And so I bowed my face upon my hands, and remained thus a great while, heeding no more the tempest about me. For now indeed was my question answered, and my fear realized.
“I love her!—whatever she was—whatever she is—good or evil—I love her. O Fool!—O most miserable Fool!”
And presently I rose, and went on down the hill. Fast I strode, stumbling and slipping, plunging on heedlessly through bush and brake until at last, looking about me, I found myself on the outskirts of a little spinney or copse; and then I became conscious that the storm had passed, for the thunder had died down to a murmur, and the rain had ceased; only all about me were little soft sounds, as if the trees were weeping silently together.
Pushing on, I came into a sort of narrow lane, grassy underfoot and shut in on either hand by very tall hedges that loomed solid and black in the night; and, being spent and weary, I sat down beneath one of these and propped my chin in my hands.
How long I remained thus I cannot say, but I was at length aroused by a voice—a strangely sweet and gentle voice at no great distance, and the words it uttered were these:
“Oh! give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever! O Lord! I beseech Thee look down in Thine infinite pity upon this, Thy world; for to-day is at hand, and Thy children must soon awake to life and toil and temptation. Oh! Thou who art the Lover of Men, let Thy Holy Spirit wait to meet with each one of us upon the threshold of the dawn, and lead us through this coming day. Like as a father pitieth his children, so dost Thou pity all the woeful and heavy-hearted. Look down upon all those who must so soon awake to their griefs, speak comfortably to them; remember those in pain who must so soon take up their weary burdens! Look down upon the hungry and the rich, the evil and the good, that, in this new day, finding each something of Thy mercy, they may give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever.”
So the voice ended, and there were silence and a profound stillness upon all things; wherefore, lifting my eyes unto the east, I saw that it was dawn.
Now, when the prayer was ended, I turned my back upon the lightening east and set off along the lane.
But, as I went, I heard one hailing me, and glancing round, saw that in the hedge was a wicket-gate, and over this gate a man was leaning. A little, thin man with the face of an ascetic, or mediaeval saint, a face of a high and noble beauty, upon whose scholarly brow sat a calm serenity, yet beneath which glowed the full, bright eye of the man of action.
“Good morning, friend!” said be; “welcome to my solitude. I wish you joy of this new day of ours; it is cloudy yet, but there is a rift down on the horizon—it will be a fair day, I think.”