She held a letter forth, written in a strong free hand, the same that had signed the name John Chadwick Brownleigh in the little book. Hazel's heart throbbed eagerly and her hand trembled as she reached it shyly towards the letter. What a miracle was this! that his very letter was being put into her hand, her whom he loved—to read! Was it possible? Could there be a mistake? No, surely not. There could not be two John Brownleighs, both missionaries to Arizona.
"Dear little Mother o' Mine:" it began, and plunged at once into the breezy life of the Western country. He had been to a cattle round-up the week before and he described it minutely in terse and vivid language, with many a flash of wit, or graver touch of wisdom, and here and there a boyish expression that showed him young at heart, and devoted to his mother. He told of a visit he had paid to the Hopi Indians, their strange villages, each like a gigantic house with many rooms, called a pueblo, built on the edges of lofty crags or mesas and looking like huge castles five or six hundred feet above the desert floor. He told of Walpi, a village out on the end of a great promontory, its only access a narrow neck of land less than a rod wide, with one little path worn more than a foot deep in the solid rock by the feet of ten generations passing over it, where now live about two hundred and thirty people in one building. There were seven of these villages built on three mesas that reach out from the northern desert like three great fingers, Oraibi, the largest, having over a thousand people. He explained that Spanish explorers found these Hopis in 1540, long before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, and called the country Tusayan. Then he went on to describe a remarkable meeting that had been held in which the Indians had manifested deep interest in spiritual things, and had asked many curious questions about life, death and the hereafter.
"You see, dear," said the mother, her eyes shining eagerly, "you see how much they need him, and I'm glad I can give him. It makes me have a part in the work."
Hazel turned back to the letter and went on reading to hide the tears that were gathering in her own eyes as she looked upon the exalted face of the mother.
There was a detailed account of a conference of missionaries, to attend which the rider had ridden ninety miles on horseback; and at the close there was an exquisite description of the spot where they had camped the last night of their ride. She knew it from the first word almost, and her heart beat so wildly she could hardly keep her voice steady to read:
"I stopped over night on the way home at a place I dearly love. There is a great rock, shelving and overhanging, for shelter from any passing storm, and quite near a charming green boudoir of cedars on three sides, and rock on the fourth. An abundant water-hole makes camping easy for me and Billy, and the stars overhead are good tapers. Here I build my fire and boil the kettle, read my portion and lie down to watch the heavens. Mother, I wish you knew how near to God one feels out in the desert with the stars. Last night about three o'clock I woke to replenish my fire and watch a while a great comet, the finest one for many years. I would tell you about it but I've already made this letter too long, and it's time Billy and I were on our way again. I love this spot beside the big rock and often come back to it on my journeys; perhaps because here I once camped with a dear friend and we had pleasant converse together around our brushwood fire. It makes the desert seem less lonely because I can sometimes fancy my friend still reclining over on the other side of the fire in the light that plays against the great rock. Well, little mother o' mine, I must close. Cheer up, for it has been intimated to me that I may be sent East to General Assembly in the spring, and then for three whole weeks with you! That will be when the wild strawberries are out, and I shall carry you in my arms and spread a couch for you on the strawberry hill behind the house, and you shall pick some again with your own hands."
With a sudden catch in her throat like a sob the reading came to an end and Hazel, her eyes bright with tears, handed the letter reverently back to the mother whose face was bright with smiles.
"Isn't he a boy worth giving?" she asked as she folded the letter and slipped it back under the pink and gray cover.
"He is a great gift," said Hazel in a low voice.
She was almost glad that Amelia Ellen came up with an armful of flowers just then and she might bury her face in their freshness and hide the tears that would not be stayed, and then before she had half admired their beauty there was a loud "Honk-honk!" from the road, followed by a more impatient one, and Hazel was made aware that she was being waited for.
"I'm sorry you must go, dear," said the gentle woman. "I haven't seen so beautiful a girl in years, and I'm sure you have a lovely heart, too. I wish you could visit me again."
"I will come again some time if you will let me!" said the girl impulsively, and then stooped and kissed the soft rose-leaf cheek, and fled down the path trying to get control of her emotion before meeting her companions.
Hazel was quiet all the rest of the way, and was rallied much upon her solemnity. She pleaded a headache and closed her eyes, while each heart-throb carried her back over the months and brought her again to the little camp under the rock beneath the stars.
"He remembered still! He cared!" This was what her glad thoughts sang as the car whirled on, and her gay companions forgot her and chattered of their frivolities.
"How wonderful that I should find his mother!" she said again and again to herself. Yet it was not so wonderful. He had told her the name of the town, and she might have come here any time of her own accord. But it was strange and beautiful that the accident had brought her straight to the door of the house where he had been born and brought up! What a beautiful, happy boyhood he must have had with a mother like that! Hazel found herself thinking wistfully, out of the emptiness of her own motherless girlhood. Yes, she would go back and see the sweet mother some day; and she fell to planning how it could be.
Milton Hamar had not troubled Hazel all summer. From time to time her father mentioned him as being connected with business enterprises, and it was openly spoken of now that a divorce had been granted him, and his former wife was soon to marry again. All this, however, was most distasteful to the girl to whom the slightest word about the man served to bring up the hateful scene of the desert.
But early in the fall he appeared among them again, assuming his old friendly attitude towards the whole family, dropping in to lunch or dinner whenever it suited his fancy. He seemed to choose to forget what had passed between Hazel and himself, to act as though it had not been, and resumed his former playful attitude of extreme interest in the girl of whom he had always been fond. Hazel, however, found a certain air of proprietorship in his gaze, a too-open expression of his admiration which was offensive. She could not forget, try as hard as she might for her father's sake to forgive. She shrank away from the man's company, avoided him whenever possible, and at last when he seemed to be almost omnipresent, and growing every day more insistent in his attentions, she cast about her for some absorbing interest which would take her out of his sphere.
Then a strange fancy took her in its possession.
It was in the middle of the night when it came to her, where she had been turning her luxurious pillow for two hours trying in vain to tempt a drowsiness that would not come, and she arose at once and wrote a brief and businesslike letter to the landlord of the little New Hampshire inn where she had been delayed for a couple of hours in the fall. In the morning, true to her impulsive nature, she besieged her father until he gave his permission for her to take her maid and a quiet elderly cousin of his and go away for a complete rest before the society season began.
It was a strange whim for his butterfly daughter to take but the busy man saw no harm in it, and was fully convinced that it was merely her way of punishing some over ardent follower for a few days; and feeling sure she would soon return, he let her go. She had had her way all her life, and why should he cross her in so simple a matter as a few days' rest in a country inn with a respectable chaperone?
The letter to the landlord was outtravelled by a telegram whose answer sent Hazel on her way the next morning, thankful that she had been able to get away during a temporary absence of Milton Hamar, and that her father had promised not to let any of her friends know of her whereabouts. His eye had twinkled as he made the promise. He was quite sure which of her many admirers was being punished, but he did not tell her so. He intended to be most judicious with all her young men friends. He so confided his intentions to Milton Hamar that evening, having no thought that Hazel would mind their old friend's knowing.
Two days later Hazel, after establishing her little party comfortably in the best rooms the New Hampshire inn afforded, putting a large box of new novels at their disposal, and another of sweets, and sending orders for new magazines to be forwarded, went over to call on the sweet old lady towards whom her heart had been turning eagerly, with a longing that would not be put away, ever since that first accidental, or providential, meeting.
When she came back, through the first early snow-storm, with her cheeks like winter roses and her furry hat all feathered with great white flakes, she found Milton Hamar seated in front of the open fire in the office making the air heavy with his best tobacco, and frowning impatiently through the small-paned windows.
The bright look faded instantly from her face and the peace which she had almost caught from the woman across the way. Her eyes flashed indignantly, and her whole small frame stiffened for the combat that she knew must come now. There was no mistaking her look. Milton Hamar knew at once that he was not welcome. She stood for an instant with the door wide open, blowing a great gust of biting air across the wide room and into his face. A cloud of smoke sprang out from the fireplace to meet it and the two came together in front of the man, and made a visible wall for a second between him and the girl.
He sprang to his feet, cigar in hand, and an angry exclamation upon his lips. The office, fortunately, was without other occupant.
"Why in the name of all that's unholy did you lead me a race away off to this forsaken little hole in midwinter, Hazel?" he cried.
Hazel drew herself to her full height and with the dignity that well became her, answered him:
"Really, Mr. Hamar, what right have you to speak to me in that way? And what right had you to follow me?"
"The right of the man who is going to marry you!" he answered fiercely; "and I think it's about time this nonsense stopped. It's nothing but coquettish foolishness, your coming here. I hate coquettish fools. I didn't think you had it in you to coquet, but it seems all women are alike."
"Mr. Hamar, you are forgetting yourself," said the girl quietly, turning to shut the door that she might gain time to get control of her shaken nerves. She had a swift vision of what it would be if she were married to a man like that. No wonder his wife was entirely willing to give him a divorce. But she shuddered as she turned back and faced him bravely.
"Well, what did you come here for?" he asked in a less fierce tone.
