Elder Conklin and Other Stories
Part 2 out of 4
woollen scarf was thrown back, and her form unveiled. Once again her
mere beauty stung the young man to desire, but something of a conscious
look in her face gave him thought, and, scrutinizing her coldly, he
"I suppose that dress was put on for Mr. Barkman's benefit."
"Oh, George!" she cried, in utter dismay, "he hain't been here to-day."
And then, as the hard expression did not leave his face, she added
hurriedly: "I put it on for you, George. Do believe me."
Still his face did not alter. Suddenly she understood that she had
betrayed her secret. She burst into bitter tears.
He took her in his arms and spoke perfunctory words of consolation; her
body yielded to his touch, and in a few moments he was soothing her in
earnest. Her grief was uncontrollable. "I've jest done everythin',
everythin' and it's all no use," she sobbed aloud. When he found that he
could not check the tears, he grew irritated; he divined her little
stratagem, and his lip curled. How unmaidenly! In a flash, she stood
before him, her shallow, childish vanity unmasked. The pity of it did
not strike him; he was too young for that; he felt only contempt for
her, and at once drew his arms away. With a long, choking sob she moved
to the door and disappeared. She went blindly along the passage to her
room, and, flinging herself on the bed, cried as if her heart would
break. Then followed a period of utter abject misery. She had lost
everythin'; George didn't care for her; she'd have to live all her life
without him, and again slow, scalding tears fell.
The thought of going downstairs to supper and meeting him was
intolerable. The sense of what she had confessed to him swept over her
in a hot flood of shame. No, she couldn't go down; she couldn't face his
eyes again. She'd sit right there, and her mother'd come up, and she'd
tell her she had a headache. To meet him was impossible; she just hated
him. He was hard and cruel; she'd never see him again; he had degraded
her. The whole place became unbearable as she relived the past; she must
get away from him, from it all, at any cost, as soon as she could.
They'd be sorry when she was gone. And she cried again a little, but
these tears relieved her, did her good.
She tried to look at the whole position steadily. Barkman would take her
away to New York. Marry him?--she didn't want to, but she wouldn't make
up her mind now; she'd go away with him if he'd be a real friend to her.
Only he mustn't put his arm round her again; she didn't like him to do
that. If he wished to be a friend to her, she'd let him; if not, she'd
go by herself. He must understand that. Once in New York, she'd meet
kind people, live as she wanted to live, and never think of this horrid
She was all alone; no one in the world to talk to about her trouble--no
one. No one cared for her. Her mother loved Jake best; and besides, if
she told her anythin', she'd only set down an' cry. She'd write and say
she was comfortable; and her father?--he'd get over it. He was kind
always, but he never felt much anyway--leastwise, he never showed
anythin'. When they got her letter 'twould be all right. That was what
she'd do--and so, with her little hands clenched and feverish face, she
sat and thought, letting her imagination work.
A few mornings later Bancroft came down early. He had slept badly, had
been nervous and disturbed by jealous forebodings, and had not won
easily to self-control. He had only been in the sitting-room a minute or
two when the Elder entered, and stopping in front of him asked sharply:
"Hev you seen Loo yet?"
"No. Is she down?"
"I reckoned you'd know ef she had made out anythin' partikler to do to-
"No," he repeated seriously, the Elder's manner impressing him. "No! she
told me nothing, but perhaps she hasn't got up yet."
"She ain't in her room."
"What do you mean?"
"You didn't hear buggy-wheels last night--along towards two o'clock?"
"No, but--you don't mean to say? Lawyer Barkman!" And Bancroft started
up with horror in his look.
The Elder stared at him, with rigid face and wild eyes, but as he
gradually took in the sincerity of the young man's excitement, he
turned, and left the room.
To his bedroom he went, and there, after closing the door, fell on his
knees. For a long time no word came; with clasped hands and bowed head
the old man knelt in silence. Sobs shook his frame, but no tears fell.
At length broken sentences dropped heavily from his half-conscious lips:
"Lord, Lord! 'Tain't right to punish her. She knowed nothin'. She's so
young. I did wrong, but I kain't bear her to be punished.
"P'r'aps You've laid this on me jes' to show I'm foolish and weak.
That's so, O Lord! I'm in the hollow of Your hand. But You'll save her,
O Lord! for Jesus' sake.
"I'm all broke up. I kain't pray. I'm skeered. Lord Christ, help her;
stan' by her; be with her. O Lord, forgive!"
JUNE AND JULY, 1891.
* * * * *
THE SHERIFF AND HIS PARTNER.
One afternoon in July, 1869, I was seated at my desk in Locock's law-
office in the town of Kiota, Kansas. I had landed in New York from
Liverpool nearly a year before, and had drifted westwards seeking in
vain for some steady employment. Lawyer Locock, however, had promised to
let me study law with him, and to give me a few dollars a month besides,
for my services as a clerk. I was fairly satisfied with the prospect,
and the little town interested me. An outpost of civilization, it was
situated on the border of the great plains, which were still looked upon
as the natural possession of the nomadic Indian tribes. It owed its
importance to the fact that it lay on the cattle-trail which led from
the prairies of Texas through this no man's land to the railway system,
and that it was the first place where the cowboys coming north could
find a bed to sleep in, a bar to drink at, and a table to gamble on. For
some years they had made of Kiota a hell upon earth. But gradually the
land in the neighbourhood was taken up by farmers, emigrants chiefly
from New England, who were determined to put an end to the reign of
violence. A man named Johnson was their leader in establishing order and
tranquillity. Elected, almost as soon as he came to the town, to the
dangerous post of City Marshal, he organized a vigilance committee of
the younger and more daring settlers, backed by whom he resolutely
suppressed the drunken rioting of the cowboys. After the ruffians had
been taught to behave themselves, Johnson was made Sheriff of the
County, a post which gave him a house and permanent position. Though
married now, and apparently "settled down," the Sheriff was a sort of
hero in Kiota. I had listened to many tales about him, showing desperate
determination veined with a sense of humour, and I often regretted that
I had reached the place too late to see him in action. I had little or
nothing to do in the office. The tedium of the long days was almost
unbroken, and Stephen's "Commentaries" had become as monotonous and
unattractive as the bare uncarpeted floor. The heat was tropical, and I
was dozing when a knock startled me. A negro boy slouched in with a
bundle of newspapers:
"This yer is Jedge Locock's, I guess?"
"I guess so," was my answer as I lazily opened the third or fourth
number of the "Kiota Weekly Tribune." Glancing over the sheet my eye
caught the following paragraph:
"HIGHWAY ROBBERY WITH VIOLENCE.
"JUDGE SHANNON STOPPED.
"THE OUTLAW ESCAPES.
"HE KNOWS SHERIFF JOHNSON.
"Information has just reached us of an outrage perpetrated on the person
of one of our most respected fellow-citizens. The crime was committed in
daylight, on the public highway within four miles of this city; a crime,
therefore, without parallel in this vicinity for the last two years.
Fortunately our County and State authorities can be fully trusted, and
we have no sort of doubt that they can command, if necessary, the
succour and aid of each and every citizen of this locality in order to
bring the offending miscreant to justice.
"We now place the plain recital of this outrage before our readers.
"Yesterday afternoon, as Ex-Judge Shannon was riding from his law-office
in Kiota towards his home on Sumach Bluff, he was stopped about four
miles from this town by a man who drew a revolver on him, telling him at
the same time to pull up. The Judge, being completely unarmed and
unprepared, obeyed, and was told to get down from the buckboard, which
he did. He was then ordered to put his watch and whatever money he had,
in the road, and to retreat three paces.
"The robber pocketed the watch and money, and told him he might tell
Sheriff Johnson that Tom Williams had 'gone through him,' and that he
(Williams) could be found at the saloon in Osawotamie at any time. The
Judge now hoped for release, but Tom Williams (if that be the robber's
real name) seemed to get an afterthought, which he at once proceeded to
carry into effect. Drawing a knife he cut the traces, and took out of
the shafts the Judge's famous trotting mare, Lizzie D., which he mounted
with the remark:
"'Sheriff Johnson, I reckon, would come after the money anyway, but the
hoss'll fetch him----sure pop.'
"These words have just been given to us by Judge Shannon himself, who
tells us also that the outrage took place on the North Section Line,
bounding Bray's farm.
"After this speech the highway robber Williams rode towards the township
of Osawotamie, while Judge Shannon, after drawing the buckboard to the
edge of the track, was compelled to proceed homewards on foot.
"The outrage, as we have said, took place late last evening, and Judge
Shannon, we understand, did not trouble to inform the County authorities
of the circumstance till to-day at noon, after leaving our office. What
the motive of the crime may have been we do not worry ourselves to
inquire; a crime, an outrage upon justice and order, has been committed;
that is all we care to know. If anything fresh happens in this
connection we propose to issue a second edition of this paper. Our
fellow-citizens may rely upon our energy and watchfulness to keep them
"Just before going to press we learn that Sheriff Johnson was out of
town attending to business when Judge Shannon called; but Sub-Sheriff
Jarvis informs us that he expects the Sheriff back shortly. It is
necessary to add, by way of explanation, that Mr. Jarvis cannot leave
the jail unguarded, even for a few hours."
As may be imagined this item of news awakened my keenest interest. It
fitted in with some things that I knew already, and I was curious to
learn more. I felt that this was the first act in a drama. Vaguely I
remembered some one telling in disconnected phrases why the Sheriff had
left Missouri, and come to Kansas:
"'Twas after a quor'll with a pardner of his, named Williams, who kicked
Bit by bit the story, to which I had not given much attention when I
heard it, so casually, carelessly was it told, recurred to my memory.
"They say as how Williams cut up rough with Johnson, and drawed a knife
on him, which Johnson gripped with his left while he pulled trigger.--
Williams, I heerd, was in the wrong; I hain't perhaps got the right end
of it; anyhow, you might hev noticed the Sheriff hes lost the little
finger off his left hand.--Johnson, they say, got right up and lit out
from Pleasant Hill. Perhaps the folk in Mizzoori kinder liked Williams
the best of the two; I don't know. Anyway, Sheriff Johnson's a square
man; his record here proves it. An' real grit, you bet your life."
The narrative had made but a slight impression on me at the time; I
didn't know the persons concerned, and had no reason to interest myself
in their fortunes. In those early days, moreover, I was often homesick,
and gave myself up readily to dreaming of English scenes and faces. Now
the words and drawling intonation came back to me distinctly, and with
them the question: Was the robber of Judge Shannon the same Williams who
had once been the Sheriff's partner? My first impulse was to hurry into
the street and try to find out; but it was the chief part of my duty to
stay in the office till six o'clock; besides, the Sheriff was "out of
town," and perhaps would not be back that day. The hours dragged to an
end at last; my supper was soon finished, and, as night drew down, I
hastened along the wooden side-walk of Washington Street towards the
Carvell House. This hotel was much too large for the needs of the little
town; it contained some fifty bedrooms, of which perhaps half-a-dozen
were permanently occupied by "high-toned" citizens, and a billiard-room
of gigantic size, in which stood nine tables, as well as the famous bar.
