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Chapter 14

The captors of Dylks chose the Temple as the best place for keeping him till morning, when they could take him for trial to Matthew Braile; but they had probably no sense of the place where he had insolently triumphed so often as the fittest scene of his humiliation. They stumbled in a loose mob behind and before and beside him through the dim night, and tried to pass Redfield's guard to strike him with their hands or the sticks which they tore from the wayside bushes. At a little distance, a straggling troop of the believers followed, men and women, wailing and sobbing, and adoring and comforting their idol with promises of fealty, in terms of pathetic grotesqueness. A well-known voice called to him, "Don't you be afraid, God Almighty! They can't hurt a hair of your head," and the burst of savage mirth which followed Sally Reverdy's words, drowned the retort of a scoffer, "Why, there ain't hardly any left to hurt, Sally."

The noise of the talking and laughing and the formless progress of the mob hushed the nearer night voices of the fields and woods; but from a distance the shuddering cry of a screech-owl could be heard; and the melancholy call of a killdee in a pasture beside the creek. The people, friends and foes together, made their way unlighted except by the tin lantern which some one had caught from where it stood on Enraghty's gate-post.

With this one of the unbelievers took his stand at the door of the Temple after Redfield had passed in with his prisoner, and lifted it successively to the faces of those trying to enter. He allowed some and refused others, according as they were of those who denied or confessed Dylks, and a Hound at his elbow explained, "Don't want any but goats in here, to-night."

The common parlance was saturated with scriptural phrase, and the gross mockery would have been taken seriously if the speaker had not been so notoriously irreverent. As it was the words won him applause which Redfield and his friends were not able to quell. The joke was caught up and tossed back and forth; the Little Flock outside raised their hymn, the scoffers within joined in derision, and carried the hymn through to the end.

Dylks sat shrunken on the bench below the pulpit, his head fallen forward and his face hidden. Redfield and one of his friends sat on either side, and others tried to save him from those who from time to time pushed forward to strike him. They could not save him from the insults which broke again and again upon the silence; when Redfield rose and appealed to the people to leave the man to the law, they came back at him with shrieks and yells.

"Did the law keep my family from bein' broke up by this devil? My wife left me and my own brother won't speak to me because I wouldn't say he was my Savior and my God."

"I'm an old woman, and I lived with my son, but my son has quit me to starve, for all he cares, because I believe in the God of Jacob and he believes in this snorting, two-legged horse."

"My sister won't live with me, because I won't fall down and worship her
Golden Calf."

"He's spread death and destruction in my family. My daughters won't look at me, and my two sons fought till they were all blood, about him."

The accusings and upbraidings thickened upon him, but Dylks sat silent, except for a low groan of what might have seemed remorse. He put his hand to the place on his head where the hair had been torn away, and looked at the blood on his fingers.

A woman stole under the guard of his keepers, and struck him a savage blow on the cheeks, first one and then the other. "Now you can see how it feels to have your own husband slap you because you won't say you believe in such a God as you are, you heathen pest!"

The guards struggled with her, and a man stooped over Dylks and voided a mouthful of tobacco juice in his face; another lashed him on the head with a switch of leatherwood: all in a squalid travesty of the supreme tragedy of the race. As if a consciousness of the semblance touched the gospel-read actors in the drama, they shrank in turn from what they had done, and lost themselves in the crowd.

The night wore away and when the red sunrise began to pierce the dusk of the Temple, where some had fallen asleep, and others drowsed as they walked to and fro to keep themselves awake, Redfield conferred with his lieutenants. Then they pulled their captive to his feet, not roughly, and moved with him down the aisle and out of the door. They left some of the slumberers still sleeping; of the others not all followed them on their way to Matthew Braile's, up through the woods and past the cornfields and tobacco patches; but with those of the Little Flock who had hung night-long about the Temple, singing and praying to their idol, they arrived, some before and some after the prisoner, at the log cabin of the magistrate. He was sitting after his habit in his splint-bottomed chair tilted against the porch wall, waiting for the breakfast which his wife was getting within. As the crowd straggled up to the porch, he tilted his chair down, and came forward with a frown of puzzle. "What's this?" he demanded; then, catching sight of a woman's eager face among the foremost, his frown relaxed and he said, "Don't all speak at once, Sally."

