OR, THE EXPERIENCES OF A LAYMAN IN A COUNTRY PARISH.
BY LYMAN ABBOTT.
I. HOW I HAPPENED TO GO TO WHEATHEDGE
II. MORE DIPLOMACY
III. WE JOIN THE CHURCH
IV. THE REAL PRESENCE
V. OUR CHURCH FINANCES
VI. AM I A DRONE
VII. THE FIELD IS THE WORLD
VIII. MR. GEAR
IX. I GET MY FIRST BIBLE SCHOLAR
X. THE DEACON'S SECOND SERVICE
XI. OUR PASTOR RESIGNS
XII. THE COMMITTEE ON SUPPLY HOLD AN INFORMAL MEETING
XIII. MAURICE MAPLESON DECLINES TO SUBMIT TO A COMPETITIVE EXAMINATION
XIV. THE SUPPLY COMMITTEE HOLD THEIR FIRST FORMAL MEETING
XV. OUR CHRISTMAS AT WHEATHEDGE
XVI. MR. GEAR AGAIN
XVII. WANTED—A PASTOR
XVIII. OUR PRAYER-MEETING
XIX. WE ARE JILTED
XX. WE PROPOSE
XXI. MINISTERIAL SALARIES
XXII. ECCLESIASTICAL FINANCIERING
XXIII. OUR DONATION PARTY—BY JANE LAICUS
XXIV. MAURICE MAPLESON
XXV. OUR CHURCH-GARDEN
XXVI. OUR TEMPERANCE PRAYER-MEETING
XXVII. FATHER HYATT'S STORY
XXVIII. OUR VILLAGE LIBRARY
XXIX. MAURICE MAPLESON TRIES AN EXPERIMENT
XXX. MR. HARDCAP'S FAMILY PRAYERS
XXXI. IN DARKNESS
XXXII. GOD SAID "LET THERE BE LIGHT"
XXXIII. A RETROSPECT
This book was not made; it has grown.
When three years ago I left the pulpit to engage in literary work and took my seat among the laity in the pews, I found that many ecclesiastical and religious subjects presented a different aspect from that which they had presented when I saw them from the pulpit. I commenced in the CHRISTIAN UNION, in a series of "Letters from a Layman," to discuss from my new point of view some questions which are generally discussed from the clerical point of view alone. The letters were kindly received by the public. To some of the characters introduced I became personally attached. And the series of letters, commenced with the expectation that they might last through six or eight weeks, extended over a period of more than a year and a half—might perhaps have extended to the present it other duties had not usurped my time and thoughts.
This was the beginning.
But after a time thoughts and characters which presented themselves in isolated forms, and so were photographed for the columns of the newspaper, began to gather in groups. The single threads that had been spun for the weekly issue, wove themselves together in my imagination into the pattern of a simple story, true as to every substantial fact, yet fictitious in all its dress and form. And so out of Letters of Layman grew, I myself hardly know how, this simple story of a layman's life in a country parish.
I cannot dismiss this book from my table without adding that I am conscious that the deepest problem it discusses is but barely touched upon. This has obtruded itself upon the pattern in the weaving. It was intended for a single thread; but it has given color and character to all the rest. How shall Christian faith meet the current rationalism of the day? Not by argument; this is the thought I hope may be taught, or at least suggested, by the story of Mr. Gear's experience,—and it is a true not a fictitious story, except as all here is fictitious, i.e. in the external dress in which it is clothed. The very essence of rationalism is that it assumes that the reason is the highest faculty in man and the lord of all the rest. Grant this, as too often our controversial theology does grant it, and the battle is yielded before it is begun. Whether that rationalism leads to orthodox or heterodox conclusions, whether it issues in a Westminster Assembly's Confession of faith or a Positivist Primer is a matter of secondary importance. Religion is not a conclusion of the reason. The reason is not the lord of the spiritual domain. There is a world which it never sees and with which it is wholly incompetent to deal. And Christian faith wins its victories only when by its own—heart life it gives some glimpse of this hidden world and sends the rationalist, Columbus-like, on an unknown sea to search for this unknown continent.
I am not sure whether this preface had not better have remained unwritten; whether the parable had not better be left without an interpretation. But it is written and it shall stand. And so this simple story goes from my hands, I trust to do some little good, by hinting to clerical readers how some problems concerning Christian work appear to a layman's mind, and by quickening lay readers to share more generously in their pastors' labors and to understand more sympathetically their pastor's trials.
The Knoll, Cornwall on the Hudson, N. Y.
How I happened to go to Wheathedge.
ABOUT sixty miles north of New York city,—not as the crow flies, for of the course of that bird I have no knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief, but as the Mary Powell ploughs her way up the tortuous channel of the Hudson river,—lies the little village of Wheathedge. A more beautiful site even this most beautiful of rivers does not possess. As I sit now in my library, I raise my eyes from my writing and look east to see the morning sun just rising in the gap and pouring a long golden flood of light upon the awaking village below and about me, and gilding the spires of the not far distant city of Newtown, and making even its smoke ethereal, as though throngs of angels hung over the city unrecognized by its too busy inhabitants. Before me the majestic river broadens out into a bay where now the ice-boats play back and forth, and day after day is repeated the merry dance of many skaters—about the only kind of dance I thoroughly believe in. If I stand on the porch upon which one of my library windows opens, and look to the east, I see the mountain clad with its primeval forest, crowding down to the water's edge. It looks as though one might naturally expect to come upon a camp of Indian wigwams there. Two years ago a wild-cat was shot in those same woods and stuffed by the hunters, and it still stands in the ante-room of the public school, the first, and last, and only contribution to an incipient museum of natural history which the sole scientific enthusiast of Wheathedge has founded—in imagination. Last year Harry stumbled on a whole nest of rattlesnakes, to his and their infinite alarm—and to ours too when afterwards he told us the story of his adventure. If I turn and look to the other side of the river, I see a broad and laughing valley,—grim in the beautiful death of winter now however,—through which the Newtown railroad, like the Star of Empire, westward takes its way. For the village of Wheathedge, scattered along the mountain side, looks down from its elevated situation on a wide expanse of country. Like Jerusalem of old,—only, if I can judge anything from the accounts of Palestinian travelers, a good deal more so,—it is beautiful for situation, and deserves to be the joy of the whole earth.
A village I have called it. It certainly is neither town nor city. There is a little centre where there is a livery stable, and a country store with the Post Office attached, and a blacksmith shop, and two churches, a Methodist and a Presbyterian, with the promise of a Baptist church in a lecture-room as yet unfinished. This is the old centre; there is another down under the hill where there is a dock, and a railroad station, and a great hotel with a big bar and generally a knot of loungers who evidently do not believe in the water-cure. And between the two there is a constant battle as to which shall be the town. For the rest, there is a road wandering in an aimless way along the hill-side, like a child at play who is going nowhere, and all along this road are scattered every variety of dwelling, big and little, sombre and gay, humble and pretentious, which the mind of man ever conceived of,—and some of which I devoutly trust the mind of man will never again conceive. There are solid substantial Dutch farm-houses, built of unhewn stone, that look as though they were outgrowths of the mountain, which nothing short of an earthquake could disturb; and there are fragile little boxes that look as though they would be swept away, to be seen no more forever, by the first winter's blast that comes tearing up the gap as though the bag of Eolus had just been opened at West Point and the imprisoned winds were off with a whoop for a lark. There are houses in sombre grays with trimmings of the same; and there are houses in every variety of color, including one that is of a light pea-green, with pink trimmings and blue blinds. There are old and venerable houses, that look as though they might have come over with Peter Stuyvesant and been living at Wheathedge ever since; and there are spruce little sprigs of houses that look as though they had just come up from New York to spend a holiday, and did not rightly know what to do with themselves in the country. There are staid and respectable mansions that never move from the even tenor of their ways; and there are houses that change their fashions every season, putting on a new coat of paint every spring; and there is one that dresses itself out in summer with so many flags and streamers that one might imagine Fourth of July lived there.
All nations and all eras appear also to be gathered here. There are Swiss cottages with overhanging chambers, and Italian villas with flat roofs, and Gothic structures with incipient spires that look as though they had stopped in their childhood and never got their growth, and Grecian temples with rows of wooden imitations of marble pillars of Doric architecture, and one house in which all nations and eras combine—a Grecian porch, a Gothic roof, an Italian L, and a half finished tower of the Elizabethan era, capped with a Moorish dome, the whole approached through the stiffest of all stiff avenues of evergreens, trimmed in the latest French fashion. That is Mr. Wheaton's residence, the millionaire of Wheathedge. I wish I could say he was as Catholic as his dwelling house.
I never fancied the country. Its numerous attractions were no attractions to me. I cannot harness a horse. I am afraid of a cow. I have no fondness for chickens—unless they are tender and well-cooked. Like the man in parable, I cannot dig. I abhor a hoe. I am fond of flowers but not of dirt, and had rather buy them than cultivate them. Of all ambition to get the earliest crop of green peas and half ripe strawberries I am innocent. I like to walk in my neighbor's garden better than to work in my own. I do not drink milk, and I do drink coffee; and I had rather run my risk with the average of city milk than with the average of country coffee. Fresh air is very desirable; but the air on the bleak hills of the Hudson in March is at times a trifle too fresh. The pure snow as it lies on field, and fence, and tree, is beautiful, I confess. But when one goes out to walk, it is convenient to have the sidewalks shoveled.
At least that is what I used to think five years ago. And if my wife had endeavored to argue me out of my convictions, she would only have strengthened them. But my wife:—
Stop a minute. I may as well say here that this book is written in confidence. It is personal. It deals with the interior history of a very respectable church and some most respectable families. It contains a great deal that is not proper to be communicated to the public. The reader will please bear this in mind. Whatever I say, particularly what I am going to say now, is confidential. Don't mention it.
