The summer passed over the cottage, noiselessly, as our summers pass. There were white clouds walking in saintly troops over blue mirrors of sea,—there were purple mornings, choral with bird-singing,—there were golden evenings, with long, eastward shadows. Apple-blossoms died quietly in the deep orchard-grass, and tiny apples waxed and rounded and ripened and gained stripes of gold and carmine; and the blue eggs broke into young robins, that grew from gaping, yellow-mouthed youth to fledged and outflying maturity. Came autumn, with its long Indian summer, and winter, with its flinty, sparkling snows, under which all Nature lay a sealed and beautiful corpse. Came once more the spring winds, the lengthening days, the opening flowers, and the ever-renewing miracle of buds and blossoms on the apple-trees around the cottage. A year had passed since the June afternoon when first we showed you Mary standing under the spotty shadows of the tree, with the white dove on her hand,—a year in which not many outward changes have been made in the relations of the actors of our story.

Mary calmly spun and read and thought; now and then composing with care very English-French letters, to be sent to Philadelphia to Madame de Frontignac, and receiving short missives of very French-English in return.

The cautions of Madame, in regard to the Doctor, had not rippled the current of their calm, confiding intercourse; and the Doctor, so very satisfied and happy in her constant society and affection, scarcely as yet meditated distinctly that he needed to draw her more closely to himself. If he had a passage to read, a page to be copied, a thought to express, was she not ever there, gentle, patient, unselfish? and scarce by the absence of a day did she let him perceive that his need of her was becoming so absolute that his hold on her must needs be made permanent.

As to his salary and temporal concerns, they had suffered somewhat for his unpopular warfare with reigning sins,—a fact which had rather reconciled Mrs. Scudder to the dilatory movement of her cherished hopes. Since James was gone, what need to press imprudently to new arrangements? Better give the little heart time to grow over before starting a subject which a certain womanly instinct told her might be met with a struggle. Somehow she never thought without a certain heart-sinking of Mary’s look and tone the night she spoke with her about James; she had an awful presentiment that that tone of voice belonged to the things that cannot be shaken. But yet, Mary seemed so even, so quiet, her delicate form filled out and rounded so beautifully, and she sang so cheerfully at her work, and, above all, she was so entirely silent about James, that Mrs. Scudder had hope.

Ah, that silence! Do not listen to hear whom a woman praises, to know where her heart is! do not ask for whom she expresses the most earnest enthusiasm! but if there be one she once knew well, whose name she never speaks,—if she seem to have an instinct to avoid every occasion of its mention,—if, when you speak, she drops into silence and changes the subject,—why, look there for something! just as, when going through deep meadow-grass, a bird flies ostentatiously up before you, you may know her nest is not there, but far off, under distant tufts of fern and buttercup, through which she has crept with a silent flutter in her spotted breast, to act her pretty little falsehood before you.

Poor Mary’s little nest was along the sedgy margin of the sea-shore, where grow the tufts of golden-rod, where wave the reeds, where crimson, green, and purple sea-weeds float up, like torn fringes of Nereid vestures, and gold and silver shells lie on the wet wrinkles of the sands.

The sea had become to her like a friend, with its ever-varying monotony. Somehow she loved this old, fresh, blue, babbling, restless giant, who had carried away her heart’s love to hide him in some far off palmy island, such as she had often heard him tell of in his sea romances. Sometimes she would wander out for an afternoon’s stroll on the rocks, and pause by the great spouting cave, now famous to Newport dilettanti, but then a sacred and impressive solitude. There the rising tide bursts with deafening strokes through a narrow opening into some inner cavern, which, with a deep thunder-boom, like the voice of an angry lion, casts it back in a high jet of foam into the sea.

Mary often sat and listened to this hollow noise, and watched the ever-rising columns of spray as they reddened with the transpiercing beams of the afternoon sun; and thence her eye travelled far, far off over the shimmering starry blue, where sails looked no bigger than miller’s wings; and it seemed sometimes as if a door were opening by which her soul might go out into some eternity,—some abyss, so wide and deep, that fathomless lines of thought could not sound it. She was no longer a girl in a mortal body, but an infinite spirit, the adoring companion of Infinite Beauty and Infinite Love.

As there was an hour when the fishermen of Galilee saw their Master transfigured, his raiment white and glistening, and his face like the light, so are there hours when our whole mortal life stands forth in a celestial radiance. From our daily lot falls off every weed of care,—from our heart-friends every speck and stain of earthly infirmity. Our horizon widens, and blue, and amethyst, and gold touch every object. Absent friends and friends gone on the last long journey stand once more together, bright with an immortal glow, and, like the disciples who saw their Master floating in the clouds above them, we say, ‘Lord, it is good to be here!’ How fair the wife, the husband, the absent mother, the gray-haired father, the manly son, the bright-eyed daughter! Seen in the actual present, all have some fault, some flaw; but absent, we see them in their permanent and better selves. Of our distant home we remember not one dark day, not one servile care, nothing but the echo of its holy hymns and the radiance of its brightest days,—of our father, not one hasty word, but only the fulness of his manly vigour and noble tenderness,—of our mother, nothing of mortal weakness, but a glorified form of love,—of our brother, not one teasing, provoking word of brotherly freedom, but the proud beauty of his noblest hours,—of our sister, our child, only what is fairest and sweetest.

