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MR. GROWTHER "STUMPED"
About three weeks after the occasion upon which Haldane's human nature had manifested itself in such a disastrous manner as he had supposed, Mrs. Arnot, Dr. Barstow, and Mr. Ivison happened to find themselves together at an evening company.
"I have been wishing to thank you, Mr. Ivison," said the lady, "for your just and manly letter in regard to young Haldane. I think it encouraged him very much, and has given him more hopefulness in his work. How has he been doing of late? The only reply he makes to my questioning is, 'I am plodding on.'"
"Do you know," said Mr. Ivison, "I am beginning to take quite an interest in that young fellow. He has genuine pluck. You cannot understand, Mrs. Arnot, what an ordeal he has passed through. He is naturally as mettlesome as a young colt, and yet day after day he was subjected to words and actions that were to him like the cut of a whip."
"Mr. Ivison," said Mrs. Arnot, with a sudden moisture coming into her eyes, "I have long felt the deepest interest in this young man. In judging any one I try to consider not only what he does, but all the circumstances attending upon his action. Knowing Haldane's antecedents, and how peculiarly unfitted he was by early life and training for his present trials, I think his course since he was last released from prison has been very brave," and she gave a brief sketch of his life and mental states, as far as a delicate regard for his feelings permitted, from that date.
Dr. Barstow, in his turn, also became interested in the youth, not only for his own sake, but also in the workings of his mind and his spiritual experiences. It was the good doctor's tendency to analyze everything and place all psychological manifestations under their proper theological heads.
"I feel that I indirectly owe this youth a large debt of gratitude, since his coming to our church and his repulse, in the first instance, has led to decided changes for the better in us all, I trust. But his experience, as you have related it, raises some perplexing questions. Do you think he is a Christian?"
"I do not know. I think he is," replied Mrs. Arnot.
"When do you think he became a Christian?"
"Still less can I answer that question definitely."
"But would not one naturally think it was when he was conscious of that happy change in the study of good old Dr. Marks?"
"Poor Haldane has been conscious of many changes and experiences, but I do not despise or make light of any of them. It is certainly sensible to believe that every effect has a cause; and for one I believe that these strange, mystical, and often rich and rapturous experiences, are largely and perhaps wholly caused in many instances by the direct action of God's Spirit on the human spirit. Again, it would seem that men's religious natures are profoundly stirred by human and earthly causes, for the emotion ceases with the cause. It appears to me that if people would only learn to look at these experiences in a sensible way, they would be the better and wiser for them. We are thus taught what a grand instrument the soul is, and of what divine harmonies and profound emotions it is capable when played upon by any adequate power. To expect to maintain this exaltation with our present nature is like requiring of the athlete that he never relax his muscles, or of the prima donna that she never cease the exquisite trill which is but the momentary proof of what her present organization is capable. And yet it would appear that many, like poor Haldane, are tempted on one hand to entertain no Christian hope because they cannot produce these deep and happy emotions; or, on the other hand, to give up Christian hope because these emotions cease in the inevitable reaction that follows them. In my opinion it is when we accept of Christ as Saviour and Guide we become Christians, and a Christian life is the maintenance of this simple yet vital relationship. We thus continue branches of the 'true vine.' I think Haldane has formed this relationship."
"It would seem from your account that he had formed it, consciously, but a very brief time since," said Dr. Barlow, "and yet for weeks previous he had been putting forth what closely resembles Christian effort, exercising Christian forbearance, and for a time at least enjoying happy spiritual experiences. Can you believe that all this is possible to one who is yet dead in trespasses and sins?"
"My dear Dr. Barstow, I cannot apply your systematic theology to all of God's creatures any more than I could apply a rigid and carefully lined-out system of parental affection and government to your household. I know that you love all of your children, both when they are good and when they are bad, and that you are ever trying to help the naughty ones to be better. I am inclined to think that I could learn more sound theology on these points in your nursery and dining-room than in your study. I am sure, however, that God does not wait till his little bewildered children reach a certain theological mile-stone before reaching out his hand to guide and help them."
"You are both better theologians than I am," said Mr. Ivison, "and I shall not enter the lists with you on that ground; but I know what mill-life is to one of his caste and feeling, and his taking such work, and his sticking to it under the circumstances, is an exhibition of more pluck than most young men possess. And yet it was his only chance, for when people get down as low as he was they must take any honest work in order to obtain a foothold. Even now, burdened as he is by an evil name, it is difficult to see how he can rise any higher."
"Could you not give him a clerkship?" asked Mrs. Arnot.
"No, I could not introduce him among my other clerks. They would resent it as an insult."
