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HOME > Short Stories > Ten Degrees Backward > CHAPTER VII THE GIFT
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"I am afraid Fay is very ill: Dr. Jeffson is most anxious about her," said Annabel to me, as I came in rather late for luncheon one foggy November day. I had been busy all morning looking after various matters on the estate, as I had spent the three preceding days in London, and work at home had accumulated in my absence.

My heart stood still for a second, as hearts have a habit of doing at the sudden announcement of bad news, and a cold wave of sick misery seemed to engulf me. Then out of the engulfing wave I heard my voice saying: "What is the matter with her? I saw her just before I went to town, and then she had nothing but a slight cold."

"It wasn\'t slight at all, Reggie; it was a very heavy cold, and she, being young and foolish, didn\'t take proper care of it, with the consequence that it went from her chest down to her lungs, and now she is in for a sharp attack of pneumonia."

I sat down at the luncheon-table, but I could not eat anything. Noonday had turned to darkness because Fay was ill. "She didn\'t seem ill a few days ago, when she went for a walk with me," I persisted; "she had only a little cough."

"It was a nasty cough, Reggie, a very nasty cough. I wonder that you took her for a walk with it."

An agony of remorse overwhelmed my soul. What a fool I had been! What a fool I always was! Whatever I did invariably turned out to be wrong. "I shall never forgive myself for doing so," I groaned; "I deserve to be shot for such crazy idiocy and selfishness. But she said she was all right, and I was ass enough to believe her."

Annabel, as usual, stood between me and the consequences of my folly. "It wasn\'t your fault, Reggie: the girl is old enough to take care of herself. I really don\'t see how a bachelor of forty-two can be expected to watch all the symptoms of a young girl\'s cold. You aren\'t a nurse."

But I refused to be comforted. "I was a fool—as I am always, a selfish, incompetent fool! I wanted her to go for a walk with me, and it never occurred to me to doubt that she wanted it too. But Fay is so unselfish, she would never think of herself where anybody else\'s pleasure was concerned."

"I don\'t think it was unselfishness on her part, Reggie; it was simply youthful recklessness. Young people are always so careless about their health, and if you try to consider them it only makes them worse. I remember once, years ago, going for a round of calls and ringing all the bells myself, because the footman had such a bad cold I didn\'t think he ought to ride on the box of the carriage, and when I got home I found he\'d spent the afternoon at a football match!"

"Why didn\'t you tell me as soon as I got home last night?"

"Because I didn\'t know. I went to the Rectory this morning about some parish affairs, and then Arthur told me. He has sent for Frank to come from Oxford, and they are both in a terrible state about Fay. It was really sad to see Frank. What an affectionate nature that boy has! I do feel for him. It is wretched for him to have his sister so ill."

"It is far more wretched for her," I said shortly.

"I don\'t know about that," replied Annabel, as if in a way she blamed Fay for causing Frank this mental discomfort. My sister was one of those women who would always sacrifice a woman to a man. Her philosophy of life consisted in the theory that women must work, and men must never on any account be allowed to weep. If they were, the women were in some way to blame.

I got up from the table, pushing my untasted plate away from me. "I am going across to the Rectory to see how she is now."

"Now, Reggie, don\'t be silly and make yourself ill by eating no lunch. If you make yourself ill it won\'t make Fay any better, as two blacks never make a white."

"It is all my fault that she is ill. If I hadn\'t been such an arrant fool her cold wouldn\'t have got to this pitch," I said savagely.

Annabel looked at me with the placidity which had soothed me all my life. "You needn\'t blame yourself, Reggie, you really needn\'t. I wish to goodness I\'d never mentioned that walk! It might have been wiser it you had taken Frank instead of Fay, perhaps, and would have been equally cheerful for you; but if Fay herself didn\'t suggest it, I don\'t see that you were called upon to think of it. When I was Fay\'s age I was quite capable of taking care of my own colds, and so ought she to be. Though I must say in my young days young people had more stamina than they have now, and wouldn\'t have thought of letting a cold fly to their lungs in this hurried fashion. In my time a cold began in the head and went down to the throat, and then on to the chest, and only got to the lungs as a last resort—and not that, unless it was neglected. The ordinary cold never went to the lungs at all."

Again I felt that Annabel was blaming Fay for allowing herself to have been so rapidly overrun by the invading enemy; so, as I could not bear to hear my darling blamed without standing up for her, and as I likewise couldn\'t bear to stand up against Annabel for anybody, I went out of the room, banging the door behind me.

