Chapter VIII. Waiting.
 

How did the time pass with the sick woman, waiting in the little chamber, listening day by day and hour by hour for the steps, the voices, which did not come? Miss Rejoice was very peaceful, very quiet,--too quiet, thought Mandy Loomis, the good neighbor who watched by her, fulfilling her little needs, and longing with a thirsty soul for a good dish of gossip. If Rejoice would only "open her mind!" it would be better for her, and such a relief to poor Mandy, unused to silent people who bore their troubles with a smile.

"Where do you s'pose she is, Rejoice?" Mrs. Loomis would cry, twenty times a day. "Where do you s'pose she is? Ef we only knew, 't would be easier to bear, seems 's though. Don't you think so, Rejoice?"

But Rejoice only shook her head, and said, "She is cared for, Mandy, we must believe. All we have to do is to be quiet, and wait for the Lord's time."

"Dear to goodness! She can wait!" exclaimed Mrs. Loomis to Mrs. Penny, when the latter came in one evening to see if any news had come. "She ain't done anything but wait, you may say, ever sence time was, Rejoice ain't. But I do find it dretful tryin' now, Mis' Penny, now I tell ye. Settin' here with my hands in my lap, and she so quiet in there, well, I do want to fly sometimes, seems 's though. Well, I am glad to see you, to be sure. The' ain't a soul ben by this day. Set down, do. You want to go in 'n' see Rejoice? Jest in a minute. I do think I shall have a sickness if I don't have some one to open my mind to. Now, Mis' Penny, where do you s'pose, where do you s'pose that child is?" Then, without waiting for a reply, she plunged headlong into the stream of talk.

"No, we ain't heard a word. Vesta went off a week ago, and Mr. De Arthenay with her. Providential, wasn't it, his happenin' along just in the nick o' time? I do get out of patience with Rejoice sometimes, takin' the Lord quite so much for granted as she doos; for, after all, the child was stole, you can't get over that, and seems's though if there'd ben such a good lookout as she thinks,--well, there! I don't want to be profane; but I will say 'twas a providence, Mr. De Arthenay happenin' along. Well, they went, and not a word have we heard sence but just one letter from Vesta, sayin' they hadn't found no trace yet, but they hoped to every day,--and land sakes, we knew that, I should hope. Dr. Brown comes in every day to cheer her up, though I do declare I need it more than she doos, seems's though. He's as close as an oyster, Dr. Brown is; I can't even get the news out of him, most times. How's that boy of 'Bind Parker's,--him that fell and hurt his leg so bad? Gettin' well, is he?"

"No, he isn't," said Mrs. Penny, stepping in quickly on the question, as her first chance of getting in a word. "He's terrible slim; I heard Doctor say so. They're afraid of the kangaroo settin' in in the j'int, and you know that means death, sartin sure."

Both women nodded, drawing in their breath with an awful relish.

"'T will be a terrible loss to his mother," said Mandy Loomis. "Such a likely boy as he was gettin' to be, and 'Bind so little good, one way and another."

"Do you think they'll hear news of Melody?" asked Mrs. Penny, changing the subject abruptly.

Amanda Loomis plumped her hands down on her knees, and leaned forward; it was good to listen, but, oh, how much better it was to speak!

"I don't," she said, with gloomy emphasis. "If you ask me what I reelly think, Mis' Penny, it's that. I don't think we shall ever set eyes on that blessed child again. Rejoice is so sartin sure, sometimes my hopes get away with me, and I forgit my jedgment for a spell. But there! see how it is! Now, mind, what I say is for this room only." She spread her hands abroad, as if warning the air around to secrecy, and lowered her voice to an awestruck whisper. "I've ben here a week now, Mis' Penny. Every night the death-watch has ticked in Mel'dy's room the endurin' night. I don't sleep, you know, fit to support a flea. I hear every hour strike right straight along, and I know things that's hid from others, Mis' Penny, though I do say it. Last night as ever was I heard a sobbin' and a sighin' goin' round the house, as plain as I hear you this minute. Some might ha' said't was the wind, but there's other things besides wind, Mis' Penny; and I solemnly believe that was Mel'dy's sperrit, and the child is dead. It ain't my interest to say it," she cried, with a sudden change of tone, putting her apron to her eyes: "goodness knows it ain't my interest to say it. What that child has been to me nobody knows. When I've had them weakly spells, the' warn't nobody but Mel'dy could ha' brought me out of 'em alive, well I know. She tended me and sung to me like all the angels in heaven, and when she'd lay her hand on me--well, there! seems's though my narves 'ud quiet right down, and blow away like smoke. I've ben a well woman--that is to say, for one that's always enjoyed poor health--sence Dr. Brown sent that blessed child to me. She has a gift, if ever any one had. Dr. Brown had ought to give her half of what he makes doctorin'; she's more help than all the medicine ever he gives. I never saw a doctor so dretful stingy with his stuff. Why, I've ben perishin' sometimes for want o' doctorin', and all he'd give me was a little pepsin, or tell me to take as much sody as would lay on the p'int of a penknife, or some such thing,--not so much as you'd give to a canary-bird. I do sometimes wish we had a doctor who knew the use o' medicine, 'stead of everlastin'ly talkin' about the laws o' health, and hulsome food, and all them notions. Why, there's old Dr. Jalap, over to the Corners. He give Beulah Pegrum seven Liver Pills at one dose, and only charged her fifty cents, over 'n' above the cost of the pills. Now that's what I call doctorin',--not but what I like Dr. Brown well enough. But Mel'dy--well, there! and now to have her took off so suddin, and never to know whether she's buried respectable, or buried at all! You hear awful stories of city ways, these times. Now, this is for this room only, and don't you ever tell a soul! It's as true as I live, they have a furnace where they burn folks' bodies, for all the world as if they was hick'ry lawgs. My cousin Salome's nephew that lives in the city saw one once. He thought it was connected with the gas-works, but he didn't know for sure. Mis' Penny, if Rejoice Dale was to know that Mel'dy was made into gas--"

Martha Penny clutched the speaker's arm, and laid her hand over her mouth, with a scared look. The door of the bedroom had swung open in the breeze, and in the stress of feeling Mandy Loomis had raised her voice higher and higher, till the last words rang through the house like the wail of a sibyl. But above the wail another sound was now rising, the voice of Rejoice Dale,--not calm and gentle, as they had always heard it, but high-pitched, quivering with intense feeling.

"I see her!" cried the sick woman. "I see the child! Lord, save her! Lord, save her!"

The two women hurried in, and found her sitting up in bed, her eyes wide, her arm outstretched, pointing--at what? Involuntarily they turned to follow the pointing finger, and saw the yellow-washed wall, and the wreath of autumn leaves that always hung there.

"What is it, Rejoice?" cried Mandy, terrified. "What do you see? Is it a spirit? Tell us, for pity's sake!"

But even at that moment a change came. The rigid muscles relaxed, the whole face softened to its usual peaceful look; the arm dropped gently, and Rejoice Dale sank back upon her pillow and smiled.

"Thy rod and thy staff!" she said. "Thy rod and thy staff! they comfort me." And for the first time since Melody was lost, she fell asleep, and slept like a little child.