MRS. CROMWELL COMES.
The moment the legacy was paid, our liabilities being already nearly discharged, my husband took us all to Hastings. I had never before been to any other seacoast town where the land was worthy of the sea, except Kilkhaven. Assuredly, there is no place within easy reach of London to be once mentioned with Hastings. Of course we kept clear of the more fashionable and commonplace St. Leonard's End, where yet the sea is the same,--a sea such that, not even off Cornwall, have I seen so many varieties of ocean-aspect. The immediate shore, with its earthy cliffs, is vastly inferior to the magnificent rock about Tintagel; but there is no outlook on the sea that I know more satisfying than that from the heights of Hastings, especially the East Hill; from the west side of which also you may, when weary of the ocean, look straight down on the ancient port, with its old houses, and fine, multiform red roofs, through the gauze of blue smoke which at eve of a summer day fills the narrow valley, softening the rough goings-on of life into harmony with the gentleness of sea and shore, field and sky. No doubt the suburbs are as unsightly as mere boxes of brick and lime can be, with an ugliness mean because pretentious, an altogether modern ugliness; but even this cannot touch the essential beauty of the place.
On the brow of this East Hill, just where it begins to sink towards Ecclesbourne Glen, stands a small, old, rickety house in the midst of the sweet grass of the downs. This house my husband was fortunate in finding to let, and took for three months. I am not, however, going to give any history of how we spent them; my sole reason for mentioning Hastings at all being that there I made the acquaintance of Mrs. Cromwell. It was on this wise.
One bright day, about noon,--almost all the days of those months were gorgeous with sunlight,--a rather fashionable maid ran up our little garden, begging for some water for her mistress. Sending her on with the water, I followed myself with a glass of sherry.
The door in our garden-hedge opened immediately on a green hollow in the hill, sloping towards the glen. As I stepped from the little gate on to the grass, I saw, to my surprise, that a white fog was blowing in from the sea. The heights on the opposite side of the glen, partially obscured thereby, looked more majestic than was their wont, and were mottled with patches of duller and brighter color as the drifts of the fog were heaped or parted here and there. Far down, at the foot of the cliffs, the waves of the rising tide, driven shore-wards with the added force of a south-west breeze, caught and threw back what sunlight reached them, and thinned with their shine the fog between. It was all so strange and fine, and had come on so suddenly,--for when I had looked out a few minutes before, sea and sky were purely resplendent,--that I stood a moment or two and gazed, almost forgetting why I was there.
When I bethought myself and looked about me, I saw, in the sheltered hollow before me, a lady seated in a curiously-shaped chair; so constructed, in fact, as to form upon occasion a kind of litter. It was plain she was an invalid, from her paleness, and the tension of the skin on her face, revealing the outline of the bones beneath. Her features were finely formed, but rather small, and her forehead low; a Greek-like face, with large, pale-blue eyes, that reminded me of little Amy Morley's. She smiled very sweetly when she saw me, and shook her head at the wine.
"I only wanted a little water," she said. "This fog seems to stifle me."
"It has come on very suddenly," I said. "Perhaps it is the cold of it that affects your breathing. You don't seem very strong, and any sudden change of temperature"--
"I am not one of the most vigorous of mortals," she answered, with a sad smile; "but the day seemed of such indubitable character, that, after my husband had brought me here in the carriage, he sent it home, and left me with my maid, while he went for a long walk across the downs. When he sees the change in the weather, though, he will turn directly."
"It won't do to wait him here," I said. "We must get you in at once. Would it be wrong to press you to take a little of this wine, just to counteract a chill?"
"I daren't touch any thing but water," she replied, "It would make me feverish at once."
"Run and tell the cook," I said to the maid, "that I want her here. You and she could carry your mistress in, could you not? I will help you."
"There's no occasion for that, ma'am: she's as light as a feather," was the whispered answer.
"I am quite ashamed of giving you so much trouble," said the lady, either hearing or guessing at our words. "My husband will be very grateful to you."
"It is only an act of common humanity," I said.
But, as I spoke, I fancied her fair brow clouded a little, as if she was not accustomed to common humanity, and the word sounded harsh in her ear. The cloud, however, passed so quickly that I doubted, until I knew her better, whether it had really been there.
