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An essay by Helen Hunt Jackson

The King's Friend

Title:     The King's Friend
Author: Helen Hunt Jackson [More Titles by Jackson]

We are a gay party, summering among the hills. New-comers into the little boarding-house where we, by reason of prior possession, hold a kind of sway are apt to fare hardly at our hands unless they come up to our standard. We are not exacting in the matter of clothes; we are liberal on creeds; but we have our shibboleths. And, though we do not drown unlucky Ephraimites, whose tongues make bad work with S's, I fear we are not quite kind to them; they never stay long, and so we go on having it much our own way.

Week before last a man appeared at dinner, of whom our good little landlady said, deprecatingly, that he would stay only a few days. She knew by instinct that his presence would not be agreeable to us. He was not in the least an intrusive person,--on the contrary, there was a sort of mute appeal to our humanity in the very extent of his quiet inoffensiveness; but his whole atmosphere was utterly uninteresting. He was untrained in manner, awkwardly ill at ease in the table routine; and, altogether, it was so uncomfortable to make any attempt to include him in our circle that in a few days he was ignored by every one, to a degree which was neither courteous nor Christian.

In all families there is a leader. Ours is a charming and brilliant married woman, whose ready wit and never-failing spirits make her the best of centres for a country party of pleasure-seekers. Her keen sense of humor had not been able entirely to spare this unfortunate man, whose attitudes and movements were certainly at times almost irresistible.

But one morning such a change was apparent in her manner toward him that we all looked up in surprise. No more gracious and gentle greeting could she have given him if he had been a prince of royal line. Our astonishment almost passed bounds when we heard her continue with a kindly inquiry after his health, and, undeterred by his evident readiness to launch into detailed symptoms, listen to him with the most respectful attention. Under the influence of this new and sweet recognition his plain and common face kindled into something almost manly and individual. He had never before been so spoken to by a well-bred and beautiful woman.

We were sobered, in spite of ourselves, by an indefinable something in her manner; and it was with subdued whispers that we crowded around her on the piazza, and begged to know what it all meant. It was a rare thing to see Mrs. ---- hesitate for a reply. The color rose in her face, and, with a half-nervous attempt at a smile, she finally said, "Well, girls, I suppose you will all laugh at me; but the truth is, I heard that man say his prayers this morning. You know his room is next to mine, and there is a great crack in the door. I heard him praying, this morning, for ten minutes, just before breakfast; and I never heard such tones in my life. I don't pretend to be religious; but I must own it was a wonderful thing to hear a man talking with God as he did. And when I saw him at table, I felt as if I were looking in the face of some one who had just come out of the presence of the King of kings, and had the very air of heaven about him. I can't help what the rest of you do or say; _I_ shall always have the same feeling whenever I see him."

There was a magnetic earnestness in her tone and look, which we all felt, and which some of us will never forget.

During the few remaining days of his stay with us, that untutored, uninteresting, stupid man knew no lack of friendly courtesy at our hands. We were the better for his homely presence; unawares, he ministered unto us. When we knew that he came directly from speaking to the Master to speak to us, we felt that he was greater than we, and we remembered that it is written, "If any man serve me, him will my Father honor."

[The end]
Helen Hunt Jackson's essay: King's Friend