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- Without a Home - 90/94 -
"Forgive me--I am forgetting myself sadly; but how can I see you so hopeless, so despairing, when there is no more need of it than of your refusing what I try to do for your comfort? There, rest now, but think of what I've said. I may have done wrong to tire you so, but to minister to the body only, when the soul, the man within you, is in such infinite need seems but a mockery. If you continue to wrong Him who should be the one great hope of every human heart, you will sadden all my days. My mission will be but a poor one indeed."
He was very much exhausted, but he said gently, "I will think of it, and may the One you serve so faithfully bless you for your divine pity. What you have said seems to make everything different; you appear to have something real and definite in your mind. Give me your hand and I will rest; then, my good angel, teach me your faith."
This Mildred did almost wholly from God's own word. At first it was hard for him to believe that there were any possibilities for one like him, but at last he accepted the truth that God is not willing that the least should perish. "The mystery of life is something that the wisest cannot solve," she said to him, "but the best hopes of the world have ever centred about this Divine Friend. Burdened hearts have gone to Him in every age and found rest. Oh, how often He has comforted me when mine seemed breaking! In response to a simple trust He gives a hope, a life which I do not think can be found elsewhere, and in the limitless future that which was all wrong here may be made right and perfect."
"So this is your revenge, Millie. You come and bring me this great hope."
"No, God sent me."
Mildred's mission to the sad-hearted Mrs. Sheppard was almost as sacred and useful as to her brother, and they had many long talks which possessed all the deep interest which is imparted by experiences that leave a lasting impress on memory.
Every day increased the bitter regret that short-sighted worldliness had blighted one life and kept from others one who had such rare powers of creating all that constitutes a home.
To Roger Mildred had written almost daily, telling him everything. Her letters were so frank and sincere that they dispelled the uneasiness which first took possession of his mind, and they gradually disarmed him of his hostility to the dying man. There is a point in noble souls beyond which enmity falters and fails, and he felt that Mildred's course toward Arnold was like the mercy of God. He reverenced the girl who like an angel of mercy was bringing hope to a despairing soul.
"Laura," said old Mr. Arnold to Mrs. Sheppard one evening as she was sitting with him in his library, "this young nurse is a continual surprise to me."
"What do you mean, papa?"
"Well, she impresses me strangely. She has come to us as a professional nurse, and yet I have never seen a more perfect gentlewoman. There is a subtle grace and refinement about her which is indescribable. No wonder Vinton has been made better by her care. I wouldn't mind being sick myself if I could have her about me. That girl has a history. How comes she in such a position?"
"I think her position a very exalted one," said his daughter warmly. "Think what an infinite blessing and comfort she has been in our household."
"True, true enough; but I didn't expect any such person to be sent to us."
"I am perfectly ready to admit that this young girl is an unusual character, and have no doubt that she has had a history that would account for her influence. But you are in error if you think that these trained nurses are recruited from the ranks of commonplace women. Many of them come from as good families as ours, and have all the instincts of a true lady. They have a noble calling, and I envy them."
"Well, you know more about it than I do, but I think this Miss Mildred a rare type of woman. It's not her beautiful face, for she has a charm, a winsomeness that is hard to define or account for. She makes me think of some subtle perfume that is even sweeter than the flower from which it is distilled. Would to God Vinton had met such a girl at first! How different it all might have been!"
Mrs. Sheppard left the room so hastily as to excite her father's surprise.
One day Vinton said to Mildred, "How can I be truly forgiven unless I forgive? I now see that I have wronged God's love even more than my mother has wronged me, and in my deep gratitude from the consciousness of God's forgiveness I would like to forgive her and be reconciled before I die. To my brother I will send a brief message--I can't see him again, for the ordeal would be too painful. As for my father, I have long ceased to cherish enmity against him. He, like myself, is, in a certain sense, a victim of our family pride."
"Vinton," Mildred replied, "I cannot tell you how glad I am to hear you speak so. I have been waiting and hoping for this, for it is proof that your feeling is not mere emotion and sentiment. You now propose to do something that is more than manly--it is divine. God's greatest, dearest, most godlike prerogative is to forgive, and man's noblest act is to forgive a great wrong. Vinton, you have now won my respect."
