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You will be a girl
again, unstained and ready to begin life without remorse and without
accusing memory. When I leave you at your door to-night, you will belong
to the kingdom of good and not to the kingdom of evil."

He dropped her hands and pointed across the park.

"Now go to that gray house. Ring the bell, and you will be housed for
the night. _Remember you are mine._ When the bell rings you will
'wake.'"

She moved away without looking back--moved mechanically like one still
in sleep.

The man watched her until the door opened and admitted her; then he
passed on into the shadow of the narrow street.

And this the listener gravely asked:

"One was chosen, the other left. Were the others less in need of
grace?"




BEFORE THE LOW GREEN DOOR.


Matilda Bent was dying; there was no doubt of that now, if there had
been before. The gruff old physician--one of the many overworked and
underpaid country doctors--shook his head and pushed by Joe Bent, her
husband, as he passed through the room which served as dining room,
sitting room, and parlor. The poor fellow slouched back to his chair by
the stove as if dazed, and before he could speak again the doctor was
gone.

Mrs. Ridings was just coming up the walk as the doctor stepped out of
the door.

"O doctor, how is she?"

"She is a dying woman, madam."

"Oh! don't say that, doctor. What's the matter?"

"Cancer."

"Then the news was true----"

"I don't know anything of the news, Mrs. Ridings, but Mrs. Bent is dying
from the effects of a cancer primarily, which she has had for
years--since her last child, which died in infancy, you remember."

"But, doctor, she never told me----"

"Neither did she tell me. But no matter now. I have done all I can for
her. If you can make death any easier for her, go and do it. You will
find some opiate powders there with directions. Keep the pain down at
all hazards. Don't let her suffer; that is useless. She is likely to
last a day or two--but if any change comes to-night, send for me."

When the good matron entered the dowdy, suffocating little room where
Matilda Bent lay gasping for breath, she was sick for a moment with
sympathetic pain. There the dying woman lay, her world narrowed to four
close walls, propped up on the pillows near the one little window. Her
eyes seemed very large and bright, and the brow, made prominent by the
sinking away of the cheeks, gave evidence that it was an uncommon woman
who lay there quietly waiting the death angel.

She smiled, and lifted her eyebrows in a ghastly way.

"O Marthy!" she breathed.

"Matildy, I didn't know you was so bad, or I'd 'a' come before. Why
didn't you let me know?" said Mrs. Ridings, kneeling by the bed and
taking the ghostly hands of the sufferer in her own warm and soft palms.
She shuddered as she kissed the thin lips.

"I think you'll soon be around agin," she added, in the customary
mockery of an attempt at cheer. The other woman started slightly,
turned her head, and gazed on her old friend long and intently. The
hollowness of her neighbor's words stung her.

"I hope not, Marthy--I'm ready to go. I want to go. I don't care to
live."

The two women communed by looking for a long time in each other's eyes,
as if to get at the very secretest desires and hopes of the heart. Tears
fell from Martha's eyes upon the cold and nerveless hands of her
friend--poor, faithful hands, hacked and knotted and worn by thirty
years of ceaseless daily toil. They lay there motionless upon the
coverlet, pathetic protest for all the world to see.

"O Matildy, I wish I could do something for you! I want to help you so.
I feel so bad that I didn't come before. Ain't they somethin'?"

"Yes, Marthy--jest set there--till I die--it won't be long," whispered
the pale lips. The sufferer, as usual, was calmer than her visitor, and
her eyes were thoughtful.

"I will! I will! But oh! must you go? Can't somethin' be done. Don't yo'
want the minister to be sent for?"

"No, I'm all ready. I ain't afraid to die. I ain't worth savin' now. O
Marthy! I never thought I'd come to this--did you? I never thought I'd
die--so early in life--and die--unsatisfied."

She lifted her head a little as she gasped out these words with an
intensity of utterance that thrilled her hearer--a powerful,
penetrating earnestness that burned like fire.

"Are you satisfied?" pursued the steady lips. "My life's a failure,
Marthy--I've known it all along--all but my children. O Marthy, what'll
become o' them? This is a hard world."

The amazed Martha could only chafe the hands, and note sorrowfully the
frightful changes in the face of her friend. The weirdly calm, slow
voice began to shake a little.

"I'm dyin', Marthy, without ever gittin' to the sunny place we
girls--used to think--we'd git to, by an' by. I've been a-gittin' deeper
'n' deeper--in the shade--till it's most dark. They ain't been no
rest--n'r hope f'r me, Marthy--none. I ain't----"

"There, there! Tillie, don't talk so--don't, dear. Try to think how
bright it'll be over there----"

"I don't know nawthin' about over there; I'm talkin' about here. I ain't
had no chance here, Marthy."

