'Then yo' think he's convarted, Mr. Penrose?'
'Well, if the New Testament test is a true one, he is, for he is indeed bringing forth fruits meet for repentance.'
'He is so,' said Enoch, 'it what Abram sez is true. I awlus towd my missus that whenever Moses gave his furst hawve-craan it 'ud be his fust stride towards th' kingdom o' grace; but if he's gin Jim Crawshaw his deeds back he's getten a deal further into th' kingdom nor some o' us.'
Mr. Penrose attempted to continue the conversation, but in vain, for a lump rose in his throat, and the landscape was dimmed by the moisture he could not keep back from his eyes. And as with the pastor, so with his companions. A great joy filled all their hearts—a joy too deep for words, but not for tears.
In a little while Mr. Penrose said:
'Moses called to see me last night to ask for re-admission into the Church. He wants me to baptize him next Sunday afternoon week, and would like to give his testimony.'
'But he were baptized thirty year sin' by Mr. Morell,' said Abram. 'Why does he want dippin' o'er agen?'
'Because, as he says, he never received his testimony before last Monday, when he saved Oliver's child from drowning.'
'An' are yo' baan to baptize him?' asked Enoch.
'Why not? If the deacons are willing, I shall be only too glad.'
* * * * *
It was the first Sunday afternoon in October, and along a dozen winding moorland paths there came in scattered groups the worshippers to the Rehoboth shrine. Old men and women, weary with the weight of years, renewed their youth as they drew near to what had been a veritable sanctuary amid their care and sorrow and sin; while manhood and womanhood, leading by the hand their little ones, felt in their hearts that zeal for the house of prayer so common to the dwellers in rural England. Long before the hour of service the chapel-yard was thronged, and from within came the sounds of stringed instruments as they were tuned to pitch by the musicians, who had already taken their place in the singing-pew beneath the pulpit, which stood square and high, canopied with its old-fashioned sounding-board and cornice of plain deal. There was 'owd Joel Boothman,' who had played the double bass for half a century, resining his bow with a trembling hand; and Joe and Robert Hargreaves fondly caressing their 'cellos. Dick o' Tootershill and his two sons were delicately touching the trembling strings of their violins; and Enoch was polishing, beneath the glossy sleeve of his 'Sunday best,' 'th' owd flute' which had been his salvation.
In a few minutes Mr. Penrose ascended the pulpit. Never before was there such a congregation to greet him; and as the people rose to join in singing the old tune, Devizes, the worm-eaten galleries trembled and creaked beneath the mass of worshippers. Then followed prayer and the lessons, the hymn before the address being
'Come, ye that love the Lord.'
With a great swell of harmony from five hundred voices, whose training for song had been the moors, the words of Dr. Watts went up to heaven, and when the second verse was reached—
'Let those refuse to sing, Who never knew our Lord,'
little Milly, who had hobbled to chapel on her crutch, turned to Abraham Lord, and said:
'Sithee, owd Moses is singing, faither.'
And it was even so. Poor Moses! for so many years a mute worshipper, and whose voice had been raised only to harry and distress, no longer was silent in the service of song.
Mr. Penrose's address was brief. Taking for his text, 'The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost,' he said:
'It was the best in man that was longest in being discovered. That which was lost was not the false man, but the true man—the heavenly. We were none of us vile in the sight of God, because God saw Himself in us. It was this God-self in us that was lost to us. Not knowing it to be the hidden root of our true life, we did not claim our dignity, nor walk as became the sons of God. A man who lost the sense of his freedom, though free, would be fettered still. A man whose sense of beauty was lost would be as in a desert in the paradise of God. A lost sense of freedom meant a slavish mind, and a lost sense of beauty meant a prosaic mind, no matter how free the man, nor how beautiful his environment. So men had lost the sense of their sonship. They did not know their royal descent, their kinship with the Father, and therefore they did not act as became sons. A lost sense of relationship begat in them disobedience and alienation. They possessed gold, but were content with brass; and instead of iron they built with clay. The eternal and abiding was in them, but lost to them, covered with incrustations of self and buried deep beneath the lesser and the meaner man. There were times in a man's life when the better nature gave hints of its existence. The mission of Christ was to awaken these hints. He came to tell them they were men, that they were souls, that they were sons and not servants, friends and not enemies of God. When He stirred these powers in men He stirred the lost. He set it before the eye of man, and made man see what he had within him, what he was really, and at the root of his being—a man, a Son of Man, a Child of God. How hard this was only Christ knew. Spiritually, men put themselves, through spiritual ignorance, in false relations. This wrong relationship lay at the root of all disorder. It was the secret of discomfiture, misery and sin. Men were not lost in badness, not lost in sin, but lost to that which when discovered to them made their badness unbearable—in other words, "took away their sin." Lost souls, damned souls, souls in hell—as the theologians termed them—were simply souls lost to their right relationship. And the work of Christ was to find in men, and find out for men, what this right relationship was. This was what was meant in the text, the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost. Their friend Moses Fletcher had found something in himself. He had found love, and courage, and a sense of goodness. These had been discovered to him by the One who was always revealing the good in us if we would but let Him, and if we would but open our eyes to see. He, Moses Fletcher, had seen the good, and believed in it, and he was saved because he allowed the good to move and have its being in him. It was his better self, so long unknown to himself, so long lost in him, and to him, that awoke and led him to save Oliver o' Deaf Martha's child. When he plunged into the Green Fold Lodge he found what had been so long lost to him: he found himself. Then was fulfilled the saying, "He that loseth his life shall save it." That was salvation. Moses was now a saved man because he had found the sane and whole part of his nature. The Divine in him had been awakened. He was at last true to the law of his being.'
Then, closing his Bible, he asked Moses Fletcher to give his 'testimony.'
Standing up, and with tremulous tones, which none recognised as the once harsh voice of Moses, he said:
'Yo' happen willn't let me co yo' friends because I've bin an enemy to so mony on yo'! But Him as they co'd a friend o' publicans and sinners hes made me His friend, and He's made me a friend on yo' all. I know haa yo' all hated me, and I gave yo' good cause for doin' so. But He's put His love i' me, and naa owd Moses 'll never trouble ony on yo' ony more. Owd Moses lies i' Green Fold Lodge yonder, and he'll stop theer; it's time he wor done wi'. An' if you'll try me as God's baan to try me, aw think you'll happen larn to love me as I know I'm loved aboon.'
As he sat down many in the large congregation would fain have risen and grasped him by the hand, but propriety forbade.
In another minute Mr. Penrose came out of the vestry prepared for the rite of immersion, and Moses was a second time baptized in Rehoboth.
As he stepped out of the waters a cloud passed from before the October sun, and a flood of light poured through the open window above the baptistery, while a white dove from the neighbouring farm perched for a moment on the wooden sill. Then Milly once more turned to her father and said:
'Yon's th' brid, faither, but I don't yer th' voice!'
'What voice?' whispered Abraham Lord.
'Why, faither, thaa knows—"This is My beloved Son."'
But Moses heard that voice in his heart.
1. HOME. 2. LIGHT AT EVENTIDE. 3. THE COURT OF SOULS. 4. THE OLD PASTOR.
She saw from afar the light of her cottage home, and her heart misgave her. It was not wrath she feared; for had the relentless anger of a parent awaited her, her step would have been braver, and her spirit more defiant. But she knew she was forgiven. The feeble ray emitted from the lamp in the far-off gable was the beacon of her forgiveness—the proof that love's fire still burned brightly. This it was that daunted her: she feared the scorch of its healing flame.
She had travelled far, having crossed the moors from Burnt Gap, climbing the ridge as the heavens began to kiss the earth with the peace of sunset. A lingering glory was then haunting the summits and crests and cairn-crowned hills that shut in the quiet of Rehoboth and forming an almost impassable rampart to those who, from the farther side, sought its shelter ere the close of day. As she then lifted her eyes to these many-coloured fires lighted by His hand who setteth His glory in the heavens, they had seemed to burn in wrath; while the great moors, dark in the foreground, raised themselves like barriers—uplands of desolation, across which no path of hope stretched its trend for returning feet.
As the girl climbed the Scar Foot the western sky was toning down to grays, while beyond, and seen through an oval-shaped rift in their sombre colours, lay a distant streak of amber that, moment by moment, slowly disappeared under the closing lids of evening cloud—the eye of weary day wooed to slumber by the hush of illimitable sweeps of moor. Even so would Amanda fain have closed her eyes and sunk to rest amid the purple clouds of heather that, like a great sky, lay for miles around her feet.
Passing through Nockcliffe plantation, a half-mile of woodland that straggled along the steep sides of a clough, a drop of rain fell between the branches and coursed down her cheek—a cheek fevered from want of tears, and flaming with a sense of shame. Then a low wind blew—a mere sob, but so preludious, so prophetic!—followed by a silence that discovered, as never before, the sense of her own loneliness, and in which she heard the tread of her own light footfall over the moss and herbage of the path she travelled.
Emerging from the plantation, an angry gust, laden with cold drops, dashed itself in her face, and she knew from the weather-lore which she, as a child of the hills, had learned in past years, that a wild night was between her and the house whose shelter she sought in her despair.
