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THE MOTHER'S TEST
'One of the most terrible instances of dishonesty I ever knew,' said a lady friend to me, 'happened in my own family, or, I should say, in one of its relative branches. You were staying last summer at Westcliff; did you hear Dr. Leatrim preach?'
'Yes; my friends resided about a mile from the parsonage, and were constant in their attendance at his church. The Doctor was one of the principal attractions of the place--one of the most eloquent men I ever heard in the pulpit.'
'Did you ever meet him in company?'
'Never. I was told that he seldom went into society, and lived quite a solitary life; that some great domestic calamity had weaned him entirely from the world; that his visits were confined to the poor of his parish, or to those who stood in need of his spiritual advice; that since the death of his wife and only son, he had never been seen with a smile upon his face. To tell you the truth, I was surprised to hear sermons so full of heavenly benevolence and love breathed from the lips of such an austere and melancholy-looking man.'
'Ah, my poor uncle!' sighed my friend; 'he has had sorrows and trials enough to sour his temper and break his heart. He was not always the gentle, earnest Christian you now see him, but a severe, uncompromising theologian of the old school, and looked upon all other sects who opposed his particular dogmas as enemies to the true faith. A strict disciplinarian, he suffered nothing to interfere with his religious duties, and exercised a despotic sway in the church and in his family. He married, early in life, my father's only sister, and made her an excellent husband; and if a certain degree of fear mingled with her love, it originated in the deep reverence she felt for his character.
'He was forty years of age when the Earl of B----, who was a near relation, conferred upon him the living of Westcliff. The last incumbent had been a kind, easy-going old man, who loved his rubber of whist and a social chat with his neighbours over a glass of punch, and left them to take care of their souls in the best manner they could, considering that he well earned his 700 pounds per annum by preaching a dull, plethoric sermon once a week, christening all the infants, marrying the adults, and burying the dead. It was no wonder that Dr. Leatrim found the parish, as far as religion was concerned, in a very heathenish state.
'His zealous endeavours to arouse them from this careless indifference gave great offence. The people did not believe that they were sinners, and were very indignant with the Doctor for insisting upon the fact. But he spared neither age nor sex in his battle for truth, and fought it with most uncompromising earnestness. Rich or poor, it was all the same to him; he spoke as decidedly to the man of rank as to the humblest peasant in his employ.
'His eloquence was a vital power; the energy with which he enforced it compelled people to listen to him; and as he lived up to his professions, and was ever foremost in every good word and work, they were forced to respect his character, though he did assail all their public and private vices from the pulpit, and enforced their strict attendance at church on the Sabbath day. This state of antagonism between the Doctor and his parishioners did not last long. Prejudice yielded to his eloquent preaching, numbers came from a distance to hear him, and many careless souls awoke from a state of worldly apathy to seek the bread of life.
'Just to give you a correct idea of what manner of man George Leatrim was in these days, contrasted with what he is now, I will relate an anecdote of him that I had from an eye-witness of the scene.
'A wealthy miller in the parish, a great drunkard and atheist, and a very hard, unfeeling, immoral character, dropped down dead in a state of intoxication, and, being a nominal member of the Church, was brought there for burial. When the Doctor came to that portion of the service, "We therefore commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ," he paused, and looking round on the numerous band of relations and friends that surrounded the grave, said in the most solemn and emphatic manner, "My friends, the Prayer-book says this; but if there is any truth in God's word, it cannot be applied to this man. He denied the existence of a God, ridiculed the idea of a Saviour, was an irreligious and bad member of the community, and died in the commission of an habitual and deadly sin; and it is my firm conviction that such as he cannot enter into the kingdom of God!" [Footnote: A fact.]
'The Doctor was greatly censured by the neighbouring clergy for boldly declaring what he felt to be the truth; but it produced an electrical effect upon those present, and the son of the deceased, who was fast following in his father's steps, became a sincere and practical Christian.
