THE Zeit-Geist Library of COMPLETE NOVELS in One Volume. Paper, 1s. 6d.; cloth, 2s.
Early Volumes. By L. DOUGALL. THE ZEIT-GEIST. With Frontispiece.
By GYP. CHIFFON'S MARRIAGE. With Portrait of Author.
By FRANKFORT MOORE. THE SALE OF A SOUL. With Frontispiece.
By the Author of "A Yellow Aster." A NEW NOVEL. With Frontispiece.
Other volumes to follow.
Each volume with designed Title-page.
LONDON: HUTCHINSON & CO., PATERNOSTER ROW.
Author of Beggars All, What Necessity Knows, etc.
LONDON HUTCHINSON & CO PATERNOSTER ROW
"I ... create evil. I am the Lord." Isa. xlv. 6, 7.
"Where will God be absent? In His face Is light, but in His shadow there is healing too: Let Guido touch the shadow and be healed!" The Ring and the Book.
"If Nature is the garment of God, it is woven without seam throughout." The Ascent of Man.
OXFORD, January 1895.
_When travelling in Canada, in the region north of Lake Ontario, I came upon traces of the somewhat remarkable life which is the subject of the following sketch.
Having applied to the school-master in the town where Bartholomew Toyner lived, I received an account the graphic detail and imaginative insight of which attest the writer's personal affection. This account, with only such condensation as is necessary, I now give to the world. I do not believe that it belongs to the novel to teach theology; but I do believe that religious sentiments and opinions are a legitimate subject of its art, and that perhaps its highest function is to promote understanding by bringing into contact minds that habitually misinterpret one another._
To-day I am at home in the little town of the fens, where the Ahwewee River falls some thirty feet from one level of land to another. Both broad levels were covered with forest of ash and maple, spruce and tamarack; but long ago, some time in the thirties, impious hands built dams on the impetuous Ahwewee, and wide marshes and drowned wood-lands are the result. Yet just immediately at Fentown there is neither marsh nor dead tree; the river dashes over its ledge of rock in a foaming flood, runs shallow and rapid between green woods, and all about the town there are breezy pastures where the stumps are still standing, and arable lands well cleared. The little town itself has a thriving look. Its public buildings and its villas have risen, as by the sweep of an enchanter's wand, in these backwoods to the south of the Ottawa valley.
There was a day when I came a stranger to Fentown. The occasion of my coming was a meeting concerning the opening of new schools for the town—schools on a large and ambitious plan for so small a place. When the meeting was over, I came out into the street on a mild September afternoon. The other members of the School Council were with me. There were two clergymen of the party. One of them, a young man with thin, eager face, happened to be at my side.
"This Mr. Toyner, whose opinion has been so much consulted, was not here to-day?" I said this interrogatively.
"No, ah—but you'll see him now. He has invited you all to a garden party, or something of that sort. He's in delicate health. Ah—of course, you know, it is natural for me to wish his influence with the Council were much less than it is."
"Indeed! He was spoken of as a philanthropist."
"It's a very poor love to one's fellow-man that gives him all that his vanity desires in the way of knowledge without leading him into the Church, where he would be taught to set the value of everything in its right proportion."
I was rather struck with this view of the function of the Church. "Certainly," I replied, "to see all things in right proportion is wisdom; but I heard this Toyner mentioned as a religious man."
"He has some imaginations of his own, I believe, which he mistakes for religion. I do not know him intimately; I do not wish to. I believe he has some sort of desire to do what is right; but that, you know, is a house built upon the sand, unless it is founded upon the desire for instruction as to what is right. Every one cries up his generosity; for instance, one of my church-wardens tells him that we need a new organ in the church and the people won't give a penny-piece towards it, so Toyner says, with his benevolent smile, 'They must be taught to give. Tell them I will give half if they will give the other half.' But if the Roman Catholic priest or a Methodist goes to him the next day for a subscription, he gives just as willingly if, as is likely, he thinks the object good. What can you do with a man like that, who has no principle? It's impossible to have much respect for him."
Now I myself am a school-master, versed in the lore of certain books ancient and modern, but knowing very little about such a practical matter as applied theology; nor did I know very much then concerning the classification of Christians among themselves: but I think that I am not wrong in saying that this young man belonged to that movement in the Anglican Church which fights strongly for a visible unity and for Church tradition. I am so made that I always tend to agree with the man who is speaking, so my companion was encouraged by my sympathy.
He went on: "I can do with a man that is out-and-out anything. I can work with a Papist; I can work with a Methodist, as far as I can conscientiously meet him on common ground, and I can respect him if he conscientiously holds that he is right and I am wrong: but these fellows that are neither one thing nor the other—they are as dangerous as rocks and shoals that are just hidden under the water. You never know when you have them."
We were upon the broad wooden side-walk of an avenue leading from the central street of the town to a region of outstanding gardens and pleasure-grounds, in which the wooden villas of the citizens stood among luxuriant trees. It is a characteristic of Fentown that the old trees about the place have been left standing.
A new companion came to my side, and he, as fate would have it, was another clergyman. He was an older man, with a genial, bearded face. I think he belonged to that party which takes its name from the Evangel of whose purity it professes itself the guardian.
"You are going to this entertainment which Mr. and Mrs. Toyner are giving?" The cordiality of his common-place remark had a certain restraint in it.
"You are going also?"
"No; it is not a house at which I visit. I have lived here for twenty-five years, and of course I have known Mr. Toyner more or less all that time. I do not know how I shall be able to work on the same Council with him; but we shall see. We, who believe in the truth of religion, must hold our own if we can."
I was to be the master of the new schools. I pleased him with my assent.
"I am rather sorry," he continued, "to tell the truth, that you should begin your social life in Fentown by visiting Mr. Toyner; but of course this afternoon it is merely a public reception, and after a time you will be able to judge for yourself. I do not hesitate to say that I consider his influence, especially with the young people, of a most dangerous kind. For a long time, you know, he and his wife were quite ostracised—not so much because of their low origin as because of their religious opinions. But of late years even good Christians appear disposed to be friendly with them. Money, you know—money carries all things before it."
"Yes, that is too often the case."
"Well, I don't say that Toyner doesn't hold up a certain standard of morality among the young men of the place, but it's a pretty low one; and he has them all under his influence. There isn't a young fellow that walks these streets, whether the son of clergyman or beggar, who is not free to go to that man's house every evening and have the run of his rooms and his books. And Toyner and his wife will sit down and play cards with them; or they'll get in a lot of girls, and have a dance, or theatricals,—the thin end of the wedge, you know, the thin end of the wedge! And all the young men go to his house, except a few that we've got in our Christian Association."
The speaker was stricter in his views than I saw cause to be; but then, I knew something of his life; he was giving it day by day to save the men of whom he was talking. He had a better right than I to know what was best for them.
"When you have a thorough-going man of the world," he said, "every one knows what that means, and there's not so much harm done. But this Mr. Toyner is always talking about God, and using his influence to make people pray to God. Such men are not ready to pray until they are prepared to give up the world! The God that he tells them of is a fiction of his imagination; indeed, I might say a mere creature of his fancy, who is going to save all men in the end, whatever they do!"
"Oh, worse than that—at least, I have read the books of Universalists who, though their error was great, did not appear to me so far astray. I cannot understand it! I cannot understand it!" he went on; "I cannot understand the influence that he has obtained over our more educated class; for twenty years ago he was himself a low, besotted drunkard, and his wife is the daughter of a murderer! Still less do I understand how such people can claim to be religious at all, and yet not see to what awful evil the small beginnings of vice must lead. I tell you, if a man is allowed by Providence to lead an easy life, and remains unfaithful, he may still have some good metal in him which adversity might refine; but when people have gone through all that Toyner and his wife have been through—not a child that has been born to them but has died at the breast—I say, when they have been through all that, and still lead a worldly, unsatisfactory life, you may be sure that there is nothing in them that has the true ring of manhood or womanhood."
I was left alone to enter Mr. Toyner's gates. I found myself in a large pleasure-ground, where Nature had been guided, not curtailed, in her work. I was walking upon a winding drive, walled on either side by a wild irregular line of shrubs, where the delicate forms of acacias and crab-apples lifted themselves high in comparison to the lower lilac and elderberry-bushes. I watched the sunlit acacias as they fluttered, spreading their delicate leaves and golden pods against the blue above me. I made my way leisurely in the direction of music which I heard at some distance. I had not advanced far before another person came into my path.
