Dog Eat Dog
All the World Loves a Parson—the Right Sort—You'll Enjoy Journeying with this New Missionary to Falling Water, Where They Have "No Use for Medlars"
By E. R. Punshon
THE Falling Water lumber camp heard with scant concern the news that another evangelist was being sent to make yet a further attempt to bring it within the fold. The camp did not take much stock in missionaries, though on the other hand it was generally prepared to tolerate them, even though the newcomer's predecessor had been returned to headquarters nailed up in a large packing-case—thoughtful provision being made for comfortable breathing—bearing the inscription:
"No use for medlars at Falling Water."
But this, it was generally felt, had been going too far, and Snubby Brown and those associated with him in this transaction had found the public opinion of the camp distinctly against them, even though the admission was generally and frankly made that the reverend gentleman in question had brought it all upon himself.
The newcomer, therefore, the fiat had gone forth, was not to be interfered with, and Snubby himself, who, though he ruled the camp with a fist of iron, was not insensible to public opinion, declared that he would meddle with no preacher who didn't meddle with him.
"Let him preach all he wants," said Snubby; "that's his job and let him do it. But when a preacher happens along just when a jack-pot's opened and scatters the cards and the dollars and starts in then and there to let his jaw loose—well, something's bound to happen."
Something had certainly happened, as the unfortunate preacher, loaded up on a wagon in his well-secured packing-case, had found to his cost; but the general opinion at a meeting of the elder statesmen of the camp—the camp boss, the head cook, the three or four most experienced hewers—held to consider the case was that no repetition of the trouble need be feared provided the new preacher showed even the slightest discretion.
"Snubby's tough, but Snubby's white," pronounced the camp boss. "Snubby won't bother him one little bit. Besides, he knows the boys think he went too far that other time."
"Might as well let Snubby know what's expected of him," suggested one of the hewers, and it was agreed that he and another should stroll round and find Snubby and delicately hint to him that Falling Water expected him to give the new sky-pilot every opportunity to make good.
"After all, preachers are harmless enough if you don't listen to 'em," urged another hewer, a man of a tolerant nature, when presently they found Snubby basking lazily in the sunshine of that the Sunday afternoon.
"That's all right," declared Snubby. "If no one interferes with me, I don't interfere with no one, and no gentleman can say more'n that. Now, that last feller—he brought it on himself."
The two hewers nodded gravely; for indeed to interfere just at the exact moment when a jack-pot is opened is undoubtedly to ask for trouble.
"Tact is all that's wanted, tact on all sides," declared a hewer—he of the tolerant mind—"and on no account, Snubby—no more packing-cases. It gets the camp a bad name back East when folk read pieces like that in the papers."
Snubby again assured them that the new preacher had nothing to fear from him and the deputation withdrew, on the whole fairly well satisfied. Snubby, though only recently promoted to the dignity of "hewer," had long been the outstanding personality of the camp, since it was generally admitted that he could whip his weight in wildcats and that certainly no man for miles around could whip him. Why, was it not on record that he, even he, who moved among them like any common man, had once stood up to the great and famous Jack Dempsey himself and been by him thoroughly and soundly thrashed, and did not this fact endow him with a halo that put him on terms even with the walking boss himself?
AS IT happened, when the new missionary arrived, it was Snubby Brown himself who was the first to greet him as he alighted from the buggy that brought him to the camp. He appeared to be a very young man, very tall, very thin, with large black eyes and long arms and legs that seemed to straggle aimlessly all around, as if half inclined to wander off somewhere on their own account. Snubby noticed, however, that he seemed able to control them fairly well when he wished to, and even to move them with some effect, for a somewhat heavy box laden with books which he had brought with him he handled very efficiently as he lowered it from the buggy to the ground.
"Hello, Mr. Man!" Snubby greeted him cheerfully. "You the new sky-pilot we heard was happening along?"
"I am, brother," said stranger, with equal cheerfulness. "Name of Peter Wall. Are you one of the flock?"
Two men who lounged up in time to hear this question began to laugh. The idea of Snubby Brown as one of the flock tickled them enormously. Snubby himself turned red—as red, at least, as a countenance already tanned with wind and weather could go—and bestowed on the two hilarious ones a scowl that quickly restored them to gravity. Like other great men, Snubby was sensitive to ridicule, and he perceived that the question whether he was one of the flock was going to be addressed to him pretty frequently unless he made it clear at once that any such observation would be regarded in the light of an invitation to a mix-up.
"Ah," exclaimed the Reverend Peter Wall, interpreting correctly this byplay "I see you are not; but you will be soon, you know. I'm after you, brother, and I mean to get you."
Snubby gasped. Peter beamed. The two onlookers retired to give their delight full vent out of sight of the formidable Snubby. Like lightning the news spread through the camp that the new missionary had signalized his appearance in camp by hailing Snubby Brown as "brother" and announced his intention to "get him."
"Snubby Brown," they said to each other joyously, "Snubby Brown—there's going to be some fun!"
And happy as so many schoolboys they all flocked forthwith to see it.
Peter, busily establishing himself in the tiny log hut his predecessor had left in such unusual circumstances—some of the nails employed to fasten up the packing-case were still lying about the floor—was much moved and gratified by the somewhat unexpected interest his arrival appeared to be causing. Standing in the doorway of the hut he spoke a few words of gratitude and announced that while he had not intended to begin his ministry quite so soon, yet in the circumstances and in view of the interest being shown, the opening meeting would be held in one hour's time.
