Making of the Million (II)
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THE BLANK LINE.


EVERYBODY who knew anything about the case agreed with absolute and emphatic unanimity, that there never was such a body of trustees as that which built the Floxton Common new chapel.

    The super said so, and the tightening of his thin lips and the projection of his strong, clean jaw as he made the declaration left nothing to be desired in the way of uncompromising statement.

    The resident minister said so, and as he had taken part in trustees' meetings, committee meetings, sub-committees and the like almost every other night for the last eighteen months, surely his evidence is uncontrovertible.

    The trustees said so themselves, and inasmuch as several of them had almost lived on the premises during the all-absorbing erection, and had been threatened by their respective wives with separation applications, divorce proceedings, etc., to say nothing of such everyday suggestions as those of sending them their beds and meals to the premises, it must be admitted that they had a right to an opinion on the subject.  But even people who only came into occasional contact with them got the same impression.

    The architect declared solemnly, that he had never served so extraordinary a body of men during the whole course of his professional career, and he added when he got into safe company that he hoped he never should again.

    The Manchester committee people shook their wise heads at the very mention of Floxton Common, and gave vent to sighs expressive of unspeakable feelings, and even the President of the Conference when he went to open the chapel said they were the most extraordinary body of men he had ever met,

    The super said that nothing surprised him so much about these "Brethren" as their automatic unanimity—except it was their chronic disagreement.  Against the architect, the super, the "red-tapeism" of the Manchester Committee, they were a solid unit, but amongst themselves they did not agree, even about the most trivial things.  At every one of their innumerable meetings some one either resigned or consented to withdraw a previous resignation, and nearly every man on the board had declared at one time or other that nothing should ever induce him to go near the place again.

    Brother Bottoms had withdrawn on the sites question, and Brother Taubman on the selection of the architect, whilst Brother Eli Waites, who was disgusted with the "baby work" of the two gentlemen mentioned, sent in his resignation and even withdrew his subscription when it came to a spire.

The youngest trustee, a mere upstart of forty, caused two meetings and two adjournments about the position of the pulpit, which he insisted should be at the right corner of the chancel arch as appointed by the architect, and of course resigned when the older members of the meeting on anti-ritualistic grounds insisted on its being placed in the middle; and they in their turn threatened to leave if the entrance, which in the old chapel had always been called the porch, was christened the "Narthex."

    The young minister of the circuit, who was a probationer fresh from college, was considerably exercised by the irreconcilable inconsistencies which he detected in these good men, for as he went about his work he was compelled to hear all about these points of difference, and when the last touches were being put upon the building and it was being got ready for the opening services, he was amazed to discover the men who had objected so strenuously to spire or pulpit or narthex taking their friends round and showing these particular things as the specialities of the new sanctuary, and even in one or two cases seeming to wish to convey the idea that they were the original suggesters of these features; at any rate they seemed to be the things they were most proud of, and took the greatest delight in exhibiting.

    But after all it was a noble thing these people had done; they were not a rich Church nor a very numerous one, yet they had by hard work and wonderful self-sacrifice built a beautiful edifice at a cost of nearly £7,000, which they intended to open free of debt, and the super, in spite of his many troubles with them, was full of admiration for the way they had acted, and was prompted to say, as he had often done before, that there were no people like the Methodists after all.

    And just at the time when they thought they had got through all their trials, they were plunged into one that was worse than any they had come through.  When the day came for selecting the places they would occupy in the new building, it turned out that there were two applicants for one pew—the back pew in the chapel.

    Old Mr. Bottoms had sat in the back pew in the old chapel, and thought he ought to have the same place in the new one, and James Higson, who had a delicate wife who sometimes wanted to go out before the service was concluded, had set his heart upon it, and hand stated twenty times over, he declared, that he should want that particular seat.

    The trustees might have settled the matter in their boisterous way if left to themselves, but unfortunately Barbara, old Bottoms' daughter, a female of a certain age, and an old flame of Higson's, took up the cudgels for what she called their "rights," and attacked Higson, who was chapel steward, before strangers, as he was arranging with other pew-holders for their seats.

    Eventually the matter came before the trustees, and after the usual long wrangle, was decided against Higson.  As soon as the decision was announced, he rose to his feet, took up his hat, bowed with mock ceremoniousness to the chairman and then to the meeting, and walked out of the room.

    One or two went after him and did not return.  Those who remained behind took no further interest in the business, and when a few minutes later the super and his colleague called at Higson's he refused to see them, and next day sent all his books in, and signified that he had done with the Wesleyans once for all and for ever.

    The super, though not given much to sentiment, was quite touched to see the distress of the trustees when they found that Higson's defection was serious and apparently final; they refused even to discuss the question of filling his offices, and old Bottoms, in spite of terrible threats from his aggressive daughter, sent at least two notes to Holly Villa, where Higson lived, to ask him to take the pew he wanted.  But all was in vain.

    As the great day of the opening drew near all sorts of clumsy attempts were made to bring about a reconciliation, and Billy Clipston, the shoemaker, declared again and again that when the time came Higson would not be able to stay away, but would turn up "as sure as heggs is heggs."

    But the day came and went, and the offended one did not appear, and the super heard in the vestry and in the aisles of the chapel a great deal more about the absent man's many past services than he heard about the event they were actually celebrating.  They told of what he had endured for the sake of the good cause, and altogether the éclat of one of the greatest days in the history of Floxton Common Methodism was spoilt by the constant lamentations of the chief men about the place because their old fellow-worker had not taken part.  The opening services were continued for three Sundays, and it was confidently prophesied by Billy and others that Higson would never be able to hold out to the end.

    But he did; and when they sang the final doxology at the last of the opening services, because it was not only opened, but free from debt, two or three of them told their minister afterwards that they had not enjoyed their great victory at all, and would rather have a thousand pounds debt with Higson than all the triumph of the day without him.

    Well, at any rate it was a notable achievement, and the super was more than pleased with the noble way in which the people had carried out and finished their great undertaking.

