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   Chapter 11 THE TWO CALLS

Black Rock: A Tale of the Selkirks By Ralph Connor Characters: 18358

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

With the call to Mr. Craig I fancy I had something to do myself. The call came from a young congregation in an eastern city, and was based partly upon his college record and more upon the advice of those among the authorities who knew his work in the mountains. But I flatter myself that my letters to friends who were of importance in that congregation were not without influence, for I was of the mind that the man who could handle Black Rock miners as he could was ready for something larger than a mountain mission. That he would refuse I had not imagined, though I ought to have known him better. He was but little troubled over it. He went with the call and the letters urging his acceptance to Mrs. Mavor. I was putting the last touches to some of my work in the room at the back of Mrs. Mavor's house when he came in. She read the letters and the call quietly, and waited for him to speak.

'Well?' he said; 'should I go?'

She started, and grew a little pale. His question suggested a possibility that had not occurred to her. That he could leave his work in Black Rock she had hitherto never imagined; but there was other work, and he was fit for good work anywhere. Why should he not go? I saw the fear in her face, but I saw more than fear in her eyes, as for a moment or two she let them rest upon Craig's face. I read her story, and I was not sorry for either of them. But she was too much a woman to show her heart easily to the man she loved, and her voice was even and calm as she answered his question.

'Is this a very large congregation?'

'One of the finest in all the East,' I put in for him. 'It will be a great thing for Craig.'

Craig was studying her curiously. I think she noticed his eyes upon her, for she went on even more quietly-

'It will be a great chance for work, and you are able for a larger sphere, you know, than poor Black Rock affords.'

'Who will take Black Rock?' he asked.

'Let some other fellow have a try at it,' I said. 'Why should you waste your talents here?'

'Waste?' cried Mrs. Mavor indignantly.

'Well, "bury," if you like it better,' I replied.

'It would not take much of a grave for that funeral,' said Craig, smiling.

'Oh,' said Mrs. Mavor, 'you will be a great man I know, and perhaps you ought to go now.'

But he answered coolly: 'There are fifty men wanting that Eastern charge, and there is only one wanting Black Rock, and I don't think Black Rock is anxious for a change, so I have determined to stay where I am yet a while.'

Even my deep disgust and disappointment did not prevent me from seeing the sudden leap of joy in Mrs. Mavor's eyes, but she, with a great effort, answered quietly-

'Black Rock will be very glad, and some of us very, very glad.'

Nothing could change his mind. There was no one he knew who could take his place just now, and why should he quit his work? It annoyed me considerably to feel he was right. Why is it that the right things are so frequently unpleasant?

And if I had had any doubt about the matter next Sabbath evening would have removed it. For the men came about him after the service and let him feel in their own way how much they approved his decision, though the self-sacrifice involved did not appeal to them. They were too truly Western to imagine that any inducements the East could offer could compensate for his loss of the West. It was only fitting that the West should have the best, and so the miners took almost as a matter of course, and certainly as their right, that the best man they knew should stay with them. But there were those who knew how much of what most men consider worth while he had given up, and they loved him no less for it.

Mrs. Mavor's call was not so easily disposed of. It came close upon the other, and stirred Black Rock as nothing else had ever stirred it before.

I found her one afternoon gazing vacantly at some legal documents spread out before her on the table, and evidently overcome by their contents. There was first a lawyer's letter informing her that by the death of her husband's father she had come into the whole of the Mavor estates, and all the wealth pertaining thereto. The letter asked for instructions, and urged an immediate return with a view to a personal superintendence of the estates. A letter, too, from a distant cousin of her husband urged her immediate return for many reasons, but chiefly on account of the old mother who had been left alone with none nearer of kin than himself to care for her and cheer her old age.

With these two came another letter from her mother-in-law herself. The crabbed, trembling characters were even more eloquent than the words with which the letter closed.

