Thunder sat imminent upon the missionary's brow. Many were to beat his mercy soon. But for us he had sunshine still. "I am trulysorry to be turning you upside down," he said importantly. "Butit seems the best place for my service." He spoke of the tablespushed back and the chairs gathered in the hall, where the stormwould presently break upon the congregation. "Eight-thirty? heinquired.
This was the hour appointed, and it was only twenty minutes off.We threw the unsmoked fractions of our cigars away, and returnedto offer our services to the ladies. This amused the ladies. Theyhad done without us. All was ready in the hall.
"We got the cook to help us," Mrs. Ogden told me, "so as not todisturb your cigars. In spite of the cow-boys, I still recognizemy own country."
"In the cook?" I rather densely asked.
"Oh, no! I don't have a Chinaman. It's in the length ofafter-dinner cigars."
"Had you been smoking," I returned, "you would have found themshort this evening."
"You make it worse," said the lady; "we have had nothing but Dr.Mac Bride."
We'll share him with you now," I exclaimed. "Has he announced histext? I've got one for hint," said Molly Wood, joining us. Shestood on tiptoe and spoke it comically in our ears. "'I said inmy haste, All men are liars.'" This made us merry as we stoodamong the chairs in the congested hall.
I left the ladies, and sought the bunk house. I had heard thecheers, but I was curious also to see the men, and how they weretaking it. There was but little for the eye. There was much noisein the room. They were getting ready to come to church,--brushingtheir hair, shaving, and making themselves clean, amid talkoccasionally profane and continuously diverting.
"Well, I'm a Christian, anyway," one declared.
"I'm a Mormon, I guess," said another.
"I belong to the Knights of Pythias," said a third.
"I'm a Mohammedist," said a fourth; "I hope I ain't goin' to hearnothin' to shock me."
And they went on with their joking. But Trampas was out of thejoking. He lay on his bed reading a newspaper, and took no painsto look pleasant. My eyes were considering him when the blitheScipio came in.
"Don't look so bashful," said he. "There's only us girls here."
He had been helping the Virginian move his belongings from thebunk house over to the foreman's cabin. He himself was to occupythe Virginian's old bed here. "And I hope sleepin' in it willbring me some of his luck," said Scipio. "Yu'd ought to've seenus when he told us in his quiet way. Well," Scipio sighed alittle, "it must feel good to have your friends glad about you."
"Especially Trampas," said I. "The Judge knows about that," Iadded.
"Knows, does he? What's he say?" Scipio drew me quickly out ofthe bunk house."Says it's no business of his."
"Said nothing but that?" Scipio's curiosity seemed strangelyintense. "Made no suggestion? Not a thing?"
"Not a thing. Said he didn't want to know and didn't care."
"How did he happen to hear about it?" snapped Scipio. "You toldhim!" he immediately guessed. "He never would." And Scipio jerkedhis thumb at the Virginian, who appeared for a moment in thelighted window of the new quarters he was arranging. "He neverwould tell," Scipio repeated. "And so the Judge never made asuggestion to him," he muttered, nodding in the darkness. "Soit's just his own notion. Just like him, too, come to think ofit. Only I didn't expect--well, I guess he could surprise me anyday he tried."
"You're surprising me now," I said. "What's it all about?"
"Oh, him and Trampas."
"What? Nothing surely happened yet?" I was as curious as Scipiohad been.
"No, not yet. But there will."
"Great Heavens, man! when?"
"Just as soon as Trampas makes the first move," Scipio repliedeasily.
I became dignified. Scipio had evidently been told things by theVirginian.
"Yes, I up and asked him plumb out," Scipio answered. "I wasliftin' his trunk in at the door, and I couldn't stand it nolonger, and I asked him plumb out. 'Yu've sure got Trampas whereyu' want him.' That's what I said. And he up and answered andtold me. So I know." At this point Scipio stopped; I was not toknow.
"I had no idea," I said, "that your system held so muchmeanness."
"Oh, it ain't meanness!" And he laughed ecstatically.
"What do you call it, then?"
"He'd call it discretion," said Scipio. Then he became serious."It's too blamed grand to tell yu'. I'll leave yu' to see ithappen. Keep around, that's all. Keep around. I pretty near wishI didn't know it myself."
