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Chapter 8

Where Matthew Braile sat smoking most of the hot forenoon away on the porch of his cabin, there came to him rumor of the swift spread of the superstition running from mind to mind in the neighborhood, and catching like fire in dry grass. The rumor came in different voices, some piously meant to shake him with fear in the scorner's seat which he held so stubbornly; some in their doubt seeking the help of his powerful unfaith; but he required their news from them all with the same mocking. They were not of the Scribes and Pharisees, the pillars of the Temple, the wise and rich and proud who had been the first to follow Dylks, but the poorer and lowlier sort who wavered before the example of their betters, and were willing to submit it to the searching of the old Sadducee's scrutiny.

The morning after Abel Reverdy had finished his work at the Cross Roads, and had returned to the cares patiently awaiting him at home he rode his claybank so hesitantly toward the Squire's cabin that his desire to stop and talk was plain, and Braile called to him: "Well, Abel, what do they think of the Prophet over at Wilkins's? Many converts? Many dipped or sprinkled, as the case required?"

Reverdy drew rein and faced the Squire with a solemnity presently yielding to his natural desire to grin at any form of joke, and his belief that when the Squire indulged such flagrant irreverence as this he must be joking. Yet he answered evasively: "You hearn't he says now he hain't never go'n to die?"

"No. But I'm not surprised to hear it; about the next thing on the docket. Did he say that at the Cross Roads?"

"Said it right here in Leatherwood. Sally told me the first thing when I got home. You wasn't at the Temple last night, I reckon?"

"Well, not last night," Braile said with an implication that he had been at the Temple all the other nights, which made Reverdy laugh with guilty joy.

"One o' the Hounds—no, it was Jim Redfield hisself—stopped on the way out, and he says, 'What's this I hear? You say you ain't goin' to die.' And Dylks he lifts his hands up over his head and he says, 'This shell will fall off'; and Jim he says, 'I've got half a mind to crack your shell,' and the believers they got round, and begun to hustle Jim off, but Dylks he told them to let him alone, and he says, 'I can endure strong meat, but I must be fed on milk for a while.' What you s'pose he meant, Squire?"

Braile took his pipe out and cackled toothlessly. "I'm almost afraid to think, Abel. Something awful, though. You say Sally told you?"

"Yes."

"I should think Sally would know what he meant, if anybody." He looked at Abel, and Sally's husband joined him in safe derision. "Tell you anything else?"

"Well, no, not just in so many words. But it 'pears he's been teachun' round all sorts of things in private, like. Who do you reckon he says he is?"

"Not John the Baptist, I hope. I don't know where we should get the locusts and wild honey for him in this settlement. Might try grasshoppers, but the last bee-tree in the Bottom was cut down when I was a boy. I got a piece of the comb."

"I don't know if he said John the Baptist; but it was John, anyway. And they say—or that's what Sally hearn tell—that when he was off with Enraghty and Hingston on some 'pointments down round Seneca there was doun's that 'uld make your hair stand up."

"You don't happen to know just what the doings were?"

"Well, no, I don't, Squire. But they was doun's to deceive the very elec', from all I hearn."

"That's just what Hingston and Enraghty both are—the very elect. What deceived them?"

"Oh, pshaw, now, Squire! You know I don't mean they were deceived! That's just a Bible sayin'. You see, Brother Briggs was sick and Brother Enraghty went along with Dylks and Brother Hingston to preach in his place."

"Couldn't Dylks have done the preaching?"

"I reckon he could. But there was three 'p'intments, and may be Dylks couldn't fill 'em all, and may be he didn't want to. Fust Brother Enraghty preached in the Temple at Seneca, and then at Brother Christhaven's house off south of that, and then at David Mason's, the local preacher; but Brother Mason has got the consumption, and he couldn't preach, so Brother Enraghty had to do all the preachun'."

"I see. Well?"

"Well, that wasn't anything out o' the common, but what Dylks done to the
Devil beat all the preachun', I reckon."

"How'd it get out? Devil tell?"

"No. Brother Enraghty told, and Sally she got it putty straight from the wife of the man that he told it to."

"Go on," Braile said. "I can hardly wait to hear."

