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- At the Mercy of Tiberius - 40/103 -


fashionable elocutionary affectations, and certain declamatory stage tricks, by which the recitation of the Creed and the Lord's Prayer becomes a competitive test of lungs in the race for breath, Leighton Douglass read the morning service, in a well-modulated voice, and with a profound solemnity that left its impress on each heart. The responses were fervent, and the Christmas hymns were sung with joyful earnestness; then priestly arms rose like the wings of a great snowy dove, and from holy, priestly lips fell the mellow music of the benediction:

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen."

Even while he pronounced the words, a whirring rustle filled the beautiful oratory, and two of Leo's pet ring-doves, fluttering round and round the frescoed ceiling, descended swiftly. One perched upon her head, cooing softly, and its mate nestled down with outspread pinions, pecking at the white muslin folds on Doctor Douglass' shoulder.

"Paracletes, dun plumed! Leo, let us accept them as happy auguries, prophetic of divine blessing on our future work in the Master's vineyard. My cousin, I wish you a very happy Christmas."

He had approached the organ where she sat, and held out his hand.

"Happy Christmas, Leighton, and many thanks to you for this consecrating service in my place of prayer. After today, it will always seem a more hallowed shrine, and before you leave us, we will gather here as a family, and join in the celebration of the Holy Communion."

They stood a moment hand in hand, looking into each other's eyes; and watching them, Miss Patty's heart swelled with pardonable pride in the two, whom her loving arms had so tenderly cradled. Pinching her brother's hand, as she walked with him under the velvet draperies, she whispered:

"What a noble match for both! And he's only her second cousin."

Leo's eyes were wet with tears, which Doctor Douglass ascribed to devotional fervor; and withdrawing her hand, she opened one of the windows, and called the doves to the stone ledge, putting them very gently out upon the ivy wreaths that clambered up the wall, and peeped into the chapel.

"I believe you are sacristan here?" he said, pointing to the candles that flared, as the wind rushed in,

"Yes, here I sweep, dust, decorate daily, allowing no other touch; and here I bring my daintiest, rarest flowers, as tribute to Him who tapestried the earth with blossoms, and sprinkled it with perfumes-- when? Not until just before the advent of humanity, whose material kingdom was perfected, and furnished in anticipation of his arrival."

Extinguishing the candles, she closed the old Bible, covered it with a square of velvet, and hung the cross of hyacinths upon the folded hands of one of the marble angels that upheld the altar,

"Pure-handed women are natural priestesses, meet for temple ministration; and I have no doubt your exoteric labors here, merely typify the secret daily sweeping out of evil thoughts, the dusting away of motes of selfishness, the decorating with noble beautiful aims, and holy deeds, whereby you sanctify that inner shrine, your own soul."

"Praise from you means so much, that you need not stoop to flatter me. The very vestments of you Levites should exhale infectious humility; and I especially need exhortations against pride, my besetting sin. I built this chapel, not because I am good, but in order to grow better. Every dwelling has its room in which the inmates gather to eat, to study, to work, to sleep; why not to pray, the most important privilege of many that divide humanity from brutes? After all, the pagans were wiser than we, and the heads of families were household priests, setting examples of piety at every rising of the sun."

"Let us see. Greek and Roman fathers laid a cake dripping with wine, a wreath of violets, a heart of honey-comb, a brace of doves on the home altar, and immediately thereafter, set the example of violating every clause in the Decalogue. Mark you, paganism drew fine lines in morals, long anterior to the era of monotheism and of Moses, and furnished immortal types of all the virtues; yet the excess of its religious ceremonial, robbed it of vital fructifying energies. The frequency and publicity of sacerdotal service, usurped the place of daily individual piety. The tendency of all outward symbolical observances, unduly multiplied, is to substitute mere formalism for fervor."

