Chapel by Grace E. King
Every heart has a miracle to pray for. Every life holds that which
only a miracle can cure. To prove that there have never been, that
there can never be, miracles does not alter the matter. So long as
there is something hoped for,—that does not come in the legitimate
channel of possible events,—so long as something does come not to be
hoped or expected in the legitimate channel of possible events, just so
long will the miracle be prayed for.
The rich and the prosperous, it would seem, do not depend upon God
so much, do not need miracles, as the poor do. They do not have to pray
for the extra crust when starvation hovers near; for the softening of
an obdurate landlord's heart; for strength in temptation, light in
darkness, salvation from vice; for a friend in friendlessness; for that
miracle of miracles, an opportunity to struggling ambition; for the
ending of a dark night, the breaking of day; and, oh! for God's own
miracle to the bedside-watchers—the change for the better, when death
is there and the apothecary's skill too far, far away. The poor, the
miserable, the unhappy, they can show their miracles by the score; that
is why God is called the poor man's friend. He does not mind, so they
say, going in the face of logic and reason to relieve them; for often
the kind and charitable are sadly hampered by the fetters of logic and
reason, which hold them, as it were, away from their own benevolence.
But the rich have their miracles, no doubt, even in that beautiful
empyrean of moneyed ease in which the poor place them. Their money
cannot buy all they enjoy, and God knows how much of their sorrow it
assuages. As it is, one hears now and then of accidents among them,
conversions to better thoughts, warding off of danger, rescue of life;
and heirs are sometimes born, and husbands provided, and fortunes
saved, in such surprising ways, that even the rich, feeling their
limitations in spite of their money, must ascribe it privately if not
publicly to other potencies than their own. These cathedral tours de
force, however, do not, if the truth be told, convince like the
miracles of the obscure little chapel.
There is always a more and a most obscure little miracle chapel, and
as faith seems ever to lead unhesitatingly to the latter one, there is
ever rising out of humility and obscurity, as in response to a demand,
some new shrine, to replace the wear and tear and loss of other shrines
by prosperity. For, alas! it is hard even for a chapel to remain
obscure and humble in the face of prosperity and popularity. And how to
prevent such popularity and prosperity? As soon as the noise of a real
miracle in it gets abroad, every one is for hurrying thither at once
with their needs and their prayers, their candles and their picayunes;
and the little miracle chapel, perhaps despite itself, becomes with
mushroom growth a church, and the church a cathedral, from whose
resplendent altars the cheap, humble ex-voto tablets, the modest
beginnings of its ecclesiastical fortunes, are before long banished to
dimly lighted lateral shrines.
The miracle chapel in question lay at the end of a very confusing
but still intelligible route. It is not in truth a chapel at all, but a
consecrated chamber in a very small, very lowly cottage, which stands,
or one might appropriately, if not with absolute novelty, say which
kneels, in the center of a large garden, a garden primeval in rusticity
and size, its limits being defined by no lesser boundaries than the
four intersecting streets outside, and its culture showing only the
careless, shiftless culture of nature. The streets outside were
miracles themselves in that, with their liquid contents, they were
streets and not bayous. However, they protected their island chapel
almost as well as a six-foot moat could have done. There was a small
paved space on the sidewalk that served to the pedestrian as an
indication of the spot in the tall, long, broad fence where a gate
might be sought. It was a small gate with a strong latch. It required a
strong hand to open it. At the sound of the click it made, the little
street ragamuffin, who stood near, peeping through the fence, looked
up. He had worked quite a hole between the boards with his fingers.
Such an anxious expression passed over his face that even a casual
passer-by could not help relieving it by a question—any question:
“Is this the miracle chapel, little boy?”
“Yes, ma'am; yes.” Then his expression changed to one of eagerness,
yet hardly less anxious.
“Here. Take this—”
He did not hold out his hand, the coin had to seek it. At its touch
he refused to take it.
“I ain't begging.”
“What are you looking at so through the fence?” He was all sadness
“Is there anything to see inside?”
He did not answer. The interrogation was repeated.
“I can't see nothing. I'm blind,” putting his eyes again to the
hole, first one, then the other.
“Come, won't you tell me how this came to be a miracle chapel?”
“Oh, ma'am,”—he turned his face from the fence, and clasped his
hands in excitement,—“it was a poor widow woman who come here with her
baby that was a-dying, and she prayed to the Virgin Mary, and the
Virgin Mary made the baby live—”
He dropped his voice, the words falling slower and slower. As he
raised his face, one could see then that he was blind, and the accident
that had happened to him, in fording the street. What sightless eyes!
