from Popular Magazine
The Prophet Man
by Ellis Parker Butler
The two men shuffled along the country road, the white man in front and the negro a dozen paces behind. For a full mile they had not spoken. Now the negro spoke.
"Ah'm goin' quit," he said sullenly. "Mah feet is so sore Ah jus' can't walk no mo'."
"Your feet!" said the white man angrily "Do you think you have the only feet in the world? Look at my foot. It's bleeding."
"Uh huh, you scrotch it when you clomb through that bahb-wire fence. 'Tain't nuffin'. But mah feet is dyin' wif misery. Ah can't walk no mo'."
He looked for a comfortable place to sit at the side of the road.
"An' Ah ain't goin' to walk no mo'," he said.
He hobbled to the fence at the side of the road, and dropped among the dusty weeds, leaning his back against a post.
The white man scowled at him.
"Quit, will you!" he snarled. "Throw me down now, after I've fed you and petted you and taken care of you five whole years? You good-for-nothing black loafer!" He changed his tone. "Look here, Sam," he said, "don't be a fool. There must be a town down this road a way. We're right on the edge of the Promised Land. I tell you. We're right on the edge of the land flowing with milk and honey. I've been down before and I've come up again, haven't I? When I get to this town I'll fix up some Death-to-Pain, and I'll sell twenty five bottles before night. I can do it, and I will do it."
"An' Ah'll set right here," said the negro stubbornly, "Ah'll set right here till Ah get ready to go about mah business. You go on away. You an' me is out of pardnership. You ain't nuffin' but a played-out old faker of a fraud, you ain't. Ah'm done wif you. Go on away!"
The red of anger flared in the white man's face.
"Give me that coat!" he shouted. "If that's what you want, you can quit, and stay quit. From now on I'm done with you for good, understand? Earn your own living. I tote you around and feed you and give you gin money, and then -- just because you are fool enough to buy tight shoes -- you throw me down. Take off my coat!"
Without a word, and without rising, the negro took off the coat and threw it into the dusty road, he threw the waistcoat after it. The white man stooped and picked them up. The coat was a well-worn evening coat, velvet-collared, such as was the style thirty years ago or more. The waistcoat, of a style some twenty years later, was cut very low. On the negro it disclosed a vast expanse of shirt front of wide red and white stripes, made almost indistinguishable by the dust accumulated during their long tramp.
The negro was as black as night, and his cranium was round and solid looking. As he sat against his post, a banjo case in the weeds beside him, his face had the stubborn, unreasoning look characteristic of a balking mule. His hat was of blue straw, shaped like a derby. It was a style much in vogue west of the Mississippi that year. The white man had no hat, and needed none, for his head was covered by a thick, waving mass of white hair which fell, below his shoulders, meeting and mingling, in front, with his long, heavy white beard. All this gave his head the effect of being much larger than the average, but the hair was, for the present, considerably compressed by a red bandanna handkerchief he had tied over it to protect its whiteness from the dust. For the rest his round shoulders were covered by a wrinkled frock coat, once black, the skirts of which reached below his knees and nearly to his ankles, nearly hiding his loose and equally wrinkled trousers. On his feet he wore a tattered pair of Indian moccasins. He was Old Doctor Moller, inventor and proprietor of "Old Doctor Moller's Death-to-Pain," and Sam had been for five years his banjo man.
Old Doctor Moller was temporarily, and, it began to seem, permanently down and out. Not infrequently he had struck temporary financial shoals, but things had been growing worse for several years. Hair and a negro with a banjo were no longer sufficient testimony to the efficacy of a medicine. The Death-to-Pain, once eagerly bought at a dollar a bottle, could be with difficulty given away.
Had hair, as in the old days, been sufficient guarantee Old Doctor Moller could have held his own. He had always been a great grower of hair. When he had been a young lawyer, back in Ohio, his hair had been a tangled black mass. Later, in Ohio, when principal of public schools, it had been a superb pillow of iron gray. Discharged from the schools for ample reasons Hadrian Moller had tried itinerant preaching for one summer, but the ease with which a traveling medicine man had drawn in the dollars cut short his preaching, and he took the road with Death-to-Pain.
