Oh, that a man could speak to men in the language of the Spring!” cried Mr. Wesley, when his horse stopped unbidden and unchidden and looked over the curved green roof of the hedge across the broad green pasturage beyond. “Oh, that my lips could speak that language which every ear can understand and every heart feel! What shall it profit a man to understand if he does not feel—feel—feel? The man who understands is the one who holds in his hand the doctor's prescription. The man who feels is the one who grasps the healing herbs; and 'tis the Spring that yields these for all to gather who will.”

And then, automatically he took his feet out of the stirrups for greater ease, and his eyes gazed across the meadow-land which sloped gently upward to the woods where the sunbeams were snared among the endless network of the boughs, for the season was not advanced far enough to make the foliage dense; the leaves were still thin and transparent—shavings of translucent emerald—a shade without being shadowy.

Everything that he saw was a symbol to him. He looked straight into the face of Nature herself and saw in each of its features something of the Great Message to man with which his own heart was filled to overflowing. He was a poet whose imagination saw beneath the surface of everything. He was a physician who could put his finger upon the pulse of Nature and feel from its faintest flutter the mighty heart which throbbed through the whole creation.

What man was there that failed to understand the message of Nature as he understood it? He could not believe that any should be so dense as to misinterpret it. It was not a book written in a strange tongue; it was a book made up of an infinite number of pictures, full of colour that any child could appreciate, even though it had never learned to read. There was the meadow beyond the hedgerow. It was full of herbs, bitter as well as sweet. Could anyone doubt that these were the symbols of the Truth; herbs for the healing of the nations, and if some of them were bitter to the taste, were their curative properties the less on this account? Nay, everyone knew that the bitterest herbs were oftentimes the most healing. What a symbol of the Truth! It was not the dulcet truths that were purifying to the soul of man, but the harsh and unpalatable.

“God do so to me and more also if ever I should become an unfaithful physician and offer to the poor souls of men only those Truths that taste sweet in their mouths and that smell grateful to their nostrils!” he cried.

And he did not forget himself in the tumult of his thought upon his message. He was not the physician who looked on himself as standing in no need of healing.

“I have tasted of the bitter medicine myself and know what is its power. Oh, may I be given grace to welcome it again should my soul stand in need of it!”

A lark rose from the grass of the sloping meadow and began its ecstatic song as it climbed its ærie ladder upward to the pure blue. He listened to the quivering notes—a bubbling spring of melody babbling and wimpling and gurgling and flitting and fluttering as it fell through the sweet morning air.

“Oh, marvel of liquid melody!” cried the man, letting his eyes soar with the soaring bird. “What is the message that is thine! What is that message which fills thy heart with joy and sends thee soaring out of the sight of man, enraptured to the sky? Is it a message from the sons of men that thou bear-est to the heavens? Is it a message from Heaven that thou sendest down to earth?”

A butterfly fluttered up from beyond the hedge, carrying with it the delicate scent of unseen primroses. It hovered over the moss of the bank for a moment and then allowed itself to be blown like a brown leaf in the breeze in a fantastic course toward the group of harebells that made a faint blue mist over a yard of meadow.

He watched its flight. The butterfly had once been taken as an emblem of the immortality of the soul, he remembered. Was it right that it should be thought such a symbol, he wondered. In latter years it was looked on as an example of all that is fickle and frivolous. Was it possible that the ancients saw more deeply into the heart of things—more deeply into the spirit of these forms of Nature?

“Who can say what wise purpose of the Creator that gaudy insect may fulfil in the course of its brief existence?” said he. “We know that nothing had been made in vain. It may be that it flutters from flower to flower under no impulse of its own, but guided by the Master of Nature, whose great design would not be complete without its existence. That which we in our ignorance regard as an emblem of all that is vain and light may, in truth, be working out one of the gravest purposes of the All Wise.”

He remained under the influence of this train of thought for some time. Then his horse gave a little start that brought back his rider from the realm into which he had been borne by his imagination. He caught up the rein, slipped his feet into his stirrups, and perceived that it was the fluttering dress of a girl, who had apparently sprung from the primrose hollow beyond the hedge, that had startled the animal. It seemed that the girl herself was also startled; she stood a dozen yards away, with her lips parted, and gave signs of flight a moment before he recognised her as one of the girls who had been at the Mill the night before—the girl who had been the central figure in the game which his entrance had interrupted.

“Another butterfly—another butterfly!” he said aloud, raising his hand to salute Nelly Polwhele, who dropped him a curtsey with a faint reply to his “Good-morning.”

He pushed his horse closer to her, saying:

“A fair morning to you, my child! You are not a slug-a-bed. Have you come for the gathering of mushrooms or primroses? Not the latter; the borders of the Mill stream must be strewn with them to-day.”

“I am on my way to my home, sir,” she replied. “I set out on my return to the village an hour ago. I should be back in less than another—'tis scarce four mile onward.”

