The Prophet Peter
"IT will rain at a quarter pas' three."
It was then eleven o'clock in the morning. The speaker was one of a gang of paupers at work on the "poor farm," as it was called, run in connection with the county infirmary; weak-featured, dull-eyed men, failures all, victims of misfortune, with too little brain, or energy, or self-control, to make their way in the world. They were in charge of a "boss" or overseer by the name of David Walker, a man of very different type, who held his place by virtue of a political appointment.
For weeks the land had been smitten by drought. Day after day the summer sun had run its course through a cloudless sky. The corn was dying. The smaller water-courses had dried up entirely, or dwindled to mere sluggish threads of moisture. Even the river, a mile or two away, was shrunk to so small a volume that half its sandy bed was exposed. The men had been fighting a fire, which had broken out in the woods adjoining the farm, and threatened to reach the standing crops, which were dry enough to invite destruction. To the lips of every man there, had the question been asked of each what he would most like to see, the answer would have risen instinctively, "Rain."
And yet Pete Gump's remark was greeted with derision. The butt of the poor-house, despised for his dullness and sloth, the clod-faced Peter was left mainly to himself or to the society of his lank, stoop-shouldered wife—herself an inmate of the institution. Both were mountain whites who had drifted down from the Blue Ridge, plainly visible, on clear days, in the distance. Pete had little to say, and seemed generally about half asleep. If the overseer cursed him, as happened at times, he showed no sign of resentment. More intelligent paupers, whose poverty was due to their mistakes, or their vices, looked down upon Pete as beneath them.
"Pete says it's goin' ter rain," said one, jerking his thumb over his shoulder toward the object of their ridicule.
"At a quarter pas' three," laughed another. "We'll watch the clock."
"We'll 'p'int you a committee ter hol' a bucket an' ketch the rain, Pete."
But their jeers were interrupted and Pete's prophecy forgotten when a loud hail from behind told them that the fire had broken out anew. At a sharp word of command from the overseer they were off again, grumbling their protests. What was the advantage of being in the poorhouse, if one had to work as hard as those outside?
At three o'clock in the afternoon the fire was still smouldering. A lunch had been brought out to the men, which they ate standing. There was not a cloud in the sky. Within five minutes a breeze sprang up, the temperature fell sharply, and a streak of nimbus appeared in the southwest. The sky was quickly overcast. At a quarter past three there was a heavy rain, which the thirsty earth drank greedily. The fire was extinguished, the crops were saved, and the weary laborers suspended work for the day.
The overseer, after the rain, washed, shaved, and changed his clothes, and leaving the poor farm took his way down the road to where a white house gleamed through surrounding shrubbery. This, with the broad expanse of pleasant fields beyond it, covered with rich harvests, and stocked with much blooded cattle and many fine horses, belonged to old Squire Doremus, bedridden now for several years, whose only daughter, Hazel, would inherit them. Walker knew their value, and had long cast an envious eye upon them.
Just before the overseer turned into the yard, a tall young man standing beside Miss Doremus upon the piazza, kissed her tenderly, sprang lightly to the ground, and disappeared by a footpath leading through the shrubbery. Not having witnessed this incident, Walker scarcely perceived the slight and swift change of expression with which the young woman turned and faced him as he addressed her, after a noiseless approach over the soft, water-soaked earth.
"Good evening, Miss Hazel."
"Good evening," she returned, civilly, but coolly.
"How is the Squire today?"
"Father is about the same," she replied. "He gets neither better nor worse, except for short spells. But the doctor thinks he will improve."
She had not asked her visitor to be seated. He placed a chair for her. "Sha'n't we sit down?"
"No, thank you," she said, "I don't care to sit down."
The overseer was tired; but he could only remain standing.
"You're a very dutiful daughter," he said, "but you need some one to help you."
"Thank you," she replied, innocently, "I have four servants in the house already, and a good overseer."
Walker's face flushed. "I'm not speaking of servants," he said sulkily. "You know what I mean."
"How should I know your meaning, Mr. Walker, except from what you say?"
"I suppose," he continued, while he tapped the floor nervously with the toe of his boot, "I suppose I am not good enough for you?"
