The Prospector by Ralph Connor
XV. Ejected and Rejected
In the main room of the Old Prospector's house some ten or twelve stern-faced men had gathered. The easy, careless manner that was characteristic of the ranchers and cowboys of the district had given place to an air of stern and serious determination. It was evident that they had gathered for some purpose of more than ordinary moment. By common consent Sinclair, a shrewd and fair-minded Scotch rancher who possessed the complete confidence of every man in the company, both for his integrity and his intelligence, was in the chair.
"Where is Mr. Macgregor?" he enquired.
"Gone to the Fort," answered The Kid. "He is on duty there to- morrow. He wished me to say, however, that he has no desire to push this matter, as far as he is personally concerned, but that if the committee thinks the public good demands his presence and his testimony he will appear on Monday."
"He ought to be here," said Sinclair, and his tone almost conveyed a reproof.
"He'll come if he's wanted, I guess," drawled out Ike, quick to take his friend's part.
"Well, then let us proceed. Let us get the facts first," said Sinclair. "Stanton, we would like to hear what you have to say."
"Well," said The Kid, "there is not much that I have to tell, but I shall begin at the beginning and give you all I know." Stanton's air of boyish carelessness had quite disappeared, his voice took a deeper tone than usual, his manner was grave and stern.
"It was six days ago that I happened to call at the Old Prospector's house."
"To see the preacher, I guess," interrupted Ike gravely, winking at Macnamara, who responded with a hearty "Ha! ha! Of course!"
"Quit that, Ike," said Sinclair sternly. "We have got business on hand."
"As I was saying," continued the Kid; with heightened colour, "I called at the Old Prospector's house and found Miss Mowbray in a state of great anxiety in regard to Mr. Macgregor. She told me how the doctor had come to see Mr. Macgregor about a week before, in great excitement, and had informed him that Carroll and Crawley had set off for the mountains two days before, and how, upon hearing that, Mr. Macgregor and Perault had hastily followed, having with them about a week's provisions."
"What reason did Miss Mowbray assign for this?" enquired Sinclair.
"Well, I suppose it's no secret, now," said The Kid, with some hesitation. "The Old Prospector, you know, before his death had made a very rich find, but died without staking his claim. The secret of its location he entrusted to Mr. Macgregor and the doctor. The doctor, in a fit of drunkenness, gave the secret away to Carroll and Crawley, who, leaving him incapable from drink, set off at once to stake the claim."
"Hold on, Mr. Stanton," said Sinclair. "We must be careful. How do you know their purpose in setting off for the mountains?"
"Well, I think--"
"But," interrupted Sinclair, "we must have statements of fact only."
"Dat's so!" cried Perault excitedly. "Dem feller try to get de Ole Boss show dat mine, for sure. Crawley he's try to mak de Ole Boss tell. I hear heem, me. Dem feller want dat mine bad."
"All right, Perault," said Sinclair quietly. "That doesn't prove they went to stake that claim. Go on, Stanton."
"Well," continued The Kid, "I set off at once, and on my second day out I met these two men, Mr. Macgregor and Perault, exhausted with travelling and faint with hunger."
"Guess you'd better tell how you found them, Kid," said Ike, who had heard the story before.
"Well, gentlemen," continued The Kid, his voice shaking, "it was a pretty tough sight, I can tell you. I first saw them a long way down the trail. Mr. Macgregor was carrying Perault on his back and evidently walking with great difficulty. When I came up to them I found Perault was almost, if not quite, insensible, and Mr. Macgregor in the last stages of exhaustion." The Kid paused a few moments to steady his voice. Low, deep oaths were heard on every side, while Perault, still weak and nervous from his recent terrible experience, was sobbing audibly.
"I had plenty of grub," continued The Kid. "I did my best for them and helped them home. That is all I have to say."
A deep silence fell upon the group of men.
"Now, Perault," said Sinclair, "tell us your story."
