He Must Have Meant Me!
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
"How do you like Mr. Cloutier, our new preacher?" was asked by one member of another, as they walked home from church.
"Only so-so," was replied.
"He cuts close," remarked the first speaker.
"Yes, a little too close."
"I don't know about that. I like to see the truth brought home to the heart and conscience."
"So do I. But I object to personal allusions."
"Yes, I object to personal allusions."
So does everyone. Did Mr. Cloutier make personal allusions?"
"I think so."
"That's hardly possible. He only arrived last week, and has not yet had time to become familiar with facts in the life of anyone here. Moreover, a personal allusion in a first sermon, by a stranger, is something so out of place and indelicate, that I cannot for a moment believe that your inference is correct."
"While I have the best of reasons for believing that I complain of him justly. He's been long enough here to visit a certain family, fond of tittle-tattle, that I could name."
"I hope you are mistaken."
"No, I am not mistaken. Cloutier made personal allusions, and distinctly so. And the Harrisons are at the bottom of the matter. To say the least, he has acted in very bad taste. Charity should have prompted him to wait until he could have heard both sides of the story."
"I agree with you, fully, if your allegation is correct. But I must hope that you are in error."
"No, I have the best of reasons for what I allege."
"To whom did the personal allusions apply?"
"To myself, if the truth must be spoken."
"Is it possible?"
"That places the matter in rather a serious light, Mr. Grant."
"It does. And I think I have reason to complain."
"You ought to be certain about this matter."
"I'm certain enough. When a man treads on your toe, you are likely to know it."
"It is barely possible that Mr. Cloutier did not intend to designate you, or anyone specific, in what he said."
"He must have meant me," replied Mr. Grant, with emphasis. "He couldn't have said what he did, unless he had been informed of certain things that have happened in this town. Had he not visited the Harrisons, I might have doubted. But that fact places the thing beyond a question."
"In what did the personal allusions consist?"
"Did you not observe it?"
"I perceived no personal allusions to anyone."
"There are plenty of others, no doubt, who did. I don't care to speak of it just now. But you'll hear about it. I noticed three or four turn and look at me while he was speaking. It will be a pleasant piece of gossip. And if Mr. Cloutier doesn't take care, I'll make this place too hot to hold him. I'm not the one to be set up as a target for any whipper-snapper to fire at!"
"Don't get excited, friend Grant. Wait awhile. I still think there is some mistake."
"I beg your pardon; there is no mistake about it. He meant me. Don't I know? Can't I tell when a man points his finger at me in a public assembly?"
In his opinion, Mr. Grant was still further confirmed, before he reached his home, by the peculiar way in which sundry members of the congregation looked at him. Of course, he was considerably disturbed on the subject; and felt a reasonable share of indignation. In the evening, he declined attending worship as an indication of his feelings on the subject; and he doubted not that the new preacher would note his absence and understand the cause.
About a year prior to this time, Mr. Grant, who was a manufacturing jeweler, was called upon by a gentleman, who desired him to make a solid gold wedding-ring. It was to be of the finest quality that could be worked, and to be unusually heavy. When the price was mentioned, the gentleman objected to it as high.
"Your neighbor, over the way," said the gentleman, "will make it for far less than you ask."
"Not of solid gold," replied Mr. Grant.
"Oh, yes. I would have no other."
Mr. Grant knew that the ring could not be made of fine, solid gold, for the price his neighbor had agreed to take. And he knew, also, that in manufacturing it, his neighbor, if he took the order, would fill up the center of the ring with solder--a common practice. On the spur of the moment, he determined to do the same thing, and therefore replied--
"Well, I suppose I must work as low as he does."
"The ring must be of solid gold, remember. I will have no other."
"That's understood, of course," replied the jeweler; adding to himself, "as solid as anyone makes them."
The ring was manufactured at a reasonable profit, and the man got the full worth of his money; but not of solid gold. Silver solder composed the center. But as the baser metal could not be detected by simple inspection or weighing, Mr. Grant felt secure in the cheat he had practiced; and, quieted his conscience by assuming that he had given a full equivalent for the money received.
"He's just as well off as he would have been if he had gone to my neighbor over the way, as he called him," said he to himself, in the effort to quiet certain unpleasant sensations. "To suppose that he was going to get a solid ring at such a price! Does he think we jewelers steal our gold?"
Yet, for all this, Mr. Grant could not cast out the unpleasant feeling. He had done a thing so clearly wrong, that no attempt at self-justification gave his mind its former calmness.
"The ring is solid gold?" said the man, when he came for it.
"That was the contract," replied Mr. Grant, with a half-offended air, at the intimation conveyed in the tone of voice, that all might not be as agreed upon.
"Excuse me," remarked the man, apologetically; "but I am very particular about this matter, and would throw the ring into the street rather than use it, if not of solid gold."