"I came because I wanted to be quiet," Hazel said trying to steady her voice, "and—I will tell you the whole truth. I came because I wanted to get away from—you! I have not liked the way you acted towards me since—that day—in Arizona."
The man's fierce brows drew together, but a kind of mask of apology overspread his features. He perceived that he had gone too far with the girl whom he had thought scarcely more than a child. He had thought he could mould her like wax, and that his scorn would instantly wither her wiles. He watched her steadily for a full minute; the girl, though trembling in every nerve, sending back a steady, haughty gaze.
"Do you mean that?" he said at last.
"I do!" Her voice was quiet, but she was on the verge of tears.
"Well, perhaps we'd better talk it over. I see I've taken too much for granted. I thought you'd understood for a year or more what was going on—what I was doing it for."
"You thought I understood! You thought I would be willing to be a party to such an awful thing as you have done!" Hazel's eyes were flashing fire now. The tears were scorched away.
"Sit down! We'll talk it over," said the man moving a great summer chair nearer to his own. His eyes were on her face approvingly and he was thinking what a beautiful picture she made in her anger.
"Never!" said the girl quickly. "It is not a thing I could talk over. I do not wish to speak of it again. I wish you to leave this place at once," and she turned with a quick movement and fled up the quaint old staircase.
She stayed in her room until he left, utterly refusing to see him, refusing to answer the long letters he wrote and sent up to her; and finally, after another day, he went away. But he wrote to her several times, and came again twice, each time endeavouring to surprise her into talking with him. The girl grew to watch nervously every approach of the daily stage which brought stray travellers from the station four miles distant, and was actually glad when a heavy snow-storm shut them in and made it unlikely that her unwelcome visitor would venture again into the country.
The last time he came Hazel saw him descending from the coach, and without a word to any one, although it was almost supper time, and the early winter twilight was upon them, she seized her fur cloak and slipped down the back stairs, out through the shadows, across the road, where she surprised good Amelia Ellen by flinging her arms about her neck and bursting into tears right in the dark front hall, for the gust of wintry wind from the open door blew the candle out, and Amelia Ellen stood astonished and bewildered for a moment in the blast of the north wind with the soft arms of the excited girl in her furry wrappings clinging about her unaccustomed shoulders.
Amelia Ellen had never had many beautiful things in her life, the care of her Dresden-china mistress, and her brilliant garden of flowers, having been the crowning of her life hitherto. This beautiful city girl with her exquisite garments and her face like a flower, flung upon her in sudden appeal, drew out all the latent love and pity and sympathy of which Amelia Ellen had a larger store than most, hidden under a simple and severe exterior.
"Fer the land's sake! Whatever ails you!" she exclaimed when she could speak for astonishment, and to her own surprise her arm enclosed the sobbing girl in a warm embrace while with the other hand she reached to close the door. "Come right in to my kitchen and set in the big chair by the cat and let me give you a cup o' tea. Then you can tell Mis' Brownleigh what's troublin' you. She'll know how to talk to you. I'll git you some tea right away."
She drew the shrinking girl into the kitchen and ousting the cat from a patchwork rocker pushed her gently into it. It was characteristic of Amelia Ellen that she had no thought of ministering to her spiritual needs herself, but knew her place was to bring physical comfort.
She spoke no word save to the cat, admonishing him to mend his manners and keep out from under foot, while she hurried to the tea canister, the bread box, the sugar bowl, and the china closet. Soon a cup of fragrant tea was set before the unexpected guest, and a bit of delicate toast browning over the coals, to be buttered and eaten crisp with the tea; and the cat nestled comfortably at Hazel's feet while she drank the tea and wiped away the tears.
"You'll think I'm a big baby, Amelia Ellen!" cried Hazel trying to smile shamedly, "but I'm just so tired of the way things go. You see somebody I don't a bit like has come up from New York on the evening coach, and I've run away for a little while. I don't know what made me cry. I never cry at home, but when I got safely over here a big lump came in my throat and you looked so nice and kind that I couldn't keep the tears back."
From that instant Amelia Ellen, toasting fork in hand, watching the sweet blue eyes and the tear-stained face that resembled a drenched pink bud after a storm, loved Hazel Radcliffe. Come weal, come woe, Amelia Ellen was from henceforth her staunch admirer and defendant.
"Never you mind, honey, you just eat your tea an' run in to Mis' Brownleigh, an' I'll get my hood an' run over to tell your folks you've come to stay all night over here. Then you'll have a cozy evenin' readin' while I sew, an' you can sleep late come mornin', and go back when you're ready. Nobody can't touch you over here. I'm not lettin' in people by night 'thout I know 'em," and she winked knowingly at the girl by way of encouragement. Well she knew who the unwelcome stranger from New York was. She had keen eyes, and had watched the coach from her well-curtained kitchen window as it came in.
That night Hazel told her invalid friend all about Milton Hamar, and slept in the pleasant bed that Amelia Ellen had prepared for her, with sheets of fragrant linen redolent of sweet clover. Her heart was lighter for the simple, kindly advice and the gentle love that had been showered upon her. She wondered, as she lay half dozing in the morning with the faint odour of coffee and muffins penetrating the atmosphere, why it was that she could love this beautiful mother of her hero so much more tenderly than she had ever loved any other woman. Was it because she had never known her own mother and had longed for one all her life, or was it just because she was his dear mother? She gave up trying to answer the question and went smiling down to breakfast, and then across the road to face her unwelcome lover, strong in the courage that friendly counsel had given her.
Milton Hamar left before dinner, having been convinced at last of the uselessness of his visit. He hired a man with a horse and cutter to drive him across country to catch the New York evening express, and Hazel drew a breath of relief and began to find new pleasure in life. Her father was off on a business trip for some weeks; her brother had gone abroad for the winter with a party of college friends. There was no real reason why she should return to New York for some time, and she decided to stay and learn of this saintly woman how to look wisely on the things of life. To her own heart she openly acknowledged that there was a deep pleasure in being near one who talked of the man she loved.
So the winter settled down to business, and Hazel spent happy days with her new friends, for Amelia Ellen had become a true friend in the best sense of the word.
The maid had found the country winter too lonely and Hazel had found her useless and sent her back to town. She was learning by association with Amelia Ellen to do a few things for herself. The elderly cousin, whose years had been a long strain of scrimping to present a respectable exterior, was only too happy to have leisure and quiet to read and embroider to her heart's content. So Hazel was free to spend much time with Mrs. Brownleigh.
They read together, at least Hazel did the reading, for the older eyes were growing dim, and had to be guarded to prevent the terrible headaches which came at the slightest provocation and made the days a blank of suffering for the lovely soul where patience was having its perfect work.
The world of literature opened through a new door to the eager young mind now. Books of which she had never heard were at her hand. New thoughts and feelings were stirred by them. A few friends who knew Mrs. Brownleigh through their summer visits, and others who had known her husband, kept her well supplied with the latest and always the best of everything—history, biography, essays and fiction. But there were also books of a deep spiritual character, and magazines that showed a new world, the religious world, to the girl. She read with zest all of them, and enjoyed deeply the pleasant converse concerning each. Her eyes were being opened to new ways of living. She was beginning to know that there was an existence more satisfying than just to go from one round of amusement to another. And always, more than in any other thing she read, she took a most unusual interest in home missionary literature. It was not because it was so new and strange and like a fairy tale, nor because she knew her friend enjoyed hearing all this news so much, but because it held for her the story of the man she now knew she loved, and who had said he loved her. She wanted to put herself into touch with surroundings like his, to understand better what he had to endure, and why he had not dared to ask her to share his life, his hardship—most of all why he had not thought her worthy to suffer with him.
When she grew tired of reading she would go out into the kitchen and help Amelia Ellen. It was her own whim that she should learn how to make some of the good things to eat for which Amelia Ellen was famous. So while her society friends at home went from one gay scene to another, dancing and frivolling through the night and sleeping away the morning, Hazel bared her round white arms, enveloped herself in a clean blue-checked apron, and learned to make bread and pies and gingerbread and puddings and doughnuts and fruit-cake, how to cook meats and vegetables and make delicious broths from odds and ends, and to concoct the most delectable desserts that would tempt the frailest appetite. Real old country things they were—no fancy salads and whips and froths that society has hunted out to tempt its waning taste till everything has palled. She wrote to one of her old friends, who demanded to know what she was doing so long up there in the country in the height of the season, that she was taking a course in Domestic Science and happily recounted her menu of accomplishments. Secretly her heart rejoiced that she was become less and less unworthy of the love of the man in whose home and at whose mother's side she was learning sweet lessons.
There came letters, of course, from the far-away missionary. Hazel stayed later in the kitchen the morning of their arrival, conscious of a kind of extra presence in his mother's room when his letters arrived. She knew the mother liked to be alone with her son's letters, and that she saved her eyes from other reading for them alone. Always the older face wore a kind of glorified look when the girl entered after she had been reading her letter. The letter itself would be hidden away out of sight in the bosom of her soft gray gown, to be read again and again when she was alone, but seldom was it brought out in the presence of the visitor, much as the mother was growing to love this girl. Frequently there were bits of news.
