Scottish Sketches by Amelia E. Barr
Facing His Enemy.
John sat and looked at his fallen idol with a vacant, tear-stained face. He tried to pray a few words at intervals, but he was not yet able to gird up his soul and wrestle with this grief. When Jenny came in she was shocked at the gray, wretched look with which her master pointed to the shameful figure on the sofa. Nevertheless, she went gently to it, raised the fallen head to the pillow, and then went and got a blanket to cover the sleeper, muttering,
"Poor fellow! There's nae need to let him get a pleurisy, ony gate. Whatna for did ye no tell me, deacon? Then I could hae made him a cup o' warm tea."
She spoke as if she was angry, not at David, but at John; and, though it was only the natural instinct of a woman defending what she dearly loved, John gave it a different meaning, and it added to his suffering.
"You are right, Jenny, woman," he said humbly, "it is my fault. I mixed his first glass for him."
"Vera weel. Somebody aye mixes the first glass. Somebody mixed your first glass. That is a bygane, and there is nae use at a' speiring after it. How is the lad to be saved? That is the question now."
"O Jenny, then you dare to hope for his salvation?"
"I would think it far mair sinfu' to despair o' it. The Father has twa kinds o' sons, deacon. Ye are ane like the elder brother; ye hae 'served him many years and transgressed not at any time his commandment;' but this dear lad is his younger son--still his son, mind ye--and he'll win hame again to his Father's house. What for not? He's the bairn o' many prayers. Gae awa to your ain room, deacon; I'll keep the watch wi' him. He'd rather see me nor you when he comes to himsel'."
Alas! the watch begun that night was one Jenny had very often to keep afterwards. David's troubles gathered closer and closer round him, and the more trouble he had the deeper he drank. Within a month after that first shameful homecoming the firm of Callendar & Leslie went into sequestration. John felt the humiliation of this downcome in a far keener way than David did. His own business record was a stainless one; his word was as good as gold on Glasgow Exchange; the house of John Callendar & Co. was synonymous with commercial integrity. The prudent burghers who were his nephew's creditors were far from satisfied with the risks David and Robert Leslie had taken, and they did not scruple to call them by words which hurt John Callendar's honor like a sword-thrust. He did not doubt that many blamed him for not interfering in his nephew's extravagant business methods; and he could not explain to these people how peculiarly he was situated with regard to David's affairs; nor, indeed, would many of them have understood the fine delicacy which had dictated John's course.
It was a wretched summer every way. The accountant who had charge of David's affairs was in no hurry to close up a profitable engagement, and the creditors, having once accepted the probable loss, did not think it worth while to deny themselves their seaside or Highland trips to attend meetings relating to Callendar & Leslie. So there was little progress made in the settlement of affairs all summer, and David was literally out of employment. His uncle's and his children's presence was a reproach to him, and Robert and he only irritated each other with mutual reproaches. Before autumn brought back manufacturers and merchants to their factories and offices David had sunk still lower. He did not come home any more when he felt that he had drunk too much. He had found out houses where such a condition was the natural and the most acceptable one--houses whose doors are near to the gates of hell.
This knowledge shocked John inexpressibly, and in the depth of his horror and grief he craved some human sympathy.
"I must go and see Dr. Morrison," he said one night to Jenny.
"And you'll do right, deacon; the grip o' his hand and the shining o' his eyes in yours will do you good; forbye, you ken weel you arena fit to guide yoursel', let alane Davie. You are too angry, and angry men tell many a lie to themsel's."
There is often something luminous in the face of a good man, and Dr. Morrison had this peculiarity in a remarkable degree. His face seemed to radiate light; moreover, he was a man anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows, and John no sooner felt the glow of that radiant countenance on him than his heart leaped up to welcome it.
"Doctor," he said, choking back his sorrow, "doctor, I'm fain to see you."
"John, sit down. What is it, John?"
"It's David, minister."
And then John slowly, and weighing every word so as to be sure he neither over-stated nor under-stated the case, opened up his whole heart's sorrow.
"I hae suffered deeply, minister; I didna think life could be such a tragedy."
"A tragedy indeed, John, but a tragedy with an angel audience. Think of that. Paul says 'we are a spectacle unto men and angels.' Mind how you play your part. What is David doing now?"
"Nothing. His affairs are still unsettled."
"But that wont do, John. Men learn to do ill by doing what is next to it--nothing. Without some duty life cannot hold itself erect. If a man has no regular calling he is an unhappy man and a cross man, and I think prayers should be offered up for his wife and children and a' who have to live with him. Take David into your own employ at once."
"O minister, that I canna do! My office has aye had God-fearing, steady men in it, and I canna, and--"
"'And that day Jesus was guest in the house of a man that was a sinner.' John, can't you take a sinner as a servant into your office?"
