AN ANGEL OF GOD
A TRUE STORY
BY ELLEN THORNEYCROFT FOWLER
"You may talk about the Germans as much as you like," remarked
Mrs. Batterby with her customary decision; "but, for my part, I have
no doubt that we shall beat them in the end: no doubt whatsoever!"
"Still, the German hosts are very numerous, and their artillery is
magnificent," said Mrs. Veale, who, much as she longed for the defeat
of Germany, longed for the defeat of Mrs. Batterby still more.
Little Miss Skipworth hastened, as usual, to thrust in the olive-branch.
"Dear Mrs. Batterby is thinking of the superior courage of
our brave English soldiers," she explained gently.
But Mrs. Batterby could not stand being Bowdlerised, or even
translated. "No, I wasn't, Matilda; at least not at that particular
minute, though nobody admires the courage of the British Army more
than I do, and always have done, and especially with Lord Kitchener
at their head and in action against the enemy. I've got a very
high opinion of the British soldier myself; none higher: much too
high, in fact, to allow him to wear a collar to his bed-jacket like
the one you are making, Matilda, without speaking a word in his
Matilda collapsed at once: she was composed of the most collapsible
material ever provided for the manufacture of souls. "What
is wrong with my collar, Mrs. Batterby? I thought I was exactly
copying the pattern sent to us by the Red Cross. Anyway, I was
trying to do so."
"Trying and succeeding are two different things, which I should
have thought you'd have found out by this time, Matilda, and you
five-and-forty, if you are a day! Give me the collar, and I'll fix it
for you, or else the wounded soldier that wears it will wish he had
died in the trenches before he had the chance of putting it on."
It was the afternoon of the Red Cross weekly working-party, held
in the village of Summerglade, in the early stages of the Great War.
The party was a small one, consisting of Mrs. Batterby, a farmer's
wife, in whose parlour the meeting was held; Mrs. Veale, the wife of
the village doctor; Mrs. Windybank, a gloomy widow; and Miss Skipworth,
an ingenuous and tender-hearted spinster. Between Mrs. Batterby
and Mrs. Veale there existed a bitter and abiding warfare.
"May I ask what you were thinking of—if not of the bravery of
our own dear soldiers—when you expressed your assurance of the
ultimate success of the Allied Forces?" asked Mrs. Veale, with her
needle in her fingers and the light of battle in her eye.
"By all means," replied Mrs. Batterby; "and, a civil question
demanding a civil answer, I don't mind telling you that I feel sure we
shall win, because we know that God is on our side and is fighting
"But their numbers are so great and their guns so magnificent,"
repeated Mrs. Windybank with a lugubrious sigh. "I sometimes fear
that they will win in the end, and we shall all be blown up by Zeppelins
and trampled underfoot. I'm sure I pray every morning that our
armies may win, but I tremble when I think of the forces against us."
"So did the Prophet's servant till his eyes were opened and he saw
the mountain full of horses and chariots," replied Mrs. Batterby. "But
some folk's eyes seem made not to open, like the stained-glass windows
in Summerglade Church."
"It is right to pray, but we must beware of presumptuousness in
our prayers," said Mrs. Veale sententiously.
"We'd much better beware of want of faith," retorted the hostess.
"But it is difficult to have faith when things seem going against us,"
said Matilda Skipworth.
"Stuff and nonsense, Matilda! It's when things seem going
against us that our faith is really any compliment to the Almighty.
I can't see anything very complimentary to Him when every morning
I pray with faith, 'Give us this day our daily bread,' knowing all the
time that it's in the larder with a damp cloth over it. But it's when
people pray that particular prayer, with no bread in the house and no
money to pay for any, that their faith is any compliment to God or
worthy of His acceptance."
"I know my faith is very feeble and my prayers are unworthy,"
sighed Miss Skipworth, "but I do try to
believe. Still, I cannot help envying the
Prophet's servant who saw the horses and
the chariots fighting on his
side. I wish we could
see the angel hosts
fighting for us.
I do so wish
that we had
that kind nowadays:
make faith so
much easier and
so much more
"But it would not be in accordance with God's teaching in these later
times. Such assistance to faith as the appearance of saints and angels
would not be at all in accordance with our modern religious thought,
and I am sure that the Almighty would not permit it," said Mrs. Veale.
"I am not so sure of that," retorted Mrs. Batterby. "I think that
visions of angels are granted to-day to those that have eyes to see them,
just as they were in Old Testament times."
"Oh! Mrs. Batterby," exclaimed Matilda in excitement, "do you
really believe that?"