'I have lost my boy, and now my husband is gone, and I am a lonely woman. I have many servants, and some friends, but none near to me, none so near and dear as my dead son's wife. My days are not to be many. Come to me, my daughter; I want you and Lewis's child.'

'Must I go?' she asked with white lips.

'Do you know her well?' I asked.

'I only saw her once or twice,' she answered; 'but she has been very good to me.'

'She can hardly need you. She has friends. And surely you are needed here.'

She looked at me eagerly.

'Do you think so?' she said.

'Ask any man in the camp-Shaw, Nixon, young Winton, Geordie. Ask Craig,' I replied.

'Yes, he will tell me,' she said.

Even as she spoke Craig came up the steps. I passed into my studio and went on with my work, for my days at Black Rock were getting few, and many sketches remained to be filled in.

Through my open door I saw Mrs. Mavor lay her letters before Mr. Craig, saying, 'I have a call too.' They thought not of me.

He went through the papers, carefully laid them down without a word while she waited anxiously, almost impatiently, for him to speak.

'Well?' she asked, using his own words to her; 'should I go?'

'I do not know,' he replied; 'that is for you to decide-you know all the circumstances.'

'The letters tell all.' Her tone carried a feeling of disappointment. He did not appear to care.

'The estates are large?' he asked.

'Yes, large enough-twelve thousand a year.'

'And has your mother-in-law any one with her?'

'She has friends, but, as she says, none near of kin. Her nephew looks after the works-iron works, you know-he has shares in them.'

'She is evidently very lonely,' he answered gravely.

'What shall I do?' she asked, and I knew she was waiting to hear him urge her to stay; but he did not see, or at least gave no heed.

'I cannot say,' he repeated quietly. 'There are many things to consider; the estates-'

'The estates seem to trouble you,' she replied, almost fretfully. He looked up in surprise. I wondered at his slowness.

'Yes, the estates,' he went on, 'and tenants, I suppose-your mother-in-law, your little Marjorie's future, your own future.'

'The estates are in capable hands, I should suppose,' she urged, 'and my future depends upon what I choose my work to be.'

'But one cannot shift one's responsibilities,' he replied gravely. 'These estates, these tenants, have come to you, and with them come duties.'

'I do not want them,' she cried.

'That life has great possibilities of good,' he said kindly.

'I had thought that perhaps there was work for me here,' she suggested timidly.

'Great work,' he hastened to say. 'You have done great work. But you will do that wherever you go. The only question is where your work lies.'

'You think I should go,' she said suddenly and a little bitterly.

'I cannot bid you stay,' he answered steadily.

'How can I go?' she cried, appealing to him. 'Must I go?'

How he could resist that appeal I could not understand. His face was cold and hard, and his voice was almost harsh as he replied-

'If it is right, you will go-you must go.'

Then she burst forth-

'I cannot go. I shall stay here. My work is here; my heart is here. How can I go? You thought it worth your while to stay here and work, why should not I?'

The momentary gleam in his eyes died out, and again he said coldly-

'This work was clearly mine. I am needed here.'

'Yes, yes!' she cried, her voice full of pain; 'you are needed, but there is no need of me.'

'Stop, stop!' he said sharply; 'you must not say so.'

'I will say it, I must say it,' she cried, her voice vibrating with the intensity of her feeling. 'I know you do not need me; you have your work, your miners, your plans; you need no one; you are strong. But,' and her voice rose to a cry, 'I am not strong by myself; you have made me strong. I came here a foolish girl, foolish and selfish and narrow. God sent me grief. Three years ago my heart died. Now I am living again. I am a woman now, no longer a girl. You have done this for me. Your life, your words, yourself-you have showed me a better, a higher life, than I had ever known before, and now you send me away.'

She paused abruptly.

'Blind, stupid fool!' I said to myself.

He held himself resolutely in hand, answering carefully, but his voice had lost its coldness and was sweet and kind.

