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Chapter XLV The Trail of the Years

AS I look back along the trail I have travelled from the campfire of the savage to the pulpit of the Christian and the wider field of the lecture platform, I realise that the way was winding, uphill, thorny and long. I realise, also, that whatever progress or achievement has been mine, it had its starting-point in the loving kindness of a little child. For it was her whispered words in the Salvation Army meeting which revived the spirit that was all but dead within me.

Then, what served to keep my face toward the East, was the knowledge that good women and good men believed in me. In undying gratitude my memory holds them all—especially the Reverend Doctor Henry Ward—the friend of the under dog.

Yet, while I recognise the fact that it was God Himself that gave life to my stupefied soul, my belief was, and always has been, that anything anybody could do for me was nothing as compared with what I could do for myself; that, indeed, what I could do for myself was the most important help of all. The acorn does not wait for some one to break its shell in order to grow. It works its own way out and up into its height and girth. So must it be with men, and men have the advantage of a choice of environment, and environment is greater than heredity.

Having fought my way from below the bottom of human society up into respectability, I am certain that no one is so low that he cannot get up and out into the purifying sunlight where every human being belongs. Not a soul is so black that it cannot become white. One of the whitest living things in this world is the pond lily. But it has its beginning in the blackest mud at the bottom of the pond, where the spotted frog leaps and the mud turtle crawls.

And a thought which to me has been a water-spring under a shady tree in the desert when the sun above was a coal of fire and the earth beneath an ash-heap, is this : I am more than anything that can happen.

From the darkness of the past I have brought with me many memories to which I shall ever cling. So am I one with my people of the long-ago time. For, according to one of our oldest legends, these people were not satisfied with the world in which they found themselves. So they dug their way up through the roof into another world which was better than the first, but they became discontented with that one. They again tunnelled upward, to find a world still better. But their discontent became greater than ever. Again by hard work they emerged into a higher and better world, and again and again. But always their dissatisfaction increased, and their yearning for something better grew. Yet, back in every one of the worlds they had left there were things they loved.

So with me.

Some of the shadows of the past held for me not a sun-fleck, but there is one in which I want to remain forever. It lengthens with the westering sun. It is the shadow of the old rawhide tepee. For within it I first became conscious of the human heart-throbs answering to my own, and it was there I learned the principles of true manhood. And within its shadow shines the hope of seeing the mother who in the doorway of our prairie cabin gave her life for me; of knowing again the company of my long-ago brothers of the prairie; of looking into the face of that other one who gave up her life in my behalf.

For I cannot believe that heart-hunger grows only for the famine, but that the Master of life will some day stoop down and kiss into life and beauty those whom we’ve loved and lost awhile; and that together we shall rejoice where the hills are glad of the morning and there shall be no more night.


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