previous
next



  ― 172 ―

Chapter VIII.

How the Stubble family spent their first Sabbath in Sydney.—Mr Stubble's remarks on Sunday trading.

“DEAR is the hallowed morn to me,
When village bells awake the day,
And by their sacred minstrelsy,
Call me from earthly cares away.

“And dear to me the winged hour,
Spent in Thy holy court, O Lord,
To feel devotion's soothing power,
And catch the manna of thy word.

“Oft when the world with iron hands
Has bound me in its six days' chain,
Thou bursts them like the strong man's bands,
And lets my spirit loose again.

“Then dear to me the Sabbath morn,
The village bells, the shepherd's voice;
These oft have found my heart forlorn,
And always bid that heart rejoice.

“Go, man of pleasure, strike the lyre,
Of broken Sabbaths sing the charms;
Ours be the prophet's car of fire,
Which bears us to a Father's arms.”

   —ALLAN CUNNINGHAM


DING-DONG! went the bells from a dozen church turrets as the Stubble family emerged from their temporary home, and walked slowly towards the church, where they had previously decided to attend divine service.

It was a lovely mid-winter morning, and the sun shone out unobscured by a single cloud. A fresh breeze direct from the frosty summits of the western mountains was blowing sufficiently keen to remind old colonists of their overcoats, though


  ― 173 ―
new-comers, with healthy British blood in their veins, would have said, “It is rather warm walking.”

Ding-dong dingle! went the bells, and their solemn chiming carried Mr Stubble's memory away to the other side of the earth and back again; to the early days of his life, when he walked across the meadows and through the copse beside his dear old father and mother to their village church. Many years had passed away since then; his parents had gone to the grave, and his humble family name, he supposed, was forgotten in his native place; but every old association seemed to flit before his mind as fresh as yesterday, and tears rolled down his rough face, despite his efforts to restrain them—tears of awakened feelings which had long been dulled by the monotony of his isolated life in the bush, and a total neglect of holy Sabbath duties.

“What ails you, master? Arn't you well?” asked Peggy, with more tenderness than usual in her tones.

“Yes, lass, thank'ee, I be very well; but somehow, I feel down-hearted a bit, and yet I bean't down neither, if thee can see what I mean. I loike this fine morning; it minds me of May-day at whoam; and it is nice to look at the harbour yonder, for it calls back the sunshiny day long ago when us first come to this land. Then them bells make me think of our old parish church, where us used to go when us was little, and where us were married, Peggy; and then I think about our dear old folks who used to sit on the form, just inside the porch. It is over twenty years since I heard church bells chiming till to-day, and 'em stir up lots of old thoughts in my head that I had clean forgotten. But come along, all of you. Step out, or us'll be too late for the first of the service, and mayhap us won't get a seat.”

Soon afterwards they entered a place of worship, the excellent pastor of which had often been spoken of in affectionate terms by Mr Rowley, and Joe had resolved that the first Sunday he spent in Sydney he would go and hear that minister preach. It happened, however, that he had gone to preach a special sermon at some other church in the city on that morning, and his place was supplied by a younger man who was beginning to be renowned for his talents in the pulpit.

Joe and his family were accommodated with seats in the body of the church, and a gentleman in an adjoining pew, seeing that they were strangers, and were unprovided with books, politely supplied them. Joe was somewhat surprised, on


  ― 174 ―
glancing round the church, to notice that it was not much more than two-thirds filled with worshippers, and he thought how glad many poor fellows who were far away in the bush would be to have the opportunity of attending such a church.

The service soon began, and as the organ pealed forth its thrilling melody, tears again stood in Joe's eyes, and his wife looked touched also, for neither of them had heard church-music since they left England, and it recalled the time when they were more mindful of their Christian duties. It is true they might have enjoyed the privilege of attending divine service while they lived near Daisybank, but they had some frivolous pique against the minister, the nature of which I shall not explain; but for that lame reason they had slighted their Maker by disregarding even the mere outward form of their religion. When they lived far in the interior, they had no religious advantages beyond an occasional visit from the pastor of a church seventy miles distant.

