The next saddest thing to having no children is having only one.
Parental sorrows are to be classified as follows. First, and greatest,
if you haven’t any; second, if you have only one. For there is no
loneliness like the forlornness of a solitary bairn, to use a term of
which Gordon was very fond; born to play, yet having none to play with;
in need of chastening, yet denied the discipline of other children;
hungry for fellowship, yet starving among its seniors. There is no
desert so waste and weary as the Sahara that surrounds a solitary child.
Life has few moments of surpassing thrill and wonder. Yet there are
some; and the loveliest thing about it all is this, that wealth cannot
buy them, nor genius create them, nor rank command them. The
impartialness of God is beautiful. A few of the superfluities do seem
to be a little unevenly distributed–but the great holy luxuries of
life are as freely vouchsafed the peasant as the king. The glory and
the beauty of life itself; the shelter of a mother’s arms and the
deeper shelter of her heart; the first dismantling kiss of love; the
earliest glimpse of your first-born’s face–these are for the ploughman
as well as the poet or the prince.
And there is another moment when life’s so often tawny tide glows with
the very light of heaven. It came to me and Gordon the day he led
little Harold in, to look upon his sister’s face. Ah, me! the tears
start even yet when I recall the sacred scene. I was lying there, so
weak, so happy. The slumbering babe lay beside me, gurgling now and
then those mysterious sounds that a mother’s heart translates so
readily. I heard them coming–Harold and his father–the strong tread
mingling musically with the patter of the little feet. Up the stairs
they came, hand in hand along the hall, little Harold puffing with
excitement, for he knew something wonderful was to be revealed. I
raised my head and saw them as they entered the room.
Oh, my son, my son! why did I not value more those days of the dear
childish face, as I saw it then? Why did I not realize that the
sterner days were coming when those sweet features were to be buffeted
by sorrow and assailed by sin? I see him now, the little torn straw
hat above the neglected locks–for children _will_ run to seed when the
mother is withdrawn–the plump, ruddy cheeks, all stained from the sand
pile on the lawn, the dampness on the little forehead, the besmirched
but becoming frock; and the eyes, wonderful eyes, so sober, so
inquisitive, searching curiously for the unknown, breaking into shy
laughter as they fell on me; the pudgy hand, quickly withdrawn from his
father’s; then the little frame, one half-bare leg dangling in the air,
lifted high as Gordon held him up. I feel again the tremble in my
fingers as I pulled back the shawl from about his sister’s head, and
see again the long look of wonder as my son gazed down upon the baby’s
face; I see the tiny throat swallow once or twice as his emotion
gathered, and think of the vast realm in his heart that even his father
and I cannot explore. Once again I see the refusing nod–his golden
curls shaken the while–when I tell him to kiss his baby sister; his
brooding eyes turned to mine, the outstretched arms, the rosy lips
coming down to mine to be kissed; and I catch the mist in Gordon’s
eyes, my own swimming with tender joy, even as they are overflowing now
so that I can hardly see to write.
The years flew swiftly by, unmarked by incident of note, but full of
simple joy. Harold was well on his way in school–clever, like his
father–and his sister had left the days of babyhood behind, when a new
influence came into our quiet lives, a new Life into our little circle.
It was our daughter’s birthday night, and Gordon had asked some friends
to dinner. For, as I should have said before, he was simply crazy
about Dorothy, which was the name we had bestowed upon our daughter–it
had been my mother’s. Nobody need tell me that a father’s master
passion is anything else than his first-born girl. Lots of men
dissemble, I know, and profess to hold all their children in equal
affection–but it’s simply moonshine. If I’m a specialist in anything,
it’s children; and I have satisfied myself over and over again that a
father, nineteen times out of twenty, is the bondsman of his eldest
daughter. Dorothy looked like me; and I have a theory, which some
cleverer brain will have to work out, that Gordon got her kind of mixed
up with his sweetheart feelings, and loved the me that was in her, and
the her that was in me. Anyhow, he was simply crazy about her, as I
have said–and for years I thought it quite unfair how he made Harold
play second fiddle for Her Majesty the Baby. And yet, strange though
it sound, Harold was his very life–but we shall hear of this before my
tale is told.
Well, as I have reported, Gordon must have a dinner party. It was to
be in honour of Dorothy’s original arrival, he said. So we invited
some of the very nicest people in the church, some of the most clever
and refined, and some of the unspoiled rich. (I believe the grand
folks of St. Andrew’s were coming to think more of Gordon every day.)
And I got up the loveliest little dinner, with Harriet’s aid of course,
for she was as proud of Dorothy as we were ourselves.
The dinner was just in mid-career, and everything was going splendidly,
when all of a sudden Harriet came to the dining-room door and beckoned
to me. I could see by her face that it was something important.
“There’s an old man here,” she said as the door closed behind us, “and
I thought I ought to call you–he says he’s related.”
“Related!” I echoed, “related to whom?”
“To Dr. Laird, ma’am,” Harriet answered.
I knew there must be some mistake, since Gordon’s relatives were all
across the sea; besides, he had hardly any that I knew of, except his
I hurried out to the kitchen. As I entered, I saw the figure of a man
well advanced in years; tall he was above the ordinary, but evidently
stooped with toil. He rose from his chair as I approached, and bowed
with a kind of native grace. Then he turned his face to mine and
looked me over with one of the steadiest pairs of eyes that ever
belonged to mortal. They were deeply set, keen and bright; high cheek
bones on either side; ruddy complexion, significant of health; great
wavy folds of snowy hair fell almost to his shoulders, those shoulders
wrapped in a kind of grayish plaid; flowing beard, white as the locks
above. His nose was prominent and strong, the mouth delicate, and
firmly set, as though he had a mind of his own and knew how to use it.
His clothes were coarse and plain, such as I fancied were worn by the
peasants overseas; homespun stuff, I saw; and a flannel shirt, partly
open, disclosed a sunburnt throat. He came forward and held out his
hand, which I noticed was hard and rough, its clasp firm and strong;
the other hand held a long staff, crooked at the top; a bundle, wrapped
in a kind of shawl, lay at his feet.
“Is this the guidwife o’ the hoose?” he asked, in a strong Scottish
voice; “micht ye be Gordon’s wife?”
I acknowledged that I was, my tone indicating that I wouldn’t mind
knowing who he was.
“I’m his faither,” he said simply; “this’ll be a graun’ surprise to
Gordon. Is he ben the hoose?” indicating the dining-room by a nod of
“Yes,” I said–“I’ll call him out,” my eyes fixed in a kind of
fascination on the face and form before me. This was a new type to me;
unfamiliar enough, but decidedly picturesque withal.
“I wunner will he ken me?” the old man said, a twinkle in his eye.
“It’s mony a lang day sin’ he gaed awa’. But he’ll mebbe be busy? Is
there some o’ his congregation wi’ him?” for he heard the sound of
“Oh, no,” I said, “he can come all right–we’re just having dinner.”
“Mercy on us!” cried the stranger, “but ye’re late wi’ yir dinner; ha’e
ye no’ had onythin’ sin’ breakfast?”
I smiled, turning towards the door to call my husband. But he had
evidently heard our voices, or something else had prompted him to come
out, for he was already on his way to the kitchen. I stood silent, and
his eyes turned upon the stranger. They rested there, it seemed to me,
a good half minute before a sound escaped his lips. Then with a loud
cry he leaped forward, holding out his arms. The hunger on the older
face was pitiful to see. Sometimes clasping Gordon tight to his bosom,
sometimes holding him back a little to look upon his face, the father
heart seemed unable to drink its fill.
“Where did you come from, father?” Gordon asked, when speech at length
“I cam’ frae Scotland–where else?” his father answered, “richt frae
the hills. An’ I didna’ let ye ken–I thocht ‘twad be a bonnie
surprise to ye. I landed at Montreal last nicht, an’ then I cam’ richt
on. Whaur’s the bairns?”
