SHOWS HOW SALLIE "WILL BE OF THE SAME
IT was twilight,
and the stars were just appearing when the young minder got into the
open air, but he noticed nothing. With head down and heart
sinking within him, he plunged along homeward without any thought as
to where he went or what became of him. Suddenly he remembered
that if he returned so soon it would awaken his mother's suspicions
and lead to more anxiety on her part, and perhaps to awkward
questions. He stopped, therefore, stood trying to collect his
thoughts for a moment, and then, turning back, got over a stile and
gained a footpath that led through Brinksway Woods and over the hill
into the Rushton and Manchester turnpike. Crossing the fields,
now almost running in the agitation and impetuosity of his thoughts,
and now stopping to look distractedly around, he presently crossed a
little footbridge, passed through a narrow wicket-gate into the
wood, and flung himself down under a great tree, and burying his hot
face in the new-springing bracken, he groaned out a spasmodic prayer
for help and tried to collect himself.
It was a very difficult work, and for the first ten minutes
he simply rolled about on the ground and moaned. Then he sat
up, leaned his back against the trunk of a tree and tried to clear
his mind. Where was he? What was his position now?
And immediately such a flood of bitter memories came rushing upon
him that he seemed completely overwhelmed. Circumstances were
all against him, and wherever he turned for comfort he only met some
new phase of trouble. But life had taught John Ledger the
uselessness of mere repining, and so with gathered brow and clenched
hands he tried to look the situation in the face. It seemed as
though he were resisting something which God and man were combining
to force upon him. Was he a cowardly Jonah? Was this his
"watery deep" and "whale's belly"? and for the moment a wild, mad
hope, which he had been treading ruthlessly down in his heart ever
since this idea of becoming a minister had been suggested, seemed to
elude his grasp and get the mastery. But it was only for a
moment; that wicked worldly ambition which he had seen, and been so
keenly ashamed of in others, must never get a foothold in his mind,
its very presence so close to him seemed to cheapen and vulgarise
him; and as the easiest thing in the world to him was to convict
himself of some delinquency, he was soon concluding that God had
detected the risings of ungodly pride in him, and was resorting to
this severe discipline in order to effectually exorcise the evil
spirit. And it was an added misery to him that at the moment
when everybody he cared for was pushing him forward towards this
great decision, he was more absolutely certain than he had ever been
that to indulge the idea even for a moment would be to dishonour
himself, insult the great calling, and sin against his Maker.
So clear indeed was all this to him, that he wondered with
new dismay how it was that none of his friends seemed able or
willing to see the matter as he did. He ought not to blame
them; in fact, he felt another pang of self-reproach at the very
thought. What they had said and done were so many signs of
interest in him, and interest for which he could never be
sufficiently grateful. Even Sallie's attitude, which affected
him most of all, was only the manifestation of an ambition for him
for which his lover's heart ought to be both proud and thankful.
It was only that her standpoint was different, and that was not very
remarkable, seeing everybody agreed with her and nobody with him.
And then, as usual, it all came back upon himself. He was odd,
he was different from anybody else. Was it not at bottom a
piece of mere pharisaism and self-righteousness? All this will
seem very morbid to the healthy-minded reader, but John Ledger was
highly sensitive and conscientious; he had been trained in a narrow
but intense and introspective school of faith, and was overworked
and underfed, and just now, at any rate, insufficiently vitalized,
whilst the experiences of the past few days had severely drained his
already scanty nervous resources, and so he dwelt long upon this
process of injurious self-condemnation. When he came to ask
himself, however, whether he or they were right, the answer in his
own heart was as emphatic as ever; he had no such gifts as this
great work required; he had not sufficient education, and, above
all, he had no real call. He had risen to his feet again by
this time, for the ground was striking the damp through his clothes.
It was very still and dark about him, and the sense of solitude
which at first had soothed now began to depress, and for a moment he
had to check a feeling that he wished his life's battle were over,
and his fretted heart for ever at rest.
Naturally, he thought most of the interview he had just had
with Sallie. The rest he could have borne easily, but her
attitude was not only serious in itself, but derived an added
significance from its agreement with the opinions of all the rest of
his friends. Then some of her words came back to him, and with
them the remembrance that they had sounded hard and mercenary, but
as this seemed disloyal to her, he tried to dismiss it, and found
more difficulty than he had expected. He shook himself to cast
away unworthy suspicions, and resumed his walk. Do what he
might, however, he could not get away from the feeling that Sallie
cared more for his prospects than she did for him, and he found
himself fighting, not altogether successfully, the fear that her
sudden complacency towards him on the night of the fateful kiss
might have had its origin in some wandering rumour that he was a
probable candidate for the ministry. But this only led to a
further self-castigation. What a small, mean mind he must have
to be capable of such unworthy suspicions. It was mere
coincidence. Sallie was a true, honourable, open-minded girl,
and though she did not see this important matter as he would have
expected a Methodist of the third generation to do, she was, at any
rate, no worse than others, and, in fact, her ambition might very
well be the very strongest proofs of her love.
By this time he had reached the highway, and was able to come
to at least a temporary decision. He would wait until Sallie's
evident anger had subsided, and then explain things to her at
length. He would show her the difference between a profession
and a holy calling. Probably, he told himself, she would see
it, and if she did not—well, he must leave that for the present.
He had grown calmer by this, but whether from peace of mind or
emotional exhaustion is an open question. So he strolled slowly
along, muttering now and again a prayer for guidance, and presently
he entered the town, and made his way home. Arrived there, the
ruffled, though rather abashed, look of his father, and the forced
calm of his mother, indicated but too clearly that there had been a
domestic wrangle of which he had been the subject. For though
of late the elder Ledger had shown a sort of fear for his son, John
knew only too well that what would once have been said to him was
now poured out unmercifully upon the head of the patient mother he
He got to bed earlier than usual, and though his first hour
was spent in going over the whole weary ground of his conflict once
more, his very exhaustion and the crisp spring air in which he had
spent so much time came to his rescue, and he slept better even than
usual. John was a Sunday school teacher, and as he was passing
with his class from the school to the chapel next morning, Robina,
the day girl at the farm, called him aside, and told him that Sallie
wished him to go down to tea. This was better than he
expected, and had the effect of considerably raising his spirits.
If only he could get Sallie to see matters as he did all might yet
be well. As soon, therefore, as afternoon school was over he
started for the farm, and was not too well pleased to discover when
he turned into the lane that he was overtaking old Zeph.
Somehow John had never liked his future father-in-law; he was a hard
sort of man who barely concealed a grasping spirit under a bluff and
jocular manner. Report credited him with remorseless
bargain-driving, and all the Woods for generations back had borne
similar characters, and John did not like to feel that the girl he
loved had been brought up— and in these times so critical for
him—was still living under such influences.
"What, already!" cried Zeph, as John came up. "Hey,
young folk! young folk!" and he shook his head with waggish
"How's Sallie?" asked John, pulling up and dropping into the
old man's step.
"Right! all right! convalescent, as yo' fine talkers say.
Hey, John, she's taken some rearin' hez that wench! Cost!" and
here he pulled up and dropped into a solemn tone, "that slip of a
lass has cost me —many a hundeerd pound!"
"And she's worth it," cried John with a burst of sweet,
lover-like feeling. "She's worth it all, and a fine sight
more, isn't she?"
They were still standing in the lane, and Zeph followed each
word John uttered with a little nod, as though he were counting, and
then puckering his brows and pursing out his lips, he stuck out an
argumentative forefinger, and shaking it at John, he cried—
"Ay, bud t'question is, shall I ever get it back?
John opened his eyes.
"Why, Mr. Wood, you are getting it back every day, and you
will do, I hope, as long as you live."
This was not quite the answer Zeph had expected, and so with
a little wave of the hand to dismiss it, he pointed his finger once
more at John, and demanded—
"What I want to know is this. Would it be right after
all t'hedication I've given her, an' all I've spent on her, and
t'snug little bit she'll hev when I've done wi' it, would it be
right for her to throw hersel' away? Now that's t'point."
Zeph put this query as though he were merely raising a purely
hypothetic case, but it was palpable enough to John. It came
so unexpectedly that he was taken somewhat by surprise. His
heart sank, and he was collecting himself to reply, when the old
man, who was evidently very intent on making his point, resumed—
"I'm her father, am not I? Isn't it my duty to see as
she doesna throw herself away?"
John dropped his head upon his chest and uttered a reluctant
Zeph's thoughts, like his words, were jerky and disconnected,
and so instead of taking up John's reluctant admission, he burst
"Our Sallie's a Wood! ivvery inch on her! She means to
ger on and ger hup i' t'world, an' why shouldn't she?"
"Mr. Wood," said John slowly," I understand what you mean,
and I cannot complain. Sallie said much the same thing herself
last night, but she has sent for me, and if it is all the same to
you, I prefer to take it from her, if I am to be dismissed."
"Oh, well! do as thou likes. Young folks allus is
pig-headed. But mind thee, what I thinks Sallie thinks, an'
what Sallie thinks I thinks;" and with a gesture of dismissal, the
old man fell back and allowed John to proceed on his journey.
The young minder felt sick at heart, and strongly inclined to
give up the matter and go home, and perhaps write to Sallie.
But he was not a coward, though his courage took the shape of quiet
tenacity rather than demonstration, and so, with a desire to see his
sweetheart and a dogged Dutch sort of pluck, he preceded Zeph down
Sallie herself opened the door when he reached the farm, and
her reception at once reassured him. She was tastefully
dressed, and the little blush that rose to her cheeks as she greeted
him made her look, in his eyes at least, prettier than ever.
She did her best, certainly, to make him feel at home, and showed
him many little attentions, which touched him the more as he was
haunted with the feeling that this might be a sort of valedictory
meeting. The tea was complimentarily pretentious, and though
both the lovers and old Zeph had a little constraint upon them, the
meal passed off better than might have been expected. When it
was over and old Wood had settled down to a pipe in the chimney
corner, Sallie, after carrying the tea-things into the kitchen,
strolled towards the parlour on the other side of the house, and,
turning her head as she entered, beckoned John to follow her.
She was sitting at an old-fashioned piano when he reached the room,
and she continued strumming lightly on the keys whilst he wandered
awkwardly to a seat near the fire. The chair upon which he sat
was almost filled with decorative rather than useful cushions, and
Sallie, with a not quite natural little laugh, got up, took one
away, made the other comfortable for him, and then, with a playful
little tap on the cheek, bade him sit back and look as if he were at
John sighed and looked at her, and did as he was told, and
then she dropped on her knees upon the white imitation skin
hearth-rug, and sat looking into the fire with her right shoulder
touching his knee.
John glanced at the bright room and fire, and then down upon
the dark hair and delicate pink cheeks, and felt how happy he would
have been but for something. He had plenty of that sort of
courage which can go straight to an unpleasant subject, and so
without waiting he plunged off at once into the question that was
between them. Slowly, carefully, and with a seriousness that
was almost solemn, he explained his position and convictions, and
the nature and absolute necessity for the call to preach. And
as he talked she listened attentively, looking steadily into the
fire all the time, and nodding now and then in sympathetic
comprehension. The firelight played upon her face and white
neck, and made her appear something wonderfully beautiful, so much
so in fact that he once or twice lost the thread of his argument,
and was pulled up and brought back by a quick, inquiring glance from
her deep eyes. He was greatly encouraged; he was evidently
making an impression. After all, he had once more been making
mountains out of mole-hills, and Sallie was proving to him that she
was the true-hearted girl he had always supposed. He warmed,
therefore, as he proceeded, and grew almost eloquent for him.
In the earnestness of his argument, he had unconsciously sat further
and further forward, and was now bending slightly over her.
She looked so serious and interested that hope was high within him,
and in the anticipation of his victory he began to smile.
Sallie was still gazing musingly into the fire, and
apparently weighing his last words; and just when he began to wonder
why she didn't speak, she turned her face quickly towards his, and
looking right into his pleading eyes, she cried, arching her brows
and speaking in tones of conscious triumph
"And that's you that says you can't talk! For shame,
And the mingled elation and flattery in her tones only
revealed to John how completely he had failed to make any real
impression. He was not, however, nearly so disappointed as he
ought to have been; there was something very seductive in his
surroundings, and he found a subtle delight in talking to one who
listened with such stimulating interest and innocent, unconscious
beauty; and so he commenced again, and still further elaborated his
arguments. She listened as earnestly as before, and seemed
almost anxious to be convinced. She lifted a little sigh when
he had done, and looking steadfastly at the fire, she murmured—
"Oh, John, you're too good! you are indeed."
John sighed helplessly; what could he say more? And yet
it was only too clear that he had made no real progress. And
there he sat looking down in admiration at her, whilst his heart
sank within him, and became heavy again.
