True to his Colours The Life that Wears Best
By Reverend Theodore P Wilson I cannot truthfully say that I enjoyed transcribing this book. That might be to say that Reverend Wilson would not approve of me, for I enjoy a beer or a glass of wine occasionally, but never to excess. But Wilson was, as ever, fulminating against the Demon Drink, that is to say, against the Demon that can take over people's lives, and bring misery to their wives and children, for this does happen, even to this day.
There is a story behind all this, but the long sermons pervade, and do really make the book difficult to read. Perhaps you should read the book during some fasting and penitential period of the year, such as Advent or Lent, but then again it might bring on some other kind of sin, such as Sloth. NH
TRUE TO HIS COLOURS THE LIFE THAT WEARS BEST
BY REVEREND THEODORE P WILSON
A SCEPTIC'S HOME.
Look back some forty years—there was not a quieter place then than the little village of Crossbourne. It was a snug spot, situated among hills, and looked as though it were hiding away out of the sight and notice of the bustling, roaring traffic that was going ceaselessly on all around it.
A little fussy stream or brook flowed on restlessly day and night through the centre of the village, and seemed to be the only thing there that was ever in a hurry. Carts and carriages, but seldom many of the latter, had to drive through the stream when they wished to cross it; for there was no bridge except a very rude one for foot-passengers just before you came to the old mill, where the villagers had had their corn ground for generations.
Then to the north of the stream the houses straggled up on either side of a long winding street, sometimes two or three together under one long thatched roof, and in other places singly, with a small bit of meagre garden round them; a wooden latch lifted by a string which dangled outside being the prevailing fastening to the outer doors.
Right up at the top of the street, and a little to the left, was the old Saxon church, which had retained a considerable share of its original massive beauty, spite of the combined attacks of plaster, mildew, and a succession of destructive restorations which had lowered the roof, bricked up more than one fine old window, and thrust out a great iron chimney, which looked not unlike the mailed hand of some giant shaking its clenched fist at the solid tower which it was unable to destroy.
Just under the shadow of the old church, and separated from it by the low wall of the churchyard, was the vicarage, a grey-looking structure in the midst of a small but well-stocked garden; while beyond it were fields in long succession, with a ponderous-looking farm-house crouching down here and there amongst them.
Of course there was an inn in the village. It was marked out to travellers by a sign-board dependent from a beam projecting over the footpath. Something had once been painted on the board, but it had become so blurred and indistinct under the corroding action of sun and rain, that it would be quite impossible now to decide whether the features delineated on it were those of a landscape, a lion, or a human countenance.
Such was Crossbourne some forty years back. But now, what a marvellous change! Coal has been found close by, and the little village has leapt, as if by magic, into a thriving town. Huge factories and foundries rise from the banks of the stream; the ford is spanned by a substantial bridge; the corn-mill has disappeared, and so have the rheumatic-looking old mossy cottages. A street of prim, substantial houses, uniform, and duly numbered, with brass handles, latches, and knockers to the doors, now leads up to the church. And that venerable building has certainly gained by the change; for the plaster and the iron chimney have vanished, full daylight pours in through all the windows, while two new aisles have been added in harmony with the original design of the unknown architect. The vicarage, too, has expanded, and been smartened up to suit more modern tastes and requirements. And then all around the principal street are swarms of workmen's dwellings,—and, alas! public- houses and beer-shops at every corner ready to entrap the wretched victims of intemperance. Besides all these there are a Town Hall and a Mechanics' Institute; and the streets and shops and dwelling-houses are lighted with gas.
Crossbourne has, in fact, become a very hive of industry; but, unhappily, too many of the cells of the hive are fuller of gall than of honey, for money is made fast and squandered faster: and what wonder, seeing that King Alcohol holds his court amongst the people day and night! And, to make all complete, Crossbourne now boasts of a railway running through it, and of a station of its own, from which issues many a train of goods; and near the station a distillery, from which there issues continually a long and lengthening train of evils.
Turning out of the principal street to the right, just opposite to where the old dingy sign-board used to swing, a passer-by could not fail to notice a detached house more lofty and imposing in its appearance than the plain working-men's cottages on either side of it.
At the time our story opens this house was occupied by William Foster, a skilled ironworker, who was earning his fifty shillings a week, when he chose to do so; which was by no means his regular habit, as frequent sprees and drinking-bouts with congenial companions made his services little to be depended on. However, he was a first-rate hand, and his employers, who could not do without him, were fain to put up with his irregularities.
Foster was now in the prime of life, and had a young wife and one little baby. He was professedly a sceptic, and gloried in his creed—if he can be said to have any creed who believes in nothing but himself. Of course the Bible to him was simply a whetstone on which to "sharpen his tongue like a serpent, that he might shoot out his arrows, even bitter words." As for conscience, he ridiculed the very idea of such an old- fashioned guide and monitor. "No," he would say, "as a true musician abhors discordant sounds, and as a skilled mechanic abhors bad work, and therefore cannot turn it out without doing violence to his finer and more cultivated sensibilities, so the best guide in morals to an enlightened man is his own sense of moral fitness and propriety."
Nevertheless, he was by no means over-scrupulous as to the perfection of his own handiwork when he could slur over a job without fear of detection; while the standard of morality which he set up for himself, certainly, to judge by his own daily life, did not speak much for the acuteness of his moral perceptions.
But he was shrewd and ready, and had a memory well stored with such parts of Scripture as were useful pegs on which to hang clever objections and profane sneers. Not that he had read the Bible itself, for all his knowledge of it was got second-hand from the works of sceptics, and in detached fragments. However, he had learned and retained a smattering of a good many scientific and other works, and so could astonish and confound timid and ill-informed opponents.
No wonder, therefore, that he was the admired chairman of the "Crossbourne Free-thought Club," which met two or three times a week in one of the public-houses, and consumed, for the benefit of the house, but certainly not of the members themselves or their homes, a large quantity of beer and spirits, while it was setting the misguided world right on science, politics, and religion. The marvel, indeed, to Foster and his friends was how ignorance, bigotry, priestcraft, and tyranny could venture to hold up their heads in Crossbourne after his club had continued its meeting regularly for the last two years.
Perhaps they might have been a little less surprised could one of them have taken down an old volume of Dr South's sermons from the vicar's library shelves, and have read these words to his fellows: "Men are infidels, not because they have sharper wits, but because they have corrupter wills; not because they reason better, but because they live worse." Assuredly this was true of the infidelity in Crossbourne.
And what sort of a home was William Foster's? The house itself looked well enough as you approached it. Those houses of a humbler stamp on either side of it had doors which opened at once from the street into the parlour or living-room; but to Foster's dwelling there was a small entrance-hall, terminating in an archway, beyond which were a large parlour, a kitchen, and a staircase leading to the upper rooms.
There was an air of ambition about everything, as though the premises, like their occupiers, were aiming to be something above their station, while at the same time a manifest absence of cleanliness and neatness only presented a sort of satirical contrast to the surrounding grandeur.
On either side of the entrance-hall, and just under the archway, was a plaster-of-Paris figure, nearly as large as life—that on the right-hand being a representation of Bacchus, and that on the left of a nymph dancing. But the female image had long since lost its head, and also one of its arms—the latter being still in existence, but being hung for convenience' sake through the raised arm of Bacchus, making him look like one of those Hindu idols which are preposterously figured with a number of superfluous limbs. If the effect of this transference of the nymph's arm to its companion statue was rather burlesque than ornamental, the disconnected limb itself was certainly not without its use, small fragments of it being broken off from time to time for the purpose of whitening the door-steps and the hall-flags when the hearthstone could not readily be found.
Within the archway, over the parlour door, was a plaster bust of Socrates; but this had met with no better treatment than the statues, having accidentally got its face turned to the wall as though in disgrace, or as if in despair of any really practical wisdom being allowed to have sway in the sceptic's household.
Things were no better in the sitting-room: there was plenty of finery, but no real comfort—scarcely a single article of furniture was entire; while a huge chimney-glass, surmounted by a gilded eagle, being too tall for its position, had been made to fit into its place by the sacrifice of the eagle's head and body, the legs and claws alone being visible against the ceiling. The glass itself was starred at one corner, and the frame covered with scars where the gilding had fallen off. There were coloured prints on the walls, and a large photograph of the members of the "Free-thought Club;" the different individuals of the group being taken in various attitudes, all indicative of a more than average amount of self-esteem. There were book-shelves also, containing volumes amusing, scientific, and sceptical, but no place was found for the Book of books; it was not admitted into that cheerless household.
It was a December evening; a dull fire burned within the dingy bars of William Foster's parlour grate. William himself was at his club, but his wife and baby were at home: that poor mother, who knew nothing of a heavenly Father to whose loving wisdom she could intrust her child; the baby, a poor little sinful yet immortal being, to be brought up without one whisper from a mother's tongue of a Saviour's love.
Kate Evans (such was Mrs Foster's maiden name) had had the best bringing up the neighbourhood could afford; at least, such was the view of her relatives and friends.
Her parents were plain working-people, who had been obliged to scramble up into manhood and womanhood with the scantiest amount possible of book-learning. When married they could neither of them write their name in the register; and a verse or two of the New Testament laboriously spelt out was their farthest accomplishment in the way of reading.
Kate was their only child, and they wisely determined that things should be different with her. The girl was intelligent, and soon snapped up what many other children of her own age were a long time in acquiring. She was bright and attractive-looking, with keen eyes and dark flowing hair, and won the affection of her teachers and companions by her open- heartedness and generosity of disposition.
