Chapter XIV. A Council of War
 

While the frivolous-minded of Clayton were bent upon the festivities of fair week, it must not be imagined that the grave and thoughtful contingent, which acts as ballast in every community, was idle.

Mr. Moseley was a self-constituted leader in a crusade against dancing. At his earnest suggestion, every minister in town agreed to preach upon the subject at prayer-meeting the Wednesday evening of the hop.

They held a preliminary meeting before services in the study of the Hard-Shell Baptist Church. Mr. Moseley occupied the chair, a Jove of righteousness dispensing thunderbolts of indignation to his satellites. A fringe of scant hair retreated respectfully from the unadorned dome which crowned his personal edifice. His manner was most serious and his every utterance freighted with importance.

Beside him sat his rival in municipal authority, the Methodist preacher. He had a short upper lip and a square lower jaw, and a way of glaring out of his convex glasses that gave a comical imitation of a bullfrog in debate. This was the first occasion in the history of the town when he and Mr. Moseley had met in friendly concord. For the last few days the united war upon a common enemy had knitted their souls in a bond of brotherly affection.

When the half-dozen preachers had assembled, Mr. Moseley rose with dignity. "My dear brethren," he began impressively, "the occasion is one which permits of no trifling. The dancing evil is one which has menaced our community for generations--a viper to be seized and throttled with a firm hand. The waltz, the--the Highland fling, the--the--"

"German?" suggested some one faintly.

"Yes, the german--are all invasions of the Evil One. The crowded rooms, the unholy excitement, are degenerating and debasing. I am glad to report one young soul who has turned from temptation and told me only to-day of his intention of refraining from partaking in the unrighteous amusement of this evening. That, brethren, was the nephew of my pastor."

The little Presbyterian preacher, thus thrust into the light cast from the halo of his regenerate nephew, stirred uneasily. He was contemplating the expediency of his youthful kinsman in making the lack of a dress-suit serve as a means of lightening his coming examinations at the academy.

Mr. Moseley, now fully launched upon a flood of eloquence, was just concluding a brilliant argument. "Look at the round dance!" he cried. "Who can behold and not shudder?"

Mr. Meech, who had not beheld and therefore could not shudder, ventured a timid inquiry:

"Mr. Moseley, just what is a round dance?"

Mr. Moseley pushed back his chair and wheeled the table nearer the window. "Will you just step forward, Mr. Meech?"

With difficulty Mr. Meech extricated himself from the corner to which the pressure of so many guests had relegated him. He slipped apologetically to the front and took his stand beneath the shadow of Mr. Moseley's presence. Prayer-meeting being but a semi-official occasion, he wore his second-best coat, and it had followed the shrinking habit established by its predecessors.

"Now," commanded Mr. Moseley, "place your hand upon my shoulder."

Mr. Meech did so with self-conscious gravity and serious apprehensions as to the revelations to follow.

"Now," continued Mr. Moseley, "I place my arm about your waist--thus."

"Surely not," objected Mr. Meech, in embarrassment.

But Mr. Moseley was relentless. "I assure you it is true. And the other hand--" He stopped in grave deliberation. The Methodist brother, who had been growing more and more overcharged with suppressed knowledge, could contain himself no longer.

"That's not right at all!" he burst forth irritably. "You don't hook your arm around like that! You hold the left arm out and saw it up and down--like this."

He snatched the bewildered Mr. Meech from Mr. Moseley's embrace, and humming a waltz, stepped briskly about the limited space, to the consternation of the onlookers, who hastened to tuck their feet under their chairs.

Mr. Meech, looking as if he were being backed into eternity, stumbled on the rug and clutched violently at the table-cover. In his downfall he carried his instructor with him, and a deluge of tracts from the table above followed.

In the midst of the confusion there was a sound from the church next door. Mr. Meech sat up among the debris and listened. It was the opening hymn for prayer-meeting.