The space between the bar, which ran across one end of the room, and the
billiard-tables, was the favourite nightly resort of the prominent
politicians and gamblers. There, if anywhere, my questions would be
On entering the billiard-room I was struck by the number of men who had
come together. Usually only some twenty or thirty were present, half of
whom sat smoking and chewing about the bar, while the rest watched a
game of billiards or took a "life" in pool. This evening, however, the
billiard-tables were covered with their slate-coloured "wraps," while at
least a hundred and fifty men were gathered about the open space of
glaring light near the bar. I hurried up the room, but as I approached
the crowd my steps grew slower, and I became half ashamed of my eager,
obtrusive curiosity and excitement. There was a kind of reproof in the
lazy, cool glance which one man after another cast upon me, as I went
by. Assuming an air of indecision I threaded my way through the chairs
uptilted against the sides of the billiard-tables. I had drained a glass
of Bourbon whisky before I realized that these apparently careless men
were stirred by some emotion which made them more cautious, more silent,
more warily on their guard than usual. The gamblers and loafers, too,
had taken "back seats" this evening, whilst hard-working men of the
farmer class who did not frequent the expensive bar of the Carvell House
were to be seen in front. It dawned upon me that the matter was serious,
and was being taken seriously.
The silence was broken from time to time by some casual remark of no
interest, drawled out in a monotone; every now and then a man invited
the "crowd" to drink with him, and that was all. Yet the moral
atmosphere was oppressive, and a vague feeling of discomfort grew upon
me. These men "meant business."
Presently the door on my left opened--Sheriff Johnson came into the
"Good evenin'," he said; and a dozen voices, one after another, answered
with "Good evenin'! good evenin', Sheriff!" A big frontiersman, however,
a horse-dealer called Martin, who, I knew, had been on the old vigilance
committee, walked from the centre of the group in front of the bar to
the Sheriff, and held out his hand with:
"Shake, old man, and name the drink." The
Sheriff took the proffered hand as if mechanically, and turned to the
bar with "Whisky--straight." Sheriff Johnson was a man of medium height,
sturdily built. A broad forehead, and clear, grey-blue eyes that met
everything fairly, testified in his favour. The nose, however, was
fleshy and snub. The mouth was not to be seen, nor its shape guessed at,
so thickly did the brown moustache and beard grow; but the short beard
seemed rather to exaggerate than conceal an extravagant outjutting of
the lower jaw, that gave a peculiar expression of energy and
determination to the face. His manner was unobtrusively quiet and
It was an unusual occurrence for Johnson to come at night to the bar-
lounge, which was beginning to fall into disrepute among the puritanical
or middle-class section of the community. No one, however, seemed to pay
any further attention to him or to remark the unusual cordiality of
Martin's greeting. A quarter of an hour elapsed before anything of note
occurred. Then, an elderly man whom I did not know, a farmer, by his
dress, drew a copy of the "Kiota Tribune" from his pocket, and,
stretching it towards Johnson, asked with a very marked Yankee twang:
"Sheriff, hev yeou read this 'Tribune'?"
Wheeling half round towards his questioner, the Sheriff replied:
"Yes, sir, I hev." A pause ensued, which was made significant to me by
the fact that the bar-keeper suspended his hand and did not pour out the
whisky he had just been asked to supply--a pause during which the two
faced each other; it was broken by the farmer saying:
"Ez yeou wer out of town to-day, I allowed yeou might hev missed seein'
it. I reckoned yeou'd come straight hyar before yeou went to hum."
"No, Crosskey," rejoined the Sheriff, with slow emphasis; "I went home
first and came on hyar to see the boys."
"Wall," said Mr. Crosskey, as it seemed to me, half apologetically,
"knowin' yeou I guessed yeou ought to hear the facks," then, with some
suddenness, stretching out his hand, he added, "I hev some way to go,
an' my old woman 'ull be waitin' up fer me. Good night, Sheriff." The
hands met while the Sheriff nodded: "Good night, Jim."
After a few greetings to right and left Mr. Crosskey left the bar. The
crowd went on smoking, chewing, and drinking, but the sense of
expectancy was still in the air, and the seriousness seemed, if
anything, to have increased. Five or ten minutes may have passed when a
man named Reid, who had run for the post of Sub-Sheriff the year before,
and had failed to beat Johnson's nominee Jarvis, rose from his chair and
"Sheriff, do you reckon to take any of us uns with you to-morrow?"
With an indefinable ring of sarcasm in his negligent tone, the Sheriff
"I guess not, Mr. Reid."
Quickly Reid replied: "Then I reckon there's no use in us stayin';" and
turning to a small knot of men among whom he had been sitting, he added,
"Let's go, boys!"
The men got up and filed out after their leader without greeting the
Sheriff in any way. With the departure of this group the shadow lifted.
Those who still remained showed in manner a marked relief, and a moment
or two later a man named Morris, whom I knew to be a gambler by
profession, called out lightly:
"The crowd and you'll drink with me, Sheriff, I hope? I want another
glass, and then we won't keep you up any longer, for you ought to have a
night's rest with to-morrow's work before you."
The Sheriff smiled assent. Every one moved towards the bar, and
conversation became general. Morris was the centre of the company, and
he directed the talk jokingly to the account in the "Tribune," making
fun, as it seemed to me, though I did not understand all his allusions,
of the editor's timidity and pretentiousness. Morris interested and
amused me even more than he amused the others; he talked like a man of
some intelligence and reading, and listening to him I grew light-hearted
and careless, perhaps more careless than usual, for my spirits had been
ice-bound in the earlier gloom of the evening.
"Fortunately our County and State authorities can be fully trusted,"
some one said.
"Mark that 'fortunately,' Sheriff," laughed Morris. "The editor was
afraid to mention you alone, so he hitched the State on with you to
lighten the load."
"Ay!" chimed in another of the gamblers, "and the 'aid and succour of
each and every citizen,' eh, Sheriff, as if you'd take the whole town
with you. I guess two or three'll be enough fer Williams."
This annoyed me. It appeared to me that Williams had addressed a
personal challenge to the Sheriff, and I thought that Johnson should so
consider it. Without waiting for the Sheriff to answer, whether in
protest or acquiescence, I broke in:
"Two or three would be cowardly. One should go, and one only." At once I
felt rather than saw the Sheriff free himself from the group of men; the
next moment he stood opposite to me.
"What was that?" he asked sharply, holding me with keen eye and out-
thrust chin--repressed passion in voice and look.
The antagonism of his bearing excited and angered me not a little. I
"I think it would be cowardly to take two or three against a single man.
I said one should go, and I say so still."
"Do you?" he sneered. "I guess you'd go alone, wouldn't you? to bring
"If I were paid for it I should," was my heedless retort. As I spoke his
face grew white with such passion that I instinctively put up my hands
to defend myself, thinking he was about to attack me. The involuntary
movement may have seemed boyish to him, for thought came into his eyes,
and his face relaxed; moving away he said quietly:
"I'll set up drinks, boys."
They grouped themselves about him and drank, leaving me isolated. But
this, now my blood was up, only added to the exasperation I felt at his
contemptuous treatment, and accordingly I walked to the bar, and as the
only unoccupied place was by Johnson's side I went there and said,
speaking as coolly as I could:
"Though no one asks me to drink I guess I'll take some whisky, bar-
keeper, if you please." Johnson was standing with his back to me, but
when I spoke he looked round, and I saw, or thought I saw, a sort of
curiosity in his gaze. I met his eye defiantly. He turned to the others
and said, in his ordinary, slow way:
"Wall, good night, boys; I've got to go. It's gittin' late, an' I've had
about as much as I want."
Whether he alluded to the drink or to my impertinence I was unable to
divine. Without adding a word he left the room amid a chorus of "Good
night, Sheriff!" With him went Martin and half-a-dozen more.
I thought I had come out of the matter fairly well until I spoke to some
of the men standing near. They answered me, it is true, but in
monosyllables, and evidently with unwillingness. In silence I finished
my whisky, feeling that every one was against me for some inexplicable
cause. I resented this and stayed on. In a quarter of an hour the rest
of the crowd had departed, with the exception of Morris and a few of the
When I noticed that these gamblers, outlaws by public opinion, held away
from me, I became indignant. Addressing myself to Morris, I asked:
"Can you tell me, sir, for you seem to be an educated man, what I have
said or done to make you all shun me?"
"I guess so," he answered indifferently. "You took a hand in a game
where you weren't wanted. And you tried to come in without ever having
paid the _ante,_ which is not allowed in any game--at least not in
any game played about here."
The allusion seemed plain; I was not only a stranger, but a foreigner;
that must be my offence. With a "Good night, sir; good night, bar-
keeper!" I left the room.
* * * * *
The next morning I went as usual to the office. I may have been seated
there about an hour--it was almost eight o'clock--when I heard a knock
at the door.
"Come in," I said, swinging round in the American chair, to find myself
face to face with Sheriff Johnson.
"Why, Sheriff, come in!" I exclaimed cheerfully, for I was relieved at
seeing him, and so realized more clearly than ever that the
unpleasantness of the previous evening had left in me a certain
uneasiness. I was eager to show that the incident had no importance:
"Won't you take a seat? and you'll have a cigar?--these are not bad."
"No, thank you," he answered. "No, I guess I won't sit nor smoke jest
now." After a pause, he added, "I see you're studyin'; p'r'aps you're
busy to-day; I won't disturb you."
"You don't disturb me, Sheriff," I rejoined. "As for studying, there's
not much in it. I seem to prefer dreaming."
"Wall," he said, letting his eyes range round the walls furnished with
Law Reports bound in yellow calf, "I don't know, I guess there's a big
lot of readin' to do before a man gets through with all those."
"Oh," I laughed, "the more I read the more clearly I see that law is
only a sermon on various texts supplied by common sense."
"Wall," he went on slowly, coming a pace or two nearer and speaking with
increased seriousness, "I reckon you've got all Locock's business to see
after: his clients to talk to; letters to answer, and all that; and when
he's on the drunk I guess he don't do much. I won't worry you any more."
"You don't worry me," I replied. "I've not had a letter to answer in
three days, and not a soul comes here to talk about business or anything
else. I sit and dream, and wish I had something to do out there in the
sunshine. Your work is better than reading words, words--nothing but
"You ain't busy; hain't got anything to do here that might keep you?
"Not a thing. I'm sick of Blackstone and all Commentaries."
Suddenly I felt his hand on my shoulder (moving half round in the chair,
I had for the moment turned sideways to him), and his voice was
surprisingly hard and quick:
"Then I swear you in as a Deputy-Sheriff of the United States, and of
this State of Kansas; and I charge you to bring in and deliver at the
Sheriff's house, in this county of Elwood, Tom Williams, alive or dead,
and--there's your fee, five dollars and twenty-five cents!" and he laid
the money on the table.
Before the singular speech was half ended I had swung round facing him,
with a fairly accurate understanding of what he meant. But the moment
for decision had come with such sharp abruptness, that I still did not
realize my position, though I replied defiantly as if accepting the
"I've not got a weapon."
"The boys allowed you mightn't hev, and so I brought some along. You ken
suit your hand." While speaking he produced two or three revolvers of
different sizes, and laid them before me.
