"That which thou dost not understand when thou readest, thou shalt understand in the day of thy visitation; for there are many secrets of religion which are not perceived till they be felt, and are not felt but in the day of a great calamity."
T HE Master of the Harvest walked by the side of his corn-fields in the early year, and a cloud was over his face, for there had been no rain for several weeks, and the earth was hard from the parching of the cold east winds, and the young wheat had not been able to spring up.
So, as he looked over the long ridges that lay stretched in rows before him, he was vexed, and began to grumble, and say, the harvest would be backward, and all things would go wrong. At the mere thought of which he frowned more and more, and uttered words of complaint against the heavens, because there was no rain; against the earth, because it was so dry and unyielding; against the corn, because it had not sprung up.
And the man's discontent was whispered all over the field, and all along the long ridges where the corn-seeds lay; and when it reached them they murmured out:
"How cruel to complain! Are we not doing our best? Have we let one drop of moisture pass by unused, one moment of warmth come to us in vain? Have we not seized on every chance, and striven every day to be ready for the hour of breaking forth? Are we idle? Are we obstinate? Are we indifferent? Shall we not be found waiting and watching? How cruel to complain!"
Of all this, however, the Master of the Harvest heard nothing, so the gloom did not pass away from his face. On the contrary, he took it with him into his comfortable home, and repeated to his wife the dark words, that all things were going wrong; that the drought would ruin the harvest, for the corn was not yet sprung.
And still thinking thus, he laid his head on his pillow, and presently fell asleep.
But his wife sat up for a while by the bedside and opened her Bible, and read, "The harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels."
Then she wrote this text in pencil, on the fly-leaf at the end of the book, and after it the date of the day, and after the date the words, "Oh, Lord, the husbandman, Thou waitest for the precious fruit Thou hast sown, and hast long patience for it! Amen, O Lord, Amen!"
After which the good woman knelt down to pray, and as she prayed she wept, for she knew that she was very ill.
But what she prayed that night was heard only in heaven.
And so a few days passed on as before, and the house was gloomy with the discontent of its master, but at last, one evening, the wind changed, the sky became heavy with clouds, and before midnight there was rain all over the land; and when the Master of the Harvest came in next morning, wet from his early walk by the corn-fields, he said it was well it had come up at last, and that, at last, the corn had sprung up.
On which his wife looked at him with a smile, and said, "How often things came right, about which one had been anxious and disturbed." To which her husband made no answer, but turned away and spoke of something else.
Meantime, the corn-seeds had been found ready and waiting when the hour came, and the young sprouts burst out at once; and very soon all along the ridges were to be seen rows of tender blades, tinting the whole field with a delicate green. And day by day the Master of the Harvest saw them and was satisfied; but because he was satisfied, and his anxiety was gone, he spoke of other things, and forgot to rejoice.
And a murmur arose among them,—"Should not the Master have welcomed us to life? He was angry but lately, because the seed he had sown had not yet brought forth; now that it has brought forth, why is he not glad? What more does he want? Have we not done our best? Are we not doing it minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day? From the morning and evening dews, from the glow of the midday sun, from the juices of the earth, from the breezes which freshen the air, even from clouds and rain, are we not taking in food and strength, warmth and life, refreshment and joy; so that one day the valleys may laugh and sing, because the good seed hath brought forth abundantly? Why does he not rejoice?"
As before, however, of all they said the Master of the Harvest heard nothing; and it never struck him to think of the young corn-blades' struggling life. Nay, once, when his wife asked him if the wheat was doing well, he answered, "Very fairly," and nothing more. But she then, because the evening was fine, and the fairer weather had revived her failing powers, said she would walk out by the corn-fields herself.
And so it came to pass that they went out together.
And together they looked all along the long green ridges of wheat, and watched the blades as they quivered and glistened in the breeze, which sprang up with the setting sun. Together they walked, together they looked; looking at the same things, and with the same human eyes; even as they had walked, and looked, and lived together for years, but with a world dividing their hearts; and what was ever to unite them?
Even then, as they moved along, she murmured half-aloud, half to herself, thinking of the anxiety that had passed away,—"Thou visitest the earth, and blessest it; Thou makest it very plenteous."
To which he answered, if answer it may be called,—"Why are you always so gloomy? Why should Scripture be quoted about such common things?"
And she looked in his face and smiled, but did not speak; and he could not read the smile, for the life of her heart was as hidden to him as the life of the corn-blades in the field.
And so they went home together, no more being said by either; for, as she turned round, the sight of the setting sun, and of the young freshly-growing wheat-blades, brought tears into her eyes.
She might never see the harvest upon earth again—for her that other was at hand, whereof the reapers were to be angels.
And when she opened her Bible that night she wrote on the fly-leaf the text she had quoted to her husband, and after the text the date of the day, and after the date the words, "Bless me, even me also, oh my Father, that I may bring forth fruit with patience!"