Naturally enough, the master and mistress of the large school which she attended were proud of her as being one of their best scholars, and were determined to make the most of her abilities for their own sake as much as hers. And Kate herself and her parents were nothing loath. So books were her constant companions and occupation in all her waking hours. The needle was very seldom in her fingers at the school, and the house- broom and the scrubbing-brush still less often at home.
The poor mother sighed a weary sigh sometimes when, worn out with toiling, she looked towards her child, who was deep in some scientific book by the fireside; and now and then she just hinted to her husband that she could not quite see the use of so much book-learning for a girl in their daughter's position; but she was soon silenced by the remark that "Our Kate had a head-piece such as didn't fall to the lot of many, and it were a sin and a shame not to give her all the knowledge possible while she were young and able to get it."
So the head was cultivated, and the hands that should have been busy were neglected; and thus it was that, at the age of sixteen, Kate Evans could not sweep a room decently, nor darn a stocking, nor mend her own clothes, nor make nor bake a loaf of bread creditably. But then, was she not the very rejoicing of her master and mistress's hearts, and the head girl of the school? And did not the government inspector always give her a specially pleasant smile and word or two of approbation at the annual examination?
Poor Kate! It was a marvel that she was not more spoiled by all this; but she was naturally modest and unpresuming, and would have made a fine and valuable character had she been brought up to shine, and not merely to glitter. As it was, she had learned to read and write well, and to calculate sums which were of little practical use to her. Indeed, her head was not unlike the lumber-room of some good lady who has indulged a mania for accumulating purchases simply because of their cheapness, without consideration of their usefulness, whether present or future; so that while she could give you the names and positions and approximate distances of all the principal stars without mistake or hesitation, she would have been utterly at a loss if set to make a little arrow-root or beef—tea for a sick relation or friend.
She wound up her education at school by covering her teachers and herself with honour by her answers, first to the elementary, and then to the advanced questions in the papers sent down from the London Science and Art Department. And when she left school, at the age of seventeen, to take the place at home of her mother, who was now laid by through an attack of paralysis, she received the public congratulations of the school managers, and was afterwards habitually quoted as an example of what might be acquired in the humbler ranks of life by diligence, patience, and perseverance.
As for her religious education, it was what might have been expected under the circumstances. Her parents, ignorant of the truth themselves, though well-disposed, as it is called, to religion, had sent her when quite a little one to the Sunday-school, where she picked up a score or two of texts and as many hymns. She also had gone to church regularly once every Sunday, but certainly had acquired little other knowledge in the house of God than an acquaintance with the most ingenious methods of studying picture-books and story-books on the sly, and of trying the patience of the teachers whose misfortune it was for the time to be in command of the children's benches during divine service.
As she grew up, however, Sunday-school and church were both forsaken. Tired with constant study and the few household duties which she could not avoid performing, she was glad to lie in bed till the Sunday-school bell summoned earlier risers; and with the school, the attendance at church also was soon abandoned.
In summer-time, dressed in clothes which were gay rather than neat or becoming, she would stroll out across the hills during afternoon service with some like-minded female companion, and return by tea-time listless and out of spirits, conscious of a great want, but unconscious of the only way to satisfy it. For Kate Evans had a mind and heart which kept her from descending into the paths of open sin. Many young women there were around her, neglecters, like herself, of God, his house, and his day, who had plunged into the depths of open profligacy; but with such she had neither intercourse nor sympathy, for she shrunk instinctively from everything that was low and coarse. Yet she walked in darkness; an abiding shadow rested on her spirit. She had gained admiration and won esteem, but she wanted peace. Her heart was hungry, and must needs remain so till it should find its only true satisfying food in "Jesus, the bread of life."
Such was Kate Evans when she had reached the age of twenty—restless, unsatisfied, fretting under the restraints and privations of a poor working-man's home, shrinking from earning her bread by the labour of her hands, yet unable—for her heart would not allow her—to apply for any school work which might remove her from the home where her services were greatly needed by her now bed-ridden mother.
It was, then, with no small gratification, though not without some misgivings, that she found herself the object of special attentions on the part of William Foster. She was well aware that he was no friend to religion, but then he was supposed to be highly moral; and she felt not a little flattered by the devoted service of a man who was the oracle of the working-classes on all matters of science and higher literature; while he on his part was equally pleased with the prospect of having for his wife one who, both in personal attractions and education, was universally allowed to be in her rank the flower of Crossbourne.
Kate's parents, however, were very unwilling that the intimacy between Foster and their child should lead to a regular engagement. They had the good sense to see that he who "feared not God" was not very likely to "regard man," nor woman either; and they were also well aware that the public-house and the club would be pretty sure to retain a large share of Foster's affections after marriage.
But remonstrance and advice were in vain; love was to take the place of religion, and was to gather into the new home all the cords which would have a tendency to draw the young man in a different direction. And neighbours and friends said, "Young people would be young people;" that Kate would turn any man into a good husband; and that she would be near at hand to look in upon her old father and mother. So the attachment duly ripened without further check; and before she was one and twenty, Kate Evans was married to William Foster at the registrar's office.
And now, on this December evening, rather more than a year had gone by since the wedding-day. And what of the love which was to have effected such great things? Alas! the gilding had got sadly rubbed off. Not many weeks after the marriage a cloud began to gather on the face of both husband and wife.
Coming home some day at dinner-time he would find no table laid out, the meat half raw, and the potatoes the same; while an open book of poetry or science, turned face downwards on the sloppy dresser, showed how his wife had been spending the time which ought to have been occupied in preparing her husband's meal. Then, again, when work was over, he would find, on his return home, his wife, with uncombed hair and flushed cheeks, on her knees, puffing away at a few sparks in the cheerless grate, while the kettle rested sulkily on a cliff of black coal, and looked as if boiling was on its part a very remote possibility indeed.
Not that Kate was a gadder about or a gossip, but she was sleeveless, dawdling, and dreamy, and always behindhand. Everything was out of its place. Thus Foster would take up a spill-case, expecting to find material wherewith to light his evening pipe; but instead of spills, it was full of greasy hair-pins. And when, annoyed and disgusted, he tore a fly-leaf out of one of his wife's school prizes, declaring that, if she did not provide him with spills, he would take them where he could get them, a storm of passionate reproaches was followed by a volley of curses on his part, and a hasty and indignant retreat to the public- house parlour.
And then, again, his late hours at the club, or the unwelcome presence of his sceptical companions, whom he would sometimes bring home to discuss their opinions over pipes and spirits, would be the ground of strong and angry remonstrance. And the breach began soon to widen.
Washing-day would come round with all its discomforts, which she had not learned the art of mitigating or removing. Coming in, in better spirits perhaps than usual, intending to have a cheerful tea and a cozy chat after it, he would find everything in a state of disturbance, especially his young wife's temper, with plenty of steam everywhere except from the spout of the tea-pot. Indeed, poor Kate was one of those domestic paradoxes in her own person and house which are specially trying to one who cares for home comfort: and who is there who does not care for it? She would be always cleaning, yet never clean; always smartening things up, and yet never keeping them tidy. And so when William, on coming home, would find pale, ghost-like linen garments hanging reeking from the embossed arm of the gas chandelier a large piece of dissolving soap on the centre of the table-cover, a great wooden tub in the place where his arm-chair should be, a lump of sodden rags in one of his slippers, and his wife toiling and fuming in the midst of all, with her hair in papers and her elbows in suds, with scarce the faintest hope for him of getting his evening meal served for more than an hour to come,—what wonder if harsh words escaped him, repaid with words equally harsh from his excited partner, and followed by his flinging himself in a rage out of such a home, and returning near midnight with a plunging, stumbling step on the stairs, which sent all the blood chilly back to the heart of the unhappy woman, and quenched in sobs and tears the bitter words that were ready to burst forth!
But at last there came the little babe, and with it a rush of returning fondness and tenderness into the heart of both the parents; yet only for a time. The tide of home misery had set in full again; and now on this winter evening, a little more than a twelve-month after her marriage, poor, unhappy Kate Foster knelt by the side of the little cradle, her tears falling fast and thick on the small white arm of her sick baby; for very sick it was, and she feared that death (ay, not death, but God—her heart, her conscience said, "God,") was about to snatch from her the object she loved best on earth, even with a passionate love.
Though it was winter and cold, yet the casement was ajar, for the chimney of the room had smoked for weeks; but nothing had been done towards remedying the trouble, except grumbling at it, and letting in draughts of keen air through half-open doors and windows, to the manifest detriment of the health of both mother and child. And what was she to do, poor thing, in her hour of special trial and need?
Looking earnestly at her baby through her tears, she leaned eagerly and breathlessly forward into the cradle. Was it gone? Was it really taken from her? No; she could hear its disturbed breathing still. And then as she knelt on, with clasped hands and throbbing heart, something brought to her lips words of prayer: "O Lord! O Lord, have pity on me! Oh, baby, baby!—don't take baby from me!"
Even that poor prayer gave her some relief, followed as it was by an agony of weeping. Never had she uttered a word of prayer before since the day she was married, and her own words startled her. Yet again and again she felt constrained to make her simple supplication, pleading earnestly for her baby's life with the God the reality of whose being and power she now felt, spite of herself.
But what was that sound that made her spring up from her knees, and listen with colourless cheeks and panting breath? She thought she heard footsteps pass under the half-open window. There was no regular road at the back of the house, but the premises could be approached in that direction by a narrow path along the side of the hill which shut in the buildings in the rear. Between the hill and the house was a back-yard into which the parlour looked, and through this yard William would sometimes come from his work; but ordinary visitors came to the front, and trades-people to a side door on the left.
