Слике страница
PDF
ePub

eyes of the humane physician, as he explained that he was just on his way to the vicarage before obeying a most urgent call to Tresco. Edwin had been attacked with spasms, and it was unlikely that when they decreased he could survive the subsequent exhaustion. He was perfectly conscious, however, and his greatest yearning seemed to be for Mr. Harland. Dr. Lawson added that medical skill could devise no further alleviation; the case now belonged to his friend's province, rather than his own.

The Vicar did not linger to ask further questions, but hastened upon his errand of mercy with no more delay than was caused by the halfimpassable state of the moor, resulting from a recent thaw. He had been daily expecting such a summons, for with the increasing cold the health of little Edwin had declined so rapidly that those who gathered frequently around his couch, could watch the tide of life ebbing almost as visibly as the slow waning of the Advent hours was marked on the old dial overhead.

When Mr. Harland spoke the pastoral salutation as he crossed the threshold, the sick boy looked up with a bright smile of recognition, and the Vicar kneeling at his side, whispered a few brief soothing prayers. Every convulsive movement sent a pang through the emaciated crippled frame, yet the poor child knew no repose except when he obtained a momentary lull in the supporting arms so closely locked around him. Dame Rivers stood meanwhile leaning against the couch, eagerly waiting to anticipate her darling's every want. Few words passed between the fellow-watchers ; only an interchange of looks showed that each knew the end was near.

At length the violence of pain diminished, and the priest replacing Edwin's head upon the pillow, called for the restorative which was he knew to be administered on the first symptoms of that leaden stupor which the Doctor had predicted. As by degrees the wintry afternoon wore on towards the red frosty sunset, the child lay perfectly still, as though a calm had passed over his spirit, while the kind friend seated at his side, seemed to divine the varying needs for silence or consoling words, and minister to each as it arose. They spoke together of the blessed Christmas-tide; the memories it called forth ; the burden of the Holy Cross imposed on every follower of the Crucified, and it was with devout and humble earnestness the little sufferer in his parting hour sought conformity to the love, patience and humility of the Divine Model for Christian childhood.

Edwin bad strangely altered during the past month, the gradual but sure approach of death seeming to have refined and spiritualized his mind, and to have wrought in him a sensitive poetic delicacy even exceeding that of Millicent. The children still preserved their indivi. duality, however, and although mutually more congenial than in former days, there was little they did not view from opposite points of the mental compass. Millicent's feelings were as ever on the surface, and her fullest confidence bestowed on any who might care to win it, while with her companion the mysterious problems which youth vainly strives to solve, were seldom told to any human ear except that of his Vicar.

“I wish Christmas came at Midsummer, when roses bloom, and the world looks so happy," he began, as Mr. Harland finished the recital of an olden carol.

“ It does so in some regions of the globe, dear boy, as for example in Australia," was the reply.

“Yes; but not in the Holy Land, I wish it did, and I will tell you why," continued Edwin, while between mingled awe and shyness his voice dropped into a lower key. “The earth looks so bleak, chill and desolate in winter, at the time our Blessed SAVIOUR came from heaven to dwell with us.”

“ And therefore He can understand all that His people may have to endure from cold and poverty. You know it was His Will to bear all our sinless infirmities.”

“When Milly was here yesterday,” resumed Edwin, unheeding the remark, “she sang to me the carol which Miss May Bird has been teaching the school-children. She thought it a very cheerful one, because it speaks about 'the bright red berries clustering in goodly show,' and bids Christians rejoice in honour of our Saviour's Birthday.” you

with Milly that the carol which your playmates are to sing to-night is beautiful and joyous ?” asked the Vicar, as he sprinkled Edwin's brow with a cool perfume, and held a reviving cordial to his lips.

Beautiful, but not joyful, at least not the second part, where the tune changes to a low sigh, like the wind when it begins to swell on Blue Cam Moor;” and in his feeble accents the child half-inaudibly murmured the words affixed to the pathetic minor melody which seemed to have so vividly impressed him

в в 2

[ocr errors]

“ Did

not agree

“Midnight scarcely past and over,

Drawing to this Holy Morn,
Very early, very early,
CHRIST was born.”

Mr. Harland with his quick perception saw that the boy's susceptibility to atmospheric influences had led him to attach deeper meaning to the imagery than had been probably intended by the poet. He did not at once respond, however, and accordingly Edwin went on as though seeking to make his thought intelligible.

“I can understand the carol, because I have often been awake long hours after midnight, watching the pale grey streak when it begins to separate from the thick darkness. Then the air grows piercing ; sharper than the blast which whirls in winter round Penninis Head. Nothing was ever written about Christmas so sad as those lines which say that 'very, very early, CARIST was born.''

