I. The Sculptor

I HAD never before looked upon a dead person’s face, and it was certainly not by my own volition that I did so now. Little, wide-eyed, frightened girl that I was, I had been swept out of my seat and down the narrow aisle by a heedless crowd. Begging and pleading with deaf grown-ups, I tried to worm my way to freedom, but the relentless tide swept me on and on. I could see the black, shiny coffin yawning before me, and my sobs became hysterical as we drew nearer and nearer. Only a few more feet to go — I covered my face with my hands lest I should see within before I knew. The heavy sweetness of lilies seemed choking me, and the monotonous grief of the crowd drummed in my ears while their steady, onward shuffle beat about me.

Suddenly there was a quick, restless movement and I felt myself tossed like an unwilling leaf in the current, and then crushed against a hard, smooth surface. For a moment I stood st unned. Then the full horror of the situation came to me — I was standing close against the coffin, with my chin a little above its edge. All my childish fancy seemed to concentrate in one thought: dead eyes were staring at me! — dead eyes boring between my trembling fingers into my very soul!

Finally I could stand it no longer, and, tearing my hands from my face, I gazed full into that of the dead.

For a moment what I saw stupefied me. I could only dumbly stare. Then such a wave of glad relief swept over me that I began to cry afresh with pure joy. Before me lay the sweetest face that I have ever seen. Wrinkled and ivory-white and framed by silvery hair, it was yet strangely young. There was beauty in every feature of it, but that was not so much what attracted me. It was the look of deep peace and contentment. Small as I was, I felt that, somehow, if death could do that to a face I need have no fear.

II. ‘Destroyer and Preserver

‘Beat you to the playhouse! ’ I called as I swung my loaded bookstrap on to the porch and sped around the house.

‘Naw, yuh don’t!’cried Sarah, tossing her sweater beside my strap and dashing after me. Because she was older and had longer legs, her yellow braids were soon bobbing far ahead. Seeing that I could not win, I turned to wait for slow little Marie. Hand in hand we ran down the garden path, through the gate and on through the pasture to the oak tree, beneath which our playhouse stood.

It was just an old shed which Father had made waterproof and had papered with odds and ends of pink bedroom paper. Here we carried all our treasures — broken dishes, a faded parlor rug, some torn lace curtains, an old carved clock, and an ancient settee. And here we spent our joyous hours of freedom.

This evening, as we panted up, Sarah met us at the door. She put her finger on her lips. There was news in her very look. ‘Marie,’ she whispered, ‘yer sister’s in here.’ Marie only stared. ‘Come on in, silly. She’s sick. She wants yuh to go tell yer maw.’

Wide-eyed and frightened, Marie tiptoed in. I watched from the door. Her sister Jane, covered with an old shawl, was lying on the settee. Jane was much older than we, but though she never played with us I knew her well. Her pretty face was quite pale now, and there was mingled fear and pain in the dark eyes. ‘Marie,’ she moaned, ‘go tell Mother to come.’

Dumbly, too frightened to stay, I followed my playmate back the way we had come and on down the street to her home.

‘Come, Mother, Jane’s sick— down in our playhouse,’ cried Marie.

‘What?’ There was a roar from inside the house, and Mr. Allen appeared, brandishing his paper and cursing vilely. ‘I told you so. Dher! She can get out of my house!’

‘No, no, John. It is n’t so,’ sobbed the mother. ‘Hush, dear, t he neighbors will hear you.’ Her nervous hands fumbled as she put on her bonnet and prepared to go to her child.

I fled from the house, too terrified to hear more. In the middle of the street I was stopped by Sarah. ‘Ain’t it fierce how the old man takes on?’ she gossiped. ‘Jane’s awful sick. Should n’t wonder if she’ll die.’

‘Oh, Sarah, what’s the matter with her?’ I gasped. ‘What makes Mr. Allen carry on so?’

‘’Cause, silly,’ Sarah swelled with superior wisdom, and leaned over to blurt impressively in my car, ‘ ’cause — she’s — going — to — have — a — baby! ’

‘Why, why — that’s nice, is n’t it?’ I faltered.

‘Huh? Nice? Well, if you ain’t a little innocent!’ She stared at me scornfully. “Of course it ain’t. It’s awful. I know my maw’ll say I can’t ever play with Marie again, and I don’t want to, neither!’ She tossed her head self-righteously. And then, seeing the perfect bewilderment of my face and being desirous of a more intelligent audience, she gave me a good-natured shove. ‘Aw, silly, go ask yer maw,’ she said.

But I did not ask my mother. Instead I locked this new secret in my heart and brooded in silence. I saw the neighbors nodding their heads together and casting significant glances. I knew that shamed little Marie no longer played with us. I knew that her father cursed more frequently and that her mother’s eyes were always sad. And my only clue to all this misery was that a baby had come to Jane. Babies were awful!

