Mr. Axtell: Part Iv
I SAID that the afternoon sunlight poured its rain into the church-yard. It was four of the clock when Aaron left me.
The dream that I had received impression of still dwelt in active remembrance, and a little fringe from the greater glory mine eyes had seen went trailing in flows of light along the edge of earth, as if saying unto it, “ Arise and behold what I am! ”
One child habiting earth dared to lift eyes into the awful arch of air, wherein are laid the foundation-stones of the crystalline wall, and, beholding drops of Infinite Love, garnered one, and, walking forth with it in her heart, went into the churchyard, a regret arising that the graves that held the columns fallen from the familycorridor had found so little of place within affection’s realm. The regret, growing into resolution, hastened her steps, that went unto the place devoted to the dead Percivals. It was in a corner, — the corner wherein grew the pine-tree of the hills.
“ A peaceful spot of earth,” I thought, as I went into the hedged inclosure, and shut myself in with the gleaming marble, and the low-hanging evergreens that waved their green arms to ward ill away from those they had grown up among. “ Tt is long since the ground has been broken here,” I thought, — “ so long! ” And I looked upon a monumental stone to find there recorded the latest date of death. It was eighteen hundred and forty-four,—my mother’s,— and I looked about and sought her grave. The grass seemed crispy and dry. I sat down by this grave. I leaned over it, and looked into the tangled net-work of dead fibres held fast by some link of the past to living roots underneath. I plucked some of them, and in idlest of fancies looked closely to see if deeds or thoughts of a summer gone had been left upon them. “ No ! I’ve had enough of fancies for one day; I ’ll have no more tonight,” I thought; and I wished for something to do. I longed for action whereon to imprint my new impress of resolution. It came in a guise I had not calculated upon.
“ It's very wrong of you to sit upon that damp ground, Miss Percival.”
The words evidently were addressed to me, sitting hidden in among the evergreens. I looked up and answered,—
“ It is not damp, Mr. Axtell.”
He was leaning upon the iron railing outside of the hedge.
“ Will you come away from that cold, damp place ? ” he went on.
“ I’m not ready to leave yet,” I said, and never moved, I asked, —
“ How is your sister since morning?”
I thought him offended. He made no reply,—only walked away and went into the church close by.
“ One can never know the next mood that one of these Axtells will take,” I said to myself, in the stillness that followed his going. “ He might have answered me, at least.” Then I reproached Anna Percival for cherishing uncharity towards tried humanity. There 's a way appointed for escape, I know, and I sought it, burying my face in my hands, and leaning over the stillness of my mother’s heart. I heard steps drawing near. Looking up, I saw Mr. Axtell entering the inclosure. He had brought one of the church pew-cushions.
“ Will you rise ? ” he asked.
He did not bring the cushion to where I was; he carried it around and spread it in a vacant spot between two graves, the place left beside my mother for my precious father’s white hairs to be laid in. Having deposited it there, he looked at me, evidently expecting that I would avail myself of his kindness. I wanted to refuse. I felt perfectly comfortable where I was. I should have done so, had not my intention been intercepted by a shaft of expression that crossed my vein of humor unexpectedly. It was only a look from out of his eyes. They were absolutely colorless, — not white, not black, but a strange mingling of all hues made them everything to my view, — and yet so full of coloring that no one ray came shining out and said, “ I ’m blue, or black, or gray ” ; but something said, if not the mandate of color, “ Obey ! ”
“ Sacrilege ! ” I said. “ It is a place for worsbip.”
“ Whose grave is this ? ” Mr. Axtell asked, as he bent down and laid his hand upon the sod. It was upon the one next beyond my mother’s; between the two it was that he had placed the cushion.
“ The head-stone is just there. You can read, can you not ? ” I asked, with a spice of malice, because for the second time this barbaric gentleman had commanded me to obey.
He lifted himself up, leaned against the towering family-monument, and slowly said,—
“ Miss Percival, it is very hard for an Axtell to forgive.”
I thought of the face in the Upper Country, and asked, —
“ Why ? ”
“ Because the Creator has almost deprived them of forgiving power. Don’t tempt one of them to sin by giving occasion for the exercise of that wherein they mourn at being deficient.”
I pulled dead grassy fibres again, and said nothing.
The second time he bent to the mound of earth, and said, —
“ Please tell me now, Miss Anna, whose grave this is ” ; and there were tears in his eyes that made them for the moment grandly brown.
“ Truly, Mr. Axtell. I do not know. I ’ve been so busy with the living that I’ve not thought much of this place. It is so long since all these died, you know ”; and I looked about upon the little village closed in by the iron railing. I do not know that I can tell you one, save my mother’s, here. I remember her ; the others I cannot.”
I arose to walk around to the headstone and see.
“ No,” he said. “ Will you listen to me a little while ? ”
“ If you ’ll sing for me.”
“ Sing for you?” — and there was a world of reproach in his meaning. “ Is this a place for songs ? or am I a man to sing ? ”
“ Why not, Mr. Axtell ? Aaron told me that you could sing, if you would ; he has heard you.”
“ I will sing for you,” he said, “ if, after I am done, you choose to hear the song I sing.”
I thought again of Miss Lettie, and put the question, once unheeded, concerning her.
“ She is better. Your sister is a charming nurse.”
A long quiet ensued ; in it came the memory of Dr. Eaton’s interest in the young girl’s face.
“ Is Mr. Axtell an artist?” I asked, after the silence.
“ Mr. Axtell is a church-sexton,” was the response.
“ Cannot he be both sexton and artist ? ”
“ How can he ? ”
“ You have a strange way of telling me that I ought not to question you,” I said, vexed at his non-committal words and manner.
He changed the subject widely, when next he spoke.
“ Have you the letter that you picked up last night ? ” he asked,
“ Yes, Mr. Axtell.”
“ Give it to me, please.”
“ Did Miss Lettie commission you to ask ? ”
“ She did not.”
“ Then I cannot give it to you.”
“ Cannot give me my sister’s letter ? ”
“ It was to me that it was intrusted.”
“ And you are afraid to trust me with it ?”
“ I am afraid to break the trust reposed in myself.”
Again the black roll of silent thunder gloomed on his brow; as once his sister’s eves had been, his now were coruscant.
“ Do you refuse to give it to me ? ” he demanded.
“ I do,” I said, “ now, and until Miss Lettie says, ߠ Give.’ ”
“ You’ve learned the contents, I presume,” he said, with untold sarcasm. “ Woman’s curiosity digs deeply, when once aroused.”
“ You’ve been taught of woman in a sad school, I fear. I 'll forgive the faults of your education, Mr. Axtell. Have you any more remarks to me ? I ’m waiting.”
“ Do you know the contents of the letter that made Lettie so anxious ? ”
“ You accused me before questioning formerly, or I should have given you truth. I have no knowledge of what is in the letter.”
