Stronger than Death

Eric A. Darling October 1 1915

Stronger than Death

Eric A. Darling October 1 1915

Stronger than Death

Eric A. Darling

THE high dog-cart evolved itself from the mist that had crept up from the meadow, and the girl seated on the front steps of the parsonage watched it listlessly. Indeed, she almost wished that Miss Lawlour would not call to-day. Miss Lawlour was the one really rich girl in the neighborhood and her horses and dresses, the latter wonderful in their rich simplicity, and Miss Lawlour herself, with her unswerving poise bred of gentle birth and foreign polish, grew really trying at times. Besides, she never was in a hurry, never tore her clothes, and little Miss Robins wondered if she had ever climbed a tree or hunted for berries, or learned to swim and run and fish, like most of the girls round the Beach.

She frowned a little and twisted the strings of her sunbonnet. She really couldn’t remember that Miss Lawlour was five years older than she was, and had found most of her amusements within the confines of her father’s large estate. She could see the top of the broad chimneys through the trees—that wonderful house that the rectory girl had, as a child, regarded as the Palace Beautiful.

The dog-cart drew up at the door of the parsonage.

The groom jumped down and took from the back a large bundle that had been hidden under the seat, deposited it in the porch, then ran down again and stood at the horse’s head. The girl descended.

Something in the settled sadness of the rich girl’s face, too deep to be defined, struck the rectory girl afresh. And she had envied her—■ this girl whose lover had died within the year, a victim to scarlet fever; while Ned, her own sweetheart, whom she was to marry before the moon was full, had escaped.

“You have not been near me for a week,” said little Miss Robins with a gayety she did not feel.

The other smiled slowly.

“So? And yet you were not very glad to see me come up the road. You were wishing I would leave you alone for another week.”

“Really—” began the younger girl, but Miss Lawlour only laughed.

“You can’t deny it. I knew by the angle of your pink sun-bonnet before I even saw the face beneath the frill. It’s an infallible sign.”

“To tell the truth, father’s away, and I’m poor company, and have grown, in consequence, unbearably cross.”

“Anything wrong?”

The girl twisted her pink suri-bonnet dejectedly. How was she to tell this rich girl that she was aching for a couple of really pretty dresses, and a wedding gown of silk, and a veil, instead of the made-up poplin and the old white muslin, newly pressed, that lay in a drawer upstairs awaiting next week? Perhaps she wouldn’t understand. Perhaps she would think she was begging. Little Miss Robins pressed her lips firmly together and tied the pink strings determinedly under her

' I 'HE elder woman’s eyes were fixed on the meadow. She wondered how she was to begin. She had never known the girl of the rectory very well but after Harold had died it had been the girl’s father who had helped her most. He had seldom spoken to her religiously at that time, appreciating that abstract principles are not the balm needed for a break-

ing heart. He had talked to her rather of her lover himself—the human Harold that had lived near them, the Harold they both had known, and of the simple grandeur of his short life. And so it was that Miss Lawlour had come to him and had grown to know his daughter. They had never become very intimate. Their ways and modes of life were too distinct for that; but little Miss Robins had been the only girl she had associated with since her lover’s death. It might have been that little Miss Robins was unhampered by the formal conventionalities that hedged in the richer girls she knew. It might have been that she was a rector’s daughter. Harold had been a clergyman.

She looked down at the big bundle at her feet in an undecided way and repeated her question.

“N—no,” said little Miss Robins, her mouth drooping as she thought of the newly-ironed muslin.

“I’m glad of that,” said Miss Lawlour

briskly. “How’s the trousseau getting on? Do you know, I’ve been wondering about that. I know you rarely get to town to see the pretty things, and—” she broke off and then started again, “I have to go to-morrow, and I thought—”

The girl of the rectory looked at her squarely.

“That’s certainly very good of you,” she said, bravely swallowing a lump, half of pride, half of pity, “But I haven’t the money to buy the things, even if I went, and I can’t ask father—”

Miss Lawlour nodded gravely.

“Of course not,” she said.

“The things I’ve got will do very well,” added little Miss Robins. And then she was seized with a panic lest this rich girl would ask to see them. But she did nothing of the kind.

“Of course not,” said Miss Lawlour again. Then she hurried on : “A clergyman’s wife or daughter doesn’t need such things. You see, you’re going to be both; and it would be very foolish and very inappropriate to get the ordinary amount of dresses, even if you had the money to spend.”

C HE paused a moment, then went on ^ quietly, her wide eyes fixed on the distant fields—her still hands clasped in her lap.

“We used to talk over that part of it, Harold and I.”

It was the first time she had mentioned his name in her presence, and little Miss Robins drew a quick breath and held on very tightly to the pink sun-bonnet strings.

“If—if he had lived, we were to have been married very quietly and my trousseau would not have been very much more than your own. The wedding dress”— little Miss Robins wondered how she could speak so quietly—“the wedding dress was to have been of finest silk, though—the finest that could be bought; for, since I had the money, nothing would have been too good to have gone to him in, and—I was tb have worn my mother’s veil. Did you know that the dress and all the things were finished when—when he died?”

