Jake was so excited at finding himself by a curious accident once more face to face with the man who, as he had happily confessed to his friends, had produced so great an impression upon him as to change the whole course of his life, that he began to talk to him in his usual rapid way, as though Mr. Wesley and himself were the only persons in the room.

The miller remained on his feet. The blacksmith was also on his feet. He had assumed a professional air. After all, he was likely to be the most important person present. The girl in the chair remained with her hands folded on her lap. She had the aspect of a schoolgirl who has broken out of bounds and awaits an interview with the schoolmistress. She had heard during her visit to Bath of this Mr. Wesley and his views—at least such views as were attributed to him by the fashionable folk who assembled to have their gossip and intrigue flavoured by the sulphur of the waters. He was not so easy-going as the clergymen at Bath. She could not doubt that he would esteem it his duty to lecture her on her levity. It was known that he abhorred playgoing. He was naturally abhorred by the players. They had the best of reasons: when he was preaching in any town that had a theatre, the players remained with empty pockets.

The appearance of Mrs. Pendelly announcing that supper was ready was a great relief to her.

She jumped up with alacrity. Jake Pullsford came back to earth. He was breathing hard. The visitor had signified his intention of resuming his journey, if his horse could be shod. Jake was entreating him to pass the night at his house, only a mile up the valley.

The miller was beginning to feel awkward. He was hospitably inclined, but he was not presumptuous. The blacksmith was fast losing his professional bearing; a sniff of the salmon steaks had come through the open door.

It was the visitor whose tact made the situation easy for everyone.

“Sir,” he said to the miller, “I have arrived here so opportunely for myself that I will not even go through the pretence of offering to go to the wayside inn, which our good friend Jake Pullsford tells me is some miles away. I know that I can throw myself on your hospitality and that you would feel affronted if I hurried on. I have no mind to do so—to be more exact, I should say no stomach.”

“Sir, if your reverence will honour my house I can promise you a wholesome victual,” said the miller. “Even if you was not a friend o' my friend Jake here, who might, I think, have named my name in your ear, you would still be welcome.”.

“I know it, sir,” said Wesley, offering the miller his hand. “I thank you on behalf of myself and my good partner whose bridle I hung over your ring-post. A feed of oats will put new spirit in him in spite of the loss of his shoe.”

“The horse shall be seen to, Mr. Wesley. Susan, the stable bell,” said the miller, and his daughter set a bell jangling on the gable wall.

“Again my thanks, good friend,” said Wesley.

“May I beg your leave to be presented to my fellow-guests at your table, sir?”

He shook hands with the farmer, the water-finder and the smith, saying a word to each. Then he turned to where the two young women had been.

They had fled through the open door, Nelly having been the one to judge of the exact moment for flight.

They appeared at the supper table, however, but not taking their seats until they had waited upon all the others of the party. That was the patriarchal custom of the time. Nelly Polwhele only wished that the severe discipline of a side table for the serving girls had been in force at the Mill. Remote from the long oak table on which generations of her family had dined, she might have had a pleasant chat with her friend Susan, and then steal off, evading the lecture which she felt was impending from the strict Mr. Wesley. As it was, the most she could do for herself was to choose an unobtrusive place at the further end from the clergyman.

She hoped that the excellence of the salmon which she had carried through the valley of the Lana would induce him to refrain from asking any questions in regard to the game that was being played at the moment of his entrance.

But Mr. Wesley was vigilant. He espied her before he had finished his salmon, and had expressed his thanks to her for having burdened herself with it. It was his thirst for information of all sorts that had caused him to enquire how it was possible to have for supper a fish that must have been swimming in the sea, or at least in a salmon river, which the Lana was not, a few hours before. Was not Porthawn the nearest fishing village, and it was six miles away? Then it was that Mrs. Pendelly had told him of Nelly's journey on foot bearing her father's gift to his friend the miller.

