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Florence Louisa Barclay was an English romance novelist and short story writer.Greatest Collection of Florence L. BarclayThe Following of the StarThe Mistress of ShenstoneThe RosaryThe Upas TreeThe White Ladies of WorcesterThrough the Postern Gate
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The Premium Major Collection of Florence L. Barclay
Detailed Biography of Florence L. Barclay
The Following of the Star
The Mistress of Shenstone
The Upas Tree
The White Ladies of Worcester
Through the Postern Gate
Florence Louisa Barclay (2 December 1862 – 10 March 1921) was an English romance novelist and short story writer.She was born Florence Louisa Charlesworth in Limpsfield, Surrey, England, the daughter of the local Anglican rector. One of three girls, she was a sister to Maud Ballington Booth, the Salvation Army leader and co-founder of the Volunteers of America. When Florence was seven years old, the family moved to Limehouse in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
In 1881, Florence Charlesworth married the Rev. Charles W. Barclay and honeymooned in the Holy Land, where, in Shechem, they reportedly discovered Jacob's Well, the place where, according to the Gospel of St John, Jesus met the woman of Samaria (John 4-5). Florence Barclay and her husband settled in Hertford Heath, in Hertfordshire, where she fulfilled the duties of a rector's wife. She became the mother of eight children. In her early forties health problems left her bedridden for a time and she passed the hours by writing what became her first romance novel titled The Wheels of Time. Her next novel, The Rosary, a story of undying love, was published in 1909 and its success eventually resulted in its being translated into eight languages and made into five motion pictures, also in several languages. According to the New York Times, the novel was the No.1 bestselling novel of 1910 in the United States. The enduring popularity of the book was such that more than twenty-five years later, Sunday Circle magazine serialized the story and in 1926 the prominent French playwright AlexandreBisson adapted the book as a three-act play for the Parisian stage.
Florence Barclay wrote eleven books in all, including a work of non-fiction. Her novel The Mistress of Shenstone (1910) was made into a silent film of the same title in 1921. Her short story Under the Mulberry Tree appeared in the special issue called "The Spring Romance Number" of the Ladies Home Journal of 11 May 1911.
Florence Barclay died in 1921 at the age of fifty-eight.
THE FOLLOWING OF THE STAR
AUTHOR OF THE ROSARY, THE MISTRESS OF SHENSTONE, Etc. NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERSCopyright, 1911 by G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS 17th Printing
By Florence L. Barclay
The Rosary The Mistress of Shenstone Through the Postern Gate The Upas Tree The Following of the Star The Broken Halo The Wall of Partition My Heart's Right There
This edition is issued under arrangement with the publishers G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press, New York
To MY SON IN THE MINISTRY C. C. B.
CHAPTER PAGE I. The Still Waters of Brambledene3 II. The Lady of Mystery20 III. David Stirs the Still Waters31 IV. Diana Rivers, of Riverscourt46 V. The Noiseless Napier58 VI. David Makes Friends with "Chappie"69 VII. The Touch of Power81 VIII. The Test of the True Herald91 IX. Uncle Falcon's Will95 X. Diana's High Fence129 XI. The Voice in the Night145 XII. Suspense164 XIII. David's Decision174 XIV. The Eve of Epiphany190 XV. The Codicil198[Pg vi]XVI. In Old Saint Botolph's211 XVII. Diana's Readjustment222 XVIII. David's Nunc Dimittis229 XIX. David Studies the Scenery239 XX. With the Compliments of the Company252 XXI. "All Ashore!" 260 XXII. Diana Wins266 XXIII. Uncle Falcon Wins275
XXIV. The Hidden Leaven289 XXV. The Property of the Crown296 XXVI. A Pilgrimage309 XXVII. A Question of Conscience327 XXVIII. David's Pronouncement342 XXIX. What David Wondered348 XXX. Resurgam356 XXXI. "I Can Stand Alone" 367 XXXII. The Blow Falls371 XXXIII. Requiescat in Pace376
[Pg vii]XXXIV. In the Hospital of the Holy Star385 XXXV. The Letter Comes398 XXXVI. Diana Learns the Truth404 XXXVII. "Good-night, David" 413 XXXVIII. The Bundle of Myrrh420 XXXIX. Home, by Another Way424
THE STILL WATERS OF BRAMBLEDENE
David Rivers closed his Bible suddenly, slipped it into the inner pocket of his coat, and, leaning back in his armchair, relaxed the tension at which he had been sitting while he mentally put his thoughts into terse and forcible phraseology.
His evening sermon was ready. The final sentence had silently thrilled into the quiet study, in the very words in which it would presently resound through the half-empty little village church; and David felt as did the young David of old, when he had paused at the brook and chosen five smooth stones for his sling, on his way to meet the mighty champion of the Philistines. David now felt ready to go forward and fight the Goliath of apathy and inattention; the life-long habit of not listening to the voice of the preacher, or giving any heed to the message he brought.
The congregation, in this little Hampshire[Pg 4] village church where, during the last five weeks, David had acted as locum-tenens, consisted entirely of well-to-do farmers and their families; of labourers, who lounged into church from force of habit, or because, since the public-houses had been closed by law during the hours of divine service, it was the only warmed and lighted place to be found on a Sunday evening; of a few devout old men and women, to whom weekly church-going, while on earth, appeared the only possible preparation for an eternity of Sabbaths in the world to come; and of a fair sprinkling of village lads and lassies, who took more interest in themselves and in each other than in the divine worship in which they were supposed to be taking part.
The two churchwardens, stout, florid, and well-to-do, occupied front pews on either side of the centre; Mr. Churchwarden Jones, on the right; Mr. Churchwarden Smith, on the left. Their official position lent them a dignity which they enjoyed to the full, and which overflowed to Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Smith, seated in state beside them. When, on "collection Sundays," the churchwardens advanced up the chancel together during the final verse of the hymn, and handed the plates to the Rector, their wives experienced a[Pg 5] sensation of pride in them which "custom could not stale." They were wont to describe at the Sunday midday dinner or at supper, afterwards, the exact effect of this "procession" up the church, an oft-told tale for which they could always be sure of at least one interested auditor.
