The beautiful life that had seemed to be opening out before her was not, then, to be all beauty. Behind the flowers of this new Eden there hid a serpent of temptation; and she, Julia Cloud, disciple of the Lord Christ, was to be tried out to see what faith there was in her. For a moment she faltered, and closed her eyes, shuddering. How could she face it, she, who knew so little what to say and how to tell her quiet heart-beliefs? Why had she been placed in such a position? Why was there not some one wiser than she to guide the feet of these children into the straight and narrow way?
But only a moment she shrank thus. The voice of her Master seemed to speak in her heart as the wind whirled by the car and stirred the loose hair on her forehead. The voice that had been her guide through life was requiring her now to witness to these two whom she loved, as no other could do it, be they ever so wise; just because she loved them and loved Him, and was not pretending to be wise, only following. Then she drew a deep breath, reminded herself once more that she must be careful not to antagonize, and sat up gravely.
"Dear, it is God's day, and I have always felt that He wanted us to make it holy for Him, keep worldly things out of it, you know. I wouldn't feel that I could work on that day. Of course I have no right to say you shall not. I'm only your adviser and friend, you know. But I'd rather you wouldn't, because I know God would rather you wouldn't."
Leslie pouted uneasily.
"How in the world could you know that?" she said almost crossly. She did love to carry out her projects, and hitherto Julia Cloud had put no hindrance in her way.
"Why, He said so in His book. He said, 'Thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter——'"
"Oh, those are the old commandments, Cloudy, dear; and I've heard people, even ministers, say that they are out of date now. They don't have anything to do with us nowadays."
Julia Cloud looked still graver.
"God doesn't change, Leslie. He is the same yesterday and to-day and forever. And He said that whoever took away from the meaning of the words of His book would have some terrible punishment, so that it were better that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned."
"Well, I think He'd be a perfectly horrid God to do that!" said Leslie. "I can't see how you can believe any such old thing. It isn't like you, Cloudy, dear; it's just some old thing you were taught. You don't like to be long-faced and unhappy one day in the week, you know you don't."
"Long-faced! Unhappy! Why, dear child, God doesn't want the Sabbath to be that. He wants it to be the happiest day of all the week. I'm never unhappy on Sunday. I like it best of all."
Suddenly Allison turned around, and looked at Julia Cloud, saw the white, strained look around her lips, the yearning light in her eyes, and had some swift man's intuition about the true woman's soul of her. For men, especially young men, do have these intuitions sometimes as well as women.
"Leslie," he said gently, as if he had suddenly grown much older than his sister, "can't you see you're hurting Cloudy? Cut it out! If Cloudy likes Sunday, she shall have it the way she wants it."
Leslie turned with sudden compunction.
"O Cloudy, dear, I didn't mean to hurt you; indeed I didn't! I never thought you'd care."
"It's all right, dear," said Julia Cloud with her gentle voice, and just the least mite of a gasp. "You see—I—Sunday has been always very dear to me; I hadn't realized you wouldn't feel the same."
She seemed to shrink into herself; and, though the smile still trembled on her lips, there was a hovering of distress over her fine brows.
"We will feel the same!" declared Allison. "If you feel that way so much, we'll manage somehow to be loyal to what you think. You always do it for us; and, if we can't be as big as you are, we haven't got the gang spirit. It's teamwork, Leslie. Cloudy goes to football games, and makes fudge for our friends; and we go to church and help her keep Sunday her way. See?"
"Why, of course! Sure!" said Leslie, half bewildered. "I didn't mean not to, of course, if Cloudy likes such things; only she'll have to teach me how, for I never did like those things."
"Well, I say, let's get Cloudy to spend the first Sunday telling us how she thinks Sunday ought to be kept, and why. Is that a bargain, Cloudy?"
"But I'm afraid I wouldn't be wise enough to explain," faltered Julia Cloud, distress in her voice. "I could maybe find something to read to you about it."
"Oh, preserve us, Cloudy! We don't want any old dissertations out of a book. If we can't have your own thoughts that make you live it the way you do, we haven't any use for any of it. See?"
Julia Cloud forced a trembling little smile, and said she saw, and would do her best; but her heart sank at the prospect. What a responsibility to be put upon her ignorant shoulders. The Lord's Sabbath in her bungling hands to make or to mar for these two young souls! She must pray. Oh, she must pray continually that she might be led!
And then there came swiftly to her mind one of the verses that had become dear and familiar to her through the years as she read and reread her Bible, "And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say; for the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say."
This was not exactly being brought before magistrates; but it was being challenged for a reason for the hope that was in her, and perhaps she could claim the promise. Surely, if the Lord wanted her to defend His Sabbath before these two, He would give her wise words in which to speak. Anyhow, she would just have to trust Him, for she had none of her own.
"Now see what you've done, Leslie!" said her brother sharply. "Cloudy hasn't looked that way once before. Next thing you know she'll be washing her hands of us and running off back to Sterling again."
"O Cloudy!" said the penitent Leslie, flinging herself into her aunt's arms and nestling there beseechingly. "You wouldn't do that, would you, Cloudy, dear? No matter how naughty I got? Because you would know I wouldn't mean it ever. Even if I was real bad."
"No, dear," said Julia Cloud, kissing her fair forehead. "But this is just one of those things that I meant when I was afraid to undertake it. You see there may be a great many things you will want to do on Sunday that I would not feel it right for me to do, and I may be a hindrance to you in lots of ways. I shouldn't like to get to be a sort of burden to you, and it isn't as if they were things that I could give up, you know. This is a matter of conscience."
"That's all right, Cloudy," put in Allison. "You have your say in things like that. We aren't so selfish as all that. And besides, if it's wrong for you, who knows but it's wrong for us, too? We'll look into it."
Julia Cloud went smiling through the rest of the evening, but underneath was a tugging of strange dread and fear at her heart. It was all so new, this having responsibility with souls. She had always so quietly trusted her Bible and tried to follow her Lord. She had never had to guide others. There had not been time for her even to take a class in Sunday school, and she knew her religion only as it applied to her one little narrow life, she thought, not realizing that, when one has applied a great faith to the circumstances of even a narrow life, and applied it thoroughly through a lifetime, one has learned more theology than one could get in years of a theological seminary. Theories, after all, are worth little unless they have been worked out in experience; and when one has patiently, even happily, given up much of the joy of living to serve, has learned to keep self under and love even the unlovable, has put to the test the promises of the Bible and found them hold true in time of need, and has found the Sabbath day an oasis in the desert of an otherwise dreary life, even an old theologian wouldn't have much more to go on in beginning a discussion on Sabbath-keeping.
Quite early the next morning, before Leslie had awakened, Julia Cloud had slipped softly to her knees by the bedside, and was communing with her heavenly Father concerning her need of guidance.
When Leslie awoke, her aunt was sitting by the window with her Bible on her knee and a sweet look of peace on her face, the morning sunlight resting on the silvery whiteness of her hair like a benediction. It was perhaps the soft turning of a leaf that brought the girl to wakefulness, and she lay for some time quietly watching her aunt and thinking the deep thoughts of youth. Perhaps nothing could have so well prepared her for the afternoon talk as that few minutes of watching Julia Cloud's face as she read her Bible, glancing now and then from the window thoughtfully, as if considering something she had read. Julia Cloud was reading over everything that her Bible said about the Sabbath, and with the help of her concordance she was being led through a very logical train of thought, although she did not know it. If you had asked her, she would have said that she had not been thinking about what she would say to the children; she had been deep in the meaning that God sent to her own soul.
But when Leslie finally stirred and greeted her, Julia Cloud looked up with a smile of peace; and there was no longer a little line of worry between her straight brows.
The peace lasted all through the morning, and went with her down to breakfast; and something of her enjoyment of the day seemed to pervade the atmosphere about her and extend to the two young people. They hovered about her, anxious to please, and a trifle ill at ease at first lest they should make some mistake about this day that seemed so holy to their aunt and had always been to them nothing but a bore to get through with in the jolliest way possible.
There was no question about going to church. They just went. Leslie and Allison had never made a practice of doing so since they had been left to themselves. It had not been necessary in the circle in which they moved. When they went to school, and had to go to church, they evaded the rule as often as possible. But somehow they felt without being told that if they tried to remain away now it would hurt their aunt more than anything else they could do; and, while they were usually outspoken and frank, they both felt that here was a time to be silent about their habits.
"We're going to church," said Allison in a low tone as he drew his sister's chair away from the breakfast-table. His tone had the quality of command.
"Of course," responded Leslie quietly.
It was so that Julia Cloud was spared the knowledge that her two dear young people did not consider it necessary to attend church every Sabbath, and her peace was not disturbed.