The two maids were now ready; and, Jemima instructed by the other, they lifted her with the utmost ease, and bore her gently towards the house. The garden-gate was just wide enough to let the chair through, and in a minute more she was upon the sofa. Then a fit of coughing came on which shook her dreadfully. When it had passed she lay quiet, with closed eyes, and a smile hovering about her sweet, thin-lipped mouth. By and by she opened them, and looked at me with a pitiful expression.
"I fear you are far from well," I said.
"I'm dying," she returned quietly.
"I hope not," was all I could answer.
"Why should you hope not?" she returned. "I am in no strait betwixt two. I desire to depart. For me to die will be all gain."
"But your friends?" I ventured to suggest, feeling my way, and not quite relishing either the form or tone of her utterance.
"I have none but my husband."
"Then your husband?" I persisted.
"Ah!" she said mournfully, "he will miss me, no doubt, for a while. But it must be a weight off him, for I have been a sufferer so long!"
At this moment I heard a heavy, hasty step in the passage; the next, the room door opened, and in came, in hot haste, wiping his red face, a burly man, clumsy and active, with an umbrella in his hand, followed by a great, lumbering Newfoundland dog.
"Down, Polyphemus!" he said to the dog, which crept under a chair; while he, taking no notice of my presence, hurried up to his wife.
"My love! my little dove!" he said eagerly: "did you think I had forsaken you to the cruel elements?"
"No, Alcibiades," she answered, with a sweet little drawl; "but you do not observe that I am not the only lady in the room." Then, turning to me, "This is my husband, Mr. Cromwell," she said. "I cannot tell him your name."
"I am Mrs. Percivale," I returned, almost mechanically, for the gentleman's two names had run together and were sounding in my head: Alcibiades Cromwell! How could such a conjunction have taken place without the intervention of Charles Dickens?
"I beg your pardon, ma'am," said Mr. Cromwell, bowing. "Permit my anxiety about my poor wife to cover my rudeness. I had climbed the other side of the glen before I saw the fog; and it is no such easy matter to get up and down these hills of yours. I am greatly obliged to you for your hospitality. You have doubtless saved her life; for she is a frail flower, shrinking from the least breath of cold."
The lady closed her eyes again, and the gentleman took her hand, and felt her pulse. He seemed about twice her age,--she not thirty; he well past fifty, the top of his head bald, and his gray hair sticking out fiercely over his good-natured red cheeks. He laid her hand gently down, put his hat on the table and his umbrella in a corner, wiped his face again, drew a chair near the sofa, and took his place by her side. I thought it better to leave them.
When I re-entered after a while, I saw from the windows, which looked sea-ward, that the wind had risen, and was driving thin drifts no longer, but great, thick, white masses of sea-fog landwards. It was the storm-wind of that coast, the south-west, which dashes the pebbles over the Parade, and the heavy spray against the houses. Mr. Alcibiades Cromwell was sitting as I had left him, silent, by the side of his wife, whose blue-veined eyelids had apparently never been lifted from her large eyes.
"Is there any thing I could offer Mrs. Cromwell?" I said. "Could she not eat something?"
"It is very little she can take," he answered; "but you are very kind. If you could let her have a little beef-tea? She generally has a spoonful or two about this time of the day."
"I am sorry we have none," I said; "and it would be far too long for her to wait. I have a nice chicken, though, ready for cooking: if she could take a little chicken-broth, that would be ready in a very little while."
"Thank you a thousand times, ma'am," he said heartily; "nothing could be better. She might even be induced to eat a mouthful of the chicken. But I am afraid your extreme kindness prevents me from being so thoroughly ashamed as I ought to be at putting you to so much trouble for perfect strangers."
"It is but a pleasure to be of service to any one in want of it," I said.
Mrs. Cromwell opened her eyes and smiled gratefully. I left the room to give orders about the chicken, indeed, to superintend the preparation of it myself; for Jemima could not be altogether trusted in such a delicate affair as cooking for an invalid.
When I returned, having set the simple operation going, Mr. Cromwell had a little hymn-book of mine he had found on the table open in his hand, and his wife was saying to him,--
"That is lovely! Thank you, husband. How can it be I never saw it before? I am quite astonished."
"She little knows what multitudes of hymns there are!" I thought with myself,--my father having made a collection, whence I had some idea of the extent of that department of religious literature.
"This is a hymn-book we are not acquainted with," said Mr. Cromwell, addressing me.
"It is not much known," I answered. "It was compiled by a friend of my father's for his own schools."