She made no reply, but being a girl of spirit, showed signs of rising anger.
"Some younger, and richer, and handsomer man is in favor?" he sneered.
"If that is a question," she said, restraining herself, "to which you insist upon an answer, I would say that it cannot possibly be any concern of yours. I have tried to let you see that before. But since you cannot take a hint, and since I will not permit you to speak to me in the tone you have used today, I will simply say that you have worn out your welcome here, Mr. Walker, and if you come again, I shall not see you."
She turned, as she spoke, to leave him.
"Very well, Miss Doremus," he retorted, with a vindictiveness which he made no effort to conceal. "You have shown me the gate. I'll go, but the time may come when you'll be glad to see me."
He swept the squire's domain with a covetous glance as he turned away; nor, being a persistent fellow, did he entirely relinquish the hope of sometime calling it his own.
The sun was hot again next day, but the heavy rain had left the soil in excellent condition to work. The overseer got his gang out early, and still smarting under his rebuff of the day before, drove the men to their utmost capacity. Toward noon one of them fell into a fit. The rest stopped work and gathered around their fallen comrade, who, with contorted features and foaming lips, lay writhing upon the ground.
It was the overseer's first experience of the sort—the sufferer was a new inmate. The infirmary doctor had gone to town that day and would not be back until evening. Various remedies were suggested by members of the party, but all agreed that no matter what was done, the attack would have to run its natural course, which, would extend over several hours and leave the patient weak and unable to work. While the discussion was in progress, Pete Gump came forward, knelt by the patient, and stroked his hands and his face. This had continued only a few minutes, when the stiffened limbs relaxed, the eyes resumed their normal position, and the man sat up and looked around, with a somewhat dazed expression, and called for water.
He was given a drink, dashed with the contents of a flask from the overseer's pocket, and immediately resumed his place in the ranks and proceeded with his work as though nothing had happened.
Next morning one of the men complained of a splitting headache. A few passes of Pete's hand drove the pain away. In the afternoon another sprained his ankle—they were all a set of incompetents, the prey of every wandering disease germ, the constant victims of their own carelessness or inefficiency. Peter rubbed the sprained joint, the pain disappeared as if by magic, and there was no resulting inflammation.
On the following Sunday, in accordance with custom, such inmates of the infirmary as cared to, attended the Methodist church. An itinerant evangelist preached a stirring sermon. In the experience meeting that followed, brother Peter Gump, who had never been known to utter five consecutive sentences, gave eloquent and burning testimony. Walker and a friend of his by the name of John Skedd, were in the congregation. Neither of them was spiritually inclined; they went to church, when they went at all, for social reasons.
"Pete Gump surprised folks today," said Skedd. "Who'd 'a' ever dreamt it was in him?"
"There's something the matter with Pete," returned the overseer. "He's got some kind of power that's come on him all of a sudden." And he related to Skedd the events of the past week in which Gump had figured.
Skedd slapped his thigh suddenly. "I know what's the matter with him!" he exclaimed. "I've seen it before! Pete is a healer, a divine healer, and a prophet as well. He's got the power, and if he knew how to use it, there'd be a fortune in it. Look at that man Slatter, or Slaughter, or whatever his name was—he made a pile of money. But Pete!—oh, hell!—Pete ain't got sense enough to come in out of the rain."
Walker was reflective. "John," he said, "Pete has got the power. We have got the sense. Why can't we put the two together? There was a travelin' doctor in town last week that carried away five thousand dollars in cash and promissory notes. We couldn't call Pete a doctor, for he don't know enough to talk about their complaints. But a divine healer don't need to know nothing—the less he knows, the more mirac'lous his power'll be."