"'Deed and 'deed, I'm not agoun' to speak at all, Squire Braile; but if you want to know you can see for yourself that they've got the Good Old Man here, and from the tell I've hearn they want you to try him; they've been hittun' him over the face and head all night." She looked defiantly round on the unbelievers who so far joined in the Squire's grin as to burst into a general laugh, and a cry of "Good for you, Sally. You're about right."

Braile referred himself to Redfield, who mounted to the porch with the other guards, and the tattered and bedraggled Dylks in their midst. "What are you doing with this man, Jim?"

"We've brought him to you to find out, Squire Braile. You know who he is, and all the mischief he's been making in this settlement. We don't need to go into that."

"Wish you'd step in there," the Squire said, nodding toward the room opposite the kitchen, "and bring me out the Laws of Ohio. You know where it is."

His recognition of Redfield as a law-student pleased the Herd of the
Lost, and one of the guards said, "All right, Jim. We'll hold him."

As Redfield disappeared within, the Squire called after him, "Bring out my table, too, will you. We'll have the trial here."

"That's all right as fer as it goes, Squire," one of the crowd before the cabin called out, "but there ain't room enough for us up there."

"Well," the Squire answered, "you've got the whole State of Ohio down there. I reckon you can find room in it, if you stand close."

He turned the joke on the crowd; which acquiesced with cheers. When
Redfield returned with the large book and the small table he had been sent
for, the Squire drew up to them and proclaimed silence in the Court. Then,
"Who complains against this man? You, James Redfield?"

"I arrested him, but I don't complain of him more than the rest. You know what he's been doing in Leatherwood, as well as other places, for the last month or six weeks. We want his mischief stopped; we want to see what the law can do about it. We could have lynched him, but that ain't the right way, and so we all feel."

"Well, we've got to make a start, somewhere," the justice returned.
"What's he accused of? What do you accuse him of?"

"Well, for one thing," Redfield said, rather reluctantly, "he professes to be Almighty God."

"And he is God, the Most High Jehovah, Maker of Heaven and Earth," came in a varying cry, from the believers who had gathered increasingly on the skirts of their enemies.

Their voices seemed to put life and courage into the prisoner, who for the first time lifted his fallen face and looked at the justice with a light of hope in his dulled eyes.

"You hear that," the old squire addressed him. "Is that your name? Are you God?"

"Thou sayest," the prisoner answered, with a sudden effrontery.

"That will do!" the old man shouted. He might have been willing to burlesque the case from his own disbelief, but he could not suffer the desecration of the hallowed words; and Dylks shrank from his eyes of fierce rebuke. "Stand away from him," he added to the guards. "Now, then, have you folks got any other charge against him? Has he stolen anything? Like a mule, for instance? Has he robbed a hen-roost? Has he assaulted anybody, or set a tobacco-shed on fire? Some one must make a charge; I don't much care what it is."

The old man scowled round on the people nearest him and down on the crowd below. The believers waited in anxious silence; the unbelievers applauded his humor with friendly laughter, and a kindlier spirit spread through them; they were beginning to see Dylks as a joke.

"Redfield,"—the Squire turned to the young man—"let's have a look at the Laws of Ohio, in such case made and provided." He opened the book which Redfield put on the table before him, and went carefully through the index; then he closed it. "There don't seem," he said, "to be any charge against the prisoner except claiming to be the Almighty; he pleads guilty to that, and he could be fined and imprisoned if there was any law against a man's being God. But there isn't, unless it's some law of the Bible, which isn't in force through reenactment in Ohio. He hasn't offended against any of our statutes, neither he nor his followers. In this State every man has a right to worship what God he pleases, under his own vine and fig-tree, none daring to molest him or make him afraid. With religious fanaticism our laws have nothing to do, unless it be pushed so far as to violate some public ordinance. This I find the prisoner has not done. Therefore, he stands acquitted."

A roar of protest, a shout of joy went up from the crowd according to their belief and unbelief. After his first plea Dylks had remained silent in becoming meekness and self-respect; now he looked wildly round in fear and hope; but he did not speak.

"Clear the way, you!" the Squire called to the people about him and below him, and he got slowly to his feet. He took the arm of the prisoner at one side, and said, "Here, Jim Redfield, you take this fellow's other arm," and as the young man helplessly obeyed, "Now!" he commanded, and with Dylks between them, they left the porch and passed through the severing crowd of friends and foes before the cabin. While they hesitated in doubt of his purpose, Braile led the way with the prisoner, acquitted, but still in custody, toward the turnpike road where the country lane passing the cabin joined it a little way off.

