Chapter XXXVIII. A Handful of Gold
 

"'I fear it is more his church than mine, sir.'"

Rising early the next morning Dan looked from his window to see a stranger already at work in the garden. He was tall, raw-boned, having the figure and dress of a laborer. A few minutes later Dan was introduced by the delighted Deborah to her brother Mike McGowan, who had arrived the afternoon before from somewhere in the west. All the morning the two men worked side by side with crippled Denny.

Returning to his self-appointed task in the afternoon, Dan was met by the brawny Irishman who in a towering rage, was just leaving the house.

"Parson," he roared, "'tis a good man ye are, if ye be only a protestant preacher--a damn good man sir, beggin' your pardon! But you've got a danged poor kind of a boss, thot'll be lookin' more like he ought to when I git through with him."

"Why, what's the matter?" asked Dan stopping with his back to the gate, thus blocking the way, for he saw that the stranger was bent on violence to someone. "Whom do you mean, by my boss?"

"Who do I mane? And who should I mane, but him that runs the thing yonder they call a church, beggin' your pardon, sir. 'Tis the Elder, as you call him--Judge Strong. I'll judge him, if I can coax him widin reach of my two hands." He shook his huge, hairy fists in the air. "It's not strong but wake he'll be when I git through wid him. Leave me pass, if you please, sir."

Dan held his place. "Come, come McGowan," he said, "let's go into the house and you tell me about this."

Deborah, who with Denny was standing in the doorway, called out to them, "That's right Mr. Matthews. Come on in Mike, and talk it over quiet like; let the minister tell ye what to do. It's him that'll save us a sight o' trouble that nobody wants. Come in sir! Come on Mike, come with the minister."

The wrathful Irishman hesitated. Dan laid a hand on his arm and together they went into the cottage.

"'Twas this way sir," said McGowan, "I was sayin' to Debby and Denny here at dinner what a danged fine man I took ye for after workin' wid ye all mornin' in the garden, an' then she up an' tells me 'bout you fixin' up the mortgage fer them an' how they niver could find out how you fixed it with the Judge. 'The mortgage' says I, 'what mortgage is that, Debby?' 'The mortgage on the place, of course,' says she. 'Don't you mind, I was tellin' you 'bout it when ye was here before?' 'Do I mind' says I, 'I should think I did,' and wid that it all come out sir, and this is the way of it.

"When I come from Colorado that time Jack was killed I found Debby here, widout even money enough to pay for a mass, to say nothin' of the buryin', bein' as they had put iverythin' into the little place here, d'ye see? Well I had a run o' luck the week before, which is neither here nor there, but I had money. I knowed from experience that it wouldn't shtay by me long anyway, an' so I thought I'd kinda fix things up fer Debby an' the kid here, while I could, d'ye see?

"Well when 'twas all over, I paid the undertaker's bills an' iverythin' like that, an' then the very day I left I went to that damn thief, beggin' your pardon, an' paid off that mortgage in good, hard cash. Explainin' to him, d'ye see, that I wanted the papers all fixed up straight and clear and turned over to Debby here, as a kind of a surprise, d'ye see, after I was gone an' she would be feelin' down-hearted bein' left by her man and me besides. The Judge bein', as I knew, the main guy in the big church, I niver thought but that'd be all right, d'ye see? Well sir, I went away that very day as tickled as a boy over the thing an' niver thought nothin' about not gettin' a letter about it from her, 'cause ye see wid me on the move so, most of the letters I git from Debby niver find me at all. An' here she's tillin' me now that she's niver heard nothin' 'bout it from the Judge an' she's been payin' the interest right along, an' would a been turned out by him if it han't a bin fer you, sir. An' me wid no writin' nor nothin' to show for the good money I paid him. Now, ain't that a hell of a thing, sir? What kin I do save bate the face off him onless he fixes it up right an' gives back ivery cint he's had off her besides?"

As he listened to the Irishman's story, the new, drawn lines in Dan's face deepened. He sat with bowed head as though he himself were being charged with theft. When the tale was finished there was silence in the little room for several minutes. Then Dan raised his head and the others saw that in his eyes, as though he had received a mortal hurt.

"Tell me, Mr. McGowan," he said. "Are you sure there is not some mistake somewhere? It is very hard for me to believe, that an Elder of the church--would--" his voice broke.

The Irishman's rough tones were softened as he answered, "An' how could there be any mistake, sir, wid me givin' him the hard cash out of me own pocket after his tellin' me how much it was, an' his promise to fix it up all right fer Debby when I'd explained the surprise I'd meant fer her?"

"You paid him the money, you say?"

"That I did sir--gold. Ye see I happened to have that draft--jest a thousand an' I turned it in here at the bank. I remember how the feller at the winder tried to make me take thim dirty bills an' I would not, as neither would you if you lived as long in the west as I have, sir, an' got used to the good, clean gold. 'It's the gold or nothin' I'll have' says I to him, 'clean money to pay a clean debt' an' we had some words over it--his bein' on the other side o' the winder, ye see, where he could talk to me. An even eight hundred and fifty I gave the Judge, one hundred and forty I paid the undertaker and the other tin I gave to Denny here as I was leavin'. The priest I paid out of some I had in me belt."

"Come," said Dan, "we must go to the bank."

