Robert Edward Knowles.

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"You know, I suppose, the result that will issue from your madness? You
know what it will mean to your future relations here?" I asked hoarsely,
explaining my threat by a glance about the room.

"Don't call it madness, father," she replied, pleadingly. "There is no
madness in love. I cannot help it, father. Why should I? Surely Angus is
the same as he was when first I loved him. I haven't learned anything
new about the soul of him, father."

"But his origin?" I interrupted.

"But he is good, father, - and kind - and true - and he loves me."

It was but a moment till I was past the bounds of reason.
Disappointment, pride, shame, anger - all these had their cruel way with
me. I am covered with confusion as with a garment while I try to record
what followed, though I could not tell it all, even if I would. There is
no cruelty like the cruelty of love. For the anguished soul pours out
the vials of its remorse and self-reproach upon the well loved head, and
fury waxes with its shame.

"I want none of your preaching," and my voice was coarse with anger;
"you are a willful and disobedient child and you may as well learn first
as last who is the master of this house. Do you hear?"

"Yes, I hear, - and my heart is broken. You want me to go away and not to
see me any more. And I don't know where to go."

She was kneeling now and the tears were dropping hot upon my hand, which
she had taken in both of hers. "Oh, father, when birdlings leave the
nest, surely God wants them to go, because He gives them wings. Father,
dear, oh, do not push me out in this cruel way. I want to keep you and
Angus both - and mother. Am I really wrong?

"Father, you are a preacher of the Everlasting Gospel, and doesn't that
say we were all born wrong and need to be born again? You said only last
Sunday that if we're once on the Rock, God forgets all about the pit and
the miry clay. And you said God makes the past new - all new, and that
all the redeemed ones are just the same in His sight - all good, and with
the past away behind them. I thought it was beautiful, because I thought
about Angus - and it seemed just like the Saviour's way."

My heart was wrung with a great desire to take the bended form unto
myself. I half moved forward to kiss the lips of this kneeling priestess
unto love. But as I did so the memory of other lips that had been
pressed to them rolled in upon me and swept away the better impulse. I
faltered into compromise.

"Margaret, you are still my daughter and I am touched by what you say.
Let us find common ground. Promise me that you will suspend judgment in
this matter for a year, your promise meantime to be revoked and at the
end of that time, we will take it up afresh. This will give time for
sober judgment."

But her blanched face turned to mine, and the white lips spoke again.
"Oh, spare me, father, for I cannot - you know I cannot - oh, father, pity

My soul flamed with ungovernable anger. I did pity her and this it was
that stirred my cruelty. For my soul relapsed to barbarous coarseness
and I said: "Then choose between us - you can have your - - ," and I
called him an awful word, the foulest of all words, whose very sound
speaks the shame it means to tell, the curse of humanity hissed in its
nauseous syllables.

And more - but how can I write it down! I did not strike her - but I
thrust her from me; I laid my coward hand upon her shoulder - not in
violence nor heavily, but eternal menace was in it. For I pushed her
from me, crying brutally: "Quote me another Scripture. Have you not
chosen the better part? There is the door which his shadow first
accursed - you see the door?" and I hurled the poisoned word at her

She looked at me but once - as one, suddenly awakening, looks at her
assassin. Then she went out, a lover as white as snow.



As a stream emerges from its forest tunnel, eluding the embrace of
tangled shadows, swiftly gliding from sombre swamps and hurrying towards
the sunlit plain, its phantom weeds of widowhood exchanged for its
bridal robe of light; so doth this tale of mine glide forth from the
sable shadows which garrison the chapter it has left behind.

No man loves to linger by his scaffold, though it be cheated of its last
adornment, and though no eye behold its grinning outline but its own.
For there are shadowy scaffolds, and invisible executioners, sitting at
our own boards and eating of our own bread, discernible only in a glass.
Our own Sheriffs and Executioners are we all.

Swift in the wake of sorrow came the unromantic form of toil. Thank God!
Work is sorrow's cure, its hands like the hands of an enemy, but its
voice the voice of an Eternal friend. For duty is God's midwife, sent to
deliver the soul that travails in its anguish.

It was but the day after Margaret had passed from out my door, girding
it as she went with crape, invisible to other eyes, that I was called to
Archie McCormack's house. The day was bright and clear, but I knew it
not - for in this doth sorrow make us like to God, that then the darkness
and the light are both alike.

