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pion of Wesley."

"Yes," chimed in Faith, "he's a sort of professor. He
gives Alice and me lessons."

"Well, Jude, I'll take my first lesson to-night," de-
clared Gray.

"Sure!" said Jude. He got the checker-board, pulled
his chair up in front of the preacher, and for a while there
was silence, except for the tap of the moving pieces. Even
this stopped at last, and Jude remarked, slowly and rather
solemnly: "Pastor, I don't see no move I can make.
You Ve got four pieces to my two, an' one of yours a king.
I give in. There was somethin' wrong in my calkerlation.
Let's try again." This time Jude played with great care,
but again found himself in difficulties, very much to the
amusement of Alice, who stood by his shoulder. As she
watched the play, her eyes frequently met Gray's, and
there was the little sympathy of the silent exchange of
thought, she for the moment forgetting her antagonism.

"Why, Jude," said she at last, with feigned commisera-
tion, "you're off your game to-night. What's the mat-
ter?"

"My game's same as usual," replied Jude, "but I'm
inclined to think it's not quite good enough to beat the
preacher. I guess I 'm up ag'in' a better player. I '11 try
once more, an' be sure." Jude studied long and carefully
in his third game, but finally was forced to admit defeat.
"I 'm a good sport," he declared, "but I know when I 'm
licked. I ain't got no champion's belt, but if I had I
should hand it over to the preacher with my compliments.

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I s'pose we oughter be goin\ althous^ I reckon I shan't
sleep very sound to-night.**

"I don't see how you could expect to/* suggested
Alice, smiling.

Jude, however, did not smile. "It isn't the supper,
Alice," he explained, "an' it's no joke, either. It's public
confession for me an' Faith to-morrer."

"Poor Jude!" exclaimed Alice. "I had forgotten. Well,
it would n't trouble me at all. If every one in church con-
fessed who's no better than you, there 'd be no time left
for the sermon.** She said this looking straight at Gray,
but failed in her attempt to draw him into controversy.

"Perhaps you*d like to come to church to-morrow,**
he said.

"No,** she replied, "111 stay at home, and pray that
mercy, charity, and loving-kindness may be sent down
from heaven to the Wesley Methodist Church.**

Jude said "Good-night" at the parsonage gate, and
added a "God bless you, Preacher!" and then, "God
bless everybody!" That was Jude's soul, "God bless
everybody."

When the stable door closed behind Jude, John Gray,
instead of going into the house, went to the old seat in the
garden, walking on the grass so as not to waken Linda.
It was here that he had first seen Alice Hale with her white
arms among the branches. The moon was floating through
the fleecy clouds, the wind was still, and a whip-poor-will
was calling in the oak grove by the river.

The news that Alice Hale was engaged to marry Fred
Miller had at first stunned the preacher, but the feeling
of numbness now disappeared and in its place there
burned the sullen flame of jealousy. Alice Hale and Fred
Miller! The coupling of their names was sacril^^e. Yet it

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must be true, for she had made no denial. The preacher
did not ask himself why this engagement meant so much
to him, for he knew.

The consciousness that he loved Alice Hale had come to
him like a great wave that submerged every other thought.
He realized that he had long loved her. Was it with the
first embrace and kiss, or had he loved her in some other
world?

Strange to say, the flame of jealousy went out quickly.
It was impossible to think of Alice as the wife of that
smooth, glib, and self-satisfied little politician. God
would not allow it. He, John Gray, preacher and ideal-
ist, was not worthy, but he must in some way win her
love. What did she think of him? He knew how she had
at first disliked and scorned him, but he was sure she was
now at least his friend. She was working with him for
Jude's regeneration. How warmly she had praised him for
his victory over the Midianites!

He could see a light now in her window, and he rose and
stood beneath it. She sat so that the shadow of her face
made a perfect profile on the white curtain, her chin in her
cupped hand. What was she thinking of? Perhaps of him.
She rose, turned down the light, threw up the curtain and
the window, and, leaning on the sill, looked up at the sky.
The preacher held his breath and stepped behind the lilac
bush. When he looked again the white form had disap-
peared.

