The Radical Review/14
7.—The Jericho Road: a Story of Western Life. By John Habberton. Chicago : Jansen, McClurg & Co. 1877.
This is a story of a boy who went West to earn money to support his mother, and fell among thieves. Lem Pankett, the hero, first appears on a Mississippi steamboat, where he finds his father among the " roustabouts." His father is killed in an attempt to shoot a dam to save lock-charges, and Lem is left alone in Mt. Zion. Here he falls in with Squire Barkum, who gives him much work, much scriptural exhortation, and little pay. After many trials, he is seized by the regulators, who are about to hang him for horse stealing, when the actual thief appears and saves him. Lem is then used as a tool by counterfeiters, and finally arrested for passing his money. The book closes with his death just after his trial and acquittal, when he suddenly becomes a hero and is treated to a magnificent funeral; after which the Priests and Levites of Mt. Zion become more Samaritanlike.
The book is written as a satire on the outward profession of religion which is willing to give freely of texts from the Bible, and thinks its whole duty is then done. Squire Barkum is the representative of this class, and is particularly apt at fitting quotations from the Bible to his own case. The scene after the Doctor has warned him that Lem is likely to die on his hands from over-work is especially good:—
" He stepped into his back room, where, in his capacity of secretary of the County Bible Society, he kept the Society's property, and took down a Bible. He opened it at random, as was his habit when troubled in mind and in search of consolation, and his eye fell upon the following passage:—
" ' Add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity.'
" The Squire hurriedly shut the book. ' That sounds just like Peter,' said he, ' puttin' brotherly kindness an' charity above faith an' godliness. If he wasn't an inspired writer, I should say he was in the habit of goin' off half-cocked an' gettin' things wrong side before. I wonder how it come to open just at that place ?'
" The Squire again allowed the Bible to open at random, and his eye fell upon this passage:—
" ' But thine eye and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression .'
" The Squire closed the book abruptly. ' Thafs Jeremiah,' said he. ' I always did wonder why Jeremiah was for ever down in the dumps, an' abusin' the Lord's chosen people. 'Pears to me my humble efforts to seek the source of ev'ry consolation ain't much blest to-day; but I'll try again.'
"The book opened and the Squire read:—
" 'And Nathan said unto David, "Thou art the man." '
" The Squire tossed the holy book across the room with such energy that it went through a window.
" ' Of course Nathan said so,' said he, ' an' very good reason he had for savin' it, too; but I don't see what that's got to do with me. I should think I'd been given over to the adversary to be tempted, an' that he'd just stuck his finger in the Bible at these places. But I've no business to get mad over it,—" resist the devil an' hell flee from you." An' its wrong to treat God's holy word with such disrespect, an' I deserve the punishment I've got for it—them window lights cost nine cents apiece by the box.'
" The Squire went into the yard, reverently picked up the book, and again seated himself. This time he chanced upon the verse reading,—
" ' So, then, every one of us shall give an account of himself to God.'
" .The Squire mused. ' That's good clear sense,' said he: " who wrote that ? Paul I—I might have knowed it—Paul always had a level head. I don't know what would have become of the church, if it wasn't for Paul. " Every one shall give an account of himself to God:" if that means any thing, it means that Lem has to be responsible for his own condition; and so, of course, it means that I haven't got any thing to do with it. I wish the doctor was here now—I'd just like to see him get around Paul with his new-fangled notions. I wonder if the doctor's really sound in the faith himself ? He got past the examinin' committee more on his face an' good manners than on his evidences, I really do believe.' "
The description of the Methodist meeting is very well done, and the account of the reaction in Lem, on finding that those who were so friendly to him then were none the more willing to help him in a more tangible way, is really pathetic. The passage in which one of the counterfeiters, after acknowledging himself a miserable sinner according to the approved phraseology, says, " There's one comfort; however great the debt is, Jesus paid it all," illustrates the kind of religious cant against which the book is aimed. It is relentless in its sarcastic treatment of cant and scriptural hypocrisy, and a good deal of fun is worked in. Although there is a lack of polish to it, it has decided elements of popularity, and passes away an hour or two very pleasantly. We hope that the times when the lessons it teaches are needed are nearly gone.