PANSY AND MRS. C.M. LIVINGSTON
GEORGE ROUTLEDGE AND SONS
BROADWAY, LUDGATE HILL GLASGOW, MANCHESTER, AND NEW YORK
THE PANSY BOOKS.
LIST OF THE SERIES.
1. FOUR GIRLS AT CHAUTAUQUA. 2. LITTLE FISHERS & THEIR NETS. 3. THREE PEOPLE. 4. ECHOING AND RE-ECHOING. 5. CHRISTIE'S CHRISTMAS. 6. DIVERS WOMEN. 7. SPUN FROM FACT. 8. THE CHAUTAUQUA GIRLS AT HOME. 9. THE POCKET MEASURE. 10. JULIA RIED. 11. WISE AND OTHERWISE. 12. THE KING'S DAUGHTER. 13. LINKS IN REBECCA'S LIFE. 14. INTERRUPTED. 15. THE MASTER HAND. 16. AN ENDLESS CHAIN. 17. ESTER RIED. 18. ESTER RIED YET SPEAKING. 19. THE MAN OF THE HOUSE. 20. RUTH ERSKINE'S CROSSES. 21. HOUSEHOLD PUZZLES. 22. MABEL WYNN; OR, THOSE BOYS. 23. MODERN PROPHETS. 24. THE RANDOLPHS. 25. MRS. SOLOMON SMITH LOOKING ON. 26. FROM DIFFERENT STANDPOINTS. 27. A NEW GRAFT ON THE FAMILY TREE.
GEORGE ROUTLEDGE AND SONS.
SUNDAY FRACTURES: CHAP. I. —SOME PEOPLE WHO WENT UP TO THE TEMPLE. CHAP. II. —SOME PEOPLE WHO FORGOT THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT. CHAP. III. —SOME PEOPLE WHO FORGOT THE EVER-LISTENING EAR. CHAP. IV. —SOME PEOPLE WHO WERE FALSE FRIENDS.
WHERE HE SPENT CHRISTMAS.
HOW A WOMAN WAS CONVERTED TO MISSIONS.
MRS. LEWIS' BOOK: PART I. —THE BOOK PART II. —THE BOOK OPEN
FAITH AND GASOLINE
SOME PEOPLE WHO WENT UP TO THE TEMPLE.
An elegant temple it was, this modern one of which I write—modern in all its appointments. Carpets, cushions, gas fixtures, organ, pulpit furnishings, everything everywhere betokened the presence of wealth and taste. Even the vases that adorned the marble-topped flower-stands on either side of the pulpit wore a foreign air, and in design and workmanship were unique. The subdued light that stole softly in through the stained-glass windows produced the requisite number of tints and shades on the hair and whiskers and noses of the worshippers. The choir was perched high above common humanity, and praised God for the congregation in wonderful voices, four in number, the soprano of which cost more than a preacher's salary, and soared half an octave higher than any other voice in the city. To be sure she was often fatigued, for she frequently danced late of a Saturday night. And occasionally the grand tenor was disabled from appearing at all for morning service by reason of the remarkably late hour and unusual dissipation of the night before. But then he was all right by evening, and, while these little episodes were unfortunate, they had to be borne with meekness and patience; for was he not the envy of three rival churches, any one of which would have increased his salary if they could have gotten him?
The soft, pure tones of the organ were filling this beautiful church on a certain beautiful morning, and the worshippers were treading the aisles, keeping step to its melody as they made their way to their respective pews, the heavy carpeting giving back no sound of footfall, and the carefully prepared inner doors pushing softly back into place, making no jar on the solemnities of the occasion—everything was being done "decently and in order"—not only decently, but exquisitely.
A strange breaking in upon all this propriety and dignity was the sermon that morning. Even the text had a harsh sound, almost startling to ears which had been lifted to the third heaven of rapture by the wonderful music that floated down to them.
"Take heed what ye do; let the fear of the Lord be upon you." What a harsh text!—Wasn't it almost rough? Why speak of fear in the midst of such melody of sight and sound? Why not hear of the beauties of heaven, the glories of the upper temple, the music of the heavenly choir—something that should lift the thoughts away from earth and doing and fear? This was the unspoken greeting that the text received. And the sermon that followed! What had gotten possession of the preacher! He did not observe the proprieties in the least! He dragged stores, and warehouses, and common workshops, even the meat markets and vegetable stalls, into that sermon! Nay, he penetrated to the very inner sanctuary of home—the dressing-room and the kitchen—startling the ear with that strange-sounding sentence: "Take heed what ye do." According to him religion was not a thing of music, and flowers, and soft carpets, and stained lights, and sentiment. It had to do with other days than Sunday, with other hours than those spent in softly cushioned pews. It meant doing, and it meant taking heed to each little turn and word and even thought, remembering always that the fear of the Lord was the thing to be dreaded. What a solemn matter that made of life! Who wanted to be so trammelled! It would be fearful. As for the minister, he presented every word of his sermon as though he felt it thrilling to his very soul. And so he did. If you had chanced to pass the parsonage on that Saturday evening which preceded its delivery—passed it as late as midnight—you would have seen a gleam of light from his study window. Not that he was so late with his Sabbath preparation—at least the written preparation. It was that he was on his knees, pleading with an unutterable longing for the souls committed to his charge—pleading that the sermon just laid aside might be used to the quickening and converting of some soul—pleading that the Lord would come into his vineyard and see if there were not growing some shoots of love and faith and trust that would bring harvest.
It was not that minister's custom to so infringe on the sleeping hours of Saturday night—time which had been given to his body, in order that it might be vigorous, instead of clogging the soul with the dullness of its weight. But there are special hours in the life of most men, and this Saturday evening was a special time to him. He felt like wrestling for the blessing—felt in a faint degree some of the persistency of the servant of old who said: "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." Hence the special unction of the morning. Somewhat of the same spirit had possessed him during the week, hence the special fervour of the sermon. With his soul glowing then in every sentence, he presented his thoughts to the people. How did they receive them? Some listened with the thoughtful look on their faces that betokened hearts and consciences stirred. There were those who yawned, and thought the sermon unusually long and prosy. Now and then a gentleman more thoughtless or less cultured than the rest snapped his watch-case in the very face of the speaker, by accident, let us hope. A party of young men, who sat under the gallery, exchanged notes about the doings of the week, and even passed a few slips of paper to the young ladies from the seminary, who sat in front of them. The paper contained nothing more formidable than a few refreshments in the shape of caramels with which to beguile the tedious-ness of the hour. There was a less cultured party of young men and women who unceremoniously whispered at intervals through the entire service, and some of the whispers were so funny that occasionally a head went down and the seat shook, as the amused party endeavoured, or professed to endeavour, to subdue untimely laughter. I presume we have all seen those persons who deem it a mark of vivacity, or special brilliancy, to be unable to control their risibles in certain places. It is curious how often the seeming attempt is, in a glaring way, nothing but seeming. These parties perhaps did not break the Sabbath any more directly than the note-writers behind them, but they certainly did it more noisily and with more marked evidence of lack of ordinary culture. The leader of the choir found an absorbing volume in a book of anthems that had been recently introduced. He turned the leaves without regard to their rustle, and surveyed piece after piece with a critical eye, while the occasionally peculiar pucker of his lips showed that he was trying special ones, and that just enough sense of decorum remained with him to prevent the whistle from being audible. Then there were, dotted all over the great church, heads that nodded assent to the minister at regular intervals; but the owners of the heads had closed eyes and open mouths, and the occasional breathing that suggested a coming snore was marked enough to cause nervous nudges from convenient elbows, and make small boys who were looking on chuckle with delight.
And thus, surrounded by all these different specimens of humanity, the pastor strove to declare the whole counsel of God, mindful of the rest of the charge, "whether men will hear or whether they will forbear." He could not help a half-drawn breath of thanksgiving that that part was not for him to manage. If he had had their duty as well as his own to answer for what would have become of him!
Despite the looking at watches, the cases of which would make an explosive noise, and the audible yawning that occasionally sounded near him, the minister was enabled to carry his sermon through to the close, helped immeasurably by those aforesaid earnest eyes that never turned their gaze from his face, nor let their owners' attention flag for an instant. Then followed the solemn hymn, than which there is surely no more solemn one in the English language. Imagine that congregation after listening, or professing to listen, to such a sermon as I have suggested, from such a text as I have named, standing and hearing rolled forth from magnificent voices such words as these:—
"In all my vast concerns with thee, In vain my soul would try To shun thy presence, Lord, or flee The notice of thine eye.
"My thoughts lie open to the Lord Before they're formed within; And ere my lips pronounce the word He knows the sense I mean.
"Oh, wondrous knowledge, deep and high! Where can a creature hide! Within thy circling arm I lie, Inclosed on every side."
