Such a sunset!
Down at the foot of the grass hill there was a flame-coloured sky, with purple, soft clouds massed in banks high up where the dying glory met the paling blue. The belt of trees had grown black, and stretched sombre, motionless arms against the orange background. All the wind had died, and the air hung hot and still, freighted with the strange silence of the bush.
And at the top of the hill, just within the doorway of the little brown hut, her wide eyes on the wonderful heavens, Judy lay dying. She was very quiet now, though she had been talking—talking of all sorts of things. She told them she had no pain at all.
"Only I shall die when they move me," she said.
Meg was sitting in a little heap on the floor beside her. She had never moved her eyes from the face on the pillow of mackintoshes, she had never opened her white lips to say one word.
Outside the bullocks stood motionless against the sky—Judy said they looked like stuffed ones having their portrait taken. She smiled the least little bit, but Meg said, "Don't," and writhed.
Two of the men had gone on superfluous errands for help; the others stood some distance away, talking in subdued voices.
There was nothing for them to do. The brown man had been talking—a rare thing for him.
He had soothed the General off to sleep, and laid him in the bunk with the blue blanket tucked around him. And he had made a billy of hot strong tea, and asked the children, with tears in his eyes, to drink some, but none of them would.
Baby had fallen to sleep on the floor, her arms clasped tightly around Judy's lace-up boot.
Bunty was standing, with a stunned look on his white face, behind the stretcher. His eyes were on his sister's hair, but he did not dare to let there wander to her face, for fear of what he should see there. Nellie was moving all the time—now to the fence to strain her eyes down the road, where the evening shadows lay heavily, now to fling herself face downward behind the hut and say, "Make her better, God! God, make her better, make her better! Oh! CAN'T You make her better?"
Greyer grew the shadows round the little but, the bullocks' outlines had faded, and only an indistinct mass of soft black loomed across the light. Behind the trees the fire was going out, here and there were yellow, vivid streaks yet, but the flaming sun-edge, had dipped beyond the world, and the purple, delicate veil was dropping down.
A curlew's note broke the silence, wild, mournful, unearthly. Meg shivered, and sat up straight. Judy's brow, grew damp, her eyes dilated, her lips trembled.
"Meg!" she said, in a whisper that cut the air. "Oh, Meg, I'm frightened! MEG, I'm so frightened!"
"God!" said Meg's heart.
"Meg, say something. Meg, help me! Look at the dark, Meg. MEG, I can't die! Oh, why don't they be quick?"
Nellie flew to the fence again; then to say, "Make her better, God—oh, please, God!"
"Meg, I can't think of anything to say. Can't you say something, Meg? Aren't there any prayers about the dying in the Prayer Book?—I forget. Say something, Meg!"
Meg's lips moved, but her tongue uttered no word.
"Meg, I'm so frightened! I can't think of anything but `For what we are about to receive,' and that's grace, isn't it? And there's nothing in Our Father that would do either. Meg, I wish we'd gone to Sunday-school and learnt things. Look at the dark, Meg! Oh, Meg, hold my hands!"
"Heaven won't—be—dark," Meg's lips said. Even when speech came, it was only a halting, stereotyped phrase that fell from them.
"If it's all gold and diamonds, I don't want to go!" The child was crying now. "Oh, Meg, I want to be alive! How'd you like to die, Meg, when you're only thirteen? Think how lonely I'll be without you all. Oh, Meg! Oh, Pip, Pip! Oh, Baby! Nell!"
The tears streamed down her cheeks; her chest rose and fell.
"Oh, say something, Meg!—hymns!—anything!"
Half the book of "Hymns Ancient and Modern" danced across Meg's brain. Which one could she think of that would bring quiet into those feverish eyes that were fastened on her face with such a frightening, imploring look?
Then she opened her lips:
"Come unto Me, ye weary,
And I will give you rest,
"I'm not weary, I don't WANT to rest," Judy said, in a fretful tone.
Again Meg tried:
"My God, my Father, while I stray
Far from my home on life's rough way,
Oh, teach me from my heart to say
———————— Thy will be done!"
"That's for old people," said the little tired voice. "He won't expect ME to say it."
Then Meg remembered the most beautiful hymn in the world, and said the first and last verses without a break in her voice:
"Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!
Hold Thou Thy Cross before my closing eyes,
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!
"Oh! and Judy, dear, we are forgetting; there's Mother, Judy, dear—you won't be lonely! Can't you remember Mother's eyes, little Judy?"
Judy grew quiet, and still more quiet. She shut her eyes so she could not see the gathering shadows. Meg's arms were round her, Meg's cheek was on her brow, Nell was holding her hands, Baby her feet, Bunty's lips were on her hair. Like that they went with her right to the Great Valley, where there are no lights even for stumbling, childish feet.
The shadows were cold, and smote upon their hearts; they could feel the wind from the strange waters on their brows; but only she who was about to cross heard the low lapping of the waves.
Just as her feet touched the water there was a figure in the doorway.
"Judy!" said a wild voice; and Pip brushed them aside and fell down beside her.
"Judy, Judy, JUDY!"
The light flickered back in her eyes. She kissed him with pale lips once, twice; she gave him both her hands, and her last smile.
Then the wind blew over them all, and, with a little shudder, she slipped away.