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HOPING FOR A MIRACLE
Mr. Ivison, Haldane's employer, was a worshipper at St. Paul's, and, like many others, had been deeply impressed by the sermon. Its influence had not wholly exhaled by Monday, and, as this gentleman was eminently practical, he felt that he ought to do something, as well as experience a little emotion. Thus he was led to address the following note to Haldane:
Last week I gave you a chance; this week I am induced to give you a good word. While I warn you that I will tolerate no weak dallying with your old temptations, I also tell you that I would like to see you make a man of yourself, or, more correctly, perhaps, as Dr. Barstow would express it, be made a man of. If one wants to do right, I believe there is help for him (go and ask the Rev. Dr. Barstow about this); and if you will go right straight ahead till I see you can be depended upon, I will continue to speak good words to you and for you, and perhaps do more. GEORGE IVISON.
This note greatly encouraged Haldane, and made his precarious foothold among the world's industries seem more firm and certain. The danger of being swept back into the deep water where those struggle who have no foothold, no work, no place in society would not come from the caprice or forgetfulness of his employer, but from his own peculiar temptations and weaknesses. If he could patiently do his duty in his present humble position, he justly believed that it would be the stepping-stone to something better. But, having learned to know himself, he was afraid of himself; and he had seen with an infinite dread what cold, dark depths yawn about one whom society shakes off as a vile and venomous thing, and who must eventually take evil and its consequences as his only portion. The hot, reeking apartment wherein he toiled was the first solid ground that he had felt beneath his feet for many days. If he could hold that footing, the water might shoal so that he could reach the land. It is true he could always look to his mother for food and clothing if he would comply with her conditions. But, greatly perverted as his nature had been, food and clothing, the maintenance of a merely animal life, could no longer satisfy him. He had thought too deeply, and had seen too much truth, to feed contentedly among the swine.
But the temptations which eventually lead to the swine--could he persistently resist these? Could he maintain a hard, monotonous routine of toil, with no excitements, no pleasures, with nothing that even approached happiness? He dared not give way; he doubted his strength to go forward alone with such a prospect. If conversion be a blessed miracle by which a debased nature is suddenly lifted up, and a harsh, lead-colored, prosaic world transfigured into the vestibule of heaven, he longed to witness it in his own experience.
It was while he was in this mood that his thoughts recurred to Dr. Marks, the good old clergyman who had been the subject of his rude, practical joke months before. He recalled the sincere, frank letter which led to their evening interview, and remembered with a thrill of hope the strong and mysterious emotion that had seized upon him as the venerable man took his hand in his warm grasp, and said in tones of pathos that shook his soul, "I wish I could lead you by loving force into the paths of pleasantness and peace." Wild and reckless fool as he then was, it had been only by a decided effort and abrupt departure that he had escaped the heavenly influences which seemed to brood in the quiet study where the good man prayed and spun the meshes of the nets which he daily cast for souls. If he could visit that study again with a receptive heart, might not the emotion that he bad formerly resisted rise like a flood, and sweep away his old miserable self, and he become in truth a "new creature"?
The thought, having been once entertained, speedily grew into a hope, and then became almost a certainty. He felt that he would much rather see Dr. Marks than Dr. Barstow, and that if he could feel that kind, warm grasp again, an impulse might be given him which even Mrs. Arnot's wise and gentle words could not inspire.
Before the week was over he felt that something must be done either to soften his hard lot or to give him strength to endure it.
The men, boys, and girls who worked at his side in the mill were in their natures like their garb, coarse and soiled. They resented the presence of Haldane for a twofold reason; they regarded the intrusion of a "jail-bird" among them in the light of an insult; they were still more annoyed, and perplexed also, that this disreputable character made them feel that he was their superior. Hence a system of petty persecution grew up. Epithets were flung at him, and practical jokes played upon him till his heart boiled with anger or his nerves were irritated to the last degree of endurance. More than once his fist was clenched to strike; but he remembered in time that the heavier the blow he struck, the more disastrously it would react against himself.
After the exasperating experiences and noise of the day, Mr. Growther's cottage was not the quiet refuge he needed. Mr. Growther's growl was chronic, and it rasped on Haldane's overstrained nerves like the filing of a saw. Dr. Barstow's sermons of the previous Sabbath had emphatically "riled" the old gentleman, and their only result, apparently, was to make him more out-of-sorts and vindictive toward his poor, miserable little self than ever. He was so irascible that even the comfortable cat and dog became aware that something unusual was amiss, and, instead of dozing securely, they learned to keep a wary and deprecatory eye on their master and the toes of his thick-soled slippers.
"I've been goin' on like a darned old porkerpine," he said to Haldane one evening," and if you don't git convarted soon you'd better git out of my way. If you was as meek as Moses and twice as good you couldn't stand me much longer;" and the poor fellow felt that there was considerable truth in the remark.
The mill closed at an earlier hour on Saturday afternoon, and he determined to visit Dr. Marks if he could obtain permission from his employer to be absent a few hours on Monday morning. He wrote a note to Mr. Ivison, cordially thanking him for his encouraging words, but adding, frankly, that he could make no promises in regard to himself. "All that I can say, is," he wrote, "that I am trying to do right now, and that I am grateful to you for the chance you have given me. I wish to get the 'help' you suggest in your note to me, but, in memory of certain relations to my old pastor, Dr. Marks, I would rather see him than Dr. Barstow, and if you will permit me to be absent a part of next Monday forenoon I will esteem it a great favor, and will trespass on your kindness no further. I can go after mill-hours on Saturday, and will return by the first train on Monday."
Mr. Ivison readily granted the request, and even became somewhat curious as to the result.
