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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER VI. A SUNDAY'S DINNER.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald

CHAPTER VI. A SUNDAY'S DINNER.

Some books are lies frae end to end,

And some great lies were never penned:

Even ministers, they hae been kenned,

In holy rapture,

Great lies and nonsense baith to vend,

And nail't wi' Scripture.

BURNS.

TO the great discomposure of Hugh, Sunday was inevitable, and he had to set out for Salem Chapel. He found it a neat little Noah's Ark of a place, built in the shape of a cathedral, and consequently sharing in the general disadvantages to which dwarfs of all kinds are subjected, absurdity included. He was shown to Mr. Appleditch's pew. That worthy man received him in sleek black clothes, with white neck-cloth, and Sunday face composed of an absurd mixture of stupidity and sanctity. He stood up, and Mrs. Appleditch stood up, and Master Appleditch stood up, and Hugh saw that the ceremony of the place required that he should force his way between the front of the pew and the person of each of the human beings occupying it, till he reached the top, where there was room for him to sit down. No other recognition was taken till after service.

Meantime the minister ascended the pulpit stair, with all the solemnity of one of the self-elect, and a priest besides. He was just old enough for the intermittent attacks of self-importance to which all youth is exposed, to have in his case become chronic. He stood up and worshipped his creator aloud, after a manner which seemed to say in every tone: |Behold I am he that worshippeth Thee! How mighty art Thou!| Then he read the Bible in a quarrelsome sort of way, as if he were a bantam, and every verse were a crow of defiance to the sinner. Then they sang a hymn in a fashion which brought dear old Scotland to Hugh's mind, which has the sweetest songs in its cottages, and the worst singing in its churches, of any country in the world. But it was almost equalled here; the chief cause of its badness being the absence of a modest self-restraint, and consequent tempering of the tones, on the part of the singers; so that the result was what Hugh could describe only as scraichin.1

I was once present at the worship of some being who is supposed by negroes to love drums and cymbals, and all clangorous noises. The resemblance, according to Hugh's description, could not have been a very distant one. And yet I doubt not that some thoughts of worshipping love mingled with the noise; and perhaps the harmony of these with the spheric melodies, sounded the sweeter to the angels, from the earthly discord in which they were lapped.

Then came the sermon. The text was the story of the good Samaritan. Some idea, if not of the sermon, yet of the value of it, may be formed from the fact, that the first thing to be considered, or, in other words, the first head was, |The culpable imprudence of the man in going from Jerusalem to Jericho without an escort.|

It was in truth a strange, grotesque, and somewhat awful medley -- not unlike a dance of death, in which the painter has given here a lovely face, and there a beautiful arm or an exquisite foot, to the wild-prancing and exultant skeletons. But the parts of the sermon corresponding to the beautiful face or arm or foot, were but the fragments of Scripture, shining like gold amidst the worthless ore of the man's own production -- worthless, save as gravel or chaff or husks have worth, in a world where dilution, and not always concentration, is necessary for healthfulness.

But there are Indians who eat clay, and thrive on it more or less, I suppose. The power of assimilation which a growing nature must possess is astonishing. It will find its food, its real Sunday dinner, in the midst of a whole cartload of refuse; and it will do the whole week's work on it. On no other supposition would it be possible to account for the earnest face of Miss Talbot, which Hugh espied turned up to the preacher, as if his face were the very star in the east, shining to guide the chosen kings. It was well for Hugh's power of endurance, that he had heard much the same thing in Scotland, and the same thing better dressed, and less grotesque, but more lifeless, and at heart as ill-mannered, in the church of Arnstead.

Just before concluding the service, the pastor made an announcement in the following terms: |After the close of the present service, I shall be found in the adjoining vestry by all persons desirous of communicating with me on the state of their souls, or of being admitted to the privileges of church-fellowship. Brethren, we have this treasure in earthen vessels, and so long as this vessel lasts| -- here he struck his chest so that it resounded -- |it shall be faithfully and liberally dispensed. Let us pray.|

After the prayer, he spread abroad his arms and hands as if he would clasp the world in his embrace, and pronounced the benediction in a style of arrogance that the pope himself would have been ashamed of.

The service being thus concluded, the organ absolutely blasted the congregation out of the chapel, so did it storm and rave with a fervour anything but divine.