He had resumed his former position, leaning against the monument, where I had mine. He changed it now, drawing nearer for an instant, then went to the side of the grave that he had asked me concerning, kneeled there, laid two hands above it, and said,—
“ Letty was right, Miss Anna. God has made you well, — made you after the similitude of her who sleeps underneath this sod. Will you forgive my rudeness ? ”
And he looked down as I had done, ere he came, into the tangled, matted fibres, then out into the great all-where of air, as if some mysterious presence encompassed him.
Very lowly I said, —
“ Forgiveness is of God and I remembered the vision that came in my dream. The little voice that steals into hearts crowded with emotions, and tells tiny nerves of wish which way to fly, went whispering through the niches of my mind, “ Tell the dream.”
Mr. Axtell went back to his monumental resting-place. I said,—
“ I have had a wonderful dream today ” ; and I began to tell the opening thereof.
The first sentence was not told when I stopped, suddenly. I could not go on. He asked me, “ Why ? ” I only re-uttered what I felt, that I could not tell it.
“ Oh! I have had a dream,” he said, — “one that for eighteen years has been hung above my days and woven into my nights, — a great, hopeless woof of doom. I have tried to broider it with gold, I have tried to hang silver-bells upon the drooping corners thereof. I have tried to fold it about me aud wear it, as other men wear sorrows, for the sun of heaven and the warmth of society to draw the wrinkled creases out. I have striven to fold it up, and lay it by in the arbor-vitæ chest of memory, with myrrh and camphor, but it will not be exorcised. No, no! it hangs firm as granite, stiff as the axis of the sun, unapproachable as the aurora of the North. Miss Percival, could you wear such a vestment in the march of life ? ”
“ Your dream is too mystical; will you tell me what it has done for you ? As yet, I only know what you have not done with it.”
“ What it has done for me ? "—and he went slowly on, thinking half aloud, as if the idea were occurring for the first time.
“ It touched me one soft summer day, before the earth became mildewed and famine-stricken. I was a proud, wilful Axtell boy; all the family traits were written with a white-hot pen on me. My will, my great high will, went ringing chimes of what I would do through the house where I was born, where my mother has just died, and I swung this right arm forth into the air of existence, and said, ‘ I wall do what I will; men shall say I am a master in the land.’
“ My father sent me away from home for education. I walked with intrepid mind through the course where others halted, weary, overladen, unfit for burden.
“To gain the valedictory oration was one goal that I had said I would attain to. I did. That was nineteen years ago. I came home in the soft, hot, Augusttime. It was the close of the month. The moon was at its highest flood of light. I was at the highest tide of willmight. That night, if any one had told me I could not do that which I had a wish to accomplish, I would have made my desire triumphant, or death would have been my only conqueror. Oh! it is dreadful to have such a nature handed down from the dark past, and thrust into one’s life, to be battled with, to be hewn down at last, unless the lightning of God’s wrath cleaves into the spirit and wakes up the volcano, which forever after emits only fire and sulphur. There’s yet one way more, after the lightningstroke comes,— something unutterable, something that canopies the soul with doom, and forever the spirit tries to raise its wings and fly away, but every uplifting strikes fire, until, singed, scorched, burnt, wings grow useless, and droop down, never more to be uplifted.”
Mr. Axtell drooped his arms, as if typical of the wings he had described. Borne away by the excitement of his words, he stood straight up against the far-away sky, with the verdure of Norway-evergreens soothingly waving their green around him. There was a magnificence of mien in the man, that made my spirit say, —
“ The Deity made that man for great deeds.”
He glanced down at the grave once more, and resumed : —
“ I came home that August night. The prairie of Time rolled out limitless before my imagination. I built pyramids of fame ; I laid the foundation of Babel once more, in my heart,—for I said, "My name shall touch the stars, — my name ! Abraham Axtell! ’ It is only written in earth, ground to powder, to-day.”
“ An atom of earth’s powder may be a star to eyes vast enough to see the fulness that dwells therein, until to angelic vision our planet stands out a universe of starry suns, each particle of dust luminous with eternities of limitless space between,” I said, as he, pausing, stooped, and stirred the crisp grass, to outline his name there.
“ All things are possible,” he murmured, “ but the rending of my mantle of doom.”
He looked from the tracing of his name to the west.
“ The sun is going down once more,” he said, and bowed his head, as one does, waiting for pastoral, benediction. His eyes were fixed now, as I had seen his sister’s held, hut his lips poured out words.
“ The moonlight sheened the earth, hot and heavy and still, that night. My father, mother, and Lettie were in the home where you have seen sorrow come. Up from the sea came the low, hollow boom of surges rising over the crust of land.
“ ‘ To the sea, to the sea, let us go! ’ I cried ; ‘ it is the very night to tread the hall of moonbeams that leads to palace of pearls ! ’
“ My mother was weary; she would have stayed at home, but I was her pearl of price ; she forgot herself. You know the stream that comes down from the mountain and empties into the ocean. It was in that stream that my boat floated, and a long walk away. Lettie left us. Just after we started, I missed her, and asked where she had gone.
“ ‘ You ’ll see soon,’ replied my mother; and even as I looked back, I saw Lettie following, with a shadow other than her own falling on the midsummer grass. She did not hasten ; she did not seek to come up with us. My mother was walking beside me.
“ Thus we came to the river, at the place where it wanders out into the ocean. I saw my boat, my River-Ribbon, floating its cable-length, but never more, and undulating to the throbs of tide that pulsated along the blue vein of water, heralding the motion of the heart outside. We stopped there. The moon was set in the firmament high and fast, as when it was made to rule the night. The hall of light, lit up along the twinkling way of waters, looked shining and beckoning in its wavy ways of grace, a very home for the restless spirit. I wanted to thread its labyrinth of sparkles; I wanted to cool my wings of desire in its phosphorescent dew. I said,—
“ ‘ I am going out upon the sea.’
“ My mother seemed troubled.
“ ‘ Abraham, the boat is unsafe; the water comes through. See ! it is half full now’; and she pointed to where it lay in the stream, liped with a mimic portraiture of the endless corridor of moonlight that went playing across the bit of water it held.
“ ‘This is childish, this is folly,’ I thought, ‘ to be stayed on such a spirit mission by a few cups of water in a boat! What shall I ever accomplish in life, if I yield thus ? ’—and without waiting to more than half hear, certainly not to obey, my father’s stern ‘ Stay on shore, Abraham/ I went down the bank, stepped into a bit of a bark, and pushed it into the stream, where my boat was now rocking on the strengthened flow of ocean’s rise.
“ I came to the boat, bailed out the water with a tin cup that lay floating inside, and calling back to land, 'Go home without me ; do not wait,’ I took the oars, and in my River-Ribbon, set free from its anchorage, I commenced rowing against the tide. I looked back to the bank I was fast leaving. I saw figures standing there.
“ ‘ They ’ll go home soon,’ I said, and I turned my eyes steadfastly toward the sheeny track, all crimpled and curled with fibrous net-work, and rowed on.