He walked quietly to the gate, for he knew he could not
sleep, and house and garden seemed too small to hold him
and his great love. He walked slowly up the hill until he
came to the church, its tower pointing heavenward. He
caught his breath. At first it seemed to warn and almost
threaten him. '* Be ye not unequally yoked together with

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unbelievers/' it seemed to say. But he spoke aloud, as if
in answer to the challenge* "The unbelieving wife is sanc-
tified by her husband."

She did not belong to the diurdi, but was she an unbe-
liever? He was sure no one so good and kind could be
without the Christ spirit. He woukl win her to the diurch
and for himself, a double incentive. He was not the same
John Gray whom she had despised. His mind went back
to his early youth with its restraints. It was not his fault
that his ideal of perfection made no allowance for the
strength of temptation and man's weakness — Jude's "we
have this treasure in earthen vessels" he had come to
understand. The church was the very place where the
weak and sinful could be helped.

He remembered his interview with the Bishop, and his
'' Without love, a man is only half a man." Well, he was a
man, at last. He had broken through the narrow walls
that had confined him when he came to Wesley. He had
yielded to Jude's heart appeal, he had sided with Faith,
he had fought the Midianites and won the battle. But all
this was nothing. He loved.

He stood for a long time looking out to the hills, the
moonlight smiling with hope, the wind whispering cour-
age. It was almost daylight when he crept silently up the
stairs to his nx>m. He took the handkerchief from the
drawer, pressed it to his lips, inhaled the faint fragrance,
and fell asleep with it under his pillow.



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CHAPTER XXIII

The Sunday of Faith's and Jude's confession dawned
calm and bright. As John Gray walked up the hill to
church, it seemed as if the whole world had made confes-
sion, had been cleansed and purified. The sky was swept
dear of every cloud, and the sun sent down its benedic-
tion.

When he reached his little room, and knelt in prayer as
was his custom, his heart was full of thanksgiving. He had
thought it best to say nothing about Faith's and Jude's
confession, for he had not been quite sure of Jude's pres-
ence, and he did not care to bring unsympathetic and
curious people to the church. He was quite happy with
the consciousness of his secret, as he looked down on his
congregation.

They were singing the first hynm, "Oh, day of joy and
gladness," when Faith and Jude came in, and went
quietly to Jude's customary place in the back pew. They
were hardly noticed when they entered ; but Abby Green's
bright eyes soon discovered them, and she passed the
news until it went in whispers all over the church. Abby
was a sentinel who was never caught unawares. Gray's
eyes had met those of the "backsliders" at their first en-
trance, and sent a message of confidence and good cheer
to them. Faith was pale, but gave him a wan smile.
Jude, however, grinned cheerfully, and, when he took his
seat, picked up the psalm quickly and sang it heartily.
Faith did not sing at first, but when Jude put the comer
of the hymn book in her hand, she sang too, not loudly,

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but her voice had a quality which could not be hidden.
Deacon Harding boasted that he never turned his head
and that he always kept his eyes on the pulpit, but at the
sound of Faith's voice, Gray saw the blood rush into his
face and the veins on his forehead stood out like whip-
cords.

When the hymn was ended, Gray prayed. Jude covered
his eyes with his big hand, and Faith bowed her head
against the pew in front of her, glad to hide her face from
the curious gaze of the congregation. Gray's prayer was
always simple, fervent, and confident. He spoke to God
as a child to his father whom he loved and of whose love
he was assured. He always spoke as if this father were
very near. Beginning with an expression of gratitude, he
followed with confession of unworthiness and sin, and
ended with his petition. But on this Sabbath day he
uttered little more than words of thankfulness for God's
goodness. He read the fourth chapter of Second Corin-
thians, and Jude smiled up at him when he came to the
verse which the stage-driver loved, "But we have this
treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the
power may be of God and not of us."