My readers must not suppose that I give this chapel as the type of orthodox dissenting chapels. I give it only as an approximate specimen of a large class of them. The religious life which these communities once possessed, still lingers in those of many country districts and small towns, but is, I fear, all but gone from those of the cities and larger towns. What of it remains in these, has its chief manifestation in the fungous growth of such chapels as the one I have described, the congregations themselves taking this for a sure indication of the prosperity of the body. How much even of the kind of prosperity which they ought to indicate, is in reality at the foundation of these appearances, I would recommend those to judge who are versed in the mysteries of chapel-building societies.

As to Hugh, whether it was that the whole was suggestive of Egyptian bondage, or that his own mood was, at the time, of the least comfortable sort, I will not pretend to determine; but he assured me that he felt all the time, as if, instead of being in a chapel built of bricks harmoniously arranged, as by the lyre of Amphion, he were wandering in the waste, wretched field whence these bricks had been dug, of all places on the earth's surface the most miserable, assailed by the nauseous odours, which have not character enough to be described, and only remind one of the colours on a snake's back.

When they reached the open air, Mr. Appleditch introduced Hugh to Mrs. Appleditch, on the steps in front of the chapel.

|This is Mr. Sutherland, Mrs. Appleditch.|

Hugh lifted his hat, and Mrs. Appleditch made a courtesy. She was a very tall woman -- a head beyond her husband, extremely thin, with sharp nose, hollow cheeks, and good eyes. In fact, she was partly pretty, and might have been pleasant-looking, but for a large, thin-lipped, vampire-like mouth, and a general expression of greed and contempt. She was meant for a lady, and had made herself a money-maggot. She was richly and plainly dressed; and until she began to be at her ease, might have passed for an unpleasant lady. Master Appleditch, the future pastor, was a fat boy, dressed like a dwarf, in a frock coat and man's hat, with a face in which the meanness and keenness strove for mastery, and between them kept down the appearance of stupidity consequent on fatness. They walked home in silence, Mr. and Mrs. Appleditch apparently pondering either upon the spiritual food they had just received, or the corporeal food for which they were about to be thankful.

Their house was one of many in a crescent. Not content with his sign in town, the grocer had a large brass plate on his door, with Appleditch engraved upon it in capitals: it saved them always looking at the numbers. The boy ran on before, and assailed this door with a succession of explosive knocks.

As soon as it was opened, in he rushed, bawling:

|Peter, Peter, here's the new apprentice! Papa's brought him home to dinner, because he was at chapel this morning.| Then in a lower tone -- |I mean to have a ride on his back this afternoon.|

The father and mother laughed. A solemn priggish little voice answered:

|Oh, no, Johnny. Don't you know what day this is? This is the Sabbath-day.|

|The dear boy!| sighed his mother.

|That boy is too good to live,| responded the father.

Hugh was shown into the dining-room, where the table was already laid for dinner. It was evident that the Appleditches were well-to-do people. The room was full of what is called handsome furniture, in a high state of polish. Over the chimney-piece hung the portrait of a preacher in gown and bands, the most prominent of whose features were his cheeks.

In a few minutes the host and hostess entered, followed by a pale-faced little boy, the owner of the voice of reproof.

|Come here, Peetie,| said his mother, |and tell Mr. Sutherland what you have got.| She referred to some toy -- no, not toy, for it was the Sabbath -- to some book, probably.

Peetie answered in a solemn voice, mouthing every vowel:

|I've got five bags of gold in the Bank of England.|

|Poor child!| said his mother, with a scornful giggle. |You wouldn't have much to reckon on, if that were all.|

Two or three gaily dressed riflemen passed the window. The poor fellows, unable to bear the look of their Sunday clothes, if they had any, after being used to their uniform, had come out in all its magnificence.

|Ah!| said Mr. Appleditch, |that's all very well in a state of nature; but when a man is once born into a state of grace, Mr. Sutherland -- ah!|

|Really,| responded Mrs. Appleditch, |the worldliness of the lower classes is quite awful. But they are spared for a day of wrath, poor things! I am sure that accident on the railway last Sabbath, might have been a warning to them all. After that they can't say there is not a God that ruleth in the earth, and taketh vengeance for his broken Sabbaths.|

|Mr. -- . I don't know your name,| said Peter, whose age Hugh had just been trying in vain to conjecture.

|Mr. Sutherland,| said the mother.

|Mr. Slubberman, are you a converted character?| resumed Peter.

|Why do you ask me that, Master Peter?| said Hugh, trying to smile.

|I think you look good, but mamma says she don't think you are, because you say Sunday instead of Sabbath, and she always finds people who do are worldly.|

