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The Heresy of Abner Calihan by Will Nathaniel Harben


Neil Filmore's store was at the crossing of the Big Cabin and Rock Valley roads. Before he advent of Sherman into the South it had been a grist-mill, to which the hardy mountaineers had regularly brought their grain to be ground, in wagons, on horseback, or on their shoulders, according to their conditions. But the Northern soldiers had appropriated the miller's little stock of toll, had torn down the long wooden sluice which had conveyed the water from the race to the mill, had burnt the great wheel and crude wooden machinery, and rolled the massive grinding-stones into the deepest part of the creek.

After the war nobody saw any need for a mill at that point, and Neil Filmore had bought the property from its impoverished owner and turned the building into a store. It proved to be a fair location, for there was considerable travel along the two main roads, and as Filmore was postmaster his store became the general meeting-point for everybody living within ten miles of the spot. He kept for sale, as he expressed it, “a little of everything, from shoe-eyes to a sack of guano.” Indeed, a sight of his rough shelves and unplaned counters, filled with cakes of tallow, beeswax and butter, bolts of calico, sheeting and ginghams, and the floor and porch heaped with piles of skins, cases of eggs, coops of chickens, and cans of lard, was enough to make an orderly housewife shudder with horror.

But Mrs. Filmore had grown accustomed to this state of affairs in the front part of the house, for she confined her domestic business, and whatever neatness and order were possible, to the room in the rear, where, as she often phrased it, she did the “eatin' an' cookin', an' never interfeer with pap's part except to lend 'im my cheers when thar is more'n common waitin' fer the mail-carrier.”

And her chairs were often in demand, for Filmore was a deacon in Big Cabin Church, which stood at the foot of the green-clad mountain a mile down the road, and it was at the store that his brother deacons frequently met to transact church business.

One summer afternoon they held an important meeting. Abner Calihan, a member of the church and a good, industrious citizen, was to be tried for heresy.

“It has worried me more'n anything that has happened sence them two Dutchmen over at Cove Spring swapped wives an' couldn't be convinced of the'r error,” said long, lean Bill Odell, after he had come in and borrowed a candle-box to feed his mule in, and had given the animal eight ears of corn from the pockets of his long-tailed coat, and left the mule haltered at a hitching-post in front of the store.

“Ur sence the widder Dill swore she was gwine to sue Hank Dobb's wife fer witchcraft,” replied Filmore, in a hospitable tone. “Take a cheer; it must be as hot as a bake- oven out thar in the sun.”

Bill Odell took off his coat and folded it carefully and laid it across the beam of the scales, and unbuttoned his vest and sat down, and proceeded to mop his perspiring face with a red bandanna. Toot Bailey came in next, a quiet little man of about fifty, with a dark face, straggling gray hair, and small, penetrating eyes. His blue lean trousers were carelessly stuck into the tops of his clay- stained boots, and he wore a sack-coat, a “hickory” shirt, and a leather belt. Mrs. Filmore put her red head and broad, freckled face out of the door of her apartment to see who had arrived, and the next moment came out dusting a “split-bottomed” chair with her apron.

“How are ye, Toot?” was her greeting as she placed the chair for him between a jar of fresh honey and a barrel of sorghum molasses. “How is the sore eyes over yore way?”

“Toler'ble,” he answered, as he leaned back against the counter and fanned himself with his slouch hat. “Mine is about through it, but the Tye childern is a sight. Pizen-oak hadn't a circumstance.”

“What did ye use?”

“Copperas an' sweet milk. It is the best thing I've struck. I don't want any o' that peppery eye-wash 'bout my place. It'd take the hide off'n a mule's hind leg.”

“Now yore a-talkin',” and Bill Odell went to the water-bucket on the end of the counter. He threw his tobacco-quid away, noisily washed out his mouth, and took a long drink from the gourd dipper. Then Bart Callaway and Amos Sanders, who had arrived half an hour before and had walked down to take a look at Filmore's fish-pond, came in together. Both were whittling sticks and looking cool and comfortable.

“We are all heer,” said Odell, and he added his hat to his coat and the pile of weights on the scale-beam, and put his right foot on the rung of his chair. “I reckon we mought as well proceed.” At these words the men who had arrived last carefully stowed their hats away under their chairs and leaned forward expectantly. Mrs. Filmore glided noiselessly to a corner behind the counter, and with folded arms stood ready to hear all that was to be said.