Mr. Churchwarden Jones bowed when he delivered the plate to the Rector. Mr. Churchwarden Smith did not bow, but kept himself more erect than usual; holding that anything in the nature of a bow, while in the House of God, savoured of popery.
This provided the village with a fruitful subject for endless discussion. The congregation was pretty equally divided. One half approved the stately bow of Mr. Churchwarden Jones, and unconsciously bowed themselves, while they disregarded their hymn-books and watched him make it. The other half were for "Smith, and no popery," and also sang of "mystic sweet communion, with those whose rest is won," without giving any thought to the words, while occupied in gazing with approval at Farmer Smith's broad back, and at the uncompromising stiffness of the red neck, appearing above his starched Sunday collar.
Mrs. Smith secretly admired Mr. Jones's bow,[Pg 6] and felt that her man was missing his chances for a silly idea; but not for worlds would Mrs. Smith have admitted this; no, not even to her especial crony, Miss Pike the milliner, who had once been to Paris, and knew what was what.
The venerated Rector, father of his people, always bowed as he received the plates from the two churchwardens. But then, that had nothing whatever to do with the question, his back being to the Table. Besides, the Rector, who had christened, confirmed, married, and buried them, during the last fifty years, could do no wrong. They would as soon have thought of trying to understand his sermons, as of questioning his soundness. "The Rector says," constituted a final judgment, from which there was no appeal.
As he slowly and carefully mounted the pulpit stairs, one hand grasping the rail, the other clasping a black silk sermon-case, the hearts of his people went with him.
The hearts of his people were with him, as his silvery hair and benign face appeared above the large red velvet cushion on the pulpit desk; and the minds of his people were with him, until he had safely laid his sermon upon the cushion, opened it, and gently flattened the manuscript with both hands; then placed his pocket-handkerchief[Pg 7] in the handy receptacle specially intended to contain it, and a lozenge in a prominent position on the desk. But, this well-known routine safely accomplished, they sang a loud amen to the closing verse of "the hymn before the sermon," and gave their minds a holiday, until, at the first words of the ascription, they rose automatically with a loud and joyous clatter to their feet, to emerge in a few moments into the fresh air and sunshine.
A perplexing contretemps had once occurred. The Rector's gentle voice had paused in its onward flow. It was not the usual lozenge-pause. Their subconscious minds understood and expected that. But, as a matter of fact, the Rector had, on this particular Sunday, required a second lozenge towards the end of the sermon, and the sentence immediately following this unexpected pause chanced to begin with the words: "And now to enlarge further upon our seventh point." At the first three words the whole congregation rose joyfully to their feet; then had to sit down abashed, while the Rector hurriedly enlarged upon "our seventh point." It was the only point which had as yet penetrated their intelligence.
In all subsequent sermons, the Rector carefully avoided, at the beginning of his sentences, the[Pg 8] words which had produced a general rising. He would smile benignly to himself, in the seclusion of his study, as he substituted, for fear of accidents, "Let us, my brethren," or "Therefore, belovèd."
It never struck the good man, content with his own scholarly presentment of deep theological truths, that the accidental rising was an undoubted evidence of non-attention on the part of his congregation. He continued to mount the pulpit steps, as he had mounted them during the last fifty years; attaining thereby an elevation from which he invariably preached completely over the heads of his people.
In this they acquiesced without question. It was their obvious duty to "sit under" a preacher, not to attempt to fathom his meaning; to sit through a sermon, not to endeavour to understand it. So they slumbered, fidgeted, or thought of other things, according to their age or inclination, until the ascription brought them to their feet, the benediction bowed them to their knees, and the first strident blasts of the organ sent them gaily trooping out of church and home to their Sunday dinners, virtuous and content.
Into this atmosphere of pious apathy, strode David Rivers; back on sick-leave from the wilds of Central Africa; aflame with zeal for his Lord,[Pg 9] certain of the inspiration of his message; accustomed to congregations to whom every thought was news, and every word was life; men, ready and eager to listen and to believe, and willing, when once they had believed, to be buried alive, or tied to a stake, and burned by slow fire, sooner than relinquish or deny the faith he had taught them.
But how came this young prophet of fire into the still waters of our Hampshire village? The wilds of the desert, and the rapid rushings of Jordan, are the only suitable setting for John the Baptists in all ages.
Nevertheless to Hampshire he came; and it happened thus.
Influenza, which is no respecter of persons, attacked the venerated Rector.
In the first stress of need, neighbouring clergy came to the rescue. But when six weeks of rest and change were ordered, as the only means of insuring complete recovery, the Rector advertised for a locum-tenens, offering terms which attracted David, just out of hospital, sailing for Central Africa early in the New Year, and wondering how on earth he should scrape together the funds needed for completing his outfit. He applied immediately; and, within twenty-four hours,[Pg 10] received a telegram suggesting an interview, and asking him to spend the night at Brambledene Rectory.
Here a curious friendship began, and was speedily cemented by mutual attraction. The white-haired old man, overflowing with geniality, punctilious in old-fashioned courtesy, reminded David Rivers of a father, long dead and deeply mourned; while the young enthusiast, with white, worn face, and deep-set shining eyes, struck a long-silent chord in the heart of the easy-going old Rector, seeming to him an embodiment of that which he himself might have been, had he chosen a harder, rougher path, when standing at the cross-roads half a century before.
An ideal of his youth, long vanished, returned, and stood before him in David Rivers. It was too late, now, to sigh after a departed ideal. But, as a tribute to its memory, he doubled the remuneration he had offered, left the keys in every bookcase in the library, and recommended David to the most especial care of his faithful housekeeper, Sarah Dolman, with instructions that, should the young man seem tired on Sunday evenings, after the full day's work, the best old sherry might be produced and offered.