Mrs. Appleditch turned red -- not blushed, and said, quickly:

|Peter shouldn't repeat everything he hears.|

|No more I do, ma. I haven't told what you said about -- | Here his mother caught him up, and carried him out of the room, saying:

|You naughty boy! You shall go to bed.|

|Oh, no, I shan't!|

|Yes, you shall. Here, Jane, take this naughty boy to bed.|

|I'll scream.|

|Will you?|

|Yes, I will!|

And such a yell was there

Of sudden and portentous birth,

As if...

ten cats were being cooked alive.

|Well! well! well! my Peetie! He shan't go to bed, if he'll be a good boy. Will he be good?|

|May I stay up to supper, then? May I?|

|Yes, yes; anything to stop such dreadful screaming. You are very naughty -- very naughty indeed.|

|No. I'm not naughty. I'll scream again.|

|No, no. Go and get your pinafore on, and come down to dinner. Anything rather than a scream.|

I am sick of all this, and doubt if it is worth printing; but it amused me very much one night as Hugh related it over a bottle of Chablis and a pipe.

He certainly did not represent Mrs. Appleditch in a very favourable light on the whole; but he took care to say that there was a certain liberality about the table, and a kind of heartiness in her way of pressing him to have more than he could possibly eat, which contrasted strangely with her behaviour afterwards in money matters. There are many people who can be liberal in almost anything but money. They seem to say, |Take anything but my purse.| Miss Talbot told him afterwards, that this same lady was quite active amongst the poor of her district. She made it a rule never to give money, or at least never more than sixpence; but she turned scraps of victuals and cast-off clothes to the best account; and, if she did not make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, she yet kept an eye on the eternal habitations in the distribution of the crumbs that fell from her table. Poor Mr. Appleditch, on the other hand, often embezzled a shilling or a half-crown from the till, for the use of a poor member of the same church -- meaning by church, the individual community to which he belonged; but of this, Mrs. Appleditch was carefully kept ignorant.

After dinner was over, and the children had been sent away, which was effected without a greater amount of difficulty than, from the anticipative precautions adopted, appeared to be lawful and ordinary, Mr. Appleditch proceeded to business.

|Now, Mr. Sutherland, what do you think of Johnnie, sir?|

|It is impossible for me to say yet; but I am quite willing to teach him if you like.|

|He's a forward boy,| said his mother.

|Not a doubt of it,| responded Hugh; for he remembered the boy asking him, across the table: |Isn't our Mr. Lixom| -- (the pastor) -- |a oner?|

|And very eager and retentive,| said his father.

Hugh had seen the little glutton paint both cheeks to the eyes with damson tart, and render more than a quantity proportionate to the colouring, invisible.

|Yes, he is eager, and retentive, too, I daresay,| he said; |but much will depend on whether he has a turn for study.|

|Well, you will find that out to-morrow. I think you will be surprised, sir.|

|At what hour would you like me to come?|

|Stop, Mr. Appleditch,| interposed his wife. |You have said nothing yet about terms; and that is of some importance, considering the rent and taxes we pay.|

|Well, my love, what do you feel inclined to give?|

|How much do you charge a lesson, Mr. Sutherland? Only let me remind you, sir, that he is a very little boy, although stout, and that you cannot expect to put much Greek and Latin into him for some time yet. Besides, we want you to come every day, which ought to be considered in the rate of charge.|

|Of course it ought,| said Hugh.

|How much do you say, then, sir?|

|I should be content with half-a-crown a lesson.|

|I daresay you would!| replied the lady, with indignation.

|Half-a-crown! That's -- six half-crowns is -- fifteen shillings. Fifteen shillings a week for that mite of a boy! Mr. Sutherland, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, sir.|

|You forget, Mrs. Appleditch, that it is as much trouble to me to teach one little boy -- yes, a great deal more than to teach twenty grown men.|

|You ought to be ashamed of yourself, sir. You a Christian man, and talk of trouble in teaching such a little cherub as that?|

|But do pray remember the distance I have to come, and that it will take nearly four hours of my time every day.|

|Then you can get lodgings nearer.|

|But I could not get any so cheap.|

|Then you can the better afford to do it.|

And she threw herself back in her chair, as if she had struck the decisive blow. Mr. Appleditch remarked, gently:

|It is good for your health to walk the distance, sir.|

Mrs. Appleditch resumed:

|I won't give a farthing more than one shilling a lesson. There, now!|

|Very well,| said Hugh, rising; |then I must wish you good day. We need not waste more time in talking about it.|

|Surely you are not going to make any use of your time on a Sunday?| said the grocer, mildly. |Don't be in a hurry, Mr. Sutherland. We tradespeople like to make the best bargain we can.|

