An Assisted Providence by Octave Thanet
IT was the Christmas turkeys that should be held responsible. Every year
the Lossings give each head of a family in their employ, and each lad
helping to support his mother, a turkey at Christmastide. As the business
has grown, so has the number of turkeys, until it is now well up in the
hundreds, and requires a special contract. Harry, one Christmas, some two
years ago, bought the turkeys at so good a bargain that he felt the
natural reaction in an impulse to extravagance. In the very flood-tide of
the money-spending yearnings, he chanced to pass Deacon Hurst's stables
and to see two Saint Bernard puppies, of elephantine size but of the
tenderest age, gambolling on the sidewalk before the office. Deacon Hurst,
I should explain, is no more a deacon than I am; he is a livery-stable
keeper, very honest, a keen and solemn sportsman, and withal of a staid
demeanor and a habitual garb of black. Now you know as well as I any
reason for his nickname.
Deacon Hurst is fond of the dog as well as of that noble animal the horse
(he has three copies of "Black Beauty" in his stable, which would do an
incalculable amount of good if they were ever read!); and he usually has
half a dozen dogs of his own, with pedigrees long enough for a poor
gentlewoman in a New England village. He told Harry that the Saint
Bernards were grandsons of Sir Bevidere, the "finest dog of his time in
the world, sir;" that they were perfectly marked and very large for their
age (which Harry found it easy to believe of the young giants), and that
they were "ridiculous, sir, at the figger of two hundred and fifty!"
(which Harry did not believe so readily); and, after Harry had admired and
studied the dogs for the space of half an hour, he dropped the price, in a
kind of spasm of generosity, to two hundred dollars. Harry was tempted to
close the bargain on the spot, hot-headed, but he decided to wait and
prepare his mother for such a large addition to the stable.
The more he dwelt on the subject the more he longed to buy the dogs.
In fact, a time comes to every healthy man when he wants a dog, just as a
time comes when he wants a wife; and Harry's dog was dead. By consequence,
Harry was in the state of sensitive affection and desolation to which a
promising new object makes the most moving appeal. The departed dog (Bruce
by name) had been a Saint Bernard; and Deacon Hurst found one of the
puppies to have so much the expression of countenance of the late Bruce
that he named him Bruce on the spot—a little before Harry joined the
group. Harry did not at first recognize this resemblance, but he grew to
see it; and, combined with the dog's affectionate disposition, it softened
his heart. By the time he told his mother he was come to quoting Hurst's
adjectives as his own.
"Beauties, mother," says Harry, with sparkling eyes; "the markings are
perfect—couldn't be better; and their heads are shaped just right!
You can't get such watch-dogs in the world! And, for all their enormous
strength, gentle as a lamb to women and children! And, mother, one of them
looks like Bruce!"
"I suppose they would want to be housedogs," says Mrs. Lossing, a little
dubiously, but looking fondly at Harry's handsome face; "you know,
somehow, all our dogs, no matter how properly they start in a kennel, end
by being so hurt if we keep them there that they come into the house. And
they are so large, it is like having a pet lion about."
"These dogs, mother, shall never put a paw in the house."
"Well, I hope just as I get fond of them they will not have the distemper
and die!" said Mrs. Lossing; which speech Harry rightly took for the white
flag of surrender.
That evening he went to find Hurst and clinch the bargain. As it happened,
Hurst was away, driving an especially important political personage to an
especially important political council. The day following was a Sunday;
but, by this time, Harry was so bent upon obtaining the dogs that he had
it in mind to go to Hurst's house for them in the afternoon. When Harry
wants anything, from Saint Bernards to purity in politics, he wants it
with an irresistible impetus! If he did wrong, his error was linked to its
own punishment. But this is anticipating, if not presuming; I prefer to
leave Harry Lossing's experience to paint its own moral without pushing.
The event that happened next was Harry's pulling out his check-book and
beginning to write a check, remarking, with a slight drooping of his
eyelids, "Best catch the deacon's generosity on the fly, or it may make a
Then he let the pen fall on the blotter, for he had remembered the day.
After an instant's hesitation he took a couple of hundred-dollar
bank-notes out of a drawer (I think they were gifts for his two sisters on
Christmas day, for he is a generous brother; and most likely there would
be some small domestic joke about engravings to go with them); these he
placed in the right-hand pocket of his waistcoat. In his left-hand
waistcoat pocket were two five-dollar notes.