The text for the morning was, "If we confess our sins,
he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse
us from all unrighteousness." When the preacher had
spoken the familiar words, and paused, as he always did,
so that his congregation could commit them to memory,
he found himself looking down into the face of David
French. It was white and drawn and haggard. There was
something of the expression he had seen on his mother's
face when she was suffering, and the resemblance between
mother and son was striking. He noticed that Jude had
taken Faith's little hand into his big palm, where it rested

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all through the sermon. The preacher emphasized the
importance of confession in the scheme of salvation. He
explained how in every faith it had always preceded for-
giveness and absolution. When he said, " In spite of what
I believe to be the evils of the 'confessional/ I think the
Methodist Church needs something to take its place/*
Deacon Harding turned and looked at Elder Crocker. He
spoke of the sinful soul as a closed room, foul and noisome.
Confession was like the throwing open of door and win-
dows to let the foul air escape and the pure wind of heaven
enter. Confession was first necessary for salvation, and
second, for spiritual help and growth. He explained why
confession to God was not enough. He emphasized the
obligation to man for restitution and the righting of a
personal wrong. He declared that a general confession,
such as, " I have come far short of the glory of God,"
was not sufficient. He called the attention of his con-
gregation to the fact that a just God must forgive.
"Sin is not only forgiven but forgotten by God. It is as
if it had not been at all. We are 'cleansed from all un-
righteousness.' The church should take back the repent-
ant sinner, and forget his sin. The member of the church
who points a finger of scorn at an erring brother or sister
is guilty of a dreadful wrong. Which one of us could
claim the right to cast the first stone? 'We have this
treasure in earthen vessels.* *'

Uncleanness was the most perfect symbol of sin. The
desire for purity was in us all. He told the story of Mary
Magdalen, and quoted from Macbeth, "All the perfumes
of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.** No, but
God's grace could purify it.

When the announcements had been made, the minis-
ter ended with these words :

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*' At the dose of this service we will hear the public con-
fession of a dear brother and sister, who have wandered
from the fold of the church. * Joy shall be in heaven over
one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine
just persons who need no repentance.' They are desirous
by a public confession to purge their sins, beseeching for-
giveness of Christ, and of their brothers and sisters in the
Wesley Methodist Church. You are requested to remain
after the service and extend to these repentant sinners the
right hand of Christian fellowship, in token that He, who
maketh intercession for us, shall blot their sins out of the
Book of Life."

Jude spoke first, wishing to help Faith. "Brethren an*
sisters, you all know me an' my besettin' sin. Year after
year I have struggled against temptation, year after year
I have wrestled with the Devil an' he has overcome me.
Again an' again I have brought disgrace upon this church.
I had 'bout given up hope when this good young minister
came to Wesley. He took me in hand an' taught me how
to tackle the Evil One. He knows the fine points of
the game, an' now when the Devil tackles me, 'tis his
shoulders are put on the ground an' not mine. God forbid
that I should boast, the glory is His, an' that of His under-
shepherd. I don't know as I oughtersay it, but I do not
forget how a good Samaritan helped me, whose heart be-
longs to Christ if her lips do not confess Him. Last an'
not least is the dear girl that sits beside me, who has sinned
an' suffered. I don't want to forget the rest of my friends
in this village, they're all my friends, and, in spite of my
wickedness, I feel to-day like the psalmist when he said,
'Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin
18 covered.' "

When Jude took his seat, there was a rustle of appre-

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dation and sympathy that went through the congrega-
tion. There were "Praise the Lord's," ''Bless His
name's," and "Glory Hallelujah's." But when Faith
rose, the church became very still and cold. Gray could
see the faces harden, and their expressions change from
sympathy to scorn. Deacon Harding's face was like a rock,
and Elder Crocker's was disfigured by a sneer. Elder
French kept his eyes fixed on the floor. Of all the officers,
Belcher only beamed sympathy and love. Mrs. Davis
looked around with a motherly kindness, her Thomas
with her, and Ira and Betsy Harp, sitting together for the
first time in many months, were plainly on Faith's side.
Mrs. Belcher was evidently not in accord with her hus-
band, and Abby Green and Maud had on their faces
expressions of contempt and disdain.

As the preacher's eyes wandered over his congregation,
his heart was sad within him and hopeless as well, as he
realized how slight had been the response to the appeal of
his sermon.

Poor Faith could not fail to feel acutely the change in
the atmosphere about her. Her eyes looked imploringly
from one to another, then fell, but when she spoke, she
looked straight at the preacher.

"I confess my sin, which is known to you all. I ask
God's forgiveness and your love."

