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Where Two Ways Met
By Grace Livingston Hill
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Grace Livingston Hill
All rights reserved.
The sky was dark, and the wind was cold. There was slush on the pavements from a late snow. The young man shivered as he turned his collar up and buttoned his coat more closely about him.
It was late February and supposed to be near spring, but the grim clouds hurrying across the leaden sky gave no suggestion of spring. Rather, they had the air of going out to battle, as if they were hastening to obey a sharp imperative emergency command in a case of unanticipated dire necessity! There was nothing encouraging in the night scene to lift the heart of one who was already troubled from within.
Paige Madison had gone out earlier that evening with high hopes, to get a job and establish himself in a new and successful life, now that the war was over. Nothing was really changed from the promises of the day before—promises that had sent him to a great and influential man who had seemed so favorable and willing. But there was an uneasiness within him since the evening's interview he could not quite analyze, an uneasiness strong enough to haunt him as he went on his way and to prevent his rejoicing, as he really had every right to do, he told himself. What was the matter?
Could it be just a little shifty look in one director's eyes? A crafty set of the jaw on the great man who had promised so much and been so complacent? Or the very streamlined look of most of that bunch of men gathered about that director's table? Could that be what had disturbed him? There was one there who looked like nothing in the world but a slick crook. Oh, he was well groomed, of course, or he couldn't have been numbered with that respectable group. He was clean shaven, his thin hair cut just right below the bald crown. His pale, shifty pop-eyes above his sly mouth did not miss a thing. He wore a nifty outfit, not quite in the same class with the others, but his half-deprecating smile was veiled by an amused swagger.
Paige had never thought of himself as a discerning reader of character, yet in spite of himself as he trod the midnight slush, the faces of those men with whom he had spent the evening came out and were pictured vividly against the blackness of the night. He found himself studying each one as he had not dared study them while he was sitting face-to-face with them. And now he saw qualities in those faces that plainly denied the fine, high descriptions of them that had been given to him before he met them. Then he blamed himself for allowing his mind, or his imagination, to play such tricks on good, benevolent men who were kindly offering to open their ranks and take him into a group where his future success would be practically assured. There was Harris Chalmers, the president, well dressed, smug in an all-but-elderly dignity, beaming with affable content, well pleased with himself and all he had done, glad to extend a helping hand to a young man just returning from distant, dangerous warfare in which his own part had been merely financial.
There was Mr. Chalmers's personal lawyer, Dawson Sharp, keen and cold and missing no point that he was so well paid to keep before the minds of these other crooks, for crooks they all seemed to Paige now, down the line to the tawdry unmistakable crook at the foot of the table, to whom they had each and all referred now and then as "Jimson." "Jimson'll take care of that when the time comes," they had said, with casual winks and smiles and slight shrugs.
As he plodded along toward home, Paige drew a deep sigh. How tired he was! Perhaps that was the matter. The long journey, the excitement of getting home, the hope of a good job by means of which he would be able to look after his mother and his father, who was failing greatly and was no longer able to be working.
And now this letdown. It wasn't thinkable! It couldn't be that such respectable men, men with such fine reputations, could be dishonest! He was crazy! It was just a part of the weary reaction after the danger and turmoil and chances of war.
He would go to bed and get a good sleep. In the morning, of course, things would look different. He was hired, anyway, and he did not have to worry about that anymore. If, after he had thought it over, there still seemed some questionable matters that he would like made clear, there would be time enough to worry about them. Meanwhile, he was too tired to be really sane.
As he neared the house he could see a bright light in the window of the living room. Somebody was waiting up for him. His heart sank. Probably his mother. Why did mothers insist on doing unnecessary things for their grown sons? Now she would expect to hear all about the evening. And if she was anything like she used to be before he went away, and of course she would be, she would see right through him and insist there was something the matter. She always could see through him. Never, even as a child, had he been able to deceive her. She always knew when he was in trouble, or even just disappointed. But now he must meet her and keep her from finding out about things. If she got an idea there was anything wrong about this job, she would be utterly against his taking it and would make him miserable until he gave it up. Even if he found it was all right in the end, it would be almost impossible to disabuse her mind of prejudice against it. So he must be very cautious about what he said, if indeed she was still up.
He opened the door silently and stole through the hall as quietly as possible, but his caution was useless. There she stood in the living room doorway smiling.
