THE CHRISTMAS MIRACLE
By Charles Egbert Craddock
He yearned for a sign from the heavens. Could one intimation be vouchsafed
him, how it would confirm his faltering faith! Jubal Kennedy was of the
temperament impervious to spiritual subtleties, fain to reach conclusions
with the line and rule of mathematical demonstration. Thus, all
unreceptive, he looked through the mountain gap, as through some
stupendous gateway, on the splendors of autumn; the vast landscape
glamorous in a transparent amethystine haze; the foliage of the dense
primeval wilderness in the October richness of red and russet; the
"hunter's moon," a full sphere of illuminated pearl, high in the blue east
while yet the dull vermilion sun swung westering above the massive purple
heights. He knew how the sap was sinking; that the growths of the year had
now failed; presently all would be shrouded in snow, but only to rise
again in the reassurance of vernal quickening, to glow anew in the
fullness of bloom, to attain eventually the perfection of fruition. And
still he was deaf to the reiterated analogy of death, and blind to the
immanent obvious prophecy of resurrection and the life to come. His
thoughts, as he stood on this jutting crag in Sunrise Gap, were with a
recent "experience meeting" at which he had sought to canvass his
spiritual needs. His demand of a sign from the heavens as evidence of the
existence of the God of revelation, as assurance of the awakening of
divine grace in the human heart, as actual proof that wistful mortality is
inherently endowed with immortality, had electrified this symposium.
Though it was fashionable, so to speak, in this remote cove among the
Great Smoky Mountains, to be repentant in rhetorical involutions and a
self-accuser in finespun interpretations of sin, doubt, or more properly
an eager questioning, a desire to possess the sacred mysteries of
religion, was unprecedented. Kennedy was a proud man, reticent, reserved.
Although the old parson, visibly surprised and startled, had gently
invited his full confidence, Kennedy had hastily swallowed his words, as
best he might, perceiving that the congregation had wholly misinterpreted
their true intent and that certain gossips had an unholy relish of the
sensation they had caused.
Thereafter he indulged his poignant longings for the elucidation of the
veiled truths only when, as now, he wandered deep in the woods with his
rifle on his shoulder. He could not have said to-day that he was nearer an
inspiration, a hope, a "leading," than heretofore, but as he stood on the
crag it was with the effect of a dislocation that he was torn from the
solemn theme by an interruption at a vital crisis.
The faint vibrations of a violin stirred the reverent hush of the
landscape in the blended light of the setting sun and the "hunter's moon."
Presently the musician came into view, advancing slowly through the aisles
of the red autumn forest. A rapt figure it was, swaying in responsive
ecstasy with the rhythmic cadence. The head, with its long, blowsy yellow
hair, was bowed over the dark polished wood of the instrument; the eyes
were half closed; the right arm, despite the eccentric patches on the
sleeve of the old brown-jeans coat, moved with free, elastic gestures in
all the liberties of a practiced bowing. If he saw the hunter motionless
on the brink of the crag, the fiddler gave no intimation. His every
faculty was as if enthralled by the swinging iteration of the sweet
melancholy melody, rendered with a breadth of effect, an inspiration, it
might almost have seemed, incongruous with the infirmities of the crazy
old fiddle. He was like a creature under the sway of a spell, and
apparently drawn by this dulcet lure of the enchantment of sound was the
odd procession that trailed silently after him through these deep mountain
A woman came first, arrayed in a ragged purple skirt and a yellow blouse
open at the throat, displaying a slender white neck which upheld a face of
pensive, inert beauty. She clasped in her arms a delicate infant, ethereal
of aspect with its flaxen hair, transparently pallid complexion, and wide
blue eyes. It was absolutely quiescent, save that now and then it turned
feebly in its waxen hands a little striped red-and-yellow pomegranate. A
sturdy blond toddler trudged behind, in a checked blue cotton frock, short
enough to disclose cherubic pink feet and legs bare to the knee; he
carried that treasure of rural juveniles, a cornstalk violin. An old
hound, his tail suavely wagging, padded along the narrow path; and last of
all came, with frequent pause to crop the wayside herbage, a large cow,
brindled red and white.