She sank back in her seat, very pale, but did not cover
her face until the preacher led in prayer, first for Jude,
then for her, and finally for his congregation; and they
never forgot the preacher's prayer. He made their con-
fession of sin, coldness, hard-heartedness, and unchar-
itableness. His tongue was like a lash as he spoke, and
his congregation winced under his words. To a few it
brought realization, but to many of them resentfulness.

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Then he pleaded to God for them. He laid them on the
very steps of the mercy seat and prayed as he had never
prayed before.

When the benediction was spoken, Jude and Faith
came forward and stood in front of the pulpit. Deacon
Harding and Elder Crocker did not wait at all, but started
at once for the door, followed by Elder French. French,
however, showed no signs of scorn, the expression on
his face being a strange mixture which Gray could not
decipher. The rest of the congregation came forward, one
after the other, first Mrs. Lawton, who gave her hand to
Jude, then to Faith, whom she bent forward and kissed.
The Harps and Mrs. Davis were kind to Faith, as they
were to Jude, but the preacher noticed how many shook
hands cordially with Jude, but barely touched Faith's
fingers as they passed her.

Jude noticed, too, but said nothing until Maud Green,
after shaking hands with him, attempted to pass by Faith
altogether. Before she could get away, however, Jude
reached out and caught her.

"Maud," he said, in his pleasantest manner, "you for-
got Faith. Shake hands with her, too."

Maud would have liked to defy Jude, but there was
something in the tone of his voice that made her touch
Faith's hand for a moment.

Mrs. Belcher came from the other side of the church,
and had not seen the encounter between Jude and Maud.
She walked by Faith as if she had not seen her, and held
out her hand to Jude. Again Jude made his protest, this
time more forcibly.

"Mrs. Belcher," he said, "you cannot take my hand
until you have taken that of Faith first. Shake hands
with Faith."

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For a moment she hesitated, but again Jude's will tri-
umphed.

When they had all passed out, Faith and Judc went
with Gray into his little room, and he prayed with them,
asking God's blessing and help, and dismissed them with
a benediction as long as his prayer.



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CHAPTER XXIV

That night Mrs. French died. The next morning, when
news came to John Gray, he went at once to the house of
mourning. The undertaker's wagon was in front of the
door, and he met him in the front hall, practical, bustling,
important, going about his business as mechanically as
any other man with an occupation, profession, or trade.
It was like a dash of cold water to the minister, whose
heart was full of love for the dead woman and full of sym-
pathy for her son. The minister found David very calm
and collected, and, though he listened to words of com-
fort respectfully, the preacher felt he was not needed and
soon took his departure.

The funeral was on Tuesday and was attended by al-
most every one in the village, and many of the farmers and
mountaineers, who had been recipients of Mrs. Frendi's
bounty and assistance. It was John Gray's first funeral
service, and he had chosen to speak from the text, "This
woman was full of good works." When he reached the
house, it was nearly full, and he was given a seat in the
front hall, where his voice could be heard in the upstairs
rooms. The undertaker, with his assbtant, was placing
camp-chairs for the mourners, taking them from a hig^
pile and opening them with many a creak and rattle.

Alice came with Faith, and was seated in the darkened
parlor where a shaft of sunlight shone on her face through
a gap in the curtains. Gray could see her plainly through
an open door, and he watched her hungrily. How beau-
tiful she was! How pure and sweet her face! She might
not believe as did her neighbors, but it was not the face of

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an infidel. She believed something. It was the first time
she had heard John Gray preach and pray, and they were
both conscious.

When the house was filled to overflowing, many being
forced to stand outside the door, Gray began the service
with, "I am the resurrection and the life," and followed
with verse after verse of consolation and hope of immor-
tality, and the quartette sang, "Asleep in Jesus, blessed
sleep." Then came a long prayer for resignation and a
sympathetic expression of the virtues and the good deeds
of the woman who had endeared herself to all around
her. The preacher told how deep was her love of **God,"
and how broad her love for her "neighbors." Indeed, it
was the latter that the preacher emphasized, quite
unconscious that it was the presence of Alice Hale —
his neighbor — that inspired him. To her intuition it
was a wooing strangely sweet and insbtent. He told of
Mrs. French's love of flowers, of his promise to think
of her when the arbutus bloomed in the spring, and of
her faith that she would find heaven carpeted with
flowers.