Perault tried to steady his voice, but, failing utterly, broke into passionate weeping, Sinclair waiting in grave silence for him to recover. Macnamara, the soft-hearted big Irish rancher, was quietly wiping his eyes, while the other men were swearing terrible oaths.
"Give him a drink," drawled Ike. "Too much water aint good for no man."
Half a dozen flasks were immediately offered. Perault drank, and, after a few moments, began his tale.
"I can' spik much, me," he said, "when I tink how dat beeg feller pack me on hees back twenty mile, I fin' bad pain here," striking his breast, "and den I can' spik at all." And again the little Frenchman's voice broke down in sobs.
"Take time, Perault," said Sinclair gravely. "We want to know all about it. Begin at the beginning and tell it in your own way." The grave tone, even more than the whisky he had drunk, steadied Perault, and he began again.
"Dat's twelve or tirteen day, now. De Preachere, dat Prospector, I call heem, he's jus' lak de Ole Boss, for sure--de Prospector he's sen' dat ole fool doctor, for me queek. I come and fin' de Prospector he's ver' mad; mos' awful mad; never see heem lak, dat before. 'Perault,' he say, 'get ponee and grub queek. We go for de Los' Reever.'"
"By gar! He's mak me scare. I get ponee an' grub and get off queek, toute suite, right away. Well, we go two day hard and come to de camp where de Ole Boss he's die, den we climb over de montin. De Prospector he's got map and show me trail. Oui, I know him bon, fus rate. 'Perault,' he say, 'you min' las' year de Ole Boss he's fin' good mine way up in de valley?' `Oui, for sure.' 'You know de trail?' Oui, certainment.' 'Den,' he say, 'we go dere.' Nex' day we strike dat trail and go four or five mile. We come to dat valley-- Mon Dieu! dere's no valley dere. We come back and try once more--dat blank valley, she's no dere. De Prospector he look much on dat map. 'Where dose tree peak?' he say. 'Dere sure 'nuff, one, two tree. Dat valley she's right on line of dose peak.' 'Sure,' I say. 'I see heem myself she's gone now for sure! Ah! Voila! I see! Beeg slide feel dat valley up! By gar! Dat's so, dat montin she's half gone, dat valley he's full up. Mon Dieu! De Prospector he's lak wil' man. 'Perault,' he say, 'I promise de ole man I go for fin' dat mine.' 'All right, boss,' I say, 'me too.' We make cache for grub, we hobble de ponee and go for fin' dat mine. Dat's one blank hard day. Over rock and tree and hole and stomp he's go lak one deerhoun.' Next day he's jus' same. For me, I'm tire' out. Well, we come home to camp, slow, slow, hungree, sorefoot--by gar! Sacre bleu! Dat cache she broke up, de grub he's gone! Mon Dieu! dat's bad--four or five day walk from home and no grub at all."
"What did you think, Perault?" asked Sinclair. "Did you see signs of any beast, bear or mountain lion?"
"Sure, dat's what I tink fus' ting, but de Prospector he's walk aroun' quiet and look everyting. 'Perault, dat's fonee ting,' he say. 'Where dose can' meat, eh?' By gar! days so, de bear he can' eat dose can' meat, not moche!"
"Not likely, not bein' a goat," put in Ike drily.
"Well, we look aroun' ver' close, no scratch, no track. By gar! days no bear, for sure--dat's one bear on two leg."
"I think," said Sinclair gravely, "that there is no doubt of that. The question is, who did it? Gentlemen, it has been proved that these two men, Carroll and Crawley, were away during the week when this crime took place. We do not know where they were, but we must be fair to them. We may have our opinions about this, but in fixing the responsibility of this crime we must be exceedingly careful to deal justly with every man. I suggest we call Carroll."
Carroll came to the meeting without hesitation, and with him, Crawley.
"We will take you in a few minutes," said Sinclair to Crawley.
"Now," he continued to Carroll, when Crawley had been removed, "we would like to know where you were last week."
"That's nobody's blank business," said Carroll.
An angry murmur arose from the crowd.