"And there's a brother there," added Peter Wall, with a friendly nod and smile toward Snubby Brown, whom he noticed in the front rank of the onlookers, "I hope to see with us; for the moment I set eyes on him I said to myself that there was one I was bound to get"
There was a silence of sheer apprehension. Struggling to control himself, Snubby said,
"All I've got to say to you, Mr. Man, is this: You don't interfere with me and I won't interfere with you."
"Ah," said Peter Wall; "but then, you see, to interfere with you all is just what I am here for."
Every one looked to see what Snubby had to say to that. All knew of the edict that had gone forth from the conclave of the elder statesman of the camp, but all felt that so direct a challenge relieved Snubby from all restraint. That something was expected from him Snubby realized. His mind, which was not remarkable for originality, turned again toward thoughts of another packing-case—one not so huge and with less adequate arrangements for comfortable breathing. But first he felt he must give this foolish lad, rushing in where only the peers of Jack Dempsey could afford to tread, the fullest warning possible. Slowly, formidably, he walked forward, his great shoulders squared, his long arms, ending in fists like sledge-hammers, hanging by his side. When he was face to face with Peter, who had awaited quietly his coming, he said, in a low growl:
"The feller what was before you tried that game. He interfered. So he went. In a packing-case."
"Was it you did that?" asked Peter tranquilly. "It was very wrong, and it shall be my task to lead you to repentance."
Some one laughed. Snubby breathed hard. Then, feeling that in this war of words he was outmatched, he stamped suddenly and very hard with his heavy boots on Peter's toe.
"That's for warning, young fellow," he said; "so you mind."
"Here's my other foot for you if you like to stamp on that, too," said Peter, putting it forward as he spoke, and Snubby promptly stamped on it with all his force.
"I can keep that up as long as you," he said, grinning.
"I can keep it up longer than you," answered Peter, though he was pale to the lips with pain. "There is my other foot again."
Once more Snubby was about to stamp upon it, but from behind some one shouted,
"Aw, quit, Snubby; quit it!"
Snubby turned like a shot; but the speaker, having uttered his protest, had discreetly vanished and Snubby turned round on Peter again.
"I see what's the matter with you," he said. "You're spoiling for a fight, young feller."
"I am," Peter agreed.
"Good!" said Snubby, beginning to take off his coat. "In two minutes your own mother won't know you from a pan of dough."
But Peter smiled and shook his head.
"Not that kind of fighting," he said. "My weapons are not fists, and I am here to preach peace."
"Aw, quit it!" called out suddenly the camp boss, who had come up to see what the trouble was. "Let him alone, Snubby; he ain't no fighter."
"Sure thing, he ain't," growled Snubby, and turned and walked away.
"The meeting will begin," Peter called after him, "in one hour. I shall look out for you, brother."
"Maybe I sha'n't be far away," retorted Snubby, grinning over his shoulder with an air of obscure threat that for the first time made the new missionary feel a little uneasy.
THE meeting was held accordingly as Mr. Peter Wall had promised it should be, but the only person who attended it was himself. Alone he sang the opening hymn. Not one soul in all the camp seemed aware of that fresh young voice lifted in solitary praise. When he had finished, Peter paused and waited a little, and as still no one approached, he sang another hymn. A queer pathetic figure against the background of those tremendous forests his tall, thin figure made as he stood there solitary with his straggling arms and legs sprawling around, and sang and sang again, and had for audience not one single living creature, not one out of all the men scattered here and there about the camp. So then he prayed aloud for a blessing on the camp, to himself for hearers. He prayed with his eyes closed, long and fervently, and when he opened them and looked around in the hope of seeing that some small gathering had collected—even if only two or three—there was still not a living creature near.
Slowly he looked around. It was puzzling; it was disconcerting, but he was not beaten yet. He drew himself to his full height; his great black eyes began to flame and sparkle. As though he were speaking to the most attentive crowd that ever gathered round a successful minister, he began to preach.
With fervor; with eloquence, with passion he spoke and pleaded there. It was as though some hidden fount within him had been touched and opened, and to this day he believes that never, either before or since, has he spoken with such clear, convincing force. For nearly an hour the words poured from him, though all the time there was no one who came near to listen, and then he sang another hymn, his clear and sweet voice dominating, as it were, the whole camp, making itself heard above all the laughter and the gossip and the quarreling that was going on. Some of the men as they heard it grinned sheepishly at each other and turned to look where Snubby Brown sat formidably alone, an unlighted pipe in his mouth, his huge hammer-like fists resting on his knees, watching with implacable eyes the solitary figure of the young evangelist.
"To-morrow, to-morrow they will come," Peter said to himself as he turned to go back to his hut; but on the morrow it was the same.
Alone he preached, alone he prayed, solitary his clear young voice rang out in the hymn that made itself heard above all the clamor and bustle of the evening camp, and that made the men who heard it grin again sheepishly at each other and glance toward where Snubby still sat formidably in his accustomed place.
"To-morrow,, to-morrow it will be different," Peter said to himself.
But when to-morrow came it was still the same. Not that he found the men unfriendly when he moved about among them. They were willing enough to talk. One or two of them helped him in little jobs he took in hand to make his log hut more weather-proof. He seemed to detect among some of them a certain undercurrent of sympathy, even though others showed toward him the scorn and contempt the commoner sort of mind shows always toward apparent failure. But all the same, when he asked them to attend his meetings, even if only once, he received none but evasive replies. One had one excuse and another another, and there were many who replied simply, "Don't want," so that the evening meetings all went quite unattended. And that for this there was some hidden reason he felt fully convinced.