For some months past, my old precentor had been failing fast. The doctor
said it was his heart, but none of us believed it; for his heart had
grown larger, stronger, happier with every passing year. Its outer life
might perish if it would, but its inner life was renewed day by day.
Indeed, his soul's second harvest seemed to take the form of
cheerfulness, the scantiest crop of all in the stern seasons of his
earlier life. Even merriment sought to bloom before the frost should

The very day before Margaret and I began our life's Lenten season, I had
been to see him, little thinking that my next visit was to be the last.
My own heart was full of that joy whose overflow Margaret had entrusted
to its care - which is a great gift to a minister, this gift of gladness,
seeking as he does to irrigate the thirsty plains of life about him.

"How is my precentor to-day?" I asked as I sat down at the blazing
hearth. He was lying on the couch, the fourth gradation - the field, the
veranda, the room, the couch, the bed, the grave - thus the promotion

"I'm by or'nar glad to see ye," he replied, evasively. "The auld freens
are the best."

"That's good, Archie, the old friends are glad to hear it. They hear it
seldom from Scottish lips, however hopefully they suspect it."

"We're nae muckle given to compliments - I'll grant ye that. But whiles
we think; an' whiles we speak - an' whiles we wunna. But I'm no backward
in tellin' a man gin I care for him. Noo, I was sayin' to the wife this
verra day that yon man ye brocht frae Montreal last simmer was like
eneuch a graun preacher - I'm no disputin' that, mind ye. But I was
sayin' to the wife as hoo I likit yirsel' fully mair nor him."

I smiled with pleasure, for the process was an interesting one. Bouquets
look strange in these rough Scottish hands - but their fragrance is the
sweeter for all that.

"I understand, Archie. You do not often pay a compliment, but I know its
sincerity when it comes and I appreciate it all the same."

He had not finished, for he felt he had gone too far.

"Aye, that's what I was sayin' to the wife. I likit yirsel' fully better
nor him - it's different ye see; I'm gettin' kind o' used to ye, ye

This made his tribute morally complete. Oh, thou Scotchman! Thou canst
not withhold a tincture of lemon from the sweetest cup!

"But how is my precentor to-day?" I renewed, fearful of additional
repairs to his eulogy.

"Weel, I'm no' complainin' - an' I'm no' boastin'; but there's mony a yin
waur. I'm no' sufferin' pain to speak o'. I can sleep at nicht, an' I
tak my parritch, an' I hae ma faculties - an' I'm in God's hauns," he
said, the climax coming with unconscious power.

"There's no better bulletin than that," I responded. "I see you still
take your smoke, Archie," I added cheerfully, nodding towards an ancient
trusty pipe which enjoyed its brief respite on a chair, long his
familiar friend, and noticeably breathing out its loyalty where it lay.

"Ou, aye, I dinna lack for ony o' the needcessities o' life, thank God,"
he replied gratefully, and with utter seriousness.

"What a blessing that you are free from pain," I hurriedly remarked; for
the mouth, like a capricious steed, is more easily controlled when it is
in motion.

"Aye, that's a great blessin'. I've been uncommon free frae pain. A
fortnight syne, I had a verra worritsome feelin' in ma innerts - a kind
o' colic, I'm jalousin'. Sandy Grant said as how whusky wi' a little
sulphur was gey guid. I tell 't him I never had nowt to dae wi' sulphur
i' ma life, an' I wudna begin to bother wi't noo;" and Archie lifted his
eyebrows, adjusted his night-cap, and turned upon me a very solemn

He doubtless saw by my face that I approved his caution, for I secretly
believed that he was right. Thus confirmed, he lay meditating for a
time, but it was soon made evident that his thoughts had not wandered
far from the matter in hand.

"Aye, sulphur's nae improvement to whusky," he slowly averred at length,
"forbye, I was richt. I was richt frae a medeecinal standpoint, ye ken.
The verra next day ma doctor ordered me to tak a little whusky for the
pain I tell't ye o'. An' I did; I took it afore he tell't me."

"And it did you good, Archie?" I asked indulgently.

"Guid?" replied Archie, in a tone of much reproach. Then he said no
more, scorning to demonstrate an axiom. But he was not through with the
subject. The moral had still to be pointed.

"Is't no won'erfu', minister, the law o' compensation that oor Creator
gies us, to reach a' through oor lives?

"Pain has its ither side, ye ken. An' when we say as hoo it's an ill
wind that blaws naebody guid, we're acknowledgin' the love o' the
Almichty. Ilka cloud has aye its siller linin'. Noo, for instance, it
was a fearfu' pain I took - but the ither that I took to cure it - it was
Scotch," and Archie drew a gentle sigh, half of piety and half of

* * * * *

When next I turned my steps towards Archie's door, though only two short
days had fled, all life had changed to me and darkness hung about me
like a pall. Upon which change I was bitterly reflecting when I was
interrupted by a message that Archie was taken somewhat worse and not
expected to live longer than through the night. And I could not but be
glad of this summons from my own life's tragedy, that I might share
another's. It is God's blessed way. The balm for secret sorrow is in the
bosom of another burden, unselfishly assumed; and the Cyrenian of every
age hath this for his hire, that, while he bends beneath another's
cross, he is disburdened of his own.

