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St. Cuthbert's
by Robert E. Knowles
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"Margaret, stop! Surely you must know——"

"Be still, Angus—it must not be. All this anguish must break in blessing. Sorrow such as yours will be either a curse or a blessing—and it must not be a curse. God's love can turn it into blessing—and so can mine. We shall take up our cross together and shall see it blossom yet. Oh, Angus, if I can forgive him, you can, for you are dearer to me than to anybody else." Her hands were now upon his head:—"Angus Strachan, I ordain you to suffer and to wait. I ordain you to God's service in the name of love and sorrow and God—and they're all the same name—and I love you so—and you are an elder now. Oh, dear Lord, take care of our love and make us true—and patient. And bless our sorrow and make it sweet and keep us near the Man of Sorrows. Amen."

The white dimpled hands rested long upon the auburn locks of the still bended head, and her compassion flowed through them to the more than orphaned heart. It was the same head, she thought, and the same heart, as had once been blessed by a mother's anguished hand, doomed, as that mother knew, to the world's unreasoning scorn.

Her own peace seemed to pass into his troubled soul; the anointed head bowed lower and the yoke was laid upon him, never to be withdrawn. But its bitterness was gone, purged from it by those white dimpled hands, and the fragrance of a soul's sweeter life was there instead. For there had come to him that great moment when secret rebellion turns to secret prayer, craving blessing from the very hand that had smitten him with lameness; and Angus was making his ordination vows to God.

Upon that grassy knoll, under heaven's tender sky, with unmoving lips and broken heart he made the great surrender. Patience he promised God; and in return he begged the forgiving heart, the strength to bear his lifelong load, and the aid which might enable him to attain that miracle of grace when he yet should pray for the man whose sin had foreclothed his life in shame.

"Let us go back," said Margaret, at length, for the sun was westering.

"Yes, we will go back," said he, for in the gentle words he heard the bugle call; "we will go back." But first he kissed the ordaining hands, anointed as they had been to cast out evil from the heart and to bind up its brokenness.

Homeward they turned their steps, and the noises of the uncaring world soon fell upon their ears, but their hearts were holden of another song, and they heard them not.

Backward they bent their way to the world and its cruel pity—but ever hand in hand.

* * * * *

As the reader already knows, Margaret and Angus went forth from St. Cuthbert's Church just as Michael Blake was invited to speak in his own defense and to answer, if he might, the dread charge of his accuser.

"Have you anything to say, Mr. Blake?" were the words I had just uttered when Margaret and her lover left the church, with all the sequel which hath been just recorded.

In answer, he watched the retreating forms till they had departed, then buried his face in his hands. He sat thus so long that I concluded he had no heart to speak, and again arose, my hand outstretched to give the blessing, if blessing there might be in such an hour. The congregation arose to receive the proffered benediction, but before my lips had opened, a faint hand plucked my gown.

"I will speak, sir," and pale and trembling the unhappy man rose and stood beside me. I resumed my seat and the people dumbly did the same, gazing towards their elder with eyes that pleaded for the assurance of his innocence. Twice or thrice he strove for utterance before the words would come. At length he spoke.

"Moderator and brethren," he began, "if such as I may call you brethren. I am a sinful man. My hour has come. God's clock has struck, and it is the stroke of doom for my unworthy soul. Not that I despair of final mercy, for mine is a scarlet sin, and for such there is a special promise. But God's rod hath fallen upon me. The Almighty hath scourged me through my own son; for he who has just gone forth is none other than mine own child. My heart went out to him since first I saw his face, though I knew not till to-day that he is my flesh and blood. The picture you saw him hold out before me is none other than the picture of his mother's face.

"I speak it not for my defense—but I thought his mother was dead. I was told from the old country that she was gone, and more than one letter was returned to me with the statement that she could not be found. It was my heart's purpose to make a worthy home for her here in Canada, and to bring her out to it and to atone if I might for the cruel wrong. The first is long since done, but the second was beyond my power—at least so I was led to think.

"And now, Moderator, I place in your hands the resignation of the office on which I have brought such deep disgrace. It was my pride to be an elder in St. Cuthbert's, for it was here I first tasted of the Saviour's forgiving grace; it was here I first learned the luxury of penitence, and here was born my heart's deep purpose to retrieve the past—it was my pride, I say to be an elder here, but it is now my shame."

He was about to stop when Saunders McTavish interrupted:

"Moderator, there'll be no need to proceed by libel, for the accused party has confessed his guilt. But he hasna said anything to the Court about his soul, about his soul and his sin, and his relation to his God. At least, not all he might like to say and we might like to hear. Mebbe he'll have had repentance unto life?"

I waited. Mr. Blake's response came with humble brokenness.

"Please God I have," he said, "and, unworthy though I be, I have a great word for my fellow men this day—a word the unfallen angels could not speak. Oh, my brethren, believe me, I have not been leading a double life. I took the eldership at your hands, I know, saying nothing of the dark blot that soiled the past. My humble hope was that in service I might seek to redeem my life and I remembered One who said to a guilty soul like mine:—'Feed My sheep.' Penitence, and not remorse, I thought, was well pleasing unto God.

"And you will bear me witness that I have tried to warn all, especially the young men, against the first approach of sin. I fell long years ago because I cherished sinful images in my heart till even love went down before them. Since then, God is my witness, I have made it my lifework to drive them forth and to make every thought captive to the Redeeming Christ. My lifework has not been in my foundry, nor in my town, nor in my church—but in my heart, this guilty heart of mine. I have striven to drive out evil thoughts—out, in the blessed name of Jesus. For long, I could not recall my sin without sinning anew. But I had a hope of final victory, and having this, I purified myself even as He is pure.

"It was my daily prayer that God would make me useful, poor and all but sunken wreck as I was, that he would yet make me a danger signal to the young about me—which I am this day. For a wrecked ship does not tell of danger—it swears to the peril that itself has known. And to every young man before me I swear to two things this hour. The first is that your sin will find you out. Be sure of this. All our phrases about lanes that have no turning and the mills of the gods and justice that smites with iron hand, and chickens that come home to roost—all these are only names for God's unsleeping vigilance, all varied statements of the relentlessness of sin.

"The other truth to which I swear is this, that dark and bitter memories of evil may be a blessing to the soul, if we but count that sin our deadly enemy and rest not till we take vengeance of it. It may yet be God's messenger to us, if we lead humble chastened lives, seeking to redeem the past and watching unto prayer. There is no discipline so bitter and so blessed as the discipline of an almost ruined soul. For old sins do not decay and die; they must be nailed upon the cross. It is an awful truth that he who was once filthy is filthy still, but it is still more true, thank God, that there is One whose blood cleanseth from all sin."

He stopped suddenly, and in a moment he was gone. Down that same aisle by which his child had passed, he swiftly walked, his head bowed, his face quivering in pain like one who was being scourged out of the temple. For there are corded whips, knotted by unseen hands.

After the door had closed behind him the Session Clerk arose:

"I move, Moderator," he said, "that Mr. Blake's resignation be laid on the table."

Before his motion was seconded Roger Lockie, one of the stalwarts, stood in the middle of the congregation.

"It's no becomin' in me to interfere," he began, "but we're a' assembled here as a worshippin' people, an' I move that the Kirk Session be requested no' to accept the resignation. Oor brother fell, nae doot, but it was lang syne, and he has walked worthy o' the Lord unto a' pleasin' since, an' borne a guid witness to his Maister. We a' ken fine what the great King an' Heid o' the Kirk wad dae wi' his resignation. Wi' my way o' thinkin', a sinfu' man wha has been saved by grace is juist the ane to commend the Maister's love. I move the Session be asked to keep him as oor elder."

"I second that," said William Watson, a man of fifty years. "He brocht me to Christ and that's ae soul he saved. He broke the alabaster box upon his Saviour's head this day and we a' felt the fragrance o't. If God Himsel' canna despise the contrite hairt, nae mair can we."

I was about to put the motion when the senior elder arose:—"I hae but a word," he said, "an' it's nae word o' mine. The spirit o' the cross is wi' us and I will read a bit frae the Buik:—'If a man be overtaken in a fault ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself lest thou also be tempted.'"

"Are you ready for the question?" I asked.

"Aye, we're a' fine an' ready noo," said one of the worshippers.

The vote was taken and there was no dissenting voice. Michael Blake's long penance had done its work on earth and its eternal outcome was in other hands than ours.



XXIV

The SWEET SUNNY SOUTH

I was strongly inclined to accept the call. Not that I liked changes, for heart vines bleed freely when uptorn, and friendship's stocks cannot be bought on margin. But my heart was heavy, and St. Cuthbert's had been sorely wounded. Therefore, when the South Carolina church opened correspondence with me regarding their vacant pulpit, I lent an attentive ear.