“They’re inside,” said Gordon; “you’ll see them in a minute.” Then
followed a few minutes of swift questioning and answering. “But come
on in with us now,” Gordon suddenly broke in, taking his father’s arm
as he spoke, “come, till I introduce you to my friends–come, Helen.”
I slipped behind the older man; and then, in Indian file, Gordon
leading, we returned to our wondering guests. A fine procession, too,
we must have made; Gordon in his spotless evening dress, I in my very
finest–and between us, tall and stooped, his white locks shaking as he
walked, his eagle eye fixing itself half defiantly and half appealingly
upon the upturned faces, stood Gordon’s father in his homespun, the
Scotch shawl still about his shoulders, the huge safety-pin that held
it gleaming in the brilliant light.
Gordon introduced him to every guest: “My father,” he said to each, and
no one could fail to see the radiance on his face. Then the old man
was given a seat at Gordon’s right, the arrears of dinner were brought
quickly in, and in a moment our new visitor was the centre of
attraction. Before taking his seat he stooped and kissed both the
children, looking at them earnestly, then at their father, “The
laddie’s like yir mither, Gordon,” he said, his voice trembling a
little; “aye, he’s got Elsie’s mouth,” wherewith he kissed him again,
the lad looking up in wonder. “The wee lassie favours yirsel’, Mrs.
“My name’s Helen,” I said quietly.
The strong face glowed with pleasure; and I could see what joy my
amendment had given Gordon. “The wee girl has yir ain bonnie face,
Helen,” he corrected, hesitating a little before he spoke my name.
It’s wonderful what homing instincts children have! For a few minutes
later little Dorothy, usually so shy, slipped out of her chair and
stole over beside her grandfather, looking wistfully up into his face.
He took her on his knee, stroking her head with beautiful tenderness.
His plate of soup was now before him, but still Grandfather Laird did
not begin. Finally, in some perplexity, he turned to Gordon. “I’ll
tak’ a wee drappie speerits, Gordon, if you please; I maistly tak’s
juist what ye’d notice afore supper–forbye, I’m tired.”
Gordon flushed, hesitating. “We haven’t such a thing about the house,
father–we really never keep it,” he began in some embarrassment. “It
isn’t much of a custom out here, father.”
The old man sighed as he took up the snow-white napkin beside his
plate, pushing it a little farther away lest it should get soiled.
“I’m dootin’ this country’s no’ juist what it’s thocht to be. The
first mon I clappit my eye on in Montreal, he was a beggar, wi’ a
cup–an’ I thocht everybody had plenty siller in Canady. An’ noo it
seems ye ha’ena’ a drappie aboot the hoose. Weel, it’s nae matter; I
can dae wantin’ it. But I’ll no’ begin wi’oot the blessin’,” he added
gravely. “Wull ye say it, Gordon?” nodding to his reverend son.
“No, father–you say it yourself,” replied Gordon, bowing his head, in
which he was speedily followed by all of us.
Then the old man, his hands outstretched, began a prayer of prodigious
length. Adoration, confession, thanksgiving followed in regular order,
the whole enriched with many a Scriptural quotation. I could not see
the faces of our guests, but I knew right well how mystified they must
A little shy at first, dispensing diffident glances around the company
as they tried to engage him in conversation, the patriarch soon began
to feel with what cordiality we all regarded him. Wherewith he grew
more and more communicative, this being evidently the occasion of his
life; besides, and naturally enough, his heart was full to overflowing.
“It’s hard to tak’ it in, laddie,” he said once or twice, laying down
his knife and fork and turning full round to gaze at Gordon; “to think
we’re baith in Ameriky, and me in yir ain hoose–an’ you sittin’ wi’
yin o’ thae claw-hammer jackets on ye, like the gentry wear. It seems
but the ither day ye were a wee bare-leggit laddie, helpin’ yir faither
mind the sheep. Ye was as gleg as a collie dog. I didna’ think then,
laddie, ye’d ever wag yir heid in a pulpit–but the ways o’ Providence
is wunnerfu’,” as the honest eyes shone with pride and joy.
I saw one of our minor guests titter a little at this. She looked at
Gordon rather as if she were sorry for him; fancied, no doubt, that he
would be in sore straits of embarrassment to have his peasant father
thus presented. But I never was prouder of my husband than I was that
night. I actually felt my eyes grow dim more than once as I remarked
the deference with which Gordon treated his father, so different though
he was from what anybody would have expected. He seemed to delight to
honour him; and while I suppose it was only natural for him to notice
how far from cultured he was–reckoning from our standards–yet I know
he reverenced him in his inmost heart for the unaffected goodness that
none could fail to recognize.
Somebody, taking advantage of a momentary pause, asked the old man
about his voyage.
“Oh,” he began enthusiastically, and I knew by his tone that he was
off; “oh, we had a graun’ time a’thegither. I cam’ i’ the second
cabin, nae doot,” he went on without a particle of confusion, “for it
didna’ cost as muckle as the ither way; but there was a graun’ lot o’
passengers. We didna’ ha’e ower muckle to eat, nae doot–but they gied
us porridge morn an’ nicht, sae we was fine. An’ there was twa
ministers wi’ us,” he went on, warming to his theme, “an’ they preachit
till us on the Sabbath day. It’s wunnerfu’, the difference there is in
ministers. Yin o’ them preachit in the mornin’, an’ the ither at
nicht; the yin i’ the mornin’ was a puir feckless body; his sermon was
a’ aboot flowers, an’ birds–an’ the rainbow,” this last coming out
contemptuously; “he said a’ thae things brocht us nearer God–did ye
ever hear sic’ haverin’? An’ he said they a’ taught us aboot th’
Almichty–an’ them as loved them wud be saved! I thocht mysel’ wae, to
ha’e to sit an’ listen till him. But the ither mon–wha preachit till
us at nicht–he had the root o’ the matter in him, I tell ye. He
preachit aboot sinners bein’ turned intil hell–I ha’e the heids and
pertikklers,” he suddenly exclaimed, diving into a pocket for the same.
“Here’s his pints; first, naebody kens God wha doesna’ ken the
doctrines; second, thae wha doesna’ ken will be lost,” the gray beard
shaking solemnly as he rolled out the truth; “third, them wha’s lost is
lost to a’ eternity. Oh, it was a graun’ discoorse, I’m tellin’ ye.
It was unco’ refreshing after the baby broth we got i’ the mornin’. I
pit tuppence in the plate–but I didna’ gie a farthin’ in the mornin’.
Are thae folk a’ Presbyterians, Gordon?” he concluded by enquiring,
nodding towards the assembled visitors.
“Mostly all, father,” was Gordon’s answer; “in fact, I believe they all
“Div ye teach them the Catechism, when ye’re visitin’?” the old man
“Not very much, I’m afraid,” answered Gordon, laughing; “you won’t find
things just the same here, father, as they are in old Scotland–not in
that line, at least.”
The old man’s face clouded. “Thae things shouldna’ change,” he said
solemnly; “sin doesna’ change–and the truth o’ God’s aye the same, my
son,” as he looked down at the table. “I’m dootin’ they’re ower
anxious aboot makin’ money. They tell me maist everybody’s rich in
Canady–but I saw twa beggars in Montreal,” he recalled a little
ruefully. Then suddenly:
“I ha’e a wee pickle siller wi’ me mysel’, Gordon,” the Scotch instinct
showing in his voice; “only it’s nae sae little!”
