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The Mill Mystery

18. A Last Request
--Richard III.
The night had fallen. I was in a strange and awe-struck mood. The manuscript,
which after some difficulty I had succeeded in finding, lay before, me unopened.
A feeling as of an invisible presence was in the air. I hesitated to turn the page,
written, as I already felt, with the life-blood of the man in whose mysterious doom
the happiness of my own life had become entangled.
Waiting for courage, I glanced mechanically about the room. How strangely I had
been led in this affair! How from the first I seemed to have been picked out and
appointed for the solving of this mystery, till now I sat in the very room, at the
very desk, in front of the very words, of its victim. I thought of Dwight Pollard
struggling with his fate, and unconscious that in a few minutes the secret of Mr.
Barrows' death would be known; of Rhoda Colwell, confident of her revenge and
blind to the fact that I held in my hand what might possibly blunt her sharpest
weapon, and make her most vindictive effort useless. Then each and every
consideration of a purely personal nature vanished, and I thought only of the
grand and tortured soul of him upon whose solemn and awesome history I was
about to enter. Was it, as his letter seemed to imply, a martyr's story? I looked at
the engraving of Cranmer, which had been a puzzle to me a few days before,
and understanding it now, gathered fortitude by what it seemed to suggest, and
hastily unrolled the manuscript.
This is what I read:
"He that would save his life shall lose it."
In order that the following tale of sin and its expiation may be understood, I must
give a few words to the motives and hopes under which I entered the ministry.
I am a believer in the sacred character of my profession, and the absolute and
unqualified devotion of those embracing it to the aims and purposes of the
Christian religion. Though converted, as it is called, in my sixteenth year, I cannot
remember the time my pulse did not beat with appreciation for those noble souls
who had sacrificed every joy and comfort of this temporal life for the sake of their
faith and the glory of God. I delighted in Fox's "Book of Martyrs," and while I
shuddered over its pages in a horror I did not wholly understand, I read them
again and again, till there was not a saint whose life I did not know by heart, with
just the death he died and the pangs he experienced. Such a mania did this
become with me at one time, that I grew visibly ill, and had to have the book
taken away from me and more cheerful reading substituted in its stead.
Feeling thus strongly in childhood, when half, if not all, my interest sprang from
the fascination which horrors have upon the impressible mind, what were my
emotions and longings when the real meaning of the Christian life was revealed
to me, and I saw in this steadfastness of the spirit unto death the triumph of the
immortal soul over the weaknesses of the flesh and the terrors of a purely
transitory suffering!