The sermon in the little stucco church where they had gone to prayer meeting that first night was not exceedingly enlivening nor uplifting. The minister was prosy with dignity, soaring into occasional flights of eloquence that reminded one of a generation ago. There was nothing about it to bring to mind the sweetness of a Sabbath communion with Christ, nothing to remind a young soul that Christ was ready to be Friend and Saviour. It was rather a dissertation on one of the epistles with a smack of modern higher criticism. The young people watched the preacher a while listlessly, and wished for the end; but a glance at the quiet, worshipful face of their aunt kept them thoughtful. Julia Cloud evidently had something that most other people did not have, they said to themselves, some inner light that shone through her face, some finer sight and keener ear that made her see and hear what was not given to common mortals to comprehend; and because she sat thus with the light of communion on her face they, too, sat with respectful hearts and tried to join lustily in the hymns with their fresh voices.
The minister came down and shook hands with them, welcoming them kindly. He seemed more human out of the pulpit, and asked quite interestedly where they were to live and whether he might call. He mentioned Sunday school and Christian Endeavor, and said he hoped they would "cast in their lot" among them; and the young people gave him cold little smiles and withdrew into themselves while their aunt did the talking. They were willing she should have her Sabbath, and they would do all in their power to make it what she wanted; but they were hostile toward this church and this minister and all that it had to do with. It simply did not interest them. Julia Cloud saw this in their eyes as she turned to go away, and sighed softly to herself. How much there was to teach them! Could she ever hope to make them feel differently? In two short weeks the college would open, and they would be swept away on a whirl of work and play and new friends and functions. Was she strong enough to stem the tide of worldliness that would ingulf them? No, not of herself. But she had read that very morning the promises of her Lord, "Surely I will be with thee," "I will help thee"; and she meant to lay hold on them closely. She could do nothing of herself, but she with her Lord helping could do anything He wanted done. That was enough.
Leslie turned longing eyes toward the winding creek and an alluring canoe that lolled idly at the bank down below the inn as she stood on the piazza after dinner waiting for her aunt; but Allison saw her glance, and shook his head.
"Better not suggest it," he said. "There are a lot of picnickers down there carrying on high. She would not like it, I'm sure. If it were all quiet and no one about, it would be different."
"Well, there are a lot of people around here on the piazzas," said Leslie disconsolately. "I don't see the difference."
But, when Julia Cloud came with her Bible slipped unobtrusively under her arm, she suggested a quiet spot in the woods; and so they wandered off through the trees with a big blanket from the car to sit on, and found a wonderful place, high above the water, where a great rift of rocks jutted out among drooping hemlocks, and was carpeted with pine-needles.
"It would please me very much," said Julia Cloud as she sat down on the blanket and opened her Bible, looking up wistfully at the two, "if you two would go to that Christian Endeavor meeting to-night. I hate to ask you to do anything like that right away, but that minister begged me to get you to come. He said they were having such a struggle to make it live and that they needed some fresh young workers. He asked me if you didn't sing, and he said singers were very much needed."
There was a heavy silence for a moment while the two young things looked at each other aghast across her, and Julia Cloud kept her eyes on the floating clouds above the hemlocks. She still had that softened look of being within a safe shelter where storms and troubles could not really trouble her; yet there was a dear, eager look in her eyes. Both children saw it, and with wonderful intuition interpreted it; and because their hearts were young and tender they yielded to its influence.
Leslie swooped down upon her aunt with an overwhelming kiss, and Allison dropped down beside her with a "Sure, we'll go, Cloudy, if that will do you any good. I can't say I'm keen about pleasing that stiff old parson guy, but anything you want is different. I don't know just what you're letting us in for, but I guess we can stand most anything once."
Julia Cloud put out a hand to grasp a hand of each; and, looking up, they saw that there were tears in her eyes.
"Are those happy tears, Cloudy, or the other kind? Tell us quick, or we'll jump in the creek and drown ourselves," laughed Leslie; and then two white handkerchiefs, one big and one little, came swiftly out and dabbed at her cheeks until there wasn't a sign of a tear to be seen.
"I think I'm almost too happy to talk," said Julia Cloud, resting back against the tree and looking up into its lacy green branches. "It seems as if I was just beginning my life over and being a child again."
For a few minutes they sat so, looking up into the changing autumn sky, listening to the soft tinkle of the water running below, the dip of an oar, the swirl of a blue heron's wing as it clove the air, the distant voices of the picnickers farther down the creek, the rustle of the yellow beech-leaves as they whispered of the time to go, and how they would drift down like little brown boats to the stream and glide away to the end. Now and then a nut would fall with a tiny crisp thud, and a squirrel would whisk from a limb overhead. They were very quiet, and let the beauty of the spot sink deep into their souls. Then at last Julia Cloud took up her Bible, and began to talk.
There were tiny slips of paper in Julia Cloud's well-worn Bible, and she turned to the first one shyly. It was such new work to her to be talking about these things to any but her own worshipful soul.
The two young people settled back in comfortable attitudes on the blanket, and put their gaze upon the far sky overhead. They were embarrassed also, but they meant to carry this thing through.
"Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them," read Julia Cloud; and straightway the shining blue above them took on a personality, and became a witness in the day's proceedings. It was as if some one whom they had known all their lives, quite familiar in their daily life, should suddenly have stood up and declared himself to have been an eye-witness to most marvellous proceedings. The hazy blue with its floating clouds was no longer a diversion from the subject in hand. Their eyes were riveted with mysterious thoughts as they lay and listened, astonished, fascinated. It was the first time it had ever really entered into their consciousness that there had been a time when there was no blue, no firm earth, no anything. Whether it were true or not had not as yet become a question with them. They were near enough to their fairy-story days to accept a tale while it was being read, and revel in it.
The quiet voice went on:
"And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made."
"What did He have to rest for? A God wouldn't get tired, would He?" burst forth Leslie, turning big inquiring eyes on Julia Cloud.
"I don't know, unless He did it for our sakes to set us an example," she answered slowly, "although that might mean He rested in the sense of stopped doing it, you know. And that would imply that He had some reason for doing so. I'm not very wise, you know, and because I may not be able to answer your questions doesn't mean they can't be answered by some one who has studied it all out. I've often wished I could have gone to college and studied Greek and Hebrew, so I could have read the Bible in the original."
"H'm!" said Allison thoughtfully. "That would be interesting, wouldn't it? I always wondered why they did it, but I don't know but I'll study them myself. I think I'd enjoy it if there was a real reason besides just the discipline of it they are always talking about when you kick about mathematics and languages."
"Well," said Leslie, sitting up interestedly, "is that all there is to it? Did some one just up and say we had to keep Sunday because God did? I think that is a kind of superstition. I don't see that God would want to make us do everything He did. We couldn't. I wouldn't unless He said to, anyhow."
"O Les! You're way off," laughed her brother. "God did. He said, 'Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man servant nor thy maid servant——' Don't you remember the Ten Commandments? No, I guess you were too little to learn them. But I got a Testament for learning them once. Say, Cloudy, when did He give that command? Right away after He made Adam and Eve?"
"I'm not sure," said Julia Cloud, fluttering the leaves of her Bible over to the second slip of paper. "I don't find any reference to it in my concordance till way over here in Exodus, after the children of Israel had been in Egypt so many years, and Moses led them out through the wilderness, and they got fretful because they hadn't any bread such as they used to have in Egypt, so God sent them manna that fell every morning. But He told them not to leave any over for the next day because it would gather worms and smell bad, except on Saturday, when they were to gather enough for the Sabbath. Listen: 'And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating; and when the sun waxed hot, it melted. And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man; and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, To-morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord; bake that, which ye will bake to-day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade; and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. And Moses said, Eat that to-day; for to-day is a sabbath unto the Lord: to-day ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that the Lord hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day.' It looks as though the people had been used to the Sabbath already, for the commandments given on the mount come three whole chapters later. It looks to me as if God established the Sabbath right at the beginning when He rested from His own work, and that's what it means when it says He sanctified it."
"What do you suppose He said, 'I have given you a sabbath' for? It looks as if it were meant for a benefit for the people and not for God, doesn't it?" said Allison, sitting up and looking over his aunt's shoulder. "Why, I always supposed God wanted the Sabbath for His own sake, so people would see how great He was."
Julia Cloud's cheeks grew red with a flash of distress as if he had said something against some one she loved very much.
"Oh, no!" she said earnestly. "God isn't like that. Why, He loves us! He wouldn't have given a Sabbath at all if it hadn't been quite necessary for our good. Besides, in the New Testament, Jesus said, 'The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath'! Oh, He made it for us, to be happy in, I'm sure. And perhaps He rested Himself so that we might understand He had set apart that time of leisure in order to be everything to us on the day when we had most time for Him. I have read somewhere that God had to teach those early people little by little just as we teach babies, a few things each year; and over in the New Testament it says that all these things that happened in the Old Testament to those children of Israel happened and were written down for an example to us who should live in the later part of the world. So, little by little, by pictures and stories He taught those people what He wanted all of us to know as a sort of inheritance. And He took the things first that were of the most importance. It would seem as if He considered this matter of the Sabbath very important, and as if He had it in mind right away at the first when He made the world, and intended to set apart this day out of every seven, because He stopped right off the very first week Himself to establish a precedent, and then He 'sanctified' it, which must mean He set it apart in such a way that all the world should understand."