"I do. But I don't believe that the angels appear as you would
expect them, Matilda—all got up in harps and crowns and flaming
swords. I believe that when they come nowadays they look so
commonplace and what you might call ordinary-looking, that only those
folks that have the eye of faith can perceive them at all. They can see
them all right, mind you! But they can't recognise them as the angels
"How I should like to see somebody who had actually seen an
angel!" sighed Miss Skipworth.
"Did you ever come across any one who had enjoyed such an
experience, Mrs. Batterby?" asked Mrs. Veale in a sceptical tone.
"Yes, I did, Mrs. Veale—that is, if you can say that you ever came
"Oh, how interesting!—how very interesting!" cried Miss Skipworth.
"But you don't look at all the sort of person that would see
angels and spirits."
Mrs. Batterby took the last remark as a compliment; as indeed it
was intended. "That's just my point, Matilda. The real angels don't
look like the Scripture-picture sort of angels; and they don't appear to
the high-flown, star-gazing sort of people who are always looking for
"Do tell us what you saw, Mrs. Batterby," besought the emotional
"And also what calamity it foretold," added Mrs. Windybank.
"I always believe that supernatural appearances precede some terrible
"Well, my experience, or whatever you call it, happened five-and-thirty
years ago, and no calamity has happened to me since. On the
contrary, it taught me that no calamity could happen to me as long as
I lay safe in my Heavenly Father's Hand. That's just the lesson that
I learnt from it."
"Do tell us the story," urged Miss Skipworth.
"I will, Matilda, if you'll get on with your bed-jacket, and not
leave off your sewing whenever anybody speaks, as if your hearing
lay in your fingers, and you couldn't sew and listen at the same time.
"Well, when I was a young woman I lived with an aunt in
Merchester who kept a stationer's shop; and every Sunday I used to
walk over to see my mother who lived at a village about three miles
off, she being a widow and keeping the post-office there and my two
little sisters as well.
"It was one Sunday in September—one of those deceitful sort of
days that look like summer, and then take you all of a heap by getting
dark before you can say Jack Robinson—and I had been spending the
day with my mother as usual; I stayed for the evening service, it being
the Sunday-school Anniversary and a special preacher for the occasion;
quite a young man, but one of the finest preachers I ever heard.
Though it was five-and-thirty years ago, I remember that sermon as if
I'd heard it last Sunday."
"What was it about?" asked Mrs. Windybank. "For my part, I
always enjoy funeral-sermons the most; but I've heard some very
sweet ones in times of war, and on the last Sundays in the Old Year."
"It was on the very subject that Matilda was speaking about—in
fact, it was her conversation that recalled the whole incident to my
mind. The text was, 'Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God
met him'; and the preacher said—what I've just being saying to you—that
the angels of God meet us far oftener than we think; only we are
so busy looking out for them to come in our own particular way that
we don't recognise them. Unless they are in their flowing robes with
their harps and halos and fiery swords, we don't know that they are
angels at all: which is just as stupid of us as if we didn't believe we'd
seen the Queen, unless we'd seen her with her crown on. I remember
that this impressed us very much: Queen Victoria had just been to
Merchester to lay the foundation-stone of some public building or other
(I forget what), and we had all cried at seeing her in a widow's bonnet;
it seemed to make her so much more real and human than if she'd had
her crown on. I'm sure that black bonnet brought her nearer to our
hearts than all the Crown Jewels out of the Tower of London could
have done; and taught us to love and reverence her as a woman as
well as obey and serve her as a Queen. And so, as the young minister
said, it ought to be with the angels; because when the Lord came
among us, He came as One of ourselves, and led us by the paths that
we were used to.
"Well, the sermon was so grand, and the hymn after the sermon
so beautiful—I remember it was a six-lines-eight, sung to the tune
called Stella, and mother and I swayed to it till we kept bumping
against each other—that by the time we got out of chapel it was
quite dark—so dark that mother didn't like the idea of my walking
to Merchester alone, as it was three miles at the least, and along a
very lonely road. But there was nobody to go with me, and I was
bound to get back to aunt's that night, for some special reason that
I forget now; so—like it or not like it—I had to go, though
I was very timid."
"Oh, how dreadful! I should have been terrified,"
groaned Miss Skipworth. "I don't wonder that you
"I shouldn't have minded if I'd been your age,
Matilda: surely a woman of five-and-forty is old enough
to go anywhere by herself! But I was only eighteen,
and that makes all the difference."
Matilda returned a soft answer—or, to be more
accurate, a soft question.
"Then did you venture, Mrs. Batterby?"
