Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > Ten Degrees Backward > CHAPTER V THE FIRST MIRACLE
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】
That summer was to me a trip into fairyland.

In the first place I threw up the role of uncle which Annabel has so thoughtfully cast for me, and played the part of Romeo instead: that is to say, for the first time in all my forty-two years, I fell madly and irretrievably in love.

There is no need to expatiate upon my symptoms. Those who have themselves travelled through Arcady know all about the effect of the excursion without any explanations from me, and to those who have never set foot upon the enchanted shores, a description of the trip would be both wearisome and unintelligible. Consequently I (as I think wisely) forbear.

But I not only visited the paradise of Love that happy summer; I also visited the paradise of Youth. For the first time in my life—save the time of my residence in Oxford, when my constitutional shyness marred the joy of intercourse with my contemporaries—I was thrown into the society of young people, and lived in an atmosphere of joyous adventure untainted by any breath of care or responsibility. Sometimes as I stood on the lawn of the Manor House and looked at the moss-grown old sundial, I thought to myself that for me the ancient miracle had once again been wrought, and the shadow on the dial had been moved ten degrees backward. But underneath this delightful fancy lay the hard, unyielding truth—supported by Burke and Debrett in print, and by Annabel and Ponty in practical politics—that, however juvenile and sentimental I might feel, I was still a man of forty-two, with the greater part of my life behind me, while Fay was standing on the threshold of her opening womanhood, with the kingdoms of this world still spread before her advancing feet.

The uncle-myth still held sway in Annabel\'s imagination; therefore it never occurred to her that any sort of chaperonage was needful as between myself and Fay. For this I was devoutly thankful. True, Frank was with us whenever he could elude Blathwayte\'s conscientious preparation of him for the University; but Arthur\'s rule, if kind, was firm, and consequently Fay and I spent long and blissful hours together with no one to intrude into our solitude à deux.

It did not take me long to discover that though the twins were so much alike outwardly—not only in appearance, but also in voice and manner, and in tricks of thought and speech—the resemblance was merely a superficial one. Their bodies and their minds were cast in the same mould; but their hearts and their souls differed fundamentally. Frank was the elf throughout: his feelings were transient and wayward. But underneath his sister\'s fairylike appearance and demeanour, there was hidden the loving and faithful heart of a true woman. Frank was the cold-blooded merman untouched by mortal pain and sorrow; but Fay was the little sea-maid who had found a soul.

It was the time of hay-harvest, when all the world is filled with fragrance, and every separate hayfield is a picture in itself. Fay and I were sitting under a hedge in one of the upper meadows, watching the old-world drama of haymaking being played in the valley below, in which drama Frank was assisting.

"Isn\'t it all perfectly ideal?" Fay exclaimed. "I never in my life knew anything so exquisite as an English summer!"

"I never in all my life knew anything so exquisite as this particular English summer," I replied.

"I suppose it is unusually fine weather for the time of year," said Fay, with a sly smile.

"It is not on the weather that this summer bases its claim to super-excellence," I explained.

"Indeed: on the circumstances then, I suppose?"

"No, on the company. I have arrived at the interesting conclusion that a summer minus you is not really a summer at all, only a sort of dress-rehearsal of the real performance."

"I see," said Fay; "one swallow does not make a summer, but one Wildacre does."

"One Fay Wildacre," I corrected her. "Frank alone would only be able to make a spring: plenty of promise but no fulfilment, and a cold wind at the back of the sunshine."

Fay nodded her pretty curly head. "That\'s rather a neat description of Frankie. Now you mention it, he is like a brilliantly sunny day with a cold wind in the background ready to pop round the corner at any moment and shrivel you up. Although Frankie is so adorable when he likes, I don\'t think he has got what people call a warm heart; do you?"

"I think he is very fond of you," I replied diplomatically.

"Of course he is, but that\'s different. You don\'t require a warm heart to be fond of your own people: that\'s just nature and habit. What I call a warm heart is the sort of heart that makes you adore your friends, and worship your lovers, and find the world well lost for somebody you\'ve only met twice before."

Fay picked up a stalk of grass and began tickling her cheek with it. For the first time in my life I became envious of the vegetable kingdom. "Should you call me a person with a warm heart?" I asked.

"I think you are very fond of Miss Kingsnorth," replied Fay demurely.

"That\'s different: it\'s just nature and habit to be fond of your own people. You see, you are not the only one who can quote. What I want to know is, do you consider that I have a warm heart?"

"How on earth can I tell its temperature?"

"Better than anybody. You hold it in the hollow of your hand."

