RELIGION THE TRUE REFINER.
BY MRS. M. H. MAXWELL.
The scenes and characters of this story are those once familiar to the writer. The story itself is but a disconnected diary of one who, early refined from earthly dross, lived only long enough to show us that there was both reason and divine authority in the words of an apostle, when he exhorted Christians to "Be Courteous."
THE PLAIN—THE ISOLATED DWELLING—BLUE-BERRY PARTY—TAKING A VOTE—TREATMENT OF NEW ACQUAINTANCES—THE FAMILY AT APPLEDALE—THE YOUNG PEOPLE UPON THE PLAIN——SINCERE MILK OF THE WORD—A CALL AT THE LOG-HOUSE—THE RIDE HOME—ORIGINAL POETRY
THE KIND "GOOD-MORNING "—THE HIGH HILL—UNEXPECTED MEETING—ROMANCE AND REALITY—THE GOOD FARMER—IMPRESSIONS OF CHILDHOOD—WORSHIPING— BEARING THE CROSS
THE POOR WOMAN OF THE PLAIN—THE NOTE—MOURNFUL MUSINGS—THE CUP OF TEA—THE STRUGGLE—CHARITY AND SELF—EMMA'S HISTORY
THE LITTLE TIME—HOW IMPROVED—FITNESS FOR REFINED SOCIETY—MORNING REFLECTIONS—RUTH AND BOAZ—CHARITY AND COURTESY—THE VISIT
THE OLD PEDDLER—BITTER WORDS—THE MEEK REPLY—THE EFFECT—ACTING A PART—SOFTER FEELINGS—THE DEATH-SCENE—THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS—SIMPLE CHRISTIAN COURTESY
RELIGION THE TRUE REFINER.
THE PLAIN—THE ISOLATED DWELLING—BLUE-BERRY PARTY—TAKING A VOTE—TREATMENT OF NEW ACQUAINTANCES—THE FAMILY AT APPLEDALE—THE YOUNG PEOPLE UPON THE PLAIN—SINCERE MILK OF THE WORD—A CALL AT THE LOG-HOUSE—THE RIDE HOME—ORIGINAL POETRY.
Not more than a mile and a half from a pleasant village in one of our eastern States is a plain, extending many miles, and terminated on the north by a widespread pond. A narrow road runs across the plain; but the line of green grass bordering the "wheel-track" upon either side, shows that though the nearest, this road is not the most frequented way to the pond. Many reasons might be assigned for this. There is a wearisome monotony in the scenery along this plain. There are no hills, and but few trees to diversify the almost interminable prospect, stretching east, west, north, and south, like a broad ocean, without wave or ripple. The few trees scattered here and there stand alone, casting long shadows over the plain at nightfall, and adding solemnity to the mysterious stillness of that isolated place. It is not a place for human habitation, for the soil is sandy and sterile; neither is it a place for human hearts, so desolate in winter, and so unsheltered and dry during the long warm summer. Yet midway between the village and the pond was once a house, standing with its back turned unceremoniously upon the narrow road with its border of green. It was a poor thing to be called a house. Its front door was made, as it seemed, without reference to anything, for it opened upon the broad ocean-like plain. No questions had been asked relative to a title-deed of the land upon which that house stood, or whether "poor Graffam" had a right to pile up logs in the middle of that plain, and under them to hide a family of six. Through many a long eastern winter that family had lived there, little known, and little cared for. Nobody had taken the pains to go on purpose to see them; yet, during the month of July, and a part of August, some of the family were often seen. At all times of the year, in summer's heat and in winter's snow, the children going and returning from school, were wont to meet "poor Graffam," a short man, with sandy hair, carrying an ax upon his shoulder, and bearing in his hand a small pail of "dinner;" for Graffam, when refused employment by others, usually found something to do at "Motley's Mills," which were about half a mile from the village. Sad and serious-looking was this poor man in the morning, and neither extreme civility nor extreme rudeness on the part of the school children could procure a single word from him at this time of day. Not thus at evening. "Let us run after Graffam, and have some fun," the boys would say on returning home; and then it was wonderful to see the change which had been wrought in this mournful-looking, taciturn man of the morning. Sometimes he was in a rage, repaying their assaults with fearful oaths and bitter curses; but it was a thing more general to find him in merry mood, and then he was himself a boy, pitching his companions about in the snow, or talking with them largely and confidentially of landed estates and vast resources all his own. It is needless to inform my sagacious young reader, that the cause of this change in the poor man was rum.