In a few weeks the fame of the prophet Peter had spread throughout the countryside. The chief instrument of its dissemination were the Apostles David and John, as they soon began to be called. Peter no longer resided on the poor farm. Walker, having resigned as overseer, devoted himself to the exploitation of the prophet, assisted by his friend Skedd, who found in his new career a stimulating occupation for a mind that shrank from anything like real work. Meetings were held at various points. The sick and the afflicted, the halt and the lame, were invited to come and be healed. The apostle David, who was fluent of speech, was the chief spokesman. The prophet did the laying on of hands. Silent for the most part, in the excitement of a meeting, amid the hymns and the shouting, the power would come, his face would be transfigured, and he would utter the words of inspiration. The apostle John, jealously watched by his partner, held the purse and received the offerings of the faithful, who were urged to give freely for the maintenance of the work. No public report was ever made of the amount collected. The money was presumably expended for the support of the apostles and the prophet, and his wife Ma'y Liz', a simple-minded, suspicious soul who disapproved of her husband's career of healing, and brooded over him with a jealous tenderness. She had no illusions concerning him; but he had been good to her, and he was hers and she loved him.
"Pete air a fool—I've lived with 'im ten year and oughter know," she declared to the apostles, "an' I ain't got no confidence in you all. I don't know where he got this power er his'n; it's jest as liable to 'a' come from the Devil as from the Lo'd. But as long as we git our rashuns, an' I kin go 'long an' see that no harm don't come to Pete, I reckon I ain't keerin' much."
The apostles mollified her with a new calico gown, and furnished her each week with a few dollars of spending money, which seemed like wealth to her. She followed the band, a silent and watchful attendant at the meetings.
For the first few weeks of the prophet's mission, he healed many hundred by the laying on of hands. Some strange power he possessed, either to drive away disease, or to stir, in the hearts of those willing to believe, such a glow of faith and hope that pain melted away before it. But whatever the influence was, the apostles, much to their concern, began to notice, after a few weeks, that it was declining. Whether the whole being was merely fleeting and temporary, or whether the prophet must stop now and then to let the cisterns refill, they could not know. Nor, being hardheaded men, were they inclined to take many chances. Were the prophet's power to disappear entirely, they would, by waiting, lose the benefit of what remained; if it could be strengthened by a brief rest, the gain would be theirs. By way of experiment they announced that the prophet would retire into the wilderness for five days of prayer and meditation. The time was spent in a secluded cabin in the woods, where the prophet was waited upon by his wife and guarded by the apostles from intrusion. When the period of retreat was ended, he came forth, accompanied by the apostles, and for a few days preached and healed with his usual accustomed efficiency. But one day the power failed to manifest itself; the prophet sat through the meeting in a dull trance; there was no laying on of hands, and many went away disappointed.
The apostles met for consultation.
"The meetin's don't stimulate him like they used to," said Walker. "What can we do?"
"Why not try some other stimulant?" suggested Skedd.
"No; folks would notice it, and a prophet has got to be above ord'nary human weaknesses. We must give him somethin' different, and we mustn't let 'im know what it's for. To do good work, a prophet must believe in himself."
So they suggested to the prophet that he was not well, and needed medical treatment; and thereafter, from time to time they gave him, before the meetings, small doses of narcotics with excellent results. But as time passed, the drugs, at first resorted to only occasionally, became a matter of constant necessity, and the sluggish powers of the prophet would not awake without them. As it became necessary to increase the dose, the apostles, foreseeing a point beyond which this method would be ineffective, put their heads together to devise some plan by which to gather, at one stroke, the whole harvest which they might have hoped to reap through several years.
In the early part of their connection with the prophet, they had sought by close questioning to fathom the secret of his powers. The only thing they could learn was that sometimes, at night, he had visions, in which pale and luminous shapes appeared and conversed with him, though he could never remember clearly what they said.
"He must have another vision," declared the apostle David, "and a definite revelation. People like something new, and we'll make it good and strong."
So one night the prophet had a vision. Awakened from a deep sleep, he was confronted by a whiteclad figure, which told him in sepulchral tones, in scriptural phrase, and with a profusion of trite imagery, that the Lord, grown weary of man's wickedness, had commissioned him to proclaim the end of the world, that he should warn all men to flee from the wrath to come and to make their peace with an offended God; and that he should advise them to sell all they had and turn the proceeds into the prophet's treasury, to be used for the spread of this the Lord's message and commandment. In the morning the prophet told his apostles of the vision and the revelation, neither of which was any news to them. The vision, he said, was more clear and distinct than any which had appeared before; the message had been more definite and certain, and he burned with zeal to accomplish his mission.
