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The Test Of Elder Pill: The Country Preacher
by [?]

The lonely center of their social life,
The low, square school-house, stands
Upon the wind-swept plain,
Hacked by thoughtless boyish hands,
And gray, and worn, and warped with strife
Of sleet and autumn rain.



Old man Bacon was pinching forked barbs on a wire fence one rainy day in July, when his neighbor Jennings came along the road on his way to town. Jennings never went to town except when it rained too hard to work outdoors, his neighbors said; and of old man Bacon it was said he never rested nights nor Sundays.

Jennings pulled up. “Good morning, neighbor Bacon.”

“Mornin’,” rumbled the old man without looking up.

“Taking it easy, as usual, I see. Think it’s going to clear up?”

“May, an’ may not. Don’t make much differunce t’ me,” growled Bacon, discouragingly.

“Heard about the plan for a church?”


“Well, we’re goin’ to hire Elder Pill from Douglass to come over and preach every Sunday afternoon at the school-house, an’ we want help t’ pay him–the laborer is worthy of his hire.”

“Sometimes he is an’ then agin he ain’t. Y’ needn’t look t’ me f’r a dollar. I ain’t got no intrust in y’r church.”

“Oh, yes, you have–besides, y’r wife “—-

“She ain’t got no more time ‘n I have t’ go t’ church. We’re obleeged to do ’bout all we c’n stand t’ pay our debts, let alone tryun’ to support a preacher.” And the old man shut the pinchers up on a barb with a vicious grip.

Easy-going Mr. Jennings laughed in his silent way. “I guess you’ll help when the time comes,” he said, and, clucking to his team, drove off.

“I guess I won’t,” muttered the grizzled old giant as he went on with his work. Bacon was what is called land-poor in the West, that is, he had more land than money; still he was able to give if he felt disposed. It remains to say that he was not disposed, being a sceptic and a scoffer. It angered him to have Jennings predict so confidently that he would help.

The sun was striking redly through a rift in the clouds, about three o’clock in the afternoon, when he saw a man coming up the lane, walking on the grass at the side of the road, and whistling merrily. The old man looked at him from under his huge eyebrows with some curiosity. As he drew near, the pedestrian ceased to whistle, and, just as the farmer expected him to pass, he stopped and said, in a free and easy style:

“How de do? Give me a chaw t’baccer. I’m Pill, the new minister. I take fine-cut when I can get it,” he said, as Bacon put his hand into his pocket. “Much obliged. How goes it?”

“Tollable, tollable,” said the astounded farmer, looking hard at Pill as he flung a handful of tobacco into his mouth.

“Yes, I’m the new minister sent around here to keep you fellows in the traces and out of hell-fire. Have y’ fled from the wrath?” he asked, in a perfunctory way.

“You are, eh?” said Bacon, referring back to his profession.

“I am just! How do you like that style of barb fence? Ain’t the twisted wire better?”

“I s’pose they be, but they cost more.”

“Yes, costs more to go to heaven than to hell. You’ll think so after I board with you a week. Narrow the road that leads to light, and broad the way that leads–how’s your soul anyway, brother?”

“Soul’s all right. I find more trouble to keep m’ body go’n’.”

“Give us your hand; so do I. All the same we must prepare for the next world. We’re gettin’ old; lay not up your treasures where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break through and steal.”

Bacon was thoroughly interested in the preacher, and was studying him carefully. He was tall, straight, and superbly proportioned; broad-shouldered, wide-lunged, and thewed like a Greek racer. His rather small steel-blue eyes twinkled, and his shrewd face and small head, set well back, completed a remarkable figure. He wore his reddish beard in the usual way of Western clergymen, with mustache chopped close.