A Life Illumined
by Lillian DeWaters
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1913. Contents: The New Preacher; A Rencontre; Naomi Visits Marion Carmen; How Great a Matter a Little Fire Kindleth; The Retreat; The Letter Killeth; But the Spirit Giveth Life; The Compact; As the Sparks Fly Upward; Doing Unto Others; A Thrilling Sermon; Mr. Manville's Dilemma; Naomi Proclaims Her Convictions; Doctrine Versus Enlightened Faith; The Secret Revealed; When Friendship Deepens; The Voice Which Saved; Reflections; A Thrilling Scene; The Tragedy of Hearts; Richard Manville Faces a Crisis; Church Politics; Richard Manville's Eyes are Opened; The Life Illumined.
THE NEW PREACHER.
"At last we've got a right smart man in the pulpit, and one that I hope will suit folks," ejaculated Mrs. Chase, the housekeeper at the parsonage, as she adjusted her hat to a more satisfactory angle and smoothed her new kid gloves with an air of having made a remark of some importance.
"Yes," assented a little woman standing near her. "And what a wonderful delivery he has!" Here Mrs. Whipple, wife of one of the pillars of the church, broke in with, "A good text that was from Exodus. He'll suit as long as he preaches that kind of sermons."
"'Sssh, not so loud! Here he comes," said Mrs. Williams as she joined the crowd that was waiting to shake hands with the new minister, Richard Manville.
They had been conversing in the vestibule of the church, but now, as the congregation came thronging out of the auditorium, the little group of women scattered.
"I thought you were never coming, Naomi," exclaimed Mrs. Williams, as she turned from greeting the minister, and putting her arm through that of her niece, she made her way down the long, shady walk to the street.
The churchyard was generally the meeting place for the village people and to-day was no exception. On this particular Sunday, the farmers gathered in little groups under the sheds in the rear of the church to hear from each other the progress of their spring work and to discuss the possibilities of a good season for crops. In the front of the church, there was a general flutter of excitement, for a new minister was an event of real importance. As Mrs. Williams and her niece reached the street and turned their steps toward their beautiful home,—the Manor, just adjoining the parsonage,—detached bits of conversation about the minister reached their ears.
"Well, Naomi, everybody seems to be talking about the new minister, what is your opinion of him?"
The girl looked at her aunt and smiled. "Why, Auntie, I think he is a finished gentleman—his manner is so dignified and almost grave. He seems to be all that one could wish. He talked with the members of the choir before service, and said that we must be his helpers."
"They say he has everything needful save a wife." Mrs. Williams said this with something like a sigh in her voice; but the tone was lost upon Naomi who tripped lightly up the great stone steps of the Manor and entered the house.
When Naomi Carol was but a baby, her mother and father had suddenly met with a fatal accident, leaving her, an only child, alone in the world. Naomi's nearest relative was Mrs. Williams, her mother's sister, who was a widow with no children of her own. It thus came about naturally that she left her small rooms in Winstead, the adjoining city, and took up her residence at the Manor. The original name given to this fine, old place was Hilcrest Manor, but it soon became simplified and generally spoken of as the Manor. This pleased Naomi as in her mind she had always likened her home to an English estate.
With plenty of money at her command, Mrs. Williams secured the best tutors possible to educate her niece, and as the child's voice had shown signs of wonderful possibilities, she had had it cultivated.
Naomi had been the soloist in the Methodist Episcopal Church of Lawrence for several years. She was one of the most popular young women in the parish, and well she deserved to be. Her wonderful charity, her loving disposition, the spontaneous cheer, and blithesomeness of her nature had blessed many a despondent heart. She was beautiful in character, and beautiful to look upon. Her wealth of red-brown hair, her pink and white skin, her deep violet eyes, fringed with curling lashes matching in color the shade of her hair, and with it all a vivacious charm and sweet graciousness of manner, made her a most attractive young woman. She was only nineteen years old, and was peculiarly girlish in her manner, but to the thoughtful observer she seemed to have a dignity and seriousness beyond her years.
