THE BLANK LINE.
knew anything about the case agreed with absolute and emphatic
unanimity, that there never was such a body of trustees as that
which built the Floxton Common new chapel.
The super said so, and the tightening of his thin lips and
the projection of his strong, clean jaw as he made the declaration
left nothing to be desired in the way of uncompromising statement.
The resident minister said so, and as he had taken part in
trustees' meetings, committee meetings, sub-committees and the like
almost every other night for the last eighteen months, surely his
evidence is uncontrovertible.
The trustees said so themselves, and inasmuch as several of
them had almost lived on the premises during the all-absorbing
erection, and had been threatened by their respective wives with
separation applications, divorce proceedings, etc., to say nothing
of such everyday suggestions as those of sending them their beds and
meals to the premises, it must be admitted that they had a right to
an opinion on the subject. But even people who only came into
occasional contact with them got the same impression.
The architect declared solemnly, that he had never served so
extraordinary a body of men during the whole course of his
professional career, and he added when he got into safe company that
he hoped he never should again.
The Manchester committee people shook their wise heads at the
very mention of Floxton Common, and gave vent to sighs expressive of
unspeakable feelings, and even the President of the Conference when
he went to open the chapel said they were the most extraordinary
body of men he had ever met,
The super said that nothing surprised him so much about these
"Brethren" as their automatic unanimity—except it was their chronic
disagreement. Against the architect, the super, the "red-tapeism"
of the Manchester Committee, they were a solid unit, but amongst
themselves they did not agree, even about the most trivial things.
At every one of their innumerable meetings some one either resigned
or consented to withdraw a previous resignation, and nearly every
man on the board had declared at one time or other that nothing
should ever induce him to go near the place again.
Brother Bottoms had withdrawn on the sites question, and
Brother Taubman on the selection of the architect, whilst Brother
Eli Waites, who was disgusted with the "baby work" of the two
gentlemen mentioned, sent in his resignation and even withdrew his
subscription when it came to a spire.
The youngest trustee, a mere upstart of forty, caused two meetings
and two adjournments about the position of the pulpit, which he
insisted should be at the right corner of the chancel arch as
appointed by the architect, and of course resigned when the older
members of the meeting on anti-ritualistic grounds insisted on its
being placed in the middle; and they in their turn threatened to
leave if the entrance, which in the old chapel had always been
called the porch, was christened the "Narthex."
The young minister of the circuit, who was a probationer
fresh from college, was considerably exercised by the irreconcilable
inconsistencies which he detected in these good men, for as he went
about his work he was compelled to hear all about these points of
difference, and when the last touches were being put upon the
building and it was being got ready for the opening services, he was
amazed to discover the men who had objected so strenuously to spire
or pulpit or narthex taking their friends round and showing these
particular things as the specialities of the new sanctuary, and even
in one or two cases seeming to wish to convey the idea that they
were the original suggesters of these features; at any rate they
seemed to be the things they were most proud of, and took the
greatest delight in exhibiting.
But after all it was a noble thing these people had done;
they were not a rich Church nor a very numerous one, yet they had by
hard work and wonderful self-sacrifice built a beautiful edifice at
a cost of nearly £7,000, which they intended to open free of debt,
and the super, in spite of his many troubles with them, was full of
admiration for the way they had acted, and was prompted to say, as
he had often done before, that there were no people like the
Methodists after all.
And just at the time when they thought they had got through
all their trials, they were plunged into one that was worse than any
they had come through. When the day came for selecting the
places they would occupy in the new building, it turned out that
there were two applicants for one pew—the back pew in the chapel.
Old Mr. Bottoms had sat in the back pew in the old chapel,
and thought he ought to have the same place in the new one, and
James Higson, who had a delicate wife who sometimes wanted to go out
before the service was concluded, had set his heart upon it, and
hand stated twenty times over, he declared, that he should want that
The trustees might have settled the matter in their
boisterous way if left to themselves, but unfortunately Barbara, old
Bottoms' daughter, a female of a certain age, and an old flame of
Higson's, took up the cudgels for what she called their "rights,"
and attacked Higson, who was chapel steward, before strangers, as he
was arranging with other pew-holders for their seats.
Eventually the matter came before the trustees, and after the
usual long wrangle, was decided against Higson. As soon as the
decision was announced, he rose to his feet, took up his hat, bowed
with mock ceremoniousness to the chairman and then to the meeting,
and walked out of the room.
One or two went after him and did not return. Those who
remained behind took no further interest in the business, and when a
few minutes later the super and his colleague called at Higson's he
refused to see them, and next day sent all his books in, and
signified that he had done with the Wesleyans once for all and for
The super, though not given much to sentiment, was quite
touched to see the distress of the trustees when they found that
Higson's defection was serious and apparently final; they refused
even to discuss the question of filling his offices, and old
Bottoms, in spite of terrible threats from his aggressive daughter,
sent at least two notes to Holly Villa, where Higson lived, to ask
him to take the pew he wanted. But all was in vain.
As the great day of the opening drew near all sorts of clumsy
attempts were made to bring about a reconciliation, and Billy
Clipston, the shoemaker, declared again and again that when the time
came Higson would not be able to stay away, but would turn up "as
sure as heggs is heggs."
But the day came and went, and the offended one did not
appear, and the super heard in the vestry and in the aisles of the
chapel a great deal more about the absent man's many past services
than he heard about the event they were actually celebrating.
They told of what he had endured for the sake of the good cause, and
altogether the éclat of one of the greatest days in the
history of Floxton Common Methodism was spoilt by the constant
lamentations of the chief men about the place because their old
fellow-worker had not taken part. The opening services were
continued for three Sundays, and it was confidently prophesied by
Billy and others that Higson would never be able to hold out to the
But he did; and when they sang the final doxology at the last
of the opening services, because it was not only opened, but free
from debt, two or three of them told their minister afterwards that
they had not enjoyed their great victory at all, and would rather
have a thousand pounds debt with Higson than all the triumph of the
day without him.
