Read CHAPTER XII - QUALIFYING FOR SERVICE of The Man of the Desert , free online book, by Grace Livingston Hill, on ReadCentral.com.

During the six weeks’ lingering suffering that followed the accident Hazel was never far from her father’s bedside.  It seemed as though a new bond of understanding had come between them.

He was very low and there was little hope from the beginning.  As he grew weaker he seemed never to want his daughter out of sight, and once when he woke suddenly to find her close beside him, a smile of relief spread over his face, and he told her in brief words that he had dreamed she was lost again in Arizona, and that he had been searching for her with the wild beasts howling all about and wicked men prowling in dark caves.  He told her how during that awful time of her disappearance he had been haunted by her face as she was a tiny baby after her mother died, and it seemed to him he should go mad if he could not find her at once.

Then to soothe him she told him of the missionary, and how gently he had cared for her; told him of all the pleasant little details of the way, though not, of course, of his love for her nor hers for him.  Perhaps the father, with eyes keen from their nearness to the other world, discerned something of her interest as she talked, for once he sighed and said, in reference to the life of sacrifice the missionary was leading:  “Well, I don’t know but such things are more worth while after all.”

And then with sudden impulse she told him of her finding his mother, and why she had wanted to go to the country in the middle of the society season, because she wanted to know more of the peaceful life this woman lived.

“Perhaps you will meet him again.  Who knows?” said the father, looking wistfully at his lovely daughter, and then he turned his head away and sighed again.

As the confidence grew between them she told him one day of Milton Hamar’s unwelcome proposal, and the indignation of the father knew no bounds.

It was after that she ventured to read to him from the little book, and to tell of the worship held out under the stars in the desert.  It came to be a habit between them, as the days grew less, that she should read the little book, and afterwards he would always lie still as if he were asleep.

It was on the words of the precious psalm that he closed his eyes for the last time in this world, and it was the psalm that brought comfort to the daughter’s heart when she came back to the empty house after the funeral.

Her brother was there, it is true, but he was afraid of death, and wanted to get back to his world again, back to the European trip where he had left his friends, and especially a gay young countess who had smiled upon him.  He was impatient of death and sorrow.  Hazel saw that he could not comprehend her loneliness, so she bade him go as soon as decency would allow, and he was not long in obeying her.  He had had his own way all his life, and even death was not to deny him.

The work of the trained nurses who had cared for her father interested Hazel deeply.  She had talked with them about their life and preparation for it, and when she could no longer stand the great empty house with only Aunt Maria for company, who had come back just before Mr. Radcliffe’s death, she determined to become a nurse herself.

There was much ado over her decision among her acquaintances, and Aunt Maria thought it was not quite respectable for her to do so eccentric a thing and so soon after her father’s death.  She would have preferred to have had her run down to Lakewood for a few weeks and then follow her brother across the water for a year or two of travel; but Hazel was quite determined, and before January was over she was established in the hospital, through the influence of their family physician, and undergoing her first initiation.

It was not easy thus to give up her life of doing exactly as she pleased when she pleased, and become a servant under orders.  Her back often ached, and her eyes grew heavy with the watching and the ministering, and she would be almost ready to give over.  Then the thought of the man of the desert gave her new courage and strength.  It came to her that she was partaking with him in the great work of the kingdom, and with this thought she would rise and go about the strange new work again, until her interest in the individuals to whom she ministered grew deep, and she understood in a measure the reason for the glory in the face of the missionary as he spoke in the starlight about his work.

Often her heart went out wistfully towards her invalid friend in New Hampshire, and she would rest herself by writing a long letter, and would cherish the delicately written answers.  Now and again there would be some slight reference to “my son” in these letters.  As the spring came on they were more frequent, for May would bring the General Assembly, and the son was to be one of the speakers.  How her heart throbbed when she read that this was certain now.  A few days later when she happened to read in the daily paper some item about Assembly plans and discovered for the first time that it was to meet in New York, she found herself in a flutter of joy.  Would it be possible for her to hear him speak?  That was the great question that kept coming and going in her mind.  Could she arrange it so that she would be sure to be off duty when his time came to speak?  How could she find out about it all?  Thereafter her interest in the church news of the daily papers became deep.