And then Sallie took up the tale, and with a sweet
reasonableness and insidious speciousness that almost blinded him to
its danger, she touched point after point in his arguments until he
saw them—he knew not how—disintegrating and crumbling to pieces
before her soft pleas. Then she put her own side of the case,
but with the same soft touch and the same subtle flattering
deference as before. He grew alarmed and interrupted her.
She was wonderfully patient, and seemed pleased to hear him re-state
his position, but she talked on, and John grew more and more uneasy.
The witchery of the firelight in the gathering twilight, the soft
stillness that seemed to pervade the house, and the rise and fall of
her coaxing voice had a sort of enchantment in them, and he felt as
if he were being snared in some wizard spell or other. He grew
afraid of her and the influence she was having over him, and most of
all afraid of himself. He tried to say something definite and
decisive as gently as he could, but the right words would not come,
and he sighed and looked helplessly around. The silence grew
long and oppressive. Sallie had leaned a little towards him
and placed her cheek against his knee, then looking into the fire,
and speaking in low, musing tones, she told him how often she had
sympathised with him and his mother in their struggles, and in a
half whisper slipped out low, apparently unintentional words of
admiration of him, and then in stronger tones expressed her
confidence that he would make his way in the world.
John hastily assured her that if hard work and severe
self-sacrifice could do it he would get on, and then in impassioned
words declared that for her he could do anything.
And with a long, soft sigh, she answered—
"Anything but the one thing. Oh! I should be proud and
happy, John, if you would do that for me."
And John, choking and husky, snatched her hands, and holding
them tightly told her that she did not know what she asked, and that
he was sure she did not want him to sell his soul. She pulled
her hands away in silence and turned from him, and then after a few
moments more of painful stillness, got up and went to the piano.
He joined her there presently and turned over the music for her, and
asked her to sing, and with a pretty resigned and pensive air she
obliged. Then they began to talk again, and he attempted to
return to the painful subject, but she always evaded it, and grew
more and more constrained as the evening wore on. John, though
he scarcely knew what to do, stopped to supper. He was by this
time exceedingly uneasy, and looked at Sallie anxiously again and
again, but she always turned her eyes away. A flush of relief
and hope passed over his heart when, upon his leaving, she came with
him as on that first night to the gate.
"Then you can't do that—a—even for me, John," she said, as
they joined hands in parting.
"Oh, Sallie, I will do anything—anything but that."
She paused a moment, and then letting slip his clinging
fingers she said slowly, but with hardening accent—
"Then you need not come any more, John!" And before he
could stop her or reply she had retired to the house, and was
closing the door behind her.
A RACE FOR A PULPIT.
JOHN could not
have either said or done anything to stop his sweetheart's flight if
his life had depended on it. With open mouth and dropped jaw
he watched her vanish absolutely tongue-tied, and then stood staring
at the door as though he could not believe his eyes. Sallie's
manner during the evening had seemed to indicate that, though she
loved him very much, she was not going to give way on a point in
which his best interests were so much involved without a struggle,
and he confessed to himself that he would never again be so near
surrender and escape. But this sudden change astounded him,
and made it clear that he could have no hope of winning her so long
as he remained a mere mill-hand. She did not, therefore, care
for him for his own sake, and his mother's doubts, now made
painfully clear to him, had at least something to justify them.
A chill crept over his heart, and with a last regretful glance at
the inexorable door he turned away, and walked slowly down the lane.
As he went along he was conscious of a change in his own feelings, a
dull, dogged stubbornness rose up within him; he loved this
bewitching girl he told himself again and again, but he knew her
better. She was smaller-minded than he had feared, and narrow
and earthly; so far from being able to appreciate his motives she
could not even understand them, and if she did not and could not be
brought to see as he saw there could never be anything in common
between them, and, painful though it was to contemplate, she had
done the very best thing, both for herself and for him. All
this and more his reason told him, but his heart still clung to the
old hope, and he understood himself well enough to know that it
would be useless to try and stifle the feeling all at once; he must
wait and gradually school himself to resignation, but he did not
disguise from himself for a moment that the process would be a long
and weary one.
It was a relief to him, therefore, when he reached home to
find round the hearthstone several of the chapel people, kindred
spirits of his father's, and he gathered at once from their solemn,
half- reproachful looks that his father was holding forth in his own
voluble style about his son's stubbornness. As he entered
Sampson was comparing himself to Isaac deceived in Jacob, and David
disappointed in Absalom. He broke down somewhat confusedly on
catching sight of his son, and wandered off into vague and
mysterious hints about the similarity of his trials to those of the
patriarch Job, finishing up with a pathetic and lachrymose picture
of himself sitting on some metaphorical dung hill, deserted alike by
God and man. So carried away, in fact, was he by this melting
picture of his own imaginary sufferings that his voice broke, and
tears ran off the end of his nose, whilst the rest of the company
sighed again, solemnly wagged their heads, poked the ends of their
fingers into the corners of their eyes, and groaned under the
influence of this moving discourse.
John was accustomed to these manifestations, and inwardly
despised them; to-night also he felt they were irritating and even
humiliating, and so he beat a hasty retreat and stole off to bed.
Next day was the Quarterly meeting, the chief official
gathering of the circuit, and John had expected to take his seat
there for the first time. But recent occurrences had changed
all that, and not knowing what rash thing his father or Wilky might
do, he went off as soon as tea was over for a long walk, that he
might be out of the way if any attempt should be made to force the
super.'s hand. He entered the town by the lane leading along
the back of the chapel on his return, and was a little alarmed to
observe that the band-room was still lighted up, and presumably the
meeting was still sitting. He made his way home, therefore, as
fast as he could, hoping to get away to rest before his father
Just as he was finishing supper, however, in came Sampson and
Wilky, wrangling in high tones about something. Ah! it was the
old story, but Wilky was in unusual force, and gradually beat his
opponent down, maintaining with all the strength of his strident,
raspy voice that the men who preached for nothing were far more
valuable and important to the Church than those who were paid.
This was in direct and flagrant contradiction to Wilky's usual
sentiments, but as nobody ever expected consistency from the little
broker John smiled quietly to himself, nodded in token of gratitude
to his defender, and stole away upstairs. Well, the matter was
settled now, and could not be revived again for at least twelve
months, and he comforted himself with the reflection that the whole
thing would probably be forgotten in that time. He was a
little surprised and humbled to discover that, now that the question
was disposed of, there was something approaching to disappointment
in his mind, and he reflected a little sadly that this was only
another evidence of how little we know ourselves, and how necessary
it is to be constantly on the alert against the "old Adam."
Then of course his mind reverted to the old sorrow, and, recalling
how recently he had pitied poor Sam Kepple, he realised that he was
now relegated to the same company of rejected suitors.
He felt for a moment or two a little bitter, but very soon
his love for Sallie extinguished all that, and he found himself
wondering at the extreme reasonableness of the course she had
adopted, from her standpoint. A fortnight passed away, and
though during that period he had met Sallie several times he found
that she had returned to her usual manner, and was evidently not too
much distressed about what had taken place. Then something
happened which, though altogether unconnected with John's troubles,
added considerably to them, and had important and far-reaching
On the first Sunday in April he was appointed to preach at
Trundlegate, a pretty village about three miles from Bramwell.
He had never been "planned" there before, for the village was
inhabited by substantial farmers and well-to-do retired tradespeople
from the circuit town. The congregation at the ornate little
Gothic chapel was therefore highly respectable; the ministers
preached there every other Sunday, and only the best of the local
preachers were allowed to occupy the pulpit. John was taking
the least important of the services, the afternoon one, and a
popular layman from an adjoining circuit was to preach at night.
It was a lovely spring day, and John would have enjoyed the walk but
for his nervous apprehensions. He got through his work,
however, fairly well, he admitted, for him, but was not particularly
reassured when he was invited to take tea with old Mr. Pashley, who
was a comparatively rich man, and lived in the most pretentious
house in the place. Pashley was an old-fashioned Methodist,
who thought it a most improper thing to puff up young preachers, and
so, to John's relief, he made not even the most distant allusion to
the sermon. Mrs. Pashley, a much younger person, had, however,
no such scruples, but paid John so many kindly little compliments
that he became fearful lest her kindness should trench upon
The old gentleman did not, however, seem very disturbed about
his wife's politeness, but detained John as long as he could after
tea, and then, the day being so very inviting, he offered to walk a
little on the way with him. They had turned out of the village
street into the lane, and Pashley had already paused to take leave,
when lifting his eyes and looking down the road, he said—
"Who's this coming? It looks like a preacher; I hope
Mr. Craven is not sending a substitute again." John raised his
eyes and examined the approaching figure. The man looked
rather too grand for an ordinary local preacher, and John was just
turning to reassure his host when something about the stranger's
gait attracted his notice, and darting a quick glance backward, he
"Why, it's Mr. Ferridge!"
"Ferridge? He who was put off the plan last harvest?"
"I think so—yes," replied John. "It is he, certainly.
I daresay he is coming to hear Mr. Craven. They used to be old
friends, you know."
The old gentleman made a sudden start forward, and taking
John's arm and beginning to walk rapidly forward, he cried—
"Go on! I must let him get past. I wouldn't walk
down the village with him for anything."
But the approaching man had seen them, and was already waving
a stylish umbrella by way of salutation.
"Oh dear, oh dear! What shall I do? I'm sick with
And the agitated old gentleman put a hand that was shaking
with indignation and fear upon John's arm, and went on—
"Don't leave me, whatever you do."
The man they were meeting was tall and burly. He was
dressed in a new suit of shiny black, with a large open shirt front
upon which gleamed a big star-shaped stud, whilst a loud, thick gold
chain stretched from his vest pocket to his button-hole, and from
that to the opposite pocket. A glossy new silk hat was tipped
a little back on his head, exposing a perspiring forehead and hot,
red, somewhat bloated face. He had gloves, also, of painful
newness, on his fleshy hands, and whilst still some yards away he
began to speak.
"Well, I never! My old friend Pashley! This is
nice. How are you, my dear brother; how are you?" and entirely
ignoring John, he seized Pashley's hand and began to shake it with
"And how's Mrs. Pashley, sir? Well? I'm delighted
to hear it. Take care of her, my friend; such people as her
He still held Pashley's limp and reluctant hand, and thrust
his face close to the old man's in apparently eager interest in the
old gentleman's affairs.
"We're both pretty well, thank you, Mr. Ferridge," said
Pashley, with nervous restraint. "I'm walking along the road
with our young friend here. Good day."
And he began to push John before him.
"Ah, good!" cried Ferridge with a forced heartiness, and
taking out his watch he continued, "Yes, there's plenty of time.
I'll go along with you, and then we can return together. The
service is still at the old time, I suppose?"
"Oh, have you come over to the service? I heard
yesterday that Mr. Craven was not well; he may be sending a
"Yes, he's sending me. He wrote on Friday. Poor
fellow, he's been in bed a week. What a lovely afternoon it
is! Ah, I always say there's no place like Trundlegate in
John began to fear there was going to be a scene, for Pashley
was evidently much excited, though he tried hard to conceal it, and
so he dropped the old man's arm and was preparing to move off when
his host snatched at it hastily, and turning to Ferridge he cried,
in scandalised tones—
"But you are not going to preach, Mr. Ferridge?"
"Oh yes, sir; certainly. Brother Craven wrote asking
me. We've helped each other many a time. It's all right,
Pashley was pinching John's arm until he winced.
"But, Mr. Ferridge, you cannot preach after—after what has
"Happened! Oh, ay! But that's six months since,
you know, and I'm a new man. I certainly was a little
overtaken, but I've passed through the fire, brother, and I'm all
Pashley looked at the canting, fleshy face before him, and
tightening his grip on John's arm, whilst his venerable face grew
stern and white, he said—
"But you cannot preach at Trundlegate to-night, sir."
"Mr. Pashley! Mr. Pashley! Have you become a
hard-hearted Pharisee? What did the dear Lord do to Peter and
Thomas when they made their little slips? I didn't expect it
from you, sir. I never thought my old friend Pashley would
cast the first stone," and in cleverly simulated emotion he turned
his face away and buried it in a gorgeously-flowered
pocket-handkerchief, and sniffed and snuffled as though struggling
John felt touched for the moment, and noticing that Pashley
seemed similarly affected he said, with a view to helping Ferridge—
"If the super. has consented, you know, Mr. Pashley—"
Ferridge turned sharply towards John with an angry gesture,
but another thought striking him, he changed his manner.
"Exactly; that's it, you know. Leave these things to
the super., Brother Pashley."
"But does the super. know you have come here?" asked the old
gentleman, with returning alarm and not a little indignation.
"I saw him only yesterday, sir. Ah, he's been a true
friend to me in my—a- a- a-affliction."
Pashley, puzzled and grieved, was evidently inclined to give
way, but it had struck John that Ferridge last words were vague, and
that his host was being deceived, and so he said quietly—
"Does the super. know you are taking this service, Mr.