The apostles spread the news and arranged the meetings, and the prophet set, the countryside on fire with his eloquence. Not John the Baptist, clad in camel's hair, and feeding on locusts and wild honey, had preached with more consuming fervor the coming of his Lord, than did this modern prophet, clad in blue jeans and living on bacon and corn bread. He baptized people in the creeks and the river; he healed the sick; or, if he did not, he promised them, if they were faithful, and believed, that on the thirty-first day of October they should leave behind them all the ills of the flesh, and, with beautified and glorified bodies, rise to heaven in the train of their triumphant Lord.
The new doctrine spread like wildfire among the simple country people. The revelation had been skillfully planned for a time when the crops had in the main been gathered but not yet sold and the farmers had leisure to talk and attend the meetings. The winter would have been cold, and spiritual fire might have found a rude antagonist in snow or ice or mountain winds. Spring was a lean season, and summer a busy one. The apostles had planned their harvest to follow closely that of the thrifty farmers thereabouts.
Nor had they planned in vain. An eclipse of the moon was accepted as a portent, confirmed by the appearance of a comet which waxed for a few days and then waned again. The apostles did not fail to emphasize the importance of spreading the faith, and of giving to that end. Gathered crops were sold, mostly at a sacrifice; for who would need them after the fateful day? Money poured in upon the apostles. Day after day they announced that preachers had been sent out to proclaim the end of the world. When the farmers sold their crops, they parted with their live stock. Why keep cows that would never calve again, pigs that would never see another killing season, horses and oxen that would never plow another crop? They kept enough to live upon until the judgment day, after which nothing more would be needed. There were skeptics enough, seemingly, to absorb all the offerings; and their was little bargaining. Had it not been for the command to spread the news, many would not have sold at all; for they knew they were giving what would soon be nothing. They consoled themselves with the reflection, on the other hand, that money was but dross, and would last no longer than its consideration, while it might in the meantime be made useful in spreading the gospel of the second coming of the Lord. Millions of sinners had not yet been warned.
"We have sent out messengers far an' wide," declared the apostle David, "an' these in turn have sent out others; and the word is being carried to the ends of the earth. But the time is short, my brethren. Only a few brief days remain (between the unrepentant and eternal destruction). You cannot enjoy unclouded happiness in paradise unless you have done all you can to save others. Sell your houses, sell your farms—the Lord will raise up buyers—and cast your all into the treasury!"
They sold their lands. Buyers were forthcoming, and many deeds changed hands. Fine farms went for a song. There were some timid believers, but the prophet and the apostles kept the enthusiasm at fever heat, and those who hesitated preserved at least a shamed silence and did nothing to discourage the faithful.
Not only the poor, but the well-to-do, were affected. Miss Doremus, the squire's daughter, was among the last to succumb. Her lover had been a constant scoffer, and with him she had followed the meetings from time to time from mere curiosity—there were few social distractions at best in the country life, and these had all been abandoned because of the new religious movement. But Miss Doremus's skepticism at length gave way; she was swept into the emotional vortex which surrounded her, and became an ardent believer, much to her lover's disgust. They quarrelled, and she went to the meetings with neighbors or servants, while he hung gloomily around the outskirts and watched her with a jealous eye. Because of this estrangement, he did not learn that she had induced her invalid father to sell, for a fraction of its value, the land which was to constitute her inheritance. For in all the land sales the buyers had magnanimously waived the possession until after the thirty-first of October, thereby relieving the sellers from the trouble and distraction of moving, and leaving them free to prepare their hearts and minds for the great day.
The thirty-first of October dawned clear and beautiful. At break of day the Prophet Peter and a host of his disciples, all clad in white robes, and singing hymns as they walked, took their way to a high hill which had been selected for the purpose, there to wait the coming of the Lord. Their minds were prepared for great signs and wonders; but they were firm in their belief in their own salvation, and looked forward with hope rather than with dread—the only cloud being upon the minds of those who, like Lot's wife, looked behind, concerned about some unregenerate loved one. The apostles David and John had said their farewell words at a meeting the night before, and had gone, they said, to lead other bodies of the faithful to other heights, in other places, to await the coming of the Lord.
