There is “A Magazine for the Home” called “The Helpful Friend.” The local Baptist bible-banger or one of his emissaries comes “like a thief in the night” and thrusts a copy, month by month, in my letter-box. I do not know whether he regards this as inserting “the thin end of the wedge,” or as “doing good by stealth,” though I look to settle this point, among others, when I catch him at it.

But if “The Helpful Friend” is not a friend, it is sometimes helpful, for even the cat would laugh if it was given to reading its pages.

In the current issue the Rev. F. B. Meyer, keeper of the “Nonconformist Conscience” and the man who stopped the prize fight, writing under the title “Everyday Miracles,” says : “To turn water into wine is to ennoble what is common and ordinary.”

Now this is very frank. The Church, as a rule, is rather loth to publicly recognise the locus standi of “booze,” whatever opinion it may hold in private. But the truth is out at last, and we know that water is common, ordinary, and plebian (like the present scribe), while wine is noble and aristocratic (like you, fair reader).

Omar Khayyam and the parson reconciled at last !

* * *

This leads us to the thought that we live in a wonderfully democratic age. Only a few days ago King George V. of glorious memory (when he’s dead, of course) whose blood is the bluest of the blue (though I hope it will never make itself obtrusively manifest in the Royal countenance) went all the way to Chingford to open a “common and ordinary” reservoir.

If one might think the Royal thoughts they were probably “how fine it would be if Jesus were here now, so that once again it might happen that (as the Rev. F. B. Meyer puts it) ‘The modest water saw her God and blushed.'” After all, it is one of the saddest reflections to think that so much water remained “common and ordinary” for want of a presence next higher in rank than His Majesty, and no doubt the King, who is not altogether the backbone of the temperance movement, would see it in this light.

But what I intended to remark was, if the King would take so much trouble over “common, ordinary” water, to what lengths of condescension, self-sacrifice, and democracy would he go for that nobler liquid whose modesty is so intense as not only to cause her to blush, but to cause her king to blush also !

* * *

But the Rev. F. B. M. explains the ancient miracle in a way that looks to me suspiciously like robbing his Saviour, and if it wasn’t for my rooted objection to advertising a person who would do such a thing I would charge him with it—I would, really. I have always been taught that Jesus turned the water into wine, and now this clerical ragamuffin comes along and says he didn’t : the water blushed ! For shame ! For the proverb sayeth: “All is not wine that blushes.”

* * *

In the same article the reverend gent remarks with evident feeling: “How many innocent” (that means cheap) “joys there are in ail lives, however sad and dark !” (That means out of work.) “The morning flush,” (that’s washing the streets down in the night) “the evening glow,” (the night shift in the foundry know what this means) “the tender green”

(That’s the tender that takes ashore
The emigrant’s mother he’ll see no more.)

“and laughing flowers of spring,” (I don’t believe they do it,) “the many sounds of nature from the roll of the breaker” (that, evidently, is the machine that breaks up the roads and saves the man with the pickaxe the trouble—a very innocent joy, that,) “and hum of insect life” (kill that fl—); “the unexpected gleams of sunshine” (that’s when the office windows are cleaned) “which now from this side and now from that” (Its a very dodgey sort of sun, you know, that performs this “everyday miracle.”) “send a thrill through the heart” (That’s shock !) “and a light over the countenance.” (That’s what causes it: its so rare and unexpected.)

Now it will be noticed that the parson’s share of the above is divine truth (suitably hidden, of course, as divine truth always is, from the gaze of the vulgar), while my share is revelation. The two together are division of labour, and as such they are economically sound. (I had it in mind to say that they are sound in another way, mine being sound and the Holy Joe’s noise, but let that pass.) Beyond this I have only to say that they are a jolly cheap lot (in which respect they may be likened unto water), and that if the worker can only be brought to realise that (as the Rev. F. B. M. puts it) “he takes them all straight from the hand of Christ,” then the conclusion of the Rev. gent, that “it is this fact which turns the water into wine,” will be established on impregnable rock, and another “everyday miracle” will be achieved.

Which, of course, is why our dear brother in God wrote his message, and why the inspired word was put into my letter-box, and why I have donned the mantle of the prophet and revealed divine truth, which else had lain hidden like the germ in the german sausage.

* * *

The Reverend author rounds off with the assurance that ” He keeps the best till last,” and closes with those lines of Browning’s :—

“Grow old along with Me,
The Best is yet to be; the Last
For which the First was made.”

I confess that I was divided within myself as to whether this was a covert allusion to the workhouse or a prophetic forecast of the Old Age Pensions. But in what strange places do we find the truth revealed ! I discovered the solution among the advertisements on the cover of “The Helpful Friend,” where the portrait of a staid and elderly gentleman with a long white beard like a tombstone upside down, and a mouth like a fold in the “Financial Times,” and looking a “helpful friend,” every inch, first caught my eye, and afterwards this legend underneath : “We supply the Cheapest Funerals in the District.”