Then followed an unspeakable time of heart-rending anxiety. The pneumonia spread, and all the efforts of Jeffson and of a consultant from London to stop it proved unavailing. I found myself face to face with the crushing and incredible blow of the death of a dear one who was younger than myself. The passing onwards of our beloved must always be a sorrow to us; but if they are older than ourselves, the sorrow seems more or less a natural one. But when they are our juniors—and especially when they are considerably our juniors—the agony becomes unnatural, even monstrous. It is against nature for the young ones to be taken and the old ones to be left: an anguish unbearable save to those blessed souls who have grasped the great truth that death, after all, is only a semicolon—not a full stop.

To me, during those dreadful days of Fay\'s illness, the sun seemed to be turned into darkness and the moon into blood; there was no light anywhere, and I realised that if her sun went down while it was yet day, there would be nothing henceforth for me but dreary twilight until the dawn of the resurrection morning. Of course I prayed, but the heavens were as brass above me: none answered, nor were there any that regarded, and my soul went down into the darkness and the shadow of death.

"Let us send for Mr. Henderson," I said to Arthur, as soon as I knew how ill my darling was. "If he saved Frank, he could save her."

But Arthur shook his head. "I thought of that, and telephoned for him to come. But I find he has gone on a trip to the Holy Land, and will not be back for weeks and weeks. If he started back at once, he would not be here in time to do anything for Fay, and besides, they do not know exactly where to find him."

So that hope was extinguished.

On the eighth day—to me it seemed the eighth century—of Fay\'s illness, I awoke in the morning (if one can call it waking when one hardly sleeps) with certain words of Mr. Henderson\'s ringing in my ears; words to which I had attached no importance at the time, which I had never thought of since, but which suddenly came back to me now with an emphasis they had not borne at first. The materialist, with his deeper credulity and more unreasoning faith, would put this phenomenon down to some strange and inexplicable vagary on the part of my subconscious self; but my simpler and less complex mind was satisfied with the more obvious explanation that God had, after all, heard my prayer, and had let my cry come unto Him.

"I do not know, but I think you have the gift of healing," Henderson had said to me just as he was leaving the Rectory, "utterly uncultivated and undeveloped, but ready for Christ\'s use should He need it."

And when I woke from my restless dozing on that particular morning, those words of Mr. Henderson\'s were ringing in my ears as plainly as if he had just uttered them.

I dressed hurriedly, and without waiting for any breakfast went straight to the Rectory to remind Blathwayte of what Henderson had said. It was too early as yet for the doctor\'s visit, and the night-nurse was still upon duty; but she had nothing good to report, as Fay\'s temperature kept up and her strength Was failing.

"Come and see," said Blathwayte, when I had recalled Henderson\'s words to his mind. "If he was right, and you have the gift, you may save Fay\'s life even yet."

And he took me into the sick-room, where the shadow of my darling lay fighting for breath.

Then followed another of those experiences which sound incredible in the telling, but which was so natural—so inevitable—at the time, that it would have been impossible for anything else to have happened.

I knelt down by Fay\'s bed and laid my hand on her burning forehead, and I lifted up my soul to God in prayer, as I had never lifted it before. As I prayed I became conscious—as I had been when Frank seemed dying—of a Presence in the room, the Presence of a living Christ who was standing by my side so near that I could almost feel His Touch—so real that I felt if I opened my eyes I should see His Face. And with His coming all the sorrow and anxiety and misery disappeared, and I knew that nothing could ever really harm her or pluck her out of His Hand. Fear vanished, because with Him beside me there was nothing to fear: sorrow disappeared, because He brought with Him fulness of joy: death stood at bay, because He had conquered death. There was nothing any longer except Him, because in Him and through Him and of Him are all things. And I was conscious not only of a profound peace in this Ineffable Presence: I was conscious also of an inexhaustible power. I felt flowing into me, and through me into Fay, a sort of wonderful electric current—a very elixir of life itself—which I can describe as nothing but "the Power from on High." At that moment I felt that I had the wings of eagles, and the strength of the angels that excel.

How long I knelt I know not. It was a moment snatched from eternity, and therefore beyond the measurements of time. I realised that in His glorious Presence there is neither past nor future, but only one glorious, unending Now.

Gradually the Presence withdrew Itself, and the rush of Power flowing through me subsided, and I opened my eyes and looked at Fay. The fever flush in her cheeks was already fading, and the brow under my hand grew cool and moist. I rose from my knees and told the nurse to take the temperature: she did so, and found it rapidly subsiding. The pulse, too, was slower, and the breathing much easier. By the time that the doctor came he was able to say that the crisis was past, and that the patient was on the way to recovery.

Of course, both the doctor and the nurses were amazed beyond words: they could not account for such a sudden and unexpected turn for the better. But I was not surprised. I had been too recently in the Presence of Christ to wonder at any manifestation of His Power. The wonder to me would have been if Fay had not recovered.


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