Chapter 1.
Honeywood Park;
or, a Tale of My Grandfather

The recurrence of the name of a village, a house, or a spot in one's family annals, interwoven with its most important events, is curious to observe. The superstitious imagine that a strange influence upon human destiny may be connected with peculiar places; we reject their theory, but all the more wonder at the facts upon which it is based. There is a spot in Essex, the name of which is as much associated with the life of my grandfather, now in heaven, as if providence had rooted him to it, and constrained him to live and die within its bounds. What I am about to write is, as nearly as my recollection serves me, the story as I had it from himself. I had been preaching within twenty miles of Stambourne, where the good old man proclaimed the Gospel for about sixty years; and I received a pressing letter from him, saying, that as he was now eighty-eight years of age, if I did not drive across the country to see him, we might never meet again in this world. Little did the grandson need urging to so pleasant a duty. Starting early I reached the village at eight in the morning, and found the venerable man on the lookout for his boy. He was remarkably cheerful and communicative, talking of his tutor at Hackney College, of his early life, his trials and his deliverances, the good men who had gone before him, and the occasions upon which he had met them. He then touched on what was evidently a favorite topic, and remarked that there was formerly a wood in what I think he called Honeywood Park, which was a very memorable place to him. In that wood he had groaned and wept before the Lord while under the burden of sin, and under a tree, an oak, then only a sapling, he had received the grace of faith, and entered upon the enjoyment of peace with God. It was a lonely spot, but henceforth it was to him "none other than the house of God, and the very gate of heaven." Often he resorted thither and praised the name of the Lord.

Some time after this happy event, having to go from Coggeshall to Halstead, his route was over the hallowed spot. On the night previous he dreamed very vividly that the devil appeared to him, and threatened to tear him in pieces if he dared to go along that footpath and pray under the oak as he had been wont to do. The evil one reminded him that there was another way through the farmyard, and that if he took the farmyard path all would go well with him. When my grandfather awoke, the impression on his mind was overpowering, and he reasoned thus with himself: Whether it be a dream or really a temptation from Satan I cannot tell, but anyhow I will not yield to it, but will show the devil that I will not do his bidding in anything, but will defy him to his face. This was the good man all over. Like Luther, he had a vivid impression of the reality and personality of the great enemy, and was accustomed to make short work with his suggestions. One day when in the pulpit it came into his head that the place where the sand was kept for sanding the brick floor of his manse ought to be boarded in. His next thought was, What business had the devil to make me think about the sand closet on a Sunday, and in the pulpit too? It shall not be boarded in at all. I will let Satan see that he shall not have his way with me. But to return to the story. My grandfather, then a young man, went on cheerily enough till he came to the stile where the two paths diverged, then a horrible fear came upon him, and he felt his heart beat fast. Suppose he really should meet the archfiend, and should find him too strong for him, what then? Better take the farmyard path. No, that would be yielding to Satan, and he would not do that for ten thousand worlds. He plucked up courage and tremblingly pressed on. The stile was leaped, the narrow track through the wood was trodden with resolution mingled with forebodings. The oak was in sight, the sweat was on his face, his pace quickened, a dash was made, and the tree was grasped, but there was no Satan there. Taking breath a moment, the young man uttered aloud the exclamation, "Ah, cowardly devil, you threatened to tear me in pieces, and now you do not dare show your face." Then followed a fervent prayer and a song of praise, and the young man was about to go on his way when his eye was caught by something shining on the ground. It was a ring, a very large ring, he told me nearly as large as a curtain ring, and it was solid gold; how it came there it would be hard to guess. Inquiries were made, but no claimant ever appeared, and my grandfather had it made into my grandmother's wedding ring, in memory of the spot so dear to him. Year by year he continued to visit the oak tree on the day of his conversion to pour out his soul before the Lord. The sapling had spread abroad its branches, and the man had become the parent of a numerous family, but the song of gratitude was not forgotten, nor the prayer that he and his offspring might forever be the Lord's; the angels of God, we doubt not, watched those consecrated seasons with delightful interest. The prayers offered there have been answered for sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons, who are now preaching the Gospel which the old man loved so well.

To add to the solemnity of the secluded wood, his father, while passing by the spot, was touched by the hand of God and suddenly fell dead. He could then feel even more deeply, "How dreadful is this place!" This made the annual visitations to the tree more deeply impressive, and we believe beneficial. They would have been continued till my grandfather's last year, were it not that the hand of modern improvement ruthlessly swept away tree and wood, and almost every relic of the past. His last prayer upon the dear spot was most ludicrously interrupted—as the wood was almost all felled, he judged by the pathway as nearly as possible where the long-remembered oak had stood; the place was covered with growing wheat, but he kneeled down in it and began to bless the name of the Lord, when suddenly he heard a rough voice from over the hedge crying out, "Maister, there be a creazy man a-saying his prayers down in the wheat over thay're." This startled the suppliant and made him beat a hasty retreat. Jacob must wrestle somewhere else, for Jabbok was gone. The man of God looked at the spot and went his way, but in spirit he still raised an altar in that Bethel, and praised the God of his salvation. He has gone to his rest after having fought a good fight, but the prayers of Honeywood Park are blessing his children and his children's children to the third generation, and, through them, many thousands more. To them and all the world, his testimony is, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you," and equally does he instruct us to "Bless the Lord, and forget not all His benefits." It were well if all of us were as decided to overcome temptation, let it come whence it may. To indulge in that which may even seem to be sin is evil; to strive against its very appearance is safety. Forgive, gentle reader, the egotism which made me think this odd story might have an interest beyond my own family circle; it is no small pleasure to remember such a grandsire, and to recall an incident in his life is pardonable.

—Spare Half-Hour, The