The fawn became to him a continual reminder of this spiritual struggle and victory, for he kept it in his cabin, made it a companion, trained it to follow him about his work, and finally presented it to Pepeeta.
There were many beautiful things to be seen in the winter woods; snow hanging in plumes from the trees, the smoke of the cabin curling into the still air, rabbits browsing on the low bushes, the woodsman standing in triumph over a fallen tree; but when, on the days of her visits to the exile, Pepeeta entered the clearing and the deer, perceiving her approach, ran to greet her in flying leaps, bounded around her, looked up into her face with its gentle eyes, ate the food she offered and licked the hand of its mistress--David thought that there was nothing more beautiful in the world.
"The loves that meet in Paradise shall cast out fear, And Paradise hath room for you and me and all."
At last--the springtime came!
The potent energy of the sun opened all the myriad veins of the great trees, wakened the hibernating creatures of the dens and burrows from their protracted sleep, caused the seeds to swell and burst in the bosom of earth, and sent the blood coursing through David's veins, quickening all his intellectual and spiritual powers.
And then, the end of his exile was near! In a few weeks he would have vindicated the purity of his purpose to attain the divine life, and have proved himself worthy to claim the hand of Pepeeta!
All the winter long he had plied his axe. Once more, now that the snow had vanished, he set fire to the debris which he had strewn around him, and saw with an indescribable feeling of triumph and delight the open soil made ready for his plow. He yoked a team of patient oxen to it and set the sharp point deep into the black soil. Never had the earth smelled so sweet as now when the broad share threw it back in a continuously advancing wave. Never had that yeoman's joy of hearing the ripping of roots and the grating of iron against stones as the great oxen settled to their work, strained in their yokes and dragged the plow point through the bosom of the earth, been half so genuine and deep. It was good to be alive, to sleep, to eat, to toil! Cities had lost their charm. David's sin was no longer a withering and blasting, but a chastening and restraining memory. His clearing was a kingdom, his cabin a palace, and he was soon to have a queen! He had reserved his sowing for the last day of his self-imposed seclusion, which ended with the month of May.
On the day following, having accomplished his vow, he would go to the house of G.o.d and claim his bride! This day he would devote to that solemn function of scattering the sacred seed of life's chief support into the open furrow!
No wonder a feeling of devotion and awe came upon him as he prepared himself for his task; for perhaps there is not a single act in the whole economy of life better calculated to stir a thoughtful mind to its profoundest depths than the sowing of those golden grains which have within them the promise and potency of life. Year after year, century after century, millions of men have gone forth in the light of the all-beholding and life-giving sun to cast into the bosom of the earth the sustenance of their children! It is a sublime act of faith, and this sacrifice of a present for a future good, an actual for a potential blessing, is no less beautiful and holy because familiar and old. The Divine Master himself could not contemplate it without emotion and was inspired by it to the utterance of one of his grandest parables.
And then the field itself inspired solemn reflections and n.o.ble pride in the mind of the sower. It was his own! He had carved it out of a wilderness! Here was soil which had never been opened to the daylight.
Here was ground which perhaps for a thousand, and not unlikely for ten thousand years, should bring forth seed to the sower; and he had cleared it with his own hands! Generations and centuries after he should have died and been forgotten, men would go forth into this field as he was doing to-day, to sow their seed and reap their harvests.
He slung his bag of grain over his shoulder and stepped forth from his cabin at the dawn of day. The clearing he had made was an almost perfect circle. All around it were the green walls of the forest with the great trunks of the beeches, white and symmetrical, standing like vast Corinthian columns supporting a green frieze upon which rested the lofty roof of the immense cathedral. From the organ-loft the music of the morning breeze resounded, and from the choirs the sweet antiphonals of birds. Odors of pine, of balsam, of violets, of peppermint, of fresh-plowed earth, of bursting life, were wafted across the vast nave from transept to transept, and floated like incense up to heaven.
The priest, about to offer his sacrifice, the sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit, about to confess his faith; in the beautiful and symbolic act of sacrificing the present for the future, stepped forth into the open furrow.
His open countenance, bronzed with the sun, was lighted with love and adoration; his lips smiled; his eyes glowed; he lifted them to the heavens in an unspoken prayer for the benediction of the great life-giver; he drew into his nostrils the sweet odors, into his lungs the pure air, into his soul the beauty and glory of the world, and then, filling his hand with the golden grain, he flung it into the bosom of the waiting earth.
All day long he strode across the clearing and with rhythmical swinging of his brawny arm lavishly scattered the golden grain.
As the sun went down and the sower neared the conclusion of his labor, his emotions became deeper and yet more deep. He entered more and more fully into the true spirit and significance of his act. He felt that it was a sacrament. Thoughts of the operation of the mighty energies which he was evoking; of the Divine spirit who brooded over all; of the coming into this wilderness of the woman who was to be the good angel of his life; of the ceremony that was to be enacted in the little meeting house; of the work to which he was dedicated in the future, kindled his soul into an ecstasy of joy. He ceased to be conscious of his present task. The material world loosened its hold upon his senses. His thoughts became riveted upon the elements of that spiritual universe that lay within and around him, and that seemed uncovered to his view as to the apostle of old. "Whether he was in the body, or out of the body, he could not tell!" Finally he ceased to move; his hand was arrested and hung poised in mid-air with the unscattered seed in its palm; he eyes were fixed on some invisible object and he stood as he had stood when we first caught sight of him in the half-plowed meadow--lost in a trance.
How long he stood he never knew, but he was wakened, at last, as it was natural and fitting he should be.
Fulfilling her agreement to come and bring him home on the eve of their wedding day, Pepeeta emerged like a beautiful apparition from an opening in the green wall of the great cathedral. She saw David standing immovable in the furrow. For a few moments she was absorbed in admiration of the grace and beauty of the n.o.ble and commanding figure, and then she was thrilled with the consciousness that she possessed the priceless treasure of his love. But these emotions were followed by a holy awe as she discovered that the soul of her lover was filled with religious ecstasy. She felt that the place whereon she stood was holy ground, and reverently awaited the emergence of the worshiper from the holy of holies into which he had withdrawn for prayer.
But the rapture lasted long and it was growing late. The shadows from the summits of the hills had already crept across the clearing and were silently ascending the trunks of the trees on the eastern side. It was time for them to go. She took a step toward him, and then another, moving slowly, reverently, and touched him on the arm. He started. The half-closed hand relaxed and the seed fell to the ground, the dreamer woke and descended from the heaven of the spiritual world into that of the earthly, the heart of a pure and n.o.ble woman.
"I have come," she said simply.
He took her in his arms and kissed her.
"Thee is not through yet?"
"So it seems! I must have lost myself."
"I think thee rather found thyself."
"Perhaps I did; but I must finish my labor. It will never do for me to let my visions supplant my tasks. They will be hurtful, save as incentives to toil. I must be careful!"
"Let me help thee. There are only a few more furrows. I am sure that I can sow," she said, extending her hand.
He placed some of the seed in her ap.r.o.n and she trudged by his side, laughing at her awkwardness but laboring with all her might. Her lover took her hand in his and showed her how to cast the seed, and so they labored together until every open furrow was filled. It was dark when they were done. They lingered a little while to put the cabin in order, and then turned their faces towards the old farmhouse.
The two little brooks were singing their evening song as they mingled their waters together in front of that wilderness home. The lovers stood a moment at their point of junction, as Pepeeta said, "It is a symbol of our lives." They listened to the low murmur, watched the crystal stream as it sparkled in the moonlight, stole away into the distance, chanting its own melodious lay of love. It led them out of the clearing and into the depths of the forest. They moved like spirits pa.s.sing through a land of dreams. The palpable world seemed stripped of its reality. The creatures that stole across their path or started up as they pa.s.sed, the crickets that chirped their little idyls at the roots of the great trees, the fire-flies that kindled their evanescent fires among the bushes, the night owls that hooted solemnly in the tree tops, the rustle of the leaves in the evening breeze, the gurgle of the waters over the stones in the bed of the brook, their own m.u.f.fled footfalls, the patches of moonlight that lay like silver mats on the brown carpet of the woods, the flickering shadows, the ghostly trunks of the trees, the slowly swaying, plume-like branches, sounded only like faint echoes or gleamed only like soft reflections of a fairy world!
"It was here," Pepeeta said, pausing at the roots of a great beech tree, "that I came the day after we had first seen each other, to inquire of the gypsy G.o.ddess the secrets of the future. I have learned many lessons since!"
"It was here," said David, as they emerged from the forest into the larger valley, "that thee stood, a little way from the doctor's side, stroking the necks of his horses and peeping at us stealthily from under thy long dark lashes on the day when he tried to persuade me to join him in his roving life."
"It was here," Pepeeta said, as they approached the little bridge, "that we met each other and yielded our hearts to love."
"And met again after our tragedy and our suffering, to find that love is eternal," David added.
They stood for a few moments in silence, recalling that bitter past, and then the man of many sins and sorrows said, "Give me thy hand, Pepeeta.
How small it seems in mine. Let me fold thee in my arms; it makes my heart bound to feel thee there! We have walked over rough roads together, and the path before us may not be always smooth. We have tasted the bitter cup between us, and there may still be dregs at the bottom. It is hard to believe that after all the wrong we have done we can still be happy. G.o.d is surely good! It seems to me that we must have our feet on the right path. He paused for a moment and then continued:
"I have brought thee many sorrows, sweetheart."
"And many joys."
"I mean to bring thee some in the future! The love I bear thee now is different from that of the past. I cannot wait until to-morrow to pledge thee my troth! Listen!"
She did so, gazing up into his face with dark eyes in which the light of the moon was reflected as in mountain lakes. There was something in them which filled his heart with unutterable emotion, and his words hung quivering upon his lips.
"Speak, my love, for I am listening," she said.
"I cannot," he replied.
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