Follow that with the wonderful benediction. By the way, did you ever think of that benediction—of its fulness? "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen." Following that earnest amen—nay, did it follow, or was it blended with the last syllable of that word, so nearly that word seemed swallowed in it—came the roll of that twenty-thousand-dollar organ. What did the organist select to follow that sermon, that hymn, that benediction? Well, what was it? Is it possible that that familiar strain was the old song, "Comin' Through the Rye"? No, it changes; that is the ring of "Money Musk." Anon there is a touch—just a dash, rather—of "Home, Sweet Home," and then a bewilderment of sounds, wonderfully reminding one of "Dixie" and of "Way down upon the Suwanee River," and then suddenly it loses all connection with memory, and rolls, and swells, and thunders, and goes off again into an exquisite tinkle of melody that makes an old farmer—for there was here and there an old farmer even in that modern church—murmur as he shook hands with a friend, "Kind of a dancing jig that is, ain't it?"
To the sound of such music the congregation trip out. Half-way down the aisle Mrs. Denton catches the fringe of Mrs. Ellison's shawl.
"Excuse me," she says, "but I was afraid you would escape me, and I have so much to do this week. I want you to come in socially on Tuesday evening; just a few friends; an informal gathering; tea at eight, because the girls want a little dance after it. Now come early."
Just in front of these two ladies a group have halted to make inquiries.
"Where is Fanny to-day? Is she sick?"
"Oh, no. But the truth is her hat didn't suit, and she sent it back and didn't get it again. She waited till one o'clock, but it didn't come. Milliners are growing so independent and untrustworthy! I told Fanny to wear her old hat and never mind, but she wouldn't. Estelle and Arthur have gone off to the Cathedral this morning. Absurd, isn't it? I don't like to have them go so often. It looks odd. But Arthur runs wild over the music there. I tell him our music is good enough, but he doesn't think so."
"I don't know what the trouble is, but the young people do not seem to be attracted to our church," the elder lady says, and she says it with a sigh. She belongs to that class of people who always say things with a sigh.
Further on Mrs. Hammond has paused to say that if the weather continues so lovely she thinks they would better have that excursion during the week. The gardens will be in all their glory. Tell the girls she thinks they better settle on Wednesday as the day least likely to have engagements. The lady knows that she is mentioning the day for the regular church prayer-meeting, and she is sending word to members of the church. But what of that?
"I'm tired almost to death," says Mrs. Edwards, "We have been house-cleaning all the week, and it is such a trial, with inefficient help. I wouldn't have come to church at all to-day but the weather was so lovely, and we have so few days in this climate when one can wear anything decent it seemed a pity to lose one. Have you finished house-cleaning?"
At the foot of the stairs Miss Lily Harrison meets the soprano singer.
"Oh, Lorena!" she exclaims, "your voice was just perfectly divine this morning. Let me tell you what Jim said, when you went up on the high notes of the anthem. He leaned over and whispered to me, 'The angels can't go ahead of that, I know; irreverent fellow!—Lorena, what a perfect match your silk is! Where did you succeed so well? I was dying to see that dress! I told mamma if it were not for the first sight of that dress, and of Laura's face when she saw it was so much more elegant than hers, I should have been tempted to take a nap this morning instead of coming to church. However, I got a delicious one as it was. Weren't you horribly sleepy?"
At this point Misses Lily and Lorena are joined by the said "Jim." And be it noticed that he makes the first remark on the sermon that has been heard as yet.
"We had a stunning sermon this morning, didn't we?"
"Oh, you shocking fellow!" murmurs Lorena "How can you use such rough words?"
"What words!' Stunning?' Why, dear me, that is a jolly word; so expressive. I say, you sheep in this fold took it pretty hard. A fellow might be almost glad of being a goat, I think."
"Jim, don't be wicked," puts in Miss Lily who has a cousinship in the said Jim, and therefore can afford to be brusque. Jim shrugs his shoulders.
"Wicked," he says. "If the preacher is to be credited, it is you folks who are wicked. I don't pretend, you know, to be anything else."
A change of subject seems to the fair Lorena to be desirable, so she says:
"Why were you not at the hop last night, Mr. Merchant?"
And Jim replies, "I didn't get home in time. I was at the races. I hear you had a stunning—I beg your pardon—a perfectly splendid time. Those are the right words, I believe."
And then the two ladies gathered their silken trains into an aristocratic grasp of the left hand, and sailed down town on either side of "Jim" to continue the conversation. And those coral lips had but just sung—
"My thoughts lie open to the Lord, Before they're formed within; And ere my lips pronounce the word He knows the sense I mean."
What could He have thought of her? Is it not strange that she did not ask this of herself.
"How are you to-day?" Mr. Jackson asked, shaking his old acquaintance, Mr. Dunlap, heartily by the hand. "Beautiful day, isn't it?"
Now, what will be the next sentence from the lips of those gray-headed men, standing in the sanctuary, with the echo of solemn service still in their ears? Listen:
"Splendid weather for crops. A man with such a farm as mine on his hands, and so backward with his work, rather grudges such Sundays as these this time of year."
And the other?
"Yes," he says, laughing, "you could spare the time better if it rained, I dare say. By the way, Dunlap, have you sold that horse yet? If not, you better make up your mind to let me have it at the price I named. You won't do better than that this fell."
Whereupon ensued a discussion on the respective merits and demerits, and the prospective rise and fall in horse-flesh.
"Take heed what ye do; let the fear of the Lord be upon you." Had those two gentlemen heard that text?
SOME PEOPLE WHO FORGOT THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT.
Let me introduce to you the Harrison dinner-table, and the people gathered there on the afternoon of that Sabbath day. Miss Lily had brought home with her her cousin Jim; he was privileged on the score of relationship. Miss Helen, another daughter of the house, had invited Mr. Harvey Latimer; he was second cousin to Kate's husband, and Kate was a niece of Mrs. Harrison; relationship again. Also, Miss Fannie and Miss Cecilia Lawrence were there, because they were schoolgirls, and so lonely in boarding-school on Sunday, and their mother was an old friend of Mrs. Harrison; there are always reasons for things.
The dinner-table was a marvel of culinary skill. Clearly Mrs. Harrison's cook was not a church-goer. Roast turkey, and chicken-pie, and all the side dishes attendant upon both, to say nothing of the rich and carefully prepared dessert, of the nature that indicated that its flankiness was not developed on Saturday, and left to wait for Sunday. Also, there was wine on Mrs. Harrison's table; just a little home-made wine, the rare juice of the grape prepared by Mrs. Harrison's own cook—not at all the sort of wine that others indulged in—the Harrisons were temperance people.
"I invited Dr. Selmser down to dinner," remarked Mrs. Harrison, as she sipped her coffee. "I thought since his wife was gone, it would be only common courtesy to invite him in to get a warm dinner, but he declined; he said his Sunday dinners were always very simple."
Be it known to you that Dr. Selmser was Mrs. Harrison's pastor, and the preacher of the morning sermon.
Miss Lily arched her handsome eyebrows.
"Oh, mamma!" she said, "how could you be guilty of such a sin! The idea of Dr. Selmser going out to dinner on Sunday! I wonder he did not drop down in a faint! Papa, did you ever hear such a sermon?"
"It slashed right and left, that is a fact," said Mr. Harrison, between the mouthfuls of chicken salad and oyster pickle.
"A little too sweeping in its scope to be wise for one in his position. Have another piece of the turkey, James? He is running into that style a little too much. Some person whose opinion has weight ought to warn him. A minister loses influence pretty rapidly who meddles with everything."
"Well, there was everything in that sermon," said Miss Cecilia. "I just trembled in my shoes at one time. I expected our last escapade in the school hall would be produced to point one of his morals."
"You admit that it would have pointed it?" said the cousin Jim, with a meaning laugh.
"Oh, yes; it was awfully wicked; I'll admit that. But one didn't care to hear it rehearsed in a church."
"That is the trouble," mamma Harrison said. "Little nonsenses that do very well among schoolgirls, or in the way of a frolic, are not suited to illustrate a sermon with. I think Dr. Selmser is rather apt to forget the dignity of the pulpit in his illustrations."
"Lorena says he utterly spoiled the closing anthem by that doleful hymn he gave out," said Miss Lily. "They were going to give that exquisite bit from the last sacred opera, but the organist positively refused to play it after such woe-begone music. I wish we had a new hymn-book, without any of those horrid, old-fashioned hymns in it, anyhow."
It was Mr. Harvey Latimer's turn to speak:
"Oh, well now, say what you please, Selmser can preach. He may not suit one's taste always, Especially when you get hit; but he has a tremendous way of putting things. Old Professor Marker says he has more power over language than any preacher in the city."
"Yes," said Mr. Harrison, struggling with too large a mouthful of turkey, "he is a preacher, whatever else may be said about him; and yet of course it is unfortunate for a minister to be always pitching into people; they get tired of it after a while."
"Jim, did you know that Mrs. Jamison was going to give a reception to the bride next Wednesday evening?" This from Lily.
"No; is she? That will be a grand crush, I suppose."
"I heard her giving informal invitations in church to-day," Helen said, and one of the schoolgirls said:
"Oh, don't you think she said she was going to invite us? Celia told her to send the invitation to you, Mrs. Harrison. We felt sure you would ask us to your house to spend the evening; Madam Wilcox will always allow that. But there is no use trying to get her permission for a party. You will ask us, won't you?"
