The Sky Pilot in No Man's Land by Ralph Connor
Chapter XVIII. A Wedding Journey
"Just a moment, if you please, Paula. I should like to get down a few notes of this bit. Oh, what a view! Lake, moor, hills, mountains, village!"
Mr. Howland sprang from the car, sketchbook in hand, and ran forward to a jutting rock that commanded the wide valley, flanked by hills, in whose bosom lay a loch, shimmering in the morning light. The car drew up on the brow of a long and gently sloping incline, which the road followed until it disappeared in a turn at the village at the loch's end.
"Get the little church tower in, father, and a bit of the castle. I can see it from here," said Paula, standing upon the motor seat.
"I shall try this further rock," said her father. "Ah, here it is. Do come, all of you, and get this. Oh, what a perfectly glorious view!"
The little group gathered about him in silence, upon a little headland that overlooked the valley, and feasted upon the beauty that spread itself out before them, the undulating slope and shimmering loch, the wide moors and softly rounded hills, the dark green masses of ragged firs, and the great white Bens in the far distance, and below them, in the midst the human touch, in a nestling village with its Heaven-pointing spire.
"Hark!" said Paula.
From across the loch there floated up to them, soft and mellow as an angel's song, the sound of a bell.
Mr. Rowland dropped his sketchbook, took off his hat, and stood as if in worship. The other men followed his example.
"Father," said Paula, "let's go to church."
"Hush," said her father, putting up his hand, and so stood for some moments.
"Oh, Scotland, Scotland!" he cried, lifting his arms high above his head, "no wonder your children in exile weep for their native land."
"And your men fight and die for you," added Paula, glancing at Captain Neil.
"Thank you," said Captain Neil, turning quickly away.
"Yes," said Paula, "we shall go to church here, father."
The church stood against a cluster of ancient firs, in the midst of its quiet graves, yew shaded here and there. Beside it stood the manse, within its sweet old garden, protected by a moss covered stone wall.
At its gate the minister stood, a dark man with silvering hair, of some sixty years, but still erect and with a noble, intellectual face.
"Let us speak to him," said Paula, as they left their car.
With characteristic reserve, Barry and Neil shrank from greeting a stranger, but with fine and easy courtesy Mr. Howland bared his head, and went up to the minister.
"We heard your bell's invitation, sir," he said, "and we came to worship with you."
A grave smile touched the dark face.
"You rightly interpreted its message," he said. "Let me repeat its welcome."
"We are Americans, at least my daughter and I are," said Mr. Howland, presenting Paula, a frank smile upon her beautiful face, "and this is her young friend from London, Miss Vincent, and these young officers are of the Canadian army."
"Canadians!" exclaimed the minister, meeting them with both hands. "Oh, you are indeed welcome."
"We are all in the war, sir, I would have you know," added Mr. Howland.
The minister looked puzzled.
"Let me explain," said Barry. "Mr. Rowland and his daughter are on leave from their own hospital which they have set up in France. Miss Vincent is from the base hospital in Boulogne."
Like the sun breaking upon the loch in a dull day, a smile broke over the dark face. He threw the gate wide open.
"In the name of my country, in this its dark hour, let me give you welcome," and once more he shook them each by the hand. "We have still half an hour before worship," he continued. "Pray do me the honour of entering my manse."
They followed him up the shrubbery-flanked gravel walk to the door.
"Enter," he said, going before them into the manse. "Jean! Jean!" he called.
"Yes, dear," came a voice like the sound of a silver bell, and from another room issued a lady with a face of rare and delicate loveliness. Her soft, clinging black gown, with a touch of white at her throat, served to emphasise the sweet purity of her face, but cast over it a shade of sadness at once poignant and tender.
"My dear, this is Mrs. Robertson," he said simply; "these friends, Americans and Canadians, are from the war."