"What is a precedent?" asked Leslie sharply.
"Oh, you know, Les, it's something you have to do just like because you always have done it that way," said Allison, waving her aside. "But, Cloudy, what I can't get at at all is why He wanted it in the first place if He didn't want it just entirely for His own glorification."
"Why, dear, I am not sure; but I think it was just so that He and we might have a sort of a trysting-time when we could be sure of having nothing to interfere between us. And He meant it, too, to be the sign between Himself and those who really loved Him and were His children, a sign that should show to the world who were His. He said so in several places. Listen to this." She turned the leaves quickly. "'And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying: Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep; for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you; every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death; for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord; whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.'"
"There! Now!" said Leslie, sitting up. "That's just what I thought! That was only for the children of Israel. It hasn't the leastest bit to do with us. Those were Jews, and they keep it yet, on Saturday."
"Wait, dear!" Julia Cloud turned the leaves of her Bible rapidly to Corinthians.
"Listen! 'Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them; and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither, be ye idolators, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.... Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.' Doesn't that look as though God meant the Sabbath for us, too, Leslie?"
Leslie dropped back on her pillow of moss with a sigh. "I s'pose it does," she answered somewhat disconsolately. "But I never did like Sundays anyhow!" and she drew a deep breath of unrest.
"But, dear,"—Julia Cloud's hand rested on the bright head lovingly,—"there's a closer sense than that in which this belongs to us if we belong to Christ; we are Israel ourselves. I was reading about it just this morning, how all those who want to be Christ's chosen people, and are willing to accept Him as their Saviour, are Israel just as much as a born Jew. I think I can find it again. Yes, here it is in Romans: 'For they are not all Israel which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children; but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.' That means the promise that was given to Abraham that there should be a Messiah sometime in his family who would be the Saviour of the world, and the idea is that all who believe in that Messiah are the real chosen people. It was to the chosen people God gave these careful directions—commands, if you like to call them—to help them be what a chosen people ought to be. And the Sabbath rest and communion seems to be the basis of the whole idea of a people who were guided by God. It is the coming home to God after the toil of the week. They had to have a time when other things did not call them away from spending a whole day with Him and getting acquainted, from getting to know what He wanted and how to shape their lives, or they would just as surely get interested in the world and forget God."
"Well, I don't see why we have to go to church, anyway," declared Leslie discontentedly. "This is a great deal better out here under the trees, reading the Bible."
"Yes," said Allison. "Cloudy, that minister's dull. I know I wouldn't get anything out of hearing him chew the rag."
"O Allison, dear! Don't speak of God's minister that way!"
"Why not, Cloudy? Maybe he isn't God's minister. How did he get there, anyway? Just decided to be a minister, and studied, and got himself called to that church, didn't he?"
"Oh, no, dear! I trust not. That is terrible! Where ever did you get such an idea? There may be some unworthy men in the ministry. Of course there must be, for the Bible said there would be false leaders and wolves in sheep's clothing; but surely, surely you know that the most of the men in the pulpit are there because they believe that God has called them to give up everything else and spend their lives bringing the message of the gospel to the souls of men. The office is a holy office, and must be reverenced even if we do not fancy the man who occupies it. He may have a message if you listen for it, even though he may seem dull to you. If you knew him better, could look into his life and see the sacrifices he has made to be a minister, see the burdens of the people he has to bear!"
"O Cloudy, come now. Most of the ministers I ever saw have automobiles and fine houses, and about as good a time as anybody. They get big salaries, and don't bother themselves much about anything but church services and getting people to give money. Honestly, now, Cloudy Jewel, I think they're putting it over on you. I'll bet not half of them are sincere in that sacrifice stuff they put over. It may have been so long ago; but ministers have a pretty soft snap nowadays, in cities anyhow."
"Allison! Didn't you ever see any true, sincere ministers, child? There are so many, many of them!"
"To tell you the truth, Cloudy, I never saw but one that didn't have shifty eyes. He was a little missionary chap that worked in a slum settlement and would have taken his eye-teeth out for anybody. Oh, I don't mean that old guy to-day looked shifty. I should say he was just dull and uninteresting. He may have thought he had a call long ago, but he's been asleep so long he's forgotten about it." "O Allison! This is dreadful!"
Julia Cloud closed her Bible, and looked down in horror at the frank young face of the boy who minced no words in saying what he thought about these holy things that had always been so precious and sacred to her. She felt like putting her hands over her ears and running away screaming. Her very soul was in agony over the desecration. The children looked into her face, saw the white, scared look, and took warning.
"There now, Cloudy, don't worry!" said Allison, leaning over and patting her hand awkwardly. "I didn't mean to hurt you; honest I didn't. Perhaps I'm wrong. Of course I am if you say so. I don't really know any ministers, anyhow. I was just saying what is the general impression among the fellows. I didn't realize you would care."
"Do the young men all think that?" Julia Cloud's lips were white, and an agonized expression for the church of God had grown in her eyes. She searched the boy's face with a look he did not soon forget. It made an impression that stayed with him always. At least, there was something in religion if it could make her look like that to hear it lightly spoken of. At least this one woman was a sincere follower of Christ.
"There now, Cloudy! I tell you I'm sorry I said that; and just to prove it I'll go to that old Christian Endeavor to-night, and try to find something interesting. I will truly. And Les will go, too!"
"Of course!" said Leslie, nestling close. "Forget what he said, and tell us why we have to go to church, Cloudy, dear."
Julia Cloud tried to recall her troubled thoughts to the subject in hand.
"Well, God had them build the tabernacle for worship, you know, dear; told them how to make everything even to the minutest details, and established worship. That was to be part of the Sabbath day, a place to worship, and a promise that He would be there to meet any one who came. That promise holds good to-day. You needn't ever think about the minister. Just fancy you see Christ in the pulpit. He is there, come to meet His own, you know. He'll be in that Christian Endeavor to-night. He was in the tabernacle of old. There was a brightness in the cloud of His presence to show the people that God had come down to meet them. They were children, and had to be helped by a visible manifestation."
"Yes, that would be something like!" said Allison. "If we could see something to help us believe——"
"Those who truly believe with the heart will have the assurance," said Julia Cloud earnestly. "I know."
There was something in her tone and the look of her eye that added, "For I have experienced it." The young people looked at her, and were silent. There was a long, quiet pause in which the sounds of the falling nuts and the whispering of the hemlocks closed in about them, and made the day and hour a sacred time. At last Leslie broke the silence.
"Well, Cloudy, suppose we go to church and Christian Endeavor. What can we do the rest of the day? We don't have to go to church every minute, do we? I don't really see how it's going to do me any good. I don't, indeed."
Julia Cloud smiled at her wistfully. It was so wonderfully sweet to have this bright, beautiful young thing asking her these vital questions.
"Why, deary, it's just a day to spend with God and get to enjoy His company," she said. "Let me read you this verse in Isaiah: 'Blessed'—that means, 'O the happiness of': I'll read it so—'O the happiness of the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the son of the stranger that hath joined himself to the Lord'—there, Leslie, that means us, or any Gentiles that want to be Christ's—'speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated us from his people.... For thus saith the Lord to' them 'that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer'—you see, Allison, there's a promise that will secure you from feeling the service dull and dry if you are willing to comply with its conditions—'their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.'"
She turned the leaves quickly again.
"And now I want to read you the verse that seems to me to tell how God likes us to keep the Sabbath. 'If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight'—you see, Leslie, He doesn't want it to be a dull, poky day. He wants us to call it a delight. And yet we are to find our pleasure in Him, and not in the things that belong just to ourselves. Listen: 'a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shalt honor him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.'"
Leslie suddenly threw her head in Julia Cloud's lap right over the Bible, and looked up into her face with an exquisite earnestness all her own.
"Cloudy Jewel, it sounds all different from anything I ever heard of, and I don't know how to do it; but something inside says it ought to be true, and I'm going to try it!" she said. "Anyhow, we've had a grand time this afternoon, and it hasn't been a bit dull. Do you suppose maybe we've been 'delighting' in Him this afternoon? But there goes the supper bell, and I'm hungry as a bear. How about that, Cloudy? Is it right to cook on Sunday? That place you read about the man who picked up sticks to make a fire in camp doesn't sound like it."
