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Around this glorious fire they all gathered, and something of the way Guilford had been restored, as well as the gentle tranquillity of the twilight hour, crept into their hearts and tinged the conversation with an intimacy which years of ordinary social intercourse could not have accomplished. Christian Scientists all over the world will recognize this as a fact peculiar to themselves. If church-member meets church-member of any other denomination, they are forced to become acquainted as is usual in society, because there is no unanimity of thought, and each is bound for his or her particular goal by independent and widely diverse routes. But in Christian Science instantaneous intimacies are possible, because it is the one religion which requires comparative unanimity of thought, and all are travelling in the identical path which leads to the ultimate perfection of harmony.
Thus, with no other light than the firelight and with no further introduction to the dear people of the Southland, than that they were either Christian Scientists or Carolina's beloved kinfolk, no one was surprised when Doctor Colfax said:
"You showed no astonishment this morning, Miss Carolina, when you saw me among the guests Mr. Howard was bringing to your beautiful house-warming. And as I know the type of your mind, I know that you will ask no questions. Therefore, I owe it to you to tell you, and believe me, I am delighted to include your friends.
"You, Mrs. Winchester, remember meeting me on the train as you were coming from Boston. You thought I had been to take a rest. I had. But it was a rest in a hospital from an operating-table. It was my second operation for cancer of the throat. My inexcusable show of anger at your house, Mrs. Howard, the night I saw the miracle of Miss Carolina's healing, was induced and aggravated by the knowledge of the ordeal before me and of the futility of it. My brutal words against Mrs.
G.o.ddard, this dear, dear woman, whom I have learned to revere and love as my best friend, were uttered because I longed to go and fling myself at her feet and ask her if she could cure me. If any of you men who were there that night--if you, St. Quentin, had knocked me senseless and taken my unconscious body to a Christian Scientist for treatment, I should have thanked you on my knees. But none of you knew.
"Well, I went through this second operation, and it proved as futile as the first had done. Within six months I was confronted by the certainty of the third, and this I felt sure would be fatal.
"With the horrible fear of death before my mental vision, and no faith in surgery, I one day made up my mind to call on Mrs. G.o.ddard, to tell her the ungentlemanly, unmanly words I had used against her in public, to beg her pardon, and if she forgave me, to implore her help for my hideous malady.
"Dear friends, you, who know her, know how she received me. But none of you know that under her treatment I was entirely cured. Nor does she know what I am about to say, for only since I came down here and lived among you and saw your beautiful lives, have I decided. Mrs. G.o.ddard, I owe it to you to tell you first. I have decided to give up the practice of materia medica, which failed me in the hour of my greatest need, and I intend to study to be a Christian Science pract.i.tioner."
A startled murmur ran through the group. Even with all their faith, this came as a surprise, for the name of Doctor Colfax stood for so much in the medical world. Few men would have dared to show so much moral courage. Only Mrs. G.o.ddard seemed to understand, for she reached out her hand to him, and he bent and kissed it before them all.
"I give up!" cried Colonel Yancey, to relieve the tension. "Cousin Lois, look at all these lovers holding hands, and thinking we don't see them, and say whether you and I shall be left out."
"Wayne Yancey," said Mrs. Winchester, "I'm not going to be left out of anything. I have come to the point where I don't believe in the Church of England the way I did, and, if I decide to become a Christian Scientist, there is no telling but that I may forget what a rascal you used to be in what they call 'the old thought' and decide to marry you in the new!"
Thus Guilford began at once to take her proper place as the mystic spot where lovers' vows were plighted almost before they knew it, so replete it was with all that goes to make a home, and, as the dancing flames died down, Carolina felt a soft hand steal into hers, and looked down into the wide eyes of her niece, little Cynthia Lee.
"What is it, darling?" she asked.
"I feel," whispered the child, "that strange things are going to happen at Guildford, and that you and I shall always be in the midst of them!"
Carolina, instinctively realizing that this was a psychic moment for the imaginative child, slipped her arm around Cynthia's delicate waist, saying:
"Why do you feel it, Cynthia?"
"Listen, Aunt Carolina. Something of all the queerness I have heard since I came down here makes me feel that I shall lead a stormy life, and that I shall need this thing and want it and be unable to accept it until I am beaten by everything else. Do you understand me?"
"Only too well," sighed Carolina.
"Then I shall want you, and want you terribly."
"I shall always be here, dearest."
"That is what comforts me," said the child, the mystic light dying out of her eyes. "It is what comforts me about the whole thing. I know it will always be there when I want it. I have talked to Emmeline about it. Even little Gladys taught me her hymn."
And the child and the woman looked into each other's eyes, knowing that their souls were akin, and that the witchery of the twilight hour had opened floodgates closed by day, but which opened when the soul felt the need of speech.
"I am glad you told me, Cynthia," said Carolina. "The only answer to all of life's puzzles, I have found in this awakened sense of mine, which will surely come to you some day. Remember it when the waters grow too deep."
"The answer to all life's puzzles," echoed Cynthia.
"Sing, child," said Carolina.
And Cynthia, whose voice was like the rippling water and the sounding of silver bells, began to sing what Gladys called her hymn:
"'And o'er earth's troubled, angry sea I see Christ walk, And come to me and tenderly, Divinely talk!'"
As the child sang, every feeling in every heart melted, until only love remained, and, when she finished, Kate cried out:
"It's all over! I d-don't hate Mrs. Eddy any more. I--I've been healed of it by Cynthia's singing."
The child's lovely voice had so sadly shaken Carolina's composure that, under cover of the half-darkness, she rose and made her way quietly to a little hall which led to a private staircase, intending to gain her own room and recover herself before her guests began to take leave.
As the voices rose and fell, she moved nearer and nearer the door, too intent upon her own ends to notice that Moultrie La Grange had likewise detached himself from the fireside group and disappeared.
As she finally stepped behind a group of palms which concealed the door, she sprang lightly into the dark pa.s.sage and flung herself headlong into the arms of Moultrie La Grange, who had come in that way to intercept her flight.
He was not slow to take advantage of the very opportunity he had come to seek, and, after one brief struggle, so slight that it was like the fluttering of a bird, she hid her face in his shoulder, with a little sob in which relief and joy and love were mingled.
He said nothing, only held her close and kissed her hair, until her arms stole upward and curled around his neck, and she whispered:
"Moultrie, dear, dear Moultrie, will you forgive me for what I said to you that day?"
"I have nothing to forgive, dear heart. You only said it because you loved me."
Tears filled her eyes, and she drew closer to him, whispering:
"I knew that first night in New York at the opera--that this hour would come--and just now, while Cynthia was singing, I knew that--you would understand--everything!"
"I would not have dared to speak to you again, dearest," he answered, "if I had not emptied my soul of self and got rid of that which separated us. But--I have been working since you showed me where I stood with you, and I, too, under the spell of that child's voice, have come to the point where I can say that, if you think I am capable of it,--and worthy to be the successor of such a man as your idolized father,--I would be proud to complete his work on Abraham Lincoln, and, with your consent, we will call it 'The Debt of the South to Lincoln.'"
For reply, Carolina lifted his hand to her lips and kissed it. She could make no reply to such a surrender as that, but in that hour she lifted her hero to a pinnacle, whence he never was dislodged.