Whereupon Mrs. Harrison laughed, and shook her head at them, and told them she was afraid they were naughty girls, and she would have to think about it. All of which seemed to be entirely satisfactory to them. The conversation suddenly changed.
"Wasn't Mrs. Marsh dressed in horrid taste today?" said Helen Harrison. "Really I don't see the use in being worth a million in her own right, if she has no better taste than that to display. Her camels'-hair shawl is positively the ugliest thing I ever saw, and she had it folded horribly. She is round-shouldered, anyhow—ought never to wear a shawl."
"I think her shawl was better than her hat," chimed in Miss Lily. "The idea of that hat costing fifty dollars! It isn't as becoming as her old one; and, to make it look worse than it would have done, she had her hair arranged in that frightful new twist!"
"Why, Lily Harrison! I heard you tell her you thought her hat was lovely!" This from Lily's youngest sister.
"Oh, yes, of course," said Miss Lily. "One must say something to people. It wouldn't do to tell her she looked horrid." And the mother laughed.
"It is a good thing for Mrs. Marsh that she holds her million in her own right," observed cousin Jim. "That husband of hers is getting a little too fast for comfort."
"Is that so?" Mr. Harrison asked, looking up from his turkey bone.
"Yes, sir; his loss at cards was tremendously heavy last week; would have broken a less solid man. He had been drinking when he played last, and made horridly flat moves."
"Disgraceful!" murmured Mr. Harrison; and then he took another sip of his home-made wine.
There were homes representing this same church that were not so stylish, or fashionable, or wealthy. Mrs. Brower and her daughter Jenny had to lay aside their best dresses, and all the array of Sunday toilet, which represented their very best, and repair to the kitchen to cook their own Sunday dinners. "Was it a thoughtful dwelling upon such verses of Scripture as had been presented that morning which made the Sunday dinner the most elaborate, the most carefully prepared, and more general in its variety, than any other dinner in the week? Their breakfast hour was late, and, by putting the dinner hour at half-past three, it gave them time to be elaborate, according to their definition of that word. Not being cumbered with hired help, mother and daughter could have confidential Sabbath conversations with each other as they worked. So while Mrs. Brower carefully washed and stuffed the two plump chickens, Jennie prepared squash, and turnip, and potatoes for cooking, planning meanwhile for the hot apple sauce, and a side dish or two for dessert, and the two talked.
"Well, did you get an invitation?" the mother asked, and the tone of suppressed motherly anxiety showed that the subject was one of importance. Did she mean an invitation to the great feast which is to be held when they sit down to celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb, and which this holy Sabbath day was given to help one prepare for? No, on second thought it could not have been that; for, after listening to the morning sermon no thought of anxiety could have mingled with that question. Assuredly Jennie was invited—nay, urged, entreated; the only point of Anxiety could have been—would she accept? But it was another place that filled the minds of both mother and daughter.
"Indeed I did." There was glee in Miss Jennie's voice. "I thought I wasn't going to. She went right by me and asked people right and left, never once looking at me. But she came away back after she had gone into the hall, and came over to my seat and whispered that she had been looking for me all the way out, but had missed me. She said I must be sure to come, for she depended on us young people to help make the affair less ceremonious. Don't you think, Emma wasn't invited at all, and I don't believe she will be; almost everyone has been now. Emma was so sure of her invitation, because she was such a friend of Lu Jamison's. She thought she would get cards to the wedding, you know; and when they didn't come she felt sure of the reception. She has been holding her head wonderfully high all the week about it, and now she is left out and I am in. Mother, isn't that rich?"
Mrs. Brower plumped her chickens into the oven, and wiped the flour from her cheek and sighed.
"There will be no end of fuss in getting you ready, and expense too. What are you going to wear, anyway?"
"Mother," said Jennie, impressively, turning away from her squash to get a view of her mother's face, "I ought to have a new dress for this party. I haven't anything fit to be seen. It is months since I have had a new one; and everybody is sick of my old blue dress; I'm sure I am."
"It is entirely out of the question," Mrs. Brower said, irritably, "and you know it is. I wonder at your even thinking of such a thing, and we so many bills to pay; and there's that pew-rent hasn't been paid in so long that I'm ashamed to go to church."
"I wish the pew-rent was in Jericho, and the pew, too!" was Miss Jennie's spirited answer. "I should think churches ought to be free, if nothing else is. It is a great religion, selling pews so high that poor people can't go to church. If I had thought I couldn't have a new dress I should have declined the invitation at once. I did think it was time for me to have something decent; and I make my own clothes, too, which is more than most any other girls do. I saw a way to make it this morning. I studied Miss Harvey's dress all the while we were standing. I could make trimming precisely like hers, and put it on and all. I could do every thing to it but cut and fit it."
"I tell you you haven't anything to cut and fit, and can't have. What's the use in talking?"
And in her annoyance and motherly bitterness at having to disappoint her daughter, Mrs. Brower let fall the glass jar she had been trying to open, and it opened suddenly, disgorging and mingling its contents with bits of glass on the kitchen floor. Does anyone, having overheard thus much of the conversation, and having a fair knowledge of human nature, need to be told that there were sharp words, bitterly spoken, in that kitchen after that, and that presently the speech settled down into silence and gloom, and preparations for the Sunday dinner went on, with much slamming and banging, and quick nervous movements, that but increased the ferment within and the outside difficulties. And yet this mother and daughter had been to church and heard that wonderful text, "Take heed what ye do; let the fear of the Lord be upon you." Had listened while it was explained and illustrated, going, you will remember, into the very kitchen for details. They had heard that wonderful hymn:
"In vain my soul would try To shun thy presence, Lord, or flee The notice of thine eye."
Both mother and daughter had their names enrolled on the church record. They were at times earnest and anxious to feel sure that their names were written in the book kept before the throne. Yet the invitation to Mrs. Jamison's reception, informally whispered to the daughter as she moved down the church aisle, had enveloped the rest of their Sabbath in gloom. "Friend, how earnest thou in hither, not having on the wedding garment?" It was a wedding reception to which Jennie had been invited. Did neither mother nor daughter think of that other wedding, and have a desire to be clothed in the right garment?
SOME PEOPLE WHO FORGOT THE EVER-LISTENING EAR.
There were two other members of the Brower family who had attended church that Sabbath morning. One was Mr. Brower, sen. And at the season of dinner-getting he lay on the couch in the dining-room, with the weekly paper in his hand, himself engaged in running down the column of stock prices. He glanced up once, when the words in the kitchen jarred roughly on his aesthetic ear, and said:
"Seems to me, if I were you, I would remember that to-day is Sunday, and not be quite so sharp with my tongue."
Then his solemn duty done, he returned to his mental comparison of prices. Also, there was Dwight Brower, a young fellow of nineteen or so, who acted unaccountably. Instead of lounging around, according to his usual custom, hovering between piazza and dining-room, whistling softly, now and then turning over the pile of old magazines between whiles, in search of something with which to pass away the time, he passed through the hall on his return from church, and without exchanging a word with anyone went directly to his room. Once there, he turned the key in the lock, and then, as though that did not make him feel quite enough alone, he slipped the little brass bolt under it, and then began pacing the somewhat long and somewhat narrow floor. Up and down, up and down, with measured step and perplexed, anxious face, hands in his pockets, and his whole air one of abandonment to more serious thought than boys of nineteen usually indulge.
What has happened to Dwight? Something that is not easily settled; for as the chickens sputter in the oven below, and the water boils off the potatoes, and the pudding is manufactured, and the cloud deepens and glooms, he does not recover his free-and-easy air and manner. He ceases his walk after a little, from sheer weariness, but he thrusts out his arm and seizes a chair with the air of one who has not time to be leisurely, and flings himself into it, and clasps his arms on the table, and bends his head on his hands and thinks on.
The holy hours of the Sabbath afternoon waned. Mr. Brower exhausted the stock column, read the record of deaths by way of doing a little religious reading, tried a line or two of a religious poem and found it too much for him, then rolled up a shawl for a sofa-pillow, put the paper over his head to shield him from the October flies, and went to sleep. Jennie went in and out setting the table, went to the cellar for bread and cake and cream, went to the closet up-stairs for a glass of jelly, went the entire round of weary steps necessary to the getting ready the Sunday feast, all the time with the flush on her cheek and the fire in her eye that told of a turbulent, eager, disappointed heart, and not once during the time did she think of the solemn words of prayer or hymn or sermon, or even benediction, of the morning. She had gotten her text in the church aisle. It was, "Wherewithal shall I be clothed, in order to sit down at the marriage-supper of Mrs. Jamison's son and daughter?" And vigorously was it tormenting her. What an infinitely compassionate God is ours who made it impossible for Dr. Selmser, as he sat alone in his study that afternoon, to know what was transpiring in the hearts and homes of some of his people!
Those chickens sputtered themselves done at last, and the hot and tired mother, with still the anxious look on her face, stooped and took them from their fiery bed, and the father awoke with a yawn to hear himself summoned to the feast. It was later than usual; many things had detained them; four o'clock quite, and before the army of dishes could be marshaled back into shape, the bell would certainly toll for evening service. "Let the fear of the Lord be upon you." And He said, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy."
