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 glimmeredrevelry 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
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
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 sinif 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 crimeto 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,
And keep her husband from following us, lest I kill him. Keep her
from mourning too much for her childhis 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 heartas 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
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 Lordto kill them bothto
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 astres-passes 'gainst us. King'm, power, and glory
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