"My son says he is very glad I am having such delightful company this winter, and he wants me to thank you from him for reading to me," she said once, patting Hazel's hand as she tucked the wool robe about her friend's helpless form. And again:
"My son is starting to build a church. He is very happy about it. They have heretofore held worship in a schoolhouse. He has collected a good deal of the money himself, and he will help to put up the building with his own hands. He is going to send me a photograph when it is up. I would like to be present when it is dedicated. It makes me very proud to have my son doing that."
The next letter brought a photograph, a small snapshot of the canyon, tiny, but clear and distinct. Hazel's hand trembled when the mother gave it to her to look at, for she knew the very spot. She fancied it was quite near the place where they had paused for water. She could feel again the cool breath of the canyon, the damp smell of the earth and ferns, and hear the call of the wild bird.
Then one day there came a missionary magazine with a short article on the work of Arizona and a picture of the missionary mounted on Billy, just ready to start from his little shack on a missionary tour.
Hazel, turning the leaves, came upon the picture and held her breath with astonishment and delight; then rapidly glanced over the article, her heart beating wildly as though she had heard his voice suddenly calling to her out of the distances that separated them. She had a beautiful time surprising the proud mother with the picture and reading the article. From that morning they seemed to have a tenderer tie between them, and once, just before Hazel was leaving for the night, the mother reached out a detaining hand and laid it on the girl's arm. "I wish my boy and you were acquainted, dear," she said wistfully. And Hazel, the rich colour flooding her face at once, replied hesitatingly:
"Oh, why—I—feel—almost—as—though—we were!" Then she kissed her friend on the soft cheek and hurried back to the inn.
It was that night that the telegram came to say that her father had been seriously injured in a railway accident and would be brought home at once. She had no time to think of anything then but to hurry her belongings together and hasten to New York.
QUALIFYING FOR SERVICE
During the six weeks' lingering suffering that followed the accident Hazel was never far from her father's bedside. It seemed as though a new bond of understanding had come between them.
He was very low and there was little hope from the beginning. As he grew weaker he seemed never to want his daughter out of sight, and once when he woke suddenly to find her close beside him, a smile of relief spread over his face, and he told her in brief words that he had dreamed she was lost again in Arizona, and that he had been searching for her with the wild beasts howling all about and wicked men prowling in dark caves. He told her how during that awful time of her disappearance he had been haunted by her face as she was a tiny baby after her mother died, and it seemed to him he should go mad if he could not find her at once.
Then to soothe him she told him of the missionary, and how gently he had cared for her; told him of all the pleasant little details of the way, though not, of course, of his love for her nor hers for him. Perhaps the father, with eyes keen from their nearness to the other world, discerned something of her interest as she talked, for once he sighed and said, in reference to the life of sacrifice the missionary was leading: "Well, I don't know but such things are more worth while after all."
And then with sudden impulse she told him of her finding his mother, and why she had wanted to go to the country in the middle of the society season, because she wanted to know more of the peaceful life this woman lived.
"Perhaps you will meet him again. Who knows?" said the father, looking wistfully at his lovely daughter, and then he turned his head away and sighed again.
As the confidence grew between them she told him one day of Milton Hamar's unwelcome proposal, and the indignation of the father knew no bounds.
It was after that she ventured to read to him from the little book, and to tell of the worship held out under the stars in the desert. It came to be a habit between them, as the days grew less, that she should read the little book, and afterwards he would always lie still as if he were asleep.
It was on the words of the precious psalm that he closed his eyes for the last time in this world, and it was the psalm that brought comfort to the daughter's heart when she came back to the empty house after the funeral.
Her brother was there, it is true, but he was afraid of death, and wanted to get back to his world again, back to the European trip where he had left his friends, and especially a gay young countess who had smiled upon him. He was impatient of death and sorrow. Hazel saw that he could not comprehend her loneliness, so she bade him go as soon as decency would allow, and he was not long in obeying her. He had had his own way all his life, and even death was not to deny him.
The work of the trained nurses who had cared for her father interested Hazel deeply. She had talked with them about their life and preparation for it, and when she could no longer stand the great empty house with only Aunt Maria for company, who had come back just before Mr. Radcliffe's death, she determined to become a nurse herself.
There was much ado over her decision among her acquaintances, and Aunt Maria thought it was not quite respectable for her to do so eccentric a thing and so soon after her father's death. She would have preferred to have had her run down to Lakewood for a few weeks and then follow her brother across the water for a year or two of travel; but Hazel was quite determined, and before January was over she was established in the hospital, through the influence of their family physician, and undergoing her first initiation.
It was not easy thus to give up her life of doing exactly as she pleased when she pleased, and become a servant under orders. Her back often ached, and her eyes grew heavy with the watching and the ministering, and she would be almost ready to give over. Then the thought of the man of the desert gave her new courage and strength. It came to her that she was partaking with him in the great work of the kingdom, and with this thought she would rise and go about the strange new work again, until her interest in the individuals to whom she ministered grew deep, and she understood in a measure the reason for the glory in the face of the missionary as he spoke in the starlight about his work.
Often her heart went out wistfully towards her invalid friend in New Hampshire, and she would rest herself by writing a long letter, and would cherish the delicately written answers. Now and again there would be some slight reference to "my son" in these letters. As the spring came on they were more frequent, for May would bring the General Assembly, and the son was to be one of the speakers. How her heart throbbed when she read that this was certain now. A few days later when she happened to read in the daily paper some item about Assembly plans and discovered for the first time that it was to meet in New York, she found herself in a flutter of joy. Would it be possible for her to hear him speak? That was the great question that kept coming and going in her mind. Could she arrange it so that she would be sure to be off duty when his time came to speak? How could she find out about it all? Thereafter her interest in the church news of the daily papers became deep.
Then spring came on with its languid air and the hard round of work, with often a call to watch when overcome with weariness, or to do some unaccustomed task that tried her undisciplined soul. But the papers were full of the coming Assembly, and at last the program and his name!
She laid her plans most carefully, but the case she had been put upon that week was very low, dying, and the woman had taken a fancy to her and begged her to stay by her till the end. It was a part of the new Hazel that she stayed, though her heart rose up in protest and tears of disappointment would keep coming to her eyes. The head nurse marked them with disapproval and told the house doctor that Radcliffe would never make much of a nurse; she had no control over her emotions.
Death came, almost too late, and set her free for the afternoon, but it was but half an hour to the time set for his speech, she was three miles from the place of meeting and still in her uniform. It was almost foolish to try. Nevertheless she hurried to her room and slipped into a plain little street suit, the thing that would go on quickest, and was away.
It seemed as though every cab and car and mode of transit had conspired to hinder her, and five minutes before the time set for the next speech she hurried breathless into the dim hallway of a great crowded church, and pressed up the stairs to the gallery, through the silent leather doors that could scarcely swing open for the crowd inside them, and heard at last—his voice!
She was away up at the top of the gallery. Men and women were standing close all about her. She could not catch even a glimpse of the platform with its array of noble men whose consecration and power and intellects had made them great religious leaders. She could not see the young commanding figure standing at the edge of the platform, nor catch the flash of his brown eyes as he held the audience in his power while he told the simple story of his Western work; but she could hear the voice, and it went straight to her lonely, sorrowful heart. Straightway the church with its mass of packed humanity, its arched and carven ceiling, its magnificent stained-glass windows, its wonderful organ and costly fittings, faded from her sight, and overhead there arched a dome of dark blue pierced with stars, and mountains in the distance with a canyon opening, and a flickering fire. She heard the voice speak from its natural setting, though her eyes were closed and full of tears.
He finished his story amid a breathless silence on the part of his audience, and then with scarcely a break in his voice spoke to God in one of his uplifting prayers. The girl, trembling, almost sobbing, felt herself included in the prayer, felt again the protection of an unseen Presence, felt the benediction in his voice as he said, "Amen," and echoed its utmost meaning in her soul.
The audience was still hushed as the speaker turned to go to his seat at the back of the platform. A storm of applause had been made impossible by that prayer, for heaven opened with the words and God looked down and had to do with each soul present. But the applause burst forth after all in a moment, for the speaker had whispered a few words to the moderator and was hurrying from the platform. There were cries of, "Don't go! Tell us more! Keep on till six o'clock!" Hazel could not see a thing though she stretched her neck and stood upon the tips of her toes, but she clasped her hands tightly together when the applause came, and her heart echoed every sound.
The clamour ceased a moment as the moderator raised his hand, and explained that the brother to whom they had all been listening with such pleasure would be glad to speak to them longer, but that he was hastening away to take the train to see his invalid mother who had been waiting for two long years for her boy. A pause, a great sigh of sympathy and disappointment, and then the applause burst forth again, and continued till the young missionary had left the church.
Hazel, in bitter disappointment, turned and slipped out. She had not caught a glimpse of his beloved face. She exulted that she had heard the honour given him, been a part of those who rejoiced in his power and consecration, but she could not have him go without having at least one look at him.
She hurried blindly down the stairs, out to the street, and saw a carriage standing before the door. The carriage door had just been closed, but as she gazed he turned and looked out for an instant, lifting his hat in farewell to a group of ministers who stood on the church steps. Then the carriage whirled him away and the world grew suddenly blank.
