The Last Night of the Revival


‘I’LL have no son of mine sitting at my table and talking like an infiddle. Get up from there! Get out of that chair, and out of this room! Get out of here, I say!’

Rufus Gregg, after a reflective pause, rose heavily from his chair. His seventeen years and six feet of height had resulted, as a combination, in producing an effect of clumsiness. His graygreen eyes, keen as those of a young fox, fixed his father with a bright regard under the hair, heavy as Samson’s, that hung wet. over his forehead.

‘Now look here, sir! You hear me! You hear what I say! Either you come up to meeting to-night, or you find somebody else’s hay-fleld to loaf round in. Now, do you understand that? Answer me!’

Rufus flushed darkly. He was a ‘great worker,’ and proud of his reputation. On a sudden thought he grinned.

‘All right, I’ll come,’ he said casually and genially.

Mr. Gregg became ludicrous, as one who exerts all his strength to lift some supposedly heavy weight only to have it fly up lightly in his hand.

‘Well!’ He snatched vainly at his lost dignity. ‘Pass the bread, Lil,’ he said fiercely.

Rufus went out.

Mrs. Gregg sighed, glancing at her son’s plate. The boy’s expression of his views had been ill-timed, — supper was scarcely begun. She always seemed to experience a mild astonishment that her son should be ‘so wild, and so set against his father.’ Mr. Gregg was to her the emblem of ultimate authority. She had never been a spirited woman, and was entirely deficient in imagination. Despite twenty years’ actual experience of her husband’s hardness, selfishness, and injustice, she still took him strictly at his own valuation as ‘a good Christian man.’ It should be further recorded of this worn, plain, gentle woman, that sire was a saint. A divine tolerance, an absolute unselfishness, lay deep beneath all her literalness and limitations.

Something of these attributes of the soul her son had inherited. In his smarting young resentment, as he sat down on the steps and put his head in his hands, there was an element of tolerance, an instinctive sense of being bigger than the occasion, summed up in the terse reflection that ‘Pop made him tired.’

There was a bond of sympathy between him and his mother. He knew that she never took his part against his father; he saw that his levities and rebellions bewildered her; but he leaned upon her goodness and her mildness. She never blamed him. After supper she would bring his plate out on the back porch, and stoop over him, and push back his hair, and make some remark about the birds singing for rain, or how many blossoms there were on the old rose-bush by the gate. She always noticed things out-of-doors.

Lil, the daughter of the house, was like her father. She stood in no awe of him, and was the one human being on whom he expended any consideration. She followed her brother’s departure from the room with a thin-voiced comment.

‘I wish Rufe ever would dress up in the evening and come up to meeting the way the other boys do. There ain’t another boy in the place that never goes.’

‘He’ll come to-night,’ said Mr. Gregg, in a tone of finality, as if he were accustomed to obedience on the part of his son.

Lil looked doubtful.

But as she and her mother hurried over the dishes, they were startled by the apparition of Rufus strolling down the path to the gate. He was carrying his hat in his hand; his hair, brushed to the last degree of smoothness, lay in a thick curve on either side of an arrowlike parting; the impressiveness of his new gray suit was enhanced by a shirt of resplendent whiteness.

‘Oh, don’t he look nice!’ Lil exclaimed, startled into sisterly admiration. ‘Rufe looks nicer than anybody when he gets dressed up. I wonder what made him say he’d go. I ’ll bet he just did it so pop would n’t know what to say. He ’ll do anything to make you feel mean. Rufus is awful mean,’ she ended, going back to her dishes.

‘We’ll have to hurry,’ said Mrs. Gregg. ‘I believe pop’s hitching up now. You run along up and begin dressing, and I’ll finish.’


The dusk had grown thick as Rufus neared the church, but he saw one or two people on the steps turn to look at him, therefore he partially effaced himself among a crowd of fellows under the big oak tree. They said, ‘Hello, Rufe!’ but they did not chaff him on being there. They all had, somewhat remarkably, the air of not precisely being there themselves, so motiveless and purely accidental was apparently the occasion of their gathering. After the minister had come, one of them would suggest, ‘Going in?’ to which the one addressed would answer, ‘Guess I will’; then, with a quite exaggerated air of detachment, they would all hie in and seat themselves in the two long rear seats.

‘Dominie come yet?’ one of the boys asked as Rufus joined the group.

‘Ain’t seen him,’ said another. ‘Pretty slow meetings he gets up, ain’t they?’

They all laughed.

‘Say, how about old Bill Shaw going forward last night? You heard about that, Rufe?’

