The Heart's Kingdom
by Maria Thompson Daviess
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Then we rose from our knees and sat once more facing him while he stood before us and began to read the memorial services for our dead. And through the whole beautiful ritual he led us to the very words of triumph:

"Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written; Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"

The warmth in his beautiful voice and the light upon his face poured over us all with a healing that we knew would endure.

After the dedication prayer and the memorial service the old Presbyterian minister, whom we had all known and loved since infancy, talked tenderly and with great sympathy to us for a few minutes and the stammering young Baptist divine gave us an insight into a heart of youthful devoutness.

And then came my hour.

"And now that we have given to the Lord formally this sanctuary we have builded for him, I want to open its spiritual doors to any of you who feel in your hearts the desire to unite with us in our worship of Him," were the words of invitation that I suddenly felt beat themselves, in the rich voice of the man in the pulpit, upon my heart. "I am going to baptize the children, but are there any of you of 'riper years' who desire to unite with us to 'constantly believe God's holy word, and obediently keep his commandments'?" And as he spoke he came down from the pulpit, stood at the chancel rail and stretched out his hands to all of us. Without a second's delay I rose and went and knelt before him and bowed my head in my hands. On my right knelt the young tanner and on my left I felt rather than saw Clifton Gray.

"The Ministration of Baptism to such as are of Riper Years" is long and full of holy austerity. Word for word, response for question, I followed the rich voice leading me, but not until it asked concerning our faith in the "life everlasting" did I raise my eyes to those glowing above me as I made answer:

"All this I steadfastly believe."

There was an instant's hush in the church as I made my response and in all humility I seemed to feel that it reverberated in some of the others' depths until it waked a faint echo. They had seen me face my humiliation and had watched how I took it and it had had its effect. It was as if I publicly led them to the well-spring of my courage and offered it to them. Luella May stole forward and crowded in between the young tanner and me, and I saw great tears steal out of father's closed eyes and roll down his cheeks, as he came and knelt just behind me, with two mill hands and several women.

And then, after our blessing, while we rose and stood on the right and the left of the chancel the parson asked that the children be brought forward for baptism.

Without waiting for anybody to come with her, Charlotte rose, took a hand of Sue on one side and one of Jimmy on the other, and came and stood looking up into the beloved Minister's eyes with such a vision in her young face that I caught my breath. Then Nell came and with her came Harriet with the Suckling asleep in her arms. The bereaved young father held his baby in his arms alone and Mrs. Burns went and stood beside him with Mikey and Maudie and the other five toddlers in front of her. Other children were brought forward by parents from the Town and the Settlement and were ranged to the right and to the left, but still I saw that Martha cowered in her pew holding the hand of the Stray in hers as he knelt beside her. Then I knew what I must do and I went quietly and lifted her and led her to the chancel to a place just beside where Harriet stood with the Suckling in her arms. I held one of the Stray's little hands in mine, and young Charlotte dropped Jimmy's hand and reached out and took the other in hers. So we stood and waited while the beloved voice read through the beautiful ceremony with which children are taken into the arms of their faith before they are yet ready to understand what it is some day to mean to them.

"It is your duty to teach him ... to obediently keep God's holy will and commandments all of his life," were the closing words of the address with which the parson looked us full in the eye and laid the vow upon our souls. Then he reached out his hands, drew the Stray to him first, encircled him with his strong arm, laid his hands on the bowed black head, and looking me straight in the eye asked the question of his ritual:

"Name this child."

For an instant I glanced at Martha and then at father standing beside me, and as he nodded I slightly bent my head and into a deathly stillness all over the chapel I let the name fall clear and distinct:

"Nickols Morris Powers."

A beautiful ray of light flooded from one of the tall windows over both of us as he ratified the name with a few drops of water upon the boy's brow, and then turned to Harriet and repeated his question while he took the Suckling into his arms with the greatest tenderness. Then through the group he went, naming his lambs as he held them against his heart or within the circle of his strong arm. It was all so tender and so beautiful that every eye in the chapel was wet with tears and sobs echoed softly through his last prayer.

However, at one time in the ceremonial there was danger of a laugh from the aggregate, overwrought nerves when Charlotte promptly named herself without waiting for Nell's response which came late but in time to save embarrassment.

Then it was all over and the whole congregation trooped but into the sunshine. Father walked home with young Nickols on one side and Charlotte on the other, Martha carrying the Suckling and walking beside Harriet, who led Sue past the destruction of her white dress which every mud puddle threatened. Cliff Gray came with me slowly up the street after all the others had gone ahead and most of them had turned into the gates of their respective homes.

"Is everything all right now, Cliff?" I questioned him, as we walked slowly under the old elms of our ancestors' planting. "It is all right now?" I asked again, while Cliff looked off into the distance.

"I have faith that I can make it that way now, Charlotte dear," he answered, as I paused to turn in at my gate. We clasped hands for a second and then he went on down the street toward the Cockrell gate; and Letitia's material point of view on existence I knew would have a fair chance at his hands.

