Jed strolls into Henree's saloon, opens his coat and goes to the bar.
Henree picks up a mug and moves to the beer barrel.
Henree: Good evening, Jed.
Jed: G'day, Henree. Getting cold, isn't it?
Henree: Yeah. Winter'll be here before we know it.
Henree sets a beer in front of Jed.
Jed nods and pays.
Henree makes the coins disappear, remembering the days when he despaired of ever clearing Jed's tab.
Jed: So, I was wondering....
Jed: Since you've got a religious expert in your family now...
Jed: Well, I figure you'd have a better opinion than most, eh? What I wonder is, what's a Sime's prayer worth?
Henree has found religion a sore subject, lately.
Henree: Ask the Reverend. He could tell you, or most likely he'd say that a Sime praying is like a fish riding a bicycle.
Henree isn't happy about the Sime-friendly changes in his village, but he can't afford to alienate the now-solvent donors, and he's reluctant to completely alienate his daughter.
Jed: Well, I dunno about that. I got a letter from Ukoh, and he told me he's been praying God to bless me and my family and all our works ever since he got settled in Simeland.
Henree: Didn't notice that your pumpkins were any larger than anyone else's.
Jed: You didn't? Vrian's pumpkins were huge. He sold half of them to farmers in Hannard's Ford who wanted the seeds for next year.
Jed figures all that manure Vrian hauled out to his patch had a lot to do with it.
Jed: And they mostly grew so big toward the end of the season, after Ukoh would have started praying.
Jed sips his beer.
Jed: Cause and effect, right?
Henree: That was about the time your eldest left, wasn't it? And your Vrian had nothing to do but attend to his chores?
Jed: No, them pumpkins had turned into cash before Bart left.
Henree shrugs again.
Henree: Well, some say God will answer the prayers of even the worst sinner. I guess you could put Simes in that category.
Jed: Ukoh's doing the praying, I'm getting the benefit. Can't complain, can I? Pigs are doing real well, too. Sime-blessed pigs. Wonder if they'll taste any different.
Henree: If they do, be sure to invite me for dinner. I've never known prayer to hurt, though I've seen plenty of times when it didn't seem to help much. But if you think Ukoh's prayers are responsible for Vrian's pumpkins, maybe you could write back and ask him to pray for Virla to come back to her senses?
Jed: Near as I can figure, he's in the same church as her now.
Nergal quietly enters the saloon, unnoticed by Jed if not by Henree.
Nergal: Ukoh's prayers? What's that about? Hi, Henree. The usual.
Nergal sits by the bar, not too close to Jed.
Henree nods and starts drawing anther beer.
Henree: Jed got a letter from Ukoh.
Henree sets the brew in front of Nergal.
Nergal: Thanks. Really? Do you know what it said?
Henree refers the question to Jed with a glance.
Henree: Ask for yourself.
Henree isn't at all reluctant to see Jed put on the spot regarding his pro-Sime stance, since Jed appears to have come in for the express purpose of giving Henree a hard time.
Nergal grimaces but accepts Henree's refusal to talk.
Nergal: What did it say, Jed?
Jed: Boy's doing well. Got an apprenticeship with some kind of machinist, tool and die maker, something like that.
Jed sips his beer.
Jed: I remember you always telling him he'd never have the muscles to make a smith.
Nergal: Well, that don't matter much now, does it. But what's this about him praying? Simes don't have religion.
Jed: Some of them do. Ukoh does.
Jed keeps a straight face.
Jed: I was telling Henree here, that he'd been praying God to bless me and my family and all our works, and Vrian got a great pumpkin crop out of the deal. Pigs are doing well too.
Nergal: That's bull, Jed. The Sime's got a voice, he can mouth the words. But with no soul it's just talk. As for your Vrian's pumpkins, maybe he traded for some new seed?
Jed: Same seed as last year.
Jed wonders whether Nergal remembers how friggin dry it was last year.
Nergal waves his hand dismissively.