She had been behind the men on the steps, just within the shadow of the dim doorway. He had not seen her, and of course would not have recognized her if he had; yet now she realized that she had hoped—oh—what had she not hoped from meeting him here!
But he was gone, and it might be years before he came East again. He had utterly put her from his life. He would not think of her again if he did come! Oh, the loneliness of a world like this! Why, oh why, had she ever gone to the desert to learn the emptiness of her life, when there was no other for her anywhere!
The days that followed were very sad and hard. The only thought that helped now was that she too had tried to give her life for something worth while as he had done, and perhaps it might be accepted. But there was a deep unrest in her soul now, a something that she knew she had not got that she longed inexpressibly to have. She had learned to cook and to nurse. She was not nearly so useless as when she rode all care-free upon the desert. She had overcome much of her unworthiness. But there was still one great obstacle which unfitted her for companionship and partnership with the man of the desert. She had not the something in her heart and life that was the source and centre of self-sacrifice. She was still unworthy.
There was a long letter about the first of June from her friend in New Hampshire, more shakily written, she fancied, than those that had come before, and then there came an interval without any reply to hers. She had little time, however, to worry about it, for the weather was unusually warm and the hospital was full. Her strength was taxed to its utmost to fill her round of daily duties. Aunt Maria scolded and insisted on a vacation, and finally in high dudgeon betook herself to Europe for the summer. The few friends with whom Hazel kept up any intercourse hurried away to mountains or sea, and the summer settled down to business.
And now in the hot, hot nights when she lay upon her small bed, too weary almost to sleep, she would fancy she heard again that voice as he spoke in the church, or longer ago in the desert; and sometimes she could think she felt the breeze of the desert night upon her hot forehead.
The head nurse and the house doctor decided Radcliffe needed a change and suggested a few days at the shore with a convalescing patient, but Hazel's heart turned from the thought, and she insisted upon sticking to her post. She clung to the thought that she could at least be faithful. It was what he would do, and in so much she would be like him, and worthy of his love.
It was the last thought in her mind before she fainted on the broad marble staircase with a tiny baby in her arms, and fell to the bottom. The baby was uninjured, but it took a long time to bring the nurse back to consciousness, and still longer to put heart into her again.
"She isn't fit for the work!" she heard the biting tongue of the head nurse declare. "She's too frail and pretty and—emotional. She feels everybody's troubles. Now I never let a case worry me in the least!" And the house doctor eyed her knowingly and said in his heart:
"Any one would know that."
But Hazel, listening, was more disheartened than ever. Then here, too, she was failing and was adjudged unworthy!
The next morning there came a brief, blunt note from Amelia Ellen: "Dear Mis Raclift Ef yore a trainurse why don't yo cum an' take car o' my Mis Brownleigh She aint long fer heer an she's wearyin to see yo She as gotta hev one, a trainurse I mean Yors respectfooly Amelia Ellen Stout."
After an interview with the house doctor and another with her old family physician, Hazel packed up her uniforms and departed for New Hampshire.
It was the evening of her arrival, after the gentle invalid had been prepared for sleep and left in the quiet and dark, that Amelia Ellen told the story:
"She ain't ben the same since John went back. Seems like she sort o' sensed thet he wouldn't come again while she was livin'. She tole me the next day a lot of things she wanted done after she was gone, and she's ben gettin' ready to leave this earth ever since. Not that she's gloomy, oh, my senses no! She's jes' as interested as can be in her flowers, and in folks, an' the church, but she don't want to try to do so many things, and she has them weak, fainty spells oftener, an' more pain in her heart. She sits fer long hours with jest her Bible open now, but land, she don't need to read it! She knows it most by heart—that is the livin' parts, you know. She don't seem to care 'tall fer them magazine articles now any more. I wish t' the land they'd be anuther Gen'l 'Sembly! Thet was the greatest thing fer her. She jest acted like she was tendin' every blessed one o' them meetin's. Why, she couldn't wait fer me t' git done my breakfast dishes. She'd want me t' fix her up fer the day, an' then set down an' read their doin's. 'We kin let things go, you know, 'Meelia Ellen,' she'd say with her sweet little smile, 'just while the meetin's last. Then when it's over they'll be time 'nough fer work—an' rest too, 'Meelia Ellen,' says she. Well, seems like she was just 'tendin' those meetin's herself, same es if she was there. She'd take her nap like it was a pill, er somethin', and then be wide awake an' ready fer her afternoon freshenin', an' then she'd watch fer the stage to bring the evenin' paper. John, he hed a whole cartload o' papers sent, an' the day he spoke they was so many I jes' couldn't get my bread set. I hed to borry a loaf off the inn. First time that's ever happened to me either. I jest hed to set an' read till my back ached, and my eyes swum. I never read so much in my whole borned days t' oncet; an' I've done a good bit o' readin' in my time, too, what with nursin' her an' bein' companion to a perfessor's invaleed daughter one summer.
"Wal, seems like she jest went on an' on, gettin' workeder-up an' workeder-up, till the 'Sembly closed, an' he come; and she was clear to the top o' the heap all them three weeks whilst he was here. Why, I never seen her so bright since when I was a little girl an' went to her Sunday-school class, an' she wore a poke bonnet trimmed with lute-string ribbon an' a rose inside. Talk 'bout roses—they wasn't one in the garden as bright an' pink as her two cheeks, an' her eyes shone jest fer all the world like his. I was terrible troubled lest she'd break down, but she didn't. She got brighter an' brighter. Let him take her out ridin', an' let him carry her into the orchard an' lay her down under the apple boughs where she could reach a wild strawberry herself. Why, she hedn't ben off'n the porch sence he went away two years ago. But every day he stayed she got brighter. The last day 'fore he left she seemed like she wasn't sick at all. She wanted to get up early, an' she wouldn't take no nap, 'cause she said she couldn't waste a minute of the last day. Well, she actu'lly got on her feet oncet an' made him walk her crost the porch. She hedn't ben on her feet fer more'n a minute fer ten months, an' 'twas more'n she could stan'. She was jest as bright an' happy all thet day, an' when he went 'way she waved her hand as happy like an' smiled an' said she was glad to be able to send him back to his work. But she never said a word about his comin' back. He kep' sayin' he would come back next spring, but she only smiled, an' tole him he might not be able to leave his work, an' 'twas all right. She wanted him to be faithful.
"Well, he went, an' the coach hedn't no more'n got down the hill an' up again an' out o' sight behind the bridge 'fore she calls to me an' she says, ''Meelia Ellen, I believe I'm tired with all the goin's on there's been, an' if you don't mind I think I'll take a nap.' So I helps her into her room and fixes her into her night things an' thur she's laid ever since, an' it's six whole weeks ef it's a day. Every mornin' fer a spell I'd go in an' say, 'Ain't you ready fer me to fix you fer the day, Mis' Brownleigh?' An' she'd jest smile an' say, 'Well, I b'leeve not just now, 'Meelia Ellen. I think I'll just rest to-day yet. Maybe I'll feel stronger to-morrow'; but to-morrow never comes, an' it's my thinkin' she'll never git up agin."
The tears were streaming down the good woman's cheeks now and Hazel's eyes were bright with tears too. She had noticed the transparency of the delicate flesh, the frailness of the wrinkled hands. The woman's words brought conviction to her heart also.
"What does the doctor say?" she asked, catching at a hope.
"Well, he ain't much fer talk," said Amelia Ellen lifting her tear-stained face from her gingham apron where it had been bowed. "It seems like them two hev just got a secret between 'em thet they won't say nothin' 'bout it. Seems like he understands, and knows she don't want folks to talk about it nor worry 'bout her."
"But her son——" faltered Hazel. "He ought to be told!"
"Yes, but 'tain't no use; she won't let yeh. I ast her oncet didn't she want me to write him to come an' make her a little visit just to chirk her up, and she shook her head and looked real frightened, and she says: ''Meelia Ellen, don't you never go to sendin' fer him 'thout lettin' me know. I should not like it 'tall. He's out there doin' his work, an' I'm happier havin' him at it. A missionary can't take time traipsin' round the country every time a relative gets a little down. I'm jest perfectly all right, 'Meelia Ellen, only I went pretty hard durin' 'Sembly week, and when John was here, an' I'm restin' up fer a while. If I want John sent fer I'll tell you, but don't you go to doin' it 'fore!' An' I really b'leeve she'd be mad at me if I did. She lots a good deal on givin' her son, an' it would sort o' spoil her sakkerfize, I s'pose, to hev him come back every time she hungers fer him. I b'leeve in my heart she's plannin' to slip away quiet and not bother him to say good-bye. It jest looks thet way to me."
But the next few days the invalid brightened perceptibly, and Hazel began to be reassured. Sweet converse they had together, and the girl heard the long pleasant story of the son's visit home as the mother dwelt lovingly upon each detail, telling it over and over, until the listener felt that every spot within sight of the invalid's window was fragrant with his memory. She enjoyed the tale as much as the teller, and knew just how to give the answer that one loving woman wants from another loving woman when they speak of the beloved.
Then when the story all was told over and over and there was nothing more to tell except the pleasant recalling of a funny speech, or some tender happening, Hazel began to ask deeper questions about the things of life and eternity; and step by step the older woman led her in the path she had led her son through all the years of his childhood.
