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- A Knight Of The Nineteenth Century - 60/79 -
Arnot,' says I, moppin' my eyes agin, 'if you say another word about the little chap I shall be struck all of a heap, fur my heart jist kinder-- kinder pains like a toothache to do somethin' for him.' Then all of a suddent she turns on me sharp agin, and says she, 'I think you are a very inconsistent man, Mr. Growther. You have been runnin' yourself down, and yet you claim to be better than your Maker. He calls himself our Heavenly Father, and yet you are sure that you have a kinder and more fatherly heart than he. You are one of his little, weak, deformed children, twisted all out of shape, as you have described, by his enemy and yours, and yet you the same as say that you would act a great deal more like a true father toward your child than he will toward his. You virtually say that you would rescue your child and be pitiful and tender toward him, but that your Heavenly Father will leave you in the clutches of the cruel enemy, or exact conditions that you cannot comply with before doing anything for you. Haven't you read in the Bible that "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him"? You think very meanly of yourself, but you appear to think more meanly of God. Where is your warrant for doing so?'
"The truth bust in on me like the sunlight into this old kitchen when we open the shutters of a summer mornin'. I saw that I was so completely floored in the argerment, and had made such a blasted old fool of myself all these years, that I just looked around for a knot-hole to crawl into. I didn't know which way to look, but at last I looked at her, and my withered old heart gave a great thump when I saw two tears a-standin' in her eyes. Then she jumps up and gives me that warm hand o' her'n and says: 'Mr. Growther, whenever you wish to know how God feels toward you, think how you felt toward that little chap that was abused and beaten all out o' shape,' and she was gone. Well, the upshot of it all is that I don't think a bit better of myself--not one bit--but that weakly little chap, with a peaked face and a hump on his back, that Mrs. Arnot made so real-like that I see him a-lookin' at me out of the cheer there half the time--he's a makin' me better acquainted with the Lord, for the Lord knows I've got a hump on my back and humps all over; but I keep a-sayin' to myself, 'Like as a father pitieth his children,' and I don't feel near as much like cussin' as I used to. That little chap that Mrs. Arnot described is doin' me a sight o' good, and if I could find some poor little critter just like him, with no one to look after him, I'd take him in and do for him in a minit."
"Mr. Growther," said Haldane, huskily, "you have found that poor misshapen, dwarfed creature that I fear will never attain the proportions of a true man. Of course you see through Mrs. Arnot's imagery. In befriending me you are caring for one who is weak and puny indeed."
"Oh, you won't answer," said Mr. Growther with a laugh. "I can see that your humps is growin' wisibly less every day, and you're too big and broad-shouldered for me to be a pettin' and a yearnin' over. I want jest such a peaked little chap as Mrs. Arnot pictured out, and that's doin' me such a sight o' good."
Again the two occupants of the old kitchen gazed at the fire for a long time in silence, and again there came from the young man the same long-drawn sigh that had attracted Mr. Growther's attention before.
"That's the second time," he remarked.
"I was thinking," said Haldane, rising to retire, "whether I shall ever have better work than this odious routine at the mill."
Mr. Growther pondered over the question a few minutes, and then said sententiously: "I'm inclined to think the Lord gives us as good work as we're cap'ble of doin'. He'll promote you when you've growed a little more."
The next morning Haldane received a message directing him to report at Mr. Ivison's private office during the noon recess.
"Be seated," said that gentleman as the young man, wearing an anxious and somewhat surprised expression, entered hesitatingly and diffidently. "You need not look so troubled, I have not sent for you to find fault--quite the reverse. You have 'a friend at court,' as the saying goes. Not that you needed one particularly, for I have had my eye upon you myself, and for some days past have been inclined to give you a lift. But last evening Mrs. Arnot spoke in your behalf, and through her words I have been led to take the following step. For reasons that perhaps you can understand, it would be difficult for me to give you a desk among my other clerks. I am not so sensitive, now that I know your better aims, and it is my wish that you take that desk there, in this, my private office. Your duties will be very miscellaneous. Sometimes I shall employ you as my errand-boy, again I may intrust you with important and confidential business. I stipulate that you perform the humblest task as readily as any other."
Haldane's face flushed with pleasure, and he said warmly, "I am not in a position, sir, to consider any honest work beneath me, and after your kindness I shall regard any service I can render you as a privilege."
