Tom set his teeth and swallowed hard, and let a dozen of the others rise and speak and sit again. He could feel the beating of his mother’s heart, and he knew she was praying silently for him, praying that he would not deny his Master. For her sake, then ... but not yet; there was still time enough—after the next hymn—after the next testimony—when the minister should give another invitation. He was chained to the bench and could not rise; his tongue clave to the roof of his mouth and his lips were like dry leaves. The silences grew longer; all, or nearly all, had spoken. He was stifling.
“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” It was the solemn voice of the young minister, and Tom staggered to his feet with the lamps whirling in giddy circles.
“I feel to say that the Lord is precious to my soul to-night. Pray for me, that I may ever be found faithful.”
He struggled through the words of the familiar form gaspingly and sat down. A burst of triumphant song arose,
“O happy day, that
fixed my choice
On Thee, my Saviour and my God!”
and the ecstatic aftermath came. Truly, it was better to be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. What bliss was there to be compared with this heart-melting, soul-lifting blessing for duty done?
It went with him a good part of the way home, and Martha Gordon respected his silence, knowing well what heights and depths were engulfing the young spirit.
But afterward—alas and alas! that there should always be an “afterward”! When Tom had kissed his mother good night and was alone in his upper room, the reaction set in. What had he done? Were the words the outpouring of a full heart? Did they really mean anything to him, or to those who heard them? He grasped despairingly at the fast-fading glories of the vision, dropping on his knees at the bedside. “O God, let me see Thee and touch Thee, and be sure, sure!” he prayed, over and over again; and so finally sleep found him still on his knees with his face buried in the bed-clothes.
For the first few vacation days Tom rose with the sun and lived with the industries, marking all the later expansive strides and sorrowing keenly that he had not been present to see them taken in detail.
But this was a passing phase. When the mechanical hunger was sated; when he had started and stopped every engine in the big plant, had handled the levers of the great steam-hoist that shot the coal-cars from the mine to the coke-yard bins, and had prevailed on the engineer of the dinkey engine to let him haul out and dump a pot of slag, he had a sharp relapse into the primitive, and went roaming afield in search of his lost boyhood.