The Man Who Was No Sport
C. W. STEPHENS
THE old gray house stood back from the wayside, a deep fringe of maples on three sides of it, and on the fourth, fronting the dusty road, a sparse orchard of gnarled apple trees in full and pleasant fruitage. More than a century it had stood there, one of a handful that had formed a "Settlement" of Ulster Irish.
Under the blazing sun of this September Saturday afternoon the \ ale of Armagh showed much of the beauty it must have had when the first band of settlers from overseas landed in old Quebec, and drove their lumbering wagons seventy miles through the bush to their grandly wooded and watered Canaan. The hillsides were still densely covered with woods that this day were a bewildertrigly magnificent riot of color infinite, unbelievable shades of green and gold and blood-red crimson. The lake at their feet was a superb, scintillating blue gem on the bosom of Nature's brilliant dress.
Along the ridge of low hills eastward a faint white cloud topped the trees, looking like mist, but being really the ever-rising dust from the great asbestos mills in Darkwater, three miles away.
This was the sole suggestion of change.
The Settlement had never grown beyond its original size, because when the vast asbestos deposits were discovered, three miles away, the camp town was built in their vicinity, so the tiny hamlet was left in semi-isolation, as some harbor from which the seas had retreated, leaving it high-stranded.
Over the door of the old gray house was a weather-faded sign that read—
"Neil Dinwoodie. Groceries & Provisions.
Hay, Grain & Wood.” Strangers often wondered, smilingly, where the people came from to buy groceries and provisions, hay, grain and wood.
In front of the house was an old twisted bench, with leafy canopy over it, and at four of this afternoon Neil Dinwoodie sat on it. He was the third Canadian Neil Dinwoodie, a man in the early sixties, and a bachelor. If love of woman, other than that for mother and sister who had gone, had ever touched his heart, none but he knew. He was a tall man, gaunt, stark, clean-shaven, with bushy eyebrows and straight-cut mouth that suggested severity that was oddly contradicted by the intimations of the dreamer one saw in his blue eyes.
Neighbors said he was a disappointed man. He had intended to become a minister, and had spent a year, far back, at some theological college. But his plans had been shattered; his father died; there were.mother and frail sister to care for, so young Neil laid aside his ambitions, took up his cross, and returned to the Vale to sell groceries and provisions, hay, and grain and wood.
But he was ever the minister at heart. Six days a week he sold bread for the bodies of men, but on the other day he walked to and fro among the small country settlements, breaking the Bread of Life from dingy little pulpits to drowsy little congregations, too poor to afford a paid preacher.
SEATED on the bench this Saturday afternoon he had on his lap a Bible and commentary’; in his fingers a small sheaf of papers. The books were to aid in the preparation of the morrow's sermon; the papers were bills he had to pay a few days later; thus the two sides of his life touched and blended. The bills, however, occupied his attention at this moment—a rather troubled attention, for comparison between their total and his bank balance showed a shortage of some four hundred dollars. Neil was a prompt man in his settlements, but farmers were slow pay until their crops were harvested.
The chiming of four by the grandfather clock in the house roused Neil from his financial thoughts; he thrust the bills into his pocket, took up his Bible and plunged into meditation on the chosen text. No other living creature was in sight; the deep warm stillness was broken only by hum of bees among the radiant flowers, the chirp of birds in the dense foliage overhead.
Then, with dramatic suddenness, loud sounds broke the silence—shouted speech and cheery laughter, the trampling of horses, the carolled snatch of some song of
the hour. Neil looked down the shady road and saw a string of horses prancing in single file along the level sward by the wayside. Some were hooded and blanketted; the glossy coats of others shone like satin; some paced along staidly, others, full of the sheer joy of living, capered along, reared, shied, curvetted, for all the world like a mischievous lot of lads, whose lively blood and gay spirits demanded frivolous outlet in action. In shapely heads, lines and curves of long slim bodies, dainty legs that moved mincingly, yet as if the rippling muscles of them were finest and most flexible steel, one discerned the evidences of blood and high breeding. Each one was aristocrat, with lineage clearly traced as that of Norman nobility or Mayflower stock. On the back of each perched a tiny lad, who looked like a monkey and rode like a Centaur. They belonged to the training establishment of Hugh Cranston that was situated on the flatlands touching the upper shore of the lake; here they were prepared for their great battles on the leading race courses of the Continent.
