Read CHAPTER XXIV - A BIBLE TALK of The Twins of Suffering Creek , free online book, by Ridgwell Cullum, on ReadCentral.com.

It was with a sigh of relief that Scipio now turned to Wild Bill.  Somehow, he naturally looked to him for guidance.  Nor did he quite know why.

“’Bout that Bible talk?” he inquired.  “Guess you said they best set around in the sun.”

Bill nodded.

“I sure did.  Guess they kind o’ need airin’ some.  ’Tain’t no use in settin’ in their clothes damp; they’ll be gettin’ sick, sure.  Ther’s a dandy bit o’ grass right here.  Best set ’em down, an’ get around an’ hand ’em your talk.”

But the worried father pushed his weedy hair off his forehead with a troubled air.

“I haven’t read up a deal,” he apologized.

The gambler promptly swept his objection aside.

“That don’t figger any.  Once you get goin’ you won’t find no trouble.  It’s dead easy after you’re started.  That’s the way it is with passons.  They jest get a holt of a notion, an’ then why, they jest yarn.”

“I see,” replied Scipio doubtfully, while the other men gathered round.  “But,” he went on more weakly still, “’bout that notion?”

Bill stirred impatiently.

“That’s it.  You start right in with the notion.”

“Course,” cried Sandy.  “The notion’s easy.  Why, ther’s heaps o’ things you ken take as a notion.  Say, wa’an’t ther’ a yarn ’bout some blamed citizen what took to a cave, an’ the checkens an’ things got busy feedin’ him?”

“Ravens,” said Sunny.

“Ravens nuthin’,” cried the indignant Sandy.  “Checkens of the air, they was.”

Sunny shrugged.

“That ain’t no sort o’ Bible talk, anyway,” he protested.  “You need suthin’ what gives ’em a lesson.  Now, ther’s Nore an’ his floatin’ ranch ”

“That wa’an’t a ranch neither,” contradicted Sandy promptly.  “It was jest a barn.”

“Ark,” said Toby.

“Wal, ark then,” admitted Sandy.  He didn’t mind Toby’s interference.

But the discussion was allowed to go no further.  Bill’s impatience manifested itself promptly.

“Say, it don’t matter a cuss whether it was an ark or a barn or a ranch.  Sunny’s yarn goes.  Now, jest set around an’ git the kids in the middle, an’ you, Zip, git busy with this Nore racket.”

The last authority had given its decision.  There was no more to be said, and the matter was promptly proceeded with.  The expectant children, who had stood by listening to the discussion of their elders, were now seated on the grass, and before them sat the board of Scriptural instruction.  Bill remained in his position on the tree-trunk.  On the ground, cross-legged, sat Scipio, on his right.  Sunny lounged full length upon the ground next to him.  Sandy and Toby formed the other horn of the half-circle on the gambler’s left.

It was a quaint picture upon which the warm noon sun shone down.  The open grass clearing, surrounded with tall dense bushes.  On one side the wash-tub and the various appurtenances of the bath, with the creek a little way beyond.  And in the open, sitting alone, side by side, their little pink bodies bare of all but their coarse woolen undershirts, their little faces shining with wholesome soap, their eyes bright with expectancy for the story that was to come, the two pretty children of a lonely father.  Then, in a semicircle about them, the members of the Trust, with their hard, unclean faces, their rough clothes and rougher manners, and their uncultured minds driven by hearts that were well, just human.

“Git busy,” ordered Bill, when the Trust had finally settled itself.

And promptly Scipio, with more determination than discretion, cleared his throat and plunged into his peroration.

His mild face beamed.  Gentleness and affection shone in every line of it.  And somehow his diffidence, the realization of his ignorance of the work demanded of him, were absorbed and lost to his consciousness in the wonderful parental delight of teaching his offspring.

“Say, kiddies,” he began, with that soft inflection that seems so much a part of some men of rough manners, “I want you to listen careful to a yarn I’m goin’ to tell you about.  Y’see ”

He hesitated, and unconsciously one hand was lifted and passed across his brow with a movement that suggested puzzlement.  It was as though he were not quite sure whither his story were going to lead him.

The gambler nodded encouragingly.

