The Voice

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The Voice

by Margaret Deland


    "Dr. Lavendar," said William King, "some time when Goliath is doing his 2.40 on a plank road, don't you want to pull him up at that house on the Perryville pike where the Grays used to live, and make a call? An old fellow called Roberts has taken it; he is a--"

    "Teach your grandmother," said Dr. Lavendar; "he is an Irvingite. He comes from Lower Ripple, down on the Ohio, and he has a daughter, Philippa."

"Oh," said Dr. King, "you know 'em, do you?"

    "Know them? Of course I know them! Do you think you are the only man who tries to enlarge his business? But I was not successful in my efforts. The old gentleman doesn't go to any church; and the young lady inclines to the Perryville meeting-house--the parson there is a nice boy."

    "She is an attractive young creature," said the doctor, smiling at some pleasant memory; "the kind of girl a man would like to have for a daughter. But did you ever know such an old-fashioned little thing!"

    "Well, she's like the girls I knew when I was the age of the Perryville parson, so I suppose you'd call her old-fashioned," Dr. Lavendar said. "There aren't many such girls nowadays; sweet-tempered and sensible and with some fun in 'em."

"Why don't you say 'good,' too?" William King inquired.

    "Unnecessary," Dr. Lavendar said, scratching Danny's ear; "anybody who is amiable, sensible, and humorous is good. Can't help it."

    "The father is good," William King said, "but he is certainly not sensible. He's an old donkey, with his TONGUES and his VOICE!"

    Dr. Lavendar's face sobered. "No," he said, "he may be an Irvingite, but he isn't a donkey."

"What on earth is an Irvingite, anyhow?" William asked.

    Dr. Lavendar looked at him, pityingly: "William, you are so ridiculously young! Well, I suppose you can't help it. My boy, about the time you were born, there was a man in London-- some folks called him a saint, and some folks called him a fool; it's a way folks have had ever since our Lord came into this world. His name was Irving, and he started a new sect." (Dr. Lavendar was as open-minded as it is possible for one of his Church to be, but even he said "sect" when it came to outsiders.)

    "He started this new sect, which believed that the Holy Ghost would

    speak again by human lips, just as on the Day of Pentecost. Well, there was 'speaking' in his congregation; sort of outbursts of exhortation, you know. Mostly unintelligible. I remember Dr. Alexander said it was 'gibberish'; he heard some of it when he was in London. It may have been 'gibberish,' but nobody can doubt Irving's sincerity in thinking it was the Voice of God. When he couldn't understand it, he just called it an 'unknown tongue.' Of course he was considered a heretic. He was put out of his Church. He died soon after, poor fellow."

    "Doesn't Mr. Roberts's everlasting arguing about it tire you out?" William asked.

    "Oh no," Dr. Lavendar said, cheerfully; "when he talks too long I just shut my eyes; he never notices it! He's a gentle old soul. When I answer back--once in a while I really have to speak up for the Protestant Episcopal Church--I feel as if I had kicked Danny." William King grinned. Then he got up and, drawing his coat-tails forward, stood with his back to the jug of lilacs in Dr. Lavendar's fireplace. "Oh, well, of course it's all bosh," he said, and yawned; "I was on a case till four o'clock this morning," he apologized.

    "William," said Dr. Lavendar, admiringly, "what an advantage you fellows have over us poor parsons! Everything a medical man doesn't understand is 'bosh'! Now, we can't classify things as easily as that."

    "Well, I don't care," William said, doggedly; "from my point of view--"

    "From your point of view," said Dr. Lavendar, "St. Paul was an epileptic, because he heard a Voice?"

"If you really want to know what I think--"

    "I don't," Dr. Lavendar said; "I want you to know what I think. Mr. Roberts hasn't heard any Voice, yet; he is only listening for it. William, listening for the Voice of God isn't necessarily a sign of poor health; and provided a man doesn't set himself up to think he is the only person his Heavenly Father is willing to speak to, listening won't do him any harm. As for Henry Roberts, he is a humble old man. An example to me, William! I am pretty arrogant once in a while. I have to be, with such men as you in my congregation. No; the real trouble in that household is that girl of his. It isn't right for a young thing to live in such an atmosphere."

