Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page

 

 

 

The Answered Prayer by Mary J. Holmes

All day long the canary bird' had sung unheeded in his gilded cage by the door, and the robin had caroled unheard by his nest in the tall maple tree, while the soft summer air and the golden rays of the warm June sun entered unnoticed the open windows of the richly furnished room, where a pale young mother kept her tireless watch by the bedside of her only child, a beautiful boy, three summers old. For many days he had hovered between life and death, while she, his mother, had hung over him with speechless agony, terrible to behold in one so young, so fair as she. He was her all, the only happiness she knew, for poor Lina Hastings was an unloving wife, who never yet had felt a thrill of joy at the sound of her husband's voice, and when occasionally his broad hand rested fondly upon her flowing curls, while he whispered in her ear how dear she was to him, his words awoke no answering chord of love.

How came she then his wife—and the mistress of his princely home? Alas! wealth was then the god which Lina Moore worshipped, and when Ralph Hastings, with his uncouth form and hundreds of thousands, asked her to be his wife, she stifled the better feelings of her nature which prompted her to tell him No, and with a gleam of pride in her dark blue eyes, and a deeper glow upon her cheek, she one day passed from the bright sunshine of heaven into the sombre gloom of the gray old church, whence she came forth Lina Hastings, shuddering even as she heard that name, and shrinking involuntarily from the caresses which the newly made husband bestowed upon her. And so the love she withheld from him was given the child who now lay motionless and white as the to the costly linen on which his golden curls were streaming.

All day she had watched him, for they told her that if he lived until the sun setting, there was hope, and as the hours wore on and the long shadows stretching to the eastward, betokened the approach of night, oh, how intense became the anxiety in her bosom. Fainter and softer grew the sunlight on the floor, and whiter grew the face of the sleeping boy. 'Twas the shadow of death, they said, and with a bitter wail of woe, Lina fell upon her knees, and as if she would compel the God of heaven to hear her, she shrieked, "Spare my child. Let him live, and I will bear whatsoever else of evil thou shalt send upon me. Afflict me in any other way and I can bear it, but spare to me my child."

In mercy or in wrath, Lina Hastings' prayer was answered. The pulse grew stronger beneath her touch—the breath came faster through the parted lips—a faint moisture was perceptible beneath the yellow curls, and when the sun was set the soft eyes of Eddie Hastings unclosed, and turned with a look of recognition upon his mother, who, clasping him in her arms, wept for joy, but returned no word or thought of gratitude toward Him who had been thus merciful to her.

In a small brown cottage in a distant part of the same village, another mother was watching beside her first-born, only son. They had been friends in their girlhood, she and Lina Hastings. Together they had conned the same hard tasks—together they had built their playhouse beneath the same old chestnut tree—together, hand in hand they wandered over the rocky hills and through the shady woods of New England, and at the same altar had they plighted their marriage vows, the one to the man she loved, the other to the man she tolerated for the sake of his surroundings. From this point their paths diverged, Lina moving in the sphere to which her husband's wealth had raised her, while Mabel Parkman one sad morning awoke from her sweet dream of bliss to find herself wedded to a drunkard! Only they who like her have experienced a similar awakening can know the bitterness of that hour, and yet methinks she was happier than the haughty Lina, for her love was no idle passion, and through weal and woe she clung to her husband, living oft on the remembrance of what he had been, and the hope of what he might be again, and when her little Willie was first laid upon her bosom, and she felt her husband's tears upon her cheek as he promised to reform for her sake and for his son's, she would not have exchanged her lot with that of the proudest in the land. That vow, alas, was ere long broken, and then, though she wept bitterly over his fall, she felt that she was not desolate, for there was music in her Willie's voice and sunshine in his presence.

But now he was dying, he was leaving her forever, and as she thought of the long dark days when she should look for him in vain, she staggered beneath the heavy blow, and in tones as heart-broken as those which had fallen from Lina Hasting's lips, she prayed "If it be possible let this cup pass from me," adding, "Not my will, oh God, but thine be done."

"I will do all things well," seemed whispered in her ear, and thus comforted she nerved herself to meet the worst. All the day she watched by her child, chafing his little hands, smoothing his scanty pillow beneath his head, bathing his burning forehead, and forcing down her bitter tears when in his disturbed sleep he would beg of his father to "bring him an orange—a nice yellow orange—he was so dry."

Alas, that father was where the song of the inebriate rose high on the summer air, and he heard not the pleadings of his son. 'Twas a dreary, desolate room where Willie Parkman lay, and when the sun went down and the night shadows fell, it seemed darker, drearier still. On the rude table by the window a candle dimly burned, but as the hours sped on it flickered awhile in its socket, then for an instant flashed up, illuminating the strangely beautiful face of the sleeping boy, and went out.

An hour later, and Willie awoke. Feeling for his mother's hand, he said; "Tell me true, do drunkards go to heaven?"

"There is for them no promise," was the wretched mother's answer.

"Then I shall never see pa again. Tell him good-by, good-by forever."

The next time he spoke it was to ask his mother to come near to him, that he might see her face once more. She did so, bending low and stifling her own great agony, lest it should add one pang to his dying hour.

"I cannot see you," he whispered, "it is so dark—so dark."

