectory. There were several acres, sloping gently to the river about two hundred yards away. Trees lined the shore, and his attention was especially attracted to one large elm which towered gracefully above its fellows. Only a small part of the land surrounding the rectory had been cultivated. The rest, which had been used for pasturage, was covered with small bushes. Several apple trees stood back of the house, but these had not been trimmed for years, and the bark and moss were thick upon their trunks. "My, how I would like to get to work upon this place," Douglas thought, as he moved over toward the small orchard. "They seem to be good trees, and when once well scraped and their tops thinned out, they should bear well. Why, a man with some knowledge of farming could make a comfortable living in a few years on such a place as this."
Near the orchard was a barn, with the two big doors off their hinges, having been injured evidently by the wind. There was nothing in the barn except a pile of old hay lying upon the floor. "That looks good to me," Douglas mused. "I shall have a soft bed to-night, anyway. It is getting dark, and I might as well stay here as anywhere. I wonder what the people of this parish would say if they knew that their future clergyman is occupying the rectory barn. He might have a worse place, though, and perhaps he may before he is through."
Douglas was tired and slept soundly. The night was warm, and his coat was all the covering he needed. It seemed to him that he had been sleeping but a short time when he was awakened by a strange and yet familiar noise. Opening his eyes, he could not for a moment imagine where he was. Before him, and just outside the door, a herd of cattle was trooping past. They were much startled to see a man lying in the barn, and several of them had given vent to coarse bellows as they stood staring in upon him. Presently he heard a man's voice shouting to the cattle to "git along out of that. What's the matter with ye, anyway?" Then a stick was hurled at them, which caused them to scamper away. Soon the man appeared, and when he saw what had caused the commotion among the cattle, he, too, stood and stared in amazement for a few seconds. Then he took several steps forward, and held up the stout stick he was carrying in his hand.
"Hi, what are ye doin' there?" he demanded.
"Haven't you eyes to see for yourself?" Douglas asked in reply.
"But don't ye know that this is private property?"
"That's just the reason I'm here. It's so very private that it suits me fine."
"You have no business sleepin' in this barn."
"I'm not sleeping. I am as wide awake as you are. Do you own this place?"
"No, but I have charge of it. It's Church property, and as I live jist across the road I have been asked to keep an eye over it an' put all intruders off."
Douglas liked the appearance of this fellow, notwithstanding his pugnacious manner. He had an honest face, and bright blue eyes, in whose depths lurked a merry twinkle. He took it for granted that this was Jake Jukes who wanted a farm hand.
"Come and put me off, then," Douglas quietly remarked, as he rose slowly to his feet. "I am anxious for a little excitement. It will give me an appetite for my breakfast."
"Where are you goin' to git it?" the farmer asked.
"At your place."
"At my place!"
"Certainly. You are Jake Jukes, are you not? You want a man to help with your haying, and I am going to stay."
"Great punkins! How d'ye know who I am?" and Jake looked his astonishment.
"Oh, never mind that. Do you want me? That is more important."
"Well, I do need help very bad, but I must know what wages ye want before I hire ye. I can't make an offer until I find out what ye kin do."
"I'll work a week with you for board and lodging. That will give you time to try me out, and then you will know what I am worth. I'll bet almost anything, though, that I am just as good a man as you are."
"Ho, ho," Jake laughed. "As good a man as I am! Ye don't know what ye're sayin'. Would ye like to try a back-hold with me? There isn't a man in the whole parish of Rixton who has been able to put me down yit, though many of 'em have tried."
As a lad at school, and also while at college, Douglas had excelled in wrestling, but for several years he had not engaged in the sport, and was not in proper condition. He knew that if it came to the matter of physical endurance he would have little chance against this sturdy farmer. But it was necessary for him to do something of a worthy nature at the outset of his career in this parish.
"So you think you can put me down, do you?" he asked, as he stepped from the barn out upon the grass. "Well, then, here's your opportunity."