Well, at any rate it was a notable achievement, and the super
was more than pleased with the noble way in which the people had
carried out and finished their great undertaking.
And then something else began to trouble him. He had
said as little as possible about the great Million Scheme whilst the
good folk of Floxton Common were straining every nerve and almost
punishing themselves to clear their chapel, and now it seemed
exceedingly hard upon them to ask them to look at another effort.
But circumstances left him no option; he had already made a definite
promise of £2,000 for the circuit; they had held the meeting at the
circuit chapel, and the contributions had somewhat disappointed him,
so that there was now nothing for it but to have the meeting as soon
as possible at "The Common." He was almost ashamed to name the
matter to them, but to his surprise the good folk expressed a great
interest in the scheme, and were not at all inclined to shuffle it.
In fact, as old Bottoms said in his sententious way: "We've gotten a
grand chap—church, Mester Shuper, an' we mun show az we appreciate
This was at the final trustees' meeting when the accounts had
been presented, and the votes of thanks given to those who had borne
the lion's share of the burden, a special resolution being sent to
Higson. After all the regular business had been concluded, the
super in a regretful, almost apologetic way, introduced the thing
that was just then resting somewhat heavily upon his mind.
Yes, they would go into the subject at once, as far as unofficial
suggestions were concerned at any rate. Names were mentioned
of those who would make the most effective officers for the local
fund, and a time was fixed for the holding of the meeting.
And then Blamires, the youngest trustee, had an inspiration,
and suggested that as they had all worked together so harmoniously
in this grand chapel building effort, and were all so proud of the
finished work, they should have their names down on the roll
together in the same order as they came in the trust deed.
Coming from this juvenile and impetuous source the proposition was
received with hesitation, but presently it seemed to catch their
imaginations, and they insisted upon its being so.
The super, whose chief anxiety had been the fear that they
would resent being appealed to again so soon, was only too glad to
acquiesce, and so the meeting adjourned for a couple of days to
enable the super to bring the roll that they might all sign it in
order as agreed upon.
Just as they were leaving the vestry, old Bottoms made a loud
exclamation of dismay, and then rising to his feet, for he was still
sitting at the far end of the room, he said mournfully: "There's one
thing az you've forgot, Mester Shuper."
"Indeed! What's that, Brother Bottoms?" and the super
stepped up to the table.
"There'll be one name missing."
Everybody looked suddenly very sober, little sighs escaped
them, and they glanced at each other in sorrow and disappointment.
But the super's train was due, and so he was compelled to ask them
to think the matter over until the adjourned meeting should be held.
There was much debate and questioning amongst the trustees
about what should be done in this difficulty. The more they
thought of it, the more they liked the idea of all signing together,
but the less likelihood did they see of getting the missing
signature. Moreover, it occurred to one of them that it would
look a very mean sort of thing to try and get Higson back, just in
order to get his subscription to the Million Scheme, and so nobody
could suggest any way out of the difficulty, and the super could not
The minister had informed them that as they would all give
more than the minimum amount, there was no reason why their names
should not head the list of the Floxton Common contributions, though
nobody had as yet named the sum he was intending to give, that being
reserved for the great meeting in the church.
It took them half an hour, however, to make up their minds to
enrol themselves in the absence of their estranged colleague, and at
last it was decided that a line should be left blank for Higson in
the hope that something might occur in the meantime to bring the
wanderer back. Young Blamires signed readily, but old Bottoms,
who was next, hesitated considerably, and then at last put down his
pen, and in a tearful voice faltered: "I'll gi' me money, bud I
don't want to be on if he isn't."
Whilst the old man was recovering himself and getting
persuaded to do his part, the next man signed, and then the old
fellow tremblingly followed. The next in order was Higson, and
a blank space had to be left, and hard though it had been to sign
before, it was much harder now with that blank line staring them in
The super went home that night in a brown study; whatever
could he do to reach Higson? for he felt that this effort would be
shorn of nearly all its sweetness to the good people if Higson's
name were not on the list, and they had really done so nobly that he
coveted the pleasure of this reconciliation. And he got up
next morning with the same feeling in his mind.
It took him an hour or so to dispose of his correspondence,
but when that was done he drew the precious roll out of his safe and
began to look once more at the names that had been signed the night
before. In a moment or two it dawned upon him that that blank
line looked very awkward indeed, and if it were not filled up it
would be more eloquent than all the names that went before or came
after. What a mistake he had made in allowing those whimsical
trustees to have their fad. It would, perhaps, be the only
blank line in the whole roll, and how strange it would look.
Besides, he had a reputation for neatness and orderliness, and that
would be there as a witness against him for ever.
The thing bothered him and then annoyed him, and he was just
sitting down in a sort of pet with himself when a blessèd thought
occurred to him. It was not absolutely necessary that a
contributor should sign his own name. He liked Higson, and
greatly valued him, both for his work and himself. He would
keep his own counsel, and if nothing occurred to change the state of
affairs, he would write Higson's name in himself and subscribe the
extra guinea. He had a large family, and every shilling
counted with him, but he would do that, whatever he had to sacrifice
in other ways. The super was pleased with the idea, and
pleased with himself for thinking of it, and he was just laughing at
his own self-complacency, when a knock came at the study door and
Brother Bottoms was announced.
The senior trustee shambled into the room in his
characteristic manner, and shook hands limply with his
He took off his hat and placed it shyly on the floor by the
side of his chair, and then, taking a red pocket-handkerchief out of
the tail pocket of his antique black coat, he commenced: "I thought
I would just call and pay my Home Mission Fund collection, sir," and
he fumbled in his pocket and produced a little wash-leather bag,
from which he drew two half-crowns, which he placed in the
The super reached out a report, which serves in these cases
as a receipt, and handed it to his visitor, wondering what was the
old fellow's real reason for calling. Bottoms took the report
without glancing at it, and then began to discuss the weather.
The subject provided an interesting topic for a minute or two, for
atmospheric conditions were just then very trying, and then there
was an awkward pause.
