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The Continuing Saga of
The Toenail Ridge Shortline

Chapter 31
The Papist
Uploaded Feb 23rd, 2003
Thus it came to pass in the fullness of time that a priest of the Holy Roman Catholic Church entered the Valley of the Toenail Ridge and did ply his beliefs and utter his utterances amongst those who were gathered around, and the word of his arrival was heard by the Reverend Jeremiah Little and mighty was his wrath and gnashing of teeth and he uttered mightily to the Lord that this Papist shall not enter the Kingdom of Little so help me God!
And the priest heard that the Good Reverend had railed against him and called upon him to cease his imprecations forthwith or there would be trouble, see if there isn't, boyo!
Now it may seem to the reasonable and rational man that two men who proclaim the same God, quote the same Good Book, believe the same tenets and cite the same creeds would have something in common, some common bond of faith where they could come to a meeting of the minds and reach a mutual understanding. Ah, Dear Reader, we did mention "reasonable and rational" didn't we? And this is where the argument falls down, for when one contemplates the Great Beyond in a professional capacity and devotes his or her life to the study of  that which cannot be subjected to the rigours of scientific proof then one also loses the ability to see any other opinion but ones own, in fact one can become so one-eyed  in one's personal opinions that one is even willing to see one's opponents slandered, vilified, declared morally bankrupt, even disposed of for the greater glory of God! As the last great Prophet said "Love thy neighbour as thyself" unless, of course that neighbour happens to be of a different religious persuasion, a different colour, a different ethnic background, has different shaped eyes, or even belongs to a different Lodge. Then he's fair game for whatever you can heap on him!
Now one of the places where Catholic priests really hit their stride is where there are a preponderance of poor folks, preferably of immigrant persuasion. And the Valley of the Toenail Ridge had been settled by mostly old-established families from Back East who had travelled to the Oregon Territory looking for new land, not new freedom. With the result that the new God-botherer found very few folks who were naturally predisposed to his particular brand of dogma, in fact a lot of those folks had pretty-well preconceived ideas about them papists and didn't exactly welcome his presence in the community. Of course, some of the people who had drifted into the Valley over the years had come originally from Ireland via Queens, or Italy via the Bronx, even Mexico via Los Angeles, and therefore were amenable to what the good father had to say but in general the good, honest burghers of the Valley looked down their noses at him and his preachings. And one of the most vehement (outside of the Good Reverend Jeremiah Little DD, of course) was Mac Mackaller's wife, Dora.
Now Dora had mellowed from the old maid spinster school-marm after her marraige but she still maintained in her (very flat) bosom very strict opinions of what God expected of her, of her fellow denizens of spaceship Earth, and especially of her fellow Valley citizens. And chief amongst those beliefs was the unshakeable certainty that whatever came out of Rome was the work of the Devil himself and no discussion will be entered into.
Now it may seem strange in this enlightened day and age for someone to have such bigotted and unswerving opinions but such were the mores of the time that folks not only took as Gospel everything their parents and relatives had told them when growing up but embellished it with the products of the popular press of the day, said popular press being unhindered by legal requirements of truth, fairness, responsibility or veracity. A bit like daytime television today. And Dora had been raised in one of those strict households in the East where children were seen and not heard and the Lord's Day was spent dressed in best clothes and sitting quietly in the parlour reading or contemplating, the children having first attended Sunday School, then church, then a huge roast dinner with all the fixin's, then further insights into how their world operated as they listened to the adults gossip about who was doing what to whom, who owed whom what, and in particular what those Catholics were doing to this Great Country of Ours with their ungodly ways and idolatory.
And of course, across town those self same Catholics had attended Sunday School and then Mass and then a huge roast dinner with all the fixin's and were sitting around gossiping about who was doing what to whom, and who owed what to who, and in particular how those ungodly Protestants wouldn't let an honest man get ahead and how they were ruining this Great Country of Ours with their greedy, conniving ways and business practices.
So all in all it appeared that an impasse was looming, a gulf that could split the happy folks of the Valley of the Toenail Ridge forever. But, gentle reader, we know that that can't be allowed to happen in our idyllic little valley, don't we? Something was needed that would unite these two factions in a common cause, present them with a common enemy, give them an identical goal to seek, to find, and not to yield.
And it so happened that not too long after a huge man wearing a top-hat, frock-coat and embroidered velvet waistcoat descended from the observation coach of the Toenail Ridge Shortline at the Selbyville station, retrieved his carpetbag, and stood looking around him, hands on hips, chin lifted, a small smile on his face, breathing deeply the pristine air of the Valley and deciding his next step.
He hailed Chilly John who was hieing his cart back towards town and said "Good sir, might I impose on you for a lift to the nearest place of repose and comestible sustenance?"
And Chilly said "...huh?"
"A hotel, my good man, an hostelery, an inn, a location wherein I might find board and lodging, food and comfort after an arduous journey."
"Oh, yup...." said Chilly, " ..climb on up and I'll drop ya at New Jersey Jack's hotel. He got some purty good vittles an' his beds git changed every month whether they need it or not. Even got an indoor outhouse. Recommend it."

