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Prayers by Rupert Hughes

 

God leaned forward in His throne and bent His all-seeing gaze upon one of the least of the countless suns. A few tiny planets spun slowly about it like dead leaves around a deserted camp-fire.

Almost the smallest of these planets had named itself the Earth. The glow of the central cinder brightened one side and they called that Day. And where the shadow was was Night.

The creeping glimmer of Day woke, as it passed, a jangle in shops and factories, a racket and hurry of traffic, war and business, which the coming of the gloom hushed in its turn. As God's eyes pierced the shadow they found, between the dotted lines of street-lamps and under the roofs where the windows glimmered—revelry or solemnity. In denser shadows there was a murmur of the voices of lovers and of families at peace or at war.

The All-hearing heard no chaos in this discord, but knew each instrument and understood each melody, concord, and clash. Loudest of all were the silences or the faint whimperings of those who knelt by their beds and bent their brows toward their own bosoms, communing with the various selves that they interpreted as the one God. He knew who prayed for what, and He answered each in His own wisdom, knowing that He would seem to have answered none and knowing why.

Among the multitudinous prayers one group arrived at His throne from separate places, but linked together by their contradictions. He heard the limping effort to be formal as before a king or a court of justice. He heard the anxious fear break through the petition; He heard the selfish eagerness trembling in the pious phrases of altruism. He understood.

I. A MAN'S VOICE

Our Father which art in heaven let me come back to Thy kingdom. Bless my wife Edith and our little Marjorie and give them to me again. I am not worthy of them; I have sinned against them and against Thee. I have been drunken, adulterous, heartless, but from this night I will be good again. I will try with all my soul, and with Thy help I will succeed. Teach me to be strong. Forgive me my trespasses and help Edith to forgive them. Make my wife beautiful in my sight and make all those other beautiful faces ugly in my eyes so that I shall see only Edith as I used to.

Grant me freedom from the wicked woman who will not let me go; don't let Rose carry out her threats; don't let her wreck my home; make her understand that I am doing my duty; make her love some one else; make her forget me. How can I be true to my sin and true to Thee! Help me out of these depths, O Lord, that I may walk in the narrow path and escape destruction.

To-morrow I am going back to my wife and my child with words of love and humility on my lips.

Give me back my home again, O God. Amen.

II. A WOMAN'S VOICE

Let me come to Thee again, dear Father, and do not reject my prayer. Forgive me for what I shall do to-night. Take care of my little Marjorie and save her from the temptations that have overwhelmed me. Thou alone knowest how hard I have tried to live without love, how long I have waited for John to come back to me. Thou only hast seen me struggling against the long loneliness. Thou alone canst forgive, for Thou hast seen me refuse to be tempted with love. Thou hast heard my cries in the long, long nights. Thou knowest that I have been true to my husband who was not true to me. Thou hast seen me put away the happiness that Frank has offered me and asked of me. And now if I can endure no longer, if I give myself to him, more for his sake than mine, let me bear the punishment, not Frank; let me bear even the punishment John has earned. I am what Thou hast made me, Lord. If it be Thy pleasure that I shall burn in the fires forever, then let Thy will be done; for I can live no longer without Frank. Thou mayest refuse to hear my prayers, but I cannot refuse to hear his. Forgive me if I leave my beloved child alone. She is safer with Thee than with me. Perhaps her father will be good to her now. Perhaps he will turn back to her if I am away. And help me through the coming years to be true to Frank. He needs me, he loves me, he is braving the wrath of the world and of heaven for my sake.

Help us, Lord, to find in our new life the peace and the virtue that was not in the old and bless and guard my motherless little Marjorie, O God, and save her from the fate that overwhelmed her mother for her father's fault. I am leaving her asleep here in Thy charge, O God. When she wakes in the morning let Thy angels comfort her and dry her tears. Let me not hear her crying for me, or I shall kill myself. I cannot bear everything. I have endured more than my strength can endure. Help me, O Lord, and forgive me for my sin—if sin it is. Amen.

III. A MAN'S VOICE

God, if You are in heaven, hear me and help me. I have not prayed for many years. My voice is strange to You. My prayer may offend You, but it rushes from my heart.

