Saxe Holm's Stories
Helen Hunt Jackson
Part 3 out of 5
"Yes, yes, that's the very thing," hastily exclaimed the relieved
deacon,--"that's it, that's it. Why, Mis' Kinney, as for their thinkin' it
strange, there ain't a man in the parish that wouldn't vote for you for
minister twice over if ye wuz only a man. I've heerd 'em all say so more
'n a thousand times sence." Something in Draxy's face cut the Deacon's
"Very well, Mr. Swift," she said. "Then I will try, since you think it
best. My father thought it would be a good plan too, or else I should not
have been willing," she added, gently.
"Reuben Miller's daughter" was still as guileless, reverent, potent a
thought in Draxy's heart as when, upon her unconscious childish lips, the
words had been a spell, disarming and winning all hearts to her.
The news had gone all through the village on Saturday night, that Deacon
Swift was to read one of Elder Kinney's sermons the next day. The whole
parish was present; not a man, not a woman was missing except those who
were kept at home by sickness. A tender solemnity was in every face. Not
often does it happen to a man to be so beloved by a whole community as was
Elder Kinney by this people.
With some embarrassment and hesitation, Deacon Swift read the hymns and
made one of the prayers; Deacon Plummer made the other. Then there came a
pause. Draxy flushed scarlet and half rose in her pew. She had not thought
to tell the Deacon that he must explain to the people beforehand why she
read the sermon. She had taken it for granted that he would do so; but he
did not comprehend that he ought, and only looked nervously towards her,
waiting for her to come forward. This was the one moment which tried
Draxy's soul; there was almost vexation in her look, as hastily laying
aside her bonnet she walked up to the table in front of the pulpit, and,
turning towards the people, said in her clear, melodious voice,--
"Dear friends, I am sorry Deacon Swift did not explain to you that I was
to read the sermon. He asked me to do so because Mr. Kinney's handwriting
is very hard for a stranger to read."
She paused for a second, and then added:
"The sermon which I have chosen is one which some of you will remember. It
was written and preached nine years ago. The text is in the beautiful
Gospel of St. John, the 14th chapter and the 27th verse,--
"'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you.'"
After pronouncing these words, Draxy paused again, and looking towards her
pew, made a slight sign to Reuby. The child understood instantly, and
walked swiftly to her.
"Sit in this chair here by mamma, Reuby darling," she whispered, and Reuby
climbed up into the big chair on her right hand, and leaned his fair
golden head against the high mahogany back. Draxy had become conscious, in
that first second, that she could not read with Reuby's wistful face in
sight. Also she felt a sudden yearning for the support of his nearer
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you," she repeated, and went
on with the sermon. Her tones were low, but clear, and her articulation so
perfect that no syllable was lost; she could have been distinctly heard in
a room twice as large as this. The sight was one which thrilled every
heart that looked on it; no poor laboring man there was so dull of sense
and soul that he did not sit drinking in the wonderful picture: the tall,
queenly woman robed in simple flowing white, her hair a coronet of snowy
silver; her dark blue eyes shining with a light which would have been
flashingly brilliant, except for its steadfast serenity; her mouth almost
smiling, as the clear tones flowed out; sitting quiet, intent, by her
side, the beautiful boy, also dressed in white, his face lighted like hers
by serene and yet gleaming eyes; his head covered with golden curls; his
little hands folded devoutly in his lap. One coming suddenly upon the
scene might well have fancied himself in another clime and age, in the
presence of some rite performed by a mystic priestess clothed in samite.
But the words which fell from the lips were the gentlest words of the
gentlest religion earth has known; and the heart which beat under the
clinging folds of the strange white garb was no priestess' heart, but a
heart full, almost to breaking, of wifehood, of motherhood.
It does not need experience as an orator to give significance to the
magnetic language of upturned faces. Before Draxy had read ten pages of
the sermon, she was so thrilled by the consciousness that every heart
before her was thrilled too, that her cheeks flushed and her whole face
The sermon had sounded eloquent when the Elder preached it; but now, from
Draxy's lips, it was transcendent. As she read the closing paragraph,--
"His peace He leaves with us: his peace He gives unto us: not such peace
as He knew on earth: such peace as He knows now in heaven, on the right
hand of His Father; even that peace He bids us share--that peace, the
peace of God which passeth understanding,"--she seemed to dilate in
stature, and as she let the sermon fall on the table before her, her
lifted eyes seemed arrested in mid air as by a celestial vision.
Then in a second more, she was again the humble, affectionate Draxy, whom
all the women and all the little children knew and loved; looking round on
them with an appealing expression, she said,--
"Dear friends, I hope I have not done wrong in standing up here and taking
it upon me to read such solemn words. I felt that Mr. Kinney would like to
speak to you once more through me."
Then taking little Reuby by the hand, she walked slowly back to her pew.
Then Deacon Swift made sad work of reading the hymn,--
"Blest be the tie that binds,"
And the choir made sad work of singing it. Nobody's voice could be trusted
for many syllables at a time, but nobody listened to the music. Everybody
was impatient to speak to Draxy. They clustered round her in the aisle;
they crowded into pews to get near her: all the reticence and reserve of
their New England habit had melted away in this wonderful hour. They
thanked her; they touched her; they gazed at her; they did not know what
to do; even Draxy's calm was visibly disturbed by the atmosphere of their
"O Mis' Kinney, ef ye'll only read us one more! just one more! won't ye,
now? Do say ye will, right off, this arternoon; or read the same one right
over, ef that's any easier for ye. We'd like to hear jest that 'n' nothin'
else for a year to come! O Mis' Kinney! 'twas jest like hearin' the Elder
Poor Draxy was trembling. Reuben came to her rescue.
"I hope you won't take it unkindly of me," he said, "but my daughter's
feeling more than's good for her. She must come home now." And Reuben drew
her hand into his arm.
The people fell back sorry and conscience-stricken.
"We orter ha' known better," they said, "but she makes us forgit she's
flesh 'n' blood."
"I will read you another sermon some time," said Draxy, slowly. "I shall
be very glad to. But not to-day. I could not do it to-day." Then she
smiled on them all, with a smile which was a benediction, and walked away
holding Reuby's hand very tightly, and leaning heavily on her father's
The congregation did not disperse; nothing since the Elder's death had so
moved them. They gathered in knots on the church steps and in the aisles,
and talked long and earnestly. There was but one sentiment, one voice.
"It's a thousand shames she ain't a man," said some of the young men.
"It 'ud be a thousand times more ef she wuz," retorted Angy Plummer. "I'd
like to see the man that 'ud do what she does, a comin' right close to the
very heart o' yer's ef she was your mother 'n' your sister 'n' your
husband, and a blessed angel o' God, all ter once."
"But Angy, we only meant that then we could hev her for our minister,"
Angy turned very red, but replied, energetically,--
"There ain't any law agin a woman's bein' minister, thet I ever heerd on.
Howsomever, Mis' Kinney never'd hear to anythin' o' that kind. I don' no'
for my part how she ever mustered up courage to do what she's done, so
kind o' backward 'n' shy's she is for all her strength. But for my part, I
wouldn't ask for no other preachin' all the rest o' my life, than jest to
hear Mis' Kinney read one o' her husband's sermons every Sunday."
"Why, Angy Plummer!" burst from more lips than one. But the bold
suggestion was only the half-conscious thought of every one there, and the
discussion grew more and more serious. Slowly the people dispersed to
their homes, but the discussion still continued. Late into night, by many
a fireside, the matter was talked over, and late the next night, and the
next, until a vague hope and a still vaguer purpose sprang up in the
"She said she'd read another some day," they reiterated. "Most likely
she'd 's soon do it next Sunday, 'n' sooner, 'cause she'd be more used
to't than ef she waited a spell between."
"But it won't do to take it for granted she's goin' to, 'n' not git
anybody," said Deacon Swift, in great perplexity. "I think Brother Plummer
'n' me'd better go 'n' ask her."
"No," said Angy, "let me go. I can talk it over better'n you can. I'll
And Angy went. The interview between the two women was long. Angy pleaded
as nobody else in the parish could have done; and Draxy's heart was all on
her side. But Draxy's judgment was unconvinced.
"If I could be sure, Angy, that it would be best for the people, I should
not hesitate. But you know very well, if I begin I shall keep on," she
She consulted Reuben. His heart, too, was on the people's side, but his
judgment was like hers, perplexed.
"One thing's very certain, daughter: there is not anybody they can ever
find to settle here, or that they are likely to, who can preach as the
Elder did. His old sermons are worlds better than any new ones they'll
"Yes, indeed, I know that," said Draxy. "That's what makes me feel as if I
must do it."
This had been her strongest motive. Only too well she knew what would be
the probable calibre of a man who would come to this poor and lonely
little village which she so loved.
At last she consented to make the experiment. "I will read for you every
Sunday, two sermons of Mr. Kinney's," she said, "until you hear of some
one whom you would like to settle for your minister."
Angy Plummer, clapped her hands when her father repeated at tea on
Thursday evening what "Mis' Kinney" had said.
"That's good's settlin' her," she exclaimed. "Oh, I never thought she'd
come to it," and real tears of joy stood in Angy's eyes.
"I don't know 'bout that, Angy," replied the Deacon; "there's a good deal
to be thought on, fust 'n' last. Folks '11 talk like everythin', I expect,
'n' say we've got a woman preacher. It wouldn't never do for any great
length o' time; but it will be a blessin' to hear some th' Elder's good
rousin' comfortin' sermons for a spell, arter the stuff we hev been a
havin', 'n' they can't say she's any more 'n' a reader anyhow. That's
quite different from preachin'."
"Of course it is," said Angy, who was wise enough to keep some of her
thoughts and hopes to herself; "they're's different's any other two
things. I don't suppose anybody'd say you was a settin' up to preach, if
you'd ha' read the sermons, 'n' I don't see why they need to any more o'
Mis' Kinney." And so, on the next Sunday Draxy's ministry to her husband's
people began. Again with softened and gladdened faces the little
congregation looked up to the fair, tall priestess with her snow-white
robes and snow-white hair, and gleaming steadfast eyes, standing meekly
between the communion-table and the chair in which sat her golden-haired
little son. Her voice was clearer and stronger than ever; and there was a
calm peacefulness in her whole atmosphere which had not been there at
Again the people crowded around, and thanked her, and clasped her hands.
This time she answered them with cordial good cheer, and did not tremble.
To little Reuby also they spoke gratefully.
"You help too, Reuby, don't you?" said Angy Plummer,--"do you like it?"
"Very much, ma'am; mamma says I help, but I think she's mistaken," replied
the little fellow, archly.
"Yes you do, you darling," said Mrs. Plummer, stooping and kissing him
tenderly. Angy Plummer loved Reuby. She never looked at him without
thinking that but for his existence the true mother-heart would perhaps
never have been born in her bosom.