"Carroll, this thing is too serious for any bluffing, and we are going to see it through. It is fair that you should know why we ask. Let me give you the facts we have found out." Sinclair gave a brief resume of the story as gathered from Stanton and Perault. As Carroll listened his face grew white with fury.
"Does any blank, blank son of a horse thief," he cried, when Sinclair had done, "say I am the man that broke open that cache? Let him stand up forninst me and say so." He gnashed his teeth in his rage. "Whin Tim Carroll goes to git even wid a man he doesn't go behind his back fur it, and yez all know that! No," he cried, planting his huge fist with a crash upon the table, "I didn't put a finger on the cache nor his ponies ayther, begob!"
"All right, Carroll, we are glad to hear it," said Sinclair, in a cold, stern voice. "You needn't get so wild over it. You cannot frighten us, you know. Every man here can give an account of his doings last week--can you?"
"I can that same," said Carroll, somewhat subdued by Sinclair's tone and manner. "I am not afraid to say that we went up to see a mine we heard of."
"You and Crawley, you mean?" said Sinclair quietly.
"Yes," continued Carroll, "and that's fair enough, too; and we hunted around a week fur it, an' came back."
"Did you find your mine?" asked Sinclair.
"We did not, and it's a blank, blank fool I was to listen to the yarn of the drunken old fool of a doctor."
"Thank you, Carroll. Now, I do not think myself that you touched that cache."
"If he did, he will swing for it," said a voice, cool and relentless, in the crowd.
Carroll started a little as he heard that voice.
"You shut up!" said Ike.
"Now, Carroll, we want you to answer a few questions," continued Sinclair. "Mr. Crawley brought you to the camp where the Old Prospector died--is that right?"
"And then you went east from that point over the mountain?"
"We did, and I am telling you we was looking for that mine we heard of."
"All right," said Sinclair. "How long did you stay in that neighbourhood?"
"A week or so."
"Did you see Mr. Macgregor or Perault while you were there?"
"That's none of your business."
"You'd better answer, Carroll."
"It'll be your business pretty blank soon!" drawled the voice again.
"Shut up!" said Ike. "Give him a chance."
"I think you'd better answer," said Sinclair quietly. "You've nothing to hide, I suppose?"
"I haven't," said Carroll defiantly. "We did see them two walking around, and we soon knew, too, that they didn't know any more than ourselves about that mine. Thin we came away."
"Did you see their camp?"
"We did. We passed it by."
"Did you stop and speak to them?"
"No, we did not; for the good reason they weren't there."
"Did you examine the camp or touch anything?"
"Nivir a touch, so help me God!" said Carroll, with great earnestness.
"Then did you and Crawley come away together?"
"Where did you camp that night?"
"Over the mountain beyant, forninst the Old Prospector's grave."
"And you came straight home next day?"
"We did, except for a luk at a couple of prospects we knew of."
"Oh! How long did that take you?"
"It tuk me about a day, and Crawley a little less, I'm thinkin'."
"How was that, Carroll?" enquired Sinclair.
"Well, he tuk one gulch and I tuk the other, and he got through before me, and the next day we came home; and that's the truth of it, so help me."
"Then you were never separated from each other except for that one day?"
"That's true." There was no mistaking the sincerity and honesty of Carroll's manner.
"Any further questions to ask, gentlemen?"
"How long did you stop at Mr. Macgregor's camp when you was passing by?" asked Ike.
"Don't be so blanked smart, Ike!" said Carroll, in savage scorn. "I'm telling you that I didn't stop a fut. We saw their camp and their ponies and we went sthraight past."
"Didn't stop to light your pipe or nothing?" enquired Ike.
"Blank your blank ugly mug!" roared Carroll, "do you mean to say,--"
"Oh, nothing," said Ike quietly. "Just wanted to know how long you stopped?"
"And I am tellin' you we didn't sthop atall, atall, not a fut of us! We didn't go near their camp within fifty yard."
"Not fifty yards, eh? Well, that's strange."
Carroll poured out a volley of oaths.