PETER, however, was a persistent person; finally he succeeded in catching the camp boss in a corner whence there was no escape and in asking him if he could tell him why none of the men came to his evening meeting.
"Reckon they don't want," said the camp boss. "Anyway, it's your funeral, not mine."
"Unless there was some reason," Peter said, "they would be sure to come, some of them, just to see what it was like."
"Reckon that's their funeral," said the camp boss, "not mine."
He would say nothing more, and with that Peter had to be content, though be remained more convinced than ever that there was some reason for so complete a boycott of his meetings and thought that perhaps he was the only person in camp who did not know what this reason was. A wave of discouragement made him contemplate returning to headquarters to report his complete failure, but then again he set his teeth, his big black eyes kindled and flashed with an almost wild defiance, and he said to himself that be would go on, yea, even though never one single living creature came to hear what he had to say.
"Though I wish I could find out what is the trouble," he thought, and looking up he saw just before him the head cook smoking a reflective pipe after the labors and the triumphs of the day, and planning how next week he would achieve a pie that should outshine even the pie of to-day that had been unanimously acclaimed as the nearest thing possible to going to heaven in a band-box.
Peter knew that not even the camp boss was more important in the camp, or more universally respected, than was the head cook, and it struck him that perhaps from him he might obtain the explanation he sought. Pointblank, therefore, he asked him if he knew why the men held so persistently aloof from his meetings.
"Reckon," observed the head cook slowly, "they don't want."
"But if any fellow began to talk anywhere in camp about anything, one at two of the others at least would always happen along to hear what it was all about," urged Peter.
"That's so," agreed the head cook gravely; "but that's different."
"Why?" asked, Peter and added, for, if he possessed the innocence of the dove, he was also not altogether without the subtlety of the serpent: "It's not as if the boys had anything against me or were unfriendly at all—they are mighty nice to me most all the time and one of them even gave me a help of that pie you made for dinner to to-day. My, it was good!"
The head cook visibly softened.
"It was a good pie," he admitted simply, and added, "Some of the boys call mine the 'better-than-ma-made pies.'"
"I don't wonder," said the guileful Peter. "They are real good, and that's a fact."
The head cook softened still further; in fact it might be said that he completely melted. He looked around. He said cautiously,
"Mister, there's a hoodoo on them meetings of yourn."
Peter looked very puzzled.
"How? Why?" he asked. "In what way?"
"Snubby," said the head cook in the same cautious whisper. "Snubby Brown—don't let on I told you."
"But," protested Peter, more and more puzzled, "I don't understand. How can Snubby prevent the boys coming to my meetings?"
"He can't," agreed the head cook; "but he can pass the word round that any fellow going to hear you preach will have to fight him afterward. And that's what he's done."
"Oh-h," said Peter, seeing light at last.
"You see, it's this here way," explained the head cook: "He's got it in for you all right on account of your calling him one of the flock, which tickled the boys an awful lot, and then your telling him you was bound to get him in the end. That fetched him where he lives, so now the boys know that if they go to hear you preach they'll have to fight Snubby after."
"Are they so scared of him as all that?"
"That there remark," said the head cook with dignity, "is lacking in tact, and tact is what you want, young fellow, in your profession, if you mean to make good."
"I'm real sorry," apologized Peter. "I didn't mean that."
"No offense took if none meant," said the head cook graciously, "and it ain't that the boys are scared exactly; this crowd in this camp don't scare worth a cent. It's only as they know very well that Snubby can whip the best man among them with one hand tied behind his back."
"But he can't—couldn't fight the whole camp!" cried Peter.
"For why not?" asked the head cook.
PETER went away then, furnished with much food for thought. Evidently none of the men was likely to attend his meetings when such attendance meant a fight afterward with Snubby Brown, who, it seemed, could with one hand tied behind him lick the best man among them. What was to be done, Peter did not very clearly see, but one obvious course was to interview Snubby and try to persuade him to remove this very practical and convincing hoodoo he had laid on the meetings. So the next evening, after Peter had, as usual, prayed and preached and sung all alone, he went straight to the spot where he knew that at this time Snubby was usually to be found, implacably on the watch to see that none broke his decree without paying the forfeit.
"Snubby," said Peter, going straight to the point as usual, "why don't you want the boys to come to hear me preach?"
"Huh?" said Snubby.
"Snubby," said Peter, very earnestly, "why don't you come yourself and give them a lead?"
"Young feller," said Snubby, almost admiringly, "you've got a gall."
"No," said Peter, "a call."
He began to talk, to argue, to plead, but before he had uttered more than a dozen sentences or so, Snubby laid his enormous paw upon the young malt's shoulder, pulled him slowly forward, with equal deliberation took a handkerchief from his pocket and rammed it into Peter's mouth and then released him, all without saying one word. The few men who had drawn near shouted with delighted laughter, and Peter took the handkerchief out again.
"I rather wish you had washed it first, Snubby," he said wistfully.
That was as far as they got that time, and it was not far. But again after the next night's solitary meeting—if that can be called a meeting at which but one is present—Peter went again to find Snubby in his accustomed place.
"Snubby," said Peter yearningly, "won't you quit?"
"Naw," said Snubby. "I never quit."
"'More do I," said Peter, his black eyes beginning to sparkle again. "Never."
"That's all right," said Snubby. "You want the boys to come to hear you preach; I want 'em to keep away. We'll see which of us makes good, fair fighting and no interference on either side,"
"But you've no right—" cried Peter, and paused.
