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- A Knight Of The Nineteenth Century - 3/79 -


"I cannot understand how a boy brought up in the careful Christian manner that he has been can show such unnatural depravity. It is a dark, mysterious providence, to which I feel I cannot submit."

Though young Haldane was aware of his mother's intolerance of disreputable vices and follies, he was not prepared for her strong and even bitter condemnation of his action. Having never been taught to endure from her nor from any one the language of rebuke, he retorted as a son never should do in any circumstances, and stormy scenes followed.

Thus the mother was at last rudely awakened to the fact that her son was not a model youth, and that something must be done speedily, or else he might go to destruction, and in the meantime disgrace both himself and her--an event almost equally to be dreaded.

In her distress and perplexity she summoned her pastor, and took counsel with him. At her request the venerable man readily agreed to "talk to" the wayward subject, and thought that his folly and its consequences could be placed before the young man in such a strong and logical statement that it would convince him at once that he must "repent and walk in the ways of righteousness." If Haldane's errors had been those of doctrine, Dr. Marks would have been an admirable guide; but the trouble was that, while the good doctor was familiar with all the readings of obscure Greek and Hebrew texts, and all the shades of opinions resulting, he was unacquainted with even the alphabet of human nature. In approaching "a sinner," he had one formal and unvarying method, and he chose his course not from the bearing of the subject himself, but from certain general theological truths which he believed applied to the "unrenewed heart of man as a fallen race." He rather prided himself upon calling a sinner a sinner, and all things else by their right names; and thus it is evident that he often had but little of the Pauline guile, which enabled the great apostle to entangle the wayward feet of Jew, Greek and Roman, bond and free, in heavenly snares.

The youth whom he was to convince and convert by a single broadside of truth, as it were, moved in such an eccentric orbit, that the doctor could never bring his heavy artillery to bear upon him. Neither coaxing nor scolding on the part of the mother could bring about the formal interview. At last, however, it was secured by an accident, and his mother felt thereafter, with a certain sense of consolation, that "all had been done that could be done."

Entering the parlor unexpectedly one afternoon, Haldane stumbled directly upon Dr. Marks, who opened fire at once, by saying:

"My young friend, this is quite providential, as I have long been wishing for an interview. Please be seated, for I have certain things to say which relate to your spiritual and temporal well-being, although the latter is a very secondary matter."

Haldane was too well bred to break rudely and abruptly away, and yet it must be admitted that he complied with very much the feeling and grace with which he would take a dentist's chair.

"My young friend, if you ever wish to be a saint you must first have a profound conviction that you are a sinner. I hope that you realize that you are a sinner."

"I am quite content to be a gentleman," was the brusque reply.

"But as long as you remain an impenitent sinner you can never be even a true gentleman," responded the clergyman somewhat warmly.

Haldane had caught a shocked and warning look from his mother, and so did not reply. He saw that he was "in for it," as he would express himself, and surmised that the less he said the sooner the ordeal would be over. He therefore took refuge in a silence that was both sullen and resentful. He was too young and uncurbed to maintain a cold and impassive face, and his dark eyes occasionally shot vindictive gleams at both his mother and her ally, who had so unexpectedly caged him against his will. Fortunately the doctor was content, after he had got under way, to talk at, instead of to, his listener, and thus was saved the mortification of asking questions of one who would not have answered.

After the last sonorous period had been rounded, the youth arose, bowed stiffly, and withdrew, but with a heart overflowing with a malicious desire to retaliate. At the angle of the house stood the clergyman's steady-going mare, and his low, old-fashioned buggy. It was but the work of a moment to slip part of the shuck of a horse-chestnut, with its sharp spines, under the collar, so that when the traces drew upon it the spines would be driven into the poor beast's neck. Then, going down to the main street of the town, through which he knew the doctor must pass on his way home, he took his post of observation.

CHAPTER II

BOTH APOLOGIZE

Haldane's hopes were realized beyond his anticipations, for the doctor's old mare--at first surprised and restless from the wounds made by the sharp spines--speedily became indignant and fractious, and at last, half frantic with pain, started on a gallop down the street, setting all the town agog with excitement and alarm.

With grim satisfaction Haldane saw the doctor's immaculate silk hat fly into the mud, his wig, blown comically awry, fall over his eyes, and his spectacles joggle down until they sat astride the tip of a rather prominent nose.

