“The younger sahib,” answered the hermit, “understands not the meaning of a vow; which a man makes to his own hurt, perhaps, or to the hurt of another, or it may even be quite foolishly; but thereby he stablishes his life, while the days of other men go by in a flux of business. As for the water of my hillside,” he went on with a sharp change of voice and speaking, to their amazement, in English, “have not your countrymen, O sahibs, their particular springs? Churchman and Dissenter, Presbyterian and Baptist—count they not every Jordan above Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus?”
He turned and walked swiftly from them, mounting the slope with swift loose strides. But while they stared, Bhagwan Dass broke from them and ran in pursuit.
“Not without thy blessing! O Annesley sahib, go not before thou hast blessed me!”
Two days later, at sunset, a child watching a little below the hermit’s spring saw him limp back to it and drink and seat himself again at the entrance of the cave; and pelted down to the village with the news. And the hill-people, who had supposed him gone for ever, swarmed up and about the cave to assure themselves.
“Alas!” said the holy man, gazing out upon the twilight when at length all had departed, leaving him in peace. “Cannot a man be anywhere alone with God? And yet,” he added, “I was something wistful for their love.”
“To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against him: neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in his laws which he set before us. O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.”
The voice travelled down the great nave of Lincoln Cathedral, and, as it came, the few morning worshippers—it was a week-day—inclined their faces upwards: for it seemed to pause and float overhead and again be carried forward by its own impulse, a pure column of sound wavering awhile before it broke and spread and dissolved into whispers among the multitudinous arches. To a woman still kneeling by a pillar close within the western doorway it was as the voice of a seraph speaking with the dawn, fresh from his night-watch over earth. She had been kneeling for minutes, and still knelt, but she could not pray. She had no business to be there. To her the sentences carried no message; but the voice smiting, pure and cold, across the hot confusion in her brain, steadied her while it terrified.
Yet she knew the voice well enough. It was but John Romley’s. The Dean and Chapter wanted a precentor, and among a score of candidates had selected Romley and two others for further trial. This was his chance and he was using it; making the most of it, too, to the mingled admiration and disgust of his rivals listening in the choir beside him.
And she had dressed early and climbed to the cathedral, not to pray, but to seek Romley because she had instant need of him; because, though she respected his character very little, he was the one man in the world who could help her. She had missed him at the door. Entering, she learned from a verger that he was already robing. Then the great organ sounded, and from habit she dropped on her knees.