Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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1932. Andrew Titus was a man anointed by God. His election was a severe calling, beyond the ken of the worldly or mere sinners. He was set apart, bound to keep pure of the corruptions of this life in hopes of glory.

He wore out a succession of wives in raising up children of strict godliness. Each woman had provided him with strapping boys, but the last, quiet Mary, had borne a single daughter. If pride were not forbidden by the word of God, Titus would have burst his heart over his delicate little Lavinia. She was too good for this world, but the Almighty had spared her and taken her mother instead. Titus educated her himself, using ancient books to teach her the Latin and Greek he’d studied at the university before the spirit had drawn him forth out of a life of vanity.

The Titus boys were their father’s lieutenants, guarding the perimeters of the compound he’d established in Andronicus Gulch. Within the bounds of this earthly Paradise, Lavinia was a new Eve, untainted by the follies and wantonness of the flesh. Titus had once been inside the new Papist mission chapel built in town, and seen there a statue of a woman robed in blue, peacefully indicating her heart aflame and wreathed in flowers. Although God’s curse was on such idolators, Titus was beset by a vision of Lavinia as that woman, holding his heart in her innocent waxen hands.

Although Titus could maintain order within his own lands, he could not prevent the encroachment of evil right up against his borders. Even the town that bore his ancestral name was no haven from those sons of Satan, the McGraths. Lawless, carousing, licentious, and likely the reason that the Papists had the temerity to establish their temple to the Whore of Babylon on God’s holy mountain, the McGraths had set themselves against the rule of God and man. They were worshippers of the demon Drink, the demon that was consuming his own son Quintin.

They were also poachers and trespassers. Titus was a man of rectitude — he would no sooner trespass on another man’s land than shoot him in the back, no matter the provocation. But when a Titus dog, on Titus land, caught his foot in a McGrath trap, Titus had his men move any traps they found back to McGrath land. To show there was no ill will, the men carefully covered the traps with leaves, just as they’d found them on Titus land. An elderly McGrath retainer had to have his leg amputated.

And so the feud grew in small tits and tats, here an insult, there a blow. Nothing was so overt, so directed, as to draw down the wrath of the law, though the mayor of Titusville made personal pleas to both sides to bury the hatchet. Andrew Titus, man of honor, was Olympian in his reply. God’s justice would not be mocked. Let the McGraths look to the day of judgment, which he, Andrew Titus, would neither hasten nor impede.

Until the night the McGraths burned his barn.

They did not dare touch the main barn near the house, or the storage barns nearby. But out in a distant field, a blaze consumed the structure where the new calves and the mothers were sheltering. The anguished lowing of the cattle could be heard as far as the house, where Lavinia wept with them.

“How could anyone do such a thing, Father?” she cried. “The poor beasts, so innocent!”

Andrew Titus stroked his daughter’s head, his gnarled hand catching softly on the fine strands of her plaited hair.

“Livestock is an offering acceptable to the Lord,” he murmured to himself. “The blood of bulls, of lambs and goats, of cattle, atoned for the sin of the chosen people. The fires burned daily in the temple, making a smoke sweet in the nostrils of the Almighty. ‘And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering. But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.'”

He still stroked Lavinia’s hair, but he looked to the mountain, where the night horizon glowed above the distant field.

“Cain did not raise livestock,” he pronounced in a voice of banked fire. “He offered the the fruits of the field, the grain that is distilled down into accursed liquor. And the Lord rejected his offering.”

And Titus, with the fire in his eyes, vowed to make an acceptable offering to the Lord, to wreak his vengeance without delay on the impious, to strike a blow of justice that would end the feud for good.

Quintin was drunk when Titus went to the mayor and demanded that the McGraths be held accountable for their crime. Quintin was drunk when the mayor told Titus to look to his own sot of a son if he wanted a likely suspect. And Quintin was drunk on the night the Tituses dismantled the McGrath still. As Titus and his other sons carefully stacked piece after piece, so that no one could say that they had stolen anything, Quintin sang loudly and stumbled though the piles of metal just warped enough to be impossible to reassemble. Titus took him home and thrashed him sober in the barn.

And there things lay. The McGraths could not complain to the authorities about the destruction of their illegal still, and as public sentiment was with the Tituses, they could take no open action.  Titus’s justice was achieved. He was content.

One man’s final justice is another man’s desperation. The livelihood of the McGraths had been bound up with their still. Now that it was destroyed, they turned from grain to stolen industrial denatured alcohol. Using a crudely built pot still, they filtered out, as much as possible, the government-mandated poisons that were meant to deter . Then they bottled it, and in a rare act of conscience, drove it down into the city, away from the mountain and its people, to distribute.

And Quintin Titus, unable to face the agony of sobriety, obtained through God knew what back channels a flask of denatured alcohol, and staggered home to die in his own vomit and filth.

The funeral was held, the body interred, a luncheon prepared. As the mournful family picked their way through the pies and cakes and hams, a message came to Andrew Titus that someone wanted to speak to him at the gates of his property.

Old Titus rode out, flanked by his sons. At the gate he found Widow McGrath’s oldest son Allan, a boy of 18, standing open-handed at the road. His red hair flamed in the setting sun.

“Andrew Titus, I grieve for the loss of your son,” he said.

“Get off my land, Allan McGrath,” said Titus.

“I come for myself, not for my mother or my kin,” said Allan. “I come in peace to make peace, and I will bear to the McGraths any message you choose. When I am head of the family, I want no feuds, and I want no liquor, and I want no death.”

"You will never be head of your family if you don’t get off my land,” said Titus.

“Titus, hear me!” said Allan. “Our children were starving because you destroyed our still. It takes time to learn a new trade or make the land pay. The McGraths must change, but we must have time, and we must have peace.”

“My son did not die in peace,” said Titus. “He died degraded, like an animal. Your family did this, you and pagan idols you serve, Alcohol and Mammon.”

“My family did not make your son drink,” said Allan fiercely, but he immediately held himself under control again. “Sons of Titus, will you make peace with the son of McGrath?”

Luke and Mark Titus looked uneasily at their father, rigid on his horse.

Allan McGrath went back to the beginning. “I grieve for the loss of your son and your brother.” He extended his hand across the gate to Titus. “Andrew Titus, will you make peace with me, for the sake of your family and mine?”

Andrew Titus drew his revolver from under his coat and shot Allan McGrath between the eyes. As he looked down at the crumpled body, at the surprised eyes and the hair like a halo of fire, Andrew’s hand holding the gun gave one spasm, maybe of grief, maybe of remorse, maybe of nerves.

“Get off my land,” he said, and turned his horse back toward the house.


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