I shall begin this chapter, perhaps the closing chapter of my artless
story, with the simple statement that we were back again in St.
Andrew’s Church. This restoration was effected about seven months
after the incident with which the last chapter had its close. How it
came about, or why, I shall not pause to tell. But there was a vacancy
there–in St. Andrew’s, that is–and the thought of nearly the whole
congregation had gradually turned towards Gordon. He had proved his
worth, had fought a fight so stern and long, and had come out of it
with a faith so clear and a power so manifest, that it was only natural
they should covet his ministry again.
He returned gladly enough, pride and gratitude mingling in his heart;
and the Presbytery seemed rejoiced to welcome him within their fold
again. He still retained Swan Hollow–this he insisted upon–as a kind
of associate charge. They gave him an assistant, and Gordon selected a
young minister fresh from Edinboro’, for Scotchmen are the most
clannish of all living things–and they worked the two places together,
taking the morning and evening services alternately.
Going back to the church was gladsome enough to me. But it was the
veriest trifle compared with our return to the dear old manse, where
our children had been born. What memories thronged about us when the
nightfall found us once again beneath the roof of St. Andrew’s Manse!
A few were there to welcome us; we tried to make merry with them–but
my heart ached till they should be gone. And then, hand in hand as in
other days, Gordon and I went up-stairs to the little room where our
treasures used to lie. Only one was there that night, our lovely
Dorothy, and she lay in slumbering beauty where she used to sleep
before. The other bed was beside hers as in the days of yore–I had
directed that it should be so–but it was empty.
Poor Gordon! All the joy, the triumph even, of his return to the scene
of our former life was lost in sorrow because that bed was empty.
“I’d sooner be in the poorest hovel, Helen,” he said as he stood beside
the unused couch, “if Harold were only back–Harold and Dorothy. Our
cup of happiness would be full, wouldn’t it, dear, if both were only
“But he’ll come back some day,” I tried to assure him; “that’s why I
have his bed all ready–everything has always come right, Gordon, even
if it did come late.”
“If we only knew where he is,” Gordon went on, not seeming to hear;
“but it looks as if we’d never learn. Do you know,” and the strong
voice was choked with tears again, “do you know, Helen, what I wonder
every night before I go to sleep?”
“No, what is it, Gordon?”
“I always wonder if he’s cold–or hungry. But especially if he’s cold.
Oh, surely there’s nothing so sweet to a father as tucking his children
up at night–so they won’t be cold. After we left here, the home we
went to was so little, and so hard to heat–but don’t you remember how
we used to go in and tuck them up, so warm and cozy?”
I tried my best to comfort him, though my heart had its own load to
carry. For the dark mystery still hung about us; we had heard never a
word from Harold. His debt was paid–as has been told, or implied,
already–and nothing really stood in the way of his coming back except
that we did not know where to find him. And every effort to discern
his whereabouts had ended in utter failure. But we still kept the
little tryst, still kept praying on, still hoping and trusting that the
Great Father would staunch the wound which no human hand could heal.
The summer passed and still no tidings came.
Then I began to fear seriously for Gordon. The very splendour of his
make-up was his peril; it is ever so with natures such as his. And his
sorrow seemed to find expression in an ever more passionate devotion to
his work, a devotion that was making him the idol of his people, even
if it brought him daily nearer to collapse.
Which came at last. It was one Sabbath in early November, and Gordon
had preached that morning from the text, “I will arise and go unto my
father.” I suppose it was the tragedy whose home was his own broken
heart that inspired him; in any case, he poured his soul out that day
with a passion and pathos such as none could have imagined who did not
feel the torrent of his power. He seemed to interpret the very heart
of a lonely and imploring God.
But what the effort took out of him nobody saw but me. That he was
utterly exhausted was evident as he walked home after church, but I
thought little of it; yet, even then, I noticed a strange incoherency
in his speech, and a tremulousness about his voice, that boded ill.
The collapse came during the afternoon; by eventide he was not my
Gordon any more, his mind wandering far, voicing itself in strange
plaint and heart-breaking appeal, the name of his absent Harold
sounding through it all in pitiful refrain.
I don’t think the physician I called in haste that day knew anything
about the skeleton closet in our home–it is wonderful how soon people
forget, even those who know you best–but he located the hidden wound
with wonderful acuteness. “It’s an utter collapse,” he said; “what
might be called a severe form of nervous breakdown–it generally occurs
with people of strong emotional temperament. Has your husband had any
great shock?–or has he been carrying any specially heavy burden,
probably for months?”
I told him as much as I thought was necessary.
“Just what I surmised,” he said; “he’s suffering from what the German
physicians call ‘the sad heart’–and all this derangement is due to the
sympathy between the brain and the nerves. Highly-strung organism, you
see–intense emotional nature, that’s evident; all this disturbance is
a result of tension–the strain was simply too much for him. But he’ll
recover all right–only it will take time, time and rest.”
A consultation followed soon; and the result of it all was that Gordon
was to be removed to other scenes just as early as he would be able to
travel. I watched by him night and day, and soon the first storm of
emotion was succeeded by a deep and silent calm that I found almost
harder to be borne than the other. He would sit by the hour poring
over Harold’s old school books, or gazing at some boyish photographs of
the wanderer, or holding his cricket bat or butterfly net lovingly in
his hands. Sometimes he spoke of him, but not often. When I told him
we were going away for a little holiday he consented readily enough.