Ferridge jumped round with a snarl that amply justified
John's suspicions, and shouted—
"Don't I tell you that I saw him yesterday?"
Pashley was carefully scrutinising Ferridge's face and
manner, and it was evident that he was more suspicious and alarmed
than ever. Perceiving this, and indignant that the old man
should be subject to this excitement, and absolutely certain now as
to the truth of the matter, John said, looking steadily and
fearlessly into Ferridge's flaming face—
"Mr. Ferridge, have you told the super. that Mr. Craven has
asked you to take this appointment, and has he given his consent?"
Ferridge's face was almost livid.
"What's that to you, cock-chin? I'm responsible to the
super. and not to factory lads!"
"Mr. Ferridge," broke in Pashley, "let me beg you to return.
I'm sure that Mr. Craven cannot have known that you are not now on
the plan. This young man will take the service."
John gave a little start and an exclamation. It was no
joke to be called upon to preach at a few moments' notice, but
before he could speak Ferridge burst out—
"Will he! Don't get your rag out, Mr. Pashley I've come
to take this service, and I shall do, for you, or anybody else!" and
he turned away with the evident intention of making for the village.
"Oh, man, you'll not!—you'll not desecrate—"
"Won't I? I'll show you!" and with a rude push which
sent the old man staggering into the hedge he started towards
But for the moment he had overlooked John, who, when Pashley
gave a shocked cry, sprang forward and planted himself on the narrow
flags in front of the bully.
"Mr. Ferridge," he cried, with quiet but unmistakable
decision, "you will not enter that pulpit to-night."
"Let him go! let him go!" cried Pashley, now thoroughly
scared, but John stood his ground.
"Out of the way!" shouted Ferridge, who had now lost all
self-control, and as he sprang forward he raised his clenched fist,
and would doubtless have felled the young minder. But he did
not flinch, and as he still looked steadily into the gray-green
blazing eyes of his opponent, the uplifted hand fell harmlessly to
his side, and with an afterthought and a sudden chuckle, half scorn
and half triumph, he sprang from the high-banked footpath and dashed
past his resister.
"Let him go! God will judge him!" cried Pashley, now in
a state of pathetic fear; but John's blood was up. A man like
that to get into a pulpit, and no voice to be raised in protest!
The thing was not to be thought of for a moment. And so,
disregarding his frightened and now horrified companion, he turned
on his heels and darted off after the transgressor. Hearing
his footsteps, Ferridge looked round, and perceiving instantly that
John was intent on passing him and reaching the chapel before him,
he darted sideways, and spreading out his great arms to stop him,
bellowed out all sorts of coarse threats. But though he was
big and strong, he was also heavy, and the young preacher easily
dodged past him, and for some yards there was seen on that quiet
spring evening the strange spectacle of two men racing for the
possession of one pulpit. It did not last long, however, for,
after running about eighty yards, the heavier man pulled up, and
began wiping the perspiration from his face, bawling all sorts of
coarse epithets after his opponent.
When John reached the chapel, panting and out of breath, the
caretaker, a woman, was just unlocking the doors. In a few
breathless words he explained what had happened and who was coming.
To his perplexity, she stared blankly at him for a moment or two,
and then, dropping a red handkerchief containing a gorgeously-bound
book, precipitously fled. By this time Ferridge had entered
the village, and was approaching. John's blood boiled within
him; this blatant, coarse-minded fellow should not preach there that
night whatever happened; and so, on sudden thought, he dashed into
the chapel, closed and locked the door, and then setting his heels
in a crevice of the tiled floor and his back against the door, he
prepared to resist any attempt to enter by force.
But the door was a two-leaved one, and John had forgotten
that there was a bolt at the top as well at the bottom, and just as
he realised his mistake, the form of the burly Ferridge was flung
against the outside, and the young minder with a gasp felt that he
was being overmatched. With all the strength he possessed,
however, he pushed, and the door went back into its place, and then
bent inwards upon him again. For a minute or two the
discreditable struggle was continued, and then it ceased suddenly,
as though Ferridge had given up. It was only for an instant,
however, for before John had properly realised what was happening,
the man outside, now perfectly wild with rage, flung himself against
the doors and sent John flying into the aisle. Just at this
point, when victory seemed to be within the grasp of the big man,
other voices were heard, and when John rose to his feet he
discovered that the chapel-keeper had thought of something he had
forgotten, and had fetched the constable, who, as it happened, was a
Methodist. The presence of the representative of the law
cooled the big man suddenly, and as the worshippers now began to
gather, he deemed it prudent to beat a retreat. Then old
Pashley turned up, still very much alarmed, and when he had told his
tale John was soon surrounded by a knot of grateful admirers, who
greatly commended his conduct. They insisted of course that he
should occupy the vacant pulpit, but he was so agitated that he
doubted whether he could sufficiently collect his thoughts.
Bynton, the leader, offered to open the service for him, and by the
time that had been done John had obtained some sort of command of
himself, and did his best.
The chapel filled as the service proceeded, curiosity
evidently bringing many unwonted hearers, and John had the largest
congregation that had been seen in the building since the last
anniversary. The delighted officials made much of the preacher
when he had done, and thanked him heartily, as well for his sermons
as his valiant defence of the pulpit, and it was somewhat late when
he got away. Alone now for the first time, he began to run
over all the disagreeable circumstances of the evening, and realised
that he had probably made an enemy. He saw no reason, all the
same, to regret what he had done, though he would have preferred
that some older and more important individual should have had the
onus of it. It was always the easiest of all things to find
some reason for self-reproach, and he was just sighing a little
regretfully over the matter, when he thought he heard a single
footstep behind him, as of some person walking on the grassy edge of
the footpath, who had unintentionally stepped upon the flags for
once. He was nervous, and did not look round for the moment,
but when he did so there was no one to be seen. A little later
he thought he caught the step again, and a little nearer, and turned
at once, but nothing was to be seen. Then he smiled at his own
nervousness, but quickened his pace, and had already reached the
turn where the Bramwell lights could be seen when there came behind
him a sudden rush and then a crash, and he staggered forward into
the gutter and all was blank.
HOW WILKY BECAME A CONSPIRATOR.
LEDGER opened the
paint shop on the morning after the events narrated in the last
chapter in an absent, preoccupied, but solemnly uplifted frame of
mind. It was ten o'clock before he reached the premises, and
nearly half-past before he deigned to take down the shutters.
He was, of course, greatly distressed at what had overtaken his son;
but no less than seven of the principal people of the chapel had
sent to the little cake shop in Shed Lane to make inquiries, and he
had been stopped at least half-a-dozen times on his way to business
to give particulars of the shocking occurrence; consequently, though
he wore the manner of one who was suffering under some grievous
visitation, yet underneath it all was the supporting consciousness
that he and his family were, temporarily at any rate, the objects of
most flattering sympathy. He was not the principal sufferer
perhaps, but mental pain is after all the most acute and terrible,
and he lost sight somewhat of his son's condition as he dwelt in
keen self-pity on his feelings as a father, and the harrowing
effects of those emotions on his spirits. It would have been
disrespectful to his son, a sort of sacrilege, in fact, to have
given any attention to mundane matters under present painful
circumstances, and so he opened the shop with a resigned, almost
stoical aspect, and immediately settled himself on the log near the
newly-lighted stove and commenced to smoke. There was an air
of mystery about the matter that greatly inflated his
self-consciousness, and he shook his head with solemn
deliberateness, and fetched long, appealing sighs.
John, rendered unconscious by the blow he had received, must
have lain by the side of the footpath for some time, for it was
after nine o'clock when he was discovered by a pair of lovers.
With the aid of the post gig, which passed along whilst they were
trying to bring him round, they had got him home, and the doctor,
when summoned, had declared that it was a very serious wound, which
could not have been caused by a fall. And there the matter
rested. Why had John not returned earlier? and what had taken
place to bring about this brutal assault? And, most perplexing
of all, who was the mysterious assailant?
Old Zeph strolled into the shop as Sampson lighted his pipe,
but as the two had met before that morning, he simply wandered to
his seat on the side bench and sat down, accompanying his actions
with the remark—
"Well, this is a licker, this is!"
"Many are the afflictions of the righteous," moaned Sampson,
with solemn shakings of the head.
"It might 'a' killed him, a clout like that," said Zeph,
glancing round as the little broker waddled into the shop.
"Joseph is not! Simeon is not! and now ye'll take
Benjamin also," whined the painter with a wheezy snuffle and an
excited blinking of the eyes, and then he went on, "O Absalom! my
son, my son!"
It was doubtless the pathos of these quotations that
commended them to Sampson rather than their relevancy, but it was
the striking inappropriateness of them, and the fact that the latter
of them contained an implied reflection on John that struck the
dwarf, and so firing up, partly out of contempt for a sorrow in
which he did not altogether believe, and partly out of natural
contradictiousness and a sense of the necessity of defending John,
he rapped out—
"Bosh! blather! t' boot's on t' other leg, by jings."
Sampson took a long breath, and then with a pulpit flourish
of the hand and a weary wag of the head, he cried—
"Rail on, Eliphaz! rail, you—you other Job's comforters.
I must take up my cross! None but a father knows a father's
This kind of lachrymose nonsense was the most irritating of
all things to Wilky, and he was just about to make a scathing reply
when Zeph chimed in.
"Come! come, lad! He'll be all right in a day or two."
"He will, if he's nowt like his father," cried Wilky,
savagely. "It 'ud take a steam hammer to do any damage to
"Friends!" cried the painter solemnly, "you don't know!
If you did you'd have some feelin', but you don't know all, you
don't know all."
There was evidently something behind this doleful whine, and
Zeph lifted his head inquiringly, whilst Wilky, taking his pipe out
of his mouth and holding it in a waiting attitude, demanded
"Wot don't we know?"
"It's not the blow as t' doctor's feared on, it's summat
worse! summat w-o-r-s-e!"
The men on the bench exchanged glances, and a look of
impending penitence came upon Wilky's scowling face. He was
not going to admit anything, however, too hastily, and so he
"Wot is it, then? What'st' owd jolloper say?"
Sampson looked as though he were not going to reply, but covetous of
his full meed of pity, and proud of having acquired a brand-new
scientific term, he leaned forward suddenly, tapped the broker's
foot, which projected from the bench on the level of the ordinary
man's knee, and dropping into a tragic whisper, he said—
"It's mental gitis."
The painter was perfectly satisfied with the effect of his
announcement upon his friends; they had never, either of them, heard
of the disease, at any rate under this staggering name, and were
therefore duly impressed, for to have been sceptical of a man's need
of sympathy when his son was in danger of disease with such an awful
title, and which they both concluded was some new and terrible form
of insanity, would have seemed hard-hearted indeed, and Wilky was
just asking in a much softer tone what it "gitis" meant, when the
super. appeared in the doorway. Instead, however, of saluting
them, he carefully closed the door, which was usually left open for
Wilky's convenience, and then stepped up to the debaters.
It was evident at once that there was something in the wind,
and the friends looked first at him and then at each other.
"Well, Brother Ledger, I've got to the bottom of it.
Ah, it's a bad business—the scoundrel!"
"Sir, my John a scoundrel!" cried Sampson, ready for another
bath of the martyr spirit, but the super. broke in upon him—
"No, no! John's a hero; he's a brick, poor lad. He's
got this by standing up for the cause, but let me tell you"—and then
he plunged off into the whole story. Old Pashley had come in
from Trundlegate to report on Ferridge's outrageous conduct entirely
ignorant of what had happened to John. The super. had put the
two things together instantly, and when he told his visitor the sad
sequel he was white with sorrow and indignation. Pashley was
for going to the police station at once, but the super., who was a
great believer in the virtues of second thoughts, asked him to wait
a while. But Pashley had insisted, and they had seen the
superintendent of police, who, whilst he agreed with them that there
was only one conclusion to be drawn, asked them to leave the matter
in his hands, as, of course, nothing could be done without direct
evidence of the assault. This, and much more, the minister
told the amazed and outraged friends, but whilst begging them to
keep eyes and ears open, he cautioned them against circulating the
information until the required proofs should be obtained.
Sampson was now most genuinely distressed; but as the little
broker watched him, he was not quite satisfied; there was something
in the haggard look and frightened eyes that excited his most uneasy
suspicions. But everything else was forgotten in the presence
of this dastardly outrage. Before the super. had got halfway
through his tale Wilky had shuffled off the bench and was walking
backwards and forwards, stamping his puny feet and threatening
direst consequences to the "wastril" Ferridge. He stretched up
his four feet something, and shook his fat little fist and vowed he
would break every bone in the mighty Ferridge body; he would
horsewhip him, he would shoot him dead as a herring, and finally, he
would spend his last shilling in "lawing" him.
