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THE SUNDAY GUESTS.
TART II. , THE CONVICT.
In a newly formed settlement in Australia (before the time of the gold discoveries), a small company was, one Sunday afternoon, gathered together in a kind of log-barn or shed, which had been cleared out on the previous day for the very rare occasion of public religious service. A minister of the gospel had arrived at the settlement or township a day or two before while on his circuit from place to place, and the intelligence had been circulated
through the surrounding stations and sheep-runs that divine worship was to be celebrated and •% sermon preached.
Accordingly, at the appointed time, a few stragglers from distant stations, shepherds or shepherd's men, or stock men, two or three proprietors of sheep farms, a sprinkling of domestic servants—male and female, and the storekeeper and his family made up the congregation. It was a rough-looking medley, and the place of worship was rude; but no matter, the preacher was earnest, and the truths of the gospel are precious wherever and to whomsoever proclaimed.
In the congregation was one man to whom our narrative more especially points. He was a shepherd from a run some miles distant, and to break the monotony of a very monotonous state of existence, he had obtained leave to attend the Sunday service. He was in the prime of life; his name, real or assumed, was James Smith, and he was a convict. A few months before he had been assigned to his present master, and he was now in the second or third progressive stage of a fourteen years' expatriation. Nothing was known of his antecedents, save that he had been a somewhat bold and desperate evil-doer. It was evident, however, to those with whom he occasionally came in contact, that there were traces of a better early education than had fallen to the share of the greater number of his degraded class in the land of his banishment. His superior intelligence had been so far useful to him as to render him more valuable than he otherwise could have been in his enforced servitude, especially as he had a kind master, and was, in some measure at least, reconciled to his new mode of life.
The Sunday service commenced in the usual manner, and portions of Scripture having been read, the preacher proposed singing a hymn which he read from a hymn-book, the companion of his Bible during his evangelical travels. The hymn was this :—
"Through all the changing scenes of life,
"Of his deliverance I will boast;
"The hosts of God encamp around
Those who watched the demeanour of James Smith, or "burglar Jem," as he was often called, could not but notice how the simple reading of this hymn caused him to start, and how his eager gaze was fixed on the minister until it was concluded. Once aroused, it might also have been observed that, through the whole of the service, this concentrated attention was never for a moment withdrawn.
Among those who lingered behind to speak to the preacher when the service was concluded, was the shepherd, Smith.
"I have a favour to ask of you, sir," said he; "it is that you would let me copy the hymn that was sung just now."
"I can do better for you than that, friend," said the preacher. "You shall have a hymn-book if you will walk with me to Mr. Matron's store, where I am lodging. But may I ask why you wish for a copy of that hymn in particular."
The man looked confused. "It is a foolish weakness, sir, I dare say," said he; "but the truth is, I heard that hymn once before I came out to the colony, and—and I should be glad to have it, so I will accept your offer."
In walking together to his temporary abode, the preacher endeavoured to enter into conversation with the applicant; but he found him reserved and taciturn. There was nothing more to be done at that time, therefore, than to give him the hymn-book, with a few words of affectionate counsel and sympathy, and to follow up the gift with prayers for the spiritual welfare of the recipient. He noted down the man's name, however, and the name of his master; and in the course of a few months, a packet reached the shepherd's hut, which, on being opened, was
found to consist of a Bible and a small packet of tracts.
Several years passed away, and the township had become more populous. It was the centre of a considerable number of sheep farms, and among the successful farmers was James Smith. If remembered, he was no longer spoken of as "burglar Jem," because, having done well for himself, his neighbours were willing enough to allow his previous history to drop into the shade. Probably this forgetfulness had been helped on by the uprightness of his dealings and the general excellence of his character. It was known that he had attained to his present state of comparative comfort and progressive affluence, in the first place, by unusual fidelity to his master under circumstances of peculiar temptation; and in the next place, by strong perseverance combined with sober habits and good natural abilities. Better than this, James Smith was known as a man of piety. A great change—the great change—had been wrought in him in this respect since his first residence in the bush. This change was to be mainly attributed to the word of God, which had been as a hammer, breaking the rocky heart in pieces. Other events had contributed to this happy result; and, in the end, after a long season of spiritual conflict and amidst many strong temptations, the gospel of Christ had been made to him "the power of God unto salvation." Thenceforth his course was altered, and "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God," which had shined into his soul, was reflected on all around. True, he was a convict still, and that stain yet rested in some degree upon him; but he was Christ's freed man, and
"He is a freeman whom the truth makes free,
We have just said that the light which had illuminated his own soul was reflected on all around; and it is admirable how much an earnest consistent Christian may do, wherever his lot may be cast, in glorifying God and advancing the kingdom of Christ. "None of us livoth to himself;" and when a disciple of the Saviour is determined humbly and prayerfully that to him to live is, and shall be, Christ, he may rest satisfied that his happy labour shall not be in vain.
More years passed away, and many changes had taken place in the farm-house to which, in the former part of this narrative, we introduced our readers. The pious farmer yet lived, and still occupied the farm; but his wife was dead and his children were scattered, all save one— the youngest daughter—who remained to keep house for her aged father, and who, from a girl of twelve years old, had ripened into the maturity of thirty-two.
One summer's evening, as she sat working with her needle by the window of the room where, so long ago, she had kept her first sabbath day's watch, she saw a stranger drawing towards the house. He was apparently in the full vigour of middle age, very much embrowned, with sun and travel probably; but as Mary glanced hastily at his features, it seemed to her as though her eyes had rested on them before—some long time ago, perhaps. And then she vainly endeavoured to recall the time and the circumstances. This puzzled feeling continued and increased when the stranger rather unceremoniously entered at the open doorway, and courteously asked permission to rest himself, and the favour of a draught of water from the well, for the tones of his voice as well as the cast of his countenance were not, as she believed, absolutely strange to her. There was nothing to alarm her, however, in this semi-recognition. The stranger was good-natured in aspect and respectable in appearance, as well as respectful in manners. Eequesting him to be seated, therefore, Mary hastened to place refreshments before him, in doing which, she was conscious of being the object of his curious though covert scrutiny.
"You are a stranger in these parts, I take it, sir?" said the old farmer, who was smoking his pipe by the fireside.
"A stranger, truly," said the other; "though I have been hereabout once before in my life too. But I may call myself a stranger even in England, for it is nearly twenty years since 1 left the country, and returned only a few weeks ago."
"Twenty years! That's a long time to be away from home," remarked the old farmer. t
"It would have seemed so to me had I had a place worth calling 'home' to leave behind," replied the stranger; "but as I had not, I have reason to be thankful to that gracious Providence which has given me a home so many thousands of miles away."
"If it is not being too bold, might I ask whereabout you call your home, sir?"
"Certainly," said the stranger; and he told him, saying also that, having a strong desire to visit his native land, as well as some necessary business to transact, he had left his distant home for a time, but hoped to return ere long.
"Are the people very dark there?" asked the old fanner, with some apparent abruptness.
"Dark! in colour do you mean?"