"Reckon," said Snubby slowly, "I've as good a right to say a man's got to fight me as you have to say a man's got to hear you preach. Young feller, you had better pack your traps and quit. There's no spellbinder ever born the boys here will listen to if they've got to fight me after."
"I attend the meetings," Peter urged, "and I don't fight you and won't. So why should any one else?"
"Because if they didn't, I would wipe the earth with them," answered Snubby simply; "but as for you, you don't count. Why, I reckon you never fought a man in your life."
"Never, and never will," answered Peter earnestly. "I am a man of peace."
"That's all right," said Snubby smilingly; "but I ain't, you see, and the boys know it."
Peter stood silent and musing. He saw no way out. No matter how willing the men might be to hear him, they would not come at the price of having to fight the formidable Snubby. It came into his mind, swift and sudden as a ray of sunshine through a rift in gathered clouds, that there was one way, and one way only, by which Snubby's opposition could be removed.
"Very well," he said; "if you must fight, you must. Shall we start in right now?"
"Huh?" said Snubby.
His slowly moving mind failed at first to grasp the significance of Peter's question, and even when Peter began to remove his coat, Snubby still did not quite grasp the other's meaning.
"Huh?" he said, varying slightly the intonation of his grunt of puzzled interrogation.
"Shall we start in right now?" Peter said again.
Then Snubby understood and, lying back, he roared aloud with laughter. He thought it was the funniest thing that ever he had seen or heard of.
Peter stood and watched and waited till this laughter should be done, while at a distance men looked round and said to each other,
"Preacher and Snubby are getting on fine, swapping yarns."
"Sorry," Snubby managed to stammer at last through the gusts of his still continuing merriment; "but, say, ain't you just too cute?"
"Shall we begin right now," Peter said again, "or have I got you scared stiff?"
Snubby stopped laughing now and sat upright. This question struck him as going a little too far.
"Young feller," he asked seriously, "do you know what you're saying? Do you mean it?"
"I do," answered Peter briefly.
Snubby was still a good deal amused, but he got slowly to his feet.
"Young feller," he said, "I warn you fair. I fight rough."
"Do you?" said Peter. "Well, I don't know how I fight, for I've never fought before."
"Then, young feller," said Snubby amply, "I'm sorry for you."
BY THIS time a tittle group of men had gathered near. They had seen—and heard—Snubby laugh; they had seen Peter remove his coat, and that was generally the signal that a fight was beginning. Now a fight—even a dog-fight—was the one form of entertainment in that camp which was universally popular, and of late, since Snubby had established such undisputed supremacy, they had grown regrettably rare. Therefore, with a lingering hope, men came lounging along, even though they felt that a fight between Snubby Brown and the new preacher would be a piece of quite incredible good fortune.
"A scrap—Snubby and the new preacher—a fight—the new preacher and Snubby," they said to each other, "Aw—come off!" and when they arrived and saw the two facing each other, they could scarce believe their own eyes that looked indeed as if they would all fall out of all their heads.
"Boys," said Snubby, addressing them, "I want you to know—this ain't no doing of mine. Not being interfered with, I interferes with none. But Preacher said as he had me scared cold, so what can I do but whip him?"
"Boys," said Peter, in his turn, "I want you to know this is none of my seeking. But you know how our brother here has put a hoodoo on my meetings by saying any man who comes to than has got to fight him afterward; and if that's so, it's only a square deal that he should whip the preacher first and last and all the time—isn't that so?"
There was a little murmur of assent and sympathy. Rough and wild as these men might be, no appeal for a square deal ever left them quite unmoved. Snubby felt that the tide of popular feeling was turning against him and he scowled ferociously around.
"Any feller got anything to say?" he demanded. "If any feller has, he only wants to open his mouth just once. Nope? Now, young feller, I'll fix you up all right as soon as you want, and then any one else what wants."
After all, it was, the onlookers generally agreed, a most uninteresting and disappointing fight. Indeed, it was hardly a fight at all. It was merely Snubby exercising himself on a punching-ball. Peter, his long arms whirling wildly round his head, came charging in, and Snubby, with one straight punch, met him and sent him flying. Peter, picking himself up, rushed in again, his arms whirling more wildly than before, and again Snubby, with one straight punch, sent him once more to the ground. When this had continued monotonously for a time, Peter began to experience a slight difficulty in rising. When it had gone on a little longer, this difficulty had become an impossibility, and so he lay still and blinked at the sky and tried to remember what it all meant, and some of the more good-natured of the bystanders picked him up and carried him home to his log hut and treated his injuries with the home-made, efficacious remedies of the camp.
"Only let this learn you, young man," they said severely, "never to monkey no more with men like Snubby Brown."
"To-morrow," muttered Peter, "to-morrow—I'll be there again."
"To-morrow," they told him with increased severity, "you won't be in no state whatever to leave your bunk."
IN THIS they were perfectly right; but all the same Peter did leave his bunk toward evening and made his way, more or less unsteadily, to where Snubby reclined in his accustomed place, relentlessly determined that no wave of sympathy should bring any to attend Peter's meeting—if Peter were in fit state to hold it—without having to pay the penalty decreed.
"Hello, young feller, feeling spry?" Snubby greeted Peter with a grin as the young man came up to him.
"Hello, brother!" said Peter, beginning to remove his coat. "Are you ready?"
"Huh? Huh?" exclaimed Snubby in various keys of astonishment, for once really taken aback. "Ain't you had enough?"
"No," said Peter; "and never shall."
"Aw, come off," said Snubby impatiently, "I don't want to fight a kid like you no more."
"Will you come to my meeting to-night?" demanded Peter.
