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Verse for Today

"I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go; I will guide thee with mine eye." Psalm 32:8

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Grace Holbrook - the Martyr (Part Two)

"Grace Holbrook - the Martyr" is a short story from Isabella (Pansy) Alden's (1841-1931) collection Grace Holbrook and Other Stories. If you missed "Part One," be sure to scroll down and read it first!

That very evening, at the rehearsal, something occurred which brought the talk in the clover patch vividly back to the three who had lingered there. Some of the little children were being drilled to sing a verse of the old hymn, “There is a Happy Land, Far, Far Away.” It was to be sung, during the progress of the Review of Nations, in the Japanese language, as it was sung in their Sabbath-school. Of course much drilling was required to familiarize the little singers with those queer-sounding syllables which made them feel like laughing.
Meantime the older ones, who were waiting for their turn to rehearse, scattered in groups, and amused themselves as best they could. In one group of half a dozen boys, and more than that number of girls, were Grace Holbrook and her brother, and Jennie Talbot. Over and over were the sweet, familiar strains of the old hymn which every one of these had sung in childhood repeated.
“I should think those toddlers had had time to learn a million verses of the thing,” said one of the boys at last, impatiently. “If they would try our words it wouldn’t take so long, would it, Rene?”
“What are your words?” asked Grace. And in reply Rene sang in undertone, to the tune of “Happy Land”:

There is a boarding-house,
Not far away,
Where they have ham and eggs
Three times a day.

Several of the girls, who had not heard this remarkable parody before, were convulsed with laughter. Grace Holbrook laughed with the rest, though there was a little flush on her cheek. The boys to whom the trash was familiar looked on in smiling enjoyment, and only little Jennie Talbot, her cheeks red, and her heart beating fast because of the courage it took, said timidly, though quite distinctly: “Boy, I don’t believe it is right to sing such silly words to that hymn tune.”
Rene opened his great brown eyes wider than usual.
“Why not?” he asked. “Tunes aren’t sacred. What earthly harm can it do?
“Well, for one thing it will make people think of those words the next time they hear the tune, and then they will feel like laughing. Then there are other reasons which I can feel, but cannot tell. I don’t believe it is quite right; you never hear real good people do it. Don’t you believe you would be shocked it Dr. Grierson should sing it that way, just for fun?”
“Oh! I wouldn’t have him do it in prayer meeting,” answered Rene loftily.
“No; I don’t mean in prayer meeting; I mean here at rehearsal. If he should come along now singing ‘Happy Land,’ and when he came near enough we should find it was to those words, would you think it was real nice?”
“Dr. Grierson is a minister,” said Rene shortly, “and I am not.” Then he turned away, looking cross. There was quite a little discussion about the matter, but Jennie said no more.

As for Grace , her eyes had flashed a good deal, but she did not say much until they were walking home together, she and Rene and Jennie Talbot. Then she began. “I don’t think it was very nice in you, Jennie Talbot, to lecture those boys who are so much older than you. Rene didn’t mind it, of course; but there was John Moor, nearly three years older than you; he was singing, too, and he looked ever so annoyed.”
“I didn’t mean to lecture,” said Jennie gently; “I didn’t want to say a word; and at first I thought I would laugh it off with the rest; but I truly think it was wrong, and it did not seem right to keep still.”
“Nonsense!” said Grace severely; “as if it would have done any harm to laugh. I didn’t admire the stuff myself; but I don’t think it necessary to set myself up above other people and lecture them. My way is to just laugh such things off and forget them, and I don’t believe—“
“Oh! hold on now, Sis.” It was Rene’s voice that interrupted. “I’m the fellow who deserved the most of the scolding, so I have a right to speak; it was the gentlest little scolding ever heard of, and made me feel ashamed of myself. If it is any pleasure to Jennie to know it, I quite agree with her; ‘Happy Land’ has too many tender memories to be associated with such trash as we were getting off tonight. Moreover, I may as well tell you what I specially thought of; that Jennie had gone back to our morning’s talk, and was living out some of the ideas advanced. I’ve made up my mind which of us three would have the courage to be a martyr if the chance offered, and it wouldn’t be a person by the name of Holbrook, in my opinion. Anybody could see it took a lot of courage for you to speak up in the way you did, Jennie. And as for John Moore, since we are on the subject and talking plainly, I’ll tell you what he said:
“’That’s a first-class little heroine, isn’t it? I tell you what it is, she is going to stand up for what she thinks is right every time, if it does make her cheeks red.’”
And then, to Grace Holbrook’s relief, the reached her father’s door, and she was not obliged to make any reply to these astonishing revelations.
Stories like these give me food for thought. This one has left me with several questions:

~Am I over-confident in knowing “I will do this?”

~When something is said that I know is not right, do I “laugh it off” like a cowardly Grace Holbrook, or do I stand up for the truth like the “first-class little heroine?”

~If I am obliged to stand up for the truth, do I do it in a humble attitude or a lofty, proud, “I am right, you are wrong” attitude? We can be 100% right in what we are saying but 100% wrong in how we say it!  

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