Then spring came on with its languid air and the hard round of work, with often a call to watch when overcome with weariness, or to do some unaccustomed task that tried her undisciplined soul.  But the papers were full of the coming Assembly, and at last the program and his name!

She laid her plans most carefully, but the case she had been put upon that week was very low, dying, and the woman had taken a fancy to her and begged her to stay by her till the end.  It was a part of the new Hazel that she stayed, though her heart rose up in protest and tears of disappointment would keep coming to her eyes.  The head nurse marked them with disapproval and told the house doctor that Radcliffe would never make much of a nurse; she had no control over her emotions.

Death came, almost too late, and set her free for the afternoon, but it was but half an hour to the time set for his speech, she was three miles from the place of meeting and still in her uniform.  It was almost foolish to try.  Nevertheless she hurried to her room and slipped into a plain little street suit, the thing that would go on quickest, and was away.

It seemed as though every cab and car and mode of transit had conspired to hinder her, and five minutes before the time set for the next speech she hurried breathless into the dim hallway of a great crowded church, and pressed up the stairs to the gallery, through the silent leather doors that could scarcely swing open for the crowd inside them, and heard at last-his voice!

She was away up at the top of the gallery.  Men and women were standing close all about her.  She could not catch even a glimpse of the platform with its array of noble men whose consecration and power and intellects had made them great religious leaders.  She could not see the young commanding figure standing at the edge of the platform, nor catch the flash of his brown eyes as he held the audience in his power while he told the simple story of his Western work; but she could hear the voice, and it went straight to her lonely, sorrowful heart.  Straightway the church with its mass of packed humanity, its arched and carven ceiling, its magnificent stained-glass windows, its wonderful organ and costly fittings, faded from her sight, and overhead there arched a dome of dark blue pierced with stars, and mountains in the distance with a canyon opening, and a flickering fire.  She heard the voice speak from its natural setting, though her eyes were closed and full of tears.

He finished his story amid a breathless silence on the part of his audience, and then with scarcely a break in his voice spoke to God in one of his uplifting prayers.  The girl, trembling, almost sobbing, felt herself included in the prayer, felt again the protection of an unseen Presence, felt the benediction in his voice as he said, “Amen,” and echoed its utmost meaning in her soul.

The audience was still hushed as the speaker turned to go to his seat at the back of the platform.  A storm of applause had been made impossible by that prayer, for heaven opened with the words and God looked down and had to do with each soul present.  But the applause burst forth after all in a moment, for the speaker had whispered a few words to the moderator and was hurrying from the platform.  There were cries of, “Don’t go!  Tell us more!  Keep on till six o’clock!” Hazel could not see a thing though she stretched her neck and stood upon the tips of her toes, but she clasped her hands tightly together when the applause came, and her heart echoed every sound.

The clamour ceased a moment as the moderator raised his hand, and explained that the brother to whom they had all been listening with such pleasure would be glad to speak to them longer, but that he was hastening away to take the train to see his invalid mother who had been waiting for two long years for her boy.  A pause, a great sigh of sympathy and disappointment, and then the applause burst forth again, and continued till the young missionary had left the church.

Hazel, in bitter disappointment, turned and slipped out.  She had not caught a glimpse of his beloved face.  She exulted that she had heard the honour given him, been a part of those who rejoiced in his power and consecration, but she could not have him go without having at least one look at him.

She hurried blindly down the stairs, out to the street, and saw a carriage standing before the door.  The carriage door had just been closed, but as she gazed he turned and looked out for an instant, lifting his hat in farewell to a group of ministers who stood on the church steps.  Then the carriage whirled him away and the world grew suddenly blank.

She had been behind the men on the steps, just within the shadow of the dim doorway.  He had not seen her, and of course would not have recognized her if he had; yet now she realized that she had hoped-oh-what had she not hoped from meeting him here!

But he was gone, and it might be years before he came East again.  He had utterly put her from his life.  He would not think of her again if he did come!  Oh, the loneliness of a world like this!  Why, oh why, had she ever gone to the desert to learn the emptiness of her life, when there was no other for her anywhere!

