It was a warm, soft June evening. The rosy tints of sunset were just merging into brown shadows over the landscape, the frogs peeped and gurgled in the marshes, and the whippoorwills were beginning to answer each other from the thick recesses of the trees, when the old ministerial chaise of Dr. Cushing might have been seen wending its way up the stony road to the North Poganuc school-house.

The Doctor and his wife were talking confidentially, and Dolly, seated between them, entered with eager sympathy into all they were saying.

They were very happy, with a simple, honest, earnest happiness, for they hoped that the great object of his life and labors was now about to be accomplished, that the power of a Divine Influence was descending to elevate and purify and lift the souls of his people to God.

"My dear, I no longer doubt," he said. "The presence of the Lord is evidently with us. If only the church will fully awaken to their duty we may hope for a harvest now."

"What a pity," answered Mrs. Cushing, "that that old standing quarrel of Zeph Higgins and the church cannot be made up; his children are all deeply interested in religion, but he stands right in their way."

"Why don't you talk to him, Papa?" asked Dolly.

"Nobody can speak to him but God, my child; there's a man that nobody knows how to approach."

Dolly reflected silently on this for some minutes, and then said,

"Papa, do you suppose Christ loves him? Did he die for him?"

"Yes, my child. Christ loved and died for all."

"Do you think he believes that?" asked Dolly, earnestly.

"I'm afraid he doesn't think much about it," answered her father.

Here they came in sight of the little school-house. It seemed already crowded. Wagons were tied along the road, and people were standing around the doors and windows.

The Doctor and Mrs. Cushing made their way through the crowd to the seat behind the little pine table. He saw in the throng not merely the ordinary attendance at prayer-meetings, but many of the careless and idle class who seldom were seen inside a church. There were the unusual faces of Abe Bowles and Liph Kingsley and Mark Merrill, who had left the seductions of Glazier's bar-room to come over and see whether there was really any revival at North Poganuc, and not perhaps without a secret internal suggestion that to be converted would be the very best thing for them temporally as well as spiritually. Liph's wife, a poor, discouraged, forsaken-looking woman, had persuaded him to come over with her, and sat there praying, as wives of drunken men often pray, for some help from above to save him, and her, and her children.

Nothing could be rougher and more rustic than the old school-house,—its walls hung with cobwebs; its rude slab benches and desks hacked by many a schoolboy's knife; the plain, ink-stained pine table before the minister, with its two tallow candles, whose dim rays scarcely gave light enough to read the hymns. There was nothing outward to express the real greatness of what was there in reality.

There are surroundings that make us realize objectively the grandeur of the human soul, and the sublimity of the possibilities which Christianity opens to it. The dim cathedral, whose arches seem to ascend to the skies, from whose distant recesses pictured forms of saints and angels look down, whose far-reaching aisles thrill with chants solemn and triumphant, while clouds of incense arise at the holy altar, and white-robed priests and kneeling throngs prostrate themselves before the Invisible Majesty—all this "pomp of dreadful sacrifice" enkindles the ideas of the infinite and the eternal, and makes us feel how great, how glorious, how mysterious and awful is the destiny of man.

But the New England Puritan had put the ocean between him and all such scenic presentations of the religious life. He had renounced every sensuous aid, and tasked himself to bring their souls to face the solemn questions of existence and destiny in their simple nakedness, without drapery or accessories; there were times in the life of an earnest minister when these truths were made so intensely vivid and effective as to overbear all outward disadvantages of surrounding; and to-night the old school-house, though rude and coarse as the manger of Bethlehem, like that seemed hallowed by the presence of a God.

From the moment the Doctor entered he was conscious of a present Power. There was a hush, a stillness, and the words of his prayer seemed to go out into an atmosphere thrilling with emotion; and when he rose to speak he saw the countenances of his parishioners with that change upon them which comes from the waking up of the soul to higher things. Hard, weather-beaten faces were enkindled and eager; every eye was fixed upon him; every word he spoke seemed to excite a responsive emotion.

