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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter XXIX. THE Valley of the Shadow

A DAY or two after the rescue Bert began to show signs of what he took to be simply a slight cold in the chest. At first there was only a little pain, and a rather troublesome feeling of oppression, which did not give him much concern, and having applied to his mother, and had her prescribe for him, he assumed that it was the natural consequence of his sudden plunge into the cold water, and would soon pass away. But instead of doing so the pain and oppression increased, and the family doctor had to be called in for his opinion. Having examined the young patient carefully, Dr. Brown decided that he was threatened with an attack of inflammation of the lungs, and that the best thing for him to do was to go right to bed, and stay there until the danger was over.

Here was a new experience for Bert. He had never spent a day in bed before, his only previous sickness having been a siege of the mumps, and they merely made him a prisoner in the house until his face regained its usual size. But now he was to really go upon the sick list, and submit to be treated accordingly until the doctor should pronounce him well again. He did not like the idea at all. To what boy, indeed, would it have been welcome in that glorious summer weather when there was bliss in merely being alive and well. But he had too much sense to rebel. He knew that Dr. Brown was no alarmist, and that the best thing to do was to obey his injunctions unquestioningly. Moreover, he now began to feel some slight anxiety himself. The trouble in his chest increased. So much so, indeed, that he found difficulty in speaking for any length of time. Symptoms of fever, too, appeared; and by the close of another day no doubt remained that the attack was of a serious nature, and that the utmost care would be necessary in order to insure his recovery.

When Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd learned this, they were sorely distressed. Such perfect health had their sturdy boy enjoyed all through his life hitherto, that they could hardly realise his being laid upon a bed of sickness, and it seemed especially trying just after he had passed safely through so great a peril. But they did not murmur. They committed Bert to the Divine care, and with countenances full of cheer for his sake, and hearts strengthened from above, awaited the revealing of the Lord’s will.

Day by day Bert grew worse, until each breath became an effort; and the fever burned all through his veins, as though it would consume him. Fortunately, no cloud came over his consciousness ; and although he could not speak without a painful effort, and therefore said little, his grateful looks showed how fully he appreciated the unremitting care with which his father and mother and Mary watched over him. His bedside was never without one of them; and there was yet another who vied with them in their devotion—and that was Frank. Had Bert been his twin brother he could not have felt more concern. He was moved to the very depths of his heart, and with tears in his eyes begged of Mr. Lloyd permission to take turns with them in watching by the bedside through the long hours of the night. He was so affectionate, so thoughtful, so gentle, so trustworthy, and Bert seemed so glad to have him, that Mr. Lloyd willingly consented; and thus the four whom Bert loved best shared the burden of care and anxiety between them.

Bert had never made much parade of his religion. It was the controlling force in his life, yet it had not been in any way obtrusive. It had grown with his growth, and strengthened with his expanding strength; and although there had of course been many slips and falls—for what was he but an impulsive boy?—there had been no decline, but steadfast progress as the years of his boyhood glided past. It stood him in good stead when death waited for him in the depths of Halifax harbour, and it was with him now, as hour by hour he drew nearer the dark valley of the shadow.

It seemed strange for the Lloyd’s home, which Bert and Mary had brightened with laughter and song, to be so silent now, and for big Dr. Brown, whose visits previously had been mainly of a social nature, to be calling every day, with a serious countenance that betokened his concern. Never were mother and sister more devoted and untiring than Bert’s. Their loving care anticipated his simplest wants; and but for the dreadful feeling in his chest, and the fever that gave him no relief, the novelty of being thus assiduously tended was so great, that he would hardly have minded being their patient for a little while, at least.

It was an unspeakable comfort to them all that his reason continued perfectly clear, no matter how high the fever raged ; and not only his reason, but his faith was clear also. He did not despair of his recovery, yet he shrank not from looking the darker alternative fairly in the face, and preparing to meet it. His father’s strong, serene faith was a wonderful help to him. In the quiet evening, as the dusk drew on, Mr. Lloyd would sit beside him, and, taking his hot hand in his, talk with him tenderly, repeating Scripture passages of hope and comfort, or verses from the sacred songs they both loved.

One afternoon, Frank was alone with him, Mrs. Lloyd and Mary having gone off to take much needed rest, and Bert for the first time spoke to his friend of the possibility of his never getting well again.

“I am very ill, Frank, dear,” said he, reaching over to lay his burning hand upon Frank’s knee, as the latter sat close beside his bed. “I may never be any better.”

“Oh, yes, you will!” returned Frank, cheerfully. “You’ll come round all right.”

“I hope so, Frank, but sometimes as I lie here in the middle of the night, it seems as though it would soon be all over with me.”

“Never fear, Bert, you’ll live to be an old man yet, see if you don’t.”

Bert was silent for a while as if thinking just how he would say something that was on his mind. Then turning to Frank, and, looking earnestly into his face, he asked:

“Frank, do you love Jesus?”

Frank started at the question, the blood mounted to his forehead, and his head dropped. He seemed reluctant to reply, and it was some time before he answered, almost in a whisper:

“I’m afraid I don’t, Bert.”

A look of sorrow came over Bert’s countenance, but was quickly dissipated by one of hope, and despite the pain the utterance of every word gave him he took Frank’s hand between both of his, and pressing it affectionately, said:

“Dear, dear Frank, you will love Him, won’t you?”

Frank’s sturdy frame trembled with the emotion he strove hard to suppress; his lips quivered so that he could not have spoken if he would, and at length, unable to control himself any longer, he fell on his knees at the bedside, and burying his face in his hands burst into tears.

