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When Me an' Ed Got Religion
'Long about the time me an' Ed was just gettin' on friendly relations with our 'teens, a young Methodist preacher just out from England got stationed on the Milton circuit an' took the notion of holdin' protracted meetin' in the little red schoolhouse. These revival services was a big event in the neighborhood in them days an' be yet, I've no doubt. You know, we never had much of public amusement or excitement, and a winter without a protracted meetin' was considered dull. The young folks 'specially enjoyed such a meetin', 'cause it was a place to go to of a night, and what with the queer things that happened an' the funny experiences told by the converted, it stood us in place of a theatre. Father was a natural leader at such times, and as he kept the schoolhouse key, me an' Ed would be sent up early of a night to build the fire an' light the lamps. We used to sock the wood to that old box stove till the top got red hot an' the pipe roared. Then we'd set around an' wait for the folks to come.
Old Henry Simmonds was always the first to arrive.
"Wall, boys," he'd say to me an' Ed, "I see you got a good fire goin'. But that ain't nothin' to the fire as'll roast poor sinners if they don't obey the call an' come for'ard. Git religion, boys," he'd say. "Git religion early in life an' be an honor to your father an' mother." Then he'd sit down in front of the stove an' spit terbacker juice though the damper.
Father never said nothin' to us 'bout gettin' religion, 'cause he thought us too young, but me an' Ed 'ud get mighty serious now an' then, as we was terrible 'fraid of dyin' an' goin' to the bad place an' welterin' in the fires there. It was good an' real to us then, I tell you; for beside what old Henry Simmonds was eternally dingin' into our ears an' what "Long John" Clark, a local preacher with a powerful, pleadin' voice and an earnest way with him, was always preachin' 'bout fire an' brimstone, we'd the old family Bible at home, with its scarey pictures, to keep us shiverin' most of the time.
There was one picture in that Bible I'll never forget. It was 'long in Revelations an' was intended to show how an Angel come to lock up Satan every thousand years. There was Hell itself a rollin' an' tossin' in flames, the smoke curlin' up in great clouds 'round about. Then there was the Devil in the shape of a horrible dragon with claw feet an' savage, sharp teeth, an' a skin on him like a rhinoceros, crouchin' back, while a tall Angel in bare feet an' long hair confronted him with a ponderous iron key. Blame if it didn't just about set our teeth to chatterin' every time we looked at that picture!
But it didn't take me an' Ed long to forget all about the Devil an' the bad place the minute we got out into the open air, with the sun shinin' overhead an' with some mischief or other in our minds. I guess we was too full of life to take things seriously.
Well, this winter, long comes the young English preacher to hold protracted meet-in', and he was the most earnest young feller you ever see. He had the "penitentiary" bench full of "convicts" the first week, as old Dan, the French tailor, used to say.
I never told you about Dan, did I? Well, I will some time. He was a case for twistin' words.
Me an' Ed an' a few more boys set back by the stove an' made no move, but we could feel that the spirit or somethin' was workin' in us. We knew we was awful sinners, but we hadn't the nerve to go forward. Will Tinker went forward, after a bit, and I remember well how I wished I was him. I could catch a glimpse of him a blubberin' away an' gettin' saved at one end of the penitent bench, and when the prayin' was over an' the tellin' of experiences begun, me an' Ed 'ud whisper back an' forth, after sizin' up the faces, and guess who'd got religion that night. Some would come up tearful an' look as if all their friends an' neighbors was dead an' buried; while others would be calm-faced an' waitin' eagerly to be called on to tell what the Lord had done for them.
One night, after me an' Ed had gone to bed an' I was just beginnin' to doze off, Ed scratched my leg with his big toe — a signal he had for openin' conversation.
"George," says he to me, "I'm goin' for'ard to-morrow night."
"You dasn't do it," says I.
"Yes, I dast," says he. "I'm goin' for'ard an' git religion."
Ed was such a positive feller that it kinder stumped me for a minute, but I dasn't let him see he'd had the courage to say what I dasn't.
"You go to sleep!" says I. "You're a fool!"
"Well, I'm goin' for'ard just the same," says he.
"You dasn't go for'ard without me," says I.
"I dare, too," says he. " I'll kneel 'longside of Will Tinker."
I lay an' thought, and was mighty uncomfortable. I knew if Ed went forward an' left me by the stove I'd be looked on as an outcast sinner, and Ed 'ud crow over me like sixty if he got religion an' I didn't.
But matters changed in my favor the next night. When the call to come forward came from the young preacher, Ed was pale as a sheet, and didn't stir.
"I thought you was goin' for'ard?" says I in a whisper.
He chawed a sliver, but didn't say a word.
"Ain't you goin' to git religion?" says I, nudgin' him, for I see he was scart.
"George," says he faintly, "you go first; I'll foller."
That was what I wanted, and when the next call come I marched up, with Ed at my heels, givin' Tish Brown a wink out of my left eye as I passed her.
We knelt 'side of Will Tinker, who was still seekin'; and, diggin' our knuckles into our eyes, waited for religion to come.
