Yet though I have sinned, Lord, all others above, Though feeble my prayers, Lord; my tears all unseen; I'll trust in thy love, Lord; I'll trust in thy love— O I'll trust in thy love like Mary Mahgaleen."
An exalted smile lighted her face as she sunk deeper into the pillows. She tried to speak again, but her voice failed. I bent my ear and she whispered—"Senda."
As I beckoned Senda in, Mrs. Smith motioned for me to come to her where she stood at a window whose sash she had slightly lifted; the same to which the moth had once been lured by the little puddle of sweet drink and the candle.
"Do you want to see a parable?" she whispered, and all but blinded with tears, she pointed to the lost moth lying half in, half out of the window, still beautiful but crushed; crushed with its wings full spread, not by anyone's choice, but because there are so many things in this universe that not even God can help from being as they are.
At a whispered call we turned, and Senda, in the door, herself all tears, made eager signs for us to come. The last summons had surprised even the dying. We went in noiseless haste, and found her just relaxing on Senda's arm. Yet she revived an instant; a quiver went through her frame like the dying shudder of a butterfly, her eyes gazed appealingly into Senda's, then fixed, and our poor little Titania was gone.
The story is nearly told. Before I close let me confess how heartlessly I have told it. Pardon that; and pardon, too, the self-consciousness that makes me beg not to be remembered as I seem to myself in the tale—a tiptoeing, peeping figure prowling by night after undue revelations, and using them—to the humiliation of souls cleaner than mine could ever pretend to be.
Next day, by stealth again, we buried the little rose-lady, unknown to her husband. We could not keep the fact long from the entomologist, for he was up and about the house again. Nor was there equal need. So when the last rites were over I told him, but without giving any part of her message—I couldn't do it! I just said she had left us.
His eye did not moisten, but he paled, trembled, wiped his brow. Then I handed him the crushed moth, and he was his convalescent self again.
"Hmm!—Dot iss a pity she kit smashed; I titn't vant to do dot."
I thought maybe he felt more than he showed, for he fretted to be allowed to take a walk alone beyond the gate and the corner. With some misgivings his wife let him go, and when she was almost anxious enough over his tardy stay to start after him he came back looking very much better. But the next morning, when we found him in the burning fever of an unmistakable relapse, he confessed that the German keeper of an eating-stall in the neighboring market, for his hunger's and the Fatherland's sake, had treated him to his "whole pifshtea-ak undt glahss be-eh."
He lived only a few days. Through all his deliriums he hunted butterflies and beetles, and died insensible to his wife's endearments, repeating the Latin conjugations of his inconceivable boyhood.
So they both, caterpillar and rose, were gone; but the memory of them stays, green—yes, and fragrant—not alone with Fontenette, and not only with Senda besides, but with us also. How often I recall the talks on theology I had used sometimes to let myself fall into with the little unsuccessful mistress of "rose-es" who first brought the miser of knowledge into our garden, and whenever I do so I wonder, and wonder, and lose my bearings and find and lose them again, and wonder and wonder—what God has done with the entomologist.
We never had to tell Fontenette that he was widowed. We had only to be long enough silent, and when he ceased, for a time, to get better, and rather lost the strength he had been gaining, and on entering his room we found him always with his face to the wall, we saw that he knew. So for his sake I was glad when one day, without facing round to me, his hand tightened on mine in a wild tremor and he groaned, "Tell it me—tell it."
I told it. I thought it well to give him one of her messages and withhold the rest, like the unscrupulous friend I always try to be; and when he had heard quite through—"Tell him I died loving him and blessing him for the unearned glorious love he gave me all our days"—he made as if to say the word was beyond all his deserving, turned upon his face, and soaked the pillow with his tears. But from that day he began slowly but steadily to get well.
We kept Senda with us as long as we could, and when at length she put her foot down so that you might have heard it—say like the dropping of a nut in the wood—and declared that go she must-must-must! we first laughed, then scoffed, and then grew violent, and the battle forced her backward. But when we tried to salary her to stay, she laughed, scoffed, grew violent, and retook her entrenchments. And then, when she offered the ultimatum that we must take pay for keeping her, we took our turn again at the three forms of demonstration, and a late moon rose upon a drawn battle. Since then we have learned to count it one of our dearest rights to get "put out" at Senda's outrageous reasonableness, but she doesn't fret, for "sare is neveh any sundeh viss se lightening."
The issue of this first contest was decided the next day by Fontenette, still on his bed of convalescence. "Can I raise enough money in yo' office to go at France?"
"You can raise twice enough, Fontenette, if it's to try to bring back some new business."
"Well—yes, 'tis for that. Of co'se, besides—"
"Yes, I know: of course."
"But tha'z what puzzle' me. What I'm going do with that house heah, whilse I'm yondeh! I wou'n' sell it—ah no! I wou'n' sell one of those roses! An' no mo' I wou'n' rent it. Tha's a monument, that house heah, you know?"
"Yes, I know." He never found out how well I knew.
"Fontenette, I'll tell you what to do with it."