Nothing loath, Jake accepted the challenge, and in a trice the two were locked together in a friendly yet desperate encounter. Douglas soon found that Jake was depending mostly upon his great strength of body to win, and that he was acquainted with hardly any of the tricks of the game. He, therefore, watched his opportunity, at the same time being careful not to allow his opponent to make use of his bear-like crushing grip. This was what Jake was striving for, and he was much worried when he found that he could not carry out the plan which had always proved so effective in the past. He became puzzled, and so confused that ere long he allowed himself to be caught off guard, with the result that his feet went suddenly from under him and he came to the ground upon his hack with a thud. The shock affected his pride more than it did his body, especially when his opponent sat upon him and smiled calmly down into his face.
"Are you satisfied now?" Douglas asked. "You may get up if you are."
"Great punkins!" Jake exclaimed, as he scrambled to his feet. "How in the world did ye do it? Ye're the first one who ever put me down, blister me shins if ye ain't."
"Oh, you are an easy mark," Douglas replied. "Why, I didn't half try."
"Ye didn't!" and Jake's eyes and mouth opened wide in amazement. "What could ye have done if ye really tried?"
Douglas was amused at Jake's astonishment.
"Are you willing to hire me now?" he asked. "Perhaps you want some further proof of my ability to hold my own?"
"I don't want to try any more back-holds with ye," Jake ruefully replied, as he rubbed his bruised right shoulder. "Ye've got the cinch on me in that game all right, and I'd like to know how ye did it. But I'll try ye in runnin', and if ye beat me in that ye're a better all round man than I am."
"All right," Douglas laughingly assented. "How far shall we run? I guess we'll have big appetites after all this morning's exercise."
"See that tree?" and Jake pointed to the graceful elm down by the shore. "Let's run down around that an' back to this barn."
"I'm ready," Douglas cried. "One, two, three, go!" he shouted.
They got a fair start and bounded over the field like two greyhounds slipped from the leash. Shoulder to shoulder they ran, and by the time they reached the tree there was not the slightest difference between them. They both strove for the advantage of the upper ground in drawing near the elm, with the result that they nearly collided with each other. With a whoop Jake took the lead in his dash around the tree, with Douglas right at his heels. But at that instant a form leaped suddenly to his feet with a wild cry of fear, and then went down again as the two runners dashed into him, and then sprawled full length forward.
Douglas was first to recover, for Jake had some difficulty in extricating himself from the thicket of tangled bushes into which he had plunged. Standing nearby was the cause of their mishap. He was a tall, lank youth of about seventeen, very thinly clad, and bare-footed. His expression of fear had changed to one of astonishment as he watched the two intruders upon his quietness.
As soon as Jake had scrambled to his feet and saw who it was who had caused the disaster, he rushed straight toward the motionless youth.
"Ye good fer nothin' thing!" he roared, "I'll teach ye to be layin' round here at night. Take that, ye goat!" and he administered a sound box upon the youth's ear.
The lad gave vent to a howl of pain, and tried to get away, but Jake held him in a firm grip and was about to repeat the blow when Douglas interfered.
"Here, let up on that," he ordered, at the same time laying a firm hand upon Jake's arm.
"But he deserves to be thumped," the latter insisted. "He's Empty in name and empty in head, that's what he is. What business has he to be sleepin' behind this tree?"
"He has as much business to be here as we have," Douglas defended, "and don't you dare to touch him again. Take your hands off him, or you'll go down quicker than you did up by the barn."
The memory of his recent defeat was so fresh in Jake's mind that reluctantly he relinquished his hold upon the youth's arm.
"I'll let ye off this time," he growled, "but don't let me ever catch ye hangin' around this place agin."
"I wasn't doin' nuthin'," the lad protested, speaking for the first time.
"Ye've been up to some mischief," Jake charged.
"No, I haven't."