At this juncture my husband made heroic efforts to change the subject;
but the old Scotchman was as intense about this as about graver
matters. “Aye, I ha’e upwards o’ a hunnerd pounds,” he said
impressively, glancing shyly at the company; “ye mind yir mither’s Aunt
Kirsty?–or mebbe ye never saw her? Weel, onyway, she died. An’ she
was lang aboot it, I tell ye, for she was ninety-four. Sae it was
better for her to gang–better for us baith–an’ she willed her wee bit
belongings tae me–an’ I sold them afore I left. An’ yir faither was
the prood mon at the funeral, Gordon–I was the chief mourner,” he
explained impressively; “I was the only yin there that was related to
the corpse–and I walked ahint the bearers till the graveyard. A’ the
folk said I carried mysel’ like a minister; the undertaker, he was an
awfu’ solemn mon–but I was solemner nor him; an’ I kenned a’ the time,
mind ye, that I was the heir. That’s hoo I got the siller to pay my
way to Canady. But I ha’e a hunnerd pounds left, Gordon–an’ I’m
gaein’ to invest it, after I look aboot a wee bit. Investments is
awfu’ profitable here, they tell me. It’ll mak’ a cozy pickle o’
siller for me, wull it no’, Gordon?”
“Don’t count too much on it, father,” Gordon answered; “money isn’t
just as universal here as you old-country people think.” But the old
man seemed reluctant to be convinced of this.
A little later in the evening we had some music. Most of the songs, I
fear, were of the rather æsthetic type; and I fancied they appealed but
little to our venerable friend. He sat quietly in a corner of the
parlour, as if lost in thought. Every now and then his eyes would rove
to Gordon’s face, glowing with pride and affection. As for me, I knew
not when I had been so fascinated. I simply sat and watched him,
hardly knowing just what it was that held me so. Partly the
picturesqueness of this rugged type, I suppose, and partly a dawning
recognition of the sterling worth behind the stern exterior;
genuineness was written all over him. Then I think I was beginning to
love him for my husband’s sake–I remember how the thought flashed on
me that I never would have had Gordon but for him.
Suddenly, availing himself of a temporary lull, the old man cleared his
throat: “I’ll gie ye a sang mysel’,” he offered; “nane o’ yir
highfalutin kind–but a guid auld yin o’ Bobbie Burns. It minds me o’
yir mither, Gordon,” as he cleared his throat again with mighty din,
preparatory to performance.
“I’ll try and play for you if you tell me what it is, Mr. Laird,”
volunteered one of the ladies, moving towards the piano. I had seen
grandfather eyeing her askance a little while before; indeed, I myself
thought her evening dress was rather overdone about the
shoulders–underdone, perhaps, would be a better word.
“No, no,” replied the old man, with a disdainful wave of his hand, “yon
clatter wud only throw me aff the tune. I’ll sing the way the Almichty
meant,” with which he broke into a strong, clear baritone that would
really have commanded attention in any company. More inspiring still,
the whole soul of the man seemed to fuse with the touching words:
“My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream;
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.”
The applause that greeted the performance seemed to please the old man
well. From many standpoints this was evidently the night of his life,
and soon his enthusiasm knew no bounds. Not more than half an hour
after, this first ovation still lingering gratefully in the performer’s
mind, one or two of the guests suggested that he favour us with another
Scotch song, a proposal that soon grew into a general demand.
“I canna’,” declined the old man, “I canna’ juist the noo. But I’ll
tell ye what I’ll dae wi’ ye. I’ll gie ye the Hielan’ fling–that’s
fair graun’, an’ ye’ll no’ hae it in Canady. Gordon, gie me the
bootjack, like a guid laddie–my shoon’s ower heavy for
dancin’–they’re the lang-toppit kind.”
“We’ve nothing of the sort, father,” Gordon explained reluctantly.
“Ah, weel,” he answered cheerfully, “ye’ll dae fine yirsel’. Staun’
aroon’ wi’ yir back till me–and let yon mon pit his back till ye,”
indicating an immaculate professor of burly form; who, apprehending,
presented himself for Gordon’s grasp, the latter in turn taking the
already extended foot between his legs and gripping the boot tightly
with his hands. Gordon’s sire then lifted up the free foot upon his
son, pushing mightily, and making a noise the while such as I have
heard men employ when raising telegraph poles. A moment later Gordon
and the professor were in a heap on the floor, a long boot with a red
top between them. The second similarly removed, the old man moved
solemnly out to the middle of the floor, called for a couple of walking
sticks, laid them crosswise; then broke into the most fantastic dance,
leaping to and fro above the imaginary swords, sometimes crouching low,
sometimes springing high in air, sometimes whirling like a Dervish with
outflowing arms, the whole enriched by an occasional savage yell that
was first the terror, afterwards the delight, of one or two of the
ladies. But all were entranced, and none more so than the performer
Shortly after the excitement had subsided the guests began to make
their farewells. But this struck the venerable Scotchman as quite
irregular. “Hoots!” he cried, when one or two had proffered me their
hands, “ye canna’ gang till we’ve had worship; Gordon wadna’ like it.
Wha ever heard tell o’ freens leavin’ the manse wi’oot a word o’
prayer? Gordon, tak’ the Buik”; and his son, an amused smile playing
about his lips, proceeded promptly to do as he was told.
“Are ye no’ gaein’ to sing?” the old man suddenly broke out, for Gordon
was just starting to read.
“We don’t usually, father; it’s not customary here,” was the answer.
“It’s a sair custom,” rejoined his father, “neglectin’ to sing the
praise o’ Almichty God. But, onyway, we’ll ha’e a psalm–I’ll raise
the tune mysel’,” which purpose he carried into effect as soon as a
selection had been made. “We’ll tak’ the eighty-ninth,” he said
presently; and as he launched the mighty strain I recognized the very
words that had given me my first introduction to the psalms, that
far-gone night in uncle’s house:
“Oh, greatly blessed the people are
The joyful sound that know,”
he began, singing onward to the end. Gordon and I alone could join
with him, but our leader seemed not to care. His whole heart and mind
were absorbed in the great song of his fatherland, and he sang it as
only an exile can. Face and voice and soul all seemed to bear witness
to the truth of the noble verse which brought the psalm to an end. He
looked like one of the old battling Covenanters themselves, his eyes
closed, his head thrown back, one hand gently keeping time as he rolled
out the crowning stanza:
“For God is our defense and He
To us doth safety bring;
The Holy One of Israel
Is our Almighty King.”
Silence fell. Then Gordon moved over under the light and began to read
the Scriptures. The passage he chose was that sublime chapter from
Isaiah; and there were few could interpret through the voice as Gordon
could. The old man sat, his eyes shaded by his hand, listening
reverently. By and by Gordon came to the words: “My servant shall deal
prudently … he shall be exalted and extolled … his visage was so
marred more than any man and his form more than the sons of men.”
“Expound yon,” came as a sudden interruption.
Gordon looked up from the book. “What’s that, father? Do what?”
“Expound the Word,” his father repeated solemnly; “the minister should
aye expound the passage. Tell the folk wha the prophet means.”
Gordon turned a puzzled look on the page.
“Yon aboot the servant,” his father explained; “the Suffering Servant,
ye ken–Him wha’s face was marred wi’ cruel men. Ye ken wha the
prophet’s referrin’ to, my son?”
Gordon understood. “I see what you mean,” he answered slowly; “but I
don’t know that I’m quite clear about that myself. The best
scholarship seems in doubt as to whether—-”
But the old man was all on fire now. “I dinna’ ken naethin’ aboot yir
scholars,” he broke in vehemently, “an’ I dinna’ care. But yon bit
refers to the Man o’ Sorrows–ye ken that fine, div ye no’?–it’s
Christ the prophet means–an’ Him sufferin’ for sin. Gordon, expound
the Word,” and there was a stern grandeur about the pose and the voice
of this champion of the truth that would have done credit to the
ancient prophet himself.
“I cannot,” said Gordon, his lips quite white; “not as you understand
it, father–it isn’t clear to me.”
“Then close the Buik,” said the old man sternly; “if it’s no’ the
savour of life unto life, it’ll be the savour o’ death unto death.”
And Gordon did. “You’ll lead us in prayer, father,” he said, his voice
so low we could hardly hear.
