“Nonsense, Rabbi; it’s one of the finest things you have ever done. Half a dozen journeys of that kind would refurnish the manse; it’s just a pity you can’t annex a chair”; but he saw that the good man was sorely vexed.
“You are a good lad, John, and it is truly marvellous what charity I have received at the hands of young men who might have scorned and mocked me. God knows how my heart has been filled with gratitude, and I . . . have mentioned your names in my unworthy prayers, that God may do to you all according to the kindness ye have shown unto me.”
It was plain that this lonely, silent man was much moved, and Carmichael did not speak.
“People consider that I am ignorant of my failings and weaknesses, and I can bear witness with a clear conscience that I am not angry when they smile and nod the head; why should I be? But, John, it is known to myself only, and Him before whom all hearts are open, how great is my suffering in being among my neighbours as a sparrow upon the house-top.
“May you never know, John, what it is to live alone and friendless till you lose the ways of other men and retire within yourself, looking out on the multitude passing on the road as a hermit from his cell, and knowing that some day you will die alone, with none to . . . give you a draught of water!”
“Rabbi, Rabbi,”—for Carmichael was greatly distressed at the woe in the face opposite him, and his heart was tender that night,—“why should you have lived like that? Do not be angry, but . . . did God intend . . . it cannot be wrong . . . I mean . . . God did give Eve to Adam.”
“Laddie, why do ye speak with fear and a faltering voice? Did I say aught against that gracious gift or the holy mystery of love, which is surely the sign of the union betwixt God and the soul, as is set forth after a mystical shape in the Song of Songs? But it was not for me—no, not for me. I complain not, neither have I vexed my soul. He doeth all things well.”
“But, dear Rabbi”—and Carmichael hesitated, not knowing where he stood.
“Ye ask me why”—the Rabbi anticipated the question—“and I will tell you plainly, for my heart has ever gone forth to you. For long years I found no favour in the eyes of the Church, and it seemed likely I would be rejected from the ministry as a man useless and unprofitable. How could I attempt to win the love of any maiden, since it did not appear to be the will of God that I should ever have a place of habitation? It consisted not with honour, for I do hold firmly that no man hath any right to seek unto himself a wife till he have a home.”
“But . . .”
“Afterwards, you would say. Ah, John! then had I become old and unsightly, not such a one as women could care for. It would have been cruel to tie a maid for life to one who might only be forty years in age, but was as seventy in his pilgrimage, and had fallen into unlovely habits.”