At that word she came to greet them, her face illumined by a smile inexpressibly sweet, but inexpressibly sad. "You are welcome, oh, very welcome," she said, in a soft Scotch voice. "Come in and rest for a few moments."
"Our young friend here, Captain Dunbar, is chaplain of a distinguished Canadian regiment."
"They are all distinguished," said the lady.
"A chaplain?" said the minister. "My dear sir, we should be grateful for a message for our people from the front--"
"Oh, yes, if you would," added his wife.
"But," protested. Barry, "I want to hear some one else preach. One gets very tired of one's own preaching, and besides I'm a very poor preacher."
"I'll take that risk, but I will not press you," said the minister courteously.
"Do, Barry," said Paula in a low voice, but he shook his head.
"I see you have some soldier friends at the front," said Mr. Rowland, pointing to a photograph on the mantel of a young officer in Highland dress.
"Our son, sir," said the minister quietly.
"Our only son," added his wife quietly. "He was in the Black Watch." Her voice, with its peculiar bell-like quality, was full of pride and tenderness.
"Oh," said Phyllis, turning to her with quick tears in her eyes and holding out her hand.
"Ah," said the lady, "you too? Your brother?"
"My two brothers."
"My dear child! My dear child!" said the minister's wife, kissing her. "Your mother was greatly privileged," she added gently.
It was a deeply moving scene.
"Madam," said Mr. Howland, wiping his eyes, "forgive me, but you mothers are the wonder of the war."
"There are many of us in this glen, sir," she replied. "We cannot give our lives, sir. We can only give what is dearer than our lives, our dear, dear sons, and, believe me, we don't grudge them."
"Madam," said Mr. Howland, "the whole world honours you and wonders at you."
"Sir," said Barry, obeying a quick impulse, "I cannot preach, but may I tell your people something about their boys and how splendid they are?"
"Thank you," said the minister.
"Oh, would you?" cried his wife. "There are many there who feel only the loss and the sorrow. You can tell them something of its splendour."
By this time in the eyes of all the visitors there were tears, but on the faces of the minister and his wife there was only the serene peace of those who within the sacred shrine of sacrifice have got a vision of its eternal glory.
"Barry," said Paula, drawing him aside, "I love you for this, but do talk about something, or I shall surely cry. These people break my heart."
"Oh, no," said Barry, looking at them, "there are no tears there. They have been all the way through."
"Like people, like priest!" The folk that gathered in the little church that morning were simple people of the glen, shepherds and cotters from the countryside, humble villagers. They were women for the most part, with old men and children. The girls were away at the munition plants, the young men at the war, fighting or lying under their little crosses or in their unknown and unmarked graves, on one of Britain's five battle fronts, or under the tossing waters of the Seven Seas where Britain's navy rides, guarding the world's freedom. Simple peasant folk they were, but with that look of grave and thoughtful steadfastness with which Scotland knows how to stamp her people.
The devotions were conducted by the minister with simple sincerity, and with a prophet's mystic touch and a prophet's vision of things invisible.
Barry made no attempt at a sermon. He yielded himself to the spirit of the place, the spirit of the manse and its people, whose serene fortitude under the burden of their sorrow had stirred him to his soul's depths. Their spirit recalled the spirit of his own father and the spirit of the men he had known in the trenches. He made a slight reference to the horrors of the war. He touched lightly upon the soldiers' trials but he told them tales of their endurance, their patience, their tenderness to the wounded, their comradeship, their readiness to sacrifice. Before he closed, he lifted them up to see the worth and splendour of it all and gave them a vision of the world's regeneration through the eternal mystery of the cross.
They listened with uplifted face, on which rested a quiet wonder, touched with that light that only falls where sacrifice and sacrament are joined. There were tears on many faces, but they fell quietly, without bitterness, without passion, without despair.
A woman with a grief worn face waited for him at the foot of the pulpit stairs, the minister's wife and Phyllis beside her.
"Mrs. Finlayson wishes to speak to you," she said.
