Everlasting Grace


THE assemblage was nearly complete when she got there, for she had come afoot, and she had come from far. It was ten miles to her little cabin over on the western slope of Bear, and they were mountain miles — up the sleep ridges and down again into the little valleys, back and forth across the windings of the unbridged streams, where only the protruding surface of a rock here and there gave precarious footing through the swift current. And she had come a longer way still, a way that led past a lonely little graveyard half-way up the rough side of the mountain, where, beside a grave unmarked and grass-grown like the others, but with a little path leading up to it that her own feet had worn, she had dropped on her knees to offer up a silent little prayer of thanksgiving that this day had come at last.

On the outskirts of the crowd she hesitated. Under the bodice of her thin black dress her heart was throbbing painfully. She had hurried toward the end, for fear she would be late; but the meeting had not yet come to order, and the crowd was more like a great social gathering. Up and down the road, as far as you could see in all directions, groups of young people were scattered, families were holding preliminary reunions, shy courtships were getting under way again. There was much animation of scuffling dogs, of crying babies, and of braying of mules picketed farther back in the grove. For this was the Annual Funeral Meeting on Little Oak, and everyone in that remote little region, far back in the Kentucky hills, had come.

Three funerals were to be preached. The little log schoolhouse was all too small, so the meeting was held in an open grove beside the branch. Split rails had been laid from rock to rock, forming a little amphitheatre around a natural elevation in the centre, where the preaching was to be. Overhead, the deep blue sky was clear as a bell. There in the shade of the grove the dew was still heavy. Over the stream and down from the deep hollows came cool little breaths of exquisite refreshment; but outside, over the dusty white road, the sun beat down with a still hot glow.

It was a perfect September day, as radiantly pure as only a September day in the Cumberlands can be, after the morning mists have lifted, taking with them every blemish of earth and air. A soft haze filled the distant valleys like a little blue smoke. Whole slopes were yellow with goldenrod. Tall white asters, jeweled in the sunshine, fringed the little forest ways, and filled the fallow field across with shimmering beauty.

Against the warm, benignant silence of the day the noisy excitement of the meeting crowd seemed incongruous and overwhelming; but it was all lair to the gaze of the woman from Bear, standing there on the outskirts, her hand lifted to her heart to still its eager throbbing, unconscious of the curious glances turned upon her. Even in that ill-clad assemblage there was something poor and pitiful in her whole appearance. Her feet were bare, and her sombre dress, of some cheap, sleazy stuff, bramble-torn and drabbled with dew, clung limply to her thin, spent frame. But when she took off her bonnet and rolled it up to hide its forlornness, her face was revealed, with its luminous peace. To the others this might be a meeting like any other, but to her it was the rare emotion of a lifetime. As one nearing the presence of the altar, she bowed her head a moment before advancing timidly.

She was a stranger to most of those present. Only a perfunctory ‘Howdy’ here and there greeted her as she made her way forward to the front row, where the mourners, their faces set in a solemn mask, sat silent. One or two, to whom bereavement was a more recent experience, were crying unobtrusively. Others seemed to be self-consciously evoking an appropriate expression of grief. Later on, in the excitement of the meeting, they might rise to great spiritual transports; but she who had taken her place last among them was not waiting till then. Already she sat in a little spiritual ecstasy of her own, and seeing the wonderful light in her eyes, one or two in the audience, who had recognized her, marveled greatly.

‘Hit’s his mother — Felix Hanbv’s!’ the word passed around. ‘Then it’s true his funeral’s aimin’ to be preached to-day.’

It was partly in delicacy that they turned away from her, for he had been notorious in that whole countryside as a worthless no-account, that son whose funeral she was having preached. There was no form of debauchery or villainy of which he was innocent. He had lied and thieved and killed. He had broken every law of faith and honor. Young as he was, many a girl, and older woman too, had come to curse his name. And yet there were always more to believe in him.