Neil watched them prance by with mingled emotions; he admired their grace and beauty; he disapproved of the betting that was closely identified with their races; he derived his biggest profits from selling groceries and provisions, hay and grain and wood, to Hugh Cranston for the use of his establishment. The horses consumed vast quantities of choicest hay and oats; there were fifty stable-lads with small bodies and large appetites, who ate lots of groceries and provisions.
No one quite knew why Cranston gave this large business to Neil Dinwoodie, for everybody knew that Neil was no sport, but, on the contrary, often denounced betting in no minced language. Hugh was not the meekest kind of man, but a peppery fellow, as one who handles a hunch of stable-lads ought to he. He was stalwart, stocky, red cf hair, and with an extensive vocabulary; he could be vindictive too—how bitterly people realized who witnessed his severity toward the daughter
who had married against his will. A young artist had come into the Vale to find subjects for his brush, and Edith and he had met. Cranston had frowned on the audacious young painter, but his daughter had a will as strong as his own, and when he refused consent to her marriage she went off with her artist to Darkwater and was married there by special license. People said that Hugh would soon get over the crossing of his will, hut he didn’t. The young couple found a small house on the hill, and there Goodwin painted his pictures, selling one now and again; then his health failed, a baby . came, and, if reports were true, the little family had a hard time of it. Cranston took no more notice of them than if they had never existed. He had said, at first, that if she would go to him, acknowledge her fault, leave her hand-to-mouth husband, he would overlook her blunder, but Edith was a chip of the old block and sent word that she would scrub neighbors’ floors for the regulation dollar a day rather than say her love had been evil and her man unworthy. And there matters stood.
FOLLOWING the string of horses Cranston rode on his stout cob, one of his owners at his side. Neil’s lips tightened as he saw Hugh approach.
Only the last Sunday he had spoken strong words in the Settlement church about the betting that was laying hold on some of the farm lads; he knew that an hour after the service some hearer would be repeating what he had said to Cranston. Neil was no coward, but he would not have been quite human had he not felt some slight trepidation. If the stables’ patronage was cut off Neil knew he might as well close the shop door and take down his grandfather’s sign. One need not be a coward to have some fear in so sharp a crisis.
At the open gate Cranston reined in the cob, and there was a grin on the red, pugnacious face that turned to Neil.
“Hello there, Neil! Bring out the least bad cigars you’ve got.” Neil fetched the box, and the men helped themselves. Hugh lit his cigar, taking two or three critical pulls at it. Apparently it was not unsatisfactory, for Hugh made no comment upon it.
“They tell me that you just about mopped up the Church floor with me last Sunday, Neil,” he said.
“I said what I thought should be said,” came the straight answer.
“Said we’re a bunch of morals-ruining hellions—that there’s no good on the tracks—that we’re a crowd of crooks, grafters, and daylight thieves,” observed Hugh to his companion. “Wise sort of guy, isn’t he? Makes money selling me goods, then damns me for ruining my neighbors.”
“I never said that,” Neil corrected. “I spoke of men greedy to get what they didn’t exchange honest labor for, and bringing sorrows on needy wives and children.” “Well, no use arguing about it,” Hugh rejoined goodhumoredly. “I’ll never convert you, and you’ll never convert me, so why waste breath?
‘‘Here’s a list of goods wanted up at the house; send them on Monday. So long, Neil; I’d like to make a sport out of you if I could, but I guess the job would be too tough.”
He slapped the storekeeper on the shoulder, and rode off.