As Naomi stood before her mirror removing her hat, and pushing back the little ringlets which had strayed over the dainty shell-like ears, she happened to glance out of the window at her side. The tall, athletic figure of the new minister was just turning in at the gate of the parsonage, and with eager interest, she watched him as he went up the path and disappeared in the house.
"I wonder if we shall be good neighbors," the girl mused. For a long time she stood at the window and it was chiefly of the new minister that she was thinking, but her thoughts were not frivolous. Naomi was a strange mixture of girl and woman. She had inherited from her father an eager, studious mind, and had shown an unusual capacity for mental development. At times, she startled her aunt with her revolutionary ideas, and caused the bewildered lady to say, "It is those queer fine print books, Naomi, that upset you so. Only ministers of the Gospel should read things like that." But the girl had found from these books that there was a big world of thought and feeling of which no one had ever told her, and she longed to learn more. She was still a girl in her frolics and good times, but in thought, she was a woman. "Perhaps Mr. Manville can help me," she said to herself as she turned from the window.
Physically, morally, intellectually, Richard Manville seemed to be all that one could desire. Tonight while he sat by the table in his study, his thoughts turned to his mother whom he had left in the Middle West. For years, his studies had taken him away from home, and even when he had completed his education for the ministry, he had only one short week at home before a call from New York State came to him. His mother yielded unselfishly to the separation, and now he was many miles away, almost in a strange country and with every face unfamiliar to him. But he intended to exert every effort to make this, his first pastorate, successful, and one had only to look at the fine, strong face, the firm lips and chin, to believe that he would succeed. Although he was broad-shouldered and had a powerfully built frame, yet something in the soft brown eyes and a certain tenderness which at times played about the mobile lips, unconsciously made one trust him and feel that at heart he was gentle.
Presently he rose from his chair, extinguished the light, and approached the open window. The great disc of the sun had sunk behind the tall elm trees. The air was balmy, the grassy lawn seemed rimmed in a halo of light, while the budding flowers and trees were sweet with a charm and mystery all their own. There was not a sound to break Nature's sweet and solemn repose. Silence and peace brooded over the world. As the man gazed out upon the night, he saw that the Manor was brilliantly lighted. Suddenly a sweet, clear voice trembled out upon the evening's stillness. As the gentle breeze wafted the notes of the song to him, he listened eagerly. Where had he heard the voice before? In a moment, his face cleared. It was the same voice that had attracted his attention during the morning service. He remembered now that Mr. Simpson, in showing him the points of interest in Lawrence, had remarked that the Manor was the home of the talented soloist of their church. When the voice that had broken the stillness ceased, his gaze went upward to the starry heavens and fell again to the silvery earth. The wondrous stillness and glory of it all sank into his very soul, and with eyes fixed upon the heavens, a silent but soul-filled prayer rose to his lips: "God grant that in this new field of labor I may be so used as the instrument of His love, that I may see a wayward soul reclaimed and a life illumined.
A RENCONTRE.On the Wednesday following the first preaching of the new minister, Naomi, as was her custom, met the choir in the church building to rehearse the music for the following Sunday. She had lingered after the others were gone, for she loved the quiet of the large room, and was never tired of singing with the quaint old organ.
Richard Manville, passing through the churchyard just at this time, caught the rhythmic rise and fall of the clear voice. Noiselessly he entered the church and for a few moments stood unobserved. Presently the music ceased and the girl rose from the organ. Although she seemed tall, she was slightly under the average height. The abundant red-brown hair was uncovered, and the cheeks were slightly flushed. The violet eyes had an astonished expression in them when she discovered Mr. Manville, and he, utterly unprepared for such a vision of loveliness, was for a moment at a loss for words.
Quickly recovering his usual self-possession, he was about to speak when Naomi said, flushing slightly, "You are Mr. Manville?"
"Yes," replied the minister, advancing with a smile, "and you are our soloist, but I do not remember your name," he added, extending his hand.
"Naomi Carol," replied the girl, as she placed her small hand in his.
