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Chapter 9

David Gillespie woke later than his daughter, and when he had put away the shadows of his unhappy dreams he took up the burden of waking thoughts which weighed more heavily on him. The sight of his child groveling at the feet of that blasphemous impostor and adoring him as her God pitilessly realized itself to him as a thing shameful past experience and beyond credence, and yet as undeniable as his pulse, his breath, his seeing and hearing. The dread which a less primitive spirit would have forbidden itself as something too abominable, possessed him as wholly possible. He had lived righteously, and he had kept evil from those dear to him, both the dead and the quick, by the force of his strong unselfish will; now he had seen his will without power upon the one who was dearest, and whom he seemed to hold from evil only by the force of his right hand. But his hand could not be everywhere and at all times; and then?

The breakfast which the girl had got for him and left on the hearth was warm yet, when he put it on the table, and she could not have been gone more than a few minutes, but she had gone, he did not know where, without waiting to speak with him after the threats and defiances which they had slept upon. When he had poured the coffee after the mouthfuls he forced down, he acted on the only hope he had and crossed the woods-pasture to his sister's cabin.

She understood the glance he gave within from the threshold where he paused, and said, "She ain't here, David." Nancy had cleared her breakfast away and was ironing at the shelf where she had eaten; the baby was playing on the floor.

Gillespie looked down at it. "I didn't know but what she'd come over to dress it; she cares so much for it."

"It cares for her, too. But what brings you after her?"

"She's gone somewhere without her breakfast. We had high words last night after I brought her home."

"I'm afraid you'll have higher words, yet, David. Joey was at the Temple."

"Nancy, I don't know what to do about her."

"You knew what to do about me, David." She gave her stab, and then she pitied him, not for the pain she was willing he should feel from it, but for the pain he was feeling before. "I know it isn't like that. I'm sorry for you both. You haven't come to the end of your troubles."

"I can't understand the girl," he said desolately. "Up to a year ago she was like she had always been, as biddable as a child, and meek and yielding every way. All at once she's got stiff-necked and wilful."

"She couldn't tell you why, herself, David. We are all that way—good little girls—and then all of a sudden wilful women. I don't know what changes us. It's harder on us than it is on you. It came on me like a thief in the night and stole away my sense. It gave Joseph Dylks his chance over me; if it had been sooner or later I should have known he was a power of darkness as far as I could see him. But my eyes were holden by my self-conceit, and I thought he was an angel of light."

"He's got past being an angel now," Gillespie said, forcing himself to the real matter of his errand, far from the question of his daughter's estrangement from her old self. "Did Joey tell you about—last night?"

Nancy did not quit the psychological question at once. "Up to that time we think our fathers and brothers are something above the human; then we think they're not even up to the common run of men. We think other men are different because we don't know them. Yes," she returned to his question with a sigh, "Joey told me something about it—enough about it. I suppose it isn't right to let him be a spy on his father; but I have to. If I didn't he might want to go, from the talk of those fools, and get to believin' with them. He said there was boys and girls kneelin' with the rest—little children, almost, and shoutin' and prayin' to Joseph. Did you see 'em?"

"Yes; it was dreadful, Nancy. But it was worse to see the women, the grown-up girls, and the mothers of the children. It looked like they had been drinking. It fairly turned me sick. And my own daughter groveling on her knees with the worst! If I didn't know Dylks for the thing he is, without an idea beyond victuals and clothes, I might ha' thought he had thrown a spell on 'em, just for deviltry. But they done it all themselves; he just gave them the chance to play the fool."

Nancy resumed from her own more immediate interest, "Well, I let Joey go; and I don't know whether it helps or hurts to have him come home feelin' about him, and all the goings on, just like I would myself. He always says he's glad I wasn't there, and he pities the poor fool women more than he despises his father. Or I ortn't to say despise; Joey don't despise anybody; he's all good, through and through; I don't know where he gets it. He's like Laban, and yet he ain't any kin to Laban."

"It must be hard on you, Nancy. I don't know how you can bear up the way you do. It is like a living streak of fire in me."

"That's because there's some hope left in you. I can bear what I've got to because the feeling is all burnt out of me. It's like as if my soul was dead."

"You mustn't say that, Nancy."

"I say anything I please, now; anything I think. I'm not afraid any more;
I hain't got anything left to be afraid of."

"Well, I have," David returned. "Something I'm ashamed to be afraid of it: his hold on Jane. I don't understand it. We've always thought alike and believed alike, and now to see her gone crazy after a thief and liar like that! It's enough to drive me mad the other way. I don't only want to kill him; I want to kill—"

"David!" she stopped him, and in his pause she added, "You're worse than what I ever was. Where is your religion?"

"Where is her religion? I raised her to fear God, the Bible God that I've prayed to for her since she was a little babe, but now since she's turned to this heathen image I begin to turn from Him. What's He been about if He's All Seeing and All Powerful, to let loose such a devil on a harmless settlement like this where we were all brethren and dwelt together in unity, no matter whether we believed in dipping or sprinkling? We loved one another—in the Scripture sense—and now look! Families broken up, brothers not speaking, wives and husbands parting, parents cursing the day their children were born, and children flying in the face of their parents. Did you hear about Christopher Mills, how he come crying to his father and mother and tried to make them believe in Dylks, and when his father said it was all a snare and a delusion, Christopher went away telling them their damnation was sealed?"

