“I kissed thee when I went away
On thy sweet eyes–thy lips that smiled.
I heard thee lisp thy baby lore–
Thou wouldst not learn the word farewell.
God’s angels guard thee evermore,
Till in His heaven we meet and dwell!”
That night Ruby has a curious dream. It is stilly night, and she is
standing down by the creek, watching the dance and play of the water
over the stones on its way to the river. All around her the moonlight
is streaming, kissing the limpid water into silver, and in the deep
blue of the sky the stars are twinkling like gems on the robe of the
Not a sound can the little girl hear save the gentle murmur of the
stream over the stones. All the world–the white, white, moon-radiant
world–seems to be sleeping save Ruby; she alone is awake.
Stranger than all, though she is all alone, the child feels no sense of
dread. She is content to stand there, watching the moon-kissed stream
rushing by, her only companions those ever-watchful lights of heaven,
Faint music is sounding in her ears, music so faint and far away that
it almost seems to come from the streets of the Golden City, where the
redeemed sing the “new song” of the Lamb through an endless day. Ruby
strains her ears to catch the notes echoing through the still night in
faint far-off cadence.
Nearer, ever nearer, it comes; clearer, ever clearer, ring those glad
strains of joy, till, with a great, glorious rush they seem to flood
the whole world:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace; good will toward men!”
“It’s on Jack’s card!” Ruby cannot help exclaiming; but the words die
away upon her lips.
Gazing upwards, she sees such a blaze of glory as almost seems to blind
her. Strangely enough the thought that this is only a dream, and the
attendant necessity of pinching, do not occur to Ruby just now.
She is gazing upwards in awestruck wonder to the shining sky. What is
this vision of fair faces, angel faces, hovering above her, faces
shining with a light which “never was on land or sea,” the radiance
from their snowy wings striking athwart the gloom?
And in great, glorious unison the grand old Christmas carol rings
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace; good will toward men!”
Open-eyed and awestruck, the little girl stands gazing upwards, a
wonder fraught with strange beauty at her heart. Can it be possible
that one of those bright-faced angels may be the mother whom Ruby never
knew, sent from the far-off land to bear the Christmas message to the
child who never missed a mother’s love because she never knew it?
“Oh, mamma,” cries poor Ruby, stretching appealing hands up to the
shining throng, “take me with you! Take me with you back to heaven!”
She hardly knows why the words rise to her lips. Heaven has never been
a very real place to this little girl, although her mother is there;
the far-off city, with its pearly gates and golden streets, holds but
a shadowy place in Ruby’s heart, and before to-night she has never
greatly desired to enter therein.
The life of the present has claimed all her attention, and, amidst
the joys and pleasures of to-day, the coming life has held but little
place. But now, with heaven’s glories almost opened before her, with
the “new song” of the blessed in her ears, with her own long-lost
mother so near, Ruby would fain be gone.
Slowly the glory fades away, the angel faces grow dimmer and dimmer,
the heavenly music dies into silence, and the world is calm and hushed
as before. Still Ruby stands gazing upwards, longing for the angel
visitants to come again. But no heavenly light illumines the sky, only
the pale radiance of the moon, and no sound breaks upon the child’s
listening ear save the monotonous music of the ever-flowing water.
With a disappointed little sigh, Ruby brings her gaze back to earth
again. The white moonlight is flooding the country for miles around,
and in its light the ringed trees in the cleared space about the
station stand up gaunt and tall like watchful sentinels over this
home in the lonely bush. Yet Ruby has no desire to retrace her steps
homewards. It may be that the angel host with their wondrous song will
come again. So the child lingers, throwing little pebbles in the brook,
and watching the miniature circles widen and widen, brightened to
limpid silver in the sheeny light.
A halting footstep makes her turn her head. There, a few paces away,
a bent figure is coming wearifully along, weighted down beneath its
bundle of faggots. Near Ruby it stumbles and falls, the faggots
rolling from the wearied back down to the creek, where, caught by a
boulder, they swing this way and that in the flowing water.
Involuntarily the child gives a step forward, then springs back with
a sudden shiver. “It’s the wicked old one,” she whispers. “And I
_couldn’t_ help him! Oh, I _couldn’t_ help him!”