All who have known sorrow in their work know how sweet sounds the voice, even the siren voice, which calls to distant scenes of toil. The world's weary heart will some day learn that no far-leading path, no journey by land or sea can separate us from the sorrow we seek to flee; because no path hath been discovered, no route devised, which shall lead us forth from our own hearts, where sorrow hath her lair.

Nevertheless, I was strongly minded to go forth from the work which had become my very life. It is nature's favourite paradox that what we love the most, the most hath power to give us pain. Could we withhold our love, no hand could wound us sorely, for it takes a friend to make an enemy worth the name. And since I loved St. Cuthbert's with that love which only sacrifice can know, I was oppressed with a corresponding fear that her frown would quench whatever glimmer of gladness still flickered in my heart. For I had almost forgotten that ever I was glad. And is it to be wondered at?

My daughter's love was fixed upon a man whom I deemed impossible, though by no fault of his. She had renounced all purpose of their immediate union in deference to her father's protest, but her love was fixed upon him still, and her father felt like one who was beating back the spring. Her mother was torn with the torment of an armed neutrality. Further, my beautiful church had been scarred by the explosive riot of that ordination day, stricken with a soul's lightning; and the whole tragedy of our home life had been laid bare to every eye.

Margaret, and her love, and her lover, and her lover's genealogy, and her father's forbiddal of their marriage, all these were daily herbs to those who loved us, daily bread to native gossip-mongers, and daily luxury to all who wished us ill. My attitude towards Margaret's lover, and whether that attitude was right or wrong, was the especial subject of debate and all New Jedboro abandoned itself to a carnival of judgment. Even the most pious and indulgent could not forego the solemn luxury, and those who denied themselves all of scandal's toothsome tidbits could not renounce this great repast.

I entertained no actual misgivings as to St. Cuthbert's permanent loyalty to me; but our self-consciousness had become raw and sore, our manse had turned suddenly to a house of glass, and the whole situation was so fraught with embarrassment that no mere man since the fall could have been free from an instinctive longing to escape.

St. Andrew's, Charleston, an ancient church of that ancient city, had offered me its pulpit. The Southerners have a taste for British blood, and they stand alone as connoisseurs of that commodity. Wherefore, the St. Andrew's folk had cast about for a British minister, preferring the second growth, hopeful that its advantage of American shade might have made its excellence complete.

Their committee ranged all Canada, finally dismounting beneath the stately steeple of St. Cuthbert's, their lasso loosed for action. Or, to change the metaphor, they informed their church at home that their eyes were fastened on their game at last; for the duty of such a committee is to tree their bird, then hold him transfixed by various well-known sounds till the congregation shall bring him down by well directed aim, bag him, and bear him off.

The Charleston Committee was composed of four, who attended St. Cuthbert's both morning and evening, when they came one Sabbath day to spy out the land.

The proprietor of the Imperial Hotel, himself an extinct Presbyterian, told me afterwards that they arrived late at night, begged to be excused from registering and went immediately to their rooms. But he knew in the morning that they were not to the manner born—for they asked for "oatmeal" for breakfast, which is called porridge by all who boast even a tincture of that blood it hath so long enriched.

Then they ate it with outward signs of enjoyment, which also flies in the face of all Scottish principle. Besides all this, they gave the maid a quarter, which was the most conclusive evidence of all.

They walked to St. Cuthbert's in four different detachments and sat in separate sections of the church. But they were not unnoticed; every Scotch section marked its man, for in New Jedboro strangers were events. I myself remarked three of them; devout they seemed and yet vigilant—as was natural, for they had come to both watch and pray.

The psalms were too much for them; they seemed to enter heartily into the other portions of the service—but the psalms in metre are a great Shibboleth. My beadle, who always sat where he could command the congregation, has often assured me that when a psalm was announced he could soon tell the sheep from the goats.

The service passed without special incident; for, although I suspected their errand, all thought of it vanished when I came to preach. God's jealous care will hold to undivided loyalty the heart that seeks to serve Him.

Monday morning brought the deputation to close range. They interviewed me in my study, and the house was redolent of Southern courtesy and grace. Their accent had a foreign tang but their hearts' tone was that of universal love. This latter word is not too strong to use, for the Southerner has a rare genius for laying claim to your very heart by the surrender of his own. Affection blooms fast in the Southern soul, but our Northern bud needs time. Especially tardy is its ripening in Scottish hearts, but the fruit is to Eternity.

The conversation was one of great interest and pleasure to myself, and while I could give no definite promise I made no secret of the attractiveness of their proposal.

"You will be so good as to present our regards to the mistress of the manse," said one of them, as they rose to go.

"Thank you, it will give me great pleasure," I responded; "my wife is a Southerner. Her father, who is not living now, fought at Gettysburg. My wife's standing instruction is to say that he was not killed in battle, for that was many years ago, and she has the Southern instinct for youth."

"And the Southern talent for it too, I reckon," the courtly gentleman replied. "We are mighty glad to hear that she belongs to us. Surely we will have a friend at Court. Let her be considered our plenipotentiary-extraordinary. Does her heart still turn towards her Southern home?"

"I am sure it does," I made reply, "but it has been long garrisoned within these rock-bound walls, and I know she has come to love them. I have often heard her say that there is no trellis for Southern vines like these mountainous hearts, true and faithful as the eternal hills themselves."

"I don't wonder at it," another of the deputation interposed. "From what I have seen and learned of these folk, I think they are our nearest kin. The Scotch and the Southern nature are alike, the same intensity of feeling, but with them it glows and burns, while with us it flames and sparkles."

"The same stream," suggested the first, "but ours breaks easier into flood."

"Well, I hope the flood will bear her back to her native shore," said the youngest member of the committee, who was a colonel, having been born during the Civil War.

We all laughed pleasantly at our racial distinctions and the gentlemen withdrew.

"We will not tell you good-bye, for we hope to see you soon again," was the last word I heard, the Southern idiom and the Southern cordiality both in evidence.

Definite action on the part of the Charleston church soon followed the return of their representatives. And I knew not what to do.

In the hope of relieving my perplexity, I accepted an invitation to spend a Sabbath with the St. Andrew's people and occupy their proffered pulpit.

My heart had sore misgivings when I said good-bye to Issie Hogg; her years were but thirteen; and every year had bound her closer and closer to my heart till I knew she was more dear to me than any other child save one. The sands of life were nearly run and I feared greatly lest they might be spent before I should return.

New Jedboro was winter-wrapped when I left it, and, taking steamer from New York, I disembarked at Charleston into almost intoxicating sweetness. Their dear South land was aflame with early summer, and my idea of Paradise was revised. How could these Southern hearts be otherwise than warm and fragrant! All the land about seemed like nature's temple breathing forth its silent anthem and celebrating its perpetual mass.

Yet all its vernal beauty seemed but as a portal to the inner shrine, the sanctuary of Southern hospitality. Which hospitality is a separate brand and hath no rival this side the Gates of Pearl. Let all who would feel the surprise of heaven's welcome forego the luxury of a visit to a Southern home; for they have stolen that celestial fire to kindle their waiting hearths.

I was committed to the care of one of the families of St. Andrew's whose household numbered five; and every heart had many doors all open wide. That is, open wide till you had entered, for then they seemed tight closed, locked with a golden key. Ancient pride seemed to be their family possession, never flaunted, but suppressed rather—and you knew it only because your own heart acknowledged that this must be its rightful dwelling place.

I noted again the pleasing custom of Southern ladies, who shake hands on introduction, and forever after. The candid graciousness that marks the act is in happy contrast to the self-conscious agitation of the underbred and the torpid panic of their stifled bow.

My host and hostess were persons of rare interest. Some of England's best blood was in their veins; it had come to them by way of Virginia, in their eyes the last medium of refinement. The final touch of sanguinary indigo is given only at Virginia's hands, the Virginian aristocracy being a blessed union of the English chivalric and the American intrinsic, the heraldic of the old world blended with the romantic of the new—which might make the Duke of Devonshire proud to receive reordination at their hands.

English aristocracy ambles on in an inevitable path, high banked by centuries—but the Virginian hath leaped the hurdle of the ocean and still retained its coronet; which proves that it was fashioned in eternity after the express pattern of their patrician heads.

As I describe the lofty source of this gracious Southern household, I bethink myself that to this day I cannot tell how I came to know that theirs was an ancient family. No reference to it from their own lips can I recall; certainly no boast, except the tranquil boast of proud serenity and noble bearing, and the noblesse oblige of loving hearts.