We have referred to the month of July and a part of August; it was during this season of the year that the plain, on account of the rich berries tinging its surface with beautiful blue, became a place of much resort. These berries, hanging in countless clusters upon their low bushes among the shrubbery, were at least worth going to see. It is the opinion of most people, however, (an opinion first entertained in Eden,) that fruit pleasant to the eye is desirable for the taste. Such was the opinion prevalent in that region; and the sight of merry "blue-berry companies," sometimes in wagons, sometimes on foot, was among the most common of our midsummer morning scenes. Equally familiar was the sight of like companies returning at evening, weary, but better satisfied; glad that, with well-filled pails and baskets, they were so near home. This was the time of year when the young Graffams became visible. The blue-berry companies often encountered them upon the plain, but found them shy as young partridges, dodging through the bushes, and skulking away as though kidnappers were in pursuit.
There was, however, one boy among them, the eldest, (if we remember rightly,) who was quite familiar with the villagers. He was a little boy, not more than ten or eleven at the time of which I now write, and for two or three summers had been in the habit of bringing berries to the village, and offering them for any small matter, either for food or clothing. Both the kind-hearted and the curious had plied this little boy with questions, relative to his manner of life, his mother, brothers, and sisters; but his answers were far from giving information upon any of these points. He always declined a proposed visit by saying, "Mother don't want no company." This seemed true enough; for when any visitor to the plain called at Graffam's for a drink of water, they were never invited to enter. The water was handed them through a small opening, and the mother was seldom visible.
It was one of the brightest of our July mornings, when a blue-berry company started from the village before-mentioned. Two wagons filled with young people passed along the principal street at an early hour, raising a cloud of dust as they turned the corner where stood a guide-board pointing out the plain road to the pond. Onward rolled the two wagons, the tin-pails and dippers dancing and rattling in the rear, keeping time with the clatter of untamed tongues in the van. "Shall we call at 'Appledale?'" asked the driver of the first wagon, coming to a sudden stand.
"Go along!" laughingly answered a gay girl in the second. "Our horse is putting his nose into your tin rattletraps."
The question was repeated.
"They are strangers to us," replied a black-eyed young lady, "and from seeing them at church I should think them precise. A refusal would be mortifying; and if the prim Miss Martha concludes to go, that will be still worse. We cannot act ourselves, and all the fun will be spoiled. What say you, Fanny Brighton?"
Fanny, a bright-looking, but rather reckless girl, replied: "They shall not go, neither Miss Martha nor Miss Emma; not that I care a fiddlestring for their primness or their precision; nobody shall prevent me from thinking, and acting, and doing as I please to-day; from being, in short, what I was made to be—Fanny Brighton, and nobody else."
Fanny spoke with her usual authority, and expected obedience; but to her surprise Henry Boyd, the young driver of the first wagon, still hesitated, and stooping down, he whispered to a mild, lovely-looking girl, who, seated upon a box, was holding her parasol so as to shield from the sun's rays a sickly little boy. "Take a vote of the company," whispered the pretty girl, whom he called Mary.
"If it be your minds," said Henry, rising to his feet, "that we call at Appledale, and invite Miss Martha and Miss Emma Lindsay to be of our company, please manifest it by raising the right hand. It is a vote," he quietly continued, taking his seat.
"Mary Palmer!" called out Fanny; "you are a simpleton, and so fond of serving people as to court insult."
