Chapter VII. Lost.
 

Miss Rejoice was not dead; though the doctor had a moment of dreadful fright when he saw her lying all crumpled up on the floor, her eyes closed, her face like wrinkled wax. Between them, the doctor and Miss Vesta got her back into bed, and rubbed her hands, and put stimulants between her closed lips. At last her breath began to flutter, and then came back steadily. She opened her eyes; at first they were soft and mild as usual, but presently a wild look stole into them.

"The child!" she whispered; "the child is gone!"

"We know it," said Dr. Brown, quietly. "We shall find her, Rejoice, never fear. Now you must rest a few minutes, and then you shall tell us how it happened. Why, we found you on the floor, my child,"--Miss Rejoice was older than the doctor, but it seemed natural to call her by any term of endearment,--"how upon earth did you get there?"

Slowly, with many pauses for breath and composure, Miss Rejoice told her story. It was short enough. Melody had been sitting with her, reading aloud from the great book which now lay face downward on the floor by the window. Milton's "Paradise Lost" it was, and Rejoice Dale could never bear to hear the book named in her life after this time. A carriage drove up and stopped at the door, and Melody went out to see who had come. As she went, she said, "It is a strange wagon; I have never heard it before." They both supposed it some stranger who had stopped to ask for a glass of water, as people often did, driving through the village on their way to the mountains. The sick woman heard a man speaking, in smooth, soft tones; she caught the words: "A little drive--fine afternoon;" and Melody's clear voice replying, "No, thank you, sir; you are very kind, but my aunt and I are alone, and I could not leave her. Shall I bring you a glass of water?" Then--oh, then--there was a sound of steps, a startled murmur in the beloved voice, and then a scream. Oh, such a scream! Rejoice Dale shrank down in her bed, and cried out herself in agony at the memory of it. She had called, she had shrieked aloud, the helpless creature, and her only answer was another cry of anguish: "Help! help! Auntie! Doctor! Rosin! Oh, Rosin, Rosin, help!" Then the cry was muffled, stifled, sank away into dreadful silence; the wagon drove off, and all was over. Rejoice Dale found herself on the floor, dragging herself along on her elbows. Paralyzed from the waist down, the body was a weary weight to drag, but she clutched at a chair, a table; gained a little way at each movement; thought she was nearly at the door, when sense and strength failed, and she knew nothing more till she saw her sister and the doctor bending over her.

Then Miss Vesta, very pale, with lips that trembled, and voice that would not obey her will, but broke and quavered, and failed at times, like a strange instrument one has not learned how to master,--Miss Vesta told her story, of the dark stranger who had come three days before and taken her up to a pinnacle, and showed her the kingdoms of the earth.

"I did not tell you, Rejoice," she cried, holding her sister's hand, and gazing into her face in an agony of self-reproach; "I did not tell you, because I was really tempted,--not for myself, I do believe; I am permitted to believe, and it is the one comfort I have,--but for you, Rejoice, my dear, and for the child herself. But mostly for you, oh, my God! mostly for you. And when I came to myself and knew you would rather die ten times over than have luxuries bought with the child's happy, innocent life,--when I came to myself, I was ashamed, and did not tell you, for I did not want you to think badly of me. If I had told you, you would have been on your guard, and have put me on mine; and I should never have left you, blind fool that I was, for you would have showed me the danger. Doctor, we are two weak women,--she in body, I in mind and heart. Tell us what we shall do, or I think we must both die!"

Dr. Brown hardly heard her appeal, so deeply was he thinking, wondering, casting about in his mind for counsel. But Rejoice Dale took her sister's hand in hers.

"'Though a thousand fall beside thee, and ten thousand at thy right hand, yet it shall not come nigh thee,'" she said steadfastly. "Our blind child is in her Father's hand, Sister; He leads her, and she can go nowhere without Him. Go you now, and seek for her."

"I cannot!" cried Vesta Dale, wringing her hands and weeping. "I cannot leave you, Rejoice. You know I cannot leave you."

