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"Would you mind telling us about it, sir?" asked Mr. Koberts, who being the most unoccupied man in the group was also the most curiously inclined.
"Alas! my friends, it was pitiable to perceive that many hundreds of people—in fact, I may say, almost a whole population were in circumstances more wretched than those of the poor miners. By gross negligence and criminality they were shut out from light and life and hope."
"Were no attempts made to rescue them, sir?" asked one of the listeners.
"Oh yes, many attempts were made, from time to time, by themselves, I mean; but without any avail."
"But by others outside, sir?"
"Why, the case was a peculiarly sad one in more respects than one; and it was sad in this particular, that the whole of the population was involved in the catastrophe."
"How very shocking!" said farmer Jones, shuddering; "of course, then, they did not escape."
"Well, yes; I am happy to say that some of them did; and it is from them my information was derived."
One or two of Mr. Gresham's hearers looked puzzled; but across the countenances of Parsons, Wicks, and Bands a transient smile passed, as though they began to understand the drift of Mr. Gresham's story. He took no notice of this, however, but went on.
"From these escaped prisoners, as I may truly call them, I have gathered that a great majority of the unhappy creatures below were, to a great extent, insensible of their desperate condition. This insensibility partly arose from the expectation that they should somehow at last make their escape to the upper world. Some, indeed, worked hard to effect this; and though their ill-directed efforts came to nothing, they still buoyed themselves up with false hopes of self-deliverance. While they were doing this, there were others who, professing to be acquainted with certain ways of escape, induced parties of their comrades to follow them in their explorations. Unhappily, however, they were either deceived themselves or were deceivers of others; for it was afterwards discovered that these 'blind leaders of the blind,' as they might aptly be called, with their ill-fated followers, were bewildered in the mazes around them, and few returned to tell the fate of their fellow-sufferers.
"But, as I have said, the greater part of those unhappy
beings were simply heedless of their danger from the causes which were insensibly working death in all.
"This insensibility or stupidity showed itself in various ways," continued Mr. Gresham. "Having some feeble, artificial lights in their prison-house, groups of the wretched beings might be seen indulging in trifling and ensnaring amusements and games; others were feasting on what provisions they could find, saying, in a spirit of recklessness, 'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die;'
others but perhaps I tire you, my friends: I am not
in my pulpit now, you know; and you are quite at liberty to interrupt me and cut my story short, if you please to do so."
"No, no, sir;" said the hearty blacksmith; "please to go on: don't cut it short, sir."
"I will come to another part of the story, however," continued the speaker: "we were saying just now, how beautiful and loving it has been in our good queen to take such deep and painful interest in the poor imprisoned and dying miners down in the north, although she Could do nothing to help them; but in this dreadful occurrence which I have described, there was One who not only pitied and sympathized, but knew of a way of deliverance—a new way into this horrible pit, and a new way out of it. He was the Sovereign Prince; but when he knew of the sad calamity which had befallen his poor subjects, he hastened to the scene, laid aside his kingly glory, and appeared among the miserable wretches in humble form and garb."
"Blessed be his name for ever and ever," here interposed Parsons, the blacksmith, unable any longer to restrain himself. "Blessed be his glorious name for ever and ever, and let the whole earth be filled with his glory 1 'The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.' That is what you mean, sir, I know; and every word you have said about the poor wretches, deep down in the awful depths of sin and corruption, is true—every word of it."
"I knew you would read my meaning," said Mr. Gresham; "and after such a warm expression of gratitude to the Almighty Deliverer, I need say but little more. Would that our gratitude kept pace with our obligations; and that we, if delivered from the darkness and degradation and ruin which can only be faintly described by any figure of speech—I say, would that we could feel more, every day, of the sentiments of the hymn we sometimes sing,—
"Plunged in a gulf of dark despair,
With pitying eyes the Prince of grace
Beheld our helpless grief:
He ran to our relief.
Down from the shining seats above
With joyful haste he fled,
And dwelt among the dead."
"But is it not sad to think, my friends," resumed Mr. Gresham, after a moment's pause—" sad to think that, while this glorious, compassionate Friend of the lost and ruined calls to them and bids them escape from the deadly condition in which they are placed, and shows them the way to life, liberty, light, and joy everlasting, so many have hitherto refused and still refuse to listen to his inviting voice.
