Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 21
We have our secrets, but, guard them as we may, it is not long before others have them also. We do much taling without words. I once knew a man who did his drinking secretly and his reeling in public, and thought he was fooling everybody. That shows how much easier it is for one to fool himself than to fool another. What is in a man's heart is on his face, and is shortly written all over him. Therein is a mighty lesson.
Of all people I ever knew Elizabeth Brower had the surest eye for looking into one's soul, and I, myself, have some gift of penetration. I knew shortly that Mrs Brower - wise and prudent woman that she was - had suspected my love for Hope and her love for me, and had told her what she ought to say if I spoke of it
The maturity of judgement in Hope's answer must have been the result of much thought and counsel, it seemed to me.
'If you do not speak again I shall know you do not love me any longer,' she had said. They were brave words that stood for something very deep in the character of those people - a self-repression that was sublime, often, in their women. As I said them to myself, those lonely summer days in Faraway, I saw in their sweet significance no hint of the bitterness they were to bring. But God knows I have had my share of pleasure and no more bitterness than I deserved.
It was a lonely summer for me. I had letters from Hope - ten of them - which I still keep and read, often with something of the old pleasure - girlish letters that told of her work and friends, and gave me some sweet counsel and much assurance between the lines.
I travelled in new roads that vacation time. Politics and religion, as well as love, began to interest me. Slavery was looming into the
proportion of a great issue, and the stories of cruelty and outrage on the plantations of the South stirred my young blood and made it ready for the letting of battle, in God's time. The speeches in the Senate were read aloud in our sitting-room after supper - the day the Tnbune came - and all lent a tongue to their discussion. Jed Feary was with us one evening, I remember, when our talk turned into long ways, the end of which I have never found to this day. Elizabeth had been reading of a slave, who, according to the paper, had been whipped to death.
'If God knows 'at such things are bein' done, why don't he stop 'em?' David asked.
'Can't very well,' said Jed Feary.
'Can, if he's omnipotent,' said David.
'That's a bad word - a dangerous one,' said the old poet, dropping his dialect as he spoke. 'It makes God responsible for evil as well as good. The word carries us beyond our depth. It's too big for our boots. I'd ruther think He can do what's doable an' know what's knowable. In the beginning he gave laws to the world an' these laws are unchangeable, or they are not wise an' perfect. If God were to change them He would thereby acknowledge their imperfection. By this law men and races suffer as they struggle upward. But if the law is unchangeable, can it be changed for a better cause even than the relief of a whipped slave? In good time. the law shall punish and relieve. The groans of them that suffer shall hasten it, but there shall be no change in the law. There can be no change in the law.'
'Leetle hard t' tell jest how powerfiil God is,' said Uncle Eb. 'Good deal like tryin' t' weigh Lake Champlain with a quart pail and a pair o' steelyards.'
'If God's laws are unchangeable, what is the use of praying?' I asked.
'He can give us the strength to bear, the will to obey him an' light to guide us,' said the poet. 'I've written out a few lines t' read t' Bill here 'fore he goes off t' college. They have suanthin' t' say on this subject. The poem hints at things he'd ought 'o learn purty soon - if he don't know 'em now.'
The old poet felt in his pockets as he spoke, and withdrew a folded sheet of straw-coloured wrapping paper and opened it. I was 'Bill' -plain 'Bill' - to everybody in that country, where, as you increased your love of a man, you diminished his name. I had been called Willie, William and Billy, and finally, when I threw the strong man of the township in a wrestling match they gave me this fail token of confidence. I bent over the shoulder of Jed Feary for a view of the manuscript, closely written witha lead pencil, and marked with many erasures.
'Le's hear it,' said David Brower.
Then I moved the lamp to his elbow and he began reading:
'A talk with William Brower on the occasion of his going away to colkge and writ oat in rhyme for him by his friend Jedediah Feary to be a token of respect.
The man that loses faith in God, ye'll find out every time, Has found a faith in his own self that's mighty nigh sublime. He knows as much as all the saints an' calls religion flighty, An' in his narrow world assumes the place o' God Almighty.
But don't expect too much o' God, it wouldn't be quite fair If fer everything ye wanted ye could only swap a prayer; I'd pray fer yours an' you fer mine an' Deacon Henry Hospur He wouldn't hev a thing t' do but lay a-bed an' prosper.
If all things come so easy, Bill, they'd hev but little worth, An' someone with a gift O' prayer 'ud mebbe own the earth. It's the toil ye give t' git a thing - the sweat an' blood an, trouble We reckon by - an' every tear'll make its value double.
There's a money O' the soul, my boy, ye'll find in after years, Its pennies are the sweat drops an' its dollars are the tears; An' love is the redeemin' gold that measures what they're worth, An' ye'll git as much in Heaven as ye've given out on earth.
Fer the record o' yer doin' - I believe the soul is planned With an automatic register t, tell jest how ye stand, An' it won't take any cipherin' t' show that fearful day, If ye've multiplied yer talents well, er thrown 'em all away.
When yer feet are on the summit, an' the wide horizon clears, An' ye look back on yer pathway windin' thro' the vale o' tears; When ye see how much ye've trespassed an' how fur ye've gone astray, Ye'll know the way o' Providence ain't apt t' be your way.
God knows as much as can be known, but I don't think it's true He knows of all the dangers in the path o' me an' you. If I shet my eyes an' hurl a stone that kills the King o' Siam, The chances are that God'll be as much surprised as I am.
If ye pray with faith believin', why, ye'll certnly receive, But that God does what's impossible is more than I'll believe. If it grieves Him when a sparrow falls, it's sure as anything, He'd hev turned the arrow if He could, that broke the sparrow's wing.
Ye can read old Nature's history thet's writ in rocks an' stones, Ye can see her throbbin' vitals an' her mighty rack o' hones. But the soul o' her - the livin' God, a little child may know No lens er rule o' cipherin' can ever hope t' show.
There's a part o' Cod's creation very handy t' yer view, Al' the truth o' life is in it an' remember, Bill, it's you. An' after all yer science ye must look up in yer mind, An' leam its own astronomy the star o' peace t' find.
There's good old Aunt Samanthy Jane thet all her journey long Has led her heart to labour with a reveille of song. Her folks hev robbed an' left her but her faith in goodness grows, She hasn't any larnin', but I tell ye Bill, she knows!
She's hed her share o' troubles; I remember well the day We took her t' the poorhouse - she was singin' all the way; Ye needn't be afraid t' come where stormy Jordan flows, If all the larnin' ye can git has taught ye halfshe knows.'
I give this crude example of rustic philosophy, not because it has my endorsement - God knows I have ever felt it far beyond me - but because it is useful to those who may care to know the man who wrote it. I give it the poor fame of these pages with keen regret that my friend is now long passed the praise or blame of this world.