And here let it be recorded, that David undoubtedly[Pg 11] did look worn and tired after the full day's work; but the best old sherry was declined with thanks. The fact that your heart has remained among the wild tribes of Central Africa has a way of making your body very abstemious, and careless of all ordinary creature comforts.
Nevertheless, David enjoyed the Rector's large armchair, upholstered in maroon leather, and delighted in the oak-panelled study, with its wealth of valuable books and its atmosphere of scholarly calm and meditation.
This last Sunday of his ministry at Brambledene chanced to fall on Christmas-eve. Also, for once, it was true Christmas weather.
As David walked to church that morning, every branch and twig, every ivy leaf and holly berry, sparkled in the sunshine; the frosty lanes were white and hard, and paved with countless glittering diamonds. An indescribable exhilaration was in the air. Limbs felt light and supple; movement was a pleasure. Church bells, near and far away, pealed joyously. The Christmas spirit was already here.
"Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given," quoted David, as he swung along the lanes. It was five years since he had had a Christmas in[Pg 12] England. Mentally he contrasted this keen frosty brightness, with the mosquito-haunted swamps of the African jungle. This unaccustomed sense of health and vigour brought, by force of contrast, a remembrance of the deathly lassitude and weakness which accompany the malarial fever. But, instantly true to the certainty of his high and holy calling, his soul leapt up crying: "Unto them a Child is born! Unto them a Son is given! And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?"
The little church, on that morning, was bright with holly and heavy with evergreens. The united efforts of the Smith and the Jones families had, during the week, made hundreds of yards of wreathing. On Saturday, all available young men came to help; Miss Pike, whose taste was so excellent, to advise; the school-mistress, a noisy person with more energy than tact, to argue with Miss Pike, and to side with Smiths and Joneses alternately, when any controversial point was under discussion.
So a gay party carried the long evergreen wreaths from the parish-room to the church, where already were collected baskets of holly and[Pg 13] ivy, yards of scarlet flannel and white cotton-wool; an abundance of tin tacks and hammers; and last, but not least, the Christmas scrolls and banners, which were annually produced from their place of dusty concealment behind the organ; and of which Mrs. Smith remarked, each year, that they were "every bit as good as new, if you put 'em up in a fresh place."
During the whole of Saturday afternoon and evening the decorative process had been carried on with so much energy, that when David came out from the vestry, on Sunday morning, he found himself in a scene which was decidedly what the old women from the alms-houses called "Christmassy."
His surplice rasped against the holly-leaves, as he made his way into the reading-desk. The homely face of the old gilt clock, on the gallery facing him, was wreathed in yew and holly, and the wreath had slipped slightly on one side, giving the sober old clock an unwontedly rakish appearance, which belied its steady and measured "tick-tick." Also into the bottom of this wreath, beneath which the whole congregation had to pass in and out, Tom Brigg, the doctor's son, a handsome fellow and noted wag, had surreptitiously inserted a piece of mistletoe. This prank[Pg 14] of Tom's, known to all the younger members of the congregation, caused so much nudging and whispering and amused glancing at the inebrious-looking clock, that David produced his own watch, wondering if there were any mistake in the hour.
His sermon, on this Sunday morning, had seemed to him a failure.
His text confronted him in letters of gold on crimson flock: "Emmanuel—God with us"; but not a mind seemed with him as he gave it out, read it twice, slowly and clearly, and then proceeded to explain that this wonderful name, Emmanuel, was never intended to be the world's name for Christ, nor even His people's name for Him. However, at this statement, Mrs. Smith raised her eyebrows and began turning over the leaves of her Bible.
Encouraged by this unusual sign of attention, David Rivers leaned over the pulpit and tried to drive into one mind, at least, a thought which had been a discovery to himself the evening before, and was beginning to mean much to him, as every Spirit-given new light on a well-known theme always must mean to the earnest Bible student.
"The name Emmanuel," he said, "so freely used in our church decorations at this season,[Pg 15] occurs three times only in the Bible; twice in the Old Testament, once in the New; and the New merely quotes the more important of the two passages in the Old.
"We can dismiss at once the allusion in Isaiah viii., 8, which merely speaks of Palestine as 'Thy land, O Immanuel,' and confine our attention to the great prophecy of Isaiah vii., 14, quoted in Matthew i., 23: 'Behold a Virgin shall bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.' The Hebrew of this passage reads: 'Thou, O Virgin, shalt call His name Immanuel'; and the Greek of Matthew i. bears the same meaning. I want you to realise that this was His mother's name for the new-born King, for the Babe of Bethlehem, for the little son in the village home at Nazareth. His Presence there meant to that humble pondering heart: 'God with us.'
"If you want to find our name for Him," continued David, noting that Mrs. Smith, ignoring his two references, still turned the pages of her Bible, "look at the angel's message to Joseph in the 21st verse of Matthew i.: 'Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.' That name is mentioned nine hundred and six times in the Bible. We cannot attempt to look them all out now,"—with an appealing glance[Pg 16] at Mrs. Smith's rustling pages—"but let us make sure that we have appropriated to the full the gifts and blessings of that name, 'which is above every name.' It was the watchword of the early church. It is the secret of our peace and power. It will be our password into heaven.
"But Emmanuel was His mother's name for Him. As she laid him in the manger, round which the patient cattle snuffed in silent wonder at this new use for the place where heretofore they munched their fodder, it was 'God with us' in the stable.
"As, seated on the ass, she clasped the infant to her breast through the long hours of that night ride into Egypt, she whispered: 'Emmanuel, Emmanuel! God with us, in our flight and peril.'
"In the carpenter's home at Nazareth, where, in the midst of the many trials and vexations of a village life of poverty, He was ever patient, gentle, understanding; subject to His parents, yet giving His mother much cause for pondering, many things to treasure in her heart—often, in adoring tenderness, she would whisper: 'Emmanuel, God with us.'"
David paused and looked earnestly down the church, longing for some response to the thrill in his own soul.
"Ah," he said, slowly and impressively, "if only the boys in your village could be this to their mothers! If their loyal obedience, their gentle, loving chivalry, their thoughtful tenderness, could make it possible for their own mothers to say: 'I see the Christ-life in my little boy. When he is at home, the love of God is here. Truly it is Emmanuel, God with us.'"
"What did that young man mean," remarked Mrs. Smith at the dinner-table at Appledore Farm, "by trying to take from us the name 'Emmanuel'? Seems to me, if he stays here much longer we shall have no Bible left!"
Mr. Churchwarden Smith had been carving the Sunday beef for his numerous family. He had only, that moment, fallen to, upon his own portion. Otherwise Mrs. Smith would not have been allowed to complete her sentence.
"I've no patience with these young chaps!" he burst out, as soon as speech was possible. "Undermining the faith of their forefathers; putting our good old English Bible into 'Ebrew and Greek, just to parade their own learning, and confuse the minds of simple folk. 'Higher criticism,' they call it! Jolly low-down impudence, say I!"
Mrs. Smith watchfully bided her time. Then: "And popish too," she added, "to talk so much about the mother of our Lord."
"I don't think he mentioned her, my dear," said Mr. Churchwarden Smith. "Pass the mustard, Johnny."
Yes, as he thought it over during his lonely luncheon, David felt more and more convinced that his morning sermon had been a failure.
He did not know of a little curly-headed boy, whose young widowed mother was at her wit's end as to how to control his wilfulness; but who ran straight to his garret-room after service, and, kneeling beside his frosty window, looked up to the wintry sky and said: "Please God, make me a Manuel to my mother, like Jesus was to His, for Christ's sake, Amen."
David did not know of this; nor that, ever after, that cottage home was to be transformed, owing to the living power of his message.
So, down in the depths of discouragement, he dubbed his morning sermon a failure.
Notwithstanding, he prepared the evening subject with equal care, a spice of enjoyment added, owing to the fact that he would possibly—probably—almost to a certainty—have in the[Pg 19] evening congregation a mind able to understand and appreciate each point; a mind of a calibre equal to his own; a soul he was bent on winning.
As he closed his Bible, put it into his pocket, and relaxed over the thought that his sermon was complete, he smiled into the glowing wood fire, saying to himself, in glad anticipation: "My Lady of Mystery will undoubtedly be there. Now I wonder if she believes that there were three Wise Men!"
THE LADY OF MYSTERY
David thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his short coat, well cut, but inclined to be somewhat threadbare. He crossed his knees, and lay back comfortably in the Rector's big chair. An hour and a half remained before he need start out.
It was inexpressibly restful to have his subject, clear cut and complete, safely stowed away in the back of his mind, and to be able to sit quietly in this warmth and comfort, and let his thoughts dwell lightly upon other things, while Christmas snow fell softly, in large flakes, without; and gathering twilight slowly hushed the day to rest.
"Yes, undoubtedly my Lady of Mystery will be there," thought David Rivers, "unless this fall of snow keeps her away."
He let his memory dwell in detail upon the first time he had seen her.
It happened on his second Sunday at Brambledene.
The deadening effect of the mental apathy of the congregation had already somewhat damped his enthusiasm.
It was so many years since he had preached in English, that, on the first Sunday, he had allowed himself the luxury of writing out his whole sermon. This plan, for various reasons, did not prove successful.
Mrs. Churchwarden Jones and Mrs. Churchwarden Smith—good simple souls both, if you found them in their dairies making butter, or superintending the sturdy maids in the farm kitchens—seemed to consider on Sundays that they magnified their husbands' office by the amount of rustle and jingle they contrived to make with their own portly persons during the church services. They kept it up, duet fashion, on either side of the aisle. If Mrs. Jones rustled, Mrs. Smith promptly tinkled. If Mrs. Smith rustled, Mrs. Jones straightway jingled. The first time this happened in the sermon, David looked round, hesitated, lost his place, and suffered agonies of mortification before he found it again.
Moreover he soon realised that, with his eyes on the manuscript, he had absolutely no chance of holding the attention of his audience.
In the evening he tried notes, but this seemed to him neither one thing nor the other. So on all subsequent Sundays he memorised his sermons as he prepared them, and hardly realised himself how constantly, in their delivery, there flowed from his subconsciousness a depth of thought, clothed in eloquent and appropriate language, which had not as yet been ground in the mill of his conscious mind.
On that second Sunday evening, David had entered the reading-desk depressed and discouraged. In the morning he had fallen out with the choir. It was a mixed choir. Large numbers of young Smiths and Joneses sat on either side of the chancel and vied with one another as to which family could outsing the other. This rivalry was resulting in a specially loud and joyful noise in the closing verses of the Benedictus.
David, jarred in every nerve, and forgetting for the moment that he was not dealing with his African aborigines, wheeled round in the desk, held up his hand, and said: "Hush!" with the result that he had to declaim the details of[Pg 23] John the Baptist's mission, as a tenor solo; and that the organist noisily turned over his music-books during the whole time of the sermon, apparently in a prolonged search for a suitable recessional voluntary.
Wishing himself back in his African forests, David began the service, in a chastened voice, on that second Sunday evening.
During the singing of the first of the evening psalms the baize-covered door, at the further end of the church, was pushed gently open; a tall figure entered, alone; closed the door noiselessly behind her, and stood for a moment, in hesitating uncertainty, beneath the gallery.
Then the old clerk and verger, Jabez Bones, bustled out of his seat, and ushering her up the centre, showed her into a cushioned pew on the pulpit side, rather more than half-way up the church.
The congregation awoke to palpable interest, at her advent. The choir infused a tone of excitement into the chant, which, up to that moment, had been woefully flat. Each pew she passed, in the wake of old Jabez, thereafter contained a nudge or a whisper.
