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The Fourth Watch

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Light and Shadow

Upon entering the house Mr. Westmore divested himself of his great-coat, and stood warming himself by the kitchen fire, while Mrs. Stickles bustled around, smoothing down the bedclothes and putting the room to rights in which her sick husband lay. The kitchen floor was as white as human hands could make it, and the stove shone like polished ebony. Upon this a kettle steamed, while underneath a sleek Maltese cat was curled, softly purring in calm content.

Dan, assisted by the little Stickles, stabled Midnight, after which he was conducted over to the back of the barn to enjoy the pleasure of coasting down an icy grade. The only sound, therefore, was Mrs. Stickles' voice in the next room as she related to "her man" the wonderful events which had just taken place. A slight smile of pleasure crossed the parson's face as he listened to her words and thought of the big honest heart beneath that marvellous tongue. The sun of the winter day was streaming through the little window and falling athwart the foot of the bed as Mr. Westmore entered the room and grasped the sick man's white, outstretched hand.

"God bless ye, sir," exclaimed Mr. Stickles, "fer what ye hev done fer me an' mine to-day. It ain't the first time by a long chalk. The Lord will reward ye, even if I can't."

"Tut, tut, man, don't mention it," Mr. Westmore replied as he took a seat by the bed. "And how are you feeling to-day, Mr. Stickles?"

"Only middlin', Parson, only middlin'. Simply joggin', simply joggin'."

Mrs. Stickles seated herself in a splint-bottomed chair, and picked up her knitting which had been hurriedly dropped upon the arrival of Pete Davis. How her fingers did work! It was wonderful to watch them. How hard and worn they were, and yet so nimble. The needles flew with lightning rapidity, clicking against one another with a rhythmical cadence; the music of humble, consecrated work. But when Mr. Westmore began to tell about Tim Fraser, and his sudden death, the knitting dropped into her lap, and she stared at the speaker with open-eyed astonishment.

"An' do ye mean to tell me," she exclaimed, when the parson had finished, "that Tim Fraser is dead?"

"Yes, it's only too true, Mrs. Stickles. Poor man--poor man!"

"Ye may well call 'im poor, Parson, fer I'm thinkin' that's jist what he is at this blessed minute. He's in a bad way now, I reckon."

"Hush, hush, Marthy," her husband remonstrated. "We must not judge too harshly."

"I'm not, John, I'm not, an' the parson knows I'm not. But if Tim isn't sizzlin', then the Bible's clean wrong," and the needles clicked harder than ever.

"It teaches us the uncertainty of life," replied Mr. Westmore. "It shows how a man with great strength, and health can be stricken down in an instant. How important it is to be always ready when the call does come."

"Ye're right, Parson, ye're surely right," and Mrs. Stickles stopped to count her stitches. "Wasn't John an' me talkin' about that only last night. I was readin' the Bible to 'im, an' had come to that story about poor old Samson, an' his hard luck."

"'It's very strange,' sez John, sez he to me, 'that when Samson lost his hair he lost his great strength, too....