Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/63

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MARGARET BLAKE

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ative powers I have never seen equalled. I do not think she had the slightest tendency toward brooding or introspection; in fact, her mind gave her little concern. Her intelligence was a great store of common sense. Abstract ideas bounced off her good-natured ignorance like so many rubber balls tossed at a brick wall. I doubt if she had ever read a single book.

I was then at an age when religion attacks a young man with considerable virulence and quite frequently entangles him in what he will later realize was a most amusing Chinese puzzle. I used to try to talk to her about religion sometimes, but I finally gave up. At first I was hurt because I thought she was not willing to share her ideas with me on account of my youth, but I finally discovered, to my astonishment, that she hadn’t any ideas on that subject and not many on any other. In the normal course of events that should have cooled our friendship very appreciably, but it didn’t. I don’t remember that I liked her one bit less.

Some six months after Howard Blake’s death, Sam Hodge, a young farmer who lived about four miles away, began calling regularly on Maggie. Sam was about twenty-eight years old, and I think it must be in some measure descriptive of the man to say that is just about all I remember about him. Other young men called on Maggie sometimes. One day my father asked me not to go there very often as I might be considered a suitor and he knew I had no such thought. That shocked me somewhat, but I worshipped my father and stood in awe of his wisdom. That was a day when boys were whipped unmercifully because of the injunction, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” My father was one of the few who spared the rod, and he won in return a loving obedience to his merest wish. I took it for granted that such a good man was in direct communication with God and knew everything.

I was very much preoccupied about that time with my religion. It was desperately serious for me, and I was puzzled because no one else seemed to understand that fact. Here was my immortal soul trembling, skidding, struggling, and crying out for light in about the most orthodox community one could imagine, and I couldn’t get help. Then something happened that made me an atheist. I was running true to form for my age. It is my observation that a religious up-