Grave courtesy and sweet simplicity and mirthful dignity seemed to be the heirlooms which they shared as common heritors; and, chiefest of credentials, when they stood in the library amid the shades of ancestors preserved in oils, I felt no sense of humour in the situation.

This is a great tribute; for the plebeian may boast his ancestors but he dare not paint them; and many a pioneer aristocrat hath compassed his undoing because he thus tried to put new wine into old bottles. Wishing to found a family, he proceeds to find one, and both are covered with shame as with a garment.

Many of our new world nobility, finding in sudden wealth the necessity for sudden pedigree, have resurrected their ancestors and tried in vain to touch them into gentleness, committing to an artist the secret task of God. Even those who have made fortune in oils, consistently restoring their innocent forefathers by the same, have only advertised their weakness with their wares.

It is true that the Vardell family coat-of-arms was not concealed—but it was not brandished or expounded. In quiet but vigilant emblazonry, it seemed to stand apart, like some far back member of the family in whose pride it shared.

Which reminded me, by contrast, of a call I had once made upon a certain Northern family, conspicuously rich and conspicuously new. While waiting in the drawing-room, I observed four different crests, or coats-of-arms, framed and hanging in a separate place, smirking to one another in token of their youthful fortune; for the lines had fallen unto them in pleasant places.

Soon the mistress of the mansion swept into the room, her locomotion accompanied by a wealthy sound, silk skirts calling unto silk skirts as deep calleth unto deep. A little pleasant conversation ensued, which, among other things informed me that the Turkish rug beneath me had cost six hundred dollars; whereupon I anxiously lifted my unworthy feet, my emotion rising with them. After both had subsided, I sought to stir the sacred pool of memory, pointing reverently to one of the aforesaid emblems of heraldry.

"That is your family coat-of-arms, Mrs. Brown, is it not?" I asked, throwing wide the door for the return of the noble dead.

"Yes," she answered proudly, "that is my one, and that one there is Mr. Brown's, and those other two are the children's; the yellow one is Victoria's and the red one is Louisa Alexandra's. Mr. Brown bought them in New York, and we thought when we were getting them we might just as well get one apiece for the children too."

How rich and reckless, I reflected, is the spendthrift generosity of our new world rich!

I could not but recall how those mean old English families make one such emblem do for centuries, and the children have to be content with its rusty symbols. But this lavish enterprise cheered me by its refreshing contrast; for every one was new, and each child had one for its very own.

There is no need to dwell on the succeeding Sabbath. St. Andrew's church bore everywhere the evidences of wealth and refinement. Large and sympathetic congregations were before me, evidently hospitable to the truth; for Huguenot and Scotch-Irish blood does not lose its ruling passion, and South Carolina has its generous portion of them both.

I sorely missed the psalms, without which, to those who have acquired the stern relish, a service lacks its greatest tonic. But my poor efforts seemed well received and the flood of Southern fervour burst forth later on, as we sat around the Vardells' dinner table.

I was being initiated into the mystic sweets of "syllabub," a Southern concoction of which my sober Scotch folks had never heard. Whoso takes it may not look upon the wine when it is red, for its glow is muffled by various other moral things; but the wine, waiting patiently at the bottom, cometh at last unto its own; and the glow which was absent from the cup may be soon detected upon the face of him who took it, beguiled by the innocent foliage amidst which the historic serpent lurks.

Webster defines it as a dish of cream, flavoured with wine, and beaten to a froth. But Webster was from Massachusetts and his advantages were few. The cultured Southerner, more versed in luxury than language, knoweth well that it is a dish of wine, flavoured with cream, and not beaten at all since the foundation of the world.

Southerners incline to eulogy; and syllabubs insist upon it. Wherefore, after the third syllabub had run the same course that its fathers had run, Miss Sadie turned to me and said:

"That was a perfectly lovely sermon you preached to us this morning."

"You are very frank," quoth I, for I was unaccustomed to compliments, one every six or seven years, and an extra thrown in at death, being the limit of Scotch enthusiasm.

"Well," replied Miss Sadie, "I hope I am. I think it is sweet and lovely to tell people if you like them. What's the use of waiting till they're dead, before you say nice things about your friends? If folks love me, or think me nice, I want them to tell me so while I'm alive."

"I love you and I think you are sweet and beautiful," said I, obedient.

Then came a dainty Southern cry—not the bold squeal of other girls, nor the loud honking of those who mourn for girlhood gone—but the woman-note which only the Southern girl commands in its perfection.

"Father! Do you hear what that preacher said to me just now?" she cried archly. "Isn't it perfectly dreadful for him to say things like that to a simple maiden like me? You awful man!"

"Our guest is only flesh and blood, Sadie," answered the courtly father when his laughing ceased, "so I presume, like the rest of us, he thinks you lovely. As for his telling you so, he was only carrying out your own instructions."

"I don't see how you could have done anything else," laughed Mrs. Vardell. "You shut him up to it, you know, Sadie. After your precept, to have said nothing nice would have meant that there was nothing nice to say."

"But seriously," resumed Miss Sadie, turning again to me, "that was really a lovely sermon this morning. It is beautiful to be able to help a whole congregation like that."

"Yes," chimed in Miss Vardell, Sadie's sweet senior, "it was perfectly fascinating. I shall never forget it as long as I live."

"I really think you will have to let us speak our mind," added their mother. "Your Geneva gown was so becoming; I do so wish our Southern ministers would adopt it. And the sermon was perfect. I especially admired the way it seemed to grow out of the text; they seemed to grow together like a vine twining around a tree."

I endured this tender pelting with the best grace I could command, though this was the first time I had ever been the centre of such a hosannah thunder-storm. The tribute to the kinship of text and sermon, however, was really very pleasing to me. Just at this juncture, when a new batch of compliments was about to be produced, smoking hot, an aged aunt, the prisoner of years, ventured an enquiry.

"I wish I could have been there—but I am far past that," she said. "What was the text, Sadie?"

Sadie flew into the chamber of her memory to catch it before it should escape. But the sudden invasion had evidently alarmed it, for it had gone. She silently pursued it into space, but returned empty-handed.

"That's strange," she faltered; "it was a lovely text," she added, by way of consolation. "But it's gone; I was so taken up with the sermon that I must have failed to remember the text," she concluded, false to her first love, but faithful to her guest.

"Well, Josie," said the still unenlightened aunt, "I will have to look to you. You will tell me what it was."

Josie joined in the chase, but their prey had had a noble start and was now far beyond them.

"It was in the New Testament, I think," said Josie, pleased with this pledge of accuracy, and satisfied that she had outrun her sister—"and it was tolerably long." This was said with the air of one who had almost identified it and might justly leave the rest to the imagination. "I reckon I could find it if I had a Bible," she added hopefully.

No Bible was produced, for that would have been taking an unfair advantage of the fugitive; but the eulogists began their mental search in unison, quoting various fragments of my morning prayer at family worship, which they carefully retained as witnesses. After they had ransacked every mental corridor in vain they acknowledged the fruitlessness of the quest, and I myself told their aged relative the text.

"Of course," they cried together, each repeating portions of it again and again in the spirit of atonement.

"I suppose," said Mrs. Vardell, "that the mind undergoes a kind of relaxation after a delicious tension such as we experienced to-day."

I marvelled greatly at this relentless sweetness.

"I knew it was in the New Testament," said Josie triumphantly—and we silently accorded her the praise that was her due.

But I inwardly bethought myself of those silent granite lips in the frozen North, unthawed by tender speeches, yet each one the reservoir of my texts and sermons, as unforgotten as they were unsung.



XXV

ST. CUTHBERT'S SECOND CALL

My reluctant farewells had been said, my gracious entertainers had grown dim upon the wharf; and the Atlantic was greeting our ship with boisterous welcome. For the Atlantic is far travelled and loves to surprise those Southern shores with the waves of Northern waters.

One by one the passengers retired from the deck, some with slow dignity, some with solemn haste, and some with volcanic candour.

I remained, sharing the scant survival of the fit, and fell into a reflective mood, for I love to think to music, none so grand as the accompaniment of ocean. That mighty throat is attuned to the human; its cry of deep mysterious passion, its note of conflict, is the epitome of the universal voice. It accorded well with the mood that possessed me, for that mood was gray.

The prevailing thought was this—that I was going back to winter. Grim relapse this, I mused, to go forth from bud and bloom and bird, to pendant icicle and drifted snow. For the blood soon warms beneath Southern skies, and a man soon recognizes that a garden was the ancestral home of him and of all mankind. Even the Eskimo can be traced to Eden.

