‘But is not this God’s vengeance?’ replied the voice of the lower man.
And then came the reply:
’Would God punish Oliver through his child as Oliver punished you through your dog? Am I a man, and not God?’
Moses looked round, as though someone had spoken in his ear, and, loosing his hold of Captain, muttered:
‘Go, if thaa wants.’
A mighty bound, and Captain was in mid-stream, and with a few strong and rapid strokes he reached the sinking child. But the flood-gates were open, the reservoir was emptying its overflow down the steep falls into the Clough fifty yards below, and child and dog were slowly but unmistakably being carried towards the gorge.
Again the struggle commenced, and once more Moses was the prey of the relentless reasoners—Love and Self.
‘A man’s life is worth more than a dog’s,’ cried Self.
‘And more than a child’s?’ asked Love.
‘But it’s Oliver o’ Deaf Martha’s child, is it not?’
‘And your dog is seeking to save it.’
‘Shamed by a dog!’ All the remains of the nobleness so long dormant in the nature of Moses—the passion, and valour, and love which he had allowed to die down long, long ago—awakened into life. For the first time for thirty years he forgot himself, and with a great light breaking round him, and sounds of sweetest music in his heart, he leapt into the Lodge, struck out for the struggling dog and its fainting burden, and strengthened and steadied both to land.
Many years before Moses had been immersed in the baptistery at Rehoboth by the old pastor, Mr. Morell. He stepped into those waters as Moses Fletcher, and he was Moses Fletcher when he came up out of them, despite the benediction breathed on his dedicated soul. But on this autumn afternoon Moses Fletcher—the cruel, exacting, self-righteous Moses Fletcher—was buried in baptism, and there stepped out of those moorland waters another man, bearing in his arms a little child.
The atonement of Moses Fletcher.
On the evening of the day following the rescue of Oliver o’ Deaf Martha’s child, Moses Fletcher was walking over the moors towards his own home, a great peace possessing his soul, and a buoyant step bearing him through a new world. Above him the mellow moon of September dreamed in blue distances, the immensities of which were measured by innumerable constellations. Around, the great hills loomed dark in shadow, and bulked in relief against the far-off horizon of night. Along the troughs and gullies lay streaks of white fog, ever shaping themselves into folds and fringes, and, like wraiths, noiselessly vanishing on the hillside; while over all rested a great stillness, as though for once the fevered earth slept in innocence beneath the benediction of that world so vast, so high, and yet so near. Many a time, amid such surroundings, had Moses traversed the same path. Never before, however, had he passed through the same world. To him it was a new heaven and a new earth, for he carried with him a new soul.