THE CHAUTAUQUA GIRLS AT HOME
AUTHOR OF "FOUR GIRLS AT CHAUTAUQUA," "ESTER RIED," "LINKS IN REBECCA'S LIFE," "JULIA RIED," "HOUSEHOLD PUZZLES," "RUTH ERSKINE'S CROSSES," "THE RANDOLPHS," "WISE AND OTHERWISE," "A NEW GRAFT ON THE FAMILY TREE," "WHAT SHE SAID, AND WHAT SHE MEANT," "THE POCKET MEASURE," "HALL IN THE GROVE," "SOME YOUNG HEROINES," "FIVE FRIENDS," "MRS. SOLOMON SMITH LOOKING ON," ETC.
TORONTO WILLIAM BRIGGS, 78 & 80 KING ST. EAST MONTREAL: C. W. COATES HALIFAX: S. F. HUESTIS
PAGE CHAPTER I. TREADING ON NEW GROUND 7
CHAPTER II. FLOSSY "BEGINS" 30
CHAPTER III. BURDENS 49
CHAPTER IV. COL. BAKER'S SABBATH EVENING 72
CHAPTER V. NEW MUSIC 87
CHAPTER VI. DISTURBING ELEMENTS 102
CHAPTER VII. PRAYER-MEETING AND TABLEAUX 118
CHAPTER VIII. DR. DENNIS' STUDY 134
CHAPTER IX. A WHITE SUNDAY 150
CHAPTER X. THE RAINY EVENING 166
CHAPTER XI. THE NEXT THING 181
CHAPTER XII. SETTLING QUESTIONS 197
CHAPTER XIII. LOOKING FOR WORK 211
CHAPTER XIV. AN UNARMED SOLDIER 227
CHAPTER XV. MARION'S PLAN 243
CHAPTER XVI. THEORY VERSUS PRACTICE 258
CHAPTER XVII. THE DISCUSSION 275
CHAPTER XVIII. THE RESULT 291
CHAPTER XIX. KEEPING THE PROMISE 307
CHAPTER XX. HOW IT WAS DONE 322
CHAPTER XXI. RUTH AND HAROLD 337
CHAPTER XXII. REVIVAL 355
CHAPTER XXIII. THE STRANGE STORY 368
CHAPTER XXIV. LONELINESS 385
CHAPTER XXV. THE ADDED NAME 401
CHAPTER XXVI. LEARNERS 418
CHAPTER XXVII. FLOSSY'S PARTY 435
CHAPTER XXVIII. A PARTING GLANCE 451
THE CHAUTAUQUA GIRLS AT HOME.
TREADING ON NEW GROUND.
THAT last Sabbath of August was a lovely day; it was the first Sabbath that our girls had spent at home since the revelation of Chautauqua. It seemed lovely to them. "The world looks as though it was made over new in the night," Eurie had said, as she threw open her blinds, and drew in whiffs of the sweet, soft air. And the church, whither these girls had so often betaken themselves on summer mornings, just like this one—how could two or three weeks have changed it? They could not feel that it was the same building.
Hitherto it had been to them simply the First Church; grander, by several degrees, than any other church in the city, having the finest choir, and the finest organ, and the most elegant carpets, and making the grandest floral display of all the temples, as became the First Church, of course; but to-day, this glowing, glorious August day, it was something infinitely above and beyond all this; it was the visible temple of the invisible God, their Saviour, and they were going up to worship—aye, really and truly to worship. They, in their different ways, according to their very different natures, felt this and were thrilled with it as their feet trod the aisles. People can feel a great many things, and not show them to the casual observer. Sitting in their respective pews, they looked in no sense different from the way they had looked on a hundred different Sabbaths before this.
Ruth Erskine, in the corner of her father's pew, attired, as she had often been before, in the most delicate and exquisite of summer silks, with exactly the right shade of necktie, gloves and sash, to set off the beauty of the dress, with the soft and delicate laces about her white throat, for which she was especially noted, looked not one whit different from the lady who sat there three weeks before. You wouldn't have known that her heart was singing for joy.
Flossy Shipley, aglow with elegance, as she always was, looked the same airy butterfly that had flitted in and out of that church on many a summer day before; and Marion, in her corner in the gallery, was simply the grave, somewhat weary-looking school-teacher at one of the wards—"a girl with infidel tendencies," that is all the great congregation knew about her; in fact, comparatively few of them knew even that.
Eurie Mitchell was the doctor's eldest daughter, and had in no sense improved as to her toilet—"a thing which could hardly be expected, since she had thrown away so much money on that wild scheme of living in the woods;" that was what some of the congregation thought about her.
Dr. Dennis saw all these girls, and looked gloomy over them; he was in the mood to need sympathetic hearers, to long to be in accord with his audience, and feel that they could sympathize with him in his reach after a higher type of religion. What could these four girls know about a higher type, when they had no religion at all, and had been spending two lawless weeks in looking at the subject, till their hearts were either attuned to ridicule or disgusted, according to their several temperaments? That was what the faces of our four girls said to him. Yet how they listened to his sermon.
"I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness." These were the words on which he spoke; and the burden of his thought was that satisfaction was not to be sought for here; nothing less than the absolute likeness should give absolute satisfaction; and this likeness was to be forever eagerly, earnestly, constantly, sought for, striven after, until some day would come that blessed awakening, and the picture would be found to be complete!
Was it the best sermon that had ever been preached? Was it the only spiritual sermon that the First Church people had ever heard, or was it that four girls had been to Chautauqua, and there learned how to listen? Their cheeks glowed, and their eyes dilated over the wonderful thoughts that the subject presented, the endless possibility for climbing!
Marion Wilbur had been counted ambitious; she had longed for a chance to reach high; here was her chance; she felt it, and gloried in it; she meant to try. Every nerve quivered with the determination, and the satisfaction of realizing that she belonged to the great royal family. No more obscurity for her. She was a child of the King, and the kingdom was in view. A crown, aglow with jewels—nothing less must satisfy her now. The sermon over, the hymn sung, and amid the pealing of the organ, as it played the worshipers down the aisles, our four girls met.
They knew each other's determination. The next thing to do was to go to Sunday-school. But I suppose you have no idea how strangely they felt; how much it seemed to them as if they were children who had come to a party uninvited, and as if they must at this last minute hide their heads and run home. The very effort to go up to the Sunday-school room seemed too much a cross to undertake.
There were so many to stare, and look their amazement; there was no one to go with; nobody to think of such a thing as asking them to go. It would have been so much less awkward if they could have followed in the lead of one who had said, "Won't you come up and see our Sunday-school?"
The superintendent passed them as they stood irresolute; he bowed courteously, and no more thought of asking them to join him than though they had been birds of brilliant plumage flying by. Dr. Dennis passed them; he said good-morning, not gladly, not even graciously; he dreaded those girls, and their undoubted influence. They had not the least idea how much mischief they had done him in the way of frittering away his influence heretofore. How should they know that he dreaded them? On the other hand how was he to know that they absolutely longed for him to take them by the hand, and say, "Come?" They looked at him curiously as he passed, and Eurie said:
"Doesn't it make your heart beat to think of going to him in his study, and having a private talk?"
"Dear me!" said Flossy, "I never shall think of such a thing. I couldn't do it any more than I could fly."
"There are harder things than that to do, I suspect; and it will come to a visit to his study if we are to unite with the church; don't you know that is what he always asks of those?"
And then these girls looked absolutely blank, for to two of them the thought of that duty had never occurred before; they did not understand it well enough to know that it was a privilege.
"Well," said Eurie, rallying first, of course, "are we to stand here gazing around us all day, because nobody knows enough to invite us to go up-stairs? It is clear that we are not to be invited. They are all come—all the Sabbath-school people; and, hark! why, they are singing."
"Dear me!" said Flossy; "then it is commenced; I hate to go in when it is commenced. How very unfortunate this is!"
"Serves us right," said Marion. "We ought to be in a condition to invite others, instead of waiting here to be invited. I'll tell you what, girls, if we ever get to feel that we do belong, let's constitute ourselves a committee to see after timid strangers, like ourselves, and give them a chance in, at least."
"Well," said Ruth, speaking for the first time, "shall we go home and wait till next Sunday, and take a fair start, as Flossy says, it isn't pleasant to go in after the exercises have fairly opened?" As she said this, for the first time in her life Miss Ruth Erskine began to have a dim idea that possibly she might be a coward; this certainly sounded a little like it.
Each waited to get a bit of advice from the other. Both Marion and Eurie, it must be confessed, bold spirits that they were, so dreaded this ordeal, that each hoped the other would advise retreat as the wisest thing to be done next. It was Flossy who spoke:
"I am going up now; it won't be any easier next Sunday, and I want to begin."
