Once more Falconer retired, but not to take his violin. He could play no more. Hope and love were swelling within him. He could not rest. Was it a sign from heaven that the hour for speech had arrived? He paced up and down the room. He kneeled and prayed for guidance and help. Something within urged him to try the rusted lock of his father’s heart. Without any formed resolution, without any conscious volition, he found himself again in his room. There the old man still sat, with his back to the door, and his gaze fixed on the fire, which had sunk low in the grate. Robert went round in front of him, kneeled on the rug before him, and said the one word,
Andrew started violently, raised his hand, which trembled as with a palsy, to his head, and stared wildly at Robert. But he did not speak. Robert repeated the one great word. Then Andrew spoke, and said in a trembling, hardly audible voice,
’Are you my son?–my boy Robert, sir?’
’I am. I am. Oh, father, I have longed for you by day, and dreamed about you by night, ever since I saw that other boys had fathers, and I had none. Years and years of my life–I hardly know how many–have been spent in searching for you. And now I have found you!’
The great tall man, in the prime of life and strength, laid his big head down on the old man’s knee, as if he had been a little child. His father said nothing, but laid his hand on the head. For some moments the two remained thus, motionless and silent. Andrew was the first to speak. And his words were the voice of the spirit that striveth with man.
’What am I to do, Robert?’
No other words, not even those of passionate sorrow, or overflowing affection, could have been half so precious in the ears of Robert. When a man once asks what he is to do, there is hope for him. Robert answered instantly,
’You must come home to your mother.’
’My mother!’ Andrew exclaimed. ’You don’t mean to say she’s alive?’
’I heard from her yesterday–in her own hand, too,’ said Robert.
’I daren’t. I daren’t,’ murmured Andrew.
’You must, father,’ returned Robert. ’It is a long way, but I will make the journey easy for you. She knows I have found you. She is waiting and longing for you. She has hardly thought of anything but you ever since she lost you. She is only waiting to see you, and then she will go home, she says. I wrote to her and said, “Grannie, I have found your Andrew.” And she wrote back to me and said, “God be praised. I shall die in peace.”’
A silence followed.
’Will she forgive me?’ said Andrew.
’She loves you more than her own soul,’ answered Robert. ’She loves you as much as I do. She loves you as God loves you.’
’God can’t love me,’ said Andrew, feebly. ’He would never have left me if he had loved me.’
’He has never left you from the very first. You would not take his way, father, and he just let you try your own. But long before that he had begun to get me ready to go after you. He put such love to you in my heart, and gave me such teaching and such training, that I have found you at last. And now I have found you, I will hold you. You cannot escape–you will not want to escape any more, father?’
Andrew made no reply to this appeal. It sounded like imprisonment for life, I suppose. But thought was moving in him. After a long pause, during which the son’s heart was hungering for a word whereon to hang a further hope, the old man spoke again, muttering as if he were only speaking his thoughts unconsciously.
’Where’s the use? There’s no forgiveness for me. My mother is going to heaven. I must go to hell. No. It’s no good. Better leave it as it is. I daren’t see her. It would kill me to see her.’
’It will kill her not to see you; and that will be one sin more on your conscience, father.’
Andrew got up and walked about the room. And Robert only then arose from his knees.
’And there’s my mother,’ he said.
Andrew did not reply; but Robert saw when he turned next towards the light, that the sweat was standing in beads on his forehead.
’Father,’ he said, going up to him.
The old man stopped in his walk, turned, and faced his son.
’Father,’ repeated Robert, ’you’ve go to repent; and God won’t let you off; and you needn’t think it. You’ll have to repent some day.’
’In hell, Robert,’ said Andrew, looking him full in the eyes, as he had never looked at him before. It seemed as if even so much acknowledgment of the truth had already made him bolder and honester.
’Yes. Either on earth or in hell. Would it not be better on earth?’
’But it will be no use in hell,’ he murmured.
In those few words lay the germ of the preference for hell of poor souls, enfeebled by wickedness. They will not have to do anything there–only to moan and cry and suffer for ever, they think. It is effort, the out-going of the living will that they dread. The sorrow, the remorse of repentance, they do not so much regard: it is the action it involves; it is the having to turn, be different, and do differently, that they shrink from; and they have been taught to believe that this will not be required of them there–in that awful refuge of the will-less. I do not say they think thus: I only say their dim, vague, feeble feelings are such as, if they grew into thought, would take this form. But tell them that the fire of God without and within them will compel them to bethink themselves; that the vision of an open door beyond the smoke and the flames will ever urge them to call up the ice-bound will, that it may obey; that the torturing spirit of God in them will keep their consciences awake, not to remind them of what they ought to have done, but to tell them what they must do now, and hell will no longer fascinate them. Tell them that there is no refuge from the compelling Love of God, save that Love itself–that He is in hell too, and that if they make their bed in hell they shall not escape him, and then, perhaps, they will have some true presentiment of the worm that dieth not and the fire that is not quenched.
’Father, it will be of use in hell,’ said Robert. ’God will give you no rest even there. You will have to repent some day, I do believe–if not now under the sunshine of heaven, then in the torture of the awful world where there is no light but that of the conscience. Would it not be better and easier to repent now, with your wife waiting for you in heaven, and your mother waiting for you on earth?’
Will it be credible to my reader, that Andrew interrupted his son with the words,
’Robert, it is dreadful to hear you talk like that. Why, you don’t believe in the Bible!’
His words will be startling to one who has never heard the lips of a hoary old sinner drivel out religion. To me they are not so startling as the words of Christian women and bishops of the Church of England, when they say that the doctrine of the everlasting happiness of the righteous stands or falls with the doctrine of the hopeless damnation of the wicked. Can it be that to such the word is everything, the spirit nothing? No. It is only that the devil is playing a very wicked prank, not with them, but in them: they are pluming themselves on being selfish after a godly sort.
’I do believe the Bible, father,’ returned Robert, ’and have ordered my life by it. If I had not believed the Bible, I fear I should never have looked for you. But I won’t dispute about it. I only say I believe that you will be compelled to repent some day, and that now is the best time. Then, you will not only have to repent, but to repent that you did not repent now. And I tell you, father, that you shall go to my grandmother.’