"Well, sir, they had just got acrost the Leatherwood, and Brother Enraghty felt as if he was lifted all at once into heaven; air diff'ent, and full of joy. Dylks's face got brighter and brighter, and his voice sounded like music. When they got to the top of the hill where you can look back and see the Temple, Dylks turned his horse and stretched out his hands, and says he, 'How ignorant them people is of my true natur'. But time will show 'em.' Well, not just them words, you know; more dictionary; and they preached with a great outpourun' at Seneca. They didn't go to bed that night at all, accordun' to the woman's tell that Enraghty told her man; sot up tell mornun' prayun', and singun' hymns and readun' the Bible. Next mornun' when they started out Brother Enraghty seen a bright ring round Dylks's head, and whenever Dylks got down to pray the ring just stayed in the air over the saddle tell he got back, and then it dropped round his head ag'in."

Reverdy stopped for the effect, but Braile only said, "Go on! Go on!"

"Well, sir, so they kep' on all that day and all the next night, prayun',
and singun', and readun' the Bible. The next mornun' when they started
Brother Enraghty felt kind o' cold all over, and his teeth chattered, and
Dylks looked at him hard in the face, and says he, 'Time is precious now.
This is the time for work. I now reveal unto you that you are Paul the
Apostle.'"

"And what did Paul the Apostle say? Did he own up that he was Paul?"

Reverdy halted in his tale. "Look here, Squire! I don't feel just right, havun' you say such things. It sounds—well, like profane swearun'."

"Any worse than Dylks or Enraghty? You go right ahead, Abel. I'll take the responsibility before the law."

"Well," Reverdy continued with a reluctance that passed as he went on, "what Dylks told him was that he would increase his faith, so't he could see the sights of his power, and glorify him among men, and then Enraghty he commenced to git warm ag'in, and Dylks he turned up his eyes and kep' still, and it was so bright all round him that it made the daylight like dusk, and Dylks made him hark if he didn't hear a kind of rush in the air, and Dylks said it was the adversary of souls, but he would conquer him. They came into a deep holler in the woods and there they see the devil standun' in their way, and Dylks he lights and hollers out, 'Fear not, Paul; this day my work is done,' and he went towards Satan and Satan he raised his burnun' wings and bristled his scales, and stuck out his forked tongue and dropped melted fire from it; and he rolled his eyes in his head, hissun' and bubblun' like sinners boilun' in hell's kittles. Then Dylks he got down on his knees and prayed, and got up and give his shout of Salvation, and the devil's wings fell, and he took in his tongue, and his eyes stood still, and Dylks he blowed his breath at him, and Satan he turned and jumped, and every jump he give the ground shook, and Dylks and the balance of 'em follered him till the devil come to Brother Mason's house, and then he jumped through the shut winder out of sight. They found Brother Mason's son David in bed sick, but he got up and took Dylks in his arms and called him his Savior, and everybody got down on their knees and prayed, and their faces was shinun' beautiful, and Dylks he walks round David Mason, and rubs his hands over him, and says, 'I bind the devil for a thousand years,' and he hugged David, and said, 'The work is done.' And he wouldn't stay to preach there, but told 'em they must come back with him to the Temple here in Leatherwood. On the way back he wouldn't talk at all, hardly, but just kep' sayun', 'The perfect work is done,' and he didn't give his shout any more; just snorted."

Braile's pipe had gone out, but he pulled at it two or three times, before he said, "Well, Abel, I don't wonder Sally is excited. I suppose you would be, if you believed a word of this yarn?"

"Well, it's poorty cur'ous doun's, Squire," Reverdy said, daunted between his natural bent and his wish to be of the Squire's thinking. "Don't you believe it?"

"Oh, yes, I believe it. But you know I believe anything. If Dylks did it, and Enraghty says he did it, why there we've got the gospel for it—right from St. Paul himself."

He said no more, and Reverdy lingered a moment in vague disappointment. Then he sighed out, "Well, I must be goun', I reckon," and thumped his bare heels into the claybank's ribs and rode away.