'Have I done this for you? Then

surely God has been good to me. And you have helped me more than any words could tell you.'

'Helped!' she repeated scornfully.

'Yes, helped,' he answered, wondering at her scorn.

'You can do without my help,' she went on. 'You make people help you. You will get many to help you; but I need help, too.' She was standing before him with her hands tightly clasped; her face was pale, and her eyes deeper than ever. He sat looking up at her in a kind of maze as she poured out her words hot and fast.

'I am not thinking of you.' His coldness had hurt her deeply. 'I am selfish; I am thinking of myself. How shall I do? I have grown to depend on you, to look to you. It is nothing to you that I go, but to me-' She did not dare to finish.

By this time Craig was standing before her, his face deadly pale. When she came to the end of her words, he said, in a voice low, sweet, and thrilling with emotion-

'Ah, if you only knew! Do not make me forget myself. You do not guess what you are doing.'

'What am I doing? What is there to know, but that you tell me easily to go? She was struggling with the tears she was too proud to let him see.

He put his hands resolutely behind him, looking at her as if studying her face for the first time. Under his searching look she dropped her eyes, and the warm colour came slowly up into her neck and face; then, as if with a sudden resolve, she lifted her eyes to his, and looked back at him unflinchingly.

He started, surprised, drew slowly near, put his hands upon her shoulders, surprise giving place to wild joy. She never moved her eyes; they drew him towards her. He took her face between his hands, smiled into her eyes, kissed her lips. She did not move; he stood back from her, threw up his head, and laughed aloud. She came to him, put her head upon his breast, and lifting up her face said, 'Kiss me.' He put his arms about her, bent down and kissed her lips again, and then reverently her brow. Then putting her back from him, but still holding both her hands, he cried-

'Not you shall not go. I shall never let you go.'

She gave a little sigh of content, and, smiling up at him, said-

'I can go now'; but even as she spoke the flush died from her face, and she shuddered.

'Never!' he almost shouted; 'nothing shall take you away. We shall work here together.'

'Ah, if we could, if we only could,' she said piteously.

'Why not?' he demanded fiercely.

'You will send me away. You will say it is right for me to go,' she replied sadly.

'Do we not love each other?' was his impatient answer.

'Ah! yes, love,' she said; 'but love is not all.'

'No!' cried Craig; 'but love is the best'

'Yes!' she said sadly; 'love is the best, and it is for love's sake we will do the best.'

'There is no better work than here. Surely this is best,' and he pictured his plans before her. She listened eagerly.

'Oh! if it should be right,' she cried, 'I will do what you say. You are good, you are wise, you shall tell me.'

She could not have recalled him better. He stood silent some moments, then burst out passionately-

'Why then has love come to us? We did not seek it. Surely love is of God. Does God mock us?'

He threw himself into his chair, pouring out his words of passionate protestation. She listened, smiling, then came to him and, touching his hair as a mother might her child's, said-

'Oh, I am very happy! I was afraid you would not care, and I could not bear to go that way.'

'You shall not go,' he cried aloud, as if in pain. 'Nothing can make that right.'

But she only said, 'You shall tell me to-morrow. You cannot see to-night, but you will see, and you will tell me.'

He stood up and, holding both her hands, looked long into her eyes, then turned abruptly away and went out.

She stood where he left her for some moments, her face radiant, and her hands pressed upon her heart. Then she came toward my room. She found me busy with my painting, but as I looked up and met her eyes she flushed slightly, and said-

'I quite forgot you.'

'So it appeared to me.'

'You heard?'

'And saw,' I replied boldly. 'It would have been rude to interrupt, you see.'

'Oh, I am so glad and thankful.'

'Yes; it was rather considerate of me.'

'Oh, I don't mean that,' the flush deepening; 'I am glad you know.'

'I have known some time.'

'How could you? I only knew to-day myself.'

'I have eyes.' She flushed again.

'Do you mean that people-' she began anxiously.

