Copyright
Kate Milner Rabb.

The wit and humor of America (Volume 2) online

. (page 18 of 24)
Online LibraryKate Milner RabbThe wit and humor of America (Volume 2) → online text (page 18 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


House Mike and Shifty Sadie seemed to be apologizing
to the audience for their disgraceful street brawl, which
was honestly the only good thing in the show. Along
about twelve o'clock I thought I would talk over old
times with Bud, but when I turned his way I found my
tired and trusty comrade "Asleep at the Switch."

At the finish, the woman next to me, who seemed to
be on, said that the main lady was dying. After it was
too late, Mike seemed kind of sorry. He must have give
her the knife or the drops, because there wasn't a minute
that he could look in on her according to the rules. He
laid her out on the bum rock, they set off a lot of red fire
for some unknown reason, and the curtain dropped at
12:25. Never again for my money. Far be it from me
knocking, but any time I want noise I'll take to a boiler-
shop or a Union Station, where I can understand what's
coming off, I'm for a good-mother show. Do you re-
member The White Slave, Jim? Well, that's me.
Wasn't it immense where the main lady spurned the leer-
ing villain's gold and exclaimed with flashing eye, "Rags
are royal raiment when worn for virtue's sake," Great !
The White Slave had Die Walkure beaten to a pulp,
and they don't get to you for three cases gate-money,
either.



^95



IN A STATE OF SIN* ,

BY OWEN WISTER

Judge and Mrs. Henry, Molly Wood, and two stran-
gers, a lady and a gentleman, were the party which had
been driving in the large three-seated wagon. They had
seemed a merry party. But as I came within hearing of
their talk, it was a fragment of the minister's sonority
which reached me first :

". . . . more opportunity for them to have the
benefit of hearing frequent sermons," was the sentence I
heard him bring to completion,

"Yes, to be sure, sir." Judge Henry gave me (it al-
most seemed) additional warmth of welcome for arriving
to break up the present discourse. "Let me introduce you
to the Rev. Dr. Alexander MacBride. Doctor, another
guest we have been hoping for about this time," was my
host's cordial explanation to him of me. There remained
the gentleman with his wife from New York, and to these
I made my final bows. But I had not broken up the dis-
course,

"We may be said to have met already." Dr. MacBride
had fixed upon me his full, mastering eye ; and it occurred
to me that if they had policemen in heaven, he would be
at least a centurion in the force. But he did not mean to
be unpleasant ; it was only that in a mind full of matters
less worldly, pleasure was left out. "I observed your
friend was a skilful horseman," he continued. "I was
saying to Judge Henry that I could wish such skilful

♦Reprinted from Mr. Owen Wistcr's "The Virginian." Copy-
right, 1902-1904, by The Macmillan Company.

696



OWEN WISTER

horsemen might ride to a church upon the Sabbath. A
church, that is, of right doctrine, where they would have
opportunity to hear frequent sermons."

"Yes," said Judge Henry, "yes. It would be a good
thing."

Mrs. Henry, with some murmur about the kitchen, here
went into the house.

"I was informed," Dr. MacBride held the rest of us,
"before undertaking my journey that I should find a deso-
late and mainly godless country. But nobody gave me to
understand that from Medicine Bow I was to drive three
hundred miles and pass no church of any faith."

The Judge explained that there had been a few a long
way to the right and left of him. "Still," he conceded,
"you are quite right. But don't forget that this is the
newest part of a new world."

"Judge," said his wife, coming to the door, "how can
/ou keep them standing in the dust with your talking ?"

This most efficiently did break up the discourse. As
our little party, with the smiles and the polite holdings
back of new acquaintanceship, moved into the house, the
Judge detained me behind all of them long enough to
whisper dolorously, "He's going to stay a whole week."

I had hopes that he would not stay a whole week when
I presently learned of the crowded arrangements which
our hosts, with many hospitable apologies, disclosed to us.
They were delighted to have us, but they hadn't foreseen
that we should all be simultaneous. The foreman's house
had been prepared for two of us, and did we mind ? The
two of us were Dr. MacBride and myself; and I expected
him to mind. But I wronged him grossly. It would be
much better, he assured Mrs. Henry, than straw in a
stable, which he had tried several times, and was quite
ready for. So I saw that though he kept his vigorous

697



IN A STATE OF SIN

body clean when he could, he cared nothing for it in the
face of his mission. How the foreman and his wife rel-
ished being turned out during a week for a missionary
and myself was not my concern, although while he and I
made ready for supper over there, it struck me as hard
on them. The room with its two cots and furniture was as
nice as possible; and we closed the door upon the adjoin-
ing room, which, however, seemed also untenanted.

