“Mr. Rowlands, I presume?” I extended my hand to the man strapping his steamer trunk onto the back of the autocarriage by the dock. He was dressed in a rumpled, dingy white suit and knee-high boots that, though recently polished, were battle worn with travel. Atop his head he sported a pith helmet with green smudges and brown water stains. The chin strap dangled against his lapels, swinging in time with his efforts to secure the steamer trunk.
“That would be me,” Rowlands said without turning to greet me.
“I’m Reverend Abernathy Longhurst,” I said.
“Is that supposed to impress me?”
“Don’t just stand there gawking, lad. Come aboard or be off with ye.”
I hesitated in the doorway. My father had more of my grandfather’s way about him now and for a moment I thought I had encountered a ghost. His shoulders stooped more than I remembered and he shuffled from foot to foot, showing some favor for his left foot. In his right hand he held his pipe, while his left hand filled the bowl with tobacco. Much of the tobacco fell to the floor due the tremor in his left hand. His hair was white as was the beard on his chin.
A ghost in broad daylight seemed unlikely, if there was any truth to the folklore and ghost stories. The annoying glances at me as his tamped the tobacco in place were more akin to my father. My grandfather would have slipped a mischievous grin my way along with a discreet wink. I stepped across the threshold removing my hat as I did.
“Good afternoon, Father,” I said trying to intimate my pleasure at seeing him with a forced smile. It felt false and it proved ineffective.
“It’s out of the question,” Bishop Elijah Turner said. “You have no idea of the education you are lacking for such a position. At your age, I suggest settling down and finding a wife. There are many ways you can contribute to the church without becoming a minister.”
“I grew up with a Christian education and since coming here, Benjamin has brought the gospel to life for me. I have attended Sunday services without fail, and I have read the Bible from cover to cover—twice. My brother has even provided his books from university so that I might gain from the wisdom of a great cloud of witnesses.”
“Good afternoon, Miss Primer,” I said. I stood in the open doorway to the schoolroom. Leslie Primer had her back to the empty desks, chalk in hand, multiplication formulas scratched out on the slate. “I hope I’m not interrupting.”
“You are, but my time isn’t nearly as important as yours, so I’ll oblige your interruption,” she said, though she continued to writer her formulas on the board. “How can I help you, Reverend?”
I’d seen him bend an iron bar thicker than my thumb, but I don’t always trust my eyes. I’ve seen tricks like this before where the bar has been tampered with or only appears to be iron, when in fact it’s a much weaker, more pliable metal. And I don’t let the fact that someone from the audience tried to bend it dispel my disbelief. Like a skillful magician, a moment of distraction or misdirection is all one needs to slip the true iron bar out of sight to be replaced with the phony. And even having an opportunity to examine the bar myself after he had twisted it up like a pretzel, I still had my doubts.