Dwight Brower was summoned, too, from his room; and his mother, who had just realized the strangeness of his absence, looked up as he came in, and said:
"Are you sick to-day, Dwight?"
"No, ma'am," he answered.
And something in his voice made her look again; and something in his face made her keep looking, with a perplexed, half-awed air. What had happened to Dwight? What change had come to him amid the afternoon hours of that Sabbath day? Very different experiences can be passing in the same house at the same time.
It was only across the street from the Browers' that little Mrs. Matthews poured coffee for herself and husband, while Mollie, the cook, stood on the side-piazza and sang in a loud, shrill, and yet appreciative tone, "There is rest for the weary." Little Mrs. Matthews had glowing cheeks, though she had done nothing more serious than exchange her silken dress for a wrapper, and lie on the sofa and finish the closing chapters of George Eliot's last new novel, since her return from church. Aye, it is true. She had been a listener in the same sanctuary where the earnest charge had rung, "Take heed what ye do; let the fear of the Lord be upon you." At least Mrs. Matthews had taken her handsomely clothed little body to church; I will not say that her mind was there, or that she had heard much of the sermon. Some of it, however, she undoubtedly had heard, and she proved it at this point, breaking in upon Dr. Matthews' musings as he stirred his second cup of coffee:
"Dr. Matthews, how do you like being preached at?"
"Preached at?" the doctor echoed, with a sleepy air.
"Yes, preached at. I'm sure, if you were not asleep this morning, you must have heard yourself all but called by name. Who else could Dr. Selmser have been hinting at when he burst forth with such a tirade on whist parties? It isn't a week since we had ours, and he almost described what we had for supper."
"Fudge!" said Dr. Matthews. He was occasionally more apt to be expressive than elegant in his expressions. "What do you suppose he knows about our party? There were a dozen, I dare say, that very evening, and as many more the next evening. They are common enough, I am sure. And he didn't say anything personal, nor anything very bad, anyhow. They all take that position—have to, I suppose; it's a part of their business. I don't like them any the less for it. I wouldn't listen to a preacher who played whist."
Mrs. Matthews set her pretty lips in a most determined way, and answered, in an injured tone:
"Oh, well, if you like to be singled out in that manner, and held up as an example before the whole congregation, I'm sure you're welcome to the enjoyment; but as for me, I think it is just an insult."
"Stuff and nonsense!" echoed the doctor. "How you women can work yourselves into a riot over nothing. Now you know he didn't say any more than he has a dozen times before. In fact, he was rather mild on that point, I thought; and I concluded he considered he had said about all there was to be said in that line, and might as well slip it over. There wasn't a personal sentence in it, anyhow. The doctor is a gentleman. More than that, I don't believe he knows we had a whist party. If he set out to keep track of all the parties there are in his congregation it would make a busy life for him. Your conscience must have reproached you, Maria."
"Well, some people are less sensitive than others, I suppose. I know men who wouldn't like to have their wives talked about as freely as yours was from the pulpit this morning. I tell you, Dr. Matthews, that he meant me, and I know it, and I don't mean to stand it, if you do."
"How will you help it?" the doctor asked, and he laughed outright. It did seem ridiculously funny to him. "A tempest in a thimble," he called it. His wife was given to having them.
"What will you do about it? Fight him, or what? It's a free country, and the man has a right to his opinions, even if you don't agree with him. Better hush up, Maria. I don't believe in duels, and they are against the law in this country besides; you are powerless, you see."
It is a pity he said that. Mrs. Dr. Matthews being a woman, and being a member of that church, knew she was not powerless. And women of her stamp are sure to be dared by random, half-earnest sentences, to show the very utmost that their weak selves can do. As truly as I tell you the story here to-day, that is the way the ferment began. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." Aye, and a little acid sours the whole lump. Do you think Mrs. Dr. Matthews sallied out directly her meal was concluded, and openly and bitterly denounced Dr. Selmser as a pulpit slanderer? She did nothing of the sort. She chose her time and place and persons with skill and tact, and said, "Didn't they think, just among themselves, not intending to breathe it outside for the world, that Dr. Selmser was getting a little unpopular among the young people? He was so grave—almost stern. She felt distressed sometimes lest they should cultivate a feeling of fear toward him. She did think it was so important that the young people should be attracted."
Watching her opportunity—and it is wonderful how many opportunities there are in the world, if one only watches for them—she remarked at Mrs. Brower's that Dr. Selmser was just a little inclined, she thought, to pay rather too much attention to families like the Harrisons. It was natural, she supposed. Ministers were but human, and of course with their wealth and influence they could make their home very attractive to him; but she always felt sorry when she saw a clergyman neglecting the poor. Dr. Selmser certainly had called at Mr. Harrison's twice during this very week. Of course he might have had business—she did not pretend to say. But there were some who were feeling as though their pastor didn't get time to see them very often. He ought to be willing to divide his attentions.
Now Mrs. Brower belonged by nature to that type of woman who is disposed to keep an almanac account with her pastor. She knew just how many calls Dr. Selmser made on her in a year, and just how far apart they were. It really needed but a suggestion to make her feel doubly alert—on the qui vive, indeed—to have her feelings hurt. So of course they were hurt.
In point of fact, there is nothing easier to accomplish in this jarring world than to get your feelings injured. If you are bent on being slighted there is no manner of difficulty in finding people who apparently "live and move and breathe" for no other purpose than to slight you. And as often as you think about them, and dwell on their doings, they increase in number. A new name is added to the list every time you think it over; and the fair probability is that every single person you meet on that day when you have just gone over your troubles will say or do, or leave unsaid or undone, that which will cruelly hurt you. I tell you, dear friend, it becomes you to keep those feelings of yours hidden under lock and key, out of sight and memory of anyone but your loving Lord, if you don't want them hurt every hour in the day.
SOME PEOPLE WHO WERE FALSE FRIENDS.
Did a woman ever start out, I wonder, with the spirit of turmoil and unrest about her, that she did not find helpers? Especially if she be one of a large congregation she comes in contact with some heedless ones—some malicious ones—some who are led into mischief by their undisciplined tongues—some who have personal grievances. And there are always some people in every community who stand all ready to be led by the last brain with which they come in contact; or, if not that, they are sure to think exactly as Dr. Jones and Judge Tinker and Prof. Bolus do, without reason as to why or wherefore. This class is very easily managed. A little care, a judicious repetition of a sentence which fell from the doctor's or the judge's or the professor's lips, and which might have meant anything or nothing, by the slightest possible changes of emphasis, can be made to mean a little or a great deal. It wasn't slow work either—not half so slow as it would have been to attempt the building up of someone's reputation; by reason of the law of gravitation the natural tendency is downward, so prevalent in human nature, and by reason of the intense delight which that wise and wily helper, Satan, has in a fuss of any sort. Do Mrs. Dr. Matthews the justice of understanding that she didn't in the least comprehend what she was about; that is, not the magnitude of it. She only knew that she had been stung, either by her conscience or else by Dr. Selmser. She chose to think it was Dr. Selmser, and she felt like repaying him for it. He should be made to understand that people wouldn't bear everything; that he must just learn to be a little more careful about what he said and did. "Take heed what ye do; let the fear of the Lord be upon you." Yes, she heard the text, and was thinking of her party all the time. Did she think that certain things which occurred in her parlours on that evening were not in accordance with the text? Then did she think to blot out the text by showing her ability to stir up a commotion? What do such people think, anyway?
There came a day when even Mrs. Dr. Matthews herself stood aghast over what had been done, and didn't more than half recognise her hand in the matter, so many helpers she had found—non-temperance men, men of antagonistic political views, men who winced at the narrowness of the line drawn by their pastor—a line that shut out the very breath of dishonesty from the true Church of Christ—men and women who were honest and earnest and petty—who were not called on enough, or bowed to enough, or consulted enough, or ten thousand other pettinesses, too small or too mean to be advanced as excuses, and so were hidden behind the general and vague one that, on the whole, Dr. Selmser didn't seem to "draw;" the "young people" thought him severe or solemn or something; his sermons were not "just the thing—did not quite come up to the standard," whatever that may mean.
So the ball grew—grew so large that one day it rolled toward the parsonage in the shape of a letter, carefully phrased, conciliatory, soothing—meant to be; "every confidence in his integrity and kindness of heart and good intentions," and every other virtue under the sun. But, well, the fact was the "young people" did not feel quite satisfied, and they felt that, on the whole, by and by, toward spring, perhaps, or when he had had time to look around him and determine what to do, a change would be for the best, both, for himself and for the cause. Indeed, they were persuaded that he himself needed a change—his nervous system imperatively demanded it.
Let me tell you what particular day that letter found its way to the parsonage: a rainy, dreary day in the early winter, when the ground had not deliberately frozen over, and things generally settled down to good solid winter weather, but in that muddy slushy, transition state of weather when nothing anywhere seems settled save clouds, dun and dreary, drooping low over a dreary earth; came when the minister was struggling hard with a nervous headache and sleeplessness and anxiety over a sick child; came when every nerve was drawn to its highest tension, and the slightest touch might snap the main cord. It didn't snap, however. He read that long, wise, carefully-written, sympathetic letter through twice, without the outward movement of a muscle, only a flush of red rising to his forehead, and then receding, leaving him very pale. Then he called his wife.
