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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter VIII. Temptation and Triumph

THE one day in the week that Bert did not like at Maplebank was Sunday; and, indeed, under the circumstances, he was not without excuse. At home, the Lord’s Day was always made as bright and cheerful as possible. The toys and playthings of the week-days were of course put aside, and wading by the seashore or coasting down the lane was not to be thought of, but in their place Bert had his father’s company, of which he never had enough, and Mr. Lloyd made it a point, whether he really felt in good spirits himself or not, to appear to be so to Bert; and, in consequence, the little chap never thought his father quite so delightful as on the day of rest, that was so welcome to the lawyer, tired by a week’s toil at his profession.

Then mother had more leisure, too; and besides the pleasure of going with his parents to church, dressed in his best clothes, a privilege Bert fully appreciated, there was the enjoyment of having her read to him wonderfully interesting stories from the Bible or Pilgrim’s Progress, and explaining to him whatever puzzled his brain.

If the day was fine, Mary would take him with her to the Sunday school, where, with a number of youngsters like himself, the hour would pass quickly enough, as Miss Brightley entertained them with song and story, and pictures bearing upon the lesson. And then, after Sunday school, in summer time, his father would lead him off to the old fort, where they would sit on the grassy ramparts, watching the white sailed ships cleaving the blue waters, that never seemed more beautiful than on Sunday afternoon.

But at Maplebank it was all very different. Squire Stewart was a Presbyterian of the stern old Covenanter stock. To him the Lord’s Day meant a day to be spent in unsmiling strictness of conversation and demeanour. No laughter, no bright talk, no semblance of joyousness was sanctioned; nor, indeed, could have existed within the range of his solemn countenance. He was a grave and silent man at any time, but on Sunday the gravity of his appearance was little short of appalling. One meeting him for the first time would certainly have thought that he had just been visited by some overwhelming affliction. Bert, on the morning of his first Sunday, coming out of his mother’s room, after receiving the finishing touches to his dress, and dancing along the hall, in joyous anticipation of the drive in the big carriage to the village, ran right into his grandfather.

Laying a strong hand on the boy’s shoulder, Squire Stewart looked down at him, with disapproval written on every line of his stern face.

“My boy,” said he, in his deepest tones, “know you not that this is the Sabbath day, and that you are to keep it holy, and not be dancing along the hall?”

Poor Bert shrank away, with a trembling, “I didn’t mean to, sir,” and thenceforth avoided his grandfather as completely as though he were a criminal and the Squire was a policeman.

Not only at the house, but at the church, did Bert find Sunday a day of dreariness. And here again, who could blame him? He was only a boy and a very restless, active boy, at that, to whom one half-hour’s sitting still was about as much as he could endure. How, then, could he be expected to be equal to four whole hours of stillness? Yet that was what his grandfather required of him whenever he went to church.

The order of the day was as follows:—Leaving the house about ten o’clock in the big covered carriage, of which the Squire felt duly proud, as being the only one in the county, they drove leisurely into the village, where the horses were put up, and after the ladies had dropped in at a friend’s to make sure their bonnets and dresses were as they ought to be, they wended their way to the church, which, standing right in the centre of the village, was noisily summoning its worshippers to its seats as the big bell swung to and fro high up in the steeple.

The church service began at eleven o’clock, and was of the most old-fashioned orthodox type. No organ had yet profaned the sanctity of that holy place, but instead thereof, a quartette of singers, selected seemingly more for the strength than the sweetness of their voices, occupied a large box right under the pulpit, and thence led the congregation by a whole bar at least, in the rendering of Tate and Brady’s metrical version of the Psalms. Very weird and sorrowful were many of the tunes. None were bright and inspiring like those Bert was wont to hear at home, and as choir and congregation vied with one another in the vigour of their singing, the little fellow was sometimes half-frightened at the bewildering noise they made.

A saintlier pastor than the Reverend Mr. Goodman, D.D., few congregations possessed; but only those members of his audience who were of like age with himself thought him a good preacher. He had, indeed, some gifts in expounding the Bible, and even Bert would be interested if the lesson happened to be one of those stirring stories from the Old Testament which seem so full of life and truth. But when it came to preaching a sermon—well, it must be confessed there were then few dryer preachers throughout the whole Province of Acadia. Bending low over his manuscript, for his eyesight was poor, and lifting his head only now and then to wipe his brow, or relieve his throat, with a dry, hard cough, Mr. Goodman pursued his way steadily and monotonously from “firstly” to “lastly” every Sunday.

And not only once, but twice on every Sunday. For be it understood, that although many of the congregation lived too far away from the church to make two trips to it from their homes, they were not thereby going to be deprived of two services. Accordingly, after the morning service—which usually lasted until one o’clock—was over, a recess of one hour for lunch and fresh air followed, and at two o’clock a second service, precisely similar in character, was entered upon, which occupied two hours more. And then, having thus laid in a supply of sound theology for the rest of the week, the good people of Calvin church, after indulging in a little harmless gossiping at the church door—of which indulgence, by the way, Squire Stewart strongly disapproved, and would have prohibited, had he been able—harnessed up their horses and drove away home.