"You're sure about that fifty yards, Carroll?" asked Ike, in insinuating tones.
"I didn't pace it, you blanked fool! but I'll swear it wasn't more than thirty."
"You're dead sure about that thirty yards, Carroll?" persisted Ike.
"I am that, and if you want to say anything more come outside!" said Carroll, glaring wildly at his interlocutor.
"Oh, thanks, I'm comfortable," said Ike mildly, as he, sat lack in his chair. "Hope you are the same."
"That will do, Carroll," said Sinclair. "I am sure we all feel much obliged to you for your straightforward answers. If we want you again we'll send for you."
"And I'll come," said Carroll, with another oath, passing out of the room.
"Now," said Sinclair, "we'll have Crawley."
In a few moments Crawley came in, smiling and self-confident, with plenty of nerve, an abundance of wit, and a most ingenuous manner. He met the chairman's questions with ready assurance and corroborated the story told by Carroll. He would frankly acknowledge that he had heard about the Lost River. Indeed, he had been more or less interested in it for some years and, though he did not take much stock in the doctor's word, still he declared that his own interests and the interests of Miss Mowbray, and indeed of all concerned, demanded that the thing was worth looking into. They visited the locality indicated by the doctor; they spent a week in exploration, but could find no trace of such a valuable mine as the doctor had described; and they had come away not very much disappointed; they had hardly expected any other result. They had seen Mr. Macgregor's camp, but they had not approached it; they passed by at some distance, leaving everything undisturbed.
"You camped that night near the Old Prospector's grave?" asked Sinclair.
"The next day you set off for home?"
"You and Carroll were always together?"
"You came home by the same trail and without any other explorations?"
Here Crawley hesitated a moment. "Well, yes, except that we ran up a gulch to look at some rocks."
"Oh! Did you find anything?"
"Well, we think so," said Crawley pleasantly.
"You went both together up the gulch? You were never separated?"
"We went together, yes."
"Any further questions, gentlemen?"
For a time there was no response, then Ike came slowly forward to the table and stood by Crawley's side.
"You did not go near that cache?"
"No," said Crawley firmly.
"Are you mighty sure about that? Better be sure."
"I am positive we did not go within twenty or thirty yards," said Crawley defiantly.
"All right, Crawley," drawled Ike, "better have a pipe now." And as he spoke he threw down a tobacco pouch on the table.
Crawley turned pale, gripped at the table to stead himself, gazed at the pouch lying before him for a few moments and then enquired in a voice that shook in spite of all that he could do: "Who gave you-- where did you get that?"
"It's yours, aint it? Got your name on, anyway," said Ike. "Where did you leave it?"
"Don't know," said Crawley, turning green with terror.
"Gentlemen," said Ike, addressing the crowd, "I aint agoin' to make no speech to this jury, but I want to remark that this here blank reptile is a blank liar, and if he aint a murderer 'taint his fault. That there pouch of his," continued Ike, putting a long forefinger down upon the article lying on the table, "that there pouch of his was found by the 'Prospector,' as Perault calls him, beside that there empty cache. That's all I have to say." And Ike turned and walked slowly back to his seat.
In vain the trembling wretch tried first to bluster and then to explain. Carroll was again summoned and affirmed emphatically that he and Crawley had been separated for the greater part of one day, and that while together they had not approached Mr. Macgregor's camp.
"That will do, Carroll," said Sinclair quietly. "We believe you entirely, and I would like to say that for my part I am mighty glad that you are entirely freed from suspicion."
"That's so, you bet!" came from the men on all sides, as one by one they stepped forward to shake Carroll warmly by the hand.
"Now, gentlemen," said Sinclair, "make your decision. This man," pointing to Crawley, "is charged with a serious crime. What is your verdict?"
One by one the men threw into the hat on the table a bit of paper. In silence Sinclair and The Kid read and recorded the ballots. When they had finished Sinclair stood up, looking sternly at Crawley, and said:
"Mr. Crawley, this Committee say unanimously that you are guilty. Have you anything to say before sentence is pronounced?"