It was a motley gathering. All ages and colors and grades of social standing were represented; and in anticipation of the dread presence which should pass that way, there was no longer any distinction of persons. Master and man, black and white, rich and poor, stood side by side, hand in hand, and lifted their voices together in hymns of praise. Not all the faithful were there. Strength and inspiration were doubtless to be found near the prophet and his more intimate disciples but the Lord would come everywhere, and he would save the believers wherever they might be. Hazel Doremus, for instance, sat by her father's bedside. Whatever came to pass, she would be found at her post of duty; what higher warrant could she have for higher salvation?
The prophet had not announced, because there had not been revealed to him, any hour at which the final catastrophe should take place; nor had he ventured any opinion. But it was the general impression that it would come early in the day. Many had watched all night, by the light of lanterns which they had kept trimmed and burning. The hilltop was already covered with people when the sun rose, bright and beautiful, above a low bank of feathery clouds which lay along the eastern horizon. When the first purple beams shot upward, a thrill passed through the gathering. It might be the familiar sun that would appear, or it might be the flaming sword of the Sun of Righteousness come to judge the earth.
It proved to be the former, and as the orb of day rose above the horizon, the thin clouds were dispersed by the growing heat, and the sun mounted through a cloudless, fleckless sky. Not in the first watch was the Lord to come.
Several hours passed, spent mostly in prayer and song and exhortation. The prophet said little these first hours, but sat somewhat apart, absorbed in his own emotions. His whole being was in a state of exaltation that lifted him above the height on which he sat; above the far-away blue mountain peaks; sending his soul forth to meet its Lord. One of the brethren gained his attention with an inquiry about the fateful hour.
"It is not yet, my brother," be answered, "not until the sun is higher in the heavens. We are in God's hands. He has not vouchsafed to name to me the hour."
At nine o'clock the sky was still clear. A light breeze had sprung up, a breath of the Indian Summer which had painted the leaves of the trees with brown and crimson and yellow, making them a marvelous and beautiful tapestry.
"Doubtless," said one of the brethren, in the course of an exhortation, "doubtless the Lord has sent this bright and beautiful day that the wicked, when they are condemned to everlasting fire, may look back upon what they forfeited because of their sins, and that the faithful may know how much greater is the least of heaven than the best of earth."
At ten o'clock many eyes were turned towards the heavens. Still there was no sign. At eleven o'clock the sky was not less serene; the sun shone even more brightly. Few of those on the hilltop had eaten that morning, and most had fasted through the night and the long hours of waiting had begun to tell upon them. Water from a nearby spring was passed around, but no one would go away for food. A woman, thinking that the prophet might work a miracle, brought him a loaf.
"No, sister," he said, misconstruing her intent, "take thou and eat, if thy flesh is weak. But I am on my Master's business, and have no need of meat for the body."
"When will the Lord come?" they asked him again.
"Surely not until the sun is at its height," he replied. "We are in the hands of the Lord. With Him time is nothing, and a thousand years are but a day."
Noon came. The sun had climbed to the zenith. Every eye was cast upward. Even those of the prophet himself were turned expectantly toward the heavens. Surely this would be the ideal hour! How could the Lord of earth and Heaven better display his power than by eclipsing with his glory the midday effulgence of his greatest work? But there was still no sign. The sun shone as brightly as before, the sky remained serene.
Some of the more timid souls, until then uplifted by the zeal of their comrades, began to waver. It was recalled that other prophets had predicted the end of the world, and it had not come. But the faithful reproved these weak ones, and their feeble voices were drowned in a hymn of praise and faith. When three o'clock was passed the stronger spirits were unable to keep down the murmurs. A sickly woman fainted from hunger and fatigue. Children were crying. Widows who had sold their homes, old men who could no longer work and had parted with their all, were confronted by the possibility that the sacrifice had been for naught, and that they were reduced to beggary.