"Well, dear, you know in the old times we always got the Sunday cooking and baking done on Saturday, just as the Lord told the Israelites to do. I haven't any business to judge other people, and every one must decide for himself what is necessary and what is not, I suppose; but, as for me, I like to do as mother always did. I always have the cake-box and bread-box full of nice fresh things, and make a pie, perhaps, and cook a piece of meat, or have some salad in the ice-box; and then it is the work of but a few minutes to get the nicest kind of a meal on Sunday. It is easy to have a beefsteak to broil, or cold meat, or something to warm up in a minute if one cares enough to get it ready; and it really makes a lovely, restful time on Sunday to know all that work is done. Besides, it isn't any harder. I like it."
Allison gathered up the rug and books, and they walked slowly toward the inn, watching the wonderful colorings of the foliage they passed, and drinking in all the woodsy odors and gentle sounds of dying leaves and dropping nuts.
"Say, Cloudy," said Allison suddenly out of the midst of his thoughtfulness, "why don't the ministers preach about all this? I had to go to church a lot when I was in prep school, and I never yet heard a sermon on it. Or, if I did, it was so dull I didn't get the hang of it. But I should think if they preached about it just as you've done, made it plain so people could understand, that most folks, that is, the ones who wanted to do half right, would see to it that Sunday wasn't so rotten."
"Well, Allison," said Julia Cloud, a soft smile playing dreamfully about her lips, "perhaps they don't realize the need. Perhaps it's 'up to you,' as you say, to somehow wake them up and set them at it."
Allison drew a long whistle and grinned as they went into the house.
A few minutes later Julia Cloud watched them go off into the dusk to the Christian Endeavor meeting. She was to follow them in a little while and meet them for the evening service. She wondered as she saw them disappear into the shadows of the long maple-lined avenue whether perhaps she was not overdoing the matter a little in the way of meetings, and was almost sorry she had not suggested staying home from the evening service. It would not do to make them weary of it all on this first Sunday.
As they walked along together, the brother and sister were thinking deeply.
"Say, Allison, isn't this the very funniest thing we ever did, going off like this to a prayer meeting alone? What did we do it for?" asked the sister.
"Well, I guess just because Cloudy wanted it," replied the brother. "She's given up her home and everything for us; we ought to. But say, Les, there's a whole lot in what Cloudy was reading this afternoon. If it's all true, it's a wonder more people don't try it. I've often wondered why we were alive, anyway, haven't you? There doesn't seem much sense to it unless there's something like this." "Oh, I don't know, Allison; it's nice to be alive. But of course we never will feel quite as if this is the only place since Mother and Dad aren't here any more. Aren't things queer, anyway? I wish there was some way to be sure."
"Well, I s'pose the Bible claims to be sure. Perhaps we could find out a lot if we read it."
"We're likely to read it quite a good deal, don't you think?" asked the sister archly. "But really, now, it was interesting, and isn't Cloudy a dear? If Christians were all like that, I'd believe in them."
"Perhaps they are, real Christians. Perhaps the ones we mean aren't anything but shams."
"Well, there's a good many shams, then."
The big, noisy bell began to bang out a tardy summons now; but the two young people did not feel the same antipathy toward it that they had felt the night they heard it first. It seemed somehow to have a homely, friendly sound. As they neared the open door, they grew suddenly shy, however, and drew back, lingering on the corner, watching the few stragglers who walked into the pathway of light that streamed from the doorway.
"Some bunch!" growled Allison. "I should say they did need waking up, but I don't hanker for the job."
They slipped in, and followed the sound of voices, through a dimly-lighted hall, smelling of moldy ingrain carpet, into a wide, rather pleasant, chapel room. There were branches of autumn leaves about the walls, reminiscent of some recent festivity, and a bunch of golden-rod in a vase on the little table by the leader's chair.
Two girls were turning over the hymn-book, picking out hymns for the evening; and a tall, shy, girlish young fellow was making fancy letters on a blackboard up in front. Three more girls with their arms about one another had surrounded him, and were giggling and gurgling at him after the manner of that kind of girl. Another plain-faced, plainly-dressed young woman sat half-way up at one side, her hands folded and a look of quiet waiting on her face. That was all that were in the room.
Allison and Leslie found a seat half-way up on the other side from the plain-faced girl, and sat down. No one noticed them save for furtive glances, and no one came near them. The three giggling girls began to talk a little louder. One with her hair bobbed and a long view of vertebrae above her blue dress-collar began to prattle of a dance the night before.
"I thought I'd die!" she chortled. "Bob had me by the arm; and here was my dress caught on Archie's button, and he not knowing and whirling off in the other direction; and the georgette just ripped and tore to beat the band, and me trying to catch up with Archie, and Bob hanging on to me, honest.—You'd uv croaked if you could uv seen me. Oh, but Mother was mad when she saw my dress! She kept blaming me, for she knew I hated that dress and wanted a new one. But me, I'm glad. Now I'll get after Dad for a new one. Say, when's Mary's surprise? Is it true it's put off till next week?"
"I'm going to have a new dress for that and silver slippers," declared the girl next her, teetering back and forth on her little high-heeled pumps. "Say, Will, that letter's cock-eyed. What are you giving us? What's the old topic, anyway? I don't see any use in topics. They don't mean anything. I never can find a verse with the words in. I just always ask for a hymn, and half the time I give out any old number without knowing what it is, just to see what it'll turn out."
"Oh, say! Did you hear Chauncey Cramer singing last Sunday night?" broke out the third girl with a side glance at the strangers. "He was perfectly killing. He was twisting the words all around in every hymn. He had girls' names and fellers' all mixed up, and made it rhyme in the neatest way. I thought I'd choke laughing, and Dr. Tarrant was just coming in, and looked at me as if he'd eat me. Oh, my goodness! There he comes now. We better beat it, Hattie. Come on, Mabel. Let's sit back in the last row."
The three girls toppled down the aisle on their high-heeled pumps, and rustled into the back row just as the pastor entered and looked about the room. His eyes brightened when he saw the brother and sister, and with a pleasant "Good-evening" to the three whispering misses in the back seat he came over to shake hands with Allison and Leslie. But, when he expressed a most cordial hope that the two would come in and help in the young people's work, Allison was wary. He said they would have to see how much time they had to spare after college opened. It was altogether likely that they would be exceedingly busy with their college work.
The minister, watching their bright faces wistfully, and knowing their kind, sighed, and thought how little likelihood there was that his Christian Endeavor society would see much of them.
A few more people straggled in, and one of the girls who had been picking out hymns went and sat down at the piano. The other girl sat near her. The young man at the blackboard took his place at the little table in front of the desk, and the elaborate colored letters which he had just made were visible as a whole for the first time.
"The Great Companion: How to Live with Him."
There was something startling and solemn in the words as they stood out in blue and gold and crimson and white on the little blackboard. Allison and Leslie looked and turned wonderingly toward the young leader. He had corn-colored hair, light, ineffective blue eyes, and a noticeably weak chin. He did not look like a person who would be putting forth a topic of that sort and attempting to do anything about it. His face grew pink, and his eyelashes seemed whiter in contrast as he stood up to give out the first hymn. It was plain that he was painfully embarrassed. He glanced now and then deprecatingly toward the visitors with an anxious gasp as he announced that they would open the meeting by singing number twenty-nine. The two young strangers opened their hymn-books and found the place, marvelling how such a youth had ever been persuaded to get himself into such a trying situation. Allison found himself thinking that there must be some power greater than the ordinary influences of life that made him do it. He seemed so much out of his element, and so painfully shy.
"All to Jesus I surrender!" chirped the little gathering gayly. They had good voices, and the harmony was simple and pleasing. Allison and Leslie joined their beautiful voices in with the rest, and liked it, felt almost as if they were on the verge of doing something toward helping on the kingdom of heaven.
They sang another hymn, and more young people came in until there were twenty-four in the room. Then the leader called upon Tom Forbes to read the Scripture, and a boy about fourteen years old read in a clear voice the story of the walk to Emmaus. To the brother and sister whose Bible knowledge was limited to the days of their very young childhood, it was most interesting. They listened intently, but were surprised to notice a tendency to whisper on the part of some, especially the girls in the back seat, who had been joined by three young fellows of about their own age and caliber. Leslie, glancing over her shoulder at the whisperers, saw they had no thrill over the story, no interest save in their own voluble conversation. The story went on to the point where Jesus at the table blessed the bread, and the two men knew Him, and He vanished out of their sight, without an interruption in the whispering. The Great Companion had come into the room and gone, and they had not even known it.
The leader rose, and cleared his voice with courage; and then in a tone of diffidence he recited the few words he had learned for the occasion.
