Stories Worth Re-Reading

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15: "Herrings for Nothing" 16: The Power of Song

I want you to think of a bitter, east windy day, fast-falling snow, and a short, muddy street in London. Put these thoughts together, and add to them the picture of a tall, stout man, in a rough greatcoat, and with a large comforter round his neck, buffeting through wind and storm. The darkness is coming rapidly, as a man with a basket on his head turns the corner of the street, and there are two of us on opposite sides. He cries loudly as he goes: "Herrings! three a penny! Red herrings, good and cheap, three a penny!" So crying, he passes along the street, crosses at its end, and comes to where I am standing at the corner. Here he pauses, evidently wishing to fraternize with somebody, as a relief from the dull time and disappointed hopes of trade. I presume I appear a suitable object, as he comes close to me and begins conversation:—

"Governor, what do you think of these yer herrings?"—three in his hand, while the remaining stock are deftly balanced in the basket on his head. "Don't you think they're good?" and he offered me the opportunity of testing them by scent, which I courteously but firmly declined, "and don't you think they're cheap as well?"

I asserted my decided opinion that they were good and cheap.

"Then, look you, governor, why can't I sell 'em? Yet have I walked a mile and a half along this dismal place, offering these good and cheap 'uns; and nobody don't buy none!"

"I do not wonder at all at that," I answered, to his astonishment.

"Tell us why not, governor."

"The people have no work, and are starving; there are plenty of houses round here that have not a single penny in them," was my reply.

"Ah! then, governor," he rejoined, "I've put my foot in it this time; I knew they was werry poor, but I thought three a penny 'ud tempt 'em. But if they haven't the ha-pence, they can't spend 'em, sure enough; so there's nothing for it but to carry 'em back, and try and sell 'em elsewhere. I thought by selling cheap, arter buying cheap, I could do them good, and earn a trifle for myself. But I'm done this time."

"How much will you take for the lot?" I inquired.

First a keen look at me, then down came the basket from his head, then a rapid calculation, then a grinning inquiry, "Do you mean profit an' all, governor?"


"Then I'll take four shillin', and be glad to get 'em."

I put my hand in my pocket, produced that amount, and handed it to him.

"Right, governor, thank'ee! Now what'll I do with 'em?" he said, as he quickly transferred the coins to his own pocket.

"Go round this corner into the middle of the road, and shout with all your might, 'Herrings for nothing!' and give three to every man, woman, or child that comes to you, till the basket is emptied."

On hearing these instructions, he immediately reproduced the money, and examined it. Being satisfied of its genuineness, he again replaced it, and then looked keenly and questioningly at me.

"Well," I said, "is it all right and good?"

"Yes," replied he.

"Then the herrings are my property, and I can do as I like with them; but if you do not like to do as I tell you, give me back my money."

"All right, governor, an' they are yours; so if you say it, here goes!" Accordingly, he proceeded into the middle of the adjoining street, and went along, shouting aloud: "Herrings for nothing! Good red herrings for nothing!"

Out of sight myself, I stood at the corner to watch his progress; and speedily he neared the house where a tall woman stood at the first-floor window, looking out upon him.

"Here you are, missus," he bawled, "herrings for nothing! A fine chance for yer! Come an' take 'em."

The woman shook her head unbelievingly, and left the window.

"Vot a fool!" said he. "But they won't be all so. Herrings for nothing!" A little child came out to look at him, and he called to her, "Yer, my dear, take these in to your mother. Tell her how cheap they are—herrings for nothing." But the child was afraid of him and them, and ran indoors.

So down the street, in the snowy slush and mud, went the cheap fish, the vender crying loudly as he went, "Herrings for nothing!" and then adding savagely, "O you fools!" Thus he reached the very end; and, turning to retrace his steps, he continued his double cry as he came, "Herrings for nothing!" and then in a lower key, "O you fools!"

"Well?" I said to him calmly, as he reached me at the corner.

"Well!" he replied, "if yer think so! When you gave me the money for herrings as yer didn't want, I thought you was training for a lunatic 'sylum. Now I thinks all the people round here are fit company for yer. But what'll I do with the herrings, if yer don't want 'em and they won't have 'em?"

"We will try again together," I replied. "I will come with you, and we will both shout."

Into the road we both went; and he shouted, "Herrings for nothing!" and then I called out also, "Will any one have some herrings for tea?"

They heard the voice, and they knew it well; and they came out at once, in twos and threes and sixes, men and women and children, all striving eagerly to reach the welcome food.

As fast as I could take them from the basket, I handed three to each eager applicant, until all were speedily disposed of. When the basket was empty, the hungry crowd who had none, was far greater than those that had been supplied; but they were too late; there were no more herrings.

Foremost among the disappointed was the tall woman, who, with a bitter tongue, began vehemently: "Why haven't I got any? Ain't I as good as they? Ain't my children as hungry as theirs?"

Before I had time to reply, the vender stretched out his arm toward her, saying, "Why, governor, that's the very woman as I offered 'em to first, and she turned up her nose at 'em."

"I didn't," she rejoined passionately; "I didn't believe you meant it!"

"Yer just goes without, then, for yer unbelief!" he replied. "Good night, and thank'ee, governor!"

You smile at the story, which is strictly true. Are you sure you are not ten thousand times worse? Their unbelief cost them only a hungry stomach; but what may your unbelief of God's offer cost you? God—not man—God has sent his messenger to you repeatedly for years, to offer pardon for nothing! Salvation for nothing! He has sent to your homes, your hearts, the most loving and tender offers that even an Almighty could frame; and what have you replied? Have you not turned away, in scornful unbelief, like the woman?

God says, "Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;… I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh." Prov. I:24-26. But he also says, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." Isa. 55:1. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3: 16.