Dazed by the rapid progress of the plot, indignant, too, at the trick
played upon me, I took up the nearest revolver and looked at it almost
without seeing it. The Sheriff seemed to take my gaze for that of an
"It shoots true," he said meditatively, "plumb true; but it's too small
to drop a man. I guess it wouldn't stop any one with grit in him."
My anger would not allow me to consider his advice; I thrust the weapon
in my pocket:
"I haven't got a buggy. How am I to get to Osawotamie?"
"Mine's hitched up outside. You ken hev it."
Rising to my feet I said: "Then we can go."
We had nearly reached the door of the office, when the Sheriff stopped,
turned his back upon the door, and looking straight into my eyes said:
"Don't play foolish. You've no call to go. Ef you're busy, ef you've got
letters to write, anythin' to do--I'll tell the boys you sed so, and
that'll be all; that'll let you out."
Half-humorously, as it seemed to me, he added: "You're young and a
tenderfoot. You'd better stick to what you've begun upon. That's the way
to do somethin'.--I often think it's the work chooses us, and we've just
got to get down and do it."
"I've told you I had nothing to do," I retorted angrily; "that's the
truth. Perhaps" (sarcastically) "this work chooses me."
The Sheriff moved away from the door.
On reaching the street I stopped for a moment in utter wonder. At that
hour in the morning Washington Street was usually deserted, but now it
seemed as if half the men in the town had taken up places round the
entrance to Locock's office stairs. Some sat on barrels or boxes tipped
up against the shop-front (the next store was kept by a German, who sold
fruit and eatables); others stood about in groups or singly; a few were
seated on the edge of the side-walk, with their feet in the dust of the
street. Right before me and most conspicuous was the gigantic figure of
Martin. He was sitting on a small barrel in front of the Sheriff's
"Good morning," I said in the air, but no one answered me. Mastering my
irritation, I went forward to undo the hitching-strap, but Martin,
divining my intention, rose and loosened the buckle. As I reached him,
he spoke in a low whisper, keeping his back turned to me:
"Shoot off a joke quick. The boys'll let up on you then. It'll be all
right. Say somethin', for God's sake!"
The rough sympathy did me good, relaxed the tightness round my heart;
the resentment natural to one entrapped left me, and some of my self-
"I never felt less like joking in my life, Martin, and humour can't be
produced to order."
He fastened up the hitching-strap, while I gathered the reins together
and got into the buggy. When I was fairly seated he stepped to the side
of the open vehicle, and, holding out his hand, said, "Good day,"
adding, as our hands clasped, "Wade in, young un; wade in."
"Good day, Martin. Good day, Sheriff. Good day, boys!"
To my surprise there came a chorus of answering "Good days!" as I drove
up the street.
A few hundred yards I went, and then wheeled to the right past the post
office, and so on for a quarter of a mile, till I reached the descent
from the higher ground, on which the town was built, to the river.
There, on my left, on the verge of the slope, stood the Sheriff's house
in a lot by itself, with the long, low jail attached to it. Down the
hill I went, and across the bridge and out into the open country. I
drove rapidly for about five miles--more than halfway to Osawotamie--and
then I pulled up, in order to think quietly and make up my mind.
I grasped the situation now in all its details. Courage was the one
virtue which these men understood, the only one upon which they prided
themselves. I, a stranger, a "tenderfoot," had questioned the courage of
the boldest among them, and this mission was their answer to my
insolence. The "boys" had planned the plot; Johnson was not to blame;
clearly he wanted to let me out of it; he would have been satisfied
there in the office if I had said that I was busy; he did not like to
put his work on any one else. And yet he must profit by my going. Were I
killed, the whole country would rise against Williams; whereas if I shot
Williams, the Sheriff would be relieved of the task. I wondered whether
the fact of his having married made any difference to the Sheriff.
Possibly--and yet it was not the Sheriff; it was the "boys" who had
insisted on giving me the lesson. Public opinion was dead against me. "I
had come into a game where I was not wanted, and I had never even paid
the _ante_"--that was Morris's phrase. Of course it was all clear
now. I had never given any proof of courage, as most likely all the rest
had at some time or other. That was the _ante_ Morris meant....
My wilfulness had got me into the scrape; I had only myself to thank.
Not alone the Sheriff but Martin would have saved me had I profited by
the door of escape which he had tried to open for me. Neither of them
wished to push the malice to the point of making me assume the Sheriff's
risk, and Martin at least, and probably the Sheriff also, had taken my
quick, half-unconscious words and acts as evidence of reckless
determination. If I intended to live in the West I must go through with
But what nonsense it all was! Why should I chuck away my life in the
attempt to bring a desperate ruffian to justice? And who could say that
Williams was a ruffian? It was plain that his quarrel with the Sheriff
was one of old date and purely personal. He had "stopped" Judge Shannon
in order to bring about a duel with the Sheriff. Why should I fight the
Sheriff's duels? Justice, indeed! justice had nothing to do with this
affair; I did not even know which man was in the right. Reason led
directly to the conclusion that I had better turn the horse's head
northwards, drive as fast and as far as I could, and take the train as
soon as possible out of the country. But while I recognized that this
was the only sensible decision, I felt that I could not carry it into
action. To run away was impossible; my cheeks burned with shame at the
Was I to give my life for a stupid practical joke? "Yes!"--a voice
within me answered sharply. "It would be well if a man could always
choose the cause for which he risks his life, but it may happen that he
ought to throw it away for a reason that seems inadequate."
"What ought I to do?" I questioned.
"Go on to Osawotamie, arrest Williams, and bring him into Kiota,"
replied my other self.
"And if he won't come?"
"Shoot him--you are charged to deliver him 'alive or dead' at the
Sheriff's house. No more thinking, drive straight ahead and act as if
you were a representative of the law and Williams a criminal. It has to
The resolution excited me, I picked up the reins and proceeded. At the
next section-line I turned to the right, and ten or fifteen minutes
later saw Osawotamie in the distance.
I drew up, laid the reins on the dashboard, and examined the revolver.
It was a small four-shooter, with a large bore. To make sure of its
efficiency I took out a cartridge; it was quite new. While weighing it
in my hand, the Sheriff's words recurred to me, "It wouldn't stop any
one with grit in him." What did he mean? I didn't want to think, so I
put the cartridge in again, cocked and replaced the pistol in my right-
side jacket pocket, and drove on. Osawotamie consisted of a single
street of straggling frame-buildings. After passing half-a-dozen of them
I saw, on the right, one which looked to me like a saloon. It was
evidently a stopping-place. There were several hitching-posts, and the
house boasted instead of a door two green Venetian blinds put upon
rollers--the usual sign of a drinking-saloon in the West.
I got out of the buggy slowly and carefully, so as not to shift the
position of the revolver, and after hitching up the horse, entered the
saloon. Coming out of the glare of the sunshine I could hardly see in
the darkened room. In a moment or two my eyes grew accustomed to the dim
light, and I went over to the bar, which was on my left. The bar-keeper
was sitting down; his head and shoulders alone were visible; I asked him
for a lemon squash.
"Anythin' in it?" he replied, without lifting his eyes.
"No; I'm thirsty and hot."
"I guessed that was about the figger," he remarked, getting up leisurely
and beginning to mix the drink with his back to me.
I used the opportunity to look round the room. Three steps from me stood
a tall man, lazily leaning with his right arm on the bar, his fingers
touching a half-filled glass. He seemed to be gazing past me into the
void, and thus allowed me to take note of his appearance. In shirt-
sleeves, like the bar-keeper, he had a belt on in which were two large
revolvers with white ivory handles. His face was prepossessing, with
large but not irregular features, bronzed fair skin, hazel eyes, and
long brown moustache. He looked strong and was lithe of form, as if he
had not done much hard bodily work. There was no one else in the room
except a man who appeared to be sleeping at a table in the far corner
with his head pillowed on his arms.
As I completed this hasty scrutiny of the room and its inmates, the bar-
keeper gave me my squash, and I drank eagerly. The excitement had made
me thirsty, for I knew that the crisis must be at hand, but I
experienced no other sensation save that my heart was thumping and my
throat was dry. Yawning as a sign of indifference (I had resolved to be
as deliberate as the Sheriff) I put my hand in my pocket on the
revolver. I felt that I could draw it out at once.
I addressed the bar-keeper:
"Say, do you know the folk here in Osawotamie?"
After a pause he replied:
"Most on 'em, I guess."
Another pause and a second question:
"Do you know Tom Williams?"
The eyes looked at me with a faint light of surprise in them; they
looked away again, and came back with short, half suspicious, half
"Maybe you're a friend of his'n?"
"I don't know him, but I'd like to meet him."
"Would you, though?" Turning half round, the bar-keeper took down a
bottle and glass, and poured out some whisky, seemingly for his own
consumption. Then: "I guess he's not hard to meet, isn't Williams, ef
you and me mean the same man."
"I guess we do," I replied; "Tom Williams is the name."
"That's me," said the tall man who was leaning on the bar near me,
"that's my name."
"Are you the Williams that stopped Judge Shannon yesterday?"
"I don't know his name," came the careless reply, "but I stopped a man
in a buck-board."
Plucking out my revolver, and pointing it low down on his breast, I
"I'm sent to arrest you; you must come with me to Kiota."
Without changing his easy posture, or a muscle of his face, he asked in
the same quiet voice:
"What does this mean, anyway? Who sent you to arrest me?"
"Sheriff Johnson," I answered.
The man started upright, and said, as if amazed, in a quick, loud voice:
"Sheriff Johnson sent _you_ to arrest me?"
"Yes," I retorted, "Sheriff Samuel Johnson swore me in this morning as
his deputy, and charged me to bring you into Kiota."
In a tone of utter astonishment he repeated my words, "Sheriff Samuel
"Yes," I replied, "Samuel Johnson, Sheriff of Elwood County."
"See here," he asked suddenly, fixing me with a look of angry suspicion,
"what sort of a man is he? What does he figger like?"
"He's a little shorter than I am," I replied curtly, "with a brown beard
and bluish eyes--a square-built sort of man."
"Hell!" There was savage rage and menace in the exclamation.
"You kin put that up!" he added, absorbed once more in thought. I paid
no attention to this; I was not going to put the revolver away at his
bidding. Presently he asked in his ordinary voice:
"What age man might this Johnson be?"
"About forty or forty-five, I should think."
"And right off Sam Johnson swore you in and sent you to bring me into
Kiota--an' him Sheriff?"
"Yes," I replied impatiently, "that's so."
"Great God!" he exclaimed, bringing his clenched right hand heavily down
on the bar. "Here, Zeke!" turning to the man asleep in the corner, and
again he shouted "Zeke!" Then, with a rapid change of manner, and
speaking irritably, he said to me:
"Put that thing up, I say."
The bar-keeper now spoke too: "I guess when Tom sez you kin put it up,
you kin. You hain't got no use fur it."
