ONE November it became clear to childish minds in certain parts of
Whilomville that the Sunday-school of the Presbyterian church would not have for the children the usual tree on Christmas eve. The funds free for that
ancient festival would be used for the relief of suffering among the victims
of the Charleston earthquake.
The plan had been born in the generous head of the superintendent of the
Sunday-school, and during one session he had made a strong plea that the
children should forego the vain pleasures of a tree, and, in a glorious
application of the Golden Rule, refuse a local use of the fund, and will
that it be sent where dire distress might be alleviated. At the end of a
tearfully eloquent speech the question was put fairly to a vote, and the
children in a burst of virtuous abandon carried the question for Charleston.
Many of the teachers had been careful to preserve a finely neutral attitude,
but even if they had cautioned the children against being too impetuous they
could not have checked the wild impulses.
But this was a long time
Very early, boys held important speech together. "Huh! you ain't goin' to
have no Christmas tree at the Presperterian
Sullenly the victims answered,
"No, we ain't."
"Huh!" scoffed the other denominations, "we are goin' to have the
all-fired-est biggest tree that ever you
saw in the world."
The little Presbyterians
were greatly downcast.
It happened that Jimmie Trescott had regularly attended the Presbyterian
Sunday-school. The Trescotts were consistently undenominational, but they
had sent their lad on Sundays to one of the places where they thought he
would receive benefits. However, on one day in December Jimmie appeared
before his father and made a strong spiritual appeal to be forthwith
attached to the Sunday-school of the Big Progressive church. Doctor Trescott
mused this question considerably. "Well, Jim," he said, "why do you conclude
that the Big Progressive Sunday-school is better for you than the
"Now -- it's nicer," answered Jimmie, looking at his father with an
"How do you mean?"
"Why -- now -- some of the boys what go to the Presperterian place, they
ain't very nice," explained the flagrant
Trescott mused the question considerably once more. In the end he said:
"Well, you may change if you wish, this one time, but you must not be
changing to and fro. You decide now, and then you must abide by your
Jimmie, brightly. "Big Progressive."
said the father. "But remember what I've told you."
On the following Sunday morning Jimmie presented himself at the door of
the basement of the Big Progressive
church. He was conspicuously washed, notably raimented, prominently
polished. And, incidentally, he was very uncomfortable because of all these
A number of acquaintances greeted him contemptuously. "Hello, Jimmie!
What you doin' here? Thought you was a Presperterian?"
Jimmie cast down his eyes and made no reply. He was too cowed by the
change. However, Homer Phelps, who was a regular patron of the Big
Progressive Sunday-school, suddenly appeared and said, "Hello, Jim!" Jimmie
seized upon him. Homer Phelps was amenable to Trescott laws, tribal if you
like, but iron-bound, almost compulsory.
"Hello, Homer!" said Jimmie, and his manner was so good that Homer felt a
great thrill in being able to show his superior
a new condition of life.
"You 'ain't never come here afore, have you?" he demanded, with a new
"No, I 'ain't," said Jimmie. Then they stared at each other and
"You don't know my
teacher," said Homer.
"No, I don't know her," admitted Jimmie, but in a way which contended,
modestly, that he knew countless other Sunday-school
"Better join our class," said Homer, sagely. "She wears spectacles; don't
see very well. Sometimes we do almost what
"All right," said Jimmie, glad to place himself in the hands of his
friend. In due time they entered the Sunday-school room, where a man with
benevolent whiskers stood on a platform and said, "We will now sing No. 33
-- 'Pull for the shore, sailor, pull for the shore.'" And as the obedient
throng burst into melody, the man on the platform indicated the time with a
white and graceful hand. He was an ideal Sunday-school superintendent -- one
who had never felt hunger or thirst or the wound of the challenge of
Jimmie, walking carefully on his toes, followed Homer Phelps. He felt
that the kingly superintendent might cry out and blast him to ashes before
he could reach a chair. It was a desperate journey. But at last he heard
Homer muttering to a young lady, who looked at him through glasses which
greatly magnified her eyes. "A new boy," she said, in a deeply religious
The five other boys of the class scanned him keenly and derided his
"We will proceed to the lesson," said the young lady. Then she cried
sternly, like a sergeant, "The seventh
chapter of Jeremiah!"