The days that followed were very sad and hard.  The only thought that helped now was that she too had tried to give her life for something worth while as he had done, and perhaps it might be accepted.  But there was a deep unrest in her soul now, a something that she knew she had not got that she longed inexpressibly to have.  She had learned to cook and to nurse.  She was not nearly so useless as when she rode all care-free upon the desert.  She had overcome much of her unworthiness.  But there was still one great obstacle which unfitted her for companionship and partnership with the man of the desert.  She had not the something in her heart and life that was the source and centre of self-sacrifice.  She was still unworthy.

There was a long letter about the first of June from her friend in New Hampshire, more shakily written, she fancied, than those that had come before, and then there came an interval without any reply to hers.  She had little time, however, to worry about it, for the weather was unusually warm and the hospital was full.  Her strength was taxed to its utmost to fill her round of daily duties.  Aunt Maria scolded and insisted on a vacation, and finally in high dudgeon betook herself to Europe for the summer.  The few friends with whom Hazel kept up any intercourse hurried away to mountains or sea, and the summer settled down to business.

And now in the hot, hot nights when she lay upon her small bed, too weary almost to sleep, she would fancy she heard again that voice as he spoke in the church, or longer ago in the desert; and sometimes she could think she felt the breeze of the desert night upon her hot forehead.

The head nurse and the house doctor decided Radcliffe needed a change and suggested a few days at the shore with a convalescing patient, but Hazel’s heart turned from the thought, and she insisted upon sticking to her post.  She clung to the thought that she could at least be faithful.  It was what he would do, and in so much she would be like him, and worthy of his love.

It was the last thought in her mind before she fainted on the broad marble staircase with a tiny baby in her arms, and fell to the bottom.  The baby was uninjured, but it took a long time to bring the nurse back to consciousness, and still longer to put heart into her again.

“She isn’t fit for the work!” she heard the biting tongue of the head nurse declare.  “She’s too frail and pretty and-emotional.  She feels everybody’s troubles.  Now I never let a case worry me in the least!” And the house doctor eyed her knowingly and said in his heart: 

“Any one would know that.”

But Hazel, listening, was more disheartened than ever.  Then here, too, she was failing and was adjudged unworthy!

The next morning there came a brief, blunt note from Amelia Ellen:  “Dear Mis Raclift Ef yore a trainurse why don’t yo cum an’ take car o’ my Mis Brownleigh She aint long fer heer an she’s wearyin to see yo She as gotta hev one, a trainurse I mean Yors respectfooly Amelia Ellen Stout.”

After an interview with the house doctor and another with her old family physician, Hazel packed up her uniforms and departed for New Hampshire.

It was the evening of her arrival, after the gentle invalid had been prepared for sleep and left in the quiet and dark, that Amelia Ellen told the story: 

“She ain’t ben the same since John went back.  Seems like she sort o’ sensed thet he wouldn’t come again while she was livin’.  She tole me the next day a lot of things she wanted done after she was gone, and she’s ben gettin’ ready to leave this earth ever since.  Not that she’s gloomy, oh, my senses no!  She’s jes’ as interested as can be in her flowers, and in folks, an’ the church, but she don’t want to try to do so many things, and she has them weak, fainty spells oftener, an’ more pain in her heart.  She sits fer long hours with jest her Bible open now, but land, she don’t need to read it!  She knows it most by heart-that is the livin’ parts, you know.  She don’t seem to care ’tall fer them magazine articles now any more.  I wish t’ the land they’d be anuther Gen’l ’Sembly!  Thet was the greatest thing fer her.  She jest acted like she was tendin’ every blessed one o’ them meetin’s.  Why, she couldn’t wait fer me t’ git done my breakfast dishes.  She’d want me t’ fix her up fer the day, an’ then set down an’ read their doin’s.  ’We kin let things go, you know, ‘Meelia Ellen,’ she’d say with her sweet little smile, ’just while the meetin’s last.  Then when it’s over they’ll be time ’nough fer work-an’ rest too, ‘Meelia Ellen,’ says she.  Well, seems like she was just ‘tendin’ those meetin’s herself, same es if she was there.  She’d take her nap like it was a pill, er somethin’, and then be wide awake an’ ready fer her afternoon freshenin’, an’ then she’d watch fer the stage to bring the evenin’ paper.  John, he hed a whole cartload o’ papers sent, an’ the day he spoke they was so many I jes’ couldn’t get my bread set.  I hed to borry a loaf off the inn.  First time that’s ever happened to me either.  I jest hed to set an’ read till my back ached, and my eyes swum.  I never read so much in my whole borned days t’ oncet; an’ I’ve done a good bit o’ readin’ in my time, too, what with nursin’ her an’ bein’ companion to a perfessor’s invaleed daughter one summer.

