DEACON MILLER GETS A CLUE

MARK was forced to smile at the idea of old Whitey committing suicide.
The deacon observed his smile, and it provoked him.

“Do you mean to say, Mark Manning, that you think the critter shot
herself in the face?” he demanded, sharply.

“No, Deacon Miller, I have no such idea.”

“That’s the same as admittin’ that you shot her,” said the deacon,
triumphantly.

“No, it isn’t, deacon. I didn’t shoot her, but I have no doubt some one
else did.”

“It may have been the cat,” remarked the deacon, with a return to
sarcasm.

“It was probably a two-legged cat,” said Mark.

“Jest my idee!” remarked the deacon, quickly, “An’ that brings it home
to you. You was out with a gun, an’ I caught you standin’ beside the
cow.”

“As to catching me,” returned Mark, “there was no catching about it. I
was crossing the pasture, and was attracted by the poor animal’s moans.
That is the way I happened to be near when you came up.”

“That all sounds very smooth,” said the deacon, impatiently, “but if you
didn’t shoot the cow, who did?”

“I think that question can be answered, Deacon Miller; John Downie!”

To the deacon’s surprise, John came into the room at this summons.

“Johnny,” said Mark, “will you tell the deacon who shot his cow!”

“I don’t like to tell,” objected John; “it wasn’t done on purpose.”

“Did you do it?” queried the deacon, sharply.

“No, _sir_. I never fired a gun in my life.”

“Who did it, then?”

“Must I tell, Mark?”

“Yes, Johnny; Deacon Miller has a right to know; even if it was not done
on purpose, the one who did it ought to make good the loss.”

“That’s where you speak sense, Mark,” said the deacon, approvingly.

“Then it was Jim Collins.”

“James Collins—the squire’s son!” repeated the deacon, astonished.

“Yes.”

John proceeded to tell the story once more. The deacon, it is needless
to say, listened very attentively.

“So the boys run away, did they?” he inquired, grimly.

“Yes, sir.”

“And I s’pose you’d have run away, too, if you had done it, hey?”

“Perhaps I might,” answered John, ingenuously. “I s’pose they were
scared.”

“I’ll scare ’em,” growled the deacon. “Squire Collins is able to make up
the loss to me, and I mean he shall.” Then, with a momentary suspicion,
“This ain’t a story you an’ Mark have got up between you, to get him
off, is it?”

“I will answer that, Deacon Miller,” said Mark firmly. “If I had shot
your cow, I wouldn’t have run away, but I’d have gone right to you and
told you about it, and I’d have paid you just as soon as I could.”

“That’s right, that’s right,” said the deacon, approvingly, beginning to
regard Mark with more favor. “Well, I must go and see the squire. Here,
you John Downie, come along with me.”

“I’ve got to go home,” said John.

“But I can’t prove it without you.”

“You can tell the squire that I saw it done, and am ready to swear to
it, if he wants me to.”

“Mebbe that’ll do if I send for you, you’ll come, hey?”

“Yes, sir.”

The deacon did not feel disposed to postpone what he regarded as
important business, and he left the cottage, taking the shortest
direction to the squire’s more imposing dwelling. We will precede him.

James Collins and his friend, as already described, ran away as fast as
their legs could carry them, when they ascertained what damage had been
done.

No one, so far as they knew, had seen them, and they hoped to escape,
scot free.

Tom accompanied James home, and stayed to supper. After supper the boys
went out, and had a conference together.

James felt a little nervous, though he believed that he was safe from
incurring suspicion.

“I wonder if the deacon has found old Whitey yet?” said James.

“I guess so,” answered Tom. “He usually goes after the cows before
this.”

“I wonder how he’ll think it happened?”

“Maybe he’ll lay it to Mark.”

James was not very much disturbed at this supposition.

“That would be a good joke!” he said.

“Not for Mark.”

“Mark can take care of himself. He was out with a gun as well as we.”

“His mother couldn’t afford to pay for the cow,” said Tom, who was
rather more considerate than his companion.

“That’s none of my business. And, Tom, there’s something I want to say
to you.”

“Go ahead!”

“If Mark is accused, don’t you go to saying it’s a mistake. Remember
it’s none of your business.”

Tom looked uncomfortable, having some conscience.

“It would be rough on a poor woman like Mrs. Manning having to pay for
the deacon’s cow.”

“You’re mighty considerate, Tom. You might consider me a little. If it
were known that I shot the cow, father would make me pay at least half
the bill out of my money in the savings’ bank. I thought you were my
friend!”

“So I am.”

“Then you won’t betray me. As for Mark, the deacon can’t prove it
against him, so he won’t have to pay.”

“Then the deacon will lose his cow, and get no pay.”

“He can afford it. He’s a stingy old lunks, anyway.”

“That’s true enough.”

“And it won’t ruin him if he does lose the cow. He’s able to buy
another.”

It struck Tom, though he was not over conscientious, that this was not
exactly the way to regard the matter, but he did not like to offend
James, and he had ventured to oppose him more than usual already. So he
remained silent.




James was not quite satisfied with his friend. He was not altogether
sure of his fidelity.

“I’ve got only one thing to say, Tom,” he added. “If you go back on me,
and breathe a word of what happened in the pasture, I’ll never speak to
you again as long as I live.”

“Who’s going back on you? did I say I was?” demanded Tom rather
irritably.

“All right, then; I only wanted to have the thing understood between us,
I didn’t really think you would be mean enough to tell.”

So a satisfactory understanding was established between the two boys,
and it looked as if Mark was likely to be the victim of their alliance.

But just when James was beginning to feel secure, he was startled by an
apparition just looming in sight on the highway. It was not a formidable
figure—that of Deacon Miller—but under the circumstances James turned
pale and his heart began to beat.

“Tom,” he gasped; “isn’t that Deacon Miller coming up the road?”

“It’s the deacon sure enough!” answered Tom, looking disconcerted.

“Do you think he’s coming here?” queried James nervously.

“Looks like it?” muttered Tom.

“Do you think he can have——heard anything?”

“Perhaps he heard that we were out with guns?” suggested Tom. “He may
have come to make inquiries.”

“Just so, now, Tom, be careful not to look as if there was anything the
matter. We’ll be extra polite to the old fellow.”

“All right!”

“He may not be coming here after all.”

But he was! arrived at the gate Deacon Miller paused, and opening it
entered the front yard. He looked sharply at the two boys who were
standing on the lawn.