He let his hair grow, and for years worked Indiana and Illinois, even to the outskirts of Chicago, annexing Sam during a trip through "Egypt" because he found other medicine men taking up this novelty. Those were his most prosperous days and nights. Under a gasoline flare, with Sam to draw a crowd by means of a few songs, Old Doctor Moller was able to sell Death-to-Pain as rapidly as he could hand it out, and the belief in its virtues -- based mainly on his patriarchal head of hair -- was so great that he could work the same town year after year. Then came the Indian medicine shows. They drove Old Doctor Moller and many other old doctors out of the larger towns.
Old Doctor Moller himself stood in a crowd and watched the first Piute Indian Daglaw show. It was a fair competitor. Instead of a white-baited "old doctor" the salesman was rigged to represent a scout of the plains, and instead of Sam with his banjo one lone Indian in a red blanket beat on a tom-tom and chanted a weird tune. It struck Old Doctor Moller as a rather fair makeshift, not as good as white hair and a banjo man, but passable. To call the medicine "Indian Daglaw" instead of "Death-to-Pain," "King-of-Pain," or any of the names generally used seemed a clever idea. Old Doctor Moller, after the evening's business was over, shook hands with the Piute Indian Daglaw peddler and congratulated him.
But during the next three or four months he met dozens of Piute Indian Daglaw men. All the Piute Indians in existence seemed to have left the reservations to chant weird tunes under gasoline flares to assist the sale of Daglaw. Iowa seemed to have gone Daglaw mad. And the Piute Indian Daglaw shows grew, not only in number, but in importance. To the amusement-famished people, to many of whom a theater was a wicked place, the Daglaw shows were as thrilling as the most advanced vaudeville is today. The Daglaw shows broadened their entertainments, curtaining in whole city lots and bringing a dozen Indians, with squaws and papooses to set up tepees and dance the war dance. The Indian show became a vaudeville in fact, with negro minstrel jokes, black-face comedians, and sleight-of-hand performers, and the seats were crowded with those who gladly paid a dime for the dual privilege of seeing the show and buying a bottle of Daglaw for a dollar. Old Doctor Moller could no longer sell Death-to-Pain in the larger towns. He avoided them and kept to the villages.
But even the villages refused to buy Death-to-Pain. The one-Indian sellers of Daglaw, crowded out by the big Daglaw shows, scattered among the villages. A dozen Daglaw remedies appeared good for practically every ill man is heir to. Medicine users were becoming sophisticated. A head of hair and a negro with a banjo were no longer sufficient proofs of the merits of a medicine. An entire Wild West show was necessary to prove that something in a bottle would do something to a pain or an ache. Old Doctor Moller cut his price to fifty cents, and still Death-to-Pain would not sell. And Derlingport broke him!
He should never have gone to Derlingport, but he had a new idea. He put the price of Death-to-Pain back at one dollar a bottle, and arranged to give with each bottle a fine comb, a coarse comb, six lead pencil--, a quire of the meanest sort of writing paper ever made by man, twenty-five envelopes, a penholder, a cake of pink toilet soap, and a small parcel containing three slips of court-plaster -- white, flesh, and black. If anything could convince a perfectly well man that Death-to-Pain was a sure cure that should have done it, but to buy the gifts Old Doctor Moller was obliged to go to a town large enough to boast a wholesaler, and Derlingport was the nearest. He spent his last dollar for the notions, hired a buggy on tick, stood off the hotel, and opened at the corner of Marcy and Perry Streets one beautiful hot night.
For a few minutes, while Sam played the banjo and trolled his songs, a crowd stood gaping at the buggy. It was a good crowd -- a buying crowd -- as Old Doctor Moller knew, but as Old Doctor Moller arose to make his first appeal the thump of a bass drum sounded far up the street. It was the first night a Salvation Army parade appeared on the streets of Derlingport. Never before had Derlingport seen women in uniforms parade the streets and sing to the accompaniment of a drum and a bugle. The crowd turned and ran. Old Doctor Moller stared after it. Sam, too, stared for a minute, and then he jumped from the buggy and hurried to see the sight. Old Doctor Moller shut off his gasoline flare, snapped his valise, turned the buggy over to the waiting liveryman, and went back to the hotel. The next morning the hotel proprietor allowed him to depart, but without his baggage. Sam saved his banjo because he had learned not to trust it to the hotels. At night he pawned it at the nearest lunch counter in exchange for a piece of pie. In the morning he redeemed it with a nickel.