My wife is a diplomate. If ever I am president of the United States—which may Heaven forbid,—she shall be secretary of State. She never argues; but she always carries her point.
She always lets me have my own way without hinting an objection. But it always ends in her having her own. She would have made no objection to letting Mason and Slidell go—not the least in the world. But she would have somehow induced England to entreat us to take them back—I am sure of it. She would not have dismissed Catacazy—not she. But if she did not like Catacazy, Gortschakoff should have recalled him, and never known why he did it.
"John," said my wife, "where shall we spend the summer?"
It was six years ago this spring. We were sitting in the library in our city house, Harry was a baby; and baby was not. I laid down the Evening Post, and looked up with an incipient groan.
"The usual way I suppose," said I. "You'll go home with the baby, and I—I shall camp out in New York."
"Home" is Jennie's home in Michigan, where she had spent two of the three summers of our married life, while I existed in single misery in my empty house in 38th street. Oh, the desolateness of those summer experiences. Oh, the unutterable loneliness of a house without the smile of the dear wife, and the laugh and prattle of the baby boy. I even missed his cry at night.
"It's a long, long journey," said Jennie, "and a long, long way off; and I did resolve last summer I never would put a thousand miles again between me and my true home, John. For that is not my home—you are my home."
And a soft hand stole gently up and toyed with my hair.
Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, saith the preacher. To which I add, especially husbands. No man is proof against the flatteries of love. At least I am not, and I am glad of it.
"You can't stay here, Jennie," said I.
"I am afraid not," said she. "It is Harry's second summer, and I would not dare."
"The sea shore?" said I, interrogatively.
"Not one of those great fashionable hotels, John. It would be worse for Harry than the city. And then think of the cost."
"True," said I reflectively. "I wish we could find a quiet place, not too far from the city so that I could come in and out during term time, and stay out altogether during the summer vacation."
"There must be some such, many such," said Jennie.
"But to look for them," said I, "would be, to use an entirely new simile, like looking for a needle in a haystack. There must be some honest lawyers at the New York bar, and some impartial judges on the New York bench, but I should not like to be set to find them."
I had been beaten in an important case that afternoon and was out with my profession.
"Suppose you let me try," said Jennie—"that is to find the quiet summer retreat, not the honest lawyer."
"By all means, my dear," said I. "And I have great confidence that if you are patient and assiduous, you will find a place in time for Harry to settle down in comfortably when he gets ready to be married."
Jennie laughed a quiet little laugh at my incredulity, and sat straightway down to write half a dozen letters of inquiry to as many different friends in the environs of New York. I resumed the Evening Post. As to anything coming of her plans I no more dreamt of it than your grandfather, reader, dreamt of the Atlantic cable.
But though I had been married three years I did not know Jennie then as well as I know her now. I have since learned that she has a habit of accomplishing what she undertakes. But this again is strictly confidential.
That June saw us snugly ensconced at Mr. Lines'. Glen-Ridge is the euphonious title he has given to his pretty but unpretending place. Jennie had written among others to Sophie Wheaton, ne Sophie Nichols, an old school-fellow, and Sophie had sent down an invitation to her to come and spend a week and look for herself, and she had done so; save that two days had sufficed instead of a week. Glen-Ridge had taken her fancy, Mr. Lines had met her housewifely idea of a good house-keeper, and she had selected the rooms and agreed on terms, and left nothing for me to do except to ratify the bargain by a letter, which I did the day after her return. And so in the early summer of 1866 the diplomate had carried her first point, and committed me to two months' probation in the country; and two very delightful months they were.
I now verily believe that Jennie from the first had made up her mind that we were to settle in Wheathedge. Though I never liked the country, she did. And I now think that summer at Wheathedge was her first step toward a settlement there. But she never hinted it to me.
Not she. On the contrary, she often went down to the city with me, and shortened the car ride by half. We kept the city house open. She exercised a watchful supervision over the cook. The sheets were not damp, the coffee was not muddy, the library table was not covered with dust. I blessed her a hundred times a week for the love that found us both this Wheathedge home, and made the city home so comfortable and cosy. Yet I came to my house in the city less and less. The car ride grew shorter every week. When the courts closed and the long vacation, arrived I bade the cook an indefinite good-bye. My clients had to conform to the new office hours, 10 to 3, with Saturdays struck off the office calendar, and, in the dog days, Mondays too. Yet I was within call, and business ran smoothly. The country looked brighter than it used to do. I learned to enjoy the glorious sunrise that New Yorkers never see. I discovered that there were other indications of a moonlight night than the fact that the street lamps were not lighted. Harry grew fat and rosy, and his little chuckle developed into a lusty laugh. Jennie's headaches were blown away by the fresh air that came down from the north. I found the fragrance of the new mown hay from the Glen-Rridge meadow more agreeable than the fragrant odors which the westerly winds waft over to Murray Hill from the bone boiling establishments of the Hudson river. Every evening Jennie met me at the train with Tom—Mr. Lines' best horse, whom I liked so well that I hired him for the season; and we took long drives and renewed the scenes of five years before, when Jennie was Jennie Malcolm, and I was just graduating from Harvard law-school. And still the diplomate never hinted at the idea of making a home at Wheathedge.
But one day as we drove by Mr. Sinclair's she remarked casually, "What a pretty place!"
It was a pretty place. A little cottage, French gray with darker trimmings of the same; the tastiest little porch with a something or other—I know the vine by sight but not to this day by name—creeping over it, and converting it into a bower; another porch fragrant with climbing roses and musical with the twittering of young swallows who had made their nests in little chambers curiously constructed under the eaves and hidden among the sheltering leaves; a green sward sweeping down to the road, with a few grand old forest trees scattered carelessly about as though nature had been the landscape gardner; and prettiest of all, a little boy and girl playing horse upon the gravel walk, and filling the air with shouts of merry laughter—all this combined to make as pretty a picture as one would wish to see. The western sun poured a flood of light upon it through crimson clouds, and a soft glory from the dying day made this little Eden of earth more radiant by a baptism from heaven.
I wonder now if Jennie had been waiting for a favorable opportunity and then had spoken. I do not know; and she will never tell me. At all events the beauty so struck me, like a landscape fresh from the hand of some great artist—as it was indeed, fresh from the hand of the Great Artist—that I involuntarily reined in Tom to look at it. "It's for sale, too," said I, "I wonder what such a place costs."
The artful diplomate did not answer. The books and newspapers talk about women's curiosity. It's nothing to a man's curiosity when it is aroused. Oh, I know the story of Bluebeard very well. But if Mrs. Bluebeard had been a strong minded woman, and had killed her seven husbands, I wonder if the eighth would not have taken a peep. He would not have waited for the key but would have broken in the door long before. If men are not curious why do the authorities always appoint them on the detective police force?
"Mr. Lines," said I that evening at the tea table, "you know that pretty little cottage on the hill just opposite the church. I see there is a sign up 'for sale.' What is the price of it, do you know?"
"No," said Mr. Lines. "But you can easily find out. It belongs to Charlie Sinclair; he lives there and can tell you."
Three days after that, as I was driving up from the station, it struck my fancy I should like to see the inside of that pretty house. "Jennie," said I, "let's go in and look at the inside of that pretty cottage." But I had no more idea of purchasing it than I have now of purchasing the moon.
"It would hardly be the thing for me to call," said the diplomate. "Mrs. Sinclair has never called on me."
"I don't want you to make any call," said I. "The house is for sale. I am a New Yorker. I am looking about Wheathedge for a place. I see this place is for sale. I should like to look at it. And of course my wife must look at it too."
"Oh! that indeed," said my wife, "that's another matter. I have no particular objection to that."
"Besides," said I, "I really should like to know the price of such a place in Wheathedge."
"Very good," said Jennie.
So we drove up to the gate, fastened the horse, and inquired of Mrs. Sinclair, who came in person to the door, if we could see the house. Certainly. She would be very happy to show it to us. And a very pretty house it was—and is still. There was a cozy little parlor with a bay window looking out on the river, there was an equally cozy little dining-room, and there was an L for a sitting-room—which I instantly converted in my imagination into a library—which looked with one window on the river and with another on the mountains. There was a very convenient kitchen built out in a wing from one end of the dining-room, and three chambers over the three downstairs rooms, from the larger one of which, over the sitting-room, we could take in at a glance the Presbyterian church, the blacksmith's shop, and the country store, with the wandering and aimless road, and a score or two of neighbor's homes which lay along it; for the cottage was on the hillside, and elevated considerably above the main roadway. It was charmingly furnished too, and was full of the fragrance of flowers within, as it was embowered in them without.
Besides looking at the house we asked the usual house-hunting questions. Mr. Sinclair was in the city. He wanted to sell because he was going to Europe in the spring to educate his children. He would sell his place for $10,000 or rent it for $800. For the summer? No! for the year. He did not care to rent it for the summer, nor to give possession before fall. Would he rent the furniture? Yes, if one wanted it. But that would be extra. How much land was there? About two acres. Any fruit? Pears, peaches, and the smaller fruits—strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Whereupon Jennie and I bowed ourselves out and went away.
And nothing more was said about it till the next February. The diplomate still kept her own counsel.
Then I opened the subject. It was the evening of the first day of February. I had been in to pay my rent. "Jennie," said I, "the landlord raises our rent to $2,500.
"What are you going to do?" said she quietly; "pay it?"
"Pay it!" said I. "No. It's high at $2,000.—We shall have to move."
"Where to?" said Jennie.
I shrugged my shoulders. I had not the least idea.
"What are you going to do next summer?" said she.
"Glen-Ridge?" said I interrogatively.
"I am afraid I shall have to be in my own home next summer," said Jennie. "The mother cannot leave her nest to find a home among strangers when God sends her a little bird to be watched and tended. And I hope, John, God is going to send another little bird to our nest this summer."
"You shall have your own home, Jennie dear," said I. "I will tell the landlord to-morrow that we will keep it. But it is an imposition."