"I see you've got the great roll there, Mr. Shuper," said
Bottoms after a while, and he glanced round as though he would like
to look at it.
The super opened it upon the desk, and the old man got up and
carefully examined it inside and out. "H-u-m! Ha!
wonderful dockyment, Mester Shuper. We must all have our names
in that," and the minister noted that his visitor was looking very
dreely at the blank space where Higson's signature should have been.
He seemed to have nothing further to say, however, and in a few
moments rose to go.
"Well, good morning, sir, and thank you; I hope you will get
all the names you want," and then, just as he was going out of the
door, "Oh! beg pardon," and he came back and drew out the
wash-leather bag again. It took him some time to find what he
wanted, but presently he pushed a sovereign and a shilling into the
super's palm, saying as he did so: "Just put Higson's name down
there, sir; we can't have him off, you know," and before the
minister could stop him he was gone.
The super was a little nonplussed and disappointed; but
Bottoms was better off than he was, and—well, they might make it two
guineas perhaps. The same afternoon as he was going to his
class he heard some one calling after him and turning round saw
Waites, the corn factor hastening towards him.
Waites was always in a hurry, and on this occasion he
appeared more than usually so. "Here, Mr. Super, take that.
It's a fiver; put it into that fund and drop Higson's name in, will
you? Ah, here's the tram. Good day, sir."
The super was amused and touched; it began to dawn upon him
that Higson's contribution premised to be a pretty large one, if
things went on like this, and when he got home that night another of
the trustees was waiting for him. This man seemed to be
entirely unable to tell what he had come about, but at last he
"Mr. Super, I've come about Higson and that roll. He
must be on, sir, he must; he's done more for Methodism in this place
than any other three of us, and his family is the oldest in the
circuit. Why, his grandfather was at the opening of the first
Methodist chapel there ever was in the Common."
But the super intended to keep his secret at least for the
present, and so he said: "Yes, but we can't make the man contribute,
"No, but we can do it for him, and we will! I will!
Me? Why, sir, he got me the first situation I ever had.
He led me to the penitent form, he helped me to get my wife.
He's injured his business to look after that chapel. He
must be on, whoever else is."
"Well, but how are we to manage it? We've tried
everything we could think of"
"Manage it! We must manage it. Look here,
sir! I'll pay his share myself."
"But I've already got a guinea for him and――"
"A guinea! A guinea for the best man among us!
Why, sir, it would be a sin and a shame for Higson's name to only
represent a guinea. Look here, sir, it must be twenty at
least! Yes, twenty! and I'll find it myself."
When he had gone the super told his wife, and she put on an
air of confidence which was always rather aggravating to her
husband, and said: "Neither your money nor anybody else's will be
needed. Higson will put his own name in, you'll see."
At last the time for the holding of the Flexion Common
meeting came, and the super told his colleagues that they must not
be disappointed if the results were not what they might expect, as
the "Common" people had really done so well that they couldn't do
much more, however good their intentions.
As he had prophesied, the meeting was not largely attended,
and even he felt depressed as he noticed how few there were there
who could give much. The chairman was a "Common" man, and
started the meeting with a rousing, confident speech, which he
crowned with a promise of fifty pounds.
The super stared from the speaker to his colleagues in
amazement as the sum was named; it was three times the amount he had
expected. Then the resident minister spoke, and promised an
outrageously extravagant sum for himself and wife and little ones.
Then there was a pause, and presently old Bottoms rose to his feet.
He had a mournful, melancholy tone with him, and always spoke at
great length, but at last he announced that as the Lord had been so
good to them in the chapel scheme, he could not give less than a
The meeting applauded this to the echo, for Bottoms had a
reputation for nearness. Then two or three more followed in a
similar strain, until the poor super, scarcely knowing where he was,
felt his eyes growing dim, and had to blow his nose. Then they
sang a hymn, and were just sitting down again, when the man who was
acting as temporary chapel steward suddenly opened the inner door
and threw up his arms with a gesture of wondering triumph, and the
next moment who should walk into the chapel but Higson.
He was a short, ruddy man, and now looked redder than ever.
He held his hat in his hand and gazed wonderingly about the chapel,
which he had never seen since it was finished, and walked
staggeringly up towards the front. Presently he stopped, his
hat dropped out of his hand, and he lifted a red, agitated face
towards the platform and cried:
"I had to come, Mr. Super, I had to come! I've
been the wretchedest man in Floxton parish this last two months, but
I couldn't miss this. My father laid the foundation stone of
the last chapel, and my grandfather was the first trustee of the
oldest chapel of all. Everything I have I owe to this Church,
and my own bairns have been converted here. I've heard what
you are thinking of doing with my name, and that brought me here
to-night, that killed my pride. God forgive me. Put me
down for a hundred pounds, Mr. Super, if I'm not too bad, and I'll
sit in the free seats if you'll let me come again.
The meeting was some time before it got composed, and then
the subscriptions began to roll in faster than ever.
That night, after Higson had been down to the manse and
signed the roll, the super repeated once more his old saying, that
the Floxton people were the strangest people he had ever travelled
amongst, but this time he added, "and the best."
A COSTLY CONTRIBUTION.
ladies sat by the fire in a comfortably furnished room, the walls of
which were adorned with steel engravings of scenes in the lives of
the Wesleys, Centenary gatherings, and a large photograph of the
first lay representative Conference. The one seated in the low
modern armchair on the side nearest the window was small and thin,
with white hair and fair skin, and cheeks like old china. She
had a meek, Quaker-like look about her, and her dress was of plain
The other one was taller than her sister and dark, and had a
masculine mouth, at the corners of which there were lines which had
been left by bygone storms. She was reading the newly arrived
Methodist Recorder, and there was a disappointed, almost
peevish look on her face, and presently she threw the paper from her
with an impatient jerk, and as it fluttered to the hearthrug she
shaded her face with her hand and gazed moodily into the fire.