Could the footsteps have been those of her husband? And had he paused to listen to her words of earnest and passionate prayer? If so, she well knew what a torrent of ridicule and sarcastic reproach she must prepare herself for. And yet the step did not sound like his. Alas! she had learned to know it now too well! She dreaded it. There was no music in it now for her. Perhaps she was mistaken. She listened eagerly; all was still, and once more her eyes and heart turned towards the little cradle, as the restless babe woke up with a start and a cry. So again she knelt beside it, and, rocking it, gave free vent to her tears, and to words of prayer, though uttered now more softly.
But there—there was that footstep again! There could be no mistake about it now; and as certainly it was not her husband's tread. Annoyed now that some intruder should be lurking about and listening to her words, she was just going to ask angrily who was there, when the casement was pushed cautiously a little more open, and a hand holding a small book was thrust into the room.
Amazed, terrified, Kate stood up erect, and stared with parted lips at the strange intrusion. What could it mean? The hand was that of a woman, and there were rings on the fingers. It was but a moment that she had time to mark these things; for before she could recover from her surprise, the mysterious hand had dropped the book into the room, and with it one of its rings, which rolled towards the hearth, sparkling as it went. Then there was a rapid retreat of quiet footsteps outside, and all was still again.
Taking up the ring, which had a red stone in the centre like a ruby, and was seemingly of considerable value, after examining it for a moment, she put it into her pocket, and then picked up the little book, which lay on the floor where it had fallen, just underneath the window. She knew what it was in a moment,—a small Bible. It was very old, and very much worn, and had clearly done good service to its owner, or owners, for many a long year. Sitting by the cradle, and rocking it with one hand, she held the little volume in the other, and closely examined it. The paper of which it was made was coarse, and the printing old- fashioned. On the inside of the stiff cover was written in faded ink:—
Steal not this book for fear of shame, For here you see the owner's name. June 10, 1798. Mary Williams.
Kate's perplexities only increased. But now her attention was drawn to the words themselves of the book. As she turned over page after page, she noticed that all the most striking texts were underlined with red- ink, especially those which spoke of help in trouble, and of the mercy and love of God. Her attention was now thoroughly aroused. Verse after verse was read by her, with tearful eyes and a heart opening itself to the sunshine of divine love; while every fresh text, as she turned from leaf to leaf, seemed more and more appropriate to her own troubles and sorrows.
Could this be the same Bible which she used to read in the Sunday- school, and hear read at church? She could scarcely believe it. It seemed now as if this were altogether another book, just written and printed expressly for her, to meet her case. All the once familiar passages and verses had new life and light in them now. The baby stirred; she hushed it back to sleep. The fire burned low, but she read on,—she was living out of herself.
At last she laid down the little volume, and resting her forehead on her hand, thought long and deeply, her lips moving in silent prayer. Then she started up hastily, stirred and brightened up the fire, and put the room and herself into the best order that she could. Then she took up the Bible again, and gazing at it earnestly, said slowly and half-out loud to herself, "Wherever can this have come from?" And then a voice seemed to speak within her; and lifting up her eyes reverently to that heaven which she had never dared to think about for years past, she exclaimed softly and fervently, as she clasped her hands together: "O my God, thou didst send it! It came to me from heaven!"
But her thoughts were soon recalled to earth again. Her husband's step was heard now. It was past ten o'clock, and he was returning from his club.
It was often now that she had to watch and wait in weariness to as late an hour. "He mustn't see this," she cried shudderingly to herself, as she heard his hand upon the latch; "not yet, not yet!" So, snatching up the little Bible, she placed it deep down under the clothes of the baby's cradle.
THE RAILWAY BRIDGE.
The Crossbourne station was not in the town itself, but on the outskirts, about a quarter of a mile distant from the Town Hall. Nevertheless, the town was creeping up to it in the form of a suburb, which would ere long reach the station gates. Crossbourne, the present flourishing manufacturing town, occupied the hills on either side of the little stream, the greater part of it being to the north, in the direction of the parish church. The station itself was on high ground, and looked across over open country, the line in the London direction passing from it through the centre of the town over a noble viaduct of some twenty arches. In the opposite direction the line made a gradual descent from the station, and at a mile's distance passed through a cutting, towards the farther end of which it inclined northwards in a sharp curve.
Just about the middle of this curve, and where the cutting was pretty deep, a massive wooden foot-bridge was thrown across the line. This was at a place not much frequented, as the bridge formed only part of a short cut into a by-road which led to one or two farms on the hill- sides. Along the rails round this ascending curve the ordinary trains laboured with bated breath; and even the dashing express was compelled to slacken here a little in its speed.
It was on the 23rd of December, the same night in which Kate Foster received so mysteriously the little Bible which was dropped with the ring into her parlour, that four men were plodding along in the darkness over a field-way which led to the wooden bridge just mentioned. They were dressed in their ordinary mill or foundry working-clothes, and seemed, from their stealthy walk and crouching manner, to be out on no good or honest errand. Three of them slouched along with their hands deep in their pockets; the fourth carried a bag of some kind, which apparently was no burden to him, for it swung lightly backwards and forwards on two of his fingers. The men's faces were all muffled in scarves, and their caps pulled down over their eyes. As they walked along the field-path in single file they preserved a profound silence. At last they reached a stile which brought them out close to the end of the bridge which was nearest to the up-line, along which the trains to London passed.
It was now nearly half-past ten. Everything around was profoundly still, except the faint wailing of the wind among the telegraph wires. A drizzling rain had been falling at intervals, for the season was remarkably mild for the time of year, though the little air that blew was raw and chilly. It was very dark, nevertheless the great wooden parapet of the bridge could be distinctly seen on either side, as the four men stood on the roadway of the bridge itself midway over the line.
"Ned," said one of the men in a hoarse whisper, "just cross right over, and see if there's any one about."
The man addressed crept cautiously over to the farther side of the line, and along the road either way for a hundred yards or more, and then returned to his companions.
"It's all right," he whispered; "there's not a soul stirring, as I can hear or see."
"Well, wait a bit," said the man whom he addressed; "just let's listen."
All was perfectly quiet.
"Now, then," said the first speaker again, "the express won't be long afore it's here; who'll do it?"
"Why, Joe Wright, to be sure; he's got the most spirit in him. I know he'll do it," said another voice.
"He's got most beer in him, at any rate," said the first speaker.
There was a gruff chuckle all round.
"Well, I'm your man," said Wright; "I've carried the bag, and I may as well finish the job."
"Look alive, then," cried Ned, "or the train'll pass afore you're ready."
"You just shut up," growled Joe; "I knows what I'm about."
So saying, he began to climb over the parapet of the bridge, grasping in his left hand the bag, which was apparently an ordinary travelling or carpet-bag, rather below the average size. Having clambered over the top rail, he let himself down among the huge beams which sprung out from the great upright posts, and served to strengthen and consolidate the whole structure.
"Mind how you get down, Joe; take care you don't slip," said more than one voice anxiously from above.
"All right," was the reply; "I'm just ready."
"Stick fast, and mind where you drop it; she's coming!" cried Ned half- out loud, in a voice of intense excitement.
Joe Wright was now half standing, half hanging over the up-rails, a few feet only above where the roofs of the carriages would pass. The low, labouring sound of the coming train had been heard for some moments past; then it swelled into a dull roar as the light wind carried it forward, then became fainter again as the wind lulled; and then burst into a rushing, panting whirlwind as the engine turned the bend of the curve. Forward dashed the train, as though it were coming with a will to batter down the bridge at a blow; light flashing from its lamps, fiery smoke throbbing out from the funnel in giant puffs, and a red-hot glare glowing from beneath the furnace.
"Now then!" shouted the men from above. "All right!" Joe shouted back in answer. "Shra-a-a-auk!" roared the train, as with diminished speed it passed beneath them. At that moment Wright, leaning down, dropped the bag. It fell plump on a hollow place into a tarpaulin which covered some luggage on the roof of one of the first-class carriages, and was whisked far away in another second, not to be disturbed from its snug retreat till it reached the great metropolis.
"I've done it," cried Wright from below.
"Now then," cried Ned in return, "get back as fast as you can, and be careful."
No reply. Joe was making his way back as best he could; but it was no easy task, for his hands had become very cold, and the great oaken supports of the bridge were slippery with the moisture which had gathered thickly on them.
"Well done," said one of his companions, stooping over to watch his progress; "a little more to the left, Joe."
The climber struggled upward. And now his right-hand was nearly on a level with the floor of the bridge, and he was stretching out his left hand to grasp one of the rails, when his foot suddenly slipping on a sloping rafter, he lost his hold altogether, and, to the horror of his companions, fell with a heavy thud on to the rails beneath him!
"Joe, Joe—speak, man! Are you hurt?" cried Ned.
"Lord help us," he continued, "the drunken train'll be up directly. Get up, man, get up; you'll be killed if you lie there."
Not a word from the unfortunate man.
They all leant over the parapet, straining their eyes to see if Joe really lay there or had crawled away. They could just make out a dark heap lying apparently right across the rails: it did not stir; not a moment was to be lost.
"Here, Ned," cried the man who had seemed to act as a sort of leader of the party, "just get down the bank somehow, and drag him off the rails. I'll see if I can drop down from the bridge."
Alas! This was easier said than done. The whistle of the last stopping train—sarcastically but too appropriately known among the men as "the drunken train," from the ordinary condition of a considerable number of its occupants—was already being sounded; but conveyed no warning to the poor stunned wretch who lay helpless in the engine's path. Frantically had Ned rushed down the bank of the cutting, while his companion, at the risk of his own life, sliding, slipping, tumbling among the rafters of the bridge, had dropped close to the prostrate body, and then sprung to his feet. It was too late; the instrument of death was upon them. A moment more, and the train had passed over their miserable companion.