What a wet, muddy little skeleton! Ten? No; hardly ten years of age.
“The widow woman she picked up her baby, and she run down the walk
here, and out into the street screaming—she was so glad,”—putting his
eyes to the peep-hole again,—“and the Virgin Mary come down the walk
after her, and come through the gate, too; and that was all she
seed—the widow woman.”
“Did you know the widow woman?”
He shook his head.
“How do you know it?”
“That was what they told me. And they told me, the birds all begun
to sing at once, and the flowers all lighted up like the sun was
shining on them. They seed her. And she come down the walk, and through
the gate,” his voice lowering again to a whisper.
Aye, how the birds must have sung, and the flowers shone, to the
widowed mother as she ran, nay, leaped, down that rose-hedged walk,
with her restored baby clasped to her bosom!
“They seed her,” repeated the little fellow. “And that is why
you stand here—to see her, too?”
His shoulder turned uneasily in the clasp upon it.
“They seed her, and they ain't got no eyes.”
“Have you no mother?”
“Ain't never had no mother.” A thought struck him. “Would that
count, ma'am? Would that count? The little baby that was dying—yes,
ma'am, it had a mother; and it's the mothers that come here constant
with their children; I sometimes hear 'em dragging them in by the
“How long have you been coming here?”
“Ever since the first time I heard it, ma'am.”
Street ragamuffins do not cry: it would be better if they did so,
when they are so young and so blind; it would be easier for the
spectator, the auditor.
“They seed her—I might see her ef—ef I could see her once—ef—ef
I could see anything once.” His voice faltered; but he stiffened it
instantly. “She might see me. She can't pass through this gate without
seeing me; and—and—ef she seed me—and I didn't even see her—oh, I'm
so tired of being blind!”
“Did you never go inside to pray?” How embarrassing such a question
is, even to a child!
“No, ma'am. Does that count, too? The little baby didn't pray, the
flowers didn't go inside, nor the birds. And they say the birds broke
out singing all at once, and the flowers shined, like the sun was
shining on 'em—like the sun was shining in 'em,” he corrected himself.
“The birds they can see, and the flowers they can't see, and they seed
her.” He shivered with the damp cold—and perhaps too with hunger.
“Where do you live?”
He wouldn't answer.
“What do you live on?”
He shook his head.
“Come with me.” He could not resist the grasp on his shoulder, and
the firm directing of his bare, muddy feet through the gate, up the
walk, and into the chamber which the Virgin found that day. He was
turned to the altar, and pressed down on his knees.
One should not look at the face of a blind child praying to the
Virgin for sight. Only the Virgin herself should see that—and if she
once saw that little boy! There were hearts, feet, hands, and eyes
enough hanging around to warrant hope at least, if not faith; the
effigies of the human aches and pains that had here found relief, if
not surcease; feet and hands beholden to no physician for their
exorcism of rheumatism; eyes and ears indebted to no oculist or aurist;
and the hearts,—they are always in excess,—and, to the most
skeptical, there is something sweetly comforting in the sight of so
many cured hearts, with their thanks cut deep, as they should be, in
the very marble thereof. Where the bed must have stood was the altar,
rising by easy gradations, brave in ecclesiastical deckings, to the
plaster figure of her whom those yearning hearts were seeing, whom
those murmuring lips were addressing. Hearts must be all alike to her
at such a distance, but the faces to the looker-on were so different.
The eyes straining to look through all the experiences and troubles
that their life has held to plead, as only eyes can plead, to one who
can, if she will, perform their miracle for them. And the mouths,—the
sensitive human mouths,—each one distorted by the tragedy against
which it was praying.
Their miracles! their miracles! what trifles to divinity! Perhaps
hardly more to humanity! How far a simple looker-on could supply them
if so minded! Perhaps a liberal exercise of love and charity by not
more than half a dozen well-to-do people could answer every prayer in
the room! But what a miracle that would be, and how the Virgin's heart
would gladden thereat, and jubilate over her restored heart-dying
children, even as the widowed mother did over her one dying babe!
And the little boy had stopped praying. The futility of it—perhaps
his own impotence—had overcome him. He was crying, and past the shame
of showing it—crying helplessly, hopelessly. Tears were rolling out of
his sightless eyes over his wordless lips. He could not pray; he could
only cry. What better, after all, can any of us do? But what a prayer
to a woman—to even the plaster figure of a woman! And the Virgin did
hear him; for she had him taken without loss of a moment to the
hospital, and how easy she made it for the physician to remove the
disability! To her be the credit.