"No, you don't need; I know whad thad is. An' thaz the same I want—me. Only—you thing thad wou'n' be hasking her too much troub'?"
"No, indeed. There's nothing else you could name that she'd be so glad to do."
When I told Senda I had said that, the tears stood in her eyes. "Ah, sat vass ri-ight! O, sare shall neveh a veed be in sat karten two dayss oldt! An' sose roses—sey shall be pairfect ever' vun!"
As perfect as roses every one were her words kept. And Fontenette got his new business but could not come back that year, nor the second, nor the third. The hither-side of his affairs he assigned for the time to a relative, a very young fellow, but ever so capable—"a hustler," as our fat friend would say in these days. We missed the absentee constantly, but forgave his detention the easier because incidentally he was clearing up a matter of Senda's over there, in which certain displeased kindred had overreached her. Also because of his letters to her, which she so often did us the honor to show us.
The first few were brief, formal and colorless; but after some time they began to take on grace after grace, until at length we had to confess that to have known him only as we had known him hitherto would have been to have been satisfied with the reverse of the tapestry, and never fully to have seen the excellence of his mind or the modest nobility of his spirit. Frequently we felt very sure we saw also that no small share of their captivating glow was reflected from Senda's replies—of which she never would tell us a word. The faults in his written English were surprisingly few, and to our minds only the more endeared it and him. Maybe we were not judicial critics.
Yet we could pass strictures, and as the months lengthened out into years these winged proxies stirred up, on our side of the street, a profound and ever-growing impatience. O, yes, every letter was a garden of beautiful thoughts, still; but think of it! pansies where roses might have been; and a garden wherein—to speak figuratively—the nightingale never sang.
On a certain day of All Saints, the fourth after the scourge, Senda sat at tea with us. Our mood was chastened, but peaceful. We had come from visiting at the sunset hour the cemetery where in the morning the two women and our old nurse had decked the tombs of our dead with flowers. I had noticed that at no tomb front were these tokens piled more abundantly, or more beautifully or fragrantly, than at those of Flora and the entomologist; it was always so. I had remarked this on the spot, and Senda, with her rearranging touch still caressing their splendid masses, replied,
"So?—vell—I hope siss shall mine vork and mine pleassure be until mineself I shall fade like se floweh."
I inwardly resented the speech, but said nothing. I suppose it was over my head.
Now, at the table, she explained as to certain costly blooms about which I had inquired, that they were Fontenette's special offering, for which he always sent the purchase money ahead of time and with detailed requests. Whereat, remembering how she had formerly glozed and gilded the entomologist's unthrift, I remarked, one-fourth in play, three-fourths in earnest,
"A good plain business man isn't the least noble work of God, after all."
"No," said Senda, without looking up; and, after a long, meditative breath, she added, very slowly,
"Se koot Kott makes not all men for se same high calling. If Kott make a man to do no betteh san make a living or a fawtune, it iss right for se man to make it; se man iss not to blame. And now I vant to tell you se news of sat letteh from——"
"The other side," we suggested, and invited her smile, but without success.
"Yes, from se osseh si-ide; sat letteh vhat you haf brought me since more as a veek ago; and also vhy I haf not sat letteh given you to read. Sat iss—if you like to know—yes?
"Vell, sen I vill tell you. And sare are two sings to tell. Se fairst is a ve'y small, but se secondt iss a ve'y lahge. And se fairst is sat that I am now se Countess.
"So? you are glad? I sank you ve'y much. I sink sat iss not much trouble —to be a countess—in Ame'ica?
"Se secondt sing"—here a servant entered, and, it seemed to me, never would go out, but Senda waited till we were again alone—"se secondt— pahdon me, I sink I shall betteh se secondt sing divide again into two aw sree. And se fairst is sat Monsieur Fontenette vill like ve'y—ve'y much to come home—now—right avay."
We lifted hands to clap and opened mouths to hurrah, but she raised a warning hand.
"No, vait—if you pleass.
"Se secondt of sose two or sree sings—it is sat—he—Monsieur Fontenette —hass ask me—" Our hearts rose slowly into our throats—"Ze vun qvestion to vich sare can be only—se—vun—answeh."
At this we gulped our breath like schoolgirls and glowed. But the more show we made of hopeful and pleading smiles, the more those dear eyes, so seldom wet, filled up with tears.
"He sinks sare can two answehs be, and he like to heah which is se answeh I shall gif him, so he shall know if he shall come—now—aw if he shall come—neveh.
"O my sweet friend,"—to Mrs. Smith, down whose, face the salt drops stole unhindered—"sare iss nossing faw you to cry." She smiled heroically.
I could be silent no longer. "Senda, what have you answered?"
"I haf answered"—her lips quivered till she gnawed them cruelly—"I am sorry to take such a long time to tell you sat—but—I—I find sat—ve'y hahd—to tell." She smiled and gnawed her lips again. "I haf answered—
"Do you sink, my deah, sat siss is ri-ight to tell the we'y vords sat I haf toldt him?—yes?—vell—he tell me I shall se answeh make in vun vord —is sat not like a man?
"But I had to take six. And sey are sese: I cannot vhispeh across se ocean."