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- What Can She Do? - 70/72 -
away to hide his tears. But she sat still, as if in a dream, and yet she felt that the crisis had come, and that before she left that place she must come to some decision. Reason would be dethroned if she lived much longer in such suspense and irresolution. And yet she sat still in a dreamy stupor, the reaction of her strong excitement. It seemed, in a certain sense, peaceful and painless, and she did not wish to goad herself out of it.
"It may be like the last sleep before execution," she thought, "therefore make the most of it," and her thoughts wandered at will.
A late robin came flying home to the arbor where the nest was, and having twittered out a little vesper-song, put its head under its wing, near his mate, which sat brooding in the nest over some little eggs, and the thought stole into her heart, "Will God take care of them and not me?" and she watched the peaceful sleep of the family over her head as if it were an emblem of faith.
Then a sudden breeze swept a spray of roses against her face, and their delicate perfume was like the "still small voice" of love, and the thought passed dreamily across Edith's mind, "Will God do so much for that little cluster of roses and yet do nothing for me?"
How near the Father was to His child! In this calm that followed her long passionate struggle, His mighty but gentle Spirit could make itself felt, and it stole into the poor girl's bruised heart with heavenly suggestion and healing power. The happy days when she followed Jesus and sat daily at His feet were recalled. Her sin was shown to her, not in anger, but in the loving reproachfulness of the Saviour's look upon faithless Peter, and a voice seemed to ask in her soul, "How could you turn away your trust from Him to anything else? How could you think it right to do so great a wrong? How could you so trample upon the womanly nature that He gave you as to think of marrying where neither love nor God would sanction?"
Jesus seemed to stand before her, and point up to the robins, saying, "I feed them. I fed the five thousand. I feed the world. I can feed you and yours. Trust me. Do right. In trying to save yourself you will destroy yourself."
With a divine impulse, she threw herself on the floor of the arbor, and cried:
"Jesus, I cast myself at Thy feet. I throw myself on Thy mercy. When I look the world around, away from Thee, I see only fear and torment. If I die, I will perish at Thy feet."
Was it the moonlight only that made the night luminous? No, for the glory of the Lord shone around, and the peace that "passeth all understanding" came flowing into her soul like a shining river. The ugly phantoms that had haunted her vanished. The "black hand that seemed pushing her down," became her Father's hand, shielding and sustaining.
She rose as calm and serene as the summer evening and went straight to Mrs. Allen's room and said: "Mother, I will never marry Simon Crowl."
Her mother began to cry, and say piteously:
"Then we shall all be turned into the street."
"What the future will be I can't tell," said Edith, gently but firmly. "I will work for you, I will beg for you, I will starve with you, but I will never marry Simon Crowl, nor any other man that I do not love." And pressing a kiss on her mother's face, she went to her room, and soon was lost in the first refreshing sleep that she had had for a long time.
She was wakened toward morning by the sound of rain, and, starting up, heard its steady, copious downfall. In a sudden ecstasy of gratitude she sprang up, opened the blinds and looked out. The moon had gone down, and through the darkness the rain was falling heavily; she felt it upon her forehead, her bare neck and arms, and it seemed to her Heaven's own baptism into a new and stronger faith and a happier life.
The clouds were clearing away when Edith came down late the next morning, and all saw that the clouds had passed from her brow.
"Bress de Lord, Miss Edie, you'se yoursef again!" said Hannibal, joyfully. "I neber see a shower do such a heap ob good afore."
"No," said Edith, sadly; "I was myself. I lost my Divine Friend and Helper, and I then became myself--poor, weak, faulty Edith Allen. But, thanks to His mercy, I have found Him again, and so hope to be the better self that He helped me to be before."
Zell looked at her with a sudden wonder, and went out and stayed among her flowers all day.
Laura came and put her arms around her neck, and said,
"Oh, Edie, I am so glad! What you said set me to fearing and doubting; but I am sure we can trust Him."
Mrs. Allen sighed drearily, and said, "I don't understand it at all."
But old Hannibal slapped his hands in true Methodist style, exclaiming, "Dat's it! Trow away de ole heart! Get a new one! Bress de Lord!"
Edith went out into the garden, and saw that there were a great many berries ripe; then she hastened to the hotel, and said:
"Oh, Mrs. Groody, for Heaven's sake, won't you help me sell my strawberries up here?"
"Yes, my dear," was the hearty response; "both for your sake and the strawberries, too. We get them from the city, and would much rather have fresh country ones."
Edith returned with her heart thrilling with hope, and set to work picking as if every berry was a ruby, and in a few hours she had six quarts of fragrant fruit. Malcom had lent her little baskets, and Hannibal took them up to the hotel, for Arden would not even look toward the little cottage any more. The old servant came back grinning with delight, and gave Edith a dollar and a half.
The next day ten quarts brought two dollars and a half. Then they began to ripen rapidly, the rain having greatly improved them, and Edith, with considerable help from the others, picked twenty, thirty, and fifty quarts a day. She employed a stout boy from the village, to help her, and, through him, she soon had quite a village trade also. He had a percentage on the sales, and, therefore, was very sharp in disposing of them.
How Edith gloated over her money! how, with more than miserly eyes, she counted it over every night, and pressed it to her lips!
In the complete absorption of the past few weeks Edith had not noticed the change going on in Zell. The poor creature was surprised and greatly pleased that the flowers grew so well for her. Every opening blossom was a new revelation, and their sweet perfume stole into her wounded heart like balm. The blue violets seemed like children's eyes peeping timidly at her; and the pansies looked so bright and saucy that she caught herself smiling back at them. The little black and brown seeds she planted came up so promptly that it seemed as if they wanted to see her as much as she did them.
"Isn't it queer," she said one day to herself, "that such pretty things can come out of such ugly little things." Nothing in nature seemed to turn away from her, any more than would nature's God. The dumb life around began to speak to her in many and varied voices, and she who fled from companionship with her own kind would sit and chirp and talk to the birds, as if they understood her. And they did seem to grow strangely familiar, and would almost eat crumbs out of her hand.
One day in June she said to Hannibal, who was working near, "Isn't it strange the flowers grow so well for me?"
"Why shouldn't dey grow for you, Miss Zell?" asked he, straightening his old back up.
"Good, innocent Hannibal, how indeed should you know anything about it?"
"Yes, I does know all 'bout it," said he, earnestly, and he came to her where she stood by a rosebush. "Does you see dis white rose?"
"Yes," said Zell, "it opened this morning. I've been watching it."
Poor Hannibal could not read print, but he seemed to understand this exquisite passage in nature's open book, for he put his black finger on the rose (which made it look whiter than before), and commenced expounding it as a preacher might his text. "Now look at it sharp, Miss Zell, 'cause it'll show you I does know all 'bout it. It's white, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Zell, eagerly, for Hannibal held the attention of his audience.
"Dat means pure, doesn't it?" continued he.
"Yes," said Zell, looking sadly down.
"And it's sweet, isn't it? Now dat means lub."
And Zell looked hopefully up.
"And now, dear chile," said he, giving her a little impressive nudge, "see whar de white rose come from--right up out of de brack, ugly ground."
Having concluded his argument and made his point, the simple orator began his application, and Zell was leaning toward him in her interest.
"De good Lord, he make it grow to show what He can do for us. Miss Zell," he said, in an awed whisper, "my ole heart was as brack as dat ground, but de blessed Jesus turn it as white as dis rose. Miss Edie, Lor' bless her, telled me 'bout Him, and I'se found it all true. Now, doesn't I know 'bout it? I knows dat de good Jesus can turn de
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