Very peaceful were the next few weeks that followed, for all Nature seemed to rejoice in the weather, and the corn-blades shot up till they were nearly two feet high, and about them the Master of the Harvest had no complaints to make.
But at the end of that time, behold, the earth began to be hard and dry again, for once more rain was wanted; and by degrees the growing plants failed for want of moisture and nourishment, and lost power and colour, and became weak and yellow in hue. And once more the husbandmen began to fear and tremble, and once more the brow of the Master of the Harvest was overclouded with angry apprehension.
And as the man got more and more anxious about the fate of his crops, he grew more and more irritable and distrustful, and railed as before, only louder now, against the heavens, because there was no rain; against the earth, because it lacked moisture; against the corn-plants, because they had waxed feeble.
Nay, once, when his sick wife reproved him gently, praying him to remember how his fears had been turned to joy before, he reproached her in his turn for sitting in the house and pretending to judge of what she could know nothing about, and bade her come out and see for herself how all things were working together for ill.
And although he spoke it in bitter jest, and she was very ill, she said she would go, and went.
So once more they walked out together, and once more looked over the corn-fields; but when he stretched out his arm, and pointed to the long ridges of blades, and she saw them shrunken and faded in hue, her heart was grieved within her, and she turned aside and wept over them.
Nevertheless she said she durst not cease from hope, since an hour might renew the face of the earth, if God so willed; neither should she dare to complain, even if the harvest were to fail.
At which words the Master of the Harvest turned round, amazed, to look at his wife, for her soul was growing stronger, as her body grew weaker, and she dared to say now things she would have had no courage to utter before.
But of all this he knew nothing, and what he thought, as he listened, was, that she was as weak in mind as in body; and what he said was, that a man must be an idiot who would not complain when he saw the bread taken from under his very eyes!
And his murmurings and her tears sent a shudder all along the long ridges of sickly corn-blades, and they asked one another, "Why does he murmur? and, Why does she weep? Are we not doing all we can? Do we slumber or sleep, and let opportunities pass by unused? Are we not watching and waiting against the times of refreshing? Shall we not be found ready at last? Why does he murmur? and, Why does she weep? Is she, too, fading and waiting? Has she, too, a master who has lost patience?"
Meantime, when she opened her Bible that night, she wrote on the fly-leaf the text, "Wherefore should a man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" and after the text the date of the day, and after the date the words: "Thou dost turn Thy face from us, and we are troubled: but, Lord, how long, how long?"
And by and by came on the long-delayed times of refreshing, but so slowly and imperfectly, that the change in the corn could scarcely be detected for a while. Nevertheless it told at last, and stems struggled up among the blades, and burst forth into flowers, which gradually ripened into ears of grain. But a struggle it had been, and continued to be, for the measure of moisture was scant, and the due amount of warmth in the air was wanting.
Nevertheless, by struggling and effort the young wheat advanced, little by little, in growth; preparing itself, minute by minute—hour by hour—day by day, as best it could, for the great day of the harvest.—As best it could! Would the Master of the Harvest ask more?
Alas! he had still something to find fault with, for when he looked at the ears and saw that they were small and poor, he grumbled, and said the yield would be less than it ought to be, and the harvest would be bad.
And as more weeks went on, and the same weather continued, and the progress was very, very slow, he spoke out his vexation to his wife at home, to his friends at the market, and to the husbandmen who passed by and talked with him about the crops.
And the voice of his discontent was breathed over the corn-field, all along the long ridges where the plants were labouring, and waiting, and watching. And they shuddered and murmured,—"How cruel to complain! Had we been idle, had we been negligent, had we been indifferent, we might have passed away without bearing fruit at all. How cruel to complain!"
But of all this the Master of the Harvest heard nothing, so he did not cease to complain.
Meantime another week or two went on, and people, as they glanced over the land, wished that a few good rainy days would come and do their work decidedly, so that the corn-ears might fill. And behold, while the wish was yet on their lips, the sky became charged with clouds, darkness spread over the country, a wild wind arose, and the growling of thunder announced a storm.
And such a storm! People hid from it in cellars, and closets, and dark corners, as if now, for the first time, they believed in a God, and were trembling at the new-found fact; as if they could never discover Him in His sunshine and blessings, but only thus in His tempests and wrath.
And all along the long ridges of wheat-plants drove the rain-laden blast, and they bent down before it and rose up again, like the waves of a labouring sea. Ears over ears they bowed down; ears above ears they rose up. They bowed down, as if they knew that to resist was destruction: they rose up, as if they had a hope beyond the storm. Only here and there, where the whirlwinds were strongest, they fell down and could not lift themselves again. So the damage done was but little, and the general good was great.
