Part II.--His Youth
Chapter XI. Robert's Vow.

Ericson was recovering slowly. He could sit up in bed the greater part of the day, and talk about getting out of it. He was able to give Robert an occasional help with his Greek, and to listen with pleasure to his violin. The night-watching grew less needful, and Ericson would have dispensed with it willingly, but Robert would not yet consent.

But Ericson had seasons of great depression, during which he could not away with music, or listen to the words of the New Testament. During one of these Robert had begun to read a chapter to him, in the faint hope that he might draw some comfort from it.

'Shut the book,' he said. 'If it were the word of God to men, it would have brought its own proof with it.'

'Are ye sure it hasna?' asked Robert.

'No,' answered Ericson. 'But why should a fellow that would give his life--that's not much, but it's all I've got--to believe in God, not be able? Only I confess that God in the New Testament wouldn't satisfy me. There's no help. I must just die, and go and see.--She'll be left without anybody. 'What does it matter? She would not mind a word I said. And the God they talk about will just let her take her own way. He always does.'

He had closed his eyes and forgotten that Robert heard him. He opened them now, and fixed them on him with an expression that seemed to ask, 'Have I been saying anything I ought not?'

Robert knelt by the bedside, and said, slowly, with strongly repressed emotion,

'Mr. Ericson, I sweir by God, gin there be ane, that gin ye dee, I'll tak up what ye lea' ahin' ye. Gin there be onybody ye want luikit efter, I'll luik efter her. I'll do what I can for her to the best o' my abeelity, sae help me God--aye savin' what I maun do for my ain father, gin he be in life, to fess (bring) him back to the richt gait, gin there be a richt gait. Sae ye can think aboot whether there's onything ye wad like to lippen till me.'

A something grew in Ericson's eyes as Robert spoke. Before he had finished, they beamed on the boy.

'I think there must be a God somewhere after all,' he said, half soliloquizing. 'I should be sorry you hadn't a God, Robert. Why should I wish it for your sake? How could I want one for myself if there never was one? If a God had nothing to do with my making, why should I feel that nobody but God can set things right? Ah! but he must be such a God as I could imagine--altogether, absolutely true and good. If we came out of nothing, we could not invent the idea of a God--could we, Robert? Nothing would be our God. If we come from God, nothing is more natural, nothing so natural, as to want him, and when we haven't got him, to try to find him.--What if he should be in us after all, and working in us this way? just this very way of crying out after him?'

'Mr. Ericson,' cried Robert, 'dinna say ony mair 'at ye dinna believe in God. Ye duv believe in 'im--mair, I'm thinkin', nor onybody 'at I ken, 'cep', maybe, my grannie--only hers is a some queer kin' o' a God to believe in. I dinna think I cud ever manage to believe in him mysel'.'

Ericson sighed and was silent. Robert remained kneeling by his bedside, happier, clearer-headed, and more hopeful than he had ever been. What if all was right at the heart of things--right, even as a man, if he could understand, would say was right; right, so that a man who understood in part could believe it to be ten times more right than he did understand! Vaguely, dimly, yet joyfully, Robert saw something like this in the possibility of things. His heart was full, and the tears filled his eyes. Ericson spoke again.

'I have felt like that often for a few moments,' he said; 'but always something would come and blow it away. I remember one spring morning--but if you will bring me that bundle of papers, I will show you what, if I can find it, will let you understand--'

Robert rose, went to the cupboard, and brought the pile of loose leaves. Ericson turned them over, and, Robert was glad to see, now and then sorted them a little. At length he drew out a sheet, carelessly written, carelessly corrected, and hard to read.

'It is not finished, or likely to be,' he said, as he put the paper in Robert's hand.

'Won't you read it to me yourself, Mr. Ericson?' suggested Robert.

'I would sooner put it in the fire,' he answered--'it's fate, anyhow. I don't know why I haven't burnt them all long ago. Rubbish, and diseased rubbish! Read it yourself, or leave it.'

Eagerly Robert took it, and read. The following was the best he could make of it:

Oh that a wind would call
From the depths of the leafless wood!
Oh that a voice would fall
On the ear of my solitude!
Far away is the sea,
With its sound and its spirit-tone:
Over it white clouds flee,
But I am alone, alone.

Straight and steady and tall
The trees stand on their feet;
Fast by the old stone wall
The moss grows green and sweet;
But my heart is full of fears,
For the sun shines far away;
And they look in my face through tears,
And the light of a dying day.

My heart was glad last night,
As I pressed it with my palm;
Its throb was airy and light
As it sang some spirit-psalm;
But it died away in my breast
As I wandered forth to-day--
As a bird sat dead on its nest,
While others sang on the spray.

O weary heart of mine,
Is there ever a truth for thee?
Will ever a sun outshine
But the sun that shines on me?
Away, away through the air
The clouds and the leaves are blown;
And my heart hath need of prayer,
For it sitteth alone, alone.

And Robert looked with sad reverence at Ericson,--nor ever thought that there was one who, in the face of the fact, and in recognition of it, had dared say, 'Not a sparrow shall fall on the ground without your Father.' The sparrow does fall--but he who sees it is yet the Father.

And we know only the fall, and not the sparrow.