‘How long?’ she whispered, going with the doctor to the outside of the door.
‘Not more than twenty-four hours,’ was the answer.
‘Will he be conscious all the time?’ she asked again.
‘I cannot tell certainly,’ replied the doctor, ‘but most probably not.’
Only twenty-four hours! One day of swiftly-passing time, and then the eternal future! One more sun-setting, and one more sun-rising, and then everlasting night, or eternal day! For a minute Miss Anne leaned against the doorway, with a fainting spirit. There was so much to do, and so short a space for doing anything. All the real business of the whole life had to be crowded into these few hours, if possible. As she entered the room, her uncle’s eyes met hers with a glance of unspeakable anguish, and he called her in a trembling tone to her side.
‘I heard,’ he whispered. ‘Anne, what must be done now?’
‘Oh, uncle,’ she said, ’have I not told you often, that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”? There is no limit with God; with him one day is as a thousand years, and He gives you still a day to make your peace with Him.’
‘There is no peace for my soul with God,’ he answered; ’I’ve been at enmity with Him all my life; and will He receive me at the last moment? He is too just, too righteous, Anne. I’ll not insult Him by offering Him my soul now. You asked me once, “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mine is lost—lost, and that without remedy. This gold is a millstone about my neck.’
‘Uncle,’ she said, commanding her voice with a great effort, ’the thief upon the cross beside our Lord had a shorter time than you, for he was to die at sunset that day; yet he repented and believed in the crucified Saviour, who was able to pardon him. Christ is still waiting to forgive; He is stretching out His arms to receive you. Only look at Him with the same penitence and faith that the dying thief felt.’
‘Nay,’ groaned the dying man, ’he could show his faith by confessing Him before all those who were crucifying the Lord, and it was a glory to the Saviour to forgive him then. But what glory would it be to pardon me on this death-bed, where I can do nothing for Him? No; I can do nothing—nothing! All these years I could have worked for God; but now I can do nothing!’
‘Uncle,’ said Miss Anne, ’our Lord was asked by some, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” and He answered them, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” Oh, that is all! Believe on Him, and He will forgive you; and all the angels in heaven will glorify Him for His mercy.’
‘Anne,’ he answered, fixing on her a look of despair, ’I cannot. My heart is hard and heavy; I remember when it used to feel and care about these things; but it is dead now, and my soul is lost for ever. Anne, even if Jesus is willing to pardon me, I cannot believe in forgiveness.’