Phenomenally rapid was the onrush of the storm. At first the rain fell in short and sudden showers, driven from angry clouds eager for some atmospheric change whereby to be relieved of their pent-up burden. Then the wind, as though in answer to the prayer of the clouds, changed its course and stilled its moaning, and the sky 'wept its watery vapours to the ground.'
When Amanda stood upon the fringe of the great moss that stretched for three miles between the Scars and Rehoboth her spirit sank within her. The season had been dry, and she knew the path by instinct; but the storm and the darkness seemed like twin enemies determined to bar her advance. She felt that Nature was her foe, even as man had been, and as Rehoboth would be when it knew of her return. Why did the rain hiss, and dash its cold and stinging showers in her face? Why did it saturate her thin skirts so that they, in chill folds, wrapped her wasted frame and clung cruelly to her weary limbs to stay her onward travel? And why that strange, weird sound—the sound muttered by miles of herbage when beaten down by rain—the swish and patter and sigh of the long grass and of the bracken, as they bent beneath the continuous fall, and rose in angry protest, to fling off their burden on each other, or shake it to the ground? Then a mute sympathy sprang up in her desolate heart as she grew incorporate into this storm-swept, helpless vegetation, and she felt that she, too, like it, was the helpless prey of angry forces.
The moss traversed, the twinkling lights of Rehoboth broke the darkness. Yes, the old chapel was illuminated, the windows of that rude structure glowing with warmth and life; and as she passed the graveyard a hymn, only too well known to her in the happy days of the past, reached her ears. Once this had been her sanctuary, a shelter, a home, where as a happy girl she had sung that very strain—then a house of prayer, now a temple of judgment. And she grew rebellious as she saw in her mind the hard faces of its worshippers, and realized that nothing unholy or unclean must enter there. The native instinct, however, was too strong; and passing through the gate, and stealthily crossing the sea of graves, she paused to peep through the window, and, unobserved, took in the scene. The old faces—Enoch, and Abraham, and Moses Fletcher, and Malachi o' th' Mount, and Simon o' Long John's. Yes, the old faces as she knew them five years ago—the old faces, all save one. Where was the saintly Mr. Morell? In his place sat a young man whom she knew not.
Hastening on, she climbed Pinner Brow, on the summit of which lay her home. As she scaled the height the beacon in her mother's gable told she was not forgotten. Then it was she trembled. A rebuke—a curse—a refusal; these she could face. But forgiveness—welcome—love—never! She turned to fly.
* * * * *
The great, good God had ordained that the despairing girl should fly into the arms of the one who had not forgotten, and who felt she had nothing to forgive. Amanda found herself in the stillest and strongest of all havens—the haven of a mother's breast.
In another moment Amanda permitted her mother to lead her as that mother had been wont to lead her when the warm, strong hand of the parent was a guiding touch—a magnet of love amid the dangers of an early life—and when, as now, there was but one shelter of safety—the home.
No sooner did the two women stand in the light and warmth of the kitchen-hearth, than the elder fell on the neck of the younger, and kissed the cold, rain-washed face of her child, with a love grown fierce by years of hopeless hope and unrequited longing. Once again those arms, thin and weak with age, grew strong; and in the resurrection of a mighty passion, all the old womanhood and motherhood of the parent renewed their youth, and filled out the shrunken and decrepit form until she stood majestic in the strength of heaven. To those who had been wont to see Amanda's mother bent and crushed with years and sorrow, the woman that now stood in the firelight would not have been recognised as Mrs. Stott. Once the fairest and most lithesome girl in Rehoboth, the pride of the village, the sought of many suitors, the proud wife of Sam Stott of th' Clowes, and the still prouder mother of Amanda, who matched her alike in beauty and in sprightliness, she had long been a prey to the sling and arrows of outrageous fortune. Years had played sad havoc with her, her money taking wings, her husband dying, and her last hope failing in the hour of need. Now she was herself again under the renewing hand of love.
As soon as Amanda recovered from the shock of her mother's appearance, and felt the warmth of her welcome, she gently, yet determinately, released herself and cried:
'Durnd, mother, durnd! I'm noan come wom' to be kissed nor forgiven. I've nobbud come wom' to dee.'
'What saysto, lass?' exclaimed Mrs. Stott. 'Come wom' to dee? Nay, thaa's bin deead long enugh a'ready; it's time thaa begun to live, and thank God thaa's come back to live at wom'.'
The girl shook her head, a stony stare in her eye, her mouth drawn into a hard and immobile line. And then, in cold tones, she continued:
'Nay, mother; I've hed enugh o' life. I tell thee I've come wom' to dee.'
'Amanda,' sobbed the mother, 'if thaa taks on like that thaa'll kill me. Thaa's welly done for me a'ready, but I con live naa thaa's come back, if thaa'll nobbud live an' o', and live wi' me. Sit thee daan. There's th' owd cheer (chair) waiting for thee. It's thi cheer, Amanda; awlus wor, and awlus will be. Sit thee daan. It looks some onely (lonely) baat thee.'
There stood Amanda's chair, the chair of her girlhood, the chair in which she had sung through the long winter nights, in which her deft fingers had wrought needlework, the envy of Rehoboth. The old arms mutely opened as though to welcome her; the rockers, too, seemed ready to yield that oscillation so seductive to the jaded frame. And the trimmings! and the cushion! the same old pattern, somewhat faded, perhaps, but as warm and cosy as in the days of yore. It was the chair, too, at which she used to kneel, the chair that had so often caught the warm breath from her lips as she had whispered, 'Our Father, which art in heaven.' But had she not forfeited her right to that chair? Of that throne of sanctity she felt she was now no longer queen. And again, as her mother pressed her to take her appointed place, she shook her head, her heart steeled with pride and shame, the hardest of all bonds to break when imprisoning a human soul.
The poor mother stood at bay—at cruel bay. She had used the mightiest weapon upon which she could lay her hand, and it had seemed to shiver in the conflict. But love's armoury is not easily depleted, and love's spirit is quick to return to the charge. There was still left to her the warmth of a bosom in which long years before Amanda had gently stirred, and from which she had drawn her first currents of life; and once more the mother clasped her girl, and pressed her lips on the sin-stained face.
'Durnd kiss me, mother,' cried the affrighted girl, stepping back; 'durnd kiss me. Thaa munnot dirty thy lips wi' touchin' mine. If thaa knew all, thaa'd spurn me more like.'
''Manda,' replied the woman, in the desperation of her love, 'I'll kiss thee if thaa kills me for't. I connot help it; thaa'rt mine.'
'I wor once, I wor once, but nod now.'
'Yi! lass, but thaa art. Thaa wor mine afore th' devil geet howd on thee, and thaa's bin mine all th' time he's bed thee, and now he's done wi' thee, I mean to keep thee all to mysel.'
And afresh the mother bathed the still beautiful face of Amanda with her tears.
But Amanda was firm. Old as her mother was, she knew that mother's innocence, and shrank from the thought that one so pure, so womanly, should hang on those lips so sorely blistered by the breath of sin; and, once more stretching out her arm, she said:
'Durnd touch me, mother—durnd!'
''Manda,' cried the mother, defiantly and grandly, all the passion of maternity rising in her heart, ''Manda, thaa cornd unmother me. I carried thee and suckled thee and taught thee thi prayers in that cheer, and doesn'd ta think as Him we co'd "Aar Faither" is aar Faither still?'
'Happen He's yours, mother; but He's noan o' mine.'
'Well, 'Manda, if thaa'rt noan His child, thaa'rt mine, and naught shall come 'tween me and thee.'
'And dun yo' mean to say that yo' love me as mich naa, mother, as when aw wor a little un?' asked the girl, her steely eyes moistening, and the firm line of her drawn mouth tremulous with rising emotion.
'Yi, lass, and a thaasand times more. Thaa wants more luv' naa nor then—doesn't ta? And hoo's a poor mother as connot give more when more's wanted. I'm like th' owd well up th' hill yonder—th' bigger th' druft (drought) th' stronger th' flow. Thi mother's heart's noan dry, lass, tho' thi thirst's gone; and I'll luv' thee though thaa splashes mi luv' back in mi face, and spills it on th' graand.'
And a third time the woman fell on the girl's neck, and kissed her flesh into flame with the passion of her caress.
'Durnd, mother! durnd!' said Amanda. 'Blame me, if yo' like; curse me, if yo' like. But luv' I connot ston'; it drives me mad.'
'Nay, lass; luv' noan drives folk mad. It's sin as does that. As Mr. Penrose towd 'em at Rehoboth t'other Sunday, it were luv' as saved th' world, and not wrath; and they say they are baan to bring him up at th' deacons' meeting abaat it. But he's reet. It's luv' as saves. It's saved thee to me; it's kept mi heart warm, and it's kept that lamp leeted every neet for five year.' And then, seeing tears slowly stealing down her daughter's face, the old woman said: 'I think we mud as weel put th' leet aat naa thaa's comed wom', 'Manda?' and as the girl gave no more evidence of resistance, the mother went to the window, turned down the lamp, and drew the blind, saying, 'He's answered mi prayers.'