But when the Master of the Harvest saw here and there patches of over-weighted corn yet dripping from the thundershowers, he grew angry for them, and forgot to think of the long ridges that stretched over his fields, where the corn-ears were swelling and rejoicing.
And he came in gloomy to his home, when his wife was hoping that now, at last, all would be well; and when she looked at him the tumult of her soul grew beyond control, and she knelt down before him as he sat moody in his chair, and threw her arms round him, and cried out:
"It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not utterly consumed. Oh, husband! pray for the corn and for me, that it may go well with us at the last! Carry me upstairs!"
And his anger was checked by fear, and he carried her upstairs and laid her on the bed, and said it must be the storm which had shaken her nerves. But whether he prayed for either the corn or her that night, she never knew.
And presently came a new distress; for when the days of rain had accomplished their gracious work, and every one was satisfied, behold, they did not cease. And as hitherto the cry had gone up for water on the furrows, so now men's hearts failed them for fear lest it should continue to overflowing, and lest mildew should set in upon the full, rich ears, and the glorious crops should be lost.
And the Master of the Harvest walked out by his corn-fields, his face darker than ever. And he railed against the rain, because it would not cease; against the sun, because it would not shine; against the wheat, because it might perish before the harvest.
"But why does he always and only complain?" moaned the corn-plants, as the new terror was breathed over the field. "Have we not done our best from the first? And has not mercy been with us, sooner or later, all along? When moisture was scant, and we throve but little, why did he not rejoice over that little, and wait, as we did, for more? Now that abundance has come, and we swell, triumphant in strength and in hope, why does he not share our joy in the present, and wait, in trust, as we do, for the future ripening change? Why does he always complain? Has he himself some master, who would fain reap where he has not sown and gather where he has not strawed, and who has no pity for his servants who strive?"
But all of this the Master of the Harvest heard nothing. And when the days of rain had rolled into weeks, and the weeks into months, and the autumn set in, and the corn still stood up green in the ridges, as if it never meant to ripen at all, the boldest and most hopeful became uneasy, and the Master of the Harvest despaired.
But his wife had risen no more from her bed, where she lay in sickness and suffering, yet in patient trust; watching the sky through the window that faced her pillow; looking for the relief that came at last. For even at the eleventh hour, when hope seemed almost over, and men had half learned to submit to their expected trial, the dark days began to be varied by a few hours of sunshine; and though these passed away, and the gloom and rain returned again, yet they also passed away in their turn, and the sun shone out once more.
And the poor sick wife, as she watched, said to those around her that the weather was gradually changing; and that all would come right at last; and sighing a prayer that it might be so with herself also, she had her Bible brought to the bed, and wrote in the fly-leaf the text, "Some thirty, some sixty, some an hundredfold;" and after the text the date of the day, for on that day the sun had been shining steadily for many hours. And after the date the words: "Unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required; yet if Thou, Lord, be extreme to mark iniquity, O Lord, who may stand?"
And day by day the hours of sunshine were more in number, and the hours of rain and darkness fewer, and by degrees the green corn-ears ripened into yellow, and the yellow turned into gold, and the harvest was ready, and the labourers not wanting. And the bursting corn broke out into songs of rejoicing, and cried, "At least we have not waited and watched in vain! Surely goodness and mercy have followed us all the days of our life, and we are crowned with glory and honour. Where is the Master of the Harvest, that he may claim his own with joy?"
But the Master of the Harvest was bending over the bed of his dying wife.
And she whispered that her Bible should be brought. And he brought it, and she said, "Open it at the fly-leaf at the end, and write, 'It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.' " And she bade him add the date of the day, and after the date of the day the words, "O Lord, in Thy mercy say of me—She hath done what she could!" And then she laid her hand in his; and so fell asleep in hope.
And the harvest of the earth was gathered into barns, and the gathering-day of rejoicing was over, and the Master of it all sat alone by his fireside, with his wife's Bible on his knee. And he read the texts, and the dates, and the prayers, from the first day when the corn-seeds were held back by drought; and as he read, a new heart seemed to burst out within him from the old one—a heart which the Lord of the other Harvest was making soft, and the springing whereof He would bless.
And the harvest of the earth was gathered into barns.
And henceforth, in his going out and coming in from watching the fruits of the earth, the texts, and the dates, and the prayers were ever present in his mind, often rising to his lips; and he murmured and complained no more, let the seasons be what they would, and his fears however great; for the thought of the late-sprung in his own dry, cold heart, and of the long-suffering of Him who was Lord and Master of all, was with him night and day. And more and more as he prayed for help, that the weary struggle might be blessed, and the new-born watching and waiting not be in vain; so more and more there came over his spirit a yearning for that other harvest, where he, and she who had gone before, might be gathered in together.
And thus,—in one hope of their calling,—the long-divided hearts were united at last.