The reading of the sermons grew easier and easier to Draxy, Sunday by
Sunday. She became conscious of a strange sense of being lifted out of
herself, as soon as she began to speak. She felt more and more as if it
were her husband speaking through her; and she felt more and more closely
drawn into relation with the people.
"Oh, father dear," she said more than once, "I don't know how I shall ever
give it up when the time comes. It makes me so happy: I feel almost as if
I could see Seth standing right by me and holding my gown while I read.
And father, dear," she proceeded in a lower, slower voice, "I don't know
but you'll think it wrong; I'm almost afraid to tell you, but sometimes I
say words that aren't in the sermons; just a sentence or two, where I
think Seth would put it in if he were here now; and I almost believe he
puts the very words into my head."
She paused and looked anxiously and inquiringly at her father.
"No, Draxy," replied Reuben solemnly, "I don't think it wrong. I feel more
and more, every Sunday I listen to you, as if the Lord had set you apart
for this thing; and I don't believe he'd send any other angel except your
husband on the errand of helpin' you."
The summer passed, and the parish gave no signs of readiness for a new
minister. When Draxy spoke of it, she was met by such heartfelt grief on
all sides that she was silenced. At last she had a long, serious talk with
the deacons, which set her mind more at rest. They had, it seemed,
consulted several neighboring ministers, Elder Williams among the number,
and they had all advised that while the congregation seemed so absorbed in
interest, no change should be made.
"Elder Williams he sez he'll come over regular for the communion," said
Deacon Plummer, "and for baptisms whenever we want him, and thet's the
main thing, for, thank the Lord, we haint many funerals 'n course of a
year. And Mis' Kinney, ef ye'll excuse my makin' so bold, I'll tell ye
jest what Elder Williams said about ye: sez he, It's my opinion that ef
there was ever a woman born thet was jest cut out for a minister to a
congregation, it's that Elder's wife o' your'n; and sez we to him 'Thet's
jest what the hull town thinks, sir, and it's our opinion that ef we
should try to settle anythin' in the shape of a man in this parish, there
wouldn't be anythin' but empty pews for him to preach to, for the people'd
all be gone up to Mis' Kinney's.'"
Draxy smiled in spite of herself. But her heart was very solemn.
"It is a great responsibility, Deacon Plummer," she said, "and I feel
afraid all the time. But my father thinks I ought to do it, and I am so
happy in it, it seems as if it could not be a mistake."
As months went on, her misgivings grew less and less; and her impulses to
add words of her own to her husband's sermons grew more and more frequent.
She could not but see that she held the hearts of the people in her hands
to mould them like wax; and her intimate knowledge of their conditions and
needs made it impossible for her to refrain from sometimes speaking the
words she knew they ought to hear. Whenever she did so at any length, she
laid her manuscript on the table, that they might know the truth. Her
sense of honesty would not let her do otherwise. It was long before
anybody but Angy Plummer understood the meaning of these intervals. The
rest supposed she knew parts of the sermon by heart.
But at last came a day when her soul was so stirred within her, that she
rose up boldly before her people and said,--
"I have not brought any sermon of Mr. Kinney's to read to you to-day. I am
going to speak to you myself. I am so grieved, so shocked at events which
have taken place in this village, the past week, that I cannot help
speaking about them. And I find among Mr. Kinney's sermons no one which
meets this state of things."
The circumstances to which Draxy alluded had been some disgraceful scenes
of excitement in connection with the Presidential election. Party spirit
had been growing higher and higher in Clairvend for some years; and when,
on the reckoning of the returns on this occasion, the victorious party
proved to have a majority of but three, sharp quarreling had at once
broken out. Accusations of cheating and lying were freely bandied, and
Deacon Plummer and George Thayer had nearly come to blows on the steps of
the Town House, at high noon, just as the school-children were going home.
Later in the afternoon there had been a renewal of the contest in the
village store, and it had culminated in a fight, part of which Draxy
herself had chanced to see. Long and anxiously she pondered, that night,
the question of her duty. She dared not keep silent.
"It would be just hypocrisy and nothing less," she exclaimed to herself,
"for me to stand up there and read them one of Seth's sermons, when I am
burning to tell them how shamefully they have behaved. But I suppose it
will be the last time I shall speak to them. They'll never want to hear me
She did not tell her father of her resolution till they were near the
church. Reuben started, but in a moment he said, deliberately,--
"You're quite right, daughter; may the Lord bless you!"
At Draxy's first words, a thrill of astonishment ran over the whole
congregation. Everybody knew what was coming. George Thayer colored
scarlet to the roots of his hair, and the color never faded till the
sermon was ended. Deacon Plummer coughed nervously, and changed his
position so as to cover his mouth with his hand. Angy put her head down on
the front of the pew and began to cry.
"Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God
the things that are God's," came in clear ringing tones from Draxy's lips.
Then she proceeded, in simple and gentle words, to set forth the right of
every man to his own opinions and convictions; the duty of having earnest
convictions and acting up to them in all the affairs of life. George
Thayer and the Deacon looked easier. Her words seemed, after all, rather a
justification of their vehemence of feeling.
But when she came to speak of the "things that are God's," her words
pierced their very souls. The only thing that enabled George Thayer to
bear up under it at all was, as he afterwards said in the store, keeping
his "eyes fixed steady on old Plummer," "'cause, you know, boys, I never
jined the church nor made any kind o' profession o' goin' in for any
things o' God's, nohow; not but what I've often wished I could see my way
to: but sez I to myself, ef he kin stan' it I kin, an' so I held out. But
I tell you, boys, I'd rather drive the wust six-hoss team I ever got hold
on down Breakneck Hill 'n the dark, than set there agin under thet woman's
eyes, a blazin' one minnit, 'n fillin' with tears the next: 'n' I don't
care what anybody sez; I'm a goin' to see her an' tell her that she
needn't be afeard o' ever hevin to preach to me s' good s' by my name, in
the meeting 'us agin, by thunder!"
"Suppose the blessed Saviour had come walking through our streets, looking
for his children last Wednesday," said Draxy, "He would say to himself,
'I shall know them, wherever I find them: I have given them so many
badges, they will be sure to be wearing some of them. They suffer long and
are kind; they envy not, vaunt not, are not puffed up: they are not easily
provoked, think no evil, seek not their own, rejoice in the truth; they do
not behave unseemly.' Alas, would the dear Jesus have turned away,
believing Himself a stranger and friendless in our village? Which one of
you, dear men, could have sprung forward to take him by the hand? What
terrible silence would have fallen upon you as he looked round on your
Tears were rolling down little Reuby's face. Slyly he tried to wipe them
away, first with one hand, then with the other, lest his mother should see
them. He had never in his life seen such an expression of suffering on
her face. He had never heard such tones of pain in her voice. He was
sorely perplexed; and the sight of his distressed little face was almost
more than the people could bear.
When Draxy stopped speaking, Deacon Plummer did a manly thing. He rose
instantly, and saying "Let us pray," poured out as humble and contrite a
petition for forgiveness as ever went up on wings of faith to Heaven. It
cleared the air, like sweet rain; it rolled a burden off everybody's
heart--most of all, perhaps, off Draxy's.
"He is not angry, after all," she said; "God has laid it to his heart;"
and when, at the end of the services, the old man came up to her and held
out his hand, she took it in both of hers, and said, "Thank you, dear
Deacon Plummer, thank you for helping me so much to-day. Your prayer was
better for the people than my little sermon, a great deal." The deacon
wrung her hands, but did not speak a word, only stooped and kissed Reuby.
After this day, Draxy had a new hold on the people. They had really felt
very little surprise at her speaking to them as she did. She had slowly
and insensibly to herself grown into the same place which the Elder had
had in their regard; the same in love and confidence, but higher in
reverence, and admiration, for although she sympathized just as lovingly
as he in all their feelings, they never for a moment ceased to feel that
her nature was on a higher plane than his. They could not have put this in
words, but they felt it.
"Donno, how 'tis," they said, "but Mis' Kinney, even when she's closest to
ye, an' a doin' for ye all the time, don't seem just like a mortal woman."
"It's easy enough to know how 'tis," replied Angy Plummer, once, in a
moment of unguarded frankness, "Mis Kinney is a kind o' daughter o' God,
somthin' as Jesus Christ was His Son. It's just the way Jesus Christ used
to go round among folks, 's near 's I can make out; 'n' I for one, don't
believe that God jest sent Him, once for all, 'n' haint never sent anybody
else near us, all this time. I reckon He's a sendin' down sons and
daughters to us oftener 'n' we think."
"Angy Plummer, I call that downright blasphemy," exclaimed her mother.
"Well, call it what you're a mind to," retorted the crisp Angy. "It's what
"'Tis blasphemy though, to be sayin' it to folks that can't understand,"
she muttered to herself as she left the room, "ef blasphemy means what
Mis' Kinney sez it does, to speak stupidly."
Three years had passed. The novelty of Draxy's relation to her people had
worn off. The neighboring people had ceased to wonder and to talk; and the
neighboring ministers had ceased to doubt and question. Clairvend and she
had a stout supporter in old Elder Williams, who was looked upon as a high
authority throughout the region. He always stayed at Reuben Miller's
house, when he came to the town, and his counsel and sympathy were
invaluable to Draxy. Sometimes he said jocosely, "I am the pastor of
Brother Kinney's old parish and Mis' Kinney is my curate, and I wish
everybody had as good an one."
It finally grew to be Draxy's custom to read one of her husband's sermons
in the forenoon, and to talk to the people informally in the afternoon.
Sometimes she wrote out what she wished to say, but usually she spoke
without any notes. She also wrote hymns which she read to them, and which
the choir sometimes sang. She was now fully imbued with the feeling that
everything which she could do, belonged to her people. Next to Reuben,
they filled her heart; the sentiment was after all but an expanded and
exalted motherhood. Strangers sometimes came to Clairvend to hear her
preach, for of course the fame of the beautiful white-robed woman-preacher
could not be confined to her own village. This always troubled Draxy very
"If we were not so far out of the world, I should have to give it up," she
said; "I know it is proper they should come; but it seems to me just as
strange as if they were to walk into the study in the evening when I am
teaching Reuby. I can't make it seem right; and when I see them writing
down what I say, it just paralyzes me."
It might have seemed so to Draxy, but it did not to her hearers. No one
would have supposed her conscious of any disturbing presence. And more
than one visitor carried away with him written records of her eloquent
One of her most remarkable sermons was called "The Gospel of Mystery."
The text was Psalm xix. 2:--
"Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge."