Mary's cheek flushed a little. It was not the first time that she had been called a simpleton, or some kindred name, by the out-spoken Miss Fanny; for this young lady prided herself on not being afraid to speak plainly, and tell people just what she thought of them.
As we before said, Mary's cheek flushed a little; but she instantly thought to herself, "It is Fanny, and I won't mind it." So she smiled, and said very gently, "I am sure, Fanny, that no sensible person will insult me for trying to be courteous, though I may not exactly understand the way. It can do the Misses Lindsay no harm to receive such an invitation from us, and we cannot be injured by a refusal."
"For my own part," said Henry, "I think that the question whether we are to be neighbors or not should be settled. They are strangers, and it is our business to make the first advance toward an acquaintance. If they decline, we have only hereafter to keep at a respectful distance."
"Precious little respect will they find in me," said Fanny. "I am too much of a Yankee to flatter people by subserviency, or to put myself out of the way to gain acquaintances about whom I care not a fig. But drive on: while we are prating and voting about the nabobs at Appledale the sun is growing hot."
Henry gathered up his reins, and away the wagons clattered down the long hill, and with a short, thunder-like rumble crossed the bridge between the Sliver Place and Appledale. Perhaps the writer may be called to account for this romantic name: he will therefore give it here. Appledale was once called Snag-Orchard, on account of the old trees whose fugitive roots often found their way into the road, making great trouble, and causing great complaint from the citizens, who yearly worked out a tax there.
The people of that place would never have thought of calling it anything else, had it not been for Susan and Margaret Sliver, who sometimes wrote verses, and thought that Appledale sounded better in poetry than did Snag-Orchard. These ladies, (they called themselves young, but we must be truthful, even at the expense of courtesy,) —these ladies, Margaret and Susan, said that this old place was decidedly romantic; but the plain people living in that vicinity knew but little of romance. If they saved time from hard labor to read their Bible, it was certainly a subject for thankfulness. Most of them thought that Snag-Orchard was a gloomy place, and that it was a pity for so much good ground to be taken up with overgrown trees. It suited Mr. Croswell, however, who was the former proprietor. He had but little interest in the land belonging to this world, for all his relatives, nearly every one, had gone to the land that is "very far off." He loved the trees, and seemed to us like an old tree himself, from which kindred branch and spray had fallen, leaving him in the world's wilderness alone. Some thought him melancholy; but he was not: he was only waiting upon the shore of that river dividing the "blessed land" from ours; and one spring morning, very suddenly to his neighbors, he crossed that river, and found more, infinitely more than he had ever lost. After he was gone, the house was closed for a time; and through the bright days of the following summer, when the foliage became heavy upon the old trees, casting so deep a shadow as to make noonday but twilight there, and when the night breeze sang mournfully among the pines in the rear of that old house, people coming from the pond by the way of the plain looked stealthily over their shoulders at Snag-Orchard: but they knew not why, for nothing was there—nothing but loneliness and desertion.
