Bernard looked at her once or twice without speaking. Finally he too rose, went round to her, knelt beside her, put his arm about her.
Her face quivered a little. “I’ve got—to keep strong,” she said, in the tone of one who had often said the same thing in solitude.
“I know,” he said. “And so you will. There’s special strength given for such times as these. It won’t fail you now.”
She put her hand into his. “Thank you,” she said. And then, with an effort, “Do you know, Bernard, I tried—I really tried—to pray in the night before I lay down. But—there was something so wicked about it—I simply couldn’t.”
“One can’t always,” he said.
“Oh, have you found that too?” she asked.
He smiled at the question. “Of course I have. So has everybody. We’re only children, Stella. God knows that. He doesn’t expect of us more than we can manage. Prayer is only one of the means we have of reaching Him. It can’t be used always. There are some people who haven’t time for prayer even, and yet they may be very near to God. In times of stress like yours one is often much nearer than one realizes. You will find that out quite suddenly one of these days, find that through all your desert journeying, He has been guiding you, protecting you, surrounding you with the most loving care. And—because the night was dark—you never knew it.”
“The night is certainly very dark,” Stella said with a tremulous smile. “If it weren’t for you I don’t think I could ever get through.”
“Oh, don’t say that!” he said. “If it weren’t me it would be someone else—or possibly a closer vision of Himself. There is always something—something to which later you will look back and say, ’That was His lamp in the desert, showing the way.’ Don’t fret if you can’t pray! I can pray for you. You just keep on being brave and patient! He understands.”
Stella’s fingers pressed upon his. “You are good to me, Bernard,” she said. “I shall think of what you say—the next time I am alone in the night.”
His arm held her sustainingly. “And if you’re very desolate, child, come and call me!” he said. “I’m always at hand, always glad to serve you.”
She smiled—a difficult smile. “I shall need you more—afterwards,” she said under her breath. And then, as if words had suddenly become impossible to her, she leaned against him and kissed him.
He gathered her up close, as if she had been a weary child. “God bless you, my dear!” he said.
THE FIRST GLIMMER
It was from the Colonel himself that Stella heard of Everard’s retirement.
He walked back from the Mess that night with Tommy and asked to see her for a few minutes alone. He was always kinder to her in his wife’s absence.