From Harper's Monthly Magazine Vol. CXXV No. DCCXLVIII (September, 1912)
The spring was early that year. It was only the last of March, but the trees were filmed with green and paling with promise of bloom; the front yards were showing new grass pricking through the old. It was high time to plow the south field and the garden, but Christopher sat in his rocking-chair beside the kitchen window and gazed out, and did absolutely nothing about it.
Myrtle Dodd, Christopher's wife, washed the breakfast dishes, and later kneaded the bread, all the time glancing furtively at her husband. She had a most old-fashioned deference with regard to Christopher. She was always a little afraid of him. Sometimes Christopher's mother, Mrs. Cyrus Dodd, and his sister Abby, who had never married, reproached her for this attitude of mind. “You are entirely too much cowed down by Christopher,” Mrs. Dodd said.
“I would never be under the thumb of any man,” Abby said.
“Have you ever seen Christopher in one of his spells?” Myrtle would ask.
Then Mrs. Cyrus Dodd and Abby would look at each other. “It is all your fault, mother,” Abby would say. “You really ought not to have allowed your son to have his own head so much.”
“You know perfectly well, Abby, what I had to contend against,” replied Mrs. Dodd, and Abby became speechless. Cyrus Dodd, now deceased some twenty years, had never during his whole life yielded to anything but birth and death. Before those two primary facts even his terrible will was powerless. He had come into the world without his consent being obtained; he had passed in like manner from it. But during his life he had ruled, a petty monarch, but a most thorough one. He had spoiled Christopher, and his wife, although a woman of high spirit, knew of no appealing.
“I could never go against your father, you know that,” said Mrs. Dodd, following up her advantage.
“Then,” said Abby, “you ought to have warned poor Myrtle. It was a shame to let her marry a man as spoiled as Christopher.”
“I would have married him, anyway,” declared Myrtle, with sudden defiance; and her mother-in-law regarded her approvingly.
“There are worse men than Christopher, and Myrtle knows it,” said she.
“Yes, I do, mother,” agreed Myrtle. “Christopher hasn't one bad habit.”
“I don't know what you call a bad habit,” retorted Abby. “I call having your own way in spite of the world, the flesh, and the devil rather a bad habit. Christopher tramples on everything in his path, and he always has. He tramples on poor Myrtle.”
At that Myrtle laughed. “I don't think I look trampled on,” said she; and she certainly did not. Pink and white and plump was Myrtle, although she had, to a discerning eye, an expression which denoted extreme nervousness.
This morning of spring, when her husband sat doing nothing, she wore this nervous expression. Her blue eyes looked dark and keen; her forehead was wrinkled; her rosy mouth was set. Myrtle and Christopher were not young people; they were a little past middle age, still far from old in look or ability.
Myrtle had kneaded the bread to rise for the last time before it was put into the oven, and had put on the meat to boil for dinner, before she dared address that silent figure which had about it something tragic. Then she spoke in a small voice. “Christopher,” said she.
Christopher made no reply.
“It is a good morning to plow, ain't it?” said Myrtle.
Christopher was silent.
“Jim Mason got over real early; I suppose he thought you'd want to get at the south field. He's been sitting there at the barn door for 'most two hours.”
Then Christopher rose. Myrtle's anxious face lightened. But to her wonder her husband went into the front entry and got his best hat. “He ain't going to wear his best hat to plow,” thought Myrtle. For an awful moment it occurred to her that something had suddenly gone wrong with her husband's mind. Christopher brushed the hat carefully, adjusted it at the little looking-glass in the kitchen, and went out.
“Be you going to plow the south field?” Myrtle said, faintly.
“No, I ain't.”
“Will you be back to dinner?”
“I don't know — you needn't worry if I'm not.” Suddenly Christopher did an unusual thing for him. He and Myrtle had lived together for years, and outward manifestations of affection were rare between them. He put his arm around her and kissed her.
After he had gone, Myrtle watched him out of sight down the road; then she sat down and wept. Jim Mason came slouching around from his station at the barn door. He surveyed Myrtle uneasily.
“Mr. Dodd sick?” said he, at length.
“Not that I know of,” said Myrtle, in a weak quaver. She rose, and, keeping her tear-stained face aloof, lifted the lid off the kettle on the stove.
“D'ye know am he going to plow to-day?”
“He said he wasn't.”
Jim grunted, shifted his quid, and slouched out of the yard.
Meantime Christopher Dodd went straight down the road to the minister's, the Rev. Stephen Wheaton. When he came to the south field, which he was neglecting, he glanced at it turning emerald upon the gentle slopes. He set his face harder. Christopher Dodd's face was in any case hard-set. Now it was tragic, to be pitied, but warily, lest it turn fiercely upon the one who pitied. Christopher was a handsome man, and his face had an almost classic turn of feature. His forehead was noble; his eyes full of keen light. He was only a farmer, but in spite of his rude clothing he had the face of a man who followed one of the professions. He was in sore trouble of spirit, and he was going to consult the minister and ask him for advice. Christopher had never done this before. He had a sort of incredulity now that he was about to do it. He had always associated that sort of thing with womankind, and not with men like himself. And, moreover, Stephen Wheaton was a younger man than himself. He was unmarried, and had only been settled in the village for about a year. “He can't think I'm coming to set my cap at him, anyway,” Christopher reflected, with a sort of grim humor, as he drew near the parsonage. The minister was haunted by marriageable ladies of the village.
“Guess you are glad to see a man coming instead of a woman who has doubts about some doctrine,” was the first thing Christopher said to the minister, when he had been admitted to his study. The study was a small room, lined with books, and only one picture hung over the fireplace, the portrait of the minister's mother — Stephen was so like her that a question concerning it was futile.
Stephen colored a little angrily at Christopher's remark — he was a hot-tempered man, although a clergyman; then he asked him to be seated.
Christopher sat down opposite the minister. “I oughtn't to have spoken so,” he apologized, “but what I am doing ain't like me.”
“That's all right,” said Stephen. He was a short, athletic man, with an extraordinary width of shoulders and a strong-featured and ugly face, still indicative of goodness and a strange power of sympathy. Three little mongrel dogs were sprawled about the study. One, small and alert, came and rested his head on Christopher's knee. Animals all liked him. Christopher mechanically patted him. Patting an appealing animal was as unconscious with the man as drawing his breath. But he did not even look at the little dog while he stroked it after the fashion which pleased it best. He kept his large, keen, melancholy eyes fixed upon the minister; at length he spoke. He did not speak with as much eagerness as he did with force, bringing the whole power of his soul into his words, which were the words of a man in rebellion against the greatest odds on earth and in all creation — the odds of fate itself.
“I have come to say a good deal, Mr. Wheaton,” he began.
“Then say it, Mr. Dodd,” replied Stephen, without a smile.
Christopher spoke. “I am going back to the very beginning of things,” said he, “and maybe you will think it blasphemy, but I don't mean it for that. I mean it for the truth, and the truth which is too much for my comprehension.”
“I have heard men swear when it did not seem blasphemy to me,” said Stephen.
“Thank the Lord, you ain't so deep in your rut you can't see the stars!” said Christopher. “But I guess you see them in a pretty black sky sometimes. In the beginning, why did I have to come into the world without any choice?”
“You must not ask a question of me which can only be answered by the Lord,” said Stephen.
“I am asking the Lord,” said Christopher, with his sad, forceful voice. “I am asking the Lord, and I ask why?”
“You have no right to expect your question to be answered in your time,” said Stephen.
“But here am I,” said Christopher, “and I was a question to the Lord from the first, and fifty years and more I have been on the earth.”
“Fifty years and more are nothing for the answer to such a question,” said Stephen.
Christopher looked at him with mournful dissent; there was no anger about him. “There was time before time,” said he, “before the fifty years and more began. I don't mean to blaspheme, Mr. Wheaton, but it is the truth. I came into the world whether I would or not; I was forced, and then I was told I was a free agent. I am no free agent. For fifty years and more I have thought about it, and I have found out that, at least. I am a slave — a slave of life.”
“For that matter,” said Stephen, looking curiously at him, “so am I. So are we all.”
“That makes it worse,” agreed Christopher — “a whole world of slaves. I know I ain't talking in exactly what you might call an orthodox strain. I have got to a point when it seems to me I shall go mad if I don't talk to somebody. I know there is that awful why, and you can't answer it; and no man living can. I'm willing to admit that sometime, in another world, that why will get an answer, but meantime it's an awful thing to live in this world without it if a man has had the kind of life I have. My life has been harder for me than a harder life might be for another man who was different. That much I know. There is one thing I've got to be thankful for. I haven't been the means of sending any more slaves into this world. I am glad my wife and I haven't any children to ask ‘why?’
“Now, I've begun at the beginning; I'm going on. I have never had what men call luck. My folks were poor; father and mother were good, hard-working people, but they had nothing but trouble, sickness, and death, and losses by fire and flood. We lived near the river, and one spring our house went, and every stick we owned, and much as ever we all got out alive. Then lightning struck father's new house, and the insurance company had failed, and we never got a dollar of insurance. Then my oldest brother died, just when he was getting started in business, and his widow and two little children came on father to support. Then father got rheumatism, and was all twisted, and wasn't good for much afterward; and my sister Sarah, who had been expecting to get married, had to give it up and take in sewing and stay at home and take care of the rest. There was father and George's widow — she was never good for much at work — and mother and Abby. She was my youngest sister. As for me, I had a liking for books and wanted to get an education; might just as well have wanted to get a seat on a throne. I went to work in the grist-mill of the place where we used to live when I was only a boy. Then, before I was twenty, I saw that Sarah wasn't going to hold out. She had grieved a good deal, poor thing, and worked too hard, so we sold out and came here and bought my farm, with the mortgage hitching it, and I went to work for dear life. Then Sarah died, and then father. Along about then there was a girl I wanted to marry, but, Lord, how could I even ask her? My farm started in as a failure, and it has kept it up ever since. When there wasn't a drought there was so much rain everything mildewed. There was a hail-storm that cut everything to pieces, and there was the caterpillar year. I just managed to pay the interest on the mortgage; as for paying the principal, I might as well have tried to pay the national debt.
“Well, to go back to that girl. She is married and don't live here, and you ain't like ever to see her, but she was a beauty and something more. I don't suppose she ever looked twice at me, but losing what you've never had sometimes is worse than losing everything you've got. When she got married I guess I knew a little about what the martyrs went through.
“Just after that George's widow got married again, and went away to live. It took a burden off the rest of us, but I had got attached to the children. The little girl, Ellen, seemed 'most like my own. Then poor Myrtle came here to live. She did dressmaking and boarded with our folks, and I begun to see that she was one of the nervous sort of women who are pretty bad off alone in the world, and I told her about the other girl, and she said she didn't mind, and we got married. By that time mother's brother John — he had never got married — died and left her a little money, so she and my sister Abby could screw along. They bought the little house they live in and left the farm, for Abby was always hard to get along with, though she is a good woman. Mother, though she is a smart woman, is one of the sort who don't feel called upon to interfere much with men-folks. I guess she didn't interfere any too much for my good, or father's, either. Father was a set man. I guess if mother had been a little harsh with me I might not have asked that awful ‘why?’ I guess I might have taken my bitter pills and held my tongue, but I won't blame myself on poor mother.
“Myrtle and I get on well enough. She seems contented — she has never said a word to make me think she wasn't. She isn't one of the kind of women who want much besides decent treatment and a home. Myrtle is a good woman. I am sorry for her that she got married to me, for she deserved somebody who could make her a better husband. All the time, every waking minute, I've been growing more and more rebellious.
