In A State Of Sin
From: The Virginian
Thunder sat imminent upon the missionary's brow. Many were to be at his
mercy soon. But for us he had sunshine still. "I am truly sorry to be
turning you upside down," he said importantly. "But it seems the best
place for my service." He spoke of the tables 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
"In the cook?" I rather densely asked.
"Oh, no! I don't have a Chinaman. It's in the length of after-dinner
"Had you been smoking," I returned, "you would have found them short
"You make it worse," said the lady; "we have had nothing but Dr. Mac
"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.
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 getting ready to come to church,--brushing their hair, shaving, and
making themselves clean, amid talk occasionally profane and continuously
"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."
And they went on with their joking. But Trampas was out of the joking.
He lay on his bed reading a newspaper, and took no pains to look
pleasant. My eyes were considering him when the blithe Scipio came in.
"Don't look so bashful," said he. "There's only us girls here."
He had been helping the Virginian move his belongings from the bunk
house over to the foreman's cabin. He himself was to occupy the
Virginian's old bed here. "And I hope sleepin' in it will bring me some
of his luck," said Scipio. "Yu'd ought to've seen us when he told us in
his quiet way. Well," Scipio sighed a little, "it must feel good to have
your friends glad about you."
"Especially Trampas," said I. "The Judge knows about that," I added.
"Knows, does he? What's he say?" Scipio drew me quickly out of the bunk
"Says it's no business of his."
"Said nothing but that?" Scipio's curiosity seemed strangely intense.
"Made no suggestion? Not a thing?"
"Not a thing. Said he didn't want to know and didn't care."
"How did he happen to hear about it?" snapped Scipio. "You told him!"
he immediately guessed. "He never would." And Scipio jerked his thumb
at the Virginian, who appeared for a moment in the lighted window of the
new quarters he was arranging. "He never would tell," Scipio repeated.
"And so the Judge never made a suggestion to him," he muttered, nodding
in the darkness. "So it's just his own notion. Just like him, too, come
to think of it. Only I didn't expect--well, I guess he could surprise me
any day he tried."
"You're surprising me now," I said. "What's it all about?"
"Oh, him and Trampas."
"What? Nothing surely happened yet?" I was as curious as Scipio had
"No, not yet. But there will."
"Great Heavens, man! when?"
"Just as soon as Trampas makes the first move," Scipio replied easily.
I became dignified. Scipio had evidently been told things by the
"Yes, I up and asked him plumb out," Scipio answered. "I was liftin' his
trunk in at the door, and I couldn't stand it no longer, and I asked him
plumb out. 'Yu've sure got Trampas where yu' want him.' That's what
I said. And he up and answered and told me. So I know." At this point
Scipio stopped; I was not to know.
"I had no idea," I said, "that your system held so much meanness."
"Oh, it ain't meanness!" And he laughed ecstatically.
"What do you call it, then?"
"He'd call it discretion," said Scipio. Then he became serious. "It's
too blamed grand to tell yu'. I'll leave yu' to see it happen. Keep
around, that's all. Keep around. I pretty near wish I didn't know it
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 conscious of a word that he had uttered. It
was when I saw him opening the manuscript of his sermon that I suddenly
remembered I was sitting, so to speak, in church, and began once 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, daredevil 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
of the mass; but his eyes were upon Dr. MacBride with a creamlike
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 company 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 persuade 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 beautiful
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 generations 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 waifs. 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 canyons.
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 Virginian. At first
his attitude might have been mere propriety. One can look respectfully
at a preacher and be internally 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? Convert
was incredible. Thus was an hour passed before I had thought of time.
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
uneasiness 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 leading citizen in the Territory
he kept open house for all comers. Policy and good nature made him bid
welcome a wide variety of travellers. The cow-boy out of employment
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 ain't no hereafter, anyway."--"Ain't there?"--"Who
told yu'?"--"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 temptation."--"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 predestinated me to do, I'd do the other thing, just to show
And Trampas? 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
accidentally 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. I next made out that he was bending over Dr. Mac Bride. 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 enlightening."
He was 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 returned, 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. Before
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.
"I'm afeared to be alone!" said the Virginian's voice presently in the
next room. "I'm afeared." 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 afeared! I'm afeared! 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. Between them they made it long this time.
I saw the window become gray; then the corners of the furniture grow
visible; and outside, the dry chorus of the blackbirds began 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, indeed, 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 longing
eye at his couch. But the Virginian followed him even as he blew out
the now quite superfluous light. They made a noticeable couple in their
underclothes: the Virginian with his lean racehorse shanks running to
a point at his ankle, and the Doctor with his stomach and his fat
"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 yu'. And to-night you can turn your wolf loose on me
Once more it was no use. My face was deep in the pillow, 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 ego.
He tried to speak calmly. "This is a disgrace. An infamous disgrace.
Never in my life have I--" Words forsook him, and his face grew redder.
"Never in my life--" He stopped again, because, at the sight of him
being dignified 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 wondered 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
furiously 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
continued to lie, weak and sore, and with a mind that had ceased an
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 irresistibly handsome.
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 perceived 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 vindictively 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.