"Yet it will not always be so. 'The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ.' 'He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand yes, and 'he shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.' The Lord hasten it for his mercy's sake!"
Mr. Gresham bade his friends good day; and on the next Lord's day, he preached from the following verses,—
"- There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay; but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem: I tell you, Nay; but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."*
* Luke xiii. 1—4.
WANT, PRAYER, AND CHARITY.
A TRUE STORY.
In a miserable little cottage at Grumbach, a village in the Saxon Erzgebirge, two thousand four hundred feet above the level of the sea, dwelt, in the beginning of the year 1859, a poor, much tried, but God-fearing miner's family, the members of which were deeply attached to each other.
Within, in the cleanly kept room, Christiana Sophia "Weidauer, the daughter and widow of a miner, a greyhaired, almost withered up old woman, a child now both in body and soul, had sat up in the old-fashioned bed for many long years. She was born in 1758 and married in 1793. She was always busy shuffling her bobbins making lace. She had forgotten all the incidents of her life, but not her God, her texts in the Bible, and her hymns from her psalm-book.
Her only daughter, the wife of a miner, Augustus Miiller, the mistress of the house, waited upon her, as one waits upon a little child, and changed her last farthing into a loaf for her good old mother. But this daughter, born in 1801, was herself not young, and some years previously had received a severe blow in the forehead from the cow, the pet of the household; and this wound, neglected by reason of their poverty, had never healed, preventing her from seeing properly, and thus hindering her in her work, and forcing her moreover to avoid publicity.
Her husband, once a robust miner in the Bohemian mines, was now incapable of work, and sat all day on a bench by the stove. Violent headache obliged him to remain almost always at home. Only now and then he groped his way to a little wood store to get wood to make matches for a lucifer manufactory. But this he did with ever increasing difficulty, for he had become by his long 3,ears of suffering, too weak and too awkward. Several years before he had lost both his eyes by the blasting of a rock when he was down in the shaft. He had been a fine powerful man, but he was now disfigured by his hollow empty eyelids, and the scars which the powder and small stones had left in his face. Therefore he was never seen to shed tears, for he had none to shed: he could only sigh. When the village pastor came to speak words of comfort to bim he always said, "Ah! I know very well that my God will not forsake me; but sometimes it seems as if he were going to take my reason from me." He went out only on Sundays to church, whither his son led him regularly. This son was quite asthmatical, and could only do the lightest work. The earnings therefore of both father and son were, as can well be understood, most pitiful.
A son who worked in the coal mines near Chemnitz, and a daughter, were both unceasingly diligent, denied themselves every enjoyment, and even remained unmarried, that they might the better be able to support their dear parents and grandmother, and prevent them from being forced to enter the poorhouse. The father received weekly a few pence from the mine in which he had suffered the misfortune which had deprived him of his eyesight, and the family was besides assisted from the poor box and by the Ladies' Society of the village. But, notwithstanding this, want pressed more and more heavily upon them: the cow, whose milk nourished them, they were obliged, though with a heavy heart, to sell: their debt for bread, contracted in a time of scarcity, was ever increasing: the cottage in which they dwelt was getting more and more dilapidated; and they could spend scarcely anything on their clothes, though for years they had lived on nothing but dry bread and black coffee.
One day towards the end of January, when a cold north wind was blowing violently, the pastor of Grumbach, Karl Seltmann, accompanied by the schoolmaster, bent his steps with a very heavy heart towards the miserable hut of this poor miner's family to administer the communion to the old grandmother. The pious old woman was sitting with folded hands, and in prayer, repeating the psalm, "Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, 0 God," and then, "My heart panteth for thee, 0 Lord;" and the pastor could only add a fervent " Amen."
Close by, stood her poor invalided son-in-law holding his tattered cap in his clasped hands, and her afflicted daughter with her bound-up forehead, and her asthmatic grandson with his pale face, and the healthy granddaughter in whose friendly eye seemed written the prayer and the complaint, " Lord, help us; or we perish."