Well, on this particular evening, she was, as we have said, taking her share in the housework by reading “Jane Austen” aloud to Dot and Mat; when the door suddenly opened, and James Mesurier stood there, a little aloof,—for it was seldom he entered this room, which perhaps had for him a certain painful association of his son’s rebellion. Perhaps, too, the picture of this happy little corner of his children—a world evidently so complete in itself, and daily developing more and more away from the parent world in the front parlour—gave him a certain pang of estrangement. Perhaps he too felt as he looked on them that same dreary sense of disintegration which had overtaken the mother on Henry’s departure; and perhaps there was something of that in his voice, as, looking at them with rather a sad smile, he said,—
“You look very comfortable here, children. I hope that’s a profitable book you are reading, Esther.”
“Oh, yes, father. It’s ‘Jane Austen,’ you know.”
“Well, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I want a few words with Dorcas. She can join you again soon.”
So Dot, wondering what was in store for her, rose and accompanied her father to the front parlour, where Mrs. Mesurier was peacefully knitting in the lamplight.
“Dorcas, my dear,” he said, when the door was closed, “your mother and I have had a serious talk this evening on the subject of your joining the church. You are now nearly sixteen, and of an age to think for yourself in such matters; and we think it is time that you made some profession of your faith as a Christian before the world.”
The Church James Mesurier referred to was that branch of the English Nonconformists known as Baptists; and the profession of faith was the curious rite of baptism by complete immersion, the importance claimed for which by this sect is, perhaps, from a Christian point of view, made the less disproportionate by another condition attaching to it,—the condition that not till years of individual judgment have been reached is one eligible for the sacred rite. With that rationalism which religious sects are so skilful in applying to some unimportant point of ritual, and so careful not to apply to vital questions of dogma, the Baptists reasonably argue that to baptise an unthinking infant, and, by an external rite which has no significance except as the symbol of an internal decision, declare him a Christian, is nothing more than an idolatrous mummery. Wait till the child is of age to choose for him or herself, to understand the significance of the Christian revelation and the nature of the profession it is called upon to make; then if, by the grace of God, it chooses aright, let him or her be baptised. And for the manner of that baptism, if symbols are to be made use of by the Christian church,—and it is held wise among the Baptists to make use of few, and those the most central,—should they not be designed as nearly after the fashion set