The changes of Williams' tone from wonder to wrath and then to quick
resolution showed me that the doubt in him had been laid, and that I had
but little to do with the decision at which he had arrived, whatever
that decision might be. I understood, too, enough of the Western spirit
to know that he would take no unfair advantage of me. I therefore
uncocked the revolver and put it back into my pocket. In the meantime
Zeke had got up from his resting-place in the corner and had made his
way sleepily to the bar. He had taken more to drink than was good for
him, though he was not now really drunk.
"Give me and Zeke a glass, Joe," said Williams; "and this gentleman,
too, if he'll drink with me, and take one yourself with us."
"No," replied the bar-keeper sullenly, "I'll not drink to any damned
foolishness. An' Zeke won't neither."
"Oh, yes, he will," Williams returned persuasively, "and so'll you, Joe.
You aren't goin' back on me."
"No, I'll be just damned if I am," said the barkeeper, half-conquered.
"What'll you take, sir?" Williams asked me.
"The bar-keeper knows my figger," I answered, half-jestingly, not yet
understanding the situation, but convinced that it was turning out
better than I had expected.
"And you, Zeke?" he went on.
"The old pizen," Zeke replied.
"And now, Joe, whisky for you and me--the square bottle," he continued,
with brisk cheerfulness.
In silence the bar-keeper placed the drinks before us. As soon as the
glasses were empty Williams spoke again, putting out his hand to Zeke at
the same time:
"Good-bye, old man, so long, but saddle up in two hours. Ef I don't come
then, you kin clear; but I guess I'll be with you."
"Good-bye, Tom," replied the bar-keeper, taking the proffered hand,
still half-unwillingly, "if you're stuck on it; but the game is to wait
for 'em here--anyway that's how I'd play it."
A laugh and shake of the head and Williams addressed me:
"Now, sir, I'm ready if you are." We were walking towards the door, when
Zeke broke in:
"Say, Tom, ain't I to come along?"
"No, Zeke, I'll play this hand alone," replied Williams, and two minutes
later he and I were seated in the buggy, driving towards Kiota.
We had gone more than a mile before he spoke again. He began very
quietly, as if confiding his thoughts to me:
"I don't want to make no mistake about this business--it ain't worth
while. I'm sure you're right, and Sheriff Samuel Johnson sent you, but,
maybe, ef you was to think you could kinder bring him before me. There
might be two of the name, the age, the looks--though it ain't likely."
Then, as if a sudden inspiration moved him:
"Where did he come from, this Sam Johnson, do you know?"
"I believe he came from Pleasant Hill, Missouri. I've heard that he left
after a row with his partner, and it seems to me that his partner's name
was Williams. But that you ought to know better than I do. By-the-bye,
there is one sign by which Sheriff Johnson can always be recognized; he
has lost the little finger of his left hand. They say he caught
Williams' bowie with that hand and shot him with the right. But why he
had to leave Missouri I don't know, if Williams drew first."
"I'm satisfied now," said my companion, "but I guess you hain't got that
story correct; maybe you don't know the cause of it nor how it began;
maybe Williams didn't draw fust; maybe he was in the right all the way
through; maybe--but thar!--the first hand don't decide everythin'. Your
Sheriff's the man--that's enough for me."
After this no word was spoken for miles. As we drew near the bridge
leading into the town of Kiota I remarked half-a-dozen men standing
about. Generally the place was deserted, so the fact astonished me a
little. But I said nothing. We had scarcely passed over half the length
of the bridge, however, when I saw that there were quite twenty men
lounging around the Kiota end of it. Before I had time to explain the
matter to myself, Williams spoke: "I guess he's got out all the
vigilantes;" and then bitterly: "The boys in old Mizzouri wouldn't
believe this ef I told it on him, the doggoned mean cuss."
We crossed the bridge at a walk (it was forbidden to drive faster over
the rickety structure), and toiled up the hill through the bystanders,
who did not seem to see us, though I knew several of them. When we
turned to the right to reach the gate of the Sheriff's house, there were
groups of men on both sides. No one moved from his place; here and
there, indeed, one of them went on whittling. I drew up at the sidewalk,
threw down the reins, and jumped out of the buggy to hitch up the horse.
My task was done.
I had the hitching-rein loose in my hand, when I became conscious of
something unusual behind me. I looked round--it was the stillness that
foreruns the storm.
Williams was standing on the side-walk facing the low wooden fence, a
revolver in each hand, but both pointing negligently to the ground; the
Sheriff had just come down the steps of his house; in his hands also
were revolvers; his deputy, Jarvis, was behind him on the stoop.
Williams spoke first:
"Sam Johnson, you sent for me, and I've come."
The Sheriff answered firmly, "I did!"
Their hands went up, and crack! crack! crack! in quick succession, three
or four or five reports--I don't know how many. At the first shots the
Sheriff fell forward on his face. Williams started to run along the
side-walk; the groups of men at the corner, through whom he must pass,
closed together; then came another report, and at the same moment he
stopped, turned slowly half round, and sank down in a heap like an empty
I hurried to him; he had fallen almost as a tailor sits, but his head
was between his knees. I lifted it gently; blood was oozing from a hole
in the forehead. The men were about me; I heard them say:
"A derned good shot! Took him in the back of the head. Jarvis kin
I rose to my feet. Jarvis was standing inside the fence supported by
some one; blood was welling from his bared left shoulder.
"I ain't much hurt," he said, "but I guess the Sheriff's got it bad."
The men moved on, drawing me with them, through the gate to where the
Sheriff lay. Martin turned him over on his back. They opened his shirt,
and there on the broad chest were two little blue marks, each in the
centre of a small mound of pink flesh.
4TH APRIL, 1891.
* * * * *
A MODERN IDYLL.
"I call it real good of you, Mr. Letgood, to come and see me. Won't you
"Thank you. It's very warm to-day; and as I didn't feel like reading or
writing, I thought I'd come round."
"You're just too kind for anythin'! To come an' pay me a visit when you
must be tired out with yesterday's preachin'. An' what a sermon you gave
us in the mornin'--it was too sweet. I had to wink my eyes pretty hard,
an' pull the tears down the back way, or I should have cried right out--
and Mrs. Jones watchin' me all the time under that dreadful bonnet."
Mrs. Hooper had begun with a shade of nervousness in the hurried words;
but the emotion disappeared as she took up a comfortable pose in the
corner of the small sofa.
The Rev. John Letgood, having seated himself in an armchair, looked at
her intently before replying. She was well worth looking at, this Mrs.
Hooper, as she leaned back on the cushions in her cool white dress,
which was so thin and soft and well-fitting that her form could be seen
through it almost as clearly as through water. She appeared to be about
eighteen years old, and in reality was not yet twenty. At first sight
one would have said of her, "a pretty girl;" but an observant eye on the
second glance would have noticed those contradictions in face and in
form which bear witness to a certain complexity of nature. Her features
were small, regular, and firmly cut; the long, brown eyes looked out
confidently under straight, well-defined brows; but the forehead was
low, and the sinuous lips a vivid red. So, too, the slender figure and
narrow hips formed a contrast with the throat, which pouted in soft,
"I am glad you liked the sermon," said the minister, breaking the
silence, "for it is not probable that you will hear many more from me."
There was just a shade of sadness in the lower tone with which he ended
the phrase. He let the sad note drift in unconsciously--by dint of
practice he had become an artist in the management of his voice.
"You don't say!" exclaimed Mrs. Hooper, sitting up straight in her
excitement. "You ain't goin' to leave us, I hope?"
"Why do you pretend, Belle, to misunderstand me? You know I said three
months ago that if you didn't care for me I should have to leave this
place. And yesterday I told you that you must make up your mind at once,
as I was daily expecting a call to Chicago. Now I have come for your
answer, and you treat me as if I were a stranger, and you knew nothing
of what I feel for you."
"Oh!" she sighed, languorously nestling back into the corner. "Is that
all? I thought for a moment the 'call' had come."
"No, it has not yet; but I am resolved to get an answer from you to-day,
or I shall go away, call or no call."
"What would Nettie Williams say if she heard you?" laughed Mrs. Hooper,
with mischievous delight in her eyes.
"Now, Belle," he said in tender remonstrance, leaning forward and taking
the small cool hand in his, "what is my answer to be? Do you love me? Or
am I to leave Kansas City, and try somewhere else to get again into the
spirit of my work? God forgive me, but I want you to tell me to stay.
"Of course I will," she returned, while slowly withdrawing her hand.
"There ain't any one wants you to go, and why should you?"
"Why? Because my passion for you prevents me from doing my work. You
tease and torture me with doubt, and when I should be thinking of my
duties I am wondering whether or not you care for me. Do you love me? I
must have a plain answer."
"Love you?" she repeated pensively. "I hardly know, but--"
"But what?" he asked impatiently.
"But--I must just see after the pies; this 'help' of ours is Irish, an'
doesn't know enough to turn them in the oven. And Mr. Hooper don't like
She spoke with coquettish gravity, and got up to go out of the room. But
when Mr. Letgood also rose, she stopped and smiled--waiting perhaps for
him to take his leave. As he did not speak she shook out her frock and
then pulled down her bodice at the waist and drew herself up, thus
throwing into relief the willowy outlines of her girlish form. The
provocative grace, unconscious or intentional, of the attitude was not
lost on her admirer. For an instant he stood irresolute, but when she
stepped forward to pass him, he seemed to lose his self-control, and,
putting his arms round her, tried to kiss her. With serpent speed and
litheness she bowed her head against his chest, and slipped out of the
embrace. On reaching the door she paused to say, over her shoulder: "If
you'll wait, I'll be back right soon;" then, as if a new thought had
occurred to her, she added turning to him: "The Deacon told me he was
coming home early to-day, and he'd be real sorry to miss you."
As she disappeared, he took up his hat, and left the house.
It was about four o'clock on a day in mid-June. The sun was pouring down
rays of liquid flame; the road, covered inches deep in fine white dust,
and the wooden side-walks glowed with the heat, but up and down the
steep hills went the minister unconscious of physical discomfort.
"Does she care for me, or not? Why can't she tell me plainly? The
teasing creature! Did she give me the hint to go because she was afraid
her husband would come in? Or did she want to get rid of me in order not
to answer?... She wasn't angry with me for putting my arms round her,
and yet she wouldn't let me kiss her. Why not? She doesn't love him. She
married him because she was poor, and he was rich and a deacon. She
can't love him. He must be fifty-five if he's a day. Perhaps she doesn't
love me either--the little flirt! But how seductive she is, and what a
body, so round and firm and supple--not thin at all. I have the feel of
it on my hands now--I can't stand this."
Shaking himself vigorously, he abandoned his meditation, which, like
many similar ones provoked by Mrs. Hooper, had begun in vexation and
ended in passionate desire. Becoming aware of the heat and dust, he
stood still, took off his hat, and wiped his forehead.
The Rev. John Letgood was an ideal of manhood to many women. He was
largely built, but not ungainly--the coarseness of the hands being the
chief indication of his peasant ancestry. His head was rather round, and
strongly set on broad shoulders; the nose was straight and well formed;
the dark eyes, however, were somewhat small, and the lower part of the
face too massive, though both chin and jaw were clearly marked. A long,
thick, brown moustache partly concealed the mouth; the lower lip could
just be seen, a little heavy, and sensual; the upper one was certainly
flexile and suasive. A good-looking man of thirty, who must have been
handsome when he was twenty, though even then, probably, too much drawn
by the pleasures of the senses to have had that distinction of person
which seems to be reserved for those who give themselves to thought or
high emotions. On entering his comfortable house, he was met by his
negro "help," who handed him his "mail":
"I done brot these, Massa; they's all."