“Wal, seems like she jest went on an’ on, gettin’ workeder-up an’ workeder-up, till the ‘Sembly closed, an’ he come; and she was clear to the top o’ the heap all them three weeks whilst he was here.  Why, I never seen her so bright since when I was a little girl an’ went to her Sunday-school class, an’ she wore a poke bonnet trimmed with lute-string ribbon an’ a rose inside.  Talk ’bout roses-they wasn’t one in the garden as bright an’ pink as her two cheeks, an’ her eyes shone jest fer all the world like his.  I was terrible troubled lest she’d break down, but she didn’t.  She got brighter an’ brighter.  Let him take her out ridin’, an’ let him carry her into the orchard an’ lay her down under the apple boughs where she could reach a wild strawberry herself.  Why, she hedn’t ben off’n the porch sence he went away two years ago.  But every day he stayed she got brighter.  The last day ’fore he left she seemed like she wasn’t sick at all.  She wanted to get up early, an’ she wouldn’t take no nap, ’cause she said she couldn’t waste a minute of the last day.  Well, she actu’lly got on her feet oncet an’ made him walk her crost the porch.  She hedn’t ben on her feet fer more’n a minute fer ten months, an’ ‘twas more’n she could stan’.  She was jest as bright an’ happy all thet day, an’ when he went ’way she waved her hand as happy like an’ smiled an’ said she was glad to be able to send him back to his work.  But she never said a word about his comin’ back.  He kep’ sayin’ he would come back next spring, but she only smiled, an’ tole him he might not be able to leave his work, an’ ’twas all right.  She wanted him to be faithful.

“Well, he went, an’ the coach hedn’t no more’n got down the hill an’ up again an’ out o’ sight behind the bridge ‘fore she calls to me an’ she says, ’’Meelia Ellen, I believe I’m tired with all the goin’s on there’s been, an’ if you don’t mind I think I’ll take a nap.’  So I helps her into her room and fixes her into her night things an’ thur she’s laid ever since, an’ it’s six whole weeks ef it’s a day.  Every mornin’ fer a spell I’d go in an’ say, ’Ain’t you ready fer me to fix you fer the day, Mis’ Brownleigh?’ An’ she’d jest smile an’ say, ’Well, I b’leeve not just now, ’Meelia Ellen.  I think I’ll just rest to-day yet.  Maybe I’ll feel stronger to-morrow’; but to-morrow never comes, an’ it’s my thinkin’ she’ll never git up agin.”

The tears were streaming down the good woman’s cheeks now and Hazel’s eyes were bright with tears too.  She had noticed the transparency of the delicate flesh, the frailness of the wrinkled hands.  The woman’s words brought conviction to her heart also.

“What does the doctor say?” she asked, catching at a hope.

“Well, he ain’t much fer talk,” said Amelia Ellen lifting her tear-stained face from her gingham apron where it had been bowed.  “It seems like them two hev just got a secret between ’em thet they won’t say nothin’ ’bout it.  Seems like he understands, and knows she don’t want folks to talk about it nor worry ’bout her.”

“But her son -” faltered Hazel.  “He ought to be told!”