He was a slight, delicate man of middle size. His hair and moustache were almost quite white. Something in the air of neatness and perfection about his dress, in the extreme gravity and clearness of his grey eyes, even in the fine texture of that long, thin, drooping moustache, made it evident to me that this new companion was not what we call an ordinary person.
"Your friend did not come in with you." The voice spoke disappointment; the speaker looked wistfully at the form of the retreating clergyman which he could just see through a gap in the shrubs.
"You wished him to come?"
"I saw you coming. I came toward the gate in the hope that he might come in." Then he added a word of cordial greeting. I perceived that I was walking with my host.
There are some men to whom one instinctively pays the compliment of direct speech. "I have been walking with two clergymen. I understand that you differ from both with regard to religious opinion."
It appeared to me that after this speech of mine he took my measure quietly. He did not say in so many words he did not see that this difference of opinion was a sufficient reason for their absence, but by some word or sign he gave me to understand that, adding:
"I feel myself deprived of a great benefit in being without their society. They are the two best and noblest men I know."
"It is rare for men to take pleasure in the society of their opponents."
"Yet you will admit that to be willing to learn from those from whom we differ is the only path to wisdom."
"It is difficult to tread that path without letting go what we already have, and that produces chaos."
With intensity both of thought and feeling he took up the words that I had dropped half idly, and showed me what he thought to be the truth and untruth of them. There was a grave earnestness in his speech which made his opinion on this subject suddenly become of moment to me, and his intensity did not produce any of that sensation of irritation or opposition which the intensity of most men produces as soon as it is felt.
"You think that the chief obstacle which is hindering the progress of true religion in the world at present is that while we will not learn from those who disagree with us we can obtain no new light, and that when we are willing to reach after their light we become also willing to let go what we have had, so that the world does not gain but loses by the transaction. This is, I admit, an obstacle to thought; but it is not the essential difficulty of our age."
"Let us consider," I said, in my pedantic way, "how my difficulty may be overcome, and then let us discuss that one you consider to be essential."
Toyner's choice of words, like his appearance, betrayed a strong, yet finely chiselled personality.
"We are truly accustomed now to the idea that whatever has life cannot possibly remain unchanged, but must always develop by leaving some part behind and producing some part that is new. It is God's will that the religious thought of the world, which is made up of the thought of individuals, shall proceed in this way, whether we will or not, but it must always help progress when we can make our wills at one with God's in this matter; we go faster and safer so. Now to say that to submit willingly to God's law of growth is to produce chaos must certainly be a fallacy. It must then be a fallacy to argue that to keep a mind open to all influences is antagonistic to the truest religious life; we cannot—whether we wish or not, we cannot—let go any truth that has been assimilated into our lives; and what truth we have not assimilated it is no advantage to hold without agitation. We know better where we are when we are forced to sift it. It is the very great apparent advantage of recognised order that deceives us! When we lose that apparent advantage, when we lose, too, the familiar names and symbols, and think, like children, that we have lost the reality they have expressed to us, a very low state of things appears to result. The strain and stress of life become much greater. Ah! but, my friend, it is that strain and stress that shape us into the image of God."
"You hinted, I think, that to your mind there was a more real obstacle, one peculiar to our age."
Ever since I first met him I have been puzzled to know how it was that I often knew so nearly what Toyner meant when he only partially expressed his thought; he had this power over my understanding. He was my master from the first.
He laid his hand now slightly upon my arm, as though to emphasise what he said.
"It is a little hard to explain it reverently," he said, "and still harder to understand why the difficulty should have come about, but in our day it would seem that the nights of prayer and the fresh intuition into the laws of God's working, which we see united in the life of our great Example, have become divorced. It is their union again that we must have—that we shall have; but at present there is the difficulty for every man of us—the men who lead us in either path are different men and lead different ways. Our law-givers are not the men who meet God upon the mount. Our scientists are not the teachers who are pre-eminent for fasting and prayer. We who to be true to ourselves must follow in both paths find our souls perplexed."
In front of us, as we turned a curve in the drive, a bed of scarlet lilies stood stately in the sun, and a pair of bickering sparrows rose from the fountain near which they grew. Toyner made a slight gesture of his hand. With the eagerness of a child he asked:
"Is it not hard to believe that we may ask and expect forgiveness and gifts from the God who by slow inevitable laws of growth clothes the lilies, who ordains the fall of every one of these sparrows, foresees the fall and ordains it—the God whose character is expressed in physical law? The texts of Jesus have become so trite that we forget that they contain the same vision of 'God's mind in all things' that makes it so hard to believe in a personality in God, that makes prayer seem to us so futile."
We came out of the shrubbery upon a bank that dropped before us to a level lawn. I found myself in the midst of a company of people among whom were the other members of the new School Council. Below, upon the lawn, there was a little spectacle going on for our entertainment—a morris-dance, simply and gracefully performed by young people dressed in quaintly fashioned frocks of calico; there was good music too—one or two instruments, to which they danced. Round the other side of the grass an avenue of stately Canadian maples shut in the view, except where the river or the pale blue of the eastern horizon was seen in glimpses through their branches. Behind us the sun's declining rays fell upon an old-fashioned garden of holly-hocks and asters, so that the effect, as one caught it turning sideways, was like light upon a stained-glass window, so rich were the dyes. I saw all this only as one sees the surroundings of some object that interests supremely.
The man who had been walking with me said simply, "This is my wife."
Before me stood a woman who had the power that some few women have of making all those whom they gather round them speak out clearly and freshly the best that is in them.
Ah! we live in a new country. Its streets are not paved with gold, nor is prosperity to be attained without toil; but it gives this one advantage—room for growth; whatever virtue a soul contains may reach its full height and fragrance and colour, if it will.
I did not know then that the beginning of this provincial salon, which Toyner's wife had kept about her for so many years, and to which she gave a genuine brilliance, however raw the material, had been a wooden shanty, in which a small income was made by the sale of home-brewed beer.
I always remember Ann Toyner as I saw her that first time. Her eyes were black and still bright; but when I looked at them I remembered the little children that had died in her arms, and I knew that her hopes had not died with them, but by that suffering had been transformed. As I heard her talk, my own hopes lifted themselves above their ordinary level.
Husband and wife stood together, and I noticed that the white shawl that was crossed Quakerwise over her thin shoulders seemed like a counterpart of his careful dress, that the white tresses that were beginning to show among her black ones were almost like a reflection of his white hair. I felt that in some curious way, although each had so distinct and strong a personality, they were only perfect as a part of the character which in their union formed a perfect whole. They stood erect and looked at us with frank, kindly eyes; we all found to our surprise that we were saying what we thought and felt, and not what we supposed we ought to say.
As I talked and looked at them, the words that I had heard came back to my mind. "His wife is the daughter of a murderer, and he has come up from the lowest, vilest life." Some indistinct thought worked through my mind whose only expression was a disconnected phrase: "I saw a new heaven and a new earth."
In the years since then I have learned to know the story of Toyner and his wife. Now that they are gone away from us, I will tell what I know. His was a life which shows that a man cut off from all contact with his brother-thinkers may still be worked upon by the great over-soul of thought: his is the story of a weak man who lived a strong life in a strength greater than his own.
In the days when there were not many people in Fentown Falls, and when much money was made by the lumber trade, Bartholomew Toyner's father grew rich. He was a Scotchman, not without some education, and was ambitious for his son; but he was a hard, ill-tempered man, and consequently neither his example nor his precepts carried any weight whatever with the son when he was grown. The mother, who had begun life cheerfully and sensibly, showed the weakness of her character in that she became habitually peevish. She had enough to make her so. All her pleasure in life was centred in her son Bart. Bart came out of school to lounge upon the streets, to smoke immoderately, and to drink such large quantities of what went into the country by the name of "Jamaica," that in a few years it came to pass that he was nearly always drunk.