Joe reverentially joined in the first part of that morning's service, and he enjoyed the psalmody very much, for they were plain old-fashioned tunes that he had often sung when he was a boy; but he made his wife and children blush several times, during the delivery of a lengthy sermon, at seeing that he showed nodding symptons of drowsiness. Maggie was much interested in the florid oratory of the youthful preacher. She, by the bye, had often attended the church at Daisybank; so she knew more about pulpit power than any other member of the family. She mentally wished that Benjamin were by her side, for he was so passionately fond of poetical imagery and bold thought; besides, she fancied that her father would not have presumed to go to sleep if Benjamin were sitting in the same pew with him to excite his veneration.

Many of the young minister's sentences were rounded off as smoothly as duck-stones on a sea-beach, while others were rich and rugged as lumps of auriferous quartz. The figures, too, were thrown in with an eye to the surprise influence of striking contrast, for while some of them were as classical as Grecian sculpture, others were as homely as three-legged stools, and their profusion was almost astounding; indeed

“He could not ope
His mouth, but out there flew a trope.”

His perfect sang froid showed that he knew what he was going


  ― 175 ―
to say before he began; and his whole mien betokened strong confidence in himself, and that even in his loftiest flights he had no more dread of tripping than Mr Blondin, the tight-rope man, had when wheeling his wife across the Niagara falls in a barrow. His varied action, too, was highly exciting to hearers of a poetic turn, though it is not likely they would care for his emphatic thumps. When he figuratively spoke of flying away somewhere, Maggie thought that his elbows worked very like the wings of a black swan just taking flight; but when his white fingers twiddled demi-semi-quavers in the air to represent bird melody, she felt—she could not tell how—and fondly imagined for a moment that she heard the twittering of young swallows in their old chimney at the Glen. The graceful style in which he used his cambric handkerchief Maggie thought indicated high breeding; and the easy, natural way he referred to his gold watch before he began “the application,” was a nice contrast to the spasmodic excitement which some less fluent speakers assume when they suddenly look up at the clock and try to imply that they had no idea it was so late. Whilst affectionately warning the “little ones” of his flock against “the mundane allurements and the apostatising hallucinations of this sublunary sphere,” his reverence gave his head such a lugubrious shake that Maggie thought the smooth enunciation of that impressive sentence was injured, and that his face was rather too emotional to seriously affect infantile minds. But he made up for that little mistake when dilating upon some of the privileges of the men of the present age; then his manner was hopeful and exhilarating to a degree that many of his hearers were observed to stroke their beards in sympathy with the action of their hirsute preceptor.

After preaching fifty-five minutes, he prepared to stop. So he half closed the large Bible and held it with one hand, while his fine eyes rolled first round the gallery, then through the free seats down-stairs, and with his left fore-finger solemnly shaking, he said something arousing to the sinners in each of those places; then shutting up the book with a loud clap, which made Joe jump, he looked languidly at the ceiling, and sighed out “Amen” so softly that nobody heard it.

The choir then stood up and sung a psalm, and as they had chosen a new tune only known to themselves, they were not annoyed by the voices of the congregation. When the singers


  ― 176 ―
stopped, the youthful pastor spread out his hands, and everybody bent humbly to receive his benediction; after which there was a general feeling for hats, and while the organ played a nice stirring voluntary, the whole company moved out much faster than they had moved in.

Mrs Stubble grew cross as soon as she left her pew, in consequence of having her fashionable skirt trodden upon by the occupant of the next pew, who seemed in a hurry to get home to his dinner; and Mr Stubble did not appease her anger by whispering in her ear, “that it worn't likely the gentleman would guess that an old 'ooman would have such a long train draggling behind her.” Bob was rather excited too, for he had forgotten his silver-topped cane, and the task of forcing his way back to the pew, against the powerful human current that was setting towards the door, was almost as difficult as pulling a ship's dingy against a spring-tide.

