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It is very difficult for the honest advocate of the doctrine of non-resistance to live up to his principles. The duty of self-defence, the divinely-ordained right of the master of the house to forbid the spoiling of his goods, the self-evident law which commands every one to defend the weak against the oppressing strong, these are requirements which a man may honestly try to ignore, but which, unless he be a coward, he will never succeed in ignoring when the trial of his faith comes. The sturdy nonresistant, sturdy of soul as of body, who has yesterday defended a little child from the attack of a dog, will to-day defend the same child from the attack of a brute in shape of man, and to-morrow will defend his country and government against enemies.
In one of the villages through which we drove yesterday was once a society called a non-resistance society. Its members were men and women, good, honest, well-meaning people all of them. Its history was brief, but not altogether uneventful. It was strong in its principles, but it was from time to time enfeebled by the failures of its members in practical life; and when at last the Civil War began it ceased to exist, because some of its members went to fight for the Union, and all the others encouraged them to go and rejoiced in their patriotism.
While it existed, and indeed long before it was organized, Jabez Dickinson was known in the whole town as a steadfast advocate of the doctrine of submission without forcible resistance.
He was the village merchant, kept the village store, where he sold everything from silk ribbons to tallow candles and sugar candies. He was not a deacon, but he was always named and known as Deacon Jabe, because there was never known a man who more firmly, boldly, and consistently asserted and practiced the doctrines of the Christian life. Universally loved and respected by the people, old and young, he had led a long life of peace and quiet, doing good and getting good. And during this life he had been an unwavering non-resistant. He was not much of a talker. He seldom preached. But in the store, where it was the custom of the men of the community to gather, especially on Saturday evenings, the nickname deacon had been given to him for years, and thence had travelled through the community. Seldom volunteering opinions, he was often appealed to for the decision of mooted questions. And if you do not know it, I can tell you that in the country store there are daily discussions of questions, moral, philosophical, religious, and practical, in which at least as much average good sound sense and logical power is developed as in any meeting of any of the modern scientific associations, British or American. Always, however, Deacon Jabe had laid down and adhered to his non-resistance principles, and this in the face of much provocation to think and act otherwise. Many indignities he had suffered from fellows of the baser sort, insults and personal wrongs, always taking them meekly and without resentment. In all the town there was but one supporter of his radical views, and he often wished he was free from that ally; for Miss Almira Smith was a cantankerous talker and fighter, doing with her tongue a perpetual war, offensive and defensive, while she proclaimed the sinfulness of physical offence or defence with any other muscles or member of the human body. For, after all, it is but a question of muscles, and the non-resistant who forbids blows with the fist is often a conscientious dealer of deadly blows with the voice.
The deacon had received much and sore provocation that week from Silas Maxwell, the town bully, a fellow of powerful structure, who rejoiced in his ability to whip any man in the county. And he had fought many battles, not in sport, with invariable victory. My story would be too long were I to recite the talk on Saturday evening in the store when Silas nagged Jabez and insulted him again and again, presuming, and boasting that he presumed, on the deacon's non-resistance, which Silas said was nothing but cowardice. "He don't resist bekase he daresent resist," said the bully, walking across the store and helping himself to a chunk of tobacco, at the same moment opening a huge knife wherewith to cut off a mouthful.
Little Katie Wheeler was the deacon's granddaughter, a lovely child, the joy of his life, sole descendant of his dead wife and daughter. Katie was a sad invalid, but she had a well mind, never ill, never sickly. All day long she was in and out of the store, always breezy and cheery, making perpetual spring-time in the life of the lonesome man. Her little chair stood where in the evenings she sat till her grandfather closed the door and she walked home with him. Every one loved Katie — even Silas Maxwell, brute though he was. As Silas took the tobacco in his hand, Katie sprang from her chair and snatched it away from him, saying, "Silas Maxwell, you sha'n't steal granther's tobacco any more." The child's impulsive act and clear ringing voice were greeted with a shout from the fifteen or twenty villagers in the store. The act, the word "steal," and the approving shout roused the devil in Silas, and, seizing Katie by the arm, he uttered a brutal oath as he raised his right hand with the open knife to strike.
