One of the Elect, by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

"Down, Muff! down!"

Muff obeyed; he took his paws off from his master's shoulders with an injured look in his great mute eyes, and consoled himself by growling at the cow. Mr. Ryck put a sudden stop to a series of gymnastic exercises commenced between them, by throwing the creature's hay down upon her horns; then he watered his horse, fed the sheep, took a look at the hens, and closed all the doors tightly; for the night was cold, so cold that he shivered, even under that great bottle-green coat of his: he was not a young man.

"Pretty cold night, Muff!" Muff was not blest with a forgiving disposition; he maintained a dignified silence. But his master did not feel the slight. Something, perhaps the cold, made him careless of the dog to-night.

The house was warm, at least; the light streamed far out of the kitchen window, down almost to the orchard. He passed across it, showing his figure a little stooping, and the flutter of gray hair from under his hat; then into the house. His wife was busied about the room, a pleasant room for a kitchen, with the cleanest of polished floors and whitened tables; the cheeriest of fires, the home-like faces of blue and white china peeping through the closet door; a few books upon a little shelf, with an old Bible among them; the cosey rocking-chair that always stood by the fire, and a plant or two in the south window. He came in, stamping off the snow; Muff crawled behind the stove, and gave himself up to a fit of metaphysics.

"Cold, Amos?"

"Of course. What else should I be, woman?"

His wife made no reply. His unusual impatience only saddened her eyes a little. She was one of those women who would have borne a life-long oppression with dumb lips. Amos Ryck was not an unkind husband, but it was not his way to be tender; the years which had whitened his hair had brought him stern experiences: life was to him a battle, his horizon always that about a combatant. But he loved her.

"Most ready to sit down, Martha?" he said at last, more gently.

"In a minute, Amos."

She finished some bit of evening work, her step soft about the room. Then she drew up the low rocking-chair with its covering of faded crimson chintz, and sat down by her husband.

She did this without noise; she did not sit too near to him; she took pains not to annoy him by any feminine bustle over her work; she chose her knitting, as being always most to his fancy; then she looked up timidly into his face. But there was a frown, slight to be sure, but still a frown, upon it, neither did he speak. Some gloomy, perhaps some bitter thought held the man. A reflection of it might have struck across her, as she turned her head, fixing her eyes upon the coals.

The light on her face showed it pale; the lines on her mouth were deeper than any time had worn for her husband; her hair as gray as his, though he was already a man of grave, middle age, when the little wife—hardly past her sixteenth birthday—came to the farm with him.

Perhaps it is these silent women—spiritless, timid souls, like this one,—who have, after all, the greatest capacity for suffering. You might have thought so, if you had watched her. Some infinite mourning looked out of her mute brown eyes. In the very folding of her hands there was a sort of stifled cry, as one whose abiding place is in the Valley of the Shadow.

A monotonous sob of the wind broke at the corners of the house; in the silence between the two, it was distinctly heard. Martha Ryck's face paled a little.

"I wish—" She tried to laugh. "Amos, it cries just like a baby."

"Nonsense!"

Her husband rose impatiently, and walked to the window. He was not given to fancies; all his life was ruled and squared up to a creed. Yet I doubt if he liked the sound of that wind much better than the woman. He thrummed upon the window-sill, then turned sharply away.

"There's a storm up, a cold one too."

"It stormed when—"

But Mrs. Ryck did not finish her sentence. Her husband, coming back to his seat, tripped over a stool,—a little thing it was, fit only for a child; a bit of dingy carpet covered it: once it had been bright.

"Martha, what do you keep this about for? It's always in the way!" setting it up angrily against the wall.

"I won't, if you'd rather not, Amos."

The farmer took up an almanac, and counted out the time when the minister's salary and the butcher's bill were due; it gave occasion for making no reply.

"Amos!" she said at last. He put down his book.

"Amos, do you remember what day it is?"

"I'm not likely to forget." His face darkened.

"Amos," again, more timidly, "do you suppose we shall ever find out?"

"How can I tell?"

"Ever know anything,—just a little?"

"We know enough, Martha."

"Amos! Amos!" her voice rising to a bitter cry, "we don't know enough! God's the only one that knows enough. He knows whether she's alive, and if she's dead he knows, and where she is; if there was ever any hope, and if her mother—"

"Hope, Martha, for her!"

