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- Dr. Heidenhoff's Process - 1/18 -


DR. HEIDENHOFF'S PROCESS

BY

EDWARD BELLAMY

CHAPTER I.

The hand of the clock fastened up on the white wall of the conference room, just over the framed card bearing the words "Stand up for Jesus," and between two other similar cards, respectively bearing the sentences "Come unto Me," and "The Wonderful, the Counsellor," pointed to ten minutes of nine. As was usual at this period of Newville prayer-meetings, a prolonged pause had supervened. The regular standbyes had all taken their usual part, and for any one to speak or pray would have been about as irregular as for one of the regulars to fail in doing so. For the attendants at Newville prayer-meetings were strictly divided into the two classes of speakers and listeners, and, except during revivals or times of special interest, the distinction was scrupulously observed.

Deacon Tuttle had spoken and prayed, Deacon Miller had prayed and spoken, Brother Hunt had amplified a point in last Sunday's sermon, Brother Taylor had called attention to a recent death in the village as a warning to sinners, and Sister Morris had prayed twice, the second time it must be admitted, with a certain perceptible petulance of tone, as if willing to have it understood that she was doing more than ought to be expected of her. But while it was extremely improbable that any others of the twenty or thirty persons assembled would feel called on to break the silence, though it stretched to the crack of doom, yet, on the other hand, to close the meeting before the mill bell bad struck nine would have been regarded as a dangerous innovation. Accordingly, it only remained to wait in decorous silence during the remaining ten minutes.

The clock ticked on with that judicial intonation characteristic of time-pieces that measure sacred time and wasted opportunities. At intervals the pastor, with an innocent affectation of having just observed the silence, would remark: "There is yet opportunity. . . . . Time is passing, brethren. . . . . Any brother or sister. . . . . We shall be glad to hear from any one." Farmer Bragg, tired with his day's hoeing, snored quietly in the corner of a seat. Mrs. Parker dropped a hymn-book. Little Tommy Blake, who had fallen over while napping and hit his nose, snivelled under his breath. Madeline Brand, as she sat at the melodeon below the minister's desk, stifled a small yawn with her pretty fingers. A June bug boomed through the open window and circled around Deacon Tuttle's head, affecting that good man with the solicitude characteristic of bald-headed persons when buzzing things are about. Next it made a dive at Madeline, attracted, perhaps, by her shining eyes, and the little gesture of panic with which she evaded it was the prettiest thing in the world; at least, so it seemed to Henry Burr, a broad-shouldered young fellow on the back seat, whose strong, serious face is just now lit up by a pleasant smile.

Mr. Lewis, the minister, being seated directly under the clock, cannot see it without turning around, wherein the audience has an advantage of him, which it makes full use of. Indeed, so closely is the general attention concentrated upon the time-piece, that a stranger might draw the mistaken inference that this was the object for whose worship the little company bad gathered. Finally, making a slight concession of etiquette to curiosity, Mr. Lewis turns and looks up at the clock, and, again facing the people, observes, with the air of communicating a piece of intelligence, "There are yet a few moments."

In fact, and not to put too fine a point upon it, there are five minutes left, and the young men on the back seats, who attend prayer-meetings to go home with the girls, are experiencing increasing qualms of alternate hope and fear as the moment draws near when they shall put their fortune to the test, and win or lose it all. As they furtively glance over at the girls, how formidable they look, how superior to common affections, how serenely and icily indifferent, as if the existence of youth of the other sex in their vicinity at that moment was the thought furthest from their minds! How presumptuous, how audacious, to those youth themselves now appears the design, a little while ago so jauntily entertained, of accompanying these dainty beings home, how weak and inadequate the phrases of request which they had framed wherewith to accost them! Madeline Brand is looking particularly grave, as becomes a young lady who knows that she has three would-be escorts waiting for her just outside the church door, not to count one or two within, between whose conflicting claims she has only five minutes more to make up her mind.

The minister had taken up his hymn-book, and was turning over the leaves to select the closing hymn, when some one rose in the back part of the room. Every head turned as if pulled by one wire to see who it was, and Deacon Tuttle put on his spectacles to inspect more closely this dilatory person, who was moved to exhortation at so unnecessary a time.

It was George Bayley, a young man of good education, excellent training, and once of great promise, but of most unfortunate recent experience. About a year previous he had embezzled a small amount of the funds of a corporation in Newville, of which he was paymaster, for the purpose of raising money for a pressing emergency. Various circumstances showed that his repentance had been poignant, even before his theft was discovered. He had reimbursed the corporation, and there was no prosecution, because his dishonest act had been no part of generally vicious habits, but a single unaccountable deflection from rectitude. The evident intensity of his remorse had excited general sympathy, and when Parker, the village druggist, gave him employment as clerk, the act was generally applauded, and all the village folk had endeavoured with one accord, by a friendly and hearty manner, to make him feel that they were disposed to forget the past, and help him to begin life over again. He had been converted at a revival the previous winter, but was counted to have backslidden of late, and become indifferent to religion. He looked badly. His face was exceedingly pale, and his eyes were sunken. But these symptoms of mental sickness were dominated by an expression of singular peace and profound calm. He had the look of one whom, after a wasting illness, the fever has finally left; of one who has struggled hard, but whose struggle is over. And his voice, when he began to speak, was very soft and clear.