"You could do this," said Mrs. Arnot with a slight flush, "but I do not urge it or even ask it. You are in a position to show great and generous kindness toward this young man. As he who was highest stooped to the lowliest, so those high in station and influence can often stoop to the humble and fallen with a better grace than those hearer to them in rank. If you believe this young man is now trustworthy, and that trusting him would make him still more so, you could give him a desk in your private office, and thus teach your clerks a larger charity. The influential and assured in position must often take the lead in these matters."
Mr. Ivison thought a moment, and then said: "Your proposition is unusual, Mrs. Arnot, but I'll think of it. I make no promises, however."
"Mr. Ivison," added Mrs. Arnot, in her smiling, happy way, "I hope you may make a great deal of money out of your business this year; but if, by means of it, you can also aid in making a good and true man, you will be still better off. Dr. Barstow here can tell you how sure such investments are."
"If I should follow your lead and that of Dr. Barstow, all my real estate would be in the 'Celestial City,'" laughed Mr. Ivison. "But I have a special admiration for the grace of clear grit, and this young fellow, in declining his mother's offer and trying to stand on his feet here in Hillaton, where every one is ready to tread him down, shows pluck, whatever else is wanting. I've had my eye on him for some time, and I'm about satisfied he's trying to do right. But it is difficult to know what to do for one with his ugly reputation. I will see what can be done, however."
That same evening chilly autumn winds were blowing without, and Mr. Growther's passion for a wood fire upon the hearth was an indulgence to which Haldane no longer objected. The frugal supper was over, and the two oddly diverse occupants of the quaint old kitchen glowered at the red coals in silence, each busy with his own thoughts. At last Haldane gave a long deep sigh, which drew to him at once Mr. Growther's small twinkling eyes.
"Tough old world, isn't it, for sinners like us?" he remarked.
"Well, Mr. Growther, I've got rather tired of inveighing against the world; I'm coming to think that the trouble is largely with myself."
"Umph!" snarled the old man, "I've allers knowed the trouble was with me, for of all crabbed, cranky, cantankerous, old--"
"Hold on," cried Haldane, laughing, "don't you remember what Mrs. Arnot said about being unjust to one's self? The only person that I have ever known you to wrong is Jeremiah Growther, and it seems to me that you do treat him outrageously sometimes."
At the name of Mrs. Arnot the old man's face softened, and he rubbed his hands together as he chuckled, "How Satan must hate that woman!"
"I was in hopes that her words might lead you to be a little juster to yourself," continued Haldane, "and it has seemed to me that you, as well as I, have been in a better mood of late."
"I don't take no stock in myself at all," said Mr. Growther emphatically. "I'm a crooked stick and allers will be--a reg'lar old gnarled knotty stick, with not 'nuff good timber in it to make a penny whistle. That I haven't been in as cussin' a state as usual isn't because I think any better of myself, but your Mrs. Arnot has set me a-thinkin' on a new track. She come to see me one day while you was at the mill, and we had a real speret'al tussel. I argufied my case in such a way that she couldn't git round it, and I proved to her that I was the driest and crookedest old stick that ever the devil twisted out o' shape when it was a-growin'. On a suddent she turned the argerment agin me in a way that has stumped me ever since. 'You are right, Mr. Growther,' she said, 'it was the devil and not the Lord that twisted you out of shape. Now who's the stronger,' she says, 'and who's goin' to have his own way in the end? Suppose you are very crooked, won't the Lord get all the more glory in making you straight, and won't his victory be all the greater over the evil one?' Says I, 'Mrs. Arnot, that's puttin' my case in a new light. If I should be straightened out, it would be the awfulest set-back Old Nick ever had; and if such a thing should happen he'd never feel sure of any one after that.' Then she turned on me kinder sharp, and says she, 'What right have you to say that God is allers lookin' round for easy work? What would you think of a doctor who would take only slight cases, and have nothing to do with people who were gittin' dangerous-like? Isn't Jesus Christ the great physician, and don't your common-sense tell you that he is jist as able to cure you as a little child?'
"I declare I was stumped. Like that ill-mannered cuss in the Scripter who thought his old clothes good enough for the weddin', I was speechless.
"But I got a worse knock down than that. Says she, 'Mr. Growther, I will not dispute all the hard things you have said of yourself (you see I had beat her on that line of argerment); I won't dispute all that you say (and I felt a little sot up agin, for I didn't know what she was a-drivin' at), but,' says she, 'I think you've got some natural feelin's. Suppose you had a little son, and while he was out in the street a wicked man should carry him off and treat him so cruelly that, instead of growin' to be strong and fine-lookin', he should become a puny, deformed little critter. Suppose at last you should hear where he was, and that he was longin' to escape from the cruel bands of his harsh master, who kept on a-treatin' of him worse and worse, would you, his father, go and coolly look at him and say, "If you was only a handsome boy, with a strong mind in a strong body, I'd deliver you out of this tyrant's clutches and take you back to be my son again; but since you are a poor, weak, deformed little critter, that can never do much, or be much, I'll leave you here to be abused and tormented as before"--is that what you would do, Mr. Growther?'
