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Chapter 9 – Mrs. Wilkins’s Minister

Louisa May AlcottNov 05, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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MR. POWER.

NEXT day Christie braved the lion in his den, otherwise the flinty
Flint, in her second-class boarding-house, and found that alarm and
remorse had produced a softening effect upon her. She was
unfeignedly glad to see her lost lodger safe, and finding that the
new friends were likely to put her in the way of paying her debts,
this much harassed matron permitted her to pack up her possessions,
leaving one trunk as a sort of hostage. Then, with promises to
redeem it as soon as possible, Christie said good-bye to the little
room where she had hoped and suffered, lived and labored so long,
and went joyfully back to the humble home she had found with the
good laundress.

All the following week Christie "chored round," as Mrs. Wilkins
called the miscellaneous light work she let her do. Much washing,
combing, and clean pinaforing of children fell to her share, and she
enjoyed it amazingly; then, when the elder ones were packed off to
school she lent a hand to any of the numberless tasks housewives
find to do from morning till night. In the afternoon, when other
work was done, and little Vic asleep or happy with her playthings,
Christie clapped laces, sprinkled muslins, and picked out edgings at
the great table where Mrs. Wilkins stood ironing, fluting, and
crimping till the kitchen bristled all over with immaculate frills
and flounces.

It was pretty delicate work, and Christie liked it, for Mrs. Wilkins
was an adept at her trade and took as much pride and pleasure in it
as any French blanchis-seuse tripping through the streets of Paris
with a tree full of coquettish caps, capes, and petticoats borne
before her by a half invisible boy.

Being women, of course they talked as industriously as they worked;
fingers flew and tongues clacked with equal profit and pleasure,
and, by Saturday, Christie had made up her mind that Mrs. Wilkins
was the most sensible woman she ever knew. Her grammar was an
outrage upon the memory of Lindley Murray, but the goodness of her
heart would have done honor to any saint in the calendar. She was
very plain, and her manners were by no means elegant, but good
temper made that homely face most lovable, and natural refinement of
soul made mere external polish of small account. Her shrewd ideas
and odd sayings amused Christie very much, while her good sense and
bright way of looking at things did the younger woman a world of
good.

Mr. Wilkins devoted himself to the making of shoes and the
consumption of food, with the silent regularity of a placid animal.
His one dissipation was tobacco, and in a fragrant cloud of smoke he
lived and moved and had his being so entirely that he might have
been described as a pipe with a man somewhere behind it. Christie
once laughingly spoke of this habit and declared she would try it
herself if she thought it would make her as quiet and
undemonstrative as Mr. Wilkins, who, to tell the truth, made no more
impression on her than a fly.

"I don’t approve on’t, but he might do wuss. We all have to have our
comfort somehow, so I let Lisha smoke as much as he likes, and he
lets me gab, so it’s about fair, I reckon," answered Mrs. Wilkins,
from the suds.

She laughed as she spoke, but something in her face made Christie
suspect that at some period of his life Lisha had done "wuss;" and
subsequent observations confirmed this suspicion and another one
also, – that his good wife had saved him, and was gently easing him
back to self-control and self-respect. But, as old Fuller quaintly
says, "She so gently folded up his faults in silence that few
guessed them," and loyally paid him that respect which she desired
others to bestow. It was always "Lisha and me," "I’ll ask my
husband" or "Lisha ‘ll know; he don’t say much, but he’s a dreadful
smart man," and she kept up the fiction so dear to her wifely soul
by endowing him with her own virtues, and giving him the credit of
her own intelligence.

Christie loved her all the better for this devotion, and for her
sake treated Mr. Wilkins as if he possessed the strength of Samson
and the wisdom of Solomon. He received her respect as if it was his
due, and now and then graciously accorded her a few words beyond the
usual scanty allowance of morning and evening greetings. At his shop
all day, she only saw him at meals and sometimes of an evening, for
Mrs. Wilkins tried to keep him at home safe from temptation, and
Christie helped her by reading, talking, and frolicking with the
children, so that he might find home attractive. He loved his babies
and would even relinquish his precious pipe for a time to ride the
little chaps on his foot, or amuse Vic with shadow rabbit’s on the
wall.