"Talk sense," requested Snubby; "run away and play. I ain't coming to no meeting, and I ain't fighting you no more, neither."
"Why not?" asked Peter. "Have I got you scared stiff?"
This was too much, and Snubby rose to his feet.
"All right, young feller," he said; "now you're asking for it, and now you're going to get it."
It was merely a repetition of the previous night's performance. Peter came reeling resolutely in, was knocked down, rose to his feet, was knocked headlong again, and so on without change or pause, and without once getting in a blow himself, till at last the time came when from Snubby's last vicious punch he was unable to recover himself and could only lie supine and wonder dazedly who he was and where, and what was the thing as big as a balloon now attached to his shoulders where his head had once been. Two of the onlookers picked him up and carried him to his bunk, and later on the camp boss came to speak to Snubby. "Quit it, Snubby; why can't you?" he urged. "What's the fun of hammering a helpless innocent like him?"
"It ain't no fun at all," agreed Snubby; "but when a feller comes for me, ain't I a right to lay him out?"
To this the camp boss had no reply, and indeed Snubby's position seemed impregnable by every law and custom of the camp.
"Reckon there ain't nothing to worry about," Snubby called after the camp boss as that dignitary was moving away; "reckon the young feller has had enough this time."
But there Snubby guessed wrong; for next day at the accustomed hour Peter turned up once more, his face badly swollen, his gait none too steady, one eye closed, but with the other one still shining with strange fire.
"Aw, quit!" Snubby said, exasperated, as he saw Peter thus for the third time coming—or rather reeling—toward him. "Have a little horse-sense, young feller."
"Are you coming to my meetings?" asked Peter as well as a badly swollen mouth would permit him.
"I am not," said Snubby, "and I'm not whipping you any more. 'Tain't reasonable," he complained bitterly.
"Have I got you scared stiff, then?" demanded Peter, and Snubby threw his hat in the air with a yell of rage.
"I take that from no man," he said.
The fight—if fight it can be called—followed its usual course. Peter never got in a blow; invariably his long arms were still whirling wildly round his head while Snubby's straight punches were getting in their work. A dozen times or more did Peter go down before those devastating blows, till at last he lay so still after one that had been particularly vicious that for a moment or two the onlookers feared he had been killed. But it was only a swoon, and when they had carried him back to his bunk and he had recovered consciousness, he still made an effort to get on his bed and his one sound eye still shone with a wild and unabated fire.
NEXT evening it was the same, and to see Snubby Brown whip the preacher became one of the recognized diversions of the camp.
But after a time it began to pall; and there came one evening when not more than four or five had gathered to watch.
"I'm willing to stop and I'm willing to go on just as long as he wants," Snubby explained, when on this occasion he had knocked Peter down finally. "It's always a bit of practise in punching for me; but all the same his ma ought to be told to come and take him away."
Only one of the onlookers troubled to stroll over and look at Peter lying supine and pale on the ground.
"You're sure up against it good and plenty," this man said when, at last, Peter stirred and groaned a little and tried to sit up and could not. "Why don't you quit?"
"Have I got him scared stiff?" Peter murmured faintly.
"You have not," said the other, grinning, "and you never will neither till you learn to hit straight instead of swinging your arms all round your head like a windmill gone on a spree."
"Ah," said Peter and lay still, considering this till it was dark, no one offering to help him home.
The fact was that the sentiment of the camp had moved definitively against him. It was felt that he was being merely foolish and mulish. He was considered to be slightly presumptuous in so persistently attempting thus to whip a man who, it was generally conceded, could whip the best in camp with one hand tied behind him. There was even an impression that, on the whole, what was going on was getting the camp a bad name and they were all rather sensitive about the camp's reputation.
"Back East," they said to each other, "folk'll think we don't know how to treat preachers right; they won't none of 'em know as it isn't Snubby's fault."
But Peter persisted, and Snubby with reluctance but after a businesslike fashion did what was required of him, and the camp grew frankly bored with the whole proceeding, and one evening when Peter turned up as usual there was not a single creature there to watch.
Snubby greeted him with a friendly nod.
"Reckon I should feel sort of lonesome if you ever missed," he said; "but we'll have to get it over quick, as I've got an engagement to a hand of poker later—unless you would like to miss just for this once."
"Not unless I've got you scared stiff," said Peter.
Snubby flung his hat from him with a howl of rage.
"All right, young feller, now I'll show you!" he cried menacingly.
As usual Peter charged, but on this occasion, for the first time, for he had been brooding much on the casual advice given him shortly before, his long right arm, instead of whirling wildly round his head, shot out straight and true and caught the astonished Snubby right between the eyes. That gentleman bellowed with sheer astonishment, and Peter, unexpectedly thrilling with the glorious sensation of a good blow well delivered and well placed, struck again and once more with good effect. Snubby fairly lost his temper—the thing was so unexpected; it was not in his program that he should be hit himself—and rushed wildly in, making no attempt to guard. He met a third blow, swift, well timed, effective, as good a blow as ever landed on the point of a chin and one that made him think bewilderedly of earthquakes and similar convulsions of nature as he lay flat on his back and wondered vaguely how he had got there.