At the going out of that light there went out in Amanda's heart the false fires of lust and pride and defiance, and in their place was kindled the light of repentance—of forgiveness and of love. For five years that faithfully-trimmed lamp told the whole countryside that Widow Stott was not forgetful of her own; and when once or twice rebuked by some of the Rehoboth deacons at the premium which she seemed to put on sin by thus inviting a wanderer's return, she always replied:
'Blame Him as mak's a woman so as hoo cornd forget her child.'
Now that the lamp was out a flutter of excitement was passing through the village, Milly Lord being the first to discover it. She, poor girl! was sitting at her little window listening to the beat of the rain, and the swish of the grasses that grew in her garden below—sitting and wondering how it was there were no 'angel een' looking down at the earth, and keeping her eye fixed on the gable light of Mrs. Stott's lone homestead. Suddenly this light disappeared. If the sun had gone out at noonday Milly would not have been more startled. Night after night she had watched that light, and night after night she had heard her mother tell the oft-repeated story of Amanda's fall. Once, indeed, Milly startled her mother in its repetition by saying:
'Happen, if I hadn't lost mi leg, mother, I should ha' sinned as Amanda did.'
And then Milly's mother drew the girl close to her heart, and thanked God for a lamb safe in the fold. No wonder when Milly saw the light go out that she cried:
'Mother! mother! Amanda Stott's come wom'!'
'Whatever will hoo say next?' gasped Mrs. Lord.
'I tell yo' Amanda's come wom'. Th' leet's aat—thaa con see for thisel!' and the girl was beside herself with excitement.
'So it is,' said Mrs. Lord. 'Bud it's noan Amanda; it's happen her mother as is takken bad. Awl put o' mi things, and run up and see.'
Hurrying up the Pinner Brow, it was not long before Mrs. Lord reached the home of Amanda, and raising the latch, with the permission which rural friendship grants, she saw the daughter and mother together on the so long lonely hearth. Taken aback, and scarcely knowing how to remove the restraint which the sudden interruption was imposing, she fell upon the instinct of her heart, and said:
'Well, I never! if our Milly isn't reet! Hoo said as how hoo know'd Amanda bed come back. Hoo seed th' leet go aat and co'd aat at th' top o' her voice, "Amanda's come back." Hoo remembers thee, Amanda, an' hoo's never stop't talkin' abaat thee. Tha'rt eight year owder nor hoo is—poor lass! hoo's lost her leg sin' thaa seed her. It wor a bad do, aw con tell thee; but hoo's as lively as a cricket, bless her! and often talks abaat thee, and wonders where thaa'd getten to. Let's see, lass, it's five years sin thaa left us, isn't it?' And then, remembering the whole story of Amanda, which in her excitement she had forgotten, and the great trouble and the great joy which that night fought for supremacy in the little moorland home, she stopped, and with a tear-streamed face rushed up to Amanda, and said: 'What am I talkin' abaat, lass? I'd clean forgetten,' and then she, too, imprinted on Amanda's lips a caress of welcome.
It was late that night when Milly asked her father to go up Pinner Brow and fetch her mother home. When he reached the house he found the two women and the girl upon their knees, for Milly's mother was a good woman, and to her goodness was added a mother's heart. Her own sorrow had taught her to weep with those who weep, and a great trial through which she had passed in her girlhood days, and through which she had passed scathless, led her to look on Amanda with pitying love. Abraham paused upon the threshold as he heard the sound of his wife's voice in prayer, and when, half an hour afterwards, they together descended the brow towards their home, he said:
'Thaa sees, lass, Milly's angel een wor on th' watch a'ter all.'
'Yi,' said his wife, 'and they see'd a returnin' sinner. But hoo's safe naa; hoo's getten back to her mother, and hoo's getten back to God.'
'Where hes hoo bin, missus, thinksto?'
'Nay, lad, I never ax'd her. I know where hoo's getten to, and that's enugh. I'm noan one for sperrin (asking questions) baat th' past.'
'But they'll be wantin' to know up at th' chapel where hoo's bin.'
'They'll happen do more good by doin' by Amanda as th' Almeety does.'
'Doesto mean i' His judgments?'
'Nowe! theer's summat more wonderful nor them.'
'What doesto mean?'
'I mean His FORGEETFULNESS.'
LIGHT AT EVENTIDE.
While Amanda's return aroused the curiosity of Rehoboth, it drew few callers to the cottage on Pinner's Brow. Not that the villagers were all wanting in kindliness, but Amanda's mother, being a woman of strong reserve, had fenced herself off from much friendly approach; while the nature of the trouble through which she was now passing was felt by the rude moorlanders to impose silence, and deter them from all open signs of sympathy.
Apart from Mrs. Lord and a girl friend or two of Amanda's, the joy of return was pent up in the heart of the mother—a joy which she, poor thing, would fain have sought to share with others had not delicacy of instinct and sense of shame forbade. She felt it to be indeed hard that she could not go among her neighbours and friends and say, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my child which was lost.'
But the mother's joy was also mixed with the alloy of Amanda's despair. On the day after the return, the girl had taken to her bed; and despite a mother's love and Mrs. Lord's kind counsel and cheery words, Amanda went down into the valley of the shadow. Seldom speaking, save to reiterate the statement that she had come home to die, and that all was dark, she lay anticipating the hour when, as she said, 'the great God would punish her according to her sins.' This idea had taken fast hold of her mind: she was going to hell to burn for ever and for ever, and she would only get her deserts; she had sinned—she must suffer.
With the strain of constant watching, and the long hours of solitude, and the nightmare of her girl's damnation hanging over her yearning heart, the poor mother's condition verged on madness, until at last she summoned courage to ask Mr. Penrose to call and drop some crumbs of his Gospel of comfort and love at the bedside of her child; for, as she said to Mrs. Lord, 'even the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from the master's table.' The truth was that hitherto Mr. Penrose had not cared to risk the scandal which he knew would be created in the village by a visit on his part to Amanda Stott. When, however, he received his summons from the mother, and a sharp reprimand from Dr. Hale, who told him that a minister was as free to visit without risk to his character as a doctor, he resolved to throw aside proprieties and obey the call.
As Mr. Penrose was walking up Pinner Brow, towards the house of Mrs. Stott, he unexpectedly met Amos Entwistle, the senior superintendent of the Sunday-school, and known to the children as 'Owd Catechism,' because of his persistent enforcement of the Church tenets on their young minds.
'Good a'ternoon, Mr. Penrose. And what may bring yo' in this direction?'
'I'm looking after some of my sheep, Amos.'
'Not th' black uns, I hope.'
'No! I am looking after the hundredth—the one that went astray.'
'Better leave her alone, Mr. Penrose. There's an owd sayin' i' these parts that yo' cornd go into th' mill baat gettin' dusted. That means in yur talk that yo' cornd touch pitch baat gettin' blacked. If thaa goes to Mrs. Stott's they'll say thaart goan for naught good. If thaa wur a married mon, naa, and bed childer, it 'ud happen be different; but bein' single, thaa sees, th' aatside o' yon threshold is th' reight side for such as thee and me.'
(Amos, be it known, was an old bachelor of over seventy years of age.)
'Nonsense, Amos; you are reversing the teaching of the Master. He went after the sinner, did He not?'
'Yi, He did; and He lost His repetation o'er it. They co'd Him a winebibber, and a friend o' all maks o' bad uns. I couldn't like 'em to say th' same abaat thee. Rehoboth 'ud noan ston' it, thaa knows.'
Mr. Penrose did not know whether to laugh or to be serious. Seeing, however, that Amos was in no laughing mood, he turned somewhat sharply on the old man, and said:
'The Stotts are in trouble, and they ask for my presence, Good-afternoon; I'm going.'
'Howd on a bit,' said Amos, still holding the minister by the lapel of his coat. 'Naa listen to me. If I were yo' I wouldn't go. Th' lass hes made her bed; let her lie on't. Durnd yo' risk yor repetation by makkin' it yasier, or by takkin' ony o' th' thorns aat o' her pillow. Rehoboth Church is praad o' her sheep; and it keeps th' black uns aatside th' fold, and yo'll nobbud ged blacked yorsel if yo' meddle wi' 'em. But young colts 'll goa their own gait, so pleeas yorsel.'
At first Mr. Penrose was inclined to think twice over the old Pharisee's advice; but, looking round, he saw Mrs. Stott's sad face in her cottage doorway, and her look determined his advance. In a moment reputation and propriety were forgotten in what he felt were the claims of a mother's heart and the sufferings of an erring soul.
'Ay, Mr. Penrose, I'm some fain to see yo',' cried the poor woman, as the minister walked up the garden-path. 'Amanda's baan fast, and hoo sez 'at it's all dark.' And then, seizing Mr. Penrose's hand, she cried: 'Yo' durnd think hoo's damned, dun yo'?'