Answer him. Will you have it?—C. J. Whitmore.


  Ho, every one that thirsteth,
    Come to the living stream,
  And satisfy your longing soul
    Where silver fountains gleam.

  Come, weary, faint, and hungry;
    Before you now is spread
  A rich supply for all your needs;
    Receive the living Bread.

  Why do you linger longer?
    Come while 'tis called today.
  Here's milk and honey without price;
    O, do not turn away!

  Why feed on husks that perish?
    Enter the open door.
  Thy Saviour stands with outstretched hands;
    Eat, drink, and want no more. May Wakeham.

16: The Power of Song: My Own Experience

Near the summit of a mountain in Pennsylvania is a small hamlet called Honeyville, consisting of two log houses, two shanties, a rickety old barn, and a small shed, surrounded by a few acres of cleared land. In one of these houses lived a family of seven,—father, mother, three boys, and two girls. They had recently moved from Michigan. The mother's health was poor, and she longed to be out on the beautiful old mountain where she had spent most of her childhood. Their household goods had arrived in Pennsylvania just in time to be swept away by the great Johnstown flood of 1889.

The mother and her two little girls, Nina and Dot, were Christians, and their voices were often lifted in praise to God as they sang from an old hymn-book, one of their most cherished possessions.

One morning the mother sent Nina and Dot on an errand to their sister's home three and one-half miles distant. The first two miles took them through dense woods, while the rest of the way led past houses and through small clearings. She charged them to start on their return home in time to arrive before dark, as many wild beasts—bears, catamounts, and occasionally a panther—were prowling around. These animals were hungry at this time of the year; for they were getting ready to "hole up," or lie down in some cozy cave or hole for their winter's nap.

The girls started off, merrily chasing each other along the way, and arrived at their sister's in good time, and had a jolly romp with the baby. After dinner the sister was so busy, and the children were so absorbed in their play, that the time passed unheeded until the clock struck four. Then the girls hurriedly started for home, in the hope that they might arrive there before it grew very dark. The older sister watched until they disappeared up the road, anxiously wishing some one was there to go with them.

Nina and Dot made good time until they entered the long stretch of woods, when Nina said:—

"O, I know where there is such a large patch of wintergreen berries, right by the road! Let's pick some for mama."

So they climbed over a few stones and logs, and, sure enough, the berries were plentiful. They picked and talked, sometimes playing hide-and-seek among the bushes. When they started on again, the sun was sinking low in the west, and the trees were casting heavy shadows over the road, which lengthened rapidly. When about half of the distance was covered, Dot began to feel tired and afraid. Nina tried to cheer her, saying, "Over one more long hill, and we shall be home." But now they could only see the sun shining on the top of the trees on the hill.

They had often played trying to scare each other by one saying, "O, I see a bear or a wolf up the road!" and pretending to be afraid. So Dot said: "Let's scare each other. You try to scare me." Nina said, "All right." Then, pointing up the road, she said, "O, look up the road by that black stump! I see a—" She did not finish; for suddenly, from almost the very spot where she had pointed, a large panther stepped out of the bushes, turning his head first one way and then another. Then, as if seeing the girls for the first time, he crouched down, and, crawling, sneaking along, like a cat after a mouse, he moved toward them. The girls stopped and looked at each other. Then Dot began to cry, and said, in a half-smothered whisper, "O Nina, let's run!" But Nina thought of the long, dark, lonely road behind, and knew that running was useless. Then, thinking of what she had heard her father say about showing fear, she seized her little sister's hand, and said: "No, let's pass it. God will help us." And she started up the road toward the animal.

When the children moved, the panther stopped, and straightened himself up. Then he crouched again, moving slowly, uneasily, toward them. When they had nearly reached him, and Nina, who was nearest, saw his body almost rising for the spring, there flashed through her mind the memory of hearing it said that a wild beast would not attack any one who was singing. What should she sing? In vain she tried to recall some song, but her mind seemed a blank. In despair she looked up, and breathed a little prayer for help; then, catching a glimpse of the last rays of the setting sun touching the tops of the trees on the hill, she began the beautiful hymn,—

  "There is sunlight on the hilltop,
    There is sunlight on the sea."

Her sister joined in, and although their voices were faint and trembling at first, by the time the children were opposite the panther, the words of the song rang out sweet and clear on the evening air.

The panther stopped, and straightened himself to his height. His tail, which had been lashing and switching, became quiet as he seemed to listen. The girls passed on, hand in hand, never looking behind them. How sweet the words,—

  "O the sunlight! beautiful sunlight!
    O the sunlight in the heart!"

sounded as they echoed and reechoed through the woods.

As the children neared the top of the hill, the rumbling of a wagon fell upon their ears, so they knew that help was near, but still they sang. When they gained the top, at the same time the wagon rattled up, for the first time they turned and looked back, just in time to catch a last glimpse of the panther as he disappeared into the woods.

The mother had looked often and anxiously down the road, and each time was disappointed in not seeing the children coming. Finally she could wait no longer, and started to meet them. When about half-way there, she heard the words,—

  "O the sunlight! beautiful sunlight!
    O the sunlight in the heart!
  Jesus' smile can banish sadness;
    It is sunlight in the heart."

At first a happy smile of relief passed over her face; but it faded as she listened. There was such an unearthly sweetness in the song, so strong and clear, that it seemed like angels' music instead of her own little girls'. The song ceased, and the children appeared over the hill. She saw their white faces, and hurried toward them. When they saw her, how their little feet flew! But it was some time before they could tell her what had happened.

What a joyful season of worship they had that night, and what a meaning that dear old hymn has had to them ever since!

A few days later, a party of organized hunters killed the panther that had given the children such a fright. But the memory of that thrilling experience will never fade from the mind of the writer, who was one of the actors in it.—Nina Case.

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