The Minder( II)
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CHAPTER VI.

SHOWS HOW SALLIE "WILL BE OF THE SAME
OPINION STILL."


IT was twilight, and the stars were just appearing when the young minder got into the open air, but he noticed nothing.  With head down and heart sinking within him, he plunged along homeward without any thought as to where he went or what became of him.  Suddenly he remembered that if he returned so soon it would awaken his mother's suspicions and lead to more anxiety on her part, and perhaps to awkward questions.  He stopped, therefore, stood trying to collect his thoughts for a moment, and then, turning back, got over a stile and gained a footpath that led through Brinksway Woods and over the hill into the Rushton and Manchester turnpike.  Crossing the fields, now almost running in the agitation and impetuosity of his thoughts, and now stopping to look distractedly around, he presently crossed a little footbridge, passed through a narrow wicket-gate into the wood, and flung himself down under a great tree, and burying his hot face in the new-springing bracken, he groaned out a spasmodic prayer for help and tried to collect himself.

    It was a very difficult work, and for the first ten minutes he simply rolled about on the ground and moaned.  Then he sat up, leaned his back against the trunk of a tree and tried to clear his mind.  Where was he?  What was his position now?  And immediately such a flood of bitter memories came rushing upon him that he seemed completely overwhelmed.  Circumstances were all against him, and wherever he turned for comfort he only met some new phase of trouble.  But life had taught John Ledger the uselessness of mere repining, and so with gathered brow and clenched hands he tried to look the situation in the face.  It seemed as though he were resisting something which God and man were combining to force upon him.  Was he a cowardly Jonah?  Was this his "watery deep" and "whale's belly"? and for the moment a wild, mad hope, which he had been treading ruthlessly down in his heart ever since this idea of becoming a minister had been suggested, seemed to elude his grasp and get the mastery.  But it was only for a moment; that wicked worldly ambition which he had seen, and been so keenly ashamed of in others, must never get a foothold in his mind, its very presence so close to him seemed to cheapen and vulgarise him; and as the easiest thing in the world to him was to convict himself of some delinquency, he was soon concluding that God had detected the risings of ungodly pride in him, and was resorting to this severe discipline in order to effectually exorcise the evil spirit.  And it was an added misery to him that at the moment when everybody he cared for was pushing him forward towards this great decision, he was more absolutely certain than he had ever been that to indulge the idea even for a moment would be to dishonour himself, insult the great calling, and sin against his Maker.

    So clear indeed was all this to him, that he wondered with new dismay how it was that none of his friends seemed able or willing to see the matter as he did.  He ought not to blame them; in fact, he felt another pang of self-reproach at the very thought.  What they had said and done were so many signs of interest in him, and interest for which he could never be sufficiently grateful.  Even Sallie's attitude, which affected him most of all, was only the manifestation of an ambition for him for which his lover's heart ought to be both proud and thankful.  It was only that her standpoint was different, and that was not very remarkable, seeing everybody agreed with her and nobody with him.  And then, as usual, it all came back upon himself.  He was odd, he was different from anybody else.  Was it not at bottom a piece of mere pharisaism and self-righteousness?  All this will seem very morbid to the healthy-minded reader, but John Ledger was highly sensitive and conscientious; he had been trained in a narrow but intense and introspective school of faith, and was overworked and underfed, and just now, at any rate, insufficiently vitalized, whilst the experiences of the past few days had severely drained his already scanty nervous resources, and so he dwelt long upon this process of injurious self-condemnation.  When he came to ask himself, however, whether he or they were right, the answer in his own heart was as emphatic as ever; he had no such gifts as this great work required; he had not sufficient education, and, above all, he had no real call.  He had risen to his feet again by this time, for the ground was striking the damp through his clothes.  It was very still and dark about him, and the sense of solitude which at first had soothed now began to depress, and for a moment he had to check a feeling that he wished his life's battle were over, and his fretted heart for ever at rest.

    Naturally, he thought most of the interview he had just had with Sallie.  The rest he could have borne easily, but her attitude was not only serious in itself, but derived an added significance from its agreement with the opinions of all the rest of his friends.  Then some of her words came back to him, and with them the remembrance that they had sounded hard and mercenary, but as this seemed disloyal to her, he tried to dismiss it, and found more difficulty than he had expected.  He shook himself to cast away unworthy suspicions, and resumed his walk.  Do what he might, however, he could not get away from the feeling that Sallie cared more for his prospects than she did for him, and he found himself fighting, not altogether successfully, the fear that her sudden complacency towards him on the night of the fateful kiss might have had its origin in some wandering rumour that he was a probable candidate for the ministry.  But this only led to a further self-castigation.  What a small, mean mind he must have to be capable of such unworthy suspicions.  It was mere coincidence.  Sallie was a true, honourable, open-minded girl, and though she did not see this important matter as he would have expected a Methodist of the third generation to do, she was, at any rate, no worse than others, and, in fact, her ambition might very well be the very strongest proofs of her love.

    By this time he had reached the highway, and was able to come to at least a temporary decision.  He would wait until Sallie's evident anger had subsided, and then explain things to her at length.  He would show her the difference between a profession and a holy calling.  Probably, he told himself, she would see it, and if she did not—well, he must leave that for the present.  He had grown calmer by this, but whether from peace of mind or emotional exhaustion is an open question. So he strolled slowly along, muttering now and again a prayer for guidance, and presently he entered the town, and made his way home.  Arrived there, the ruffled, though rather abashed, look of his father, and the forced calm of his mother, indicated but too clearly that there had been a domestic wrangle of which he had been the subject.  For though of late the elder Ledger had shown a sort of fear for his son, John knew only too well that what would once have been said to him was now poured out unmercifully upon the head of the patient mother he adored.

    He got to bed earlier than usual, and though his first hour was spent in going over the whole weary ground of his conflict once more, his very exhaustion and the crisp spring air in which he had spent so much time came to his rescue, and he slept better even than usual.  John was a Sunday school teacher, and as he was passing with his class from the school to the chapel next morning, Robina, the day girl at the farm, called him aside, and told him that Sallie wished him to go down to tea.  This was better than he expected, and had the effect of considerably raising his spirits.  If only he could get Sallie to see matters as he did all might yet be well.  As soon, therefore, as afternoon school was over he started for the farm, and was not too well pleased to discover when he turned into the lane that he was overtaking old Zeph.  Somehow John had never liked his future father-in-law; he was a hard sort of man who barely concealed a grasping spirit under a bluff and jocular manner.  Report credited him with remorseless bargain-driving, and all the Woods for generations back had borne similar characters, and John did not like to feel that the girl he loved had been brought up— and in these times so critical for him—was still living under such influences.

    "What, already!" cried Zeph, as John came up.  "Hey, young folk! young folk!" and he shook his head with waggish depreciation.

    "How's Sallie?" asked John, pulling up and dropping into the old man's step.

    "Right! all right! convalescent, as yo' fine talkers say.  Hey, John, she's taken some rearin' hez that wench!  Cost!" and here he pulled up and dropped into a solemn tone, "that slip of a lass has cost me —many a hundeerd pound!"

    "And she's worth it," cried John with a burst of sweet, lover-like feeling.  "She's worth it all, and a fine sight more, isn't she?"

    They were still standing in the lane, and Zeph followed each word John uttered with a little nod, as though he were counting, and then puckering his brows and pursing out his lips, he stuck out an argumentative forefinger, and shaking it at John, he cried—

    "Ay, bud t'question is, shall I ever get it back?  That's t'point."

    John opened his eyes.

    "Why, Mr. Wood, you are getting it back every day, and you will do, I hope, as long as you live."

    This was not quite the answer Zeph had expected, and so with a little wave of the hand to dismiss it, he pointed his finger once more at John, and demanded—

    "What I want to know is this.  Would it be right after all t'hedication I've given her, an' all I've spent on her, and t'snug little bit she'll hev when I've done wi' it, would it be right for her to throw hersel' away?  Now that's t'point."

    Zeph put this query as though he were merely raising a purely hypothetic case, but it was palpable enough to John.  It came so unexpectedly that he was taken somewhat by surprise.  His heart sank, and he was collecting himself to reply, when the old man, who was evidently very intent on making his point, resumed—

    "I'm her father, am not I?  Isn't it my duty to see as she doesna throw herself away?"

    John dropped his head upon his chest and uttered a reluctant and husky—

    "Yes."

    Zeph's thoughts, like his words, were jerky and disconnected, and so instead of taking up John's reluctant admission, he burst out—

    "Our Sallie's a Wood! ivvery inch on her!  She means to ger on and ger hup i' t'world, an' why shouldn't she?"

    "Mr. Wood," said John slowly," I understand what you mean, and I cannot complain.  Sallie said much the same thing herself last night, but she has sent for me, and if it is all the same to you, I prefer to take it from her, if I am to be dismissed."

    "Oh, well! do as thou likes.  Young folks allus is pig-headed.  But mind thee, what I thinks Sallie thinks, an' what Sallie thinks I thinks;" and with a gesture of dismissal, the old man fell back and allowed John to proceed on his journey.

    The young minder felt sick at heart, and strongly inclined to give up the matter and go home, and perhaps write to Sallie.  But he was not a coward, though his courage took the shape of quiet tenacity rather than demonstration, and so, with a desire to see his sweetheart and a dogged Dutch sort of pluck, he preceded Zeph down the lane.

    Sallie herself opened the door when he reached the farm, and her reception at once reassured him.  She was tastefully dressed, and the little blush that rose to her cheeks as she greeted him made her look, in his eyes at least, prettier than ever.  She did her best, certainly, to make him feel at home, and showed him many little attentions, which touched him the more as he was haunted with the feeling that this might be a sort of valedictory meeting.  The tea was complimentarily pretentious, and though both the lovers and old Zeph had a little constraint upon them, the meal passed off better than might have been expected.  When it was over and old Wood had settled down to a pipe in the chimney corner, Sallie, after carrying the tea-things into the kitchen, strolled towards the parlour on the other side of the house, and, turning her head as she entered, beckoned John to follow her.  She was sitting at an old-fashioned piano when he reached the room, and she continued strumming lightly on the keys whilst he wandered awkwardly to a seat near the fire.  The chair upon which he sat was almost filled with decorative rather than useful cushions, and Sallie, with a not quite natural little laugh, got up, took one away, made the other comfortable for him, and then, with a playful little tap on the cheek, bade him sit back and look as if he were at home.

    John sighed and looked at her, and did as he was told, and then she dropped on her knees upon the white imitation skin hearth-rug, and sat looking into the fire with her right shoulder touching his knee.

    John glanced at the bright room and fire, and then down upon the dark hair and delicate pink cheeks, and felt how happy he would have been but for something.  He had plenty of that sort of courage which can go straight to an unpleasant subject, and so without waiting he plunged off at once into the question that was between them.  Slowly, carefully, and with a seriousness that was almost solemn, he explained his position and convictions, and the nature and absolute necessity for the call to preach.  And as he talked she listened attentively, looking steadily into the fire all the time, and nodding now and then in sympathetic comprehension.  The firelight played upon her face and white neck, and made her appear something wonderfully beautiful, so much so in fact that he once or twice lost the thread of his argument, and was pulled up and brought back by a quick, inquiring glance from her deep eyes.  He was greatly encouraged; he was evidently making an impression.  After all, he had once more been making mountains out of mole-hills, and Sallie was proving to him that she was the true-hearted girl he had always supposed.  He warmed, therefore, as he proceeded, and grew almost eloquent for him.  In the earnestness of his argument, he had unconsciously sat further and further forward, and was now bending slightly over her.  She looked so serious and interested that hope was high within him, and in the anticipation of his victory he began to smile.

    Sallie was still gazing musingly into the fire, and apparently weighing his last words; and just when he began to wonder why she didn't speak, she turned her face quickly towards his, and looking right into his pleading eyes, she cried, arching her brows and speaking in tones of conscious triumph

    "And that's you that says you can't talk!  For shame, John!"

    And the mingled elation and flattery in her tones only revealed to John how completely he had failed to make any real impression.  He was not, however, nearly so disappointed as he ought to have been; there was something very seductive in his surroundings, and he found a subtle delight in talking to one who listened with such stimulating interest and innocent, unconscious beauty; and so he commenced again, and still further elaborated his arguments.  She listened as earnestly as before, and seemed almost anxious to be convinced.  She lifted a little sigh when he had done, and looking steadfastly at the fire, she murmured—

    "Oh, John, you're too good! you are indeed."

    John sighed helplessly; what could he say more?  And yet it was only too clear that he had made no real progress.  And there he sat looking down in admiration at her, whilst his heart sank within him, and became heavy again.