    William agreed sleepily. "Pretty creature. Wish I had a daughter just

    like her," he said, and took himself off to make up for a broken night's rest. But Dr. Lavendar and Danny still sat in front of the lilac-filled fireplace, and thought of old Henry Roberts listening for the Voice of God, and of his Philippa. The father and daughter had lately taken a house on a road that wandered over the hills between elderberry-bushes and under sycamores, from Old Chester to Perryville. They were about half-way between the two little towns, and they did not seem to belong to either. Perryville's small manufacturing bustle repelled the silent old man whom Dr. Lavendar called an "Irvingite"; and Old Chester's dignity and dull aloofness repelled young Philippa. The result was that the Robertses and their one woman servant, Hannah, had been living on the Perryville pike for some months before anybody in either village was quite aware of their existence. Then one day in May, Dr. Lavendar's sagging old buggy pulled up at their gate, and the old minister called over the garden wall to Philippa: "Won't you give me some of your apple blossoms?"

    That was the beginning of Old Chester's knowledge of the Roberts family. A little later Perryville came to know them, too: the Rev. John Fenn, pastor of the Perryville Presbyterian Church, got off his big, raw-boned Kentucky horse at the same little white gate in the brick wall at which Goliath had stopped, and walked solemnly--not noticing the apple blossoms--up to the porch. Henry Roberts was sitting there in the hot twilight, with a curious listening look in his face--a look of waiting expectation; it was so marked, that the caller involuntarily glanced over his shoulder to see if any other visitor was approaching; but there was nothing to be seen in the dusk but the roan nibbling at the hitching-post. Mr. Fenn said that he had called to inquire whether Mr. Roberts was a regular attendant at any place of worship. To which the old man replied gently that every place was a place of worship, and his own house was the House of God. John Fenn was honestly dismayed at such sentiments--dismayed, and a little indignant; and yet, somehow, the self-confidence of the old man daunted him. It made him feel very young, and there is nothing so daunting to Youth as to feel young. Therefore he said, venerably, that he hoped Mr. Roberts realized that it was possible to deceive oneself in such matters. "It is a dangerous thing to neglect the means of grace," he said.

    "Surely it is," said Henry Roberts, meekly; after which there was nothing for the caller to do but offer the Irvingite a copy of the _American Messenger_ and take his departure. He was so genuinely concerned about Mr. Roberts's "danger," that he did not notice Philippa sitting on a stool at her father's side. But Philippa noticed him.

    So, after their kind, did these two shepherds of souls endeavor to establish a relationship with Henry and Philippa Roberts. And they were equally successful. Philippa gave her apple blossoms to the old minister,--and went to Mr. Fenn's church the very next Sunday. Henry Roberts accepted the tracts with a simple belief in the kindly purpose of the young minister, and stayed away from both churches. But both father and daughter were pleased by the clerical attentions:

"I love Dr. Lavendar," Philippa said to her father.

    "I am obliged to Mr. Fenn," her father said to Philippa. "The youth," he added, "cares for my soul. I am obliged to any one who cares for my soul."

    He was, indeed, as Dr. Lavendar said, a man of humble mind; and yet with his humbleness was a serene certainty of belief as to his soul's welfare that would have been impossible to John Fenn, who measured every man's chance of salvation by his own theological yardstick, or even to Dr. Lavendar, who thought salvation unmeasurable. But then neither of these two ministers had had Henry Roberts's experience. It was very far back, that experience; it happened before Philippa was born; and when they came to live between the two villages Philippa was twenty-four years old....

