The Reign of Law; a Tale of the Kentucky Hemp Fields

Author: James Lane Allen


One crisp, autumn morning, then, of that year 1867, a big, rawboned, bashful lad, having passed at the turnstile into the twentyacre campus, stood reverently still before the majestical front of Morrison College. Browned by heat and wind, rain and sun; straight of spine, fine of nerve, tough of muscle. In one hand he carried an enormous, faded valise, made of Brussels carpet copiously sprinkled with small, pink roses; in the other, held like a horizontal javelin, a family umbrella. A broken rib escaped his fingers.

It was no time and place for observation or emotion. The turnstile behind him was kept in a whirl by students pushing through and hurrying toward the college a few hundred yards distant; others, who had just left it, came tramping toward him and passing out. In a retired part of the campus, he could see several pacing slowly to and fro in the grass, holding text-books before their faces. Some were grouped at the bases of the big Doric columns, at work together. From behind the college on the right, two or three appeared running and disappeared through a basement entrance. Out of the grass somewhere came the sound of a whistle as clear and happy as of a quail in the wheat; from another direction, the shouts and wrangling of a playground. Once, barely audible, through the air surged and died away the last bars of a glorious hymn, sung by a chorus of fresh male voices. The whole scene was one of bustle, work, sport, worship.

A few moments the lad remained where he had halted, drinking through every thirsting pore; but most of all with his eyes satisfied by the sight of that venerable building which, morning and night, for over two years had shaped itself to his imagination— that seat of the university—that entrance into his future.

Three students came strolling along the path toward him on their way down town. One was slapping his book against his thigh; one was blowing a ditty through his nose, like music on a comb; one, in the middle, had his arms thrown over the shoulders of the others, and was at intervals using them as crutches. As they were about to pass the lad, who had stepped a few feet to one side of the path, they wheeled and laughed at him.

"Hello, preachy!" cried one. His face was round, red, and soft, like the full moon; the disk was now broken up by smiling creases.

"Can you tell me," inquired the lad, coloring and wondering how it was already known that he was to be a preacher, "Can you tell me just the way to the Bible College?"

The one of the three on the right turned to the middle man and repeated the question gravely:—

"Can you tell me just the way to the Bible College?"

The middle man turned and repeated it gravely to the one on the left:—

"Can you tell me just the way to the Bible College?"

The one on the left seized a passing student:—

"Can you tell us all just the way to the Bible College?"

"Ministers of grace!" he said, "without the angels!" Then turning to the lad, he continued: "You see this path? Take it! Those steps? Go straight up those steps. Those doors? Enter! Then, if you don’t see the Bible College, maybe you’ll see the janitor—if he is there. But don’t you fear! You may get lost, but you’ll never get away!"

The lad knew he was being guyed, but he didn’t mind: what hurt him was that his Bible College should be treated with such levity.

"Thank you," he said pleasantly but proudly.

"Have you matriculated?" one of the three called after him as he started forward.

David had never heard that word; but he entertained such a respect for knowledge that he hated to appear unnecessarily ignorant.

"I don’t think—I have," he observed vaguely.

The small eyes of the full moon disappeared altogether this time.

"Well, you’ve got to matriculate, you know," he said. "You’d better do that sometime. But don’t speak of it to your professors, or to anybody connected with the college. It must be kept secret."

"Will I be too late for the first recitations?"

The eager question was on the lad’s lips but never uttered. The trio had wheeled carelessly away.

There passed them, coming toward David, a tall, gaunt, roughwhiskered man, wearing a paper collar without a cravat, and a shiny, long-tailed, black cloth coat. He held a Bible opened at Genesis.

"Good morning, brother," he said frankly, speaking in the simple kindness which comes from being a husband and father. "You are going to enter the Bible College, I see."

"Yes, sir," replied the lad. "Are you one of the professors?"

The middle-aged man laughed painfully.

"I am one of the students."

David felt that he had inflicted a wound. "How many students are here?" he asked quickly.

"About a thousand."

The two walked side by side toward the college.

"Have you matriculated?" inquired the lad’s companion. There was that awful word again!

"I don’t know HOW to matriculate. How DO you matriculate? What is matriculating?"

"I’LL go with you. I’LL show you," said the simple fatherly guide.

"Thank you, if you will" breathed the lad, gratefully.

After a brief silence his companion spoke again.

"I’m late in life in entering college. I’ve got a son half as big as you and a baby; and my wife’s here. But, you see, I’ve had a hard time. I’ve preached for years. But I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to understand the Bible better. And this is the place to do that." Now that he had explained himself, he looked relieved.

"Well," said David, fervently, entering at once into a brotherhood with this kindly soul, "that’s what I’ve come for, too. I want to understand the Bible better—and if I am ever worthy—I want to preach it. And you have baptized people already?"

"Hundreds of them. Here we are," said his companion, as they passed under a low doorway, on one side of the pillared steps.

"Here I am at last," repeated the lad to himself with solemn joy, "And now God be with me!"

By the end of that week he had the run of things; had met his professors, one of whom had preached that sermon two summers before, and now, on being told who the lad was, welcomed him as a sheaf out of that sowing; had been assigned to his classes; had gone down town to the little packed and crowded book-store and bought the needful student’s supplies—so making the first draught on his money; been assigned to a poor room in the austere dormitory behind the college; made his first failures in recitations, standing before his professor with no more articulate voice and no more courage than a sheep; and had awakened to a new sense—the brotherhood of young souls about him, the men of his college.

A revelation they were! Nearly all poor like himself; nearly all having worked their way to the university: some from farms, some by teaching distant country or mountain schools; some by the peddling of books—out of unknown byways, from the hedges and ditches of life, they had assembled: Calvary’s regulars.

One scene in his new life struck upon the lad’s imagination like a vision out of the New Testament,—his first supper in the bare dining room of that dormitory: the single long, rough table; the coarse, frugal food; the shadows of the evening hour; at every chair a form reverently standing; the saying of the brief grace— ah, that first supper with the disciples!

Among the things he had to describe in his letter to his father and mother, this scene came last; and his final words to them were a blessing that they had made him one of this company of young men.


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Chicago: James Lane Allen, "V," The Reign of Law; a Tale of the Kentucky Hemp Fields in The Reign of Law; a Tale of the Kentucky Hemp Fields Original Sources, accessed March 25, 2023,

MLA: Allen, James Lane. "V." The Reign of Law; a Tale of the Kentucky Hemp Fields, in The Reign of Law; a Tale of the Kentucky Hemp Fields, Original Sources. 25 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Allen, JL, 'V' in The Reign of Law; a Tale of the Kentucky Hemp Fields. cited in , The Reign of Law; a Tale of the Kentucky Hemp Fields. Original Sources, retrieved 25 March 2023, from