The Second Chance by Nellie L. McClung
Chapter XVI. Spiritual Advisors
Like tides on a crescent sea-beach When the moon is new and thin, Into our hearts high yearnings Come welling and surging in-- Come from the mystic ocean whose rim no foot has trod. Some of us call it longing And others call it God.
----W. H. Carruth.
When Bud and Martha reached home, Bud went straight to his father who was sitting in his stockinged feet, yawning over a machinery catalogue. "Dad," he said, "I'm going to be a better boy than I've been."
"How's that, Buddie?" Mr. Perkins asked suspiciously.
Bud coloured uncomfortably. "I've made up my mind to be e a Christian, father," he answered, after a pause.
"All right, Bud, that's all right," the old man answered, letting the catalogue fall to the floor. "A little religion is a fine thing, and no one should be without it. I'm a religious man myself, Buddie, if any one should ask you. I can always ask a blessing at the table when there's company--you know that yourself--and I've attended church for years; I never miss goin' the Sunday the Foresters get preached to. I favour the Church of England, myself, though your ma's folks always patronized the Methodists. I like the Church of England best because they can give you such a dandy funeral, no matter who you are, by George! and no questions asked. They sure can give a fellow a great send-off. This little Burrell is a Methodist, isn't he?"
"Yes, he's a Methodist," said Bud.
"Well, now, Bud, I don't want to discourage you, but you have to be careful how you get mixed up with them Methodists; they go too far and are apt to overdo things. You mind when there was them big revival meetings at Millford a few years ago. Well, sir, Brown, the druggist, got religion and burned up all his pipes and tobacco; they tell me they were as fine a stock of briar-roots and amber mouthpieces as any person would care to see; people who raked over the as ashes tell me it was a' terrible sight altogether--and he was a smart man up to that time, makin' good ney sellin' rain-water for medicine. Now, Buddie, go slow. I don't mind you goin' to church and chippin' in your nickel when the plate passes, and it's all right to buy stuff at their sales. I mind when the Church of England ladies raffled off that quilt, I bought two ten-cent throws, and never kicked when I didn't get it. I says: 'Oh, well, it's gone for a good cause.' But don't let them get too strong a hold on you."
"But, father," Bud said earnestly, "I want to stand up for everything that's right. I want to be straight and honest, and help people, and I've just been thinkin' about it--it's not fair to plug wheat the way we've been doing--it's not right to pretend that it's all first class when there's frozen grain in it."
Thomas Perkins grew serious.
"Buddie, dear," he said, "you're gettin' cluttered up with a lot of bum ideas. A farmer has to hold his own against everybody else. They're all trying to fleece him, and he's got to fool them if he can. I'm honest myself, Bud, you know that; but there's nothing pleases me quite so well as to be able to get eighty-seven cents a bushel for wheat that I would only be gettin' fifty-three for if I hadn't taken a little trouble when I was fillin' it up."
"But it would make a fellow feel mean to get caught," Bud said, trying to get hold of an argument that would have weight.
"A fellow needn't be caught, Bud, if he ain't too graspin'. You don't need to plug every time. They know blame well when a fellow has some frozen wheat, and it don't do to draw in No. I hard or No. I Northern every time. It's safest to plug it just one grade above what it is. Oh, it's a game, Bud, and it takes a good player. Now, son, you run along and bring up the cows, and don't you be worryin' about religion. That's what happened me brother Jimmy, your own poor uncle. He got all taken up with the Seventh Day Adventists, and his hired help was gettin' two Sundays a week--he wouldn't let them work Saturday and they wouldn't work Sunday. Your poor uncle was afraid to let them work on Saturday, for, accordin' to his religion, you'd be damned if you let your hired help work just the same as if you worked yourself; but he used to say he'd be damned if he'd let them sit idle and him payin' them big wages, and it was a bad mix-up, I tell you. And then there was old man Redmond, he got religion and began to give back things he said he'd stole--brought back bags to Steadman that he 'said he stole at a threshin' at my place; but they had Steadman's name on them. It made lots of trouble, Bud, and I never saw anything but trouble come out of this real rip-roarin' Methodist religion, and I don't want you to get mixed up in it."