"Our topic to-night is 'The Great Companion: How to Live with Him.' It seems hard to realize that Christ is still on the earth. That He is with us all the time. We ought to realize this. We ought to try to realize it. It would make our lives different if we could realize that Christ is always with us. I expect some of us wouldn't always feel comfortable if we should find Him walking along with us, listening to our talk. We ought to try to live so we would feel all right if we should find Christ walking with us some day. And I heard a story once about a boy who had been a cripple, and he had been a great Christian; and, when he came to die, they asked him if he was afraid; and he said no, he wasn't afraid, that it was only going into another room with Jesus. And I think we ought to all live that way. We will now listen to a solo by Mame Beecher, after which the meeting will be open, and I hope that all will take part."
It was a crude little speech, haltingly spoken, and the speaker was evidently relieved when it was over. Yet there had been amazing truth in what he had said, and it came to the two visitors with the force of newness. As he mopped his perspiring brow with a large handkerchief and sat down, adjusting his collar and necktie nervously, they watched him, and marvelled again that he had been willing to be put in so trying a position. There had been a genuineness about him that brought conviction. This young man really believed in Christ and that He walked with men.
Allison, always ready to curl his lips over anything sissified, sat watching him gravely. Here was a new specimen. He didn't know where to place him. Did he have to lead a meeting? Was he a minister's son or something, or did he just do it because he wanted to, because it seemed his duty to do it? Allison could not decide. He knew that he himself could have made a much better speech on the subject, but he would not want to. He would hate it, talking about sacred things like that out to the world; yet he was frank enough to see that a better speech might not have been so acceptable to God as this halting one full of repetition and crudities.
The girl up by the piano was singing the solo. Why did she let herself be called "Mame" in that common way? She was a rather common-looking girl, with loud colors in her garments and plenty of powder in evidence on her otherwise pretty face; but she had a good voice, and sang the words distinctly.
"In the secret of His presence how my soul delights to hide! Oh, how precious are the lessons which I learn at Jesus' side!"
The words were wonderful. They somehow held you through to the end. The girl named Mame had that quality of holding attention with her voice and carrying a message to a heart. There were two lines that seemed particularly impressive,
"And whene'er you leave the silence of that happy meeting-place, You must mind and bear the image of the Master in your face."
Leslie found herself looking around the room to see whether any one present bore that image, and her eyes lingered longest on the quiet girl in the plain garments over on the other side of the room. She had a face that was almost beautiful in its repose, if it had not worn that air of utter reticence.
There was a long pause after the soloist was done, and much whispering from the back row, which at last terminated in a flutter of Bible leaves and the reading of three Bible verses containing the word "companion," without much reference to the topic, from the three girls on the back seat, passing the Bible in turn, with much ado to find their respective places. Another hymn followed, and a prayer from a solemn-looking boy in shell-rimmed spectacles. It was a good prayer, but the young man wore also that air of reticence that characterized the girl on the other side of the room, as if he were not a part of these young people, had nothing in common with them. Allison decided that they were all dead, and surely did need some one to wake them up; but the task was not to his liking. What had he in common with a bunch like that? In fact, what had any of them in common that they should presume to form themselves into a society? It was rank nonsense. You couldn't bring people together that had nothing in common and make them have a good time. These were his thoughts during another painful pause, during which the pastor in the back seat half rose, then sat down and looked questioningly toward the two visitors. The young leader seemed to understand the signal; for he grew very red, looked at Allison and Leslie several times, cleared his throat, turned over his hymn-book, and finally said with painful embarrassment:
"We should be glad to hear from our visitors to-night. We'd like to know how you conduct things in your society."
He lifted agonized eyes to Allison, and broke down in a choking cough.
Allison, chilled with amazement, filled with a sudden strange pity, looked around with growing horror to see whether it was really true that he had been called upon to speak in meeting. Then with the old nonchalance that nothing ever quite daunted he rose to his feet.
"Why, I," he began, looking around with a frank smile, "I never was in a Christian Endeavor meeting before in my life, and I don't know the first thing about it. My sister and I only came to-night because somebody wanted us to; so I can't very well tell about any other society. But I belong to a college frat, and I suppose it's a good deal the same thing in the long run. I've been reading that pledge up there on the wall. I suppose that's your line. You've got good dope all right. If you live up to that, you're going some.
"I remember when I first went to college the fellows began to rush me. I had bids from two or three different frats, and they had me going so hard I got bewildered. I didn't know which I wanted to join. Then one day one of the older fellows got hold of me, and he saw how it was with me; and he said: 'You want to look around and analyze things. Just you look the fellows over, and see how they size up in the different frats. Then you see what they stand for, and how they live up to it; and lastly you look up their alumni.' So I began to size things up, and I found that one frat was all for the social doings, dances, and dinners, and always having a good time; and another was pretty wild, had the name of always getting in bad with the faculty, and had the lowest marks in college; three fellows had been expelled the year before for drunkenness and disorderliness. Then another one was known as ranking highest in scholarship and having the most athletes in it. I looked over their alumni, too, for they used to come around a good bit and get in with us boys; and you could see just which were making good out in the world, and which were just in life for what they could get out of it; and I made my decision one day just because of one big man who had been out of college for ten years; but he had made good in the world, and was known all over as being a successful man and a wonderful man, and he used to come back to every game and everything that went on at the college, and sit around and talk with the fellows, and encourage them; and, if anybody was falling down on his job, he would show him where he was wrong and how to get into line again, and even help him financially if he got in a tight place. And so I thought with men like that back of it that frat was a pretty good thing to tie up to, and I joined it, and found it was even better than I expected.
"And I was thinking as I looked at the blackboard, and heard you talking about the Great Companion, it was something like that man. If all that's true that you've been reading and saying to-night, why, you've got pretty good things back of you. With an Alumnus like that"—nodding toward the blackboard—"and a line of talk like that pledge, you sure ought to have a drag with the world. All you've got to do is to make everybody believe that it is really so, and you'd have this room full; for, believe me, that's the kind of dope everybody wants, especially young people, whether they own it or not."
Allison sat down abruptly, suddenly realizing that he had just made a religious speech and had the interest of the meeting in his hands. His speech seemed to set loose something in the heart of the young leader; for he rose eagerly, alertly, his embarrassment departed, and began to speak:
"I'm glad our friend has spoken that way. I guess it's all true what he has just said. We've got the right dope; only we aren't using it. I guess it looks mighty like to the world as if we didn't really believe it all, the way we live; but believe me, I'm going to try to make things different in my life this week, and see if I can't make at least one person believe we have something here they want before next Sunday."
He seemed about to give out another hymn, but the plain girl spoke up and interrupted him. She was sitting forward in her chair, an almost radiant look upon her face that quite changed it; and she spoke rapidly, breathlessly, like a shy person who had a great message to convey. She was looking straight at Allison as if she had forgotten everyone else in the room.
"I've got to speak," she said earnestly. "It isn't right to keep still when I've had such a wonderful experience, and you spoke as if it might not all be true about Christ's being our companion every day." In spite of himself Allison met her eyes as though they were talking alone together, and waited for what she should tell.
"I've always been just a quiet Christian," she went on; "and I don't often speak here except to recite a Bible verse. I'm sort of a stranger myself. But you all ought to know what Christ has done for me. When my people died and everything in my life was changed, and troubles came very thick and fast, there wasn't anybody in the world I could turn to for every-day help and companionship but Jesus; and one day it came to me how my mother used to feel about Him, and I just went to Him, and asked Him to be my companion, as He used to be hers. I didn't half believe He would when I asked Him; but I was so hurt and alone I had to do something; and I found out it was all true! He helped me in so many little every-day ways, you wouldn't believe it, perhaps, unless you could have lived it out yourself. I guess you really have to live it out to know it, after all. But I found that I could go to Him just as if I could see Him, and I was so surprised the first day when He answered a prayer in a perfectly wonderful way. It all came over me, 'Why, He loves me!' And at first I thought it was just happening; but I tried it again and again, and every day wonderful things began to come into my life, and it got to be that I could talk with Him and feel His answer in my heart. If it were not for Him, I couldn't stand life sometimes. And I'm sure He'll talk with any one that way who wants Him enough to try and find Him," she finished; and then, suddenly conscious of herself, she sat back, white and shy again, with trembling lips.
The meeting closed then; but, while they were singing the last hymn Allison and Leslie were watching the face of the quiet girl with the holy, uplifted light on it.
"I think she is lovely, don't you?" whispered Leslie after the benediction, as they turned to go out. "I'd like to know her."
"H'm!" assented Allison. "Cloudy would like her, I guess."
"I mean to find out who she is," declared Leslie.
The minister came up just then with cordial greeting and urgent appeal that the young people would at once join their Christian Endeavor.
"That was a great talk you gave us to-night," he said with his hand resting admiringly on Allison's shoulder. "We need young blood. You are the very one to stir up this society."
"But I'm not a Christian," said Allison, half laughing. "I don't belong here."
