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- Paula the Waldensian - 4/32 -

Propped up on her pillows with her golden hair falling around her shoulders, one would not have guessed her to be more than fourteen years old, instead of eighteen. Seeing her thus after her day of sufferings, I pardoned all her bad humor and hardness of heart toward Paula; and I had a great desire to take her in my arms but I did not dare do such a thing--fearing she would refuse my caresses.

"Teresa," she said suddenly, closing her eyes to keep back the tears, "do you think that it hurts very much when one dies?"

"Why do you ask that?" and Teresa looked at her quite surprised.

"I was thinking of Uncle John."

"That depends, Catalina, that depends. There are some persons who die tranquilly in their sleep with no pain at all, but in the case of others it is quite the contrary."

"But afterward, Teresa! How about afterward? What happens to us after death?"

"Afterward?" Teresa looked puzzled. "Nobody knows what happens to us afterward. When I was a little girl, my mother who was a very pious woman, told us that if we were very good we would go to heaven, but if we were bad we went to hell. I believe she was right, poor woman, but it is sometime since I have thought of religious things, and your father does not like to have us talk about it."

"I know _that_, Teresa, but I can't help thinking about it often and often. Was our mother a 'pious woman?'"

"Not exactly--at least, not before she became ill. Her relatives in Villar--your Aunt and your Uncle John used to write lovely letters to her, that spoke of God and heaven and prayer. Your mother used to sigh after reading them, and sometimes she would read me a page or two from those letters, and would say to me, 'My good Teresa, we both ought to think about these things! My sister is far more happy in her hut on the mountain-side in Waldensia than we are here in the midst of abundance. It must be wonderful not to fear death and to love God with all our heart' When she spoke thus to your father he laughed at her and said. 'Now, don't you worry about that, darling, you couldn't be any better than you are now; and I am glad that you are not like these pious ladies who try to tell you what will happen to you after death. You'll have plenty of time to think about those things when you come to your last days; but now with your good health and robust constitution you can count on a good old age.'"

"But father was mistaken, Teresa!"

"Yes, he certainly was mistaken, poor man. Nobody could have believed that when on that Monday afternoon she complained of a little pain in her throat, she would die on the following Thursday."

"Was it diphtheria, Teresa?"

All that poor Teresa could say amid her tears was, "Poor, poor little beloved one! Never shall I forget her last moments or the desperation of your father. From his very first visit the doctor said that there was no hope. I thought I would go insane when he said that! How I remember her the day before she was taken ill, in all her youth and beauty--singing as she worked, and then suddenly came that terrible pressure in her throat."

"Then, Teresa, you remember, she could not kiss us goodbye."

"No, poor lady, that was her greatest pain when they told her that her sickness was very contagious. But--there! there! Catalina, I did not mean to make you cry, and I have told you this story so many times, and now here I am telling it over again like the foolish woman I am!"

"No, no, Teresa, go on," answered Catalina between her sobs. "I am always happy when I hear you speak of our beloved Mamma."

And now, I too could not keep back my tears as I kneeled beside the old servant, who left her work to pass her hand over my head.

"Thou didst not know her, dear Lisita. How many times during her sickness she told me especially to take care of thee, and love thee as if I were thine own mother. Yes, and correct thee also.... At times I ask myself whether I have obeyed her."

"Oh, Teresa," exclaimed Rosa, interrupting her and closing, with a bang the book which she had not read. "Indeed, you have done your duty. What would we have done without you? Of course, I can't say," and Rosa smiled, "that your punishments have been very numerous, but father has taken care of that. Father corrects us and you do the loving part"

"Now, see here, your father loves you also, and it's only the pain of having lost your mother that makes him appear more severe than he really is. Open the window, Rosa, I can hardly see, and I must finish this stocking before I quit tonight."

Rosa obeyed, and a soft breeze entered, laden with the perfume of the garden, and Teresa resumed; "After the doctor had gone that afternoon your mother called me and said, Teresa, tell me the truth. The doctor believes I am going to die; does he not?' I didn't know what to answer her. Your father hoped in spite of the doctor's opinion that she'd pull through, and did not wish me to let your poor mother know that there was any danger. But here she lay praying me with her joined hands that I should tell her the truth. She spoke with great difficulty and I feared that soon she would not be able to speak at all, and therefore weeping, told her the whole truth."

"And then?