NEIL gave a little sigh of relief as they disappeared in a cloud of dust; had the crisis come he would have met it courageously, but he was just as glad it hadn’t come. He is not the noblest martyr who seeks martyrdom. Picking up his books he entered the house and prepared supper, to be ready for Saturday night business. He had finished the meal when the tinkling of the bell called him to the store.
The woman at the counter was little more than a girl—small, slim, neat-waisted. In her cheap summer dress there was some touch of distinctiveness that separated her from the average farm girl of the settlement. The brown hair and eyes—sun-tanned cheek
with its touch of glowing rose—delicacy of feature and decisiveness of mouth, made Edith Goodwin a very charming woman in appearance. Neil remembered her mother, and there was something of the resolute air of Hugh, her father, in her manner.
“Why didn’t you call me, Edith, to hitch the horse for you?” said Neil. “I was tidying the kitchen, and didn’t hear you. Where’s the horse?”
“That’s all right, Neil. It saves lots of trouble hitching your horse, when you haven’t one to hitch.” The voice was sweet and vibrant; a whimsical look was on her face, and with it a touch of bitterness.
He stared at her as if not quite grasping the fact. Hugh Cranston’s girl—and no horse! He never remembered her without one; she had ever been flying along the roads and cross country on some high-mettled mount.
The thing was tragic. Then he noticed the look of fatigue on her face and hastened to lift the counter flap.
“You come right into the kitchen, honey, and rest while I make you some tea. Now, no excuses; just sit down in this easy chair; here’s a cushion for your back, and here’s a hassock for your feet; take off your hat, my dearie, and I’ll have the tea ready for you in a minute or two.
“Then you can tell me what you want, and I’ll pack it into my buggy, and you can drive my old pony home; I’ll send for it on Monday morning.”
“Why, Neil, this is delightful—where did you learn it all? Now explain.” And the pretty face dimpled as she shook an admonitory finger.
“Never mind about that, honey,” he chuckled. “The point is I seem to know how; perhaps it’s a gift, eh?”
“Think of you living all by yourself in this snug home, and knowing all these nice polite ways! Some poor woman is being wronged.” She was always teasing Neil about his bachelordom, and he liked it.
He set before her tea, the thin slices of bread and butter, the cold ham, the fresh lettuce and tomatoes, and while she ate, he chatted—gave her the history of the saucy canary bird; told of the dissipated ways of his cat; promised her a basket of his wonderful Fameuse apples, and some high-bush cranberries for preserving; described a terrific battle with an enormous speckled trout in the Pot Hole, at the end of the lake, a fight in which the game fish had come off victor, owing to an ill-cared for line that had snapped in the great crisis.
USUALLY he did not talk so much, but he saw the trouble in the pretty eyes behind the veil of laughter. Neil was in his way a very wise man, as one should be who aspires to minister to souls.
“Now, what can I get for you, Edith?” he asked, when she declined more tea. He had noted a growing nervousness in her manner, and guessed the reason; she was a very proud girl, very truthful, very honest.
She did not answer at once, and the little hands showed white at the knuckles as they gripped the arms of the chair.
Then her eyes met his straightly, very clear eyes and very troubled.
“Neil, I’m ashamed to come to you; ashamed to ask of you what I need.
Arthur wanted to come, but he’s not well enough, and I am stronger.
“But you know me, Neil —you’ll get your money if I have to sweep floors or work in the fields and dairies.”
“I asked what you wanted, honey, not whether you had money or not,” he said.
“I know,” she rejoined.
“But I wanted you to understand. I can’t say when I can pay you, for the way’s dark, Neil, just now; the doctors say that Arthur mustn’t winter on
"Neil, I’m ashamed to come to you; ashamed to ask you for what I need. I’ve no money, Neil.”
the hill—he must go South—and Neil, I don’t know what to do; I can’t pay my grocery bill and they tell me to just pack up, take Arthur and the baby South—just like that,” and she gestured as if waving a wand would produce the money. “Life can be a hard and cruel business, Neil.”
