It was he who gave the final touch after all.
He now considered seriously if there could not be any way out of it for our Lord.
Perhaps, when all was said, God the Father held this earth in His right hand like a big bird’s nest, and perhaps He had come to cherish love for all those who build and dwell there, for all earth’s defenceless children. Perhaps He felt pity for those whom He had promised to destroy, just as the hermit felt pity for the little birds.
Of course the hermit’s birds were much better than our Lord’s people, but he could quite understand that God the Father nevertheless had love for them.
The next day the bird’s nest stood empty, and the bitterness of loneliness filled the heart of the hermit. Slowly his arm sank down to his side, and it seemed to him as if all nature held its breath to listen for the thunder of the trumpet of Doom. But just then all the wagtails came again and lighted on his head and shoulders, for they were not at all afraid of him. Then a ray of light shot through old Hatto’s confused brain. He had lowered his arm, lowered it every day to look at the birds.
And standing there with all the six young ones fluttering and playing about him, he nodded contentedly to some one whom he did not see. “I let you off,” he said, “I let you off. I have not kept my word, so you need not keep yours.”
And it seemed to him as if the mountains ceased to tremble and as if the river laid itself down in easy calm in its bed.
It was at the time of year when the heather is red. It grew over the sand-hills in thick clumps. From low tree-like stems close-growing green branches raised their hardy ever-green leaves and unfading flowers. They seemed not to be made of ordinary, juicy flower substance, but of dry, hard scales. They were very insignificant in size and shape; nor was their fragrance of much account. Children of the open moors, they had not unfolded in the still air where lilies open their alabaster petals; nor did they grow in the rich soil from which roses draw nourishment for their swelling crowns. What made them flowers was really their color, for they were glowing red. They had received the color-giving sunshine in plenty. They were no pallid cellar growth; the blessed gaiety and strength of health lay over all the blossoming heath.
The heather covered the bare fields with its red mantle up to the edge of the wood. There, on a gently sloping ridge, stood some ancient, half ruined stone cairns; and however closely the heather tried to creep to these, there were always rents in its web, through which were visible great, flat rocks, folds in the mountain’s own rough skin. Under the biggest of these piles rested an old king, Atle by name. Under the others slumbered those of his warriors who had fallen when the great battle raged on the moor. They had lain there now so long that the fear and respect of death had departed from their graves. The path ran between their resting-places. The wanderer by night never thought to look whether forms wrapped in mist sat at midnight on the tops of the cairns staring in silent longing at the stars.