The words leaped and flew from his lips as he lashed the throng with bitter fury. He said what Zora wanted to say with two great differences: first, he spoke their religious language and spoke it with absolute confidence and authority; and secondly, he seemed to know each one there personally and intimately so that he spoke to no inchoate throng—he spoke to them individually, and they listened awestruck and fearsome.
“God is done sent me,” he declared in passionate tones, “to preach His acceptable time. Faith without works is dead; who is you that dares to set and wait for the Lord to do your work?” Then in sudden fury, “Ye generation of vipers—who kin save you?” He bent forward and pointed his long finger. “Yes,” he cried, “pray, Sam Collins, you black devil; pray, for the corn you stole Thursday.” The black figure moved. “Moan, Sister Maxwell, for the backbiting you did today. Yell, Jack Tolliver, you sneaking scamp, t’wil the Lord tell Uncle Bill who ruined his daughter. Weep, May Haynes, for that baby—”
But the woman’s shriek drowned his words, and he whirled full on the preacher, stamping his feet and waving his hands. His anger choked him; the fat preacher cowered gray and trembling. The gaunt fanatic towered over him.
“You—you—ornery hound of Hell! God never knowed you and the devil owns your soul!” There leapt from his lips a denunciation so livid, specific, and impassioned that the preacher squatted and bowed, then finally fell upon his face and moaned.
The gaunt speaker turned again to the people. He talked of little children; he pictured their sin and neglect. “God is done sent me to offer you all salvation,” he cried, while the people wept and wailed; “not in praying, but in works. Follow me!” The hour was halfway between midnight and dawn, but nevertheless the people leapt frenziedly to their feet.
“Follow me!” he shouted.
And, singing and chanting, the throng poured out upon the black highway, waving their torches. Zora knew his intention. With a half-dozen of younger onlookers she unhitched teams and rode across the land, calling at the cabins. Before sunrise, tools were in the swamp, axes and saws and hammers. The noise of prayer and singing filled the Sabbath dawn. The news of the great revival spread, and men and women came pouring in. Then of a sudden the uproar stopped, and the ringing of axes and grating of saws and tugging of mules was heard. The forest trembled as by some mighty magic, swaying and falling with crash on crash. Huge bonfires blazed and crackled, until at last a wide black scar appeared in the thick south side of the swamp, which widened and widened to full twenty acres.
The sun rose higher and higher till it blazed at high noon. The workers dropped their tools. The aroma of coffee and roasting meat rose in the dim cool shade. With ravenous appetites the dark, half-famished throng fell upon the food, and then in utter weariness stretched themselves and slept: lying along the earth like huge bronze earth-spirits, sitting against trees, curled in dense bushes.