The wretched creature fell on his knees with tears and cries entreating mercy.
"Take him away," said Sinclair sternly. "Now, gentlemen, what have you to say? What shall be done to this man whom you have decided to be guilty of murder?"
The discussion which followed was long and bitter. Sinclair and those who had come more recently to the country were for handing him over to the police.
"What's the good of that, Sinclair?" demanded Macnamara, one of the old-timers.
"Well, he'll get justice sure; he'll get sent up."
"Don't know about that," said Ike. "You see, you can't prove anything but stealin', and you can't prove that, for sure. They'll take him down to Regina, and they aint going to give him much down there for stealin' a little grub."
"Well, what do you propose?" said Sinclair.
"Well," said Ike, "hangin's too good for him. He ought to be hung, but 'taint the custom in this here country, I understand, and I surmise we'd better scare the daylights out of him and give him twelve hours to get out."
After some further discussion Ike's proposition was accepted. That night four masked men took Crawley out of the room where he had been kept a prisoner and led him out of the village and up the trail to the woods, and there, unheeding his prayers and cries and groans, they made solemn preparations for his execution. In the midst of their preparations Sinclair, with a number. of others, came galloping up and demanded the prisoner's release, and after a long and bitter discussion it was finally agreed that Crawley should be given twelve hours to leave the country, which decision was joyfully and tearfully accepted by the terror-stricken wretch.
"Hello, old man, there's a letter for you in my rooms. Thought you'd be in to-day, so took care of it for you." Father Mike drew near Shock's buckboard and greeted him cordially. "By Jove! what's the matter with you? What have you been doing to yourself?" he exclaimed, looking keenly into Shock's face.
"I am rather seedy," said Shock. "Played out, indeed." And he gave Father Mike an account of his last week's experience.
"Great Caesar!" exclaimed Father Mike, "that was a close thing. Come right along and stretch yourself out of my couch. A cup of tea will do you good." Shock, gladly accepting the invitation, went with him.
"There's your letter," said Father Mike, as he set Shock in his deep armchair. "You read it while I make tea."
The letter was, as Father Mike had said, a fat one. It was from his Convener and ran thus:
"MY DEAR MR. MACGREGOR:"
"The enclosed letter from the Superintendent will explain itself. You are instructed to withdraw forthwith your services from the Fort. I know you will be disappointed. This is the sort of thing that makes our work in the West depressing: not big blizzards nor small grants, but failure on the part of Eastern men to understand our needs and to appreciate the tremendous importance of these years to the West. Never mind, our day will come. I regret greatly that the Committee should have been influenced by the petition enclosed. Do not let this worry you. The Superintendent's P. S. is due to some misunderstanding. I have written him on this matter. We know some of your difficulties and we have every confidence in you," etc., etc.
From the Superintendent's letter the Convener had enclosed the following extracts:
"It has been decided to withdraw our services from the Fort. I had a stiff fight in the Committee, but failed; they were all against me. Dr. Macfarren especially so--had private information (from his brother, I suppose); presented a petition, which find enclosed; protested against the waste of funds, etc., etc. This precious petition, by the way, seemed to influence the Committee greatly. I need not tell you it failed to influence me, unless indeed as an evidence of the need of our services in that place. You and I have seen this sort of thing before in the West. Young Lloyd of the Park Church, too, was eloquent in opposing--the old story, funds overlapping, denominational rivalry. These young men, who decline to face the frontier, would show better taste in seeking to learn something of the West than in hampering those who are giving their lives to this work. The upholstered seat of the Park Church pulpit does not induce the liveliest sympathy with the Western conditions. Meantime the Convener sits on the chest, and the rest of the Committee seem to feel that their chief duty lies in cutting down expenses and that the highest possible achievement is their meeting the Assembly without a deficit."
"P.S.--Dr. Macfarren hinted a good deal at want of tact on the part of our Missionary, and young Lloyd, who knows Macgregor, seemed to consider this quite possible. Our Missionary must not antagonise men unnecessarily. Send him this letter if you think well; I always like to deal frankly with our men," etc., etc.