"Ay, ay! I jist want to say that you had the word for me the day. I see it better the noo. A'm mair content that ma mon sud be sleepin' oot yonder." She held Barry's hand while she spoke, her tears falling on it, then kissed it and turned away.
"And this," said the minister's wife, "is Mrs. Murray, who has given three sons, and who has just sent her last son away this week."
"Three sons," echoed Barry, gazing at the strong face, beaten and brown with the winds and suns of fifty years, "and you sent away your last. Oh, I wonder at you. How could you?"
"A cudna haud him back wi' his three brithers lyin' oot there, and," she added, with a proud lift of her head, "and wudna."
It took some minutes for Barry to make his way through to the door. He wanted to greet them all. He had a feeling that he was there not in his own person but as a representative standing between two noble companies of martyrs, those who had gone forth to die, and those who had sent them.
"You have done us a great service to-day, sir," said the minister in bidding Barry good-bye.
"It was a privilege to do it," said Barry as he shook hands with the minister and his wife. "I shall tell the men about you and your people."
"My dear, my dear, is he your man?" asked the minister's wife as she held Phyllis' hand.
"He is," said Phyllis, glancing at Barry with shy pride.
"And he leaves you soon?"
"In two days," replied the girl, with a quick breath.
"Don't let him away till you give yourself wholly to him. Why not to-morrow? It's a mother's word."
"That's what I say," cried Paula impulsively, seeking to cover the girl's blushing confusion. "Neil," she added, turning to him, "I should love to be married in just such a dear little church as this."
"All right," said Neil. "I know another just like it, and I shall show it to you next week."
They wandered down by the loch's side. Passing a boat-renting establishment, Paula suddenly exclaimed,
"My Land of Liberty, look there, Barry!"
"A canoe," she cried, running toward it. "A Canadian canoe!"
"A genuine Peterboro," he cried, following her. "Where did you get this?" he inquired, turning to the boatman.
"My boy brought it with him from Canada, sir. He is an engineer. I have his whole outfit in the house--tent, camp things and all. He is at the war himself."
"Oh, Barry, look at the dear thing. What does it make you think of?" She glanced at Barry's face and added quickly, "Oh, I know. Forgive me. I'm a fool!"
"Come along, Phyllis," said Barry, drawing her away with him. "I want to talk to you."
"We shall take lunch in half an hour, Barry," called Mr. Howland after him. "We're due at Pitlochry, you know, for dinner."
"All right, sir," said Barry. "We'll be on hand."
"I wonder if she's got the nerve," said Paula to Captain Neil as they stood looking after them.
"I wonder," said Captain Neil, looking at her. "Would you?"
"Would I," said Paula, with sudden shyness. "I--but you are not going away in two days."
"No, thank the good Lord," said Captain Neil, fervently, "but, Paula, I'll not forget."
At Pitlochry they found their mail awaiting them.
"A telegram for you, Barry," said Paula, who had assumed the duty of postman.
They all paused in examining their mail to watch Barry open his wire.
"Guess," he shouted, holding his telegram high.
"Oh, glory, I know!" exclaimed Paula. "Extended leave. How much?"
"'Oh, excellent young maid, how much elder art thou than thy looks!'"
"Oh, Barry!" exclaimed Phyllis. "How much?"
"Five days, five whole days."
"Humph! It's the least they could do. They might have made it ten," grumbled Paula.
"Mr. Howland, may I speak to you a moment?" Barry's look and voice were eloquent of resolve.
"Certainly, Barry. Immediately?"
"If you please, sir."
They retired to a corner, where Barry could be seen with ardent look and vehement gesture putting his proposition to Mr. Howland, whose face showed mingled pleasure and perplexity. The others waited patiently for the conference to end.
"Oh, pshaw!" said Paula, "Barry ought to know by this time that the pater simply can't make up his mind without me. I know what they are at."
She moved over to them.