She paused, as though expecting an answer from little Miss Robins.

“No,” said little Miss Robins very, very gently, and in a whisper, “I did not know.”

“The last stitch was put in the dress the day he went to the poor people of his parish, and nursed the man through the fever. When I returned afterwards”—it was her only allusion to her own exposure in nursing her lover—“I laid it away with the other things. I could not bear to see them. Last night I could not sleep, and I kept thinking of them and of—you— and—and I thought, perhaps, if you were not superstitious”—the shadow of a smile trembled around her mouth—“I thought, perhaps, you would take a few of the things, and—perhaps the dress. You see, they’ll be as appropriate for you as for me, since you’re to become a clergyman’s wife. It would be a comfort and a favor to me. Would—would you—”

She got through the speech somehow, turning from the distant view to the girl. Little Miss Robin’s back was to her. Miss Lawlour rose quickly and went to her.

“Oh! I have hurt you,” she cried. “I did not mean to; I only thought—”

Little Miss Robins turned. She was crying and smiling a little too.

“Hurt? A favor to you? It’s all too beautiful to be true!” she began incoherently.

The girl was undemonstrative. She did not touch the pathetically happy little figure at her side.

“I am glad,” she said gently. “I am glad you are to wear them. I hoped you would, and—see, I have brought the dress with me. Would—would you care to look at it?”

Between them they got the big bundle through the small door of the rectory and into little Miss Robins’ room; and then Miss Lawlour undid it, the younger girl looking on with a queer choked feeling in her throat. It was Miss Lawlour who shook the silk out and laid it on the bed, and it was Miss Lawlour who smoothed the creases out of the exquisite lace with which the bodice was trimmed.

The evening sun, breaking through the mist, crept around and looked into a window, and one long, brilliant shaft of light fell like an angel’s finger on the veil. Outside, a thrush trilled as though to burst his little throat, and still the silence of the room was unbroken by a sound.

The daughter of the rectory touched the edge of the long skirt with a small, timid hand that trembled, and a big tear hid itself in the folds, as a dew-drop hides in the heart of a white rose. Miss Lawlour, her hands upon the enameled foot railing of the iron bedstead, leaned her weight upon them, until the tension told in the blood that swept round the knuckles. She had no tears to cry.

“How can you look at it?” the younger girl whispered, turning her face, one flushed cheek against the silken folds, to the elder’s still, sad one.

“I could not at first,” said she in a low voice. “The world wondered and talked,” she went on, with her grave smile, “when it heard I was engaged to Harold. It said I was unfitted for the life he led. I was. Until I met him I had never known what a man’s life could be.” She stopped, looking down at the white silk on the bed.

“But—hut that you can he so brave,” said the other awed.

“Love brings strength,” said Miss Lawlour. “I loved him so that, if one of us had to be taken, I am glad it was he—glad, if one of us had to suffer, he was spared.”

f I 'HE long, long silence fell again between them, heavy with the weight of its own stillness. The sun ran its golden shaft of flickering light from the face of the veil, across the bodice of the dress, down to the farthest hem, and then wraith-like melted into the dissolving mist. Outside, the cadence of the bird filled in the calm lapses of nature. Miss Lawlour moved towards the door.

“Perhaps—you would let me help you alter it to fit you,” she said a trifle doubtfully, “and then if you would let me put it on when—” She fingered the fringe of the scarf lying across a near-by chair.

The girl of the rectory raised herself from her knees by the bed, stood upright,

and faced her with blue eyes swimming in a sea of tears.

“If—I—would—let—-you,” she said slowly, and then she came to Miss Lawlour, took both the elder girl’s delicately gloved hands and silently laid her cheek against them.

A ND so it was Miss Lawlour who dressed her on her wedding-day, Miss Lawlour who greeted her on the landing of the stairs when the brief ceremony held in the little church was over, and who helped her into the traveling dress of brown.

The girl went over to the window and drew aside the muslin curtains of the tiny room where she had lived so long and which she was now leaving. Miss Lawlour finished putting the last things in the bag resting on the bed, and glanced uncertainly once or twice toward the slim, motionless figure by the window.

“Ned is waiting,” she said gently. “It is time for you to go.”

Still the girl did not stir. Miss Lawlour went and stood behind her, looking out over her shoulder.

“Ned is waiting,” she repeated. “They are calling to you. Come.”

Below a bevy of girls, their hands riceladen, were calling her by name. Someone slammed a door, and someone else struck up a popular air on the old cracked

There was an echo of blithe laughter— the bridegroom’s voice in protest. The younger woman still stared out across the quiet country to the strip of water lying silver-sheeted in the bright sunlight. Then she turned and clung to Miss Lawlour, the glory of her own happiness shadowed by the wonder of the other’s pain.

“How can you bear it so?” she whispered. “How can you bear it so?”

“I loved him,” said Miss Lawlour simply. “We loved each other. I have that to think of—always.”

And the young wife went down to meet her husband with a new realization of the power of love—a power stronger thar. Death.