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Since the kiss given by him as a sign of betrothal, Remmert's lips had never touched hers. He now repeated the words :
Created by God for him; yes, thus it is written.'
His arm was round her shoulder, and they remained sitting thus until it was almost dark. Then he got up; Deena begged him to stay a little longer :
"The evening is so lovely here,' she pleaded.
'We will go home and read the story of the first pair in Paradise; should you not like to hear it? Perhaps it also recounts that she
He left the sentence unfinished, but bent down instead, and gave back to Deena the kiss he had received.
Hand-in-hand they descended the downs. From below came up the voices of children, not seen, but heard merrily playing in the last gleams of the gladsome May-day, as the pair wended their way in the gently falling night of spring towards the unlighted parsonage.
DEATH AND LIFE.
It would have been quite at variance with all the traditions of the island that the sun should shine and smile upon it for many days together. The clouds possessed a right of long standing, both in summer and in winter, to enwrap heaven's blue in the old gray veil. Some fleeting days served but to show that warmth and joy might exist on Earth, but, as if filled with remorse for a momentary departure from her natural state, she repented in sackcloth and ashes for this brief yielding to the bridal kiss of Spring. Asserting its supremacy, the cold northwest wind came back again, and rain fell for weeks and months together. The little tinted floral cups quickly faded in this cold, damp atmosphere. Were those visitors that had been wafted to the isle still in existence, those two white butterflies ? If so, they must be cowering somewhere apart, no longer fluttering in the air, but waiting, with wings bound fast, the gradual approach of their autumnal sleep.
November had come round again, although no summer season had followed that of spring. And so the memory of sunshine, and the sweet beauteous life of a May noon-day, had faded like a transitory dream.
A year had already passed since the arrival of the young couple at the parsonage, and everything pursued its usual course, just as in the former winter. Only the zeal, the unweariedness of Pastor Remmert in the performance of his self-imposed clerical duties, had, if possible, increased. They were his sole thought and care. On him, as on the earth, Heaven seemed to have imposed a penance for the momentary forgetfulness of eternal things, and the indulgence in fleeting earthly joy. Were it designed by God in His providential scheme for other creatures still, Remmert Meynolt felt that he himself was subject to a higher law, which in an hour of temptation he had disobeyed, even as the first man, who by so doing had incurred the loss of Paradise.
His had been no lapse from the written law, but he had not adhered to the higher spiritual longings of the soul; he had yielded to the irresistible charm of earthly beauty, and it was the serpent of Paradise that had tempted him in the guise of old. No smile—that smile which had been the first sign of weakness—was now to be seen on the young pastor's lips, entangling him again in earth's fragile bonds. But his eyes gleamed with a stranger light than ever ; they said that, misled for a moment, henceforth they would receive their light alone from the Source of all light, that Source which has its origin beyond earth’s narrow bounds.
He now generally avoided sitting with his wife after their evening meal, but withdrew at once to his study, and busied himself in the work he was writing, the subject of which was to show that our earthly life is but the sacred vestibule of heaven.
Deena, too, sat in the low parlour, busily engaged in needlework, but of a different kind to what she had had in hand the previous winter. Needle and scissors were making preparations for an infant's needs, and her own changed appearance indicated that she was making provision for no village stranger, but for the little one that she herself expected. Her fingers were very actively at work, because, as she was engaged during the day in many other cares and duties, she could only devote the evening to these future requirements. But now and then her hands would sink down on her lap, as in former days, and her eye seemed to be gazing through the lamplight into futurity. It was not easy to translate the expression of her face; the happy hope of a young wife gleamed, doubtless, in her eyes, but not unmixed with it might be seen traces of a fear that damped its gladsome light. Then she would suddenly pick up her work again, as if with the busy action of her needle she sought to subdue her tumultuous thoughts.
Thus passed on the old year; day after day, like a drop of water slowly trickling down, and then the new year opened with heavy storms that lasted for several weeks. Oppressed with her new burden, Deena began to feel it scarcely possible to manage without help her usual household duties, and many a time did she fix her eyes upon her husband in silent supplication. But he never noticed her increasing fatigue, his eye rarely took in her bodily presence, his intercourse with her was solely of a clerical, religious character, designed to fortify her faith. He exhorted her to keep her mind free from all earthly thoughts, so that the expected babe might not bring with it into the light of this world seeds of corruption, for which it might one day curse the authors of its life. An inaudible sigh escaped from the heavy heart of the poor young wife; she could not subdue the fear lest her physical toil might entail injury on the child. But she said nothing, and went on as before with her heavy daily labours.