First she dwelt on the sweet meaning of the word Gospel. "Dear friends,"
she said, "it is a much simpler word than we realize; it is only 'good
news,' 'good tidings.' We get gospels every day. Our children send us good
news of their lives. What gospels of joy are such letters! And nations to
nations send good news: a race of slaves is set free; a war has ended;
shiploads of grain have been sent to the starving; a good man has been
made ruler; these are good tidings--gospels."
After dwelling on this first, simplest idea of the word, until every one
of her hearers had begun to think vividly of all the good tidings
journeying in words back and forth between heart and heart, continent and
continent, she spoke of the good news which nature tells without words.
Here she was eloquent. Subtle as the ideas were, they were yet clothed in
the plain speech which the plain people understood: the tidings of the
spring, of the winter, of the river, of the mountain; of gold, of silver,
of electric fire; of blossom and fruit; of seed-time and harvest; of suns
and stars and waters,--these were the "speech" which "day uttered unto
But "knowledge was greater" than speech: night in her silence "showed"
what day could not tell. Here the faces of the people grew fixed and
earnest. In any other hands than Draxy's the thought would have been too
deep for them, and they would have turned from it wearily. But her
simplicity controlled them always. "Stand on your door-steps on a dark
night," she said,--"a night so dark that you can see nothing: looking out
into this silent darkness, you will presently feel a far greater sense of
how vast the world is, than you do in broad noon-day, when you can see up
to the very sun himself."
More than one young face in the congregation showed that this sentence
struck home and threw light on hitherto unexplained emotions. "This is
like what I mean," continued Draxy, "by the Gospel of Mystery, the good
tidings of the things we cannot understand. This gospel is everywhere. Not
the wisest man that has ever lived can fully understand the smallest
created thing: a drop of water, a grain of dust, a beam of light, can
baffle his utmost research. So with our own lives, with our own hearts;
every day brings a mystery--sin and grief and death: all these are
mysteries; gospels of mystery, good tidings of mystery; yes, good tidings!
These are what prove that God means to take us into another world after
this one; into a world where all things which perplexed us here will be
explained.... O my dear friends!" she exclaimed at last, clasping her
hands tightly, "thank God for the things which we cannot understand:
except for them, how should we ever be sure of immortality?"
Then she read them a hymn called "The Gospel of Mystery." Coming after the
sermon, it was sweet and clear to all the people's hearts. Before the
sermon it would have seemed obscure.
The Gospel of Mystery.
Good tidings every day,
God's messengers ride fast.
We do not hear one half they say,
There is such noise on the highway,
Where we must wait while they ride past.
Their banners blaze and shine
With Jesus Christ's dear name,
And story, how by God's design
He saves us, in His love divine,
And lifts us from our sin and shame.
Their music fills the air,
Their songs sing all of Heaven;
Their ringing trumpet peals declare
What crowns to souls who fight and dare,
And win, shall presently be given.
Their hands throw treasures round
Among the multitude.
No pause, no choice, no count, no bound,
No questioning how men are found,
If they be evil or be good.
But all the banners bear
Some words we cannot read;
And mystic echoes in the air,
Which borrow from the songs no share,
In sweetness all the songs exceed.
And of the multitude,
No man but in his hand
Holds some great gift misunderstood,
Some treasure, for whose use or good
His ignorance sees no demand.
These are the tokens lent
Birth-marks of our divine descent;
Sureties of ultimate intent,
God's Gospel of Eternity.
Good tidings every day.
The messengers ride fast;
Thanks be to God for all they say;
There is such noise on the highway,
Let us keep still while they ride past.
But the sermon which of all others her people loved best was one on the
Love of God. This one she was often asked to repeat,--so often, that she
said one day to Angy, who asked for it, "Why, Angy, I am ashamed to.
Everybody must know it by heart. I am sure I do."
"Yes, that's jest the way we do know it, Mis' Kinney, by heart," said the
affectionate Angy, "an' that's jest the reason we want it so often. I
never told ye what George Thayer said the last time you read it to us, did
"No, Angy," said Draxy.
"Well, he was singing in the choir that day, 'n place o' his brother, who
was sick; 'n' he jumped up on one o' the seats 'n' swung his hat, jest 's
you was goin' down the aisle, 'n' we all ketched hold on him to pull him
down, 'n' try to hush him; for you can't never tell what George Thayer'll
do when his blood's up, 'n' we was afraid he was agoin' to holler right
out, 's ef he was in the town-'us; but sez he, in a real low, trembly kind
"'Ye needn't be afraid, I ain't agoin' to whoop;--taint that way I
feel,--but I had to do suthin' or I should bust': 'n' there was reel tears
in his eyes--George Thayer's eyes, Mis' Kinney! Then he jumped down, 'n'
sez he, 'I'll tell ye what that sermon's like: it's jest like one great
rainbow all round ye, and before 'n' behind 'n' everywheres, 'n' the end
on't reaches way to the Throne; it jest dazzles my eyes, that's what it
This sermon had concluded with the following hymn, which Draxy had written
when Reuby was only a few weeks old:--
The Love of God.
Like a cradle rocking, rocking,
Silent, peaceful, to and fro,
Like a mother's sweet looks dropping
On the little face below,
Hangs the green earth, swinging, turning,
Jarless, noiseless, safe and slow;
Falls the light of God's face bending
Down and watching us below.
And as feeble babes that suffer,
Toss and cry, and will not rest,
Are the ones the tender mother
Holds the closest, loves the best,
So when we are weak and wretched,
By our sins weighed down, distressed,
Then it is that God's great patience
Holds us closest, loves us best.
O great Heart of God! whose loving
Cannot hindered be nor crossed;
Will not weary, will not even
In our death itself be lost--
Love divine! of such great loving,
Only mothers know the cost--
Cost of love, which all love passing,
Gave a Son to save the lost.
There is little more to tell of Draxy's ministry. It closed as suddenly as
it had begun.
It was just five years after the Elder's death that she found herself, one
Sunday morning, feeling singularly feeble and lifeless. She was bewildered
at the sensation, for in her apparent health she had never felt it before.
She could hardly walk, could hardly stand. She felt also a strange apathy
which prevented her being alarmed.
"It is nothing," she said; "I dare say most women are so all the time; I
don't feel in the least ill;" and she insisted upon it that no one should
remain at home with her. It was a communion Sunday and Elder Williams was
"How fortunate it is that Mr. Williams was here!" she thought languidly,
as she seated herself in the eastern bay-window, to watch Reuby down the
hill. He walked between his grandparents, holding each by the hand,
talking merrily and looking up into their faces.
Draxy watched them until their figures became dim, black specks, and
finally faded out of sight. Then she listened dreamily to the notes of the
slow-tolling bell; when it ceased she closed her eyes, and her thoughts
ran back, far back to the days when she was "little Draxy" and Elder
Kinney was only her pastor. Slowly she lived her life since then over
again, its joy and its sorrow alike softened in her tender, brooding
thoughts. The soft whirring sound of a bird's wings in the air roused her:
as it flew past the window she saw that it was one of the yellow-hammers,
which still built their nests in the maple-grove behind the house.
"Ah," thought she, "I suppose it can't be one of the same birds we saw
that day. But it's going on errands just the same. I wonder, dear Seth, if
mine are nearly done."
At that instant a terrible pain shot through her left side and forced a
sharp cry from her lips. She half rose exclaiming, "Reuby, oh, darling!"
and sank back in her chair unconscious.
Just as Elder Williams was concluding the communion service, the door of
the church was burst open, and old Ike, tottering into the aisle, cried
out in a shrill voice:--
"Mis' Kinney's dead! Mis' Kinney's dead!"
The scene that followed could not be told. With flying feet the whole
congregation sped up the steep hill--Angy Plummer half lifting, half
dragging Reuby, and the poor grandparents supported on each side by strong
men. As they drew near the house, they saw Draxy apparently sitting by the
"O mamma! why that's mamma," shrieked Reuby, "she was sitting just so when
we came away. She isn't dead."
Elder Williams reached the house first, Hannah met him on the threshold,
"She dead, sir. She's cold as ice. She must ha' been dead a long time."
Old Ike had been rambling around the house, and observing from the outside
that Draxy's position was strange, had compelled Hannah to go into the
"She was a smilin' just's you see her now," said Hannah, "'n' I couldn't
ha' touched her to move her more'n I could ha' touched an angel."
There are griefs, as well as joys, to which words offer insult. Draxy was
Three days later they laid her by the side of her husband, and the
gray-haired, childless old people, and the golden-haired, fatherless and
motherless boy, returned together broken-hearted to the sunny parsonage.
On the village a terrible silence, that could be felt, settled down; a
silence in which sorrowing men and women crept about, weeping as those who
cannot be comforted.
Then week followed after week, and soon all things seemed as they had
seemed before. But Draxy never died to her people. Her hymns are still
sung in the little lonely church; her gospel still lives in the very air
of those quiet hills, and the people smile through their tears as they
teach her name to little children.
Whose Wife Was She?
I was on my knees before my chrysanthemum-bed, looking at each little
round tight disk of a bud, and trying to believe that it would be a snowy
flower in two weeks. In two weeks my cousin Annie Ware was to be married:
if my white chrysanthemums would only understand and make haste! I was
childish enough to tell them so; but the childishness came of love,--of my
exceeding, my unutterable love for Annie Ware; if flowers have souls, the
chrysanthemums understood me.
A sharp, quick roll of wheels startled me. I lifted my head. The wheels
stopped at our gate; a hurried step came down the broad garden-path, and
almost before I had had time to spring to my feet, Dr. Fearing had taken
both my hands in his, had said,--"Annie Ware has the fever,"--had turned,
had gone, had shut the garden gate, and the same sharp quick roll of
wheels told that he was far on his way to the next sufferer.
I do not know how long I stood still in the garden. A miserable sullenness
seemed to benumb my faculties. I repeated,--
"Annie Ware has the fever." Then I said,--
"Annie Ware cannot die; she is too young, too strong, and we love her
Then I said again,--
"Annie Ware has the fever," and all the time I seemed not to be thinking
about her at all, but about the chrysanthemums, whose tops I still idly
For weeks a malignant typhus fever had been slowly creeping about in the
lower part of our village, in all the streets which had been under water
in the spring freshet.
These streets were occupied chiefly by laboring people, either
mill-operatives, or shopkeepers of the poorer class. It was part of the
cruel "calamity" of their "poverty" that they could not afford to have
homesteads on the high plateau, which lifted itself quite suddenly from
the river meadow, and made our village a by-word of beauty all through New
Upon this plateau were laid out streets of great regularity, shaded by
grand elms, many of which had been planted by hands that had handled the
ropes of the _Mayflower_. Under the shade of these elms stood large
old-fashioned houses, in that sort of sleepy dignity peculiar to old New
England. We who lived in these houses were also sleepy and dignified. We
knew that "under the hill," as it was called, lived many hundreds of men
and women, who were stifled in summer for want of the breezes which swept
across our heights, cold in winter because the wall of our plateau shut
down upon them the icy airs from the frozen river, and cut off the
afternoon sun. We were sorry for them, and we sent them cold meat and
flannels sometimes; but their life was as remote from our life as if they
never crossed our paths; it is not necessary to go into large cities to
find sharp lines drawn between the well-to-do and the poverty-stricken.