“I should like to have a word or two with you, my dear,” said Mr. Wesley when he had thanked her. “I wish to learn something of the people of Porthawn. I am on my way thither to preach, and I like to learn as much as is possible of the people who, I hope, will hear what I have to say to them.”

Nelly blushed and tried to say that she was afraid she could tell him nothing that he could not learn from any other source—that was what was on her mind—but somehow her voice failed her. She murmured something; became incoherent, and then ate her salmon at a furious rate.

The miller, although he had felt bound to offer hospitality to the stranger who had appeared at his door, knew that his other guests—with the exception, it might be, of Jake Pullsford—would feel, as he himself did, that the presence of this austere clergyman would interfere with their good fellowship at supper and afterwards. He and his associates knew one another with an intimacy that had been maturing for thirty years, and the sudden coming of a stranger among them could not but cause a certain reserve in the natural freedom of their intercourse.

The miller had a constant fear that this Mr. Wesley would in the course of the evening say something bitter about the parsons who hunted and bred game-cocks and fought them, laying money on their heads—on parsons who lived away from their parishes, allowing indifferent curates to conduct the services of the church—of parsons who boasted of being able to drink the Squires under the table. The miller had no confidence in his power of keeping silent when he felt that the parson with whom he was on the easiest of terms and for whose gamecocks he prepared a special mixture of stiffening grain food was being attacked by a stranger, so he rather regretted that his duty compelled him to invite Mr. Wesley, of whom he, in common with thousands of the people of the West country, had heard a great deal, to supper on this particular evening.

But in the course of the meal he began to think that he would have no reason to put any restraint upon himself. He soon became aware of the fact that this Reverend John Wesley was not altogether the austere controversialist which rumour, becoming more and more exaggerated as it travelled West, made him out to be. Before supper was over he had come to the conclusion that Parson Rodney as a companion could not hold a candle to this Mr. Wesley.

The compliment in respect of the salmon had pleased both the miller and his wife, even though it had made Nell blush; and then a bantering word or two was said to Hal Holmes and his fine taste for salmon, and forthwith Mr. Wesley was giving an animated account of how he had seen the Indians in Georgia spearing for salmon on one of the rivers. This power of bringing a wide scene before one's eyes in a moment by the use of an illuminating word or two was something quite new to the miller and his friends; but it was the special gift of his latest guest. With thin uplifted forefinger—it had the aspect as well as the power of a wizard's wand—he seemed to draw the whole picture in the air before the eyes of all at the table—the roar of the rapids whose name with its Indian inflections was in itself a romance—the steathily moving red men with their tomahawks and arrows and long spears—the enormous backwoods—one of them alone half the size of England and Wales—the strange notes of the bird—whip-poor-will, the settlers called it—moonlight over all—moonlight that was like a thin white sheet let down from heaven to cover the earth; and where this silver wonder showed the white billows of foam churned up by the swirl of the mad river, there was the gleam of torches—from a distance they looked like the fierce red eyes of the wild beasts of the backwood; but coming close one could see deep down at the foot of the rapids the flash of a blood-red scimitar—the quick reflection in the passionate surface of the water of the red flare that waved among the rocks. Then there was a sudden splash and a flash—another scimitar—this time of silver scattering diamonds through the moonlight—another flash like a thin beam of light—the fish was transfixed in mid-air by the Indian spear!

They saw it all. The scene was brought before their eyes. They sat breathless around the supper table. And yet the man who had this magic of voice and eye had never once raised that voice of his—had never once made a gesture except by the uplifting of his finger.

“Fishing—that is fishing!” said Hal Holmes. “I should like——”

The finger was upraised in front of him.

“You must not so much as think of it, my friend! It would be called poaching on our rivers here,” said Mr. Wesley with a smile.

“Then I should like to live in the land where the fish of the rivers, the deer of the forests, the birds of the air are free, as it was intended they should be—free to all men who had skill and craft—I have heard of the trappers,” said Hal. “It seems no sort of life for a wholesome man to live—pulling the string of a bellows, hammering iron into shoes, for plough-horses!—no life whatsoever.” Wesley smiled.