His father seemed to hesitate a moment, looking timidly around upon the
strangers. Then he slowly sank on his knees beside the chair, one hand
resting on Dorothy’s golden curls; and in a moment the Presence seemed
about us. It was a wonderful prayer, and came as if out-breathed
beneath the very shadow of the Cross.
Our guests took their leave in silence. After the children were tucked
away I waited long up-stairs for Gordon; but I fell asleep at last, the
sound of earnest voices still floating upward from the study. I knew
it was a collision of the old school and the new–and I prayed on the
There could be but one end to this. Whether Gordon was right or wrong,
he was not at one with the standards of his church. I really believe,
although I shrink from saying it, that his idea of _saving_ men came
more and more to be confused with the process of simply _helping_ them.
This sprang partly, of course, from his nobility of nature, from his
large and loving heart–but it was wrong. Gordon, I think, believed in
relieving men, then reforming them, both of which were to spell
regeneration. And then, besides, he seemed to have adopted some theory
about law, and the laws of nature–he knew more about evolution than
any other man since Darwin–that had turned the once sweet luxury of
prayer, real prayer, into nothing more than a sort of religious
exercise. I don’t believe he thought prayers that actually asked for
things were of any use at all.
I suppose, too, although I never could find out much about this, that
Gordon didn’t just regard the Scriptures in the same way his brother
ministers did; yet I knew he reverenced the Bible and simply lived
among its teachings.
But there could, as I have said, be only one end to all of this–so
far, I mean, as Gordon’s relation to St. Andrew’s was concerned. I
felt from the beginning that it would be but a matter of time till he
must forsake the pulpit he loved so well. There were two influences
that contributed powerfully to this: the one was Gordon’s honour–the
other, Gordon’s father. My husband had a fastidious conscience–and a
Grandfather had been with us long–I cannot say exactly how
long–before matters actually came to a crisis. But I think he felt
from the beginning, with the keen instinct of his kind, that Gordon’s
official ministry was at an end. One night, sitting in an adjoining
room, I overheard the most of a long conversation between the father
and the son. The burden of it did not greatly surprise me; grandfather
had given me his mind on the matter before, or implied it anyhow, and
more than once. But I knew that night that the crisis was at hand.
“Ye canna’ dae onythin’ else,” the old man repeated once or twice;
“when a minister gi’es up the fundamentals, it’s no’ richt for him to
keep his kirk. A preacher wi’oot a gospel!–he’s a sair objec’,” the
Scotch voice concluded pitifully.
I could catch the tone of almost bitter remonstrance in Gordon’s
answer. “Without a gospel, father!” he cried reproachfully; “surely
you don’t accuse me of that–surely you’re going too far.”
“Ye dinna’ believe Christ died for sinners,” the older man said
sternly; “an’ ony minister wha doesna’ believe that–he’s wi’oot a
gospel, my son.”
“You don’t understand me, father,” Gordon remonstrated earnestly; “you
state the thing too severely–perhaps I don’t just believe it in the
way you do, but—-”
“There’s only the yin way to believe yon,” interrupted his father; “you
an’ me’s the same kind o’ sinners, my son–an’ we need the same kind o’
a Saviour. Forbye, ye think we’re a’ divine, I’m dootin’; that’s what
they say aboot ye, onyway–an’ I’m thinkin’ I’ve gathered it from yir
sermons mair nor once.”
“Not exactly, father,” I heard Gordon answer. “What I do teach is,
that every man has the divine within him; and if we but appeal—-”
“I dinna’ ken what ye’ve got inside o’ ye,” broke in the champion of
truth, “but I’m sick an’ tired o’ all inside o’ _me_–naethin’ but sin
an’ misery–naethin’ but filthy rags,” he added, careless of the
unseemly metaphor. “An’ there’s mair–ye dinna’ believe there’s ony
use in prayer; nae guid ava’, forbye juist ha’ein’ fellowship wi’ God.
An’ ye dinna’ believe there’s ony use in prayin’ for the things we
want–ye dinna’ think it maks ony difference; ye’re feart o’ the laws
of natur’–ye think God’s a servant in His ain hoose, like as if He
couldna’ dae onythin’ He wants to dae.”
“But I do believe in prayer, father–of course I do. Perhaps I don’t
just believe that it alters or affects the outward course of things;
but at the same time—-”
“Then ye maun settle it wi’ the Word of God,” the old man answered
solemnly; “it aye bids us to ask for what we want; an’ it tells us
God’s oor Heavenly Faither–an’ what for wud He no’ dae things for us,
Him, wi’ all power in His hands. Oh, my son, my son, ye’ll change yir
mind some day, I’m dootin’, when yir sair heart’s callin’ oot for the
love o’ the livin’ God.”
And thus the sorrowful dialogue made its way.
I think it was the very next day Gordon told me he had resigned St.
Andrew’s. He told me his reason, too; which I knew already. My heart
leaped towards the children, I remember, but I scarce knew why;
tenderly, passionately, pityingly, my heart went out to my children, to
whom I knew it would mean the most.
“Where will we go to live?” was one of the first questions I asked.
For I did not seek, then, to turn Gordon from his purpose. I knew too
well how impossible that would be; besides, I felt no honourable course
was open to him but the one he had already chosen.
Gordon’s face was very grave as he began to tell me of the only opening
he saw before him.
“But you’ll get another call, Gordon–and another church, won’t you?” I
asked, dimly fearing.
“No, no other call–and no other church,” he answered firmly; “at
least, no regular church, Helen;” with which he explained to me how the
very reasons that prompted him to renounce St. Andrew’s must hold him
back from any similar position. “But I’ll have a field of work just
the same–of usefulness, too, please God,” he added, in the lowest
voice. “I can labour there without being responsible to any one but
Then he told me all about the plan he had in view. He would take the
little mission in Swan Hollow; this was the sunken part of the city in
which he had so long carried on the work that had received so much of
his care and love–the same to which Jennie McMillan had belonged, to
whom I owed the happiness of all the years between.
“We’ve got a little church there,” he said, a note of pride mingling
with the sadness of his voice, “and it doesn’t belong to anybody but
ourselves. The people built it–and I helped them. It’s just possible
the Presbytery may try to interfere with me–but I don’t think so.
That’s where I’m going to preach now, Helen; and I’ll preach the truth
as I believe it.”
“But, Gordon,” I remonstrated, “won’t it be the same truth that you’ve
preached in St. Andrew’s?”
He did not answer immediately. And his face was clouded when his words
came at length. “It won’t be the same as St. Andrew’s expects to
hear–and wants to hear,” he said; “they demand the old orthodox truths
in the old orthodox way–and then they’re through with them,” he added
a little bitterly; “till the next Sunday, at least.”
“But aren’t those the same truths your father believes?” I pressed,
feeling the strength of my reply.
“Yes,” he answered, “but my father believes them in his inmost
heart–and he lives them.”
“And don’t you believe them in your inmost heart, Gordon?” I cried
eagerly–“the way your father does?”
“No,” he answered gravely, after a long pause, his face very white;
“no, I don’t believe them as my father does.”
“Oh, Gordon,” I pleaded with sudden entreaty, “come back–come back, my
darling. You’re drifting; oh, Gordon, you’re drifting away from
God–and me,” for my soul’s loneliness was about me like a mist.
“Don’t,” he said huskily, holding out his arms to me, “for God’s sake
don’t make it any harder for me. No man can drift far if he tries to
do good in his Master’s name–and I intend, I honestly purpose, to give
my life to those poor people at the mission. If any man will do His
will, we’re told, he shall know the doctrine. I’m going to try to do
His will, Helen–and I want you close beside me, together, doing our
life-work hand in hand. Then we can’t be anything but happy, my
darling,” and his words rang with the note of life and courage.