"What have ye been doin', then?"
"Fishin'; that's what I've been doin', and I came here to git a little sleep."
"Where's yer net?"
"Out there," and the lad pointed with his finger across the water. "Didn't ye know I was fishin'?"
"Naw, never heard of ye workin' before. Ho, ho, that's a good one! To think of Empty Dempster workin'! What's goin' to happen!"
At that instant the blast of a tin horn fell upon their ears, which caused Jake to start and look across the field.
"Great punkins!" he exclaimed. "It's Susie, an' I fergot all about them cows!"
DOWN BY THE RIVER
The neglected cattle had been having a fine time roving at will wherever their fancy led. They had left the uninviting rectory grounds and were revelling in their master's turnip patch when discovered by Mrs. Jukes. When the men at last arrived and dislodged them from this delectable spot, they scampered across the fields, trampling through the young corn and potato patch until they reached the peas, beets and carrots, where they stopped for another feast. Jake was almost in despair. He shouted frantically, waved his arms, and hurled stones at his wayward herd. It was only with the greatest difficulty that the cattle were at last rounded up in the barn-yard, and the gate closed.
Mrs. Jukes had taken an important part in this affair, and now stood facing her crestfallen husband, with her eyes ablaze with anger. The presence of the stranger did not deter her in the least.
"Where have you been?" she demanded. "Breakfast has been ready for half an hour, and if it hadn't been for me, the cows would have eaten everything up on the place. Were you asleep?"
"I—I was gettin' a man to help with the work," Jake stammered. "He's here now."
"H'm," and Mrs. Jukes tossed her head. "I guess there wouldn't have been any need for a man to help with the work if the cows had been left much longer. Where did you come from, Empty?" and she turned toward the youth standing near Douglas.
"I was fishin'," the lad replied.
"Had your breakfast yet?"
"Well, come in, then, and have a bite. You've earned it all right this morning. Bring your help in, Jake. I guess there's enough for all."
Mrs. Jukes' anger soon passed, and by the time they reached the house she was in a more pleasant frame of mind. She was a bright, active little body, and Douglas won her friendship at once by the interest he took in her two children, a girl of six and a boy of three. While Mrs. Jukes was busy placing the breakfast upon the table, Douglas had the children on his knees, and was asking them their names and quizzing them about the things in which they were interested. Though very busy, Mrs. Jukes noticed this, and she felt greatly pleased at the attention the stranger paid to her offspring. She noted, as well, his refined face, his gentle manner, and the words he used, for Mrs. Jukes had been a school teacher before she married, and, according to her husband, she had "a great deal of larnin'." She knew enough, at least, to keep Jake in his place, and to make him attend strictly to his work, with the result that their farm was the best cultivated one in the community.
"You sit here, sir," she told Douglas, putting a chair in place. "I'm sorry there isn't more for breakfast. I didn't expect company this morning."
"Why, this is a meal fit for a king," Douglas replied. "It's been years since I've eaten pancakes, ham and gravy. And that bread looks good, too. Did you bake it yourself, Mrs. Jukes?"
"Oh, yes, I do all my own cooking. But that bread isn't as good as I generally make. We just opened a new barrel of flour, and it doesn't seem to be as good as the last we had."
"It's no wonder that you are the best wrestler in the parish," Douglas remarked to Jake.
"Why?" the farmer asked, with his mouth full of pancake.
"Because of what you eat. Wouldn't any one be strong with such food as this?"
"But you put me down, though," Jake acknowledged, "an' you haven't been eatin' sich grub."
"Ah, it wasn't my strength, remember. It was simply a little trick I learned years ago."
"Will ye larn me the trick?" Jake asked. "I'd like to try it on Joe Preston the next time we have a bout together. My, it would surprise him."
"What, were you two wrestling this morning?" Mrs. Jukes enquired.