She had been looking into the fire, her attitude unchanged, her hands wrung one into the other. She roused at that, something in her face as if one flared a sudden light upon the dead.

"What ails you, Amos? You're her father; you loved her when she was a little, innocent child."

When she was a child, and innocent,—yes. That was long ago. He stopped his walk across the room, and sat down, his face twitching nervously. But he had nothing to say,—not one word to the patient woman watching him there in the firelight, not one for love of the child who had climbed upon his knee and kissed him in that very room, who had played upon that little faded cricket, and wound her arms about the mother's neck, sitting just so, as she sat now. Yet he had loved her, the pure baby. That stung him. He could not forget it, though he might own no fathership to the wanderer.

Amos Ryck was a respectable man; he had the reputation of an honest, pious farmer to maintain. Moreover, he was a deacon in the church. His own life, stern in its purity, could brook no tenderness toward offenders. His own child was as shut out from his forgiveness as he deemed her to be from the forgiveness of his God. Yet you would have seen, in one look at the man, that this blow with which he was smitten had cleft his heart to its core.

This was her birthday,—hers whose name had not passed his lips for years. Do you think he had once forgotten it since its morning? Did not the memories it brought crowd into every moment? Did they not fill the very prayers in which he besought a sin-hating God to avenge him of all his enemies?

So many times the child had sat there at his feet on this day, playing with some birthday toy,—he always managed to find her something, a doll or a picture-book; she used to come up to thank him, pushing back her curls, her little red lips put up for a kiss. He was very proud of her,—he and the mother. She was all they had,—the only one. He used to call her "God's dear blessing," softly, while his eyes grew dim; she hardly heard him for his breaking voice.

She might have stood there and brought back all those dead birthday nights, so did he live them over. But none could know it; for he did not speak, and the frown knotted darkly on his forehead. Martha Ryck looked up at last into her husband's face.

"Amos, if she should ever come back!" He started, his eyes freezing.

"She won't! She—"

Would he have said "she shall not?" God only knew.

"Martha, you talk nonsense! It's just like a woman. We've said enough about this. I suppose He who's cursed us has got his own reasons for it. We must bear it, and so must she."

He stood up, stroking his beard nervously, his eyes wandering about the room; he did not, or he could not, look at his wife. Muff, rousing from his slumbers, came up sleepily to be taken some notice of. She used to love the dog,—the child; she gave him his name in a frolic one day; he was always her playfellow; many a time they had come in and found her asleep with Muff's black, shaggy sides for a pillow, and her little pink arms around his neck, her face warm and bright with some happy dream.

Mr. Ryck had often thought he would sell the creature; but he never had. If he had been a woman, he would have said he could not. Being a man, he argued that Muff was a good watch-dog, and worth keeping.

"Always in the way, Muff!" he muttered, looking at the patient black head rubbed against his knee. He was angry with the dog at that moment; the next he had repented; the brute had done no wrong. He stooped and patted him. Muff returned to his dreams content.

"Well, Martha," he said, coming up to her uneasily, "you look tired."

"Tired? No, I was only thinking, Amos."

The pallor of her face, its timid eyes and patient mouth, the whole crushed look of the woman, struck him freshly. He stooped and kissed her forehead, the sharp lines of his face relaxing a little.

"I didn't mean to be hard on you, Martha; we both have enough to bear without that, but it's best not to talk of what can't be helped,—you see."

"Yes."

"Don't think anything more about the day; it's not—it's not really good for you; you must cheer up, little woman."

"Yes, Amos."

Perhaps his unusual tenderness gave her courage; she stood up, putting both arms around his neck.

"If you'd only try to love her a little, after all, my husband! He would know it; He might save her for it."

Amos Ryck choked, coughed, and said it was time for prayers. He took down the old Bible in which his child's baby-fingers used to trace their first lessons after his own, and read, not of her who loved much and was forgiven, but one of the imprecatory Psalms.

When Mrs. Ryck was sure that her husband was asleep that night, she rose softly from her bed, unlocked, with noiseless key, one of her bureau drawers, took something from it, and then felt her way down the dark stairs into the kitchen.

She drew a chair up to the fire, wrapped her shawl closely about her, and untied, with trembling fingers, the knots of a soft silken handkerchief in which her treasures were folded.