“On earth peace, good will toward men!” Faint and far away is the echo,
yet full of meaning to the child’s heart. She gives a backward glance
over her shoulder at the fallen old man. He is groping with his hands
this way and that, as though in darkness, and the blood is flowing from
a cut in the ugly yellow wizened face.
“If it wasn’t _him_,” Ruby mutters. “If it was anybody else but the
wicked old one; but I can’t be kind to _him_.”
“On earth peace, good will toward men!” Clearer and clearer rings out
the angel benison, sent from the gates of heaven, where Ruby’s mother
waits to welcome home again the husband and child from whose loving
arms she was so soon called away. To be “kind,” that is what Ruby has
decided “good will” means. Is she, then, being kind, to the old man
whose groping hands appeal so vainly to her aid?
“Dad wouldn’t like me to,” decides Ruby, trying to stifle the voice of
conscience. “And he’s _such_ a horrid old man.”
Clearer and still clearer, higher and still higher rings out the
angels’ singing. There is a queer sort of tugging going on at Ruby’s
heart. She knows she ought to go back to help old Davis and yet she
Then a great flash of light comes before her eyes, and Ruby suddenly
wakens to find herself in her own little bed, the white curtains drawn
closely to ward off mosquitoes, and the morning sun slanting in and
forming a long golden bar on the opposite curtain.
The little girl rubs her eyes and stares about her. She, who has so
often even doubted reality, finds it hard to believe that what has
passed is really a dream. Even yet the angel voices seem to be sounding
in her ears, the heavenly light dazzling her eyes.
“And they weren’t angels, after all,” murmurs Ruby in a disappointed
voice. “It was only a dream.”
Only a dream! How many of our so-called realities are “only a dream,”
from which we waken with disappointed hearts and saddened eyes. One far
day there will come to us that which is not a dream, but a reality,
which can never pass away, and we shall awaken in heaven’s morning,
“Dad,” asks Ruby as they go about the station that morning, she hanging
on her father’s arm, “what was my mamma like–my own mamma, I mean?”
The big man smiles, and looks down into the eager little face uplifted
to his own.
“Your own mamma, little woman,” he repeats gently. “Poor little girl!
of course you don’t remember her. You remind me of her, Ruby, in a
great many ways, and it is my greatest wish that you grow up just such
a woman as your dear mother was. Why are you asking, little girlie? I
don’t think you ever asked me about your mother before.”
“I just wondered,” says Ruby. She is gazing up into the cloudless blue
of the sky, which has figured so vividly in her dream of last night. “I
wish I remembered her,” Ruby murmurs, with the tiniest sigh.
“Poor little lassie!” says the father, patting the small hand. “Her
greatest sorrow was in leaving you, Ruby. You were just a baby when she
died. Not long before she went away she spoke about you, her little
girl whom she was so unwilling to leave. ‘Tell my little Ruby,’ she
said, ‘that I shall be waiting for her. I have prayed to the dear Lord
Jesus that she may be one of those whom He gathers that day when He
comes to make up His jewels.’ She used to call you her little jewel,
“And my name means a jewel,” says Ruby, looking up into her father’s
face with big, wondering brown eyes. The dream mother has come nearer
to her little girl during those last few minutes than she has ever
done before. Those words, spoken so long ago, have made Ruby feel her
long-dead young mother to be a real personality, albeit separated from
the little girl for whom one far day she had prayed that Christ might
number her among His jewels. In that fair city, “into which no foe can
enter, and from which no friend can ever pass away,” Ruby’s mother has
done with all care and sorrow. God Himself has wiped away all tears
from her eyes for ever.
Ruby goes about with a very sober little face that morning. She gathers
fresh flowers for the sitting-room, and carries the flower-glasses
across the courtyard to the kitchen to wash them out. This is one of
Ruby’s customary little duties. She has a variety of such small tasks
which fill up the early hours of the morning. After this Ruby usually
conscientiously learns a few lessons, which her step-mother hears her
recite now and then, as the humour seizes her.
But at present Ruby is enjoying holidays in honour of Christmas,
holidays which the little girl has decided shall last a month or more,
if she can possibly manage it.
“You’re very quiet to-day, Ruby,” observes her step-mother, as the
child goes about the room, placing the vases of flowers in their
accustomed places. Mrs. Thorne is reclining upon her favourite sofa,
the latest new book which the station affords in her hand. “Aren’t you
well, child?” she asks.
