“’Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels!’” he thundered, and a shudder ran through the crowded church as if an earthquake had shaken the valley. “There is your end, impenitent soul; and, alas! for you, it is only the beginning of a fearful eternity! Think of it, you who have time to think of everything but the salvation of your soul, your sins, and the awful doom which is awaiting you! Think of it, you who are throwing your lives away in the pleasures of this world; you who have broken God’s commands; you who have stolen when you thought no eye was on you; you who have so often committed murder in your hating hearts! Think not that you will be suffered to escape! Every servant of the most high God who has ever declared His message to you will be there to denounce you: I, Silas Crafts, will meet you at the judgment-seat of Christ to bear my witness against you!”
A man, red-faced and with the devil of the cup of trembling peering from under his shaggy eyebrows, rose unsteadily from his seat on the bench nearest the door.
“’Sh! he’s fotched Tike Bryerson!” flew the whisper from lip to ear; but the man with the trembling madness in his eyes was backing toward the door. Suddenly he stooped and rose again with a backwoodsman’s rifle in his hands, and his voice sheared the breathless silence like the snarl of a wild beast at bay.
“No, by jacks, ye won’t witness ag’inst me, Silas Crafts; ye’ll be dead!”
The crack of the rifle went with the words, and at the flash of the piece the man sprang backward through the doorway and was gone. Happily, he had been too drunk or too tremulous to shoot straight. The preacher was unhurt, and he was quick to quell the rising tumult and to turn the incident to good account.
“There went the arrow of conviction quivering to the heart of a murderer!” he cried, dominating the commotion with his marvelous voice. “Come back here, Japheth Pettigrass; and you, William Layne: God Almighty will deal with that poor sinner in His own way. For him, for every impenitent soul here to-night, the hour has struck. ’Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.’ While we are singing, Just as I am, without one plea, let the doors of divine mercy stand opened wide, and let every hard heart be softened. Come, ye disconsolate; come forward to the mercy-seat as we sing.”
The old, soul-moving, revival hymn was lifted in a triumphant burst of sound, and Thomas Jefferson’s heart began to pound like a trip-hammer. Was this his call—his one last chance to enter the ark of safety? Just there was the pinch. A saying of Japheth Pettigrass’s, overheard in Hargis’s store on the first day of the meetings, flicked into his mind and stuck there: “Hit’s scare, first, last, and all the time, with Brother Silas. He knows mighty well that a good bunch o’ hickories, that’ll bring the blood every cut, beats a sugar kittle out o’ sight when it comes to fillin’ the anxious seat.” Was it really his call? Or was he only scared?