There was a report among the school children that the Croswell house was haunted; and in his merry moods poor Graffam had told the boys, how many a time upon a dark night, when going from Motley's Mills to his house upon the plain, he had seen that house brilliantly illuminated, and once or twice had heard old Mr. Croswell call to him from the window, and say, "Beware, Graffam, beware." Little, however, was thought of these stories, for we all knew that the unhappy man often went home at night with a fire upon his brain, and had no doubt but that he got up his own illuminations; and as for the admonition, "Beware, Graffam, beware," it doubtless came from the frogs, and was interpreted by his own conscience. Snag-Orchard, however, was evidently dreaded until the Lindsays came to live there, when it became less gloomy: for though the old trees with their heavy foliage were still there, descending in long sentinel-like rows down the hill-slope, until the last row drooped their branches into the bright waters of the brook, yet the rank grass around the house, that had so long raised its seedy head, and looked in at the windows, was mowed down, and sociable-looking flowers had taken its place; and then at evening, the traveler returning from the pond by the way of the plain, realized what had once been but the brilliant phantasy of poor Graffam's brain—for though Mrs. Lindsay was a widow, she was neither poor nor deserted. The reason for her coming there was not at that time known among us. A gentleman who was projecting the plan of a settlement at the pond, in reference to mill and factory privileges, bargained for the Croswell place, and early in the spring this family took up a residence there. Three months had passed away, and they were still strangers. This was not from any want of sociability upon the part of their neighbors,—or from studied indifference upon their own part, but from the time of their first coming they had seemed fully occupied with company. Gay parties upon horse-back had frequently issued from the large gate, where in years gone by oxen had walked demurely in, bearing a three-story load of hay. The long riding-dresses and feathered caps of these gay riders, inasmuch as they were new in that old-fashioned place, were judged of according to the several tastes of the farmers' wives and daughters. Some thought it pretty business for girls to be figuring about with men's hats, when there was work enough for women folks within doors: and others thought (very justly too) that the matter of this riding was no concern of theirs; and having business enough of their own, they concluded to let Mrs. Lindsay and her guests do as they pleased. This was a wise conclusion, since it daily became more and more evident that they had no intention of doing otherwise than as they pleased. Some of the family always presented themselves at church on the Lord's day, but among them Miss Emma, and an elderly woman supposed to be the housekeeper, were the only constant attendants. Thus much of the new family at Appledale. The reader will learn more as we progress in our story.
"I would see Mrs. Lindsay and the young ladies," said Henry Boyd, as the servant opened the door. Henry was shown into the same room, where many a time he had sat and talked with old Mr. Croswell, but which now seemed to him like another place. A handsome carpet now covered the white oaken floor, and rich curtains partially concealed the windows once shaded by simple green. Where stood the old "sideboard" was now an elegant piano, and luxurious chairs and lounges had taken the place of Mr. Croswell's high-backed, upright-looking furniture. But Henry was self-possessed; and though there were a number of young ladies in the room, dressed in handsome morning dishabille, he neither stammered nor turned red, but bowing easily to Mrs. Lindsay, gave Misses Martha and Emma an invitation to go with him and the young ladies to the plain. Mrs. Lindsay saw that Martha, on glancing from the window at the rustic-looking company, could scarcely suppress a smile, so she courteously thanked Henry, and was about to excuse her daughters, when Emma entered the room. Henry could not accuse either Mrs. Lindsay or Martha of impoliteness, but he felt somehow as though there was a great contrast between this courtesy and that shown him by Emma; for she offered him her hand, and said, "It is very kind of you to call for us, and if mamma pleases, I should like to go."
"I have no objection, my love," said Mrs. Lindsay, "provided you return before night."
Henry assured her that they should, Martha respectfully declined the invitation, and Emma ran up stairs. "I am going," said she joyfully to the elderly woman with whom she was often seen at church. "I am going, Dora; and that dear little Mary Palmer is there." Dora arose, and pinned a thin shawl upon the neck of the delicate girl, and while she did so, looked affectionately into her white face.
"Of what are you thinking, Dora?" asked Emma.
"I was thinking," said she, "that my lily could shed her fragrance beyond her own garden to-day."
"O, I am no lily," said Emma, half laughing, "only a poor blighted thing going out to steal fragrance from other flowers."
"Well, darling," said Dora, "you can have it without theft, for we can make for ourselves a garden of spices anywhere, and then you know who will come in and eat our pleasant fruit."
Emma smiled, and nodded a good-by, as she left the room.
"What a singular girl is Emma," said one of the young ladies who looked from the keeping-room window, as she entered the wagon. "I was glad that they had the courtesy to offer her a cushioned seat; but she has refused it, and is riding off upon a box. Dear Mrs. Lindsay, Emma is excessively polite."
"Mysteriously polite, I call it," said Mrs. Lindsay. "She seems more and more to lose sight of herself, in a desire to make others happy; yet before we left the city she often offended me by her disregard of fashionable etiquette."
"Yet Emma never was offensive in her manners, mamma," said Martha.