I found my old precentor weak, and failing fast, but "verra composed,"
as we say in New Jedboro.

He welcomed me with a gentle smile.

"Ye'll pray wi' me," he said gravely, "but it'll no' be the closin'
prayer. I'm wearin' awa fast, but I'll no' leave ye till the morn, I'm
dootin'. Pit up a bit prayer noo - but there's ae thing - dinna mind the
Maister o' His promise to come again an' receive me till Himsel' - no'
that it isna a gowden word; but I want it keepit till the last an' it's
the last word I want to hear. Speak it to me when I hear the surge.
That'll gie Him time eneuch, for He'll no' be far awa. An' I want to
hear it aboon the billows. Noo pit up yir prayer."

Short and simple were our petitions; for the prayer of little children
is best for those who are about to enter into the kingdom of God.

After we had finished, my eyes, unknown to him, were long fixed on
Archie's face. For a strange interest centres about those whose loins
are girded for long journeys; and I have never outgrown the boyish awe
with which I witnessed the loosening of the ropes that held aerial
travellers to the earth. I have seen some scores of persons die,

"By many a death-bed I have been
And many a sinner's parting seen,"

but the awful tragedy is ever new and familiarity breeds increasing
reverence. Death is a hero to his valet.

"You are not afraid, Archie?" I said at length - the old question that
springs, not to the dying, but to the living lips.

"Afeart!" said Archie, "what wad I be afeart for?"

"You are not afraid to meet your Lord?" I answered, inwardly reproaching
myself for the words.

"Afeart!" repeated the dying man, "afeart to meet ma Lord. Why should I
be feart to meet a Man that died for me?"

I inwardly blessed him for the great reply and engaged its unanswerable
argument for my next Sabbath's sermon. No man dieth unto himself.

"Wull ye dae something for me?" said Archie, suddenly. "Wull ye write to
a man I kent lang syne?"

"Certainly," said I. "Who is the man, Archie?"

"I'll tell ye, gin ma hairt hauds guid a meenit. It's Andra
Mathieson - an' he lives in San Francisco. Him an' me gaed to the schule
thegither in the Auld Country, an' I hadna seen him for nigh fifty year
till last Can'lemas a twalmonth, when I gaed to San Francisco for ma
health. He's awfu' rich. He lives in a graun hoose an' he has a coachman
wi' yin o' thae coats wi' buttons. But I gaed to see him an' I needna
hae been sae feart, for he minded on me, an' he wadna hear o' me bidin'
at the taivern, an' he took me to his graun hoose, an' he was ower guid
to a plain cratur like me.

"Weel, ae mornin', we was sittin', haein' oor crack aboot the auld days,
an' the schule, an' the sheep we herded thegither on the Ettrick hills.
But oor crack aye harkit back to the kirk an' the minister an' the
catechism, an' a' thae deeper things o' auld lang syne. He said as hoo
he had gane far bye thae things, livin' amang the stour o' a' his
siller - but he remarkit that he aften thocht o' the auld ways, an' the
auld tunes, an' the minister wi' his goon an' bands; an' he said he was
fair starvin' for a psalm - or a paraphrase. They dinna sing them in
Ameriky. An' I lilted yin till him - we was lookin' far oot at the Gowden
Gate, an' it lookit like the crystal water ma een'll sune see."

Archie stopped, though apparently but little exhausted. His eyes seemed
flooded with tender memories of that momentous hour on the far distant
Pacific Coast.

"What psalm did you sing him?" I ventured, presently.

"It was a paraphrase," he answered, the smile still upon his face. "It
was the twenty-sixth:

"'Ho ye that thirst approach the spring
Where living waters flow,'

an' Andra grat like a bairn:

"'I haena heard it sin I ran barefit aboot the hills,' he said, an' he
wad hae me sing the lines ower again:

"'How long to streams of false delight
Will ye in crowds repair?'

an' I'm no' worthy, I ken, but I pit up a bit prayer wi' him - ye mauna
think I'm boastin', sir, but I brocht him to Christ, an' when I think
on't noo, it's lichtsome, an' I'm minded o' that simmer sun on the
Gowden Gate. Ye'll write to him an' tell him we'll sing a psalm
thegither yet."

My promise given and Andrew Mathieson's address taken, Archie lay silent
for a little time. Swift glances at myself, swiftly withdrawn, denoted
his desire to say something more. It came at length and with
unmistakable directness.