“I remember that you told me you had come from Porthawn—my destination also. I wished for a chat with you, but somehow we drifted a long way from Porthawn—we drifted across the Atlantic and got lost in the backwoods of America.”

“Ah, no, sir, not lost,” said the girl.

“I was a poor guide,” said he. “I have only had a glimpse of the backwoods, and so could only lead you all a rood or two beyond their fringes of maple. The true guide is one that hath been on every forest track and can tell by the tinges on the tree trunk in what direction his feet tend. What a pity 'tis, my dear, that we cannot be so guided through this great tangled forest of life that we are travers-. ing now on to the place of light that is far beyond—a place where there is no darkness—a shelter but no shadow! There, you see, I begin to preach to the first person whom I overtake. That is the way of the man who feels laid upon him the command to preach.”

“It does not sound like preaching, sir,” said the girl. “I would not tire listening to words like that.”

“That is how you know preaching from—well, from what is not preaching: you tire of the one, not of the other?” said he, smiling down at her.

She hung her head. Somehow in the presence of this man all her readiness of speech—sharpness of reply—seemed to vanish.

“I do not say that you have not made a very honest and a very excellent attempt to convey to me what is the impression of many people,” he resumed. “But there is a form of preaching of which you can never grow weary. I have been listening to it since our good friend Hal Holmes helped me to mount the horse that he had just shod.”

“Preaching, sir?” she said. “There are not many preachers hereabouts. Parson Rodney gives us a good ten minutes on Sunday, but he does not trouble us on week-days.”

“Doth his preaching trouble you on Sunday, child? If so, I think more highly of your parson than I should be disposed to think, seeing that I have heard nothing about him save that he is the best judge of a game-cock in Cornwall. But the sermon that makes a listener feel troubled in spirit is wholesome. Ah, never mind that. I tell you that I have been listening to sermons all this lovely morning—the sermon of that eminent preacher, the sun, to the exhortation of the fields, the homily of the bursting flowers, the psalm of the soaring lark, the parable of the butterfly. I was thinking upon the butterfly when you appeared.”

“You are different from Parson Rodney, if it please you, sir.”

“It does please me, my child; but, indeed, I am sure that there are worse parsons than those who take part in the homely sports of their parish, rude though some of these sports may be. I wonder if your ears are open to the speech—the divine music of such a morn as this.”

“I love the morning, sir—the smell of the flowers and the meadows—the lilt of the birds.”

“You have felt that they bring gladness into our life? I knew that your child's heart would respond to their language—they speak to the heart of such as you. And for myself, my thought when I found myself drinking in of all the sweet things in earth and air and sky—drinking of that overflowing chalice which the morning offered to me—my thought—my yearning was for such a voice as that which I heard come from everything about me on this Spring morning. 'Oh, that a man might speak to men in the language of this morn!' I cried.”

There was a long pause. His eyes were looking far away from her. He seemed to forget that he was addressing anyone.

She, however, had not taken her eyes off his face. She saw the light that came into it while he was speaking, and she was silent. It seemed to her to speak just then would have been as unseemly as to interrupt at one's prayers.

But in another moment he was looking at her.

“You surely are one of the sweet and innocent things of this dewy morn,” said he. “And surely you live as do they to the glory of God. Surely you were meant to join in creation's hymn of glory to the Creator!”

She bent her head and then shook it.

“Nay,” said he, “you will not be the sole creature to remain dumb while the Creator is revealing Himself in the reanimation of His world after the dark days of Winter, when the icy finger which touched everything seemed to be the finger of Death!”

His voice had not the inflection of a preacher's. She did not feel as if he were reading her a homily that needed no answer.

But what answer could she make? She was, indeed, so much a part of the things of Nature that, like them, she could only utter what was in her heart. And what was in her heart except a consciousness of her own unworthiness?

“Ah, sir,” she murmured, “only last night had I for the first time a sense of what I should be.”

His face lit up again when she spoke. His hands clasped, mechanically as it seemed.

“I knew it,” he said in a low voice, turning away his head. “I was assured of it. When my horse cast his shoe I felt that it was no mischance. I heard the voice of a little child calling to me through the night. No doubt crossed my mind. I thank Thee—I thank Thee abundantly, O my Master!”

Then he turned to Nelly, saying:

“Child, my child, we are going the same way. Will you give me permission to walk by your side for the sake of company?”

“Nay, sir, will not you be weary a-walking?” she said. “'Tis a good three mile to the Port, and the road is rough when we leave the valley.”

“Three miles are not much,” said he, dismounting. “The distance will seem as nothing when we begin to talk.”

“Indeed that is so, sir,” said she. “Last night fled on wings while you were telling us the story of the backwoods.”