"Well, she spoke it all so earnest and real-like that I got off my guard, and I jist riz right up from my cheer, and I got hold of my heavy old cane there, and it seemed as if my hair stood right up on end, I was that mad at the old curmudgeon that had my boy, and I half shouts, 'No! that ain't what I'd do, I'd go for that cuss that stole my boy, and for every blow he'd given the little chap, I'd give him a hundred.'
"'But what would you do with the poor little boy?' she asks. At that I began to choke, my feelin's was so stirred up, and moppin' my eyes, I said, 'Poor little chap, all beaten and abused out o' shape! What would I do with him? Why, I couldn't do 'nuff for him in tryn' to make him forget all the hard times he'd had.' Then says she, 'You would twit the child with bein' weak, puny, and deformed, would you?' I was now hobblin' up and down the room in a great state of excitement, and says I, 'Mrs. Arnot, mean a man as I am, I wouldn't treat any human critter so, let alone my own flesh and blood, that had been so abused that it makes my heart ache to think on't.'
"'Don't you think you would love the boy a little even though he had a hump on his back and his features were thin and sharp and pale?' 'Mrs. Arnot,' says I, moppin' my eyes agin, 'if you say another word about the little chap I shall be struck all of a heap, fur my heart jist kinder-- kinder pains like a toothache to do somethin' for him.' Then all of a suddent she turns on me sharp agin, and says she, 'I think you are a very inconsistent man, Mr. Growther. You have been runnin' yourself down, and yet you claim to be better than your Maker. He calls himself our Heavenly Father, and yet you are sure that you have a kinder and more fatherly heart than he. You are one of his little, weak, deformed children, twisted all out of shape, as you have described, by his enemy and yours, and yet you the same as say that you would act a great deal more like a true father toward your child than he will toward his. You virtually say that you would rescue your child and be pitiful and tender toward him, but that your Heavenly Father will leave you in the clutches of the cruel enemy, or exact conditions that you cannot comply with before doing anything for you. Haven't you read in the Bible that "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him"? You think very meanly of yourself, but you appear to think more meanly of God. Where is your warrant for doing so?'
"The truth bust in on me like the sunlight into this old kitchen when we open the shutters of a summer mornin'. I saw that I was so completely floored in the argerment, and had made such a blasted old fool of myself all these years, that I just looked around for a knot-hole to crawl into. I didn't know which way to look, but at last I looked at her, and my withered old heart gave a great thump when I saw two tears a-standin' in her eyes. Then she jumps up and gives me that warm hand o' her'n and says: 'Mr. Growther, whenever you wish to know how God feels toward you, think how you felt toward that little chap that was abused and beaten all out o' shape,' and she was gone. Well, the upshot of it all is that I don't think a bit better of myself--not one bit--but that weakly little chap, with a peaked face and a hump on his back, that Mrs. Arnot made so real-like that I see him a-lookin' at me out of the cheer there half the time--he's a makin' me better acquainted with the Lord, for the Lord knows I've got a hump on my back and humps all over; but I keep a-sayin' to myself, 'Like as a father pitieth his children,' and I don't feel near as much like cussin' as I used to. That little chap that Mrs. Arnot described is doin' me a sight o' good, and if I could find some poor little critter just like him, with no one to look after him, I'd take him in and do for him in a minit."
"Mr. Growther," said Haldane, huskily, "you have found that poor misshapen, dwarfed creature that I fear will never attain the proportions of a true man. Of course you see through Mrs. Arnot's imagery. In befriending me you are caring for one who is weak and puny indeed."
"Oh, you won't answer," said Mr. Growther with a laugh. "I can see that your humps is growin' wisibly less every day, and you're too big and broad-shouldered for me to be a pettin' and a yearnin' over. I want jest such a peaked little chap as Mrs. Arnot pictured out, and that's doin' me such a sight o' good."
Again the two occupants of the old kitchen gazed at the fire for a long time in silence, and again there came from the young man the same long-drawn sigh that had attracted Mr. Growther's attention before.
"That's the second time," he remarked.
"I was thinking," said Haldane, rising to retire, "whether I shall ever have better work than this odious routine at the mill."
Mr. Growther pondered over the question a few minutes, and then said sententiously: "I'm inclined to think the Lord gives us as good work as we're cap'ble of doin'. He'll promote you when you've growed a little more."
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