I was in my first sleep when the sound of the doorbell awakened me, whereupon I sprang from my bed, and, after a few hurried preparations, hastened to throw open the door.
It was a bitter cold night in January, and the moon without threw its pale light over the wan spectral snow-covered landscape. The sharp gust that swept into the hall as I opened the door made me pity the delicate-looking child who stood at the threshold.
Her hair gleamed with a strange and rare effect in the moonlight, long golden hair that fell in graceful ripples about her shoulders. She was lightly dressed, this little child, as she stood gazing straight and frankly into my eyes with an expression at once so beautiful and calm and earnest that I shall never forget it.
Her face was very pale, her complexion of the fairest. The radiancy about her hair seemed to glow in some weird yet indescribable fashion upon her every feature. These details I had not fairly taken in when she addressed me.
"Father, can you come with me at once? My mother is dying, and she is in trouble."
"Come inside, my little girl," I said, "and warm yourself. You must be half frozen."
"Indeed, Father, I am not in the least cold." I had thrown on my coat and hat as she made answer.
"Your mother's name, my child?"
"Catherine Morgan, Father; she's a widow, and has lived like a saint. And now that she's dying, she is in awful trouble. She was taken sick about a few hours ago."
"Where does she live?"
"Two miles from here, Father, on the border of the Great Swamp; she is a stranger in these parts, and alone. I know the way perfectly; you need not be afraid of getting lost."
A few minutes later we were tramping through the snow, or rather I was tramping, for the child beside me moved with so light and tender a step, that had there been flowers instead of snowflakes beneath our feet I do not think a single petal would have been crushed under the airy fall of her fairy feet.
Her hand was in mine with the confiding clasp of childhood. Her face, for all the trouble that was at home, wore a gravely serene air, such as is seldom seen in years of sprightly, youthful innocence.
How beautiful she looked!
More like a creature fresh from the perfect handiwork of God than one who walked in the valley of sin, sorrow, trouble and death.Upon her bosom I observed a golden locket fashioned in a heart shape.
She noticed my glance, and with a quick movement of her fingers released the locket and handed it to me.
"It's a heart," I said.
"Read what's on it, Father."
"I can't, my little friend; my eyes are very good, but are not equal to making out reading on gold lockets by moonlight."
"Just let me hold it for you, Father. Now look."
How this child contrived, I cannot say; but certain it is, that at once, as she held the locket at a certain angle, there stood out clearly, embossed upon its surface, the legend:
"Cease! the Heart of Jesus is with me.""Mamma placed that upon my bosom one year ago, when I was very sick, Father." And kissing the locket, the child restored it to its place.
We went on for a time in silence. I carried the Blessed Sacrament with me; and, young as she was, the girl seemed to appreciate the fact. Whenever I glanced at her, I observed her lips moving as in prayer, and her eyes seemed, in very truth, fixed upon the place where rested in His sacramental veil the Master of Life and of Death.
Suddenly the girl's hand touched my sleeve-oh, so gently!
"This is the place, Father," she said in soft tones that thrilled me as they broke upon the stillness; and she pointed to a little hut standing back in the dim shadows of three pine trees.
I pushed open the door, which hung loosely upon its hinges, and turned to wait her entrance. She was gone. Somewhat startled, I was peering out into the pallid night, when a groan called me to the bedside of the dying woman.
A glance told me there was no time to lose. The woman lying in that room had hardly reached middle life, but the hand of Death had touched her brow, upon which stood the drops of sweat, and in her face I read a great trouble.
I was at her side in an instant; and, God be thanked for it, soon calmed and quieted the poor creature. She made her confession, and in sentiments of faith and love such as I have rarely seen, received the Last Sacraments of the Church.
"Shall I bring you that box?" I asked.
She nodded assent.
On placing it beside her, she opened it with trembling hands and took out the dress of a child."Your little daughter's dress?" I said.
She whispered, and there was love in her tones: "My darling Edith's."
"I know her," I continued. "She brought me here, you know."
I stopped short and caught my breath. The woman half rose in her bed; she looked at me in wonder that cannot be expressed. I, no less amazed, was staring at a golden, oval locket fastened to the bosom of the child's dress which the woman was holding in her hands.
"Madam," I cried, "in the name of God, tell me, where is your daughter? Whose is that locket?"
"The locket is Edith's. I placed it here on the bosom of her dress when my little girl lay dying a year ago. The last thing my darling did was to hold this locket to her lips, and say:
'Cease! the Heart of Jesus is with me.'
"She died a year ago."
Then the mother's face grew very sweet and very radiant.
Still holding the locket in her hands, she fixed her eyes straight before her.
"Edith, my dear Edith, we are at last to be united in the Sacred Heart. I see you, my darling: ‘Cease! the Heart of Jesus is with me."'
Her voice faded with the last syllable into silence.
She and Edith were again united.