"I am so sorry to give up our summer at Wheathedge," said she. "We did enjoy ourselves so much, John, and Harry grew and thrived so."
"It can't be helped, Jennie," said I.
"No"—said she slowly, and as if thinking to herself; "no—unless we took the Sinclair cottage for the summer."
"I hadn't thought of that," said I.
"What was the rent?" asked the diplomate. She knew as well as I did.
"Eight hundred dollars a year," said I.
"That is a clear saving of $1,700 a year," said Jennie.
"That's a fact," said I.
"If we did not like it we could come back to the city in the fall, and get a house here; if we did we could stay later and come in to board for three or four months. I shouldn't mind if we did not come at all."
"No country in the winter for me, thank you," said I; "with the wind drawing through the open cracks in your country built house half freezing you, and when you try to keep warm your air-tight stove half suffocating you; with the roads outside blocked up with great drifts, and the trains delayed just on the days when I have a critical case in court."
"Very well," said Jennie. She is too much of a diplomate to argue. "When the snow comes we can easily move back again, as easily as find a new house now. To tell the truth, John, I have no heart for house-hunting now."
"Well," said I. "I will see Sinclair to-morrow. And if his house is in the market, Jennie, we we will move there as soon as the spring fairly opens."
It was in the market. He was anxious to be rid of it. I hired it for the year, together with the furniture, at $800,—and he agreed that if I bought it in the Fall the half year rent should go on the purchase money. I did not pay him any rent. I did not move into the city when the snow came. The diplomate had her own way as she always does. We live in the country; and I—I am very glad of it. I can harness Katie on a pinch. I am not afraid of the cow. I am not skilful with the hoe, but I am as proud of my flower garden as any of my neighbors. And as to the relative advantages of city and country, I am quite of the opinion of Harry.
"Harry," said his grandfather the other day, "don't you want to go back to the city and live?"
"No!" said Harry, with the utmost expression of scorn on his face.
"Why not, Harry?"
"It smells so."
We join the Church.
"I have bought the house, Jennie," said I.
"Thank you," said Jennie. She said it softly, but her eyes said it more plainly than her voice. I had hesitated a little before I finally closed the purchase. But Jennie's look and her soft "Thank you" made me sure I had been right.
Since the baby has come we have converted the chamber over the library into an upstairs sitting-room. I found her there before the open fire, on my return from New York. The baby was sleeping in her arms; and she was gently rocking him, pressed close to her bosom.
"I wish you would have a nurse for the baby, Jennie," said I. "I don't like to see you tied to her so."
"You wouldn't take baby from me would you, John?" said she appealingly, nestling the precious bundle closer to her heart than before, as if in apprehension. No I wouldn't. I was obliged to confess that, to myself if not to her.
"John," said Jennie, "Mrs Goodsole has been here this afternoon. She wants to know if we won't take our letters to this church the next communion. It is the first of September."
"Well?" said I, for Jennie had stopped.
"She says that if we are going to make Wheathedge our home she hopes we can find a pleasant home in the church here. I told her I could not tell, we had only hired the house for the summer and might leave in the fall. But if you have bought it, John, and I am, oh! so glad you have and thank you so much"—one hand left the baby gently, and was laid on my arm with the softest possible pressure by way of emphasizing the thanks again,—"perhaps we ought to consider it."
"I have no notion of joining this church," said I. "It's in debt, and always behind hand. I am told they owe a hundred dollars to their minister now."
"That's too bad," said Jennie.
"And we can't do much if we do join it. I have no time for church affairs, and you—you have all you can do to attend to your infant class at home, Jennie."
"That's true," said Jennie.
"Besides it is a Presbyterian church and we are Congregationalists."
Jennie made no reply.
"And I can't bear the idea of leaving the Broadway Tabernacle church. I was brought up in it. I have been in its Sunday-School ever since I can recollect. It was dear to me in its old homely attire as a Congregationalist meeting-house. It is dear to me in its new aristocratic attire as a Congregationalist cathedral. And Harry was baptized there. And there are all our dearest and best friends. It would be like pulling a tooth to uproot from it."
"It is dear to me too, John," said Jennie softly, "for your sake, if not for my own."
"And all our friends are there, Jennie," continued I. "Except the Lines and Deacon Goodsole we hardly know anybody here."
"Though I suppose time will cure that," said Jennie.
"I do not know that I care to cure it," said I.
Jennie made no response.
Was it not at Bunker Hill that the soldiers were directed to reserve their fire till the attacking party had exhausted theirs? That is the way Jennie conducts an argument—when she argues at all, which is very seldom. She accepted every consideration I had offered against uniting with the Wheathedge church, and yet I knew her opinion was not changed; and somehow my own began to waver. I wonder how that method of arguing would work in the court-room. I mean to try it some time.
I had exhausted my fire and Jennie was still silent. Silence they say means consent. But I knew that it did not in her case. It depends so much upon the kind of silence.
"What do you say Jennie?" said I.
"Well, John," said she slowly and thoughtfully, "perhaps there are two sides to the question. I don't like to leave the Broadway Tabernacle. But it seems to me that we have left it. We cannot attend its prayer-meetings, or go to its Sabbath-school, or worship with its members on the Sabbath, or even mingle much with its members in social life. We have left it, and we ought to have thought of that before we left—not after. Perhaps I am to blame, John, that I did not think of it more. I did not think of what you were giving up for me when you took this beautiful home for my sake."
I had not taken it for her sake—that is, not wholly for her sake. And as to the giving up! Why, bless you, that little sitting-room, with the wife and baby it contained, was worth a thousand Tabernacles to me; and I managed to tell Jennie so, and emphasize the declaration with a—well no matter. But she did not need the information, she knew it very well before, I am sure.
"The real question seems to me, John, to be whether we mean to be church members at all?" said Jennie.
"Church members at all!" I echoed.
"Yes," said she. "We are not members of the Broadway Tabernacle any more—except in name. What is a foot or an arm fifty miles away from the body? Can they keep loving watch and care over us; or we over them? It is not a question between one church-home and another, John; it is a question between this church-home and none at all."
"But, Jennie," said I, "the finances here are in a fearful state. They are always coming down on the church for contributions, and holding fairs in summer, and tableaux and what not, in winter, and generally waiting for something to turn up. If I had the naming of this church I would call it St. Micawber's church."
Jennie laughed. "Well, John," said she, "I think you are ready enough with your money." (I am not so sure of that. I am inclined to think that is Jennie's way of making me so.) "And I have nothing to say about the finances."
"Besides, Jennie," said I—for I really had no faith in the financial argument—"this is a Presbyterian church and we are Congregationalists."
"It is a church of Christ, John," said Jennie soberly, "and we, I hope, are Christians more than Congregationalists."
That was the last that was said. But the next morning I carried down with me, to New York, a letter addressed to the clerk of the Broadway Tabernacle, asking for letters of dismission and recommendation to the Calvary Presbyterian church at Wheathedge. And so commenced our parish life.
The Real Presence.
"JENNIE," said I, "I don't believe in Mr. Work's sermon this morning, do you?"
"I don't think I do, John; but to be candid I did not hear a great deal of it."
It was Sunday evening. Harry was asleep in his room. The baby, sung to her sweet slumbers pressed against her mother's heart, had been lain down at last in her little cradle. Jennie, her evening work finished, had come down into the library and was sitting on the lounge beside me.
"I was not so fortunate," said I. "Blessed are those who having ears hear not—sometimes. I listened, and took the other side. My church was converted into a court-room, I into an advocate. If I believed Mr. Work's doctrine was sound Protestantism I should turn Roman Catholic. Its teaching is the warmer, cheerier, more helpful of the two."
Then I took up the open book that lay on my library table and read from Father Hyacinthe's discourses the following paragraph—from an address delivered on the first communion of a converted Protestant to the Roman Catholic Church:
"Where (in Protestantism) is that real Presence which flows from the sacrament as from a hidden spring, like a river of peace, upon the true Catholic, all the day long, gladdening and fertilizing all his life? This Immanuel—God with us—awaited you in our Church, and in that sacrament which so powerfully attracted you, even when you but half believed it. In your own worship, as in the ancient synagogue, you found naught but types and shadows; they spoke to you of reality, but did not contain it; they awakened your thirst, but did not quench it; weak and empty rudiments which have no longer the right to rest, since the veil of the temple has been rent asunder and eternal realities been revealed."
"Yes, Jennie," said I. "If I thought Father Hyacinthe were right, I should turn Roman Catholic. And Mr. Work this morning confirmed him. He took away the substance. He left us only a type, a shadow."
The sermon was on the words—"Do this in remembrance of me." It was a doctrinal sermon. I am not sure that it might not have been a useful one—in the sixteenth century. It was a sermon against Romanism and Lutheranism and High Church episcopacy. The minister told us what were the various doctrines of the communion. He analyzed them and dismissed them one after another. He showed very conclusively, to us Protestants, that the Romanists are wrong, to us Presbyterians that the Episcopalians are wrong, to us who are open Communionists that the close Communionists are wrong. As there does not happen to be either Romanist, Episcopalian, or close Communionist in our congregation, I cannot say how efficacious his arguments would have been if addressed to any one who was in previous doubt as to his conclusions. Then he proceeded to expound what he termed the rational and Scriptural doctrine of communion. It is, he told us, simply a memorial service. It simply commemorates the past. "As," said he, "every year, the nation gathers to strew flowers upon the graves of its patriot soldiers, so this day the Christian Church gathers to strew with flowers of love and praise the grave of the Captain of our salvation. As in the one act all differences are forgotten, and the nation is one in the sacred presence of death, so in the other, creeds and doctrines vanish, and the Church of Christ appears at the foot of Calvary as one in Christ Jesus."
