Chapter XXVIII. Edith Tells the Old, Old Story
 

Mrs. Allen seemed better the next day, and Laura was able to watch while Edith slept. After tea Mrs. Lacey appeared, with the same subdued air of quiet self-respect and patient sorrow. She seemed to have settled down into that mournful calm which hopes little and fears little. She seemed to expect nothing better than to go forward, with, such endurance as she might, into the deeper shadows of age, sickness, and death. She vaguely hoped that God would have mercy upon her at last, but how to love and trust Him she did not know. She hardly knew that it was expected, or possible. She associated religion with going to church, outward profession, and doing much good. The neighbors spoke of her and the family as "very irreligious," and she had about come to the conclusion that they were right. She never thought of taking credit to herself for her devotion to her children and patience with her husband. She loved the former, especially her son, with an intensity that one could hardly reconcile with her grave and silent ways. In regard to her husband, she tried to remember her first young girlish dream--the manly ideal of character that her fond heart had associated with the handsome young fellow who had singled her out among the many envious maidens in her native village.

"I will try to be true to what I thought he was," she said, with woman's pathetic constancy, "and be patient with what he is."

But the disappointment, as it slowly assumed dread certainty, broke her heart.

Edith began to have a fellow-feeling for her. "We both have not only our own burdens to carry, but the heavier burden of another," she thought. "I wonder if she has ever gone to Him for the 'rest.' I fear not, or she would not look so sad and hopeless."

Before they could go upstairs a hack from the hotel stopped at the door, and Mrs. Groody bustled cheerily in. Laura at the same time came down, saying that Mrs. Allen was asleep.

"Hannibal," said Edith, "you may sit on the stairs, and if she wakes, or makes any sound, let me know," and she took a seat near the door in order to hear.

"I've been worryin' about you every minute ever since I called, and you was too sick to see me," said Mrs. Groody, "but I've been so busy I couldn't get away. It takes an awful lot of work to get such a big house to rights, and the women cleanin', and the servants are so aggravating that I am just run off my legs lookin' after them. I don't see why people can't do what they're told, when they're told."

"I wish I were able to help you," said Edith. "Your promise of work has kept me up wonderfully. But before I half got my strength back mother became very ill, and, had it not been for Mrs. Lacey, I don't know what I should have done. It did seem as if she were sent here yesterday, for I could not have kept up another hour."

"You poor child," said Mrs. Groody, in a tone and manner overflowing with motherly kindness. "I just heard about it today from Arden, who was bringin' something up to the hotel, so I said, 'I'll drop everything to-night, and run down for a while.' So here I am, and now what can I do for you?" concluded the warm-hearted woman, whose invariable instinct was to put her sympathy into deeds.

"I told you that night," said Edith. "I think I could do a little sewing or mending even now if I had it here at home. But your kindness and remembrance do me more good than any words of mine can tell you. I thought no one would ever speak to us again," she continued in a low tone, and with rising color, "and I have had kind, helpful friends sent to me already."

Wistful mother-love shone in Mrs. Lacey's large blue eyes, but Mrs. Groody blew her nose like a trumpet, and said:

"Not speak to you, poor child! Though I ain't on very good terms with the Lord, I ain't a Pharisee, and after what I saw of you that night, I am proud to speak to you and do anything I can for you. It does seem too bad that poor young things like you two should be so burdened. I should think you had enough before without your mother gettin' sick. I don't understand the Lord, nohow. Seems to me He might scatter His afflictions as well as His favors a little more evenly, I've thought a good deal about what you said that night, 'We're dealt with in masses,' and poor bodies like you and me, and Mrs. Lacey there, that is, 'the human atoms,' as you called 'em, are lost sight of."

Tears sprang into Edith's eyes, and she said, earnestly, "I am sorry I ever said those words. They are not true. I should grieve very much if my rash, desperate words did you harm after all your kindness to me. I have learned better since I saw you, Mrs. Groody. We are not lost sight of. It seems to me the trouble is we lose sight of Him."

"Well, well, child, I'm glad to hear you talk in that way," said Mrs. Groody, despondently. "I'm dreadfully discouraged about it all. I know I fell from grace, though, one awfully hot summer, when everything went wrong, and I got on a regular rampage, and that's the reason perhaps. A she-bear that had lost her cubs wasn't nothin' to me. But I straightened things out at the hotel, though I came mighty near bein' sick, but I never could get straight myself after it. I knowed I ought to be more patient-I knowed it all the time. But human natur is human natur, and woman natur is worse yet sometimes. And when you've got on one hand a score to two of drinkin,' quarrelsome, thievin', and abominably lazy servants to manage, and on the other two or three hundred fastidious people to please, and elegantly dressed ladies who can't manage their three or four servants at home, dawdlin' up to you every hour in the day, say in' about the same as, Mrs. Groody, everything ain't done in a minute--everything ain't just right. I'd like to know where 'tis in this jumbled-up world--not where they're housekeepers, I warrant you.