As Shook read the letters and glanced at the petition his look of weariness passed away and the old scrimmage smile came back to his face. "Read that," he said, handing the letters to Father Mike, who read them in silence.
"Withdraw!" he exclaimed in astonishment when he had finished reading. "And why, pray?"
"Oh! don't you see, 'funds overlapping, denominational rivalry'?"
"'Overlapping, rivalry,' rot! You cannot do my work here and I cannot do yours. I say, this petition would be rich if it were not so damnable," added Father Mike, glancing at the document. "'Whereas, the town is amply supplied with church services there is no desire for services by the Presbyterians'--or by any others for that matter," interjected Father Mike. "Let us see who signs this blessed paper? Macfarren. He's a beautiful churchman. Inspector Haynes. What's he got to do with it? Frank, Smith, Crozier! Why, the thing is a farce! Not a man of them ever goes to church. 'Whereas, the Presbyterians are quite unable to assume any financial obligation in support of a minister.' Why, the whole outfit doesn't contribute a dollar a month. Isn't it preposterous, a beastly humbug! Who is this young whipper-snapper, Lloyd, pray?" Father Mike's tone was full of contempt.
Shock winced. His friend had touched the only, place left raw by the letter. "He is a college friend of mine," he answered quickly. "A fine fellow and a great preacher."
"Oh!" replied Father Mike drily. "I beg pardon. Well, what will you do?"
"Withdraw," said Shock simply. "I haven't made it go, anyway."
"Rot!" said Father Mike, with great emphasis. "Macfarren doesn't want you, and possibly the Inspector shares in that feeling,--I guess you know why, but you are needed in this town, and needed badly."
But Shock only replied "I shall withdraw. I have been rather a failure, I guess. Let's talk no more about it."
"All right, old chap," said Father Mike. "Come along to tea. I wish to Heaven there were more failures like you in the country."
Shock's last service at the Fort marked his emancipation as a preacher of the Gospel. Hitherto the presence of those whom he knew to be indifferent or contemptuously critical had wrought in him a self-consciousness that confused his thought, clogged his emotion, and hampered his speech. This night all was changed. The hall was full; the Inspector and his wife, with the men from the barracks, Macfarren and his followers, General Brady and his gracious, sweet- faced wife, were all there. Ike and The Kid--whose ranch lay halfway between the Lake and the Fort had ridden in, and far back in the dim darkness of a corner sat the doctor. As Shock stood up and looked into the faces of the men before him and thought of their lives, lonely, tempted, frankly wicked, some of them far down in degradation, he forgot himself, his success, or his failure. What mattered that! How petty seemed now all his considerations for himself! Men were before him who by reason of sin were in sore need of help. He believed he had what they needed. How to give it to them, that was the question. With this feeling of sympathy and compassion, deepened and intensified by a poignant sense of failure, Shock stood up to deliver to them his last message. He would speak the truth to-night, and speak it he did, without a tinge of embarrassment or fear. As his words began to flow he became conscious of a new strength, of a new freedom, and the joy of his new strength and freedom swept him along on a full tide of burning speech. He abandoned his notes, from which he had hitherto feared to be far separated; he left the desk, which had been to him a barricade for defence, and stood up before the people. His theme was the story of the leprous man who dared to come to the Great Healer in all the hideousness of his disease and who was straightway cleansed. After reading the words he stood facing them a few moments in silence and then, without any manner of introduction, he began:
"That's what you want, men. You need to be made clean, you need to be made strong." The people stared at him as if he had gone mad, it was so unlike his usual formal, awkward self. Quietly, but with intense and serious earnestness, he spoke to them of their sins, their drunken orgies, their awful profanity, their disregard of everything religious, their open vices and secret sins.