"Yep, an' he put me down," her husband explained. "Ye should have seen the way he did it, Susie. I struck the ground kerflop, right on my shoulders, an' they are sore yit from the thump."
No one noticed the look of wonder mingled with admiration upon Empty's face as Jake uttered these words. He forgot to eat, as he watched Douglas across the table. Any one who could put down the champion of Rixton was a marvel in Empty's eyes, and worthy of more than a passing notice. He had not forgotten how this stranger had taken his part down by the big elm, and would not let Jake hit him the second time.
Mrs. Jukes was almost as much surprised as Empty. Though she could handle her husband and make him do what she wished, she, nevertheless, had a great admiration for his prowess as a wrestler, and was proud of his standing in the community. It was his local renown which had appealed to her when she was teaching school in Rixton, and had enabled Jake to capture her from his rivals, for Susie Perkins had been greatly admired and sought after by the young men of the place.
"Do you know anything about farm work?" she asked.
"I was brought up on a farm, and should know something about it," Douglas replied.
"But you haven't done any hard work of late, have you?"
"How do you know that?"
"Oh, I can tell by your hands. They are not hard and rough like Jake's, for instance, and your face is not burnt as if you had been out working in the sun."
Douglas smiled, and held up his hands for inspection.
"Please do not judge by these," he replied, "but rather by my brain, heart and feet. They are all pretty well worn. A week or so in the field will remedy the defects of my face and hands, and make them more like your husband's."
"I'm goin' to try ye out fer a week," Jake remarked, "an' if ye understand hayin' as well as ye do wrestlin' ye're the man fer me."
"Just for my board and lodging," Douglas added.
"Well, that's fer you to say."
"I prefer it that way."
"It's settled, then," and Jake pushed back his chair and rose from the table. "We must do the milkin', and then git into the field. There's a heap of hay to come in to-day, an' we can't dilly-dally."
Douglas soon proved that he was no novice at farm work, and he won Jake's approval by the quick and efficient way he was able to milk. But it was when once out in the field he showed what he could do. Though not hardened to the work, he exhibited his knowledge of mowing with the scythe or the machine, as well as raking and putting up the hay in bunches ready to be hauled in that afternoon.
It was a bright, beautiful day, and Douglas found it good to be out there in the open instead of being shut up in the crowded city. He was almost like a boy in his joy and enthusiasm. Everything appealed to him and brought back memories of other days; the fragrant scent of the new-mown hay, the zig-zagging butterflies, and the birds darting here and there. Though the day was hot and the perspiration at times stood out in beads on his forehead, yet he was more contented than he had been for a long time. "Why did I ever leave the country?" he asked himself. "What life so free and happy as this?" Then the thoughts which had entered his mind the night before came to him once again. "Would it not be better to live in God's open, and rove at will?" he mused. "Why should I be a slave any longer, and conform to a dry ecclesiastical system? Better to follow nature and the dictates of my own heart. What is the use of striving to help others when they do not wish to be helped?"
He found Jake a capital companion. He was not a driver, but an encourager, and when once he saw that a man was doing his best, he was satisfied.
"Ye're all right," he told Douglas that evening after the chores had been done, and they were resting for a while on a log near the house. "I suppose ye feel a little sore?"
"Not yet," Douglas replied, "but I expect to be rather stiff in the morning after to-day's work. It will take me a little while to get hardened up, and then I'm going to have a wrestling bout with you. My, how calm the water is to-night," and he turned his eyes upon the peaceful river away to the left. "I'm going down to have a swim. The last one I had was in the harbour."
"In the harbour!" Jake exclaimed in amazement. "What in the world were ye swimmin' there fer?"
"Oh, I'll tell you some day when I've got nothing else to do. Where's the best place for a swim?"
"Most anywhere, but ye'll find the water extry good down by that old pine tree," and Jake pointed away to the left. "There are no weeds there."