"A neat answer," laughed Mr. Ivison. "If you do your work as well I shall be satisfied. Pluck and good sense will make a man of you yet. I want you to understand distinctly that it has been your readiness and determination, not only to work, but to do any kind of work, that has won my good-will. Here's a check for a month's salary in advance. Be here to-morrow at nine, dressed suitably for your new position. Good-morning."
"Halloo! What's happened?" asked Mr. Growther as Haldane came in that evening with face aglow with gladness and excitement.
"According to your theory I've been promoted sure," laughed the youth, and he related the unexpected event of the day.
"That's jest like Mrs. Arnot," said Mr. Growther, rubbing his hands as he ever did when pleased; "she's allers givin' some poor critter a boost. T'other day 'twas me, now agin it's you, and they say she's helpin' lots more along. St. Peter will have to open the gate wide when she comes in with her crowd. 'Pears to me sometimes that I can fairly hear Satan a-gnashin' of his teeth over that woman. She's the wust enemy he has in town."
"I wish I might show her how grateful I am some day," said Haldane, with moistened eyes; "but I clearly foresee that I can never repay her."
"No matter if you can't," replied the old man. "She don't want any pay. It's her natur' to do these things."
Haldane gave his whole mind to the mastery of his new duties, and after a few natural blunders speedily acquired a facility in the diverse tasks allotted him. In a manner that was perfectly unobtrusive and respectful he watched his employer, studied his methods and habit of mind, and thus gained the power of anticipating his wishes. Mr. Ivison began to find his office and papers kept in just the order he liked, the temperature maintained at a pleasant medium, and to receive many little nameless attentions that added to his comfort and reduced the wear and tear of life to a hurried business-man; and when in emergencies Haldane was given tasks that required brains, he proved that he possessed a fair share of them.
After quite a lapse of time Mr. Ivison again happened to meet Mrs. Arnot, and he said to her:
"Haldane thinks you did him a great kindness in suggesting our present arrangement; but I am inclined to think you did me a greater, for you have no idea how useful the young fellow is making himself to me."
"Then you will have to find a new object of benevolence," answered the lady, "or you will have all your reward in this world."
"There it is again," said Mr. Ivison, with his hearty laugh, "you and Dr. Barstow give a man no peace. I'm going to take breath before I strike in again."
In his new employment, Haldane, from the first, had found considerable leisure on his hands, and after a little thought decided to review carefully the studies over which he had passed so superficially in his student days.
Mr. Growther persisted in occupying the kitchen, leaving what had been designed as the parlor or sitting-room of his cottage to dust and damp. With his permission the young man fitted this up as a study, and bought a few popular works on science, as the nucleus of a library. After supper he read the evening paper to Mr. Growther, who soon fell into a doze, and then Haldane would steal away to his own quarters and pursue with zest, until a late hour, some study that had once seemed to him utterly dry and unattractive.
Thus the months glided rapidly and serenely away, and he was positively happy in a mode of life that he once would have characterized as odiously humdrum. The terrible world, whose favor had formerly seemed essential, and its scorn unendurable, was almost forgotten; and as he continued at his duties so steadily and unobtrusively the hostile world began to unbend gradually its frowning aspect toward him. Those whom he daily met in business commenced with a nod of recognition, and eventually ended with a pleasant word. At church an increasing number began to speak to him, not merely as a Christian duty, but because the young man's sincere and earnest manner interested them and inspired respect.
The fact that he recognized that he was under a cloud and did not try to attract attention, worked in his favor. He never asked the alms of a kindly word or glance, by looking appealingly to one and another. It became his habit to walk with his eyes downcast, not speaking to nor looking toward any one unless first addressed. At the same time his bearing was manly and erect, and marked by a certain quiet dignity which inevitably characterizes all who are honestly trying to do right.
Because he asked so little of society it was the more disposed to give, and from a point of bare toleration it passed on to a willingness to patronize with a faint encouraging smile. And yet it was the general feeling that one whose name had been so sadly besmirched must be kept at more than arm's-length.
"He may get to heaven," said an old lady who was remarking upon his regular attendance at church, "but he can never hope to be received in good society again."
In the meantime the isolated youth was finding such an increasing charm in the companionship of the gifted minds who spoke to him from the printed pages of his little library that he felt the deprivation less and less.
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