|Mr. Appleditch, I am ashamed of you. You always will be vulgar. You always smell of the shop.|

|Well, my dear, how can I help it? The sugar and soft-soap will smell, you know.|

|Mr. Appleditch, you disgust me!|

|Dear! dear! I am sorry for that. -- Suppose we say to Mr. Sutherland -- |

|Now, you leave that to me. I'll tell you what, Mr. Sutherland -- I'll give you eighteenpence a lesson, and your dinner on the Sabbath; that is, if you sit under Mr. Lixom in our pew, and walk home with us.|

|That I must decline| said Hugh. |I must have my Sundays for myself.|

Mrs. Appleditch was disappointed. She had coveted the additional importance which the visible possession of a live tutor would secure her at |Salem.|

|Ah! Mr. Sutherland,| she said. |And I must trust my child, with an immortal soul in his inside, to one who wants the Lord's only day for himself! -- for himself, Mr. Sutherland!|

Hugh made no answer, because he had none to make. Again Mrs. Appleditch resumed:

|Shall it be a bargain, Mr. Sutherland? Eighteen-pence a lesson -- that's nine shillings a week -- and begin to morrow?|

Hugh's heart sunk within him, not so much with disappointment as with disgust.

But to a man who is making nothing, the prospect of earning ever so little, is irresistibly attractive. Even on a shilling a day, he could keep hunger at arm's length. And a beginning is half the battle. He resolved.

|Let it be a bargain, then, Mrs. Appleditch.|

The lady immediately brightened up, and at once put on her company-manners again, behaving to him with great politeness, and a sneer that would not be hid away under it. From this Hugh suspected that she had made a better bargain than she had hoped; but the discovery was now too late, even if he could have brought himself to take advantage of it. He hated bargain-making as heartily as the grocer's wife loved it.

He very soon rose to take his leave.

|Oh!| said Mrs. Appleditch to her husband, |but Mr. Sutherland has not seen the drawing-room!|

Hugh wondered what there could be remarkable about the drawing-room; but he soon found that it was the pride of Mrs. Appleditch's heart. She abstained from all use of it except upon great occasions -- when parties of her friends came to drink tea with her. She made a point, however, of showing it to everybody who entered the house for the first time. So Hugh was led up-stairs, to undergo the operation of being shown the drawing-room, and being expected to be astonished at it.

I asked him what it was like. He answered: |It was just what it ought to be -- rich and ugly. Mr. Appleditch, in his deacon's uniform, hung over the fire, and Mrs. Appleditch, in her wedding-dress, over the piano; for there was a piano, and she could play psalm-tunes on it with one finger. The round table in the middle of the room had books in gilded red and blue covers symmetrically arranged all round it. This is all I can recollect.|

Having feasted his eyes on the magnificence thus discovered to him, he walked home, more depressed at the prospect of his new employment than he could have believed possible.

On his way he turned aside into the Regent's Park, where the sight of the people enjoying themselves -- for it was a fine day for the season -- partially dispelled the sense of living corruption and premature burial which he had experienced all day long. He kept as far off from the rank of open-air preachers as possible, and really was able to thank God that all the world did not keep Scotch Sabbath -- a day neither Mosaic, nor Jewish, nor Christian: not Mosaic, inasmuch as it kills the very essence of the fourth commandment, which is Rest, transmuting it into what the chemists would call a mechanical mixture of service and inertia; not Jewish, inasmuch as it is ten times more severe, and formal, and full of negations, than that of the Sabbatarian Jews reproved by the Saviour for their idolatry of the day; and unchristian, inasmuch as it insists, beyond appeal, on the observance of times and seasons, abolished, as far as law is concerned, by the word of the chief of the apostles; and elevates into an especial test of piety a custom not even mentioned by the founders of christianity at all -- that, namely, of accounting this day more holy than all the rest.

These last are but outside reasons for calling it unchristian. There are far deeper and more important ones, which cannot well be produced here.

It is not Hugh, however, who is to be considered accountable for all this, but the historian of his fortunes, between whom and the vision of a Lord's Day indeed, there arises too often the nightmare-memory of a Scotch Sabbbath -- between which and its cousin, the English Sunday, there is too much of a family likeness. The grand men and women whom I have known in Scotland, seem to me, as I look back, to move about in the mists of a Scotch Sabbath, like a company of way-worn angels in the Limbo of Vanity, in which there is no air whereupon to smite their sounding wings, that they may rise into the sunlight of God's presence.

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