    And then something else began to trouble him.  He had said as little as possible about the great Million Scheme whilst the good folk of Floxton Common were straining every nerve and almost punishing themselves to clear their chapel, and now it seemed exceedingly hard upon them to ask them to look at another effort.  But circumstances left him no option; he had already made a definite promise of £2,000 for the circuit; they had held the meeting at the circuit chapel, and the contributions had somewhat disappointed him, so that there was now nothing for it but to have the meeting as soon as possible at "The Common."  He was almost ashamed to name the matter to them, but to his surprise the good folk expressed a great interest in the scheme, and were not at all inclined to shuffle it.  In fact, as old Bottoms said in his sententious way: "We've gotten a grand chap—church, Mester Shuper, an' we mun show az we appreciate it, sir."

    This was at the final trustees' meeting when the accounts had been presented, and the votes of thanks given to those who had borne the lion's share of the burden, a special resolution being sent to Higson.  After all the regular business had been concluded, the super in a regretful, almost apologetic way, introduced the thing that was just then resting somewhat heavily upon his mind.  Yes, they would go into the subject at once, as far as unofficial suggestions were concerned at any rate.  Names were mentioned of those who would make the most effective officers for the local fund, and a time was fixed for the holding of the meeting.

    And then Blamires, the youngest trustee, had an inspiration, and suggested that as they had all worked together so harmoniously in this grand chapel building effort, and were all so proud of the finished work, they should have their names down on the roll together in the same order as they came in the trust deed.  Coming from this juvenile and impetuous source the proposition was received with hesitation, but presently it seemed to catch their imaginations, and they insisted upon its being so.

    The super, whose chief anxiety had been the fear that they would resent being appealed to again so soon, was only too glad to acquiesce, and so the meeting adjourned for a couple of days to enable the super to bring the roll that they might all sign it in order as agreed upon.

    Just as they were leaving the vestry, old Bottoms made a loud exclamation of dismay, and then rising to his feet, for he was still sitting at the far end of the room, he said mournfully: "There's one thing az you've forgot, Mester Shuper."

    "Indeed!  What's that, Brother Bottoms?" and the super stepped up to the table.

    "There'll be one name missing."

    Everybody looked suddenly very sober, little sighs escaped them, and they glanced at each other in sorrow and disappointment.  But the super's train was due, and so he was compelled to ask them to think the matter over until the adjourned meeting should be held.

    There was much debate and questioning amongst the trustees about what should be done in this difficulty.  The more they thought of it, the more they liked the idea of all signing together, but the less likelihood did they see of getting the missing signature.  Moreover, it occurred to one of them that it would look a very mean sort of thing to try and get Higson back, just in order to get his subscription to the Million Scheme, and so nobody could suggest any way out of the difficulty, and the super could not help them.

    The minister had informed them that as they would all give more than the minimum amount, there was no reason why their names should not head the list of the Floxton Common contributions, though nobody had as yet named the sum he was intending to give, that being reserved for the great meeting in the church.

    It took them half an hour, however, to make up their minds to enrol themselves in the absence of their estranged colleague, and at last it was decided that a line should be left blank for Higson in the hope that something might occur in the meantime to bring the wanderer back.  Young Blamires signed readily, but old Bottoms, who was next, hesitated considerably, and then at last put down his pen, and in a tearful voice faltered: "I'll gi' me money, bud I don't want to be on if he isn't."

    Whilst the old man was recovering himself and getting persuaded to do his part, the next man signed, and then the old fellow tremblingly followed.  The next in order was Higson, and a blank space had to be left, and hard though it had been to sign before, it was much harder now with that blank line staring them in the face.

    The super went home that night in a brown study; whatever could he do to reach Higson? for he felt that this effort would be shorn of nearly all its sweetness to the good people if Higson's name were not on the list, and they had really done so nobly that he coveted the pleasure of this reconciliation.  And he got up next morning with the same feeling in his mind.

    It took him an hour or so to dispose of his correspondence, but when that was done he drew the precious roll out of his safe and began to look once more at the names that had been signed the night before.  In a moment or two it dawned upon him that that blank line looked very awkward indeed, and if it were not filled up it would be more eloquent than all the names that went before or came after.  What a mistake he had made in allowing those whimsical trustees to have their fad.  It would, perhaps, be the only blank line in the whole roll, and how strange it would look.  Besides, he had a reputation for neatness and orderliness, and that would be there as a witness against him for ever.

    The thing bothered him and then annoyed him, and he was just sitting down in a sort of pet with himself when a blessèd thought occurred to him.  It was not absolutely necessary that a contributor should sign his own name.  He liked Higson, and greatly valued him, both for his work and himself.  He would keep his own counsel, and if nothing occurred to change the state of affairs, he would write Higson's name in himself and subscribe the extra guinea.  He had a large family, and every shilling counted with him, but he would do that, whatever he had to sacrifice in other ways.  The super was pleased with the idea, and pleased with himself for thinking of it, and he was just laughing at his own self-complacency, when a knock came at the study door and Brother Bottoms was announced.

    The senior trustee shambled into the room in his characteristic manner, and shook hands limply with his ecclesiastical superior.

    He took off his hat and placed it shyly on the floor by the side of his chair, and then, taking a red pocket-handkerchief out of the tail pocket of his antique black coat, he commenced: "I thought I would just call and pay my Home Mission Fund collection, sir," and he fumbled in his pocket and produced a little wash-leather bag, from which he drew two half-crowns, which he placed in the minister's hand.

    The super reached out a report, which serves in these cases as a receipt, and handed it to his visitor, wondering what was the old fellow's real reason for calling.  Bottoms took the report without glancing at it, and then began to discuss the weather.  The subject provided an interesting topic for a minute or two, for atmospheric conditions were just then very trying, and then there was an awkward pause.

    "I see you've got the great roll there, Mr. Shuper," said Bottoms after a while, and he glanced round as though he would like to look at it.