One morning, some time later, I awoke to find my father tickling my ear. He wore his usual workday clothes, but on his face was a broad holiday grin. ‘Get up, Big Sister,’ he said, as he lifted me in his arms. ‘I’ve got something to show you.’ Softly he tiptoed downstairs and into a darkened room. Dimly I could see my mother lying asleep in bed. But Father slipped around to the other side and lifted the covers. ‘See, Big Sister,’ he whispered, ‘Mother has a brand-new baby boy!’

Terror gripped my heart. Desperately I wrenched myself from his arms and fled silently up the stairs. Far, far back in the clothespress I fled with this new terror. ‘ A baby — in our own home!’ I gripped my arms about my knees and sat staring into the darkness for what seemed hours. Then at last came the relief of tears. Finally, spent with the violence of my sobbing, I leaned back dully.

It was almost noon when Sarah finally pulled me from my refuge and marched me down the stairs. ‘Ain’t y’ ashamed?’ she scolded. ‘Yuh ought to be proud to have a darling new brother, ’stead of cryin’. Gwan in and make love to him now. Yer maw’s worried ’bout yuh.’

Some neighbor women were standing at the foot of the stairs, and as I stole past I heard one say, ‘I’m so glad fer Mrs. Huston. Ain’t it a fine big baby?’

Why, people were glad about this baby! Sarah did not shun me. The neighbors even came to see us. And I remembered Father’s happy smile. Some way this baby was different.

Silently I slipped into Mother’s room, and lingered just inside the door. Mother saw and beckoned me to her side. Without a word she lifted the covers — and there lay my tiny redfaced brother. Ugly, wrinkled, but very innocent and harmless he looked. Finally I ventured to touch a wee hand and smiled shyly as his fist caught around my finger. Then I must touch his feet and his fuzzy bit of hair. At last I laid my cheek very softly against his and smiled up at Mother. And Mother smiled very sweetly back at me.

Soon afterward Mother quieted forever the fears that had grown in my heart, and taught me the true beauty of birth and love.

III.Const Thou by Searching Find Out God ?

Because no breath of air must disturb the fragile, growing threads, every window was closed in the spinning room of the great Woolen Mills. The glare of a midsummer sun filled the dust-laden air with a strange white light. Heated machinery moved with slow, inhuman strokes, and demanded instant attention to its every whim. Somewhere a high shrill scream told that a woman had fainted, but the unheeding wheels ground on and on. A clock in the room struck three — the afternoon was half over.

I paused for a moment in my endless running to untangle a bobbin, and took the opportunity to chat with ‘Jude’ at the next machine. ‘Only two more hours, Jude,’ I called, ‘then I shall be free, free, FREE forever!’ I waved the bobbin exult ingly, careless of boss and floorwalker.

‘Gawd, kid, yer lucky,’ shouted Jude huskily above the roar of the room. Jude had ‘T.B.’ and always spoke with an effort. ‘I’m glad fer yuh, though, I swear I am. Wish’t it was me, I do!’

‘I do too, Jude,’ I said, penitent that I had flaunted my joy before one who could not share it. ‘This place is terrible, is n’t it?’

‘It’s hell! Gawd, I’d rather die than work like this. Sometimes I used t’ pray t’ die.’ Then she laughed grimly. ‘Pray? Ha! kid, I learned long ago there ain’t no Gawd t’ pray to.’

Then we were back at our machines, working, running, slaving. But Jude’s words throbbed in my head, beat to the rhythm of the machines, blazed in the air before me. No God? No God!

Suddenly I knew Jude was right. There was no God.

It was the end of a summer in which burning hands and feet, a throbbing head, and an aching back had taught me the bitterness of man’s struggle for bread; a summer in which the empty, degraded lives of my fellow workers had mocked and taunted my finest ideals of life; a summer in which childish faith had struggled with grim reality. Again and again I had asked, ‘How can God let the world be like this?’

And now I knew the answer. There was a fierce kind of satisfaction in knowing, a kind of self-sufficient strength. I too laughed harshly as I repeated the words, ‘There is no God. There is no God.’

Four years have passed since then, four years of happy college life. I knew as I accepted my pay check on that last afternoon that I had earned my way to the beginning of a college course. I was free!

It would be so easy, now that I myself am happy and time has eased memory’s burden, to accept a gracious God who cares for me and to think that all is well. I waver, and almost believe.

And yet — and yet — what of those others? Have their lives changed? No, it was their pain which taught my unbelief, and only through the answer of their lives can I build anew.

But I am not altogether without hope. Life has three great questions which she must answer to her children — Birth, Death, and God. She taught me the truth of the first two and I no longer feared. Some day she will answer this last, the greatest of all. And I know that in the fullness of truth I shall again be joyous and free.