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   Chapter 3 No.3

'As Gold in the Furnace' By John E. Copus Characters: 9107

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The Conditions

THE following morning, Mr. Henning called Roy to him soon after breakfast. When the two had taken seats under a shady beech on the lawn, Roy saw that his father appeared moody, and as if suffering from a great disappointment.

"What is this I hear about your refusing to go to your Aunt Garrett's last night?"

"I did not refuse to go and see Aunt Helen, sir. Andrew wanted me to go and dance. I did not care to dance. Nor could I have gone and retained my self-respect."

"Dear me! dear me! Are not your Aunt Helen's children and their friends good enough associates for you?"

"Quite good enough. But, sir, you mistake my meaning. I had two reasons for refusing. I do not care for dancing, and do not care to be made a mere convenience of, nor do I wish to be patronized by my cousin Garrett. My other reason was that I was anxious and worried, having received no word from you since I told you of my earnest desire to study for the priesthood."

"Ah! Yes, to be sure. You may think my abrupt leaving you last night was a strange proceeding. It was. I am sorry I vexed you. I want to be kind."

"Thank you, Father; I am sure you do."

Mr. Henning was not a demonstratively affectionate man, and it must be charged to heredity that his own child possessed decidedly similar characteristics, especially in all absence of demonstrativeness. Roy loved his father deeply, but no terms of endearment or outward show of affection, so far as the boy could remember, had ever passed between them. If Roy had only known he could have crept very close to his father's heart this morning. If Roy could have known just then, he would have seen his father's heart sore and sensitive, trying to discipline itself into renouncing its life-long ambition-that of his son's advancement. He had so earnestly wished the boy to adopt his own profession. Was he not already getting along in years? Would not a partner in his law practice become ere long an imperative necessity?

He had too clear and too well-trained a mind not to see the futility of attempting to thwart the boy's inclinations. He was too sincere a Catholic of principle and too well instructed in the obligations of his faith to wish effectually to prevent or destroy a vocation, and yet-oh, it was hard! It was a sore trial to give up his dream of years!

"Thank you, Father; I am sure you wish to be kind."

Roy, seeing that his father had remained silent an unusually long time, repeated his remark. The elder man's lips twitched. The muscles of his cheeks moved with the strong emotions he was experiencing.

"Oh, Roy, Roy! Think what it all means for me! My shattered hopes for you! I know that as a Catholic I dare not thwart you in following so high a vocation, nor would I have it on my conscience to do so. But all my shattered hopes of you! I have wealth and position, but they are not everything. I have looked forward to you as my prop and stay and my honor in my declining years. Must you-must you leave us? Are you sure of this call? Is it not a mere passing fancy, such as many good and pure boys have? Are you sure that your duty does not point to your family rather than to the seminary? Are you sure, my lad?"

The old gentleman's words were almost passionate. Young Henning was unwontedly affected. He had never been placed in so peculiar a position. His father evidently regarded him now, spoke to him, even appealed to him, as to a man, with a man's responsibilities. For a moment he was thrilled with exquisite pleasure in being so treated, but he did not waver in his purpose. He knew that he would probably add to his father's regrets, yet he was conscious that he could not hold out the faintest hope that the parental wish, which appeared to run contrary to what he now conceived to be his plain duty, would be gratified.

"My dear father," he said, "I am sorry to cause you pain, but I believe I have this vocation and I must, in conscience, follow it."

There was a long pause.

"Well-what must be, must be, I suppose, but, my child, have you well considered the step? Are you willing to live on a meager pittance, as most priests do? Are you willing to lead a life of penurious denial and of study? Can you face the ordeal of the confessional for hours at a time, listening to tales of misery, wretchedness, and degradation? Can you be strong with the strong, and not too strong with the weak? Can you bear all this? Are you sure of yourself?"

Now Roy Henning, during the previous year at St. Cuthbert's had thought over the

question of his vocation time and time again, examining himself rigorously as to his fitness, and, as far as his experience allowed, reviewing the life of the ordinary parish priest. He saw clearly that no one embraced the priestly life from a purely natural motive. Such as did, he argued, must become failures, and unfit for their state. He had, as every one who has a true vocation, a higher motive than a merely natural one. With him the supernatural was paramount, and in its light all prosaic, squalid, unheroic circumstances sank into insignificance. He, therefore, answered:

"Yes, sir, I have thought it all over. I firmly believe I have a vocation, and after I graduate, I think it will be my duty to enter a seminary with a view to probing and testing it."

"I will not thwart you, my boy; I dare not. But do you think yourself worthy of so high a calling?"

"I do not, indeed, Father; but my confessor encourages me to go on."

Mr. Henning sighed on discovering that the opinion of the boy's confessor was averse to his wishes-sighed as if giving up his last hope of being able to change his son's views. He then altered his manner suddenly, as if ashamed of having displayed emotion before any member of his family. He was again the sharp, shrewd man of affairs.

"Very well, sir," he said, with a crispness in his voice which hitherto had been absent; "you take your degree the coming year. After that you have my permission to enter a seminary. I will be responsible for your expenses until your ordination. As you desire, however, to enter a hard and self-denying life I consider it my duty to test you myself to some extent during the coming school year."

In the midst of the delight at his father's capitulation, Roy looked up in surprise. He wondered what was coming next.

"You must apply yourself wholly and solely to your studies. I shall allow you only twenty-five dollars for your private expenses, and I desire and insist that for the last year of your college life you relinquish all sports of whatsoever kind."

"Father," cried the poor boy in dismay; and oh, the heart-sinking that was expressed in that one word!

"I mean precisely what I say," persisted Mr. Henning, almost relentlessly; "a priest's life is one of constant self-sacrifice and denial. You can not begin to practise those virtues too soon."

"But, Father, I am captain of the ball nine, and the football eleven, at college," And there was a world of appeal in the boy's voice.

"I am sorry, under the circumstances, to hear it. Abstinence from baseball and football and boating and all sorts of contests is the condition under which I sanction your plans, which, pardon me if I say it, I can not but consider chimerical. The test I have selected will prove how right or wrong I am in my opinion. You will take only enough exercise to keep a sound mind in a sound body."

Whether Roy Henning's father was acting judiciously or otherwise, we will not undertake to say. We merely give the facts. Mr. Henning was desirous to see how his son would act under circumstances which he readily admitted would be particularly trying.

It is probable that many boys will be inclined to think that Roy Henning was not in such a very sad plight after all, and perhaps would be willing to exchange places with him if their pocketbooks were exchanged too. It is true that many a boy goes to college with far less spending money than that which was to be Roy's share for his graduating year. It must be understood, in order to make Roy's position clear, that the boy was generous to a fault, and never having stinted his expenditures at college, or been stinted in the supply, he was looked to for pecuniary assistance by all sorts of college associations whose financial condition, as most collegians are aware, is perennially in a state of collapse. He was one of the most popular boys, because his purse was always open.

His father had, indeed, arranged a severe test for him. He little realized what the trials of a rich boy's poverty were. Little did he imagine to what hours of guiltless ignominy he was unwittingly condemning his son. We must do the lawyer the justice to say that had he imagined but one-tenth of the trials which were to come upon his son by his restrictive action, he would have been the last man to have imposed the conditions.

Roy Henning accepted them unreservedly, and the conversation at the beginning of the first chapter shows us how fully and completely he intended to obey his father's injunctions.

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