“Parson,” said he solemnly, “I’ve seen all sorts and sizes and colors and conditions of crooks, up and down the line, in my time and generation, but take it from me you’re a libel and an outrage on the whole profession. Why, you crazy he-angel, you’d break their hearts just to look at you!” And he grinned. At a moment like that, he grinned, with a sort of gay and light-hearted diablerie. They are a baffling and inexplicable folk, the Irish. I suppose God loves the Irish because He doesn’t really know how else to take them.
“It will break my own heart, and possibly my mother’s and Mary Virginia’s will break to keep it company, if anything evil happens to you this night,” said I, severely. I was in no grinning humor, me.
He reached over and carefully buttoned, with one hand, the too-big collar about my throat. For a moment, with that odd, little-boy gesture of his, he held on to my sleeve. He looked down at me; and his eyes grew wide, his face melted into a whimsical tenderness.
“When you get to heaven, parson, you’ll keep them all busy a hundred years and a day trying to cut and make a suit of sky clothes big enough to fit your real measure,” said he, irrelevantly. “You real thing in holy sports, come on, since you’ve got to!” With that he blew out the light, and we stepped into the cold and windy night. It was ten minutes after three.
Armed with bottle-belt, knapsack, and net, many a happy night had I gone forth with the Butterfly Man a-hunting for such as we might find of our chosen prey. Armed now with nothing more nor less formidable than the black rosary upon which my hand shut tightly, I, Armand De Rance, priest and gentleman, walked forth with Slippy McGee in those hours when deep sleep falls upon the spirit of man, for to aid and encourage and abet and assist and connive at, nothing more nor less than burglary.
THE I O U OF SLIPPY MCGEE
The wind that precedes the dawn was blowing, a freakish and impish wind though not a vicious one. One might imagine it animated by those sportive and capricious nature-spirits an old Father of the church used to call the monkeys of God. Every now and then a great deluge of piled-up clouds broke into tossing billows and went rolling and tumbling across the face of the sky, and in and out of these swirling masses the high moon played hide-and-seek and the stars showed like pin-points. Such street lights as we have being extinguished at midnight, the tree-shaded sidewalks were in impenetrable shadow, the gardens that edged them were debatable ground, full of grotesque silhouettes, backgrounded by black bulks of silent houses all profoundly asleep. As for us, we also were shadows, whose feet were soundless on the sandy sidewalks. We moved in the dark like travelers in the City of Dreadful Night.
And so we came at last to the red-brick bank, approaching it by the long stretch of the McCall garden which adjoins it. For years there have been battered “For Sale” signs tacked onto its trees and fences, but no one ever came nearer purchasing the McCall property than asking the price. Folks say the McCalls believe that Appleboro is going to rival New York some of these days, and are holding their garden for sky-scraper sites.