The Dead Sin & other stories IV.

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THE SALT OF THE EARTH.


IT was quite early in the present century that a young married couple were put down from the Norfolk coach, at the Bell, Dockgate Street, London.  The couple had had no household goods worth transport, and arrived with nothing but two boxes.  The coach-inn was above their means, even for the single day that must suffice them to furnish their room, and so they put up at the musty Old Admiral, lower down the street.  There could not have been a more insignificant arrival.  If they drifted away here or there — surely it could not matter much!

    They decided to take rooms in Cocker's Rents, off the main thoroughfare.  They took two parlours in the house farthest from Dockgate Street, and there they carried the two old hair-trunks, brimful with their fresh bridal finery and old village keepsakes.  Good and substantial was the bridal finery — a "suit of best," that would spare the bridegroom's wages for many a year; and for the bride, a bright-green merino gown, a sprigged shawl, and substantial Dunstable, that, with duo washing and turning, would serve her as festive attire for half her life.  They liked colour, this Thomas and Ellen Warriner.  They bought a red-and-blue rug, and from the depths of her box Ellen produced quantities of gay patchwork, enough for quilt and chair-covers too.  Their rooms were whitewashed, but Tom presently touched them up with the blue-bag.  And when the gilt-leaved Bible, which Tom's old master had given him on his wedding-day, was placed on the chest of drawers, between gay figures of coarse pottery, then Thomas and Ellen sat down to their tea, rejoicing.

    Tom earned good wages at the wharf of Messrs. Billiter, the great seed merchants, and he and Ellen managed to live very comfortably, to put by a trifle, and yet to spare some odd pence "to treat themselves."  They were country-folk, and knew how to manage flowers so well, that they could even keep some alive in Cocker's Rents.  They could not resist a gay print now and then; and they kept a cat, which Ellen had brought in a basket on her knee all the way from Norwich.  They found a snug free-seat in Shadwell church, and went to it so regularly and so early that they acquired as comfortable a sense of possession as Mr. Billiter himself in his great square pew.  On fine summer evenings, the two would walk out together, wandering through the City streets, while Tom would proudly impart his slender and apocryphal knowledge about the Tower and the Mint, the Custom House and the Cathedral.  The royal tragedies connected therewith seemed all the more real for the dreadful things which had happened in their own time in France, and which had actually been alluded to by their favourite preachers at Norwich.  Tom told them all over and over again; but that did not matter where talker and listener were in harmony, and Ellen delighted to hear the same old story, and to correct Tom by himself whenever he varied in his details.  Dry facts were solemn mysteries to their simplicity.  Their notions of good and evil, of providence and vengeance, were broad and distinct as the circles on a target, and with no fine-drawn line between to shade the one into the other.  The City threw its charm of hoar immensity over their childlikeness.  They did not seem to weary much for the country places which they had loved and left.  As Ellen said to the Billiter clerk who once called in with a special message for Tom, "We knows we've to stop here, and we makes the best of it; and, as Tom says, maybe if we had the county again we should be a-wishin' for this."

    They had their trials notwithstanding.  Though Cocker's Rents was "respectable," as that word went in Dockgate Street, and encouraged no tenants who could not truthfully describe their way of life, under the most rigorous census, still that included all sorts of people, from Nicky O'Hara, the dock-labourer, who had eight children, and who was never drunk less than once a week, whereby the black eyes of his "Katty, darlint of the wor-rld," had generally a shade of abnormal blackness, to Peter Smith, the shoemaker, who was a bachelor, and worked from Sunday morning till Saturday night, and never spent a penny that was not for stern necessaries.  There was every shade of character, but perhaps all might be largely divided into those who could content themselves with the lowest sensual indulgence, and those who could not content themselves at all.  Among these the Warriners came, neither drinking, nor lounging, nor wasting; nor yet grudging, and moiling and talking evil of dignities.  They were not of the O'Haras, nor yet of the Peter Smiths.

    Some of their troubles, in a measure, these simple people drew upon themselves.  Londoners of their class understand the art of being in a court, yet not of it.  But the Warriners had brought their provincial neighbourliness with them.  It never even occurred to them that they might keep their room-door closed to people who lived under the same roof, and similar hospitality, in a way, they extended to everybody in the Rents.

    "Ah, Mistress Warriner, but it's yeself that's the fine lady," Katty O'Hara would say, when she "dhropped in to borrow a flat-iron, having lent her own to a friend last Saturday evening;" "it's yeself that has everything nice about ye, and going off to yer church o' a Sunday, like a Christian, I swear, though ye are a Protestanter."  And then, leaving a trail of dirty footprints on Ellen's clean floor, which she must instantly fall to and remove, Katty would go off to her next neighbour's to say, "That's a proud piece, that is.  We're too dirty and low for my lady.  Lat her wait till she has chiller climbing round her, and her man off with the rest o' 'em.  Does she think it's hanging to her apron-string he'll be for ever?  Bedad, Mrs. Brian, but I'd rather have a bhoy like my Nick, than one that 'ud be a-countin' the cinders on the hairth, and would not put on a shirt with a hole in't.  Live and lat live, Mrs. Brian, and don't be allays strainin' yeself, is my motter.  The Vargin an' St. Peter'll know it's been hard lines for poor folk like us, an' they'll lat us pass aisy."

    "Those Warriners seem decent people," said Peter Smith to himself (he never talked to anybody else).  "But they have Katty O'Hara talkin' in their room, and I met Nick in the street with the man.  Ne'er-do-wells, and heathen Catholics into the bargain.  Besides, what do they want with a cat?  A cat!  A setting-up of theirselves.  Better save their money.  If they knew all I know!  Church-goers, too.  Do they think the parson cares for those that hasn't got to give?  What do they think the parson's up to but just getting his livin' as well as he can, like the rest o' us?  Those as works hard in poor parishes only do it to catch the bishop's eye, for then they are put to better pay, and they does no more.  Did ye ever hear of a rich vicar a-going among fevers and thieves and bad women?  Not he.  He hires a young chap or two to do it cheap, and saves souls by proxy."

