With the opening of cold weather the seeming betterment in Mrs. Britton'_ealth proved but temporary. As the winter advanced she failed rapidly, until,
unable to sit up, she lay on a low couch, wheeled from room to room to affor_ll the rest and change possible. Day by day her pallor grew more and mor_ike the waxen petals of the lily, while the fatal rose flush in her chee_eepened, and her eyes, unnaturally large and lustrous, had in them the loo_f those who dwell in the borderland.
She realized her condition as fully as those about her, but there was neithe_ear nor regret in the eyes, which, fixed on the glory invisible to them,
caught and reflected the light of the other world, till, in the last days,
those watching her saw her face "as it had been the face of an angel."
No demonstration of sorrow marred the peace in which her soul dwelt the las_ays of its stay, for the very room seemed hallowed, a place too sacred fo_he intrusion of any personal grief.
Turning one day to her husband, who seldom left her side, she said,—
"My sorrow made me selfish; I see it now. Look at the good you have done, th_any you have helped; what have I done, what have I to show for all thes_ears?"
Just then Darrell passed the window before which she was lying.
"There is your work, Patience," Mr. Britton replied, tenderly; "you have tha_o show for those years of loneliness and suffering. Surely, love, you hav_one noble work there; work whose results will last for years—probably fo_enerations—yet to come!"
Her face lighted with a rapturous smile. "I had not thought of that," sh_hispered; "I will not go empty-handed after all. Perhaps He will say of me,
as of one of old, 'She hath done what she could.'"
From that time she sank rapidly, sleeping lightly, waking occasionally with _hild-like smile, then lapsing again into unconsciousness.
One evening as the day was fading she awoke from a long sleep and looke_ntently into the faces gathered about her. Her pastor, who had known he_hrough all the years of her sorrow, was beside her. Bending over her an_ooking into the eyes now dimmed by the approaching shadows, he said,—
"You have not much longer to wait, my dear sister."
With a significant gesture she pointed to the fading light.
"'Until the day break,'" she murmured, with difficulty.
He was quick to catch her meaning and bowed his head in token that h_nderstood; then, raising his hand above her head, as though in benediction,
in broken tones he slowly pronounced the words,—
"'Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: fo_he Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shal_e ended.'"
Her face brightened; a seraphic smile burst forth, irradiating every featur_ith a light which never faded, for, with a look of loving farewell into th_aces of husband and son, she sank into a sleep from which she did not wake,
and when, as the day was breaking over the eastern hill-tops, her soul too_light, the smile still lingered, deepening into such perfect peace as i_eldom seen on mortal faces.
As Darrell, a few moments later, stood at the window, watching the star_aling one by one in the light of the coming dawn, a bit of verse with whic_e had been familiar years before, but which he had not recalled until then,
recurred to him with peculiar force:
> "A soul passed out on its way toward Heaven
> As soon as the word of release was given;
> And the trail of the meteor swept around
> The lovely form of the homeward-bound.
> Glimmering, shimmering, there on high,
> The stars grew dim as one passed them by;
> And the earth was never again so bright,
> For a soul had slipped from its place that night."
After Mrs. Britton's death, deprived of her companionship and of th_umberless little ministrations to her comfort in which they had delighted,
both Mr. Britton and Darrell found life strangely empty. They also missed th_trenuous western life to which they had been accustomed, with its ceaseles_emands upon both muscle and brain. The life around them seemed narrow an_estricted; the very monotony of the landscape wearied them; they longed fo_he freedom and activity of the West, the breadth and height of the mountains.
As both were standing one day beside the resting-place of the wife and mother,
which Mr. Britton had himself chosen for her, the latter said,—
"John, there are no longer any ties to hold us here. You may have to remai_ere until affairs are settled, but I have no place, and want none, in Hose_ewett's home. I am going back to the West; and I know that sooner or late_ou will return also, for your heart is among the mountains. But before w_eparate I want one promise from you, my son."
"Name it," said Darrell; "you know, father, I would fulfil any and every wis_f yours within my power."
"It was my wish in the past, when my time should come to die, to be buried o_he mountain-side, near the Hermitage. But life henceforth for me will b_ltogether different from what it has been heretofore; and I want you_romise, John, if you outlive me, that when the end comes, no matter where _ay be, you will bring me back to her, that when our souls are reunited ou_odies may rest together here, within sound of the river's voice and shielde_y the overhanging boughs from winter's storm and summer's heat."
Father and son clasped hands above the newly made grave.
"I promise you, father," Darrell replied; "but you did not need to ask th_ledge."
When John Britton left Ellisburg a few days later a crowd of friends wer_athered at the little depot to extend their sympathy and bid him farewell. _ew were old associates of his own, some were his wife's friends, and som_arrell's. To those who had known him in the past he was greatly changed, an_one of them quite understood his quaint philosophizings, his broad views, o_is seeming isolation from their work-a-day, business world in which he ha_ormerly taken so active a part. They knew naught of his years of solitar_ife or of how lives spent in years of contemplation and reflection, o_etrospection and introspection, become gradually lifted out of the ordinar_hannels of thought and out of touch with the more practical life of th_orld. But they had had abundant evidence of his love and devotion to hi_ife, and of his kindness and liberality towards many of their own number, an_or these they loved him.
There was not one, however, who mourned his departure so deeply as Experienc_ewett, though she gave little expression to her sorrow. She had hoped tha_fter her sister's death his home would still be with them. This, not from an_eak sentimentality or any thought that he would ever be aught than as _rother to her, but because his very presence in the home was refreshing,
helpful, comforting, and because it was a joy to be near him, to hear hi_alk, and to minister to his comfort. But he was going from them, as she wel_new, never to return, and beneath the brave, smiling face she carried a sor_nd aching heart.
Thus John Britton bade the East farewell and turned his face towards the grea_est, mindful only of the grave under the elms, to which the river murmure_ight and day, and with no thought of return until he, too, should come t_hare that peaceful resting place.