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- Northern Lights, Volume 4. - 6/13 -
"He'll lift his scalp and make a monk of him," chuckled the oldest and hardest of them.
"Dat Tim will cut his heart out, I t'ink-bagosh!" said Nicolle Terasse, and took a drink of white-whiskey. For a long time Tim stood looking at the other, until no sound came from the woods, whither the Pioneers had gone. Then at last, slowly, and with no roughness, as the terror- stricken impostor shrank and withered, he cut the cords.
"Dress yourself," he said shortly, and sat down beside the stream, and washed his face and hands, as though to cleanse them from contamination. He appeared to take no notice of the other, though his ears keenly noted every movement.
The impostor dressed nervously, yet slowly; he scarce comprehended anything, except that he was not in immediate danger. When he had finished, he stood looking at Tim, who was still seated on a log plunged in meditation.
It seemed hours before Tim turned round, and now his face was quiet, if set and determined. He walked slowly over, and stood looking at his victim for some time without speaking. The other's eyes dropped, and a greyness stole over his features. This steely calm was even more frightening than the ferocity which had previously been in his captor's face. At length the tense silence was broken.
"Wasn't the old game good enough? Was it played out? Why did you take to this? Why did you do it, Scranton?"
The voice quavered a little in reply. "I don't know. Something sort of pushed me into it."
"How did you come to start it?"
There was a long silence, then the husky reply came. "I got a sickener last time--"
"Yes, I remember, at Waywing."
"I got into the desert, and had hard times--awful for a while. I hadn't enough to eat, and I didn't know whether I'd die by hunger, or fever, or Indians--or snakes."
"Oh, you were seeing snakes!" said Tim grimly.
"Not the kind you mean; I hadn't anything to drink--"
"No, you never did drink, I remember--just was crooked, and slopped over women. Well, about the snakes?"
"I caught them to eat, and they were poison-snakes often. And I wasn't quick at first to get them safe by the neck--they're quick, too."
Tim laughed inwardly. "Getting your food by the sweat of your brow--and a snake in it, same as Adam! Well, was it in the desert you got your taste for honey, too, same as John the Baptist--that was his name, if I recomember?" He looked at the tin of honey on the ground.
"Not in the desert, but when I got to the grass-country."
"How long were you in the desert?"
"Close to a year."
Tim's eyes opened wider. He saw that the man was speaking the truth.
"Got to thinking in the desert, and sort of willing things to come to pass, and mooning along, you, and the sky, and the vultures, and the hot hills, and the snakes, and the flowers--eh?"
"There weren't any flowers till I got to the grass-country."
"Oh, cuss me, if you ain't simple for your kind! I know all about that. And when you got to the grass-country, you just picked up the honey, and the flowers, and a calf, and a lamb, and a mule here and there, 'without money and without price,' and walked on--that it?"
The other shrank before the steel in the voice, and nodded his head.
"But you kept thinking in the grass-country of what you'd felt and said and done--and willed, in the desert, I suppose?"
Again the other nodded.
"It seemed to you in the desert, as if you'd saved your own life a hundred times, as if you'd just willed food and drink and safety to come; as if Providence had been at your elbow?"
"It was like a dream, and it stayed with me. I had to think in the desert things I'd never thought before," was the half-abstracted answer.
"You felt good in the desert?" The other hung his head in shame.
"Makes you seem pretty small, doesn't it? You didn't stay long enough, I guess, to get what you were feeling for; you started in on the new racket too soon. You never got really possessed that you was a sinner. I expect that's it."
The other made no reply.
"Well, I don't know much about such things. I was loose brought up; but I've a friend"--Laura was before his eyes--"that says religion's all right, and long ago as I can remember my mother used to pray three times a day--with grace at meals, too. I know there's a lot in it for them that need it; and there seems to be a lot of folks needing it, if I'm to judge by folks down there at Jansen, specially when there's the laying-on of hands and the Healing Springs. Oh, that was a pigsty game, Scranton, that about God giving you the Healing Springs, like Moses and the rock! Why, I discovered them springs myself two years ago, before I went South, and I guess God wasn't helping me any--not after I've kept out of His way as I have. But, anyhow, religion's real; that's my sense of it; and you can get it, I bet, if you try. I've seen it got. A friend of mine got it--got it under your preaching; not from you; but you was the accident that brought it about, I expect. It's funny--it's merakilous, but it's so. Kneel down!" he added, with peremptory suddenness. "Kneel, Scranton!"
In fear the other knelt.
"You're going to get religion now--here. You're going to pray for what you didn't get--and almost got--in the desert. You're going to ask forgiveness for all your damn tricks, and pray like a fanning-mill for the spirit to come down. You ain't a scoundrel at heart--a friend of mine says so. You're a weak vessel, cracked, perhaps. You've got to be saved, and start right over again--and 'Praise God from whom all blessings flow!' Pray--pray, Scranton, and tell the whole truth, and get it--get religion. Pray like blazes. You go on, and pray out loud. Remember the desert, and Mary Jewell, and your mother--did you have a mother, Scranton--say, did you have a mother, lad?"
Tim's voice suddenly lowered before the last word, for the Faith Healer had broken down in a torrent of tears.
"Oh, my mother--O God!" he groaned.
"Say, that's right--that's right--go on," said the other, and drew back a little, and sat down on a log. The man on his knees was convulsed with misery. Denton, the world, disappeared. He prayed in agony. Presently Tim moved uneasily, then got up and walked about; and at last, with a strange, awed look, when an hour was past, he stole back into the shadow of the trees, while still the wounded soul poured out its misery and repentance.
Time moved on. A curious shyness possessed Tim now, a thing which he had never felt in his life. He moved about self-consciously, awkwardly, until at last there was a sudden silence over by the brook.
Tim looked, and saw the face of the kneeling man cleared, and quiet and shining. He hesitated, then stepped out, and came over.
"Have you got it?" he asked quietly. "It's noon now."
"May God help me to redeem my past," answered the other in a new voice.
"You've got it--sure?" Tim's voice was meditative. "God has spoken to me," was the simple answer. "I've got a friend'll be glad to hear that," he said; and once more, in imagination, he saw Laura Sloly standing at the door of her home, with a light in her eyes he had never seen before.
"You'll want some money for your journey?" Tim asked.
"I want nothing but to go away--far away," was the low reply.
"Well, you've lived in the desert--I guess you can live in the grass- country," came the dry response. "Good-bye-and good luck, Scranton."
Tim turned to go, moved on a few steps, then looked back.
"Don't be afraid--they'll not follow," he said. "I'll fix it for you all right."
But the man appeared not to hear; he was still on his knees.
Tim faced the woods once more.
He was about to mount his horse when he heard a step behind him. He turned sharply--and faced Laura. "I couldn't rest. I came out this morning. I've seen everything," she said.
"You didn't trust me," he said heavily.
"I never did anything else," she answered.
He gazed half-fearfully into her eyes. "Well?" he asked. "I've done my best, as I said I would."
"Tim," she said, and slipped a hand in his, "would you mind the religion --if you had me?"
THE LITTLE WIDOW OF JANSEN
Her advent to Jansen was propitious. Smallpox in its most virulent form had broken out in the French-Canadian portion of the town, and, coming with some professional nurses from the East, herself an amateur, to attend the sufferers, she worked with such skill and devotion that the
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