"Gold rings are not given away," muttered Grant to himself, as the man left the shop.
Some days after this transaction, a man named Harrison, who belonged to the church of which Grant was a member, met him, when this little conversation took place.
"I sent you a customer last week," said Mr. Harrison.
"Ah! I'm very much obliged to you."
"A gentleman who wanted a gold ring. He asked me to give him the name of a jeweler upon whom he could depend. The ring, he said, must be solid, for a particular reason; and, as he was a stranger, he did not know who was to be trusted. I told him I would guaranty you for an honest man. That if you undertook to manufacture any article for him--he might rely upon its being done according to agreement."
While Harrison was uttering this undeserved compliment, it was with the utmost difficulty that Mr. Grant could keep the tell-tale blood from rushing to his face.
"He showed me the ring," continued Mr. Harrison. "It is a very handsome one."
"Was he satisfied with it?" asked Mr. Grant.
"He was afraid it might not be solid. In fact, so anxious was he on this point, that he took the ring to your neighbor, over the way, to get his opinion about it."
As Mr. Harrison said this, Grant was conscious that a betrayal of the truth was on his countenance.
"And, of course, Martin said the ring was not solid."
"No, he did not exactly say that. I went with the gentleman, at his request. Martin weighed the ring, and, after doing so, simply stated that gold of the quality of which the ring was made was worth a certain price per pennyweight. By multiplying the number of pennyweights contained in the ring with the price mentioned, he showed that you either lost money on the ring, or filled the center with some baser metal."
"Well?" The blood had, by this time, risen to the very brow of the jeweler.
"'Cut the ring!' said my friend. It was done, and, to my mortification and astonishment, it proved to be even as he had said. The ring was not solid gold!"
For some moments, Mr. Grant hung his head in painful confusion. Then, looking up, he said--
"It was his own fault."
"How so?" was inquired.
"He would not pay the price for a solid ring, and I could not give him my work for nothing."
"Did you ask him a fair price?"
"Yes, and he answered, that my neighbor over the way had offered to make him a solid ring, for much less. I knew exactly what kind of a ring Martin could and would furnish for that money, and made him one just like it. I gave him his money's worth, and a little over. He was not cheated."
"But he was deceived. How you could have done such a thing, brother Grant, is more than I can understand."
"I had to do it in self-defense; and this very Martin, who has been so ready to expose the little deception, made the act necessary."
"I'm sorry you should have done so. It was wrong," said Mr. Harrison.
"I'm ready to acknowledge that. But it's too late, now, to repair the error. I wish I'd had nothing to do with the matter."
"So do I," remarked Harrison.
This fretted the mind of Grant, and he replied, rather impatiently--
"Hereafter, I hope you'll send all customers of this kind to Martin. Heaven knows, I don't want them!"
"I shall certainly be careful in this matter," coldly replied Harrison, and bowing formally, as he spoke, turned away, and left Grant in no very pleasant frame of mind. From that time, there was a coldness between the two church members.
When Grant went to church on the next Sabbath, he noticed, as he approached the meeting-house door, Harrison standing in close conversation with one or two prominent members. As he approached, they looked toward him in a certain way that he did not like, and then, separating, entered the house before he came up. It was too evident that Harrison had been communicating the incident of the ring. But Grant was not surprised; he had expected nothing less. Still, he felt that his brother member had not done towards him in the matter, as he would have liked himself done by. On entering the church, half a dozen people turned and looked at him earnestly; while two or three whispered together, glancing towards him every now and then, and thus showing that he was the subject of conversation. As to the theme of discourse between them, his mind was in no doubt. The gold ring! Yes, that was it.
But little edified by the sermon was Mr. Grant on that morning; and, when the services were ended, he went quickly from the church, and took his way homeward without stopping, as on former occasions, to shake hands and pass a few words with friends and brethren.
It had been the custom of several leading members of the church to drop in occasionally, during the week, and chat with Grant for ten minutes or half an hour. But the time from Sunday to Sunday was passed without a single call from any one of them. The reason for this, was no mystery to the jeweler's mind.
"I don't see that I've been guilty of such a terrible crime!" said he to himself, feeling a little indignant on the subject. "The man got his money's worth; and, moreover, was served perfectly right. Did he suppose that he was going to get fine gold for the price of solder? If so, he found himself mistaken! As for Harrison, he's made himself remarkably busy about the matter. I would not trust him in a similar case. But it is so pleasant to discourse on evil in our neighbor. So very pleasant! Let me commit a mistake or make a single false step--and it is preached from house-top!"
When Grant and Harrison met, there was a mutual reserve and coldness.
"He is conscious, I am aware, of his wrong dealing," said the latter to himself, "and therefore shuns me."
"He is aware that he has tried to injure me," said the former, "and cannot, therefore, meet me as of old."