In the rear room of the little country bank, Dan introduced the Irishman to the cashier, Colonel Dunwood.

"I think I have met Mr. McGowan before," said the Colonel with a smile. "Mrs. Mulhall's brother are you not? You were here when Jack was killed."

"I was, sir. Glad to meet you again, sir."

"Do you remember cashing a draft for Mr. McGowan, Colonel?" asked Dan.

The banker laughed heartily. "I should say I did--a thousand dollars in gold. I was glad the counter was between us, when I tried to persuade him to take paper. Why sir, not in twenty years in this state would you find a man who would even accept the gold, let alone fighting for it!"

Then Dan explained briefly the situation.

When he had finished the Colonel sprang to his feet with an oath. "And that explains something that puzzled us here in the bank, for many a day. Wait a minute."

He left the room to return with a slip of paper. "Can you tell me the exact date on which you cashed the draft?" he said to McGowan.

"It was the day after the funeral. I disremember the date, but 'twould be easy to find."

The banker nodded, "Our books show that I paid you the money the sixteenth. And here," he laid the slip of paper before them, "is a deposit slip made out and signed by Judge Strong dated the seventeenth, showing that on that date he deposited eight hundred and fifty dollars in gold. That is what puzzled us, Mr. Matthews--that the Judge should deposit that amount of gold, there being, you see so little gold handled here. It makes it very easy to trace. I'll illustrate." He turned to Mike. "Did you spend any more of the gold in Corinth?"

McGowan told him about paying the undertaker. After a moment the Colonel triumphantly laid before them a deposit slip made out by the undertaker dated a day later, showing an item of one hundred and forty dollars in gold.

"You see," he said, "how easy it is."

"Colonel Dunwood," said Dan, "would this be sufficient evidence before a jury to--" He hesitated.

The Colonel let fly another oath, "Yes sir, and before any jury you could get together in this county it wouldn't take half this to send that damned, long-faced, sniveling, hypocrite where he belongs. He is one of our best customers, too, but I reckon this bank can get along without his dirty money. I beg your pardon, sir; I forgot he is an Elder in your church."

Dan smiled sadly, "I fear it is more his church than mine, sir." And they left the banker to puzzle over the minister's remark.

That evening Dan went again to the home of Judge Strong. He had persuaded McGowan to let him act in the matter, for he feared that the Irishman's temper would complicate things and make it more difficult to secure Deborah's rights by creating some feeling in the community against the little family.

Dan found the Judge in his library. Very quietly, sadly indeed, he told the story. The Elder, righteously indignant, stormed at the minister, denying everything; accusing Dan of being an impudent meddler; threatening him with dismissal from, the church and the denomination; accusing him even, with unlawful interest in the affairs of the widow, and taunting him with the common reports as to his relations with Miss Farwell and her companion.

Dan with a look of sadness growing deeper on his face listened, without a word until the final insinuation; then he checked the other sharply, and his voice had the ring of metal in it as he said slowly, "Judge Strong you shall answer to me later for this insult to these good women. Just now you will not mention them again. I am here in the interests of Mr. McGowan. Confine your remarks to that subject."

Then he laid before the Judge the evidence he had obtained at the bank and pointed out its damaging strength. The man was frightened now, but still he obstinately denied having received any money in payment of the mortgage. Dan pleaded with him, urging even the cause of the church, telling also how McGowan had agreed to do nothing further if the Judge would simply make restitution.

The Judge answered arrogantly that he had been a faithful member, and an Elder in the Memorial Church, too long to be harmed by the charges of a stranger, a wandering ruffian, who had nothing but his word to show that he had paid him a sum of money. "And as for you, young man," he added, "I may as well tell you now that your time is about up in Corinth, and I'll take mighty good care that you don't get another church in our brotherhood either. I'll show you that preachers get along better when they attend to their own affairs."

Dan's final words, as he stood by the door, were, "I cannot believe Judge Strong, that you will force my friends to take this matter into the courts. But we will certainly do so if I do not receive from you by tomorrow noon the proper papers and a check for every cent you have taken from Mrs. Mulhall."

Until late in the night after Dan's departure, Judge Strong still sat at his desk, deep in thought. Occasionally he rose to walk the floor.

When the Judge had received that money from McGowan he had had no thought but regret at losing the property he coveted. With Deborah and Denny left alone in the world, he knew that in time the place would be sure to come to him. He had only to wait. This wild Irish brick-layer--and who knows what beside--who was he to block the Elder's plans with his handful of gold?

The gold! How well the Judge remembered that day, and how when Mike was gone, he had sat contemplating the shining pieces! What a fool the man was to carry such stuff on his person! The careful Judge never dreamed that the money had come from his own bank. The Irishman was going away on the morrow. Planning gleefully to surprise his sister, he had told no one. He would wander far. It would be years before he would return, if he ever came back. By that time the property would be--

It was seemingly all too easy. The Judge's character was not a character to resist such an opportunity. The gold alone perhaps would not have won, but the gold and the place--the place he had planned for and felt so certain of owning--that was too much!

And now this big sad-faced preacher--the Irishman again, and the bank! The more the Judge thought over Dan's quiet words, the more he saw the danger.

So it came about, that the next morning Dan, waiting in his study, received a visitor--the good old Elder--Nathaniel Jordan.