‘That’s every one he’s had, except Old Lady Cross — and a lot of girls. Say, he’s slow.’

Near them two older men lingered, long-time leaders of Craneback’s prayer-meetings, although the shifty light-gray eyes and massive jaw of the younger were scarcely suggestive of the saint.

‘He ain’t no exhorter,’ said this worthy, with a pugnacious settling of his lower jaw. ‘Has a good deal to say about “souls ” too ’; this with sarcasm. ‘Guess he wun’t worry much about souls, though. He seems to take it pretty easy.’

‘That’s so,’ assented the old leader with unction. ‘You’d think to hear him that preachin’ was mighty easy work. I’d like to have him set under Dominie Ferris fur a while. Talk about colleges! Do colleges learn a man to be a preacher? He ’d never been to no college. I’ve seen him with the tears jest a-runnin’ down his cheeks ’fore sermon was half over, and all done out time he’d got through. More’n once he’s said to me, “ I’ve got to set down. Brother Robson, a few minits till I git my breath. You jest lead in prayer. ” ’

‘Yes,’ said the second leader, ‘Dominie Ferris gave himself right up to his sermon. Brother Green’s heard him ’fore now down to his place — clear across both fields and the road.’


Perhaps the most striking thing about the interior of the church at Craneback was its air of serviceable and almost domestic utility, its neat precision of ornament, its entire lack of anything calculated to appeal to those untrustworthy attributes of our mortal nature, a sense of awe or of beauty. The single aisle ran, neatly carpeted, to the small, raised platform where stood the reading-desk; and in the background a black hair-cloth sofa, conveniently disposed for the reception of the minister’s hat, or for the repose of his person on occasions when he might have the assistance of a brother exhorter.

On this platform, his hands resting on the two sides of the reading-desk, clasping it tightly, stood Craneback’s new minister, his gaze bent upon the congregation, and in his soul a dull heaviness of utter discouragement which only those who have hoped fervidly can know. It was a discouragement at once dull and tumultuous; it had a clamorous voice of regret, and yet it seemed to breathe on his soul the finality of death. He no longer believed that he could do them any good, that he could even reach them at all, — these precious souls, the first souls that had been given into his charge.

The tumult of his mind did not appear in his face, beyond recording there a vague trouble. His was the dreamer’s face, with a sweet-tempered, loosely-moulded mouth, and sad blue eyes that seemed often strugglingly set on beholding his own thought to the exclusion of other objects more immediately apparent.

Rufus sat in a corner of one of the long rear seats. His gaze, fixed upon the minister, was keenly interested. He saw him now for the first time, but a vague sense of championship for a man they were all ‘down on’ had established in him a predisposition to approve of anything the unpopular young preacher might say. He paid little heed to the long prayers, interspersed with singing, that opened the service, and he especially abstracted his attention from the decisive intonations of his father; but when the minister stepped forward from the readingdesk and stood facing them, with his hands clasped, in his attitude a sort of pleasant helplessness as if he appealed to their charity, a sudden warm liking welled up in the boy’s heart.

‘If then the light that is within thee be darkness, how great is that darkness.’

The words, full of a vibrant entreaty, fell solemnly upon the silence; the minister’s sad glance, fixed above their heads, was that of a man who accuses his own soul in a solitary place.

‘What man among us can honestly say that he does not love his sins, and how shall a man turn away from the thing that he loves? You will say this is not possible — to love sin is not possible in those who bear the name of Christian. Let us look for a moment at the lives we lead. The selfish and hard-hearted man loves his selfishness; he has trained his family to recognize it, to make room for it; it has become a sort of fastness from which, safe and cosy, he can contemplate the thousand ills that he escapes. One ill in particular he escapes, the fretting pain of subordination, the grind and wear of an encroaching personality too near one’s own, which becomes at last as a heavy chain eating into the flesh. The hard-hearted man knows nothing of this pain because he inflicts it, — he is the chain, cold and heavy as iron; what should he know of the ills of shrinking flesh?

‘ Again, the man of evil temper loves the gratification of his temper above all things. Is there any pleasure in life for him like that rich, fierce joy he feels when he can give his rage the rein ? He glories in his power to inflict suffering, perhaps on helpless women and children; perhaps on still more helpless animals. My friends, there is no sinner in the sight of God so great as this man, for he sins against the very dying commandment of his Saviour, that “ye love one another as I have loved you.”