"Then it can\'t be very warm or else it would burn my fingers and I should drop it," laughed the girl; "so that question answers itself."

"Then allow me to ask another. Have you got what people call a warm heart?"

She shrugged her slender shoulders. "Temperature ninety-eight, point four—absolutely normal. So no further bulletins will be issued." And with that, for the time being, I had to be content.

"I do love a west wind," Fay said, after a few minutes of blissful silence, "don\'t you? I think it is the nicest wind we have, combining the softness of the South with the bracingness of the North: like people with sharp tongues and sweet tempers."

I agreed with this—as indeed I was ready to do with any idea to which Fay gave utterance; for Love is no whit behind Conscience in the manufacture of cowards.

"I always think the different winds are different colours," she went on; "the North wind is white, the South wind yellow, the East wind blue and the West wind green. At least, that\'s how they always seem to me."

"And it\'s a very good description of them, too," I said, as I should have said just then of any description given by Fay.

"What\'s going on down there," she suddenly exclaimed, pointing to the field spread out at our feet where the hay-cutting machine was going round and round in an ever-diminishing circle. "There seems to be a sort of fuss on!"

My eyes were useless in a case like this, so I had to ask Fay for further information. "The machine has stopped," she said, "and there is a crowd of labourers round it, and all the haymakers from the next field have left off haymaking and are rushing to join the crowd."

"There must have been an accident," I said, rising from my seat under the hedge; "let us go down and see what is the matter. I always hate all reaping machines, they are so apt to cut off people\'s legs."

"I hate machines of any kind," agreed Fay, as we hastened down the hill together; "they are so ugly, and make such a noise. When I come out of the machinery-in-motion part of an exhibition, I always feel as if I\'d been in hell."

I was thankful Annabel was not present to hear this description, but I smiled at it nevertheless. "And machine-made things are so horrid, too," I said; "they lose the individual touch, which makes for charm and originality."

Fay nodded. "I know. You can\'t really be fond of things which are made by the score exactly alike. I don\'t believe that even parents would be fond of their children if they were turned out in dozens like the plates of a dinner-service."

In a few minutes we reached the crowd in the hayfield, which respectfully parted to make way for us; and then with an exceeding bitter cry, which tore my heart-strings to breaking-point, Fay rushed forward and fell on her knees beside the recumbent form of Frank, who was lying white and unconscious on the ground.

Then there followed a dreadful time for Fay, and for me, too, as by that time whatever hurt her hurt me also. Frank, with his usual light-hearted carelessness, had stood too near to that horrible Juggernaut, the hay-cutting machine, with the terrible consequence that one of the scythes had nearly cut off his foot.

We carried him on a hurdle to the Rectory, and for days he hung between life and death. Sometimes it seemed impossible to believe that a creature so full of life as Frank could die, and then again it seemed incredible that any one so terribly wounded could live. But at last lock-jaw set in, and then the doctors pronounced the case absolutely hopeless.

It was torture to me to see Fay\'s agony of mind; yet there was a sweetness mingled with the bitterness in my knowledge of the fact that she turned to me for help and comfort; at least, hardly for comfort—the time for comfort had not yet arrived, but for that sympathy in her sorrow, which is very near akin to consolation.

Annabel was very capable and efficient during this sad time—a veritable rock of strength to all of us who clung to her. But although she could have done far more for Fay than my poor, blundering, male self could ever do, I could not blind my eyes to the fact that—with sweet, childish perversity—Fay clung to me rather than to Annabel. That the child was foolish in this, I could not but admit; but I loved her all the more for her dear folly.

I had come to the Rectory to hear the verdict of the great specialist from London, and he had gone back to town, leaving Jeffson, our local doctor, to make Frank\'s passing as easy as possible. Fay was with the nurses in Frank\'s room, and I was loafing aimlessly about with nothing to do, and nothing that was worth doing. Like all days of great sorrow, the day seemed neither a Sunday nor a weekday, but a sort of terrible Good Friday, with the darkness and the earthquake looming nearer every moment.

Apart from my agony of pity for Fay, I was sorely grieved on my own account at the thought of losing Frank. A strong friendship had grown up between the boy and myself—a friendship that was fraught with joy for me. Although I had eschewed the avuncular attitude arranged for me by Annabel towards Fay, I had accepted it with regard to Frank; and when I heard the verdict of the great doctor from London, I felt as if I were indeed losing a dearly-beloved nephew.

Whilst I was aimlessly wandering about the Rectory dining-room, Arthur came in.

"How is the boy now?" I asked, though I knew too well what the answer would be.