As the Stubbles were strangers, they were not detained outside to shake hands and discuss the signs of the times, as were some of the regular worshippers, who blocked up the doorways; in fact, no person spoke a word to the Stubbles—not even to invite them to come to church again. On their way homeward, Maggie and her mother exchanged opinions respecting bonnets, and were unanimous in condemning their own milliner's taste; for their head-gear looked quite dowdy compared with some that they had seen in the body of the church, and they were almost certain their feathers were old ones dyed new. Bob and his sister then had a spirited discussion on the merits and demerits of the sermon, until their father remarked, “that it did not look nice to see people talking and laughing after they came out of the house of God, and they had better walk along decently, and try to think of some of the things the minister had been saying.” As Joe could not remember much of the sermon himself, it was natural that he should think of something else; so he began to make his own quiet observations on stirring affairs around him. He could not fail to notice that there were many persons in the city who paid no outward respect to the sanctity of the day, although there were so many churches open to receive them.

He pitied the poor horses in cabs and omnibuses, and he pitied their drivers, many of whom he knew were not their own masters, so were obliged to supply the demands of Sunday travellers, or seek other employment, which might not be easy for them to find. Joe also sympathised with the engineers


  ― 177 ―
and stokers, and others employed on the railway, for the screaming engines every now and then reminded him that Sunday was not a day of rest for them. From the savoury steam which issued from some of the bake-houses, he judged, too, that Sunday was a hard-working day for many journey-men bakers; and scores of small shops, displaying sweetmeats and fruit, seemed to be doing a brisk business with the street arabs, and were, perhaps, tempting many Sunday-school scholars to trade. Publicans were taking money, of course; so were tobacconists; and some steamboat owners were not strict Sabbatarians, as was manifested by occasional clouds of black smoke which rose up in the face of the sun. Altogether, Joe thought he had seen an awful amount of Sunday traffic in the great metropolis of the colony in half-an-hour's walk; and he innocently resolved to speak to Goldstone about it, so that, when he got into Parliament, he might immediately put a stop to all unnecessary Sunday labour.

“How did you like the service this morning. Joe?” asked Mrs Stubble, as Biddy was clearing away the dinner things.

“I liked the singing uncommon, Peggy; and I liked the part the parson read from the book about ‘the man with ten talents;’ I've heard it afore. It's somewhere in the Bible, I think.”

“To be sure it is in the Bible, measter; I knew that when the parson was reading it.”

“Well, lass, doan't 'ee be captious: I said I thought it wor. If I live till to-morrow, I'll buy a Bible, Peggy. Us had one in the house years agone, but I don't know what come of it.”

Peggy blushed at that remark, for she remembered what had become of it, but she did not shock her husband's feelings by telling him that it had been used as waste paper when they lived at Luckyboy.

“How did you like the sermon, father?” asked Maggie.

“I can't say as I understood much about it, girl, and that's the truth. The parson had such a plaguey lot of hard words that 'em bothered me 'mazingly. But I daresay 'twas very good to them as knowed the meaning of it, though it worn't a bit like what our good old parson at whoam used to say to us when us went to his church.”

“I thought it was like one of Biddy's white puddings; altogether too rich for me,” said Bob, laughing. “But I saw you going to sleep, father.”

“Faith, thin, yerself had betther have gone to sleep, than to


  ― 178 ―
kape awake to make game of what's good,” chimed in Biddy, with a severe look at Bob. “Biddy's puddin's, indeed! Och, how nasty they are! ain't they now? But I mane to say it's mortial bad manners, Masther Bob, to go to church an' thin come home agin, an' pull an' haul the parson to pieces, an' laugh at all yez heard, as iv ye'd been to the play-house, 'stead ov the house of God. Take my word for it, ye'll have no luck at all in Sydney iv ye're goin' to begin that game. Arrah, ye may grin, but it's a thrue fact that I'm sayin', an' shure many a bhoy that's bin hanged took the fisht step to the gallows whin he began to make shport ov the sarmonts he heard in church.”