The crowd straggled after in patient doubt, but when the Squire halted with his captive and bade Redfield move back, the suspicions of the unbelievers began to stir.

"Now, put!" the Squire said in a low voice and loosed his hold. Dylks lifted his head alertly as he was accustomed to do when he gave his equine snort, but now he made no sound. He leaped forward and ran with vast bounds up the smooth turnpike toward the wall of woodland, where the whiteness of the highway ceased in the shadow of the trees. He far outdistanced the foremost of his pursuers, who stopped to gather the broken stone heaped along the roadside, and under the rain of these and the storm of curses that they sent after him, he escaped into the forest.

"Well, Abel," the Squire said to Reverdy, whom he found, not unexpectedly, at his elbow when he looked round, "he may not be much of a god, but he's a good deal of a racehorse, even if he didn't give his snort."

"Look here, Squire Braile," Redfield broke out in the first realization of his defeat, "I'm not sure your decision was just right."

"Well, you can appeal the case to the Supreme Court, Jim," the old man returned. "It's my breakfast time," and he stamped stiffly away down the pike and up the road to his cabin, followed by the blessings of the Little Flock.

The Little Flock had remained in stupefaction at the junction of the country road and the turnpike, helplessly watching the flight of their idol from the Herd of the Lost. When Dylks vanished in the dusk of the forest, and the last of those who had followed him came lagging breathless back, and dropped from their hands the broken stone which they had unconsciously brought with them, the Little Flock involuntarily raised their hymn, as if it had been a song of triumph; an inglorious triumph, but an omen of final victory, and of the descent of the New Jerusalem in Leatherwood.

"Never mind!" one of the Herd panted. "We'll have him out of that gulf of dark despair, yit!"

"The Lord will put forth His might," one of the Flock defied him. "But if you fellows want to feel the arm of flesh, here and now, come on!"

The Squire put himself between the forces. "I want you to keep the peace;
I command the peace," he said with magisterial dignity.

"Oh, all right, Squire," a Hound applauded him. "We know you're on our side."

"Brother Braile is on the side of righteousness," the champion of the
Flock answered.

The Squire turned a frowning face upon him. "If the law could have held your god, he'd have been on his way to the county jail by this time. Now, you fellows, both sides, go home, and look after your corn and tobacco; and you women, you go and get breakfast for them, and wash up your children and leave the Kingdom of Heaven alone for a while."

The weight of condemnation was for the Little Flock, but there remained discomfort for the Herd of the Lost. "And you," the Squire turned to them, "you let these folks worship any stock or stone they're a mind to; and you find out the true God if you can, and stick to Him, and don't bother the idolaters. I reckon He can take care of Himself. I command you all to disperse. Go home! Get out! Put!"

The saints and the sinners felt alike the mystical force of the law in his words and began to move away, not without threats and defiances, more or less straggling, and not altogether ceasing even after they had lost sight of one another in their parting ways.

Redfield stayed to walk home with the old man. "Of course, Squire Braile," he said, "this ain't the last of Dylks, and it ain't the last of us. It's a sin and a shame to have the thing going on among us. You know that as well as I do. It's got to be stopped. If he'd got his just dues from you—"

"You young fool," the Squire retorted, kindly, "haven't you gone far enough yet in your Blackstone to know that justice is one thing and law is another? I gave Dylks his legal deserts."

"Blackstone says the law is the perfection of reason."

"Well, you think it don't seem to be so in the State of Ohio. But I reckon it is, and so long as we look after our own souls, we can't do better than let others look after theirs in their own way. Come in and have some breakfast!" He paused before his cabin with the young man.

"No, not this morning, Squire Braile," Redfield lingered a moment, and then he said, askingly, "I didn't see old Mr. Gillespie anywhere this morning."

"I didn't notice. Where it comes to a division in public, he doesn't usually take sides against his daughter."

"He won't have to, after this."

"What do you mean?"

"Didn't you know she told him once that if he would bring her a hair of
Dylks's head she would deny him? I helped him to a whole lock of it."

"Oh, you did that?" There was condemnation in the Squire's tone, and as if he had been going to express a more explicit displeasure, he hesitated. Then he said, "Well, I must be going in," and turned his back upon Redfield, who turned again into the turnpike road and took his way homeward past the long and deep stretch of woods where Dylks had found refuge.

William Dean Howells

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