"No," the woman said with bitter pleasure in the mockery, "but I heard how our new Saint Paul Enraghty went over to his uncle's the other day, and said he should never see corruption, and should never die, and told his uncle he couldn't shoot him. Them that was there say the old man just reached for his rifle, and was going to shoot Saint Paul in the legs, and then Paul begged off and pretended that he was only in fun!"

She laughed, but David Gillespie looked sadly at her. "I don't believe I like to hear you laugh, Nancy."

"Why, are you turning believer too, David? It'll be time for me next," she mocked. "I couldn't laugh at Joseph, may be, but Saint Paul Enraghty is a bigger rascal or a bigger fool than he is. Some say that Joseph is just crazy, and some that he's after money, and that Enraghty's put him up to everything."

"Yes," David moodily assented to the general tenor of her talk. "The way they've roped in between 'em that poor fool Davis who'd been preaching for the United Brethren, and now preaches Dylks! First he wouldn't hardly go into the same house, and then he wouldn't leave it till he could come with Dylks. I don't know how they do it! Sometimes I think the decentest man left in the place is that red-mouthed infidel, Matthew Braile! Sometimes I'm a mind to go to his house and get him to tell me what Tom Paine would do in my place."

"You are pretty far gone, David. But I don't wonder at it; and I don't believe I think so badly of Matthew Braile, either. He may be an infidel, but he believes in some kind of a God that wants people to do right; he don't believe in mortal sin, and may be that's where he's out; and I hear tell he don't think there's going to be any raisin' of the body, or any Last Day, or any Hell; but he keeps it to himself unless folks pester him. I was afraid once to have Joey talk with him, before the plow went over me. But now I let Joey go to him all he wants to. He lets Joey come and pet the coon Joey give him because he heard that the Squire's little boy used to want one. From all I can make out they don't do much but talk about the little boy; he seems to take comfort in Joey because Joey's like him, or the Squire thinks so."

"If Jane had died when she was his little boy's age, I wouldn't feel as if I had lost her half as much as I do now."

Nancy lifted herself from her ironing-board and looked at her brother. "You told me what the duty of a woman was that found out she had two husbands. Don't you know what the duty of a man is that has a daughter turned idolater?"

"No, I don't, Nancy," David answered doggedly.

"Then, why don't you wrestle with the Lord in prayer? Perhaps He'd make you some sign."

"Oh, prayer! The thought of it makes me sick since I saw them fools wallowing round at Dylks's feet, and beseeching that heathen image to save them."

"Then if you hain't got any light of yourself, and you don't believe the
Lord can give you any, what do you expect me to do for you?"

"I don't expect anything, Nancy. If she was a child I could whip it out of her, but when your child has got to be a woman you can't whip her."

They left the hopeless case, and began to talk of the things they had heard, especially the miracle which Dylks had promised to work. "He's appointed it for to-night," Gillespie said, "but I don't believe but what he'll put it off, if the coast ain't clear when the time comes. He always had the knack of leaving the back door open when he saw trouble coming up to the front gate."

"You can't tell me anything about Joseph Dylks," Nancy said. She was ironing, and at the last word she brought the iron down with the heavy thump that women give with it at an emphatic word in their talk. "What I wonder is that a man like you, David, could care what people in such a place as this would say if they found out that I was livin' with Laban when I knowed Dylks was alive. There wouldn't be any trouble with his followers, I reckon. He'd just tell 'em he never saw me in his life before, and that would do them."

"Nancy," her brother turned solemnly upon her, "as sure as I'm standing here I don't care for that any more. If you say the word, I'll go and tell Laban to come back to you."

"You're safe there, David. If you've parted with your conscience, I've got it from you. I wonder you don't go and follow after Joseph Dylks too. All the best and smartest men in the place believe in him. Just look at Mr. Enraghty! A man with more brains and book learnin' than all the rest put together; willin' to be the Apostle Paul because Joseph Dylks called him it, and gets up in the Temple where he used to preach Christ Jesus and Him crucified, and tells the people to behold their God in Joseph Dylks! There's just one excuse for him: he's crazy. If he ain't he's the wickedest man in Leatherwood, the wickedest man in the whole world; he's worse than Joseph Dylks, because he knows better. Joseph is such a liar that he could always make himself believe what he said. But it's no use your stayin' here, David!" She suddenly broke off to turn on her brother. "If you're a mind to let Jane come, I'll try what I can do with her."

The old man faltered at the door. "Are you going to tell her, Nancy?"

"I'm not going to tell you, whether I am or not, David!"

Her words began harshly, but ended with his name tenderly, pitifully uttered.

She called after him as he moved from her door, heavily, weakly, more like an old man than she had noted him yet, "I'll talk to Jane, and whatever I say will be for her good." She watched him out of sight from where she was working; then she went to the door, with some mind to call more kindly yet to him; but he was not to be seen, and she went back to her ironing, and ironed more swiftly than before, moving her lips in a sort of wrathful revery. From time to time she changed her iron for one at the hearth, which she touched with her wetted finger to test its heat, and returned to her table with an unconscious smile of satisfaction in its quick responsive hiss. In her movements to and fro she spoke to the baby, which babbled inarticulately up to her from the floor. Then she seemed to forget it, and it was in one of these moments of oblivion that she was startled by a sharp cry of terror from it. A man was looking in at the door.

William Dean Howells

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