"Oh, well," answered the smiling minister, "if you take hold of the Endeavor, perhaps you'll find you're more of a Christian than you think. Come, I want you to meet some of our young people."
The young people were all gathered in groups, looking toward the strangers, and came quite willingly to have a nearer glimpse of them. Last of all, and by herself, came the plain-faced girl; and the minister introduced her as Jane Bristol. He did not speak to her more than that, and it occurred to Allison that she seemed as if she came more at the instigation of some higher power than at the call of her pastor; for she passed quietly on again in a pleasant dignity, and did not stop to talk and joke with her pastor as some of the other young people had done.
"Who is she?" asked Allison, hardly aware that he was asking.
"Why, she is the daughter of a forger who died in prison. Her mother, I believe, died of a broken heart. Sad experience for so young a girl. She seems to be a good little thing. She is working at housework in town, I believe. I understand she has an idea of entering college in the fall. You are entering college here? That will be delightful. My wife and I will take pleasure in calling on you as soon as you are ready to receive visitors."
Leslie's eyes were on Jane Bristol as she moved slowly toward the door, lingering a moment in the hall. None of the other girls seemed to have anything to do with her. With her usual impulsiveness Leslie left Allison, and went swiftly down the aisle till she stood by Jane Bristol's side.
"We are going to meet my aunt and stay to church. Would you come and sit with us to-night?" she asked eagerly. "I'd like to get acquainted with you."
Jane Bristol shook her head with a wistful smile.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I wish I could. But I take care of a little girl evenings, and I only get off long enough for Christian Endeavor. It's dear of you to ask me."
"Well, you'll come and see me when I get settled in my new home, won't you?"
Jane looked at her thoughtfully, and then gave her a beautiful smile in answer to Leslie's brilliant one.
"Yes, if you find you want me when you get settled, I'll come," she answered, and, giving Leslie's little gloved hand an impulsive squeeze, she said, "Good-night," and went away.
Leslie looked after her a minute, half understanding, and then turned to find her brother beside her.
"She thinks I won't want her because she works!" she said. "But I do. I shall."
"Sure you will, kid," said her brother. "Just tell Cloudy about her. She'll fix things. That old party—I mean, the reverend gentleman——"
"Look out, Allison, that isn't any better; and there comes Cloudy. Don't make her feel bad again."
"Well, parson, then—doesn't seem to have much use for a person who's had the misfortune to have her father commit forgery and her mother die of a broken heart, or is it because she has to work her way through college? He may be all right, sister; but I'd bank on that girl's religion over against his any day in the week, Sundays included."
Then Julia Cloud came up the steps, and they went in to a rather dreary evening service with a sparse congregation and a bored-looking choir, who passed notes and giggled during the sermon. Allison and Leslie sat and wondered what kind of a shock it would be to them all if the Great Companion should suddenly become visible in the room. If all that about His being always present was true, it certainly was a startling thing.
The next morning dawned with a dull, dreary drizzle coming noisily down on the red and yellow leaves of the maple by the window; but the three rose joyously and their ardor was not damped.
"Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work," quoted Allison at the breakfast-table. "Cloudy, we've got to hustle. Do you mind if it does rain? We've got our car."
But Julia Cloud smiled unconcernedly.
"I should worry," she said with a gay imitation of Leslie's inimitable toss of the head, and the two young people laughed so hilariously that the other staid couples already in the dining-room turned in amaze to see who was taking life so happily on a day like this.
They piled into the car, and hied themselves to town at once, chattering joyfully over their list as to which things they would buy first.
"Let's begin with the kitchen," said Leslie. "I'm crazy to learn how to make cookies. Cloudy, you'll teach me how so I can make some all myself, won't you?"
"And waffles!" said Allison from the front seat.
"Um-mmm-mmmm! I remember Cloudy's waffles. And buckwheat cakes."
"We're going to have everything for the kitchen to make things easy, so that when we can't get a maid Cloudy won't be always overdoing," said Leslie. "Guardy told me especially about that. He said we were to get every convenience to make things easy, so the cook wouldn't leave; for he'd rather pay any amount than have Cloudy work herself to death and have to break down and leave us."
So it was the house-furnishing department of the great store to which they first repaired, and there they hovered for two hours among tins and aluminum and wooden ware, discussing the relative charms of white-enamel refrigerators and gas-ranges, vacuum cleaners and dish-washers, the new ideas against the old. Julia Cloud was for careful buying and getting along with few things; the children were infatuated with the idea of a kitchen of their own, and wanted everything in sight. They went wild over a new kind of refrigerator that would freeze its own ice, making ice-cream in the bargain, and run by an electric motor; but here Julia Cloud held firm. No such expensive experiment was needed in their tiny kitchen. A small white, old-fashioned kind was good enough for them. So the children immediately threw their enthusiasm into selecting the best kind of ice-cream freezer.
When they finally went to the tea-room for lunch, everything on Julia Cloud's list was carefully checked off by Allison with its respective price; and, while they were waiting to be served, he added the column twice to make sure he was right.
"We're shy five dollars yet of what we planned to spend on our kitchen, Cloudy," he announced radiantly. "What did I tell you?"
"But where would you have been if I had let you get that refrigerator?" she retorted.
"Well, there were a lot of things we didn't really need," he answered.
"Such as what?"
"Oh, clothes-pins and—well, all those pans. Did you need so many?" he answered helplessly.
They laughed his masculine judgment out of countenance, and chatted away about what they should do next, until their order arrived.
They were like three children as they ate their lunch, recalling now and then some purchase which gave them particular pleasure.
Suddenly Julia Cloud lifted her hands in mock distress. "I know what we've forgotten! Dish-towels!" she said.
"Dish-towels! Why, sure. We have to have a lot so we can all wipe dishes when the cook goes out. Will five dollars buy them, Cloudy?" asked Leslie distressingly.
"Well, I certainly should hope so!" said Julia Cloud, laughing. "The idea! Five dollars' worth of dish-towels!"
"Well, we'll go and get them at once," said Leslie; "and after that we'll do the bedrooms."
Five o'clock found them wending their way homeward once more, tired but happy.
"Now, to-morrow," said Julia Cloud, leaning back on the soft cushions, "I think we had better stay at home and receive the things. The house must be cleaned at once, and then we can put things right where they are going to belong. Allison, you ought to be able to get a man to wash windows. I'll ask the chambermaid about a woman to help clean, and Leslie and I will make curtains while you put up the rods."
They were so interesting a trio at their table in the inn dining-room that night that people around began to ask who were those two charming young people and their beautiful mother. Little ripples of query went around the room as they entered, for they were indeed noticeable anywhere. The young people were bubbling over with life and spirits and kindliness, and Julia Cloud in her silvery robes and her white hair made a pleasant picture. But they were so wholly wrapped up in their own housekeeping plans that they were utterly unaware of the interest they excited in their fellow-boarders. Just at present they had no time to spare on other people. They were playing a game, just as they used to play house when they were little, with their aunt; and they wanted no interruption until they should have completed the home and were ready to move in and begin to live. After that other people might come in for their attention.
The next morning bright and early Allison was up and out, hunting his man, and announced triumphantly at the breakfast-table that he was found and would be down at the house and ready for work in half an hour. Breakfast became a brief ceremony after that. For Julia Cloud also had not been idle, and had procured the address of a good woman to clean the house. Allison rushed off after the car, and in a few minutes they were on their way, first to leave Julia Cloud and Leslie at the house to superintend the man, and then to hunt the woman. He presently returned with a large colored woman sitting imposingly in the back seat, her capable hands folded in her lap, a look of intense satisfaction on her ample countenance.
Julia Cloud had thoughtfully brought from home a large bundle of cleaning-rags, and a little canned-alcohol heater presently supplied hot water. Leslie made a voyage of discovery, and purchased soap and scouring-powder; and soon the whole little house was a hive of workers.
"Now," said Julia Cloud, opening the bundle of curtain material, "where shall we begin?"
"Right here," said Leslie, looking around the big white living-room with satisfaction. "I'm just longing to see this look like a home; and you must admit, Cloudy, that this room is the real heart of the house. We'll eat and sleep and work and study in the other rooms; but here we'll really live, right around that dear fireplace. I'm just crazy to see it made up and burning. Oh, won't it be great?"
Busy hands and shining scissors went to work, measuring, cutting, turning hems; and presently a neat pile of white curtains, the hems all turned ready for stitching, lay in the wide back window-seat. Then they went at the other rooms, the sun-porch room and the dining-room. But before that was quite finished a large furniture-truck arrived, and behold the sewing-machine had come! Leslie was so eager to get at it that she could hardly wait until the rest of the load was properly disposed.
She was not an experienced sewer, but she brought to her work an enthusiasm that stood loyally beside her aunt's experience, and soon some of the curtains were up.
