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The Poorhouse Waif And His Divine Teacher by Isabel C. Byrum


Oh the precious privilege
To the pious given,
Sending by the dove of prayer
Holy words to heaven!
Arrows from the burning sun
Cleave the quivering air;
Swifter, loftier, surer on,
Speeds the dove of prayer,
Bearing from the parted lips
Words of holy love,
Warm as from the heart they gushed,
To the throne above.

-- Mrs. Hale.

Not long after the excitement caused by the earthquake had subsided, Frank Kauffman informed his father-in-law, Mr. Miller, of Edwin's intention to change his place of employment and took great pains to mention the young man's good qualities. As a result, Frank returned with the message: |My father-in-law will be glad to have you help him on the farm even before harvest, and you are at liberty, he said, to come just as soon as you care to do so.| Accordingly, at the end of the month Edwin, together with his trunk and other baggage, was transferred to the home of Mr. Miller.

When the news of Edwin's departure from the neighborhood came to the ears of Mrs. Kauffman, she rejoiced, because she felt that his influence over her son in regard to smoking would not be so great; but little did she know what the move was to mean to Edwin or that it would bring him even more directly into her life.

Mr. Miller, a well-to-do old farmer, was still strong for his age and well able to assume the responsibilities connected with his business; so the greater part of his help was hired by the day. But since he would need one steady hand to help him throughout the harvest-season with the barn- and house-chores, he hired Edwin for two months. Finding that all that Frank had said of him was true, the Millers took Edwin into the home as a member of the family.

Edwin was not long in discovering that he greatly enjoyed being in this home, for both Mr. and Mrs. Miller were good people, and Mrs. Miller was a professor of religion. But to the young man so hungry for the right kind of living the lack of profanity between the husband and wife was the thing most noticeable and gratifying.

He had been there but a short time when the motherly sympathy of Mrs. Miller was aroused on account of his extreme ignorance on many subjects, and she did not grow weary in explaining the meaning of new words and in doing all else that she knew to do to enlighten his mind. That she might have a better opportunity to talk with Edwin, he was invited to share with the old couple the smoking-hour that was spent in the little summer-kitchen (for both Mr. and Mrs. Miller were fond of their tobacco). For this kindness Edwin was very grateful.

The little summer-kitchen, which had been built just back and a little apart from the large, convenient farm-house, was principally for the purpose of keeping the larger building free from the offensive odors that might arise from the cooking or the use of tobacco; but Mrs. Miller was so extremely neat and clean about her housekeeping that this room too was always cozy and inviting. In the chimney-corner of the kitchen a large fireplace had been built, and the latter had been covered by a closed iron cooking-grate. Above the rustic stove was a mantel, upon which the tobacco supplies of the old people were kept, and Edwin was told that he was welcome to place his pipes and cigars with theirs if he desired to do so. The invitation was gladly accepted, and when Edwin's things were arranged, the mantel was well filled. The other furnishings of the room were a large cupboard, the necessary articles for cooking, a long home-made dining-table in the center of the room with long benches on both sides, and a few old-fashioned straight-backed chairs. And here they met night after night to smoke and to talk.

The congregation to which Mrs. Miller belonged was in the habit of holding their weekly prayer-services in the residences of the different church-members, and soon after Edwin's arrival in her home Mrs. Miller told him that on the following Thursday evening there was to be a prayer-meeting at her house.

|A prayer-meeting!| Edwin exclaimed with as much wonder and astonishment as he had displayed when talking with Frank about prayer; and immediately he connected the words with those that he had listened to on the porch of his friend's home. And when he asked simply, |What is a prayer-meeting?| she hid her surprize and explained that some people from different parts of the neighborhood would come together after supper in some room and spend an hour in reading, praying, and singing hymns.

|Can I be with you too?| Edwin asked as though he expected to be denied the privilege; but when Mrs. Miller answered, |Certainly,| the beseeching look immediately changed to one of gladness.

|Can it be possible,| thought Edwin the following day as he went about his work, |that in this very home where I am now living they will have prayer. Only three more days! How can I wait until Thursday night?|

When at last the appointed evening had arrived, Edwin with great inward emotion and with bright anticipations watched the people as they arrived in groups of twos and threes, some on foot and others in carriages. When all had arrived and had passed on into the house, they were greeted by Mrs. Miller, and Edwin was invited to join them in the comfortable sitting-room of the large house.