During this time she seemed to grow stronger again. There were days when she sat up for a little while, and let them put the meals on a tiny swinging table by her chair; and she took a deep interest in leading the girl to a heavenly knowledge. Every day she asked for her writing materials and wrote for a little while; yet Hazel noticed that she did not send all that she had written in the envelope of the weekly letters, but laid it away carefully in her writing portfolio as if it were something yet unfinished.
And one evening in late September, when the last rays of the sunset were lying across the foot of the wheeled chair, and Amelia Ellen was building a bit of a fire in the fireplace because it seemed chilly, the mother called Hazel to her and handed her a letter sealed and addressed to her son.
"Dear," she said gently, "I want you to take this letter and put it away carefully and keep it until I am gone, and then I want you to promise that, if possible for you to do it, you will give it to my son with your own hands."
Hazel took the letter reverently, her heart filled with awe and sorrow and stooped anxiously over her friend. "Oh, why"—she cried—"what is the matter? Do you feel worse to-night? You have seemed so bright all day."
"Not a bit," said the invalid cheerily. "But I have been writing this for a long time—a sort of good-bye to my boy—and there is nobody in the world I would like to have give it to him as well as you. Will it trouble you to promise me, my dear?"
Hazel with kisses and tears protested that she would be glad to fulfill the mission, but begged that she might be allowed to send for the beloved son at once, for a sight of his face, she knew, would be good to his mother.
At last her fears were allayed, though she was by no means sure that the son ought not to be sent for, and when the invalid was happily gone to sleep, Hazel went to her room and tried to think how she might write a letter that would not alarm the young man, while yet it would bring him to his mother's side. She planned how she would go away herself for a few days, so that he need not find her here. She wrote several stiff little notes but none of them satisfied her. Her heart longed to write: "Oh, my dear! Come quickly, for your beloved mother needs you. Come, for my heart is crying out for the sight of you! Come at once!" But finally before she slept she sealed and addressed a dignified letter from Miss Radcliffe, his mother's trained nurse, suggesting that he make at least a brief visit at this time as she must be away for a few days, and she felt that his presence would be a wise thing. His mother did not seem so well as when he was with her. Then she lay down comforted to sleep. But the letter was never sent.
In the early dawn of the morning, when the faithful Amelia Ellen slipped from her couch in the alcove just off the invalid's room, and went to touch a match to the carefully laid fire in the fireplace, she passed the bed and, as had been her custom for years, glanced to see if all was well with her patient; at once she knew that the sweet spirit of the mother had fled.
With her face slightly turned away, a smile of good-night upon her lips, and the peace of God upon her brow, the mother had entered into her rest.
THE CALL OF THE DESERT
Hazel, with her eyes blinded with tears and her heart swelling with the loss of the woman upon whose motherliness she had come to feel a claim, burned the letter she had written the night before, and sent a carefully worded telegram, her heart yearning with sympathy towards the bereaved son.
"Your dear mother has gone home, quietly, in her sleep. She did not seem any worse than usual, and her last words were of you. Let us know at once what plans we shall make. Nurse Radcliffe." That was the telegram she sent.
Poor Amelia Ellen was all broken up. Her practical common sense for once had fled her. She would do nothing but weep and moan for the beloved invalid whom she had served so long and faithfully. It fell to Hazel to make all decisions, though the neighbours and old friends were most kind with offers of help. Hazel waited anxiously for an answer to the telegram, but night fell and no answer had come. There had been a storm and something was wrong with the wires. The next morning, however, she sent another telegram, and about noon still a third, with as yet no response. She thought perhaps he had not waited to telegraph but had started immediately, and might be with them in a few hours. She watched the evening stage, but he did not come; then realized how her heart was in a flutter, and wondered how she would have had strength to meet him had he come. There was the letter from his mother, and her promise. She had that excuse for her presence—of course she could not have left under the circumstances. Yet she shrank from the meeting, for it seemed somehow a breach of etiquette that she should be the one to break the separation that he had chosen should be between them.
However, he did not come, and the third morning, when it became imperative that something definite should be known, a telegram to the station agent in Arizona brought answer that the missionary was away on a long trip among some tribes of Indians; that his exact whereabouts was not known, but messengers had been sent after him, and word would be sent as soon as possible. The minister and the old neighbours advised with Amelia Ellen and Hazel, and made simple plans for the funeral, yet hoped and delayed as long as possible, and when at last after repeated telegrams there still came the answer, "Messenger not yet returned," they bore the worn-out body of the woman to a quiet resting place beside her beloved husband in the churchyard on the hillside where the soft maples scattered bright covering over the new mound, and the sky arched high with a kind of triumphant reminder of where the spirit was gone.
Hazel tried to have every detail just as she thought he would have liked it. The neighbours brought of their homely flowers in great quantities, and some city friends who had been old summer boarders sent hot-house roses. The minister conducted the beautiful service of faith, and the village children sang about the casket of their old friend, who had always loved every one of them, their hands full of the late flowers from her own garden, bright scarlet and blue and gold, as though it were a joyous occasion. Indeed, Hazel had the impression, even as she moved in the hush of the presence of death, that she was helping at some solemn festivity of deep joy instead of a funeral—so glorious had been the hope of the one who was gone, so triumphant her faith in her Saviour.
After the funeral was over Hazel sat down and wrote a letter telling about it all, filling it with sympathy, trying to show their effort to have things as he would have liked them, and expressing deep sorrow that they had been compelled to go on with the service without him.
That night there came a message from the Arizona station agent. The missionary had been found in a distant Indian hogan with a dislocated ankle. He sent word that they must not wait for him; that he would get there in time, if possible. A later message the next day said he was still unable to travel, but would get to the railroad as soon as possible. Then came an interval of several days without any word from Arizona.
Hazel went about with Amelia Ellen, putting the house in order, hearing the beautiful plaint of the loving-hearted, mourning servant as she told little incidents of her mistress. Here was the chair she sat in the last time she went up-stairs to oversee the spring regulating, and that was Mr. John's little baby dress in which he was christened. His mother smoothed it out and told her the story of his baby loveliness one day. She had laid it away herself in the box with the blue shoes and the crocheted cap. It was the last time she ever came up-stairs.
There was the gray silk dress she wore to weddings and dinner parties before her husband died, and beneath it in the trunk was the white embroidered muslin that was her wedding gown. Yellow with age it was, and delicate as a spider's web, with frostwork of yellowed broidery strewn quaintly on its ancient form, and a touch of real lace. Hazel laid a reverent hand on the fine old fabric, and felt, as she looked through the treasures of the old trunk, that an inner sanctuary of sweetness had been opened for her glimpsing.
At last a letter came from the West.
It was addressed to "Miss Radcliffe, Nurse," in Brownleigh's firm, clear hand, and began: "Dear madam." Hazel's hand trembled as she opened it, and the "dear madam" brought the tears to her eyes; but then, of course, he did not know.
He thanked her, with all the kindliness and courtliness of his mother's son, for her attendance on his dear mother, and told her of many pleasant things his mother had written of her ministrations. He spoke briefly of his being laid up lamed in the Indian reservation and his deep grief that he had been unable to come East to be beside his mother during her last hours, but went on to say that it had been his mother's wish, many times expressed, that he should not leave his post to come to her, and that there need be "no sadness of farewell" when she "embarked," and that though it was hard for him he knew it was a fulfillment of his mother's desires. And now that she was gone, and the last look upon her dear face was impossible, he had decided that he could not bear it just yet to come home and see all the dear familiar places with her face gone. He would wait a little while, until he had grown used to the thought of her in heaven, and then it would not be so hard. Perhaps he would not come home until next spring, unless something called him; he could not tell. And in any case, his injured ankle prevented him making the journey at present, no matter how much he may desire to do so. Miss Radcliffe's letter had told him that everything had been done just as he would have had it done. There was nothing further to make it a necessity that he should come. He had written to his mother's lawyer to arrange his mother's few business affairs, and it only remained for him to express his deep gratitude towards those who had stood by his dear mother when it had been made impossible for him to do so. He closed with a request that the nurse would give him her permanent address that he might be sure to find her when he found it possible to come East again, as he would enjoy thanking her face to face for what she had been to his mother.
That was all.
Hazel felt a blank dizziness settle down over her as she finished the letter. It put him miles away from her again, with years perhaps before another sight of him. She suddenly seemed fearfully alone in a world that no longer interested her. Where should she go; what to do with her life now? Back to the hard grind of the hospital with nobody to care, and the heartrending scenes and tragedies that were daily enacted? Somehow her strength seemed to go from her at the thought. Here, too, she had failed. She was not fit for the life, and the hospital people had discovered it and sent her away to nurse her friend and try to get well. They had been kind and talked about when she should return to them, but she knew in her heart they felt her unfit and did not want her back.
Should she go back to her home, summon her brother and aunt, and plunge into society again? The very idea sickened her. Never again would she care for that life, she was certain. As she searched her heart to see what it was she really craved, if anything in the whole wide world, she found her only interest was in the mission field of Arizona, and now that her dear friend was gone she was cut off from knowing anything much about that.