From this wreck of high hopes Old Doctor Moller saved nothing but a gross of Death-to-Pain labels. He always carried a gross in his pocket. With a gross of labels at hand, in the old days, fortune had been at his command. A man with a likely head of hair could always get credit at a local apothecary shop for a few empty vials and something bitter and yellow to color and flavor the Death-to-Pain. In the old days there was a code of honor among the "Old Doctors." The apothecary must be paid for his bottles. Otherwise the next comer might be in trouble. But times change. The apothecary had been superseded by the "druggist." Regular customers sometimes went so far as to pay their bills, and ready money was not a miracle any longer. The druggist had his shelves filled with patent medicines he wished to sell. He looked askance at any longhaired individual coming to seek empty vials. The druggist wanted to sell full vials. Old Doctor Moller wasted no time in Derlingport. He gave Sam his last nickel to get the banjo out of pawn, and together they took the first road out of town. Their goal was a village -- any village.
The road they took was the worst possible for them. Mile after mile of hot, dusty road led through hamlets too small to be of use, and through corn country. Noon passed without dinner. Night brought a grudging "hand-out" from a farmer's wife. They slept under the side of a straw pile. At another farmhouse they begged breakfast the next morning, and here Old Doctor Moller picked up an empty eight-ounce lemon-extract bottle in the yard, washed it out at the pump, and scraped the extract label from its side. He pasted a Death-to-Pain label on it, filled it with well water, and put it in the pocket of his coattail. It might come handy.
By nine o'clock Sam was complaining of sore feet. By noon he was limping painfully and complaining to himself.
"Take off your shoes, you idiot, and your feet won't hurt!" growled Moller.
"Ah ain't no idiot, neether," groaned Sam. "Don' Ah know ef Ah take off mah shoes Ah ain't goin' ever get 'em on again? An' don' you call me no names."
About one o'clock they stole a few ears of green horse corn and roasted them over a fire beside the road. At three o'clock Sam gave up. He could walk no more.
Moller turned away with the dress coat and waistcoat over his arm.
"Hi!" Sam yelled. Moller turned.
"Ah wants mah bandanna. You goin' be a thief as well as an ol' faker fraud? Gimme mah bandanna."
"Take it!" he said, removing it from his head and throwing it at the negro. He hesitated.
"Look here!" he said. Sam looked up from his job of rubbing his sore feet. "I'll give you this coat and vest for those shoes."
Sam threw the shoes into the road.
"Take "em," he said. Moller threw the coat and vest at the negro. He gathered up the shoes, and went to the opposite side of the road and put them on.
"You good-for-nothing black rascal!" said Moller. "I ought to come over there and beat you up. Treating me like this when I've treated you like a king. Like a crowned king, that's how I've treated you. Cuddled you like a baby. But I'm done with you. Understand that?"
"Good reason why yo' don' beat me up," said Sam, rubbing his feet. "'Cause you can't. Who's you? Nuffin but a played-out old faker fraud. Ol' big-mouf fooler, dat what yo' are. Fool dis negro, fool de folks, fool ev'body. But yo' can't fool me no mo'. No, sah! Ah got wise."
Moller tied his shoestrings, and arose.
"If you ever cross my path," he said, his voice trembling with rage, "I'll skin you alive. I'll cut your liver out. And I mean it. You remember that."
"Seem like they's a lot o' no 'count noise round heah," said Sam carelessly. "Same ol' windbag bustin' out."
Moller turned and walked down the dusty road, leaving Sam grinning after him. At the end of a mile he found himself in the outskirts of a village. He picked up a strip of broken timber; dogs often barked at him when he walked. They seemed to recognize that he was peculiar. He passed two or three children, and they followed him, staring at his white locks. Other children joined them. Some of them hooted at him, but he paid no attention. The dirt path at the side of the road gave way to a single board laid on the ground. This became two boards laid side by side. This in turn gave way to an ordinary boardwalk, but Moller kept to the middle of the road. He held his way to the middle of the village, the children increasing in number. Down the middle of the struggling main street he walked, glancing to right and left, his eye seeking the drug store he knew must be in one of the buildings. Presently he saw it.