But the prophet was firm. The Lord had appeared to him in a vision and had announced the end of the world for this day, and the day was not finished.
"Courage, my brethren! Patience, my sisters! Let us watch and wait even until the going down of the sun. Perhaps the Lord is waiting to come over the mountains in the glory of the sunset!"
More hymns were sung, with less enthusiasm. A few, overcome by hunger, began to slip away. On the edge of the greater gathering a small knot of bearded men were collected.
"My cattle are gone," said one, gloomily.
"My horses are sold," said another.
"My wheat and corn," added a third.
"My house and farm," said yet another.
"And the Lord has not come," said a fifth.
"Suppose," said the first, "that this prophet is a false prophet?"
"Where," asked another, ominously, "are the apostles? They ought to be here. They have held the scrip and the purse; they have taken the money for our farms and our cattle and our crops. Who knows what they have done with it, they and their prophet?"
The group of malcontents grew larger as the sun declined. The murmuring became general. Even the prophet was troubled. Could he have been deceived? Could the Devil have appeared in the guise of an angel of light? If he were mistaken, if he had been the dupe of the Father of Lies, then what would it mean to these deluded people, who had given up everything at his command?
Slowly the sun declined in the cloudless West. There had been no earthquake, no lightnings, no thunder, no last trump, no fire from heaven, no celestial host. Slowly the crowd melted away from the hilltop. Slowly the prophet's spirits sank and his faith faltered. Slowly at first, and then faster as the sun fell to the horizon, a group of bearded men, with fierce faces, and curses on their lips, and various improvised weapons in their hands, moved toward where the prophet still sat surrounded by a faithful few. And as the sun set peacefully and gloriously, a discredited prophet, with fear in his heart that lent wings to his feet, was in full flight, with a mob of angry and desperate men at his heels.
In the gray dawn of the following day Pete Gump stood by the river bank. He had eluded his pursuers, and had taken refuge in the heart of a swamp, where he had fallen from exhaustion and slept until morning. On awaking he had made his way to the river, in which he had bathed his haggard face and his bloody hands, torn by the thorns through which, in his hasty flight, he had forced his way.
What was he to do? But yesterday a prophet, today he was a fugitive. Not entirely for nothing had his sluggish soul been exercised; and there in the chill morning air, beside the cold river, his thoughts were more collected and more logical than ever in his life before, and there flashed upon him something more than an intuition of the part the apostles had played in his undoing. What would be his future? Should his enemies find him, they would put him to a shameful and violent death. For he knew of what fierce rages they were capable. They had trusted him, and while he had meant to help them and save them, he had ruined them. If he should remain hidden until the storm blew over, it would be only to return to the poor farm, if they would even receive him there, to become again the butt of rude raillery, the scorn of the quicker-witted, to which would be added the ignominy of failure. No, he could not. Though it may have deserted him, he had felt the divine flame. That which it had sanctified must not become the sport of mean men. There were footsteps approaching, and he heard the sound of voices. Already his enemies were at hand. In a moment they would be upon him. With a murmured prayer for forgiveness, he walked out upon an overhanging log and just as his pursuers emerged from the wood, sprang into the swift current where the river was deepest.
Two weeks after the flight of the prophet, David Walker made his way cautiously along the road to Squire Doremus's, looking on all sides to see that he was not observed. He entered the yard and directed his footsteps toward the front piazza where Miss Doremus sat, in a rocking-chair, in a drooping and disconsolate attitude. She did not look up until he addressed her.
"Good evening, Hazel."
She flashed him an indignant look.
"Three months ago," he said, "I begged you to marry me, and you repulsed me with scorn and contempt. Then you were the heiress of a wealthy father, and I was the overseer of the poor farm, a man of little property. Today you are poor and I am rich. This farm and everything on it; this house and everything in it, belong to me."
"Impossible!" she exclaimed with genuine surprise. "They were sold to a stranger."
"He was my agent. And not only this farm, but half the farms in the county belong to me. Did you suppose that I was in the apostle business for nothing? People sold their crops and their stock, and gave the money to me to advance the cause. I advanced the cause—my cause. With the offerings of cash I bought the land."
