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THE BUTCHER'S SHOP.
About four years previous to the time of which I am now writing, and while yet Mr. Drake was in high repute among the people of Cowlane chapel, he went to London to visit an old friend, a woman of great practical benevolence, exercised chiefly toward orphans. Just then her thoughts and feelings were largely occupied with a lovely little girl, the chain of whose history had been severed at the last link, and lost utterly.
A poor woman in Southwark had of her own motion, partly from love to children and compassion for both them and their mothers, partly to earn her own bread with pleasure, established a sort of crèche in her two rooms, where mothers who had work from home could bring their children in the morning, and leave them till night. The child had been committed to her charge day after day for some weeks. One morning, when she brought her, the mother seemed out of health, and did not appear at night to take her home. The next day the woman heard she was in the small-pox-hospital. For a week or so, the money to pay for the child came almost regularly, in postage-stamps, then ceased altogether, and the woman heard nothing either from or of the mother. After a fortnight she contrived to go to the hospital to inquire after her. No one corresponding to her description was in the place. The name was a common one, and several patients bearing it had lately died and been buried, while others had recovered and were gone. Her inquiries in the neighborhood had no better success: no one knew her, and she did not even discover where she had lived. She could not bear the thought of taking the child to the work-house, and kept her for six or eight weeks, but she had a sickly son, a grown lad, to support, and in dread lest she should be compelled to give her up to the parish, had applied for counsel to the lady I have mentioned. When Mr. Drake arrived, she had for some time been searching about in vain to find a nest for her.
Since his boys had been taken from him, and the unprized girl left behind had grown so precious, Mr. Drake had learned to love children as the little ones of God. He had no doubt, like many people, a dread of children with unknown antecedents: who could tell what root of bitterness, beyond the common inheritance, might spring up in them? But all that was known of this one's mother was unusually favorable; and when his friend took him to see the child, his heart yearned after her. He took her home to Dorothy, and she had grown up such as we have seen her, a wild, roguish, sweet, forgetful, but not disobedient child--very dear to both the Drakes, who called her their duckling.
As we have seen, however, Mr. Drake had in his adversity grown fearful and faint-hearted, and had begun to doubt whether he had a right to keep her. And of course he had not, if it was to be at the expense of his tradespeople. But he was of an impetuous nature, and would not give even God time to do the thing that needed time to be done well. He saw a crisis was at hand. Perhaps, however, God saw a spiritual, where he saw a temporal crisis.
Dorothy had a small sum, saved by her mother, so invested as to bring her about twenty pounds a year, and of the last payment she had two pounds in hand. Her father had nothing, and quarter-day was two months off. This was the common knowledge of their affairs at which they arrived as they sat at breakfast on the Monday morning, after the saddest Sunday either of them had ever spent. They had just risen from the table, and the old woman was removing the cloth, when a knock came to the lane-door, and she went to open it, leaving the room-door ajar, whereby the minister caught a glimpse of a blue apron, and feeling himself turning sick, sat down again. Lisbeth re-entered with a rather greasy-looking note, which was of course from the butcher, and Mr. Drake's hand trembled as he opened it. Mr. Jones wrote that he would not have troubled him, had he not asked for his bill; but, if it was quite convenient, he would be glad to have the amount by the end of the week, as he had a heavy payment to make the following Monday. Mr. Drake handed the note to his daughter, rose hastily, and left the room. Dorothy threw it down half-read, and followed him. He was opening the door, his hat in his hand.
"Where are you going in such a hurry, father dear?" she said. "Wait a moment and I'll go with you."
"My child, there is not a moment to lose!" he replied excitedly.
"I did not read all the letter," she returned; "but I think he does not want the money till the end of the week."
"And what better shall we be then?" he rejoined, almost angrily. "The man looks to me, and where will he find himself on Monday? Let us be as honest at least as we can."
"But we may be able to borrow it--or--who knows what might happen?"
"There it is, my dear! Who knows what? We can be sure of nothing in this world."
"And what in the next, father?"
The minister was silent. If God was anywhere, he was here as much as there! That was not the matter in hand, however. He owed the money, and was bound to let the man know that he could not pay it by the end of the week. Without another word to Dorothy, he walked from the house, and, like a man afraid of cowardice, went straight at the object of his dismay. He was out of the lane and well into Pine street before he thought to put on his hat.
From afar he saw the butcher, standing in front of his shop--a tall, thin man in blue. His steel glittered by his side, and a red nightcap hung its tassel among the curls of his gray hair. He was discussing, over a small joint of mutton, some point of economic interest with a country customer in a check-shawl. To the minister's annoyance the woman was one of his late congregation, and he would gladly have passed the shop, had he had the courage. When he came near, the butcher turned from the woman, and said, taking his nightcap by the tassel in rudimentary obeisance.
"At your service, sir."
His courtesy added to Mr. Drake's confusion: it was plain the man imagined he had brought him his money! Times were indeed changed since his wife used to drive out in her brougham to pay the bills! Was this what a man had for working in the vineyard the better part of a lifetime? The property he did not heed. That had been the portion of the messengers of heaven from the first. But the shame!--what was he to do with that? Who ever heard of St. Paul not being able to pay a butcher's bill! No doubt St. Paul was a mighty general, and he but a poor subaltern, but in the service there was no respect of persons. On the other hand, who ever heard of St. Paul having any bills to pay!--or for that matter, indeed, of his marrying a rich wife, and getting into expensive habits through popularity! Who ever heard of his being dependent on a congregation! He accepted help sometimes, but had always his goats'-hair and his tent-making to fall back upon!--Only, after all, was the Lord never a hard master? Had he not let it come to this?
Much more of the sort went through his mind in a flash. The country woman had again drawn the attention of the butcher with a parting word.
"You don't want a chicken to-day--do you, Mr. Drake?" she said, as she turned to go.
"No, thank you, Mrs. Thomson. How is your husband?"
"Better, I thank you sir. Good morning, sir."
"Mr. Jones," said the minister--and as he spoke, he stepped inside the shop, removed his hat, and wiped his forehead, "I come to you with shame. I have not money enough to pay your bill. Indeed I can not even pay a portion of it till next quarter-day."
"Don't mention it, Mr. Drake, sir."
"But your bill on Monday, Mr. Jones!"
"Oh! never mind that. I shall do very well, I dare say. I have a many as owes me a good deal more than you do, sir, and I'm much obliged to you for letting of me know at once. You see, sir, if you hadn't--"
"Yes, I know: I asked for it! I am the sorrier I can't pay it after all. It is quite disgraceful, but I simply can't help it."
"Disgraceful, sir!" exclaimed Mr. Jones, almost as if hurt: "I wish they thought as you do as has ten times the reason, sir!"
"But I have a request to make," the pastor went on, heedless of the butcher's remark, and pulling out a large and handsome gold watch: "Would you oblige me by taking this watch in security until I do pay you? It is worth a great deal more than your bill. It would add much to the obligation, if you would put it out of sight somewhere, and say nothing about it. If I should die before paying your bill, you will be at liberty to sell it; and what is over, after deducting interest, you will kindly hand to my daughter."
Mr. Jones stared with open mouth. He thought the minister had lost his senses.
"What do you make of me, sir?" he said at last. "You go for to trust me with a watch like that, and fancy I wouldn't trust you with a little bill that ain't been owing three months yet! You make me that I don't know myself, sir! Never you mention the bill to me again, sir. I'll ask for it, all in good time. Can I serve you with any thing to-day, sir?"
"No, I thank you. I must at least avoid adding to my debt."
"I hope what you do have, you'll have of me, sir. I don't mind waiting a goodish bit for my money, but what cuts me to the heart is to see any one as owes me money a goin' over the way, as if 'e 'adn't 'a' found my meat good enough to serve his turn, an' that was why he do it. That does rile me!"
"Take my word for it, Mr. Jones--all the meat we have we shall have of you. But we must be careful. You see I am not quite so--so--"
He stopped with a sickly smile.
"Look ye here, Mr. Drake!" broke in the butcher: "you parsons ain't proper brought up. You ain't learned to take care of yourselves. Now us tradespeople, we're learned from the first to look arter number one, and not on no account to forget which is number one. But you parsons, now,--you'll excuse me, sir; I don't mean no offense; you ain't brought up to 't, an' it ain't to be expected of you--but it's a great neglect in your eddication, sir; an' the consekence is as how us as knows better 'as to take care on you as don't know no better. I can't say I think much o' them 'senters: they don't stick by their own; but you're a honest man, sir, if ever there was a honest man as was again' the church, an' ask you for that money, I never will, acause I know when you can pay, it's pay you will. Keep your mind easy, sir: I shan't come to grief for lack o' what you owe me! Only don't you go a starving of yourself, Mr. Drake. I don't hold with that nohow. Have a bit o' meat when you want it, an' don't think over it twice. There!"
The minister was just able to thank his new friend and no more. He held out his hand to him, forgetful of the grease that had so often driven him from the pavement to the street. The butcher gave it a squeeze that nearly shot it out of his lubricated grasp, and they parted, both better men for the interview.
When Mr. Drake reached home, he met his daughter coming out to find him. He took her hand, led her into the house and up to his study, and closed the door.
"Dorothy," he said, "it is sweet to be humbled. The Spirit can bring water from the rock, and grace from a hard heart. I mean mine, not the butcher's. He has behaved to me as I don't see how any but a Christian could, and that although his principles are scarcely those of one who had given up all for the truth. He is like the son in the parable who said, I go not, but went; while I, much I fear me, am like the other who said, I go, sir, but went not. Alas! I have always found it hard to be grateful; there is something in it unpalatable to the old Adam; but from the bottom of my heart I thank Mr. Jones, and I will pray God for him ere I open a book. Dorothy, I begin to doubt our way of church-membership. It may make the good better; but if a bad one gets in, it certainly makes him worse. I begin to think too, that every minister ought to be independent of his flock--I do not mean by the pay of the state, God forbid! but by having some trade or profession, if no fortune. Still, if I had had the money to pay that bill, I should now be where I am glad not to be--up on my castletop, instead of down at the gate. He has made me poor that He might send me humility, and that I find unspeakably precious. Perhaps He will send me the money next. But may it not be intended also to make us live more simply--on vegetables perhaps? Do you not remember how it fared with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, when they refused the meat and the wine, and ate pulse instead? At the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat. Pulse, you know, means peas and beans, and every thing of that kind--which is now proved to be almost as full of nourishment as meat itself, and to many constitutions more wholesome. Let us have a dinner of beans. You can buy haricot beans at the grocer's--can you not? If Ducky does not thrive on them, or they don't agree with you, my Dorothy, you will have only to drop them. I am sure they will agree with me. But let us try, and then the money I owe Mr. Jones, will not any longer hang like a millstone about my neck."
"We will begin this very day," said Dorothy, delighted to see her father restored to equanimity. "I will go and see after a dinner of herbs.--We shall have love with it anyhow, father!" she added, kissing him.
That day the minister, who in his earlier days had been allowed by his best friends to be a little particular about his food, and had been no mean connoisseur in wines, found more pleasure at his table, from lightness of heart, and the joy of a new independence, than he had had for many a day. It added much also to his satisfaction with the experiment, that, instead of sleeping, as his custom was, after dinner, he was able to read without drowsiness even. Perhaps Dorothy's experience was not quite so satisfactory, for she looked weary when they sat down to tea.
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