“Bully,” he murmured, turning his eyes just for one moment in the little man’s direction.  But it was only for a moment.  The next he was staring absorbedly out at the bush opposite, like a man lost in some train of thought far removed from the matter in hand.  His beady eyes stared unsmilingly, but with curious intentness.

However, Scipio was far too much concerned with what lay before him to think of anything else.  But the sharply spoken encouragement spurred him, and he went ahead.

“Now, maybe you both heard tell how God made this funny old world for us to live in,” he went on, endeavoring to give lightness to his manner.  “He made Sufferin’ Creek, too ”

Toby coughed, and Sandy whispered audibly to him.

“I don’t guess Zip ought to run Sufferin’ Creek in this yarn,” he said seriously.  “Sufferin’ Creek don’t seem right in a Bible talk.”

Scipio waited, and then, ignoring the comment, labored clumsily on.

“Now, I’m goin’ to tell you a yarn about it.  Y’see, kiddies y’see, ther’ weren’t a heap o’ folk around when God first fixed things right ”

“Jest one man an’ a snake,” interrupted Sandy in his informative way.

“Shut up,” whispered Toby, prodding him with his elbow.  Sandy scowled, but remained silent.

“Wal,” continued Scipio, “as I was sayin’, He jest made one sort o’ sample man an’ a snake.  An’,” he added, suddenly brightening under inspiration, “He sot ’em in a garden, an’ called it the Garden of Eden.”

Little Vada suddenly clapped her hands.

“Yes, an’ it was all flowers an’ an’ fruit,” she cried ecstatically.

Jamie’s eyes were dancing with delight, too, but he remained silent, waiting for developments.

The members of the Trust looked on with the deepest interest.  Each man’s face wore a half-smile that is, all except the gambler’s, who still appeared to be absorbed in his own thought and the bush opposite.  But the interest of these men was less in the little man’s story than in a speculation as to when he was going to break down, and yield his tutelary attitude before a battery of infantile questions.

However, Scipio was still in a fairly strong position.

“Well,” he agreed, “I do guess ther’ was fruit ther’, but I don’t guess it was a fruit ranch exactly.  Maybe it was sort of mixed farmin’.  Howsum, that don’t matter a heap.  Y’see, ther’ was heaps an’ heaps of animals, an’ bugs, an’ spiders, an’ things an’ jest one man.”

“Ther’ was a woman,” corrected the irrepressible Sandy.  “That’s dead sure.  They got busy on one of the man’s ribs an’ made her.  Ain’t that so, Toby?”

He turned to the squat figure beside him for corroboration, but Sunny took up the matter from across the semicircle.

“You’re a wise guy,” he exclaimed scornfully.  “Can’t you kep from buttin’ in?  Say, I’d hate to know sech a heap as you.”

Just for an instant Wild Bill turned his sharp eyes on his companions.

“Shut up you’se all,” he cried.  And promptly Scipio was allowed to continue his story.

“Now, ’bout that garden,” he said thoughtfully.  “Y’see, God told that feller he wasn’t to pick no fruit.  Y’see, I guess it was needed fer cannin’ or preservin’.  Maybe it was needed for makin’ elegant candy.  I don’t know rightly ”

“You’re talkin’ foolish,” exclaimed Sandy, jumping up excitedly.  “Cannin’?” he cried scornfully.  “They didn’t can fruit them days.”

“Maybe you’re right,” said Scipio apologetically.

“I know I am,” snorted Sandy.

“Then shut up,” cried Bill, without turning his head.

“Anyhow,” went on Scipio, when all argument had ceased, “it was jest up to that feller not to pick that fruit.  An’ he didn’t mean to neither, only he got kind o’ friendly with that snake ”

Little Vada jumped up.

“I know I know,” she cried, in the wildest excitement.  “The snake made him eat an apple, an’ then the rain came down, an’ poured an’ poured ”

“Poured an’ poured,” echoed Jamie, jumping to his feet and dancing around his sister.

“That’s so,” admitted Scipio, in relief.

“Poured nothin’,” murmured Sandy under his breath.  “He’s messin’ up the whole yarn.”

But as his comment didn’t reach the father’s ears he went on placidly.

“Wal, the rain poured down,” he said, “so they was nigh drownded ”

“Why’d the rain tum?” suddenly inquired Jamie with interest.