Mrs. Henry gave us a meal so good that I have remem-
bered it, and her husband, the Judge, strove his best that
we should eat it in merriment. He poured out his anec-
dotes like wine, and we should have quickly warmed to
them ; but Dr. MacBride sat among us, giving occasional
heavy ha-ha's, which produced, as Miss Molly Wood
whispered to me, a "dreadfully cavernous effect." Was
it his sermon, we wondered, that he was thinking over?
I told her of the copious sheaf of them I had seen him
pull from his wallet over at the foreman's. "Goodness!"
said she. "Then are we to hear one every evening?"
This I doubted; he had probably been picking one out
suitable for the occasion. "Putting his best foot fore-
most," was her comment ; "I suppose they have best feet,
like the rest of us." Then she grew delightfully sharp.
"Do you know, when I first heard him I thought his voice
was hearty. But if you listen, you'll find it's merely
militant. He never really meets you with it. He's off
on his hill watching the battle-field the whole time."

"He will find a hardened pagan here."

"Judge Henry?"

"Oh, no ! The wild man you're taming. He's brought
yoit Kenilworth safe back."

She was smooth. "Oh, as for taming him. ! But don't
you find him intelligent ?"

Suddenly I somehow knew that she didn't want to tame

698



OWEN WISTER

him. But what did she want to do ? The thought of her
had made him bhish this afternoon. No thought of him
made her blush this evening.

A great laugh from the rest of the company made me
aware that the Judge had consummated his tale of the
"Sole Survivor."

"And so," he finished, "they all went off as mad as
hops because it hadn't been a massacre." Mr. and Mrs.
Ogden — they were the New Yorkers — gave this story
much applause, and Dr. MacBride half a minute later
laid his "ha-ha," like a heavy stone, upon the gaiety.

"I'll never be able to stand seven sermons," said Miss
Wood to me.

"Do you often have these visitations?" Ogden inquired
of Judge Henry. Our host was giving us whisky in his
office, and Dr. MacBride, while we smoked apart from
the ladies, had repaired to his quarters in the foreman's
house previous to the service which he was shortly to
hold.

The Judge laughed. "They come now and then through
the year. I like the bishop to come. And the men always
like it. But I fear our friend will scarcely please them so
well."

"You don't mean they'll—"

"Oh, no. They'll keep quiet. The fact is, they have a
good deal better manners than he has, if he only knew it.
They'll be able to bear him. But as for any good he'll
do—"

"I doubt if he knows a word of science," said I, musing
about the Doctor.

"Science! He doesn't know what Christianity is yet.
I've entertained many guests, but none — The whole se-
cret," broke off Judge Henry, "lies in the way you treat

699



IN A STATE OF SIN

people. As soon as you treat men as your brothers, they
are ready to acknowledge you — if you deserve it — as
their superior. That's the whole bottom of Christianity,
and that's what our missionary will never know."

Thunder sat imminent upon the missionary's brow.
Many were to be at his mercy soon. But for us he had
sunshine still. *T am truly sorry to be turning you up-
side down," he said importantly. "But it seems the best
place for my service." He spoke of the table pushed back
and the chairs gathered in the hall, where the storm would
presently break upon the congregation. "Eight-thirty?"
he inquired.

This was the hour appointed, and it was only twenty
minutes off. We threw the unsmoked fractions of our
cigars away, and returned to offer our services to the
ladies. This amused the ladies. They had done without
us. All was ready in the hall.

"We got the cook to help us," Mrs. Ogden told me,
"so as not to disturb your cigars. In spite of the cow-
boys, I still recognize my own country."

"In the cook ?" I rather densely asked.

"Oh, no ! I don't have a Chinaman. It's in the length
of after-dinner cigars."

"Had you been smoking," I returned, "you would have
found them short this evening."

"You make it worse," said the lady; "we have had
nothing but Dr. MacBride."

"We'll share him with you now," I exclaimed.

"Has he announced his text? I've got one for him,"
said Molly Wood, joining us. She stood on tiptoe and
spoke it comically in our ears. " *I said in my haste, All
men are liars.' " This made us merry as we stood among
the chairs in the congested hall.

700



OWEN WISTER

I left the ladies, and sought the bunk house. I had
heard the cheers, but I was curious also to see the men,
and how they were taking it. There was but little for the
eye. There was much noise in the room. They were get-
ting ready to come to church, — ^brushing their hair, shav-
ing, and making themselves clean, amid talk occasionally
profane and continuously diverting.

