The Sky Pilot by Ralph Connor
Chapter XIII. The Canyon Flowers
The Pilot's first visit to Gwen had been a triumph. But none knew better than he that the fight was still to come, for deep in Gwen's heart were thoughts whose pain made her forget all other.
"Was it God let me fall?" she asked abruptly one day, and The Pilot knew the fight was on; but he only answered, looking fearlessly into her eyes:
"Yes, Gwen dear."
"Why did He let me fall?" and her voice was very deliberate.
"I don't know, Gwen dear," said The Pilot steadily. "He knows."
"And does He know I shall never ride again? Does He know how long the days are, and the nights when I can't sleep? Does He know?"
"Yes, Gwen dear," said The Pilot, and the tears were standing in his eyes, though his voice was still steady enough.
"Are you sure He knows?" The voice was painfully intense.
"Listen to me, Gwen," began The Pilot, in great distress, but she cut him short.
"Are you quite sure He knows? Answer me!" she cried, with her old imperiousness.
"Yes, Gwen, He knows all about you."
"Then what do you think of Him, just because He's big and strong, treating a little girl that way?" Then she added, viciously: "I hate Him! I don't care! I hate Him!"
But The Pilot did not wince. I wondered how he would solve that problem that was puzzling, not only Gwen, but her father and The Duke, and all of us--the why of human pain.
"Gwen," said The Pilot, as if changing the subject, "did it hurt to put on the plaster jacket?"
"You just bet!" said Gwen, lapsing in her English, as The Duke was not present; "it was worse than anything--awful! They had to straighten me out, you know," and she shuddered at the memory of that pain.
"What a pity your father or The Duke was not here!" said The Pilot, earnestly.
"Why, they were both here!"
"What a cruel shame!" burst out The Pilot. "Don't they care for you any more?"
"Of course they do," said Gwen, indignantly.
"Why didn't they stop the doctors from hurting you so cruelly?"
"Why, they let the doctors. It is going to help me to sit up and perhaps to walk about a little," answered Gwen, with blue-gray eyes open wide.
"Oh," said The Pilot, "it was very mean to stand by and see you hurt like that."
"Why, you silly," replied Owen, impatiently, "they want my back to get straight and strong."
"Oh, then they didn't do it just for fun or for nothing?" said The Pilot, innocently.
Gwen gazed at him in amazed and speechless wrath, and he went on:
"I mean they love you though they let you be hurt; or rather they let the doctors hurt you because they loved you and wanted to make you better."
Gwen kept her eyes fixed with curious earnestness upon his face till the light began to dawn.
"Do you mean," she began slowly, "that though God let me fall, He loves me?"
The Pilot nodded; he could not trust his voice.
"I wonder if that can be true," she said, as if to herself; and soon we said good-by and came away--The Pilot, limp and voiceless, but I triumphant, for I began to see a little light for Gwen.
But the fight was by no means over; indeed, it was hardly well begun. For when the autumn came, with its misty, purple days, most glorious of all days in the cattle country, the old restlessness came back and the fierce refusal of her lot. Then came the day of the round-up. Why should she have to stay while all went after the cattle? The Duke would have remained, but she impatiently sent him away. She was weary and heart-sick, and, worst of all, she began to feel that most terrible of burdens, the burden of her life to others. I was much relieved when The Pilot came in fresh and bright, waving a bunch of wild-flowers in his hand.
"I thought they were all gone," he cried. "Where do you think I found them? Right down by the big elm root," and, though he saw by the settled gloom of her face that the storm was coming, he went bravely on picturing the canyon in all the splendor of its autumn dress. But the spell would not work. Her heart was out on the sloping hills, where the cattle were bunching and crowding with tossing heads and rattling horns, and it was in a voice very bitter and impatient that she cried:
"Oh, I am sick of all this! I want to ride! I want to see the cattle and the men and--and--and all the things outside." The Pilot was cowboy enough to know the longing that tugged at her heart for one wild race after the calves or steers, but he could only say:
"Wait, Gwen. Try to be patient."
"I am patient; at least I have been patient for two whole months, and it's no use, and I don't believe God cares one bit!"
"Yes, He does, Gwen, more than any of us," replied The Pilot, earnestly.
"No, He does not care," she answered, with angry emphasis, and The Pilot made no reply.
"Perhaps," she went on, hesitatingly, "He's angry because I said I didn't care for Him, you remember? That was very wicked. But don't you think I'm punished nearly enough now? You made me very angry, and I didn't really mean it."
Poor Gwen! God had grown to be very real to her during these weeks of pain, and very terrible. The Pilot looked down a moment into the blue-gray eyes, grown so big and so pitiful, and hurriedly dropping on his knees beside the bed he said, in a very unsteady voice:
"Oh, Gwen, Gwen, He's not like that. Don't you remember how Jesus was with the poor sick people? That's what He's like."
"Could Jesus make me well?"
"Then why doesn't He?" she asked; and there was no impatience now, but only trembling anxiety as she went on in a timid voice: "I asked Him to, over and over, and said I would wait two months, and now it's more than three. Are you quite sure He hears now?" She raised herself on her elbow and gazed searchingly into The Pilot's face. I was glad it was not into mine. As she uttered the words, "Are you quite sure?" one felt that things were in the balance. I could not help looking at The Pilot with intense anxiety. What would he answer? The Pilot gazed out of the window upon the hills for a few moments. How long the silence seemed! Then, turning, looked into the eyes that searched his so steadily and answered simply:
"Yes, Gwen, I am quite sure!" Then, with quick inspiration, he got her mother's Bible and said: "Now, Gwen, try to see it as I read." But, before he read, with the true artist's instinct he created the proper atmosphere. By a few vivid words he made us feel the pathetic loneliness of the Man of Sorrows in His last sad days. Then he read that masterpiece of all tragic picturing, the story of Gethsemane. And as he read we saw it all. The garden and the trees and the sorrow-stricken Man alone with His mysterious agony. We heard the prayer so pathetically submissive and then, for answer, the rabble and the traitor.