"Leighton, humanity craves the concrete. All the universe is God's temple, yet the chill breath of the abstract freezes our hearts; and we pray best in some pillared niche consecrated and set apart, I recall a day in Umbria, when the wonderful light of sunset fell on ilex and olive, on mountain snows, on valleys billowing between vine-mantled hills, on creamy marble walls, on columned campaniles; and standing there, I seemed verily to absorb, to become saturated as it were, with the reigning essence of beauty. I walked on, a few steps, lifted a worn, frayed leather curtain, and looked into a small gray, dingy church, where a mist of incense blurred the lights on the ancient altar, and the muffled roll of an organ broke into sonorous waves, like reverberations of far-away thunder; and why was it, tell me, that the universal glory thrilled me only as a sensuous chord of color, but in the dark corner consecrated to the worship of our God, my soul expanded, as if a holy finger touched it, and I fell on my knees, and prayed? Each of us comes into this world dowered with the behest to make desperate war against that indissoluble 'Triple Alliance, the World, the Flesh and the Devil,' and needing all the auxiliaries possible, I resort to conscription wherever I can recruit. Since I am two thousand years too young to set up a statue of Hestia yonder in my imitation prostas, I have built instead this small sacred nook for prayer, which helps me spiritually, much as the Ulah aids Islam."

"Your oratory is lovely, and I wish its counterpart adorned every homestead in our land; but are you quite sure that in your individual experience you are not mistaking effect for cause? Your holy heart demands fit shrine for--"

"I am quite sure I will not allow you to stand a moment longer on this cold floor; and I do not intend that you shall pay me undeserved compliments. It is derogatory to your dignity, and dangerous to my modicum of humility. As soon as you are ready for breakfast, come to the dining-room, where Santa Klaus left his remembrances last night. O, Leighton! I had half a mind to hang up two stockings at uncle's bed, for the sake of dear old lang syne. If we could only shut our eyes, and drift back to the magical time of aprons, short clothes, and roundabouts, when a sugar rooster with green wings and pink head, and a doll that could open and shut her eyes, were considered more precious than Tiffany's jewels, or Collamore's Crown Derby! Can Delmonico offer you a repast half as appetizing as the hominy, the tea cakes, the honey and the sweet milk which you and I used to enjoy at our supper just at sunset, at our own little table set under the red mulberry trees in the back yard?"

"Why should my cousin, whose present is so rose-colored, whose future so blissful, turn to rake amid the ashes of the past?"

"Because, like Lot's wife, we are all prone to stare backward. Who lives in the present? Do you? When we are young we pant for the future, that pitches painted tents before us. When we are older, we live in the past, that wraps itself in a sacred gilding glamour, and is vocal with the happy echoes which alone survive. Far-off fields before and behind us are so dewy, so vividly green; and the present is gray and stony, and barren of charm, and we turn fretfully. It is part of the grim tyranny of Time that it is tideless; that the stream bears remorselessly on, and on, never back to the dear old spots; always on, to lose itself in the eternal and unknown. So, to- day's Christmas lacks the zest of its predecessors."

Leo loosened the gilded chain that looped the curtains, and as the purple folds fell behind her, hiding the arch, Doctor Douglass said gently:

"There is a solemn truth and wise admonition in one of Rabbi Tyra's dicta: 'Thy yesterday is thy past; thy to-day is thy future; thy to- morrow is a secret.'"

"Leo, here is a package and a note which arrived during service, and as Mr. Dunbar's servant said there was no answer expected, he did not wait."

As Miss Patty delivered the parcel to her niece, the minister walked away to lay aside his vestments, but he noted the sudden hardening of his cousin's face, the flush of displeasure, the haughty curl of her lips; and on his ears fell his aunt's voice:

"You expected and waited for him at morning prayer?"

"I invited him to join us, if he felt disposed to do so."

"What possible excuse can he offer for such negligence, when he knew that Leighton would read the service?"

An uwonted sparkle leaped into Leo's mild hazel eyes, and without examination she handed the package and note to Justine.

"Lay them in the drawer of my writing-desk, and then call all the servants into the dining-room. Auntie, tardy excuses must wait longer for an audience than we waited for the writer. Come to breakfast; uncle will be impatient, and I want to enjoy his surprise when he sees his Santa Klaus."

She was sorely disappointed, deeply affronted by Mr. Dunbar's failure to present himself on an occasion at which she had especially desired his presence; and as she recalled the affectionate phraseology of her note of invitation, her fair cheek burned with an intolerable sense of humiliation. Was it partition, or total loss, of her precious kingdom? In after years, she designated this Christmas as the era when the "sceptre departed from Judah;" but putting away the chagrin, and sealing the well of bitterness in her heart, she exchanged holiday greetings, and proudly wore her royal robes throughout the day, holding sternly off the spectre, which grimly bided its time--the hour of her abdication.

Through the benevolent and compassionate efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Singleton, some faint reflection of the outside world festivities penetrated the dismal monotony of prison routine; and the hearts of


At the Mercy of Tiberius - 40/103

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