The Inglises, by Margaret Murray Robertson.
Margaret Robertson generally wrote about rather religion-minded people, and this is no exception. The women in her stories tend to moan on a good bit, and this book is also no exception to that. Having said that, don't say I didn't warn you. However, like all novels of the second half of the nineteenth century, they are about a bygone age, and things were different then. For that reason it is worth reading books of that period if you want to know more about how people lived in those days.
One very big difference was illness. Nowadays, you go to the doctor, and very probably he or she will be able to cure you. In those days you either died or were confined to your bed for a long time. If you died but had been responsible for income coming into the house, in many cases that stopped, too. The women-folk and the children would be left without support. No wonder they moaned a lot, and turned to religion, to comfort themselves. It is hard for us to realise what huge progress has been made in social reforms. Reading this book, and others of that period (this book was published in 1872) will teach a lot about how lucky we are to live in the present age, despite all its other faults. THE INGLISES, BY MARGARET MURRAY ROBERTSON.
In the large and irregular township of Gourlay, there are two villages, Gourlay Centre and Gourlay Corner. The Reverend Mr Inglis lived in the largest and prettiest of the two, but he preached in both. He preached also in another part of the town, called the North Gore. A good many of the Gore people used to attend church in one or other of the two villages; but some of them would never have heard the Gospel preached from one year's end to the other, if the minister had not gone to them. So, though the way was long and the roads rough at the best of seasons, Mr Inglis went often to hold service in the little red school-house there. It was not far on in November, but the night was as hard a night to be out in as though it were the depth of winter, Mrs Inglis thought, as the wind dashed the rain and sleet against the window out of which she and her son David were trying to look. They could see nothing, however, for the night was very dark. Even the village lights were but dimly visible through the storm, which grew thicker every moment; with less of rain and more of snow, and the moaning of the wind among the trees made it impossible for them to hear any other sound.
"I ought to have gone with him, mamma," said the boy, at last.
"Perhaps so, dear. But papa thought it not best, as this is Frank's last night here."
"It is quite time he were at home, mamma, even though the roads are bad."
"Yes; he must have been detained. We will not wait any longer. We will have prayers, and let the children go to bed; he will be very tired when he gets home."
"How the wind blows! We could not hear the wagon even if he were quite near. Shall I go to the gate and wait?"
"No, dear, better not. Only be ready with the lantern when he comes."
They stood waiting a little longer, and then David opened the door and looked out.
"It will be awful on Hardscrabble to-night, mamma," said he, as he came back to her side.
"Yes," said his mother, with a sigh, and then they were for a long time silent. She was thinking how the wind would find its way through the long-worn great coat of her husband, and how unfit he was to bear the bitter cold. David was thinking how the rain, that had been falling so heavily all the afternoon, must have gullied out the road down the north side of Hardscrabble hill, and hoping that old Don would prove himself sure-footed in the darkness.
"I wish I had gone with him," said he, again.
"Let us go to the children," said his mother.
The room in which the children were gathered was bright with fire-light—a picture of comfort in contrast with the dark and stormy night out upon which these two had been looking. The mother shivered a little as she drew near the fire.
"Sit here, mamma."
"No, sit here; this is the best place." The eagerness was like to grow to clamour.
"Hush! children," said the mother; "it is time for prayers. We will not wait for papa, because he will be very tired and cold. No, Letty, you need not get the books, there has been enough reading for the little ones to-night. We will sing 'Jesus, lover of my soul,' and then David will read the chapter."
"Oh! yes, mamma, 'Jesus, lover;' I like that best," said little Mary, laying her head down on her mother's shoulder, and her little shrill voice joined with the others all through, though she could hardly speak the words plainly.
"That's for papa," said she, when they reached the end of the last line, "While the tempest still is high."
The children laughed, but the mother kissed her fondly, saying softly:
"Yes, love; but let us sing on to the end."
It was very sweet singing, and very earnest. Even their cousin, Francis Oswald, whose singing in general was of a very different kind, joined in it, to its great improvement, and to the delight of the rest. Then David read the chapter, and then they all knelt down and the mother prayed.
"Not just with her lips, but with all her heart, as if she really believed in the good of it," thought Francis Oswald to himself. "Of course we all believe in it in a general way," he went on thinking, as he rose from his knees and sat down, not on a chair, but on the rug before the fire; "of course, we all believe in it, but not just as Aunt Mary does. She seems to be seeing the hand that holds the thing she is asking for, and she asks as if she was sure she was going to get it, too. She hasn't a great deal of what people generally are most anxious to have," he went on, letting his eyes wander round the fire-lighted room, "but then she is content with what she has, and that makes all the difference. 'A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesses,' she told me the other day, and I suppose she believes that, too, and not just in the general way in which we all believe the things that are in the Bible. Fancy Aunt Ellen and my sister Louisa being contented in a room like this!"
It was a very pleasant room, too, the lad thought, though they might not like it, and though there was not an article in it which was in itself beautiful. It was a large, square room, with an alcove in which stood a bed. Before the bed was a piece of carpet, which did not extend very far over the grey painted floor, and in the corner was a child's cot. The furniture was all of the plainest, not matching either in style or in material, but looking very much as if it had been purchased piece by piece, at different times and places, as the means of the owners had permitted. The whole was as unlike as possible to the beautifully furnished room in which the greater part of the boy's evenings had been passed, but it was a great deal pleasanter in his eyes at the moment.
"I have had jolly times here, better than I shall have at home, unless they let me read again—which I don't believe they will, though I am so much better. I am very glad I came. I like Uncle and Aunt Inglis. There is no 'make believe' about them; and the youngsters are not a bad lot, take them all together."
He sat upon the rug with his hands clasped behind his head, letting his thoughts run upon many things. David had gone to the window, and was gazing out into the stormy night again, and his brother Jem sat with his face bent close over his book, reading by the fire-light. Not a word was spoken for a long time. Violet laid the sleeping little Mary in her cot, and when her mother came in, she said:
"Don't you think, mamma, that perhaps papa may stay all night at the Gore? It is so stormy."
"No, dear; he said he would be home. Something must have detained him longer than usual. What are you thinking about so earnestly Francis?"
"Since you went up-stairs? Oh! about lots of things. About the chapter David was reading, for one thing."
The chapter David had read was the tenth of Numbers—one not very likely to interest young readers, except the last few verses. It was the way with the Inglises, at morning and evening worship, to read straight on through the Bible, not passing over any chapter because it might not seem very interesting or instructive. At other times they might pick and choose the chapters they read and talked about, but at worship time they read straight on, and in so doing fell on many a word of wonderful beauty, which the pickers and choosers might easily overlook. The last few verses of the chapter read that night were one of these, and quite new to one of the listeners, at least. It was Moses' invitation to Hobab to go with the Lord's people to the promised land.
"I wonder whether the old chap went," said Frank, after a pause. "What are you laughing at, Jem?"
"He thinks that is not a respectful way to speak of a Bible person, I suppose," said Violet.
"About the chapter David was reading," said Jem, mimicking his cousin's tone and manner. "That is for mamma. You don't expect me to swallow that. Give mamma the result of your meditations, like a good boy."
"I said I was thinking of the chapter, for one thing," said Frank, not at all angry, though he reddened a little. "I was thinking, besides, whether that was a proper book for you to be reading to-night, 'The Swiss Family,' is it not?"
"Sold," cried Jem, triumphantly; "it is the 'Pilgrim's Progress.'"
"You have read that before," said Violet.
"Lots of times. It will bear it. But what about Hobab, Frank? Much you care about the old chap, don't you? Davie, come here and listen to Frank."
"If you would only give Frank a chance to speak," said his mother, smiling.
"Did Hobab go, do you think, aunt?" asked Frank.
"He refused to go," said Jem. "Don't you remember he said, 'I will not go, but I will depart into my own land, and to my kindred?'"
"Yes; but that was before Moses said, 'Thou mayest be to us instead of eyes, forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in this wilderness.' You see, he had a chance of some adventures; that might tempt him. Do you think he went, aunt?"
"I cannot tell; afterwards we hear of Heber the Kenite, who was of the children of Hobab; and his wife took the part of the Israelites, when she slew Sisera. But whether he went with the people at that time, we do not hear. Very likely he did. I can understand how the people's need of him as a guide, or a guard, might have seemed to him a better reason for casting in his lot with the people, than even the promise that Moses gave him, 'Come with us and we will do thee good.'"
"That is to say, mamma, he would rather have a chance to help others, than the prospect of a good time for himself. That is not the way with people generally," said Jem, shaking his head gravely.
"It is not said that it was the way with Hobab," said his mother; "but I am inclined to think, with Francis, that perhaps it might have been so."
"He must have been a brave man and a good man, or Moses would not have wanted him," said David.
"And if he went for the sake of a home in the promised land, he must have been disappointed. He did not get there for forty years, if he got there at all," said Jem.
"But if he went for the fighting he may have had a good time in the wilderness, for there must have been many alarms, and a battle now and then," said Frank.
"But, mamma," said Violet, earnestly, "they had the pillar of cloud, and the pillar of fire, and the Angel of the Covenant going before. Why should we suppose they needed the help of Hobab?"
"God helps them that help themselves, Letty, dear," said Jem.
"Gently, Jem," said his mother; "speak reverently, my boy. Yes, Letty, they were miraculously guarded and guided; but we do not see that they were allowed to fold their hands and do nothing. God fought for them, and they fought for themselves. And as for Hobab, he must have been a good and brave man, as David says, and so the chances are he went with the people, thinking less of what he could get for himself than of what he could do for others, as is the way with good and brave men."
"Like the people we read about in books," said Jem.
