So their interview with Deacon Winslow proved a very enjoyable one after all. Hugh felt he should like to know the big amiable blacksmith better, for he had been drawn to him very much indeed.
“And,” he told Thad, as they trudged back along the road to town, “the way things seem to be working, I’m more than ever encouraged to keep on with my experiment.”
TURNING A PAGE OF THE PAST
“Do you know,” mused Thad, as they continued on their way to town, “the more I see of that blacksmith the better I like him. In my opinion, he’s a grand old man.”
“I was just going to say that myself,” Hugh told him. “He makes me think of the priest in the story. And they say he loves boys—all boys.”
“You can’t make him believe there’s a boy living but who has something worth while in him,” Thad advanced. “Sometimes it’s hid under a whole lot of trash, as Deacon Winslow calls it, and you’ve got to search a heap before you strike gold; but if you only persist you’ll be rewarded.”
“His actions with regard to Nick prove that he practices what he preaches, too,” said Hugh.
“Well, the old man went through a bitter experience many years ago,” Thad went on to say; “and he learned his lesson for life, he often says.”
“Why, how’s that, Thad? I’ve heard a great many things about different people since we came to Scranton; but I don’t remember listening to what happened to the old deacon long ago.”
“Is that a fact, Hugh? Well, I’ll have to tell you about it, then. Once upon a time they had a boy, an only child; and, as happens in some families where the parents are the finest kind of Christian people, young Joel had a bad streak in his make-up. Oh! they say he gave his father no end of trouble from time to time. And it wound up in a row, with the boy doing something disgraceful, and running away from home, nearly breaking his mother’s heart.”
“Didn’t he ever come bad again?” asked the interested listener.
Thad shook his head in the negative.
“They never looked on his face again, either living or dead,” he said. “Worse than that, they never even heard from him. It was as if Joel had dropped out of sight that night when he left a line to his mother saying he was going west to where they raised men, not sissies. And so the years rolled around, and, they say, the old lady even now sits looking into the sunset skies, dreaming that her Joel, just as she remembered him, had sent word he was coming back to visit them in their old age, and to ask forgiveness for his wrong-doing.”
Hugh was greatly moved by the sad tale, which, however, he knew could be easily matched in every town of any size in the country; for it is of common occurrence, with a multitude of sore hearts turning toward that Great West.
“That must have been how long ago, Thad?” he asked presently.