"Well, I'm a Christian, anyway," one declared.

"I'm a Mormon, I guess," said another.

"I belong to the Knights of Pythias," said a third.

"I'm a Mohammedist," said a fourth ; "I hope I ain't
goin' to hear nothin' to shock me."

What with my feelings at Scipio's discretion, and my
human curiosity, I was not in that mood which best
profits from a sermon. Yet even though my expectations
had been cruelly left quivering in mid air, I was not sure
how much I really wanted to "keep around." You will
therefore understand how Dr. MacBride was able to make
a prayer and to read Scripture without my being con-
scious of a word that he had uttered. It was when I saw
him opening the manuscript of his sermon that I sud-
denly remembered I was sitting, so to speak, in church,
and began pnce more to think, of the preacher and his
congregation. Our chairs were in the front line, of
course; but, being next the wall, I could easily see the
cow-boys behind me. They were perfectly decorous. If
Mrs. Ogden had looked for pistols, dare-devil attitudes,
and so forth, she must have been greatly disappointed.
Except for their weather-beaten cheeks and eyes, they
were simply American young men with mustaches and
without, and might have been sitting, say, in Danbury,
Connecticut. Even Trampas merged quietly with the
general placidity. The Virginian did not, to be sure, look
like Danbury, and his frame and his features showed out

701



IN A STATE OF SIN

of the mass; but his eyes were upon Dr. MacBride with
a creamHke propriety.

Our missionary did not choose Miss Wood's text. He
made his selection from another of the Psalms; and when
it came, I did not dare to look at anybody ; I was much
nearer unseemly conduct than the cow-boys. Dr. Mac-
Bride gave us his text sonorously, " 'They are altogether
become filthy ; There is none of them that doeth good, no,
not one.' " His eye showed us plainly that present com-
pany was not excepted from this. He repeated the text
once more, then, launching upon his discourse, gave none
of us a ray of hope,

I had heard it all often before; but preached to cow-
boys it took on a new glare of untimeliness, of grotesque
obsoleteness — as if some one should say, "Let me per-
suade you to admire woman," and forthwith hold out her
bleached bones to you. The cow-boys were told that not
only they could do no good, but that if they did contrive
to, it would not help them. Nay, more : not only honest
deeds availed them nothing, but even if they accepted this
especial creed which was being explained to them as
necessary for salvation, still it might not save them.
Their sin was indeed the cause of their damnation, yet,
keeping from sin, they might nevertheless be lost. It had
all been settled for them not only before they were born,
but before Adam was shaped. Having told them this, he
invited them to glorify the Creator of the scheme. Even
if damned, they must praise the person who had made
them expressly for damnation. That is what I heard him
prove by logic to these cow-boys. Stone upon stone he
built the black cellar of his theology, leaving out its beau-
tiful park and the sunshine of its garden. He did not tell
them the splendor of its past, the noble fortress for good
that it had been, how its tonic had strengthened genera-

702



OWEN \VISTER

tions of their fathers. No ; wrath he spoke of, and never
once of love. It was the bishop's way, I knew well, to
hold cow-boys by homely talk of their special hardships
and temptations. And when they fell he spoke to them of
forgiveness and brought them encouragement. But Dr.
MacBride never thought once of the lives of these v/aifs.
Like himself, like all mankind, they were invisible dots in
creation; like him, they were to feel as nothing, to be
swept up in the potent heat of his faith. So he thrust out
to them none of the sweet but all the bitter of his creed,
naked and stern as iron. Dogma was his all in all, and
poor humanity was nothing but flesh for its canons.

Thus to kill what chance he had for being of use seemed
to me more deplorable than it did evidently to them. Their
attention merely wandered. Three hundred years ago
they would have been frightened ; but not in this electric
day, I saw Scipio stifling a smile when it came to the
doctrine of original sin. "We know of its truth," said
Dr. MacBride, "from the severe troubles and distresses to
which infants are liable, and from death passing upon
them before they are capable of sinning." Yet I knew he
was a good man ; and I also knew that if a missionary is
to be tactless, he might almost as well be bad.

I said their attention wandered, but I forgot the Vir-
ginian. At first his attitude might have been mere pro-
priety. One can look respectfully at a preacher and be in-
ternally breaking all the commandments. But even with
the text I saw real attention light in the Virginian's eye.
And keeping track of the concentration that grew on him
with each minute made the sermon short for me. He
missed nothing. Before the end his gaze at the preacher
had become swerveless. Was he convert or critic ? Con-
vert was incredible. Thus was an hour passed before I
had thought of time.

