Elmer Gantry, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 9

1

The relations of Brother Gantry and Brother Shallard were not ardent, toward Chrismastide, even in the intimacy of pumping a hand-car.

Frank complained while they were laboring along the track after church at Schoenheim:

“Look here, Gantry, something’s got to be done. I’m not satisfied about you and Lulu. I’ve caught you looking at each other. And I suspect you’ve been talking to the dean about Dr. Zechlin. I’m afraid I’ve got to go to the dean myself. You’re not fit to have a pastorate.”

Elmer stopped pumping, glared, rubbed his mittened hands on his thighs, and spoke steadily:

“I’ve been waiting for this! I’m impulsive — sure; I make bad mistakes — every red-blooded man does. But what about you? I don’t know how far you’ve gone with your hellish doubts, but I’ve been listening to the hedging way you answer questions in Sunday School, and I know you’re beginning to wabble. Pretty soon you’ll be an out-and-out liberal. God! Plotting to weaken the Christian religion, to steal away from weak groping souls their only hope of salvation! The worst murderer that ever lived isn’t a criminal like you!”

“That isn’t true! I’d die before I’d weaken the faith of any one who needed it!”

“Then you simply haven’t got brains enough to see what you’re doing, and there’s no place for you in any Christian pulpit! It’s me that ought to go to Pop Trosper complaining! Just today, when that girl came to you worrying about her pa’s giving up family-prayers, you let on like it didn’t matter much. You may have started that poor young lady on the doubt-paved road that leads to everlasting Hell!”

And all the way to Mizpah Frank worried and explained.

And at Mizpah Elmer graciously permitted him to resign his place at Schoenheim, and advised him to repent and seek the direction of the Holy Spirit before he should ever attempt another pastorate.

Elmer sat in his rooms flaming with his evangelistic triumph. He was so sincere about it that not for minutes did he reflect that Frank would no longer be an obstacle to his relations with Lulu Bains.

2

A score of times before March, in her own house, in an abandoned log barn, at the church, Elmer contrived to have meetings with Lulu. But he wearied of her trusting babble. Even her admiration, since she always gushed the same things in the same way, began to irritate him. Her love-making was equally unimaginative. She always kissed and expected to be kissed in the same way. Even before March he had had enough, but she was so completely devoted to him that he wondered if he might not have to give up the Schoenheim church to get rid of her. He felt injured.

Nobody could ever say he was unkind to girls or despised ’em, the way Jim Lefferts used to. He’d taught Lulu an awful lot; got her over her hick ideas; showed her how a person could be religious and still have a good time, if you just looked at it right and saw that while you ought to teach the highest ideals, nobody could be expected to always and exactly live up to ’em every day. Especially when you were young. And hadn’t he given her a bracelet that cost five good bucks?

But she was such a darned fool. Never could understand that after a certain point a man wanted to quit love-making and plan his next Sunday’s sermon or bone up on his confounded Greek. Practically, he felt resentfully, she’d deceived him. Here he’d thought that she was a nice, safe, unemotional little thing, whom it might be pleasant to tease but who’d let him alone when he had more serious matters to attend to, and then she’d turned out passionate. She wanted to go on being kissed and kissed and kissed when he was sick of it. Her lips were always creeping around, touching his hand or his cheek when he wanted to talk.

She sent him whining little notes at Mizpah. Suppose somebody found one of ’em! Golly! She wrote to him that she was just living till their next meeting — trying to bother him and distract his attention when he had a man’s work to do. She mooned up at him with her foolish soft mushy eyes all through his sermons — absolutely spoiled his style. She was wearing him out, and he’d have to get rid of her.

Hated to do it. Always HAD been nice to girls — to everybody. But it was for her sake just as much as his —

He’d have to be mean to her and make her sore.

3

They were alone in the Schoenheim church after morning meeting. She had whispered to him at the door, “I’ve got something I have to tell you.”

He was frightened; he grumbled, “Well, we oughtn’t to be seen together so much but — Slip back when the other folks are gone.”

He was sitting in the front pew in the deserted church, reading hymns for want of better, when she crept behind him and kissed his ear. He jumped.

“Good Lord, don’t go startling people like that!” he snarled. “Well, what’s all this you have to tell me?”

She was faltering, near to tears. “I thought you’d like it! I just wanted to creep close and say I loved you!”

“Well, good heavens, you needn’t of acted as though you were pregnant or something!”

“Elmer!” Too hurt in her gay affection, too shocked in her rustic sense of propriety, for resentment.