"Just the same. Jeffson says there will not be much change now until the end."

"And Fay?"

"Bearing up wonderfully, poor child! She is so brave and calm now that I fear it will be the worse for her when the need for calmness and courage is over. Reggie, I have telephoned for Henderson, and he is coming at once."

"Who is Henderson?" I asked.

"A great friend of mine."

I sighed. "I don\'t see the use of torturing the poor boy with any more doctors, Arthur. Both Sir Frederic and Jeffson pronounced the case absolutely hopeless."

"But Henderson isn\'t a doctor," replied Arthur in his leisurely way.

"Then why send for him?" I asked most unreasonably.

"He is a spiritual healer, and has worked some wonderful cures. If any one can save Frank, he can."

"I don\'t believe in that sort of thing," I replied, with all the irritability of helpless misery.

"Probably not; but I don\'t see what that has to do with it. Our belief in anything doesn\'t affect the thing itself, it only affects us."

"Then do you believe that your friend can cure the boy, after three doctors have given him up?"

Arthur thought for a moment, and then he said: "No, I don\'t believe that Henderson can cure the boy; but I believe that Christ working through Henderson can do so, and I am going to see if He will."

We were both silent for a few minutes, and then Blathwayte suddenly said: "By the way, I have forgotten the thing I came down to say to you. Fay wants you to go and sit with her in Frank\'s room."

I went at once. Fay\'s lightest word was law to me.

For an hour or two I sat in the sick-room, where the girl whom I loved knelt beside her dying brother. The doctor and the day-nurse were doing all they could to fan the flame that was so rapidly being extinguished, but that all amounted to very little. Already the beautiful boyish mouth was closed too tightly for any nourishment or stimulant to pass through the once mobile lips, and the boy could not have spoken even if he had wished to do so; but he was too ill now to desire to speak, and lay in rigid unconsciousness waiting for the end to come. Nobody spoke, except the doctor and the nurse; but I knew in my soul that it helped Fay to feel me near, and so I stayed while the hours rolled on and Frank\'s life ebbed away.

I had lost all count of time when the door was softly opened, and Arthur, followed by a stranger, came into the room, which stranger was the exact opposite of what I had expected.

I had pictured the Spiritual Healer to myself as a wild, emaciated, long-haired figure—a sort of cross between an ideal poet and John the Baptist: instead of which I beheld a tall, broad-shouldered, immaculately dressed Londoner, with the quiet manners and easy assurance of the typical man about town. I am almost ashamed to own it, only one never should be ashamed to own the truth; but—absurd as it may sound—it was the perfect cut of Mr. Henderson\'s coat that suddenly made the man and his mission real to me. Had he worn the garb of a monk, I should have relegated him to the sphere of medi?val superstition; had he worn the dress of a priest, I should have placed him in the category of hysterical revivalists; but I felt an irresistible conviction that a man in such a well-cut and fashionable coat as his could only preach a gospel as practical and convincing as the Times of that morning.

Blathwayte hurriedly indicated to Mr. Henderson who we all were, and then they both knelt down beside the bed, the rest of us following their example.

I cannot give a dramatic account of what followed, simply because there was nothing dramatic about it. At the time it seemed—as it has always seemed to me in recalling it—to be the most natural and simple thing in the world. To make it any way thrilling or dramatic would rob it, to my mind, of its strength, and convincingness.

First Mr. Henderson offered up aloud an extempore prayer that Frank\'s sufferings might be relieved and his life spared. Even the word "prayer" seems almost too stilted and transcendental to convey my meaning: he rather besought a favour of a present Person, with an assurance that that Person\'s sympathies were so entirely enlisted on his side, that the granting of his petition was a foregone conclusion.

I had been brought up in a godly home, and had been conversant with religious phrases and expressions all my life. But not until I heard Mr. Henderson speaking to that Other Person, whose love for and interest in Frank (so Henderson obviously took for granted) were infinitely stronger and deeper than ours could ever be, did I realise what was meant by the expression "a living Christ." From my childhood I had loved and worshipped a dimly glorious Figure, half-hidden in a haze of golden light, who had trodden the Syrian fields nearly two thousand years ago, and had died, and risen again, and ascended heavenwards leaving behind Him an inspired Gospel and a perfect Example; but now I suddenly felt that the dimly-remembered Ideal was not an Ideal at all, but a living Person, standing in Frank\'s room close beside us, as actual and real as we were ourselves: that it was no shadowy Syrian Prophet that I had worshipped, but a Man of to-day as much as of yesterday—a Man of London and Paris as much as of Jerusalem and Galilee—and a Man who was also God.