What with my feelings at Scipio's discretion, and my humancuriosity, I was not in that mood which best profits from asermon. Yet even though my expectations had been cruelly leftquivering in mid air, I was not sure how much I really wanted to"keep around." You will therefore understand how Dr. MacBride wasable to make a prayer and to read Scripture without my beingconscious of a word that he had uttered. It was when I saw himopening the manuscript of his sermon that I suddenly remembered Iwas sitting, so to speak, in church, and began once more to thinkof the preacher and his congregation. Our chairs were in thefront line, of course; but, being next the wall, I could easilysee the cow-boys behind me. They were perfectly decorous. If Mrs.Ogden had looked for pistols, daredevil attitudes, and so forth,she must have been greatly disappointed. Except for theirweather-beaten cheeks and eyes, they were simply American youngmen with mustaches and without, and might have been sitting, say,in Danbury, Connecticut. Even Trampas merged quietly with thegeneral placidity. The Virginian did not, to be sure, look likeDanbury, and his frame and his features showed out of the mass;but his eyes were upon Dr. MacBride with a creamlike propriety.
Our missionary did not choose Miss Wood's text. He made hisselection from another of the Psalms; and when it came, I did notdare to look at anybody; I was much nearer unseemly conduct thanthe cow-boys. Dr. Mac Bride gave us his text sonorously, "'Theyare altogether become filthy; There is none of them that doethgood, no, not one.'" His eye showed us plainly that presentcompany was not excepted from this. He repeated the text oncemore, then, launching upon his discourse, gave none of us a rayof hope.
I had heard it all often before; but preached to cow-boys it tookon a new glare of untimeliness, of grotesque obsoleteness--as ifsome one should say, "Let me persuade you to admire woman," andforthwith hold out her bleached bones to you. The cow-boys weretold that not only they could do no good, but that if they didcontrive to, it would not help them. Nay, more: not only honestdeeds availed them nothing, but even if they accepted thisespecial creed which was being explained to them as necessary forsalvation, still it might not save them. Their sin was indeed thecause of their damnation, yet, keeping from sin, they mightnevertheless be lost. It had all been settled for them not onlybefore they were born, but before Adam was shaped. Having toldthem this, he invited them to glorify the Creator of the scheme.Even if damned, they must praise the person who had made themexpressly for damnation. That is what I heard him prove by logicto these cow-boys. Stone upon stone he built the black cellar ofhis theology, leaving out its beautiful park and the sunshine ofits garden. He did not tell them the splendor of its past, thenoble fortress for good that it had been, how its tonic hadstrengthened generations of their fathers. No; wrath he spoke of,and never once of love. It was the bishop's way, I knew well, tohold cow-boys by homely talk of their special hardships andtemptations. And when they fell he spoke to them of forgivenessand brought them encouragement. But Dr. MacBride never thoughtonce of the lives of these waifs. Like himself, like all mankind,they were invisible dots in creation; like him, they were to feelas nothing, to be swept up in the potent heat of his faith. So hethrust out to them none of the sweet but all the bitter of hiscreed, naked and stern as iron. Dogma was his all in all, andpoor humanity was nothing but flesh for its canyons.
Thus to kill what chance he had for being of use seemed to memore deplorable than it did evidently to them. Their attentionmerely wandered. Three hundred years ago they would have beenfrightened; but not in this electric day. I saw Scipio stifling asmile when it came to the doctrine of original sin. "We know ofits truth," said Dr. MacBride, "from the severe troubles anddistresses to which infants are liable, and from death passingupon them before they are capable of sinning. Yet I knew he was agood man; and I also knew that if a missionary is to be tactless,he might almost as well be bad.
I said their attention wandered, but I forgot the Virginian. Atfirst his attitude might have been mere propriety. One can lookrespectfully at a preacher and be internally breaking all thecommandments. But even with the text I saw real attention lightin the Virginian's eye. And keeping track of the concentrationthat grew on him with each minute made the sermon short for me.He missed nothing. Before the end his gaze at the preacher hadbecome swerveless. Was he convert or critic? Convert wasincredible. Thus was an hour passed before I had thought of time.
When it was over we took it variously. The preacher was genialand spoke of having now broken ground for the lessons that hehoped to instil. He discoursed for a while about trout-fishingand about the rumored uneasiness of the Indians northward wherehe was going. It was plain that his personal safety never gavehim a thought. He soon bade us good night. The Ogdens shruggedtheir shoulders and were amused. That was their way of taking it.Dr. MacBride sat too heavily on the Judge's shoulders for him toshrug them. As a leading citizen in the Territory he kept openhouse for all comers. Policy and good nature made him bid welcomea wide variety of travellers. The cow-boy out of employment foundbed and a meal for himself and his horse, and missionaries hadbefore now been well received at Sunk Creek Ranch.
