“Sometimes,” said I, without looking up.
“An’ I be very old an’ tired, Peter; my ‘eart be all wore out wi’ beatin’ an’ beatin’ all these years—’tis a wonder as it didn’t stop afore now—but a—a—stapil, Peter, don’t ’ave no ’eart to go a-beatin’ an’ a-wearin’ of itself away?”
“So ‘ere be I, a-standin’ in the Valley o’ the Shadow, an’ waitin’ for God’s Angel to take my ’and for to show me the way. ‘Tis a darksome road, Peter, but I bean’t afeared, an’ there be a light beyond Jordan-water. No, I aren’t afeared to meet the God as made me, for ‘the Lord is merciful—and very kind,’ an’ I don’t s’pose as ’E’ll be very ’ard on a old, old man as did ’is best, an’ wi’ a ‘eart all tired an’ wore away wi’ beatin’—I be ready, Peter only—”
“Oh, Peter!—it be that theer old stapil—as’ll go on rustin’ away an’ rustin’ away arter the old man as watched it so is laid in the earth, an’ forgot about—”
“No,” said I, without looking up, but slipping my hand into my pocket; “no, Ancient—”
“Peter—Oh, Peter!—do ’ee mean—?”
“I mean that, although it had no heart, the staple was tired and worn out—just as you are, and so I brought it to you,” and I slipped the rusty bit of iron into the old man’s trembling palm.
“O Lord—!” he began in a fervent voice, “O dear Lord!—I got it, Lord—th’ owd stapil—I be ready to come to Thee, an’ j’yful —j’yful! an’ for this mercy, an’ benefit received—blessed be Thy name. Amen!”
He lay very quiet for a while, with the broken staple clasped to his breast, and his eyes closed.
“Peter,” said he suddenly, “you won’t ’ave no one to bring you noos no more—why, Peter! be ’ee cryin’—for me? ’Tis true ’t were me as found ye, but I didn’t think as you’d go to cry tears for me—I be goin’ to tak’ t’ owd stapil wi’ me, Peter, all along the road—an’, Peter—”
“Be you quite sure as you aren’t a dook?”
“Nor a earl?”
“Not even a—barrynet?”
“Ah, well!—you be a man, Peter, an’ ‘tis summ’at to ha’ found a man—that it be.”
And now he feebly beckoned us all nearer.
“Children,” said he, “I be a old an’ ancient man I be goin’ on —across the river to wait for you—my blessin’ on ye. It be a dark, dark road, but I’ve got t’ owd stapil, an’ there—be a light beyond—the river.”
So, the Ancient sighed, and crossed the dark River into the Land of Light Eternal.
HOW SIR MAURICE KEPT HIS WORD
Night, with a rising moon, and over all things a great quietude, a deep, deep silence. Air, close and heavy, without a breath to wake the slumbering trees; an oppressive stillness, in which small sounds magnified themselves, and seemed disproportionately loud.