There was a swift fluttering of leaflets. Then the name of Jeremiah, a
wise man, towered over the feelings of these boys. Homer Phelps was doomed
to read the fourth verse. He took a deep breath, he puffed out his lips, he
gathered his strength for a great effort. His beginning was childishly
explosive. He hurriedly said,
Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple
of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are
"Now," said the teacher, "Johnnie Scanlan, tell us what these words
mean." The Scanlan boy shamefacedly muttered that he did not know. The
teacher's countenance saddened. Her heart was in her work; she wanted to
make a success of this Sunday-school class. "Perhaps Homer Phelps can tell
us," she remarked.
Homer gulped; he looked at Jimmie. Through the great room hummed a steady
hum. A little circle, very near, was being told about Daniel in the lion's
den. They were deeply moved at the story. At the moment they liked
"Why -- now -- it means," said Homer, with a grand pomposity born of a
sense of hopeless ignorance -- "it means -- why, it means that they were in
the wrong place."
"No," said the teacher, profoundly; "it means that we should be good,
very good indeed. That is what it means. It means that we should love the
Lord and be good. Love the Lord and be good.
That is what it means."
The little boys suddenly had a sense of black wickedness as their teacher
looked austerely upon them. They gazed at her with the wide-open eyes of
simplicity. They were stirred again. This thing of being good -- this great
business of life
-- apparently it was always successful. They know from the fairy-tales. But
it was difficult, wasn't it? It was said to be the most heart-breaking task
to be generous, wasn't it? One had to pay the price of one's eyes in order
to be pacific, didn't one? As for patience, it was tortured martyrdom to be
patient, wasn't it? Sin was simple, wasn't it? But virtue was so difficult
that it could only be practised by heavenly
beings, wasn't it?
And the angels, the Sunday-school superintendent, and the teacher swam in
the high visions of the little boys as beings so good that if a boy
scratched his shin in the same room he was
a profane and sentenced devil.
"And," said the teacher, "'the temple of the Lord' -- what does that
mean? I'll ask the new boy. What does that
said Jimmie, blankly.
But here the professional bright boy of the class suddenly awoke to his
obligations. "Teacher," he cried,
"it means church, same as this."
"Exactly," said the teacher, deeply satisfied with this reply. "You know
your lesson well, Clarence. I am much pleased."
The other boys, instead of being envious, looked with admiration upon
Clarence, while he adopted an air of being habituated to perform such feats
every day of his life. Still, he was not much of a boy. He had the virtue of
being able to walk on very high stilts, but when the season of stilts had
passed he possessed no rank save this Sunday-school rank, this
clever-little-Clarence business of knowing the Bible and the lesson better
than the other boys. The other boys, sometimes looking at him meditatively,
did not actually decide to thrash him as soon as he cleared the portals of
the church, but they certainly decided to molest him in such ways as would
re-establish their self-respect. Back of the superintendent's chair hung a
lithograph of the martyrdom of St. Stephen.
Jimmie, feeling stiff and encased in his best clothes, waited for the
ordeal to end. A bell pealed: the superintendent had tapped a bell. Slowly
the rustling and murmuring dwindled to silence. The benevolent man faced the
school. "I have to announce," he began, waving his body from side to side in
the conventional bows of his kind, "that -- " Bang went the bell. "Give me
your attention, please, children. I have to announce that the Board has
decided that this year there will be no
Christmas tree, but the -- "
Instantly the room buzzed with the subdued clamor of the children. Jimmie
was speechless. He stood morosely during the singing of the closing hymn. He
passed out into the street with the others, pushing no more than was
Speedily the whole idea left him. If he remembered Sunday-school at all,
it was to remember that he did not like it.