    The super opened it upon the desk, and the old man got up and carefully examined it inside and out.  "H-u-m!  Ha! wonderful dockyment, Mester Shuper.  We must all have our names in that," and the minister noted that his visitor was looking very dreely at the blank space where Higson's signature should have been.  He seemed to have nothing further to say, however, and in a few moments rose to go.

    "Well, good morning, sir, and thank you; I hope you will get all the names you want," and then, just as he was going out of the door, "Oh! beg pardon," and he came back and drew out the wash-leather bag again.  It took him some time to find what he wanted, but presently he pushed a sovereign and a shilling into the super's palm, saying as he did so: "Just put Higson's name down there, sir; we can't have him off, you know," and before the minister could stop him he was gone.

    The super was a little nonplussed and disappointed; but Bottoms was better off than he was, and—well, they might make it two guineas perhaps.  The same afternoon as he was going to his class he heard some one calling after him and turning round saw Waites, the corn factor hastening towards him.

    Waites was always in a hurry, and on this occasion he appeared more than usually so.  "Here, Mr. Super, take that.  It's a fiver; put it into that fund and drop Higson's name in, will you?  Ah, here's the tram.  Good day, sir."

    The super was amused and touched; it began to dawn upon him that Higson's contribution premised to be a pretty large one, if things went on like this, and when he got home that night another of the trustees was waiting for him.  This man seemed to be entirely unable to tell what he had come about, but at last he blurted out:

    "Mr. Super, I've come about Higson and that roll.  He must be on, sir, he must; he's done more for Methodism in this place than any other three of us, and his family is the oldest in the circuit.  Why, his grandfather was at the opening of the first Methodist chapel there ever was in the Common."

    But the super intended to keep his secret at least for the present, and so he said: "Yes, but we can't make the man contribute, you know."

    "No, but we can do it for him, and we will!  I will!  Me?  Why, sir, he got me the first situation I ever had.  He led me to the penitent form, he helped me to get my wife.  He's injured his business to look after that chapel.  He must be on, whoever else is."

    "Well, but how are we to manage it?  We've tried everything we could think of"

    "Manage it!  We must manage it.  Look here, sir!  I'll pay his share myself."

    "But I've already got a guinea for him and――"

    "A guinea!  A guinea for the best man among us!  Why, sir, it would be a sin and a shame for Higson's name to only represent a guinea.  Look here, sir, it must be twenty at least!  Yes, twenty! and I'll find it myself."

    When he had gone the super told his wife, and she put on an air of confidence which was always rather aggravating to her husband, and said: "Neither your money nor anybody else's will be needed.  Higson will put his own name in, you'll see."

    At last the time for the holding of the Flexion Common meeting came, and the super told his colleagues that they must not be disappointed if the results were not what they might expect, as the "Common" people had really done so well that they couldn't do much more, however good their intentions.

    As he had prophesied, the meeting was not largely attended, and even he felt depressed as he noticed how few there were there who could give much.  The chairman was a "Common" man, and started the meeting with a rousing, confident speech, which he crowned with a promise of fifty pounds.

    The super stared from the speaker to his colleagues in amazement as the sum was named; it was three times the amount he had expected.  Then the resident minister spoke, and promised an outrageously extravagant sum for himself and wife and little ones.  Then there was a pause, and presently old Bottoms rose to his feet.  He had a mournful, melancholy tone with him, and always spoke at great length, but at last he announced that as the Lord had been so good to them in the chapel scheme, he could not give less than a hundred pounds.

    The meeting applauded this to the echo, for Bottoms had a reputation for nearness.  Then two or three more followed in a similar strain, until the poor super, scarcely knowing where he was, felt his eyes growing dim, and had to blow his nose.  Then they sang a hymn, and were just sitting down again, when the man who was acting as temporary chapel steward suddenly opened the inner door and threw up his arms with a gesture of wondering triumph, and the next moment who should walk into the chapel but Higson.

    He was a short, ruddy man, and now looked redder than ever.  He held his hat in his hand and gazed wonderingly about the chapel, which he had never seen since it was finished, and walked staggeringly up towards the front.  Presently he stopped, his hat dropped out of his hand, and he lifted a red, agitated face towards the platform and cried:

    "I had to come, Mr. Super, I had to come!  I've been the wretchedest man in Floxton parish this last two months, but I couldn't miss this.  My father laid the foundation stone of the last chapel, and my grandfather was the first trustee of the oldest chapel of all.  Everything I have I owe to this Church, and my own bairns have been converted here.  I've heard what you are thinking of doing with my name, and that brought me here to-night, that killed my pride.  God forgive me.  Put me down for a hundred pounds, Mr. Super, if I'm not too bad, and I'll sit in the free seats if you'll let me come again.

    The meeting was some time before it got composed, and then the subscriptions began to roll in faster than ever.

    That night, after Higson had been down to the manse and signed the roll, the super repeated once more his old saying, that the Floxton people were the strangest people he had ever travelled amongst, but this time he added, "and the best."


――――♦――――
 
A COSTLY CONTRIBUTION.


TWO elderly ladies sat by the fire in a comfortably furnished room, the walls of which were adorned with steel engravings of scenes in the lives of the Wesleys, Centenary gatherings, and a large photograph of the first lay representative Conference.  The one seated in the low modern armchair on the side nearest the window was small and thin, with white hair and fair skin, and cheeks like old china.  She had a meek, Quaker-like look about her, and her dress was of plain silver grey.

    The other one was taller than her sister and dark, and had a masculine mouth, at the corners of which there were lines which had been left by bygone storms.  She was reading the newly arrived Methodist Recorder, and there was a disappointed, almost peevish look on her face, and presently she threw the paper from her with an impatient jerk, and as it fluttered to the hearthrug she shaded her face with her hand and gazed moodily into the fire.  Her soft-eyed little sister glanced concernedly at her once or twice, sighed a little, and then asked gently: "Anybody dead, love?"

    "No; nobody we know."