"Mr. Drax, there's somebody wants you," cried a little girl,
cautiously opening the door just as Wilky reached the climax of his
threats, but the enraged broker chased her away with a roar, and
banging the door and returning, poured out a fresh volley of
denunciations of John's enemy. As he talked he glanced now and
then at Sampson, but that worthy still preserved a most unusual and
ominous silence, and avoided the other's eye.
The super. listened a little absently to Wilky's tirade, and
was moving towards the door, when it was opened by a stranger, who,
putting his head inside and dodging it first to one side and then to
the other in a vain effort to see past the minister, called out—
"Is Wilky here? Now then, what do you want for yond'
"Old! old!" cried Wilky, whisking round and bristling all
over with pugnacity. "It 'ull be a fine sight older afoor thou
gets it, man. It's hantique! hantique hoak, stupid."
"What's t' price?" demanded the customer, impatiently.
"T' price?" and Wilky threw his great head back with a
sarcastic laugh. "T' price is sixpence halfpenny an' a set of
mahogany drawers thrown in, that's about thy figure, isn't it?"
"How will ten shillin' do?" and with a patience born of much
experience the buyer held the door in his hand and waited for
Wilky's return to reasonableness.
"Ten shillin'!" and Wilky looked unutterably indignant, but
all the same he strolled leisurely towards the door and followed his
customer across the street, snarling and sniffing as he went.
The bargain, however, was soon struck, and the little broker
started to return to the paint shop; but as he noticed that the
super. was leaving, he stopped in the middle of the road, surveyed
meditatively his own place of business, turned slowly back and
glanced over the various articles in front of his shop with a sort
of weary contempt. Then he entered the shop itself; it was
crammed from floor to ceiling with new and second-hand goods, the
only signs of orderly arrangement being in the neighbourhood of the
window. Glancing still more discontentedly at the inside
stock, he passed on and entered the back room. This was
smaller than the other by the width of a staircase, but was in the
same disorderly and overcrowded condition, and it was not without
difficulty that he wriggled his way to an oversized armchair
upholstered in an undecipherable pattern of print. A
pouch-like box hung on the outside arm of the chair, and it was full
of old newspapers, letters, Circuit and prayer-leaders' plans, a
choice selection of pipes in various stages of blackness and
disrepair, half-used packets of tobacco, and a heterogeneous
collection of indescribable odds and ends. A fire, half-choked
with ashes, was maintaining a sulky sort of struggle in the grate,
and the mantelpiece, besides a bewildering variety of odds and ends
of ornaments, supported three mirrors, leaning one against the
other. Wilky kicked a footstool which had a spittoon let into
the top of it towards the chair, and hastily mounting to the seat
settled down with his pipe.
From where he sat he could see his own face and head in the
far corner of the front mirror, and as he turned his thoughts about
in his mind he glanced at the reflection of himself in the dusty
glass, much as a man looks at a friend with whom he is holding a
Wilky's face was puckered in serious cogitation and the smoke
came through his lips in short rapid puffs. At last he raised
his eyes, and looking at the mirror, shook his head like a person
who is having foisted upon him an insufficient explanation, and
"I don't like it, Wilkinson, I don't."
Then he puffed away furiously at his pipe with renewed
glances at the mirror, and presently leaning forward and scowling at
himself in the glass, he demanded fiercely—
"Ferridge is a club collector an' rent an' debt collector an'
money lender, isn't he?"
The Wilky in the mirror must have made some sort of reluctant
but inaudible concession, for after a moment's pause the Wilky in
the chair leaned forward and went on—
"An' yond' owd muddle-head's allus up to t' eyes i' money
messes, isn't he?"
The significant glare with which the broker in the chair
transfixed the broker in the glass ought to have driven
comprehension even into quicksilver, but as there was still some
evidence of doubt on the point, Wilky, with a snarl of impatience,
"Well, what did he say? What did he look like when
Ferridge was mentioned?"
The obtuse man in the mirror was seemingly not even yet quite
convinced, but to Wilky it appeared so perfectly clear, that he
dropped back into his chair with a sigh.
"It's there, Wilky, it's there, lad! and that rapscallion
'ull slip through our fingers." And then, as the thought
seemed to cut him to the quick, he kicked the footstool away and
sprang to his feet. "Will he? confound him! I'll show
him! I'll show him, if I swing for it."
But at this moment there was a cry of "Paper!" in the shop.
Wilky, still boiling with indignation, toddled into the front place,
picked up the copy of the Bramwell Mercury, and was soon
ensconced in his chair again, and reading with wrathful maledictions
an account of a "dastardly outrage on a local preacher."
There was nothing else in the paper that interested him, and
so after reading the half column for a second time, he let the paper
drop upon his knees and was soon in a brown study. A few
minutes later he was roused from his reverie by a summons into the
shop, and after a characteristic wrangle with a woman who thought
she knew what sort of furniture paste she wanted, he suddenly popped
the article he was offering back upon the shelf, and turning his
back upon the customer, left her standing in the shop. He fell
back so deep into his chair that his diminutive legs stuck straight
out like railway signal arms. He remained in this condition
until another idea came, and he got down upon the floor again.
He stood staring broodingly into the fire for a little while, and
then laid his pipe carefully down, brushed the tobacco ashes from
his waistcoat, looked himself over from head to foot, and finished
by dolefully scrutinising his hands. Then he stood upon the
stool to get the full benefit of the mirror, pulled the knot of his
dingy scarf back into its place, took his hat off, and hastily
smoothed down his still abundant hair, picked up the paper, and
assuming an amiable and even affectionate expression that made his
pugnacious face look almost handsome, he stepped to the staircase,
toiled softly and painfully up, and just as he reached the top,
commenced in the tenderest of tones—
"Well, how's my little love this morning?"
The little love turned out to be a woman, tall beyond the
wont of women, but so finely proportioned that her height was not
particularly noticeable. She had an abundance of wavy brown
hair, a broad white forehead, soft violet eyes, and a complexion so
delicately pink and white as to suggest, along with the puffy flesh
of her fingers, the invalid. She was reclining on a low wide
couch, and wore a rather faded, but neatly fitting, blue
dressing-gown of some soft material. The room, which was large
and airy, though rather low, was almost luxuriously furnished, and
gave evidence everywhere of a refinement rather unexpected under the
roof of the little broker.
Mrs. Drax was suffering from some obscure and chronic spinal
complaint, which kept her in her room for months together, but the
smooth, unwrinkled face, the baby dimples, and the gentle, pensive
expression gave little indication of suffering, and none at all of
complaint. Everybody had marvelled when this handsome popular
woman married the cross-grained and misshapen little broker, and put
it down to woman's incomprehensible whim; and nobody, not even the
smiling bride herself, knew that Wilky, her father's executor, had
sacrificed all his little savings to cover her father's name from
dishonour when he died and left nothing but debts; and the
staggering stock of new goods which the little broker crowded into
his shop immediately after his marriage was taken, as he intended it
should be, as an indication that her money had set him up.
That this ill-assorted couple loved each other passionately was
evident the moment Wilky entered the room. There was a
welcoming smile on the invalid's face, and the crusty husband looked
almost ridiculous with his lover-like smirks and grins. It is
not for us to pry too closely into the little billings and cooings
of this couple of everlasting lovers; suffice it to say, that in a
few moments Wilky brought gravity into the fair face on the sofa as
he cautiously broke the news of John's misfortune. She was
secretly one of John's champions, and had kept her husband from
disliking the shy, reserved lad she did not understand.
Presently Wilky squatted down on a hassock by the side of the
couch, and carefully unfolding the paper, read in an emphatic,
official sort of tone the paragraph relating to the outrage.
There was a tear of soft sympathy in Mrs. Drax's eye when her
husband had finished, but when he noticed it he crushed the paper
between his hand, and flinging it away from him, burst out with a
return to his old manner—
"Now then, silly old stupid, I'll never tell you anything
again. Look at me, I don't go snivelling about every little
thing," and in confirmation of this statement the little man, whose
voice had already broken suspiciously, walked to the front window
and demonstratively blew his nose. And whilst Wilky was trying
to convince himself that his quick sympathy with his wife's
pitifulness had not compromised his manhood, she was leaning back
upon the couch meditating.
"Wilky," she said at last, "come here, my man."
With a reluctant, aggrieved look on his face, as though he
already guessed what she was going to say, he drew near the sofa,
and resumed his place on the hassock. Mrs. Drax looked
musingly at him for a moment, and then softly stroking his hair, she
"Can't we help them, Wilky?"
"Us? How can we? The old chap's a muddler, goes
staring at t' stars and tumbling in t' gutter; an' t' others is as
proud as pouters."
"John is a good lad, Wilky."
"Ay, good for gettin' into hobbles an' making silly women
Mrs. Drax waited a little, and toyed with a stray tag of her
husband's hair, and then she said, gently—
"I know somebody who would have cried—she—she—she—thought the
world of poor John."
Wilky made an exclamation, and his face grew suddenly
pathetic, whilst he shot a frightened sort of look at a large photo
in an elaborate frame which stood on the table, at the head of the
sofa. It was the picture of their only child, who had been
dead some time, and who had been John's child sweetheart.
Wilky was not equal to contending with such pleas and such a
pleader, and so he gave an inarticulate grunt, and catching the
sound of knocking downstairs, he made haste to escape, and when he
had disposed of the customer he did not return, but took-refuge in
his arm-chair, and charged his pipe. For some minutes he sat
in abstracted silence, then he began to intersperse his puffs with
surly grunts and little "Tchats!" and "Boshes!" mingled with
sarcastic little laughs. Then he grew silent, and began to rub
the stem of his pipe in his hair. This action was followed by
a fit of open-eyed astonishment, and a great self-satisfied grin
spread itself over his face. He followed this up by leaning
back in his chair and treating himself to a series of triumphant
chuckles, and at last he got up, winked wickedly at himself in the
mirror, and waddled off to his old rendezvous at the paint shop.
"AND SOME HAVE GREATNESS THRUST UPON THEM."
THE next day or
two brought little or no light on the mysterious attack which had
been made upon young Ledger. The superintendent of police
reported after careful search that he could find no clue as to the
offender. Pashley had openly charged Ferridge with the
assault, and had been ordered off the premises, and on Wednesday it
was known that the suspected man had left the town, but had been
insulted and hustled by indignant townspeople at the station.
John had by this time recovered consciousness, but could give no
information, and protested as energetically as he was able against
any action being taken against a man they only suspected.
On Thursday Wilky was thrown into a state of excitement by
the receipt of a lawyer's letter charging him with slandering "our
client Mr. T. Ferridge," and threatening legal proceedings. It
was a sight to see the little broker. He kicked his favourite
footstool as far as the crowded condition of the little back room
would allow; he strutted before the fire and threatened Ferridge and
his "swindling lawyer" with "Court of Queen's Bench" and every other
legal bogie he could think of. For timidly inquiring if he
would have some more coffee (he received the missive during
breakfast) he rushed at Julia Ann, the little rough, cross-eyed
servant, and drove her in terror into the kitchen, and then strode
across the road and poured out the vials of his wrath on the
melancholy Sampson. It was well into the forenoon before he
was calm enough to venture into his wife's presence, and when he had
told her his tale she reminded him that the money he proposed to
spend in fighting the case would be needed for a little project they
had hatched together, and on the accomplishment of which she had set
her heart. Wilky allowed himself to be persuaded, of course,
but that did not prevent him denouncing Ferridge whenever he had the
opportunity, and hinting with darkened face at mysterious but
A week passed away, and John began to show decided signs of
recovery, but even then could add nothing to what was already known
about the causes of his sufferings, and protested, in a way that
disgusted Wilky, that it was not right to condemn any man on mere
suspicion. The fact was, John was already occupied with
domestic anxieties that put himself and his calamities out of his
mind. Sallie had shown him just such attentions as were
neighbourly, and no more, and though she called several times she
always contrived to keep his mother in conversation, and went away
leaving him disappointed and perplexed. And then the mill went
on short time, and was only running four days a week, which meant
that his wages when he returned to work would be little more than
they had been before his promotion, and the old struggle with
poverty would have to be renewed.
Whilst John and his people were occupied with these anxieties
Wilky had concerns of his own, which evidently took up much of his
time and thought. He was known to have a strong prejudice
against medical men, but for some inscrutable reason or other he
suddenly struck up a violent friendship with old Deevers the doctor,
who had attended John, and one day the medico greatly surprised the
Ledgers and increased their distress by announcing that John must on
no account go back to the mill at present, but that, for some months
at least, he must have light outdoor occupation, which would not be
too great a strain upon his constitution.
Sampson's face was long and woeful when he reported these
things to Wilky, but it grew positively frightful as the little
broker confirmed the medical verdict, and declared he could have
told them that John was sickening months before the assault.
"Many are the afflictions of the righteous," sighed Sampson,
rolling his eyes upward.