The walk before it was raised some four feet above the street bed, and the doctor turned abruptly and climbed to the walk, pulling one knee up, and raising himself awkwardly. He entered the drug store. As the aromatic odors smote his nose he forgot his weariness. He was in his proper place once more. He walked to the counter, and the druggist, replacing a large bottle on the shelf, turned to him. The druggist was a man of medium height, thin and very bald. His face was a bilious yellow and sharp-pointed, almost ratlike. His eyes were shrewd and greenish hazel. He waved his hand toward the door.
"Get out!" he said.
"Warm weather we are having," said Moller, ignoring the suggestion. "Good corn weather, I should say. Crops look fine hereabouts. Now, my name is Moller -- Doctor Hadrian Moller --"
"I know all about you" said the druggist, raising a hand and lowering it flat on the counter. "Yes, sir! And there's the door."
"Now you don't know all about me," said Moller, dropping his friendly lone. "As a matter of fact, my friend, you never heard of me, because I've never been here before. Don't be so fresh with me. I just want to transact a little business with you. I want a dozen empty bottles -- twelve twelve-ounce panel vials, if you have them. I'll pay for them tonight at nine o'clock. At nine, on the dot, you understand?"
"There's the door!" repeated the druggist.
"Now, see here!" said Moller pleadingly. "You aren't going to treat me that way, are you? All I want is a dozen bottles."
"All I want is for you to get out," said the druggist. "You can't buy a thing in this store. I know all about you. You're a cheap, low-down quack, and I heard you were coming, and I don't want to have any connection with you at all. I don't wan't my name to be mentioned with yours. They told me this camp meeting would bring you down here. I expected you."
"What camp meeting?" demanded Moller.
"The Willets camp meeting. Don't pretend you don't know."
"I give you my word I did not know there was a camp meeting here. What town is this? Willets?"
"Is this Willets? Is there a camp meeting?" said the druggist mockingly. "Are you going to get out of this store, or am I going to call somebody to put you out?"
"Are you going to sell me some bottles?"
"Oh, get out of this store! Get out of it!"
Moller's face, already reddened by the sun, turned a shade redder. He reached across the counter and grasped the rat-faced man by the shoulder and shook him as if he were indeed a rat. He threw him back against an open sponge drawer. He was mad with rage. He shouted imprecations, and still shouting them he walked out of the store, shaking his fists in the air. The small crowd of children still stood in the street, awaiting his reappearance. Moller stood on the edge of the raised walk and shouted at them, the words indistinguishable, so angry was he. As he became calmer he found words, and cursed the village of Willets and all the people in it.
The noise brought the shopkeepers and their customers to the doors. Those across the street crossed and stood below him, looking up at him curiously. Those farther away drew nearer that they might hear better. In a pause for breath Moller heard one of those below him speaking.
"It's the prophet man," he heard.
"Well, I don't think the world's goin' to end if he does say so," came the reply.
"Sure not!" said the other. "That's all nonsense."
Moller waited, his mouth open, ready to continue his tirade.
"But they do say he cures folks," said the man below him. "I've heard --"
Moller did not hear what he had heard. His eyes half closed for an instant in shrewd thought. Death-to-Pain was played out. There was no more money in it. Piute Indian Daglaw had killed it. Moller raised both his hands high above his head.
"I tell you the end of the world is at hand!" he shouted. "Woe! Woe to the town of Willets!"
None in the crowd seemed astonished by the words. They were evidently expected. Moller continued, raising his voice and beating the air with his arms, turning to one side and to the other. As he poured out predictions of dire calamity he watched the faces, trying to gather from them some idea of who the prophet man might be, and seeking to discover how he might profit by the mistake the crowd had made. He could not well ask those who were listening to him: "Who am I? What am I supposed to be doing this for? How do I make a living out of it?" He was sure of but one thing -- it was safe to predict the end of the world. He predicted it in twenty different fashions.