But this surprise Snubby experienced was as nothing to that which Peter felt as he gazed upon his adversary supine at his feet. It utterly bewildered him to find that it was possible to give blows instead of merely receiving them; he was still more bewildered to find that this blow of his had such an effect; most of all was he bewildered by the fierce and joyous exultation he felt through every vein in his body. But in a moment Snubby was on his feet again and charging down on Peter like an infuriated bull. He was wrought beyond his wont, but so was Peter, too, and for a space, a brief space, the battle was almost equal. Then Snubby closed, and after that it was not so much a fight as an execution. Snubby hit his adversary when and where and how he pleased. Peter had no idea how to guard; at such close quarters his long arms were quite ineffective. Very soon it was over; Peter was once more in his accustomed position half swooning on the ground, and Snubby, leaving an adversary more battered than ever before, was able to hurry away in time to join the waiting poker-party.
"But what's the matter?" they said to him as he came up. "There's an awful lump on your chin."
"That's where a skeeter stung me this morning," said Snubby.
"Your left eye looks as if it was swelling mighty bad," observed another of the party.
"Bit of a chip flew up," said Snubby, "when I was chopping kindling just now."
These explanations were accepted, though not without some doubt, even if no one dreamed of connecting them with the young preacher, the daily whipping of whom by Snubby had become a part of the accustomed routine of the camp.
But Peter, making his slow and painful way unaccompanied to his hut, was thinking hard all the time.
"Snubby always hits straight," he thought, "and he always hits me, and when I hit straight I hit him—seemed sort of easy that way, somehow. Then when we are close together, Snubby can do what he likes, and some way I don't seem to be able to do anything; so it would be better to try to keep him at a distance—and perhaps I could, as my arms are longer than his. I don't see why I shouldn't use my left, too—he does all the time, and I used to be pretty good at chopping wood with it when I was home."
He reached his bunk at last, and there he lay for a time, deep in thought in spite of his aching head, rediscovering for himself the underlying principles of the pugilistic art, just as the youthful Pascal is said to have rediscovered for himself the underlying principles of Euclid.
THE next evening, when Peter made his accustomed appearance, he found Snubby in an ugly temper. Snubby had been a good deal teased about the damaged appearance of his face, and some of the men, more for the sake of "getting his dander up" than because they ever dreamed it really was so, had suggested that perhaps the new preacher had been getting in some good work at last. So Snubby had made up his mind that the thing had got to end and now he said as much to Peter in few but earnest words.
Peter listened in silence and when Snubby had finished be said, now, in his turn, implacable, "Are you willing to come to my meetings?"
"I am not," answered Snubby, trembling all over. "All I want is to be quit of you for keeps."
"Meaning I've got you scared stiff?" Peter asked.
Snubby snatched off his hat and threw it on the ground, and for the space of a minute or more danced upon it till at last he said breathlessly:
"That fixes it—that does! Now you've got to die. When I've done with you this time, you won't want to plague the lives out of no more innocent, peaceful, respectable folk like me. Only mind, you've brought it all on yourself."
"Snubby," said Peter, "you talk so much; you ought to have been a preacher, too."
"I'll learn you," cried Snubby, "saying things like that to me what never harmed you nohow!"
In his eagerness to inflict upon Peter the punishment he yearned to administer, Snubby departed from his usual tactics and made at his opponent a headlong charge; and, as he came, Peter's long, thin arm flawed out with astonishing speed and force and took him full and clear between the eyes.
Exactly like a dog shaking itself after a swim, Snubby paused in his headlong rush and gave himself a shake, as if to fling away the effects of this blow, and then, resuming his charge, once more encountered that long, thin arm flashing out like a piston-rod and meeting him full and square.
Again and once again he tried these rushing tactics, and never once did he succeed in getting near his man. With unvarying precision, Peter's long, thin arm flew out and in and out again, bringing off stinging, effective blows before Snubby, with his much shorter reach, could get within range.
SNUBBY was exceedingly surprised as well as much annoyed. It was unexpected; he could not understand it. None of his previous encounters with Peter had followed this course. He could not understand why there was this change, and while he was trying to think it out, Peter's arm came flashing in once more from an amazing distance and scattered all Snubby's speculations with a hit upon the chin that sent him reeling half a dozen paces backward. And then, before Snubby had recovered from this disconcerting assault, Peter was on him in a flame of exultation, hitting him hard and fast.
But Snubby was game all through, and rallying all his powers in spite of his astonished state of mind, he succeeded in beating his attacker off.
Panting, the two men stood then for a moment or two and watched each other, each trying to regain his breath, and it came into Snubby's head that something like this had happened on that historic day when he had met far-famed Jack Dempsey. Then, too, he had been held afar and hammered and hammered again without a chance being given him of hitting back, and he perceived that if he attempted any more of these blind rushes, he must infallibly suffer still more damage from that straight right his opponent had so suddenly developed. So he changed his plans and, with a shake of his round bullet-head as he threw off the effects of the blows he had received, he stood still, firm-footed, and invited Peter to come on, and Peter, changing his tactics too, stood a little way off, out of reach of harm from Snubby's blows and yet near enough for his long arms with their tremendous reach to remain exceedingly effective. For a time Snubby stood it, hitting back in vain, guarding with difficulty blows that came showering in like rain in a summer storm. But then his patience broke, and with a bellow of rage and protest he charged like a badgered bull; and, with his new-found fighting instinct in full play, Peter stepped to one side and hit him twice in swift succession as he thundered by. Beneath those two tremendous blows Snubby went heavily to the ground and there lay still and prone, his cheek to the sun-dried grass. For a moment or two he was quite unconscious, and then he came to himself to find he was being gently turned on his back, and that something cool and damp and refreshing was being applied to his forehead.
"What's the matter?" he muttered.
"Feeling better?" anxiously asked Peter, who was bathing his forehead with water. When Snubby realized this, he pushed him roughly aside.