"Say," said Ike to The Kid, who sat next to him, "they'll be gettin' out their guns sure!" But there was no anger in the faces lifted up to the speaker; the matter was too serious for anger and the tone was too kindly for offence. Without hesitation Shock went on with his terribly relentless indictment of the men who sat before him. Then, with a swift change of tone and thought, he cried in a voice vibrating with compassion:
"And you cannot help it, men! The pity of it is, you cannot help it! You cannot change your hearts; you love these things, you cannot shake them off, they have grown upon you and have become your fixed habits. Some of you have tried: I know you have had your periods of remorse and you have sought to escape, but you have failed."
He paused a moment, and then continued in a voice humble and remorseful:
"I have failed, too. I thought in my pride and my folly that I could help you, but I have failed. We have failed together, men--what then is before us?"
His voice took a deeper tone, his manner was earnestly respectful and tenderly sympathetic, as he set before them the Divine Man, so quick to sympathise, so ready and so powerful to help.
"He is the same to-night, men! Appeal to Him and He will respond as He did to this poor leprous man."
Over and over again he urged this upon them, heaping argument upon argument, seeking to persuade them that it was worth while making the attempt.
"Say, boss, seems reasonable, don't it, and easy, too?" said Ike to The Kid, who was listening with face pale and intent. The Kid nodded without moving his eager eyes from the speaker's face.
"But I can't just git the throw, quite," continued Ike, with a puzzled air.
"Hush, listen!" said The Kid sharply. Shock had paused abruptly. For a few moments he stood looking into the eyes of the men gaping back at him with such intense eagerness; then leaning forward a little he said in a voice low, but thrilling with emotions:
"Does any man here think his father or mother has forgotten him or does not care what happens to him?"
Shock was thinking of his own dear old mother, separated from him by so many leagues of empty prairie, but so near to him in love and sympathy.
"Does any man think so?" he repeated, "and do you think your Father in Heaven does not care? Oh! do not think so!" His voice rose in a cry of entreaty. The effect was tremendous.
"God in Heaven, help me!" cried The Kid to himself with a sob in his voice.
"Me too, boss," said Ike gravely, putting his hand on the other's knee.
Shock's farewell was as abrupt as his beginning. In a single sentence he informed them that the services would be discontinued at this end of the field. He wished he could have served them better; he knew he had failed; he asked their forgiveness as he had already asked it of his God; but, though he had failed, he commended them to Him who had never failed any man appealing to Him for help.
There was no hymn, but in a simple, short prayer the service was closed, and before the congregation had recovered from their amazement Shock had passed out through the back door.
"Well, I'll be blanked!" said Ike, with a gasp.
"Quit that, Ike," said The Kid sharply. "Look here--I am going to quit swearing right now, so help me."
"All right, boss, I'm with you; put it there."
Then above the hum of conversation General Brady's voice was heard:
"Gentlemen, it is my opinion that we have lost a great man to-night, a fearless man and a Christian gentleman."
"That's my entire prognostication, General," said Ike, with great emphasis.
Meantime Shock had gone searching through the hotels for the doctor, whom he had seen slipping out before the closing prayer. But the doctor was nowhere to be seen, and in despair Shock went to Father Mike. He found that gentleman in a state of enthusiastic excitement. "My dear fellow, my dear fellow," he exclaimed, "that was great!"
"What?" said Shock simply.
"That sermon, man. I would give my hand to preach like that."
"Preach?" said Shock. "I didn't preach. Did you see the doctor?"
"Never mind the doctor," said Father Mike. "Come in, I want to talk with you; come in."
"No, I must see the doctor."
"Well, then, wait; I will go with you."
Shock hesitated. "I think I would rather go alone, if you don't mind," he said.
"All right, old chap," said Father Mike, "I understand. The door's always open and the kettle on."
"Thank you," said Shock. "You know how I appreciate that," and he went out.
There was a light in Macfarren's office. Shock knocked at the door and went in. He found the doctor and Macfarren seated by a table, upon which were glasses and a bottle. The doctor was pale, nervous, shaking.
"Sit down, Mr. Macgregor," said Macfarren, with more cordiality than he had ever shown to Shock before.