“Am I quiet?” Ruby says. “I didn’t notice, mamma. I’m all right.”
It is true, as the little girl has said, that she has not even noticed
that she is more quiet than usual. Involuntarily her thoughts have
gone out to the mother whom she never knew, the mother who even now is
waiting in sunny Paradise for the little daughter she has left behind.
Since she left her so long ago, Ruby has hardly given a thought to her
mother. The snow is lying thick on her grave in the little Scottish
kirkyard at home; but Ruby has been happy enough without her, living
her own glad young life without fear of death, and with no thought to
spare for the heaven beyond.
But now the radiant vision of last night’s dream, combined with her
father’s words, have set the child thinking. Will the Lord Jesus indeed
answer her mother’s prayer, and one day gather little Ruby among His
jewels? Will he care very much that this little jewel of His has never
tried very hard throughout her short life to work His will or do His
bidding? What if, when the Lord Jesus comes, He finds Ruby all unworthy
to be numbered amongst those jewels of His? And the long-lost mother,
who even in heaven will be the gladder that her little daughter is with
her there, how will she bear to know that the prayer she prayed so long
ago is all in vain?
“And if he doesn’t gather me,” Ruby murmurs, staring straight up into
the clear, blue sky, “what shall I do? Oh, what shall I do?”
“Will you shew yourself gentle, and be merciful for Christ’s sake
to poor and needy people, and to all strangers destitute of help?”
“I will so shew myself, by God’s help.”
_Consecration of Bishops, Book of Common Prayer._
Jack’s card is placed upright on the mantel-piece of Ruby’s bedroom,
its back leaning against the wall, and before it stands a little girl
with a troubled face, and a perplexed wrinkle between her brows.
“It says it there,” Ruby murmurs, the perplexed wrinkle deepening. “And
that text’s out of the Bible. But when there’s nobody to be kind to, I
can’t do anything.”
The sun is glinting on the frosted snow scene; but Ruby is not looking
at the snow scene. Her eyes are following the old, old words of the
first Christmas carol: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth
peace, good will toward men!”
“If there was only anybody to be kind to,” the little girl repeats
slowly. “Dad and mamma don’t need me to be kind to them, and I _am_
quite kind to Hans and Dick. If it was only in Scotland now; but it’s
quite different here.”
The soft summer wind is swaying the window-blinds gently to and fro,
and ruffling with its soft breath the thirsty, parched grass about the
station. To the child’s mind has come a remembrance, a remembrance of
what was “only a dream,” and she sees an old, old man, bowed down with
the weight of years, coming to her across the moonlit paths of last
night, an old man whom Ruby had let lie where he fell, because he was
only “the wicked old one.”
“It was only a dream, so it didn’t matter.” Thus the little girl tries
to soothe a suddenly awakened conscience. “And he _is_ a wicked old
one; Dick said he was.”
Ruby goes over to the window, and stands looking out. There is no
change in the fair Australian scene; on just such a picture Ruby’s eyes
have rested since first she came. But there is a strange, unexplained
change in the little girl’s heart. Only that the dear Lord Jesus has
come to Ruby, asking her for His dear sake to be kind to one of the
lowest and humblest of His creatures.
The child gives an impatient wriggle. “If it was only anybody else,”
she mutters. “But he’s so horrid, and he has such a horrid face. And I
don’t see what I could do to be kind to such a nasty old man as he is.
Besides, perhaps dad wouldn’t like me.”
“Good will toward men! Good will toward men!” Again the heavenly
voices seem ringing in Ruby’s ears. There is no angel host about her
to strengthen and encourage her, only one very lonely little girl who
finds it hard to do right when the doing of that right does not quite
fit in with her own inclinations. She has taken the first step upon the
heavenly way, and finds already the shadow of the cross.
The radiance of the sunshine is reflected in Ruby’s brown eyes, the
radiance, it may be, of something far greater in her heart.
“I’ll do it!” the little girl decides suddenly. “I’ll try to be kind to
the ‘old one.’ Only what can I do?”