"I suppose I'll have to take him fishing," said the Judge,ruefully.
"Yes, my dear," said his wife, "you will. And I shall have tomake his tea for six days."
"Otherwise," Ogden suggested, "it might be reported that you wereenemies of religion."
"That's about it," said the Judge. "I can get on with mostpeople. But elephants depress me."
So we named the Doctor "Jumbo," and I departed to my quarters.
At the bunk house, the comments were similar but more highlysalted. The men were going to bed. In spite of their outwarddecorum at the service, they had not liked to be told that theywere "altogether become filthy." It was easy to call names; theycould do that themselves. And they appealed to me, severalspeaking at once, like a concerted piece at the opera: "Say, doyou believe babies go to hell?"--"Ah, of course hedon't."--"There ain't no hereafter, anyway."--"Ain'tthere?"--"Who told yu'?"--"Same man as told the preacher we wereall a sifted set of sons-of-guns."--"Well, I'm going to stay aMormon."--"Well, I'm going to quit fleeing fromtemptation."--"that's so! Better get it in the neck after a goodtime than a poor one." And so forth. Their wit was not extreme,yet I should like Dr. MacBride to have heard it. One fellow puthis natural soul pretty well into words, "If I happened to learnwhat they had predestinated me to do, I'd do the other thing,just to show 'em!"
And Trampas? And the Virginian? They were out of it. TheVirginian had gone straight to his new abode. Trampas lay in hisbed, not asleep, and sullen as ever.
"He ain't got religion this trip," said Scipio to me.
"Did his new foreman get it?" I asked.
"Huh! It would spoil him. You keep around that's all. Keeparound."
Scipio was not to be probed; and I went, still baffled, to myrepose.
No light burned in the cabin as I approached its door.
The Virginian's room was quiet and dark; and that Dr. MacBrideslumbered was plainly audible to me, even before I entered. Gofishing with him! I thought, as I undressed. And I selfishlydecided that the Judge might have this privilege entirely tohimself. Sleep came to me fairly soon, in spite of the Doctor. Iwas wakened from it by my bed's being jolted--not a pleasantthing that night. I must have started. And it was the quiet voiceof the Virginian that told me he was sorry to have accidentallydisturbed me. This disturbed me a good deal more. But his stepsdid not go to the bunk house, as my sensational mind hadsuggested. He was not wearing much, and in the dimness he seemedtaller than common. I next made out that he was bending over Dr.Mac Bride. The divine at last sprang upright.
"I am armed," he said. "Take care. Who are you?"
"You can lay down your gun, seh. I feel like my spirit was goingto bear witness. I feel like I might get an enlightening."
He was using some of the missionary's own language. The bafflingI had been treated to by Scipio melted to nothing in this. Didliving men petrify, I should have changed to mineral between thesheets. The Doctor got out of bed, lighted his lamp, and found abook; and the two retired into the Virginian's room, where Icould hear the exhortations as I lay amazed. In time the Doctorreturned, blew out his lamp, and settled himself. I had been verymuch awake, but was nearly gone to sleep again, when the doorcreaked and the Virginian stood by the Doctor's side.
"Are you awake, seh?"
"What? What's that? What is it?"
"Excuse me, seh. The enemy is winning on me. I'm feeling lessinward opposition to sin."
The lamp was lighted, and I listened to some furtherexhortations. They must have taken half an hour. When the Doctorwas in bed again, I thought that I heard him sigh. This upset mycomposure in the dark; but I lay face downward in the pillow, andthe Doctor was soon again snoring. I envied him for a while hisfaculty of easy sleep. But I must have dropped off myself; for itwas the lamp in my eyes that now waked me as he came back for thethird time from the Virginian's room. Before blowing the lightout he looked at his watch, and thereupon I inquired the hour ofhim.
"Three," said he.
I could not sleep any more now, and I lay watching the darkness.
"I'm afeared to be alone!" said the Virginian's voice presentlyin the next room. "I'm afeared." There was a short pause, andthen he shouted very loud, "I'm losin' my desire afteh thesincere milk of the Word!"
