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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hoosier Schoolmaster: A Story Of Backwoods Life In Indiana - Chapter 15. The Church Of The Best Licks
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The Hoosier Schoolmaster: A Story Of Backwoods Life In Indiana - Chapter 15. The Church Of The Best Licks Post by :WhoDoesItReach Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :1730

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The Hoosier Schoolmaster: A Story Of Backwoods Life In Indiana - Chapter 15. The Church Of The Best Licks

CHAPTER XV. THE CHURCH OF THE BEST LICKS

Just as the flame on the forestick, which Ralph had watched so intensely, flickered and burned low, and just as Ralph with a heavy but not quite hopeless heart rose to leave, the latch lifted and Bud re-entered.

"I wanted to say something," he stammered, "but you know it's hard to say it. I ha'n't no book-larnin to speak of, and some things is hard to say when a man ha'n't got book-words to say 'em with. And they's some things a man can't hardly ever say anyhow to anybody."

Here Bud stopped. But Ralph spoke in such a matter-of-course way in reply that he felt encouraged to go on.

"You gin up Hanner kase you thought she belonged to me. That's more'n I'd a done by a long shot. Now, arter I left here jest now, I says to myself, a man what can gin up his gal on account of sech a feeling fer the rights of a Flat Cricker like me, why, dog-on it, says I, sech a man is the man as can help me do better. I don't know whether you're a Hardshell or a Saftshell, or a Methodist, or a Campbellite, or a New Light, or a United Brother, or a Millerite, or what-not. But I says, the man what can do the clean thing by a ugly feller like me, and stick to it, when I was jest ready to eat him up, is a kind of a man to tie to."

Here Bud stopped in fright at his own volubility, for he had run his words off like a piece learned by heart, as though afraid that if he stopped he would not have courage to go on.

Ralph said that he did not belong to any church, and he was afraid he couldn't do Bud much good. But his tone was full of sympathy, and, what is better than sympathy, a yearning for sympathy.

"You see," said Bud, "I wanted to git out of this low-lived, Flat Crick way of livin'. We're a hard set down here, Mr. Hartsook. And I'm gittin' to be one of the hardest of 'em. But I never could git no good out of Bosaw with his whisky and meanness. And I went to the Mount Tabor church concert. I heard a man discussin' baptism, and regeneration, and so on. That didn't seem no cure for me, I went to a revival over at Clifty. Well, 'twarn't no use. First night they was a man that spoke about Jesus Christ in sech a way that I wanted to foller him everywhere. But I didn't feel fit. Next night I come back with my mind made up that I'd try Jesus Christ, and see ef he'd have me. But laws! they was a big man that night that preached hell. Not that I don't believe they's a hell. They's plenty not a thousand miles away as deserves it, and I don't know as I'm too good for it myself. But he pitched it at us, and stuck it in our faces in sech a way that I got mad. And I says, Well, ef God sends me to hell he can't make me holler 'nough nohow. You see my dander was up. And when my dander's up, I wouldn't gin up fer the devil his-self. The preacher was so insultin' with his way of doin' it. He seemed to be kind of glad that we was to be damned, and he preached somethin' like some folks swears. It didn't sound a bit like the Christ the little man preached about the night afore. So what does me and a lot of fellers do but slip out and cut off the big preacher's stirrups, and hang 'em on to the rider of the fence, and then set his hoss loose! And from that day, sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn't, want to be better. And to-day it seemed to me that you must know somethin' as would help me."

Nothing is worse than a religious experience kept ready to be exposed to the gaze of everybody, whether the time is appropriate or not. But never was a religious experience more appropriate than the account which Ralph gave to Bud of his Struggle in the Dark. The confession of his weakness and wicked selfishness was a great comfort to Bud.

"Do you think that Jesus Christ would--would--well, do you think he'd help a poor, unlarnt Flat Cricker like me?"

"I think he was a sort of a Flat Creeker himself," said Ralph, slowly and very earnestly.

"You don't say?" said Bud, almost getting off his seat.

"Why, you see the town he lived in was a rough place. It was called Nazareth, which meant 'Bush-town.'"

"You don't say?"

"And he was called a Nazarene, which was about the same as 'backwoodsman.'"

And Ralph read the different passages which he had studied at Sunday-school, illustrating the condescension of Jesus, the stories of the publicans, the harlots, the poor, who came to him. And he read about Nathanael, who lived only six miles away, saying, 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?'"

"Jus' what Clifty folks says about Flat Crick," broke in Bud.

"Do you think I could begin without being baptized?" he added presently.

"Why not? Let's begin now to do the best we can, by his help."

"You mean, then, that I'm to begin now to put in my best licks for Jesus Christ, and that he'll help me?"

This shocked Ralph's veneration a little. But it was the sincere utterance of an earnest soul. It may not have been an orthodox start, but it was the one start for Bud. And there be those who have repeated with the finest aesthetic appreciation the old English liturgies who have never known religious aspiration so sincere as that of this ignorant young Hercules, whose best confession was that he meant hereafter "to put in his best licks for Jesus Christ." And there be those who can define repentance and faith to the turning of a hair who never made so genuine a start for the kingdom of Heaven as Bud Means did.

Ralph said yes, that he thought that was just it. At least, he guessed if there was something more, the man that was putting in his best licks would be sure to find it out.

"Do you think he'd help a feller? Seems to me it would be number one to have God help you. Not to help you fight other folks, but to help you when it comes to fighting the devil inside. But you see I don't belong to no church"

"Well, let's you and me have one right off. Two people that help one another to serve God make a church."

I am afraid this ecclesiastical theory will not be considered orthodox. It was Ralph's, and I write it down at the risk of bringing him into condemnation.

But other people before the days of Bud and Ralph have discussed church organization when they should have been doing Christian work. For both of them had forgotten the danger that hung over the old basket-maker, until Shocky burst into the school-house, weeping. Indeed, the poor, nervous little frame was ready to go into convulsions.

"Miss Hawkins--"

Bud started at mention of the name.

"Miss Hawkins has just been over to say that a crowd is going to tar and feather Mr. Pearson to-night. And--" here Shocky wept again. "And he won't run, but he's took up the old flintlock, and he'll die in his tracks."

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