Some baby dresses of purest white; a child's little pink apron; a pair of tiny shoes, worn through by pattering feet; and a toy or two all broken, as some impatient little fingers had left them; she was such a careless baby! Yet they never could scold her, she always affected such pretty surprises, and wide blue-eyed penitence: a bit of a queen she was at the farm.

Was it not most kindly ordered by the Infinite Tenderness which pitieth its sorrowing ones, that into her still hours her child should come so often only as a child, speaking pure things only, touching her mother so like a restful hand, and stealing into a prayer?

For where was ever grief like this one? Beside this sorrow, death was but a joy. If she might have closed her child's baby-eyes, and seen the lips which had not uttered their first "Mother!" stilled, and laid her away under the daisies, she would have sat there alone that night, and thanked Him who had given and taken away.

But this,—a wanderer upon the face of the earth,—a mark, deeper seared than the mark of Cain, upon the face which she had fondled and kissed within her arms; the soul to which she had given life, accursed of God and man,—to measure this, there is no speech nor language.

Martha Ryck rose at last, took off the covers of the stove, and made a fresh blaze which brightened all the room, and shot its glow far into the street. She went to the window to push the curtain carefully aside, stood a moment looking out into the night, stole softly to the door, unlocked it, then went upstairs to bed.

The wind, rising suddenly that night, struck sharply through the city. It had been cold enough before, but the threatened storm foreboded that it would be worse yet before morning. The people crowded in a warm and brilliant church cast wandering glances from the preacher to the painted windows, beyond which the night lay darkly, thought of the ride home in close, cushioned carriages, and shivered.

So did a woman outside, stopping just by the door, and looking in at the hushed and sacred shelter. Such a temperature was not the best medicine for that cough of hers. She had just crawled out of the garret, where she had lain sick, very sick, for weeks.

Passing the door of the Temple which reared its massive front and glittering windows out of the darkness of the street, her ear was caught by the faint, muffled sound of some anthem the choir were singing. She drew the hood of her cloak over her face, turned into the shadow of the steps, and, standing so, listened. Why, she hardly knew. Perhaps it was the mere entreaty of the music, for her dulled ear had never grown deaf to it; or perhaps a memory, flitting as a shadow, of other places and other times, in which the hymns of God's church had not been strange to her. She caught the words at last, brokenly. They were of some one who was wounded. Wounded! she held her breath, listening curiously. The wind shrieking past drowned the rest; only the swelling of the organ murmured above it. She stole up the granite steps just within the entrance. No one was there to see her, and she went on tiptoe to the muffled door, putting her ear to it, her hair falling over her face. It was some plaintive minor air they were hymning, as sad as a dying wail, and as sweet as a mother's lullaby.

"But He was wounded; He was wounded for our transgression; He was bruised for our iniquities."

Then, growing slower and more faint, a single voice took up the strain, mournfully but clearly, with a hush in it as if one sang on Calvary.

"Yet we hid, as it were, our faces from Him. He was despised, and we esteemed him not."

Well; He only knows what it spoke to the woman, who listened with her guilty face hidden in her hair; how it drew her like a call to join the throng that worshipped him.

"I'd like to hear the rest," she muttered to herself. "I wonder what it is about."

A child came down from the gallery just then, a ragged boy, who, like herself, had wandered in from the street.

"Hilloa, Meg!" he said, laughing, "you going to meeting? That's a good joke!" If she had heard him, she would have turned away. But her hand was on the latch; the door had swung upon its noiseless hinges; the pealing organ drowned his voice. She went in and sat down in an empty slip close by the door, looking about her for the moment in a sort of childish wonder. The church was a blaze of light and color. One perceived a mist of gayly dressed people, a soft flutter of fans, and faint, sweet perfumes below; the velvet-cushioned pulpit, and pale, scholarly outlines of the preacher's face above; the warmth of rainbow-tinted glass; the wreathed and massive carving of oaken cornice; the glitter of gas-light from a thousand prisms, and the silence of the dome beyond.

The brightness struck sharply against the woman sitting there alone. Her face seemed to grow grayer and harder in it. The very hush of that princely sanctuary seemed broken by her polluted presence. True, she kept afar off; she did not so much as lift up her eyes to heaven; she had but stolen in to hear the chanted words that were meant for the acceptance and the comfort of the pure, bright worshippers,—sinners, to be sure, in their way; but then, Christ died for them. This tabernacle, to which they had brought their purple and gold and scarlet, for his praise, was not meant for such as Meg, you know.