Poor Bart! the rum habit worked its heavy chains upon him before he was well aware that his life had begun in earnest; and when he realised that he was in possession of his full manhood, and that the prime of life was not far off, he found himself chained hand and foot, toiling heavily in the most degrading servitude. A few more years and he realised also that, do what he would, he could not set himself free. No one in the world had any knowledge of the struggle he made. Some—his mother among them—gave him credit for trying now and then, and that was a charitable view of his case. How could any man know? He was not born with the nature that reveals itself in many words, or that gets rid of its intolerable burdens of grief and shame by passing them off upon others. All that any one could see was the inevitable failure.
The failure was the chief of what Bart himself saw. That unquenchable instinct in a man's heart that if he had only tried a little harder he would certainly have attained to righteousness gave the lie to his sense of agonising struggle, with its desperate, rallies of courage and sinkings of discouragement, gleams of self-confidence, and foul suspicion of self, suspicion even as to the reality of his own effort. All this was in the region of unseen spirit, almost as much unseen to those about him as are the spirits of the dead men and angels, often a mere matter of faith to himself, so apart did it seem from the outward realities of life.
Outwardly the years went easily enough. The father railed and stormed, then relapsed into a manner of silent contempt; but he did not drive his son from the plain, comfortable home which he kept. Bart would not work, but he took some interest in reading. Paper-covered infidel books, and popular books on modern science, were his choice rather than fiction. The choice might have been worse, for the fiction to which he had access was more enervating. Outside his father's house he neglected the better class of his neighbours, and fraternised with the men and women that lived by the lowest bank of the river; but his life there was still one into which the fresh air and the sunshine of the Canadian climate entered largely. If he lounged all day, it was on the benches in the open air; if he played cards all night, he was not given much money to waste; and there were few women to lend their companionship to the many drunkards of whom he was only one. Then, also, Bart did not do even all the evil that he might. What was the result of that long struggle of his which always ended in failure? The failure was only apparent; the success was this mighty one—that he did not go lower, he did not leave Fentown Falls for the next town upon the river, a place called The Mills, where his life could have been much worse. He fell in love with Ann Markham; and although she was the daughter of the wickedest man in Fentown, she was—according to the phraseology of the place—"a lady." She kept a small beer-shop that was neat and clean; she lived so that no man dared to say an uncivil word to her or to the sister whom she protected. She did for her father very much what Bart's father did for him: she kept a decent house over his head and decent clothes upon his back, and threw a mantle of thrifty respectability over him.
Ann was no prude, and she certainly was no saint. Twice a week there was the sound of fiddling and dancing feet in a certain wooden hall that stood near the river; and there, with the men and women of the worldly sort, Ann and her sister danced. It was their amusement; they had no other except the idle talking and laughing that went on over the table at which Ann sold her home-brewed beer. Ann's end in life was just the ordinary one—respectability, or a moderate righteousness, first, and after that, pleasure. She was a strong, vigorous, sunbrowned maiden; she worked hard to brew her beer and to sell it. She ruled her sister with an inflexible will. She had much to say to men whom she liked and admired. She neither liked nor admired Bart Toyner, never threw him a word unless in scorn; yet he loved her. She was the star by which he steered his ship in those intervals in which his eyes were clear enough to steer at all; and the ship did not go so far out of the track as it would otherwise have gone. When a man is in the right course, with a good hope of the port, rowing and steering, however toilsome, is a cheerful thing; but when the track is so far lost that the sailor scarcely hopes to regain it—then perhaps (God only knows) it requires more virtue to row and steer at all, even though it be done fitfully.
This belief that he could never come to any desired haven was the one force above all others that went to the ruining of Toyner's life.
Bart Toyner was more than thirty years old when the period of his reformation came. His father had grown old and foolish. It was the breaking down of his father's clear mind that first started and shocked Bart into some strong emotion of filial respect and love; then came another agonising struggle on his part to free himself from his evil habits. In this fit of sobriety he went a journey to the nearest city upon his father's business, and there, after a few days, he took to drinking harder than ever, ceased to write home, lost all the possessions that he had taken with him, and sank deep down into the mire of the place.
The first thing that he remembered in the awakening that followed was the face of another man. It stood out in the nebulous gathering of his returning self-consciousness like the face of an angel; there was the flame of enthusiasm in the eyes, a force of will had chiselled handsome features into tense lines; but in spite of that, or rather perhaps because of it, it was a gentle, happy face.
It is happiness that is the culmination of sainthood. You may look through the pictures of the saints of all ages and find enthusiasm and righteousness in many and the degree of faith that these imply; but where you find joy too, there has been the greatest faith, the greatest saintliness.
Bart found himself clothed and fed; he felt the warm clasp of a human hand in his, and some self-respect came back to him by the contact. The face and the hand belonged to a mission preacher, and Bart arose and followed his friend to a place where there was the sound of many feet hurrying and a great concourse of people was gathered in a wood without the town.
It was only with curiosity that Bart looked about him at the high trees that stretched their green canopy above, at the people who ranged themselves in a hollow of the wood—one of nature's theatres. Curiosity passed into strong emotion of maudlin sentiment when the great congregation sang a hymn. He sat upon a bench at the back and wept tears that even to himself had neither sense nor truth. Yet there was in them the stirring of something inarticulate, incomprehensible, like the stirring that comes at spring-time in the heart of the seed that lies below the ground. After that the voice of the preacher began to make its way slowly through the dull, dark mind of the drunkard.
The preacher spoke of the wonderful love of God manifested in a certain definite offer of salvation, a certain bargain, which, if closed with, would bring heaven to the soul of every man.
The preacher belonged to that period of this century when the religious world first threw off its contempt for the present earthly life and began to preach, not a salvation from sin's punishment so much as a salvation from sin.
It was the old cry: "Repent, believe; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The doctrine that was set forth had not only the vital growth of ages in it, but it had accreted the misunderstanding of the ages also; yet this doctrine did not hide, it only limited, the saving power of God. "Believe," cried the preacher, "in a just God and a Saviour." So he preached Christ unto them, just as he supposed St. Paul to have done, wotting nothing of the fact that every word and every symbol stand for a different thought in the minds of men with every revolution of that glass by which Time marks centuries.
It mattered nothing to Bart just now all this about the centuries and the doctrines; the heart of the preaching was the eternal truth that has been growing brighter and brighter since the world began—God, a living Power, the Power of Salvation. The salvation was conditioned, truly; but what did conditions matter to Bart! He would have cast himself into sea or fire to obtain the strength that he coveted. He eagerly cast aside the unbelief he had imbibed from books. He accepted all that he was told to accept, with the eager swallowing of a man who is dying for the strength of a drug that is given to him in dilution.
At the end of the sermon there was a great call made upon all who desired to give up their sins and to walk in God's strength and righteousness, to go forward and kneel in token of their penitence and pray for the grace which they would assuredly receive.
This public penance was a very little thing, like the dipping in Jordan. It did not seem little to Toyner. He was thoroughly awake now, roused for the hour to the power of seeking God with all his mind, all his thought, all his soul. The high tide of life in him made the ordeal terrible; he tottered forward and knelt where, in front of the rostrum, sweet hay had been strewn upon the ground. A hundred penitents were kneeling upon this carpet.
There was now no more loud talking or singing. Silence was allowed to spread her wings within the woodland temple. Toyner, kneeling, felt the influence of other human spirits deeply vivified in the intensity of prayer. He heard whispered cries and the sound of tears, the prayer of the publican, the tears of the Magdalene, and now and then there came a glad thanksgiving of overflowing joy. Toyner tried to repeat what he heard, hoping thereby to give some expression to the need within him; but all that he could think of was the craving for strong drink that he knew would return and that he knew he could not resist.
He heard light footsteps, and felt a strong arm embracing his own trembling frame. The preacher had come to kneel where he knelt, and to pray, not for him, but with him.
"I cannot," said Bart Toyner, "I can't, I can't."
"Why not?" whispered the preacher.
"Because I know I shall take to drink again."
"Which do you love best, God or the drink?" asked the preacher. "If you love the drink best, you ought not to be here; if you love God best, you need have no fear."
"God." The word embodied the great new idea which had entered Toyner's soul, the idea of the love that had power to help him.
"I want to get hold of God," he said; "but it isn't any use, for I shall just go and get drunk again."
"Dear, dear fellow," said the young preacher, his arm drawing closer round Bart, "He is able and willing to keep you; all you have to do is to take Him for your Master, and He will come to you and make a new man of you. He will take the drink crave away. He knows as well as you do that you can't fight it."
