Richard Prescott was “a true Christian” who “believed devoutly in the word and promises of God,” but financial reverses forced him to leave the East and move with his family to the Iowa frontier town of Spring Grove. Although a “pleasant place,” Spring Grove had no church. When Richard asked a new acquaintance the reason, he was told: “When you’ve lived here as long as we have, you’ll know.” Richard began to see God’s purpose in leading him west as he resolved, in spite of opposition, that the gospel of Jesus Christ and His righteousness would be proclaimed even on the frontier.
Content Whipple’s story of sin and redemption on the Iowa frontier, The Prescotts was first published in 1871 by Garrigues Brothers of Philadelphia; the following year, H. Hoyt of Boston published her second novel, The Newell Boys—A Temperance Story. For a timeline of events in Content Whipple’s life, click here.
No. 608 Arch Street.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by J. C. Garrigues & Co., In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
Westcott & Thomson, Stereotypers, Philadelphia.
Jas. B. Rodgers Co., Prs. 52 & 54 N. 6th St.
CHAPTER II. AN EFFORT TO DO GOOD
CHAPTER III. DISAGREEABLE NEIGHBORS
CHAPTER IV. OLD DOBSON'S LOGS
CHAPTER V. AN UNNEIGHBORLY VISIT
CHAPTER VI. THE TEMPERANCE SOCIETY
CHAPTER VII. ALTHEA
CHAPTER VIII. THE PARTY
CHAPTER IX. ARTHUR HOLMES
CHAPTER X. A GIRL'S INFLUENCE
CHAPTER XI. THE MINISTER AND THE WITHERELLS
CHAPTER XII. DAN LARK AND HORACE WITHERELL
CHAPTER XIII. DELIA'S ILLNESS AND DEATH
CHAPTER XIV. THE TEXT AND ITS FULFILMENT
CHAPTER XV. DARKNESS AND SUNSHINE
CHAPTER XVI. NED LARK'S ACKNOWLEDGMENT
CHAPTER XVII. NED LARK'S CONVERSION
CHAPTER XVIII. CONCLUSION
THE PRESCOTT FAMILY.
SPRING GROVE was a little village pleasantly situated on the banks of one of the smaller rivers in the State of Iowa. On every side of the settlement was a deep forest, in some places twelve or fifteen miles long, the village itself occupying a small clearing in the midst of this wilderness.
It was, therefore, a lonely and isolated spot, the nearest town of consequence being about twelve miles away. This town was called “the city” by the people of Spring Grove, and by that name it will be known in these pages.
Spring Grove consisted of about fifty houses, mostly log cabins, though there were a few nice frame houses in the village, and one built of the rock from a quarry of lime-stone near by.
It was quite a pleasant place, and considerable taste was displayed in the arrangement of the streets and the locating of the buildings.
A saw-mill and grist-mill had been erected on the banks of the river, and the place boasted of one store, a shoemaker’s shop, a blacksmith’s forge and, I am sorry to add, a grogshop, which will always corrupt the morals and blight the happiness of any people.
A family by the name of Prescott had come from the East and taken up their abode in Spring Grove. The family consisted of Richard Prescott, his wife and three children. The eldest, Althea by name, was a girl of fifteen, Willie was ten and Grace, the baby, about three.
Richard Prescott had been a man of considerable property in his native place, but he had been unfortunate in business and lost nearly all he was worth, and, like many another, emigrated to the West, hoping there to regain his lost fortune.
He was a stranger in this section of the country, but having heard of it favorably, he had come there to settle.
He was not a man to spend much time bewailing that which he could not help. He was a true Christian, and believed devoutly in the word and promises of God to his loving and trustful children.
Wherever he found himself he made it a business to work, not only for the temporal well-being of his family, but for that which was to last eternally, and here in this far-off home, away from all the friends of former days, he felt that God was just as near and life just as full of sacred responsibilities.
His wife was a helpmeet in every sense of the word. Trusting fully in the promise of God not to forsake those who believe on him, she was always cheerful, ready to bear her share of the burden, charitable toward the faults of others and kind and self-sacrificing.
The children had been reared in an atmosphere of love. They were taught to be kind to each other, to obey their parents, to be peaceable among their associates and to shun every appearance of evil.
A strange family to be thrown among such people as made up the society of Spring Grove; but those who believe that everything is ordered by Providence for some wise purpose may perhaps see, as they follow this little story, some good and wise reasons in Richard Prescott’s removal to the West.
It was in the month of October that the Prescotts took up their abode in Spring Grove. The house which they engaged was a log cabin of modest pretensions situated on the outskirts of the village, in the very edge of the forest.
It contained two good-sized rooms besides the chamber, and for a cabin was quite a pleasant and comfortable dwelling. But there was one serious objection to it in the minds of Richard and his family, and if they could have found a house half as suitable in any other part of the village, they would not have gone where they did.
The objection was the grogshop, which was only a few rods away; in fact, the whisky-dealer was their nearest neighbor.
The name of this personage was Edward Larkum, which had been shortened by his cronies into “Ned Lark,” and by this appellation he was generally known.
He was a thick-set, savage-looking man, with bloated face and surly ways. He loved his own grog as well as did his customers, and he was seldom without a pipe in his mouth. He had a wife, a coarse, brawling woman, who was detested by all her neighbors, and a number of dirty, swearing children who seemed to have little idea of the difference between right and wrong. His wife was usually called Mrs. Lark, and his children were designated by the name of “young Larks.”
It was not amid such surroundings that Mr. and Mrs. Prescott wished to raise up their family, but as this was the best situation that presented itself, they were obliged to accept of it.
They brought with them from the East all the furniture which they thought they should need for present use, excepting a stove. That they intended to purchase after arriving at their place of destination.
It so happened that John Camp, one of the men living in Spring Grove, was about to remove farther west, and had a good stove that he would be glad to sell. Richard was informed of the fact by a neighbor who knew that he wished to buy one.
“If you could borrow a stove a little while,” said the neighbor, “till John leaves, then you’d be all right.”
“But where can I borrow one?” asked Richard.
“Ned Lark has one that he don’t use; he a’n’t much fur lendin’, Ned a’n’t, or accommodatin’ any way, but mebbe he’d let ye hev it long enough to turn yerself. I’ll borrow it for you if ye’d like to hev me.”
“Thank you; if you will be so kind, it will accommodate me very much,” answered Richard, and after much teasing on the part of Sam Carter, the accommodating neighbor, Ned at last consented to lend his stove for the space of a few weeks to the new-comers. Carter borrowed a piece of stove-pipe of another man and helped Richard set up the stove.
Now it began to seem quite pleasant and home-like, and little Gracie, who at first said this was not a pretty home and teased to go back till she made her sister Allie cry with homesickness, now said, “It was a pretty home and she would stay.”
The little cabin did not look distasteful when fitted up with their few articles of furniture. The floor of one room was covered with a plain home-made carpet, and the apartment contained a table, bureau, workstand, a few chairs and a bed. In this same room was a trundle-bed for Willie under the one in which his parents slept.
The chamber was the sleeping-apartment of Althea and her little sister. The other room was to be used through the winter as a store-room, and was not furnished at all.
The majority of the people of Spring Grove, though rough and uncultivated, were very kind, and the first few days they called often upon their new neighbors with offers of assistance, many of them bringing pies or bread, with the excuse “that they reckoned Mrs. Prescott wouldn’t hev a chance to cook much while she was a-gettin’ settled.”
But one thing they all united in telling the Prescotts :
“You never can get along with the Larks over the way,” they said; “nobody ever did that lived here. They’re meaner ‘n all creation. What with the fellers that are drunk ‘round the premises all the time, and the pesky children, that a’n’t got no more manners than rats, and Ned and his wife, that would both sell themselves to the evil one for a dollar, ye’ll hev a tough time of it.”
It was an unusually fervent prayer that ascended that night from the humble home of Richard Prescott. He prayed that his little flock might not be led into temptation, and that if evil came he might be enabled to overcome it with good.
Then commending himself and family to the care of the almighty Father, and praying that their lives among these rough people might not be unprofitable to the cause of the Lord, the good man and his family went to rest, to awake in the morning to new and strange duties.
AN EFFORT TO DO GOOD.
THE Prescotts had not lived long in Spring Grove before they discovered a great lack among the inhabitants--a lack which Richard felt it his duty in some sort to supply.
There was a schoolhouse in the place, and a school was kept up a few months in the year, but there were no meetings of any kind, no Sabbath-school, and no religious instruction whatever. The influential men of the place--and there were a number--were for the most part irreligious and profane, and frequented the grogshop oftener than better places of resort. James Witherell and Gardiner Holmes were among the most prominent of these men.
Witherell owned the saw-mill and grist-mill, while Holmes kept the store and a sort of tavern for the accommodation of travellers.
Richard Prescott found employment for the winter in Witherell’s saw-mill, where he received good wages, and was enabled to supply his family with every necessary. Here he made more acquaintances among his neighbors than he could have made in any other situation, for almost every one was wanting logs sawed, and the mill was a place of resort for all the idlers in the village.
There was a man in the place, one Arnold Appleton, who had formerly been a minister of the gospel. Richard found him to be a man of considerable information and pretty good morals, who, although not coming up to the standard which Richard had set up for himself, was yet far in advance of the most of his neighbors.
One day a number of men were collected in the mill, and among them Elder Appleton, as he was generally called, and Sam Carter, who had befriended the Prescotts on their first arrival.
The conversation turned upon the want of meetings in Spring Grove.
“How is it, friends,” asked Richard, “that you have lived in this place so long without
meetings or Sabbath-schools ? It is a discouraging state of things for your village. Are there no religious men among you?”
“I used to belong to the church once,” said Sam Carter.
“So did I, and I, and I,” responded several others.
“And here is a minister who might have preached to you,” said Richard. “Why didn’t you get up a meeting and carry it through, and redeem your home from its immoral atmosphere?”
“When you’ve lived here as long as we have, you’ll know,” said one, disconsolately. “We did try it a little while, but our meetings were all broken up by the rowdies, and we couldn’t do anything.”
“Well, if I am going to live among you, I want to go to meeting, and I want my children to go. Now, I will make a proposal to you. If I will appoint a meeting in my house some evening, how many of you will come and help me carry it through?”
“You never can hold a meeting there, next door to that grogshop,” said Elder Appleton; “they wouldn’t give you a minute’s peace of your life if they found you were religious. You’ll find it hard enough to get along, as it is.”
“Well, friends,” said Richard, speaking slowly and solemnly, “the Lord has given me a duty to perform, and if I neglect it, I shall be held responsible. I will try to do right, and trust God to take care of the rest. Now, how many of you will come to my meeting?” His earnest faith made a deep impression upon them, and every man present consented to come. So he made an appointment for the next Tuesday evening, saying, “I hope you will all bring your families and as many friends as you can induce to accompany you.”
There was great excitement in the place when the appointment of the meeting was made public, and various were the opinions expressed in regard to it.
Some weak souls who loved religion, but were not strong enough to stem the tide of popular opinion, were sincerely glad for the privilege of attending; some who were indifferent to the cause of Christ were yet pleased to see anything going on that looked like excitement; while others still were indignant and bitterly angry at the prospect of a change that would interfere with the wicked life which they were leading, and resolved that, if they could prevent it, the new influence at work among the people of Spring Grove should be effectually checked now and for ever.
The evening of the meeting arrived, and the pleasant little room in Richard Prescott’s cabin was furnished with benches enough to accommodate a goodly number of people.
The workstand stood in the middle of the room, and on it Richard’s large family Bible which he had owned and read for twenty years.
The bed was covered with a white spread, the stove was well polished, the windows white curtained, and everything, though plain, was the personification of neatness.
Among the first arrivals was a son of Gardiner Holmes and two daughters of James Witherell, who considered themselves the aristocracy of Spring Grove. They had probably come out of curiosity. They were dressed in a style far exceeding their neighbors, and entered with an air that seemed to say, “You will see nobody here this evening who will equal us.”
Shy little Allie Prescott was almost over-come with the appearance of her grand neighbors, for the Witherell girls were really very pretty, while Arthur Holmes was a fine, manly-looking youth. Had it not been for the “better-than-their-neighbors” air that surrounded them, this would have been a very interesting party.
The room was soon crowded to its utmost capacity. Sam Carter, his wife and three children were there; Elder Appleton and his wife and a married son, a great handsome giant of a fellow, with his wife, and a crowd of others, boys, girls, men and women of all appearances.
The most of them seemed attracted by curiosity, but there were a few among the crowd who were the friends of Christ and eager to listen to the truths of religion.
When the company had arrived, Richard arose and addressed them a few words.
He was a tall, noble-looking man, whose appearance could but command respect, any-
where, and when he rose to his feet, there was
silence in every part of the room.
“My friends,” he said, “I have called this meeting that we might talk together upon a subject that is of the most vital importance to all of us--the welfare of our immortal souls. God loves us too well to want us to trifle away in vanity and sin the few years he has given us in which to prepare for heaven, and it is a duty which we owe to ourselves and our Creator to make some preparation in this world for the life which is to come.
“I hope that we may listen to good words from many here present to-night, and that this meeting will be but the beginning of a new and better state of things in this little village. Now, will Brother Appleton lead us in prayer?”
These simple words of solemn and earnest meaning had touched a chord in almost every heart, and nearly all present assumed a reverential attitude, while Mr. Appleton breathed out a fervent petition for aid from above in carrying out the good work begun in their midst. At its close more than one amen was heard from the little assembly.
Then, to the surprise of all, a clear and most musical voice broke forth in the beautiful hymn--
“Oh when shall I see Jesus?”
The company with one accord joined in, and the house re-echoed with the sweet and thrilling refrain.
The leader of the singing was none other than Nate Hardy, as he was called, one of the most profane and intemperate men in Spring Grove.
But Nathan had not always been thus. In his native place in the East, among a refined and pious people, he had been choir-leader, and none had been more circumspect in their conduct, or sincere in religious observances, than he. But bad associates had ruined him, and those who had known him in his youth would little dream that the
Nathan Hardy of those days and the present besotted, degraded Nate were one and the same person.
But the solemn scene of to-night had brought to mind the beautiful hymns of former days, and the singing of those sweet words awakened thoughts in his heart which he had deemed would slumber for ever; and when it was finished he bowed his head upon his hands and wept like a child.
A portion of the Scripture was read by Elder Appleton, and then Richard again arose and addressed a few words further to the audience. As he commenced speaking, an old gray-headed man was seen elbowing his way through the crowd, but as there appeared to be no seat for him and no one offered him one, Richard passed him the chair on which he himself had been sitting.
This little interruption over, he went on with his discourse. For his subject he chose the words: “For if ye love not your brother whom ye have seen, how can ye love God whom ye have not seen?”
He made an eloquent appeal to their sense of duty toward their fellow-men, telling them that faith was made manifest by works, and that no one could say truly, “I love God,” while he was ready to do injury to his brother. He talked earnestly of the duties of every-day life, the influence of one over another, and the terrible consequences of setting a bad example. He dwelt at length upon the evils of profanity, intemperance, etc., showing them up in all their hideous deformity.
At this stage of his discourse, the old man who last entered was seen to move un-easily in his chair; then he began to mutter a denial of what was being said, while low curses and threats issued from his thin, compressed lips.
Richard took no notice of the interruption, but the old man at last became so noisy that the constable, who chanced to be present, warned him to leave the house.
He did not dare to disobey, but once outside, gave free vent to his feelings. He cursed and swore and threatened, until some of the men present went out and took him off the premises.
He was known as old Dobson among his neighbors, and he had just come from tile grogshop over the way.
This was not the only disturbance of the meeting. A company of boys and rowdies assembled outside in the course of the evening, and threw stones upon the roof, shouted and otherwise disturbed the exercises, but Richard especially requested that no one should notice them. The meeting went on as if no annoyances had occurred, which proved to be the best way, for at last the rioters, seeing that no one noticed them, began to find it dull sport and went away, while the meeting was closed with a promising appearance of interest on the part of those who had attended.
MRS. PRESCOTT arose early on the first Monday morning after their settlement at Spring Grove, and in common with housekeepers generally began her labors at the wash-tub. It was a bright day, and as she was a fast worker, her task was finished at an early hour.
But there was one necessary article which the Prescotts had neglected to bring with them, and as they had not yet procured it, Mrs. Prescott felt the need of it very much. This was a clothes-line.
The clothes were white as snow drifts, and she searched for some time to find a suitable place to hang them. The door-yard fence was at last decided upon, for although this fence was between their yard and that of the Larks, yet as Mrs. Lark had a line in her own door-yard, Mrs. Prescott did not think of her wanting to use the fence.
So with much care she spread out the delicate garments that none of them might touch the ground and be soiled, and then went into the house and busied herself about some other work.
By and by, Willie, who had been playing out of doors, came running in, saying,
“Mother, that Lark woman has thrown all our clothes on the ground and put hers on the fence.”
“Did you see her, Willie?” asked the mother, thinking it scarcely possible that any one could do so unneighborly an act.
“Yes, I saw her my own self,” answered the boy, “and she knew I did, too, for she looked right at me.”
Mrs. Prescott went to the window, and, lo! it was as Willie had said. Her snowy garments, that she had taken so much pains to wash, were all lying in the mud on her side of the fence. And such mud! Any one who has lived in the West can understand that the blackness of darkness is nothing compared to the Western mud. The fence was covered with Mrs. Lark’s clothes, while her line was not nearly full. It was easy to see that it was the purest malice that prompted the act.
If Mrs. Prescott had yielded to her feelings, she would have gone out to her neighbor (who had not yet entered the house, but seemed courting a quarrel), given her “a piece of her mind,” and then sat down and cried over the discouraging prospect of having all to do over again.
But she did neither. She went out very calmly and deliberately, picked up the soiled clothes and carried them in, and when she had washed them hung them with much trouble upon the bushes and trees in her own door-yard.
If Mrs. Lark had tried to get her neighbor into a quarrel, she failed this time most effectually.
Sometimes, when it was a pleasant day and not too muddy, Mrs. Prescott would allow little Gracie to play out of doors with Willie. One day when she was out the mother heard her crying as if seriously hurt. She ran to the door and found that Willie had left her alone a few moments, and the bars being down between their yard and the Larks’, whether purposely or not she did not know, the little creature had gone, innocently enough, to make a call upon their neighbors. Mrs. Lark had given her a severe shaking, and when Mrs. Prescott went out to see what was the matter, and little Gracie came running to her sobbing as if her heart would break, Mrs. Lark called out, “You may keep your young ones at home, if you don’t want me to shake ‘em. I won’t have ‘em around my premises.”
If Gracie’s mother had spoken then, she would have said something very angry; so she held her peace, took the little girl in and soothed her as well as she could.
Mrs. Lark had a little girl about a year older than Gracie. It so happened that same day that this child, little Katie Lark, came into the Prescotts’ door-yard and up to the very door, before she was missed at home. Mrs. Prescott might have retaliated now, if she had desired, for the injustice done to her own child, but she had no thought of doing this. Instead, she stroked the child’s curly head, and even kissed the little dirty face, and when, in response to her mother’s alarmed call, Katie ran home, her hands were filled with the nicest of cookies of Mrs. Prescott’s own baking.
In this way did she return good for evil.
OLD DOBSON’S LOGS.
ONE morning Mr. Witherell, Richard’s employer, came to the mill where he was at work, and said, “Dobson came to me last night, and was very anxious to get some logs sawed. He has a chance to sell some lumber, but his logs are on the outside, and he was afraid you wouldn’t be willing to saw them till his turn came. I told him he could have it done for all of me, for the inside logs are mostly mine, and it lay altogether with you. It will be some trouble to roll the logs in, but he said you needn’t do anything about that. He and his boys will do it. He wanted me to see you about it, for he said he was ashamed to speak with you, he abused you so the night of the meeting, and he was quite sure you wouldn’t want to do him a favor.”
“He must have a poor opinion of me, then,” said Richard. “Tell him I would do him a favor just as soon as any man in the village, and I haven’t any but the very kindest of feelings toward him. Whenever he will come down and help roll the logs in, they shall be sawed forthwith.”
Mr. Witherell went away, and in about an hour old Dobson came into the mill with a couple of his boys, great, strapping, broad-shouldered fellows. The old man was looking decidedly sheepish, and as though he scarcely knew what to say, but Richard met him with a cheery good morning, and appeared so friendly that he soon felt more at ease.
“Mr. Witherell tells me you’ve a chance to sell some of your lumber.”
“I am very glad, indeed. Lumber has been rather dull along back, they tell me, and you are fortunate to find a market for yours.”
The old man looked as pleased as he felt at his neighbor’s cordial sympathy.
“I--I didn’t know,” he stammered, “but--but you might have some feelin’ ‘bout sawin’ ‘em for me. I didn’t use you well t’other night--”
“We won’t speak of that, Neighbor Dobson,” said Richard, gently; “you were not at that time as you are now. I was sorry to see you so, that was all. Now, if you and your boys will take hold, we’ll roll these logs in, and you shall have your boards as quick as I can saw them.”
Dobson felt keenly the gentle rebuke conveyed in Richard’s words, but it was said so kindly that he could not feel angry, and it did him more good than a long temperance sermon would have done.
The logs were sawed, Dobson and his boys remaining on hand to roll them in as fast as they were wanted, and at every opportunity Richard talked with them in a most friendly manner, making a good impression, not only upon the old man, but also upon the rude uncultivated boys.
He did not know it at the time, but he had that day made fast friends of those whom he might so easily have converted into enemies.
A few days afterward, as Mrs. Prescott was sitting in her room sewing, she heard a knock on the door, and opening it, there stood a great overgrown boy dressed in strangely-fitting garments, with long hair reaching to his shoulders, and presenting an uncouth appearance generally. He had in his hands a rod on which were strung several large, fine-looking pickerel, almost the first fish Mrs. Prescott had seen since she came from the East.
“Would you like these fish, mum?” he asked, holding them out toward her.
“I would like them very much,” said she, “but I haven’t any money with me. Perhaps, if you should take them to the saw-mill where my husband works, he would buy them.”
“Don’t want no money,” said the boy; “ye’s welcome to ‘em;” and he put the rod into her hands and started to walk away.
“Stop a moment,” said Mrs. Prescott; “I want to know to whom I am indebted for so nice a present.”
“Yer a’n’t in debt to me, mum,” said the boy, half turning about.
“But what is your name?” insisted Mrs. Prescott.
“Jack Dobson,” was the answer.
“Thank you, Jack,” she called after him; “I sha’n’t forget this nice present.” But Jack by this time was out of hearing.
This was not by any means the last favor that the Prescotts received from the Dobsons. Prairie chickens, wild geese and ducks, and almost every kind of game, found its way into their culinary department, while every time the Dobsons butchered a pig or a sheep(which was not seldom, as they were pretty well off in worldly goods), they would send a generous share to the Prescott family, and never would take a cent in payment.
The friendship of such people was far preferable to their enmity, and this the Prescotts realized better when they saw how some of their neighbors suffered from the tricks of the Dobson boys, while they received only favors.
AN UNNEIGHBORLY VISIT.
MRS. PRESCOTT had been wanting for some time to go to the city. She wished to make some purchases of articles which were not to be had in Spring Grove, and she did not want to wait until winter before taking the long ride. So one day Richard left his work, hired a team of one of the neighbors and went with her.
They took Willie with them that he might not get into mischief while they were gone, and left little Gracie with Althea.
It was now about the first of November, and the air was cold and chilly. Allie made a good fire, and then tried to entertain her little sister and herself to the best of her ability.
But it was lonely enough there, and she began to feel almost afraid, with the grogshop so close by and not another house within hearing distance.
About ten o’clock she heard a team drive up to the door, and looking out, she saw Dan Lark, Ned’s oldest son, a young man of about eighteen, with a horse and lumber-wagon. Wondering much what he was after, Allie kept very still until she heard him knock at the door.
Then she opened it, and he marched in without ceremony.
“I’ve come arter my dad’s stove,” he said, walking up to the stove and looking in to see how much fire there was. “What you got it so hot fur ? Give us a pail o’ water to put out the fire.”
Althea was so astonished by this rude way of entering a neighbor’s house that she said not a word, while little Gracie clung to her hand trembling.
Dan looked around the room, and seeing a pail of water, he dashed it over the fire, spilling it on Mrs. Prescott’s clean carpet and causing the ashes to fly out in every direction.
“This is awful hot now,” he said; “guess I’ll sit down here an’ wait till it cools.”
So he seated himself in Mrs. Prescott’s rocking-chair, and began to rock as composedly as though he was at home.
He was a low, brutal-looking fellow, and Allie felt very much afraid of him as he sat there rocking with his evil-looking eyes fixed upon her. But he did not offer to molest her, and presently, to her great relief, he rose and commenced taking down the stove.
“I s’pose this ere stove-pipe belongs to dad?” he said as he took it down.
“I believe father borrowed that of somebody else,” said Althea.
“Wal, I guess it’s dad’s. Anyhow, I’ll take it home, an’ ef ‘ta’n’t, ye can git it ag’in.”
Allie was too anxious to be rid of him to make any objections, so he packed the stove, pipe and all, into the wagon, leaving a trail of soot on the carpet all the way to the door.
Allie drew a long breath of relief when he drove away.
“Now what shall we do, Gracie?” she said to her little sister, for want of some one else to talk to; “it’ll be as cold in here as a barn, and you and I will both get sick.”
“Old naughty man,” said Gracie, “to tarry off our ‘tove.”
“It was the man’s stove, dear,” said Allie, but that don’t make it any the better for us. I don’t see why they need to come after it while father and mother were both gone;” and she almost sobbed with discouragement.
Mrs. Prescott and Althea had kept so quiet since they had been in Spring Grove that they had formed few acquaintances, and now Althea could think of nowhere to go and stay until her folks came home. As for remaining there, it was out of the question, for it was so cold that little Gracie would surely get sick. It was some time before she could decide what to do.
Meanwhile, she swept up the soot and ashes which Dan Lark had scattered about the floor, and after making the room look more presentable, she concluded to take Gracie and go to Elder Appleton’s, as that was not far away, and she felt somewhat acquainted with him and his wife.
Mrs. Appleton, an old white-haired lady with beautiful eyes and pleasant voice, received them very kindly. When Althea had told of the visit of Dan Lark, the old lady was very indignant. ”It is just like them Larks,” she said; “they’re allers a-makin’ trouble for somebody. Nobody ever lived there yit that they didn’t harass e’ena’most to death. They’re a wicked set, them Larks, an’ I guess yer pa ‘ll be glad enough to git away from ‘em, an’ yer ma too. Now, you tell yer folks that ef John Camp a’n’t ready to give up the stove ye’ve bought of him, we’ve got one that you can take an’ use jist as long as you want to. ‘Ta’n’t a very good one, but mebbe it’ll answer some purpose.”
Mrs. Appleton did her best to make the children feel at home there, and so did her husband when he came in to his dinner, but it was a long, weary day, after all, and Allie was very glad when she saw her father and mother drive by on their way home.
Richard could not help feeling vexed when he heard Allie’s story, it seemed so mean and small in their neighbors to take that time (for they knew that Mr. and Mrs. Prescott had gone away) to come and make them trouble. He thought that at least they might have let him know a little beforehand that they wanted the stove, that he might have
an opportunity to get another.
Luckily, John Camp was about ready to move, and gave up the stove that night, so that it did not put them to so much inconvenience as it might have done.
The next morning, before breakfast, Richard sent Willie over to the Larks to get the borrowed stove-pipe, not dreaming that they meant to keep it. Presently, Willie came in looking as insulted as a little fellow of ten could well look.
“Father,” he said, his heart almost ready to burst with indignation, “that mean old Ned Lark says that’s his stove-pipe and he’s going to keep it. He talked dreadfully to me, and called me a little cub, and said you was an old cheat and a hypocrite, and he swore, and everything.”
“Well, never mind, Willie,” said his father, stroking his head; “I ought not to have sent you in there. I won’t do it any more. Such people are not fit for my children to be with, even for one moment. I don’t suppose our neighbors are so much to blame as it seems, because they haven’t been taught any better. I’ll go in there myself after breakfast, and perhaps he will let me have it.”
So after breakfast Richard started for his work, intending to call at Ned Lark’s on his way, but he met Ned just before he got to the door.
“Good morning, Edward,” he said, pleasantly; “I thought I would call around and get that stove-pipe that your boy took by mistake yesterday. I borrowed it, and would like to return it.”
Ned planted himself firmly in Richard’s path, his face purple with rage.
“You a’n’t a-goin’ to hev that stove-pipe, I tell you,” he cried; “I’m a-goin’ to keep it to pay for the use o’ the stove.”
“I am willing to pay you for the use of the stove, whatever you ask,” said Richard, “but you must give me that pipe, because it is borrowed;” and he slightly emphasized the “must.”
“You take one step toward my house and I’ll knock your head off your body!” cried Ned, now raging like a madman and breaking into a volley of oaths and curses most terrible to listen to. He poured forth the most horrible threats, and every vile epithet in his vocabulary, until his breath was well-nigh spent.
Then Richard said, in a tone kinder if possible than that he had used before.
“Well, Edward, I shall not quarrel with you. If you feel better to keep the stove-pipe, keep it. Above everything else, I want to live at peace with my neighbors. I will try to buy a piece of pipe to replace this. Good-morning;” and he walked away to his work.
If Ned Lark had received a blow from his neighbor after the tirade he launched against him, he would not have been in the least surprised ; in fact, it was what he was expecting; but those gentle, kindly words gave him a shock of surprise such as he had not lately experienced. He could scarcely believe the evidence of his senses. For years he had lived at open enmity with his neighbors. They all hated him, and he hated them, but most especially was his wrath directed against those who professed religion and tried to follow Jesus. Ill fared it with one of this class who had not the grace of God strong enough within his heart to enable him to overcome evil with good, for nothing gave Ned such apparent delight as to make a professor of religion angry enough to quarrel, and even fight, with him, as at times had been the case.
But for once the evil spirit in him was conquered by the spirit of Jesus, and though he felt no more kindly toward Richard than before, yet for the time being he was disarmed, and knew not what stand to take nest.
THE TEMPERANCE SOCIETY.
NOT long after the meeting held in his house, Richard appointed another, and this time a lively interest was manifested. More than one wanderer from the fold of Christ confessed his wrong-doing and asked the prayers of Christians that he might be received back again.
Many beautiful hymns were sung with the spirit, and, it seemed, with the understanding also, for sobs were heard in every part of the room, testifying to the deep feeling that pervaded the assembly.
Richard Prescott was truly in earnest. He talked to them most feelingly of that patient, enduring love which Jesus cherishes toward his children, of the joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, and he exhorted them to come to Jesus and be folded in those everlasting arms that are all powerful to save from eternal destruction.
It was a solemn time, and those who came to sneer and scoff went away silenced, if not convinced.
In the course of the evening an old man came forward and spoke words which it gladdened Richard’s heart to hear.
His name was George Aldrich--” Uncle Georgie” he was generally called among the people. He was Richard’s landlord, a man of considerable property and more education than was common among the people of the place. He was more truly a gentleman than any man Richard had yet become acquainted with, and was generally liked and respected among his neighbors.
“I wish to say a few words to you, friends,” said he, “and I am ashamed that I have not said them before. I stand before you a member, I trust, of the Church of Christ, but who among you have known it? I have tried since I have been in this place to do right, to lead a moral life, but I have not obeyed that command which says, ‘Let your light so shine that men may see your good works and glorify God.’ Have I been ashamed of Jesus? I hardly know. I only feel that I have been culpably neglectful of the things which pertain to immortal life. But now, with the help of God, I am going to do better. I give my hand most heartily to Brother Prescott to help him carry out the good work he has so nobly begun here, and I trust I am not the only one who will do so. Friends, let us unite in having a meeting and in laboring for Jesus, and let us pray for ourselves and for each other that we may be faithful here and at last gain a home in heaven.”
To the surprise of all, Nate Hardy, whom we mentioned in a previous chapter, then came forward. With a voice broken by sobs, he spoke of his former life and of how he had changed since he left his home and had gone among evil companions. “Never,” said he, “in all these years of sin and misery, have my feelings been so deeply touched as they have been in these two meetings held in this house. I know I am a poor worthless drunkard whom nobody respects, while even my companions in sin look upon me with loathing, but I sincerely desire to reform, and if there is any grace for such a sinner as I, I am going to try to find it. I haven’t drank a drop of anything intoxicating since that other meeting , and will the good friends pray for me that I may not again be led into temptation ?”
“Yes, Nathan, we will,” said Richard, earnestly, as his friend took his seat, “and may you soon find by blessed experience that there is grace for you as well as for all other returning wanderers!”
The meeting closed with indications of deep interest, and when the last had departed, Richard gathered his family around him, and in their evening devotions thanked God that thus far his labors had been crowned with success.
But there was one thing which Nathan Hardy said in his remarks that evening that put a new thought into Richard’s mind. It was that which referred to drinking.
“That habit will be his stumbling-block,” said Richard to his wife as they were talking it over together, “and so it will be with a great many others, I fear, if we could only get up a temperance society, and get some of these poor fellows to sign the pledge, and then uphold them with our influence, there would be much more hope for them than there can be under present prospects.”
“Why don’t you try it, Richard?” said Mrs. Prescott, earnestly. “It is what is deeply needed here, and it may do a great deal of good. If you will talk with the men, I will talk with the women, and it is possible we can get together enough for a society.”
Full of their new design, the Prescotts hastened to put it into execution. Richard found a few men willing to take hold in earnest and help carry out the plan, but tile, greater number that he talked with were either lukewarm or utterly opposed to it.
“Uncle Georgie” Aldrich was wholly in favor and ready to work with all his strength in the cause. Sam Carter was another, and Nathan Hardy was rejoiced to have help in carrying out his newly-formed resolves. Elder Appleton and his son were willing to join, and a few others.
Mrs. Prescott met with better success than her husband. She canvassed the village thoroughly, and found more than half the women willing and anxious for a temperance society to be organized.
“If it could only be done,” said one, “it would be the saving of Spring Grove. Anything that’ll keep our husbands at home and away from the whisky shop, I say.”
And that seemed to be the sentiment of the majority. She had thirty names to show for her labor, while her husband had twelve.
“Never mind,” said he; “perhaps they will come in afterward. It’s more than half the battle to have the women.”
Among the women whose names were down on Mrs. Prescott’s list was Mrs. Holmes.
She was an invalid, and seldom left her room. She would, therefore, he unable to attend the meetings, “but,” said she, “if my name will aid the temperance cause in the slightest degree, you shall have it. God only knows how much a reform of this kind is needed in Spring Grove.”
Mrs. Witherell took an altogether different view of the movement. When the proposition to sign the pledge was made to her, she seemed to consider it an insult.
“As though I or any of my family were in danger of becoming drunkards! The idea is preposterous!” was her remark.
She was a proud woman, and was afraid the movement was not aristocratic enough, and so, although she had both sons and daughters to be influenced in the right or wrong way, and a husband who loved his glass only too well, she held aloof, and would not take the step that promised to be the saving of her whole family.
Ned Lark looked on the new movement with suspicion and dread. If a temperance society were started in the place, it would interfere materially with his business, and he determined to throw all the obstacles possible in its way. There were plenty to join him, and a league of the opposition was soon formed which contrasted formidably as to numbers with the little temperance band.
But when a determination like that of the Prescotts and their friends is joined to the right cause, success is almost certain, and so it was in this case. In spite of all the opposition brought to bear against them, in the course of a few months there was in Spring Grove a regularly organized temperance society, and Richard Prescott was its head.
ALTHEA and Willie Prescott attended the village school that winter. The teacher was a son of “Uncle Georgie” Aldrich, a good sort of young man, though not especially brilliant or well educated.
Althea, for a girl of fifteen, was quite advanced in her studies. She had attended the best of schools and well improved her time, and she now found herself in every branch much in advance of her teacher. Mr. Aldrich even found it difficult to teach Willie. So Richard was obliged to superintend his children’s education himself.
But the teacher was very desirous that Althea should not leave school. He wanted her assistance, he said, and Althea, who had an idea of teaching some day, thought this would be a good chance for her to learn.
There were a number at school as old as herself, and some older, but the most of them were so unmannerly and vulgar that it was no pleasure for her to associate with them. However, she treated them kindly, and succeeded in making friends with all.
The Witherell girls were among Althea’s schoolmates. Adelaide, the elder, was about sixteen, while Delia was not quite fifteen. At first they were a little shy of Althea, for they had been trained with the idea that they were better than the most of other people, and they were not allowed to associate with any one whom their mother did not consider their equal.
But they were not long in discovering that Althea Prescott was fully their equal, and secretly they owned her to be a little superior to themselves. So Althea found herself to be on quite good terms with the Witherell girls.
Adelaide she could not like very well, for she was so proud and haughty, and made so many scornful remarks about people whom she considered her inferiors, that Allie could not enjoy her society. But Delia she found to be a different kind of girl. She was brought up in the same atmosphere and had some of the same ideas, but she was naturally very winning and lovable, and she and Allie soon became much attached to each other.
But few young men attended school, and those who did were rough, coarse fellows like the Dobsons and Larks.
But a great deal of the Witherell girls’ conversation was about young men, and parties, and gay times, and they seemed interested in little else. The young men of whom they talked mostly were Arthur Holmes, the Aldrich boys and a few other of the wealthiest men’s sons. Arthur Holmes seemed to be their favorite. They also had a brother, Horace, in whom they tried to interest Allie. She quite naturally felt some interest in their subjects of conversation, but her mind was more upon other things than theirs. Thus their influence over her was not very deep.
One afternoon, as she was going from school, her veil became loosened, and the wind blew it some little distance into the bushes. Arthur Holmes chanced to be passing at that moment, and he disentangled the truant veil and gave it to her with a very graceful bow and a smile.
After that Althea found her thoughts turning more than formerly to the handsome, gentlemanly young man of whom the Witherell girls talked so much, and she wondered if the rumor was true that he was paying attention to Adelaide.
Meanwhile, the meetings that Althea’s father had started in Spring Grove were be-coming one of the settled institutions of the place, and a Sabbath-school also was organized and held in the schoolhouse. Elder Appleton conducted the exercises of the meetings, while Richard Prescott took the superintendence of the Sabbath-school.
Althea, always willing to work in the cause of Christ, whom she professed humbly to follow, at the request of her father and friends took a class in the Sabbath-school. Her scholars were little dirty-faced, mischievous, ignorant children from five to ten years old, and it was anything but a pleasant task to have the care of them Sunday after Sunday.
But Althea did her duty bravely, trying in her simple, childlike way to teach the little ones as much as she could, and she was so successful as to win their love completely. Not one of her class but would have done her almost any favor that lay in their power.
But one thing was a little hard for her to bear. The Witherell girls, who attended the meetings and Sabbath-school from mere curiosity, seemed to think it very singular for a young girl like Althea to take so deep an interest in religious matters, and though tile latter tried very hard not to feel ashamed of the good cause, yet sometimes her checks would burn as she listened to their slighting remarks and the scornful tone in which they were uttered.
Adelaide always spoke very slightingly of the temperance society, and expressed the utmost surprise that Althea should care to belong; but one day when Allie and Delia chanced to be alone together the latter expressed far different sentiments from her sister.
“I think it is good,” said he, “and I would join if ma would let me. I don’t dare to say much before Ad, she is so opposed to it, but I think it would be a great deal better for all our family if they would join the society. Sometimes I feel really troubled about Horace, for I know he goes to Ned Lark’s a great deal more than he ought to. But please don’t mention what I’ve said, for our folks never would forgive me if they should hear of it;’ and as Adelaide joined them just then, the conversation was dropped.
But it made a deep impression upon Althea, and she determined to redouble her efforts for the temperance cause, and also for the cause of religion.
THERE was a great excitement brewing in Spring Grove. The Witherells were to give a party. The aristocracy of the place were invited and a number of young gentlemen and ladies from the city.
The Witherells lived in the large stone house mentioned in the commencement of this story, and it was quite handsomely furnished. They dressed well, and of course felt immeasurably above those who made less show than they.
Althea, felt quite flattered when the Witherell girls told her that their mother had given them permission to invite her, and hoped she would come by all means.
“We are going to have a delightful time,” they told her. “Pa has ordered the refreshments from the city, and some of the nicest young people are coming from the city that you ever saw. Our folks are not going to spare any pains to have a good time, and you will come, won’t you?”
Althea said she could not tell until she had talked with her parents, but she would like to.
That day her mother had requested her to call at Mr. Holmes’s store on her way home from school and make a few little purchases for her.
It chanced that Arthur instead of his father was in attendance. He waited upon her with the utmost politeness, making a few pleasant remarks by the way. Just as she was going out of the store he said, “I suppose you will attend the party at Mr. Witherell’s, won’t you? It is going to be a grand affair, I expect.”
“I do not know, I am sure,” she answered, blushing rosily.
“But the girls have invited you, haven’t they? They said they were going to,” he inquired, somewhat anxiously.
“Yes, but I haven’t talked with my father and mother yet,” she replied, “and I must see what they say about it before I decide.”
“I hope you will decide to go,” said he, for it will be much pleasanter if you are there;” and he gallantly held the door open while she was passing out.
Althea hastened home, her cheeks glowing with something more than the cold, and for the time being she felt a most intense desire to attend the party.
She broached the subject to her parents that evening, and asked them if she had better go.
“You know there is a prayer meeting appointed the evening of the party, don’t you?” said her father.
“Yes, but I don’t believe there will be many there, and then you know there are meetings so often, and only once in a while a party like this.”
“But, my dear,” said her mother, “if there will be but a few at the meeting, ought you not to want to go all the more, and help to keep up the interest?”
“But, mother,” said she, pleadingly, “this is to be such a special occasion, and nearly all the young people are going.”
“Supposing we let the matter rest for to-night, Althea,” said her father, “and your mother and I will talk it over together, and then to-morrow we will let you know what we think will be best. I can appreciate your feelings, my daughter, and I know that such things are hard to resist, but I feel confidence enough in you to believe that you would give up your wishes without a murmur if you realized that your going would not be for the best.”
Allie hoped so, but it seemed very hard then. It was in her mind all night long, and the more she thought of it, the more enchanting it seemed, and she could scarcely wait for morning to hear the verdict of her parents.
But before she went down stairs she knelt and prayed fervently that God would give her strength to do right and to feel right, and if it were best that she should not go, that he would help her to bear her disappointment.
Only those who have tried it know the strength derived under all circumstances from honest, heartfelt prayer, and Althea felt better when at last she was ready to go down stairs.
“Well, Althea,” said her father as she made her appearance, “I suppose you feel anxious to know what your mother and I have decided in regard to the party. We have come to the conclusion to let you do just as you think best, and use your own judgment in the matter. But first I want to talk with you a little. You knew almost as well as I the state of morals in Spring Grove. You know how hard we have labored to build up a little meeting in the place, and how much good it has already done. But it is still weak and struggling for existence, and we are among its strongest supporters. The Witherells are utterly opposed to religion, and so are the majority of their guests, and this party, if you attend it, may be the means of weakening your faith in religious matters more than you can conceive of. Besides, we are temperance people and the Witherells are not. They will doubtless have wine at their party, and perhaps stronger liquors. You may be tempted in more than one way if you go. Now, my dear child, you know how your mother and I feel on the subject, and I trust to your good judgment and the grace of God in your heart to decide aright.”
“Father,” said Allie, a little choking sensation rising in her throat, “I am glad you and mother had confidence enough in me to leave it to me to decide, and I won’t go. I think it will be better for me to go to the meeting.”
“That is like my brave girl,” said her father, while her mother kissed her as she said, “I was sure you would decide rightly Allie.”
So when she went to school that day, Althea informed the Witherell girls that she was not going.
“It is too bad!” said Adelaide; “I would go anyhow, if I were you. If my folks should forbid me from going anywhere, and I wanted to go, I would, if I had to climb out of the window after they had gone to sleep.”
“My folks did not forbid me,” said Allie, quietly; “they told me I could do as I pleased about it, but I thought it wouldn’t be best after I had thought it all over.”
“Well, I’m glad I a’n’t pious,” said Adelaide, spitefully, as the bell rung for school.
ALETHEA went to the meeting that night, and tried to forget that there was any gay party almost in hearing distance. But she was a young girl, and we must not blame her if once or twice her thoughts went out to that lively assembly with a longing to be there.
The meeting was but thinly attended that evening, but those who did go were in earnest, and it was not by any means lacking in interest. Althea tried to add her mite by throwing her whole heart into the singing, and her sweet voice and bright young face cheered more than one worshipper.
When the meeting was over, “Uncle Georgie” Aldrich came to Allie and shook her hand tenderly, saying, with a shade of emotion apparent in his voice,
“God bless you, my child. Your presence here to-night has done me good.” And Althea felt that this alone would repay her for her disappointment at not attending the party.
The Witherell girls were not at school the next day, and Althea did not hear much about the party until she went home at night.
“Well, my dear,” said her father, “I suppose you have heard to-day the pretty side of that grand affair, haven’t you ?”
“I haven’t heard much of anything,” she answered. “The girls were not at school. Have you heard anything?”
“I have heard some things that made me feel very badly,” was the reply, “and I am glad my daughter had the good sense to choose to stay away.”
“What have you heard, Richard?” inquired Mrs. Prescott, anxiously.
“I heard that they had not only wine there, but various kinds of strong liquors, and that more than one of their guests was shamefully intoxicated.
“Mr. Witherell and his son Horace both became foolishly drunk, and Mr. Holmes also, and what pained me most of all, it was said that Arthur had to have assistance home. How can such things be suffered to take place among sensible people? Arthur is such a noble-minded young man, there are such possibilities of a glorious manhood within him, it seems a pity that he should yield to temptation; but what can be expected when even his own father set him such an example?”
Allie listened in silence, but with an aching heart, for already Arthur Holmes was enshrined in her thoughts as a sort of hero, and it was hard to find that, after all, he was not above the evils that beset ordinary young men.
“I am very, very sorry,” said Mrs. Prescott, regretfully. “He has too good a mother to take to evil courses and grieve her loving heart.”
Allie cried a little that night, after she had gone to bed, over Arthur Holmes’s disgrace, but she was very glad she did not go to the party. She had faith in her own good intentions, but she believed in the prayer our Saviour has taught us, “Lead us not into temptation.”
The next day, while Richard was at work in the saw-mill, Arthur Holmes came in. He did not appear just as usual. His ordinary frank, self-assured bearing was wanting, and he seemed a little humiliated.
There were two or three men in the mill when he first came in, and they began to question him about the party and other things, but he gave them as short answers as possible, and seemed little inclined to talk with them. He stood around until they had all gone and he and Richard were alone. Then, he said in a confused and hesitating manner, “Mr. Prescott, if--if you haven’t any objections, I’d like to talk with you a little.”
Richard assured the young man that he would be glad to talk with him, and hoped he would feel free to say whatever he wished.
“You have heard, I suppose, about--about--” Here the young man hesitated and stammered confusedly.
Richard pitied his evident embarrassment, and helped him along by saying, “Yes, if you refer to the party the other evening.”
“Everybody has heard of it, I suppose, and I am disgraced. I didn’t think once that I should ever do such a thing as that.”
“My dear boy,” said Richard, kindly, “few can handle fire without getting burned, or edge tools without getting cut. If you meddle with that dangerous poison, you may be sure that some time it will infect you.”
“Mr. Prescott,” the youth exclaimed, impetuously, “as I live, I never have formed any habit of drinking. I never drank a glass of liquor in that grogshop in my life. I have some regard for my mother’s feelings. But there, you know, it was different. They were all respectable people, and father was there, you know;” and at this the boy entirely broke down.
Richard laid his hand on the young man’s head tenderly, as a father might have done.
“I know it, Arthur,” he said; “yours was no common temptation. Does your mother know about it?”
“Yes”--and the youth tried to choke down the sobs that would rise in spite of himself--“and that makes me feel worse than all the rest. I am sure that mother would not survive the day that saw me a drunkard.”
“Then, my boy, realizing that as you do, you cannot hesitate about taking the only step that can save you from such a doom, can you? You must know by this time that unless you resolve firmly to touch not, taste not, handle not, you have no sure pledge of safety.”
“It is exactly what I came to talk with you about,” said Arthur. “Mother is very desirous for me to join the temperance society, but it will be hard for me to withstand all the ridicule of my associates.”
“I would give up associates who would ridicule you for being a temperance man, Arthur. You may be sure that their influence over you is not for good. If you are a man, and have the strength of mind and good heart that I give you credit for, you will become a tetotaller at once, and leave for ever the evil associations that are dragging you down to ruin. Shall I take your name in to our next meeting?”
“Yes, sir, if you will. I’ll try to be a man, and one that my mother will be proud of.”
“That is right. Among the temperance brethren you will find those who will stand by you in carrying out such a resolution as that. And now one word more before you leave. If the duty you owe to your mother is a sacred one, how much more the duty you owe to a higher Being! Will you not think of this, and resolve to seek the Lord and be a follower of him?”
“I will think of it, and thank you for your advice and encouragement;” and the young man grasped the hand of his friend with a pressure that attested his sincerity.
There were many glad hearts among Arthur Holmes’s truest friends when they learned of the step he had taken, and our little Allie was not the least thankful among them. She could scarcely keep back the tears of joy when she welcomed him into the fellowship of the temperance order, and saw how brave, how manly, and how determined he looked, and heard him say in a few brief words that he meant to carry out to the fullest extent the resolution he had that night taken.
A GIRL’S INFLUENCE.
THE winter passed away, and with the coming of the warm weather Althea was engaged as teacher in the school at Spring Grove. She had about thirty pupils, and among them some of the strangest specimens that are often collected in a village schoolhouse.
Five of the young Larks were among the Number--two boys and three girls. At first they seemed inclined to make her trouble, but she was so pleasant and hind that they soon gave it up as not worth their while. After a time Althea began to feel a special interest in her Lark pupils.
They were rude and ill-mannered, it is true, and saucy and quarrelsome, and even the little girls would use language that it made her flesh creep to listen to, but there was a germ in them, after all, that it seemed not impossible to develop into good.
She was very patient with them, and so gentle that they could not help loving her, and gradually the lessons of kindness and virtue which she taught them began to take effect in their young hearts.
Gradually, too, the vexations to which the Prescotts had been subjected by their Lark neighbors ceased, and they saw that a change of some sort was taking place.
Little Katie Lark was truly a lovable child. She had been trained in an atmosphere of discord and immorality; still, there was something in her nature very sweet and winning, and between her and her teacher there soon grew to be a strong attachment.
The boys, too, rough and wild as they were, reverenced their young teacher most deeply, and one day Althea’s feelings were touched when Georgie Lark, a little boy about Willie’s age, brought her a bouquet of wild flowers that he had picked by the roadside. She took it home and showed it to her parents.
“See! he has tied it with a piece of faded ribbon,” said she. “The poor little fellow has considerable taste; if it could only be cultivated, how well it would be for him!” and she put the flowers away in memory of her little neglected pupil.
Sometimes the Lark children used to wait for her at night to have the privilege of walking home in her company. One after-noon they were all with her, and she had Katie and another of the little girls by the hand, when she met the children’s father, Ned Lark himself.
“Good evening, Mr. Larcum,” said Althea, pleasantly.
Ned grunted out an unintelligible response, but a sort of grim pleasure showed itself in his countenance at seeing his children noticed so kindly by the schoolma’am.
Hitherto his family had been slighted if not scorned by every teacher and scholar, and thus the enmity between Ned and his neighbors grew daily.
But now his heart was softened a little, and he felt a degree of human feeling for the young lady who treated his children so kindly and called him Mr. Larcum.
One evening Althea had more than usual to detain her at the schoolhouse, and she sent the children home, as it would be late before she could go with them. When her work was done and she was fastening the door to go home, she looked up and saw Arthur Holmes coming toward the schoolhouse. When she first saw him, he had a cigar in his mouth, but he threw it away when he noticed her.
He soon overtook her, and after a pleasant good-afternoon, he walked along by her side.
He chatted quite sociably upon different topics, while she remained unusually quiet. Finally he grew tired of having the conversation all to himself, and a silence fell between them.
At last he said playfully, “Will you tell me what makes you so quiet, Althea? What are you thinking of?”
“I don’t dare to tell you,” she answered, looking up, with a smile.
“Because you would be angry.”
“Angry with you, Althea? No, I wouldn’t. Tell me, won’t you?”
“I was thinking of that cigar you had in your mouth when I first saw you to-night.”
His face flushed crimson. For a few moments he said nothing. Then he asked, “Did it displease you to see me smoking?”
“I was sorry,” she answered, “because I could not help thinking of all the good you might lose if you should get the habit fastened upon you. I think that more than one man has lost a career of honor and usefulness just from the use of tobacco.”
Arthur made her no reply, but he walked by her side to the lane that led up to her home. Then she turned to him and said, “You are angry with me, after all, aren’t you?”
“No,” he replied; “I thank you for your plain speaking, and I respect you for your sentiments. Nearly all the young ladies of my acquaintance had as lief young men would smoke as not. I shall try to profit by what you have said. I am not in the habit of smoking now, and I shall see that I never am;” and he bade her good afternoon and went his way.
Afterward Althea had the satisfaction of knowing that her gentle hint was the means of Arthur’s renouncing tobacco in every form totally and for ever.
THE MINISTER AND THE WITHERELLS.
DURING that summer there was a deeper religious feeling manifested in Spring Grove than had been at any previous time. A great many came forward and acknowledged Christ, and it seemed desirable to establish a church and engage a suitable pastor.
Accordingly, a Mr. Hazard, a clergyman residing at that time in the city, was invited to remove with his family to Spring Grove and take the charge of the infant church.
Mr. Hazard was just the man to undertake a work like this. He was a true disciple of Jesus--one whose life corresponded with his profession. He was also an educated man and an eloquent preacher, and the inspiration that flowed from his lips touched the heart of nearly every listener.
He and his wife and two daughters identified themselves with the temperance society shortly after their arrival.
The Hazards and Prescotts were mutually pleased with each other, and assimilated at once.
It was a pleasure which Mrs. Prescott and Allie could appreciate to have congenial associates in Spring Grove.
For a time the Witherell girls were regular attendants upon the meetings, evenings as well as Sundays.
Adelaide, it was plain to see, had no other motive than curiosity, but Althea, who was still very intimate with Delia, began to suspect a deeper cause for the interest which the younger sister seemed to take in the meetings.
Therefore she was not much surprised when, one evening, Delia rose in the prayer meeting, and said that she was trying to find the Saviour, and asked the prayers of her friends that she might become a Christian.
Her heart was deeply affected and her words were very touching, and fervent were the prayers that ascended from many souls for the young girl so earnestly seeking the Saviour, while many were the hopes that she might be taken into the fold with the other lambs of the good Shepherd.
But after that neither she nor Adelaide attended the meetings any more. Anxious to know the reason, and feeling it in some sort his duty to find out, Mr. Hazard called at Mr. Witherell’s one day and inquired for Delia.
He was treated with the utmost coolness by Mrs. Witherell, and informed that she did not care for Delia to see him.
“I have no notion of having my children carried away with your fanatical meetings,” said she, “and I was foolish to allow them to go at all. I trust Delia begins to see her folly now, and I shall take care that she does not mingle with your religionists any more until she gets bravely over it.”
“I am sorry, madam,” said Mr. Hazard as he withdrew, “that you take this stand with your family, and permit me to say that you will see the time when you will regret it. I feel almost certain of the fact, and I only hope it may not be too late to remedy it.”
“I prefer to be my own judge in these matters,” said Mrs. Witherell as she coldly responded to his good morning.
Althea felt a sincere sympathy for her young friend when she had heard Mr. Hazard’s story, and though she did not feel free to call there in the present state of Mrs. Witherell’s feelings, yet she thought of Delia almost constantly, and she did not fail to remember her in all her prayers.
One afternoon, just before school was out, Delia called alone at the schoolhouse, and when the scholars were dismissed, she stayed to have a talk with Althea.
She had changed very much since Althea had last seen her. She did not look well, and her former gay and lively expression of countenance was changed into sadness.
“You look pale, Delia,” said her friend, affectionately, when they were alone; “you have changed since I saw you last. Are you sick?”
“I am not very well,” was the answer, “and oh, Allie, I am so unhappy!” and she burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably.
Althea soothed her with gentle caresses until she became more calm, and then said,
“Tell me all about it. You know how deeply I sympathize with you.”
“You, have heard that mother won’t let me go to meeting, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I know about that, and I am very sorry for you, but you must remember that we are all praying for you, and you can love the Saviour just as well if you don’t go to meeting, can’t you, when he knows that you would go if you could?”
“Dear Allie,” said the girl, weeping, “I truly believe that I do love the Saviour. I feel him very near me, and that comforts me as nothing else does. When mother forbade my going to meeting, I felt for a time as if all my hope was gone, but I used to go away alone and pray just as earnestly as I knew how.
“Oh, Allie, if you could realize my feelings! I knew that all my dependence was upon God, and so I tried to cast all my burden on him.
“At last he answered my prayers, and gave me such peace as all the world could not take from me. I do not fear now for myself, for Jesus will take care of me, I know.
“But I cannot tell you what feelings my folks cherish against religion and religious people. Mother, father, Adelaide and Horace all feel so. It is that that makes me so unhappy. Sometimes I tremble when I think what may become of all our family.
“I may not live very long myself, and if it is God’s will, I do not want to. There is nothing for me to live for. But I do wish my folks could feel differently. I dare not speak of religion in their presence, it makes them so terribly angry.
“But that is not all. I know I can trust you, and I must talk with somebody, so I will tell you the rest. Horace drinks worse than ever. He is a real drunkard. And--and father isn’t much better off in that respect than he. Only think, Allie, my father and brother! Shouldn’t you think it would kill me? Horace comes home drunk every day and acts dreadfully. I know that mother feels badly about it, but it only makes her cross. She won’t allow one of us to speak of it in her presence. I can only pray for them all, and ask God to change their hearts and bring them to him. I can’t talk to them now, for since I have been attending the prayer meeting they won’t let me.”
Althea expressed the deepest sympathy with her friend, and counseled her to be true to her faith whatever might happen.
“For when your whole trust is in Jesus, you have a Friend who will be true to you in life or in death,” she said.
She did not see Delia again to converse with her for many weeks, and during that time changes were going forward steadily and surely.
DAN LARK AND HORACE WITHERELL.
THE Larks were in trouble. Dan, their eldest son, had helped himself to a hundred dollars out of his father’s till and run away. Where he had gone they could not even surmise.
Ned and his wife, depraved as they had become, both loved their children, and it was a hard blow when Dan disappeared from home in that manner, and more especially so that the neighbors felt so little sympathy for their loss. In fact, more than one had expressed themselves in Ned’s hearing as being “glad of it.” “He was a pest to the whole town,” said one, “and the ringleader of half the mischief that was carried on. I hope now we shall have a little peace.”
Not very soothing words to the stricken parent! Meanwhile, the Larks did not seem exactly as they had formerly, especially toward the Prescotts. They no longer seemed to take pleasure in annoying them, but minded their own business. And one Sunday four of the youngest Lark children presented themselves in the Sabbath-school, telling Althea that their father had said they might come if she would have them in her class.
Ned had been bitterly opposed to the meetings and Sabbath-school, and swore the most terrible oaths when any one suggested that he or any of his family should go. Therefore, this concession on his part astonished people beyond measure. Althea willingly admitted them into her class, and took especial pains to teach them the blessed truths of the Bible. And they grew to love the Sabbath-school so well that they would not stay away for storms or anything else.
Richard Prescott had been a great deal among sickness during his life, and he had much experience and some knowledge of medicine; therefore, as there was no doctor in Spring Grove, he had often been called on in cases of sudden illness when there was no time to go to the city for a physician.
One day while he was at work in the mill, Alfred Witherell, Mr. Witherell’s youngest child, came running in in great haste.
“Our folks want you to come to our house,” he said; “Horace is dreadful. He’s crazy, and mother is having fits, and the girls don’t know anything what to do.”
Richard stopped his work and went with all possible speed to the house of his employer. When he arrived there, he found a terrible condition of affairs. Horace was suffering from a severe attack of delirium tremens, while his mother, in her horror at his condition, had gone into strong convulsions.
Adelaide was frightened almost out of her senses, and Delia was the only one in the house who seemed to have any presence of mind. It was she who had sent for Mr. Prescott.
Horace was reeling about the room, raving of serpents and demons, and tearing the hair from his head in handfuls, imploring, entreating and commanding every one who came near him to bring him some whisky, while Mrs. Witherell, in an adjoining room, was in a scarcely less pitiable condition, writhing and groaning and going into fresh convulsions at every sound of her son’s voice.
Richard inquired of Delia where her father was.
“He is up stairs asleep,” she said, a sudden flush crimsoning her pale face. That blush was answer enough.
“And he can lie and sleep in drunken slumber when his family are in this condition!” thought Richard. “O rum, how dost thou degrade thy victims!”
Richard’s first action was to persuade Horace into another part of the house where his ravings could not be heard by his mother. He had had some experience in such cases before, and knew pretty nearly what to do for the sufferer.
He remained there through the day and all night, first sending word to his family where he was, that they might not be alarmed about him. It was late in the night before Mr. Witherell awoke from his drunken slumber to know aught of the condition of his son, and when he did, he was not the one to remain with him alone. Accordingly, in the morning, Richard called in another of the neighbors to take his place that he might go home and rest.
When Mrs. Witherell recovered her consciousness, she would not go into the room where Mr. Prescott was, and where he would see her in her humiliation.
But as he was going away Delia came and thanked him for his kindness, and asked him if he would not come again by and by and see how Horace was. ”You know father is no dependence,” she said, with a half sob. Mr. Prescott promised to come again, and then he said, “You are not looking well. Are you sick, or is it only the present excitement?”
“I am not very well,” she answered, “and I suppose, too, the excitement affects me a good deal. I feel so badly about Horace and father.”
“Poor child!” said Mr. Prescott, sympathizingly. “It is hard for you, but you must try and have faith in God, and perhaps he will bring you out of the darkness before long.”
Richard little knew that his words were prophetic, and how shortly she would be brought out of the darkness into a light that is eternal.
Horace’s paroxysms lasted at intervals for two or three days, during which time he was watched and cared for by some of the neighbors, Richard taking his turn among the rest.
If Mrs. Witherell had been herself in the first place, it is possible that her pride would have impelled her to keep the matter secret and not call upon any of the neighbors, but now it was beyond her control, and she only kept out of sight herself, taking little care and burden of her son.
At last Horace was better, and the neighbors had relaxed their vigilance over him, when all at once he was missing. Search was made for him everywhere, but he could not be found, and at last they gave him up, thinking that, perhaps, like Dan Lark, he had gone away to some other part of the country.
DELIA’S ILLNESS AND DEATH.
HORACE was Mrs. Witherell’s favorite child. He was the oldest of the family, and her most ambitious hopes were centered in him. He was a handsome, good-natured young man, naturally somewhat lazy, but intelligent and agreeable, and his mother had been very proud of him. The trouble that had now come upon her made her look older by years than she had done a few months ago.
They could gain no tidings of Horace, and Mrs. Witherell was troubled by a dire pre-sentiment that haunted her day and night. She would often start up in her sleep with a loud cry, thinking that she saw her son dying and heard him calling for help, but was powerless to save him.
But her trouble did not as yet seem to affect the hardness of her heart in the slightest degree. Mr. Hazard ventured to call there and beg her to seek the only consolation that would benefit her, the love of a crucified Saviour, but she treated him even more coldly than before, and refused to listen to anything on the subject of religion, and the good man went away with sincere pity for the poor woman who, while suffering so deeply, yet refused to be comforted.
But still another trial was in store for her. Delia, utterly overcome by the trials and excitements of the past few days, was taken suddenly very ill.
A physician was called from the city, who informed them that her condition was most precarious, and he could hold out but little hope of her recovery.
The agonized mother felt in her inmost heart that this was another dispensation of that Providence against which she had sinned so deeply, but still her stubborn spirit would not yield to the demands of conscience.
“Oh, mother,” the sick girl would say as her mother watched by her bedside, “1 wish you could feel as I do. I am not afraid to die, for I love the Saviour so well that I am sure he will take me home to him.
“Mother, if you only hadn’t opposed religion so strongly, but had encouraged us all to go to meeting, Horace might now be at home, a good, steady boy, perhaps. Mother, won’t you try to seek the Saviour now and give up your pride and coldness? It may not be too late to save father and Addie and Alfred. Please do, mother!”
But Mrs. Witherell would only shake her head, with a stern compression of the lips, which showed that more still was needed to soften that obdurate heart to anything like penitence.
Delia longed to see some of her friends, the Prescotts and Mr. Hazard, but it was long before Mrs. Witherell would consent to send for them.
“Mother, I am going to die,” the girl would say, pleadingly; “won’t you let me see my friends for the last time on earth?”
“You are not going to die,” her mother would answer. “I will not have it so; I cannot give you up.”
But at last the physician said that there was no hope--that death had already set his seal upon the fair young girl, and she was dying.
Then the mother’s heart relented, and she promised to grant any request of her dying child that lay in her power.
“Then, mother,” said Delia, “let me choose the text for my funeral sermon, and let Mr. Hazard preach it. Will you promise me this?”
Mrs. Witherell could not refuse. “And now will you send for Mr. Hazard and Mr. Prescott and Allie? I want to see them once more before I die.”
It was a solemn meeting for the friends at the bedside of her who was so soon to go from them into another world. None of Delia’s family were present, and they could, therefore, talk without restraint.
“How do you feel in your mind, my child?” asked Mr. Hazard. “Does Christ seem near to you, and has death any terrors?”
“Oh, Christ seems so very near to me,” said the sick girl, a rapturous expression overspreading her pale face, “that death is robbed of all its terrors, and I can see nothing but happiness, happiness. If my mother and friends could only feel as I do, I should die satisfied:’
“Thank God that he has shown the depths of his love, dear child,” said the minister, earnestly, “and I trust you are going to that world where is no more sorrow. We shall miss you among us sadly, but our loss will be your gain.”
Althea loved her friend very dearly, and it was a hard trial to part with her. Delia clung to her hand until the last moment, seeming reluctant for her to go at all.
“You are the best friend near my age that I ever had, Allie,” she said; “Adelaide has never been to me as much of a sister as you have. And, Mr. Prescott, I want to thank you for the good you have done me. It was you that first taught me to love the Saviour. From your lips fell the first words that interested me in religion. The good you have done in Spring Grove only God knows, and he will reward you. Now, I have one request to make of you, Mr. Hazard. Will you preach my funeral sermon from a text that I have selected? Mother has given her consent that you shall.”
“Certainly, my dear child,” answered the minister, with tearful eyes; “tell me what text you have chosen, and your request shall be complied with.”
“It is the twenty-eighth chapter of Isaiah, and the first and second verses,” was the answer. “I have thought of those verses ever since I have been sick. They have been running through my head nearly all the time, and perhaps if a sermon was preached from them, they might do somebody some good.”
She had by this time grown very weak, and could scarcely speak above a whisper, and her friends felt that a longer stay would weary her. So they took a last most affectionate adieu, and left her, to see her living face on earth no more. That night, about midnight, she died.
THE TEXT AND ITS FULFILMENT.
THE funeral of Delia Witherell was largely attended. The rooms of the Witherell home were thronged with more people than upon the night of the memorable party.
But this was a far different gathering from that, for the manner of the people was subdued and quiet, and every countenance wore an expression of mournfulness.
Delia had been a favorite among the people of Spring Grove.
Ned Lark and all his family were there, whether from curiosity or some other motive, it would be hard to determine.
Mrs. Witherell looked so changed and care-worn that every one pitied her, but her countenance was so cold and forbidding that no one ventured to approach her with words of sympathy. Mr. Witherell looked like an old man, though he was only in the prime of life. It was plain to perceive that the trouble had come home to him also. He leaned upon his hands in an attitude of dejection, and scarcely looked up during the whole sermon.
Before giving out the text, Mr. Hazard stated to the listeners that it was selected by the deceased as the subject of her funeral sermon, and he gave a slight description of the state of her mind at the time of his conversing with her. Then he read in a clear and solemn tone the words of his text, as follows:
“‘Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!
“‘Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty watersoverflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.’”
The text was a sermon in itself, and Mrs. Witherell’s face blanched still whiter as she listened to it, for she had not known before what it was that her daughter had selected.
The sermon which Mr. Hazard proceeded to deliver was a powerful and effective one, and thrilled the most indifferent listeners. More than one heart of pride was pierced to the quick, and more than one drunkard felt his sin brought home to him as never before. And what made it the more solemn and touching to all was the sight of the coffin before them, and the knowledge that the young girl now sleeping her last sleep had chosen those words for them to listen to after she had passed away for ever.
The sermon was ended, and just as the minister was closing the meeting, a noise was heard in the entrance way, and presently one of the Dobson boys crowded into the assembly. He only waited for the closing words of the benediction, when he exclaimed, “We’ve found Horace Witherell, Jack and me has!”
If a cannon had been discharged in their midst, the effect would not have been more electrical. In a moment all was confusion. Mr. and Mrs. Witherell both started to their feet, while the mother, her forced composure giving way at once, cried out,
“Where is he? Oh, where is my son? Tell me quick, in mercy!”
“He’s drowned,” said the boy, not having enough tact to soften the dreadful tidings in the slightest degree. “We found him down here in the gully.”
A shriek that appalled every listener rang through the room, and Mrs. Witherell sank down in a state of utter unconsciousness.
It seemed like the verification of a prophecy, this tragedy coming to light so soon after the ominous words of that text had been proclaimed, and many a superstitious soul felt a shiver of dread at the thought that there might have been something in it supernatural.
A crowd of people hastened to the place designated. It was a deep gorge between two hills, where during a rainy season the waters which overflowed a pond at the head of the gully rushed through in a swollen stream, sweeping all before it, until it reached the river and lost itself in its flowing tide.
In very dry weather the gully, as it was called, was perfectly dry, at other times there was more or less water in its bed.
There had lately been a freshet of several days’ duration, but now the torrent had spent its wrath, and there was only a little rivulet trickling through where so lately it had seemed a rushing river.
It was a wild, desolate-looking place. The hills rose on either side of the chasm dark and sombre; the brown, rugged trees that grew on their sides were stripped of nearly all their foliage by the frosts of autumn, and their roots were washed bare by the torrent that swept over them so often. Decaying wood and piles of dead leaves that were carried downward by the water had been lodged in some places against obstructing roots or bushes, and then the water was stopped and formed into stagnant pools.
It was in one of these places that the body of Horace Witherell was found. He had either fallen, or cast himself in intentionally during the freshet, and the water had carried the body onward until it lodged among the refuse and remained stationary. Cold and dead and decaying it was, all the beauty washed out of the once handsome face, the soft, curling hair mingling with the mud and the wet, clinging leaves, the beautiful eyes closed for ever, and nothing left of Horace Witherell but that lifeless form which the sods must soon cover from mortal sight for ever.
Nothing! Ah, yes! the soul was left--the soul that never dies, and that had departed, where?
Changed though it was, the body was easily identified by all, and two forms instead of one were that day borne in slow and solemn procession to the graveyard.
DARKNESS AND SUNSHINE.
IT is said that misfortunes never come singly, and so it proved in the case of the Witherells.
On the night of that party which had raised so great an excitement in Spring Grove, a number of the Witherells’ acquaintances had come from the city, and with them a gentleman whom they did not know, but who was a friend of some of the company. He had visited them a number of times since, but being a married man, nothing especial was thought or said about his visits.
But not more than a month after the death of her sister and brother, Adelaide Witherell gave up her friends, her reputation and everything which a girl should value most highly, and eloped with this worthless, unprincipled stranger.
They left no clue by which any one could discover aught of their whereabouts, and this was a blow worse than death to her already stricken parents.
Mr. Witherell drank harder than ever to drown all recollection of his troubles, while his tottering limbs and haggard face bore evidence that his career could not be a long one.
This last shock proved too much for Mrs. Witherell. She was prostrated upon a bed of illness, and for many weeks her life was despaired of.
Mrs. Prescott and Mrs. Hazard, with the assistance of other neighbors, took care of her during her whole illness, and a sister could not have been attended with more solicitude.
She began at last slowly to recover, but she was an utterly changed woman. Her proud spirit was broken, and one who had known her in her haughtiness and prosperity would scarcely recognize the humble, dejected woman she had become.
She no longer refused to talk upon religion, and expressed a desire for the friends to call upon her and converse upon such subjects.
She said one day to Mr. Hazard, “You told me once that I should some time be sorry for my hardness of heart, and you hoped when the time came it would not be too late. That time has come now, but it is too late.”
“Oh no, not too late for you and your husband and your one remaining child. God is always ready to receive wanderers. Come to him now, and though your sins be as scarlet, he will make them white as snow.”
And Mrs. Witherell did seek the Saviour, and found him, even at that late day, and in her changed life and example she found consolation in a measure for that which she had lost.
Among others who had joined the church about this time was Arthur Holmes. He had long felt an interest in religion, and he could no longer delay a public acknowledgement of his faith.
His mother had been a Christian for years, and the one great prayer of her heart was answered when Arthur came forward and acknowledged Jesus.
Arthur’s influence seemed to have an effect upon his father. He was a steadier man than formerly, and his wife and son trusted that in time he also would turn to the true life that alone can give happiness.
It was almost spring of the second year that the Prescotts had lived in Spring Grove when one day Richard called upon “Uncle Georgie” Aldrich to settle with him for the rent of the house that he lived in. He had made one payment, and now another was due.
“Well, ‘Uncle Georgie,’” said he, “I have called to settle my rent bill, and here is the money.”
“Put it up, put it up,” said “Uncle Georgie;” “your rent was settled long ago.”
“Settled? Why, no, it isn’t. I have only made one payment, and now it is due again.”
“Brother Prescott,” said “Uncle Georgie,” speaking slowly and emphasizing every word, “you have taught me a lesson since you have been in Spring Grove that I cannot pay for with one year’s rent for that old house--no, nor twenty years’. After all that you have done for this place, I would be ashamed to take another penny of you for rent. I want you to occupy that house free just as long as you please. No other family has ever stayed there half as long at a time as you have since the Larcums have lived there, for they couldn’t get along with them as neighbors. Now, if you can stay there, and want to, I hope you will.”
“‘Uncle Georgie,’ this proof of your regard is worth the rent of the house twenty times over,” said Richard, much moved. “I can’t express how much I thank you, both for the favor and the feeling that prompted it. And I hope I never may do anything to lose me your kind regards.”
Richard was prospering, in a worldly point of view. He made good wages, and was getting a little property together, besides keeping his family comfortable as he went along. His Western home was beginning to seem like home indeed.
NED LARK’S ACKNOWLEDGMENT.
ALTHEA had taught the Spring Grove school that winter, and no teacher had ever given better satisfaction.
The little children loved her and the larger ones respected her, and not one of the great, rough boys under her tuition would have thought of questioning her authority for a moment.
She was gentle, kind and reasonable, but firm, and what she said she meant. The Lark children continued their respect and love for her, and they had improved wonderfully under her instruction--so much so that they scarcely seemed to the neighbors like the same children.
The school was out now, and Althea had just begun to realize how weary she was, and how much of a burden it had been for her, when one day little George Lark came in with the request that she would come over to their house a little while, as “Katie was real sick and kept askin’ for her.”
Althea did not hesitate a moment, but accompanied the boy at once. She had never been in the house before, as there had been no visiting between the two families.
She found little Katie very sick. As her constant request was, “I want to see my teacher, I want to see my teacher,” they had felt constrained to send for her.
Mrs. Lark merely nodded when she entered, but her coolness seemed more the effect of embarrassment than ill feeling.
Katie was overjoyed to see her teacher. She kissed her and held her hand in a close and loving embrace.
“I’m dreadful glad to see you,” she said. “Father said you wouldn’t come, but I knew you would.”
“Of course I would,” said Althea, tenderly, “when I knew my dear little scholar wanted me.”
Althea had a peculiar faculty of making herself useful and agreeable in a sick-room, and when she had been there ten minutes, Katie felt better than she had felt before since her illness.
Mrs. Lark was greatly pleased with the attention her child received, and though she said little, her manner was entirely different toward Althea as she went away.
Althea had promised to call and see her little friend again soon, and she went over the next day carrying something nice to tempt her appetite. Then she sat by her bedside and told her stories an hour or two.
While she was there, Ned came in. He looked really pleased to see her, though he, like his wife, said but little.
Althea, when she was going home, said to them, “Father and mother told me to tell you that if there was anything at all they could do for you, they would do it most willingly. If Katie needs watchers, they will come and watch, or help you in any way.”
Katie’s illness lasted a long time, and before she began to recover they needed watchers and help in almost everything.
The Prescotts were there, sonic of them, nearly all the time, night and day, and as none of the other neighbors came near, they could the better appreciate this kindness.
Katie recovered at last, and then the Larks were left to reflect upon the kindness of the Prescotts, and how little there had been on their part to call it forth.
One evening Richard and his family were surprised by a call from Ned Lark. It was the first time he had been in the house since they had lived there.
Richard welcomed him very cordially, gave him a seat, and tried in a pleasant way to engage him in conversation. But Ned did not seem inclined to talk very sociably. He sat there hour after hour, very quiet, but with the air of one who has some-thing on his mind.
The family all retired, excepting Richard and his wife, and still their neighbor did not seem inclined to go.
The clock struck ten, eleven, and at last twelve. Then Edward started up and said, “Mr. Prescott, I came to say something to you, and I must say it before I go home. You remember that affair about the stove pipe when you first moved here, don’t you?”
“Yes,” answered Richard; “I remember it well.”
To his surprise, then, Edward burst out weeping.
“I have been a wicked man,” said he, and I have done a great many wicked things in my life, but I never did anything that hurt me so as that scrape that I had with you. I’ve always been used to havin’ folks swear back when I swore at ‘em, or at any rate try to come up with me somehow, but I never before had anybody to treat me as you did. I’d ruther at the time you’d a-knocked me down, and now I wish you had.”
“But I don’t, Edward,” said Richard, kindly; “I am glad God gave me strength to do as I did, for perhaps if I hadn’t, you never would have seen your fault.”
“But I want you to forgive me,” said Ned, brokenly. “If you will, I’ll try to behave myself and be a better neighbor than I’ve ever been before.”
“I forgave you long ago, Edward,” said Richard; “I never have had any hard feelings toward you from the beginning.”
“You’re about the only man I ever had treat me decent, and I’ve been a brute to you. But ‘twas ‘cause I didn’t understand how a body could do as you did an’ not be makin’ it. It tuk me a long time to find out that you was in ‘arnest. I’ll promise that you sha’n’t have no more trouble with me nor my folks, if I can help it.”
“I’m glad you want to be friendly, Edward,” said Richard, giving his hand a cordial shake; “I think that is much the best way for neighbors to live. You don’t know what you lose by living so at enmity with every one around you. There are many pleasant people in Spring Grove who would be glad to be on friendly terms with you and your family, if only you would give up your miserable liquor traffic and be a man; why don’t you try it, Edward?”
Edward was sobbing like a schoolboy. Putting his hand on his shoulder, Richard continued: “Have you never thought of the duty you owe your family? Now, there is Dan. I do not want to hurt your feelings; I am talking for your good; but if Dan had been kept under good influences when he was little, if he had never been allowed to taste of liquor and had not seen his father use it or countenance its use, if he had been sent to the Sabbath-school and taught the truths of the gospel,--would he have stolen his father’s money and run away with it? Never! He would have had too much regard for your feelings and for the right. Now, you have other children, little boys and girls, who are just at the right age to be receiving impressions for good or evil, and do you want them to make your heartache as Dan has. You have some lovely children. I have already taken a deep interest in them, and there are none of her pupils whom my daughter loves more, and it seems terrible to me to have them brought up among such influences as that grogshop brings around you.
“There is a God too, Edward. Evade it as you may, it is the truth, and what shall you say when by and by he asks you for all the talents you have wasted, the life that you have squandered in evil? I want you to think of all this, and I shall hope to see you at our meetings hereafter.”
Another cordial shake of the hand, and Richard bade his neighbor good night, while Ned Lark went to his home with emotions such as he had never before experienced.
NED LARK’S CONVERSION.
NED did not soon forget the conversation he had with Richard, and a conviction of the truth of what his neighbor had said impressed itself most forcibly upon his mind.
It was no longer a pleasure to him to deal out liquor to his customers, and he would not allow his boys to do it, as Dan had formerly done.
One Sunday, much to the pleasure of Richard, he came with his family to meeting.
He was surprised to see how kindly every one treated him, and the sermon was eloquent and soul inspiring, and touched his feelings deeply.
He went home as in a sort of dream, feeling as though all the world was changing, or he was another man.
Richard took pains to tell the neighbors of Edward’s acknowledgment to him, and urged them all to treat him kindly and encourage him to do better. And everywhere he went Edward was surprised to find, instead of coldness and neglect, kind words, pleasant smiles and outstretched hands.
He went to meeting now regularly, and the dim ray of light that had penetrated his bewildered mind grew steadily larger and brighter.
One night about twelve o’clock Richard was awakened from his sleep by hearing a loud knocking at the door.
“Who is there?” he called out, considerably startled.
“It is me,” said the well-known voice of Edward Larcum. Richard arose and opened the door. ”What is the matter, Edward?” he asked; “is any one sick?”
“No, no one but me,” was the answer; “I am sick in my soul. The Lord has spoken to me to-night, and he has showed me my sins, and I can’t sleep nor rest. I came to see if you wouldn’t pray for me.”
Richard took hold of his arm and drew him into the room, noticing as he did so that the man was trembling violently. As soon as he could he dressed himself and lit a candle, and then sat down beside Edward, who by this time was sobbing convulsively.
“Tell me how you feel, Edward,” he said, taking his neighbor’s hand.
“I feel mortal wicked,” was the answer; “I laid awake to-night thinking over my past life, when all to oncet it seemed as ef a voice spoke to me and said, ‘Are you prepared to meet your God?’ Then my whole life ris up before me--all the wicked things I ever had done--and oh, it made me shudder. I didn’t know before that I had been so wicked. Will you pray God to forgive me?”
“Yes, and you must pray, too, for yourself,” answered Richard; “he will forgive you if you ask him in sincerity, for he is all goodness and love and mercy.”
They knelt down together in that midnight hour, and Richard poured forth a fervent prayer that God would give peace to this sorrowing brother and bring him out of the error of his ways into the light of his loving mercy.
Then Edward prayed for himself--a broken, childlike prayer, but it came from the heart, and doubtless was as acceptable to God as the most eloquent petition that ever winged its way up to the throne.
The gray light of morning shone into that little room before Edward and his friend ceased their petitions for his pardon from sin, and now a peace had settled down upon his soul as strange as it was beautiful. He felt such a love for all mankind as he could not express, and the love of God filled his heart to overflowing.
“I never knowed nothin’ of happiness afore,” he said to Richard as he was about to depart for his home, “and this will see me, I trust, from now, a changed man;” and he went out praising God for his blessed deliverance.
Edward went straight home and into his grogshop, and that day’s sun had not set before every drop of liquor in his possession was poured into the street.
It was a marvel to the most devout believers in the power of God when they discovered that Ned Lark had become not only a praying Christian, but a temperance man, for it was not long before he became a member of the church and also of the temperance society.
He was a totally changed man. His religion was so precious to him that he could talk of nothing else, and two or three evenings in a week he would come in to see Richard, and they would read the Bible and pray together.
Upon one occasion Richard met him upon the street with a pipe in his mouth.
“Ah, Edward!” said he, “it seems that you have one more idol to cast off yet. Take a word of warning from me. Don’t let that old pipe come between you and Christ!”
A few evenings afterward, Edward came in to see him.
“Well, Brother Prescott,” said he, almost as soon as he had entered the room, “what do you guess I have done?”
“I’m sure I don’t know, Edward. Something good, I hope.”
“Don’t you know what you spoke to me about t’other day?--something about my having an idol?”
“It isn’t anything about the pipe, is it?” asked Richard.
“But it is, though. I ha’n’t smoked a whiff since, an’ what’s more, I a’n’t a-goin’ to. I’ve left it off for good.”
“Give me your hand, Edward,” said Richard, heartily. “May God help you to keep that resolution!”
Edward’s family, and especially his wife, took pattern in a great measure from him. His children had already learned to love the Sabbath-school, and it was comparatively an easy task to lead their tender hearts to Jesus. But Mrs. Larcum now began to take an interest in the meetings, and it was not many weeks before she too became member of the church of Christ.
WITH the breaking up of Ned Lark’s grogshop dawned a new era upon Spring Grove.
There had already been a religious revival, and the majority of the people had joined the church, but that grogshop was such a stumbling-block to too many of the new disciples of Jesus, that it was hard for them to live out the principles which they professed.
But now that there was no longer an open door of temptation in the village there was a temperance revival.
The society increased weekly in numbers, until it became necessary to have a larger room to meet in.
The village began to thrive as it never had done before. People moved in from other quarters, new buildings were put up and business prospered.
About this time a church was built, a pretty, tasteful little edifice, and in the lower part of the building was a hall for the temperance folks to meet in.
It was a proud day for Spring Grove that saw that church completed, and happy were the hearts that met to worship there for the first time.
Mr. Holmes was one of the number. The prayers of his Wife and son had prevailed at last, and Gardiner Holmes was a Christian. He was also a temperance man, and it was a day of rejoicing to him when the grogshop, his one place of temptation, was removed from his path.
Arthur was a young man of much promise. An earnest, consistent Christian and a faithful laborer in the temperance cause, besides possessing business talents of no mean order, he was looked upon with the highest respect by his neighbors, and a life of usefulness seemed to open itself before him
He was a frequent visitor at the home of Althea Prescott, who had learned to look for his coming with sparkling eyes and face radiant with happiness, for one day he had whispered the sweetest words in her ear and asked her to become his wife.
Althea was very happy, because she trusted him and knew him to be a devoted Christian and the possessor of the noblest of principles.
We will pass over a few years, and take one more look at our friends in Spring Grove before we bid them good-bye.
Richard Prescott is living now in a home of his own, a pretty frame house, which his wife’s taste and industry have transformed into a bower of beauty. Flowers bloom in the dooryard and vines clamber over the doors and windows, while within, the neatness of the pleasant rooms and the taste displayed in the selection of their simple furniture give
the house the appearance of being much more expensively furnished than it is.
There is not a man more respected and loved in Spring Grove than Richard Prescott, and his wife and family have won the affection of all their neighbors.
Only a few rods from the Prescotts is another new house almost a counterpart of theirs, and that is the abode of Arthur Holmes and his wife, Althea.
They are very happy together, for their faith and principles are the same, and they both look beyond earth and its pleasures for the happiness that is to be eternal.
Arthur is one of the best business-men in the place. He now owns the saw-mill and grist-mill which formerly belonged to Mr. Witherell. The latter is a poor man now, for he wasted his property in drink. He is also an invalid, stricken by a disease which is bearing him slowly down to the grave.
His wife has repented in bitterness of spirit the proud heart that would not let her train her family up in the Lord, or give words of wise counsel to her companion. She is now trying to make atonement for the past by a strictly religious life and example, and she has faith that her husband will be brought into the fold of Christ before he dies.
They have never heard from Adelaide, but the mother is praying constantly that she may return some day humble and penitent.
The Larcums are among the most respected people of the place. No one slights them now.
The love which Edward feels for Richard Prescott is far beyond all ordinary brotherly love. It is a blending of gratitude, affection and homage. And I will mention here that Edward never has resumed the habit of using tobacco.
The church still prospers, and Mr. Hazard is the preacher. No one else could take his place in Spring Grove.
The Dobsons live there yet, a little more humanized than formerly, and Richard has hopes that they will some time be converted into Christians.
“Uncle Georgie” Aldrich and the Appletons, Nathan Hardy and Samuel Carter are among the pillars of the church.
The temperance society is flourishing, and no grogshop now contaminates the morals of Spring Grove. And the present prosperity of the place is owing, no doubt, under the providence of God, to Richard Prescott’s removal to the West.