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- Elder Conklin and Other Stories - 6/33 -
repentance fer sin and determination never to sin agen, I'd do it, and ask you to pardon me for Jesus' sake, but I kain't repent--I jes' kain't! You see my heart, O God! and you know I'll go on cheatin' ef that'll get Loo what she wants. An' so I've come down hyar to say that Loo ain't with me in the cheatin'; it's all my sin. I know you punish sin. The stiff-necked sinner ought to be punished. Wall; I'll take the punishment. Put it right on to me--that's justice. But, O Lord! leave Loo out; she don't know nothin' about it. That's why I've come down hyar into the water to show I'm willin' to bear what you send. Amen, O Lord God! In Jesus' name, Amen."
And he rose quietly, came out of the creek, wiped his dripping limbs with his hand as well as he could, let down his night-shirt, and prepared to climb the bank. Needless to say, Bancroft had slipped through the stables and reached the house before the Elder could get within sight of him.
When alone in his room the schoolmaster grew a little ashamed of himself. There could be no doubt of the Elder's sincerity, and he had insulted him. The Elder had sacrificed his principles; had done violence to the habits of his life, and shame to his faith and practice--all in order that his daughter might have her "pianner." The grotesque pronunciation of the word appeared pathetic to Bancroft now; it brought moisture into his eyes. What a fine old fellow Conklin was! Of course he wished to bear the whole burden of his sin and its punishment. It would be easy to go to him on the morrow and beg his pardon. Wrong done as the Elder did it, he felt, was more than right. What a Christian at heart! And what a man!
But the girl who asked for such a sacrifice--what was she? All the jealousy, all the humiliation he had suffered on her account, came back to him; she would have her father steal provided she got her piano. How vain she was and self-willed; without any fine moral feeling or proper principle! He would be worse than a fool to give his life to such a woman. If she could drive her father--and such a father--to theft, in what wrongdoing might she not involve her husband? He was warned in time; he would not be guilty of such irreparable folly. He would match her selfishness with prudence. Who could blame him? That was what the hard glitter in her eyes betokened--cold selfishness; and he had thought of her as Hebe--a Hebe who would give poisoned wine to those who loved her. He was well saved from that.
The old Greek word called her up before him, and the spell of her physical charm stole over his astonished senses like perfumed summer air. Sitting beside her that evening, his arm round her waist, he had felt the soft, full curves of her form, and thinking of it his pulses throbbed. How fair her face was! That appealing air made her irresistible; and even when she was angry, how splendidly handsome! What a pity she should be hard and vulgar! He felt estranged from her, yet still cherished the bitterness of disappointment. She was detestably vain, common and selfish; he would be on his guard.
* * * * *
Next day at breakfast Mr. Morris came in. He was an ordinary young Western farmer, rough but kindly, ill-educated but sensible. When his appetite was satisfied he wanted to know whether they had heard the news.
"No," Mrs. Conklin replied eagerly, "we've heard nothing unless p'r'aps the Elder in Eureka"--but her husband shook his head, and Morris went on:
"Folks say the Government in Washington has sent General Custer out with troops to pertect the Indian Territory. Away East they think the settlers have been stealing the Reserve, an' the soldiers are coming with surveyors to draw the line again."
After a pause, "That seems right," said the Elder; "thar' ain't nothin' agen that."
"But you've ploughed and raised crops on the Indian land across the crik," objected Morris; "we all hev. Air we to give it up?"
There was no answer.
"Anyway," Morris continued, "Custer's at Wichita now. He'll be here in a day or two, an' we've called a meetin' in the school-house for this evenin' an' we hope you'll be on hand. 'Tain't likely we're goin' to stand by an' see our crops destroyed. We must hold together, and all'll come right."
"That's true," said the Elder, thinking aloud, "and good. Ef we all held together there'd not be much wrong done."
"Then I kin tell the boys," resumed Morris, rising, "that you'll be with us, Elder. All us young uns hold by you, an' what you say, we'll do, every time."
"Wall," replied the Elder slowly, "I don't know. I kain't see my way to goin'. I've always done fer myself by myself, and I mean to--right through; but the meetin' seems a good idee. I'm not contradictin' that. It seems strong. I don't go much though on meetin's; they hain't ever helped me. But a meetin' seems strong--for them that likes it."
With this assurance Morris was fain to be satisfied and go his way.