Yes, I was going back to winter in very truth, without and within; for there is a sharper winter than any whose story the thermometer records. The winter of my discontent, and of another's blighted heart, and of still another's darkened life, awaited me beyond these turbid waters! My way was dark, and my path obscure before me. Chart and compass were blurred and numb. To remain in New Jedboro, and to remove to Charleston, seemed equally distasteful.

I had given the Southern church no assurance of my purpose, because purpose I had none. Yet the stern necessity of choice was upon me, this most sombre enfranchisement of manhood, that we are compelled to choose, willing or unwilling. Saint and sinner, believer and infidel, are alike under this compulsion in matters moral—and in all matters. We speak of the stern pressure which demands that men shall make a living; but its dread feature is herein, that our living is a succession of pregnant choices on which our deepest livelihood depends—and these choices melt into destiny, involving the infinite itself.

My people, I ruminated, could help me to a decision if they only would. But I knew how non-committal they would be; for they, and all their kind, are inclined to assume no responsibility of another's soul, and to surrender no fragment of their own.

New York was reached at last, the waves still tossing heavily. When I alighted from the train at New Jedboro, the breath of winter greeted me.

One of my parishioners, an Aberdonian born, was on the lookout. He shook hands, but said nothing of welcome home. Yet his hand was warm, and its grip had a voice that told me more than even sweet Southern lips could say. For its voice was bass—which is God's.

"Issie's wantin' ye," he said calmly. "She's far gone an' she's been askin' for ye."

The dawn as yet had hardly come, and seating myself upon the box, I told the cabman to drive quickly to Issie's home. As we passed through the still unstirring town, he said:

"He'll be sittin' up with him," pointing to a dimly-lighted window.

"Who'll be sitting up?" I said.

"Oh, I forgot. You won't have heard. That is Mr. Strachan's room. At least I think that is the name. I only came here myself to work ten days ago. A poor homeless woman landed here last week from Ireland. One of those immigration agent devils over there took her last penny and sent her over to Canada, to starve for all he cared. She showed smallpox after she landed here and her little lad was with her. He took it too. Well, she died—but before she died she told her story. The old story, you know—had bad luck, you see, and the fellow skipped out and left her. The woman gets the worst of it every time, don't she?"

"She died!" I exclaimed. "And the little one? Where is the boy you spoke of?"

"That's him; that's what the light's burnin' for. Angus Strachan, so they say, paid all the funeral expenses, and they wanted to send the kid away somewheres—some hospital for them catchin' diseases. But Strachan acted queer about it. He wouldn't let them touch it. And he took it to his own room and said he would take care of it himself."

"And did they let him?" I asked.

"Let him. I just guess they did. They couldn't help it. You see he'd been in, monkeyin' round the smallpox already—so they had to. And he wrapped the kid up in a blanket and took it to his room. They say his light's never been out at night since."

"He has not taken the disease himself, has he?" I enquired.

"Oh, no; leastwise, I never heard tell of it. But them was queer actions for a young fellow, wasn't they? No accountin' for tastes, as the fellow said! Can you understand it yourself, sir?"

"I think I can," was my reply; "let us hurry on," and in a few minutes we were at Issie's house.

Little Issie had long since snuggled down in her own separate place in my heart; she was indeed a favourite with all who knew her—but I saw as I stepped into the room that God loved her best of all. The white thin hands were tightly held, one in her father's, the other in her mother's, as though they would detain her; but the angels heeded not and went on with the preparations for her flight. These were almost complete when I arrived; Issie alone knew that they were of God's providing, for the face she turned to me was full of childish sweetness, and her smile was touched with other light.

"I'm glad you're home," she whispered, as I bent low beside her. "Please don't go away again"—and as I kissed her she was gone.

Her curls were gold, still gold, though she was gone. As we stood weeping beside the precious dust the sun arose, still arose, though she was gone. And his first errand was to the broken heart. Swift to the window flew his first-flung rays, like eager couriers who hear the cry of need. And entering in, unbidden, they set God's brighter seal of love upon the golden tresses. Up and down among the glowing strands, they wandered, smiling at God's gain, smiling still, though she was gone. Unafraid, they caressed the unconscious locks, anointing them for their burial.

When I went out, the winter seemed past and gone; I knew then what made these snowbound hearts so warm.

* * * * *

"Margaret has a new sorrow," said my wife, soon after my arrival home.

"What is it?"

"A young woman and her child from Ireland—"

"Yes," I interrupted, "I heard about it; the driver told me. Does Margaret seem to fret herself about it?"

"I don't know," answered her mother, "but I am afraid it has made it all the harder for us: I mean that I fear that she is more devoted to him now than ever. She read me a letter Angus wrote her just before he shut himself up with the child."

"What did it say?" I asked, with eagerness.

"I don't remember very clearly: but he said that this woman who died of smallpox, the child's mother, you know, had opened all her heart to him before she died. And he says there never was a gentler or purer-hearted woman—the old story, of love, and trust, and anguish. Then he said he promised her to care for her boy; and he said something about his ordination vows, said he would try to be true to them, and that this would help him to banish revenge and hatred from his heart."

"His ordination vows?" I exclaimed, "what do you suppose he means? Surely he is not trifling with all that unhappy occurrence?"

"I don't think so. There was no trifling tone about his letter. I asked Margaret about that very thing, but she wouldn't tell me, only she said there was no elder in St. Cuthbert's more ordained to God's service than Angus is."

"Did she say anything about their love affairs?" said I, after a man's poor bungling fashion.

"Not a word—but she wouldn't let me see the letter," this with a little womanly sigh: for women, like children, have griefs that appear trifling to grown men, but are very real to them.

After a pause my wife ventured: "Don't you think that perhaps we are just a little unrelenting about Margaret and Angus?"

"What?" I said.

"Oh, I don't mean that she should marry him, of course, but it does seem hard, father—and it really wasn't his fault—and perhaps we will regret it some day."

"But, my dear, you know it is impossible—think of the humiliation of it, the shame of it, I might say."

"Yes, I know," she answered, "but I do admire Angus more and more. He seems to be trying to staunch his sorrow, only he does it by love and service. Everybody is talking about how useful and unselfish he is, in the church, and among the poor—and everywhere."

"I know it," admitted I, "I know it, and there is no reason why we should not always be friends—but the other is an entirely different matter. It cannot be."

"Well," went on my wife, "I do not think I want to stay here; I don't suppose the people understand everything, but I feel sure many of them think we are dealing harshly with Margaret. And yet they would nearly all do the same. What kind of a manse have they in Charleston?" she concluded eagerly—for a woman's gift of transition is marvellous.

Whereupon I told her all about my Southern experiences and impressions.

* * * * *

There was no tumult in St. Cuthbert's. A man who knows nothing of the under-currents in the heart's great ocean would have said that my people were serenely indifferent as to whether I should stay in New Jedboro or go to Charleston. There was no open attempt to influence the outcome, for they believed in the sovereignty of God and would not interfere—at least not till that very sovereignty so constrained them. Of course, they held prayer to be a legitimate interference. This is a great mystery, but it is cherished by the soul as persistently as it is challenged by the reason. Mysterious though this union must ever be, the Scottish spirit takes full advantage of it, and enjoys its fruit, let the root be hidden as it may.

"Ye'll be givin' us yir decision some o' these days," was about as far as the most emotional would go, some even adding: "Charleston's a graun city, nae doot, an' I'm hopin' ye'll like it fine if you leave us," which last proved to me that such an one secretly prayed for my remaining. The true Scotchman is like the Hebrew language—to be understood, he must be read backwards.

"It's a graun chance ye're gettin', to be called to sic a kirk as that," said Wattie Gardner one day. "I'm fearin' ye'll rue it if ye bide wi' us here."

This was far from the language of ardent wooing; yet I noticed that this same Wattie sought to reform his ways, that they might tend to the increase of my comfort. He had been an incorrigible sleeper in the kirk, surrendering to sweet repose with the announcement of the text, and emerging therefrom only to join the closing paraphrase with unembarrassed unction. For no man was more ready with a verdict on the sermon than was Wattie, as he walked down the aisle; he never failed to demand the "heads and particulars" from his family at the dinner table, resenting all imputation of somnolence for himself.

His defense was plausible, since he never slept exposed; but always with his head bowed upon the book-board, esteemed by the uncharitable as the attitude of slumber, but explained by Wattie as the posture of undistracted thought and pious meditation.

Shortly after my call to Charleston, however, Wattie abandoned this pious and reflective posture, sitting bolt upright, beating back his tendency to thoughtful retirement with the aid of cloves and peppermints. I knew the meaning of this reform, for I knew Wattie's love for me, clandestine though it was; he and I had watched death together once—and after the wave had overswept us, the ground beneath our feet was firm as rock forever.