"I'm dootin' I've been wrang; mebbe I was 'righteous over-much.'"

"What is it, Archie?" I said soothingly. "Some sin? Or some mistake in
the days that are gone?"

"I'm no' sayin' it was the yin or the ither," replied the old precentor,
a familiar frosty flavour in his voice, "an' if it was, I'll no' confess
it to ony yin but God - but I'm misdootin' I was ower hard on the hymes."

"What hymns, Archie?" I asked, seeking only to make easier his
acknowledgment of error, ever difficult to Scottish lips. For, if the
truth were told, Scotchmen secretly divide sins into three classes,
those of omission, of commission, and of admission.

"Ye ken fine," he made reply, "div ye no' mind hoo Margaret an' Angus
Strachan compeared afore the Kirk Session wi' their prayer for man-made
hymes i' the kirk?"

"Yes, Archie, I remember - the Session denied their request."

Ah me, I thought, how much has befallen Margaret and Margaret's father
since that night!

"Ay, I ken that; an' I'm no' regrettin' - but I'm dootin' I was ower hard
on the hymes. My speerit was aye ower fiery for an elder. But King
Dauvit himsel' was mair fearsome than me wi' blasphemers - no' to ca'
Margaret yin; but I'm mindin' that the Maister aye took anither way, a
better yin, I'm dootin'. An' I'm feart I was mair like Dauvit, for a'
I'd raither be like the Maister."

"You have the right of it, Archie; He showed us the more excellent way."

"Forbye," Archie went on, pursuing his line of thought, "I've my
misgivin's aboot wha wrote thae hymes. It wasna the deevil, an' it wasna
Watts, an' it wasna yon great Methody body; they set them doon, nae
doot - but wha started them? I'm sair dootin' they had their rise amang
the hills, the same whaur Dauvit saw the glory o' God."

"Above the hills of time," I added softly.

"An' what's mair, it kind o' came to me that a hyme micht be a prayer,
ye ken. Noo, your prayer in the kirk is no' inspired. That is, no' like
Dauvit's psalms - but it's upliftin' for a' that. An' I'm thinkin' that
mebbe it's nae waur to lilt a prayer than to speak yin, an' mebbe the
great Methody was prayin' when he said:

"'Let me to Thy bosom fly,'

an' I'm dootin' we micht dae waur than jine wi' him."

"There is no more fitting prayer for such an hour as this," I responded,
thinking it meet to incline his thoughts towards the encircling glow
with which the last great morning was already illumining his face.

But Archie still pursued his line of thought. No such great concession
as this was to be left undefined; this codicil to his whole life's will
and testament must be explained.

"I ken the hymes never had what I micht ca' a fair chance wi' me. My
faither cudna thole them, an' he cudna bide ony ither body to thole
them. He aye said the heather wasna dry yet wi' the Covenanters' bluid.
Ma ain girlie, wee Kirsty, - she likit them fine, but I forbade her. This
was the way it cam aboot - div ye mind the year o' the Exposeetion in
Paris? Weel, me an' Kirsty's mither took a jaunt an' gaed till't. We was
ower three weeks amang thae foreign fowk, wi' nae parritch an' nae
psalm. We gaed frae Paris to the auld hame in Ettrick, an' 'twas like
gae'n to Abraham's bosom frae the ither place. Weel, the first Sabbath
day, we gaed to the auld Scotch kirk, and we were starvin' for the
bread o' life.

"Naethin' had we had but the bit sweeties o' the English kirk near by,
wi' their confections - an' ance we gaed to the Catholic, but it was a
holiday. Weel, as I was sayin', we gaed to the Ettrick kirk an' the
minister came into the pulpit wi' his goon an' bands - fair graun it was.

"'Let us worship God,' he said, an' 'twas like the click o' the gate at
hame. Then he gied oot a psalm:

"'So they from strength unwearied go
Still forward unto strength.'

"The precentor was naethin' graun. I have heard better in St.
Cuthbert's. He was oot mebbe a quarter o' a beat in his time, but the
auld words had their power; 'twas like as if I heard my mither's voice
again, an' I cudna sing for greetin', but my hairt aye keepit time, an'
I resolved then no' to let Kirsty sing the hymes ony mair - but I'm
misdootin' I've been wrang."

Backward rolled the night and onward rolled the day as we kept our vigil
by the dying bed. Ever solemn hour, rehearsal of a darker yet to be! For
that same mystery shall wrap every watcher's heart, and others then
shall stand by the fallen sentinels.