But she had come into it, nevertheless. If He had called her there, she did not know it. She only sat and listened to the chanting, forgetting what she was; forgetting to wonder if there were one of all that reverent throng who would be willing to sit and worship beside her.

The singing ended at last, and the pale preacher began his sermon. But Meg did not care for that; she could not understand it. She crouched down in the corner of the pew, her hood drawn far over her face, repeating to herself now and then, mechanically as it seemed, the words of the chant.

"Wounded—for our transgressions; and bruised,"—muttering, after a while,—"Yet we hid our faces." Bruised and wounded! The sound of the words attracted her; she said them over and over. She knew who He was. Many years ago she had heard of him; it was a great while since then; she had almost forgotten it. Was it true? And was he perhaps,—was there a little chance it meant, he was bruised for her,—for her? She began to wonder dimly, still muttering the sorrowful words down in her corner, where no one could hear her.

I wonder if He heard them. Do you think he did? For when the sermon was ended, and the choir sang again,—still of him, and how he called the heavy-laden, and how he kept his own rest for them, she said,—for was she not very weary and heavy-laden with her sins?—still crouching down in her corner, "That's me. I guess it is. I'll find out."

She fixed her eyes upon the preacher, thinking, in her stunted, childish way, that he knew so much, so many things she did not understand, that surely he could tell her,—she should like to have it to think about; she would ask him. She rose instinctively with the audience to receive his blessing, then waited in her hooded cloak, like some dark and evil thing, among the brilliant crowd. The door opening, as they began to pass out by her, swept in such a chill of air as brought back a spasm of coughing. She stood quivering under it, her face livid with the pain. The crowd began to look at her curiously, to nod and whisper among themselves.

The sexton stepped up nervously; he knew who she was. "Meg, you'd better go. What are you standing here for?"

She flung him a look out of her hard, defiant eyes; she made no answer. A child, clinging to her mother's hand, looked up as she went by, pity and fear in her great wondering eyes. "Mother, see that poor woman; she's hungry or cold!"

The little one put her hand over the slip, pulling at Meg's cloak,
"What's the matter with you? Why don't you go home?"

"Bertha, child, are you crazy?" Her mother caught her quickly away.
"Don't touch that woman!"

Meg heard it.

Standing, a moment after, just at the edge of the aisle, a lady, clad in velvet, brushed against her, then gathered her costly garments with a hand ringed and dazzling with diamonds, shrinking as if she had touched some accursed thing, and sweeping by.

Meg's eyes froze at that. This was the sanctuary, these the worshippers of Him who was bruised. His message could not be for her. It would be of no use to find out about him; of no use to tell him how she loathed herself and her life; that she wanted to know about that Rest, and about that heavy-laden one. His followers would not brook the very flutter of her dress against their pure garments. They were like him; he could have nothing to say to such as she.

She turned to go out. Through the open door she saw the night and the storm. Within was the silent dome, and the organ-hymn still swelling up to it.

It was still of the wounded that they sang. Meg listened, lingered, touched the preacher on the arm as he came by.

"I want to ask you a question."

He started at the sight of her, or more perhaps at the sharpness in her voice.

"Why, why, who are you?"

"I'm Meg. You don't know me. I ain't fit for your fine Christian people to touch; they won't let their little children speak to me."

"Well?" he said, nervously, for she paused.

"Well? You're a preacher. I want to know about Him they've been singing of, I came in to hear the singing. I like it."

"I—I don't quite understand you," began the minister. "You surely have heard of Jesus Christ."

"Yes," her eyes softened, "somebody used to tell me; it was mother; we lived in the country. I wasn't what I am now. I want to know if he can put me back again. What if I should tell him I was going to be different? Would he hear me, do you suppose?"

Somehow the preacher's scholarly self-possession failed him. He felt ill at ease, standing there with the woman's fixed black eyes upon him.

"Why, yes; he always forgives a repentant sinner."

"Repentant sinner." She repeated the words musingly. "I don't understand all these things. I've forgotten most all about it. I want to know. Couldn't I come in some way with the children and be learnt 'em? I wouldn't make any trouble."

There was something almost like a child in her voice just then, almost as earnest and as pure. The preacher took out his handkerchief and wiped his face; then he changed his hat awkwardly from hand to hand.

"Why, why, really, we have no provision in our Sabbath school for cases like this: we have been meaning to establish an institution of a missionary character, but the funds cannot be raised just yet. I am sorry; I don't know but—"

"It's no matter!"