"I was just saying to the doctor that that was a fine discourse, a very able discourse, Mr. Macgregor."
Shock made no reply, but stood looking at the doctor.
"I would like to say," continued Macfarren, "that I regret your leaving us. I believe, on the whole, it is a mistake; we require preaching like that." There was a touch of real earnestness in Macfarren's tone.
"Mr. Macfarren," said Shock, "I am sorry I have not been able to help you. You need help, you need help badly. Jesus Christ can help you. Goodnight." He took the doctor's arm and, helping him up, walked off with him.
"What do you want?" said the doctor fiercely, when they were outside.
"Doctor, I want your help. I feel weak."
"Weak! Great Heavens above! You talk of weakness? Don't mock me!"
"It is true, doctor; come along."
"Where are you going?" said the doctor.
"I don't know," said Shock. "Let us go to your office."
The doctor's office was a cheerless room, dusty, disordered, and comfortless. The doctor sat down in a chair, laid his head on the table, and groaned. "It is no good, it is no good. I tried, I tried honestly. I prayed, I even hoped for a time--this is all gone I broke my word, I betrayed my trust even to the dead. All is lost!"
"Doctor," said Shock quietly, "I wish that you would look at me and tell me what's the matter with me. I cannot eat, I cannot sleep, and yet I am weary. I feel weak and useless--cannot you help me?"
The doctor looked at him keenly. "You're not playing with me, are you? No, by Jove! you are not. You do look bad--let me look at you." His professional interest was aroused. He turned up the lamp and examined Shock thoroughly.
"What have you been doing? What's the cause of this thing?" he enquired, at length, as if he feared to ask.
Shock gave him an account of his ten days' experience in the mountains, sparing nothing. The doctor listened in an agony of self- reproach.
"It was my fault," he groaned, "it was all my fault."
"Not a word of that, doctor, please. It was not in your hands or in mine. The Lost River is lost, not by any man's fault, but by the will of God. Now, tell me, what do I need?"
"Nothing, nothing at all but rest and sleep. Rest; for a week," said the doctor.
"Well, then," said Shock, "I want you to come and look after me for a week. I need you; you need me; we'll help each other."
"Oh, God! Oh, God!" groaned the doctor, "what is the use? You know there is no use."
"Doctor, I told you before that you are saying what is both false and foolish."
"I remember," said the doctor bitterly. "You spoke of common sense and honesty."
"Yes, and I say so again," replied Shock. "Common sense and honesty is what you need. Listen--I am not going to preach, I am done with that for to-night--but you know as well as I do that when a man faces the right way God is ready to back him up. It is common sense to bank on that, isn't it? Common sense, and nothing else. But I want to say this, you've got to be honest with God. You've not been fair. You say you've prayed--"
"God knows I have," said the doctor.
"Yes," said Shock, with a touch of scorn in his voice, "you've prayed, and then you went into the same old places and with the same old companions, and so you find yourself where you are to-night. You cannot cure any man of disease if he breaks every regulation you make when your back is turned. Give God a chance, that's all I ask. Be decently square with Him. There's lots of mystery in religion, but it is not there. Come along now, you are going home with me."
"No, sir," said the doctor decidedly. "I shall fight it out alone."
"Will you walk, or shall I carry you?" said Shock quietly.
The doctor gazed at him. "Oh, confound you!" he cried, "I'll"--He stopped short and putting his face down upon the table again he burst into a storm of sobs and cried, "Oh, I am weak, I am weak, let me go, let me go, I am not worth it!"
Then Shock got down beside him, put his arm around his shoulder, and said: "I cannot let you go, doctor. I want you. And your Father in Heaven wants you. Come," he continued after a pause, "we'll win yet."
For half an hour they walked the streets and then turned into Father Mike's quarters.
"Father Mike," said Shock, opening the door, "we want coffee, and I'm hungrier than I've been for three days."
"Come in," said Father Mike, with a keen glance at the doctor, "come in, brother mine. You've earned your grub this day."