Harry was now arrayed for church. He was a figure to please any woman's
eye, thought his mother, as she walked beside him, and gloried silently in
his six feet of health and muscle and dainty cleanliness. He was in a most
amiable mood, what with the Saint Bernards and the season. As they
approached the cathedral close, Harry, not for the first time, admired the
pure Gothic lines of the cathedral, and the soft blending of grays in the
stone with the warmer hues of the brown network of Virginia creeper that
still fluttered, a remnant of the crimson adornings of autumn. Beyond were
the bare, square outlines of the old college, with a wooden cupola perched
on the roof, like a little hat on a fat man, the dull-red tints of the
professors' houses, and the withered lawns and bare trees. The turrets and
balconies and arched windows of the boys' school displayed a red
background for a troop of gray uniforms and blazing buttons; the boys were
forming to march to church. Opposite the boys' school stood the modest
square brick house that had served the first bishop of the diocese during
laborious years. Now it was the dean's residence. Facing it, just as you
approached the cathedral, the street curved into a half-circle on either
side, and in the centre the granite soldier on his shaft looked over the
city that would honor him. Harry saw the tall figure of the dean come out
of his gate, the long black skirts of his cassock fluttering under the
wind of his big steps. Beside him skipped and ran, to keep step with him,
a little man in ill-fitting black, of whose appearance, thus viewed from
the rear, one could only observe stooping shoulders and iron-gray hair
that curled at the ends.
"He must be the poor missionary who built his church himself," Mrs.
Lossing observed; "he is not much of a preacher, the dean said, but he is
a great worker and a good pastor."
"So much the better for his people, and the worse for us!" says Harry,
"Naturally. We shall get the poor sermon and they will get the good
Then Harry caught sight of a woman's frock and a profile that he knew, and
thought no more of the preacher, whoever he might be.
But he was in the chancel in plain view, after the procession of
choir-boys had taken their seats. He was an elderly man with thin cheeks
and a large nose. He had one of those great, orotund voices that
occasionally roll out of little men, and he read the service with a
misjudged effort to fill the building. The building happened to have
peculiarly fine acoustic properties; but the unfortunate man roared like
him of Bashan. There was nothing of the customary ecclesiastical dignity
and monotony about his articulation; indeed, it grew plain and plainer to
Harry that he must have "come over" from some franker and more emotional
denomination. It seemed quite out of keeping with his homely manner and
crumpled surplice that this particular reader should intone. Intone,
nevertheless, he did; and as badly as mortal man well could! It was not so
much that his voice or his ear went wrong; he would have had a musical
voice of the heavy sort, had he not bellowed; neither did his ear betray
him; the trouble seemed to be that he could not decide when to begin; now
he began too early, and again, with a startled air, he began too late, as
if he had forgotten.
"I hope he will not preach," thought Harry, who was absorbed in a rapt
contemplation of his sweetheart's back hair. He came back from a tender
revery (by way of a little detour into the furniture business and the
establishment that a man of his income could afford) to the church and the
preacher and his own sins, to find the strange clergyman in the pulpit,
plainly frightened, and bawling more loudly than ever under the influence
of fear. He preached a sermon of wearisome platitudes; making up for lack
of thought by repetition, and shouting himself red in the face to express
earnestness. "Fourth-class Methodist effort," thought the listener in the
Lossing pew, stroking his fair mustache, "with Episcopal decorations! That
man used to be a Methodist minister, and he was brought into the fold by a
high-churchman. Poor fellow, the Methodist church polity has a place for
such fellows as he; but he is a stray sheep with us. He doesn't half catch
on to the motions; yet I'll warrant he is proud of that sermon, and his
wife thinks it one of the great efforts of the century." Here Harry took a
short rest from the sermon, to contemplate the amazing moral phenomenon:
how robust can be a wife's faith in a commonplace husband!
"Now, this man," reflected Harry, growing interested in his own fancies,
"this man never can have LIVED! He doesn't know what it is to suffer, he
has only vegetated! Doubtless, in a prosaic way, he loves his wife and
children; but can a fellow who talks like him have any delicate sympathies
or any romance about him? He looks honest; I think he is a right good
fellow and works like a soldier; but to be so stupid as he is, ought to
Harry felt a whimsical moving of sympathy towards the preacher. He
wondered why he continually made gestures with the left arm, never with
"It gives a one-sided effect to his eloquence," said he. But he thought
that he understood when an unguarded movement revealed a rent which had
been a mended place in the surplice.
"Poor fellow," said Harry. He recalled how, as a boy, he had gone to a
fancy-dress ball in Continental smallclothes, so small that he had been
strictly cautioned by his mother and sisters not to bow except with the
greatest care, lest he rend his magnificence and reveal that it was too
tight to allow an inch of underclothing. The stockings, in particular, had
been short, and his sister had providently sewed them on to the
knee-breeches, and to guard against accidents still further, had pinned as
well as sewed, the pins causing Harry much anguish.