I loved the people of the mission; and I loved the work. But the
import of it all rose before me for a moment like a sullen cloud; the
squalor of the homes; the ignorance of the people, loving and grateful
though they were; the poverty on every hand; the obscurity of the
position that must be ours; the pitiful support that we could hope to
receive. And our cozy manse seemed to grow and dance before my eyes,
clothed suddenly with palatial beauty. I could see little Dorothy, the
big sunbonnet shading the dimpled face, as she picked dandelions on the
lawn; and Harold, the treasure of my heart, as he swung into the hall
and flung his school-bag on the table, calling aloud the while for
mother. It is humiliating to write it down; but I think the question
of our living, too, of simple bread and butter, actually presented
itself to my saddened and bewildered mind.
I suppose it was weak and selfish of me–though I cared not for
myself–when I flung myself into Gordon’s arms and besought him as I
“Oh, Gordon,” I pleaded amid my tears; “don’t, dearest, for the
children’s sakes. It isn’t too late yet, Gordon–have you thought of
what this means?–we’ll likely have to take Harold out of school.”
He caressed me, trying to soothe me as he might a child. “I know what
it means, Helen,” he answered; “I’ve thought of all that. It breaks my
heart to think of what it will bring to you–but I am helpless, dear,
“Not me,” I sobbed, “not me, Gordon; I’d go with you to the depths of
Africa. But the children, Gordon–think of them. We’re old,” I
cried–and I really believed it–“we’re old, and our life is nearly
done; but Harold and Dorothy are so young, and theirs is all before
them. And don’t–oh, Gordon, don’t–for our children’s sakes.”
“What can I do, my child?” he murmured. “What else can I do?”
“Why, Gordon–do what I do. Oh, Gordon, all you need to do is to
believe those things–the things I do, and the things your father
does–and preach them, like you used to at the first. And then we
won’t need to go away at all. I believe the people really love you
more now than they did years ago–and they’ll keep on loving you–and
then we won’t have to, have to give up all this,” I concluded, my
tear-dim eyes looking wistfully up into his tired face.
He shook his head. “I must follow what light I have,” he said.
“But, Gordon,” I went on, still hoping against hope, “I’m sure it would
come all right. We’ll study those things out together, dear–and I’ll
help you. I’ve learned a lot about them, ever since that night–that
night, you remember, when Jennie died. And I’ll try and explain
everything,” I pleaded pitifully, the pathos of it all coming over me
as I looked up at the strong and intellectual face, “and we’ll both go
on together–in the old paths–and I’ll try so hard to help you, dear.
Then we won’t have to go away at all–or give up our house–and it’s
all so dark ahead of us, for the children, I mean.”
“I can’t sell my soul for bread, Helen,” he answered solemnly; “and I
know as well as you what it all means. My father’s heart is nearly
“And, Gordon,” I whispered, still pressing my poor plea, “there’s
another thing we’ll do,” as I drew his face down beside my lips.
“We’ll–we’ll pray together, Gordon; every day,” I faltered, “every
day, that God will make us believe the right things. And He will–I
know He will.”
“I’ve prayed that for long,” he murmured low. “Oh, my darling, I love
you so,” and his lips pressed themselves to mine with a reverence and a
passion I had never felt before.
* * * * *
Let me write it down, for the comfort of every troubled heart, that the
holiest hours in all life’s retrospect are those that are clothed in
sorrow. The years have fled; yet the years are with me still. And
when one sits in the gloaming (as I sit now) and looks back at all the
distant days, the lure that casts its spell upon the heart comes not
from the radiant hour of mirth or ecstasy; nor from the period of glad
prosperity; nor from the season of echoing mirth and laughter. Not
there does Memory ask leave to linger. But it hovers long, in sweet
and heartful reverie, about some hour of tender grief, some season of
blessed pain–blessed always, tender evermore, because it has been
glorified by love, robbed of all its bitterness by the loyalty of some
dear heart that came closer and closer to your own amid the darkness.
The home of early married life is the heart’s earthly home forever. I
knew that now; and memory bathes the soul in tears as I recall our last
night beneath the roof of that St. Andrew’s manse. Everything was
packed and ready. The new house, the tiny, shabby house that was next
day to become our home, was waiting for our advent. The rude but
loving hands of some of the helpers at the mission had joined with ours
to make it ready. And for our living there, they were providing us
with a little salary; pitifully small–but our children would have
clothes and bread.
My heart was like to break; but we spent that last evening in
unconquerable brightness. I know I was no less cheerful than
Gordon–and ever and anon I wondered if his heart were as sad as mine.
The most pitiful feature of it all was Dorothy’s unconscious
glee–moving was such great fun, she thought. Harold was old enough to
catch the contagion of our pain–for pain will show through the best
veneer that courage can provide.
Both the children, and their grandfather too, were in bed and sound
asleep when Gordon and I went up-stairs together about ten o’clock. We
went into the children’s room, for they were still unparted, the little
bed nestling close to the big one; and we stood long above the
slumbering forms, our eyes swimming as we looked.
“I wonder if it’s really so,” I heard Gordon murmur.
“What, darling?” I said.
“That God pities us–like we pity them,” the sentence finished in a
broken voice. “It solves all life’s problems–if that’s really so.”
I could make no answer. But I bowed and kissed Harold’s lovely brow;
“Come with me, Gordon,” I said gently, after we had stood a while in
silence, starting to move across the hall.
He followed me into our own room. “This is harder than all the rest,”
I said brokenly; “this is the dearest and sacredest room in the world
to me. Oh, Gordon,” and I was sobbing now, “surely they’ll let
me–whoever comes here after us–surely they’ll let me come sometimes
and see it, won’t they, Gordon?”
His arms were so strong, his voice so tender. “Why, dearest, why?
What makes this room so sacred to you?”
“Oh, don’t you know?” and the words could hardly come for sobbing;
“this is where they were born, Gordon–where they both were born. It
was right there I lay when I first saw Harold’s face. Oh, Gordon, I
can’t–I don’t know how to give it up.”
His eyes were full of pity and his voice was quivering. “Yes,” he
said, “yes, it’s holy–but we have the children left, my darling,” and
he began to lead me gently from the room. Nor did he stop till we were
standing where we had stood before, looking down on the unconscious
“I’m going down to the study for a while,” he said a little later; “I
won’t be long,” as he began to descend the stairs, his footsteps
echoing through the dismantled house.
I went back to my room, weeping, and sat down upon one of the trunks
that stood about. Suddenly an impulse came to me–I think it must have
been from heaven–and I sprang to my feet, burrowing eagerly towards
the bottom of the trunk.
Ten minutes later I stole down the stairs. I was arrayed in my wedding
gown. The years may have chafed it some, but they had not availed
against its beauty and its richness. The pearl trimming–and those
other radiant things that have no name–shone triumphant in the light.
And I had about my neck, and on my bosom, some precious lace that I had
removed long years before. The hall was almost empty–little there but
our piano, that had been dragged out and left close beside the door.
There was a mirror, too, still undisturbed upon the wall; and I paused
before it just as I had done that golden day in Baltimore when Gordon
was waiting to take me as his own forever. My eyes rested lovingly on
the sweet and stainless vesture–it still fitted me like a glove, thank
heaven–and then wandered to the face above. Long, long I gazed into
the answering eyes, the past lying deep within them like water in some
amber spring. The face was older, of course, and the signs of toil and
care were on it; but the golden glow of love, I felt, clothed it with a
peace–and a beauty too–which it never knew on that far-off wedding
day. Poverty and hardship, I knew, were waiting at the gate; obscurity
and struggle were to be our portion. But my husband was sitting in the
room just beyond the door; my children–oh, the wealth and sweetness of
the word!–my children’s breathing I could almost hear; the years were
past and gone, from whose hands I had received them all–and in that
hour my wedding robes glistened with a holier light than time can cast,
and the bridal bliss sprang like a fountain in my heart.
“Why so long?” Gordon suddenly sang out; “come in.”
“I’m coming, dear,” I said, and I felt the blitheness of my voice as it
echoed through the hall. Very softly I stepped in and stood before him
as he sat beside the dying fire.