“Where shall we go, Gordon?” I asked him, with but little hope that he
“We’ll go to Old Point Comfort,” he answered unhesitatingly; “that’s
where we went before.”
I had to turn away. For there came before me, with a flash of memory,
the days to which I knew my husband’s words referred. Old Point
Comfort, of dear and blessed memory!–thither had we turned our steps
the night of our wedding day, going forth by the moonlit bay on our
love-bright journey, the future years, with all the thorny paths that
awaited us, veiled in the mist of happiness that arose from our singing
hearts. Ah me! I could see again the unseamed face, the hair
untouched by time, the swimming eyes of love, when my lover was still
young and joyous, unworn with toil and care.
“That’s where we’ll go,” I answered; “we’ll go to Old Point, Gordon.”
The arrangements for our journey were soon complete. I do not think,
even were it possible, that I would willingly forego all the
discipline–and the blessing–that our years of poverty had brought me;
but now I blessed the providence that had made it possible for me to
take Gordon away like this. Money was not lacking now–thanks to
grandfather and that blessed mine–and I joyed over it as men rejoice
in harvest or as robbers that divide the spoil.
The evening before the very day we were to start, something occurred
which wrung my heart as nothing, not even the loss of Harold, had ever
done before. I had been compelled to leave Gordon for a little while,
some detail of preparation demanding my attention. Returning to the
study, our usual resort, I found it empty; and my heart chilled with
“Come, Helen,” I suddenly heard Gordon’s voice crying from without;
“oh, Helen, come, come quick.” There was a strange note of excitement,
even of rapture, in the voice that called me.
Hatless, coatless, I rushed out into the frosty night. And just across
the way, in a large adjoining yard, I could see Gordon hurrying fast
toward a little pond in the distance. Sometimes he looked back and
called me, then hurried on again, the strange exultation still sounding
in his voice. When I overtook him, he was clasping in his arms a
wondering boy, a solitary skater on the frozen pond.
“It’s our boy, mother–oh, Helen, he’s come at last. It’s Harold,
mother”–and I noticed in the failing light that the lad was actually
about Harold’s size and form. “I knew you’d come back, Harold,” he
cried as he held the youth to his bosom; “oh, my son, I knew you’d
come–but what made you stay away so long? And are you cold,
Harold?–I’ve been so afraid you might be cold.” Then he held the
startled boy out before him, his eyes lingering with pitiful intentness
on the face he held upturned to his own. “You’ve grown some,” he said
fondly, “but you’re my own Harold yet–come, come on home now with me
and mother. Your bed’s all ready for you, Harold; and Dorothy will be
so glad–she’s lonely, she’s lonely for you, Harold.”
I stood transfixed and mute with grief. Then the lad made some reply,
I know not what. But he broke the awful silence with a word–and
Gordon’s hands fell to his side like lead. He stood a moment under the
trembling stars, then stooped and gazed long into the face that had
filled his soul with fleeting rapture. Slowly he turned, looked a
moment upward at the wintry sky, then silently moved towards me.
“It isn’t Harold,” he said after a long pause, his eyes searching my
face with unutterable yearning; “it’s somebody else’s boy–let us go
home again,” as we started back hand in hand. The clock in an
adjoining steeple struck the hour as we went our way; and its knell is
with me yet.
The next day saw us off upon our southward journey, Dorothy and Gordon
and I. The doctor had filled me with high hope; the change of air, and
especially of scene, he said, were almost sure to do great things for
my dear one. And the very features that alarmed me most were those by
which he seemed to be reassured. The very acuteness of the malady, he
said, was its most hopeful sign. I have often thought of this since
and applied it to many things other than bodily infirmities; the acute
is the transient, let all sufferers bear in mind, and all who think
life’s battle hard.
We arrived at Old Point in the morning, and the balmy air and genial
skies seemed to help Gordon from the first. Oh, sweet Southern air and
sweeter Southern skies! how unspeakably dear to me I knew not till I
thus returned after all the maze of years. It was so delicious to hear
again the soft Southern accent, to catch the liquid voices of the
negroes, to breathe in the fragrance of the flowers that bloom in our
dear Southland even in November.
I remembered–what woman would forget?–the very room that had been
ours when we were there in that same hotel on our bridal tour so long
ago, the dearest little room, with a tiny balcony that looked out upon
the ocean. And I arranged that we should have it now–I would take no
other. Not a word did I say to Gordon. But the first night we were
there, after Dorothy had been safely stored away, I was sitting beside
him, looking out over the moonlit harbour. The night was hushed, the
ocean calm; voices of darkey stevedores floated softly up to us as they
moved hither and thither with their creaking wheelbarrows on the wharf.
Suddenly Gordon turned his face full on mine in the moonlight.
“Helen,” he began huskily, “do you know what room this is, Helen?”
I yielded to his arms as he slowly drew me within their shelter; “it’s
where we were before–when you were my bride, my lovely, lovely bride,”
he said softly; “did you know it, Helen?”