There was no applause, no ejaculations of "Amen!" or "God have mercy on us!" such as might have greeted such a tirade elsewhere. Those given to such enthusiasms were at the camp-meeting grounds. These people were interested in him as a curiosity only. They bad all heard of a prophet man, who, after living for years in a sort of sodden hermit state in the next county but one, had begun a series of wonderful cures, and who was wandering about the country predicting the end of the world and curing the sick. They had heard that be was coming toward Willets, probably to cause trouble at the camp meeting -- for prophets are always trouble makers, upsetting the usual routine of things -- and it was not strange that they mistook Old Doctor Moller for the other. Moller looked the part. He was doing his best to act it, too, but he began to wonder whether it was worthwhile.
Suddenly he remembered the discarded lemon-extract bottle he had filled with well water and which was in his coattail pocket. He reached for it with his right hand, and held his left aloft commandingly.
"Death-to-Pain!" he cried.
He had never attempted anything quite as brash as selling pure well water as a cure-all, but he was hungry.
"Death-to-Pain!" he shouted again. The extract bottle had become fixed crosswise in his pocket, and was hard to withdraw. He did not want the cork to come out, spilling the precious fluid in his pocket.
"My friends," he shouted, "I am here to tell you that the end of the world is coming, but I also bring you Death-to-Pain. From Maine to California --" he hesitated. The cork had slipped from the bottle. He placed his thumb over the neck of the bottle, while, with the free fingers of the same hand, he scratched in the interior of his pocket, trying to recover the cork.
"From the Atlantic," he said, pointing in one direction, "to the Pacific," he shouted, pointing in the opposite direction.
He stopped short. Hobbling down the main street, barefooted and with a coat and waistcoat under his arm, came Sam. He carried his banjo over one shoulder, and his eyes were fixed on Moller. He was hot; he was dirty, and on his face shone a glare of crafty hatred. There was the "boss" with a goodly crowd around him, ready, no doubt, to dispose of many bottles of Death-to-Pain at a dollar a bottle, and here was himself, tired, footsore, and penniless, a victim of undeserved adversity. It was not to be borne. His one thought was to get even with the old "faker fraud," unless, indeed, Moller was willing to divide.
"Hol' on! Hol' on!" Sam shouted, quickening his pace, and the crowd turned its heads and looked at him.
"Pay no attention to that worthless black rascal!" shouted Moller. "I know him well. He is an offspring of the devil, following me about the world to annoy me."
"Me a black rascal! Me offspring of de debbil!" cried Sam. "Ah show you whut Ah am, you ol' faker fraud! Ah comin' right up dab an' show you!"
He grasped his banjo case as a club, and the crowd parted to let him through.
There was going to be a fight. Moller picked up the piece of broken fence board he had dropped to the walk when he began his harangue. Sam put his knee on the edge of the raised walk. Old Doctor Moller, the extract bottle free from his pocket at last, held the thumb-stoppered bottle in his right hand, and brought the piece of fence board down on the top of Sam's head.
"Woof!" grunted Sam. The board, wider at the lower end, split, leaving no more than a long, thin splinter in Moller's hand, but Sam did not know this. His blue straw derby hat was crushed down over his eyes, and he could see nothing. The blow of the board, hitting the top of his head, had bumped his chin against the edge of the walk. He was dazed. For a moment or two he made swimming motions with his hands and arms, warding off expected blows, and then he dropped to his knees and crawled under the raised walk. The crowd laughed. Several small boys bent down and stared under the walk. Sam had crawled as far in as he could go. He was sitting hunched down, rubbing the top of his head. The impromptu prophet had won the first round. Hadrian Moller, however, had no intention of waiting until Sam came out again. He had more than a suspicion that when Sam came forth he might have a brick in his hand. Moller turned away. He wanted to get out of that town.
"Say! Prophet! Wait!"