703



IN A STATE OF SIN

When it was over we took It variously. The preacher
was genial and spoke of having now broken ground for
the lessons that he hoped to instil. He discoursed for a
while about trout-fishing and about the rumored uneasi-
ness of the Indians northward where he was going. It
was plain that his personal safety never gave him a
thought. He soon bade us good night. The Ogdens
shrugged their shoulders and were amused. That was
their way of taking it. Dr. MacBride sat too heavily on
the Judge's shoulders for him to shrug them. As a lead-
ing citizen in the Territory he kept open house for all
comers. Policy and good nature made him bid welcome
a wide variety of travelers. The cow-boy out of employ-
ment found bed and a meal for himself and his horse, and
missionaries had before now been well received at Sunk
Creek Ranch.

"I suppose I'll have to take him fishing," said the Judge
ruefully.

"Yes, my dear," said his wife, "you will. And I shall
have to make his tea for six days."

"Otherwise," Ogden suggested, "it might be reported
that you were enemies of religion."

"That's about it," said the Judge. "I can get on with
most people. But elephants depress me."

So we named the Doctor "Jumbo," and I departed to
my quarters.

At the bunk house, the comments were similar but
more highly salted. The men were going to bed. In spite
of their outward decorum at the service, they had not
liked to be told that they were "altogether become filthy."
It was easy to call names ; they could do that themselves.
And they appealed to me, several speaking at once, like
a concerted piece at the opera: "Say, do you believe
babies go to hell?"— "Ah, of course he don't."— "There

704



OWEN WISTER

ain't no hereafter, anyway." — "Ain't there?" — "Who told
y'u?" — "Same man as told the preacher we were all a
sifted set of sons-of-guns." — "Well, I'm going to stay a
Mormon." — "Well, I'm going to quit fleeing from temp-
tation." — "That's so! Better get it in the neck after a
good time than a poor one." And so forth. Their wit was
not extreme, yet I should like Dr. MacBride to have
heard it. One fellow put his natural soul pretty well into-
words, "If I happened to learn what they had predes-
tinated me to do, I'd do the other thing, just to show
'em!"

AndTrampas? And the Virginian ? They were out of
it. The Virginian had gone straight to his new abode.
Trampas lay in his bed, not asleep, and sullen as ever.

"He ain't got religion this trip," said Scipio to me.

"Did his new foreman get it ?" I asked.

"Huh ! It would spoil him. You keep around, that's
all. Keep around."

Scipio was not to be probed ; and I went, still baffled,
to my repose.

No light burned in the cabin as I approached its door.

The Virginian's room was quiet and dark; and that
Dr. MacBride slumbered was plainly audible to me, even
before I entered. Go fishing with him! I thought, as I
undressed. And I selfishly decided that the Judge might
have this privilege entirely to himself. Sleep came to me
fairly soon, in spite of the Doctor. I was wakened from
it by my bed's being jolted — not a pleasant thing that
night. I must have started. And it was the quiet voice
of the Virginian that told me he was sorry to have acci-
dentally disturbed me. This disturbed me a good deal
more. But his steps did not go to the bunk house, as my
sensational mind had suggested. He was not wearing
much, and in the dimness he seemed taller than common.

705



' IN A STATE OF SIN

I next made out that he was bending over Dr. MacBride.
The divine at last sprang upright.

"I am armed," he said. "Take care. Who are you?"

"You can lay down your gun, seh. I feel like my spirit
was going to bear witness. I feel like I might get an en-
lightening."

He vras using some of the missionary's own language.
The baffling I had been treated to by Scipio melted to
nothing in this. Did living men petrify, I should have
changed to mineral between the sheets. The Doctor got
out of bed, lighted his lamp, and found a book ; and the
two retired into the Virginian's room, where I could hear
the exhortations as I lay amazed. In time the Doctor re-
turned, blew out his lamp, and settled himself. I had been
very much awake, but was nearly gone to sleep again,
when the door creaked and the Virginian stood by the
Doctor's side.

"Are you awake, seh ?"

"What ? What's that ? What is it ?"

"Excuse me, seh. The enemy is winning on me. I'm
feeling less inward opposition to sin."