Meg turned sharply away, her hands dropping lifelessly; she moved toward the door. They were alone now in the church, they two.

The minister's pale cheek flushed; he stepped after her.

"Young woman!"

She stopped, her face turned from him.

"I will send you to some of the city missionaries, or I will go with you to the Penitents' Retreat. I should like to help you. I—"

He would have exhorted her to reform as kindly as he knew how; he felt uncomfortable at letting her go so; he remembered just then who washed the feet of his Master with her tears. But she would not listen. She turned from him, and out into the storm, some cry on her lips,—it might have been:—

"There ain't nobody to help me. I was going to be better!"

She sank down on the snow outside, exhausted by the racking cough which the air had again brought on.

The sexton found her there in the shadow, when he locked the church doors.

"Meg! you here? What ails you?"

"Dying, I suppose!"

The sight of her touched the man, she lying there alone in the snow; he lingered, hesitated, thought of his own warm home, looked at her again. If a friendly hand should save the creature,—he had heard of such things. Well? But how could he take her into his respectable home? What would people say?—the sexton of the Temple! He had a little wife there too, pure as the snow upon the ground to-night. Could he bring them under the same roof?

"Meg!" he said, speaking in his nervous way, though kindly, "you will die here. I'll call the police and let them take you where it's warmer."

But she crawled to her feet again.

"No you won't!"

She walked away as fast as she was able, till she found a still place down by the water, where no one could see her. There she stood a moment irresolute, looked up through the storm as if searching for the sky, then sank upon her knees down in the silent shade of some timber.

Perhaps she was half-frightened at the act, for she knelt so a moment without speaking. There she began to mutter: "Maybe He won't drive me off; if they did, maybe he won't. I should just like to tell him, anyway!"

So she folded her hands, as she had folded them once at her mother's knee.

"O Lord! I'm tired of being Meg. I should like to be something else!"

Then she rose, crossed the bridge, and on past the thinning houses, walking feebly through the snow that drifted against her feet.

She did not know why she was there, or where she was going. She repeated softly to herself now and then the words uttered down in the shade of the timber, her brain dulled by the cold, faint, floating dreams stealing into them.

Meg! tired of being Meg! She wasn't always that. It was another name, a pretty name she thought, with a childish smile,—Maggie. They always call her that. She used to play about among the clover-blossoms and buttercups then; the pure little children used to kiss her; nobody hooted after her in the street, or drove her out of church, or left her all alone out in the snow,—Maggie!

Perhaps, too, some vague thought came to her of the mournful, unconscious prophecy of the name, as the touch of the sacred water upon her baby-brow had sealed it,—Magdalene.

She stopped a moment, weakened by her toiling against the wind, threw
off her hood, the better to catch her laboring breath, and standing so,
looked back at the city, its lights glimmering white and pale, through
the falling snow.

Her face was a piteous sight just then. Do you think the haughtiest of the pure, fair women in yonder treasured homes could have loathed her as she loathed herself at that moment?

Yet it might have been a face as fair and pure as theirs; kisses of mother and husband might have warmed those drawn and hueless lips; they might have prayed their happy prayers, every night and morning, to God. It might have been. You would almost have thought he had meant it should be so, if you had looked into her eyes sometimes,—perhaps when she was on her knees by the timber; or when she listened to the chant, crouching out of sight in the church.

Well, it was only that it might have been. Life could hold no possible blessed change for her, you know. Society had no place for it, though she sought it carefully with tears. Who of all God's happy children that he had kept from sin would have gone to her and said, "My sister, his love holds room for you and me"; have touched her with her woman's hand, held out to her her woman's help, and blessed her with her woman's prayers and tears?

Do you not think Meg knew the answer? Had she not learned it well, in seven wandering years? Had she not read it in every blast of this bitter night, out into which she had come to find a helper, when all the happy world passed by her, on the other side?

She stood there, looking at the glittering of the city, then off into the gloom where the path lay through the snow. Some struggle was in her face.

"Home! home and mother! She don't want me,—nobody wants me. I'd better go back."

The storm was beating upon her. But, looking from the city to the drifted path, and back from the lonely path to the lighted city, she did not stir.

"I should like to see it, just to look in the window, a little,—it wouldn't hurt 'em any. Nobody'd know."