"Yes; and like some of the people we meet in real life," said his mother, smiling. "The men who even in the eyes of the world are the best and bravest, are the men who have forgotten themselves and their own transitory interests to live or die for the sake of others."
"Like Moses, when he pleaded that the people might not be destroyed, even though the Lord said He would make him the father of a great nation," said David.
"Like Paul," said Violet, "who 'counted not his life dear to him,' and who was willing 'to spend and be spent,' though the more abundantly he loved the people, the less he was loved."
"Like Leonidas with his three hundred heroes."
"Like Curtius, who leapt into the gulf."
"Like William Tell and John Howard."
"Like a great many missionaries," said Violet. And a great many more were mentioned.
"But, aunt," said Frank, "you said like a great many people we meet in real life. I don't believe I know a single man like that—one who forgets himself, and lives for others. Tell me one."
"Papa," said David, softly. His mother smiled.
"It seems to me that all true Christians ought to be like that—men who do not live to please themselves—who desire most of all to do God's work among their fellow-men," said she, gravely.
Frank drew a long breath.
"Then I am afraid I don't know many Christians, Aunt Inglis."
"My boy, perhaps you are not a good judge, and I daresay you have never thought much about the matter."
"No, I have not. But now that I do think of it, I cannot call to mind any one—scarcely any one who would answer to that description. It seems to me that most men seem to mind their own interests pretty well. There is Uncle Inglis, to be sure—But then he is a minister, and doing good is his business, you know."
"Frank," said Jem, as his mother did not answer immediately, "do you know that papa might have been a banker, and a rich man now, like your father? His uncle offered him the chance first, but he had made up his mind to be a minister. His uncle was very angry, wasn't he, mamma?"
But his mother had no wish that the conversation should be pursued in that direction, so she said, "Yes, Frank, it is his business to do God's work in the world, but no more than it is yours and mine, in one sense."
"Mine!" echoed Frank, with a whistle of astonishment, which Jem echoed.
"Yours, surely, my dear boy, and yours, Jem; and your responsibility is not lessened by the fact that you may be conscious that you are refusing that personal consecration which alone can fit you for God's service, or make such service acceptable."
There was nothing answered to this, and Mrs Inglis added, "And being consecrated to God's service, we do His work well, when we do well the duty he has appointed us, however humble it may be."
"But to come back to Hobab, mamma," said Jem, in a little while. "After all, do you really think it was a desire to do God's work in helping the people that made him go with them, if he did go? Perhaps he thought of the fighting and the possible adventures, as Frank says."
"We have no means of knowing, except that it does not seem to have been so much with the thought of his being a protector, that Moses asked him, as of his being a guide. 'Thou mayest be to us instead of eyes,' said he."
"Yes," said Jem, hesitatingly, "I suppose so; but it must have been something to him to think of leading such a host."
"But he would not have led the host," said David. "Yet it must have been a grand thing to follow such a leader as Moses."
"Aunt Mary," said Frank, "if there is something for us all to do in the world, as you say, I, for one, would much rather think of it as a place to fight in than to work in."
"The same here," said Jem.
"Well, so it is," said Mrs Inglis.
"'In the world's broad field of battle.' Don't you remember, Davie?"
"Yes, I remember, 'Be a hero in the strife,'" said David. "And Paul bids Timothy, 'Fight the good fight of faith;' and in another place he says, 'That thou mayest war a good warfare;' which is better authority than your poet, Violet."
"Yes, and when he was an old man—Paul, I mean—he said, 'I have fought the good fight; I have finished the course; I have kept the faith.'"
"And is there not something about armour?" asked Frank, who was not very sure of his Bible knowledge.
"Yes. 'Put ye on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.' That is Paul, too."
"Yes," said Jem, slowly. "That was to be put on against the wiles of the devil. 'Ye wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers; against the rulers of the darkness of this world; against spiritual wickedness in high places.'"
Frank uttered an exclamation.
"They needed armour, I think."
"Not more than we do now, my boy. We have the same enemies," said his aunt.
It was her way at such times to let the conversation flow on according to the pleasure of the young people, only she put in a word now and then as it was needed for counsel or restraint.
"It sounds awful, don't it?" said Jem, who was always amused when his cousin received as a new thought something that the rest of them had been familiar with all their lives. "And that isn't all. What is that about 'the law in our members warring against the law in our minds?' What with one thing and what with another, you stand a chance to get fighting enough."
His mother put her hand on his arm.
"But, mamma, this thought of life's being a battle-field, makes one afraid," said Violet.
"It need not, dear, one who takes 'the whole armour.'"
"But what is the armour?" said Frank. "I don't understand."
Violet opened the Bible and read that part of the sixth chapter of Ephesians where the armour is spoken of; and the boys discussed it piece by piece. David, who had scarcely spoken before, had most to say now, telling the others about the weapons and the armour used by the ancients, and about their mode of carrying on war. For David had been reading Latin and Greek with his father for a good while, and the rest listened with interest. They wandered away from the subject sometimes, or rather in the interest with which they discussed the deeds of ancient warriors, they were in danger of forgetting "the whole armour," and the weapons which are "not carnal but spiritual," and the warfare they were to wage by means of these, till a word from the mother brought them back again.
"'And having done all to stand,'" said Frank, in a pause that came in a little while. "That does not seem much to do."
"It is a great deal," said his aunt. "The army that encamps on the battle-field after the battle, is the conquering army. To stand is victory."
"Yes, I see," said Frank.
"It means victory to stand firm when an assault is made, but they who would be 'good soldiers of Jesus Christ' have more to do than that. His banner must be carried to wave over all the nations. The world must be subdued to Him. And when it is said, 'Be strong,' it means be strong for conquest as well as for defence."
And then, seeing that the boys were moved to eager listening, Mrs Inglis put aside her anxious thoughts about her husband, and went on to speak of the honour and glory of being permitted to fight under Him who was promised as a "Leader and Commander to the people"—and in such a cause—that the powers of darkness might be overthrown, the slaves of sin set free, and His throne set up who is to "reign in righteousness." Though the conflict might be fierce and long, how certain the victory! how high the reward at last! Yes, and before the last. One had not to wait till the last. How wonderful it was, she said, and how sweet to believe, that not one in all the numberless host, who were "enduring hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ," but was known to Him, and beloved by Him; known even by name; watched over and cared for; guided and strengthened; never forgotten, never overlooked. "Safe through life, victorious in death, through Him that loved them, and gave Himself for them," added the mother, and then she paused, partly because these wonderful thoughts, and the eager eyes fastened on hers, made it not easy to continue, and, partly, because she would fain put into as few words as might be, her hopes and desires for the lad who was going so soon to leave them.
"Francis," said she, softly, "would it not be something grand to be one of such an army, fighting under such a leader?"
"Yes, Aunt Mary, if one only knew the way."
"One can always offer one's self as His soldier."
"Yes, if one is fit."
"But one can never make one's self fit. He undertakes all that. Offer yourself to be His. Give yourself to Him. He will appoint you your place in the host, and make you strong to stand, patient to endure, valiant to fight, and He will ensure the victory, and give you the triumph at the end. Think of all this, Francis, dear boy! It is a grand thing to be a soldier of the Lord."
"Yes, Aunt Mary," said Frank, gravely. Then they were all silent for a long time. Indeed, there was not a word spoken till Mr Inglis' voice was heard at the door. Jem ran out to hold old Don till David brought the lantern, and both boys spent a good while in making the horse comfortable after his long pull over the hills. Mrs Inglis went to the other room to attend to her husband, and Violet followed her, and Frank was left alone to think over the words that he had heard. He did think of them seriously, then and afterwards.—He never quite forgot them, though he did not act upon them and offer himself for a "good soldier of Jesus Christ" for a long time after that.
In a little while Mr Inglis came in and sat down beside him, but after the first minute or two he was quite silent, busy with his own thoughts it seemed, and Frank said nothing either, but wondered what his uncle's thoughts might be. The discomfort of cold and wind and of the long drive through sleet and rain, had nothing to do with them, the boy said to himself, as, with his hand screening his weak eyes from the light and heat of the fire, he watched his changing face. It was a very good face to watch. It was thin and pale, and the hair had worn away a little from the temples, making the prominent forehead almost too high and broad for the cheeks beneath. Its expression was usually grave and thoughtful, but to-night there was a brightness on it which fixed the boy's gaze; and the eyes, too often sunken and heavy after a day of labour, shone to-night with a light at once so peaceful and so triumphant, that Frank could not but wonder. In a little while Violet came in, and she saw it too.
"Has anything happened, papa?" asked she, softly.
He turned his eyes to her, but did not speak. He had heard her voice but not her question, and she did not repeat it, but came and sat down on a low stool at his feet.
"Are you very tired, papa?" she asked at last.
"Not more so than usual. Indeed, I have hardly thought of it to-night, or of the cold and the sleet and the long drive, that have moved my little girl's compassion. But it is pleasant to be safe home again, and to find all well."
"But what kept you so long, papa?" said Jem, coming in with the lantern in his hand. "Was it Don's fault? Didn't he do his duty, poor old Don?"
"No. I was sent for to see Timothy Bent. That was what detained me so long."
"Poor old Tim!" said Violet, softly.
"'Poor old Tim' no longer, Violet, my child. It is well with Timothy Bent now, beyond all fear."
"Has he gone, papa?"
"Yes, he is safe home at last. The long struggle is over, and he has gotten the victory."
The boys looked at one another, thinking of the words that had been spoken to them a little while ago.
"It is Timothy Bent, mamma," said Violet, as her mother came in. "He is dead."
"Is he gone?" said her mother, sitting down. "Did he suffer much? Were you with him at the last?"
