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- Barriers Burned Away - 3/81 -
"Is your mother dead?" he asked, in a low, hoarse voice.
"Oh, mother, speak to me!" cried the son, forgetting for a time his father.
For a moment there was death-like silence. Then the young man groped for an old settle in the corner of the room, laid his mother tenderly upon it, and sprang for a light, but as he passed his father's bed the same strong grasp fell upon his arm that his mother had shuddered under a little before, and the question was this time hissed in his ear, "Is your mother dead?" For a moment he had no power to answer, and his father continued: "What a fool I was to expect God to show mercy or kindness to me or mine while I was above ground! You are only brought home to suffer more than death in seeing your mother die. May that God that has followed me all my life, not with blessings--"
"Hush, father!" cried his son, in loud, commanding tones. "Hush, I entreat," and in his desperation he actually put his hand over his father's mouth.
The poor woman must have been dead, indeed, had she long remained deaf to the voice of her beloved son, and his loud tones partially revived her. In a faint voice she called, "Dennis!"
With hands suddenly relaxed, and hearts almost stilled in their beating, father and son listened for a second. Again, a little louder, through that dark and silent room, was heard the faint call, "Dennis!"
Springing to her side, her son exclaimed, "Oh, mother, I am here; don't leave us; in mercy don't leave us."
"It was I she called," said his father.
With unnatural strength he had tottered across the room, and taking his wife's hand, cried, "Oh, Ethel, don't die! don't fill my already full cup to overflowing with bitterness!"
Their familiar voices were the best of remedies. After a moment she sat up, and passing her hand across her brow as if to clear away confusion of mind, said: "Don't be alarmed; it's only a faint turn. I don't wonder though that you are frightened, for I never was so before."
Poor woman, amid all the emergencies of her hard lot, she had never in the past given way so far.
Then, becoming aware of her husband's position, she exclaimed: "Why, Dennis, my husband, out of your bed? You will catch your death." "Ah, wife, that matters little if you and Dennis live."
"But it matters much to me," cried she, springing up.
By this time her son had struck a light, and each was able to look on the other's face. The unnatural strength, the result of excitement, was fast leaving the sick man. The light revealed him helplessly leaning on the couch where his wife had lain. His face was ashen in color, and he was gasping for breath. Tenderly they carried him back to his bed, and he was too weak now to do more than quietly lie upon it and gaze at them. After replenishing the fire, and looking at the little ones that were sleeping in the outer room, they shaded the lamp, and sat down at his bedside, while the mother asked her son many eager questions as to his escape. He told them how he had struggled through the snow till almost exhausted, when he had been overtaken by a farmer with a strong team, and thus enabled to make the journey in safety.
As the sick man looked and listened, his face grew softer and more quiet in its expression.
Then the young man, remembering, said: "I bought the medicines you wrote for, mother, at Bankville. This, the druggist said, would produce quiet and sleep, and surely father needs it after the excitement of the evening."
The opiate was given, and soon the regular, quiet breathing of the patient showed that it had taken effect. A plain but plentiful supper, which the anxious mother had prepared hours before, was placed upon the kitchen table, and the young man did ample justice to it; for, the moment the cravings of his heart were satisfied in meeting his kindred after absence, he became conscious of the keenest hunger. Toiling through the snow for hours in the face of the December storm had taxed his system to the utmost, and now he felt the need of food and rest. After supper he honestly meant to watch at his father's bedside, while his mother slept; but he had scarcely seated himself on the old settle, when sleep, like an armed man, overpowered him, and in spite of all his efforts he was soon bound in the dreamless slumber of healthful youth. But with eyes so wide and lustrous that it seemed as if sleep could never close them again, the wife and mother, pale and silent, watched between her loved ones. The troubled expression was gone, for the ranks of her little band had closed up, and all were about her in one more brief rest in the forward and uncertain march of life. She seemed looking intently at something far off--something better discerned by the spiritual than by the natural eye. Disappointments had been bitter, poverty hard and grinding, but she had learned to escape into a large world that was fast becoming real to her strong imagination. While her husband was indulging in chimerical visions of boundless prosperity here on earth which he would bring to pass by some lucky stroke of fortune or invention, she also was picturing to herself grander things which God would realize to her _beyond_ time and earth. When alone, in moments of rest from incessant toil, she would take down the great family Bible, and with her finger on some description of the "new heavens and new earth," as the connecting link between the promise and her strong realization of it, she would look away with that intent gaze. The new world, purged from sin and sorrow, would rise before her with more than Edenlike loveliness. Her spirit would revel in its shadowy walks and sunny glades, and as the crowning joy she would meet her Lord and Saviour in some secluded place, and sit listening at His feet like Mary of old. Thus, in the strong illusion of her imagination, Christ's words seemed addressed directly to her, while she looked up into His face with rapt attention. Instead of _reading_ her Lord's familiar sayings, she seemed to _listen_ to them as did the early disciples. After a little time she would close the Bible and go back to her hard practical life, awed yet strengthened, and with a hopeful expression, like that which must have rested on the disciples' faces on coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration.
