The manner of his life, though quiet and remote, had shown him how often men still entertained angels, unawares, as in the olden time; and how the most unlikely forms - even some that were mean and ugly to the view, and poorly clad - became irradiated by the couch of sorrow, want, and pain, and changed to ministering spirits with a glory round their heads.
He lived to better purpose on the altered battle-ground, perhaps, than if he had contended restlessly in more ambitious lists; and he was happy with his wife, dear Grace.
And Marion. Had HE forgotten her?
'The time has flown, dear Grace,' he said, 'since then;' they had been talking of that night; 'and yet it seems a long long while ago. We count by changes and events within us. Not by years.'
'Yet we have years to count by, too, since Marion was with us,' returned Grace. 'Six times, dear husband, counting to-night as one, we have sat here on her birth-day, and spoken together of that happy return, so eagerly expected and so long deferred. Ah when will it be! When will it be!'
Her husband attentively observed her, as the tears collected in her eyes; and drawing nearer, said:
'But, Marion told you, in that farewell letter which she left for you upon your table, love, and which you read so often, that years must pass away before it COULD be. Did she not?'
She took a letter from her breast, and kissed it, and said 'Yes.'
'That through these intervening years, however happy she might be, she would look forward to the time when you would meet again, and all would be made clear; and that she prayed you, trustfully and hopefully to do the same. The letter runs so, does it not, my dear?'
'And every other letter she has written since?'
'Except the last - some months ago - in which she spoke of you, and what you then knew, and what I was to learn to-night.'
He looked towards the sun, then fast declining, and said that the appointed time was sunset.
'Alfred!' said Grace, laying her hand upon his shoulder earnestly, 'there is something in this letter - this old letter, which you say I read so often - that I have never told you. But, to-night, dear husband, with that sunset drawing near, and all our life seeming to soften and become hushed with the departing day, I cannot keep it secret.'
'What is it, love?'
'When Marion went away, she wrote me, here, that you had once left her a sacred trust to me, and that now she left you, Alfred, such a trust in my hands: praying and beseeching me, as I loved her, and as I loved you, not to reject the affection she believed (she knew, she said) you would transfer to me when the new wound was healed, but to encourage and return it.'
' - And make me a proud, and happy man again, Grace. Did she say so?'
'She meant, to make myself so blest and honoured in your love,' was his wife's answer, as he held her in his arms.
'Hear me, my dear!' he said. - 'No. Hear me so!' - and as he spoke, he gently laid the head she had raised, again upon his shoulder. 'I know why I have never heard this passage in the letter, until now. I know why no trace of it ever showed itself in any word or look of yours at that time. I know why Grace, although so true a friend to me, was hard to win to be my wife. And knowing it, my own! I know the priceless value of the heart I gird within my arms, and thank GOD for the rich possession!'
She wept, but not for sorrow, as he pressed her to his heart.