"The whole fambly!" muttered Kennedy. Then, aloud, "Why don't you uns
kerry the baby, Basil Bedell, an' give yer wife a rest?"
At the prosaic suggestion the crystal realm of dreams was shattered. The
bow, with a quavering discordant scrape upon the strings, paused. Then
Bedell slowly mastered the meaning of the interruption.
"Kerry the baby! Why, Aurely won't let none but herself tech that baby."
He laughed as he tossed the tousled yellow hair from his face, and looked
over his shoulder to speak to the infant. "It air sech a plumb special
delightsome peach, it air,—it air!"
The pale face of the child lighted up with a smile of recognition and a
faint gleam of mirth.
"I jes' kem out ennyhows ter drive up the cow," Basil added.
"Big job," sneered Kennedy. "'Pears-like it takes the whole fambly to do
Such slothful mismanagement was calculated to affront an energetic spirit.
Obviously, at this hour the woman should be at home cooking the supper.
"I follered along ter listen ter the fiddle,—ef ye hev enny call ter
know." Mrs. Bedell replied to his unspoken thought, as if by divination.
But indeed such strictures were not heard for the first time. They were in
some sort the penalty of the disinterested friendship which Kennedy had
harbored for Basil since their childhood. He wished that his compeer might
prosper in such simple wise as his own experience had proved to be amply
possible. Kennedy's earlier incentive to industry had been his intention
to marry, but the object of his affections had found him "too mortal
solemn," and without a word of warning had married another man in a
distant cove. The element of treachery in this event had gone far to
reconcile the jilted lover to his future, bereft of her companionship, but
the habit of industry thus formed had continued of its own momentum. It
had resulted in forehanded thrift; he now possessed a comfortable holding,—cattle,
house, ample land; and he had all the intolerance of the ant for the
cricket. As Bedell lifted the bow once more, every wincing nerve was
enlisted in arresting it in mid-air.
"Mighty long tramp fur Bobbie, thar,—why n't ye kerry him!" y
The imperturbable calm still held fast on the musician's face. "Bob," he
addressed the toddler, "will you uns let daddy kerry ye like a baby!"
He swooped down as if to lift the child, the violin and bow in his left
hand. The hardy youngster backed off precipitately.
"Don't ye dare ter do it!" he virulently admonished his parent, a
resentful light in his blue eyes. Then, as Bedell sang a stave in a full
rich voice, "Bye-oh, Baby!" Bob vociferated anew, "Don't you begin
ter dare do it!" every inch a man though a little one.
"That's the kind of a fambly I hev got," Basil commented easily. "Wife an'
boy an' baby all walk over me,—plumb stomp on me! Jes' enough lef of
me ter play the fiddle a leetle once in a while."
"Mighty nigh all the while, I be afeared," Kennedy corrected the phrase.
"How did yer corn crap turn out!" he asked, as he too fell into line and
the procession moved on once more along the narrow path.
"Well enough," said Basil; "we uns hev got a sufficiency." Then, as if
afraid of seeming boastful he qualified, "Ye know I hain't got but one
muel ter feed, an' the cow thar. My sheep gits thar pastur' on the
volunteer grass 'mongst the rocks, an' I hev jes' got a few head
"But why hain't ye got more, Basil! Why n't ye work more and quit
wastin' yer time on that old fool fiddle!"
The limits of patience were reached. The musician fired up. "'Kase," he
retorted, "I make enough. I hev got grace enough ter be thankful fur sech
ez be vouchsafed ter me. I ain't wantin' no meracle."
Kennedy flushed, following in silence while the musician annotated his
triumph by a series of gay little harmonics, and young Hopeful, trudging
in the rear, executed a soundless fantasia on the cornstalk fiddle with
great brilliancy of technique.
"You uns air talkin' 'bout whut I said at the meetin' las' month," Kennedy
observed at length.
"An' so be all the mounting," Aurelia interpolated with a sudden fierce
joy of reproof.