“It seems so at times,” he began lamely, wanting to help her, but conscious of the futility of his aid. “But with the Cross, strength—”
At the suggestion all the fiery Cranston in her seemed to flame into furious revolt.
“Don’t Neil! Don’t speak to me about religion. It’s all right, as pretty make-believe, when things are going easily, but it’s bitter stuff to rely on in the pinch. You want money in this life, and it promises you a gold crown in another; you want a roof over the heads of your loved ones here, and food to sustain them, and it tells you about a mansion in some other existence. It’s all promise, but no performance! wealth payable after death, and so little of it this side would do so much good.”
Neil was silent; his theological system seemed horribly inadequate; he wished he were wiser and could explain what faith, the silence of God, the tragic mystery of this business of living, were.
“What have Arthur, the baby, I, done wrong?” she continued. “He asked nothing but health and strength to work; I, nothing but to be let share the just burden with him. We’ve tried honestly, hardly, asking favors of none in the fight, yet, whichever way we turn there’s God with his fist clenched waiting to smash us to the ground again. Neil, I once saw a brute of a man whip a little dog—it fawned at his feet, and he flogged it—it ran away, but he followed, and lashed it—it crept into holes, and he dragged it out, and beat it again. But there, Neil, I’ve hurt you—but, well,” and a smile flitted over her face, “I don’t think God is a very good sport—-it sounds irreverent, I know, but that’s my idea.”
He collected her goods, stowed them in the buggy, and sent her on her way with his mute blessing. He stood at the gate and watched the vehicle until it vanished at the turn, then slowly returned to the shop in much perplexity of spirit. Within an hour or two he had been informed that neither he nor God was a sport. It was a bewildering accusation. He could answer, from his textbook on theology the argument of the Socinian, the Antinomian, the Pelagian, and the SemiPelagian, but he knew no text that would rebut the allegation of non-sportsmanship. There was a flaw somewhere in his theological armor.
/^\N MONDAY Neil returned to worldly affairs, and ^ the financial problem. His checks must go out on Wednesday, or there would be a break in his business practice that would seem disastrous. Borrowing from the bank was no solution to him—that was but changing creditors. He took out his shabby ledger and ran over accounts payable, wondering if he couldn’t collect a
fifty here and a twenty there, and so make up the temporary deficit, but Neil was not a good collector; he always saw the other fellow’s side rather than his own. He came presently to the Cranston account. Hugh had plenty of money, and paid each month’s bill on the tenth of the following month, and that was twenty days off.
The account totaled some $620, and Neil wondered if Hugh would mind, this once, helping him out ahead of time. He would ask him, anyway, so, locking up house and shop, he harnessed the pony that had been brought back from the Goodwin place early in the morning, put into the buggy the goods Hugh had ordered on Saturday night and drove to the stables. He found Cranston alone in his office, and explained the situation.
“Sure, Neil; glad to oblige you. Got the bill with you?” and the trainer reached for his checkbook.
Neil had it; the trainer glanced through it, then began to write the check. Suddenly he stopped, his eyes twinkling though his features were immobile, and he looked through the side window. Neil thought that probably he’d changed his mind
“Seems a bit one-sided, Neil, that I trade so much with you, and you never do anything in my line,” the trainer mused, then his attention seemed to be diverted; he rose and went to the window. “Say, Neil, come over here! Gosh—if you were only a sport!”
Neil followed, wondering what Cranston had on his mind. Then he realized that it was but the horseman’s love of his craft. A horse was being cooled off in the big enclosure that was under the range of the window; it was a tall, rangy-looking horse, not over impressive from the beauty viewpoint—the head was rather clumsy in appearance, the animal seemed unimpressively docile, nuzzling the pocket of the stable-lad who was walking him. Neil, however, knew enough about horses to note the good points of the lean racer—the deep roomy chest, the powerful quarters, the finely muscled forelegs, the well-ribbed barrel, the easy grace of his action.