“Well, that’s just about how you acted! Making me wait here when I’ve got to be back in town — important meeting — and me having to pump that hand-car all alone! I do wish you wouldn’t act like a ten-year-old kid ALL the time!”

“Elmer!”

“Oh, Elmer, Elmer, Elmer! That’s all very well. I like to play around and be foolish jus’ as well’s anybody, but all this — all this — All the TIME!”

She fled round to the front of the pew and knelt by him, her childish hand on his knee, prattling in an imitation of baby-talk which infuriated him:

“Oh, issums such cwoss old bear! Issums bad old bear! So cwoss with Lulukins!”

“Lulukins! Great John God!”

“Why, Elmer Gantry!” It was the Sunday School teacher who was shocked now. She sat up on her knees.

“Lulukins! Of all the damned fool baby-talk I ever heard that takes the cake! That’s got ’em all beat! For God’s sake try to talk like a human being! And don’t go squatting there. Suppose somebody came in. Are you deliberately going to work to ruin me? . . . LULUKINS!”

She stood up, fists tight. “What have I done? I didn’t mean to hurt you! Oh, I didn’t, dearest! Please forgive me! I just came in to s’prise you!”

“Huh! You S’PRISED me all right!”

“Dear! Please! I’m so sorry. Why, you called me Lulukins yourself!”

“I never did!”

She was silent.

“Besides, if I did, I was kidding.”

Patiently, trying to puzzle it out, she sat beside him and pleaded, “I don’t know what I’ve done. I just don’t know. Won’t you please — oh, PLEASE explain, and give me a chance to make up for it!”

“Oh, hell!” He sprang up, hat in hand, groping for his overcoat. “If you can’t understand, I can’t waste my time explaining!” And was gone, relieved but not altogether proud.

But by Tuesday he admired himself for his resolution.

Tuesday evening came her apology; not a very good note, blurry, doubtful of spelling, and, as she had no notion what she was apologizing about, not very lucid.

He did not answer it.

During his sermon the next Sunday she looked up at him waiting to smile, but he took care not to catch her eye.

While he was voluminously explaining the crime of Nadab and Abihu in putting strange fire in their censors, he was thinking with self-admiration, “Poor little thing. I’m sorry for her. I really am.”

He saw that she was loitering at the door, behind her parents, after the service, but he left half his congregation unhandshaken and unshriven, muttered to Deacon Bains, “Sorry gotta hurry ‘way,” and fled toward the railroad tracks.

“If you’re going to act this way and deliberately PERSECUTE me,” he raged, “I’ll just have to have a good talk with you, my fine young lady!”

He waited, this new Tuesday, for another note of apology. There was none, but on Thursday, when he was most innocently having a vanilla milk-shake at Bombery’s Drug Store, near the seminary, when he felt ever so good and benign and manly, with his Missions theme all finished and two fine five-cent cigars in his pocket, he saw her standing outside peering in at him.

He was alarmed. She looked not quite sane.

“Suppose she’s told her father!” he groaned.

He hated her.

He swaggered out gallantly, and he did most magniloquently the proper delight at encountering her here in town.

“Well, well, well, Lulu, this IS a pleasant surprise! And where’s Papa?”

“He and Ma are up in the doctor’s office — about Ma’s earache. I said I’d meet them at the Boston Bazaar. Elmer!” Her voice was like stretched quivering wire. “I’ve GOT to talk to you! You’ve got to — Walk down the street with me.”

He saw that she had tried to rouge her cheeks. It was not customary in rural Midwest in 1906. She had done it badly.

The spring was early. These first days of March were soft with buds, and Elmer sighed that if she weren’t such a tyrannical nagger, he might have felt romantic about her as they walked toward the court-house lawn and the statue of General Sherman.

He had expanded her education in boldness as well as vocabulary; and with only a little hesitation, a little of peering up at him, a little trying to hook her fingers over his arm till he shook it free, she blurted:

“We’ve got to do something. Because I think I’m going to have a baby.”

“Oh, good God Almighty! Hell!” said the Reverend Elmer Gantry. “And I suppose you’ve gone squealing to your old man and the old woman!”

“No, I haven’t.” She was quiet, and dignified — dignified as a bedraggled gray kitten could be.

“Well, that’s good, anyway. Well, I suppose I’ll have to do something about it. Damn!”

