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- Stella Fregelius - 50/56 -


as I have and still young, before time and grief and labour have marked me with their ugly scars. It is the Stella whom he found singing at the daybreak on the ship which brought her to him, for whom I desire that he should seek in the hour of a different dawn.

"I go presently, to my marriage, as it were; a cold and pitiful feast, many would think it--these nuptials of life-long renunciation. The philosopher would say, Why renounce? You have some advantages, some powers, use them. The man loves you, play upon his natural weakness. Help yourself to the thing that chances to be desirable in your eyes. Three years hence who will blame you, who will even remember? His father? Well, he likes you already, and in time a man of the world accepts accomplished facts, especially if things go well, as they will do, for that invention must succeed. No one else? Yes; three others. He would remember, however much he loved me, for I should have brought him to do a shameful act. And she would remember, whom I had robbed of her husband, coming into his life after he had promised himself to her. Last of all--most of all, perhaps--I myself should remember, day by day, and hour by hour, that I was nothing more than one of the family of thieves.

"No; I will have none of such philosophy; at least I, Stella Fregelius, will live and die among the upright. So I go to my cold marriage, such as it is; so I bend my back to the burden, so I bow my head to the storm; and throughout it all I thank God for what he has been pleased to send me. I may seem poor, but how rich I am who have been dowered with a love that I know to be eternal as my eternal soul. I go, and my husband shall receive me, not with a lover's kiss and tenderness, but with words few and sad, with greetings that, almost before their echoes die, must fade into farewells. I wrap no veil about my head, he will set no ring upon my hand, perchance we shall plight no troth. So be it; our hour of harvest is not yet.

"Yesterday was very sharp and bleak, with scuds of sleet and snow driven by the wind, but as I drove here with my father I saw a man and a woman in the midst of an empty, lifeless field, planting some winter seed. Who, looking at them, who that did not know, could foretell the fruits of their miserable, unhopeful labour? Yet the summer will come and the sweet smell of the flowering beans, and the song of the nesting birds, and the plentiful reward of the year crowned with fatness. It is a symbol of this marriage of mine. To-day we sow the seed; next, after a space of raving rains and winds, will follow the long, white winter of death, then some dim, sweet spring of awakening, and beyond it the fulness of all joy.

"What is there about me that it would make me ashamed that he should know; this husband to whom I must tell nothing? I cannot think. No other man has been anything to me. I can remember no great sin. I have worked, making the best of such gifts as I possess. I have tried to do my duty, and I will do it to the end. Surely my heart is whole and my hands are clean. Perhaps it is a sin that I should have learned to love him; that I should look to a far future where I may be with him. If so, am I to blame, who ask nothing here? Can I conquer destiny who am its child? Can I read or shape the purpose of my Maker?

"And so I go. O God, I pray Thee of Thy mercy, give me strength to bear my temptations and my trials; and to him, also, give every strength and blessing. O Father, I pray Thee of Thy mercy, shorten these the days of my tribulation upon earth. Accept and sanctify this my sacrifice of denial; grant me pardon here, and hereafter through all the abyss of time in Thy knowledge and presence, that perfect peace which I desire with him to whom I am appointed. Amen."

CHAPTER XXII

THE EVIL GATE

Such was the end of the diary of Stella.

Morris shut the book with something like a sob. Then he rose and began to tramp up and down the length of the long, lonely room, while thoughts, crowded, confused, and overwhelming, pressed in upon his mind. What a woman was this whom he had lost! Who had known another so pure, so spiritual? Surely she did not belong to this world, and therefore her last prayer was so quickly answered, therefore Heaven took her. Many reading those final pages might have said with the philosopher she imagined that the shock of love and the sorrow of separation had turned her brain, and that she was mad. For who, so such might argue, would think that person otherwise than mad who dared to translate into action, and on earth to set up as a ruling star, that faith which day by day their lips professed.

Yet it would seem after that this "dreamer and mystic" Stella believed in nothing which our religion, accepted by millions without cavil, does not promise to its votaries. Its revelations and rewards marked the extremest limits of her fantasy; immortality of the personal soul, its foundation stone, was the rock on which she built. A heaven where there is no earthly marriage, but where each may consort with the souls most loved and most desired; where all sorrows are forgotten, all tears are wiped away, all purposes made clear, reserved for those who deny themselves, do their duty, and seek forgiveness of their sins --this heaven conceived by Stella, is it not vowed to us in the pages of the Gospel? Is it not vowed again and again, sometimes with more detail, sometimes with less; sometimes in open, simple words, sometimes wrapped in the mystic allegory of the visions of St. John; but everywhere and continually held before us as our crown and great reward? And the rest, such things as her belief in guardian angels, and that it had been given to her mortal eyes to behold and commune with a beloved ghost, is there not ample warrant for them in those inspired writings? Were not the dead seen of many in Jerusalem on the night of fear, and are we not told of "ministering spirits sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation?" and of the guardian angels, who look continually upon the Father?