She gathered herself together after a while and told Amelia Ellen of the decision of Mr. Brownleigh, and together they planned how the house should be closed, and everything put in order to await its master's will to return. But that night Hazel could not sleep, for suddenly, in the midst of her sad reflections, came the thought of the letter that was left in her trust.
It had been forgotten during the strenuous days that had followed the death of its writer. Hazel had thought of it only once, and that on the first morning, with a kind of comforting reflection that it would help the son to bear his sorrow, and she was glad that it was her privilege to put it into his hand. Then the perplexities of the occasion had driven it from her thoughts. Now it came back like a swift light in a dark place. There was yet the letter which she must give him. It was a precious bond that would hold him to her for a little while longer. But how should she give it to him?
Should she send it by mail? No, for that would not be fulfilling the letter of her promise. She knew the mother wished her to give it to him herself. Well, then, should she write and summon him to his old home at once, tell him of the letter and yet refuse to send it to him? How strange that would seem! How could she explain it to him? His mother's whim might be sacred to him—would be, of course—but he would think it strange that a young woman should make so much of it as not to trust the letter to the mail now that the circumstances made it impossible for him to come on at once.
Neither would it do for her to keep the letter until such a time as he should see fit to return to the East and look her up. It might be years.
The puzzling question kept whirling itself about in her mind for hours until at last she formulated a plan which seemed to solve the problem.
The plan was this. She would coax Amelia Ellen to take a trip to California with her, and on the way they would stop in Arizona and give the letter into the hands of the young man. By that time no doubt his injured ankle would be sufficiently strong to allow his return from the journey to the Indian reservation. She would say that she was going West and, as she had promised his mother she would put the letter into his hands, she had taken this opportunity to stop off and keep her promise. The trip would be a good thing for Amelia Ellen too, and take her mind off her loneliness for the mistress who was gone.
Eagerly she broached the subject to Amelia Ellen the next morning, and was met with a blank face of dismay.
"I couldn't noways you'd fix it, my dearie," she said sadly shaking her head. "I'd like nuthin' better'n to see them big trees out in Californy I've been hearin' 'bout all my life; an' summer an' winter with snow on the mountains what some of the boarders 't the inn tells 'bout; but I can't bring it 'bout. You see it's this way. Peter Burley 'n' I ben promused fer nigh on to twelve year now, an' when he ast me I said no, I couldn't leave Mis' Brownleigh long's she needed me; an' he sez will I marry him the week after she dies, an' I sez I didn't like no sech dismal way o' puttin' it; an' he sez well, then, will I marry him the week after she don't need me no more; an' I sez yes, I will, an' now I gotta keep my promus! I can't go back on my faithful word. I'd like real well to see them big trees, but I gotta keep my promus! You see he's waited long 'nough, an' he's ben real patient. Not always he cud get to see me every week, an' he might 'a' tuk Delmira that cooked to the inn five year ago. She'd 'a' had him in a minnit, an' she done her best to git him, but he stayed faithful, an' he sez, sez he, ''Meelia El'n, ef you're meanin' to keep your word, I'll wait ef it's a lifetime, but I hope you won't make it any longer'n you need;' an' the night he said that I promused him agin I'd be hisn soon ez ever I was free to do's I pleased. I'd like to see them big trees, but I can't do it. I jes' can't do it."
Now Hazel was not a young woman who was easily balked in her plans when once they were made. She was convinced that the only thing to do was to take this trip and that Amelia Ellen was the only person in the world she wanted for a companion; therefore she made immediate acquaintance with Peter Burley, a heavy-browed, thoughtful, stolid man, who looked his character of patient lover, every inch of him, blue overalls and all. Hazel's heart almost misgave her as she unfolded her plan to his astonished ears, and saw the look of blank dismay that overspread his face. However, he had not waited all these years to refuse his sweetheart anything in reason now. He drew a deep sigh, inquired how long the trip as planned would take, allowed he "could wait another month ef that would suit," and turned patiently to his barn-yard to think his weary thoughts, and set his hopes a little further ahead. Then Hazel's heart misgave her. She called after him and suggested that perhaps he might like to have the marriage first and go with them, taking the excursion as a wedding trip. She would gladly pay all expenses if he would. But the man shook his head.
"I couldn't leave the stock fer that long, ennyhow you fix it. Thur ain't no one would know to take my place. Besides, I never was fer takin' journeys; but 'Meelia Ellen, she's allus ben of a sprightlier disposition, an' ef she hez a hankerin' after Californy, I 'spect she'll be kinder more contented like ef she sees 'em first an' then settles down in Granville. She better go while she's got the chancet."
Amelia Ellen succumbed, albeit with tears. Hazel could not tell whether she was more glad or sad at the prospect before her. Whiles Amelia Ellen wept and bemoaned the fate of poor Burley, and whiles she questioned whether there really were any big trees like what you saw in the geographies with riding parties sitting contentedly in tunnels through their trunks. But at last she consented to go, and with many an injunction from the admiring and envious neighbours who came to see them off, Amelia Ellen bade a sobbing good-bye to her solemn lover in the gray dawn of an October morning, climbed into the stage beside Hazel, and they drove away into the mystery of the great world. As she looked back at her Peter, standing patient, stooped and gray in the familiar village street, looking after his departing sweetheart who was going out sightseeing into the world, Amelia Ellen would almost have jumped out over the wheel and run back if it had not been for what the neighbours would say, for her heart was Burley's; and now that the big trees were actually pulling harder than Burley, and she had decided to go and see them, Burley began by his very acquiescence to pull harder than the big trees. It was a very teary Amelia Ellen who climbed into the train a few hours later, looking back dismally, hopelessly, towards the old stage they had just left, and wondering after all if she ever would get back to Granville safe and alive again. Strange fears visited her of dangers that might come to Burley during her absence, which if they did she would never forgive herself for having left him; strange horrors of the way of things that might hinder her return; and she began to regard her hitherto beloved travelling companion with almost suspicion, as if she were a conspirator against her welfare.
However, as the miles grew and the wonders of the way multiplied, Amelia Ellen began to sit up and take notice, and to have a sort of excited exultance that she had come; for were they not nearing the great famed West now, and would it not soon be time to see the big trees and turn back home again? She was almost glad she had come. She would be wholly glad she had done so when she had got back safely home once more.
And so one evening about sunset they arrived at the little station in Arizona which over a year ago Hazel had left in her father's private car.
Amelia Ellen, stiff from the unaccustomed travel, powdered with the dust of the desert, wearied with the excitement of travel and lack of sleep amid her strange surroundings, stepped down upon the wooden platform and surveyed the magnificent distance between herself and anywhere; observed the vast emptiness, with awful purpling mountains and limitless stretches of vari-coloured ground arched by a dome of sky, higher and wider and more dazzling than her stern New Hampshire soul had ever conceived, and turned panic-stricken back to the train which was already moving away from the little station. Her first sensation had been one of relief at feeling solid ground under her feet once more, for this was the first trip into the world Amelia Ellen had ever made, and the cars bewildered her. Her second impulse was to get back into that train as fast as her feet could carry her and get this awful journey done so that she might earn the right to return to her quiet home and her faithful lover.
But the train was well under way. She looked after it half in envy. It could go on with its work and not have to stop in this wild waste.
She gazed about again with the frightened look a child deserted gives before it puckers its lips and screams.
Hazel was talking composedly with the rough-looking man on the platform, who wore a wide felt hat and a pistol in his belt. He didn't look even respectable to Amelia Ellen's provincial eyes. And behind him, horror of horrors! loomed a real live Indian, long hair, high cheek bones, blanket and all, just as she had seen them in the geography! Her blood ran cold! Why, oh why, had she ever been left to do this daring thing—to leave civilization and come away from her good man and the quiet home awaiting her to certain death in the desert. All the stories of horrid scalpings she had ever heard appeared before her excited vision. With a gasp she turned again to the departing train, which had become a mere speck on the desert, and even as she looked vanished around a curve and was lost in the dim foot-hills of a mountain!
Poor Amelia Ellen! Her head reeled and her heart sank. The vast prairie engulfed her, as it were, and she stood trembling and staring in dazed expectancy of an attack from earth or air or sky. The very sky and ground seemed tottering together and threatening to extinguish her, and she closed her eyes, caught her breath and prayed for Peter. It had been her habit always in any emergency to pray for Peter Burley.
It was no better when they took her to the eating-house across the track. She picked her way among the evil-looking men, and surveyed the long dining table with its burden of coarse food and its board seats with disdain, declined to take off her hat when she reached the room to which the slatternly woman showed them because she said there was no place to lay it down that was fit; scorned the simple bed, refused to wash her hands at the basin furnished for all, and made herself more disagreeable than Hazel had dreamed her gentle, serviceable Amelia Ellen ever could have been. No supper would she eat, nor would she remain long at the table after the men began to file in, with curious eyes towards the strangers.
She stalked to the rough, unroofed porch in the front and stared off at the dark vastness, afraid of the wild strangeness, afraid of the looming mountains, afraid of the multitude of stars. She said it was ridiculous to have so many stars. It wasn't natural. It was irreverent. It was like looking too close into heaven when you weren't intended to.
