Summer with its deep blue skies was bending over the elms of Poganuc. The daisies were white in the meadows and the tall grass was nodding its feathery sprays of blossom. The windows of the farm houses stood open, with now and then a pillow or a bolster lounging out of them, airing in the sunshine. The hens stepped hither and thither with a drowsy continuous cackle of contentment as they sunned themselves in the warm embracing air.

In the great elm that overhung the roof of Zeph Higgins's farm house was a mixed babble and confusion of sweet bird voices. An oriole from her swinging nest caroled cheerfully, and bobolinks and robins replied, and the sounds blended pleasantly with the whisper and flutter of leaves, as soft summer breezes stirred them.

But over one room in that house rested the shadow of death; there, behind the closed blinds, in darkened stillness days passed by; and watchers came at night to tend and minister; and bottles accumulated on the table; and those who came entered softly and spoke with bated breath; and the doctor was a daily visitor; and it was known that the path of the quiet patient who lay there was steadily going down to the dark river.

Every one in the neighborhood knew it: for, in the first place, everybody in that vicinity, as a matter of course, knew all about everybody else: and then, besides that, Mrs. Higgins had been not only an inoffensive, but a much esteemed and valued neighbor. Her quiet step, her gentle voice, her skillful ministry had been always at hand where there had been sickness or pain to be relieved, and now that her time was come there was a universal sympathy. Nabby's shelves were crowded with delicacies made up and sent in by one or another good wife to tempt the failing appetite. In the laborious, simple life that they were living in those days, there was small physiological knowledge, and the leading idea in most minds in relation to the care of sickness was the importance of getting the patient to eat; for this end, dainties that might endanger the health of a well person were often sent in as a tribute to the sick. Then almost every house-mother had her own favorite specific, of sovereign virtue, which she prepared and sent in to increase the army of bottles which always gathered in a sick-room. Mis' Persis, however, while graciously accepting these tributes, had her own mental reservations, and often slyly made away with the medicine in a manner that satisfied the giver and did not harm the patient. Quite often, too, Hiel Jones, returning on his afternoon course, stopped his horses at the farm-house door and descended to hand in some offering of sympathy and good will from friends who lived miles away.

Hiel did not confine himself merely to transmitting the messages of neighbors, but interested himself personally in the work of consolation, going after Nabby wherever she might be found—at the spinning wheel, in the garret, or in the dairy below—and Nabby, in her first real trouble, was so accessible and so confiding that Hiel found voice to say unreproved what the brisk maiden might have flouted at in earlier days.

"I'm sure I don't know what we can do without Mother," Nabby said one day, her long eye-lashes wet with tears. "Home won't ever seem home without her."

"Well," answered Hiel, "I know what I shall want you to do, Nabby: come to me; and you and I'll have a home all to ourselves."

And Nabby did not gainsay the word, but only laid her head on his shoulder and sobbed, and said he was a real true friend and she should never forget his kindness; and Hiel kissed and comforted her with all sorts of promises of future devotion. Truth to say, he found Nabby in tears and sorrow more attractive than when she sparkled in her gayest spirits.

But other influences emanated from that shadowy room—influences felt through all the little neighborhood. Puritan life had its current expressions significant of the intense earnestness of its faith in the invisible, and among these was the phrase "a triumphant death." There seemed to be in the calm and peaceful descent of this quiet spirit to the grave a peculiar and luminous clearness that fulfilled the meaning of that idea. The "peace that passeth understanding" brightened, in the sunset radiance, into "joy unspeakable and full of glory." Her decline, though rapid and steady, was painless: and it seemed to those who looked upon her and heard her words of joy and trust that the glory so visible to her must be real and near—as if in that sick-chamber a door had in very deed been opened into heaven.

When she became aware that the end was approaching she expressed a wish that her own minister should be sent for, and Dr. Cushing came. The family gathered in her room. She was propped up on pillows, her eyes shining and cheeks glowing with the hectic flush, and an indescribable brightness of expression in her face that seemed almost divine.

The Doctor read from Isaiah the exultant words: "Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people, but the Lord shall arise on thee, and his glory shall be seen on thee. The sun shall no more be thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light to thee, but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down nor thy moon withdraw itself, for the Lord shall be thy everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended." In the prayer that followed he offered thanks that God had given unto our sister the victory, and enabled her to rejoice in hope of the glory of God, while yet remaining with them as a witness of the faithfulness of the promise. He prayed that those dear to her might have grace given them to resign her wholly to the will of God and to rejoice with her in her great joy.

When they rose from prayer, Zeph, who had sat in gloomy silence through all, broke out:

"I can't—I can't give her up! It's hard on me. I can't do it, and I won't."

She turned her eyes on him, and a wonderful expression of love and sorrow and compassion came into her face. She took his hand, saying, with a gentle gravity and composure:

"I want to see my husband alone."

When all had left the room, he sunk down on his knees by the bed and hid his face. The bed was shaken by his convulsive sobbing. "My dear husband," she said, "you know I love you."

"Yes—yes, and you are the only one that does—the only one that can. I'm hard and cross, and bad as the devil. Nobody could love me but you; and I can't—I won't—give you up!"

"You needn't give me up; you must come with me. I want you to come where I am; I shall wait for you; you're an old man—it won't be long. But oh, do listen to me now. You can't come to heaven till you've put away all hard feeling out of your heart. You must make up that quarrel with the church. When you know you've been wrong, you must say so. I want you to promise this. Please do!"

There was silence; and Zeph's form shook with the conflict of his feelings.

But the excitement and energy which had sustained the sick woman thus far had been too much for her; a blood vessel was suddenly ruptured, and her mouth filled with blood. She threw up her hands with a slight cry. Zeph rose and rushed to the door, calling the nurse.

It was evident that the end had come.

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