The Sky Pilot by Ralph Connor
Chapter XIX. Through Gwen's Window
When I told The Pilot of Lady Charlotte's purpose to visit Gwen, he was not too well pleased.
"What does she want with Gwen?" he said impatiently. "She will just put notions into her head and make the child discontented."
"Why should she?" said I.
"She won't mean to, but she belongs to another world, and Gwen cannot talk to her without getting glimpses of a life that will make her long for what she can never have," said The Pilot.
"But suppose it is not idle curiosity in Lady Charlotte," I suggested.
"I don't say it is quite that," he answered, "but these people love a sensation."
"I don't think you know Lady Charlotte," I replied. "I hardly think from her tone the other night that she is a sensation hunter."
"At any rate," he answered, decidedly, "she is not to worry poor Gwen."
I was a little surprised at his attitude, and felt that he was unfair to Lady Charlotte, but I forbore to argue with him on the matter. He could not bear to think of any person or thing threatening the peace of his beloved Gwen.
The very first Saturday after my promise was given we were surprised to see Lady Charlotte ride up to the door of our shack in the early morning.
"You see, I am not going to let you off," she said, as I greeted her. "And the day is so very fine for a ride."
I hastened to apologize for not going to her, and then to get out of my difficulty, rather meanly turned toward The Pilot, and said:
"The Pilot doesn't approve of our visit."
"And why not, may I ask?" said Lady Charlotte, lifting her eyebrows.
The Pilot's face burned, partly with wrath at me, and partly with embarrassment; for Lady Charlotte had put on her grand air. But he stood to his guns.
"I was saying, Lady Charlotte," he said, looking straight into her eyes, "that you and Gwen have little in common--and--and--" he hesitated.
"Little in common!" said Lady Charlotte quietly. "She has suffered greatly."
The Pilot was quick to catch the note of sadness in her voice.
"Yes," he said, wondering at her tone, "she has suffered greatly."
"And," continued Lady Charlotte, "she is bright as the morning, The Duke says." There was a look of pain in her face.
The Pilot's face lit up, and he came nearer and laid his hand caressingly upon her beautiful horse.
"Yes, thank God!" he said quickly, "bright as the morning."
"How can that be?" she asked, looking down into his face. "Perhaps she would tell me."
"Lady Charlotte," said The Pilot with a sudden flush, "I must ask your pardon. I was wrong. I thought you--" he paused; "but go to Gwen, she will tell you, and you will do her good."
"Thank you," said Lady Charlotte, putting out her hand, "and perhaps you will come and see me, too."
The Pilot promised and stood looking after us as we rode up the trail.
"There is something more in your Pilot than at first appears," she said. "The Duke was quite right."
"He is a great man," I said with enthusiasm; "tender as a woman and with the heart of a hero."
"You and Bill and The Duke seem to agree about him," she said, smiling.
Then I told her tales of The Pilot, and of his ways with the men, till her blue eyes grew bright and her beautiful face lost its proud look.
"It is perfectly amazing," I said, finishing my story, "how these devil-may-care rough fellows respect him, and come to him in all sorts of trouble. I can't understand it, and yet he is just a boy."
"No, not amazing," said Lady Charlotte slowly. "I think I understand it. He has a true man's heart; and holds a great purpose in it. I've seen men like that. Not clergymen, I mean, but men with a great purpose."
Then, after a moment's thought, she added: "But you ought to care for him better. He does not look strong."
"Strong!" I exclaimed quickly, with a queer feeling of resentment at my heart. "He can do as much riding as any of us."
"Still," she replied, "there's something in his face that would make his mother anxious." In spite of my repudiation of her suggestion, I found myself for the next few minutes thinking of how he would come exhausted and faint from his long rides, and I resolved that he must have a rest and change.
It was one of those early September days, the best of all in the western country, when the light falls less fiercely through a soft haze that seems to fill the air about you, and that grows into purple on the far hilltops. By the time we reached the canyon the sun was riding high and pouring its rays full into all the deep nooks where the shadows mostly lay.