"Yes, he suffered," said Mr Inglis, a momentary look of pain passing over his face. "But that is all past now forever."
"Did he know you?"
"Yes, he knew me. He spoke of the time when I took him up at the corner, and brought him home to you. He said that was the beginning."
There was a pause.
"The beginning of what?" whispered Frank to Violet.
"The beginning of a new life to poor Tim," said Violet.
"The beginning of the glory revealed to him to-day," said Mr Inglis. "It is wonderful! I cannot tell you how wonderful it seemed to me to-night to see him as he looked on the face of death. We speak about needing faith in walking through dark places, but we need it more to help us to bear the light that shines on the death-bed of a saved and sanctified sinner. How glorious! How wonderful! For a moment it seemed to me beyond belief. Now with us in that poor room, sick and suffering, and sometimes afraid, even; then, in the twinkling of an eye, in the very presence of his Lord—and like him—with joy unspeakable and full of glory! Does it not seem almost past belief? 'Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!'"
There was silence for a good while after that, and then David first, and afterwards the others, answered the mother's look by rising and saying softly, "Good-night," and then they went away.
"Papa does not feel it to-night," said Jem, as they went up-stairs; "but he'll be tired enough to-morrow, when he has time to think about it. And so poor old Tim has gone!"
"'Poor old Tim, no longer,' as your father said," said Frank, gravely. "It does seem almost beyond belief, doesn't it?"
"What?" asked Jem.
But Frank did not answer him directly.
"I wonder what battles old Tim had to fight," said he. "Your father said he had gotten the victory."
"Oh! just the battles that other people have to fight with the world, the flesh, and the devil, and a hard time he has had, too, poor old chap," said Jem.
"Jem," said David, "I think old Tim Bent was the very happiest old man we knew."
"Well, perhaps he was, after a fashion; but I am sure he had trouble, of one kind or another—sickness, poverty, and his people not very kind to him—tired of him, at any rate. However, that don't matter to him now."
"He has gotten the victory," repeated Frank. The words seemed to have a charm for him. "It is wonderful, isn't it?"
All this was said as the boys were undressing to go to bed. There were two beds in the room they occupied, the brothers had one, and Frank had the other. After the lamp was blown out, David reminded the others that they must be up early in the morning, and that the sooner they were asleep, the readier they would be to rise when the right time came; so there was nothing said for a good while. Then Frank spoke:
"What was all that you said about your father's being a banker and a rich man? Are you asleep already, Jem?"
Jem had been very near it.
"Who? Papa? Oh! yes, he might have been; but you see he chose 'the better part.' I sometimes wonder whether he's ever sorry."
"Jem," said David, "it's not right—to speak in that way, I mean. And as for papa's being sorry—not to-night, at any rate," added David, with a sound that was like a sob in his voice.
"And why not to-night? Ah! I understand. It was through him that old Tim got the victory;" and both the boys were surprised to see him suddenly sit up in bed in the dark; and after a long silence he repeated, as if to himself, "I should think not to-night, indeed!" and then he lay down again.
"Papa has never been sorry—never for a single moment," said David. "He has helped a great many besides old Tim to win the victory. And besides, I dare say, he has had as much real enjoyment in his life as if he had been a rich man like your father. He is not sorry, at any rate, nor mamma."
"Oh! that is all very well to say," interposed Jem; "I dare say he is not sorry that he is a minister, but I say it is a shame that ministers should always be poor men—as they always are!"
"Oh! well. People can't have everything," said David.
"You've got to be very contented, all at once," said Jem, laughing. "You have said as much about it as ever I have, and more, too. Don't you remember when the Hunters went away to M—, to school, and you and Violet couldn't go? You wanted to go, didn't you?"
"Nonsense, Jem. I never thought of such a thing seriously. Why, it would have taken more than the whole of papa's salary to send us both!"
"But that is just what I said. Why should not papa be able to send you, as well as Ned Hunter's father to send him?"
"It comes to the same thing," said David, loftily. "I know more Latin and Greek, too, than Ned Hunter, though he has been at M—; and as for Violet—people can't have everything."
"And you have grown humble as well as contented, it seems," said Jem; "just as if you didn't care! You'll care when mamma has to send Debby away, and keep Violet at home from school, because she can't get papa a new great coat, and pay Debby's wages, too. You may say what you like, but I wish I were rich; and I mean to be, one of these days."
"But it is all nonsense about Debby, Jem. However, mamma would not wish us to discuss it now, and we had better go to sleep."
But, though there was nothing more said, none of them went to sleep very soon, and they all had a great many serious thoughts as they lay in silence in the dark. The brothers had often had serious thoughts before; but to Francis they came almost for the first time—or rather, for the first time he found it difficult to put them away. He had been brought up very differently from David and Jem. He was the son of a rich man, and the claims of business had left their father little time to devote to the instruction of his children. The claims of society had left as little to his mother—she was dead now—and, except at church on Sundays, he had rarely heard a word to remind him that there was anything in the world of more importance than the getting of wealth and the pursuit of pleasure, till he came to visit the Inglises.
He had been ill before that, and threatened with serious trouble in his eyes, and the doctor had said that he must have change of air, and that he must not be allowed to look at a book for a long time. Mr Inglis had been at his father's house about that time, and had asked him to let the boy go home with him, to make the acquaintance of his young people, and he had been very glad to let him go. Mr Inglis was not Frank's uncle, though he called him so; he was only his father's cousin, and there had never been any intimacy between the families, so Francis had been a stranger to them all before he came to Gourlay. But he soon made friends with them all. The simple, natural way of life in the minister's house suited him well, and his visit had been lengthened out to four months, instead of four weeks, as was at first intended; and now, as he lay thinking, he was saying to himself that he was very sorry to go.
This last night he seemed to see more clearly than ever he had seen before what made the difference between their manner of life here in his uncle's house, and the life they lived at home. It was a difference altogether in favour of their life here, though here they were poor, and at home they were rich. The difference went deeper than outward circumstances, and must reach beyond them—beyond all the chances and changes time might bring.
And then he thought about all his aunt had said about "the good fight" and "the whole armour," the great Leader, and the sure victory at last. But strangely enough, and foolishly enough it seemed to him, his very last thought was about Debby's going away; and before he had satisfactorily computed the number of weeks' wages it would take to make the sum which would probably be enough to purchase an overcoat, he fell asleep, and carried on the computation in his dreams.
The next morning was not a very pleasant one to travel in. It was cloudy and cold, and the ground was covered with snow. Mr Inglis had intended to take Frank on the first stage of his journey—that was to the railway station in D—, a town eleven miles away. But, as Jem had foretold, the weariness which he had scarcely felt when he first came home, was all the worse now because of that, and he had taken cold besides; so David and Jem were to take his place in conveying their cousin on the journey.
The good-byes were all said, and the boys set off. They did not mind the cold, or the snow, or the threatening rain, but were well pleased with the prospect of a few more hours together. The roads were bad, and their progress was slow; but that mattered little, as they had the day before them, and plenty to say to one another to pass the time. They discussed trees and fruits, and things in general, after the fashion of boys, and then the last stories of hunters and trappers they had read; and in some way which it would not be easy to trace, they came round to Hobab and the battles he might have fought, and then to "the whole armour" and the warfare in which it was intended to aid them who wore it.
"I wish I understood it all better," said Frank. "I suppose the Bible means something when it speaks about the warfare, and the armour, and all that; but then one would not think so, just to see the way people live, and good people too."
"One can't tell by just seeing the outside of people's lives," said David.
"The outside of people's lives!" repeated Frank. "Why, what else can we see?"
"I mean you are thinking of something quite different from mamma's idea of battles, and warfare, and all that. She was not speaking about anything that all the world, or people generally, would admire, or even see."
"But you spoke of your father, David, and I can understand how he in a certain way may be said to be fighting the battles of the Lord. He preaches against sin, and bad people oppose him, and he stands up for his Master; and when he does good to people, wins them over to God's side, he may be said to make a conquest—to gain a victory, as he did when he rescued poor Tim. I can understand why he should be called a soldier, and how his way of doing things may be called fighting; and that may be the way with ministers generally, I suppose; but as for other people, they ought to be the same, as the Bible says so; but I don't see that they are, for all that. Do you, Jem?"
"It depends on what you mean by fighting," said Jem.
"But whatever it is, it is something that can be seen," said Frank impatiently, "and what I mean is that I don't see it."
"But then the people you know most about mayn't be among the fighting men, even if you were a good judge of fighting," said Jem. "Your eyes mayn't be the best, you know."
"Well, lend me your eyes, then, and don't mind the people I know. Take the people you know, your father's right hand men, who ought to be among the soldiers, if there are any. There is Mr Strong and old Penn, and the man who draws the mill logs. And all the people, women as well as men, ought to be wearing the armour and using the weapons. There is your friend, Miss Bethia, Davie; is she a warrior, too?"
"Aunt Bethia certainly is," said Jem decidedly. "She is not afraid of— well, of principalities and powers, I tell you. Don't she fight great—eh, Davie?"
"Aunt Bethia is a very good woman, and it depends on what you call fighting," said David, dubiously.
"Yes, Miss Bethia is a soldier. And as for old Mr Penn, I've seen him fight very hard to keep awake in meeting," said Jem, laughing.
"It is easy enough to make fun of it, but Aunt Mary was in earnest. Don't you know about it, Davie?"
"About these people fighting, do you mean? Well, I once heard papa say that Mr Strong's life was for many years a constant fight. And he said, too, that he was using the right weapons, and that he would doubtless win the victory. So you see there is one of them a soldier," said David.
"It must be a different kind of warfare from your father's," said Frank. "I wonder what Mr Strong fights for?"