At such times the entire content in Mrs. Wilkins’s face made tobacco
fumes endurable, and the burden of a dull man’s presence less
oppressive to Christie, who loved to pay her debts in something
besides money.

As they sat together finishing off some delicate laces that Saturday
afternoon, Mrs. Wilkins said, "Ef it’s fair to-morrow I want you to
go to my meetin’ and hear my minister. It’ll do you good."

"Who is he?"

"Mr. Power."

Christie looked rather startled, for she had heard of Thomas Power
as a rampant radical and infidel of the deepest dye, and been warned
never to visit that den of iniquity called his free church.

"Why, Mrs. Wilkins, you don’t mean it!" she said, leaving her lace
to dry at the most critical stage.

"Yee, I do!" answered Mrs. Wilkins, setting down her flat-iron with
emphasis, and evidently preparing to fight valiantly for her
minister, as most women will.

"I beg your pardon; I was a little surprised, for I’d heard all
sorts of things about him," Christie hastened to say.

"Did you ever hear him, or read any of his writins?" demanded Mrs.
Wilkins, with a calmer air.

"Never."

"Then don’t judge. You go hear and see that blessed man, and ef you
don’t say he’s the shadder of a great rock in a desert land, I’ll
give up," cried the good woman, waxing poetical in her warmth.

"I will to please you, if nothing else. I did go once just because I
was told not to; but he did not preach that day and every thing was
so peculiar, I didn’t know whether to like it or be shocked."

"It is kind of sing’lar at fust, I’m free to confess, and not as
churchy as some folks like. But there ain’t no place but that big
enough to hold the crowds that want to go, for the more he’s abused
the more folks flock to see him. They git their money’s wuth I do
believe, for though there ain’t no pulpits and pews, there’s a sight
of brotherly love round in them seats, and pious practice, as well
as powerful preaching, in that shabby desk. He don’t need no
commandments painted up behind him to read on Sunday, for he keeps
’em in his heart and life all the week as honest as man can."

There Mrs. Wilkins paused, flushed and breathless with her defence,
and Christie said, candidly: "I did like the freedom and good-will
there, for people sat where they liked, and no one frowned over shut
pew-doors, at me a stranger. An old black woman sat next me, and
said ‘Amen’ when she liked what she heard, and a very shabby young
man was on the other, listening as if his soul was as hungry as his
body. People read books, laughed and cried, clapped when pleased,
and hissed when angry; that I did not like."

"No more does Mr. Power; he don’t mind the cryin’ and the smilin’ as
it’s nat’ral, but noise and disrespect of no kind ain’t pleasin’ to
him. His own folks behave becomin’, but strangers go and act as they
like, thinkin’ that there ain’t no bounds to the word free. Then we
are picked at for their doin’s, and Mr. Power has to carry other
folkses’ sins on his shoulders. But, dear suz, it ain’t much matter
after all, ef the souls is well-meanin’. Children always make a
noise a strivin’ after what they want most, and I shouldn’t wonder
ef the Lord forgive all our short-comin’s of that sort, sense we are
hankerin’ and reachin’ for the truth."

"I wish I had heard Mr. Power that day, for I was striving after
peace with all my heart, and he might have given it to me," said
Christie, interested and impressed with what she heard.

"Wal, no, dear, I guess not. Peace ain’t give to no one all of a
suddin, it gen’lly comes through much tribulation, and the sort that
comes hardest is best wuth havin’. Mr. Power would a’ ploughed and
harrered you, so to speak, and sowed good seed liberal; then ef you
warn’t barren ground things would have throve, and the Lord give you
a harvest accordin’ to your labor. Who did you hear?" asked Mrs.
Wilkins, pausing to starch and clap vigorously.

"A very young man who seemed to be airing his ideas and beliefs in
the frankest manner. He belabored everybody and every thing, upset
church and state, called names, arranged heaven and earth to suit
himself, and evidently meant every word he said. Much of it would
have been ridiculous if the boy had not been so thoroughly in
earnest; sincerity always commands respect, and though people
smiled, they liked his courage, and seemed to think he would make a
man when his spiritual wild oats were sown."