I nodded, smiling up to his bending face. “Yes, I knew it, darling,” I
said; “that’s why I chose it, Gordon.”
I know not why it was–I suppose no one could explain it–but the dawn
came to us, and the darkness rolled away, in that blessed hour. Tears
came at last to Gordon; slowly at first; then in copious flow; then in
a gush of feeling that wrung his whole form till it shook and sobbed
like the frame of a little child. Passionately he held me, his kisses
falling on my lips while he murmured such words of love as the days of
courtship had never heard.
“It was like this before,” he cried, pointing to the radiant sea; “the
moon shone on it, just like this. And we were so happy then,
darling–we didn’t know of the long years, with their care and sorrow,
that stretched before us. And you’ve been so good, Helen, so true and
faithful–and so brave; whatever I’ve done, or been, I owe to you, my
darling,” and through all the gust of passion his voice had a
naturalness, his eye a new-found calm, that told me the long dark night
“We were so happy then, weren’t we, dear?” he said again after a little
“I’m happier now,” I answered, nestling in.
“Why?” he exclaimed. Then, suddenly discerning: “I know why–it’s
because we have the children now. Isn’t that why, Helen–isn’t it
Dorothy and Harold?”
I told him Yes; and the fancy, if it can so be called, seemed to help
and comfort him. “Yes,” he said musingly, “it’s wonderful, isn’t it,
how we could have been happy then at all–when we didn’t have them.
But God gave them to us, didn’t He, Helen?”
“Yes,” I murmured, my face hidden; “yes, God gave them.”
“And they’re still His to give,” he went on, a great peace in his voice
such as it thrilled my soul to feel; “they’re still His to give. And I
know–I’m almost sure–that He’ll give us Harold back again. Something
tells me that it’s coming near; I knew it when I looked out on the
water–when the dark fled before the light that flooded it. Don’t you
think so, my darling?”
I forget just what my answer was; but we sat long, soothing and
comforting each other, drinking deep from Memory’s spring. By and by
Gordon fell asleep with his head resting on my arm, the moonlight still
playing on the pure and lovely features as we sat by the open window.
I brooded above him, thanking God for the change I could see upon the
care-worn face. The tide had turned, the reaction had come at last,
the strife of battle seemed spent and gone. All night long he slept
the sleep of a little child; the morning found him bright and tranquil,
and his first waking word was to say that he was well.
For a couple of weeks, or perhaps a little longer we lingered on in our
quiet retreat, every hour blissful with its evidence of returning
strength. Gordon spoke often of Harold, but always now with a sweet
trustfulness that was beautiful to see; I really believe God made him
well by touching his spirit with the calm of a childlike faith. It was
a miracle, I have never ceased to think, let the critics say what they
will. And as his strength came back his heart began to turn wistfully
towards his work; I really don’t believe any one ever knew how much he
loved St. Andrew’s, and had loved it all through the years.
I protested against his returning, but in vain. So it was all arranged
that we were to start home on the following Monday. The evening
before, Gordon preached for a clergyman whose acquaintance he had
formed, the minister of a little Methodist church not far away. I was
there, of course; and the sermon was one of the noblest I ever heard
Gordon give. It was from the words: “Casting all your care upon Him,”
and I know every listener felt that the message was heaven-born.
After the service was finished I was going down the aisle alone, when
suddenly I heard some one pronounce my name.
“Miss Helen!” said the voice, and bygone years rolled back upon me at
I swung around, wildly excited. It was a voice from home. “Mr.
Slocum!” I cried, so loud that everybody stood still and looked at me;
“Frank Slocum!–Oh, Frank!” and I stood gasping in the aisle. It was
one of the friends of my early girlhood–the same who had been my
escort to the ball that far departed night when we had first discussed
the Presbytery, and the attic guest it was to bring us.
“I wa’n’t right sure,” he began, rosy as the dawn; “but some one told
me the preacher was Mr. Laird–then I knew you were Mrs. Laird.”
“Oh, Frank!” I cried, “please call me Helen,” for the music of it was
refreshing; “come away–come, and go home with me and Gordon.”
I believe Gordon enjoyed that evening with Frank quite as much as I,
which is saying a good deal. He said afterwards that I reminded him of
a child running hither and thither through a flower-strewn glade,
plucking whatever her hands could reach. Thus did I gather news from
Frank. My questions rained in on him from every point of the compass,
leaping from one subject to another like a peewee on the shore.
(That’s a kind of witches’ dance in metaphors, I know, but they all
mean the same thing anyhow.) I cross-questioned Frank about everything
and everybody, while Gordon sat listening with an amused expression on
his face. Particularly did I put him through his facings about my old
schoolgirl friends. The first question, without exception, was as to
how many children they had–till this became so chronic that Frank
would begin with this himself, not waiting to be asked. It saddened me
some to learn that several of them had twice as many as I. One old
friend, Sadie Henderson, had exactly three times as many–but two of
them came at once, so that they didn’t really count. Others, moreover,
had none at all, which brought Gordon and me pretty well up on the
Frank had little to say about Uncle Henry and Aunt Agnes except that
they were getting older, which I would have surmised myself. Besides,
Frank had a sensitive nature; and I suppose he remembered the stormy
scene when Gordon left my uncle’s house. I fancied, in a woman’s
instinctive way, that there was something he wanted to say to me alone.