Day by day the faith in Dylks spread with circumstance which strengthened it in the converts; they accepted the differences which parted husband and wife, parent and child, and set strife between brothers and neighbors as proof of his divine authority to bring a sword; they knew by the hate and dissension which followed from his claim that it was of supernatural force, and when the pillars of the old spiritual temple fell one after another under his blows, they exalted in the ruin as the foundation of a new sanctuary. They drove the worshipers out of the material Temple, Methodists and Moravians and Baptists who had used it in common. They met to dedicate it solely to the doctrine of the prophet who came teaching that neither he nor they should ever die, but should enter in the flesh into the New Jerusalem which should come down to them at Leatherwood. His steps in passing from teacher to prophet and to Messiah were contested by a few with bitter and strenuous dissent, but on the night when Dylks proclaimed before the thronging assembly in the stolen Temple, "I am God and there is none else," they pressed round him, men and women and children, and worshiped him. "I am God and the Christ in one," he proclaimed. "In me, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are met. There is no salvation except by faith in me. They who put their faith in me shall never taste death, but shall be translated into the New Jerusalem, which I am going to bring down from Heaven." He snorted; the few unbelievers protested in abhorrence; but the Sisters in the faith shrieked and the Brothers shouted, "We shall never die!" Dylks came down from the pulpit among them, and Enraghty called out, "Behold our God!" and they fell on their knees before him. As it had been from the beginning, the wisest and best, the first in prayer and counsel, were foremost in the idolatry; and young girls, and wives and mothers joined in hailing Dylks as their Creator and Savior, and besought him to bless and keep them.

The believers were in such force that none of the Hounds, veteran disturbers of camp-meetings and revivals, who were there, dared molest them; the few members of the sects expelled from the Temple of their common worship held aloof from the tumult in dismay, and made no attempt to reclaim the sanctuary. One man, not of any church, but of standing in the community, tried to incite the sectarians to assert their rights, but found no following among them. They left the Temple together with certain others who had been trembling toward belief in Dylks, but whom the profanation repelled; when they were gone the tumult sank enough to let Enraghty announce another meeting a week hence, and then dismiss the congregation.

"An' afore that we're goin' to have a murricle," Sally Reverdy told Squire Braile, sitting early the next morning at the receipt of gossip on his cabin porch with his pipe between his teeth; her cow had not come up the night before, and Abel had not found her in the woods-pasture when he went to look. "An' I couldn't wait all day, an' I just slipped over to git some milk of Mis' Braile," she explained to the Squire as she paused with the bucket in her hand. "I told her I'd bring it back the first chance't I git at our cow; I reckon Abel will find her some time or 'nuther; and I 'lowed you had plenty."

Braile had already heard her explaining all this to his wife, but now he kept her for the full personal detail of the last night's event at the Temple. She ended an unsparing report of the wonders seen with a prophecy of wonders to come.

"Why," Braile said, "I don't see what you want of a miracle more than what you've had already. The fact that your cow didn't come up last night, and Abel couldn't find her in the woods-pasture this morning is miracle enough to prove that Dylks is God. Besides, didn't he say it himself, and didn't Enraghty say it?"

"Well, yes, they did," Sally assented, overborne for the moment by his logic.

"And didn't you all believe them?"

"Well, we all did," Sally said. "But look here, Squire Braile, what about them that didn't believe it?"

"Oh, then there were some there that didn't believe it! Well, I suppose nothing less than more miracles will do for them. Who were they?"

"Well, of course, there was Jim Redfield; he's been ag'inst him from the first; and there was old George Nixon, and there was Hughey Blake, and a passel of the Hounds that I don't count."

"Why, certainly not; the Hounds would doubt anything. But I'm surprised at Redfield and Nixon and Hughey Blake. What reason did they give for the faith that wasn't in them? When a man stood up and snorted like a horse and said he was God, why didn't they believe him? Or the other fellows that didn't snort, but said they knew it was God from a sound that he made?"

"Oh, pshaw, now, Squire Braile!" Sally gurgled. She did not yield quite with Abel's helplessness at a joke, but the Squire's blasphemous irony had its force with her too, though she felt it right to bring herself back to her religious conviction with the warning, "Some day you'll go too fur."

"Yes, I'm always expecting the lightning to strike in the wrong place. Didn't Nixon or Redfield or Hughey Blake say anything? Or did they just look ashamed of you, down there on your knees before a man that you worshiped for a God because he snorted like a horse? Didn't anybody in their senses say anything, or couldn't those that were out of their senses hear anything but their own ravings?"

The old man had pleased himself with his mockeries, but now he let the scorn which his irony had hidden blaze out. "Wasn't anybody ashamed of it all? Weren't you ashamed yourself, Sally?"

"Well, I dunno," Sally said, easing herself from one foot to another and shifting the milk-bucket from her right hand to her left. "Where everybody is goun' one way, you don't know what to think exactly. Jane Gillespie was there, and she went on as bad as the best."

"Jane Gillespie?"

