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St. Cuthbert's
by Robert E. Knowles
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All this surges in upon him, and the savage joy of empire fills his heart. His loneliness has fled, and he feels that beyond the ocean he is at home, the old home, with its ever open gate for its far-flung children. The mighty roar becomes the gentle whisper of Britain's lips, bidding him draw closer to the imperial fireside and warm himself at its imperishable flame.

He follows them for a time, then turns and slowly wends his way back to the hotel. As he walks on, the shouting and the tumult die, the banners gleam no more, and he is left alone with the empire of his heart, and with other worlds to conquer. We need no swift-flying transport to bear us to life's greatest battle-fields.

A little waif, a boy of ten, pinched and ragged, was gazing in a window as Mr. Blake passed along. A question from the man, a quick and pathetic answer from the boy—and they went in together. Then the man came out alone, and the fervent joy of an hour ago was gone, but a deeper gladness had taken the room it left behind. It is still there—a life-tenant—for its lease cannot be broken till memory dies.

When he re-entered the hotel, the clerk recognized him and said:

"Your train goes in an hour, sir. You are going up to Scotland, I think you said."

Scotland! The word inflamed him; and he hurried to his room to prepare for departure.

The guard's sharp whistle sounded, and the train, with British promptness, flew out of the Lime Street station, one heart at least strangely thrilled, one face steadfastly set towards Scotland's waiting hills.

He was alone in the compartment, and the long night seemed only like a watch thereof. He was alone, yet not alone—for Memory sat beside him, and Conscience, and Hope. No, he was not alone; for there wrestled a Man with him till the breaking of the day. And still the train flew on, as though it knew; on it flew, as though the unseen Wrestler himself had his hand upon the engine's throat.

The sun was rising when he left the train. The train flew on, uncaring, for trains know not that they are carriers unto destiny.

Michael Blake looked long at the rising sun—it was the same. Then his eyes caressed the surrounding hills, playfellows of bygone years—they had not changed. The flowers still were there, the grass had never withered; the heather, too, in unfading purity.

And the trees, the old mighty elms, these were still the same—the foliage of a larger life they had, but the selfsame branches held out their kindly hands as in the long ago. Still upturned were their reverent heads, still seeking God—and the baptism of the morning was upon them, attested by the morning light.

He turned towards one of the familiar hills and began the old boyhood climb.

Midway, he came to a spring, and a great thirst clutched his heart. It was life's long, quenchless thirst, crying out again for the children's portion. His face is close to its crystal water, his lips burning with desire. Another's face moves upward to greet his own—but it is not the same—and memory swiftly paints another till he actually sees it, the ardent face of youth. And beside it is a maiden's face—for they had often stooped together—a maiden's face, laughing for very love. But they vanish and he sees again his own, worn and wrinkle-signed—and alone.

Yet the spring still is there, unwrinkled and unworn, and his fevered lips drink deeply. How sweet, how delicious, and how wondrous cool! It is still the same as when rosy lips of love sipped from its surface long ago. He rises and turns from the hallowed spot; but the flood-gates of memory are unloosed, and his heart melts within him. The tears are flowing fast and the old luxury, because the old innocence, of childhood, seems to bathe his broken heart.

"Oh, God," he cries aloud, "hast Thou no fountain for the soul, no living springs farther up the hill?" and as he cried, he glanced again into the limpid spring. And lo! that gentle face was there again, love's laughter still upon its lips, and a great hope looking out from grave and tender eyes.

Then farther up the hill he climbed, the quick step of boyhood coming back—and soon he stood upon its brow. He threw himself upon the grass and cast his eyes over all the unforgotten valley. It was slumbering still, for the sun is over early in Scottish latitudes, and he quickly searched the hillside that confronted him. Behind a sheltering bush he lay, peering far beyond.

All the valley is forgotten now—for, across the ravine beneath him, he sees a cottage. The same, the very same it is, save that the thatch has been renewed! A humble shepherd's cottage, only a but and a ben, built long ago by thrifty hands—but he first learned to worship there.

Yet is it still the same? He knows not—but he knows the risk of passing years. Unchanged the cottage stands, and the same gate hangs half open as in the far back yesterday. Yet it is the spirit alone that giveth life, and of this he may not know. He looks at his watch—it is near six o'clock, and he had seen a man walk sleepily to the byre from a distant house. He waits and watches, while a strange fever burns his heart, unknown to youthful passion. His lips are parched, though the water from the spring is scarce dry upon them yet.