“Miss Ruby!” cries an excited voice at the window, and, looking out,
Ruby sees Dick’s brown face and merry eyes. “Come ’long as quick as
you can. There’s a fire, and you said t’other day you’d never seen one.
I’ll get Smuttie if you come as quick as you can. It’s over by old
Dick’s young mistress does not need a second bidding. She is out
waiting by the garden-gate long before Smuttie is caught and harnessed.
Away to the west she can see the long glare of fire shooting up tongues
of flame into the still sunlight, and brightening the river into a very
sea of blood.
“I don’t think you should go, Ruby,” says her mother, who has come
out on the verandah. “It isn’t safe, and you are so venturesome. I am
dreadfully anxious about your father too. Dick says he and the men are
off to help putting out the fire; but in such weather as this I don’t
see how they can ever possibly get it extinguished.”
“I’ll be very, very careful, mamma,” Ruby promises. Her brown eyes
are ablaze with excitement, and her cheeks aglow. “And I’ll be there
to watch dad too, you know,” she adds persuasively in a voice which
expresses the belief that not much danger can possibly come to dad
while his little girl is near.
Dick has brought Smuttie round to the garden-gate, and in a moment he
and his little mistress are off, cantering as fast as Smuttie can be
got to go, to the scene of the fire.
Those who have witnessed a fire in the bush will never forget it. The
first spark, induced sometimes by a fallen match, ignited often by the
excessive heat of the sun’s rays, gains ground with appalling rapidity,
and where the growth is dry, large tracts of ground have often been
laid waste. In excessively hot weather this is more particularly the
case, and it is then found almost impossible to extinguish the fire.
“Look at it!” Dick cries excitedly. “Goin’ like a steam-engine just.
Wish we hadn’t brought Smuttie, Miss Ruby. He’ll maybe be frightened at
the fire. My! they’ve got the start of it. Do you see that other fire
on ahead? That’s where they’re burning down!”
Ruby looks. Yes, there _are_ two fires, both, it seems, running, as
Dick has said, “like steam-engines.”
“My!” the boy cries suddenly; “it’s the old wicked one’s house. It’s it
that has got afire. My! they’ll never get that out. There’s not enough
of them to do that, and to stop the fire too. And it’ll be on to your
pa’s land if they don’t stop it pretty soon. I’ll have to help them,
Miss Ruby. And what’ll you do? You’ll have to get off Smuttie and hold
him in case he gets scared at the fire.”
“Oh, Dick!” the little girl cries. Her face is very pale, and her eyes
are fixed on that lurid light, ever growing nearer. “Do you think
he’ll be dead? Do you think the old man’ll be dead?”
“Not him,” Dick returns, with a grin. “He’s too bad to die, he is.
Those wicked old ones always live the longest. Nothing ever harms them.
My! but I wish he was dead!” the boy ejaculates. “It would be a good
riddance of bad rubbish, that’s what it would.”
“Oh, Dick,” shivers Ruby, “I wish you wouldn’t say that. What if he
was to be dead! And I’ve never been kind! I’ve never been kind!” Ruby
breaks out in a wail, which Dick does not understand.
They are nearing the scene of the fire now. Luckily the cottage is
hard by the river, so there is no scarcity of water. But the willing
workers are but few. Stations are scarce and far between in the
Australian bush, and the inhabitants not easily got together. There are
two detachments of men at work, one party endeavouring to extinguish
the flames of poor old Davis’s burning cottage, the others far in
the distance trying to stop the progress of the fire by burning down
the thickets in advance, and thus starving the main fire as it gains
ground. This method of “starving the fire” is well known to dwellers in
the Australian bush, though at times the second fire thus given birth
to assumes such proportions as to outrun its predecessor.
“It’s not much use. It’s too dry,” Dick mutters. “I don’t like leaving
you, Miss Ruby; but I’ll have to do it. Even a boy’s a bit of help in
bringing the water. You don’t mind, do you, Miss Ruby? I think, if I
was you, now that you’ve seen it, I’d turn and go home again. Smuttie’s
easy enough managed; but if he got frightened, I don’t know what you’d
“I’ll get down and hold him,” Ruby says. “I want to watch.” Her heart
is sick within her. She has never seen a fire before, and it seems so
fraught with danger that she trembles when she thinks of dad, the being
she loves best on earth. “Go you away to the fire, Dick,” adds Ruby,
very pale, but very determined. “I’m not afraid of being left alone.”