“Did anybody inform Ab of the object of this meeting?” asked Odell.

They all looked at Filmore, and he transferred their glances to his wife. She flushed under their scrutiny and awkwardly twisted her fat arms together.

“Sister Calihan wuz in here this mornin',” she deposed in an uneven tone. “I 'lowed somebody amongst 'em ort to know what you-uns wuz up to, so I up an' told 'er.”

“What did she have to say?” asked Odell, bending over the scales to spit at a crack in the floor, but not removing his eyes from the witness.

“Law, I hardly know what she didn't say! I never seed a woman take on so. Ef the last bit o' kin she had on earth wuz suddenly wiped from the face o' creation, she couldn't 'a' tuk it more to heart. Sally woz with 'er, an' went on wuss 'an her mammy.”

“What ailed Sally?”

Mrs. Filmore smiled irrepressibly. “I reckon you ort to know, Brother Odell,” she said, under the hand she had raised to hide her smile. “Do you reckon she hain't heerd o' yore declaration that Eph cayn't marry in no heretic family while yo're above ground? It wuz goin' the round at singin'-school two weeks ago, and thar hain't been a thing talked sence.”

“I hadn't got a ioty to retract,” replied Odell, looking down into the upturned faces for approval. “I'd as soon see a son o' mine in his box. Misfortune an' plague is boun' to foller them that winks at infidelity in any disguise ur gyarb.”

“Oh, shucks! don't fetch the young folks into it, Brother Odell,” gently protested Bart Callaway. “Them two has been a-settin' up to each other ever sence they wuz knee-high to a duck. They hain't responsible fer the doin's o' the old folks.”

“I hain't got nothin' to take back, an' Eph knows it,” thundered the tall deacon, and his face flushed angrily. “Ef the membership sees fit to excommunicate Ab Calihan, none o' his stock'll ever come into my family. But this is dilly-dallyin' over nothin'. You fellers'll set thar cocked up, an' chew an' spit, an' look knowin', an' let the day pass 'thout doin' a single thing. Ab Calihan is either fitten or unfitten, one ur t'other. Brother Filmore, you've seed 'im the most, now what's he let fall that's undoctrinal?”

Filmore got up and laid his clay pipe on the counter and kicked back his chair with his foot.

“The fust indications I noticed,” he began, in a raised voice, as if he were speaking to some one outside, “wuz the day Liz Wambush died. Bud Thorn come in while I wuz weighing up a side o' bacon fur Ab, an' 'lowed that Liz couldn't live through the night. I axed 'im ef she had made her peace, and he 'lowed she had, entirely, that she wuz jest a-lyin' thar shoutin' Glory ever' breath she drawed, an' that they all wuz glad to see her reconciled, fer you know she wuz a hard case speritually. Well, it woz right back thar at the fireplace while Ab wuz warmin' hisse'f to start home that he 'lowed that he hadn't a word to say agin Liz's marvelous faith, nur her sudden speritual spurt, but that in his opinion the doctrine o' salvation through faith without actual deeds of the flesh to give it backbone wuz all shucks, an' a dangerous doctrine to teach to a risin' gineration. Them wuz his words as well as I can remember, an' he cited a good many cases to demonstrate that the members o' Big Cabin wuzn't any more ready to help a needy neighbor than a equal number outside the church. He wuz mad kase last summer when his wheat wuz spilin' everybody that come to he'p wuz uv some other denomination, an' the whole lot o' Big Cabin folks made some excuse ur other. He 'lowed that you—”

Filmore hesitated, and the tall man opposite him changed countenance.

“Neil, hadn't you got a bit o' sense?” put in Mrs. Filmore, sharply.

“What did he say ag'in' me—the scamp?” asked Odell, firing up.

Filmore turned his back to his scowling wife, and took an egg from a basket on the counter and looked at it closely, as he rolled it over and over in his fingers.

“Lots that he ortn't to, I reckon,” he said, evasively.

“Well, what wuz some of it? I hain't a-keerin' what he says about me.”

“He 'lowed, fer one thing, that yore strict adheerance to doctrine had hardened you some, wharas religious conviction, ef thar wuz any divine intention in it, ort, in reason, to have a contrary effect. He 'lowed you wuz money-lovin' an' uncharitable an' unfergivin' an', a heap o' times, un-Christian in yore persecution o' the weak an' helpless—them that has no food an' raiment—when yore crib an' smokehouse is always full. Ab is a powerful talker, an'—”

“It's the devil in 'im a-talkin',” interrupted Odell, angrily, “an' it's plain enough that he ort to be churched. Brother Sanders, you intimated that you'd have a word to say; let us have it.”

