Darrel of the Blessed Isles by Irving Bacheller
XXXIII. The White Guard
Next morning Trove was on his way to Quebec--a long, hard journey in the wintertime, those days. Leblanc had moved again,--so they told him in Quebec,--this time to Plattsburg of Clinton County, New York. There, however, Trove was unable to find the Frenchman. A week of patient inquiry, then, leaving promises of reward for information, he came away. He had yet another object of his travels--the prison at Dannemora--and came there of a Sunday morning late in February. Its towers were bathed in sunlight; its shadows lay dark and far upon the snow. Peace and light and silence had fallen out of the sky upon that little city of regret, as if to hush and illumine its tumult of dark passions. He shivered in the gloom of its shadow as he went up a driveway and rang a bell. The warden received him kindly.
"I wish to see Roderick Darrel,---he is my friend,' said Trove, as he gave the warden a letter.
"Come with me," said the official, presently. "He is talking to the men."
They passed through gloomy corridors to the chapel door. Trove halted to compose himself, for now he could hear the voice of Darrel.
"Let me stand here a while--I cannot go in now," he whispered.
The words of the old man were vibrant with colour and dramatic force.
"Night!" he was saying, "the guard passes; the lights are out; ye lie thinking. Hark! a bell! 'Tis in the golden city o' remembrance. Ye hear it calling. Haste away, men, haste away. Ah, look!--flowers by the roadside! an' sunlight, an', just ahead, spires o' the city, an' beneath them--oh! what is there beneath them ye go so many times to see?
"Who is this?
"Here is a man beside ye.
"'Halt!' he says, an cuts ye with a sword.
"Now the bell is tolling--the sky overcast. The spires fall, the flowers wither. Ye turn to look at the man. He is a giant. See the face of him now. It makes ye tremble. He is the White Guard an' he brings ye back. Ah, then, mayhap ye rise in the dark, as I have heard ye, an' shake the iron doors. But ye cannot escape him though ye could fly on the wind. Know ye the White Guard? Dear man! his name is thy name; he is thyself; day an' night he sits in the watch tower o' thy soul; he has all charge o' thee. Make a friend o' him, men, make a friend o' him. Any evening send for me, an' mayhap they'll let me come an' tell thee how."
He paused. Trove could hear the tread of guards in the chapel. They seemed to enter the magnetic field of the speaker and quickly halted.
"Mind the White Guard! Save him ye have none to fear.
"Once, at night, I saw a man smiling in his sleep. 'Twas over there in the hospital. The day long he had been sick with remorse, an' I had given him, betimes, a word o' comfort as well as the medicine. Now when I looked the frown had left his brow. Oh, 'twas a goodly sight to see! He smiled an' murmured o' the days gone. The man o' guilt lay dead--the child of innocence was living. An' he woke, an' again the shadow fell upon him, an' he wept.
"'I have been wandering in the land o' love,' he said.
"'Get thee back, man, get thee back,' said I to him.
"'Alas! how can I?' said he; 'for 'tis only Sleep that opens the door.'
"'Nay, Sleep doth lift the garment o' thy bitterness, but only for an hour,' said I. 'Love, Love shall lift it from thee forever.' An' now, I thank the good God, the smile o' that brief hour is ever on his face. Ye know him well, men. Were I to bid him stand before ye, there's many here would wish to kiss his hand. Even here in the frowning shadow o' these walls he has come into a land o' love, an' when he returns to his people ye shall weep, men, ye shall weep, an' they shall rejoice. O the land o' love! it hath a strong gate. An' the White Guard, he hath the key.
"Remember, men, ye cannot reap unless ye sow. If any would reap the corn, he must plant the corn.
"Have ye stood of a bright summer day to watch the little people o' the field?--those millions that throng the grass an' fly in the sunlight--bird an' bee an' ant an' bug an' butterfly? 'Tis a land flowing with milk an' honey--but hear me, good men, not one o' them may take as much as would fill the mouth of a cricket unless he pays the price.
"One day I saw an ant trying to rob a thistle-blow. Now the law o' the field is that none shall have honey who cannot sow for the flower. While a bee probes he gathers the seed-dust in his hairy jacket, an' away he flies, sowing it far an' wide. Now, an ant is in no-wise able to serve a thistle-blow, but he is ever trying to rob her house. Knowing her danger, she has put around it a wonderful barricade. Down at the root her stem has a thicket o' fuzz an' hair. I watched the little thief, an' he was a long time passing through it. Then he came on a barrier o' horny-edged leaves. Underneath they were covered with thick, webby hairs an' he sank over his head in them an' toiled long; an' lo! when he had passed them there was yet another row o' leaves curving so as to weary an' bewilder him, an' thick set with thorns. Slowly he climbed, coming ever to some dread obstruction. By an' by he stood looking up at the green, round wall o' the palace. Above him were its treasure an' its purple dome. He started upward an' fell suddenly into a moat, full o' sticky gum, an' there perished. Men, 'tis the law o' God: unless ye sow the seed that bears it, ye shall not have the honey o' forgiveness. An' remember the seed o' forgiveness is forgiveness. If any have been hard upon thee, bearing false witness an' robbing thee o' thy freedom an' thy good name, go not hence until ye forgive.