By and by St. Cuthbert's began to move. It was known that I purposed announcing my decision on the approaching Sabbath day, and I was informed that one or two deputations wished to wait upon me at the manse. The first was from the women of the church, who had had a meeting of their own.

To my amazement the spokeswoman was Mrs. Goodall. Now it must be told that this same Mrs. Goodall, in all sincerity of conscience, had violently withstood my advent to the pastorate of St. Cuthbert's years before. The ground of her opposition was that I plied the festive pipe.

Never was there nobler Christian womanhood than hers, never a more devoted life, never a more loving heart. But no man's character could be fragrant, so she thought, if it ripened amid the rich aroma of tobacco; and good old Virginia leaf was to her the poison-ivy of mankind. That life was indeed beclouded which found shelter in the genial clouds of the aforesaid leaf. But with all this heroic hostility to our little weaknesses, there dwelt a sweet strain of innocence in which we had come to glory.

"Ye needn't tell me," said the good Mrs. Goodall once to a sympathetic circle, "that they dinna play poker at the taivern—an' in the daytime too—for I passed by this verra day, an' they were pokin' away, wi' their coats off, wi' lang sticks in their hands, pokin' at the wee white balls," and her listeners needed no other proof.

The dear old saint made her plea for those she represented, and it greatly pleased me, for I loved her well; and I remembered the scores and hundreds who had felt the power of her godly life. Besides, it confirmed me in this assurance, that, after all is said and done, if a man is honestly trying to do his Master's work, even those most sternly set against the pipe will care but little whether or not he seeks the comfort it undoubtedly affords. Which very thing had been proved by my great predecessor, Dr. Grant, half a century agone.

The second, and larger, deputation was composed of ten or more, appointed to represent the kirk session and the Board. Of this latter body, the principal spokesman was its chairman, William Collin, an excerpt from Selkirkshire and one of my chiefest friends. He was long, very long, almost six feet three, with copious hair that never sank to rest, and habitually adorned with a cravat that had caught the same aspiring spirit. This was a rider perpetually attached.

One suit of clothes after another, as the years passed by, bore witness to the loyalty of his heart; for he would not abandon the pre-historic tailor who was a sort of heirloom in the Collin family. In consequence, the rise and fall of William's coat, in its caudal parts, as he walked down the aisle with the plate on the Sabbath day, had become part of St. Cuthbert's ritual—and we all thought it beautiful. He was one of the two, referred to in the opening of our story, who had been sent to spy out the land, and to report upon the propriety of my conjugal enterprise. The fluent panegyric in which his report was made is already recorded and need not be here repeated.

William had a talent for friendship beyond that of any man I ever knew, and this talent flowered into genius only after the clock struck midnight. Never yet was there friend who would stay with you to the last like William Collin, his shortcomings few, his long-stayings many and delicious.

For never yet was friend so welcome, never speech more sane and stimulating; never farewell so sweetly innocent when the clock struck two. May the God of friendship bless thee, William Collin, for all that thy friendship hath been to me! And if these lines outlive thee, let them bear witness to that joy which is not denied to the humblest man, who hath but a fireplace and a friend and a pipe—and four feet on the fender, while the storm howls without. For, with alternate zeal, we cast the blocks upon the blaze—and its flame never faltered till thou wert gone.

William, as chairman, was the first to speak. He presented St. Cuthbert's case with dignity and force, beginning with the tidings that the Board wished me henceforth to take two months' holidays instead of one. This started in my mind a swift reflection upon the native perversity of the Scotch. To prove that they cannot do without you, they banish you altogether for an extra month, but William Collin gave the thing a more graceful turn:

"We love you weel eneuch to do without you—but no' for lang," he said.

Then he concluded, as was his inviolate custom, with a reference to Burns, in whom he had sat down and risen up for forty years:

"I canna better close what I hae to say," he assured me, "than by the use o' the plowboy's words, slightly changed for the occasion:

"'Better lo'ed ye canna be Will ye no' abide at hame?'"

With this he reached behind him (this too, a time-honoured custom), seized the aforesaid caudal parts of his coat, removed them from the path of descending danger, and lowered his stalwart form with easy dignity, his kindly eyes aglow with friendship's light.

David Carrick was the next to speak. Cautious and severe, his chief aim was to express the hope that I was sincere in my indecision.

"We had a sair shock wi' a former minister long years ago," he said, "he had a call, like yirsel', but he aye kept puttin' us off, tellin' us he was aye seekin' licht frae above; but Sandy Rutherford saw an or'nary licht in the manse ae nicht after twal o'clock. He peekit in the window, an' he saw the minister wi' his coat off, packin' up the things. The twa lichts kind o' muddled him, ye ken."

His colleagues may have thought David unnecessarily severe. In any case several of them began signalling to Geordie Bickell to take the floor. Geordie responded with much modesty and misgiving, for he was the saintliest man amongst us; and his own estimate of himself was in direct antagonism to our own.

"We willna urge ye, sir," he said, with a winsome smile, "but I'm sure the maist of us hae been pleadin' hard afore a higher court than this. A' I want to tell ye is this—there hasna been wound or bruise upon yir relation to yir people. An' there's but ae hairt amongst us, an' we're giein' ye anither call this day—an' we're hopin' it's the will o' God."

The interview was almost closed, when a voice was heard from the back of the room, a very eager voice, and charged with the import of its message:

"It's mebbe no' worth mentionin'," said Archie Blackwood, a fiery Scot whose father had fought at Balaclava, "but it's gey important for a' that. Gin ye should gang to Charleston ye'll hae to sing sma' on their Fourth o' July, for that's their screechin' time, they tell me; an' ye wudna hae a psalm frae year's end to year's end to wet yir burnin' lips—an' ye wadna ken when it was the Twenty-fourth o' May. They tell me they haena kept the Twenty-fourth o' May in Ameriky since 1776." Archie knew his duty better than his dates.

I assured him of the importance of his warnings, and acknowledged the various deprivations he had foretold.

"Juist ae word afore we pairt," suddenly interjected a humble little elder who had never been known to speak before. "It's in my conscience, an' I want to pit it oot. We a' ken fine we haena been ower regular at the prayer meetin'; but we'll try to dae better in the time to come. It's death-bed repentance, I ken, but it's better than nane."

One by one the delegates shook hands with me and withdrew, after I had promised them as early a pronouncement as my still unsettled mind could hope to give. After they had gone, I sat long by myself, pondering all that had been said, looking for light indeed, but striving to quench all other beams than those whose radiance was from above.

While thus employed, a feeble footfall was heard upon the steps, and a gentle knocking called me to the door. It was no other than little Issie's grandfather who stood before me.

"Come in, come in," I said cordially, for he was dear to me, and we had the bond of a common sorrow. "Have you forgotten something?"

"No," he answered, "but I hae minded something. I didna speak when a' the ithers spoke; but I want to tell ye something by yirsel'. I think ye ought to ken. It has to dae wi' yir decision.

"Ye mind wee Issie? Well, the mornin' ye came back frae Charleston, she was lyin' white an' still on the pillow. She hadna spoke a' through the nicht, an' we a' thocht she wad speak nae mair—but at six o'clock yir train blew afore it came into the station. An' wee Issie stirred on the pillow. Her lips moved an' I pit doon my ear.

"'He'll be on that train,' she whispered low. 'Wha'll be on the train?' I askit her. 'The minister,' was a' she said.

"I was alane wi' her, an' I said: 'Mebbe so, Issie.' Then she spoke nae mair for a little, but soon she said: 'God'll bring him back to open the gate for me before I go. Grandfather,' she said, 'he first told me of the gate and he said I would find it beautiful when I got close—and so it is—but I want him to push it farther open, for I am so weak and tired. I'm sure God will bring him home in time.'"

My eyes were wet, and I could only take the old man's hand in mine, the silent token that the greatest argument of all had been kept until the last.

"There's mair of us," he said, as the sobs shook his feeble frame, "there's mair of us wha's comin' near the gate. I'm no' far frae it mysel'. An' I want ye to wait my turn; I want ye to bide wi' us till ye see me through the gate. A stranger wadna be the same. I maun be gaun."

It is long now since Issie's grandfather followed her through the gate. He too found it beautiful; for I walked with him till even I could see its glory. It swung wide open, for he was welcome home; and I caught a glimpse of the splendour just beyond. I heard, too, rapturous snatches of the song they sing in that better land. It may have been fancy, yet I am sure I heard the old precentor's voice, and Issie's holy strain was clearer still; but it was the new song, and these two blended wondrous well.



