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- Barriers Burned Away - 4/81 -
was on the point of uttering tonight, and for a moment it seemed as if the pit would open and swallow me up."
He paused for breath, and then went on:
"But as my despairing eyes glanced restlessly around, they fell upon the face of my son, noble and beautiful even in sleep, and I remembered how God had brought him safely back. Then your low, pleading tone fixed my attention again. It seemed to me that God's love must be better and stronger than human love, and yet you had loved me through all my folly and weakness; so perhaps had He. Then I felt that such a prayer as you were offering could not remain unheard, you seemed to pray so earnestly. I felt that I ought to pray myself, and I commenced calling out in my heart, 'God be merciful to me--a sinner.' Then while I prayed, I seemed to see my Saviour's face right above your bowed head. Oh, how reproachfully He looked at me! and yet His expression was full of love, too. It was just such a look, I think, that He fixed on Peter when he denied Him. Then it seemed that I fell down at His feet and wept bitterly, and as I did so the look of reproach passed away, and only an expression of love and forgiveness remained. A sudden peace came into my soul which I cannot describe; a rush of tears into my eyes; and when I had wiped them away, I saw only your bowed form praying--praying on for me. And, Ethel dear, my patient, much-enduring wife, I believe God has answered your prayer. I feel that I am a new man."
"God be praised!" exclaimed his wife, with streaming eyes. Then in a sudden rush of tenderness she clasped her husband to her heart, her strong love seeming like the echo of God's love, the earnest here on earth of that above, where all barriers shall pass away.
The sound of their voices toward the last had awakened their son, and he now stood beside them with wet eyes and heaving breast.
When the wife rose from her embrace, she saw that her husband was very weak. For a few moments he gasped for breath. Then, getting a little easier, he looked up and saw his son, and exclaimed: "Thank God--my boy--thank God--you are here. Ah, my son--I have learned much--since we spoke together last. I have seen that--I have much more--need of forgiveness than--to forgive. Thanks to your--mother's prayers--I believe--I feel sure that I am forgiven."
"More thanks to God's love, Dennis," said his wife. "God wanted to forgive you all the time more than we wanted Him to. Thank God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us. He is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish."
"Those are sweet words, wife, and I have found them true."
For a little time they sat with clasped hands, their hearts too full to speak. Faint streaks along the eastern horizon showed that the dawn was near. The sick man gave a slight shiver, and passed his hands across his eyes as if to clear away a mist, and then said, feebly: "Dennis, my son--won't you turn up the lamp a little--and fix the fire? The room seems getting so cold--and dark."
The wife looked at her son in quick alarm. The stove was red-hot, and the lamp, no longer shaded, stood openly on the table.
The son saw that he must take the lead in the last sad scene, for in the presence of death the heart of the loving, constant woman clung to her husband as never before. Throwing herself on her knees by his side, she cried with loud, choking sobs, "Oh, Dennis--husband--I fear--you are leaving me!"
"Is this death?" he asked of his son, in an awed tone.
"I fear it is, father," said the young man, gently.
After a moment his father said, composedly: "I think you are right. I feel that--my end is near, Ethel--darling--for my sake--try to be calm--during the last few moments I am with you."
A few stifled sobs and the room was still.
"I have but little time to--put my house--in order--and if I had months--I could not do it. Dennis, I leave you--little else--than debts--embarrassments, and the record of many failures. You must do--the best you can. I am not able to advise you. Only never love this world as I have. It will disappoint you. And, _whatever happens, never lose faith in the goodness of God_. This has been my bane. It has poisoned my life here, and, had it not been for this dear wife, it would have been my destruction here-after. For long years--only her patient love--has stood between me and a miserable end. Next to God--I commit her and your little sisters to your care. Be true to this most sacred trust.
"Ethel, dear, my more than wife--my good angel--what shall I say to you?" and the man's lip quivered, and for a time he could say no more. But the unwonted composure had come into his wife's manner. The eyes were gaining that intent look which was their expression when picturing to herself scenes in the life beyond.