"Well, as I was telling you," continued Mrs. Groody, with a weary sigh, "that summer was too much for me. I got to be a very dragon. I hadn't time to read my Bible, or pray, or go to church, or scarcely eat or sleep. I worked Sundays and week days alike, and I got to be a sort of heathen, and I've been one ever since," and a gloom seemed to gather on her naturally open, cheery face, as if she feared she might never be anything else.

Mrs. Lacey gave a deep, responsive sigh, showing that her heavy heart was akin to all other burdened souls. But direct, practical Edith said simply and gently:

"In other words, you were laboring and heavy laden."

"Couldn't have been more so, and lived," was Mrs. Groody's emphatic answer.

"And the memory of it seems to have been a heavy burden on your conscience ever since, though I think you judge yourself harshly," continued Edith.

"Not a bit," said Mrs. Groody sturdily, "I knowed better all the time."

"Well, be that as it may, I feel that I know very little about these things yet. I'm sure I want to be guided rightly. But what did our Lord mean when He said, 'Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'?"

Mrs. Groody gave Edith a sort of surprised and startled look. After a moment she said, "Bless you, child, how plain you do put it! It's a very plain text when you think of it, now, ain't it? I always tho't it meant kind o' good, as all the Bible does."

"No, but He said them," urged Edith, earnestly. "It is a distinct, plain invitation, and it must have a distinct, plain meaning. I have learned to know that when you or Mrs. Lacey say a thing, you mean what you say, and so it is with all who are sincere and true. Was He not sincere and true? If so, these plain words must have a plain meaning. He surely couldn't have meant them only for the few people who heard His voice at that time."

"Of course not," said Mrs. Groody, musingly, while poor Mrs. Lacey leaned forward with such an eager, hungry look in her poor, worn face, that Edith's heart yearned over her. Laura came and sat on the floor by her sister's chair, and leaning her elbow on Edith's knee, and her face on her hand, looked up with the wistful, trustful, child-like expression that had taken the place of her former stateliness and subsequent apathy. Edith lost all thought of herself in her eagerness to tell the others of the Friend and Helper she had come to know.

"He must be God, or else He had no right to say to a great, troubled, sinning world, 'Come unto me.' The idea of a million people going at once, with their sorrows and burdens, to one mere man, or an angel, or any finite creature! And just think how many millions there are! If the Bible is for all, this invitation is for all. He couldn't have changed since then, could He? He can't be different in heaven from what He was on earth?"

"No," said Mrs. Groody, quickly, "for the Bible says He is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.'"

"I never read in that place," said Edith, simply. "That makes it clearer and stronger than ever. Please, don't think I am setting myself up as a religious teacher. I know very little yet myself. I am only seeking the light. But one thing is settled in my mind, and I like to have one thing settled before I go on to anything else. This one thing seems the foundation of everything else, and it appears as if I could go on from it and learn all the rest. I am satisfied that this Jesus is God, and that He said, 'Come unto me,' to poor, weak, overburdened Edith Allen. I went to Him, just as people in trouble used to, when He first spoke these words. And oh, how He has helped me!" continued Edith, with tears in her eyes, but with the glad light of a great hope again shining through them. "The world can never know all that He has done for us, and I can't even think of Him without my heart quivering with gratitude."

Laura had now buried her face in her sister's lap, and was trembling like a leaf. Edith's words had a meaning to her that they could not have for the others.

"And now," concluded Edith, "I was led to Him by these words, 'Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' I was in greater darkness than I had ever been in before. My heart ached as if it would burst. Difficulty and danger seemed on every side, and I saw no way out. I knew the world had only scorn for us, and I was so bowed down with shame and discouragement that I almost lost all hope. I had been to the village, and the people looked and pointed at me, till I was ready to drop in the street. But I went to Mr. McTrump's, and he and his wife were so kind to me, and heartened me up a little; and they spoke about the 'Gude Book,' as they call it, in such a way as made me think of it in my deep distress and fear, as I sat alone watching with mother. So I found my neglected Bible, and, in some way, I seemed guided to these words, 'Come unto me'; and then, for two or three hours, I continued to read eagerly about Him, till at last I felt that I could venture to go to Him. So, I just bowed my head, on His own invitation; indeed, it seemed like a tender call to a child that had been lost in the dark, and was afraid, and I said, 'I am heavy laden, help me.' And how wonderfully He did help me! He has been so good, so near, ever since. My weary, hopeless heartache is gone. I don't know what is before us. I can't see the way out of our troubles. I don't know what has become of our absent one," she said, in a low tone and with bowed head, "but I can leave all to Him. He is God: He loves, and He can and will take care of us. So you see I know very little about religion yet; just enough to trust and keep close to Him; and I feel sure that in time He will teach me, through the Bible, or in some way, all I ought to know."

