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 Between the fishermen of Sandtown and the farmers of the community existed no very strong bond of sympathy or friendship. The former were a dissolute, shiftless lot, quite content, with draw-seine and pound-net, to eke out a miserable existence in the easiest manner possible. They were tolerated just as the poor and shiftless of any community are tolerated; their children were allowed to attend the school the same as the children of the tax-payers.  
Each spring the farmers attended the fishermen's annual bee of pile-driving, which meant the placing of the stakes for the pound nets—a dangerous and thankless task. Wet, weary and hungry, they would return to their homes at night with considerable more faith in the reward that comes of helping one's fellow-men than in the promise of the fishermen to keep them supplied, gratis, with all the fresh fish they needed during the season.
As far back as any of the farmers could remember the fishermen had made that promise and in no case had it been fulfilled. So they came, in time, to treat it as a joke. Nevertheless, they were always on hand to help with the pile-driving. They were an old-fashioned, simple-hearted people, content with following the teachings of their good Book—"Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days."
And find it they did, ultimately, in a mysterious and unexpected way. One late June morning each of the farmers who had for season after season toiled with those fishermen without faintest hope of earthly reward awoke to find a mess of fresh lake fish hanging just outside their respective doors. It was a great and wonderful revelation. The circuit minister, Rev. Mr. Reddick, whose love for and trust in his fellow-men was all-embracing, wept when the intelligence was imparted to him, and took for his text on the Sunday following a passage of scripture dealing with the true reward of unselfish serving. It was a stirring sermon, the rebuke of a father to his children who had erred.
"Oh ye of little faith," he concluded, "let this be a lesson to you; and those of you, my brothers, whose judgment of humanity has been warped through God-given prosperity, get down on your knees and pray humbly for light, remembering that Christ believed in His fishermen."
At the conclusion of the service, Deacon Ringold called a few of the leading church members together and to them spoke his mind thus:
"Brothers, you heard what our minister said, an' he's right. I, fer one, am ashamed of the thoughts I've thought to'rds them fishermen of Sandtown. I've acted mean to 'em in lots of ways, I'll admit. An' so have you—you can't deny it!"
The deacon, a florid, full-whiskered man of about sixty, glowered about him. No one present thought of disputing his assertion. The deacon was a power in the community.
"I tell you, brothers," he continued, waxing eloquent, "the old devil is pretty smooth and he'll get inside the guard of Christianity every time unless we keep him barred by acts of Christly example. I have been downright contemptuous to them poor sand folks; I have so! Time and ag'in I've refused 'em even the apples rottin' on the ground in my orchard. Now, I tell you what I'm goin' to do. I'm goin' to load up my wagon with such fruit an' vegetables as they never get a smell of, an' I'm goin' to drive down there and distribute it among 'em. I ain't suggestin' that you men do likewise—that's between you and your conscience—but," he added, glaring about him, "I'd like to know if any of you has any suggestions to make."
A tall, sad-visaged man rose slowly from his seat and took a few steps up the aisle. Like the others he was full bearded; like them his hands bore the calluses of honest toil.
"Fisherman Shipley wanted to buy a cow from me on time," he said. "I refused him. If you don't mind, Deacon, I'll lead her down behind your wagon tomorrow."
Ringold nodded approval. "All right, Neighbor Watland. Anybody else got anythin' to say?"
A short, heavy set man stirred in his seat, and spoke without rising. "I'm only a poor workin'-man, without anythin' to give but the strength of my arm, but I'm willin' to go down and help them fishermen build their smoke-houses. I'm a pretty good carpenter, as you men know."
"That you are, Jim," agreed the deacon heartily. "We'll tell 'em that Jim Glover'll be down to give 'em a hand soon."
One by one others got up and made their little offers. Cobin Keeler, a giant in stature, combed his flowing beard with his fingers and announced he'd bring along a load of green corn-fodder. Gamp Stevens promised three bags of potatoes. Joe Scraff, a little man with a thin voice, said he had some lumber that the fishermen might as well be using for their smoke-houses. Each of the others present offered to do his part, and then the men separated for their several homes.
"Understand, brothers," the deacon admonished as they parted, "we must be careful not to let them poor, ignorant people think we're doin' this little act of Christianity because they've seen fit to fulfill their promise to us regardin' fish. That would spoil the spirit of our givin'. Let not one man among us so much as mention fish. Brotherly kindness, Christian example. That's our motto, brothers, and we'll foller it."
