After praying a long time Bart Toyner relapsed into meditation, endeavouring to contemplate those attributes of his God which might bring him the strength which he had not yet attained, and just here came to him the subtlest and strongest reinforcement to all those arguments which were chiming together upon what appeared to him the side of evil. The God in whom he had learned to trust was a God who, moved by pity, had come out of His natural path to give a chance of salvation to wicked men by the sacrifice of Himself. To what did he owe his own rescue but to this special adjustment of law made by God? and how then was it right for him to adhere to the course the regular law imposed on him and to hunt down Markham? If he saved Markham, he would answer to the law for his own breach of duty—this would be at least some sacrifice. Was not this course a more God-like one?
There was one part of Toyner that spoke out clearly and said that his duty was exactly what he had esteemed it to be before Ann Markham appealed to him. He believed this part of him to be his conscience.
All the rest of him slowly veered round to thoughts of mercy rather than legal duty; he thought of Ann and Christa with hard, godless hearts, surrounded by every form of folly and sin, and he believed that Ann would keep her promise to him, and that different surroundings would give them different souls. Yet he felt convinced that God and conscience forbade this act of mercy.
One thing he was as certain of now as he had been at the beginning—that if he disobeyed God, God would leave him to the power of all his evil appetites; he felt already that his heart gave out thoughts of affection to his old evil life.
As the hours passed he began to realise that he would need to disobey God. He found himself less and less able to face the thought of giving up this rare opportunity of winning Ann’s favour and an influence over her—moral influence at least; his mind was clear enough to see that what was gained by disobeying God’s law was from a religious point of view nil. In his mind was the beginning of a contempt for God’s way of saving him. If he was to win his own soul by consigning Ann and her father to probable perdition, he did not want to win it.
The August morning came radiant and fresh; the air, sharp with a touch of frost from neighbouring hills, bore strength and lightness for every creature. The sunlight was gay on the little wooden town, on its breezy gardens and wastes of flowering weeds, on the descent of the foaming fall, on the clear brown river. Even the sober wood of ash and maple glistened in the morning light, and the birds sang songs that in countries where a longer summer reigns are only heard in spring-time.
Bart Toyner went out of the house exhausted and almost hopeless. The source of his strength had failed within him. He looked forward to defeat.