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HOME > Short Stories > A Cathedral Singer > CHAPTER VI
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 The class had been engaged with another model. Their work was forced and listless. As days passed without the mother's return, their thought and their talk concerned itself more and more with her disappearance1. Why had she not come back? What had befallen her? What did it all mean? Would they ever know?  
One day after their luncheon-hour, as they were about to resume work, the teacher of the class entered. He looked shocked; his look shocked them; instant sympathy ran through them. He spoke2 with difficulty:
"She has come back. She is down-stairs. Something had befallen her in deed. She told me as briefly3 as possible and I tell you all I know. Her son, a little fellow who had just been chosen for the cathedral choir4 school was run over in the street. A mention of it—the usual story—was in the papers, but who of us reads such things in the papers? They bore us; they are not even news. He was taken to St. Luke's, and she has been at St. Luke's, and the end came at St. Luke's, and all the time we have been here a few yards distant and have known nothing of it. Such is New York! It was to help pay for his education in music that she first came to us, she said. And it was the news that he had been chosen for the choir school that accounts for the new happiness which we saw brighten her day by day. Now she comes again for the same small wage, but with other need, no doubt: the expenses of it all, a rose-bush for his breast. She told me this calmly as though it caused her no grief. It was not my privilege, it is not our privilege, to share her unutterable bereavement5.
"She has asked to go on with the sittings. I have told her to come to-morrow. But she does not realize all that this involves with the portrait. You will have to bring new canvases, it will have to be a new work. She is in mourning. Her hands will have to be left out, she has hurt them; they are bandaged. The new portrait will be of the head and face only. But the chief reason is the change of expression. The light which was in her face and which you have partly caught upon your canvases, has died out; it was brutally6 put out. The old look is gone. It is gone, and will never come back—the tender, brooding, reverent7 happiness and peace of motherhood with the child at her knee—that great earthly beacon-light in women of ages past. It was brutally put out but it did not leave blankness behind it. There has come in its place another light, another ancient beacon-light on the faces of women of old—the look of faith in immortal8 things. She is not now the mother with the tenderness of this earth but the mother with the expectation of eternity9. Her eyes have followed him who has left her arms and gone into a distance. Ever she follows him into that distance. Your portrait, if you can paint it, will be the mother with the look of immortal things in her face."
When she entered the room next morning, at the sight of her in mourning and so changed in every way, with one impulse they all rose to her. She took no notice,—perhaps it would have been unendurable to notice,—but she stepped forward as usual, and climbed to the platform without faltering10, and he posed her for the head and shoulders. Then, to study the effect from different angles, he went behind the easels, passing from one to another. As he returned, with the thought of giving her pleasure, he brought along with him one of the sketches11 of herself and held it out before her.
"Do you recognize it?" he asked.
She refused to look at first. Then arousing herself from her indifference12 she glanced at it. But when she beheld13 there what she had never seen—how great had been her love of him; when she beheld there the light now gone out and realized that it meant the end of happy days with him, she shut her eyes quickly and jerked her head to one side with a motion for him to take the picture away. But she had been brought too close to her sorrow and suddenly she bent14 over her hands like a snapped reed and the storm of her grief came upon her.
They started up to get to her. They fought one another to get to her. They crowded around the platform, and tried to hide her from one another's eyes, and knelt down, and wound their arms about her, and sobbed15 with her; and then they lifted her and guided her behind the screens.
"Now, if you will allow them," he said, when she came out with them, one of them having lent her a veil, "some of these young friends will go home with you. And whenever you wish, whenever you feel like it, come back to us. We shall be ready. We shall be waiting. We shall all be glad."
On the heights the cathedral rises—slowly, as the great houses of man's Christian16 faith have always risen.
Years have drifted by as silently as the winds since the first rock was riven where its foundations were to be laid, and still all day on the clean air sounds the lonely clink of drill and chisel17 as the blasting and the shaping of the stone goes on. The snows of winters have drifted deep above its rough beginnings; the suns of many a spring have melted the snows away. Well nigh a generation of human lives has already measured its brief span about the cornerstones. Far-brought, many-tongued toilers, toiling19 on the rising walls, have dropped their work and stretched themselves in their last sleep; others have climbed to their places; the work goes on. Upon the shoulders of the images of the Apostles, which stand about the chancel, generations of pigeons—the doves of the temple whose nests are in the niches20—upon the shoulders of the Apostles generations of pigeons born in the niches have descended21 out of the azure22 as with the benediction23 of shimmering24 wings. Generations of the wind-borne seeds of wild flowers have lodged25
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