    Poor Peter Smith!  His wide, high forehead and large brain showed that God had given him more than his share of ideality, benevolence, and veneration.  Where had they gone?  He had a world as it should be, in his own head, as ideal, in humbler materials, as Plato's Republic.  But there was no love to link it with the world as it is.  He might plan arrangements by which want could be unknown, and property become a benefit for all; but when a lucky job brought him in an unexpected shilling, he never thought of giving a halfpenny to the soldier's blind widow who stood begging in Dockate Street.  He had lost faith, even in his own visions.  There was a sad story stereotyped on Peter's heart.  First, the history of a cruel, loveless home, which stunted his body and put a warp on his mind very dangerous to the future pattern to be stamped thereon.  Then a foolish love-tale; and the worst of it was, Peter never knew it to have been that, but persisted in repeating to himself that a perfectly angelic woman suddenly became a heartless and profligate deceiver.  He had been working so hard to deserve her, for if he had been a little richer he would have had her at once!  In his own mind, he put it that his life's well-being had been lost for forty or fifty pounds.  O poor Peter Smith, instead of blaming God and all the world, what if you had only blamed yourself for setting up such a cracked doll in your shrine, and had presently made thanksgiving over its empty place!  O poor Peter Smith, instead of toiling away your life at enmity with God and man, fiercely clutching at more and more of the dross with which you think you might once have bought happiness, you might have become a very apostle among your brethren, telling them that money may buy husks instead of wheat, and that the love of God and the love of women, true peace and true friendship, are without price, and are more likely to be found by those who carry no bribe in their hands to tempt deceivers!  But as your brain is dark and your heart is sour, it is all the worse for you and everybody that they are busy and large.

    The Warriners, with their ready sociability, found it rather painful when Peter passed them in the passage without responding to their greeting, and on Sundays, when they were neatly equipped for church, it was rather hard to be pursued half down Dockgate Street by the juvenile O'Haras, echoing the paternal jeers, interspersed with witticisms of their own.  Ellen had a temper, and a very strong inclination to give a "good clout o' the head" to the first jibing youngster she could catch, but Tom good-humouredly restrained her.

    "Yes, yes, it is too bad, old girl," he would say, "and that's why I want it to be done with as soon as possible.  The fiercest fire goes out if you don't heap on coals.  They'd just enjoy a scrimmage and a roar o' laugh, and we're not agoin' to treat 'em, we ain't."

    "It do seem hard that people should annoy those as isn't harming them," Ellen would murmur, with hot tears crowding her blue eyes.  "I don't see why they should have it all their own way."

    "But they don't," Tom would answer brightly.  "They want to worry us, and they can't; can they, old lady? "

    "They're calling out about 'parish brats,' said poor Ellen, giving her hand a wrest that nearly tugged it from the bondage of Tom's arm.  O dear, the wickedness of people, to be sure!"

     "How can they know about that?"  Tom asked, still drawing his wife on.

    "Because one day, when Katty was saying she did not see what chance her children would have with such a sot of a father, who 'ud be dead of drink before any of 'em were groomed, I said that you'd been left a whole orphan at the age o' her youngest, and was just brought up in the Union, for as fine a fellow as you are now."

    Perhaps Ellen repeated the compliment as salve to any soreness her feminine confidences might cause to her good man.

    "Well, well, old girl," he said, "it's neither here nor there.  Tell the truth and shame the devil.  I am a parish brat, and there's the end of it.  But I'm thinking we mustn't talk to the likes o' the O'Haras as we'd talk to friends.  We mustn't give occasion for offence.  If we gave a club to a man who wanted to murder us, and then he did his will, I say we'd deserve to be buried at cross-roads with a stake put through us, as much as the poor chap as cut his throat at the Bell last week.  We can always be 'friendly' of ourselves, Nelly lass, but it takes two parties to be 'friends.'"

    And so Nelly had to submit to be rather lonely while her husband was at the wharf.  To be sure, she knew it would not be for long, and she had some needlework to do in the meantime.  But often and often she longed for some woman-chatter.  Not so much after the baby came.  God lets mothers find society in their babes.  Oddly enough, the baby renewed something of her old acquaintance with Katty, who would come in to kiss "the blessed darlint," and who seemed to feel less malice towards Ellen, now she was fairly launched on the ocean of married cares.  The baby seemed delicate at first; and Katty had a lame child herself, which she presently introduced to Ellen's new motherly sympathies, and which soon found its way wonderfully often to her clean, quiet room, where it was safe from fraternal hauls and buffets.  It was a deformed, wizen-faced boy, one of those children who ask questions that no sage can answer.  He puzzled Ellen sadly; which, to be sure, was not difficult.  But, by a beautiful arrangement of Providence, three-feet-nothing never doubts the superior wisdom of five-feet-upwards; and Phelim O'Hara's metaphysical problems were presently forgotten in a proud knowledge of "How doth the little busy bee," and "Let dogs delight to bark and bite," and other didactic pieces more practically useful to five-years-old among the youthful idleness and brawling of Cocker's Rents.  Modern ideas of liberty and tolerance were not in favour at that early date.  Nelly Warriner never dreamed that when a mother of another faith left her child to her good offices she was bound to bring it up in the errors of its ancestry.  Nelly had her simple conscience on this matter, and did not tell the child that "some people would go to hell for worshipping idols made like the Virgin Mary," but only taught him about Christ and his cleansing blood, without reference to holy-water or absolution.

    As, for Peter Smith, when he found that the Warriners could come in contact with the O'Haras without contracting their evil diseases of waste and ill-behaviour, he again softened into neighbourly civility, nothing more.  He had lived so long alone, that he had forgotten to miss society, and perhaps could not have gained much from it.  For all his crotchets, he had arguments which would have silenced, though without convincing, good, illiterate men like Tom Warriner, whose philosophy of life is summed up in the conclusion which Solomon himself, with all his wisdom, accepted after the weariness of vanity and brain-beating, "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.  For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."