“ It was a glorious night, — a night when one toss of a mermaid’s hair, made visible above the waters, as she flew along the track I was pursuing, would have been worth a life of rowing against this incoming tide.
“ You have never tried to row, Miss Anna. You don’t know how hard it is to push a boat out of a river when the sea sends up full veins to course the strong arms she reaches up into the land.”
For one moment, as he addressed me, his eyes lost their rapt look ; they went back to it, and he to his story.
“ I saw the fin of a shark dancing in the waves. Sharks were nothing for me. I did not look down into my boat. No, men never do; they look beyond where they are. They ’re a sorry race, Miss Anna.
“ The shark went down after some bit of prey more delicious than I. My will would have been hard for him to manage. I forgot the shark. I forgot the figures standing, waiting ou the shore that I had left, ere Lettie and the shadow that walked with her, whatever it was, had come to it. I forgot everything but the phosphorescent dew that would cool my spirit, athirst for what I knew not, ravenous for refreshment, searching for manna where it never grew. The plaudits of yesterday were ringing in my ears, the wavelets danced to their music, my oars kept time to the vanity measure of my beating mind. Still I was not content. I wanted something more. A faded flower, an althea-bud, was still pendent from my coat. I had taken it out from the mass of flowers with which I had been honored. I noticed it now. The moon dewed it over with its yellowness. ‘ An offering to the sea-nymphs ! ’ I said, and I cast it forth into the wide field. It did not go down, as I had fancied it would. No, it went on, whither the movement of the ceaseless dance of motion carried it. I leaned upon my oars and watched it until it went out of the illuminated track. I was now in the bay, outside the river. I looked once more shoreward. I had threaded the curve of the stream, and could not see around the point. No living human thing was in sight. I was alone with Nature in the night, when she looks down glories, and spreads out fields where we long to walk, and our footsteps are fast in clay. I was not far from shore; it lay dark behind me ; it was only before that I could see. As I paused in my rowing to watch the althea-bud set afloat, I heard a tiny splash in the waters.
“ ‘ A school of fish flashing up a moment,’ I thought, and did not further heed it.”
The man looked as if he were now out at sea. He turned his head the least bit: the effect against the sky was fine. He had an attitude of watching and listening.
“ I saw an object before me moving on the waters. I looked down. The water was rising in my own boat. I could not heed it just now.
“ ‘ In a moment,’ I thought, ' I would stop to bail it out.’
“ It was a boat that I saw. It moved on so swiftly, — the chime of the oars, tiny oars they were, was so sweetly", softly musical, the very drippling drops fell so like globules of silver, that I forgot my mission. I held my oars and waited. At last — how long it seemed ! — I saw the boat come into the bridge of light. I saw fair, golden hair let loose to the sea-breezes that began to blow. I saw two hands striving with the oars. I saw the owner of the hair and of the hands, a young girl, sitting in that boat, coming right across the way where I ought to be going.
“ ‘ Does she mean to stay me ? ’ I said, and even then my will rose up.
“ I bent to the oars ; but whilst I had watched her, my boat had been vapidly filling. I was forced to stay. My feet were already in the waves. Right across my pathway she came, close up to my filling boat.
“ Her eyes were in the shadow, the moon being behind, but her voice rang out these words:—
“‘Mr. Axtell, you 're committing a great sin. You ’re putting your own life in peril. You ’re killing your mother. I have come to stay you. Will you come on shore ? ’
“ I only looked at her. When I found voice, it was to ask, —
“ ‘ Who are you ? ’
“ ‘ Who I am does n’t matter now. Drowning men must n’t ask questions’; and, putting one oar within my boat, now more than half filled, she drew her own to its side, and said, —
“ ‘ Come in.’
“ ‘ Conquered by a woman,’ I thought. ‘ Never ! ’ — and I began to search for the cup, that I might give back to the sea its intruding contents.
“ I had left it in the other boat.
“ ‘ Conquered by thine own sin,’ said the young girl, still holding fast to my boat.
“ ‘ Not so easily, fairy, or whoe’er thou art,’ I said ; for I saw that her boat was well furnished with both bailing-bowl and sponge, and I reached out for them, saying, ‘ I ’m going on the track, farther out.’
“ She divined my intent, and quick as was my thought were her two hands; she cast both bowl and sponge into the sea.
“ ‘ Mr. Axtell,’ she said ; ‘ there ’s a power in the world greater than your own. The sooner you yield, the less you ’ll feel the thorns. Your mother, on the shore, is suffering agonies for you. Will you come into this boat, now ?’
“ The boats had floated around a little, and had changed places. I looked into her eyes ; there was nothing there that said, ‘ I’m trying to conquer you.’ There was something in them that I had never seen made visible on earth before,—something radiant, with a might of right, that made me yield. She saw that I was coming. I lifted my feet out of the inches of water that had nearly filled it, put my oars across her tiny boat, and, leaving my own River-Ribbon to its fate, I entered that wherein my preserver had come out. I took the oars from her passive hands; she went to the front of the boat and left me master of the small ship. I turned its prow homeward. My preserver sat motionless, her eyes in the moon, for aught of notice she took of me. I was going toward the river; she bade me keep to the bay-shore, at the right. I obeyed. No more words were spoken until we were almost to land. I saw a little bulb afloat. The boat went near. I put out my oar and drew it in. It was the altheabud that I had offered to the sea-nymphs.
“‘ The mermaids refuse my offering,’ I said; ' will you accept it ?’ — and I handed it, dripping with salt-water, to the fairy who sat so silently before me.
“ She took it, pointed to a little sheltered cove between two outstanding ledges of rock, and said,—
“‘This is boatie's home, — see if you can guide her safely in.’
“ The keel grated on the gravelly beach, the boat struck home. The young girl did uot wait for me, she landed first, and, Lauding me a tiny key, said,—
“ ‘ Draw my boat up out of reach of the tide, make it fast, please,’ — and she sped away into the dreamy darkness of the land, whose shadows the moon did not yet reach, leaving me alone on the shore.
“ I obeyed her orders implicitly, and then followed. It was not far from this sheltered cove that I met those with whom I had come. My mother was sitting upon one of the sea-shore rocks, passive, but stony. The young girl had just been speaking to her, she must have been saving that ‘ I was come back,’ but my mother had not heeded. It was only in sight that her reason came, but, oh ! such a deluge of gladness came to her when she saw me !
“ ‘ I was dying,’ she said ; ‘ you’ve come back to save me, Abraham.’
“ My father did not speak then, he lifted my mother from off the stone, and together we three walked home. Lettie lingered, the shadow with her. Was that the young girl? I could not quite discern.”
Mr. Axtell stopped in his narration, walked out of the village of Dead Percivals, and to his mother’s new-made grave. He came back soon.
