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OPINION | OLD NEWS: Billy of Arkansas excites ardor of another pesky suitor

by Celia Storey | March 6, 2023 at 2:30 a.m.
(Democrat-Gazette photo illustration)

Today in Old News, we continue poking at a novel written by the wonderful Mrs. Bernie Babcock in or about 1914 and published by the Arkansas Democrat 101 years ago.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, here are links to my last three columns: and and

In today's paraphrase, young Billy Camelton receives in the mail something she has never imagined could exist, a matrimonial newspaper in which bachelors, widows and widowers advertise for mates. This seems delightfully absurd to her, especially the column in which lonesome males express their various needs and longings.

"Wanted," she reads, "to correspond with a lady. Must be religious. One preferred who enjoys travel. Age nor lack of worldly riches drawback. Any lady desiring to make the acquaintance of a mighty man of God who feels moved to enter into correspondence will receive by return mail a sample of Soul Balm. Nothing better for everything. Address Ezekiel Bumpest, Mt. Pisgah, Tex."

Curious Billy invests 2 cents and a sheet of her good writing paper, which is cream and green and adorned with violets so natural looking they give off the faint fragrance of fresh flowers. She requests a generous sample of Soul Balm and asks that it be addressed to "Miss B. Alexander" so the product won't be delivered to the wrong Alexander.

"Kindly send enough that I may give it a full test," she writes.

Four days later, a plain brown envelope arrives bearing the drawing of a index finger pointing to the word "important." Inside are two copies of a four-page, 6- by 9-inch publication -- titled "Soul Balm."

The title is in "large blinky letters." Underneath, in letters almost as large, are the words "Reverend Ezekiel Bumpest, editor and sole proprietor."

(Sharp-eyed Reader recalls that, on Feb. 27, Old News spelled Bumpest "Bumpast." The Democrat spelled the name both ways, because typos already existed in 1922.)

The front page reports that this Bumpest converted 17 hardened sinners in one revival at Goose Gap: "Brother Ezekiel Bumpest is the mightiest man of God that ever held forth in this section of the moral vineyard. In prayer he is unsurpassed, holding to the horns of the altar for as long as an hour at a time."

Cries of mercy mingled with shouts of praise were heard until 3 in the morning, and he came nigh to shaking the arbor down with his religious rejoicings.

"Brother Ezekiel is certainly storing up stars for a crown of glory which will be the envy of angels in the New Jerusalem. From Goose Gap he goes to Honey Grove. From there he goes to New London, to Three Roads Crossing, and it is rumored the citizens of Bull Holler are going to invite him over there. Like the old time pilgrim of the Lord, Brother Ezekiel is ever on the way."

Another page bears a muddy picture and a quote: "Ezekiel, Man of God with Soul Balm. Soul Balm is said by all who read it to be the livest journal printed."

After gazing at this portrait a moment Billy leans back and laughs.


Next day, here comes another letter. "To the Elect Lady Alexander: Beloved of God. It is with joy and thanksgiving I take up my pen to acknowledge my nothingness before my Maker! Indeed and in truth was I led by the Spirit to make known my desires that of a clean conscience and yearning heart would I take a mate.

"On yesterday, I sent you Soul Balm in which you saw reference to my late bereavement. Since in seeking a mate you have been led of the Spirit, as the female is ever led when she puts her trust in God, I will tell you the nature of my bereavement, so that there be no secrets between us from the beginning.

"It was a woman. She was fair to look upon but rotten at the core. She deceived me. She won my affections. She jilted me. She trampled upon my heart. She ruined me. Yet from the fiery furnace of my afflictions, I put my trust in God and he digged me out of the miry clay and established my feet on the rock. The fields are white and the harvest is ripe and my two-edged sickle of fiery baptism reaps the sinners in, Glory to God!

"I am in demand. I have partially promised the brethren at Honey Grove to give them a meeting next week. If however, you can arrange to come back with me so soon I will postpone this meeting until I hold the Bull Holler service where your help will be greatly appreciated. Honey Grove is also a stronghold of Satan, and I will need your prayerful assistance.

"Answer at once as otherwise I might be led of the Spirit to come sooner.

"My heart is heaped up with affections for the Elect Lady who is to be my mate. The peace of the Lord be with you. Amen.

"P.S. Uncle Sam's mail pouch will ache until I hear from you. — Ezekiel."

Billy looks at this letter in amazement. "What on earth kind of a fool is this anyway?" she said.

Immediately she writes back, declining his offer of religious work and explaining that she misunderstood Soul Balm to be ointment or perfume. Enclosing stamps to reimburse his postage, she tells him not to write to her again.

Two days later, as Billy is dressing for an evening out with two of her aunties, the doorbell rings.


The maid Dinah finds a rather undersized man carrying a bundle of papers under one arm and an umbrella under the other. "Is this the abode of Miss Alexander?" he asks.

Dinah replies that it is. "She don't own the house but this am whar she lib."

"Is she in?"

As Dinah says "yassah," the visitor steps in, raises his umbrella over Dinah's head and cries, "Peace be to this house! I would see its mistress."

Dinah isn't about to admit him farther, but high-toned and proper old Aunt Nan happens to walk into the foyer.

Billy hangs back on the second-floor landing to eavesdrop as miscommunications commence.

Aunt Nan isn't fully alarmed until the man sets down his luggage and removes his hat. He calls her "Elect Lady" and announces himself to be a pilgrim from afar led of the spirit to her, his mate.

Aunt Nan shrieks and Dinah moves to protect her. Bumpest urges his "dear black sister" to step back because he's on a mission from God. But as Nan vigorously insists she's never heard of him, he remembers Billy's mention of another Alexander. Aunt Nan decides he must be talking about Aunt Isobel Regan.

When that even more august auntie appears, Bumpest importunes her: "Greetings, Elect Lady, beloved. I thought the other one was too old, but true to my word, age should be no drawback."

He grabs her hand and plants a kiss on it as she recoils, shrieking. Dinah asks whether she should call the police.

Bumpest is angry. "I am the gentleman whose advertisement for a life mate you answered in the Matrimonial Bureau," he insists. "I have just recovered from being the victim of one woman's perfidy and have come too far to have another frame-up put over on me. I told you I was coming. Here I am."

"There's no use trying to get out of it," he says, and he demands they admit he has their address. "The Spirit does not make mistakes. It led me here to you." He has documents to prove it. He hands over Billy's letter.

"Nan," Mrs. Regan says, "Look."

"Isobel," Miss Nan exclaims. "It's Billy's doings. We might have known it. Billy! Billy! Billy, come here!"

A sweet voice calls down the stairs, "Coming, Auntie."

Tune in again March 13, when Billy stops laughing and tries to reason with her most determined suitor yet.


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Print Headline: Billy’s Soul Balm request backfires


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