JIM MAXWELL could not have told you what made him so miserable. He dreaded to be alone, yet in all the large mine where he was foreman, he had no friend. Those who worked under him knew him only as one to be avoided as much as possible, working nervously when he was around, standing tight-lipped, but silent when he was displeased into shouting savage oaths. Jobs were not plentiful, or they would not have endured him. Nor could Jim Maxwell have told you why he singled Larry Richards out for his particular abuse. Something in the boy's youth, his half-scared glance when he saw Jim was watching him, goaded Jim to say things that even sickened him when he was alone. The other men tried to shield young Larry when they could.
"Ye don't want to pay no attention to Maxwell, boy," an old miner, rough but kindly, said to Larry after Jim had vented his anger on him one day.
"Somethins' ridin' the man an' he ain't scarce human. But if ye just learn to take it he'll let ye alone after awhile."
The coming of the evangelist to the town five miles from Lonesome Star Mine, made no impression at first upon those who worked far below the earth's surface. Some heard their wives talking of the meetings and parried their efforts to get them to attend. Let the women folk go if they wished, but they were too tired, the men argued. But the evangelist's coming was to affect them more directly and sooner than anyone dreamed.
Word ran like wildfire through the tunnels and shafts, men dropped their picks to listen, and flickering miner's lamps reflected absolute astonishment on dust-streaked faces as the men heard the news. The superintendent of the mine had been converted the night before at the tent meetings. The old boy had got religion!
Men whose wives had been present, repeated the account as told to them: how old man Redmond had walked down the aisle of the tent, his face working like that of a little child as he dropped to his knees at the altar and poured out his heart to God. Consternation was in the hearts of many when they heard that it was not to end there. The superintendent had asked the evangelist to come out to the mine, to hold meetings in the big hall nearby, and attendance was to be compulsory.
That afternoon, an hour before the mine normally shut down, a bell rang, men began to head for the cages, and were soon gathered, a congregation of blackened, roughly dressed miners, to hear the evangelist. Jim Maxwell was there, as was every worker.
There was one, at least, whose heart drank in the words of the evangelist eagerly. Larry Richards, youngest of the employees, heard, for the first time, the good news of salvation. The evangelist's words seemed intended for him. The invitation was given, and utter stillness filled the room. Young Larry moved as though to go forward. He hesitated and in that instant saw Jim Maxwell, the man he feared, and hated. Jim was watching him, his cruel gray eyes not moving in their intensity and on his face an open sneer.
Larry stepped back to his place, shaken and sick. "I can't do it," he whispered. "I can't walk past Jim Maxwell and have him ride me every day, with his ridicule and oaths."
The most dreadful word in a mine is "cave-in". It came to Jim Maxwell the day following Larry's near decision, and shortly before the closing bell sounded that announced the gospel service on top. "Cave-in in the north tunnel," a workman shouted, and others took up the cry. When Jim reached the north tunnel men were already digging, with quick precision and well-directed blows, at the rock and debris. Well they knew that minutes, even seconds, counted in such a race. Only a portion of the tunnel had collapsed, but one man had been trapped. Even before they pulled the body out, Jim knew. "It's the kid," one man choked. "It's Larry . . .and he's gone."
As though moved by one impulse, the men turned and looked at Jim. Their looks said: "You did this, just as surely as though you pushed the rock that killed him." And Jim knew that in one way it was true. The oaths that rolled from his lips were intended for himself, though to the men they confirmed his brutality.
It was Jim who brought Larry's bruised body to the top and laid it on the ground. He had turned away when he felt a touch on his shoulder and whirled to find the evangelist looking at him, in his eyes the first look of compassion Jim had seen in the face of a man for a long time. But when the evangelist spoke, his voice was grave, even stern.
"Last night I saw Larry start forward. I saw you sneer at him, and then no amount of pleading could reach Larry because he was afraid of you. Now Larry is gone. Unless he had time to make the right decision before death came, Larry is lost! But for you he might have been with God!"
With an oath, Jim swung about and walked away. Through the night, he tramped the barren hills that surrounded the mine: "But for you." All about him in the shadows whispered the dread words, until he felt his mind would snap.
Surprise rippled through the evangelist's audience the next night when Jim walked in the door of the hall and took his seat. Astonishment and tears mingled on all faces when, at the close of the service, Jim stood up and walked down the aisle, his big shoulders shaking, tears rolling down his face.
The evangelist moved somewhat stiffly to the edge of the platform to grab Jim's hand in both of his and wept with him.
In all the wild conjecturing of what had happened to break Jim Maxwell, few ever learned the truth. The evangelist, who had been watching Jim since Larry's death, had followed him out the night before to his lonely vigil on the mountainside, had tried to speak to him. Jim had swung blindly at the evangelist, knocking him to the ground, to see the man struggle to his feet and start to speak to him again. A second and third time this happened. Then it was Jim who could stand no more. Surely one who loved that much--had something that could give him the peace he needed.
Humbled, he had listened and, hearing the way made plain, had come, broken and yielded, to the Lord Jesus. Tonight he had come to make public confession.
"I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
- By Anne Hazelton