"Bless the child, she's right, she's right," sobbed Mrs. Groody. "It was just so at first. He came right among people, and called all sorts to Him, and they came to Him just as they was, and stayed with Him, and He cured, and helped, and taught 'em, till, from being the worst, they became the best. That is the way that distressed, swearin', old fisherman Peter became one of the greatest and best men that ever lived; though it took a mighty lot of grace and patience to bring it about. Now I think of it, I think he fell from grace worse than I did that awfully hot summer. What an old fool I am! I've been readin' the Bible all my life, and never understood it before."

"I think that if you had gone to Him that time when you were so troubled and overburdened He would have helped you," said Edith, gently.

"Yes, but there it is, you see," said Mrs. Groody, wiping her eyes and shaking her head despondently; "I didn't go."

"But you are heavy laden now. I can see it. You can go now," said Edith, earnestly.

"I'm afraid I've put it off too long," said Mrs. Groody, settling back into something of her old gloom. "I'm afraid I've sinned away my time."

With a strange blending of pathos and reproach in her tone, Edith answered:

"Oh, how can you, with your big, kind heart, that yearned over a poor unknown girl that dreadful night when you brought me home--how can you think so poorly of your Saviour? Is your heart warmer--are your sympathies larger than His? Why, He died for us, and, when dying, prayed for those who crucified Him. Could you turn away a poor, sorrowing, burdened creature that came pleading to you for help? You know you couldn't. Learn from your own heart something of His. Listen, I haven't told you all. It seems as if I never could tell all about Him. But see how He feels about poor lost Zell, when I, her own sister, was almost hating her," and, reaching her hand to the table, she took her Bible and read Christ's words to "a woman of the city, which was a sinner."

At this Mrs. Groody broke down completely, and with clasped hands and streaming eyes, cried:

"I will go to Him; I will fear and doubt no more."

A trembling hand was now laid on Edith's shoulder, and, looking up, she saw Mrs. Lacey standing by her side with a face so white, so eager, so full of unutterable longing, that it might have made a Christian artist's ideal of a soul famishing for the "Bread of Life." In a low, timid, yet thrilling tone, she asked:

"Miss Allen, do you think He would receive such as me?"

"Yes, thus," cried Edith, as with a divine impulse and a great yearning pity she sprang up and threw her arms around Mrs. Lacey.

Hope dawned in the poor worn face like the morning. Belief in God's love and sympathy seemed to flow into her sad heart from the other human heart that was pressed against it. The spiritual electric circle was completed--Edith, with her hand of faith in God's, took the trembling, groping hand of another and placed it there also.

Two great tears gathered in Mrs. Lacey's eyes, and she bowed her head for a moment on Edith's shoulder, and murmured, "I'll try--I think I may venture to Him."

Hannibal now appeared at the door, saying, rather huskily and brokenly, considering his message:

"Miss Edie, you'se mudder's awake, an' 'd like some water."

"That's what we all have been wanting, 'water'--'the water of life,'" said Mrs. Groody, wiping her eyes, "and never was my parched old heart so refreshed before. I don't care how hot this summer is, or how aggravatin' things are, I feel as if I'd be helped through it. And, my dear, good-night. I come here to try to do you good, and you've done me more good than I ever thought could happen again. I'm goin' to kiss you--I can't help it. Good-by, and may the good Lord bless your sweet face;" and Mrs. Groody, like one of old, climbed up into her chariot, and "went on her way rejoicing."

In their close good-night embrace, Laura whispered, "I begin to understand it a little now, Edie, but I think I see everything only through your eyes, not my own."

"As old Malcom said to me the other day, so now I say to you, 'Ye'll learn it a' soon.'"

Edith soon retired to rest also, and Mrs. Lacey sat at Mrs. Allen's side, returning the sick woman's slights and scorn, somewhat as the patient God returns ours, by watching over her.

Her eyes, no longer cast down with the pathetic discouragement of the past, seemed looking far away upon some distant scene. She was following in her thoughts the steps of the Magi from the East to where, as yet far distant, the "Star of Bethlehem" glimmered with promise and hope.