"And this," he went on, "is a very beautiful hymn. You may trust my wife's judgment, Mrs. Percivale. She lives upon hymns."
He read the first line to show which he meant. I had long thought, and still think, it the most beautiful hymn I know. It was taken from the German, only much improved in the taking, and given to my father to do what he pleased with; and my father had given it to another friend for his collection. Before that, however, while still in manuscript, it had fallen into the hands of a certain clergyman, by whom it had been published without leave asked, or apology made: a rudeness of which neither my father nor the author would have complained, for it was a pleasure to think it might thus reach many to whom it would be helpful; but they both felt aggrieved and indignant that he had taken the dishonest liberty of altering certain lines of it to suit his own opinions. As I am anxious to give it all the publicity I can, from pure delight in it, and love to all who are capable of the same delight, I shall here communicate it, in the full confidence of thus establishing a claim on the gratitude of my readers.
O Lord, how happy is the time When in thy love I rest! When from my weariness I climb Even to thy tender breast! The night of sorrow endeth there: Thou art brighter than the sun; And in thy pardon and thy care The heaven of heaven is won.
Let the world call herself my foe, Or let the world allure. I care not for the world: I go To this dear Friend and sure. And when life's fiercest storms are sent Upon life's wildest sea, My little bark is confident, Because it holds by thee.
When the law threatens endless death Upon the awful hill, Straightway from her consuming breath My soul goes higher still,-- Goeth to Jesus, wounded, slain, And maketh him her home, Whence she will not go out again, And where death cannot come.
I do not fear the wilderness Where thou hast been before; Nay, rather will I daily press After thee, near thee, more. Thou art my food; on thee I lean; Thou makest my heart sing; And to thy heavenly pastures green All thy dear flock dost bring.
And if the gate that opens there Be dark to other men, It is not dark to those who share The heart of Jesus then. That is not losing much of life Which is not losing thee, Who art as present in the strife As in the victory.
Therefore how happy is the time When in thy love I rest! When from my weariness I climb Even to thy tender breast! The night of sorrow endeth there: Thou are brighter than the sun; And in thy pardon and thy care The heaven of heaven is won.
In telling them a few of the facts connected with the hymn, I presume I had manifested my admiration of it with some degree of fervor.
"Ah!" said Mrs. Cromwell, opening her eyes very wide, and letting the rising tears fill them: "Ah, Mrs. Percivale! you are--you must be one of us!"
"You must tell me first who you are," I said.
She held out her hand; I gave her mine: she drew me towards her, and whispered almost in my ear--though why or whence the affectation of secrecy I can only imagine--the name of a certain small and exclusive sect. I will not indicate it, lest I should be supposed to attribute to it either the peculiar faults or virtues of my new acquaintance.
"No," I answered, speaking with the calmness of self-compulsion, for I confess I felt repelled: "I am not one of you, except in as far as we all belong to the church of Christ."
I have thought since how much better it would have been to say, "Yes: for we all belong to the church of Christ."
She gave a little sigh of disappointment, closed her eyes for a moment, opened them again with a smile, and said with a pleading tone,--
"But you do believe in personal religion?"
"I don't see," I returned, "how religion can be any thing but personal."
Again she closed her eyes, in a way that made me think how convenient bad health must be, conferring not only the privilege of passing into retirement at any desirable moment, but of doing so in such a ready and easy manner as the mere dropping of the eyelids.
I rose to leave the room once more. Mr. Cromwell, who had made way for me to sit beside his wife, stood looking out of the window, against which came sweeping the great volumes of mist. I glanced out also. Not only was the sea invisible, but even the brow of the cliffs. When he turned towards me, as I passed him, I saw that his face had lost much of its rubicund hue, and looked troubled and anxious.
"There is nothing for it," I said to myself, "but keep them all night," and so gave directions to have a bedroom prepared for them. I did not much like it, I confess; for I was not much interested in either of them, while of the sect to which she belonged I knew enough already to be aware that it was of the narrowest and most sectarian in Christendom. It was a pity she had sought to claim me by a would-be closer bond than that of the body of Christ. Still I knew I should be myself a sectary if I therefore excluded her from my best sympathies. At the same time I did feel some curiosity concerning the oddly-yoked couple, and wondered whether the lady was really so ill as she would appear. I doubted whether she might not be using her illness both as an excuse for self-indulgence, and as a means of keeping her husband's interest in her on the stretch. I did not like the wearing of her religion on her sleeve, nor the mellifluous drawl in which she spoke.
