Page:Instead of a Book, Tucker.djvu/105

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used to enjoy cat-hunts myself before I was born again. You must educate, sir, educate before you can reform. Mark my words, sir, the school-board is the ladder to the skies." "The school-board! "I ejaculated; "you do not mean to say you approve of State-regulated education? May I ask whether you also approve of a State religion—a State church?" I thought this was a poser, but I was mistaken. "The two things are not in pari materia," replied the Dissenting minister (for there was no mistaking his species); "the established church is the upas-tree which poisons the whole forest. It was planted by the hand of a deluded aristocracy. The school-board was planted by the people." "I do not see that it much signifies who planted the tree, so long as it is planted; but, avoiding metaphor, the point is this," said I emphatically: "is one fraction of the population to dictate to the other fraction what they are to believe, what they are to learn, what they are to do? And I do not care whether the dictating fraction is the minority or the majority. The principle is the same—despotism." The man of God started. "What!" he cried, "are we to have no laws? Is every man to do that which is right in his own eyes ? Are you aware, sir, that you are preaching Anarchy?" It was now my turn to double. "Anarchy is a strong expression," said I, most disingenuously; "all I meant to say is that the less the State interferes between man and man, the better; surely you will admit that?" And now I saw from my interlocutor's contracted brow and compressed lips that an answer was forthcoming which would knock all the wind out of me. And I was right. "Do you see that house with the flags on the roof and that sculptured group over the en- trance representing the World, the Flesh, and the Devil?" "I see the house, but, if you will pardon me, I think the group is intended for the Three Graces." The parson shot an angry glance at me; he knew well enough what the figures were meant for ; but even the godly have their sense of grim humor. He continued; "That is the porch of Hell; and there at the corner yawns Hell itself: they are commonly called Old Joe's Theatre of Varieties, and the Green Griffin: but we prefer to call them by their right names." "Dear me!" I said, somewhat appalled by the earnestness of his manner, "are they very dreadful places?" I was beginning to feel quite "creepy," and could almost smell the brimstone. But, without heeding my query, he continued: "Are we to look on with folded hands, while innocent young girls crowd into that sink of iniquity, listen to ribald and obscene songs, witness semi-nude and licentious dances, meet with dissolute characters, and finally enter the jaws of the Green Griffin to drink of the stream that maddens the soul, that deadens the conscience, and that fires the passions?" Here he paused for breath, and then in a sepulchral whisper he added: "And what follows? What follows?" This question he asked several times, each time in a lower key, with his eyes fixed on mine as though he expected to read the answer at the back of my skull on the inside. "I will tell you what follows," he continued, to my great relief; "the end is Mrs. Fletcher's." There was something so grotesque in this anti-climax that I gave sudden vent to a short explosive laugh, like the snap of the electric spark. I could not help it, and I was truly sorry to be so rude, and, in order to avoid mutual embarrassment, I fairly bolted down the street, leaving my teacher transfixed with pious horror. To a denizen of the village, doubt- less, long association had imbued the name of Mrs. Fletcher with a lurid connotation, like unto the soothing influence of that blessed word Mesopotamia,—only in the opposite direction.

I was now in the position of the happy man of fiction "with a pocket