"Of course I did: there was nothing
else to do; and I didn't want mother to
know I was frightened for fear of worrying
her. But I didn't like it, I can tell
you; and I started with my heart in my
mouth, ready to jump at my own shadow.
And then it came into my mind (I
remember it as if it had happened last
night) that I was a poor sort of Christian to enjoy a sermon and then
make no sort of effort to put it into practice; in fact, that I was only
a hearer of the Word, and not a doer, letting God's message go in
at one ear and out at the other, leaving nothing behind it. So I set
to to pray that as I went on my way the angels of God might meet
me, as they met Jacob, and save me from all harm. And what with
the excitement of the sermon, and my own fears, and the darkness of
the road, I got worked up to such a pitch that I shouldn't have been
surprised if a white-robed angel with shining wings had flown over the
hedge and perched beside me."
"Which, of course, no angel did," interrupted Mrs. Veale.
"That is as may be," retorted Mrs. Batterby darkly. "In the
middle of my prayer I heard a rustle in the hedge on the side of the
road, which, of course, I thought was a thief lying in wait to waylay
me and murder me, and I prayed harder and harder. But then, in the
fading light, I perceived that it was no thief, but a huge yellow collie
dog, such as they have for minding sheep."
"Oh dear!" said Miss Skipworth; "I should have been as much
afraid of a strange dog as of a strange man, if I'd been you."
"Fortunately, however, you weren't me, nor ever likely to be,
which seems fortunate for all parties concerned," replied her hostess
dryly. "And as for being afraid of a dog—why! I'd been accustomed
to dogs from a child, though I'm not the one to deny that collies are
uncertain in temper and apt to snap at strangers unawares. So I spoke
kindly to this one, in case it should take me for a thief come after its
master's sheep; though where the sheep were I hadn't a notion, there
being nothing but cornfields ready for cutting on both sides of the
road, the harvest being very late that year."
"It was rather foolish, to my thinking, to speak to it at all,"
remarked Mrs. Windybank. "I had a friend once who spoke to a
strange collie; and it bit her thimble finger so badly that she was never
able to sew properly again."
"Then she must have said the wrong thing to it," replied Mrs.
Batterby; "and it served her right. I know when folks say the wrong
thing to me, I'd give anything to be able to bite their thimble finger, and
dogs feel the same as we do. But to get on with my story. The dog
came up to me quite friendly-like, and didn't attempt to snap or anything;
but though it came close to me, it wouldn't let me touch or pet it. It
shied away the moment I put out my hand to fondle it. So—being
accustomed to dogs and their ways—I treated it as it evidently wished to
be treated, and just talked to it pleasantly as it trotted along by my side."
"Then it followed you?" asked Miss Skipworth.
"Yes; all the way to Merchester, just as if it had been my own
dog. When there was nobody in sight, it ran backwards and forwards
and scampered about by itself; but whenever we met anybody—and we
met some nasty-looking tramps, I can tell you, that I should have been
terrified to meet alone—it came close to me, looking that big and fierce
that the tramps kept well to the other side of the road, as far away from
us as they could; and it stalked by me till they were out of sight, as is
the way of collies when they scent danger ahead. I can't tell you how
delighted I was to have found such a splendid pet; and I made up my
mind to take it home with me and keep it, unless some one claimed it;
as aunt and I had long wanted a house-dog to take care of the shop at
nights. And, besides, I thought it would be such a nice companion for
me on all the long country-walks which I was so fond of taking out of
"And did any one ever come and claim it?" asked Miss Skipworth
with breathless interest.
"No; never. It followed me all the way to Merchester, wagging
its tail whenever I spoke to it, and looking up at me with its soft brown
eyes as friendly as never was; but it never let me touch it, though I
tried to pat it once or twice."
"And you took it home with you, the dear creature?"
Mrs. Batterby shook her head. "It followed me right into
Merchester; but when I was safe in the town among all the gas-lamps
and the people and the traffic, it turned round and scampered back
along the road by which we had come. I whistled to it to come back,
but it took no notice; and the last I saw of it was its yellow coat disappearing
into the darkness."
Miss Skipworth gave a deep sigh. "And you never saw it
"And you never found out who it belonged to?"
A look came into Mrs. Batterby's eyes that was new to Miss
Skipworth. "I wouldn't say that. As a matter of fact, I believe I did
find out Who it belonged to."
"I suppose it was the sheep-dog of one of the neighbouring farmers,"
suggested Mrs. Veale.
"Some might suppose so; but I don't," replied Mrs. Batterby, still
with that wonderful smile in her sharp grey eyes. "For my part, I believe
it was one of the angels of God."