"Thanks, Pete," he replied abstractedly, going into his cool study. He
flung himself into an armchair before the writing-table, and began to
read the letters. Two were tossed aside carelessly, but on opening the
third he sat up with a quick exclamation. Here at last was the "call" he
had been expecting, a "call" from the deacons of the Second Baptist
Church in Chicago, asking him to come and minister to their spiritual
wants, and offering him ten thousand dollars a year for his services.
For a moment exultation overcame every other feeling in the man. A light
flashed in his eyes as he exclaimed aloud: "It was that sermon did it!
What a good thing it was that I knew their senior deacon was in the
church on purpose to hear me! How well I brought in the apostrophe on
the cultivation of character that won me the prize at college! Ah, I
have never done anything finer than that, never! and perhaps never shall
now. I had been reading Channing then for months, was steeped in him;
but Channing has nothing as good as that in all his works. It has more
weight and dignity--dignity is the word--than anything he wrote. And to
think of its bringing me this! Ten thousand dollars a year and the
second church in Chicago, while here they think me well paid with five.
Chicago! I must accept it at once. Who knows, perhaps I shall get to New
York yet, and move as many thousands as here I move hundreds. No! not I.
I do not move them. I am weak and sinful. It is the Holy Spirit, and the
power of His grace. O Lord, I am thankful to Thee who hast been good to
me unworthy!" A pang of fear shot through him: "Perhaps He sends this to
win me away from Belle." His fancy called her up before him as she had
lain on the sofa. Again he saw the bright malicious glances and the red
lips, the full white throat, and the slim roundness of her figure. He
bowed his head upon his hands and groaned. "O Lord, help me! I know not
what to do. Help me, O Lord!"
As if prompted by a sudden inspiration, he started to his feet. "Now she
must answer! Now what will she say? Here is the call. Ten thousand
dollars a year! What will she say to that?"
He spoke aloud in his excitement, all that was masculine in him glowing
with the sense of hard-won mastery over the tantalizing evasiveness of
On leaving his house he folded up the letter, thrust it into the breast-
pocket of his frock-coat, and strode rapidly up the hill towards Mrs.
Hooper's. At first he did not even think of her last words, but when he
had gone up and down the first hill and was beginning to climb the
second they suddenly came back to him. He did not want to meet her
husband--least of all now. He paused. What should he do? Should he wait
till to-morrow? No, that was out of the question; he couldn't wait. He
must know what answer to send to the call. If Deacon Hooper happened to
be at home he would talk to him about the door of the vestry, which
would not shut properly. If the Deacon was not there, he would see her
and force a confession from her....
While the shuttle of his thought flew thus to and fro, he did not at all
realize that he was taking for granted what he had refused to believe
half an hour before. He felt certain now that Deacon Hooper would not be
in, and that Mrs. Hooper had got rid of him on purpose to avoid his
importunate love-making. When he reached the house and rang the bell his
first question was:
"Is the Deacon at home?"
"Is Mrs. Hooper in?"
"Please tell her I should like to see her for a moment. I will not keep
her long. Say it's very important."
"Yes, Massa, I bring her shuah," said the negress with a good-natured
grin, opening the door of the drawing-room.
In a minute or two Mrs. Hooper came into the room looking as cool and
fresh as if "pies" were baked in ice.
"Good day, _again_, Mr. Letgood. Won't you take a chair?"
He seemed to feel the implied reproach, for without noticing her
invitation to sit down he came to the point at once. Plunging his hand
into his pocket, he handed her the letter from Chicago.
She took it with the quick interest of curiosity, but as she read, the
colour deepened in her cheeks, and before she had finished it she broke
out, _"Ten thousand dollars a year!_"
As she gave the letter back she did not raise her eyes, but said
musingly: "That is a call indeed...." Staring straight before her she
added: "How strange it should come to-day! Of course you'll accept it."
A moment, and she darted the question at him:
"Does she know? Have you told Miss Williams yet? But there, I suppose
you have!" After another pause, she went on:
"What a shame to take you away just when we had all got to know and like
you! I suppose we shall have some old fogey now who will preach against
dancin' an' spellin'-bees an' surprise-parties. And, of course, he won't
like me, or come here an' call as often as you do--makin' the other
girls jealous. I shall hate the change!" And in her innocent excitement
she slowly lifted her brown eyes to his.
"You know you're talking nonsense, Belle," he replied, with grave
earnestness. "I've come for your answer. If you wish me to stay, if you
really care for me, I shall refuse this offer."
"You don't tell!" she exclaimed. "Refuse ten thousand dollars a year and
a church in Chicago to stay here in Kansas City! I know I shouldn't!
Why," and she fixed her eyes on his as she spoke, "you must be real good
even to think of such a thing. But then, you won't refuse," she added,
pouting. "No one would," she concluded, with profound conviction.
"Oh, yes," answered the minister, moving to her and quietly putting both
hands on her waist, while his voice seemed to envelope and enfold her
with melodious tenderness.
"Oh, yes, I shall refuse it, Belle, if _you_ wish me to; refuse it
as I should ten times as great a prize, as I think I should refuse--God
forgive me!--heaven itself, if you were not there to make it
While speaking he drew her to him gently; her body yielded to his touch,
and her gaze, as if fascinated, was drawn into his. But when the flow of
words ceased, and he bent to kiss her, the spell seemed to lose its
power over her. In an instant she wound herself out of his arms, and
with startled eyes aslant whispered:
"Hush! he's coming! Don't you hear his step?" As Mr. Letgood went again
towards her with a tenderly reproachful and incredulous "Now, Belle,"
she stamped impatiently on the floor while exclaiming in a low, but
angry voice, "Do take care! That's the Deacon's step."
At the same moment her companion heard it too. The sounds were distinct
on the wooden side-walk, and when they ceased at the little gate four or
five yards from the house he knew that she was right. He pulled himself
together, and with a man's untimely persistence spoke hurriedly:
"I shall wait for your answer till Sunday morning next. Before then you
must have assured me of your love, or I shall go to Chicago--"
Mrs. Hooper's only reply was a contemptuous, flashing look that
succeeded in reducing the importunate clergyman to silence--just in
time--for as the word "Chicago" passed his lips the handle of the door
turned, and Deacon Hooper entered the room.
"Why, how do you do, Mr. Letgood?" said the Deacon cordially. "I'm glad
to see you, sir, as you are too, I'm sartin," he added, turning to his
wife and putting his arms round her waist and his lips to her cheek in
an affectionate caress. "Take a seat, won't you? It's too hot to stand."
As Mrs. Hooper sank down beside him on the sofa and their visitor drew
over a chair, he went on, taking up again the broken thread of his
thought. "No one thinks more of you than Isabelle. She said only last
Sunday there warn't such a preacher as you west of the Mississippi
River. How's that for high, eh?"--And then, still seeking back like a
dog on a lost scent, he added, looking from his wife to the clergyman,
as if recalled to a sense of the actualities of the situation by a
certain constraint in their manner, "But what's that I heard about
Chicago? There ain't nothin' fresh--Is there?"
"Oh," replied Mrs. Hooper, with a look of remonstrance thrown sideways
at her admirer, while with a woman's quick decision she at once cut the
knot, "I guess there is something fresh. Mr. Letgood, just think of it,
has had a 'call' from the Second Baptist Church in Chicago, and it's ten
thousand dollars a year. Now who's right about his preachin'? And he
ain't goin' to accept it. He's goin' to stay right here. At least," she
added coyly, "he said he'd refuse it--didn't you?"
The Deacon stared from one to the other as Mr. Letgood, with a forced
half-laugh which came from a dry throat, answered: "That would be going
perhaps a little too far. I said," he went on, catching a coldness in
the glance of the brown eyes, "I wished to refuse it. But of course I
shall have to consider the matter thoroughly--and seek for guidance."
"Wall," said the Deacon in amazement, "ef that don't beat everythin'. I
guess nobody would refuse an offer like that. _Ten thousand dollars a
year!_ Ten thousand. Why, that's twice what you're gettin' here. You
can't refuse that. I know you wouldn't ef you war' a son of mine--as you
might be. Ten thousand. No, sir. An' the Second Baptist Church in
Chicago is the first; it's the best, the richest, the largest. There
ain't no sort of comparison between it and the First. No, sir! There
ain't none. Why, James P. Willis, him as was here and heard you--that's
how it came about, that's how!--he's the senior Deacon of it, an' I
guess he can count dollars with any man this side of New York. Yes, sir,
with any man west of the Alleghany Mountains." The breathless excitement
of the good Deacon changed gradually as he realized that his hearers
were not in sympathy with him, and his speech became almost solemn in
its impressiveness as he continued. "See here! This ain't a thing to
waste. Ten thousand dollars a year to start with, an' the best church in
Chicago, you can't expect to do better than that. Though you're young
still, when the chance comes, it should be gripped."
"Oh, pshaw!" broke in Mrs. Hooper irritably, twining her fingers and
tapping the carpet with her foot, "Mr. Letgood doesn't want to leave
Kansas City. Don't you understand? Perhaps he likes the folk here just
as well as any in Chicago." No words could describe the glance which
accompanied this. It was appealing, and coquettish, and triumphant, and
the whole battery was directed full on Mr. Letgood, who had by this time
recovered his self-possession.
"Of course," he said, turning to the Deacon and overlooking Mrs.
Hooper's appeal, "I know all that, and I don't deny that the 'call' at
first seemed to draw me." Here his voice dropped as if he were speaking
to himself: "It offers a wider and a higher sphere of work, but there's
work, too, to be done here, and I don't know that the extra salary ought
to tempt me. _Take neither scrip nor money in your purse_," and he
smiled, "you know."
"Yes," said the Deacon, his eyes narrowing as if amazement were giving
place to a new emotion; "yes, but that ain't meant quite literally, I
reckon. Still, it's fer you to judge. But ef you refuse ten thousand
dollars a year, why, there are mighty few who would, and that's all I've
got to say--mighty few," he added emphatically, and stood up as if to
shake off the burden of a new and, therefore, unwelcome thought.
When the minister also rose, the physical contrast between the two men
became significant. Mr. Letgood's heavy frame, due to self-indulgence or
to laziness, might have been taken as a characteristic product of the
rich, western prairies, while Deacon Hooper was of the pure Yankee type.
His figure was so lank and spare that, though not quite so tall as his
visitor, he appeared to be taller. His face was long and angular; the
round, clear, blue eyes, the finest feature of it, the narrowness of the
forehead the worst. The mouth-corners were drawn down, and the lips
hardened to a line by constant compression. No trace of sensuality. How
came this man, grey with age, to marry a girl whose appeal to the senses
was already so obvious? The eyes and prominent temples of the idealist
supplied the answer. Deacon Hooper was a New Englander, trained in the
bitterest competition for wealth, and yet the Yankee in him masked a
fund of simple, kindly optimism, which showed itself chiefly in his
devoted affection for his wife. He had not thought of his age when he
married, but of her and her poverty. And possibly he was justified. The
snow-garment of winter protects the tender spring wheat.