“Yes, but ’tain’t no use; she won’t let yeh.  I ast her oncet didn’t she want me to write him to come an’ make her a little visit just to chirk her up, and she shook her head and looked real frightened, and she says:  ‘’Meelia Ellen, don’t you never go to sendin’ fer him ‘thout lettin’ me know.  I should not like it ’tall.  He’s out there doin’ his work, an’ I’m happier havin’ him at it.  A missionary can’t take time traipsin’ round the country every time a relative gets a little down.  I’m jest perfectly all right, ‘Meelia Ellen, only I went pretty hard durin’ ‘Sembly week, and when John was here, an’ I’m restin’ up fer a while.  If I want John sent fer I’ll tell you, but don’t you go to doin’ it ‘fore!’ An’ I really b’leeve she’d be mad at me if I did.  She lots a good deal on givin’ her son, an’ it would sort o’ spoil her sakkerfize, I s’pose, to hev him come back every time she hungers fer him.  I b’leeve in my heart she’s plannin’ to slip away quiet and not bother him to say good-bye.  It jest looks thet way to me.”

But the next few days the invalid brightened perceptibly, and Hazel began to be reassured.  Sweet converse they had together, and the girl heard the long pleasant story of the son’s visit home as the mother dwelt lovingly upon each detail, telling it over and over, until the listener felt that every spot within sight of the invalid’s window was fragrant with his memory.  She enjoyed the tale as much as the teller, and knew just how to give the answer that one loving woman wants from another loving woman when they speak of the beloved.

Then when the story all was told over and over and there was nothing more to tell except the pleasant recalling of a funny speech, or some tender happening, Hazel began to ask deeper questions about the things of life and eternity; and step by step the older woman led her in the path she had led her son through all the years of his childhood.

During this time she seemed to grow stronger again.  There were days when she sat up for a little while, and let them put the meals on a tiny swinging table by her chair; and she took a deep interest in leading the girl to a heavenly knowledge.  Every day she asked for her writing materials and wrote for a little while; yet Hazel noticed that she did not send all that she had written in the envelope of the weekly letters, but laid it away carefully in her writing portfolio as if it were something yet unfinished.

And one evening in late September, when the last rays of the sunset were lying across the foot of the wheeled chair, and Amelia Ellen was building a bit of a fire in the fireplace because it seemed chilly, the mother called Hazel to her and handed her a letter sealed and addressed to her son.

“Dear,” she said gently, “I want you to take this letter and put it away carefully and keep it until I am gone, and then I want you to promise that, if possible for you to do it, you will give it to my son with your own hands.”

Hazel took the letter reverently, her heart filled with awe and sorrow and stooped anxiously over her friend.  “Oh, why”-she cried-“what is the matter?  Do you feel worse to-night?  You have seemed so bright all day.”

“Not a bit,” said the invalid cheerily.  “But I have been writing this for a long time-a sort of good-bye to my boy-and there is nobody in the world I would like to have give it to him as well as you.  Will it trouble you to promise me, my dear?”

Hazel with kisses and tears protested that she would be glad to fulfill the mission, but begged that she might be allowed to send for the beloved son at once, for a sight of his face, she knew, would be good to his mother.

At last her fears were allayed, though she was by no means sure that the son ought not to be sent for, and when the invalid was happily gone to sleep, Hazel went to her room and tried to think how she might write a letter that would not alarm the young man, while yet it would bring him to his mother’s side.  She planned how she would go away herself for a few days, so that he need not find her here.  She wrote several stiff little notes but none of them satisfied her.  Her heart longed to write:  “Oh, my dear!  Come quickly, for your beloved mother needs you.  Come, for my heart is crying out for the sight of you!  Come at once!” But finally before she slept she sealed and addressed a dignified letter from Miss Radcliffe, his mother’s trained nurse, suggesting that he make at least a brief visit at this time as she must be away for a few days, and she felt that his presence would be a wise thing.  His mother did not seem so well as when he was with her.  Then she lay down comforted to sleep.  But the letter was never sent.

In the early dawn of the morning, when the faithful Amelia Ellen slipped from her couch in the alcove just off the invalid’s room, and went to touch a match to the carefully laid fire in the fireplace, she passed the bed and, as had been her custom for years, glanced to see if all was well with her patient; at once she knew that the sweet spirit of the mother had fled.

With her face slightly turned away, a smile of good-night upon her lips, and the peace of God upon her brow, the mother had entered into her rest.