Still gazing, he sees no sign of life about the house. He thinks, yet knows not why, of Mary and the empty tomb. Hope is sinking fast, when of a sudden a timid wreath of smoke flows slowly from the chimney, and Michael Blake's hand reaches swiftly towards his heart. "Be still, be still," he murmurs, "who knows that it is for thee?" but his eyes follow it greedily, for it is to him a soul-signal from afar, God's altar smoke, and he knows now that the house is not a sepulchre.

"Now I shall go and knock," he said to himself; but a new thought possessed him, and he bowed again behind the slender furze, his eyes still fixed upon the house.

They were but minutes that he waited, but they came disguised as hours—for God can compel us to rehearse eternity. He must have felt it coming, for his eyes have forsaken all else, and are fixed upon the cottage door. Yes, it moved, it surely moved; and the strong man's eyes are numb. They rally and renew the vigil. Yes, it moves, wider still—and the flutter of a dress is seen. His heart leaps wildly, and his eyes fly at the face that follows. It is too far to see clearly—but he soon must know!

A comely form emerges from the door, and the face looks up at the morning sun. The woman walks out and on, lithe grace in every movement. Then the valley swims before him—for it is, it is, the woman he had loved. He knows the dainty step, the erect carriage, the shapely frame. Nearer still she comes, skirting the base of the hill he had climbed, still often looking towards the sun, pausing now and then to pluck a flower by the way. Where can she be going?

No bonnet binds her waving hair, and now he can catch the light of the morning sun upon it. Streaks of gray, here and there, can be seen, but they are few; the breeze rallies the loose-flowing strands and they make merry and are glad together. He can see the pure bosom, lightly robed, that swells with buoyant life. She is nearer to him now, and the face swims in upon him across the chasm of long silent years, the same pure face, still bright with tender love. She is now beside the spring—for thither was she bent—and the overflowing pail is laid down beside her.

She too glances into the bosom of the water and he wonders if memory guides the wistful gaze. Does she too see another face preserved against the years in the pure keeping of the spring? He knows not—but he thinks, yes, he is sure he saw the movement of the lips, and her face is again upturned—but its thought is far beyond the sun. He uncovers his head and joins the holy quest.

She has returned to the cottage and the door is closed; but Michael Blake has never moved. Now he steps out from behind his shelter and starts towards the house. Then he stops, turns back and begins to descend the hill by the same course as had led him up. Yet once more he turns and gazes long at the dwelling-place, starts towards it, stops again.

"Not now," he said to himself, "I cannot—it is too light."

And he walked back to the hamlet; he was waiting for the tender dark.



XXIX

"AND ALL BUT HE DEPARTED"

The little inn seemed to have no guests except the traveller from beyond the sea. But no such tavern is ever long deserted, for the Scotch nature, while it may be dry, is ever loyal. Michael Blake had read but a line or two of the Edinburgh Scotsman, ten days of age, when a man walked solemnly in and sat down beside him. His face, his breath, and especially his nose, bore eloquent testimony to the aforesaid loyalty of his nature. He bade Mr. Blake a cheerful good-morning, glancing at the same time towards the counter beneath which the liquid necessities were stored.

"It's a fine mornin'," he began.

"A beautiful day," assented Mr. Blake.

"Ye'll no' live aboot these pairts?" inquired the other.

"No, I live far from here."

"Ye'll mebbe be frae Ameriky?" ventured his interrogator, closing in upon him.

"Yes, I live in Canada," was the response.

"Canady," said the man. "We're gey prood o' Canady the noo. I ken't a man once wha went to Canady. I had a drink wi' him afore he went," he continued, his eye lighting with the dewy memory, "ye'll likely ken him? Oliver was his name, Wattie Oliver, a bow-leggit wee body."

"I cannot say I ever met with him," replied Mr. Blake. "Canada is larger than you think over here."

"Mebbe so," said the friendly stranger, "mair nor likely he's deid noo; one o' thae red Indians micht hae killed him, like eneuch."

"Yes, or perhaps a bear," Mr. Blake replied gravely.

There was a pause. A bell was ringing, its notes floating in clear and sweet upon them.

"What bell is that?" inquired Mr. Blake.

"That's oor bell i' the parish kirk; there's no ither ane."

"What is it ringing for? To-day is Thursday," asked Mr. Blake.

"Aye," responded the other, "this is the fast day. Sabbath's the sacrament, ye ken, and they're maist awfu' strict aboot the fast day. They wadna work that day, nae mair than on the Sabbath. They willna even whustle. Ae mornin' I met Davie Drewry, an' 'twas the fast day. Noo, of course, it was juist an or'nary day in Dr. Cameron's parish across the burn—the burn divides the twa, ye ken. Weel, Davie was a lad for whustlin'—he cudna leeve withoot whustlin'—but he was gey religious too. Weel, I met Davie that mornin', walkin' awfu' fast, maist rinnin'—an' his face was red.