For years the sound of that mother's voice as she uttered those words haunted Mr. Penrose. He heard it in the stillness of the night, and in the quiet of his study; it came floating on the winds as he walked the fields and moors; and would sound in mockery as he, from time to time, declared a Father's love from the old pulpit at Rehoboth. What cruel creed was this, prompting a mother to believe that God would damn the child whom she herself was forced, out of the fulness of her undying love, to take back into her house and into her heart?
As the minister and Mrs. Stott sat down in the kitchen, the poor woman, in the depths of her despair, again raised her eager face and asked:
'But yo' durnd think Amanda's damned, dun yo'?'
'No, I do not, Mrs. Stott.'
This was too much for the mother; and now that the highest passions in her soul received the affirmative of one whom she looked up to as the prophet of God, she felt her girl was safe. The fire of despair died out of her eyes, quenched in the tears of joy, and she realized, as never before, that she could now love God because God had spared to her, and to Himself, her only child.
'But, Mr. Penrose, Amanda says it's all dark. Dun yo' think yo' could lift th' claads a bit?'
'Well, we'll do our best; but to the One who loves her the darkness and the light are both alike.'
And with these words on his lips, he followed the mother to where the sick girl lay.
Mr. Penrose had often heard of Amanda Stott, and of that face of hers which had been both her glory and her shame. Now, as he looked upon it for the first time, he saw, as in a glass, the reflection of a character and a life. There was the gold and the clay. The brow and eyes were finely shaped and lustrous, giving to the upper half of the face grandeur and repose, but the mouth and chin fell off into a coarser mould, and told of a spirit other than that so nobly framed under the rich masses of her dark hair. It was a face with a fascination—not the fascination of evil, but of struggle—a face betraying battle between forces pretty evenly balanced in the soul. But there was victory on it. Mr. Penrose saw it, read it, understood it. There were still traces of the scorching fire; these, however, were yielding to the verdure of a new life; the garden, which had been turned into a wilderness, was again blossoming as the rose.
'Amanda, here's Mr. Penrose to see thee. I've bin tellin' him it's all dark to thee. It is, isn't it?'
But Amanda turned her head towards the wall, and answered not.
'Amanda!' said the mother, in tones that only once or twice, and that in the great crises of maternity, fall from woman's lips—'Amanda, speyk. Tell him what's botherin' thee.'
But the girl was silent.
Mr. Penrose was silent also, and nothing was heard in the room save the tremulous beat of an old watch that hung over the chimney-shelf—one of the memorials of a husband and father long since taken, and now almost forgotten.
At last Amanda, without turning her face towards the pastor, said:
'Sir, I'm a sinner—a lost sinner.'
'No, you are not,' replied Mr. Penrose.
And overawed and astonished with the boldness of his statement, he relapsed into silence.
Amanda turned and looked at him clearly and unflinchingly, and cried:
'How dare yo' say that?'
'Because you've repented,' was the quiet reply.
'Haa do yo' know I've repented?'
'Because repentance is to come home; and you've come home, have you not?'
'Repentance is to come wom'?' slowly repeated the girl, as though some ray of light was penetrating the darkness. 'Repentance is to come wom', sen yo'?'
And then Mr. Penrose repeated the words: 'And he arose and came to his home; and when he was a great way off his father saw him and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him.'
'Aw dare say; that's what mi mother did to me on th' neet I come wom'. But mi mother's noan God, is hoo?'
'No; but if you had had no God, you could not have had a mother. You tell me your mother kissed you. Did you not feel God's kiss in that which your mother gave you?'
The girl shook her head; the pastor needed to make his message more plain.
'It's in this way, you know,' continued Mr. Penrose. 'If there were no rain in the heavens there would be no springs in the valleys, would there? The well is filled because the clouds send down their showers; and so it is with love. Your mother's heart is full of love because God, who Himself is love, fills it. Your mother stands to you for God, and she is most like God when she is doing most for you; and when she kissed you and took you back again home, she was only doing what God made her do, and what God did Himself to you through her.'
'But theer's summat else beside forgiveness, Mr. Penrose. I feel I've lost summat as I con never ged agen. I know I've getten back wom', but I haven't getten back what awv' lost.'
'You may have it back, though, if it's worth having back. There was One who came to seek that which was lost. You are like the woman who lost one of her pieces of silver; but she found it again, and what you have lost Jesus will find and restore to you.'
'But theer's th' past, Mr. Penrose, as well as th' lost. It's all theer afore me. Aw see it as plain as aw see yon moors through th' window, only it's noan green and breet wi' sunshine—it's dark.'
'If God forgets the past, Amanda, why should you recall it? Look out through that window again. There's a cloud just dying away on the horizon yonder. Do you see it? It is changing its colour and losing its shape, and in a moment it will be gone. Watch it! It is almost gone. See! now it is gone—gone where? Gone into the light of that sun which is making the moors so green and bright. Now that is what God is doing with your past—with what you call your sins—blotting them out like a cloud. It is God's mercy that stands like the everlasting hills, and it is our sinfulness and our past that pass away like clouds. As you look at those hills you must think of His mercy, and as you watch those vanishing clouds you must think of your past.'
Once more there was silence in the sick-chamber, and the little watch ran its race with the beating, flickering pulse of Amanda. The girl turned her face towards the window that overlooked the moors, and begged her mother to open it so that she might again feel the cool airs that swept across their heathery wastes.
Mrs. Stott at once unhasped the casement, and a tide of life came stealing in, noiselessly lifting the curtains, and cooling the hectic flame that glowed on Amanda's wasted cheeks, and bearing, too, on its waves fragrances that recalled a long-lost paradise, and sounds—the echo of days when no discordant note marred the music of her life. These moorland breezes—how redolent, how murmurous of what had been! In a few moments Amanda closed her eyes, the wind caressing her into peacefulness and singing her to slumber.
* * * * *
It was the hour before dawn—the dark hour when minutes walk with leaden feet and the departing vapours of night lay chilliest finger on the sick and dying, and on those who watch at their side. From the mantelshelf the lamp emitted its feeble rays, dimly lighting the lonely chamber, and holding, as with uncertain hand, the shadows which crowded and cowered in the distant corners and recesses of the room, and throwing into Rembrandtesque the pallid face of the wakeful mother, and the flushed and fevered face of the slumbering child. The little watch beat bravely to the march of time, eager to keep pace with that never-flagging runner; while the quick and feeble breathing of the girl told how she was fast losing in the race with the all-omnipotent hours. On a small table stood two phials, in which were imprisoned dull-coloured liquids, powerless, despite their supposed potency, to stay the hunger of the disease so rapidly consuming the patient; and by their side was a plate of shrivelled fruit, the departing lusciousness of which had failed to tempt an appetite in her whose mouth was baked with the fever that fed on its own flame. There, gathered into a few cubic feet of space, met the great triune mystery of night, of suffering, of sin—the unfathomable problems of the universe; there God, the soul, and destiny, together and in silence, played out their terribly real parts.
As Mrs. Stott looked at her daughter tossing in restless sleep, the natal hour came back to her, and in memory she again travailed in birth. She recalled the joy of the advent of that life now so fast departing, and tried to say, 'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' The words died on her lips. Had it been a blessed thing on the part of God to give to her a child who brought disgrace on her family name? And now that her child was restored, with a possibility of redeeming the past, was it a blessed thing of God to take her? As these hideous thoughts chased one another through her over-wrought mind, they seemed to embody themselves in the terrible shadows that leapt and fought like demons on the wall, mere mockeries of her helplessness and despair.
Her eye, however, fell on the Bible, and taking it up and opening it at random, she read, 'Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed, happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.' Hurriedly turning over the leaves, her eyes again fell upon words that went like goads into her heart: 'Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark; let it look for light but have none; neither let it see the dawning of the day, because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb.'
'What!' cried she, the old Calvinist life reasserting itself in her soul—'what! have the curses o' God getten howd o' me?'
* * * * *
It was the voice of Amanda, and its sound called back the ebbing tides of maternity as the clear notes of a bugle rally the dispirited and flying forces on an undecided field.
'Mother, will yo' draw that blind?'
'What doesto want th' blind drawin' for, Amanda?'
'I want to see th' morn break.'
'Whatever for, lass?' asked Mrs. Stott, as she drew the cord with tremulous hand.
For a few minutes the girl looked out at the distant horizon with a breaking light in her own eyes. Then, taking her mother's hand, she said:
'Dun yo' see that rim o' gowd (gold) on the hills yonder?'
'Yi, lass; forsure I do. What abaat it?'
'Watch it, mother! See yo', it geds broder—more like a ribbin—a brode, yollow ribbin, like that aw wore i' mi hat when I were a little lass. Yo' remember, durnd yo'?—I wore it one charity sarmons.'
'Aw remember, Amanda,' said the parent, choking with the reminiscences of the past which the old hat and its yellow ribbon aroused.
'Naa see, mother,' continued the girl, her eye fixed on the opening sky; 'it's like a great sea—a sea o' buttercups, same as used to grow in owd Whittam's field when yo' couldn't see grass for flaars.'
'Yi, lass, I see,' sobbed Mrs. Stott.
'And thoose claads, mother! See yo' haa they're goin'. And th' hills and moors? Why I con see them plainer and plainer! Haa grond they are! They're awlus theer. Them, Mr. Penrose said, stood for God's love, didn't he, mother?—and them claads as are lifting for my sins.'