There are, in many small villages, "districts" separated from each other
by as distinct a moral distance as divides Fifth Avenue from the Five
And so it had come to pass that while for weeks this malignant fever had
been creeping about on the river shore, we, in our clearer, purer air, had
not felt even a dread of it. There had not been a single case of it west
of the high water mark made by the terrible freshet of the previous
spring. We sent brandy and wine and beef-tea into the poor, comfortless,
grief-stricken houses; and we said at tea-time that it was strange, people
would persist in living down under the bank: what could they expect? and
besides, they were "so careless about drainage and ventilation."
Now, on the highest and loveliest spot, in the richest and most beautiful
house, the sweetest and fairest girl of all our village lay ill of the
"Annie Ware has the fever." I wondered if some fiend were lurking by my
side, who kept saying the words over and over in my ear. With that
indescribable mixture of dulled and preternaturally sharpened sense which
often marks the first moments of such distress, I walked slowly to my
room, and in a short time had made all the necessary preparation for
leaving home. I felt like a thief as I stole slowly down the stairs, with
my travelling-bag in my hand. At the door I met my father.
"Hey-day, my darling, where now? Off to Annie's, as usual?"
He had not heard the tidings! Should I tell him? I might never see him
again; only too well I knew the terrible danger into which I was going.
But he might forbid me.
"Yes, off to Annie's," I said in a gay tone, and kissing him sprang down
I did not see my father again for eighteen days.
On the steps of my uncle's house I met old Jane, a colored woman who had
nursed Annie Ware when she was a baby, and who lived now in a little
cottage near by, from whose door-steps she could see Annie's window, and
in whose garden she raised flowers of all sorts, solely for the pleasure
of carrying them to Annie every day.
Jane's face was positively gray with sorrow and fear. She looked at me
with a strange sort of unsympathizing hardness in her eyes. She had never
loved me. I knew what she thought. She was saying to herself: "Why not
this one instead of the other?"
"O auntie!" I said, "I would die for Annie; you know I would."
At this she melted. "O honey! don' ye say that. The Lord"--but she could
say no more. She threw her apron up over her head and strode away.
The doors of the house stood open. I walked through room after room, and
found no human being. At last, at the foot of the stairs in the back part
of the house, I came upon all the servants huddled together in a cowering,
weeping group. Flat on the floor, with his face to the wall, lay black
Caesar, the coachman. I put my hand on his shoulder. He jerked away
"Yer jest lemme lone, will yer?" he said in a choking voice; then lifting
up his head, and seeing it was I, he half sprang to his feet, with a look
of shame and alarm, and involuntarily carrying his hand to his head,
"O miss! who's gwine to think yer"--here he too broke down, and buried his
face in his great hands.
I did not speak, but the little group instinctively opened to let me pass
up the stairs. I had a vague consciousness that they said something as I
turned into a little cross-hall which led to Annie's room; but without
attending to their words I opened her door. The room was empty; the bed
stripped of clothes; the windows wide open. I sank into a chair, and
looked from side to side. I was too late, after all! That was why none of
the servants dared speak to me. A little slipper of Annie's lay on the
floor by the bed. I took it up and turned it over and over in my hands.
Then I became conscious that my Aunt Ann was speaking to me,--was calling
me by name, earnestly, repeatedly, with terror in her voice.
"My dear, dear child; Helen, Helen, Helen, she is not dead. She is in my
room. Come and see for yourself."
I had seen my Aunt Ann every day for nineteen years,--I never knew her
until that moment; I never saw her real face until that moment.
I followed her slowly through rooms and passageways till she reached her
own chamber. The door was open; the room was very dark. On the threshold
she paused, and whispered, "You must not be frightened, darling. She will
not know you. She has not known any one for six hours."
I knelt down by the bed. In a few moments my eyes became used to the
darkness, and I saw Annie's face lying motionless on the farther edge of
the bed, turned to the wall. It was perfectly white except the lips, which
were almost black, and were swollen and crusted over with the fearful
fever. Her beautiful hair fell in tangled masses, and half covered her
"She seems to be lying very uncomfortably," said Aunt Ann, "but the doctor
ordered that she should not be disturbed in any way."
I looked at my aunt's face and listened to her voice in bewilderment. The
whole world had for years called her, and with apparent justice, "a hard
and unsympathizing woman." No human being had ever seen a really free
unconstrained smile on her face, or heard from her lips an impulsive word.
When it was known that the genial, rollicking, open-hearted Henry Ware was
to marry her, everybody shuddered. As years went on, everybody who sat by
Henry Ware's fireside, and was kindled and made welcome by his
undiminished and unconquerable cheeriness, felt at the same time chilled
and paralyzed by the courteous, unexceptionable dignity of Mrs. Ware. Even
I, having the freedom of a daughter in their house, and loving my uncle
hardly less than I loved my father, had never once supposed that anybody
could love Aunt Ann, or that she would permit it. I always felt a little
terror when I saw Annie kiss her, or my uncle put his arm around her. My
own loving, caressing, over-flowing mother had given me by inheritance,
and had taught me by example, a type of love which knew no life without
expression. And very well I knew that that sweet mother of mine, whom the
whole town loved, and who herself loved the whole world, seemed always
turned into stone by the simple presence of Aunt Ann.
And now Aunt Ann was sitting on the floor by my side, clinging to my hand,
resting my head on her bosom, and, as I felt instantly and instinctively,
revealing in her every tone, look, word, such intensity and passionateness
of feeling as I had never in my whole life seen before. I saw then that
she had always held me side by side with her own child in her heart, and
that she knew the rare quality of the love I had for Annie.
"I ought not to have let you come here," she said, more as if speaking to
herself than to me; "they, too, have but one."
"But, Aunt Ann, you could not have kept me out," I whispered.
"Yes, I knew that, my child," she replied; "but no one else would know
From that moment there was between my Aunt Ann and me a subtle bond which
partook of all the holiest mysteries of love. There were both motherhood
and the love of lovers in my love for Annie. Annie's mother felt them, and
was willing to have her own motherhood added to and ministered to by them.
From that moment I believe not even her husband seemed so near to her in
her relation with her child as I.
I will not write out the record of the next two weeks. They seemed, as
they passed, a thousand years; and yet, in looking back on them, they seem
only like one terrible breathless night. My aunt and I alone did all that
was done for Annie. There were whole days and whole nights during which
she talked incessantly, sometimes with such subtle semblance of her own
sweet self that we could hardly believe she did not know what she said;
sometimes with such wild ravings that we shook in terror, and could not
look at her nor at each other. There were other days and nights through
which she lay in a sleep, which seemed-no more like real sleep than the
shrill voice of her ravings had seemed like her real voice. These were
most fearful of all. Through all these days and nights, two men with white
faces and folded arms walked up and down in the rooms below, or crouched
on the thresholds of our doors, listening for sign or word from us. One
was Annie's father, and the other was her lover, George Ware. He was her
second cousin, fifteen years older than she, and had loved her since the
day she was one year old, when at the ceremony of her christening, he, a
proud shy boy of sixteen, had been allowed to carry her up-stairs with her
sweet name resting fresh and new on her little dewy forehead. Ah, seldom
does such love spring and grow and blaze on this earth as had warmed the
very air around Annie from the moment of her birth. George Ware was a man
of rare strength, as this love showed; and with just such faithfulness as
his faithfulness to Annie, he had loved and cared for his mother, who had
been for twenty years a widow. They lived on the outskirts of the town,
in a small house almost buried in the heart of a pine wood. The wood was
threaded in all directions by miles of narrow paths which shone in the
shaded sunlight as if they were satin-floored. For nineteen years it had
been George Ware's joy to roam these paths with his cousin Annie; first,
the baby whom he drew in her wicker wagon; next, the wayward little child
who walked with stumbling steps and clung to his finger; next, the gay
school-girl who brought all her perplexities and all her joys to be
confided to him under the pines; next, the shyer and more silent maiden
who came less often, but lingered helplessly until twilight made the
fragrant aisles solemn and dim as cloisters; at last, the radiant, the
child-like woman, the promised wife!
No winter could set a barrier across these pine-wood paths. When the whole
country about lay blocked and drifted, and half buried with snow, all
these spicy foot-roads were kept clear and level, and ready for Annie's
feet. Whole days of George Ware's strength went into the work and the joy
of doing this. In open spaces where the snow had drifted deep, he wrought
it into solid walls almost as high on either hand as Annie's head. In dark
nooks, where the spreading pines and hemlocks lay low and wide, he tossed
the snow into fantastic and weird masses on the right and left, and
cleared great spaces where he knew the partridge-berry would be ready with
a tiny scarlet glow to light up the spot.
This was George Ware's wooing. It never stepped into the glare, the
contention of profaner air. It was not a seeking, a finding, a conquest;
but a slow, sure growth of possession, which had as eternal foundation and
seemed as eternally safe as the results of organic law.
George's picture hung in Annie's room, opposite the foot of her bed.
Opposite the foot of the bed in her mother's room hung a large engraving
of the Sistine Madonna. I fancied that in Annie's quieter moments her eyes
rested with a troubled look upon this picture, and one day, when she was
in a deep sleep, I exchanged the pictures. I felt as if even lifeless
canvas which had George's face painted upon it, might work her good.
At last there came a night,--they said it was the fourteenth, but the
words conveyed no meaning to me,--there came a night when Dr. Fearing, who
had been sitting by Annie's bed for two hours, watching her every breath,
sprang suddenly to his feet, and beckoned to my aunt and me to follow him
into the next room. He shut the door, walked very swiftly up to us, looked
first into her face then into mine; then felt her pulse, and then mine,
and then turning to me, said,--
"It will have to be you." We looked at him in sudden terror. The tears
were rolling down his wrinkled cheeks.
"What is it, William?" gasped Aunt Ann.
"It will have to be you," he went on, looking me in the face, and taking
no notice of her question; "your pulse can be trusted. There has been a
change. When Annie wakes out of this sleep she will know you. It may be in
two hours, and it may not be for six. But if in that first moment she is
alarmed, or agitated in any way, she will die."
"O William, let me stay. I will be calm," moaned my poor aunt.
Then I observed, for the first time, that she had called him "William."
And then, for the first and last time, I heard Dr. Fearing call my Aunt
Ann "darling," and I remembered in that instant that it had been said once
in my hearing, that it was because of his love for Mrs. Henry Ware that
Dr. William Fearing had lived and would die a lonely man.