It took Douglas but a few minutes to reach the river, and he walked slowly along the shore. Not a ripple disturbed the surface of the water, and the trees along the bank were mirrored in the clear depths. How good it was to be in such a place where he could think to his heart's content. No sign of human life was here, and the sweet song of a vesper sparrow was the only sound which broke the stillness of the evening. So far, he had not found Rixton to be the terrible place it had been painted, and he was beginning to think that what he had heard was mere legend. He had found the Jukes very agreeable people, at any rate, and he believed that his stay with them would be most pleasant.
Having reached the old pine, he sat down upon the sand and bent forward to unlace his shoes. His attention, however, was suddenly arrested by the sound of violin music to his left. That it was no amateur who was playing he was well aware, but one skilled in the art. At any time such music would have appealed to him, but on an evening like this, and amid such surroundings, the effect was greatly enhanced. For a few minutes he sat and listened, afraid to move lest the charm should be dispelled. The music thrilled his soul with a peculiar feeling of responsibility. It seemed like a passionate cry for help, mingled with a desire for sympathy and understanding. It was quite evident that the unknown minstrel had suffered, and was pouring forth upon the still evening air the deep emotions of the heart. Others might hear differently, but there was only one interpretation he could give to the enchanting sound.
Presently there came to him a desire to see this skilled musician. He was beginning to realise that Rixton, no matter what others might say, was becoming a most interesting place. To encounter in one day a wrestler like Jake Jukes, and a violinist such as he was now hearing, made his coming to the parish really worth while.
Looking along the shore from whence the music came, Douglas could see nothing but trees. Stepping back, however, a few paces, he obtained a better view, and beheld not far away three persons near a large tree which was bending over the water. One was an old man seated upon the ground, with a young girl by his side. He could not distinguish their faces, but they were evidently listening with rapt attention to a young woman who was standing nearby playing upon a violin. Douglas noted with admiration her lithe form, and the graceful poise of her head. So the musician was a woman! It came to him as a surprise, for in his mind he had pictured a man alone on the shore, giving expression to his feelings. He longed to draw nearer, that he might see her better and look into her eyes. A soul and a hand that could produce such music could belong only to a person of more than ordinary beauty, so he imagined. But he knew that if he ventured forth the charm would be broken, and he would be looked upon as an intruder. No, it was better for him to remain where he was that he might listen and adore unseen.
As he stood there and watched, the music suddenly ceased. He saw the girl sitting on the ground rise to her feet, take the old man by the hand, and lead him away. The musician alone remained, and with the violin under her arm she leaned against the tree. Was she tired? Douglas wondered. Why did she not go with the others? He was not left long in doubt, however, for in a few minutes a man emerged from among the trees and approached the waiting woman. Ah, she had remained to meet her lover, and no doubt her music had been meant for him. Perhaps he had been near at hand all the time, waiting a favourable opportunity to speak to her. Was the old man her father who objected to her lover? And was the young girl her sister who was in league with her? These thoughts passed through Douglas' mind as he stood there. It did not seem right that he should be watching these two, and yet there was something which restrained him from going away at once. They did not seem altogether like lovers, for the young woman had stepped back as the man drew near, and kept retreating slightly whenever he approached too close.
Douglas could not hear a word that was being said, but the strange manner of the two interested him greatly. It was evident that they were engaged in an earnest conversation, though the man seemed to be doing most of the talking.
For some time the two stood near the old tree, while the shades of night deepened over the land. At length, they moved away, walking side by side, and soon disappeared among the trees. Douglas' interest was much aroused and he felt that there was some mystery connected with what he had witnessed. He longed to know something about the violinist, where she had learned to play in such a remarkable manner, and the reason of the strange compelling music.
Lost in such thoughts, he forgot all about his intended swim. He left the old pine tree and slowly retraced his steps along the shore. It was dark by the time he reached the house. He felt tired after his day's work, and was glad to go at once to the little bedroom which Mrs. Jukes had prepared for his use.
