This belief that he could never come to any desired haven was the one force above all others that went to the ruining of Toyner’s life.
Bart Toyner was more than thirty years old when the period of his reformation came. His father had grown old and foolish. It was the breaking down of his father’s clear mind that first started and shocked Bart into some strong emotion of filial respect and love; then came another agonising struggle on his part to free himself from his evil habits. In this fit of sobriety he went a journey to the nearest city upon his father’s business, and there, after a few days, he took to drinking harder than ever, ceased to write home, lost all the possessions that he had taken with him, and sank deep down into the mire of the place.
The first thing that he remembered in the awakening that followed was the face of another man. It stood out in the nebulous gathering of his returning self-consciousness like the face of an angel; there was the flame of enthusiasm in the eyes, a force of will had chiselled handsome features into tense lines; but in spite of that, or rather perhaps because of it, it was a gentle, happy face.
It is happiness that is the culmination of sainthood. You may look through the pictures of the saints of all ages and find enthusiasm and righteousness in many and the degree of faith that these imply; but where you find joy too, there has been the greatest faith, the greatest saintliness.
Bart found himself clothed and fed; he felt the warm clasp of a human hand in his, and some self-respect came back to him by the contact. The face and the hand belonged to a mission preacher, and Bart arose and followed his friend to a place where there was the sound of many feet hurrying and a great concourse of people was gathered in a wood without the town.
It was only with curiosity that Bart looked about him at the high trees that stretched their green canopy above, at the people who ranged themselves in a hollow of the wood—one of nature’s theatres. Curiosity passed into strong emotion of maudlin sentiment when the great congregation sang a hymn. He sat upon a bench at the back and wept tears that even to himself had neither sense nor truth. Yet there was in them the stirring of something inarticulate, incomprehensible, like the stirring that comes at spring-time in the heart of the seed that lies below the ground. After that the voice of the preacher began to make its way slowly through the dull, dark mind of the drunkard.
The preacher spoke of the wonderful love of God manifested in a certain definite offer of salvation, a certain bargain, which, if closed with, would bring heaven to the soul of every man.
The preacher belonged to that period of this century when the religious world first threw off its contempt for the present earthly life and began to preach, not a salvation from sin’s punishment so much as a salvation from sin.