    But Peter Smith, as he himself grimly phrased it, "had eyes to see."  And among the grotesque fantasies of his Utopian dreaming, there would creep more and more the pleasant human presence of two plain people, doing common duty, but doing it as it is not often done.  He took note of Tom's punctual evenings at home, of the happy connubial walks.  He heard the motherly hymn-singing to the scarce-conscious infant, and he wondered how that child would turn out.  Nobody had ever sung so to him.  He marked the extra brightness and serenity of their Sabbath-day.  He noted a religion that did not find utterance in an anathema or a lamentation, but in the voice of joy and the voice of gladness.  Peter Smith wondered.

    One day, when Nelly's boy was three years old, as Peter was coming slowly downstairs, he heard the paining voices of the young Warriner and Phelim O'Hara pleading for something, to which Mrs. Warriner replied ―

    "No, Phely.  We, can't keep two pussies, so Kitty must be drowned.  It will be done in a minute.  She will not feel it.  I can't let her live even another day, because she would only feel it more."

    And then Phely burst into such a loud grief, that Nelly thought fit to make an apology to the shoemaker as he paused at the door.

    "The cat has a kitten, Mr. Smith, and the children would like it kept to play with."

    "Why don't you keep it?" said the shoemaker.  "I should think it would call the brats off from worrying you.  Ten chances to one but it would get lost before it grew up.  Or you could stop feeding it when you liked, and then it would go away.  Pity to vex the brats."

    "O Mr. Smith!" said Nelly, shocked; "I'd never keep a kitten I didn't mean to look after; and as for vexin' the children, it isn't teachin' 'em to be kind to animals, to just like 'em for their own pleasure, when it's kinder to kill 'em mercifully than to leave 'em to be cold and hungry and ill used."

    "So you make a conscience of it, do you?" asked Peter, absently, and stroking the mother-cat, who was now rubbing against his legs, though she generally hid herself at the very sound of his footstep.

    "Of course I do," said Nelly simply; "else what's the good of a conscience?"

    Peter went on stroking the cat in silence, till he suddenly looked up and said―

    "Keep the kitten for me, Mrs. Warriner.  You can have it as long as it's young and playful, and the children will always keep on seeing it after.  I'll feed it well.  I do a thing when I says it.  And you can take it away whenever you see I don't."

    "I agreed to it," Ellen narrated to her husband.  "It'll be some company for the poor old man, I thought.  But I don't know as I'd a-done it so ready if it wasn't to be in my sight, for I don't like people as calls children brats."

    "Give me the motherly love that don't think it has a right to override the whole world for the sake of its own young," mumbled Peter Smith, as he stumped away.  "That's the sort as lasts, and means something, I reckon."

    The children always called the kitten "Mr. Smith's kitten," and would rush out to catch him by his coat-tails, and bring him to the parlour, certain that he must be interested in the manners and customs of his protιgι.  In due time, they forced him into one of these involuntary invasions when Tom Warriner was at home, and a game of gambols with "the kitlings" — a name which Peter substituted for "brats" — somehow ended in a gossip and a bread-and-cheese supper.  Peter could not help showing that he was what Tom called "queer," but he did not broach any of his heresies, under the magnanimous self-delusion that "he would not trouble the poor simple fellow's mind," — "let him go on in the way that he was happy in."  And so it came to pass, that, after the kitten's majority, the odd, warped, speculating shoemaker was bewitched into having the two boys up to his own attic to sport with their old play-fellow, and sent them down with a penny in each hand and treacle-besmeared faces.

    So the Warriners lived in Cocker's Rents for many years, in the course of which little Phelim O'Hara died.  His parents brought a priest to him before he went, and he was sprinkled with holy-water, and afterwards Nicky kept sober for a month to pay for masses for the little soul that Nelly Warriner knew was safe in Jesus' bosom.  But Nelly knew that "it did not matter."

    Peter Smith went on living in the same old attic, still alone, except for the kitten, become a sober old tom-cat.  Years don't matter much to such as Peter, who are born brown and wrinkled and bent.  Peter had spoken to people more of late, but they were only the more afraid of him — he put things so forcibly, and so curtly, that there was no forgetting them.  Peter would spend an evening with the Warriners sometimes; oftener and oftener, as they grew to understand him, and to find that he liked to be left alone, and to have things go on before him just as if he was not there.  He lived as meanly as ever, but had actually presented young Thomas with a top and a set of marbles.  Peter had been vastly tickled by young Thomas crying because he could not read the stories at the end of his spelling-book before he knew the alphabet, and had observed, "there's older than you, lad, that have tried that game before you."  Peter worked no more on Sundays, but wandered out, and attended service at any church he happened to pass, and made wonderful discoveries of "real fine preachers," and "splendid-painted windows."  Be it noted, he always professed to "come upon" the first, whilst in search of the last.  There was always a trifle in the disused poor-boxes where he had been, but the pew-openers did not in the least connect that with the little shabby old stranger, who never expected to be shown into a pew.

    "I've missed a deal in my life, because I looked in the wrong place for it," old Peter Smith would mutter to himself as he stumbled about in some dim City churchyard; "but it's better to know it's so than to think it's because there's nothing good at all.  There's an odd sole and uppers got together in me somehow, but when the uppers is worn out, maybe it'll be a better match next time.  It's wonderful, it is, to me, how, when you likes one person, and knows 'em to be thorough good, you feels it unreasonable to suppose you've lighted on a phœnix, or whatever they calls the reptile that lives only one at a time in the world — a thing I never would believe in.  There's the Warriners now.  Don't I know what they're doin' at this blessed minute.  They're just home from church, and little Tom's repeating of the text, while he's waiting to take a jug of broth to that poor widow round the corner with the twins and the lame boy."  Peter paused there, in grinning reflection that little Tom would run home breathlessly, with a marvellous story how the widow had had a porter come to her with a sack of coals, and how the porter would leave it, because he was sure it was all right, and was paid for; "then there'll be grace before meat, and dinner, and catechism, and hymns, and telling Bible stories.  And when I knows that, I knows that you may multiply it by thousands.  The devil publishes his doin's, murders, and filthiness, and thievin' ― ay, an' of hypocrisy and self-righteousness.  But God keeps his grace growin' quietly, like the blessθd corn, or the spreadin' cedar.  If ye want to prove it, ye must get some planted in your own heart.  If you want to believe that other people do good deeds, do one yourself.  When you've given a shilling in secret, you'll feel quite certain there's plenty more has done the same."