"Mattie, see here, have you time to read this? Wait! Have you nerve for it? It will not help you. It is not good news nor encouraging news, and it comes at a hard time; and yet I don't know. We can bear any news, can't we, now that Johnnie is really better?"
With this introduction she read the letter, and the keen, clear gray eye seemed to grow stronger as she read.
"Well," she said, "it is not such very bad news; nothing, at least, but what you ministers ought to be used to. We can go. There is work in the world yet, I suppose."
"Work in the Lord's vineyard, Mattie, for us, if he wants us. If not, why then there is rest."
Shall I tell you about that breaking up? about how the ties of love, and friendship, and sympathy were severed? You do not think that the whole church spoke through that letter? Bless you, no. Even Mrs. Dr. Matthews cried about it, and said it was a perfect shame, and she didn't know what the officers meant. For her part, she thought they would never have such another pastor as Dr. Selmser. And I may as well tell you, in passing, that she did what she could to cripple the usefulness of the next one by comparing him day and night, in season and out of season, with "dear Dr. Selmser." There are worse people in the world than Mrs. Dr. Matthews.
Did he stay all winter and look about him and decide what to do? You know better than that. He sent his resignation in the very next Sabbath; and some of those letter-writers were hurt, and thought he had more Christian principle than that; and thought that ministers, of all men, should not be so hasty in their acts. It showed a bad spirit.
They went home after that—Dr. Selmser and his wife—to her mother's home. So many people have her mother's home to go to. Blessed mothers! He was so glad to get to her. He needed change and rest, and the letter-writers had spoken truthfully. Did he take cold in packing and travelling? Was he overworked? Were the seeds of the disease running riot in his system during that early fall? Were they helped along any by that letter? Who shall tell? We know this much: he took to his bed, and he was no longer pale or quiet; the flush of fever and the unrest of delirium were upon him. He rolled and tossed and muttered; and it was always of his work, of his cares, of his responsibilities—never of rest; and yet rest was coming to him on swift wing. The Lord of the vineyard knoweth when his reapers have need of soft, cool days of glory, to follow weeks of service. Rapidly they come to him; but the river must be crossed first, and first there must be a severing of earth-ties, a breaking of cords stronger than life. Never mind, the King knows about this, too; and it must be, and is, and shall be, well. The rest came—all that we on this side knew of it—a pulseless heart, a shrouded form, lips of ice, forehead of snow, hush and silence. Just the other side of the filmy veil which we call "Time," what was the appearance of it there? He knows, and has known these many years. And, thank God, the wife of his love knows now, but we do not. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart, the things that are prepared" for them.
What said the elegant modern church, that during the process of this change was undergoing a candidating siege? Why, they met in decorous assemblage, and passed resolutions, and had them printed, and draped the pulpit in mourning, and sent a delegation of the church to the funeral, with knots of the finest crepe streaming from their shoulders; and, on the Sabbath following, the quartette choir sang the funeral dirge in such a way as to melt almost the entire audience to tears. And then they went home, some of them, and remarked that the candidate who occupied their pulpit that morning had an exceedingly awkward way of managing his handkerchief, and didn't give out notices well. They didn't believe he would "draw" the "young people."
Now, what of all this story of one Sabbath day? Is it overdrawn? Do you say there are no such people as have been described? I beg your pardon, there are. It is not a story; it is a truthful repetition of Sabbath conversations. Would that such Sabbath desecrations were rare. They are not. You will remember that out of a congregation of five hundred I have not given you a description of a dozen people. The difficulty is that a dozen people can and do set in commotion large bodies of humanity, and bring about results of which they themselves do not dream.
About that minister: If he sunk under such a common matter as having certain ones in a church disaffected with him, it shows a weak mind, do you say? He should have expected trials, and disappointments, and coldness, and disaffection. "The servant is not greater than his lord." All true; he had preached that doctrine to himself for twenty years, and earnestly strove to live by it. I do not say that he sunk under the humiliation; only, don't you remember the fable of the last straw that broke the camel's back? What I do say is, that he had borne hundreds and thousands of "straws." Also, remember it was the Lord who called him from work. Assuredly he did not call himself. I think the master said: "Let him come; it is enough; and we need him here."
Then what about the unfinished work that he left? What about the midnight prayer over that sermon, the wrestling for a sign of fruit? Was it in vain? There is fruit that you and I do not see, oftentimes. Do you remember the young man, Dwight Brower, and the Sabbath afternoon communion that he had with himself? Not with himself alone; the world, the flesh, and the devil were in full strength before him; and not them only—the angel of the covenant was there beside him. There was a conflict—the world and the devil were vanquished. Dwight Brower's name was on the church-roll, but his heart had been with the world. He came over that day, distinctly, firmly, strongly, to the Lord's side. He weighed the solemn words, "Take heed what ye do; let the fear of the Lord be upon you." They sounded to him as they never had before. He resolved then and there that they should mean to him what they never had before, that they should mean to him what they evidently did to his pastor.
That was twenty years ago. There were modern churches even then. Dwight Brower has been a power in the land since then. Not one, but scores—aye, hundreds—aye, thousands of souls has the Lord given him as seals to his ministry; and he is working now. Once I visited where he preached. I heard a lady say to him, "That was a wonderful sermon that you gave us to-day. To begin with, it is a wonderful text. I never before realized that the Lord was actually watching all our ways."
He turned toward her with a smile, and said: "It was Dr. Selmser who preached to-day. He has been gone twenty years, and he is preaching yet."
"And I heard a voice saying unto me, Write Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them."
Does it seem to you a pity that he could not have known—could not have had one glimpse of the fruit of his work? How do you know what view of waving harvests being garnered in the Lord calls him to look down upon from the heights of Pisgah? "When I awake with thy likeness I shall be satisfied." Be sure the Lord has satisfied him.
Meantime that modern church is still very modern indeed, and at this present time its pulpit is vacant—they are candidating!
"Margaret, do stop that horrid screeching! You make my head fairly snap." The music suddenly ceased. The sharp voice came from the pantry, and belonged to Margaret's mother, Mrs. Murray. She stood before her moulding board weighing out chopped raisins, currants, flour, butter, and all the other ingredients that go to make a fruit-cake. The deep-cut frown between her eyes, the worried expression, and the tightly-shut lips told their own story.
The singer stood at the kitchen-table washing the breakfast dishes—a pretty picture, with her sixteen years just blossoming into pink cheeks and bright eyes—a trim and dainty figure even in her simple dark print and white apron. She looked so happy and caroled forth her song so gaily, while she wiped the delicate china cups on the soft towel. If her mother could but have seen her, would she so rudely have jarred the bright spirit? And this was Margaret. She, too, could frown; now the straight black brows drew themselves together in an ugly way on the white forehead, the cheeks took a deeper pink, and the bright eyes had a snap in them. She flung the cups on the table in place of the almost loving touches she had bestowed upon them. The clatter went on, and at last a luckless cup reeled, and rolled to the very edge of the table, and—off it went! shivering into many fragments. This brought Mrs. Murray to the pantry door.
"Well, I never saw anything like you for carelessness," she said in a high-keyed voice.
"There goes another of that set! You were vexed, or that wouldn't have happened. I heard how you slammed about after I spoke to you. Now pick up the pieces and go away. I will wash them myself."
Every nerve in the girl's body fairly quivered. Her mother had touched her on a tender point. She had been drilled by her music-teacher for a long time on the high notes of a difficult piece of music, and she had just succeeded in trilling it out to her own satisfaction and delight, when she was startled by her mother's voice. Poor Margaret! She had a hot temper, and when the severe reprimand for her carelessness was added, she felt so angry and disgraced that she would have said many a word to repent of, but happily she could not control her voice to speak. Every time she attempted it, a choking sob stood right in the doorway, and would not let the wicked words out.
Mrs. Murray was a pattern housekeeper, a model of neatness. Everything in her house shone, from the parlour windows to the kitchen stove. Her cake was always light, her bread sweet. No table could compare with hers for delicious variety. Her housekeeping was a fine art, before which everything else was made to bow. Her parlour was made most attractive in all its appointments, and everything that goes to make a pleasant home was lavishly supplied by her husband; yet a more uncomfortable family it would be hard to find.
The parlour was kept closed and dark, except on rare occasion. Flies, and dust, and mud were Mrs. Murray's avowed enemies. To overcome them was the chief end of her life; to this end she tortured her husband, and son, and daughters. Summer and winter she diligently pursued them, and many a tempest was evolved in that house from a source no greater than a muddy foot-print, or stray fly or two, for in summer the house was enclosed in wire screens, and heedless people were for ever leaving them open.