"Mom!" he said, with a sudden gentleness that the first sight of her after an absence always brought to him. And especially now, when he was so fresh from the long years at war and the deep longing for a sight of her blessed face.
"Yes?" she responded quickly, with that instant sympathy in his affairs, as always, and that quick, eager question as to the outcome of his mission. And then suddenly his heart fell. The job! She would want to know at once how it came out. She had been so confident he would get it, and he had been confident, too, when he went out, and so eager, as eager as she. Well, he just mustn't let her see how he felt. That was all there was about it. He must cheer up and not show his depression. At least not tonight. And after tonight, of course, all was going to be right.
"Yes," he answered her firmly, trying to put the glad ring into his voice he had told himself he ought to feel.
His mother hesitated, turned on the hall light over his head and studied his face, the way she always used to study it when he came home from school or college, to see if surely all was well with him.
"You ..." She hesitated an instant, her keen eyes still searching his face. And he let her search it and tried to look happy.
"You—got the job?"
"Why sure, I told you I was going to get it, didn't I? Of course I got it. There wasn't any question about it. I thought I made that plain before I left." He tried to grin and swagger as he used to do when he was a little boy and came to tell her of some trifling achievement in school or athletics, but still she stood there looking doubtful.
"Then, what is the matter, Son?"
"Matter?" he said gaily. "What could be the matter? I went after the job and got it. What more is there to say?"
But still she was silent, studying him.
"Then what is it, Son? Something has disappointed you."
"Now Mother, you aren't going to put on that old line of questions, are you? I never saw the like. You aren't God, you know, to put me through a grilling."
"Son!" There was piteous sharpness in her rebuke.
"Oh, forgive me, Moms. I didn't mean that. I guess I'm a bit tired. It was a long meeting, and I'm not used to sitting up late yet, since I was in the hospital."
His mother's voice softened at once.
"Yes, dear boy. Of course! I forgot. Come. Let's go into the dining room. I have some hot coffee for you."
"Coffee!" he exclaimed, brightening. "That'll be great. Some of your coffee again."
After she had him seated at the table with the steaming cup of coffee before him, sugared and creamed just as he liked it, she sat down beside him and took his hand gently, softly, with that tender little mother-pressure that he had dreamed about when he was far away. Gradually the deep lines around his mouth faded and he grew relaxed, almost happy-looking again.
"Oh, Moms! There's nobody in the world like you!" he said as he drank the last swallow of coffee and handed her back the cup.
She smiled and filled his cup again, almost like a sacrament. Then she sat down beside him, still holding one of his hands lightly.
"Now, Son, suppose you tell me what is the matter."
He was still a long time, though his fingers pressed hers tenderly and a light of warm love grew in his eyes.
Well, Mother," he said at last, "I don't know as it's anything. I guess I'm just a bit goofy. But somehow they all seemed so slick and satisfied. I guess it's just because I've come home out of terrible things. Back here, they don't even seem to know there's been a war, except as they couldn't get meat and butter and things. But I guess maybe I'm prejudiced. Somehow they all looked too slick and happy. I just couldn't quite seem to trust'em the way I trust my own folks. The way you taught me to trust God when I went into danger."
"Well," said the mother thoughtfully, "they are businessmen, and they were in a business session. And you wouldn't expect them to talk religion, of course. Though Mr. Chalmers is supposed to be a very godly man. At least he's very active in church affairs and gives greatly to missions."
"I know, Moms! I told myself that, but somehow watching him tonight, I wondered."
"I know what you mean, Son. Last Sunday he helped pass the communion. He's one of the elders, you know, and it was his turn, I suppose. Afterward, when he sat up front before they passed the wine, I studied his face. Maybe I shouldn't've, but I had it in mind that you were coming home and were going to try for a job with him, so I looked him over while the minister was reciting Bible verses, and somehow I couldn't feel quite happy about his face. But then you know, we are told not to judge one another, and some people have very unfortunate expressions. It just isn't fair to judge a man by his expression in church, perhaps. But surely they wouldn't put him in as an elder if there were any question about him. I've always supposed our church was very particular about whom they made elders."
"He's a rich man, Moms. It would mean a whole lot to the finances of the church to have a man like that in a high office."
"I know," sighed his mother. "But I'm not sure we should dare judge him."
