THE DEACON’S MISSION

ORDINARILY James would not have considered Deacon Miller worth any
polite attention, but the knowledge of what had happened in the pasture
had its effect upon him. He thought it necessary by a little attention
to disarm the deacon’s suspicions if he had any.

“Good evening, Deacon Miller,” he said politely. “Did you wish to see
father?”

“Wal,” said the deacon deliberately. “I have a little business with him.
Is he at home?”

“I am pretty sure he is,” answered James. “Come in with me, and I’ll
see.”

The deacon smiled—an inscrutable smile—and followed James, who opened
the front door and led him into the parlor.

“You’re very obligin’,” he said. “I had no idea you was so polite.”

“It is the duty of a gentleman to be polite!” said James loftily.

“So ’tis, so ’tis!” returned the old man chuckling in an unaccountable
manner. “I’m glad you think so. It’s a great thing to be a boy, I had
lots of fun when I was a boy. So do you, hey?”

“Oh yes,” answered James indifferently. “But not as much as I could have
in the city.”

“But you couldn’t go huntin’ and fishin’ in the city,” said the deacon
slyly.

James’ heart gave a bound. What did the disagreeable old man mean? was
it possible that he suspected?

“I don’t care much for either,” he said. “But I’ll go and call father.”

Presently the squire appeared and invited Deacon Miller into the back
room, which was used as the family dining and sitting-room.

“Glad to see, you, deacon,” said Mr. Collins, who, having political
aspirations, thought it worth while to be polite to his neighbors.

“I ain’t so sure of that, squire, when you know what I come about,”
returned the deacon with a crafty smile.

“No bad news, I hope, deacon.”

“Wal, it ain’t good news. You know my cow, old Whitey?”

“Well?” interrogated the squire, looking puzzled. He had heard nothing
as yet of the accident in the pasture.

“She was shot in the face this afternoon—her eyes totally destroyed. I
shall have to kill her.”

“That’s a pity! I sympathize with you, deacon. It must be a great
disappointment to you. She was a good milker, wasn’t she?”

“Fust-rate! I never had a cow that could beat her. She was worth fifty
dollars easy.”

“Very likely,” said the squire, innocently, quite unaware of the trap
which the wily deacon was preparing for him. It will be observed that
the deacon, finding he had a case against a rich man, had concluded to
raise the value of the cow by five dollars. “Fifty dollars is a
considerable loss.”

“So ’tis, but I haven’t got to lose it. The one that shot old Whitey is
responsible.”

“Who did shoot her?” asked Squire Collins.

“Your boy, James,” answered the deacon, slowly.

Squire Collins was very disagreeably surprised. He was not a man who
liked to part with money, and he saw how he had been trapped.

“Did you see James shoot the cow?” he demanded sharply.

“N—o; I can’t say I did,” replied the deacon, cautiously.

“I don’t believe he did it then. Did he admit it to you?”

“N—o. I didn’t ask him about it.”

“Then, Deacon Miller, permit me to say that you have no case against
him, and I am not responsible for your unfortunate loss.

“Somebody else saw it!” remarked the deacon triumphantly.

“Who was it?”

“John Downie.”

“John Downie! Pooh, he is a mere boy,” said the squire, contemptuously.

“He’s got as many eyes as you or I, squire,” said the deacon, shrewdly.

This was unquestionably true, and the squire felt that he had made a
foolish objection.

“John Downie may not tell the truth,” he said, angrily.

“I’m willin’ it should come before the court,” said the deacon.
“Wouldn’t it be jest as well to ask your boy about it; he’s out in the
yard.”

James was still in the yard. He had half a mind to go away, but was
anxious about the deacon’s errand. When he heard his father’s voice
calling him he turned pale.

“Wait for me, Tom,” he said. “If you’re asked, don’t say I did it.”

Tom looked disturbed and uneasy, and did not reply.

James entered his father’s presence with a perturbed spirit. He stole a
glance at the deacon, who sat with his wizened face calm and
imperturbable.

“Did you want me, father?” asked James.

“James,” said his father, abruptly, “Deacon Miller tells me that some
one has shot his cow, old Whitey, this afternoon, and injured her so
seriously that she will have to be killed.”

“I am sorry to hear it,” said James, nervously.

“Do you know who did it?”

“How should I?” asked James, after a pause.

“Wer’n’t you out in the pastur’ this afternoon?” asked the deacon,
pointedly.

“Yes,” answered James, “Tom Wyman and I crossed the pasture.”

“With guns on your shoulders?”

“Ye—es,” admitted James.

“Did you see anything of old Whitey?” continued the deacon, persevering
in his pointed interrogations.

“There were some cows there I remember; I suppose old Whitey was among
them.”

“Did your gun go off while you were in the pasture?”

“Ye—es, I believe it did. It went off accidentally.”

“And hit old Whitey?”

“I don’t know about that. It may not have hit anything.”

“Then you don’t know that you hit my cow?”

“I wasn’t the only boy in the pasture this afternoon,” said James,
evasively.

“I know all about that. Tom Wyman was with you.”

“Yes, and so was Mark Manning. He was out gunning most all the
afternoon. Have you asked him whether he hit the cow?”

“Yes,” answered the deacon; “he says he didn’t.”

“Of course he would say so,” sneered James, more confidently. “He’s just
as likely to have done it as I.”

“That’s what I thought myself,” returned the deacon; “though Mark’s a
middlin’ keerful boy. But I changed my mind.”

“Because he denied it?” asked James, with a return of the sneer.

“Not exactly. There was a boy saw it done, and he told me who did it.”




“What boy saw it done?” asked James, all his apprehensions reviving.

“John Downie.”

This was startling news to James.

“And who does he say did it,” he forced himself to ask.

“You!” answered Deacon Miller, laconically.

“I don’t believe I did it,” said James, wavering.

“He says after you shot the cow, you and Tom Wyman ran away as fast as
your legs could carry you,” added the deacon, chuckling.

James turned as red as scarlet, but said nothing. It was clear enough
that he was guilty, and knew it.

“Deacon Miller,” said Squire Collins, “I will look into this matter, and
if I find James shot your cow, we will make some arrangement about
payment. Understand clearly, however, that I won’t pay any fancy price,
such as fifty dollars.”

“I won’t argy the matter now, squire,” said the deacon. “Good-evenin’.”

“James,” said his father, “I won’t scold you for a piece of
carelessness, but whatever compensation is paid to the deacon must come
from your account in the savings’ bank.”

This was a sad blow to James, he had a hundred and fifty dollars in the
bank, and this would make a heavy draft upon it.

He went out into the yard without a word.

“It’s all up, Tom,” he said. “John Downie has been telling tales about
me. The first time I see him I’ll give him a licking.”

“And serve him right, too, little tell-tale!” said Tom.

Johnny did not expect what was in store for him, but he was soon to be
enlightened.