"There!" said Eurie, "that is just what I needed to shame me into common sense. What a company of idiots we are! Marion, what would you think of a day-scholar who would stand shivering outside your doors for this length of time? Now come on, all of you;" and she led the way up-stairs.
How very awkward it was! It was during the opening prayer that they arrived, and they had to stand by the door and be peeped at by irreverent children; then they had to invite themselves to a vacant seat near the door. The superintendent came that way presently, and said:
"Good-morning, young ladies; so you have come in to visit our school? Glad to see you; it is a pleasant place, I think you will find."
"That is extremely doubtful," Eurie said, in undertone, as he passed on. How the children did stare!
"They are certainly unused to visitors," Ruth said, growing uncomfortable under such prolonged gazing. "What is the use of all this, girls? We might better be at home."
"If we had grown up here," Eurie said, bravely, "we should probably have our place by this time. It all comes of our graceful lives. But I must say they make it very easy for people to stay away. Why on earth don't they invite us to go into Bible classes? What right have they to take it for granted that we came out of pure curiosity?"
The business of the hour went on, and our girls were still left unmolested. As the newness wore somewhat away, the situation began to grow funny. They could see that the pastor and the superintendent were engaged in anxious conversation, to judge by the gravity of their faces; and as their eyes occasionally roved in that direction, it was natural to suppose they were discussing the unexpected visitors.
Could they have heard the anxious talk it would have been a solemn comment on their reputations.
"That Morris class is vacant again to-day," the superintendent was saying; "I don't know what we are to do with that class; no one is willing to undertake it."
The pastor looked toward his own large class waiting for him, and said, with a weary sigh:
"I believe I shall have to give up my class to some one and take that. I don't want to; it is a class which requires more nervous energy than I have at command at this hour of the day. But what is to be done with them to-day?"
"Would it do to ask one of the young ladies on the visitors' seat?"
And then the eyes of the two men turned toward the girls.
"They are afraid of us," whispered Eurie, her propensity to see the ludicrous side of things in no whit destroyed by her conversion. "Look at their troubled faces; they think that we are harbingers of mischief. Oh me! What a reputation to have! But I declare it is funny." Whereupon she laughed softly, but unmistakably.
It was at this moment that Dr. Dennis' eyes rested on her.
"Oh, they are only here for material to make sport of," he said, gloomily; "Miss Erskine might keep the boys quiet for awhile if she chose to do so, I suppose."
"Or Miss Wilbur. Some of the boys in that class are in school, in her ward; they say she has grand order."
Dr. Dennis' face grew stern.
"No," he said, "don't ask her; at least we will not put them in a way to learn error, if we can teach them nothing good. Miss Wilbur is an infidel. I don't know what is to be done with that class, as you say. Poor Morris, I am afraid, will never be able to take it again; and he was utterly discouraged with them, anyway. They get no good here that I can see; and they certainly do infinite mischief to the rest of the school."
"But at the same time I suppose we cannot send them away?"
"Oh, certainly not. Well, suppose you try if Miss Erskine will sit there, and try to awe them by her dignity for awhile. And this week we must see what can be done; she won't try it, though, I presume."
It ended in the superintendent coming toward them at last. He didn't like to be too personal in his request, so he took the general way of putting a question, resting in the belief that each would refuse, and that then he could press the task on Miss Erskine.
"We are short of teachers to-day; would one of you be willing to sit with that class at your right, and try to interest them a little? They are a sad set; very little can be done with them, but we have to try."
I shall have to confess that both Ruth and Marion were appalled. The one shrank as much as the other. If it had been a class in mathematics or philosophy Marion would have been confident of her powers; but she felt so very ignorant of the Bible. She had come in, hoping and expecting a chance to slip into a grand Bible class, where she might learn some of the inner truths of that glorious lesson that she had been trying to study. But to teach it! This seemed impossible. As for Ruth, no thought of such an experience had as yet come to her. They, therefore, maintained a dismayed silence. Eurie was frank.
"I can't teach," she said; "I don't understand it myself. I shouldn't have the least idea what to say to anyone about the Bible lesson." And then they all turned and stared in a maze of surprise and perplexity at little fair-haired Flossy.
"I would like to try," she said, simply; "I have thought about the lesson all the week; I am not sure that I can teach anything, but I should like to talk the story over with them if they will let me."
There was nothing for it but to lead this exquisite bit of flesh and blood, in her dainty summer toilet, before that rough and rollicking class of boys, old enough, some of them, to be called young men, but without an idea as to the manner of conduct that should honor that name. It would be hard to tell which was the most amazed and embarrassed, the superintendent or the girls whom Flossy left looking after her. They were quite sobered now; they did not want Flossy to come to grief. A tender feeling that was new and sweet had sprung up in the heart of each of them toward her.
"That innocent little kitten knows no more what she has undertaken than if she were a dove," said Marion, dismay and discomfort struggling in her face. "Why, she might as well be Daniel in the den of lions."
"Well," said Eurie, speaking gravely, "he came out all right, you know." Then she hailed the passing superintendent:
"Mr. Stuart, isn't there a Bible class that we can go in? We didn't come to look on. We want to study the lesson."
"Oh, why, yes, certainly," Mr. Stuart said, stammering and looking unutterable astonishment. "Where would they like to go? There were two vacant seats in Mr. Pembrook's class, and one in Judge Elmore's."
Ruth instantly chose Judge Elmore's, and left Marion and Eurie to make their way to the vacant places in Mr. Pembrook's class.
The young ladies of the class moved along and made room for the new comers, and the teacher carefully told them what chapter and verse were being studied. They found their places, and Mr. Pembrook searched laboriously for his. He had lost the spot on his lesson leaf where he had read the last question, and he was all at sea.
"Let me see," he said, "where were we?"
None of them seemed to know; at least they gave him no information. One of them tried to button a glove that was too small for her; one yawned behind her Bible, and the most utter indifference in regard to the lesson or the school seemed to prevail.
"Oh," said. Mr. Pembrook, "here is where we were. I was just reading the thirtieth verse: 'As he spake these words many believed on him.' Who spake them?"
"Jesus," one answered, speaking the word with a yawn.
"What did Jesus say next?"
The next young lady thus appealed to, hurriedly looked up the place in her Bible and read:
"'Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.'"
"Well," said Mr. Pembrook, after a thoughtful pause, "there doesn't seem to be anything to say on that verse; it is all there. Will you read the next verse?"
Now the "you" whom he timidly addressed was our Marion. She doesn't understand even now why her heart should have throbbed so strangely; and her voice trembled as she read aloud the simple words:
"'And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'"
"Free from what?" she asked abruptly.
The class stared. Clearly the art of asking questions was an unknown accomplishment in that class. Mr. Pembrook looked at her through his glasses; then he pushed his glasses up on his forehead. Finally he took them off, and rubbed them carefully with the skirt of his coat before he essayed to answer.
"Why, my dear young lady, I suppose it means free from sin. The Lord Jesus Christ was speaking to his people, you know, to Christian people."
"Are Christian people free from sin?"
There was no note of cavil in Marion's voice. Her eyes were earnest and serious; and she waited, as one waits in honest perplexity, to have a puzzle solved. But she was known as one who held dangerous, even infidel notions, and Mr. Pembrook, bewildered as to how to answer her, seemed to feel that probably a rebuke was what she needed.
"It is not for us to find fault with the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, my dear young lady. He spoke them, and they must mean what they say. We are to accept them in all sincerity and humility, remembering that what we know not now we shall know hereafter. That is the Christian way to do."
And then he cleared his throat and asked the next young lady to read the next verse.
Two bright spots glowed on Marion's cheeks. She bent her head low over her Bible, and it was with difficulty that she kept a rush of tears from filling her eyes. Had she seemed to cavil at the words of her Lord when she simply longed with all her soul to understand? Did the promise mean, You shall be free from sin? Had she a right to look forward to and hope for the time when sin should have no more dominion? Then that other sentence: "Continue in my work." Just what did it mean? Could one who was searching it eagerly and prayerfully, and trying to abide by its directions, be said to be continuing in it?
There were a dozen questions that she longed to ask. She had sought the Sabbath-school this morning in search of help. She felt blind and lame, unable to take a step in any direction lest in her ignorance she should err, as already she had. Something in her way of speaking of these things must be radically wrong. She had misled this good man. It was no use to ask him questions.
As the lesson progressed there appeared other reasons why she need not question him. Clearly the good man knew nothing about his lesson save the questions contained on the bit of paper before him. It was entirely evident that he had not looked at the verses, nor thought of them until he came before his class.
It was equally plain that his scholars were entirely accustomed to this state of things, and were careful to follow his example. He could read a question at them from his lesson paper, and they could read an answer back to him from their Bibles, and this was all that either party expected of the other. Why these young ladies continued to come Sabbath after Sabbath, and go over this weary routine of question and answer was a mystery to Marion.
