Chapter I. The Lantern.
In heathen lands afar
Gross darkness broodeth yet
Arise, O morning star,
Arise, and never set.
A LECTURE was being given in Langbridge schoolroom--illustrated by a magic lantern. There were Red Indians with feathers, wampum belts and moccasins, dancing wildly about their fires. By-and-by came a missionary wrapped in furs, on his sledge drawn by a little brisk pony. The men drew round him, as he stood under a large branching, snow laden fir tree, and by-and-by in the next group, the chieftain was pointing up to the sky, and the lecturer said he was declaring that, now they knew who the Great Spirit was, they would follow Him and renounce their [11/12] heathenish and cruel practices. Then there appeared a lake enclosed by woodland, where the missionary in his surplice stood on steps to baptize the chief, going down into the water; and the series closed with wigwams round a little church with a pine shingled roof. Another set of slides represented the India of the East, a monkey temple with comical apes in all positions, a faquir with nails grown through his clenched palm, and another swinging on hooks implanted in his naked sides. Old men carried down to die in the Ganges, with cowdung in their mouths. A widow laid on her pile as a Suttee, and especially the Car of Juggernauth, with the three horrid idols and the pilgrims lying down in its path to be crushed. Finally, the scene shifted to China, where pagoda roofs towered above trees, and, in the foreground, an unfortunate baby was being buried alive--looking so natural that some of the spectators began to cry before they were relieved by a missionary in a broad hat, and a lady in a big bonnet, who were bargaining for it and rescuing it.
To most of the beholders the scenes were only a succession of wonders, passing by them as if [12/13] they had been only Alpine scenery, or Arctic views with a due proportion of bears and shipwrecks and icebergs; but there was one boy who stared at the stretch of his brown eyes, as he sat on a bench too low for him, propping his chin on his hand and his elbow on his knee. And when the concluding hymn was sung his voice chimed in with:
Shall we whose lamp is lighted
With knowledge from on high,
Shall we to men benighted
The light of truth deny?
Salvation, oh salvation,
The joyful sound proclaim
Till each remotest nation
Have learnt Messiah's name.
When the boy part of the audience had come scrambling and tumbling out, glad to be in the open air and moonlight, he was still humming it to himself; but he waited a few moments till the quieter ones were coming out, each with a little pictured tract that had been put into their hands, and then, joining himself to two young girls in broad white hats, he said: "Hollo, Aline! hollo, Frances! I thought I saw you there!"
"Yes, we got leave to come. Wasn't it nice?" [13/14] said the elder of the two maidens. The three were all about the same age, on each side of twelve years old.
"Betsy was to take us home," said the other; "but I think she is gone off with her young man. You will see us home, Edward, then mamma won't mind."
So the three went along a broad path through the churchyard, where the rising moon made long shadows of the headstones. Edward began humming again--
Salvation, oh salvation,
The joyful sound proclaim.
"How you have got that old thing into your head, Edward," said Frances.
"Old thing! It is all like a real call," responded the boy. "Just fancy going and standing up before that horrible car, and spreading out one's arms to the poor pilgrims and saying: 'See here, ye poor deluded folk. Don't worship those dreadful idols of death, but turn, turn to the living God of life and mercy." He suited the action to the words, and stood with arms outspread and face lifted up. Aline gasped with a touch [14/15] of the same feeling; but Frances laughed "Very soon the car would run over you!"
"Then I should be a martyr! The best of deaths."
"Oh-h!" gasped Aline.
"Nonsense," said Frances. "There aren't martyrs now. The English police has put a stop to all that. Didn't you hear him say so?"
"Yes," added Aline. "Now we British have got India we won't let the foolish people throw themselves under the car, nor the widows be burned! So it is all done you see."
"But those people are all in the dark. They want to be taught. Didn't you see the great map, with all the black heathen places?"
"Where they bury the poor babies," said Aline. "But there was a mission lady saving one."
"The joyful sound proclaim," went on Edward. "I'll tell you what--I mean to do it, I mean to be a missionary to the heathen!"
Both the girls received the announcement with a burst of laughter, and Frances said: "It was to be a sailor last week, or a photographer. Which was it?"
"I mean it this time," said Edward. "Don't [15/16] laugh, Frances, I do! And did you see who was helping him with the slides?"
"I'm sure I didn't see," said Frances; "I thought it was only an assistant sort of person."
"Assistant sort of person?" repeated Edward. "Why, he was Mr. Goodrich, our master that I am up to."
"Well, that is an assistant sort of person," argued Frances, laughing.
"I tell you he is a gentleman, a real jolly sort of fellow, and I believe he is going to be a clergyman."
"I wonder what this is that he gave us," said Aline. "It is some sort of picture that the children will like."
She spoke in the superior sort of way in which twelve years old talks of the younger folk of the family.
They were by this time near an iron gate, close in front of a house, where lights peeped from behind the blinds; and here the three parted, the two girls to run round to the back entrance of the house of their father, Mr. Millar, the union doctor, and Edward Bryant to go further down a darkening lane, and then across two [16/17] fields, one silvery with beards of barley in the rising moonlight, and the other scattered with cows lying down, and to be heard munching as they chewed their cud. Beyond rose the dark-tilted roofs of barns around an old farmhouse, once very handsome of its kind, but now a great deal out of repair.
Old Mr. Bryant had in his youth been a prosperous man, holding his own land after many generations, and almost ranking with the gentry; but misfortune had fallen on him, and he could hardly keep his land in cultivation, far less make improvements, for which he had the less heart since all his children had been short-lived. Dr. Millar said that the cause probably lay in the unaltered drainage of the farm court; but to this he turned a deaf ear, as to new-fashioned fancy, and indeed he could not have gone to the expense of rectifying it.
None of his whole family were left to him, except the row of graves, small and large, in the churchyard, and the grandson of his eldest son, Edward, who lived at the farm with his mother.
She was the daughter of a corn merchant, and [17/18] had known ease and fair circumstances; but trouble had likewise overtaken her relations, and except that fifty pounds a year had been secured to her by an uncle, she had no dependence save on the old grandfather, for whom she managed, as far as he would allow her, or her own delicate health would permit, while her son Edward went daily to a good grammar school at Cokeham, a town about two miles distant.