They could not bear to stop and go back to the inn for lunch; so Allison ran down to the pie-shop with the car, and brought back buns cut into halves and buttered, with great slices of ham in them, a pail of hot sweetened coffee, a big cocoanut pie, a bag of cakes and a basket of grapes; and they made a picnic of it.
"Our first meal in our own house! Isn't it great?" cried Leslie, dancing around with a roll sandwich in one hand and a wedge of pie in the other.
By night every clean little window in that many-windowed house was curtained with white drapery, and in some rooms also with inner curtains of soft silk. The house began to look cozy in spite of its emptiness, and they could hardly bear to leave it when sunset warned them that it was getting near dinner-time and they must return to the inn to freshen up for the evening.
Another day at the little house completed the cleaning and curtaining, and by this time all the furniture so far purchased had arrived, and they had no need to be there to watch for anything else; so another day of shopping was agreed upon.
"And I move we pick out the piano first of all," said Leslie. "I'm just crazy to get my fingers on the keys again, and you don't know how well Allison can sing, Cloudy. You just ought to hear him. Oh, boy!"
Julia Cloud smiled adoringly at the two, and agreed that the piano was as good a place as any to begin.
That day was the best of all the wonderful shopping to Julia Cloud. To be actually picking out wonderful mahogany furniture such as she had seen occasionally in houses of the rich, such as she had admired in pictures and read of in magazine articles, seemed too wonderful to be true. For the first time in her life she was to live among beautiful things, and she felt as if she had stepped into at least the anteroom of heaven. It troubled her a little to be allowing the children to spend so much, even though their guardian had made it plain that they had plenty to spend; for it did not seem quite right to use so much on one's self when so many were in need; but gradually her viewpoint began to change. It was true that these things were only relative, and what seemed much to her was little to another. Perhaps coming directly from her exceedingly limited sphere she was no fit judge of what was right and necessary. And of course there was always the fact that good things lasted, and were continually beautiful if well chosen. Also much good might be done to a large circle of outsiders by a beautiful home.
So Julia Cloud, because the matter of expenditure was not, after all, in her hands, decided just to have a good time and enjoy picking out these wonderful things, interfering only where she thought the article the children selected was not worth buying, or was foolish and useless. But on the whole they got along beautifully, and agreed most marvellously about what fitted the little pink-and-white stone "villa," as Leslie had named it. "'Cloud Villa,' that's what we'll call it," she cried one day in sudden inspiration; and so it was called thereafter in loving jest.
Two days more of hard work, and their list was nearly finished. By this time they were almost weary of continually trying to decide which thing to get. A bewildering jumble of French gray bedsteads and mahogany tables and dining-room chairs swung around in their minds when they went to sleep at night, and smilingly met their waking thoughts. They were beginning to long for the time when they could sit down in the dining-room chairs, and get acquainted with their beds and tables, and feel at home.
"I wish we could get in by Sunday," grumbled Allison. "It's fierce hanging around this hotel with nothing to do."
"Well, why not?" assented Julia Cloud as she buttered her breakfast muffin. "The bedding was promised to come out this morning, and I don't see why we couldn't make up the beds and sleep there to-night, although I don't know whether we can get the gas-range connected in time to do much cooking."
"Oh, we can come back here for our meals till next week," declared Leslie. "Then we'll have time to get the dishes unpacked and washed and put in that lovely china-closet. Perhaps we'll be able to get at that to-day. The curtains are every blessed one up, inside and out, now; and, if we succeed in getting that maid that you heard of, why, we'll be all fixed for next week. I do wish those California things would arrive and we could get the rugs down. It doesn't look homey without rugs and pictures."
And, sure enough, they had not been at work ten minutes before the newly-acquired telephone bell rang, and the freight agent announced that their goods were at the station, and asked whether they wanted them sent up to-day, for he wanted to get the car out of his way.
In two hours more the goods arrived, and right in the midst of their unloading the delivery-wagons from the city brought a lot more articles; and so the little pink-and-white house was a scene of lively action for some time.
When the last truck had started away from the house, Allison drove the car up.
"Now, Cloudy, you jump in quick, and we're going back to the inn for lunch. Then you lie down and rest a whole hour, and sleep, or I won't let you come back," he announced. "I saw a tired look around your eyes, and it won't do. We are not going to have you worked out, not if we stay in that old inn for another month. So there!"
He packed them in, and whirled them away to the inn in spite of Julia Cloud's protest that she was not tired and wanted to work; but, when they came back at two o'clock, they all felt rested and fit for work again.
"Now, I'm the man, and I'm going to boss for a while," said Allison. "You two ladies go up-stairs, and make beds. Here, which are the blankets and sheets? I'll take the bundles right up there, and you won't have any running up and down to do. These? All of them? All right. Now come on up, and I'll be undoing the rugs and boxes from California. When you come down, they'll be all ready for you to say where they shall go."
Leslie and her aunt laughingly complied, and had a beautiful time unfolding and spreading the fine white sheets, plumping the new pillows into their cases, laying the soft, gay-bordered blankets and pretty white spreads, till each bed was fair and fit for a good night's sleep. And then at the foot of each was plumped, in a puff of beauty, the bright satin eiderdowns that Leslie had insisted upon. Rose-color for Julia Cloud's, robin's-egg blue for Leslie's, and orange and brown for Allison's, who had insisted upon mahogany and quiet colors for his room. Leslie's furniture was ivory-white, and Julia Cloud's room was furnished in French gray enamel, with insets of fine cane-work. She stood a moment in the open doorway, and looked about the place; soft gray walls, with a trellis of roses at the top, filmy white draperies with a touch of rose, a gray couch luxuriously upholstered, with many pillows, some rose, some gray, a thick, gray rug under her feet, and her own little gray desk drawn out conveniently when she wanted to write. Over all a flood of autumn sunshine, and on the wall a great water-color of a marvellous sunset that Leslie had insisted belonged in that room and must be bought or the furnishing would not be complete.
It filled Julia Cloud's eyes with tears of wonder and gratitude to think that such a princess's abode should have come to be her abiding-place after her long years of barren living in dreary surroundings. She lifted her eyes to the sunset picture on the wall, and it reminded her of the evening when she had stood at her own home window in her distress and sorrow, looking into the gray future, and had watched it break into rose-color before her eyes. For just an instant after Leslie had run down-stairs she closed her door, and dropped upon her knees beside the lovely bed to thank her Lord for this green and pleasant pasture where He had led her tired feet.
Allison had all the rugs spread out on the porch and lawn, and he and Leslie were hard at work giving them a good sweeping. They were wonderful rugs, just such as one would expect to come from a home of wealth where money had never been a consideration. Julia Cloud looked at them almost with awe, recognizing by instinct the priceless worth of them, and almost afraid at the idea of living a common, daily life on them. For Julia Cloud had read about rugs. She knew that in far lands poor peasant people, whole families, sometimes wove their history into them for a mere pittance; and they had come to mean something almost sacred in her thoughts.
But Allison and Leslie had no such reverence for them; and they swept away gayly, and slammed them about familiarly, in a happy hurry to get them in place. So presently the big blue Chinese rug covered the living-room, almost literally; for it was an immense one, and left very little margin around it. A handsome Kermanshah in old rose and old gold with pencillings of black was spread forth under the mahogany dining-table, and a rich dark-red and black Bokhara runner fitted the porch-room as if it had been bought for it. The smaller rugs were quickly disposed here and there, a lovely little rose-colored silk prayer rug being forced upon Julia Cloud for her bedroom as just the finishing touch it needed, and Leslie took possession of two or three smaller blue rugs for her room. Then they turned their attention to pictures, bits of jade and bronze, a few rare pieces of furniture, a wonderful old bronze lamp with a great dragon on a sea of wonderful blue enamel, with a shade that cast an amber light; brass andirons and fender, and a lot of other little things that go to make a lovely home.
"Now," said Allison, "when we get our books unpacked, and some magazines thrown around, it will look like living. Cloudy, can we sleep here to-night?"
"Why, surely," said Julia Cloud with a child-like delight in her eyes. "What's to hinder? I feel as if I was in a dream, and if I didn't go right on playing it was true I would wake up and find it all gone."
So they rode back to the inn for their supper, hurried their belongings into the trunk, and moved bag and baggage into the new house at nine o'clock on Saturday night.
While Leslie and her aunt were up-stairs putting away their clothes from the trunk into the new closets and bureau-drawers, Allison brought in a few kindlings, and made a bit of a fire on the hearth; and now he called them down.
"We've got to have a housewarming the first night, Cloudy," he called. "Come down and see how it all looks in the firelight."
So the two came down-stairs, and all three sat together on the deep-blue velvet settee in front of the fireplace, Julia Cloud in the middle and a child on either side.
They were all very tired and did not say much, just sat together happily, watching the wood blaze up and flicker and fall into embers. Presently both children nestled closer to her, and put down a head on each of her shoulders. So they sat for a long time quietly.