Mr. Harland did not remind his little charge that the most beauteous region of our sin-stained world, although bathed in the glory of a tropic sunrise, must have been equally a scene of exile to the all-holy Incarnate GOD. He knew the Blessed Spirit deals with each endless diversity of mind, according to its separate need, and he did not seek by cold reasoning to supplement, and thus possibly neutralize, the lessons of the heavenly Teacher. He only bent closer over the dying boy, and reverently said:

“Illness has taught you to discern the pathos which lies veiled beneath this festival, my love. I still incline to think no holy tide can be so dear to us as Christmas ; none so gracious, mild and winning as the season of our LORD's Nativity, but it has been well said our joy at Easter and Ascension-tide is more unselfish, because springing from the triumph of our Blessed SAVIOUR, whereas when as at this time He was born a babe in Bethlehem, we have to look beyond the Manger to the Cross.”

“And in our world He was often without a shelter,” pursued Edwin, “ but you said we might offer Him one in our hearts; will He come into mine?”

“Yes,” answered the aged priest, in his unclouded child-like faith; “ the only home for the Redeemer of Mankind is in the souls of His adoring people, and the privilege of harbouring so Divine a Guest is one of which we cannot be deprived except by wilful unrepented sin."

Edwin's responsive smile was touchingly tender and sweet, but bis

voice was designed to be for ever hushed to mortal utterance. An instant after Mr. Harland had ceased speaking he lay peacefully upon his pillow with closed eyes and paling cheek, until sudden recurrence of the spasms, and acute pain made him gasp for breath, causing the two who shared that solemn vigil to bend low in supplication that the moment of release might be in mercy speeded. The whole soul of the Vicar seemed outpoured in the commendatory prayer, and after it was ended he still knelt supporting Edwin's head, and with intensity of earnestness continuing to intercede for the departing spirit. At length the convulsive struggles lessened, yielding gradually to the deep calm of insensibility which Dr. Lawson had foretold, and in which the last lingering gleam of life faded half-imperceptibly away. Then Mr. Harland rose, and inwardly breathed a psalm of thanksgiving. He had seen his little lamb safely enfolded in the arms of the Good Shepherd.

CHAPTER XVI.

The return of autumn had wrought several changes in the social aspect and condition of S. Mary's. Mr. Davidson no longer appeared solitary in the church on Sunday, but was now accompanied by his wife and two elderly maiden sisters, who had been absent at Ilfracombe during the summer months. The other residents who flocked homeward at the approach of winter were a middle-aged invalid lady, some remote connexion of the Lawsons, and the family of Major Verney, an East Indian officer, lately retired on half-pay from the service. He had settled in the first instance at Hugh Town for the sake of its comparatively genial climate, undeterred by the seclusion of a spot which was in point of fact less isolated than the small interior stations to which he had grown accustomed in the course of his colonial life. He was reserved, and from long habit, even taciturn, avoiding the society he was by birth and education fitted to adorn. His wife had married when almost a child, before her intellect had been matured and fostered. She retained traces of rare beauty, and her language in its purity and elegance testified the advantages of early culture which she had possessed. Her mental growth, however, seemed to have been suddenly arrested at sixteen, and the long intervening years in India to present a blank. She was a singular phenomenon to Mabel, though one only too frequent amongst those members of the more aristocratic sisterhoods of Rome, who enter upon their vocation in the tender bloom of youth. Five children, boys and girls, completed Major Verney's household ; the eldest was just twelve, and all the rest considerably his juniors. Such were the elements which in that year composed Hugh Town society; Lilian, Mabel, and Geraldine were still the only three young ladies on the island.

“I wonder whether Mrs. Verney understands Hindostanee,” said Mabel, in a speculative tone one evening at Content, where all were lingering over the cheerful meal which closed the labours of a wellspent day.

Why so, Miss May Bird ?” asked the Doctor. “Do you mean to try for a professorship of oriental languages, at Bryher University

“I wish to translate books into the native tongue, for Geraldine's school-children,” replied Mabel, too intent on her new project to heed Dr. Lawson's raillery. Every one laughed, including the prospective teacher, who, however, quickly checked her mirth, and said, affectionately,

“I believe you would be both willing and capable, dear child, only indeed you have enough to do at present with your Greek, besides which I incline to doubt Mrs. Verney's efficiency as an instructress.

“I could manage with a very little help,” said Mabel, confidently; indeed, I prefer on some accounts to study independently.”

That there may be no inconvenient call for an unconjugated verb, or an unwritten theme," suggested Dr. Lawson slily.

“ By the way, that reminds me I had quite forgotten my lesson with uncle !” exclaimed Mabel, starting up involuntarily, and then resuming her seat from a sudden recollection that she was not free to dash away after her lawless fashion at the vicarage. “Doctor," and there was real penitence in her tone, “ I have been very careless; will you please lend me a grammar and a dictionary after tea, that I may at the least make a beginning ?”

“Not I!” rejoined the Doctor testily, “ I had much rather give you quinine, to check this intermittent fever of improvement."

“ Then I shall be obliged to return home at once, and sacrifice my pleasant evening," said Mabel, resignedly.

"Now hark, Miss May Bird ! if you represent the Vicar as tyrannical, I shall draw sword in his defence, despite the incantations of your friend and ally."

Then Mabel condescended to entreaty, saying in her most persuasive

[ocr errors]
« ПретходнаНастави »