"'Whaur micht ye be gaun, Davie?' says I, 'naebody ailin'?'

"'Na, na,' says Davie, 'but it's the fast day, an' I canna stand it ony longer. I'm gaun ower the burn to hae a whustle.' Wasna that fair redeek'lus!"

"Quite ingenious," answered Mr. Blake. "You go to that church, I suppose?"

"Na, I dinna. I quit it when they brocht the kist o' whustles intill't. I wadna stand it. There's nae real Presbyterians there, forbye me an' Jock Campbell—an' I'm sair feart aboot Jock. I doot he's weakenin'. They tell me he speaks to the minister on the street, an' if that's true, there's no' muckle o' the auld religion aboot Jock, I'm fearin'."

"Do you not speak to the minister?"

"Na, I dinna. There's naething o' the hypocrite aboot me, I'm tellin' ye. I settled the minister fine the last word I spoke to him. He came to see me; an' he thocht he could wheedle me aboot the organ i' the hoose o' God.

"'Div ye no' ken,' he says to me, 'aboot Dauvit, the sweet singer o' Israel—how he played a' kinds o' instruments i' the Lord's hoose?' He thocht he had me. But I gied him as guid as he brocht. What think ye I answered him?"

"I really have no idea," said Mr. Blake. "What was it?"

"'Div ye think,' says I, lookin' fair at him, 'div ye think I tak Dauvit for a paittern?'—and it did for him. 'I'll hae to be gaein',' says he, 'I hae a funeral.' 'Aye,' says I, 'ye'd better hae a funeral'—an' we haena spoken to ane anither since."

"That's a pity," said Mr. Blake, "it seems too bad that the soul's interests should suffer because of a matter of that kind. Of course," he continued, "I don't say that a man may not be religious because he doesn't go to church. Men may scorn the bridge and still get across the river, but they would have got along better by the bridge."

"I dinna ken aboot the brig," said the other, "that isna to the point,"—for he was not of a metaphorical turn of mind—"but I've nae doot aboot bein' religious. A man in my walk o' life, in my business, ye ken, canna weel help bein' religious. He's the same as the Apostle Paul."

"What?" said Mr. Blake, "are you a tent-maker?"

"Na, na, certainly not; there's nane o' them nowadays. A man in my callin' doesna do the same as Paul, but he can say the same, ye see. I can say wi' Paul: 'Death to me is great gain'—I'm an undertaker, ye ken."

"An undertaker," exclaimed his listener, unconsciously pushing back his chair, shocked at the gruesome humour. Besides, the man was looking at him with something like a professional eye, as if making an estimate of time, and space.

"Aye," responded he of the apostolic claim, "I'm an undertaker—but times is dull. I was an undertaker ten year in Lockerby, but I left there lang syne. I had ae fine customer, the bailie; he had eleven o' a family. But I lost his trade. The bailie was sick—an' my laddie, wee Sandy, was aye plaguin' me for a sled. I tell't him I'd get him ane when I had mair siller. Weel, wee Sandy was aye rinnin' ower to the hoose an' askin' aboot the bailie. 'Twas nat'ral eneuch; the laddie meant nae harm, but he wanted his sled afore the snaw was gone. Ony way, they tuk offense."

"Did he get his sled?" asked Mr. Blake mechanically, staring at the man.

"Na, poor wee Sandy never got his sled. I had juist ae ither customer ye micht ca' guid. He was deein' o' consumption, an' I took guid care o' Sandy's sympathy. There was no askin' aboot him, mind ye. But there was a mean man i' the business, wha was never meant to be an undertaker. His name was Creighton, Tom Creighton, an' what dae ye think Tom did, to get his trade?"

"I don't know," said Mr. Blake, rising to depart.

"Weel, I'll tell ye. Twa days afore he died, Tom Creighton tuk him oot for a drive—he was awfu' fair to his face an' he got around him; tell't him at the gate that he hoped to gie him anither drive later on. Of course, he got his trade—he had to gie him his trade after that. But I wadna stoop to sic like tricks for nae man's trade. So I left Lockerby an' came here—I'm the only yin here."

Mr. Blake was glad to escape his garrulous acquaintance, and had heard enough of his sombre annals. He walked out, and wandered far—o'er moor and fen, o'er hill and valley, by many an unforgotten path, he wandered—past his boyhood's school, where he heard again the laughing shout that seemed scarcely to have died away from lips now silent long.

He loitered again by the babbling stream which had been the fishing-ground of boyhood, and lay once more on mossy beds, and bathed his face in the same friendly tide. He gazed far up into the leafy trees and saw the very nooks where boyhood's form had rested; again he saw the sun gleam on the happy heads of those who gambolled far beneath.

