Dr. Heidenhoff's Process by Edward Bellamy

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Page 1

The clock ticked on with that judicial intonation characteristic of
time-pieces that measure sacred time and wasted opportunities. At
intervals the pastor, with an innocent affectation of having just
observed the silence, would remark: "There is yet opportunity. . . . .
Time is passing, brethren. . . . . Any brother or sister. . . . . We
shall be glad to hear from any one." Farmer Bragg, tired with his day's
hoeing, snored quietly in the corner of a seat. Mrs. Parker dropped a
hymn-book. Little Tommy Blake, who had fallen over while napping and hit
his nose, snivelled under his breath. Madeline Brand, as she sat at the
melodeon below the minister's desk, stifled a small yawn with her pretty
fingers. A June bug boomed through the open window and circled around
Deacon Tuttle's head, affecting that good man with the solicitude
characteristic of bald-headed persons when buzzing things are about. Next
it made a dive at Madeline, attracted, perhaps, by her shining eyes, and
the little gesture of panic with which she evaded it was the prettiest
thing in the world; at least, so it seemed to Henry Burr, a
broad-shouldered young fellow on the back seat, whose strong, serious
face is just now lit up by a pleasant smile.

Mr. Lewis, the minister, being seated directly under the clock, cannot
see it without turning around, wherein the audience has an advantage of
him, which it makes full use of. Indeed, so closely is the general
attention concentrated upon the time-piece, that a stranger might draw
the mistaken inference that this was the object for whose worship the
little company bad gathered. Finally, making a slight concession of
etiquette to curiosity, Mr. Lewis turns and looks up at the clock, and,
again facing the people, observes, with the air of communicating a piece
of intelligence, "There are yet a few moments."

In fact, and not to put too fine a point upon it, there are five minutes
left, and the young men on the back seats, who attend prayer-meetings to
go home with the girls, are experiencing increasing qualms of alternate
hope and fear as the moment draws near when they shall put their fortune
to the test, and win or lose it all. As they furtively glance over at the
girls, how formidable they look, how superior to common affections, how
serenely and icily indifferent, as if the existence of youth of the other
sex in their vicinity at that moment was the thought furthest from their
minds! How presumptuous, how audacious, to those youth themselves now
appears the design, a little while ago so jauntily entertained, of
accompanying these dainty beings home, how weak and inadequate the
phrases of request which they had framed wherewith to accost them!
Madeline Brand is looking particularly grave, as becomes a young lady who
knows that she has three would-be escorts waiting for her just outside
the church door, not to count one or two within, between whose
conflicting claims she has only five minutes more to make up her mind.

The minister had taken up his hymn-book, and was turning over the leaves
to select the closing hymn, when some one rose in the back part of the
room. Every head turned as if pulled by one wire to see who it was, and
Deacon Tuttle put on his spectacles to inspect more closely this dilatory
person, who was moved to exhortation at so unnecessary a time.

It was George Bayley, a young man of good education, excellent training,
and once of great promise, but of most unfortunate recent experience.
About a year previous he had embezzled a small amount of the funds of a
corporation in Newville, of which he was paymaster, for the purpose of
raising money for a pressing emergency. Various circumstances showed that
his repentance had been poignant, even before his theft was discovered.
He had reimbursed the corporation, and there was no prosecution, because
his dishonest act had been no part of generally vicious habits, but a
single unaccountable deflection from rectitude. The evident intensity of
his remorse had excited general sympathy, and when Parker, the village
druggist, gave him employment as clerk, the act was generally applauded,
and all the village folk had endeavoured with one accord, by a friendly
and hearty manner, to make him feel that they were disposed to forget the
past, and help him to begin life over again. He had been converted at a
revival the previous winter, but was counted to have backslidden of late,
and become indifferent to religion. He looked badly. His face was
exceedingly pale, and his eyes were sunken. But these symptoms of mental
sickness were dominated by an expression of singular peace and profound
calm. He had the look of one whom, after a wasting illness, the fever has
finally left; of one who has struggled hard, but whose struggle is over.
And his voice, when he began to speak, was very soft and clear.

"If it will not be too great an inconvenience," he said; "I should like
to keep you a few minutes while I talk about myself a little. You
remember, perhaps, that I professed to be converted last winter. Since
then I am aware that I have shown a lack of interest in religious
matters, which has certainly justified you in supposing that I was either
hasty or insincere in my profession. I have made my arrangements to leave
you soon, and should be sorry to have that impression remain on the minds
of my friends. Hasty I may have been, but not insincere. Perhaps you will
excuse me if I refer to an unpleasant subject, but I can make my meaning
clearer by reviewing a little of my unfortunate history."

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Tue 25th Feb 2020, 6:25