    And then Sallie took up the tale, and with a sweet reasonableness and insidious speciousness that almost blinded him to its danger, she touched point after point in his arguments until he saw them—he knew not how—disintegrating and crumbling to pieces before her soft pleas.  Then she put her own side of the case, but with the same soft touch and the same subtle flattering deference as before.  He grew alarmed and interrupted her.  She was wonderfully patient, and seemed pleased to hear him re-state his position, but she talked on, and John grew more and more uneasy.  The witchery of the firelight in the gathering twilight, the soft stillness that seemed to pervade the house, and the rise and fall of her coaxing voice had a sort of enchantment in them, and he felt as if he were being snared in some wizard spell or other.  He grew afraid of her and the influence she was having over him, and most of all afraid of himself.  He tried to say something definite and decisive as gently as he could, but the right words would not come, and he sighed and looked helplessly around.  The silence grew long and oppressive.  Sallie had leaned a little towards him and placed her cheek against his knee, then looking into the fire, and speaking in low, musing tones, she told him how often she had sympathised with him and his mother in their struggles, and in a half whisper slipped out low, apparently unintentional words of admiration of him, and then in stronger tones expressed her confidence that he would make his way in the world.

    John hastily assured her that if hard work and severe self-sacrifice could do it he would get on, and then in impassioned words declared that for her he could do anything.

    And with a long, soft sigh, she answered—

    "Anything but the one thing.  Oh! I should be proud and happy, John, if you would do that for me."

    And John, choking and husky, snatched her hands, and holding them tightly told her that she did not know what she asked, and that he was sure she did not want him to sell his soul.  She pulled her hands away in silence and turned from him, and then after a few moments more of painful stillness, got up and went to the piano.  He joined her there presently and turned over the music for her, and asked her to sing, and with a pretty resigned and pensive air she obliged.  Then they began to talk again, and he attempted to return to the painful subject, but she always evaded it, and grew more and more constrained as the evening wore on.  John, though he scarcely knew what to do, stopped to supper.  He was by this time exceedingly uneasy, and looked at Sallie anxiously again and again, but she always turned her eyes away.  A flush of relief and hope passed over his heart when, upon his leaving, she came with him as on that first night to the gate.

    "Then you can't do that—a—even for me, John," she said, as they joined hands in parting.

    "Oh, Sallie, I will do anything—anything but that."

    She paused a moment, and then letting slip his clinging fingers she said slowly, but with hardening accent—

    "Then you need not come any more, John!"  And before he could stop her or reply she had retired to the house, and was closing the door behind her.


 
CHAPTER VII.

A RACE FOR A PULPIT.


JOHN could not have either said or done anything to stop his sweetheart's flight if his life had depended on it.  With open mouth and dropped jaw he watched her vanish absolutely tongue-tied, and then stood staring at the door as though he could not believe his eyes.  Sallie's manner during the evening had seemed to indicate that, though she loved him very much, she was not going to give way on a point in which his best interests were so much involved without a struggle, and he confessed to himself that he would never again be so near surrender and escape.  But this sudden change astounded him, and made it clear that he could have no hope of winning her so long as he remained a mere mill-hand.  She did not, therefore, care for him for his own sake, and his mother's doubts, now made painfully clear to him, had at least something to justify them.  A chill crept over his heart, and with a last regretful glance at the inexorable door he turned away, and walked slowly down the lane.  As he went along he was conscious of a change in his own feelings, a dull, dogged stubbornness rose up within him; he loved this bewitching girl he told himself again and again, but he knew her better.  She was smaller-minded than he had feared, and narrow and earthly; so far from being able to appreciate his motives she could not even understand them, and if she did not and could not be brought to see as he saw there could never be anything in common between them, and, painful though it was to contemplate, she had done the very best thing, both for herself and for him.  All this and more his reason told him, but his heart still clung to the old hope, and he understood himself well enough to know that it would be useless to try and stifle the feeling all at once; he must wait and gradually school himself to resignation, but he did not disguise from himself for a moment that the process would be a long and weary one.

    It was a relief to him, therefore, when he reached home to find round the hearthstone several of the chapel people, kindred spirits of his father's, and he gathered at once from their solemn, half- reproachful looks that his father was holding forth in his own voluble style about his son's stubbornness.  As he entered Sampson was comparing himself to Isaac deceived in Jacob, and David disappointed in Absalom.  He broke down somewhat confusedly on catching sight of his son, and wandered off into vague and mysterious hints about the similarity of his trials to those of the patriarch Job, finishing up with a pathetic and lachrymose picture of himself sitting on some metaphorical dung hill, deserted alike by God and man.  So carried away, in fact, was he by this melting picture of his own imaginary sufferings that his voice broke, and tears ran off the end of his nose, whilst the rest of the company sighed again, solemnly wagged their heads, poked the ends of their fingers into the corners of their eyes, and groaned under the influence of this moving discourse.

    John was accustomed to these manifestations, and inwardly despised them; to-night also he felt they were irritating and even humiliating, and so he beat a hasty retreat and stole off to bed.

    Next day was the Quarterly meeting, the chief official gathering of the circuit, and John had expected to take his seat there for the first time.  But recent occurrences had changed all that, and not knowing what rash thing his father or Wilky might do, he went off as soon as tea was over for a long walk, that he might be out of the way if any attempt should be made to force the super.'s hand.  He entered the town by the lane leading along the back of the chapel on his return, and was a little alarmed to observe that the band-room was still lighted up, and presumably the meeting was still sitting.  He made his way home, therefore, as fast as he could, hoping to get away to rest before his father returned.

    Just as he was finishing supper, however, in came Sampson and Wilky, wrangling in high tones about something.  Ah! it was the old story, but Wilky was in unusual force, and gradually beat his opponent down, maintaining with all the strength of his strident, raspy voice that the men who preached for nothing were far more valuable and important to the Church than those who were paid.  This was in direct and flagrant contradiction to Wilky's usual sentiments, but as nobody ever expected consistency from the little broker John smiled quietly to himself, nodded in token of gratitude to his defender, and stole away upstairs.  Well, the matter was settled now, and could not be revived again for at least twelve months, and he comforted himself with the reflection that the whole thing would probably be forgotten in that time.  He was a little surprised and humbled to discover that, now that the question was disposed of, there was something approaching to disappointment in his mind, and he reflected a little sadly that this was only another evidence of how little we know ourselves, and how necessary it is to be constantly on the alert against the "old Adam."  Then of course his mind reverted to the old sorrow, and, recalling how recently he had pitied poor Sam Kepple, he realised that he was now relegated to the same company of rejected suitors.

    He felt for a moment or two a little bitter, but very soon his love for Sallie extinguished all that, and he found himself wondering at the extreme reasonableness of the course she had adopted, from her standpoint.  A fortnight passed away, and though during that period he had met Sallie several times he found that she had returned to her usual manner, and was evidently not too much distressed about what had taken place.  Then something happened which, though altogether unconnected with John's troubles, added considerably to them, and had important and far-reaching results.

    On the first Sunday in April he was appointed to preach at Trundlegate, a pretty village about three miles from Bramwell.  He had never been "planned" there before, for the village was inhabited by substantial farmers and well-to-do retired tradespeople from the circuit town.  The congregation at the ornate little Gothic chapel was therefore highly respectable; the ministers preached there every other Sunday, and only the best of the local preachers were allowed to occupy the pulpit.  John was taking the least important of the services, the afternoon one, and a popular layman from an adjoining circuit was to preach at night.  It was a lovely spring day, and John would have enjoyed the walk but for his nervous apprehensions.  He got through his work, however, fairly well, he admitted, for him, but was not particularly reassured when he was invited to take tea with old Mr. Pashley, who was a comparatively rich man, and lived in the most pretentious house in the place.  Pashley was an old-fashioned Methodist, who thought it a most improper thing to puff up young preachers, and so, to John's relief, he made not even the most distant allusion to the sermon.  Mrs. Pashley, a much younger person, had, however, no such scruples, but paid John so many kindly little compliments that he became fearful lest her kindness should trench upon veracity.

    The old gentleman did not, however, seem very disturbed about his wife's politeness, but detained John as long as he could after tea, and then, the day being so very inviting, he offered to walk a little on the way with him.  They had turned out of the village street into the lane, and Pashley had already paused to take leave, when lifting his eyes and looking down the road, he said—

    "Who's this coming?  It looks like a preacher; I hope Mr. Craven is not sending a substitute again."  John raised his eyes and examined the approaching figure.  The man looked rather too grand for an ordinary local preacher, and John was just turning to reassure his host when something about the stranger's gait attracted his notice, and darting a quick glance backward, he said—

    "Why, it's Mr. Ferridge!"

    "Ferridge?  He who was put off the plan last harvest?"

    "I think so—yes," replied John.  "It is he, certainly.  I daresay he is coming to hear Mr. Craven.  They used to be old friends, you know."

    The old gentleman made a sudden start forward, and taking John's arm and beginning to walk rapidly forward, he cried—

    "Go on!  I must let him get past.  I wouldn't walk down the village with him for anything."

    But the approaching man had seen them, and was already waving a stylish umbrella by way of salutation.

    "Oh dear, oh dear!  What shall I do?  I'm sick with shame."

    And the agitated old gentleman put a hand that was shaking with indignation and fear upon John's arm, and went on—

    "Don't leave me, whatever you do."

    The man they were meeting was tall and burly.  He was dressed in a new suit of shiny black, with a large open shirt front upon which gleamed a big star-shaped stud, whilst a loud, thick gold chain stretched from his vest pocket to his button-hole, and from that to the opposite pocket.  A glossy new silk hat was tipped a little back on his head, exposing a perspiring forehead and hot, red, somewhat bloated face.  He had gloves, also, of painful newness, on his fleshy hands, and whilst still some yards away he began to speak.

    "Well, I never!  My old friend Pashley!  This is nice.  How are you, my dear brother; how are you?" and entirely ignoring John, he seized Pashley's hand and began to shake it with eager enthusiasm.

    "And how's Mrs. Pashley, sir?  Well?  I'm delighted to hear it.  Take care of her, my friend; such people as her are scarce."

    He still held Pashley's limp and reluctant hand, and thrust his face close to the old man's in apparently eager interest in the old gentleman's affairs.

    "We're both pretty well, thank you, Mr. Ferridge," said Pashley, with nervous restraint.  "I'm walking along the road with our young friend here.  Good day."

    And he began to push John before him.

    "Ah, good!" cried Ferridge with a forced heartiness, and taking out his watch he continued, "Yes, there's plenty of time.  I'll go along with you, and then we can return together.  The service is still at the old time, I suppose?"

    "Oh, have you come over to the service?  I heard yesterday that Mr. Craven was not well; he may be sending a substitute—"

    "Yes, he's sending me.  He wrote on Friday.  Poor fellow, he's been in bed a week.  What a lovely afternoon it is!  Ah, I always say there's no place like Trundlegate in spring time."

    John began to fear there was going to be a scene, for Pashley was evidently much excited, though he tried hard to conceal it, and so he dropped the old man's arm and was preparing to move off when his host snatched at it hastily, and turning to Ferridge he cried, in scandalised tones—

    "But you are not going to preach, Mr. Ferridge?"

    "Oh yes, sir; certainly.  Brother Craven wrote asking me.  We've helped each other many a time.  It's all right, sir."

    Pashley was pinching John's arm until he winced.

    "But, Mr. Ferridge, you cannot preach after—after what has happened!"

    "Happened!  Oh, ay!  But that's six months since, you know, and I'm a new man.  I certainly was a little overtaken, but I've passed through the fire, brother, and I'm all right now."

    Pashley looked at the canting, fleshy face before him, and tightening his grip on John's arm, whilst his venerable face grew stern and white, he said—

    "But you cannot preach at Trundlegate to-night, sir."

    "Mr. Pashley!  Mr. Pashley!  Have you become a hard-hearted Pharisee?  What did the dear Lord do to Peter and Thomas when they made their little slips?  I didn't expect it from you, sir.  I never thought my old friend Pashley would cast the first stone," and in cleverly simulated emotion he turned his face away and buried it in a gorgeously-flowered pocket-handkerchief, and sniffed and snuffled as though struggling with tears.

    John felt touched for the moment, and noticing that Pashley seemed similarly affected he said, with a view to helping Ferridge—

    "If the super. has consented, you know, Mr. Pashley—"

    Ferridge turned sharply towards John with an angry gesture, but another thought striking him, he changed his manner.

    "Exactly; that's it, you know.  Leave these things to the super., Brother Pashley."

    "But does the super. know you have come here?" asked the old gentleman, with returning alarm and not a little indignation.

    "I saw him only yesterday, sir.  Ah, he's been a true friend to me in my—a- a- a-affliction."