"You many sorts of fool," he said, "why in the name of many things didn't you out me when I was down?"
"I don't want," said Peter. "All I'm after is scaring you stiff."
Snubby emitted a thin, piping cry of rage. That was all he had strength for.
"Now it's me or you for it!" he cried, getting to his feet.
As the effects of his fall passed away, his strength returned, and now he fought more coolly and warily and with all the skill that he possessed. But Peter was fighting with a wild demoniac energy, and the extraordinary reach of his long thin arms gave him an advantage of which he now made full use. He seemed, too, to have acquired a new mastery of those awkward sprawling legs of his, so that he moved as surely and lightly as a dancing-master before his class. Over and over again, when Snubby strove to get within reach so as to be able to launch one devastating blow to end the encounter then and there, Peter's long legs bore him triumphantly out of danger; while his long arms enabled him equally triumphantly to score a further hit or two as he retreated. He had developed, too, a habit of hitting with both hands in swift succession, 'a one-two' in fact, as it used to be called in the days of the old British prize-ring at the beginning of the nineteenth century, that was extraordinarily effective and that Snubby found most unpleasant and disconcerting. But all the same his first amazement and bewilderment were disappearing now; he was beginning to fight more skilfully and to take in especial fuller advantage of his greater knowledge of the art of guarding. And the fight was at its hottest and its fiercest when there came round the corner of the poplar bluff that sheltered the two combatants from general observation—for so far this Homeric battle had not a single witness—the camp boss and one of the older hewers, consulting together on some technical point of the business of lumbering. No one else was near, for to see Snubby hammer the preacher was a pastime that had long since palled upon the camp.
"Hello; what's this?" the camp boss said. "Two of the boys having a mix-up?"
"Nope," answered the old hewer indifferently; "only Snubby Brown whipping the new preacher."
"I ain't so sure," observed the camp boss after a long pause. "Looks to me more like the new preacher whipping Snubby Brown."
As he spoke the two figures reeled apart and then staggered together once more, still fiercely hitting, guarding, hitting back again, both badly battered by now but with the lust of battle still fierce in their eyes. Breast to breast they stood, neither yielding an inch, Snubby's huge hammer-like fists smashing out in swift succession, Peter's long thin arms working with the unceasing regularity of a machine at full speed.
NOW neither man thought any more of guarding; the one idea left to each man was to hit as hard and as fast and as often as he could before his strength failed. Near were they now, eye to eye and breast to breast, as two lovers embracing, though fierce as fire was this embrace of theirs in which they were still locked when the camp boss shouted out loud and broke into a run. By the time be reached the spot where they fought, Snubby, his greater experience telling in the end, managed for a moment to break loose, and, exerting all his remaining strength, got in at last one huge, terrific blow that swept Peter to the ground.
Uttering a whoop of triumph, Snubby bestrode his prostrate adversary, but even while his cry of victory still trembled on the air, he reeled, all things swam around together before his eyes, he fell upon one knee, tried to recover himself and failed, and then collapsed slowly forward.
The camp boss found them lying peacefully side by side, their eyes closed, like two little children tired out with play and now sleeping together.
"Gosh!" said the camp boss regretfully. "What an all-fired waste, a fight like that going on and not a living creature to see it. Hello, Snubby; how you feeling?"
Snubby opened his one sound eye, the left.
"To-morrow," he muttered; "to-morrow I'll fix him for good and all."
The camp boss turned to Peter.
"Hello," he said; "how's you feeling?"
Peter opened his one sound eye, the right. "To-morrow," he muttered feebly; "to-morrow I'll have him scared stiff."
"Well, if them two don't beat all!" murmured the camp boss.
He summoned help; the two combatants were removed to their reflective bunks, and the camp boss and the old hewer who had been with him were both kept busy the rest of the evening recounting what they had seen at the end of that great fight it was so sad to think no living creature had really witnessed, while a constant succession of visitors passed before the bunk where Snubby Brown lay and observed with awe and wonder the many plain signs and tokens Peter had managed to inflict on that cast-iron visage.
They agreed it would be a lesson to than all never again to disregard even the smallest disagreement. "You can never tell," they said to each other sadly. And they consoled themselves with the reflection that the next fight between Snubby and Peter would be one really worth seeing, something to remember, something to talk about for years to some.
"It'll go one better," they declared, "than Jack Dempsey and the Frenchy." "Wouldn't give a hill of beans," they said to each other, "to see Dempsey and the Frenchy when we've got Snubby Brown and the new missionary right here."
The next evening the whole camp assembled, every single man, and all of them bubbling over with excitement. But the camp boss intervened. It was a courageous thing to do and his authority was strained to the utmost. Indeed, at one time it was an even chance that he would be provided with a suit of tar and a ride on a rail out of the camp. But in the end he carried his point. He declared that a good fight was never the worse for keeping. He pointed out that both men were at present below par, so to say. By waiting a week a much superior affair would be provided, he said, and he reminded than that to witness such comparatively trivial and unimportant affairs as the settling of the disagreements between men like Willard and Dempsey or Dempsey and Carpentier, it was often necessary to wait not a week but many months.
Besides, in secret, the camp boss wished to curry favor with the walking boss by getting the fight postponed till that important person could be informed and have a chance to be present.
The postponement of the fight for a week was therefore agreed on and the news of this decision was promptly communicated to the two principals.
