Chapter Nine
 

After a moment he pushed open the door without ceremony, and entered. He bent his brows, studying the Reverend Archibald Crane, while the latter, looking up startled, turned pink.

He was a pink little man, anyway, the Reverend Archibald Crane, and why, in the inscrutability of its wisdom, the Church had sent him out to influence strong, grim men, the Church in its inscrutable wisdom only knows. He wore at the moment a cambric English boating-hat to protect his bald head from the draught, a full clerical costume as far as the trousers, which were of lavender, and a pair of beaded moccasins faced with red. His weak little face was pink, and two tufts of side-whiskers were nearly so. A heavy gold-headed cane stood at his hand. When he heard the door open he exclaimed, before raising his head, "My, these first flies of the season do bother me so!" and then looked startled.

"Good-evening," greeted Ned Trent, stopping squarely in the centre of the room.

The clergyman spread his arms along the desk's edge in embarrassment.

"Good-evening," he returned, reluctantly. "Is there anything I can do for you?" The visitor puzzled him, but was dressed as a voyageur. The Reverend Archibald immediately resolved to treat him as such.

"I wish to introduce myself as Ned Trent," went on the Free Trader with composure, "and I have broken in on your privacy this evening only because I need your ministrations cruelly."

"I am rejoiced that in your difficulties you turn to the consolations of the Church," replied the other in the cordial tones of the man who is always ready. "Pray be seated. He whose soul thirsteth need offer no apology to the keeper of the spiritual fountains."

"Quite so," replied the stranger dryly, seating himself as suggested, "only in this case my wants are temporal rather than spiritual. They, however, seem to me fully within the province of the Church."

"The Church attempts within limits to aid those who are materially in want," assured Crane, with official dignity. "Our resources are small, but to the truly deserving we are always ready to give in the spirit of true giving."

"I am rejoiced to hear it," returned the young man, grimly; "you will then have no difficulty in getting me so small a matter as a rifle and about forty or fifty rounds of ammunition."

A pause of astonishment ensued.

"Why, really," ejaculated Crane, "I fail to see how that falls within my jurisdiction in the slightest. You should see our Trader, Mr. McDonald, in regard to all such things. Your request addressed to me becomes extraordinary."

"Not so much so when you know who I am. I told you my name is Ned Trent, but I neglected to inform you further that I am a captured Free Trader, condemned to la Longue Traverse, and that I have in vain tried to procure elsewhere the means of escape."

Then the clergyman understood. The full significance of the intruder's presence flashed over his little pink face in a trouble of uneasiness. The probable consequences of such a bit of charity as his visitor proposed almost turned him sick with excitement.

"You expect to have them of me!" he cried, getting his voice at last.

"Certainly," assured his interlocutor, crossing his legs comfortably. "Don't you see the logic of events forces me to think so? What other course is open to you? I am in this country entirely within my legal rights as a citizen of the Canadian Commonwealth. Unjustly, I am seized by a stronger power and condemned unjustly to death. Surely you admit the injustice?"

"Well, of course you know--the customs of the country--it is hardly an abstract question--" stammered Crane, still without grasp on the logic of his argument.

"But as an abstract question the injustice is plain," resumed the Free Trader, imperturbably. "And against plain injustice it strikes me there is but one course open to an acknowledged institution of abstract--and concrete--morality. The Church must set itself against immorality, and you, as the Church's representative, must get me a rifle."

"You forget one thing," rejoined Crane.

"What is that?"

"Such an aid would be a direct act of rebellion against authority on my part, which would be severely punished. Of course," he asserted, with conscious righteousness, "I should not consider that for a moment as far as my own personal safety is concerned. But my cause would suffer. You forget, sir, that we are doing here a great and good work. We have in our weekly congregational singing over forty regular attendants from the aborigines; next year I hope to build a church at Whale River, thus reaching the benighted inhabitants of that distant region. All of this is a vital matter in the service of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. You suggest that I endanger all this in order to right a single instance of injustice. Of course we are told to love one another, but--" he paused.