David's first impression of her, was of an embodiment of silence and softness,—so silently[Pg 24] she passed up the church and into the empty pew, moving to the further corner, right against the stout whitewashed pillar. No rustle, no tinkle, marked her progress; only a silent fragrance of violets. And of softness—soft furs, soft velvet, soft hair; and soft grey eyes, beneath the brim of a dark green velvet hat.
But his second impression was other than the first. She was looking at him with an expression of amused scrutiny. Her eyes were keen and penetrating; her lips were set in lines of critical independence of judgment; the beautifully moulded chin was firm and white as marble against the soft brown fur.
She regarded him steadily for some minutes. Then she looked away, and David became aware, by means of that subconscious intuition, which should be as a sixth sense to all ministers and preachers, that nothing in the service reached her in the very least. Her mind was far away. Whatever her object had been, in entering the little whitewashed church of Brambledene on that Sunday night, it certainly was not worship.
But, when he began to preach, he arrested her attention. His opening remark evidently appealed to her. She glanced up at him, quickly, a gleam of amusement and interest in her clear[Pg 25] eyes. And afterwards, though she did not lift them again, and partly turned away, leaning against the pillar, so that he could see only the clear-cut whiteness of her perfect profile, he knew that she was listening.
From that hour, David's evening sermons were prepared with the more or less conscious idea of reaching the soul of that calm immovable Lady of Mystery.
She did not attract him as a woman. Her beauty meant nothing to him. He had long ago faced the fact that his call to Central Africa must mean celibacy. No man worthy of the name would, for his own comfort or delight, allow a woman to share such dangers and privations as those through which he had to pass. And, if five years of that climate had undermined his own magnificent constitution and sent him home a wreck of his former self, surely, had he taken out a wife, it would simply have meant a lonely grave, left behind in the African jungle.
So David had faced it out that a missionary's life, in a place where wife and children could not live, must mean celibacy; nor had he the smallest intention of ever swerving from that decision. His devotion to his work filled his heart. His people were his children.
Therefore no ordinary element of romance entered into his thoughts concerning the beautiful woman who, on each Sunday evening, leaned against the stone pillar, and showed by a slight flicker of the eyelids or curve of the proud lips, that she heard and appreciated each point in his sermon.
How far she agreed, he had no means of knowing. Who she was, and whence she came, he did not attempt to find out. He preferred that she should remain the Lady of Mystery. After her first appearance, when old Jabez bustled into the vestry at the close of the service, he abounded in nods and winks, inarticulate exclamations, and chuckings of his thumb over his shoulder backward toward the church. At length, getting no response from David, he burst forth: "Sakes alive, sir! I'm thinking she ain't bin seen in a place o' wash-up, since she was——"
David, half in and half out of his cassock, turned on the old clerk in sudden indignation.
"Bones," he said, sternly, "no member of the congregation should ever be discussed in the vestry. Not another word, please. Now give me the entry book."
The old man muttered something inaudible about the Rector and young hupstarts, and[Pg 27] our poor David had made another enemy in Brambledene.
He never chanced to see his Lady of Mystery arrive; but, after that first evening, she never failed to be in her place when he came out of the vestry; nor did he ever see her depart, always resisting the temptation to leave the church hurriedly when service was over.
So she remained the Lady of Mystery; and now—his last Sunday evening had come; and, as he thought of her, he longed to see a look of faith and joy dawn in her cold sad eyes, as ardently as another man might have longed to see a look of love for himself awaken in them.
But David wanted nothing for himself, and a great deal for his Lord. He wanted this beautiful personality, this forceful character, this strong, self-reliant soul; he wanted this obvious wealth, this unmistakable possessor of place and power, for his Master's service, for the Kingdom of his King. No thought of himself came in at all. How should it? He wanted to win her for her own sake; and he wanted to win her for his Lord. He wanted this more persistently and ardently than he had ever desired anything in his life before. He was almost perplexed at the insistence of the thought, and the way in which it never left him.
And now—the last chance had come.
He rose, and went to the window. Snowflakes were falling gently, few and far between; but the landscape was completely covered by a pure white pall.
"Undoubtedly," said David, "my Lady of Mystery will be there, unless this fall of snow keeps her away."
He paced up and down the study, repeating stray sentences from his sermon, as they came into his mind.
Sarah brought in the lamp, and drew the maroon rep curtains, shutting out the snow and gathering darkness; Sarah, stout, comfortable, and motherly, who—accustomed to the rosy-cheeked plumpness of her easy-going master—looked with undisguised dismay at David's thin worn face, and limbs on which his clothes still hung loosely, giving him an appearance of not belonging to his surroundings, which tried the kind heart and practical mind of the Rector's good housekeeper.
"He do give me the creeps, poor young gentleman," she confided to a friend, who had dropped in for tea and a chat. "To see him all shrunk up, so to speak, in Master's big chair; and just where there would be so much of Master, there's[Pg 29] naught of him, which makes the chair seem fair empty. And then he looks up and speaks, and his voice is like music, and his eyes shine like stars, and he seems more alive than Master, or anybody else one knows; yet not alive in his poor thin body; but alive because of something burning and shining hinside of 'im; something stronger than a body, and more alive than life—oh, I don't know!" concluded Sarah, suddenly alarmed by her own eloquence.
"Creepy, I call it," said the friend.
"Creepy it is," agreed Sarah.
Nevertheless she watched carefully over David's creature comforts, and he owed it to Sarah's insistence, that he weighed nearly a stone heavier when he left Brambledene than on his arrival there.
She now brought in tea, temptingly arranged on a tray, poured out his first cup, and stood a minute to watch him drink it, and to exhort him to wrap up well, before going out in this snow.
"My last Sunday, Sarah," said David, looking at her with those same deep-set shining eyes. "I sha'n't bother you much longer. I have a service to-morrow—Christmas-day; and must stay over Boxing-day for two weddings. Then I'm off to town; and in a couple of weeks I sail[Pg 30] for Central Africa. I wonder how you would like Africa, Sarah. Are you afraid of snakes?"
