Chapter IV.
 
"Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break."

TENNYSON.

Laura lingered at Newport for several weeks after the arrival of Lester and Elsie at Crag Cottage; so that the brothers had abundance of time and opportunity for private talks and business arrangements, and Evelyn to practise the role of hostess.

When at last she did reach home, she was greatly shocked at the change in her husband; and she heaped reproaches upon poor Evelyn for not giving her more faithful reports of his condition.

"Mamma," said the little girl, "I did write you that he was getting weaker and weaker; that he was no longer able to walk, or even drive out, and had wakeful, restless nights. I thought you would certainly want to come to him when you heard that. But don't worry; Dr. Taylor has changed the medicine, and I hope he will soon be better now."

"No, he wont; he'll not live a month!" she exclaimed half angrily; then glancing at Evelyn's pale, terror-stricken face, "Pshaw, child! don't be frightened," she said; "I did not really mean it; I dare say we shall have him about again in a few weeks."

"Mamma, what do you really think?" asked the little girl, clasping her hands and gazing into her mother's face with a look of agonized entreaty. "I know you believe in deceiving people sometimes when you think it for their good, for I have heard you say so; but I want to know the truth, even if it breaks my heart."

"I'm not a doctor, Evelyn," returned her mother coldly; "I can judge only from appearances, which are as visible to you as to me. Besides, what is the use of my giving my opinion, since you choose to believe I am capable of intentionally deceiving you?"

With the last word she sailed from the room, leaving Evelyn alone in the parlor, where the conversation had taken place.

Evelyn sat like one stunned by a heavy blow. Could it be that her father was dying--the dear father who was all the world to her? Oh, what would life be worth without him? how could she go on living? How soon would the dread parting come? how many more days or hours might she spend in his dear companionship? Ah, those precious hours were fast slipping away; every moment spent away from his side was a great loss; she would go to him at once.

She started up, but dropped into her seat again; "mamma" was with him, and just now she would rather avoid her society.

Covering her face with her hands, she sat silently thinking,--going over again in imagination all that had passed between her father and herself during the last few weeks, recalling their conversations, especially every word he had addressed to her bearing upon her future; all his loving counsels; his exhortations to lean upon God in every time of trial and perplexity; to carry every sorrow, anxiety, and care to the Lord Jesus in unwavering confidence that there she would find never-failing sympathy, comfort, and help.

And now for the first time it struck her that thus he was trying to prepare her to do without him--the earthly parent who had been hitherto the confidant of all her childish griefs, perplexities, hopes, joys, and fears; and with the thought the conviction deepened that he was indeed passing away to that bourne whence no traveler returns.

Tears were stealing between the slender fingers, low, deep sobs shaking her slight frame, when a hand was gently laid upon her shoulder, and a sweet-toned voice asked in tender accents, "What is it, Evelyn, dear?"

"O Aunt Elsie," cried the little girl, lifting a tear-stained face, "you will tell me the truth! Is my dear papa--No, no, I can't say it! but oh, do you think we may hope he will soon be well again?"

"Dear child," Elsie said, in quivering tones, as she seated herself and, putting an arm about the little girl's waist, drew her close with a tender caress, "he is very ill, but 'while there is life there is hope,' for with God all things are possible."

"Oh I know--I understand what that means!" cried Evelyn in anguished accents, "he is dying!--my dear, dear father!"

"My poor child, my poor, dear child!" Elsie said, her tears falling fast, "I can feel for you, for it is not very long since I stood by the deathbed of a dear father. Flesh and heart fail in such a trial; but look to Jesus for help and strength to endure, and he will sustain and comfort you, as he did me."

"I can never, never bear it!" sobbed Evelyn, hiding her face on Elsie's shoulder. "And papa--oh, how dreadful for him to have to go away all alone! I wish I could go with him."

"That can not be, dear; but he will not go alone. 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.' Jesus will be with him and he will need no one else."

"Yes; I know, and I am glad for him; but oh, who will be with me when he is gone? Mamma is seldom at home, and cares nothing for having me with her."

"God will raise up friends and companions for you, dear, and if you seek the Lord Jesus, he will be to you a Friend indeed; One who sticketh closer than a brother or father, or any earthly creature; a Friend who will never die, never leave or forsake you."

For some moments there was silence in the room, broken only by Evelyn's low sobs; but at length she spoke in trembling, tearful tones, "Will the angels come and carry him to heaven, Aunt Elsie, as they did the poor beggar, Lazarus, the Bible tells about?"

"Yes, dear, I believe they will," Elsie answered, tenderly smoothing the child's hair. "And I think they will be full of joy for him, because he will be done with all the pains, the troubles and trials of earth, and going to be forever with the Lord. I believe they will carry him home, with songs of gladness; and oh what a welcome he will receive when he enters the gates of the Celestial City! for the Bible tells us 'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints;' and that 'He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.' It tells us that His love for his people exceeds in depth and tenderness that of a mother for her child. Then how must he rejoice over each one of his ransomed ones as he takes them in his arms and bids them welcome to the blissful mansions he has prepared for them."

"Yes; I shall be glad for papa; but O Aunt Elsie, what can I do without him?"

"God will help and comfort you, dear child; he will be your father," Elsie said with emotion. "'A Father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.'"

"It is a very sweet promise," said Evelyn. "Aunt Elsie, I wish I knew that was a true, a real occurrence--that story of Dives and Lazarus; for then I should be quite sure that angels do come to carry home Christians when they die, and that they would come for papa; but some people say it is only a parable."

"But the Bible does not say so," returned Elsie. "Jesus narrates it as a real occurrence, and I believe it was. Nothing has ever happened in any world that he has not seen and known, therefore he was perfectly competent to tell about the life and death of any man, and also of his experiences after death. So I think, dear child, you may take all the comfort you can find in believing it a narrative of actual occurrence.

"Ah, now I remember something that may perhaps give you comfort as additional proof that angels do carry home the souls of God's children. I heard an old minister--a man whose word I should credit as entirely as the evidence of my own senses--tell it to my mother.

"He said that when he was a boy, at home on his father's farm, he and his brother were one evening out in a meadow attending to their horses. Some short distance from them was the dwelling of an old elder, a remarkably devoted Christian man, who always had family worship morning and evening, and always, on those occasions, sang a hymn to either Mear or Old Hundred.

"On this particular evening the lads, while busy there in the meadow, were surprised by hearing sounds as of a number of voices singing one of the elder's two tunes--I have forgotten now which it was--but the sounds came nearer and nearer, from the direction of the elder's house--and, to the great wonder and astonishment of the lads, passed above their heads.

"They heard the voices in the air, but saw nothing of the singers. Afterward they learned that the good old man had died just at that time."[A]

[Footnote A: Given the author as a fact, by a Christian lady who had it from the good minister's own lips.]

"How strange," said Evelyn, in an awestruck tone. "O Aunt Elsie, if I could hear their song of joy over papa, I should not grieve quite so much." The door opened and Laura looked in.

"Evelyn," she said, in a piqued tone, "your father wants you. It actually seems that you, a mere child, are more necessary to him than his own wife. He would see you alone for a few minutes."

Silently, for her heart was too full for speech, Evelyn withdrew herself from Elsie's arms and hastened to obey the summons.