When the chicken-broth was ready, she partook daintily; but before she ended had made a very good meal, including a wing and a bit of the breast; after which she fell asleep.
"There seems little chance of the weather clearing," said Mr. Cromwell in a whisper, as I approached the window where he once more stood.
"You must make up your mind to remain here for the night," I said.
"My dear madam, I couldn't think of it," he returned,--I thought from unwillingness to incommode a strange household. "An invalid like her, sweet lamb!" he went on, "requires so many little comforts and peculiar contrivances to entice the repose she so greatly needs, that--that--in short, I must get her home."
"Where do you live?" I asked, not sorry to find his intention of going so fixed.
"We have a house in Warrior Square," he answered. "We live in London, but have been here all the past winter. I doubt if she improves, though. I doubt--I doubt."
He said the last words in a yet lower and more mournful whisper; then, with a shake of his head, turned and gazed again through the window.
A peculiar little cough from the sofa made us both look round. Mrs. Cromwell was awake, and searching for her handkerchief. Her husband understood her movements, and hurried to her assistance. When she took the handkerchief from her mouth, there was a red spot upon it. Mr. Cromwell's face turned the color of lead; but his wife looked up at him, and smiled; a sweet, consciously pathetic smile.
"He has sent for me," she said. "The messenger has come."
Her husband made no answer. His eyes seemed starting from his head.
"Who is your medical man?" I asked him.
He told me, and I sent off my housemaid to fetch him. It was a long hour before he arrived; during which, as often as I peeped in, I saw him sitting silent, and holding her hand, until the last time, when I found him reading a hymn to her. She was apparently once more asleep. Nothing could be more favorable to her recovery than such quietness of both body and mind.
When the doctor came, and had listened to Mr. Cromwell's statement, he proceeded to examine her chest with much care. That over, he averred in her hearing that he found nothing serious; but told her husband apart that there was considerable mischief, and assured me afterwards that her lungs were all but gone, and that she could not live beyond a month or two. She had better be removed to her own house, he said, as speedily as possible.
"But it would be cruelty to send her out a day like this," I returned.
"Yes, yes: I did not mean that," he said. "But to-morrow, perhaps. You'll see what the weather is like. Is Mrs. Cromwell an old friend?"
"I never saw her until to-day," I replied.
"Ah!" he remarked, and said no more.
We got her to bed as soon as possible. I may just mention that I never saw any thing to equal the point-devise of her underclothing. There was not a stitch of cotton about her, using the word stitch in its metaphorical sense. But, indeed, I doubt whether her garments were not all made with linen thread. Even her horse-hair petticoat was quilted with rose-colored silk inside.
"Surely she has no children!" I said to myself; and was right, as my mother-readers will not be surprised to learn.
It was a week before she got up again, and a month before she was carried down the hill; during which time her husband sat up with her, or slept on a sofa in the room beside her, every night. During the day I took a share in the nursing, which was by no means oppressive, for she did not suffer much, and required little. Her chief demand was for hymns, the only annoyance connected with which worth mentioning was, that she often wished me to admire with her such as I could only half like, and occasionally such as were thoroughly distasteful to me. Her husband had brought her own collection from Warrior Square, volumes of hymns in manuscript, copied by her own hand, many of them strange to me, none of those I read altogether devoid of literary merit, and some of them lovely both in feeling and form. But all, even the best, which to me were unobjectionable, belonged to one class,--a class breathing a certain tone difficult to describe; one, however, which I find characteristic of all the Roman Catholic hymns I have read. I will not indicate any of her selection; neither, lest I should be supposed to object to this or that one answering to the general description, and yet worthy of all respect, or even sympathy, will I go further with a specification of their sort than to say that what pleased me in them was their full utterance of personal devotion to the Saviour, and that what displeased me was a sort of sentimental regard of self in the matter,--an implied special, and thus partially exclusive predilection or preference of the Saviour for the individual supposed to be making use of them; a certain fundamental want of humility therefore, although the forms of speech in which they were cast might be laboriously humble. They also not unfrequently manifested a great leaning to the forms of earthly show as representative of the glories of that kingdom which the Lord says is within us.
