Part 4 out of 4
London, a hopelessly useless, a pitiably gifted man. His chilly
little aristocratic mother always spoke of him as "poor, dear
Charles." His brothers, clubmen all, graciously alluded to him
with, "deuced hard luck, poor Charlie." His father never mentioned
Then he went into "The Church," sailed for Canada, idled about for
a few weeks, when one of the great colonial bishops, not knowing
what else to do with him, packed him off north as a missionary to
And, after four years of disheartening labor amongst a
semi-civilized people, came this girl Lydia into his life. This
girl of the mixed parentage, the English father, who had been swept
northward with the rush of lumber trading, the Chippewa mother, who
had been tossed to his arms by the tide of circumstances. The girl
was a strange composition of both, a type of mixed blood, pale,
dark, slender, with the slim hands, the marvellously beautiful
teeth of her mother's people, the ambition, the small tender
mouth, the utter fearlessness of the English race. But the
strange, laughless eyes, the silent step, the hard sense of honor,
proclaimed her far more the daughter of red blood than of white.
And, with the perversity of his kind, Cragstone loved her; he
meant to marry her because he knew that he should not. What a
monstrous thing it would be if he did! He, the shepherd of this
half-civilized flock, the modern John Baptist; he, the voice of the
great Anglican Church crying in this wilderness, how could he wed
with this Indian girl who had been a common serving-maid in a house
in Penetanguishene, and been dismissed therefrom with an accusation
of theft that she could never prove untrue? How could he bring
this reproach upon the Church? Why, the marriage would have no
precedent; and yet he loved her, loved her sweet, silent ways,
her listening attitudes, her clear, brown, consumptive-suggesting
skin. She was the only thing in all the irksome mission life that
had responded to him, had encouraged him to struggle anew for
the spiritual welfare of this poor red race. Of course, in
Penetanguishene they had told him she was irreclaimable, a thief,
with ready lies to cover her crimes; for that very reason he felt
tender towards her, she was so sinful, so pathetically human.
He could have mastered himself, perhaps, had she not responded, had
he not seen the laughless eyes laugh alone for him, had she not once
when a momentary insanity possessed them both confessed in words
her love for him as he had done to her. But now? Well, now only
this horrible tale of theft and untruth hung between them like a
veil; now even with his arms locked about her, his eyes drowned in
hers, his ears caught the whispers of calumny, his thoughts were
perforated with the horror of his Bishop's censure, and these
things rushed between his soul and hers, like some bridgeless deep
he might not cross, and so his lonely life went on.
And then one night his sweet humanity, his grand, strong love rose
up, battled with him, and conquered. He cast his pharisaical ideas,
and the Church's "I am better than thou," aside forever; he would
go now, to-night, he would ask her to be his wife, to have and to
hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for--
A shadow fell across the doorway of his simple home; it was August
Beaver, the trapper, with the urgent request that he would come
across to French Island at once, for old "Medicine" Joe was there,
dying, and wished to see the minister. At another time Cragstone
would have felt sympathetic, now he was only irritated; he wanted
to find Lydia, to look in her laughless eyes, to feel her fingers
in his hair, to tell her he did not care if she were a hundred
times a thief, that he loved her, loved her, loved her, and he
would marry her despite the Church, despite--
"Joe, he's near dead, you come now?" broke in August's voice.
Cragstone turned impatiently, got his prayer-book, followed the
trapper, took his place in the canoe, and paddled in silence up
The moon arose, large, limpid, flooding the cabin with a wondrous
light, and making more wan the features of a dying man, whose
fever-wasted form lay on some lynx skins on the floor.
Cragstone was reading from the Book of Common Prayer the exquisite
service of the Visitation of the Sick. Outside, the loons clanged
up the waterways, the herons called across the islands, but no
human things ventured up the wilds. Inside, the sick man lay,
beside him August Beaver holding a rude lantern, while Cragstone's
matchless voice repeated the Anglican formula. A spasm, an uplifted
hand, and Cragstone paused. Was the end coming even before a
benediction? But the dying man was addressing Beaver in Chippewa,
whispering and choking out the words in his death struggle.
"He says he's bad man," spoke Beaver. A horrible, humorous
sensation swept over Cragstone; he hated himself for it, but at
college he had always ridiculed death-bed confessions; but in a
second that feeling had vanished, he bent his handsome, fair face
above the copper-colored countenance of the dying man. "Joe," he
said, with that ineffable tenderness that had always drawn human
hearts to him; "Joe, tell me before I pronounce the Absolution,
how you have been 'bad'?"
"I steal three times," came the answer. "Oncet horses, two of them
from farmer near Barrie. Oncet twenty fox-skins at North Bay;
station man he in jail for those fox-skins now. Oncet gold watch
from doctor at Penetanguishene."
The prayer-book rattled from Cragstone's hands and fell to the
"Tell me about this watch," he mumbled. "How did you come to
"I liffe at the doctor's; I take care his horse, long time; old
River's girl, Lydia, she work there too; they say she steal it;
I sell to trader, the doctor he nefer know, he think Lydia."
Cragstone was white to the lips. "Joe," he faltered, "you are
dying; do you regret this sin, are you sorry?"
An indistinct "yes" was all; death was claiming him rapidly.