    It was a November Sunday.  The Warriners had been to Shadwell church, as usual.  Warriner's master, Mr. Billiter, the rich owner of the great wharf, had also been, alone, in his great square pew; and Nelly, who often stole a respectful glance at her husband's employer, fancied that morning that the rich man's eye suddenly fell on Thomas, and rested on him with strange reflective meaning.  Of course, Nelly knew that it must be pure fancy.  She could never help feeling a kind of pity for Mr. Billiter.  He seemed always to be so lonely, sitting by himself right under the elaborate scroll which, sixteen years before the Warriners came to London, he had put up to the memory of his wife, Griselda, aged twenty-four, and their infant son, aged two months.  She knew his great red-brick mansion down by the wharf, standing in a little square, so near the City bustle, and yet so strangely silent.  Her husband had once taken her over some part of the business premises which overlooked the back of this mansion, and she had seen its red-tiled court and great laurel-trees in green buckets, and its mildewed stone fountain, where the water fell with a slow, sobbing sound.  This court overlooked the river, and was in some sort reclaimed from the mud whereon the Billiter barges lay below its balustrade.  Nelly had seen Mr. Billiter come out of his house, take three or four quick turns to and fro, and then stand quite still, looking drearily out over the water.  The scene took a strange fascination for Nelly.  It seemed so weirdly desolate.  Had it been just so in the times of dead Griselda Billiter?  And had this water gone on falling thus ever since?  Was the fountain mildewed then?  The house looked so big and cold and unhomely, that it made Nelly's foolish little heart to shiver.  Whenever, in days gone by, Peter Smith had been inclined to speak about the advantage of capital over labour, and the injustice of laws that bore unequally upon rich and poor, that court-yard by the river had risen on Nelly's mind, with a sense that there were other inequalities whose balance was not always in favour of the rich, and an utter thankfulness for the snug domesticity of her humble home in Cocker's Rents.  She remembered it now, at the very moment that she thought Mr. Billiter looked at her good man.  It seemed as if the misty river and the moaning fountain, and the dead silence of the mansion were all in his grave eyes.  Nelly only knew that they gave her "a kind o' creeps," and that she was heartily glad when the clergyman's familiar voice gave out: "Our text is taken from that word of God.—

    "'He that winneth souls is wise!'"

    The Warriners spent their Sabbath afternoon in their usual quiet, sacred way.  They had tea by candlelight, and Mrs. Warriner counted it no sin to make a little toast while her husband read aloud to her from the copy of Doddridge's "Rise and Progress of Religion," which he had given her in their courting days.  Peter Smith dropped in and took tea with them.

    "We had a fine sermon to-day," Mr. Warriner observed meditatively, as they were all sitting with their emptied cups before them.  "'He that winneth souls is wise.'  Why is he wise?  Because he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.  As parson said, he saves a good thing and destroys a bad one.  He serves God and defeats the devil.  He puts another pearl in the Lord's jewel-case, and wipes away a bit of Satan's blot on the fair face of creation!"

    "How fine you do remember!" said the gratified wife.  "I can't call back the words like that."

    "But the sense is the thing, Nell," returned Warriner, an' I don't know whether we've ever taken it in.  I don't know as we've ever done any good to anybody; and, as parson says, everybody, as we've ever missed a chance of doing good to, will rise up against us at the judgment-day.  Only fancy one's being in heaven, Nell, and somebody else in hell that one might have kept out!  Seems to me one would take hell into heaven with one.  Do you mind that curse in the Song of Deborah, which parson repeated — 'Curse ye Meroz (said the angel of the Lord), curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof: because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty?"

    "But what ever can we do?" asked Nelly earnestly.  "We can't preach, and I can hardly read, Tom, an' I'm kind o' terrible scared to ever speak serious to people.  It seems taking upon one's self.  What can the likes of me do, Tom?"

    "I'm sure I don't know," said Peter Smith, with a queer twist of his grotesque face.  "Of course, being kind to your neighbours, and letting' 'em see what good folk there are in the world, and training an odd kitling here and there to say its prayers and not to fight, of course, all them trifles go for nothing, don't they, Mrs. Warriner?"

    Nelly looked at him absently, and swayed her head gently to and fro.  Peter Smith had moods which she could not understand yet.

    "Didn't parson say that it was nothing to do with ourselves?" pursued Tom.  "That it's God's own work, and that He chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise and the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, that no flesh should glory?"

    He was interrupted by a heavy knock on the outer door.

    It seemed to freeze them for a second.  Then Warriner went out to see who it was.  There stood Mr. Billiter himself.  He laid his hand on Warriner's arm to enjoin silence.  And the hand was cold and heavy as death.

    "You must come with me to the wharf," he said huskily.  "There is something to be done there, and I think I can trust you.  Not work, except of mercy, as you would call it.  You may not be back till morning.  Tell your wife so.  Say only that you are summoned to the wharf.  It means life or death, Warriner.  Quick!"

    Thomas hastily returned to his parlour for hat and wraps, and the listening gentleman could hear him cheerfully announce, "I'm wanted at the wharf, on a sudden 'mergency.  Don't be frightened if I an't back to-night.  Mr. Smith'll see that you're not run away with;" and he could also hear the exclamations, of surprise and regret, and wifely wishes that he'd keep himself warm and take some sandwiches with him.  Mr. Billiter noted all these things in thankfulness that Tom Warriner knew really how to keep a secret — almost too well, it proved; for the utterly unsuspicious wife and son came to peep after their departing idol, and it was only by great dexterity that Mr. Billiter turned on his heel and eluded their recognition.