"Don't mention 'em, Mr. Rivers, sir," replied Sarah, in a stage whisper; "nasty evil things! If Eve had been as fearful of 'em as I am, there'd never 'ave been no Fall. You wouldn't catch me staying to talk theology with a serpent. No, not me, sir! It's take to m' heels and run, would have been my way, if I'd 'a lived in Genesis three."
David smiled. "A good way, Sarah," he said, "and scriptural. But you forget the attraction of the tree, with its luscious fruit. Poor Eve! The longing of the moment, always seems the great essential. We are apt to forget the long eternity of regret."
Sarah sidled respectfully towards the door.
"Eat your hot-buttered toast, before it grows cold, sir," she counselled; "and give over thinking about snakes. Dear heart, it's Christmas-eve!"
"So it is," said David. "And my sermon is about a star. Right you are, Sarah! I'll 'give over thinking about snakes,' and look higher. There can be no following of the star with our eyes turned earthward.... All right! Don't you worry. I'll eat every bit."
DAVID STIRS THE STILL WATERS
As David tramped to church the moon was rising. The fir trees stood, dark and stately, beneath their nodding plumes of feathery snow. The little village church, with its white roof, and brightly lighted windows, looked like a Christmas card.
Above its ivy-covered tower, luminous as a lamp in the deep purple sky, shone out one brilliant star.
David smiled as he raised his eyes. He was thinking of Sarah and the snakes. "'If I had lived in Genesis three,'" he quoted. "What a delightful way of putting it; as if Genesis were a terrace, and three the number. Good old Sarah! Would she have been more successful in coping with the tempter? Undoubtedly Eve had the artistic temperament, which is always a snare; also she had a woman's instinctive desire to set others right, and to explain. Adam would have seen through the tempter's wilful distortion of the wording[Pg 32] of God's command, and would not have been beguiled into an argument with so crafty and insincere an opponent. Poor Eve, in her desire to prove him wrong, to air her own superior knowledge, and to justify her Maker, hurried at once into the trap, and was speedily undone. Here, at the very outset of our history, we have in a nutshell the whole difference between the mentality of the sexes. Where Eve stood arguing and explaining,—laying herself open to a retort which shook her own belief, and undermined her obedience,—Adam would have said: "Liar!" and turned on his heel. Yet if Eve lived nowadays she would be quite sure she could set right all mistakes in our legislature, if only Adam could be induced to let her have a finger in every pie. Having lived in Genesis iii., Adam would know better than to try it!"
As David reached the old lich-gate, two brilliant lights shone down the road from the opposite direction, and the next moment a motor glided swiftly to the gate, and stopped.
A footman sprang down from beside the chauffeur, opened the door, touched a button, and the interior of the car flashed into light.
Seated within, half buried in furs, David saw the[Pg 33] calm sweet face of his Lady of Mystery. He stood on one side, in the shadow of the gate, and waited.
The footman drew out a white fur rug, and threw it over his left arm; then held the door wide.
She stepped out, tall and silent. David saw the calm whiteness of her features in the moonlight. She took no more notice of her men, than if they had been machines, but passed straight up the churchyard path, between the yew-tree sentinels, and disappeared into the porch.
The footman bundled in the rug, switched off the lights, banged the door, took his place beside the chauffeur, and the large roomy motor glided silently away. Nothing remained save a delicate fragrance of violets under the lich-gate, beneath which she had passed.
The whole thing had taken twenty seconds. It seemed to David like the swift happenings of a dream. Nothing was left, to prove its reality, but the elusive scent of violets, and the marks of the huge tyres in the snow.
But as David made his way round to the vestry door, he knew his Lady of Mystery was already in her corner beside the stout whitewashed pillar; and he also knew that he had been right, in the[Pg 34] surmise which placed her in an environment of luxury and wealth.
Christmas-eve had produced a larger congregation than usual. The service was as cheerful and noisy as the choir and organist could make it. David's quiet voice seemed only to be heard at rare intervals, like the singing of a thrush in the momentary lull of a storm.
The Lady of Mystery looked alternately bored and amused. Her expression was more calmly critical than ever. She had discarded her large velvet hat for a soft toque of silver-grey fur, placed lightly upon her wealth of golden hair. This tended to reveal the classic beauty of her features, yet made her look older, showing up a hardness of expression which had been softened by the green velvet brim. David, who had thought her twenty-five, now began to wonder whether she were not older than himself. Her expression might have credited her with full thirty years' experience of the world.
David mounted the pulpit steps to the inspiriting strains of "While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground." Already the inhabitants of Brambledene had had it at their front doors, sung, in season and out of season,[Pg 35] by the school-children, in every sort of key and tempo. Now the latter returned joyfully to the charge, sure of arriving at the final verse, without any sudden or violent exhortations to go away. They beat the choir's already rapid rendering; ignored the organist, and rushed on without pause, comma, or breathing space.
In the midst of this erratic description of the peaceful scene on Bethlehem's hills on that Christmas night so long ago, David's white earnest face appeared in the pulpit, looking down anxiously upon his congregation.
The words of his opening collect brought a sense of peace, though the silence of his long intentional pause after "Let us pray," had at first accentuated the remembrance of the hubbub which had preceded it. David felt that the weird chanting of his African savages, echoing among the trees of their primeval forests, compared favourably, from the point of view both of reverence and of music, with the singing in this English village church. His very soul was jarred. His nerves were all on edge.
As he stood silent, while the congregation settled into their seats, looking down he met the grey eyes of his Lady of Mystery. They said: "I am waiting. I have come for this."
Instantly the sense of inspiration filled him.
With glad assurance he gave out his text. "The gospel according to St. Matthew, the second chapter, the tenth and eleventh verses; 'When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.... And when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.'"
