A Poor Wise Man by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Edith Boyd's child was prematurely born at the Memorial Hospital early the next morning. It lived only a few moments, but Edith's mother never knew either of its birth or of its death.
When Willy Cameron reached the house at two o'clock that night he found Dan in the lower hall, a new Dan, grave and composed but very pale.
"Mother's gone, Willy," he said quietly. "I don't think she knew anything about it. Ellen heard her breathing hard and went in, but she wasn't conscious." He sat down on the horse-hair covered chair by the stand. "I don't know anything about these things," he observed, still with that strange new composure. "What do you do now?"
"Don't worry about that, Dan, just now. There's nothing to do until morning."
He looked about him. The presence of death gave a new dignity to the little house. Through the open door he could see in the parlor Mrs. Boyd's rocking chair, in which she had traveled so many conversational miles. Even the chair had gained dignity; that which it had once enthroned had now penetrated the ultimate mystery.
He was shaken and very weary. His mind worked slowly and torpidly, so that even grief came with an effort. He was grieved; he knew that. Some one who had loved him and depended on him was gone; some one who loved life had lost it. He ran his hand over his singed hair.
"Where is Edith?"
Dan's voice hardened.
"She's out somewhere. It's like her, isn't it?"
Willy Cameron roused himself.
"Out?" he said incredulously. "Don't you know where she is?"
"No. And I don't care."
Willy Cameron was fully alert now, and staring down at Dan.
"I'll tell you something, Dan. She probably saved my life to-night. I'll tell you how later. And if she is still out there is something wrong."
"She used to stay out to all hours. She hasn't done it lately, but I thought - "
Dan got up and reached for his hat.
"Where'll I start to look for her?"
But Willy Cameron had no suggestion to make. He was trying to think straight, but it was not easy. He knew that for some reason Edith had not waited until midnight to open the envelope. She had telephoned her message clearly, he had learned, but with great excitement, saying that there was a plot against his life, and giving the farmhouse and the message he had left in full; and she had not rung off until she knew that a posse would start at once. And that had been before eleven o'clock.
Three hours. He looked at his watch. Either she had been hurt or was a prisoner, or - he came close to the truth then. He glanced at Dan, standing hat in hand.
"We'll try the hospitals first, Dan," he said. "And the best way to do that is by telephone. I don't like Ellen being left alone here, so you'd better let me do that."
Dan acquiesced unwillingly. He resumed his seat in the hail, and Willy Cameron went upstairs. Ellen was moving softly about, setting in order the little upper room. The windows were opened, and through them came the soft night wind, giving a semblance of life and movement under it to the sheet that covered the quiet figure on the bed.
Willy Cameron stood by it and looked down, with a great wave of thankfulness in his heart. She had been saved much, and if from some new angle she was seeing them now it would be with the vision of eternity, and its understanding. She would see how sometimes the soul must lose here to gain beyond. She would see the world filled with its Ediths, and she would know that they too were a part of the great plan, and that the breaking of the body sometimes freed the soul.
He was shy of the forms of religion, but he voiced a small inarticulate prayer, standing beside the bed while Ellen straightened the few toilet articles on the dresser, that she might have rest, and then a long and placid happiness. And love, he added. There would be no Heaven without love.
Ellen was looking at him in the mirror.
"Your hair looks queer, Willy," she said. "And I declare your clothes are a sight." She turned, sternly. "Where have you been?"
"It's a long story, Ellen. Don't bother about it now. I'm worried about Edith."
Ellen's lips closed in a grim line.
"The less said about her the better. She came back in a terrible state about something or other, ran in and up to your room, and out again. I tried to tell her her mother wasn't so well, but she looked as if she didn't hear me."
It was four o'clock in the morning when Willy Cameron located Edith. He had gone to the pharmacy and let himself in, intending to telephone, but the card on the door, edged with black, gave him a curious sense of being surrounded that night by death, and he stood for a moment, unwilling to begin for fear of some further tragedy. In that moment, what with reaction from excitement and weariness, he had a feeling of futility, of struggling to no end. One fought on, and in the last analysis it was useless.
"So soon passeth it away, and we are gone."
He saw Mr. Davis, sitting alone in his house; he saw Ellen moving about that quiet upper room; he saw Cusick lying on the ground beside the smoldering heap that had been the barn, and staring up with eyes that saw only the vast infinity that was the sky. All the struggling and the fighting, and it came to that.
He picked up the telephone book at last, and finding the hospital list in the directory began his monotonous calling of numbers, and still the revolt was in his mind. Even life lay through the gates of death; daily and hourly women everywhere laid down their lives that some new soul be born. But the revulsion came with that, a return to something nearer the normal. Daily and hourly women lived, having brought to pass the miracle of life.
At half-past four he located Edith at the Memorial, and learned that her child had been born dead, but that she was doing well. He was suddenly exhausted; he sat down on a stool before the counter, and with his arms across it and his head on them, fell almost instantly asleep. When he waked it was almost seven and the intermittent sounds of early morning came through the closed doors, as though the city stirred but had not wakened.
He went to the door and opened it, looking out. He had been wrong before. Death was a beginning and not an end; it was the morning of the spirit. Tired bodies lay down to sleep and their souls wakened to the morning, rested; the first fruits of them that slept.
>From the chimneys of the houses nearby small spirals of smoke began to ascend, definite promise of food and morning cheer behind the closed doors, where the milk bottles stood like small white sentinels and the morning paper was bent over the knob. Morning in the city, with children searching for lost stockings and buttoning little battered shoes; with women hurrying about, from stove to closet, from table to stove; with all burdens a little lighter and all thoughts a little kinder. Morning.