“Ah, if you but knew aught of the terror of the backwoods,” said he. “If you but knew of it—one vast terror—monstrous—incredible. A terror by day and by night. I was used to stand on one of the hills hard by our little settlement, and look out upon the woods whose skirts I could see in the far distance, and think of their immensity and their mystery. Hundreds of miles you might travel through those trackless forests until the hundreds grew into thousands—at last you would come upon-the prairie—hundred and hundreds of miles of savage country—a mighty ocean rolling on to the foot of the Rocky Mountains! Between the backwoods-and the mountains roll the Mississippi River—the Ohio, the Potomac. Would you know what the Mississippi is like? Take the Thames and the Severn and the Wye and the Tyne and the Humber—let them roll their combined volume down the one river bed; the result would be no more than an insignificant tributary of the Mother of Waters—the meaning of the name Mississippi.”

There was more breathlessness. When Hal Holmes broke the silence everyone was startled—everyone stared at him.

“Grand! grand!” he said in a whisper. “And your eyes beheld that wonder of waters, sir?”

Mr. Wesley held up both his hands.

“I—I—behold it?” he cried. “Why, there is no one in England whose eyes have looked upon that great river. Had I set out to find it I should have had to travel for a whole year before reaching it—a year, even if the forests had opened their arms to receive me, and the prairie had offered me a path I spoke with an Indian who had seen it, and I spoke with the widows of two men who had gone in search for it. Four years had passed without tidings of those men, and then one of the Iroquois tribe found a tattered hat that had belonged to one of them, on the borders of the backwoods, not a hundred miles from his starting place. Of the other nothing has yet been forthcoming. I tell you, friends, that I was used to let my eyes wander across the plain until they saw that forest, and they never saw it without forcing me to look upon it as a vast, monstrous thing—but a living creature—one of those fabled dragons that were said to lie in wait to devour poor wretches that drew nigh to it. Nay, when I looked upon it I recalled the very striking lines in John Milton's fine epic of 'Paradise Lost':

'With head uplift above the wave, and eyes

That sparkling blazed; his other parts besides

Prone on the flood, extended long and large,

Lay floating many a rood,—”

“One must needs be a dweller among the adventurers in America in order to understand in its fulness how terrible a monster those backwoods are thought to be. There it stretched, that awful mass—that monstrous mother of that venomous brood—the huge snakes that lurk in the undergrowth, the fierce lynx, the terrible panther, the wolf and the wildcat. I have heard, too, of a certain dragon and the vampire—a huge bat that fans a poor wretch asleep by the gentle winnowing of its leather wings only to drain his life's blood. These are but a few of the brood of the backwoods. Who can name them all? The poisonous plants that shoot out seeds with the noise of the discharge of a musket, the swamps made up of the decay of a thousand years—breathing fevers and agues—the spectre of starvation lurks there unless you have weapons and the skill to use them—fire—they told me of the prairie fires—a blast of flame five miles broad—sometimes twenty miles broad—rushing along driving before it beasts and birds until they drop in sheer exhaustion and become cinders in a minute—these are some of the terrors that dwell in the backwoods, but worst of all—most fierce—inexorable, is the Red Indian. Tongue of man cannot tell the story of their treachery—their torturings. Our settlers do not fear to face the beasts of the backwoods—the rattlesnakes—the pestilence of the swamps—the most cruel of these is more merciful than the Indian.”

They listened as children listen to a fairy tale, and they knew that they were hearing the truth. There was not one of them that had not heard something of the story of the founding of the settlement along the coast of the new Continent, from the Bay Colonies and Plymouth Rock in the North to Carolina in the South. The spirit of adventure which had given Drake and Raleigh their crews from the men of the West country gave no signs of dying out among their descendants. They listened and were held in thrall while this man, who had come among them with something of the reputation of a pioneer—a man boldly striking out a new track for himself, told them of the perils faced by their countrymen on the other side of that sea which almost rolled to their very doors. He carried them away with him. They breathed with him the perfume of the backwoods and became imbued with the spirit of mystery pervading them. He carried them away simply because he himself was carried away. He felt all that he spoke about; this was the secret of his power. He could not have made them feel strongly unless by feeling strongly himself.