Bancroft had listened to the colloquy with new feelings. Prepared to regard with admiration all that the Elder said or did, it was not difficult for him now to catch the deeper meaning of the uncouth words. He was drawn to the Elder by moral sympathy, and his early training tended to strengthen this attraction. It was right, he felt, that the Elder should take his own course, fearing nothing that man could do.
In the evening he met Loo. She supposed with a careless air that he was goin' to pack them leather trunks of his.
"No, I've reconsidered it," he answered. "I'm going to beg your father's pardon, and take back all I said to him."
"Oh! then you do care for me, George," cried the girl enthusiastically, "an' we ken be happy again. I've been real miserable since last night; I cried myself to sleep, so I did. Now I know you love me I'll do anythin' you wish, anythin'. I'll learn to play the pianner; you see if I don't."
"Perhaps," he replied harshly, the old anger growing bitter in him at the mention of the "pianner"--"perhaps it would be better if you gave up the idea of the piano; that _costs_ too much," he added significantly, "far too much. If you'd read good books and try to live in the thought of the time, it would be better. Wisdom is to be won cheaply and by all, but success in an art depends upon innate qualities."
"I see," she exclaimed, flaming up, "you think I can't learn to play like your sister, and I'm very ignorant, and had better read and get to know all other people have said, and you call that wisdom. I don't. Memory ain't sense, I guess; and to talk like you ain't everythin'."
The attack pricked his vanity. He controlled himself, however, and took up the argument: "Memory is not sense, perhaps; but still one ought to know the best that has been said and done in the world. It is easier to climb the ladder when others have shown us the rungs. And surely to talk correctly is better than to talk incorrectly."
"It don't matter much, I reckon, so long as one gets your meanin', and as for the ladder, a monkey could do that."
The irrelevant retort puzzled him, and her tone increased his annoyance. But why, he asked himself, should he trouble to lift her to a higher level of thought? He relapsed into silence.
With wounded heart the girl waited; she was hurt, afraid he did not care for her, could not even guess how she had offended him; but, as he would not speak, her pride came to her aid, and she remarked:
"I'm asked out this evenin', so I'll have to get ready and go. Good night, George Bancroft."
"Good night, Miss Loo," he replied calmly, though the pain he suffered proved that jealousy may outlive love. "I think I shall go to this meeting at the school-house."
They parted. Loo went upstairs to her room to cry over her misery and George's coldness; to wish she had been better taught, and had learned her lessons in school carefully, for then he might have been kinder. She wondered how she should get books to read. It was difficult. Besides, couldn't he see that she was quick and would learn everythin' afterwards if he'd be good to her. Why did he act so? Why!
Bancroft went to the meeting, and found the house crowded. A young farmer from the next county was present, who told how a United States officer with twelve men and a surveyor had come and drawn the boundary line, torn up his fences, and trampled down the corn which he had planted in the Indian Reserve. The meeting at once adopted the following resolution:
"In view of the fact that the land cultivated by American citizens in or upon the Indian Reserve has never been used or cultivated by the Indians, who keep to the woods, and that it is God's will that land should bring forth fruit for the sustenance of man, we are resolved to stand upon our rights as citizens and to defend the same against all aggressors."
Every one signed this document, copies of which were to be sent to General Custer, and also to the President, to the Senate, and to Congress. It was arranged further to write to their own representatives at Washington giving an account of the situation.
After this the meeting broke up, but not before all present had agreed to stand by any of their number who should resist the troops.
When Bancroft returned home Mr. and Mrs. Conklin were still up, and he related to them all that had taken place. The Elder rose and stretched himself without having made a remark. In a whisper Bancroft asked Mrs. Conklin to let him have a word with her husband. As soon as they were alone, he began:
"Mr. Conklin, I insulted you yesterday. I am sorry for it. I hope you'll forgive me."
"Yes," replied the Elder meditatively, overlooking the proffered hand, "yes, that's Christian, I reckon. But the truth's the truth." Turning abruptly to leave the room, he added: "The corn's ripe, waitin' to be cut; ef the United States troops don't eat it all up we'll have a good year." There was a light in his steady eyes which startled the schoolmaster into all sorts of conjectures.
A day or two later, the Conklins and Bancroft were seated at dinner when a knock came at the door. "Come in!" said Mrs. Conklin, and a young officer appeared in the uniform of the United States cavalry. He paused
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