"Ah, then the White Guard shall no longer sit in the tower."
The voice had stopped. There was a moment of deep silence. Some power, greater, far greater, than his words, had gone out of the man. Those many who sat before him and they standing there by the door had felt it and were deeply moved. There was a quick stir in the audience--a stir of hands and handkerchiefs. Trove entered; the chaplain was now reading a hymn. Darrel sat behind him on a raised platform, the silken spray upon his brows, long and white as snow, his face thoughtful and serious. The reading over, he came and sat among the men, singing as they sang. The benediction, a stir of feet, and the prisoners began to press about him, some kissing his hands. He gave each a kindly greeting. It was like the night of the party on Cedar Hill. A moment more, and the crowd was filing away, some looking back curiously at Trove, who stood, his arms about the old man.
"Courage, boy!" the latter was saying; "I know it cuts thee like a sword, an' would to God I could have spared thee even this. Look! in yon high window I can see the sunlight, an', believe me, there is not a creature it shines upon so happy as I. God love thee, boy, God love thee!"
He put his cheek upon that of the boy and stroked his hair gently. Then a little time of silence, and the storm had passed.
"A fine, fine lad ye are," said Darrel, looking proudly at the young man, who stood now quite composed. "Let me take thy hand. Ay, 'tis a mighty arm ye have, an' some day, some day it will shake the towers."
"You will both dine with me in my quarters at one," said the warden, presently.
Trove turned with a look of surprise.
"Thank ye, sor; an' mind ye make room for Wit an' Happiness," said the tinker.
"Bring them along--they're always welcome at my table," the warden answered with a laugh.
"Know ye not they're in prison, now, for keeping bad company?" said Darrel, as he turned. "At one, boy," he, added, shaking the boy's hand. "Ah, then, good cheer an' many a merry jest."
Darrel left the room, waving his hand. Trove and the warden made their way to the prison office.
"A wonderful man!" said the latter, as they went. "We love and respect him and give him all the liberty we can. For a long time he has been nursing in the hospital, and when I see that he is overworking I bring him to my office and set him at easy jobs."
Darrel came presently, and they went to dinner. The tinker bowed politely to the warden's wife and led her to the table.
"Good friends," said he, as they were sitting down, "there is an hour that is short o' minutes an' yet holds a week o' pleasure--who pan tell me which hour it is?"
"I never guessed a riddle," said the woman.
"Marry, dear madam, 'tis the hour o' thy hospitality," said the old man.
"When you are in it," she answered with good humour.
"Fellow-travellers on the road to heaven," said Darrel, raising his glass, "St. Peter is fond of a smiling face."
"And when you see him you'll make a jest," were the words of the warden.
"For I believe he is a lover o' good company," said Darrel.
The warden's wife remarked, then, that she had enjoyed his talk in the chapel.
"I'm a new form o' punishment," said Darrel, soberly.
"But they all enjoy it," she answered.
"I'm not so rough as the ministers. They use fire an' the fume o' sulphur."
"And the men go to sleep."
"Ay, the cruel master makes a thick hide," said Darrel, quickly. "So Nature puts her hand between the whip an' the horse, an' sleep between cruelty an' the congregation."
"Nature is kind," was the remark of the warden.
"An' shows the intent o' the Almighty," said Darrel. "There are two words. In them are all the sermons."
"And what are they?" the woman asked.
"Fear," Darrel answered thoughtfully; "that is one o' them." He paused to sip his tea.
"And the other is?"
There was half a moment of silence.
"Here's Life to Love an' Death to Fear," the tinker added, draining his cup. "Ay, madam, fill again--'tis memorable tea."
The woman refilled his cup.
"Many a time I've sat at meat an' thought, O that mine enemy could taste thy tea! But this, dear lady, this beverage is for a friend."
So the dinner went on, others talking only to encourage the tongue of Darrel. Trove, well as he knew the old man, had been surprised by his fortitude. Far from being broken, the spirit in him was happy, masterful, triumphant. He had work to do and was earning that high reward of happiness--to him the best thing under heaven. The dinner over, all rose, and Darrel bowed politely to the warden's wife. Then he quoted:--
"'Like as the waves make toward the pebbled shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end.'
"Dear madam, they do hasten but to come as well as to go. Thanks an' au revoir."
Darrel and Trove went away with the warden, who bade them sit a while in his office. Tinker and young man were there talking until the day was gone. The warden sat apart, reading. Now and again they whispered earnestly, as if they were not agreed, Darrel shaking his forefinger and his head, Trove came away as the dark fell, a sad and thoughtful look upon him.