She never forgot his answering glance. "Millie," he said softly, "I can die happy now. I never expected more than your pity."
"If you will do this, your memory will become sweet and ennobled in my heart. Your action will show me how grandly and swiftly God can develop one who has been wronged by evil."
"God bless you, my good angel. Ask my sister to send for my father and mother at once. I feel a little stronger this evening, and yet I think the beginning of my new life is very near."
Mildred went into Mrs. Sheppard's room and told her of Vinton's purpose. She looked at the young girl for a moment with eyes blinded by tears, and then clasped her in a close, passionate embrace which was more eloquent than any words. "Oh, Mildred," she said, with a low sob, "if you only could have been my sister!" Then she hastened to carry out her brother's wishes.
The fire burned brightly in the grate, the softened lights diffused a mild radiance through the room, and the old impression of gloom was utterly absent when Vinton's parents entered. Neither Mrs. Arnold nor her husband was quite able to hide the surprise and embarrassment felt at the unexpected summons, but Mr. Arnold went promptly to the bedside, and, taking his son's hand, said huskily, "I'll come any time you wish, my dear boy, be it night or day."
Vinton gave as warm a pressure in answer as his feebleness permitted, and then he said gravely, "I wish you and mother to sit here close to me, for I must speak low, and my words must be brief. I have but a little fragment of life left to me, and must hasten to perform the few duties yet within my power."
"Had not this young woman better retire?" suggested Mrs. Arnold, glancing coldly at Mildred, who stood in the background, Mrs. Sheppard detaining her by a strong, warm clasp of her hand.
"No," said Vinton decisively, "she must remain. Were it not for the influence of this Christian--not religious, but Christian--girl, you would never have seen my face again, with my consent. In showing me how God forgives the sinful, she has taught me how to forgive. Mother, I never expected to forgive you, but I do from my heart. I am far beyond the world and all worldly considerations. In the clear light of the endless life to which we are all hastening, I see as never before how small, petty, and unworthy are those unnatural principles which blight human life at fashion's bidding. Mother, I wish to do you justice. You tried to care for me in my childhood and youth. You spared yourself no expense, no trouble, but you could not seem to understand that what I needed was sympathy and love--that my heart was always repressed and unhappy. The human soul, however weak, is not like an exotic plant. It should be tended by a hand that is as gentle as it is firm and careful. I found one who combined gentleness with strength; stern, lofty principle with the most beautiful and delicate womanhood; and you know how I lost her. Could I have followed the instincts of my heart, my fate would have been widely different. But that is now all past. You did not mean to wrong me so terribly. It was only because your own life was all wrong that you wronged me. Your pride and prejudice prevented you from knowing the truth concerning the girl I loved. Mother, I am dying, and my last earnest counsel to you and father is that you will obey the words of the loftiest and greatest, 'Learn of me, for I meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.' If you cannot do this, your lives will be a more wretched failure than mine has been. Bury your worldly pride in my grave, and learn to be gentle and womanly, and may God forgive you as truly as I do."
As he spoke slowly and feebly, the cold, proud woman began to tremble and weep, and when his words ceased she sank on her knees at his bedside and sobbed, "Oh, what have I done? Must I bear the remorse of having murdered my own child?"
"No, mother, you were blinded as I was. You will be forgiven as I have been. In the better home of heaven we'll find the secret of our true relationship which we missed here. Good-by now. I must hasten, for I am very weak."
Mrs. Arnold rose, put her arms around her son and kissed him, and her daughter supported her from the room, Vinton's eyes following her sorrowfully until she disappeared. Then he said, "Dear old father, come and sit close beside me."
He came, and bowed his head upon his son's hand.
"Millie," he called feebly to the young girl who stood by the fire with her face buried in her hands. She came at once. "God bless you for those tears. They fall like dew into my soul. Millie, I feel as if--I don't know what it means--it seems as if I might go to my rest now. The room is growing dark, and I seem to see you more in my mind than with my eyes. Millie, will you--can you so far forgive me as to take my head upon your bosom and let me say my last words near your heart?"
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