I felt that I had never loved my friends as I did that wonderful Sunday, and I hoped it would not bore them if I at times let some of it overflow into their well ordered lives.

The rest of that long, hazy, dreamy, wonder day, in the morning of which our hearts had been poured so full, we all of us spent with father, as he was to leave us the next morning. Against the remonstrance of his maternal parent, the worthless Jefferson had been chosen to go along in the place of his father Dabney. The young negro's brisk packings filled the house with a joy note that was delightful and Mammy admonished him on subjects moral every time he came near the kitchen.

Late in the afternoon I left father down in the garden with young Nickols, to whom he was confiding the care of some very choice hollyhock seeds that would need gathering in the next few weeks.

"Your father got them from England," the judge said gravely, as he showed the small paddies how to roll out the thin seed without crushing them.

"Have I got any father but the Lady?" asked the youngster with all seriousness, as he beamed up in my direction. Suddenly Martha turned and went indoors and up to her room. I followed her and sat down beside the bed on which she had flung herself.

"You'll have to make him understand it all; I can't," she said, after I had tenderly hushed her weeping. "I give him to you. I—I won't be with him long." As she spoke I noticed how the light shone through her pale fingers as she held them up to clasp mine.

"We'll go away to Florida for a rest, Martha," I said, with the reassurance I found I had constantly to use to her. There was a great and beautiful tenderness in the soul of Martha, but she was completely lacking in any of the worldly initiative that makes lives move on. She seemed to be standing still.

"Yes, I'll go away," she answered softly, as she unclasped her hand from mine, nestled her face in the pillow and shut her eyes.

I left her to sleep and a year from that hour I knew that I had not understood the measure of her exhaustion. She faded like a flower and drifted on into eternity like a gossamer thread in the breeze.

And it was with some of the depression that a kind of maternal brooding over her gave me that I went out into the garden that night after all the rest had gone to bed. A pale silver moon-crescent poised on the brow of Old Harpeth and a tingling little breeze was coming down from the north as if sent as a warning of the winter soon to be upon us. I went down to the old graybeard poplars and their leaves seemed to hiss together in the moonlight instead of rustling softly as they had been all summer. A great many of them were drifted in dry waves on the grass and their gold was turned to silver in the moonlight. Many of the tall shrubs were naked ghosts of their former selves and gnashed their bones drearily. I leaned against the tallest old poplar and looked out across the valley with a kind of stillness in my heart that seemed to be listening and then listening.

"Oh, I'm thankful, thankful that strength has been given me to endure it all—life," I said to myself, almost under my breath. "And no matter what comes I can never lose it. I can go out into life now alone and—unafraid."

"'And whither thou goest I too will go, and thy—'" came the Gregorian chant from close beside me, and I turned to find the Harpeth Jaguar stalking me in the night.

Then for a long time we stood and looked at each other, he tearing away the veil from his man's heart and I laying aside that in my woman's breast.

"Oh, I've needed you so," I finally said, with a catch in my breath as I put my hands in his which he put palm to palm, then raised to his lips.

"You were in God's hands and I had to wait His time," he answered me. "And I would have waited until the stars burn dim. As near as loss came I never doubted. I had asked Him for you."

"I didn't know I was going to join your church this morning," I faltered. "I never intended to join your church. I was going to be either a Baptist or a Presbyterian. I was afraid to mix—my faith with—with you."

"Hasn't it been tried sufficiently to stand any test? I think so. Ah, dear, come to me—it's been long for me, too." His arms entreated me, but I held myself away with my praying hands pressed to his breast.

"Are you sure that I'm not mixing you and—your faith?" I asked, looking him honestly in the face and giving voice to the thought that Nickols had put into my mind and which had tortured me all the weary months past.

"Did any thought of me make you bring Martha Ensley to Nickols' death bed and take into your heart and home what the world calls dishonor?"

"No," I answered with honesty to myself.

"Have you once since you knew—knew—felt that you must turn to me for comfort and help in one of your dire hours?"

"Not once," I answered again with honesty.

"Have you not learned to turn to Him?"

"I have!" I answered.

"That's God's love. Then you can give me the love that belongs to me in your heart's kingdom, can't you?"

"I'm afraid—I'm going to love you too much—I feel it coming. What'll you do with it? Stop me!" I said with both a sob and a laugh, as I began to let myself be drawn into the strong, hungry arms.

"You great, big, splendid woman of God! You've got love enough in you to feed a multitude and you'll do it. Give me a part of my share now. It's mine. God sent you to me; I'm going to take you."

And he did. His lips pressed mine until I gave back a betrothal kiss that was as complete as a great red flower. His arms held me so that they were a circle of pain, but all the while I kept my hands prayerwise between the clamor of our breasts.

"Say it—'the covert of thy wings'—all that David said," I whispered.

And he answered:

"'I will abide in thy tabernacle forever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings.'"


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