"What? What's that? What?" The Doctor's cot gave a great crack ashe started up listening, and I put my face deep in the pillow.
"I'm afeared! I'm afeared! Sin has quit being bitter in mybelly."
"Courage, my good man." The Doctor was out of bed with his lampagain, and the door shut behind him. Between them they made itlong this time. I saw the window become gray; then the corners ofthe furniture grow visible; and outside, the dry chorus of theblackbirds began to fill the dawn. To these the sounds ofchickens and impatient hoofs in the stable were added, and somecow wandered by loudly calling for her calf. Next, some onewhistling passed near and grew distant. But although the cold huethat I lay staring at through the window warmed and changed, theDoctor continued working hard over his patient in the next room.Only a word here and there was distinct; but it was plain fromthe Virginian's fewer remarks that the sin in his belly wasalarming him less. Yes, they made this time long. But it proved,indeed, the last one. And though some sort of catastrophe wasbound to fall upon us, it was myself who precipitated the thingthat did happen.
Day was wholly come. I looked at my own watch, and it was six. Ihad been about seven hours in my bed, and the Doctor had beenabout seven hours out of his. The door opened, and he came inwith his book and lamp. He seemed to be shivering a little, and Isaw him cast a longing eye at his couch. But the Virginianfollowed him even as he blew out the now quite superfluous light.They made a noticeable couple in their underclothes: theVirginian with his lean racehorse shanks running to a point athis ankle, and the Doctor with his stomach and his fat sedentarycalves.
"You'll be going to breakfast and the ladies, seh, pretty soon,"said the Virginian, with a chastened voice. "But I'll worrythrough the day somehow without yu'. And to-night you can turnyour wolf loose on me again."
Once more it was no use. My face was deep in the pillow, but Imade sounds as of a hen who has laid an egg. It broke on theDoctor with a total instantaneous smash, quite like an ego.
He tried to speak calmly. "This is a disgrace. An infamousdisgrace. Never in my life have I--" Words forsook him, and hisface grew redder. "Never in my life--" He stopped again, because,at the sight of him being dignified in his red drawers, I wasmaking the noise of a dozen hens. It was suddenly too much forthe Virginian. He hastened into his room, and there sank on thefloor with his head in his hands. The Doctor immediately slammedthe door upon him, and this rendered me easily fit for a lunaticasylum. I cried into my pillow, and wondered if the Doctor wouldcome and kill me. But he took no notice of me whatever. I couldhear the Virginian's convulsions through the door, and also theDoctor furiously making his toilet within three feet of my head;and I lay quite still with my face the other way, for I wasreally afraid to look at him. When I heard him walk to the doorin his boots, I ventured to peep; and there he was, going outwith his bag in his hand. As I still continued to lie, weak andsore, and with a mind that had ceased an operation, theVirginian's door opened. He was clean and dressed and decent, butthe devil still sported in his eye. I have never seen a creaturemore irresistibly handsome.
Then my mind worked again. "You've gone and done it," said I."He's packed his valise. He'll not sleep here."
The Virginian looked quickly out of the door. "Why, he's leavin'us!" he exclaimed. "Drivin' away right now in his little oldbuggy!" He turned to me, and our eyes met solemnly over thislarge fact. I thought that I perceived the faintest tincture ofdismay in the features of Judge Henry's new, responsible, trustyforeman. This was the first act of his administration. Once againhe looked out at the departing missionary. "Well," hevindictively stated, "I cert'nly ain't goin' to run afteh him."And he looked at me again.
"Do you suppose the Judge knows?" I inquired.
He shook his head. "The windo' shades is all down still ovehyondeh." He paused. "I don't care," he stated, quite as if he hadbeen ten years old. Then he grinned guiltily. "I was mightyrespectful to him all night."
"Oh, yes, respectful! Especially when you invited him to turn hiswolf loose."
The Virginian gave a joyous gulp. He now came and sat down on theedge of my bed. "I spoke awful good English to him most of thetime," said he. "I can, yu' know, when I cinch my attention tighton to it. Yes, I cert'nly spoke a lot o' good English. I didn'tunderstand some of it myself!"