And I was right enough. For when I walked with him as far as the hotel
piazza, while we were gazing out over the shimmering sea Frank told me
something that proved to be a word of destiny.
“You all are going back by New York, you said?” he began, looking up
significantly. The idiom sounded sweet–_you all_–how long since I
had heard that brace of words before!
“Yes,” I answered; “why?”
“Well, I’ll tell you something interesting; I didn’t care to say it
before your husband, for fear it might affect his plans–I know how
matters stand between him and your uncle, you know–but I think you
ought to be told. Your uncle’s in New York.”
“What?” I gasped, and I felt the colour leave my cheek; “uncle’s
“He’s in New York,” Frank repeated calmly. “I’ve just come from
there–we were staying at the same hotel.”
“And Aunt Agnes?” I asked swiftly, my eyes fixed on him in the gloom.
“No, Mrs. Lundy’s at home–your uncle went up on some business, I
believe. Mighty successful too, as far as I could judge,” Frank added.
I cared nothing for this. “What hotel, Frank?” I demanded eagerly;
“tell me the hotel.”
“The St. Denis–opposite Grace Church, you know.”
Little more was said and I soon bade Frank farewell. Then I walked
slowly back to Gordon, trying to compose myself, struggling to subject
my impulse to my judgment. But it was of no use. My heart was the
heart of childhood once again; all I knew was this, that a few hours
would bring us to New York, that we had intended going there
anyhow–and that my uncle was within reach of one who had never ceased
to love him.
I paused a moment before I opened the door and went in where Gordon was
still sitting, gazing out on the ever fascinating scene.
“Well, dear, did you pump him dry?” he asked jauntily as I entered.
“Oh, Gordon,” and now I was on his knee (woman’s throne of power) with
his face between my hands; “oh, Gordon, don’t say No. Don’t,
Gordon–won’t you do this for me, this, that I’m going to ask?”
Soon I had poured out the whole story to him. I noticed his brow
darken a little at first, and the quivering lip told how much I had
asked of him.
But Gordon was all gold through and through; he always was, my Gordon
was, from that first hour when my eyes fell upon his face till now; and
the love of this later day, although I suppose folks call us old,
exceeds that early ardour as the noontide mocks the dawn.
“Yes, my wife,” he said, stroking my hair and looking with almost
pitying fondness on my face; “yes, brave heart and true–you were his
before you were mine. And we’ll go, Helen–we’ll both go.”
The mighty city seemed hushed as I made my way along the corridor of
the old hotel. But I suppose the hush was from my heart.
“You’ll wait here, will you, ma’am?” and the bellboy opened the door of
the retired little parlour as he spoke. “I’ll bring Mr. Lundy in a
minute. Yes, I think he’s in, ma’am; his room’s on this floor. Don’t
you want me to take him your card?”
“No,” I answered; “just tell him a lady wants to see him here–an old
friend of his.”
The boy disappeared along the shadowy hall. I had but a few minutes to
wait. “This here’s the door, sir,” I heard the boy direct; and then I
could catch the shuffling step, not yet forgotten, as a tall and bended
form came slowly into the room. Keen and curious was the glance that
came from the enquiring eyes, swiftly searching amid the failing light.
I knew him. Only a glance I had, but it was enough to revive the
memories of girlhood, to carry me back over all the waste of years, to
recall with lightning speed the love and laughter of the days that were
no more. My heart leaped within me as I saw the change that time had
made. Uncle was an old man now, and the years had bowed the erect and
stalwart frame; snowy white was the hair that had been but streaked
with gray when I saw it last; more serious than of old, but flashing
the same kindling light, the same lofty pride, were the kindly eyes
whose glow no years could quench or dim.
“Oh, uncle!” I sobbed, the storm breaking as in a moment; “oh, uncle!
Uncle dear, it’s me–it’s your little girl–it’s Helen.”
He had started back as I moved towards him. But my voice arrested him,
that wondrous feature that changes not with changing years. A moment
he stood, as though he had heard the trump of doom itself. Then, like
an aspen, from head to foot he trembled–and the fear flashed through
my mind that I had acted with cruel haste.
But the great cry which broke from him–no articulate word–rang with
such fullness of joy and strength as to dispel my every fear. A moment
later I was in his arms. He bore me to the window, those arms as
strong as in other days, smoothing back my hair as he leaned over and
peered into my face.
“Oh, God!” the words coming like a prayer; “it’s Helen–she’s come
back. But it’s been so long–and your hair’s getting gray, Helen–and
you look older than when you went away.”
I smiled, gazing up at him in sweet content. “Count the years, uncle.”