Bud went down the ravine that led to the river with a troubled heart. There was something sweet and satisfying just within reach, but it eluded him as he tried to grasp it. Bud had never heard of conviction of sin, repentance and justification, but he knew that a mysterious something was struggling within him. He found the cows, and turned them homeward. Then he flung himself on the grassy slope of the river-bank and gave himself to bitter reflections. "There is no use of me tryin' to be anybody," he thought sadly. "I don't know anything, and I'd just make a fool of myself if I was to try to do anything."
A flock of plovers circled over his head, rapidly whirring their wings, then sailing easily higher and higher into the blue of the evening sky. He looked after them enviously.
"Things don't bother those chaps," he said to himself.
He started up suddenly. Some one was calling his name. Looking across the ravine, he saw Pearl Watson standing outside the fence.
"Hello, Bud!" she shouted. "What's wrong?"
He ran down the bank and up the opposite side of the ravine.
"I am all out of humour, Pearl," he said. "I wish I had never been born. I'm a big awkward lump."
Pearl looked at him closely.
"That's the devil, Bud," she said gravely. "He gets into people and tells them they're no good, an' never will be. It's just his way of keepin' people from doin' good things. You see, Bud, the devil ain't so terrible particular about gettin' us to do bad things as just to keep us from doin' good ones. If you do nothin' at all it will please him all right, for all you've got to do to be lost is to do nothin'. It's just like a stick in the river. If it just keeps quiet it will go down stream, and so it is with us--things is movin' that way. Now, Bud, them's wrong thoughts you're havin' about not bein' any good. You can see, hear and talk, and sense things--that's all anybody can do. You're big and strong, and most likely will live fifty years. Here, now, God has set you up with a whole outfit--what are you goin' to do with it?"
"That's what I don't know, Pearl," he said. "What can I do? Where can I go where I'll be any real use?"
"You don't need to leave home, Bud," Pearl said; "you don't need to be et up by cannibals to be a Christian. Stay right at home and go on and work and do your work better than ever; just do it as if God Himself was lookin' over your shoulder; and be that kind and gentle that even the barn cats'll know who you're tryin' to be like. Earn all the money you can, too, Bud. Do you know what I'm goin' to do with my first money I earn? I'll be seventeen before I can teach, and with the first money I get I'll send some to support a little girl in India. She'll be called Pearl and I'll bring her up a Bible-woman."
"I'm all discouraged," Bud said.
Pearl leaned over the fence and said earnestly: "Bud, when I get discouraged I take it as a sign that I haven't been keepin' prayed up, and I go right at it and pray till I get feelin' fine. I'm goin' to pray now."
She knelt down on her side of the fence. He did the same.
"Oh, God!" she said, "here's Bud all balled up in his mind, wantin' to do right, but not knowin' how to go at it. I guess you've often seen people like that, and know better how to go about strengthenin' them up than I can tell You. Bud's all right of a boy, too, dear Lord, when he gets a real grip on things. You should have seen him wallop the daylight out of young Tom Steadman when he hit Lib Cavers. I wasn't there; but they tell me is was something grand. Bless him now, dear Lord, and never, never let go of Bud. Even if he lets go of You, keep your grip on him. For the dear Saviour's sake, Amen."
They rose from their knees and shook hands silently through the barbed wire.
"I wish I could believe as easy as you, Pearl," Bud said.
"Look over there, Bud," she cried, pointing to the little house beside the bluff. The setting sun had caught the western windows and lit them into flame. "It's just like that with any of us, Bud. That old windy is all cracked and patched, but look how it shines when the sun gets a full blaze on it. That's like us, Bud. We're no good ourselves, we're cracked and patched, but when God's love gets a chance at us we can shine and glow."
"You're a great kid, Pearl," he said.
She laughed delightedly. "I'm like the windy," she said; "God puts good thoughts in me because I keep turned broadside and catch all that's comin' my way. Go home now, Bud, and don't ever say you're discouraged again."
They shook hands again silently through the fence, and parted.
Through the tall elms and balms that fringed the river Bud could see the Souris slipping swiftly over its shining pebbles, a broad ribbon of gold coming out of the West, and it seemed as if some of the glory of the sunset was coming to him on its sparkling waters. His eye followed its course until it disappeared around the bend. A new tenderness for it and a new sense of companionship filled his heart.
"Good old Souris," he said, as he turned homeward.
