The Sky Pilot by Ralph Connor
Chapter VI. His Second Wind
The first weeks were not pleasant for The Pilot. He had been beaten, and the sense of failure damped his fine enthusiasm, which was one of his chief charms. The Noble Seven despised, ignored, or laughed at him, according to their mood and disposition. Bruce patronized him; and, worst of all, the Muirs pitied him. This last it was that brought him low, and I was glad of it. I find it hard to put up with a man that enjoys pity.
It was Hi Kendal that restored him, though Hi had no thought of doing so good a deed. It was in this way: A baseball match was on with The Porcupines from near the Fort. To Hi's disgust and the team's dismay Bill failed to appear. It was Hi's delight to stand up for Bill's pitching, and their battery was the glory of the Home team.
"Try The Pilot, Hi," said some one, chaffing him.
Hi looked glumly across at The Pilot standing some distance, away; then called out, holding up the ball:
"Can you play the game?"
For answer Moore held up his hands for a catch. Hi tossed him the ball easily. The ball came back so quickly that Hi was hardly ready, and the jar seemed to amaze him exceedingly.
"I'll take him," he said, doubtfully, and the game began. Hi fitted on his mask, a new importation and his peculiar pride, and waited.
"How do you like them?" asked The Pilot.
"Hot!" said Hi. "I hain't got no gloves to burn."
The Pilot turned his back, swung off one foot on to the other and discharged his ball.
"Strike!" called the umpire.
"You bet!" said Hi, with emphasis, but his face was a picture of amazement and dawning delight.
Again The Pilot went through the manoeuvre in his box and again the umpire called:
Hi stopped the ball without holding it and set himself for the third. Once more that disconcerting swing and the whip-like action of the arm, and for the third time the umpire called:
"Strike! Striker out!"
"That's the hole," yelled Hi.
The Porcupines were amazed. Hi looked at the ball in his hand, then at the slight figure of The Pilot.
"I say! where do you get it?"
"What?" asked Moore innocently.
"The gait! the speed, you know!"
"Oh! I used to play in Princeton a little."
"Did, eh? What the blank blank did you quit for?"
He evidently regarded the exchange of the profession of baseball for the study of theology as a serious error in judgment, and in this opinion every inning of the game confirmed him. At the bat The Pilot did not shine, but he made up for light hitting by his base-running. He was fleet as a deer, and he knew the game thoroughly. He was keen, eager, intense in play, and before the innings were half over he was recognized as the best all-round man on the field. In the pitcher's box he puzzled the Porcupines till they grew desperate and hit wildly and blindly, amid the jeers of the spectators. The bewilderment of the Porcupines was equaled only by the enthusiasm of Hi and his nine, and when the game was over the score stood 37 to 7 in favor of the Home team. They carried The Pilot off the field.
From that day Moore was another man. He had won the unqualified respect of Hi Kendal and most of the others, for he could beat them at their own game and still be modest about it. Once more his enthusiasm came back and his brightness and his courage. The Duke was not present to witness his triumph, and, besides, he rather despised the game. Bruce was there, however, but took no part in the general acclaim; indeed, he seemed rather disgusted with Moore's sudden leap into favor. Certainly his hostility to The Pilot and to all that he stood for was none the less open and bitter.
The hostility was more than usually marked at the service held on the Sunday following. It was, perhaps, thrown into stronger relief by the open and delighted approval of Hi, who was prepared to back up anything The Pilot would venture to say. Bill, who had not witnessed The Pilot's performance in the pitcher's box, but had only Hi's enthusiastic report to go upon, still preserved his judicial air. It is fair to say, however, that there was no mean- spirited jealousy in Bill's heart even though Hi had frankly assured him that The Pilot was "a demon," and could "give him points." Bill had great confidence in Hi's opinion upon baseball, but he was not prepared to surrender his right of private judgment in matters theological, so he waited for the sermon before committing himself to any enthusiastic approval. This service was an undoubted success. The singing was hearty, and insensibly the men fell into a reverent attitude during prayer. The theme, too, was one that gave little room for skepticism. It was the story of Zaccheus, and story-telling was Moore's strong point. The thing was well done. Vivid portraitures of the outcast, shrewd, converted publican and the supercilious, self-complacent, critical Pharisee were drawn with a few deft touches. A single sentence transferred them to the Foothills and arrayed them in cowboy garb. Bill was none too sure of himself, but Hi, with delightful winks, was indicating Bruce as the Pharisee, to the latter's scornful disgust. The preacher must have noticed, for with a very clever turn the Pharisee was shown to be the kind of man who likes to fit faults upon others. Then Bill, digging his elbows into Hi's ribs, said in an audible whisper:
"Say, pardner, how does it fit now?"
"You git out!" answered Hi, indignantly, but his confidence in his interpretation of the application was shaken. When Moore came to describe the Master and His place in that ancient group, we in the Stopping Place parlor fell under the spell of his eyes and voice, and our hearts were moved within us. That great Personality was made very real and very winning. Hi was quite subdued by the story and the picture. Bill was perplexed; it was all new to him; but Bruce was mainly irritated. To him it was all old and filled with memories he hated to face. At any rate he was unusually savage that evening, drank heavily and went home late, raging and cursing at things in general and The Pilot in particular--for Moore, in a timid sort of way, had tried to quiet him and help him to his horse.
"Ornery sort o' beast now, ain't he?" said Hi, with the idea of comforting The Pilot, who stood sadly looking after Bruce disappearing in the gloom.
"No! no!" he answered, quickly, "not a beast, but a brother."
"Brother! Not much, if I know my relations!" answered Hi, disgustedly.
"The Master thinks a good deal of him," was the earnest reply.
"Git out!" said Hi, "you don't mean it! Why," he added, decidedly, "he's more stuck on himself than that mean old cuss you was tellin' about this afternoon, and without half the reason."
But Moore only said, kindly, "Don't be hard on him, Hi," and turned away, leaving Hi and Bill gravely discussing the question, with the aid of several drinks of whisky. They were still discussing when, an hour later, they, too, disappeared into the darkness that swallowed up the trail to Ashley Ranch. That was the first of many such services. The preaching was always of the simplest kind, abstract questions being avoided and the concrete in those wonderful Bible tales, dressed in modern and in western garb, set forth. Bill and Hi were more than ever his friends and champions, and the latter was heard exultantly to exclaim to Bruce:
"He ain't much to look at as a parson, but he's a-ketchin' his second wind, and 'fore long you won't see him for dust."