"But nobody ever heard of you as a buyer," she insisted.
"For obvious reasons," he replied. "And the deeds are not even yet recorded. They are here in this bundle," he said, taking a bulky parcel out of his pocket. "This paper on top is a deed from William Doremus to my agent; the next is from my agent to me. Here are the deeds for twenty thousand acres of land, with a hundred good houses upon them,—rich farms, fat pastures,—and the stock upon them is mine. When I have settled my business with you, I shall go down to the county seat and put these deeds on record."
"You have not dared to do so before," she rejoined with a spirit which disaster had not quenched.
"But I shall do so now. Moreover, this fat wallet which I show you, contains thousands of dollars—thousands of dollars!—my share of the remaining offerings of the faithful—the foolish faithful! You treated me with scorn, but I bear no malice. I am of a forgiving disposition. I had no desire to see you or the Squire suffer. I am willing to marry you still if you will say the word, and to take care of your father for the rest of his life."
He awaited his answer in confident expectancy.
Absorbed in their talk, neither of them had observed a tall young man who had approached and stood concealed behind a thick syringa bush which stood a couple of yards away. And of course neither of them saw the air of suspense with which he awaited Miss Doremus's reply; nor the joyful expression which overspread his countenance when Miss Doremus rose to her feet, and drawing herself up to her full height, exclaimed with withering contempt:
"Dave Walker, I never liked you, nor thought you honest! I would not marry you if every one of your stolen acres was plated with gold! I can work for my living and my father's. Leave this yard, and if you do not go at once, I'll send the servants out to raise the neighborhood and have you treated as you deserve. This may be your house, but as long as I stay here I'll be mistress of it!"
"Very well," said Walker, "if you ever come to want, you'll have yourself to thank. I've given you a chance."
"And I'll give you a chance," said a voice from behind, as Will Thornton stepped out from the shelter of the syringa bush. Walker, turning on his heel, faced the threatening muzzle of a revolver.
"I'll give you a chance," repeated the young man. "There are a dozen men within ten minutes walk of where we are, who would be just delighted to take you out and put a rope around your neck and string you up to a tree. I'm going to send for them, and stand here until they come, unless you do exactly as I say. First, hand over that bundle of deeds."
Walker was thinking rapidly. The young man had spoken the truth, and of his sincerity there could be no reasonable doubt—a glance at his stern, set face made this very clear. Reluctantly he passed over the bundle of deeds. Thornton tossed them to Miss Doremus.
"Burn them up," he said. "Not one of them has been recorded. I looked at the records an hour ago."
Hazel stepped through the open door, into the hall, where a wood fire was burning in the open fireplace. They saw her throw the bundle into the fire.
"Now hand over that wallet. By your own confession you have filled it by robbing the widow and the fatherless. Every dollar shall be returned to those from whom it was stolen. Now, go, and if you go fast enough, you may be able to get away."
Walker went, and stood not upon the order of his going. He must have saved some remnant of his ill-gotten gains, for he moved to an adjoining state and changed his name, and was subsequently elected to congress. Miss Doremus married her lover.
Nor was the prophet drowned after all. The footsteps and voices he had heard were those of Ma'y Liz' and a few faithful followers, who had been seeking him all night. They reached the river in time to see him plunge into the water, and to rescue him, with some difficulty, before he had gone down the third time. But the shocks and strains of his public career had proved too much for the prophet's poor mind, which thereafter remained little more than a blank. He was kept out of sight for a time, and when the duplicity of the apostles was exposed, and Thornton had made restitution to some, and others found that they were not to lose their lands, the prophet came to be regarded more as a fellow victim than as an accomplice of the swindlers. He returned to the poor-house, where he became a favored inmate, asked for by visitors, pointed out with pride, the recipient of many small gifts of money or tobacco. Ma'y Liz' shone by his reflected light.
"Pete alluz were a fool," she would say, placidly,—"I lived with him long enough to know,—an' now he ain't got no sense at all." And then she would add, with a certain naive pride, "But he were a big prophet an' a healer one time, he shore were."