I am about to do what the world calls hideous crime—to steal another man's wife and carry her to another country where we may have peace. I loved Edith before her husband loved her. I love her better than John ever loved her. I can't stand it. I can't stand it any longer to see her deserted in her beauty, and despised and weeping in loneliness, wasting her love on a dog who squandered his heart on a vile woman. I can't go on watching her die in a living hell. I have sold all my goods and gotten all I could save into my safe so that we may sever all ties with this heartless love. If what we are about to do offends Thee, then let me suffer for her. She has suffered enough, enough, enough!

And keep her husband from following us, lest I kill him. Keep her from mourning too much for her child—his child. Give her a little happiness, O God. Take bitter toll from my heart afterward, but give us a little happiness now. Grant us escape to-night and safety and a little happiness for her. And then I shall believe in Thee again and live honorably in Thy sight. Amen.

IV. A WOMAN'S VOICE

Dear God in heaven, what shall I do? He has abandoned me, John has turned against me at last. Has denounced me as wicked, and hateful, has accused me of wrecking his life and breaking his wife's heart—as if she had a heart, as if I had not saved him from despair, as if I had not sacrificed my name, my hopes, on earth and in heaven to make him happy.

O God, why hast Thou persecuted me so fiercely always? What made You hate me so? Why didn't You give me a decent home as a child? Why did You throw me into the snares of those vile men? Why did You make me beautiful and weak and trusting? Why didn't You make me ugly and suspicious and hateful so that I could be good?

And now, now that I am no longer a girl, now that the wrinkles are coming, and the fat and the dullness, why didst Thou throw me into the way of this man who promised to love me forever, who promised me and praised me and called me his real wife, only to tire of me and tear my hands away and go back to her?

But don't let him have her, don't let him be happy with her, while I grovel here in shame! I can't bear the thought of that, I can't imagine him in her arms telling her how good she is and how bad I was. I'd rather kill them both. Isn't that best, O Lord—to kill them both—to kill her, anyway? Then I can kill myself and he will be sorry. Don't let him have both of us, O God. Am I going mad, or do I hear Thy voice telling me to act? Yes, it is Thy voice. Thou hast answered. I will do as Thou dost command. Perhaps he is going there to-night. I will go to the house and wait in the shadow and when he comes to the door and she comes to meet him I will shoot her and myself, and then he shall be punished as he should be.

I thank Thee, God, for showing me the way. Guide my arm and my heart and don't let me be afraid to die or to make her die. Forgive my sins and take me into Thy peace, O God, for I am tired of life and the wickedness of the world. Amen. Amen.

V. A CHILD'S VOICE

Our Father which art in he'v'm, hallowed be Dy name. Dy king'm come. Dy will be done in earf as it is in he'v'm. Give us dis day our daily bread and forgive an'—an' forgive Marjorie for bein' a bad chile an' getting so s'eepy, and b'ess papa an' b'ing him home to mamma an'—an' trespasses as—tres-passes 'gainst us. King'm, power, and glory forever. Amen.

VI. AN OLD WOMAN'S VOICE

—and give my poor Edith strength and let her find happiness again in the return of her husband. Let her forget his wrongs and forgive them and live happily in her old age as I have done with my husband. I thank Thee for helping me through those cruel years. Thou alone couldst have helped me and now all would be happiness if only Edith had happiness, but for the mercies Thou hast vouchsafed make me grateful.

VII. AN OLD WOMAN'S VOICE

—and help my poor Rose to be a good girl to her old mother and keep her out of trouble and make her send me some more money, for I'm so sick and tired and the rent's comin' due and I need a warm coat for the winter, and I've had a hard life and many's the curse You've put upon me, but I'm doing my best and I'm all wore out.

VIII. A MAN'S VOICE

Fergimme, O Gawd, if it makes Thou mad fer to be prayed to by a sneakin' boiglar, but help me t'roo dis one job and I'll go straight from now on, so help me. Don't let dis guy find me crackin' his safe, so's I won't have to kill 'im. Help me make a clean getaway and I'll toin over a noo leaf, I will. I'll send money to me mudder, and I'll go to choich reg'lar and I'll never do nuttin' crooked again. On'y dis one time, O Gawd.

       * * * * *

God closed His eyes and smiled the sorrowful smile of the All-knowing, the All-pitying, the Unknown, the Unpitied, and He said to Him who sat at His side:

“They call these Prayers! They will wonder why I have not finished the tasks they set Me nor accepted the bribes they offered. And to-morrow they will rebuke Me as a faithless, indolent servant who has disobeyed!”

 
 
 

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