"But I think he is fighting the very same battle, only in a different way."
"Well," said Frank, "what about it?"
"Oh! I don't know that I can tell much about it. It used to be a very bad neighbourhood where old Strong lives, and the neighbours used to bother him awfully. And that wasn't the worst. He has a very bad temper naturally, and he got into trouble all round when he first lived there. And one day he heard some of them laughing at him and his religion, saying there was no difference between Christians and other people. And they didn't stop there, but scoffed at the name of our Lord, and at the Bible. It all happened down at Hunt's Mills, and they didn't know that Mr Strong was there; and when he rose up from the corner where he had been sitting all the time, and came forward among them, they were astonished, and thought they were going to have great fun. But they didn't that time. Mr Hunt told papa all about it. He just looked at them and said: 'God forgive you for speaking lightly that blessed name, and God forgive me for giving you the occasion.' And then he just turned and walked away.
"After that it didn't matter what they said or did to him, he wouldn't take his own part. They say that for more than a year he didn't speak a word to a man in the neighbourhood where he lives; he couldn't trust himself. But he got a chance to do a good turn once in a while, that told better than words. Once he turned some stray cattle out of John Jarvis's grain, and built up the fences when there was no one at Jarvis's house to do it. That wouldn't have been much—any good neighbour would have done as much as that, you know. But it had happened the day before that the Jarvis's boys had left down the bars of his back pasture, and all his young cattle had passed most of the night in his own wheat. It was not a place that the boys needed to go to, and it looked very much as if they had done it on purpose. They must have felt mean when they came home and saw old Strong building up their fence."
Then Jem took up the word.
"And once, some of those fellows took off the nut from his wagon, as it was standing at the store door, and the wheel came off just as he was going down the hill by the bridge; and if it hadn't been that his old Jerry is as steady as a rock the old man would have been pitched into the river."
"The village people took that up, and wanted him to prosecute them. But he wouldn't," said David. "It was a regular case of 'turning the other cheek.' Everybody wondered, knowing old Strong's temper."
"And once they sheared old Jerry's mane and tail," said Jem. "And they say old Strong cried like a baby when he saw him. He wouldn't have anything done about it; but he said he'd be even with them some time. And he was even with one of them. One day when he was in the hayfield, Job Steele came running over to tell him that his little girl had fallen in the barn and broken her arm and hurt her head, and he begged him to let him have Jerry to ride, for the doctor. Then Mr Strong looked him right in the face, and said he, 'No, I can't let you have him. You don't know how to treat dumb beasts. I'll go myself for the doctor.' And sure enough, he unyoked his oxen from the cart, though it was Saturday and looked like rain, and his hay was all ready to be taken in, and went to the pasture for Jerry, and rode to the village himself, and let the doctor have his horse, and walked home."
"And did he know that it was Job Steele who had ill-treated his horse," asked Frank.
"He never said so to anybody; and Job never acknowledged it. But other people said so, and Job once told papa that Mr Strong's way of doing 'good for evil,' was the first thing that made him think that there must be something in religion; and Mr Steele is a changed character now."
"And how did it all end with Mr Strong?" asked Frank, much interested.
"Oh, it isn't ended yet," said David. "Mr Strong is fighting against his bad temper as hard as ever. It has ended as far as his trouble with his neighbours is concerned. He made them see there is something in religion more than they thought, as Job Steele said, and there is no more trouble among them. But the old man must have had some pretty hard battles with himself, before it came to that."
"And so old Mr Strong is a soldier, anyway," said Frank.
"Yes, and a conqueror," said Jem. "Don't you remember, 'He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city.'"
"Yes," said David, thoughtfully. "Mr Strong is a soldier, and, Frank, he is fighting the very same battle that papa is fighting—for the honour of Christ. It is that they are all fighting for in one way or other. It is that that makes it warring a good warfare, you know."
"No," said Frank, "I am afraid I don't know much about it. Tell me, Davie."
"Oh, I don't pretend to know much about it, either," said David, with a look at Jem. But Jem shrugged his shoulders.
"You should have asked papa," said he.
"Go ahead, Davie," said Frank.
"Well," said David, with some hesitation, "it is supposed that all Christians are like their masters—more or less. He was 'holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners;' and that is not an easy thing for any man or boy to be, and so all have to fight with themselves, and the world—"
"And with the devil," said Jem. "The principalities and powers, you know."
"I suppose so, but we don't know much about that, only the end of it all is that they may become like Christ—so that they may make Him known to the world."
"I've heard papa speak about it," said Jem.
"Yes, it is one of papa's favourite themes. I have often heard him," said David.
And then they went back to the discussion of old Mr Strong again, and then of others; and there was scarcely one of their acquaintances but they discussed in the new character of a soldier. Sometimes they went quite away from the subject, and sometimes they said very foolish things. It is not to be supposed that boys like them would judge very justly, or discuss very charitably the character of people with the outside of whose lives they were alone acquainted, and besides, as David at last gravely acknowledged they could not understand all that was implied in "warring a good warfare," not being soldiers themselves.
There was silence for a good while after this, and then they went on again, saying a good many things that could hardly be called wise; but the conclusion to which they came was right and true in the main. It was against 'the world, the flesh, and the devil' that Christians were to fight, and victory meant to become like Christ, and to win over others to be like him, too. That was victory here, and afterwards there would be glory, and the crown of righteousness that Paul spoke about, in Heaven. They were all very grave by the time they got thus far.
"Nothing else in the world seems worth while in comparison, when one really thinks about it," said David.
"The only wonder is that there are not more soldiers, and that they are not more in earnest," said Frank.
"All may be soldiers of Christ Jesus," said David, softly.
"Even boys?" said Frank.
"Papa says so. Boys like you and me and Jem. Papa was a soldier in the army of the Lord, long before he was my age. He told me all about it one day," said David, with a break in his voice. "And he said the sooner we enlist the better 'soldiers' we would be, and the more we would accomplish for Him."
"Yes," said Frank, "if one only knew the way."
"It is all in the Bible, Frank," said David.
"Yes, I suppose so. It is a wonder you have not become a 'soldier' long ago, David. How glad your mother would be. It is the only thing, she thinks."
All this last was said while Jem had gone to ask at a farm-house door whether they had not taken the wrong turning up above, and nothing more was said when he came back. Indeed, there was not time. The next turn brought the station in sight, and they saw the train and heard the whistle, and had only time for hurried good-byes before Frank took his place. Jem and Davie stood for a little while looking after the train that bore their friend away so rapidly, and then they turned rather disconsolately to retrace their steps over the muddy roads in the direction of home.
If any one had suddenly asked David Inglis to tell him what had been the very happiest moments during all the fourteen happy years of his life, he would probably have gone back in thought to the day, when on the banks of a clear stream among the hills, his very first success as a fisherman had come to him. Or the remembrance of certain signal triumphs on the cricket ground, or at base-ball, might have come to his mind. But that would only have been in answer to a sudden question. If he had had time to think, he would have said, and truly too, that the very happiest hours of all his life had been passed in their old wagon at his father's side.
So when he found, next day, that instead of sitting down to his lessons in a corner of the study, he was to drive his father over to the Bass Neighbourhood, to attend old Mr Bent's funeral, you may be sure he was well pleased. Not that he objected to books as a general thing, or that any part of his pleasure rose out of a good chance to shirk his daily lessons. Quite the contrary. Books and lessons were by no means ignored between him and his father at such times. Almost oftener than anything else, books and lessons came into their discussions. But a lesson from a printed page, not very well understood, and learned on compulsion, is one thing, and seldom a pleasant thing to any one concerned. But lessons explained and illustrated by his father as they went slowly through fields and woods together, were very pleasant matters to David. Even the Latin Grammar, over whose tedious pages so many boys have yawned and trifled from generation to generation, even declensions and conjugations, and rules of Syntax, and other matters which, as a general thing, are such hopeless mysteries to boys of nine or ten, were made matters of interest to David when his father took them in hand.
And when it came to other subjects—subjects to be examined and illustrated by means of the natural objects around them—the rocks and stones, the grass and flowers and trees—the worms that creep, and the birds that fly—the treasures of the earth beneath, and the wonders of the heavens above, there was no thought of lesson or labour then. It was pure pleasure to David, and to his father, too. Yes, David was a very happy boy at such times, and knew it—a circumstance which does not always accompany to a boy, the possession of such opportunities and advantages. For David firmly believed in his father as one of the best and wisest of living men. This may have been a mistake on his part, but, if so, his father being, what he was—a good man and true—it was a mistake which did him no harm but good, and it was a mistake which has never been set right to David.
So that day was a day to be marked with a white stone. Don got a more energetic rubbing down, and an additional measure of oats, on the strength of the pleasant prospect, for David was groom, and gardener, and errand boy, and whatever else his mother needed him to be when his younger brothers were at school, and all the arrangements about his father's going away might be safely trusted to him.
It was a beautiful day. The only traces that remained of the premature winter that had threatened them on Sunday night, were the long stretches of snow that lingered under the shadows of the wayside trees and fences, and lay in patches in the hollows of the broken pastures. The leafless landscape, so dreary under falling rain or leaden skies, shone and sparkled under sunshine so warm and bright, that David thought the day as fine as a day could be, and gave no regrets to the faded glories of summer. They set out early, for though the day was fine, the roads were not, and even with the best of roads, old Don took his frequent journeys in a leisurely and dignified manner, which neither the minister nor David cared to interfere with unless they were pressed for time.
They were not to go to the house where old Tim had died, for that was on another road, and farther away than the red school-house where the funeral services were to be held, but the school-house was full seven miles from home, and they would need nearly two full hours for the journey.
