Read THE DEVIL’S ACRE - CHAPTER IX. of The Christian A Story, free online book, by Hall Caine, on ReadCentral.com.

“Glenfaba.

“Oh, my dear John Storm, is it coals of fire you are heaping on my head, or fire of brimstone?  Your last letter with its torrents of enthusiasm came sweeping down on me like a flood.  What work you are in the midst of!  What a life!  What a purpose!  While II am lying here like an old slipper thrown up oil the sea-beach.  Oh, the pity oft, the pity oft!  It must be glorious to be in the rush and swirl of all this splendid effort, whatever comes of it!  One’s soul is thrilled, one’s heart expands!  As for me, the garden of my mind is withering, and I am consuming the seed I ought to sow.

“Rosa has come.  She has been here a month nearly, and is just charming, say what you will.  Her thoughts have the dash of the great world, and I love to hear her talk.  True, she troubles me sometimes, but that’s only my envy and malice and all uncharitableness.  When she tells of Betty-this and Ellen-that, and their wonderful successes and triumphs, I’m the meanest sinner that crawls.

“It’s funny to see how the old folk bear themselves toward her.  Aunt Rachel regards her as a sort of an artist, and is clearly afraid that she will break out into madness in spots somewhere.  Aunt Anna disapproves of her hair, which is brushed up like a man’s, and of her skirt, which ‘would be no worse if it were less like a pair of breeches,’ for she has brought her ‘bike.’  She talks on dangerous subjects also, and nobody did such things in auntie’s young days.  Then she addresses the old girlies as I do, and calls grandfather ‘G-rand-dad,’ and like the witch of Endor generally, is possessed of a familiar spirit.  Of course I give her various warning looks from time to time lest the fat should be in the fire, but she’s a woman, bless her! and it’s as true as ever it was that a woman can keep the secret she doesn’t know.

“Yes, the ideal of womanhood has changed since the old aunties were young; but when I listen to Rosa and then look over at Rachel with her black ringlets, and at Anna with her old-fashioned ‘front,’ I shudder and ask myself, ‘Why do I struggle?’ What is the reward if one gives up the fascination of life and the world?  There is no reward.  Nothing but solitary old-maidism, unless two of you happen to be sisters, for who else will join her shame to yours?  Dreams, dreams, only dreams of the dearest thing that ever comes into a woman’s armsand then you awake and there is no one there.  A dame’s school, when the old father is gone, but no children of your own to love you, nobody to think of you, scraping a little here, pinching a little there, growing older and smaller year by year, looking yellow and craned like an apple that has been kept on the top shelf too long, and thenthe end!

“Oh, but I’m trying so hard, so very hard, to be ’true to the higher self in me,’ because somebody says I must.  What do you think I did last week?  In my character of Lady Bountiful I gave an old folks’ supper in the soup kitchen, understood to be in honour of my return.  Roast beef and plum duff, not to speak of pipes and ’baccy, and forty old people of both sexes sitting down to ‘the do.’  After supper there was a concert, when Chaise (the fat old thief!) overflowed the ‘elber’ chair, and alluded to me as ‘our beautiful donor,’ and lured me into singing Mylecharaine, and leading the company, when we closed with the doxology.

“But ’it was not myself at all, Molly dear, ‘twas my shadow on the wall,’ and in any case man can’t live by soup kitchens alonenor woman either.  And knowing what a poor, weak, vain woman I am at the best, I ask myself sometimes would it not be a thousand times better if I yielded to my true nature instead of struggling to realize a bloodless ideal that is not me in the least, but only my picture in the heart of some one who thinks me so much better than I am?

“Not that anybody ever sees what a hypocrite I can be, though I came near to letting the cat out of the bag as lately as last night.  You must know that when I turned my back on London at the command of John Knox the second, I brought all my beautiful dresses along with me, except such of them as were left at the theatre.  Yet I daren’t lay them out in the drawers, so I kept them under lock and key in my boxes.  There they lurked like evil spirits in ambush, and as often as their perfume escaped into the room my eyes watered for another sight of them!  But in spite of all temptation I resisted, I conquered, I triumpheduntil last night when Rosa talked of Juliet, what a glorious creature she was, and how there was nobody on the stage who could ‘look’ her and ‘play’ her too!

“What do you think I did?  Shall I tell you?  Yes, I will.  I crept upstairs to my quiet little room, tugged the box from its hiding-place under the bed, drew out my dressesmy lovely, lovely brocadesand put them on!  Then I spoke the potion speech, beginning in a whisper, but getting louder as I went on, and always looking at myself in the glass.  I had blown out the candle, and there was no light in the room but the moon that was shining on my face, but I was glowing, my very soul was afire, and when I came to the end I drew myself up with eyes closed and head thrown back and heart that paused a beat or two, and said, ’II am Juliet, for I am a great actress!’