"It's more nor we can say for their brains," snapped Wilky.
"Some folks goes whining about taking up their cross when they ought
to be walloped wi' it! Resignation he broke in, as Sampson
sighed out the word. Resignation be blowed! It's common
sense as we want. There's lots o' folk resignated into their
graves wi' their do-less relations."
It was quite a different tune, however, which he sang to
John's mother. He usually treated that suffering soul much as
he treated his own wife, and when, after two fruitless visits, he
found her alone, he affected both surprise and delight at the
information she had to impart.
"Sarve him right!" he grunted, with a not quite successful
attempt at the usual gruffness. "It's t' best thing as could
a' come to him. There's some silly folk i' this world as hez
to be wolloped to bring 'em out. He's no more made to be a
sal-fac (self-acting) minder nor I'm fit for a harkangil."
And then he suddenly stopped, poised himself on tip-toe, made
a grab at the anxious mother's neck as though about to kiss her, and
pulling her head down and placing his mouth at her ear, he whispered
"The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the
Ten minutes later he was standing in his own back room and
grinning from ear to ear. He nodded and chuckled at himself in
the mirror, and cried delightedly—
"It's working, Wilky lad, it's working!"
That week-end the Bramwell Mercury contained the
WANTED.—A Young Man as Assistant, and to make
himself generally useful. One accustomed to plain painting and
polishing preferred. Apply to Wilkinson Drax, Broker, Station
The little man, who pretended to a supreme contempt for all
newspapers, could not wait for the boy to bring his Mercury
along with the other weekly publications he patronised, but was at
the office a few minutes before the time of publication, and gave
the shop girl a most uncomfortable time of it as he strutted about
the place and fumed and snapped about the unpunctuality of
tradespeople, especially printers; and when at length he got
possession of a damp copy he hurried off home, and sitting in his
chair, read it over and over again with great delight, and then took
it upstairs to show to his wife. Some half-dozen applicants
presented themselves during Friday evening, and three more on
Saturday, but Wilky seemed to know they would not do almost before
he had seen them, and dismissed each and all with sarcastic jibes,
that sent them away crestfallen and indignant. About six on
Saturday evening he observed Sampson closing the paint shop, and as
this seemed in some strange way to be a new grievance to him, he
walked across the road and poured out a string of vague but stinging
denunciations on the young men of the period. He evidently
expected Sampson to ask questions which would give him the
opportunity of introducing the subject of the advertisement, but
that worthy was so preoccupied with his own dismal forebodings as to
what would become of the family now that the chief bread-winner was
out of work, that the palpable "leads" were none of them taken up,
and Wilky, as the painter locked up, went back to his own premises
in an irritable and explosive frame of mind.
During Sunday, however, he hit upon another expedient for
providing himself with a manservant, and on Monday morning a large
furniture paste advertisement card was hung up in the shop window,
but the printed side faced inside the shop, and on the back, facing
the window, was written in a large, sprawling hand, eked out by
numerous capitals, an abbreviated version of the advertisement in
the Mercury. For three whole days the card hung in its
place, and though it brought several new applicants, they seemed
even less satisfactory than the others, and Wilky seemed doomed to
final disappointment. During these days, also, he made several
clumsy excuses for bringing the card under the notice of the
painter, but Sampson either could not or would not understand, and
at last he told a wonderful story of a wholesale man who had sent
him some rascally apology for varnish, which he declared was nothing
but black treacle. So outrageous a case naturally appealed to
Sampson's professional sympathies, and at last he strolled across
the road with his companion to inspect the offending preparation.
The chairs upon which the varnish had been tried had been placed
immediately under the advertisement, and when Sampson had decided
that the varnish in question, though poor, was varnish, he raised
his eyes and caught sight of the notice. Wilky began to hum
"Rock of Ages," and, turning his back to the window, became much
interested in the proceedings of a young butcher who was trying to
get a bullock down a passage. Sampson had now finished his
inspection of the advertisement, and become suddenly very
thoughtful, whilst the broker still hummed away at his tune.
Wilky could get nothing further out of his friend, who seemed to be
in a most unusual hurry to get home, but as soon as he had gone
Wilky hurried back into the shop and up the stairs, and burst in
upon his smiling wife with a triumphant "It's workin', love; he's
limed, he is by dings!"
Wilky was in such uncommon spirits that he invited himself to
take tea with his wife, and kept up a brisk prophecy all through the
meal as to the results of the little plot he was working out,
whatever that might be. Between seven and eight that night the
broker, having brought in the goods that usually stood on the
pavement, and piled them higgledy-piggledy in the shop, put down the
door latch and planted himself in his chair in evident expectation
of a visitor. He was impatient and fidgety, and looked
uneasily at his watch every minute or two. No one appearing,
however, he was just resolving to lock up and retire when the
door-bell rang. Wilky immediately fell back in his chair,
assumed an air of weary indifference, and bawled out to the
"Well, what is it?"
"It is I, John Ledger, Mr. Drax."
"Well, what are you standing there for? Come in, man."
When John reached the back room Wilky had taken on the
expression of one utterly weary of life and who could not be
interested in anything.
"I came to see—"
"You came! An' what business has a pale-faced invalid
as is on his club to be out at this time and i' this wind?"
But though the tone was rasping, the manner was indifference
"I'm all right, Mr. Drax. I'm ready for work again, and
I've come to see you about this advertisement."
And Wilky's wondering amazement might have deceived even a
sharper fellow than John Ledger.
"Yes, the doctor says I'm to have some employment that is
less confining for a time."
Wilky rolled his big ruffled head about against the back of
the chair with long and apparently very decided shakes.
"Did anybody ever hear of such a thing? Why, man, what
does thou know about furniture?"
"Not much; but I'm a painter's son, you know, and used to
plain painting and polishing."
Wilky's head-shakes were longer and more decided than ever.
"What's t' use o' talkin', man? I want somebody as is
as strong as a elephant. Look at all this ruck of lumber!"
The little man had the air of one who was being pressed into
a thing that was plainly impossible, and seemed in danger of losing
"John, it's ridiculous. What's t' use of harguing?
What does thou know about furniture? And then look at t'
hours. Seven i' t' morning to eight at night, half-past nine
o' Fridays, an' ten-thirty o' Saturdays."
"I don't mind the hours. Will you try me for a short
"Try thee! Oh, for goodness sake, shut up, man!
I cannot pay minder's wages, man; t' furniture trade isn't a
"What were you thinking of paying, Mr. Drax?"
"Oh, hush man! it won't do at all, it really won't," and
Wilky looked exasperated almost to the explosive point. But he
had not answered John's question, and as the young fellow was still
waiting for a reply Wilky went on, as a painfully reluctant
concession toohn's aggravating persistence, "Five an' twenty shillin'
a week's my figger, that's all."
"I'll be glad to come for that, and even less if you'll try
"Confound it!" and Wilky rose and stood one leg on the
footstool and one on the floor. "Don't aggravate me, man! it
won't do at all!"
John sighed, and looked disappointed; and Wilky, studying his
face by slyly squinting into the mirror, saw that for the first time
he was giving up the contest.
"If I thought thou"—the broker began with the first sign of
wavering in his face, but then, after looking hard at his visitor
for a moment, he continued, "I want a helper bad enough, but it
won't do! it won't do!" And he settled himself in his chair as
though he had settled the question, and wouldn't allow of its being
John turned reluctantly to the door, keen disappointment in
every line of his face; but as he began to move off the broker
"Look here," and he pulled him into the shop, and showed him
all the topsy-turvy, dusty, greasy piles of furniture, and John, as
he glanced from one to the other, was fain to admit that there would
be work enough for a time, but he still declared he would only like
the job of bringing order into this confusion.
Wilky "pish"-ed and "pshaw"-ed, and prophesied that he would
not stick to it a week.
"If only you'll give me the chance, Mr. Drax!"
"Chance! chance!" and the broker was apparently quite
exasperated, "if thou will break thy back thou shall do it!
Come on Monday mornin', and if thou doesn't repent afoor t' first
day's out I'll—I'll eat my hat!"
And when John, joyful and a little surprised, left him a
minute or two later at the shop door, Wilky returned hastily to the
back room, and mounting upon his footstool, made a series of
indescribably grotesque grimaces at himself in the mirror, finishing
with a grand comprehensive wink that involved his whole face.
Wilky saw John every day between the interview just described
and the commencement of his new employment, and on each occasion he
had some fresh objection to the arrangement, and several strong
reasons why John would not do at all, and the young minder was thus
kept in a tantalising condition of uncertainty.
During the same period also Wilky was engaged upon some
rather mysterious operations of his own. He removed some of
the stock accumulated round the big chair in his room, and though it
produced much perspiration and many unparliamentary objurgations, he
at last succeeded in his purpose, and having made room for it,
brought a dingy old bookcase and fixed it up in the corner next to
the fire, and between that and the back window; being careful, for
some strange reason or another, not to disturb the dust. Then
he ferreted out a rickety old stationery case, which he stocked with
writing materials, and placed on the bottom shelf of the bookcase.
To these he added a couple of dog-eared ledgers, and several greasy
account books. Then he raked together from different parts of
the premises a number of books—odd volumes of commentaries, several
more or less venerable theological treatises, the "Lives of the
Early Methodist Preachers" (complete), with a miscellaneous stock of
literature, all more or less theological and Methodistic. Many
people in Wilky's place would have dusted the shelves and knocked
the books together, but the broker, for some hidden reason that gave
him secret amusement, took particular pains not to disturb the dust.
A few of the books were modern, and their owner regarded their
comparative newness with dissatisfaction, and taking them down,
doubled over the leaves here and there, and ran a dirty thumb down
the creases to make them look old.
On the Friday morning the shop was closed, for Wilky had gone
to Manchester, and when he returned, for a late dinner, he brought
with him another parcel of books, all new. They were works on
modern theology, with a couple on preaching, and a one-volume
history of Methodism. When he placed these additions by the
side of the others the result made him shake his head. Then he
rearranged them, sandwiching the new ones between older volumes, but
the result was not even then satisfactory. He was getting a
little impatient by this time, and after standing back and
critically surveying the little library, he dashed recklessly at one
of the most staringly new of the books and rubbed it vigorously,
back and sides, in the dust lying thickly about on the furniture.
He did the same with each of the new volumes, and was just beginning
to look more satisfied with the result, when he discovered that most
of them were uncut; and so, when the shop was closed that night, he
went ruthlessly through them all—doubling down leaves here, marking
paragraphs with a joiner's lead pencil there, and, in fact, doing
everything he could think of to give the books the appearance of
having been purchased some time before, and at least partly read.
There was one tome that particularly provoked him; do what he would
it still persisted in presenting a glaringly new appearance, and so
at last he took off the much-thumbed cover from one of his wife's
story books and cased the offending volume in it; completing the
whole thing by going through the book on Sunday afternoon and
marking it here and there, and even going to the length, now and
again, of adding sarcastic marginal annotations. This was a
new compendium of theology, then very popular in Methodism, and when
he had sufficiently disfigured it, and subdued its scandalous
newness, he took it downstairs and threw it on the lowest shelf of
the bookcase, and then began to beat the dust out of the surrounding
upholstery so that some of it would settle on the book.
He received John on Monday morning in his very crustiest
manner, and as he consumed his own breakfast he held out once more
on the enormous quantity of work to be done. First of all he
wanted his own room made tidy, and instructed him to clear out some
of the rubbish and "titivate" things up a bit; dwelling with anxious
particularity upon the fact that the bookcase was not to be
disturbed any more than was absolutely necessary. John, whose
mouth watered as he glanced over the volumes, felt a momentary
surprise that he had never noticed them before; but as they had the
appearance of having been there for a long time he put it down to
his lack of observation, and secretly hoped to get a peep now and
then at the insides of the works.
For several weeks the young assistant worked hard, gradually
introducing some sort of order and cleanliness into the business,
and trying to get rid of his own disappointment concerning Sallie by
putting all his energies into his work. Everything both in the
back room and the front shop was soon as straight as a new pin, and
then that inextricable medley in the back warehouse behind the
kitchen was attacked and finally subjugated. Between-whiles, John
was taking peeps at Wilky's books, and though a little surprised to
see his master in possession of so much modern theology, as he was
not naturally very curious he never pursued the thought, and was
hoodwinked by the fact that Wilky made frequent and ostentatious use
of the volumes, and would even occasionally read extracts to him and
engage him in discussion as to the points raised. The work
began to slacken; little by little the articles requiring to be
painted or re-polished got finished, and John began to wonder what
his master would find for him to do next.
The accounts were in a shocking state, however, and these
occupied several more weeks, especially as he soon discovered that
it was not possible to comprehend them except when his master was at
hand to explain the cryptic entries. But Wilky with somebody
in charge was rapidly developing roving propensities; sales seemed
to come with amazing frequency, and he often absented himself for
hours together when there was no such things to attend to. The
little broker, moreover, developed peculiar views of business, and
after the shop had once been made something like decent he laid it
down as an inflexible rule that when he was away, and John was in
sole charge, he must do nothing else but attend to the shop.