“ Miss Percival,” he said, “ two days ago you said, ‘ it was the strangest thing that ever you saw man do, to dig his mother’s grave.' It was a work begun long ago ; the first stroke was that August night; it is nearly nineteen years ago. What do you think of it now ? ”
“ As I thought then, Mr. Axtell.”
He stood near me now. He went on.
“ That young girl saved my life that night, Miss Percival. Ere we reached home, a violent, sudden thunder-storm came down, with wind and rain, and terrible strokes of lightning. We took shelter in another house than home. Lettie and my preserver followed.”
Another long pause came, a gathering together of the forces of his nature, typical of the still hotness of the August night of which he spoke, and after the ominous rest he emitted ponderous words. They Came like crackles of rattling electricity. I could taste it.
“ Miss Percival, look at me one moment.”
“ Do I look like a murderer ? ”
“ I don’t know.”
“ Don’t turn your eyes away ; do you know what certain words in this world mean ? ”
“ Signal one, and I will answer.’
He looked so leonic that I felt the least bit in the world like running away, hut decided to stay, as he was just within my pathway of escape.
“ Do you know what it is, what it means, when a human soul calls out from its highest heights to another mortal, ‘ Thou art mine’? ”
I do not think he expected an answer, but I answered a round, full, truthful, “ No.”
“ Then let it be the theme of thanksgiving,” he said. “ That fair young girl is here now. I feel her sacred presence. She does not save me from my imperious will.
“ Do you know, Miss Pcrcival,” he suddenly resumed, “ do you know that you are here with Abraham Axtell, a man who has destroyed two lives: one slowly, surely, through years of suffering; the other, oh ! the other — by a flash from God’s wrath, and for eighteen years my soul has cried out to her, ‘ Thou art mine,’ and yet there is no response on earth, there can be none ? Would you know the name of my preserver that night, come,” — and, bending down, he offered his hand to assist me in rising.
I had no faith in this man’s murderousness, whatever he might have done. He led me around to the head-stone of the grave which he had asked my knowledge of. Before I could see, he passed his hand across my eyes: how cold it was!
“ When you see the name recorded here,” he said, “ you will know who saved me that August night, whom my terrible will destroyed, drinking her young life up in one fell cup.”
His hand was withdrawn for one moment ; my sight was blinded with the cold pressure on my eyes ; then I read, —
JULIUS AND MARY PERCIVAL,
AUGUST 30TH , 1843,
“ My sister,” I said
“ Your sister, whom I killed.”
“ Ere I was old enough to know her.”
“ Have you one drop of mercy for him who destroyed your sister?” he asked,— and his haughty will was suffused in pleading.
I thought of the third figure in the celestial picture, as it gazed upon the outstretched hand, and I said, —
“God hath not made me your judge; why should I refuse mercy ? ”
A flash of intuition came. The young girl, whose portrait was in the house of the Axtells, whose face had been next my mother's, who asked me to do something for her on the earth, — could they all be manifestations of Mary’?
“ Who painted the portrait in your house ? ” I asked.
“ My will,” he said; “ I am no artist.”
“ Is it like Mary ? ”
“ Then I have this day seen her.”
He looked up, great tears falling from his eyes, and asked,—
“ Where ? ”
I took him to the gallery of the clouds, and showed him my vision, and repeated the words spoken to me up there, the words for him only, — the others were full of mystery still. He held seemingly no part therein.
“ Will a murderer’s prayer add one ray of joy to the angel who has come out on the sea to save me,—me, twice saved, oh ! why ?” — and Mr. Axtell laid his hand upon my head in blessing.
“ Twice saved,” I said, “ that the third salvation may be Christ’s.”
Solemnly came the “ Amen ” from his lips, tremulous as the bridge of light he had once passed over.
“ Good-bye, Mr. Axtell; I shall fulfil Mary’s wish for you, if you will let me”; and I offered him my hand for this second parting: the first had been when he went out alone to his mother’s burial.
He looked at it, as he then had done, uncomprehending, and said only,—
“ Will I let you ?
He gathered up the cushion, and carried it to the church. I closed the gate that shut in this silent city, and went to the parsonage.
The sun had gone down, — the night was coming on. I found Aaron pacing the verandah with impatient steps. He asked where I had been. I told him.
“ It is very well that you are going so soon,” he said, — “ you are getting decidedly ghostly. Will you take a walk with me ? ”
I was thankful for the occasion. As might have been expected, Aaron chose the way that led to the solemn old house. I was amused.
“ Where are you going ? ” I questioned.
“ To inquire after our early-morning patient,” he said.
“ And not to see Mrs. Aaron Wilton ? ”
Aaron looked the least mite retributive, as he said, —
“ Anna, there are mysteries in life.”
“ As, why Aaron was chosen before Moses,” I could not help suggesting. Sophie had had an opportunity of being Mrs. Moses, instead of Mrs. Aaron.
“ Sophie’s wise; you are not, Anna, I fear.”
“ Your fear may be the beginning of my wisdom, Aaron: I hope so.”
With the exception of a return to the subject on which Aaron had questioned me at breakfast, and on which he elicited no further information from me, nothing of interest occurred until we were within the place that held Sophie’s pearly self.
She had been a shower of sunshine, letting fall gold and silver drops through all the house. I saw them, heard their sweet glade-like music rippling everywhere, the moment that I went in.
Mr. Axtell was pacing the hall in the evening twilight, and the little of lamplustre that was shed into it.
He looked passively calm, heroically enduring, as we went past him. From his eyes came scintillations of a joy whose root is not in our planet.
He simply said, —
“Mrs. Wilton is with my sister; she will be glad to see you.”
We went on. Sophie had made a very nest ot repose in the sick-room. Miss Axtell looked so comfortable, so untired of life, so changed from the first glimpse I had had of her, when I thought her face might be such as would be found under Dead-Sea waves. There was no more of the anxious unrest. She spoke to Mr. Wilton, thanking him for the “good gift,” she named Sophie, that he had lent to her.
Miss Lettie called me to her. She wished to say something to me only. I bent my head to listen.
“ I am ill,” she said,— “ better just now, but I feel that it will be weeks before I shall leave this place ; it is good for me to be here, but this troubles me,—I don’t like to think that I must take care of it; will you guard it sacredly for me ?—and the letter of last night, add it to the others.”
She gave me a small package, carefully closed, and I saw that it was sealed.
From her manner, I fancied it was to be known to me alone, and, concealing it, I said, —
“ I will keep it securely for you,”
Sophie came playfully up, and said, —
“ Now, Anna, I ’m empress here; no secret negotiations to overthrow my power.”
“ I ’m just going to say good-bye to Miss Axtell,” I said, “ for I am going home to-morrow ” ; and I told her of the letter from father, that I had received.
Sophie got up a charming storm of regret and wrath, neither at my father for sending for me, nor at myself for going, but for the mysterious third personality that created the need for my departure.
Miss Lettie seemed to regret my coming absence still more than Sophie.