Four hours of church service of so unattractive a character, and that in mid-summer! Poor little Bert! He did not want to shock his grandfather, or bring his mother’s discipline into condemnation; but really, how could he be all that the Squire, who, if he ever had been a boy himself, must have quite forgotten about it, expected him to be? If he went to sleep, Aunt Sarah or Aunt Martha, in obedience to signals from grandfather, shook or pinched him awake again. If he stayed awake, he felt that he must wriggle or die. Sometimes the temptation to scream out loud was so strong that it seemed little short of a miracle he did not yield to it. Mrs. Lloyd fully sympathised with her son’s troubles, but accustomed from infancy to obey her father unquestioningly, she would not venture to do more than softly plead for Bert, now and then, when he was more restless than usual. Her pleadings were not altogether vain, and frequently they had the result of securing for Bert a boon that he highly appreciated.

Squire Stewart was bothered by a troublesome chronic cough. He did not mind it very much when at home, but at church he felt it to be a nuisance both to himself and his neighbours. To ease it somewhat he always carried to church with him a number of black currant lozenges, a supply of which he kept in his big mahogany desk at home. Occasionally, either as encouragement to him to try and be a better boy, or as a token of relenting for being over severe, he would pass Bert one of these lozenges, and Bert thought them the most delicious and desirable sweetmeat ever invented. Not that they were really anything wonderful, though they were very expensive; but the circumstances under which he received them gave them a peculiar relish; and it was in regard to them that Bert fought and won the sharpest battle with the tempter of all his early boyhood. It happened in this way:

As already mentioned, Squire Stewart kept a supply of these lozenges in his big mahogany desk, that had a table to itself in the parlour. This desk was always kept locked, and Bert had many a time, when alone in the room, gone up to it, and passed his hand over its polished surface, thinking to himself how nice it would be if the package of lozenges was in his pocket instead of shut up in there where nobody could get at it.

One morning, as Bert was playing about the house, a message came that the Squire was wanted at once at the farthest barn, as one of the horses had been hurt by another. He went out hastily, and shortly after, Bert, going into the parlour, saw the desk wide open, his grandfather having been looking for a paper when so suddenly called away. The moment his eyes fell upon the open desk, a thought flashed into his mind that set every nerve tingling. As though the old desk exerted some strange and subtle fascination, he drew near it; slowly, hesitatingly, almost on tip-toe, yet steadily. His heart beat like a trip-hammer, and his ears were straining to catch the slightest sound of any one’s approach. The house was wonderfully quiet. He seemed to be quite alone in it; and presently he found himself close beside the desk. Although open, the inner lids were still shut, and ere Bert put out his hand to lift the one under which he thought the package of lozenges lay, the thought of the wrong he was doing came upon him so strongly as well-nigh to conquer the temptation. For a moment he stood there irresolute; and then again the hand that had dropped to his side was stretched forth. As it touched the desk lid a thrill shot through his heart; and again he hesitated and drew back.

It was really a tremendous struggle, and one upon which great issues hung, so far as that boy, alone in that room with the tempter, was concerned. Bert fully realished how wrong it would be for him to touch the lozenges; but, oh! what a wonderful fascination they had for him!

Reaching forward again, he lifted up the desk lid, and there, fully exposed to view, lay the package temptingly wide open, displaying its toothsome contents. The crisis of the temptation had come. An instant more, and Bert would have yielded; when suddenly his better nature got the upper hand, and with a quick resolution, the secret of which he never fully understood, he cried out:

“No, I won’t.” And slamming down the desk lid, he tried to run out of the room, and ran right into the arms of his grandfather, who, unseen and unsuspected, had witnessed the whole transaction from the door.

Overwhelmed with a sense of guilt and terror at having been detected by the one person of all others whom he dreaded most, Bert sank down on the floor, sobbing as though his heart would break. But, strange to say, the stern old man had no harsh words for him now. On the contrary, he bent down and lifting the little fellow gently to his feet said, in tones of deepest tenderness:

“No tears, laddie; no tears, You’ve fought a grand fight, and glad am I that I was there to see you win it. God grant you like success to the end of your days. I’m proud of you, Bert boy; I’m proud of you.”

Scarce able to believe his ears, Bert looked up through his tears into his grandfather’s face. But there was no mistaking the expression of that rugged old countenance. It fairly beamed with love and pride, and throwing himself into his arms, Bert for the first time realised that his grandfather loved him.

He never forgot that scene. Many a time after it came back to him, and helped him to decide for the right. And many a time, too, when grandfather seemed unduly stern, did the remembrance of his face that morning in the parlour drive away the hard feelings that had begun to form against him.

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