Archie slumbered and waked by turns. We were just beginning to feel the
approach of the magnetic dawn when he awoke from an hour's sleep.

"The nicht's near gane," he said, "an' I'll sleep nae mair; for I aye
likit to greet the mornin' licht."

We gathered closer, the old childish instinct which drove us to the
wharf's very edge when the sails were being hoisted and the anchor

He beckoned me closer and I bent to catch his words.

"Ye micht gie thae thochts o' mine to the Session gin the maitter comes
up again - aboot the hymes, ye ken, aboot hoo they micht be made intil a

I silently gave the promise.

"An' mair - I dinna forbid ye to sing a bit hyme at the funeral. Let
Wullie Allison lift the tune, for he aye keeps the time. Yon Methody's
hyme wad dae:

"'Hide me, oh, my Saviour hide
Till the storm of life is past,'

for the wind'll be doon then, I'm hopin'.

"The fowk'll think it strange, for they a' ken my convictions, sae ye'd
better close wi' a paraphrase:

"'Then will He own His servant's name
Before His father's face.'

That wad dae fine, for it's a' o' grace thegither."

Archie lay silent for a time, breathing heavily, the tumult of the last
great conflict blending every moment with the peace of the last great
surrender. An instant later, the dying face seemed lightened, like one
who descries the lights of home.

"I canna juist mind the words; is it the outgoin' o' the mornin' He
makes to rejoice?"

"And the evening," I said quickly, "the evening too, Archie."

"Aye," he answered peacefully, "I thocht He wadna forget the gloamin'.
Aye, mair the evenin' than the mornin', I'm thinkin'."

His face was radiant now, for the morning light had passed us watchers
by, its glory resting on the face that loved to greet it.

"Haud ma haun, guid-wife," his voice upborne by the buoyancy of death.
"I'm slippin' fast into the licht. I see what they ca' the gates o'
deith. The licht has found them oot. They've been sair maligned, I'm
thinkin'. The pulpit has misca'd them, but the believer's deein' lips
can ca' them fair. They're the gates o' deith, nae doot, but the Maister
hauds the keys."

We stood as close to the old precentor as we might, but we were in the
shadow still. For death seldom shares his surprises with the alien and
is selfish with his secret luxuries.

"Hark ye!" the dying man suddenly cried. "Div ye no' hear the sang? It's
graun ayont the thocht o' man. They're a' in white, an' it's 'Martyrdom'
is the tune. Wha's leadin' them? I see Him fine; it's Him wha made the
sang itsel'. It's Him wha's leadin' them. Div ye no' ken what they're
singin'? It's the new sang, the sang o' Moses an' the Lamb. An' hark ye!
it's the same as the psalm my mither taught me. I canna tell the yin
frae the ither."

And the old precentor hurried on to join the choir invisible.


"_The MILLS of The GODS_"

Margaret was home again. She had been gone from us two immeasurable
days. It was Mr. Blake who rang the bell, for it was his house had
sheltered her when my cruel anger drove her from my own. Need and sorrow
never turned to him in vain.

When the door was opened, Margaret stood before it alone. Her mother it
was who opened unto her, for this is woman's oldest and holiest
avocation, door-keeper unto wandering feet. In all His delicate missions
woman is God's deputy.

Through all my narrative of this sad affair I have said but little of
Margaret's mother, but I know my readers have discerned her presence
amid it all, as one discerns a brooding mountain through the mist. The
great background of every tragedy is a woman's stately sorrow.

I had been visiting the sick, far more for my sake than for theirs, and
was not home when Margaret returned. But a nameless fragrance greeted me
at the door, and in my study I found Margaret in her mother's arms. The
latter quietly withdrew and the compact between father and daughter was
soon complete. It was of mutual surrender, wherein is mutual peace.
Margaret's only word was that she could not give her father up - nor
Angus - that I must say nothing more about her love and that we must
wait - together. Which was all sweet enough to me, for she was mine
again, and our manse light had been rekindled.

For the rest, I was willing to wait, on which after all hangs the
reality of all joy or sorrow. Every grief hath that opportunity of cure;
every joy that peril of vicissitude. Till time hath ceased from her
travail, no man can tell her offspring's sex, whether it be rugged care,
or sweet and tender joy.

Meantime, Margaret nestled again within the old tender place and we both
struggled to nourish our phantom joy. Counterfeit though we both
discerned it, yet it passed unchallenged between us and at least kept
our souls' commerce from decay. Counterfeit I have called it, for the
tenure of another's love was upon her; and her stay with us was like
that of a sailor lad who is for a time ashore, waiting for the tardy

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Online LibraryRobert Edward KnowlesSt. Cuthbert's; a novel → online text (page 10 of 17)