Kennedy winced visibly.
"The folks all 'low ez ye be no better than an onbeliever." Aurelia was
bent on driving the blade home. "The idee of axin' fur a meracle at this
late day,—so ez ye kin be satisfied in yer mind ez ye hev got
grace! Providence, though merciful, air obleeged, ter know ez sech
air plumb scandalous an' redic'lous."
"Why, Aurely, hesh up," exclaimed her husband, startled from his wonted
leniency. "I hev never hearn ye talk in sech a key,—yer voice sounds
plumb out o' tune. I be plumb sorry, Jube, ez I spoke ter you uns 'bout a
meracle at all. But I frar consider'ble nettled by yer words, ye see,—'kase
I know I be a powerful, lazy, shif'less cuss——"
"Ye know a lie, then," his helpmate interrupted promptly.
"Why, Aurely, hesh up,—ye—ye—woman, ye!" he
concluded injuriously. Then resuming his remarks to Kennedy, "I know I do
fool away a deal of my time with the fiddle——"
"The sound of it is like bread ter me,—
"I couldn't live without it," interposed the unconquered Aurelia.
"Sometimes it minds me o' the singin' o' runnin' water in a lonesome
place. Then agin it minds me o' seein' sunshine in a dream. An' sometimes
it be sweet an' high an' fur off, like a voice from the sky, tellin' what
no mortial ever knowed before,—an' then it minds me o' the
tune them angels sung ter the shepherds abidin' in the fields. I couldn't
live without it."
"Woman, hold yer jaw!" Basil proclaimed comprehensively. Then, renewing
his explanation to Kennedy, "I kin see that I don't purvide fur my fambly
ez I ought ter do, through hatin' work and lovin' to play the fiddle."
"I ain't goin' ter hear my home an' hearth reviled." Aurelia laid an
imperative hand on her husband's arm. "Ye know ye couldn 't make more
out'n sech ground,—though I ain't faultin' our land, neither. We uns
hev enough an' ter spare, all we need an' more than we deserve. We don't
need ter ax a meracle from the skies ter stay our souls on faith, nor a
sign ter prove our grace."
"Now, now, stop, Aurely!—I declar', Jube I dunno what made me
lay my tongue ter sech a word ez that thar miser'ble benighted meracle! I
be powerful sorry I hurt yer feelin's, Jube; folks seekin' salvation git
mightily mis-put sometimes, an'——"
"I don't want ter hear none o' yer views on religion," Kennedy
interrupted gruffly. An apology often augments the sense of injury. In
this instance it also annulled the provocation, for his own admission put
Bedell hopelessly in the wrong. "Ez a friend I war argufyin' with ye agin'
yer waste o' time with that old fool fiddle. Ye hev got wife an' children,
an' yit not so well off in this world's gear ez me, a single man. I
misdoubts ef ye hev hunted a day since the craps war laid by, or hev got a
pound o' jerked venison stored up fer winter. But this air yer home,"—he
pointed upward at a little clearing beginning, as they approached, to be
visible amidst the forest,—"an' ef ye air satisfied with sech ez it
be, that comes from laziness stiddier a contented sperit."
With this caustic saying he suddenly left them, the procession standing
silently staring after him as he took his way through the woods in the
dusky red shadows of the autumnal gloaming.
Aurelia's vaunted home was indeed a poor place,—not even the rude
though substantial log-cabin common to the region. It was a flimsy shanty
of boards, and except for its rickety porch was more like a box than a
house. It had its perch on a jutting eminence, where it seemed the
familiar of the skies, so did the clouds and winds circle about it.
Through the great gateway of Sunrise Gap it commanded a landscape of a
scope that might typify a world, in its multitude of mountain ranges, in
the intricacies of its intervening valleys, in the glittering coils of its
water-courses. Basil would sometimes sink into deep silences, overpowered
by the majesty of nature in this place. After a long hiatus the bow would
tremble and falter on the strings as if overawed for a time; presently the
theme would strengthen, expand, resound with large meaning, and then he
would send forth melodies that he had never before played or heard, his
own dream, the reflection of that mighty mood of nature in the limpid pool
of his receptive mind.
