Now Miss Minerva always faithfully responded to every proposal made by a preacher; it was a part of her religious conviction. At revivals she was ever a shining, if solemn and austere, light. When a minister called for all those who wanted to go to Heaven to rise, she was always the first one on her feet. If he asked to see the raised hands of those who were members of the church at the tender age of ten years, Miss Minerva’s thin, long arm gave a prompt response. Once when a celebrated evangelist was holding a big protracted meeting under canvas in the town and had asked all those who had read the book of Hezekiah in the Bible to stand up, Miss Minerva on one side of the big tent and her devoted lover on the other side were among the few who had risen to their feet. She had read the good book from cover to cover from Genesis to Revelation over and over so she thought she had read Hezekiah a score of times.
So now, when the preacher called for little orphans to come forward, she leaned down and whispered to her nephew, “Go up to the front, William, and shake hands with the nice kind preacher.”
“Wha’ fer?” he asked. “I don’ want to go up there; ev’ybody here’ll look right at me.”
“Are there no little orphans here?” the minister was saying. “I want to shake the hand of any little child who has had the misfortune to lose its parents.”
“Go on, William,” commanded his aunt. “Go shake hands with the preacher.”
The little boy again demurred but, Miss Minerva insisting, he obediently slipped by her and by his chum. Walking gracefully and jauntily up the aisle to the spot where the lecturer was standing by a broad table, he held out his slim, little hand.
Jimmy looked at these proceedings of Billy’s in astonishment, not comprehending at all. He was rather indignant that the older boy had not confided in him and invited his participation.
But Jimmy was not the one to sit calmly by and be ignored when there was anything doing, so he slid awkwardly from the bench before Miss Minerva knew what he was up to. Signaling Frances to follow, he swaggered pompously behind Billy and he, too, held out a short, fat hand to the minister.
The speaker smiled benignly down upon them; lifting them up in his arms he stood the little boys upon the table. He thought the touching sight of these innocent and tender little orphans would empty the pockets of the audience. Billy turned red with embarrassment at his conspicuous position, while Jimmy grinned happily at the amused congregation. Horrified Miss Minerva half rose to her feet, but decided to remain where she was. She was a timid woman and did not know what course she ought to pursue. Besides, she had just caught the Major’s smile.
“And how long have you been an orphan?” the preacher was asking of Billy.
“Ever sence me an’ Wilkes Booth Lincoln’s born,” sweetly responded the child.