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Samuel walked the streets all that night. For he fully meant to do what he had promised the child, and he did not care to go back to Charlie Swift, and face the latter's protests and ridicule.
At eight the next morning, tired but happy, he rang the bell of Dr. Vince's house. Ethel herself opened the door; and at the sight of him her face lighted up with joy, and she turned, crying out, "Here he is!"
And she ran halfway down the hall, exclaiming: "He's come! I told you he'd come! Papa!"
A man appeared at the dining room door, and stood staring at Samuel. "There he is, papa!" cried Ethel beside herself with delight. "There's my burglar!"
Dr. Vince came down the hall. He was a stockily built gentleman with a rather florid complexion and bushy beard. "Good morning," he said.
"Good morning, sir," said Samuel.
"And are you really the young man who was here last night?"
"Yes, sir," said Samuel.
The worthy doctor was obviously disconcerted. "This is quite extraordinary!" he exclaimed. "Won't you come in?"
They sat down in the library. "I don't want you to think, sir," said Samuel quickly, "that I come to beg. Your little girl asked me---"
"Don't mention that," said the other. "If the story you told Ethel is really true, I should be only too glad to do anything that I could."
"Thank you, sir," said Samuel.
"And so you really broke into my house last night!" exclaimed the other. "Well! well! And it is the first time you have ever done anything of the sort in your life?"
"The very first," said the boy.
"But what could have put it into your head?"
"There was another person with me," said Samuel--"you will understand that I would rather not talk about him."
"I see," said the other. "He led you to it?"
"And you have never done anything dishonest before?"
"You have never even been a thief?"
"No!" exclaimed Samuel indignantly.
The other noticed the tone of his voice. "But why did you begin now?" he asked.
"I was persuaded that it was right," said Samuel.
"But how could that be? Had you never been taught about stealing?"
"Yes, sir," replied the boy--"but it's not as simple as it seems. I had met Professor Stewart--"
"Professor Stewart!" echoed the other.
"Yes, sir--the professor at the college."
"But what did he have to do with it?"
"Why, sir, he told me about the survival of the fittest, and how I had to starve to death because I was one of the failures. And then you see, sir, I met Master Albert--"
"Albert Lockman, sir. And the professor had said that he was one of the fit; and I saw that he got drunk, sir, and did other things that were very wicked, and so it did not seem just right that I should starve. I can see now that it was very foolish of me; but I thought that I ought to fight, and try to survive if I possibly could. And then I met Char--that is, a bad man who offered to show me how to be a burglar."
The other had been listening in amazement. "Boy," he said, "are you joking with me?"
"Joking!" echoed Samuel, his eyes opening wide. And then the doctor caught his breath and proceeded to question him. He went back to the beginning, and made Samuel lay bare the story of his whole life. But when he got to the interview with Professor Stewart, the other could contain himself no longer. "Samuel!" he exclaimed, "this is the most terrible thing I have ever heard in my life."
"How do you mean, sir?"
"You have been saved--providentially saved, as I firmly believe. But you were hanging on the very verge of a life of evil; and all because men in our colleges are permitted to teach these blasphemous and godless doctrines. This is what they call science! This is our modern enlightenment!"
The doctor had risen and begun to pace the floor in his agitation. "I have always insisted that the consequence of such teaching would be the end of all morality. And here we have the thing before our very eyes! A young man of decent life is actually led to the commission of a crime, as a consequence of the teachings of Herbert Spencer!"
Samuel was listening in consternation. "Then it isn't true what Herbert Spencer says!" he exclaimed.
"True!" cried the other. "Why, Samuel, don't you KNOW that it isn't true? Weren't you brought up to read the Bible? And do you read anything in the Bible about the struggle for existence? Were you taught there that your sole duty was to fight with other men for your own selfish ends? Was it not rather made clear to you that you were not to concern yourself with your own welfare at all, but to struggle for the good of others, and to suffer rather than do evil? Why Samuel, what would your father have said, if he could have seen you last night--his own dear son, that he had brought up in the way of the Gospel?"
"Oh, sir!" cried Samuel, struck to the heart.
"My boy!" exclaimed the other. "Our business in this world is not that we should survive, but that the good should survive. We are to live for it and to die for it, if need be. We are to love and serve others- -we are to be humble and patient--to sacrifice ourselves freely. The survival of the fittest! Why, Samuel, the very idea is a denial of spirituality--what are we that we should call ourselves fit? To think that is to be exposed to all the base passions of the human heart--to greed and jealousy and hate! Such doctrines are the cause of all the wickedness, of all the materialism of our time--of crime and murder and war! My boy, do you read that Jesus went about, worrying about His own survival, and robbing others because they were less fit than He? Only think how it would have been with you had you been called to face Him last night?"
The shame of this was more than Samuel could bear. "Oh, stop, stop, sir!" he cried, and covered his face with his hands. "I see it all! I have been very wicked!"