"Please do not let me interrupt you," he pleaded, "I came in search of a book to which I wish to refer."
As he moved toward the pulpit, Naomi could not help admiring the tall, well-proportioned figure. While she was gathering up her music, he approached her again with the book in his hand.
"I must confess it has no business here," he said holding it up to her view.
"A book on modern thought," she murmured, interestedly, and her face showed a look of pleased astonishment.
"Do not mistake me," Mr. Manville hastened to say, as a flush mounted his brow. "My perusal of the book was simply to acquaint myself with the ideas set forth.""I do not see why you need excuse yourself," began the girl with impulsive candor. "I should not hesitate to read the book, and I believe one might find some good ideas in it."
The minister was slightly disconcerted as she turned her clear, frank eyes full upon him.
"Surely a book like this could give no one right ideas," he said. "In fact, it is along the new thought lines, which show at once that it is detrimental. There are some who would leave the straight and narrow path that our fathers travelled, and seek new ways and means of conversion, but we know, do we not. Miss Carol, that one should beware of false doctrines?"
"Certainly, false doctrines should not be accepted as truth," acquiesced the girl, with a charmingly candid but somewhat amused look, and with a tone of voice which seemed to the minister to carry a veiled meaning.
"Surely you cannot mean to infer—"
"I mean to infer nothing," interrupted Naomi, with a flash of piquancy, though the faintest twinkle of merriment danced in her eyes.
"But do you read this kind of literature?" persisted the man.
"I select my literature with the greatest care, and desire to read nothing but that which tends to uplift one's thought and purify one's ideals."
The exquisite quality and modulation of the voice, together with the simple words spoken with such charming frankness and conviction, forced the man to say quickly, "Pardon me, Miss Carol. I believe I have been rude." He had been standing near her, as she gathered her music into her lap, but now he sank into a seat.
Naomi saw the troubled look on the man's face. "I am a great reader, and of course you are too," she said, with naive simplicity.
As the man thought of the many times he had pored over his books long after midnight, he responded with great emphasis, "Yes, I am a great reader."
Naomi gave a little sigh of relief. "Then, of course, you are a broad and liberal-minded man," she exclaimed, "and I am glad. Doubtless you keep in touch with the trend of advancing religious thought and—"
"Pray do not misunderstand me, Miss Carol," he interrupted quickly, with a troubled look into the youthful face before him. "As your minister, I feel that I ought to make my position clear to you. True, I have read some of the literature pertaining to modern religious beliefs, but I find it in all respects unworthy of consideration, utterly deplorable and disastrous. The vows I took at my ordination would not allow me to sanction as Truth such ideas as are being promulgated in the recently founded sects and movements."
Naomi was silent, and the minister was quick to notice the cloud of disappointment that had flashed over the open countenance.
"You are a member of this church, are you not. Miss Carol?" he queried, with slight concern in his voice.
"Yes," she returned simply, "I joined this church when I was but a child. It is the church to which my parents and grandparents belonged. My dear father was a very earnest church worker."
The minister felt a tone of sadness in the voice, and as his glance met Naomi's, he saw a suspicion of tears glisten on the thick lashes. Remembering the facts that Lawyer Simpson had given him about the tragic death of Mr. and Mrs. Carol, he said, kindly, "And therefore, the church is doubly dear to you, Miss Carol, and you are glad to accept unquestionably the faith of your parents."
But he was somewhat taken by surprise as Naomi smiled and returned gently, "I cannot say that I agree with you, Mr. Manville. There was a time when I did accept, as you say, unquestionably and unreservedly, the faith of my parents, but through earnest reading and research, I have arrived at different conclusions."
"You mean that you do not accept the beliefs of this church?"
"Indeed I have not admitted that," she returned evasively. "I hold that the religious beliefs of our fathers should be sacred to us, but one should not unite with a certain church simply because it is the church to which his ancestors belonged. I do not believe in a blind, dogmatic, or passive faith. I believe in choosing a religion which appeals most to one's reason,—one that Is practical and adaptable to everyday life, one that follows most closely the teachings of the Master."