"Darling," he said, and put one hand on her shoulder, "you would kill your
child. I forbid you to cross the threshold of that room till I come back.
You will thank me to-morrow. Can you not trust me, Ann?" and he looked
down from his full height, this brave old man, into the face of the woman
he had loved, with a look like the look of one who dies to save another.
It was but for one second, and then he was again the physician, and
turning to me, went on, "I have another patient to whom I must instantly
go, and whom I may not be able to leave for hours. You can do all that I
would do,--I believe,"--then he felt my pulse again, and nodding his head
with a sort of grim professional satisfaction, which no amount of emotion
could wholly divert from its delight in the steady nerves and undisturbed
currents of a healthy body,--resumed, "You have but one thing to do: when
she wakes, look perfectly composed; if she speaks, answer her in a
perfectly natural voice; give her two drops of this medicine, and tell her
to go to sleep again. If you do this, she will fall asleep at once. If
you show the least agitation, she may die,--probably will!"--and Dr.
Fearing was gone.
My aunt sat silently weeping. I kissed her without speaking, and went back
to my chair by Annie's bed. I dropped the two drops of medicine into a
spoon, and propped the spoon carefully on a little silver tray, so that I
could reach it instantly. It was just three o'clock in the morning. Hour
after hour passed. I could not hear Annie's breath. My own dinned in my
ears like the whir of mills. A terror such as I can never describe took
possession of me. What if I were to kill Annie? How could I look composed?
speak naturally? What would she say? If I could but know and have my
I firmly believe that the dawn of light saved my senses and Annie's life.
When the first red beam shot through the blinds at the farther end of the
room, tears came into my eyes. I felt as if angels were watching outside.
A tiny sunbeam crept between the slats and fell on the carpet. It was no
more than a hair's breadth, but it was companionship to me. Slowly,
steadily it came towards me. I forgot all else in watching it. To this day
I cannot see a slow-moving sunbeam on a crimson floor without a shudder.
The clock struck six, seven, eight, nine. The bells rang for schools; the
distant hum of the town began. Still there was no stir, no symptom of
life, in the colorless face on the pillow. The sunbeam had crept nearly to
my feet. Involuntarily I lifted my right foot and stretched it out-to meet
the golden messenger. Had I dared to move I should have knelt and reached
my hand to it instead. Perhaps even the slight motion I did make,
hastened Annie's waking, for at that instant she turned her head uneasily
on the pillow and opened her eyes. I saw that she knew me. I wondered how
I could have distrusted my own strength to meet her look. I smiled as if
we were at play together, and said,--
"Good morning, dear."
She smiled languidly and said, "How came I in mamma's bed?"
I said, quietly, "Take this medicine, darling;" and almost before the
drops had passed her lips her eyes closed, and she had fallen asleep
When Dr. Fearing came into the room at noon, he gave one swift, anxious
glance at her face, and then fell on his knees and folded his face in his
hands. I knew that Annie was safe.
Then he went into the next room, silently took Aunt Ann by the hand, and
leading her back to Annie's bedside, pointed to the little beads of
moisture on her forehead and said,--
The revulsion was too much for the poor mother's heart. She sank to the
floor. He lifted her in his arms and carried her out, and for the rest of
that day my Aunt Ann, that "hard and unsympathizing woman," passed from
one strange fainting-fit into another, until we were in almost as great
fear for her life as we had been for Annie's.
At twilight Annie roused from her sleep again. She was perfectly tranquil,
but too weak to lift even her little hand, which had grown so thin and so
wrinkled that it looked like a wilted white flower lying on the white
Hour by hour she gained strength under the powerful restoratives which
were used, and still more from the wonderful elasticity of her
temperament. From the very first day, however, an indefinable terror of
misgiving seized me as often as I heard her voice or looked into her eyes.
In vain I said to myself: "It is the weakness after such terrible
illness;" "it is only natural." I felt in the bottom of my heart that it
On the fourth day she said suddenly, looking up at the picture of George
"Why! Why is Cousin George's picture in here? Where is the Madonna?"
I replied: "I moved it in here, dear, for you. I thought you would like
"No," she said, "I like the Madonna best: the dear little baby! Please
carry George back into my room where he belongs."
My heart stood still with terror. She had never called George Ware her
cousin since their engagement. She especially disliked any allusion to
their relationship. This was her first mention of his name, and it was in
all respects just what it would have been a year before. Dr. Fearing had
forbidden us to allude to him, or to her wedding-day, or, in fact, to any
subject calculated to arouse new trains of thought in her mind. I wondered
afterward that we did not understand from the first how he had feared that
her brain might not fully recover itself, as the rest of her exquisitely
organized body seemed fast doing.
Day after day passed. Annie could sit up; could walk about her room; she
gained in flesh and color and strength so rapidly that it was a marvel.
She was gentle and gay and loving; her old rare, sweet self in every
little way and trait and expression; not a look, not a smile, not a tone
was wanting; but it was the Annie of last year, and not of this. She made
no allusion to her wedding, the day for which had now passed. She did not
ask for George. The whole year had dropped out of her memory; part of her
brain was still diseased. No human touch could venture to deal with it
without the risk of the most terrible consequences.
Dr. Fearing's face grew day by day more and more anxious; he was baffled;
he was afraid. He consulted the most eminent physicians who had had
experience in diseases of the brain. They all counseled patience, and
advised against any attempt to hasten her recollections upon any point;
they all had known similar cases, but never one so sharply defined or so
painful as this. Still they were unanimous in advising that nothing should
be said to startle her; that all must be trusted to time.
Through these terrible days George Ware was braver than any one else. His
faith in the absoluteness of his hold on Annie was too great to be
disturbed. He was by nature as patient as he was resolute. He had not
wooed his wife for eighteen years to lose her now in any way except by
death, he thought. He comforted us all.
"Do be brave, sweet mother of Annie," he used to say to my poor Aunt Ann;
"all will be well. It is nothing to me to wait another year, after having
waited all these. It is not even hard for me to go without seeing her, if
that is best."
Nevertheless, his face grew thin and his eye heavy and his form bent, as
week after week passed, and he came daily to the house, only to be told
the same weary thing, that Annie had not asked for him. The physicians had
said that it would be better that she should not see him until she had of
her own accord mentioned his name. Her nerves were still in such a state
that any surprise threw her into palpitation and alarm which did not pass
off for hours. No human being could tell how great might be the shock of
seeing his face; how much it might recall to her; and whether, if it
recalled all, she could bear it. From the outset George believed the
physicians were wrong in this; but he dared not urge his instinct against
their knowledge; and he was patient of nature, and so the days went on,
on, on; and there was no change except that Annie grew steadily better and
our hearts grew steadily sicker and sicker until we almost looked back
with longing on the days when we feared she would die. And yet in every
respect, except the memory of her lover, Annie was the same as before. The
closest scrutiny could discover no other change in her, except perhaps
that she seemed even gayer than she used to seem, and a shade less tender,
but this also was as she had been before she had promised to be George
One morning George brought me a small bunch of lovely wild things from the
pine woods, Tiarella leaves just tipped with claret color by the early
frosts, sprays of Linnea, two or three tiny white maiden's hair ferns, all
tied by a knot of patridge-berry vines thick-set with scarlet berries.
"Give these to Annie for me, will you, dear Helen?" he said, "and observe
very carefully how she is affected by them."
I remembered that it was just one year ago that day, that he had asked her
to be his wife, and I trembled to think of what hidden meanings I might be
messenger in carrying her this silent token. But I too felt, as George
did, that she was drifting farther and farther away from the memories we
desired she should regain; and that no physician's knowledge could be so
true as love's instinct; and I asked no counsel of any one, but went
swiftly to Annie with the leaves in my hand.
"O you darling! How perfectly lovely," she exclaimed with a laugh of
delight. "Why these must have come from George's woods. Have you been up
"No, dear," I said, "George brought them for you, this morning."
"Oh, the good darling!" she exclaimed. "Is it decided about his going to
I could not repress a little cry of anguish and terror. A year before,
there had been a plan for his going out to India on a mercantile venture,
which promised great profit. It had been given up, partly because his
mother felt that she could not live without him, partly because he felt
that he could not longer live without Annie.
"What is it, dear?" she said, in her softest, most sympathizing voice,
with a little flush of alarm on her pale cheek; "what hurt you? are you
ill? Oh, my poor Helen, you are all worn out with nursing me. I will nurse
"Only a little twinge of my old neuralgia, dear," I said faintly; "these
autumn winds are setting it at work again."
She looked anxiously at me for a few seconds, and then began to untie the
bunch of leaves, and spread out the long vines on the bed.
"Oh, if I only had some moss," she said.
I ran to the green-house and brought her handfuls of beautiful dripping
mosses from the rocks in the fernery. She filled a saucer with them,
putting the Tiarella leaves all round the rim, and winding the Linnea
vines in and out as they grow in the woods. Then she leaned back on her
pillows and began breaking the partridge-berry vines into short bits, each
with a scarlet berry on it. These she set upright in the moss, changing
and rearranging them so often that I wondered what could be her purpose,
and leaned forward to see.
"No, no," she said playfully, pushing me back, "not till it is done."
Presently she said, "Now look!"
I looked and saw a perfect, beautifully formed G made by the scarlet
berries on the green moss.
"There," she said, "I'll send that back to George, to show him that I have
found him in the berries; or, no," she added, "we'll keep it till he comes
to see me. The doctor said I could be carried down-stairs to-morrow, and
then I shall begin to 'receive,'" and she laughed a gay little laugh, and
sank back tired.
That moment stands out in my memory as the saddest, hardest one of all. I
think at that moment hope died in my heart.
When I told George of this, and showed him the saucer of moss--for she
had ordered it to be set on the drawing-room table, saying, "It is too
pretty to stay up here with bottles and invalids,"--he buried his face in
his hands for many minutes. When he lifted it, he looked me steadily in
the eye, and said,--
"She has utterly forgotten this whole year. But I will win her again."
Then he knelt down and kissed every little leaf and berry which her hands
had touched, and went away without speaking another word.
It was decided after this that it could do no harm for him to see her.
Indeed, he now demanded it. His resolution was taken.
"You need not fear," he said to Dr. Fearing, "that I shall agitate her by
approaching her as if she were my own. She is not my own. But she will
We all sat with trembling hands and beating hearts as the hour approached
at which we knew the experiment was to be made.
Annie had been carried down-stairs, and laid upon a lounge in the western
bay-window of the library. The lounge was covered with dark green damask.
Old Caesar had so implored to be allowed to carry her down, that Annie had
insisted that he should be gratified; and she went down as she had so
often done in her childhood, with her soft white face lying close to his
shining black one.