“The years!” he broke out with the old fiery intenseness; “count the
years–haven’t I counted them?–and the days, and the hours–waiting,
always waiting. Oh, Helen, it’s been long–it’s been so long. But
what could I do?–what could any gentleman have done, when I passed my
word that—- If your husband—-”
I laid my finger on his lips; then leaned up and kissed them. And our
speech flowed back, half of it almost incoherent, into the sweeter
channels that laved the happy past in which we were both content to
dwell. Much of it was of my mother, my sainted mother, for whom life’s
conflict had so long been over–and uncle’s tears were mingled with my
“There’s only one thing I reproach you for now, Helen,” the gentle
voice began, when the dusk had deepened into dark; “one thing you
should have done–and that would have made our happiness complete.”
“What’s that, uncle?” I asked, greatly wondering.
“You should have brought Gordon with you–the only difference there
was, was with him, you know. Surely he doesn’t think I’m one of those
old vipers that carries things till death?” his voice less steady than
“He’s here,” I said softly; “he’s down-stairs.”
Uncle sprang to his feet as if the years had withheld their enfeebling
hand. “Bring him up–send for him at once,” he ordered, as though
commanding a regiment of soldiers. “Ring the bell–where’s that
boy?–are the servants all asleep? These rascally dogs they’ve got in
the North–I wouldn’t give Moses or any good nigger for a bushel of
them. And are your children–is the little girl with him now?”
His question cut me like a knife. For I had kept back part of our
life’s story, the bitter part, when uncle had enquired about our
children. We only brought one of them, I had said–but hoped he might
see Harold later on. Which was true enough, so true, alas!
“I don’t need you,” uncle said abruptly as a servant’s head appeared at
the door. “I’ll go to him,” he announced to me–“I’ll go to Gordon. I
hope I don’t forget what’s becoming in a Southern gentleman–besides,
he’s come far enough. You wait here–I’d know him in a thousand,
unless he’s enough sight plainer than he used to be. Always did have a
hankerin’ for him, I believe, like a nigger for a watermelon. You wait
here, Helen,” and he made his way, straightening himself with all the
old-time dignity, upon his courtly errand.
It was the following evening, the evening of a day that had been filled
with unmixed gladness to me and Gordon. If it had not been for that
one skeleton closet–which I need not name–the whole house of life
would have been one big banqueting hall to his heart and mine. More
than once, through that happy day, I noticed Gordon’s laughter die away
in silence and the brightness leave his eye as there evidently floated
before him the vision of the one absent face. Indeed, he said as much
to me, that all the gladness only threw into darker contrast the
abiding cloud that was always in our sky.
But uncle had been so lovely to us both this day; and we had just
finished dinner at some resort he had discovered where Southern dishes,
new and old, were to be had in all their glory. We were all seated now
in uncle’s room; and the dear old man was directing all his powers of
persuasion upon my husband.
“It’s the purest play I ever saw in my life,” he urged, one hand
holding Gordon by the knee; “it’s as good as a sermon. I’ve heard
heaps o’ sermons that didn’t do me as much good as ‘The Old Homestead,’
I tell you.”
“I was never at the theatre in my life,” my husband made reply, “except
twice I went to see Irving–and I don’t altogether believe in it.”
“This is far better’n Irving,” uncle urged; “and you’ll preach better
“I don’t feel much in the mood for theatres,” Gordon responded; “my
days for merriment are past, I fear,” which came with a smile that
showed he didn’t quite believe it.
“That’s the very time to go,” insisted uncle; “that’s when you want to
get the cobwebs blown out of you–and this’ll do it all right.”
“I’ll leave it to Helen,” Gordon suddenly exclaimed; “if she wants to
go, I’ll give in.”
Five minutes before, I can frankly say, I had hoped Gordon would carry
his point. The theatre, that particular night, had no charm for me.
Yet now that Gordon had left the matter in my hands, some mysterious
impulse settled my resolve at once. Nobody need tell me that women,
true women, live far from the unseen. For my resolve was taken on the
instant, so suddenly and confidently that it amazed myself.
“We’ll go,” I said quietly. “The play sounds good; I’m sure I’ve heard
of it before–and I want to see it, Gordon.”
Three-quarters of an hour later we were seated five or six rows from
the footlights, watching the haymakers gathered about the moss-grown
bucket that gives its charm to the opening scene of “The Old
Homestead.” But the play had not proceeded far before I began to
regret bitterly that we had not stayed away. When it dawned on me that
the plot centred about an absent boy, a son for whom a father sought in
vain, I knew that Gordon’s Gethsemane was deepened by every word and
act. This particular kind of anguish was realistic enough to us both,
without any representation so vivid. Yet we had to sit there, uncle
alternately laughing and weeping at our side, and witness the rehearsal
of all we knew so well. I was sitting beside Gordon; and I covertly
got a hold of his hand, pressing it silently to let him know my heart
was aching too. I found myself, almost before I knew it, leaning
forward in an agony of interest and suspense as the great emotions of a
parent’s love and loneliness were set forth in terrible reality. It
was as if Gordon’s heart and mine were both laid bare that night; and I
found myself wondering if all this meant to any others in that crowded
throng what it meant to us.
Uncle was enraptured at our fixity; he knew not the source of our
deadly interest. “Didn’t I tell you?” he whispered to Gordon as the
tension came near its height; “ever see anything like that before?
Isn’t that true to life, eh?”
Gordon never spoke, his eyes looking far beyond, as fixed as though set
on death itself.