    Pashley, puzzled and grieved, was evidently inclined to give way, but it had struck John that Ferridge last words were vague, and that his host was being deceived, and so he said quietly—

    "Does the super. know you are taking this service, Mr. Ferridge?"

    Ferridge jumped round with a snarl that amply justified John's suspicions, and shouted—

    "Don't I tell you that I saw him yesterday?"

    Pashley was carefully scrutinising Ferridge's face and manner, and it was evident that he was more suspicious and alarmed than ever.  Perceiving this, and indignant that the old man should be subject to this excitement, and absolutely certain now as to the truth of the matter, John said, looking steadily and fearlessly into Ferridge's flaming face—

    "Mr. Ferridge, have you told the super. that Mr. Craven has asked you to take this appointment, and has he given his consent?"

    Ferridge's face was almost livid.

    "What's that to you, cock-chin?  I'm responsible to the super. and not to factory lads!"

    "Mr. Ferridge," broke in Pashley, "let me beg you to return.  I'm sure that Mr. Craven cannot have known that you are not now on the plan.  This young man will take the service."

    John gave a little start and an exclamation.  It was no joke to be called upon to preach at a few moments' notice, but before he could speak Ferridge burst out—

    "Will he!  Don't get your rag out, Mr. Pashley I've come to take this service, and I shall do, for you, or anybody else!" and he turned away with the evident intention of making for the village.

    "Oh, man, you'll not!—you'll not desecrate—"

    "Won't I?  I'll show you!" and with a rude push which sent the old man staggering into the hedge he started towards Trundlegate.

    But for the moment he had overlooked John, who, when Pashley gave a shocked cry, sprang forward and planted himself on the narrow flags in front of the bully.

    "Mr. Ferridge," he cried, with quiet but unmistakable decision, "you will not enter that pulpit to-night."

    "Let him go! let him go!" cried Pashley, now thoroughly scared, but John stood his ground.

    "Out of the way!" shouted Ferridge, who had now lost all self-control, and as he sprang forward he raised his clenched fist, and would doubtless have felled the young minder.  But he did not flinch, and as he still looked steadily into the gray-green blazing eyes of his opponent, the uplifted hand fell harmlessly to his side, and with an afterthought and a sudden chuckle, half scorn and half triumph, he sprang from the high-banked footpath and dashed past his resister.

    "Let him go!  God will judge him!" cried Pashley, now in a state of pathetic fear; but John's blood was up.  A man like that to get into a pulpit, and no voice to be raised in protest!  The thing was not to be thought of for a moment.  And so, disregarding his frightened and now horrified companion, he turned on his heels and darted off after the transgressor.  Hearing his footsteps, Ferridge looked round, and perceiving instantly that John was intent on passing him and reaching the chapel before him, he darted sideways, and spreading out his great arms to stop him, bellowed out all sorts of coarse threats.  But though he was big and strong, he was also heavy, and the young preacher easily dodged past him, and for some yards there was seen on that quiet spring evening the strange spectacle of two men racing for the possession of one pulpit.  It did not last long, however, for, after running about eighty yards, the heavier man pulled up, and began wiping the perspiration from his face, bawling all sorts of coarse epithets after his opponent.

    When John reached the chapel, panting and out of breath, the caretaker, a woman, was just unlocking the doors.  In a few breathless words he explained what had happened and who was coming.  To his perplexity, she stared blankly at him for a moment or two, and then, dropping a red handkerchief containing a gorgeously-bound book, precipitously fled.  By this time Ferridge had entered the village, and was approaching.  John's blood boiled within him; this blatant, coarse-minded fellow should not preach there that night whatever happened; and so, on sudden thought, he dashed into the chapel, closed and locked the door, and then setting his heels in a crevice of the tiled floor and his back against the door, he prepared to resist any attempt to enter by force.

    But the door was a two-leaved one, and John had forgotten that there was a bolt at the top as well at the bottom, and just as he realised his mistake, the form of the burly Ferridge was flung against the outside, and the young minder with a gasp felt that he was being overmatched.  With all the strength he possessed, however, he pushed, and the door went back into its place, and then bent inwards upon him again.  For a minute or two the discreditable struggle was continued, and then it ceased suddenly, as though Ferridge had given up.  It was only for an instant, however, for before John had properly realised what was happening, the man outside, now perfectly wild with rage, flung himself against the doors and sent John flying into the aisle.  Just at this point, when victory seemed to be within the grasp of the big man, other voices were heard, and when John rose to his feet he discovered that the chapel-keeper had thought of something he had forgotten, and had fetched the constable, who, as it happened, was a Methodist.  The presence of the representative of the law cooled the big man suddenly, and as the worshippers now began to gather, he deemed it prudent to beat a retreat.  Then old Pashley turned up, still very much alarmed, and when he had told his tale John was soon surrounded by a knot of grateful admirers, who greatly commended his conduct.  They insisted of course that he should occupy the vacant pulpit, but he was so agitated that he doubted whether he could sufficiently collect his thoughts.  Bynton, the leader, offered to open the service for him, and by the time that had been done John had obtained some sort of command of himself, and did his best.

    The chapel filled as the service proceeded, curiosity evidently bringing many unwonted hearers, and John had the largest congregation that had been seen in the building since the last anniversary.  The delighted officials made much of the preacher when he had done, and thanked him heartily, as well for his sermons as his valiant defence of the pulpit, and it was somewhat late when he got away.  Alone now for the first time, he began to run over all the disagreeable circumstances of the evening, and realised that he had probably made an enemy.  He saw no reason, all the same, to regret what he had done, though he would have preferred that some older and more important individual should have had the onus of it.  It was always the easiest of all things to find some reason for self-reproach, and he was just sighing a little regretfully over the matter, when he thought he heard a single footstep behind him, as of some person walking on the grassy edge of the footpath, who had unintentionally stepped upon the flags for once.  He was nervous, and did not look round for the moment, but when he did so there was no one to be seen.  A little later he thought he caught the step again, and a little nearer, and turned at once, but nothing was to be seen.  Then he smiled at his own nervousness, but quickened his pace, and had already reached the turn where the Bramwell lights could be seen when there came behind him a sudden rush and then a crash, and he staggered forward into the gutter and all was blank.


 
CHAPTER VIII.

HOW WILKY BECAME A CONSPIRATOR.


SAMPSON LEDGER opened the paint shop on the morning after the events narrated in the last chapter in an absent, preoccupied, but solemnly uplifted frame of mind.  It was ten o'clock before he reached the premises, and nearly half-past before he deigned to take down the shutters.  He was, of course, greatly distressed at what had overtaken his son; but no less than seven of the principal people of the chapel had sent to the little cake shop in Shed Lane to make inquiries, and he had been stopped at least half-a-dozen times on his way to business to give particulars of the shocking occurrence; consequently, though he wore the manner of one who was suffering under some grievous visitation, yet underneath it all was the supporting consciousness that he and his family were, temporarily at any rate, the objects of most flattering sympathy.  He was not the principal sufferer perhaps, but mental pain is after all the most acute and terrible, and he lost sight somewhat of his son's condition as he dwelt in keen self-pity on his feelings as a father, and the harrowing effects of those emotions on his spirits.  It would have been disrespectful to his son, a sort of sacrilege, in fact, to have given any attention to mundane matters under present painful circumstances, and so he opened the shop with a resigned, almost stoical aspect, and immediately settled himself on the log near the newly-lighted stove and commenced to smoke.  There was an air of mystery about the matter that greatly inflated his self-consciousness, and he shook his head with solemn deliberateness, and fetched long, appealing sighs.

    John, rendered unconscious by the blow he had received, must have lain by the side of the footpath for some time, for it was after nine o'clock when he was discovered by a pair of lovers.  With the aid of the post gig, which passed along whilst they were trying to bring him round, they had got him home, and the doctor, when summoned, had declared that it was a very serious wound, which could not have been caused by a fall.  And there the matter rested.  Why had John not returned earlier? and what had taken place to bring about this brutal assault?  And, most perplexing of all, who was the mysterious assailant?

    Old Zeph strolled into the shop as Sampson lighted his pipe, but as the two had met before that morning, he simply wandered to his seat on the side bench and sat down, accompanying his actions with the remark—

    "Well, this is a licker, this is!"

    "Many are the afflictions of the righteous," moaned Sampson, with solemn shakings of the head.

    "It might 'a' killed him, a clout like that," said Zeph, glancing round as the little broker waddled into the shop.

    "Joseph is not!  Simeon is not! and now ye'll take Benjamin also," whined the painter with a wheezy snuffle and an excited blinking of the eyes, and then he went on, "O Absalom! my son, my son!"

    It was doubtless the pathos of these quotations that commended them to Sampson rather than their relevancy, but it was the striking inappropriateness of them, and the fact that the latter of them contained an implied reflection on John that struck the dwarf, and so firing up, partly out of contempt for a sorrow in which he did not altogether believe, and partly out of natural contradictiousness and a sense of the necessity of defending John, he rapped out—

    "Bosh! blather! t' boot's on t' other leg, by jings."

    Sampson took a long breath, and then with a pulpit flourish of the hand and a weary wag of the head, he cried—

    "Rail on, Eliphaz! rail, you—you other Job's comforters.  I must take up my cross!  None but a father knows a father's feelings."

    This kind of lachrymose nonsense was the most irritating of all things to Wilky, and he was just about to make a scathing reply when Zeph chimed in.

    "Come! come, lad!  He'll be all right in a day or two."

    "He will, if he's nowt like his father," cried Wilky, savagely.  "It 'ud take a steam hammer to do any damage to his skull."

    "Friends!" cried the painter solemnly, "you don't know!  If you did you'd have some feelin', but you don't know all, you don't know all."

    There was evidently something behind this doleful whine, and Zeph lifted his head inquiringly, whilst Wilky, taking his pipe out of his mouth and holding it in a waiting attitude, demanded snarlingly—

    "Wot don't we know?"

    "It's not the blow as t' doctor's feared on, it's summat worse! summat w-o-r-s-e!"

    The men on the bench exchanged glances, and a look of impending penitence came upon Wilky's scowling face.  He was not going to admit anything, however, too hastily, and so he demanded shortly—

    "Wot is it, then?  What'st' owd jolloper say?"

Sampson looked as though he were not going to reply, but covetous of his full meed of pity, and proud of having acquired a brand-new scientific term, he leaned forward suddenly, tapped the broker's foot, which projected from the bench on the level of the ordinary man's knee, and dropping into a tragic whisper, he said—

    "It's mental gitis."

    The painter was perfectly satisfied with the effect of his announcement upon his friends; they had never, either of them, heard of the disease, at any rate under this staggering name, and were therefore duly impressed, for to have been sceptical of a man's need of sympathy when his son was in danger of disease with such an awful title, and which they both concluded was some new and terrible form of insanity, would have seemed hard-hearted indeed, and Wilky was just asking in a much softer tone what it "gitis" meant, when the super. appeared in the doorway.  Instead, however, of saluting them, he carefully closed the door, which was usually left open for Wilky's convenience, and then stepped up to the debaters.

    It was evident at once that there was something in the wind, and the friends looked first at him and then at each other.

    "Well, Brother Ledger, I've got to the bottom of it.  Ah, it's a bad business—the scoundrel!"

    "Sir, my John a scoundrel!" cried Sampson, ready for another bath of the martyr spirit, but the super. broke in upon him—

    "No, no! John's a hero; he's a brick, poor lad.  He's got this by standing up for the cause, but let me tell you"—and then he plunged off into the whole story.  Old Pashley had come in from Trundlegate to report on Ferridge's outrageous conduct entirely ignorant of what had happened to John.  The super. had put the two things together instantly, and when he told his visitor the sad sequel he was white with sorrow and indignation.  Pashley was for going to the police station at once, but the super., who was a great believer in the virtues of second thoughts, asked him to wait a while.  But Pashley had insisted, and they had seen the superintendent of police, who, whilst he agreed with them that there was only one conclusion to be drawn, asked them to leave the matter in his hands, as, of course, nothing could be done without direct evidence of the assault.  This, and much more, the minister told the amazed and outraged friends, but whilst begging them to keep eyes and ears open, he cautioned them against circulating the information until the required proofs should be obtained.

    Sampson was now most genuinely distressed; but as the little broker watched him, he was not quite satisfied; there was something in the haggard look and frightened eyes that excited his most uneasy suspicions.  But everything else was forgotten in the presence of this dastardly outrage.  Before the super. had got halfway through his tale Wilky had shuffled off the bench and was walking backwards and forwards, stamping his puny feet and threatening direst consequences to the "wastril" Ferridge.  He stretched up his four feet something, and shook his fat little fist and vowed he would break every bone in the mighty Ferridge body; he would horsewhip him, he would shoot him dead as a herring, and finally, he would spend his last shilling in "lawing" him.

