Now I saw in my dream that, in obedience to the injunctions of the Keeper of the gate, Pilgrim continued his journey. Lofty trees spread their foliage over his head, brooks of water flowed at his side, and, here and there, flowers, said to be transplanted from the gardens of the Celestial City by the Lord of the Way, filled the air with their fragrance.
As he proceeded, however, the aspect of the road began to change; the path he had hitherto been following became less defined.
Sometimes it lay through a narrow ravine, sometimes through marshy ground, or intersected with torrents of water; sometimes it led up steep places, in the ascent of which, had it not been for the sandals with which Free Grace had provided him, he would frequently have slipped.
He was even, at times, tempted to forget the strict directions he had received, not to deviate from the straight road on account of its ruggedness; but whenever he did so, he had abundant reason for regret.
I saw, indeed, on one occasion, in following a forbidden path, that he stumbled, and lost one of his sandals. The shock made him fall with violence to the ground. His shield, too, rolled into the mud.
But he forthwith opened his box of polish to restore its brightness. This he did on his bended knees, confessing that "he stumbled, being disobedient;" entreating that the Lord of the Way would show him the path wherein he should walk, and "lead him in the way everlasting."
I observed that, after advancing a considerable way, he was walking, at nightfall, through a retired valley.
As he paused, for a moment, to enjoy the quiet scene, his ear was arrested with plaintive cries, at no great distance from the path. They were accents of deep distress. He listened again, and heard the moanings as if of a dying man, accompanied with bitter lamentations.
Pilgrim, being possessed of a feeling heart, forthwith proceeded to the spot whence the melancholy sounds were heard. He had not advanced many steps before perceiving an individual whose similarity of dress revealed him to be a fellow-traveler. He lay covered with dust, blood trickled from a wound in his side, his sword was flung away from him, and he was uttering doleful shrieks and cries.
Pilgrim could only gather up, in the interval between his sobs, the burden of his lamentations; and the man seemed, for a long time, unconscious of his presence. "O!" exclaimed the melancholy sufferer, as he wrung his hands in agony, and then beat his breast;
"O, that it were with me as in months past, when his candle shined upon my head, and when, by his light, I walked through darkness!"
"Alas! poor man," said Pilgrim, coming up and trying to comfort him, "what is the cause of your deep dejection?"
The stranger made no reply, but continued to groan more bitterly, and cry more loudly: "The Lord has forgotten to be gracious, and his tender mercies are clean gone forever.
"What is your name?" again asked Pilgrim, the tear of heartfelt sympathy rolling down his own cheek.
"My name," said the other, startled by the unexpected feeling manifested by a stranger--"my name is Backslider; and rightly have I been so called."
"How came you," said Pilgrim, "to be here in this bed of dust? Where is your shield?"
"I have thrown it away," replied the other, "because it is of no more use to me. You will find it yonder," continued he, pointing to a place covered with mud, a few yards from his side.
Pilgrim lifted up a plate of rusted metal, which he never could have recognized to be a shield, once as brilliant and shining as that which he had in his own hand. The promises inscribed on it were either entirely effaced, or so covered with rust as to be illegible.
"How came you," said he, as he returned it to its firmer owner, "thus to throw away a weapon so indispensable to your safety, and suffer it to be thus corroded with rust? Did not Free Grace supply you at the Narrow Gate with Prayer-polish, to keep bright your whole coat of armor?"
"He did! he did!" replied the agonized man--the recollection of the fact extracting a deeper sigh from his bosom;
"but last night, after I had climbed the steep rock you must have a little ago ascended, I felt so fatigued that I lay down to sleep, omitting to polish my armor; when I awoke in the morning, not only had the rust begun to cover it, but, lo! on examining my bag, I found that, during the night, the box of polish had dropped out, and had rolled down to the bottom of the precipice."
"But did you not return to recover it?" inquired Pilgrim.
"No," said Backslider. "I felt greatly disinclined again to descend the rock. Besides, there is here close by me a bed of sand, with which I tried to remove the rust; and it seemed to answer the purpose so well, that I thought I could manage to dispense with my lost polish."
"Foolish traveler!" said Pilgrim, "to forget so soon the injunctions of the Porter at the gate. But how is it that you do not turn and recover it without delay?"
"Alas!" replied he, in a tone of deep despondency, "I cannot. I am so weak from the loss of blood, that I am utterly unable to rise."
"How came you to receive that wound?" inquired Pilgrim.
"In an unguarded moment," said the other, "when I ventured to lay my armor aside, an adversary, called 'Besetting Sin,' took a deadly aim--a poisoned arrow sped from his bow, and pierced my heart.
For many hours I have been lying here, stretched on this couch of tears and blood, listening to nothing but the echo of my own piteous cries, unable to go even the length of that little brook to moisten my parched tongue.
Had the King of the road," continued he, "been intending to save me, he would, long before now, have given me support; but 'my way is surely hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God.' He is justly weary of me, and leaves me to perish."
"No, no, poor sufferer!" replied Pilgrim, "Have you not known, have you not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary?
Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall; but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.' 'Wait on the Lord, then; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord.'"
Now I saw that Pilgrim ran and filled the silver drinking-cup which had been given him at the gate with the water of the adjoining brook. He put it to the man's pallid lips. He had no sooner tasted the refreshing draught than a glow of new life suffused his countenance. His sunken eye revived, and was lighted up with returning animation.
"Whoever," said the sufferer, as for the first time he spoke in a tone of calm composure, (the tear, not of sorrow, but of gratitude starting to his eye)--"whoever gives a cup of cold water to a fainting disciple, shall not lose his reward."
Pilgrim bathed his brow with the cooling draught, washed his wound, and stanched it by applying some fresh linen, which had been given him by the Keeper of the Gate. He opened also his Bag, and shared, with the reviving man, a part of the Bread of Life.
Producing his box of polish, they united together in endeavoring to restore the corroded shield to its former brightness. Having assisted him in buckling on his armor, and shaken off the remaining dust which adhered to it, he conducted him once more to the Narrow path from which he had wandered.
Here they separated--Backslider to return to recover his lost polish; Pilgrim to prosecute, without delay, his journey Zionward.