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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 28


page 26


As I was looking over the green book last night, Aunt Winifred came up behind me and softly laid a bunch of violets down between the leaves. By an odd contrast, the contented, passionless things fell against those two verses that were copied from the German, and completely covered them from sight. I lifted the flowers, and held up the page for her to see. As she read, her face altered strangely; her eyes dilated, her lip quivered, a flush shot over her cheeks and dyed her forehead up to the waves of her hair. I turned away quickly, feeling that I had committed a rudeness in watching her, and detecting in her, however involuntarily, some far, inner sympathy, or shadow of a long-past sympathy, with the desperate words.

"Mary," she said, laying down the book, "I believe Satan wrote that." She laughed a little then, nervously, and paled back into her quiet, peaceful self. "I mean that he inspired it. They are wicked words. You must not read them over. You will outgrow them sometime with a beautiful growth of trust and love. Let them alone till that time comes. See, I will blot them out of sight for you with colours as blue as heaven—the real heaven, where God will be loved the most."

She shook apart the thick, sweet nosegay, and, taking a half-dozen of the little blossoms, pinned them, dripping with fragrant dew, upon the lines. There I shall let them stay, and, since she wishes it, I shall not lift them to see the reckless words till I can do it safely.

This afternoon, Aunt Winifred has been telling me about herself. Somewhat more, or of a different kind, I should imagine, from what she has told most people. She seems to love me a little, not in a proper kind of way, because I happen to be her niece, but for my own sake. It surprises me to find how pleased I am that she should.

That Kansas life must have been very hard to her, in contrast as it was with the smooth elegance of her girlhood; she was very young too, when she undertook it. I said something of the sort to her.

"They have been the hardest and the easiest, the saddest and the happiest years of all my life," she answered.

I pondered the words in my heart, while I listened to her story. She gave me vivid pictures of the long, bright bridal journey, overshadowed with a very mundane weariness of jolting coaches and railway accidents before its close; of the little neglected hamlet which waited for them, twenty miles from a post-office and thirty from a school-house; of the parsonage, a log-hut among log-huts, distinguished and adorned by a little lath and plastering, glass windows, and a doorstep;—they drew in sight of it at the close of a tired day, with a red sunset lying low on the flats.

Uncle Forceythe wanted mission-work, and mission-work he found here with—I should say, with a vengeance, if the expression were exactly suited to an elegantly constructed and reflective journal.

"My heart sank for a moment, I confess," she said, "but it never would do, you know, to let him suspect that, so I smiled away as well page 27 as I knew how, shook hands with one or two women in red calico, who had been 'slicking up inside,' they said; went in by the fire,—it was really a pleasant fire,—and, as soon as they had left us alone, I climbed into John's lap, and, with both arms around his neck, told him that I knew we should be very happy. And I said—"

"Said what?"

She blushed a little, like a girl.

"I believe I said I should be happy in Patagonia—with him. I made him laugh at last, and say that my face and words were like a beautiful prophecy. And, Mary, if they were, it was beautifully fulfilled. In the roughest times—times of ragged clothes and empty flour-barrels, of weakness and sickness and quack doctors, of cold and discouragement, of prairie fires and guerillas—from trouble to trouble, from year's end to year's end, we were happy together, we two. As long as we could have each other, and as long as we could be about our Master's business, we felt as if we did not dare to ask for anything more, lest it should seem that we were ungrateful for such wealth of mercy."

It would take too long to write out here the half that she told me, though I wish I could, for it interested me more than any story that I have ever read. After years of Christ-like toiling to help those rough old farmers and wicked bushwhackers to Heaven, the call to Lawrence came, and it seemed to Uncle Forceythe that he had better go. It was a pleasant, influential parish, and there, though not less hard at work, they found fewer rubs and more comforts; there Faith came, and there were their pleasant days, till the war.—I held my breath to hear her tell about Quantrell's raid. There, too, Uncle wasted through that death-in-life, consumption; there he "fell on sleep," she said, and there she buried him. She gave me no further description of his death than those words, and she spoke them with her far-away, tearless eyes looking off through the window, and after she had spoken she was still for a time. The heart knoweth its own bitterness; that grew distinct to me, as I sat, shut out by her silence. Yet there was nothing bitter about her face.

"Faith was six months old when he went," she said presently.

"We had never named her: Baby was name enough at first for such a wee thing; then she was the only one, and had come so late that it seemed to mean more to us than to most to have a baby all to ourselves, and we liked the sound of the word. When it became quite certain that John must go, we used to talk it over, and he said that he would like to name her, but what, he did not tell me.

"At last, one night, after he had lain for a while thinking with closed eyes, he bade me bring the child to him. The sun was setting, I remember, and the moon was rising. He had had a hard day; the life was all scorched out of the air. I moved the bed up by the window, that he might have the breath of the rising wind. Baby was wide awake, cooing softly to herself in the cradle, her bits of damp curls clinging to her head, and her pink feet in her hands. I took her up and brought her just as she was, and knelt down by the bed. page 28 The street was still. We could hear the frogs chanting a mile away. He lifted her little hands upon his own, and said—no matter about the words—but he told me that as he left the child, so he left the name, in my sacred charge,—that he had chosen it for me,—that when he was out of sight, it might help me to have it often on my lips.

"So there in the sunset and the moonrise, we two alone together, he baptized her, and we gave our little girl to God."

When she had said this, she rose and went over to the window, and stood with her face from me. By and by, "It was the fourteenth," she said, as if musing to herself,—the fourteenth of June."

I remember now that Uncle Forceythe died on the fourteenth of June. It may have been that the words of that baptismal blessing were the last that they heard, either child or mother.