"I don't believe it," said Toyner.
Then the young preacher turned his beautiful face toward the blue above the trees and whispered a prayer: "Open the eyes of our souls that we may see Thee, and then we shall know that Thou canst not lie. Thy honour is pledged to give Thy servants all they need, and this man needs to have the craving for drink taken out of his body. He has come at Thy call, willing to be Thy slave; Thou canst not go back on Thy promises. We know Thou hast accepted him, because he has come to Thee. We know that Thou wilt give him what he needs,"—so the short sentences of the whispered prayer went on in quick transition from entreaty to thanksgiving for a gift received. Suddenly, before the conclusion had come, Bart stood up upon his feet.
"What is it, my brother?" asked the preacher. He too had risen and stood with his hand on Toyner's shoulder.
They were alone together, these two. The great crowd of the congregation had already gone away; those that remained were each one so intensely occupied with prayer or adoration that they paid no heed to others.
"I feel—light," said Toyner.
"Dear fellow," said the preacher, "the devil has gone out of you. You are free now because you are the slave of Christ. Begin your service to him by praising God!"
Toyner stayed a week longer in the place, lodging with the young preacher. Day and night they were close together. A change had come to Toyner. It was a miracle. The young preacher believed in such miracles, and because he believed he saw them often.
Toyner trembled and hoped, and at length he too believed. He believed that as long as he willingly obeyed God his old habits would not triumph over him. The physical health which so often comes like a flood and replaces disease at the shrines of idol temples, of Romish saints, or, at the many Protestant homes for faith-healing, had undoubtedly come to Bart Toyner. The stomach that had been inflamed and almost useless, now produced in him a regular appetite for simple nourishing food. The craving for strong drink had passed away, and with his whole mind and heart he threw himself into such service as he believed to be acceptable to God and the condition upon which he held his health and his freedom. At the end of the week Toyner went home to face the old life again with no safe-guard but the new inward strength. No one there believed in his reformation. He had lost money for his father in his last debauch; the man who was virtually a partner would not trust him again. He had a nominal business of his own, an agency which he had heretofore neglected, and now he worked hard, living frugally, and for the first time in his life earned his own living. The rules of conduct which the preacher had laid down for him were simple and broad. He was to see God in everything, accepting all events joyfully from His hand; he was so to preach Him in life and word that others would love Him; he was to do all his work as unto a God who beheld and cared for the minutest things of earth; he was to abstain, not only from all sin, but from all things that might lead to evil. At first he saw no contradiction in this rule of life; it seemed a plain path, and he walked, nay ran, upon it for a long distance.
Between Toyner and his old friends the change of his life and thoughts had made the widest breach. That outward show of companionship remained was due only to patient persistence on his part and the endurance of the pain and shame of being in society where he was not wanted and where he felt nothing congenial. There was a Scotch minister who, with the people of his congregation, had received and befriended the reformed man; but because of Toyner's desire to follow the most divine example, and also because of his love to Ann Markham, he chose the other companionship. It was a high ideal; something warred against it which he could not understand, and his patience brought forth no mutual love.
When six months had passed away, Toyner had gained with his neighbours a character for austerity in his personal habits and constant companionship with the rough and the poor. The post of constable fell vacant; Toyner's father had been constable in his youth; Toyner was offered the post now, and he took it.
The constable in such villages as Fentown was merely a respectable man who could be called upon on rare occasions to arrest a criminal. Crime was seldom perpetrated in Fentown, except when it was of a nature that could be winked at. Toyner had no uniform; he was put in possession of a pair of hand-cuffs, which no one expected him to use; he was given a nominal income; and the name of "constable" was a public recognition that he was reformed.
Toyner had had many scruples of mind before he took this office. The considerations which induced him to accept it were various. The austere demand of law and the service of God were very near together in his mind; nor are they in any strong mind ever separated except in parable.
Bart Toyner, who had for years appeared so weak and witless, possessed in reality that fine quality of brain and heart which is so often a prey to the temptation of intoxicants. He was now working out all the theory of the new life in a mind that would not flinch before, or shirk the gleams of truth struck from, sharp contact of fact with fact as the days and hours knocked them together. For this reason it could not be that his path would remain that plain path in which a man could run seeing far before him. Soon he only saw his way step by step, around there was darkness; but through that darkness, except in one black hour, he always saw the mount of transfiguration and the light of heaven.
Another six months passed, and an event occurred which gave a great shock to the little community and gave Toyner a pain of heart such as almost nothing else could have given. Ann's father, John Markham, had a deadly dispute with a man by the name of Walker. Walker was a comparatively new comer to the town, or he would have known better than to gamble with Markham as he did and arouse his enmity. The feud lasted for a week, and then Markham shot his enemy with a borrowed fire-arm. Walker was discovered wounded, and cared for, but with little hope of his recovery. From all around the men assembled to seize Markham, but half a night had elapsed, and it was found that he had made good his escape. When the others had gone, Toyner stood alone before Ann Markham.
I have often heard what Toyner looked like in those days. Slight as his theological knowledge might be, he was quite convinced that if religion was anything it must be everything, personal appearance included. As he stood before Ann, he appeared to be a dapper, rather dandified man, for he had dressed himself just as well as he could. Everything that he did was done just as well as he could in those days; that was the reason he did not shirk the inexpressibly painful duty which now devolved on him.
You may picture him. His clothes were black, his linen good. He wore a large white tie, which was the fashionable thing in that time and place. His long moustache, which was fine rather than heavy, hung down to his chin on either side of his mouth. He did not look like a man who would chance upon any strong situation in life, for the strength of circumstances is the strength of the soul that opposes them, and we are childishly given to estimating the strength of souls by certain outward tests, although they fail us daily.
"I have always been your friend, Ann," said Toyner sadly.
Ann tossed her head. "Not with my leave."
"No," he assented; "but I want to tell you now that if we can't get on Markham's track I shall have to spy on you. You'll help him if you can, of course."
"I don't know where he is," said Ann sullenly.
"I do not believe you are telling the truth" (sadly); "but you may believe me, I have warned you."
People in Fentown went to sleep early. At about eleven that night all was still and lonely about the weather-stained, unpainted wooden house in which Ann lived.
Ann closed her house for the night. The work was a simple one: she set her knee against the door to shut it more firmly, and worked an old nail into the latch. Then she shook down the scant cotton curtains that were twisted aside from the windows. There were three windows, two in the living-room (which was also kitchen and beer-saloon) and one in the bedroom; that was the whole of the house. There was not an article of furniture in the place that was not absolutely necessary; what there was was clean. The girl herself was clean, middle-sized, and dressed in garments that were old and worn; there was about her appearance a certain brightness and quickness, which is the best part of beauty and grace. The very hair itself, turning black and curly, from the temples, seemed to lie glossy and smooth by reason of character that willed that it should lie so.
One small coal-oil lamp was the light of the house. When Ann had closed doors and windows she took it up and went into the bedroom. Neither room was small; there was a shadowy part round their edges which the lamp did not brighten. In the dimmer part of this inner room was a bed, on which a fair young girl was sleeping.
A curious thing now occurred. Ann, placing herself between the lamp and the window, deliberately went through a pantomime of putting herself to bed. She took care that the shadow of the brushing of her hair should be seen upon the window-curtain. She measured the distance, and threw her silhouette clearly upon it while she took off one or two of her outer garments. Her face had resolution and nervous eagerness written in it, but there was nothing of inward disquiet there; she was wholly satisfied in her own mind as to what she was doing. It was not a very profound mind, perhaps, but it was like a weapon burnished by constant and proper use.
She removed her shadow from the window-curtain when she removed her lamp to the bedside. She employed herself there for a minute or two in putting on the clothes she had taken off, and in tightly fastening up the hair that she had loosened; then she put out the lamp and got into bed. The wooden bedstead creaked, and rubbed against the side of the house as she turned herself upon it. The creaking and rubbing could be heard on the other side of the wall.
There was a man walking like a sentry outside who did hear. It was Bart Toyner, the constable.
After he heard the bed creak he still waited awhile, walking slowly round the house in silence and darkness. Then, as he passed the side where the bedroom was, there came the sound of a slight sleeping snore, repeated as regularly as the breath might come and go in a woman's breast.