She came away from the school in a most uncomfortable frame of mind. That to which she had looked forward all the week had proved a disappointment and a failure. She was almost inclined to say that she would have no more to do with Sunday-schools; that they really were the humbug that she had always supposed them.
"Imagine my going to a philosophy class, knowing no more about the lesson than that old man did to-day!" she said to Eurie, as they walked down to the corner of Elm Street together.
"I know," said Eurie, speaking with unusual thoughtfulness; "but suppose you were dull in the class, if it were known after all that you could make the most brilliant philosophical experiments you would probably be listened to with respect."
"What do you mean?" asked Marion bewildered.
"Why, I mean that Deacon Pembrook can perform the experiments successfully. In other words, to come down to your comprehension, he succeeds in living so pure and careful a Christian life that he has the respect and confidence of everybody. What if he can't preach? He can practice. However, I am willing to admit that the dear old man would be more edifying if he would study his lesson a little. Wasn't it funny to think of calling that 'teaching?'" And then this volatile young lady laughed. But her moralizing had done Marion good.
She said good-morning more cheerily, and went on her way thinking over the many things that she had heard in honor of Deacon Pembrook; so that by the time she had reached her boarding-house, although his teaching would certainly make a very poor show, yet his sweet Christian life had come up to plead for him, and Marion was forced to feel that the truth had "made him free."
"But it is a real pity not to study his lesson," she said, as she went about her gloomy-looking room. "Those girls didn't get a single idea to help them in any way. Some of them need ideas badly enough. Two or three of them are members of the church, I am sure. That Allie March is, but she has no ideas on any subject; you can see that in the grammar class."
And then Marion remembered that Allie March was in her grammar class; and Allie was a professed Christian. Could she help her? It was not pride in Marion, but she had to smile at the thought of herself being helped by so very third-rate a brain as that which Allie March possessed. And then she paused, with her hand on the clothes-press door, and her face glowed at the new and surprising thought that just then came to her.
"Would it not be possible for her, Marion Wilbur, to help Allie March, even in her Christian life!"
All that afternoon, though, she went about or sat down in her room with a sense of loneliness. No one to speak to who could understand and would believe in her, even in the Sunday-school they were afraid of her. How could she help or be helped, while this state of things lasted?
It was in the early twilight that, as she sat with her hat and sack on, waiting for Eurie, who had engaged to call for her to go to church, she strayed across a verse or two in her new possession, the Bible, that touched the point. It was where Saul "essayed to join himself to the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple." Her experience precisely! They were afraid of her influence; afraid of her tongue; afraid of her example; and, indeed, what reason had they to feel otherwise? But she read on, that blessed verse wherein it says: "But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him." She was reading this for the second time, when Eurie came.
"See here, Eurie, read this," she said, as she passed her the Bible and made her final preparations for church. "Isn't that our experience? I mean I think it is to be ours. Judging from to-day as a foretaste, they will be afraid of us and believe not that we are disciples."
Eurie laughed, a quick little laugh that had an undertone of feeling in it, as she said:
"Well, then, I hope we shall find a Barnabas to vouch for us before long."
And Marion knew that she, too, felt the loneliness and the sense of belonging to no one. "We must help each other very much, we girls." This she said to herself as they went down the steps together.
FLOSSY SHIPLEY'S first day at Sabbath-school was different. She went over to the class of boys, who were almost young men, with trepidation indeed, and yet with an assured sort of feeling that they would be quiet. Just how she was going to accomplish this she was not certain. She had studied the words of the lesson most carefully and prayerfully; indeed, they had been more in her mind all the week than had anything else. At the same time, she by no means understood how to teach those words and thoughts to the style of young men who were now before her.
Still, there was that in Flossy which always held the attention of the young men; she knew this to be the case, and, without understanding what her peculiar power was, she felt that she had it, and believed that she could call it into service for this new work. They stared at her a little as she took her seat, then they nudged each other, and giggled, and looked down at their dusty boots, guiltless of any attempt at being black, and shuffled them in a way to make a disagreeable noise.
They knew Flossy—that is, they knew what street she lived on, and how the outside of her father's house looked, and what her standing in society was; they knew nothing of her in the capacity of a Sunday-school teacher; and, truth to tell, they did not believe she could teach. She was a doll set up before them for them to admire and pretend to listen to; they did not intend to do it; she had nothing in common with them; they had a right to make her uncomfortable if they could, and they were sure that they could. This was the mood in which she found them.
"Good-morning," she said, brightly; and they glanced at each other, and shuffled their feet louder, and some of them chuckled louder, while one of them said:
"It's rather late in the morning, ain't it? We got up quite a spell ago."
This passed for a joke, and they laughed aloud. At this point Flossy caught Dr. Dennis' distressed face turned that way. It was not reassuring; he evidently expected disastrous times in that corner. Flossy ignored the discourteous treatment of her "good-morning," and opened her Bible.
"Do you know," she said, with a soft little laugh, "that I haven't the least idea how to teach a Sunday-school lesson? I never did such a thing in my life; so you mustn't expect wisdom from me. The very most I can do is to talk the matter over with you, and ask you what you think about it."
Whereupon they looked at each other again and laughed; but this time it was a puzzled sort of laugh. This was a new experience. They had had teachers who knew extremely little about the lesson, and proved it conclusively, but never once did they own it. Their plan had rather been to assume the wisdom of Solomon, and in no particular to be found wanting in information. They did not know what answer to make to Flossy.
"Have you Bibles?" she asked them.
"Well, here are Lesson Leaves. These are pieces of the Bible, I suppose. Are they nice? I don't know anything about them. I have never been in Sunday-school, you see; not since I was a little girl. What are these cards for, please?"
Now, they understood all about the management of the library cards, and the method of giving out books by their means, and Flossy was so evidently ignorant, and so puzzled by their attempts at explanation, and asked so many questions, and took so long to understand it, that they really became very much interested in making it clear to her, and then in helping her carry out the programme which they had explained; and everyone of them had a queer sense of relationship to the school that they had not possessed before. They knew more than she did, and she was willing to own it.
"Now about this lesson," she said, at last. "I really don't see how people teach such lessons."
"They don't," said one whom they called "Rich. Johnson." "They just pretend to, and they go around it, and through it, and ask baby questions, and pretend that they know a great deal; that's the kind of teaching that we are used to."
"You won't get it to-day," she said, "for I certainly don't know a great deal, and I don't know how to pretend that I do. But I like to read about this talk that Christ had with the people; and I should have liked of all things to have been there and heard him. I would like to go now to the place where he was. Wouldn't you like to go to Jerusalem?"
What an awkward way they had of looking from one to the other, and nudging each other. Rich. Johnson seemed to be the speaker for the class. He spoke now in a gruff, unprepossessing voice;
"I'd enough sight rather go to California."
The others thought this a joke, and laughed accordingly. Flossy caught at it.
"California," she said, brightly. "Oh, I've been there. I don't wonder that you want to go. It is a grand country. I saw some of those great trees that we have heard about."
And forthwith she launched into an eager description of the mammoth tree; and as they leaned forward, and asked now and then an intelligent question, Flossy blessed the good fortune that had made her her father's chosen companion on his hasty trip to California the year before. What had all the trees in California to do with the Sabbath-school lesson? Nothing, of course; but Flossy saw with a little thrill of satisfaction that the boys were becoming interested in her.
"But for all that," she said, coming back suddenly, "I should like ever so much to go to Jerusalem. I felt so more and more, after I went to that meeting at Chautauqua, and saw the city all laid out and a model of the very temple, you know, where Jesus was when he spoke these words."
They did not laugh this time; on the contrary, they looked interested. She could describe a tree, perhaps she had something else worth hearing.
"What's that?" said Rich. "That's something I never heard of."
And then Flossy laid her Bible in her lap, and began to describe the living picture of the Holy Land, as she had seen and loved it at Chautauqua. Of course you know that she did that well. Was not her heart there? Had she not found a new love, and life, and hope, while she walked those sunny paths that led to Bethany, and to the Mount of Olives? Every one of the boys listened, and some of them questioned, and Rich. said, when she paused:
"Well, now, that's an idea, I declare. I wouldn't mind seeing it myself."
And to each one of them came a glimmering feeling that there actually was such a city as Jerusalem, and such a person as Jesus Christ did really live, and walk, and talk here on the earth. Then Flossy took up her Bible again.