He drank his fill of the long yesterday, thirsty still. No familiar face, no voice of long ago, had he seen or heard; and he tasted that unreasoning pain which comes to the man who knows, and is wounded by the truth, that his native heath is reconciled to his exile, careless of his loneliness, indifferent to bid it cease.

When he returned to the hospitable inn, he was as one seeking rest, and finding none. He sat, reflective, while memory bathed the soul of love with tears. Presently the sound of voices floated out from an adjoining room. He listened eagerly, for one was evidently the voice of a returned wanderer like himself. The other was that of a man who had never wandered from his native spot. The home-keeper's tongue had still its mother-Scotch, but his companion had been cured.

"I know I shouldn't do it, Gavin," he heard the latter say, "I'm really a teetotaler in Australia. Used to take a drop or two before I emigrated; but I'm an elder now, and I haven't tasted for years. However this is a special occasion."

Mr. Blake moved his chair to where he could catch a glimpse of the men. They were advanced in years, both about sixty-five, and their heads were gray. Their dress betokened plainness of nature, though that of the Australian might indicate prosperity. Both would seem uncultured, except in heart.

"A speecial occasion!" cried the one addressed as Gavin, "a speecial occasion! I should say it is—verra speecial! It's twa an' forty years sin we claspit ane anither's hand—man, Andra, friendship's sweet, an' God's guid! It wad be fair sinfu' no' ta tak a drop at sic a time as this. The minister himsel' wad taste, gin an auld schulemate came back after forty year. Sae wad the Apostle Paul—the stomach's sake was naethin' compared wi' this. What'll ye hae, Andra?"

"Let this be mine, Gavin," answered Andrew, reaching for his pocketbook. When it appeared, it was fat and full, and Gavin stole a wistful glance; for, in Scotland, colonial pocketbooks are proverbially plump. "What shall it be?" he added.

"Whatever ye say, Andra," answered Gavin. He glanced again at the disappearing purse and heaved a little sigh. Patriotism is not good for pocketbooks, thought Gavin.

"Well," said his old schoolmate, holding a sovereign between his thumb and finger as fondly as though he had lived in Scotland all his life; "well," said he, "I say champagne—here, waiter!"

But Gavin interrupted: "Na, na, Andra, dinna get champagne. I took it ance when the young Duke came o' age, an' I cudna hae tell't I had onything, half an hour later. I dinna care for ony o' thae aeryated waters. Forbye, it's awfu' dear, an' we can hae far mair o' the ither," he concluded, smiling tenderly at Andrew.

"The other" was produced; and it justified the trust reposed in it. Well it knew its duty, and well it played its part; for it burnished memory bright, stirred emotion from its hiding place, and even led tears out by long deserted paths.

The lonely man in the outer room watched, and envied, and secretly absolved his brother elder—the latter was giving abundant proof of his freedom from all narrow bigotry. Like himself, his old prowess had come back. He was confidential now:

"She wouldn't have me, Gavin. I told her I was rich, and that I loved her ever since I left. But she wouldn't listen to me. Then I told her I owned ten thousand sheep, and that I dreamed about her every night. But it never moved her. I told her I had twenty thousand pounds in the bank, and her picture next my heart besides—but she wouldn't. She said she was promised to another. Did you ever hear of Janet Strachan caring for any one else?"

"Na," said Gavin, absently, "she'll no' hae nocht to dae wi' onybody in the way o' love—hae anither, Andra. Dinna droon the miller. Wad we no' hae been fules to tak champagne? It wad hae been a' dune by noo."

Then Gavin stood erect, motioning to Andrew to do the same. Andrew rose; one on each side of the little table they stood, a glass in the left hand of each, for they were about to enact one of Scotland's great scenes. Far scattered are her sons, but they have the homing heart, and unforgetting cronies wait to welcome them.

Gavin's hand is outstretched and Andrew's goes forth to meet it. They clasp, the same hands as fought and played together in the golden boyhood days.

"Andra," said Gavin, "I'll repeat to you the twa best lines o' rhyme i' the language: An' div ye ken hoo true they are?

"'We twa hae paidl't i' the burn Frae mornin' sun till dine'

—mind ye that, we twa hae paidl't i' the burn—an' it's flowin' yet, an' God's gey guid—here's to ye, Andra," and the men drank together, the elder and the unordained, but the past was sacred to them both—and childhood's tears came back to make that past complete.

About an hour later, Andrew and Gavin passed out through the adjoining room. They came upon Mr. Blake, whereupon they immediately sat down, neither being in the mood for walking far. Both greeted him with warmth, and invited him to try for himself the process which they had undergone in the adjoining room. Mr. Blake gratefully declined.