Which, I am afraid, sums up from the working-class point of view, the whole matter of those “innocent joys” aforementioned, as being taken “direct from the hand of Christ,” and signs the bill “Thank you for Nothing.”

* * *

In another part of “The Helpful Friend” a funny tale is told of two men who had been taking rather too much of a certain noble and blushing liquid “straight from the hand of Christ.” They went to the river, got into their boat and worked hard and long at the oars without making any progress, simply because they had forgotten to unmoor the boat.

We are told that the moral is that we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven because we are tied to the world, and we are exhorted to “cut the cord, cut the cord ! Set yourselves free from the clogging weight of earthly things, and you will soon voyage heavenward.”

Who is going to contest the truth of that ? Not I, for one. It is getting very near to the materialist conception to assert that it is only worldly things that keep us here. Who is not aware of it ? Personally, I feel that my load of the “clogging weight of earthly things” is so infinitesimal that, but for being an abnormally wicked wretch, strongly under the influence of “the other place,” it would be insufficient to keep me here, and I should, willy-nilly (overwhelmingly nilly, I can assure you), soar heavenward with the rope in my hands, and my dot of “the clogging weight of earthly things” swinging, oh, so lightly ! on the end.

Which, of course, wouldn’t be much good to the gentleman with the tombstone whiskers.

But drawing my deduction from what I have already said, it seems pretty plain why the Rev. Meyers and Campbells are so heavily burdened with “the clogging weight of earthly things.” Their pure and holy souls fret so in their carnal prisons that anything less than about £2,000 a year could not hold them down, hence, for the sake of their flocks, they have this great burden laid upon them, and they strain hard at the oars that should waft them to heaven, without (to the everlasting regret of the helpful friend with the tombstone whiskers) making any more progress than is quite inevitable in the course of nature. But they take darned good care that nobody cuts their cord.

* * *

Oa the occasion of the historic visit of the King to Chingford to secure the water supply of the teeming millions of HIS people; he passed through West Ham, which is particularly and peculiarly a district of those “glad, beautiful, and pure” (I am quoting the Rev. F. B. Meyer again) “English homes,” which are “under God the secret of our national greatness.” For the most “glad, beautiful, and pure” portion of this salubrious oasis (the portion commonly known as dockland) that stern old revolutionary warrior, Mr. William Thorne, happens by the Grace of God and the blindness of the people, to be the “sitting Member.” Hence Mr. William Thorne was, I understand, presented to His Majesty, when the following chin-wag didn’t take place :

HIGH PERSONAGE (with a bow and a scrape): This, Maj’sty, is Mr. Willyum Thorne, M.P. for the Southern portion of the borough. Mr. Thorne is called Bill by his friends, but desires to support the dignity of the borough under the name of Willyum.
MAJESTY : ‘Do, Mr. Thorne ?
THORNE: How does your Majesty find yourself and how’s your mother and the missus and all the youngsters ?
MAJESTY : So-so, considering how hard they work. (Prolonged pause.) Say, Thorne, I was thinking.
THORNE : G’on, no larks.
MAJESTY : Honour bright, I was thinking that your friends call you Bill.
THORNE: I can’t get ’em to realise who I am, but perhaps after this (sentence finished in eloquent silence.)
MAJESTY : Well, we are not exactly enemies, are we ?
THORNE : Far from it, or I shouldn’t be here.
MAJESTY : Well, I was thinking of a compromise.
THORNE (with quickening interest) : Ah ! I do, very often.
MAJESTY (extending his hand): Then let it be Billiam.
THORNE (dissembling, but nevertheless visibly chapfallen): Honoured, I’m sure, and (a glance at a corner establishment near the Town Hall, where a white swan was undergoing agonies of loyal fervour and manifesting the same through a roaring trade at the bar) if it wasn’t for the Free Churches, which means votes, riper acquaintance might lead to something better.
MAJESTY (following Thorne’s eye and, after a furtive glance at his gracious lady, whereupon he sighed sadly and subsided into a slough of despond): To tell the truth, Billiam, I was thinking of something better—a knighthood or something of that. We’ve brought the sword along.
THORNE : I once came near being made a J.P., but some of me boys said they weren’t going to pay me to send ’em to prison. My word, they didn’t half ruck ! Some of ’em jib at this (indicating his aldermanic rotundity). They say it represents the Free Churches and others better than it represents labour. They forget its labour for me to carry it about. So before I commit myself I should like to know whether there is any chink attached.
MAJESTY : I don’t think there can be, or the sword wouldn’t have been used so much by one or two I could mention.
THORNE (drawing himself proudly to his full height): la that case I’ll die what I’ve lived—honest Will Thorne.
MAJESTY : Good, you’ll be very useful as that, no doubt, so we’ll leave it at Billiam.

Hurrah for the revolution ! shouted Bill under his breath as the King drove away.


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