"But, of course, the next best thing to going to places, and actually seeing people, is to read about them, and find out what the people said and did. I like these verses especially, because they mean us as well as those to whom they were spoken. Look at this verse. I have been all the week over it, and I don't see but I shall have to stay over it all my life. 'Then said Jesus, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.' Just think how far that reaches! All through the words of Jesus. So many of them, so many things to do, and so many not to do; and then not only to begin to follow them, but to continue; day after day getting a little farther, and knowing a little more. After all, it's very fascinating work, isn't it? If it is hard, like climbing a mountain, one gets nearer the top all the while; and when you do really reach the top, how splendid it is! Or, doing a hard piece of work, it's so nice to get nearer and nearer to the end of it, and feel that you have done it."
One of the boys yawned. It was not so interesting as the description of the miniature Jerusalem. One of them looked sarcastic. This was Rich.
"Do you suppose there ever was anybody like that?" he asked, and the most lofty incredulity was in his voice.
"Why, that followed out that kind of talk. I know enough about the Bible to know they are mighty scarce. I'd go to Jerusalem on foot to see a real one. Where's the folks, I'd like to know, that live up to half of the things it says in the Bible? Why, they even say it can't be done, and that's why it seems all bosh to me. What was the use of putting it in there if it can't be done?"
Here was one who had evidently thought, and thought seriously about these things. Is there a boy of seventeen in our country who has not? Flossy felt timid. How should she answer the sharp, sarcastic words? He had been studying inconsistencies, and had grown bitter. The others looked on curiously; they had a certain kind of pride in Rich. He was their genius who held all the teachers at bay with his ingenious tongue. But Flossy had been at a morning meeting in Chautauqua where there was talk on this very subject. It came back to her now.
"As for being able to do it," she said, quickly, "I don't feel sure that we have anything to do with that, until we have convinced ourselves that we have been just as good as we possibly could. Honestly, now, do you think you have been?"
"No," said Rich., promptly; "of course not. And, what is more, I never pretended that I was."
"Well, I know I haven't been; I am perfectly certain that in a hundred ways I could have done better. Why, there is nothing that I could not have improved upon if I had tried. So by our own confessions what right have you and I to stumble over not being able to be perfect, so long as we have not begun to be as near it as we could?"
How was he to answer this?
"Oh, well," he said, "I haven't made any pretensions; I'm talking about those who have."
"That's exactly like myself; and, as nearly as I can see, we both belong to the class who knew our duty, and had nothing to do with it. Now, I want to tell you that I have decided not to stand with that class any longer."
Flossy paused an instant, caught her breath, and a rich flush spread over her pretty face. This was her first actual "witnessing" outside of the narrow limits of her intimate three friends who all sympathized.
"I gave myself to this Jesus when I was at Chautauqua," I said to him; "that I had stood one side, and had nothing to do with his words all my life; just taken his favors in silence and indifference, but that for the future I was to belong to him. Now, of course, I don't know how many times I shall fail, nor how many things I shall fail in. The most I know is, that I mean to 'continue.' After all, don't you see that the verse doesn't say, If you are perfect, but simply, 'If you continue.' Now, if I am trying to climb a hill, it makes a difference with my progress, to be sure, whether I stumble and fall back a few steps now and then. But for all that I may continue to climb; and if I do I shall be sure to reach the top. So now my resolution is to 'continue' in his words all the rest of my life."
She did not ask Rich. to do the same. She said not a word to him about himself. She said not a personal word to one of them, but every boy there felt himself asked to join her. More than that, not a boy of them but respected her. It is wonderful, after all, how rarely in this wicked world we meet with other than respect in answer to a frank avowal of our determination to be on the Lord's side. They were all quiet for an instant; and again Flossy caught a glimpse of Dr. Dennis' face. It looked perplexity and distrust. Was she telling them a fairy story, or teaching them a new game of whist?
"Then there is such a grand promise in this lesson," Flossy went on. "I like it ever so much for that. 'And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'"
"Free from what?" asked Rich., abruptly. The very question that Miss Marion Wilbur had asked in such anxiety. But Flossy was in a measure prepared for him. It chanced that she had asked Evan Roberts that self-same question.
"Why, free from the power and dominion of Satan; not belonging to him any more, and having a strength that is beyond and above anything earthly to lean upon, stronger than Satan's power can ever be."
Rich. gave a scornful little laugh.
"He is an old fellow that I don't particularly believe in," he said, loftily, as though that forever settled the question as to the existence of such a person. "I think a fellow is a silly coward who lays the blame of his wickedness off on Satan's shoulders; just as if Satan could make him do what he didn't choose to do! always supposing that there is such a creature."
Oh wise and wily Flossy! She knew he was wrong. She knew he had contradicted his own logic, used but a few minutes before, but she did not attempt to prove it to him; for, in the first place, she felt instinctively that the most difficult thing in the world is to convince an ignorant person that he has been foolish and illogical in his argument. You may prove this to an intelligent mind that is accustomed to reason, and to weigh the merits of questions, but it is a rare thing to find an uncultured brain that can follow you closely enough to be convinced of his own folly.
Flossy did not understand herself well enough to reason this out. It was simply a fine instinct that she had, perhaps it ought to be called "tact," that led her to be careful how she tried anything of this sort. Besides, there was another reason. She did not know how to set about doing it. It is one thing to see a sophistry, and another to take to pieces the filmy threads of which it is composed. She waived the whole subject, and jumped to one on which there could be but one opinion.
"Well, then, suppose you were right, and every one were free to be perfect if he would; that only reaches to the end of this life. We surely haven't been perfect, you and I, for instance, so our perfection cannot save us from the penalty of sin, and that is death. What a grand thing it would be to be free from that! You believe in death, don't you? and I suppose, like every other sensible person, you are afraid of death, unless you have found something that makes you free from its power."
Rich. was still in a scornful mood.
"Should like to see anybody that is free from that!" he said, sneeringly. "As near as I can make out, those persons who think they are good are just as likely to die as the rest of us."
"Ah, yes, but it isn't just that little minute of dying that you and I are afraid of; it is afterward. We are afraid of what will come next. You see, I know all about it, for I was awfully afraid; I had such a fear as I suppose you know nothing about. When it thundered I shivered as if I had a chill, and it seemed to me as if every flash of lightning was going to kill me; and when I went on a journey I could enjoy nothing for the fear that there might be an accident and I might be killed. But I declare to you that I have found something that has taken the fear away. I do not mean that I would like to be killed, or that I am tired of living, or anything of the sort. I like to live a great deal better than I ever did before; I think the world is twice as nice, and everything a great deal pleasanter; but when I was coming home from Chautauqua I would waken in the night in the sleeping-car, and I found to my surprise that, although I thought of the same thing, the possibility that there might be an accident that would cost me my life, yet I felt that horrible sense of fear and dread was utterly gone. I could feel that though death in itself might be sad and solemn, yet it was, after all, but the step that opened the door to joy. In short"—and here Flossy's face shone with a rare sweet smile—"I know that the truth as it is in Jesus has made me free."
Rich. was utterly silent. What could he reply in the face of this simple, quiet "I know?" To say, "I don't believe it," would be the height of folly, and he realized it.
As for the rest, they had listened to this talk with various degrees of interest; the most of them amused that Rich. should be drawn into any talk so serious, and be evidently so earnest.
Let me tell you a little about these young men. They were not from the very lowest depths of society; that is, they had homes and family ties, and they had enough to eat and to wear; in fact they earned these latter, each for himself. There were two of them who had the advantage of the public schools, and were fair sort of scholars. Rich. Johnson was one of these, and was therefore somewhat looked up to and respected by those, even, who would not have gone to school another day if they could.
But they were far enough out of the reach of Flossy Shipley; so far that she had never come in contact with one of them before in her life. She had no idea as to their names, or their homes, or their lives. She had no sort of idea of the temptations by which they were surrounded, nor what they needed. Perhaps this very fact removed all touch of patronage from her tone; as, when the bell rang, she found, to her great surprise, that the lesson hour was over, she turned back to them for a moment and said with that sparkling little smile of hers:
"I'm real sorry you hadn't a teacher to-day. I should have been glad to have taught the lesson if I had known how; but you see how it is; I have all these things to learn."
"Now, Rich. Johnson rather prided himself on his rudeness; a strange thing to pride one's self on, to be sure. But pride takes all sorts of curious forms, and he had actually rather gloried in his ability to say rude and cutting things at a moment's notice; words, you know, that the boys in his set called 'cute.' But he was at this time actually surprised into being almost gallant.
"We never had a better teacher," he said, quickly. "If you are only just learning you better try it again on us; we like the style enough sight better than the finished up kind."
And then Flossy smiled again, and thanked them, and said she had enjoyed it. And then she did an unprecedented thing. She invited them all to call on her, in a pretty, graceful way, precisely as she would have invited a gentleman friend who had seen her home from a concert, the quiet, courteous invitation to her father's house, which is a mere matter of form among the young ladies of her set, but which to these boys was as astonishing as an invitation to the Garden of Eden.