"Ye'll have travelled far?" said Gavin, avoiding the direct interrogative.

"A long way, indeed," said Mr. Blake.

"Come from America, stranger?" said Andrew.

"Yes, from Canada."

"Shake, I'm a fellow colonial—I'm from Australia—delightful this, to come back to the old homestead and meet a brother you never saw before."

"Maist wonderfu', is't no'?" interjected Gavin—then the responsibilities of a host began to weigh upon him, and he urged Mr. Blake to reconsider his decision about the process; but Mr. Blake was firm.

"I ken't fine there was somebody frae Ameriky i' these pairts," said Gavin. "Brownie Telfer tell't me there was a saxpence i' the plate last Sabbath day. It'll be yir ain?"

"No, I'm afraid I cannot claim it," said Mr. Blake. "I only landed yesterday."

"Ye'll be rinnin' aboot at a graun rate," said Gavin, trying a new vein; "came ower a sicht seein', did ye?"

"No," said Mr. Blake, "not particularly."

"Took a little run over on business, I suppose?" amended the Australian.

"Yes," assented Mr. Blake.

"You said you were born in Scotland; have you any old friends still about? Kind of lonely business if you haven't," continued Andrew.

"I really cannot say I have," said Mr. Blake, moving towards the door. "I'm a fish out of its accustomed waters, even in its old hunting-ground, if you will excuse mixed metaphors. Good-evening to you both; I'm glad to have met with you."

"Good-evening to you," cried the men.

The Canadian was gone, but the two old cronies sat smoking; and the twilight, that great gleaner of the past, crept about them, bringing tender memories that mistrusted the garish day. In the very midst of them, Gavin said:

"What did the cratur mean when he spoke aboot 'mixed metaphors'? I never heard tell o' them before."

"I'm not very sure," answered Andrew, cautiously; "he must have meant something."

"'Mixed metaphors,'" mused Gavin, "an' the body wadna tak onythin'; it'll be somethin' they tak in Ameriky—I'll ask Ronnie."

Now Ronnie was the bartender!



XXX

LOVE'S VICTORY OVER SIN

The curtain of the night had fallen—and human souls were on their trial; for human life is then behind the scenes, and the candour of its purity or shame comes with the shelter of the falling night. In their noblest acts, and in their basest deeds, men are aided by the impartial dark. Both alike she screens, though with fickle folds, retreating when she hears the first footfall of the dawn; then is every man's work made manifest of what sort it is—and the great judgment day shall be but relentless light.

The landscape no longer glimmered on the sight when Michael Blake set out from the little inn, his heart burning with fear. And hope heaped fuel on the flame, for fear would die if it were not for hope. He walked on beneath the stately elms, their far-spread branches whispering as he passed, for they knew well his step, and wondered that it hurried so. He paused at the spring and drank again, but his thirst was still unquenched.

He looked about him at the holy night; and surging shame flooded neck and face with crimson. For it had been thus and there, amid the sanctities of the night, and by their trysting-place, that the soul's great wound was made, the blood oozing ever since, oozing still. Memory, ermine-robed, half enchantress and half avenger, turned her face full on his as he sat by the spring; but he turned his own away and started on, ever on.

"Oh, my God! Give me a chance," he cried, "give me a chance," and the darkness answered not, but the whispering trees seemed to have the woman-voice.

He sees the light now; it is the harbour light, and Michael Blake presses swiftly on, his heart upbraiding the laggard feet.

He stands now before the door, but that same heart, strangely wavering, refuses to go in. The hour has struck for Michael Blake, the hour for which his soul has waited long; but strange forces seek to hold him back. The chiefest of these is fear; he feels he is hurrying his judgment day, and when God would punish men, thinks he, He endows them with deep and burning love—for otherwise He cannot speak to them in the eternal tongue. The trembling man turns as if to go back.

"It is too light," he murmured, "still too light," for the memory of another night has arisen upon him with judgment in its wings.

As he moves noiselessly from the door-step, he pauses by the window. It is partly open, for the night is mild. A woman's figure moves before it, so close that he could almost touch—and his arms go out unbidden, God's retrievers, though they knew it not. He controls himself, and steps back a pace, for she has passed to the other side of the room. Beside an old chest of drawers she kneels, and his heart burns with eager passion as he beholds the beauty of her face. Time, and sorrow, and God, have worked together. Unto them all she hath submitted, and they have held to their holy task till the beauty of peace rewards their secret toil.