Economy, too, another most desirable virtue, was in this home made to appear almost a vice. She would not let the sunshine in, lest it would fade the carpet. She made her room dingy and unpleasant in the evening, to save gas. She would not make a fire in the parlour in the winter, because it wasted coal. She would not open it in summer because dust ruined the furniture. To make matters worse, Mrs. Murray was a woman made principally of nerves. She was a constitutional fretter. It must be said in her justification that she came of a nervous race. There are different kinds of nervous people; this family did not belong to that limp class who start with affright at every noise, or faint at sight of a spider. Their nerves were too tightly drawn, and like a delicate stringed instrument, when a rude touch came, snap! went a string, making all life's music into discord as far as they were concerned. The discord usually expressed itself in scolding. It is a real luxury for the time, to the wicked nerves to give somebody a sound beating. Mrs. Murray's mother and grandmother and great-grandmother had made a practice of scolding their children, their servants, and their husbands, when necessary, and it never seemed to occur to her that there was any other way to manage affairs.
Another antic those naughty nerves often indulged in, was nervous headache; when anything specially annoying took place, they met in convention in the top of the poor head, and held an indignation meeting; at such times Mrs. Murray was obliged to retreat to her own room. The increasing frequency of these attacks furnished her with an excellent reason for withdrawing herself from society almost entirely. She was not strong enough to entertain company. She was not strong enough even to attend church habitually. Her strength must all be given to her house and her table, for she was one of those housekeepers who consider economy out of place here; the cakes and pies and knick-knacks were counted a necessity, as well as more substantial food. Don't say Mr. Murray should not have chosen such a wife. He did not. This gloomy, fault-finding woman, bore no resemblance to the sweet, bright girl, he married. It had all come about so gradually that neither realized the great change.
Ralph, the only son, a fine, tall young man, just out of his teens, had lately been taken into his father's firm. He was noble and true, though in a little danger on account of his fondness for company, which, not being gratified at home, was taking him away from its safe boundaries to clubs, and questionable company and amusements, much more than pleased his father; but Ralph declared he must have some pleasure—"didn't want to mope in his room alone after being hard at work all day. As for home, there was nothing there, not even a good place to read—gas at the top of the wall in the dingy old dining-room, and the girls always out—or out of humour; he could do no better." Mr. Murray was uneasy: "Their home was sort of dismal; what was the matter?" The two daughters, just coming up to womanhood, also missed many of the pleasant surroundings and sweet sympathy that other girls seemed to have in their homes. With all her toil and doing, Mrs. Murray was letting her children slip, as it were, through her fingers. The house was well furnished, but there was no room bright and warm, with music and books and papers, where they gathered in the evening and strengthened the home ties.
No servant could long please Mrs. Murray, so the comers and goers to that kitchen for many years were numerous. Now she had hit upon a new plan. She could carry out some good old-fashioned notions she had about training girls in domestic matters. She would do her own work with such assistance as her daughters could give her out of school hours, calling in such help as they needed. But the project did not work well: the girls were always hurried; their school duties left very little time for anything else, so their household tasks were not always well or cheerfully performed, especially Margaret's. Her love for music amounted to a passion, and she grudged the time for practice; then their inexperience tried her mother's patience sadly, and brought the inevitable scoldings, and made Margaret's irritable nerves flash up to meet her mother's. But that Saturday morning that we began to tell about, it was such a very exasperating one all around. One thing after another happened to make things go wrong, till it fairly seemed as if some evil genius had affairs under control. The door opened and a sweet round face, framed by a sweeping cap, appeared. A graceful young girl armed with broom and dustpan stepped lightly across the kitchen, deposited her broom in the corner, and proceeded to empty the contents of the pan in the fire.
"Florence," spoke her mother sharply, "what do you mean by putting dust in the fire when you see this kettle of stewed cranberries on the stove?"
Florence started guiltily, spilling some of the dust on the stove in her agitation.
"There! now see what you have done! You two make more work than you do; and just see how you have stood the broom in the corner, instead of hanging it up, as I have told you a hundred times to do. It is more trouble to teach you than it is to do things myself. I wonder if you have just got through sweeping; such slow poking works, I could have done it twice over by this time. I don't see why I should be so tormented; other people have girls that amount to something." Mrs. Murray, down in her heart, believed there were no girls in all the kingdom like hers. Florence was accustomed to this sort of talk, and yet it hurt her sensitive, affectionate nature every time. The blue eyes took on no indignant light; instead, they filled with tears, which irritated her mother still more, and she said, with increased sharpness:
"There, go away. You are made of too fine stuff for common purposes; getting so touchy that not a word can be said to you."
Counting time by her mother's calendar, Florence had been a long time doing a little, but her nature was different from her mother's, all her movements were gentle. She had been reverently following her mother's directions. Her untiring patience ferreted dust out of every little corner where it had lodged in the furniture; she had mounted the step-ladder and dusted the pictures, had cleaned and polished all the little ornaments. True, she lingered a moment over a book of engravings, and to kiss a little statuette of "Prayer," but she thought she had done it all so nicely, and a little word of praise would have made her so happy. It was hard, when she had done her best, to have only fault-findings.
At a very critical stage of affairs in the pastry-making, Nettie Blynn knocked at the side door. She only wanted to see Maggie just a minute about the Christmas entertainment. Maggie set down a half-beaten dish of eggs and ran. The minute lengthened into many more, and the girls talked and talked, as girls will, forgetting all about time. When Margaret returned to the kitchen she found her mother in a perfect fever of haste, and poor Florence trying to go two or three ways at once.
"Now, Margaret," her mother began, "I might just as well depend upon the wind as you! drop everything and run the minute you are called. That is just as much sense as Nettie Blynn has, running to the neighbours Saturday morning, and staying like that, when I have so much to do. You don't seem to care whether you help me or not."
"Why, mother, how could I help it?" Margaret answered with spirit. "I didn't ask her to come, and I couldn't tell her to go away. Saturday morning is as good as any other time to her; she doesn't have to work all day Saturday, and how should she know that I do?"
Just here the front door-bell gave a malicious ting-a-ling. Mrs. Allan, an old friend who lived several miles out of town, had just a few minutes before train time; she was sure there was no one in the world she wanted to see so much as Mrs. Murray, and Mrs. Murray was just as sure that she herself wanted to see nobody just then, but there was no help for it. She washed the dough from her hands, and saying to Margaret, as she hurriedly left the kitchen:
"Finish that pie, and watch the fire; don't let that cake burn, nor the cranberries."
Alas! for Margaret. She became so absorbed in rolling the upper crust of the mince pie, and in trying to cut a beautiful pine-tree on it, that she forgot all about the fire, and the cake, and the cranberries. An odour, not savoury, came from the stove. Margaret rushed out, but it was too late; the cranberries sent up a dense black smoke, and were burned fast to the new porcelain kettle, and, horrors! on opening the oven door, the fruit-cake was a sight to behold—as black as a hat, and an ominous-looking valley in the centre of it!
"Flo! go tell mother to come here quick!" screamed Margaret. "Everything has gone to destruction."
Any housekeeper can well imagine what a person, who did not hold firm rule over nerve and tongue would say under such aggravations. Although her mother's words stung like scorpions, Margaret did not attempt to excuse herself this time, for she felt keenly that she had been guilty of great neglect, and she would have told her mother so if the bitter words had not made her hard and sullen. The longer her mother talked, the less she felt that she cared for the consequences of her fault. This Saturday's work was unusual, not only because Christmas was near at hand, but an old aunt of Mrs. Murray's was coming from Philadelphia to make a visit. She had not visited her niece in many years. She also used to be a model housekeeper, and Mrs. Murray was anxious that everything should appear to the best advantage. At last the toil and strife of that day was over, the work was all done up and the girls sought their own room.
"Maggie," said Florence, "what do you suppose Aunt Deborah will bring us for Christmas presents?" Florence braided her golden locks as she talked, her face cheerful as usual. The trials of that day had left no mark on her sunny face. Not so with Maggie; the frown was still on her forehead, and she flung herself on the lounge in a despairing sort of way as she answered, "I'm sure I don't know nor care either, whether I ever get another present in my life."
"Why, Maggie! What's the matter?"
"The matter is that I am tired of this awful life. I work, work, and be scolded all the time. I wish Aunt Deborah was in Jericho, or anybody else that is coming to make more work for us. I could stand the work, though, but I can't stand scolding all the time. Mother hasn't said a pleasant word to me to-day."
"Sh—h!" said Florence. "Mother is sick and nervous. Don't you think if—if you wouldn't provoke mother so much it would be better? And then maybe"—Florence was almost afraid to speak her next thought—"don't you think you answer back a good deal sometimes?"
"There! you just hush up," said Margaret. "I guess you needn't set up for a lecturer, too; two years younger than I am, you are taking a good deal upon yourself, I should say. I'm nervous, too. Young folks are called cross, but older ones always called nervous, when they are cross. I wish I could go off somewhere. I'd go anywhere to get away from home, for it's just dreadful. Mother don't care for me one bit. She don't scold anybody else as she does me. When I go over to Mrs. Blynn's it just makes me sick. Nettie and her mother are just like two sisters. They sit under the drop-light with their fancy-work and talk, or Nettie plays her new pieces over for her mother. I could play as well as Nettie if I had time to practice, but mother don't seem to care anything at all about my music. We might keep a girl like other people. Father is able to. I think it is too bad."