And with that the Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven  Praise the Lord! entered the lives of the good folks of the Valley of the Toenail Ridge.
Now it's an interesting thing in this day and age of television evangelists that proselytising for folks to change religious camps isn't a new phenomenon at all. It's been going on regularly since Luther nailed his opinions on the cathedral door back when Shakespeare was still in diapers and with the exception of the addition of electronic whizbangery the method, the message and in particular the collection plate hasn't changed a day.

New Jersey Jack Lazyacre kept a close eye on what was happening in his town, in particular the comings and goings of visitors and new arrivals. A man never knew when an opportunity might arise to turn a profit or develop a lucrative friendship or float a profitable loan. So within minutes of  the Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven  Praise the Lord! booking in to the hotel Jack was appraised of his arrival, his means of entry to the Valley of the Toenail Ridge, what luggage he had with him, and "you let me know the minute this feller comes down to the bar or the dining room!"

Now in the whole western half of the continental United States there was probably no more affable, ameanable and friendly host than New Jersey Jack Lazyacre Esq. His hotel prided itself on fine victuals, good wine (although of late he'd been experimenting with that inferior Californian stuff instead of relying on his French suppliers...) and bonhomie. A guest at Jack's establishment became one of the family during his or her stay unless they made it know that they'd prefer to keep themselves to themselves at which time Jack and his staff could out-formal the lads in Buckingham Palace. So when one of the housemaids ducked her head around his office door and whispered "that new feller is headin' for the parlour...." Jack had his coat on, his silk cravat straightened and was on the way downstairs to make the newcomer's acquaintance.
"Welcome to my humble establishment, sir, I am Jack Lazyacre, the proprietor and manager. Anything I can personally do to make your stay with us more pleasant in any way, sir, do not hesitate to mention to myself or one of my staff!"

There's a certain breed of man who has the ability to see straight to the heart of any matter or any person and the Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven  Praise the Lord! was one of that breed. He saw immediately that before him stood a man of good breeding, good education, supreme confidence and, under the right (or wrong) circumstances the temperament and ability to retaliate faster and harder than a rattlesnake. In fact he saw that he was standing in front of a mirror. And being fully aware of the old folk adage "You can't bovine-excrete a bovine-excreter..." he stood, extended his hand and with meekness and humility replied "Good sir, thank you kindly for your most generous welcome. I am a man of the Lord and have come to this delightful place to further His Work and bring sinners to the Rapture!"

Lazyacre, as has been mentioned previously in these chronicles, kept a close watch on what was happening in the outside world via regular doses of the Portland  newspapers and a monthly copy of that prestigious journal, the New York Financial Review and so he was well aware that especially in the South there had been a lot of carrying-on with folks being baptized in rivers and having meetings in tents and in general having themselves a fine old time wailing and singing and shaking and rolling around in the mud all to the Greater Glory of God, all the while while the more established members of the God-bothering profession tut-tutted and shook their heads at the way the members of their own flocks suddenly took it into their heads to shake their arms in the air and quit coming to Sunday Services 'cos they were just too plumb tuckered out from carousing with these evangelists on Saturday night. And of course you may recall that Jack himself had spent a short period in his early history acting as a preacher man in Davenport, Iowa, so he knew full well how much sway a sky-pilot could have over folks heart, heads and pocketbooks.
"Well, sir, don't reckon a town can have too many preachers. Reckon I'll have to arrange a get-together with you to meet our Reverend Jeremiah Little and that new Catholic feller in town too."
And with that they parted cordially, Jack to pay a visit on his friend Little and the Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven  Praise the Lord! to sit and contemplate, over a glass of fine Madiera sherry, just how he would ensconce himself amongst the good denizens of the town and the Valley.

It has been expressed by no less an intellect than Albert Einstein himself that the speed limit of the Universe is the speed of light. Here was one of the times in his distinguished career that the greatest mind of the 20th Century was wrong. The finite speed limit of the Universe is the speed at which gossip can disseminate around a small community. There is even some evidence to suggest that the last person to hear a juicy item actually heard it fractionally before the person who first heard it. While this may seem to breach the Laws of Causality it is entirely within the boundaries permitted by the Regulations of Gossip which are rigidly constrictured to always disseminate the truth, some of the truth,  part of the truth or no truth at all but disseminate anyway. With the result that by the time New Jack Lazyacre had cleared the front door of his hostelery both Rev Little and that Papist feller knew that an interloper was in their midst, there to undermine their Good Work by turning their flocks and income-producers into his flock and income-producers!

The Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven  Praise the Lord!, following his small prandial repast, took himself for a stroll down the main street of Selbyville perusing the buildings and establishments until he saw the office of the Toenail Ridge Examiner, that bastion of local printed lies, slander, produce prices and live-stock for-sale ads. Old Warren Sterling was the editor of this prestigious journal, dedicated to printing nothing but the truth in all things provided that it didn't step on any toes and met the approval of everyone concerned, otherwise print anything to fill in all the spaces on the broadsheet. So when he heard the jingle of the bell above the front door he limped  out from the back room wiping his inky fingers on his apron and, peering myopically from under his green eyeshade at the imposing figure before him said in the best salesmanship manner "Yup?"

Two days later the population of the Valley of the Toenail Ridge, receiving the latest issue of the Examiner saw to their amazement that Selbyville had been chosen by the Almighty Himself to be the venue for the arrival of the next Prophet of the Lord, 'cos it said it right there in that full-page ad and since it was in the newspaper it had to be true! And all that the folks of the Valley had to do to see this wonderful arrival was to present themselves on the banks of Lake Wallace on Saturday afternoon, there to be greeted by the Emissary of the Lord and His coming Prophet, The Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven  Praise the Lord!

That very morning an unusual meeting took place in the private sitting room of New Jersey Jack Lazyacre, between Reverend Jeremiah Little and Father Shamus O'Conner O'Kelly O'Rourke, said meeting moderated by Jack himself. "Father," said Little, " this charlatan is gonna lie to our people and take their money and give 'em false ideas and teach 'em that they can reach the Kingdom of Heaven by just faith and belief with no mention of hard work and donations at all!"
"To be shure!" quoth the good priest. "We can not be lettin' our people listen to this heathen rubbish spoutin' from this con-man! "
But what to do?
Now it's been mentioned a few times in these chronicles that New Jersey Jack Lazyacre was a man of skill and resources. "Gentlemen, let me do a little checking" he said. And with that he lit a cheroot , left the room and strolled up to the Selbyville railroad station and depot, there to have a chat with the surly station-master Joe Dempsey, who, knowing his place in the pecking order, promptly sat down to the telegraph and sent a telegram to a certain member of the State Legislature in Portland. "Joe, lemme know soon as you get a reply," said Jack, and with that, spun on his heel and returned to his office and his guests.

In the meantime Little and the priest had, like two mothers-in-law at a wedding reception, been passing the time of day, and had mutually come to the conclusion that this pagan sitting on the other side of the room wasn't such a bad fellow, at least he didn't have a forked tail visible and if he had horns his flowing locks/tonsure covered them. They compared notes on matters of church administration, how much it cost to put a new roof on the building, what percentage they could honestly keep for living expenses out of the donations, matters of high import to men of good will whose living depends on encouraging folks to reach for their pocketbooks.

When Saturday afternoon finally arrived the good folks of Selbyville and the outer-lying districts had gathered on the grassy banks of Lake Wallace, picnic lunches spread, holiday atmosphere well enjoined, to await the arrival of the Almighty as promised by the article in the Toenail Ridge Examiner. And even though it was Saturday they were still in their Sunday best 'cos it wouldn't do to look down at heel or unkempt before the Lord, whatever might He think? Wouldn't do for the Omniscient, Omnipotent and Omnipresent Creator of the Universe to know that the good penitents gathered before Him didn't have clean underwear or a starched collar on. As the sun rose higher in the clear sky the anticipation of the multitude increased, heads turned as one at every arrival of cart or buggy, chins elevated in unison whenever a flock of birds flew over in a cacaphony of wing-beats, Oohs & Aahs of wonder escaped lips when the sound of Gabriel's trumpet echoed across the pristine waters of Lake Wallace until Ken Blunt pointed out that they were actually hearing the whistle of Ol' No. 9 with its combine approaching the Whibley truss bridge. And the same sun started to cause accumulations of sweat in the armpits and a general loosening of collars and doffing of jackets and reddening of faces and regretting of girdles and stays and, never one to miss an opportunity, Chuck Parker from the Saloon hired Chilly John to take a couple barrels of Supremely Healthy, Invigorating, Truly Tasty, Yeasty beer down to the lake to slake the thirst of those awaiting the Second Coming of The Lord. And  the Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven  Praise the Lord! saw what his advertisement in the Examiner had caused and he saw that it was good,and judging that the mood of anticipation of the good folks was right  he took himself from the shadow of the trees on the top of the knoll and stepped out into the sun, his arms raised high above his head, his face raised to Heaven, his white and gold-trimmed robes spreading from his outstretched arms, and in a voice that resonated and revererated around the full circumference of the lake, he toned "Prepare ye the Way of the Lord!"