He had been mean to everyone; but meanest of all to his own mother. She had lived from day to day in the shadow of his disgrace, shuddering at his profanity, and suffering from his guilt almost as if it were her own. But when he lay asleep, he was as beautiful as a young Greek god; and whenever she gazed down into his sleeping face, she would think: ‘Lord, ain’t he pretty! He’s jest a-workin’ out his roughness now. Boys is always wild till they’ve settled down. He’s a-goin’ to do better soon. He’s a-goin’ to walke up good.’

And so it had been when he lay dead, shot by his own gun as he stumbled and fell, while creeping through a tangled cover to shoot a foe from ambush, and they had brought him in to her, his beautiful features chiseled in marble, and the evil of his eyes forever veiled. ‘He’s a-goin’ to wake up good.’

He had been her only dependence in her widowhood. The only other child left to her was a frail little boy with a ‘hurtin” in his breast. One was well and one was sickly, one was strong and one was weak, and she had loved the Strong one best. One was bad, and one was goodness itself, but it was the ne’erdo-well she clung to with a yearning love that gave life all its splendor. He would be gone for days. When he came back, she would wait upon him, trembling with joy. The other, in his gentle way, was always trying to win the place in her heart that was not there for him. He limped around, and helped her far more than many a well, strong boy could have done; but there was no tenderness for his efforts. She never failed in kindness to him; her voice was always patient; but what does the voice of love need of patience? He had dreams and visions. For hours he would lie there transfixed. ‘Hit’s like as if a little door was opened into the sky. I kin see right in, an’ I kin hear.’ At such times his thin little face would take on an ethereal beauty, his rapt little gaze oblivious of everything but the vision unfolding itself before his eyes. She would speak to him and he would not hear; but afterwards he would tell her what he had seen.

‘I seed pappv up yander. I seed him jest as plain! He were settin’ up thar jest as nacheral, like he might ha’ ben settin’ by the fire hyar.’

‘Then ye did n’t see right,’ she would say. ‘Hit ain’t thataway, I know hit ain’t.’

‘Hit’s the best o’ this airth put up yander. Only hit ain’t crowded none, ’cause hit’s so big. Hit’s bigger’n all the valleys o’ the Cumberlands an’ all the mountings o’ the world put into one. Hit’s so big everyone kin find him jest the sorter place is likeliest to him. Them that’s lived up the hollers kin find ’em a little holler o’ their own, an’ them that’s lived by the big waters kin find ’em mightier ones thar.’

‘An’ did ye see yer little sister Mony? ’

‘Yes, I seed her.’

‘An’ hev she kep’ her little white dress clean?’

‘ No, but thar was an old granny thar a-washin’ it in the branch, like Granny hyar useter, an’ flung hit over the fence to dry, an’ Mony were playin’ round in her little t’other ’n till hit were ready. Her ha’r was in them two little braids, an’ her eyes was soft an’ blue. She’d got her a little poppet doll, like that un she teazed ye to buy from the peddler that day, an’ were a-cossetin’ of it. An’ whilst I were lookin’, — ye know how on airth, when she seed a bird a-settin’ on a limb, she’d look up so coaxin’ thataway an’ stretch out her little hand fer hit to come an’ set thar, an’ hit never would, — well, whilst I were lookin’, thar were a little yaller lettuce bird a-settin’ on a lily bush, an’ she done thataway to hit, an’ helt out her little hand, an’ hit come! An’ hit set thar a-lookin’ up to her with them two little bright black eyes, a-singin’ away, till hit were jest too pretty to see how purely happy she. were.’

‘An’ who else were thar?’

‘That were all.’

‘But yer brother, honey, whar were he?’

‘I never seed him.’

The light would die out of his eyes, and he would turn his face to the wall away from her accusing glance. She never could forgive him for his failure, and every time she hardened her heart against him more than ever. It was as if he were excluding his brother from those heavenly hosts, whither she yearned to believe that be had gone. It was against all the tenets of her faith that an unrepentant sinner could be saved, but night after night she fought on her knees the long battle for his soul.

‘Save him, Lord! Save him!’ she would cry. On the Lord himself she put the burden. ‘Lord, ye tuk him so young. Ef ye’d only gin him a little longer chance! He were jest a-goin’ to do better. Lord, ye would n’t ha’ made him so pretty thataway ef ye had n’t loved him. Lord, ye would n’t ha’ left him gone so fur astray ef ye had n’t meant to foller atter him when ’t were time, an’ show him the way back.’

