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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter XXXI. Not Dead, but Translated

MR. BOWSER was not a man to do anything by halves. When he was worldly, he was worldly out and out, and now that he had broken with the world and entered into the service of God, he took up the business of religion with a thoroughness and ardour that was entirely characteristic. He found himself woefully ignorant of the simplest Scripture truths. Until his conversion, he had not opened his Bible since he left his mother’s care. He, therefore, determined to become a scholar. So one Saturday he asked Frank:

“Frank, what is it you do at Sunday school?” “Well, father, we sing, and pray, and study the Bible, that’s about all,” answered Frank, wondering to himself what his father had in mind.

“Do any grown-up people go there, Frank?” inquired Mr. Bowser, innocently.

Frank smiled, partly at his father’s lack of knowledge, and partly because he thought he caught a glimpse of his purpose.

“Why, of course, father,” he exclaimed, “lots of them. Mr. Lloyd goes there, and Mr. Silver, and ten or twelve other gentlemen.”

“Does Mr. Lloyd go to Sunday school?” asked Mr. Bowser, eagerly. “Why, what does he do there?”

“He teaches, father. He has charge of the mens Bible class.”

“So Mr. Lloyd has a Bible class there,” mused Mr. Bowser aloud; then, turning again to Frank, “Do you think, Frank, he would mind if I joined it.”

Frank could not help smiling at the idea of Mr. Lloyd being otherwise than glad at having a new member in his class.

“Indeed, he won’t. On the contrary, he’ll be mighty glad, I’m sure,” he answered, warmly.

“Very well, then, Frank, I’ll go with you to Sunday school to-morrow. I don’t know anything about the Bible, and I think there’s no better place for me to learn,” said Mr. Bowser, as he went off, leaving Frank so happy at the prospect of having his father go to school with him that he could hardly contain himself.

Very deep was Mr. Lloyd’s pleasure when on Sunday afternoon burly Mr. Bowser walked into his class room and took his seat in the most remote corner. He went up to him at once, and gave him a cordial greeting.

“I’ve come as a learner, Mr. Lloyd,” said Mr. Bowser. “I know little or nothing about the Bible, and I want you to teach me.”

“I am sure I shall be most happy to do anything that lies in my power, Mr. Bowser,” responded Mr. Lloyd, heartily, “and there are others in the class that you will find will help you also.”

And so Mr. Bowser, putting aside all foolish notions about pride or self-importance, became one of the most faithful and attentive attendants of the Bible class. Rain or shine, the whole year round, his chair was rarely vacant, until Mr. Lloyd came to look upon him as his model member, and to feel somewhat lost, if for any reason he was compelled to be absent.

But Mr. Lloyd was not his only guide and instructor. Dr. Chrystal had attracted him from the very first. The sermon he preached on that eventful Sunday evening, when, yielding to an impulse which seemed to him little better than curiosity, he had attended church for the first time in so many years, had been followed by others, each one of which met some need or answered some question springing up in Mr. Bowser’s heart, and his admiration and affection for the eloquent preacher had increased with a steady growth.

In truth, Dr. Chrystal was a man of no common mould. He united in himself characteristics that might seem to have belonged to widely different natures. He was deeply spiritual, yet intensely alive to the spirit of the times. He was as thoroughly conversant with modern thought as he was with the history of God’s ancient people. Although a profound student, he was anything but a Dr. Dry-as-Dust. On the contrary, the very children heard him gladly because he never forgot them in his sermons. There was always something for them as well as for the older folks. Indeed, perhaps one of the best proofs of his singular fitness for his work was the way the young people loved him. Boys like Bert and Frank, for instance, probably the hardest class in the congregation for the minister to secure to himself, while they never for a moment felt tempted to take any liberties with him, yet, on the other hand, never felt ill at ease in his presence, nor sought to avoid him. He made them feel at home with him, and the consequence was that the proportion of boys belonging to his church exceeded that of any other church in the city.

Dr. Chrystal had of late been causing his friends no small concern by showing signs of failing health. His heart began to give him trouble. So much so, indeed, that now and then he would be obliged to pause in the midst of his sermon, and rest a little before resuming. His physician told him he had been working too hard, and that what he needed was to take things more easily, or, better still, to lay aside his work for a season, and recuperate by a good long vacation.

At first he would not listen to any such proposition. There seemed so much to be done all around him that would be undoubtedly left undone unless he did it himself, that he felt as if he could not desert his post. But it soon became clear to him that the warnings he had received must be heeded, and ere long he was able to make up his mind to follow the physician’s advice, and indulge himself with an ocean voyage, and prolonged vacation in Europe.