Mr. Wheaton asked me, as we came out of church, if the sermon was not a magnificent one. I evaded the question. I was obliged to confess to myself that it was unsatisfactory. If I were obliged to choose between the Protestantism of Mr. Work and the Romanism of Father Hyacinthe, I am afraid I should choose the latter.
"But," said Jennie, "Mr. Work's sermon was not true Protestant doctrine, John. There is a Real Presence in the communion. Only it is in the heart, not in the head, in us, not in the symbols that we eat. Did you not feel the Real Presence when Father Hyatt in the afternoon broke and blessed the bread? Did you not see the living Christ in his radiant face and hear the living Christ in his touching words, and his more touching silence?"
Yes! I did. Father Hyatt had disproved the morning's sermon, though he said never a word about it.
Father Hyatt is an old, old man. He has long since retired from active service, having worn out his best days here at Wheathedge, in years now long gone by. A little money left him by a parishioner, and a few annual gifts from old friends among his former people, are his means of support. His hair is white as snow. His hands are thin, his body bent, his voice weak, his eyesight dim, his ears but half fulfil their office; his mind even shows signs of the weakness and wanderings of old age; but his heart is young, and I verily believe he looks forward to the hour of his release with hopes as high and expectations as ardent as those with which, in college, he anticipated the hour of his graduation. This was the man, patriarch of the Church, who has lived to see the children he baptized grow up, go forth into the world, many die and be buried; who has baptized the second and even the third generation, and has seen Wheathedge grow from a cross-road to a flourishing village; who this afternoon, perhaps for the last time—I could not help thinking so as I sat in church—interpreted to us the love of Christ as it is uttered to our hearts in this most sacred and hallowed of all services. Very simply, very gently, quite unconsciously, he refuted the cheerless doctrine of the morning sermon, and pointed us to the Protestant doctrine of the Real Presence. Do you ask me what he said? Nothing. It was by his silence that he spoke.
A few tender, loving, reverential words as he broke the bread. Three minutes of silver speech, the rest of his part of the service a golden silence. But those few words were radiant with the presence and the love of a risen, a living Saviour. It was not of the Christ that died, but of the Christ that now lives, and intercedes, and guides, and preserves, and saves, he spoke, with voice feeble with old age, but strong with love. And as he spoke, it seemed to me, I think it seemed to all of us, that the Christ he loved so much and served so faithfully was close at hand, near and ready to bless us all, not with a sacred memory only, but with a Real Presence, the more real because unseen.
"Yes, Jennie," said I after we had sat for a few minutes in silence recalling that sacred hour, "Yes, Jennie, there was a Real Presence in Father Hyatt's breaking and blessing of the bread. But what do you say of the disquisition of Mr. Work on transubstantiation which followed it?"
"I didn't hear it, John. Was it really about transubstantiation? Perhaps I ought to have listened—but I could not, I did not want to. A higher, holier voice was speaking to me. I was absorbed in that. I was thinking how of old time Christ appeared in the breaking of bread to the disciples whose eyes were holden. And to-night, John, as I have been rocking baby to sleep I have been reading Tennyson's Holy Grail, and thinking how often, in our modern life, Calabad and Percivale kneel at the same shrine, and how often what is but a memorial service to the one affords a beatific vision of a living and life-giving Lord to the other."
And Jennie repeated in a low soft voice a verse from that strange poem, whose meaning, I sometimes think, is but half understood even by its admirers:
"And at the sacring of the Mass, I saw The holy elements alone: but he 'Saw ye no more? I, Galahad, saw the Grail, The Holy Grail, descend upon the shrine: I saw the fiery face as of a child That smote itself into the bread, and went, And hither am I come; and never yet Hath what thy sister taught me first to see This holy thing, failed from my side?'"
"Ah! yes, John, Father Hyacinthe is mistaken, and Mr. Work is mistaken too. There is more in our communion than can be explained. The reason is a great deal, a great deal, but it is not everything. And there are experiences which it can neither understand nor interpret. Baby is not only up-stairs, John; he is in my heart of hearts. And you are never away from home, husband mine, though often in the city, but are always with me. And my Saviour he is not far away, he is not in the heaven that we must bring him down, nor in the past that we must summon him from centuries long gone by. He is in our hearts, John. Do I believe in the Real Presence? Do I not know that there is a Real Presence? And neither priest nor pastor can take it from me."
"I wish you could have administered the communion this afternoon, Jennie," said I, "instead of Mr. Work."
"I wish some good friend of Mr. Work would advise him not to talk at the communion," said Jennie.
"Write him a note," said I.
Jennie shook her head. "No," said she. "It would only do harm. But I wish ministers knew and felt that at the communion table there is a Real Presence that makes many words unfitting. When we are on the mount of Transfiguration, we do not care much for Peter, James or John. And so, dear, I recommend you to do as I do—if the minister must give us a doctrinal disquisition, or a learned argument, or an elaborate arabesque of fancy work, or an impassioned appeal, let him go his way and do not heed him. I want silence that I may commune with the Real Presence. If the minister does not give it me, I take it."
Jennie is right, I am sure. What we laymen want at the communion service, from our pastors, is chiefly silence. Only a few and simple words; the fewer and simpler the better. Oh! you who are privileged to distribute to us the emblems of Christ's love, believe me that the communion never reaches its highest end, save when you interpret it to us, not merely as a flower-strewn grave of a dead past, but as a Mount of Transfiguration whereon we talk with a living, an ascended Saviour. Believe me too, we want at that table no other message than that which a voice from on high whispers in our hearts: "This is my beloved Son, hear ye him!"
Our Church Finances.
I FOUND one evening last week, in coming home, a business-like- looking letter lying on my library table. I rarely receive letters at Wheathedge; nearly all my correspondence comes to my New York office. I tore it open in some surprise and read the note as follows:
WHEATHEDGE, Oct. 9th.
"Dear Sir,—A meeting of the male members of the congregation of the Calvary Presbyterian Church will be held on Thursday evening, at 8 P. M., at the house of Mr. Wheaton. You are respectfully invited to be present.
"JAMES WHEATON, "Ch'n. B'd. Trustees."
"Well," said I to myself, "I wonder what this means. It can't be a male sewing society, I suppose. It can hardly be a prayer-meeting at Jim Wheaton's house. Male members! eh? I thought the female members carried on this church." In my perplexity, I handed the note to my wife. She read it with care. "Well," said she, "I am glad the people are waking up at last." "What does it mean?" said I. "It means money," said she. "Or rather it means the want of money. Mrs. Work told me last week she believed her husband would have to resign. All last quarter's salary is overdue, and something beside. It seems that Mr. Wheaton has begun to act, at last. I don't see what they want to make such men church officers for."
My wife has not very clear ideas about the legal relations which exist between the Church and the Society. Mr. Wheaton is an officer, not of the church but of the society; but I did not think it worth while to correct the mistake.
"I do want to think kindly of every body," said Jennie; "but it makes me indignant to see a minister defrauded of his dues."
"Defrauded is a pretty strong word, Jennie," said I.
"It is a true word," said she. "The people promise the minister $1200 a year, and then pay him grudgingly $900, and don't finally make up the other $300 till he threatens to resign; if that is not defrauding, I don't know what is. If Mr. Wheaton can't make the Board of Trustees keep their promises any better than that, he had better resign. I wish he would."
Mr. Wheaton is not a member of the church; and, to tell the truth, his reputation for success is greater than his reputation for integrity. But he is president of the Koniwasset branch railroad, and a leading director of the Koniwasset coal mines, and a large operator in stocks, and lives in one of the finest houses in Wheathedge, and keeps the handsomest carriage, and hires the most expensive pew, and it was considered quite a card, I believe, to get him to take the presidency of the Board of Trustees.
"Of course you'll go, John," said Jennie.
"I don't know about that, Jennie," said I. "I don't want to get mixed up with our church finances in their present condition."
"I don't know how they are ever to get in a better condition, John," said she, "unless some men like you do get mixed up with them."
Jennie, as usual, knew me better than I knew myself. I went. I was delayed just as I was starting away, and so, contrary to my custom—for I rather pride myself on being a very punctual man—I was a little late. The male members of the Calvary Presbyterian Congregation were already assembled in Mr. James Wheaton's library when I arrived. I was a little surprised to see how few male members we had. To look round the congregation on Sunday morning, one would certainly suppose there were more. It even seems to me there were at least twice as many at the sewing society when it met at James Wheaton's last winter.
I entered just as Mr. Wheaton was explaining the object of the meeting. "Gentlemen," said he, suavely, "the Calvary Presbyterian Church, like most of its neighbors, has rather hard work to get along, financially. Its income is not at all equal to its expenditures. The consequence is we generally stand on the debtor side of the ledger. As probably you know, there is a mortgage on the church of four thousand dollars. The semi-annual interest is due on the first of next month. There is, I think, no money in the treasury to meet it."
Here he looked at the treasurer as if for confirmation, and that gentleman, a bald-headed, weak-face man, smiled a mournful smile, and shook his head feebly.
"The Board of Trustees," continued the President, "have directed me to call this meeting and lay the matter before you."
There was a slight pause—a sort of expectant silence. "It isn't a large sum," gently insinuated the President, "if divided among us all. But, in some way, gentlemen, it must be raised. It won't do for us to be insolvent, you know. A church can't take the benefit of the bankrupt act, I believe, Mr. Laicus."
Being thus appealed to, I responded with a question. Was this mortgage interest all that the church owed? No! the President thought not. He believed there was a small floating debt beside. "And to whom," said I, "Mr. Treasurer, is this floating debt due?" The Treasurer looked to the President for an answer, and the President accepted his pantomimic hint.
"Most of it," said he, "I believe, to the minister. But I understand that he is in no special hurry for his money. In fact," continued he, blandly, "a debt that is due to the minister need never be a very serious burden to a church. Nominally it is due to him, but really it is distributed around among the members of the church. Part is due to the grocer, part to the tailor, part to the butcher, part to the dressmaker, and part is borrowed from personal friends. I lent the parson twenty-five dollars myself last week. But mortgage interest is another matter. That, you know, must be provided for."
