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THREE WISE MEN

by Romaine H. Lowdermilk

Author of "The Spirit of His Youth," "Too Much Caution," etc.

THREE large, evil men lolled in sultry shade of "Spade" Gowdy's Nugget Saloon, watching one small, righteous man at work in the sun. It was far too hot to work, but Obadiah Higgins toiled painstakingly with the resiny pine planking of the curb over the newly dug saloon well. The three onlookers had struck a bargain with Obadiah and were only awaiting the completion of the task to enjoy seeing Obadiah take his strange payment.

The wait was not irksome, for Obadiah was a deft workman; besides, he had been working on that well-curb since early morning, and it was now nearly noon. Obadiah drove the last nail as carefully and surely as he had the first. Skillfully he planed down imperceptible rough spots; carefully he hung the new pulley-wheel in the exact center of the frame. In fact, it was a well-curb fit to grace any well in the little Eastern hamlet that had been his home town, instead of being set over a saloon well, a mere unpainted pine necessity in a squalid little gulch town like El Oro.

Obadiah paused a moment to inspect his handiwork. Obadiah was scrawny. Yes, Obadiah Higgins was scrawny. He couldn't have tipped the scales over one hundred and twenty at his prime—if he ever had any prime—and now he was well past his prime—fifty at least, gray, with a smoothly shaven face pleasantly furrowed. Cheery little wrinkles played about the comers of his eyes and humorous, up-turned ones were etched where his lips met in their not too firm line in front of his toothless gums. His nose was thin, too, like the rest of him, and ended in a little hook. His eyes—his wistful gray eyes that had always trusted everybody and just couldn't get over their puppylike faith in the goodness of everything—looked out hungrily on a world they seemed never to understand.

Obadiah had been cheated. He—he was—well, possibly there was something lacking. Forty years he had endured the raillery of thoughtless citizens of the little home town -back East—forty years of satirical gibes that alone would have been enough to shift the balance of a stronger mind than his. Finally one of the younger generation openly called him a —— fool. Obadiah, with a childlike faith that he could go "out West" and make good, summoned all his courage and bid the town good-by.

Ten years Obadiah pitted his frail strength against the stem odds of the gold country. Finally he drifted to El Oro. He could have been a skilled worker in fine woods elsewhere, but in El Oro he was a carpenter. While it was pitifully apparent he had been a failure all along, he still harbored eternal hope that he could, before the end, go back home and show them that he had "made good."

EVIDENTLY Obadiah decided the job was satisfactorily done, for he put away his tools and proceeded to reap his reward. Taking from his toolkit a tomato can half filled with a black fluid composed of lampblack and a dash of the camp's meager supply of kerosene, Obadiah knelt stifly before the curb and stirred expectantly with the caked brash that was mostly handle. Then, with infinite care, he printed on the glaring hot planks a big, boyish looking G. Repeating the process, he turned out an O, then a D.

"G-o-d—good," stated "Spade" Gowdy to his two companions in the shade.

"Good nothin'," corrected Jim Moore scornfully; "can't you read, Spade? That word ain't 'good'—hit's 'Gawd!'"

"Ho, him, eh? You mean our ol' Uncle Billy in heaven we ain't never seen and won't till we croak an' he tells us to go to ——? Him?"

"Boys!" Obadiah twisted around, balancing with a hand to the curb, and addressed the three. "Oh, I wish you wouldn't talk that way. It's—it's wicked, boys. Besides, it's not giving the Creator a square deal. I just wish you'd wait a minute till I get this printed. It'll be something real nice, boys."

"Well, turn around an' git a move on, thin," suggested Danny Carver. "Go ahead wid yer printin', and mind ye now, git off a. new one. I'm fed up wid readin' the old ones on ivry rock an' plank in the counthry. Go on, print us a new one."

"Naw," objected Spade Gowdy. "Let him quit right there. He's got 'nough. That one word tells the tale. Leave her stand as it is."

"Just put 'ain't hit hot' after that there word," broke in Moore. "That'll be a reg'lar he-platitude. Gord, ain't hit hot! I'm like Carver, I'm getting tired of 'Repent,' 'Seek ye the Lord,' and so forth, staring me in the face from every stone in Oro gulch. Give us a lively one, 'Parson.'"

"Nope," Spade Gowdy insisted stubbornly, "it's my well-curb and it's my say what goeth thereupon. I say——"

"You're wrong there, Spade," argued Moore. "You agreed to let Obadiah print any dad-gum thing on it he wanted to, long's he'd build it for you. Leave it to him, but for gosh sake let him pull off a new one."

With much stirring and many gyrations of his tongue against his cheek, Obadiah had placidly gone ahead, unmindful of the argument, and evolved the righteous sentence:

God is not Mocked.

" 'Gawd is not m-o-c-k-e-d.' Mock-ed. Moc-ke-d." Spade Gowdy struggled with the letters. "Neck-ed—hah, neckkid! Ol' parson out there says Uncle Billy Gawd ain't neckkid. How's he know? Heh, 'Parson,' how'd you know He 'ain't neckkid? Tell us that!"

Obadiah arose.

"Boys, I don't want to force the Word on you too much, but hark ye!" Obadiah's meek tones suddenly became clarion clear as he quoted: "'Unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.' Luke twelve, ten."

Stepping humbly to another side of the curb, he knelt, stirred and printed.

"Wow," mocked Spade, "ol' 'Postle Paul sure turned on the gas that time. Won't be forgiven, eh? What's the idee to beller so about that?"

"Say, Spade," Carver began earnestly, "faith I do wish ye'd a leetle more eddicacation; then ye wouldn't be foriver danglin' the sword of Damocles over us this way. If ye don't belave there's a Creator, keep shut about it like I do."

"Well, we-l-l!" gasped Spade in feigned astonishment. "Why, hello, St. Peter. When'd you quit tendin' bar in the Nugget Saloon and begin distributin' tracts. Say, you red-headed Irishman, if you want to begin preachin', get a paint-pot an' go to it—but come first inside an' paint a sign 'Bartender Wanted' and let me pay you off."

Carver only swore.

Presently, craning, the three shifted their positions in the shade to see what Obadiah had produced.

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