"You're right, Deacon," spoke Cobin Keeler.
"He's always right," commented Scraff, who owed the deacon a couple of hundred dollars. "An'," he added, "while we're hangin' strictly to Bible teachin', might it not be a good idea fer us not to let our left hand know what our right hand's doin'?"
"Meanin' outsiders?" questioned Keeler.
"Outsiders and insiders as well; our wives fer instance." Scraff had a mental vision of a certain woman objecting strenuously to the part he hoped personally to play in the giving.
"Humph," said the deacon, "Joe Scraff may be right at that. Maybe it would be just as well if we kept our own counsel in this matter, brothers. Tomorrow mornin', early, let each of us prepare his offerin' and depart fer the lake. We'll meet there and make what distribution of our gifts as seems fair to them cheats—I mean them poor misguided fishermen," he corrected hurriedly.
And so they parted with this understanding. And when their footsteps had died away, a small, dusty boy crawled out from under the penitent bench, slipped like a shadow to a window, opened it and dropped outside.
By mid-afternoon Billy Wilson's boon companions had learned from him that a good-will offering was to be made the fishermen of Sandtown by the people of Scotia. It was a terrible disgrace—a dangerous state of affairs. The hated Sand-sharkers merited nothing and should receive nothing, if Billy and his friends could help it. Immediate action was necessary if the plan of the farmers was to be frustrated and the outlaw fishermen kept in their proper place. So Billy and his friends held a little caucus in the beach grove behind the school-house. For two hours they talked together in low tones. Then Billy arose and crept stealthily away through the trees. The others silently separated.
* * * * *
Sunset was streaking the pine tops with spun gold and edging the gorgeous fabric with crimson ribbons; the big lake lay like an opal set in coral. Fishermen Shipley and Sward, seated on the bow of their old fish-boat, were idly watching the scene when Billy Wilson approached, hands in pockets and gravely surveyed them.
Shipley was a small, wizened man with scant beard and hair. He wheezed a "Hello, Sonny" at Billy, while he packed the tobacco home in his short, black pipe with a claw-like finger.
His companion, a tall, thin man, grinned, but said nothing. His red hair was long and straggly; splashes of coal-tar besmeared him from the neckband of his greasy shirt to the bottoms of his much-patched overalls.
"What dye you want, boy?" Shipley's pipe was alight now and he peered down at Billy through the pungent smoke-wreaths.
"I was sent down here to give you a message, Mr. Shipley," said Billy.
"Well, what is it, then? Who sent you? Come now, out with it quick, or I'll take a tarred rope-end to you."
"It was Deacon Ringold sent me," Billy answered. "He told me to tell you that he's got to turn his pigs into the orchard tomorrow an' that you an' the other people here might as well come an' gather up the apples on the ground if you want 'em."
"What!" Shipley and Sward started so forcibly that their heads came together with a bump. "So the old skinflint is goin' to give us his down apples, is he?" wheezed Shipley. "Well, he ain't givin' much, but we'll come over tonight and get 'em. It's a wonder the old hypocrite would let us gather 'em on Sunday night, ain't it, Benjamin?" he addressed his companion.
"He's afeerd they'll make his hogs sick most like," sneered Sward.
"He says, if you don't mind, to come about ten or 'leven o'clock," said Billy.
Shipley threw back his head and chuckled a wheezing laugh. "Loramity! Benjamin," he choked, "can't you get his reason fer that? He wants to make sure that all the prayer-meetin' folks will be gone home. It wouldn't do fer 'em to see us helpin' keep the deacon's pigs from cholery. Ain't that like the smooth old weasel, though?"
"What'll I tell Mr. Ringold?" asked Billy as he turned to go.
"You might tell him that he's an angel if you wanter lie to him," returned Shipley, "or that he's a canny old skin-flint, if you wanter tell him the truth. I reckon, though, sonny, you best tell him that we'll be along 'tween ten and leven.
"That's a nice lookin' youngster," remarked Sward, as Billy was lost among the pines. "Notice the big eyes of him, Jack?"
"Yes. Oh, I daresay the boy's all right, Benjamin, but he belongs to them Scotians and they're no friends of ourn. I reckon I scared him some when I threatened to give him the rope, eh?"
"Well, he wasn't givin' no signs that you did," Sward returned, "he seemed to me to be tryin' his best to keep from laughin' in your face."