As he put her down, in her rose-colored wrapper, on the dark green damask,
he knelt before her and burst out in spite of himself, into a sort of wild
chant of thanksgiving; but as we entered the door he sprang up ashamed,
and turning to Aunt Ann, said: "Beg pardon, missis, but this rose yere was
too much pink rose for old Caesar!"
It was "too much pink rose" for any human eyes to see unmoved. We all
cried: and Annie herself shed a few tears, but finally helped us all by
"You'll make me ill again if you all go on like this. I hate people that
No stranger's eye would have detected the thousandth part of a second's
pause which George Ware's feet made on the threshold of that room when his
eyes first saw Annie. Before the second had ended he was simply the eager,
glad, affectionate cousin, and had taken calmly and lovingly the child's
kiss which Annie gave him as she had given it every day of her life.
We could not speak. My uncle tried to read his newspaper; my aunt's hands
shook in their pretense of sewing; I threw myself on the floor at the foot
of Annie's lounge and hid my face in its cushions.
But George Ware's brave voice went steadily on. Annie's sweet glad tones,
weak and low, but still sweeter than any other tones I ever heard, chimed
in and out like fairy bells from upper air. More than an hour passed. I do
not know one word that we said.
Then George rose, saying: "I must not tire you, little Annie, so I am
"Will you come, again to-morrow?" she asked as simply as a little child.
"Yes, dear, if you are not the worse for this," he replied, and kissed her
forehead and walked very quickly away without looking back. I followed
him instantly into the hall, for I had seen that in his face which had
made me fear that, strong man as he was, he would fall. I found him
sitting on the lowest step of the staircase, just outside the door.
"My God, Helen," he gasped, "it isn't only this last year she has
forgotten. She has gone back five years."
"Oh no, dear George," I said; "you are mistaken. She remembers everything
up to a year ago. You know she remembered about your going to India."
"That is nothing," he said impatiently. "You can't any of you, see what I
mean, I suppose. But I tell you she has forgotten five years of me. She is
to me just as she was when she was fourteen. Do you think I don't know the
face and voice and touch of each day of my darling's life? oh, my God! my
God!" and he sank down on the stair again in a silence which was worse
than groans. I left him there and went back to Annie.
"How old Cousin George looks," she was saying, as I entered the room; "I
didn't remember that he was so old. Why, he looks as old as you do, sweet
papa. But then," reflectively, "after all, he is pretty old. He is fifteen
years older than I am--and I am nineteen: thirty-four! that is old, is it
not papa?" said she, half petulantly. "Why don't you speak, any of you?"
"You are getting too tired, my darling," said her father, "and now I shall
carry you up-stairs."
After Annie was asleep, my Aunt Ann and I sat for hours in the library,
going over and over and over, with weary hopelessness, all her words and
looks, and trying to comfort each other. I think each knew the utter
despair of the other's heart.
From this time George came and went with all his old familiarity: not a
day passed without his seeing Annie, and planning something for her
amusement or pleasure. Not a day passed without her showing in many ways
that he made a large part of her life, was really a central interest in
it. Even to us who knew the sad truth, and who looked on with intentness
and anxiety hardly less than those with which we had watched her sick-bed
weeks before--even to us it seemed many times as if all must be right. No
stranger but would believe them lovers; not a servant in the house dreamed
but that Miss Annie was still looking forward to her wedding. They had all
been forbidden to allude to it, but they supposed it was only on account
of her weakness and excitability.
But every day the shadow deepened on George Ware's face. I could see,
though he would not admit it, that the same despair which filled my soul
was settling down upon his. Dr. Fearing, too, who came and spent long
evenings with us, and cautiously watched Annie's every tone and look, grew
more and more uneasy. Dr. ----, one of the most distinguished physicians
of the insane, in the country, was invited to spend a few days in the
house. He was presented to Annie as an old friend of her father's, and won
at once her whole confidence and regard. For four days he studied her
case, and frankly owned himself baffled, and unable to suggest any measure
except the patient waiting which was killing us all.
To tell this frail and excitable girl, who had more than once fainted at
a sudden noise, that this man whom she regarded only as her loving cousin
had been her promised husband--and that having been within two weeks of
her wedding-day, she had now utterly forgotten it, and all connected with
it--this would be too fearful a risk. It might deprive her forever of her
Otherwise, she seemed in every respect, even in the smallest particular,
herself. She recollected her music, her studies, her friends. She was
anxious to resume her old life at all points. Every day she made allusions
to old plans or incidents. She had forgotten absolutely nothing excepting
the loverhood of her lover. Every day she grew stronger, and became more
and more beautiful, There was a slight under-current of arch
mischievousness and half petulance which she had never had before, and
which, added to her sweet sympathetic atmosphere, made her indescribably
charming. As she grew stronger she frolicked with every human being and
every living thing. When the spring first opened and she could be out of
doors, she seemed more like a divine mixture of Ariel and Puck than like a
I found her one day lying at full length on the threshold of the
greenhouse. Twenty great azaleas were in full bloom on the shelves--white,
pink, crimson. She had gathered handfuls of the fallen blossoms, and was
making her gray kitten, which was as intelligent and as well trained as a
dog, jump into the air to catch them as she tossed them up. I sat down on
the grass outside and watched her silently.
"Oh, you sober old Helen," she said, "you'll be an owl for a thousand
years after you die! Why can't you caper a little? You don't know how nice
Just then George came slowly walking down the garden path, his hands
clasped behind him, his head bent forward, and his eyes fixed on the
He did not see us. Annie exclaimed,--
"There's Cousin George, too! Look at him! Wouldn't you think he had just
heard he was to be executed at twelve to-day! I don't see what ails
"George, George," she called, "come here. For how many years are you
sentenced, dear, and how could you have been so silly as to be found out?"
And then she burst into a peal of the most delicious laughter at his
"I don't know, darling, for how many years I am sentenced. We none of us
know," he said, in a tone which was sadder than he meant it should be, and
sobered her loving heart instantly. She sprang to her feet, and threw both
her arms around his right arm, a pretty trick she had kept from her
babyhood, and said,--
"Oh you dear, good darling, does anything really trouble you? How
heartless I am. But you don't know how it feels to have been so awfully
ill, and then to get well again. It makes one feel all body and no soul;
but I have soul enough to love you all dearly, you know I have; and I
won't have you troubled; tell me what it is this minute;" and she looked
at him with tears in her eyes.
One wonders often if there be any limit to human endurance. If there be,
who can say he has reached it? Each year we find that the thing which we
thought had taken our last strength, has left us with strength enough to
bear a harder thing. It seemed so with such scenes as this, in those sunny
spring days when Annie Ware first went out into life again. Each day I
said, "There can never be another moment quite so hard to meet as this!"
and the next day there came a moment which made me forget the one which
had gone before.
It was an ill fortune which just at this time made it imperatively
necessary for George to go to the West for three months. He had no choice.
His mother's whole property was at stake. No one but he could save it; it
was not certain that he could. His last words to me were,--
"I trust more in you, Helen, than in any other human being. Keep my name
constantly in her thought; write me everything which you would tell me if
I were here."
It had become necessary now to tell the sad story of the result of Annie's
illness to all those friends who would be likely to speak to her of her
marriage. The whole town knew what shadow rested on our hearts; and yet,
as week after week went by, and the gay, sweet, winning, beautiful girl
moved about among people again in her old way, people began to say more
and more that it was, after all, very foolish for Annie Ware's friends to
be so distressed about her; stranger things had happened; she was
evidently a perfectly well woman; and as for the marriage, they had never
liked the match--George Ware was too old and too grave for her; and,
besides, he was her second cousin.
Oh, the torture of the "ante-mortems" of beloved ones, at which we are
all forced to assist!
Yet it could not be wondered at, that in this case the whole heart of the
community was alive with interest and speculation.
Annie Ware's sweet face had been known and loved in every house in our
village. Her father was the richest, most influential man in the county,
and the most benevolent. Many a man and woman had kissed Henry Ware's baby
in her little wagon, for the sake of Henry Ware's good deeds to them or
theirs. And while Mrs. Ware had always repelled persons by her haughty
reticence, Annie, from the first day she could speak until now, had won
all hearts by her sunny, open, sympathizing nature. No wonder that now,
when they saw her again fresh, glad, beautiful, and looking stronger and
in better health than she had ever done, they said that we were wrong,
that Annie and Nature were right, and that all would be well!
This spring there came to our town a family of wealth and position who had
for many years lived in Europe, and who had now returned to make America
their home. They had taken a furnished house for a year, to make trial of
our air, and also, perhaps, of the society, although rumor, with the usual
jealousy, said that the Neals did not desire any intimacy with their
neighbors. The grounds of the house which they had hired joined my
uncle's, and my Aunt Ann, usually averse to making new acquaintances, had
called upon them at once, and had welcomed them most warmly to her house.
The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Neal and two sons, Arthur and Edward.
They were people of culture, and of wide experience; but they were not of
fine organization nor of the highest breeding; and it will ever remain a
mystery to me that there should have seemed to be, from the outset, an
especial bond of intimacy between them and my uncle and aunt. I think it
was partly the sense of relief with which they welcomed a new interest--a
little break in the monotony of anxiety which had been for so many months
corroding their very lives.
Almost before I knew that the Neals were accepted as familiar friends, I
was startled one morning, while we were at breakfast, by the appearance of
Annie on her pony, looking in at our dining-room window. She had a pretty
way of riding up noiselessly on the green grass, and making her pony,
which was tame as a Newfoundland dog, mount the stone steps, and tap with
his nose on the panes of the long glass door till we opened it.
I never saw her so angelically beautiful as she was this morning. Her
cheeks were flushed and her dark blue eyes sparkled like gems in the sun.
Presently she said, hesitating a little,--
"Edward Neal is at the gate; may I bring him in? I told him he might come,
but he said it was too like burglary;" and she cantered off again without
waiting to hear my mother's permission.
All that morning Annie Ware and Edward Neal sat with me on our piazza. I
looked and listened and watched like one in a dream, or under a spell. I
foresaw, I foreknew what was to come; with the subtle insight of love, I
Never had I seen Annie so stirred into joyousness by George's presence as
she seemed to be by this boy's. The two together overflowed in a sparkling
current of gayety, which was irresistible. They seemed two divine children
sent out on a mission to set the world at play. What Edward Neal's more
sensuous and material nature lacked, was supplied by the finer, subtler
quality of Annie's. From that first day I could never disguise from myself
that they seemed, so far as mere physical life goes, the absolute
counterparts of each other.
I need not dwell on this part of my story. When young hearts are drawing
together, summer days speed on very swiftly. George Ware, alas! was kept
at the West week after week, until it came to be month after month. My
uncle and aunt seemed deliberately to shut their eyes to the drift of
events. I think they were so thankful to watch Annie's bounding health and
happiness, to hear glad voices and merry laughs echoing all day in their
house, that they could not allow themselves to ask whether a new kernel of
bitterness, of danger, lay at the core of all this fair seeming. As for
the children, they did not know that they were loving each other as man
and woman. Edward Neal was only twenty-one, Annie but nineteen, and both
were singularly young and innocent of soul.