His eyes devoured me with love; they roamed mostly about my
dress–which was exactly what I wanted. I think he glanced once or
twice about the room, its denuded bareness contrasting strangely with
the rich robe I wore. Then he rose and took me into his arms–far,
deep in–as into a mighty refuge. “You never looked so sweet, my
darling–the years haven’t touched it,” was all he said. But he kissed
my hair, my neck, my lips.
It was nearly an hour later when we arose to go up-stairs, and I was
still in all my glory as we moved out, Gordon’s arm still about me,
into the echoing hall.
“Sing something,” he suddenly requested as we passed the piano. It
stood in sullen silence, as if it knew this to be a move for the worse.
My hands roved over the keys for a little; it was hard to know what
would suit the hour.
But some breath of other days was wafted in upon me; and I felt my
heart leap beneath the wedding lace upon my bosom as the song gushed
into my mind again.
The light was dim, the house disrobed, the piano out of tune. But I
can still see the rapture in Gordon’s face as mine turned up to meet it
while the words came one by one:
“Still must you call me tender names
Still gently stroke my tresses;
Still shall my happy answering heart
Keep time to your caresses.”
“No, I’m never going back again,” and the stamp of determination was on
Harold’s face as he spoke the words; “I’m never going back to school
any more.” He was gravely adjusting his books in the well-worn bag as
he spoke, giving each one a final pat as if in last farewell. “I’ve
been there too long,” as he looked up at his father and me.
The room was small, the furniture shabby and worn now; for some years
had passed since we came to live in the little house that still
preserved to us an unbroken circle. We were all seated around the
table in the dining-room–which was our only living-room–and Gordon
had been telling Dorothy some wonderful story of red Indians when
Harold’s avowal had suddenly transfixed us all.
It is wonderful how a sudden wave of emotion gives prominence, in the
memory, to everything connected with it. I could draw, even now, as
accurate a picture of all the surroundings as though the event were but
of yesterday. The room was small, as already described; but so was the
house, for that matter. Yet there was something sweet and lovely, to
me at least, about this tiny room that night–for my loved ones were
all within it. I was sewing at the time, mending, of which there
seemed to be no end; but every now and then my eyes would refresh
themselves upon the little group. Gordon was still, despite the years,
by far the handsomest of them all. The tokens of toil and care were
not to be denied, but a deeper calm and sweetness could be seen upon
the noble face as he bended over the golden locks of our little
daughter. And very winsome was little Dorothy, laughing up into her
father’s eyes, reading there, as children are not slow to do, the signs
of a consuming love. Grandfather Laird was dozing in the big armchair
in the corner, his hand still resting on his shepherd’s staff; dear old
grandfather, whose race was nearly run, the strong Scottish face
stamped more and more with the simple grandeur of his nature as he came
nearer to the eternal verities on which his mind had dwelt so long.
I think my heart had gone out increasingly to grandfather as the years
went by. Denied my own immediate circle in my girlhood’s home, my
affections had struck deep root amid all that Gordon loved. Perhaps I
ought to say here that Gordon more than once had wanted me to go South
again–and he would even have accompanied me. But I always felt it was
too late, after my mother had entered into rest–besides, there always
yawned before me the gulf that still lay between my uncle and my
In addition to all this, to tell the honest truth, I don’t know how we
could have devised ways and means, even if I had been willing to visit
my dear Southland again. For nobody will ever know the bitterness of
the struggle that we entered upon with our departure from St. Andrew’s.
The pinching and paring and piteous penury that came with our change of
lot lingers with me yet as a troubled dream. Yet I want to say, in
case this story should ever see the light and anybody recognize its
hero, that I never heard a word of complaint from Gordon’s lips. If I
loved him before I almost worshipped him now. With utter abandonment
of devotion he gave himself to the struggling and sinful people of the
needy quarter in which we made our home and among whom we found our
work. All his buoyant vigour, his splendid intellect, his glorious
heart, were given unreservedly to his lowly toil.
And I think I can say, with all regard to modesty, that I honestly
tried to help him. His people grew as dear to me, I verily believe, as
they were to him. Of course, my work was largely in our humble home,
which I tried to make as bright and comfortable for Gordon as I could.
The children, too, filled my life with busy joy–but I gave every hour
I could spare, and all the strength I could command, to help Gordon in
his noble drudgery.
I hardly know what I would have done, through all those trying days, if
it had not been for grandfather. For one thing, his influence over
Harold, now in the perilous paths of youth, filled my heart with
thankful gladness. His devotion to his grandson became the passion of
his life; he seemed unhappy if Harold was out of his sight, and the
boy’s future was his absorbing thought.
Then, besides, grandfather’s life was so full of Christian peace; and
his faith, in spite of the awful disappointment that Gordon’s course
had brought him, remained true and tranquil through it all. I really
think he was the best Christian I ever knew. And how he comforted me,
no one will ever know till all such secrets be revealed. For ours was
a common sorrow. Soon it became evident to us both that Gordon, nobly
devoted though he was, was turning more and more from the old truths
that his father held so dear. Nor were they, I think, less precious to
myself; the deeper the darkness grew, and the more Gordon seemed to
turn from the truths that had blessed my life, the more my troubled
heart seemed to find its refuge in the great realities of a Divine
Saviour, and an atoning Lord, and a Heavenly Father who answers prayer;
and I always found grandfather’s sorrowing spirit seeking the same
solace as my own.
I see them all again as they sat that night about the table; the quick
motion of Gordon’s head is vivid to me now, as he turned from the
clamorous Dorothy and gave all his attention to his son.
“I’ve been at school too long,” Harold repeated firmly, “and now I’m
going to do something–to earn my own living.”
“What makes you say that, my son?” Gordon asked, the pallor on his face
betraying his emotion.
“Because I’ve found out all about it,” Harold replied confidently;
“surely you don’t think I’m such a stupid as not to see all it has
meant to you and mother–all the sacrifice, I mean–and all the
struggle you’ve had to keep me going–and all the things you’ve had to
give up. I know how poor we are,” he went on passionately, “and I
should have stopped long ago, and tried to help instead of being a
burden to you.” Then he quoted one or two of his proofs, which simple
womanly pride forbids me to record; but they were true enough, and it
nearly broke my heart to see the sadness on Gordon’s face. For there
was almost nothing he could say, and his poor remonstrances were of no
“Look at mother,” Harold broke out vehemently; “look at mother’s dress.
It’s the same one she’s had for years–and it’s mended,” he added in
fiery sadness, “and it’s the only one she has in the world except just
one for Sundays–and it’s shabby, too. And that’s all for me, for me
and Dorothy–but especially for me–and I’m not going to stand it any
longer. Besides, I’ve got a place–and I’m going to begin on Monday.
I’m going away to Carletonville. But I’ll be home for Christmas,” the
fiery tone melting into tenderness as he rose from his seat and came
over beside me.
For he had caught the expression of my face. Ah me! there are few
moments in a woman’s life like to that which announces the outgoing of
her child from her home, how humble soever that home may be, Especially
if the outgoing one be her first-born son! It was as if a knife had
gone through my heart.
“But, what are you going to do, my boy?–what kind of work, I mean?” I
asked in a trembling voice, the garment I was mending falling unheeded
to the floor.
“It’s a bank,” he answered proudly; “Mr. Duncan got me in. I didn’t
say anything to anybody till I got it settled. But I wrote the
application myself–and they said it was the best letter they ever got
from an applicant,” a slight flush of pride on the boyish face. “And
Mr. Duncan says there’s other work I can get to do–at nights–and I’ll
be able to support myself from the start,” his breath coming fast with
growing excitement as he turned his eyes first on his father and then
“You shan’t,” I cried, with sudden fear, as it broke on me that he was
actually going away. Our poverty was as nothing then. “Oh, Harold,
you mustn’t–I cannot let you go,” and I clung to him as though he were
going away that selfsame hour.
Gordon seemed unable to speak, sitting still and staring at the boy.
