In A State Of Sin

: 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 th
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

this evening."

"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

sedentary calves.

"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.