He thought rapidly. From the ladies of joy whom he knew in the city of Monarch he could obtain information — But —

“You look here now!” he snarled. “It isn’t possible!” He faced her, on the brick walk through the court-house lawn, under the castiron wings of the rusty Justice. “What are you trying to pull? God knows I most certainly intend to stand by you in every way. But I don’t intend to be bamboozled, not by anybody! What makes you think you’re pregnant?”

“Please, dear! Don’t use that word!”

“Huh! Say, that’s pretty good, that is! Come across now. What makes you think so?”

She could not look at him; she looked only at the ground; and his virtuous indignation swooped down on her as she stammered her reasons. Now no one had taught Lulu Bains much physiology; and it was evident that she was making up what she considered sound symptoms. She could only mumble again and again, while tears mucked her clumsy rouge, while her bent fingers trembled at her chin, “Oh, it’s — I feel so bad — oh, please, dear, don’t make me go on explaining.”

He had enough of it. He gripped her shoulder, not tenderly.

“Lulu, you’re lying! You have a dirty, lying, deceitful heart! I wondered what it was about you that bothered me and kept me from marrying you. Now I know! Thank God I’ve found out in time! You’re lying!”

“Oh, dear, I’m not. Oh, please!”

“Look here. I’m going to take you to a doctor’s. Right now. We’ll get the truth.”

“Oh, no, no, no! Please, no! I can’t.”

“Why can’t you?”

“Oh, please!”

“Uh-huh! And that’s all you’ve got to say for yourself! Come here! Look up at me!”

They must have hurt, his meaty fingers digging into her shoulder, but then, he felt righteous, he felt like the Old Testament prophets whom his sect admired. And he had found something about which he really could quarrel with her.

She did not look at him, for all his pinching. She merely wept, hopelessly.

“Then you were lying?”

“Oh, I was! Oh, dearest, how can you hurt me like you do?” He released his grip, and looked polite. “Oh, I don’t mean hurting my shoulder. That doesn’t matter. I mean hurting ME! So cold to me! And I thought maybe if we were married — I’d do everything to make you happy. I’d go wherever you did. I wouldn’t mind if we had the tiniest little small house —”

“And you — YOU— expect a minister of the gospel to share ANY house with a liar! Oh, you viper that — Oh, hell, I won’t talk like a preacher. I don’t suppose I have done altogether right, maybe. Though I noticed you were glad enough to sneak out and meet me places! But when a woman, a Christian, deliberately lies and tries to deceive a man in his deepest feelings — That’s too much no matter what I did! Don’t you ever dare to speak to me again! And if you tell your father about this, and force me into marriage, I’ll — I’ll — I’ll kill myself!”

“Oh, I won’t! Honest, I won’t!”

“I’ll repent my own fault in bitter tears and as for you, young woman — Go and sin no more.”

He swung round, walked away from her, deaf to her whimperings. She desperately trotted after his giant stride for a while, then leaned against the trunk of a sycamore, while a passing grocery clerk snickered.

She did not appear at church the next Sunday. Elmer was so pleased that he thought of having another rendezvous with her.

4

Deacon Bains and his good wife had noticed how pale and absent-minded was their normally bouncing daughter.

“Guess she’s in love with that new preacher. Well, let’s keep our hands off. Be a nice match for her. Never knew a young preacher that was so filled with the power. Talks like a house afire, by golly,” said the deacon, as they yawned and stretched in the vast billowy old bed.

Then Floyd Naylor came fretting to the deacon.

Floyd was a kinsman of the family; a gangling man of twenty-five, immensely strong, rather stupid, a poor farmer, very loyal. For years he had buzzed about Lulu. It would be over-romantic to say that he had eaten his faithful heart out in lone reverence. But he had always considered Lulu the most beautiful, sparkling, and profound girl in the universe. Lulu considered him a stick, and Deacon Bains held in aversion his opinions on alfalfa. He was a familiar of the household; rather like a neighbor’s dog.

Floyd found Deacon Bains in the barnyard mending a whiffletree, and grunted, “Say, Cousin Barney, I’m kind of worried about Lulu.”

“Oh, guess she’s in love with this new preacher. Can’t tell; they might get hitched.”

“Yeh, but is Brother Gantry in love with her? Somehow I don’t like that fella.”

“Rats, you don’t appreciate preachers. You never was in a real state of grace. Never did get reborn of the spirit proper.”

“Like hell I didn’t! Got just as reborn as you did! Preachers are all right, most of ’em. But this fella Gantry — Say, here ‘long about two months ago I seen him and Lulu walking down the brick schoolhouse road, and they was hugging and kissing like all get-out, and he was calling her Sweetheart.”