Oh, what would not that mother have given then for one of the lights which gleamed from the windows of the stately mansion where Eddie Hastings was watched by careful attendants. But it could not be and when at last the silvery moon-beams came struggling through the open window and fell upon the white brow of the little boy, they did not rouse him, for a far more glorious light had dawned upon his immortal vision—even the light of the Everlasting.

In her tasteful boudoir sat Lina Hastings, and at her side, on a silken lounge, lay Eddie, calmly sleeping, The crisis was past—she knew he would live, and her cup of happiness was full. Suddenly the morning stillness was broken by the sound of a tolling bell. 'Twas the same which, but for God's mercy, would at that moment, perhaps, have tolled for her boy, and Lina involuntarily shuddered as she listened to the strokes, which, at first were far between. Then they came faster, and as Lina counted five she said aloud, "'Twas a child but two years older than Eddie."

Later in the day it came to her that the bereaved one was her early friend, whom now she seldom met. Once Lina would have flown to Mabel's side, and poured into her ear words of comfort, but her heart had grown hard and selfish, and so she only said, "Poor Mabel, she never was as fortunate as I"—and her eye glanced proudly around the elegantly-furnished room, falling at last upon Eddie, whom she clasped to her bosom passionately, but without thought of Him who had decreed that not then should she be written childless.

The humble funeral was over. The soft, green turf had been broken, and the bright June flowers had fallen beneath the old sexton's spade as he dug the little grave where Willie Parkman was laid to rest. In the drunkard's home there was again darkness and a silence which would never be broken by the prattle of a childish voice. Sobered, repentant, and heartbroken, the wretched father laid his head in the lap of his faithful wife, beseeching of her to pray that the vow that morning breathed by Willie's coffin and renewed by Willie's grave might be kept unbroken. And she did pray, poor Mabel. With her arms around the neck of the weeping man, she asked that this, her great bereavement, might be sanctified to the salvation of her erring husband.

"I will do all things well," again seemed whispered in her ear and Mabel felt assured that Willie had not died in vain. 'Twas hard at first for Robert Parkman to break the chains which bound him, but the remembrance of Willie's touching message—"Tell pa good-by, good-by forever," would rush to his mind whenever he essayed to take the poisonous bowl, and thus was he saved, and when the first day of a new year was ushered in, he stood with Mabel at the altar, and on his upturned brow received the baptismal waters, while the man of God broke to him the bread of life. Much that night they missed their child, and Mabel's tears fell like rain upon the soft, chestnut curl she had severed from his head, but as she looked upon her husband, now strong again in his restored manhood, she murmured—"It was for this that Willie died, and I would not that it should be otherwise."

Fifteen years have passed away since the day when Lina Hastings breathed that almost impious prayer—"Send upon me any evil but this," and upon the deep blue waters of the Pacific a noble vessel lay becalmed, Fiercely the rays of a tropical sun poured down upon her hardy crew, but they heeded it not. With anxious, frightened faces and subdued step, they trod the deck, speaking in whispers of some dreaded event. There had been mutiny on board that mat-of-war-a deep-laid plot to murder the commanding officers, and now, at sun-setting, the instigators, four in number, were to pay the penalty of their crime. Three of them were old and hardened in sin, but the fourth, the fiercest spirit of all 'twas said, was young and beautiful to look upon. In the brown curls of his waving hair there were no threads of silver, and on his brow there were no lines save those of reckless dissipation, while his beardless cheek was round and smooth as that of a girl. Accustomed from his earliest childhood to rule, he could not brook restraint, and when it was put upon him, he had rebelled against it, stirring up strife, and leading on his comrades, who, used as they were to vice, marveled that one so young should be so deeply depraved.

The sun was set. Darkness was upon the mighty deep, and the waves moved by the breeze which had sprung up, seemed to chant a mournful dirge for the boy, who, far below, lay sleeping in a dishonored grave, if grave it can be called, where

"The purple mullet and gold fish rove, Where the sea flower spreads its leaves of blue Which never are wet with the falling dew, But in bright and changeful beauty shine Far down in the depths of the glassy brine."

Over the surging billow and away to the north ward, other robins are singing in the old maple-tree than those which sang there years ago, when death seemed brooding o'er the place. Again the summer shadows fall aslant the bright green lawn, and the soft breezes laden with the perfume of a thousand flowers, kiss the faded brow of Lina Hastings, but they bring no gladness to her aching heart, for her thoughts are afar on the deep with the wayward boy who, spurning alike her words of love and censure, has gone from her "to return no more forever," he said, for he left her in bitter anger. For three years the tall grass has grown over the grave of her husband, who to the last was unloved, and now she is alone in her splendid home, watching at the dawn of day and watching at the hour of eve for the return of her son.

Alas, alas, fond mother, Mabel Parkman in her hour of trial, never felt a throb of such bitter agony as that which wrung your heart- strings when first you heard the dreadful story of your disgrace. There were days and weeks of wild frenzy, during which she would shriek "Would to heaven he had died that night when he was young and innocent," and then she grew calm, sinking into a state of imbecility from which naught had the power to rouse her.

A year or two more, and they made for her a grave by the side of her husband, and the hearts which in life were so divided, now rest quietly together, while on the costly marble above them there is inscribed the name of their son, who sleeps alone and unwept in the far-off Southern Seas.