"You have to compromise," finished the stranger for him.

"Exactly," said the Reverend Crane. "Thank you; it is exactly that. In order to accomplish what little good the Lord vouchsafes to our poor efforts, we are obliged to overlook many things. Otherwise we should not be allowed to stay here at all."

"That is most interesting," agreed Ned Trent, with a rather biting calm. "But is it not a little calculating? My slight familiarity with religious history and literature has always led me to believe that you are taught to embrace the right at any cost whatsoever--that, if you give yourself unreservedly to justice, the Lord will sustain you through all trials. I think at a pinch I could even quote a text to that effect."

"My dear fellow," objected the Reverend Archibald in gentle protest, "you evidently do not understand the situation at all. I feel I should be most untrue to my trust if I were to endanger in any way the life-long labor of my predecessor. You must be able to see that for yourself. It would destroy utterly my usefulness here. They'd send me away. I couldn't go on with the work. I have to think what is for the best."

"There is some justice in what you say," admitted the stranger, "if you persist in looking on this thing as a business proposition. But it seems to my confessedly untrained mind that you missed the point. 'Trust in the Lord,' saith the prophet. In fact, certain rivals in your own field hold the doctrine you expound, and you consider them wrong. 'To do evil that good may come' I seem to recognize as a tenet of the Church of the Jesuits."

"I protest. I really do protest," objected the clergyman, scandalized.

"All right," agreed Ned Trent, with good-natured contempt. "That is not the point. Do you refuse?"

"Can't you see?" begged the other. "I'm sure you are reasonable enough to take the case on its broader side."

"You refuse?" insisted Ned Trent.

"It is not always easy to walk straightly before the Lord, and my way is not always clear before me, but--"

"You refuse!" cried Ned Trent, rising impatiently.

The Reverend Archibald Crane looked at his catechiser with a trace of alarm.

"I'm sorry; I'm afraid I must," he apologized.

The stranger advanced until he touched the desk on the other side of which the Reverend Archibald was sitting, where he stood for some moments looking down on his opponent with an almost amused expression of contempt.

"You are an interesting little beast," he drawled, "and I've seen a lot of your kind in my time. Here you preach every Sunday, to whomever will listen to you, certain cut-and-dried doctrines you don't believe practically in the least. Here for the first time you have had a chance to apply them literally, and you hide behind a lot of words. And while you're about it you may as well hear what I have to say about your kind. I've had a pretty wide experience in the North, and I know what I'm talking about. Your work here among the Indians is rot, and every sensible man knows it. You coop them up in your log-built houses, you force on them clothes to which they are unaccustomed until they die of consumption. Under your little tin-steepled imitation of civilization, for which they are not fitted, they learn to beg, to steal, to lie. I have travelled far, but I have yet to discover what your kind are allowed on earth for. You are narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant, and without a scrap of real humanity to ornament your mock religion. When you find you can't meddle with other people's affairs enough at home you get sent where you can get right in the business--and earn salvation for doing it. I don't know just why I should say this to you, but it sort of does me good to tell it. Once I heard one of your kind tell a sorrowing mother that her little child had gone to hell because it had died before he--the smug hypocrite--had sprinkled its little body with a handful of water. There's humanity for you! It may interest you to know that I thrashed that man then and there. You are all alike; I know the breed. When there is found a real man among you--and there are such--he is so different in everything, including his religion, as to be really of another race. I came here without the slightest expectation of getting what I asked for. As I said before, I know your breed, and I know just how well your two-thousand-year-old doctrines apply to practical cases. There is another way, but I hated to use it. You'd take it quick enough, I dare say. Here is where I should receive aid. I may have to get it where I should not. You a man of God! Why, you poor little insect, I can't even get angry at you!"

He stood for a moment looking at the confused and troubled clergyman. Then he went out.