“It fled so fast that I had no time to fulfil my promise to ask you about your friends at Port-hawn,” said he. “That is why I am glad of the opportunity offered to me this morning. I am anxious to become acquainted with all sorts and conditions of people. Now, if I were to meet one of your neighbours to-day I should start conversation by asking him about you. But is there any reason why you should not tell me about yourself?”

She laughed, as they set out together, Mr. Wesley looping his horse's bridle over his arm.

“There is naught to be told about myself, sir; I am only the daughter of a fisherman at Porthawn. I am the least important person in the world.”

“'Tis not safe, my child, to assign relative degrees of importance to people whom we meet,” said he. “The most seemingly insignificant is very precious in the sight of the Master. Who can say that the humblest of men or women may not be called upon some day to fulfil a great purpose? Have you read history? A very little knowledge of history will be enough to bear out what I say. When the Master calls He does not restrict Himself to the important folk; He says to the humblest, 'Follow Me and do My work—the work for which I have chosen thee.' God forbid that I should look on any of God's creatures as of no account. What is in my thought just now is this: How does it come that you, who are, as you have told me, the daughter of a fisherman in a small village far removed from any large city—how does it come that you speak as a person of education and some refinement? Should I be right to assume that all the folk at your village are as you in speech and bearing?”

The little flush of vanity that came to her face when he had put his question to her lasted but a few seconds.

She shook her head.

“I have had such advantages—I do not know if you would look on them as advantages, sir; but the truth is that the Squire's lady and her daughters, have been kind to me. My father did the Squire a service a long time ago. His son, Master Anthony, was carried out to sea in his pleasure boat and there was a great gale. My father was the only man who ventured forth at the risk of his life to save the young gentleman, and he saved him. They were two days in the channel in an open boat, and my father was well-nigh dead himself through exhaustion. But the young squire was brought back without hurt. The Squire and his lady never forgot that service. My father was given money to carry out the plans that he had long cherished of making the port the foremost one for fishing on our coast, and the ladies had me taught by their own governess, so that I was at the Court well nigh every day. I know not whether or not it was a real kindness.”

“It was no real kindness if you were thereby made discontented with your home and your friends.”

“Yes, Mr. Wesley; that is just what came about. I thought myself a deal better than anyone in the village—nay, than my own father and mother. I had a scorn of those of my neighbours who were ignorant of books and music and the working of embroidery, and other things that I learned with the young ladies. I was unhappy myself, and I knew that I made others unhappy.”

“Ah, such things have happened before. But you seemed on good terms with the miller's family and the others who supped last evening at the Mill. And did not you walk all the way from your village carrying that heavy fish for their entertainment?—our entertainment, I may say, for I was benefited with the others.”

The girl turned her head away; she seemed somewhat disturbed in her mind. She did not reply at once, and it was in a low voice that she said: “A year ago I—I—was brought to see that—that—I cannot tell you exactly how it came about, sir; 'tis enough for me to say that something happened that made me feel I was at heart no different from my own folk, though I had played the organ at church many times when Mr. Havlings was sick and though the young ladies made much of me.”

Mr. Wesley did not smile. He was greatly interested in the story which the girl had told to him. Had she told him only the first part he would have been able to supply the sequel out of his own experience and knowledge of life. Here was this girl, possessing the charms of youth and vivacity, indiscreetly educated, as people would say, “above her station,” and without an opportunity of mingling on equal terms with any except her own people—how should she be otherwise than dissatisfied with her life? How could she fail to make herself disagreeable to the homely, unambitious folk with whom she was forced to associate?

He had too much delicacy to ask her how it was that she had been brought to see the mistake that she had made in thinking slightingly of her own kin who remained in ignorance of the accomplishments which she had acquired? He had no difficulty in supplying the details which she omitted. He could see this poor, unhappy girl being so carried away by a sense of her own superiority to her natural surroundings as to presume upon the good nature of her patrons, the result being humiliation to herself.

“I sympathise with you with all my heart, dear child,” he said. “But the lesson which you have had is the most important in your education—the most important in the strengthening of your character, making you see, I doubt not, that the simple virtues are worthy of being held in far higher esteem than the mere graces of life. Your father would shake his head over a boat that was beautifully painted and gilded from stem to stern. Would he be satisfied, do you think, to go to sea in such a craft on the strength of its gold leaf? Would he not first satisfy himself that the painted timbers were made of stout wood? 'Tis not the paint or the gilding that makes a trustworthy boat, but the timber that is beneath. So it is not education nor graceful accomplishments that are most valuable to a man or woman, but integrity, steadfastness of purpose, content These are the virtues that tend to happiness. Above all, the most highly cultivated man or woman is he or she that has cultivated simplicity. I thank you for telling me your story in answer to my enquiry. And now that you have satisfied my curiosity on this point, it may be that you will go so far as to let me know why it was that you were filling the room in the Mill with shrieks last evening when I entered.”

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