Her soft-eyed little sister glanced concernedly at her once or
twice, sighed a little, and then asked gently: "Anybody dead, love?"
"No; nobody we know."
Another slight pause, and then in a caressing tone: "Anybody
"Any news about Hanster?"
The little Quakeress's knitting seemed to trouble her just
then and her thin, almost transparent hands shook a little as she
fumbled for the dropped stitch. In a moment, however, she
lifted her head and asked coaxingly: "Is there nothing interesting,
Miss Hannah dropped the hand that covered her eyes, glanced
petulantly round the room and then answered pensively: "Susan,
there's one thing in that paper and one only."
The head of the meek little woman opposite to her was bent
over her knitting, the pearly cheek paled a little, and then she
asked: "And that, love?"
"That paper has got nothing in it but Twentieth Century; it
is Twentieth Century first page and Twentieth Century last, and
Twentieth Century all the way through. Oh, that we should have
lived to see this day Hannah!"
"I mean it, Susan;" and the excited woman began to rock
herself in an increasing grief. "There was a Branscombe who
entertained Mr. Wesley, there have been Branscombes in every great
movement our Church has seen; our father sat in the first Lay
Conference and we both subscribed to the Thanksgiving Fund
ourselves. And now that our Church is doing the noblest thing
she ever did we shall be out of it. Oh, that we had gone
before it came!"
"No, no, love, not so bad as that; we can give our guinea
each, and—and one in memory of our dear father, ah—with a little
"Guineas! Branscombes giving single guineas! Our
dear father down on that great historic roll for a guinea!
Susan, how can you? what will the village think? And the
Hanster people, and father's old Conference friends? They
might suspect something! We cannot think of it for a moment"
Miss Hannah had risen to her feet during her speech, but now,
with a fretful, half-indignant gesture, she sank back into her chair
and once more covered her face with her hands.
Little Miss Susan stole anxious, sympathetic glances across
the room for a moment or two, and then, letting her knitting slide
down upon her footstool, she stepped softly to the side of her
sister's chair, and, bending over and pressing her delicate cheek
against Miss Hannah's darker one, she murmured soothingly
"And if some things I do not ask,
In my cup of blessing be;
I would have my spirit filled the more
With grateful love to Thee,
And careful less to serve Thee much
Than to please Thee perfectly."
As these lines were repeated the face of Miss Hannah
softened, the shadow upon it gradually disappeared, and in the pause
that followed a gentle light came into her black eyes. She
bent forward and silently kissed the dear face that was still bent
over her, and then said impulsively:
"Bless you, love! What have I done to deserve such a
sweet comforter? But I should like to have done one more good
thing for God and our Church before I go to heaven."
"Never mind, dearest! When we get to heaven the Master
will perhaps say to us as He said to David."
"What was that?
"Thou didst well that it was in thine heart."
Now, the father of these two ladies had been a prosperous,
well-to-do Methodist layman of Connexional repute, but when he died
it was discovered that all his means were in his business, and that
he had really saved very little. His funeral was attended by
great numbers of Methodist magnates, lay and clerical, from all
parts of the country, and the respect shown to their father's memory
had been a sweet consolation to the bereaved sisters.
But whilst they were receiving the written and spoken
sympathies of many friends, the family lawyer was expressing himself
to himself in language that was to say the least very
unparliamentary. Branscombe's business was certainly a
lucrative one, and whilst he was there to attend to it all was well;
but the man who spent or gave away all his income, when he had two
daughters unprovided for was, in the lawyer's judgment, more fool
than saint, and he ground his teeth savagely when he discovered that
he would have to explain to the sorrowing women that they would have
to change their style of life.
There was nothing else for it, however. The business
would have to be carried on, for it was not the sort of thing that
would realise much when sold. A manager would therefore have
to be paid, and when that was done there would not be very much left
for the two ladies who had always been brought up in such comfort.
Lawyer Bedwell had no patience with men who left their
affairs like that, and in spite of himself, some of his feeling on
the point slipped out upon his first interview with his fair
When he had gone, their minds were occupied with one thought
only. It was clear that Mr. Befell thought their father
blameworthy in the matter, and if he did others would be of the same
opinion. But they knew as no one else did, how true and noble
a parent they had lost, and at all costs they were determined that
nothing should be done that would excite suspicion in the minds of
their friends. Appearances, therefore, must be kept up, and
everything must go on as usual; all their father's subscriptions
must be continued, and their home must still be the chief house of
entertainment in Hanster.
But as time went on these things became more and more
difficult. Nearly half the profits of the business had to go
to pay a manager; but, as he was not Mr. Branscombe and the concern
had depended largely upon the personal effort and influence of its
chief, there was a serious annual shrinkage, in spite of all that
Lawyer Bedwell could do to prevent it. Then the manager
precipitated a crisis by absconding with some hundreds of pounds,
and the legal adviser to the firm was compelled to recommend that
the business be sold and that the ladies should reduce their
establishment, so as to be able to live upon what was left.
For their own sakes this might easily have been done, but for
their father's they could not think of it. At last, however,
they decided to leave the little town where they had been born, and
where all their interests centred, and go into some quiet village,
where they might live cheaply, and do in a smaller way the kind of
work their father had done in Hanster.
And so they came to Pumphrey, where they were regarded as
very great people indeed, and where their now reduced contributions
were received as most munificent donations. But the habits of
a lifetime are not easily unlearnt, and so, finding that the memory
of their father was still fragrant in Pumphrey, and that the simple
inhabitants of the village were ready to give them all the respect
and deference due to their antecedents, they were soon acting in the
old open-handed way; and whilst the little circuit in which the
village was situate rejoiced in and boasted of their generosity, the
poor ladies were constantly over-reaching themselves and lived in a
condition of chronic impecuniosity.
Their personal expenses were pared down until they could be
reduced no further, but the large-hearted liberality to which they
had always been accustomed and which regard for their father's
memory seemed to demand, was continued as far as possible.
