A mute assent was the reply from Armstrong; the three knelt down together, and Holden poured out a prayer, into which he concentrated his glowing feelings. He described themselves as covered all over with crimes, like a leprosy; as willful and determined rebels; as not only unworthy of the least of God’s mercies, of the warm sun and refreshing rain, but deserving of the torments of the bottomless pit; but entreated that, devoid of all merit, as they were, and justly exposed to His wrath, their aggravated offences might be pardoned for the sake of One who had taken their burden upon Himself, and that they might be of the number of the elect, whom the foreordination of God had predestined to salvation. He concluded with beseeching that the balm of peace might be poured into his afflicted brother’s heart, that his ears might be opened to hear the truth, and his eyes to see how near was the great and terrible day of the Lord, and that, as in ancient days chosen women were raised up to do mighty works, even so Faith might be made an instrument to proclaim His power abroad.
As the three rose from their knees, a change seemed, during the prayer, to have passed over the little circle. Holden was invested with an authority not felt before. Neither his speech nor dress was as strange as formerly. He had become a teacher to be honored. It was the influence of a mind originally powerful, and which, though shattered, exercised the control of a strong will, guided by an earnest fanaticism.
Thus as he spake, his visage waxed
And chaunge of hew great passion did bewray,
Yett still he strove to cloke his inward bale,
And hide the smoke that did his fire display.
SPENSER’S FAERY QUEENE.
The request of Mr. Armstrong, supported by the pleadings of his daughter, prevailed upon Holden to remain to tea, and afterwards to accompany them to the “conference,” as a meeting for religious purposes held usually on some particular evening of the week, was called. Upon the conclusion of the service he was to return with them and pass the night at the house of his host. It was not without difficulty he allowed his objections to be overruled, nor was he ever known before to have accepted such an invitation. But it had seemed of late that as his influence with Miss Armstrong increased, so did hers over him, until he became unable to deny her slightest wish. Perhaps, too, the events of the afternoon, by bringing him more intimately into communion with sufferings like those through which he had passed, had softened his sternness and disposed him more for human companionship.
The little building where the “conference” met was of the humblest pretensions. It was a weather-stained, unpainted wooden edifice of one story, standing at no great distance from the meeting-house, and capable of containing comfortably, probably a hundred people. The interior was almost as rude and unattractive as the exterior, the walls being coarsely plastered and dingy with smoke that had escaped from a cast-iron stove which stood in the centre of the room. Benches with backs were placed parallel to one another, and facing a sort of rostrum or reading-desk, to which a passage betwixt the benches led. The inside work was equally innocent of paint as the outside.