"Felt anything yet? " says I to Will, nudgin' him.
"Not a blame thing!" says he, "and my knees is 'bout wore out!"
I could hear Ed mumblin' away, and so I started in to say my prayers, but it didn't seem natural, it not bein' bed-time.
By an' by 'long come old Henry Simmonds, who patted our heads.
"Good boys," says he in his croaky voice. "Save the lambs, Lord!" says he, and as he said it he stumbled over the end of a bench.
Will Tinker snickered right out, and I hid my face in my hands to keep from laughin'. Say! I never wanted to laugh so bad in all my life. Me an' Will 'ud look at one 'nother sideways an' then giggle to ourselves, but Ed kept as serious as a judge.
We didn't git religion that night or the next. Will Tinker give up in despair an' left off goin' for'ard, but me an' Ed hung it out.
Finally, one night in bed I felt Ed's big toe scrapin' along my calf an' I knew somethin' was comin'.
"George," says he, "I b'lieve I've got it!"
"Got what?" says I.
"Religion," says he.
"When did you get it?" says I.
"Well, I've been figurin," says he, "and I guess I've got it."
I argued pro an' con, but couldn't shake him. I was in a pickle. I knew positive that I hadn't been moved a peg, but I dasn't let Ed get ahead of me.
Next night, while we was buildin' the fire, I says to him:
"Ed," says I, "if you've got it, I've got it, too."
"Are you sure?" says he.
"Well, to tell the truth, Ed," says I, "I ain't dead certain."
"I guess you've got it, George," says he, "for you've looked solemn all day."
We stood up that night among the saved, and father talked very nice to us an' mother cried a heap.
The next day we started out to live a pious life, and carried our Sunday-school lesson in our pockets. We prayed for everybody we knew an' felt quite lifted up for nigh a week, and then the crash came.
It was this way: Up in the gables of our barn was four little star-shaped holes for the pigeons to come in an' out, and just below them holes a pair of martins had built their mud nest, and me an' Ed had been figurin' for some time how to get up there an' investigate the martin family. We could climb up just so far an' then have to give up.
Well, this day we started in to make a sure thing of them martins. We took off our boots, and diggin' our toes into the clapboards an' hangin' to the joist, began to climb. Up we went, higher'n ever, and I got so I could just reach the bottom of the martin's nest, when I heard a yell from Ed an' see him tumble backward to the mow below. He struck kerflop in the soft pea straw, and at once began to holler. I crawled back as fast as I could, thinkin' he'd hurt himself. When I reached the mow I found him sittin' on a beam with one foot in his hand, the toes all twisted up an' him a cryin' to beat the band.
"Dum them thistles!" he says, sobbin'. "Gosh dum them blame thistles!"
He'd dropped fair into a bunch of straw full of thistles — dry, old, sharp, brown fellers — that run in like needles, and his feet was full of 'em.
"Do they hurt you, Ed?" says I, feelin' bad for him.
He let out a yell, and I see he was crazy mad.
"Gosh dum them thistles!" was all he could say. "Gosh dum them gosh dum thistles!"
When he'd quieted down some I started in to help him pick the thistles from his feet an' clothes, and I says to him: —
"Ed," says I, "I thought you had religion?"
"Dum them thistles! — blame 'em!" says he. "Gosh dum 'em!!"
"Ed," says I, "stop cussin'. You got religion."
"I ain't got no religion! Dum religion!" he howls.
"You're a backslider," says I, nippin' a long, ugly thistle from the calf of his leg.
"Dum religion!" says he, sobbin'. "Dum the martins, too!" says he, glancin' up at them. "Gosh dum 'em!"
"Ed," says I, "you'll go to the bad place, sure."
"I don't give a dum!" says he.
"I'll go to Heaven," says I, "and you'll go to the bad place."
"Go where you like," says he. "There ain't no thistles in the bad place, anyhow," says he, defiant as you please.
He kept dummin' away savage as could be till he'd found the last thistle. Then we went to play over by the pig-pen.
That night Ed's big toe told me he'd somethin' to say, and I waited.
"George," says he, "I wish you'd give it up."
"Give up what?" says I.
"Religion," says he. "I ain't got it an' I don't want to go to the bad place alone."
In my heart I was glad to be let off from prayin' an' bein' solemn, but I made the most of it.
"Give me the green alley with the white rings," says I, "and I'll do it."
"I'll give you four brown marbles," says he.
"The green alley," says I, "or I stick."
"I'll give you five," says he.
"Nothin' but the green alley," says I, for I knew I had him.
He thought for some time an' finally wavered.
"Say 'dum religion,' same's I did," says he, "and I'll give you the green alley."
I had to say it, and then we both went to sleep. We was hardened sinners from that time on, until Ed growed up an' got to be a preacher himself.
One day I says to him, sittin' smokin' in his study, when he was preparin' a sermon: "Ed," says I, "do you remember that time we went up after martins an' lost religion?"
Ed grinned. "You don't ever forget anything, George," says he. "What boys we was!"