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"Let us not be weary in well-doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."*
A SCANDALOUS STORY AND A SERMON. "Ah, well, Mr. Crabs, if everybody only knew what I know, that's all."
The speaker was a stout, middle aged woman who kept the little village shop; and she was now standing behind her counter surrounded by candles, cheese, herrings, balk of string, bundles of firewood, and all the rest of the things innumerable which such shops contain. She had a oomely face, and there was a thriving look about her; but it was spoiled by an envious suspicious glance which every now and then shot out of the corners of her eyes as if she was hoping to find out something bad about somebody. As she said the words written above, she gave her head a sort of toss and closed her lips with a decided and self-satisfied air: then turning to a little girl who was waiting to be served, she said, " What's for you, my dear?" and left Mr. Crabs, the parish clerk and sexton, to digest what she had said and go as soon as he liked.
So the next day, that day being a busy day with him, Mr. Crabs, who had had hard work to keep it to himself so long, went down the street of the village to his neighbour, Benjamin Backbite, and said he was afraid there was something wrong with young Willis, but he didn't rightly know what.
Old Backbite thought it over this way and that as he sat hammering his leather on the lapstone and put this and that together, and wondered a good deal to himself what it was, but couldn't make much of it, for George Willis was, as far as he knew, a steady young man. "But there," he said to himself, "who knows, who knows?" and then he hit the lapstone harder still, as if the leather was hit bitter enemy.
? By-and-by Chips the carpenter came into his shop. Chips was a good-natured man, but weak in judgment, and ever ready to open his mouth wide in wonder at any new story. So he listened to old Baokbite's story and speculations with eyes, ears, and mouth wide open, and then said, " Well, now, who'd a' thought it?—but there, who knows ?—well, I never!"
* Gal. vi. 9.
"And I never, too, Mr. Chips," replied old Backbite; "but there, I see'd him going into the White Horse myself, not as I'm going to say anything."
When he got home Chips told his wife that George Willis was going on bad—" leastwise," he said, " he'd been seen at the White Horse, and old Backbite said that he knew more than he was going to tell."
"There now, don't you say harm of the young man," said Mrs. Chips; "that old Backbite '11 say anything, and you ought to know better than to listen to his precious stories." Nevertheless when Mrs. Chips went to fetch the beer for Chips's supper she met Mrs. Pratt, the blacksmith's wife, and the following conversation took place.
"Mrs. Pratt, and how be you to-night? To think I should meet you!"
"The same to you, Mrs. Chips; you be going to get your man his beer, then?"
"Better be going to get it for him, than for he to go and get it for hisself, and have to be fetched away at eleven o'clock as some is."
"So it is, Mrs. Chips, not as I've anything to complain of in that way with my man, though he be a bit hasty sometimes; but there, 1 say that's the heat of the forge, and hot enough it is sometimes, and no wonder if it do make him tempery; but I can say he ain't one of that sort, though there's some"
"You've heard then?" and Mrs. Chips, as she looked inquiringly in her neighbour's face, nodded her head in the direction of George Willis, who had just passed Inem with a cheery good night.
"You don't say so, Mrs. Chips?"
"It ain't for me to say, Mrs. Pratt, but people will talk."
"Well, I wouldn't have believed it."
M Nor I, Mrs. Pratt; but there, nobody knows."
"Martha," sounded the voice of the blacksmith at the back door, "where's supper?"
"Goodnight, Mrs. Chips."
"Good-night, Mrs. Pratt."
"Well, Chips shouldn't order me about like that," said Mrs. Pratt to herself, as she tossed her head and walked on with an indignant air.
News, like a snowball, loses nothing by rolling; and so the next day it was common talk in the village of Mudford that George Willis, the steady young mason, who was only just married, had taken to drinking, and had been brought home late at night from the White Horse, in a state of intoxication.
Now what was the truth about all this?