“ I wanted you so much,” she said; “if I had only had you long ago, life would have been changed,” she whispered again, as Sophie turned to listen to some pretty nonsense that the grave minister poured into her ears through those windings of softly purplish hair.
“Will you make me one promise, only one?” said Miss Axtell.
I hesitated, — for promises are my religious fear. I do not like to make promises. They are like mile-stones to a thunder-storm. They note distances when the spirit is anxious only to cycle time and space.
She looked so earnest, so persuasive, that I yielded, and said that “ consistency should be my only requirement.”
“ It is not so immensely inconsistent, my Anemone; it is only that I want you to come back again. Two weeks will satisfy your father. Will you come to me on the twenty-fifth of March ? ”
“ What for ? ” with my awkward persistency in questioning, I asked.
“ Why, because I want to see you, — T wish you to write a letter for me, — and more than all, I want an advocate.”
I, smiling at the triplet of occasions, promised to come, if consistent.
Sophie was going home. She came up to drop a few last cheery words, to fall into the coming hours of night.
“ You see how you’ve spoiled me by kindness, Mrs. Wilton,” Miss Lettie said. “ I presume still further: I would like to see old Chloe; it is a long, long time since I’ve seen her. Would you let her come ? ”
Sophie said that “ it would renew Chloe’s youth ; she certainly would send her.”
Good-byes were spoken, and we went down. Mr. Axtell was still treading the hall below. He thanked Sophie for her kindness to Miss Lettie, shook hands genially with Aaron, looked at me, and we were gone.
I carried Miss Lettie’s message to Chloe. She lifted up those great African orbs of hers as she might have done to the Mountains of the Moon in her native land.
“ Now the heavens be praised ! ” said the honest soul, — “ what for can that icy lady want to see old Chloe ? ”
I had carried the message under cover of one from my own heart. I knew that Chloe had lived with my mother until she died. I knew that she must know something regarding Mary, my sister, to whom, in all my life, I had scarcely given one thought, who died ere I was wise enough to know her. And so I began by asking,—
“ Am I like my sister who died, Chloe?”
She brought back her eyes from gazing upon the lunar mountains.
“ I don’t know’s you are ’xactly; but somehow you did look like her, upstairs to-day, when you had them white things tied on your head.”
“ Were you here when she died ? ” I asked.
“ Oh, yes!”—old Chloe closed her eyes. — “ it is one of the blessed things Chloe’s Lord will let her ’member, up there ”; and Chloe wiped her eyes, in memoriam.
“ I don’t remember her,” I said.
“ No, how should you ? you were wee little then.”
“ What made her die, Chloe ?”
“ I reckon ’t was because the angels wanted her more ’n me, Miss Anna.”
“ Was she sick, Chloe ? ”
“ How queer you questions, Miss; Anna ! Of course she was sick ; she drooped in the August heat; they did n’t think she was very sick; the master gave her some medicine one night, and left her sleeping, quiet as a lamb, and before morning came she went to heaven.”
“ Who was the master, Chloe ?”
“ Why, you is getting stupid-like, child ! Honey darling, don’t you know that Master Percival, your father, was my master ever so many years?”— and she began notating them upon her fingers.
I interrupted the mathematical calculation by telling Chloe that three people were waiting for their tea.
“ Two of ’em is my dear childers,” said Chloe, — who never would accept Aaron, even with all his goodness, into her heart; and she moved about with accelerated velocity in her daily orbit.
What could Mr. Axtell have meant by saying that he had killed Mary, who, Chloe had assured me, died peaceably in her father’s house ? After disturbing the equilibrium of thought - realm, and nearly giving my mind a new axis of revolution, I decided to think no more of it. I could not, would not, believe that Abraham Axtell had gone up any Moriah of sacrifice, and been permitted to let fall the knife upon his victim. His life must have been a dream, an illusion; he only wanted awakening to existence. And the memory of my Sabbath-morning’s vision dwelt with me, and the voice that speaketh, filling, the soul “as a sea-shell is with murmuring,” said, “ Your finger will awaken him.” And I looked down at my two passive hands, and asked, “ Which one of them?” And the murmuring voice startled me with the answer, “ Two are required,— one of reconciliation, the other of forgiveness.” Whereupon I lifted up the ten that Nature gave, and said, “ Take them all, if need be.””
“ Tea is ready,” said Aaron, peeping in, his face alive with satisfied muscles, playing too merry a tune of joy, I thought, for a grave minister.
“ Sophie’s a magician,” I thought for the thousandth time, as, for the millionth, Aaron looked at her sitting so demurely regal at his spread table.
“ What would these two good people say,” I asked myself, in thinking, “ if they knew all that I have learned in my visit, not yet a week long?”—and I ran up and down in the scale of semibreves and minims that I had heard, with the one long, sweet trill transfusing life on earth into heavenly existence, and I felt very wingy, very much as if I could take up the tower, standing high and square out there, and carry it, “ like Loretto’s chapel, through the air to the green land,” where my spirit would go singing evermore. I could not tell what my joy was like : not unto anything that I had seen upon the earth; under the earth I had not yet been ; only once above it, and they were calmly celestial there. I was turbulently joyous, and so I winged a little while around Sophie and Aaron, hummed a good-night in Chloe’s ears, and found that the canny soul was luxuriating in the idea that the icy lady was to be thawed into the acceptance of sundry confections which she was basketing to carry with her when I went out.
“ Call me early,” I said; “ you know I leave at seven o’clock.”
“I shall be up ever so early, Miss Anna; never fear for Chloe’s sleeping late to-morrow in the morning; you get ever so much, — ’null" for Chloe and you too; good-night, honey!”—and Chloe went on her mission, whilst Aloes and Honey went up-stairs, past Aaron’s study, and into a room where the mysterious art of packing must be practised for a little.
I thought of the “breadths of silver and skirts of gold ” that I had seen the Day pack away; and, inspired with the thought, fell to folding less amberous raiment, until, my duty done, I pressed the cover down, and locked my treasures in, for the journey of the morrow. Then I took out my sacred gift to guard, and, laying it before me, looked at it. It was of dimensions scarcely larger than the moon, — that is, extremely variant and uncertain : to one, a planet, larger than Jupiter, moons and all; to another, scarcely more than a bridal ring. So my packet was of uncertain size : undoubtedly the tower was packed away in it, Herbert too,—and I could n’t help agreeing with my thought, and confessing that this was a better form for conveyance than that I so lately had planned; so I put it safely away, with myself, until the day should come. The day-star had arisen in my heart. Would it ever go down ? Not whilst He who holdeth the earth in the hollow of His hand hath me there too. Reaching out, once more, for the strong protective fibres that had so blessed me, I wandered forth with it into the land whose mural heights are onychites and mocha-stones of mossy mystery.
How long I might have lingered there I know not, —so delicious was the fragrance and so fair the flowers, — had not Chloe’s voice broken the mocha-stones, scattering the mosses like autumn-leaves.