    "Mr. Drax, there's somebody wants you," cried a little girl, cautiously opening the door just as Wilky reached the climax of his threats, but the enraged broker chased her away with a roar, and banging the door and returning, poured out a fresh volley of denunciations of John's enemy.  As he talked he glanced now and then at Sampson, but that worthy still preserved a most unusual and ominous silence, and avoided the other's eye.

    The super. listened a little absently to Wilky's tirade, and was moving towards the door, when it was opened by a stranger, who, putting his head inside and dodging it first to one side and then to the other in a vain effort to see past the minister, called out—

    "Is Wilky here?  Now then, what do you want for yond' owd rocking-chair?"

    "Old! old!" cried Wilky, whisking round and bristling all over with pugnacity.  "It 'ull be a fine sight older afoor thou gets it, man.  It's hantique! hantique hoak, stupid."

    "What's t' price?" demanded the customer, impatiently.

    "T' price?" and Wilky threw his great head back with a sarcastic laugh.  "T' price is sixpence halfpenny an' a set of mahogany drawers thrown in, that's about thy figure, isn't it?"

    "How will ten shillin' do?" and with a patience born of much experience the buyer held the door in his hand and waited for Wilky's return to reasonableness.

    "Ten shillin'!" and Wilky looked unutterably indignant, but all the same he strolled leisurely towards the door and followed his customer across the street, snarling and sniffing as he went.

    The bargain, however, was soon struck, and the little broker started to return to the paint shop; but as he noticed that the super. was leaving, he stopped in the middle of the road, surveyed meditatively his own place of business, turned slowly back and glanced over the various articles in front of his shop with a sort of weary contempt.  Then he entered the shop itself; it was crammed from floor to ceiling with new and second-hand goods, the only signs of orderly arrangement being in the neighbourhood of the window.  Glancing still more discontentedly at the inside stock, he passed on and entered the back room.  This was smaller than the other by the width of a staircase, but was in the same disorderly and overcrowded condition, and it was not without difficulty that he wriggled his way to an oversized armchair upholstered in an undecipherable pattern of print.  A pouch-like box hung on the outside arm of the chair, and it was full of old newspapers, letters, Circuit and prayer-leaders' plans, a choice selection of pipes in various stages of blackness and disrepair, half-used packets of tobacco, and a heterogeneous collection of indescribable odds and ends.  A fire, half-choked with ashes, was maintaining a sulky sort of struggle in the grate, and the mantelpiece, besides a bewildering variety of odds and ends of ornaments, supported three mirrors, leaning one against the other.  Wilky kicked a footstool which had a spittoon let into the top of it towards the chair, and hastily mounting to the seat settled down with his pipe.

    From where he sat he could see his own face and head in the far corner of the front mirror, and as he turned his thoughts about in his mind he glanced at the reflection of himself in the dusty glass, much as a man looks at a friend with whom he is holding a conversation.

    Wilky's face was puckered in serious cogitation and the smoke came through his lips in short rapid puffs.  At last he raised his eyes, and looking at the mirror, shook his head like a person who is having foisted upon him an insufficient explanation, and jerked out—

    "I don't like it, Wilkinson, I don't."

    Then he puffed away furiously at his pipe with renewed glances at the mirror, and presently leaning forward and scowling at himself in the glass, he demanded fiercely—

    "Ferridge is a club collector an' rent an' debt collector an' money lender, isn't he?"

    The Wilky in the mirror must have made some sort of reluctant but inaudible concession, for after a moment's pause the Wilky in the chair leaned forward and went on—

    "An' yond' owd muddle-head's allus up to t' eyes i' money messes, isn't he?"

    The significant glare with which the broker in the chair transfixed the broker in the glass ought to have driven comprehension even into quicksilver, but as there was still some evidence of doubt on the point, Wilky, with a snarl of impatience, went on—

    "Well, what did he say?  What did he look like when Ferridge was mentioned?"

    The obtuse man in the mirror was seemingly not even yet quite convinced, but to Wilky it appeared so perfectly clear, that he dropped back into his chair with a sigh.

    "It's there, Wilky, it's there, lad! and that rapscallion 'ull slip through our fingers."  And then, as the thought seemed to cut him to the quick, he kicked the footstool away and sprang to his feet.  "Will he? confound him!  I'll show him!  I'll show him, if I swing for it."

    But at this moment there was a cry of "Paper!" in the shop.  Wilky, still boiling with indignation, toddled into the front place, picked up the copy of the Bramwell Mercury, and was soon ensconced in his chair again, and reading with wrathful maledictions an account of a "dastardly outrage on a local preacher."

    There was nothing else in the paper that interested him, and so after reading the half column for a second time, he let the paper drop upon his knees and was soon in a brown study.  A few minutes later he was roused from his reverie by a summons into the shop, and after a characteristic wrangle with a woman who thought she knew what sort of furniture paste she wanted, he suddenly popped the article he was offering back upon the shelf, and turning his back upon the customer, left her standing in the shop.  He fell back so deep into his chair that his diminutive legs stuck straight out like railway signal arms.  He remained in this condition until another idea came, and he got down upon the floor again.  He stood staring broodingly into the fire for a little while, and then laid his pipe carefully down, brushed the tobacco ashes from his waistcoat, looked himself over from head to foot, and finished by dolefully scrutinising his hands.  Then he stood upon the stool to get the full benefit of the mirror, pulled the knot of his dingy scarf back into its place, took his hat off, and hastily smoothed down his still abundant hair, picked up the paper, and assuming an amiable and even affectionate expression that made his pugnacious face look almost handsome, he stepped to the staircase, toiled softly and painfully up, and just as he reached the top, commenced in the tenderest of tones—

    "Well, how's my little love this morning?"

    The little love turned out to be a woman, tall beyond the wont of women, but so finely proportioned that her height was not particularly noticeable.  She had an abundance of wavy brown hair, a broad white forehead, soft violet eyes, and a complexion so delicately pink and white as to suggest, along with the puffy flesh of her fingers, the invalid.  She was reclining on a low wide couch, and wore a rather faded, but neatly fitting, blue dressing-gown of some soft material.  The room, which was large and airy, though rather low, was almost luxuriously furnished, and gave evidence everywhere of a refinement rather unexpected under the roof of the little broker.

    Mrs. Drax was suffering from some obscure and chronic spinal complaint, which kept her in her room for months together, but the smooth, unwrinkled face, the baby dimples, and the gentle, pensive expression gave little indication of suffering, and none at all of complaint.  Everybody had marvelled when this handsome popular woman married the cross-grained and misshapen little broker, and put it down to woman's incomprehensible whim; and nobody, not even the smiling bride herself, knew that Wilky, her father's executor, had sacrificed all his little savings to cover her father's name from dishonour when he died and left nothing but debts; and the staggering stock of new goods which the little broker crowded into his shop immediately after his marriage was taken, as he intended it should be, as an indication that her money had set him up.  That this ill-assorted couple loved each other passionately was evident the moment Wilky entered the room.  There was a welcoming smile on the invalid's face, and the crusty husband looked almost ridiculous with his lover-like smirks and grins.  It is not for us to pry too closely into the little billings and cooings of this couple of everlasting lovers; suffice it to say, that in a few moments Wilky brought gravity into the fair face on the sofa as he cautiously broke the news of John's misfortune.  She was secretly one of John's champions, and had kept her husband from disliking the shy, reserved lad she did not understand.

    Presently Wilky squatted down on a hassock by the side of the couch, and carefully unfolding the paper, read in an emphatic, official sort of tone the paragraph relating to the outrage.  There was a tear of soft sympathy in Mrs. Drax's eye when her husband had finished, but when he noticed it he crushed the paper between his hand, and flinging it away from him, burst out with a return to his old manner—

    "Now then, silly old stupid, I'll never tell you anything again.  Look at me, I don't go snivelling about every little thing," and in confirmation of this statement the little man, whose voice had already broken suspiciously, walked to the front window and demonstratively blew his nose.  And whilst Wilky was trying to convince himself that his quick sympathy with his wife's pitifulness had not compromised his manhood, she was leaning back upon the couch meditating.

    "Wilky," she said at last, "come here, my man."

    With a reluctant, aggrieved look on his face, as though he already guessed what she was going to say, he drew near the sofa, and resumed his place on the hassock.  Mrs. Drax looked musingly at him for a moment, and then softly stroking his hair, she said—

    "Can't we help them, Wilky?"

    "Us?  How can we?  The old chap's a muddler, goes staring at t' stars and tumbling in t' gutter; an' t' others is as proud as pouters."

    "John is a good lad, Wilky."

    "Ay, good for gettin' into hobbles an' making silly women cry."

    Mrs. Drax waited a little, and toyed with a stray tag of her husband's hair, and then she said, gently—

    "I know somebody who would have cried—she—she—she—thought the world of poor John."

    Wilky made an exclamation, and his face grew suddenly pathetic, whilst he shot a frightened sort of look at a large photo in an elaborate frame which stood on the table, at the head of the sofa.  It was the picture of their only child, who had been dead some time, and who had been John's child sweetheart.

    Wilky was not equal to contending with such pleas and such a pleader, and so he gave an inarticulate grunt, and catching the sound of knocking downstairs, he made haste to escape, and when he had disposed of the customer he did not return, but took-refuge in his arm-chair, and charged his pipe.  For some minutes he sat in abstracted silence, then he began to intersperse his puffs with surly grunts and little "Tchats!" and "Boshes!" mingled with sarcastic little laughs.  Then he grew silent, and began to rub the stem of his pipe in his hair.  This action was followed by a fit of open-eyed astonishment, and a great self-satisfied grin spread itself over his face.  He followed this up by leaning back in his chair and treating himself to a series of triumphant chuckles, and at last he got up, winked wickedly at himself in the mirror, and waddled off to his old rendezvous at the paint shop.


 
CHAPTER IX.

"AND SOME HAVE GREATNESS THRUST UPON THEM."


THE next day or two brought little or no light on the mysterious attack which had been made upon young Ledger.  The superintendent of police reported after careful search that he could find no clue as to the offender.  Pashley had openly charged Ferridge with the assault, and had been ordered off the premises, and on Wednesday it was known that the suspected man had left the town, but had been insulted and hustled by indignant townspeople at the station.  John had by this time recovered consciousness, but could give no information, and protested as energetically as he was able against any action being taken against a man they only suspected.

    On Thursday Wilky was thrown into a state of excitement by the receipt of a lawyer's letter charging him with slandering "our client Mr. T. Ferridge," and threatening legal proceedings.  It was a sight to see the little broker.  He kicked his favourite footstool as far as the crowded condition of the little back room would allow; he strutted before the fire and threatened Ferridge and his "swindling lawyer" with "Court of Queen's Bench" and every other legal bogie he could think of.  For timidly inquiring if he would have some more coffee (he received the missive during breakfast) he rushed at Julia Ann, the little rough, cross-eyed servant, and drove her in terror into the kitchen, and then strode across the road and poured out the vials of his wrath on the melancholy Sampson.  It was well into the forenoon before he was calm enough to venture into his wife's presence, and when he had told her his tale she reminded him that the money he proposed to spend in fighting the case would be needed for a little project they had hatched together, and on the accomplishment of which she had set her heart.  Wilky allowed himself to be persuaded, of course, but that did not prevent him denouncing Ferridge whenever he had the opportunity, and hinting with darkened face at mysterious but exemplary vengeance.

    A week passed away, and John began to show decided signs of recovery, but even then could add nothing to what was already known about the causes of his sufferings, and protested, in a way that disgusted Wilky, that it was not right to condemn any man on mere suspicion.  The fact was, John was already occupied with domestic anxieties that put himself and his calamities out of his mind.  Sallie had shown him just such attentions as were neighbourly, and no more, and though she called several times she always contrived to keep his mother in conversation, and went away leaving him disappointed and perplexed.  And then the mill went on short time, and was only running four days a week, which meant that his wages when he returned to work would be little more than they had been before his promotion, and the old struggle with poverty would have to be renewed.

    Whilst John and his people were occupied with these anxieties Wilky had concerns of his own, which evidently took up much of his time and thought.  He was known to have a strong prejudice against medical men, but for some inscrutable reason or other he suddenly struck up a violent friendship with old Deevers the doctor, who had attended John, and one day the medico greatly surprised the Ledgers and increased their distress by announcing that John must on no account go back to the mill at present, but that, for some months at least, he must have light outdoor occupation, which would not be too great a strain upon his constitution.

    Sampson's face was long and woeful when he reported these things to Wilky, but it grew positively frightful as the little broker confirmed the medical verdict, and declared he could have told them that John was sickening months before the assault.

    "Many are the afflictions of the righteous," sighed Sampson, rolling his eyes upward.