“There, now, go into the kitchen and get your dinner, Biddy,” said Mrs Stubble. “Speak when you are spoken to; that's what I am always telling you to do. What do you know about the sermon, I should like to know?”

“If I didn't know half as much agin about sarmonts as yerself knows, I shud be pritty nigh as dark as ould Wingle the blackfellow,” muttered Biddy, as she walked into the kitchen.

That evening the Stubble family went again to church, and the reverend incumbent himself delivered an impressive discourse to which Joe listened with close attention. As a literary composition it was not to be compared with the sermon of the morning; but Joe understood it all, for it was put in plain Saxon words, and there were no hard syllogistical abstractions to puzzle his simple brain, nor Greek roots for him to stumble over. The demeanour of the minister was calm and solemnly dignified, not statuesque, but with no more action than was befitting his purpose to impress the grave truths he was uttering upon the hearts of his hearers; in short, his manner was natural, without a shade of acting in it, and his earnestness could not be doubted.

Biddy Flynn sat up in a corner on one of the free seats, and listened attentively to every word. She remarked with unusual seriousness to her mistress, after the service was over, “Shure, thin, ma'am, that sarmont was as plain as a finger-post wid the road to Dublin marked on it. Nobody in the worrld cud make a mishtake about that, I'm thinking, unless it wor a poor idiot sowl wid no sinse at all in his head; an' it's my belief that God Almighty will take care that none o' them are lost. It's a wondher to me, so it is, that everybody can't see the straight way to heaven; but I s'pose it's the devil's


  ― 179 ―
fault, for coaxin' 'em not to belave it. Shure, and he is allers tryin' to do that same to meself, the Lord help me!”

When an artist showed the celebrated Mr Pepys his wife's picture, which was just completed, he remarked, “It is excellent in every way, save that it isn't like Mrs Pepys.”

The oration of that morning was perhaps excellent in its way, especially in the charming quality of variety. It evidenced a liking for hard hits at controversial knots, with a decided turn for confuting commentators in general, and for sifting the abstract opinion of learned men in all ages; showing that the orator differed from them in a striking degree. It also displayed philological lore which was, at times, as bedazzling as sparks from a razor-grinder's wheel, with a volubility of utterance that was almost wonderful; in short, it was what the young preacher himself modestly called “a thoughtful sermon.” It doubtless pleased some of the hearers, who were more satisfied with misty abstractions, mixed up with metaphysical poetry, which they called an “intellectual treat,” than they would have been with “a gospel feast;” but it was lost upon poor Joe Stubble, and perhaps upon other hearers of his simple cast of mind. It was lacking in the main desiderata of every sermon—namely, a plain, concise exposition of God's full and free grace to sinners; of pardon for sin, and adoption into Divine favour through faith in the Redeemer. The important message, “Repent, and believe the gospel!” was omitted; or, if not wholly left out of the discourse, it was put in such ambiguous, grandiloquent verbiage, that uncultured minds could not comprehend it.

But the preacher of the evening gave out no uncertain sound from his gospel trumpet, and only those whose ears and hearts were stubbornly closed to the truth could have failed to be impressed by it. To any poor miserable wanderer, weary of the treacherous ways of sin, and longing for “that peace which the world cannot give,” the sermon of the morning would have been as tantalising as an ice-cream or a glass of syllabub to a hungry sailor; but the sermon of the evening showed, in plain intelligible words, God's own appointed way to save seeking outcasts. It told of a Father of infinite mercy, of a Saviour from the guilt and dominion of sin; of the Comforter, who would abide with the believer for ever; and of a home beyond the grave “where the weary are at rest.” It enunciated, also, the encouraging doctrine, that the believer “is present to God's thoughts, not as one leaf in the forest,


  ― 180 ―
one wave in the sea, or one poor human unit in the aggregate of life, may be present to the generalising and indiscriminate thoughts of man, but as a child is present to the thought of his father.”

That was the substance of the evening message, which was powerfully impressed upon Joe Stubble's awakened conscience; and it kindled a living fire in poor Biddy Flynn's heart which influenced her whole after life.

previous
next