“ Honey, I thought I’d waken ye,—the day is just cracking,” said Chloe, at the door, and she asked me to open it one moment.
When I had done so, there she stood, just as I had seen her when I bade her good-night, — save that her basket was void of’ contents.
“Master Abraham did n't know you was going home,” Chloe said, “ or he ’d have told you good-bye ; and I guesses he sent what he did n't tell, for he asked me to give you this.”
When Chloe was gone, I opened the small paekage. It was a pretty casket, made of the margarite of the sea. Within it lay a faded, fallen, fragmentary thing. At first, I knew not what it could be. It was the althea-bud that grew in the summer-time of eighteen years ago, that had been Mary’s, — and my heartbeat fast as I looked upon the silent voicefulness that spake up to me, and said, “ To you, who have restored him to himself, he offers the same tribute and I lifted up the iridescent, flashing cradle of margarite, and reverently touched the ashes of althea it held with my lips. Afterwards they were salt, — whether with the saltness of the sea the bud had been baptized in, or of the tears that I let fall, I knew not.
I folded up my good-bye from Mr. Axtell in the same precious package that was his sister’s, and, side by side, the two journeyed on with me.
It was seven of the clock on Monday morning when she who said the naughty words, and the grave minister, came out to say farewell to me. The day’s great round was nearly done ere I met my father’s flowery welcome.
“ My Myrtle-Vine, I knew you’d come,” said Dr. Percival; and his long gray hair floated out to reach me in, and his eyes, wherein all love burned iridescent, drew me toward his heart.
My father put his arms around me, and said the sweetest words of welcome that ever are spoken.
“ How I ’ve missed you, Anna!” as he drew me toward his large arm-chair, and folded me, his latest child, to his heart.
As thus we were sitting in the silence of the heart that needs no language, little Jeffy, my ebony-beauty boy, darted his black head in, and reposing it for one instant against the scarcely lighter-hued mahogany of the door, jingled out, in shells of sound,—
“He’s mighty fur’ous. It ’s real fun. I guess you’d better come right up, Dr. Percival” ; and the ebon head darted off, without one word for me.
Why was it that this little omission of Jeffy’s, the African boy, should create a vacancy ? Oh ! it is because Nature made me so exacting. I wanted everybody to welcome me.
I lifted my head from my father’s shoulder. and asked, in some dismay, —
“ What is it, father ? ”
“I’ve gotten myself in trouble, Anna. I’ve let chaos into my house. I wanted you to help me.”
“ What is it ? what has happened ? ” I hastened to inquire.
“ Only a hospital patient that I was foolish enough to bring away. I heartily wish that he was back again,” said my father; and he put me from him to go, in obedience to the summons.
I was about to follow him, but he waved me back as I went into the hall, and he went on. I heard the ring of a low, frenzied laugh, as I began unwrapping from my journey. My casket of treasures I had committed to hands for keeping. Now I laid it down, and, folding up my protective robes, I had just gone to try my father’s easy-chair, alone, when Jeffy’s ebon head struck in again.
“ I did n’t see ye afore, Miss Anna. I ’se mighty glad you ’ve come”; and Jeffy atoned for his former omission by his present joy.
“How is he?” I questioned Jeffy, as if I knew all the antecedents of the case perfectly.
“ Oh, he’s jolly to-night. I think Master Percival might have let me stay to see the fun”; and Jeffy’s eyes rolled to and fro in their orbits, as if anxious to strike against some wandering comet.
“ Is tea over ? ” I asked.
“ No, miss. Blaster said he’d wait for you. I ’ll go and tell that you ’re here ” ; and Jeffy took himself off, eager for action.
He was not long gone.
“ It’s all ready, waiting a bit for master. He can’t come down just this minute,” said Jeffy. “ Look a here, Miss Anna, — is n’t it vastly funny master’s bringing a crazy man here ? They say down in the kitchen, that as how it would n’t 'a’ been, if you’d been home. It 's real good, though. It’s the splendidest thing that’s happened. Wait till you see him perform. Ask him to sing. It’s frolieky to hear him.”
The boy went on, and I did not stop him. I was as anxious for information as he to impart it. When he paused for breath, in the width of detail that he furnished, I asked, —
“ When was this stranger brought here ? ”
“ Three days ago, Miss Anna. I hope he ’ll stay forever and ever” ; and Jeffy darted oil’ at a mellifluous sound that dropped down from above.
“ There! he has thrown the poker at the mirror again, I do believe,” said another voice in the hall, and I recognized the housekeeper.
Staid Mrs. Ordilinier came in to greet me, with the uniform greeting of her lifetime. I verily believe that she has but one way of receiving. Electricity and bread-and-butter would meet the same recognitory reception.
“ Did you hear that noise, Miss Anna?” she said, as another sound came, that was vastly like the shivering of glass.
“What was it, Mrs. Ordilinier?”
I gave her the question to gain information. I sought it, — but she, not disposed to gratify me at the moment, slowly ascended to ascertain the state of mirrors above. Sbe met my father’s silver hairs coming down. He did not say one word to her. He met me in the hall, took me back to the room, and, reseating me in my olden place, put his hand upon my head, and said, —
“ This must help me, Anna.”
“ It will, papa; what is it ? ”
“I ’ve a crazy man up-stairs. He can’t do very much harm, for he is badly injured.”
“ How ? ” I asked.
“ Railroad accident. Four days ago, locomotive and two passenger-cars off the track, down forty feet upon the rocks and stones, and all there was of a river,” my father replied, with evident regret that the company had been so unfortunate, as well as his individual self.
“ Who is it ? ” was my next question.
“Don’t know, darling; have n’t the least idea. He has the softest brown, curling hair of his own, with a wig over it. Can’t find out his name, or anything about him. I like him, though, Anna. He ’s like somebody I used to know. I brought him here from the hospital, several days ago, but he has n’t given me much peace since, and the people down below think I ’m as crazy as he; but I cannot help it; I will not turn him out now.”
“ Of course you would n't, father. We ’ll manage him superbly. I ’ll chain him for you.”
My father rose up, comforted by my words, and said “ it was time for tea.” We went down. I was the Sophie of Aaron’s home, at my father’s table.
“ Papa,” I said, as if’ introducing the most ordinary topic of conversation, “ what was the occasion of sister Mary’s death ? She was only seventeen. How young to die ! ”
My father sighed, and said, —
“ Yes, it was young. She had fever, Anna. One of those long, low fevers that mislead one. I did not think she would die.”
“ Was Mary engaged to he married, father ? ”
Dr. Pereival looked up at his daughter Anna with the look that says, “ You ’re growing old,” although she was twentythree, and never had gone so far in life as his eldest daughter at seventeen.
“ She was, Anna.”
“ To whom, father ? ”
“Perhaps you’ve seen him, Anna. I hear that he is come home. His name is Axtell, — Abraham Axtell.”
I told my father of the first words,— where we had found him, tolling the bell, — and of his mother’s death, and his sister's illness.