    Another slight pause, and then in a caressing tone: "Anybody married?"

    "No."

    "Any news about Hanster?"

    "No."

    The little Quakeress's knitting seemed to trouble her just then and her thin, almost transparent hands shook a little as she fumbled for the dropped stitch.  In a moment, however, she lifted her head and asked coaxingly: "Is there nothing interesting, love?"

    Miss Hannah dropped the hand that covered her eyes, glanced petulantly round the room and then answered pensively: "Susan, there's one thing in that paper and one only."

    The head of the meek little woman opposite to her was bent over her knitting, the pearly cheek paled a little, and then she asked: "And that, love?"

    "That paper has got nothing in it but Twentieth Century; it is Twentieth Century first page and Twentieth Century last, and Twentieth Century all the way through.  Oh, that we should have lived to see this day Hannah!"

    "I mean it, Susan;" and the excited woman began to rock herself in an increasing grief.  "There was a Branscombe who entertained Mr. Wesley, there have been Branscombes in every great movement our Church has seen; our father sat in the first Lay Conference and we both subscribed to the Thanksgiving Fund ourselves.  And now that our Church is doing the noblest thing she ever did we shall be out of it.  Oh, that we had gone before it came!"

    "No, no, love, not so bad as that; we can give our guinea each, and—and one in memory of our dear father, ah—with a little more economy."

    "Guineas!  Branscombes giving single guineas!  Our dear father down on that great historic roll for a guinea!  Susan, how can you? what will the village think?  And the Hanster people, and father's old Conference friends?  They might suspect something!  We cannot think of it for a moment"

    Miss Hannah had risen to her feet during her speech, but now, with a fretful, half-indignant gesture, she sank back into her chair and once more covered her face with her hands.

    Little Miss Susan stole anxious, sympathetic glances across the room for a moment or two, and then, letting her knitting slide down upon her footstool, she stepped softly to the side of her sister's chair, and, bending over and pressing her delicate cheek against Miss Hannah's darker one, she murmured soothingly


"And if some things I do not ask,
     In my cup of blessing be;
 I would have my spirit filled the more
     With grateful love to Thee,
 And careful less to serve Thee much
     Than to please Thee perfectly."


    As these lines were repeated the face of Miss Hannah softened, the shadow upon it gradually disappeared, and in the pause that followed a gentle light came into her black eyes.  She bent forward and silently kissed the dear face that was still bent over her, and then said impulsively:

    "Bless you, love!  What have I done to deserve such a sweet comforter?  But I should like to have done one more good thing for God and our Church before I go to heaven."

    "Never mind, dearest!  When we get to heaven the Master will perhaps say to us as He said to David."

    "What was that?

    "Thou didst well that it was in thine heart."


    Now, the father of these two ladies had been a prosperous, well-to-do Methodist layman of Connexional repute, but when he died it was discovered that all his means were in his business, and that he had really saved very little.  His funeral was attended by great numbers of Methodist magnates, lay and clerical, from all parts of the country, and the respect shown to their father's memory had been a sweet consolation to the bereaved sisters.

    But whilst they were receiving the written and spoken sympathies of many friends, the family lawyer was expressing himself to himself in language that was to say the least very unparliamentary.  Branscombe's business was certainly a lucrative one, and whilst he was there to attend to it all was well; but the man who spent or gave away all his income, when he had two daughters unprovided for was, in the lawyer's judgment, more fool than saint, and he ground his teeth savagely when he discovered that he would have to explain to the sorrowing women that they would have to change their style of life.

    There was nothing else for it, however.  The business would have to be carried on, for it was not the sort of thing that would realise much when sold.  A manager would therefore have to be paid, and when that was done there would not be very much left for the two ladies who had always been brought up in such comfort.

    Lawyer Bedwell had no patience with men who left their affairs like that, and in spite of himself, some of his feeling on the point slipped out upon his first interview with his fair clients.

    When he had gone, their minds were occupied with one thought only.  It was clear that Mr. Befell thought their father blameworthy in the matter, and if he did others would be of the same opinion.  But they knew as no one else did, how true and noble a parent they had lost, and at all costs they were determined that nothing should be done that would excite suspicion in the minds of their friends.  Appearances, therefore, must be kept up, and everything must go on as usual; all their father's subscriptions must be continued, and their home must still be the chief house of entertainment in Hanster.

    But as time went on these things became more and more difficult.  Nearly half the profits of the business had to go to pay a manager; but, as he was not Mr. Branscombe and the concern had depended largely upon the personal effort and influence of its chief, there was a serious annual shrinkage, in spite of all that Lawyer Bedwell could do to prevent it.  Then the manager precipitated a crisis by absconding with some hundreds of pounds, and the legal adviser to the firm was compelled to recommend that the business be sold and that the ladies should reduce their establishment, so as to be able to live upon what was left.

    For their own sakes this might easily have been done, but for their father's they could not think of it.  At last, however, they decided to leave the little town where they had been born, and where all their interests centred, and go into some quiet village, where they might live cheaply, and do in a smaller way the kind of work their father had done in Hanster.

    And so they came to Pumphrey, where they were regarded as very great people indeed, and where their now reduced contributions were received as most munificent donations.  But the habits of a lifetime are not easily unlearnt, and so, finding that the memory of their father was still fragrant in Pumphrey, and that the simple inhabitants of the village were ready to give them all the respect and deference due to their antecedents, they were soon acting in the old open-handed way; and whilst the little circuit in which the village was situate rejoiced in and boasted of their generosity, the poor ladies were constantly over-reaching themselves and lived in a condition of chronic impecuniosity.

    Their personal expenses were pared down until they could be reduced no further, but the large-hearted liberality to which they had always been accustomed and which regard for their father's memory seemed to demand, was continued as far as possible.  Recently, however, Miss Susan had had a severe illness, and this, with the heavy doctor's bill it involved, had reduced them still further, and the announcement of the Twentieth Century Fund found them in the worst possible condition for doing their duty to it.