“You see, Mr. Wheaton, never in this world have I had what I wanted, and more than wanted — needed, and needed far more than happiness. I have never been able to think of work as anything but a way to get money, and it wasn't right, not for a man like me, with the feelings I was born with. And everything has gone wrong even about the work for the money. I have been hampered and hindered, I don't know whether by Providence or the Evil One. I have saved just six hundred and forty dollars, and I have only paid the interest on the mortgage. I knew I ought to have a little ahead in case Myrtle or I got sick, so I haven't tried to pay the mortgage, but put a few dollars at a time in the savings-bank, which will come in handy now.”
The minister regarded him uneasily. “What,” he asked, “do you mean to do?”
“I mean,” replied Christopher, “to stop trying to do what I am hindered in doing, and do just once in my life what I want to do. Myrtle asked me this morning if I wasn't going to plow the south field. Well, I ain't going to plow the south field. I ain't going to make a garden. I ain't going to try for hay in the ten-acre lot. I have stopped. I have worked for nothing except just enough to keep soul and body together. I have had bad luck. But that isn't the real reason why I have stopped. Look at here, Mr. Wheaton, spring is coming. I have never in my life had a chance at the spring nor the summer. This year I'm going to have the spring and the summer, and the fall, too, if I want it. My apples may fall and rot if they want to. I am going to get as much good of the season as they do.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Stephen.
“Well, I will tell you. I ain't a man to make mystery if I am doing right, and I think I am. You know, I've got a little shack up on Silver Mountain in the little sugar orchard I own there; never got enough sugar to say so, but I put up the shack one year when I was fool enough to think I might get something. Well, I'm going up there, and I'm going to live there awhile, and I'm going to sense the things I have had to hustle by for the sake of a few dollars and cents.”
“But what will your wife do?”
“She can have the money I've saved, all except enough to buy me a few provisions. I sha'n't need much. I want a little corn-meal, and I will have a few chickens, and there is a barrel of winter apples left over that she can't use, and a few potatoes. There is a spring right near the shack, and there are trout-pools, and by and by there will be berries, and there's plenty of fire-wood, and there's an old bed and a stove and a few things in the shack. Now, I'm going to the store and buy what I want, and I'm going to fix it so Myrtle can draw the money when she wants it, and then I am going to the shack, and” — Christopher's voice took on a solemn tone — “I will tell you in just a few words the gist of what I am going for. I have never in my life had enough of the bread of life to keep my soul nourished. I have tried to do my duties, but I believe sometimes duties act on the soul like weeds on a flower. They crowd it out. I am going up on Silver Mountain to get once, on this earth, my fill of the bread of life.”
Stephen Wheaton gasped. “But your wife, she will be alone, she will worry.”
“I want you to go and tell her,” said Christopher, “and I've got my bank-book here; I'm going to write some checks that she can get cashed when she needs money. I want you to tell her. Myrtle won't make a fuss. She ain't the kind. Maybe she will be a little lonely, but if she is, she can go and visit somewhere.” Christopher rose. “Can you let me have a pen and ink?” said he, “and I will write those checks. You can tell Myrtle how to use them. She won't know how.”
Stephen Wheaton, an hour later, sat in his study, the checks in his hand, striving to rally his courage. Christopher had gone; he had seen him from his window, laden with parcels, starting upon the ascent of Silver Mountain. Christopher had made out many checks for small amounts, and Stephen held the sheaf in his hand, and gradually his courage to arise and go and tell Christopher's wife gained strength. At last he went.
Myrtle was looking out of the window, and she came quickly to the door. She looked at him, her round, pretty face gone pale, her plump hands twitching at her apron.
“What is it?” said she.
“Nothing to be alarmed about,” replied Stephen.
Then the two entered the house. Stephen found his task unexpectedly easy. Myrtle Dodd was an unusual woman in a usual place.
“It is all right for my husband to do as he pleases,” she said, with an odd dignity, as if she were defending him.
“Mr. Dodd is a strange man. He ought to have been educated and led a different life,” Stephen said, lamely, for he reflected that the words might be hard for the woman to hear, since she seemed obviously quite fitted to her life, and her life to her.
But Myrtle did not take it hardly, seemingly rather with pride. “Yes,” said she, “Christopher ought to have gone to college. He had the head for it. Instead of that he has just stayed round here and dogged round the farm, and everything has gone wrong lately. He hasn't had any luck even with that.” Then poor Myrtle Dodd said an unexpectedly wise thing. “But maybe,” said Myrtle, “his bad luck may turn out the best thing for him in the end.”
Stephen was silent. Then he began explaining about the checks.
“I sha'n't use any more of his savings than I can help,” said Myrtle, and for the first time her voice quavered. “He must have some clothes up there,” said she. “There ain't bed-coverings, and it is cold nights, late as it is in the spring. I wonder how I can get the bed-clothes and other things to him. I can't drive, myself, and I don't like to hire anybody; aside from its being an expense, it would make talk. Mother Dodd and Abby won't make talk outside the family, but I suppose it will have to be known.”
“Mr. Dodd didn't want any mystery made over it,” Stephen Wheaton said.
“There ain't going to be any mystery. Christopher has got a right to live awhile on Silver Mountain if he wants to,” returned Myrtle, with her odd defiant air.
“But I will take the things up there to him, if you will let me have a horse and wagon,” said Stephen.
“I will, and be glad. When will you go?”
“I'll have them ready,” said Myrtle.
After the minister had gone she went into her own bedroom and cried a little and made the moan of a loving woman sadly bewildered by the ways of man, but loyal as a soldier. Then she dried her tears and began to pack a load for the wagon.
The next morning early, before the dew was off the young grass, Stephen Wheaton started with the wagon-load, driving the great gray farm-horse up the side of Silver Mountain. The road was fairly good, making many winds in order to avoid steep ascents, and Stephen drove slowly. The gray farm-horse was sagacious. He knew that an unaccustomed hand held the lines; he knew that of a right he should be treading the plowshares instead of climbing a mountain on a beautiful spring morning.
But as for the man driving, his face was radiant, his eyes of young manhood lit with the light of the morning. If he had owned it, he himself had sometimes chafed under the dull necessity of his life, but here was excitement, here was exhilaration. He drew the sweet air into his lungs, and the deeper meaning of the spring morning into his soul. Christopher Dodd interested him to the point of enthusiasm. Not even the uneasy consideration of the lonely, mystified woman in Dodd's deserted home could deprive him of admiration for the man's flight into the spiritual open. He felt that these rights of the man were of the highest, and that other rights, even human and pitiful ones, should give them the right of way.
It was not a long drive. When he reached the shack — merely a one-roomed hut, with a stove-pipe chimney, two windows, and a door — Christopher stood at the entrance and seemed to illuminate it. Stephen for a minute doubted his identity. Christopher had lost middle age in a day's time. He had the look of a triumphant youth. Blue smoke was curling from the chimney. Stephen smelled bacon frying, and coffee.
Christopher greeted him with the joyousness of a child. “Lord,” said he, “did Myrtle send you up with all those things? Well, she is a good woman. Guess I would have been cold last night if I hadn't been so happy. How is Myrtle?”
“She seemed to take it very sensibly when I told her.”
Christopher nodded happily and lovingly. “She would. She can understand not understanding, and that is more than most women can. It was mighty good of you to bring the things. You are in time for breakfast. Lord, Mr. Wheaton, smell the trees, and there are blooms hidden somewhere that smell sweet. Think of having the common food of man sweetened this way! First time I fully sensed I was something more than just a man. Lord, I am paid already. It won't be so very long before I get my fill at this rate, and then I can go back. To think I needn't plow to-day! To think all I have to do is to have the spring! See the light under those trees!”
Christopher spoke like a man in ecstasy. He tied the gray horse to a tree and brought a pail of water for him from the spring near by.
Then he said to Stephen: “Come right in. The bacon's done, and the coffee and the corn-cake and the eggs won't take a minute.”