“ Incomprehensible people ! ” was my father’s sole ejaculation, as he went to look after the deranged patient.
I occupied myself for an hour in picking up the reins of government that I had thrown down when I went to Redleaf. Looking into “ our room,” and not finding father there, I went on, up to my own room. A warm, welcoming fire burned within the grate. I thought, “ How good father is to think for me ! ” and with the thought there entered in another. It came in the sudden consciousness that the room was prepared for some one else than me. I glanced about it, and saw the strange, wild man, with eyes all aglow, looking at me from out the depths of my wonted place of rest. No one else was in the room. I turned around to leave, but, dropping my precious box of margarite, I stooped to pick it up.
“ It is a good harbor to sail into. I 'm content,” said the voice from the corner, before I could escape.
I met father coming in.
“Why, how is this?” he said to me.
“ You did n’t tell me you had given up my room,” I said.
“ Did n’t I ? Well, I forgot. We could n’t take him higher.”
“ Is he so much hurt ? ” I asked.
“ Three broken bones,” my father replied. “ It will be weeks, it may be months, before he will be well”; and he sighed hopelessly at the good deed, which, being done, pressed so heavily. “ Don’t look so sadly about it, Myrtle-Vine,” he added ; “ take my room, if you like.”
“ That was not my thought,” I said. “ I do not mind the change of room.”
The visit to Redleaf, which I had made to dawn in my horizon, was eclipsed by three broken bones, that suddenly undermined the arch of consistency.
Soothingly came the words that were spoken unto me. My father was all-willing to relinquish his cherished room,— his for sixteen years, and opening into that mysterious other room, — to give it up to me, his Myrtle-Vine; and a momentary pang that any interest in existence should he, except as circling around him, flew across the future, “ the science whereof is to man but what the shadow of the wind might be,”—and I looked up into his eyes, and, twining his long white hair around my fingers, for a moment felt that forever and forever he should be the supreme object of earthly devotion. In my wish to evince the sentiment in action, I requested permission to assist in the care of the hospital patient.
“ Oh, no, Anna! he is too wild now. When the excitement of the fever is gone, then will be your time.”
Another of those many-toned, circling peals of laughter came from my room. My father went in. I went past the place that mortal eyes were not permitted to fathom, and, for the first time in my life, was curious to know its contents, and why I had never seen the interior thereof. I had grown up with the mystery, until I had accepted it, unquestioning, as a thing not for my view, and therefore out of recognition. It was as far away from me as the open sea of the North, and might contain the mortal remains of all the navigators of Hope that ever had wandered into the sea of Time for him who so holily guarded it.
“ One far-away Indian-summery day, four years agone,” “ while yet the day was young,” Dr. Percival, my father, had led an azure-eyed maiden in through the mysterious entrance, and shown unto her the veiled temple, its altar and its shrine, and she had come thence with the dew of feeling in her eyes and a purple haze around her brow, which she has worn there until it has tangled its pansy-web into an abiding-place, unto such time as the light is shut out forever, or the waves from the silver sea curl their mist up thither. I had much marvel then concerning the hidden mysteries ; but Sophie so soon thereafter spake the naughty “ I will,” that the silent room forgot to speak to me. I have never heard sound thence since that morning-time.
“ Why does not my father take me in ? Am I not his child, even as Sophie? ”
I asked these questions of Anna Pereival, the while she stood at an upper window, and looked out over New York's surging lines of life. The roar of rolling wheels came muffled by distance and the shore of dwelling-places over which I looked. I counted the church-spires that threaded the vault of night a little of the upward way. How augels, that have lived forever in heaven, and souls just free from material things, must reach down to touch these towering masts, that tell which way the sails of spirit bend! These city churches, dedicated with solemn service unto the worship of the great I AM, the Lord God of Adam, the Jehovah Jireh of Israelites, the Holy Redeemer of Christians, — may the Lord of heaven and earth bless them every one ! I looked forth upon them with tears. There never comes a time, in the busiest hurry of human ways, that I do not sprinkle a drop of love upon the steps as I pass, — that I do not wind a tendril of holy feeling up to height of tower or summit of spire for the great winds to waft onward and upward. God pity the heart that does not involuntary reverence to God’s templed places, made sacred a thousand fold by every penitential tear, by every throb of devotion, by every aspiration after the divine existence, from which let down a little while, we wander, for what we know not! God doth not tell, save that it is to “ love first Him, Sole and Individual,” and then the fragments, the crumbs of Divinity that dwell in Man.
I had not lighted the gas. The streetlamps sent up their rays, making the room semi-lucent. I took out my tower-key. What matter, if I held the cold iron thereof to my lips awhile ? there was no frost in the March air then. I sent my restless fingers in and out of the wards, prisoning them often therein. As thus I stood, with cheek pressed against the windowpane, looking out upon the city, set into a rim of darkness, from out of which it flashed its million rays, papa came up.
“ I did n’t say good-night,” he said, coming in, and to the window where I was. “But how is this, Anna? what has happened to my child? ”— and he pointed to shining drops that glistened on the window-glass.
They must have come from my eyes; I could not deny their authorship, and so I confessed to tears of gladness at seeing him once more.
He looked fondly down at me through the dim light. I asked him after the tenant of my premises. He shook his head as one does in great doubt, said “ life was uncertain,” and repeated several other axioms, that were quite apart from his original style, and excessively annoying to me.
“ Papa,” I said, “ why not tell me truly ? will this man recover ? ”
“ ‘ Man proposes, God disposes,’ my child,” he said.
“ I don’t dispute the general truth,” I replied,—“ but, particularly, is this man’s life in danger ? ”
He began to quote somebody’s psalm or hymn about “fitful fevers and fleeting shadows.”
My father has a fine, rich, variant power of sound with which to charm such as have ears to hear, and Anna Pereival has been so endowed. Therefore she listened and waited to the end. When it came, she looked up into her father's face and said, —
“ Papa, I am not a child, to be coaxed into forgetfulness; why will you not trust me ? I am older than Sophie was when you took her in where I have not been ; why will you not make me your friend?” — and some sudden collision of watery powers among the window-drops, whether from accretion or otherwise, sent a glistening rivulet down to the barrier of the sash.
Papa folded his arms, and looked at me. I could not bear to be thus shut out. I said so.
“ Could you bear to be shut in ? ” he thought, and asked it.
“ I think I could. I could bear anything that you gave me; I could keep anything that you intrusted to my keeping.”
Papa looked at me as one does at a cherished vine the outermost edges of which are just frost-touched ; then he folded me to his heart. I felt the throbbings thereof, and mine began to regret that I had intruded into the vestibule of his sacred temple ; but a certain something went whispering within me, "You can feed the sacred fire,” and I whispered to the whispering voice, and to my lather s ear, —
“ You ’ll take me in, won’t you ? ”
“ Come,” was the only spoken word.