As the time for his temporary separation from his congregation drew near there was a marked increase of fervour and loving earnestness on the part of Dr. Chrystal toward his people. It was as though he thought he might perhaps never return to them, and it therefore behoved him not only to preach with special unction, but to lose no opportunity of saying to each one with whom he came in contact something that might remain with them as a fruitful recollection in the event of its proving to be his last word to them. Meeting Bert upon the street one day, he linked his arm with his, and entered at once into a conversation regarding the boy’s spiritual interests. Bert felt perfectly at home with his pastor, and did not hesitate to speak with him in the same spirit of frank unreserve that he would with his father.

“I have been thinking much about you, Bert,” said Dr. Chrystal, in tones of warm affection, “and saying to myself that if, in the providence of God, I should never come back to my work, I would like to leave something with you that would linger in your memory after I am gone.”

“But you’re coming back again all right, Dr. Chrystal,” said Bert, looking up with much concern in his countenance, for he had never thought of its being otherwise.

“I am sure I hope and pray so with all my heart,” replied Dr. Chrystal, fervently. “But there are many things to be considered, and God alone knows how it will be with me a few months hence. I am altogether in His hands.”

“Well, God knows right well that we couldn’t have a better minister than you, sir, and so there’s no fear but He’ll send you back to us all right,” returned Bert, his eager loyalty to his pastor quite carrying him away.

Dr. Chrystal smiled sympathetically at the boy’s enthusiasm.

“There are just as good fish in the sea as have ever yet been caught, Bert,” he answered.

“I thoroughly appreciate your kind, and I know sincere, compliment, but it was not to talk about myself that I joined you, but about yourself. I have been thinking that it is full time you took up some definite work for your Heavenly Master. Don’t you think so, too?”

“Yes, I do, sir; and so does Frank, and we’re both quite willing to make a beginning, but we don’t just know what to go at.”

“I have been thinking about that, too, Bert, and I have an idea I want to discuss with you. You know the streets that lie between the north and south portions of our city, and how densely they are packed with people, very few of whom make any pretensions to religion at all. Now, would it not be possible for you and Frank to do a little city missionary work in those streets. The field is white unto the harvest, but the labourers are so few that it is sad to see how little is being done. What do you think about it?”

Bert did not answer at once. He knew well the locality Dr. Chrystal had in mind, and the class of people that inhabited it. For square after square, tenement houses, tall, grimy, and repulsive, alternated with groggeries, flaunting, flashy, and reeking with iniquity. The residents were of the lowest and poorest order. Filth, vice, and poverty, held high carnival the whole year round. In the day time crowds of tattered roughs played rudely with one another in the streets, and after dark, drunken soldiers, sailors, and wharf men, made night hideous with their degraded revelry or frenzied fighting.

And yet these people had souls to save, and even though they might seem sunken in sin beyond all hope of recovery, they had children that might be trained to better ways and a brighter future. It was these children that Dr. Chrystal had in mind when he spoke to Bert. A union mission school had lately been established in the very heart of this unattractive district, and it was sorely in need of workers.

Both Bert and Frank were quite competent to undertake work of this kind, did they but give their minds to it, and Dr. Chrystal was anxious to have their interest in it thoroughly aroused before he went away.

After a few moments’ silence, during which his brain had been very busy with conflicting thoughts, Bert looked up into his pastor’s face, and said, in a doubtful way:

“Don’t you think, sir, that is rather hard work to put us at at first?”

Dr. Chrystal gave him a tender smile. “It is hard work, I know, Bert,” said he. “I would not for a moment try to argue that it is anything else, but I am none the less desirous of seeing you engaged in it. You and Frank would make splendid recruiting sergeants for the little mission school, and you could be very helpful in keeping order, or even in teaching at the morning session. By doing this you would not interfere with either your church-going or your own Sunday school in the afternoon. I wish you would talk the matter over with Frank, and, of course, consult your parents about it.”

Bert readily promised that he would do this, for although he, as was natural enough, shrank from undertaking what could not be otherwise than trying and difficult work, yet he felt that if his father fully approved of it, and Frank took it up heartily, he would be able at least to give it a trial. Dr. Chrystal was evidently well pleased with the result of the conversation, and in parting with Bert took his hand in his, and pressing it warmly, said:

“God’s best blessings be upon you, Bert. You are fitted to do good work for Him. May you ever be a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.”

Little did Bert imagine that these would be the last words Dr. Chrystal would address to him personally, or that, as he turned away with a seraphic smile upon his face, he would see him but once, more alive.