Both women felt for the first time, with a pang unspeakable, the burden of restraint. The strong woman wrung her hands again, and moaned like a dumb creature in pain; the helpless body of the cripple quivered and shrank away from itself, but the soul within was firm.

"You must go," said Miss Rejoice, quietly. "Neither of us could bear it if you stayed. If I know you are searching, I can be patient; and I shall have help."

"Amanda Loomis could come," said Miss Vesta, misunderstanding her.

"Yes," said Rejoice, with a faint smile; "Amanda can come, and I shall do very well indeed till you come back with the child. Go at once, Vesta; don't lose a moment. Put on your bonnet and shawl, and Doctor will drive you over to the Corners. The stage goes by in an hour's time, and you have none too long to reach it."

Dr. Brown seemed to wake suddenly from the distressful dream in which he had been plunged. "Yes, I will drive you over to the stage, Vesta," he said. "God help me! it is all I can do. I have an operation to perform at noon. It is a case of life and death, and I have no right to leave it. The man's whole life is not worth one hour of Melody's," he added with some bitterness; "but that makes no difference, I suppose. I have no choice in the matter. Girls!" he cried, "you know well enough that if it were my own life, I would throw it down the well to give the child an hour's pleasure, let alone saving her from misery,--and perhaps from death!" he added to himself; for only he and the famous physician who had examined Melody at his instance knew that under all the joy and vigor of the child's simple, healthy life lay dormant a trouble of the heart, which would make any life of excitement or fatigue fatal to her in short space, though she might live in quiet many happy years. Yes, one other person knew this,--his friend Dr. Anthony, whose remonstrances against the wickedness of hiding this rare jewel from a world of appreciation and of fame could only be silenced by showing him the bitter drop which lay at the heart of the rose.

Rejoice Dale reassured him by a tender pressure of the hand, and a few soothing words. They had known each other ever since their pinafore days, these three people. He was younger than Miss Rejoice, and he had been deeply in love with her when he was an awkward boy of fifteen, and she a lovely seventeen-year-old girl. They had called him "doctor" at first in sport, when he came home to practise in his native village; but soon he had so fully shown his claim to the grave title that "the girls" and every one else had forgotten the fact that he had once been "Jack" to the whole village.

"Doctor," said the sick woman, "try not to think about it more than you can help! There are all the sick people looking to you as next to the hand of God; your path is clear before you."

Dr. Brown groaned. He wished his path were not so clear, that he might in some way make excuse to turn aside from it. "I will give Vesta a note to Dr. Anthony," he said, brightening a little at the thought. "He will do anything in his power to help us. There are other people, too, who will be kind. Yes, yes; we shall have plenty of help."

He fidgeted about the room, restless and uneasy, till Miss Vesta came in, in her bonnet and shawl. "I have no choice," he repeated doggedly, hugging his duty close, as if to dull the pressure of the pain within. "But how can you go alone, Vesta, my poor girl? You are not fit; you are trembling all over. God help us!" cried Dr. Brown, again.

For a moment the two strong ones stood irresolute, feeling themselves like little children in the grasp of a fate too big for them to grapple. The sick woman closed her eyes, and waited. God would help, in His good way. She knew no more, and no more was needed. There were a few moments of silence, as if all were waiting for something, they knew not what,--a sign, perhaps, that they were not forgotten, forsaken, on the sea of this great trouble.

Suddenly through the open window stole a breath of sound. Faint and far, it seemed at first only a note of the summer breeze, taking a deeper tone than its usual soft murmur. It deepened still; took form, rhythm; made itself a body of sound, sweet, piercing, thrilling on the ear. And at the sound of it, Vesta Dale fell away again into helpless weeping, like a frightened child; for it was the tune of "Rosin the Beau"

"Who shall tell him?" she moaned, covering her face with her hands, and rocking to and fro,--"oh, who shall tell him that the light of our life and his is gone out?"