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The days went by, and brought recovery and health to the stranger.
He was the quietest man I ever saw ; just lying there taking us - all in with his deep-grey eyes, and watching Bessie as if he could never see enough of her.
The master was about tired of playing at hospitality. He said as much to Bess.
"It's my house, and I won't have it !” He brought his fist down to enforce his words.
“He is my patient, and I will have it !” she said quite as emphatically. And we knew she meant it. She ruled us all.
How long he might have stayed I cannot tell ; the offer to move came from himself, however, in the end. If was my off-day, and I chose to spend it at home-cleaning. It is not particularly enlivening work, especially to a member of an English university ; but it is apt to become a trifle monotonous, and I was sorry for Bess.
The stranger sat on the window-sill; he was well and getting strong now. Bessie moved about, singing, talking, laughing, in perfect good fellowship. I sat outside washing cups and saucers in the sunshine. It was glorious weather, and we were having good times at the ranche. We are not particular as to names in these parts; we had called our guest Dick, and he had taken to it as kindly . as if his godfathers and godmother had bestowed it on him in baptism.
"I must be off soon,” said this same Dick presently. “It seems a long time since you picked me up, Miss Blandford. And what I should have done if you had not, I really do not know !”
I turned my head to give him a thorough good stare. The man could favour us with very tolerable English when he chose. It was not often however !
Bessie stopped making her pudding. Her sleeves were rolled above her elbows; her hands rested, amongst the flour, on the table. The arms were strong, capable ones—as Dick knew pretty well. The girl's face was strong too ; keen, bright eyes looked out fearlessly at their world ; her hair waved softly and lightly all over her head. The oval face was brown with the hues of sun and fresh air upon it : it was a beautiful face ! But it had determination, vigour, intellect, in every line ; and you felt, at one glance, that humbug would not go down with Bessie Blandford.
Now she leaned on her hands and looked at him earnestly.
“You saved my life !” he went on, speaking quietly. “I am grateful ! Words are cheap, and I cannot tell you all I feel. My life may not be worth much-perhaps it is not, still it is life-and but for you I might now be dead !”
“And the future ?” asked Bess gravely.
“The future !” he laughed lightly. “Sufficient unto the day'you know the rest. I never look forward.”
“And yet it is the future that is always coming !” said Bessie, more to herself than to him.
“I suppose so," he answered wearily. “More's the pity! You have made me a human being again, Miss Blandford. by jingo, what a hand you have !”
“Is that supposed to be a compliment?” She held up the member, all covered with flour, and looked at it, with a bright laugh on her face.
“Yes ; I gave you a grip-didn't I?”
"You believe in human nature because a human hand gripped yours that day. Yet I only did for you what I might do for the master-for Jim – for Matt there! You are somebody's son, you know, and as such you are worth saving. Life is never to be flung away, or given away. It is always worth trying to save! And, after all is said and done, it was the water that brought you round, and Black Dan who carried you here ; so I had a very little share in the business. See ?” She leaned further across the table in her earnestness. “And, besides these, there was Another-He led me !"
“I don't follow you,” he returned sadly.
“Don't you !” cried Bess. “Ah, then, you are poor indeed. Never mind, if you so believe in a human arm and a human hand. Some day-some day there will come to you an idea that there is more beyond, more above than just blue sky and so much space. We'll leave it, stranger. Fight it out by yourself under the stars. Knowledge is for him who seeks it.”.
They took no more count of me, bless you, than if I did not exist. That is always the way, I believe ; but it comes a little rough on me at times.
When all is said and done, I am a human being, and as such I have my feelings. In the twinkling of an eye it flashed across my mind that this man–bad luck to him !—had crossed my path with Miss Blandford. He, the waif of fortune-the tramp, if you likehad dared to admire-to put it by no stronger word-our dear Miss Bessie.
I glared at him over the little pile of dishes that were awaiting the drying process. “Who is he, I'd like to know?” I said to myself in a threatening whisper. But the stranger did not seem disposed to mince matters. He cleared his throat once or twice ; and, as I have generally found that this process means unpleasantness to follow by way of revelations, I gave myself a well-merited rest, and prepared to listen also.
“You have been very good to me,” he said after a bit. “If you had known more of me perhaps you might not bave been quite so ready to haul me out of the gully. If you had known much about my past life," he added softly, “it's not been a good one.”
She held up her finger.
“Never go back!” she cried warningly. “Let it be always onward. Light is in front; keep straight on towards it, and then you will be safe. I wish I could tell you things better. But I cannot. One thinks things out in the loneliness, but one cannot tell them straight and plain to others. It must come to you—as it came others in a flash, and then we see !”
“But-if we cannot-can never see?”
“Then we get nothing! Yet the man whose eyes were opened saw only men as trees, walking-tall shadows, you know-all out of place. But he saw, and by-and-by things were made clear and came easy."
“Look here !” said he, turning towards her and speaking ex. citedly. “Have you ever seen the sea ?”