The two men entered the shack. There was nothing there except the little cooking-stove, a few kitchen utensils hung on pegs on the walls, an old table with a few dishes, two chairs, and a lounge over which was spread an ancient buffalo-skin.
Stephen sat down, and Christopher fried the eggs. Then he bade the minister draw up, and the two men breakfasted.
“Ain't it great, Mr. Wheaton?” said Christopher.
“You are a famous cook, Mr. Dodd,” laughed Stephen. He was thoroughly enjoying himself, and the breakfast was excellent.
“It ain't that,” declared Christopher, in his exalted voice. “It ain't that, young man. It's because the food is blessed.”
Stephen stayed all day on Silver Mountain. He and Christopher went fishing, and had fried trout for dinner. He took some of the trout home to Myrtle.
Myrtle received them with a sort of state which defied the imputation of sadness. “Did he seem to be comfortable?” she asked.
“Comfortable, Mrs. Dodd? I believe it will mean a new lease of life to your husband. He is an uncommon man.”
“Yes, Christopher is uncommon; he always was,” assented Myrtle.
“You have everything you want? You were not timid last night alone?” asked the minister.
“Yes, I was timid. I heard queer noises,” said Myrtle, “but I sha'n't be alone any more. Christopher's niece wrote me she was coming to make a visit. She has been teaching school, and she lost her school. I rather guess Ellen is as uncommon for a girl as Christopher is for a man. Anyway, she's lost her school, and her brother's married, and she don't want to go there. Besides, they live in Boston, and Ellen, she says she can't bear the city in spring and summer. She wrote she'd saved a little, and she'd pay her board, but I sha'n't touch a dollar of her little savings, and neither would Christopher want me to. He's always thought a sight of Ellen, though he's never seen much of her. As for me, I was so glad when her letter came I didn't know what to do. Christopher will be glad. I suppose you'll be going up there to see him off and on.” Myrtle spoke a bit wistfully, and Stephen did not tell her he had been urged to come often.
“Yes, off and on,” he replied.
“If you will just let me know when you are going, I will see that you have something to take to him — some bread and pies.”
“He has some chickens there,” said Stephen.
“Has he got a coop for them?”
“Yes, he had one rigged up. He will have plenty of eggs, and he carried up bacon and corn-meal and tea and coffee.”
“I am glad of that,” said Myrtle. She spoke with a quiet dignity, but her face never lost its expression of bewilderment and resignation.
The next week Stephen Wheaton carried Myrtle's bread and pies to Christopher on his mountain-side. He drove Christopher's gray horse harnessed in his old buggy, and realized that he himself was getting much pleasure out of the other man's idiosyncrasy. The morning was beautiful, and Stephen carried in his mind a peculiar new beauty besides. Ellen, Christopher's niece, had arrived the night before, and, early as it was, she had been astir when he reached the Dodd house. She had opened the door for him, and she was a goodly sight: a tall girl, shaped like a boy, with a fearless face of great beauty, crowned with compact gold braids and lit by unswerving blue eyes. Ellen had a square, determined chin and a brow of high resolve.
“Good morning,” said she, and as she spoke she evidently rated Stephen and approved, for she smiled genially. “I am Mr. Dodd's niece,” said she. “You are the minister?”
“And you have come for the things aunt is to send him?”
“Aunt said you were to drive uncle's horse and take the buggy,” said Ellen. “It is very kind of you. While you are harnessing, aunt and I will pack the basket.”
Stephen, harnessing the gray horse, had a sense of shock; whether pleasant or otherwise, he could not determine. He had never seen a girl in the least like Ellen. Girls had never impressed him. She did.
When he drove around to the kitchen door, she and Myrtle were both there, and he drank a cup of coffee before starting, and Myrtle introduced him. “Only think, Mr. Wheaton,” said she, “Ellen says she knows a great deal about farming, and we are going to hire Jim Mason and go right ahead.” Myrtle looked adoringly at Ellen.