He might read a newspaper or even a book, the master conceded, but
he must be at liberty to attend to the shop with the utmost
promptitude immediately a customer appeared. Which goes to
prove that precept and practice are not always the same things even
with furniture brokers.
Left thus to himself and with much time on his hands, John
was drawn more and more to Wilky's book-shelves, and gradually began
to realise that when the time came to leave his present employment
and return to the mill, the hardest things to part with would be
these same precious volumes. All the same the long hours he
spent in reading made him increasingly uneasy, for it was as plain
to him as anything could be that now, at any rate, he was not
earning the money Wilky paid him. It was summer by this time,
and one Saturday evening, as he was returning from delivering a
repaired chair, he was attracted by a small crowd standing round
what was still called the market cross and listening to a speaker.
He was evidently some sort of Socialist, and the jibes he was
throwing out about the Government and the aristocracy were stale
enough, and John was just moving on when he was arrested by a few
cheap sneers at religion. The crowd laughed and seemed to
relish the sneers, and so the speaker went further and began to hold
forth on the discrepancies of Scripture and its many and flagrant
self-contradictions. John was piqued, but interested; and the
crowd showed its concern by dropping into silence. Elated at
the attention he had awakened, the speaker, who had a ready tongue
and sharp wits, went further, and was just holding up to ridicule
certain passages of Scripture when John, as much to his own
astonishment as to anybody else's, cried out indignantly, "Fair
"What? What's that young ranter say?" cried the orator.
"Nay, don't duck your soft head, my budding theologian; come up here
and don't be afraid to back your opinion."
"I'm not afraid," cried John, and in a moment he was at the
The Socialist obsequiously made room and flung out certain
witty remarks about John's personal appearance which mightily
tickled the audience; and then turning blandly to the young minder,
"Now, my young Boanerges, speak up, and let us hear what you
have to say."
"I've nothing to say," said John, "except that you are using
one of the favourite tricks of your class and not quoting Scripture,
but mis-quoting it."
"Ah! who'd have thought it? He doesn't look much like a
Regius Professor of Divinity, ladies and gentlemen, does he?
Looks rather like a Salvation Army soldier that's been drummed out.
Now, General Booth, tell us what it is I've misquoted. Order!
ladies and gentlemen; listen to this compressed philosophy."
John's spirit was stirred. He felt that this man was
trying to make him lose his temper, but he felt cool, astonishingly
cool, he reflected afterwards. And so, turning to the crowd, he
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm not criticising this gentleman's
arguments, nor you for listening to him, but you'll all agree that
if a man quotes he ought to quote correctly."
"Hear! hear!" said one or two, and the orator drew himself
up, turned up the collar of his coat, and pulling a long,
sanctimonious face, whined out, "A-m-e-n!"
John waited, and observed that whilst a few laughed at the
mountebank's jeers, others looked a little disgusted.
"I think the gentleman mentioned St. John's gospel; well,
there is no such passage in St. John at all."
The lecturer began to fumble hastily in the inside pocket of
his coat, evidently seeking some pamphlet.
"He quoted it as a saying of Jesus Christ's. It is
nothing of the sort! It is a saying of the Pharisees, his
opponents, and you will find it in the gospel by St. Mark. As
for that last phrase of his, I should like to ask him where, in the
Bible, he found that?"
"The walking dictionary! The infant prodigy!" began the
"Answer him! no shuffling! Answer him!" cried several
delighted ones in the crowd.
"Gentlemen, we have got here the infant Spurgeon, the—"
"Answer him! answer him!"
"Gentlemen," said John quietly, "I'll answer myself.
The passage is not in the Bible at all; it is a bit of Young's
The crowd cheered and commenced to laugh, and John, elated
and valiant, plunged off into a description of some of the social
and political blessings Christianity had brought, and then reminded
them that he was their townsman and had nothing to gain by deceiving
them; and then he tumbled out confusedly a bit of his own religious
experience, and when at the end of ten minutes he paused, out of
breath, his antagonist was just disappearing behind him. Some
of the crowd began to hustle the retiring and vanquished agitator,
and others shouted to John to go on.
"Friends," he gasped, "I'm a bit out of breath," and then, as
a great daring idea flashed across his mind, he went on, "but I'll
come here next Saturday night and say something more if you like."
The crowd cheered, and John, now beginning to feel reaction,
got down and speedily made for the furniture shop. He had many
misgivings during the next week and blamed himself not a little for
his impulsive offer, but faithfully next Saturday he turned up at
his post and preached. One or two interrupted, but he found
their quibbles very easy to dispose of, and soon began to look for
them; for his quick replies were the things the audience most
enjoyed. He found no lack of assistants, however, and in a
short time the service at the market cross became a regular part of
the Saturday evening's proceedings, and began to make its influence
felt on some of the working men of the town.
As time wore on, however, John became more and more uneasy
about his position in Wilky's business; the books were now in order
and the business had actually increased a little, the people finding
John so much easier to deal with than his master; but John knew
enough by now to realise that his employer could not afford to pay
him, as he was doing, out of the profits of the concern, and, most
alarming consideration of all, he had so much time on his hands that
he was growing dangerously fond of Wilky's books. He was,
moreover, stronger and healthier than he ever remembered to have
been, in his life, having broadened out somewhat and got a more
wholesome look about him. There was no reason therefore why he
should not go back to the mill, especially as it had "gone on full
time," and just then something happened that precipitated his
It was the holiday season; the super. was away at Conference,
the second minister was busy preaching anniversary sermons in the
villages, and so, as usual, local preachers were given the rare
distinction of appointments in the circuit chapel. On the
first Sunday in August, Wilky Drax was "planned" for the evening
service. The fixture was a perfectly safe one, for the little
broker, grotesque in appearance and brusque of manner, had a very
decided gift, and was as popular with the quality for his incisive
proverbial philosophy as he was with the rest for his other gifts.
All the same the appointment only came at rare intervals, and all
the week previous Wilky was apparently passing through all the
struggles of mental production. First one and then another of
his books was consulted and then flung with a petulant "Bosh!" upon
the book shelves, and woe to the misguided customer who presumed to
"haggle" that week. Two things, however, puzzled John, one was
that his master never seemed to write anything and the other that
Wilky never opened the newer volumes which he had so often and so
pointedly commended to his assistant. In the quiet hours of
Friday forenoon, the slackest part of the week, Wilky condescended
to consult his young employee about a text. "But Mordecai
(pronounced by the furniture man Mor-de-cay-i) bowed not nor
did him reverence." John laughed at the text, but his master
seemed no little proud of it and invited his assistant's ideas, and
so they slipped off into a long discussion which had no result save
a withering condemnation of John's "one-eyed" notions and a
sweepingly scornful denunciation of modern commentators. The
discussion piqued John's curiosity and he looked forward to the
Sunday evening service with considerable interest. But why did his
master spend so very much time in examining the plan and in
whispered discussions with resident local preachers?
Sunday night came and John was in his place under the gallery
in good time. The congregation, as he expected, was small, but
better than usual for the time of the year. The preacher had a
reputation for fastidious punctuality, but to-night he was behind
time, and when the chapel clock struck six the chapel-keeper had not
brought the books into the pulpit. John consulted his watch
and ascertained that the clock was not fast; what had become of
Wilky? Three or four minutes passed and then Barlby, the
Society steward, opened the vestry door a few inches, peeped here
and there over the chapel; and still no Wilky. Then the vestry
door was opened slightly again, and Barlby looked straight across at
John's pew. John's heart came into his mouth, and he was just
wondering for the twentieth time what had happened to detain his
master when the folding entrance door behind him creaked softly, and
a hand was placed on his shoulder.
"Come and open the service," whispered Carr, the junior
steward. "Barlby's gone to seek Wilky."
John turned round with a suddenly whitened face and gasped,
"I cannot. Get some of the others."
"You are the only local here. Come on!"
John's mother, who was sitting next to him, gave him a gentle
nudge, and, scarcely knowing what he did, he got up and followed the
steward into the vestry. It took five minutes to get his
consent, but as Carr had now been joined by three other alarmed
officials, and they all insisted upon it, he at length consented to
commence the service, but only when he was assured that Barlby had
actually gone to seek Wilky. His master had sent in the hymns
the day before, but, though that seemed reassuring, John could not
help fearing that his employer had found Mordecai too much for him.
There were astonished and inquiring looks as John, with shaking
legs, ascended the stairs into the tall pulpit, and his voice shook
so that his trembling mother bowed her head and prayed. The
hymn over and the prayer concluded John announced the chant, and
looked round anxiously towards the vestry door. It opened sure
enough, but only Barlby, red and perspiring, emerged.
"I've knocked and knocked but I cannot get in," said the
steward, standing on the pulpit steps whilst the singing proceeded.
"He must have gone away; you'll have to go on."
"I can't go on, I really can't," gasped John.
"There's nothing else for it. Go on, lad, and God help
thee," and Barlby descended the stairs and walked off to his pew.
John broke out into a cold sweat, and then raising his eyes
for the first time he glanced round the chapel in search of some
other preacher. They were not there, but the deep steep
gallery half full of worshippers was there, and he felt as if it was
coming over upon him to crush him. But the singing stopped and
he had to get up hastily and read. Then more singing, and the
poor preacher realised that the sermon came next. He put his
hand into his pocket and discovered to his relief the notes of an
old discourse; he tried to read them, but the writing ran together
and danced before his eyes. He felt as though he were choking.
One more glance at that awful gallery, one more appealing look at
that inexorable red baize vestry door, and then the singing ceased,
and he was face to face with his fearful ordeal. He tried to
commence, but the insides of his lips seemed to have upon them a
thick coating of glue and cracked as he parted them. The
chapter and verse of the text could only be heard by a few; the
words seemed muffled, and a passionate impulse to burst into tears
came to John, and he lifted his eyes helplessly towards the gallery.
And that look saved him; that overpowering collection of men and
women all at once became a powerful magnet; the sight of those faces
woke the preacher in him, his brain cleared; suddenly an unnatural
collectedness came upon him, and in a full, clear voice he began to
A Methodist congregation is always interested and sympathetic
towards a case of this kind, and the attention which the Bramwell
worshippers gave to the preacher cured him for the time of all undue
nervousness. It was seen at once that he would never be the
man his father had been; words, instead of rolling and tumbling one
over each other as they did when the elder Ledger occupied the
pulpit, now came one by one, slowly and with sparing economy; picked
words evidently, and short but "grippy" sentences; instead of the
bubbling, sparkling headlong rush, such as the older Methodist
loved, there came a quiet deep stream. Presently some of the
men began to look round at each other and nod, but the preacher did
not see them, he was now wholly a messenger of the skies, not a
factory lad and the son of a working man; all that was lost sight
of, his message was everything.
It filled him, it mastered him, and took absolute possession.
He was confident enough now, but it was confidence in the truth he
uttered, and its fitness for the needs of his hearers; self was
absolutely forgotten. Coolly, quietly, with simple
epigrammatic terseness, and with phrases that were half pictures, he
argued his case, and when finally, after a three minutes' strong
appeal, he finished, the congregation looked round in astonishment
to discover that he had been preaching a full half-hour. As
wine leaves its flavour in the cup, so the inflation of the moment
clung to John and kept him up during the concluding part of the
service. It was fast passing away, however, and by the time he
came to the benediction self-consciousness had returned, and he
crept down the pulpit stairs with a sickening sense of failure.
"John! John!" whispered Barlby, meeting him at the foot of
the stairs. "Thou's forgotten the prayer-meeting."
With another pang of shame John hurried back and gave out a
hymn, and as he timidly found his way down into the communion the
congregation dismissed, a few only remaining for the after-service.
The people from the gallery, however, came in, in some numbers, and
when the prayers commenced John bowed his head on the communion
table and gave way to acute mental distress.
"Another prayer, please," he said in absent, perfunctory
manner, at the first pause, and a great gush of emotion swelled up
within him as he heard suddenly a voice he had never listened to
before in that building—the voice of his silent, suffering mother.
She seemed inspired, her face shone, though her voice shook; she
made no reference to the service, she was praying for the ungodly,
the careless, the lukewarm, and in the midst of her low, intense
pleadings John heard a sound of pew doors being opened and a
scrambling of feet, and raising his head, lo! there were three of
the rough fellows he had harangued on succeeding Saturday nights at
the market-cross being now led up to the penitent form, and as he
choked back the rush of emotion, it welled up afresh in irresistible
gushes, as, looking round, he saw his favourite sister Lucy rise
from her place, step past the still pleading mother, and kneel down
by the side of the men. This is the sort of scene that appeals
to all Methodists, and when at length the after-meeting closed the
elders present crowded round John and made his heart burn with
gratitude, and a sort of joy to which he was a stranger, as they
congratulated him on the "good time" he had had.