And so it came to be once more the early autumn; the maple leaves were
beginning to be red, and my chrysanthemums had again set their tiny round
disks of buds. Edward, and Annie had said no word of love to each other,
but the whole town looked on them as lovers, and people began to reply
impatiently and incredulously to our assurances that no engagement
Early in October George came home, very unexpectedly, taking even his
mother by surprise. He told me afterwards that he came at last as one
warned of God. A presentiment of evil, against which he had struggled for
weeks, finally so overwhelmed him that he set off for home without half an
hour's delay. I found him, on the night after his arrival, sitting in his
old place in the big arm-chair at the head of Annie's lounge; she still
clung to some of her old invalid ways, and spent many evenings curled up
like a half-shut pink rose on the green damask cushions. He looked worn
and thin, but glad and eager, and was giving a lively account of his
Western experiences when the library door opened, and coming in
unannounced, with the freedom of one at home, Edward Neal entered.
"O Edward, here is Cousin George," exclaimed Annie, while a wave of rosy
color spread over her face, and half rising, she took George's hand in
hers as she leaned towards Edward.
"Oh, I'm so glad to see you, Mr. Ware," said Edward, with that indefinable
tone of gentle respect which marks a very young man's recognition of one
much older, whom he has been led to admire. "Annie has been talking to me
about you all summer. I feel as if I knew you almost as well as she does.
I'm heartily glad to see you."
A man of finer grain than Edward Neal would have known the whole truth in
that first second, by the blank stern look which spread like a cloud over
George Ware's face; but the open-hearted fellow only thought that he had
perhaps seemed too familiar and went on,--
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Ware. It must appear strange to you that I took
the liberty of being so glad; but you don't know how kindly I have been
allowed to feel that your friends here would permit me to call all their
friends mine," and he glanced lovingly and confidently at my aunt and
uncle, who answered by such smiles as they rarely gave. Oh, no wonder they
loved this genial, frank sunny boy, who had brought such light into their
In a moment George was his courteous self again, and began to express his
pleasure at meeting Mr. Neal, but Annie interrupted him.
"Oh, now don't be tiresome; of course you are to be just as good friends
with Edward as you are with me: sit down, Edward. He is telling us the
most delicious stories. He is the dearest Cousin George in the world," she
added, stroking his hand which she still kept in hers.
It gave Edward no more surprise to see her do this than it would have done
to see her sit in her father's lap. Even I felt with a sudden pang that
George Ware seemed at that moment to belong to another generation than
Edward and Annie.
Edward seated himself on a low cricket at the foot of the lounge, and,
looking up in George's face, said most winningly,--
"Please go on, Mr. Ware." Then he turned one full, sweet look of greeting
and welcome upon Annie, who beamed back upon him with such a diffused
smile as only the rarest faces have. Annie's smile was one of her greatest
charms. It changed her whole face; the lips made but a small part of it;
no mortal ever saw it without smiling in answer.
It was beyond George Ware's power long to endure this. Probably his
instinct felt in both Edward's atmosphere and Annie's more than we did. He
rose very soon and said to me, "If you are going home to-night, Helen,
will you let me walk up with you? I have business in that part of the
town; but I must go now. Perhaps that will hurry you too much?" he added,
with a tone which was almost imploring.
I was only too glad to go. Our leave-taking was very short. A shade of
indefinable trouble clouded every face but Edward's and Annie's.
George did not speak until we had left the house. Then he stopped short,
took both my hands in his, with a grasp that both hurt and frightened me,
"How dared you keep this from me! How dared you!"
"O George," I said, "there was nothing to tell."
"Nothing to tell!" and his voice grew hoarse and loud. "Nothing to tell!
Do you mean to say that you don't know, have not known that Annie loves
that boy, that puppy?"
I trembled from head to foot. I could not speak. He went on:--
"And I trusted you so; O Helen, I can never forgive you."
I murmured, miserably, for I felt myself in that moment really guilty,--
"What makes you think she loves him?"
"You cannot deceive me, Helen," he replied. "Do not torture me and
yourself by trying. Tell me now, how long this 'Edward' has been sitting
by her lounge. Tell me all."
Then I told him all. It was not much. He had seen more that evening, and
so had I, than had ever existed before. His presence had been the one
element which had suddenly defined that which before had been hardly
He was very quiet after the first moment of bitterness, and asked me to
forgive his impatient words. When he left me he said,--
"I cannot see clearly what I ought to do. Annie's happiness is my only
aim. If this boy can create it, and I cannot--but he cannot: she was as
utterly mine as it is possible for a woman to be. You none of you knew how
utterly! Oh, my God, what shall I do!" and he walked away feebly and
slowly like an old man of seventy.
The next day Aunt Ann sent for me to come to her. I found her in great
distress. George had returned to the house after leaving me, and had had
almost a stormy interview with my uncle. He insisted upon asking Annie at
once to be his wife; making no reference to the past, but appearing at
once as her suitor. My uncle could not forbid it, for he recognized
George's right, and he sympathized in his suffering. But his terror was
insupportable at the thought of having Annie agitated, and of the possible
results which might follow. He implored George to wait at least a few
"What! and see that young lover at my wife's feet every night!" said
George, fiercely. "No! I will risk all, lose all, if need be. I have been
held back long enough," and he had gone directly from my uncle's room to
In a short time Annie had come to her mother in a perfect passion of
weeping, and told her that Cousin George had asked her to be his wife; and
that she had never dreamed of such a thing; and she thought he was very
unkind to be so angry with her; how could she have supposed he cared for
her in that way, when he had been like her elder brother all his life.
"Why, he seems almost as old as papa," said poor Annie, sobbing and
crying, "and he ought to have known that I should not kiss him and put my
arms around him if--if"--she could not explain; but she knew!
Annie had gone to her own room, ill. My aunt and I sat together in the
library silently crying; we were wretched. "Oh, if George would only have
waited," said Aunt Ann.
"I think it would have made no difference, aunty," said I.
"No, I am afraid not," replied she, and each knew that the other was
thinking of Edward Neal.
George Ware left town the next day. He sent me a short note. He could not
see any one, he said, and begged me to give a farewell kiss for him to
"the sweet mother of my Annie. For mine she is, and will be in heaven,
though she will be the wife of Edward Neal on earth."
When I next saw our Annie she was Edward Neal's promised bride. A severe
fit of illness, the result of all these excitements, confined me to my
room for three weeks after George's departure; and I knew only from Aunt
Ann's lips the events which had followed upon it.
George Ware's presence on that first evening had brought revelation to
Edward Neal as well as to all the other members of that circle. That very
night he had told his parents that Annie would be his wife.
The next night, while poor George was swiftly borne away, Edward was
sitting in my uncle's library, listening with a blanched cheek to the
story of Annie's old engagement. My uncle's sense of honor would not let
him withhold anything from the man seeking her for his wife. The pain soon
passed by, when he was told that she had that very day refused her cousin,
and betrayed almost resentment at his offer. Edward Neal had not a
sufficiently subtle nature, nor acquaintance enough with psychological
phenomena to be disturbed by any fears for the future. He dismissed it all
as an inexplicable result of the disease, but a fixed fact, and a great
and blessed fortune for him. My uncle, however, was less easily assured.
He insisted upon delay, and upon consulting the same physicians who had
studied Annie's case before. They all agreed that she was now a perfectly
healthy and strong woman, and that to persist in any farther recognition
of the old bond, after she had so intelligently and emphatically
repudiated all thought of such a relation to her cousin, was absurd. Dr.
Fearing alone was in doubt, He said little; but he shook his head and
clasped his hands tight, and implored that at least the marriage should be
deferred for a year.
Annie herself, however, refused to consent to this: of course no
satisfactory reason could be alleged for any such delay; and she said as
frankly as a little child, "Edward and I have loved each other almost
from the very first; there is nothing for either of us to do in life but
to make each other happy; and we shall not leave papa and mamma: so why
should we wait?"
They were not married, however, until spring. The whole town stood by in
speechless joy and delight when those two beautiful young beings came out
from the village church man and wife. It was a scene never to be
forgotten. The peculiar atmosphere of almost playful joyousness which they
created whenever they appeared together was something which could not be
described, but which diffused itself like sunlight.
We all tried resolutely to dismiss memory and misgiving from our hearts.
They seemed disloyalty and sin. George Ware was in India. George Ware's
mother was dead. The cottage among the pines was sold to strangers, and
the glistening brown paths under the trees were neglected and unused.
Edward and Annie led the same gay child-like lives after their marriage
that they had led before: they looked even younger and gayer and sunnier.
When they dashed cantering through the river meadows, she with rosy cheeks
and pale brown curls flying in the wind, and he with close crisp black
hair, and the rich, dark, glowing skin of a Spaniard, the farming men
turned and rested on their tools, and gazed till they were out of sight.
Sometimes I asked myself wonderingly, "Are they ever still, and tender,
and silent?" "Is this perpetual overflow the whole of love?" But it seemed
treason to doubt in the presence of such merry gladness as shone in
Annie's face, and in her husband's too. It was simply the incarnate
triumph and joy of young life.
The summer went by; the chrysanthemums bloomed out white and full in my
garden; the frosts came, and then the winter, and then Annie told me one
day that before winter came again she would be a mother. She was a little
sobered as she saw the intense look on my face.
"Why, darling, aren't you glad? I thought you would be almost as glad as I
am myself?" Annie sometimes misunderstood me now.
"Glad! O Annie," was all I could say.
From that day I had but one thought, Annie's baby. Together we wrought all
dainty marvels for its ward-robe; together we planned all possible events
in its life: from the outset I felt as much motherhood to the precious
little unseen one as Annie did. She used to say to me, often,--
"Darling, it will be half my baby, and half yours."
Annie was absolutely and gloriously well through the whole of those
mysterious first months of maternity which are to so many women exhausting
and painful. Every nerve of her body seemed strung and attuned to normal
and perfect harmony. She was more beautiful than ever, stronger than ever,
and so glad that she smiled perpetually without knowing it. For the first
time since the old days, dear Dr. Fearing's face lost the anxious look
with which his eyes always rested upon her. He was more at ease about her
Before light one Sunday morning in December, a messenger rang furiously
at our bell. We had been looking for such tidings and were not alarmed. It
was a fearful storm; wind and sleet and rain and darkness had attended the
coming of Annie's little "Sunday child" into its human life.
