“The sun has gone down,” said Margaretta, suddenly.
It had indeed. The huge golden ball had just dropped behind the hills on the western side of the river.
Grandma half-raised herself on her cushions, a restrained eagerness took possession of her, as if she were disappointed that she had not obtained one more glimpse of the king of day, then she sank back and smiled into the unwavering eyes of her youngest granddaughter. The eyes of the others might occasionally wander. Berty’s gaze had not left her face since they came upon the river.
“You wished to see the sun again,” said Berty. “I should have warned you that it was about to disappear.”
“I wished to say good-bye to it,” said Grandma, “a last good-bye.”
“To say good-bye,” repeated Berty, in a stunned voice, “a last good-bye,” and with a heart-broken gesture she put her hand to her head, as if wondering if she had heard aright.
Margaretta was trembling. Since the withdrawal of the sun, the yellow, lovely glow had faded. There was a gray shadow on everything, even on their own bright faces—on all except Grandma’s. That radiance about her was not a reflection of any light in this world; it was unearthly; and she fearfully touched Roger with a finger.
She knew now why they had been brought out upon the river, and, endeavouring once, twice, and finally a third time, she managed to utter, in a quivering voice, “Grandma, shall we take you home?”
“No, Margaretta,” replied Grandma, clearly, and she pointed down the river. “Take me toward the sea. I shall soon be sent for.”
They all understood her now. Their scarcely suppressed forebodings rushed back and enveloped them in a dark, unhappy cloud.
Grandma was repeating in a low voice, “Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself, for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.”
Margaretta, leaning over, drew a flask from Roger’s pocket. Then, slipping past the motionless Berty, she knelt before her grandmother.
“Dearest, I brought a stimulant with me. Will you have some?”
“But I have no need of it,” said Grandma, opening wide her strangely beautiful eyes.
It seemed to Margaretta that she could not endure their bliss, their radiance. She turned her head quietly away, and, with a rain of tears falling down her face, sat looking out over the river.
Presently controlling herself, she again turned to her grandmother. Perhaps there was something she could do for her. Her hands might be cold. They were, and Margaretta, taking them in her own, chafed them gently.
Grandma smiled quietly. “Always thoughtful—my dear, you will be a mother to Bonny.”
“I will,” said the weeping girl.
“Do not be unhappy,” said Grandma, pleadingly. “I am so happy to go. My earthly house is in order. I long for my heavenly one.”
“But—but, Grandma, you have been happy with us,” stammered Margaretta.
“Happy, so happy—always remember that. My only trouble a separated family. One half in heaven, the other on earth. One day to be reunited. You will cherish each other after I am gone—you precious ones on earth—Roger?”
The young man nodded, and bent his head low over the oars.
“And Tom,” said Grandma, with exquisite sweetness, “my third grandson, you will take care of Berty?” Tom tried to speak, failed, tried again, but Grandma knew the significance of his hoarse, inarticulate murmur. Then he averted his gaze from the heart-breaking sight of Berty at her grandmother’s feet. The despairing girl had clasped them to her breast. Grandma was more to her than any of them. How could he comfort her for such a loss?
“Come, come,” said Grandma, cheerily, “our parting is but for a little. See, my child, my spirit is growing brighter and brighter. It has outgrown this poor old worn-out body. Berty, lift your head, and look your grandmother once more in the eyes.”
After some delay, Berty, in mute, anguished silence did as she was bid.
“Some day,” said Grandma, firmly, “your own sturdy limbs will fail you. You will fly from them as from a discarded burden, and come to rejoin your mother and grandmother in the sky. Let me hear you speak. Will you be brave?”
Still in dumb, tearless sorrow, the girl shook her head.
“Is this the child I have brought up?” asked Grandma, with some faintness. “Have I been unsuccessful? Where is your strength in the hour of trial?”
Berty clasped her hands to her side. “Grandma,” she said, slowly, and as if each word were wrung from her. “I will be brave, I will not forget what you have told me.”
“Keep your own family together, and keep the welfare of the children of the city next your heart,” said Grandma, with new strength, “so you will be blessed in your own soul.”
“I promise,” said Berty, with quivering lips.
“Give my love to Selina and her husband,” Grandma went on, after a short pause. “They are happy together, and they know their duty. They have no need of words from me. And now, Bonny, my own and last grandchild—the baby of the family.”
The boy stretched out his hands. He was younger than the others, and he made no attempt to restrain his sobs.
“Such a dear baby he was,” murmured Grandma, patting his downcast head. “Such a lovely, beautiful baby.”
Margaretta made an effort to control herself, and resolutely wiped away the tears pouring down her face. “Grandma,” she uttered, brokenly, “would you like us to sing to you?”
Grandma slightly turned her head. She seemed to be listening to something beyond them. Then she said, slowly, “My dears, I never fancied going out of this world to the sound of earthly music. There are strange and exquisite harmonies from another world floating in my ears. Hark, children—I hear it now plainly. I am nearing the sea.”
“Grandma, darling,” said Margaretta, in distress, “we are many miles from the sea.”
“It is the sea,” murmured the dying woman, and a triumphant smile broke over her face, “the sea of glass near the great white throne—and there is a new sound now. Ah, children!” and, raising herself on her cushions, a very flame of unearthly and exquisite anticipation swept over her face, “the new sound is from the harps of gold of them that stand beside the sea. They have gotten the victory, and they sing praises!”
She sank back—with one joyful exclamation the breath left her body.
Who could mourn for a death like that? Who would dare to grieve over the little worn-out body?
Margaretta reverently stooped over, kissed the face so soon to grow cold, then, lightly draping a white wrap about it, she sat down and held out one hand to Berty, the other to her brother.
Tom and Roger turned the boat’s head toward the city. Their hearts were full of grief, and yet, looking at the calm sky, the peaceful river, they knew that time would pass, their grief would grow chastened, in all probability there stretched before each occupant of that boat a useful and happy life.
Grandma had not lived in vain. She had kept her family together, and while her children’s children lived, and their children, her memory would not be suffered to grow cold, neither would her good deeds be forgotten.