"Now, father, of course you will do as Barry wishes," she declared. "Oh, I know what he wants. Now listen to me. Just wire Mrs. Vincent that everything is perfectly all right, that you can guarantee Barry, and that it's the sensible thing, the only thing to do under the circumstances. Oh, we'll have it in that dear little church. Splendid. Perfectly ripping! Eh, Phyllis? Come over here at once. Now, father, get busy on the wire. Why waste a perfectly good hour in just talking about it? What do you say, folks? How many say 'Ay'?"
Up went Barry's two hands, and with them Neil's and Paula's.
"What about you, miss?" asked Paula, turning wrathfully toward Phyllis.
Phyllis walked quietly to Barry's side.
"Barry," she said, giving him her hand, "I have decided to be married to-morrow. I shall wire mamma."
Barry answered her only with his eyes.
"By Jove!" said Paula, "you Britishers are the limit, for stolid, unemotional people. Here am I shouting my head off like a baseball fan, to get this thing put through, and you quietly walk up and announce that everything's fixed but the band."
The wires to London that afternoon were kept busy, a message going to Mrs. Vincent from each member of the party, but it was felt that that from Phyllis to her mother was really all that was necessary.
"Dearest Mamma--Barry and I are to be married tomorrow. English law makes London impossible, as Barry has only five days. I am very happy, feeling sure you approve. Our dearest, dearest love.
A long wire also went from Barry to Mr. Robertson, the minister of the little church, where they had spent such a delightful hour that morning, but this wire Barry showed to no one.
The bride's bouquet was from the manse garden, a shower of white roses, no purer and no sweeter than the bride herself. At the church door, the party stood shrinking from the moment of parting. At length Paula took matters in hand.
"As usual," she said, "the heavy work falls to me. Dear Mrs. Robertson"--to the minister's wife--"goodbye. I shall always love you and your dear little church."
She put her arms around the minister's wife and kissed her.
"Oh, we're going to see them off," said that lady. "Lead the way, Captain Dunbar, please," she added, with a bright smile, giving him a little push.
"Come, Phyllis," said Barry offering his wife his arm, and they started off down the street toward the lake.
"Will you permit me?" said the minister, offering his arm to Paula, who in mystified silence took it without a word.
"May I have the pleasure?" said Mr. Howland, offering his arm to Mrs. Robertson.
"Come, Captain Fraser," she said gaily, offering him the other arm.
"Just what is happening to me, I don't pretend to know," said Paula, "but whatever it is, America is in this thing to the finish."
Barry stopped at the boathouse landing. There, tied to the dock, floated the Canadian canoe, laden with tent and camp outfit, and with extra baskets provided from the manse.
"Oh, Barry, how wonderful! How perfectly wonderful!" cried Paula in an ecstasy of delight.
In that farewell there were tears and smiles, but more smiles than tears. The last to touch their hands was Paula. She managed to draw them apart from the others, with her eyes glistening with unaccustomed tears. "You deserve each other. Phyllis," she whispered, alternately shaking and kissing her, "there was a day when I would have fought you for him, until Neil came. Barry, you dear boy, you may kiss me goodbye, and oh, may you both live forever."
"Goodbye, dear Paula," cried Phyllis. "You have been so lovely to me from the very first. I shall never, never forget you."
"Goodbye, Paula," said Barry, "dearest of all dear friends."
She stooped to steady the canoe, while Phyllis stepped to her place in the bow.
"Goodbye to all of you. God love you and keep you all," said Barry.
He took his paddle and stepped into the canoe, Paula still stooping over it to keep it steady.
"Dear, dear Barry," she whispered, and for the first time her tears fell. "Goodbye! Goodbye!"
Together the little company stood watching them away, Phyllis in the bow, not paddling, sat with her face toward them, Barry swinging his paddle with graceful, powerful strokes, until just at a curve of the shore, where some birches overhung the water, he swung the canoe half round, and with paddle held Voyageur fashion in salute, they passed out of sight.