They had not the slightest intention of accepting the invitation, but they felt, without realizing what made them feel so, a sudden added touch of self-respect. I almost think they were more careful of their words during the rest of that day than they would have been but for that invitation.
"Isn't Sunday-school splendid?" Flossy said to Ruth Erskine, as, with her cheeks in a fine glow of glad satisfaction that she had "begun," she joined Ruth in the hall.
"It was very interesting," said Ruth, in her more quiet, thoughtful way. She was thoughtful during the entire walk home.
It was her lot to slip into one of those grand classes where Bible teaching means something more than simply reading over the verses. There had been good seed sown with a lavish hand, and there had been careful probing to see if it had taken root. Ruth had some stronger ideas about the importance of "continuing." She had a renewed sense of the blessedness of being made "free." She went home with a renewed desire to consecrate herself, and not only to enjoy, but to labor, that others might enter into that rest. Blessed are those teachers whose earnest Sabbath work produces such fruit as this!
UNDER the influence of the sermon, and the prayers, and the glorious music, life grew to be rose-color to Marion before she reached home that Sabbath evening. She came home with springing step, and with her heart full of plans and possibilities for the future. Not even the dismalness of her unattractive room and desolate surroundings had power to drive the song from her heart. She went about humming the grand tune with which the evening service had closed:
"In the cross of Christ I glory, Towering o'er the wrecks of time."
As she sang, her whole soul thrilled with the joy of glorying in such a theme, and her last thought, as she closed her eyes for the night, was about a plan of work that she meant to carry out.
What could have happened in the night to so change the face of the world for her! It looked so utterly different in the morning. School was to open, and she shrank from it, dreaded it. The work looked all drudgery, and the plans she had formed the night before seemed impossibilities. The face of nature had changed wonderfully. In place of radiant sunshine there was falling a steady, dismal rain; the clouds bent low, and looked like lead; the wind was moaning in a dismal way, that felt like a wail; and nothing but umbrellas, and water-proofs, and rubber over-coats, and dreariness, were abroad.
The pretty, summery school dress that Marion had laid out to wear was hung sadly back in her wardrobe, and the inevitable black alpaca came to the surface. It seemed to her the symbol of her old life of dreariness, which she imagined had gone from her. It was not that she felt utterly dismal and desolate; it was not that she had forgotten her late experiences; it was not that she did not know that she had the Friend who is "the same yesterday, to-day, and forever;" it was simply that she could not feel it, and joy in it as she had done only yesterday; and her religious life was too recent not to be swayed by feeling and impulse.
The fact that there was a clear sun shining above the clouds, and a strong and firm mountain up in the sunshine, on which it was her privilege to stand, despite what was going on below, she did not understand. She did not know what effect the weather and the sense of fatigue were having on her, and she felt not only mortified, but alarmed, that her joy had so soon gone out in cloud and gloom.
If she could only just run around the corner to see Eurie a minute, or up the hill to Flossy's home, how much it would help her; and the thought that she was actually looking to Flossy Shipley and Eurie Mitchell for help of any sort brought the first smile that she had indulged in that morning; she was certainly changed when she could look to them for comfort or sympathy.
Is there anyone reading this account of an every day life who does not understand, by past experience, just how trying a first day at school is, when teachers and scholars have come out from the influence of a long summer vacation? Next week, or even to-morrow, they will have battled with, and, in a measure, choked the spirit of disgust, or homesickness, or weariness, with which they come back from play to work; but to-day nothing seems quite so hard in all the world as to turn from the hundred things that have interested and delighted them, and settle down to grammar, and philosophy, and algebra.
Teachers and scholars alike are apt to feel the depression of such circumstances; and when you add to the other discomforts, that of a steady, pouring rain, with a sound of fall in every whiff of wind, you will understand that Marion was to have comparatively little help from outside influences. She felt the gloom in her heart deepen as the day went on. She was astonished and mortified at herself to find that the old feelings of irritability and sharpness still held her in grasp; she was not free from them, at least.
Her tongue was as strongly tempted to be sarcastic, and her tone to be stern, as ever they had been. None of the scholars helped her. Those of them who were neither gloomy, nor listless, nor inclined to be cross, were simply silly; they laughed on every possible occasion, with or without an excuse; they devised ways and means to draw off the attention of these who made faint efforts to be studious; and, in short, were decidedly the most provoking of all the elements of the day. Marion found herself more than once curling her lip in the old sarcastic way at the inconsistencies and improprieties of those among her pupils who bore the name of Christian.
During the long recess she tried to go away by herself, in the hope that her heart might quiet down, and rest itself on some of the new and solid ground on which she had so lately learned to tread. But they followed her: several of the teachers, in a gayety of mood, that was half affected to hide the homesickness of their hearts, and therefore infected no one else with a cheerful spirit. They were armed with a package of examination papers, given in by those scholars who aspired to a higher grade. They loudly called on Marion for assistance.
"You haven't had a single examination class yet; then it is clearly your duty to help the afflicted. 'Bear ye one another's burdens,' you know."
It was Miss Banks who said this, and she had barely escaped being Marion's intimate friend; as it was, she came nearer being familiar with her than with any other. She wondered now how it could have been that she had liked her! Her voice sounded so shrill and unwinning, and the quotation that she so glibly uttered was such a jar. However, she turned back with a wan attempt at a smile, and said:
"I shall have enough examination papers of my own before night. How do yours range?" And she took half a dozen that were reached out to her.
"They range precisely as if we had a parcel of idiots in our care. The blunders that these aspiring young ladies and gentlemen make in orthography are enough to set one's teeth on edge."
"Orthography!" said Marion, with a curling lip. "They are years too old for any such common-place as that; it must be history, at least. Here is Allie March struggling for the advanced history class, and I venture to say she doesn't know who was President four years ago."
And then Marion suddenly remembered that Allie March was the one whom, in her glorified moments of only the day before she had aspired to help forward in her Christian life. If she had seen that sneer and heard those sharp words would it have helped her, or inclined her ever to look that way for help? Then Marion and the rest gave themselves to silence and to work.
"What is the prospect for promotion?" Prof. Easton said, as he came and leaned over the desk before which they worked.
Miss Banks looked up with a laugh.
"It reminds one of one's childhood and Scripture learning days: 'Many are called, but few are chosen.' There will be exceedingly few chosen from this class."
Why did those Bible quotations so jar Marion? It had been one of her weak points to quote them aptly, and with stinging sarcasm. Perhaps that was one reason why she so keenly felt their impropriety now; she had been so long among the "called," and so very recently among the "chosen."
The possibility of having spent a lifetime without ever becoming one of those "chosen" ones, seemed so fearful to her, and she felt that she had so narrowly escaped that end, that she shivered and drew her little shawl around her as she glanced up quickly at Prof. Easton.
He was a Christian man, a member of the First Church—would he have any reply to make to this irreverent application of solemn truth? No, he had only a laugh for reply; it might have been at Miss Banks' rueful face that he laughed; but Marion would have liked him better if he had looked grave. Miss Banks at that moment caught a glimpse of Marion's grave face.
"Miss Wilbur," she said, quickly, "what on earth can have happened to you during vacation? I never in my life saw you look so solemn. Didn't I hear something about your going to the woods to camp-meeting? How was that? I verily believe you spent your time on the anxious-seat, and have caught the expression. Did you find anyone to say to you, 'Come unto me?' I'm sure you 'labor' hard enough, and look 'heavy laden,' doesn't she, Prof. Easton? I really think we shall have to start a prayer-meeting over her."
Marion threw down the paper she was correcting with a nervous start, and her voice sounded sharper than she meant.
"How is it possible, Miss Banks, that you can repeat those words in such a shockingly irreverent way? Surely you profess to have at least a nominal respect for the One who first uttered them!"
"Really!" said Miss Banks, with an embarrassed laugh, astonishment and confusion struggling for the mastery on her flushed face. "'Is Saul also among the prophets?' There! I declare, I am quoting again. Is that wicked, too? Prof. Easton, how is that? Miss Wilbur has been to camp-meeting, and is not responsible for her words, but you ought to be good authority. Is it wicked for me to quote Scripture? Haven't I as good a right to Bible verses as any of you? Here has Miss Wilbur been giving us lessons in that art for the last two years, and she suddenly deserts and takes to preaching at us. Is that fair, now? If it were not wicked I might say to her, 'Physician, heal thyself.'"
Marion bestowed a quick, searching, almost pleading glance on Prof. Easton, and then looked down with a flushed and disappointed face. He was not equal to a bold spreading of his professed colors. He laughed, not easily, or as if he enjoyed the sharp words veiled so thinly by pleasantry, but as if he were in an awkward position, and did not see his way out.