Recently, however, Miss Susan had had a severe illness, and this,
with the heavy doctor's bill it involved, had reduced them still
further, and the announcement of the Twentieth Century Fund found
them in the worst possible condition for doing their duty to it.
The long pensive silence that fell upon the sisters after
Miss Susan's last remark was broken presently by a knock at the
door, and Jane their faithful, if somewhat unmanageable, domestic
brought in the supper. Placing the little tray containing hot
milk and thin bread and butter on the table, she picked up the
Methodist Recorder and somewhat ostentatiously proceeded to put
it away in the homemade rack at the side of the fireplace.
"You can take the paper with you, Jane," said Miss Hannah.
"I dooan't want it, mum," answered Jane gruffly, and in
"You don't want it, Jane! Why, it is full of news this
week, all about the Twentieth Century Fund, you know."
"That's just it, mum! that theer fund I caan't abeear!
It's gotten hup out o' pride an' pomp an' vanity, that's wot it is,
an it'ull niver prosper, mark my wods!"
"I mean it, mum! Thank goodness, nooan a my muney 'ull
gooa tab sitchan a thing, an' bi wot I can hear ther's nooan o' t'
villigers gooin' tab give nowt neeither."
But before Miss Hannah could stop her, Jane had burst forth
again: "It's nowt bud pride, an wickidness, mum, it's woss nor that
king as showed his treasures to that Babshakklep, an as fur that
theer rowl, it's King Daavid numberin' Hisrael, that's wot it is."
"But, Jane, we must all――"
"Yes, mum, that's wot you alias says, beggin' your pardon,
bud it's my belief you ladies 'ud subscribe tab buyin' t' moon if t'
Conference wanted it; bud I'm different, an' if I hed my waay not a
penny 'ud goa oot o' this house ta that Million Fund."
As the privileged and outspoken Jane closed the door behind
her, the two ladies looked at each other with astonishment, for Jane
was as stout a supporter of all things Methodistic as they were, and
they had difficulty sometimes in restraining her liberality.
To Miss Hannah, however, their old servant's words were more
disturbing than to her mild sister. She did all the business
of the establishment and had charge of the purse, and she had
privately resolved in spite of her querulous words to her sister
that, if the worst came to the worst, she would do as she had been
driven to do once or twice before and get a temporary loan from
Jane; but, if Jane disapproved of the fund, there might be
difficulty, for nothing was concealed from her, and, in fact, she
had more to do with the financial arrangements of the little family
than even Miss Hannah herself.
Meanwhile Jane, who was short and plump with bright black
eyes and black hair, had made her way back into the kitchen, where
sat a ruddy-looking man of about thirty, dressed like a gardener,
and whose face wore an injured, protesting expression whilst he
leaned forward propping his elbows on his knees and nervously
twirling his cap round with his hands. He glanced sulkily up
from under his brows as Jane entered the kitchen, and furtively
watched her as she picked up a wash-leather and resumed her work at
the plate basket.
The gardener gave his cap a fierce extra twirl and then
grumbled: "Ther niver wur nooabody humbugged like me; this is t'
fowert (fourth) time I've been putten off."
Jane gave an ominous sniff; her plump face hardened a little,
but she never spoke.
"It's t' Million Fund an' t' Mississes an' onnybody afoor
The spoon Jane was rubbing was flung into the basket with a
peevish rattle, and rising to her feet and stepping to the rug
before the fire she said indignantly: "John Craake, hev some sense,
wilta? Here I've been telling lies like a good 'un i' t'
parlour till I can hardly bide mysen, an' noo I mun cum back ta be
aggravated bi thee. Them owd haangils i' t' parlour 'ud sell
t' frocks offen they backs tab subscribe ta this fund, an' thou sits
theer talkin' about weddins an sitch like floppery. I wunder
thou isn't ashaamed o' thisen."
John sat ruminating dolefully for a moment or two, and then
he wiped his nose with the back of his hand and said with sulky
resignation: "Well, what mun I dew then?"
"Dew? thou mun cum i' t' morning an' saay thi saay to em, an'
if that weean't dew, thou mun waait, that's what thou mun
Now John had been courting Jane in a dogged sort of way
almost ever since the Branscombes came to Pumphrey, but until
recently he had made little apparent progress. Some few months
before the time of which we write, however, a terrible burglary with
murderous incidents had taken place in the neighbourhood, and as the
news greatly upset the old ladies and made them declare that they
would never be able to stay in the house unless they could have a
man about the place, Jane had made a virtue of necessity and
accepted her lover, on the understanding that he was to come and
live in the house, and never suggest any other arrangement so long
as the old ladies lived.
John had eagerly agreed; but, though the wedding had been
fixed now three times, it had so far been put off again and again,
because, as John eventually discovered, the money which Jane with a
Yorkshire woman's thrifty ideas felt was absolutely necessary for a
decent woman's wedding, had been sacrificed to the needs of her
And now it had seemed that the happy event was really to come
off, and just at the last minute, so to speak, this Million Scheme
had turned up, and Jane insisted that before her spare cash was
spent on such a frivolous thing as getting married she must be sure
that it was not wanted to enable her mistresses to subscribe to the
fund as became the daughters of Thomas Branscombe. For Jane,
be it said, was as jealous for the honour of her old master as his
daughters. She was, moreover, a Methodist of the Methodists,
and had upon the first announcement of the fund decided that it was
her duty to give at least five pounds to so glorious an object.
This idea, however, she now abandoned, and whilst she
consented to try and persuade her mistresses not to think of
subscribing and had agreed that John should use his powers of
persuasion in the same direction, she knew but too well that the
dear old souls she worshipped would insist upon taking their part in
the great movement, and therefore the money she intended to have
given for herself and the money needed for the approaching wedding
would all be required for the old ladies' subscription. And,
even if the sisters themselves could be talked over, she still felt
that their names ought to be on the roll and that it was her duty to
get them on, even if she had to do it unknown to them, and pay the
Next morning, therefore, John did his best to convince the
ladies that nobody thereabouts cared anything for the fund, and that
it would be useless to hold a meeting in the village for the
purpose. Encouraged by Miss Hannah's manner as he respectfully
argued with her, he even suggested that she should write to the
super advising him not to think of holding a meeting in Pumphrey.