As soon as the text of a sermon was given out, Mr. Churchwarden Jones in his corner, and Mr. Churchwarden Smith in his, verified it in their Bibles, made sure it was really there, and had been read correctly. Then they closed their Bibles and placed them on the ledges in front of them; took off their glasses, put them noisily into spectacle-cases, stowed these in inner pockets, leant well back, and proceeded to go very unmistakably and emphatically to sleep.
David had got into the way of reading his text twice over, slowly, while this performance took place.
Now, when he looked up from his Bible, the two churchwardens were in position. Their gold watch-chains, looped upon their ample waistcoats, produced much the same effect as the wreathing with which well-meaning decorators had accentuated the stoutness of the whitewashed pillars.
The attention of the congregation was already wandering. David made a desperate effort to hold it.
"My friends," he said, "although it is Christmas-eve, I speak to you to-night on the Epiphany subject, because, when the great Feast of Epiphany comes, I shall no longer have the privilege of addressing you. I expect to be on the ocean, on my way to carry the Christmas message of 'Peace on earth, good will toward men,' to the savage tribes of Central Africa."
No one looked responsive. No one seemed to care in the least where David Rivers would be on the great Feast of Epiphany. He tried another tack.
"Our text deals with the experience of those Wise Men of the East, who, guided by the star, journeyed over the desert in quest of the new-born King. Now, if I were to ask this congregation to tell me how many Wise Men there were, I wonder which of you would answer 'three.'"
No one looked in the least interested. What a silly question! What a senseless cause for wonder! Of course they would all answer "three." The youngest infant in the Sunday-school knew that there were three Wise Men.
"But why should you say 'three'?" continued[Pg 38] David. "We are not told in the Bible how many Wise Men there were. Look and see."
The Smith and Jones families made no move. They knew perfectly well that their Bibles said "three." If this young man's Bible omitted to mention the orthodox number, it was only another of many omissions in his new-fangled Bible and unsound preaching. It would be one thing more to report to the Rector, on his return.
But his Lady of Mystery leaned forward, took up a Bible which chanced to be beside her, turned rapidly to Matthew ii., bent over it for a moment, then smiled, and laid it down. David knew she had made sure of finding "three," and had not found it. He took courage. She was interested.
He launched into his subject. In vivid words, more full of poetry and beauty than he knew, he rapidly painted the scene; the long journey through the eastern desert, with eyes upon the star; the anxious days, when it could not be seen, and the route might so easily be missed; the glad nights when it shone again, luminous, serene, still moving on before. The arrival at Jerusalem, the onward quest to Bethlehem, the finding of the King.
Then, the actual story fully dealt with, David turned to application.
"My friends," he said, "this earthly life of[Pg 39] ours is the desert. Your pilgrimage lies across its ofttimes dreary wastes. But if your journey is to be to any purpose, if life is to be a success and not a failure, its main object must be the finding of the King. His guiding Spirit moves before you as the star. His word is also the heavenly lamp which lights your way. But I want, to-night, to give you a third meaning for the Epiphany star. The star stands for your highest Ideal. Pause a moment, and think.... Have you in your life to-night a heaven-sent Ideal, to which you are always true; which you follow faithfully, and which, as you follow it, leads to the King?"
David paused. Mrs. Jones rustled, and Mrs. Smith tinkled, but David heard them not. The Lady of Mystery had lifted her eyes to his, and those beautiful sad eyes said: "I had."
"They lost sight of the star," said David. "Their hearts were sad, thinking they had lost it forever. But they found it again at Jerusalem—place of God's holy temple and worship. Here—is your Jerusalem. Lift your eyes to-night, higher than the mere church roof, and find again your lost star; see where shines your Ideal—your faith, your hope, your love, your belief in things eternal. 'And when they saw the star they rejoiced.'"
Long lashes veiled the grey eyes. Her hands were folded in her lap, and her eyes were not lifted from them.
"When these desert-travellers found the King," continued David, "they opened their treasures and presented unto Him gifts,—gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. I know this is usually taken in relation to Himself, and as being, in a threefold way, typical of His mission: Gold for the King; frankincense for the great High Priest; myrrh for the suffering, dying Saviour, who was to give His life for the redemption of the world.
"But I want to take it to-night in another sense. Let these three kinds of gifts emphasise the three kinds of things you have in your life to-day, which you may offer to the King, if your guiding star has led you to His feet. They opened their treasures. I want you to open your treasures, to-night. What are your treasures? Why yourself, and all you possess.
"First let us consider the gold."
The Lady of Mystery lifted her golden head and looked him full in the face. There was challenge in her eyes.
"I do not necessarily mean your money," said David, "though how much more you might all do with that, for the King and for His service, than[Pg 41] you are already doing. Ah, if people could realise how greatly gold is needed for His work, they would soon open their treasures and pour it forth! I have told you of my vast parish, out in the unexplored forests, swamps, and jungles of Central Africa. Do you know what I want for my people, there? Think of all you have here—of all you have had, ever since you can remember. Then listen: I want a church; I want schools; I want books; I want a translation of the Bible, and a printing-press to print it with." David's eyes glowed, and he threw grammar to the winds! "I want a comrade to help me, and a steam-launch with which to navigate great lakes and rivers. I want all these things, and I want them for my Master, and for His work. I can give my own life, but it is all I have to give. I have been taking your Rector's place here for six weeks in order to earn twelve guineas, which will enable me to take out a good medicine-chest with which to doctor my people, and to complete my necessary outfit."
Mr. Churchwarden Jones was awake by now, and fidgeted uncomfortably. This young man should not have mentioned his stipend, from the pulpit. It was decidedly unsuitable.
"Your Rector," continued David, "knowing why I need it, is generously doubling that payment.[Pg 42] May God bless him for it, when he takes up again his ministry among you."
They were all listening now. David's eyes glowed like hot coals in his thin face. His voice rang through the church.
