Its consummation? That was another thing—a thing that in the presence of such faith as this brought human pity, sympathy and sorrow to its full, brought dread and terror. Faith such as this they had never conceived; faith such as this, if it was to prove a shattered thing, was for its exponent to drink the very dregs of misery and despair—and yet, rising above that possibility, flinging grim challenge at their doubts, stood this very faith, mighty in itself, perfect in its confidence, heroic in its agony, that all might gaze upon from a common standpoint and know—as faith.
No whispering breeze stirred the young leaves in the trees; in the stillness of the afternoon came only the heavy, pulsing throb of Nature’s breathing. One hundred, two, three hundred, they moved along, slow, sinuous, troubled, their eyes straight before them or upon the ground at their feet—only the children looked with frightened, startled eyes into their parents’ faces, and clung the closer.
Out upon the wagon track they debouched and spread in a long, thin line beneath the maples on either side of the Flopper—and waited.
There was utter silence now—the tread of shuffling feet was gone—no man moved—it seemed as though no man breathed—they stood as carven things, inanimate, men, women and children strained forward, their faces drawn, tense and rigid. In the very air, around them, everywhere, imprisoning them, clutching like an icy hand at the heart, something unseen, a dread, intangible presence weighed them down and lay heavy upon them. What was to come? What drear tragedy was to be enacted? What awful mockery was to fall upon this maimed and mutilated creature within whose deformed and pitiful body there too was a human soul?
From the cottage door across the lawn came two figures—a girl in simple, clinging white, her head bowed, the sun itself seeming to caress the dark brown wealth of hair upon her head, changing it to glinting strands of burnished copper; and beside her walked the Patriarch, his hand resting lightly upon her arm, a wondrous figure of a man, majestic, simple, grand, his silvered-hair bared to the sun, his face illumined.
“There he is, mister!” whispered young Holmes hoarsely. “There he is! Go on, mister, go on—see what he can do for you!”
There came a sound that was like a great, gasping intake of breath, as men and women watched. Out toward the Patriarch, alone now, the Flopper began to wriggle and writhe his way along. God in Heaven have pity! What was this sight they looked upon—this poor, distorted, mangled thing that grovelled in the earth—that figure towering there in the sunlight with venerable white beard and hair, erect, symbolic of some strange, mystic power that awed them, his head turned slightly in a curious listening attitude, the sightless eyes closed, upon the face a great calm like a solemn benediction.