“Heh? Sure it was them?”

“Dead certain. I was, uh — Well, fact is, another fella and me —”

“Who was she?”

“Now that don’t make no difference. Anyway, we was sitting right under the big maple this side of the schoolhouse, in the shade, but it was bright moonlight and Lulu and this preacher come by, near’s I am to you, prett’ near. Well, thinks I, guess they’re going to get engaged. Then I hung around the church, once-twice after meeting, and one time I kinda peeked in the window and I seen ’em right there in the front pew, hugging like they sure ought to get married whether or no. I didn’t say anything — wanted to wait and see if he’d marry her. Now it ain’t any of my business, Barney, but you know I always liked Lulu, and strikes me we ought to know if this Bible-walloper is going to play straight with her.”

“Guess maybe that’s right. I’ll have a talk with her.”

Bains had never been very observant of his daughter, but Floyd Naylor was not a liar, and it was with sharpened eyes that the deacon stumped into the house and found her standing by the churn, her arms hanging limp.

“Say, uh, say, uh, Lu, how’s things going with you and Brother Gantry?”

“Why, what do you mean?”

“You two engaged? Going to be engaged? He going to marry you?”

“Of course not.”

“Been making love to you, ain’t he?”

“Oh, never!”

“Never hugged you or kissed you?”

“Never!”

“How far’d he go?”

“Oh, he didn’t!”

“Why you been looking so kind of peeked lately?”

“Oh, I just don’t feel very well. Oh, I feel fine. It’s just the spring coming on, I guess —” She dropped to the floor and, with her head against the churn, her thin fingers beating an hysterical tattoo on the floor, she choked with weeping.

“There, there, Lu! Your dad’ll do something about it.”

Floyd was waiting in the farmyard.

There were, in those parts and those days, not infrequent ceremonies known as “shotgun weddings.”

5

The Reverend Elmer Gantry was reading an illustrated pink periodical devoted to prize-fighters and chorus girls in his room at Elizabeth J. Schmutz Hall late of an afternoon when two large men walked in without knocking.

“Why, good evening, Brother Bains — Brother Naylor! This is a pleasant surprise. I was, uh — Did you ever see this horrible rag? About actoresses. An invention of the devil himself. I was thinking of denouncing it next Sunday. I hope you never read it — won’t you sit down, gentlemen? — take this chair — I hope you never read it, Brother Floyd, because the footsteps of —”

“Gantry,” exploded Deacon Bains, “I want you to take your footsteps right now and turn ’em toward my house! You’ve been fooling with my daughter, and either you’re going to marry her, or Floyd and me are going to take it out of your hide, and way I feel just now, don’t much care which it is.”

“You mean to say that Lulu has been pretending —”

“Naw, Lulu ain’t said nothing. God, I wonder if I ought to LET the girl marry a fellow like you? But I got to protect her good name, and guess Floyd and me can see to it you give her a square deal after the marriage. Now I’ve sent out word to invite all the neighbors to the house tonight for a little sociable to tell ’em Lulu and you are engaged, and you’re going to put on your Sunday-go-to-meeting suit and come with us, right now.”

“You can’t bully me into anything —”

“Take that side of him, Floyd, but I get the first lick. You get what’s left.”

They ranged up beside him. They were shorter, less broad, but their faces were like tanned hard leather, their eyes were hard —

“You’re a big cuss, Brother Gantry, but guess you don’t get enough exercise no more. Pretty soft,” considered Deacon Bains.

His fist was dropping down, down to his knee; his shoulder sloped down; his fist was coming up — and Floyd had suddenly pinioned Elmer’s arms.

“I’ll do it! All right! All right!” Elmer shrieked.

He’d find a way to break the engagement. Already he was recovering his poise.

“Now you fellows listen to me! I’m in love with Lulu, and I intended to ask her the moment I finish here — less than three months now — and get my first church. And then you two butt in and try to spoil this romance!”

“Hum, yes, I guess so,” Bains droned, inexpressible contempt in his dragging voice. “You save all them pretty words for Lulu. You’re going to be married the middle of May — that’ll give time enough after the engagement so’s the neighbors won’t think there’s anything wrong. Now into them clothes. Buggy waiting outside. We’ll treat you right. If you use Lulu like you ought to, and honey her up and make her feel happy again, maybe Floyd and me won’t kill you the night of your wedding. We’ll see. And we’ll always treat you fine in public — won’t even laugh when we hear you preaching. Now git, hear me?”

