Some two miles from the village of C. on a road that wound in among the hills stood a great white house. It was beautifully situated upon a gentle slope facing the south, and overlooking a most charming landscape. Away in the distance, a mountain lifted itself against the clear blue sky. At its base rolled a broad, deep river. Nestling down in a valley that intervened, reposed the charming little village with its neat cottages, white church, little red school house and one or two mansions that told of wealth. Here and there in the distance a pond was visible; while farm houses and humbler dwellings dotted the picture in every direction.
Such was the home of three promising children, who for the last three months had been constant members of the village Sunday School. The eldest was a girl of some fourteen years. John, the second, was a bright, amiable lad of eleven. The other the little rosy-cheeked, laughing Ella, with her golden curls and sunny smile had just gathered the roses of her ninth summer.
The father of these interesting children was the rich Captain Lowe. He was a man of mark, such, in many respects as are often found in rural districts. Strictly moral, intelligent and well read, kind-hearted and naturally benevolent, he attracted all classes of community to himself and wielded great influence in his town.
But, not withstanding all these excellences, Mr. Lowe was an
unbeliever. He ridiculed in his good-natured way, the idea of prayer,
looked upon conversion as a solemn farce, and believed the most of
professing Christians were well-meaning but deluded people. He was well
versed in all the subtle arguments of infidel writers, had studied the
Bible quite carefully, and could argue against it in the most plausible
manner. Courteous and kind to all, few could be offended at his frank
infidel principles, or resent his keen, half-jovial sarcasms upon the
peculiarities of some weak-minded, though sincere members of the church.
But Mr. Lowe saw and acknowledged the saving influence of the MORALITY of Christianity. He had especially, good sense enough to confess that the Sunday School was a noble moral enterprise. He was not blind to the fact, abundantly proved by all our criminal records, that few children trained under her influences ever grow up to vice and crime. Hence his permission for his children to attend the Sunday School.
Among the many children who knelt as penitents at the altar in the little vestry, one bright beautiful Lord's Day, were Sarah Lowe and her brother and sister. It was a moving sight to see that gentle girl, with a mature thoughtfulness far beyond her years, take that younger brother and sister by the hand, and kneel with them at the mercy-seat--a sight to heighten the joy of angels.
When the children had told their mother what they had done and expressed a determination to try to be Christians; she, too, was greatly moved. She had been early trained in the principles and belief of Christianity, and had never renounced her early faith. Naturally confiding, with a yielding, conciliatory spirit, she had never obtruded her sentiments upon the notice of her husband, nor openly opposed any of his peculiar views. But now, when her little ones gathered around her and spoke of their new love for the Saviour, their joy and peace and hope, she wept. All the holy influences of her own childhood and youth seemed breathing upon her heart. She remembered the faithful sermons of the old pastor whose hands had baptized her. She remembered, too, the family altar, and the prayers which were offered morning and evening by her sainted father. She remembered the counsels of her good mother now in heaven. All these memories came crowding back upon her and under their softening influences she almost felt herself a child again.
When Mr. Lowe first became aware of the change in his children, he was sorely puzzled to know what to do. He had given his consent for them to attend the Sunday School, and should he now be offended because they had yielded to its influence? Ought he not rather to have expected this? And after all, would what they called religion make them any worse children? Though at first quite disturbed in his feelings, he finally concluded upon second thought to say nothing to them upon the subject, but to let things go on as usual.
But not so those happy young converts. They could not long hold their peace. They must tell their father also what they had experienced. Mr. Lowe heard them, but he made no attempt to ridicule their simple faith, as had been his usual course with others. They were HIS children, and none could boast of better. Still, he professed to see in their present state of mind nothing but youthful feeling, excited by the peculiar circumstances of the last few weeks. But when they began in their childish ardor to exhort him also to seek the Lord, he checked their simple earnestness with a peculiar sternness which said to them: "The act must not be repeated."
The next Sunday the father could not prevent a feeling of loneliness as he saw his household leave for church. The three children, with their mother and Joseph, the hired boy, to drive and take care of the horse; all packed into the old commodious carriage and started off. Never before had he such peculiar feelings as when he watched them slowly descending the hill.