The following Sunday was the last that Dr. Chrystal would spend with his congregation previous to his going away, and as he appeared before them at the morning service it was the general opinion that his abstention from work was taking place none too soon, for he certainly seemed to sorely need it.

In spite of evident weakness, he preached with unabated eloquence and fervour. Indeed, he was perhaps more earnest than usual, and his sermon made a profound impression upon the congregation that thronged the church. In the afternoon he visited the Sunday school, and said a word or two to each one of the teachers as he passed up and down the classes. The evening service found the church filled to its utmost capacity, and a smile of inexpressible love and sweetness illuminated the pastor’s pale face as he came out from the study, and beheld the multitude gathered to hear the Gospel from his lips.

“Doesn’t he look like an angel?” whispered Bert to Frank, as the boys sat together in their accustomed place.

“He doesn’t simply look like one. He is one,” Frank whispered back, and Bert nodded his assent.

The service proceeded with singing, and prayer, and Bible reading, and then came the sermon. Dr. Chrystal was evidently labouring under strong emotion. His words did not at first flow with their wonted freedom, and some among his listeners began to think it would have been well if he had not attempted to preach. But presently all this hesitation passed away, and he launched out into an earnest impassioned appeal to his people to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. Although he did not say expressly that this might be the last time he would ever speak to them from the pulpit, there was something in his manner that showed this thought was present in his mind.

He had got about half through his sermon, and every eye in that congregation was fixed upon him, and every ear attent to his burning words, when suddenly he stopped. A deadly pallor took possession of his face; he pressed his left hand with a gesture of pain against his heart, while with the other he strove to steady himself in the pulpit. For a moment he stood there silent, and swaying to and fro before the startled congregation; and then, ere Mr. Lloyd, who had been watching him intently all through the service, could spring up the steps to his side, he fell back with a dull thud upon the cushioned seat behind him, and thence sank to the floor.

When Mr. Lloyd reached him, and bending down lifted him in his strong arms from the floor, Dr. Chrystal opened his eyes, looked upon his friend with a smile that seemed a reflection from heaven, breathed softly the words: “The Lord be with you,” and then, with a gentle sigh, closed his eyes to open them again in the presence of the Master he had served so well.

It is not possible to describe the scene that followed, when all present became aware that their beloved pastor had gone from them upon a journey from which there could be no returning. They were so stunned, saddened, and bewildered that they knew not what to do with themselves. The men and women sat weeping in their seats, or wandered aimlessly about the aisles to speak with one another, while the children, not realising the full import of what had happened, looked on in fear and wonder. It was some time before the congregation dispersed. Dr. Chrystal’s body was tenderly carried into the study, and there was nothing more to do; and yet they lingered about as if hoping that perhaps it might prove to be only a faint or trance, after all, for it seemed so hard to believe the dreadful truth.

As Bert and Frank walked home together, with hearts full to overflowing and tear-stained faces, Mr. Silver caught up to them, and pushing them apart, took an arm of each. For a few steps he said nothing ; and then, as if musing to himself:

“‘God buries His workmen, but His work goes on.’ Our pastor has gone. He is not—because God has taken him—not dead, but translated. Upon whom will his mantle fall, boys?”

“ I am sure I don’t know, Mr. Silver,” replied Bert. “ But this I do know, that we can never have a better minister.”

“No, I suppose not—according to our way of thinking, at all events; but we must not let that thought paralyse our energies. The vacant pulpit has its lesson for each one of us, boys,” returned Mr. Silver.

“Yes, it means work, and it seems so strange that Dr. Chrystal should have spoken to me as he did the very last time he saw me,” said Bert. And then he proceeded to repeat the conversation concerning the city mission work.

“I am so glad he spoke to you about that,” said Mr. Silver. “I had intended doing so myself, but it has been far better done now. You will do what you can, both of you?”

“Yes, we will,” replied Bert and Frank together, in tones of unmistakable purpose.

“Perhaps, then,” said Mr. Silver, reflectively, “the question I asked a moment ago may yet be answered by you, dear boys. Would you like to think that Dr. Chrystal’s mantle should fall upon you, and that in due time you should take up the glorious work he has just laid down? To what nobler career can a man aspire than that of being one of the Master's shepherds?”

The boys were silent. The thought was new to them, and altogether too great to be grasped at once. And Mr. Silver wisely did not press them for an answer before he bade them “Good-night, and God bless you both.”

But his question remained in their minds. It proved a seed thought that in the case of one of them was later on destined to find itself in good ground, and to spring up and bear goodly fruit.

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