She is lifting something from the drawer and the light falls upon it. Another, and still another, she takes up in her gentle hands, smiling down on them the while—they are a child's outgrown possessions, bits of clothing some, and some, broken toys, such as mothers take into their immortal keeping when children have spurned them from their own.

And what is that, shining bright, held longer than the others, still smiling down upon it, her bosom heaving more heavily than before? He knows, he knows—it is a little brooch, so little, but of gold, given her long ago in the first glad sacrifice of love. She kisses it, and the tears fall fast upon it, the lovely face suffused. It is tenderly restored to its hiding-place, and the graceful form is full-bowed now.

He can see the white clasped hands, and the movement of the pure lips he also sees. The words he cannot catch—for God is close, and the voice is low. But the fragrance of prayer steals out to him, and the Interpreter, once called the Man of Sorrows, tells him for whom she prays. "Make me worthy, oh, God," he cries, his heart melted within him. Again he turns to the door, and this time he falters not, but knocks. In a moment it is opened.

"Guid evenin' sir," said the woman's voice. "I canna see ye for the dark; is it some one I ken?" for wayfarers often sought guidance at her door.

"No, I fear you do not know me," the man responded, "and I crave your pardon for thus disturbing you. I have travelled far."

"Will ye come in? Or is there something I can do?"

"No, thank you," said the man; "I have travelled far and am thirsty. I seek but a draught of water, and I shall go on my way."

"I'll sune gie ye that," replied the woman's cheery voice, "but what's here is mebbe raither warm. Bide ye here till I rin doon to the spring."

The sweet face gleamed in the candle-light as she turned within, picking up a light plaid shawl, so strong is habit, which she threw across her shoulders. The tall gracious form was gone a moment, one darksome moment, returning instantly, a pitcher in her hand. Down the steps she tripped, and out into the night, her white gown mingling with the darkness.

Michael Blake stealthily followed her, his heart in wild tumult again. Her pace was swift and he found it difficult to keep the path. But again he saw the flutter of white before him, and he knew that it was Janet, none other, the same whom he had held so close in other days. He ran a little, panting as he ran, his thirst a torment now—for the chase was of the soul. He is not far from her.

"Janet," he cried.

She stopped and stood still, as a deer stops when it hears the hunter's voice.

He was closer now, and again he cried: "Janet, oh, Janet, wait for me."

Her pitcher was thrown upon the sward and she came back a little way, eye and heart and bosom calling to each other through the storm.

"Wha's callin' me?" she cried, her voice bleating like a lamb's.

"Oh, Janet, you know who's calling you—I have called you long," and holy passion burned in the voice that spoke, leaped from the face that came closer, still closer, to her own.

The white figure swayed in the darkness. Then the night glowed about her like the noon, and the strong arms held her close, and time and sorrow and God all gave her up ungrudgingly to the bliss they had planned together; for in secret had they bedecked her as a bride adorned for her husband.

* * * * *

It was long after, how long may not be told, for God would let no angel mark the time; but the dark still was brooding, and the trees whispering still, when he said: "To-morrow, Janet—all the years have made us ready—yet not to-morrow, for it is to-day—to-day, please God."

She came closer, closer to him still, for hers had been an unsheltered life, and the warmth was strangely sweet.

"Let us go to the spring, dear heart. Let us be children again." Together they went on, these pilgrims of the night. While they were going the day began to break. "The night is far spent," he heard her whisper joyously.

They knelt together, nor thought it strange—for the youthful heart of love was theirs again; and they drank from the unsleeping spring, smiling back at them as their lips kissed its face together. The same spring, the same lips—but purer both!

And as they stooped, two faces from the bosom of the water rose again to meet them. Each of the lovers saw but one, for each saw the other's face. And lo! each was the face of happy youth, the light of love within its eyes, unchanged by years, except for a graver innocence. But each saw the face that had looked up and smiled in the years so long gone by.

The scientist and the philosopher and the deeply-learned in nature's laws will read of this with generous disdain; but they forget that this spring had its charter right from God, and was fed from other fountains farther up the hill. Besides, optics is God's own science—and this was the morning light.



XXXI

LOVE'S TRIUMPH OVER ALL

All things were in readiness, and the people of St. Cuthbert's were awaiting the Sabbath day with eager souls. For it was the Sabbath of the sacrament, dispensed but twice a year, according to the custom of their fathers. I myself looked forward to this communion with a kindling heart, for I knew its healing grace; and this was the first dispensation since the shadow of that ordination day had fallen on our church's life.

The morning came, radiant in its robe of early spring, and we knew that a great multitude would throng St. Cuthbert's. For the aged and long imprisoned, denied the regular services of the kirk, would yet venture forth to show the Lord's death once again, some to drink that cup no more till they should drink it new in their Father's kingdom.