The house service ended by the singing of "Rock of
Ages," Mrs. French's favorite hymn. Her resting-place
was in a little plot of ground, sheltered by tall cypresses,
and so near that the procession of mourners had not far
to go. Close to her grave was the mound under which her
husband slept, and there was a tall granite monument on
which the name of "John French" was cut.

When this service was over, and the solenm "Dust to
dust, and ashes to ashes," had been pronounced, the pro-
cession filed back to the house, where great preparations
had been made for the entertainment of the mourners. It
jarred on the sensitive spirit of John Gray to see the

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eating and drinking, and he soon went home to the par-
sonage. The sun was shining cheerfully, and the minis-
ter's eyes wandered down by the river to a cluster of
oaks, under which, in the early springtime, the first arbu-
tus was likely to bloom, and he was reminded of Mrs.
French's prediction, '' I shall never see the arbutus bloom
on earth again," and of his promise to think of her when
he found the first flower.

The next morning Gray called on David French, and
found him just starting for the Junction.

" I am going up into the woods, where I have a shack,
for two or three weeks," he said. "I have given up the
Academy, and shall decide what to do with myself before
I get back.*'

" I hope you will now follow out your plan to study for
the ministry," suggested the preacher.

"That's given up for good," replied French, and before
Gray could question him, he looked at his watch and said,
** I 'm sorry to leave you, but I have just time to catch my
train. Good-b)^, Mr. Gray, you were a great comfort to
Mother. I'll talk with you when I get back." He climbed
into his light carriage and drove up the hill, leaving the
preacher wondering.

The Wednesday evenings in the minister's study had
been a bone of contention from the beginning. Harding
and Crocker opposed them, because it was a new thing,
and argued that the confidential talk was "too much like
confessionals." To some, however, it had been a real com-
fort to tell their sins, troubles, and mistakes, and to obtain
advice and help. Maud Green had come every Wednes-
day night, rather to the minister's wonder. She had talked
very intimately, revealing her inmost thoughts, and ex-
pressing her deepest emotions. She had decided that she

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could not give her maiden hand to Redny. She had come
to the conclusion that her soul mate must be a man more
intellectual and with a stronger religious feeling. She had
not said in so many words that she would like to have a
clergyman, but she had come very near it. The minister,
in spite of his guilelessness, was beginning to feel uncom-
fortable.

Now, Linda considered herself the guide and protector
of John Gray in all mundane affairs, and she had looked
more and more suspiciously at Maud. She had, of course,
seen the slippers, also a pair of suspenders, on which for-
get-me-nots had also been embroidered. She had noticed
not alone that Maud came every Wednesday night, but
that she stayed a long time. This evening, when Maud
arrived, Linda was barely civil, and, when she went into
her kitchen, she left the door ajar. She had never done
this before. Maud did not fail to notice this neglect, and
by some kind of mental telepathy conve)^ the impres-
sion to Gray, who rose and closed the door.

Maud had got well into the story of her loneliness, her
desire for goodness and her love of the beautiful, when
Linda suddenly appeared, took the Weekly Farmer from
the paper-rack on the wall, and walked calmly back to her
kitchen, without a word and again without latching the
door. The preacher was astonished, for Linda had never
done a thing of this kind before, and he was astounded at
Maud, for'*this lady, having a suspicion that John Gray
was responsible for Linda's action, rose to her feet, her
face crimson, and flounced out of the room without an-
other word.

When she had gone, the preacher sununoned Linda into
the room, and said:

"Linda, have you forgotten that under no condition

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were you to oome into this room on a Wednesday eve-
ning until the bell rang or I called you?"

"Yes, I remember/' answered Linda calmly, although
there were two red spots on her thin dieeks, "an' I s'pose
I ought not to have come in, but Maud's eternal talkin'
to you made me mad. Did you ever hear Tx)ut the ug^y
gal that was out drivin' with a feller, an' she said, * Nobody
loves me an' my hands are cold '? You never heard that
story? Well, the feller said, 'God loves you an' — set on


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Online LibraryWilliam LindseyThe backsliders → online text (page 20 of 25)