Sanders, a heavy-set man, bald-headed and red-bearded, rose. He took a prodigious quid of tobacco from his mouth and dropped it on the floor at the side of his chair. His remarks were crisp and to the point.

“My opinion is that Ab Calihan hain't a bit more right in our church than Bob Inglesel. He's got plumb crooked.”

“What have you heerd 'im say? That's what we want to git at,” said Odell, his leathery face brightening.

“More'n I keered to listen at. He has been readin' stuff he ortn't to. He give up takin' the Advocate, an' wouldn't go in Mary Bank's club when they've been takin' it in his family fer the last five year, an' has been subscribin' fer the True Light sence Christmas. The last time I met 'im at Big Cabin, I think it wuz the second Sunday, he couldn't talk o' nothin' else but what this great man an' t'other had writ somewhar up in Yankeedom, an' that ef we all keep along in our little rut we'll soon be the laughin'-stock of all the rest of the enlightened world. Ab is a slippery sort of a feller, an' it's mighty hard to ketch 'im, but I nailed 'im on one vital p'int.”

Sanders paused for a moment, stroked his beard, and then continued: “He got excited sorter, an' 'lowed that he had come to the conclusion that hell warn's no literal, burnin' one nohow, that he had too high a regyard fer the Almighty to believe that He would amuse Hisse'f roastin' an' feedin' melted lead to His creatures jest to see 'em squirm.”

“He disputes the Bible, then,” said Odell, conclusively, looking first into one face and then another. “He sets his puny self up ag'in' the Almighty. The Book that has softened the pillers o' thousands; the Word that has been the consolation o' millions an' quintillions o' mortals of sense an' judgment in all ages an' countries is a pack o' lies from kiver to kiver. I don't see a bit o' use goin' furder with this investigation.”

Just then Mrs. Filmore stepped out from her corner.

“I hain't been axed to put in,” she said, warmly; “but ef I wuz you-uns I'd go slow with Abner Calihan. He's nobody's fool. He's too good a citizen to be hauled an' drug about like a dog with a rope round his neck. He fit on the right side in the war, an' to my certain knowledge has done more to'ds keepin' peace an' harmony in this community than any other three men in it. He has set up with the sick an' toted medicine to 'em, an' fed the pore an' housed the homeless. Here only last week he got hisse'f stung all over the face an' neck helpin' that lazy Joe Sebastian hive his bees, an' Joe an' his triflin' gang didn't git a scratch. You may see the day you'll regret it ef you run dry shod over that man.”

“We simply intend to do our duty, Sister Filmore,” said Odell, slightly taken aback; “but you kin see that church rules must be obeyed. I move we go up thar in a body an' lay the case squar before 'im. Ef he is willin' to take back his wild assertions an' go 'long quietly without tryin' to play smash with the religious order of the whole community, he may stay in on probation. What do you-uns say?”

“It's all we kin do now,” said Sanders; and they all rose and reached for their hats.

“You'd better stay an' look atter the store,” Filmore called back to his wife from the outside; “somebody mought happen along.” With a reluctant nod of her head she acquiesced, and came out on the little porch and looked after them as they trudged along the hot road toward Abner Calihan's farm. When they were out of sight she turned back into the store. “Well,” she muttered, “Abner Calihan may put up with that triflin' layout a-interfeerin' with 'im when he is busy a-savin' his hay, but ef he don't set his dogs on 'em he is a better Christian 'an I think he is' an' he's a good un. They are a purty- lookin' set to be a-dictatin' to a man like him.”

A little wagon-way, which was not used enough to kill the stubbly grass that grew on it, ran from the main road out to Calihan's house. The woods through which the little road had been cut were so thick and the foliage so dense that the overlapping branches often hid the sky.