"He will heal all your care----"

"He can't wipe out my sufferin's here."

"Yes, He can, and He will. He can wipe away every tear and heal every
wound."

"No--he--can't. God himself can't wipe out what has been. O Mattie, if I
was only there!--in the past--if I was only young and purty agin! You
know how tall I was! how we used to run--O Mattie, if I was only there!
The world was all bright then--wasn't it? We didn't expect--to work all
our days. Life looked like a meadow, full of daisies and pinks, and the
nicest ones and the sweetest birds was just a little ways on--where the
sun was--it didn't look--wasn't we happy?"

"Yes, yes, dear. But you mustn't talk so much." The good woman thought
Matilda's mind was wandering. "Don't you want some med'cine? Ain't your
fever risin'?"

"But the daisies and pinks all turned to weeds," she went on, waiting a
little, "when we picked 'em. An' the sunny place--has been always behind
me, and the dark before me. Oh! if I was only there--in the sun--where
the pinks and daisies are!"

"You mustn't talk so, Mattie! Think about your children. You ain't sorry
y' had them. They've been a comfort to y'. You ain't sorry you had 'em."

"I ain't glad," was the unhesitating reply of the failing woman; and
then she went on, in growing excitement: "They'll haf to grow old jest
as I have--git bent and gray, an' die. They ain't ben much comfort to
me; the boys are like their father, and Julyie's weak. They ain't no
happiness--for such as me and them."

She paused for breath, and Mrs. Ridings, not knowing what to say, did
better than speak. She fell to stroking the poor face, and the hands
getting more restless each moment. It was as if Matilda Fletcher had
been silent so long, had borne so much without complaint, that now it
burst from her in a torrent not to be stayed. All her most secret doubts
and her sweetest hopes seemed trembling on her lips or surging in her
brain, racking her poor, emaciated frame for utterance. Now that death
was sure, she was determined to rid her bosom of its perilous stuff.
Martha was appalled.

"I used to think--that when I got married I'd be perfectly happy--but I
never have been happy sence. It was the beginning of trouble to me. I
never found things better than they looked; they was always worse. I've
gone further an' further from the sunshiny meadow, an' the birds an'
flowers---- and I'll never git back to 'em again, never!" She ended with a
sob and a low wail.

Her face was horrifying with its intensity of pathetic regret. Her
straining, wide-open eyes seemed to be seeing those sunny spots in the
meadow.

"Mattie, sometimes when I'm asleep I think I am back there ag'in--and
you girls are there--an' we're pullin' off the leaves of the wild
sunflower--'rich man, poor man, beggar man'--and I hear you all laugh
when I pull off the last leaf; an' when I come to myself--and I'm an
old, dried-up woman, dyin' unsatisfied!"

"I've felt that way a little myself, Matildy," confessed the watcher in
a scared whisper.

"I knew it, Mattie; I knew you'd know how I felt. Things have been
better for you. You ain't had to live in an old log house all your
life, an' work yourself to skin an' bone for a man you don't respect nor
like."

"Matildy Bent, take that back! Take it back, for mercy sake! Don't you
dare die thinkin' that--don't you dare!"

Bent, hearing her voice rising, came to the door, and the wife, knowing
his step, cried:

"Don't let him in! Don't! I can't bear him--keep him out; I don't want
to see him ag'in."

"Who do you mean? Not Joe?"

"Yes. Him."

Had the dying woman confessed to murder, good Martha could not have been
more shocked. She could not understand this terrible revulsion in
feeling, for she herself had been absolutely loyal to her husband
through all the trials which had come upon them.

But she met Bent at the threshold, and, closing the door, went out with
him into the summer kitchen, where the rest of the family were sitting.
A gloomy silence fell on them all after the greetings were over. The men
were smoking; all were seated in chairs tipped back against the wall.
Joe Bent, a smallish man, with a weak, good-natured face, asked in a
hoarse whisper:

"How is she, Mis' Ridings?"

"She seems quite strong, Mr. Bent. I think you had all better go to bed;
if I want you I can call you. Doctor give me directions."

"All right," responded the relieved man. "I'll sleep on the lounge in
the other room. If you want me, just rap on the door."

When, after making other arrangements, Martha went back to the bedroom,
she was startled to hear the sick woman muttering to herself, or perhaps
because she had forgotten Martha's absence.

"But the shadows on the meadow didn't stay; they passed on, and then the
sun was all the brighter on the flowers. We used to string
sweet-williams on spears of grass--don't you remember?"

Martha gave her a drink of the opiate in the glass, adjusted her on the
pillow, and threw open the window, even to the point of removing the
screen, and the gibbous moon flooded the room with light.



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