She turned, walking slowly where the snow lay pure and untrodden. On, out of sight of the town, where the fields were still; thinking only as she went, that nobody would know,—nobody would know.

She would see the old home out in the dark; she could even say good-by to it quite aloud, and they wouldn't hear her, or come and drive her away. And then—

She looked around where the great shadows lay upon the fields, felt the weakening of her limbs, her failing breath, and smiled. Not Meg's smile; a very quiet smile, with a little quiver in it. She would find a still place under the trees somewhere; the snow would cover her quite out of sight before morning,—the pure, white snow. She would be only Maggie then.

The road, like some familiar dream, wound at last into the village. Down the street where her childish feet had pattered in their playing, by the old town pump, where, coming home from school, she used to drink the cool, clear water on summer noons, she passed,—a silent shadow. She might have been the ghost of some dead life, so moveless was her face. She stopped at last, looking about her.

"Where? I most forget."

Turning out from the road, she found a brook half hidden under the branches of a dripping tree,—frozen now; only a black glare of ice, where she pushed away the snow with her foot. It might have been a still, green place in summer, with banks of moss, and birds singing overhead. Some faint color flushed all her face; she did not hear the icicles dropping from the lonely tree.

"Yes,"—she began to talk softly to herself,—"this is it. The first time I ever saw him, he stood over there under the tree. Let me see; wasn't I crossing the brook? Yes, I was crossing the brook; on the stones. I had a pink dress. I looked in the glass when I went home," brushing her soft hair out of her eyes. "Did I look pretty? I can't remember. It's a great while ago."

She came back into the street after that, languidly, for the snow lay deeper. The wind, too, had chilled her more than she knew. The sleet was frozen upon her mute, white face. She tried to draw her cloak more closely about her, but her hands refused to hold it. She looked at them curiously.

"Numb? How much farther, I wonder?"

It was not long before she came to it. The house stood up silently in the night. A single light glimmered far out upon the garden. Her eye caught it eagerly. She followed it down, across the orchard, and the little plats where the flowers used to be so bright all summer long. She had not forgotten them. She used to go out in the morning and pick them for her mother,—a whole apronful, purple, and pink, and white, with dewdrops on them. She was fit to touch them then. Her mother used to smile when she brought them in. Her mother! Nobody ever smiled so since. Did she know it? Did she ever wonder what had become of her,—the little girl who used to kiss her? Did she ever want to see her? Sometimes, when she prayed up in the old bedroom, did she remember her daughter who had sinned, or guess that she was tired of it all, and how no one in all the wide world would help her?

She was sleeping there now. And the father. She was afraid to see him; he would send her away, if he knew she had come out in the snow to look at the old home. She wondered if her mother would.

She opened the gate, and went in. The house was very still. So was the yard, and the gleam of light that lay golden on the snow. The numbness of her body began to steal over her brain. She thought at moments, as she crawled up the path upon her hands and knees,—for she could no longer walk,—that she was dreaming some pleasant dream; that the door would open, and her mother come out to meet her. Attracted like a child by the broad belt of light, she followed it over and through a piling drift. It led her to the window where the curtain was pushed aside. She managed to reach the blind, and so stand up a moment, clinging to it, looking in, the glow from the fire sharp on her face. Then she sank down upon the snow by the door.

Lying so, her face turned up against it, her stiffened lips kissing the very dumb, unanswering wood, a thought came to her. She remembered the day. For seven long years she had not thought of it.

A spasm crossed her face, her hands falling clinched. Who was it of whom it was written, that better were it for that man if he had never been born? Of Magdalene, more vile than Judas, what should be said?

Yet it was hard, I think, to fall so upon the very threshold,—so near the quiet, peaceful room, with the warmth, and light, and rest; to stay all night in the storm, with eyes turned to that dead, pitiless sky, without one look into her mother's face, without one kiss, or gentle touch, or blessing, and die so, looking up! No one to hold her hand and look into her eyes, and hear her say she was sorry,—sorry for it all! That they should find her there in the morning, when her poor, dead face could not see if she were forgiven!

"I should like to go in," sobbing, with the first tears of many years upon her cheek,—weak, pitiful tears, like a child's,—"just in out of the cold!"

Some sudden strength fell on her after that. She reached up, fumbling for the latch. It opened at her first touch; the door swung wide into the silent house.