But his aim was not limited to his desire to arouse their interest in the romance of the backwoods. He spoke of the troubles of the young settlement to which he had gone out, of the bravery of the settlers, men and women—of the steadfast hope which animated them in facing their anxieties—their dangers. What was the power that sustained them? In one word, it was faith.

Without the least suggestion of preaching, he talked to them of Faith. He talked as if it was not merely a sentiment—a cold doctrine to be discussed by the aid of logic—nay, but as a real Power—a Power that could move mountains. Such as had it had the greatest gift that Heaven offered to mankind. It was a gift that was offered freely—all could have it, if they so willed; and this being so, how great would be the condemnation of those who refused to accept it!

And the people who had eagerly drunk in all that he had to say of the mystery of the backwoods were even more interested when he talked of this other mystery. There had been no dividing line in his subject; the Faith of which he was now speaking with all the eloquence of simple language that fell like soft music on their ears, was a natural part—the most actual part of his story of the great half-known West.

They listened to him while he discoursed for that marvellous half-hour, and the prayer that followed seemed also a part—the suitable closing part of that story of trial and trouble and danger rendered impotent by Faith. Surely, when such a gift could be had for the asking, they should ask for it. He prayed that the hearts of all who were kneeling might be opened to receive that saving grace of Faith.

“Hal, my friend,” said the miller, when they stood together at the entrance to the lane, having seen Mr. Wesley drive off with Jake. “Hal, for the first time these sixteen years I have seen thee rise from thy supper without searching about for thy pipe!”

“My pipe? List, old friend, while I tell thee that to pass another such evening I would break my pipe into a hundred pieces and never draw a whiff of 'bacca between my teeth,” said Hal. “Moreover, a word in thy ear: I would not have it made public; I'll smoke no more 'bacca that comes to me by a back way. I believe that why I didn't smoke this evening was by reason of the feeling that was in me that 'twould be a solemn sin for me to let him have even a sniff of 'bacca that had been run.”

The miller laughed.

“Why, Hal, he did not preach to us to give the Preventive men their due,” he said.

“No, no. If he had I might ha' been the less disposed to do the right thing. But now—well, no more smuggled 'bacca for me.”

“Good:—good—but wherefore this honest resolve, Hal Holmes?”

“I know not. Only I seem somehow to look at some things in a new light.”

“And that light will not let your tinder be fired over a pipe o' 'bacca that has paid no duty? That's right enough, but what I need to learn from you is the reason of all this.”

“Ah, there you have me, friend. I can give you no reason for it; only the notion came over me quite sudden like, that for ten year I had been doing what I should ha' turned from, and I made the resolve now to turn now before it was too late. That's all, and so, good-night to you, Mat, and God bless you. I be to get that shoe on before he starts from Jake's house i' the morn, and he said he would start betimes.”

The miller laughed again, but very gently, and held out his hand to the other without a word. It was not until the blacksmith had disappeared down the lane that his friend said in a low voice:

“It beats me clean. There must be a sort of magic in the man's tongue that it works those wonders. All the time that he was telling us his story o' the woods I was making up my mind to be a better man—to have more charity at heart for my fellows—to be easier on such as cannot pay all that they have promised to pay. And now here's Hal that confesses to the same, albeit he has never gone further out of the straight track than to puff a pipe that has paid nothing to King George's purse. And the man gave no preacher's admonition to us, but only talked o' the forest and such-like wild things.... Now, how did he manage to bring Faith into such a simple discourse?... Oh, 'tis his tongue that has the magic in it! Magic, I say; for how did it come that when he spoke I found myself gazing like a child at a picture—a solid, bright picture o' woods and things?... Oh, 'tis true magic, this—true!”

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