Having had his revenge he at once relented, and rushing out in advance of some others who were coming to the rescue, he caught the poor beast, and stopped her so suddenly that the doctor was nearly precipitated over the dashboard. Then, pretending to examine the harness to see that nothing was broken, he quietly removed the cause of irritation, and the naturally sedate beast at once became far more composed than her master, for, as a bystander remarked, the venerable doctor was "dreadfully shuck up." It was quite in keeping with Haldane's disingenuous nature to accept the old gentleman's profuse thanks for the rescue. The impulse to carry his mischief still further was at once acted upon, and he offered to see the doctor safely home.

His services were eagerly accepted, for the poor man was much too unnerved to take the reins again, though, had he known it, the mare would now have gone to the parsonage quietly, and of her own accord.

The doctor was gradually righted up and composed. His wig, which had covered his left eye, was arranged decorously in its proper place, and the gold-rimmed spectacles pressed back so that the good man could beam mildly and gratefully upon his supposed preserver. The clerical hat, however, had lost its character beyond recovery, and though its owner was obliged to wear it home, it must be confessed that it did not at all comport with the doctor's dignity and calling.

Young Haldane took the reins with a great show of solicitude and vigilance, appearing to dread another display of viciousness from the mare, that was now most sheeplike in her docility; and thus, with his confiding victim, he jogged along through the crowded street, the object of general approval and outspoken commendation.

"My dear young friend," began the doctor fervently, "I feel that you have already repaid me amply for my labors in your behalf."

"Thank you," said Haldane demurely; "I think we are getting even."

"This has been a very mysterious affair," continued the doctor musingly; "surely 'a horse is a vain thing for safety.' One is almost tempted to believe that demoniacal possession is not wholly a thing of the past. Indeed, I could not think of anything else while Dolly was acting so viciously and unaccountably."

"I agree with you," responded Haldane gravely, "she certainly did come down the street like the devil."

The doctor was a little shocked at this putting of his thoughts into plain English, for it sounded somewhat profanely. But he was in no mood to find fault with his companion, and they got on very well together to the end of their brief journey. The young scapegrace was glad, indeed, that it was brief, for his self-control was fast leaving him, and having bowed a rather abrupt farewell to the doctor, he was not long in reaching one of his haunts, from which during the evening, and quite late into the night, came repeated peals of laughter, that grew more boisterous and discordant as that synonyme of mental and moral anarchy, the "spirit of wine," gained the mastery.

The tidings of her son's exploit in rescuing the doctor were not long in reaching Mrs. Haldane, and she felt that the good seed sown that day had borne immediate fruit. She longed to fold him in her arms and commend his courage, while she poured out thanksgiving that he himself had escaped uninjured, which immunity, she believed, must have resulted from the goodness and piety of the deed. But when he at last appeared with step so unsteady and utterance so thick that even she could not mistake the cause, she was bewildered and bitterly disappointed by the apparent contradictoriness of his action; and when he, too far gone for dissimulation, described and acted out in pantomime the doctor's plight and appearance, she became half hysterical from her desire to laugh, to cry, and to give vent to her kindling indignation.

This anger was raised almost to the point of white heat on the morrow. The cause of the old mare's behavior, and the interview which had led to the practical joke, soon became an open secret, and while it convulsed the town with laughter, it also gave the impression that young Haldane was in a "bad way."

It was not long before Mrs. Haldane received a note from an indignant fellow church-member, in which, with some disagreeable comment, her son's conduct was plainly stated. She was also informed that the doctor had become aware of the rude jest of which he had been the subject. Mrs. Haldane was almost furious; but her son grew sullen and obstinate as the storm which he had raised increased. The only thing he would say as an apology or excuse amounted to this:

"What else could he expect from one who he so emphatically asserted was a sinner?"

The mother wrote at once to the doctor, and was profuse in her apologies and regrets, but was obliged to admit to him that her son was beyond her control.

When the doctor first learned the truth his equanimity was almost as greatly disturbed as it had been on the previous day, and his first emotions were obviously those of wrath. But a little thought brought him to a better mood.

He was naturally deficient in tact, and his long habit of dwelling upon abstract and systematic truth had diminished his power of observantly and intuitively gauging the character of the one with whom he was


A Knight Of The Nineteenth Century - 3/79

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