"Oh, Dennis, we seem just on the confines of a glorious world--it is so near, so real--it seems as if but a step would take us all into it. Oh! if you could but see its beauties, its glories--if you could hear the music, you would not fear to enter. It seems as if we were there together now."
"Oh, Ethel, come back, come back," cried her husband, piteously. "I am not worthy of all that. I have no heart for glory now. I can see only my Saviour's face looking--at me--with love and forgiveness. That is heaven enough for me--and when you come--my cup will be more than full. And now--farewell--for a little while."
For a few moments they clung to each other. Then the little girls were brought, and their father pressed his cold lips to their warm, fresh young faces. They wondered at a scene they could not understand, and were tearful because of the tears of others.
He was now going very fast. Suddenly he turned to his son and said, "Dennis, repeat to me that verse, 'This is a faithful saying--'"
With a voice hoarse and broken by emotion, his son complied: "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."
"Of whom I am chief," said his father, emphatically. "And yet"--his face lighting up with a wan smile, like a sudden ray of light falling on a clouded landscape before the sun sinks below the horizon--"and yet forgiven."
By and by he again whispered, "Forgiven!" Then his eyes closed, and all was still. They thought he was gone. But as they stood over him in awed, breathless silence, his lips again moved. Bending down, they heard in faint, far-away tones, like an echo from the _other side, "Forgiven!"_
Scarcely was the last word spoken when a sudden glory filled the room. So brilliant was the light that mother and son were startled. Then they saw what had been unnoted before, that day had broken, and that the sun, emerging from a single dark cloud, was shining, full-orbed, into the apartment with a light that, reflected from myriads of snowy crystals, was doubly luminous. Nevertheless it seemed to them a good omen, an earnest, an emblem of the purer, whiter light into which the cleansed and pardoned spirit had entered. The snow-wrapped prairie was indeed pure and bright, but it was _cold_. The Father's embrace, receiving home the long-absent, erring, but forgiven child, would be warm indeed.
Though the bereaved wife believed that a brighter dawn than that which made the world resplendent around her had come to her husband, still a sense of desolation came over her which only those can understand who have known a loss like hers. For years he had filled the greater part of time, thought, and heart. As she saw her first and only love, the companion of a life which, though hard, still had the light and solace of mutual affection--as she saw him so still, and realized that she would hear him speak no more--_complain_ no more (for even the weaknesses of those we love are sadly missed after death)--a flood of that natural sorrow which Christianity consoles, but was never designed to prevent, overwhelmed her, and she gave way utterly.
Her son took her in his arms and held her silently, believing that unspoken sympathy was worth more at such a time than any words.
After the convulsive sobbing had somewhat ceased, he struck the right chord by saying: "Mother, father is not lost to us. He himself said good-by only for a little while. Then you have us to love and think of; and remember, what could we do without you?"
The unselfish woman would have tried to rise from a bed of death to do anything needed by her loved ones, and this reminder of those still dependent on her care proved the most potent of restoratives. She at once arose and said: "Dennis, you are right. It is indeed wrong for me to give way thus, when I have so much to be thankful for--so much to live for. But, O Dennis! you cannot understand this separation of husband and wife, for God said, 'They twain shall be one flesh'; and it seems as if half my very life had gone--as if half my heart had been wrenched away, and only a bleeding fragment left."
The patter of feet was heard on the kitchen floor, the door opened, and two little figures in white trailing nightgowns entered. At first they looked in shy wonder and perplexity at their tall brother, whom they had not seen for months, but at his familiar voice, recalling many a romp and merry time together, they rushed to his arms as of old.
Then they drew near the bed to give their father his accustomed morning kiss; but, as they approached, he seemed so still that awe began to creep over their little faces. A dim recollection of the farewell kiss given a few hours before, when they were scarcely awake, recurred to them.
"Father," said the elder (about five), "we want to give you good- morning kiss."
Seldom had their father been so sick or irritable but that he reached out his arms to his little ones and gave them a warm embrace, that did him more good than he realized. The influence of trusting children is sometimes the most subtile oil that can be thrown on the troubled waters of life.
But as the little ones saw that their father made no response to their
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