Likewise the manner in which Mrs. Cromwell talked reminded me much of the way in which a nun would represent her individual relation to Christ. I can best show what I mean by giving a conversation I had with her one day when she was recovering, which she did with wonderful rapidity up to a certain point. I confess I shrink a little from reproducing it, because of the sacred name which, as it seemed to me, was far too often upon her lips, and too easily uttered. But then, she was made so different from me!
The fine weather had returned in all its summer glory, and she was lying on a couch in her own room near the window, whence she could gaze on the expanse of sea below, this morning streaked with the most delicate gradations of distance, sweep beyond sweep, line and band and ribbon of softly, often but slightly varied hue, leading the eyes on and on into the infinite. There may have been some atmospheric illusion ending off the show, for the last reaches mingled so with the air that you saw no horizon line, only a great breadth of border; no spot which could you appropriate with certainty either to sea or sky; while here and there was a vessel, to all appearance, pursuing its path in the sky, and not upon the sea. It was, as some of my readers will not require to be told, a still, gray forenoon, with a film of cloud over all the heavens, and many horizontal strata of deeper but varying density near the horizon.
Mrs. Cromwell had lain for some time with her large eyes fixed on the farthest confusion of sea and sky.
"I have been sending out my soul," she said at length, "to travel all across those distances, step by step, on to the gates of pearl. Who knows but that may be the path I must travel to meet the Bridegroom?"
"The way is wide," I said: "what if you should miss him?"
I spoke almost involuntarily. The style of her talk was very distasteful to me; and I had just been thinking of what I had once heard my father say, that at no time were people in more danger of being theatrical than when upon their death-beds.
"No," she returned, with a smile of gentle superiority; "no: that cannot be. Is he not waiting for me? Has he not chosen me, and called me for his own? Is not my Jesus mine? I shall not miss him. He waits to give me my new name, and clothe me in the garments of righteousness."
As she spoke, she clasped her thin hands, and looked upwards with a radiant expression. Far as it was from me to hint, even in my own soul, that the Saviour was not hers, tenfold more hers than she was able to think, I could not at the same time but doubt whether her heart and soul and mind were as close to him as her words would indicate she thought they were. She could not be wrong in trusting him; but could she be right in her notion of the measure to which her union with him had been perfected? I could not help thinking that a little fear, soon to pass into reverence, might be to her a salutary thing. The fear, I thought, would heighten and deepen the love, and purify it from that self which haunted her whole consciousness, and of which she had not yet sickened, as one day she certainly must.
"My lamp is burning," she said; "I feel it burning. I love my Lord. It would be false to say otherwise."
"Are you sure you have oil enough in your vessel as well as in your lamp?" I said.
"Ah, you are one of the doubting!" she returned kindly. "Don't you know that sweet hymn about feeding our lamps from the olive-trees of Gethsemane? The idea is taken from the lamp the prophet Zechariah saw in his vision, into which two olive-branches, through two golden pipes, emptied the golden oil out of themselves. If we are thus one with the olive-tree, the oil cannot fail us. It is not as if we had to fill our lamps from a cruse of our own. This is the cruse that cannot fail."
"True, true," I said; "but ought we not to examine our own selves whether we are in the faith?"
"Let those examine that doubt," she replied; and I could not but yield in my heart that she had had the best of the argument.
For I knew that the confidence in Christ which prevents us from thinking of ourselves, and makes us eager to obey his word, leaving all the care of our feelings to him, is a true and healthy faith. Hence I could not answer her, although I doubted whether her peace came from such confidence,--doubted for several reasons: one, that, so far from not thinking of herself, she seemed full of herself; another, that she seemed to find no difficulty with herself in any way; and, surely, she was too young for all struggle to be over! I perceived no reference to the will of God in regard of any thing she had to do, only in regard of what she had to suffer, and especially in regard of that smallest of matters, when she was to go. Here I checked myself, for what could she do in such a state of health? But then she never spoke as if she had any anxiety about the welfare of other people. That, however, might be from her absolute contentment in the will of God. But why did she always look to the Saviour through a mist of hymns, and never go straight back to the genuine old good news, or to the mighty thoughts and exhortations with which the first preachers of that news followed them up and unfolded the grandeur of their goodness? After all, was I not judging her? On the other hand, ought I not to care for her state? Should I not be inhuman, that is, unchristian, if I did not?