After a while Toyner retreated with noiseless steps, standing still when he had moved away about fifty paces, looking at the house again with careful, suspicious eyes; then, as if satisfied, he slid back the iron shade that covered his lantern and, lighting his own steps, he walked away.
He had moved so quietly that the girl who lay upon the bed did not hear him. She did not, in fact, know for certain whether he had been there or not, much less that he had gone, so that she toilsomely kept up the pretence of that gentle snore for half an hour or more. It was very tiresome. Her bright black eyes were wide open as she lay performing this exercise. Her face never lost its look of strong resolution. At length, true to her acting, she moved her head sleepily, sighed heavily, and relapsed into silent breathing as a sleeper might. It was the acting of a true artist.
Half an hour more of silence upon her bed, and she crept off noiselessly; she lifted the corner of the window-curtain and looked out. There was not a light to be seen in any of the houses within sight, there was not a sound to be heard except the foam at the foot of the falls, the lapping of the nearer river, and the voice of a myriad crickets in the grass. She opened the window silently.
"Bart," she whispered. Then a little louder, "Bart—Bart Toyner."
The one thing that she wanted just then was to be alone, and of all people in the world Toyner was the man whom she least wanted to meet. Yet she called him. She got out of the window and took a few paces on one side and on the other in the darkness, still calling his name in a voice of soft entreaty. In his old drunken days she had scorned him. She scorned him now more than ever, but she still believed that her call would never reach his ear in vain. In this hour of her extremity she must make sure of his absence by running the risk of having to endure his nearer presence. When she knew that he was not there, she took a bundle from inside the room, shut down the window through which she had escaped, and wrapping her head and hands in a thin black shawl such as Indian women drape themselves with, she sped off over the dark grass to the river.
Overhead, the stars sparkled in a sky that seemed almost black. The houses and trees, the thick scrubby bushes and long grass, were just visible in all the shades of monochrome that night produces.
In a few minutes she was beyond all the houses, gliding through a wood by the river. The trees were high and black, and there was a faint musical sound of wind in them. She heard it as she heard everything. More than once she stopped, not fearful, but watching. She must have looked like the spirit of primeval silence as she stood at such moments, lifting her shawl from her head to listen; then she went on. She knew where a boat had by chance been left that day; it was a small rough boat, lying close under the roots of a pine tree, and tied to its trunk. In this she bestowed her bundle, and untying the string, pushed from the shore. She could hardly see the opposite side of the little Ahwewee in the darkness; she rowed at once into the midst of its rapid current; once there, she dipped her oars to steer rather than to propel. She travelled swiftly with the black stream.
For half an hour or more she was only intent upon steering her boat. Then, when she had come about three miles from the falls, she was in still water, and began rowing with all her strength to make the boat shoot forward as rapidly as before.
The water was as still now as if the river had widened and deepened into an inland sea; yet in the darkness to all appearance the river was as narrow, the outline of the trees on either side appearing black and high just within sight. When the moon rose this mystery of nature was revealed, for the river was a lake, spreading far and wide on either side. The lake was caused by dams built farther down the stream, and the forest that had covered the ground before still reared itself above the water, the bare dead trees standing thick, except in the narrow, winding passage of the original stream.
The moon rose large, very large indeed, and very yellow. There was smoke of distant forest fires in the dry hot air, which turned the moon as golden as a pane of amber glass. There was no fear of fire in the forest through which the boat was passing other than that cold pretence of yellow flames, the broken reflections of the moon on the wet mirror in which the trees were growing. These trees would not burn; they had been drowned long ago! They stood up now like corpses or ghosts, rising from the deathly flood, lifeless and smooth; ghastly, in that they retained the naked shape that they had had when alive. To the east the reflection of the moon was seen for a mile or more under their grey outstretched branches, and on all sides its light penetrated, showing through what a strange dead wilderness the one small fragile boat was travelling.
Very little of the feeling of the place entered the mind of the girl who was working at her oars with such strong, swift strokes. Every day through the ten or fifteen miles of the dead forest a little snorting steamboat passed, bearing market produce and passengers. The smoke of its funnel had blasted all sense of the weird picturesqueness of the place in the minds of the inhabitants, that is, they were accustomed to it, and sentiment in most hearts is slowly killed by use and wont, as this forest had been killed by the encroaching water. Ann Markham's was not a mind which harboured very much sentiment at that period of her life; it was a keen, quick-witted, practical mind. She was not afraid of the solitude of the night, or of the strange shapes and lights and shadows about her. Now that she knew for certain that she was alone and unpursued, she was for the time quite satisfied.
A mile more down the windings of the lake, and Ann began counting the trees between certain landmarks. Then into an opening between the trees which could not have been observed by a casual glance she steered her boat, and worked it on into a little open passage-way among their trunks. The way widened as she followed it, and then closed again. Where the passage ended, one great tree had fallen, and its trunk with upturned branches was lying, wedged between two standing trunks, in an almost horizontal position. On it a man was sitting, a wild, miserable figure of a man, who looked as if he might have been some savage being who was at home there, but who spoke in a language too vicious and profane for any savage.
He leaned out from his branch as far as he dared, and welcomed the girl with curses because she had not come sooner, because it was now the small hours of the night and he had expected her in the evening.
"Be quiet, father," said the girl; "what's the use of talking like that!" Then she held the boat under the tree and helped him to slip down into it, where, in spite of his rage, he stretched his legs with an evident animal satisfaction. He wallowed in the straitened liberty that the boat gave, lying down in the bottom and gently kicking out his cramped limbs, while the girl held tight to the trees, steadying the boat with her feet.
It was this power of taking an evident sensual satisfaction in such small luxuries as he was able to obtain that had alone attached Markham to his daughter. His character belonged to a type found both among men and women; it was a nature entirely selfish and endowed with an instinctive art in working upon the unselfish sentiments of others—an art which even creates unselfishness in other selfish beings.
"I came as soon as I could," she said. "I suppose you did not want me to put Toyner on your track."
"Yee owe," said the wretched man, stretching himself luxuriously. "I've been a-standin' up and a-sittin' down and a-standin' up since last night, an'——" Here he suddenly remembered something. He sat up and looked round fearfully.
"When it got dark before the moon came I saw the devil! One! I think there was half a dozen of them! I saw them comin' at me in the air. I'd have gone mad if they hadn't gone off when the moon rose."
"Lie still, father, until I give you something to eat," she said.
While she was unfastening her bundle, she looked about her, and saw how the spaces of shadow between the grey branches might easily seem to take solid form and weird shape to a brain that was fevered with excitement of crime and of flight and enforced vigil. She had a painful thing to tell this man—that she could not, as she had hoped, release him from his desperate prison that night; but she did not tell him until she had fed him first and given him drink too. She insisted upon his taking the food first. It was highly seasoned, beef with mustard upon it, and pickles. All the while he watched her hand with thirsty eye. When he had gulped his food to please her, she produced a small bottle. He cursed her when he saw its size, but all the same he held out his hand for it eagerly and drank its contents, shutting his eyes with satisfaction and licking his lips.
All this time she was steadying the boat by holding on to a tree with a strong arm.
"Now it's hard on you, father, but you'll have to stay here another night. Down at The Mills they're watching for you, and it would be sure death for you to try and get through the swamp, even if I could take you in the boat to the edge anywhere."
The man, who had been entirely absorbed with eating and drinking and stretching himself, now gave a low howl of anguish; then he struggled to his knees and shook his fist in her face. "By —— I'll throw you out of this 'ere boat, I will; what do yer come tellin' me such a thing as that for? Don't yer know I'd liefer die—don't yer know that?" He brought his fist nearer and nearer to her eyes. "Don't yer know that?"
It appeared that he would have struck her, but by a dexterous twist of her body and a pull upon the tree she jerked the boat so that he lost his balance, not entirely, but enough to make him right himself with care and sit down again, realising for the time being that it was she who was mistress of this question—who should be thrown out of the boat and drowned.
"Of course I'll row you to The Mills, if it's to jail you want to go; but Walker is pretty bad, they say. I think it'll be murder they'll bring you up for; and it ain't no sort of use trying to prove that you didn't do it!"