"I'll try it, minister."
"And, John, it will be a hard thing to do, but you must watch David constantly. You must follow him to his drinking-haunts and take him home; if need be, you must follow him to warse places and take him home. You must watch him as if all depended on your vigilance, and you must pray for him as if nothing depended on it. You hae to conquer on your knees before you go into the world to fight your battle, John. But think, man, what a warfare is set before you--the saving of an immortal soul! And I'm your friend and helper in the matter; the lad is one o' my stray lambs; he belongs to my fold. Go your ways in God's strength, John, for this grief o' yours shall be crowned with consolation."
It is impossible to say how this conference strengthened John Callendar. Naturally a very choleric man, he controlled himself into a great patience with his erring nephew. He watched for him like a father; nay, more like a mother's was the thoughtful tenderness of his care. And David was often so touched by the love and forbearance shown him, that he made passionate acknowledgments of his sin and earnest efforts to conquer it. Sometimes for a week together he abstained entirely, though during these intervals of reason he was very trying. His remorse, his shame, his physical suffering, were so great that he needed the most patient tenderness; and yet he frequently resented this tenderness in a moody, sullen way that was a shocking contrast to his once bright and affectionate manner.
So things went on until the close of the year. By that time the affairs of the broken firm had been thoroughly investigated, and it was found that its liabilities were nearly L20,000 above its assets. Suddenly, however, bundle wools took an enormous rise, and as the stock of "Callendar & Leslie" was mainly of this kind, they were pushed on the market, and sold at a rate which reduced the firm's debts to about L17,000. This piece of good fortune only irritated David; he was sure now that if Robert had continued the fight they would have been in a position to clear themselves. Still, whatever credit was due the transaction was frankly given to David. It was his commercial instinct that had divined the opportunity and seized it, and a short item in the "Glasgow Herald" spoke in a cautiously flattering way of the affair.
Both John and David were greatly pleased at the circumstance. David also had been perfectly sober during the few days he had this stroke of business in hand, and the public acknowledgment of his service to the firm's creditors was particularly flattering to him. He came down to breakfast that morning as he had not come for months. It was a glimpse of the old Davie back again, and John was as happy as a child in the vision. Into his heart came at once Dr. Morrison's assertion that David must have some regular duty to keep his life erect. It was evident that the obligation of a trust had a controlling influence over him.
"David," he said cheerfully, "you must hae nearly done wi' that first venture o' yours. The next will hae to redeem it; that is all about it. Everything is possible to a man under forty years auld."
"We have our final meeting this afternoon, uncle. I shall lock the doors for ever to-night."
"And your debts are na as much as you expected."
"They will not be over L17,000, and they may be considerably less. I hope to make another sale this morning. There are yet three thousand bundles in the stock."
"David, I shall put L20,000 in your ain name and for your ain use, whatever that use may be, in the Western Bank this morning. I think you'll do the best thing you can do to set your name clear again. If you are my boy you will."
"Uncle John, you cannot really mean that I may pay every shilling I owe, and go back on the Exchange with a white name? O uncle, if you should mean this, what a man you would make of me!"
"It is just what I mean to do, Davie. Is na all that I have yours and your children's? But oh, I thank God that you hae still a heart that counts honor more than gold. David, after this I wont let go one o' the hopes I have ever had for you."
"You need not, uncle. Please God, and with his help, I will make every one of them good."
And he meant to do it. He never had felt more certain of himself or more hopeful for the future than when he went out that morning. He touched nothing all day, and as the short, dark afternoon closed in, he went cheerfully towards the mill, with his new check-book in his pocket and the assurance in his heart that in a few hours he could stand up among his fellow-citizens free from the stain of debt.
His short speech at the final meeting was so frank and manly, and so just and honorable to his uncle, that it roused a quiet but deep enthusiasm. Many of the older men had to wipe the mist from their glasses, and the heaviest creditor stood up and took David's hand, saying, "Gentlemen, I hae made money, and I hae saved money, and I hae had money left me; but I never made, nor saved, nor got money that gave me such honest pleasure as this siller I hae found in twa honest men's hearts. Let's hae in the toddy and drink to the twa Callendars."
Alas! alas! how often is it our friends from whom we ought to pray to be preserved. The man meant kindly; he was a good man, he was a God-fearing man, and even while he was setting temptation before his poor, weak brother, he was thinking "that money so clean and fair and unexpected should be given to some holy purpose." But the best of us are the slaves of habit and chronic thoughtlessness. All his life he had signalled every happy event by a libation of toddy; everybody else did the same; and although he knew David's weakness, he did not think of it in connection with that wisest of all prayers, "Lead us not into temptation."