And then a blood-curdling sound arose! It made her very hair stand on end. She turned with wild eyes and grasped Hazel's arm, but she was too frightened to utter a sound. Hazel had just come out to sit with her. The men out of deference to the strangers had withdrawn from their customary smoking place on the porch to the back of the wood-pile behind the house. They were alone—the two women—out there in the dark, with that awful, awful sound!
Amelia Ellen's white lips framed the words "Indians"? "War-whoop"? but her throat refused her sound and her breath came short.
"Coyotes!" laughed Hazel, secure in her wide experience, with almost a joyous ring to her voice. The sound of those distant beasts assured her that she was in the land of her beloved at last and her soul rejoiced.
"Coy—oh——" but Amelia Ellen's voice was lost in the recesses of her skimpy pillow whither she had fled to bury her startled ears. She had heard of coyotes, but she had never imagined to hear one outside of a zooelogical garden, of which she had read and always hoped one day to visit. There she lay on her hard little bed and quaked until Hazel, laughing still, came to find her; but all she could get from the poor soul was a pitiful plaint about Burley. "And what would he say if I was to be et with one of them creatures? He'd never forgive me, never, never s'long 's I lived! I hadn't ough' to 'a' come. I hadn't ough' to 'a' come!"
Nothing Hazel could say would allay her fears. She listened with horror as the girl attempted to show how harmless the beasts were by telling of her own night ride up the canyon, and how nothing harmed her. Amelia Ellen merely looked at her with frozen glance made fiercer by the flickering candle flare, and answered dully: "An' you knew 'bout 'em all 'long, an' yet you brung me! It ain't what I thought you'd do! Burley, he'll never fergive me s'long 's I live ef I get et up. It ain't ez if I was all alone in the world, you know. I got him to think of an' I can't afford to run no resks of bein' et, ef you can."
Not a wink of sleep did she get that night and when the morning dawned and to the horrors of the night were added a telegram from a neighbour of Burley's saying that Burley had fallen from the haymow and broken his leg, but he sent his respects and hoped they'd have a good journey, Amelia Ellen grew uncontrollable. She declared she would not stay in that awful country another minute. That she would take the first train back—back to her beloved New Hampshire which she never again would leave so long as her life was spared, unless Burley went along. She would not even wait until Hazel had delivered her message. How could two lone women deliver a message in a land like that? Never, never would she ride, drive or walk, no, nor even set foot on the sand of the desert. She would sit by the track until a train came along and she would not even look further than she need. The frenzy of fear which sometimes possesses simple people at sight of a great body of water, or a roaring torrent pouring over a precipice, had taken possession of her at sight of the desert. It filled her soul with its immensity, and poor Amelia Ellen had a great desire to sit down on the wooden platform and grasp firm hold of something until a train came to rescue her from this awful emptiness which had tried to swallow her up.
Poor Peter, with his broken leg, was her weird cry! One would think she had broken it with the wheels of the car in which she had travelled away from him by the way she took on about it and blamed herself. The tragedy of a broken vow and its consequences was the subject of her discourse. Hazel laughed, then argued, and finally cried and besought; but nothing could avail. Go she would, and that speedily, back to her home.
When it became evident that arguments and tears were of no use and that Amelia Ellen was determined to go home with or without her, Hazel withdrew to the front porch and took counsel with the desert in its morning brightness, with the purple luring mountains, and the smiling sky. Go back on the train that would stop at the station in half an hour, with the desert there, and the wonderful land, and its strange, wistful people, and not even see a glimpse of him she loved? Go back with the letter still in her possession and her message still ungiven? Never! Surely she was not afraid to stay long enough to send for him. The woman who had fed them and sheltered them for the night would be her protector. She would stay. There must be some woman of refinement and culture somewhere near by to whom she could go for a few days until her errand was performed; and what was her training in the hospital worth if it did not give her some independence? Out here in the wild free West women had to protect themselves. She could surely stay in the uncomfortable quarters where she was for another day until she could get word to the missionary. Then she could decide whether to proceed on her journey alone to California, or to go back home. There was really no reason why she should not travel alone if she chose; plenty of young women did and, anyway, the emergency was not of her choosing. Amelia Ellen would make herself sick fretting over her Burley, that was plain, if she were detained even a few hours. Hazel came back to the nearly demented Amelia Ellen with her chin tilted firmly and a straight little set of her sweet lips which betokened stubbornness. The train came in a brief space of time, and, weeping but firm, Amelia Ellen boarded it, dismayed at the thought of leaving her dear young lady, yet stubbornly determined to go. Hazel gave her the ticket and plenty of money, charged the conductor to look after her, waved a brave farewell and turned back to the desert alone.
A brief conference with the woman who had entertained them, who was also the wife of the station agent, brought out the fact that the missionary was not yet returned from his journey, but a message received from him a few days before spoke of his probable return on the morrow or the day after. The woman advised that the lady go to the fort where visitors were always welcomed and where there were luxuries more fitted to the stranger's habit. She eyed the dainty apparel of her guest enviously as she spoke, and Hazel, keenly alive to the meaning of her look, realized that the woman, like the missionary, had judged her unfit for life in the desert. She was half determined to stay where she was until the missionary's return, and show that she could adapt herself to any surroundings, but she saw that the woman was anxious to have her gone. It probably put her out to have a guest of another world than her own.
The woman told her that a trusty Indian messenger was here from the fort and was riding back soon. If the lady cared she could get a horse and go under his escort. She opened her eyes in wonder when Hazel asked if there was to be a woman in the party, and whether she could not leave her work for a little while and ride over with them if she would pay her well for the service.
"Oh, you needn't bring none o' them fine lady airs out here!" she declared rudely. "We-all ain't got time fer no sech foolery. You needn't be afraid to go back with Joe. He takes care of the women at the fort. He'll look after you fine. You'll mebbe kin hire a horse to ride, an' strop yer baggage on. Yer trunk ye kin leave here."
Hazel, half frightened at the position she had allowed herself to be placed in, considered the woman's words, and when she had looked upon the Indian's stolid countenance decided to accept his escort. He was an old man with furrowed face and sad eyes that looked as if they could tell great secrets, but there was that in his face that made her trust him, she knew not why.
An hour later, her most necessary baggage strapped to the back of the saddle on a wicked-looking little pony, Hazel, with a sense of deep excitement, mounted and rode away behind the solemn, silent Indian. She was going to the fort to ask shelter, until her errand was accomplished, of the only women in that region who would be likely to take her in. She had a feeling that the thing she was doing was a most wild and unconventional proceeding and would come under the grave condemnation of her aunt, and all her New York friends. She was most thankful that they were far away and could not interfere, for somehow she felt that she must do it anyway. She must put that letter, with her own hands, into the possession of its owner.
It was a most glorious morning. The earth and the heavens seemed newly made for the day. Hazel felt a gladness in her soul that would not down, even when she thought of poor Amelia Ellen crouched in her corner of the sleeper, miserable at her desertion, yet determined to go. She thought of the dear mother, and wondered if 'twere given to her to know now how she was trying to fulfill her last wish. It was pleasant to think she knew and was glad, and Hazel felt as though her presence were near and protecting her.
The silent Indian made few remarks. He rode ahead always with a grave, thoughtful expression, like a student whose thoughts are not to be disturbed. He nodded gravely in answer to the questions Hazel asked him whenever they stopped to water the horses, but he volunteered no information beyond calling her attention to a lame foot her pony was developing.
Several times Joe got down and examined the pony's foot, and shook his head, with a grunt of worried disapproval. Presently as the miles went by Hazel began to notice the pony's lameness herself, and became alarmed lest he would break down altogether in the midst of the desert. Then what would the Indian do? Certainly not give her his horse and foot it, as the missionary had done. She could not expect that every man in this desert was like the one who had cared for her before. What a foolish girl she had been to get herself into this fix! And now there was no father to send out search parties for her, and no missionary at home to find her!
The dust, the growing heat of the day, and the anxiety began to wear upon her. She was tired and hungry, and when at noon the Indian dismounted beside a water-hole where the water tasted of sheep who had passed through but a short time before, and handed her a package of corn bread and cold bacon, while he withdrew to the company of the horses for his own siesta, she was feign to put her head down on the coarse grass and weep for her folly in coming out to this wild country alone, or at least in being so headstrong as to stay when Amelia Ellen deserted her. Then the thought suddenly occurred to her: how would Amelia Ellen have figured in this morning's journey on horseback; and instead of weeping she fell to laughing almost hysterically.
She munched the corn bread—the bacon she could not eat—and wondered if the woman at the stopping-place had realized what an impossible lunch she had provided for her guest. However, here was one of the tests. She was not worth much if a little thing like coarse food annoyed her so much. She drank some of the bitter water, and bravely ate a second piece of corn bread and tried to hope her pony would be all right after his rest. But it was evident after they had gone a mile or two further that the pony was growing worse. He lagged, and limped, and stopped, and it seemed almost cruel to urge him further, yet what could be done? The Indian rode behind now, watching him and speaking in low grunts to him occasionally, and finally they came in sight of a speck of a building in the distance. Then the Indian spoke. Pointing towards the distant building, which seemed too tiny for human habitation, he said: "Aneshodi hogan. Him friend me. Lady stay. Me come back good horse. Pony no go more. He bad!"