Around were rocks, crags, chasms,—the fields which nourished the
family lay well from the verge, within the purlieus of the limited
mountain plateau. He had sought to persuade himself that it was to save
all the arable land for tillage that he had placed his house and door-yard
here, but both he and Aurelia were secretly aware of the subterfuge; he
would fain be always within the glamour of the prospect through Sunrise
Their interlocutor had truly deemed that the woman should have been
earlier at home cooking the supper. Dusk had deepened to darkness long
before the meal smoked upon the board. The spinning-wheel had begun to
whir for her evening stint when other hill-folks had betaken themselves to
bed. Basil puffed his pipe before the fire; the flicker and flare pervaded
every nook of the bright little house. Strings of red-pepper-pods flaunted
in festoons from the beams; the baby slumbered under a gay quilt in his
rude cradle, never far from his mother's hand, but the bluff little boy
was still up and about, although his aspect, round and burly, in a scanty
nightgown, gave token of recognition of the fact that bed was his
appropriate place. His shrill plaintive voice rose ever and anon
"I wanter hear a bear tale,—I wanter hear a bear tale."
Thus Basil must needs knock the ashes from his pipe the better to devote
himself to the narration,—a prince of raconteurs, to judge by the
spell-bound interest of the youngster who stood at his knee and hung on
his words. Even Aurelia checked the whir of her wheel to listen smilingly.
She broke out laughing in appreciative pleasure when Basil took up the
violin to show how a jovial old bear, who intruded into this very house
one day when all the family were away at the church in the cove, and who
mistook the instrument for a banjo, addressed himself to picking out this
tune, singing the while a quaint and ursine lay. Basil embellished the
imitation with a masterly effect of realistic growls.
"Ef ye keep goin' at that gait, Basil," Aurelia admonished him, "daylight
will ketch us all wide awake around the fire,—no wonder the child
won't go to bed." She seemed suddenly impressed with the pervasive cheer.
"What a fool that man, Jube Kennedy, must be! How could ennybody
hev a sweeter, darlinger home than we uns hev got hyar in Sunrise Gap!"
On the languorous autumn a fierce winter ensued. The cold came early. The
deciduous growths of the forests were leafless ere November waned, rifled
by the riotous marauding winds. December set in with the gusty snow flying
fast. Drear were the gray skies; ghastly the sheeted ranges. Drifts piled
high in bleak ravines, and the grim gneissoid crags were begirt with
gigantic icicles. But about the little house in Sunrise Gap that kept so
warm a heart, the holly trees showed their glad green leaves and the red
berries glowed with a mystic significance.
As the weeks wore on, the place was often in Kennedy's mind, although he
had not seen it since that autumn afternoon when he had bestirred himself
to rebuke its owner concerning the inadequacies of the domestic provision.
His admonition had been kindly meant and had not deserved the retort, the
flippant ridicule of his spiritual yearnings. Though he still winced from
the recollection, he was sorry that he had resisted the importunacy of
Basil's apology. He realized that Aurelia had persisted to the limit of
her power in the embitterment of the controversy, but even Aurelia he was
disposed to forgive as time passed on. When Christinas Day dawned, the
vague sentiment began to assume the definiteness of a purpose, and
noontide found him on his way to Sunrise Gap.
There was now no path through the woods; the snow lay deep over all,
unbroken save at long intervals when queer footprints gave token of the
stirring abroad of the sylvan denizens, and he felt an idle interest in
distinguishing the steps of wolf and fox, of opossum and weasel. In the
intricacies of the forest aisles, amid laden boughs of pine and fir, there
was a suggestion of darkness, but all the sky held not enough light to
cast the shadow of a bole on the white blank spaces of the snow-covered
ground. A vague blue haze clothed the air; yet as he drew near the
mountain brink, all was distinct in the vast landscape, the massive ranges
and alternating valleys in infinite repetition.
He wondered when near the house that he had not heard the familiar barking
of the old hound; then he remembered that the sound of his horse's hoofs
was muffled by the snow. He was glad to be unheralded. He would like to
surprise Aurelia into geniality before her vicarious rancor for Basil's
sake should be roused anew. As he emerged from the thick growths of the
holly, with the icy scintillations of its clustering green leaves and red
berries, he drew rein so suddenly that the horse was thrown back on his
haunches. The rider sat as if petrified in the presence of an awful
The house was gone! Even the site had vanished! Kennedy stared bewildered.
Slowly the realization of what had chanced here began to creep through his
brain. Evidently there had been a gigantic landslide. The cliff-like
projection was broken sheer off,—hurled into the depths of the
valley. Some action of subterranean waters, throughout ages, doubtless,
had been undermining the great crags till the rocky crust of the earth had
collapsed. He could see even now how the freeze had fractured outcropping
ledges where the ice had gathered in the fissures. A deep abyss that he
remembered as being at a considerable distance from the mountain's brink,
once spanned by a foot-bridge, now showed the remnant of its jagged,
shattered walls at the extreme verge of the precipice.
A cold chill of horror benumbed his senses. Basil, the wife, the children,—where
were they? A terrible death, surely, to be torn from the warm securities
of the hearth-stone, without a moment's warning, and hurled into the midst
of this frantic turmoil of nature, down to the depths of the gap,—a
thousand feet below! And at what time had this dread fate befallen his
friend? He remembered that at the cross-roads' store, when he had paused
on his way to warm himself that morning, some gossip was detailing the
phenomenon of unseasonable thunder during the previous night, while others
protested that it must have been only the clamors of "Christmas guns"
firing all along the country-side. "A turrible clap, it was," the
raconteur had persisted. "Sounded ez ef all creation hed split apart."
Perhaps, therefore, the catastrophe might be recent. Kennedy could
scarcely command his muscles as he dismounted and made his way slowly and
cautiously to the verge.
Any deviation from the accustomed routine of nature has an unnerving
effect, unparalleled by disaster in other sort; no individual danger or
doom, the aspect of death by drowning, or gunshot, or disease, can so
abash the reason and stultify normal expectation. Kennedy was scarcely
conscious that he saw the vast disorder of the landslide, scattered from
the precipice on the mountain's brink to the depths of the Gap—inverted
roots of great pines thrust out in mid-air, foundations of crags riven
asunder and hurled in monstrous fragments along the steep slant, unknown
streams newly liberated from the caverns of the range and cascading from
the crevices of the rocks. In effect he could not believe his own eyes.
His mind realized the perception of his senses only when his heart
suddenly plunged with a wild hope,—he had discerned amongst the
turmoil a shape of line and rule, the little box-like hut! Caught as it
was in the boughs of a cluster of pines and firs, uprooted and thrust out
at an incline a little less than vertical, the inmates might have been
spared such shock of the fall as would otherwise have proved fatal. Had
the house been one of the substantial log-cabins of the region its timbers
must have been torn one from another, the daubing and chinking scattered
as mere atoms. But the more flimsy character of the little dwelling had
thus far served to save it,—the interdependent "framing" of its
structure held fast; the upright studding and boards, nailed stoutly on,
rendered it indeed the box that it looked. It was, so to speak, built in
one piece, and no part was subjected to greater strain than another. But
should the earth cave anew, should the tough fibres of one of those
gigantic roots tear out from the loosened friable soil, should the elastic
supporting branches barely sway in some errant gust of wind, the little
box would fall hundreds of feet, cracked like a nut, shattering against
the rocks of the levels below.
He wondered if the inmates yet lived,—he pitied them still more if
they only existed to realize their peril, to await in an anguish of fear
their ultimate doom. Perhaps—he felt he was but trifling with
despair—some rescue might be devised.