“Oh, oh, oh!  I could scream with laughter to think of what happened next!  Suddenly I became aware of somebody knocking at my door (I had locked it) and of a thin voice outside saying fretfully:  ’Glory, whatever is it?  Aren’t you well, Glory?’ It was the little auntie; and thinking what a shock she would have if I opened the door and she came upon this grand Italian lady instead of poor little me, I had to laugh and to make excuses while I smuggled off my gorgeous things and got back into my plain ones!

“It was a narrow squeak; but I had a narrower one some days before.  Poor grandfather!  He regards Rosa as belonging to a superior race, and loves to ask her what she thinks of Glory.  He has grown quite simple lately, and as soon as he thinks my back is turned he is always saying, ’And what is your opinion of my granddaughter, Miss Macquarrie?’ To which she answers, ‘Glory is going to make your name immortal, Mr. Quayle.’  Then his eyes sparkle and he says, ‘Do you think so?do you really think so?’ Whereupon she talks further balderdash, and the dear old darling smiles a triumphant smile!

“But I always notice that not long afterward his eyes look wet and his head hangs low, and he is saying to the aunties, with a crack in his voice:  ’She’ll go away again.  You’ll see she will.  Her beauty and her talents belong to the world.’  And then I burst in on them and scold them, and tell them not to talk nonsense.

“Nevertheless he is beginning to regard Rosa with suspicion, as if she were a witch luring me away, and one evening last week we had to steal into the garden to talk that we might escape from his watchful eyes.  The sun had setthere was the red glow behind the castle across the sky and the sea, and we were walking on the low path by the river under the fuchsia hedge that hangs over from the lawn, you know.  Rosa was talking with her impetuous dash of the great career open to any one who could win the world in London, how there were people enough to help her on, rich men to find her opportunities, and even to take theatres for her if need be.  And I was hesitating and halting and stammering:  ’Yes, yes, if it were the regular stage... who knows?... perhaps it might not be opened to the same objections,...’ when suddenly the leaves of the fuchsia rustled as with a gust of wind, and we heard footsteps on the path above.

“It was the grandfather, who had come out on Rachel’s arm and overheard what I had said!  ‘It’s Glory!’ he faltered, and then I heard him take his snuff and blow his nose as if to cover his confusion, thinking I was deceiving them and carrying on a secret intercourse.  I hardly know what happened next, except that for the five minutes following ’the great actress’ had to talk with the tongues of men and angels (Beelzebub’s) in order to throw dust in the dear old eyes and drive away their doubts.  It was a magnificent performance, ‘you go bail.’  I’ll never do the like of it again, though I had only one old man and one old maid and one young woman for audience.  The house ‘rose’ at me too, and the poor old grandfather was appeased.  But when we were back indoors I overheard him saying:  ’After all there’s no help for it.  She’s dull with uswhat wonder!  We can’t cage our linnet, Rachel, and perhaps we shouldn’t try.  A song-bird came to cheer us, but it will fly away.  We are only old folks, dearit’s no use crying.’  And on going to his room that night he closed his door and said his prayers in a whisper, that I might not hear him when he sobbed.

“He hasn’t left his bed since.  I fear he never will More than once I have been on the point of telling him there is no reason to think the deluge would come if I did, go back to London; but I will never leave him now.  Yet I wish Aunt Rachel wouldn’t talk so much of the days when I went away before.  It seems that every night, on his way to his own room, he used to step into my empty one and come out with his eyes dim and his lips moving.  I am not naturally hard-hearted, but I can’t love grandfather like that.  Oh, the cruelty of life!...  I know it ought to be the other way about;... but I can’t help it.

“All the same I could cry to think how short life is, and how little of it I can spare.  ‘Cling fast to me and hold me,’ my heart is always saying, but meantime London is calling to me, calling to me, like the sea, and I feel as if I were a wandering mermaid and she were my ocean home.