Weary though he was, Douglas found it difficult to get to sleep. He thought over the various events of the day, and was not altogether dissatisfied with the results. He had made a beginning, anyway, and he hoped that events would so shape themselves that he might soon be able to get to the heart of the Church trouble, whatever it might be. He had not yet spoken to Jake about the matter, thinking it best to wait for a day or two, or until a favourable opportunity should occur.
Then the music he had heard down by the river kept running through his mind, and, try as he might, he could not silence the sound. He saw again that slight, graceful figure standing near the tree, drawing the bow skilfully across the strings of the violin. Where had she learned to play in such a manner? he asked himself. He was surprised that Rixton could produce such a musician. Was she engaged to that young man? he wondered, and, if so, what was the cause of her strange behaviour when they met? It was late when he at last fell asleep, and he dreamed of a herd of wild cattle chasing a beautiful woman through a big field, while he and Jake were unable to go to her assistance.
When he awoke in the morning the rain was pelting down upon the roof overhead. The sound filled him with a sense of deep satisfaction and brought back childhood days when he had listened to the same music in the little room in his old home. He was glad that it was raining, as he was feeling sore after yesterday's work, and he longed for a little rest from the labour of the hay field. Early though it was, Jake was already astir. He heard him making the fire in the kitchen stove, then the rattle of milk pails, and the bang of the door as he left for the barn. Douglas tumbled out of bed, dressed, and in a few minutes was at the stable.
"What! You here?" Jake asked in surprise, as he paused in the act of picking up a milking-stool.
"Certainly, and why not?" Douglas replied.
"Oh, I didn't expect ye to be up so early, that's all. All the hired men I've ever had waited to be called."
"Why didn't you call me?"
"Thought I'd let ye sleep, as ye had a hard day of it yesterday. And, besides, it's rainin', so we can't do much to-day."
"Rain or no rain, tired or not tired, I am going to do my share while I'm here," Douglas quietly remarked, as he picked up a pail and a stool. "I don't want you to favour me in the least, though I appreciate your thoughtfulness."
After breakfast, Jake and Douglas went out into the woodhouse to grind a scythe and a cutter-bar.
"We might as well git them done while it's rainin'," Jake had said, "an' there's nuthin' else we kin do this mornin'."
Douglas turned the stone while Jake did the grinding. He was not new to the job, as he had often done it as a boy. Then, it had been a wearisome task, and it seemed to him that the hired man always pressed as hard as he could upon the stone. But now he enjoyed the task, as it was a change from the pitching of hay.
"Have you many near neighbours?" he presently asked.
"Yes, a few," was the reply. "Sandy Barker lives below me, and Caleb Titus jist above. Of course, there's the corner with a whole bunch of houses. It's pretty well settled all along the river."
"Has Caleb Titus much of a family?"
"Naw. Jist himself an' one daughter, Polly."
"Has he a large farm?"
"Not overly large; though he doesn't attend to it. He works in the woods in the winter time, an' scratches the ground a little in the spring, an' tries to raise something, though he doesn't succeed very well. He sold a piece off the front of his place a few years ago to old Andy Strong, an' got a good price for it, so I heard."
"Who is this man Strong?" Douglas enquired.
Jake lifted the scythe from the stone and felt its edge very carefully with his thumb before answering. He seemed to be pondering something, and a peculiar smile lurked about the corners of his mouth.
"I can't jist tell ye who he is," he eventually replied. "He came off an' on to Rixton for several years until at last he settled down here for good with his daughters."
"How many has he?"
"Two; Nell an' Nan. My, they're beauties, an' the young fellers in the whole parish are about crazy over them, especially Nell. She's a wonder, an' looks after everything, the old man included."
"What's wrong with him?"
"Oh, he's blind as a bat, an' as queer a critter as ye ever sot eyes on."
"In what way?"