Old Doctor Moller looked back. The hail came from an old top buggy that was coming down the street, drawn by an old gray horse and driven by a woman, sunbonneted and dressed in a blue cotton dress. She was slapping the reins on the horse's back with one hand and waving the other at Moller. Humped down in the seat beside her was an old man. He held the edge of the seat with one hand, and with the other tried to ease his back, but his face was turned hopefully toward Moller. He was old Pardee Dellman, chair ridden for five years and reputed incurable, and his wife was bringing him to the prophet. To her his lame back had always seemed a just visitation, well earned by his general meanness and special sinfulness, but he was harder to bear when sick than when well. It was said that the doctors could not cure him, but no doctor could be found who would admit he had ever tried. Old Pardee and his wife were a little close in money matters.
The old horse was coming as rapidly as he could, but he had two stiff forelegs and traveled with difficulty. The crowd, recognizing old Pardee's rig, swayed expectantly. The show was getting better every act; they might see the prophet perform a cure before their very eyes.
"Wait! She's calling to you! She wants you!" some one shouted to Moller. "Hold on! We won't let the darky hurt you."
Moller came back. The old white horse stumped up to the raised walk, and Mrs. Dellman stepped out of the buggy. Old Pardee craned his neck around the buggy top to see the prophet better,
"I saw you passin' the house, prophet," said Mrs. Dellman. "I've heard tell a lot about the cures you make, and I've got faith in 'em, but it never struck me you might do Pardee good until you'd got out of sight. So I hitched up and got him into the buggy and come after you. I reckoned you'd be going toward camp meeting."
"Ain't no use," said old Pardee. "I'm beyond help. Can't nobody help me."
"Keep still!" said his wife sharply. "Nobody knows what a curer can do until he tries it." She turned to Moller again. "How you goin' to cure him?" she asked.
Moller shook the bottle of well water. He looked at old Pardee doubtfully.
"What ails him?" he asked.
"Crook in the back," said the wife. "He's been bent up like that land knows how long. It come on him on account of his sins."
"Get him out of that buggy," said Moller roughly. "I don't know whether I can cure him or not. I've got something in this bottle that'll cure all the ills of flesh and bone, but I can't cure a sinner. Get him out and I'll try."
A couple of men half dragged, half lifted old Pardee from the buggy. He groaned loudly, and they had to hold him up to keep him from falling. Some one brought a chair from the barbershop next door to the druggist's. They put old Pardee in it.
"Take off his coat! Take off his shirt!" commanded Moller, and the men obeyed, assisted by the old man's wife. Moller pushed his coat sleeves to his elbows.
"Friends," be said, in a loud voice, "I do not claim to cure such cases as this. I claim the man cures himself, helped by the contents of this bottle. If the man remains in sin, I cannot cure him. If I cure him, the man is free from sin." He held the bottle aloft. "Death-to-Pain!" he said.
He poured some of the well water into the hollow of his hand and rubbed it gently up and down the bony spine of the old sinner. Old Pardee groaned. He groaned entirely too much and too loud to suit Old Doctor Moller, and Moller slapped him on the back with the flat of his hand. It was no gentle pat. The groans ceased, and Moller rubbed more vigorously.
A brick, coming from the edge of the crowd, hit the top of the buggy and bounded onto the walk beside Moller. It had come from Sam, who had crept along under the walk until he was beyond the crowd.
"Old faker fraud!" he shouted. "Ah goin' to show you up! Ah goin' give you away. Listen, folks, Ah know whin in dat bottle. Well water! Nuffin' but plain ol' well water. Ah seen him pick up de bottle offen a garbage pile; Ah seen him wrench it out at de well; Ah seen him fill it wif well water at de well an' shove it in his pocket. He nuffin' but an ol' faker fraud."
He raised his hand to throw another brick, but two men grasped his arms. Moller raised his hand and brought it down on old Pardee's back with a slap that could be heard to the end of the village. He was mad all through. He had had enough of the prophet business. Old Pardee, receiving the blow unexpectedly, fell sprawling out of the chair and to the walk on his hands and knees. He, too, was mad all through. He scrambled to his feet and shook his fist under Moller's nose.
"Glory! Glory!" shouted his wife. "He's cured! He's cured!"
"Shut up!" said old Pardee. "I ain't neither cured."
"He's cured! He's cured!" his wife shouted. "He can walk! He's cured!"
"Quit your hollerin' an' gimme my shirt," said old Pardee angrily. "I ain't cured, and I won't stay cured, and I know it."