The miserable man put his dirty knotted hands before his face and howled again. But even that involuntary sound was furtive lest any one should hear. He might have shrieked and roared with all the strength that was in him—there was no human ear within reach—but the instinct of cowardice kept him from making any more noise than was necessary to rend and break the heart of the woman beside him,—that, although he was only half conscious of it, was his purpose in crying. He had a fiendish desire to make her suffer for bringing him such news.
Ann was not given to feeling for others, yet now it was intense suffering to her to see him shaking, writhing, moving like a beast in pain. She did not think of it as her suffering; she transferred it all to him, and supposed that it was the realisation of his misery that she experienced.
At last she said: "There's one fellow up to the falls that knows a track through the north of the marsh to sound ground; I heard him tell it one day how he'd found it out. It's that David Brown that's been coming round to see Christa. Christa can get the chart he made from him by to-morrow night—I know she can. I'll try to be here earlier than I was to-night. And I brought you strips of stuff, father, so that you could tie yourself on to the tree and have a sort of a sleep; and I brought a few drops of morphia, just enough to make you feel sleepy and stupid, and make the time pass a bit quicker."
For a long while he writhed and cried, telling her that it took all the wits that he had to keep awake enough to keep the devils off him without taking stuff to make him sleep, and that he was sure she'd never come back, and that he would very likely be left on the tree to rot or to fall into the water.
All that he said came so near to being true that it caused her the utmost pain to hear it. He was clever enough by instinct, not by thought, to know that mere idle cries could not torture her as did the true picture of the fears and dangers that encompassed him in his wild hiding-place. The endurance of this torture exhausted her as nothing had ever exhausted her before; yet all the time she never doubted but that the pain was his, and that she was merely a spectator.
She soothed him at last, not by gentleness and caresses—no such communication ever passed between them—but by plain, practical, hopeful suggestions spoken out clearly in the intervals of his whining. At length she esteemed it time to use the spur instead of stroking him any longer. "Get up on the tree, father, and I will give you the rest of the things when you are fixed on the branch. If Toyner's stirring again before I get home, he'll find means to keep me from coming to-morrow night. Climb up now. I'll give you the things. There—there isn't enough of the morphia drops to get you to sleep, only to make you feel easy; and here's the strips of blanket I've sewed together to tie yourself on with. It's nice and soft—climb up now and fix yourself. It's Toyner that will catch me, and you too, if I don't get back. Look at the moon—near the middle of the sky."
She established him upon the branch again with the comforts that she had promised, and then she gave him one thing more, of which she had not spoken before. It was a bag of food that would last, if need be, for several days.
He took it as evidence that she had lied to him in her assurance that she could return the next night. As she moved her boat out of the secret openings among the dead trees, she heard him whining with fear and calling a volley of curses after her.
That her father's words were all profane did not trouble Ann in the least. It was a meaningless trick of speech. Markham meant no more at this time by his most shocking oaths than does any man by his habitual expletive. Ann knew this perfectly. God knew it too.
Yet if his profanity was mechanical, the man himself was without trace of good. There was much reason that Ann's heart should be wrung with pity. It is the divine quality of kinship that it produces pity even for what is purely evil. Ann rowed her boat homeward with a hard determination in her heart to save her father at any cost.
An hour later the small solitary boat crept up the current of the moonlit river. The weary girl plied her oars, looking carefully for the nook under the roots of the old pine whence she had taken the boat.
She saw the place. She even glanced anxiously about the ground immediately around it, thinking that in the glamour of light she could see everything; and yet in that rapid glance, deluded, no doubt, into supposing the light greater than it was, she failed to see a man who was standing ready to help her to moor the boat.
Bart Toyner watched her with a look of haggard anxiety as she came nearer.
A uniform is a useful thing. It is almost natural to an actor to play his part when he has assumed its dress. A man in any official capacity is often just an actor, and the best thing that he can do at times is to act without a thought as to how his inner self accords with the action, at least till we have attained to a higher level of civilisation. Toyner had no uniform, nor had he mastered the philosophy that underlies this instinct for playing a part; he had an idea that the whole mind and soul of him should be in conscientious accord with all that he did. It was this ideal that made his fall certain.
He had no notion that the girl had not seen him. Before she got out, when she put her hand to tether the boat, she felt his hand gently taking the rope from her and fell back with a cry of fear.
In her wearied state she could have sobbed with disappointment. How much had he discovered? If he knew nothing more than merely that she had returned with the boat, how could it be possible to elude him and come again the next night? She thought of her father, and her heart was full of pity; she thought that her own plans were baffled, and she was enraged. Both sentiments fused into keener hatred of Toyner; but she remembered—yes, even then she remembered quite clearly and distinctly—that if the worst came to the worst and she could save her father in no other way, she had one weapon in reserve, one in which she had perfect faith.
It was for this reason that she sat still for a minute in the boat, looking up at Toyner, trying to pry into his attitude toward her. At the end of the minute he put out his hand to lift her up, and she leaned upon it.
Without hesitation she began to thread her way through the wood toward home, and he walked by her side. He might have been escorting her from a dance, so quietly they walked together, except that the question of a man's life or death which lay between them seemed to surround them with a strange atmosphere.
At length Bart spoke. "I don't know where you have been," he said. "I have been patrolling the shore all night." He paused awhile. "I thought you were safe at home."
She stopped short and turned upon him. "Look here! what are you going to do now? It's a pretty mean sort of business this you've taken to, sneaking round your old friends to do them all the harm you can."
"It's the first time I knew that you'd ever been a friend of mine, Ann." He said this in a sort of sad aside, and then: "You've sense enough to know that when a man shoots another man he's got to be found and shut up for the good of the country and for his own good too. It's the kindest thing that can be done to a man sometimes, shutting him up in jail." He said this last quite as much by way of explanation to himself as to her.
"Or hanging him," she suggested sarcastically.
He paused a moment. "I hope he won't come to that."
"But you'll do all you can to catch him, knowing that it's like to come to that. What's the good of hoping?"
He had only said it to soothe her. He had another self-justification.
"I can only do what I have to do: it is not me that will decide whether Walker dies or not. At any rate, it ain't no use to justify it to you. It's natural that you should look upon me as an enemy just now; but all the police in the country are more your enemies than I am. You've got him off now, I suppose; however you've done it I don't pretend to know. It'll be some one else that catches him if he's caught."
She wondered if he was only saying this to try her, or if he really believed that Markham had gone far; yet there was small chance even then that he would cease to watch her the next night and the next. He had shown both resolution and diligence in this business—qualities, as far as she knew, so foreign to his character that she smiled bitterly.
"A nice sort of thing religion is, to get out of the mire yourself and spend your time kicking your old friends further in!"
Now the fugitive had been never a friend to Toyner, except in the sense that he had done more than any one else to lead him into low habits and keep him there. He had, in fact, been his greatest enemy; but that, according to Toyner's new notions, was the more reason for counting him a friend, not the less.
"Well, I grant 'tain't a very grand sort of business being constable," he said; "to be a preacher 'ud be finer perhaps; but this came to hand and seemed the thing for me to do. It ain't kicking men in the mire to do all you can to stop them making beasts of themselves."
He stood idling in the moonlight as he justified himself to this woman. Surely it was only standing by his new colours to try to make his position seem right to her. He had no hope in it—no hope of persuading her, least of all of bringing her nearer to him; if he had had that, his dallying would have seemed sinful, because it would have chimed so perfectly with all his natural desires.
Ann took up her theme again fiercely. "Look here, Bart Toyner; I want to know one thing, honour bright—that is," scornfully, "if you care about honour now that you've got religion."
He gave a silent sarcastic smile, such as one would bestow upon a naughty, ignorant child. "Well, at least as much as I did before," he said.
"Well, then, I want to know if you're a-going to stop spying on me now that father has got well off? There ain't no cause nor reason for you to hang about me any longer. You know what my life has been, and you know that through it all I've kept myself like a lady. It ain't nice, knowing as people do that you came courting once, 'tain't nice to have you hanging round in this way."
He knew quite well that the reason she gave for objecting to his spying was not the true one. He had enough insight into her character, enough knowledge of her manner and the modulations in her voice, to have a pretty true instinct as to when she was lying and when she was not; but he did not know that the allusion to the time when he used to court her was thrown out to produce just what it did in him, a tender recollection of his old hopes.