David soon found that these hours must be passed in silence. His father was occupied with his own thoughts, and by many signs which his son had learned to interpret, it was evident that he was thinking over what he was going to say to the people that day, and not a word was spoken till they came in sight of the school-house. On both sides of the road along the fences, many horses and wagons were fastened, and a great many people were standing in groups about the door.
"There will be a great crowd to hear you to-day, papa," said David, as they drew near.
"Yes," said his father. "God give me a word to speak to some poor soul to-day."
He went in and the people flocked in after him, and when David, having tied old Don to his place by the fence, went in also, it was all that he could do to find standing-room for a while, there were so many there. The plain coffin, without pall or covering, was placed before the desk upon a table, and seated near to it were the few relatives of the dead. Next to them were a number of very old people some of whom could look back over all old Tim's life, then the friends and neighbours generally, all very grave and attentive as Mr Inglis rose to speak. There were some there who probably had not heard the Gospel preached for years, some who, except on such an occasion, had not for all that time, heard the Bible read or a prayer offered.
"No wonder that papa wishes to have just the right word to say to them," thought David, as he looked round on them all.
And he had just the right word for them, and for David, too, and for all the world. For he set before them "The glorious Gospel of the blessed God." He said little of the dead, only that he was a sinner saved by grace; and then he set forth the glory of that wondrous grace to the living. "Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" was his theme—victory over sin, the world, death. The Gospel of Christ full, free, sufficient, was clearly set before the people that day.
David listened, as he was rather apt to listen to his father's sermons, not for himself but for others. He heard all that was said, and laid it up in his mind, that he might be able to tell it to his mother at home, as she generally expected him to do; but, at the same time, he was thinking how all that his father was saying would seem to this or the other man or woman in the congregation who did not often hear his voice. There was less wonder that he should do that to-day because there were a great many strangers there, and for the most part they were listening attentively. In the little pauses that came now and then, "you might have heard a pin fall," David said afterwards to his mother, and the boy felt proud that his father should speak so well, and that all the people should be compelled, as it were, to listen so earnestly. This was only for a minute, however. He was ashamed of the thought almost immediately. For what did it matter whether the people thought well of his father or not? And then he tried to make himself believe that he was only glad for their sakes, that, listening so attentively to truths so important, they might get good. And then he thought what a grand thing it would be, and how happy it would make his father, if from this very day some of these careless people should begin a new life, and if the old school-house should be crowded every Sunday to hear his words. But it never came into his mind until the very end, that all that his father was saying was just as much for him as for any one there.
All through the sermon ran the idea of the Christian life being a warfare, and the Christian a soldier, fighting under a Divine Leader; and when, at the close, he spoke of the victory, how certain it was, how complete, how satisfying beyond all that heart of man could conceive, David forgot to wonder what all the people might be thinking, so grand and wonderful it seemed. So when a word or two was added about the utter loss and ruin that must overtake all who were not on the side of the Divine Leader, in the great army which He led, it touched him, too. It was like a nail fastened in a sure place. It could not be pushed aside, or shaken off, as had happened so many times when fitting words had been spoken in his hearing before. They were for him, too, as well as for the rest—more than for the rest, he said to himself, and they would not be put away.
As was the custom in these country places at that time, there was a long pause after the sermon was over. The coffin was opened, and one after another went up and looked on the face of the dead, and it seemed to David that they would never be done with it, and he rose at last and went out of doors to wait for his father there. It was but a few steps to the grave-yard, and the people stood only a minute or two round the open grave. Then there was a prayer offered, and poor old Tim was left to his rest.
"'Poor old Tim,' no longer," said David to himself, when they were fairly started on their homeward way again. "Happy Tim, I ought to say. I wonder what he is doing now! He is one of 'the spirits of just men made perfect' by this time. I wonder how it seems to him up there," said David, looking far up into the blue above him. "It does seem past belief. I can't think of him but as a lame old man with a crutch, and there he is, up among the best of them, singing with a will, as he used to sing here, only with no drawbacks. It is wonderful. Think of old Tim singing with John, and Paul, and with King David himself. It is queer to think of it!"
He had a good while to think of it, for his father was silent and preoccupied still. It had often happened before, that his father being busy with his own thoughts, David had to be content with silence, and with such amusement as he could get from the sights and sounds about him, and he had never found that very hard. But he had not been so much with him of late because of Frank's visit, and he had so looked forward to the enjoyment he was to have to-day, that he could not help feeling a little aggrieved when half their way home had been accomplished without a word.
"Papa," said he, at last, "I wish Frank had been here to-day—to hear your sermon, I mean."
"I did not know that Frank had an especial taste for sermons," said his father, smiling.
"Well, no, I don't think he has; but he would have liked that one—about the Christian warfare, because we have been speaking about it lately."
And then he went on to tell about the reading on Sunday night, and about Hobab and all that had been said about the "good warfare" and "the whole armour," and how interested Frank had been. He told a little, too, about their conversation on the way to the station, and Mr Inglis could not but smile at their making "soldiers" of all the neighbours, and at their way of illustrating the idea to themselves. By and by David added:
"I wish Frank had heard what you said to-day about victory. It would have come in so well after the talk about the 'soldiers' and fighting. He would have liked to hear about the victory."
"Yes," said his father, gravely; "it is pleasanter to hear of the victory than the conflict, but the conflict must come first, Davie, my boy."
"Yes, papa, I know."
"And, my boy, the first step to becoming a 'soldier' is the enrolling of the name. And you know who said 'He that is not for me is against me.' Think what it would be to be found on the other side on the day when even Death itself 'shall be swallowed up in victory.'"
David made no answer. It was not Mr Inglis's way to speak often in this manner to his children. He did not make every solemn circumstance in life the occasion for a personal lesson or warning to them, till they "had got used to it," as children say, and so heard it without heeding. So David could not just listen to his father's words, and let them slip out of his mind again as words of course. He could not put them aside, nor could he say, as some boys might have said at such a time, that he wished to be a soldier of Christ and that he meant to try. For in his heart he was not sure that he wished to be a soldier of Christ in the sense his father meant, and though he had sometimes said to himself that he meant to be one, it was sometime in the future—a good while in the future, and he would have been mocking himself and his father, too, if he had told him that he longed to enrol his name. So he sat beside him without a word.
They had come by this time to the highest point of the road leading to Gourlay Centre, at least the highest point where the valley through which the Gourlay river flowed could be seen; and of his own accord old Don stood still to rest. He always did so at this point, and not altogether for his own pleasure, for Mr Inglis and David were hardly ever so pressed for time but that they were willing to linger a minute or two to look down on the valley and the hills beyond. The two villages could be seen, and the bridge, and a great many fine fields lying round the scattered farm-houses, and, beyond these, miles and miles of unbroken forest. David might travel through many lands and see no fairer landscape, but it did not please him to-night. There was no sunshine on it to-night, and he said to himself that it always needed sunshine. The grey clouds had gathered again, and lay in piled-up masses veiling the west, and the November wind came sweeping over the hills cold and keen. Mr Inglis shivered, and wrapped his coat closely about him, and David touched Don impatiently. The drive had been rather a failure, he thought, and they might as well be getting home. But he had time for a good many troubled thoughts before they reached the bridge over the Gourlay.
"To enrol one's name." He had not done that, and that was the very first step towards becoming a soldier. "He that is not for me is against me." He did not like that at all. He would have liked to explain that so as to make it mean something else. He would have liked to make himself believe that there was some middle ground. "He that is not against me is for me." In one place it said that, and he liked it much better. He tried to persuade himself that he was not against Christ. No, certainly he was not against Him. But was he for Him in the sense his father meant—in the sense that his father was for Him, and his mother, and a good many others that came into his mind? Had he deliberately enrolled his name as one of the great army whom Christ would lead to victory?
But then how could he do this? He could not do it, he said to himself. It was God's work to convert the soul, and had not his father said within the hour, "It is God that giveth the victory?" Had he not said that salvation was all of grace from beginning to end—that it was a gift—"God's gift." What more could be said?
But David knew in his heart that a great deal more could be said. He knew great as this gift was—full and free as it was, he had never asked for it—never really desired it. He desired to be saved from the consequences of sin, as who does not? but he did not long to be saved from sin itself and its power in the heart, as they must be whom God saves. He did not feel that he needed this. If he was not "for Christ" in the sense his father and mother were for Him, still the thought came back—surely he was not against Him; even though it might not be pleasant for him to think of giving up all for Christ—to "take up his cross and follow Him," still he was not "against Him."
Oh! if there only were some other way! If people could enlist in a real army, and march away to fight real battles, as men used to do in the times when they fought for the Cross and the possession of the holy Sepulchre! "Or, rather, as they seemed to be fighting for them," said David, with a sigh, for he knew that pride and envy and the lust for power, too often reigned in the hearts of them who in those days had Christ's name and honour on their lips; and that the cause of the Cross was made the means to the winning of unworthy ends. Still, if one could only engage sincerely in some great cause with all their hearts, and labour and strive for it for Christ's sake, it would be an easier way, he thought.
Or if he could have lived in the times of persecution, or in the times when Christian men fought at once for civil and religious freedom! Oh! that would have been grand! He would have sought no middle course then. He would have fought, and suffered, and conquered like a hero in such days as those. Of course such days could never come back again, but if they could!
And then he let his mind wander away in dreams, as to how if such times ever were to come back again, he would be strong and wise, and courageous for the right—how he would stand by his father, and shield his mother, and be a defence and protection to all who were weak or afraid. Bad men should fear him, good men should honour—his name should be a watchword to those who were on the Lord's side.