Nergal: Crops come and go, as you don't need a smith to tell you. It don't mean a thing.
Jed: You don't figure God has anything to do with it?
Nergal: God, yes. Simes talking, no.
Nergal drains the rest of his mug and pushes it forward for a refill.
Jed scratches his head in feigned puzzlement.
Jed: Well, we must be doing something right. We're looking forward to a much more comfortable winter than the last one.
Henree: You don't think that has something to do with the new roof you put on with the money the Simes gave you?
Jed: There's that. And the new wool shirts we've got. And the pigs to eat.
Nergal nods and smiles sardonically.
Henree: A lot of suffering can be cured with sufficient cash.
Jed spreads a hand.
Jed: God gave us the means to do a good deed and get paid for it.
Henree: Huh. I'm glad I'm not that desperate for cash.
Jed: Should listen to your daughter. You're wasting God's gift, she'd say.
Nergal: Hear the scoffer talk of God! What do you know of God, Jed the Unbeliever?
Jed: Here we are, doing what we just found out is what God really wants, and look, we're prospering.
Jed shrugs and spreads his hands again.
Jed: Makes sense, very logical.
Nergal half turns his back on Jed to show his contempt.
Henree snorts, and pulls another beer for Jed, whose first one is getting low.
Henree: Next thing, Jed, you're gonna be saying that it rained this year because you're kissing Simes. Only thing is, it rained on everyone's farm, and about the same.
Jed finishes the first beer.
Jed shrugs again.
Jed: God works in mysterious ways. Huge pumpkins, though. On the other hand... notice how the whole town seems to be prospering? Maybe God has a kind of blunt aim with this stuff, eh?
Jed has a sip of his second beer.
Henree has noticed that: Jed and the other donors have promptly spent a lot of their donation payments in buying goods and services from their non-donating neighbors.
Jed: Noticed a lot of new boots and clothes around, kind of a surprise after the bad crops most farmers had, what with planting late because of the rain.
Henree: In that case, Jed, how do you know that all this prosperity isn't the effect of Reverend Kallan's prayers for Gumgeeville? After all, his cousin's spread is close by yours. In fact, your boy's pumpkin patch is planted just across the creek from Kit's wheat field, isn't it?
Jed: Preacher's been here, what, fifteen years? Ukoh's only been praying in his Sime church for a few months. Virla and her friends, too.
Henree: Yeah, but the Reverend's been doing a lot more praying for each of the faithful, since there are fewer folk attending his church these days.
Nergal: He prays for the unfaithful too, that they should return to the flock, mostly.
Henree: Now, following your logic, and your observation that God's aim might be a bit diffuse, don't you think that maybe your boy's pumpkins were the beneficiary of increased prayers by the Reverend for his cousin, with them having their first baby and all?
Henree is pulling Jed's leg, and ~~ enjoying ~~ it.
Nergal: [angrily] I don't see that the two of you have got any call to go making fun of faith.
Henree: You ever known me to do that, Nergal? I'm just showing Jed how easily his "logic" can be turned the other way.
Nergal grumbles and subsides, pulling on his drink.
Henree: Now, if Jed here can get Ukoh to pray for my Virla to start acting sensibly again, and it happens... now, that would be a real miracle.
Jed: Ukoh's praying for you and the rest of his family, too, Nergal.
Nergal: He always was a generous-hearted boy, huh.
Henree: He was. How were your pumpkins, Nergal?
Nergal: I didn't buy 'em from Vrian, that's for sure.
Nergal gets almost all his vegetables in trade for farriery and occasional ironmongery.
Nergal: But it ain't how big a pumpkin is that makes the difference to how it tastes, Henree.
Henree: True enough.
Nergal: And it ain't, to say the same thing, how many words a man uses that tells if his prayers will be answered.
Henree: I suppose we'll find out the truth soon enough. Until then, we have our faith.
Nergal: Well, some of us do.
Nergal jerks his thumb over his shoulder at Jed.
Henree: Let's hope that we're enough.
Jed sips his beer.