In a few minutes the horror-stricken group were gathered round the poor, bleeding, mangled mass of humanity. The sight was too terrible to describe. One thing there could be no doubt about—their unhappy comrade was entirely past their help; the work of destruction had been complete; and what was now to be done? Silently all crept back again to the little stile. A hasty consultation was held.
"Mates," said the chief speaker, "it's a bad job, but it's plain enough we can't do him no good; it's past that. It's no fault of ours. Poor Joe!"
"Shall we go down and drag him off the rails on to the bank?" asked Ned.
"Where's the use, man?" replied the other; "we shall only be getting ourselves into trouble: it'll seem then as if some one else had been having a hand in it, and we shall be getting his blood on our clothes. It's all over with him—that's certain; and now we must take care of ourselves: what's done can't be undone. Pity we ever meddled with that bag. But that's all past now. Not a word about this to living soul, mates. I'm sure we all see as that's our line; and a blessed thing it'll be if we manage to keep clear of another scrape. This one's been bad enough, I'm sure."
So all slunk quietly back to their own homes. And next day all Crossbourne was horrified to hear that Joe Wright had been found on the line cut to pieces by some train that had run over him.
An inquest, of course, was held; but as it was well-known that poor Joe was sadly addicted to drink, and was often away from his home for nights together on drunken sprees, it was thought, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, that he had wandered on to the line in a state of intoxication, and had been overtaken and killed by the express or stopping train. A verdict of "accidental death" was given accordingly.
But poor Wright's sad end made no difference in the drunkenness of Crossbourne; indeed, Ned and his two companions in that awful night's adventure dared not leave their old haunts and ways, even had they wished to do so, lest any change in their habits should arouse suspicion against them. So Alcohol still maintained his sway over a vast body of loyal subjects in the busy town, and gathered in the spoils of desolate homes, broken hearts, and shattered constitutions.
DOCTOR JOHN PROSSER.
The express train which passed through Crossbourne station between ten and eleven o'clock on the night when Joe Wright met with his sad end, arrived in London about three a.m. the following morning. It was heavily laden, for it conveyed a large number of persons from the north, who were coming up to the metropolis to spend Christmas with their friends.
From a first-class carriage about the middle of the train there emerged a heap of coats and wraps, surmounted by a fur cap, the whole enclosing a gentleman of middle age and middle height, with black beard and moustache, and gold-rimmed spectacles.
"Cab, sir?" asked the porter who opened the door.
"If you please."
"Any luggage, sir?"
"Yes; it was put on the roof of my carriage."
"All right, sir; I'll see to it if you'll get into the cab."
So the gentleman, who was John Prosser, PhD, got into the cab which was waiting for him; and having seen that his luggage was all brought to the conveyance, threw himself into a corner and closed his eyes, having given his direction to the driver as he was stepping into the vehicle.
"Stop a moment, Jim," said the porter to the cabman, as the latter was just jerking his reins for a start. "Here, catch hold of this bag; it was on the top of this gent's carriage: no one else owns to it, so it must be his'n. The gent's forgotten it, I dessay."
So saying, he threw a light, shabby-looking carpet-bag up to the driver, who deposited it by his side, and drove off.
After sleeping for a few hours at a hotel where he was well-known, and having urgent business in the city next morning, the doctor deposited his luggage, which he had left with sundry rugs and shawls in charge of the hotel night porter, at his own door on his way to keep his business appointment, leaving word that he should be at home in the afternoon. With the other luggage there was handed in the shabby-looking carpet-bag which had come with it.
"What's this?" asked the boy-in-buttons, in a tone of disgust, of the housemaid, as he touched the bag with his outstretched foot.
"I don't know, I'm sure," was the reply. "It ain't anything as master took with him, and I'm quite sure it don't belong to mistress."
"I'll tell you what it is," said the boy abruptly, and in a solemn voice, "it's something as has to do with science. There's something soft inside it, I can feel. P'raps there's something alive in it—I shouldn't wonder. Oh! P'raps there's gun-cotton in it. I'd take care how I carried it if I was you, Mary, or p'raps it'll go off and blow you to bits!"
"Oh goodness!" exclaimed the housemaid, "I won't touch it. Just you take it yourself and put it into master's study; it'll be safest there."
So the boy, with a grin of extreme satisfaction at the success of his assault on the housemaid's nerves, helped her to carry the rest of the luggage upstairs, and then deposited the mysterious bag in a corner of the doctor's own special sanctum. Now this study was a room worth describing, and yet not very easy to describe.
The doctor's house itself was one of those not very attractive-looking dwellings which are to be found by streetfuls running from square to square in the west end of London. It had stood patiently there for many a long year, as was evident from the antiquated moulding over the doorway, and from a great iron extinguisher, in which the link-bearers of old used to quench their torches, which formed part of the sombre- coloured ironwork that skirted the area. The gloomy monotony of the street was slightly relieved by a baker's shop at one corner and a chemist's at the other. But for these, the general aspect would have been one of unbroken dinginess.
Nor did the interior of the doctor's house present a much livelier appearance.
The entrance-hall, which was dark and narrow, had rather a sepulchral smell about it, which was not otherwise than in keeping with some shelves of books at the farther end—the overflow apparently of the doctor's library; the tall, dark volumes therein looking like so many tombs of the dead languages.
To the left, as you entered the hall, was a dining-room massively furnished, adorned with a few family portraits, and as many vigorous engravings. But there lacked that indescribable air of comfort which often characterises those rooms devoted to the innocent and social refreshment of the body at meal-times. The chairs, though in themselves all that dining-room chairs ought to be, did not look as if on a habitual good understanding with one another; some were against the wall, and others stood near the table, and at irregular distances, as though they never enjoyed that cozy fraternity so desirable in well- conditioned seats. Books, too, lay about in little zigzag heaps; while a bunch of keys, a pair of lady's gloves, and a skein of coloured wool lay huddled together on the centre of the sideboard. The whole arrangement, or rather disarrangement, of the room bespoke, on the part of the presiding female management, an indifference to those minor details of order and comfort a due attention to which makes home (a genuine English home) the happiest spot in the world.
Opposite to this room, on the other side of the hall, was another of similar size, used apparently as a sort of reception-room. Huge book- shelves occupied two of the walls, an orrery stood against a third, while dusty curiosities filled up the corners. There was something peculiarly depressing about the general appearance and tone of this apartment,—nothing bright, nothing to suggest cheerful and happy thoughts,—plenty of food for the mind, but presented in such an indigestible form as was calculated to inflict on the consumer intellectual nightmare. This room was known as the library.
But we pass on to the doctor's own special room—the study. This was beyond and behind the dining-room. Book-shelves towered on all sides, filled with volumes of all sizes, and in nearly all languages, some in exquisitely neat white vellum binding, with Tome One, Tome Two, etcetera, in shining gold on their backs—the products of an age when a conscientiousness could be traced in the perfect finish of all the details of a work external or internal; some in the form of stately folios, suggestive at once both of the solidity and depth of learning possessed by the writers and expected in the readers; while a multitude of lesser volumes were crowded together, some erect, others lying flat, or leaning against one another for support. Greek and Latin classic authors, and in all languages poets, historians, and specially writers on science were largely represented—even French and German octavoes standing at ease in long regiments side by side, suggestive of no Franco-Prussian war, but only of an intellectual contest, arising out of amicable differences of opinion. On one side of the principal bookcase was an electrical machine, and on the other an air-pump; while a rusty sword and a pair of ancient gauntlets served as links to connect the warlike past with the pacific present. In the centre of the room was a large leather-covered writing-table, on which lay a perfect chaos of printed matter and manuscript; while bottles of ink, red, black, and blue, might be seen emerging from the confusion like diminutive forts set there to guard the papers from unlearned and intrusive fingers. Order was clearly not the doctor's "first law;" and certainly it must have required no common powers of memory to enable him, when seated in front of the confusion he himself had made, to lay his hand upon any particular book or manuscript which might claim his immediate attention. On either side of a small fire-place at the rear of the table, and above it, hung charts, historical, geological, and meteorological; while a very dim portrait of some friend of the doctor, or perhaps of some literary celebrity, looked down from over the doorway through a haze of venerable dust on the scientific labours which it could neither share nor lighten.
In the corner of the room farthest from the door was a little closet, seldom opened, secured by a patent lock, whose contents no one was acquainted with save the doctor himself. The housemaid, whose duties in this room were confined to an occasional wary sweeping and dusting, and fire-lighting in the winter season, would keep at a respectful distance from this closet, or pass it with a creeping dread; for the boy-in- buttons had thrown out dark suggestions that it probably contained the skulls of murderers, or, at the least, snakes and scorpions preserved in spirits, or even possibly alive, and ready to attack any daring intruder on their privacy.
Such were Dr John Prosser's home and study.
It was just four o'clock in the afternoon of the 24th of December when the doctor returned to his house from the city.
"Is your mistress at home?" he asked of the boy.
"No, sir; she told me to tell you that she was gone to a meeting of the school board."
The doctor's countenance fell. He was evidently disappointed; and no wonder, for he had been away from his home for the last ten days, and felt keenly the absence of his wife, and of a loving greeting on his return.
"Any letters for me, William?" he asked.
"Yes, sir, they're on your table; and, please, sir, I've put the little carpet-bag into your study."
"Carpet-bag! What carpet-bag?" asked his master.
"Why, sir, the little bag as came with your luggage. We didn't take it upstairs, because it's nothing as you took with you when you left home, and Mary says it don't belong to mistress; so I thought it would be better to put it into your study till you came home, as it might be something particular. It's in the corner by the fire-place, sir."
"Well, well, never mind," was the reply; "let me know when your mistress comes in," and the doctor retired to his sanctum.
