Before nightfall Deborah’s encounter with Amos was the talk of Rehoboth, and it was freely reported that the old woman had become an infidel. Whether the cause of her infidelity resulted from Mr. Penrose’s preaching or the advent of her grandchild was a disputed point. Old Amos declared, however, ‘that there were a bit o’ both in it, but he feared th’ chilt more than th’ parson.’
Deborah’s first great spiritual conflict—as they called it in Rehoboth—was when her grandchild cut its first teeth. The eye of the grandmother had been quick to note a dulness and sleepiness in the baby—strange to a child of so lively and observant a turn—and judging that the incisors were parting the gums, she wore her finger sore with rubbing the swollen integuments.
One morning, as she was continuing these operations, she felt the child stiffen on her knee, and looking, saw the little eyes glide and roll as though drawn by a power foreign to the will. A neighbour, who was hastily called, declared it to be convulsions, and for some hours the little life hung in the balance. It was during these hours that Deborah fought her first and only great fight with Him whom she had been taught to address as ‘th’ Almeety.’
Ever since her conflict with Amos, she could not free her mind from superstitious thoughts about ‘the idol.’ Did she love the child overmuch, and would her over-love be punished by the child’s death? She had heard and read of this penalty which the Almighty imposed upon those who loved the creature more than the Creator; and she, poor soul, to hinder this, had tried to love both the Giver and the gift. Nay, did she not love the Giver all the more, because she loved the gift so much? This was the question that vexed her. Why had God given her something to love if He did not mean her to love it?—and could she love too much what God had given? Once she put this question to Mr. Penrose, and his reply lived in her mind: ’If there is no limit to God’s love of us, why should we fear to love one another too dearly or too well?’ But now the test had come. The child was in danger; a shadow fell on the idol. Was it the shadow of an angry God—a God insulted by a divided love?
It was in the torturing hold of questions such as these that she once more met Amos, who, laying the flattering unction to his soul that he could forgive his enemies, struck a stab straight at her heart by saying:
‘Well, Deborah, th’ chilt’s dying, I yer. I towd thee he would. Th’ Almeety goes hawves wi’ no one. He’ll hev all or noan.’
‘What! doesto mak’ aat He’s as selfish as thisel, Amos? Nay, I mun hev a better God nor thee.’
‘Well, a’ tell thee, He’s baan to tak’ th’ lad, so thaa mut as weel bow to His will. Them as He doesn’t bend He breaks.’
’Then He’ll hev to break me, Amos; for aw shall never bend, aw con tell thee.’ And the old woman stiffened herself, as though in defiance of the Providence which Amos preached.