Jabez had kept his eye on the man, and up to this instant had been struggling to keep down what he believed to be his sinful desire to silence the other's insolence with earthly weapons. Now, as he saw the knife raised, he was a converted man. Well was it for Katie that her grandfather in the long-forgotten days of his sinful youth had been mighty in battle, power residing in the muscles of his arms and shoulders, for which he had been famous when Silas Maxwell was a child. The deacon's legs were like steel springs, and without waiting for his mind to direct them, they of their own free will launched him like a rock from a catapult across the store. The shoulder and arm acted next, for the deacon always declared that it was the physical body God had given him which acted for itself when the closed fist dealt on the bridge of Silas Maxwell's nose an awful blow. The bully reeled backward one, two, three short steps and fell, full length, over a keg of nails.
Jabez stood silent, while Silas gathered himself up. He knew what was coming, and now he reasoned within himself, swiftly but sufficiently. And when the huge fellow rushed at him intent on crushing him, the old skill (he said it was learned in the devil's service) now came to him for the Lord's service in the defence of himself and the child and the just punishment of that ruffian. Silas Maxwell had for the first time met his master. Those trip-hammer blows of Jabez Dickinson's tremendous fist live in the village traditions. There were but three, or at the most four, of them, with the right arm first, with the left arm second, the other arm stopping the puny thrusts of the bully. And so it came about that Jabez drove Silas across the store till he stood with his back to the window, open to the floor. When he had him there he dealt one more and final blow, right between the big man's eyes, a blow backed up with a continuous thrust from all the weight of his body, which threw the ruffian off his feet, heels overhead through the window. The mill-race ran close under that window. The deacon knew it, and had been thinking of it all the forty seconds or less between the first rush of Silas and his final exit. "Go out, some on ye, and take him out. I kinder think he's got enough of it," said Jabez, very calmly, as he sat down and took Katie on his knees and kissed her.
There was silence and awe in the store for a few moments. Then some one came in and said that Silas reckoned he had got enough, and had gone home. Silas was converted then and thenceforward.
Not so the deacon. He was, like all non-resistants under like circumstances, in some danger of relapse into his old folly. I have not space to relate at length how his new sentiments became fixed. It came about in this way: Miss Smith made a descent on him the next day and poured out on him the vials of her peculiarly unpleasant wrath for "goin' back on non-resistance." He listened in silence. Again and again, and again, alone and in presence of whatever people might be in the store, that inexpressible and intolerable female rated Jabez. And Jabez became hardened. At last he deliberately made up his mind that resistance to a male bully like Silas had been a religious duty, and, as a corollary, that resistance, duly measured for the case, to a female bully like Almira Smith, would be a virtue. So he prepared a trap, and one day when Almira was coming down the street, and Jabez knew that her entrance and assault on him were as certain as foreordination, he set the trap.
"Jabez," said the sharp voice, as its owner entered the store, "Jabez Dickinson," it repeated, as she crossed the floor. "Look out, Almiry,"said the deacon; "stop jist there or you'll spill somethin'!"
"What are you talkin' about, Deacon Jabez Dickinson," said the keen, piercing voice. "I've come in because I can't find it in me to pass by without warnin' you —" At that moment there descended around Almira Smith a cloud of fine black pepper. It began gently, and she interrupted her tirade with a sneeze. She tried to resume, but the more she tried the more she sneezed, and the clouds gathered thicker around her. Sneezing and dignity are incompatible. Continuous sneezing is incompatible with self-respect or self-admiration. Almira had no idea of charging her convulsive affliction to the deacon's new doctrine of resistance to vocal and other physical assaults. She abandoned the field; she sneezed along the road home; she sneezed all night.
And Jabez chuckled, and kept his secret, and lived, and is living now, a sensible man. "Ye see," he said, in confidence, "I could 'a' stood Silas, and if he'd 'a' come back I'd 'a' told him I was sorry. Silas came in, and before I got a chance he told me he was sorry, and I kind o' concluded I had been doin' right. But the nat'ral man couldn't stand Almiry Smith."