"Until Markham is arrested, you know, and every one else at Fentown knows, that it is my duty to see that you don't communicate with him. You've fooled me to-night, and I'll have to keep closer watch; but if you don't want me to do the watching, I can pay another man."
She had hoped faintly that he would have shown himself less resolute; now there was only one thing to be done. After all, she had known for days that she might be obliged to do it.
"I wouldn't take it so hard, Bart, if it was any one but you," she said softly. She went on to say other things of this sort which would make it appear that there was in her heart an inward softness toward him which she had never yet revealed. With womanly instinct she played her little part well and did not exaggerate; but she was not speaking now to the man of drug-weakened mind and over-stimulated sense whom she had known in former years.
He spoke with pain and shame in his voice and attitude. "There isn't anything that I could do for you, Ann, that I wouldn't do as it is, without you pretending that way."
She did not quite take it in at first that she could not deceive him.
"I thought you used to care about me," she said; "I thought perhaps you did yet; I thought perhaps"—she put well-feigned shyness into her tone—"that you weren't the sort that would turn away from us just because of what father has done. All the other folks will, of course. I'm pretty much alone."
"I won't help you to break the laws, Ann. Law and righteousness is the same for the most part. Your feeling as a daughter leads you the other way, of course; but it ain't no good—it won't do any good to him in the long run, and it would be wrong for me to do anything but just what I ought to do as constable. When that's done we can talk of being friends if you like, but don't go acting a lie with the hope of getting the better of me. It hurts me to see you do it, Ann."
For the first time there dawned in her mind a new respect for him, but that did not alter her desperate resolve. She had been standing before him in the moonlight with downcast face; now she suddenly threw up her head with a gesture that reminded him of the way a drowning man throws up his hands.
"You've been wanting to convert me," she said. "You want me to sign the pledge, and to stop going to dances and playing cards, and to bring up Christa that way."
All the thoughts that he had had since his reform of what he could do for this girl and her sister if she would only let him came before his heart now, lit through and through with the light of his love that at that moment renewed its strength with a power which appalled him.
She took a few steps nearer to him.
"Father didn't mean to do any harm," she whispered hastily; "he's got no more sin on his soul than a child that gets angry and fights for what it wants. He's just like a child, father is; but it's been a lesson to him, and he'll never do it again. Think of the shame to Christa and me if he was hanged. And I've striven so to keep us respectable—Bart, you know I have. There's no shame in the world like your father being——" (there was a nervous gasp in her throat before she could go on)—"and he'd be awfully frightened. Oh, you don't know how frightened he'd be! If I thought they were going to do that to him, it would just kill me. I'll do anything; I wouldn't mind so much if they'd take me and hang me instead—it wouldn't scare me so much: but father would be just like a child, crying and crying and crying, if they kept him in jail and were going to do that in the end. And then no one would expect Christa and me to have any more fun, and we never would have any. There's a way that you can get father off, Bart, and give him at least one more chance to run for his life. If you'll do it, I'll do whatever you want,—I'll sign the pledge; I'll go to church; I'll teach Christa that way. She and I won't dance any more. You can count on me. You can trust me. You know that when I say a thing I'll do it."
He realised now what had happened to him—a thing that of all things he had learned to dread most,—a desperate temptation. He answered, and his tone and manner gave her no glimpse of the shock of opposing forces that had taken place within a heart that for many months had been dwelling in the calm of victory.
"I cannot do it, Ann."
"Bart Toyner," she said, "I'm all alone in this world; there's not a soul to help me. Every one's against me and against him. Don't turn against me; I need your help—oh, I need it! I never professed to care about you; but if your father was in danger of dying an awful death and you came to me for help, I wouldn't refuse you, you know I wouldn't."
He only spoke now with the wish to conceal from her the panic within; for with the overwhelming desire to yield to her had come a ghastly fear that he was going to yield, and faith and hope fled from him. He saw himself standing there face to face with his idea of God, and this temptation between him and God. The temptation grew in magnitude, and God withdrew His face.
"I know, Ann, it sounds hard about your father" (mechanically); "but you must try and think how it would be if he was lying wounded like Walker and some other man had done it. Wouldn't you think the law was in the right then?"
"No!" (quickly). "If father'd got a simple wound, and could be nursed and taken care of comfortably until he died, I wouldn't want any man to be hanged for it. It's an awful, awful thing to be hanged."
She waited a moment, and he did not speak. The lesser light of night is fraught with illusions. She thought that she saw him there quite plainly standing quiet and indifferent. She was so accustomed to his appearance—the carefulness of his dress, the grave eyes, and the thin, drooping moustache—that her mind by habit filled in these details which she did not in reality see; nor did she see the look of agonised prayer that came and went across the habitual reserve of his face.
"Can't you believe what I say, Bart? I say that I will give up dancing and selling beer, and sign the pledge, and dress plain, and go to church. I say I will do it and Christa will do it; and you can teach us all you've a mind to, day in and day out, and we'll learn if we can. Isn't it far better to save Christa and me—two souls, than to hunt one poor man to death? Don't you believe that I'll do what I promise? I'll go right home now and give it to you in writing, if you like."
"I do believe you, Ann." He stopped to regain the steadiness of his voice. He had had training in forcing his voice in the last few months, for he hated to bear verbal testimony to his religious beliefs, and yet he had taught himself to do it. He succeeded in speaking steadily now, in the same strong voice in which he had learnt to pray at meetings. It was not exactly his natural voice. It sounded sanctimonious and ostentatious, but that was because he was forced to conceal that his heart within him was quaking. "I do believe that you would do what you say, Ann; but it isn't right to do evil that good may come."
He did not appeal to her pity; he did not try to tell her what it cost him to refuse. If he could have made her understand that, she might have been turned from her purpose. He realised only the awful weakness and wickedness of his heart. He seemed to see those appetites which, up to a few months before, had possessed him like demons, hovering near him in the air, and he seemed to see God holding them back from him, but only for so long as he resisted this temptation.
To her he said aloud: "I cannot do it, Ann. In God's strength I cannot and will not do it."
Within his heart he seemed to be shouting aloud to Heaven: "My God, I will not do it, I will not do it. Oh, my God!" He turned his back upon her and went quickly to the village, only looking to see that at some distance she followed him, trudging humbly as a squaw walks behind her Indian, as far as her own door.
When one drops one's plummet into life anywhere it falls the whole length of the line we give it. The man who can give his plummet the longest line is he who realises most surely that it has not touched the bottom.
Bart Toyner betook himself to prayer. He had learned from his friend the preacher that when a man is tempted he must pray until he is given the victory, and then, calm and steadfast, go out to face the world again. If Toyner's had been a smaller soul, the need of his life would have imperatively demanded then that just what he expected to happen to him should happen, and in some mysterious way no doubt it would have happened.
When we quietly observe religious life exactly as it is, without the bias of any theory, there are two constantly recurring facts which, taken together, excite deep astonishment: the fact that small minds easily attain to a certainty of faith to which larger minds attain more slowly and with much greater distress; and also the fact that the happenings of life do actually come in exact accordance to a man's faith—faith being not the mere expectation that a thing is going to take place, but the inner eye that sees into the heart of things, and knows that its desire must inevitably take place, and why. This sort of faith, be it in a tiny or great nature, comes triumphantly in actual fact to what it predicts; but the little heart comes to it easily and produces trivial prayers, while the big heart, thinking to arrive with the same ease at the same measure of triumph, is beaten back time and time and again.
Probably the explanation is that the smaller mind has not the same germinating power; there is not enough in it to cause the long, slow growth of root and stem, and therefore it soon puts forth its little blossom. These things all happen, of course, according to eternal law of inward development; they are not altered by any force from without, because nothing is without: the sun that makes the daisy to blossom is just that amount of sun that it absorbs into itself, and so with the acorn or the pine-cone. These latter, however, do not produce any bright immediate blossom, though they ultimately change the face of all that spot of earth by the spread of their roots and branches.
After praying a long time Bart Toyner relapsed into meditation, endeavouring to contemplate those attributes of his God which might bring him the strength which he had not yet attained, and just here came to him the subtlest and strongest reinforcement to all those arguments which were chiming together upon what appeared to him the side of evil. The God in whom he had learned to trust was a God who, moved by pity, had come out of His natural path to give a chance of salvation to wicked men by the sacrifice of Himself. To what did he owe his own rescue but to this special adjustment of law made by God? and how then was it right for him to adhere to the course the regular law imposed on him and to hunt down Markham? If he saved Markham, he would answer to the law for his own breach of duty—this would be at least some sacrifice. Was not this course a more God-like one?