"Yes!" exclaimed the other. "You have been wicked."
The tears were welling into Samuel's eyes. "I can't see how I did it, sir," he whispered. "I have been blind--I have been lost. I am a strayed sheep!" And then suddenly his emotion overcame him, and he burst into a paroxysm of weeping. "I can't believe it of myself!" he exclaimed again and again. "I have been out of my senses!"
The doctor watched him for a few moments. "Perhaps it was not altogether your fault," he said more gently. "You have been led astray--"
"No, no!" cried the boy. "I am bad. I see it--it must be! I could never have been persuaded, if I had not been bad! It began at the very beginning. I yielded to the first temptation when I stole a ride upon the train. And everything else came from that--it has been one long chain!"
"Let us be glad that it is no longer," said Dr. Vince--"and that you have come to the end of it."
"Ah, but have I?" cried the boy wildly.
"Why not? Surely you will no longer be led by such false teaching!"
"No, sir. But see what I have done! Why I am liable to be sent to jail--for I don't know how long."
"You mean for last night?" asked the doctor. "But no one will ever know about that. You may start again and live a true life."
"Ah," cried Samuel, "but the memory of it will haunt me--I can never forgive myself!"
"We are very fortunate," said the other gravely, "if we have only a few things in our lives that we cannot forget, and that we cannot forgive ourselves."
The worthy doctor had been anticipating a long struggle to bring the young criminal to see the error of his ways; but instead, he found that he had to use his skill in casuistry to convince the boy that he was not hopelessly sullied. And when at last Samuel had been persuaded that he might take up his life again, there was nothing that would satisfy him save to go back where he had been before, and take up that struggle with starvation.
"I must prove that I can conquer," he said--"I yielded to the temptation once, and now I must face it."
"But, Samuel," protested the doctor, "it is no man's duty to starve. You must let me help you, and find some useful work for you, and some people who will be your friends."
"Don't think I am ungrateful," cried the boy--"but why should I be favored? There are so many others starving, right here in this town. And if I am going to love them and serve them, why should I have more than they have? Wouldn't that be selfish of me? Why, sir, I'd be making profit out of my repentance!"
"I don't quite see that," said the other--
"Why, sir! Isn't it just because I've been so sorry that you are willing to help me? There are so many others who have not been helped- -some I know, sir, that need it far more than I do, and have deserved it more, too!"
"It seems to me, my boy, that is being too hard upon yourself--and on me. I cannot relieve all the distress in the world. I relieve what I find out about. And so I must help you. And don't you see that I wish to keep you near me, so that I can watch after your welfare? And perhaps--who knows--you can help me. The harvest is plenty, you have heard, and the laborers are few. There are many ways in which you could be of service in my church."
"Ah, sir!" cried Samuel, overwhelmed with gratitude--"if you put it that way--"
"I put it that way most certainly," said Dr. Vince. "You have seen a new light--you wish to live a new life. Stay here and live it in Lockmanville--there is no place in the world where it could be more needed."
All this while the little girl had been sitting in silence drinking in the conversation. Now suddenly she rose and came to Samuel, putting her hand in his. "Please stay," she said.
And Samuel answered, "Very well--I'll stay."
So then they fell to discussing his future, and what Dr. Vince was going to do for him. The good doctor was inwardly more perplexed about it than he cared to let Samuel know.
"I'll ask Mr. Wygant," he said--"perhaps he can find you a place in one of his factories."
"Mr. Wygant?" echoed Samuel. "You mean Miss Gladys's father?"
"Yes," said the doctor. "Do you know Miss Gladys?"
"I have met her two or three times," said the boy.
"They are parishioners of mine," remarked the other.
And Samuel gave a start. "Why!" he exclaimed. "Then you--you must be the rector of St. Matthew's."
"Yes," was the reply. "Didn't you know that?"
The boy was a little awed. He had seen the great brownstone temple upon the hill--a structure far more splendid than anything he had ever dreamed of.
"Have you never attended?" asked the doctor.
"I went to the mission once," said Samuel--referring to the little chapel in the poor quarters of the town. "A friend of mine goes there- -Sophie Stedman. She works in Mr. Wygant's cotton mill."
"I should be glad to have you come to the church," said the other.
"I'd like to very much," replied the boy. "I didn't know exactly if I ought to, you know."
"I am sorry you got that impression," said Dr. Vince. "The church holds out its arms to everyone."
"Well," began Samuel apologetically, "I knew that all the rich people went to St. Matthew's---"
"The church does not belong to the rich people," put in the doctor very gravely; "the church belongs to the Lord."
And so Samuel, overflowing with gratitude and happiness, joined St. Matthew's forthwith; and all the while in the deeps of his soul a voice was whispering to him that it was Miss Gladys' church also! And he would see his divinity again!
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