Robert Edward Knowles.

St. Cuthbert's; a novel online

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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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