"Old faker fraud!" yelled Sam, struggling to be free. "Nuffin' but well water."
"He's cured! The prophet cured him!" cried Mrs. Dellman. "I knew he would."
"'Tain't nuffin' but well water!" shouted Sam.
Mrs. Dellman was kissing the prophet's free hand. She would have kissed his shoes if they had not been so dusty. Old Pardee, clothed again, was losing his anger. There could be no doubt that he was able to stand fairly, because all saw him standing fairly erect.
"What's in that bottle?" he asked gruffly.
Old Doctor Moller hesitated. If he had had a dozen bottles at hand to sell to the crowd, he would not have hesitated. The contents of the bottle would have been Death-to-Pain then. But he had no more bottles. He looked out to where Sam was still shouting.
"Well water," said Moller. He turned the bottle upside down and allowed the remaining water to gurgle out.
"Well, maybe he cured him, and maybe he didn't, but he helped him a lot," said some one in the crowd. "A regular doctor couldn't do it with plain well water."
"Nope. I always did say there was something in these curer fellows. I heard a lot about this one."
Mrs. Dellman could not lead her husband back to the buggy because he was hedged in by twenty curious men and women, anxious to see the cured man.
"I hear you don't take pay for curing," she said, "but you let folks take up a collection, don't you?"
"A man must live," said Moller. He began to see where the prophet business might be worthwhile. Mrs. Dellman removed her sunbonnet. She dropped a quarter of a dollar in it and passed it among the crowd. "He didn't ask me to do it," she said, as she moved from one to the other. "He won't take regular pay for curing."
The small change jingled into the sunbonnet briskly. Sam ceased struggling; his eyes bulged.
"'Tain't nuffin' but well water," he said. "I seen him pump --"
"That's all it was," said Mrs. Dellman triumphantly. "Won't you give a cent or two?"
"Ain't got a cent," said Sam. "Lady, did dat ol' faker fraud cure dat man for a fac'?"
"Of course he did. Didn't you see him?"
"What he tryin' to sell you?"
"Nothing. He will not take pay for curin'. He is one of God's own people. I recognized him from afar."
She turned away, seeking more contributors. She carried the sunbonnet to Moller and emptied the money into his hand.
"Are there any other sick?" shouted Moller. He waited. There seemed to be none. Those in the crowd looked from one to another, but none came forward. From where he was held, Sam had heard the jingle of the money as Moller emptied it into his pocket. He saw old Pardee Dellman climb into his buggy himself, unassisted. A great doubt assailed him. He knew Death-to-Pain. He knew it was water and quinine and burned sugar, and he knew it was a fraud to sell the stuff as medicine to cure all ills, but -- well water! Well water and the end of the world! He tugged to be free.
"Lemme go!" he said. "Ah ain't goin' throw no more bricks. Ah don' want to hurt him. Ah jus' wants to speak to him."
"What have you got to say to him?" his captors asked.
"Ah jus' wants to say somefin' to him," said Sam, and his captors led him, limping, to the edge of the walk. Moller ran his hand through his mass of white hair.
"Boss!" said Sam pleadingly.
"I don't know you," said Moller. "You go your way, and I'll go mine."
"Ah know!" said Sam. "Ah know Ah ain't acted right. Ah ain't goin' make no excuse fo' dat. Ah don't want no money. Ah don't want nuffin' what yo' got. An' Ah know yo' ain't got no use fo' me no mo'. Ah jus' want to say Ah misunderstood yo', boss. Ah thought yo' was an old faker fraud what want to sell well water fo' medicine. Ah ain't knowed yo' was a prophet man. Yo' ain't ever tol' me dat."
"Well, what do you want?" asked Moller.
"Ah jus' wants to ask yo'," said Sam pleadingly, "ef yo' got enough of dat well water lef to cure mah po' feet. Is you, doc?"
"'Doc?'" said Moller. "Is that the way you speak to me?"
"Is yo', mistah prophet, please?" asked Sam humbly.
Old Doctor Moller, a twinkle of triumph in his eyes, clambered down from the walk and crossed the street and refilled the extract bottle at the town pump. Until then he had been in doubt. Now he was sure he was a prophet man. Sam had converted him!