Shadowers seldom mentioned Augustus Huffstutler without speaking of his good deeds. On community work day, Augustus would be the earliest to arrive and the last to leave. At a funeral, Augustus would frequently out-wail those with the stronger claim to mourning. If a body fell sick, Augustus was the first to sponge their forehead. When the church needed money for a special project, Augustus would give the most, then pawn his watch and empty his pocket change to top off the till. Once, when a heavy snow fell in the valley, Augustus rose at dawn and shoveled his sidewalk. Most folks would have left it at that—not Augustus. Seeing how clear his section looked compared to that of his neighbors, gut-wrenching guilt overtook him. At least that’s how August explained it:
“What right had I to a clean sidewalk while the treacherous paths of my brothers and sisters of the street remained buried in snow?” he asked me. “The most I can do is but my duty.”
Augustus died the next spring. Soon after the graveside service at the burying ground, I stretched out on Mabel Bladsen (1826-1904) and listened to the pallbearers discuss the departed.
“Have you ever met a more humble man than Augustus Huffstutler?” Cass Padden asked the group.
“If he called himself an unworthy sinner once, he said it a thousand times,” Ed Hotchkiss agreed.
“No doubt Jesus had Augustus in mind when he delivered the Beatitudes,” added Wid Coulter.
I should have remained silent. A chance remark given without consideration will often clarify a subject that serious thought fails to illuminate.
“Augustus liked to declare his degenerate nature,” I said, “but if he was the chiefest of sinners, how did he descend to such a lowly station without ever revealing a specific infraction?”
Six pallbearers rubbed their chins in thought. While the process of forming a good reputation is laborious and undetectable save by scientific instruments, the plummeting of a good name is quick and readily observable. I watched as smiles of satisfaction formed and eyes brightened in pairs.
“He sure was proud of his humility,” said Ed Hotchkiss.
Five heads nodded.
“Proudest man I ever knew,” Cass remarked.
“When I consider the way he wormed it over us all those years, I thank God that I am not as he was,” declared Minister Westminster with humiliation.
“Why did he always have to be the chiefest of sinners?” Wilson asked. “Wouldn’t a genuine Christian spread the humility and let others try being the lowest occasionally?”
“A humility hog,” said Willie Fimple with disgust.
“Indeed!” the group answered in unison.
That afternoon six pallbearers told their wives the true tale of the “good” man who had hoodwinked the town. The next day words took flight; along sidewalks, down the hallways of the school, across picket fences, through beauticians and barbers, between friends and associates they flew. And that evening was acknowledged the supreme arrogance of the stuffy, hypocritical Augustus Huffstutler, once the most humble man in Sycamore Shadows.