The room was not cheery; he felt it, and said, —
“ You see what the effect is when my Myrtle-Vine is off my walls ” ; and he tossed aside books and papers that had evidently been astray for days, and lay now in his way.
Papa took a key (he wears it too, it seems: that is even more than I do with my tower’s) from a tiny chain of gold about his neck, and unlocked the door connecting this silent room with his own. He went in, leaving me outside. He lighted a candle and left it burning there. He came, took my hand, and, with the leading whereby we guide a child, conducted me in thither. Then he went out and left me standing, bewildered, there.
I had anticipated something wonderful. What was here ? It was a silent room. The carpet had a river-pattern meandering over its dark-blue ground: it must have been years since a broom went over it. Strange medley of furniture was here. I looked upon the walls. Pictures that must have come from another race and generation hung there. There were many of them. One side of the room held one only. It was a portrait. I remembered the original in life. “ My mother, I exclaimed. In the room’s centre, surrounded by various articles, was the very boat that I knew Mary Percival had guided out to sea to save Abraham Axtell. Two tiny oars lay across it. The paint was faded; the seams were open ; it would hold water no longer. A sense of worship filled me. I looked up at the portrait. My mother smiled : or was it my fancy? Fancy undoubtedly; but fancies give comfort sometimes. I looked again at the boat. On its stern, in small, golden letters, was the name, “ Blessing of the Bay,” the very name given to the first boat built after the Mayflower’s keel touched America’s shore. “ The name was a good omen,” I thought. An armchair stood before the portrait. A shawl was spread over it. I lifted up the fringe to see what the shawl covered. Papa had come in.
“ Don’t do that, Anna,” he said.
“ Is it any harm, papa ? ”
“ Your mother died sitting in that chair; her hands spread the shawl over it; it was the last work they did, Anna; it has never since been taken off.”
I dropped the fringe ; my touch seemed sacrilegious.
Near the chair was a small cabinet; it looked like an altar, or would have done so, had my father been a devotee to any religion requiring visible sacrifice. He opened it.
“Come hither, Anna,” — and I went.
Long, luxuriant bands of softly purplish hair lay within, upon the place of sacrifice.
“ Sophie’s is like this,” I said.
“ And Sophie wears one like unto this,” said my father; and he took up a circlet of shining gold that lay among the tresses. “ Sophie’s marriage-ring was hallowed unto her. I gave it the morning she went out from me.” He uttered these words with slow reverence of voice.
Why did self come up ?
“You gave Sophie our mother’s marriage-ring,” I said, “ and I” —
“ Shall wear this,” said my father. “ I laid it here, with hers”; and he gently lifted the sacred hair, and, freeing the ring, put it upon my finger.
“ This is not my marriage-day,” I said. “ Papa, I don’t want it. Besides, gentlemen don’t wear marriage-rings: how came you to ? ”
“Perhaps I have not worn this one; but will you wear it to please me ? ”
“Why will it please you? It is not symbolical, is it ? ”
“ It makes you doubly mine,” he said; and he led me back to outside life, with this strange sort of marriage-ring circling with its planet weight around my finger.
Did my father mean to keep me forever ? And with the question came an answer that left sweet contentment in its pathway; it accorded with the intent of my heart.
“ Father, have you made me your friend ? ” I asked, in the room that was terribly tossed, as I restored to place chairs that seemed to have been in a deplorably long dance, and to have forgotten their home at its close.
“ You wear my ring, you have come into my orbit,” he answered.
“ That being true, I am as much interested in the flying comet in there as you are, — for if it strikes you, it hurts me " ; and I waited his answer.
After a moment of pause, it came.
“My poor patient is very ill; his life will burn out, if the fever is not stayed "; and as the frenzied laugh reached us, Dr. Percival forgot my presence ; he passed his hand slowly across his brow, as if to retouch memory, and then taking down a volume, he began to read. I waited long. At last he closed the book suddenly, said to himself, “I ’ll try it,” and in half a moment my father’s white hairs were separated from me by the impassable barrier of the sick-room.
I waited ; he did not come. The chairs were not the only articles that had lost the commodity of order in my absence. I went to the table upon which were kept the papers, etc., that lingered there a little while, and then were thought no longer of Idly I turned them over. What a chaos on a small scale ! all the elements of literature were represented. I listened for coming footsteps ; none came. “ I may as well arrange this table,” I thought, “as wait for the morrow”; and I made a beginning by sweeping the chaos at once upon the carpet. Then slowly I began picking them up, one by one, and appointing them stations. My task was nearly done, when, in turning over some magazines, I came upon a pile of papers that had been laid between the leaves of one, and ere I was aware of their presence, they slid down and scattered. I remember having felt a little surprise that my father should have left them there, but I hastened to gather them together. The last one of the number, I noticed, was torn ; it had a foreign look. “Father has some new correspondent,” I thought, as I looked at the number of mailmarks upon it. “ He does n’t think much ot it, though, or it would have received better treatment ” ; and I took a second look at it. A something in the feel of the paper seemed familiar. “ It is good for nothing,” I said aloud, and I tossed it toward the grate, put the pile of papers where I had found them, surveyed my work with satisfaction, and stood thinking whether or not I should wait to see my father again — it was more than an hour since he went up — to say goodnight to me. “I will wait a half-hour; if he does n’t come then, I ’ll go,” I said to the housekeeper, who came to see that all was right for the night, and to remind me that Redleaf had not proved very advantageous to my complexion, and to recommend early hours as a restorative.
In accordance with my promise, I drew a chair forward, placed my feet upon the fender, and began to study the dying embers that were slowly falling through the grate-bars. One, larger than usual, burned its way down. It lighted up, for an instant, the bit of paper, that had not fallen into the coals. Strange fancy it was that led me to imagine that I saw a capital A, followed immediately by that unknown quantity represented by x. I made an" effort to gain it, scorched my face, and burned my fingers; for I touched the grate, in rescuing that which I had cast into the place of burning.
“ This bit of paper, found in New York, had once been integral with that I had found within the church-yard tower in Redleaf,” some inner voice assured me. “ Yes, it is a part of it,” I said, for I distinctly remembered the fragment whose possession I had so rejoiced over. Some one had written a letter to Miss Axtell; the envelope was torn,—one part there, another here. The letter itself I had found in the gloom of the passage-way; for it Miss Axtell had gone out to search, ill, and in the night; what must its contents have been, to have been worthy of such effort ? — and for the time I quite forgot to connect this man, ill in my father’s house, with the Herbert whose far-out-atsea voice I had heard winding up at me through the very death-darkness of the tower. Suddenly the consciousness scintillated in my soul, and wonderful it was; but the picture of my dream came in with it, and I said again, “ I am ready for the work which is given me to do,” and I waited for its coming till I grew very weary, holding this fragment of envelope fast, as a ship clings to its anchor in mild seas. I ventured to knock at the entrance of my own room. All was silent within. I tried the second time. There came no answer. I dared not venture on the conquering third.