"Poor fellow!" said Harry again, "I wonder is HE pinned somewhere? I feel
like giving him a lift; he is so prosy it isn't likely anyone else will
feel moved to help."
Thus it came about that when the dean announced that the alms this day
would be given to the parish of our friend who had just addressed us; and
the plate paused before the Lossing pew, Harry slipped his hand into his
waistcoat pocket after those two five-dollar notes.
I should explain that Harry being a naturally left-handed boy, who has
laboriously taught himself the use of his right hand, it is a family joke
that he is like the inhabitants of Nineveh, who could not tell their right
hand from their left. But Harry himself has always maintained that he can
tell as well as the next man.
Out drifted the flock of choir-boys singing, "For thee, oh dear, dear
country," and presently, following them, out drifted the congregation;
among the crowd the girl that Harry loved, not so quickly that he had not
time for a look and a smile (just tinged with rose); and because she was
so sweet, so good, so altogether adorable, and because she had not only
smiled but blushed, and, unobserved, he had touched the fur of her jacket,
the young man walked on air.
He did not remember the Saint Bernards until after the early Sunday
dinner, and during the after-dinner cigar. He was sitting in the library,
before some blazing logs, at peace with all the world. To him, thus, came
his mother and announced that the dean and "that man who preached this
morning, you know," were waiting in the other room.
"They seem excited," said she, "and talk about your munificence. What HAVE
you been doing?"
"Appear to make a great deal of fuss over ten dollars," said Harry,
lightly, as he sauntered out of the door.
The dean greeted him with something almost like confusion in his
cordiality; he introduced his companion as the Rev. Mr. Gilling.
"Mr. Gilling could not feel easy until he had——"
"Made sure about there being no mistake," interrupted Mr. Gilling; "I—the
sum was so great———"
A ghastly suspicion shot like a fever-flush over Harry's mind. Could it be
possible? There were the two other bills; could he have given one of them?
Given that howling dervish a hundred dollars? The thought was too awful!
"It was really not enough for you to trouble yourself," he said; "I dare
say you are thanking the wrong man." He felt he must say something.
To his surprise the dean colored, while the other clergyman answered, in
"No, sir, no, sir. I know very well. The only other bill, except dollars,
on the plate, the dean here gave, and the warden remembers that you put in
two notes—I"—he grew quite pale—"I can't help thinking
you maybe intended to put in only ONE!" His voice broke, he tried to
control it. "The sum is so VERY large!" quavered he.
"I have given him BOTH bills, two hundred dollars!" thought Harry. He sat
down. He was accustomed to read men's faces, and plainly as ever he had
read, he could read the signs of distress and conflict on the prosaic,
dull features before him.
"I INTENDED to put in two bills," said he. Gilling gave a little gasp—so
little, only a quick ear could have caught it; but Harry's ear is quick.
He twisted one leg around the other, a further sign of deliverance of
"Well, sir, well, Mr. Lossing," he remarked, clearing his throat, "I
cannot express to you properly the—the appreciation I have of your—your
PRINCELY gift!" (Harry changed a groan into a cough and tried to smile.)
"I would like to ask you, however, HOW you would like it to be divided.
There are a number of worthy causes: the furnishing of the church, which
is in charge of the Ladies' Aid Society; they are very hard workers, the
ladies of our church. And there is the Altar Guild, which has the keeping
of the altar in order. They are mostly young girls, and they used to wash
my things—I mean the vestments" (blushing)—"but they—they
were so young they were not careful, and my wife thought she had best wash
the—vestments herself, but she allowed them to laundry the other—ah,
things." There was the same discursiveness in his talk as in his sermon,
Harry thought; and the same uneasy restlessness of manner. "Then, we give
to—various causes, and—and there is, also, my own salary——"
"That is what it was intended for," said Harry. "I hope the two hundred
dollars will be of some use to you, and then, indirectly, it will help
Harry surprised a queer glance from the dean's brown eyes; there was both
humor and a something else that was solemn enough in it. The dean had
believed that there was a mistake.
"All of it! To ME!" cried Gilling.
"All of it. To YOU," Harry replied, dryly. He was conscious of the dean's
gaze upon him. "I had a sudden impulse," said he, "and I gave it; that is
The tears rose to the clergyman's eyes; he tried to wink them away, then
he tried to brush them away with a quick rub of his fingers, then he
sprang up and walked to the window, his back to Harry. Directly he was
facing the young man again, and speaking.
"You must excuse me, Mr. Lossing; since my sickness a little thing upsets
"Mr. Gilling had diphtheria last spring," the dean struck in, "there was
an epidemic of diphtheria, in Matin's Junction; Mr. Gilling really saved
the place; but his wife and he both contracted the disease, and his wife
Harry remembered some story that he had heard at the time—his eyes
began to light up as they do when he is moved.