Down the aisle would they come, leaning heavily upon the staff—but they knew their accustomed places, the places which were so soon to know them no more forever; when the service was over, they would retrace their steps to the door of the now deserted church, and backward turning, would cast one longing, lingering look behind, then set their peaceful faces towards their home, the long rough journey near its end at last.

The elders, including the four recently added to their number, met as usual, for preparatory prayer. More than ordinary tenderness seemed to mark their petitions, for their hearts were with the absent; and the senior elder thrilled us when he prayed for "him whom we had hoped to begin his ministry this day, and for Thy servant who was wont in the days that are past to serve with us before Thine altar."

As I walked into the pulpit, I caught a glimpse of Margaret's face, and never have I seen sweeter peace than rested upon it. Her eyes reposed on the snowy cloth that hid the emblems of a greater sacrifice, and she knew, as few could know, the deep sacramental joy.

But hardly had my heart warmed at sight of her before sorrow chilled its ardour; for right opposite Margaret's pew was that of Michael Blake—and its emptiness smote my heart with pain. Not there, nor in his rightful place among the elders, was my old-time friend. Where, I could not help but wonder, where to-day is the unhappy man who has cast his ministry behind him? And bitter memories of varied verdicts flitted before me as I went up the pulpit steps.

We had begun the psalm, and were in the midst of the line—never can I forget it:

"As far as east is distant from The west, so far hath he"

when I noticed the volume of song become gradually less, and a nameless sense of discomfort possessed me.

I looked up, and could scarce restrain a cry.

For I saw the face of Michael Blake—and he was walking down the aisle—— And that other, who is that? For beside him is a woman's comely form, her sweet face lowly bent as though it would be hidden, the light of purity mingling with the conscious flame.

Upon Mr. Blake's face is the humble chastened look of one whom God has touched—in the hollow of his thigh, mayhap—and the limp may be seen of all men to the last. But pride is there too, the solemn pride of one who has wrestled and prevailed, to go henceforth forever halting, but forever heavenward.

Down the aisle, the same aisle by which he had departed from us, they walked together, while wondering faces drank in the meaning of it all, joy breaking forth upon them like the sun when darkening clouds have gone.

He leads her to his old-time pew, and she takes the place that is henceforth to be her own. The singing has stopped, save those silent strains with which God is well pleased, the same as angels echo round the throne.

It was hard for me to proceed with the service, for I knew that God Himself had spoken. The sacred bush was in flame before us as in the olden time, and the place whereon we stood was holy ground. The portion I had chosen for the reading was from 1 Corinthians, the apostle's great eulogy on love; and my voice faltered as I read some of its wondrous words.

Before I had finished it, my resolve was taken. I came down from the pulpit and stood before it, the elders all about me.

"Let us have our unbroken number," I began; "the kirk session is constituted, and I call upon such as have been chosen to serve within it, to come forward and assume the holy office. After this, the sacrament of forgiving love will be dispensed."

I paused—and no one of all the multitude seemed to breathe. But a moment passed, and then a sound broke the stillness. It was the sound of moving feet, and the elder-elect arose and came slowly forward, his head bowed as he came.

"Kneel down, Angus," I said, softly. He kneeled, and I had almost begun, my hands outstretched above his head. He raised his face to mine, lowered to meet it. A moment told me what he wished to say.

"Stand up," I whispered.

When he had risen, I said aloud: "Angus Strachan, ordained already, I give you the right hand of fellowship into the eldership of St. Cuthbert's church. The Lord bless thee and keep thee; the Lord make His face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift the light of His countenance upon thee and give thee peace."

Again I raised my voice as I faced the worshippers.

"I extend yet another invitation in my Master's name. I call upon any who may be among us, once serving in the eldership of this church, to come forward and aid us to dispense the pledges of forgiving love to other sinful men."

I waited, but there was no response. One sat with bowed head, his hand held in the gentle keeping of another's. The moments passed, but still silence reigned.

"Come awa', man,"—it was Ronald McGregor's trembling voice from among the elders—"come awa'; it's the wounded hand that beckons ye—we're a' here o' the Saviour's grace alane."

Michael Blake moved slightly, but his head was lower bowed.

"Gang forrit, Michael, gang forrit to the table He's been gey guid to us baith—an' oor Angus wants ye," whispered the woman beside him.

Then he came; and, as he walked to the table, the meaning of God's pardoning love seemed borne in upon us as it had never been before.

He had hardly taken his seat beside us when we heard a faint rustling sound, some one moving. I turned my head, and saw Margaret, her face lovely through its tears, slip into the empty place and take in her own the hand that had been just released. Burning hot it was, but she held it tight—and Janet took her into her heart forever.