"Oh, don't Mag! Don't say any more," said Florence. "It makes me shiver to hear you talk so. You know what it says about honouring parents. I'm sure something dreadful will happen to you. You will drop right down dead, maybe, or just think how you would feel if mother should die after you've talked so. Oh, Maggie," she said timidly, "if you only were a Christian, now, how it would help you."
"Pho," said Margaret. "Mother is a Christian and it don't help her one bit."
Then Margaret put her head down on the arm of the lounge and cried. She had wanted to cry all day, but there was no time.
The door stood partly open between Mrs. Murray's room and that of her daughters. That ruined fruitcake had accomplished its work, the severe nervous headache had come and obliged her to go up to her room and lie down, while the girls supposed her to be still in the dining-room; so the talk came floating in to her while she lay on her bed pressing her aching temples. What a revelation was this! Was it possible that she was the person meant? One daughter blaming her, and the other excusing her. She almost forgot about her head in this new pain. The first feeling was one of indignation and wounded pride, but conscience told her it was all true, that she was a cross, fretful mother, that she had not made her home a happy one, that she had been selfish and unsympathetic and her children were getting estranged from her. But the last few words touched her most of all. "Her religion did not help her." Sure enough it did not, any more than a pagan's, and she had brought dishonour on Christ. The veil had suddenly fallen from her eyes. She excused herself from tea on plea of a headache, telling each one who came softly to the door asking to minister to her, that she wanted nothing but quiet. She wanted to face this dreadful revelation all alone, and yet there came no high resolve that hereafter everything should be different. She lay there disconsolate, discouraged—a mere heap, it seemed to herself, weak, purposeless, a soul who had made a failure of life, with no power to alter it. If she might but slip out of the world entirely; it was all turned to ashes. How small and mean her ambitions all seemed now. She had given years of drudgery and this was the result: made her family miserable.
Mrs. Murray was one of those who keep the inner sanctuary of their hearts shut and barred, lest some foolish tenderness should find expression; it was there, though, and those dreadful words her dear eldest daughter had spoken were to her like the stab of a knife. Like most nervous persons, her feelings were intense. Such condemnation, remorse, and utter despair as took hold of her: it could not be called repentance, for that has "A purpose of heart and endeavour after new obedience." She was in the Slough of Despond. The twilight had deepened into darkness, when sounds indicated an arrival.
"Aunt Deborah has come," Florence whispered at the door. "You lie still, mother, and Mag and I can do everything just as nicely."
But "mother" hastily arose and met her visitor as calmly as if she had not spent the last three hours in a tempest.
Aunt Deborah Hathaway was a dear old saint. Her name should have been "Peace," for that word was written all over her, from the unruffled brow and calm eyes, to the soft folds of her dove-coloured cashmere.
"Tell me all about your life, my dear," she said to Mrs. Murray, when they were seated alone the next morning—all the rest of the family in church.
"My life has turned out to be a failure," said Mrs. Murray, sadly. "And what is strange, I have only just now found it out."
Then drawn on by the loving sympathy expressed, she unburdened her heart to Aunt Deborah, keeping back nothing. "But then, what am I telling all this to you for? Nobody can help me. I have at times realised that I was growing very irritable, and was ashamed of it. Then I would resolve that I would not do so any more, but my resolves are like ropes of sand. I get started and can't stop. I think if human beings were like sewing-machines, and when they get out of order, could have some skilful hand just put a drop of oil here and there, and loosen the tension or something, it would be so good. But things do annoy me so, sometimes it seems as if Satan himself planned things out to vex me.
"I make no doubt," said Aunt Deborah, "but that Satan is busy enough, but sometimes I think he gets more set down to his account than rightfully belongs. He couldn't accomplish half he does with us if we didn't help him. We put ourselves in such a condition that it is easy for him to carry us captive. But you said 'nobody could help you.' Now I believe I can help you. I came very near being shipwrecked once myself on these very rocks you have struck. It will never do to give up, and go to groaning when we get into trouble. What you want is to get out of it. To help you in the best way, you must give me an old woman's privilege, and let me speak my mind freely. I think I know the secret of the trouble. Your nerves are sick—people used to think that meant hysterics, but they know better now. You are overworking these sick nerves. The first thing to be done is for you to get relief from everything that tries you, as far as you can. Treat yourself like an invalid, as you are. Then change your way of life entirely: go out a good deal in the air, read, and talk, and sing, and play on the piano—you used to be a good player, I remember. Let the housework and the sewing be done by somebody else, except what you can do without a strain upon yourself. Then I should be a little careful about my dress, to have it becoming and all that, and I would invite in a little company once in a while, and go out in a sociable way a little, and try to make my home just the brightest, cheeriest place in all the world. Economy is good in its place, but I believe Satan is even at the bottom of that sometimes, when we drive our boys and girls out from home by saving coal and gas, and shutting the sun out of our houses—they like brightness as well as the birds do. You see you can't tell me anything new on this. I made all these mistakes myself once."
"But Aunt Deborah," said Mrs. Murray, "I am surprised. I thought you used to be such a strict Christian."
"Used to be such a strict Pharisee, you mean," Aunt Deborah answered; "used to imagine religion consisted in wearing the ugliest garment I could put on, combing my hair straight back in a hard knot, being 'a keeper at home,' and making things generally uncomfortable for everybody. Now I think a Christian is one who loves and obeys his Lord. I know I love Him and I am trying to obey Him, but I believe if there is one place on the earth He loves next to the gates of Zion, it is a happy home, and that He smiles upon us in all our innocent efforts to make it so.
"You were surprised that I did not say right off, 'Pray over your troubles,' weren't you? No, no! I believe we have got to take everything out of our way that hinders us before we come and ask him to do some great thing for us. You must lay aside the 'weight,' and the temptations to the 'sin that doth so easily beset us,' then He will do his part. It isn't his way to do for us what we can do. Now if you load yourself down with burdens that He did not ask you to carry, I don't believe you will have the same grace given you to overcome that a poverty-stricken mother of a large family has given to her; grace is bestowed according to our need."
"Yes," said Mrs. Murray, "it is all true. But suppose I do all these things that you suggest. I can't expect to be entirely free from all provocations to anger while I live in this world. What is there in all this that will help me to control my temper? I declare to you, Aunt Deborah, I cannot do it. I have no hope that I can ever be different. I know myself so well."
"Praise the Lord that you know that," said the old lady. "He says, 'In me is thy help found.' Not a soul of us comes to him for help till we have made this discovery, 'I cannot do it.' When your watch is out of order you do not expect it to right itself; you take it to the watchmaker. Now lay your heart down before Jesus, and say, Lord won't you fix it for me? As you trust the watchmaker, trust Him."
"I want to be made over new," said Mrs. Murray sadly, "but oh, have I faith enough for such a great work? I am too unworthy, too far away from Him to expect it."
"Well, He is worthy. Don't you know good old Faber says:
"'Pining souls, come nearer Jesus; Come, but come not doubting thus: Come with faith that trusts more freely His great tenderness for us.'"
And Mrs. Murray came. The promise, "Ask and it shall be given you," was verified to her. When the sun of that Sabbath set, the dove of peace sang in the tired woman's heart. She had the secret of victory. Her brow was almost as placid as Aunt Deborah's.
Monday morning brought the usual work and bustle, "Mary," said Aunt Deborah, "Satan is twice as active Monday morning as other days; perhaps he thinks we get the start of him on the Sabbath. Forewarned is forearmed. Here is my rule when provoked: To shut my lips tight and lock them till a pleasant word feels like coming."
"Yes, Aunt Deborah, Christ helping me, I shall make an entire revolution in this household." And she looked bright and courageous as she had not in years.
"To begin, then: Go out of this kitchen and come when you are called," said Aunt Deborah, briskly.
There was much work accomplished that day. A valuable servant was soon secured and installed in the kitchen; then Mrs. Murray went in and out the stores. No one in all the busy throng was more enthusiastic than she, as with joyful eagerness she selected some little gift for each, adding to her purchases a little stock of evergreens and flowers to brighten up with on the morrow, for this coming Christmas was to be no common one. Aunt Deborah engaged in the business of tying and festooning evergreens with all the gusto of a girl; the two made the parlour into a bower of beauty. When the short winter day drew to its close, the whole was pronounced complete, and Mrs. Murray went to her room to dress. She was strongly tempted to put on the same old gray dress she had worn all winter, and brush her hair straight back as usual; but self and ease should not be consulted, so she shook out her still handsome locks and arranged them in the style her husband used to admire, in loose waves about her forehead; then she donned a neatly fitting black dress, with lace cuffs and collar, fastened with a bright ribbon. When she went down to the parlour, Aunt Deborah looked over and then under her spectacles.
"Child," she said, as she surveyed her, "it does matter how you look."
Father, son, and daughters, all came in together to-night.
"Girls," said Ralph, advancing first into the dining-room and getting a peep into the back parlour, "is this our house? Everything is trimmed up, and there sits a lady by the fire."