Such a weird cry he set up on the brink of the mountain!—full of
horror, grief, and that poignant hope. The echoes of the Gap seemed
reluctant to repeat the tones, dull, slow, muffled in snow. But a sturdy
halloo responded from the window, uppermost now, for the house lay on its
side amongst the boughs. Kennedy thought he saw the pallid simulacrum of a
"This be Jube Kennedy," he cried, reassuringly. "I be goin' ter fetch
help,—men, ropes, and a windlass."
"Make haste then,—we uns be nigh friz."
"Ye air in no danger of fire, then?" asked the practical man.
"We hev hed none,—before we war flunged off'n the bluff we hed
squinched the fire ter pledjure Bob, ez he war afeard Santy Claus would
scorch his feet comm' down the chimbley,—powerful lucky fur we uns;
the fire would hev burnt the house bodaciously."
Kennedy hardly stayed to hear. He was off in a moment, galloping at
frantic speed along the snowy trail scarcely traceable in the sad light of
the gray day; taking short cuts through the densities of the laurel; torn
by jagged rocks and tangles of thorny growths and broken branches of great
trees; plunging now and again into deep drifts above concealed icy chasms,
and rescuing with inexpressible difficulty the floundering, struggling
horse; reaching again the open sheeted roadway, bruised, bleeding,
exhausted, yet furiously plunging forward, rousing the sparsely settled
country-side with imperative insistence for help in this matter of life or
Death, indeed, only,—for the enterprise was pronounced impossible by
those more experienced than Kennedy. Among the men now on the bluff were
several who had been employed in the silver mines of this region, and they
demonstrated conclusively that a rope could not be worked clear of the
obstructions of the face of the rugged and shattered cliffs; that a human
being, drawn from the cabin, strapped in a chair, must needs be torn from
it and flung into the abyss below, or beaten to a frightful death against
the jagged rocks in the transit.
"But not ef the chair war ter be steadied by a guy-rope from—say—from
that thar old pine tree over thar," Kennedy insisted, indicating the long
bole of a partially uprooted and inverted tree on the steeps. "The chair
would swing cl'ar of the bluff then."
"But, Jube, it is onpossible ter git a guy-rope over ter that tree,—more
than a man's life is wuth ter try it."
A moment ensued of absolute silence,—space, however, for a
The aspect of that mad world below, with every condition of creation
reversed; a mistake in the adjustment of the winch and gear by the
excited, reluctant, disapproving men; an overstrain on the fibres of the
long-used rope; a slip on the treacherous ice; the dizzy whirl of the
senses that even a glance downward at those drear depths set astir in the
brain,—all were canvassed within his mental processes, all were duly
realized in their entirety ere he said with a spare dull voice and dry
"Fix ter let me down ter that thar leanin' pine, boys,—I'll kerry a
guy-rope over thar."
At one side the crag beetled, and although it was impossible thence to
reach the cabin with a rope it would swing clear of obstructions here, and
might bring the rescuer within touch of the pine, where could be fastened
the guy-rope; the other end would be affixed to the chair which could be
lowered to the cabin only from the rugged face of the cliff. Kennedy
harbored no self-deception; he more than doubted the outcome of the
enterprise. He quaked and turned pale with dread as with the great rope
knotted about his arm-pits and around his waist he was swung over the
brink at the point where the crag jutted forth,—lower and lower
still; now nearing the slanting inverted pine, caught amidst the débris of
earth and rock; now failing to reach its boughs; once more swinging back
to a great distance, so did the length of the rope increase the scope of
the pendulum; now nearing the pine again, and at last fairly lodged on the
icy bole, knotting and coiling about it the end of the guy-rope, on which
he had come and on which he must needs return.
It seemed, through the inexpert handling of the little group, a long time
before the stout arm-chair was secured to the cables, slowly lowered, and
landed at last on the outside of the hut. Many an anxious glance was cast
at the slate-gray sky. An inopportune flurry of snow, a flaw of wind:—and
even now all would be lost. Dusk too impended, and as the rope began to
coil on the windlass at the signal to hoist every eye was strained to
discern the identity of the first voyagers in this aerial journey,—the
two children, securely lashed to the chair. This was well,—all felt
that both parents might best wait, might risk the added delay. The chair
came swinging easily, swiftly, along the gradations of the rise, the
guy-rope holding it well from the chances of contact with the jagged
projections of the face of the cliff, and the first shout of triumph rang
sonorously from the summit.