While he dressed, Elmer was able to keep his face turned from them, able to compose himself, so that he could suddenly whirl on them with his handsomest, his most manly and winning smile.

“Brother Bains, I want to thank Cousin Floyd and you. You’re dead wrong about thinking I wouldn’t have done right by Lulu. But I rejoice, sir, REJOICE, that she is blessed by having such loyal relatives!” That puzzled rather than captured them, but he fetched them complete with a jovial, “And such husky ones! I’m pretty strong myself — keep up my exercise lot more’n you think — but I guess I wouldn’t be one-two-three with you folks! Good thing for ole Elmer you never let loose that darn’ mule-kick of yours, Brother Bains! And you’re right. No sense putting off the wedding. May fifteenth will be fine. Now I want to ask one thing: Let me have ten minutes alone with Lu before you make the announcement. I want to console her — make her happy. Oh, you can tell if I keep faith — the eagle eye of a father will know.”

“Well, my father’s eagle eye ain’t been working none too good lately, but I guess it’ll be all right for you to see her.”

“Now, will you shake hands? Please!”

He was so big, so radiant, so confident. They looked sheepish, grinned like farmers flattered by a politician, and shook hands.

There was a multitude at the Bainses’, also fried chicken and watermelon pickles.

The deacon brought Lulu to Elmer in the spare room and left her.

Elmer was at ease on the sofa; she stood before him, trembling, red-eyed.

“Come, you poor child,” he condescended.

She approached, sobbing, “Honestly, dear, I didn’t tell Pa anything — I didn’t ask him to do it — oh, I don’t want to if you don’t.”

“There, there, child. It’s all right. I’m sure you’ll make a fine wife. Sit down.” And he permitted her to kiss his hand, so that she became very happy and wept tremendously, and went out to her father rejoicing.

He considered, meanwhile, “That ought to hold you, damn you! Now I’ll figure out some way of getting out of this mess.”

At the announcement of Lulu’s engagement to a Man of God, the crowd gave hoarse and holy cheers.

Elmer made quite a long speech into which he brought all that Holy Writ had to say about the relations of the sexes — that is, all that he remembered and that could be quoted in mixed company.

“Go on, Brother! Kiss her!” they clamored.

He did, heartily; so heartily that he felt curious stirrings.

He spent the night there, and was so full of holy affection that when the family was asleep, he crept into Lulu’s bedroom. She stirred on the pillow and whispered, “Oh, my darling! And you forgave me! Oh I do love you so!” as he kissed her fragrant hair.

6

It was usual for the students of Mizpah to let Dean Trosper know if they should become engaged. The dean recommended them for ministerial appointments, and the status of marriage made a difference. Bachelors were more likely to become assistants in large city churches; married men, particularly those whose wives had lively piety and a knowledge of cooking, were usually sent to small churches of their own.

The dean summoned Elmer to his gloomy house on the edge of the campus — it was a house which smelled of cabbage and wet ashes — and demanded:

“Gantry, just what is this business about you and some girl at Schoenheim?”

“Why, Dean,” in hurt rectitude, “I’m engaged to a fine young lady there — daughter of one of my deacons.”

“Well, that’s good. It’s better to marry than to burn — or at least so it is stated in the Scriptures. Now I don’t want any monkey-business about this. A preacher must walk circumspectly. You must shun the very appearance of evil. I hope you’ll love and cherish her, and seems to me it would be well not only to be engaged to her but even to marry her. Thaddeldo.”

“Now what the devil did he mean by that?” protested Parsifal as he went home.

7

He had to work quickly. He had less than two months before the threatened marriage.

If he could entangle Lulu with some one? What about Floyd Naylor? The fool loved her.

He spent as much time in Schoenheim as possible, not only with Lulu but with Floyd. He played all his warm incandescence on Floyd, and turned that trusting drudge from enemy into admiring friend. One day when Floyd and he were walking together to the hand-car Elmer purred:

“Say, Floydy, some ways it’s kind of a shame Lu’s going to marry me and not you. You’re so steady and hard-working and patient. I fly off the handle too easy.”

“Oh, gosh, no, I ain’t smart enough for her, Elmer. She ought to marry a fella with a lot of book-learning like you, and that dresses swell, so she can be in society and everything.”

“But I guess you liked her pretty well yourself, eh? You ought to! Sweetest girl in the whole world. You kind of liked her?”

“Yuh, I guess I did. I— Oh, well rats, I ain’t good enough for her, God bless her!”