XXVI

LOVE'S SINGING SACRIFICE

Death is kinder than we think. None other knew the way by which the little foundling's mother had gone forth. But death knew it well, having often passed over it before; and the orphan's cry was more than he could bear. So he took him in his kindly arms and bore him on to his mother, smiling at the cruel names by which he was accustomed to be called.

It is death's way to take the jewel only, for the road is long; and who will may have the casket. Wherefore the affrighted undertaker bore the latter by night to its resting-place, for he knew that path and had often trodden it before. But he was not a deep sea pilot, like the other.

Angus was left alone. A faithful man, himself a smallpox graduate, was his only companion. Strict care was kept before the door of the now deserted house, for panic hath its home in the heart of that dread disease, though not so dreadful as we think.

Some of the misguided folk of New Jedboro fumigated themselves at every mention of Angus' name, sleeping meantime side by side with some consumptive form, knowing not that death slept between them. But the great science of life is, and hath ever been, the recognition of life's real enemies.

Angus was alone—and fallen. The foundling's plague was upon him, and there was none to care for him but the faithful servant, smallpox-proof as he happily knew himself to be.

The very night of the poor waif's hasty burial, a note was handed in at our kitchen door. It was from the health officer of New Jedboro:

"Can you find a nurse for Mr. Strachan?" it ran. "He has no one with him but Foster, who has had the disease, and I need not tell you the necessity for a woman's care. I have tried the hospital, but no nurse will volunteer. Whoever goes, of course, will be under quarantine, as the guard has orders to let no one enter or leave the house. Perhaps you may know of some poor woman, or some kind of woman, who will undertake the duty. If you do, I have ordered the guard to let her into the house on presentation of this note."

My wife and I were sitting in the study when the letter was handed to me. "I will run down to Mrs. Barrie's," I said, after long thinking. "She is not so much of a nurse, but she is less of a coward; and I know she has taken care of diphtheria."

"I will walk down with you," said my wife; "perhaps a woman's influence won't be amiss on such an errand."

We were soon ready and went out into the winter night.

"Isn't that too bad?" I suddenly exclaimed, as we were turning into Mrs. Barrie's house. "I have forgotten that letter—and the health officer says that whoever goes must have it. Shall we go back for it?"

"Not at all, she would have retired before we get back. And in any case she would not go till the morning, and you can give it to her before that," said my long tried adviser.

"Very well, let us go in."

We had left Margaret at home. She was often absent from our study fire, not in peevishness, or gloom, for they were foreign to her nature; but still she bore evidence of her great renunciation.

As I have said, she was much alone, deeming it, I doubt not, due to her lover that she should share his solitude, even if separately borne. She sought to fill up that which was behind of the sufferings of the man she loved. This I make no doubt was her secret delight; for only a woman knows the process of that joy which is exhaled when sorrow and love flow mingled down.

Margaret had not been beside our study fire that winter night. But on our departure she came down from her half widowed room to sit beside it. It was the same hearth she had kindled in other days "in expectation of a guest." As she entered the room, her eye fell upon the note which I had left lying in my chair. A glance at it revealed to her Angus' name. It was soon perused and it needed to be read but once. Swift action followed, for there is no such thinker as the heart; and if women were on the Bench to-morrow, "Judgment reserved" would vanish from our judicial records.

Margaret's decision was taken before she laid the letter down, and a flush of eager joy glowed on her face. In a moment she was back in her room, quickly moving here and there, gathering this and that together, bending over a small travelling-bag that lay upon the bed. Her ruling thought was one of gladness, even joy—and the traveller's joy at that. Who does not know the sudden thrill of rapture when there comes to us a sudden summons to a long and unexpected journey?

And Margaret was starting on a long journey, how long, only God could tell. She thought of this as she glanced about the pretty room that had shared her secret thoughts since childhood, that had seen the awaking of her love, and had oftentimes kept with her the vigil of unsleeping joy. More than once the poor little room had feared it was soon to be outgrown, and left far behind; but still at night Margaret would return to its pure protection, and still it knew the fragrance of a virgin's trembling love.

She was almost through the door when she turned once again and bade it a long farewell, the same as a maiden on her bridal morn. For she too was on her way to an altar; and the vows for sickness or health, for life or death, seemed to be upon her now.

She had got as far as the garden gate when she stopped suddenly.

"I have forgotten the letter," she said to herself. Laying her travelling-bag upon the ground, she ran swiftly back, but the door had locked behind her, and her latch-key was in her room.

"What shall I do? What shall I do?" she cried to herself. "I cannot get in without the letter, and they will soon be back."

She flew along the veranda to a window and pressed it upward. It yielded, and her joy flowed like a river. Up she flung it, far up, and with a bound the active form was upon the sill and disappeared into the room. The letter lay where she had left it, and in a moment the precious passport was in its hiding-place. A moment later, the gate swung shut behind her. Her bosom throbbed with a new courage as it felt the touch of the letter that was entrusted to its keeping; for this was her warrant, her pledge of passage on that long journey towards which she pressed so eagerly. Oh, woman! who countest pestilence thy friend when it is in league with love!

On she pressed, on through the frosty night. The snow made music beneath her hurrying feet, the bridge by which she crossed the river cracked and echoed with the frost, and the Northern lights flashed the signals of their heavenly masonry—for what knew they of plague and love and sorrow, and of the story of this poor tracing-board of time?

But Margaret never thought of this, for she, too, had her own secret symbols, and her heart its own mighty language, voiced, like the other's, in alternate floods of light and gloom.

She never paused till she was challenged by the guard before the plague-struck house. Then she laid down her travelling-bag, for it had grown heavy; but her eyes never turned from the dim light that shone from the window. Love and danger were there, and the fascination of both was upon her.

"Where might you be goin', miss?" said the guard. His voice was thick, and his breath bore a perfume which proved he had been hospitably entreated by some sympathetic friend. Doubtless it was the good Samaritan's wine that had failed of its destination.

"I am going into that house, if you please," replied Margaret. "I am going to take care of Mr. Strachan. The health officer has asked for a nurse."

"Oh, no, my lady," said the guard, "no pretty face like yours is going to be marked by the smallpox." His chivalry was of the moist kind, and his emotion made him hiccough several times.

Margaret winced: "I am entitled to go in," she said boldly, "and I will thank you to let me pass," with which she picked up her valise.

"Not by no means," the guard rejoined. "I've got orders not to let no one in without a letter from the officer."

"I have the letter," said Margaret, for in her excitement she had forgotten it. She produced it and handed it to the man. He walked over to a gas lamp across the street. Feeling the need of exercise, he proceeded thereto by several different routes. Having reached it, he was seized with a great fear lest the iron post should fall, and lent himself to its support. Then he read the letter over aloud; three or four times he read it, punctuating it throughout with the aforesaid tokens of emotion. He returned to where she stood, selecting several new paths with fine originality.

"I guess that's all right, an' you're the party," he remarked, "but it ain't signed."

"What do you mean?" said Margaret in alarm. "It certainly bears the health officer's name. I saw it myself."

"Oh, yes, that's all right, but that ain't enough—business is business, you see," he added, with maudlin solemnity. "You've got to sign it yourself, kind of receipt the bill, you see."

He fumbled in his pocket for a pencil, produced the rump thereof, spread the letter upon his knee, and began writing on the back of it. It was like an internal surgical operation, for his tongue protruded as he wrote, marking his progress by a series of serpentine writhings that suggested inward pain.

"There, that'll do," he said, when he emerged. "You sign that."

Margaret took the paper and tried to read what he had written. But, unfamiliar with hieroglyphics, his handiwork was lost upon her.

"I cannot read it," she said presently; "the light is very bad."

"That's so—besides it's too infernal cold to read—I'm awful cold. I wisht that cove in there'd get a move on him, an' get better. He's got a snap. Some one sent him a bottle of milk to-day, too," he concluded, with a solemn wink, the tongue again appearing on the scene to bear internal witness—"but I forgot—I'll read them words to you myself," which he proceeded to do, swaying gently, for the spirit of rhetoric was within him.

"This is it," he began, "'I'm the party what's meant to nurse the man what's got the smallpox, an' I got in because I wanted to'—that's all right, ain't it? Now you sign that, an' if you die, that'll protect me after you're dead. And I'll sign it too, and if I die, it'll protect you after I'm dead, see? And if we both die, it'll protect the officer after we're both dead, see? And if he dies, then we'll all be protected, because we'll all be dead, see? You keep the paper, and I'll keep the pencil, and we'll both keep our job, see? Gee whittaker! Ain't it cold! I wisht they'd send some more milk."

Impatient for a release, Margaret signed the document. After its author had made another picturesque pilgrimage to the gas lamp and back again, the signature was fervently commended, with signs of increasing emotion; he returned the letter to her—and she passed on into the house at which none but love or death would have asked for bed and board.

