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The Troll Garden and Selected Stories

Eric Hermannson's Soul
It was a great night at the Lone Star schoolhouse--a night when the Spirit was present
with power and when God was very near to man. So it seemed to Asa Skinner, servant of
God and Free Gospeller. The schoolhouse was crowded with the saved and sanctified,
robust men and women, trembling and quailing before the power of some mysterious
psychic force. Here and there among this cowering, sweating multitude crouched some
poor wretch who had felt the pangs of an awakened conscience, but had not yet
experienced that complete divestment of reason, that frenzy born of a convulsion of the
mind, which, in the parlance of the Free Gospellers, is termed "the Light." On the floor
before the mourners' bench lay the unconscious figure of a man in whom outraged nature
had sought her last resort. This "trance" state is the highest evidence of grace among the
Free Gospellers, and indicates a close walking with God.
Before the desk stood Asa Skinner, shouting of the mercy and vengeance of God, and in
his eyes shone a terrible earnestness, an almost prophetic flame. Asa was a converted
train gambler who used to run between Omaha and Denver. He was a man made for the
extremes of life; from the most debauched of men he had become the most ascetic. His
was a bestial face, a. face that bore the stamp of Nature's eternal injustice. The forehead
was low, projecting over the eyes, and the sandy hair was plastered down over it and then
brushed back at an abrupt right angle. The chin was heavy, the nostrils were low and
wide, and the lower lip hung loosely except in his moments of spasmodic earnestness,
when it shut like a steel trap. Yet about those coarse features there were deep, rugged
furrows, the scars of many a hand-to-hand struggle with the weakness of the flesh, and
about that drooping lip were sharp, strenuous lines that had conquered it and taught it to
pray. Over those seamed cheeks there was a certain pallor, a greyness caught from many
a vigil. It was as though, after Nature had done her worst with that face, some fine chisel
had gone over it, chastening and almost transfiguring it. Tonight, as his muscles twitched
with emotion, and the perspiration dropped from his hair and chin, there was a certain
convincing power in the man. For Asa Skinner was a man possessed of a belief, of that
sentiment of the sublime before which all inequalities are leveled, that transport of
conviction which seems superior to all laws of condition, under which debauchees have
become martyrs; which made a tinker an artist and a camel-driver the founder of an
empire. This was with Asa Skinner tonight, as he stood proclaiming the vengeance of
It might have occurred to an impartial observer that Asa Skinner's God was indeed a
vengeful God if he could reserve vengeance for those of his creatures who were packed
into the Lone Star schoolhouse that night. Poor exiles of all nations; men from the south
and the north, peasants from almost every country of Europe, most of them from the
mountainous, night-bound coast of Norway. Honest men for the most part, but men with
whom the world had dealt hardly; the failures of all countries, men sobered by toil and
saddened by exile, who had been driven to fight for the dominion of an untoward soil, to
sow where others should gather, the advance guard of a mighty civilization to be.