"It's late," Mr. Letgood began slowly, "I must be going home now. I
thought you might like to hear the news, as you are my senior Deacon.
Your advice seems excellent; I shall weigh the 'call' carefully; but"--
with a glance at Mrs. Hooper--"I am disposed to refuse it." No answering
look came to him. He went on firmly and with emphasis, _"I wish_ to
refuse it.--Good day, Mrs. Hooper, _till next Sunday_. Good day,
"Good day, Mr. Letgood," she spoke with a little air of precise
"Good day, sir," replied the Deacon, cordially shaking the proffered
hand, while he accompanied his pastor to the street door.
The sun was sinking, and some of the glory of the sunset colouring
seemed to be reflected in Deacon Hooper's face, as he returned to the
drawing-room and said with profound conviction:--
"Isabelle, that man's jest about as good as they make them. He's what I
call a real Christian--one that thinks of duty first and himself last.
Ef that ain't a Christian, I'd like to know what is."
"Yes," she rejoined meditatively, as she busied herself arranging the
chairs and tidying the sofa into its usual stiff primness; "I guess he's
a good man." And her cheek flushed softly.
"Wall," he went on warmly, "I reckon we ought to do somethin' in this.
There ain't no question but he fills the church. Ef we raised the pew-
rents we could offer him an increase of salary to stay--I guess that
could be done."
"Oh! don't do anything," exclaimed the wife, as if awaking to the
significance of this proposal, "anyway not until he has decided. It
would look--mean, don't you think? to offer him somethin' more to stay."
"I don't know but you're right, Isabelle; I don't know but you're
right," repeated her husband thoughtfully. "It'll look better if he
decides before hearin' from us. There ain't no harm, though, in thinkin'
the thing over and speakin' to the other Deacons about it. I'll kinder
find out what they feel."
"Yes," she replied mechanically, almost as if she had not heard. "Yes,
that's all right." And she slowly straightened the cloth on the centre-
table, given over again to her reflections.
Mr. Letgood walked home, ate his supper, went to bed and slept that
night as only a man does whose nervous system has been exhausted by
various and intense emotions. He even said his prayers by rote. And like
a child he slept with tightly-clenched fists, for in him, as in the
child, the body's claims were predominant.
When he awoke next morning, the sun was shining in at his bedroom
window, and at once his thoughts went back to the scenes and emotions of
the day before. An unusual liveliness of memory enabled him to review
the very words which Mrs. Hooper had used. He found nothing to regret.
He had certainly gained ground by telling her of the call. The torpor
which had come upon him the previous evening formed a complete contrast
to the blithesome vigour he now enjoyed. He seemed to himself to be a
different man, recreated, as it were, and endowed with fresh springs of
life. While he lay in the delightful relaxation and warmth of the bed,
and looked at the stream of sunshine which flowed across the room, he
became confident that all would go right.
"Yes," he decided, "she cares for me, or she would never have wished me
to stay. Even the Deacon helped me--" The irony of the fact shocked him.
He would not think of it. He might get a letter from her by two o'clock.
With pleasure thrilling through every nerve, he imagined how she would
word her confession. For she had yielded to him; he had felt her body
move towards him and had seen the surrender in her eyes. While musing
thus, passion began to stir in him, and with passion impatience.
"Only half-past six o'clock," he said to himself, pushing his watch
again under the pillow; "eight hours to wait till mail time. Eight
endless hours. What a plague!"
His own irritation annoyed him, and he willingly took up again the
thread of his amorous reverie: "What a radiant face she has, what fine
nervefulness in the slim fingers, what softness in the full throat!"
Certain incidents in his youth before he had studied for the ministry
came back to him, bringing the blood to his cheeks and making his
temples throb. As the recollections grew vivid they became a torment. To
regain quiet pulses he forced his mind to dwell upon the details of his
"conversion"--his sudden resolve to live a new life and to give himself
up to the service of the divine Master. The yoke was not easy; the
burden was not light. On the contrary. He remembered innumerable
contests with his rebellious flesh, contests in which he was never
completely victorious for more than a few days together, but in which,
especially during the first heat of the new enthusiasm, he had struggled
desperately. Had his efforts been fruitless?...
He thought with pride of his student days--mornings given to books and
to dreams of the future, and evenings marked by passionate emotions, new
companions reinspiring him continually with fresh ardour. The time spent
at college was the best of his life. He had really striven, then, as few
strive, to deserve the prize of his high calling. During those years, it
seemed to him, he had been all that an earnest Christian should be. He
recalled, with satisfaction, the honours he had won in Biblical
knowledge and in history, and the more easily gained rewards for
rhetoric. It was only natural that he should have been immediately
successful as a preacher. How often he had moved his flock to tears! No
wonder he had got on.
Those first successes, and the pleasures which they brought with them of
gratified vanity, had resulted in turning him from a Christian into an
orator. He understood this dimly, but he thrust back the unwelcome truth
with the reflection that his triumphs in the pulpit dated from the time
when he began consciously to treat preaching as an art. After all, was
he not there to win souls to Christ, and had not Christ himself praised
the wisdom of the serpent? Then came the change from obscurity and
narrow living in the country to Kansas City and luxury. He had been wise
in avoiding that girl at Pleasant Hill. He smiled complacently as he
thought of her dress, manners, and speech. Yet she was pretty, very
pretty, and she had loved him with the exclusiveness of womanhood, but
still he had done right. He congratulated himself upon his intuitive
knowledge that there were finer girls in the world to be won. He had not
fettered himself foolishly through pity or weakness.
During his ten years of life as a student and minister he had been
chaste. He had not once fallen into flagrant sin. His fervour of
unquestioning faith had saved him at the outset, and, later, habit and
prudence. He lingered over his first meeting with Mrs. Hooper. He had
not thought much of her then, he remembered, although she had appeared
to him to be pretty and perfectly dressed. She had come before him as an
embodiment of delicacy and refinement, and her charm had increased, as
he began, in spite of himself, to notice her peculiar seductiveness.
Recollecting how insensibly the fascination which she exercised over him
had grown, and the sudden madness of desire that had forced him to
declare his passion, he moaned with vexation. If only she had not been
married. What a fatality! How helpless man was, tossed hither and
thither by the waves of trivial circumstance!
She had certainly encouraged him; it was her alternate moods of yielding
and reserve which had awakened his senses. She had been flattered by his
admiration, and had sought to call it forth. But, in the beginning, at
least, he had struggled against the temptation. He had prayed for help
in the sore combat--how often and how earnestly!--but no help had come.
Heaven had been deaf to his entreaties. And he had soon realized that
struggling in this instance was of no avail. He loved her; he desired
her with every nerve of his body.
There was hardly any use in trying to fight against such a craving as
that, he thought. But yet, in his heart of hearts, he was conscious that
his religious enthusiasm, the aspiration towards the ideal life and the
reverence for Christ's example, would bring about at least one supreme
conflict in which his passion might possibly be overcome. He dreaded the
crisis, the outcome of which he foresaw would be decisive for his whole
life. He wanted to let himself slide quietly down the slope; but all the
while he felt that something in him would never consent thus to endanger
his hopes of Heaven.
And Hell! He hated the thought! He strove to put it away from him, but
it would not be denied. His early habits of self-analysis reasserted
themselves. What if his impatience of the idea were the result of
obdurate sinfulness--sinfulness which might never be forgiven? He
compelled himself, therefore, to think of Hell, tried to picture it to
himself, and the soft, self-indulgent nature of the man shuddered as he
realized the meaning of the word. At length the torture grew too acute.
He would not think any longer; he could not; he would strive to do the
right. "O Lord!" he exclaimed, as he slipped out of bed on to his knees,
"O Christ! help Thy servant! Pity me, and aid!" Yet, while the words
broke from his lips in terrified appeal, he knew that he did not wish to
be helped. He rose to his feet in sullen dissatisfaction.
The happy alertness which he had enjoyed at his waking had disappeared;
the self-torment of the last few minutes had tired him; disturbed and
vexed in mind, he began to dress. While moving about in the sunlight his
thoughts gradually became more cheerful, and by the time he left his
room he had regained his good spirits.
After a short stroll he went into his study and read the daily paper. He
then took up a book till dinner-time. He dined, and afterwards forgot
himself in a story of African travels. It was only the discomfort of the
intense heat which at length reminded him that, though it was now past
two o'clock, he had received no letter from Mrs. Hooper. But he was
resolved not to think about her, for thoughts of her, he knew, would
lead to fears concerning the future, which would in turn force him to
decide upon a course of action. If he determined to commit the sin, his
guilt would thereby be increased, and he would not pledge himself to
refrain from it. "She couldn't write last night with the Deacon at her
elbow all the time," he decided, and began to read again. Darkness had
fallen before he remembered that he owed an immediate answer to the
letter from Chicago. After a little consideration, he sat down and wrote
"DEAR BROTHERS IN CHRIST,
"Your letter has just reached me. Needless to say it has touched me
deeply. You call me to a wider ministry and more arduous duties. The
very munificence of the remuneration which you offer leads me to doubt
my own fitness for so high a post. You must bear with me a little, and
grant me a few days for reflection. The 'call,' as you know, must be
answered from within, from the depths of my soul, before I can be
certain that it comes from Above, and this Divine assurance has not yet
been vouchsafed to me.
"I was born and brought up here in Missouri, where I am now labouring,
not without--to Jesus be the praise!--some small measure of success. I
have many ties here, and many dear friends and fellow-workers in
Christ's vineyard from whom I could not part without great pain. But I
will prayerfully consider your request. I shall seek for guidance where
alone it is to be found, at the foot of the Great White Throne, and
within a week or so at most I hope to be able to answer you with the
full and joyous certitude of the Divine blessing.
"In the meantime, believe that I thank you deeply, dear Brethren, for
your goodness to me, and that I shall pray in Jesus' Name that the
blessing of the Holy Ghost may be with you abundantly now and for
"Your loving Servant in Christ,
"JOHN P. LETGOOD."
He liked this letter so much that he read it over a great many times. It
committed him to nothing; it was dignified and yet sufficiently
grateful, and the large-hearted piety which appeared to inform it
pleased him even more than the alliteration of the words "born and
brought up." He had at first written "born and reared;" but in spite of
the fear lest "brought up" should strike the simple Deacons of the
Second Baptist Church in Chicago as unfamiliar and far-fetched, he could
not resist the assonance. After directing the letter he went upstairs to
bed, and his prayers that night were more earnest than they had been of
late--perhaps because he avoided the dangerous topic. The exercise of
his talent as a letter-writer having put him on good terms with himself,
he slept soundly.