“Isn’t that true to life?” uncle repeated, accustomed to being answered.
“Yes, oh, God, yes–yes, it’s true,” I heard poor Gordon falter as he
bowed forward and covered his face with his hands. Uncle, dumb with
wonder now, uttered never a word. I prayed for strength.
The tide ebbed and flowed, as is the way in plays, laughter and tears
following each other in quick succession. A wave of mirth–about the
pillar box incident, I think, when the old man imagines the collector
is robbing the mails–had just overswept the audience when Gordon
whispered to me that he could stand it no longer.
“Don’t go yet, Gordon,” I whispered; “I think he’s going to find him,”
and I saw his face white with the pallor of the dead.
He made no reply; but, clutching his hat, he rose to go, swaying
unsteadily where he stood.
I began reaching for my wraps and was just rising to follow. He paused
to wait for me, holding out his hand, I think–of this I am not sure.
But just before we turned to go, my eyes were cast in one farewell
glance upon the stage. My head reeled; my heart stood still; my lips
clave together, parched and dry.
“Oh, Gordon,” I cried, bleating, “look, Gordon, look,” swimming towards
him even as I pointed at the stage.
His towering figure turned where he stood; and his burning eyes, aglow
with the passion that was rending him, leaped to where I still pointed
with outstretched hand. Then I straightened myself too, as one might
gather his soul for the Judgment Day, and joined my gaze with his. The
eyes of all in the house were upon us, I suppose–but I shall never
know. We stood together, oblivious to all except the destiny of weal
or woe that waited us, looking, both looking, as the eye of the Eternal
itself might look. We could not–we dared not–be sure, lest we might
court the bitterness of death. The light was not bright enough, or
true enough–for us to stake our souls. We feared exceedingly; and for
each other; wherefore neither spoke any word.
The scene was the great Broadway scene, where the anguished father
finds his son at last. And the tattered youth upon whom that
father–that acting father–gazed, on him our eyes were set in dreadful
silence, in questioning that involved our souls. We could not–we
dared not–know; but suddenly the old man on the stage–oh! the
perjured wastery of simulated love like that–broke forth with a wild
outcry of love and rapture as he leaped towards the soiled and wasted
prodigal before him.
And then–and then–mingling with the father’s chant, there came from
the bowed and broken wanderer one single note; a little cry, a muffled
plaint of penitence and hope. It was such a little sound, subdued and
faltering as became a broken heart, and it was almost lost in the
father’s louder strain–but I heard it, and my soul laid hold of God.
Only a stifled cry–but it was the same I had heard when I first came
out of the valley and my new-born baby boy lay helpless at my breast;
the same I had heard a thousand times when he was hurt or wronged and
toddled in to me with the boyish story of his grief; the same I had
heard when he came home that night and told me of his sin; the same I
had heard when he bent above his sleeping sister and kissed her a long
“Oh, Gordon,” I said, fainting, “it’s Harold–it’s our Harold!”
He knew it too. And he left me where I was, half conscious in uncle’s
arms. I see it all again, dismantled though I was, as in a dream. The
curtain dropped just as uncle’s arm received me, as Gordon glided
towards the narrow half-hidden passageway leading to the stage. Slowly
it fell, right down close to the floor, shutting out the last fragment
of the vision that had flooded our hearts with heaven. Ah, me! no one
there–not even uncle–knew that for us life’s curtain had really
risen, the play, the wonderful play of life, only just begun.
The orchestra had softly started some subdued and sympathetic air; I
knew not, nor yet do know, what strain it was–but it fell on my
reviving heart with the sweetness of such music as angels make–and my
eyes flew after Gordon as he was swallowed up of the shadowy passageway
that led back to that mysterious region where actors are men and women,
players now no more. I think somebody, some hireling who knew not what
he did, tried to turn Gordon from his course–as well have tried to
stop Niagara. I fancy I caught a glimpse of him as he swept the
intruder by–his eye was flashing, fearful in its purpose of love and
power, as though he were asserting his claim to life itself.
He never stopped–this was described to me afterwards–till he stood
beside the pair of actors, the old man and the young, already repairing
to the dressing-room behind. And the old man’s face, so they told me,
was a study to behold as he was swiftly brushed aside, dispossessed,
the unreality swallowed up of Life as Gordon took the tattered form
into the arms that long emptiness had clothed with almost savage
“Oh, my son! Oh, Harold, my son, my son!” was Gordon’s low cry that
all about could hear; for the stillness of the grave was on every
heart. “Come, come, we’ll go to mother,” came a moment later as he
turned and tried to lead Harold gently away.
I do not know all the son said to the father. But Gordon told me after
how Harold clung to him as though he were hiding for his life, speaking
no word, but burying his face as though none must see the shame–or the
holy gladness; and in a minute or two, though I know not how long it
was, some one in authority said that the play must go on, that the
audience would be impatient and indignant.
“Then come, my son,” said Gordon; “get your clothes on, Harold, and
we’ll go–your mother, your mother knows it’s you,” his face radiant, I
ween, as it turned upon his boy.