The fire is gaining ground every moment, and poor old Davis’s desolate
home bids fair to be soon nothing but a heap of blackened ruins.
Dick gives one look at the burning house, and another at his little
mistress. There is no time to waste if he is to be of any use.
“I don’t like leaving you, Miss Ruby,” says Dick again; but he goes all
Ruby, left alone, stands by Smuttie’s head, consoling that faithful
little animal now and then with a pat of the hand. It is hot,
scorchingly hot; but such cold dread sits at the little girl’s heart
that she does not even feel the heat. In her ears is the hissing of
those fierce flames, and her love for dad has grown to be a very agony
in the thought that something may befall him.
“Ruby!” says a well-known voice, and through the blaze of sunlight she
sees her father coming towards her. His face, like Ruby’s, is very
pale, and his hands are blackened with the grime and soot. “You ought
not to be here, child. It isn’t even safe. Away home to your mother,
and tell her it is all right, for I know she will be feeling anxious.”
“But is it all right, dad?” the little girl questions anxiously. Her
eyes flit from dad’s face to the burning cottage, and then to those
other figures in the lurid light far away. “And mamma _will_ be
frightened; for she’ll think you’ll be getting hurt. And so will I,”
adds poor Ruby with a little catch in her voice.
“What nonsense, little girl,” says her father cheerfully. “There,
dear, I have no time to wait, so get on Smuttie, and let me see you
away. That’s a brave little girl,” he adds, stooping to kiss the small
It is with a sore, sore heart that Ruby rides home lonely by the
river’s side. She has not waited for her trouble to come to her, but
has met it half way, as more people than little brown-eyed Ruby are too
fond of doing. Dad is the very dearest thing Ruby has in the whole wide
world, and if anything happens to dad, whatever will she do?
“I just couldn’t bear it,” murmurs poor Ruby, wiping away a very big
tear which has fallen on Smuttie’s broad back.
Ah, little girl with the big, tearful, brown eyes, you have still to
learn that any trouble can be borne patiently, and with a brave face to
the world, if only God gives His help!
“Then, darling, wait;
Nothing is late,
In the light that shines for ever!”
That is a long, long day to Ruby. From Glengarry they can watch far
away the flames, like so many forked and lurid tongues of fire, leaping
up into the still air and looking strangely out of place against
the hazy blue of the summer sky. The little girl leaves her almost
untouched dinner, and steals out to the verandah, where she sits, a
forlorn-looking little figure, in the glare of the afternoon sunshine,
with her knees drawn up to her chin, and her brown eyes following
eagerly the pathway by the river where she has ridden with Dick no
later than this morning. This morning!–to waiting Ruby it seems more
like a century ago.
Jenny finds her there when she has washed up the dinner dishes, tidied
all for the afternoon, and come out to get what she expresses as a
“breath o’ caller air,” after her exertions of the day. The “breath
o’ air” Jenny may get; but it will never be “caller” nor anything
approaching “caller” at this season of the year. Poor Jenny, she may
well sigh for the fresh moorland breezes of bonnie Scotland with its
shady glens, where the bracken and wild hyacinth grow, and where the
very plash of the mountain torrent or “sough” of the wind among the
trees, makes one feel cool, however hot and sultry it may be.
“Ye’re no cryin’, Miss Ruby?” ejaculates Jenny. “No but that the heat
o’ this outlandish place would gar anybody cry. What’s wrong wi’ ye, ma
lambie?” Jenny can be very gentle upon occasion. “Are ye no weel?” For
all her six years of residence in the bush, Jenny’s Scotch tongue is
still aggressively Scotch.
Ruby raises a face in which tears and smiles struggle hard for mastery.
“I’m not crying, _really_, Jenny,” she answers. “Only,” with a
suspicious droop of the dark-fringed eye-lids and at the corners of the
rosy mouth, “I was pretty near it. It’s dad. I _do_ wish he was home.
I can’t help watching the flames, and thinking that something might
perhaps be happening to him, and me not there to know. And then I began
to feel glad to think how nice it would be to see him and Dick come
riding home. Oh! Jenny, how _do_ little girls get along who have no
It is strange that Ruby never reflects that her own mother has gone
from her. All her love is centred in dad.