Drawing up his chair to the table, he was soon deep in his letters; but turning round to poke the fire, his eye fell on the little bag. "How can I have come by this, I wonder? And what can it be?" he said to himself, as he took it up and turned it round and round. It was fastened by an ordinary padlock, which easily opened on the application of one of the doctor's keys. "Nothing but waste paper," he said, as he turned out a portion of the contents, which appeared to consist merely of pieces of newspaper and brown paper crumpled up. "Pshaw! Some foolish hoax or practical joke intended for me, or somebody else, perhaps!" he exclaimed. "Well, it seems scarcely worth making any trouble about; but if it has come here by mistake, and is of sufficient value, there will be inquiries or an advertisement about it." So saying, he replaced the crumpled papers, locked the bag again, and opening his closet, placed it on one of the upper shelves, where it must rest for a while and gather dust.
When Dr Prosser had finished reading his letters, and had answered such as needed an immediate reply, he betook himself to the drawing-room. This was a large apartment, occupying upstairs the same area as the library, hall, and dining-room. It was handsomely furnished, bearing marks in every direction of a highly cultivated taste and of woman's handiwork. Yet there was wanting that peculiar air of comfort which gives a heart—cheering glow alike to the humblest cottage parlour and the elegant saloon of the man of wealth and refinement. Indeed, it might truly be said that the room abounded in everything that could be devised, but comfort. Like a picture full of brilliant colouring, the various hues of which need blending and toning down, so the articles of luxury and beauty lavishly scattered about Dr Prosser's drawing-room, though tastefully selected, seemed calculated rather to call forth the passing admiration of friends and strangers than to give abiding pleasure to their possessors.
At present there was certainly something very discouraging about the whole appearance of things in the eyes of the doctor, as he entered the costly furnished apartment. A fire, it is true, twinkled between the bars of the grate; but its few feeble sparks, in contrast with the prevailing surroundings of black coal and cinders, were suggestive to the feelings rather of the chilliness they were meant to counteract than of the warmth which they were designed to impart. Near the fire was a dwarf, round, three-legged table, on which lay a manuscript in a female hand. The doctor took it up, and laid it down with a sigh. It was a portion of a long-since-begun and never-likely-to-be-finished essay on comparative anatomy. A heap of unanswered letters lay on a taller table close by, having displaced a work-basket, whose appearance of superlative neatness showed how seldom the fingers of its gentle owner explored or made use of its homely stores. A grand piano stood near the richly curtained windows. It was open. A vocal duet occupied the music-rest, and various other pieces for voice and instrument were strewed along the highly polished top. Near the piano was a harp, while a manuscript book of German and Italian songs was placed upon an elegant stand near it, and other pieces filled a gaping portfolio at the foot. On a beautifully inlaid table in the centre of the room was an unfinished water-colour drawing, propped up by a pile of richly gilded and ornamented books. The drawing, with its support, had been pushed back towards the middle of the table, to make way for a sheet or two of note-paper containing portions of a projected poem. And the presiding and inspiring genius of all this beautiful confusion was Agnes Prosser.
And did she make her husband happy? Well, it was taken for granted by friends and acquaintance that she did—or, at any rate, that it must be his fault if she did not; and so the poor doctor thought himself. He was proud of his wife, and considered that he ought to be thoroughly happy with her; but somehow or other, he was not so. She was, in the common acceptation of the words, highly accomplished, of an amiable and loving disposition, graceful and winning in person and manner, able to take the head of his table to the entire satisfaction of himself and his friends, and capable of conversing well on every subject with all who were invited to her house, or whom she met in society elsewhere.
What could her husband want more? He did want something more—his heart asked and yearned for something more. What was it? He could hardly distinctly tell. Nevertheless he felt himself on this afternoon—he had been gradually approaching the feeling for some time past—a disappointed man. Perhaps it was his own fault, he thought; yet so it was.
He was now just forty years of age, and had been married three years. His wife was some ten years younger than himself. He had looked well round him before making choice of one with whom he was to share the joys and sorrows of a domestic life. He was a man who thoroughly respected religion, and could well discriminate between the genuine servant of Christ and the mere sounding professor, while at the same time scientific studies had rather tended to make him undervalue clear dogmatic teaching as set forth in the revealed Word of God. Yet he was too profound a thinker to adopt that popular scepticism which is either the refuge of those who, consciously or unconsciously, use it as a screen, though it proves but a semi-transparent one at the best, to shut out the light of a coming judgment, or the halting-place of thinkers who stop short of the only source of true and infallible wisdom—the revealed mind of God. His wife, too, had been taught religiously, and cordially assented to the truths of the gospel, though the constraining love of Christ was yet wanting; and both she and her husband were intimate friends of one whose path had ever been since they had known it, "the path of the just, like the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day:" and that one was Ernest Maltby, now vicar of Crossbourne.
So Dr Prosser had chosen his wife well. And yet he was disappointed in her; and why? Just because he had made the mistake—and how common a mistake it is in these days—of supposing that accomplishments acquired and a highly cultivated mind make the model woman, wife, and mother. Surely the mistake is a sad and fatal one—fatal to woman's highest happiness and truest usefulness; fatal to her due fulfilment of the part which her loving Creator designed her to fulfil in this world!
There are two concentric circles in which we all move, an inner or domestic circle, an outer or social circle. We are too often educating our women merely for the outer circle. We crowd the mind and memory with knowledge of all sorts, that they may shine in society: we forget to teach them first and foremost how to make home happy. It was so with Mrs Prosser. She had overstrained her mind with the burden of a multitude of acquirements and accomplishments, which had not, after all, made her truly accomplished. One or two things for which she had real taste and ability thoroughly mastered would have been a far greater source of delight to her husband, and of satisfaction to herself, than the mere handful of unripe fruit which she had gathered from a dozen different branches of the tree of knowledge, and in the collecting of which she had, in a measure, impaired the elasticity of her mind and her bodily strength, and found no time for making herself mistress of a thousand little undemonstrative acquirements which tend to keep a steady light of joy and peace burning daily and hourly in the home.
What wonder, then, that, when a little one came to gladden the hearts of those who were already fondly attached to each other, the poor mother was unable to do justice to her child. Partly nourished by a stranger, and partly brought up by hand, and missing those numberless little attentions which either ignorance or a mind otherwise occupied prevented Mrs Prosser from giving to the frail being who had brought into the world with it a delicacy of constitution due, in a considerable degree, to its mother's overstrain of mind and body, the baby pined and drooped, and, spite of medicine, prayers, and tears, soon closed its weary eyes on a world which had used it but roughly, to wing its way into a land unclouded by sin or sorrow.
How keenly he felt the loss of his child the doctor dared not say, especially to his wife, entertaining as he did a painful misgiving that she had hardly done her duty by it; while on the mother's heart there rested an abiding burden, made doubly heavy by a dreadful consciousness of neglect on her part—a burden which no lapse of time could ever wholly remove. Thus a stationary shadow brooded over that home where all might have been unclouded sunshine.
Dr Prosser was disappointed; for he had hoped to find in his wife, not merely or chiefly an intellectual and highly educated companion, but one in whose society he could entirely unbend—one who would make his home bright by causing him to forget for a while science and the busy whirl of the world in the beautiful womanly tendernesses which rejoice a husband's heart, and smooth out the wrinkles from his brow.
It was, then, as a disappointed man that Dr Prosser sat with his feet on the drawing-room polished fender with his chair tilted back. Moodily gazing at the cheerless fire, he had become sunk deep in absorbing meditation, when a rushing step on the stairs roused him from his reverie, and scattered for the time all painful thoughts.
"My dear, dear John, how delighted I am to see you back; I hardly expected you so soon!" exclaimed Agnes Prosser, after exchanging a most loving salutation with her husband.
"Why, I thought," was the answer, with somewhat of reproach in its tone, "that you knew I should be here this afternoon."
"Oh yes; but hardly so soon. Well, I am so sorry; it was too bad not to be at home to welcome you. And, I declare, they've nearly let the fire out. What can that stupid boy have been about? And the room in such confusion too! Well, dearest, you shan't find it so again. Just ring the bell, please, and we'll make ourselves comfortable.—William," to the boy who answered the summons, "bring up a cup of tea, and a glass of sherry, and the biscuit box.—You'll like a cup of tea, John.—And, by- the-by, William, tell Mrs Lloyd I should like dinner half an hour earlier.—You won't mind dinner at half-past five to-day, dearest?"
"No, my dear Agnes, not if it is more convenient to yourself."
"Why, the fact is, I've promised to meet a select committee of ladies this evening at seven o'clock, at Lady Strong's."
"What!—this evening!" exclaimed her husband. "Why, it's Christmas-eve! Whatever can these good ladies want with one another to-night away from their own firesides?"
"Ah now, John, that's a little hit at your poor wife. But a man with your high sense of duty ought not to say so. You know it must be 'duty first, and pleasure afterwards.'"
"True, Agnes, where the duty is one plainly laid upon us, but not where it is of one's own imposing. I can't help thinking that a wife's first and chief duties lie at home."
"Oh, now, you mustn't look grave like that, and scold me. I ordered a fly to call for me at a quarter to seven, and I shan't be gone much more than an hour, I daresay. And you can have a good long snooze by the dining-room fire while I'm away. I know how you enjoy a snooze."
William now appearing with the tray, she passed the tea to her husband, and took the glass of sherry herself. A cloud settled for a moment on the doctor's brow. He wished that the constant drain on his wife's energies, physical and mental, could be restored by something less perilous than these stimulants, resorted to, he could see, with increasing frequency. But she always assured him that nothing so reinvigorated her as just one glass of sherry.
"And what are these good ladies going to meet about?" he asked, when the tray had been removed.