The Lord had been good. Gradually her prayers had brought solace, and she had come to believe him assembled there among her other dead.

‘I’ll have him the prettiest funeral preached that ever was!’ she cried. For that would put the last seal and sanction upon his salvation, and redeem him forever in the sight of God and man.

But no preacher could be found who was willing to undertake it. ‘I reckon ye’d better look to someone else,’ they would say, turning away. For three years she had trudged to meeting after meeting, but her plea was in vain. At last, one cold, rainy Sunday in June, she had gone to a baptizing where Brother Seymore from Clay County spoke. Brother Seymore was known far and wide for his yearning efforts to touch the stubborn heart of youth. It was told of him that many a time, crossing the mountain at nightfall, and passing a certain cabin where there was always a crowd of boys drinking and carousing, he would dismount from his horse, and pass the night there on the mountain praying for them. It was as if the weight of their sins were on his own soul, for in his youth he had been as wild as the wildest of them, until one day the miracle had happened, and he had ‘got religion.’

He looked down into her pleading eyes. ‘Yer son were Felix Hanby?’ he said, hesitating like the others. Then, finally, ‘Ef ye so desire,’ he decided. ‘They were askin’ me to preach the funeral of a young girl over at the yearly meetin’ on Little Oak. I reckon someone else could be found fer that. I’ll preach your boy’s thar, instead.’

And after that all the days were like a shining path that led to this one.


Up in front the preparations for the meeting went quickly forward now. Brother Pike and Brother Bixby, awaiting only the arrival of Brother Seymore to proceed, stood at one side, conversing in low tones about the order of the services, and choosing the hymns from the fluttering pages of their little black singing-books. On the little wooden platform the pail of water with the tin dipper stood ready for their refreshment, and the last stragglers took their seats as Brother Seymore came, at last.

He conferred with the others a moment, and then, seeing her among the mourners in front, he approached and took her by the hand. She looked up into his face as if he were a messenger from the Lord, come to speak to her in person, nodding in compliance when he told her the other funerals would be preached first, and he would speak last.

‘Hev no one come with ye?’ he asked, seeing her alone.

‘No, thar hain’t but me,’ she said simply. ‘His pappy’s dead, an’ his little brother’s weakly. He could n’t come so fur, noways.’

He looked down for a moment into her uplifted eyes, then wrung her hand and turned abruptly away.

At last her turn came. The funeral hymns with their long, quavering choruses had been sung. The last wailing note died away on the air, the hysterical sobbing ceased, and a little silence fell as Brother Seymore rose to speak. For a moment he stood facing them, Under the compulsion of his glance the hush grew even more intense. It was so still that for a little interval the sounds of earth reasserted themselves as sounds of great magnitude—the trickling of the stream, the murmur of the leaves, the little thud of a dropping acorn, the pawing of a mule and the clatter of its bit as it rubbed against the tree, the sound of a passer-by on the road outside.

His face was stern and tense, and as his glance swept over that multitude of waiting faces, its expression grew ever more stern and relentless. A little thrill of excitement swept through the audience, already keyed to a high pitch. Instinctively they gathered themselves together for a stronger appeal to their emotions.

The woman before him trembled a little, and leaned forward. The longawaited hour had come. The sacrament was ready, and in her eyes there burned the holy zeal of the communicant. Earth could hold no higher joy than this. But Brother Seymore was looking over her head into the waiting throng beyond.

‘O my bretheren,’ he began, ‘hit has ben a blessed privilege to be hyar this day an’ recall for a moment the earthly lives of those two of our number who have not left us, no! but gone on before. Fer that dear young sister who passed away so early from our midst we shall not mourn, but rejoice. She was pure an’ sweet as ary flower that ever bloomed. Airth were too sorry a place for her. Heaven were her rightful home. It’s thar she’s gone! No one thinkin’ of her kin re-collect one mean thing she ever done, one hateful word she ever spoke. In the home, in the meetin’, evrywhars hit were the same — she was good, purely good. Fer her we shall not mourn! Her eyes hev beheld the glories of the firmament, an’ the magnitude thereof. She’s one of that blessed multitude on high. Yes, my bretheren! An’ hit’s thar we shall find her, gathered with the others round the great white throne.

