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By the Light of the Soul A Novel   By: (1852-1930)

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By the Light of the Soul

A Novel

By Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

Author of "The Debtor" "The Portion of Labor" "Jerome" "A New England Nun" Etc. etc.

Illustrations by Harold M. Brett

New York and London Harper & Brothers Publishers 1907

Copyright, 1906, by Harper & Brothers. All rights reserved. Published January, 1907.

To Harriet and Carolyn Alden

Chapter I

Maria Edgham, who was a very young girl, sat in the church vestry beside a window during the weekly prayer meeting.

As was the custom, a young man had charge of the meeting, and he stood, with a sort of embarrassed dignity, on the little platform behind the desk. He was reading a selection from the Bible. Maria heard him drone out in a scarcely audible voice: "Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth," and then she heard, in a quick response, a soft sob from the seat behind her. She knew who sobbed: Mrs. Jasper Cone, who had lost her baby the week before. The odor of crape came in Maria's face, making a species of discordance with the fragrance of the summer night, which came in at the open window. Maria felt irritated by it, and she wondered why Mrs. Cone felt so badly about the loss of her baby. It had always seemed to Maria a most unattractive child, large headed, flabby, and mottled, with ever an open mouth of resistance, and a loud wail of opposition to existence in general. Maria felt sure that she could never have loved such a baby. Even the unfrequent smiles of that baby had not been winning; they had seemed reminiscent of the commonest and coarsest things of life, rather than of heavenly innocence. Maria gazed at the young man on the platform, who presently bent his head devoutly, and after saying, "Let us pray," gave utterance to an unintelligible flood of supplication intermingled with information to the Lord of the state of things on the earth, and the needs of his people. Maria wondered why, when God knew everything, Leon Barber told him about it, and she also hoped that God heard better than most of the congregation did. But she looked with a timid wonder of admiration at the young man himself. He was so much older than she, that her romantic fancies, which even at such an early age had seized upon her, never included him. She as yet dreamed only of other dreamers like herself, Wollaston Lee, for instance, who went to the same school, and was only a year older. Maria had made sure that he was there, by a glance, directly after she had entered, then she never glanced at him again, but she wove him into her dreams along with the sweetness of the midsummer night, and the morally tuneful atmosphere of the place. She was utterly innocent, her farthest dreams were white, but she dreamed. She gazed out of the window through which came the wind on her little golden cropped head (she wore her hair short) in cool puffs, and she saw great, plumy masses of shadow, themselves like the substance of which dreams were made. The trees grew thickly down the slope, which the church crowned, and at the bottom of the slope rushed the river, which she heard like a refrain through the intermittent soughing of the trees. A whippoorwill was singing somewhere out there, and the katydids shrieked so high that they almost surmounted dreams. She could smell wild grapes and pine and other mingled odors of unknown herbs, and the earth itself. There had been a hard shower that afternoon, and the earth still seemed to cry out with pleasure because of it. Maria had worn her old shoes to church, lest she spoil her best ones; but she wore her pretty pink gingham gown, and her hat with a wreath of rosebuds, and she felt to the utmost the attractiveness of her appearance. She, however, felt somewhat conscience stricken on account of the pink gingham gown. It was a new one, and her mother had been obliged to have it made by a dress maker, and had paid three dollars for that, beside the trimmings, which were lace and ribbon... Continue reading book >>

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