To dissipate these emotions he took a dish of salt and started up the hill to a "mountain pasture" where his young cattle were enclosed for the season. It was a beautiful day in October, that queen month of the year. A soft melancholy breathed in the mild air of the mellow "Indian summer," and the varying hues of the surrounding forests, and the signs of decay seen upon every side, all combined to deepen the emotions which the circumstances of the morning had awakened.
His sadness increased; and as his path opened out into a bright, sunny spot far up on the steep hillside, he seated himself upon a mossy knoll and thought. Before him lay the beautiful valley guarded on either side by its lofty hills, and watered by its placid river. It was a lovely picture; and as his eye rested upon the village, nestling down among its now gorgeous shade trees and scarlet shrubbery, he could not help thinking of that company who were then gathered in the little church, with its spire pointing heavenward nor of asking himself the question: "Why are they there?"
While thus engaged, his attention was attracted by the peculiar chirping of a ground sparrow near by. He turned, and but a few feet from him he saw a large black snake, with its head raised about a foot above its body, which lay coiled upon the ground. Its jaws were distended, its forked tongue played around its open mouth, flashing in the sunlight like a small lambent flame, while its eyes were intently fixed upon the bird. There was a clear, sparkling light about those eyes that was fearful to behold--they fairly flashed with their peculiar bending fascination. The poor sparrow was fluttering around a circle of some few feet in diameter, the circle becoming smaller at each gyration of the infatuated bird. She appeared conscious of her danger, yet unable to break the spell that bound her. Nearer and still nearer she fluttered her little wings to those open jaws; smaller and smaller grew the circle, till at last, with a quick convulsive cry; she fell into the mouth of the snake.
As Mr. Lowe watched the bird he became deeply interested in her fate. He started a number of times to destroy the reptile and thus liberate the sparrow from her danger, but an unconquerable curiosity to see the end restrained him. All day long the scene just described was before him. He could not forget it nor dismiss it from his mind. The last cry of that poor little bird sinking into the jaws of death was constantly ringing in his ears, and the sadness of the morning increased.
Returning to his house, he seated himself in his library and attempted to read. What could be the matter? Usually he could command his thoughts at will, but now he could think of nothing but the scene on the mountain, or the little company in the house of God. Slowly passed the hours, and many times did he find himself, in spite of his resolution not to do so, looking down the road for the head of his dapple gray to emerge from the valley. It seemed a long time before the rumbling of the wheels was at length heard upon the bridge which crossed the mountain stream, followed shortly by the old carry-all creeping slowly up the hill.
The return of the family somewhat changed the course of his thoughts. They did not say any thing to him about the good meeting they had enjoyed, and who had been converted since the last Lord's day; but they talked it all over among themselves, and how could he help hearing? He learned all about "how good farmer Haskell talked," and "how humble and devoted Esquire Wiseman appeared," and "how happy Benjamin and Samuel were"; though he seemed busy with his book and pretended to take no notice of what was said.
It was, indeed, true then that the old lawyer had become pious. He had heard the news before, but did not believe it. Now he had learned it as a fact. That strong-minded man who had been a skeptic all his days, had ridiculed and opposed religion, was now a subject of "the children's revival." What could it mean? Was there something in religion after all? Could it be that what these poor fanatics, as he had always called them, said about the future world was correct? Was there a heaven, and a hell, and a God of justice? Were his darling children right, and was he alone wrong? Such were the thoughts of the boasted unbeliever, as he sat there listening to the half-whispered conversation of his happy children.
Little Ella came and climbed to her long accustomed place upon her father's knee, and throwing her arms around his neck, laid her glowing cheek, half-hidden by the clustering curls, against his own. He knew by her appearance she had something to say but did not dare to say it. To remove this fear, he began to question her about Sunday School. He inquired after her teacher and who were her classmates, what she learned, etc. Gradually the shyness wore away, and the heart of the innocent praying child came gushing forth. She told him all that had been done that day--what her teacher had said of the prayer meeting at noon, and who spoke, and how many went forward for prayers. Then folding her arms more closely around his neck, and kissing him tenderly, she added:
"Oh, father, I do wish you had been there!"
"Why do you wish I had been there, Ella?"
"Oh, just to see how happy Nellie Winslow looked while her grandfather was telling us children how much he loved the Savior, and how sorry he was that he did not give his heart to his heavenly Father when he was young. Then he laid his hand on Nellie's head, who was sitting by his side, and said: 'I thank God that he ever gave me a little praying granddaughter to lead me to the Saviour.' And, father, I never in all my life saw anyone look so happy as Nellie did."