‘An’ as fer Brother Williams, no one ever heerd him make no perfession, but he died with a prayer on his lips, Fer him thar is hope. But, O my bretheren, fer that young boy whose funeral I stand before ye now to preach, fer that sinner among sinners, an’ that profligate among profligates, fer him thar is no hope! No, my bretheren! Fer him thar shall not be rejoicin’ among the saints on high. Fer him thar shall be weepin’ an’ wailin’ an’ gnashin’ of teeth. Fer he went straight to Hell!'

A shudder of horror swept through the throng. The mother before him fell back as if struck by some physical blow.

‘ No, no! ’ she cried in terror. But she did not question it. From that verdict there was no appeal. If Brother Seymore said so, it must be true.

‘ Yes, my bretheren! ’ he repeated. ’He’s gone straight to Hell! It’s thar he is now, whar Hell is deepest an’ blackest. Fer the wages of sin is death, ctarnal death. An thar shall be no end! Fer what is life? Life is but a step, an’ turn whar ye will, the grave is at the end of it. Yes, my bretheren, ye shrink from it, ye draw back, but down into it ye must go! The grave is deep, but, O my bretheren, what is its depth beside the pit of Hell? The grave is dark, yes! but, O my bretheren, its darkness is as the light of the sun beside the blackness of Hell. An’ thar shall be no end !

‘I’ve heerd sick folks longin’ fer death to end their torments. But, O my bretheren, death is not the end! Death is but the beginnin.’ Hit’s Etarnity that’s life! An’ if fer you or fer me it shall be the fires of Hell — think, my bretheren, think, my dear young boys, think while thar is time! Fer youth is no pertection. He were no older than some of you. The thought of death were far from him when the vengeance of the Lord overtook him, struck down by his own gun as he were sett in’ out to kill a neighbor agin whom he had no rightful quarrel, a good man an’ just.

‘O my dear young boys, when I see ye here so full o’ life an’ hope, with yer bright young eyes an’ yer strong young shoulders, some of ye drunk a’ready, plannin’ out yer evil courses even while ye stand thar; scoffin’ at the voice o’ religion, an’ flauntin’ yer sin; O my dear young boys, my heart yearns fer ye. Ye don’t know, ye don’t know what is before ye! An thar shall be no end!'

Brother Seymore had preached Hell from many a mountain-top, beside many a stream, and in the hot, close confines of many a crowded little meeting-house; but never had he preached it as he preached it to-day. Hell writhed and seethed and fumed before them. His power lay in his terrible earnestness. The agony of Hell was in his pleading voice, and in his yearning eyes its despair and bitter anguish. He was not thinking of the tragedy of the mother, sitting there crumpled up before him, moaning, ‘God ha’ mercy! God ha’ mercy!’ He was thinking of those boys still to be saved on the outskirts. From the doom of that young companion whose wickedness had been a byword among them, he drew a fearful lesson.

At last he stopped from sheer exhaustion. A little group of ‘joiners’ clustered about him as he stood mopping his brow. Brother Bixby and Brother Pike and some of the more emotionally moved lingered to clasp t heir hands and lead in fervent prayer. The rest of the meeting broke up in confusion. The excitement was over, their faces resumed their normal expressions. It. was well on in the afternoon. Thoughts of dinner filled their minds. Some quickly mounted their mules and galloped off. Others waited to fumble in the saddlebags for snacks of apples and cornbread.

Most, of the funeral party and a large following were already proceeding down the road a half-mile to old Jim Sands’s, one of the early settlers of the region, where half-a-dozen women had been busy all the morning, getting dinner ready for the multitude sure to come. It was there that the aftermath of the meeting would be held, as they sat, their chairs tipped back, on the long, narrow porch, waiting for their turn to eat in relays at the little table inside.