John, shyly happy, wanted to get away, but just as he was
turning into the vestry a woman from the free seats suddenly pushed
her way to him, and seizing his hand cried, "God bless thee! thou'rt
but a lad, but thou's found me a lost husband to-night;" and behind
her a shaking old body raised her chin over a bystander's shoulder
and said, "I'd sooner be thy mother than Queen of England."
Then there was a cry in a distant pew, and John's mother was seen
hugging her newly-converted daughter, and John, abashed but happy,
was glad to escape. He did not get clear away though, without
several other congratulations, and when he did so his first thought
was what had happened to Wilky. He hurried off to see, and
found, in spite of Barlby's positive statements, the furniture shop
door wide open. He could hear many voices all talking together
as he entered, and when he reached the back-room there were three
local preachers, his father and old Butterworth the exhorter; whilst
sitting in the big chair, muffled up and bewrapped as if it had been
winter, and he had taken a severe cold, was Wilky, who, as soon as
he caught sight of John, pulled a long face, rolled up the whites of
his eyes, and groaning out, "I've gotten t'mental gitis," burst into
a loud triumphant guffaw.
SOME STONES FOR THE OTHER POCKET.
"MASTER, I want
to speak to you; I want to give you a week's notice."
"Eh? what? Don't bother me, I'm reading," and Wilky
became absorbed again in his newspaper, only John observed that it
was the sporting page and was therefore not deceived.
"I want to leave you next Saturday night."
"That's it! That's it," and Wilky threw the newspaper
from him, gave the footstool a savage kick, and sprang down from his
chair. "Another blown-up bladder! Another young jackass
as canna carry corn. He takes his wages in a second-hand shop
o' Saturday night an' says, 'Thank you,' but canna look at nowd less
nor a harchbishop or a president o' t' Conference 'cause he preached
i' t' circuit chapel o' t' Sunday."
John listened patiently to this outburst, and then shook his
head with a quiet smile and said―
"Ah, master, I've found you out."
"Eh? Me! Well, that's a walloper! What
next?" and Wilky put on an excellent pretence of injured innocence,
but laughter and triumphant recollection gleamed in his eyes, and
his mouth twitched mischievously at the corner.
"You never wanted an assistant at all, Mr. Drax, you only
wanted to help me."
"He's off it! He's fair off his chump! That owd
woman's blather and soft sawder last night has turned his silly
John waited until the tirade was finished and then went on—
"And I've found out what those books in the corner mean,
"Books! Has thou been reading my books? I don't
allow nobody to touch them;" but as Wilky had seen him reading the
volumes times without number, this last response only went to show
how hard put to it he was for a reply of any kind.
"Master," and John's face became grave and his voice thick,
"I shall never forget your kindness to me—and—mine—but I cannot let
it go on—"
Wilky jerked his head back with a contemptuous snort, and
then with sudden change of thought he dashed at his assistant,
grabbed him fiercely by the coat, and looking hard into his face he
"An' what about t' ministry?"
A light came into John's eye. He drew down the lids to
hide it, and answered hesitantly—
"That we must leave to God, master."
"That's it!" and Wilky let go his hold and twisted round with
a scornful gesture. "It's goin' to be shoved on God now!
We goes clashin' and mashin' till we're stuck, an' then we turn
pious and leaves it to t' Almighty. We calls it resignation,
by jings! when it's nowt but duffin' cowardliness! Leave it to
Almighty! two-thirds of all t' resignation i' t' world is simply
lazy lack-o'-pluck. God helps them as helps thersels, that's
"But I don't want to be a minister!"
"Well, did Moses? an' Isaiah? Did Paul? Them as
wants, isn't wanted; it's them as doesn't want as get called."
For a quarter of an hour longer the discussion went on, and
as John had gone further this time than he had ever done before,
Wilky was afraid to push him more and finally broke off the
interview and toddled across to the paint shop.
Left to himself in the little back room John became the prey
of conflicting and anxious thoughts. His success of the night
before had reopened the question of his future, and he did not hide
from himself that he would have to face the matter once more.
One thing that had helped him hitherto had been that he lacked that
indubitable sign of the call—fruit, but he could now fall back upon
that no longer. The call of the Church, too, now became
unmistakable, only the very extravagance of the language used by his
new admirers frightened him. This uneasiness was deepened by
the discovery that at the bottom of his heart, kept down by
self-mistrust, he now found a new and alarming eagerness which
awakened his strongest suspicions. He had been brought up in a
circle in which certain standards of pulpit ability were recognised,
and he knew that he did not possess a single one of the
qualifications which were regarded as essential. He had not
what was commonly known as the "gift of the gab;" he knew that he
could not speak unless he had something to say. But he did not
know then that that was one of the surest guarantees of success, and
that one of the most dangerous gifts that a minister can possess is
a "fatal facility of speech."
The compliments he had received the night before had
frightened him, but the consciousness that a mysterious change had
taken place in his own feelings was more alarming still. Well,
at any rate, he could "sit tight," and in spite of Wilky that was
what he would do. But the question refused to be thus disposed
of, and returned again and again.
The improvement in his health had restored to him some of the
natural buoyancy of youth, and his contact with Wilky's hastily
collected but seductive library had quickened his natural taste for
study, and he was compelled to admit that preaching had become a
pleasure to him, though a somewhat fearful one. If the Church
thought he had gifts and insisted upon calling him, it was a serious
thing to refuse. Were there not men he knew, his own father
for instance, who had according to local Methodist opinion been
unfortunate in all their undertakings because they had, at his age,
resisted the call of God? If he could be sure, if God would
condescend to give him some definite sign; if, best of all, God
would so order events that he was left without option, he could
accept the position with something more than resignation.
But that was the very point; whatever others might say, however
constraining the nature of events, he could not for a moment allow
himself to suppose that the burden of choice would lie anywhere but
upon his own conscience, and if it rested there he had no confidence
whatever which justified him in allowing matters to take their own
And supposing he did go forward as a candidate and was
accepted, what about the financial considerations involved? He
had during his service with Wilky saved about four pounds, the
largest sum he had ever had of his own; his education and
maintenance at college would, of course, cost nothing, but he would
want some sort of outfit, and several pounds at least would be
required for that. But most serious consideration of all, what
would become of his family if his support were withdrawn?
Could they do without him? They never had done since he could
remember, or, at any rate, since he began to work; his father's
contributions were never a full man's wages, and every year or two
those dreadful crises, which always aged his mother and left a
sickening scare on his own mind, came—crises arising from legal
proceedings taken by the painter's creditors to recover overdue
accounts. In these matters his father was always secretive,
and whilst it was easy to read his mind on most questions, they
generally knew nothing of the difficulty until the sheriff's officer
walked into the house.
John had been brought up in circles in which such texts as
"Whoso loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me,"
were interpreted with the baldest literality, and he knew that if he
got an indubitable call, mother or no mother, cash or no cash, he
would have nothing to do but obey; but as yet there was no such
peremptory summons, and he was at liberty to debate these things;
and as he did so his heart and even his eyes filled, and he declared
again and again to himself that he could not and would not leave his
mother to struggle on with the burdens that had crushed all her
married life. His mother had made a sacrifice of position and
friends when she married his father, and had instilled into him a
feeling of almost awe for his parent, but as he had grown up and
come to look at things for himself, he had separated the preacher
from the man and had gradually grown to regard himself as his
mother's protector. How could he leave her to fight this
endless, hopeless battle of hers alone! He would not do it; it
would be cowardly and selfish! Nobody should ever worm out of
him the real reason, but the patient, heroic woman he loved should
not be left to struggle by herself.
And from one woman his thoughts moved easily to another. He
still loved Sallie; she had dismissed him from motives which, if he
could not sympathise with, he could perfectly understand. From
the ordinary standpoints of life she was not to blame for being
ambitious, and surely not for being ambitious for her lover.
It looked very much as though she had only encouraged him when she
thought there was a chance of becoming a minister's wife, but his
own pride and the faith born of his love for her, rebuked such a
suggestion and he fought it down. She was a clear-headed girl,
and belonged to a shrewd, if rather worldly family; she loved him,
but would not show her affection because there seemed no chance of
it ever coming to anything, as long as he was only a minder.
When there had appeared to be better prospects for him she had not
been able to conceal her joy, but had betrayed her real feelings.
That was the view he took of it. Once or twice the facts took
on a quite ugly appearance as he looked at them, and seem to say
that she did not care at all for him for his own sake, and the
thought, though he rebuked it as unworthy and unjust to Sallie,
somehow would not be altogether silenced.
He had not seen very much of her since the day of his
dismissal. He had felt humiliated and somewhat embittered when
he found himself relegated to that company of snubbed admirers of
which Sam Kepple was the most conspicuous member. There was
really no cause for him to complain. Sallie had been painfully
open through it all; she liked him, but she would not marry a
mill-hand; and he had every reason to believe that if he did become
a candidate for the ministry she would receive him eagerly.
Ah! where was he drifting to? The whispering syren was
suggesting so very pleasant a course that, as usual, the
attractiveness of it alarmed him; a thing so delightful to flesh and
blood must be bad. No! the questions must be kept entirely
separate. If he allowed his circumstances on the one hand, or
his chance of gaining Sallie on the other, to come into the
discussion, he was compromised at once; the question of the ministry
must stand absolutely by itself; to allow any of these things to
influence him would be to betray his trust.
And whilst John was engaged in these reflections, the left
wing of the Bramwell Methodists was holding solemn conclave at the
paint shop. Four or five of the lay preachers and minor
officials had assembled for the purpose of congratulating Sampson on
his son's success, and the little broker on the strategic brilliance
of the scheme he had so cleverly carried out.
Jacob Ramsden, the leader, who was an ardent admirer of the
declamatory and picturesque oratory of the older school, was
declaring, as Wilky joined the company—
"He'll nivver be t' man his father's been—for hunction."
"Thank goodness for that!" grunted the little broker,
strutting to the bench and screwing himself upon the seat.
"He's gotten an old head on his shoulders, too," said Zeph
Wood, staring before him with a look of profound conviction.
"It's nivver his own head, that isn't; he picked it up i'
some old churchyard, that's what he did," assented Gridge, the
water-rate collector, hitching his book tighter under his arm and
looking round on the company as though defying contradiction.
Wilky snorted with an air of superior contempt, and the rapid
motion of his little legs created the expectation of speech, but
before he could get started, old Zeph, cocking his head on one side
calculatingly, broke in—
"It costs summat, I reacon, to send 'em to college?"
"An' riggin' 'em out," added Ramsden.
"Yes, brethren," said Sampson with a sigh of martyr-like
resignation, "it's a serious question, is that, what that lad's cost
me i' heddication"—and then breaking off in the triumph of sudden
but gigantic self-sacrifice—"but it shall be done, if it cosses me
my last penny! The Lord gave, an' the Lord taketh away."
Wilky glared at the painter with indignation, knowing as he
did that John had been for years the mainstay of the family, and had
brought in more pounds than he had ever cost shillings. In
another moment he would have withered his friend with an unusually
scorching reply, but just then Ramsden broke in—
"Ay, it 'ull be a great sacrifice for thee, Sampson!"
"Sacrifice!" and Sampson rolling his eyes upward and tossing
back his long hair, went on: "Every heart knoweth its own
bitterness, but this shall be my box of ointment, brethren.
Have we received good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not
"Evil!" roared Wilky, and switching off his seat and stepping
where he could take a professional glance at the shop opposite:
"Evil! He has a son as is called to be a minister, an' he
calls it evil! He gets a chance of paying back all the Lord's
lost by him, and he calls it evil! Bosh! Blather!"—but
here he broke off, and rushing to the door he shouted to John, who
was arguing with an evidently awkward customer: "Don't let her have
it at any price, lad!" and then shaking his head and nodding
consequentially he waddled, with a disgusted you can't-come-over-me
sort of look, to his place on the bench.
Zeph Wood was rubbing his rough chin in a painful cogitation.
When it came to parting with money he generally had to do
considerable screwing up of himself.
"There was a subscription gotten up for Bob Clumberson,
wasn't there?" he said at last, forcing the words out with
difficulty and hesitating between each one.
"Ranter folk hez ranter ways," objected Wilky shortly.
Sampson had pricked up his ears at the mention of a
subscription, but as he caught Wilky's stern eye fixed upon him he
raised his brush, and holding it between his face and the light he
screwed up one eye and squinting at his stumpy tool, he said
"Him as sends t' prophet 'ull send t' ravens to feed him."
Gridge, the collector, began to move towards the door.
"Well, if there's anythin' done, I'll stand my corner," he
"Same here," said Ramsden, puffing grimly at a pipe.