When Mrs. Arnot had learned from Haldane the nature of his present employment, she had experienced both pleasure and misgivings. That he was willing to take and try to do such work rather than remain idle, or take what he felt would be charity, proved that there was more good metal in his composition than she had even hoped; but she naturally felt that the stinging annoyances of his position would soon become intolerable. She was not surprised, although she was somewhat perplexed, at the receipt of the following letter:
MY DEAR MRS. ARNOT.--You have been such a true, kind friend to me, and have shown so much interest in my welfare, that I am led to give you a fuller insight into my present experiences and hopes. You know that I wish to be a Christian. You have made Christian manhood seem the most desirable thing that I can ever possess, but I make little or no progress toward it. Something must be done, and quickly too. Either there must be a great change in me, or else in my circumstances. As there is no immediate prospect of the latter, I have been led to hope that there can be such a change in me that I shall be lifted above and made superior to the exasperating annoyances of my condition. Yes, I am hoping even far more. If I could only experience the marvellous change which Dr. Barstow described so eloquently last Sunday evening, might I not do right easily and almost spontaneously? It is so desperately hard to do right now! If conversion will render my steep, thorny path infinitely easier, then surely I ought to seek this change by every means in my power. Indeed, there must be a change in me, or I shall lose even the foothold I have gained. I am subjected, all day long, to insult and annoyance. At times I am almost desperate and on the verge of recklessness. Every one of the coarse creatures that I am compelled to work with is a nettle that loses no chance to sting me; and there is one among them, a big, burly fellow, who is so offensive that I cannot keep my hands off him much longer if I remain my old self. You also know what a reception I must ever expect in the streets when I am recognized. The people act as if I were some sort of a reptile, which they must tolerate at large, but can, at least, shun with looks of aversion. And then, when I get to Mr. Growther's cottage I do not find much respite. It seems like ingratitude to write this, but the good old man's eccentric habit of berating himself and the world in general has grown wearisome, to say the least. I want to be lifted out of myself--far above these petty vexations and my own miserable weaknesses.
Once, before I left home, I played a rude joke on our good old pastor. Instead of resenting it he wrote me such a kind letter that I went to his study to apologize. While there his manner and words were such that I had to break away to escape a sudden and mysterious influence that inclined me toward all that is good. I have hoped that if I should visit him I might come under that influence again, and so be made a new and better man.
I have also another motive, which you will understand. Mother and I differ widely on many things, and always will; but I long to see her once more. I have been thinking of late of her many kindnesses--o that she had been less kind, less indulgent! But she cannot help the past any more than I can, and it may do us both good to meet once more. I do not think that she will refuse to see me or give me shelter for a few hours, even though her last letter seemed harsh.
I shall also be glad to escape for a few hours from my squalid and wretched surroundings. The grime of the sordid things with which I have so long been in contact seems eating into my very soul, and I long to sleep once more in my clean, airy room at home.
But I am inflicting myself too long upon you. That I have ventured to do so is due to your past kindness, which I can only wonder at, but cannot explain. Gratefully yours, E. HALDANE.
Mrs. Arnot was more than curious; she was deeply interested in the result of this visit, and she hoped and prayed earnestly that it might result in good. But she had detected an element in the young man's letter which caused her considerable uneasiness. His idea of conversion was a sudden and radical change in character that would be a sort of spiritual magic, contravening all the natural laws of growth and development. He was hoping to escape from his evil habits and weaknesses, which were of long growth, as the leper escaped from his disease, by a healing and momentary touch. He would surely be disappointed: might he not also be discouraged, and give up the patient and prayerful struggle which the sinful must ever wage against sin in this world? She trusted, however, that God had commenced a good work in his heart, and would finish it.
Even the sight of his native city, with its spires glistening in the setting sun, moved Haldane deeply, and when in the dusk he left the train, and walked once more through the familiar streets, his heart was crowded with pleasant and bitter memories, which naturally produced a softened and receptive mood.
He saw many well-remembered faces, and a few glanced at him as if he suggested one whom they had known. But he kept his hat drawn over his eyes, and, taking advantage of the obscurity of the night, escaped recognition.
"It is almost like coming back after one has died," he said to himself. "I once thought myself an important personage in this town, but it has got on better without me than it would have done with me. Truly, Mrs. Arnot is right--it's little the world cares for any one, and the absurdest of all blunders is to live for its favor."
It was with a quickly beating heart that he rang the bell at the parsonage, and requested to be shown up to Dr. Marks' study. Was this the supreme moment of his life, and he on the eve of that mysterious, spiritual change, of which he had heard so much, and the results of which would carry him along as by a steady, mighty impulse through earth's trials to heaven's glory? He fairly trembled at the thought.
The girl who had admitted him pointed to the open study door, and he silently crossed its threshold. The good old clergyman was bending over his sermon, to which he was giving his finishing touches, and the soft rays of the student's lamp made his white hair seem like a halo about his head.
The sacred quiet of the place was disturbed only by the quill of the writer, who was penning words as unworldly as himself. Another good old divine, with his Bible in his hand, looked down benignantly and encouragingly at the young man from his black-walnut frame. He was the sainted predecessor of Dr. Marks, and the sanctity of his life of prayer and holy toil also lingered in this study. Old volumes and heavy tomes gave to it the peculiar odor which we associate with the cloister, and suggested the prolonged spiritual musings of the past, which are so out of vogue in the hurried, practical world of to-day. This study was, indeed, a quiet nook--a little, slowly moving eddy left far behind by the dashing, foaming current of modern life; and Haldane felt impressed that he had found the hallowed place, the true Bethel, where his soul might be born anew.
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