"Now," said Julia Cloud, as the fire died down and the room grew dusky with shadows, "it is time we went to bed. But there is something I wish we could do this first night in our new home. Don't you think we ought to dedicate it to God, or at least thank God for giving it to us? Would you be willing to kneel down with me, and—we might just all pray silently, if you don't feel like praying out loud. Would you be willing to do that?"
There was a tender silence for a moment while the children thought.
"Sure!" growled Allison huskily. "You pray out, Cloudy. We'd like it."
"Yes," whispered Leslie, nestling her hand in her aunt's.
And so, trembling, half fearful, her heart in her throat, but bravely, Julia Cloud knelt with a child on either side, hiding wondering, embarrassed, but loyal faces.
There was a tense silence while Julia Cloud struggled for words to break through her unwilling lips, and then quite softly she breathed:
"O dear Christ, come and dwell in this home, and bless it. Help us to live to please Thee. Help me to be a wise guide to these dear children——"
She paused, her voice suddenly giving way with a nervous choke in her throat, and two young hands instantly squeezed her hands in sympathy.
Then a gruff young voice burst out on one side,
"Help me to be good, and not hurt her or make it hard for her."
And Leslie gasped out, "And me, too, dear God!"
Then a moment more, and they all rose, tears on their faces. In the dying firelight they kissed Julia Cloud fervently, and said good-night.
Leslie and Allison did not go to the Christian Endeavor meeting that second Sunday. They were tired out, and wanted to stay at home all the evening, and Julia Cloud felt that it would be unwise to urge them; so they sat around the fire and talked. Leslie sat down at the new piano, and played softly old hymns that Julia Cloud hummed; and they all went to bed early, having had a happy Sabbath in their new home.
But Monday evening quite early, just after they had come back from supper and were talking about reading a story aloud, there came a knock at the door. Their first caller! And behold, there stood the inefficient-looking young man who had led the Christian Endeavor meeting, the boy with the goggles who had prayed, and the two girls who had sat by the piano.
"We're a committee," announced the young man, quite embarrassed. "My name's Herricote, Joe Herricote. I'm president of our Christian Endeavor Society, and this is Roy Bryan; he's the secretary. This is Mame Beecher. I guess you remember her singing. She's chairman of our social committee, and Lila Cary's our pianist and chairman of the music committee. We've come to see if you won't help us."
"Come in," said Allison cordially, but with a growing disappointment. Now, here were these dull people coming to interrupt their pleasant evening, and there wouldn't be many of them, for college would soon begin, and they would be too busy then to read stories and just enjoy themselves.
Leslie, too, frowned, but came forward politely to be introduced. She knew at a glance that these were not people of the kind she cared to have for friends.
"We're a committee," repeated young Herricote, sitting down on the edge of a chair, and looking around most uncomfortably at the luxurious apartment. He had not realized it would be like this. He was beginning to feel like a fish out of water. As for the rest of the committee, they were overawed and dumb, all except the little fellow with the tortoise-rimmed glasses. He was not looking at anything but Allison, and was intent on his mission. When he saw that his superior had been struck dumb, he took up the story.
"They appointed us to come and interview you, and see if you wouldn't give us some new ideas how to run our society so it would be a success," he put in. "They all liked your speech so much the other night they felt you could help us out of the rut we've got into."
"Me?" asked Allison, laughing incredulously. "Why, I told you I didn't know the first thing about Christian Endeavor."
"But we've gotta have your help," said the young secretary earnestly. "This thing's gotta go! It's needed in our church, and it's the only thing in the town to help some of the young people. It's just gotta go!"
"Well, if you feel that way, you'll make it go, I'm sure," encouraged Allison. "You're just the kind of a fellow to make it go. You know all about it. Not I. I never heard of the thing till last week, except just in a casual way. Don't know much about it yet."
"Well, s'pose it was one of your frats, and it wasn't succeeding. What would you do? You saw what kind of a dead-and-alive meeting we had, only a few there, and nobody taking much interest. How would you pull up a frat that was that way?"
"Well," said Allison, speaking at random, "I'd look around, and find some of the right kind of fellows, and rush 'em. Get in some new blood."
"That's all right," said Bryan doggedly. "I'm rushin' you. How do you do it? I never went to college yet; so I don't know."
Allison laughed now. He rather liked this queer boy.
"He's a nut!" he said to himself, and entered into the talk in earnest.
"Why, you have parties, and rides, and good times generally, and invite a fellow, and make him feel at home, and make him want to belong. See?"
"I see," said Bryan, with a twinkling glance at the rest of his committee. "We have a party down at my house Friday night. Will you come?"
Allison saw that the joke was on him, and his reserve broke down entirely.
"Well, I guess it's up to me to come," he said. "Yes, I'm game. I'll come."
Bryan turned his big goggles on Leslie.
"Will you come?"
"Why, yes, if Allison does, I will," agreed Leslie, dimpling.
"That's all right," said Bryan, turning back to Allison. "Now, what do you do when you rush? You'll have to teach us how."
"Well," said Allison thoughtfully, "we generally pick out our best rushers, the ones that can talk best, and put them wise. We never let the fellow that's rushed know what we're doing. Oh, if he has brains, he always knows, of course; but you don't say you're rushing him in so many words. At college we meet a fellow at the train, and show him around the place, and put him onto all the little things that will make it easy for him; and we invite him to eat with us, and help him out in every way we can. We appoint some one to look after him specially, and a certain group have him in their charge so the other frats won't have a chance to rush him——"
"I see. The other frats being represented by the devil, I suppose," said the round-eyed boy keenly without a smile.
Allison stared at him, and then broke into a laugh again.
"Exactly," he cried; "you've got onto the idea. It's your society over against the other things that can draw them away from what you stand for. See? And then there's another thing. You want to have something ready to show them when you get them there. That's where our alumni come in. They often run down to college for a few days and help us out with money and influence and experience. If you've got good working alumni, you're right in it, you see. We generally appoint a committee to talk things over with the alumni."
"You mean," said Bryan, drawing his brows together in a comical way behind his goggles, "you mean—pray, I suppose."
"Why," said Allison, flushing, "I suppose that would be a good idea. I hadn't thought of it just in that way."
"You called Christ our alumnus the other night," reminded the literal youth solemnly.
"So I did," acknowledged Allison embarrassedly. "Well, I guess you're right. But I don't know much about that kind of line."
"I'm afraid there don't many of us," put in the bashful president. "I wouldn't hardly know who to appoint on such a committee. There's only two or three like to pray in our meetings. There's Bryan; we always ask him because he doesn't mind, and I—well, I do sometimes when there's no one else, but it comes hard; and there's old Miss Ferby, but she always prays so long, and gets in the president and all the missionary stations——"
"I should think you'd ask that Jane Bristol," spoke up Leslie earnestly. "I know she must be able to. She talked that way."
"I suppose she would," responded the president hesitatingly, looking toward the two ladies of the committee with a half apology. "What do you girls think about it?"
"Oh, I suppose she could pray," said the girl called Mame, with a shrug. "She does, you know, often in meeting."
Then with a giggle toward Leslie she added as if in explanation, "She works out, you know."
"It must be very hard for her," said Leslie, purposely ignoring the inference.
"Well, you know she isn't in our set. Nobody has much to do with her."
"Why not? I think she is very unusual," said Leslie with just the least bit of hauteur.
"Well, it wouldn't be wise to get her into things. It might keep some others out if we made her prominent," put in Lila Cary with some asperity. "We must have some social distinction, you know."
"In our frat one fellow is as good as another if he has the right kind of character," remarked Allison dryly. "That girl sounded to me as if she had some drag with your alumni. But of course you know her better than I."
"She is a good girl all right and real religious," hastened Lila to amend. "I suppose she'd be real good on a prayer committee, and would help to fill up there, as you haven't many."
"Well, I'll tell you one thing," said Allison, "if you really want to succeed, you've got to pull together, every member of you, or you won't get anywhere. And I should think that you'd have to be careful now at first whom you get in. Of course after you're pretty strong you can take in a few just to help them; but, if you get in too many of that lame kind, your society'll go bad. The weak kind will rule, and the mischief will be to pay. I shouldn't think it would help you any just now to get in any folks that would feel that way about a good girl just because she earns her living."
Mame Beecher and Lila Cary looked at each other in alarm, and hastened to affirm that they never felt that way about Jane Bristol. They thought she was a real good sort, and had always meant to get acquainted with her; only she always slipped out as soon as meeting was over.
Back in the dining-room behind the rose-lined blue-velvet hangings Julia Cloud lingered and smiled over the way her two children were developing opinions and character. How splendid of them to take this stand! And who was Jane Bristol? Assuredly she must be looked up and helped if that was the way the town felt about her, poor child!