Mr. Lowe made no reply--how could he? Could he not see where the heart of his darling Ella was? Could he not see that by what she had told him about Esquire Wiseman and his pet Nellie, she meant HE should understand how happy SHE should be if HER father was a Christian? Ella had not said so in words--THAT was a forbidden subject--but the language of her earnest loving look and manner was not to be mistaken; and the heart of the unbelieving father was deeply stirred. He kissed the rosy cheeks of the lovely girl, and taking his hat, left the house. He walked out into the field. He felt strangely. Before he was aware of the fact he found his unbelief leaving him, and the simple, artless religion of childhood winning its way to his heart. Try as hard as he might he could not help believing that his little Ella was a Christian. There was a reality about her simple faith and ardent love that was truly "the evidence of things not seen." What should he do? Should he yield to thin influence and be led by his children to Christ? What! Captain Lowe, the boasted unbeliever overcome by the weakness of excited childhood! The thought roused his PRIDE and with an exclamation of impatience at his folly, he suddenly wheeled about, and retracing his steps, with altered appearance, he re-entered his house.
His wife was alone with an open Bible before her. As he entered he saw her hastily wipe away a tear. In passing her he glanced upon the open page, and his eye caught the words "YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN!" They went like an arrow to his heart. "TRUTH," said a voice within, with such fearful distinctness that he started at the fancied sound; and the influence which he had just supposed banished from his heart returned with ten-fold power. The strong man trembled. Leaving the sitting-room, he ascended the stairs to his chamber. Passing Sarah's room, a voice attracted his attention. It was the voice of prayer. He heard his own name pronounced, and he paused to listen.
"Oh, Lord, save my dear father. Lead him to the Saviour. Let him see that he MUST BE BORN AGAIN. Oh let not the SERPENT CHARM HIM! Save, oh, save my dear father!"
He could listen no longer, "Let not the serpent charm him!" Was he then like that helpless little bird, who fluttering around the head of the serpent, fell at last into the jaws of death? The thought shot a wild torrent of newly awakened terror through his throbbing heart.
Hastening to his chamber he threw himself into a chair. He started! The voice of prayer again fell upon his ear. He listened. Yes, it was the clear, sweet accents of his little pet. Ella was praying--WAS PRAYING FOR HIM!
"O Lord, bless my dear father. Make him a Christian, and may he and dear mother be prepared for heaven!"
Deeply moved, the father left the house and hastened to the barn. He would try to escape from those words of piercing power. They were like daggers in his heart. He entered the barn. Again he heard a voice. It came from the hay-loft, in the rich silvery tones of his own noble boy. John had climbed up the ladder, and kneeling down upon the hay WAS PRAYING FOR HIS FATHER.
"O Lord, save my father!"
It was too much for the poor convicted man, and, rushing to the house he fell, sobbing upon his knees by the side of his wife and cried:
"O Mary, I am a poor, lost sinner! Our children are going to heaven, and I--I--AM GOING DOWN TO HELL! Oh, Wife, is there mercy for a wretch like me?"
Poor Mrs. Lowe was completely overcome. She wept for joy. That her husband would ever be her companion in the way of holiness, she had never dared to hope. Yes, there was mercy for even them. "Come unto me, and find rest." Christ had said it, and her heart told her it was true. Together they would go to this loving Saviour, and their little ones should show them the way.
The children were called in. They came from their places of prayer, where they had lifted up their hearts to that God who had said "WHATSOEVER YOU SHALL ASK THE FATHER IN MY NAME HE WILL GIVE IT YOU." They had asked the Spirit's influence upon the hearts of their parents, and it had been granted. They gathered around their weeping, broken-hearted father and penitent mother, and pointed them to the cross of Jesus. Long and earnestly they prayed, and wept and agonized. With undoubting trust in the promises, they waited at the mercy-seat, and their prayers were heard. Faith conquered. The Spirit came and touched these penitent hearts with the finger of love; and then sorrow was turned to joy--their night, dark and cheerless and gloomy, was changed to blessed day.
They arose from their knees, and Ella sprang to the arms of her father, and together they rejoiced in God.