'No; I am not "people." I have eyes, and my eyes have been opened.'


'Yes, by love.'

Then I told her openly how, weeks ago, I struggled with my heart and mastered it, for I saw it was vain to love her, because she loved a better man who loved her in return. She looked at me shyly and said-

'I am sorry.'

'Don't worry,' I said cheerfully. 'I didn't break my heart, you know; I stopped it in time.'

'Oh!' she said, slightly disappointed; then her lips began to twitch, and she went off into a fit of hysterical laughter.

'Forgive me,' she said humbly; 'but you speak as if it had been a fever.'

'Fever is nothing to it,' I said solemnly. 'It was a near thing.' At which she went off again. I was glad to see her laugh. It gave me time to recover my equilibrium, and it relieved her intense emotional strain. So I rattled on some nonsense about Craig and myself till I saw she was giving no heed, but thinking her own thoughts: and what these were it was not hard to guess.

Suddenly she broke in upon my talk-

'He will tell me that I must go from him.'

'I hope he is no such fool,' I said emphatically and somewhat rudely, I fear; for I confess I was impatient with the very possibility of separation for these two, to whom love meant so much. Some people take this sort of thing easily and some not so easily; but love for a woman like this comes once only to a man, and then he carries it with him through the length of his life, and warms his heart with it in death. And when a man smiles or sneers at such love as this, I pity him, and say no word, for my speech would be in an unknown tongue. So my heart was sore as I sat looking up at this woman who stood before me, overflowing with the joy of her new love, and dully conscious of the coming pain. But I soon found it was vain to urge my opinion that she should remain and share the work and life of the man she loved. She only answered-

'You will help him all you can, for it will hurt him to have me go.'

The quiver in her voice took out all the anger from my heart, and before I knew I had pledged myself to do all I could to help him.

But when I came upon him that night, sitting in the light of his fire, I saw he must be let alone. Some battles we fight side by side, with comrades cheering us and being cheered to victory; but there are fights we may not share, and these are deadly fights where lives are lost and won. So I could only lay my hand upon his shoulder without a word. He looked up quickly, read my face, and said, with a groan-

'You know?'

'I could not help it. But why groan?'

'She will think it right to go,' he said despairingly.

'Then you must think for her; you must bring some common-sense to bear upon the question.'

'I cannot see clearly yet,' he said; 'the light will come.'

'May I show you how I see it?' I asked.

'Go on,' he said.

For an hour I talked; eloquently, even vehemently urging the reason and right of my opinion. She would be doing no more than every woman does, no more than she did before; her mother-in-law had a comfortable home, all that wealth could procure, good servants, and friends; the estates could be managed without her personal supervision; after a few years' work here they would go east for little Majorie's education; why should two lives be broken?-and so I went on.

He listened carefully, even eagerly.

'You make a good case,' he said, with a slight smile. 'I will take time. Perhaps you are right. The light will come. Surely it will come. But,' and here he sprang up and stretched his arms to full length above his head, 'I am not sorry; whatever comes I am not sorry. It is great to have her love, but greater to love her as I do. Thank God! nothing can take that away. I am willing, glad to suffer for the joy of loving her.'

Next morning, before I was awake, he was gone, leaving a note for me:-

'MY DEAR CONNOR,-I am due at the Landing. When I see you again I think my way will be clear. Now all is dark. At times I am a coward, and often, as you sometimes kindly inform me, an ass; but I hope I may never become a mule.

I am willing to be led, or want to be, at any rate. I must do the best-not second best-for her, for me. The best only is God's will. What else would you have? Be good to her these days, dear old fellow.-Yours, CRAIG.'

How often those words have braced me he will never know, but I am a better man for them: 'The best only is God's will. What else would you have?' I resolved I would rage and fret no more, and that I would worry Mrs. Mavor with no more argument or expostulation, but, as my friend had asked, 'Be good to her.'

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