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Dr Macbride Begs Pardon








From: The Virginian

Judge and Mrs. Henry, Molly Wood, and two strangers, a lady and
a gentleman, were the party which had been driving in the large
three-seated wagon. They had seemed a merry party. But as I came within
hearing of their talk, it was a fragment of the minister's sonority
which reached me first: "--more opportunity for them to have the benefit
of hearing frequent sermons," was the sentence I heard him bring to
completion.

"Yes, to be sure, sir." Judge Henry gave me (it almost seemed)
additional warmth of welcome for arriving to break up the present
discourse. "Let me introduce you to the Rev. Dr. Alexander MacBride.
Doctor, another guest we have been hoping for about this time," was my
host's cordial explanation to him of me. There remained the gentleman
with his wife from New York, and to these I made my final bows. But I
had not broken up the discourse.

"We may be said to have met already." Dr. MacBride had fixed upon me his
full, mastering eye; and it occurred to me that if they had policemen
in heaven, he would be at least a centurion in the force. But he did not
mean to be unpleasant; it was only that in a mind full of matters less
worldly, pleasure was left out. "I observed your friend was a skilful
horseman," he continued. "I was saying to Judge Henry that I could wish
such skilful horsemen might ride to a church upon the Sabbath. A church,
that is, of right doctrine, where they would have opportunity to hear
frequent sermons."

"Yes," said Judge Henry, "yes. It would be a good thing."

Mrs. Henry, with some murmur about the kitchen, here went into the
house.

"I was informed," Dr. MacBride held the rest of us, "before undertaking
my journey that I should find a desolate and mainly godless country. But
nobody gave me to understand that from Medicine Bow I was to drive three
hundred miles and pass no church of any faith."

The Judge explained that there had been a few a long way to the right
and left of him. "Still," he conceded, "you are quite right. But don't
forget that this is the newest part of a new world."

"Judge," said his wife, coming to the door, "how can you keep them
standing in the dust with your talking?"

This most efficiently did break up the discourse. As our little party,
with the smiles and the polite holdings back of new acquaintanceship,
moved into the house, the Judge detained me behind all of them long
enough to whisper dolorously, "He's going to stay a whole week."

I had hopes that he would not stay a whole week when I presently learned
of the crowded arrangements which our hosts, with many hospitable
apologies, disclosed to us. They were delighted to have us, but they
hadn't foreseen that we should all be simultaneous. The foreman's house
had been prepared for two of us, and did we mind? The two of us were
Dr. MacBride and myself; and I expected him to mind. But I wronged him
grossly. It would be much better, he assured Mrs. Henry, than straw in a
stable, which he had tried several times, and was quite ready for. So I
saw that though he kept his vigorous body clean when he could, he cared
nothing for it in the face of his mission. How the foreman and his wife
relished being turned out during a week for a missionary and myself
was not my concern, although while he and I made ready for supper over
there, it struck me as hard on them. The room with its two cots and
furniture was as nice as possible; and we closed the door upon the
adjoining room, which, however, seemed also untenanted.

Mrs. Henry gave us a meal so good that I have remembered it, and her
husband the Judge strove his best that we should eat it in merriment. He
poured out his anecdotes like wine, and we should have quickly warmed
to them; but Dr. MacBride sat among us, giving occasional heavy ha-ha's,
which produced, as Miss Molly Wood whispered to me, a "dreadfully
cavernous effect." Was it his sermon, we wondered, that he was thinking
over? I told her of the copious sheaf of them I had seen him pull from
his wallet over at the foreman's. "Goodness!" said she. "Then are we to
hear one every evening?" This I doubted; he had probably been picking
one out suitable for the occasion. "Putting his best foot foremost," was
her comment; "I suppose they have best feet, like the rest of us." Then
she grew delightfully sharp. "Do you know, when I first heard him I
thought his voice was hearty. But if you listen, you'll find it's
merely militant. He never really meets you with it. He's off on his hill
watching the battle-field the whole time."

"He will find a hardened pagan here."

"Judge Henry?"

"Oh, no! The wild man you're taming brought you Kenilworth safe back."

She was smooth. "Oh, as for taming him! But don't you find him
intelligent?"