But a great, white, purified love had swept over the young
clergyman. The girl he worshipped could never now be a reproach to
his calling, she was proved blameless as a baby, and out of his
great human love arose the divine calling, the Christ-like sense
of forgiveness, the God-like forgetfulness of injury and suffering
done to his and to him, and once more his soft, rich voice broke
the stillness of the Northern night, as the Anglican absolution of
the dying fell from his lips in merciful tenderness:
"O Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to His Church to absolve
all sinners who truly repent and believe in Him, of His great mercy
forgive thee thine offences, and by His authority committed to me
I absolve thee from all thy sins in the name of the Father, and of
the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
Beaver was holding the lantern close to the penitent's face;
Cragstone, kneeling beside him, saw that the end had come already,
and, after making the sign of the Cross on the dead Indian's
forehead, the young priest arose and went silently out into the
* * * * *
The sun was slipping down into the far horizon, fretted by the
inimitable wonder of islands that throng the Georgian Bay; the
blood-colored skies, the purpling clouds, the extravagant beauty
of a Northern sunset hung in the west like the trailing robes of
royalty, soundless in their flaring, their fading; soundless as the
unbroken wilds which lay bathed in the loneliness of a dying day.
But on the color-flooded shore stood two, blind to the purple, the
scarlet, the gold, blind to all else save the tense straining of
the other's eyes; deaf to nature's unsung anthem, hearing only the
other's voice. Cragstone stood transfixed with consternation. The
memory of the past week of unutterable joy lay blasted with the
awfulness of this moment, the memory of even that first day--when
he had stood with his arms about her, had told her how he had
declared her reclaimed name far and wide, how even Penetanguishene
knew now that she had suffered blamelessly, how his own heart
throbbed suffocatingly with the honor, the delight of being the
poor means through which she had been righted in the accusing eyes
of their little world, and that now she would be his wife, his
sweet, helping wife, and she had been great enough not to remind
him that he had not asked her to be his wife until her name was
proved blameless, and he was great enough not to make excuse of the
resolve he had set out upon just when August Beaver came to turn
the current of his life.
But he had other eyes to face to-night, eyes that blurred the past,
that burned themselves into his being--the condemning, justly and
righteously indignant eyes of his Bishop--while his numb heart,
rather than his ears, listened to the words that fell from the
prelate's lips like curses on his soul, like the door that would
shut him forever outside the holy place.
"What have you done, you pretended servant of the living God?
What use is this you have made of your Holy Orders? You hear the
confessions of a dying man, you absolve and you bless him, and come
away from the poor dead thief to shout his crimes in the ears of
the world, to dishonor him, to be a discredit to your calling. Who
could trust again such a man as you have proved to be--faithless to
himself, faithless to his Church, faithless to his God?"
But Cragstone was on the sands at his accuser's feet. "Oh! my
Lord," he cried, "I meant only to save the name of a poor,
mistrusted girl, selfishly, perhaps, but I would have done the
same thing just for humanity's sake had it been another to whom
injustice was done."
"Your plea of justice is worse than weak; to save the good name
of the living is it just to rob the dead?"
The Bishop's voice was like iron.
"I did not realize I was a priest, I only knew I was a _man_," and
with these words Cragstone arose and looked fearlessly, even
proudly, at the one who stood his judge.
"Is it not better, my Lord, to serve the living than the dead?"
"And bring reproach upon your Church?" said the Bishop, sternly.
It was the first thought Cragstone ever had of his official crime;
he staggered under the horror of it, and the little, dark, silent
figure, that had followed them unseen, realized in her hiding amid
the shadows that the man who had lifted her into the light was
himself being thrust down into irremediable darkness. But Cragstone
only saw the Bishop looking at him as from a supreme height, he
only felt the final stinging lash in the words: "When a man
disregards the most sacred offices of his God, he will hardly
reverence the claims of justice of a simple woman who knows not his
world, and if he so easily flings his God away for a woman, just so
easily will he fling her away for other gods."
And Lydia, with eyes that blazed like flame, watched the Bishop
turn and walk frigidly up the sands, his indignation against this
outrager of the Church declaring itself in every footfall.
Cragstone flung himself down, burying his face in his hands. What a
wreck he had made of life! He saw his future, loveless, for no woman
would trust him now; even the one whose name he had saved would
probably be more unforgiving than the Church; it was the way
with women when a man abandoned God and honor for them; and this
nameless but blackest of sins, this falsity to one poor dying
sinner, would stand between him and heaven forever, though through
that very crime he had saved a fellow being. Where was the justice
The purple had died from out the western sky, the waters of the
Georgian Bay lay colorless at his feet, night was covering the
world and stealing with inky blackness into his soul.
She crept out of her hiding-place, and, coming, gently touched his
tumbled fair hair; but he shrank from her, crying: "Lydia, my girl,
my girl, I am not for a good woman now! I, who thought you an
outcast, a thief, not worthy to be my wife, to-night I am not an
outcast of man alone, but of God."
But what cared she for his official crimes? She was a woman. Her
arms were about him, her lips on his; and he who had, until now,
been a portless derelict, who had vainly sought a haven in art,
an anchorage in the service of God, had drifted at last into the
world's most sheltered harbor--a woman's love.
But, of course, the Bishop took away his gown.