“That’s Amphion, Neil,” said Hugh. “One of these days he’s going to make folks talk. He broke down in training last year, and promised to be crowbait—three good legs and a swinger—. See anything wrong with any of his legs? Guess not, sound as a bell, though the wise turf ginks say he’s likely to break down in a hard race, so he’s at a long price, almost any figure you want. I’m going to take him South presently, and if things go as I think they may, that black boy’s likely to romp home with a nice little flitch of bacon. But what’s the use talking to you about such things; let’s get back to this check business.”
He dipped pen in ink, then halted once more.
“Shouldn’t I get something for this advance payment, Neil?” he asked bluntly. “The Emporium in Darkwater offer me a nice discount.”
“I suppose you should; what do you want?” conceded Neil.
“What about the odd twenty, making the bill a flat $600? Will that be agreeable?”
“That w’ill be all right,” said Neil, who was no bargainer. Cranston wrote the check for $600 and handed it to Neil.
“This twenty I’ll put by, Neil,” he laughed in his joking way. “One day you’ll be coming round wanting something for that church of yours, and it’ll come in handy; I’ll salt it down for you.”
SO THE pair separated, Neil driving home in great content now that the problem of the hour was solved. He wasn’t in a hurry, and Monday wasn’t much of a business day at the store, so he stopped to chat at some of the farms on his way, and drew up before the little church at the Corners, thinking about what Hugh had jocularly said. It was a ramshackle sort of building; it needed shingling and painting and one corner was showing signs of rot; the name “The Temple” over the door was hardly distinguishable. Strangers laughed at the incongruity of name and shabby old edifice, but Neil saw nothing out of place in the name. He had Continued on page 46
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seen great visions there, and had heard there the still, small voice that is not in storm, nor earthquake, nor fire.
Neil had long dreamed of a day when he should have saved enough money to restore “The Temple”—repair, shingle, paint it—mend the worn floor, put in new under-pinning. More than this he had dreamed. Behind the pulpit was a big ugly window of plain, and often dingy, glass. Some day he hoped to put a beautiful window there of stained glass, such as he had seen in fine city churches. He had chosen the subject; it was Jesus walking along the dusty road, when the sun was setting, and healing the sick folk. There would be an inscription on it, and this he had composed:
To The Glory of God and
In Loving Memory of
Mary and Jessie Dinwoodie, Mother and Sister of Neil Dinwoodie, 3rd.
He was the last of his line, and after he had gone the sun would shine through the window, as it shone this day, and his name would live. He had figured it all out and it would cost near a thousand dollars to do everything he wanted done. The figures now rose before him., and he sighed and bade the horse move on.
During the remainder of the fall and the early winter Neil found many an occasion to drive up the hill to see how the Goodwins were making out.
It was a keen disappointment to him that Hugh Cranston had gone South with his string of horses, without becoming reconciled to Edith. After the races he would stay on till near Christmas, and i then would return to the Lakeside j establishment, for Hugh liked Christmas in the snowy Northland.
Goodwin’s health was worse rather than better; the sales of his pictures were few; when the news came of the amazing victory of Amphion and the “killing” the Stables had made, Neil felt some bitterness toward Hugh Cranston; so small a part of his wealth might have done so much for his daughter.
And the grey, silent days came when the garden was a snowy waste, the trees on the hillsides starkly bare and grim, the lake fast-locked with icy fetters. And even greyer and bleaker the days came to the lonely Goodwin home, where a brave woman fought against adversity, with God as indifferently silent as her father. It was all a vast mystery to Neil; his faith was unshaken, but there were times when it seemed terribly futile.
ON CHRISTMAS EVE Neil heard that Cranston was back, and his return revived the stories of the money brought to the Stables by Amphion. Neil listened to them silently, thinking of the girl on the hill. Christmas business was over, and though the light still shone in the store, Neil sat before the kitchen ! stove thinking about past Christmases, j All day the snow had been falling; it I was now plashing with soft monotony on I the windows. Now and again a sleigh I would pass tinklingly along the road, its [
occupants roaring some old French song of Noel; then one drove in at the gate and Neil rose to greet his belated customer.