'Yi, lass; he did, forsure.'
The dawn advanced, and before its majestic march there fled the shadows of night that for such long hours had made earth desolate. In the light of this dawn were seen those infinite lines of strength which rose from broad and massive bases, and, sweeping upwards, told of illimitable tracts beyond—mighty waves on the surface of the world's great inland seas, on whose crests sat the green and purple foam of herbage, and in whose hollows lay the still life of home and pasture. Silent, changeless, secure, perpetual sublimity rested on their summits, and unbroken repose lay along their graceful sweeps. They were the joy-bearers to the poor child of sorrow, who with eager eye looked out on their morning revelations. To her the mountains had brought peace.
That day was a new day to Amanda—a birthday—a day in which she realized the all-embracing strength and sufficiency of a Divine love. As the hours advanced the clouds gathered and showers fell, only, however, to be swept away by the wind, or dissolved into the light of the sun. These ever-changing, ever-dissolving, many-coloured vapours were watched by Amanda, who now saw in them the fleeting and perishable sins of her past life, and again and again, as one followed the other into oblivion, she would breathe a sigh of relief, and then allow her eyes to rest on the great hills that changed not, and which seemed to build her in with their strength.
From that day forward a great trust came upon her. She ceased to fret, and never again recalled what had been. Just as the chill of winter is forgotten in the glory of the springtide, and just as the child in the posied meadow sports in unconsciousness of the nipping frost that a few weeks before forced the tears to his eyes, so Amanda, playful, gladsome, and full of wonder in the new world in which she found herself, knew no more her old self, nor remembered any more her old life. The day had broken and the shadows flown, and God's child was like a young hart on the mountains of Bether.
* * * * *
'Mother, dun yo' think they'd put my name on th' Church register agen at Rehoboth?'
'I cornd say, mi Jass, I'm sure. But why doesto ax me?'
'Becose I should like to dee a member of th' owd place. Yo' know I were a member once. Sin' I've been lyin' here I've had some strange thoughts. Dun yo' know, I never belonged to God then as I do naa, for all I were baptized and a communicant. It's queer, isn't it?'
'Ey, lass; thaa'd better tell that to Mr. Penrose. I know naught abaat what yo're talkin' on. Bud it does seem, as thaa ses, quare that thaa belongs more to God naa nor thaa did when thaa went away.'
'Nay, mother, it's noan exactly as yo' put it. I durnd mean as God's changed; it's me as has changed, durnd yo' see? I never knew or loved Him afore, and I know and love Him naa.'
That afternoon, when Mr. Penrose called, Amanda's mother told him all her daughter had said, and made known to him as the pastor of the Church the request for readmission and the administration of the sacrament.
Mr. Penrose, however, shook his head. As far as he was concerned, no one would have been more willing. But the deacons ruled his Church, and many of them were hard and exacting men—men with the eye and heart of Simon of old, who, while they would welcome Christ to meat, would put the ban upon 'the woman who was a sinner.' Nor dared Mr. Penrose administer the sacrament to one whose membership was not assured, for he ministered to those of a close sect, and a close sect of the straitest order. As the mother pleaded for her child, he saw rising before him a difficulty of which he had often dreamed, but never before faced—a difficulty of ministering to a Church fenced in by deeds, the letter of which he could not in his inner conscience accept.
The mother was importunate, however, and eventually the pastor promised to bring the matter before his deacons.
What the decision of these deacons was will be told in another Idyll of Rehoboth.
THE COURT OF SOULS.
'I'm noan for bringin' th' lass back into th' Church. Hoo's noan o'er modest, or hoo would never ax us to tak' her back.'
'Same here, Amos! What does hoo want amang dacent Christian fo'k?' And so saying, Elias Bradshaw opened a large pocket-knife and closed it again with a sharp click, and then toyed with it in his hand.
'It wur bad enugh for th' owd woman to tak' her back wom', but if we tak' her back into th' Church we's be a thaasand times wur,' continued Amos.
'But surely,' pleaded Mr. Penrose, 'if the angels welcome a returning sinner, might we not venture to do the same?'
'We're noan angels yet, Mr. Penrose,' replied Amos. 'It'll be time enugh to do as th' angels do when we live as th' angels live; an' I raither think as yo'd clam if yo' were put o' angels' meat. Ony road, ye con try it if yo' like; it'll save us summat i' th' offertory if yo' do.'
'Come, Amos, thaa's goin' a bit too fur,' interrupted Abraham Lord. 'If yo're baan to insult th' parson, yo've no need to insult them as is up aboon—"ministerin' sperits," as th' apostle cos em.'
'We know thaa'rt no angel, Amos, baat thi tellin' us,' said Malachi o' th' Mount. 'And it ever they shap thee into one thaa'll tak' some tentin!' (minding).
'I durnd know as I want to be one afore mi time, Malachi: an' I'm noan baan to do as they do till I ged amang 'em. I'd as soon pool a warp ony day as play a harp; but when th' Almeety skifts me fro' th' Brig Factory to heaven, mebbe I'll shap as weel at a bit o' music as ony on yo'.'
'Wilto play thi music o'er sich as Amanda, thinksto?' asked old Malachi.
'Thee mind thi business, Malachi. When th' Almeety maks me an angel, I'll do as th' angels do. But noan afore, noather for yo', nor Amanda Stott, nor Mr. Penrose, nor onybody else, so naa thaa knows.'
'Spokken like a mon,' assented Elias Bradshaw. 'Stick to thi text, Amos.'
'And yet, after all,' said Dr. Hale, 'I think we ought to receive Amanda back again into our communion. The only One who ever forgave sins drew no line as to their number, nor shade as to their degree.'
'But durnd yo' think, doctor, that if we do as yo' want us we's be turnin' th' Church into a shoddy hoile?' asked Elias Bradshaw.
'There are no shoddy souls,' said the doctor.
'No,' continued Mr. Penrose; 'it was not shoddy that Christ came to seek and save.'
'Who wur it said th' gate were strait and th' road narro'?' cried out an old man who was always known by the name of 'Clogs.'
'That's no reason why yo' should want to turn th' gate into a steele-hoile (stile), is it?' retorted Malachi.
'Gate or steele-hoile, it's narro'; and that's enugh for me, an' it were noan us ut made it narro'; it wur th' Almeety Hissel',' replied Clogs.
'At any rate, He made it wide enough for Amanda,' said Dr. Hale, 'and that is the matter we are now considering.'
'I'm noan so sure o' that, doctor. There's a good bit o' Scripter agen yo' if yo' come to texes.'
'Then so much the worse for Scripture,' was the unguarded, yet honest, retort of Mr. Penrose; and Dr. Hale laid a kind hand on the young minister's shoulder to restrain his haste.
'It seems to me,' said Elias Bradshaw, 'as Mr. Penrose spends a deal too mich time in poolin' up the stumps and makin' th' strait gate into a gap as ony rubbige con go thro'. I could like to yer him preych fro' the fifteenth verse o' th' last chapter i' Revelation. I once yerd a grond sarmon fro' that text i' th' pulpit up aboon here; and when it were oer, Dickey o' Sams o' the Heights went aat o' th' chapel, and tried to draan hissel' i' Green Fold Lodge. Naa, that's what I co powerful preychin'!'
'Pardon me, Mr. Bradshaw. We are not here to discuss the merits of preaching. We are here to consider the request of Amanda Stott—'
'An' axin' yor pardon, Mr. Penrose, that's whod I wur comin' to. I'm noan a fancy talker like yo'. Aw never larned to be, and I'm noan paid to be. Whod I wur baan to say, if you'll nobbud let me, wur this: As Jesus Christ wur a deal more particular who He leet in than who He kept aat. That's all.'
'But who did He keep out?' asked Dr. Hale.
'Haa mony, thinksto, did He leet in, doctor? I could welly caant um o' on both mi hands.'
'It seems to me yo' want to mak' saints as scarce as white crows,' said Abraham Lord.
'Nay, Abram; we want to keep th' black 'uns aat o' th' nests.'
'Then yo' mud as weel fell th' rookery,' was Abraham's sharp retort, which called forth a hearty laugh.
'If I read th' Bible reet,' said Amos Entwistle, returning to the fray, 'if I read th' Bible reet, a felley once coome to Jesus Christ an' axed Him if mony or few wur saved; and all he geet for an answer wur, "Thee mind and geet saved thisel'; it'll tak' thee all thy time wi'out botherin' abaat others." An' I think it'll tak' us all aar time baat botherin' abaat Amanda Stott. I move as we tak' no more notice on her axin' to come back amang us. It's geddin' lat, an' my porritch is waitin' for me at wom'.'
This was more than Mr. Penrose could bear, and rising to his feet, he asked, in suppressed tones, that the matter under discussion might receive the care and wisdom and mercy that a soul demanded from those who held in their hands the shaping of its earthly destiny; and then, in a voice stifled with emotion, he ventured to draw the contrast between the last speaker, who would fain hurry, for the sake of an evening meal, decisions that had to deal with the peace of a repentant girl, and He who, in the moments of bodily hunger, putting aside the refreshment brought by His disciples, said, 'I have meat to eat that ye know not of.'