    "It's more nor we can say for their brains," snapped Wilky.  "Some folks goes whining about taking up their cross when they ought to be walloped wi' it!  Resignation he broke in, as Sampson sighed out the word.  Resignation be blowed!  It's common sense as we want.  There's lots o' folk resignated into their graves wi' their do-less relations."

    It was quite a different tune, however, which he sang to John's mother.  He usually treated that suffering soul much as he treated his own wife, and when, after two fruitless visits, he found her alone, he affected both surprise and delight at the information she had to impart.

    "Sarve him right!" he grunted, with a not quite successful attempt at the usual gruffness.  "It's t' best thing as could a' come to him.  There's some silly folk i' this world as hez to be wolloped to bring 'em out.  He's no more made to be a sal-fac (self-acting) minder nor I'm fit for a harkangil."

    And then he suddenly stopped, poised himself on tip-toe, made a grab at the anxious mother's neck as though about to kiss her, and pulling her head down and placing his mouth at her ear, he whispered huskily—

    "The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower."

    Ten minutes later he was standing in his own back room and grinning from ear to ear.  He nodded and chuckled at himself in the mirror, and cried delightedly—

    "It's working, Wilky lad, it's working!"

    That week-end the Bramwell Mercury contained the following advertisement:—


WANTED.—A Young Man as Assistant, and to make himself generally useful.  One accustomed to plain painting and polishing preferred.  Apply to Wilkinson Drax, Broker, Station Road.


    The little man, who pretended to a supreme contempt for all newspapers, could not wait for the boy to bring his Mercury along with the other weekly publications he patronised, but was at the office a few minutes before the time of publication, and gave the shop girl a most uncomfortable time of it as he strutted about the place and fumed and snapped about the unpunctuality of tradespeople, especially printers; and when at length he got possession of a damp copy he hurried off home, and sitting in his chair, read it over and over again with great delight, and then took it upstairs to show to his wife.  Some half-dozen applicants presented themselves during Friday evening, and three more on Saturday, but Wilky seemed to know they would not do almost before he had seen them, and dismissed each and all with sarcastic jibes, that sent them away crestfallen and indignant.  About six on Saturday evening he observed Sampson closing the paint shop, and as this seemed in some strange way to be a new grievance to him, he walked across the road and poured out a string of vague but stinging denunciations on the young men of the period.  He evidently expected Sampson to ask questions which would give him the opportunity of introducing the subject of the advertisement, but that worthy was so preoccupied with his own dismal forebodings as to what would become of the family now that the chief bread-winner was out of work, that the palpable "leads" were none of them taken up, and Wilky, as the painter locked up, went back to his own premises in an irritable and explosive frame of mind.

    During Sunday, however, he hit upon another expedient for providing himself with a manservant, and on Monday morning a large furniture paste advertisement card was hung up in the shop window, but the printed side faced inside the shop, and on the back, facing the window, was written in a large, sprawling hand, eked out by numerous capitals, an abbreviated version of the advertisement in the Mercury.  For three whole days the card hung in its place, and though it brought several new applicants, they seemed even less satisfactory than the others, and Wilky seemed doomed to final disappointment.  During these days, also, he made several clumsy excuses for bringing the card under the notice of the painter, but Sampson either could not or would not understand, and at last he told a wonderful story of a wholesale man who had sent him some rascally apology for varnish, which he declared was nothing but black treacle.  So outrageous a case naturally appealed to Sampson's professional sympathies, and at last he strolled across the road with his companion to inspect the offending preparation.  The chairs upon which the varnish had been tried had been placed immediately under the advertisement, and when Sampson had decided that the varnish in question, though poor, was varnish, he raised his eyes and caught sight of the notice.  Wilky began to hum "Rock of Ages," and, turning his back to the window, became much interested in the proceedings of a young butcher who was trying to get a bullock down a passage.  Sampson had now finished his inspection of the advertisement, and become suddenly very thoughtful, whilst the broker still hummed away at his tune.  Wilky could get nothing further out of his friend, who seemed to be in a most unusual hurry to get home, but as soon as he had gone Wilky hurried back into the shop and up the stairs, and burst in upon his smiling wife with a triumphant "It's workin', love; he's limed, he is by dings!"

    Wilky was in such uncommon spirits that he invited himself to take tea with his wife, and kept up a brisk prophecy all through the meal as to the results of the little plot he was working out, whatever that might be.  Between seven and eight that night the broker, having brought in the goods that usually stood on the pavement, and piled them higgledy-piggledy in the shop, put down the door latch and planted himself in his chair in evident expectation of a visitor.  He was impatient and fidgety, and looked uneasily at his watch every minute or two.  No one appearing, however, he was just resolving to lock up and retire when the door-bell rang.  Wilky immediately fell back in his chair, assumed an air of weary indifference, and bawled out to the invisible visitor—

    "Well, what is it?"

    "It is I, John Ledger, Mr. Drax."

    "Well, what are you standing there for?  Come in, man."

    When John reached the back room Wilky had taken on the expression of one utterly weary of life and who could not be interested in anything.

    "I came to see—"

    "You came!  An' what business has a pale-faced invalid as is on his club to be out at this time and i' this wind?"

    But though the tone was rasping, the manner was indifference itself.

    "I'm all right, Mr. Drax.  I'm ready for work again, and I've come to see you about this advertisement."

    "Thee!"

    And Wilky's wondering amazement might have deceived even a sharper fellow than John Ledger.

    "Yes, the doctor says I'm to have some employment that is less confining for a time."

    Wilky rolled his big ruffled head about against the back of the chair with long and apparently very decided shakes.

    "Did anybody ever hear of such a thing?  Why, man, what does thou know about furniture?"

    "Not much; but I'm a painter's son, you know, and used to plain painting and polishing."

    Wilky's head-shakes were longer and more decided than ever.

    "What's t' use o' talkin', man?  I want somebody as is as strong as a elephant.  Look at all this ruck of lumber!"

    The little man had the air of one who was being pressed into a thing that was plainly impossible, and seemed in danger of losing his temper.

    "John, it's ridiculous.  What's t' use of harguing?  What does thou know about furniture?  And then look at t' hours.  Seven i' t' morning to eight at night, half-past nine o' Fridays, an' ten-thirty o' Saturdays."

    "I don't mind the hours.  Will you try me for a short time?"

    "Try thee!  Oh, for goodness sake, shut up, man!  I cannot pay minder's wages, man; t' furniture trade isn't a gold mine!"

    "What were you thinking of paying, Mr. Drax?"

    "Oh, hush man! it won't do at all, it really won't," and Wilky looked exasperated almost to the explosive point.  But he had not answered John's question, and as the young fellow was still waiting for a reply Wilky went on, as a painfully reluctant concession toohn's aggravating persistence, "Five an' twenty shillin' a week's my figger, that's all."

    "I'll be glad to come for that, and even less if you'll try me."

    "Confound it!" and Wilky rose and stood one leg on the footstool and one on the floor.  "Don't aggravate me, man! it won't do at all!"

    John sighed, and looked disappointed; and Wilky, studying his face by slyly squinting into the mirror, saw that for the first time he was giving up the contest.

    "If I thought thou"—the broker began with the first sign of wavering in his face, but then, after looking hard at his visitor for a moment, he continued, "I want a helper bad enough, but it won't do! it won't do!"  And he settled himself in his chair as though he had settled the question, and wouldn't allow of its being reopened.

    John turned reluctantly to the door, keen disappointment in every line of his face; but as he began to move off the broker resumed—

    "Look here," and he pulled him into the shop, and showed him all the topsy-turvy, dusty, greasy piles of furniture, and John, as he glanced from one to the other, was fain to admit that there would be work enough for a time, but he still declared he would only like the job of bringing order into this confusion.

    Wilky "pish"-ed and "pshaw"-ed, and prophesied that he would not stick to it a week.

    "If only you'll give me the chance, Mr. Drax!"

    "Chance! chance!" and the broker was apparently quite exasperated, "if thou will break thy back thou shall do it!  Come on Monday mornin', and if thou doesn't repent afoor t' first day's out I'll—I'll eat my hat!"

    And when John, joyful and a little surprised, left him a minute or two later at the shop door, Wilky returned hastily to the back room, and mounting upon his footstool, made a series of indescribably grotesque grimaces at himself in the mirror, finishing with a grand comprehensive wink that involved his whole face.

    Wilky saw John every day between the interview just described and the commencement of his new employment, and on each occasion he had some fresh objection to the arrangement, and several strong reasons why John would not do at all, and the young minder was thus kept in a tantalising condition of uncertainty.

    During the same period also Wilky was engaged upon some rather mysterious operations of his own.  He removed some of the stock accumulated round the big chair in his room, and though it produced much perspiration and many unparliamentary objurgations, he at last succeeded in his purpose, and having made room for it, brought a dingy old bookcase and fixed it up in the corner next to the fire, and between that and the back window; being careful, for some strange reason or another, not to disturb the dust.  Then he ferreted out a rickety old stationery case, which he stocked with writing materials, and placed on the bottom shelf of the bookcase.  To these he added a couple of dog-eared ledgers, and several greasy account books.  Then he raked together from different parts of the premises a number of books—odd volumes of commentaries, several more or less venerable theological treatises, the "Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers" (complete), with a miscellaneous stock of literature, all more or less theological and Methodistic.  Many people in Wilky's place would have dusted the shelves and knocked the books together, but the broker, for some hidden reason that gave him secret amusement, took particular pains not to disturb the dust.  A few of the books were modern, and their owner regarded their comparative newness with dissatisfaction, and taking them down, doubled over the leaves here and there, and ran a dirty thumb down the creases to make them look old.

    On the Friday morning the shop was closed, for Wilky had gone to Manchester, and when he returned, for a late dinner, he brought with him another parcel of books, all new.  They were works on modern theology, with a couple on preaching, and a one-volume history of Methodism.  When he placed these additions by the side of the others the result made him shake his head.  Then he rearranged them, sandwiching the new ones between older volumes, but the result was not even then satisfactory.  He was getting a little impatient by this time, and after standing back and critically surveying the little library, he dashed recklessly at one of the most staringly new of the books and rubbed it vigorously, back and sides, in the dust lying thickly about on the furniture.  He did the same with each of the new volumes, and was just beginning to look more satisfied with the result, when he discovered that most of them were uncut; and so, when the shop was closed that night, he went ruthlessly through them all—doubling down leaves here, marking paragraphs with a joiner's lead pencil there, and, in fact, doing everything he could think of to give the books the appearance of having been purchased some time before, and at least partly read.  There was one tome that particularly provoked him; do what he would it still persisted in presenting a glaringly new appearance, and so at last he took off the much-thumbed cover from one of his wife's story books and cased the offending volume in it; completing the whole thing by going through the book on Sunday afternoon and marking it here and there, and even going to the length, now and again, of adding sarcastic marginal annotations.  This was a new compendium of theology, then very popular in Methodism, and when he had sufficiently disfigured it, and subdued its scandalous newness, he took it downstairs and threw it on the lowest shelf of the bookcase, and then began to beat the dust out of the surrounding upholstery so that some of it would settle on the book.

    He received John on Monday morning in his very crustiest manner, and as he consumed his own breakfast he held out once more on the enormous quantity of work to be done.  First of all he wanted his own room made tidy, and instructed him to clear out some of the rubbish and "titivate" things up a bit; dwelling with anxious particularity upon the fact that the bookcase was not to be disturbed any more than was absolutely necessary.  John, whose mouth watered as he glanced over the volumes, felt a momentary surprise that he had never noticed them before; but as they had the appearance of having been there for a long time he put it down to his lack of observation, and secretly hoped to get a peep now and then at the insides of the works.

    For several weeks the young assistant worked hard, gradually introducing some sort of order and cleanliness into the business, and trying to get rid of his own disappointment concerning Sallie by putting all his energies into his work.  Everything both in the back room and the front shop was soon as straight as a new pin, and then that inextricable medley in the back warehouse behind the kitchen was attacked and finally subjugated. Between-whiles, John was taking peeps at Wilky's books, and though a little surprised to see his master in possession of so much modern theology, as he was not naturally very curious he never pursued the thought, and was hoodwinked by the fact that Wilky made frequent and ostentatious use of the volumes, and would even occasionally read extracts to him and engage him in discussion as to the points raised.  The work began to slacken; little by little the articles requiring to be painted or re-polished got finished, and John began to wonder what his master would find for him to do next.