Harold’s cheeks were glowing and his eyes were sparkling; his arm was
still about me.
Suddenly my husband found a voice, breaking out into a torrent of
remonstrance. Really, it was quite unlike him to grow so agitated–but
Gordon’s whole life was in his children. “If your mother and I can
stand it, there’s no reason why you should object,” he pleaded, after
many other arguments had been pressed in vain. But Harold was
immovable; his word had been passed, he said, and he would not recede
“Let the laddie gang,” came suddenly from grandfather’s chair in the
corner. I think we had forgotten he was there. “It’s the auld way o’
the world–the bairnies must leave the nest some time,” he added, his
own voice shaking. “An’ his faither’s God wull ha’e him in His guid
an’ holy keeping–the Almichty’ll find the path for him. Come here, my
laddie,” and he held out his arms. Harold came over, wondering; the
patriarch laid his hands in blessing on his head, and then committed
him to God in words of such beauty as I think I never heard before.
But Gordon protested long and earnestly. “Anything but the bank,” he
said at last; “I cannot bear, my son, to think of you in a bank.”
“That’s what I think,” I cried, eagerly seconding; “they make them work
so hard–and it’s all indoors–and Harold’s not overly strong,” I
pleaded, careless of the splendid form that stood beside grandfather’s
“That has nothing to do with it,” Gordon interrupted in his abrupt way;
“it’s not of that I’m thinking at all. It’s the peril of the thing, my
son–the danger, the temptations–just to think of the money that
passes through a lad’s hands when he’s put into a bank. And that’s how
so many of them are ruined–for time and eternity,” he added solemnly.
“Oh, Gordon,” I cried in protest, “you don’t mean stealing, Gordon,
stealing money–you don’t mean that?”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” said Gordon, untrained to subterfuge. “I
mean the peril of handling so much money.”
Whereat I fell into a storm of dissent, half in excitement, half in
anger, as though my son had been accused already. I fear I spoke words
harsh and unreasonable, but my defense must be that I was all unstrung
with sudden grief and fear. Till by and by I was as violent in my
demand for his father’s consent as I had been in denial of my own, so
strange are the cross-currents that trouble a woman’s heart.
But we might as well have all been silent, so far as any effect on
Harold was concerned. He had promised and he was going–and that was
the end of it. So the outcome of the whole matter was a kind of tacit
agreement, before we parted for the night, that Harold was to have his
When Gordon and I were in our own room, the door tightly shut, I
pleaded with him to accept a plan that my poor bewildered mind had
conjured up. “Let me write to uncle,” was the burden of my cry; “if
our boy is leaving us because we’re not able to support him, uncle
could change all that; he could at least undertake to complete his
education–and I know he will, I know he will.”
But Gordon’s face was like marble. In the last appeal a Scotchman is
always Scotch–and I knew Gordon was thinking of that last night when
he had been all but turned from uncle’s door. “Not while we have a
crust to eat or a hand to toil,” he said, in a tone so low and resolute
that I actually feared to press my argument with another word; “no
child of mine shall be dependent on his father’s enemy;” which language
smote me to the heart–nor do I think Gordon would have uttered it in a
Before we put out the light, his face still white and drawn, he took me
by the hand and led me towards the bed. We knelt and prayed
together–but my heart was bleeding. And anyhow–it is hard to write
it down–Gordon and I didn’t seem so close together now, when we
prayed, as we once had been. I had the phantom feeling that we prayed
apart. He had beckoned me, years before, in to faith’s Holy Place
where the Divine Saviour waited for us both; I had faltered in, groping
for the way, bringing a broken and contrite heart–and I had found my
It was the deep dark before the dawn when I slipped noiselessly into
Harold’s room–and I prayed beside his bed. I loved to hear him
breathing; and I wondered if God could hear _me_–my soul, I mean, half
panting in its loneliness.
When I began this chapter it was with the purpose of telling about
grandfather’s home-going. But not to his beloved Scotland, of whose
heathery hills he seemed to think more fondly and speak more longingly
as the years went by. It never lost its charm for us, this loving talk
of the old Scotch shepherd about the far-off hills and valleys of his
native land; even I, who had never been near them at all, came to be
quite familiar with those sunlit slopes, their glistening heather,
their babbling springs, their bleating flocks that roamed from base to
brow. No, not to Bonnie Scotland–as he fondly called it–but to a
fairer clime, did the weary shepherd turn his face at last.
But before I come to this I must tell of something else; something I
would to God might be left unrecorded, for my pen is aching while I
write. But this other–what I am about to tell–had its own part, I
think, in starting dear old grandfather on the long journey from which
he will return no more. For it is about Harold, who was grandfather’s
idol, as I have already said.
Our son had gone away, grief and hope mingling with the last farewell.
That memory is with me yet. Indeed, I never rise early now, around
five or six, without the feeling that some one dear to me is going far
away. I remember the sweet calm of the early dawn, the first glad
notes of the singing birds, careless of human tears, the sparkle of the
dew upon the little lilac bush before the door, as we went past it with
Harold’s trunk. What a hard time I had to press into Harold’s hand the
poor little dollar I had saved from our scanty means as my own special
gift–how pathetic it was to see the care with which he tucked it away
in a painfully capacious pocketbook that grandfather had given him; how
lonely it looked in the infinite space around it! And I remember how
poor old grandfather noticed it, and how he bewailed himself that he
had not kept till then the hundred pounds he had brought with him from
Scotland. But this, his only wealth, had been “invested,” as he had
told us over and over again for months after the investment had been
made. Poor grandfather! we had heard nothing for long of the
speculation that had looked so rosy to him then.
And I remember, most vividly of all, what a time I had trying to
comfort Gordon when he came back from the station. After all, perhaps
I must admit that a father loves his son quite as much as his
first-born girl. And it seemed strange that I had to be the strong
one, but so it was. When evening came, and we had family prayers,
Gordon’s pleading didn’t comfort me at all. But I had learned long
before this that the new view of prayer refuses to concede that
anything can change “the course of nature”–I hate that phrase–and
teaches that it is only communion, pious meditation, and not supposed
to be used for asking for what you want. So Gordon had gradually given
up asking for particular things, though heaven knows there was enough
to ask. Higher critics are the highway robbers of the soul.
Well, everything went along smoothly enough for nearly a year. Harold
wrote twice a week, and seemed delighted with his work. He expected
soon to be promoted, one of his last letters said; and Gordon told me
that a general manager gets twenty thousand a year–that is, after he
gets the position, of course. I used to think Harold was having a
pretty lively time–socially, I mean–and he seemed to spend a good
deal on clothes. But he did copying, and other things, out of hours,
and made almost enough to pay his way. And we knew he was asked out a
great deal, as bank clerks always are–and that’s enough to turn any
young fellow’s head. Society seems to do its very best to ruin such
youths as turn their footsteps towards a bank; Gordon said himself that
most of these clerks do more credit to their tailor than their
schoolmaster. As for me, if I had fifty sons not one of them would
ever go into that profession with my consent–unless he began as
general manager, with twenty thousand a year.
By and by Harold began to get interested in sports–mostly lacrosse, I
think–and that was the portal to our Gethsemane. I shall not dwell
upon the sad and bitter story. But one day a letter came from
Carletonville; the envelope bore the bank’s name, but the address was
not in Harold’s hand.
“It’s about his promotion, Gordon,” I said exultantly; “it’s about
Harold–he’s been raised at last. You open it.”
Gordon was radiant. “No, Helen,” he said unselfishly; “he owes it more
to you than me–open it yourself. He gets his financial ability from
his mother,” and he leaned forward to hear me read the news.
I opened it so carefully; for I meant to preserve it always–till he
was general manager, at least. My eye ran swiftly over the contents
and I fell with a loud outcry into Gordon’s arms.