"You'll be able to settle things once and for all," the camp boss told them. "If Snubby wins, Preacher'll have to promise never to interfere no more with Snubby, what only wants to live the peaceful life, or else Preacher must quit camp for good, and if he don't, then he'll be rid out of camp on a rail and treated rough if he ever comes back. And as for Snubby, if he loses, then he's got to promise faithful to attend every meeting Preacher holds in this here camp from now on forevermore, and a committee will be appointed to see he does it, too. So both you boys will know exactly what you're fighting for."
"It seems you mean us to play for big stakes," said Peter slowly, "but maybe I'll raise them more'n a little."
The camp boss did not know what Peter meant by this and he did not ask.
"All the same," said Snubby to the camp boss with some bitterness, "I don't see why Preacher should be so terrible set on me. Why can't he start in to save your soul instead of mine?"
The camp boss, at this question, turned a little pale.
"Reckon mine ain't worth bothering about," he said hastily, "and you ought to be uncommon proud yours is different. Seems a lot of trouble for mighty little," he added thoughtfully; "but there's no accounting for tastes—I knew a man once as liked drinking cold water."
IT WAS perhaps the biggest crowd that ever collected in the history of the lumber-camps that assembled on the appointed day to witness the final fight between Snubby and the missionary. From miles around men came, some starting before dawn so as to be sure of arriving in time. In the best position sat the walking boss with the camp boss on his right, the head cook—looking a little worn, for he had exhausted himself with one great effort to produce a pie really worthy of such an occasion—on his left, and all the hewers of the camp seated near. Around stood the mass of the onlookers, twenty and thirty deep in places, but all so carefully arranged on the slope of the ground that practically every man had a good view of the open space in the center where the great fight was to be fought.
Patiently the crowd waited. On the whole, the betting, of which there was a good deal, favored Snubby; but some backed Peter on the general grounds that, when a preacher took to fighting, wildcats no longer counted.
The time drew on, and a cheer greeted the appearance of Peter, who looked a little pale and nervous, but on the whole seemed none the worse for his recent tumultuous experiences. He had on his long black coat and was carrying his books under his arm. At the same moment Snubby appeared. He had not books but the haft of an ax tucked under his arm, and he also, his admirers noted, looked in good condition.
"Both of 'em's been in hard training," the whisper went round, and men nodded, well pleased; for the better the combatants were trained the better worth watching the fight was likely to be.
"Friends and brethren," said Peter, taking up his portion, "we will be by singing a hymn."
This was unexpected. Men stared at each other. One man shouted out,
"Aw, cut the hymn; get to the fight!"
"If that gent," said Snubby, stepping truculently forward, "will open his mouth just once more, he'll get the fight he wants to last him till the day of resurrection."
Peter, giving out the hymn, began to sing. His long arms swung up and down as he beat the time. Almost before they understood, almost before they realized what they were doing, they were all singing heartily. The effect was good, as indeed always is the effect of the voices many men singing together in the open air. On the whole they rather enjoyed it; and though they thought it an odd preliminary to a fight, still they supposed it was natural when a preacher was to be one of the combatants. So when it was over they settled themselves down comfortably, supposing that proceedings were now about to begin. But Peter said, "Now we will pray."
"Boss," said a plaintive voice from behind somewhere, "what about this here fight?"
"Pass that feller out to me," raved Snubby, "and I'll see he has all the fight he wants."
BUT no one accepted the invitation, and when Peter had finished his extempore prayer he began to preach. It was a good address, very plain-spoken, sparing not a single one of their numerous faults and pointing out very clearly to them what must be the inevitable consequences if they did not mend their ways.
"Why," he said, "some of you are so lost to all sense of decency I almost fear you wouldn't have come if you had known that, instead of your seeing me and Snubby Brown trying to whip each other, it was a gospel meeting we were going to hold."
He paused to let this sink in, and they all looked at each other in a dazed sort of way and a few of them smiled feebly, and all of them knew that what Peter said was so. They had come to a fight; they found a gospel meeting instead, and Peter, walking up and down inside that roped-in enclosure where the fight was to have been held, swinging in vigorous exhortation and denunciation those long arms of his his hearers had hoped to see punching the attentive Snubby's head, took the fullest advantage of the opportunity that had come his way.
"They shall hear the truth about themselves to-day," he thought to himself grimly, "if they never do again."
For fully an hour he talked, and then he stopped and thanked them for their attention and for their attendance and especially for having come in such large numbers.
"A meeting to gladden the heart of any preacher," he said. "To-morrow at the same hour we will meet again. I trust that all present to-night will come again to-morrow."
"If any don't, I'll let you know, boss," said Snubby unexpectedly.
A very suppressed, somewhat dazed assembly began to disperse, and there are some who tell to this day of how the walking boss went home with the camp boss, talking all the way and the camp boss listening and seeming to grow smaller and smaller all the time.
"And me at my age," said the walking boss pathetically, "and come the best part of two hundred miles and nearly broke my neck hurrying."
The camp boss passed a weary hand across a bewildered forehead.
"Seems like a dream," he said.
As for Peter, he was both happy and satisfied, and only one thing troubled him at all.
"Snubby," he said, as they walked away together to share their evening meal of fried pork and beans, "Snubby, do you think they will come again?"
"You bet," said Snubby briefly.
Peter looked all the joyous gratitude he felt.
"You see," explained Snubby, "I've passed the word round that any that stays away will have to come and mix with you—whip or be whipped—and they would most rather face a sackful of wildcats than you. I ain't blaming them, either."
"Why, Snubby," gasped Peter, "you never——"
"I did so," said Snubby, "and it'll work all right. You see, you've got 'em all scared stiff—same as you got me."
[Category: humor]] [Category: Western fiction]]