It was early one February eve—a hurricane raged outsidethat she felt her strength altogether to fail : she knew that her hour was come. She did not dare to call her husband from his writing in the study, but she cowered down in her extremity all alone.
One of the women from the village came by chance to the parsonage, and seeing how matters were, went at once to call the midwife.
Remmert, too, became at last alive to the approaching crisis; he came up and asked :
Is your faith, then, so weak as to doubt God's power to help?' Then he added, turning towards his wailing wife: 'It was for the sin of Eve that the sentence was pronounced, “In sorrow shalt thou bring forth”; accept the penalty with patience, for it will avail to the salvation of your immortal soul.'
He uttered the words gently, and not without concern, yet his tone suggested a doubt whether he would, if he could have stayed the arm of the Almighty to wrest from His decrees a time of less agony for Deena.
But many weary hours had to be borne, and they were all the more intolerable on account of the mingled, and ever increasing, roar of storm and sea outside, till at last the attendant, a fisherman's wife but little experienced in her calling, summoned once more the pastor to the room. She dreaded not only that the house might be blown down, but that the birth of the child might be attended with fatal results.
Pastor Remmert, however, calmly answered :
'Nothing can happen without the will of Him who rules in heaven and on earth.'
Deena herself, overcome by the wild uproar of the elements, by her own physical pangs and mental anguish, had lost all self-control ; she looked piteously at her husband, and in a faint voice besought him :
‘Do stay with me!'
He stayed, and she took his hand, which, in her agony, she clutched. Thus another hour dragged on. Then suddenly in front of the house was heard a cry: 'A ship in danger! it has drifted upon the shoals !
Duty calls me !' said the young pastor, loosening his hand from his wife's tight grasp.
A convulsive cry burst from her lips :
“You are not alone, for the eye of the Almighty is upon you. The duties of my office require me to be on the spot where those in peril of death may need from me the comfort of our faith.'
A natural impulse forced from Deena's lips a cry of anguish :
‘But I, too, am dying, and I don't want to die yet. Don't leave me-save me—as yet I have not lived !
But Remmert answered : • Would
you have me false to God, through any human fear? Think of the immortal souls of others, who may now need my counsel ; then will your own bodily pains weigh as nothing in the balance.'
He went hastily away: it was full moon, and the foam of the spring-tide was drifting over the downs Within double gunshot range of the beach might be plainly seen the masts and rigging of a schooner, which the waves were dashing to pieces on the shoals; over the hull broke continuously the white flakes of the heavy sea.
The islanders, men and women, stood around, but they could give no help; courage and will were not at fault, but no boat could possibly have withstood the might of those waves, and the means of help which our day enjoys were then unknown. All with one voice agreed that in a few hours the ship must needs be dashed to pieces, and not a soul on board come safe to land. But on the mere chance that some living creature might be washed ashore, clinging to a fragment of the wreck, about a dozen of the stoutest fishermen stepped forth boldly into the surging sea, looking about for waifs and strays. At their head, like the leader of a forlorn hope in battle, stood Pastor Remmert, breast-deep in water; the waves, mountainhigh, dashed over him, and threatened him with instant suffocation, but carefully, unweariedly, his eyes were on the watch, if perchance some human soul might be confided to his care to direct its last earthly thoughts to the home above. But no living creature, only fragments of wood of every kind, announced that the schooner would very soon be dashed to pieces.
Meanwhile the sea washed ashore many bales and chests, portions of the cargo, suggesting to the islanders thoughts of their own self interest. As human beings were clearly beyond all help, they were entitled, by ancient custom, to snatch from the waves whatever they brought as a blessing to their shore, and these, after the notions of their ancestors, they looked upon as flotsam and jetsam, 'a gift from God,' to help them in their need. In busy emulation man and woman toiled to drag the drifting goods ashore to some place of security; a couple of thousand feet away in the deep, Death was making harvest, and here on shore, Life was garnering up what Death with his sickle had reaped. Had there been any hope, they would have done their utmost to rescue the owners of the wrecked property; but as this could not be, they thankfully accepted the blessings cast ashore. No one seemed conscious of the strange contradiction this implied. Even among the Church prayers which Remmert Meynolt offered on Sundays from the pulpit was included the time-honoured petition : ‘Bless, O Lord, our shore !' And the young pastor with his flock proffered this request to Heaven. Like everything else, it was in accordance with the will of God, and supplied the island with the necessities of time, which is the brief term of preparation for eternity.