She nodded her head.
“Well, have you seen it in tempest? Yes? Then you know what it is! Gloom without-night without-a dark sky-breakers foaming-waves roaring-death ahead and shipwreck abroad—that is my life—that is my lot!”
The words were sad rather than bitter; they rang mournfully round our wooden walls.
I looked up and looked round.
We had always thought Bessie a queer girl. The pictures on our walls were curious pictures. There was not one gorgeous person among them. There were portraits of one or two grand people of course ; it gives you a feeling of belonging to a nation, no matter how far away in the wilds you may be, when you see these. But, besides, there were all sorts of photographs of her own choosing : Holman Hunt's “Shadow of the Cross”.; one or two of Sir Noel Paton's ; a large copy of Zimmerman's “ Christ and the Sons of Zebedee," and, in a corner by themselves, a print of Albert Dürer's “ Praying Hands," which always made me feel queer when I looked at them. It gave you a turn, I can tell you, when, coming first into that room with its pretty curtains, its bird-cages, and its plants, you came upon those “ Hands” uplifted silently in the quiet corner. They used to stop us many a time when we might have been going to say something not quite as nice as we might have liked ; and, I am bound to say, it was almost as good as going to church to look at them on some Sunday morning when there was nothing else to remind you of the day-nothing but those “Hands," and the sort of peaceful kush that belongs to the day; when toil ceases, and men, unconsciously it may be, put on their clean shirts and jerseys, and smarten up a bit out of deference to “auld lang syne.” Not quite that, altogether, boys; but you know what I mean, and I am not one given to preachments. As I looked round at those “ Hands" I caught Dick staring at them too. But Bessie's head was bent over the pudding which she was pounding with might and main, for time was going, and the master liked punctuality at meal times.
“ The darkest hour is just before the dawn,” said she with a smile. “That's about the time of day with you, neighbour ; and the sun rises in the east, remember. The dawn is cold and chill, but it means a new day.”
He shook his head.
“The night that goes before the dawn is dark and cloudy and dim; I see no day."
**Watchman,'” said she, quoting a verse I also remembered hearing long ago, “watchman, what of the night? The night oumeth, and also the day.'”
"Night is long, and terrible.”
* I know !" she nodded her head. “Yet there are possibilities. "There is always hope. The present can be saved from wreck. The tuture is always bright. If you believe in human hands, how easy ego a step higher, and believe in more! You believe in life as Tin give the same faith to eternity, and hold on! Out of infinite fore comes infinite peace, forgiveness, rest ! ”
"How?” he asked her wearily. “How? For me? You little know!"
For answer she pointed across the room to “ The Hands”; then, ste hing out her arm to its widest, she pointed to the “Ecce Homo "above the fireplace. "'A Man of sorrow, and acquainted with guten,' she murmured softly.
intet: " he cried bitterly. “It is not grief—it is sin, sin ! Burders too heavy to bear; too sad to tell—to you!”
"He receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.' For us men, and for our salvation, He came down from heaven, and was crucified.' You know the rest. Why weary yourself with continually going back? Do you believe in the forgiveness of sins, or do you not? I suppose you learnt all that when you were a boy."
There was a long silence in the room, and presently Bessie spoke again. “You'll never miss the way, neighbour; you are never very far away from Him!”.
“ Stop !” he cried hoarsely. “Dare I—such as I am-dare I expect, or hope, that one word of mine will avail—will reach Him?"
“Were you ever a child ?” asked Bessie calmly, tying up the pudding in a basin, and putting it in a pan on the fire. “Had you ever a father? Were you ever naughty? Were you ever forgiven ? When you think these four questions out, you will discover that earthly life is only a parable—a picture—and that beneath it is something higher. Go away now; I am going to sweep up. And whenevcr you feel like this-so low and sad—just you come in and take a good look at my “Hands.' They'll help you ! and, bless you, I know all about you, don't disturb yourself! But, be you very sure of one thing-Heaven is more merciful than earth! Matt, are you ever going to finish those cups and saucers ?”
“ I wasbed them long ago," I replied meekly. “Shall I put them in the cupboard ? "
“Of course !” said my mistress sharply ; " and be quick about it! It will soon be time for dinner."
Our master sat in his shirt-sleeves at the close of the day. Jim sat on the fence and swung his legs backwards and forwards. I trained a climbing rose-tree over the pillars of the porch, and Bessie, her dress tucked up and her brown hands filled with nails, handed one to me from time to time, with the hammer.
“Come off that rail !” roared the master, frowning heavily. “Is it not trouble enough to make fences, without sitting on them our. selves to do mischief?”.
Jim dropped without a word.
“Bess !” added the potentate, turning her way, “that's a precious scoundrel you've been harbouring! Tim Maloney sent to say that he was known to be Dick the Ranger ! Nice company for you, young woman! If he returns some fine night, and treats us to a touch of his Winchester,' I shan't be surprised ! Keep yourself spry