Jane, however, when he told her what he had said in the parlour, was
worse than sceptical, and insisted on him as a leader writing to the
A post or two later, however, a reply came to say that the
meeting was fixed for the following Thursday night, and that
Pumphrey surely would not be behind other places. John
hastened to Pear Tree Cottage to tell the news as soon as he got the
letter; but on entering the kitchen he was interrupted in his story
by the alarming information that Miss Susan had been taken ill in
the night, and he must hasten away for the doctor.
The Thursday night came, and the super, alarmed and
disappointed at not seeing "The Ladies" at the meeting, discovered
on enquiry that Miss Susan was confined to her room, and that the
doctor's report was not encouraging. The good man therefore
came round on his way home, and Miss Hannah came down from the
sick-room to speak to him.
Her report of the condition of the patient was so
discouraging, and she herself looked so sad, that the good pastor
forgot all about the meeting and was just saying good-night when
Miss Hannah said: "I was sorry we missed the meeting but" (with
hesitation and embarrassment) "of course we shall send our
"Send it? But you did send it, Miss Branscombe."
"No! but we will do; it will be all right, Mr. Makinson."
"But you did send it, excuse me, and a very nice one it is.
See, here it is," and the minister pulled out a small roll of papers
and spread the top one out upon the table.
Miss Hannah with a puzzled look bent over the good man's
shoulder and read, whilst tears came into her sad eyes as she
recognised the clumsy writing:—
£ s. d.
Thomas Branscombe, Esq. (in Memoriam)
5 5 0
Miss Susannah Wesley Branscombe
5 5 0
Miss Hannah More Branscombe
5 5 0
1 1 0
Miss Hannah turned away with a chocking sob, and the super,
embarrassed and perplexed, took a hasty departure.
In the small hours of the next morning, as Miss Hannah sat
musing by the sick-room fire, a gentle voice called her to the
"What is it, love?" she asked anxiously.
"Oh, Hannah, love, isn't God good? I said He would find
a way and He has done—better than we can ask or think."
"Yes, love! of course, love; but what do you mean?"
"The fund, you know, the great fund; we shall do it, you see,
after all. Oh, isn't He good?"
"Yes, love, of course."
But Miss Hannah's voice showed that she did not quite
understand, and so with a bright smile the gentle sufferer explained
faintly: "The insurance, you know; it is for whichever of us dies
"Dies?" cried Miss Hannah, in sudden distress; "you are not
dying, love. Oh, no! You mustn't leave me alone."
But the sufferer evidently did not hear.
Presently she murmured almost inaudibly: "There will be
plenty of money for you now, love, and the Branscombes will have an
honourable place on the roll, and whilst the money will be making
the world sweeter and better we shall be at rest."
Two days later the gentle soul slipped away and was laid by
her father's side in the Hanster chapel-yard, and shortly after the
Million Scheme was enriched by a contribution of a hundred pounds,
"In loving memory of a noble father and a sainted sister in heaven."
Poor John Crake is still waiting, though somewhat more
hopefully, to be allowed to act as a protection against burglars at
Pear Tree Cottage.
THE ALDERMAN'S CONVERSION.
SORRY, Mr. Super,
but I cannot take the chair, and as for my name heading the circuit
list, I don't intend it to be there at all."
"Mr. Alderman, I'm astonished! You of all men!
Why, everybody is looking to you to lead the way."
"Can't help it, sir; the fact is, I don't approve of the
scheme at all."
The super was amazed, and most undisguisedly disappointed.
"What! What is your objection to it, Sir?"
And the alderman leaned back a little farther into his
Russian leather armchair, puffed out a volume of smoke from his
cigar, twitched up the tightened knee of his trousers, and then
drawled with an assumption of coolness he did not quite feel:
"It appears to me, sir, that this whole movement is an
attempt to endow our departments, and as a—a—conscientious Radical I
object to all endowments."
The good super proceeded to explain, and from explanation he
passed on to argument and from argument to pleading; but the
alderman held his ground, and the minister went away with
astonishment and dismay in his heart.
Left alone in his office, Joseph Carfax put his legs upon a
chair and gave himself up to meditation, in which the minister and
the Twentieth Century Fund were soon forgotten. The alderman
was a successful man of business, who had risen from the ranks, and
whilst yet in the prime of life had reached a comfortable
competence. He was also one of the most prominent public men
in the ancient borough of Knibworth, and it was confidently stated
that he might have the mayoralty any time he liked. Hitherto,
however, he had declined the honour, chiefly because he was anxious
when he did occupy the civic chair to excel his predecessors as much
in munificence as he was able to do in eloquence. He had a
large and expensive family and many calls upon his liberality, but
he was now beginning to feel that if not next year, certainly the
year after, he would be able to do himself the honour of accepting
the dignity which had already more than once been offered him.
As will have been seen already, Carfax was a Wesleyan and had
been for years a most acceptable local preacher. In his
earlier life, when he was an obscure man, he had been very popular
and very much in demand; but of late his appointments had been
reduced to an occasional half-day at the circuit chapel, and he
scarcely ever went into the villages to preach except on anniversary
days, when his liberal contributions to the collection were more
eagerly looked for than his services in the pulpit. He was
trustee of several chapels and had held every office his Church
could offer to laymen, not excepting that of Conference
representative. For some years now he had been the chief
layman of the Knibworth circuit, and was known throughout the
district as a generous, broad-minded sympathiser with every good
Of late, however, he had been conscious that the ardour of
his early days had left him, and that he was not by any means as
enthusiastic a Methodist as he used to be. As he mixed more
with men of all kinds his ideas had got broadened he told himself,
and he was compelled to admit that the nonsuch Methodism of his
earlier life did not quite satisfy his maturer tastes. The
ministers they had now were not quite the same sort of men as those
with whom he had been so very friendly in those days gone by, and
the laymen with whom he associated at the chapel were not exactly
his style. His family was growing up, too, and he began to
discover how very little society there was for his sons and
daughters in the Knibworth Methodist circles.