‘And yet these men, these very men, the selfish, the hard-hearted, the men of evil temper, are the ones who may be in their own eyes the most blameless of men, who may even pray the prayer of the Pharisee, thanking God that they are not as other men are, uttering long prayers, believing with a full belief in all the truths of the gospel. “ If then the light that is within thee be darkness, how great is that darkness.”’

As the halting sentences followed each other in resonant succession, one listener at least had no thought of carping criticism. A man who could stand up in a revival meeting and talk plain sense about the way people ought to live, — and all the fools could do was to joke because he did n’t get any converts! No wonder he didn’t get any. They did n’t want that kind of religion. But he was taking it so hard!

The pleading voice roused a vague ache in the boy’s heart. Why did he care so much? They were all fools. Rufus wanted to tell him not to care. He glanced round at the near-by faces, and then at the sad face and quiet figure on the platform. Why did he stand there so still, why did n’t he stamp up and down and pound the pulpit and holler, if that was what they wanted? Wild visions began to flash through the boy’s head, of getting hold of the minister somewhere in private and telling him what it was they wanted. He seemed so friendly and so helpless. And still the beautiful voice, to which Rufus had ceased to listen, so far as listening meant taking in any sense of the words spoken, beat upon his consciousness like music.

A sudden stupendous thought came to him. He turned cold with the force, the clear, clean shock of it. A way to shut their mouths. — Oh, he had it, he had it! He sat and looked his great idea in the face, — or tried to. What if he were to go forward himself, — he, Rufus, the scoffer at revivals, the irreclaimable sinner? If he did, — how it would shut their mouths! The other boys would come after him, half of them, anyway,— like sheep. He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his hands which were cold and wet. His heart began pounding as if he had run a long distance. It was a great idea.

He took his decision quickly. The only question was whether he could bring his reluctant body to follow the daring project of his brain. So he listened, while the minutes passed unfruitfully.

‘And in openly declaring your penitence before men —’

There came a stir in the back of the church, followed by the turning of heads. Some one was going forward.

Some one was, indeed! Never in the history of the little church had such a sight been seen, not even in the great days of Dominie Ferris, that earnest and successful laborer in the harvesting of souls. For these were not only young men, but all the young men, the entire company of ‘the boys’ of Craneback, the wild, the steady, the early ‘professor,’ the backslider, the indifferent; with bewilderment in their faces, they followed Rufus Gregg.

When Rufus first stood up there had been a hurried moment of confusion and whispering: —

‘Say, Rufus is going forward.'

‘Well, I guess if he can, some of the rest of us can.’

‘I’ll go if you’ll go.’

They were in very truth startled to their souls. That Rufus should be moved to an outward expression of penitence seemed a sort of portent, as when in an elder day men saw flaming signs among the stars, or the earth trembled under their feet. The vague sense of peril that attends the utterly unforeseen had drawn them together to a common action.

Mr. Gregg turned round in his seat and looked at his son. It was almost pathetic to see such abject bewilderment in a face that had hitherto met all the puzzling facts of life with such supreme assurance. Then, his eyes glinting under a deep frown, he looked at the young minister as if to find the explanation there. It was, perhaps, the first time in his life that he had been positively obliged by the evidence of his senses to readjust an opinion. What was there in this young man, who was no exhorter, whose brief career among them had been a record of failure, that he should suddenly exhibit such unexampled power over souls, and especially over the hitherto inaccessible soul of Mr. Gregg’s own son?

Where the violent readjustment took place in Mr. Gregg’s mind was in the necessity of admitting that there must be something in such a young man. He could not say what, — at was part of the baffling problem, — but certainly something.

Lil was crying softly into her handkerchief. Mrs. Gregg’s gaunt, gentle face looked frightened.

Rufus alone felt neither bewilderment nor awe. He held the key to the riddle; nor can it be said that there was any particular manifestation of penitence in the way he walked down the aisle. He was unconscious of his body now; he thought only of his triumph. How they were wondering, how they would always wonder! Yes, he had ‘shut their mouths.’ Then, with the sense of immediate reward, he saw the incredulous delight break upon the young preacher’s face. They looked each other full in the eyes, priest and penitent; the sweet, heavy, blue-eyed gaze, lighted with a Christ-like joy, met the clear, sarcastic, boy’s glance that had mocked and scoffed and too keenly observed through seventeen rebellious years.

Oh, he would be a model convert; he would never bring this great moment into discredit. He would keep the minister covered with his shield. And he did not know that in this impulse of pure and indignant generosity he did indeed ‘profess religion’ in a way he little dreamed: the religion of the Good Samaritan, the very soul of the religion of Christ.