It was Sands who approached the mother from Bear, as she sat there still on the mourner’s bench as in a trance, unconscious of the movement about her. For she was not here, she was down in Hell, down in the black depths beside him, watching his agony, trying to suffer the torments instead of him.

‘Come along, sister. Come home along with me,’ the old man urged.

She hardly heard his words, but his touch on her arm brought her back to herself. She rose to her feet, and stood for a moment, startled and bewildered in the midst of the moving throng.

‘Down thisaway,’ he said kindly, leading the way.

But by that time she had taken her bearings, and was starting back over the little trail where she had come so swiftly in the morning. But here too the crowds were surging homewards. Instinctively she shrank away from them, and vanished among the bushes.


The sun had set and the dusk was fast deepening when she emerged from her retreat. She listened a moment before venturing out; but the trail was deserted now, and there was only silence. Hardly conscious of the hours that had passed, or of the change in the face of the sky, she started on her way. Time had brought no respite from her anguish. A fever burned in her checks, and despair drove her on like a hunted thing. Her eyes were still looking on the horrors of Hell. Her spirit was still staggering under the immensity of it. There were intervals of insensibility, when she was as one stunned under the weight of it. Then, more vividly than ever, its magnitude would burst upon her again.

‘An’ I hev borne him for this!’ she would cry. And not a minute’s grace, not an instant to brace himself for what was coming. Straight to Hell! ‘ No, no! ’ she would beseech shudderingly, falling by the way. And ever and again the agonized refrain pursued her relentlessly, ‘An’ thar shall he no end!’ Greater than the horror of the flame was its everlastingness.

Up in the sky the moon rose full, changing the murky dusk into glorious night. Brighter and brighter grew its radiance. Even here, on the timbered side of the mountain, its rays penetrated the deep curtain of foliage, showing the way dimly. As one in a frenzy, she hurried on, hesitating only here and there, where, in a little clearing, the light flooded the space like a bright pool into which she shrank from plunging, or the gaunt shaft of an old oak or poplar stood alone, its black shadow like a barrier across the way. Once in a while the harsh cry of some night-bird startled her, or the barking of a fox, echoing back and forth across a little hollow. Once, as she sat motionless by the way, the soft fur of some little night-prowling beast brushed against her in passing, and over the great silence of the mountain came queer little stirrings and rustlings, the whispering of leaves, the chorus of crickets, the murmur of rivulets seeking the larger streams.

But the night had no voice to soothe the tumult raging within her. Its serene beauty only intensified her isolation. The storm had shattered the foundations of her being, and swept away all her supports. Prayer was gone from her, and hope, and Heaven. There was nothing left, here or in the hereafter, but the hideous chaos of Hell.

The night was nearly spent when at last she reached her home. Involuntarily, outside the little gate she stopped and stood gazing down at the familiar scene. For a minute it, too, seemed unreal. Untouched by the devastation that had swept over her, everything lay sleeping as in a lovely dream. Something in its unaccustomed beauty moved her. Gradually, as she looked from one familiar detail to another, the chords of old remembrance stirred, bringing her back into touch with that life she had left so long ago in the morning. It was as if she were beginning to wake from a nightmare from which they had been spared.

And yet — over there in the pasturecorner, the old red cow still mourned her calf, the calf that had been sold to buy the funeral dress. Inside its circle of stones was the little flower-bed, with its broken stalks of feather-grass and prince’s plume, which all summer long, as fast as they had bloomed, she had robbed of their blossoms to cover his grave. Up in the steep little cornfield, where the garnered sheaves stood in rows, how hard she had toiled to get the fodder pulled and stacked, ready for to-day! She had wanted to leave everything shining and in order, as if they, too, were to partake of the sacrament. Not one part of that little domain but had fell the stir of preparation, the eager hope, the gladness. Even the little silver path from doorway to well-curb had felt it, and the festoons of beans hung to dry from the eaves of the little porch. Now, lying there before her gaze, they seemed to know and share her grief. Insensibly they spoke with a voice of comfort, softening her anguish, and bringing it more within the bounds of her human endurance.

Gradually her tired spirit ceased to grapple with the immensity of Hell. Life waited again, life with its light forever gone, with only its toil and burden, but with its saving round of drudgery, and its ties that bound her to the past.

