It was Sunday night, and Robert Hardy had just come home from the evening service in the church at Barton. He was not in the habit of attending the evening service, but something said by his minister in the morning had impelled him to go out. The evening had been a little unpleasant, and a light snow was falling, and his wife had excused herself from going to church on that account. Mr. Hardy came home cross and fault-finding.
"Catch me going to evening service again! Only fifty people out, and it was a sheer waste of fuel and light. The sermon was one of the dullest I ever heard. I believe Mr. Jones is growing too old for our church. We need a young man, more up with the times. He is everlastingly harping on the necessity of doing what we can in the present to save souls. To hear him talk you would think every man who wasn't running round to save souls every winter was a robber and an enemy of society. He is getting off, too, on this new-fangled Christian Sociology, and thinks the rich men are oppressing the poor, and that church members ought to study and follow more closely the teachings of Christ, and be more brotherly and neighbourly to their fellow men. Bah! I am sick of the whole subject of humanity. I shall withdraw my pledge to the salary if the present style of preaching continues."
"What was the text of the sermon tonight?" asked Mrs. Hardy.
"Oh, I don't remember exactly! Something about 'This night thy soul shall be demanded,' or words like that. I don't believe in this attempt to scare folks into heaven."
"It would take a good many sermons to scare you, Robert."
"Yes, more than two a week," replied Mr. Hardy, with a dry laugh. He drew off his overcoat and threw himself down on the lounge in front of the open fire. "Where are the girls?"
"Alice is upstairs reading the morning paper; Clara and Bess went over to call on the Caxtons."
"How did they happen to go over there?"
Mrs. Hardy hesitated. Finally she said, "James came over and invited them."
"And they know I have forbidden them to have anything to do with the Caxtons! When they come in I will let them know I mean what I say. It is very strange the girls do not appear to understand that."
Mr. Hardy rose from the lounge and walked across the room, then came back and lay down again, and from his recumbent position poked the fire savagely with the shovel.
Mrs. Hardy bit her lips and seemed on the point of replying, but said nothing.
At last Mr. Hardy asked, "Where are the boys?"
"Will is getting out his lessons for to-morrow up in his room. George went out about eight o'clock. He didn't say where he was going."
"It's a nice family. Is there one night in the year, Mary, when all our children are at home?"
"Almost as many as there are when you are at home!" retorted Mrs. Hardy. "What with your club and your lodge and your scientific society and your reading circle and your directors' meeting, the children see about as much of you as you do of them. How many nights in a week do you give to us, Robert?...