"And pray," said I, for I happened to know the parson did need the money, "how much is the pastor's salary? And how much of it is overdue?"
"Well," said the President, "I suppose his salary is about—two thousand dollars. Yes," continued he, thoughtfully, somewhat affectionately playing with his gold watch-chain, "it must net him fully that amount."
I was wondering what this "about" meant, and whether the minister did not have a fixed salary, when Deacon Goodsole broke in abruptly with, "It's twelve hundred dollars a year!"
"Yes," responded the President, "it is nominally fixed by the Board at twelve hundred dollars. But then, gentlemen, the perquisites are something. In the course of a year they net up to a pretty large amount. Last winter, the ladies clubbed together and made the parson a present of carpets for his parlors; the year before we gave him a donation party; almost every year, Deacon Goodsole sends him a barrel of flour from his store; in one way or another he gets a good many similar little presents. I always send him a free pass over the road. And then there are the wedding fees which must amount to a handsome item in the course of the year. It can't be less than two thousand or twenty-five hundred dollars all told. A very snug little income, gentlemen."
"Double what I get," murmured Mr. Hardcap. A very exemplary gentleman is Mr. Hardcap, the carpenter, but more known for the virtue of economy than for any other. He lives in three rooms over his carpenter shop down in Willow lane. If our pastor lived there he would be dismissed very soon.
I wondered, as the President was speaking, whether he included the profit he made in selling Koniwasset coal to the Newtown railroad among his perquisitis, and as part of his salary. But I did not ask.
"Week before last," said Deacon Goodsole, "the parson was called to attend a wedding at Compton Mills. He drove down Monday, through that furious storm, was gone nearly all day, paid six dollars for his horse and buggy, and received five dollars wedding fee. I wonder how long it would take at that rate to bring his salary up to twenty-five hundred dollars."
There was a general laugh at the parson's mercantile venture, but no other response.
"Well, gentlemen," said the President, a little gruffly, I fancied, "let us get back to business. How shall we raise this mortgage interest? I will be one of ten to pay it off."
"Excuse me," said I, gently, "but before we begin to pay our debts, we must find out how much they are. Can the Treasurer tell us how much we owe Mr. Work?"
The Treasurer looked inquiringly at the President, but getting no response, found his voice, and replied, "Three hundred dollars."
"The whole of last quarter?" said I.
The Treasurer nodded.
"I think there is a little due on last year," said Deacon Goodsole.
"A hundred and seventy-five dollars," said the Treasurer.
"The fact is, gentlemen," said the President, resuming his blandest manner, "you know the Methodists have just got into their new stone church. The trustees thought it necessary not to be behind their neighbors, and so we have completely upholstered our church anew, at a cost of five hundred dollars." ("And made the parson pay the bill," said Deacon Goodsole, soto voce.) "We should have frescoed it, too, if we had had the money." ("Why didn't you take his wedding fees?" said the Deacon, soto voce.)
"Well, for my part," said I, "I am willing to do my share toward paying off this debt. But I will not pay a cent unless the whole is paid. The minister must be provided for."
"I say so, too," murmured Mr. Hardcap. I was surprised at this sudden and unexpected reinforcement. The Deacon told me afterwards, that Mr. Hardcap had been repairing the parson's roof and had not got his pay.
"Perhaps," continued I, "we can fund this floating debt, make the mortgage four thousand five hundred, raise the difference among ourselves, and so clear it all up. Who holds the mortgage?"
This question produced a sensation like that of opening the seventh seal in heaven. There was silence for the space of—well, something less than half an hour. The Treasurer looked at the President. The President looked at the Treasurer. The male members of the congregation looked at each other. The Deacon looked at me with a very significant laugh lurking in the corners of his mouth. At length the President spoke.
"Well, gentlemen," said he, "I suppose most of you know I hold this mortgage. I have not called you together because I want to press the church for the money. But a debt, gentlemen, is a debt, and the church, above all institutions, ought to remember the divine injunction of our blessed Master (the President is not very familiar with Scripture, and may be excused the blunder): 'Owe no man anything.' ("Except the minister," said Deacon Goodsole, soto voce.) The proposition of our friend here, however, looks like business to me. I think the matter can be arranged in that way."
Arranged it was. The President got his additional security, and the parson got his salary, which was the main thing Jennie cared for. And to be perfectly frank with the reader, I should not have gone near Jim Wheaton's that night if it had not been that I knew it would please Jennie. I wait with some curiosity to see what will become of a church whose expenditures are regularly a quarter more than its income. Meanwhile, I wonder whether the personal presents which friends make for affection's sake to their pastor ought to be included by the Board of Trustees in their estimate of his salary? and also whether it is quite the thing to expect that the pastor will advance, out of his own pocket, whatever money is necessary to keep his church from falling behind its neighbors in showy attractions?
Am I a Drone?
DEACON Goodsole wants me to take a class in the Sabbath-school. So does Mr. Work. So I think does Jennie, though she does not say much. She only says that if I did she thinks I could do a great deal of good. I wonder if I could. I have stoutly resisted them so far. But I confess last Sunday's sermon has shaken me a little.
I was kept in the city Saturday night by a legal appointment, and went the next day to hear my old friend Thomas Lane preach. His text was "Why stand ye here all the day idle?"
He depicted very graphically the condition of the poor in New York. He is a man of warm sympathies, of a large and generous heart. He mingles a great deal with the poor of his own congregation. To his credit and that of his wife be it said, there are a good many poor in his congregation. But he does not confine his sympathies to his own people. He told us of that immense class who live in New York without a church-home, of the heathen that are growing up among us.
"You need not go to Africa," said he, "to find them. They come to your door every morning for cold victuals. God will hold you responsible for their souls. Are you in the Sabbath-school? Are you in the Mission-school? Are you in the neighborhood prayer-meeting? Are you a visitor? Are you distributing tracts? Are you doing anything to seek and to save that which is lost?" Then he went on to say what should be done; and to maintain the right and duty of laymen to preach, to teach, to visit, to do all things which belong to "fishers of men." "There are a great many church members," said he, "who seem to suppose that their whole duty consists in paying pew rent and listening to preaching. That is not Christianity. If you are doing nothing you are drones. There is no room in the hive for you. The Church has too many idle Christians already. We don't want you."
He did not argue. He simply asserted. But he evidently felt the truth of all that he said. I believe I should have decided at once to go into the Sabbath-school as soon as I came home, but for a little incident.
After church I walked home with Mr. Lane to dine with him. Mr. Sower joined and walked along with us. He is at the head of a large manufacturing establishment. He is one of Mr. Lane's warmest friends. Mr. Lane believes him to be a devoted Christian. "Well, parson," said he, "I suppose after to-night's sermon there is nothing left for me to do but to take a letter from the Church—if you don't excommunicate me before I get it."
"What's the matter now?" said the parson.
"I am neither visiting," said Mr. Sower, "nor distributing tracts, nor attending a tenement-house prayer-meeting, nor preaching, nor working in a mission, nor doing anything in the Church, but going to its service and paying my pew rent, and sometimes a little something over to make up a deficiency. The fact is every day in the week I have my breakfast an hour before you do, and am off to the factory. I never get home till six o'clock, sometimes not then. My day's work uses up my day's energies. I can't go out to a tenement-house prayer-meeting, or to tract distribution in the evening. I can hardly keep awake in our own church prayer-meeting. If it were not for Sunday's rest my work would kill me in a year. I sometimes think that perhaps I am devoting too much of my time to money-making. But what shall I do? There are four hundred workmen in the factory. Most of them have families. All of those families are really dependent on me for their daily bread. It takes all my life's energies to keep them employed. Shall I leave that work to take hold of tenement- house visitation and tract distribution?"
Mr. Lane replied promptly that Mr. Sower was to do no such thing. "Your factory," said he, "is your field. That is the work God has given you to do. It is your parish. Do not leave it for another—only do not forget that you have to give an account of your parochial charge. You are to study, not how to get the most money out of your four hundred workmen, but how to do them the most good. That is Christian duty for you. But your case is very peculiar. There is not one man in a thousand situated as you are."
Then I began to think that perhaps my law office was my field. It gives me enough to do I am sure. We are not all drones who are not working for the Church. There is a work for Christ outside. And I do not want to take a Sabbath-school class. I want Sunday mornings to myself. Every other morning I have to be an early riser. I do enjoy being lazy Sunday morning.
But then there is that class of young men from the mill. Deacon Goodsole says they don't know anything. He has no one who can manage them. And Mr. Work thinks it's a dreadful sin, I do not doubt, that I do not take it at once. I do not care much for that. But Jennie says I am just the one to manage these boys if I feel like undertaking it. And I would like to prove her good opinion of me true.
I was just in that perplexity when night before last a meeting on behalf of the City Mission Society was held here. Mr. Mingins, the Superintendent of city missions, was one of the speakers.
He made an earnest and at times a really eloquent speech. He would have made a splendid jury lawyer. He depicted in the most lively colors the wretched condition of the outcast population of New York. With all the eloquence of a warm heart, made more attractive by his broad Scotch, he pled with us to take an active part in their amelioration. "Pure religion and undefiled, before God and the Father, is this," cried he, "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."
I resolved to take up that class of Mission boys straightways. But as I came out I met Hattie Bridgeman. She is an old friend of Jennie's and has had a hard, hard life. Her husband is an invalid. Her children are thrown on her for support. As I met her at the door she pressed my hand without speaking. I could see by the trembling lip and the tearful eye, that her heart was full. "I wish I had not come to-night," she said, as we walked along together. "Such stories make my heart bleed. It seems as though I ought to go right out to visit the sick, comfort the afflicted, care for the neglected. But what can I do? My children are dependent on me. These six weeks at Wheathedge are my only vacation. The rest of the time I am teaching music from Monday morning till Saturday night. Sunday, when I ought to rest, is my most exhausting day. For then I sing in church. If I were to leave my scholars my children would starve. How can I do anything for my Savior?"