Elmer spoke of Floyd as a future cousin and professed his fondness for him, his admiration of the young man’s qualities and remarkable singing (Floyd Naylor sang about as Floyd Naylor would have sung.) Elmer spoke of him as a future cousin, and wanted to see a deal of him.

He praised Lulu and Floyd to each other, and left them together as often as he could contrive, slipping back to watch them through the window. But to his indignation they merely sat and talked.

Then he had a week in Schoenheim, the whole week before Easter. The Baptists of Schoenheim, with their abhorrence of popery, did not make much of Easter as Easter; they called it “The Festival of Christ’s Resurrection,” but they did like daily meetings during what the heretical world knew as Holy Week. Elmer stayed with the Bainses and labored mightily both against sin and against getting married. Indeed he was so stirred and so eloquent that he led two sixteen-year-old girls out of their sins, and converted the neighborhood object-lesson, a patriarch who drank hard cider and had not been converted for two years.

Elmer knew by now that though Floyd Naylor was not exactly a virgin, his achievements and his resolution were considerably less than his desires, and he set to work to improve that resolution. He took Floyd off to the pasture and, after benignly admitting that perhaps a preacher oughtn’t to talk of such things, he narrated his amorous conquests till Floyd’s eyes were hungrily bulging. Then, with giggling apologies, Elmer showed his collection of what he called Art Photographs.

Floyd almost ate them, Elmer lent them to him. That was on a Thursday.

At the same time Elmer deprived Lulu all week of the caresses which she craved, till she was desperate.

On Friday Elmer held morning meeting instead of evening meeting, and arranged that Lulu and Floyd and he should have picnic supper in the sycamore grove near the Bains house. He suggested it in a jocund idyllic way, and Lulu brightened. On their way to the grove with their baskets she sighed to him, as they walked behind Floyd, “Oh, why have you been so cold to me? Have I offended you again, dear?”

He let her have it, brutally: “Oh, don’t be such a damned whiner! Can’t you act as if you had SOME brains, just for once?”

When they spread the picnic supper, she was barely keeping hold of her sobs.

They finished supper in the dusk. They sat quietly, Floyd looking at her, wondering at her distress, peeping nervously at her pretty ankles.

“Say, I’ve got to go in and make some notes for my sermon tomorrow. No, you two wait for me here. Nicer out in the fresh air. Be back in about half an hour,” said Elmer.

He made much of noisily swaggering away through the brush; he crept back softly, stood behind a sycamore near them. He was proud of himself. It was working. Already Lulu was sobbing openly, while Floyd comforted her with “What is it, pretty? What is it, dear? Tell me.”

Floyd had moved nearer to her (Elmer could just see them) and she rested her head on his cousinly shoulder.

Presently Floyd was kissing her tears away, and she seemed to be snuggling close to him. Elmer heard her muffled, “Oh, you oughtn’t to kiss me!”

“Elmer said I should think of you as a sister, and I could kiss you — Oh, my God, Lulu, I do love you so terrible!”

“Oh, we oughtn’t —” Then silence.

Elmer fled into the barnyard, found Deacon Bains, and demanded harshly, “Come here! I want you to see what Floyd and Lulu are doing! Put that lantern down. I’ve got one of these electric dinguses here.”

He had. He had bought it for this purpose. He also had a revolver in his pocket.

When Elmer and the bewildered Mr. Bains burst upon them, saw them in the circle from the electric flashlight, Lulu and Floyd were deep in a devastating kiss.

“There!” bellowed the outraged Elmer. “Now you see why I hesitated to be engaged to that woman! I’ve suspected it all along! Oh, abomination — abomination, and she that committeth it shall be cut off!”

Floyd sprang up, a fighting hound. Elmer could doubtless have handled him, but it was Deacon Bains who with one maniac blow knocked Floyd down. The deacon turned to Elmer then, with the first tears he had known since boyhood: “Forgive me and mine, Brother! We have sinned against you. This woman shall suffer for it, always. She’ll never enter my house again. She’ll by God marry Floyd. And he’s the shiftlessest damn’ fool farmer in ten counties!”

“I’m going. I can’t stand this. I’ll send you another preacher. I’ll never see any of you again!” said Elmer.

“I don’t blame you. Try to forgive us, Brother.” The deacon was sobbing now, dusty painful sobbing, bewildered sobs of anger.

The last thing Elmer saw in the light of his electric torch was Lulu huddled, with shrunk shoulders, her face insane with fear.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38