It would never do to write down all the foolish thoughts that David had on his way home that afternoon. He knew that they were foolish, and worse than foolish, when he came out of them with a start as old Don made his accustomed little demonstration of energy and speed as they came to the little hill by the bridge, not far from home. He knew that they were foolish, and he could not help glancing up into his father's face with a little confusion, as if he had known his thoughts all the time.
"Are you tired, papa?—and cold?" asked he.
"I am a little cold. But here we are at home. It is always good to get home again."
"Yes," said David, springing down. "I am glad to get home."
He had a feeling of relief which he was not willing to acknowledge even to himself. He could put away troubled thoughts now. Indeed they went away of themselves without an effort, the moment Jem hailed him from the house. They came again, however, when the children being all in bed, and his father not come down from the study, his mother asked him about old Tim's funeral, and the people who were there, and what his father had said to them. He told her about it, and surprised her and himself too, by the clearness and accuracy with which he went over the whole address. He grew quite eager about it, and told her how the people listened, and how "you might have heard a pin fall" in the little pauses that came now and then. And when he had done, he said to her as he had said to his father:
"I wish Frank had been there to hear all that papa said about victory," and then, remembering how his father had answered him, his troubled thoughts came back again, and his face grew grave.
"But it was good for you to hear it, Davie," said his mother.
"Yes," said David, uneasily, thinking she was going to say more. But she did not, and he did not linger much longer down-stairs. He said he was tired and sleepy with his long drive in the cold, and he would go to bed. So carrying them with him, he went up-stairs, where Jem was sleeping quite too soundly to be wakened for a talk, and they stayed with him till he went to sleep, which was not for a long time. They were all gone in the morning, however. A night's sleep and a morning brilliant with sunshine are quite enough to put painful thoughts out of the mind of a boy of fourteen—for the time, at least, and David had no more trouble with his, till Miss Bethia Barnes, coming to visit them one afternoon, asked him about Mr Bent's funeral and the bearers and mourners, and about his father's text and sermon, and then they came back to him again.
Miss Bethia Barnes was a plain and rather peculiar single woman, a good deal past middle age, who lived by herself in a little house about half way between the two village's. She was generally called Aunt Bethia by the neighbours, but she had not gained the title as some old ladies do, because of the general loving-kindness of their nature. She was a good woman and very useful, but she was not always very agreeable. To do just exactly right at all times, and in all circumstances, was the first wish of her heart; the second wish of her heart was, that everybody else should do so likewise, and she had fallen into the belief, that she was not only responsible for her own well-being and well-doing, but for that of all with whom she came in contact.
Of course it is right that each individual in a community should do what may be done to help all the rest to be good and happy. But people cannot be made good and happy against their own will, and Miss Bethia's advances in that direction were too often made in a way which first of all excited the opposition of the person she intended to benefit. This was almost always the case where the young people of the village were concerned. Those who had known her long and well, did not heed her plain and sharp speaking, because of her kindly intentions, and it was known besides that her sharpest words were generally forerunners of her kindest deeds. But the young people did not so readily take these things into consideration, and she was by no means a favourite with them.
So it is not surprising, that when she made her appearance one afternoon at the minister's house, David, who was there alone with little Mary, was not very well pleased to see her. Little Mary was pleased. Even Aunt Bethia had only sweet words for the pet and baby; and happily the child's pretty welcome, and then her delight over the little cake of maple sugar that Miss Bethia had brought her, occupied that lady's attention till David had time to smooth his face again. It helped him a little to think that his father and mother being away from home, their visitor might not stay long. He was mistaken, however.
"I heard your father and mother had gone over to Mrs Spry's; but I had made my calculations for a visit here just now, and I thought I'd come. They'll be coming home to-night, I expect?" added she, as she untied her bonnet, and prepared herself to enjoy her visit.
"Yes," said David, hesitating. "They are coming home to-night—I think."
He spoke rather doubtfully. He knew they had intended to come home, but it seemed to him just as if something would certainly happen to detain them if Miss Bethia were to stay. And besides it came into his mind that if she doubted about the time of their return, she would go and visit somewhere else in the village, and come back another time. That would be a much better plan, he thought, with a rueful glance at the book he had intended to enjoy all the afternoon. But Miss Bethia had quite other thoughts.
"Well, it can't be helped. They'll be home to-morrow if they don't come to-night; and I can have a visit with you and Violet. I shall admire to!" said Miss Bethia, reassuringly, as a doubtful look passed over David's face.
"Violet is at school," said he, "and all the rest."
"Best place for them," said Miss Bethia. "Where is Debby?"
"She has gone home for a day or two. Her sister is sick."
"She is coming back, is she? I heard your mother was going to try and get along without her this winter. That won't pay. 'Penny wise and pound foolish' that would be," said Miss Bethia.
David said nothing to this.
"Better pay Debby Stone, and board her, too, than pay the doctor. Ambition ain't strength. Home-work, and sewing-machine, and parish visiting—that's burning the candle at both ends. That don't ever pay."
"Mamma knows best what to do," said David, with some offence in his voice.
"She knows better than you, I presume," said the visitor. "Ah! yes. She knows well enough what is best. But the trouble is, folks can't always do what they know is best. We've got to do the best we can in this world—and there's none of us too wise to make mistakes, at that. She got the washing done and the clothes sprinkled before she went, did she? Pretty well for Debby, so early in the week. Letty ought to calculate to do this ironing for her mother. Hadn't you better put on the flats and have them ready by the time she gets home from school?"
"Mamma said nothing about it," said David.
"No, it ain't likely. But that makes no difference. Letty ought to know without being told. Put the flats on to heat, and I'll make a beginning. We'll have just as good a visit."
David laughed. He could not help it. "A good visit," said he to himself. Aloud he said something about its being too much trouble for Miss Bethia.
"Trouble for a friend is the best kind of pleasure," said she. "And don't you worry. Your mother's clothes will bear to be looked at. Patches ain't a sin these days, but the contrary. Step a little spryer, can't you! We can visit all the same."
It was Miss Bethia's way to take the reins in her own hand wherever she was, and David could not have prevented her if he had tried, which he did not. He could only do as he was bidden. In a much shorter time than Debby would have taken, David thought, all preliminary arrangements were made, and Miss Bethia was busy at work. Little Mary stood on a stool at the end of the table, and gravely imitated her movements with a little iron of her own.
"Now this is what I call a kind of pleasant," said Miss Bethia. "Now let's have a good visit before the children come home."
"Shall I read to you?" said David, a little at a loss as to what might be expected from him in the way of entertainment.
"Well—no. I can read to myself at home, and I would rather talk if you had just as lief."
And she did talk on every imaginable subject, with very little pause, till she came round at last to old Mr Bent's death.
"I'd have given considerable to have gone to the funeral," said she. "I've known Timothy Bent for over forty years, and I'd have liked to see the last of him. I thought of coming up to ask your papa if he wouldn't take me over when he went, but I thought perhaps your mamma would want to go. Did she?"
No, David said; he had driven his father over.
"Your papa preached, did he?" and then followed a great many questions about the funeral, and the mourners, and the bearers, and then about the text and the sermon. And then she added a hope that he "realised" the value of the privileges he enjoyed above others in having so many opportunities to hear his father preach. And when she said this, David knew that she was going to give him the "serious talking to" which she always felt it her duty to give faithfully to the young people of the families where she visited.
They always expected it. Davie and Jem used to compare notes about these "talks," and used to boast to one another about the methods they took to prevent, or interrupt, or answer them, as the case might be. But when Miss Bethia spoke about Mr Bent and the funeral, it brought back the sermon and what his father had said to him on his way home, and all the troubled thoughts that had come to him afterwards. So instead of shrugging his shoulders, and making believe very busy with something else, as he had often done under Miss Bethia's threatening lectures, he sat looking out of the window with so grave a face, that she in her turn, made a little pause, of surprise, and watched him as she went on with her work.
"Yes," she went on in a little, "it is a great privilege you have, and that was a solemn occasion, a very solemn occasion—but you did not tell me the text."
David told her the text and a good part of the sermon, too. He told it so well, and grew so interested and animated as he went on, that in a little Miss Bethia set down the flat-iron, and seated herself to listen. Jem came in before he was through.
"Well! well! I feel just as if I had been to meeting," said Miss Bethia.
"Well done, Davie!" said Jem. "Isn't our Davie a smart boy, Aunt Bethia? I wish Frank could have heard that."
"Yes, so I told papa," said David, gravely.
"It is a great responsibility to have such privileges as you have, boys—" began Miss Bethia.
"As Davie has, you mean, Miss Bethia," said Jem. "He goes with papa almost always—"
"And as you have, too. Take care that you don't neglect them, so that they may not rise up in judgment against you some day—"
But Miss Bethia was obliged to interrupt herself to shake hands with Violet, who came in with her little brother and sister. Jem laughed at the blank look in his sister's face.
"Miss Bethia has commenced your ironing for you," said he.
"Yes—I see. You shouldn't have troubled yourself about it, Miss Bethia."
"I guess I know pretty well by this time what I should do, and what I should let alone," said Miss Bethia, sharply, not pleased with the look on Violet's face, or the heartiness of her greeting. "It was your mother I was thinking of. I expect the heft of Debby's work will fall on her."
"Debby will be back to-morrow or next day, I hope," said Violet. "But it was very kind of you to do it, Miss Bethia, and I will begin in a minute."
"You had better go to work and get supper ready, and get that out of the way; and by that time the starched clothes will be done, and you can do the rest. I expect the children want their supper by this time," said Miss Bethia.
"Yes, I dare say it would be better."
Violet was very good-tempered, and did not feel inclined to resent Miss Bethia's tone of command. And besides, she knew it would do no good to resent it, so she went away to put aside her books, and her out-of-door's dress, and Miss Bethia turned her attention to the boys again.