    He led the way, walking hastily through the narrow turnings so familiar to Tom's working days.  It was a dull night — starless overhead, and sloppy under foot.  He walked so fast, that Tom found it enough to do to keep his breath and follow.  On and on they threaded their way, past the head of stairs about which the river was lapping and gurgling, till at last they reached the wharf-buildings, and there Mr. Billiter opened a side-door with a key which he took from his pocket.  He shut it quickly after them, and they were in total darkness.  Tom almost thought his master must hear his heart's-beating.  But flint and steel had been put in readiness, and Mr. Billiter knew where to lay his hand upon them.  The light was reassuring, but the accustomed scene, the mere common casks and barrows, seemed weirdly strange.  No horror can be so ghastly as accessories of time, circumstances, and sensation can make the simplest surroundings of ordinary life.  What ghosts thronged your happy drawing-room that long night, when, one dim candle, you sat there watching whether death would go out alone in the morning or would take the desire of your eyes with him?  So to poor Tom Warriner there seemed to be ghosts in the wharf that evening, and often afterwards he wondered which is most reality, what we believe in our ease and quietness, or what we feel when we are most "out of ourselves?"

    Presently they passed on to a scarcely-used part of the wharf, where Tom had only been once or twice through all his long years of service.  Tom remembered that some fellow-workmen had told him it lay beneath the tiled river terrace of the Billiter mansion, and then he had wondered where a door led which stood in the wall farthest from the warehouses.  The place was only lit by two small porthole windows, dark with dirt, whose shutters were now, as in general, closed.  But a small oil-lamp swinging from the ceiling was burning sluggishly, casting some insufficient light over the dismal chamber.

    Mr. Billiter walked straight to the door which had once aroused Tom's speculation.  He opened it, and signed to his hesitating servant to follow him.

    Tom found himself in a small square room, whose ancient odour of damp and disuse not even a blazing fire had effectually dissipated.  It was carpeted and furnished with some plain pretension to comfort.  There were food and wine standing on a little quaint sideboard.  Thrown down in a corner, lay a knapsack and other small packings.  And close before the fire, with his face towards them as they entered, sat a young man.

    At their entrance he did not stir limb or muscle.  He sat steadfastly gazing at the glowing coals in the grate.  A tall, powerfully built young man, in the garb of a gentleman, but with marks on his clothes of rough and hasty travel through indifferent weather.  He had thick, fair locks for Mr. Billiter thin iron-grey hair, and steel-grey eyes for his dark-brown ones, but still there was that in his face which told Tom he was of his master's kith and kin.

    "Sit down, Warriner," said Mr. Billiter, in that stern tone which Tom never dreamed of disobeying, though he protested against his compliance by occupying the smallest inch of the nearest chair.  "Now, listen, Warriner.  That gentleman is my nephew.  He has unfortunately — committed a" — Mr. Billiter commanded a choke with great difficulty —"done something which is punished with a very terrible penalty.  An American ship, whose captain I know, is lying down off Woolwich, waiting for the favourable wind that is just now springing up.  You are a good oarsman; so is he.  There is a boat lying below yonder window," and he indicated a narrow casement reaching to the ground, and which Tom now noticed was carefully blinded by a thick blanket.  "What I want of you is, that you should take that gentleman to that American ship.  You shall get more by it than an informer would get to give him up to the law."

    Tom did not even notice the last words.  He was rather confounded by the sudden transition from the homely happiness of his own fireside to this murky atmosphere of mystery.  But his brain was still acute enough to take the nearest turning towards a straightforward knowledge of the "rights and wrongs" of it.

    "It isn't murder, is it?" he asked in a whisper.

    "No — oh no," Mr. Billiter answered almost impatiently.

    "You must 'cuse me askin' questions, Sir," said candid Tom; "maybe you needn't trust me less for not wanting to go quite blindfold.  Is there any one that hasn't been in the sin — maybe suffered from it instead — that'll be worse off if this young gentleman escapes than if he was punished, if I may make so bold, sir?"

    For the first time since their entrance the figure before the fire stirred, and answered for himself.

    "'The sin' was not committed — only planned.  Some have already suffered for it, but my life could not restore their lives.  The 'sin' was high treason."

    The voice was rich and powerful, but with a tone of reckless bravado, which Tom scarcely noticed in his feeling of horror, that over the youth before him, his old master's own nephew, hung the dreadful doom that had just overtaken several malcontents and conspirators in the midland counties, thrilling the kingdom with a feeling of pain and shame that had reached even to the humble politicians of Cocker's Rents.

    Tom Warriner was loyal.  He loved the poor dazed old king, and knew all the pretty stories of Windsor domestic life and cottage Bible-giving.  He believed that "the gover'ment" might be wrong enough sometimes, "like everything else, but was a deal nearer right than them as tried to upset it."  But here he was face to face with this young traitor, all forlorn and defeated, with his life in his hand, lurking in this insecurely secret retreat.  The sparrow may have been stealing the corn, and the great six-foot farmer, with a big gun in his hand, may have been quite justified in setting a trap for it; but when we see the little thing beating its wings against the wires, is it very wicked of us to lift the trap and let the bird out at a safe distance?  There will always be sparrows, and one here and there does not make much difference, except to the birdie itself.  The king was safe at Windsor, with his guards about him, and his great forts ready, and an army waiting to fight for him.  And here was this youngster, with the noose round his neck, fairly in Tom Warriner's hand.

    "I'll do it," said Tom. "I don't believe the king himself would blame me.  He has to be so severe when he catches 'em, that I'll be bound he's very glad to miss 'em sometimes.  I'm ready, master."