"Yes. She come with me, and she was goun' to come home with me, as fur's the door, and she would ha' done it, if it hadn't ha' been for her father. He bruk through the believers and drug her up from the floor where she was kneelun' and stoopun' her forehead over to the ground, and pulled her out through the crowd. 'You come home with me!' says he, kind o' harsh like; and if it hadn't ha' been for Nancy Billuns's Joey I'd ha' had to git through the woods alone, and the dear knows I'm always skeered enough. But Joey and Benny Hingston they come with me, or I don't feel as if I'd been here to tell it."

"You'd have been safe from the devil, though; he stayed with Dylks.
Didn't David say anything to the girl?"

"Just, 'You come home with me,' and he looked so black that Hughey Blake he kind o' started from where he was standun' with the unbelievers, and he says, 'Oh, don't, Mr. Gillespie!'—like that—and Jane she said, 'It's my father, Hugh,' and she went along with him, kind o' wild lookun', like she was walkun' in her sleep. I noticed it at the time."

"Didn't Dylks do anything—say anything?"

"Well, not that I seen or hearn. But some o' them that was standun' nigh him was talkun' about it when we all got out, and they was sayun' he said, 'Go with your earthly father; your heavenly father will keep you safe!' I don't know whether he did or not; but that's what they was sayun."

"And did Gillespie say anything back?"

"Not't anybody heared. Just give Dylks a look like he wanted to kill him, and then Dylks snorted, and yelled 'Salvation!' Squire," Sally broke off, "some of us believers was talkun' it over, when we started home, and wonderun' what ought we to call him. Jest Dylks don't sound quite right, and you can't say Almighty, to a body, exactly, and you can't say Lord. What should you think was the right way?"

Braile got back to his irony. "Well, that's an important question, Sally.
I should call him Beelzebub, myself; but then I'm not a believer. That
night when he first came, didn't he tell the people to call him just
Dylks?"

"Yes, he did, but that was for the present, he said."

"Has he given himself any other name?"

"Well, no."

"Then I should let it go at Dylks."

"Just plain Dylks? Mr. Dylks wouldn't do; or Brother Dylks, wouldn't.
Father Dylks don't sound quite the thing—"

"Might try Uncle Dylks," Braile said, cackling round his pipe-stem, and now Sally perceived that it was in vain to attempt serious discussion of the point with him.

She said, "Oh, pshaw, Squire Braile," and lankly let herself down sidewise from the porch, and flopped away on the road. Then she stopped, and called back, "Say, Squire, what do you think of the Good Old Man?"

"What good old man?"

"Why, Dylks. For a name. That's what most of 'em wants to call him."

"Sounds like a good name for them that like a name like it."

"He calls us the Little Flock."

"Well, well! Geese or sheep?"

"Oh, pshaw, now! I wouldn't belong to the Herd of the Lost, anyway.
That's what he calls the unbelievers."

"You don't tell me! Well, now I will be scared in the dark."

Failing of any retort, Sally now flopped definitively beyond calling back.

Braile watched her going with a sardonic smile, but when his wife, after waiting for her to be quite gone, came out to him, he was serious enough.

"Did that fool tell you of the goings on at the Temple last night?"

"As much as I would let her. I suppose it had to come to something like that. It seems as if the people had gone crazy."

"Yes," the Squire sighed heavily, "there's no doubt about that. And it's a pity. For such a religious community Leatherwood Creek used to be a very decent place to live in. They were a lot of zealots, but they got on well with one another; that Temple of theirs kept them together, and they didn't quarrel much about doctrine. Now with the Dylksites driving the old-fashioned believers out of the sanctuary and dedicating it to the exclusive worship of Dylks, the other denominations are going to fight among themselves; and there'll be no living with them. And that isn't the worst of it. This new deity isn't going to be satisfied with worship merely. Money, of course, he'll want and get, and he'll wear purple and fine linen, and feed upon fried chicken every day. Still the superstition might die out, and no great harm done, if the faith was confined to men. But you know what women are, Martha."

"They're what men make 'em," Mrs. Braile said sadly.

"It's six of one and half a dozen of another, I'm afraid. But this god of theirs is a handsome devil, and some poor fool of a girl, or some bigger fool of a married woman, is going to fall in love with him, and then—"

"Did you just think of that? Well, you can't help it by lettin' your coffee get cold."

Braile tilted his chair down and rose from its rebound to follow his wife stiffly indoors. "The question is, Who will it be? Which poor girl? Which bigger fool? And nothing can be done to prevent it! The Real God put it into human nature, and all Hell couldn't stop it. Well, I suppose it's for some wise purpose," he ended, in parody of the pious resignation prevailing on the tongues of the preachers.

William Dean Howells

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