Why the fact was that George Willis, being a steady man and a good workman, who had prudently laid by a comfortable sum in the savings' bank before he was married, was not so good a customer to Mrs. Cross at the shop as she thought he ought to be; and one day she found out to her disgust that George and his trim tidy wife preferred walking over to the town, about two miles away, to make their purchases, to having credit at her shop and paying half as much again as they ought. There seemed no chance of getting him under her thumb and making a good thing out of him by advancing money on his watch, or his Sunday coat, at exorbitant interest, as she had done to many in the village; and she did not like the thought that there was one man, clear-headed and honest, in the village who could see through her, and perhaps might take it in his head some day to expose her. She would have been glad enough to do him harm, but was obliged to be content only with wishing it; but she wished it so much, and Bo constantly indulged evil thoughts about him, that she came at last almost to believe her own wishes, and to think evil about him. So it was that when she got talking about him to Crabs, she said more than she had any ground for saying, and what she wished rather than what she knew, because she would have been glad to damage his good name. And Crabs, who liked a bit of scandal and did not care much whether it was true or not so long as it gave him something to talk about, put a little bit of his own to it. And Backbite made it still worse, and Chips made it no better, and Mrs. Chips and Mrs. Pratt whose story next day was discussed among the idlers at the blacksmith's forge, gave it the finishing touch. And thus poor George Willis, the steadiest man in the village, got, for a time at any rate, the reputation of being that most degraded of all characters, a sot, because one envious bad woman hinted at something suspicious about him, and other idle foolish people put their own constructions upon her saying and then circulated their fictions as truth. * --a*a
It was not long before the news reached the clergyman's ear; for Crabs, the clerk, had heard the story so many times that he thought it must be true; and one day when he was doing something in the vestry, while Mr. Thompson the vicar was there, he told him the whole affair, and painted it in still darker colours.
"You greatly astonish me,- Crabs," exclaimed Mr. Thompson, for George was quite a favourite with him; "really I think you must be mistaken. Are you sure—do you know this to be a fact?"
"Well, sir, it's about everywhere, and it 'ud hardly be that if there wasn't something in it. I first heard it myself at the shop; but I never mentioned it, except to my brother-in-law, Benjamin Backbite, till I heard it talked on the other day down at the forge."
"I am sorry, very sorry to hear it," said the vicar; "sorry if it's false, as I think it must be, and more so if it's true. I shall make inquiries about this, Crabs. I am afraid there's something wrong here. I don't like these stories about a young man who has always borne so excellent a character: depend upon it I will have this cleared up." .
"Well, sir," replied Crabs, rather sullenly, "I've nothing to say against the young man myself. You've only heard from me what I've heard, sir, and we can't help hearing;" but the vicar was gone, for he was not without suspicion of Crabs' gossiping propensities, and thought it best at present to say no more to him about it. He had got he thought sufficient clue for his inquiry, and he determined to make it at once.
So that afternoon he went up to George Willis's house. "He is not at home, sir," said his wife to Mr. Thompson's inquiry; "but do come in, sir, and sit down, he won't be long, he's only gone up to the White Horse for a few minutes."
Mr. Thompson looked grave as he took the offered seat. Had lie come to find out that the village talk was true? George at the White Horse this time of day? but he said nothing.
"He'll be so glad to see you, sir," said Mrs. Willis, as in obedience to the vicar's request she went on with her ironing. "He so often talks about your sermons, sir, and reads over the notes he takes. He's got quite a book full, and he says it puts him in mind like; and we'd be both glad to see you, sir, any time you'll call. George was saying only the other day he hadn't seen you a good bit; but he knows you've a deal to do and many to see, and he says he can always see you and hear you too on a Sunday."
"Thank you, Mrs. Willis, thank you," replied Mr. Thompson; but he did not feel disposed to say much, so he asked how George was getting on with his business.
"Well, sir," said Mrs. Willis, "we've reason to be very thankful, though it's a slack time just now, and George would have been at home but for this job as just came in. There was something wrong with the chimney, and old Mr. Drover the landlord won't have nobody but George if he can help it, because he says he won't have no drinking men to do his work, though he is a publican."
It was curious. The vicar was puzzled. There •was nothing to indicate that there was the least ground for suspicion. They could not be combining to deceive him? No, she would not have mentioned his going to the White Horse surely if that had been the case: and yet might it not be intended as a blind? He could not think it. But his speculations were cut short by the entrance of George Willis himself.
"Very glad to see you, sir," he said, respectfully and almost affectionately, " and I hope I haven't kept you waiting long."
"No, Willis, thank you; but I wanted to speak to you about a rather particular matter, and thought it best to make sure of seeing you."
His wife took the hint, wondering somewhat, for she thought Mr. Thompson more grave and quiet than usual, and went up stairs leaving him and George together. (To be concluded in our next.)
WHY SO DOWNCAST?
"What can be the matter with Mr. Watson? He seems as though he had some great weight on his spirits. I could not help noticing him on Sunday morning. Mr. Green gave us one of his best sermons; but there he sat, never once looking up all the time, and evidently thinking of something else. Then, too, at the prayer meeting, when Mr. Green asked him to pray, he shook his head and declined. What can it all mean?"
This was said by Mr. Potter to his wife one evening after their family had retired to rest.
There was not inj all the town of a more upright,