One morning in the latter part of spring Zeph Higgins received a shock which threw his whole soul into confusion.

His wife, on rising to go forth to her wonted morning cares, had fainted dead away and been found lying, apparently lifeless, on the bed, when her husband returned for his breakfast.

Instantly everything was in commotion. The nearest neighbor was sent for, and restoratives applied with such skill as domestic experience could suggest, and one of the boys dispatched in all haste for the doctor, with orders to bring Nabby at once to take her mother's place.

The fainting fit proved of short duration, but was followed by a violent chill and a rise of fever, and when the doctor arrived he reported a congestion of the lungs threatening the gravest results.

Forthwith the household was to be organized for sickness. A fire was kindled in the best bed-room and the patient laid there; Mis' Persis was sent for and installed as nurse; Nabby became housekeeper, and to superficial view the usual order reigned. Zeph went forth to the labors of the field, struggling with a sort of new terror; there was an evil threatening his house, against the very thought and suggestion of which he fought with all his being. His wife could not, should not, ought not to be sick,—and as to dying, that was not to be thought of! What could he do without her? What could any of them do without her? During the morning's work that was the problem that he kept turning and turning in his mind—what life would be without her. Yet, when Abner, who was working beside him, paused over his hoe and stood apparently lost in thought, he snapped a harsh question at him with a crack like the sound of a lash.

"What ye doin' there?"

Abner started, looked confused and resumed his work, only saying, "I was thinking about Mother."

"Nonsense! Don't make a fool of yourself. Mother'll come all right."

"The doctor said"—said Abner.

"Don't tell me nothin' what the doctor said; I don't want to hear on't," said Zeph, in a high voice; and the two hoes worked on in silence for a while, till finally Zeph broke out again.

"Wal! what did the doctor say? Out with it; as good say it 's think it. What did the doctor say? Why don't you speak?"

"He said she was a very sick woman," answered Abner.

"He's a fool. I don't think nothin' o' that doctor's jedgment. I'll have Dr. Sampson over from East Poganuc. Your mother's got the best constitution of any woman in this neighborhood."

"Yes; but she hasn't been well lately, and I've seen it," said Abner.

"That's all croakin'. Don't believe a word on't. Mother's been right along, stiddy as a clock; 'taint nothin' but one o' these 'ere pesky spring colds she's got. She'll be up and 'round by to-morrow or next day. I'll have another doctor, and I'll get her wine and bark, and strengthenin' things, and Nabby shall do the work, and she'll come all right enough."

"I'm sure I hope so," said Abner.

"Hope! what d'ye say hope for? I ain't a goin' to hope nothin' 'bout it. I know so; she's got to git well—ain't no two ways 'bout that."

Yet Zeph hurried home an hour before his usual time and met Nabby at the door.

"Wal, ain't your mother gettin' better?"

There were tears in Nabby's eyes as she answered,

"Oh, dear! she's been a raisin' blood. Doctor says it's from her lungs. Mis' Persis says it's a bad sign. She's very weak—and she looks so pale!"

"They must give her strengthenin' things," said Zeph. "Do they?"

"They're givin' what the Doctor left. Her fever's beginnin' to rise now. Doctor says we mustn't talk to her, nor let her talk."

"Wal, I'm a goin' up to see her, anyhow. I guess I've got a right to speak to my own wife." And Zeph slipped off his heavy cowhide boots, and went softly up to the door of the room, and opened it without stopping to knock.

The blinds were shut; it seemed fearfully dark and quiet. His wife was lying with her eyes closed, looking white and still; but in the center of each pale cheek was the round, bright, burning spot of the rising hectic.

Mis' Persis was sitting by her with the authoritative air of a nurse who has taken full possession; come to stay and to reign. She was whisking the flies away from her patient with a feather fan, which she waved forbiddingly at Zeph as he approached.

"Mother," said he in an awe-struck tone, bending over his wife, "don't you know me?"

She opened her eyes; saw him; smiled and reached out her hand. It was thin and white, burning with the rising fever.

"Don't you feel a little better?" he asked. There was an imploring eagerness in his tone.

"Oh, yes; I'm better."

"You'll get well soon, won't you?"

"Oh, yes; I shall be well soon," she said, looking at him with that beautiful bright smile.

His heart sank as he looked. The smile was so strangely sweet—and all this quiet, this stillness, this mystery! She was being separated from him by impalpable shadowy forces that could not be battled with or defied. In his heart a warning voice seemed to say that just so quietly she might fade from his sight—pass away, and be forever gone. The thought struck cold to his heart, and he uttered an involuntary groan.

His wife opened her eyes, moved slightly, and seemed as if she would speak, but Mis' Persis put her hand authoritatively over her mouth. "Don't you say a word," said she.

Then turning with concentrated energy on Zeph, she backed him out of the room and shut the door upon him and herself in the entry before she trusted herself to speak. When she did, it was as one having authority.

"Zephaniah Higgins," she said, "air you crazy? Do you want to kill your wife? Ef ye come round her that way and git her a-talkin' she'll bleed from her lungs agin, and that'll finish her. You've jest got to shet up and submit to the Lord, Zephaniah Higgins, and that's what you hain't never done yit; you've got to know that the Lord is goin' to do his sovereign will and pleasure with your wife, and you've got to be still. That's all. You can't do nothin'. We shall all do the best we can; but you've jest got to wait the Lord's time and pleasure."

So saying, she went back into the sick-room and closed the door, leaving Zeph standing desolate in the entry.

Zeph, like most church members of his day, had been trained in theology, and had often expressed his firm belief in what was in those days spoken of as the "doctrine of divine sovereignty."

A man's idea of his God is often a reflection of his own nature. The image of an absolute monarch, who could and would always do exactly as he pleased, giving no account to any one of his doings, suited Zeph perfectly as an abstract conception; but when this resistless awful Power was coming right across his path, the doctrine assumed quite another form.

The curt statement made by Mis' Persis had struck him with a sudden terror, as if a flash of lightning had revealed an abyss opening under his feet. That he was utterly helpless in his Sovereign's hands he saw plainly; but his own will rose in rebellion—a rebellion useless and miserable.

His voice trembled that night as he went through the familiar words of the evening prayer; a rush of choking emotions almost stopped his utterance, and the old words, worn smooth with use, seemed to have no relation to the turbulent tempest of feeling that was raging in his heart.

After prayers he threw down the Bible with an impatient bang, bolted for his room and shut himself in alone.

"Poor Father! he takes it hard," said Nabby, wiping her eyes.

"He takes everything hard," said Abner. "I don't know how we'll get along with him, now Mother isn't round."

"Well, let's hope Mother's goin' to get well," said Nabby. "I can't—I ain't goin' to think anything else."

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