The hand of the clock fastened up on the white wall of the conference
room, just over the framed card bearing the words "Stand up for Jesus,"
and between two other similar cards, respectively bearing the sentences
"Come unto Me," and "The Wonderful, the Counsellor," pointed to ten
minutes of nine. As was usual at this period of Newville prayer-meetings,
a prolonged pause had supervened. The regular standbyes had all taken
their usual part, and for any one to speak or pray would have been about
as irregular as for one of the regulars to fail in doing so. For the
attendants at Newville prayer-meetings were strictly divided into the two
classes of speakers and listeners, and, except during revivals or times
of special interest, the distinction was scrupulously observed.
Deacon Tuttle had spoken and prayed, Deacon Miller had prayed and spoken,
Brother Hunt had amplified a point in last Sunday's sermon, Brother
Taylor had called attention to a recent death in the village as a warning
to sinners, and Sister Morris had prayed twice, the second time it must
be admitted, with a certain perceptible petulance of tone, as if willing
to have it understood that she was doing more than ought to be expected
of her. But while it was extremely improbable that any others of the
twenty or thirty persons assembled would feel called on to break the
silence, though it stretched to the crack of doom, yet, on the other
hand, to close the meeting before the mill bell had struck nine would
have been regarded as a dangerous innovation. Accordingly, it only
remained to wait in decorous silence during the remaining ten minutes.
The clock ticked on with that judicial intonation characteristic of
time-pieces that measure sacred time and wasted opportunities. At
intervals the pastor, with an innocent affectation of having just
observed the silence, would remark: "There is yet opportunity. . . . .
Time is passing, brethren. . . . . Any brother or sister. . . . . We
shall be glad to hear from any one." Farmer Bragg, tired with his day's
hoeing, snored quietly in the corner of a seat. Mrs. Parker dropped a
hymn-book. Little Tommy Blake, who had fallen over while napping and hit
his nose, snivelled under his breath. Madeline Brand, as she sat at the
melodeon below the minister's desk, stifled a small yawn with her pretty
fingers. A June bug boomed through the open window and circled around
Deacon Tuttle's head, affecting that good man with the solicitude
characteristic of bald-headed persons when buzzing things are about. Next
it made a dive at Madeline, attracted, perhaps, by her shining eyes, and
the little gesture of panic with which she evaded it was the prettiest
thing in the world; at least, so it seemed to Henry Burr, a
broad-shouldered young fellow on the back seat, whose strong, serious
face is just now lit up by a pleasant smile.