"Then she said to me, 'Teresa, I'm certainly afraid to die! I'm afraid! I'm afraid!"

"'But,' said I, 'Madame, why should you be afraid? You have always been so good to everybody. The good God will take you to heaven.' But she could not be calm.

"'According to the world's standard perhaps yes, Teresa--but before God! To think that in a few hours I shall be face to face with the Lord Jesus and I am not prepared!--No, no, let me speak, Teresa! I have done my duty by my husband and by my children, but I have forgotten God. I have not loved Him, neither have I prayed to Him and therefore I'm afraid to meet Him. Oh, Teresa, I'm afraid to die."

"I could only repeat, 'The good God will pardon you, Madame. He is so good and kind. He will have pity on you, for you have never done any harm to anybody.'

"'Ah.' she answered, if I had but listened to my sister and brother-in-law! How many times they urged me in their letters to surrender to the Lord Jesus, but I always put it off ... and now I'm dying! Oh, Teresa, Teresa, can you not help me?'"

"But I thought Mamma died in peace?" suddenly questioned Rosa. "I remember toward the end that she was anxious to go, and at last said that she was going to heaven."

"Yes, my beloved madame did indeed die in peace. Sometime after she had asked me whether I could help her she said, 'Teresa, read again that last letter from my sister. I have it here under my pillow.' I read it to her as best I could, and as I finished she said to me, 'Read it again, Teresa. Oh, if only my dear sister were here this minute!" Twice again I read the letter, but still she was not satisfied. 'Those last words, Teresa, Read them again to me, please.' And again I read them."

"Do you remember those last words, Teresa?" Catalina asked as she listened with rapt attention to the story she had heard so often from the lips of our old servant.

"I don't remember all. I would have liked to have kept the letter. It was such a letter that would help any one to die, for it was certainly a treasure. But my poor madame wished to carry it to the tomb with her, and no doubt it is there yet in her hands, poor little angel. As I remember it, the letter concluded thus: 'He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life, and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out!'"

"I read these, the last words of the letter, a dozen times over to her and she seemed to take hold of them as a drowning man would grasp a board that floated by him--then without movement, with her eyes shut, she seemed to be sleeping, but every once in a while she appeared to be talking with someone."

"Do you think she was praying, Teresa?" I asked in a trembling voice.

"Yes, Lisita, she was praying. And I am sure that the good God heard her, for she said to me after a long silence, Teresa, I believe my Saviour has taken me for His own--I am a poor, guilty, and ungrateful sinner--I have waited until the last moment, and I know my sins are great, but my Saviour's love is greater. But oh, my husband!--and my children! I have done nothing to attract them to God. Oh, Teresa, take care of them! Take care of them! I have put them in the hands of the Lord that He may save them also. I can do nothing and--it is too late!'

"She asked me to call your father who was resting in the next room for he had watched all the previous night and had worked as usual all day. She could hardly speak, but as best she could she prayed him to be reconciled to God and to teach their children to know the way of salvation."

"The strange thing to me, Teresa," said Rosa thoughtfully, "is that our father who loved our mother so much, has not taught us this Christian religion according to our dear mother's last wish."

"That is the terrible part," Teresa answered. "An awful change came on him at the death of your mother. He loved her desperately and when she died it seemed as if his heart turned to stone, and when I tried to console him he cried out bitterly, 'Don't speak to me of God and don't try to tell me He is a God of love. He took away my most precious treasure and tore my heart and my very life to pieces.'

"About a week after the death of my poor madame he called me to him and said, 'Teresa, you are a good woman. You've brought up my dear Maria, carried her in your arms when she was small, and in your arms she drew her last breath. She commended her poor children into your hands, and I want you to remain forever at their side, but on one condition, remember--that you never speak to them again on the subject of religion, neither of prayer, nor of church, nor anything of the kind. Hear me well, Teresa! Hear me! I have prayed very little in my life, but on that last night when my dear wife passed away, if anyone prayed with all his heart and all his strength, I did so. Kneeling beside her bed I promised God to serve Him; to bring up my children for Him if He would only leave me my treasure. But He didn't do it Then why should I serve Him?'

"When I saw that it was useless to argue with him I promised what he asked. Just think, if I had been obliged to abandon you to a strange servant!" and Teresa viewed the three of us with those great blue eyes of hers full of affection for us.

"Oh," I cried, trying to take her great fat body in my arms, "What would we

Paula the Waldensian - 4/32

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