* * *
On the Watson farm there were many improvements being made. The old machinery that littered the yard had been taken away to the poplar grove near by, where the boys spent many happy hours constructing threshing-machines. On Arbour Day, under Pearl's inspection, each child went to the river flat and dug up a small maple tree, and planted it in front of where the new house was going to be. Pearl had the exact location of the new house firmly fixed in her mind before she had been many days on the farm, and soon had every person, even Aunt Kate, helping to beautify the grounds. A wide hedge of the little wild rosebushes which grew plentifully along the headlands, was set out behind where the house was to stand, to divide the lawn from the garden, Pearl said, and although to the ordinary eye they were a weedy looking lot, to Pearl's optimistic vision they, were already aglow with fragrant bloom. Aunt Kate sent down east to her sister Lib for roots of sweet Mary, ribbon-grass, and live-forever, all of which came, took root, and grew in the course of time.
Pearl's dream of a fine chicken-house under the trees began to assume tangible form when Mrs. Slater came to call, and brought with her a fine yellow hen and thirteen little woolly chicks. Mrs. Motherwell came, too, and brought with her a similar offering, only hers were Plymouth Rocks. Mrs. John Green brought nine little fluffy ducklings and their proud but perplexed mother, a fine white Orpington. Gifts like these often accompany first calls in the agricultural districts of the West. They answer the purpose of, and indeed have some advantage over, the engraved card with lower left-hand corner turned down, in expressing friendly greetings to all members of the family.
Temporary dwellings were hastily constructed of packing boxes for the hens and their respective flocks, but after seeding, a real henhouse, made of logs with a sod roof, was erected.
One thing troubled Pearl's conscience. She was not sure that they had been real square with the Caverses. It was quite legal for them to take possession of the farm, of course, for Bill Cavers had abandoned it; but should they not pay something for the improvements that had been made? The house had sheltered them, and the stable, such as it was, was better than no stable--it did not seem right to take it for nothing. She spoke to her father about it, and he readily agreed with her, and said they would "do something" when they saw how the crop turned out.
Pearl worked hard at school, and made such rapid progress that one day Mr. Donald told her, after reading one of her compositions, that he believed he could "put her through for a teacher" in a couple of years, she was doing so well. Pearl stared at him speechless with joy. Then she went to the window and looked out at the glorious June day, that all at once had grown more glorious still. The whole landscape seemed to Pearl to be swimming in a golden mist. An oriole flew carolling gaily over the woodpile, singing the very song that was in her own heart. When she came back to the teacher's desk her eyes were shining with happy tears.
"Just to think," she said in a tremulous voice, "that I can do me duty to the boys and git me stifficate at the same time! I just feel like I ought to apologize to God for ever doubtin' that I'd get it." Then she told the teacher of the fears she had when coming out on the farm, that she would have no further chance of an education. "And now," she concluded, "here I am doin' me duty and gettin' me chance at the same time. Ain't that happiness enough for any one?"
The teacher looked at her wonderingly. "You're a cheerful philosopher, Pearl," he said gravely, "and you make me wish I was twenty years younger."
Pearl looked in her dictionary to find what "philosopher" meant, but even then she could not imagine why Mr. Donald wanted to be twenty years younger.
After Pearl's visit to the Perkins home, when Martha showed her all her treasures, her active brain had been busy devising means of improving Martha, mentally and physically. After consulting with Camilla, Pearl went over to see Martha again, full enthusiasm and beauty-producing devices. She put Martha through a series of calisthenics and breathing exercises she had learned at school, for Martha was inclined to stoop, and Camilla had said that "a graceful carriage was one of the most important things."
Martha had never had any money of her own, having always sold her butter to the store and received due bills in return. Thomas Perkins was not mean about anything but money--he would gladly give to his children anything else that he possessed--but he considered it a very unlucky thing to part with money. Pearl saw plainly that cold cash was necessary for carrying out her plans for Martha, and so, acting on Camilla's suggestion, she got customers for Martha's butter who would pay her cash every week.
She got for Martha, too, a lotion for her hands which, put on regularly every night, was sure to soften and whiten them. She showed her how to treat her hair to make it lose its 'hard, stringy look. Camilla had written out full instructions and sent a piece of the soap that would do the work.
When Martha got her first butter money she sent for the magazine that she had wanted her father to give her the money for before, and when the first number came, she read it diligently and became what the magazine people would call a "good user." Pearl had inspired in her a belief in her own possibilities, and it was wonderful to see how soon she began to make the best of herself.