Hugh Cranston entered, fur-capped and coated, ruddy and mirthful. Neil hoped he had come to order goods to be sent up to Edith, but no mention was made of her; all Hugh’s talk was of his recent success, and Neil was more than ordinarily weary of it.
“What I prophesied came true, Neil,” said the trainer. “Amphion ran some race; spread-eagled his field, and came home alone; some of the money down on him at as long odds as 50 to 1. Gosh, Neil, if you’d only been a sport when I gave you the hint; you could have patched up your little church, and had a bit ahead to pay bills when debtors are slow. You’d have been on velvet, Neil.”
“We’ll have to get along without it,” replied Neil.
“Too bad!” Hugh laughed. “But I’ve got something for you, Neil, boy. Remember what I said about salting that twenty away? I salted it all right—50 to 1 on Amphion. I had the ticket made out in the name of Neil Dinwoodie; every time I looked at it I near had a fit; made you a dead-game sport without knowing it; meant to get even with you one of these days with your slamming me from your pulpit. Never mind, Neil,
I won’t queer you with the elect; it’s just between you and me that Dominie Dinwoodie came home riding Amphion.
“Here’s the dough, old sport, and a Merry Christmas.” And with that Hugh was off into the snowy night.
Neil stared at the little package on the counter bewilderedly. Then he picked it up, locked the door, put out the lights in the shop, and walked into the kitchen. He sat at the table regarding the package.
It was one of Hugh’s jokes. Then he opened the package; the money was new, crisp, and looked real enough—ten hundred dollar bills and a twenty.
And the bewilderment ceased; his mind cleared, and there came into it a dazzling vision that drew him to his feet with a new light in his eyes and a strange radiance upon his face. The Dream! It would become reality. He could not remain in the house. He must tell of it—tell the Temple, the dead folk in the encircling graves, the spirits of those who had loved the place as he had loved it.
Hurriedly he drew on his tall boots, swathed himself in his old fur coat, put on the worn fur cap, and picked up the lantern—then as he was about to touch match to wick, he stopped and put the lantern down.
He needed no light this night; he knew every inch of the way; he wanted to be alone with the spirits, and the light might be seen; in the darkness he would see more clearly those he wished to see.
HE MET no one on the snow-heaped road, none as he passed into the churchyard. First he waded through the snow to the graves of the Dinwoodies, and stood there with bent head and rejoicing heart. Then he passed into the cold, damp little church, and sat down in the front seat facing the dimly seen pulpit and window. He heard the drip of the snow-water seeping through the rotten shingle and dropping on the floor; that would soon be cured. He looked toward the dim dingy window, and it became brilliant—the westering sun blazing through the vivid colors.
He saw the benign figure of his Master, hand outstretched to touch in healing, and the eager faces of the sick suppliants, infinite desire in their eyes; he could hear them whisper:
“Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me whole.”
“If Thou wilt!” And Neil laughed softly in the darkness.
“If Thou wilt!” What a ridiculous thing to say!
Of course He wquld will their healing. He couldn’t do other, being—being—the good sport He was. The suggestion came to Neil without summoning—the words used by Hugh and by Edith. They were not irreverent—they were true.
If there was a fellow on whom everybody else was down, one of the underdogs, He went to him, let the mob howl in mockery as it would. Wasn’t that sportsmanship?
If there w'as a woman, damned by society for her past, spat upon by the I respectable, didn’t He call her sister, bid I
her go in forgiveness and sin no more? Wasn’t that sportsmanship—chivalry?
If lie said to the thief on the Cross, who asked remembrance and friendship in his loneliest dying hour, that He would be his pal and take him with Him into llis Paradise, wasn’t that sportsmanship?