The lamp was lighted, and I listened to some further
exhortations. They must have taken half an hour. When
the Doctor was in bed again, I thought that I heard him
sigh. This upset my composure in the dark; but I lay
face downward in the pillow, and the Doctor was soon
again snoring. I envied him for a while his faculty of
easy sleep. But I must have dropped off myself; for it
was the lamp in my eyes that now waked me as he came
back for the third time from the Virginian's room. Be-
fore blowing the light out he looked at his watch, and
thereupon I inquired the hour of him,

"Three," said he.

I could not sleep any more now, and I lay watching the
darkness.

706



OWEN WISTER

"I'm afeard to be alone!" said the Virginian's voice
presently in the next room. "I'm afeard." There was a
short pause, and then he shouted very loud, "I'm losin'
my desire afteh the sincere milk of the Word !"

"What? What's that? What?" The Doctor's cot gave
a great crack as he started up listening, and I put my face
deep in the pillow.

"I'm afeard ! I'm afeard ! Sin has quit being bitter in
my belly."

"Courage, my good man." The Doctor was out of bed
with his lamp again, and the door shut behind him. Be-
tween them they made it long this time. I saw the win-
dow become gray; then the corners of the furniture grow
visible; and outside, the dry chorus of the blackbirds be-
gan to fill the dawn. To these the sounds of chickens and
impatient hoofs in the stable were added, and some cow
wandered by loudly calling for her calf. Next, some one
whistling passed near and grew distant. But although
the cold hue that I lay staring at through the window
warmed and changed, the Doctor continued working hard
over his patient in the next room. Only a word here and
there was distinct ; but it was plain from the Virginian's
fewer remarks that the sin in his belly was alarming him
less. Yes, they made this time long. But it proved, in-
deed, the last one. And though some sort of catastrophe
was bound to fall upon us, it was myself who precipitated
the thing that did happen.

Day was wholly come. I looked at my own watch, and
it was six. I had been about seven hours in my bed, and
the Doctor had been about seven hours out of his. The
door opened, and he came in with his book and lamp. He
seemed to be shivering a little, and I saw him cast a long-
ing eye at his couch. But the Virginian followed him
even as he blew out the now quite superfluous light. They

707



IN A STATE OF SIN

made a noticeable couple in their underclothes; the Vir-
ginian with his lean racehorse shanks running to a point
at his ankle, and the Doctor with his stomach and his fat
sedentary calves.

"You'll be going to breakfast and the ladies, seh,
pretty soon," said the Virginian, with a chastened voice.
"But I'll worry through the day somehow without y'u.
And to-night you can turn your wolf loose on me again."

Once more it was no use. My face was deep in the pil-
low, but I made sounds as of a hen who has laid an egg.
It broke on the Doctor with a total instantaneous smash,
quite like an egg.

He tried to speak calmly. "This is a disgrace. An in-
famous disgrace. Never in my life have I — " Words for-
sook him, and his face grew redder. "Never in my life — "
He stopped again, because, at the sight of him being dig-
nified in his red drawers, I was making the noise of a
dozen hens. It was suddenly too much for the Virginian.
He hastened into his room, and there sank on the floor
with his head in his hands. The Doctor immediately
slammed the door upon him, and this rendered me easily
fit for a lunatic asylum. I cried into my pillow, and won-
dered if the Doctor would come and kill me. But he took
no notice of me whatever. I could hear the Virginian's
convulsions through the door, and also the Doctor furi-
ously making his toilet within three feet of my head ; and
I lay quite still with my face the other way, for I was
really afraid to look at him. When I heard him walk to
the door in his boots, I ventured to peep; and there he
was, going out with his bag in his hand. As I still con-
tinued to lie, weak and sore, and with a mind that had
ceased all operation, the Virginian's door opened. He
was clean and dressed and decent, but the devil still
sported in his eye. I have never seen a creature more irre-
sistibly handsome.

708



OWEN WISTER

Then my mind worked again. "You've gone and done
it," said I. "He's packed his valise. He'll not sleep here."

The Virginian looked quickly out of the door. "Why,
he's leavin' us !' he exclaimed. "Drivin' away right now
in his little old buggy !" He turned to me, and our eyes
met solemnly over this large fact. I thought that I per-
ceived the faintest tincture of dismay in the features of
Judge Henry's new, responsible, trusty foreman. This
was the first act of his administration. Once again he
looked out at the departing missionary. "Well," he vin-
dictively stated, "I cert'nly ain't goin' to run afteh him."
And he looked at me again.

"Do you suppose the Judge knows ?" I inquired.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryKate Milner RabbThe wit and humor of America (Volume 2) → online text (page 18 of 24)