In the end I saw clearly enough, that, except it was revealed to me what I ought to say, I had no right to say any thing; and that to be uneasy about her was to distrust Him whose it was to teach her, and who would perfect that which he had certainly begun in her. For her heart, however poor and faulty and flimsy its faith might be, was yet certainly drawn towards the object of faith. I, therefore, said nothing more in the direction of opening her eyes to what I considered her condition: that view of it might, after all, be but a phantasm of my own projection. What was plainly my duty was to serve her as one of those the least of whom the Saviour sets forth as representing himself. I would do it to her as unto him.
My children were out the greater part of every day, and Dora was with me, so that I had more leisure than I had had for a long time. I therefore set myself to wait upon her as a kind of lady's maid in things spiritual. Her own maid, understanding her ways, was sufficient for things temporal. I resolved to try to help her after her own fashion, and not after mine; for, however strange the nourishment she preferred might seem, it must at least be of the kind she could best assimilate. My care should be to give her her gruel as good as I might, and her beef-tea strong, with chicken-broth instead of barley-water and delusive jelly. But much opportunity of ministration was not afforded me; for her husband, whose business in life she seemed to regard as the care of her,--for which, in truth, she was gently and lovingly grateful,--and who not merely accepted her view of the matter, but, I was pretty sure, had had a large share in originating it, was even more constant in his attentions than she found altogether agreeable, to judge by the way in which she would insist on his going out for a second walk, when it was clear, that, besides his desire to be with her, he was not inclined to walk any more.
I could set myself, however, as I have indicated, to find fitting pabulum for her, and that of her chosen sort. This was possible for me in virtue of my father's collection of hymns, and the aid he could give me. I therefore sent him a detailed description of what seemed to me her condition, and what I thought I might do for her. It was a week before he gave me an answer; but it arrived a thorough one, in the shape of a box of books, each bristling with paper marks, many of them inscribed with some fact concerning, or criticism upon, the hymn indicated. He wrote that he quite agreed with my notion of the right mode of serving her; for any other would be as if a besieging party were to batter a postern by means of boats instead of walking over a lowered drawbridge, and under a raised portcullis.
Having taken a survey of the hymns my father thus pointed out to me, and arranged them according to their degrees of approximation to the weakest of those in Mrs. Cromwell's collection, I judged that in all of them there was something she must appreciate, although the main drift of several would be entirely beyond her apprehension. Even these, however, it would be well to try upon her.
Accordingly, the next time she asked me to read from her collection, I made the request that she would listen to some which I believed she did not know, but would, I thought, like. She consented with eagerness, was astonished to find she knew none of them, expressed much approbation of some, and showed herself delighted with others.
That she must have had some literary faculty seems evident from the genuine pleasure she took in simple, quaint, sometimes even odd hymns of her own peculiar kind. But the very best of another sort she could not appreciate. For instance, the following, by John Mason, in my father's opinion one of the best hymn-writers, had no attraction for her:--
"Thou wast, O God, and thou was blest Before the world begun; Of thine eternity possest Before time's glass did run. Thou needest none thy praise to sing, As if thy joy could fade: Couldst thou have needed any thing, Thou couldst have nothing made.
"Great and good God, it pleaseth thee Thy Godhead to declare; And what thy goodness did decree, Thy greatness did prepare: Thou spak'st, and heaven and earth appeared, And answered to thy call; As if their Maker's voice they Heard, Which is the creature's All.
"Thou spak'st the word, most mighty Lord; Thy word went forth with speed: Thy will, O Lord, it was thy word; Thy word it was thy deed. Thou brought'st forth Adam from the ground, And Eve out of his side: Thy blessing made the earth abound With these two multiplied.
"Those three great leaves, heaven, sea, and land, Thy name in figures show; Brutes feel the bounty of thy hand, But I my Maker know. Should not I here thy servant be, Whose creatures serve me here? My Lord, whom should I fear but thee, Who am thy creatures' fear?
"To whom, Lord, should I sing but thee, The Maker of my tongue? Lo! other lords would seize on me, But I to thee belong. As waters haste unto their sea, And earth unto its earth, So let my soul return to thee, From whom it had its birth.
"But, ah! I'm fallen in the night, And cannot come to thee: Yet speak the word, 'Let there be light;' It shall enlighten me. And let thy word, most mighty Lord, Thy fallen creature raise: Oh! make me o'er again, and I Shall sing my Maker's praise."
