- CHAPTER XXIX. THE GREATEST TRIAL.
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THE GREATEST TRIAL.
THE fever abated at length, the delirium ceased, and Basil lay on his Bed week and feeble, like one whose thread of life is worn to the last degree of fragility. It seemed indeed to his anxious wife, and to all who watched in his sick chamber, that, for him, earthly life was fading rapidly away. Every setting sun as it went down on the wide expanse of heaving waters, and left its red gleam on the mountain-tops, seem to find him more feeble, more wasted, more like one upon whom the shadow of the tomb has already fallen.
The medical attendants believed that the natural vigor of his constitution might have triumphed over the strength of the fever, but he had sustained many injuries; and though, almost miraculously, no bone | | 315 was broken, he was covered with serious bruises and contusions. His ankle was frightfully sprained, both his arms severely lacerated, and his back strained to a degree that suggested the idea of danger to the spine. So that when the burning fever passed away, and he lay battling for life against utter prostration, and such weariness as he had never even faintly conceived, he had to contend with extreme and constant pain, that banished sleep from his restless pillow.
One evening Lilian was alone. Bridget was down stairs with the children; for Miss Williams being suddenly and even seriously disposed, their mother had insisted on their return; and accordingly they came back, and were established in two distant rooms, under the charge of a young woman in the neighborhood who could be fully trusted.
Lilian stood by the window, looking pensively over the nestling valley, and the glittering sea beyond. The sun was going down in his glory, and she thought not many times would it touch with its rich coloring the yellow sand on the shore, and the dark pines that fringed the coast-line, before Basil—her Basil, her own erring, but dearly-loved husband, would be gone from a world where so much beauty yet lingered
Gone?—and whither? She did not dare to think. She knew that her husband's heart was unchanged; | | 316 that all his life he had loved the world, and the things of the world, and that the poor failing heart, that beat so faintly now, had always throbbed only to the tones and voices of earth. They were going to part—the two brand aims of her life would be unfulfilled—that which she had covenanted with herself to perform—that to which she had pledged herself in the royal blades of Windsor, and again in her own dismantled house in town, might never be performed.
The happiness of married life, for which she had so long and patiently striven; was not to be hers—the reconciliation between Basil and his offended father might not be; all was over; the hopes she had so cherished were quietly drifting away on life's resistless current; the last and the greatest of the,Wife's Trials was at hand! She bowed her head on her hands—those pretty white hands, once so smooth and snowy, but bearing now deep traces of the sempstress' toil, and the housewife's frequent labors; she laid her weary, aching head on her clasped hands, and poured forth such bitter tears, such anguished sighs, such an agony of prayer, that, if it were possible, this cup might pass from her!—and her whole frame shook beneath the fierce conflict, the intense torture, and the strong yearning that convulsed her soul—ere she could bow the head still lower, still more meekly, and | | 317 faintly cry—"Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done!"
She looked up again; the heavens were all crimson with the dying sunset, and the glowing waters made her think of "the sea of glass, mingled with lire." She gazed with tearful eyes on the glory that mantled earth, and sea, and sky, and something like calmness fell on her troubleworn spirit; for she remembered who had called out of choas that transcendant beauty! With awe and love she whispered His name who established the everlasting hills—who, from darkness and confusion, brought forth light, order and loveliness—who gave to the morning and evening their radiant line, to noon its sunshine, and to night its stars. And surely He would have mercy upon her, a poor lonely-stricken creature, and overrule even this great trial to her eternal welfare; and as a last golden beam shot out in the darkening sea, leaving a line of dazzling light all across the bay, she said gently to herself, "At evening-time, there shall be light!"
She was still watching the bright streak, that a child might have taken for the pathway of angels between heaven and earth, when she heard of her name faintly called. Basil had awakened from his brief and troubled doze, and in an instant Lilian was at his side. "What is it, dearest? Have yon slept a little? Let me smooth that pillow—there! That is | | 318 more comfortable! Now, you must have the chicken broth, it is quite ready for you!" She brought it from the next room, where it had been simmering till wanted, for the weather was too warm to allow of a fire in the invalid's chamber.
He took a little, a very little, of the delicately prepared nourishment; and when Lilian had once more settled him, and sat down in her usual seat by his side, he said, in his faint low tones, so different from the clear manly voice that had been wont to make Bryndyffryn ring again, "Lilian! my Lily! you are too good to me." A shower of gentle, but loving kisses on the thin wasted cheek, was her only answer.
"Too good!" he murmured, earnestly. "Lilian, when I am well again, everything shall be changed. I will try to be as good a husband to you, as you have been a good true wife to me; undeserving though I was."
She did not answer, but laid her hand by his; she did not dare to clasp it, discolored and lacerated as it was; she knew the slightest touch gave excessive pain, and he could not even bear the friction of the bed-clothes. There was silence for several minutes, only the low, deep murmur of the receding tide broke the stillness of the hour. Then Basil, with more energy than he had shown since the fever left him, said, with half-repressed agitation, "Lilian! why do | | 319 you not speak? do you not trust me? Ah! I have had a bitter lesson!" Then in an altered tone, a low, distinct, hoarse whisper—"Or is it—oh! Lily! tell me all that you know—is it that I shall never be well again? Do they say I am going to die?'