Wreaths festooned the archway between the parlours, there were vases of flowers, and hanging-baskets of trailing vines, and a canary in a gilded cage, a bright fire in the grate lighting it up cheerily; Aunt Deborah smiling and knitting on one side, "mother" on the other. Florence rushed up to her, showering kisses upon her, while her father looked on with shining eyes.
"Who knew our mother was such a pretty woman? Where's her equal in this whole city?" said Ralph.
That glad Christmas was the harbinger of many happy years to the Murrays. The back parlour was that day, by the thankful mother, consecrated to the comfort of the family—thenceforth light, warmth, and beauty reigned in that room. There they gathered evenings, under the drop-light about the round table, with books and work, and talk and music. Father, too, suddenly discovered that there was a lull in business, and that cheerful chimney-corners were more attractive than ledgers. Ralph and the girls brought their young friends there. What was strangest of all, the nervous headaches almost entirely disappeared; even the high notes of a song, or the jingling of piano-keys, failed to bring them back. The crowning climax of the whole was this: there was positively no scolding in that house. The evil spirit had been exorcised, and that mother was given the victory day by day. Peace was in her heart and on her brow.
She was so changed in the eyes of her children that she seemed almost an object of adoration. Not the last drop in her cup of joy were the many little ways in which they showed their keen appreciation of the change in her.
One night, after all had retired, conscience knocked at Margaret's door. She tried to sleep, but her visitor persisted. Margaret was face to face with all her hard, impertinent words and ways toward her mother.
"Flo," she said, "a miracle has come to mother, or she's getting to be an angel, or something," but "Flo" was fast asleep; then she tossed and turned, again. Then came a tap on mother's door. Mrs. Murray came quickly.
"Mother," said Margaret, throwing her arms about her, and hiding her face in her mother's neck, "I have been a wicked girl. Forgive me, dear precious mother."
Blessed words! Margaret was soon sleeping quietly, but her mother's heart was so full, her joy so great, that she lay thinking of the gift that He had sent her at that Christmas time.
"Peace on earth," had been literally fulfilled to her.
WHERE HE SPENT CHRISTMAS.
"Oh, mother, I will get back before it snows much, and I shall not mind if a few flakes of snow do light on me. Please do not object to my going, a walk is just what I'm longing for;" and Edna Winters drew on her gloves and stepped from the door of her home, a low-roofed farm-house on the hill, which, in its gray old age, seemed a part of the hill itself.
It was not the beauty of the afternoon that tempted Edna out, for the leaden sky almost met the gray hills; and all wore the same sober hue, sky, hills, house, and leafless trees. The wind howled fiercely through the group of pine-trees in the yard, that seemed but deep shadows on the general grayness, and occasional flakes of snow were already flying about. Father Winters looked through the front window after his daughter, and shook his head, saying:
"Mother, there's a great storm brewing, if I'm not mistaken. The child ought not to have gone."
Then the mother came and anxiously inspected the sky, although she only said:
"Oh well, she is young, and don't mind the weather like us old folks. I was only twenty years old myself, once, and I remember just how tired I used to get cooped up in the house so much; besides, she wanted to go to the post-office. To-morrow is Christmas, you know, and the office will not be open but an hour or two."
Mr. Winters was growing old, and the rheumatism was keeping him a prisoner just now, so he came back to the fire and his newspaper.
The little city wherein was the post-office lay a little over two miles away, and Edna often walked in and out for the mere pleasure of it. Even on this dismal day she tripped lightly along, humming a glad measure, stopping a moment in the edge of the pine woods to gather a few squaw-berries and a bit of moss; then, casting a glance at the threatening sky, hurried on her way. Before she reached the town the snow was falling thick and fast, and was blown by the wind into little mounds almost as soon as it came down. She was fairly blown inside the door of the post-office, feathery flakes adorning her from head to foot.
Mr. Hugh Monteith had also come to the post-office. He had merely stepped across the street from his banking-house, and stood waiting for the afternoon mail to be distributed. He turned his head carelessly as the door opened to admit Edna. She took off the veil that enveloped her head, shook and brushed herself, and walked over to the stove. Then Mr. Monteith's inner consciousness told him that there was the very face he had been in search of for years. Then he did what was not found in his code of etiquette—he stared, although he did retreat behind a pillar while doing so. He took in the whole picture. The face, of that pure, clear tint that belongs only to a certain type of brown eyes and hair, the hair gathered into a coil at the back of the head, except one or two loose curls that strayed down from it, the eyes sweet and serious. Mr. Monteith dealt many hours of the day with dollars and cents, notes and bills; still, he knew poetry when he saw it, and that golden-brown curl was to him a bit of a poem. Then her dress was peculiar; his fastidious taste pronounced it perfect for the occasion: walking-dress of soft, dark brown, glinted by a lighter shade of the same colour; a jaunty brown jacket of substantial cloth, a little brown hat, with a brown and white wing perked on one side of it; no colour, except a soft pink that the cold air had laid on the cheeks with delicate skill. His quick eye noted too, the neat glove, the well-fitting little boot poised on the hearth of the stove. She looked like a little brown thrush about to spread its wings; but she did not fly, she walked over to the delivery and received a package of letters and papers, asking in low, clear tones, "Is the Eastern mail in?" The voice was in keeping with eyes, and hair, and dress—pure, refined, cultured.
Mr. Monteith's resolution was quickly made; he secured his mail and followed Edna. "Who could she be? He supposed he knew all the young ladies in town, but where did this revelation of loveliness drop from?" He turned corner after corner as she did, not caring where he went, only so that he kept her in view. To his astonishment he soon found himself in the open country. It was not a day that he would have chosen for a pleasure-walk in the country: the snow eddied and whirled, and almost blinded him; but if he lost his face, his ideal realised, should he ever find it again? There was no choice, so on he strode, congratulating himself that he happened to have on an overcoat and heavy boots.
The little brown-clad figure ahead of him sped briskly on, and faster and faster came the snow. Things were beginning to look serious; the wind roared and howled through the pine woods, blowing the snow into drifts in the road. Mr. Monteith had a new motive for his journey now. He must protect this young girl in her lonely way; it was out of the question to leave her in such a desolate place and a storm raging. He quickened his steps; she might need assistance.
A feeling of despair was beginning to creep over Edna. What if she should sink down in this lonely place unable to go on. She had left the main road a few minutes before, and this one by the pine woods was not much travelled. It was probable that nobody would find her. In dismay she turned and looked behind her, but no sooner did she see a man rapidly coming towards her than a mortal fear took possession of her, and she started forward with new impetus; on and on she ran as fleetly as a deer. Mr. Monteith ran too at the top of his speed, wondering, inly, if she really were of the earth, and if she had not some means of locomotion that he did not possess. He must reach her at all events.
Edna at last paused in dismay before an immense drift that lay directly across the road. She would have plunged in, but Mr. Monteith was at her side and said pleasantly, "If you will allow me to go on first, I think I can tread a path for you."
Edna looked up quickly, somewhat reassured by the manly tones, and the grey eyes that looked into hers were true eyes; a little child might have known that.
"Before we go on let me introduce myself," and Mr. Monteith drew out a card and handed it to Edna.
When Edna read "Hugh Monteith & Co., Bankers," all her fear left her. The name of Monteith had long been a familiar one to her; she remembered hearing her father speak of having a little business with that bank.
"Well, I am Edna Winters," said Edna simply. "My father is Samuel Winters, and we live a little more than half a mile from here."
"Then we are acquainted, I am sure, for your father is one of our depositors. Now let me break a road through this barricade, if possible," and Mr. Monteith dashed bravely into it; but as well as he could see through the blinding storm, the drift reached a long distance ahead. It would be a work of time to tread it down, and the cold wind cut like a knife.
There was a shorter way—this was no time for ceremony or trifling. He came back to Edna's side saying, "It will be almost impossible to do it. We must hasten on or perish in this storm. Trust me, this is best"—and the tall form stooped and lifted Edna from her feet as if she had been a feather, before she had time to realise his purpose, then with long strides he waded into the sea of snow. Neither spoke, but the girl that was borne along in the strong arms did a large amount of thinking. Despite the danger and the gallantry of her protector, she could not but feel a little provoked at being snatched up in that style without her leave, as if she were a bale of cotton; provoked, too, at herself for getting into such a predicament. If she only had stayed at home as mother advised. Mother had always told her she had feared something would happen to her going through those woods by herself, and here it had come. Then the funny side presented itself. She wanted to laugh but was afraid to. She stole a glance at the face below her—a finely-cut face it was, but there was no smile in the grave eyes; instead, an intense, earnest purpose. When they came again to the ground where the snow lay on a level, Edna was put again upon her feet, her hand drawn through Mr. Monteith's arm, and the two plodded on. It was almost a silent journey; the snow coming directly in their faces, and the wind fairly taking their breaths, made it no time for formal talk. Wherever the drifts had thrown up a barrier she was again lifted and borne through them, but not set down again, for Edna's protector had discovered that she was almost overcome by fatigue, try as she might to hide it; and when she said, "Let me walk now if you please," he answered: "Miss Winters, you are my prisoner until I place you at your father's, door."