"Well, he's an unbeliever, an' has a great deal to say about churches, 'ligion, an' parsons. He's down on 'em all. The young fellers hereabouts git him to talk to them, an' make believe they are mighty interested in his views. That is only their excuse fer visitin' the place, so's they kin meet Nell an' Nan. Ho, ho! it's a great joke. The old boy thinks they're listenin' to him, but they don't remember a word he says."
"Do his daughters favour any of them?"
"Not as fer as I know. They are mighty sensible girls, an' put up with the young fellers comin' to their place because it pleases their dad. He likes to express his views, an' they know it."
"Why is Mr. Strong so much down on churches, religion and parsons?" Douglas asked.
"I can't tell ye that. He's got a grouch of some kind, though I never heard him say what it is."
"Did he ever go to church?"
"Not him, though I've seen his daughters there. Nell has played the organ at times, fer she's mighty musical. My, ye should hear her play the fiddle! She makes it fairly talk."
"Where did she learn to play so well?"
"From her dad. He was a perfessor, or something like that years ago, though his playin' is pretty shaky now."
Douglas asked no more questions just then, but went on with his work, and meditated upon what he had heard. Perhaps this old man Strong was really the cause of much of the Church trouble in the parish. Jake might be wrong in his opinion about the young men, and they may have been greatly influenced by the words of the blind professor. He longed to see Strong that he might hear what he had to say, and at the same time to meet his daughters. How he was going to do this, he had not the least idea, though he somehow felt that he would have to wrestle with the unbeliever if he intended to make any headway in Rixton. He had won his first step in the parish as a wrestler, but to contend against firmly rooted opinions was a far more difficult undertaking. It would be all the harder if he should find Strong a stubborn, narrow-minded person, unreasonable, and firmly-settled in his views.
When dinner was over, Jake asked Douglas if he would go to the shoe-maker's for him.
"Two of the traces broke on me the other day," he explained, "an' I haven't had time to git them fixed. Ye'll find Joe Benton's place jist beyond the store."
"Shall I wait until they are mended?" Douglas asked.
"Yes, if ye want to, an' if Joe's able to do them to-day. I think he'll do 'em all right, providin' he doesn't git side-tracked on his hobby."
"It's 'ligion, that's what 'tis. He's great on the Bible an' Church history. He holds service every Sunday in his house, since we've had no parson."
"Do many attend?"
"Naw. Jist him an' his wife, I guess. But Joe's a good, honest feller, an' ye'll like him. But fer pity's sake, keep him off of 'ligion, if ye expect bring them traces back with ye to-day."
Douglas had no trouble in locating the shoe-maker's shop, where he found Joe Benton busy half-soleing a pair of men's boots. He was a man past sixty, grey-haired, and with a smooth-shaven face. His eyes were what arrested Douglas' attention. They were honest eyes, which looked clear and straight into his. There the old man's soul seemed to be shining forth, so expressive were they. Douglas thought he could read in those clear depths an unattainable longing, mingled with an appealing pathos. When he smiled, his whole face was lighted with a remarkable glory, and he appeared no longer a humble shoe-maker, but an uncrowned king. His rude bench was his throne, and the humble shop his royal palace. So it appeared to Douglas, and he wondered if others were affected in the same way.
"Are you Jake June's hired man, the wrestler?" the shoe-maker asked, after Douglas had told him the purpose of his visit.
"Yes, that's who I am," was the reply. "But how in the world did you hear about our wrestling match?"
"Oh, news travels fast in Rixton, especially if Empty Dempster is the carrier."
Douglas sat down upon a bench and observed Joe intently, as he gave the final touch to a shoe in his lap. Many years had passed since he had watched such work, and he recalled the old shoe-maker he used to know when a lad.
"Can you fix the traces to-day?" he enquired. "If so, I might as well wait for them."
"Yes, I'll mend them at once," and Joe put the finished shoe carefully down by its mate. "I'm not rushed this afternoon."