"Yes, that was a solemn sermon, boys, and, David, I am glad to see that you must have paid good attention to remember it so well. I hope it may do you good, and all who heard it."
"Our Davie won't make a bad preacher himself, will he, Miss Bethia?" said Jem. "He has about made up his mind to it now."
"His making up his mind don't amount to much, one way or the other," said Miss Bethia. "Boys' minds are soon made up, but they ain't apt to stay made up—not to anything but foolishness. That's my belief, and I've seen a good many boys at one time and another."
"But that's not the way with our Davie," said Jem. "You wouldn't find many boys that would remember a sermon so well, and repeat it so well as he does. Now would you, Aunt Bethia?"
"Nonsense, Jem, that's enough," said Davie. "He's chaffing, Aunt Bethia."
"He's entirely welcome," said Miss Bethia, smiling grimly. "Though I don't see anything funny in the idea of David's being a minister, or you either, for that matter."
"Funny! No. Anything but funny! A very serious matter that would be," said Jem. "We couldn't afford to have so many ministers in the family, Miss Bethia. I am not going to be a minister. I am going to make a lot of money and be a rich man, and then I'll buy a house for papa, and send Davie's boys to college."
They all laughed.
"You may laugh, but you'll see," said Jem. "I am not going to be a minister. Hard work and poor pay. I have seen too much of that, Miss Bethia."
He was "chaffing" her. Miss Bethia knew it quite well, and though she had said he was entirely welcome, it made her angry because she could not see the joke, and because she thought it was not respectful nor polite on Jem's part to joke with her, as indeed it was not. And besides this was a sore subject with Miss Bethia—the poverty of ministers. She had at one time or another spent a great many of her valuable words on those who were supposed to be influential in the guidance of parish affairs, with a design to prove that their affairs were not managed as they ought to be. There was no reason in the world, but shiftlessness and sinful indifference, to prevent all being made and kept straight between the minister and people as regarded salary and support, she declared, and it was a shame that a man like their minister should find himself pressed or hampered, in providing the comforts— sometimes the necessaries of life—for his family.
That was putting it strong, the authorities thought and said, but Miss Bethia never would allow that it was too strong, and she never tired of putting it.
"The labourer is worthy of his hire."
"They that serve the temple must live by the temple." And with a house to keep up and his children to clothe and feed, no wonder that Mr Inglis might be troubled many a time when he thought of how they were to be educated, and of what was to become of them in case he should be taken away.
There was no theme on which Miss Bethia was so eloquent as this, and she was eloquent on most themes. She never tired of this one, and answered all excuses and expostulations with a force and sharpness that, as a general thing, silenced, if they did not convince. Whether she helped her cause by this assertion of its claims, is a question. She took great credit for her faithfulness in the matter, at any rate, and as she had not in the past, so she had made up her mind that she should not in the future be found wanting in this respect.
But it was one thing to tell her neighbours their duty with regard to their minister, and it was quite another thing to listen to a lad like Jem making disparaging remarks as to a minister's possessions and prospects. "Hard work and poor pay," said Jem, and she felt very much like resenting his words, as a reflection on the people of whom she was one. Jem needed putting down.
"Your pa wouldn't say so. He ain't one to wish to serve two masters. He ain't a mammon worshipper," said Miss Bethia, solemnly.
"No!" said Jem, opening his eyes very wide. "And I don't intend to be one either. I intend to make a good living, and perhaps become a rich man."
"Don't, Jem," said Violet, softly. She meant "Don't vex Miss Bethia," as Jem very well knew, but he only laughed and said:
"Don't do what? Become a rich man? or a worshipper of mammon? Don't be silly, Letty."
"Jem's going to be a blacksmith," said Edward. "You needn't laugh. He put a shoe on Mr Strong's old Jerry the other day. I saw him do it."
"Pooh," said Jem. "That's nothing. Anybody could do that. I am going to make a steam-engine some day."
"You're a smart boy, if we are to believe you," said Miss Bethia. "Did Mr Strong know that the blacksmith let you meddle with his horse's shoes? I should like to have seen his face when he heard it."
"One must begin with somebody's horse, you know. And Peter Munro said he couldn't have done it better himself," said Jem, triumphantly.
"Peter Munro knows about horseshoes, and that's about all he does know. He ought to know that you might be about better business than hanging about his shop, learning no good."
"Horseshoes no good!" said Jem, laughing.
"Jem, dear!" pleaded Violet.
"But it's dreadful to hear Miss Bethia speak disrespectfully of horseshoes," said Jem.
"I think there's something more to be expected from your father's son than horseshoes," said Miss Bethia.
"But horseshoes may do for a beginning," said David. "And by and by, perhaps, it may be engines, and railways; who knows?"
"And good horseshoes are better than bad sermons, and they pay better than good ones," said Jem. "And I'm bound to be a rich man. You'll see, Miss Bethia."
Then he went on to tell of the wonderful things that were to happen when he became a rich man. Old Don was to be superannuated, and his father was to have a new horse, and a new fur coat to wear when the weather was cold. His mother and Violet were to have untold splendours in the way of dress, and the children as well. Davie was to go to college, and there should be a new bell to the church, and a new fence to the grave-yard, and Miss Bethia was to have a silk gown of any colour she liked, and a knocker to her front door. There was a great deal of fun and laughter, in which even Miss Bethia joined, and when Violet called them to tea, Jem whispered to David that they had escaped her serious lecture for that time.
After tea, they all went again to the kitchen, which, indeed, was as pleasant as many parlours, and while Violet washed the tea-dishes, Miss Bethia went on with the ironing, and the boys went on with their lessons. Just as they were all beginning to wonder what could be delaying the return home of their father and mother, there came a messenger to say that they had been obliged to go much farther than Mr Spry's, to see a sick person, and that as they might not be home that night, the children were not to wait for them past their usual time of going to bed.
There were exclamations of disappointment from the younger ones, and little Mary, who was getting sleepy and a little cross, began to cry.
"I had a presentiment that we should not see them to-night," said David, taking his little sister on his lap to comfort her. "Never mind, Polly. Mamma will be home in the morning, and we must be able to tell her that we have all been good, and that nobody has cried or been cross, but quite the contrary."
"I wish your mother knew that I had happened along. It would have set her mind at rest about you all," said Miss Bethia.
The young people were not so sure of that, but there would have been no use in saying so.
"Oh! mamma knows we can get on nicely for one night. But she will be sorry to miss your visit, Miss Bethia," said Violet.
"She won't miss it. I shall have a visit with her when she gets home. And now hadn't you better put the children to bed before you set down?"
But the children, except little Mary, were in the habit of putting themselves to bed, and were not expected to do so till eight o'clock, as they declared with sufficient decision. So nothing more was said about it. If it had been any other child but little Mary. Miss Bethia would have counselled summary measures with her, and she would have been sent to bed at once. As it was the little lady had her own way for a while, and kept her eyes wide open, while David comforted her for the absence of mamma. He played with her and told her stories, and by and by undressed her gently, kissing her hands and her little bare feet, and murmuring such tender words, that baby grew good and sweet, and forgot that there was any one in the world she loved better than Davie.
As for Miss Bethia, as she watched them she was wondering whether it could be the rough, thoughtless schoolboy, to whom she had so often considered it her duty to administer both instruction and reproof. She was not, as a general thing, very tolerant of boys. She intended to do her duty by the boys of her acquaintance in the matter of rebuke and correction, and in the matter of patience and forbearance as well, and these things covered the whole ground, as far as her relations with boys were concerned. And so when she saw David kissing his little sister's hands and feet, and heard him softly prompting her in her "good words" as the eyelids fell over the sleepy little eyes, she experienced quite a new sensation. She looked upon a boy with entire approval. He had pleased her in the afternoon, when he had told her so much about his father's sermon. But she had hardly been conscious of her pleasure then, because of the earnestness of her desire to impress him and his brother with a sense of their responsibility as to the use they made of their privileges and opportunities. It came back to her mind, however, as she sat watching him and his little sister, and she acknowledged to herself that she was pleased, and that David was not a common boy. David would never have guessed her thoughts by the first words she spoke.
"Put her to bed," said she. "She'll take cold."
"Yes, I will," said David, but he did not move to do it. "Miss Bethia," said he in a little, "if wee Polly were to die to-night and go to Heaven, do you suppose she would always stay a little child as she is now?"
Miss Bethia set down her flat-irons and looked at him in surprise.
"What on earth put that into your head?" said she, hastily.
"Look at her," said David. "It doesn't seem as though she could be any sweeter even in Heaven, does it?"
Violet came and knelt down beside her brother.
"Is she not a precious darling?" said she, kissing her softly.
"It isn't much we know about how folks will look in heaven," said Miss Bethia, gravely.
"No," said David. "Only that we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
"If we ever get there," said Miss Bethia.
"Yes, if we ever get there," said David. "But if our little Polly were to die to-night, she would be sure to get there, and what I would like to know is, whether she would always be little Polly there, so that when the rest of us get there, too, we should know her at once without being told."
"She would have a new name given her," said Violet.
"Yes, and a crown and a harp, and a white robe, and wings, perhaps. But she might have all that and be our little Polly still. I wonder how it will be. What do you think, Miss Bethia?"
"I haven't thought about it. I don't seem to remember that there is anything said about it in the Bible. And there is no other way of knowing anything about it—as I see."
"No. Still one cannot but think of these things. Don't you remember, Violet?
"Not as child shall we again behold her, But when with rapture wild. In our embraces we again enfold her, She will not be a child."