Then, inside the open doorway of the cabin, she saw the shadow of the bed where he would be lying, that other one, that little one whose very goodness was a constant reminder of her cross.

‘Ef’t were n’t fer him! Sure to ax first thing ef’t were a pretty meetin’, A-glimpsin’ Heaven oftener’n airth.’ The contrast was too sharp. ‘Hit’s more’n I kin bear!'

She crept in softly, so as not to wake him: she did not want to speak to him, or let him see her tortured face.

But he was awake. The room was flooded with moonlight, and there at tho window, where its radiance poured in in a broad bar of light, he sat propped up against the pillows. His wide-open eyes met hers.

‘ Did I rouse ye, comin’ in thataway? ’ she asked wearily, dropping down on the edge of the bed.

‘No, I were n’t sleepin’,’ he said. ‘I were jest a-seein’ up yander!’

It was like the lash of a whip on bare flesh. ‘ Then ye ’d better ben a-sleepin’,’ she said roughly. ‘Ye do too much o’ that ’ere old “seein”’, as ye call it.’

‘But, mammy, wait till I tell ye once,’ he cried, his thin little voice tense with excitement. ‘I seed him!

She stared at him aghast. ‘Not yer brother, honey?’

‘Yes, him!’

‘No, no! Ye could n’t, ye could n’t!’ she cried brokenly. ‘I knowed all the time ye never seed right. Ye could n’t see him, cause he — were n’t thar to see,’ she started to say; but she could not bring the words out. Covering her face, she burst into racking sobs.

‘But, mammy, listen while I tell ye. I seed him as plain as ever I seed him on airth, an’ his face were kind, purely kind, like that time he gin me the squirrel skin.’ In all his life it was the only kindness he had to remember of him.

‘But whar, whar was ye lookin’ when ye seed him?’

‘Up yander, in Glory,’ he returned simply. ‘It were like this. I were jest a-Iayin’ hyar, an’ my eyes were shet, but I could n’t sleep, an’ all to once I felt soft wings breshin’ again my cheek, an’ I heerd a voice say, “Look!” an’ I opened my eyes. At first thar was jest a light, a great shinin’ light. In all the times I’ve looked I never did see a light like that. An’ then I see an Angel o’ the Lord were a-holdin’ that light. He were a-holdin’ it up high for someone a-comin’ way down below, whar ’t were all darkness. The way were long an’ steep, an’ who it were a-comin’ I could n’t see yet. An’ then I seed it were him, a-comin’ up from Hell.’

‘ No! ’ she breathed incredulously, but with a gleam of hope in her wonder.

If, were him, a-comin up from Hell! An’ when the Angel o’ the Lord seed him cornin’, he were glad. “ Yander’s the Gate,” he says, throwin’ the light up high. An’ lookin’ up atter it, 1 seed a little gate of gold an’ of pearl, an’ then I knowed it were the Gate of Heaven. An’ as he drawed nigh unto it, it were opened for him, an’ he went in.’

‘In the visions of the righteous thar is truth,’ she murmured, trembling to believe.

‘An’ the Angel o’ the Lord waited thar till he were safe within the Gate, an’ then he tuk his light an’ went away, an’ fer a little while it were all darkness; but I kep’ on a-lookin’, an’ atter a while I seed again. An’ this time’t were way fur within the land o’ Heaven, an’ him an’ Pop were jest a-findin’ of each other. An’ Pop says, “Whar ye ben all this time? I ben a-lookin’ an’ a-lookin’ fer ye, but I never did see ye afore.” An’ he says, “I were n’t hyar to see. I ain’t but jest come. When I died,” he says, “I went straight to Hell!”

‘Oh, yes, he did, he did!’ she moaned, crumpling up again in her grief. ‘Anthar shall be no end!’

