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- Opening a Chestnut Burr - 64/76 -

"At any rate, I should like to hear your conclusion."

"Well, I argued it out to myself. I says, 'Suppose there's some sinners too bad, or too somethin' or other, for the Lord to save, and suppose you are one of them, ain't ''lected,' as my wife says. If I could be an unbelievin' sinner for eighty years, it seemed to me that if anybody wasn't 'lected I wasn't. I was dreadfully down, I tell yer, for I'd set my heart on bein' John Walton's neighbor again. After I'd smoked a good many pipes, I cussed myself for an old fool. 'There, you've brought your case into court,' I says, 'and you're goin' to give it up afore it's argued.' Then I argued it. I was honest, you may be sure. It wouldn't do me any good to pettifog in this matter. First I says, if there was any doubt about the Lord savin' all sinners who wanted Him to, John Walton orter have spoken of it, and from what I know of the man he would. Then I says, arter all, it's the Lord I've got to deal with. Now what kind of a Lord is He? Then I commenced rememberin' all that Miss Eulie and Miss Annie had read to me about Him, and all I'd heard, and I got my wife to read some, and my hopes grew every minute. I tell you what, Mr. Gregory, it was a queer crowd He often had around Him. I'd kinder felt at home among 'em, 'specially with that swearin' fisherman Peter.

"Well, the upshot of it was, I couldn't find that He ever turned one sinner away. Then why should He me? Then my wife, as she was readin', come across the words, 'Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.' I had heard them words afore often, but it seemed now as the first time, and I just shouted, 'I've got His word for it,' and my wife thought I was crazy, sure 'nuff, for she didn't know what I was drivin' at. And now, Mr. Gregory, you're just shut up to two things, just two things. Either the Lord Jesus will save every sinner that comes to Him, or he ain't honest, and don't mean what he says, and won't do as he used to. I tell yer I'm settled, better settled than yonder mountain. I just let myself go limber right down upon the promise, and it's all right. I'm going to be John Walton's neighbor again."

Gregory was more affected by the old man's quaint talk than he would have believed possible. It seemed true that he was "shut up" to one or the other of the alternatives presented. He commenced pacing up and down the little porch in deep thought. Mr. Tuggar puffed away at his pipe with such vigor that he was exceedingly beclouded, however clear his mind. At last Gregory said, "I shall think over what you have said, very carefully, for I admit it has a great deal of force to my mind."

"That's right," said Mr. Tuggar; "argue it out, just as I did. Show yourself no favors, and be fair to yourself, and you can't get away from my conclusion. You've got to come to it."

"I should be very glad to come to it," said Gregory, gravely.

"I should think you would. There'll be some good neighbors up there, Mr. Gregory; these Waltons are all bound to be there. Miss Annie would be kinder good company--eh, Mr. Gregory?"

In spite of himself he flushed deeply under the old man's keen scrutiny.

"There's one thing that's mighty 'plexing to me," said Mr. Tuggar, led to the subject by its subtle connection with Gregory's blush, "and that's why the Lord didn't keep John Walton alive a few minutes longer, so that the marriage could take place."

Gregory gave a great start. "What marriage?" he asked.

"Why, don't you know about it?" said Mr. Tuggar, in much surprise.

"No, nothing at all."

"Then perhaps I ortn't ter speak of it."

"Certainly not, if you don't think it right."

"Well, I've said so much I might as well say it all," said the old man, musingly. "It's no secret, as I knows of;" and he told Gregory how near Annie came to being a wife.

Gregory drew a long breath and looked deathly pale and faint.

"Well, now, I'd no idea that you'd be so struck of a heap," said the old man, in still deeper surprise.

"God's hand was in that," murmured Gregory; "God's hand was in that."

"Do you think so, now? Well, it does seem kinder cur'us, and per'aps it was, for somehow I never took to that Hunting, though he seems all right."

"Good-by, Mr. Tuggar," said Gregory, rising; "you have given me a good deal to think about, and I'm going to think, and act, too, if I can. I am going to New York to-morrow, and one of the first things I do will be to fill your pipe for a long time;" and he pressed the old man's hand most cordially.

"Let yourself go limber when you come to trust, and it will be all right," were Daddy Tuggar's last words, as he balanced himself on his crutches in parting.

Gregory found Annie in the parlor, and he said, "I have good news for you; Daddy Tuggar is a Christian."

Annie sprang joyfully up and said, "I'm going over to see him at once."

When she returned, Gregory was quietly reading in the parlor, showing thus that he had no wish to avoid her.

She came directly to him and said, "Daddy Tuggar says that you propose going home to-morrow."

"Well, really, Miss Walton, I have no home to go to; but I expect to return to the city."

"Now I protest against it."

"I'm glad you do."

"Then you won't go?"

"Yes, I must; but I'm glad you don't wish me to go"

"Why need you go yet? You ought not. You should wait till you are strong."

"That is just why I go--to get _strong_. I never could here, with you looking so kindly at me as you do now. You see I am as frank as I promised to be. So please say no more, for you cannot and you ought not to change my purpose."

"O dear!" cried Annie, "how one's faith is tried! Why need this be so?"

"On the contrary," he said, "what little faith I ever had has been quite revived this afternoon. Daddy Tuggar has been 'talking religion' to me, and, pardon me for saying it, I found his words more convincing than even yours."

"I am not jealous of him," said Annie, gladly.

"I can't help thinking that God does see and care, in that He prevented your marriage."

Annie blushed deeply, and said, coldly, "I am sorry you touched upon that subject," and she left the room.

Gregory went quietly on with his reading, or seemed to do so. Indeed, he made a strong effort, and succeeded, for he was determined to master himself outwardly.

She soon relented and came back. When she saw him apparently so undisturbed, the thought came to her, "He has truly given me up. There is nothing of the lover in that calmness, and he makes no effort to win my favor," but she said, "Mr. Gregory, I fear I hurt your feelings. You certainly did mine. I cannot endure the injustice you persist in doing Mr. Hunting."

"I only repeat your own words, 'We all three shall understand each other in God's good time'; and after what I heard to-day, I have the feeling that He is watching over you."

"Won't you promise not to speak any more on this subject?"

"Yes, for I have done my duty."

She took up his book and read to him, thus giving one more hour of mingled pain and pleasure; though when he thought how long it would be before he heard that sweet voice again, if ever, his pain almost reached the point of anguish. As she turned toward him and saw his look of suffering, she realized somewhat the effort he had made to keep up before her.

She came to him and said, "I was about to ask a favor, but perhaps it's hardly right."

"Ask it, anyway," he said, with a smile.

"I don't urge it, but I expect Mr. Hunting this evening. Won't you come down to supper and meet him?"

"For your sake I will, now that I have gained some self-control. I am not one to quarrel in a lady's parlor under any provocation. For your sake I will treat Mr. Hunting like a gentleman, and make my last evening with you as little of a restraint as possible."

"Thank you--thank you. You now promise to make it one of peculiar happiness."

Annie drove to the depot for Hunting, and told of Gregory's consent to meet him. She said, "Now is your opportunity, Charles. Meet him in such a way as to make enmity impossible."

His manner was not very reassuring, but, in his pleasure at hearing that Gregory was soon to depart, and that in his absence Annie's confidence in him had not been disturbed, he promised to do the best he could. She was nervously excited as the moment of meeting approached, and, somewhat to her surprise, Hunting seemed to share her uneasiness.

Gregory did not come down till the family were all in the supper-room.

Opening a Chestnut Burr - 64/76

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