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An Episode Of West Woodlands
by [?]

I.

The rain was dripping monotonously from the scant eaves of the little church of the Sidon Brethren at West Woodlands. Hewn out of the very heart of a thicket of buckeye spruce and alder, unsunned and unblown upon by any wind, it was so green and unseasoned in its solitude that it seemed a part of the arboreal growth, and on damp Sundays to have taken root again and sprouted. There were moss and shining spots on the underside of the unplaned rafters, little green pools of infusoria stood on the ledge of the windows whose panes were at times suddenly clouded by mysterious unknown breaths from without or within. It was oppressed with an extravagance of leaves at all seasons, whether in summer, when green and limp they crowded the porch, doorways, and shutters, or when penetrating knot-holes and interstices of shingle and clapboard, on some creeping vine, they unexpectedly burst and bourgeoned on the walls like banners; or later, when they rotted in brown heaps in corners, outlined the edges of the floor with a thin yellow border, or invaded the ranks of the high-backed benches which served as pews.

There had been a continuous rustling at the porch and the shaking out of waterproofs and closing of umbrellas until the half-filled church was already redolent of damp dyes and the sulphur of India rubber. The eyes of the congregation were turned to the door with something more than the usual curiosity and expectation. For the new revivalist preacher from Horse Shoe Bay was coming that morning. Already voices of authority were heard approaching, and keeping up their conversation to the very door of the sacred edifice in marked contrast with the awed and bashful whisperings in the porch of the ordinary congregation. The worshipers recognized the voices of Deacons Shadwell and Bradley; in the reverential hush of the building they seemed charged with undue importance.

“It was set back in the road for quiet in the Lord’s work,” said Bradley.

“Yes, but it oughtn’t be hidden! Let your light so shine before men, you know, Brother Bradley,” returned a deep voice, unrecognized and unfamiliar–presumably that of the newcomer.

“It wouldn’t take much to move it–on skids and rollers–nearer to the road,” suggested Shadwell tentatively.

“No, but if you left it stranded there in the wind and sun, green and sappy as it is now, ye’d have every seam and crack startin’ till the ribs shone through, and no amount of calkin’ would make it watertight agin. No; my idea is–clear out the brush and shadder around it! Let the light shine in upon it! Make the waste places glad around it, but keep it THERE! And that’s my idea o’ gen’ral missionary work; that’s how the gospel orter be rooted.”

Here the bell, which from the plain open four-posted belfry above had been clanging with a metallic sharpness that had an odd impatient worldliness about it, suddenly ceased.

“That bell,” said Bradley’s voice, with the same suggestion of conveying important truths to the listening congregation within, “was took from the wreck of the Tamalpais. Brother Horley bought it at auction at Horse Shoe Bay and presented it. You know the Tamalpais ran ashore on Skinner’s Reef, jest off here.”

“Yes, with plenty of sea room, not half a gale o’ wind blowing, and her real course fifty miles to westward! The whole watch must have drunk or sunk in slothful idleness,” returned the deep voice again. A momentary pause followed, and then the two deacons entered the church with the stranger.

He appeared to be a powerfully-built man, with a square, beardless chin; a face that carried one or two scars of smallpox and a deeper one of a less peaceful suggestion, set in a complexion weather-beaten to the color of Spanish leather. Two small, moist gray eyes, that glistened with every emotion, seemed to contradict the hard expression of the other features. He was dressed in cheap black, like the two deacons, with the exception of a loose, black alpaca coat and the usual black silk neckerchief tied in a large bow under a turndown collar,–the general sign and symbol of a minister of his sect. He walked directly to the raised platform at the end of the chapel, where stood a table on which was a pitcher of water, a glass and hymnbook, and a tall upright desk holding a Bible. Glancing over these details, he suddenly paused, carefully lifted some hitherto undetected object from the desk beside the Bible, and, stooping gently, placed it upon the floor. As it hopped away the congregation saw that it was a small green frog. The intrusion was by no means an unusual one, but some odd contrast between this powerful man and the little animal affected them profoundly. No one–even the youngest–smiled; every one–even the youngest–became suddenly attentive. Turning over the leaves of the hymnbook, he then gave out the first two lines of a hymn. The choir accordion in the front side bench awoke like an infant into wailing life, and Cissy Appleby, soprano, took up a little more musically the lugubrious chant. At the close of the verse the preacher joined in, after a sailor fashion, with a breezy bass that seemed to fill the little building with the trouble of the sea. Then followed prayer from Deacon Shadwell, broken by “Amens” from the preacher, with a nautical suggestion of “Ay, ay,” about them, and he began his sermon.