Stephen spoke eagerly. “Don't hire anybody,” he said. “I used to work on a farm to pay my way through college. I need the exercise. Let me help.”
“You may do that,” said Ellen, “on shares. Neither aunt nor I can think of letting you work without any recompense.”
“Well, we will settle that,” Stephen replied. When he drove away, his usually calm mind was in a tumult.
“Your niece has come,” he told Christopher, when the two men were breakfasting together on Silver Mountain.
“I am glad of that,” said Christopher. “All that troubled me about being here was that Myrtle might wake up in the night and hear noises.”
Christopher had grown even more radiant. He was effulgent with pure happiness.
“You aren't going to tap your sugar-maples?” said Stephen, looking up at the great symmetrical efflorescence of rose and green which towered about them.
Christopher laughed. “No, bless 'em,” said he, “the trees shall keep their sugar this season. This week is the first time I've had a chance to get acquainted with them and sort of enter into their feelings. Good Lord! I've seen how I can love those trees, Mr. Wheaton! See the pink on their young leaves! They know more than you and I. They know how to grow young every spring.”
Stephen did not tell Christopher how Ellen and Myrtle were to work the farm with his aid. The two women had bade him not. Christopher seemed to have no care whatever about it. He was simply happy. When Stephen left, he looked at him and said, with the smile of a child: “Do you think I am crazy?”
“Crazy, no,” replied Stephen.
“Well, I ain't. I'm just getting fed. I was starving to death. Glad you don't think I'm crazy, because I couldn't help matters by saying I wasn't. Myrtle don't think I am, I know. As for Ellen, I haven't seen her since she was a little girl. I don't believe she can be much like Myrtle; but I guess if she is what she promised to turn out she wouldn't think anybody ought to go just her way to have it the right way.”
“I rather think she is like that, although I saw her for the first time this morning,” said Stephen.
“I begin to feel that I may not need to stay here much longer,” Christopher called after him. “I begin to feel that I am getting what I came for so fast that I can go back pretty soon.”
But it was the last of July before he came. He chose the cool of the evening after a burning day, and descended the mountain in the full light of the moon. He had gone up the mountain like an old man; he came down like a young one.
When he came at last in sight of his own home, he paused and stared. Across the grass-land a heavily laden wagon was moving toward his barn. Upon this wagon heaped with hay, full of silver lights from the moon, sat a tall figure all in white, which seemed to shine above all things. Christopher did not see the man on the other side of the wagon leading the horses; he saw only this wonderful white figure. He hurried forward, and Myrtle came down the road to meet him. She had been watching for him, as she had watched every night.
“Who is it on the load of hay?” asked Christopher.
“Ellen,” replied Myrtle.
“Oh,” said Christopher. “She looked like an angel of the Lord, come to take up the burden I had dropped while I went to learn of Him.”
“Be you feeling pretty well, Christopher?” asked Myrtle. She thought that what her husband had said was odd, but he looked well, and he might have said it simply because he was a man.
Christopher put his arm around Myrtle. “I am better than I ever was in my whole life, Myrtle, and I've got more courage to work now than I had when I was young. I had to go away and get rested, but I've got rested for all my life. We shall get along all right as long as we live.”
“Ellen and the minister are going to get married, come Christmas,” said Myrtle.
“She is lucky. He is a man that can see with the eyes of other people,” said Christopher.
It was after the hay had been unloaded and Christopher had been shown the garden full of lusty vegetables, and told of the great crop with no drawback, that he and the minister had a few minutes alone together at the gate.
“I want to tell you, Mr. Wheaton, that I am settled in my mind now. I shall never complain again, no matter what happens. I have found that all the good things and all the bad things that come to a man who tries to do right are just to prove to him that he is on the right path. They are just the flowers and sunbeams, and the rocks and snakes, too, that mark the way. And — I have found out more than that. I have found out the answer to my ‘why?’”
“What is it?” asked Stephen, gazing at him curiously from the wonder-height of his own special happiness.
“I have found out that the only way to heaven for the children of men is through the earth,” said Christopher.