There were no shadows to-day, except such as the trees cast upon the green moss beds and the black rocks. The tops of the tall elms were sere and rusty, but the leaves of the rugged oaks that fringed the canyon's lips shone a rich and glossy brown. All down the sides the poplars and delicate birches, pale yellow, but sometimes flushing into orange and red, stood shimmering in the golden light, while here and there the broad-spreading, feathery sumachs made great splashes of brilliant crimson upon the yellow and gold. Down in the bottom stood the cedars and the balsams, still green. We stood some moments silently gazing into this tangle of interlacing boughs and shimmering leaves, all glowing in yellow light, then Lady Charlotte broke the silence in tones soft and reverent as if she stood in a great cathedral.
"And this is Gwen's canyon!"
"Yes, but she never sees it now," I said, for I could never ride through without thinking of the child to whose heart this was so dear, but whose eyes never rested upon it. Lady Charlotte made no reply, and we took the trail that wound down into this maze of mingling colors and lights and shadows. Everywhere lay the fallen leaves, brown and yellow and gold;--everywhere on our trail, on the green mosses and among the dead ferns. And as we rode, leaves fluttered down from the trees above silently through the tangled boughs, and lay with the others on moss and rock and beaten trail.
The flowers were all gone; but the Little Swan sang as ever its many-voiced song, as it flowed in pools and eddies and cascades, with here and there a golden leaf upon its black waters. Ah! how often in weary, dusty days these sights and sounds and silences have come to me and brought my heart rest!
As we began to climb up into the open, I glanced at my companion's face. The canyon had done its work with her as with all who loved it. The touch of pride that was the habit of her face was gone, and in its place rested the earnest wonder of a little child, while in her eyes lay the canyon's tender glow. And with this face she looked in upon Gwen.
And Gwen, who had been waiting for her, forgot all her nervous fear, and with hands outstretched, cried out in welcome:
"Oh, I'm so glad! You've seen it and I know you love it! My canyon, you know!" she went on, answering Lady Charlotte's mystified look.
"Yes, dear child," said Lady Charlotte, bending over the pale face with its halo of golden hair, "I love it." But she could get no further, for her eyes were full of tears. Gwen gazed up into the beautiful face, wondering at her silence, and then said gently:
"Tell me how it looks to-day! The Pilot always shows it to me. Do you know," she added, thoughtfully, "The Pilot looks like it himself. He makes me think of it, and--and--" she went on shyly, "you do, too."
By this time Lady Charlotte was kneeling by the couch, smoothing the beautiful hair and gently touching the face so pale and lined with pain.
"That is a great honor, truly," she said brightly through her tears--"to be like your canyon and like your Pilot, too."
Gwen nodded, but she was not to be denied.
"Tell me how it looks to-day," she said. "I want to see it. Oh, I want to see it!"
Lady Charlotte was greatly moved by the yearning in the voice, but, controlling herself, she said gaily:
"Oh, I can't show it to you as your Pilot can, but I'll tell you what I saw."
"Turn me where I can see," said Gwen to me, and I wheeled her toward the window and raised her up so that she could look down the trail toward the canyon's mouth.
"Now," she said, after the pain of the lifting had passed, "tell me, please."
Then Lady Charlotte set the canyon before her in rich and radiant coloring, while Gwen listened, gazing down upon the trail to where the elm tops could be seen, rusty and sere.
"Oh, it is lovely!" said Gwen, "and I see it so well. It is all there before me when I look through my window."
But Lady Charlotte looked at her, wondering to see her bright smile, and at last she could not help the question:
"But don't you weary to see it with your own eyes?"
"Yes," said Gwen gently, "often I want and want it, oh, so much!"
"And then, Gwen, dear, how can you bear it?" Her voice was eager and earnest. "Tell me, Gwen. I have heard all about your canyon flowers, but I can't understand how the fretting and the pain went away."
