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   Chapter 2 THE VERGE OF TREMBLING

If Any Man Sin By H. A. Cody Characters: 9037

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


When the news of Martin Rutland's ignominy reached Beryl Heathcote all the light and joy passed out of her life. At first she could not believe it possible, and hoped against hope that there had been some terrible mistake. In a few days, however, she had to realise that it was only too true, and that the man in whom she had trusted so implicitly was an outcast not only from society but from the Church as well. She tried to bear up and face the storm which raged so furiously in the parish. On every side she was forced to listen to the most scathing denunciations of the deposed clergyman. People seemed to take a fiendish delight in calling upon her to discuss the affair and to express their undesired sympathy. No word of blame or complaint passed her lips. At first she cherished the feeble hope that Martin would either return or write to her, that he would prove himself innocent. But as the days slowly edged into weeks, and no word came, a heavy despair settled upon her. The strain proved too much to bear, and she succumbed to a long serious illness, from which it was believed at one time that she could not recover.

When at last she was able to sit up she was but the shadow of her former happy buoyant self. "Oh, if I had only died!" she moaned. "What a relief it would have been. How can I face life again with this terrible weight upon my heart!"

When she was stronger she became determined to leave Glendale, the Gethsemane of her young life, and to go where she would no longer hear the story of shame, and where curious eyes would not follow her whenever she moved abroad.

Her only sister lived in a western city and thither she made her way. What a relief it was to her burdened heart to have the comfort of her sister's love. Here she could rest and endeavour to gather up as far as possible the tangled and broken threads of her life.

This, however, she found to be most difficult, and months passed before she was able to compose her mind and think of the future. She felt that she should be doing something, and thus not depend upon others. To return to her old home to the love and attention which would be hers there she could not. She must remain away from the scene of her great sorrow.

In work, Beryl believed, she could in a measure forget herself. But what work could she do? Music was the only thing in which she had been thoroughly trained. But the idea of turning to it now, and taking in pupils, was most repugnant. Not since that night when she had played in her old home, when Martin Rutland was watching longingly through the window, had she touched the keys of any instrument. Neither had she sung a single note. Music had passed out of her life, and the clear sweet voice which had thrilled the hearts of so many was stilled.

At length, after discussing the matter with her sister, Beryl decided to become a nurse. Not that she cared at all for the profession, but it was the only thing that seemed to offer, and she must keep her mind and hands employed if she were to forget the past. That she must forget she was determined, and she believed that in time the deep wound her heart had received would be at least partly healed.

During the months of her inactivity she had brooded much over what had taken place in her life. Many were the battles she had fought, silent and alone. At times a bitterness, so foreign to her loving nature, possessed her. Then it was that her faith in God and man weakened. Was there a Father in heaven who cared? she would ask herself over and over again. If so, why had He allowed her bright young life to be so clouded and blighted? Then she would think of Martin and how much he had meant to her. Though she had always defended him, or remained silent when others had condemned, nevertheless in her own heart the thought of what he had done rankled sore. But her love was too strong for such feelings to last for any length of time, and so she was always able to come forth unscathed from the fierce struggles.

Beryl threw herself with much energy into the work of her new profession. She made rapid progress, and all who came into contact with her were charmed by her gentleness of manner, and the sweetness of her disposition. To the patients, especially, she was an angel of light. No voice was as comforting, and no hand as soothing as hers, and they would always watch eagerly for the nurse who had the sunny smile of cheer. Though her own heart might be heavy, she revealed nothing of her sorrow to the world, b

ut radiated sunshine wherever she went.

But Beryl found it a severe strain to be always presenting to the world a bright face, and by the time her course of training was almost over she felt that it was impossible for her to do so much longer. Every day it was necessary for her to force herself to her duties, and to assume that lightness of heart which she did not feel. She had little to give her that zest for her work which would make each task a joy. Must she go through life, lacking the needful inspiration? she often asked herself. She knew the difference between work done in the spirit of duty and love. One was mechanical, a mere tread-mill round; the other was of the heart.

She was thinking of these things one Sunday night during service in the church where she generally attended, and which was the nearest to her sister's home. As a rule she was a most devoted and attentive worshipper. But to-night her thoughts wandered. They would go back to Glendale, and to that little church, where for years she had been organist. Again she saw Martin conducting the service just as he used to do before his fall.

Somehow it seemed to Beryl that he was near her this night. Once she glanced partly around as if expecting to see him in the church. She could not account for the idea, as she never had such a feeling before. With an effort she checked her wandering thoughts, and fixed them upon what the clergyman in the pulpit was saying. At once her interest became aroused, and she followed him with the deepest attention. He was speaking about Service, and referred to the noble work nurses were doing both at home and in the mission field. He told also about the Red Cross Society, and paid a tribute to Florence Nightingale. He then quoted one verse of Longfellow's "Santa Filomena":

"A lady with a lamp shall stand

In the great history of the land,

A noble type of good,

Heroic womanhood."

As he uttered these words a strange new thrill swept through Beryl. Her heart beat fast, and her face flushed with living interest-the first time in years. Almost in an instant she became transformed. Hitherto she had been trembling on the verge of uncertainty, with nothing definite in life. Now she had a purpose, which, like a star of hope, burst suddenly into view.

The last hymn was given out, and the congregation rose, and joined in the singing. Beryl knew the words and had no need of a book, though she held one in her hand. An impulse now stirred her heart, her lips moved, and at last, like a wild bird escaped from its cage, she lifted up her voice, and sang for the first time in years. And it was that voice which Martin heard, where he crouched in a back seat, and which thrilled his entire being.

When the service was over, Beryl left the church and hurried to her sister's house. She knew nothing of the lonely outcast, who yearningly followed her, and then paced the street for hours after the door had closed behind her.

When alone with her sister that night, Beryl related her experience in the church and the new purpose which had come into her life. They were seated before an open fire, and the light illumined their fair faces with a soft glow.

"Yes," Beryl told her, "I have at last made up my mind. I am going to offer for the mission field. I care not to what place I am sent so long as it is somewhere."

"You will need training, perhaps, in that special work," her sister replied.

"I know it, Lois. But you see, when I have graduated I shall take a course in preparatory mission work. I understand there is such a school in this city connected with our Church. I shall then know where I shall be sent."

"It will be a grand work, Beryl," and Lois Hardinge laid her hand lovingly upon that of her sister's. "It will take you out of yourself, and make you forget the past."

"It can never make me forget," and Beryl gazed thoughtfully into the fire as she spoke. "I can never forget him, and I don't want to now. No matter what people say, I cannot believe that he is a bad man, even though he has fallen and is an outcast from the Church. Oh, Lois, do you know I had the feeling to-night that he was near me during service. It was only a fancy, of course, but it seemed so real. Since then I have the idea that somewhere, sometime, I shall meet him, that we shall understand each other, and that all will be well."

"God grant it so, dear," her sister fervently replied. "If it will comfort you in your work hold fast to that hope."

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