The ineffable glory of the sun setting into the golden haze of the west filled the room, and enfolded the figures of the two boys, the one kneeling at the bedside, and the other with eyes lifted heavenward, and lips moving in earnest prayer, touching softly the brown curls half buried in the bed beside him. For some minutes there was a solemn silence. Then Bert spoke:

“Frank, Frank,” he called, gently.

Frank lifted his tear-stained face.

“Won’t you begin to love Him now?” Bert asked. “If God should take me away, I could not be happy unless I felt sure that you would meet me above. We’ve been such friends, Frank, and you’ve been so good to me always.”

Frank’s tears flowed afresh. It was not the first time that the question of surrender to Christ had presented itself to him. He had debated it with himself over and over again, and always with the same result, concluding to remain undecided a little longer. But now the time for indecision seemed altogether passed. The Christ Himself seemed present in that room awaiting an answer to the question he had inspired Bert to put. Never in all his life before had the issue between God and himself appeared so inevitable. He had evaded it more than once, but a decision could no longer be delayed. No sooner did he see this clearly than the powers of the strong, deep nature asserted itself. Brushing aside his tears, and looking right into Bert’s expectant eyes, he seized both his hands, and, with a countenance almost glorified by the expression of lofty purpose the rays of the setting sun revealed upon it, said, in clear, firm tones:

"'Frank, Frank,’ he called gently. Frank lifted his tear-stained lace.”

“Yes, Bert, I will love Jesus, and I will begin right away.”

“Oh, Frank, I’m so happy!” murmured Bert, as he fell back on his pillow, for the stress of emotion had told hard upon him in his weak state, and he felt exhausted. He lay there quietly with his eyes closed for a while, and then sank into a gentle slumber, and before he awoke again Mrs. Lloyd had come into the room so that their conversation could not be resumed before Frank went away.

The next day Bert was decidedly worse. The suffering in his chest increased until he could hardly speak. With great difficulty he could get out a word at a time, and that was all. The fever showed no signs of abating, and he tossed upon his bed hour after hour, while with ice and fan and cooling applications Mrs. Lloyd and Mary strove hard to give him ease.

Dr. Brown made no attempt to conceal his anxiety.

“The crisis is near at hand,” he said. “There is nothing more that I can do for him. He has reached a point where your prayers can do more for him than my poor medicines.”

Although her heart was torn with anguish unspeakable, Mrs. Lloyd’s fortitude never for a moment faltered. So serene was her bearing in the sick chamber that Mary, from whom the gravity of her brother’s case had been so far as possible concealed, had yet no thought but that he would infallibly win his way back to health.

As he grew weaker and his sufferings more intense, Bert evidently felt easiest when all three of his own household were with him at once, and when Frank was there also, his satisfaction seemed complete. He spoke but little, and then only a word or two at a time. Dr. Chrystal came to see him frequently, and was always greeted with a glad smile of welcome. Taking the Bible, he would, in his rich mellow voice, read some comforting passage, and then pray with deep trustful earnestness, inspiring and strengthening the anxious watchers, and leaving behind him an atmosphere of peace.

On Friday night the crisis came. After tossing and tumbling about feverishly all day, as the evening shadows fell, Bert sank into a deep stupor, and Dr. Brown, with a lump in his throat that almost choked his utterance, said plainly that unless he rallied before morning there would be no further hope. In an agony of prayer Mrs. Lloyd knelt by her darling’s bedside, while in an adjoining room Mr. Lloyd, and Mary, and Dr. Chrystal, and Frank sat together, praying and waiting, and striving to comfort one another. The long hours of agonising uncertainty dragged slowly by. Every few minutes some one would steal on tiptoe to the sick chamber, and on their return met fond faces full of eager questioning awaiting them, only to answer with a sad shake of the head that meant no ray of hope yet.

At length the dawn began to flush the east, and with crimson radiance light up the great unmeasured dome, putting out the stars that had shone as watch fires throughout the night. Mrs. Lloyd had risen from her knees, and was sitting close beside the bed, watching every breath that Bert drew ; for who could say which one would be the last ? The daylight stole swiftly into the room, making the night-light no longer necessary, and she moved softly to put it out. As she returned to her post, and stood for a moment gazing with an unutterable tenderness at the beloved face lying so still upon the pillow, a thrill of joy shot through her, for a change seemed to have taken place; the flushed features had assumed a more natural hue, and the breath came more easily. Scarcely daring to hope, she stood as if entranced. Presently a tremor ran through Bert’s frame, he stirred uneasily, sighed heavily, and then, as naturally as a babe awaking, opened wide his big, brown eyes.

Seeing his mother just before him, he gave a glad smile, lifted up his hands as though to embrace her, and said, without any apparent difficulty:

“You dear, darling mother.”

Completely overcome with joy, Mrs. Lloyd threw herself down beside her boy and kissed him passionately, exclaiming: “Thank God! Thank God! He’s saved;” and then, springing up, hastened out to tell the others the good news.

Dr. Brown, who had been resting in the study, was instantly summoned, and the moment he saw Bert his face became radiant. Turning to Mrs. Lloyd, he shook her hand warmly, saying:

“The worst is over. He’ll come round all right now, and you may thank your prayers, madam, and not my medicines.”

Great was the rejoicing in the Lloyd household. No words would express their gladness; and when school-time came Frank, utterly unable to contain himself, rushed off to Dr. Johnston’s, and astonished the assembled pupils by shouting at the top of his voice:

“Hurrah, boys! Bert’s not going to die. He’ll soon be well again.”

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