Two or three weeks passed before the friends who used to drop in to see him almost every day, showed themselves in his shop, and then there was a too evident change of manner. They appeared distant and reserved, and he met them with a like exterior. His pride was touched.
"Just as they like," he said to himself. "I can get on without them. I presume, if all our hearts were laid open--that mine would be found quite as good as theirs. As for Perkins and Marvel, they needn't set themselves up over me. I think I know them. Men who cut as close as they do in dealing, generally cut a little from the side that doesn't belong to them."
Perkins and Marvel, here alluded to, had long been on friendly terms with Mr. Grant--visiting at his shop--for the purpose of a little friendly chit-chat--every few days. But a coldness now took place, and, in a few weeks, they ceased their friendly calls.
In various other ways was Mr. Grant conscious of a reaction upon himself of his improper conduct. Hundreds of times did he mentally regret the weakness and love of gain which had prompted him to so far lose sight of what was just and honorable, as to deceive a customer. So painful was his sense of mortification, that, for a time, he omitted to attend church on Sunday. Not only was he satisfied that everyone in the congregation knew about the ring, but he could clearly perceive a change in the manner of his most intimate acquaintances who were members of the church.
Grant was not a man entirely sold to selfishness. He was not a deliberate wrong-doer, hiding his evil purposes and acts under a hypocritical exterior. He had conscience, and, at times, its voice was loud and distinct. He was, therefore, troubled about the ring as a fact indicating the state of his affections; as well as troubled about the condemnatory judgment of his brethren. There were fluctuations of state, of course, as there are with all of us. Sometimes he was in a state of humiliation on account of the evil he had done, and sometimes in a state of indignation at Harrison for having, been so eager to publish his fault from the house-top.
Gradually, however, the ever-recurring new purposes and interests which come to all in passing through life, threw the past with its influences into the shade, and the returns of states of mortification on account of the ring were less and less frequent. Mr. Grant resumed his attendance at church, and mingled, as of old, with his brethren; though in a rather more subdued and less confident spirit. That affair of the ring could not be entirely forgotten.
In due course of time, the minister had to leave, and a new one was appointed by the conference to take his place. The Rev. Mr. Cloutier arrived early in the week, and during the period that elapsed between that and the Sabbath, visited a good deal among the brethren. During that time, an evening was spent at Mr. Harrison's, but no one brought him around to introduce him to Mr. Grant. The jeweler felt this, and in his mind, in searching about for reasons, rested, very naturally, upon the affair of the gold ring, and he did not doubt but the occurrence had been fully related to Mr. Cloutier.
Under this feeling, Mr. Grant went to church. His first sight of the new preacher was when he arose in the pulpit to give out the hymn. His countenance did not make a very favorable impression, but his voice, when he commenced reading the hymn, had a tone and a modulation that were pleasing. The subject of the discourse which followed was practical, and had reference to a man's conduct towards his fellow-man in the common affairs of life. From general propositions, the minister, after entering upon his sermon, came down to things particular. He dwelt upon the love of dominion so deeply rooted in the human heart, and showed, in various ways, how it was exercised by individuals in all the grades of common society.
"A more deeply-rooted evil than this," he went on to say, "is theft. We all inherit, in a greater or less degree, the desire to possess our neighbor's goods; and, with the earliest development of the mind, comes the activity of that desire. It is seen in the child when he appropriates the plaything of another child, and in the so-called good and honest citizen when, in bargaining, he secures an advantage at the expense of his brother."
Descending, gradually, to the introduction of particular forms of overreaching as practiced in trade, all of which Mr. Cloutier designated as instances of theft, he finally brought forward an instance so nearly resembling the one in which Mr. Grant had been engaged, that the latter felt himself, as has been seen, particularly pointed out, and left the church at the close of the service in a state of excitement and indignation. To have that old matter, about which he had already suffered enough, "raked over," as he said, "and exposed to light again," was a little more than he was disposed to submit to with patience. As has been seen, he did not conceal what was in his mind.
On Monday, a brother-member of the church dropped in to see the jeweler.
"How did you like Mr. Cloutier?" was the natural inquiry.
"Not at all," replied Mr. Grant, in a positive tone.
"You didn't? Why, I was delighted with him! What is your objection?"
"He used personal allusions in his discourse."
"I perceived nothing personal."
"Though I did, and of the grossest kind."
"How was it possible for a stranger like Mr. Cloutier to use personal allusions? He knows nothing of the characters or conduct of individuals here."
"Strangers generally have quick ears--and there are always plenty of news-venders to fill them. He's been with the Harrisons--and we all know what they are."
"To whom did he refer?" was asked.
"He referred to me."
"Certainly he did. And I don't like it at all. That's not the way to preach the gospel. This running off with one side of a story, and, taking all for granted, holding a man up to public execration, is not, as I conceive, following in the footsteps of our Great Master."