It was very plain that she was to serve her Savior in the music lesson as indeed she does. For she goes into every house as a missionary. She carries the spirit of Christ in her heart. His joy is radiant in her face. She preaches the Gospel in houses where neighborhood prayer-meetings cannot be held, in households which tract-distributors never enter. The street that needs Gospel visitation most is Fifth avenue. That is in her district. And, nobly, though unconsciously, she fulfils her mission. More than one person I have heard say, "If to be a Christian is to be like Mrs. Bridgeman, I wish I were one." Our pastor preaches no such effective sermons as does she by her gentleness, her geniality, her patience, her long suffering with joyfulness. And when the Sabbath comes, her voice, though it leads the service of song in a fashionable city church, expresses the ardor of her Christian heart, and is fraught with quite as true devotion as the prayers of her pastor.
Something like this Jennie told her as we walked along from church; and she left us comforted. And I was a little comforted too. It is very clear, is it not, that we are not all drones who are not at work in the church. There are other fields than the Sabbath-school.
Do I carry Christ into my law office, and into the court-room, as Mrs. Bridgeman does into the parlor and the chair? That is the first point to be settled. The other comes up afterward. But it does persist in coming up. It is not settled yet. Will it hurt my Sunday to take that class for an hour? I doubt it.
I must talk it over with Jennie and see what she really thinks about it.
The Field is the World.
LAST evening before I had found an opportunity to talk it over with Jennie, Dr. Argure and Deacon Goodsole called. I suspect the deacon's conscience had been quickened even more than mine respecting my duty to that mission class by Mr. Minging's address. For I have noticed that our consciences are apt to be quickened by sermons and addresses more respecting our neighbors' duties even than respecting our own.
Dr. Argure had come down the day before from Newtown to attend the city mission meeting. He is a very learned man. At least I suppose he is, for everybody says so. He is at all events a very sonorous man. He has a large vocabulary of large words, and there are a great many people who cannot distinguish between great words and great thoughts. I do not mean to impugn his intellectual capital when I say that he does a very large credit business. In sailing on lake Superior you can sometimes see the rocky bottom 30 or 40 feet below the surface—the water is so clear. You never can see the bottom of Dr. Argure's sermons. Perhaps it is because they are so deep; I sometimes think it is because they are so muddy. Still he really is an able man, and knows the books, and knows how to turn his knowledge to a good account. Last summer he preached a sermon at Wheathedge, on female education. He told us about female education among the Greeks, and the Romans, and the Hebrews, and the Persians, and the Egyptians—though not much about it in America of to-day. But it was a learned discourse—at least I suppose so. Three weeks after, I met the President of the Board of Trustees of the Polltown Female Seminary, I mentioned incidentally that I was spending the summer at Wheathedge.
"You have got a strong man up there somewhere," said he, "that Dr. Argure, of Newtown. He delivered an address before our seminary last week on female education; full of learning sir, full of learning. We put him right on our Board of Trustees. Next year I think we shall make him President."
A month or so after I found in the weekly Watch Tower an editorial,—indeed I think there were three in successive numbers—on female education. They had a familiar sound, and happening to meet the editor, I spoke of them.
"Yes," said he "they are by Dr. Argure. A very learned man that sir. Does an immense amount of work too. He is one of our editorial contributors as perhaps you see, and an able man, very learned sir. Those are very original and able articles sir."
This fall I took up the Adriatic Magazine, and there what should my eye fall on but an article on female education. I did not read it; but the papers assured their readers that it was a learned and exhaustive discussion on the whole subject by that scholarly and erudite writer, Dr. Argure. And having heard this asserted so often, I began to think that it certainly must be true. And then in January I received a pamphlet on female education by Dr. Argure. It was addressed to the Board of Education, and demanded a higher course of training for woman, and was a learned and exhaustive discussion of the whole subject from the days of Moses down.
"An able man that Dr. Argure," said Mr. Wheaton to me the other day referring to that same pamphlet.
"Yes, I think he is," I could not help saying. "I think he can stir more puddings with one pudding stick than any other man I know."
Still he stirs them pretty well. And if he can do it I do not know that there is any objection.
But if I do not believe in Dr. Argure quite as fully as some less sceptical members of his congregation do, Deacon Goodsole believes in him most implicitly. Deacon Goodsole is a believer—not I mean in anything in particular, but generally. He likes to believe; he enjoys it; he does it, not on evidence, but on general principles. The deacons of the stories are all crabbed, gnarled, and cross-grained. They are the terrors of the little boys, and the thorn in the flesh to the minister. But Deacon Goodsole is the most cheery, bright, and genial of men. He is like a streak of sunshine. He sensibly radiates the prayer-meeting, which would be rather cold except for him. The little boys always greet him with a "How do you do Deacon," and always get a smile, and a nod, and sometimes a stick of candy or a little book in return. His over-coat pockets are always full of some little books or tracts, and always of the bright and cheery description. Always full, I said; but that is a mistake; when he gets home at night they are generally empty. For he goes out literally as a sower went out to sow, I do not believe there is a child within five miles of Wheathedge that has not had one of the Deacon's little books.
I suspected that the Deacon had come partly to talk with me about that Bible class, and I resolved to give him an opportunity. So I opened the way at once.
—Well Deacon, how are church affairs coining on; pretty smoothly; salary paid up at last?
—Yes, Mr. Laicus; and we're obliged to you for it too. I don't think the parson would have got his money but for you.
—Not at all, Deacon. Thank my wife, not me. She was righteously indignant at the church for leaving its minister unpaid so long. If I were the parson I would clear out that Board of Trustees and put in a new one, made up wholly of women.
—That's not a bad idea. I believe the women would make a deal better Board than the present one.
Dr. Argure: [(with great solemnity).]
—Mr. Laicus, have you considered the Scriptural teachings concerning the true relations and sphere of women in the church of Christ. The apostle says very distinctly that he does not suffer a woman to teach or to usurp authority over the man, and it is very clear that to permit the female members of the church to occupy such offices as those you have indicated would be to suffer her to usurp that authority which the Scripture reposes alone in the head—that is in man.
—Does the Scripture really say that women must not teach?
—Most certainly it does, sir. The apostle is very explicit on that point, very explicit. And I hold, sir, that for women to preach, or to speak in public, or in the prayer-meeting of the church, is a direct violation of the plain precepts of the inspired word.
—I wonder you have any women teach in your Sabbath School? Or have you turned them all out?
Mrs. Laicus,: [(who evidently wishes to change the conversation).]
—How do affairs go on in the work of your church.
Dr. Argure,: [(who is not unwilling that it should be changed).]
—But slowly, madam. There is not that readiness and zeal in the work of the church, which I would wish to see. There are many fruitless branches on the tree, Mrs. Laicus, many members of my church who do nothing really to promote its interests. They are not to be found in the Sabbath School; they cannot be induced to participate actively in tract distribution; and they are even not to be depended on in the devotional week-day meetings of the church.
Deacon Goodsole,: [(who always goes straight to the point).]
—Mr. Laicus here needs a little touching up on that point, Doctor; and I am glad you are here to do it. How as to that Bible class, Mr. Laicus, that I spoke to you about week before last? There are four or five young men from the barrow factory in the Sabbath School now. But they have no teacher. I am sure if you could see your way clear to take that class you would very soon have as many more. There are some thirty of them that rarely or never come to church. And as for me, I can't get at them. They are mostly unbelievers. Mr. Gear himself, the superintendent, is a regular out and out infidel. And I never could do anything with unbelievers.
—Deacon, I wish I could. But I am very busy all through the week, and I really don't see how I can take this work up on Sunday. Beside it would require some week-day work in addition.
—No man can be too busy to serve the Lord, Mr. Laicus; certainly no professed disciple of the Lord. The work of the church, Mr. Laicus, is before every other work in its transcendant importance.
—I don't know about that. Seems to me, I have seen somewhere that if a man does not provide for his own family he is worse than an infidel.
Dr. Argure,: [(putting this response away from him majestically).]
—It is unfortunately too common an excuse even with professors of religion that they are too busy to serve in the work of the Lord. There is for example the instance of Dr. Curall. He was elected at my suggestion last summer as an elder in our church. But he declined the office, which the apostle declares to be honorable, and of such a character that if it be well used they who employ it purchase to themselves a good degree. Alas! that it should be so frequently so— ourselves first and Christ afterwards.
—Is that quite fair Dr? Must Dr. Curall be put down as refusing to follow the Master because he refuses to leave the duties of his profession which he is doing well, to take on those of a church office which he might do but poorly? May not he who goes about healing the sick be following Christ as truly as he who preaches the Gospel to the poor? Is the one to be accused of serving the world any more because of his fees than the other because of his salary? Can an elder do any more to carry the Gospel of Christ to the sick bed and the house of mourning than a Christian physician, if he is faithful as a Christian?
Dr. Argure shook his head but made no response.
—That may do very well in the case of a doctor, Mr. Laicus. But I don't see how it applies in your case, or in that of farmer Faragon, or in that of Typsel the printer or in that of Sole the boot-maker, or in that of half a score of people I could name, who are doing nothing in the church except pay their pew rent.