His wife had complained more than once recently that there
were scarcely any young people in the chapel with whom their
children could associate, and none with whom she would like them to
marry. And he felt that his wife was right, although he had
pooh-poohed her remark at the time; really when he came to think of
it, a man in his position had to make many social sacrifices, if he
continued faithful to the Church of his choice. He governed
his family upon what he called "modern principles," and allowed his
children great liberality, both of speech and action. His
growing discontent with his Church had found expression of late in
severe criticisms of sermons and half-concealed sneers at the
officials of the Church; but he was surprised and for the moment
disturbed when he discovered that his children entertained similar
views, and assumed a tolerant, contemptuous air towards all things
Recently also two of the young people had taken to going to
church occasionally, making their love of music the excuse; and only
the other day his boy Fred had been invited to join the choir of St.
To crown all, his wife had hinted to him a day or two ago
that there was something between their eldest daughter Emily
and young Pearson, the son of one of his brother aldermen.
Well, after all, what right had he to expect that his
children would be Methodists because he had always been one?
Hadn't they as much right to choose for themselves as he had?
It would be a grand thing for Emily, if she did marry young Pearson,
and it would be a shame for him to put anything in her way.
Perhaps if he became mayor it would help the matter, for the
Pearsons were a proud lot. Yes, that was what he must do, he
must take the chief magistracy next year, and if he did, there would
be no money to spare either for this Million Scheme or any other
merely Methodist matter.
Just as he had reached this conclusion the office door
opened, and in sauntered an old man. He was evidently very
much at home in the place, and nodded familiarly to the alderman as
he entered. He was short and thin and very straight; he wore
an old-fashioned semi-clerical suit of black, tinged here and there
with brown spots, the result of snuff-taking.
"Hello, dad! pay day again?" And the alderman rose
hastily from his reclining position and, drawing up to his desk,
began to take out his cheque-book.
The visitor was Carfax's father, an old local preacher who
lived by himself and was maintained in very generous fashion by his
"Yes, my lad, the old amount," he said playfully, as he came
towards the desk; "but I want something else to-day."
"Hello! what's up now?" cried the alderman, turning round and
smiling. "Not going to get married again, father?"
The old man grinned, for this was an old joke. "No, my
lad, it's that Twentieth Century Fund, you know."
Carfax laid down his pen, and turning quickly round, cried
"But, father, you are not going in for that, surely."
"Am I not? but I am! And why not?"
"I don't believe in it, father. You can do what you
like and have as much as you like, but I've made up my mind that I
shall not give a penny to it."
The old man's jaw dropped in dismay. He looked amazedly
at his son for a moment, took a great pinch of snuff without ever
removing his eyes from the alderman, and then gasped out:
"Thou's wandering, my lad."
It was a sure sign that he was excited when old John Carfax "thoued"
"Wandering or not, I mean it. I'll supply you with as
much as you like, with pleasure but not a penny will I give myself."
"But, my lad, my lad! it's for Methodism, our blessed
"Methodism! What's Methodism? It's no better than
any other Church that I know of."
"Joseph!" and in his extreme distress the old man dropped his
snuff-box, and coming up to the desk and taking his son by the arm
he went on, "Joseph, my lad! my lad! why, Methodism has been
ivverything to uz."
"Don't see it, father; I don't see it at all."
The old man's arm was still upon his son's shoulder, and, as
he stood gazing up into the hard but handsome face of his only
living relative, he asked with eager, tremulous distress: "Joseph,
hev'n't I heard thee say at anniversaries 'at thou hed the best
mother i' England?"
"Yes, an' I had, too; but what of that?"
"That mother was saved from a bad family and a bad life by
Methodism; and thy owd father was turned from a gamblin'
skittle-player to a local preacher by Methodism; an' all 'at's good
in thee thou got fro' Methodism. Oh, Joseph! how can
thou talk like that?"
Carfax was moved somewhat, and so, promising to think of it,
he put the old man off, and as soon as he had gone tried to forget
the words he had heard in the public duties in which he was so much
interested. But again and again at the Watch Committee that
night the old man's look came back into his mind, and even when he
got to the club he could not shake off the impression that had been
made on him, and so he went home earlier than usual. He hard
just finished supper and was immersed in some corporation returns
when the dining-room door opened, and in burst Dick, his third and
most excitable son.
"Oh, dad! I've been to such a jolly meeting. Went
over to call on the Brigdens on my bike. They were just going
out to a meeting, so I went with them and heard Perks. My
stars, didn't he make a rippin' speech!"
Carfax glanced round indolently and asked: "Missionary
meeting, was it?"
"Missionary! No! it was about this Million Scheme.
Hay, I did feel proud that our Church was such a grand one."
And then he broke off: "I say, dad, why don't we take in the
Methodist papers? The Brigdens knew all about it, and there
was I as ignorant as a noodle."
Carfax felt a reproachful little pang, and was just turning
again to his returns when his impetuous son broke out once more:
"Oh, it was a speech! Why, dad, I never knew
that ours was such a grand Church. Oh, wasn't I proud I was a
Methodist, I can tell you!"
Carfax winced and was just about to speak when a little
flaxen-haired maiden, the saint of the family as her eldest brother
called her, got up from the sofa where she had been reclining, and
stealing to her brother's side, put her white arms upon his shoulder
and said softly: "I hope you will be a real Methodist some
Later the same evening the alderman had a somewhat serious
conversation with his wife. He was going to tell her what he
had decided to do with regard to the Million Scheme and what he had
said to the super whom Mrs. Carfax did not particularly like; but
before he could commence she began to confide to him her
apprehensions as to their eldest son, who was in business in London;
and the details she supplied, and the dark pictures which, with
motherly anxiety, she painted, made Carfax very uncomfortable.