Gwen was far too quick to need explanation, and The Pilot only said, "You see, Gwen, God gave nothing but the best--to His own Son only the best."
"The best? They took Him away, didn't they?" She knew the story well.
"Yes, but listen." He turned the leaves rapidly and read: "'We see Jesus for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor.' That is how He got His Kingdom."
Gwen listened silent but unconvinced, and then said slowly:
"But how can this be best for me? I am no use to anyone. It can't be best to just lie here and make them all wait on me, and--and--I did want to help daddy--and--oh--I know they will get tired of me! They are getting tired already--I--I--can't help being hateful."
She was by this time sobbing as I had never heard her before--deep, passionate sobs. Then again the Pilot had an inspiration.
"Now, Gwen," he said severely, "you know we're not as mean as that, and that you are just talking nonsense, every word. Now I'm going to smooth out your red hair and tell you a story."
"It's not red," she cried, between her sobs. This was her sore point.
"It is red, as red can be; a beautiful, shining purple red," said The Pilot emphatically, beginning to brush.
"Purple!" cried Gwen, scornfully.
"Yes, I've seen it in the sun, purple. Haven't you?" said The Pilot, appealing to me. "And my story is about the canyon, our canyon, your canyon, down there."
"Is it true?" asked Gwen, already soothed by the cool, quick-moving hands.
"True? It's as true as--as--" he glanced round the room, "as the Pilgrim's Progress." This was satisfactory, and the story went on.
"At first there were no canyons, but only the broad, open prairie. One day the Master of the Prairie, walking out over his great lawns, where were only grasses, asked the Prairie, 'Where are your flowers?' and the Prairie said, 'Master, I have no seeds.' Then he spoke to the birds, and they carried seeds of every kind of flower and strewed them far and wide, and soon the Prairie bloomed with crocuses and roses and buffalo beans and the yellow crowfoot and the wild sunflowers and the red lilies all the summer long. Then the Master came and was well pleased; but he missed the flowers he loved best of all, and he said to the Prairie: 'Where are the clematis and the columbine, the sweet violets and wind flowers, and all the ferns and flowering shrubs?' And again he spoke to the birds, and again they carried all the seeds and strewed them far and wide. But, again, when the Master came, he could not find the flowers he loved best of all, and he said: 'Where are those, my sweetest flowers?' and the Prairie cried sorrowfully: 'Oh, Master, I cannot keep the flowers, for the winds sweep fiercely, and the sun beats upon my breast, and they wither up and fly away.' Then the Master spoke to the Lightning, and with one swift blow the Lightning cleft the Prairie to the heart. And the Prairie rocked and groaned in agony, and for many a day moaned bitterly over its black, jagged, gaping wound. But the Little Swan poured its waters through the cleft, and carried down deep black mould, and once more the birds carried seeds and strewed them in the canyon. And after a long time the rough rocks were decked out with soft mosses and trailing vines, and all the nooks were hung with clematis and columbine, and great elms lifted their huge tops high up into the sunlight, and down about their feet clustered the low cedars and balsams, and everywhere the violets and wind-flower and maiden-hair grew and bloomed, till the canyon became the Masters place for rest and peace and joy."
The quaint tale was ended, and Gwen lay quiet for some moments, then said gently:
"Yes! The canyon flowers are much the best. Tell me what it means."
Then The Pilot read to her: "The fruits--I'll read 'flowers'-- of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control, and some of these grow only in the canyon."
"Which are the canyon flowers?" asked Gwen softly, and The Pilot answered:
"Gentleness, meekness, self-control; but though the others, love, joy, peace, bloom in the open, yet never with so rich a bloom and so sweet a perfume as in the canyon."
For a long time Gwen lay quite still, and then said wistfully, while her lip trembled:
"There are no flowers in my canyon, but only ragged rocks."
"Some day they will bloom, Gwen dear; He will find them, and we, too, shall see them."
Then he said good-by and took me away. He had done his work that day.
We rode through the big gate, down the sloping hill, past the smiling, twinkling little lake, and down again out of the broad sunshine into the shadows and soft lights of the canyon. As we followed the trail that wound among the elms and cedars, the very air was full of gentle stillness; and as we moved we seemed to feel the touch of loving hands that lingered while they left us, and every flower and tree and vine and shrub and the soft mosses and the deep-bedded ferns whispered, as we passed, of love and peace and joy.
To The Duke it was all a wonder, for as the days shortened outside they brightened inside; and every day, and more and more Gwen's room became the brightest spot in all the house, and when he asked The Pilot:
"What did you do to the Little Princess, and what's all this about the canyon and its flowers?" The Pilot said, looking wistfully into The Duke's eyes:
"The fruits of the Spirit are love, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control, and some of these are found only in the canyon," and The Duke, standing up straight, handsome and strong, looked back at The Pilot and said, putting out his hand:
"Do you know, I believe you're right."
"Yes, I'm quite sure," answered The Pilot, simply. Then, holding The Duke's hand as long as one man dare hold another's, he added: "When you come to your canyon, remember."
"When I come!" said The Duke, and a quick spasm of pain passed over his handsome face--"God help me, it's not too far away now." Then he smiled again his old, sweet smile, and said:
"Yes, you are all right, for, of all flowers I have seen, none are fairer or sweeter than those that are waving in Gwen's Canyon."