Now it all grew clear to Morris. In Stella he beheld an example of the doctrines of Christianity really inspiring the daily life of the believer. If her strong faith animated all those who served under that banner, then in like circumstances they would act as she had acted. They would have no doubts; their fears would vanish; their griefs be comforted, and, to a great extent, even the promptings and passions of their mortality would be trodden under foot. With Stella they would be ready to neglect the temporary in their certainty of the eternal, and even to welcome death, to them in truth, and not in mere convention, the Gate of Life.

Many things are promised to those who can achieve faith. Stella achieved it and became endued with some portion of the promise. Spiritual faith, not inherited, nor accepted, but hard-won by personal struggle and experience; that was the key-note to her character and the explanation of her actions. Yet that faith, when examined into, was nothing exotic; no combination of mysticism and mummery, but one founded upon the daily creed of the English and its fellow churches, and understood and applied to the circumstances of a life which was as brief as it seemed to be unfortunate. This was Morris's discovery, open and obvious enough, and yet at first until he grew accustomed to it, a thing marvellous in his eyes; one, moreover, in which he found comfort; since surely that straight but simple path was such as his feet might follow.

And she loved him. Oh! how she had loved him. There could be no doubt; there were her words written in that book, not hastily spoken beneath the pressure of some sudden wind of feeling, but set down in black and white, thought over, reasoned out, and recorded. And then their purport. They were a paean of passion, but the dirge of its denial. They dwelt upon the natural hopes of woman only to put them by.

"Yet how can I choke the truth and tread down the human heart within me? Oh! the road that my naked feet must tread is full of thorns, and heavy the cross that I must bear. . . . So I go to my marriage, such as it is, so I bend my back to the burden, so I bow my head to the storm, and through it all I thank God for what He has been pleased to send me. I may seem poor, but how rich I am who have been dowered with a love that I know to be eternal as my eternal soul."

That was her creed, those were the teachings of her philosophy. And this was the woman who had loved him, who died loving him. Her very words came back, spoken but a few seconds before the end:--"Remember every word which I have said to you. Remember that we are wed--truly wed; that I go to wait for you, and that even if you do not see me, I will, if I may, be near you always."

"I go to wait for you. I will be near you always." Here was another inspiration. For three years or more he had been thinking of her as dead. Or rather he had thought of her in that nebulous, undefined fashion in which we consider the dead; the slumberous people who forget everything, who see nothing; who, if they exist at all, are like stones upon the beach rolled to and fro blind and senseless, not of their own desire, but by the waves of a fearful fate that itself is driven on with the strength of a secret storm of Will. And this fate some call the Breath of God, and some the working of a soulless force that compels the universe, past, present, and to be.

But was this view as real as it is common? If Stella were right, if our religion were right, it must be most wrong. That religion told us that the Master of mankind descended into Hades to preach to the souls of men. Did he preach to dumb, ocean-driven stones, to frozen forms and fossils who had once been men, or to spirits, changed, but active and existent?

Stella, too, had walked in the valley of doubt, by the path which all who think must tread; it was written large in the book of her life. But she had not fainted there; she had lived through its thunder- rains, its arid blasts of withering dust, its quivering quicksands, and its mirage-like meadows gay with deceitful, poisonous flowers. At last she had reached the mountain slopes of Truth to travel up them higher--ever higher, till she won their topmost peak, where the sun shone undimmed and the pure air blew; whence the world seemed far away and heaven very near. Yes, and from that heaven she had called down the spirit of her lost sister, and thenceforward was content and sure.

She had called down the spirit of her sister. Was it not written in the pages which she thought that no eye but hers would see?

Well, if such spirits were, hers--Stella's--must be also. And if they could be made apparent, why should not hers share their qualities?

Morris paused in his swift walk and trembled: "I will be near you always." For aught he knew she was near him now--present, perhaps, in this very room. While she was still in life, what were her aspirations? This was one of them, he remembered, as it fell from her lips: "Still to be with those whom I have loved on earth, although they cannot see me; to soothe their sorrows, to support their weakness, to lull their fears." And if this were so; if any power were given her to fulfil her will, whom would she sooner visit than himself?

Stay! That was her wish on earth, while she was a woman. But would she still wish it afterwards? The spirit was not the flesh, the spirit


Stella Fregelius - 50/56

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