—Suppose you pass my case for the moment, and take the others. Take farmer Faragon for example. He has a farm of three hundred acres. It keeps him busy all the week. He works hard, out of doors, all day. When evening comes he gets his newspaper, sits down by the fire and pretends to read. But I have noticed that he rarely reads ten minutes before he drops asleep. When he comes to church the same phenomenon occurs. He cannot resist the soporific tendencies of the furnaces. By the time Mr. Work gets fairly into secondly, Farmer Faragon is sound asleep. So he does not even listen to the preaching. Is he then a drone? Suppose you make a calculation how many mouths he feeds indirectly by the products of his farm. I cannot even guess. But I know nothing ever goes from it that is not good. The child is happy that drinks his milk, the butcher fortunate who buys his beef, the housewife well off who has his apples and potatoes in her cellar. He never sends a doubtful article to market; never a short weight or a poor measure. I think that almost every one who deals with him recognizes in him a Christian man. He does not work in Sunday School, it is true, but he has brought more than one farm hand into it. Christ fed five thousand by the sea of Galilee with five loaves and two small fishes. Was that Christian? Farmer Faragon, feeds, in his small way, by his industry, a few scores of hungry mortals. Is he a drone?
Or take Mr. Typsel the printer. He publishes the Newtown Chronicle. He sends a weekly message to 10,000 readers, at least twenty times as many as Dr. Argure's congregation. I do not know how good a Christian he is; I do not know much about the Newtown Chronicle. But I know that the press is exerting an incalculable influence over the people, for good or for ill and the man who devotes his energies to it, and really uses it to educate and elevate the community, is doing as much in his sphere for Christ as the minister in his. He has no right to neglect the greater work God has given him to do for the lesser work of teaching a Sabbath School class.
—That is if he cannot well do both.
—Yes—of course. If he can do both, that is very well.
—That's a very dangerous doctrine Mr. Laicus.
—If it is true it is not dangerous. The truth is never dangerous.
—The truth is not to be spoken at all times.
—That's a very unnecessary doctrine, Dr., to teach to a lawyer.
Dr. Argure,: [(indifferent alike to the sally and to the laugh which follows it).]
—Consider, Mr. Laicus, what would be the effect on the church of preaching that doctrine. It is our duty to build up the church. It is the church which is the pillar and ground of the truth. It is the church which is Christ's great instrumentality for the conversion of the world. When the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, then the church will have universal dominion. Here in Wheathedge, for example, Mr. Work is laboring to build up and strengthen the church of Christ. And you tell his people and the people of hundreds of similar parishes all over the land, that it is no matter whether they do any work in the church or not. Consider the effect of it.
—It seems to me, Dr., that you entertain a low, though a very common, conception of your office. The ministers are not mere builders of churches. They are set to build men. The church which will have universal dominion is not this or that particular organization, but the whole body of those who love the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. Churches, creeds, covenants, synods, assemblies, associations, will all fade; the soul alone is immortal. If you are really building for eternity you cannot merely build churches.
—Consider then, Mr. Laicus, the effect of your doctrine on the hearts and souls of men. Consider how many idle and indifferent professors of religion there are, who are doing nothing in the church, and nothing for the church. And you tell them that it is just as well they should not; that they are just as worthy of honor as if they were active in the Lords vineyard?
—It is just as well if they are really serving Christ. It does not make any difference whether they are doing it in the church or out of the church. Christ himself served chiefly out of the church, and had it arrayed against him. So did Paul; so did Luther.
—Do you mean that it makes no difference, Mr. Laicus, whether a man is a member of the church or not?
—Not at all. That is quite another matter. I am speaking of church work, not of church membership; and I insist that church work and Christian work are not necessarily synonymous. I insist that whatever tends to make mankind better, nobler, wiser, permanently happier, if it is work carried on in the spirit of Christ is work for Christ, whether it is done in the church or out of the church. I insist that every layman is bound to do ten-fold more for Christ out of the church than in its appointed ways and under its supervision. I have read, Dr., with a great deal of interest your learned and exhaustive treatise on the higher education of women, (I am afraid I told a little lie there; but had not the Dr. just told me that the truth was not to be told at all times), but I declare to you, that so far as the elevation of woman is concerned, I would rather have invented the sewing machine than have been the author of all the sermons, addresses, magazine articles, editorials and pamphlets on the woman question that have been composed since Paul wrote his second Epistle to the Christians.
Dr. Argure,: [(shaking his head).]
—It is a dangerous doctrine, Mr. Laicus, a dangerous doctrine. You do not consider its effect on the minds of the common people.
Laicus,: [(thoroughly aroused and thoroughly in earnest).]
—Do you consider the influence of the opposite teaching, both on the church and on the individual? We are building churches, you tell us. The "outsiders," as we call them, very soon understand that. They see that we are on the look-out for men who can build us up, not for men whom we can build up. If a wealthy man comes into the neighborhood, we angle for him. If a devout, active, praying Christian moves into the neighborhood, we angle for him. If a drunken loafer drops down upon us, does anybody ever angle for him? If a poor, forlorn widow, who has to work from Monday morning till Saturday night, comes to dwell under the shadow of our church, do we angle for her? Yes! I am glad to believe we do. But the shrewdness, the energy, the tact, is displayed in the other kind of fishing. Don't you suppose "the world" understand this? Don't you suppose our Mr. Wheaton understands what we want him in the board of trustees for? Such men interpret our invitation—and they are not very wrong—as, come with us and do us good; not, come with us and we will do you good.
Consider, too, its effect on the individual. I attended a morning prayer meeting last winter in the city. A young man told his experience. He started in the morning, he said, to go to the store. But it seemed as though the Lord bid him retrace his steps. A voice within seemed to say to him, "Your duty is at the prayer meeting." The battle between Christ and the world was long and bitter. Christ at length prevailed. He had come to the prayer meeting. He wanted to tell the brethren what Christ had done for his soul. The experience may have been genuine. It may have been his duty to leave the store for the church that particular morning. But what is the effect of a training which teaches a young man to consider all the time he gives to the store as time appropriated to the world? It is that he can serve both God and mammon; that he actually does. It draws a sharp line between the sacred and secular. And most of his life is necessarily the secular.
I forgot to mention that Mrs. Goodsole had come over with her husband. She and Jennie sat side by side. But she had not opened her mouth since the salutations of the evening had been interchanged. She is the meekest and mildest of women. She is also the most timed. In public she rarely speaks. But it is currently reported that she avenges herself for her silence by the curtain lectures, she delivers to her good husband at home. Of that, however, I cannot be sure. I speak only of rumor. Now she took advantage of a pause to say:
—I like Mr. Laicus's doctrine. It's very comforting to a woman like me who am so busy at home that I can hardly get out to church on Sundays.
—I don't believe it's true. Yes I do too. But I don't believe it's applicable. That is—well what I mean to say—I can't express myself exactly, but my idea is this, that the people that won't work in the church are the very ones that do nothing out of it. The busy ones are busy everywhere. There is Mr. Line, for example. He has a large farm. He keeps a summer hotel, two houses always full; and they are capitally kept houses. That, of itself, is enough to keep any man busy. The whole burden of both hotel and farm rests on his shoulders. And yet he is elder and member of the board of trustees, and on hand, in every kind of exigency, in the church. He is one of the public school commissioners, is active in getting new roads laid out, and public improvements introduced, is the real founder of our new academy, and, in short, has a hand in every good work that is ever undertaken in Wheathedge. And there is Dr. Curall, whose case Mr. Laicus has advocated so eloquently and who is too busy to be an elder; and I verily believe I could count all his patients on the fingers of my two hands.
Mrs. Goodsole,: [(inclined to agree with everybody, and so to live at peace and amity with all mankind).]
—There is something in that. There is Mrs. Wheaton who has only one child, a grown up boy, and who keeps three or four servants to take care of herself and her husband and her solitary son, and she is always too busy to do anything in the church.
—On the other hand there is not a busier person in the church than Miss Moore. She supports herself and her widowed mother by teaching. She is in school from nine till three, and gives private lessons three evenings in the week, and yet she finds time to visit all the sick in the neighborhood. And when last year we held a fair to raise money for an organ for the Sabbath school, she was the most active and indefatigable worker among them all. Mrs. Bisket was the only one who compared with her. And Mrs. Bisket keeps a summer boarding-house, and it was the height of the season, and she only had one girl part of the time.
Dr. Argure rose to go, Deacon Goodsole followed his example. There were a few minutes of miscellaneous conversation as the gentlemen put on their coats. As we followed them to the library door Deacon Goodsole turned to me:—
"But you have not given me your answer yet, Mr. Laicus," said he.
Before I could give it, Jennie had drawn her arm through mine, and looking up into my face for assent had answered for me. "He will think of it, Mr. Goodsole," said she. "He never decides any question of importance without sleeping on it."
I have been thinking of it. I am sure that I am right in my belief that there are many ways of working for Christ beside working for the church. I am sure the first thing is for us to work for Christ in our daily, secular affairs. I am sure that all are not drones who are not buzzing in the ecclesiastical hive. But I am not so sure that I have not time to take that Bible-class. I am not so sure that the busy ones in the church are not also the busy ones out of the church. I remember that when Mr. James Harper was hard at work establishing the business of Harper & Brothers, which has grown to such immense proportions since, at the very time he was working night as well as day to expedite publications, he was a trustee and class-leader in John Street Methodist Church, and rarely missed the sessions of the board or the meetings of the class. I remember that Mr. Hatch, the famous banker, was almost the founder of the Jersey City Tabernacle Church, and his now President of the Howard Mission. Yet I suppose there is not a busier man in Wall street. I remember that Wm. E. Dodge, jr., and Morris K. Jessup, than whom there are few men more industrious, commercially, are yet both active in City Missions and in the Young Men's Christian Association; the former is an elder in an up-town church, and very active in Sabbath School work. I remember Ralph Wells, bishop of all the Presbyterian Sabbath Schools for miles around New York, who was, until lately, active in daily business in the city. Yes I am sure that hard work in the week is not always a good reason for refusing to work in the church on the Sabbath.
"Jennie, I am going to try that Bible class, as an experiment, for the winter."
"I am glad of it, John."
"JENNIE," said I, "Harry and I are going out for our walk."