    It was in the thirties that young Roberts, a tanner in Lower Ripple, went to England to collect a small bequest left him by a relative. The sense of distance, the long weeks at sea in a sailing-vessel, the new country and the new people, all impressed themselves upon a very sensitive mind, a mind which, even without such emotional preparation, was ready to respond to any deeply emotional appeal. Then came the appeal. It was that new gospel of the Tongues, which, in those days, astounded and thrilled all London from the lips of Edward Irving--fanatic, saint, and martyr!--the man who, having prayed that God would speak again in prophecy, would not deny the power of prayer by refusing to believe that his prayer was answered, even though the prophecy was unintelligible. And later, when the passionate cadences of the spirit were in English, and were found to be only trite or foolish words, repeated and repeated in a wailing chant by some sincere, hysterical woman, he still believed that a new day of Pentecost had dawned upon a sinful world! "For," said he, "when I asked for bread, would God give me a stone?"

    Henry Roberts went to hear the great preacher and forgot his haste to receive his little legacy so that he might hurry back to the tanyard.

    Irving's eloquence entranced him, and it alone would have held him longer than the time he had allowed himself for absence from the tannery. But it happened that he was present on that Lord's Day when, with a solemn and dreadful sound, the Tongues first spoke in that dingy Chapel in Regent Square, and no man who heard that Sound ever forgot it! The mystical youth from America was shaken to his very soul. He stayed on in London for nearly a year, immersing himself in those tides of emotion which swept saner minds than his from the somewhat dry land of ordinary human experience. That no personal revelation was made to him, that the searing benediction of the Tongues had not touched his own awed, uplifted brow, made no difference: he believed!--and prayed God to help any lingering unbelief that might be holding him back from deeper knowledges. To the end of his days he was Edward Irving's follower; and when he went back to America it was as a missionary of the new sect, that called itself by the sounding title of The Catholic Apostolic Church. In Lower Ripple he preached to any who would listen to him the doctrine of the new Pentecost. At first curiosity brought him hearers; his story of the Voice, dramatic and mysterious, was listened to in doubting silence; then disapproved of--so hotly disapproved of that he was sessioned and read out of Church.

    But in those days in western Pennsylvania, mere living was too engrossing a matter for much thought of "tongues" and "voices"; it was easier, when a man talked of dreams and visions, not to argue with him, but to say that he was "crazy." So by and by Henry Roberts's heresy was forgotten and his religion merely smiled at. Certainly it struck no roots outside his own heart. Even his family did not share his belief. When he married, as he did when he was nearly fifty, his wife was impatient with his Faith--indeed, fearful of it, and with persistent, nagging reasonableness urged his return to the respectable paths of Presbyterianism. To his pain, when his girl, his Philippa, grew up she shrank from the emotion of his creed; she and her mother went to the brick church under the locust-trees of Lower Ripple; and when her mother died Philippa went there alone, for Henry Roberts, not being permitted to bear witness in the Church, did so out of it, by sitting at home on the Sabbath day, in a bare upper chamber, waiting for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. It never came. The Tongues never spoke. Yet still, while the years passed, he waited,

    listening--listening--listening; a kindly, simple old man with mystical brown eyes, believing meekly in his own unworth to hear again that Sound from Heaven, as of a rushing, mighty wind, that had filled the London Chapel, bowing human souls before it as a great wind bows the standing corn!

    It was late in the sixties that Henry Roberts brought this faith and his Philippa to the stone house on the Perryville pike, where, after some months had passed, they were discovered by the old and the young ministers. The two clergymen met once or twice in their calls upon the new-comer, and each acquired an opinion of the other: John Fenn said to himself that the old minister was a good man, if he was an Episcopalian; and Dr. Lavendar said to William King that he hoped there would be a match between the "theolog" and Philippa.

    "The child ought to be married and have a dozen children," he said; "although Fenn's little sister will do to begin on--she needs mothering badly enough. Yes, Miss Philly ought to be making smearkase and apple-butter for that pale and excellent young man. He intimated that I was a follower of the Scarlet Woman because I wore a surplice."

    "Now look here! I draw the line at that sort of talk," the doctor said; "he can lay down the law to me, all he wants to; but when it comes to instructing you--"