Calihan's house was a four-roomed log building which had been weather-boarded on the outside with upright unpainted planks. On the right side of the house was an orchard, and beneath some apple-trees near the door stood an old-fashioned cider-press, a pile of acid-stained rocks which had been used as weights in the press, and numerous tubs, barrels, jugs, and jars, and piles of sour-smelling refuse, over which buzzed a dense swarm of honey-bees, wasps, and yellow-jackets. On the other side of the house, in a chip-strewn yard, stood cords upon cords of wood, and several piles of rich pine-knots and charred pine-logs, which the industrious farmer had on rainy days hauled down from the mountains for kindling-wood. Behind the house was a great log barn and a stable-yard, and beyond them lay the cornfields and the lush green meadow, where a sinuous line of willows and slender cane-brakes marked the course of a little creek.

The approach of the five visitors was announced to Mrs. Calihan and her daughter by a yelping rush toward the gate of half a dozen dogs which had been napping and snapping at flies on the porch. Mrs. Calihan ran out into the yard and vociferously called the dogs off, and with awed hospitality invited the men into the little sitting-room.

Those of them who cared to inspect their surroundings saw a rag carpet, walls of bare, hewn logs, the cracks of which had been filled with yellow mud, a little table in the center of the room, and a cottage organ against the wall near the small window. On the mantel stood a new clock and a glass lamp, the globe of which held a piece of red flannel and some oil. The flannel was to give the lamp color. Indeed, lamps with flannel in them were very much in vogue in that part of the country.

“Me an' Sally wuz sorter expectin' ye,” said Mrs. Calihan, as she gave them seats and went around and took their hats from their knees and laid them on a bed in the next room. “I don't know what to make of Mr. Calihan,” she continued, plaintively. “He never wuz this away before. When we wuz married he could offer up the best prayer of any young man in the settlement. The Mount Zion meetin'-house couldn't hold protracted meetin' without 'im. He fed more preachers an' the'r bosses than anybody else, an' some 'lowed that he wuz jest too natcherly good to pass away like common folks, an' that when his time come he'd jest disappear body an' all.” She was now wiping her eyes on her apron, and her voice had the suggestion of withheld emotions. “I never calculated on him bringin' sech disgrace as this on his family.”

“Whar is he now?” asked Odell, preliminarily.

“Down thar stackin' hay. Sally begun on 'im ag'in at dinner about yore orders to Eph, an' he went away 'thout finishin' his dinner. She's been a-cryin' an' a-poutin' en' takin' on fer a week, an' won't tech a bite to eat. I never seed a gal so bound up in anybody as she is in Eph. It has mighty nigh driv her pa distracted, kase he likes Eph, an' Sally's his pet.” Mrs. Calihan turned her head toward the adjoining room: “Sally, oh, Sally! are ye listenin'? Come heer a minute!”

There was silence for a moment, then a sound of heavy shoes on the floor of the next room, and a tall rather good-looking girl entered. Her eyes and cheeks were red, and she hung her head awkwardly, and did not look at any one but her mother.

“Did you call me, ma?”

“Yes, honey; run an' tell yore pa they are all heer,—the last one of 'em, an' fer him to hurry right on to the house an' not keep 'em a-waitin'.”

“Yes-sum!” And without any covering for her head the visitors saw her dart across the back yard toward the meadow.

With his pitchfork on his shoulder, a few minutes later Abner Calihan came up to the back door of his house. He wore no coat, and but one frayed suspender supported his patched and baggy trousers. His broad, hairy breast showed through the opening in his shirt. His tanned cheeks and neck were corrugated, his hair and beard long and reddish brown. His brow was high and broad, and a pair of blue eyes shone serenely beneath his shaggy brows.

“Good evenin',” he said, leaning his pitchfork against the door-jamb outside and entering. Without removing his hat he went around and gave a damp hand to each visitor. “It is hard work savin' hay sech weather as this.”

No one replied to this remark, though they all nodded and looked as if they wanted to give utterance to something struggling within them. Calihan swung a chair over near the door, and sat down and leaned back against the wall, and looked out at the chickens in the yard and the gorgeous peacock strutting about in the sun. No one seemed quite ready to speak, so, to cover his embarrassment, he looked farther over in the yard to his potato- bank and pig-pens, and then up into the clear sky for indications of rain.

“I reckon you know our business, Brother Calihan,” began Odell, in a voice that broke the silence harshly.

“I reckon I could make a purty good guess,” and Calihan spit over his left shoulder into the yard. “I hain't heerd nothin' else fer a week. From all the talk, a body'd 'low I'd stole somebody's hawgs.”