This and others, I say, she could not relish; but my endeavors were crowned with success in so far that she accepted better specimens of the sort she liked than any she had; and I think they must have had a good influence upon her.
She seemed to have no fear of death, contemplating the change she believed at hand, not with equanimity merely, but with expectation. She even wrote hymns about it,--sweet, pretty, and weak, always with herself and the love of her Saviour for her, in the foreground. She had not learned that the love which lays hold of that which is human in the individual, that is, which is common to the whole race, must be an infinitely deeper, tenderer, and more precious thing to the individual than any affection manifesting itself in the preference of one over another.
For the sake of revealing her modes of thought, I will give one more specimen of my conversations with her, ere I pass on. It took place the evening before her departure for her own house. Her husband had gone to make some final preparations, of which there had been many. For one who expected to be unclothed that she might be clothed upon, she certainly made a tolerable to-do about the garment she was so soon to lay aside; especially seeing she often spoke of it as an ill-fitting garment--never with peevishness or complaint, only, as it seemed to me, with far more interest than it was worth. She had even, as afterwards appeared, given her husband--good, honest, dog-like man--full instructions as to the ceremonial of its interment. Perhaps I should have been considerably less bewildered with her conduct had I suspected that she was not half so near death as she chose to think, and that she had as yet suffered little.
That evening, the stars just beginning to glimmer through the warm flush that lingered from the sunset, we sat together in the drawing-room looking out on the sea. My patient appearing, from the light in her eyes, about to go off into one of her ecstatic moods, I hastened to forestall it, if I might, with whatever came uppermost; for I felt my inability to sympathize with her in these more of a pain than my reader will, perhaps, readily imagine.
"It seems like turning you out to let you go to-morrow, Mrs. Cromwell," I said; "but, you see, our three months are up two days after, and I cannot help it."
"You have been very kind," she said, half abstractedly. "And you are really much better. Who would have thought three weeks ago to see you so well to-day?"
"Ah! you congratulate me, do you?" she rejoined, turning her big eyes full upon me; "congratulate me that I am doomed to be still a captive in the prison of this vile body? Is it kind? Is it well?"
"At least, you must remember, if you are doomed, who dooms you."
"'Oh that I had the wings of a dove!'" she cried, avoiding my remark, of which I doubt if she saw the drift. "Think, dear Mrs. Percivale: the society of saints and angels!--all brightness and harmony and peace! Is it not worth forsaking this world to inherit a kingdom like that? Wouldn't you like to go? Don't you wish to fly away and be at rest?"
She spoke as if expostulating and reasoning with one she would persuade to some kind of holy emigration.
"Not until I am sent for," I answered.
"I am sent for," she returned.
"'The wave may be cold, and the tide may be strong; But, hark! on the shore the angels' glad song!'
"Do you know that sweet hymn, Mrs. Percivale? There I shall be able to love him aright, to serve him aright!
"'Here all my labor is so poor! Here all my love so faint! But when I reach the heavenly door, I cease the weary plaint.'"
I couldn't help wishing she would cease it a little sooner.
"But suppose," I ventured to say, "it were the will of God that you should live many years yet."
"That cannot be. And why should you wish it for me? Is it not better to depart and be with him? What pleasure could it be to a weak, worn creature like me to go on living in this isle of banishment?"
"But suppose you were to recover your health: would it not be delightful to do something for his sake? If you would think of how much there is to be done in the world, perhaps you would wish less to die and leave it."
"Do not tempt me," she returned reproachfully.
And then she quoted a passage the application of which to her own case appeared to me so irreverent, that I confess I felt like Abraham with the idolater; so far at least as to wish her out of the house, for I could bear with her, I thought, no longer.
She did leave it the next day, and I breathed more freely than since she had entered it.
My husband came down to fetch me the following day; and a walk with him along the cliffs in the gathering twilight, during which I recounted the affectations of my late visitor, completely wiped the cobwebs from my mental windows, and enabled me to come to the conclusion that Mrs. Cromwell was but a spoiled child, who would, somehow or other, be brought to her senses before all was over. I was ashamed of my impatience with her, and believed if I could have learned her history, of which she had told me nothing, it would have explained the rare phenomenon of one apparently able to look death in the face with so little of the really spiritual to support her, for she seemed to me to know Christ only after the flesh. But had she indeed ever looked death in the face?
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