As a boy I remember being thrilled with the story of the unknown knight who feasted with Robin Hood and his men, and who—at the end of the day—lifted up his visor and they knew he was the King. And the same thrill—though in a far greater degree—ran through me now. A Stranger stood in our midst and wrestled, as we were wrestling, for the life of Frank, sharing our sorrow and sympathising with our anxiety, and suddenly the veil was lifted and we knew He was the King.

After his audible prayer was over, Henderson laid his hands upon Frank, and an intense stillness fell upon the room whilst the man lifted up his soul to Heaven in silent petition for the dying boy, and as he prayed the stiffened muscles relaxed, the harsh breathing grew easy, and Frank gradually fell into a peaceful slumber.

As soon as he saw that the boy slept, Henderson made the sign of the Cross upon Frank\'s brow and rose from his knees.

"The boy will live," he said; "Christ has healed him."

The doctor was amazed. He examined Frank, and admitted that the tetanus had lost its hold, and that, provided there was no relapse, the danger was over.

The two things that struck me most in the whole happening were first its unspeakable wonder, and secondly its absolute naturalness. But that is the way with all real miracles: beforehand they appear impossible, and afterwards inevitable. Thus it is with the two great miracles of marriage and parenthood. An imaginary wife and imaginary children are amongst the most impossible creations of our dreams; yet when they come, they seem to have been always there, and we cannot picture a world without them. And so I think it will be with the other great miracle of death. At present the heart of man fails to conceive what good things are prepared for us in the land beyond the grave; but when we are really there, I believe it will seem one of the most natural things we have ever known; as natural as that earthly home where the dream-wife and the dream-children came true, and made the life before their coming sink into the realms of vain and half-forgotten things.

When we had left Frank\'s room, and were waiting downstairs for Mr. Henderson\'s motor, which was to take him back to London, I asked him—

"How do you explain your gift of healing?"

"I have but one explanation," he answered: "as many as touched the hem of His garment were made perfectly whole."

"Then do you not put it down to the influence of mind over matter—which is an influence we are only just beginning to realise?" I urged.

"I put it down to nothing but the power of Christ," replied Henderson. "I find that as long as people talk about mentality, or suggestion, or will-power, or the influence of mind over matter, or the particle of Godhead inherent in ourselves, the world will listen to them, and follow after them, and believe in their cures; but the minute we put all these things on one side and teach that there is no power in anything save in Christ Jesus and Him crucified, the world becomes shy of us at once and looks the other way. Yet there is no help for any of us but in His Name, neither in this world nor in the world to come."

"But how would you explain this working of His power?" asked Arthur. "I suppose He would work by means of mental suggestion, or something of that kind."

Mr. Henderson shook his head. "I never attempt to explain: I only believe. I know that He does certain things, but how He does them is no business of mine."

"We are too fond of explaining things nowadays," said Arthur. "I think we should do well to follow the example of the Cherubim who used two of their wings to cover their faces, because there were things into which they were not desired to look. We, on the contrary, try to pry into everything."

"But we have as yet no wings with which to cover our faces," I suggested. "It is only because we are low and earthy that we pry. As we grow higher we shall grow humbler, and by the time that we attain to wings we shall know how to use them."

"And until we know how to use them we shall probably not get the wings," added Arthur.

"Tell me one thing," I said, turning to Mr. Henderson. "Do you think that everybody who has sufficient faith in Christ could heal as you do?"

"That again I do not know. It is all in His hands. But I am inclined to think that as there are diversities of gifts but the same Spirit, so the gift of healing is given to one, the gift of preaching to another, and so on, and we have not all the same gifts. It is all Christ working in us; but He works one way in one person and another way in another. We must cultivate the gift that we have, and be content to do without the gifts that have been denied us, and as we are all members of Christ there can be no rivalry amongst us."

"After all," I said after a moment\'s silence, "we are sent into the world to do the Will and not to trouble about the Doctrine: that follows the other as a matter of course. And submission is the most necessary and the most difficult lesson we have to learn. If we were allowed to choose our gifts I should have chosen the one of healing; but we are not allowed to choose."

Mr. Henderson looked at me intently for a moment with his piercing dark eyes. "I do not know, but I think that you have the gift of healing," he said; "utterly uncultivated and undeveloped, but ready for Christ\'s use, should He need it."

And then the motor came round, and he drove away to the multitudinous duties awaiting him in town, and I went upstairs to rejoice with Fay, as before I had mourned with her.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved