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One little matter I forgot to mention as having been talked about between Dr Duncan and myself that same evening. I happened to refer to Old Rogers.
"What a fine old fellow that is!" said Dr Duncan.
"Indeed he is," I answered. "He is a great comfort and help to me. I don't think anybody but myself has an idea what there is in that old man."
"The people in the village don't quite like him, though, I find. He is too ready to be down upon them when he sees things going amiss. The fact is, they are afraid of him."
"Something as the Jews were afraid of John the Baptist, because he was an honest man, and spoke not merely his own mind, but the mind of God in it."
"Just so. I believe you're quite right. Do you know, the other day, happening to go into Weir's shop to get him to do a job for me, I found him and Old Rogers at close quarters in an argument? I could not well understand the drift of it, not having been present at the beginning, but I soon saw that, keen as Weir was, and far surpassing Rogers in correctness of speech, and precision as well, the old sailor carried too heavy metal for the carpenter. It evidently annoyed Weir; but such was the good humour of Rogers, that he could not, for very shame, lose his temper, the old man's smile again and again compelling a response on the thin cheeks of ihe other."
"I know how he would talk exactly," I returned. "He has a kind of loving banter with him, if you will allow me the expression, that is irresistible to any man with a heart in his bosom. I am very glad to hear there is anything like communion begun between them. Weir will get good from him."
"My man-of-all-work is going to leave me. I wonder if the old man would take his place?"
"I do not know whether he is fit for it. But of one thing you may be sure--if Old Rogers does not honestly believe he is fit for it, he will not take it. And he will tell you why, too."
"Of that, however, I think I may be a better judge than he. There is nothing to which a good sailor cannot turn his hand, whatever he may think himself. You see, Mr Walton, it is not like a routine trade. Things are never twice the same at sea. The sailor has a thousand chances of using his judgment, if he has any to use; and that Old Rogers has in no common degree. So I should have no fear of him. If he won't let me steer him, you must put your hand to the tiller for me."
"I will do what I can," I answered; "for nothing would please me more than to see him in your service. It would be much better for him, and his wife too, than living by uncertain jobs as he does now."
The result of it all was, that Old Rogers consented to try for a month; but when the end of the month came, nothing was said on either side, and the old man remained. And I could see several little new comforts about the cottage, in consequence of the regularity of his wages.
Now I must report another occurrence in regular sequence.
To my surprise, and, I must confess, not a little to my discomposure, when I rose in the reading-desk on the day after this dinner with Dr Duncan, I saw that the Hall-pew was full. Miss Oldcastle was there for the first time, and, by her side, the gentleman whom the day before I had encountered on horseback. He sat carelessly, easily, contentedly--indifferently; for, although I never that morning looked up from my Prayer-book, except involuntarily in the changes of posture, I could not help seeing that he was always behind the rest of the congregation, as if he had no idea of what was coming next, or did not care to conform. Gladly would I, that day, have shunned the necessity of preaching that was laid upon me. "But," I said to myself, "shall the work given me to do fare ill because of the perturbation of my spirit? No harm is done, though I suffer; but much harm if one tone fails of its force because I suffer." I therefore prayed God to help me; and feeling the right, because I felt the need, of looking to Him for aid, I cast my care upon Him, kept my thoughts strenuously away from that which discomposed me, and never turned my eyes towards the Hall-pew from the moment I entered the pulpit. And partly, I presume, from the freedom given by the sense of irresponsibility for the result, I being weak and God strong, I preached, I think, a better sermon than I had ever preached before. But when I got into the vestry I found that I could scarcely stand for trembling; and I must have looked ill, for when my attendant came in he got me a glass of wine without even asking me if I would have it, although it was not my custom to take any there. But there was one of my congregation that morning who suffered more than I did from the presence of one of those who filled the Hall-pew.
I recovered in a few moments from my weakness, but, altogether disinclined to face any of my congregation, went out at my vestry-door, and home through the shrubbery--a path I seldom used, because it had a separatist look about it. When I got to my study, I threw myself on a couch, and fell fast asleep. How often in trouble have I had to thank God for sleep as for one of His best gifts! And how often when I have awaked refreshed and calm, have I thought of poor Sir Philip Sidney, who, dying slowly and patiently in the prime of life and health, was sorely troubled in his mind to know how he had offended God, because, having prayed earnestly for sleep, no sleep came in answer to his cry!
I woke just in time for my afternoon service; and the inward peace in which I found my heart was to myself a marvel and a delight. I felt almost as if I was walking in a blessed dream come from a world of serener air than this of ours. I found, after I was already in the reading-desk, that I was a few minutes early; and while, with bowed head, I was simply living in the consciousness of the presence of a supreme quiet, the first low notes of the organ broke upon my stillness with the sense of a deeper delight. Never before had I felt, as I felt that afternoon, the triumph of contemplation in Handel's rendering of "I know that my Redeemer liveth." And I felt how through it all ran a cold silvery quiver of sadness, like the light in the east after the sun is gone down, which would have been pain, but for the golden glow of the west, which looks after the light of the world with a patient waiting.--Before the music ceased, it had crossed my mind that I had never before heard that organ utter itself in the language of Handel. But I had no time to think more about it just then, for I rose to read the words of our Lord, "I will arise and go to my Father."
There was no one in the Hall-pew; indeed it was a rare occurrence if any one was there in the afternoon.
But for all the quietness of my mind during that evening service, I felt ill before I went to bed, and awoke in the morning with a headache, which increased along with other signs of perturbation of the system, until I thought it better to send for Dr Duncan. I have not yet got so imbecile as to suppose that a history of the following six weeks would be interesting to my readers--for during so long did I suffer from low fever; and more weeks passed during which I was unable to meet my flock. Thanks to the care of Mr Brownrigg, a clever young man in priest's orders, who was living at Addicehead while waiting for a curacy, kindly undertook my duty for me, and thus relieved me from all anxiety about supplying my place.
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