    The young man rose, put on a rough muffling outer garment, and took up his knapsack and other traps.  The uncle and nephew looked at each other in silence, and then the former blew out the light before he removed the screen from the window.  It was dark work.  Tom and the stranger felt their way along a narrow parapet into the boat, while Mr. Billiter cautiously unloosed the moorings.  Though they were so close that they could hear the slip of the rope, the gloom was so profound that they could not see it.  Not a word was uttered — not one good-bye.

    Swiftly, stealthily they rowed on till they were fairly clear of the crowd of shipping and barges.  All that time the young man had worked hard, so that it took Tom's utmost skill to keep pace with him; but no sooner were they in the open river than he ceased from his straining exertions, and rested wearily on his oars.

    "I hope it is not too much for you, sir," said Tom respectfully, after a prolonged pause.

    There was no answer except a hard breath, and a resumption of the rowing.

    It was an eerie journey. There had been nothing to win Tom in the stranger's repellent silence or haughty explanation; and now the very darkness shut out even the dumb appeal of his young years and manly beauty.  Yet the good man's simple heart yearned pitifully towards his unknown companion.  It seemed so sad to be going out thus in the dark, floating down the river to the ocean like a broken useless straw.  Tom thought of his own boy at home, and how he and his mother would be sitting down to supper at this very minute; and then he wondered where was the woman on whose knee this lad had lain, and what they were doing — whoever they were — in the house where he had been brought up.  He wrought himself up till he could keep silence no longer.

    "Cheer up, sir," he said kindly; "you'll have a brighter coming back some day."

    "Coming back!" echoed the other scornfully, as if he picked up Tom's words to cheapen them.  "No coming back for me.  If there's no more for me elsewhere than here, at least there can't be less."

    "Isn't your mother living, sir?" Tom asked respectfully.

    "She died when I was born," he said.

    "Nor your father, sir?"

    "He was dead before.  He never saw me.  Your grand Mr. Billiter is my nearest relation.  He's my uncle — mother's side.  He took a dislike to me because I was born on the same day as his own child, and the beggar brat lived while the heir died, and he did not approve of the arrangement.  Row away, my good man; though I don't know why I should run for my life — it's not worth having."

    "Oh, sir," said Tom earnestly, "don't speak so lightly.  Your life is not your own.  It belongs to the God who gave it."

    The youth did not answer.

    "Maybe, sir, if I may make so bold," said Tom, "it's sometimes seemed to you as if there was none as cared particular for you.  It's hard, that feelin' is.  I've known something of it in my poor way in my young days.  But there's one Friend for every one of us, and in Him and by Him we have all things.  I dare say you're thinkin' it's like my impidence to be tellin' you what you must ha' been better taught long ago.  But there's times, sir, when the weakest word of another heartens one more than his own wisest thought.  There's times, sir, when a rich man'll ask at a ploughman's door for a cup of cold water, an' thank him for it.  An' so I ventures to remind ye, sir, that there's One that's watchin' over ye, and knowing all your goings, and'll never lose sight of ye, over the sea to the very poles."

    Still silence.

    "There's them, sir, as teaches that God is a King, and we're his rebellious subjects, and that's true enough, so far as it goes, but He's our Father as well, an' we know how a father feels even to rebellious children.  Didn't good King David say, 'O my son Absalom! my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom!'  And the fact is, God himself did die for us rebels, and there's no more penalty hanging over us, 'cept just like those palrumptious patriots who won't come home to their own country even when a free pardon's published, but beats their own back and banishes theirselves."

    Still there came no answering word.

    "It's wonderful how different things look when we once feel that God really knows all about us and watches over us.  It's awful to fancy we're just some chance spark, shooting about anyhow, to be snuffed out some day for no reason in particular.  It's enough to tempt us to try to flare up and do a little fireworks of our own accord before the darkness comes.  But we haven't to think of ourselves at all.  We've just got to think of God."

    "What do we know about Him?"  It was said in a shrill whisper, and Tom could hear the misery below the mockery.

    "We know that He made man in his image, sir, and we can think of the best image we ever come across and of what a friend he would be if he was a million times better than he is, and, into the bargain, could see and know everything — even the very thoughts of the heart — and was able to do his own good will.  Oh, sir, He's a-looking at you at this very minute, and knowing what you're thinking, sir, and how hard it's all been for you; and He's loving you, and wanting you to love Him back, if you only would."

    Tom heard the stranger laugh in the darkness.  It was a laugh which chilled his blood.

    "You good people don't understand," said them youth, hardly, and with a mighty pull at the oars.  "Perhaps you've got nothing in your heart that you don't want God to see.  Perhaps you are looking forward to the judgment-day to bring all your unseen virtues into light.  It is not so with me."

    "Oh, sir, I think it's you that don't understand," pleaded poor Tom.  "I know myself a deal more of a sinner than you do yourself in your real heart, sir.  Not that it does us any good to think about our sins, except to bring them to the Saviour; and if everybody else will turn from us, He's one that never does."

    And then they pulled on for a long, long time in silence, till Greenwich Palace was left so far behind them, that Tom knew they must be drawing near their journey's end.

    "I guess my little lad is in his bed by this time," he said cheerily.  "Ay, but we've had a fair passage down.  I've pulled the stronger, knowing he'd be a-praying, 'God bless dear father and take care of him.'  I'm thinking this here black shadow will be the ship we want.  We must draw up cautious, and speak her."

    It was the American vessel.  That ascertained, the stranger himself stood up in the boat and shouted a few words that were hieroglyphics to all but the captain, who instantly summoned him on board.  Tom was to go too, and remain till early morning, when there would be nothing suspicious in his return.

    Tom handed up his companion's knapsack and other scanty baggage.  Such light, poor baggage, with no hard substance in it to speak the presence of even a single book, to carry a softening memory of the past into the dreary, bald future.  The lad, standing on deck, stooped to receive them, and some flaring light falling full on his face, showed it even whiter and sharper than it had looked at the little room of the wharf.  But Tom heard that he was speaking in some light jest to the captain, whose reply he caught —

    "He's saved your body, anyhow."