I scarcely need to tell the story further. The letter was not
unkind–I remember remarking that, in a numb, mechanical way, in the
midst of all the agony. There was even a little stern note of sympathy
in it, as the authorities outlined the piteous tragedy. I suppose they
knew we had human hearts. It was the old story; debt, then betting,
then petty irregularities in the hope that the deficit would soon be
overtaken. Then a little more; then a false signature–I cannot write
the other word; then more–and the man who wrote us used the term
embezzlement. That was when I fainted in Gordon’s arms.
All that night I lay awake, alone. Gordon had left by the first train
to go to Harold. I pleaded with him to bring our boy home with him.
And I shall remember to all eternity how white his lips were when he
said he would–_if he could_. I knew what he meant; and I fell to
trembling so that I could hardly say good-bye. Then I went to bed and
lay all night staring wildly into the dark. And that night, for the
first time in all my married life, I cursed poverty–out loud I cursed
it with bitter emphasis–the poverty that made us so helpless now. For
I fancied, poor thing, that all would be well if the money could only
be replaced. I cared nothing for the tokens of poverty that were all
about me, the poor and ill-furnished house, the scanty wardrobe, the
meagre larder–these were but trifles to me then. But I thought
bitterly of the people I knew in Hertford who had plenty of money, once
friends of ours, but lost to us now; and I silently impeached the poor
people of our mission, as if they were somehow responsible for it all.
I blamed Gordon, too–it was all due to his wandering from the beaten
path–and I breathed out threatenings and slaughter against every
German theologian that ever lived.
It was a couple of hours before the dawn when my heart suddenly fell to
beating wildly–some one was gently trying the front door, the knob
slowly moving back and forward. I listened, trembling; a moment later
all was still. Then I heard steps moving round on the walk beneath my
room; I rose and crept to the open window, finally summoning strength
to call out a timid challenge.
“Mother, it’s me–it’s Harold, mother,” came a subdued voice from below.
I almost fainted for very joy. I was never so happy before in all my
life; an intoxicating sense of gladness, rioting like a flood, rushed
over me as I turned and flew down-stairs to the door. A moment later
my arms were about my son as I led him, sometimes laughing, sometimes
crying, back to my room. I remember how tight I closed the door behind
us, as if we were to be shut in together forevermore. And then he
crept into bed beside me, just as he had done in the dear old days when
he was a little fellow; and I lay with my cheek close to his, my arms
about him, no word of reproach, even of enquiry coming from my lips. A
strange unreasoning joy it was that possessed me–I might have known it
could not last–and I called him by all the old tender boyish names
while my hands roamed among his hair, sometimes descending to trace the
features of his face, just to make sure that he was there. I remember
how, more than once, there flitted before me a vision of the far-off
days when he had lain a babe beside me, nourished at my breast–at
which I held him closer than before, my bosom aching with its load of
He told me all about it; about the tragedy; and I listened like one
dead. I know now what they feel who stand before the Great White
Throne, awaiting the word of destiny. Harold’s voice grew lower as his
speech went on, and as it grew nearer to the dawn. He seemed to fear
the return of morning. And slowly, with ghostly outline, it was made
clear to me that he could not linger–that he was not my own at all.
They were likely in quest of him even now, cruel men, scornful of a
mother’s love; perhaps already hurrying towards his father’s house. My
arms were strong, I knew, infinitely strong–and they closed about him
again in a passion of possession. Yet I knew how weak and powerless
they would be if that other arm, the law’s mighty arm, should be
outstretched upon him.
So I bade him go. First with gentle entreaty, then with insistent
urgency, then with vehemence of command, I thrust him from my crying
heart. I arose, groping for some garments that might help the disguise
he would surely need–with feeble cunning I refused to light a
lamp–searching for this and that to serve our piteous purpose. With
what difficulty, I remember, did I find one of Gordon’s old hats,
dusting it carefully, and changing its shape from one form to another
to make it look more natural on Harold’s head.
Soon we were at the door. The dawn was glimmering. “Go, my darling,”
I said hoarsely, “there will be few about when you catch the morning
train. Come to me once again–put your arms around me, tight–kiss me,
But he did not move, looking down shame-facedly at the ground. Again I
besought him to be gone.
“How can I?” he said abruptly at last, the words like to choke him; “I
have no money, mother.”
This smote me like a blow. But suddenly and with a little cry of
joy–such strange eddies are there in the stream of sorrow–I
remembered a few dollars I had sorely saved for the purchase of the new
gown I needed so. I sprang back into the house and reappeared in a
moment with the scanty savings–I caught the rumble of distant wheels
and knew the world would be soon astir. Harold’s face fell as he
glanced at the money I thrust so triumphantly into his hand; it was not
enough–I might have known it could not be enough.
We stood together, bowed with disappointment. Suddenly the rumbling
wheels came nearer, till, as they hove in sight around a corner, I saw
it was the milkman’s wagon. A quick inspiration came to me as I bade
Harold slip back into the house. The milkman’s ruddy face showed its
surprise as his eyes fell on me, for he was accustomed to leave his
wares at the back door and go upon his way. I greeted him as calmly as
I could; and then, not without shame, I boldly asked him if he could
lend me a little money. “A friend of mine is going away,” I said, “on
the morning train–and he doesn’t happen to have quite enough.”
The honest swain, nothing doubting, fumbled in his pockets, finally
producing a good deal more than my poor savings had amounted to. I
took the money from him, my heart beating wildly at the sudden
deliverance. Then I went in to Harold and put it in his hand. It hurt
me, beyond words to tell, to see the confusion and pain with which the
poor lad took the money, though it was from his mother. Then his eyes
suddenly filled with tears. “Can’t I say good-bye to Dorothy?” he said
brokenly; “I want to say good-bye to Dorothy.”
The tenderness of his tone almost overcame me. I put my arm about him
and we went up-stairs together, quickly, for the time was passing. We
could hear grandfather’s heavy breathing as we passed his door; Harold
looked in wistfully, but I shook my head. Dorothy was sound asleep,
her golden curls dishevelled on the pillow, her lips slightly parted, a
much worn doll emerging from beneath one arm. My eyes only glanced at
her, then turned to Harold’s face, silently filling as I saw the
evidences of his grief. He stood a moment above the bed, then stooped
and kissed the rosy face; she stirred, smiling in her sleep, her hand
unconsciously moving towards her doll. He kissed her again,
unwisely–and the blue eyes opened wide.
“Harold,” she murmured sleepily, “dear Harold–I knew you’d come
home–I dreamed you were never going away any more.”
The boy’s lips were quivering, and we turned softly towards the door.
But Dorothy, still only half awake, uttered a plaintive protest.
“Don’t go away, Harold,” she mumbled, “get into your bed, Harold–your
own beds,” one half-opened eye indicating an unused couch beside her.
“Say your prayers and then come–kneel down there, Harold,” drawing the
battered doll away from the side of the bed.
He looked at me. I motioned; and we knelt together, Harold’s hand
close beside the vagrant curls. His voice was faint and faltering:
“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
He paused, preparing to arise. “Say the rest,” Dorothy murmured, “say
it all, Harold.”
Again he looked at me. Then his face sank between his hands and once
more the broken voice went on: “God bless father, and mother, and
Dorothy–and bless Harold and make him a good boy, for Christ’s sake.
The little monitor seemed satisfied, slipping back again into the
stream of slumber. Harold and I went gently down the stairs. I spoke
no word but held him to my bosom, aching still, with such a fierce
flame of longing as I had never known before. I opened the door; even
then I paused to adjust the hat, so large and serious looking, on his
head. He passed out, his face averted, and started running on his
way–on, on, away from home, away from his mother’s empty arms.
I went back to the room where his sister lay. Long I stood above the
vacant bed, wondering bitterly why I had not gloried more in those old
golden days when two dear tiny heads lay upon the pillows there. A few
minutes after I heard the whistling of a train; I sank beside the empty
bed and tried to pray–but my lips, I know not why, could frame no
words except the words of Harold’s prayer.