"Certainly, of course," assented the man; "but does it not occur to you that your father wanted the best also, and that you are safe in believing as he believed? I myself would ask for no greater faith than that of my saintly mother."
But the girl shook her head and smiled. "Indeed our parents' faith may have been beautiful and sincere, but is not the world advancing, Mr. Manville? Is the world accepting today the ideas formulated years ago? The advancement of the world in ideas, inventions, discoveries, seems to me marvellously startling. Men are not content today with the discoveries of yesterday. Thought is constantly expanding and reflecting more of the wisdom and understanding that God intends for man. We see improvement in all lines of manufacture, in music, in art, in science, and why should we not accept improvement in our attitude toward religion? Progress would be at a standstill if we believed that the facilities which our parents enjoyed were good enough for us. If advancement is possible in material ways and means, why is it not possible and desirable in spiritual thinking?"
The minister listened in silence, but in grave wonderment, to the girl's earnest words. Naomi was entirely unconscious of the beautiful picture she made as she was speaking with such impulsive enthusiasm. Her pretty head was slightly bent to one side, and the delicate rose tint of her cheeks deepened perceptibly as she talked.
Mr. Manville found it difficult to associate this comprehensive speech with the dainty, flowerlike face before him. Before he could frame a reply, the girl rose, and glancing at him somewhat timidly, said, "I believe—I know—I fear I have spoken too freely to a stranger—and a clergyman besides." The wave of color now swept up to her brows. "You will please pardon me, and now I must return home. Billy will be wondering what has become of me."
"Indeed, Miss Carol, I should be delighted to continue our little talk," began the minister, chiding himself for his awkwardness. Somehow, this fairylike young person seemed to have robbed him of his usual complacent self-possession.
"It is well to think deeply, to live rightly, but not to leave the well-beaten track made by the dear souls who have lighted the way before us. You will understand this better when you are as old as I am, and when you have learned more of the world and its ways." He looked at her with grave gentleness, and the smile that lighted his eyes showed a depth of sincerity and tender feeling.
Naomi was content to drop the subject, and as they reached the door and stepped out into the churchyard, she called in her clear, bell-like voice, "Billy— Billy!"
Presently a huge black cat bounded to her side, brushing against her dress, and purring vociferously, as it cast disdainful glances at the minister.
"What a beautiful animal!" exclaimed he.
"Beautiful indeed," declared the girl, as she gathered him in her arms and gently stroked his rich, shiny coat.
The man could not help remarking the evident affection that the rat showed for his mistress.
"Yes, money wouldn't buy his fidelity. Sometimes he seems my only true friend." Her voice had a touch of sadness in it, but the next moment she was pointing across the open country, exclaiming joyously, "You have come here in the most beautiful part of the year. Lawrence is a veritable orchard now," and even as she spoke, a light breeze stirred the loaded branches of the apple trees, scattering the delicious odor of the opened blooms.
"I am sure I shall enjoy living in this quiet town. One seems so near to Nature here. It will be a pleasure for me to prepare my sermons under those beautiful old trees in my garden. By the way, Miss Carol, I believe our gardens adjoin."
Naomi placed Billy on the ground and gave him a last caressing pat, straightening herself as the minister spoke. Her eyes twinkled and little dimples came and went around her mouth and chin.
"Yes, you have a most exquisite bush of white lilac which overhangs my garden," she said, demurely. "I was nearly—in fact, I must confess that twice I have actually been tempted to break one of the fine sprays."
"By all means do so, Miss Carol. I shall be so busy getting acquainted with my new surroundings that for a time, at least, my garden will not receive much of my attention."
They had now reached the street and Naomi, stopping abruptly at the end of the shady walk, bade him a hasty good-bye.
"Good-bye," he said, "I trust we shall see each other again and continue the talk we have begun."
"Oh, I fear I have already spoken too impulsively"; and at the thought of it, a wave of rich color again swept her cheek and brow. Calling Billy to her side, she passed lightly down the road, and was quickly lost to sight.
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