    "Yes," returned the other; "but that was in his bargain; this wasn't."

    "I reckon it would be a harder one if it was."  And the two laughed and turned away, and disappeared down the cabin-stairs.

    Tom had first to see that the boat was made fast, and then the steward called him to the forecastle and set before him some plain, sailor-like refreshment, which was very welcome after his hard labour.  The place was quiet enough.  The men not on duty were in their berths, either helplessly snoring off their last debauch on shore, or anxious to secure the best rest they might get for days, amid the extra labours of a start and the perils of the Channel.  But the forecastle was close and ill-odorous, and Tom was glad to get on deck again.

    He stumbled over something.  It was the refugee's miserable luggage, still lying where he had left it.  Tom lifted it up and removed it to a spot safer from damp or damage.  It was Tom's instinct to do a kindly or a careful deed.

    "Poor lad!" he sighed to himself.  "I'm feared he's laughin' at all I've been sayin' to him.  Poor enough it was, I know; I wish it could ha' been better, not to have offered a temptation to his scorning.  He's had a cold, spoiled kind of life, I should say.  I wonder the master didn't take to him years ago.  One would ha' thought his being born along with his own little one would have been a sort of tie, like.  I've always felt kinder soft to that little Whinny O'Hara, as came the day after Nell had the baby-gal that died.  But folks' feeling's differ."

    Ay, Tom, and so they do.  Feelings follow thoughts and they go apart as far as east and west.  You think of your children as sent of God, to be brought up for his service, and loved in your love for Him; and you say of your dead baby, "that God took it to himself."  But Mr. Billiter thought of his child as his heir, who should succeed to the great fortune he was making for it, and perhaps set a title before the family name.  And when the child died, he wrote upon its monument that "it was snatched from its despairing father."

    Ay, Tom, "feelings differ," widely as submission and rebellion, or as the love that is born of the former from the hatred that burns in the latter.

    Tom, silently pacing the deck, presently felt something bump against his side.  Putting his hand to his pocket, he found there the little fat old-fashioned copy of Doddridge's great work, which he had thus hastily stowed away when Mr. Billiter's knock had startled the family group in Cocker's Rents.  Tom opened it, and looked at it for a moment by the dim red light.  Then a sudden thought struck him.  He crossed to the spot where the baggage lay, and carefully inserted it among the folds of the wrappers, which constituted the chief part of the luggage.

    "It's all a chance whether he ever finds it," muttered Tom; "but it was a bow drawn at a venture that sent the arrow which killed King Ahab in his disguise.  If you never throw your bread on the water, you can't find it after many days, that's all."

    Tom did not see his late fellow-traveller again.  The captain came up and spoke to him by-and-by, and Tom passed the night in the steward's room, and started off early in the morning.  It was a cheerier journey home, for the morning was bright for November, and the sense of danger was gone.

    As he neared the wharf, there stood Mr. Billiter at that long narrow window of the little room, and he signed to Tom to land as he had embarked.

    It struck Warriner that his master had passed the night in that damp, desolate chamber for the fire was still burning, and the food and wine stood on the sideboard as before.

    "Safe?" asked Mr. Billiter, with almost voiceless lips.

    "Safe a-board, thank God, sir," Tom replied, "and they were lifting anchor when I left, and the wind's strong in their favour."

    There were papers on the table.  At this instant Tom's eye fell upon them and perceived them to be bank-notes.

    "Take them, Warriner," said Mr. Billiter.  "They offered a hundred pounds for him dead or alive.  There are two hundred."

    Tom made a stumble backwards.  "If you please, no, sir," he said.  "There's some things as oughtn't to be done for money.  I'd not break the king's laws for money, sir, but I'd break them for feelin's for a poor human creetur as had got misguided in his youth, to give him another chance for this life and that which is to come.  Because in a general way that's God's law, and has the king's law inside it."

    Mr. Billiter looked at him keenly.  Suspicion was rising.  "You didn't say this before you went," he said.

    "No, sir, I know I did not," Tom replied: "because I wanted to serve my old master and the young gentleman; and somehow, rich folks can't help thinking that poor ones is only to be safe hired for money.  You've felt easier-like all night than if I'd said this at first.  And now it's over."

    Mr. Billiter rose and paced the room.  He was a proud, hard man.  He had cared for his nephew's safety chiefly for the repute of his house, and some chilling horror of kindred flesh dangling from a gibbet.  But the whole affair had sent darts of anguish through his very pride and hardness, and all night his iron will had been stamping down his heart.  And through all he must keep silence, since none but himself knew aught, except the nephew so sternly parted, and their one accomplice, this menial hireling.

    It was a fitting commentary on Tom's upright impulse, that it instantly broke the fetter of position, and placed the two side by side, man and man.

    "It is very hard upon me," cried the great merchant, clenching his fists as he strode to and fro.  "I did my duty by him, though I could not bear him near me because of the child I had lost.  But I did my duty by him.  He had more than if his spendthrift father had lived.  He had everything!  And now, just as I was getting over my shrinking from him, and arranging that he should live with me and succeed me, I find him mixed up with traitors and outlaws, lurking about with a price on his head.  And I must endanger myself to save me from disgrace.  And I must be left lonely — lonely.  It is hard, Warriner; it is hard, hard."

    "Sir," said poor Warriner humbly, "wasn't it a little hard on the lad that you should shun him because o' memories and griefs that didn't lie under his hand, but were the very will of the merciful God?  It's over and gone now, sir, and can't be altered, an' I've no wish to say a word to hurt you.  But I think it would make it kind of easier for you to bear, sir, at this very moment, if you'd think more of the poor lad himself, that's gone out with none to say 'God speed him.'"

    The great merchant walked once more to and fro in silence.  Then he stopped.  "You're a good fellow, Warriner," he said, with his hand on his servant's arm.  "I won't offer you the money again.  But we'll be friends.  Go home and rest.  Come back at five o'clock this evening, and I'll have a few words with you.  Good day."