"I'm sorry that you should have taken up such an impression," was replied to this. "I cannot believe that Mr. Cloutier really intended to hold you up to public execration. He couldn't have meant to designate you."
"He must have meant me. Don't I know?"
So another and another objection was made to Mr. Cloutier on the same ground; and before the week was out, it was pretty widely known that the new preacher had indulged in reprehensible personal allusions. Some said this was an error in the preacher; others, that he was highly blamable; while others affirmed that there must be some mistake about the matter.
On the following Sunday, Mr. Grant was absent from his usual place in the church. It would do him no good to sit under the ministry of Mr. Cloutier.
During the week that followed, two of the official members called upon the jeweler to make inquiries about the alleged personal allusions. Grant was, by this time, pretty sore on the subject, and when allusion was made to it, he gave his opinion of the preacher in no very choice language.
"In what did these personal allusions consist?" asked one of the visitors.
"It's hardly necessary to ask that question," replied Grant.
"It is for me. No one, whom I have yet seen, has been able to give me any information on the subject."
"If you ask Mr. Cloutier, he will enlighten you."
"I have already done so."
"What was his reply?"
"That he is innocent of the personal allusions laid to his charge."
"Did you mention my name?"
"He had not even heard of you as a member of the church here."
"I can hardly believe that, after what he said."
"You will, at least, give him the chance of vindication. He is now at my house, and has expressed a wish to see you."
"I don't know that any good will grow out of seeing him," said Mr. Grant, who felt but little inclined to meet the preacher.
"I'm sorry to hear you say that, Mr. Grant. You have made a complaint against Mr. Cloutier, and when he wishes to confer with you on the subject, you decline, under the assumption that no good can arise from it. This is not right; and I hope you will think better of it."
"Perhaps it isn't right; but so it is. At present, I do not wish to see him. I may feel differently tomorrow."
"Shall we call upon you in the morning?"
"If you please to do so."
And the two official members departed.
No sooner were they gone, than Mr. Grant put or his hat and left his shop. He went direct to the store of Mr. Harrison.
"You are just the man I was thinking about," said the latter, as the jeweler entered. "What is all this trouble about you and Mr. Cloutier? I hear some rumor of it at every turn."
"That is just what I have come to see you about."
"Very well; what can I do in the matter? Mr. Cloutier, you allege, has held you up in the congregation to public execration?"
"In what way?"
"Strange that you should ask the question."
"Why so? What have I to do with it?"
"A great deal," said Grant, his brows falling as he spoke.
"I must plead innocence until shown my guilt. So far, I have not even been able to learn in what the allusion to yourself consisted."
"You have not?"
Grant stood, tightly compressing his lips, for some moments. He then said:
"You remember that affair of the gold ring?"
"You mentioned this to Cloutier."
"No! Nor have I mentioned it to any living soul since the occurrence of the fact."
"Nothing on that subject has ever passed my lips. I believed that you saw and repented of your error, and in honor and in conscience refrained from even the remotest allusion to the subject."
"How, then, did Mr. Cloutier become cognizant of the fact?"
"If cognizant all, it was from another source than the one you supposed."
"I never mentioned it. You were the only one to whom the circumstance was communicated. How, then, could the matter have gotten abroad?"
"I don't believe a single member of the congregation ever heard of it."
"Oh, yes, they have. These has been a marked change in the manner of very many towards me. So apparent was this at one time, that I absented myself from church, rather than encounter it."
"All your imagination, brother Grant, and nothing else. I believe that I mingle as freely with the congregation as anyone, and I know that I never heard a breath against you. At present, everyone is at a loss to know in what way Mr. Cloutier pointed you out; he is equally in the dark."
"I was sure he meant me. It was so plain," said Mr. Grant, his countenance falling, and his manner becoming subdued.
"There was nothing of the kind, you may depend upon it," replied Mr. Harrison.
"And you never spoke of it?"
"A guilty conscience, it is said, needs no accuser. The likeness to me was so strong, that I really thought the picture was sketched from myself as the original. Ah, me!"
"Had you not better call on Mr. Cloutier?" asked Harrison.
"No, no. See him for me, if you please, and tell him that I am convinced of my error in supposing he pointed me out in the congregation. As to the particular allusion that I felt to be offensive, I hope you will still keep your own counsel. I did wrong, under temptation, and have suffered and repented in consequence. It can do no good to bring the matter to light now."
"None at all. I will not speak of it."
Nor did he. Many and various were the suggestions and suppositions of the congregation concerning the nature of the preacher's personal allusion to the jeweler, and some dozen of little gossiping stories got into circulation; but the truth did not find its way to the light. And not until the day on which he was leaving the church for a new field of labor, did the preacher himself understand the matter; and then he had it from Mr. Grant's own lips.