For a moment there was no answer. Basil felt his wife's convulsive grasp on the counterpane; he could almost hear the involuntary prayer that rose from her pale, trembling lips. Presently she said, "When people are so very ill as you are, dearest, there must be danger; it would be well to think so—well to give some thoughts to the world beyond the grave!"
"I see it!" he interrupted. "I understand now; I am a dying man: I have missed the aim of life, I have wasted youth, and early manhood; and, ere the full summer of my days, I am cut down like an unprofitable tree; I am a cumberer of the ground; but, oh, Lilian! the future? I seem to be floating out on a dark, dark, boundless sea, where light and joy and hope can never dawn. Where is my soul going?"
With awful earnestness he pronounced the last words. Lilian was quite calm now; it seemed to her as though earthly sensations were annihilated—the husband, the lover of her youth was forgotten. She felt only that she was communing with an immortal soul, on the very verge of eternity. She felt that she must wrestle, like wandering Israel with the angel, | | 320 for its salvation. She and Basil might have been alone in the world, for she felt at that moment that the whole cartel contained nothing beyond that fading, dying frame; that twilight chamber might leave been the universe, for there was nothing beyond it at that moment Worth a thought.
"Basil!" she said, at length, "'the dust shall return to the earth as it was—the spirit shall return to God who gave it.'" He groaned heavily. She went on, "'We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God; we have gone astray like lost sheep: we have done those things which we ought not to have done; we have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and there is no health in us.' But, there is forgiveness with him: for 'God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.' And Jesus Christ himself, when he walked the world of sin and sorrow, said—'I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.' Oh! Basil, dearest, the world cannot help you now; your wife cannot help you now; but there is ONE who can and will help you. One who loves to hear the penitent cry of the contrite sinner; One who is waiting to bless you, and number you, whether it be for this life or the next, among his children. Come to him, Basil; come at once; stop | | 321 for nothing; the worse you are, the more you need him. There is time now; speak to him at once; tell him all your sin, all your fear, and beseech him for his treat mercy's sake, to cleanse you from your guilt; to clothe you with his robe of righteousness, and finally to conduct you safely through the valley of the shadow of death, to the land where sin can never enter—to the land," she added, her voice slightly trembling, " where our little child, our first baby has dwelt so long!"
He did not speak, and Lilian prayed in silence, and the unuttered words went up to her Father's throne, while the shades of night fell over the sea and land. "Oh, Father!" she pleaded, "whatever Thou doest, whatever sorrow and suffering Thou givest me, save this immortal soul! Oh, Saviour, the sinner's Friend, our Sacrifice and our Ransom! wash it in thy own precious blood. Thou canst make it pure and holy. Thou canst redeem it from death. Thou canst present it blameless and spotless before thy Father's throne. Now let thy Spirit strive with thy erring child, and incline his heart to come unto thee, and believe in thy name; guide him with thy counsel, and afterwards receive him into glory!"
She was roused from that agony of supplication by Basil saying, "Lilian! what was that hymn you were singing to Bridget and the children the other Sunday | | 322 afternoon, when I told you I hated Methodist tunes?"
She repeated the first few verses:—
Drawn from Emanuel's veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
"The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, as vile as he,
Wash all my sins away."
"Can it be?" said Basil, as it were to himself—"can it be that I may wash all my sins away? I am as vile as the dying malefactor, and he went with the Saviour into Paradise!" And then all silently the cry of the perishing soul went up to Heaven—"Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief! Lord, save me; I perish!"
Lilian lighted the lamp and read aloud the 3rd and 14th chapters of St. John's Gospel. She remembered well how the words of peace and forgiveness had fallen like healing balm on her wounded spirit, when, four years ago, she had wrestled, in the depths of her distress, with agony, and doubt, and despair. And now as then, the holy words of the Master, spoken on the eve of mortal separation from his disciples, gave strength to the tried spirit of the wife, and peace and hope to the awakened heart of the husband.| | 323
Then Lilian arranged all things for the night. Bridget came and took her place, while she paid a hurried visit to the room where her children lay sleeping. Like folded flowers the twins slumbered in each other's arms; the rosy Maude had tossed off her coverings, and the round, polished limbs were flung in careless grace on the little cot, where she slept alone. Lilian gazed at her with eyes streaming with tears; her father's proud look was on her face; his handsome features were repeated line by line in her baby lineaments; the very attitude, so careless, so full of ease, reminded her of him. Oh! was little Maude never to remember her father whom she so strongly resembled? Must the baby, Basil's own little son, never know his father's voice—never know his father's face and smile?
She left them all wrapped in their sweet untroubled slumber, and went back to the spot where now every hope, and fear, and solicitude were centred.
A trying night lay before her. Basil's burdened heart would not let him rest, even when for the moment, bodily pain was lulled; and in ministering to his wants, in soothing his weariness, and in repeating verses of the Bible, and scraps of hymns, the hours of darkness passed. The sun rose again, tinging the waves with the hues of the summer's dawn; the birds began their cheering music, and the rising | | 324 tide flashed its broad waves on the lonely shore, and then Basil fell asleep. Lilian watched him a little while, and then, wearied and exhausted, she too lay back in her easy-chair and slumbered sweetly.
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