He shook his head. "The windo' shades is all down still oveh yondeh."
He paused. "I don't care," he stated, quite as if he had been ten years
old. Then he grinned guiltily. "I was mighty respectful to him all
"Oh, yes, respectful! Especially when you invited him to turn his wolf
The Virginian gave a joyous gulp. He now came and sat down on the edge
of my bed. "I spoke awful good English to him most of the time," said
he. "I can, yu' know, when I cinch my attention tight on to it. Yes,
I cert'nly spoke a lot o' good English. I didn't understand some of it
He was now growing frankly pleased with his exploit. He had builded so
much better than he knew. He got up and looked out across the crystal
world of light. "The Doctor is at one-mile crossing," he said. "He'll
get breakfast at the N-lazy-Y." Then he returned and sat again on my
bed, and began to give me his real heart. "I never set up for being
better than others. Not even to myself. My thoughts ain't apt to travel
around making comparisons. And I shouldn't wonder if my memory took
as much notice of the meannesses I have done as of--as of the other
actions. But to have to sit like a dumb lamb and let a stranger tell yu'
for an hour that yu're a hawg and a swine, just after you have acted in
a way which them that know the facts would call pretty near white--"
"Trampas!" I could not help exclaiming.
For there are moments of insight when a guess amounts to knowledge.
"Has Scipio told--"
"No. Not a word. He wouldn't tell me."
"Well, yu' see, I arrived home hyeh this evenin' with several thoughts
workin' and stirrin' inside me. And not one o' them thoughts was what
yu'd call Christian. I ain't the least little bit ashamed of 'em. I'm a
human. But after the Judge--well, yu' heard him. And so when I went away
from that talk and saw how positions was changed--"
A step outside stopped him short. Nothing more could be read in his
face, for there was Trampas himself in the open door.
"Good morning," said Trampas, not looking at us. He spoke with the same
cool sullenness of yesterday.
We returned his greeting.
"I believe I'm late in congratulating you on your promotion," said he.
The Virginian consulted his watch. "It's only half afteh six," he
Trampas's sullenness deepened. "Any man is to be congratulated on
getting a rise, I expect."
This time the Virginian let him have it. "Cert'nly. And I ain't
forgetting how much I owe mine to you."
Trampas would have liked to let himself go. "I've not come here for any
forgiveness," he sneered.
"When did yu' feel yu' needed any?" The Virginian was impregnable.
Trampas seemed to feel how little he was going this way. He came out
straight now. "Oh, I haven't any Judge behind me, I know. I heard you'd
be paying the boys this morning, and I've come for my time."
"You're thinking of leaving us?" asked the new foreman. "What's your
"Oh, I'm not needing anybody back of me. I'll get along by myself." It
was thus he revealed his expectation of being dismissed by his enemy.
This would have knocked any meditated generosity out of my heart. But
I was not the Virginian. He shifted his legs, leaned back a little, and
laughed. "Go back to your job, Trampas, if that's all your complaint.
You're right about me being in luck. But maybe there's two of us in
It was this that Scipio had preferred me to see with my own eyes. The
fight was between man and man no longer. The case could not be one of
forgiveness; but the Virginian would not use his official position to
crush his subordinate.
Trampas departed with something muttered that I did not hear, and the
Virginian closed intimate conversation by saying, "You'll be late for
breakfast." With that he also took himself away.
The ladies were inclined to be scandalized, but not the Judge. When my
whole story was done, he brought his fist down on the table, and not
lightly this time. "I'd make him lieutenant general if the ranch offered
that position!" he declared.
Miss Molly Wood said nothing at the time. But in the afternoon, by her
wish, she went fishing, with the Virginian deputed to escort her. I
rode with them, for a while. I was not going to continue a third in that
party; the Virginian was too becomingly dressed, and I saw KENILWORTH
peeping out of his pocket. I meant to be fishing by myself when that
volume was returned.
But Miss Wood talked with skilful openness as we rode. "I've heard all
about you and Dr. MacBride," she said. "How could you do it, when the
Judge places such confidence in you?"
He looked pleased. "I reckon," he said, "I couldn't be so good if I
wasn't bad onced in a while."
"Why, there's a skunk," said I, noticing the pretty little animal
trotting in front of us at the edge of the thickets.
"Oh, where is it? Don't let me see it!" screamed Molly. And at this
deeply feminine remark, the Virginian looked at her with such a smile
that, had I been a woman, it would have made me his to do what he
pleased with on the spot.
Upon the lady, however, it seemed to make less impression. Or rather, I
had better say, whatever were her feelings, she very naturally made no
display of them, and contrived not to be aware of that expression which
had passed over the Virginian's face.
It was later that these few words reached me while I was fishing alone:
"Have you anything different to tell me yet?" I heard him say.
"Yes; I have." She spoke in accents light and well intrenched. "I wish
to say that I have never liked any man better than you. But I expect
He must have drawn small comfort from such an answer as that. But he
laughed out indomitably: "Don't yu' go betting on any such expectation!"
And then their words ceased to be distinct, and it was only their two
voices that I heard wandering among the windings of the stream.
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