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Title: The Christmas Miracle - 1911
Author: Craddock, Charles Egbert (AKA Mary Noailles Murfree)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Christmas Miracle - 1911" ***

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THE CHRISTMAS MIRACLE

By Charles Egbert Craddock

1911


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 fastnesses.

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
it."

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
ennyhows."

"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 Gap!

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 wakefully.

"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 disaster.

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 face.

"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!

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 hard-fought
battle.

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 lips,--

"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 acclamations.

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
beard.

"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 hear."

"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."





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