“Ah!” murmured Scipio.  Then he added brightly, “Because he picked the fruit.”

“Y’see,” explained Vada, with sisterly patronage, “he didn’t orter picked the apple.”

Jamie nodded without understanding.

“’Ess.”

“Wal,” went on Scipio, taking advantage of the pause, “he was nigh drownded, an’ he had to swim an’ swim, an’ then he built himself a ranch.”

“Barn,” cried Sandy, unable to keep quiet any longer.  “It was a barn to kep his stock in.”

“Ark,” said Toby decidedly.  “He built a Nore’s Ark same as toys kiddies plays with.”

“But Bill said Sunny’s yarn goes,” protested the troubled Scipio.  And, receiving an affirmatory nod from the preoccupied gambler, he went on.  “Wal, he set that ranch afloat, an’ put out a boat an’ rescued all the other animals, an’ bugs, an’ spiders, an’ things, an’ then set out a duck to see how things was going ”

“Not a duck, Zip,” said Sunny, shaking his head sorrowfully.

“Course not,” agreed Sandy scornfully.

“Pigeon,” suggested Toby.

But little Vada saved the situation.  She jumped to her feet, dragging Jamie with her.  Her dark eyes were shining, and her round little cheeks were scarlet with excitement.

“It wasn’t a duck, nor a pigeon, nor nothin’ but a parrot,” she declared.  “Momma told us.  He sent out a parrot; an’ it flew, an’ flew, an’ flew.  An’ then it come back to the ark, carryin’ a tree in its beak.  An’ then Nore knew there wasn’t no more rain, nor nothing, an’ they turned his wife into a pillow o’ salt ’cos she’d made him eat the apple.  An’, pop-pa, tell us another.”

“’Ess, a nudder,” cried Jamie, his chubby fat legs wabbling under him as he danced about “a nudder a nudder a nud ”

But his lisping request was never completed, for, without a word of warning, Wild Bill suddenly leapt from his seat, and, with a wave of his arm, swept the two children sprawling into their father’s lap, while he charged across the clearing.  Just for a fraction of a second he paused as he closed on the bush he had so long contemplated, and his friends heard his voice in a furious oath.

“You son of a !” he roared; and simultaneously there was a flash and a sharp report from his gun another, and yet another.  Then he vanished into the bush, his smoking revolver still in his hand ready for use, followed, with no less speed, by Toby and Sandy Joyce.

For a moment Scipio stared; but Sunny Oak seemed to grasp something of the situation.  He flung himself before the two children, his right hand gripping a revolver which he always carried concealed amongst his rags.  And at the same moment the gambler’s voice came back to him.

“Huyk them kids right back to the store, an’ kep ’em there!” it cried.  And instantly the indolent loafer, with a movement almost electrical in its swiftness, seized Vada in his arms and dashed off up the hill, followed by the little father, bearing the screaming Jamie in his.

Inside the bush the three men searched, with eyes and ears alert in the fashion of furious terriers.  The branches and inner leaves were spattered with blood, showing that the gambler’s shots had taken some effect.  The ground, too, was covered with footprints.

With a rush Bill set off trailing the latter, and so soft was the ground that he had little or no difficulty in the matter.  The trail took them along the creek bank, and here and there a splash of blood warned them that their quarry was severely wounded.

But, even so, they were doomed to disappointment.  Thirty yards from the clearing they came to a spot where the moist soil was well beaten with horse’s hoofs, and here the human footprints ended.  All three men stared out down the creek.  And then it was that another furious oath escaped the gambler’s lips, as he beheld a racing horseman making good his escape, more than a hundred yards below them.

For some moments Wild Bill stood raging impotently.  Then he turned on his companions, with a perfect devil glaring out of his ferocious eyes.

“God’s curse light on ’em!” he roared.  “It’s James’ gang.  May his soul rot.  I’ll get ’em!  I’ll get ’em!  They’re after those kids.  But, by the wall-eyed Mackinaw, they shan’t touch a hair o’ their heads as long as I’m a livin’ man.  It’s war, boys!  D’ye hear?  It’s him an’ me.  Me an’ James!  An’ I swar to God he’ll go down an’ out as sure as my name’s Wild Bill!”