We came out of the shrubbery upon a bank that dropped before us to a level lawn. I found myself in the midst of a company of people among whom were the other members of the new School Council. Below, upon the lawn, there was a little spectacle going on for our entertainment—a morris-dance, simply and gracefully performed by young people dressed in quaintly fashioned frocks of calico; there was good music too—one or two instruments, to which they danced. Round the other side of the grass an avenue of stately Canadian maples shut in the view, except where the river or the pale blue of the eastern horizon was seen in glimpses through their branches. Behind us the sun’s declining rays fell upon an old-fashioned garden of holly-hocks and asters, so that the effect, as one caught it turning sideways, was like light upon a stained-glass window, so rich were the dyes. I saw all this only as one sees the surroundings of some object that interests supremely.
The man who had been walking with me said simply, “This is my wife.”
Before me stood a woman who had the power that some few women have of making all those whom they gather round them speak out clearly and freshly the best that is in them.
Ah! we live in a new country. Its streets are not paved with gold, nor is prosperity to be attained without toil; but it gives this one advantage—room for growth; whatever virtue a soul contains may reach its full height and fragrance and colour, if it will.
I did not know then that the beginning of this provincial salon, which Toyner’s wife had kept about her for so many years, and to which she gave a genuine brilliance, however raw the material, had been a wooden shanty, in which a small income was made by the sale of home-brewed beer.
I always remember Ann Toyner as I saw her that first time. Her eyes were black and still bright; but when I looked at them I remembered the little children that had died in her arms, and I knew that her hopes had not died with them, but by that suffering had been transformed. As I heard her talk, my own hopes lifted themselves above their ordinary level.
Husband and wife stood together, and I noticed that the white shawl that was crossed Quakerwise over her thin shoulders seemed like a counterpart of his careful dress, that the white tresses that were beginning to show among her black ones were almost like a reflection of his white hair. I felt that in some curious way, although each had so distinct and strong a personality, they were only perfect as a part of the character which in their union formed a perfect whole. They stood erect and looked at us with frank, kindly eyes; we all found to our surprise that we were saying what we thought and felt, and not what we supposed we ought to say.
As I talked and looked at them, the words that I had heard came back to my mind. “His wife is the daughter of a murderer, and he has come up from the lowest, vilest life.” Some indistinct thought worked through my mind whose only expression was a disconnected phrase: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth.”