Nor did Mr. Penrose plead in vain. Those who listened to him were moved by his words, and Amos Entwistle sat down, to utter no further word against Amanda.
From this time the tone of the discussion changed. Not that Mr. Penrose devoutly listened; indeed, he was listless, only recovering himself, now and again, as some striking sentence, or scrap of rude philosophy, fell on his indifferent ear. Leaning back in his chair, his eye rested on the hard features of the men sitting on either side of the deacons' table. They were men of grit, men of the hills, men whose religious ancestry was right royal. Their fathers had fayed out well the foundations on which the old chapel stood, and hewn the stones, and reared the walls, and all for love—and after the close of hard days of toil. They were men who knew nothing of moral half-lights—there were no gradations in their sense of right and wrong. Sin was sin, and righteousness was righteousness—the one night and the other day. They drew a line, narrow and inflexible, and knew no debatable zone where those who lingered were neither sinners nor saints. And so with the doctrines they held. Severity characterized them. Justice became cruelty, and faith superstition. They knew nothing of progressive revelations. The old Sinaitic God still ruled; the mountain was still terrible, and dark with the clouds of wrath. Fatherhood in the Deity was an unknown attribute, and tenderness a note never sounded in the creed they held. They had been bred on meat, and they were strong men. They knew nothing of the tender tones of Him whose feet became the throne of the outcast. Their God was a consuming fire.
As Mr. Penrose looked into their faces, many bitter thoughts poisoned the waters of his soul. He thought of Simon the Pharisee; he thought, too, of St. Dominic; and of Calvin with the cry for green wood, so that Servetus might slowly burn. He thought, too, of the curse of spiritual pride—pride that enthroned men as judges over the destiny of their fellows, and damned souls as freely and as coolly as a commander marched his forlorn hope into the yawning breach. And then, realizing that among such his lot was thrown—realizing also the dead hand that rested on his teaching and preaching—his heart went down into a sea of hopelessness, and he felt the chill of despair.
The gong of the chapel clock announced the hour of nine, in thin, metallic beats, and looking up, he noted the swealing tapers in the candelabra over his head. In his over-wrought, nervous condition, he imagined he saw in one of the flickering, far-spent lights the waning life of Amanda Stott, and the horrible thought of eternal extinction at death laid its cold hand on the larger hope which he was struggling to keep aflame in his darkening soul. Turning his glances towards the pulpit that rose gaunt and square above the deacons' pew, and over which hung the old sounding-board, as though to mock the voices, now for ever silent, that from time to time had been wont to reverberate from its panels, he began to wonder whether the message the Church called revelation was not, after all, as vain as 'laughter over wine'; and as he looked on the frowning galleries and the distant corners of the chapel, gloomy and fearsome—the high-backed pews, peopled with shadows thrown from the waning lights—he felt the force of the words of one of his masters: 'What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue.'
Suddenly he was recalled to his position as the pastor of the church by the voice of old Enoch, mellow as the tones of the flute on which he so often tuned his soul in moods of sorrow and sin. How long Enoch had been talking Mr. Penrose knew not; but what he heard in the rude yet kindly vernacular of the moors was:
'Let's show mercy, lads! Noan o' us con howd up aar yeds baat it. Him as has put us here expects us to show yon lass o' Stott's same as He's shown to us Hissel'. There's one bit o' readin' i' th' New Testament as noan o' yo' has had owt to say abaat—I mean where th' Lord tells o' th' two debtors. Th' fust geet let off; but when he wouldn't let his mate off, it were a sore job for him. Durnd yo' think as th' Almeety cares as mich abaat us as we care for aar childer? I somehaa thinks He does. Didn't him as played on th' harp say, "Like as a faither pitieth his childer, so th' Lord pitieth them that fear Him"? An' him as said that had a bad lad an' o'—an' didn't he say he'd raither ha' deed than th' lad? Aw welly think as th' Almeety con find room for Amanda, and if He con, I think we mud be like to thrutch (push) her into Rehoboth. Let's mak' room for her, hoo'l happen not want it so long; and when hoo's gone we's noan be sorry we took her in; who knows but what we shall be takin' in the Lord Hissel? I'm no scholard, but I've read abaat 'em takin' in angels unawares; and th' Lord said if we took onybody in ut wur aat i' th' cowd, we wur takin' Him in. If we shut Amanda out we's mebbe shut Him aat, and if He's aatside, them as is inside will be on th' wrang side. Coome, lads, let's show mercy.'
There were other voices, however, besides Enoch's, and speakers as apt at quotation from the Scriptures as he. Indeed, the Bible was torn into shreds of texts, and—the letter so re-patched as to destroy the pattern wrought by its great principles of mercy and love. The grand words—righteousness, grace, law, were clashed, and wildly rung, like sweet bells jangled out of tune, and the court of souls resembled the vindictiveness of Miltonic demons rather than the seat of those who claimed to represent Him who said: 'I will have mercy and not sacrifice.' When the vote was taken the door was shut against Amanda.
Passing out of the dimly-lighted chapel into the blackness of the night, Dr. Hale took the arm of the young minister, saying:
'Let me guide you, Mr. Penrose. I know these roads by instinct.'
'Yes, doctor, I not only need your guidance, but that of someone else. Black as the night is, it isn't so black as the souls of those benighted inquisitors we've left behind us. There are stars behind those clouds; but there are none hidden behind the murky creed of the deacons of Rehoboth. Do they expect me, doctor, to carry their decision to Mrs. Stott and her daughter?'
'I believe they do. Hard messages, you know, must be delivered both by ministers and doctors. It is my lot sometimes to tell people that their days are numbered, when I would almost as soon face death myself.'
'Well, I have made up my mind, doctor, to face the resignation of Rehoboth rather than carry their heartless decision to Amanda.'
'Wait until morning, and then come on to my house and consult with old Mr. Morell; he is staying with me for a day or two. You never met with him. Perhaps he can guide, or at any rate help you. Wisdom lies with the ancients, you know.'
'But are not the men who have refused admission to Amanda the spiritual children of Mr. Morell? If his preaching has brought about what we have seen and heard to-night, what guidance or help can I get from him?'
'Just so,' said the doctor. 'I was not thinking of that. It's true he was pastor here for over forty years, and our deacons are his spiritual offspring. For all that, the old man's heart is right if his head is wrong; and, after all, it's the heart that rules the life.'
'Nay! no heart could thrive on a creed such as Rehoboth's. Why, God's heart would grow Jean on it.'
'But Mr. Morell's heart is not lean, Mr. Penrose. It is not, I assure you,' emphasized the doctor, as his companion uttered a sceptical grunt. 'He is tenderness incarnate. You know one good thing came out of Nazareth, despite the scepticism of the disciple.'
'Certainly a good thing did come out of Nazareth; but Nazareth, bad as it was, was not a Calvinistic creed. I very much question whether the creed of Rehoboth can preserve a tender heart.'
'Come and see,' laconically replied Dr. Hale.
'Very well, then, I'll treat my scepticism honestly. I will come and see. To-night the hour is too late. I will look in to-morrow morning.'
Mr. Penrose continued his homeward walk, conscious of the first symptoms of the reaction which follows hours of tension such as those through which he had just passed. He was limp. Morally as well as physically his nerve was gone. He thought of the Apostle who fought with beasts at Ephesus, and envied him his combatants. His fretful impatience with those who differed from him theologically rose to a tide of insane hatred, and he lost himself in a passion against his deacons as bitter as that which they had shown towards Amanda Stott and himself.
Entering his lodgings, and lighting his lamp, he threw himself on the couch, resenting in bitterness of spirit the limitations of creeds, and the exactions imposed on men who, like himself, were called to minister to brawling sects. Thrice he sat down at his desk; thrice he wrote out his resignation, and thrice he committed it to the flames. Then, recalling the words of an old college professor who often used to tell his students that the second Epistle of the Corinthians was the ministerial panacea in the hour of depression, he took up his Testament and read:
'Ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distress ... by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by love unfeigned, by the Holy Ghost, by the word of truth, by the power of God.'
And there came on the young pastor a spirit of power, and of love, and of a new mind, and he slept.
THE OLD PASTOR.
On the following morning Mr. Penrose set out to call on the old pastor at the house of Dr. Hale, conjuring up as he went pictures of the man whom he knew only by report, and, as he deemed, exaggerated report too. To Rehoboth people Mr. Morell was a prodigy—a veritable prophet of the Most High; and his successor's sojourn was not a little embittered by the disparaging contrasts so frequently drawn between the old order and the new. To be for ever told the texts from which Mr. Morell used to preach, to hear in almost every house some pet saying or scrap of philosophy wont to fall from his lips, to be asked, if not bidden, by the deacons to tread in the footprints of one who was believed to wear the seven-league boots, became intolerable; and had not discretion guarded the speech of Mr. Penrose, many a time his language of retort would have been strange to covenanted lips. Often, too, he asked himself what manner of man he must be who nursed and reared this narrow sect of the hills—a sect setting judgment before mercy, and law before love—a sect narrowing salvation to units, and drawing the limit line of grace around a fragment of mankind.