'Mrs. Leatrim was quite a contrast to her husband--a gentle, affectionate, simple-hearted woman. She never thwarted his wishes in word or deed, and was ever at his side to assist him in his ministrations among the poor, in teaching the children, and reading to the sick and inquiring. She had been the mother of several children, but only one, and that the youngest-born, survived the three first years of infancy. It is this son, named after his father, George Leatrim, who forms the subject of my present story, which, though a painful one in its general details, is _strictly true_.
'If the good Doctor had an idol in the world, it was his son George. The lad possessed the most amiable disposition, uniting to the talent and earnestness of the father, the gentle, endearing qualities of his mother. He was handsome, frank, and graceful; the expression of his face so truthful and unaffected, that it created an interest in his favour at first sight. Religious without cant, and clever without pretence, it is no wonder that his father, who was his sole instructor, reposed in the fine lad the utmost confidence, treating him more like an equal than a son, over whom he held the authority of both pastor and parent.
'There was none of the nervous timidity that marked Mrs. Leatrim's intercourse with her husband in the conduct of her son. His love for his stern father was without fear, it almost amounted to worship; and the hope of deserving his esteem was the motive power that influenced his studies, and gave a colouring to every act of his life.
'The father, on his part, regarded his son as superior being--one whom the Lord had called from his birth to be His servant.
'There was another person in the house, whom, next to his wife and son, Doctor Leatrim held in the greatest esteem and veneration, not only on account of his having saved him, when a boy, from drowning, at the imminent peril of his own life, but from his having persuaded him, when a youth, to abandon a career of reckless folly and become a Christian. Ralph Wilson was an old and faithful servant, who had been born in his father's house, and had nursed the Doctor when a little child upon his knees. When his master died, Ralph was confided to the care of his son; and as he had never married, he had grown grey in the Doctor's service, and his love for him and his family was the sole aim and object of his life.
'Everything about the parsonage was entrusted to Ralph's care, and he was consulted on all business matters of importance. All the money transactions of the family went through his hands; and, like most old servants, his sway over the household was despotic. The Doctor gave him his own way in everything, for it saved him a great deal of trouble. His mind was too much engrossed with his ministerial duties to attend to these minor concerns. Ralph was a better business man, he said; he could manage such matters more skilfully and economically than he could.
'If Mrs. Leatrim came to consult him about any domestic arrangements, it was always put a stop to. "Don't trouble me, Mary; go to Ralph, he can advise you what to do." Poor Mrs. Leatrim did not like Ralph as well as her husband did, and would much rather have had the sanction of the legitimate master of the house.
'By his fellow-servants the old grey-headed factotum was almost detested. They could receive orders from the rector, and yield to him cheerful and hearty obedience; but to be under the control of a stingy, canting old hypocrite like Ralph Wilson was hard to be borne. The Bible, that was so often in his mouth, might have taught him 'that no man can serve two masters.' This fact was fully illustrated in their case, for they loved the one and hated the other. There was always trouble in the household--a perpetual changing of domestics, greatly to the annoyance of Mrs. Leatrim; but the matter was one of small importance to the rector, provided he was left in peace to pursue his studies.
'Amiable and gentle as George was, he could not force himself to feel any affection for Ralph Wilson. He treated him with respect for his father's sake, more than from any personal regard, though the old man was servile in his protestations of love and devotion. Some minds are surrounded by a moral and intellectual atmosphere, into which other minds cannot enter without feeling a certain degree of repulsion. Such an insensible but powerfully acknowledged antagonism existed between the faithful old servant and his young master. They did not hate one another--that would have been too strong a term--but Doctor Leatrim often remarked with pain that there was no love lost between them, and often blamed George for the indifference he manifested towards his humble friend.
'You remember the beautiful old church at Westcliff, surrounded by its venerable screen of oaks and elms, and the pretty white parsonage on the other side of the road, facing the principal entrance to the church? The house occupies an elevation some feet above the churchyard. The front windows command a fine view of the sacred edifice, particularly of the carved porch within the iron gates at the entrance, and the massive oak door through which you enter into the body of the building. A person standing at one of these windows at sunset, and
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