When she had gone to bed he fell into troubled musings.
He could not forget what his father had said to him that day, and
the light words of the excitable Dick somehow stuck to him; but this
news about Edmund in London was worst of all, and sank deepest.
True, most of what the mother had said had been mere surmisings; but
he felt how easily they and much more might be true, and before he
was aware of it the alderman, who had of late dropped into the habit
of mentally minimising the favourite Methodist doctrine of
conversion, found himself wishing, with a deep sigh, that his eldest
boy had been converted before he went to London. He would give
a thousand pounds at that very moment to know that his boy was a
genuine Christian; but there seemed no hope of that, and his other
children seemed likely to become nominal Christians at most, and to
drift into other Churches. And for the next half-hour—the
deeper manhood of Joseph having fairly awakened—gave him a torturing
But next morning he felt inclined to laugh at his fears of
the night before, and was no more inclined than ever to depart from
the path upon which he had entered.
But circumstances were against the alderman, for when he got
home to dinner he found that two of his children, Dick the
irrepressible, and Kathy the saint, had been down to grandfather's
and borrowed the Recorder and had also called at the railway
bookstall and got the Methodist Times, and were now fuller
than ever of the wonderful fund.
When grandfather came in a little while afterwards they of
course received powerful reinforcement, and though the two eldest
children who were at home treated the matter rather contemptuously,
they could not altogether resist the influences of the moment, and
were soon almost as much interested as the younger ones.
On the following Sunday it was announced that the Million
Scheme meeting for Knibworth would be held on the Thursday week
following; but no chairman's name was mentioned. Literature of
various kinds was also found in the pews and carried home, and
Carfax during the afternoon noticed some very mysterious
calculations going on with lead pencils, and his wife told him as he
went to bed that, good Sunday though it was, Dick and Kathy had been
reckoning up what sundry inmates of the house owed them.
Carfax began to feel really ashamed of himself, and told
himself reluctantly that the enthusiasm of his children, the younger
end of them at any rate, was a direct reproach to him; at the same
time he was conscious of a curious feeling of relief and
thankfulness in the thought, that some at least of his family would
by this fund become more firmly attached to their father's Church.
During the week the super called again, and tried to induce
his most influential layman to take the chair at the circuit
meeting. But Carfax still held out, though more from a foolish
scruple about consistency than anything else and the minister went
away resolved to try once more before the eventful day came.
Of late Carfax had fallen into the habit of once-a-day
worship, and so he stayed at home on the following Sunday evening.
And there, by his own fireside, he got thinking once more of his
cherished plans, and was surprised to find that they did not seem so
beautiful as they had done before. And then he was drawn to
think again of his whole life, and especially of his recent attitude
towards the Church in which, as he could not but acknowledge, he had
got all his good. Then he wandered off into remembrances of
the happy days when he was young and struggling, and of the blessed
weariness he struggling to feel after a hard day's preaching in the
country. After all, those were happy days, and he was not so
sure that he was not a better man then than now, in spite of his J.
P. and municipal and other honours.
Then his father's words in the office came back to him, and
he was just choking back a lump in his throat when the dining-room
door burst open and a fairy form flung itself upon him, a hot cheek
was pressed against his, and a bright eager voice cried: "Oh,
father, father! what do you think? Oh, I am so happy!
so very very happy!"
"Whatever's the matter, child?"
"Oh, father! dear father, Dick's just told me such a secret!
such a beautiful secret."
"And you are letting it all out! What is it, you
"Oh, father, Dick's just told me he is going to join Mr.
Jimpson's class. Isn't it grand, father, glorious?"
Carfax felt he was giving way. The slumbering Methodism
in him was all at once awaking and swallowing up the alderman, and
almost to his own surprise he muttered fervently: "Thank God."
It was many a long day since Carfax had had a religious
conversation with one of his children, but that night he took young
Dick into the study and asked him what Kathy's strange story meant.
Dick was frankness itself, and the alderman's heart grew warm
and his eyes moist as he listened to his own boy telling the old
story that he once used to hear so often.
"Well, my dear lad, it's the best news I've heard for many a
day. God bless you, and make you a true Christian and a true
and faithful Methodist. Ah—there's one thing I should like you
to do, however."
"What's that, father?"
"I should like you to write to Edmund before you go to bed,
and tell him what has taken place."
On the Wednesday following, when the family came down to
breakfast, there was a letter lying on Master Dick's plate, and the
alderman who saw it first felt somehow as if he would like to open
Kathy also looked at it with longing eyes, for the absent
brother was her special favourite.
Presently Dick came down and opened his letter. He had
dressed hastily and was not too much awake even now; but as he read
the note his eyes opened and a bright light came into them, and
suddenly he flung the letter into the air, and cried: "Hurrah!
I mean, Praise the Lord."
"What! What is it?" cried two or three at once.
In a moment little Kathy had slipped from her place at the
table and picked up the letter, which had fluttered down upon the
hearthrug. "Listen! listen!" she cried, with shining eyes and
radiant face, and whilst the rest looked at her eagerly she read:
God for the news you send me; it is the best I have had for many a
long day. May the Lord keep you faithful! You may be
surprised that I write like this, but as you have told me your
happiness I will tell you mine. I have not been very good, I
am sorry to say, since I came to London; but a fortnight ago a
friend asked me to go to St. James's Hall. I went, and what I
heard there changed my life; and that very night I gave my heart to
God. Please tell them all, but especially dear
little Kathy. With much love,
Your affectionate Brother,
"And the £250,000 for Hugh Price Hughes' work was my special
aversion," said the alderman to himself, as he went down to his
office; and when the super called an hour later he found his
hitherto obdurate layman in a very kindly frame of mind. The
next evening the chair was taken by Joseph Carfax after all, and the
fame of the Knibworth contribution has gone forth into the whole
Hugh Price Hughes
Founder of the Methodist Times and
Superintendent of the
West London Methodist Mission.