“We were not friends,” say I, writhing a little; “why do you say so?”
She looks at me with a great and unfeigned astonishment.
“Not friends!” she echoes, slowly repeating my words; then, seeing the expression of my face, stops suddenly.
“Are you sure,” cry I, feverishly snatching her hands and looking with searching anxiety into her face, “that you spoke truth just now?—that you do not mind much—that you will get over it!—that it will not kill you?”
“Kill me!” she says, with a little sorrowful smile of derision; “no, no! I am not so easily killed.”
“Are you sure?” persist I, with a passionate eagerness, still reading her tear-stained face, “that it will not take the taste out of every thing?—that it will not make you hate all your life?—it would me.”
“Quite sure!—certain!” she says, looking back at me with a steady meekness, though her blue eyes brim over; “because God has taken from me one thing—one that I never had any right to expect—should I do well, do you think, to quarrel with all that He has left me?”
I cannot answer; her godly patience is too high a thing for me.
“Even if my life were spoilt,” she goes on, after a moment or two, her voice gaining firmness, and her face a pale serenity, “even if it were— but it is not—indeed it is not. In a very little while it will seem to me as good and pleasant and full as ever; but even if it were” (looking at me with a lovely confidence in her eyes), “it would be no such very great matter—this life is not every thing!”
“Is not it?” say I, with a doubting shiver. “Who can tell you that? who knows?”
“No_one_ has been to blame,” she continues, with a gentle persistence. “I should like you to see that! There has been only a—a—mistake”— (her voice failing a little again), “a mistake that has been corrected in time, and for which no one—no one, Nancy, is the worse!”
So this is the way in which Barbara’s hope dies! Our hopes have as many ways of dying as our bodies. Sometimes they pine and fall into a slow consumption, we nursing, cockering, and physicking them to the last. Sometimes they fall down dead suddenly, as one that in full health, with his bones full of marrow, and his eyes full of light, drops wordless into the next world unaware. This last has been Barbara’s case. When she thought it healthiest, and most vigorous in its stalwart life, then the death-mark was on it. To most of us, O friends, troubles are as great stones cast unexpectedly on a smooth road; over which, in a dark night, we trip, and grumblingly stumble, cursing, and angrily bruising our limbs. To a few of us, they are ladders, by which we climb to God; hills, that lift us nearer heaven—that heaven, which, however certainly —with