Then the sacred emblems were poured and broken by our sinful hands, redeemed by love alone. The elders bore them forth to the waiting souls, and when Angus came to his mother's place, great grace was upon us all. He had bent one moment, before she took the chalice in her trembling hand. One word was spoken, only one, and what it was no one heard—nor Margaret, nor any one but God.

* * * * *

Because of more abounding grace, and because of that alone, I cherish the trembling hope that I shall yet hear the new and holy song in the blessed homeland yonder. Yonder, I say, for on clear days I have seen the dim outline of the hills beyond the river; and sometimes in the night I have caught the glow of an unsetting sun. Only for a moment, it is true—but it was enough. My sight is failing, they tell me, and the light is not so clear as in the early afternoon, but these yonder things are seen the clearest in the failing light, and by eyes that are past their best.

Wherefore, as I set out to say, I think I shall be welcomed thither by the pilgrims' friend, and hear that song of the redeemed.

But not till then can I expect to ever hear again such melody as poured from our hearts that morning in St. Cuthbert's. As for myself, I could scarcely sing; I was so torn 'twixt joy and sorrow. Sorrow for what? For all my stubborn wilfullness, that had stood so long between loving hearts—but I did it for the best; and God will forgive me, who knows a father's tender love.

Therefore my lips were almost dumb, but my heart joined in the swelling praise that rolled about St. Cuthbert's like a flood. And I heard one voice clear and sweet among all the rest; it came from the pew where sat our Margaret, but it was not Margaret's voice:

"Long hath the night of sorrow reigned The dawn shall bring us light—"

Thus reads our noble paraphrase—and thus reads the providence of God. This it was we sang that day; and this all broken hearts shall one day sing, when life's long twilight breaks.

After the congregation had dispersed, I saw Margaret lead her mother to the pew. It was beautiful, my wife's gentle grace to the timid stranger, for Margaret received of her mother whatever of that gift she hath—and I have always said her mother's is the rarer of the two. I heard her bid her new-found friend to the manse, and I echoed the mandate to the man beside me, his head still bowed in prayer.

The elders retired in a body to the vestry, there to be dismissed by the benediction, which I pronounced upon them, the triune blessing of the triune God. Usually, they lingered for a little subdued conversation, but this day they went out with unwonted speed, each grasping the hands of the old elder and the new, and each without a word.

In a moment I saw their purpose, and went out along with them, leaving those twain together, the father and the son. We heard no word; but we knew the best robe, and the ring, and the shoes, were there, and that God would dispense them in sacramental love.

It was not long till they came out again, life's fragrance about them as they came. I had lingered in the church.

"Just wait a minute," I said as they came in, "I left my notes in the vestry and I will be back immediately."

I had hardly reached the room when a light footfall was heard behind me. It was my daughter.

"Margaret! Is this you? I thought you had gone home. Where is your mother?" Lovely was her face and beautiful the light of joy upon it.

She did not seem to hear, but came straight on, and in a moment her arms were about my neck, and the brave heart told all its story in tears of utter gladness.

"Daughter mine," I whispered, "you will forgive"—but the gentle hand stopped the words.

"Where is your mother?" I asked again.

"Gone to the manse—they went together," and the sun shone through the rain—"I waited for you."

"Wait a moment," I said, "stay here a moment,"—for I knew the ways of love.

I hurried without, and in the church I found the two men lingering for me.

"Mr. Blake, we will walk down to the manse together—Margaret is waiting for you in my room, Angus."

No maiden's fluttering form betrays the soul of love as doth a strong man's face. Ah me! as I looked on Angus's in that moment, I knew to whom my child belonged the most. But the broken emblems of Another's lay before me, and I made the lesser sacrifice with joy.

I watched his eager step, nor did he seek to control its pace. Swiftly he walked, and I could not forbear to follow with my eyes till he stood before the door.

A moment he paused, I know not why—then he slowly entered and the door was shut.

* * * * *



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Transcriber's Notes and Corrections:

line 255 victorious [was "victorous"] line 646 unabashedly [was "unbashedly"] line 2035 hieland [was "heiland"] line 3841 bye [as printed] line 3991 bye [as printed] line 5166 step [as printed] line 5429 fragrance [was "fragance"] line 7089 Britains [as printed] line 7302 Thursday, [was "Thursday."] line 7314 ailin'?' [was ailin'?] line 8103 illustrated [was "illuserated"]

Inconsistent hyphenations of pre-historic/prehistoric, self-same/selfsame, and to-day/today have been retained as printed. (All instances of "today" with no hyphen were in the advertisements.)

THE END

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