When he awoke in the morning his mood had changed. The day was cloudy; a
thunderstorm was brewing, and had somehow affected his temper. As soon
as he opened his eyes he was aware of the fact that Mrs. Hooper had not
written to him, even on Tuesday morning, when she must have been free,
for the Deacon always went early to his dry-goods store. The
consciousness of this neglect irritated him beyond measure. He tried,
therefore, to think of Chicago and the persons who frequented the Second
Baptist Church. Perhaps, he argued, they were as much ahead of the
people in Kansas City as Mrs. Hooper was superior to any woman he had
previously known. But on this way of thought he could not go far. The
houses in Chicago were no doubt much finer, the furniture more elegant;
the living, too, was perhaps better, though he could not imagine how
that could be; there might even be cleverer and handsomer women there
than Mrs. Hooper; but certainly no one lived in Chicago or anywhere else
in the world who could tempt and bewitch him as she did. She was formed
to his taste, made to his desire. As he recalled her, now laughing at
him; now admiring him; to-day teasing him with coldness, to-morrow
encouraging him, he realized with exasperation that her contradictions
constituted her charm. He acknowledged reluctantly that her odd turns of
speech tickled his intellect just as her lithe grace of movement excited
his senses. But the number and strength of the ties that bound him to
her made his anger keener. Where could she hope to find such love as
his? She ought to write to him. Why didn't she? How could he come to a
decision before he knew whether she loved him or not? In any case he
would show her that he was a man. He would not try to see her until she
had written--not under any circumstances.
After dinner and mail time his thoughts ran in another channel. In
reality she was not anything so wonderful. Most men, he knew, did not
think her more than pretty; "pretty Mrs. Hooper" was what she was
usually called--nothing more. No one ever dreamed of saying she was
beautiful or fascinating. No; she was pretty, and that was all. He was
the only person in Kansas City or perhaps in the world to whom she was
altogether and perfectly desirable. She had no reason to be so conceited
or to presume on her power over him. If she were the wonder she thought
herself she would surely have married some one better than old Hooper,
with his lank figure, grey hairs, and Yankee twang. He took a pleasure
in thus depreciating the woman he loved--it gave his anger vent, and
seemed to make her acquisition more probable. When the uselessness of
the procedure became manifest to him, he found that his doubts of her
affection had crystallized.
This was the dilemma; she had not written either out of coquetry or
because she did not really care for him. If the former were the true
reason, she was cruel; if the latter, she ought to tell him so at once,
and he would try to master himself. On no hypothesis was she justified
in leaving him without a word. Tortured alternately by fear, hope, and
anger, he paced up and down his study all the day long. Now, he said to
himself, he would go and see her, and forthwith he grew calm--that was
what his nature desired. But the man in him refused to be so servile. He
had told her that she must write; to that he would hold, whatever it
cost him. Again, he broke out in bitter blame of her.
At length he made up his mind to strive to forget her. But what if she
really cared for him, loved him as he loved her? In that case if he went
away she would be miserable, as wretched as he would be. How unkind it
was of her to leave him without a decided answer, when he could not help
thinking of her happiness! No; she did not love him. He had read enough
about women and seen enough of them to imagine that they never torture
the man they really love. He would give her up and throw himself again
into his work. He could surely do that. Then he remembered that she was
married, and must, of course, see that she would risk her position--
everything--by declaring her love. Perhaps prudence kept her silent.
Once more he was plunged in doubt.
He was glad when supper was ready, for that brought, at least for half
an hour, freedom from thought. After the meal was finished he realized
that he was weary of it all--heart-sick of the suspense. The storm
broke, and the flashing of the lightning and the falling sheets of rain
brought him relief. The air became lighter and purer. He went to bed and
On the Thursday morning he awoke refreshed, and at once determined not
to think about Mrs. Hooper. It only needed resolution, he said to
himself, in order to forget her entirely. Her indifference, shown in not
writing to him, should be answered in that way. He took up his pocket
Bible, and opened it at the Gospels. The beautiful story soon exercised
its charm upon his impressionable nature, and after a couple of hours'
reading he closed the book comforted, and restored to his better self.
He fell on his knees and thanked God for this crowning mercy. From his
heart went forth a hymn of praise for the first time in long weeks. The
words of the Man of Sorrows had lifted him above the slough. The marvel
of it! How could he ever thank Him enough? His whole life should now be
devoted to setting forth the wonders of His grace. When he arose he felt
at peace with himself and full of goodwill to every one. He could even
think of Mrs. Hooper calmly--with pity and grave kindliness.
After his midday dinner and a brisk walk--he paid no attention to the
mail time--he prepared to write the sermon which he intended to preach
as his farewell to his congregation on the following Sunday. He was
determined now to leave Kansas City and go to Chicago. But as soon as he
began to consider what he should say, he became aware of a difficulty.
He could talk and write of accepting the "call" because it gave him "a
wider ministry," and so forth, but the ugly fact would obtrude itself
that he was relinquishing five thousand dollars a year to accept ten,
and he was painfully conscious that this knowledge would be uppermost in
the minds of his hearers. Most men in his position would have easily put
the objection out of their minds. But he could not put it aside
carelessly, and it was characteristic of him to exaggerate its
importance. He dearly loved to play what the French call _le beau
rôle_, even at the cost of his self-interest. Of a sensitive,
artistic temperament, he had for years nourished his intellect with good
books. He had always striven, too, to set before his hearers high ideals
of life and conduct. His nature was now subdued to the stuff he had
worked in. As an artist, an orator, it was all but impossible for him to
justify what must seem like sordid selfishness. He moved about in his
chair uneasily, and strove to look at the subject from a new point of
view. In vain; ten thousand dollars a year instead of five--that was to
be his theme.
The first solution of the problem which suggested itself to him was to
express his very real disdain of such base material considerations, but
no sooner did the thought occur to him than he was fain to reject it. He
knew well that his hearers in Kansas City would refuse to accept that
explanation even as "high-falutin' bunkum!" He then tried to select a
text in order to ease for a time the strain upon his reflective
faculties. "Feed my sheep" was his first choice--"the largest flock
possible, of course." But no, that was merely the old cant in new words.
He came reluctantly to the conclusion that there was no noble way out of
the difficulty. He felt this the more painfully because, before sitting
down to think of his sermon, he had immersed himself, to use his own
words, in the fountain-head of self-sacrificing enthusiasm. And now he
could not show his flock that there was any trace of self-denial in his
conduct. It was apparent that his acceptance of the call made a great
sermon an utter impossibility. He must say as little about the main
point as possible, glide quickly, in fact, over the thin ice. But his
disappointment was none the less keen; there was no splendid peroration
to write; there would be no eyes gazing up at him through a mist of
tears. His sensations were those of an actor with an altogether
uncongenial and stupid part.
After some futile efforts he abandoned the attempt to sketch out a
sermon. Some words would come to him at the time, and they would have to
do. In the evening a new idea presented itself to his over-excited
brain. Might not his dislike of that sermon be a snare set by the Devil
to induce him to reject the call and stay in Kansas City? No. A fine
sermon would do good--the Evil One could not desire that--perhaps even
more good than his sin would do harm? Puzzled and incapable of the
effort required to solve this fresh problem he went to bed, after
praying humbly for guidance and enlightenment.
On the Friday morning he rose from his knees with a burden of sorrow. No
kindly light had illumined the darkness of his doubtings. Yet he was
conscious of a perfect sincerity in his desires and in his prayers.
Suddenly he remembered that, when in a pure frame of mind, he had only
considered the acceptance of the call. But in order to be guided aright,
he must abandon himself entirely to God's directing. In all honesty of
purpose, he began to think of the sermon he could deliver if he resolved
to reject the call. Ah! that sermon needed but little meditation. With
such a decision to announce, he felt that he could carry his hearers
with him to heights of which they knew nothing. Their very vulgarity and
sordidness of nature would help instead of hindering him. No one in
Kansas City would doubt for a moment the sincerity of the self-sacrifice
involved in rejecting ten thousand dollars a year for five. That sermon
could be preached with effect from any text. "Feed my sheep" even would
do. He thrilled in anticipation, as a great actor thrills when reading a
part which will allow him to discover all his powers, and in which he is
certain to "bring down the house." Completely carried away by his
emotions, he began to turn the sermon over in his head. First of all he
sought for a text; not this one, nor that one, but a few words breathing
the very spirit of Christ's self-abnegation. He soon found what he
wanted: "For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; and whosoever
will lose his life for My sake, shall find it." The unearthly beauty of
the thought and the divine simplicity of its expression took the orator
captive. As he imagined that Godlike Figure in Galilee, and seemed to
hear the words drop like pearls from His lips, so he saw himself in the
pulpit, and had a foretaste of the effect of his own eloquence. Ravished
by the vision, he proceeded to write and rewrite the peroration. Every
other part he could trust to his own powers, and to the inspiration of
the theme, but the peroration he meant to make finer even than his
apostrophe on the cultivation of character, which hitherto had been the
high-water mark of his achievement.
At length he finished his task, but not before sunset, and he felt weary
and hungry. He ate and rested. In the complete relaxation of mental
strain, he understood all at once what he had done. He had decided to
remain in Kansas City. But to remain meant to meet Mrs. Hooper day after
day, to be thrown together with her even by her foolishly confiding
husband; it meant perpetual temptation, and at last--a fall! And yet God
had guided him to choose that sermon rather than the other. He had
abandoned himself passively to His guidance--could _that_ lead to
the brink of the pit?... He cried out suddenly like one in bodily
anguish. He had found the explanation. God cared for no half-victories.
Flight to Chicago must seem to Him the veriest cowardice. God intended
him to stay in Kansas City and conquer the awful temptation face to
face. When he realized this, he fell on his knees and prayed as he had
never prayed in all his life before. If entreated humbly, God would
surely temper the wind to the shorn lamb; He knew His servant's
weakness. "_Lead us not into temptation_," he cried again and
again, for the first time in his life comprehending what now seemed to
him the awful significance of the words. "_Lead us not into
temptation, but deliver us from evil_"--thus he begged and wept. But
even when, exhausted in body and in mind, he rose from his knees, he had
found no comfort. Like a child, with streaming eyes and quivering
features, he stumbled upstairs to bed and fell asleep, repeating over
and over again mechanically the prayer that the cup might pass from him.
On the Saturday morning he awoke as from a hideous nightmare. Before
there was time for thought he was aware of what oppressed and frightened
him. The knowledge of his terrible position weighed him down. He was
worn out and feverishly ill; incapable of reflection or resolution,
conscious chiefly of pain and weariness, and a deep dumb revolt against
his impending condemnation. After lying thus for some time, drinking the
cup of bitterness to the very dregs, he got up, and went downstairs.
Yielding to habit he opened the Bible. But the Book had no message for
him. His tired brain refused, for minutes together, to take in the sense
of the printed words. The servant found him utterly miserable and
helpless when she went to tell him that "the dinner was a-gittin' cold."
The food seemed to restore him, and during the first two hours of
digestion he was comparatively peaceful in being able to live without
thinking; but when the body had recovered its vigour, the mind grew
active, and the self-torture recommenced. For some hours--he never knew
how many--he suffered in this way; then a strange calm fell upon him.