But Harold wouldn’t–the play must be finished, he said, and he must
take his part. Harold’s face was resolute, his father said, his words
full of determination, when he avowed his purpose to stay till his work
was done. And really–it was one of the most amusing sides of my
husband’s character I ever saw–when Gordon told me this his face
fairly shone with pride. “The lad wouldn’t forsake his duty,” he said,
as proudly as if Harold had been a foreign missionary instead of a
play-actor; it was too funny to hear Gordon, with the views I knew him
to hold about the theatre, belauding Harold because he wouldn’t leave
his post even at such a time as that.
So his father came back and resumed his place beside me. No word
escaped his lips, but his eyes spoke the language of Everlasting Life
as they were fixed a moment on my own. Uncle gazed at him–I suppose
everybody did–but he knew that question or answer had no place in an
hour such as this. And the curtain rolled up again–ah, me! how
different now–and my hand was once more in Gordon’s; but now I could
feel the strain of gratitude and gladness that his happy heart was
chanting. Our eyes were fixed on Harold only; I heard his voice amid
that closing revelry–and my wild heart leaped in my bosom as though my
son were born to me anew.
We were home at last. In the hotel, I mean, in Gordon’s room and
mine–for uncle had gone to rest. Only a little tiny bit of a room it
was–but it was home; for we had Harold–and Dorothy was asleep in an
Gordon went out for a little. He said he wanted to enquire about
trains–but I knew why he left us alone together. Gordon was an
eloquent minister–but I was Harold’s mother. And there are queens and
priestesses, as well as kings and priests, unto God. Which Gordon knew.
It was while he and I were still alone with each other that Harold
broke out with bitter plaint of penitence, so full of gusty sorrow, of
self-reproach, of broken vows and purposes. I shall not, must not,
write it down. It was all holy to me, and shall ever be; for the
breath of spring was in it, and I knew then that God had brought him
back, all back, the broken heart sick of the sin and shame that he now
hated and deplored. My son was alive again, I knew in that moment;
lost had he been indeed–but God had kept aglow his memory of the
Home-light that never had gone out.
“I couldn’t tell this to anybody else,” the faltering voice said as his
face was hidden on my bosom–“not even to father–what I’m going to
tell you now. But I’m going to—-”
“Tell it to God, my son,” and I kissed the quivering lips.
Gordon came back just after that. I think he must have known our souls
had come close to each other and to Him. For a great peace was on his
face–and yet it shone with a kind of human happiness that I thought
was truly spiritual. He simply didn’t seem to think there was anything
that needed reproach, or explanation, or forgiveness. He talked with
Harold about his old friends, his old games, his old pursuits; and
about what we would do, and see, before we returned to Hertford. Then
pretty soon he said it was time we were all in bed, and, in the most
natural way, that we would have worship before we separated. So he
took the Bible. But, before he opened it, he started one of the old
familiar psalms, just as we had always done at home.
“We’ll sing the one hundred and twenty-sixth,” he said, with something
of grandeur in his manner that reminded me of Harold’s grandfather; for
that is one of the sublimities of the Scottish race. I have heard both
Gordon and his father declare that something could be found in the
psalms to suit every occasion, no matter what. But I wondered what
could express the emotion of such a time as this. “We’ll sing the one
hundred and twenty-sixth,” Gordon repeated, already pitching the key to
the “grave sweet melody” of a tune that bore the happy name of St.
Andrew’s. And we sat in silence as he sang
“When Zion’s bondage God turned back
As men that dreamed were we;
Then filled with laughter was our mouth
Our tongue with melody.”
Harold’s head was bowed; my eyes were fixed on Gordon. For my heart
was busy with the thrilling memory of that long distant night when I
first had heard the power of that earnest voice, first learned the
grandeur of these mighty songs. Gordon seemed unconscious of our
presence. His eyes were lifted up, beyond the things of time: he was
like one lost among the hills, transported by their grandeur.
Something more than human ecstasy throbbed through his voice when he
sang the verse:
“As streams of water in the south
Our bondage, Lord, recall;
Who sow in tears, a reaping time
Of joy enjoy they shall.”
Then he read some selection from the Scriptures. It was very short;
and he read it slowly, his eyes never lifted from the page. When he
prayed, he talked with God–all I can remember was the way he said “Our
It was long after midnight when he and I went to our rest–we sat
talking for hours and hours, and Harold was asleep in the room next to
ours. Just before we put out our light Gordon suddenly turned to me,
and his face was as youthful as when I saw it first.
“Helen, let us go and tuck Harold in–so he won’t be cold.”
I smiled, for I couldn’t but remember Harold’s age, but I threw a
wrapper about me and Gordon and I went in together. We tucked him in,
one on either side; I don’t know whether Harold knew or not, but he
played the part of childhood once again–when we kissed him good-night
he turned a little in his sleep and smiled.
I sometimes wonder what the other guests thought of our behaviour at
breakfast the next morning. Uncle was simply ridiculously happy, even
boisterously so. And he wouldn’t hear to any dissent from the project
that possessed his mind. We must all go South with him, and that was
the end of it. He and Aunt Agnes had never had a difference in all
their married life, he said, but the trouble would begin right there if
he went back without us! And he settled the whole thing an hour later
by suddenly appearing, after a very mysterious absence, and flaunting
in our faces the tickets for the entire party. They were taken via the
Old Dominion Line; and the little sea voyage would be the very thing
for all of us,–and Harold had assured him that a release from his
company could be easily arranged. So Gordon left it to me again–and I
left it to Harold, and Harold elected to see his mother’s old Virginia
home. Dorothy lent loud approval.