"Of course not, Moms. Oh, forget it. And I suppose, of course he's all right. I guess the trouble was in me."
"But Son, what was it you saw, or heard, that gave you this uneasiness?"
"Nothing, Moms. It was just that the whole setup seemed so slick and well satisfied with themselves, as if they owned the universe. I guess I was just tired. I'll get a good sleep, and then things will probably look all right to me. But they were really swell to me, offered me more than I expected. I'm to go down tomorrow for a conference and get my bearings on things. My job begins next week, so I'll have time to get the right clothes. Now go to bed, Moms dear, and don't you worry about this. It all comes of this old habit of yours that you have to look right through me as if I were made of glass or cellophane, and analyze my innermost thoughts. You'll have to get over that now I'm a grown man and have been to war. You'll get us all mixed up if you don't. I'm not a little kid anymore."
"I know, Son, I'll just have to take it out in praying for you."
"That's right, Moms, you take it out in praying, but don't sit up any later tonight to do it. Look what time it is! Let it rest till tomorrow."
The mother smiled gently.
"Oh, Son, it doesn't take but a minute to put you and your affairs into the hands of the Lord, and there I can always trust any matter that troubles me."
She stooped and gently kissed him, and then they parted for the night.
The young man went to his room, made short work of disrobing, and with a sigh of relief he dropped comfortably into his clean, sweet bed. His own home bed, with smooth sheets that smelled of sweet clover and lavender, as his mother's sheets always did. He drew a breath of thanksgiving for that cleanness and comfort, pushing far from him the memory of other nights not yet so far away, when there were no sheets—or at least not clean ones—and no comfort, relegating with them a hovering memory of disturbing thoughts that had depressed him when he came home. He sank into a deep, dreamless sleep, somehow made possible by that brief talk with his mother.
And the mother was even then softly on her knees beside her bed before her Lord.
"Oh, my Lord," she was saying, "here is something that I do not know how to deal with. Won't You take over and manage this? If there is any advice I should give, show me what it should be. If I should keep out of this entirely, then put a guard over my lips. Guide and keep my boy."
Then she, too, lay down upon her bed and sweetly trusting, slept.
Paige Madison slept late the next morning, after all the excitement of the evening before. He enjoyed the restfulness of being at home again and not having to hurry unduly.
He took great care with his dressing. His best uniform with every button bright and every ribbon in place. In a very few days now he would be done with uniforms and into civilian clothes, but he realized that the uniform counted for something just now, his first day in his new job. It would mean something to his fellow workmen, to his employers, to the officials about the place. It gave him a bit of prestige, timely interest, a certain standing to start out with.
His mother, too, looked proudly at him as he came downstairs, and motioned him to the late breakfast she had prepared for him. How proud she was of him, how glad he was safely at home! She put aside the twinge of fear that crossed her mind as she thought of all the temptations and discouragements that awaited him in this new-old world to which he had returned. She must not fear. She had trusted him to her Lord, and He would guide.
"What's new, Moms?" Paige asked as he drained the orange juice with relish and put down the glass. "You know, I've hardly had time to ask you any questions since I got home, what with all this to-do about hunting a job. Is everything hereabouts the same as ever? No marriages or births or deaths?"
"Yes." The mother looked thoughtful. "Nettie Hollister got married to a lieutenant stationed in India and went out there with him. It was kind of sad, because her mother had just died and Nettie was sort of alone. And Randa Goss married that wealthy Bert Hickens and got a divorce from him two months later. That was sad, too, because her mother did everything she could to keep her from marrying him. And now she's come home with the saddest look I ever saw on a girl's face."
"Well, she might have known what she was getting into. That Hickens guy was always a low-down bum. And by the way, your old minister passed away, didn't he? I suppose you'll miss him a lot."
"Oh yes," said the mother with a tender little smile, "but he was ready to go. He really wanted to go after his wife died. And he had suffered a lot. He was sick for the last ten months. But we've got a new minister now, and I think his coming made it easier for old Dr. Bowen. This man is the son of an old seminary classmate of Dr. Bowen's, and when he came it seemed to cheer him up wonderfully, the last few days of his life. It seemed as if his last worry was gone, when he could leave his precious church in such good hands."
"Well, that's good. Is he a young man, this new minister?"
Excerpted from Where Two Ways Met by Grace Livingston Hill. Copyright © 2014 Grace Livingston Hill. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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