There are a thousand streams that flow from Calvary. But the deepest of these is joy. Wherefore as Margaret walked into the darkened house, her heart thrilled with a sudden rapture it had never known before. For he was there—and she would be beside him in a moment—and they would be together—and none could break in upon them, for grim death himself would guard the door. He was helpless too, dependent on weak arms that love would gird with might—and this makes a woman's happiness complete; when love and service wed, joy is their first-born child.

She was now standing at the door of his room, her eyes fixed upon the face of the man she loved, radiant with victory.

He had heard her footfall from the threshold, and his heart clutched each one as it fell. Yes, it was she, and the music of her rustling garments had the sweet sound of rain—for his was the thirsty heart. It was surely she, and not another,—and the whole meaning of life seemed clear to him. He knew not how or why, but he had been alone so long, and his hungry heart had wondered, and life seemed such a wounded thing.

But now he actually saw those silken strands, gently waving from her haste, and the parted lips that poured forth her soul's deep loyalty, and the dear form of ardent love—a maiden's form. All these came upon him like the dawn, and the citadel of life's frowning mystery was stormed at last. How voluptuous, after all, in its holiest sense, is God's purpose for the pure in heart!

She stood, her eyes now suffused with tears, but smiling still; the panic in her father's house, the comment of cruel tongues, the fight with death, the pestilence that walks in darkness—these were all forgotten in the transport of her soul. She had chosen her Gethsemane long ago, and this was its harvest time.

Angus' eyes drank deeply from the spring.

"Margaret," he said at last, "how beautiful God is!"—and Margaret understood.

She advanced towards the bed, her hands outstretched—he sought to bid her back.

"Margaret, you know not what you do; your life——" But it was in vain.

"My life is my love," she cried with defiant passion. "Oh, Angus, how beautiful God is!" and, stooping down, she overpowered him, spurning death while love should claim its own.

As she stood above him again, her lips were moist with love's anointing and she knew that nothing could prevail against them now. Hers the promised power that could take up serpents, and drink deadly things, and be unharmed. Hers the commission to lay hands on the sick that they might recover. Her sombre foes seemed many; shame clouded the name she fain would bear, opposition frowned from the faces of those who bore her, and now plague had joined the conspiracy—but in all these things she was more than conqueror.

* * * * *

The winter had retreated before the conquering spring, and the vanquished pestilence had also fled when they came forth again, these prisoners of love. Nearly four long luscious weeks had flown, and their souls' bridal time was past. They had baffled death together; and they came forth, each with the great experience—each with the unstained heart.

Angus bore a scar, only one, as the legacy of pestilence—but it could be clearly seen, and it was on his brow.

"My life seems doomed to these single scars," he had said, not bitterly, during one of the sweet convalescent days.

"But not through any fault of yours, dear one," Margaret had answered. "I have the same wounds, mark for mark, but they are in my heart," and she kissed his brow, ordained to another burden.

"Where shall we go?" said Margaret. He had heard the words before, and rich memories came back. The freedom of the world was theirs; for they had been absolved from the stigma of disease, and the sentinel had ceased from his labours.

"I must go home now," she continued, "for it will soon be dark."

"I had forgotten about darkness," said Angus. "Come with me. I want to do something for my mother's sake."

"'Your mother's sake!'" she repeated, "did your mother ever know the poor woman who died of the disease? or her little child? Did you care for them for her sake?"

"I cared for them for her sake," Angus answered, "but my mother never knew her; they lived in different countries—but their sorrows were related. Let us turn here."

They turned off into a quiet street, and presently entered the old stone-cutter's shop. Angus spoke to him apart for a time; finally the old man said:

"Perhaps you'd better write it down."

"Very well, I will," replied Angus.

The old stone-cutter adjusted his glasses: "Nothin' on the big stone about her age?"

"No, nothing," answered Angus.

"Nor nothin' about her folks?"

"No, nothing," said Angus again.

"And nothin' on the little stone only this?"

"Nothing more," said the other.

"All right, sir, I understand then. The big stone is just to have 'Luke. 7:47: For she loved much,' and the little one: 'My brother.' All right, I'll set 'em up to-morrow, only I kind o' thought it didn't give a terrible lot of information. But I suppose you know the meanin' of it."

"Yes, I know," said the man with the mark upon his brow.



XXVII

The HIDDEN CRUCIFIX

We had only one incurable sorrow in St. Cuthbert's manse. That of course had to do with Margaret and her love—for whoso would heal sorrow must find a cure for love. We could not find it in our hearts to give her up to a union so wounding to our pride as her marriage to Angus would have been. The righteous will have cried out long ago against this unseemly spirit on the part of a gospel minister. But my only care is to set down things, myself among them, as they really were.

Besides, it is easy to prescribe sacrifices for another, or even for one's self, provided always that they be made before the necessity arises. All parents are models in their treatment of each other's offspring, rivalling, in this regard, even those proverbial patterns who never took the initial step to parentage.

Our relations with Margaret were happy enough, marked by love and tenderness as of yore. We were deliberately cheerful, and at times even resolutely gay. But our house had its skeleton closet, and each of us kept a key. Apart from this, all our home was bright. Other wounds had healed. Margaret was home again, and she had been kept from the scourge's awful breath. I had accepted St. Cuthbert's second call, and I felt as though my pastorate had begun anew; for young and old gathered about me, and the chariot wheels rolled gladly.

Yet one dear and long honoured face was absent; and one seat in St. Cuthbert's, long occupied by a familiar form, was vacant now. For Michael Blake had gone.

Silently, without telling us why or where, he had departed, although the heart of all New Jedboro seemed warm to him, and although St. Cuthbert's had given him its pledge of continued confidence. But he had steadfastly refused to resume the duties of his office.

This was almost a sorer wound to us than the other; for we somehow could not but construe it as the collapse of shame. He shirks the discipline of God, we said, or thought; and some even voiced the darksome fear that he had cast off the restraints of his office, done with religion when he could no longer wear its mask. He would be a saint, said some, or nothing. The role of the publican has no charm for him, said others, because he never really knew its luxuries. And some were secretly angry that he had escaped, as they chose to term it, for they loved to see the scarlet letter on another's breast.

* * * * *

It was one of the first genial days of early spring, and an ocean steamer was swiftly making for the Mersey. The green fields of the initial isle had been declared the greenest of God's green earth, and they received the panegyric with national complacency, knowing not that they had three thousand miles of grassless ocean to thank for it every bit. The fragrance of the land was sweet to the weary voyagers, and the most taciturn was disposed to unwonted mirth. The Captain, question-driven, had taken wing and soared aloft, looking down in safety from the bridge.

But neither mirth nor gladness was upon the face of one traveller, though no face was turned more intently towards the shore. Sadness of heart and seriousness of purpose were there instead, not unmixed with light; for memory and hope, these old-world combatants, had joined battle in his soul.

His gaze was fixed on the still distant land, and varying emotions played upon his face. This very shore enclosed all whose memory filled his life with shame and sorrow—within it, therefore, by God's unchanging law, must be found their relief and cure. For the serpent's bite, the healing is the serpent still, but lifted high.

This man, so silent and self-contained, had been the centre of much curious wonder among his fellow passengers. Much apart he had been, unmingled with the ship's social life, despite all allurement. The children called him blessed, for he had entered with their own relish into all their games, and when these palled, he had brought forth things new and old out of the treasure of his mind. The aged and ailing were his almost worshippers, for he had made their wants his daily care.

"I am sorry to part, Mr. Blake, although we have seen so little of you on the voyage. One has to be quite young, or quite sick, or quite old, to see much of you aboard ship."

"You have neither of the last two qualifications," answered the man addressed, with a pleasant smile.

The voice which had broken in upon his reverie was that of a lady past middle life, richly and fashionably dressed; for you never know the real plumage of fair travellers till they are about to leave you. She was beautifully enamelled, powdered, massaged, and otherwise put in the best possible repair. Sparkling diamonds adorned her hands. A gold cross hung upon her bosom.

"Nor the first one either, I fear," she rejoined; "however, I am trying to keep as young as I can. I do wish we were at Liverpool. There is to be a bridge party at one of my friends this afternoon and a military ball to-night, and I had counted on getting in for both. I accepted from New York! I am not thinking so much about the ball, but I shall die if I miss the bridge."

"Indeed," replied her companion, glancing at the cross.

"Yes, it will be too cruel. I have picked up some awfully good points on bridge—got them in New York. I got them from my friend's clergyman, the Rev. Dyson Bartlett, rector of the Holy Archangels. He is a lovely man. You'd never think to hear him preach that there was so much in him. Do you know of him?"