“We jest had to take action,” affirmed the self-constituted speaker for the others. “The opinions you have expressed,” and Odell at once began to warm up to his task, “are so undoctrinal an' so p'int blank ag'in' the articles of faith that, believin' as you seem to believe, you are plumb out o' j'int with Big Cabin Church, an' a resky man in any God-feerin' community. God Almighty”—and those who saw Odell's twitching upper lip and indignantly flashing eye knew that the noted “exhorter” was about to become mercilessly personal and vindictive—“God Almighty is the present ruler of the universe, but sence you have set up to run ag'in' Him it looks like you'd need a wider scope of territory to transact business in than jest heer in this settlement.”

The blood had left Calihan's face. His eyes swept from one stern, unrelenting countenance to another till they rested on his wife and daughter, who sat side by side, their faces in their aprons, their shoulders quivering with soundless sobs. They had forsaken him. He was an alien in his own house, a criminal convicted beneath his own roof. His rugged breast rose and fell tumultuously as he strove to command his voice.

“I hadn't meant no harm—not a speck,” he faltered, as he wiped the perspiration from his quivering chin. “I hain't no hand to stir up strife in a community. I've tried to be law-abidin' an' honest, but it don't seem like a man kin help thinkin'. He—”

“But he kin keep his thinkin' to hisse'f,” interrupted Odell, sharply; and a pause came after his words.

In a jerky fashion Calihan spit over his shoulder again. He looked at his wife and daughter for an instant, and nodded several times as if acknowledging the force of Odell's words. Bart Callaway took out his tobacco- quid and nervously shuffled it about in his palm as if he had half made up his mind that Odell ought not to do all the talking, but he remained mute, for Mrs. Calihan had suddenly looked up.

“That's what I told him,” she whimpered, bestowing a tearful glance on her husband. “He mought 'a' kep' his idees to hisse'f ef he had to have 'em, and not 'a' fetched calumny an' disgrace down on me an' Sally. When he used to set thar atter supper an' pore over the True Light when ever'body else wuz in bed, I knowed it'd bring trouble, kase some o' the doctrine wuz scand'lous. The next thing I knowed he had lost intrust in prayer-meetin', an' 'lowed that Brother Washburn's sermons wuz the same thing over an' over, an' that they mighty nigh put him to sleep. An' then he give up axin' the blessin' at the table— somethin' that has been done in my family as fur back as the oldest one kin remember. An' he talked his views, too, fer it got out, an' me nur Sally narry one never cheeped it, fer we wuz ashamed. An' then ever' respectable woman in Big Cabin meetin'-house begun to stuff away from us as ef they wuz afeerd o' takin' some dreadful disease. It wuz hard enough on Sally at the start, but when Eph up an' tol' her that you had give him a good tongue-lashin', an' had refused to deed him the land you promised him ef he went any further with her, it mighty nigh prostrated her. She hain't done one thing lately but look out at the road an' pine an' worry. The blame is all on her father. My folks has all been good church members as fur back as kin be traced, an' narry one wuz ever turned out.”

Mrs. Calihan broke down and wept. Calihan was deeply touched; he could not bear to see a woman cry. He cleared his throat and tried to look unconcerned.

“What step do you-uns feel called on to take next to—to what you are a-doin' of now?” he stammered.

“We 'lowed,” replied Odell, “ef we couldn't come to some sort o' understandin' with you now, we'd fetch up the case before preachin' to-morrow an' let the membership vote on it. The verdict would go ag'in' you, Ab, fer thar hain't a soul in sympathy with you.”

The sobbing of the two women broke out in renewed volume at the mention of this dreadful ultimatum, which, despite their familiarity with the rigor of Big Cabin Church discipline, they had up to this moment regarded as a vague contingent rather than a tangible certainty.

Calihan's face grew paler. Whatever struggle might have been going on in his mind was over. He was conquered.

“I am ag'in' bringin' reproach on my wife an' child,” he conceded, a lump in his throat and a tear in his eye. “You all know best. I reckon I have been too forward an' too eager to heer myself talk.” He got up and looked out toward the towering cliffy mountains and into the blue indefiniteness above them, and without looking at the others he finished awkwardly: “Ef it's jest the same to you-uns you may let the charge drap, an'—an' in future I'll give no cause fer complaint.”

“That's the talk” said Odell, warmly, and he got up and gave his hand to Calihan. The others followed his example.