"Oh, you'll laugh, I daresay, when I tell you," she replied; "but I assure you that they are all good and earnest workers. We are going to discuss the best way of improving the homes of the working-classes."
"Well," said the doctor, laughing, but with a touch of mingled sarcasm and bitterness in his voice, "I think your committee can't do better than advise the working-women of England generally to make their homes more attractive to their husbands, and to lead the way yourselves."
"My dearest John," exclaimed his wife, a little taken aback, "you are cruelly hard upon us poor ladies. I declare you're getting positively spiteful. I think we'd better change the subject.—How did you leave our dear friends the Johnsons? And what are they doing in the north about the 'strikes' and 'trades-unions'?"
"Really," he replied wearily, "I must leave the 'strikes' and such things to take care of themselves just now. The Johnsons send their love. They were all well, and most kind and hospitable. But, my dearest wife, I feel concerned about yourself; you look fagged and pale. Come, sit down for a few minutes, and tell me all about it. There, the fire's burning up a bit; and now that I have got you for a while, I must not let you slip through my fingers. Just lay your bonnet down; you'll have plenty of time to dress for dinner. I don't like these evening meetings. I am sure they are good for neither mind nor body. You'll wear yourself out."
"Oh, nonsense, dear John; I never was better than I am now—only a little tired now and then. But surely we are put into this world to do good; and it is better to wear out than to rust out."
"Not a doubt of it, my dearest Agnes; but it is quite possible to keep the rust away without wearing yourself out at all; and, still more, without wearing yourself out prematurely. At the rate you are going on now, you will finish up your usefulness in a few years at the farthest, instead of extending it, please God, over a long and peaceful life."
Mrs Prosser was silent for a few moments, and then she said: "Are you not a little unreasonable, dear John? What would you have me give up? If all were of your mind, what would become of society?"
"Why, in that case, I believe that society would find itself on a much safer foundation, and surrounded by a much healthier atmosphere. But come, now, tell me, what are your engagements for next week?"
"Why, not so many. To-morrow is Christmas-day, you know, and the next day is Sunday, so that I shall have quite a holiday, and a fine time for recruiting."
"Good! And what on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etcetera?"
"Let me see, John. On Monday and Thursday mornings Clara Thompson and her sister come here, and we read French, German, and Italian together; and on Monday evening we meet at Clara's mother's to practise for the amateur concert. On Tuesday morning I have promised to help poor Miss Danvers."
"Miss Danvers! Why, what help can she need from you?"
"Come, dearest John, don't be unfeeling; she is over head and ears in debt, and—"
"And do you mean that you are going to take her liabilities upon yourself?"
"Nonsense, John; you are laughing at me; it isn't kind. I had not finished my sentence. She is overwhelmed with letter-debts, poor thing; and I promised to go and help her with her correspondence. You know we are told in the Bible to 'bear one another's burdens.'"
"True, my dearest wife; but the same high authority, if I remember rightly, bids us do our own business first. But what has entailed such an enormous amount of correspondence on Miss Danvers?"
"Only her anxiety to do good. She is secretary to some half-dozen ladies' societies for meeting all sorts of wants and troubles.—Ah! I see that cruel smile again on your face; but positively you must not laugh at me nor her. I am sure she is one of the noblest women I know."
"I won't question it for a moment, but I wish she could contrive to keep her benevolence within such reasonable limits as would allow her to transact her own business without taxing her friends. Anything more on Tuesday?"
"Nothing more, dearest, on Tuesday, away from home; but of course you know that I have to work hard at my essay, my music, my drawing, and my little poem. I see you shrug your shoulders, but you must not be hard upon me. Why was I taught all these things if I am to make no use of them?"
"Why, indeed?" were the words which rose to the doctor's lips, but he did not utter them. He only smiled sadly, and asked, "What of Wednesday?"
"There, John, perhaps you had better look for yourself," she said, rather piqued at his manner, and taking a little card from her pocket- book, she handed it to him.
Pressing her left hand lovingly in his own, he took the card from her, and read:—
"'Engagements. Wednesday, 11 a.m. Meet the professor at Mrs Maskelyne's.'—Mrs Maskelyne! That's your strong-minded friend who goes in for muscular Christianity and vivisection! I'm very glad we don't keep a pet terrier or spaniel!"—"Ah, John, you may laugh, but she's a wonderful woman!"—"'Wonderful!' perhaps so, dear Agnes,—an 'awful' woman, I should say; that's only a term expressive of a different kind of admiration.—'Concert in the evening.'
"Now for Thursday. 'At 12 o'clock, visit the hospital. Jews' meeting in the evening.'
"'Friday, 10 a.m. Club. Afternoon, district visiting.'
"'Saturday, 3 p.m. Mothers' meeting.'—Why, this mothers' meeting is something quite new. I thought the vicar's wife took that."—"So she does, John; but, poor thing, she is so overworked, that I could not refuse when she asked me to take it for her during the next three months."
"And is this sort of thing to go on perpetually?" asked the doctor in a despairing voice.
"Why should it not, dearest husband? You would not have your wife a drone in these days, when the world all round us is full of workers?"
"Certainly not; but I very much question if we have not gone mad on this subject of work—at any rate as regards female workers."
"And would you, then, John, shut up people's hearts and hands? I thought none knew better than yourself what a vast field there is open for noble effort and service of every kind. Surely you ought to be the last person to discourage us."
"Nay, my beloved wife, you are not doing me justice," said the doctor warmly. "What I am convinced of is this—and the conviction gains strength with me every day—that good and loving women like yourself are in grievous peril of marring and curtailing their real usefulness by attempting too much. If agencies for good are to be multiplied, let those who set new ones on foot seek for their workers amongst those who are not already overburdened or fully occupied. I cannot help thinking that there is often much selfishness, or, to use a less harsh word, want of consideration, in those who apply to ladies whose time is already fully and properly occupied, to join them as workers in their pet schemes; for it is easier to try and enlist those who are known to be zealous workers already, than to be at the pains of hunting out new ones. I am sure no one rejoices more than I do in the wonderful and complicated machinery for doing good which exists on all sides in our land and day—I think it one of the most cheering signs and evidences of real progress amongst us; but, for all that, if a person wants to launch a new ship, he should have reasonable grounds for trusting that he shall be able to find hands to man her without borrowing those from a neighbouring vessel, who have kept their watch through stormy winds and waves, and ought, instead of doing extra duty, to be now resting in their hammocks."
Mrs Prosser was again silent for a while, and sat looking thoughtfully into the fire. Then, in rather a sorrowful voice, she said, "And what, then, dear John, do you think to be my duty? I can't help feeling that there is a great deal in what you say. I have not been really satisfied with my own way of going on for some time past. But what would you have me do? What must I give up?"
"I think," was his reply, "that the thing will settle itself, if you will only begin at the right end."
"And which is that, dearest?"
"The home end. Let your first and best energies be spent on the home; it will surely be happier for us both. And let the care of your own health, in the way of taking proper exercise, be reckoned as a most important part of home duties. Life is given us to use, and not to shorten. Therefore, don't undertake anything which will unfit you for the due performance of these home duties. You have no just call to any such undertaking. Do that which is the manifest work lying at your hand, and I feel sure you will be guided aright as to what other work you can find time and strength for."
"Well, John, I will think it well over; I am glad we have had this conversation."
"So am I, my precious wife; I am sure good will come of it. And you know we have an invitation to visit the Maltbys in the spring: we shall be sure to get some words of valuable counsel there. I don't want to hinder you from doing good out of your own home; I don't want selfishly to claim all your energies for home work, and my own convenience and comfort: but I do feel strongly, and more and more strongly every day, that there is a tendency at the present day to make an idol of woman's work; to keep, too, the bow perpetually on the stretch; to drag wives, mothers, and daughters from their home duties into public, and to give them no rest, but bid them strain every nerve, and gallop, gallop till they die."
"Perhaps so, John; but it is time for me to go up and dress for dinner."
No one was more universally respected or more vigorously abused in Crossbourne than "Tommy Tracks," as he was sneeringly called. His real name was Thomas Bradly. He was not a native of Crossbourne, but had resided in that town for some five years past at the time when our story opens. As he was a capital workman, and had two sons growing up into young men who were also very skilful hands, it was thought quite natural that he should have come to settle down in Crossbourne, where skilled labour was well remunerated. As to where he came from, some said one thing, some another. He was very reserved on the matter himself, and so people soon ceased to ask him about it.
Thomas was undoubtedly an oddity, but his eccentricities were of a kind which did no one any harm, and only served to add force to his words and example. He was an earnest Christian, and as earnest an abstainer from all intoxicating drinks; and his family walked with him on the narrow gospel way, and in their adherence to temperance principles and practice. He was also superintendent of the church Sunday-school, and the very life of the Temperance Society and Band of Hope, of both which associations the vicar, who was himself an abstainer, was the president. Indeed, he was the clergyman's right-hand in the carrying out of every good work in the place. He was something of a reader of such sterling and profitable works as came in his way, but his Bible was his chief study.
His special characteristics were a clear head, a large stock of shrewd common sense, and an invincible love of truth and straightforwardness, so that he could hold his ground against any man in the place, William Foster the styptic not excepted. Not that Bradly was at all fond of an argument; he avoided one when he could do so consistently, preferring to do good by just sowing seeds of truth in his own humble way, leaving it to God to deal with the tares and weeds.
One of his favourite modes of sowing was to carry along with him at all times a little bundle of religious and temperance tracts, and to offer these whenever he had an opportunity, commonly accompanying the offer with some quaint remark which would often overcome the reluctance to accept them, even in those who were opposed to his principles and practice. From this habit of his he was generally known among the working-classes of Crossbourne by the nickname of "Tommy Tracts," or "Tracks," as it was usually pronounced—an epithet first given in scorn, but afterwards generally used without any unkindly feeling. Indeed, he was rather proud of it than otherwise; nor could the taunts and gibes which not unfrequently accompanied it ever ruffle in the least his good- humoured self-possession.