"You were just a little hard on Miss Wilbur in your selections, you must remember," he said at last. "People can always be excused for more or less sombreness on the first day of the term."
And then he went away hurriedly, as if he desired to avoid anything further in that strain.
Hard on Miss Wilbur? Did he suppose she cared for such vapid nonsense? What surprised and hurt her was that he so utterly ignored the question at issue. Did he, a professed Christian of many years' standing, see no impropriety in this manner of quoting the very words of the Lord himself! or hadn't he sufficient moral courage to rebuke it? Either conclusion was distasteful; especially distasteful to her, Marion found, because the one in question was Prof. Easton. Hitherto she had held him a little above the ordinary. Was he then so very common after all?
This little occurrence did not serve to sweeten her day. The more so, that after she had quieted down a little, at noon, she tried to join the other teachers as usual, and felt an air of stiffness, or embarrassment, or unnaturalness, of some sort, in their manner to her. Twice, as she came toward them, Miss Banks, who was talking volubly, hushed into sudden and utter silence.
After that, Marion went into the upper hall and ate her lunch by herself. Matters grew worse, rather than better, as the afternoon session dragged its slow hours along. The air of the school-room seemed close and unbearable, and the moment a window was raised the driving rain rushed in and tormented the victim who sat nearest to it.
Poor Marion, who was as susceptible to the temperature of rooms as a thermometer, tried each window in succession during the afternoon, and came to the desperate conclusion that the rain came from all quarters of the leaden sky at once.
The spirit of unrest that pervaded the room grew into positive lawlessness as the day waned, and Marion's tone had taken even unusual sharpness; her self-command was giving way. Instead of helping, she had been positively an injury to Allie March; first by the sharpness of her reprimands, and then by sarcastic comments on her extreme dullness.
But the girl who had tried her the most during the entire day was the most brilliant, and, as a rule, the most studious scholar in her room. Every teacher knows that the good scholar who occasionally makes a failure is the one who exasperates the most; you are so utterly unprepared for anything but perfection on that one's part.
Not that Gracie Dennis was perfect; she was by far too noisy and decided for that; but she was, as a rule, lady-like in her manners and words, showing her careful teaching and her own sense of self-respect.
There had been little sympathy, however, between Marion and herself. She was too much like Marion in a haughty independence of manner to ever become that lady's favorite. Why, as to that, I am not sure that she had a favorite; there were many who liked her, and all respected her, but no one thought of expressing outright affection for Miss Wilbur.
As for Grace Dennis, she had come nearer to outwitting her teacher than had any other young lady in the room, and she stood less in awe of her.
On this particular day the spirit of disquiet seemed to have gotten entire possession of the girl; she had not given fifteen minutes to downright work, but had dawdled and lounged in a most exasperating manner, and at times exhibited a dullness that was very hard to bear patiently, because Marion felt so certain that it was either feigned or the result of willful inattention. Several times had Marion to speak decidedly to the young ladies in her seat, once or twice directly to Grace herself, and at last, losing all patience with her, she took decided measures.
"Miss Dennis, I really have something to do besides watch you all the time. If you please you may bring your book to the desk and take the seat beside me; then if you must whisper, I can afford you a special audience."
What an unheard of thing! Grace Dennis actually called to the platform, to the post of disgrace! The leading young lady in the school! and Rev. Dr. Dennis' only daughter! Some of the scholars looked aghast; some of the class who had long envied her were rude and cruel enough to indulge in an audible giggle.
As for Grace herself, hardly any one could have been more amazed. It was many a day since, with all her love of fun, and her dangerous position as a leader, she had been obliged to receive a public reprimand; she had never in her life been called to that public seat, which was but one remove from being sent to Prof. Easton's private office!
Her great handsome eyes dilated and flashed, and her cheeks glowed like fire. She half arose, then sat down again, and the school waited breathlessly, being about equally divided as to whether she would obey or rebel. Marion herself was somewhat in doubt, and in her excitement over the unwonted scene, concluded to make obedience a necessity.
"On the second thought, you may have your choice, Miss Dennis; you may come to the desk or repair at once to Prof. Easton's room, and state the cause of your appearance."
Again the hateful giggle! There were those who knew why being sent to Prof. Easton was the worst thing that Gracie Dennis thought could happen to her. She arose again, and now she had the advantage of her teacher, for there were dignity and composure in her voice as she said:
"I believe I have never disobeyed your orders, Miss Wilbur; I certainly do not propose to do so now."
Then she came with composed step and took her seat beside Marion: but her eyes still glittered, and, as the business of the hour went on more quietly than any hour that had preceded it, Marion, as she caught glimpses now and then of the face bent over her Latin Grammar, saw that it was flushed almost to a purple hue, and that the intense look in those handsome eyes did not quiet. She had roused a dangerous spirit.
To add to the embarrassment and the keenness of her rebuke, the door leading from the recitation room, behind the platform, suddenly opened, and Prof. Easton himself came around to speak to Marion. He paused in astonishment as he caught sight of the culprit beside her, and for an instant was visibly embarrassed; then he rallied, and, bowing slightly and very gravely, passed her by, and addressed Marion in a low voice.
As for Gracie, she did not once lift her eyes after the first swift glance had assured her who the caller was.
"I have made an enemy," thought Marion to herself, as, her own excitement beginning to subside, she had time to reflect on whether she had done wisely. "She will never forgive me this public insult, as she will choose to call it. I see it in her handsome, dangerous eyes. And, yet, I can hardly see how I could have done otherwise? If almost any of the others had given me half the provocation that she has to-day, I should have sent them to Prof. Easton, without question. Why should I hesitate in her favor? Oh, me, what a miserable day it has been! and I meant it to be such a good one! I wonder if my Christian life must be marked by such weary and ignominious failures as this? Gracie Dennis is one of the Christian (?) young ladies. A lovely Christian she has shown, and, if I am not mistaken, will continue to show to me! I wonder if it amounts to nothing but a name, after all, with the most of them?"
And here Marion stopped this train of thought, because she suddenly remembered that she was now numbered among those on whom others were looking and wondering if their religion meant anything but name. Suppose that some had been looking at her in that light this day? How would they have decided?
She found that she was not willing to be judged by the same rule that she was almost unconsciously applying to Gracie Dennis. Then she went back over the day, and tried to discover wherein she had failed, and how she might have done what would have been better. Could she not, after all, have gotten along without so severe and public a rebuke to this young girl at her side?
She knew her temperament well. Indeed it was—she confessed it to herself—a good deal like her own. What would be a trifle to half the girls in the school, what would be forgotten by the best of them in a day or two, would burn in this girl's memory, and affect her after life and manner, almost in spite of herself—the more so, because of that unfortunate call from Prof. Easton.
Marion knew by the swift glance which he gave at this strange situation that it meant something to him. Then it was doubly hard for Gracie. She began to feel sorry for her; to wish that she might in some way smooth over the chasm that she had builded between them.
"She is very young," she said to herself, with a little sigh. "I ought not to have expected such wonderful things of her. I wish I had managed differently; it is too late now; I wonder how I shall get out of it all? Shall I just let her go home without saying anything?"
All these troubled thoughts wandered through Marion's brain during the intervals of quiet, when nothing was heard save the scratch of pens, for the entire room was engaged in a dictation exercise, which was to determine their standing in the writing class. At last there was quiet.
The demon of inattention had seemingly been exorcised or subdued, for all were industriously at work, and Marion had a chance to rest from the alert watchfulness which had characterized the day.
All at work but Gracie. She still bent over her Latin grammar. She had not asked permission to join the dictation class, and Marion had not volunteered it. Truth to tell, she hardly dared venture to address her at all. The eyes had lost none of their keen flash, and the color seemed to be deepening, instead of subsiding on her pretty soft cheeks.
Marion, as her eyes roved over the exercise book in her hand, felt her heart arrested by these words among the selections for dictation:
"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."
They smote her like a blow from an unseen hand. What burdens of homesickness and ennui and weariness might not all these girls have had to bear to-day! Had she helped them? Had her manner been winning and hopeful and invigorating? Had her words been gentle and well chosen, as well as firm and decisive? Her answers to these questions stung her.
Moved by a sudden impulse, and not giving herself time to shrink from the determination, she bent forward a little and addressed Gracie:
"Read that, Gracie. I have not obeyed its direction to-day; have you? Do you think you have helped me to bear my burdens?"
Would Gracie answer her at all? Would her answer be cold and haughty; as nearly rude as she had dared to make it? Marion felt her heart throb while she waited. And she had to wait, for Gracie was utterly silent.
At last her teacher stole a glance at her. The great beautiful eyes were lifted to her face. The flash was passing out of them. In its place there was a puzzled, wondering, questioning look. And, when at last she spoke, her voice was timid, as if she were half frightened at her own words, and yet eager as one who must know:
"Miss Wilbur, you don't mean—oh, do you mean that you want to fulfill the law of Christ; that you own him?"
