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The Miracle 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 now.

“Just looking.”

“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 hand.”

“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.


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