"By thunder! did he now?"
"Fact, Jack. Seems to me them young Scotians don't scare very easy. However," sliding off the boat, "that ain't gettin' ready for the apple gatherin'. Let's go and mosey up some sacks and get the others in line."
Shipley laid a claw-like hand on his friend's arm and turned his rheumy eyes on Sward's blinking blue ones. "Benjamin, we're goin' after the deacon's apples, but we ain't goin' to take no windfalls."
"You mean we'll strip the trees, Jack?" exulted Sward.
"Exactly. And, Benjamin, kin you imagine the old deacon's face in the mornin' when he sees what we've done?" And the two cronies went off laughing over their prospective raid.
* * * * *
Sunday-night prayer meeting was just over. The worshippers had gone from the church in twos and threes. Deacon Ringold had remained behind to extinguish the church lights and lock up. As he stepped from the porch into the shadows along the path, a small hand gripped his arm.
"Hello!" exclaimed the startled deacon. "Why, bless us, it's a boy! Who are you, and what do you want?"
Apparently the boy did not hear the first question. "Mr. Ringold," he whispered, "I waited here to see you. The Sandtown fishermen are comin' to rob your orchard tonight."
"What?" The deacon gripped the boy's arm and shook him. "What's that you say?" he questioned eagerly.
"I was down to the lake this evenin'," said the boy, "an' I heard Shipley and Sward talkin' together. They was plannin' a raid on your orchard tonight."
Mr. Ringold fairly gasped. "Oh, the thankless, misguided wretches!" he exclaimed. "And to think that we were foolish enough to feel that we hadn't treated 'em with Christian kindness. Did you hear 'em say what time they was comin', boy?"
"Yes sir. They said 'bout half-past ten."
"Well, I'll be on hand to receive 'em," the deacon promised, "and if I don't teach them thieves and rogues a lesson it'll be a joke on me. Now I must run on and catch up with Cobin Keeler and the rest o' the neighbors. They've got to know about this, so, if you'll jest tell me your name—why, bless me, the boy's gone!"
The deacon stood perplexedly scratching his head. Then he started forward on a run to tell those who had planned with him a little surprise gift for the fishermen of the perfidy of human nature.
That night the fishermen of Sandtown were caught red-handed, stealing Deacon Ringold's harvest apples. Like hungry ants scenting sugar they descended upon that orchard, en masse, at exactly ten-thirty o'clock. By ten-forty they had done more damage to the hanging fruit than a wind storm could do in an hour and at ten-forty-five they were pounced upon by the angry deacon and his neighbors and given the lecture of their lives. In vain they pleaded that it was all a mistake, that they had been sent an invitation via a small boy, from the deacon himself.
Ringold simply growled "lying ingrates," and bade them begone and never again to so much as dare lay a boot-sole on his or his neighbors' property. And so they went, and with them went all hope of a possible drawing together in Christian brotherhood of the two factions.
"Brothers," spoke the deacon sadly, as he and his neighbors were about to separate, "I doubt if we have displayed the proper Christian spirit, but even a Christian must protect his property. Oh, why didn't some small voice whisper to them poor misguided people and warn 'em to be patient and all would be well."
"It means, o' course, that we'll get no more fish," spoke up the practical Scraff.
"Oh yes you will," spoke a voice, seemingly above their heads.
"Oh yes you will," echoed another voice on the left, and on the right still another voice chanted. "You will, you will."
"Mercies on us!" cried the amazed deacon, clutching the fence for support. "Whose voice was that? You heard it, men. Whose was it?"
The others stood, awed, frightened.
"There was three voices," whispered Scraff. "They seemed to be scattered among the trees. It's black magic, that's what it is—or old Scroggie's ghost," he finished with a shudder.
"Joe, I'm ashamed of you," chided the white-faced deacon. "Come along to my house, all of you, and I'll have wife make us a strong cup of tea."
They passed on, and then from the sable-hued cedars bordering the orchard four small figures stole and moved softly away.
Once safely out on the road they paused to look back.
"Boys," whispered Billy, "she worked fine. Them Sand-sharkers are goin' to stay where they belong. An', fellers, seein' as we've promised fish, fish it's gotta be." And so was formed the Scotia Fish Supply Company.
Four shadowy forms drifted apart and were lost in deeper shadows. The golden moon rode peacefully in the summer sky.

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