“Later.Poor, poor grandfather!  I was interrupted in the writing of my letter this morning by another of those sudden alarms.  He had fainted again, and it is extraordinary how helpless the aunties are in a case of illness.  Grandfather knows it too; and after I had done all I could to bring him round, he opened his eyes and whispered that he had something to say to me alone.  At that the poor old things left the room with tears of woe and a look of understanding.  Then fetching a difficult breath he said, ‘You are not afraid, Glory, are you?’ and I answered him ‘No,’ though my heart was trembling.  And then a feeble smile struggled through the wan features of his drawn face, and he told me his attack was only another summons.  ‘I’ll soon die for good,’ he said, ’and you must be strong and brave, my child, for death is the common lot, and then what is there to fear?’ I didn’t try to contradict himwhat was the good of doing that?  And after he had spoken of the coming time he talked quietly of his past life, how he had weathered the storm for seventy odd years, and his Almighty Father was bringing him into harbour at last.  ’I can’t pray for life any longer, Glory.  Many a time I did so in the old days when I had to bring up my little granddaughter, but my task is over now, and after the day is done where is the tired labourer who does not lie down to his rest with a will?’

“The doctor has been and gone.  There is no ailment, and nothing to be done or hoped.  It is only a general failure and a sinking earthward of the poor worn-out body as the soul rises to the heaven that is waiting to receive it.  What a pagan I feel beside him!  And how glad I am that I didn’t talk of leaving him again when he was on the eve of his far longer journey!  I have sent the aunties to bed, but Rosa has made me promise to awaken her at four, that she may take her turn at his bedside.

“Next Morning.Rosa relieved me during the night, and I came to my room and lay down in the dullness of the dawn.  But now I am sorry that I allowed her to do so, for I did not sleep, and grandfather appears to have been troubled with dreams.  I fancied he shuddered a little as I left them together, and more than once through the wall I heard him cry, ‘Bring him back!’ in the toneless voice of one who is labouring under the terrors of a nightmare.  But each time I heard Rosa comforting him, so I lay down again without going in.

“Being stronger this morning, he has been propped up in bed writing a letter.  When he called for the pens and paper I asked if I couldn’t write it for him, but the old darling made a great mystery of the matter, and looked artful, and asked if it was usual to fight your enemy with his own powder and shot.  Of course I humoured him and pretended to be mighty curious, though I think I know who the letter was written to, all the same that he kept the address side of the envelope hidden even when the front of it was being sealed.  He sealed it with sealing-wax, and I held the candle while he did so, with his poor trembling fingers in danger from the light, and then I stamped it with my mother’s pearl ring, and he smuggled it under the pillow.

“Since breakfast he has shown an increased inclination to doze, but there have been visits from the wardens and from neighbouring parsons, for a locum tenens has had to be appointed.  Of course, they have all inquired where his pain is, and on being told that he has none, they have gone downstairs cackling and clucking and crowing in various versions of ‘Praise God for that!’ I hate people who are always singing the doxology.

“Noon.Condition unchanged, except that in the intervals of drowsiness his mind has wandered a little.  He appears to live in the past.  Looking at me with conscious eyes, he calls me ’Lancelot’my father’s name.  It has been so all the morning.  One would think he was walking in a twilight land where he mistakes people’s faces and the dead are as much alive as the living.

“They all think I am brave, oh, so brave! because I do not cry now, as everybody else doeseven Aunt Anna behind her apronalthough my tears can flow so easily, and at other times I keep them constantly on tap.  But I am really afraid, and down at the bottom of my heart I am terrified.  It is just as if something were coming into the house slowly, irresistibly, awfully, and casting its shadow on the floor already.

“I have found out the cause of his outcries in the night.  Aunt Rachel says he was dreaming of my father’s departure for Africa.  That was twenty-two years ago, but it seems that the memory of the last day has troubled him a good deal lately.  ‘Don’t you remember it?’ he has been saying.  ’There were no railways in the island then, and we stood at the gate to watch the coach that was taking him away.  He sat on the top and waved his red handkerchief.  And when he had gone, and it was no use watching, we turned back to the houseyou and Anna and poor, pretty young Elise.  He never came back, and when Glory goes again she’ll never come back either.’

“In the intervals of his semi-consciousness, when he mistakes me for my father, my wonderful bravery often fails me, and I find excuses for going out of the room.  Then I creep noiselessly through the house and listen at half-open doors.  Just now I heard him talking quite rationally to Rachel, but in a voice that seemed to speak inwardly, not outwardly, as before.  ‘She can’t help it, poor child!’ he said.  ’Some day she’ll know what it is, but not yet, not until she has a child of her own.  The race looks forward, not backward.  God knew when he created us that the world couldn’t go on without that bit of cruelty, and who am I that I should complain?’

“I couldn’t bear it any longer, and with a pain at my heart I ran in and cried, ‘I’ll never leave you, grandfather.’  But he only smiled and said, ‘I’ll not be keeping you long, Glory, I’ll not be keeping you long,’ and then I could have died for shame.

