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Chapter 2...continued

The Fruit of Deception; A Hasty Retreat

As we traveled further west, we presented our service in town after town. My addition was well received by the people of western Massachusetts, and the Travises were extremely pleased by the increased contributions I was generating.

“For the Lord’s work,” the Reverend said, “We’ll need money to establish ourselves when we reach the burned-over district.”

He went on about how we would use the money to gather a huge flock of converted souls and reap a magnificent bounty in the name of the Lord, and on and on, in like terms until by the end I couldn’t always tell when he was talking about souls and when about money. But I sensed we would not go hungry as we benefitted God and our fellow man. Any doubts I may have had were allayed by Mirabile; her goodness shone like the sun, how could she be anything but righteous?

By the time we got to Northampton, my cuts and bruises had completely healed. Even in the early days, the wounds looked much worse than they really they were, now they were barely visible at all.  Mirabile applied some paint to my face and made me look as hurt as the day of the fall, if not more so.

“For the parable.” She told me. 

By Pittsfield, my leg had healed as well. I no longer walked with a limp, and the Travises were not happy about that either. They gave me a crutch to walk with whenever I was to appear in front of a crowd.  In the back of the wagon was a trunk filled with costumes, makeup and the like. This seemed odd to me at first; then I remembered the minister at the Congregational Church wore a costume as well—a long black robe trimmed in white. There was more to this business than I yet understood.

Following each service, Mirabile would continue playing hymns while the Reverend and I passed through the crowd with baskets to receive donations.  It was not easy for me with a crutch and a basket moving among well-wishers intent on shaking my hand, but my infirmity brought out the best in people, and I always returned to the wagon with a full basket. Often Reverend Travis would curtail his collection duties midway through so he could stop and talk with one or more of the fashionable ladies who came to hear the word.  Sometimes he would go off with one of them, leaving word with Mirabile or me where and when we should later meet him. In Pittsfield, he left with a fine looking woman, impeccably dressed and not as old as his usual hosts. He told me to come by in two hours and gave me an address on Fenn Street.

Mirabile and I took the opportunity to do some shopping. We would be going to Albany next and thought it best to buy our groceries while still in farm country. As we shopped for vegetables, I asked Mirabile why her father always left with the ladies.

“He ministers to widows and old maids.” she said, “He gives them comfort, and they make sizeable donations.”

Her tone with me was short; I didn’t know if it was the answer or my asking that bothered her, so I asked no more on the subject. 

It was nearly sundown when we finished shopping and, though we were at least half an hour early, we took the wagon to the Fenn Street address and waited there for the Reverend. Mirabile was silent, and I was feeling blue. Something about the twilight in a strange town made me lonely. I longed to be back in the home that was no longer mine.

“Do you ever get tired of traveling, Mirabile?” I asked.

“What’s the matter, Jonathan? Do you miss your mother?”

“I never knew my mother.” I had told her this before; she had not remembered.

“I’m sorry.” She said, softening now. “I’ve been traveling so long it’s all I know.   I don’t know where I would light if I stopped.”

“I’m afraid that’s happening to me.”

“Don’t worry, Jonathan, you’re young yet, you could end up anywhere. You are good in front of a crowd; that could be your fortune.”

“I try to be as good as you.”

She smiled for the first time all day, then leaned over and kissed my cheek. “If that’s your ambition, you needn’t try so hard.”

I was happy that she was speaking again, but a kiss from her soft lips had me in ecstasy. It was short-lived, though. From across the street, we watched a man hurry up the front walk in into the Fenn Street address the Reverend had given us. 

“Uh oh.” Said Mirabile.

I was not sure why this man meant trouble, but I knew he did. Someone lit a lamp in the front room, and we could hear a man and woman arguing. It was muffled but loud enough to hear from across the street. Then, in the shadows by the side of the house, I saw another man carefully emerging from a window.  He hit the ground and ran toward the street. It was the Reverend; he was not wearing pants.

He saw the wagon and ran to it, climbed into the box, grabbed the reins and with a snap we left that house as fast as the horse could travel.

 “What happened?” Mirabile demanded.

“There was a misunderstanding.” The Reverend said, “You remember that nice lady I was speaking with this afternoon?”

“I remember.”

Well, she told me her husband was away. She was lonely and asked if I would come to dinner and tell her about the gospel. I would never miss an opportunity to spread the word, and I thought she might be good for a large donation, so I said yes. As it happened, her husband decided to come home early, and when he saw us together in an attitude of prayer, well he jumped to the wrong conclusion.”

“What happened to your breeches?”

“Another unfortunate confluence of events, I had spilled gravy on them during dinner and the dear lady offered to soak them for me and remove the stain. They were hanging to dry when the husband came in. Fortunately for me, he chose to express his displeasure to his wife and not to me, so I took the opportunity to flee through the window, sans breeches.”

“We are away; why the haste now?”  She asked. We had reached the outskirts of town, and the Reverend was still driving the horse at breakneck speed.

“This woman’s husband, as I learned upon his arrival—wearing his badge of office and a pistol in his belt— is the sheriff of Berkshire County. I won’t feel safe until we cross into New York, and maybe not even then.”