"Why, YOU are the man that made them disinfect their houses," cried he,
"and invented a little oven or something to steam mattresses and things.
You are the man that nursed them and buried them when the undertaker died.
You digged graves with your own hands—I say, I should like to shake
hands with you!"
Gilling shook hands, submissively, but looking bewildered.
He cleared his throat. "Would you mind, Mr. Lossing, if I took up your
time so far as to tell you what so overcame me?"
"I should be glad——"
"You see, sir, my wife was the daughter of the Episcopal minister—I
mean the rector, at the town—well, it wasn't a town, it was two or
three towns off in Shelby County where I had my circuit. You may be
surprised, sir, to know that I was once a Methodist minister."
"Is it possible?" said Harry.
"Yes, sir. Her father—my wife's, I mean—was about as high a
churchman as he could be, and be married. He induced me to join our
communion; and very soon after I was married. I hope, Mr. Lossing, you'll
come and see us some time, and see my wife. She—are you married?"
"I am not so fortunate."
"A good wife cometh from the Lord, sir, SURE! I thought I appreciated
mine, but I guess I didn't. She had two things she wanted, and one I did
want myself; but the other—I couldn't seem to bring my mind to it,
no—anyhow! We hadn't any children but one that died four years ago,
a little baby. Ever since she died my wife has had a longing to have a
stained-glass window, with the picture, you know, of Christ blessing
little children, put into our little church. In Memoriam, you know. Seems
as if, now we've lost the baby, we think all the more of the church. Maybe
she was a sort of idol to us. Yes, sir, that's one thing my wife fairly
longed for. We've saved our money, what we COULD save; there are so many
calls; during the sickness, last winter, the sick needed so many things,
and it didn't seem right for us to neglect them just for our baby's
window; and—the money went. The other thing was different. My wife
has got it into her head I have a fine voice. And she's higher church than
I am; so she has always wanted me to INTONE. I told her I'd look like a
fool intoning, and there's no mistake about it, I DO! But she couldn't see
it that way. It was 'most the only point wherein we differed; and last
spring, when she was so sick, and I didn't know but I'd lose her, it was
dreadful to me to think how I'd crossed her. So, Mr. Lossing, when she got
well I promised her, for a thank-offering, I'd intone. And I have ever
since. My people know me so well, and we've been through so much together,
that they didn't make any fuss—though they are not high—fact
is, I'm not high myself. But they were kind and considerate, and I got on
pretty well at home; but when I came to rise up in that great edifice,
before that cultured and intellectual audience, so finely dressed, it did
seem to me I could NOT do it! I was sorely tempted to break my promise. I
was, for a fact." He drew a long breath. "I just had to pray for grace, or
I never would have pulled through. I had the sermon my wife likes best
with me; but I know it lacks—it lacks—it isn't what you need!
I was dreadfully scared and I felt miserable when I got up to preach it—and
then to think that you were—but it is the Lord's doing and
marvellous in our eyes! I don't know what Maggie will say when I tell her
we can get the window. The best she hoped was I'd bring back enough so the
church could pay me eighteen dollars they owe on my salary. And now—it's
wonderful! Why, Mr. Lossing, I've been thinking so much and wanting so to
get that window for her, that, hearing the dean wanted some car-pentering
done, I thought maybe, as I'm a fair carpenter—that was my trade
once, sir—I'd ask him to let ME do the job. I was aware there is
nothing in our rules—I mean our canons—to prevent me, and
nobody need know I was the rector of Matin's Junction, because I would
come just in my overalls. There is a cheap place where I could lodge, and
I could feed myself for almost nothing, living is so cheap. I was praying
about that, too. Now, your noble generosity will enable me to donate what
they owe on my salary, and get the window too!"
"Take my advice," said Harry, "donate nothing. Say nothing about this
gift; I will take care of the warden, and I can answer for the dean."
"Yes," said the dean, "on the whole, Gilling, you would better say
nothing, I think; Mr. Lossing is more afraid of a reputation for
generosity than of the small-pox."
The older man looked at Harry with glistening eyes of admiration; with
what Christian virtues of humility he was endowing that embarrassed young
man, it is painful to imagine.
The dean's eyes twinkled above his handkerchief, which hid his mouth, as
he rose to make his farewells. He shook hands, warmly. "God bless you,
Harry," said he. Gilling, too, wrung Harry's hands; he was seeking some
parting word of gratitude, but he could only choke out, "I hope you will
get MARRIED some time, Mr. Lossing, then you'll understand."
"Well," said Harry, as the door closed, and he flung out his arms and his
chest in a huge sigh, "I do believe it was better than the puppies!"