This is to life the true ideal, the calm glass, wherein looking, we shall see, that, whatever defects cling to us, they are not, after all, permanent, and that we are tending to something nobler than we yet are;—it is ‘the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.’ In the resurrection we shall see our friends for ever as we see them in these clairvoyant hours.

We are writing thus on and on, linking image and thought and feeling, and lingering over every flower, and listening to every bird, because just before us there lies a dark valley, and we shrink and tremble to enter it.

But it must come, and why do we delay?

Towards evening, one afternoon in the latter part of June, Mary returned from one of these lonely walks by the sea, and entered the kitchen. It was still in its calm and sober cleanness;—the tall clock ticked with a startling distinctness. From the half-closed door of her mother’s bedroom, which stood ajar, she heard the chipper of Miss Prissy’s voice. She stayed her light footsteps, and the words that fell on her ear were these:—

‘Miss Marvyn fainted dead away;—she stood it till he came to that; but then she just clapped both hands together, as if she’d been shot, and fell right forward on the floor in a faint!’

What could this be? There was a quick, intense whirl of thoughts in Mary’s mind, and then came one of those awful moments when the powers of life seem to make a dead pause and all things stand still; and then all seemed to fail under her, and the life to sink down, down, down, till nothing was but one dim, vague, miserable consciousness.

Mrs. Scudder and Miss Prissy were sitting, talking earnestly, on the foot of the bed, when the door opened noiselessly, and Mary glided to them like a spirit,—no colour in cheek or lip,—her blue eyes wide with calm horror; and laying her little hand, with a nervous grasp, on Miss Prissy’s arm, she said,—

‘Tell me,—what is it?—is it?—is he—dead?’

The two women looked at each other, and then Mrs. Scudder opened her arms.

‘My daughter!’

‘Oh! mother! mother!’

Then fell that long, hopeless silence, broken only by hysteric sobs from Miss Prissy, and answering ones from the mother; but she lay still and quiet, her blue eyes wide and clear, making an inarticulate moan.

‘Oh! are they sure?can it be?—is he dead?’ at last she gasped.

‘My child, it is too true; all we can say is, “Be still, and know that I am God!”’

‘I shall try to be still, mother,’ said Mary, with a piteous, hopeless voice, like the bleat of a dying lamb; ‘but I did not think he could die!—I never thought of that!—I never thought of it!—Oh! mother! mother! mother! oh! what shall I do?’

They laid her on her mother’s bed,—the first and last resting-place of broken hearts,—and the mother sat down by her in silence. Miss Prissy stole away into the Doctor’s study, and told him all that had happened.

‘It’s the same to her,’ said Miss Prissy, with womanly reserve, ‘as if he’d been an own brother.’

‘What was his spiritual state?’ said the Doctor, musingly.

Miss Prissy looked blank, and answered mournfully,—

‘I don’t know.’

The Doctor entered the room where Mary was lying with closed eyes. Those few moments seemed to have done the work of years,—so pale, and faded, and sunken she looked; nothing but the painful flutter of the eyelids and lips showed that she yet breathed. At a sign from Mrs. Scudder, he kneeled by the bed, and began to pray,—‘Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations,’—prayer deep, mournful, upheaving like the swell of the ocean, surging upward, under the pressure of mighty sorrows, towards an Almighty heart.

The truly good are of one language in prayer. Whatever lines or angles of thought may separate them in other hours, when they pray in extremity, all good men pray alike. The Emperor Charles V. and Martin Luther, two great generals of opposite faiths, breathed out their dying struggle in the self-same words.

There be many tongues and many languages of men,—but the language of prayer is one by itself, in all and above all. It is the inspiration of that Spirit that is ever working with our spirit, and constantly lifting us higher than we know, and, by our wants, by our woes, by our tears, by our yearnings, by our poverty, urging us, with mightier and mightier force, against those chains of sin which keep us from our God. We speak not of things conventionally called prayers,—vain mutterings of unawakened spirits talking drowsily in sleep,—but of such prayers as come when flesh and heart fail, in mighty straits;—then he who prays is a prophet, and a Mightier than he speaks in him; for the ‘Spirit helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered.’

So the voice of supplication, upheaving from that great heart, so childlike in its humility, rose with a wisdom and a pathos beyond what he dreamed in his intellectual hours; it uprose even as a strong angel, whose brow is solemnly calm, and whose wings shed healing dews of paradise.

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