Suddenly I somehow knew that she didn't want to tame him. But what did
she want to do? The thought of her had made him blush this afternoon. No
thought of him made her blush this evening.

A great laugh from the rest of the company made me aware that the Judge
had consummated his tale of the "Sole Survivor."

"And so," he finished, "they all went off as mad as hops because
it hadn't been a massacre." Mr. and Mrs. Ogden--they were the New
Yorkers-gave this story much applause, and Dr. MacBride half a minute
later laid his "ha-ha," like a heavy stone, upon the gayety.

"I'll never be able to stand seven sermons," said Miss Wood to me.

"Talking of massacres,"--I now hastened to address the already saddened
table,--"I have recently escaped one myself."

The Judge had come to an end of his powers. "Oh, tell us!" he implored.

"Seriously, sir, I think we grazed pretty wet tragedy but your
extraordinary man brought us out into comedy safe and dry."

This gave me their attention; and, from that afternoon in Dakota when I
had first stepped aboard the caboose, I told them the whole tale of my
experience: how I grew immediately aware that all was not right, by the
Virginian's kicking the cook off the train; how, as we journeyed, the
dark bubble of mutiny swelled hourly beneath my eyes; and how, when it
was threatening I know not what explosion, the Virginian had pricked it
with humor, so that it burst in nothing but harmless laughter.

Their eyes followed my narrative: the New Yorkers, because such events
do not happen upon the shores of the Hudson; Mrs. Henry, because she was
my hostess; Miss Wood followed for whatever her reasons were--I couldn't
see her eyes; rather, I FELT her listening intently to the deeds and
dangers of the man she didn't care to tame. But it was the eyes of the
Judge and the missionary which I saw riveted upon me indeed until the
end; and they forthwith made plain their quite dissimilar opinions.

Judge Henry struck the table lightly with his fist. "I knew it!" And he
leaned back in his chair with a face of contentment. He had trusted his
man, and his man had proved worthy.

"Pardon me." Dr. MacBride had a manner of saying "pardon me," which
rendered forgiveness well-nigh impossible.

The Judge waited for him.

"Am I to understand that these--a--cow-boys attempted to mutiny, and
were discouraged in this attempt upon finding themselves less skilful at
lying than the man they had plotted to depose?"

I began an answer. "It was other qualities, sir, that happened to be
revealed and asserted by what you call his lying that--"

"And what am I to call it, if it is not lying? A competition in deceit
in which, I admit, he out did them.

"It's their way to--"

"Pardon me. Their way to lie? They bow down to the greatest in this?"

"Oh," said Miss Wood in my ear, "give him up."

The Judge took a turn. "We-ell, Doctor--" He seemed to stick here.

Mr. Ogden handsomely assisted him. "You've said the word yourself,
Doctor. It's the competition, don't you see? The trial of strength by no
matter what test."

"Yes," said Miss Wood, unexpectedly. "And it wasn't that George
Washington couldn't tell a lie. He just wouldn't. I'm sure if he'd
undertaken to he'd have told a much better one than Cornwall's."

"Ha-ha, madam! You draw an ingenious subtlety from your books."

"It's all plain to me," Ogden pursued. "The men were morose. This
foreman was in the minority. He cajoled them into a bout of tall
stories, and told the tallest himself. And when they found they had
swallowed it whole--well, it would certainly take the starch out of me,"
he concluded. "I couldn't be a serious mutineer after that."

Dr. MacBride now sounded his strongest bass. "Pardon me. I cannot accept
such a view, sir. There is a levity abroad in our land which I must
deplore. No matter how leniently you may try to put it, in the end we
have the spectacle of a struggle between men where lying decides the
survival of the fittest. Better, far better, if it was to come, that
they had shot honest bullets. There are worse evils than war."

The Doctor's eye glared righteously about him. None of us, I think,
trembled; or, if we did, it was with emotions other than fear. Mrs.
Henry at once introduced the subject of trout-fishing, and thus happily
removed us from the edge of whatever sort of precipice we seemed to have
approached; for Dr. MacBride had brought his rod. He dilated upon this
sport with fervor, and we assured him that the streams upon the west
slope of the Bow Leg Mountains would afford him plenty of it. Thus we
ended our meal in carefully preserved amity.





Next: The Judge Ignores Particulars

Previous: Would You Be A Parson?



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