    But long before five o'clock a messenger came flaying to Cocker's Rents with the news that Mr. Billiter had been found lying dead on his bed.  A blood-vessel broken in the heart, said the medical evidence.

    Thomas Warriner kept his secret.  He knew that the dead was best served by so doing, and Tom never reckoned up the chances of promotion that died with his old master, though he was very sorry that he had left him so willingly that last morning, and that death's river now separated himself from their appointed interview.

    Under a will made many years before, Mr. Billiter's property passed to his only brother, an iron merchant in the North, who instantly realised it.  Tom did not take service under a new master in London.  He found some chance of a small post in Norwich, and Nelly and he were both heartily glad of the opportunity to return to the old familiar town.

    The evening before they started, Tom put a little parcel into his wife's hand.

    "It's a new 'Rise and Progress,' old lady.  I took the other with me that night that master called me to the wharf, and I  ―  left it behind.  But here is this one, better print and gilt leaves."

    "Thanks you very much, Tom," said Nelly; "only I'm sorry for the other, for old sake o' the days when you gave it to me."

    "Well, well, lassie," returned Tom, "if old sake didn't stand by sometimes, new sake would never have a turn."

    Peter Smith and all the O'Haras came out to Dockage Street to see them off.  Once more, the Bell Inn.  Once more, the old Norwich coach.  Another good-bye, — one parting cheer, and they go as they came — as poor, as insignificant.  And the ranks of the great city close up, and all is as if they had never been there.

    But there is another City, whose population no man can number, as they gather in from the east and from the west, and sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.  Everything that begins in these cities of ours is finished in That City, and the worth of no work is known till it is done.  And there rank will be reckoned by capacity for love, and wealth will be counted by the souls we have brought into the King's treasury.  And God's word shall not return unto Him void, but shall have accomplished that which He pleased, and shall have prospered in the thing whereto He sent it.

                *                         *                         *                         *                         *

    Forty years after.  Forty years.

    And more than four thousand miles away.

    It is a flourishing new town in the Far West of America.  A wonderful town, sprung up since the capitals of the Old World have grown hoary.  A young town, somewhat rough and rude and pushing, after the manner of youth.  Where "best people" have made fortunes in "pork-packing," and where gentlemen who will give a dinner-party at night, in the morning lead home the live turkeys that shall grace the festive board.  Plenty of wild daring, and reckless sin, but, thank God, plenty also of that Divine Spirit which is the salvation of nations.

    Just beyond its border stands a pleasant country-house, white, verandahed, and a little careless in its luxuriant gardening — very different from the staid old homes of England, with their stately cedars and trim shaven lawns.  But still a pleasant and a hospitable place, with a catholicity of welcome that some of the ivied English manor-houses might well envy.  It is the country residence of Mr. Herbert Latimer.

    He is known in the town.  Every boy in the street knows his name.  Old residents of the better class will tell how he "came out" when he was quite a young man, and went into a merchant's office, and how grave and reserved he was for a long time, and how regularly he attended all the meetings of the church, but like one who was sorely tossed and troubled in mind.  How a peace seemed to come to him at last, and he gradually entered the society of his fellows, and by the safe ascent of diligence and respect gained the heights of wealth and honour, and married happily, and had the finest family in the township, and has lived to see them flourishing in the church at the bar, and the mart, and to have grandchildren to play about his knees.

    Who founded the Strangers' Hospital?  Mr. Herbert Latimer.  Who projected and maintains the Young Men's Institute?  Mr. Herbert Latimer.  Who started the plan of furnishing small libraries to all the ships that trade from that town?  Mr. Herbert Latimer.  Who is the faithful friend of the widow, and the trusty guardian of the orphan?  Mr. Herbert Latimer.  Who fearlessly carries his Christianity into the Town Council Board and the local government?  Mr. Herbert Latimer.

    Look at him now in his study.  A tall, fine old man, with masses of waving silver hair, and steel-grey eyes that years and care have left undimmed.  He is standing at his window, with a small book in his hand.  His children know that book, and reverence it.  It seems to them a very plain, old-fashioned work.  It never particularly struck them.  But their father has told them that it came to him as the very voice of God — that it saved him for this world and for the next.

    He is poring over the rude peasant calligraphy on its fly-leaf — the one poor clue to the mystery that gives the book a romantic interest.  He only knows he found it among his luggage one wild and stormy night, when he was sailing down the English Channel some forty years ago.  He cannot help connecting it with a good, simple-hearted man, who took him down the river Thames in darkness and danger two or three nights before.  But he cannot tell.  Years after, he wrote home to England to try to trace that man, but utterly failed; which was no wonder, considering that he did not even know his name.

    So once more he wonderingly repeats the well-known inscription in his treasure —

    "To Ellen Parkyn, with best love from T. W."

    "But I shall know about it in heaven," he says musingly.  "What awful interest there will be in the reperusal of our own lives, and the discovery of the secrets thereof!"  And he gazes dreamily upon the wide, wild landscape that stretches before his window.

    But his mind can make no picture of a low, wooden gravestone in an old churchyard of Norwich, England.  A man and his wife lie buried there — poor, respectable people, who died in old age, and left behind them a humble memory as kindly, pleasant neighbours and good parents, but were certainly never heard of ten miles from home, except, perhaps, in the little court where they once lived in London.

    No name carved and gilded on marble in famous cemetery, or under cathedral dome.  No name in print anywhere, except where it is fading away on the decaying wooden slab, where little children come to trim the daisies and heart's-ease that grow on "grandfather's grave."

    What does that matter to Thomas Warriner now?  In heaven he must surely know of that pleasant country-house in the far, far West, and of the good works that fructify there to bless the great town whose very name he never heard.

    There stands Herbert Latimer, in the heart of the New World, with a thankful remembrance of the unknown good man who dropped his crumb into the rapid river of life, and never looked to find it again in this world.  And as he turns a-way from his wide, cheerful window, he murmurs softly —

    "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them."







THE END.

 


 

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