Was it the Divine help which had come at last, or despair, or the
fatigue of an overwrought spirit? He knelt down and prayed once more,
but this time his prayer consisted simply in placing before his Heavenly
Father the exact state of the case. He was powerless; God should do with
him according to His purpose, only he felt unable to resist if the
temptation came up against him. Jesus, of course, could remove the
temptation or strengthen him if He so willed. His servant was in His
After continuing in this strain for some time he got up slowly, calm but
hopeless. There was no way of escape for him. He took up the Bible and
attempted again to read it; but of a sudden he put it down, and throwing
his outspread arms on the table and bowing his head upon them he cried:
"My God, forgive me! I cannot hear Thy voice, nor feel Thy presence. I
can only see her face and feel her body."
And then hardened as by the consciousness of unforgivable blaspheming,
he rose with set face, lit his candle, and went to bed.
* * * * *
The week had passed much as usual with Mrs. Hooper and her husband. On
the Tuesday he had seen most of his brother Deacons and found that they
thought as he did. All were agreed that something should be done to
testify to their gratitude, if indeed their pastor refused the "call."
In the evening, after supper, Mr. Hooper narrated to his wife all that
he had done and all that the others had said. When he asked for her
opinion she approved of his efforts. A little while later she turned to
him: "I wonder why Mr. Letgood doesn't marry?" As she spoke she laid
down her work. With a tender smile the Deacon drew her on to his knees
in the armchair, and pushing up his spectacles (he had been reading a
dissertation on the meaning of the Greek verb [Greek: baptizo]) said
with infinite, playful tenderness in his voice:
"'Tain't every one can find a wife like you, my dear." He was rewarded
for the flattering phrase with a little slap on the cheek. He continued
thoughtfully: "'Taint every one either that wants to take care of a
wife. Some folks hain't got much affection in 'em, I guess; perhaps Mr.
Letgood hain't." To the which Mrs. Hooper answered not in words, but her
lips curved into what might be called a smile, a contented smile as from
the heights of superior knowledge.
* * * * *
Mr. Letgood's state of mind on the Sunday morning was too complex for
complete analysis: he did not attempt the task. He preferred to believe
that he had told God the whole truth without any attempt at reservation.
He had thereby placed himself in His hands, and was no longer chiefly
responsible. He would not even think of what he was about to do, further
than that he intended to refuse the call and to preach the sermon the
peroration of which he had so carefully prepared. After dressing he sat
down in his study and committed this passage to memory. He pictured to
himself with pleasure the effect it would surely produce upon his
hearers. When Pete came to tell him the buggy was ready to take him to
church, he got up almost cheerfully, and went out.
The weather was delightful, as it is in June in that part of the Western
States. From midday until about four o'clock the temperature is that of
midsummer, but the air is exceedingly dry and light, and one breathes it
in the morning with a sense of exhilaration. While driving to church Mr.
Letgood's spirits rose. He chatted with his servant Pete, and even took
the reins once for a few hundred yards. But when they neared the church
his gaiety forsook him. He stopped talking, and appeared to be a little
preoccupied. From time to time he courteously greeted one of his flock
on the side-walk: but that was all. As he reached the church, the
Partons drove up, and of course he had to speak to them. After the usual
conventional remarks and shaking of hands, the minister turned up the
sidewalk which led to the vestry. He had not taken more than four or
five steps in this direction before he paused and looked up the street.
He shrugged his shoulders, however, immediately at his own folly, and
walked on: "Of course she couldn't send a messenger with a note. On
Sundays the Deacon was with her."
As he opened the vestry door, and stepped into the little room, he
stopped short. Mrs. Hooper was there, coming towards him with
outstretched hand and radiant smile:
"Good mornin', Mr. Letgood, all the Deacons are here to meet you, and
they let me come; because I was the first you told the news to, and
because I'm sure you're not goin' to leave us. Besides, I wanted to
He could not help looking at her for a second as he took her hand and
"Thank you, Mrs. Hooper." Not trusting himself further, he began to
shake hands with the assembled elders. In answer to one who expressed
the hope that they would keep him, he said slowly and gravely:
"I always trust something to the inspiration of the moment, but I
confess I am greatly moved to refuse this call."
"That's what I said," broke in Mr. Hooper triumphantly, "and I said,
too, there were mighty few like you, and I meant it. But we don't want
you to act against yourself, though we'd be mighty glad to hev you
A chorus of "Yes, sir! Yes, indeed! That's so" went round the room in
warm approval, and then, as the minister did not answer save with an
abstracted, wintry smile, the Deacons began to file into the church.
Curiously enough Mrs. Hooper having moved away from the door during this
scene was now, necessarily it seemed, the last to leave the room. While
she was passing him, Mr. Letgood bent towards her and in an eager tone
"And my answer?"
Mrs. Hooper paused, as if surprised.
"Oh! ain't you men stupid," she murmured and with a smile tossed the
question over her shoulder: "What _did_ I come here for?"
That sermon of Mr. Letgood's is still remembered in Kansas City. It is
not too much to say that the majority of his hearers believed him to be
inspired. And, in truth, as an artistic performance his discourse was
admirable. After standing for some moments with his hand upon the desk,
apparently lost in thought, he began in the quietest tone to read the
letter from the Deacons of the Second Baptist Church in Chicago. He then
read his reply, begging them to give him time to consider their request.
He had considered it--prayerfully. He would read the passage of Holy
Scripture which had suggested the answer he was about to send to the
call. He paused again. The rustling of frocks and the occasional
coughings ceased--the audience straining to catch the decision--while in
a higher key he recited the verse, "For whosoever will save his life,
shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for My sake, shall find
As the violinist knows when his instrument is perfectly attuned, so Mr.
Letgood knew when he repeated the text that his hearers had surrendered
themselves to him to be played upon. It would be useless here to
reproduce the sermon, which lasted for nearly an hour, and altogether
impossible to give any account of the preacher's gestures or dramatic
pauses, or of the modulations and inflections of his voice, which now
seemed to be freighted with passionate earnestness, now quivered in
pathetic appeal, and now grew musical in the dying fall of some poetic
phrase. The effect was astonishing. While he was speaking simply of the
text as embodying the very spirit of the Glad Tidings which Christ first
delivered to the world, not a few women were quietly weeping. It was
impossible, they felt, to listen unmoved to that voice.
But when he went on to show the necessity of renunciation as the first
step towards the perfecting of character, even the hard, keen faces of
the men before him began to relax and change expression. He dwelt, in
turn, upon the startling novelty of Christ's teaching and its singular
success. He spoke of the shortness of human life, the vanity of human
effort, and the ultimate reward of those who sacrifice themselves for
others, as Jesus did, and out of the same divine spirit of love. He thus
came to the peroration. He began it in the manner of serious
All over the United States the besetting sin of the people was the
desire of wealth. He traced the effects of the ignoble struggle for gain
in the degradation of character, in the debased tone of public and
private life. The main current of existence being defiled, his duty was
clear. Even more than other men he was pledged to resist the evil
tendency of the time. In some ways, no doubt, he was as frail and faulty
as the weakest of his hearers, but to fail in this respect would be, he
thought, to prove himself unworthy of his position. That a servant of
Christ in the nineteenth century should seek wealth, or allow it in any
way to influence his conduct, appeared to him to be much the same
unpardonable sin as cowardice in a soldier or dishonesty in a man of
business. He could do but little to show what the words of his text
meant to him, but one thing he could do and would do joyously. He would
write to the good Deacons in Chicago to tell them that he intended to
stay in Kansas City, and to labour on among the people whom he knew and
loved, and some of whom, he believed, knew and loved him. He would not
be tempted by the greater position offered to him or by the larger
salary. _"For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and
whosoever will lose his life for My sake, shall find it."_
As his voice broke over the last words, there was scarcely a dry eye in
the church. Many of the women were sobbing audibly, and Mrs. Hooper had
long ago given up the attempt "to pull her tears down the back way." She
expressed the general sentiment of her sex when she said afterwards, "It
was just too lovely for anythin'." And the men were scarcely less
affected, though they were better able to control their emotion. The
joyous renunciation of five thousand dollars a year struck these hard
men of business as something almost uncanny. They would have considered
it the acme of folly in an ordinary man, but in a preacher they felt
vaguely that it was admirable.
When Deacon Hooper met his brother Deacons before the platform where the
collection-plates were kept, he whispered, "The meetin' is at my house
at three o'clock. Be on time." His tone was decided, as were also the
nods which accepted the invitation.
After the service Mr. Letgood withdrew quietly without going, as usual,
amongst his congregation. This pleased even Mrs. Parton, whose husband
was a judge of the Supreme Court. She said: "It was elegant of him."
* * * * *
Mr. Hooper received the twelve Deacons in his drawing-room, and when the
latest comer was seated, began:
"There ain't no need for me to tell you, brethren, why I asked you all
to come round here this afternoon. After that sermon this mornin' I
guess we're all sot upon showin' our minister that we appreciate him.
There are mighty few men with five thousand dollars a year who'd give up
ten thousand. It seems to me a pretty good proof that a man's a
Christian ef he'll do that. 'Tain't being merely a Christian: it's
Christ-like. We must keep Mr. Letgood right here: he's the sort o' man
we want. If they come from Chicago after him now, they'll be comin' from
New York next, an' he oughtn't to be exposed to sich great temptation.
"I allow that we'll be able to raise the pew-rents from the first of
January next, to bring in another two thousand five hundred dollars a
year, and I propose that we Deacons should jest put our hands deep down
in our pockets and give Mr. Letgood that much anyway for this year, and
promise the same for the future. I'm willin', as senior Deacon, though
not the richest, to start the list with three hundred dollars."
In five minutes the money was subscribed, and it was agreed that each
man should pay in his contribution to the name of Mr. Hooper at the
First National Bank next day; Mr. Hooper could then draw his cheque for
"Wall," said the Deacon, again getting up, "that's settled, but I've
drawn that cheque already. Mrs. Hooper and me talked the thing over," he
added half apologetically, and as if to explain his unbusinesslike
rashness; "an' she thinks we oughter go right now to Mr. Letgood as a
sort of surprise party an' tell him what we hev decided--that is, ef
you're all agreed."
They were, although one or two objected to a "surprise party" being held
on Sunday. But Deacon Hooper overruled the objection by saying that he
could find no better _word_, though of course 'twas really not a
"surprise party." After this explanation, some one proposed that Deacon
Hooper should make the presentation, and that Mrs. Hooper should be
asked to accompany them. When Mr. Hooper went into the dining-room to
find his wife she was already dressed to go out, and when he expressed
surprise and delivered himself of his mission, she said simply:
"Why, I only dressed to go and see Mrs. Jones, who's ill, but I guess
I'll go along with you first."
* * * * *
The same afternoon Mr. Letgood was seated in his study considering a
sermon for the evening--it would have to be very different from that of
the morning, he felt, or else it would fall flat.
He still avoided thinking of his position. The die was cast now, and
having struggled hard against the temptation he tried to believe that he
was not chiefly responsible. In the back of his mind was the knowledge
that his responsibility would become clear to him some time or other,
but he confined it in the furthest chamber of his brain with repentance
as the guardian.
He had just decided that his evening address must be doctrinal and
argumentative, when he became aware of steps in the drawing-room.
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