"That I own him and love him," Marion said, her cheeks glowing now as Gracie's did, "and that I want above all things, to fulfill his law, and yet that I have miserably failed, even this first day."
Among Marion's sad thoughts that day had been:
"There is no one to know, or to care, whether I am different or not. If I could only tell some one—some Christian who would be glad—but who is there to tell? Prof. Easton is a Christian, but he doesn't care enough about the Lord Jesus to rebuke those who profane his name; he has let me do it in his presence, and smiled at my wit. And these girls" (and here Marion's lip had curled), "they don't know what they mean by their professions."
She was unprepared for what followed. Gracie Dennis, graceful, queenly in her dignity, and haughty, even in her mirth, said, suddenly, in a voice which quivered with gladness:
"Oh, I am so glad; so glad! Oh, Miss Wilbur, I don't know how to be thankful enough!" And then she raised her head suddenly, and her glowing lips just touched Marion's cheek.
It was so unusual for Marion to be kissed. Her friends at Chautauqua had been those who rarely indulged in that sort of caress—never, at least, with her. And, while, as I told you, many of them liked, and all of them respected her, it was yet an unheard of thing for the scholars to caress Miss Wilbur. And then, too, Gracie Dennis was by no means lavish of her kisses. This made the token seem so much more. It felt almost like a benediction.
Gracie's next words were humbling to her:
"Miss Wilbur, will you forgive me? I didn't mean to annoy you. I don't know what has been the matter with me."
But, long before this, the last laggard had finished her line, and was staring in undisguised astonishment at the scene enacted on the platform.
Marion rallied her excited thoughts. "Dear child," she said, "we have each something to forgive. I think I have been too severe with you. We will try to help each other to-morrow."
Then she gave the next sentence as calmly as usual. But she went home that night, through the rain, with a quick step and with joy in her heart. It was not all profession. It meant something to those girls; to Grace Dennis it meant everything. It was enough to make her forget her passion, and her wounded pride, and to make her face actually radiant with joy.
It should mean more to her. She had failed that day. She had not been, in any sense, what she meant to be; what she ought to have been. But there was a blessed verse: "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities."
What a salvation! Able to forgive transgression, to cover sin, to remember it no more. It all seemed very natural to her to-night; very like an infinite Saviour; one infinitely loving.
She began to realize that even poor human love could cover a multitude of sins. How easy it seemed to her that it would be to overlook the mistakes and shortcomings of Gracie Dennis, after this!
COL. BAKER'S SABBATH EVENING.
AMONG Marion Wilbur's gloomy thoughts during that trying Monday were these: "Some lives are a good deal harder to bear than others. It would be nonsense for some people to talk about crosses. There are Ruth and Flossy; what do they know about annoyances or self-denials? Such homes as theirs and such occupations as theirs have very little in common with hard, uncongenial work such as mine. Eurie Mitchell has less easy times; but then it is home, and father, and mother, and family friends. She isn't all alone. None of them can sympathize with me. I don't see how Flossy Shipley is ever to grow, if 'crosses are a fruitful condition of the Christian life.' I'm sure she can do as she pleases, and when she pleases."
Thus much Marion knew about other lives than hers. The actual truth was that Flossy's shadows began on Sabbath evening, while Marion was yet on the heights.
It was just as they stepped from the aisle of the church into the wide hall that Col. Baker joined her. This was not a new experience. He was very apt to join her. No other gentleman had been a more frequent or more enjoyable guest at her father's house. Indeed, he was so familiar that he was as likely to come on the Sabbath as on any other day, and was often in the habit of calling to accompany Flossy to any evening service where there was to be a little grander style of music than usual, or a special floral display.
In fact he had called this very evening on such an errand, but it was after Flossy had gone to her own church. So her first meeting with him since Chautauqua experiences was in that hall belonging to the First Church.
"Good-evening," he said, joining her without the formality of a question as to whether it would be agreeable; his friendship was on too assured a footing for the need of that formality. "You are more than usually devoted to the First Church, are you not? I saw you in the family pew this morning. I felt certain of being in time to take you to the South Side to-night. St. Stephen's Church has a grand choral service this evening. I was in at one of the rehearsals, and it promised to be an unusually fine thing. I am disappointed that you did not hear it."
Here began Flossy's unhappiness. Neither Marion nor Ruth could have appreciated it. To either of those it would have been an actual satisfaction to have said to Col. Baker, in a calm and superior tone of voice:
"Thanks for your kindness, but I have decided to attend my own church service regularly after this, and would therefore not have been able to accompany you if I had been at home."
But for Flossy such an explanation was simply dreadful. It was so natural, and would have been so easy, to have murmured a word of regret at her absence, and expressed disappointment in having missed the choral.
But for that address to the children, given under the trees at Chautauqua, by Dr. Hurlbut, she would have said these smooth, sweet-sounding words as sweetly as usual, without a thought of conscience. But had not he shown her, as plainly as though he had looked down into her heart and seen it there, that these pleasant, courteous phrases which are so winning and so false were among her besetting sins? Had he not put her forever on her guard concerning them? Had she not promised to wage solemn war against the tendency to so sin with her graceful tongue? Yet how she dreaded the plain speaking!
How would Marion's lips have curled over the idea of such a small matter as that being a cross! And yet Flossy could have been sweet and patient and tender to the listless, homesick school-girls, and kissed away half their gloom, and thought it no cross at all. Verily there is a difference in these crosses, and verily, "every heart knoweth its own bitterness."
Col. Baker was loth to leave the subject:
"Aren't you being unusually devout to-day?" he asked. "I heard of you at Sabbath-school I was certain after that effort, I should find you at home, resting. What spell came over you to give the First Church so much of your time?"
"One would think, to hear you, that I never went to church on Sabbath evening," Flossy said. And then to a certain degree conscience triumphed. "I have not been very often, it is true; but I intend to reform in that respect in the future. I mean to go whenever I can, and I mean to go always to the First Church."
Col. Baker looked at her curiously in the moonlight.
"Is that an outgrowth of your experience in the woods?" he asked.
"Yes," Flossy said simply and bravely.
He longed to question further, to quiz her a little, but something in the tone of the monosyllable prevented. So he said:
"I am at least surprised at part of the decision. I thought part of the work of those gatherings was to teach fellowship and unity. Why should you desert other churches?"
"There is no desertion about it. I do not belong to other churches, and nobody has reason to expect me at any of them; but my pastor has a right to expect me to be in my pew."
"Oh; then it is the accident of the first choice that must determine one's sitting in church for all future time?"
"With me it has been only an accident," she said, simply. "I suppose there are people who had better reasons for selecting their church home. But I am very well satisfied with my place." And then Flossy was very glad that they were nearing her father's house. The gladness did not last, however. There hung over it another cross. This Col. Baker had been in the habit of being invited to enter, and of spending an hour or more in cosy chat with the family. Nothing confidential or special in these Sabbath evening calls; they seemed simply to serve to pass away a dull hour. They had been pleasant to Flossy. But it so happened that the hours of the Sabbath had grown precious to her; none of them were dull; every moment of them was needed.
Besides, in their walk up the hill from the auditorium one evening, Evan Roberts had said in answer to a wonderment from her that so little was accomplished by the Sabbath services throughout the land:
"I think one reason is the habit that so many people have of frittering a way any serious impression or solemn thought they may have had by a stream of small talk in which they indulge with their own family or their intimate friends, after what they call the Sabbath is past. Do you know there are hundreds of people, good, well-meaning—in fact, Christians—who seem to think that the old Puritan rules in regard to hours hold yet, in part. It begins at eight or nine o'clock, when they have their nap out; and at the very latest it closes with the minister's benediction after the second service; and they laugh and talk on the way home and at home as if the restraints of the day were over at last."
How precisely he had described the Sabbath day of the Shipley family. With what a sense of relief had she often sat and chatted with Col. Baker at the close of what had been to her an irksome day, and felt that at last the sense of propriety would not be shocked if they laughed and bantered each other as usual.
Things were different now. But poor Flossy's face flushed, and her heart beat hard over the trial of not asking Col. Baker to come in. Silly child! Ruth would have said, and her calm, clear voice would not have hesitated over the words; "Col. Baker, I can not ask you in this evening, because I have determined to receive no more calls, even from intimate friends, on the Sabbath. On any other evening I shall be happy to see you."
As for Marion, she would have decidedly enjoyed saying it. But Flossy, she could never have explained it to him. Her voice would have trembled too much, and her heart beat too hard. The very most that she could do was to keep her lips closed. No invitation from her should pass them, and this in itself was five times more of a cross than it would have been for either of the others to have spoken.