Thirty-six hours later we were in the dear old Southern town, driving
from the old familiar station along the old familiar street. My heart
was full; its burden was partly sadness, altogether song.
“Stop here,” Gordon suddenly said to the driver as we turned on to a
street neither of us was likely to forget. “Come, Helen,” as he held
out his hand to help me from my seat.
I knew. It was under that very elm, just opposite the church, I had
first come face to face with love–even if I did have a pitcher in my
hand, _going for the cream_.
“Drive on,” said Gordon; “we’ll join you later,” and the carriage
We followed, slowly; sometimes looking up into the deep shade of the
bending elms, sometimes into each other’s faces; with much of speech we
walked–of silence, sweeter silence, more.
Soon a turn in the road brought us in full view of uncle’s house.
There it stood, ivy-clad, the same stately, frowning structure, looking
forth at us as calmly as though we had gone away but yesterday. There
was the magnolia tree beside the steps of stone, not now in bloom but
still spreading forth in umbrageous beauty. And there, just beyond,
flowing still, its copious stream unfailing, rolled the shining river;
rolling on, as time rolls on, unhasting, unresting, bearing all its
burdens in silence to the sea. The years had passed and fled, yet the
selfsame wavelets could be seen–oh, parable of Time! And the bridge
was there; repaired and strengthened some, yet the same bridge it was
on which I had seen the love-lorn pair seek the shelter of the dark.
And I felt a shudder thrill my frame as I descried the very pier that
had been the scene of the tragedy but for which Gordon had never made
his noble protest; but for which, our long years of exile had never
been. I looked away.
Aunt Agnes was at the door as we climbed the steps of stone. She led
me in and closed it tight before she told me, with love’s speech of
silentness, all the joy of welcome that was in her heart. She was
thinking, and I was thinking, of the absent one–oh! why these
ever-absent ones?–whose face was now withdrawn forever. I roamed the
hall; I wandered about the broad porch; I drank my fill of the library,
dearest of them all–my mother’s face met me at every turn. And I
wondered, with passionate hope that it might be so, if she knew that
her child had returned to the scene of girlhood days once more; if she
knew how laden with the spoils of time I came, rich in the harvest that
love and sorrow give, anointed by the holy hand of suffering, by life’s
fleeting vanities beguiled no more.
“Show Harold through the house, Helen,” uncle said to me when supper
was over and the first tumult had subsided; “let him see the old place
from cellar to attic. It will be his some day, I reckon,” and his tone
and glance left no doubt as to what he meant.
I did as he directed, partly. All but the attic. Not yet must any
enter there but me. I soon restored Harold to the merry circle–and
then my steps turned, almost reverently, towards that upper room. It
did not take me long, what I had to do, for love’s task is soon
accomplished. And I knew it would not be in vain–I knew that Gordon
would not fail me. Yet my heart beat fast as I turned at the attic
door and looked back once more before I went down-stairs. Everything
was perfect–and the gentle breeze was ruffling the curtain of the tiny
They were all in bed when Gordon and I betook ourselves to the room set
apart for us. It was just above the parlour, the largest and most
imposing apartment in all that roomy house. A large mahogany bed was
planted, immovable, in the centre; hand-carving, richly wrought, made
the ceiling and mantel things of beauty; oil-paintings hung upon the
lofty wall; soft draperies bedecked the windows.
We closed the door and Gordon looked about the splendid room. I began
unpacking a valise that lay upon the floor.
Suddenly he came over and stood beside me. One hand touched my
shoulder and I looked up.
“We’re not going to sleep here,” he said quietly.
“Why?” I asked. “Where?” although I knew, and my bounding heart
bespoke my joy.
“You know–come,” with which he took up the valise and led the way
The roof was low and I think Gordon really bowed his head a little as
we passed within that attic door. The same discarded articles, finding
their limbo here, stood about the walls. But the fire was crackling on
the hearth; the coverings on the bed were snowy white; the silver
toilet-set on the old bureau was the same I had laid there so
stealthily years before. And on the little table in the corner was a
bowl of the choicest roses, their fragrance floating through the room.
I looked at Gordon. Perhaps I was just a little disappointed that he
did not speak. His eyes rested on the fire, turned to the roses,
“That’s the same fire,” he said slowly.
“Oh, Gordon,” and I laughed; “how can you say that?”
“The very same,” he persisted; “it never has gone out. And the roses
too; they’re the very same–they’ve never faded.”
“I thought you’d want to come here,” I said, stupidly enough; but I
knew not what else to say. “You know, you said–long ago, when you
first came here–you said you always loved an attic.”
“Yes,” he said simply, his eyes fixed on me; “yes, I do.”
“Why?” I asked, though I knew it was such a foolish question.
He stood a long time silent in the firelight, his eyes never moving
from my face. “Because it’s nearest heaven,” he answered low; “come,
Helen”–and his arms were open wide.