Gwen looked at her first in amazement, and then in dawning understanding.
"Have you a canyon, too?" she asked, gravely.
Lady Charlotte paused a moment, then nodded. It did appear strange to me that she should break down her proud reserve and open her heart to this child.
"And there are no flowers, Gwen, not one," she said rather bitterly, "nor sun nor seeds nor soil, I fear."
"Oh, if The Pilot were here, he would tell you."
At this point, feeling that they would rather be alone, I excused myself on the pretext of looking after the horses.
What they talked of during the next hour I never knew, but when I returned to the room Lady Charlotte was reading slowly and with perplexed face to Gwen out of her mother's Bible the words "for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor."
"You see even for Him, suffering," Gwen said eagerly, "but I can't explain. The Pilot will make it clear." Then the talk ended.
We had lunch with Gwen--bannocks and fresh sweet milk and blueberries--and after an hour of gay fun we came away.
Lady Charlotte kissed her tenderly as she bade Gwen good-by.
"You must let me come again and sit at your window," she said, smiling down upon the wan face.
"Oh, I shall watch for you. How good that will be!" cried Gwen, delightedly. "How many come to see me! You make five." Then she added, softly: "You will write your letter." But Lady Charlotte shook her head.
"I can't do that, I fear," she said, "but I shall think of it."
It was a bright face that looked out upon us through the open window as we rode down the trail. Just before we took the dip into the canyon, I turned to wave my hand.
"Gwen's friends always wave from here," I said, wheeling my bronco.
Again and again Lady Charlotte waved her handkerchief.
"How beautiful, but how wonderful!" she said as if to herself. "Truly, her canyon is full of flowers."
"It is quite beyond me," I answered. "The Pilot may explain."
"Is there anything your Pilot can't do?" said Lady Charlotte.
"Try him," I ventured.
"I mean to," she replied, "but I cannot bring anyone to my canyon, I fear," she added in an uncertain voice.
As I left her at her door she thanked me with courteous grace.
"You have done a great deal for me," she said, giving me her hand. "It has been a beautiful, a wonderful day."
When I told the Pilot all the day's doings, he burst out:
"What a stupid and self-righteous fool I have been! I never thought there could be any canyon in her life. How short our sight is!" and all that night I could get almost no words from him.
That was the first of many visits to Gwen. Not a week passed but Lady Charlotte took the trail to the Meredith ranch and spent an hour at Gwen's window. Often The Pilot found her there. But though they were always pleasant hours to him, he would come home in great trouble about Lady Charlotte.
"She is perfectly charming and doing Gwen no end of good, but she is proud as an archangel. Has had an awful break with her family at home, and it is spoiling her life. She told me so much, but she will allow no one to touch the affair."
But one day we met her riding toward the village. As we drew near, she drew up her horse and held up a letter.
"Home!" she said. "I wrote it to-day, and I must get it off immediately."
The Pilot understood her at once, but he only said:
"Good!" but with such emphasis that we both laughed.
"Yes, I hope so," she said with the red beginning to show in her cheek. "I have dropped some seed into my canyon."
"I think I see the flowers beginning to spring," said The Pilot.
She shook her head doubtfully and replied:
"I shall ride up and sit with Gwen at her window."
"Do," replied The Pilot, "the light is good there. Wonderful things are to be seen through Gwen's window."
"Yes," said Lady Charlotte softly. "Dear Gwen!--but I fear it is often made bright with tears."
As she spoke she wheeled her horse and cantered off, for her own tears were not far away. I followed her in thought up the trail winding through the round-topped hills and down through the golden lights of the canyon and into Gwen's room. I could see the pale face, with its golden aureole, light up and glow, as they sat before the window while Lady Charlotte would tell her how Gwen's Canyon looked to-day and how in her own bleak canyon there was the sign of flowers.