‘“But how come ye’re hyar then?” Pop says. “On airth they say the fires o’ Hell is everlastin’.” ’

‘“Yes,” he says, “they air everlastin’, but not fer me nor fer you. We hain’t got to stay thar all that time. Hit ain’t to burn us, hit’s jest to burn the sin outen us, an’ set us free. Fer the intention o’ the Lord is that atter death we shall all be gethered hyar in Glory. But some of us hain’t ready yet to live among the saints. We was borned in sin, an’ we died in sin, an’ ef it hain’t ben cleansed out of us by the salvation o’ the spirit on airth, hit’s got to be burned out of us in Hell. An’ that’s what the fires o’ Hell is fer! Hit ain’t fer punishment or torment. God’s too good! ” he cried. “Hit’s jest to prepare us fer Etarnal Glory, an’ make us kitten fer hits grace. On airth,” he says, “they say differ’nt, but they dont know! They only see in part. The fires o’ Hell air everlastin’, they say. Yes, they air everlastin’. They shall burn on an’ on, an’ thar shall be no end, as long as one sinner is left on airth a-needin’ their flame. But fer him nor fer me, nor fer no one that comes, thar hain’t no real everlastingness to ary thing but Grace.” ’

’An’ is it thataway?’ she marveled. ‘All plain an’ simple an’ sari in? Then God is good!’ she breathed reverently.

‘That’s what Pop says, “Then God is good!” An’ fer a little while they stood thar, jest seein’ over in their minds how’t were. An’ then he looked up to Pop. “ I were n’t no kind of a son on airth,” he says, sorter ’shamed, as if to beg fergiveness; “ but now— ” An’ Pop tuk his hand, an’ made as if to answer; but they could n’t either on ’em say it, no more’n menfolks on airth; but hit were a mighty understandin’ look they gin each other, an’ their faces was as happy as if all the glory o’ the Lord were a-shinin’ right thar.

’An’ then I tuk notice that, whar they were a-standin’ was in a little laurelly bottom, an’ hit were airly of a mornin’, like an October day on airth. The trees was ev’ry color, an’t he ground beneath, whar their leaves had fell. The sun were jest a-risin’, an’ oh, but hit were pretty! Fer the dew was heavy on the leaves an’ the grasses, an’ ev’rywhars ye looked hit sparkled an’ shone till seemed like each one o’ them littly bits o’ dewdraps was a sun-ball hitself, risin’ up to make a new day. Fur an’ near the pa’tridges was callin’, an’ up in the trees the gray squirrels chattin’ away.

“‘Let’s go a-huntin’,” Pop says. An’ hit were like two boys they went off together.’

‘Him an’ his pappy — together!’

‘An’ atter that I could n’t see no more; but when I shot my eyes, I could hear sweet music. An’ if it were the sounds o’ voices lifted up in praise, or the play o’ stringed chords, or the song o’ birds an’ tumblin’ waters, I could n’t tell, but hit were glad, pure glad! An’ when ye heerd it, ye fergot thar were ary thing on airth but joyfulness an’ peace.’

‘I hear it now!’ she cried in rapture. ‘1 reckon hit’s the echo.’ Then, after a bit, ‘ Did either on ’em sec you, honey?’ she asked.

‘No, they never seed me — but they will when 1 go,’ he answered in happy certainty. ‘1 ’ll know jest whar to line! ’em.’

A little stab of pain shot through the assuagement of her heart.

‘Have yer breast ben a-hurtin’ whilst I were gone?’

‘Hit ain’t a-hurtin’ now,’ he replied, his soul lifted up beyond the dominion of bodily pain.

But as the waning moon traveled on at length beyond the radius of the cabin-window, his little face, missing its radiance, grew suddenly tired and spent.

With the gloom a chill little breeze shivered on the air. Dawn was beginning to whiten the eastern sky, but on its western rim two stars still shone. They were like her eyes, unquenchable wells of brightness in the worn pallor of her face.

‘Honey,’ she whispered, ‘that’s a sweet gift o’ yourn, did ye know it?’

Then something in the delicacy of his face, and the pleased little flush her rare praise brought, smote her newly wakened tenderness. Drawing him up close, she brushed the damp locks away from his thin little forehead. Her voice was infinitely gentle.

‘Let’s lay down a minute now,’ she coaxed, ‘an’ rest us ’fore hit’s day.’