There was one part of Toyner that spoke out clearly and said that his duty was exactly what he had esteemed it to be before Ann Markham appealed to him. He believed this part of him to be his conscience.
All the rest of him slowly veered round to thoughts of mercy rather than legal duty; he thought of Ann and Christa with hard, godless hearts, surrounded by every form of folly and sin, and he believed that Ann would keep her promise to him, and that different surroundings would give them different souls. Yet he felt convinced that God and conscience forbade this act of mercy.
One thing he was as certain of now as he had been at the beginning—that if he disobeyed God, God would leave him to the power of all his evil appetites; he felt already that his heart gave out thoughts of affection to his old evil life.
As the hours passed he began to realise that he would need to disobey God. He found himself less and less able to face the thought of giving up this rare opportunity of winning Ann's favour and an influence over her—moral influence at least; his mind was clear enough to see that what was gained by disobeying God's law was from a religious point of view nil. In his mind was the beginning of a contempt for God's way of saving him. If he was to win his own soul by consigning Ann and her father to probable perdition, he did not want to win it.
The August morning came radiant and fresh; the air, sharp with a touch of frost from neighbouring hills, bore strength and lightness for every creature. The sunlight was gay on the little wooden town, on its breezy gardens and wastes of flowering weeds, on the descent of the foaming fall, on the clear brown river. Even the sober wood of ash and maple glistened in the morning light, and the birds sang songs that in countries where a longer summer reigns are only heard in spring-time.
Bart Toyner went out of the house exhausted and almost hopeless. The source of his strength had failed within him. He looked forward to defeat.
As it happened Toyner's official responsibility for Markham's arrest was to be lightened. The Crown Attorney for the county had already communicated with the local government, and a detective had been sent, who arrived that morning by the little steamboat. Before Toyner realised the situation he found himself in consultation with the new-comer as to the best means of seeking Markham. Did the perfect righteousness require that he should betray Ann's confidence and state that Markham was in hiding somewhere within reach? Bart looked the question for a moment in the face, and trembled before it. Then he set it aside unanswered, resolved on reticence, whether it was right or wrong.
The detective, finding that Toyner had no clue to report, soon went to drink Ann's beer, on business intent. Bart kept sedulously apart from this interview. When it was over the stranger took Toyner by the arm and told him privately that he was convinced that the young woman knew nothing whatever about the prisoner, and as Markham had been gone now forty-eight hours it was his opinion that it was not near Fentown that he would be found.
This communication was made to Toyner in the public-house, where they had both gone the better to discuss their affairs. Toyner had gone in labouring under horrible emotion. He believed that he was going to get drunk, and the result of his fear was that he broke his pledge, giving as an excuse to the by-standers that he felt ill. Yet he did not get drunk.
Toyner saw the detective depart by the afternoon boat, and as he walked back upon the bit of hot dusty road in the sun he reeled, not with the spirits he had taken, but with the sickening sense that his battle was lost.
Nothing seemed fair to him, nothing attractive, but to drink one more glass of spirits, and to go and make promises to Ann that would be sweet to her ear. He knew that for him it was the gate of death.
At this point the minister met him, and jumped at once to the conclusion that he was drunk. The minister was one of those good men who found their faith in God upon absolute want of faith in man. His heart was better than his head, as is the case with all small-minded souls that have come into conscious contact with God, but his opinions ruled his official conduct. "I am afraid you have been drinking, Toyner," he said reproachfully.
The first three words, "I am afraid," were enough for Bart; he was filled himself with an all-pervading fear—a fear of himself, a fear of God, a fear of the devil who would possess him again. He was not drunk; the fact that drunkenness in him appeared so likely to this man, who was the best friend he had, completed in his heart the work of revolt against the minister and the minister's God. What right had God to take him up and clothe him and keep him in his right mind for a little while, just to let him fall at the first opportunity? It was quite true that he had deserved it, no doubt; he had done wrong, and he was going to do wrong; but God, who had gone out of His way to mercifully convert him and keep him straight for a while, could certainly have gone on keeping him if He had chosen. His mind was a logical one. He had been taught to praise God for some extraordinary favour towards him; he had been taught that the grace which had changed his life for good was in no degree his own; and why then was he to bear all the disgrace of his return to evil?
In the next hours he walked the streets of the town, and talked to other men when need was, and did a little business on his own account in the agency in which he was engaged, and went home and took supper, watching the vagaries of his father's senile mania with more than common pity for the old man. His own wretchedness gave him an aching heart of sympathy for all the sorrow of others which came across his mind that day.
The whole day was a new revelation to him of what tenderness for others could be and ought to be.
He did not hope to attain to any working out of this higher sympathy and pity himself. The wonderful confidence which his new faith had so long given him, that he was able in God's strength to perform the higher rather than the lower law of his nature, had ebbed away. God's strength was no longer with him; he was going to the devil; he could do nothing for himself, little for others; but he sympathised as never before with all poor lost souls. He was a little surprised, as the day wore to a close, that he had been able to control his craving, that he had not taken more rum. Still, he knew that he would soon be helpless. It was his doom, for he could awake in himself no further feeling of repentance or desire to return to God.
In the long day's struggle, half conscious and half unconscious, his love for Ann—and it was not a bad sort of love either—had triumphed over what principle he had; it had survived the sudden shock that had wrecked his faith. The hell which he was experiencing was intolerable now, because of the heaven which he had seen, and he could not forgive the God who had ordained it. The unreal notion that an omnipotent God can permit what He does not ordain could have no weight with him, for he was grappling with reality. As he brooded bitterly upon his own fate, his heart became enlarged with tenderness for all other poor helpless creatures like himself who were under the same misrule.
His resolution was taken—he would use his sobriety to help Ann. It would not profit himself, but still he would win from her the promise concerning her future life and Christa's which she had offered him, and he would go that night and do all that a man could do to help the poor wretch to whom his heart went out with ever-increasing pity. It would not be much, but he would do what he could, and after that he would tell the authorities what he had done and give up his office. He had a very vague notion of the penalties he would incur; if they put him in prison, so much the better—it might save him a little longer from drinking himself to death.
Like an honest man he had given up attempting to pull God round to his own position. He did not now think for a moment that the act of love and mercy which possessed his soul was a pious one; his motive he believed to be solely his pity for Markham and his love for Ann, which, being natural, he supposed to be selfish, and, being selfish, he knew to be unholy.
It had all come to this, then—his piety, his reformation, his prayers, his thanksgiving, his faith. His heart within him gave a sneering laugh. He was terribly to blame, of course—he was a reprobate; but surely God was to blame too!
Ann Markham's thoughts of Bart that day were chiefly wondering thoughts. She tried to think scornfully of his refusal to help her; theoretically she derided the religion that produced the refusal, but in the bottom of her heart she looked at it with a wonder that was akin to admiration. Then there was a question whether he would remain fixed in his resolution. If this man did not love her then Ann's confidence failed her in respect to her judgment of what was or was not; for though she had regarded him always as a person of not much strength or importance, not independent enough to be anything more than the creature of the woman whom he desired to marry, yet, curiously enough, she had believed that his love for her had a strength that would die hard. She did not stop to ask herself how it could be that a weak man could love her strongly. Love, in any constant and permanent sense of the word, was an almost unknown quality among her companions, and yet she had attributed it to Bart. Well! his refusal of last night proved that she had been mistaken—that was all. But possibly the leaven of her proposal would work, and he would repent and come back to her. The fact that he had evidently not betrayed her to the detective gave her hope of this. Her thoughts about Toyner were only subordinate to the question, how she was to rescue her father. With the light and strength of the morning, hope in other possibilities of eluding Bart, even if he remained firm, came back to her. She would at least work on; if she was baffled in the end, it would be time enough to despair. Her sister was not her confidante, she was her tool.
Ann waited until the shadow of the pear tree, which with ripening fruit overhung the gable of their house, stretched itself far down the bit of weedy grass that sloped to the river. The grass plot was wholly untended, but nature had embroidered it with flowers and ferns.