Hour after hour passed. The storm was dying away, and at times, through broken rifts in the clouds, stars would gleam out. Instead of the continued roar and rush, the wind blew in gusts at longer intervals, and nature seemed like a passionate child that had cried itself to sleep. The fitful blasts were the involuntary sobs that heave the breast, till at last quiet and peace take the place of stormy anger.
It seemed as if the silent watcher never could withdraw her gaze from the beautiful world of her vision. Never had it seemed so near and real before, and she was unconscious of the lapse of time. Suddenly she heard her name called--"Ethel!"
If the voice had come from the imaginary world present to her fancy, it could not have startled her more for a moment. Then she realized that it was her husband who spoke. He had called her name in his sleep, and yet it seemed a call of God. At once it flashed through her mind that in dreaming of a glorious and happy future she was forgetting him and his need.
She turned the light upon his face. Never had he looked so pale and wan, and she realized that he might be near his end. In an agony of self-reproach and yearning tenderness she kneeled at his bedside and prayed as she never had prayed before. Could he go home? Could he be received, feeling toward his Father as he did? He had talked of forgiving, when he stood so sorely in need of Christ's forgiveness; and she had been forgetting that need, when every moment might involve her husband's salvation. Out of his sleep he had called her to his help. Perhaps God had used his unconscious lips to summon her. With a faith naturally strong, but greatly increased by the vision of the night, she went, as it were, directly into the presence of her Lord, and entreated in behalf of her husband.
As she thus knelt at the bedside, with her face buried in the covering, she felt a hand placed softly on her head, and again her husband's voice called, "Ethel!"
She looked up and saw that he was awake now, his eyes fixed on her with an expression of softness and tenderness that she had not seen for many a long day. The old restless, anxious light had gone.
"What were you doing, Ethel?" he asked. "Praying that you might see that God loved you--that you might be reconciled to Him."
Two great tears gathered in the man's eyes. His lips quivered a moment, then he said, brokenly, "Surely God must love me, or He would never have given me--a wife--who would watch and pray for me--the long winter night."
"Oh, Dennis, forgive me; I cannot deceive you; for a time I forgot you, I forgot everything, and just wandered through Paradise alone. But in your sleep you called me to your help, and now it seems as if I could not be happy even there without you. I pray you, in Christ's stead, be reconciled to God," she pleaded, falling into the familiar language of Scripture, as she often did under strong emotion. Then, in low, thrilling words, she portrayed to him the "new earth" of her vision, wherein "God shall wipe away all tears, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain." She showed him that all might still be well--that eternity was long enough to make up for the ills of our brief troubled life here. But his mind seemed preoccupied. These future joys did not take that hold upon him that she earnestly desired. His eyes seemed to grow dim in tender, tearful wistfulness, rather than become inspired with immortal hopes. At last he spoke:
"Ethel, it seemed as if I heard some one calling me. I woke up--and there you--were praying--for me. I heard my name--I heard God's name--and I knew that you were interceding for me. It seemed to break my hard heart right up like the fountains of the great deep to see you there--praying for me--in the cold, cold room." (The room was not cold; it was not the winter's chill that he was feeling, but a chill that comes over the heart even in the tropical summer.) "Then, as you prayed, a great light seemed to shine into my soul. I saw that I had been charging God unjustly with all my failures and misfortunes, when I had to thank myself for them. Like a wilful child, I had been acting as if God had but to carry out my wild schemes. I remembered all my unreasonable murmurings and anger; I remembered the dreadful words I
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