The Doctor read from the Old Testament the story of Achan. He told how the host of the Lord had been turned back because there was one in the camp who had secreted in his tent an accursed thing. He asked, "Can it be now, and here, among us who profess to be Christians, that we are secreting in our hearts some accursed thing that prevents the good Spirit of the Lord from working among us? Is it our pride? Is it our covetousness? Is it our hard feeling against a brother? Is there anything that we know to be wrong that we refuse to make right—anything that we know belongs to God that we are withholding? If we Christians lived as high as we ought, if we lived up to our professions, would there be any sinners unconverted? Let us beware how we stand in the way. If the salt have lost its savor wherewith shall it be salted? Oh, my brethren, let us not hinder the work of God. I look around on this circle and I miss the face of a sister that was always here to help us with her prayers; now she is with the general assembly and church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven, with the spirits of the just made perfect. But her soul will rejoice with the angels of God if she looks down and sees us all coming up to where we ought to be. God grant that her prayers may be fulfilled in us. Let us examine ourselves, brethren; let us cast out the stumbling-block, that the way of the Lord may be prepared."

The words, simple in themselves, became powerful by the atmosphere of deep feeling into which they were uttered; there were those solemn pauses, that breathless stillness, those repressed breathings, that magnetic sympathy that unites souls under the power of one overshadowing conviction.

When the Doctor sat down, suddenly there was a slight movement, and from a dark back seat rose the gaunt form of Zeph Higgins. He was deathly pale, and his form trembled with emotion. Every eye was fixed upon him, and people drew in their breath, with involuntary surprise and suspense.

"Wal, I must speak," he said. "I'm a stumbling-block. I've allers ben one. I hain't never ben a Christian—that's jest the truth on't. I never hed oughter 'a' ben in the church. I've ben all wrong—wrong—WRONG! I knew I was wrong, but I wouldn't give up. It's ben jest my awful WILL. I've set up my will agin God Almighty. I've set it agin my neighbors—agin the minister and agin the church. And now the Lord's come out agin me; he's struck me down. I know he's got a right—he can do what he pleases—but I ain't resigned—not a grain. I submit 'cause I can't help myself; but my heart's hard and wicked. I expect my day of grace is over. I ain't a Christian, and I can't be, and I shall go to hell at last, and sarve me right!"

And Zeph sat down, grim and stony, and the neighbors looked one on another in a sort of consternation. There was a terrible earnestness in those words that seemed to appall every one and prevent any from uttering the ordinary commonplaces of religious exhortation. For a few moments the circle was silent as the grave, when Dr. Cushing said, "Brethren, let us pray;" and in his prayer he seemed to rise above earth and draw his whole flock, with all their sins and needs and wants, into the presence-chamber of heaven.

He prayed that the light of heaven might shine into the darkened spirit of their brother; that he might give himself up utterly to the will of God; that we might all do it, that we might become as little children in the kingdom of heaven. With the wise tact which distinguished his ministry he closed the meeting immediately after the prayer with one or two serious words of exhortation. He feared lest what had been gained in impression might be talked away did he hold the meeting open to the well-meant, sincere but uninstructed efforts of the brethren to meet a case like that which had been laid open before them.

After the service was over and the throng slowly dispersed, Zeph remained in his place, rigid and still. One or two approached to speak to him; there was in fact a tide of genuine sympathy and brotherly feeling that longed to express itself. He might have been caught up in this powerful current and borne into a haven of peace, had he been one to trust himself to the help of others: but he looked neither to the right nor to the left; his eyes were fixed on the floor; his brown, bony hands held his old straw hat in a crushing grasp; his whole attitude and aspect were repelling and stern to such a degree that none dared address him.

The crowd slowly passed on and out. Zeph sat alone, as he thought; but the minister, his wife, and little Dolly had remained at the upper end of the room. Suddenly, as if sent by an irresistible impulse, Dolly stepped rapidly down the room and with eager gaze laid her pretty little timid hand upon his shoulder, crying, in a voice tremulous at once with fear and with intensity, "O, why do you say that you can not be a Christian? Don't you know that Christ loves you?"

Christ loves you! The words thrilled through his soul with a strange, new power; he opened his eyes and looked astonished into the little earnest, pleading face.

"Christ loves you," she repeated; "oh, do believe it!"

"Loves me!" he said, slowly. "Why should he?"

"But he does; he loves us all. He died for us. He died for you. Oh, believe it. He'll help you; he'll make you feel right. Only trust him. Please say you will!"

Zeph looked at the little face earnestly, in a softened, wondering way. A tear slowly stole down his hard cheek.

"Thank'e, dear child," he said.

"You will believe it?"

"I'll try."

"You will trust Him?"

Zeph paused a moment, then rose up with a new and different expression in his face, and said, in a subdued and earnest voice, "I will."

"Amen!" said the Doctor, who stood listening; and he silently grasped the old man's hand.

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