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She tried to clasp her hands on her lap, but the fingers were no longer under her control; they had fallen to the side of the chair-bed, and hung there lifeless. Her eyes stared wildly at the spectre of her son, but without love in them; love had faded out of her heart, and given place to hate of his murderer.
"Mother," proceeded the vision, "you summoned me, and even in the world of spirits the soul of a child must respond to the cry of a mother, and I have been permitted to come back and to do your will. And now I am suffered to reveal something to you: to show you what my life would have been had it not been cut short by the shot of the Boer."
He stepped towards her, and put forth a vaporous hand and touched her eyes. She felt as though a feather had been pa.s.sed over them. Then he raised the luminous sheet and shook it. Instantly all about her was changed.
Mrs. Winifred Jones was not in her little Welsh cottage; nor was it night. She was no longer alone. She stood in a court, in full daylight.
She saw before her the judge on his seat, the barristers in wig and gown, the press reporters with their notebooks and pens, a dense crowd thronging every portion of the court. And she knew instinctively, before a word was spoken, without an intimation from the spirit of her son, that she was standing in the Divorce Court. And she saw there as co-respondent her son, older, changed in face, but more altered in expression. And she heard a tale unfolded--full of dishonour, and rousing disgust.
She was now able to raise her hands--she covered her ears; her face, crimson with shame, sank on her bosom. She could endure the sight, the words spoken, the revelations made, no longer, and she cried out: "Aneurin! Aneurin! for the Lord's sake, no more of this! Oh, the day, the day, that I have seen you standing here."
At once all pa.s.sed; and she was again in her bedroom in Honeysuckle Cottage, North Wales, seated with folded hands on her lap, and looking before her wonderingly at the ghostly form of her son.
"Is that enough, mother?"
She lifted her hands deprecatingly.
Again he shook the glimmering white sheet, and it was as though drops of pearly fire fell out of it.
And again--all was changed.
She found herself at Monte Carlo; she knew it instinctively. She was in the great saloon, where were the gaming-tables. The electric lights glittered, and the decorations were superb. But all her attention was engrossed on her son, whom she saw at one of the tables, staking his last napoleon.
It was indeed her own Aneurin, but with a face on which vice and its consequent degradation were written indelibly.
He lost, and turned away, and left the hall and its lights. His mother followed him. He went forth into the gardens. The full moon was shining, and the gravel of the terraces was white as snow. The air was fragrant with the scent of oranges and myrtles. The palms cast black shadows on the soil. The sea lay still as if asleep, with a gleam over it from the moon.
Mrs. Winifred Jones tracked her son, as he stole in and out among the shrubs, amid the trees, with a sickening fear at her heart. Then she saw him pause by some oleanders, and draw a revolver from his pocket and place it at his ear. She uttered a cry of agony and horror, and tried to spring forward to dash the weapon from his hand.
Then all changed.
She was again in her little room in the dusk, and the shadowy form of Aneurin was before her.
"Mother," said the spirit, "I have been permitted to come to you and to show to you what would have been my career if I had not died whilst young, and fresh, and innocent. You have to thank Jacob Van Heeren that he saved me from such a life of infamy, and such an evil death by my own hand. You should thank, and not curse him." She was breathing heavily.
Her heart beat so fast that her brain span; she fell on her knees.
"Mother," the apparition continued, "there were seventeen pebbles cast into the well."
"Yes, Aneurin," she whispered.
"And there is a seventeenth white flag. With the sixteenth Jacob Van Heeren died. The seventeenth is reserved for you."
"Aneurin! I am not fit to die."
"Mother, it must be, I must lay the white flag over your head."
"Oh! my son, my son!"
"It is so ordained," he proceeded; "but there are Love and Mercy on high, and you shall not be veiled with it till you have made your peace.
You have sinned. You have thrust yourself into the council-chamber of G.o.d. You have claimed to exercise vengeance yourself, and not left it to Him to whom vengeance in right belongs."
"I know it now," breathed the widow.
"And now you must atone for the curses by prayers. You have brought Jacob Van Heeren to his death by your imprecations, and now, fold your hands and pray to G.o.d for him--for him, your son's murderer. Little have you considered that his acts were due to ignorance, resentment for what he fancied were wrongs, and to having been reared in a mutilated and debased form of Christianity. Pray for him, that G.o.d may pardon his many and great transgressions, his falsehood, his treachery, his self-righteousness. You who have been so greatly wronged are the right person to forgive and to pray for his soul. In no other way can you so fully show that your heart is turned from wrath to love. Forgive us our trespa.s.ses as we forgive them that trespa.s.s against us."
She breathed a "Yes."
Then she clasped her hands. She was already on her knees, and she prayed first the great Exemplar's prayer, and then particularly for the man who had wrecked her life, with all its hopes.
And as she prayed the lines in her face softened, and the lips lost their hardness, and the fierce light pa.s.sed utterly away from her eyes, in which the lamp of Charity was once more lighted, and the tears formed and rolled down her cheeks.
And still she prayed on, bathed in the pearly light from the summer sky at night. Without, in the firmament, twinkled a star; and a night-bird began to sing.
"And now, mother, pray for yourself."
Then she crossed her hands over her bosom, and bowed her head, full of self-reproach and shame; and as she prayed, the spirit of her son raised the White Flag above her and let it sail down softly, lightly over the loved head, and as it descended there fell from it as it were a dew of pale fire, and it rested on her head, and fell about her, and she sank forward with her face upon the floor. R.I.P.