"My brethren and my sistren, I am  The Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven  Praise the Lord! and I stand before you today to lead you into the Path of Righteousness and free you from dependance on the worldly chattels that burden your lives and cause you worry and pain. Listen to me and learn how the Lord Himself wants you to hear His Word and forsake  the evil belongings of this material Golgatha, how He wants you, through me His Emissary, to give up your worldly ways and donate your filthy lucre to the poor and devote yourselves to the Holy following of His Holy Word!"

Well, Gentle Reader, there are those folks in the world who are endowed with that ability known as the Gift of the Gab, folks who really can sell refrigerators to Eskimos, folks who can sell an itinerant a million dollars worth of life insurance, folks who can convince an illiterate to buy a full set of Encyclopaedia Brittannica, and before the assembled multitude of the Valley of the Toenail Ridge stood just such a man.
Words flowed from his mouth like nectar from a hive, each morsel sweet and seductive and addictive, each ear into which each word flowed hungry for more of the melifluous offerings of this self-proclaimed man of God. And before half an hour had passed the good folks of the Valley of the Toenail Ridge knew their destiny, which was to forsake their material possessions and lead a righteous life in the teachings of this man, and so holy and righteous a man was he that he offered to take their burden upon himself, to receive their belongings and make sure that they got delivered to the needy, those poor folks in the world that didn't have any worldy possessions at all. Sort of like the folks in the Valley of the Toenail Ridge were gonna be after The Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven  Praise the Lord! got through with 'em, come to think of it.........

Up the back of the crowd, in the shadow of the trees where the forest swept down to the pristine waters of Lake Wallace, New Jersey Jack Lazyacre listened to the utterings of the Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven  Praise the Lord! with a jaundiced ear and a critical eye. Beside him and shaking with fury and envy was the Reverend Jeremiah Little and that Catholic feller too, although the good Father was shaking with disbelief rather than fury as the utterances of the Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven  Praise the Lord! spread across the heads of the crowd and reached the trio.

"My children!" quoth the Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven  Praise the Lord! "Come with me to the lake and immerse yourselves in the cleansing waters of God's Creation! And leave your pocketbooks and wallets and watches here in this pile so they don't get wet!" he cried. "Put your faith in the Lord and your bodies in the water and it will wash away your sins!"
"Well, gentlemen," said New Jersey Jack Lazyacre "I reckon it might be about time for us to make our presence known and protect the belongings of these good folks while this feller is gettin' 'em soaked, what do ya say?" and with that he stepped from the cover of the trees and ambled down the slope towards the gathered multitude. "Folks!" he called as he neared them. "Before you all divest yourselves of your valuables and git yourselves wet I reckon I need to tell ya about a Western Union wire Joe Dempsey just delivered to me. It's come from the State capital and has a little bit of information about our good Reverend Lutschke here. Reverend, you want to come over here and have a look at its contents? Seems to me its mighty important to you and your future, in fact I reckon it might even determine whether you even got a future."

Well, Gentle reader, it's a well known fact that when a man feels the grip of exposure tighten around his regenerative appendages he suddenly sees the world in total clarity. Thus it was that the  Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven  Praise the Lord!  quickly stepped to the side of New Jersey Jack Lazyacre where he cast an eye over the contents of the wire. "Sir," he whispered in an aside to Jack, "I would be mighty appreciative if you could see your way clear to not announce the contents of this missive to these people and perhaps provide me with a means of rapid egress from this town as soon as possible. While I deny every one of these imprecations contained in this defamatory screed, in particular that item regarding the seven freshman young ladies from St. Margaritas-ante-Porcus Young Women's College of Divinity and Weaving and what is alleged to have occurred in the hayloft with the German Shepherd, I can see clearly that the evidence is not in my favour and may cause these good folks to look upon me with a jaundiced eye. I can see you are an experienced man of the world. I give you my word as a gentleman that I will never set foot in this part of the globe again, so help me, God. Your assistance, sir, I implore you."

Thus it came to pass that in the fullness of time the good folks of the Valley of the Toenail Ridge learnt that the  Most Holy Reverend Elmore Lutschke of the Holy Most Blessed Church of The Gateway to Heaven  Praise the Lord!  had had an urgent call to attend to a flock in a far off place and that was why he had had to depart from his gathering so quickly, without even so much as a goodbye or a bye your leave. It left a few folks wondering just what had happened to their insight of religious fervour but a lot of the remainder maintained that glow of the Holy Spirit long enough for that Catholic feller and the Reverend Jeremiah Little to step in and carry on the good work, especially in regard to helping the members of their respective congregations in parting with the root of all evil in a good and holy way. Before too long, Little's church had a new roof and his parlour had a new settee and that Catholic feller, who had taken a vow of poverty as well as chastity found his conscience sorely pressed as he tried to abide within the letter of his vows.

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