On his arrival at Dr. Hale's, however, a surprise greeted him, and as he responded to the old pastor's outstretched hand, he knew he met with one in whom firm gentleness and affable dignity were the chief charm of character. There was not, as he anticipated, coarse, crass assertiveness—a semi-cultured man whose narrow creed joined hands with barren intelligence. Far otherwise; he stood before one whose presence commanded reverence, one at whose feet he felt he must bow.
Mr. Morell was tall and erect, with a fine Greek head whose crown of snowy hair lent dignity to a face sunny with the light of kindness, while every line of expression, those soul-inscriptions written by the years on the plastic flesh, told of thought and culture. The accent, too, was finished, and every gesture betrayed refinement and ease.
At first the conversation was restrained, for both men instinctively felt that between them lay a gulf which it would be difficult to bridge; but, as Dr. Hale played well the part of middleman, the ministers were drawn out towards each other, and in a little while struck mutual chords in one another's hearts.
During the morning the two men talked of art, of philosophy, and of history, the discussion of these calling out a light of intelligence and rapture on the old man's face. When, however, the graver questions of theology were broached, his voice became hard and inflexible, a shadow fell, and the radiancy of the man and scholar became lost in the gloom of the divine.
Whenever Mr. Penrose ventured to hint on some phase of the broader theology, the old man was provoked to impatience; and when he went so far as to quote Browning, and declare that—
'The loving worm within its clod Were diviner than a loveless god Amid his worlds,'
a gleam of fire shot from the mild eye of Mr. Morell, significant as a storm-signal across a sea of glass.
The younger man was often taken at disadvantage, for, while he was in touch with modern thought, he did not possess the old dialectician's skill. Once, as Mr. Penrose remarked that science was modifying theology, Mr. Morell, detecting the flaw in his armour, thrust in his lance to the hilt by replying that science and Calvinism were logically the same, with the exception that, for heredity and environment, the Calvinist introduced grace.
Whereupon Mr. Penrose cried with some vehemence:
'No, no, Mr. Morell! that will not do. I cannot accept your statement at all.'
'Can't you?' said the old man, rising from his chair, the war spirit hardening his voice and flaming in his eye. 'Can't you? What says science of the first hundred men which will pass you, if you take your stand in the main thoroughfare of the great city over the hills yonder? Watch them; one is drunk, another is linked arm in arm with his paramour, a third is handcuffed, and you can see by the conduct of him who follows that he is as reckless of life as though the years were for ever. Why these? Ask science, and it answers election—the election of birth and circumstance. Ask Calvinism, and it, too, answers election—the election of decrees.'
'But science does not do away with will, Mr. Morell.'
'Well, then, it teaches its impotence, and that is the same thing. It bases will on organization, and traces conduct to material sources. Huxley tells us the salvation of a child is to be born with a sound digestion, and Calvinism says the salvation of a child is to be born under the election of grace. Logically, the basis of both systems is the same; the sources of life differ, that is all. One traces from matter, the other from mind—from the mind and will of the Eternal.'
'But science fixes it for earth only—you fix it for eternity,' suggestively hinted the younger man.
'Yes, you are right, Mr. Penrose; we do.'
'Then a man is lost because he cannot be saved, and punished for things over which he had no control?'
'Ask science,' was the curt reply.
'Well, Mr. Morell, I will ask science, and science will yield hope. Science says, take a hundred men and a hundred women, and let them live on a fruitful island and multiply, and in four generations you will have an improved stock—a stock freer from atavism, hysteria, anomalies, and insanities. Science holds out hope; you don't. You say God's will and decrees are eternal, and what they were a thousand ages since they will be a thousand ages to come. Science does eventually point to a new heaven and new earth, but Calvinism throws no light across the gloom.'
The old man quietly shifted his ground by asking his opponent if he ever asked himself why he did, and why he did not, do certain things.
'I suppose the reason is because of my choice, is it not?'
'And what governs choice—or, if you like, will?'
'I do, myself.'
'Who are you, and what part of you governs it? Will cannot govern Will, can it? And can you divorce will from personality?'
'Tennyson answers your question, Mr. Morell.
'"Our wills are ours, we know not how,"
that is the mystery of existence.
'"Our wills are ours, to make them Thine,"
that is the mystery of salvation.'
'Then, Mr. Penrose, I ask you—why don't we make our wills God's?'
Mr. Penrose was silent, and then he made a slip, and played into his opponent's hands by saying:
'My faith in a final restitution meets that difficulty. We shall all be God's some time; His love is bound to conquer.'
'Suppose what you call Will defies God's love, what then?'
'Then it is no longer will.'
'Cannot you conceive of Will winning Will?'
'I can conceive of Will, as you define it, defying Will, and that for ever. But we escape your contradictions; we accept the fact that some men are under a Divine control they cannot resist—'
'Then you both agree as to the principle,' broke in Dr. Hale; 'you are both Calvinists, with this difference: you, Mr. Morell, say only the few will be called; Mr. Penrose, here, says all will be called. Let us go in for the larger hope.'
'You are right, doctor. I am a Calvinistic Universalist,' cried Mr. Penrose in triumph.
And Mr. Morell was bound to admit the doctor had scored.
It was not long, however, before Mr. Penrose found a spring of tenderness hidden beneath the crust of Calvinism that lay around the old man's soul, and on which were written in fiery characters the terrors of a merciless law. And the rod that smote this rock and tapped the spring was none other than the story of Amanda's return and repentance, told in part by Dr. Hale and in part by the young pastor himself.
As the story was unfolded, the old man evinced much feeling, often raising his hand to shade fast-filling eyes, or to brush away the tears that fell down his furrowed face. They told him of Amanda's silence as to the past, and he commended her for it, remarking to Mr. Penrose that the true penitent seldom talked of the yesterdays of sin; they told him how she counted herself unworthy of home and of love, seeking blame and not welcome from the mother to whom she had returned, and he declared it to be a token of her call; they told him of the great light and peace that fell on her as she rested on the goodness of God, and they heard from him the echo of his Master's words over Mary—'She hath loved much, for she hath had much forgiven'; and then they told him of her desire for the restoration of her name on the Rehoboth register, and he was silent—and for some minutes no sound disturbed his reverie.
That silence was God's speaking hour. Within the old pastor's soul a voice was whispering before which the thunderings of the creed of a sect were hushed. He, poor man, knew full well that it was a voice which had long striven to make itself heard—a still, small voice that would neither strive nor cry—a haunting voice, a voice constant in its companionship during his later years. How often he would fain have listened to it! But he dared not, for was it not a contradictory voice? Did it not traverse the letter which he had sworn to uphold and declare? What if the voice were the voice of God? No! It could not be. God spoke in His Book. It was plain. Wayfaring men might read, and fools had no need to err. But was God's voice for ever hushed? Had He had no message since the seal was fixed to the Canon of Scripture? What if that which he heard was one of those messages concerning which Christ said, 'I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.' Had the now in his life passed? Had the then come when a fuller revelation was about to be vouchsafed? Nay! even the Apostle—the man inspired—only knew in part. Why should he, then, try to pry into the clouds and darkness that were round about the awful throne? And yet in Him who sat on that throne was no darkness at all. Supposing the feelings struggling in his heart now were rays of light from Him—rays seeking to pierce the clouds, and bring more truth—truth which, in his highest moments, he had dreamed of, but never dared to follow. Was not Dr. Hale right after all? Was it not better to trust what we knew to be best in us, and follow the larger rather than the lesser hope?
And so, in the silence, the two voices reasoned in the soul of Mr. Morell.
In a little while Mr. Morell, roused from his reverie, turned to the young pastor, and said:
'Your poet is right, Mr. Penrose. The loving worm within its clod is diviner than a loveless god amid his worlds. Let us go as far as the chapel.'
As they walked along the narrow, winding roadways, broken by projecting gables, and fenced by irregular rows of palisades, the old pastor began to re-live the long-departed days. Objects, once familiar, on which his eye again rested, restored faded and forgotten colours, and opened page after page in the books of the past. Many cottages mutely welcomed him, their time-stained walls memorials of generations with whom he held sacred associations. There was the Old Fold Farm, with its famous fruit-trees, on which, in spring evenings, he used to watch the blanching blossoms blush beneath the glowing caress of the setting sun; and Alice o' th' Nook's garden, with its beds of camomile, the scent of which brought back, as perfumes are wont to, forms and faces long since summoned by the 'mystic vanishers.' There, too, stood the old manse—now tenantless—so long the temple of his studies and domesticities, the shrine of joys and sorrows known to none save himself. How the history of a life lay hidden there, each wall scored with fateful characters, decipherable only to the eye of him who for so many ears sought the shelter which they gave.
