The Christmas Miracle by Charles Egbert Craddock
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,yeyewoman, 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
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
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
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
Gapinverted 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. Perhapshe felt he was but trifling with
despairsome 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
fromsayfrom 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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.