When next the chair rested on the cabin beside the window, a thrill of
anxiety and anger went through Kennedy's heart to note, from his perch on
the leaning pine, a struggle between husband and wife as to who should go
first. Each was eager to take the many risks incident to the long wait in
this precarious lodgment. The man was the stronger. Aurelia was forced
into the chair, tied fast, pushed off, waving' her hand to her husband,
shedding floods of tears, looking at him for the last time, as she
fancied, and calling out dismally, "Far'well, Basil, far'-well."
Even this lugubrious demonstration could not damp the spirits of the men
working like mad at the windlass. They were jovial enough for bursts of
laughter when it became apparent that Basil had utilized the ensuing
interval to tie together, in preparation for the ascent with himself, the
two objects which he next most treasured, his violin and his old hound.
The trusty chair bore all aloft, and Basil was received with welcoming
Before the rope was wound anew and for the last time, the aspect of the
group on the cliff had changed. It had grown eerie, indistinct. The pines
and firs showed no longer their sempervirent green, but were black amid
the white tufted lines on their branches, that still served to accentuate
their symmetry. The vale had disappeared in a sinister abyss of gloom,
though Kennedy would not look down at its menace, but upward, always
upward. Thus he saw, like some radiant and splendid star, the first torch
whitely aglow on the brink of the precipice. It opened long avenues of
light adown the snowy landscape,—soft blue shadows trailed after it,
like half-descried draperies of elusive hovering beings. Soon the torch
was duplicated; another and then another began to glow. Now several drew
together, and like a constellation glimmered crownlike on the brow of the
night, as he felt the rope stir with the signal to hoist.
Upward, always upward, his eyes on that radiant stellular coronal, as it
shone white and splendid in the snowy night. And now it had lost its
mystic glamour,—disintegrated by gradual approach he could see the
long handles of the pine-knots; the red verges of the flame; the blue and
yellow tones of the focus; the trailing wreaths of dun-tinted smoke that
rose from them. Then became visible the faces of the men who held them,
all crowding eagerly to the verge. But it was in a solemn silence that he
was received; a drear cold darkness, every torch being stuick downward
into the snow; a frantic haste in unharnessing him from the ropes, for he
was almost frozen. He was hardly apt enough to interpret this as an
emotion too deep for words, but now and again, as he was disentangled, he
felt about his shoulders a furtive hug, and more than one pair of the
ministering hands must needs pause to wring his own hands hard. They
practically carried him to a fire that had been built in a sheltered place
in one of those grottoes of the region, locally called "Rock-houses." Its
cavernous portal gave upon a dark interior, and not until they had turned
a corner in a tunnel-like passage was revealed an arched space in a
rayonnant suffusion of light, the fire itself obscured by the figures
about it. His eyes were caught first by the aspect of a youthful mother
with a golden-haired babe on her breast; close by showed the head and
horns of a cow; the mule was mercifully sheltered too, and stood near,
munching his fodder; a cluster of sheep pressed after the steps of half a
dozen men, that somehow in the clare-obscure reminded him of the shepherds
of old summoned by good tidings of great joy.
A sudden figure started up with streaming white hair and patriarchal
"Will ye deny ez ye hev hed a sign from the heavens, Jubal Kennedy?" the
old circuit-rider straitly demanded. "How could ye hev strengthened yer
heart fur sech a deed onless the grace o' God prevailed mightily within
ye? Inasmuch as ye hev done it unto one o' the least o' these my brethern,
ye hev done it unto me."
"That ain't the kind o' sign, parson," Kennedy faltered. "I be
lookin' fur a meracle in the yearth or in the air, that I kin view or
"The kingdom o' Christ is a spiritual kingdom," said the parson solemnly.
"The kingdom o' Christ is a spiritual kingdom, an' great are the
wonders that are wrought therein."