    The long pensive silence that fell upon the sisters after Miss Susan's last remark was broken presently by a knock at the door, and Jane their faithful, if somewhat unmanageable, domestic brought in the supper.  Placing the little tray containing hot milk and thin bread and butter on the table, she picked up the Methodist Recorder and somewhat ostentatiously proceeded to put it away in the homemade rack at the side of the fireplace.

    "You can take the paper with you, Jane," said Miss Hannah.

    "I dooan't want it, mum," answered Jane gruffly, and in broadest Yorkshire.

    "You don't want it, Jane!  Why, it is full of news this week, all about the Twentieth Century Fund, you know."

    "That's just it, mum! that theer fund I caan't abeear!  It's gotten hup out o' pride an' pomp an' vanity, that's wot it is, an it'ull niver prosper, mark my wods!"

    "Jane!"

    "I mean it, mum!  Thank goodness, nooan a my muney 'ull gooa tab sitchan a thing, an' bi wot I can hear ther's nooan o' t' villigers gooin' tab give nowt neeither."

    "But, Jane――"

    But before Miss Hannah could stop her, Jane had burst forth again: "It's nowt bud pride, an wickidness, mum, it's woss nor that king as showed his treasures to that Babshakklep, an as fur that theer rowl, it's King Daavid numberin' Hisrael, that's wot it is."

    "But, Jane, we must all――"

    "Yes, mum, that's wot you alias says, beggin' your pardon, bud it's my belief you ladies 'ud subscribe tab buyin' t' moon if t' Conference wanted it; bud I'm different, an' if I hed my waay not a penny 'ud goa oot o' this house ta that Million Fund."

    As the privileged and outspoken Jane closed the door behind her, the two ladies looked at each other with astonishment, for Jane was as stout a supporter of all things Methodistic as they were, and they had difficulty sometimes in restraining her liberality.

    To Miss Hannah, however, their old servant's words were more disturbing than to her mild sister.  She did all the business of the establishment and had charge of the purse, and she had privately resolved in spite of her querulous words to her sister that, if the worst came to the worst, she would do as she had been driven to do once or twice before and get a temporary loan from Jane; but, if Jane disapproved of the fund, there might be difficulty, for nothing was concealed from her, and, in fact, she had more to do with the financial arrangements of the little family than even Miss Hannah herself.

    Meanwhile Jane, who was short and plump with bright black eyes and black hair, had made her way back into the kitchen, where sat a ruddy-looking man of about thirty, dressed like a gardener, and whose face wore an injured, protesting expression whilst he leaned forward propping his elbows on his knees and nervously twirling his cap round with his hands.  He glanced sulkily up from under his brows as Jane entered the kitchen, and furtively watched her as she picked up a wash-leather and resumed her work at the plate basket.

    The gardener gave his cap a fierce extra twirl and then grumbled: "Ther niver wur nooabody humbugged like me; this is t' fowert (fourth) time I've been putten off."

    Jane gave an ominous sniff; her plump face hardened a little, but she never spoke.

    "It's t' Million Fund an' t' Mississes an' onnybody afoor me."

    The spoon Jane was rubbing was flung into the basket with a peevish rattle, and rising to her feet and stepping to the rug before the fire she said indignantly: "John Craake, hev some sense, wilta?  Here I've been telling lies like a good 'un i' t' parlour till I can hardly bide mysen, an' noo I mun cum back ta be aggravated bi thee.  Them owd haangils i' t' parlour 'ud sell t' frocks offen they backs tab subscribe ta this fund, an' thou sits theer talkin' about weddins an sitch like floppery.  I wunder thou isn't ashaamed o' thisen."

    John sat ruminating dolefully for a moment or two, and then he wiped his nose with the back of his hand and said with sulky resignation: "Well, what mun I dew then?"

    "Dew? thou mun cum i' t' morning an' saay thi saay to em, an' if that weean't dew, thou mun waait, that's what thou mun dew."

    Now John had been courting Jane in a dogged sort of way almost ever since the Branscombes came to Pumphrey, but until recently he had made little apparent progress.  Some few months before the time of which we write, however, a terrible burglary with murderous incidents had taken place in the neighbourhood, and as the news greatly upset the old ladies and made them declare that they would never be able to stay in the house unless they could have a man about the place, Jane had made a virtue of necessity and accepted her lover, on the understanding that he was to come and live in the house, and never suggest any other arrangement so long as the old ladies lived.

    John had eagerly agreed; but, though the wedding had been fixed now three times, it had so far been put off again and again, because, as John eventually discovered, the money which Jane with a Yorkshire woman's thrifty ideas felt was absolutely necessary for a decent woman's wedding, had been sacrificed to the needs of her mistresses.

    And now it had seemed that the happy event was really to come off, and just at the last minute, so to speak, this Million Scheme had turned up, and Jane insisted that before her spare cash was spent on such a frivolous thing as getting married she must be sure that it was not wanted to enable her mistresses to subscribe to the fund as became the daughters of Thomas Branscombe.  For Jane, be it said, was as jealous for the honour of her old master as his daughters.  She was, moreover, a Methodist of the Methodists, and had upon the first announcement of the fund decided that it was her duty to give at least five pounds to so glorious an object.

    This idea, however, she now abandoned, and whilst she consented to try and persuade her mistresses not to think of subscribing and had agreed that John should use his powers of persuasion in the same direction, she knew but too well that the dear old souls she worshipped would insist upon taking their part in the great movement, and therefore the money she intended to have given for herself and the money needed for the approaching wedding would all be required for the old ladies' subscription.  And, even if the sisters themselves could be talked over, she still felt that their names ought to be on the roll and that it was her duty to get them on, even if she had to do it unknown to them, and pay the subscriptions herself.