Edwin felt that these people were conferring upon him a wonderful privilege and honor, but he could not get away from the feeling that he was an intruder in their meeting. He was surprized that no one else seemed to look upon his being there as strange. In fact, all were so very kind that he decided to get all the good possible from being there and to solve, if he could, the puzzle of prayer, also to find out what it meant to become converted.

Now, Edwin had never learned that there was any other language than the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, and having never been in a neighborhood where the Bible truths in any language were taught in his hearing, and not knowing that there was a Bible or a Savior, he had no way of understanding (even in his mother-tongue) what to most people would have been simple and readily comprehended.

When all was in readiness for the service to begin, a song was sung and then a chapter from the large German family Bible was read. After that all knelt to pray. Edwin knelt also, but he faced the others and gazed upon the upturned faces as though they belonged to creatures from another world. When Amanda and Mrs. Kauffman prayed and he saw their faces beaming with the glory of God, he was sure that their prayers were informal, for no books were before them and the words seemed to come from their hearts. The reason that he could not understand what was said, he felt sure, was because they were talking to God, and the language was that of another world.

When they arose and began telling of God's goodness to them, some even leaping and shouting at times, Edwin supposed that it was another form of prayer, and as the words spoken were all in German, they too, he reasoned, must belong to another world. Notwithstanding he rejoiced because he was there, and he believed that everything was just as it should have been.

When the meeting had been dismissed and the people had gone to their homes, Edwin and Mr. and Mrs. Miller went to the summer-kitchen to smoke before retiring. While they were filling their pipes and selecting the coals to light them, Mrs. Miller inquired, |How did you like the meeting tonight. Edwin? Was it like you thought it would be?| His answer did not reveal the fact that he had not understood enough of what had been said or done to form any new conclusion. He did tell her, however, that he thought the meeting was really wonderful, and he asked how they all knew that they were on the road to heaven. For Mrs. Miller this was a very hard question to answer, for she too was living in great uncertainty regarding the future and her reward; so she said:

|They don't know anything about that for sure in this life. They must wait until after they die before they can find that out.|

In reply to Edwin's questions on prayer and what it means to be converted, Mrs. Miller explained that she had gone forward and given her hand to the minister a long time before and that after waiting a year's time he had told her she was in the church, and that joining church was what was meant by being converted.

|What do you mean by 'church'?| Edwin asked, feeling that he had found another word bearing upon the great subject that was perplexing him.

|Why the church is that big building down on the first four corners as you go into town. You can't miss it, for it's the only building there, and if you want to go down there with us some time to a meeting, you can. We have meeting, you know, every Sunday at the church.|

But Edwin did not know, so he said, |Do you mean that you have prayer-meeting every Sunday?|

|Oh, no,| she answered; |it isn't a prayer-meeting. We just get together and listen to the minister talk, but we always sing, and the minister prays for us.|

|And don't you know, because you go to that church, that you will go to heaven when you die?| Edwin said in astonishment, but the answer was, |Oh, no; we don't really know anything about that.|

As Edwin pondered over the matter that night when alone, he said, |If it took Mrs. Miller a whole year to get into the church, it will take me that long to get converted; but I can't see why she doesn't know any more than she does about getting to heaven.|

Although Edwin could get no understanding in regard to the deep things that were upon his mind, he never for one moment thought of giving up in his efforts to search for them and to find out. In his heart he was still sure that there was a way to know these things, and although his friends had failed to discover them, his confidence in their sincerity was not in the least shaken.

|The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance| (2 Pet.3: 9).

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