He was now growing frankly pleased with his exploit. He hadbuilded so much better than he knew. He got up and looked outacross the crystal world of light. "The Doctor is at one-milecrossing," he said. "He'll get breakfast at the N-lazy-Y." Thenhe returned and sat again on my bed, and began to give me hisreal heart. "I never set up for being better than others. Noteven to myself. My thoughts ain't apt to travel around makingcomparisons. And I shouldn't wonder if my memory took as muchnotice of the meannesses I have done as of--as of the otheractions. But to have to sit like a dumb lamb and let a strangertell yu' for an hour that yu're a hawg and a swine, just afteryou have acted in a way which them that know the facts would callpretty near white--"
"Trampas!" I could not help exclaiming.
For there are moments of insight when a guess amounts toknowledge.
"Has Scipio told--"
"No. Not a word. He wouldn't tell me."
"Well, yu' see, I arrived home hyeh this evenin' with severalthoughts workin' and stirrin' inside me. And not one o' themthoughts was what yu'd call Christian. I ain't the least littlebit ashamed of 'em. I'm a human. But after the Judge--well, yu'heard him. And so when I went away from that talk and saw howpositions was changed--"
A step outside stopped him short. Nothing more could be read inhis face, for there was Trampas himself in the open door.
"Good morning," said Trampas, not looking at us. He spoke withthe same cool sullenness of yesterday.
We returned his greeting.
"I believe I'm late in congratulating you on your promotion,"said he.
The Virginian consulted his watch. "It's only half afteh six," hereturned.
Trampas's sullenness deepened. "Any man is to be congratulated ongetting a rise, I expect."
This time the Virginian let him have it. "Cert'nly. And I ain'tforgetting how much I owe mine to you."
Trampas would have liked to let himself go. "I've not come herefor any forgiveness," he sneered.
"When did yu' feel yu' needed any?" The Virginian wasimpregnable.
Trampas seemed to feel how little he was going this way. He cameout straight now. "Oh, I haven't any Judge behind me, I know. Iheard you'd be paying the boys this morning, and I've come for mytime."
"You're thinking of leaving us?" asked the new foreman. "What'syour dissatisfaction?"
"Oh, I'm not needing anybody back of me. I'll get along bymyself." It was thus he revealed his expectation of beingdismissed by his enemy.
This would have knocked any meditated generosity out of my heart.But I was not the Virginian. He shifted his legs, leaned back alittle, and laughed. "Go back to your job, Trampas, if that's allyour complaint. You're right about me being in luck. But maybethere's two of us in luck."
It was this that Scipio had preferred me to see with my own eyes.The fight was between man and man no longer. The case could notbe one of forgiveness; but the Virginian would not use hisofficial position to crush his subordinate.
Trampas departed with something muttered that I did not hear, andthe Virginian closed intimate conversation by saying, "You'll belate for breakfast." With that he also took himself away.
The ladies were inclined to be scandalized, but not the Judge.When my whole story was done, he brought his fist down on thetable, and not lightly this time. "I'd make him lieutenantgeneral if the ranch offered that position!" he declared.
Miss Molly Wood said nothing at the time. But in the afternoon,by her wish, she went fishing, with the Virginian deputed toescort her. I rode with them, for a while. I was not going tocontinue a third in that party; the Virginian was too becominglydressed, and I saw KENILWORTH peeping out of his pocket. I meantto be fishing by myself when that volume was returned.
But Miss Wood talked with skilful openness as we rode. "I'veheard all about you and Dr. MacBride," she said. "How could youdo it, when the Judge places such confidence in you?"
He looked pleased. "I reckon," he said, "I couldn't be so good ifI wasn't bad onced in a while.
"Why, there's a skunk," said I, noticing the pretty little animaltrotting in front of us at the edge of the thickets.
"Oh, where is it? Don't let me see it!" screamed Molly. And atthis deeply feminine remark, the Virginian looked at her withsuch a smile that, had I been a woman, it would have made me histo do what he pleased with on the spot.
Upon the lady, however, it seemed to make less impression. Orrather, I had better say, whatever were her feelings, she verynaturally made no display of them, and contrived not to be awareof that expression which had passed over the Virginian's face.
It was later that these few words reached me while I was fishingalone:"Have you anything different to tell me yet?" I heard himsay.
"Yes; I have." She spoke in accents light and well intrenched. "Iwish to say that I have never liked any man better than you. ButI expect to!"
He must have drawn small comfort from such an answer as that. Buthe laughed out indomitably: "Don't yu' go betting on any suchexpectation!" And then their words ceased to be distinct, and itwas only their two voices that I heard wandering among thewindings of the stream.