    Next morning, therefore, John did his best to convince the ladies that nobody thereabouts cared anything for the fund, and that it would be useless to hold a meeting in the village for the purpose.  Encouraged by Miss Hannah's manner as he respectfully argued with her, he even suggested that she should write to the super advising him not to think of holding a meeting in Pumphrey.  Jane, however, when he told her what he had said in the parlour, was worse than sceptical, and insisted on him as a leader writing to the super himself.

    A post or two later, however, a reply came to say that the meeting was fixed for the following Thursday night, and that Pumphrey surely would not be behind other places.  John hastened to Pear Tree Cottage to tell the news as soon as he got the letter; but on entering the kitchen he was interrupted in his story by the alarming information that Miss Susan had been taken ill in the night, and he must hasten away for the doctor.

    The Thursday night came, and the super, alarmed and disappointed at not seeing "The Ladies" at the meeting, discovered on enquiry that Miss Susan was confined to her room, and that the doctor's report was not encouraging.  The good man therefore came round on his way home, and Miss Hannah came down from the sick-room to speak to him.

    Her report of the condition of the patient was so discouraging, and she herself looked so sad, that the good pastor forgot all about the meeting and was just saying good-night when Miss Hannah said: "I was sorry we missed the meeting but" (with hesitation and embarrassment) "of course we shall send our subscription."

    "Send it?  But you did send it, Miss Branscombe."

    "No! but we will do; it will be all right, Mr. Makinson."

    "But you did send it, excuse me, and a very nice one it is.  See, here it is," and the minister pulled out a small roll of papers and spread the top one out upon the table.

    Miss Hannah with a puzzled look bent over the good man's shoulder and read, whilst tears came into her sad eyes as she recognised the clumsy writing:—

 

£ s. d.

Thomas Branscombe, Esq. (in Memoriam)

5 5 0

Miss Susannah Wesley Branscombe

5 5 0

Miss Hannah More Branscombe

5 5 0

Jane Twizel

1 1 0


    Miss Hannah turned away with a chocking sob, and the super, embarrassed and perplexed, took a hasty departure.

    In the small hours of the next morning, as Miss Hannah sat musing by the sick-room fire, a gentle voice called her to the bedside.

    "What is it, love?" she asked anxiously.

    "Oh, Hannah, love, isn't God good?  I said He would find a way and He has done—better than we can ask or think."

    "Yes, love! of course, love; but what do you mean?"

    "The fund, you know, the great fund; we shall do it, you see, after all.  Oh, isn't He good?"

    "Yes, love, of course."

    But Miss Hannah's voice showed that she did not quite understand, and so with a bright smile the gentle sufferer explained faintly: "The insurance, you know; it is for whichever of us dies first."

    "Dies?" cried Miss Hannah, in sudden distress; "you are not dying, love.  Oh, no!  You mustn't leave me alone."

    But the sufferer evidently did not hear.

    Presently she murmured almost inaudibly: "There will be plenty of money for you now, love, and the Branscombes will have an honourable place on the roll, and whilst the money will be making the world sweeter and better we shall be at rest."

    Two days later the gentle soul slipped away and was laid by her father's side in the Hanster chapel-yard, and shortly after the Million Scheme was enriched by a contribution of a hundred pounds, "In loving memory of a noble father and a sainted sister in heaven."

    Poor John Crake is still waiting, though somewhat more hopefully, to be allowed to act as a protection against burglars at Pear Tree Cottage.


――――♦――――

 
THE ALDERMAN'S CONVERSION.


SORRY, Mr. Super, but I cannot take the chair, and as for my name heading the circuit list, I don't intend it to be there at all."

    "Mr. Alderman, I'm astonished!  You of all men!  Why, everybody is looking to you to lead the way."

    "Can't help it, sir; the fact is, I don't approve of the scheme at all."

    The super was amazed, and most undisguisedly disappointed.

    "What!  What is your objection to it, Sir?"

    And the alderman leaned back a little farther into his Russian leather armchair, puffed out a volume of smoke from his cigar, twitched up the tightened knee of his trousers, and then drawled with an assumption of coolness he did not quite feel:

    "It appears to me, sir, that this whole movement is an attempt to endow our departments, and as a—a—conscientious Radical I object to all endowments."

    The good super proceeded to explain, and from explanation he passed on to argument and from argument to pleading; but the alderman held his ground, and the minister went away with astonishment and dismay in his heart.

    Left alone in his office, Joseph Carfax put his legs upon a chair and gave himself up to meditation, in which the minister and the Twentieth Century Fund were soon forgotten.  The alderman was a successful man of business, who had risen from the ranks, and whilst yet in the prime of life had reached a comfortable competence.  He was also one of the most prominent public men in the ancient borough of Knibworth, and it was confidently stated that he might have the mayoralty any time he liked.  Hitherto, however, he had declined the honour, chiefly because he was anxious when he did occupy the civic chair to excel his predecessors as much in munificence as he was able to do in eloquence.  He had a large and expensive family and many calls upon his liberality, but he was now beginning to feel that if not next year, certainly the year after, he would be able to do himself the honour of accepting the dignity which had already more than once been offered him.

    As will have been seen already, Carfax was a Wesleyan and had been for years a most acceptable local preacher.  In his earlier life, when he was an obscure man, he had been very popular and very much in demand; but of late his appointments had been reduced to an occasional half-day at the circuit chapel, and he scarcely ever went into the villages to preach except on anniversary days, when his liberal contributions to the collection were more eagerly looked for than his services in the pulpit.  He was trustee of several chapels and had held every office his Church could offer to laymen, not excepting that of Conference representative.  For some years now he had been the chief layman of the Knibworth circuit, and was known throughout the district as a generous, broad-minded sympathiser with every good movement.

    Of late, however, he had been conscious that the ardour of his early days had left him, and that he was not by any means as enthusiastic a Methodist as he used to be.  As he mixed more with men of all kinds his ideas had got broadened he told himself, and he was compelled to admit that the nonsuch Methodism of his earlier life did not quite satisfy his maturer tastes.  The ministers they had now were not quite the same sort of men as those with whom he had been so very friendly in those days gone by, and the laymen with whom he associated at the chapel were not exactly his style.  His family was growing up, too, and he began to discover how very little society there was for his sons and daughters in the Knibworth Methodist circles.

    His wife had complained more than once recently that there were scarcely any young people in the chapel with whom their children could associate, and none with whom she would like them to marry.  And he felt that his wife was right, although he had pooh-poohed her remark at the time; really when he came to think of it, a man in his position had to make many social sacrifices, if he continued faithful to the Church of his choice.  He governed his family upon what he called "modern principles," and allowed his children great liberality, both of speech and action.  His growing discontent with his Church had found expression of late in severe criticisms of sermons and half-concealed sneers at the officials of the Church; but he was surprised and for the moment disturbed when he discovered that his children entertained similar views, and assumed a tolerant, contemptuous air towards all things Methodistic.

    Recently also two of the young people had taken to going to church occasionally, making their love of music the excuse; and only the other day his boy Fred had been invited to join the choir of St. Margaret's.

    To crown all, his wife had hinted to him a day or two ago that there was something between their eldest daughter Emily and young Pearson, the son of one of his brother aldermen.

    Well, after all, what right had he to expect that his children would be Methodists because he had always been one?  Hadn't they as much right to choose for themselves as he had?  It would be a grand thing for Emily, if she did marry young Pearson, and it would be a shame for him to put anything in her way.  Perhaps if he became mayor it would help the matter, for the Pearsons were a proud lot.  Yes, that was what he must do, he must take the chief magistracy next year, and if he did, there would be no money to spare either for this Million Scheme or any other merely Methodist matter.

    Just as he had reached this conclusion the office door opened, and in sauntered an old man.  He was evidently very much at home in the place, and nodded familiarly to the alderman as he entered.  He was short and thin and very straight; he wore an old-fashioned semi-clerical suit of black, tinged here and there with brown spots, the result of snuff-taking.

    "Hello, dad! pay day again?"  And the alderman rose hastily from his reclining position and, drawing up to his desk, began to take out his cheque-book.

    The visitor was Carfax's father, an old local preacher who lived by himself and was maintained in very generous fashion by his only son.

    "Yes, my lad, the old amount," he said playfully, as he came towards the desk; "but I want something else to-day."

    "Hello! what's up now?" cried the alderman, turning round and smiling.  "Not going to get married again, father?"

    The old man grinned, for this was an old joke.  "No, my lad, it's that Twentieth Century Fund, you know."

    Carfax laid down his pen, and turning quickly round, cried "But, father, you are not going in for that, surely."

    "Am I not? but I am!  And why not?"

    "I don't believe in it, father.  You can do what you like and have as much as you like, but I've made up my mind that I shall not give a penny to it."

    The old man's jaw dropped in dismay.  He looked amazedly at his son for a moment, took a great pinch of snuff without ever removing his eyes from the alderman, and then gasped out:

    "Thou's wandering, my lad."

    It was a sure sign that he was excited when old John Carfax "thoued" his son.

    "Wandering or not, I mean it.  I'll supply you with as much as you like, with pleasure but not a penny will I give myself."

    "But, my lad, my lad! it's for Methodism, our blessed Methodism!"

    "Methodism!  What's Methodism?  It's no better than any other Church that I know of."

    "Joseph!" and in his extreme distress the old man dropped his snuff-box, and coming up to the desk and taking his son by the arm he went on, "Joseph, my lad! my lad! why, Methodism has been ivverything to uz."

    "Don't see it, father; I don't see it at all."

    The old man's arm was still upon his son's shoulder, and, as he stood gazing up into the hard but handsome face of his only living relative, he asked with eager, tremulous distress: "Joseph, hev'n't I heard thee say at anniversaries 'at thou hed the best mother i' England?"

    "Yes, an' I had, too; but what of that?"

    "That mother was saved from a bad family and a bad life by Methodism; and thy owd father was turned from a gamblin' skittle-player to a local preacher by Methodism; an' all 'at's good in thee thou got fro' Methodism.  Oh, Joseph! how can thou talk like that?"

    Carfax was moved somewhat, and so, promising to think of it, he put the old man off, and as soon as he had gone tried to forget the words he had heard in the public duties in which he was so much interested.  But again and again at the Watch Committee that night the old man's look came back into his mind, and even when he got to the club he could not shake off the impression that had been made on him, and so he went home earlier than usual.  He hard just finished supper and was immersed in some corporation returns when the dining-room door opened, and in burst Dick, his third and most excitable son.

    "Oh, dad!  I've been to such a jolly meeting.  Went over to call on the Brigdens on my bike.  They were just going out to a meeting, so I went with them and heard Perks.  My stars, didn't he make a rippin' speech!"

    Carfax glanced round indolently and asked: "Missionary meeting, was it?"

    "Missionary!  No! it was about this Million Scheme.  Hay, I did feel proud that our Church was such a grand one."  And then he broke off: "I say, dad, why don't we take in the Methodist papers?  The Brigdens knew all about it, and there was I as ignorant as a noodle."

    Carfax felt a reproachful little pang, and was just turning again to his returns when his impetuous son broke out once more:

    "Oh, it was a speech!  Why, dad, I never knew that ours was such a grand Church.  Oh, wasn't I proud I was a Methodist, I can tell you!"

    Carfax winced and was just about to speak when a little flaxen-haired maiden, the saint of the family as her eldest brother called her, got up from the sofa where she had been reclining, and stealing to her brother's side, put her white arms upon his shoulder and said softly: "I hope you will be a real Methodist some day, dear."

    Later the same evening the alderman had a somewhat serious conversation with his wife.  He was going to tell her what he had decided to do with regard to the Million Scheme and what he had said to the super whom Mrs. Carfax did not particularly like; but before he could commence she began to confide to him her apprehensions as to their eldest son, who was in business in London; and the details she supplied, and the dark pictures which, with motherly anxiety, she painted, made Carfax very uncomfortable.

    When she had gone to bed he fell into troubled musings.  He could not forget what his father had said to him that day, and the light words of the excitable Dick somehow stuck to him; but this news about Edmund in London was worst of all, and sank deepest.  True, most of what the mother had said had been mere surmisings; but he felt how easily they and much more might be true, and before he was aware of it the alderman, who had of late dropped into the habit of mentally minimising the favourite Methodist doctrine of conversion, found himself wishing, with a deep sigh, that his eldest boy had been converted before he went to London.  He would give a thousand pounds at that very moment to know that his boy was a genuine Christian; but there seemed no hope of that, and his other children seemed likely to become nominal Christians at most, and to drift into other Churches.  And for the next half-hour—the deeper manhood of Joseph having fairly awakened—gave him a torturing experience.

    But next morning he felt inclined to laugh at his fears of the night before, and was no more inclined than ever to depart from the path upon which he had entered.

    But circumstances were against the alderman, for when he got home to dinner he found that two of his children, Dick the irrepressible, and Kathy the saint, had been down to grandfather's and borrowed the Recorder and had also called at the railway bookstall and got the Methodist Times, and were now fuller than ever of the wonderful fund.

    When grandfather came in a little while afterwards they of course received powerful reinforcement, and though the two eldest children who were at home treated the matter rather contemptuously, they could not altogether resist the influences of the moment, and were soon almost as much interested as the younger ones.

    On the following Sunday it was announced that the Million Scheme meeting for Knibworth would be held on the Thursday week following; but no chairman's name was mentioned.  Literature of various kinds was also found in the pews and carried home, and Carfax during the afternoon noticed some very mysterious calculations going on with lead pencils, and his wife told him as he went to bed that, good Sunday though it was, Dick and Kathy had been reckoning up what sundry inmates of the house owed them.

    Carfax began to feel really ashamed of himself, and told himself reluctantly that the enthusiasm of his children, the younger end of them at any rate, was a direct reproach to him; at the same time he was conscious of a curious feeling of relief and thankfulness in the thought, that some at least of his family would by this fund become more firmly attached to their father's Church.

    During the week the super called again, and tried to induce his most influential layman to take the chair at the circuit meeting.  But Carfax still held out, though more from a foolish scruple about consistency than anything else and the minister went away resolved to try once more before the eventful day came.

    Of late Carfax had fallen into the habit of once-a-day worship, and so he stayed at home on the following Sunday evening.  And there, by his own fireside, he got thinking once more of his cherished plans, and was surprised to find that they did not seem so beautiful as they had done before.  And then he was drawn to think again of his whole life, and especially of his recent attitude towards the Church in which, as he could not but acknowledge, he had got all his good.  Then he wandered off into remembrances of the happy days when he was young and struggling, and of the blessed weariness he struggling to feel after a hard day's preaching in the country.  After all, those were happy days, and he was not so sure that he was not a better man then than now, in spite of his J. P. and municipal and other honours.

    Then his father's words in the office came back to him, and he was just choking back a lump in his throat when the dining-room door burst open and a fairy form flung itself upon him, a hot cheek was pressed against his, and a bright eager voice cried: "Oh, father, father! what do you think?  Oh, I am so happy! so very very happy!"

    "Whatever's the matter, child?"

    "Oh, father! dear father, Dick's just told me such a secret! such a beautiful secret."

    "And you are letting it all out!  What is it, you whirlwind?"

    "Oh, father, Dick's just told me he is going to join Mr. Jimpson's class.  Isn't it grand, father, glorious?"

    Carfax felt he was giving way.  The slumbering Methodism in him was all at once awaking and swallowing up the alderman, and almost to his own surprise he muttered fervently: "Thank God."

    It was many a long day since Carfax had had a religious conversation with one of his children, but that night he took young Dick into the study and asked him what Kathy's strange story meant.

    Dick was frankness itself, and the alderman's heart grew warm and his eyes moist as he listened to his own boy telling the old story that he once used to hear so often.

    "Well, my dear lad, it's the best news I've heard for many a day.  God bless you, and make you a true Christian and a true and faithful Methodist.  Ah—there's one thing I should like you to do, however."

    "What's that, father?"

    "I should like you to write to Edmund before you go to bed, and tell him what has taken place."

    On the Wednesday following, when the family came down to breakfast, there was a letter lying on Master Dick's plate, and the alderman who saw it first felt somehow as if he would like to open it.

    Kathy also looked at it with longing eyes, for the absent brother was her special favourite.

    Presently Dick came down and opened his letter.  He had dressed hastily and was not too much awake even now; but as he read the note his eyes opened and a bright light came into them, and suddenly he flung the letter into the air, and cried: "Hurrah!  I mean, Praise the Lord."

    "What!  What is it?" cried two or three at once.

    In a moment little Kathy had slipped from her place at the table and picked up the letter, which had fluttered down upon the hearthrug.  "Listen! listen!" she cried, with shining eyes and radiant face, and whilst the rest looked at her eagerly she read:


"DEAR DICK,―Thank God for the news you send me; it is the best I have had for many a long day.  May the Lord keep you faithful!  You may be surprised that I write like this, but as you have told me your happiness I will tell you mine.  I have not been very good, I am sorry to say, since I came to London; but a fortnight ago a friend asked me to go to St. James's Hall.  I went, and what I heard there changed my life; and that very night I gave my heart to God.  Please tell them all, but especially dear little Kathy. With much love,

                                                    Your affectionate Brother,
                                                                                                        "E
DMUND."


    "And the £250,000 for Hugh Price Hughes' work was my special aversion," said the alderman to himself, as he went down to his office; and when the super called an hour later he found his hitherto obdurate layman in a very kindly frame of mind.  The next evening the chair was taken by Joseph Carfax after all, and the fame of the Knibworth contribution has gone forth into the whole Church.

Hugh Price Hughes (1847-1902)
Founder of the Methodist Times and first
Superintendent of the
West London Methodist Mission.






THE END.

 


 

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