"I ain’t a doubt on’t. We often have such, and they ain’t all empty
talk, nuther; some of ’em are surprisingly bright, and all mean so
well I don’t never reluct to hear ’em. They must blow off their
steam somewheres, else they’d bust with the big idees a swellin’ in
’em; Mr. Power knows it and gives ’em the chance they can’t find
nowheres else. ‘Pears to me," added Mrs. Wilkins, ironing rapidly as
she spoke, "that folks is very like clothes, and a sight has to be
done to keep ’em clean and whole. All on us has to lend a hand in
this dreadful mixed-up wash, and each do our part, same as you and
me is now. There’s scrubbin’ and bilin’, wrenchin’ and bluein’,
dryin’ and foldin’, ironin’ and polishin’, before any of us is fit
for wear a Sunday mornin’."

"What part does Mr. Power do?" asked Christie, much amused at this
peculiarly appropriate simile.

"The scrubbin’ and the bilin’; that’s always the hardest and the
hottest part. He starts the dirt and gits the stains out, and leaves
’em ready for other folks to finish off. It ain’t such pleasant work
as hangin’ out, or such pretty work as doin’ up, but some one’s got
to do it, and them that’s strongest does it best, though they don’t
git half so much credit as them as polishes and crimps. That’s showy
work, but it wouldn’t be no use ef the things warn’t well washed
fust," and Mrs. Wilkins thoughtfully surveyed the snowy muslin cap,
with its border fluted like the petals of a prim white daisy, that
hung on her hand.

"I’d like to be a washerwoman of that sort; but as I’m not one of
the strong, I’ll be a laundress, and try to make purity as
attractive as you do," said Christie, soberly.

"Ah, my dear, it’s warm and wearin’ work I do assure you, and hard
to give satisfaction, try as you may. Crowns of glory ain’t wore in
this world, but it’s my ‘pinion that them that does the hard jobs
here will stand a good chance of havin’ extra bright ones when they
git through."

"I know you will," said Christie, warmly.

"Land alive, child! I warn’t thinking of Cynthy Wilkins, but Mr.
Power. I’ll be satisfied ef I can set low down somewheres and see
him git the meddle. He won’t in this world, but I know there’s
rewards savin’ up for him byme-by."

"I’ll go to-morrow if it pours!" said Christie, with decision.

"Do, and I’ll lend you my bunnit," cried Mrs. Wilkins, passing, with
comical rapidity, from crowns of glory to her own cherished
head-gear.

"Thank you, but I can’t wear blue, I look as yellow as a dandelion
in it. Mrs. Flint let me have my best things though I offered to
leave them, so I shall be respectable and by-and-by blossom out."

On the morrow Christie went early, got a good seat, and for half an
hour watched the gathering of the motley congregation that filled
the great hall. Some came in timidly, as if doubtful of their
welcome; some noisily, as if, as Mrs. Wilkins said, they had not
learned the wide difference between liberty and license; many as if
eager and curious; and a large number with the look of children
gathering round a family table ready to be fed, and sure that
wholesome food would be bountifully provided for them.

Christie was struck by the large proportion of young people in the
place, of all classes, both sexes, and strongly contrasting faces.
Delicate girls looking with the sweet wistfulness of maidenly hearts
for something strong to lean upon and love; sad-eyed women turning
to heaven for the consolations or the satisfactions earth could not
give them; anxious mothers perplexed with many cares, trying to find
light and strength; young men with ardent faces, restless, aspiring,
and impetuous, longing to do and dare; tired-looking students, with
perplexed wrinkles on their foreheads, evidently come to see if this
man had discovered the great secrets they were delving after; and
soul-sick people trying this new, and perhaps dangerous medicine,
when others failed to cure. Many earnest, thoughtful men and women
were there, some on the anxious seat, and some already at peace,
having found the clew that leads safely through the labyrinth of
life. Here and there a white head, a placid old face, or one of
those fine countenances that tell, unconsciously, the beautiful
story of a victorious soul.

