“But you don’t know, Aunt Keziah! You don’t know what I—I am to blame. I’ll never forgive myself. And I’ll never be happy again.”
“Yes, you will. You’ll come, some day, to think it was best and right, for you and—and for others. I know you think you’ll never get over it, but you will. Somehow or other you will, same as the rest of us have had to do. The Lord tries us mighty hard sometimes, but He gives us the strength to bear it. There! there! don’t, deary, don’t.”
Dr. Parker was very anxious.
“She must rest,” he told Mrs. Coffin. “She must, or her brain will give way. I’m going to give her something to make her sleep and you must get her to take it.”
So Keziah tried and, at last, Grace did take the drug. In a little while she was sleeping, uneasily and with moans and sobbings, but sleeping, nevertheless.
“Now it’s your turn, Keziah,” said the doctor. “You go home now and rest, yourself. We don’t need you any more just now.”
“Where’s—where’s Cap’n Nat?” asked Keziah.
“He’s in there with his father. He bears it well, although he is mighty cut up. Poor chap, he seems to feel that he is to blame, somehow. Says Cap’n Eben and he had disagreed about something or other and he fears that hastened the old man’s death. Nonsense, of course. It was bound to come and I told him so. ’Twas those blasted Come-Outers who really did it, although I shan’t say so to anyone but you. I’m glad Nat and the girl have agreed to cruise together. It’s a mighty good arrangement. She couldn’t have a better man to look out for her and he couldn’t have a better wife. I suppose I’m at liberty to tell people of the engagement, hey?”
“Yes. Yes, I don’t see any reason why not. Yes—I guess likely you’d better tell ’em.”
“All right. Now you go home. You’ve had a hard night, like the rest of us.”
How hard he had no idea. And Keziah, as she wearily entered the parsonage, realized that the morning would be perhaps the hardest of all. For upon her rested the responsibility of seeing that the minister’s secret was kept. And she, and no other, must break the news to him.
The dining room was dark and gloomy. She lighted the lamp. Then she heard a door open and Ellery’s voice, as he called down the stairs.
“Who is it?” he demanded. “Mrs. Coffin?”
She was startled. “Yes,” she said softly, after a moment. “Yes, Mr. Ellery, it’s me. What are you doin’ awake at such an hour’s this?”
“Yes, I’m awake. I couldn’t sleep well to-night, somehow. Too much to think of, I imagine. But where have you been? Why weren’t you at meeting? And where—Why, it’s almost morning!”
She did not answer at once. The temptation was to say nothing now, to put off the trying scene as long as possible.
“It’s morning,” repeated the minister. “Are you sick? Has anything happened?”