    The accounts were in a shocking state, however, and these occupied several more weeks, especially as he soon discovered that it was not possible to comprehend them except when his master was at hand to explain the cryptic entries.  But Wilky with somebody in charge was rapidly developing roving propensities; sales seemed to come with amazing frequency, and he often absented himself for hours together when there was no such things to attend to.  The little broker, moreover, developed peculiar views of business, and after the shop had once been made something like decent he laid it down as an inflexible rule that when he was away, and John was in sole charge, he must do nothing else but attend to the shop.  He might read a newspaper or even a book, the master conceded, but he must be at liberty to attend to the shop with the utmost promptitude immediately a customer appeared.  Which goes to prove that precept and practice are not always the same things even with furniture brokers.

    Left thus to himself and with much time on his hands, John was drawn more and more to Wilky's book-shelves, and gradually began to realise that when the time came to leave his present employment and return to the mill, the hardest things to part with would be these same precious volumes.  All the same the long hours he spent in reading made him increasingly uneasy, for it was as plain to him as anything could be that now, at any rate, he was not earning the money Wilky paid him.  It was summer by this time, and one Saturday evening, as he was returning from delivering a repaired chair, he was attracted by a small crowd standing round what was still called the market cross and listening to a speaker.  He was evidently some sort of Socialist, and the jibes he was throwing out about the Government and the aristocracy were stale enough, and John was just moving on when he was arrested by a few cheap sneers at religion.  The crowd laughed and seemed to relish the sneers, and so the speaker went further and began to hold forth on the discrepancies of Scripture and its many and flagrant self-contradictions.  John was piqued, but interested; and the crowd showed its concern by dropping into silence.  Elated at the attention he had awakened, the speaker, who had a ready tongue and sharp wits, went further, and was just holding up to ridicule certain passages of Scripture when John, as much to his own astonishment as to anybody else's, cried out indignantly, "Fair play!"

    "What?  What's that young ranter say?" cried the orator.  "Nay, don't duck your soft head, my budding theologian; come up here and don't be afraid to back your opinion."

    "I'm not afraid," cried John, and in a moment he was at the speaker's side.

    The Socialist obsequiously made room and flung out certain witty remarks about John's personal appearance which mightily tickled the audience; and then turning blandly to the young minder, he cried—

    "Now, my young Boanerges, speak up, and let us hear what you have to say."

    "I've nothing to say," said John, "except that you are using one of the favourite tricks of your class and not quoting Scripture, but mis-quoting it."

    "Ah! who'd have thought it?  He doesn't look much like a Regius Professor of Divinity, ladies and gentlemen, does he?  Looks rather like a Salvation Army soldier that's been drummed out.  Now, General Booth, tell us what it is I've misquoted.  Order! ladies and gentlemen; listen to this compressed philosophy."

    John's spirit was stirred.  He felt that this man was trying to make him lose his temper, but he felt cool, astonishingly cool, he reflected afterwards. And so, turning to the crowd, he said—

    "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm not criticising this gentleman's arguments, nor you for listening to him, but you'll all agree that if a man quotes he ought to quote correctly."

    "Hear! hear!" said one or two, and the orator drew himself up, turned up the collar of his coat, and pulling a long, sanctimonious face, whined out, "A-m-e-n!"

    John waited, and observed that whilst a few laughed at the mountebank's jeers, others looked a little disgusted.

    "I think the gentleman mentioned St. John's gospel; well, there is no such passage in St. John at all."

    The lecturer began to fumble hastily in the inside pocket of his coat, evidently seeking some pamphlet.

    "He quoted it as a saying of Jesus Christ's.  It is nothing of the sort!  It is a saying of the Pharisees, his opponents, and you will find it in the gospel by St. Mark.  As for that last phrase of his, I should like to ask him where, in the Bible, he found that?"

    "The walking dictionary!  The infant prodigy!" began the orator.

    "Answer him! no shuffling!  Answer him!" cried several delighted ones in the crowd.

    "Gentlemen, we have got here the infant Spurgeon, the—"

    "Answer him! answer him!"

    "Gentlemen," said John quietly, "I'll answer myself.  The passage is not in the Bible at all; it is a bit of Young's 'Night Thoughts.'"

    The crowd cheered and commenced to laugh, and John, elated and valiant, plunged off into a description of some of the social and political blessings Christianity had brought, and then reminded them that he was their townsman and had nothing to gain by deceiving them; and then he tumbled out confusedly a bit of his own religious experience, and when at the end of ten minutes he paused, out of breath, his antagonist was just disappearing behind him.  Some of the crowd began to hustle the retiring and vanquished agitator, and others shouted to John to go on.

    "Friends," he gasped, "I'm a bit out of breath," and then, as a great daring idea flashed across his mind, he went on, "but I'll come here next Saturday night and say something more if you like."

    The crowd cheered, and John, now beginning to feel reaction, got down and speedily made for the furniture shop.  He had many misgivings during the next week and blamed himself not a little for his impulsive offer, but faithfully next Saturday he turned up at his post and preached.  One or two interrupted, but he found their quibbles very easy to dispose of, and soon began to look for them; for his quick replies were the things the audience most enjoyed.  He found no lack of assistants, however, and in a short time the service at the market cross became a regular part of the Saturday evening's proceedings, and began to make its influence felt on some of the working men of the town.

    As time wore on, however, John became more and more uneasy about his position in Wilky's business; the books were now in order and the business had actually increased a little, the people finding John so much easier to deal with than his master; but John knew enough by now to realise that his employer could not afford to pay him, as he was doing, out of the profits of the concern, and, most alarming consideration of all, he had so much time on his hands that he was growing dangerously fond of Wilky's books.  He was, moreover, stronger and healthier than he ever remembered to have been, in his life, having broadened out somewhat and got a more wholesome look about him.  There was no reason therefore why he should not go back to the mill, especially as it had "gone on full time," and just then something happened that precipitated his decision.

    It was the holiday season; the super. was away at Conference, the second minister was busy preaching anniversary sermons in the villages, and so, as usual, local preachers were given the rare distinction of appointments in the circuit chapel.  On the first Sunday in August, Wilky Drax was "planned" for the evening service.  The fixture was a perfectly safe one, for the little broker, grotesque in appearance and brusque of manner, had a very decided gift, and was as popular with the quality for his incisive proverbial philosophy as he was with the rest for his other gifts.  All the same the appointment only came at rare intervals, and all the week previous Wilky was apparently passing through all the struggles of mental production.  First one and then another of his books was consulted and then flung with a petulant "Bosh!" upon the book shelves, and woe to the misguided customer who presumed to "haggle" that week.  Two things, however, puzzled John, one was that his master never seemed to write anything and the other that Wilky never opened the newer volumes which he had so often and so pointedly commended to his assistant.  In the quiet hours of Friday forenoon, the slackest part of the week, Wilky condescended to consult his young employee about a text.  "But Mordecai (pronounced by the furniture man Mor-de-cay-i) bowed not nor did him reverence."  John laughed at the text, but his master seemed no little proud of it and invited his assistant's ideas, and so they slipped off into a long discussion which had no result save a withering condemnation of John's "one-eyed" notions and a sweepingly scornful denunciation of modern commentators.  The discussion piqued John's curiosity and he looked forward to the Sunday evening service with considerable interest. But why did his master spend so very much time in examining the plan and in whispered discussions with resident local preachers?

    Sunday night came and John was in his place under the gallery in good time.  The congregation, as he expected, was small, but better than usual for the time of the year.  The preacher had a reputation for fastidious punctuality, but to-night he was behind time, and when the chapel clock struck six the chapel-keeper had not brought the books into the pulpit.  John consulted his watch and ascertained that the clock was not fast; what had become of Wilky?  Three or four minutes passed and then Barlby, the Society steward, opened the vestry door a few inches, peeped here and there over the chapel; and still no Wilky.  Then the vestry door was opened slightly again, and Barlby looked straight across at John's pew.  John's heart came into his mouth, and he was just wondering for the twentieth time what had happened to detain his master when the folding entrance door behind him creaked softly, and a hand was placed on his shoulder.

    "Come and open the service," whispered Carr, the junior steward.  "Barlby's gone to seek Wilky."

    John turned round with a suddenly whitened face and gasped, "I cannot.  Get some of the others."

    "You are the only local here.  Come on!"

    John's mother, who was sitting next to him, gave him a gentle nudge, and, scarcely knowing what he did, he got up and followed the steward into the vestry.  It took five minutes to get his consent, but as Carr had now been joined by three other alarmed officials, and they all insisted upon it, he at length consented to commence the service, but only when he was assured that Barlby had actually gone to seek Wilky.  His master had sent in the hymns the day before, but, though that seemed reassuring, John could not help fearing that his employer had found Mordecai too much for him.  There were astonished and inquiring looks as John, with shaking legs, ascended the stairs into the tall pulpit, and his voice shook so that his trembling mother bowed her head and prayed.  The hymn over and the prayer concluded John announced the chant, and looked round anxiously towards the vestry door.  It opened sure enough, but only Barlby, red and perspiring, emerged.

    "I've knocked and knocked but I cannot get in," said the steward, standing on the pulpit steps whilst the singing proceeded.  "He must have gone away; you'll have to go on."

    "I can't go on, I really can't," gasped John.

    "There's nothing else for it.  Go on, lad, and God help thee," and Barlby descended the stairs and walked off to his pew.

    John broke out into a cold sweat, and then raising his eyes for the first time he glanced round the chapel in search of some other preacher.  They were not there, but the deep steep gallery half full of worshippers was there, and he felt as if it was coming over upon him to crush him.  But the singing stopped and he had to get up hastily and read.  Then more singing, and the poor preacher realised that the sermon came next.  He put his hand into his pocket and discovered to his relief the notes of an old discourse; he tried to read them, but the writing ran together and danced before his eyes.  He felt as though he were choking.  One more glance at that awful gallery, one more appealing look at that inexorable red baize vestry door, and then the singing ceased, and he was face to face with his fearful ordeal.  He tried to commence, but the insides of his lips seemed to have upon them a thick coating of glue and cracked as he parted them.  The chapter and verse of the text could only be heard by a few; the words seemed muffled, and a passionate impulse to burst into tears came to John, and he lifted his eyes helplessly towards the gallery.  And that look saved him; that overpowering collection of men and women all at once became a powerful magnet; the sight of those faces woke the preacher in him, his brain cleared; suddenly an unnatural collectedness came upon him, and in a full, clear voice he began to speak.

    A Methodist congregation is always interested and sympathetic towards a case of this kind, and the attention which the Bramwell worshippers gave to the preacher cured him for the time of all undue nervousness.  It was seen at once that he would never be the man his father had been; words, instead of rolling and tumbling one over each other as they did when the elder Ledger occupied the pulpit, now came one by one, slowly and with sparing economy; picked words evidently, and short but "grippy" sentences; instead of the bubbling, sparkling headlong rush, such as the older Methodist loved, there came a quiet deep stream.  Presently some of the men began to look round at each other and nod, but the preacher did not see them, he was now wholly a messenger of the skies, not a factory lad and the son of a working man; all that was lost sight of, his message was everything.

    It filled him, it mastered him, and took absolute possession.  He was confident enough now, but it was confidence in the truth he uttered, and its fitness for the needs of his hearers; self was absolutely forgotten.  Coolly, quietly, with simple epigrammatic terseness, and with phrases that were half pictures, he argued his case, and when finally, after a three minutes' strong appeal, he finished, the congregation looked round in astonishment to discover that he had been preaching a full half-hour.  As wine leaves its flavour in the cup, so the inflation of the moment clung to John and kept him up during the concluding part of the service.  It was fast passing away, however, and by the time he came to the benediction self-consciousness had returned, and he crept down the pulpit stairs with a sickening sense of failure.

    "John! John!" whispered Barlby, meeting him at the foot of the stairs.  "Thou's forgotten the prayer-meeting."

    With another pang of shame John hurried back and gave out a hymn, and as he timidly found his way down into the communion the congregation dismissed, a few only remaining for the after-service.  The people from the gallery, however, came in, in some numbers, and when the prayers commenced John bowed his head on the communion table and gave way to acute mental distress.

    "Another prayer, please," he said in absent, perfunctory manner, at the first pause, and a great gush of emotion swelled up within him as he heard suddenly a voice he had never listened to before in that building—the voice of his silent, suffering mother.  She seemed inspired, her face shone, though her voice shook; she made no reference to the service, she was praying for the ungodly, the careless, the lukewarm, and in the midst of her low, intense pleadings John heard a sound of pew doors being opened and a scrambling of feet, and raising his head, lo! there were three of the rough fellows he had harangued on succeeding Saturday nights at the market-cross being now led up to the penitent form, and as he choked back the rush of emotion, it welled up afresh in irresistible gushes, as, looking round, he saw his favourite sister Lucy rise from her place, step past the still pleading mother, and kneel down by the side of the men.  This is the sort of scene that appeals to all Methodists, and when at length the after-meeting closed the elders present crowded round John and made his heart burn with gratitude, and a sort of joy to which he was a stranger, as they congratulated him on the "good time" he had had.