Some read, some talked, some had flowers in their hands, and all sat
at ease, rich and poor, black and white, young and old, waiting for
the coming of the man who had power to attract and hold so many of
his kind. Christie was so intent on watching those about her that
she did not see him enter, and only knew it by the silence which
began just in front of her, and seemed to flow backward like a wave,
leaving a sea of expectant faces turning to one point. That point
was a gray head, just visible above the little desk which stood in
the middle of a great platform. A vase of lovely flowers was on the
little shelf at one side, a great Bible reposed on the other, and a
manuscript lay on the red slope between.

In a moment Christie forgot every thing else, and waited with a
curious anxiety to see what manner of man this was. Presently he got
up with an open book in his hand, saying, in a strong, cheerful
voice: "Let us sing," and having read a hymn as if he had composed
it, he sat down again.

Then everybody did sing; not harmoniously, but heartily, led by an
organ, which the voices followed at their own sweet will. At first,
Christie wanted to smile, for some shouted and some hummed, some sat
silent, and others sung sweetly; but before the hymn ended she liked
it, and thought that the natural praise of each individual soul was
perhaps more grateful to the ear of God than masses by great
masters, or psalms warbled tunefully by hired opera singers.

Then Mr. Power rose again, and laying his hands together, with a
peculiarly soft and reverent gesture, lifted up his face and prayed.
Christie had never heard a prayer like that before; so devout, so
comprehensive, and so brief. A quiet talk with God, asking nothing
but more love and duty toward Him and our fellow-men; thanking Him
for many mercies, and confiding all things trustfully to the "dear
father and mother of souls."

The sermon which followed was as peculiar as the prayer, and as
effective. "One of Power’s judgment-day sermons," as she heard one
man say to another, when it was over. Christie certainly felt at
first as if kingdoms and thrones were going down, and each man being
sent to his own place. A powerful and popular wrong was arrested,
tried, and sentenced then and there, with a courage and fidelity
that made plain words eloquent, and stern justice beautiful. He did
not take David of old for his text, but the strong, sinful, splendid
Davids of our day, who had not fulfilled the promise of their youth,
and whose seeming success was a delusion and a snare to themselves
and others, sure to be followed by sorrowful abandonment, defeat,
and shame. The ashes of the ancient hypocrites and Pharisees was
left in peace, but those now living were heartily denounced; modern
money-changers scourged out of the temple, and the everlasting truth
set up therein.

As he spoke, not loudly nor vehemently, but with the indescribable
effect of inward force and true inspiration, a curious stir went
through the crowd at times, as a great wind sweeps over a corn
field, lifting the broad leaves to the light and testing the
strength of root and stem. People looked at one another with a
roused expression; eyes kindled, heads nodded involuntary approval,
and an emphatic, "that’s so!" dropped from the lips of men who saw
their own vague instincts and silent opinions strongly confirmed and
nobly uttered. Consciences seemed to have been pricked to duty, eyes
cleared to see that their golden idols had feet of clay, and
wavering wills strengthened by the salutary courage and integrity of
one indomitable man. Another hymn, and a benediction that seemed
like a fit grace after meat, and then the crowd poured out; not
yawning, thinking of best clothes, or longing for dinner, but waked
up, full of talk, and eager to do something to redeem the country
and the world.

Christie went rapidly home because she could not help it, and burst
in upon Mrs. Wilkins with a face full of enthusiasm, exclaiming,
while she cast off her bonnet as if her head had outgrown it since
she left:

"It was splendid! I never heard such a sermon before, and I’ll never
go to church anywhere else."

"I knew it! ain’t it fillin’? don’t it give you a kind of spiritnl
h’ist, and make things wuth more somehow?" cried Mrs. Wilkins,
gesticulating with the pepper-pot in a way which did not improve the
steak she was cooking, and caused great anguish to the noses of her
offspring, who were watching the operation.

Quite deaf to the chorus of sneezes which accompanied her words,
Christie answered, brushing back her hair, as if to get a better
out-look at creation generally:

"Oh, yes, indeed! At first it was rather terrible, and yet so true I
wouldn’t change a word of it. But I don’t wonder he is
misunderstood, belied, and abused. He tells the truth so plainly,
and lets in the light so clearly, that hypocrites and sinners must
fear and hate him. I think he was a little hard and unsparing,
sometimes, though I don’t know enough to judge the men and measures
he condemned. I admire him very much, but I should be afraid of him
if I ever saw him nearer."

"No, you wouldn’t; not a grain. You hear him preach agin and you’ll
find him as gentle as a lamb. Strong folks is apt to be ruther ha’sh
at times; they can’t help it no more than this stove can help
scorchin’ the vittles when it gits red hot. Dinner’s ready, so set
right up and tell me all about it," said Mrs. Wilkins, slapping the
steak on to the platter, and beginning to deal out fried potatoes
all round with absent-minded lavishness.

Christie talked, and the good soul enjoyed that far more than her
dinner, for she meant to ask Mr. Power to help her find the right
sort of home for the stranger whose unfitness for her present place
was every day made more apparent to the mind of her hostess.

"What took you there first?" asked Christie, still wondering at Mrs.
Wilkins’s choice of a minister.

"The Lord, my dear," answered the good woman, in a tone of calm
conviction. "I’d heard of him, and I always have a leanin’ towards
them that’s reviled; so one Sabbath I felt to go, and did. ‘That’s
the gospel for me,’ says I, ‘my old church ain’t big enough now, and
I ain’t goin’ to set and nod there any longer,’ and I didn’t."

"Hadn’t you any doubts about it, any fears of going wrong or being
sorry afterwards?" asked Christie, who believed, as many do, that
religion could not be attained without much tribulation of some
kind.

"In some things folks is led; I be frequent, and when them leadin’s
corne I don’t ask no questions but jest foller, and it always turns
out right."

"I wish I could be led."

"You be, my dear, every day of your life only you don’t see it. When
you are doubtful, set still till the call conies, then git up and
walk whichever way it says, and you won’t fall. You’ve had bread and
water long enough, now you want meat and wine a spell; take it, and
when it’s time for milk and honey some one will fetch ’em ef you
keep your table ready. The Lord feeds us right; it’s we that quarrel
with our vittles."

"I will," said Christie, and began at once to prepare her little
board for the solid food of which she had had a taste that day.

That afternoon Mrs. Wilkins took her turn at church-going, saw Mr.
Power, told Christie’s story in her best style, and ended by saying:

"She’s true grit, I do assure you, sir. Willin’ to work, but she’s
seen the hard side of things and got kind of discouraged. Soul and
body both wants tinkerin’ up, and I don’t know anybody who can do
the job better ‘n you can."

"Very well, I’ll come and see her," answered Mr. Power, and Mrs.
Wilkins went home well satisfied.

He kept his word, and about the middle of the week came walking in
upon them as they were at work.

"Don’t let the irons cool," he said, and sitting down in the kitchen
began to talk as comfortably as if in the best parlor; more so,
perhaps, for best parlors are apt to have a depressing effect upon
the spirits, while the mere sight of labor is exhilarating to
energetic minds.

He greeted Christie kindly, and then addressed himself to Mrs.
Wilkins on various charitable matters, for he was a minister at
large, and she one of his almoners. Christie could really see him
now, for when he preached she forgot the man in the sermon, and
thought of him only as a visible conscience.

A sturdy man of fifty, with a keen, brave face, penetrating eyes,
and mouth a little grim; but a voice so resonant and sweet it
reminded one of silver trumpets, and stirred and won the hearer with
irresistible power. Rough gray hair, and all the features rather
rugged, as if the Great Sculptor had blocked out a grand statue, and
left the man’s own soul to finish it.

Had Christie known that he came to see her she would have been ill
at ease; but Mrs. Wilkins had kept her own counsel, so when Mr.
Power turned to Christie, saying:

"My friend here tells me you want something to do. Would you like to
help a Quaker lady with her housework, just out of town?"

She answered readily: "Yes, sir, any thing that is honest."

"Not as a servant, exactly, but companion and helper. Mrs. Sterling
is a dear old lady, and the place a pleasant little nest. It is good
to be there, and I think you’ll say so if you go."

"It sounds pleasant. When shall I go?"

Mr. Power smiled at her alacrity, but the longing look in her eyes
explained it, for he saw at a glance that her place was not here.

"I will write at once and let you know how matters are settled. Then
you shall try it, and if it is not what you want, we will find you
something else. There’s plenty to do, and nothing pleasanter than to
put the right pair of hands to the right task. Good-by; come and see
me if the spirit moves, and don’t let go of Mrs. Wilkins till you
lay hold of a better friend, if you can find one."

Then he shook hands cordially, and went walking out again into the
wild March weather as if he liked it.

"Were you afraid of him?" asked Mrs. Wilkins.

"I forgot all about it: he looked so kind and friendly. But I
shouldn’t like to have those piercing eyes of his fixed on me long
if I had any secret on my conscience," answered Christie.

"You ain’t nothin’ to fear. He liked your way of speakin’ fust rate,
I see that, and you’ll be all right now he’s took hold."

"Do you know Mrs. Sterling?"

"Only by sight, but she’s a sweet appearin’ woman, and I wouldn’t
ask nothin’ better ‘n to see more of her," said Mrs. Wilkins,
warmly, fearing Christie’s heart might misgive her.

But it did not, and when a note came saying Mrs. Sterling would be
ready for her the next week, she seemed quite content with every
thing, for though the wages were not high she felt that country air
and quiet were worth more to her just then than money, and that
Wilkinses were better taken homceopathically.

The spirit did move her to go and see Mr. Power, but she could not
make up her mind to pass that invisible barrier which stands between
so many who could give one another genuine help if they only dared
to ask it. But when Sunday came she went to church, eager for more,
and thankful that she knew where to go for it.

This was a very different sermon from the other, and Christie felt
as if he preached it for her alone. "Keep innocency and take heed to
the thing that is right, for this will bring a man peace at the
last," might have been the text, and Mr. Power treated it as if he
had known all the trials and temptations that made it hard to live
up to.

Justice and righteous wrath possessed him before, now mercy and
tenderest sympathy for those who faltered in well-doing, and the
stern judge seemed changed to a pitiful father. But better than the
pity was the wise counsel, the cheering words, and the devout
surrender of the soul to its best instincts; its close communion
with its Maker, unchilled by fear, untrammelled by the narrowness of
sect or superstition, but full and free and natural as the breath of
life.

As she listened Christie felt as if she was climbing up from a
solitary valley, through mist and shadow toward a mountain top,
where, though the way might be rough and strong winds blow, she
would get a wider outlook over the broad earth, and be nearer the
serene blue sky. For the first time in her life religion seemed a
visible and vital thing; a power that she could grasp and feel, take
into her life and make her daily bread. Not a vague, vast idea
floating before her, now beautiful, now terrible, always undefined
and far away.

She was strangely and powerfully moved that day, for the ploughing
had begun; and when the rest stood up for the last hymn, Christie
could only bow her head and let the uncontrollable tears flow down
like summer rain, while her heart sang with new aspiration:

"Nearer, my God, to thee,

E’en though a cross it be

That raiseth me,

Still all my song shall be,

Nearer, my God, to thee.

Nearer to thee!"

Sitting with her hand before her eyes, she never stirred till the
sound of many feet told her that service was done. Then she wiped
her eyes, dropped her veil, and was about to rise when she saw a
little bunch of flowers between the leaves of the hymn book lying
open in her lap. Only a knot of violets set in their own broad
leaves, but blue as friendly eyes looking into hers, and sweet as
kind words whispered in her ear. She looked about her hoping to
detect and thank the giver; but all faces were turned the other way,
and all feet departing rapidly.

Christie followed with a very grateful thought in her heart for this
little kindness from some unknown friend; and, anxious to recover
herself entirely before she faced Mrs. Wilkins, she took a turn in
the park.

The snow was gone, high winds had dried the walk, and a clear sky
overhead made one forget sodden turf and chilly air. March was going
out like a lamb, and Christie enjoyed an occasional vernal whiff
from far-off fields and wakening woods, as she walked down the broad
mall watching the buds on the boughs, and listening to the twitter
of the sparrows, evidently discussing the passers-by as they sat at
the doors of their little mansions.

Presently she turned to walk back again and saw Mr. Power coming
toward her. She was glad, for all her fear had vanished now, and she
wanted to thank him for the sermon that had moved her so deeply. He
shook hands in his cordial way, and, turning, walked with her,
beginning at once to talk of her affairs as if interested in them.

"Are you ready for the new experiment?" he asked.

"Quite ready, sir; very glad to go, and very much obliged to you for
your kindness in providing for me."

"That is what we were put into the world for, to help one another.
You can pass on the kindness by serving my good friends who, in
return, will do their best for you."

"That’s so pleasant! I always knew there were plenty of good,
friendly people in the world, only I did not seem to find them
often, or be able to keep them long when I did. Is Mr. Sterling an
agreeable old man?"

"Very agreeable, but not old. David is about thirty-one or two, I
think. He is the son of my friend, the husband died some years ago.
I thought I mentioned it."

"You said in your note that Mr. Sterling was a florist, and might
like me to help in the green-house, if I was willing. It must be
lovely work, and I should like it very much."

"Yes, David devotes himself to his flowers, and leads a very quiet
life. You may think him rather grave and blunt at first, but you’ll
soon find him out and get on comfortably, for he is a truly
excellent fellow, and my right-hand man in good works."

A curious little change had passed over Christie’s face during these
last questions and answers, unconscious, but quite observable to
keen eyes like Mr. Power’s. Surprise and interest appeared first,
then a shadow of reserve as if the young woman dropped a thin veil
between herself and the young man, and at the last words a half
smile and a slight raising of the brows seemed to express the queer
mixture of pity and indifference with which we are all apt to regard
"excellent fellows" and "amiable girls." Mr. Power understood the
look, and went on more confidentially than he had at first intended,
for he did not want Christie to go off with a prejudice in her mind
which might do both David and herself injustice.

"People sometimes misjudge him, for he is rather old-fashioned in
manner and plain in speech, and may seem unsocial, because he does
not seek society. But those who know the cause of this forgive any
little short-comings for the sake of the genuine goodness of the
man. David had a great trouble some years ago and suffered much. He
is learning to bear it bravely, and is the better for it, though the
memory of it is still bitter, and the cross hard to bear even with
pride to help him hide it, and principle to keep him from despair."

Mr. Power glanced at Christie as he paused, and was satisfied with
the effect of his words, for interest, pity, and respect shone in
her face, and proved that he had touched the right string. She
seemed to feel that this little confidence was given for a purpose,
and showed that she accepted it as a sort of gage for her own
fidelity to her new employers.

"Thank you, sir, I shall remember," she said, with her frank eyes
lifted gravely to his own. "I like to work for people whom I can
respect," she added, "and will bear with any peculiarities of Mr.
Sterling’s without a thought of complaint. When a man has suffered
through one woman, all women should be kind and patient with him,
and try to atone for the wrong which lessens his respect and faith
in them."

"There you are right; and in this case all women should be kind, for
David pities and protects womankind as the only retaliation for the
life-long grief one woman brought upon him. That’s not a common
revenge, is it?"

"It’s beautiful!" cried Christie, and instantly David was a hero.

"At one time it was an even chance whether that trouble sent David
to ‘the devil,’ as he expressed it, or made a man of him. That
little saint of a mother kept him safe till the first desperation
was over, and now he lives for her, as he ought. Not so romantic an
ending as a pistol or Byronic scorn for the world in general and
women in particular, but dutiful and brave, since it often takes
more courage to live than to die."

"Yes, sir," said Christie, heartily, though her eyes fell,
remembering how she had failed with far less cause for despair than
David.

They were at the gate now, and Mr. Power left her, saying, with a
vigorous hand-shake:

"Best wishes for a happy summer. I shall come sometimes to see how
you prosper; and remember, if you tire of it and want to change, let
me know, for I take great satisfaction in putting the right people
in the right places. Good-by, and God be with you."

 

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