“We can have the gas shut off,” remarked Brother Pierce, coldly.
“As soon as you like,” responded the minister, sitting erect and tapping the carpet nervously with his foot. “Only you must understand that I will take the whole matter to the Quarterly Conference in July. I already see a good many other interesting questions about the financial management of this church which might be appropriately discussed there.”
“Oh, come, Brother Ware!” broke in Trustee Winch, with a somewhat agitated assumption of good-feeling. “Surely these are matters we ought to settle amongst ourselves. We never yet asked outsiders to meddle with our business here. It’s our motto, Brother Ware. I say, if you’ve got a motto, stand by it.”
“Well, my motto,” said Theron, “is to be behaved decently to by those with whom I have to deal; and I also propose to stand by it.”
Brother Pierce rose gingerly to his feet, with the hesitation of an old man not sure about his knees. When he had straightened himself, he put on his hat, and eyed the minister sternly from beneath its brim.
“The Lord gives us crosses grievous to our natur’,” he said, “an’ we’re told to bear ’em cheerfully as long as they’re on our backs; but there ain’t nothin’ said agin our unloadin’ ’em in the ditch the minute we git the chance. I guess you won’t last here more ’n a twelvemonth.”
He pulled his soft and discolored old hat down over his brows with a significantly hostile nod, and, turning, stumped toward the hall-door without offering to shake hands.
The other trustees had risen likewise, in tacit recognition that the meeting was over. Winch clasped the minister’s hand in his own broad, hard palm, and squeezed it in an exuberant grip. “Don’t mind his little ways, Brother Ware,” he urged in a loud, unctuous whisper, with a grinning backward nod: “he’s a trifle skittish sometimes when you don’t give him free rein; but he’s all wool an’ a yard wide when it comes to right-down hard-pan religion. My love to Sister Ware;” and he followed the senior trustee into the hall.
Mr. Gorringe had been tying up his books and papers. He came now with the bulky parcel under his arm, and his hat and stick in the other hand. He could give little but his thumb to Theron to shake. His face wore a grave expression, and not a line relaxed as, catching the minister’s look, he slowly covered his left eye in a deliberate wink.
“Well?—and how did it go off?” asked Alice, from where she knelt by the oven door, a few minutes later.
For answer, Theron threw himself wearily into the big old farm rocking-chair on the other side of the stove, and shook his head with a lengthened sigh.
“If it wasn’t for that man Gorringe of yours,” he said dejectedly, “I think I should feel like going off—and learning a trade.”