His family, which consisted of himself, his wife, their two sons, and a daughter, all grown up, and an invalid sister of his own, lived in a comfortable house on the outskirts of the town.
This house he had built for himself out of the profits of his own industry. Like its owner, it was rather of an eccentric character, having been constructed on an original plan of his own, and, in consequence, differed from any other dwelling-house in the town. Of course, he was not left without abundance of comments on his architectural taste, many of them being anything but complimentary, and all of them outspoken. This moved him nothing. "Well, if the house pleases me," he said to his critics, "I suppose it don't matter much what fashion it's of, so long as the chimney-pots is outside, and the fire-places in." Not that there was anything grand or ambitious in its outward appearance, nor sufficiently peculiar to draw any special attention to it. It was rather wider in front than the ordinary working-men's cottages, and had a stone parapet above the upper windows, running the whole length of the building, on which were painted, in large black letters, the words, "Bradly's Temperance Hospital."
As might have been expected, this inscription brought on him a storm of ridicule and reproach, which he took very quietly; but if any one asked him in a civil way what he meant by the words, his reply used to be, "Any confirmed drunkard's welcome to come to my house for advice gratis, and I'll warrant to make a perfect cure of him, if he'll only follow my prescription." And when further asked what that prescription might be, he would reply, "Just this: let the patient sign the pledge, and keep it." And many a poor drunkard, whom he had lured up to his house, and then pleaded and prayed with earnestly, had already proved the efficacy of this remedy.
When blamed by foes or friends for misleading people by putting such words on his house, he would say—"Where's the harm? Haven't I as much right to call my house 'Temperance Hospital' as Ben Roberts has to call his public 'The Staff of Life'? What has his 'Staff of Life' done? Why, to my certain knowledge, it has just proved a broken staff, and let down scores of working-men into the gutter. But my 'Temperance Hospital' has helped back many a poor fellow out of the gutter, and set him on his feet again. It's a free hospital, too, and we're never full; we takes all patients as comes."
The inside of the house was as suggestive of Thomas's principles and eccentricities of character as the outside.
The front door opened into a long and narrow hall, lighted by a fan- light. As you entered, your eyes would naturally fall on the words, "Picture Gallery," facing you, on the farther wall, just over the entrance to the kitchen. This "picture gallery" was simply the hall itself, which had something of the appearance of a photographer's studio, the walls being partly covered with portraits large and small, interspersed with texts of Scripture, pledge-cards bearing the names of himself and family, and large engravings from the British Workman, coloured by one of his sons to give them greater effect. The photographs were chiefly likenesses of those who had been his own converts to total abstinence, with here and there the portrait of some well-known temperance advocate.
To the left of the hall was the parlour or company sitting-room, which was adorned with portraits, or what were designed to be such, of the Queen and other members of the royal family. Over the fire-place was a handsome mirror, on either side of which were photographs of the vicar and his wife; and on the opposite side of the room stood a bookcase with glass doors, containing a small but judicious selection of volumes, religious, historical, biographical, and scientific: for Thomas Bradly was a reader in a humble way, and had a memory tenacious of anything that struck him. But the pride of this choice apartment was an enormous illustrated Bible, sumptuously bound, which lay on the middle of a round table that occupied the centre of the room.
The kitchen, however, was the real daily living-place of the family. It had been built of unusually large dimensions, in order to accommodate a goodly number of temperance friends, or of the members of the Band of Hope, who occasionally met there. Over the doors and windows were large texts in blue, and over the ample fire-place, in specially large letters of the same colour, the words, "Do the next thing."
Many who called on Thomas Bradly, and saw this maxim for the first time, were rather puzzled to know what it meant. "What is 'the next thing'?" they would ask. "Why, it's just this," he would reply: "the next thing is the thing nearest to your hand. Just do the thing as comes nearest to hand, and be content to do that afore you concern yourself about anything else. These words has saved me a vast of trouble and worry. I've read somewhere as 'worry' is one of the specially prominent troubles of our day. I think that's true enough. Well, now, I've found my motto there—'Do the next thing'—a capital remedy for worry. Sometimes I've come down of a morning knowing as I'd a whole lot of things to get done, and I've been strongly tempted to make a bundle of them, and do them all at once, or try, at any rate, to do three or four of 'em at the same time. But then I've just cast my eyes on them words, and I've said to myself, 'All right, Thomas Bradly; you just go and do the next thing;' and I've gone and done it, and after that I've done the next thing, and so on till I've got through the whole bundle."
Opposite the broad kitchen-range was a plate-rack well filled with serviceable chinaware, and which formed the upper part of a dresser or plain deal sideboard. Above the rack, and near the ceiling, were the words, "One step at a time."
This and the maxim over the fire-place he used to call his "two walking- sticks." Thus, meeting a fellow-workman one day who had lately come to Crossbourne, about whose character for steadiness he had strong suspicions, and who seemed always in a hurry, and yet as if he could never fairly overtake his work—
"James," he said to him, "you should borrow my two walking-sticks."
"Walking-sticks!—what for?" asked the other.
"Why, you'll be falling one of these days if you hurry so; and my two walking-sticks would be a great help to you." The other stared at him, quite unable to make out his meaning.
"Walking-sticks, Tommy Tracks! You don't seem to stand in need of them. I never see you with a stick in your hand."
"For all that I make use of them every day, James; and if you'll step into my house any night I'll show them to you: for I can't spare them out of the kitchen, though I never go to my work without them."
"Some foolery or other!" exclaimed the man he addressed, roughly. Nevertheless his curiosity was excited, and he stopped Bradly at his door one evening, saying "he was come to see his two walking-sticks."
"Good—very good," said the other. "Come in. There, sit you down by the table—and, missus, give us each a cup of tea. Now, you just look over the chimney-piece. There's one of my walking-sticks: 'Do the next thing.' And, now, look over the dresser. There's the other walking- stick: 'One step at a time'. And I'll just tell you how to use them. It don't require any practice. When you've half-a-dozen things as wants doing, and can't all be done at once, just you consider which of 'em all ought to be done first. That's 'the next thing.' Go straight ahead at that, and don't trouble a bit about the rest till that's done. That's one stick as'll help you to walk through a deal of work with very little bustle and worry. And, James, just be content in all you do to be guided by the great Master as owns us all, the Lord Jesus Christ, who bought us for himself with his own blood. Just be willing to follow him, and let him lead you 'one step at a time,' and don't want to see the place for the next step till you've put your foot where he tells you. You'll find that a rare stout walking-stick. You may lean your whole weight on it, and it won't give way; and it'll help you in peace through the trials of this life, and on the road to a better."
Such was Thomas Bradly's kitchen. Many a happy gathering was held there, and many a useful lesson learned in it.
But, besides the rooms already mentioned, there was one adjoining the kitchen which was specially Thomas Bradly's own. It was of considerable size, and was entered from the inside by a little door out of the kitchen. This door was commonly locked, and the key kept by Bradly himself. The more usual approach to it was from the outside. Its external appearance did not exactly contribute to the symmetry of the whole premises; but that was a matter of very small moment to its proprietor, who had added it on for a special purpose. The house itself was on the hill-side, on the outskirts of the town, as has been said. There was a little bit of garden in front and on either side, so that it could not be built close up to. At present it had no very near neighbours. A little gate in the low wall which skirted the garden, on the left hand as you faced the house, allowed any visitor to have access to the outer door of Bradly's special room without going through the garden up the front way. On this outer door was painted in white letters, "Surgery."
"Do you mend broken bones, Tommy Tracks?" asked a working-man of not very temperate or moral habits soon after this word had been painted on the door. "If you do, I think we may perhaps give you a job before long, as it'll be Crossbourne Wakes next Sunday week."
"No," was Bradly's reply; "I mend broken hearts, and put drunkards' homes into their proper places when they've got out of joint."
"Indeed! You'll be clever to do that, Tommy."
"Ah! You don't know, Bill. P'raps you'll come and try my skill yourself afore long."
The other turned away with a scornful laugh and a gibe; but the arrow had hit its mark. But, indeed, what Thomas Bradly said was true. Broken hearts and dislocated families had been set to rights in that room. There would appointments be kept by wretched used-up sots, who would never have been persuaded to ask for Bradly at the ordinary door of entrance; and there on his knees, with the poor conscience-stricken penitent bowed beside him, would Thomas pour out his simple but fervent supplications to Him who never "broke a bruised reed, nor quenched the smoking flax." And mothers, too, the slaves of the drink-fiend, had found in that room liberty from their chains. Here, too, would the vicar preside over meetings of the Temperance and Band of Hope Committees.
The room was snugly fitted up with a long deal table, as clean as constant scrubbing could make it, and boasted of a dozen windsor-chairs and two long benches. There were two cupboards also, one on each side of a small but brightly burnished grate. In one of these, pledge-books, cards for members, and temperance tracts and books were kept; in the other was a stock of Bibles, New Testaments, prayer-books, hymn-books, and general tracts. A few well-chosen coloured Scripture prints and illuminated texts adorned the walls; and everything in Bradly's house was in the most perfect order. You would not find a chair awry, nor books lying loose about, nor so much as a crumpled bit of paper thrown on the floor of his "Surgery," nor indeed anywhere about the premises.
