THE night began to descend and he to be weary, and look about him for a place of repose. But there was a long twilight before him, and it was warm.
For some time the road had been ascending, and by and by he found himself on a bare moor, among heather not yet in bloom, and a forest of bracken. Here was a great, beautiful chamber for him! and what better bed than God's heather! what better canopy than God's high, star-studded night, with its airy curtains of dusky darkness! Was it not in this very chamber that Jacob had his vision of the mighty stair leading up to the gate of heaven! Was it not under such a roof Jesus spent his last nights on the earth! For comfort and protection he sought no human shelter, but went out into his Father's house -- out under his Father's heaven! The small and narrow were not to him the safe, but the wide and open. Thick walls cover men from the enemies they fear; the Lord sought space. There the angels come and go more freely than where roofs gather distrust. If ever we hear a far-off rumour of angel-visit, it is not from some solitary plain with lonely children?
Donal walked along the high table-land till he was weary, and rest looked blissful. Then he turned aside from the rough track into the heather and bracken. When he came to a little dry hollow, with a yet thicker growth of heather, its tops almost close as those of his bed at his father's cottage, he sought no further. Taking his knife, he cut a quantity of heather and ferns, and heaped it on the top of the thickest bush; then creeping in between the cut and the growing, he cleared the former from his face that he might see the worlds over him, and putting his knapsack under his head, fell fast asleep.
When he woke not even the shadow of a dream lingered to let him know what he had been dreaming. He woke with such a clear mind, such an immediate uplifting of the soul, that it seemed to him no less than to Jacob that he must have slept at the foot of the heavenly stair. The wind came round him like the stuff of thought unshaped, and every breath he drew seemed like God breathing afresh into his nostrils the breath of life. Who knows what the thing we call air is? We know about it, but it we do not know. The sun shone as if smiling at the self-importance of the sulky darkness he had driven away, and the world seemed content with a heavenly content. So fresh was Donal's sense that he felt as if his sleep within and the wind without had been washing him all the night. So peaceful, so blissful was his heart that it longed to share its bliss; but there was no one within sight, and he set out again on his journey.
He had not gone far when he came to a dip in the moorland -- a round hollow, with a cottage of turf in the middle of it, from whose chimney came a little smoke: there too the day was begun! He was glad he had not seen it before, for then he might have missed the repose of the open night. At the door stood a little girl in a blue frock. She saw him, and ran in. He went down and drew near to the door. It stood wide open, and he could not help seeing in.
A man sat at the table in the middle of the floor, his forehead on his hand. Donal did not see his face. He seemed waiting, like his father for the Book, while his mother got it from the top of the wall. He stepped over the threshold, and in the simplicity of his heart, said: --
|Ye'll be gaein' to hae worship!|
|Na, na!| returned the man, raising his head, and taking a brief, hard stare at his visitor; |we dinna set up for prayin' fowk i' this hoose.| We ley that to them 'at kens what they hae to be thankfu' for.|
|I made a mistak,| said Donal. |I thoucht ye micht hae been gaein' to say gude mornin' to yer makker, an' wad hae likit to j'in wi' ye; for I kenna what I haena to be thankfu' for. Guid day to ye.|
|Ye can bide an' tak yer parritch gien ye like.|
|Ow, na, I thank ye. Ye micht think I cam for the parritch, an' no for the prayers. I like as ill to be coontit a hypocrite as gien I war ane.|
|Ye can bide an' hae worship wi' 's, gien ye tak the buik yersel'.|
|I canna lead whaur 's nane to follow. Na; I'll du better on the muir my lane.|
But the gudewife was a religions woman after her fashion -- who can be after any one else's? She came with a bible in her hand, and silently laid it on the table. Donal had never yet prayed aloud except in a murmur by himself on the hill, but, thus invited, could not refuse. He read a psalm of trouble, breaking into hope at the close, then spoke as follows: --
|Freens, I'm but yoong, as ye see, an' never afore daured open my moo i' sic fashion, but it comes to me to speyk, an' wi' yer leave speyk I wull. I canna help thinkin' the gudeman 's i' some trible -- siclike, maybe, as King Dawvid whan he made the psalm I hae been readin' i' yer hearin'. Ye observt hoo it began like a stormy mornin', but ye h'ard hoo it changed or a' was dune. The sun comes oot bonny i' the en', an' ye hear the birds beginnin' to sing, tellin' Natur' to gie ower her greitin'. An' what brings the guid man til's senses, div ye think? What but jist the thoucht o' him 'at made him, him 'at cares aboot him, him 'at maun come to ill himsel' 'afore he lat onything he made come to ill. Sir, lat's gang doon upo' oor knees, an' commit the keepin' o' oor sowls to him as til a faithfu' creator, wha winna miss his pairt 'atween him an' hiz.|
They went down on their knees, and Donal said,
|O Lord, oor ain father an' saviour, the day ye hae sent 's has arrived bonny an' gran', an' we bless ye for sen'in' 't; but eh, oor father, we need mair the licht that shines i' the darker place. We need the dawn o' a spiritual day inside 's, or the bonny day ootside winna gang for muckle. Lord, oor micht, speyk a word o' peacefu' recall to ony dog o' thine 'at may be worryin' at the hert o' ony sheep o' thine 'at's run awa; but dinna ca' him back sae as to lea' the puir sheep 'ahint him; fess back dog an' lamb thegither, O Lord. Haud 's a' frae ill, an' guide 's a' to guid, an' oor mornin' prayer 's ower. Amen.|
They rose from their knees, and sat silent for a moment. Then the guidwife put the pot on the fire with the water for the porridge. But Donal rose, and walked out of the cottage, half wondering at himself that he had dared as he had, yet feeling he had done but the most natural thing in the world.
|Hoo a body 's to win throuw the day wantin' the lord o' the day an' the hoor an' the minute, 's 'ayont me!| he said to himself, and hastened away.
Ere noon the blue line of the far ocean rose on the horizon.