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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 28


Mrs. Quirk came over to-day in great perplexity. She had just come from the minister's. "I don't know what we're a goin' to do with him!" she exclaimed in a gush of impatient, uncomprehending sympathy; you can't let a man take on that way much longer. He'll worry himself sick, and then we shall either lose him or have to pay his bills to Europe! Why, he jest stops in the house, and walks his study up and down, day and night; or else he jest sets and sets and don't notice nobody but the children. Now I've jest ben over makin him some chicken-pie,—he used to set a sight by my chicken-pie,—and he made believe to eat it, 'cause I'd ben at the trouble, I suppose; but how much do you suppose he swallowed? Jest three mouthfuls! page 85 Thinks says I, I won't spend my time over chicken-pie for the afflicted agin, and on ironing-day, too! When I knocked at the study-door, he said, 'Come in,' and stopped his walkin' and turned as quick. 'O,' says he, 'good morning. I thought it was Mrs. Forceythe.' I told him no, I wasn't Mrs. Forceythe, but I'd come to comfort him in his sorrer all the same. But that's the only thing I have agin our minister. He won't be comforted. Mary Ann Jacobs, who's ben there land of looking after the children and things for him, you know, sence the funeral—she says he's asked three or four times for you, Mrs. Forceythe. There's ben plenty of his people in to see him, but you haven't ben nigh him Mary Ann says."

"I stayed away because I thought the presence of his friends at this time would be an intrusion," Auntie said; "but if he would like to see me, that alters the case. I will go, certainly."

"I don't know," suggested Mrs. Quirk, looking over the tops of her spectacles,—"I s'pose it's proper enough, but you bein' a widow, you know, and his wife—"

Aunt Winifred's eyes shot fire. She stood up and turned upon Mrs. Quirk with a look the like of which I presume that worthy lady had never seen before, and is not likely to see soon again (it gave the beautiful scorn of a Zenobia to her fair, slight face), moved her lips slightly, but said nothing, put on her bonnet, and went straight to Dr. Bland's. The minister, they told her, was in his study. She knocked lightly at the door, and was bidden in a lifeless voice to enter. Shades and blinds were drawn, and the glare of the sun quite shut out. Dr. Bland sat by his study-table, with his face upon his hands. A Bible lay open before him. It had been lately used; the leaves were wet. He raised his head dejectedly, but smiled when he saw who it was. He had been thinking about her, he said, and was glad that she had come.

I do not know all that passed between them, but I gather, from such hints as Auntie in her unconsciousness throws out, that she had things to say which touched some comfortless places in the man's heart. No Greek and Hebrew "original," no polished dogma, no link in his stereotyped logic, not one of his eloquent sermons on the future state, came to his relief.

Those were meant for happy days. They rang cold as steel upon the warm needs of an afflicted man. Brought face to face, and sharply, with the blank heaven of his belief, he stood up from before his dead, and groped about it, and cried out against it in the bitterness of his soul.

"I had no chance to prepare myself to bow to the will of God," he said, his reserved ministerial manner in curious contrast with the caged way in which he was pacing the room,—"I had no chance. I am taken by surprise, as by a thief in the night. I had a great deal to say to her, and there was no time. She could tell me what to do with my poor little children. I wanted to tell her other things. I wanted to tell her—Perhaps we all of us have our regrets when the Lord removes our friends; we may have done or left undone many page 86 things; we might have made them happier. My mind does not rest with assurance in its conceptions of the heavenly state. If I never can tell her—" He stopped abruptly, and paced into the darkest shadows of the shadowed room, his face turned away. "You said once some pleasant things about heaven?" he said at last, half appealingly, stopping in front of her, hesitating; like a man and like a minister, hardly ready to come with all the learning of his schools and commentators and sit at the feet of a woman.

She talked with him for a time in her unobtrusive way, deferring, when she honestly could, to his clerical judgment, and careful not to wound him by any word; but frankly and clearly, as she always talks.

When she rose to go he thanked her quietly.

"This is a somewhat novel train of thought to me," he said; "I hope it may not prove an unscriptural one. I have been reading the book of Revelation to-day with these questions especially in mind. We are never too old to learn. Some passages may be capable of other interpretations than I have formerly given them. No matter what I wish, you see, I must be guided by the Word of my God."

Auntie says that she never respected the man so much as she did when, hearing those words, she looked up into his haggard face, convulsed with its human pain and longing.

"I hope you do not think that I am not guided by the Word of God," she answered. "I mean to be."

"I know you mean to be," he said cordially. "I do not say that you are not. I may come to see that you are, and that you are right. It will be a peaceful day for me if I can ever quite agree with your methods of reasoning. But I must think these things over. I thank you once more for coming. Your sympathy is grateful to me.

Just as she closed the door he called her back. "See," he said, with a saddened smile. "At least I shall never preach this again. It seems to me that life is always undoing for us something that we have just laboriously done." He held up before her a mass of old blue manuscript, and threw it, as he spoke, upon the embers left in his grate. It smoked and blazed up and burned out. It was that sermon on heaven of which there is an abstract in this journal.