"A boy--and Miss Annie's all right," old Caesar said, with a voice almost
as hoarse as the storm outside; and he was gone before we could ask a
In less than an hour I stood on the threshold of Annie's room. But I did
not see her until noon. Then, as I crept softly into the dimly-lighted
chamber, the whole scene so recalled her illness of two years before that
my heart stood still with sudden horror, in spite of all my joy. Now, as
then, I knelt silently at her bedside, and saw the sweet face lying white
and still on the pillow.
She turned, and seeing me, smiled faintly, but did not speak.
At her first glance, a speechless terror seized me. This was my Annie! The
woman who for two years had been smiling with my Annie's face had not been
she! The room grew dark. I do not know what supernatural power came to my
aid that I did not faint and fall.
Annie drew back the bed-clothes with a slow, feeble motion of her right
hand, and pointed to the tiny little head nestled in her bosom. She smiled
again, looked at me gently and steadily for a second, and then shut her
eyes. Presently I saw that she was asleep; I stole into the next room and
sat down with my face buried in my hands.
In a moment a light step aroused me. Aunt Ann stood before me, her pale
face all aglow with delight.
"O Helen my darling! She is so well. Thank God! thank God!" and she threw
her arms around me and burst into tears.
I felt like one turned to stone. Was I mad, or were they?
What had I seen in that one steady look of Annie's eyes? Was she really
well? I felt as if she had already died!
Agonizingly I waited to see Dr. Fearing's face. He came in before tea, saw
Annie for a few minutes, and came down-stairs rubbing his hands and
singing in a low tone.
"I never saw anything like that child's beautiful elasticity in my life,"
he said. "We shall have her dancing down-stairs in a month."
The cloud was utterly lifted from all hearts except mine. My aunt and
uncle looked at each other with swimming eyes. Edward tried to laugh and
look gay, but broke down utterly, and took refuge in the library, where I
found him lying on the floor, with his face buried in Annie's lounge.
I went home stupefied, bewildered. I could not sleep. A terror-stricken
instinct told me that all was not right. But how should I know more than
physician, mother, husband?
For ten days I saw my Annie every day for an hour. Her sweet, strange,
gentle, steady look into my eyes when we first met always paralyzed me
with fear, and yet I could not have told why. There was a fathomless
serenity in her face which seemed to me super-human. She said very
little. The doctor had forbidden her to talk. She slept the greater part
of the time, but never allowed the baby to be moved from her arms while
she was awake.
There was a divine ecstasy in her expression as she looked down into the
little face; it never seemed like human motherhood.
One day Edward came to me and said,--
"Do you think Annie is so well as they say? I suppose they must know; but
she looks to me as if she had died already, and it were only her glorified
angel-body that lies in that bed?"
I could not speak to him. I knew then that he had seen the same thing that
I had seen: if his strong, rather obtuse material nature had recognized
it, what could so blind her mother and father and the doctor? I burst into
tears and left him.
At the end of a week I saw a cloud on Dr. Fearing's face. As he left
Annie's room one morning, he stopped me and said abruptly,--
"What does Annie talk about?"
"She hardly speaks at all," I said.
"Ah," he said. "Well, I have ordered her not to talk. But does she ask any
questions?" he continued.
"No," I said; "not of me. She has not asked one."
I saw then that the same vague fear which was filling my heart was taking
shape in his.
From that moment, he watched her hourly, with an anxiety which soon
betrayed itself to my aunt.
"William, why does not Annie get stronger?" she said suddenly to him one
"I do not know why," he answered, with a solemn sadness and emphasis in
his tone which was, as I think, he intended it to be, a partial revelation
to her, and a warning. Aunt Ann staggered to a chair and looked at him
without a word. He answered her look by one equally agonized and silent,
and left the room.
The baby was now two weeks old. Annie was no stronger than on the day of
his birth. She lay day and night in a tranquil state, smiling with
inexpressible sweetness when she was spoken to, rarely speaking of her own
accord, doing with gentle docility all she was told to do, but looking
more and more like a transfigured saint. All the arch, joyous, playful
look was gone; there was no added age in the look which had taken its
place; neither any sorrow; but something ineffably solemn, rapt, removed
from earth. Sometimes, when Edward came to her bedside, a great wave of
pitying tenderness would sweep over her face, giving it such a heavenly
look that he would fall on his knees.
"O Helen," he said once, after such a moment as this, "I shall go mad if
Annie does not get well. I do not dare to kiss even her hand. I feel as if
she never had been mine."
At last the day and the hour and the moment came which I had known would
come. Annie spoke to me in a very gentle voice, and said,--
"Helen, darling, you know I am going to die?"
"Yes dear, I think so," I said, in as quiet a voice as hers.
"You know it is better that I should, darling?" she said with a trembling
"Yes, dear, I know it," I replied.
She drew a long sigh of relief. "I am so glad, darling; I thought you knew
it, but I could not be sure. I think no one else understands. I hope dear
mamma will never suspect. You will not let her, if you can help it, the
dear doctor will not tell her; he knows, though. Darling, I want you to
have my baby. I think Edward will be willing. He is so young, he will be
happy again before long; he will not miss him. You know we have always
said it was partly your baby. Look at his eyes now, Helen," she said,
turning the little face towards me, and into a full light.
I started. I had never till that moment seen in them a subtle resemblance
to the eyes of George Ware. We had said that the baby had his mother's
eyes--so he had; but there had always been a likeness between Annie's eyes
and George's though hers were light-blue, and his of a blue so dark that
it was often believed to be black. All the Wares had a very peculiar
luminousness of the eye; it was so marked a family trait that it had
passed into almost proverbial mention, in connection with the
distinguished beauty of the family. "The Ware eye" was always
recognizable, no matter what color it had taken from the admixture of
At that moment I saw, and I knew that Annie had seen, that the baby's eyes
were not so much like her own as like the deeper, sadder, darker eyes of
her cousin--brave, hopeless, dear George, who was toiling under the sun of
India, making a fortune for he knew not whom.
We neither of us spoke; presently the little unconscious eyes closed in
sweet sleep, and Annie went on, holding him close to her heart.
"You see, dear, poor mamma will not be able to bear seeing him after I
die. Common mothers would love him for my sake. But mamma is not like
other women. She will come very soon where I am, poor mamma; and then you
will have to take papa home to your house, and papa will have comfort in
little Henry. But he must be your baby, Helen. I shall speak to Edward
about it soon."
She was not strong enough to talk long. She shed no tears, however, and
looked as calm as if she were telling me of pleasant plans for a coming
earthly summer. I also was perfectly calm, and felt strangely free from
sorrow. Her absolute spirituality bore me up. It was as if I spoke with
her in heaven, thousands of centuries after all human perplexities had
After this day she grew rapidly weaker. She had no pain. There was not a
single physical symptom in her case which the science of medicine could
name or meet. There was literally nothing to be done for her. Neither
tonic nor stimulant produced the least effect. She was noiselessly sinking
out of life, as very old people sometimes die, without a single jar, or
shock, or struggle. Her beautiful serenity and entire freedom from
suffering blinded Aunt Ann's eyes to the fact that she was dying. This was
a great mercy, and we were all careful not by a word or look to rouse her
to the truth. To all her mother's inquiries Annie invariably replied,
"Better, dear mamma, better, only very weak," and Aunt Ann believed,
until the very last, that the spring would make her well again.
Edward Neal's face during these weeks was like the face of a man lost in a
trackless desert, seeking vainly for some sign of road to save his life.
Sickness and death were as foreign to the young, vital, irrepressible
currents of his life, as if he had been a bird or an antelope. But it was
not now with him the mere bewildered grief of a sensuous animal nature,
such as I should have anticipated that his grief would be. He dimly felt
the truth, and was constantly terrified by it. He came into Annie's
presence more and more reverently each day. He gazed speechlessly into her
eyes, which rested on him always with angelic compassion and tenderness,
but with no more look of human wifely thought than if he and she were
kneeling side by side before God's white throne. Sometimes he dared not
touch even so much as the hand on which his own wedding-ring rested.
Sometimes he would kneel by the bedside and bury his face and weep like a
little child. Then he would throw himself on his horse and gallop away and
not come home until twilight, when he was always found on Annie's lounge
in the library. One night when I went to him there he said, in a tone so
solemn that the voice did not sound like his,--
"Helen, there is something I do not understand about Annie. Do people
always seem so when they are going to die? I do not dare to ask her if she
loves me. I feel just as much awe of her as if she had been in heaven. It
seems sometimes as if I must be going mad, for I do not feel in the least
as if she had ever been my wife."
"She never has, poor boy," I thought, but I only stroked his hair and
said nothing; wondering in my heart at the certainty with which in all
natures love knows how to define, conquer, reclaim his own.
The day before Annie died she asked for her jewel-case, and spent several
hours in looking over its contents and telling me to whom they should be
given. I observed that she seemed to be searching uneasily for something
she could not find.
"What is it, dear?" I said. She hesitated for a secondhand then replied,--
"Only a little ring I had when I was a girl."
"When you were a girl, my darling!" I exclaimed. She smiled gently and
"I feel like an old woman now. Oh, here it is," she added, and held it out
to me to open for her the tiny padlock-shaped locket which hung from it.
It had become so tightly fastened together that it was with great
difficulty I could open it. When I did so, I saw lying in the hollow a
little ring of black hair, and I remembered that Annie had worn the ring
when she was twelve years old.
She asked me to cut a few of the silky hairs from the baby's head, and
then one little curl from her own, and laying them with the other, she
shut the locket and asked for a piece of paper and pencil. She wrote one
word with great difficulty, folded the ring in the paper, wrote another
word on the outside, and laid it in a corner of the jewel-case. Then she
sank back on the pillows, and slipping her left hand under her cheek said
she was very tired, and almost instantly fell into a gentle sleep. She did
not wake until twilight. I was to sleep on the lounge in her room that
night, and when she woke I was preparing it.
"Darling," she said, "could you sleep as well in my big chair, which can
be tipped back?"
"Certainly, sweet," I said; "but why?"
"Because that can be drawn up so much nearer me; it will be like sleeping
At nine o'clock the nurse brought the baby in and laid him in Annie's
bosom, sound asleep. Annie would not let him lie anywhere else, and was so
grieved at any remonstrance, that the doctor said she must be indulged in
the desire. When she was awake and was not speaking to us, her eyes never
left the baby's face.
She turned over, with her face to the chair in which I lay, and reached
out her left hand towards me. I took it in mine, and so, with our hands
clasped above the little sleeping baby, we said "good-night" to each
"I feel much better to-night than I have for some days, dear Helen," she
said; "I should not wonder if we all three slept until morning."
Very soon I saw that she was asleep. I watched her face for a long time;
it was perfectly colorless and very thin, and yet there was not a look of
illness on it. The ineffable serenity, the holy peace, made it look like
the face of one who had been transfigured, translated; who had not known
Back to Full Books