“The Lord A’mighty tak’s care o’ such,” Jenny responds solemnly.
“Ye’ll just weary your eyes glowerin’ awa’ at the fire like that, Miss
Ruby. They say that ‘a watched pot never boils,’ an’ I’m thinkin’ your
papa’ll no come a meenit suner for a’ your watchin’. Gae in an’ rest
yersel’ like the mistress. She’s sleepin’ finely on the sofa.”
Ruby gives a little impatient wriggle. “How can I, Jenny,” she exclaims
piteously, “when dad’s out there? Oh! I don’t know whatever I would do
if anything was to happen to dad.”
“Pit yer trust in the Lord, ma dearie,” the Scotchwoman says
reverently. “Ye’ll be in richt gude keepin’ then, an’ them ye love as
But Ruby only wriggles again. She does not want Jenny’s solemn talk.
It is dad she desires. Dad, whom she loves so dearly, and whose little
daughter’s heart would surely break if aught of ill befell him.
So the long, long afternoon wears away, and when is an afternoon so
tedious as when one is eagerly waiting for something or some one?
Jenny goes indoors again, and Ruby can hear the clatter of plates and
cups echoing across the quadrangle as she makes ready the early tea.
The child’s eyes are dim with the glare at which she has so long been
gazing, and her limbs, in their cramped position, are aching; but Ruby
hardly seems to feel the discomfort from which those useful members
suffer. She goes in to tea with a grudge, listens to her stepmother’s
fretful little complaints with an absent air which shows how far away
her heart is, and returns as soon as she may to her point of vantage.
“Oh, me!” sighs the poor little girl. “Will he never come?”
Out in the west the red sun is dying grandly in an amber sky, tinged
with the glory of his life-blood, when dad at length comes riding home.
Ruby has seen him far in the distance, and runs out past the gate to
“Oh, dad darling!” she cries. “I did think you were never coming. Oh,
dad, are you hurt?” her quick eyes catching sight of his hand in a
Her father laughs. “Only a scratch, little girl,” he says. “Don’t
frighten the mother about it. Poor little Ruby red, were you
frightened? Did you think your old father was to be killed outright?”
“I didn’t know,” Ruby says. Her eyes are shining now. “And mamma was
frightened too. And when even Dick didn’t come back. Oh, dad, wasn’t it
just dreadful–the fire, I mean?”
Black Prince has been put into the paddock, and Ruby goes into the
house, hanging on her father’s uninjured arm. The child’s heart has
grown suddenly light. The terrible fear which has been weighing her
down for the last few hours has been lifted, and Ruby is her old joyous
“Dad,” the little girl says later on. They are sitting out on the
verandah, enjoying the comparative cool of the evening. “What will
he do, old Davis, I mean, now that his house is burnt down? It won’t
hardly be worth while his building another, now that he’s so old.”
Dad does not answer just for a moment, and Ruby, glancing quickly
upwards, almost fancies that her father must be angry with her; his
face is so very grave. Perhaps he does not even wish her to mention the
name of the old man, who, but that he is “so old,” should now have been
“Old Davis will never need another house now, Ruby,” Dad answers,
looking down into the eager little upturned face. “He has gone away.
God has taken him away, dear.”
“He’s dead?” Ruby questions with wide-open, horror-stricken eyes.
The little girl hardly hears her father as he goes on to tell her how
the old man’s end came, suddenly and without warning, crushing him in
the ruins of his burning cottage, where the desolate creature died
as he had lived, uncared for and alone. Into Ruby’s heart a great,
sorrowful regret has come, regret for a kind act left for ever undone,
a kind word for ever unspoken.
“And I can never do it now!” the child sobs. “He’ll never even know I
wanted to be kind to him!”
“Kind to whom, little girl?” her father asks wonderingly.
And it is in those kind arms that Ruby sobs out her story. “I can never
do it now!” that is the burden of her sorrow.
The late Australian twilight gathers round them, and the stars twinkle
out one by one. But, far away in the heaven which is beyond the stars
and the dim twilight of this world, I think that God knows how one
little girl, whose eyes are now dim with tears, tried to be “kind,”
and it may be that in His own good time–and God’s time is always the
best–He will let old Davis “know” also.