"Yes." Violet remembered the words, and added:
"But a fair maiden in our Father's mansion."
"I don't like to think that may be the way."
"But that ain't in the Bible," said Miss Bethia.
"No," said David. "And I like best the idea of there being little children there. Of course there are children now, because they are going there every day. But if they grow up there—afterwards, when the end comes, there will be no little children."
"How you talk!" said Aunt Bethia. "I don't more than half believe that it's right for you to follow out such notions. If the Bible don't say any thing about it, it is a sign it's something we needn't worry about, for we don't need to know it."
"No, we don't need to worry about it," said David. "But one cannot help having such thoughts in their minds sometimes."
There was nothing more said for some time. Violet still knelt by her brother's side, and the eyes of both were resting on the baby's lovely face. It was Miss Bethia who spoke first.
"I was a twin. My sister died when she was three years old. I remember how she looked as well as I remember my mother's face, and she didn't die till I was over forty. I should know her in a minute if I were to see her. It would seem queer to see us together—twins so—wouldn't it?—she a child and me an old woman," said Miss Bethia, with something like a sob in her voice. "It will be all in her favour—the difference, I mean."
"'Whom the gods love die young,'" said David. "But that is a Pagan sentiment. Papa said, the other day, that victory must mean more to the man who has gone through the war, than to him who has hardly had time to strike a blow. Even before the victory it must be grand, he said, to be able to say like Paul, 'I have fought the good fight; I have kept the faith.' And, perhaps, Miss Bethia, your crown may be brighter than your little sister's, after all."
"It will owe none of its brightness to me," said Miss Bethia, with sudden humility. "And I don't suppose I shall begrudge the brightness of other folks' crowns when I get there, if I ever do."
In the pause that followed, David went and laid the baby in her cot, and when he returned the children came with him, and the talk went on. They all had something to say about what they should see and do, and the people they should meet with when they got there. But it would not bear repeating, all that they said, and they fell in a little while into talk of other things, and Jem, as his way was, made the little ones laugh at his funny sayings, and even Violet smiled sometimes. But David was very grave and quiet, and Miss Bethia, for a good while, did not seem to hear a word, or to notice what was going on.
But by and by something was said about the lessons of the next day, and she roused herself up enough to drop her accustomed words about "privileges and responsibilities," and then went on to tell how different every thing had been in her young days, and before she knew it she was giving them her own history. There was not much to tell. That is, there had been few incidents in her life, but a great deal of hard work, many trials and disappointments—and many blessings as well.
"And," said Aunt Bethia, "if I were to undertake, I couldn't always tell you which was which. For sometimes the things I wished most for, and worked hardest to get, didn't amount to but very little when I got them. And the things I was most afraid of went clear out of sight, or turned right round into blessings, as soon as I came near enough to touch them. And I tell you, children, there is nothing in the world that it's worth while being afraid of but sin. You can't be too much afraid of that. It is a solemn thing to live in the world, especially such times as these. But there's no good talking. Each one must learn for himself; and it seems as though folks would need to live one life, just to teach them how to live. I don't suppose there's any thing I could say to you that would make much difference. Talk don't seem to amount to much, any way."
"I am sure you must have seen a great deal in your life, Miss Bethia, and might tell us a great many things to do us good," said Violet, but she did not speak very enthusiastically, for she was not very fond of Miss Bethia's good advice any more than her brothers; and little Jessie got them happily out of the difficulty, by asking:
"What did you use to do when you were a little girl, Aunt Bethia?"
"Pretty much what other little girls did. We lived down in New Hampshire, then, and what ever made father come away up here for, is more than I can tell. I had a hard time after we came up here. I helped father and the boys to clear up our farm. I used to burn brush, and make sugar, and plant potatoes and corn, and spin and knit. I kept school twenty-one seasons, off and on. I didn't know much, but a little went a great way in those days. I used to teach six days in the week, and make out a full week's spinning or weaving, as well. I was strong and smart then, and ambitious to make a living and more. After a while, my brothers moved out West, and I had to stay at home with father and mother, and pretty soon mother died. I have been on the old place ever since. It is ten years since father died. I've stayed there alone most of the time since, and I suppose I shall till my time comes. And children, I've found out that life don't amount to much, except as it is spent as a time of preparation—and for the chance it gives you to do good to your neighbours; and it ain't a great while since I knew that, only as I heard folks say it. It ain't much I've done of it."
There was nothing said for a minute or two, and then Ned made them all laugh by asking, gravely:
"Miss Bethia, are you very rich?"
Miss Bethia laughed, too.
"Why, yes; I suppose I may say I am rich. I've got all I shall ever want to spend, and more, too. I've got all I want, and that's more than most folks who are called rich can say. And I have earned all I've got. But it ain't what one has got, so much as what one has done, that makes life pleasant to look back upon."
"It is pleasant to have plenty of money, too, however," said Jem.
"And people can do good with their money," said Violet.
"Yes, that is true; but money don't stand for everything, even to do good with. Money won't stand instead of a life spent in God's service. Money, even to do good with, is a poor thing compared with that. Money won't go a great ways in the making of happiness, without something else."
"Would you like to live your life over again, Miss Bethia?" asked Violet.
"No—I shouldn't. Not unless I could live it a great deal better. And I know myself too well by this time to suppose I should do that. It wouldn't pay, I don't believe. But oh! children, it is a grand thing to be young, to have your whole life before you to give to the Lord. You can't begin too young. Boys, and you, too, Violet—you have great privileges and responsibilities."
This was Miss Bethia's favourite way of putting their duty before them. She had said this about "privilege and responsibility" two or three times to-night already, as the boys knew she would. It had come to be a by-word among them. But even Jem did not smile this time, she was so much in earnest, and Violet and David looked very grave.
"'Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.' That's what you've got to do. 'Take the whole armour of God,' and fight His battles."
The boys looked at each other, remembering all that had been said about this of late.
"Your father said right. It is a grand thing to come to the end of life and be able to say, 'I have fought the good fight; I have kept the faith.'"
"Like Mr Great Heart in the Pilgrim's Progress," said Ned.
"Yes. Sometimes it's lions, and sometimes it's giants, but it's fighting all the way through, and God gives the victory. Yes," continued Miss Bethia, after a pause, "it's fighting all the way through, and it don't so much matter how it looks to other folks. Horseshoes or sermons, it don't matter, so that it is done to the Lord. Your father, he is a standard-bearer; and your mother, she helps the Lord's cause by helping him, and so she fights the good fight, too. There's enough for all to do, and the sooner you begin, the more you can do, and the better it will be—And I'm sure it's time these children were in bed now."
Yes, it was more than time, as all acknowledged, but they did not go very willingly for all that.
"Obedience is the first duty of a soldier, Ned, boy," said Jem.
"If we could only know that we were soldiers," said David, gravely; and then he added to himself, "The very first thing is to enrol one's name."
"I wonder all the girls don't like Aunt Bethia more," said Jessie, when Violet came up to take her candle in a little. "I'm sure she's nice— sometimes."
"Yes, she is always very good, and to-night she is pleasant," said Violet. "And I'm not at all sorry that she came, though mamma is away. Good-night, dear, and pleasant dreams."
Upon the whole, Miss Bethia's visit was a success. Mr and Mrs Inglis came home next day to find her and little Mary in possession of the house. David was waiting to receive them at the gate, and all the others had gone to school. Violet had proposed to stay at home to entertain their guest, but this Miss Bethia would not hear of. The baby and she were quite equal to the entertainment of one another, to say nothing of David, upon whom Miss Bethia was evidently beginning to look with eyes of favour. They had not got tired of one another when mamma came to the rescue, and nothing mattered much either to David or his little sister when mamma was at hand.
Mr Inglis was almost ill with a cold; too ill to care to go to his study and his books that day, but not too ill to lie on the sofa and talk with—or rather listen to, Miss Bethia. This was a great pleasure to her, for she had a deep respect for the minister, and indeed, the respect was mutual. So they discussed parish matters a little; and all the wonderful things that were happening in the world, they discussed a good deal. There was a new book, too, which Miss Bethia had got—a very interesting book to read, but of whose orthodoxy she could not be quite sure till she had discussed it with the minister. There were new thoughts in it, and old thoughts clothed in unfamiliar language, and she wanted his help in Comparing it with the only standard of truth in the opinion of both.
So the first day was successful, and so were all the other days of her visit, though in a different way. There were no signs of Debby's return, but Mrs Inglis had, in the course of her married life, been too often left to her own resources to make this a matter of much consequence for a few days. The house was as orderly, and the meals were as regular; and though some things in the usual routine were left undone because of Debby's absence and Miss Bethia's presence in the house, still everything went smoothly, and all the more so that Miss Bethia, who had had a varied experience in the way of long visits, knew just when to sit still and seem to see nothing, and when to put forth a helping hand. Her visits, as a general thing, were not without some drawbacks, and if Mrs Inglis had had her choice, she would have preferred that this one should have taken place when Debby's presence in the kitchen would have left her free to attend to her guest. But this was a visit altogether pleasant. There was not even the little jarring and uncomfortableness, rather apt to arise out of her interest in the children, and her efforts in their behalf. Not that she neglected them or their affairs. David, of whom she saw most, had a feeling that her eye was upon him whenever he was in the house, but her observation was more silent than usual, and even when she took him to task, as she did more than once, he did not for some reason or other, feel inclined to resent her sharp little speeches as he had sometimes done. She did not overlook him by any means, but asked a great many questions about his books, and lessons, and amusements, and about when he was going to college, and about what he was to be afterwards, and behind his back praised him to his mother as a sensible, well-behaved boy, which, of course, pleased his mother, and made David himself laugh heartily when he heard of it.