First he saw the ceiling. There was
something familiar about that ceiling. He moved his head a little and saw
that he was in the spare bedroom. He had never slept there, had only been
in it a few times before. It had been Janet's pride and joy; there was the
paper, still on the wall, that she had put on herself. There were the
vertical strips of light green with the roses in clusters between. The
ceiling was plain white, and there was the mark where the first strip had
torn when the two of them had tried to put it on. The first strip had been
hard to manage. It kept falling off and finally tore and he had used bad
words, words used in the lumber camps. Janet had cried and dropped the
paste brush on the floor and run out. He had kept on working away until
the strip went on, and the torn place didn't show until it dried, and then
only a little. Janet he had found on her knees in the kitchen by the oven
door, jabbing a fork savagely into some roasting potatoes. She was still
sobbing but he had pulled her up and hugged her hard until she laughed.
He tried to sit up but could not. It
must be the feather tick, he thought, that's what he had sunk so far down
in. He had never cared for feather ticks. He tried all ways to move; he
could raise the right arm, but not the left. He tried to call for someone
but no real words came. He could hear Elspeth's voice in the kitchen. What
was she doing here, and why was she talking? By the light it seemed to be
late afternoon. Then the voices had stopped in the kitchen. It was so very
quiet. There was just the soft noise the spruce branches made in the light
breeze. The breeze came in cool puffs through the open window.
There was a picture of Jesus on the
wall. He and four of the disciples. It must have been one that Katie had
brought from home; he had never seen it before. They were walking through
a field of wheat, or it looked like wheat, corn they would have called it
in that country. Jesus had picked some ears of the grain and was handing
them to the disciples as they walked. He seemed to be floating along, His
garments were spotless, His beard was clean and combed, and there was a
light behind His head. Jim thought about the man who owned that field.
They were tramping down a good deal of grain. They might just as well have
gone along a fence row, but perhaps they didn't have fences in that
country. The disciples were a poor-looking lot; they were crouched and
fawning and walking sideways. If he was going to die it might be that he
would see the man Jesus; but He would not be a man then, but something
else. It was all very confusing and he could not picture it. There was no
doubt that Jesus had lived and taught and died in that far-off land, but
why the strange tales, the tales of miracles and of virgin birth and of
the ascent into heaven? Such things did not happen now; why should they
have happened then? History did not record such things. Mr. Grant, that
earnest man, preached that we should believe these things by faith, but
this seemed a weak argument. Faith should have a solid foundation. Priests
from the dawn of history had urged their people to have faith, to believe
sometimes in monstrous things, and if they did not believe what the
priests and their books said was true, then horrible things could happen.
His mother had explained the
miracles to him long ago. She had said that Jesus was a great and good
man, full of compassion for all of mankind, and that He longed to help the
weak and the sick and to turn the wicked from wrongdoing. She said that
people followed Him about, crowds of people stayed near Him, having faith
in His goodness and His power to heal. It was through these strong
feelings coming together that many were healed and all had been helped.
Faith could do many things, she said, but faith never worked against
nature, it worked with nature. Faith could help a broken bone to heal, but
it did not cure it overnight. Faith could strengthen fortitude and
courage, but faith did not turn an untruth into a truth. This seemed
reasonable enough; perhaps the other stories were told by people who
believed in Jesus and wished Him to appear very great, greater than any
prophet who had come before.
Mr. Grant said that only those who
believed in Jesus, whatever that meant, could be saved. Well he, Jim,
believed in Jesus the man, and if that was not enough, then he would not
be saved. If he said he believed in Jesus the God, then that was an
untruth and not worthy of a believer in Jesus the man. And if he said he
believed by faith, then that was not worthy of a man who tried to be as
truthful as Jesus would wish him to be. He looked long at the picture,
because it was the easiest place to look, and as he did it seemed that he
rose and passed into it.
It was hot in this land, the sun
almost overhead. There were no fences. The grain was scattered in
different plots. On a far hillside were some sheep, and a man was herding
them. The grain was wheat, but a very poor kind, the heads short and the
straw spindly. It wouldn't go twelve bushels to the acre. The man Jesus
was close now, Jim could see His face; there were lines in it and sweat on
the forehead. His feet were dusty and the hem of His robe was stained.
Jesus looked tired and hungry, as if He could have very well eaten the
grain that He was handing to the disciples. As He approached, Jim stepped
aside and prepared to greet Him as one would do in Bruce County. But Jesus
looked ahead, His eyes perhaps seeing other worlds. He passed by
unheeding, as did the disciples.
He was back in his bed, then, and
the picture was on the wall, smooth and shallow in its place. The man in
the picture was serene, otherworldly. The man he had seen was real. He was
flesh and blood. He had indeed walked and talked and taught by Galilee.
But Jesus had not seen him, Jim. It was all too much to think about now.
He was tired. He would rest awhile.
"Are you awake then, Dad? We left
you quiet to let you sleep. Are you better now?"
He struggled to rise and say
something, but there was the terrible weakness and the words came out a
"Lie back, Jim dear. Lie down, dear
heart. It's all right, it's all right." Katie had never called him Jim
before. "I know, Jim. I know how it is. Be quiet now and rest a little.
I'll warm a bit of broth for you. It will be all right."
He lay quietly. Perhaps it would be
all right. Perhaps tomorrow he would harness Sandy and he and Elspeth
would drive back to the village, and he would say the things to Elspeth,
the things that needed to be said to comfort her, and so to comfort them
both. But the darkness was coming again. It was almost there. He closed
his eyes against it.