Page images

both, at that instant, was even more of discomfiture than grief.

For a moment we stood looking at each other, in ghastly silence. We had seen-understood, but could not realize.

Then, manifestations of grief broke forth. Variously, according to temperament. None are made alike. God, who rounds no two pebbles on the seashore to perfect identity of shape, molds humanity also into infinitude of form and character.

Mr. Taylor, hurrying in at somebody's frantic call, knelt and began the Commendatory Prayer. I believe he thought her, not dead, but dying. The solemn words brought instant hush.

Paul gently lowered his white, motionless burden to the pillow, and, with one arm still under her and his eyes fixed on her face, sank upon his knees. I dropped beside him. Two soul-cries, voiceless and unheard on earth, rang pierc ingly up to heaven. Not the calm "Thy will be done!" of Christlike power and patience, but the sharp passion of anguish that once echoed over the waters of Gennesareth, "Help, Lord, or we perish!"

And then, there came to pass a thing so marvelous that I should fear to be discredited in the telling, if you were not the listener. One of those strange, unlooked-for happenings that reason terms "coincidence," and faith, "God."

A shrill, sombre cry rang through the chamber. So sudden, so weird, so startling, we held our breath in superstitious awe, and looked fearfully in each other's faces. None understood its import; none could tell whence it came!

There ensued an intense, terrified silence. But something awful in the silence. A horror that had suddenly, come out of it, and might come again.

Two--three minutes; they seemed like hours to our strained sense and shortened breath.

Once again it smote our ears; three piercing, risinga

inflected notes, sad as a human wail, sharp as a cry of mortal distress.

Afterward a rustle of the lilac leaves behind me.

Now I began to understand. I breathed again; my chilled blood resumed its regular flow.

A whippowill was hidden in the lilac, uttering his wild, lugubrious cry close to the window. Not softened by twilight distances, as usually heard; but loud, shrill, startling, because so near. *

The explanation did not mitigate the wonder. That a bird so shy, a dweller in woods and by streams, haunting the twilight, escaping into the darkness, should thus approach a lighted window and send forth his voice within a few feet of a dozen people, was a circumstance so amazing as to leave little room for marvel at what followed.

For, at the third weird repetition, smiting sharply again the chamber's hush, Winnie lifted the eyelids we had thought would never lift more. Suddenly, as if startled from slumber by the strange sound. Quickly her eyes went round the room, seeking its cause.

They fell on the circle of familiar faces. Perfect consciousness, perfect recognition were in their look.

Lastly, they rested upon Paul Venner. A swift light of joy, slowly clouded by a vague amaze, a struggling recollection.

He leaned down over her close, answering them with something in his own that she alone saw. She read it, and was satisfied. The estranged hearts, the tried souls, met again. Not at the old point of divergence, but at a new, diviner point of union.

The boughs of the lilac tree shook. There was a whirr of wings. The bird of the night, its appointed work being done, had flown!

Lest this incident should seem not only marvelous, but impos sible, it may be well to state that it is an actual occurrence.

Its work? To pierce the failing sense with its sharp cry. To reach after the flying consciousness, and startle it back to its place and its function. To recover lost identity out of dreamless void. To return the naked soul to the castoff garmenting of the body. To bring Winnie back from the gate of death to the gate of life, that Love, standing there, in the person of Paul, might seize her and draw her in. So said I.

But Science, in the person of Dr. Heartwell, said something else. He averred that Winnie was not dead, after all,-only in a swoon. That consciousness, struggling up from temporary anesthesia, was met half-way by the bird's shrill cry, and startled at once into vigorous action. That wonder and joy, together, kindled anew the failing spark of the spirit, and sent the ebbing life-current back to the heart.

What, after all, is the difference?

For Science did not attempt to explain the whippowill's temporary forgetfulness and abdication of all its well-known habits. Nor why it happened just at that moment and at that spot.

Here, finally, Faith (still in the person of Dr. Heartwell), had somewhat to say. That science always has to stop something short of the Soul and its Maker. That no probe ever yet found spirit, though it made the opening through which that etherial tenant escaped. That no dissecting knife ever laid open its structure or its laws. That far below the point which science reaches and explains, the finger of God works on, invisibly, inscrutably. That any science. which does not admit this, and grow humble with the admission, and glad, finally, to put its feeble hand into that of faith, is only a learned ignorance.

But this talk came afterward!

Commonplaces thrust themselves into the tenderest, as in the grandest of earthly scenes. Between Winnie and Paul came Aunt Vin's prompt spoonful of stim

ulant. Meekly Winnie swallowed it. As if it had been


Then her eyes closed wearily, her head still resting upon Paul's arm.

She sleeps!" he "Clear the room.

Dr. Heartwell bent over her, scanning her well. Then he came toward us. "There is hope! whispered. His gesture said the rest. Leave her in quiet."

Is joy harder to bear than sorrow? It would seem so. For no sooner had we reached the "out-room," with the door shut, than sobs and tears broke forth. The long tension of nerve and spirit gave way. Some wept silently in a corner; others threw themselves into the nearest arms and shed their tears in common.

A sudden crash startled us. Amazed, we beheld the articles on the table flinging themselves on the floor, without hands. Would the night's wonders never cease?

Alice, coolest of us all,-perhaps because the vivid glories of her inner world of imagination make all outer events seem tame in comparison,―stooped and dragged forth from the débris-Jack Warren!

The boy had crept under the table for his own private "cry." Thinking himself not sufficiently concealed, it had occurred to him to pull the table-cover further over from beneath. Near the edge were books, a vase, a cardreceiver, a candlestick. These fell with a crash, not less startling to the author of their destruction, than to us, the astonished spectators.

Now, the full reaction came. From joyful tears to joyous laughter the way is easy, to hearts exhausted with deep emotion. It takes but little to set them upon that path. Jack's misadventure sufficed for us. And the laugh let us down easily into sober gladness of heart.

Then Dr. Heartwell, standing on the hearth, ordered us all peremptorily to bed.

"For there is plenty of nursing and watching yet to be

provided for," said he. "It will be days before Winnie is past danger. You, Francesca Golden, must be ready to take that queer old nurse's place in the morning; she will need rest by that time, though she is made of steel. Tonight, there will be but little to do. Winnie will sleep

(is that what you

most of the time. And if 'Aunt Vin' call her?) wants help, she has it at hand. Mr. Venner is a fixture in that room, for the present, I suspect ! Mrs. Divine,❞—with a wide, bottomless yawn,-"where shall I find a shakedown'?"


So, Paul Venner and Aunt Vin kept the rest of that night-watch.

They were very quiet, peaceful days that followed. Winnie was too weak to talk or to listen. But her face was full of a deep content, a quiet joy, that could wait for utterance. Much of the time she slept, recruiting so the waste of disease.

It was a week before Dr. Heartwell would let us talk of the past. When the full explanation came, it was no longer needed. Mutual love, mutual trust, had carried them far past that point. They felt the blessedness of faith in each other, "without sight."

Each would have assumed the whole blame of the misunderstanding. "Forgive me," said Winnie, "I ought to have known you better."

"Forgive me," said Paul, "I ought not to have trusted a flower, nor a circumstance. In such a matter, a man should ask and wait for the spoken word, the unmistakable yea or nay."

Easy to see it now! For moments like these are the mountain-tops of life, giving one a clear outlook before and behind. Happy they who find wisdom there, to carry with them down to the valleys!

So I left them. For home needed me, now, more than they. Sufficient, henceforth, each to the other.

« PreviousContinue »