“I'll make a little speech before preachin' in the mornin',” confided Odell to Calihan after congratulations were over. “You needn't be thar unless you want to. I'll fix you up all right.”

Calihan smiled faintly and looked shamefacedly toward the meadow, and reached outside and took hold of the handle of his pitchfork.

“I want to try to git through that haystack 'fore dark,” he said, awkwardly. “Ef you- uns will be so kind as to excuse me now I'll run down and finish up. I'd sorter set myself a task to do, an' I don't like to fall short o' my mark.”

Down in the meadow Calihan worked like a tireless machine, not pausing for a moment to rest his tense muscles. He was trying to make up for the time he had lost with his guests. Higher and smaller grew the great haystack as it slowly tapered toward its apex. The red sun sank behind the mountain and began to draw in its long streamers of light. The gray of dusk, as if fleeing from its darker self, the monster night, crept up from the east, and with a thousand arms extended moved on after the receding light.

Calihan worked on till the crickets began to shrill and the frogs in the marshes to croak, and the hay beneath his feet felt damp with dew. The stack was finished. He leaned on his fork and inspected his work mechanically. It was a perfect cone. Every outside straw and blade of grass lay smoothly downward, like the hair on a well-groomed horse. Then with his fork on his shoulder he trudged slowly up the narrow field-road toward the house. He was vaguely grateful for the darkness; a strange, new, childish embarrassment was on him. For the first time in life he was averse to meeting his wife and child.

“I've been spanked an' told to behave ur it 'ud go wuss with me,” he muttered. “I never wuz talked to that away before by nobody, but I jest had to take it. Sally an' her mother never would 'a' heerd the last of it ef I had let out jest once. No man, I reckon, has a moral right to act so as to make his family miserable. I crawfished, I know, an' on short notice; but law me! I wouldn't have Bill Odell's heart in me fer ever' acre o' bottom- lan' in this valley. I wouldn't 'a' talked to a houn' dog as he did to me right before Sally an' her mother.”

He was very weary when he leaned his fork against the house and turned to wash his face and hands in the tin basin on the bench at the side of the steps. Mrs. Calihan came to the door, her face beaming.

“I wuz afeerd you never would come,” she said, in a sweet, winning tone. “I got yore beans warmed over an' some o' yore brag yam taters cooked. Come on in 'fore the coffee an' biscuits git cold.”

“I'll be thar in a minute,” he said; and he rolled up his sleeves and plunged his hot hands and face into the cold spring-water.

“Here's a clean towel, pa; somebody has broke the roller.” It was Sally. She had put on her best white muslin gown and braided her rich, heavy hair into two long plaits which hung down her back. There was no trace of the former redness about her eyes, and her face was bright and full of happiness. He wiped his hands and face on the towel she held, and took a piece of a comb from his vest pocket and hurriedly raked his coarse hair backward. He looked at her tenderly and smiled in an abashed sort of way.

“Anybody comin' to-night?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Eph Odell, I'll bet my hat!”

The girl nodded, and blushed and hung her head.

“How do you know?”

“Mr. Odell 'lowed I mought look fer him.”

Abner Calihan laughed slowly and put his arm around his daughter, and together they went toward the steps of the kitchen door.

“You seed yore old daddy whipped clean out to-day,” he said, tentatively. “I reckon yo're ashamed to see him sech a coward an' have him sneak away like a dog with his tail tucked 'tween his legs. Bill Odell is a power in this community.”

She laughed with him, but she did not understand his banter, and preceded him into the kitchen. It was lighted by a large tallow- dip in the center of the table. There was much on the white cloth to tempt a hungry laborer's appetite—a great dish of greasy string-beans, with pieces of bacon, a plate of smoking biscuits, and a platter of fried ham in brown gravy. But he was not hungry. Slowly and clumsily he drew up his chair and sat down opposite his wife and daughter. He slid a quivering thumb under the edge of his inverted plate and turned it half over, but noticing that they had their hands in their laps and had reverently bowed their heads, he cautiously replaced it. In a flash he comprehended what was expected of him. The color surged into his homely face. He played with his knife for a moment, and then stared at them stubbornly, almost defiantly. They did not look up, but remained motionless and patiently expectant. The dread of the protracted silence, for which he was becoming more and more responsible, conquered him. He lowered his head and spoke in a low, halting tone:

“Good Lord, Father of us all, have mercy on our sins, and make us thankful fer these, Thy many blessings. Amen.”


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