It was Sunday afternoon. I had enjoyed my usual Sunday afternoon nap, and now I was going out for my usual Sunday afternoon walk. Only this afternoon I had a purpose beside that of an hour's exercise in the fresh air.
"I wish I could go with you John," said Jennie, "but it's Fanny's afternoon out, and I can't leave the baby. Where are you going?"
"Up to the mill village, to see Mr. Gear," said I. "I am going to ask him to join the Bible class."
"Why John he's an infidel I thought."
"So they say," I replied. "But it can't do an infidel any harm to study the Bible. I may not succeed; I probably shan't; but I certainly shan't if I don't try."
"I wish I could do something to help you John. And I think I can. I can pray for you. Perhaps that will help you?"
Help me. With the assurance of those prayers I walked along the road with a new confidence of hope. Before I had dreaded my errand, now I was in haste for the interview. I believe in the intercession of the saints; and Jennie is a—but I forget. The public are rarely interested in a man's opinion about his own wife.
The mill village, as we call it, is a little collection of cottages with one or two houses of a somewhat more pretentious character, which gather round the wheel-barrow factory down the river, a good mile's walk from the church. It was a bright afternoon in October. The woods were in the glory of their radiant death, the air was crisp and keen. Harry who now ran before, now loitered behind, and now walked sedately by my side, was full of spirits, and there was everything to make the soul feel hope and courage. And yet I had my misgivings. When I had told Deacon Goodsole that I was going to call on Mr. Gear he exclaimed at my proposition.
"Why he's a regular out and outer. He does not believe in anything—Church, Bible, Sunday, Christ, God or even his own immortality."
"What do you know of him?" I asked.
"He was born in New England," replied the Deacon, "brought up in an orthodox family, taught to say the Westminster Assembly's Catechism (he can say it better than I can today), and listened twice every Sunday till he was eighteen to good sound orthodox preaching. Then he left home and the church together; and he has never been to either, to remain, since."
"Does he ever go to church?" I asked.
The Deacon shrugged his shoulders. "I asked him that question myself the other day," said he. "You never go to church, Mr. Gear, I believe?" said I.
"Oh! yes I do," he replied. "I go home every Christmas to spend a week. And at home I always go to church for the sake of the old folks. At Wheathedge I always stay away for my own sake."
"And what do you know of his theology?" said I.
"Theology," said the Deacon; "he hasn't any. His creed is the shortest and simplest one I know of. I tried to have a religious conversation with him once but I had to give it up. I could make nothing out of him. He said he believed in the existence of a God. But he scouted the idea that we could know anything about Him. He was rather inclined to think there was a future life; but nobody knew anything about it. All that we could know was that if we are virtuous in this life we shall be happy in the next—if there is a next."
"He does not believe that the gates are wide open there," said I.
"No," said the Deacon; "nor ajar either."
"And what does he say of Christ and Christianity," said I.
"Of Jesus Christ," said the Deacon, "that—well—probably such a man lived, and was a very pure and holy man, and a very remarkable teacher, certainly for his age a very remarkable teacher. But he ridicules the idea of the miracles; says he does not believe them any more than he believes in the mythical legends of Greek and Roman literature. And as to Christianity he believes its a very good sort of thing, better for America than any other religion; but he rather thinks Buddhism is very likely better for India."
"But I wish you would go and see him," continued the Deacon. "Perhaps you can make something out of him. I can't. I have tried again and again, and I always get the worst of it. He is well read, I assure you, and keen as—as," the Deacon failed in his search for a simile and closed his sentence with—"a great deal keener than I am. He's a real good fellow, but he doesn't believe in anything. There is no use in quoting Scripture, because he thinks it's nothing but a collection of old legends. I once tried to argue the question of inspiration with him. 'Deacon,' said he to me, 'suppose a father should start off one fine morning to carry his son up to the top of Huricane Hill and put him to death there, and should pretend he had a revelation from God to do it, what would you do to him?' 'Put him in the insane asylum,' said I. 'Exactly,' said he. 'My boys came home from your Sabbath School the other Sunday full of the sacrifice of Isaac, and Will, who takes after his father, asked me if I didn't think it was cruel for God to tell a father to kill his own son. What could I say? I don't often interfere, because it troubles my wife so. But I couldn't stand that, and I told him very frankly that I didn't believe the story, and if it was true I thought Abraham was crazy.' He had me there, you know," continued the Deacon, good- naturedly, "but then I never was good for anything in discussion. I wish you would go to see him, may be you would bring him to terms."
And so I was going now, not without misgivings, and with no great faith in any capacity on my part to "bring him to terms," as the Deacon phrased it, but buoyed up a good deal, notwithstanding, by the remembrance of those promised prayers.
And yet though Mr. Gear is an infidel he is not a bad man. Even Dr. Argure, and he is fearfully sound on the doctrine of total depravity, admits that there are some good traits about him, "natural virtues" he is careful to explain, not "saving graces."
Of his thorough, incorruptible honesty, no man ever intimated a doubt. In every business transaction he is the soul of honor. His word is a great deal better than Jim Wheaton's bond.
In every good work he is a leader. When the new school-house was to be built, Mr. Gear was put, by an almost unanimous consent, upon the Board, and made its treasurer. When, last Fall, rumors were rife of the mismanagement of the Poor-house, Mr. Gear was the one to demand an investigation, and, being put upon the Committee, to push through against a good deal of opposition, till he secured the reform that was needed. In his shop there is not a man whose personal history he does not know, not one who does not count him a personal friend. That there has not been a strike for ten years is due to the workmen's personal faith in him. When Robert Dale was caught in the shafting and killed last winter, it was Mr. Gear who paid the widow's rent out of his own pocket, got the eldest son a place on a farm, and carried around personally a subscription to provide for the family, after starting it handsomely himself. He is appointed to arbitrate in half the incipient quarrels of the neighborhood, and settles more controversies, I am confident, than his neighbor, Squire Hodgson, though the latter is a Justice of the Peace. There is always difficulty in collecting our pew rents. Half the church members are from one week to one quarter behind-hand. Mr. Gear has a pew for his family, and his pew-rent is always paid before it becomes due. The Deacon tells me confidentially, that Mr. Work does not think it prudent to preach against intemperance because Jim Wheaton always has wine on his table New Year's day. Mr. Gear is the head of the Good Templars, and has done more to circulate the pledge among the workmen of the town than all the rest of us put together. He is naturally an intensely passionate man, and I am told rips out an oath now and then. But that he is vigorously laboring with himself to control his temper is very evident, and it is equally evident, so at least the Deacon says, that he is gaining a victory in this life-campaign.
"It is very clear," said I to myself, as I walked along, "that there are some good points in Mr. Gear's character. He must have a side where Christian truth could get in, if one could only find it; where indeed it does get in, though he thinks, and every one else thinks, it does not. Be it my task to find the place."
I get my first Bible Scholar.
A pretty little cottage-white, with green blinds; the neatest of neat fences; a little platform in front of the sidewalk with three steps leading up to it,—a convenient method of access to our high country carriages; two posts before the gate neatly turned, a trellis over the front door with a climbing rose which has mounted half way to the top and stopped to rest for the season; another trellis fan-shaped behind which a path disappears that leads round to the kitchen door; the tastiest of little bird houses, now tenantless and desolate,—this is the picture that meets my eye and assures me that Mr. Gear is a man both of taste and thrift, as indeed he is.
Mrs. Gear who comes to the door in answer to my knock and who is a cheerful little body with yet a tinge of sadness in her countenance, as one who knows some secret sorrow which her blithe heart cannot wholly sing away, is very glad to see me. She calls me by my name and introduces herself with a grace that is as much more graceful as it is more natural than the polished and stately manners which Mrs. Wheaton has brought with her from fashionable society to Wheathedge. Mr. Gear is out, he has gone down to the shop,—will I walk in,—he will be back directly. I am very happy to walk in, and Mrs. Gear introducing me to a cozy little sitting-room with a library table in the centre, and a book-case on one side, well filled too, takes Harry by the hand, and leads him out to introduce him to the great Newfoundland dog whom we saw basking in the sunshine on the steps of the side door, as we came up the road.
I am accustomed to judge of men by their companions, and books are companions. So whenever I am in a parlor alone I always examine the book-case, or the centre table—if there is one. In Mrs. Wheaton's parlor I find no book-case, but a large centre table on which there are several annuals with a great deal of gilt binding and very little reading, and a volume or two of plates, sometimes handsome, more often showy. In the library, which opens out of the parlor, I find sets of the classic authors in library bindings, but when I take one down it betrays the fact that no other hand has touched it to open it before. And I know that Jim Wheaton buys books to furnish his house, just as he buys wall paper and carpets. At Mr. Hardcap's I find a big family Bible, and half a dozen of those made up volumes fat with thick paper and large type, and showy with poor pictures, which constitute the common literature of two thirds of our country homes. And I know that poor Mr. Hardcap is the unfortunate victim of book agents. At Deacon Goodsole's I always see some school books lying in admirable confusion on the sitting-room table. And I know that Deacon Goodsole has children, and that they bring their books home at night to do some real studying, and that they do it in the family sitting-room and get help now and then from father and from mother. And so while I am waiting for Mr. Gear I take a furtive glance at his well filled shelves. I am rather surprized to find in his little library so large a religious element, though nearly all of it heterodox. There is a complete edition of Theodore Parker's works, Channing's works, a volume or two of Robertson, one of Furness, the English translation of Strauss' Life of Christ, Renan's Jesus, and half a dozen more similar books, intermingled with volumes of history, biography, science, travels, and the New American Cyclopedia. The Radical and the Atlantic Monthly are on the table. The only orthodox book is Beecher's Sermons,—and I believe Dr. Argure says they are not orthodox; the only approach to fiction is one of Oliver Wendell Holmes' books, I do not now remember which one. "Well," said I to myself, "whatever this man is, he is not irreligious."