“Evening.All afternoon he has been like a child, and everything present to his consciousness seems to have been reversed.  The shadow of eternity appears to have wiped out time.  When I have raised him up in bed he has delighted to think he was a little boy in his young mother’s arms.  Oh, sweet dream!  The old man with his furrowed forehead and beautiful white head and all the heavy years rolled back!  More than once he has asked me if he may play till bedtime, and I have stroked his wrinkled hands and told him ‘Yes,’ for I pretend to be his mother, who died, when she was old.

“But the ‘part’ is almost too much for me, and, lest I should break down under the strain of it, I am going out of his room constantly.  I have just been into his study.  It is as full as ever of his squeezes and rubbings and plaster casts and dusty old runes.  He has spent all his life away back in the tenth century, and now he is going farther, farther....

“Oh, I’m aweary, aweary!  If anything happens to grandfather I shall soon leave this place; there will be nothing to hold me here any longer, and besides I could not bear the sight of these evidences of his gentle presence, so simple, so touching.  But what a vain thing London is with all its vast adohow little, how pitiful!

“Later.It is all over!  The curtain has fallen, and I am not crying.  If I did cry it would not be from grief, but because the end was so beautiful, so glorious!  It was at sunset, and the streamers of the sun were coming horizontally into the room.  He awoke from a long drowsiness, and a serenity almost angelic overspread his face.  I could see that he was himself once again.  Death had led him back through the long years since he was a child, and he knew he was an old man and I a young woman.  ‘Have the boats gone yet?’ he asked, meaning the herring boats that go at sunset.  I looked out and told him they were at the point of going.  ’Let me see them sail,’ he said, so I slipped my arms about him and raised him until he was sitting up and could see down the length of the harbour and past the castle to the sea.  The reflection of the sunlight was about his silvery old head, and over the damps and chills of death it made a radiance on his face like a light from heaven.  There was hardly a breeze, and the boats were dropping down from their berths with their brown sails half set.  ‘Ah,’ he said, ’it’s the other way with me, Glory.  I’m coming in, not going out.  I’ve been beating to windward all my life, but I see the harbour on my lee-bow at last as plainly as I ever saw Peel, and now I’m only waiting for the top of the tide and the master of the port to run up the flag!’

“Then his head fell gently back on my arm and his lips changed colour, but his eyes did not close, and over his saintly face there passed a fleeting smile.  Thus died a Christian gentlemana simple, sunny, merry, happy, childlike creature, and of such are the kingdom of heaven.

“Glory.”

Parson Quayle’s Letter.

“Dear John:  Before this letter reaches you, or perhaps along with it, you will receive the news that tells you what it is.  I am ‘in,’ John; I can say no more than that.  The doctor tells me it may be now or then or at any time.  But I am looking for my enlargement soon, and whether it comes to-morrow sunset or with to-day’s next tide I leave myself in His hands in whose hands we all are.  Well has the wise man said, ’The day of our death is better than the day of our birth, so with all good will, and what legacy of strength old age has left to me, I send you my last word and message.

“My poor old daughters are sorely stricken, but Glory is still brave and true, being, as she always was, a quivering bow of steel.  People tell me that the poor mother is strong in the girl, and the spirit of the mother’s race; but well I know the father’s stalwart soul supports her; and I pray God that when my dark hour comes her loving and courageous arms may be around me.

“That brings me to the object of my letter.  This living will soon be vacant, and I am wondering who will follow in my feeble steps.  It is a sweet spot, John!  The old church does not look so ill when the sun shines on it, and in the summer-time this old garden is full of fruit and flowers.  Did I ever tell you that Glory was born here?  I never had another grandchild, and we were great comrades from the first.  She was a wise and winsome little thing, and I was only an old child myself, so we had many a run and romp in these grounds together.  When I try to think of the place without her it is a vain effort and a painful one; and even while she was away in your great and wicked Babylon, with its dangers and temptations, her little ghost seemed to lurk at the back of every bush and tree, and sometimes it would leap out on me and laugh.

“It is months since I saw your father, but they tell me he has lately burned his bureau, making one vast bonfire of the gatherings of twenty years.  That is not such ill news either; and maybe, now the great ado that worked such woe is put by and gone, he would rejoice to see you back at home, and open his hungering arms to you.

“But my eyes ache and my pen is shaking.  Farewell!  Farewell!  Farewell!  An old man leaves you his blessing, John.  God grant that in his own good time we may meet in a blessed paradise, rejoicing in his gracious mercy, and all our sins forgiven!

“Adam Quayle.”