"Put me down for a fie' pun note," added Zeph with a
This was the largest subscription that the old fellow had
ever been known to give, and he had offered it spontaneously; and
every man there stole a sidelong inquiring glance at him, for, with
the possible exception of Wilky, none of them knew anything of
John's relationship with Sallie.
"T' brass is nowt," cried Wilky, with a petulant jerk of the
head, "it's t' chap as stan's i' t' road."
Sampson heaved a sigh, so long and appealing that the
irascible little broker could not allow it to pass. "Wot's up
now?" he demanded crossly.
"The whale! I see the whale," and Sampson, striking a sort of
prophetic attitude, and using the brush as a wand, went on in
funereal tones, "the way of duty is oft through the vasty deep; the
way to Nineveh is through the whale's belly."
"An' the way to crazy Bedlam's through a bloomin' paint
shop," and Wilky, who had slipped off the bench, assumed an attitude
in mutation of Sampson's mock heroics, and whined out the "bloomin'"
in a manner that set the others off in explosions of laughter.
"Good morning, gentlemen! Good morning! Well,
Brother Ledger, your son had a grand time last night," said the
second minister, stepping in his brisk way into the shop.
"There's been nowt like it i' that chapel this ten year,"
cried Wilky, characteristically ignoring both that he had not heard
the sermon, and that he was speaking to one who might take it as a
But the minister seemed to be thinking of something else, and
so, accepting the stump near the stove, he sat down, and with an
absent glance round the shop he said—
"I suppose your son has an excellent memory, Mr. Ledger?"
"Moderate sir, moderate!—for him."
Sampson evidently wished to convey that his son's memory was
about equal to his other gifts, but that neither in that nor in
other things could he be expected to be equal to some
others—himself, for instance.
"He doesn't get his sermons off by heart, if that's wot you
mean," cried Wilky, eyeing the minister with surly suspicion.
"H'm, do you happen to know how he prepares his sermons,
Every one present was watching the minister now with strained
"Me, sir! No, sir; he takes counsel happen wi' the
stranger, but never with his own parent."
As this was a fling at both John and his employer, Ramsden
and Zeph winced in expectation of an explosion, but the little
broker was evidently thinking hard upon some problem in the presence
of which Sampson's little slur was as nothing. He took his
pipe out of his mouth, and absently dropped it into the pocket of
his over-sized coat; then he cleared his throat, as if he was about
to speak, but contented himself with watching the minister like a
terrier at a rat-hole.
"Does he read much sermon literature, should you think?" was
the next question.
"I fear not, sir; he doesn't even look at that blessed paper,
the Christian Prophet."
"Christian humbug," interjected Wilky, with ineffable
The minister seemed hesitant and perplexed.
"He doesn't take in any preacher's publications—the
Christian World Pulpit, for instance?"
"He may do, sir, he takes in a lot; but he keeps 'em locked
up in his desk upstairs."
After a moment's rather awkward pause the minister rose, and
began to move slowly doorwards; but Wilky was before him.
Planting his stumpy form in the way, he cried peremptorily—
"Hold, sir! Tit for tat. You've been axin' a lot
o' questions, happen you won't mind answerin' one or two."
"Well, Brother Drax?" and the cleric's face expressed more
amusement than concern.
"We want to know what there is behind these here questions o'
"Oh, nothing, sir, nothing—at present," and the reverend
gentleman tried to pass his interrogator.
"It won't do, sir," and Wilky shook his head with defiant
resoluteness. "I'm not the father of this here lad, thank the
Lord, I—I wish I was, but I'm his gaffer just now, an' I'm goin' to
stick up for him, b-b-less him," and the little man suddenly became
husky and rather incoherent.
The minister smiled again at Wilky's self-contradictions, but
seemed touched by his evident emotion, and so he said—
"Well, the fact is, I have heard three times this morning
that John preached somebody else's sermon, and Flintop has been to
me to say he'll have the thing bottomed."
Wilky stood glaring at the minister thunderstruck, then he
turned with blended amazement and appeal in his eyes from one to the
other of his friends, and suddenly whisking round he made a dart
towards the street with the evident intention of fetching John.
But the minister was too quick for him; snatching at his coat collar
he pulled him back into the shop and then begged him to listen to
"Reason! It's slander! It's spite an' malice.
Let me go—oh!—oh, by jings, my coat's afire!" and the excited little
fellow jumped round, and, taught by past experiences, jammed his
coat against the wall and began to crush out the smouldering in the
cloth; the fact being, of course, that his forgotten, but still
lighted pipe, had burnt its way through the pocket and set fire to
When Wilky had extinguished the burning, and flung the
offending pipe into the street, Sampson, who had taken very little
notice of an incident that was not very uncommon, stood staring
through the dusty window, and as soon as there was silence he
brought back the conversation by saying in lame, apologetic tones—
"The poor lad was taken unawares, you know, sir."
The minister looked at the painter curiously. It was
odd, even suspicious, he thought, that the father of the supposed
culprit should be the only one to think that the charge might
possibly be true. But whilst he was occupied with these
thoughts, Wilky, whose left trousers leg now bulged out and stuck in
the top of his Wellington boot, had dodged past his pastor and now
appeared dragging John fiercely by the collar across the street, and
then pushing him before him he cried—
"Come on! Come on! Own up wi' thee! thou'rt a
hypocrite, thou'rt a sneaking thief, thou'rt a swindling playgerist!"
"No, no! Brother Drax, don't be so violent!" cried the
minister in distress, but as there was now no way out of it he
looked at the bewildered John and went on. "The people are so
surprised with your sermon last night, Mr. John, that they wonder
whether it was your own?"
John opened his eyes widely, and then with smiling
incredulity he answered—
"Nobody who heard it has any doubts, sir."
"If ever I do steal a sermon, sir, it shall be one worth
stealing," and John, in the easiness of innocence, smiled again.
"Then this sermon was your own—absolutely and entirely your
"Of course, sir; those who heard it know that."
"But you quoted somebody pretty freely, perhaps?"
John thought for a moment.
"No, sir. I don't remember to have quoted anything but
"But you have seen somebody else's sermon on the text and
have, unconsciously, I daresay, adopted the thoughts."
So far John had been more amused than anything else, but now
he began to think it must be serious.
"Oh no, sir; I've never even heard a sermon on the text."
"And you haven't borrowed the thoughts from any published
sermon on any other text?"
"Oh, sir, if you had heard the sermon you would know that;
the fact is I only had a few notes, but I'll show them to you, sir."
"Thank you; the very thing, if you would!" and then pausing
and looking at him steadily he said : "John, I believe you
absolutely, but this is more serious than you, perhaps, think.
Flintop says he is certain he has seen the discourse in print and
can produce it, and if he does—but you had better give me your
notes, here and now, in the presence of witnesses. Flintop is
not easily shaken off, you know, and if he should make a clique,
well—" and he shrugged his shoulders expressively.
John hurried off to fetch the notes, and when he had gone the
minister turned to the others and said:
"You see, gentlemen, the super. and I have set our hearts on
John being a candidate, apart altogether from what took place last
night; but if Flintop thinks a thing he sticks to it, and if he and
his friends, even a few of them, voted against John it would be
serious, for the exact numbers, for and against and even neutral,
have to be returned on the schedule."
As the preacher finished his explanation Ramsden leaned
forward, and glancing across, called Wilky's attention to the fact
that a customer wanted him.
"Ler 'em want," snapped the broker, and deliberately turned
his back upon the door. "Who's owd Flintop? Who cares
for him? Doesn't he oppose everything?"
"Perhaps so! But, you see, in this case he could make
it very awkward for John—and for us."
"He can make it very awkerd for hisself. Ler him do it!
just ler him do it! an' then ler him look out for Robert Wilkinson
Drax, that's all," and banging his fist on the dusty counter Wilky
glared defiance at the whole universe.
"Many are the afflictions of the righteous," groaned Sampson
with a sniff, but as the broker's nerves were just then screwed up
to their highest tension he whipped round, and flashing a look of
annihilation at the painter, he snarled—
"Ay! but them as lives wi' 'em 'as a fine sight more."
But at this moment John returned, and handed a closely
written sheet of paper to the minister, who, after examining it,
"I'll take this, John, and keep it for a while—a—a—don't
worry yourself. I think we shall be all right now. Good
morning!" and with a glance round and a nod he hastened away.
John went back to the little inner room at the shop feeling
weary and out of heart. The charge of plagiarism did not of
itself trouble him, but he realised that, though it would have been
talked about in any case, it drew most of its seriousness from his
supposed candidature, and he half wished that the delusion might be
believed, and thus extinguish all idea of his being brought forward.
Then he wondered what he could do, short of openly refusing, in
order to set the matter for ever at rest, and in this connection, as
in all others, his mind went back to Sallie. Why not get her
and marry her, and thus end all this bother? But he had never
seriously tried; he had accepted his dismissal in the tamest
possible way. "Faint heart never won fair lady;" why shouldn't
he try, and keep on trying until he succeeded? She was a woman
after all, and as amenable to importunity as other women; she did
love him, she had shown she did. What a poor sort of a fellow
she must have thought him when he accepted his dismissal in that
chicken-hearted way! He was not worthy of her if he gave her
up like that; he would try again.
"You're in a brown study, John."
John started guiltily and looked round, and there stood Mrs.
Drax on one of her rare visits downstairs. He jumped to his
feet and offered her the big chair, and as she smilingly accepted it
she raised her eyes, and said—
"Well, John, you have become quite famous all at once.
I'm almost as pleased as Drax and the others."
"Thank you, ma'am; but I wish they would let me alone."
Mrs. Drax smiled complacently; she held firmly the old
Methodist belief that reluctance to "go out" was a sign of special
grace, and that only those who felt like that were really fit and
called. John's answer, therefore, was the most satisfactory
possible. Looking at him affectionately, she said—
"It's a serious thing to refuse the call, John."
"It's much more serious to mistake it, ma'am."
"But if the Church calls you, they are responsible, not you."
"No, ma'am; God's given me reason and will and conscience.
I am responsible."
The large, sweet woman's heart was glowing with thankful
pride; this attitude of John's was almost ideal to her.
Presently she leaned forward, and touching him gently with her soft
hand and dropping her voice into a confidential tone, she asked—
"Wouldn't you like to be a minister, John?"
A warm gush of feeling flooded John's heart, and he answered,
with shaking voice and shining eyes—
"Oh, ma'am, I should glory in it—if I were fit."
"Is that your only objection, my dear?"
Terms of endearment were rare amongst the class to which
these two belonged, and the tender words thrilled John through and
through; his head dropped a little, and he turned his face away, but
he did not answer.
Mrs. Drax sat watching him with sympathetic intentness for a
few moments, and then she said, in tones that were soft to commence
with, but that grew in intensity as she spoke—
"Laddy, thy mother and I were girls together; she was the
proudest girl in Bramwell and the prettiest: she's borne her long
struggle with poverty like a saint, but if she thought that poverty
was going to spoil the life of her idol, I verily believe she would
curse her Maker."
As John covered his face with his hands and sighed she saw
that her suspicions were justified, and that this dread difficulty
had a prominent place in his thoughts. She watched his
distress with tears gathering under her own lashes, and presently
she said gravely—
"If you are sure you ought not to offer, laddy but, oh, be
sure of it—then we must find some other reason than poverty; it
would break her heart."
Even yet John did not speak, and so thinking, woman-like, of
the only argument that appeared applicable, she went on—
"Wouldn't you like to see her proud and happy, John?
It's time she had something to comfort her, she's had trouble
And then John lifted his head and looked at her; he seemed to
hesitate for an instant, and then commenced, and told her all his
fears and struggles, and showed her with ample detail how that it
was not a question of like or dislike nor even of lack of means,
though he saw not how that was to be overcome; it was solely that he
could not be sure that he had either the gifts or the call of God.
He was sure of her sympathy and had great confidence in her
judgment, and so he talked freely, and she nodded and smiled, and
looked grave again, as he went over the case point by point.
"Well, laddy," she said, with a sweet, motherly smile,
"there's one remedy left, and we must try that. It's borne in
upon me that you are to be a minister, and if God sends the call,
He'll find the way," and John did not know that she had sacrificed
her summer's holiday and her husband a new suit of clothes in order
to find employment, and give opportunity for study, to their
John realised that he was approaching a crisis; all that
afternoon he went about with burning head and burning lips that
moved in silent prayer, and when his duties were finished, instead
of going home, he turned into Station Road, and then into the fields
beyond. It was a balmy August evening, and as dark as it would
ever be that night, and he crossed Ringham's pasture and worked
round towards Shed Lane. Just as he reached the footpath he
heard a soft laugh that went through him, and lifting his head and
looking over the hedge he saw a couple of courters on the other side
of the lane. The man had his arm in the girl's, and the girl
was Sallie Wood.