Dismay filled the heart of the lady. She gathered that her guide wished to leave her by the way while he went on for another horse, and maybe he would return and maybe not. Meantime, what kind of a place was he leaving her in? Would there be a woman there? Even if she were an Indian woman that would not be so bad. "Aneshodi" sounded as if it might be a woman's name.
"Is this Aneshodi a woman?" she questioned.
The Indian shook his head and grunted. "Na, na. Aneshodi, Aneshodi. Him friend me. Him good friend. No woman!" (In scorn.)
"Is there no woman in the house?" she asked anxiously.
"Na! Him heap good man. Good hogan. Lady stay. Rest."
Suddenly her pony stumbled and nearly fell. She saw that she could not depend on him for long now.
"Couldn't I walk with you?" she asked, her eyes pleading. "I would rather walk than stay. Is it far?"
The Indian shook his head vigorously.
"Lady no walk. Many suns lady walk. Great mile. Lady stay. Me ride fast. Back sundown," and he pointed to the sun which was even now beginning its downward course.
Hazel saw there was nothing for it but to do as the Indian said, and indeed his words seemed reasonable, but she was very much frightened. What kind of a place was this in which she was to stay? As they neared it there appeared to be nothing but a little weather-beaten shanty, with a curiously familiar look, as if she had passed that way before. A few chickens were picking about the yard, and a vine grew over the door, but there was no sign of human being about and the desert stretched wide and barren on every side. Her old fear of its vastness returned, and she began to have a fellow feeling with Amelia Ellen. She saw now that she ought to have gone with Amelia Ellen back to civilization and found somebody who would have come with her on her errand. But then the letter would have been longer delayed!
The thought of the letter kept up her courage, and she descended dubiously from her pony's back, and followed the Indian to the door of the shanty. The vine growing luxuriantly over window and casement and door frame reassured her somewhat, she could not tell just why. Perhaps somebody with a sense of beauty lived in the ugly little building, and a man with a sense of beauty could not be wholly bad. But how was she to stay alone in a man's house where no woman lived? Perhaps the man would have a horse to lend or sell them. She would offer any sum he wanted if she only could get to a safe place.
But the Indian did not knock at the door as she had expected he would do. Instead he stooped to the lower step, and putting his hand into a small opening in the woodwork of the step, fumbled there a minute and presently brought out a key which he fitted into the lock and threw the door wide open to her astonished gaze.
"Him friend me!" explained the Indian again.
He walked into the room with the manner of a partial proprietor of the place, looked about, stooped down to the fireplace where a fire was neatly laid, and set it blazing up cheerfully; took the water bucket and filled it, and putting some water into the kettle swung it over the blaze to heat, then turning, he spoke again:
"Lady stay. Me come back—soon. Sun no go down. Me come back; good horse get lady."
"But where is the owner of this house? What will he think of my being here when he comes back?" said Hazel, more frightened than ever at the prospect of being left. She had not expected to stay entirely alone. She had counted on finding some one in the house.
"Aneshodi way off. Not come back one—two—day mebbe! He know me. He me friend. Lady stay! All right!"
Hazel, her eyes large with fear, watched her protector mount and ride away. Almost she called after him that he must not leave her; then she remembered that this was a part of a woman's life in Arizona, and she was being tried. It was just such things as this the missionary had meant when he said she was unfit for life out here. She would stay and bear the loneliness and fright. She would prove, at least to herself, that she had the courage of any missionary. She would not bear the ignominy of weakness and failure. It would be a shame to her all her life to know she had failed in this trying time.
She watched the Indian riding rapidly away as if he were in hot haste. Once the suspicion crossed her mind that perhaps he had lamed her horse on purpose, and left her here just to get rid of her. Perhaps this was the home of some dreadful person who would return soon and do her harm.
She turned quickly, with alarm in her heart, to see what manner of place she was in, for she had been too excited at first over the prospect of being left to notice it much, save to be surprised that there were chairs, a fireplace, and a look of comparative comfort. Now she looked about to find out if possible just what sort of a person the owner might be, and glancing at the table near the fireplace the first object her eye fell upon was an open book, and the words that caught her vision were: "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty!"
With a start she turned the book over and found it was a Bible, bound in plain, strong covers, with large, clear print, and it lay open as if the owner had been reading it but a short time before and had been called suddenly away.
With a sigh of relief she sank down in the big chair by the fire and let the excited tears have their way. Somehow her fear all vanished with that sentence. The owner of the house could not be very bad when he kept his Bible about and open to that psalm, her psalm, her missionary's psalm! And there was assurance in the very words themselves, as if they had been sent to remind her of her new trust in an Unseen Power. If she was making the Most High her dwelling place continually, surely she was under His protection continually, and had no need to be afraid anywhere, for she was abiding in Him. The thought gave her a strange new sense of sweetness and safety.
After a moment she sat up wiping away the tears and began to look around. Perhaps this was the home of some friend of her missionary. She felt comforted about staying here now. She lifted her eyes to the wall above the mantel and lo, there smiled the face of her dear friend, the mother, who had just gone home to heaven, and beneath it—as if that were not enough to bring a throb of understanding and joy to her heart—beneath it hung her own little jewelled riding whip which she had left on the desert a year ago and forgotten.
Suddenly, with a cry of joy, she rose and clasped her hands over her heart, relief and happiness in every line of her face.
"It is his home! I have come to his own house!" she cried and looked about her with the joy of discovery. This then was where he lived—there were his books, here his chair where he sat and rested or studied—his hands had left the Bible open at her psalm, his psalm—their psalm! There was his couch over behind the screen, and at the other end the tiny table and the dishes in the closet! Everything was in place, and careful neatness reigned, albeit an air of manlike uncertainty about some things.
She went from one end to the other of the big room and back again, studying every detail, revelling in the thought that now, whatever came to her, she might take back with her a picture of himself in his own quiet room when his work was laid aside for a little, and when, if ever he had time and allowed himself, he perhaps thought of her.
Time flew on winged feet. With the dear face of her old friend smiling down upon her and that psalm open beside her on the table, she never thought of fear. And presently she remembered she was hungry, and went foraging in the cupboard for something to eat. She found plenty of supplies, and after she had satisfied her hunger sat down in the great chair by the fire and looked about her in contentment. With the peace of the room, his room, upon her, and the sweet old face from the picture looking down in benediction as if in welcome, she felt happier than since her father had died.
The quiet of the desert afternoon brooded outside, the fire burned softly lower and lower at her side, the sun bent down to the west, and long rays stole through the window and across at her feet, but the golden head was drooping and the long-lashed eyes were closed. She was asleep in his chair, and the dying firelight played over her face.
Then, quietly, without any warning, the door opened and a man walked into the room!
THE WAY OF THE CROSS
The missionary had been a far journey to an isolated tribe of Indians outside his own reservation. It was his first visit to them since the journey he had taken with his colleague, and of which he had told Hazel during their companionship in the desert. He had thought to go sooner, but matters in his own extended parish, and his trip East, had united to prevent him.
They had lain upon his heart, these lonely, isolated people of another age, living amid the past in their ancient houses high up on the cliffs; a little handful of lonely, primitive children, existing afar; knowing nothing of God and little of man; with their strange, simple ways, and their weird appearance. They had come to him in visions as he prayed, and always with a weight upon his soul as of a message undelivered.
He had taken his first opportunity after his return from the East to go to them; but it had not been as soon as he had hoped. Matters in connection with the new church had demanded his attention, and then when they were arranged satisfactorily one of his flock was smitten with a lingering illness, and so hung upon his friendship and companionship that he could not with a clear conscience go far away. But at last all hindrances subsided and he went forth on his mission.
The Indians had received him gladly, noting his approach from afar and coming down the steep way to meet him, putting their rude best at his disposal, and opening their hearts to him. No white man had visited them since his last coming with his friend, save a trader who had lost his way, and who knew little about the God of whom the missionary had spoken, or the Book of Heaven; at least he had not seemed to understand. Of these things he was as ignorant, perhaps, as they.
The missionary entered into the strange family life of the tribe who inhabited the vast, many-roomed palace of rock carved high at the top of the cliff. He laughed with them, ate with them, slept with them, and in every way gained their full confidence. He played with their little children, teaching them many new games and amusing tricks, and praising the quick wits of the little ones; while their elders stood about, the stolid look of their dusky faces relaxed into smiles of deep interest and admiration.
And then at night he told them of the God who set the stars above them; who made the earth and them, and loved them; and of Jesus, His only Son, who came to die for them and who would not only be their Saviour, but their loving companion by day and by night; unseen, but always at hand, caring for each one of His children individually, knowing their joys and their sorrows. Gradually he made them understand that he was the servant—the messenger—of this Christ, and had come there for the express purpose of helping them to know their unseen Friend. Around the camp-fire, under the starry dome, or on the sunny plain, whenever he taught them they listened, their faces losing the wild, half-animal look of the uncivilized, and taking on the hidden longing that all mortals have in common. He saw the humanity in them looking wistfully through their great eyes, and gave himself to teach them.