She crawled in then, into the kitchen where the fire was, and the rocking-chair; the plants in the window, and the faded cricket upon the hearth; the dog, too, roused from his nap behind the stove. He began to growl at her, his eyes on fire.

"Muff!" she smiled weakly, stretching out her hand. He did not know her,—he was fierce with strangers. "Muff! don't you know me? I'm Maggie; there, there, Muff, good fellow!"

She crept up to him fearlessly, putting both her arms about his neck, in a way she had of soothing him when she was his playfellow. The creature's low growl died away. He submitted to her touch, doubtfully at first, then he crouched on the floor beside her, wagging his tail, wetting her face with his huge tongue.

"Muff, you know me, you old fellow! I'm sorry, Muff, I am,—I wish we could go out and play together again. I'm very tired, Muff."

She laid her head upon the dog, just as she used to long ago, creeping up near the fire. A smile broke all over her face, at Muff's short, happy bark.

"He don't turn me off; he don't know; he thinks I'm nobody but Maggie."

How long she lay so, she did not know. It might have been minutes, it might have been hours; her eyes wandering all about the room, growing brighter too, and clearer. They would know now that she had come back; that she wanted to see them; that she had crawled into the old room to die; that Muff had not forgotten her. Perhaps, perhaps they would look at her not unkindly, and cry over her just a little, for the sake of the child they used to love.

Martha Ryck, coming in at last, found her with her long hair falling over her face, her arms still about the dog, lying there in the firelight.

The woman's eyelids fluttered for an instant, her lips moving dryly; but she made no sound. She came up, knelt upon the floor, pushed Muff gently away, and took her child's head upon her lap.

"Maggie!"

She opened her eyes and looked up.

"Mother's glad to see you, Maggie."

The girl tried to smile, her face all quivering.

"Mother, I—I wanted you. I thought I wasn't fit."

Her mother stooped and kissed her lips,—the polluted, purple lips, that trembled so.

"I thought you would come back to me, my daughter. I've watched for you a great while."

She smiled at that, pushing away her falling hair.

"Mother, I'm so sorry."

"Yes, Maggie."

"And oh!" she threw out her arms; "O, I'm so tired, I'm so tired!"

Her mother raised her, laying her head upon her shoulder.

"Mother'll rest you, Maggie," soothing her, as if she sang again her first lullaby, when she came to her, the little pure baby,—her only one.

"Mother," once more, "the door was unlocked."

"It has been unlocked every night for seven years, my child."

She closed her eyes after that, some stupor creeping over her, her features in the firelight softening and melting, with the old child-look coming into them. Looking up at last, she saw another face bending over her, a face in which grief had worn stern lines; there were tears in the eyes, and some recent struggle quivering out of it.

"Father, I didn't mean to come in,—I didn't really; but I was so cold. Don't send me off, father! I couldn't walk so far,—I shall be out of your way in a little while,—the cough—"

"I send you away, Maggie? I—I might have done it once; God forgive me! He sent you back, my daughter,—I thank him."

A darkness swept over both faces then; she did not even hear Muff's whining cry at her ear.

"Mother," at last, the light of the room coming back, "there's Somebody who was wounded. I guess I'm going to find him. Will he forget it all?"

"All, Maggie."

For what did He tell the sin-laden woman who came to him once, and dared not look into his face? Was ever soul so foul and crimson-stained that he could not make it pure and white? Does he not linger till his locks are wet with the dews of night, to listen for the first, faint call of any wanderer crying to him in the dark?

So He came to Maggie. So he called her by her name,—Magdalene, most precious to him; whom he had bought with a great price; for whom, with groanings that cannot be uttered, he had pleaded with his Father: Magdalene, chosen from all eternity, to be graven in the hollow of his hand, to stand near to him before the throne, to look with fearless eyes into his face, to touch him with her happy tears among his sinless ones forever.

And think you that then, any should scorn the woman whom the high and lofty One, beholding, did thus love? Who could lay anything to the charge of his elect?

Perhaps he told her all this, in the pauses of the storm, for something in her face transfigured it.

"Mother, it's all over now. I think I shall be your little girl again."

And so, with a smile, she went to Him. The light flashed broader and brighter about the room, and on the dead face there,—never Meg's again. A strong man, bowed over it, was weeping. Muff moaned out his brute sorrow where the still hand touched him.

But Martha Ryck, kneeling down beside her only child, gave thanks to
God.