"If it will not be too great an inconvenience," he said; "I should like to keep you a few minutes while I talk about myself a little. You remember, perhaps, that I professed to be converted last winter. Since then I am aware that I have shown a lack of interest in religious matters, which has certainly justified you in supposing that I was either hasty or insincere in my profession. I have made my arrangements to leave you soon, and should be sorry to have that impression remain on the minds of my friends. Hasty I may have been, but not insincere. Perhaps you will excuse me if I refer to an unpleasant subject, but I can make my meaning clearer by reviewing a little of my unfortunate history."

The suavity with which he apologized for alluding to his own ruin, as if he had passed beyond the point of any personal feeling in the matter, had something uncanny and creeping in its effect on the listeners, as if they heard a dead soul speaking through living lips.

"After my disgrace," pursued the young man in the same quietly explanatory tone, "the way I felt about myself was very much, I presume, as a mechanic feels, who by an unlucky stroke has hopelessly spoiled the looks of a piece of work, which he nevertheless has got to go on and complete as best he can. Now you know that in order to find any pleasure in his work, the workman must be able to take a certain amount of pride in it. Nothing is more disheartening for him than to have to keep on with a job with which he must be disgusted every time he returns to it, every time his eye glances it over. Do I make my meaning clear? I felt like that beaten crew in last week's regatta, which, when it saw itself hopelessly distanced at the very outset, had no pluck to row out the race, but just pulled ashore and went home.

"Why, I remember when I was a little boy in school, and one day made a big blot on the very first page of my new copybook, that I didn't have the heart to go on any further, and I recollect well how I teased my father to buy me a new book, and cried and sulked until he finally took his knife and neatly cut out the blotted page. Then I was comforted and took heart, and I believe I finished that copybook so well that the teacher gave me the prize.

"Now you see, don't you," he continued, the ghost of a smile glimmering about his eyes, "how it was that after my disgrace I couldn't seem to take an interest any more in anything? Then came the revival, and that gave me a notion that religion might help me. I bad heard, from a child, that the blood of Christ had a power to wash away sins and to leave one white and spotless with a sense of being new and clean every whit. That was what I wanted, just what I wanted. I am sure that you never had a more sincere, more dead-in-earnest convert than I was."

He paused a moment, as if in mental contemplation, and then the words dropped slowly from his lips, as a dim self-pitying smile rested on his haggard face.

"I really think you would be sorry for me if you knew how very bitter was my disappointment when I found that, these bright promises were only figurative expressions which I had taken literally. Doubtless I should not have fallen into such a ridiculous mistake if my great need had not made my wishes fathers to my thoughts. Nobody was at all to blame but myself; nobody at all. I'm blaming no one. Forgiving sins, I should have known, is not blotting, them out. The blood of Christ only turns them red instead of black. It leaves them in the record. It leaves them in the memory. That day when I blotted my copybook at school, to have had the teacher forgive me ever so kindly would not have made me feel the least bit better so long as the blot was there. It wasn't any penalty from without, but the hurt to my own pride which the spot made, that I wanted taken away, so I might get heart to go on. Supposing one of you--and you'll excuse me for asking you to put yourself a moment in my place--had picked a pocket. Would it make a great deal of difference in your state of mind that the person whose pocket you had picked kindly forgave you, and declined to prosecute? Your offence against him was trifling, and easily repaired. Your chief offence was against yourself, and that was irreparable. No other person with his forgiveness can mediate between you and yourself. Until you have been in such a fix, you can't imagine, perhaps, how curiously impertinent it sounds to hear talk about somebody else forgiving you for ruining yourself. It is like mocking."

The nine o'clock bell pealed out from the mill tower.

"I am trespassing on your kindness, but I have only a few more words to say. The ancients had a beautiful fable about the water of Lethe, in which the soul that was bathed straightway forgot all that was sad and evil in its previous life; the most stained, disgraced, and mournful of souls coming forth fresh, blithe, and bright as a baby's. I suppose my absurd misunderstanding arose from a vague notion that the blood of Christ had in it something like this virtue of Lethe water. Just think how blessed a thing for men it would be if such were indeed the case, if their memories could be cleansed and disinfected at the same time their hearts were purified! Then the most disgraced and ashamed might live good


Dr. Heidenhoff's Process - 1/18

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