Perhaps He didn’t build churches, or pay much heed to forms and ceremonies, but just took women like the Magdalene and mean little men like thieving Zacehaeus and made them whole, clean, living Temples, and sought out aching hearts that He might ease their pain and lift their burden by His friendship.
Sport! the gamest sport this world had ever seen.
And in the darkness Neil laid the little parcel of money on the communion table, knelt before it with bowed head for many minutes. When he rose he could hear the chiming of the Church bells in Darkwater, wafted over the hills on the night breeze; they were welcoming Christmas. He picked up the money from the table and walked slowly out of the Church. The snowfall had ceased, the sky was clear, one great star hung like a jewel against the sable blackness of the night; he could fancy it Bethlehem’s Star—the Guiding Light.
It was far into the morning when in happy weariness he sought his bed.
THERE were two or three gossiping farmers in the post-office when Neil called for the newspaper he had been too busy to fetch the previous day. As he was leaving, Cranston entered in lively n cod, with cigars that he passed round with many a quip and joke. He kept poking sly fun at Neil about good things lie might be able to put him on when the racing season opened again. The fun was at its height when the door opened and Edith Goodwin stood on the threshold. She had evidently walked down the hill for her face was rosy, and there was snow from the drifts on the hem of her skirt, and to the tops of her arctics. Neil regarded her in amazement; she was another being than that with whom he had talked much these late months; her ejes shone like diamonds, a radiant smile was on her lips.
She had sight for none but her father, and her eyes dimmed with shining tears as, with a happy cry, she rushed to him, flung about him her arms, and held him close, kissing his cheeks and hair, and murmuring her love.
“My dear, dear father,” she said. “My kind, good father. Oh! how I love you! The thousand dollars will take us South— and the twenty—oh, I guessed what that meant—for little Hugh’s present. Arthur will be well again. Oh, I’m crazy with happiness. Forgive me Daddy, if I thought unkindly of you! Neil, think of the Christmas present, a thousand dollars, and twenty for the baby! I went to the door this morning, wondering if perhaps Santy had found us out in some way, and —there was the packet with ten bills of a hundred each, and one for twenty,” and she clasped her father again,
Cranston looked over the girl’s shoulder into the stern blue eyes and the rigid face of Neil Dinwoodie; he wanted to speak the truth, to purge his soul of the meanness that seemed ready to choke him, but there was that in the Dominie’s eyes that checked him; he knew that there was just one unpardonable sin he could commit in that moment, and that was to speak according to his desire.
“Edith, girl; my team’s at the door; drive up and fetch Arthur and the little chap; we’re to have Christmas doings at the house.”
He busied himself tucking Edith into the sleigh and watching the pair of mettlesome blacks speed up the road guided by the expert little hands of Edith; when he turned about Neil Dinwoodie had gone.
Hugh found him in the kitchen of the old gray house, busy with his tidying. Neil turned at the sound of the step, and the two men regarded each other.
“So you evened up with me, Neil— butGod bless you for it. I’d like to do something if j'ou weren’t—”
“Such a poor sport,” finished Neil with his quiet chuckle.
“No, so damned obstinate.”
“You can do something, Hugh—you must do something,” and the gaunt man’s eyes shone brightly.
“You’ve only to name it.”
“That she shall never know it; this
you owe me—-you owe her—you owe yourself. The money was never mine, Hugh; you meant kindly, and I never dreamed that money could do so much good,” said Neil raptly.
“But the Church, Neil, The Temple?” “The Temple has been repaired, renovated, and Jesus is walking abroad, touching hearts and curing ills. Don’t you dare interfere with His blessed work, Hugh Cranston. You wouldn’t rob me of my Christmas joy, with all that’s now yours, would you?”
“I think I understand,” Cranston replied quietly. “So long, Neil, but give me your hand, old friend—I’d like to shake it—the hand of a dead-game sport.”
And Neil went about his tidying, a great content in his heart. Neither angels nor men could have paid him sweeter-sounding tribute.