However, it did no good. Col. Baker's friendship was on too assured a footing to wait for ceremony. He had received too many invitations of that nature to even notice the omission now. Though Flossy paused and turned toward him he did not notice it, but himself opened the door for her and passed in at her side, talking still about some matter connected with his plans for the evening, that had been overthrown by her strange propensity for church.
She did not hear him at all; she was both grieved and annoyed. If only she dared go directly to her room! If she had been Ruth Erskine it would have been done in a moment.
They sat down in the back parlor, and it was made evident to Flossy that the entertainment of Col. Baker would be considered her special duty. The library door was closed, and the sound of subdued voices there told that Kitty Shipley and her suitor were having a confidential talk. Kitty wouldn't help, then. Mrs. Shipley had retired, and Mr. Shipley sat at the drop light reading the journal. He glanced up at their entrance, gave Col. Baker the courteous and yet familiar greeting that welcomed him as a special friend of the house, and then went on with his reading. As for her brother Charlie, he had not come in, and probably would not for hours to come.
What was there for Flossy to do but to take a seat and talk to Col. Baker? Yet how she shrank from it! She wanted to be alone, to go over in her heart all the sweet and blessed experiences of the day, for this day had helped her much. She wanted to think about those boys in the school, and form plans for their future, and try to decide whether it could be that they would really like her for a teacher, and whether Dr. Dennis would let her undertake the class. Why would not Col. Baker go home?
"What is the matter with you?" he asked, studying her face curiously, and with a doubtful sound in his voice. "I don't believe that strange freak of yours did you any good."
"It did me more good than anything that ever happened to me in my life," Flossy said, positively.
If she could only have explained to him just what the nature of that good was! Possibly she might have tried, only there sat her father. Who could tell when his interest in the Times would cease, and he give attention to her? Flossy could not understand why she should be so afraid of her father in this matter; but she was very much afraid.
The talk they had was of that kind known as "small." To Flossy it seemed exceedingly small, and she did not know how to make it otherwise. She began to wonder if she and Col. Baker really had any ideas in common; yet Col. Baker could talk with gentlemen, and talk well. It was simply the habit of being frippery with the ladies that made his words seem so foolish to Flossy.
Contrary to her expectation, her brother Charlie suddenly appeared on the scene; and for a time she was privileged to slip into the background. Charlie had been to hear the choral, and Col. Baker was very anxious to know as to its success. You would have supposed them to be talking about a prima donna concert. At last Charlie turned to Flossy with the trying question:
"Sis, why didn't you go to the choral? I thought you were coming for her, Baker. Didn't you tell me so?"
"I came, but was too late. Miss Flossy had already betaken herself to the First Church."
"So you missed the choral?"
"Well, only part of it. I went for an hour; then I left, and went in search of your sister, to discover if I could what special attractions First Church had for her to-night."
Now this fashion of going to one service until he was tired, and then quietly slipping out in search of something more attractive, was peculiar to Col. Baker. Flossy had known of his doing it on several different occasions. The very most that she had thought about it had been, that it was making one's self very conspicuous. She didn't believe she would like to do it, even if she were a man. But to-night the action had taken an irreverent shade that it never had before. She discovered that she utterly disapproved of it. There seemed to be many things in Col. Baker that met with her disapproval. Meantime the talk went on.
"Did you find the attraction?" Charlie asked.
Col. Baker shrugged his handsome shoulders.
"I confess I couldn't find it in the sermon. It was one of the Doctor's sharpest and bluest efforts. That poor man has the dyspepsia, I feel certain. Seems to me he develops an increased ability for making people miserable."
Now, Col. Baker fully expected to draw forth by this remark one of Flossy's silvery laughs, which, to tell the truth, were becoming sweeter to his ears than any choral.
He was surprised and annoyed at the steady look of thoughtful, not to say distressed gravity that she gave him out of those soft blue eyes of hers. He did not know what to make of this Flossy; he was feeling the change in her more decidedly than anyone else had done. He waited for Flossy's answer, and she gave it at last, in a grave, rebuking tone of voice:
"I liked the sermon very much."
"Did you, indeed? I confess I am astonished. I gave you the credit of possessing a more tender heart. Frankly, then, I didn't. I must say I don't like to go to church to be made uncomfortable."
"Did you find that sentence in the paper?" Flossy asked, a little gleam of mischief in her eyes. "Because, if you did, I should have thought you would have considered it answered very well by the comments."
"As a rule, I am not obliged to resort to the papers to find remarks to quote," Col. Baker said, with an attempt at gayety, which but half concealed the evident annoyance that he felt. "But I judge the paper found some one suffering in the same way. Pray, what was the answer?"
"Why, the writer said that he supposed no one liked to be uncomfortable; but whether it was the sermon that should change, or the life, in order to remove the discomfort, was a question for each to decide for himself."
"Sharp!" said Charlie, laughing; "you've got hit, Baker."
"Oh, no," he said, "not at all. Don't you see, the author kindly accorded permission for each person to decide the question for himself? Now I have it decided so far as I am concerned. I prefer a change in the sermon. Oh, Dr. Dennis is a good man; no one doubts it; but he is too severe a sermonizer. His own church officers admit that. He is really driving the young people away from the church. I should not be greatly surprised if there had to be a change in that locality very soon. The spirit of the times demands more liberality, and a larger measure of Christian charity."
Col. Baker was really too well educated a man to have allowed himself to use these terms parrot-like, without knowledge or thought as to their meaning; but the truth was, he cared so little about church and Christian charity, and all those phrases, as to have very little idea of what he meant himself when he used them.
But pretty little Flossy had never argued with him, never been known to argue with anybody. Why should he not occasionally awe her with his high sounding words? It is a pity that Ruth or Marion had not been there to take up the theme; and yet it is doubtful if arguments would have had any weight with him. The truth was, he did not need to be convinced. Probably Flossy's perfect gravity, and dignity, and silence, did more to answer him than any keen words could have done.
CHARLIE arose suddenly and went toward the piano. Things were becoming uncomfortably grave.
"Sis," he said, "can't you give us some new music? Try this new piece; Baker hasn't heard you sing it. I don't think it is remarkable, but it is better than none. We seem to have a very small list of music that will pass the orthodox line for Sunday use."
Both he and Flossy had sighed over the dearth of pretty things that were suited to Sunday. The one in question was one of the worst of its kind—one of that class which Satan seems to have been at work getting up, for the purpose of lulling to rest weak consciences. Sickly, sentimental ideas, expressed in words that are on the very verge of silly; and yet, with just enough solemn sounding phrases in them, thrown in here and there, to allow them to be caught up by a certain class, and pronounced "sacred song." Flossy had herself selected this one, and before her departure for Chautauqua had pronounced it very good. She had not looked at it since she came home. Charlie spread it open for her on the piano, then returned to the sofa to enjoy the music. Flossy's voice was sweet and tender; no power in it, and little change of feeling, but pleasant to listen to, and capable of being tender and pathetic. She looked over the sacred song with a feeling of aversion almost amounting to disgust. The pitiful attempts at religion sounded to her recently impressed heart almost like a caricature. On the piano beside her lay a copy of "Gospel Songs;" open, so it happened (?), at the blessed and solemn hymn, "How much owest thou?" Now a coincidence that seemed remarkable, and at once startled and impressed Flossy, was that Dr. Dennis' text for the evening had been the words, "How much owest thou unto my Lord?" She hesitated just a moment, then she resolutely pushed aside the sheet music, drew the book toward her, and without giving herself time for a prelude, gave herself to the beautiful and well-remembered words:
"How much owest thou? For years of tender, watchful care, A father's faith, a mother's prayer— How much owest thou?
"How much owest thou? For calls, and warnings loud and plain, For songs and sermons heard in vain— How much owest thou?
"How much owest thou? Thy day of grace is almost o'er, The judgment time is just before— How much owest thou?
"How much owest thou? Oh, child of God, and heir of heaven, Thy soul redeemed, thy sins forgiven— How much owest thou?"
Flossy had heard Mr. Bliss, with his grand and glorious voice, ring that out on a certain evening at Chautauqua, where all the associations of the hour and place had been solemn and sacred. It might have been in part these memories, and the sense of something missed, that made her have a homesick longing for the place and song again, that gave to her voice an unusually sweet and plaintive sound. Every word was plain and clear, and wonderfully solemn; but when she reached the words,
"Oh, child of God, and heir of heaven, Thy soul redeemed, thy sins forgiven,"
There rang out a note of triumph that filled the room, and made the hearts of her listeners throb with surprise and wonder. Long before the song was closed her father had laid aside the Times, and, with spectacles pushed above his eyes, was listening intently. Absolute silence reigned for a moment, as Flossy's voice died out in sweetness; then Charlie, clearing his throat said: