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Say among four of us, Betsy; for it was little enough that you bad that evening, and many a day before,” interposed the first speaker's husband.
“I was not hungry, John, not very hungry; the pain of that was past and gone,” said the lady:
For it was a gentlewoman who was telling the story-a lady past middle age, quiet and unassuming in manner, soft and sweet in voice. She and her husband, with a visitor, were seated in the handsome drawing-room, of which she was mistress, of a large private dwelling-house, of which her husband was owner. And for these reasons the narrative seemed to fall the more strangely from her lips.
“ The pain was past and gone,” she eontinued, been overcome by sufferings more terrible than those of hunger. May neither you nor yours," she added, addressing her visitor with touching pathos, “ever know what it is to be the prey of despair !"
“I can say . Amen' to that, from my inmost soul,” said the husband.
“Our home, if it could be called a home,” the lady went on, was a single room in a common lodging-house, in one of the most miserable parts of the city. Furniture we had none, or next to none; all that was worth carrying away had been disposed of, piece by piece, before we took refuge in that lodging-house, to supply our craving for food. Our clothes, except those which we had on us and our children, were at the pawnbroker's. To add to our distress, a week's rent was due, our last penny was gone ; and we were threatened by our landlord with being the next day turned into the street.
"I tell you all this," continued the speaker; “not for the sake of making the story sensational, but because what I state are only the simple facts of the case. And besides, if you were not to know the depth and extent of our sorrows, you would scarcely be able to estimate the merciful deliverance even then in store for us.
“I have only to add to these circumstances," said the lady, that they were not the result of improvidence or extravagance or open vice. When, we married, our prospects were fair and promising ; my husband was honest, sober, industrious, and persevering; and for a time all had gone on well. Then after the birth of our third child, came the overthrow of all our hopes. My husband's em
ployers became bankrupt; trade was in so depressed a state that fresh employment could not be found, though John went far and wide in search of it. Then he was seized with illness, and my whole time was taken up for weeks in nursing him.”
" And I should not be here now to bear witness to God's goodness, if it had not been for the self-denial and tender devotion I then experienced,” said the husband, deeply moved at the remembrance of that time of sickness.
“I did only what a wife could do, and should do," said the lady;
“and I had my reward-my more than reward, for it was God's free gift of mercy-in witnessing my husband's gradual, but complete recovery; so that on the Sunday morning of which I have to tell he was as well as he had been before his illness. But by this time, as I have said, all our resources were exhausted. The money we had saved in times of prosperity was gone ; so was our furniture; so were our wardrobes. We had no friends to whom we could apply for assistance; and starvation stared us in the face.
“ The worst of all,” continued the speaker, with much evident feeling, was that we had no better and wellfounded hope of an enduring substance; and had no assurance that God is a very present help in time of trouble. Do not misunderstand me. We were not ignorant, as some are, of the truths of religion. We had both of us been religiously educated, in a formal way; had possessed the Scriptures, and, occasionally, had read them. Neither were we sceptical ; that is to say we did not disbelieve God's word; we were simply careless and indifferent; bad never made religion a personal matter, and had never yielded loving obedience to our God and Saviour.”
“ You are describing my character, not your own, dear wife,” the husband broke in here ;
had fallen into a state of spiritual slumber, I had been the cause of it. When we married
Yes, I know, John, what you would say what you often have said,—that at the time we were married, and before, I was professedly a Christian ; a Sunday school teacher too. I know this, and remember it to my shame. But, for all that, I had no real spirit of religion-no faith, no love.
I surely never had had, or how could I have fallen away as I did? And my having once made a formal profession of religion was, in that time of sorrow and dis
tress, an aggravation of my misery, and my guilt also. For I had forsaken God ; and I felt then that He had forsaken me.”
" But he had not forsaken you."
“ No; I know it now," said the speaker ; “ but at that time I believed he had."
“ It was Sunday morning," she continued, after a few more words from her husband and their visitor ; and, as I have described, we were sitting looking into each other's care-worn and hunger-stricken countenances in mute despair, with our poor suffering children, almost unnoticed by us, when my husband suddenly started up, saying that ho could bear it no longer ; and then, snatching his hat from its peg, he rushed to the door and disappeared.
"I made no effort to detain him. I was too far gone in wretchedness to make any attempt to detain him; as to comfort, what comfort had I to offer to him, or he to me? I could not be more unhappy, I thought, when I was thus left to myself; and what mattered what came next?
“And yet, he had not been long gone before I found by experience that I had not reached the depths of human misery. For then a strange foreboding fell upon me that I should never see my husband again. More than once he had wildly and darkly hinted at a way of escape from trouble ; and once, when we were in happier and more prosperous circumstances, he had said, as I then remembered, though lightly and jestingly, that every man has in his own hands the power of escaping from misfortune, if he has only sufficient courage to use it. These words, though spoken at the time without meaning, came back to me now; and I shrunk with horror as the dread fell upon me that I should never see my husband in life again.”
“Do not dwell upon this, dear wife," said the gentleman, rousing himself, as it seemed to the visitor, by a strong effort; or rather,” he added, “ let me tell my part of the terrible, yet merciful drama.” And then he went on, speaking humbly, and with evident emotion
“ When I left that wretched home, it was with the distinct intention of never returning to it. My heart was full of rebellion and despair. God, if there were a God (80 I thought), had dealt cruelly with me, and I would endure it no longer. My poor wife's forebodings were too well founded. I had determined on putting an end to my miserable life, and braving what might come thereafter, if there
should be a thereafter. These were my intentions when I rushed into the street.
“ I took care to compose myself, however, so as not to attract the notice of passers-by; and though I dare say I looked wretched and woe-begone enough, unhappily there is too much misery to be seen in the streets and lanes of any large city to make such an appearance as mine must have been, extraordinary and striking. So I went on through one street and another, steadily keeping my criminal design in view.
Presently I found myself in a crowd, or rather, a stream of people-men, women, and children--all going in one direction. They were of all classes, and all in decent Sunday garments, even the poorest of them; and there were more of that sort, apparently, than of the rich or well-to-do. Of course I knew what it meant. The time of day was a little before eleven o'clock; and the people were going to some place of public worship. If I had not at first been sure of this I should not have remained long in doubt. Coming to a broad thoroughfare, a large chapel, standing a little back from the road, seemed to swallow up the throng of worshippers, and I was left standing by myself a little way off, listlessly watching the diminishing crowd, which in numbers fewer and fower, still passed through the iron gateway of the chapel yard, and was gradually lost to sight as the building was entered.
“ And then an irresistible impulse seized me--I know now whence that impulse came, but I could not account for it then, and I too entered the chapel, hiding myself as much as I could from notice in a dark and obscure seat under the gallery, and near to the door. I could go out, I thought to myself, when I had had enough of it--which would not be long first.
“ Just as I entered, the service commenced with the singing of a hymn. I was always fond of music, and the swell of the organ, accompanying the harmony of some hundreds of voices, affected me in a way I cannot attempt to describe. I had paid no attention to the words of the hymn; but the music kept me enthralled till it ceased, and, as I now believe, calmed and quieted my mind, so as to prepare
it for what was to follow. « The minister had now ascended the pulpit; and, when the last sounds of the organ had died away in a solemn and tender symphony, he opened the Bible, and read the Scriptures. I was, even then, too pre-occupied in my thoughts to pay much attention to this part of the service. I only recollect that the reader had a pleasant, penetrating voice, and a solemnity of manner likely to attract and fix the attention of his hearers.
“ Then followed a prayer; and to this I could not help listening. This man is in earnest,' I thought within myself; "he means what he says.'
“ After the prayer another hymn was sung, and then came the sermon. The text arrested my attention :
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them; I the God of Jacob will not forsake them.' This, thought I to myself, is my condition; and my previously formed intention of leaving before the service was over was abandoned : I could not help stopping.
“ The sermon was, no doubt, an impressive one; but it seemed almost wearisome to me till, warming with his subject, the preacher came to a close application of the text to his individual hearers.
“ . Have you, and you, and you,' he asked, “put the God of Jacob to the test?' And then, taking for granted that there were those in his congregation who, in deep poverty, were thirsting for temporal supplies, and others whose needy souls were panting under a feeling of spiritual need, he said, "Put his promises to the test, and see whether God is not true to his word.' The preacher added more; and while he was speaking the conviction reached me that I had never done as he had said ; that, like a fool, I had tried all other resources, and neglected this.
6 I started up from my seat silently as possible, left the chapel, and hurried to my home, determined in a spirit, partly it may be of daring hope struggling with unbelief, that before carrying out my guilty resolution, I would put God to the test. This,” said the husband, "is my part of the story. My dear wife shall tell the rest.” The lady then resumed her narrative.
More than an hour had passed away,—my anxiety every moment increasing, and our poor hungry little ones still crying for food,—when I heard my husband's footsteps without, and a load was taken off my heart. • Thank God for this mercy!' I said, as I burst into tears.
My husband entered the wretched room, and quietly took the seat he had left so abruptly; and I believe I spoke