    John, shyly happy, wanted to get away, but just as he was turning into the vestry a woman from the free seats suddenly pushed her way to him, and seizing his hand cried, "God bless thee! thou'rt but a lad, but thou's found me a lost husband to-night;" and behind her a shaking old body raised her chin over a bystander's shoulder and said, "I'd sooner be thy mother than Queen of England."  Then there was a cry in a distant pew, and John's mother was seen hugging her newly-converted daughter, and John, abashed but happy, was glad to escape.  He did not get clear away though, without several other congratulations, and when he did so his first thought was what had happened to Wilky.  He hurried off to see, and found, in spite of Barlby's positive statements, the furniture shop door wide open.  He could hear many voices all talking together as he entered, and when he reached the back-room there were three local preachers, his father and old Butterworth the exhorter; whilst sitting in the big chair, muffled up and bewrapped as if it had been winter, and he had taken a severe cold, was Wilky, who, as soon as he caught sight of John, pulled a long face, rolled up the whites of his eyes, and groaning out, "I've gotten t'mental gitis," burst into a loud triumphant guffaw.


 
CHAPTER X.

SOME STONES FOR THE OTHER POCKET.


"MASTER, I want to speak to you; I want to give you a week's notice."

    "Eh? what?  Don't bother me, I'm reading," and Wilky became absorbed again in his newspaper, only John observed that it was the sporting page and was therefore not deceived.

    "I want to leave you next Saturday night."

    "That's it!  That's it," and Wilky threw the newspaper from him, gave the footstool a savage kick, and sprang down from his chair.  "Another blown-up bladder!  Another young jackass as canna carry corn.  He takes his wages in a second-hand shop o' Saturday night an' says, 'Thank you,' but canna look at nowd less nor a harchbishop or a president o' t' Conference 'cause he preached i' t' circuit chapel o' t' Sunday."

    John listened patiently to this outburst, and then shook his head with a quiet smile and said―

    "Ah, master, I've found you out."

    "Eh?  Me!  Well, that's a walloper!  What next?" and Wilky put on an excellent pretence of injured innocence, but laughter and triumphant recollection gleamed in his eyes, and his mouth twitched mischievously at the corner.

    "You never wanted an assistant at all, Mr. Drax, you only wanted to help me."

    "He's off it!  He's fair off his chump!  That owd woman's blather and soft sawder last night has turned his silly head."

    John waited until the tirade was finished and then went on—

    "And I've found out what those books in the corner mean, too."

    "Books!  Has thou been reading my books?  I don't allow nobody to touch them;" but as Wilky had seen him reading the volumes times without number, this last response only went to show how hard put to it he was for a reply of any kind.

    "Master," and John's face became grave and his voice thick, "I shall never forget your kindness to me—and—mine—but I cannot let it go on—"

    Wilky jerked his head back with a contemptuous snort, and then with sudden change of thought he dashed at his assistant, grabbed him fiercely by the coat, and looking hard into his face he demanded—

    "An' what about t' ministry?"

    A light came into John's eye.  He drew down the lids to hide it, and answered hesitantly—

    "That we must leave to God, master."

    "That's it!" and Wilky let go his hold and twisted round with a scornful gesture.  "It's goin' to be shoved on God now!  We goes clashin' and mashin' till we're stuck, an' then we turn pious and leaves it to t' Almighty.  We calls it resignation, by jings! when it's nowt but duffin' cowardliness!  Leave it to Almighty! two-thirds of all t' resignation i' t' world is simply lazy lack-o'-pluck.  God helps them as helps thersels, that's my motty."

    "But I don't want to be a minister!"

    "Well, did Moses? an' Isaiah?  Did Paul?  Them as wants, isn't wanted; it's them as doesn't want as get called."

    For a quarter of an hour longer the discussion went on, and as John had gone further this time than he had ever done before, Wilky was afraid to push him more and finally broke off the interview and toddled across to the paint shop.

    Left to himself in the little back room John became the prey of conflicting and anxious thoughts.  His success of the night before had reopened the question of his future, and he did not hide from himself that he would have to face the matter once more.  One thing that had helped him hitherto had been that he lacked that indubitable sign of the call—fruit, but he could now fall back upon that no longer.  The call of the Church, too, now became unmistakable, only the very extravagance of the language used by his new admirers frightened him.  This uneasiness was deepened by the discovery that at the bottom of his heart, kept down by self-mistrust, he now found a new and alarming eagerness which awakened his strongest suspicions.  He had been brought up in a circle in which certain standards of pulpit ability were recognised, and he knew that he did not possess a single one of the qualifications which were regarded as essential.  He had not what was commonly known as the "gift of the gab;" he knew that he could not speak unless he had something to say.  But he did not know then that that was one of the surest guarantees of success, and that one of the most dangerous gifts that a minister can possess is a "fatal facility of speech."

    The compliments he had received the night before had frightened him, but the consciousness that a mysterious change had taken place in his own feelings was more alarming still.  Well, at any rate, he could "sit tight," and in spite of Wilky that was what he would do.  But the question refused to be thus disposed of, and returned again and again.

    The improvement in his health had restored to him some of the natural buoyancy of youth, and his contact with Wilky's hastily collected but seductive library had quickened his natural taste for study, and he was compelled to admit that preaching had become a pleasure to him, though a somewhat fearful one.  If the Church thought he had gifts and insisted upon calling him, it was a serious thing to refuse.  Were there not men he knew, his own father for instance, who had according to local Methodist opinion been unfortunate in all their undertakings because they had, at his age, resisted the call of God?  If he could be sure, if God would condescend to give him some definite sign; if, best of all, God would so order events that he was left without option, he could accept the position with something more than resignation.    But that was the very point; whatever others might say, however constraining the nature of events, he could not for a moment allow himself to suppose that the burden of choice would lie anywhere but upon his own conscience, and if it rested there he had no confidence whatever which justified him in allowing matters to take their own course.

    And supposing he did go forward as a candidate and was accepted, what about the financial considerations involved?  He had during his service with Wilky saved about four pounds, the largest sum he had ever had of his own; his education and maintenance at college would, of course, cost nothing, but he would want some sort of outfit, and several pounds at least would be required for that.  But most serious consideration of all, what would become of his family if his support were withdrawn?  Could they do without him?  They never had done since he could remember, or, at any rate, since he began to work; his father's contributions were never a full man's wages, and every year or two those dreadful crises, which always aged his mother and left a sickening scare on his own mind, came—crises arising from legal proceedings taken by the painter's creditors to recover overdue accounts.  In these matters his father was always secretive, and whilst it was easy to read his mind on most questions, they generally knew nothing of the difficulty until the sheriff's officer walked into the house.

    John had been brought up in circles in which such texts as "Whoso loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me," were interpreted with the baldest literality, and he knew that if he got an indubitable call, mother or no mother, cash or no cash, he would have nothing to do but obey; but as yet there was no such peremptory summons, and he was at liberty to debate these things; and as he did so his heart and even his eyes filled, and he declared again and again to himself that he could not and would not leave his mother to struggle on with the burdens that had crushed all her married life.  His mother had made a sacrifice of position and friends when she married his father, and had instilled into him a feeling of almost awe for his parent, but as he had grown up and come to look at things for himself, he had separated the preacher from the man and had gradually grown to regard himself as his mother's protector.  How could he leave her to fight this endless, hopeless battle of hers alone!  He would not do it; it would be cowardly and selfish!  Nobody should ever worm out of him the real reason, but the patient, heroic woman he loved should not be left to struggle by herself.

    And from one woman his thoughts moved easily to another. He still loved Sallie; she had dismissed him from motives which, if he could not sympathise with, he could perfectly understand.  From the ordinary standpoints of life she was not to blame for being ambitious, and surely not for being ambitious for her lover.  It looked very much as though she had only encouraged him when she thought there was a chance of becoming a minister's wife, but his own pride and the faith born of his love for her, rebuked such a suggestion and he fought it down.  She was a clear-headed girl, and belonged to a shrewd, if rather worldly family; she loved him, but would not show her affection because there seemed no chance of it ever coming to anything, as long as he was only a minder.  When there had appeared to be better prospects for him she had not been able to conceal her joy, but had betrayed her real feelings.  That was the view he took of it.  Once or twice the facts took on a quite ugly appearance as he looked at them, and seem to say that she did not care at all for him for his own sake, and the thought, though he rebuked it as unworthy and unjust to Sallie, somehow would not be altogether silenced.

    He had not seen very much of her since the day of his dismissal.  He had felt humiliated and somewhat embittered when he found himself relegated to that company of snubbed admirers of which Sam Kepple was the most conspicuous member.  There was really no cause for him to complain.  Sallie had been painfully open through it all; she liked him, but she would not marry a mill-hand; and he had every reason to believe that if he did become a candidate for the ministry she would receive him eagerly.  Ah! where was he drifting to?  The whispering syren was suggesting so very pleasant a course that, as usual, the attractiveness of it alarmed him; a thing so delightful to flesh and blood must be bad.  No! the questions must be kept entirely separate.  If he allowed his circumstances on the one hand, or his chance of gaining Sallie on the other, to come into the discussion, he was compromised at once; the question of the ministry must stand absolutely by itself; to allow any of these things to influence him would be to betray his trust.

    And whilst John was engaged in these reflections, the left wing of the Bramwell Methodists was holding solemn conclave at the paint shop.  Four or five of the lay preachers and minor officials had assembled for the purpose of congratulating Sampson on his son's success, and the little broker on the strategic brilliance of the scheme he had so cleverly carried out.

    Jacob Ramsden, the leader, who was an ardent admirer of the declamatory and picturesque oratory of the older school, was declaring, as Wilky joined the company—

    "He'll nivver be t' man his father's been—for hunction."

    "Thank goodness for that!" grunted the little broker, strutting to the bench and screwing himself upon the seat.

    "He's gotten an old head on his shoulders, too," said Zeph Wood, staring before him with a look of profound conviction.

    "It's nivver his own head, that isn't; he picked it up i' some old churchyard, that's what he did," assented Gridge, the water-rate collector, hitching his book tighter under his arm and looking round on the company as though defying contradiction.

    Wilky snorted with an air of superior contempt, and the rapid motion of his little legs created the expectation of speech, but before he could get started, old Zeph, cocking his head on one side calculatingly, broke in—

    "It costs summat, I reacon, to send 'em to college?"

    "An' riggin' 'em out," added Ramsden.

    "Yes, brethren," said Sampson with a sigh of martyr-like resignation, "it's a serious question, is that, what that lad's cost me i' heddication"—and then breaking off in the triumph of sudden but gigantic self-sacrifice—"but it shall be done, if it cosses me my last penny!  The Lord gave, an' the Lord taketh away."

    Wilky glared at the painter with indignation, knowing as he did that John had been for years the mainstay of the family, and had brought in more pounds than he had ever cost shillings.  In another moment he would have withered his friend with an unusually scorching reply, but just then Ramsden broke in—

    "Ay, it 'ull be a great sacrifice for thee, Sampson!"

    "Sacrifice!" and Sampson rolling his eyes upward and tossing back his long hair, went on: "Every heart knoweth its own bitterness, but this shall be my box of ointment, brethren.  Have we received good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?"

    "Evil!" roared Wilky, and switching off his seat and stepping where he could take a professional glance at the shop opposite: "Evil!  He has a son as is called to be a minister, an' he calls it evil!  He gets a chance of paying back all the Lord's lost by him, and he calls it evil!  Bosh!  Blather!"—but here he broke off, and rushing to the door he shouted to John, who was arguing with an evidently awkward customer: "Don't let her have it at any price, lad!" and then shaking his head and nodding consequentially he waddled, with a disgusted you can't-come-over-me sort of look, to his place on the bench.

    Zeph Wood was rubbing his rough chin in a painful cogitation.  When it came to parting with money he generally had to do considerable screwing up of himself.

    "There was a subscription gotten up for Bob Clumberson, wasn't there?" he said at last, forcing the words out with difficulty and hesitating between each one.

    "Ranter folk hez ranter ways," objected Wilky shortly.

    Sampson had pricked up his ears at the mention of a subscription, but as he caught Wilky's stern eye fixed upon him he raised his brush, and holding it between his face and the light he screwed up one eye and squinting at his stumpy tool, he said resignedly—

    "Him as sends t' prophet 'ull send t' ravens to feed him."

    Gridge, the collector, began to move towards the door.

    "Well, if there's anythin' done, I'll stand my corner," he said.

    "Same here," said Ramsden, puffing grimly at a pipe.

    "Put me down for a fie' pun note," added Zeph with a reluctant sigh.

    This was the largest subscription that the old fellow had ever been known to give, and he had offered it spontaneously; and every man there stole a sidelong inquiring glance at him, for, with the possible exception of Wilky, none of them knew anything of John's relationship with Sallie.