"No," answered Mr. Blake, "I don't think I ever heard of him before."

"Probably not; he lives a very quiet life—very restful sort of nature, he has; he never gets up till eleven; but of course he is always up very late at night. Can't burn the candle at both ends, can you? Clergymen are only human, and must get their rest. But on Sunday mornings he gets up at half-past six for early mass, and of course he plays on Saturday nights too, so sometimes he must get very little sleep. Clergymen don't have such an easy life after all. Are you an Episcopalian, Mr. Blake?"

"No, I don't belong to that church."

"Isn't that too bad? But I don't know why I should say that. I think lots of people go to heaven who belong to other churches. But then, of course, I am very broad in my views. I can't bear narrow people—I just can't stand narrow people; and besides, I met a lovely man once in Tarrytown, and he was a Presbyterian. I hope I will meet him in heaven."

"I hope you will," said Mr. Blake.

"Yes," she resumed, "that is what I liked about Mr. Bartlett—he was so broad in his views. I remember I asked him once if he thought dissenters would go to heaven, and I shall never forget how beautifully he spoke. We were having a little game at the time—only a dollar stake—and it was his turn to play. But when I asked him that about the dissenters, he laid down his cards on the table, and his hands unconsciously took hold of the cross he always carried on his coat, and he said: 'God is very merciful, Mrs. Drake'—then he dropped the cross, and took up the cards again, and gave a little sigh before he played, and there was a beautiful smile on his face—a kind of sad, sweet smile."

"Did you attend his church when in New York?" said her listener, not knowing what else to say.

"Yes, sometimes, but you wouldn't think he had such deep thoughts, just from hearing him preach. He was very deep. One night we were all discussing whether it was a sin to play for stakes. It was after the game was over, and Mr. Bartlett had won the whole thing. He put the money away quietly in his pocket—he gives it to the poor people in the Holy Archangels, he said, for some of the Holy Archangels are quite poor—he put it quietly in his pocket, and he took hold of his cross, and he was silent for a little while. Then he said: 'Stakes are everywhere in life—faith itself stakes the soul,' and that sad, sweet, smile came back again. Wasn't that deep?"

"Yes, very deep," answered Mr. Blake, thinking of the pocket.

"Another time, I remember, he said it had often occurred to him that it was the great Creator who had caused bridge to be discovered; he said God gave us bridge so that good Christians could give up playing poker. Wasn't that deep?"

Mr. Blake ventured some reply such as courtesy and conscience could agree upon. "I really never gave the matter much thought," he concluded.

"Oh, dear! There we are at half speed again! I know I'll be too late. Yes, even some of his sermons were very deep. He had a beautiful poetic mind; and he gave everything such a lovely turn. I shall never forget his last sermon. It was beautiful; he was preaching on the text: 'Wash me whiter than snow'—the church was so hot, but you could just see the snow. And his divisions were beautiful. I can tell them yet. His first point was that we should all be pure and white like the snow. Then the second one, he said, grew out of the first, that if we were pure and clean like the snow, we would not be impure or unclean. And the last point was a very solemn one. He said that if we were not pure and white like the snow, by and by we would go down where there was no more snow. That was a beautiful thought, wasn't it? I thought it was such a lovely ending."

"I never heard a sermon just like that," remarked Mr. Blake, his mind reverting to St. Cuthbert's.

"Neither did I," went on the worshipper, "and I told him so the next night when we met at Mrs. Bronson's for a little farewell game. He took hold of his cross again and he said: 'We must deal faithfully, Mrs. Drake'—and he was just starting to deal as he spoke. But he never smiled, except that sad, sweet smile that he always wore—except when he lost. And he told us that after that service he found the curate weeping in the vestry. But the curate fairly worships Mr. Bartlett. It was Mr. Bartlett who first taught him bridge, I think. Do you play bridge, Mr. Blake?"

"No, I never learned the game."

"Oh, I forgot; you're a Presbyterian, you said. It's pretty much a church game, I fancy. Excuse my rudeness, but why don't you wear a cross, Mr. Blake?"

"What?" said Mr. Blake abruptly, "why don't I what?"

"Isn't that dreadful? The engines are scarcely moving; I know we won't get in till five, and the bridge begins at three. There is nothing but disappointments in this world. Oh, yes, why don't you wear a cross? Not so much for the ornament, of course. I got this one at Tiffany's and it cost me ten pounds. But, as Mr. Bartlett said, the cross stands for sacrifice, so I don't begrudge it. I think, in this world of sin and sorrow every one should wear a cross. We're going a little faster now, don't you think?"

"Yes, madam, I think we are—and I do wear a cross—if you have not forgotten your question."

"Oh, you do. I am so glad. Where? I suppose you've changed your clothes. But I never noticed it before."

"No, I don't think you have seen it."

"Oh, I see, lots of men carry them under their vests. But I think we should let the world see it. Do you carry yours next your heart?"

"No, madam, deeper still," said Mr. Blake.



XXVIII

The HEATHERY HILLS

The anchor had been cast, and the good ship, panting, lay at rest. The bugle note had followed the departing tender with wistful strains of "Auld Lang Syne," and the emancipated passengers were pouring out upon old England's hospitable soil. The happy crowd, catching already the contagion of English jollity, swayed about the landing stage, then flowed in separate streams into the Customs pen; for this is the first tug of the tether, just when all who have escaped the sea think they are safe at last. Out through the fingers of the stern inspectors flowed the crowd in still thinner streams, till all this community of the deep is scattered to the winds.

Swift-hurrying, they go their separate ways, and the happy little bubble has burst and vanished, as its successors, now forming on the bosom of the deep, will burst and vanish too. What friendships, what ardent loves, what molten vows, ocean born, have begun to languish on the wharf at Liverpool, like sunfish separated from their native wave!

Michael Blake hailed a hansom and drove to the North-Western. As he passed through the turbid streets, dense loneliness settled about him like a fog. This was old England, this the land which exiles across the sea in their fondness call the "old country."

But he could not free himself from the thought that, when he left it, youth's sun was burning bright; and now more than the early afternoon was gone.

"The evening too will pass, as the afternoon has passed," he said to himself, "only more quickly." And he glanced at the descending sun, God's metaphor of warning, the recurring epitome of life. His lips moved to speak a text, the native instinct strong therefor. They had meant to say "the night cometh"; but some one interfered and he said to himself: "The night is far spent—the day is at hand," for, after all, the setting sun has morning in its heart.

He dismissed the cab, and entering the hotel, made some enquiry about the trains for the North. He could not start North before midnight. The evening was fine, and he walked out. St. George's Hall arrested him with its elaborate grandeur. What beauty, what chastity, what becoming signs of civic wealth! When he came to its massive steps he cast his eyes upon them, and behold, they were dripping with poverty! The victims of want in mid-career were there, and drooping age, unequally yoked with poverty, and frowzy women with ribald face; and chief among them all, little children, some blear-eyed, some pallid with want, some with the legacy of sores—for they had been shapen in iniquity.

But all alike—and herein was the anguish of it—all alike were bent on play, and persisted pitifully in the cruel farce. The little bare feet pattered up and down the steps—but the steps were stone.

Michael Blake thought of his adopted home across the sea and its green fields and tree-graced meadows. Then he thought of the far Western plains, vast beyond human fancy, waiting and calling for the tired feet of all who spend weary lives in the old land, playing on stone steps, while wealth and grandeur smile above them. In a few minutes he turned away, for the folk of his country are not accustomed to the sight of hungry children; and a woman under drink is something that many of their eldest have never seen at all.

The sound of martial music, and the voice of cheering thousands, fell upon his ear. He moved towards it. Soon the surging procession broke upon him. "Who are these?" he asked, "these fellows in Khaki?" They had their rifles in their hands, and some were slightly lame, and some had the signs of wounds—and all had the rich stain of battle on them. "Art thou only a stranger?" he is asked in turn, "and knowest not the things that are come to pass? These are they who have come out of Paardeburg, homeward bound by way of the ancestral home, and the tide of British love and gratitude wafts them on their course."

He is soon caught in the swelling throng, his own head bare, his own voice blending in the Imperial hosannah. He catches a familiar face among the soldiers; he hears the strain of the "Maple Leaf" mingling with the mighty bass of the Mother Anthem. He beholds the Union Jack, enriched with the Canadian emblem. Gazing on the battered few, he sees the survivors of the battle, and he knows that the unreturning feet rest in the soil they have won to freedom; Canadian lads were these who have insisted with dying lips that Britains never shall be slaves. His adopted land has given of its choicest blood to swell the sacred tide that for centuries hath laved the shores of liberty.

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