When a neighbour once said to him, "I see, Tommy Tracks, you hold with the saying, 'Cleanliness is next to godliness,'"—"Nay, I don't," was his reply. "I read it another way: 'Cleanliness is a part of godliness.' I can't understand a dirty or disorderly Christian— leastways, it's very dishonouring to the Master; for dirt and untidiness and confusion are types and pictures of sin. A true Christian ought to be clean and tidy outside as well as in. Christ's servants should look always cleaner and neater than any one else; for aren't we told to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things? And don't dirtiness and untidiness in Christians bring a reproach on religion? And then, if things are out of their place—all sixes and sevens—why, it's just setting a trap for your feet. You'll stumble, and lose your temper and your time, and fuss the life out of other people too, if things aren't in their proper places, and you can't lay hold of a thing just when you want it. It's waste of precious time and precious peace, and them's what Christians can't afford to lose. Why, Jenny Bates, poor soul, used to lose her temper, and she'd scarce find it afore she lost it again, and just because she never had anything in decent order. And yet she were a godly woman; but her light kept dancing about, instead of shining steadily, as it ought to have done, just because she never knew where to put her hand on anything she wanted, and everything was in her way and in her husband's way, except what they was looking for at the time. It's a fine thing when you can stick by the rule, 'A place for everything, and everything in its place.'"
But now it is not to be supposed for a moment that a man like Thomas Bradly could escape without a great deal of persecution in such a place as Crossbourne. All sorts of hard names were heaped upon him by those who were most rebuked by a life so manifestly in contrast to their own. Many gnashed upon him with their teeth, and would have laid violent hands on him had they dared. Sundry little spiteful tricks also were played off upon him. Thus, one morning he found that the word "Surgery" had been obliterated from his private door, and the word "Tomfoolery" painted under it. He let this pass for a while unnoticed and unremedied, and then restored the original word; and as his friends and the police were on the watch, the outrage was not repeated. All open scoffs and insults he took very quietly, sometimes just remarking, when any one called him "canting hypocrite," or the like, that "he was very thankful to say that it wasn't true."
But besides this, he had an excellent way of his own in dealing with annoyances and persecutions, which turned them to the best account. At the back of a shelf, in one of the cupboards in his "Surgery," he kept a small box, on the lid of which he had written the word "Pills." When some word or act of special unkindness or bitterness had been his lot, he would scrupulously avoid all mention of it to his wife or children on his return home, but would retire into his "Surgery," write on a small piece of paper the particulars of the act or insult, with the name of the doer or utterer, and put it into the box. Then, at the end of each month, he would lock himself into his room, take out the box, read over the papers, which were occasionally pretty numerous, and spread them out in prayer, like Hezekiah, before the Lord, asking him that these hard words and deeds might prove as medicine to his soul to keep him humble and watchful, and begging, at the same time, for the conversion and happiness of his persecutors. After this he would throw the papers into the fire, and come out to his family all smiles and cheerfulness, as though something specially pleasant and gratifying had just been happening to him—as indeed it had; for having cast his care on his Saviour, he had been getting a full measure of "the peace of God, which passeth understanding, to keep his heart and mind through Christ Jesus."
Nor would his nearest and dearest have ever known of this original way of dealing with his troubles, had not his wife accidentally come upon the "pill-box" one day, when he had sent her to replace a book in the cupboard for him. Well acquainted as she was with most of his oddities, she was utterly at a loss to comprehend the box and its contents. On opening the lid, she thought at first that the box contained veritable medicine; but seeing, on closer inspection, that there was nothing inside but little pieces of paper neatly rolled up, her curiosity was, not unnaturally, excited, and she unfolded half-a-dozen of them. What could they mean? There was writing on each strip, and it was in her husband's hand. She read as follows: "Sneaking scoundrel. John Thompson"—"Jim Taylor set his dog at me"—"Hypocritical humbug; you take your glass on the sly. George Walters!"—and so on.
She returned the papers to the box, and in the evening asked her husband, when they were alone, what it all meant. "Oh! So you've found me out, Mary," he said, laughing. "Well, it means just this: I never bring any of these troubles indoors to you and the children; you've got quite enough of your own. So I keep them for the Lord to deal with; and when I've got a month's stock, I just read them over. It's as good as a medicine to see what people say of me. And then I throw 'em all into the fire, and they're gone from me for ever; and when I've added a word of prayer for them as has done me the wrong, I come away with my heart as light as a feather."
It need hardly be said that Mrs Bradly was more than satisfied with this solution of the puzzle.
If there was one man more than another whom William Foster the sceptic both disliked and feared, it was "Tommy Tracks." Not that he would have owned to such a fear for a moment. He tried to persuade himself that he despised him; but there was that about Bradly's life and character which he was forced to respect, and before which his spirit within him bowed and quailed spite of himself.
Thomas Bradly, though possessed of but a very moderate share of book- learning, was pretty well aware that it required no very deep line to reach the bottom of Foster's acquirements; and so, while he preferred, as a rule, to avoid any open controversy with William, or any of his party, he never shrunk from a fair stand-up contest when he believed that his Master's honour and the truth required it.
One evening, a few days after the mysterious appearance of the little Bible in his own house, Foster, as he was coming home from his work, encountered Bradly at the open door of the blacksmith's forge with a bundle of tracts in his hand.
"Still trying to do us poor sinners good, I see," sneered Foster.
"Yes, if you'll let me," said the other, offering a tract.
"None of your nonsensical rubbish for me," was the angry reply, as the speaker turned away.
"I never carries either nonsense or rubbish," rejoined Thomas. "My tracts are all of 'em good solid sense; they are taken out of God's holy Word, or are agreeable to the same."
"What! The Bible? What sensible man now believes in that Bible of yours? It's a failure; it has been demonstrated to be a failure. All enlightened men, even many among your own Christians, are giving it up as a failure now,"—saying which in a tone of triumph, as he looked round on a little knot of working-men who were gathering about the smithy door, he seated himself on an upturned cart which was waiting to be repaired, and looked at his opponent for a reply.
Thomas Bradly, nothing daunted, sat him down very deliberately on a large smooth stone on the opposite side of the doorway, and remarked quietly, "As to the Bible's being a failure, I suppose that depends very much on experience. I've got an eight-day clock in our house. I bought it for a very good one, and gave a very good price for it, just before I set up housekeeping. A young fellow calls the other day, when I happened to be in, and he wants me to buy a new-fashioned sort of clock of him. 'Well, if I do,' says I, 'what'll you allow me for my old clock, then, as part payment?' So he goes over and looks at it, and turns up his nose at it, and says, ''Tain't worth the trouble of taking away: you shall have one of the right sort cheap; that clumsy, old- fashioned thing'll never do you no good.'—'Well,' says I, 'that's just as people find. That old clock has served me well, and kept the best of time these five and twenty years, and it don't show any signs of being worse for wear yet. So I'll stick to the old clock still, if you please, and take my time by it as I've been used to do.' And the old- fashioned Bible's just like my old clock. You tell me as it's proved to be a failure. I tell you it isn't a failure, for I've tried it, and proved it for more years than I've tried my clock, and it never yet failed me."
"Perhaps not, Tommy," said Foster; "that's what you call your experience; but for all that, it has proved a failure generally."
"How do you make out that, William? I can find you a score of families in Crossbourne as the Bible hasn't failed, and their neighbours know it too."
"Ah! Very likely; but what I mean is this: it has proved a failure when its power and truth have come to be tested in other parts of the world— that's the general and almost universal experience, in fact."
"Well, now, that's strange," replied Bradly, "to hear a man talk in that way in our days, when there's scarce a language in the known world that the Bible hasn't been turned into, so that all the wide world own it has been bringing light and peace into thousands of hearts and homes— there's no contradicting that; and that's a strange sort of failure— summat like old John Wrigley's failure that folks were talking about; he failed by dying worth just half a million."
"Well, but when we men of science and observation say that the Bible is a failure, we mean that it hasn't accomplished what it should have done supposing it to be a revelation from the Supreme Being."
"Ah, you are right there, William! I quite agree with you."
"Do you hear him, mates?" cried Foster triumphantly. "He owns he's beaten."
"Not a bit of it," cried Bradly. "What I grant you is this, and no more: the Bible hasn't done all it should have done, and would have done. But why? Just because men wouldn't let it: as our Saviour said when he was upon earth, 'Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.' That's man's fault, not the Bible's."
"Ah, but if the Bible had really been a revelation from heaven, it ought to have converted all the world by this time, Tommy Tracks."
"What! Whether men would or no? Nay; that's making men mere machines, without any will of their own. If men hear the Bible, and still choose to walk in wicked ways, who's to blame? Certainly not the Bible."
"That won't do, Tommy. What I mean is this: men of real science and knowledge declare that your Bible has proved to be a failure just because Christianity has not accomplished what the Bible professed that it would accomplish."
"Indeed!" said the other quietly; "how so? I think, William, you're shifting your ground a bit. But what has the Bible claimed for the Christian religion which Christianity has not accomplished?"
"Why, just look here, Tommy. There's what you call the angels' song, 'Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace, good-will towards men.' That's how it goes, I think. Now, Professor Tyndall, one of the greatest scientific men of the day, says that you've only to look at the wars that still go on between civilised nations to see that the angels' song has not been fulfilled—that the gospel has failed to bring about universal peace. And so you see the Christian Bible has not accomplished what it professed to accomplish."
"Stop a bit—softly!" said the other; "let's take one thing at a time. Professor Tyndall may understand a great deal about science, but it don't follow that he knows much about the Bible. But now I'll make bold to take the very wars that have been going on in your time and mine, and call them up to give evidence just the other way. Mind you, I'm not saying a word in favour of wars. I only wish people would be content to fight with my weapons, and no others; and that's just simply with the Bible itself—'the sword of the Spirit,' as the Scripture calls it. But now, you just listen to this letter from a newspaper correspondent in the war between the Prussians and the French. I cut it out, and here it is:—