    "T' brass is nowt," cried Wilky, with a petulant jerk of the head, "it's t' chap as stan's i' t' road."

    Sampson heaved a sigh, so long and appealing that the irascible little broker could not allow it to pass.  "Wot's up now?" he demanded crossly.

    "The whale! I see the whale," and Sampson, striking a sort of prophetic attitude, and using the brush as a wand, went on in funereal tones, "the way of duty is oft through the vasty deep; the way to Nineveh is through the whale's belly."

    "An' the way to crazy Bedlam's through a bloomin' paint shop," and Wilky, who had slipped off the bench, assumed an attitude in mutation of Sampson's mock heroics, and whined out the "bloomin'" in a manner that set the others off in explosions of laughter.

    "Good morning, gentlemen!  Good morning!  Well, Brother Ledger, your son had a grand time last night," said the second minister, stepping in his brisk way into the shop.

    "There's been nowt like it i' that chapel this ten year," cried Wilky, characteristically ignoring both that he had not heard the sermon, and that he was speaking to one who might take it as a personal reflection.

    But the minister seemed to be thinking of something else, and so, accepting the stump near the stove, he sat down, and with an absent glance round the shop he said—

    "I suppose your son has an excellent memory, Mr. Ledger?"

    "Moderate sir, moderate!—for him."

    Sampson evidently wished to convey that his son's memory was about equal to his other gifts, but that neither in that nor in other things could he be expected to be equal to some others—himself, for instance.

    "He doesn't get his sermons off by heart, if that's wot you mean," cried Wilky, eyeing the minister with surly suspicion.

    "H'm, do you happen to know how he prepares his sermons, Brother Ledger?"

    Every one present was watching the minister now with strained attention.

    "Me, sir!  No, sir; he takes counsel happen wi' the stranger, but never with his own parent."

    As this was a fling at both John and his employer, Ramsden and Zeph winced in expectation of an explosion, but the little broker was evidently thinking hard upon some problem in the presence of which Sampson's little slur was as nothing.  He took his pipe out of his mouth, and absently dropped it into the pocket of his over-sized coat; then he cleared his throat, as if he was about to speak, but contented himself with watching the minister like a terrier at a rat-hole.

    "Does he read much sermon literature, should you think?" was the next question.

    "I fear not, sir; he doesn't even look at that blessed paper, the Christian Prophet."

    "Christian humbug," interjected Wilky, with ineffable contempt.

    The minister seemed hesitant and perplexed.

    "He doesn't take in any preacher's publications—the Christian World Pulpit, for instance?"

    "He may do, sir, he takes in a lot; but he keeps 'em locked up in his desk upstairs."

    "Ah!"

    After a moment's rather awkward pause the minister rose, and began to move slowly doorwards; but Wilky was before him.  Planting his stumpy form in the way, he cried peremptorily—

    "Hold, sir!  Tit for tat.  You've been axin' a lot o' questions, happen you won't mind answerin' one or two."

    "Well, Brother Drax?" and the cleric's face expressed more amusement than concern.

    "We want to know what there is behind these here questions o' yours, sir."

    "Oh, nothing, sir, nothing—at present," and the reverend gentleman tried to pass his interrogator.

    "It won't do, sir," and Wilky shook his head with defiant resoluteness.  "I'm not the father of this here lad, thank the Lord, I—I wish I was, but I'm his gaffer just now, an' I'm goin' to stick up for him, b-b-less him," and the little man suddenly became husky and rather incoherent.

    The minister smiled again at Wilky's self-contradictions, but seemed touched by his evident emotion, and so he said—

    "Well, the fact is, I have heard three times this morning that John preached somebody else's sermon, and Flintop has been to me to say he'll have the thing bottomed."

    Wilky stood glaring at the minister thunderstruck, then he turned with blended amazement and appeal in his eyes from one to the other of his friends, and suddenly whisking round he made a dart towards the street with the evident intention of fetching John.  But the minister was too quick for him; snatching at his coat collar he pulled him back into the shop and then begged him to listen to reason.

    "Reason!  It's slander!  It's spite an' malice.  Let me go—oh!—oh, by jings, my coat's afire!" and the excited little fellow jumped round, and, taught by past experiences, jammed his coat against the wall and began to crush out the smouldering in the cloth; the fact being, of course, that his forgotten, but still lighted pipe, had burnt its way through the pocket and set fire to his clothing.

    When Wilky had extinguished the burning, and flung the offending pipe into the street, Sampson, who had taken very little notice of an incident that was not very uncommon, stood staring through the dusty window, and as soon as there was silence he brought back the conversation by saying in lame, apologetic tones—

    "The poor lad was taken unawares, you know, sir."

    The minister looked at the painter curiously.  It was odd, even suspicious, he thought, that the father of the supposed culprit should be the only one to think that the charge might possibly be true.  But whilst he was occupied with these thoughts, Wilky, whose left trousers leg now bulged out and stuck in the top of his Wellington boot, had dodged past his pastor and now appeared dragging John fiercely by the collar across the street, and then pushing him before him he cried—

    "Come on!  Come on!  Own up wi' thee! thou'rt a hypocrite, thou'rt a sneaking thief, thou'rt a swindling playgerist!"

    "No, no! Brother Drax, don't be so violent!" cried the minister in distress, but as there was now no way out of it he looked at the bewildered John and went on.  "The people are so surprised with your sermon last night, Mr. John, that they wonder whether it was your own?"

    John opened his eyes widely, and then with smiling incredulity he answered—

    "Nobody who heard it has any doubts, sir."

    "No!  Why?"

    "If ever I do steal a sermon, sir, it shall be one worth stealing," and John, in the easiness of innocence, smiled again.

    "Then this sermon was your own—absolutely and entirely your own?"

    "Of course, sir; those who heard it know that."

    "But you quoted somebody pretty freely, perhaps?"

    John thought for a moment.

    "No, sir.  I don't remember to have quoted anything but Scripture."

    "But you have seen somebody else's sermon on the text and have, unconsciously, I daresay, adopted the thoughts."

    So far John had been more amused than anything else, but now he began to think it must be serious.

    "Oh no, sir; I've never even heard a sermon on the text."

    "And you haven't borrowed the thoughts from any published sermon on any other text?"

    "Oh, sir, if you had heard the sermon you would know that; the fact is I only had a few notes, but I'll show them to you, sir."

    "Thank you; the very thing, if you would!" and then pausing and looking at him steadily he said : "John, I believe you absolutely, but this is more serious than you, perhaps, think.  Flintop says he is certain he has seen the discourse in print and can produce it, and if he does—but you had better give me your notes, here and now, in the presence of witnesses.  Flintop is not easily shaken off, you know, and if he should make a clique, well—" and he shrugged his shoulders expressively.

    John hurried off to fetch the notes, and when he had gone the minister turned to the others and said:

    "You see, gentlemen, the super. and I have set our hearts on John being a candidate, apart altogether from what took place last night; but if Flintop thinks a thing he sticks to it, and if he and his friends, even a few of them, voted against John it would be serious, for the exact numbers, for and against and even neutral, have to be returned on the schedule."

    As the preacher finished his explanation Ramsden leaned forward, and glancing across, called Wilky's attention to the fact that a customer wanted him.

    "Ler 'em want," snapped the broker, and deliberately turned his back upon the door.  "Who's owd Flintop?  Who cares for him?  Doesn't he oppose everything?"

    "Perhaps so!  But, you see, in this case he could make it very awkward for John—and for us."

    "He can make it very awkerd for hisself.  Ler him do it! just ler him do it! an' then ler him look out for Robert Wilkinson Drax, that's all," and banging his fist on the dusty counter Wilky glared defiance at the whole universe.

    "Many are the afflictions of the righteous," groaned Sampson with a sniff, but as the broker's nerves were just then screwed up to their highest tension he whipped round, and flashing a look of annihilation at the painter, he snarled—

    "Ay! but them as lives wi' 'em 'as a fine sight more."

    But at this moment John returned, and handed a closely written sheet of paper to the minister, who, after examining it, said—

    "I'll take this, John, and keep it for a while—a—a—don't worry yourself.  I think we shall be all right now.  Good morning!" and with a glance round and a nod he hastened away.

    John went back to the little inner room at the shop feeling weary and out of heart.  The charge of plagiarism did not of itself trouble him, but he realised that, though it would have been talked about in any case, it drew most of its seriousness from his supposed candidature, and he half wished that the delusion might be believed, and thus extinguish all idea of his being brought forward.  Then he wondered what he could do, short of openly refusing, in order to set the matter for ever at rest, and in this connection, as in all others, his mind went back to Sallie.  Why not get her and marry her, and thus end all this bother?  But he had never seriously tried; he had accepted his dismissal in the tamest possible way.  "Faint heart never won fair lady;" why shouldn't he try, and keep on trying until he succeeded?  She was a woman after all, and as amenable to importunity as other women; she did love him, she had shown she did.  What a poor sort of a fellow she must have thought him when he accepted his dismissal in that chicken-hearted way!  He was not worthy of her if he gave her up like that; he would try again.

    "You're in a brown study, John."

    John started guiltily and looked round, and there stood Mrs. Drax on one of her rare visits downstairs.  He jumped to his feet and offered her the big chair, and as she smilingly accepted it she raised her eyes, and said—

    "Well, John, you have become quite famous all at once.  I'm almost as pleased as Drax and the others."

    "Thank you, ma'am; but I wish they would let me alone."

    Mrs. Drax smiled complacently; she held firmly the old Methodist belief that reluctance to "go out" was a sign of special grace, and that only those who felt like that were really fit and called.  John's answer, therefore, was the most satisfactory possible.  Looking at him affectionately, she said—

    "It's a serious thing to refuse the call, John."

    "It's much more serious to mistake it, ma'am."

    "But if the Church calls you, they are responsible, not you."

    "No, ma'am; God's given me reason and will and conscience.  I am responsible."

    The large, sweet woman's heart was glowing with thankful pride; this attitude of John's was almost ideal to her.  Presently she leaned forward, and touching him gently with her soft hand and dropping her voice into a confidential tone, she asked—

    "Wouldn't you like to be a minister, John?"

    A warm gush of feeling flooded John's heart, and he answered, with shaking voice and shining eyes—

    "Oh, ma'am, I should glory in it—if I were fit."

    "Is that your only objection, my dear?"

    Terms of endearment were rare amongst the class to which these two belonged, and the tender words thrilled John through and through; his head dropped a little, and he turned his face away, but he did not answer.

    Mrs. Drax sat watching him with sympathetic intentness for a few moments, and then she said, in tones that were soft to commence with, but that grew in intensity as she spoke—

    "Laddy, thy mother and I were girls together; she was the proudest girl in Bramwell and the prettiest: she's borne her long struggle with poverty like a saint, but if she thought that poverty was going to spoil the life of her idol, I verily believe she would curse her Maker."

    As John covered his face with his hands and sighed she saw that her suspicions were justified, and that this dread difficulty had a prominent place in his thoughts.  She watched his distress with tears gathering under her own lashes, and presently she said gravely—

    "If you are sure you ought not to offer, laddy but, oh, be sure of it—then we must find some other reason than poverty; it would break her heart."

    Even yet John did not speak, and so thinking, woman-like, of the only argument that appeared applicable, she went on—

    "Wouldn't you like to see her proud and happy, John?  It's time she had something to comfort her, she's had trouble enough."

    And then John lifted his head and looked at her; he seemed to hesitate for an instant, and then commenced, and told her all his fears and struggles, and showed her with ample detail how that it was not a question of like or dislike nor even of lack of means, though he saw not how that was to be overcome; it was solely that he could not be sure that he had either the gifts or the call of God.  He was sure of her sympathy and had great confidence in her judgment, and so he talked freely, and she nodded and smiled, and looked grave again, as he went over the case point by point.

    "Well, laddy," she said, with a sweet, motherly smile, "there's one remedy left, and we must try that.  It's borne in upon me that you are to be a minister, and if God sends the call, He'll find the way," and John did not know that she had sacrificed her summer's holiday and her husband a new suit of clothes in order to find employment, and give opportunity for study, to their unnecessary assistant.

    John realised that he was approaching a crisis; all that afternoon he went about with burning head and burning lips that moved in silent prayer, and when his duties were finished, instead of going home, he turned into Station Road, and then into the fields beyond.  It was a balmy August evening, and as dark as it would ever be that night, and he crossed Ringham's pasture and worked round towards Shed Lane.  Just as he reached the footpath he heard a soft laugh that went through him, and lifting his head and looking over the hedge he saw a couple of courters on the other side of the lane.  The man had his arm in the girl's, and the girl was Sallie Wood.



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