On the summit of the hill in front of him was the chapel, its sagging roof silhouetted against the blue of the morning sky, the tombstones, irregular and rude, rising from the billowy sea of grave-mounds that lay around their base. Beyond him, in grandly distant sweeps, rose the moors. How well he knew all their contours, their histories, their names! How familiar he used to be with all their moods—moods sombre and gladsome—as now they were capped with mist, now radiant in sunlight, their sweeps dappled with cloud shadows, moving or motionless, or white in the broad eye of day. Thus it was, within the distance of a half-mile walk, his past life, like an open scroll, lay before him; and he remarked to Mr. Penrose that he had that morning found the book of memory to be a book of life and a book of judgment also.
As the three men passed through the chapel-gates they were met by old Joseph, who was hearty in his welcome of Mr. Morell.
'Eh! Mr. Morell,' he said, grasping his hand in a hard and earthy palm, 'aw'm some fain to see yo'. We've hed no gradely preachin' sin yo' left Rehoboth. This lad here,' pointing to Mr. Penrose, 'giz us a twothree crumbs betimes; but some on us, I con tell yo', are fair clamming for th' bread o' life. None o' yo'r hawve-kneyded duf (dough), nor your hawve-baked cakes, wi' a pinch o' currants to fotch th' fancy tooth o' th' young uns. Nowe, but gradely bread, yo' know.'
Mr. Morell tried to check the brutal volubility and plain-spokenness of Joseph, but in vain. He continued the more vehemently.
'It's all luv naa, and no law. What mak' o' a gospel dun yo' co it when there's no law, no thunerins (thunderings), Mr. Morell, no leetnins? What's th' use o' a gospel wi'out law? No more use nor a chip i' porritch. Dun yo' remember that sarmon yo' once preached fro' "Jacob have I luved, but Esau have I hated"? It wur a grand un, and Owd Harry o' th' Brig went straight aat o' th' chapel to th' George and Dragon and geet drunk, 'cose, as he said, he mud as well ged drunk if he wor baan to be damned, as be damned for naught. Amos Entwistle talks abaat that sarmon naa, and tells bits on it o'er to th' childer i' th' catechism class, and then maks 'em ged it off by heart.'
How long old Joseph would have continued in this strain it is hard to say, had not Mr. Morell, who did not seem to care to hear more of his pulpit deliverance of other days, silenced him by demanding the vestry keys.
As the three men entered the vestry a close, damp atmosphere smote them—an atmosphere pervading all rooms long shut up from air, and with foundations fed by fattened graves.
Nor was the vestry itself more inviting. Gloomy and low-ceiled, the plaster of its walls, soddened and discoloured from the moisture of the moors, lay peeling off in ragged strips, while its oozing floor of flags seemed to tell of sweating corpses in their narrow beds beneath.
Through a small window, across which a spider had woven its web, a shaft of sunlight lay tremulous with the dance of multitudinous motes; and, falling on the dust-covered table, lighted up with its halo a corroded pen and stained stone jar, half filled with congealed ink.
On the right of this window stood a cupboard, with its panels of dark oak, behind which lay the parchments and papers of the Rehoboth Church—parchments and papers whose inscriptions were fast fading, whose textures were fast rotting—companioning in their decay the decay of the creeds they sought to preserve and proclaim.
It was to this cupboard Mr. Morell turned, taking therefrom two time-stained, leather-bound volumes—the one a record of the interments of the past hundred years, the other containing the roll of Rehoboth communicants since the establishment of the Church. Laying the former aside, he took up the latter with a tenderness and devoutness becoming one who was touching the sacred books of some fetish of the East. It was, indeed, to him a book to be reverenced; and as he slowly and sadly turned over its time-stained pages, his eye rested on many names entered in his own small handwriting—names which carried him back to companionship with lives for ever past. Some he had known from birth to death, blessing them in their advent, and committing them at the grave to Him who is the sure and certain hope. There were those, too, whom he piloted along the rocky coasts of youth—those with whom he once wept in their shadowed homes, and from whom he never withheld his joy in their hour of triumph. As name after name met his eye, it was as though he travelled the streets of a ruined city—a city with which in the days of its glory he had been familiar. Memories—nothing but memories—greeted him. He heard voices, but they were silent; he saw forms, but they were shadowy.
As he turned over page after page he read as never before the record of his half-century's pastorate—his moorland ministry among an ever-changing people, and there passed before him the pageant of a life—not loud in blare, nor brilliant in colour—but sombre, stately, and true.
Continuing to turn over the pages, he came to where a black line was drawn across the name of Amanda Stott, and where against the cancelled name a word was written as black as the ink with which it was inscribed.
Again there came a pause. Long and tearfully the old pastor looked at that name disfigured, as she, too, who bore it had been, by the hand of man. Then, taking up the corroded pen and filling it, he re-wrote the name in the space between the narrow blue-ruled lines, and, looking up with smiling face, said:
'Yet there is room.'
And the shaft of sunlight that fell in through the cobwebbed window of the Rehoboth vestry lay on the newly-inscribed name, as though heaven sealed with her assent the act of the old man who felt himself the servant of the One who said, 'I will in no wise cast out.'
SAVED AS BY FIRE
It was a narrow, gloomy yard, paved with rough flags dinted and worn by the wheels of traffic and the tread of many feet. On one side stood the factory, cheerless and gray, with its storied heights, and long rows of windows that on summer evenings flamed with the reflected caresses of the setting sun, and in the shorter days of winter threw the light of their illuminated rooms like beacon fires across the miles of moor. Flanking the factory were sheds and outbuildings and warehouses, through the open doors of which were seen skips and trollies and warps, and piles of cloth pieces ready for the market in the great city beyond the hills. Within a stone's-throw the sluggish river crept along its blackened bed, no longer a stream fresh from the hills, but foul with the service of selfish man.
It was breakfast hour, and the monotonous roar of machinery was hushed, no longer filling the air with the pulsations of mighty manufacture. The thud of the ponderous engines had ceased; the deafening rattle of the looms was no more heard; a myriad spooming spindles were at rest. A dreamy sound of falling waters floated from the weir, and the song of birds in a clump of stunted trees made music in the quiet of the morning light—it was Nature's chance to teach man in one of the brief pauses of his toil, had he possessed the ear to hearken or the heart to understand.
Beneath the shelter of a 'lean-to' a group of men sat, hurriedly gulping their morning meal, finding time, all the same, for loud talk and noisy chaff. They were prosaic, hard-faced men, with lines drawn deeply beneath their eyes, and complexions sallow, despite the breezes of the hills among which they were reared. From childhood they had been the slaves of labour; the bread they ate was earned by sweat and sorrow, while their spare hours were given to boisterous mirth—the rebound of exacting toil. Two or three were conning the betting news in a halfpenny paper of the previous evening, and talking familiarly of the chances of the favourites, while others disputed as to sentiments delivered in the last great political speech.
In one corner sat Amos Entwistle, the butt of not a little mirth from a half-dozen sceptics who had gathered round him. They addressed him as 'Owd Brimstone,' and made a burlesque of his Calvinistic faith, one going so far as to call him 'a glory bird,' while another declared he was 'booked for heaven fust-class baat payin' for his ticket.'
'Why should he pay for his ticket,' asked an impudent-looking youth, 'when th' Almeety's gan it him? Th' elect awlus travels for naught, durnd they, Amos?'
'Thaa's more Scripture larning abaat thee nor I thought thaa had,' said Amos, withdrawing his wrinkled face from the depths of a can out of which he was drinking tea. 'But it's noan knowledge 'at saves, Dan; th' devils believe and tremble.'
'But I noan tremble, Amos; I geet too mich brimstone i' yon fire hoile to be flayed at what yo' say is "resarved" for them as isn't called.'
(Dan's occupation was to feed the boiler fires.)
'If thaa'rt noan flayed, that doesn't say thaa hasn't a devil,' replied Amos, again raising the can to his lips.
'Well, I'm noan to blame if a' cornd help miself, am I?'
But Amos remained silent.
'Aw say, Amos,' said a thoughtful-looking man, 'aw often wonder if thaa'll be content when thaa geets up aboon to see us lot in t'other shop.'
'Yi! and when we ax him, as th' rich mon axed Lazarus, for a sooap (drink) of summat cool, it'll be hard lines, wirnd (will not) it, owd lad, when thaa cornd help us?' asked the man who sat against him.
'Happen it will,' replied Amos. 'But thaa knows there'll be no sharin' baggin (tea or refreshment) there. Them as hed oil couldn't gi' it to them as hed noan.'
'Then thaa'll not come across the gulf and help us, Amos?'
'Nowe!' cried Dan. 'He'd brun (burn) his wings if he did.'
And at this all laughed, save the thoughtful man who put the first question to the old Calvinist.
'Thaa knows, Amos,' said he, 'I look at it i' this way. Supposin' th' factory geet o' fire this mornin', an' yo' hed th' chance o' savin' that lass o' mine that back-tents for yo', yo'd save her, wouldn't yo'?'
'Yi, lad, if I'd th' chance,' replied Amos.
'Then haa is it yo're so mich better nor Him, as yo' co th' Almeety, for yo' reckon He'll noan save some o' us?'
'I tell thee I'd save th' lass if I hed th' chance. We con nobbud do what we're permitted to do. We're only instruments in th' Almeety's honds.'