"Ah, friends," he said, "those who have all they need for their comfortable spiritual life, cannot realise the awful, desperate want, in those wild places of the earth. We enjoy quoting what we call a 'gospel text': 'Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.' But too often we pause there, in self-appropriating complacency, forgetting that the whole point of the passage lies in what follows: 'How then shall they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?' You must answer all these questions, when you open your treasures at the feet of the King.
"But forgive me for intruding my own interests. This is not a missionary sermon."—Here Mrs. Smith nodded, energetically. That was exactly what she had already whispered to Mr. Smith.—"Also 'gold' stands for much besides money. Think of all the golden things in life. The joys,[Pg 43] the brightness, the glory of success; all beauty, all gaiety, all golden mirth and laughter. Let all these golden things be so consecrated that, opening your treasures, you can at any moment bring them as offerings to your King.
"But the second gift was frankincense." David paused, giving each listener—and at last there were many—time to wonder what in his or her life stood for frankincense.
"Frankincense," said David, "is, first of all, your worship. And by worship, I do not necessarily mean public worship in church, important though that be. I mean the constant worship of an adoring heart. 'O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.' Unless your daily life from Monday to Saturday is a life of worship, there will not be much reality in your public worship on Sunday. And then, frankincense stands for all that appertains to the spirit part of you—your ideals, your noblest loves, your finest aspirations. Open your treasures, friends, and bring these to your King.
"And, lastly, myrrh." David paused, and a look so calm, so holy, so sublime, passed into his face, that to one who watched him then, and who chanced to know the meaning of that look, his face was as the face of an angel.
"The myrrh," he said, "stands for death. Some of us may be called upon definitely to face death, for the King's sake. But all who have lived unto Him in life, can glorify Him in death. 'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.' We can all at last bring to Him this gift—a gift which, in the bringing, will indeed bring us into His very presence. But, meanwhile, your present offering of myrrh is the death of self; the daily crucifying of the self-life. 'For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him, Who died for them, and rose again.' Your response to that constraining love, your acceptance of that atoning death, your acquiesence in that crucifixion of self, constitute your offering of myrrh.
"But myrrh, in the Bible, stands for other things besides death. We must not pause to do so now, but sometime, at your leisure, look out each mention of myrrh. You will find it stands for love—love of the sweetest, tenderest kind; love so complete, that it must bring with it self-abnegation, and a mingling of pain with its bliss.
"And you will find it stands for sorrow; not bitterness of woe; but sorrow accepted as the Father's[Pg 45] will, and therefore touched with reverent joy. Ah, bring your sorrows as gifts to your King. 'Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.' Bring even these, and lay them at His feet."
David closed his Bible, placing it on the cushion, folded his hands upon it, and leaned down from the high pulpit.
"My friends," he said,—and those who looked up responsive never forgot the light in his eyes—"I am leaving this dear home land of ours on the day when we shall be keeping the Feast of the Star. My star leads me to a place from which I do not ever expect to return. My offering of myrrh to my King, is a grave in an African forest, and I offer it gladly.
"But, may I now say to you, whose faces—after to-morrow—I never expect to see again: Do not lose sight of your star, as you travel across life's desert. Look up, look on; ever, in earnest faith, move forward. Then I can leave with each one in this congregation, as a farewell promise"—he looked at all present; but his eyes met the grey eyes, now swimming in tears, of his Lady of Mystery; met, and held them, with searching solemn gaze, as he uttered his final words—
"Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty; they shall behold the Land that is very far off."
DIANA RIVERS, OF RIVERSCOURT
Perhaps the greatest tribute to David's sermon, was the quiet way in which the good people of Brambledene rose to their feet at its close.
Lead, Kindly Light was sung with unusual feeling and reverence.
The collection, for Church Expenses, was the largest ever taken in Brambledene Church, within the memory of man. In one of the plates, there was gold. David knew quite well who had put in that sovereign.
He sat at the vestry table and fingered it thoughtfully. He had disrobed while the churchwardens counted the money and commented on the unusual amount of the collection, and the remarkable fact of a sovereign in the plate. They left the money in little piles on the red cloth, for David to carry home and lock up in the Rector's safe.
He had now to enter his text, and the amount of the collection, in the vestry book.
He had glanced down the church as he left the chancel. His Lady of Mystery was still on her knees in the corner near the pillar, her head bowed in her hands. He had seen the top of her grey fur hat, with soft waves of golden hair on either side of it.
He took up the pen and entered his text.
Then he laid the pen down, and glanced at back records of evening collections for Church Expenses. He did not hurry. He could hear very faintly in the distance the throbbing of a motor, waiting at the lich-gate. He knew exactly how it looked, waiting in the snow; two great acetylene lamps in front; delicate electric bulbs lighting the interior, one in each corner of the roof. He knew just how she would look, as the footman tucked the white fur rug around her. She would lean back, rather bored and impatient, and take no more notice of the man, than if he were a machine. David hated that kind of behaviour toward those who serve. He held that every service, even the smallest, should receive a kindly acknowledgment.
He turned the pages of the vestry book. Six shillings and eleven pence. Two and four pence[Pg 48] halfpenny. Three and six. Four shillings and nine pence three farthings. Seven and ten pence. And now he was about to enter: "two pounds, eight shillings, and seven pence halfpenny." Even without the gold she had put in, it was a large increase on former offerings. Truly these good people opened their treasures when at last their hearts were touched.
David was alone in the vestry. He could hear old Jabez Bones bustling about in the church, putting out the lamps, occasionally knocking down books, and picking them up again; doing in appearance three times as much as he accomplished in reality.
David took up the pen. He did not hurry. The rhythmic panting of the engine still reached him, faintly, across the snowy mounds. He did not intend to arrive at the lich-gate until that dream-motor had glided noiselessly out of sight.
As he bent over the book to make the entry, the vestry door was pushed softly open. He heard no sound; but a subtle fragrance of violets suddenly surrounded him.
David looked up.
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