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(From the French.) HAD just taken my seat rather hurriedly in a rail
way carriage, as often happens when there are a great many travellers, and one wants to secure
a corner-seat. After having settled my things, and made sure that my ticket was safe, I cast a glance on my surroundings, and especially on my opposite neighbour. I noticed that I was myself the subject of a similar inspection; after a number of sad experiences, more or less recent, it is very easy to read on the faces of those who are casually thrown in your way indications either of a nature in sympathy with your own, or of one whom you must be careful how you approach.
My opposite neighbour was a man of a sanguine complexion, of from twenty-five to thirty years of age. There was something peculiar in his appearance, like that of shortsighted people who are making an effort to see. He glanced stealthily at me, and turned his eyes away as soon as I fixed mine on him; but there was nothing false or deceitful in his look, and I fancied that I reminded him of some one whom he knew. As he was entirely unknown to me, I allowed him to scrutinise me thoroughly, and even assisted him in his observations by turning my side-face and taking off my hat, for we were almost stifled. At last he took out his spectacles and put them on carefully. “Well, my good man,” thought I to myself, “why did you not begin with this ?" It was the decisive moment. I looked at him in my turn, as if to ask, “Now are you satisfied ?" He understood my look and the smile which accompanied it. Finding himself in a corner, he said,
“Were you not, sir, nineteen or twenty years ago, the master of the infant school at Nony ?”
“Yes, indeed," I replied, " that was where I first began to teach."
“And your name is Mr. Stein ?" " Yes."
Well, I am one of your old pupils. Do you not remember me?"
“Not at all; you have grown up; you are a man; it would be difficult to recall your childish features. May I ask your name?"
Charles Ermoni.” The name put me on the track. I recollected a young, timid, gentle boy, whom for two years I had taught and endeavoured to lead to Christ. I begged him to sit beside me that we might talk more at our ease, and where we could converse without being overheard. I drew from him the story of his after-life, for I was desirous to know how God had led him.
After having gone through the different classes of the industrial college at Nony, just at the time when the thirst for knowledge had taken possession of him, and when he was desirous of completing, by harder study, the course which he had begun, his father, a skilful blacksmith, became ill. The forge, their bread-winner, was at stake. It must either be closed or entrusted to a head workman. In either case it was ruinous. Then there was a younger son to bring up. Their father wished that Charles should give up his studies, and become an apprentice to the business. The young man, who had not the least inclination for such an employment, resisted the idea for a long time. His father insisted, and said it must be done, and the boy yielded, not grumbling and complaining, and banging the doors, but with good feeling, and as one who obeys from his heart. To obey is to resign the will. It matters little whether obedience is pleasant or unpleasant; it is the voluntary sacrifice of inclination to duty which forms the real value of character, and is in God's sight of great price.
Such victories are rare. Ermoni was capable of selfrenunciation; he took the leathern apron, and left his beloved studies and chosen pursuits. Many years passed away. Charles became a skilful blacksmith, and no one seeing him at the forge would have dreamt that his heart
was elsewhere. He did his duty conscientiously, but there was a certain look of sadness about him which showed that he was not happy. His father died. The youngest son was in his apprenticeship, the elder took the place of father and patron. But after a time his mother wished to marry again. Charles then considered himself free, and yielding his place to his father-in-law, who was a capable man of business, he left home and resumed his studies. God took him by the hand, and made the way for him, till at length he gained an honourable position. Then it was we found ourselves in the same carriage.
“ You have got on well for this life,” I said ; “how is it about the life that is to come ? Are you a Christian ?" He assented. I could not doubt it.
There was an open, peaceful look on his face, very different from that of those who are only living for themselves. I wanted to know when and how he had received that new life from God, and especially whether it could be traced to the time when I had myself led him to the Saviour. My joy was great indeed when I found his first religious impressions dated from that period; but I was very much surprised to learn that it was not the Biblical instruction I had given him which had impressed him, but two little things which I had quite forgotten, and which God had made use of to touch his heart. They prove that nothing is small in the realm of love.
“You know," he said, "that there are four great yearly fairs at Nony. Large cattle fairs are held at the same time, and attract a great multitude of country people. At one of these fairs, in the autumn, a man who sold chestnuts had set up his roasting stove near the infant school. Every time he uncovered his stove to shake his chestnuts, an inviting smell spread round, and attracted first the looks and then the steps of the children. I stopped before it, attracted, like the others, by the delicious odour, and by the pleasant warmth of the charcoal fire at which I was thawing my fingers. I was standing there, when I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned round; it was you! “Thou shalt not covet,' you said to me gravely. I ran away, for my conscience told me that I had been caught in a great fault. I expected to be severely blamed, so my surprise was great when I saw you enter the schoolroom soon after myself, holding your pocket-handkerchief in your hand, full of smoking roasted chestnuts. There were enough for all. You did not blame me at all, only when you gave me mine, you said to me with a kind smile which I still see, 'Eat these with a good conscience. How it was that by this little incident God in His great mercy convinced me of sin, and caused this conviction to remain with me, I cannot tell. The fact remains. It was, to the best of
my remembrance, the first link in that chain of loving-kindness by which He bound me to Himself.
But another circumstance made a still deeper impression upon me for good. I was subject in winter to chilblains and chapped hands. As soon as the first frost set in I suffered fearfully. I tried in vain to protect my poor hands by wrapping them in my pinafore, but when I reached school I was almost always half-frozen. The room was warmed, it is true, but it was some time before I felt the good of it, and during this interval I could not enjoy anything. You doubtless noticed how much I was suffering in common with many others. Do you recollect what you did to remedy it?”
“Oh, yes, I had a large basin filled with sand for you to rub your
hands in.” “ Just so. This delightful hot sand-bath soon restored the circulation in our aching fingers; besides, nothing is a greater pleasure to children than to play with sand, and to make fountains by letting it run through their hands. You were good enough to let us play in this way. The prospect of this warm bath gave me courage to face the east wind, and made the schoolroom, which is not generally a very inviting place to boys, quite luxurious to me. But there was one atber kind act, do you remember?”
“Allowing you to change your shoes, perhaps."
“No; it is only the children of the rich who can have that luxury! You had flat stones put in the bottom of the sand-bath for us poor children. When we had warmed our hands, we were allowed to carry one to our seat to complete the warming thoroughly. These two very simple things touched my heart, and remain as charming recollections of my earliest school days, which to many are associated with infantile suffering. I felt that you loved us, and it awoke love in return."
Such was my young friend's story. I admired the goodness of God, who, so to speak, can make an arrow out of all kinds of wood, and I also saw the confirmation of that great principle, “ The power of doing good lies in love." Skill is needful; knowledge is good ; love is best. Let us all then try to love.
M, E. B.