Chapter XXIII. A Parable
 

"'And do you think, Grace, that anything in all this beautiful world is of greater importance--of more value to the world--than a human life, with all its marvelous power to think and feel and love and hate and so leave its mark on all life, for all time?'"

"Miss Farwell!"

The nurse looked up from her sewing in her hands.

"What is it, Grace?"

"I--I think I will try to find a place today. Mrs. Mulhall told me last night that she had heard of two women who want help. It may be that one of them will take me. I think I ought to try."

This was the third time within a few days that the girl had expressed thoughts similar to these. Under the personal care of Miss Farwell she had rapidly recovered from her terrible experience, both physically and mentally, but the nurse felt that she was not yet strong enough to meet a possible rebuff from the community that, before, had shown itself so reluctant to treat her with any degree whatever of consideration or kindness. The girl's spirit had been cruelly hurt. She was possessed of an unhealthy, morbid fear of the world that would cripple her for life if it could not somehow be overcome.

Miss Farwell felt that Grace Conner's only chance lay in winning a place for herself in the community where she had suffered such ill-treatment. But before she faced the people again she must be prepared. The sensitive, wounded spirit must be strengthened, for it could not bear many more blows. How to do this was the problem.

Hope dropped her sewing in her lap. "Come over here by the window, dear, and let's talk about it."

The young woman seated herself on a stool at the feet of her companion who, in actual years, was but little her senior, but who, in so many ways, was to her an elder sister.

"Why are you so anxious to leave me, Grace?" asked the nurse with a smile.

The girl's eyes--eyes that would never now be wholly free from that shadow of fear and pain--filled with tears. She put out a hand impulsively, touching Miss Farwell's knee. "Oh, don't say that!" she exclaimed, with a little catch in her voice. "You know it isn't that."

The eyes of the stronger woman looked reassuringly down at her. "Well, what is it then?" The low tone was insistent. The nurse felt that it would be better for the patient to express that which was in her own mind.

The girl's face was down-cast and she picked nervously at the fold of her friend's skirt. "It's nothing, Miss Farwell; only I feel that I--I ought not to be a burden upon you a moment longer than I can help."

"I thought that was it," returned the other. Her firm, white hand slipped under the trembling chin, and the girl's face was gently lifted until Grace was forced to look straight into those deep gray eyes. "Tell me, dear, why do you feel that you are a burden upon me?"

Silence for a moment; then--and there was a wondering gladness in the girl's voice--"I--I don't know."

The nurse smiled, but there was a grave note in her voice as she said, still holding the girl's face toward her own, "I'll tell you why. It is because you have been hurt so deeply. This feeling is one of the scars of your experience, dear. All your life you will need to fight that feeling--the feeling that you are not wanted. And you must fight it--fight it with all your might. You will never overcome it entirely, for the scar of your hurt is there to stay. You will always suffer at times from the old fear; but, if you will, you can conquer it so far that it will not spoil your life. You must--for your own sake, and for my sake, and for the sake of the wounded lives you are going to help heal--help all the better because of your own hurt. Do you understand, dear?"

The other nodded; she could not speak.

"You are going out into the world to find a place for yourself, of course, for that is right," Hope continued. "And it will be best for you to find a place here in Corinth, if possible. But it is not going to be easy, Grace. It's going to be hard, very hard, and you will need to know that, no matter what other people make you feel, you have a place in my life, a place where you belong. Let me try, if I can, to tell you so that you will never, never forget."

For a little the nurse looked away out of the window, up into the leafy depths of the big trees, and into the blue sky beyond, while the girl watched her with a look that was pathetic in its wondering, hungering earnestness. When Miss Farwell spoke again she chose her words carefully.

"Once upon a time a woman, walking in the mountains, discovered by chance a wonderful mine, of such vast wealth that there was nothing in all the world like it for richness. And the mine belonged to the woman because she found it. But the wealth of the mine went out into the world for all men to use, and thus, in the largest sense, the riches the woman found belonged to all mankind. But still, because she had found it, the woman always felt that it was hers. And so, through her discovery of this vast wealth, and the great happiness it brought to the world, the mine became to the woman the dearest of all her possessions.

"Tell me, Grace, do you think that anyone could ever replace the mountains, the ocean or the stars, or any of these wonderful, wonderful things in the great universe, if they were to be destroyed?"

"No." The answer came in a puzzled tone.

"And do you think, Grace, that anything in all this beautiful world is of greater importance--of more value to the world--than a human life, with all its marvelous power to think and feel and love and hate and so leave its mark on all life, for all time?"

"No, Miss Farwell."

"Then don't you see how impossible it is that anyone should ever take your place? Don't you see that you have a place in the world--a place that is yours because God put you in it, just as truly as he put the mountains, the seas, the stars in their places? And don't you see why you must feel that you have a right to your own life-place, and that you must hold it, no matter what others say, or do, or think, because of its great value to God and to the world? And Grace--look at me, child! do you think that anything in all the universe is dearer to the Father than a human life, that is so wonderful and so eternal in its power? So life should be the dearest thing in all the world to us. Not just the life of each to himself, but every life--any life, the dearest thing to all. I think this was true of Christ; I think it should be true of Christians. I believe this with all my heart."

There was silence for a little while; then Hope said again: "Now tell me, Grace, ought the mine to have felt dependent upon the woman who found it, and who valued it so highly, do you think? Then why should you feel dependent upon me? Why, you belong to me, child! Your life, the most wonderful--the dearest thing in all the world, belongs to me; just as the mine belonged to the woman and brought her great joy because it blessed the world. When others threw your life aside, when you yourself tried to throw it away, I found it. I took it. It is mine! And it is the dearest thing in all the world to me, because it is so great a thing, because no other life can take its place, and because it is of such great worth to the world. Don't you see?" The calm voice was vibrant now with deep emotion.

Looking into those gray eyes that shone with such loving kindness into her own, Grace Conner realized a mighty truth; a truth that would mould and shape her own life into a life of beauty and power.

"So, dear," the nurse continued, "when you go out into the world again, and people make you feel the old hurt--as they will--you must remember the woman who found the mine; and, feeling that you belong to me and to all life, you will not let people rob you of your place in the world. You will not let them rob me of my great wealth. And now you must try the very best you can to get work here in Corinth, but if you should fail to find it, you won't let that matter too much. You'll keep your place right here with me just the same, won't you, Grace, because you are my mine, you know?"

Long and earnestly the girl looked into the face of the nurse, and Miss Farwell understood what the other could not say. Suddenly the girl caught her friend's hand and kissed it passionately, then rushed from the room. Miss Farwell wisely let her go without a word, but her own eyes were full.

She turned to the open window to see her neighbor, the minister, coming in at the gate.