"She was truly beloved, I know it, dear," replied the lady; "but her great truthfulness kept me in constant jeopardy. Just think of her telling Madam Richards that people considered her too old to dance."
"Well, it was a shame," answered the first speaker, "for a lady of such excellent qualities to make herself ridiculous by a single foible."
"So Emma thought," said Mrs. Lindsay, "and had the frankness to tell her so. It turned out well enough in her case, it is true; for she told me when I went to apologize, that Emma had shown so much heartfelt interest and concern in the matter of her being a public laughing-stock, that she was obliged not only to forgive, but to love her the better for what I called a rudeness. But," continued Mrs. Lindsay, "singular as she is, I would give worlds to have her——"
Here the lady paused, and Martha said quickly, "She is better, mother. She sleeps very well now, and her night-sweats are not so profuse."
The mother made no answer. It was not because Martha's hopeful words were unheeded, but because mournful memories were at work in her heart; and to avoid further conversation she arose and left the room.
"Mamma will look upon the dark side," said Martha, "but I am much encouraged. Our physician says, that rambling about in the country, running in the fields and woods, climbing fences and trees, if she is disposed, will do wonders for Emma: and I believe it; for how wonderfully she has improved during these three months—so full of life, and so full of interest in everybody."
Emma had refused the cushioned seat, because she saw at a glance that the young boy occupying that seat was more feeble than herself. The name of this little boy was Edwin. Emma had met him frequently in the woods, and down by the brook where he went to fish. They had thus become pretty well acquainted, and from him Emma had learned the name of the pretty girl who sat in the pew in front of their own at church—the little girl who wore a black ribbon upon her bonnet, and whose manner in the house of prayer was both quiet and devout. Edwin had told her that the name of this pretty girl was Mary Palmer; that just before their family came to Appledale she had lost a little sister; and that since then, though very quiet and kind before, Mary had been very patient, even with Fanny Brighton. Emma, therefore, was not wholly unprepared for the off-hand greeting bestowed upon her that morning by Fanny. On first getting into the wagon, she pressed Mary's hand without waiting for the ceremony of an introduction, for she knew her name. Mary loved to have Emma so near her; for though they had never spoken together before, a mutual affection existed between them; but the modest girl felt that Henry ought to have given Emma a seat beside some one who knew more than herself.
"Fanny Brighton," thought Mary, "is so amusing when she chooses to be; Alice More is so witty; and the Misses Sliver so learned, Henry ought to have seen that Emma was where she would be pleasantly entertained; but I will make amends for this when we get to the plain—I will introduce her, and leave her with them."
Emma, however, seemed well satisfied with her company. "I have long wanted to speak with you," said she.
"That is very polite," thought Mary; "I suppose it is what well-bred people generally say. I have really wanted to hear her speak, though I won't say so, for she will think that I am only trying to be polite."
Emma took off her sun-bonnet when riding through the woods, and told Mary how happy it made her to hear the birds sing, and to breathe the sweet fragrance which came from the hay-meadows; but Mary felt diffident, and did not reply warmly, as she felt. She called Emma Miss Lindsay; so Emma felt obliged to call her Miss Palmer, though she longed to put her arms around her, as they sat upon the box, and call her Mary.
All this time the company in the rear were talking in this way:—
"I suppose," said Fanny Brighton, "that this little chicky-dandy thinks she has done us a great favor, by condescending to ride in a wagon, and upon a box. If she shows off any of her aristocratic airs to me, I will soon make her understand that her room is better than her company."
"What a milk-and-water looking thing she is," said Alice More; "they had better have kept their cosset at home; she will be calling, 'ma! ma!' before night."
"And we will answer, 'bah!'" said Josh Cheever, as Susan Sliver put her hand over his mouth, for fear that he would give a sample.
Arrived at the plains, the wagons were turned a little into the shrubbery, so as not to obstruct the passage of the narrow road; then the company alighted, while Henry and Joshua led the horses to one of the large trees, (of which there were, as we have already said, but few,) each carrying a bundle of hay under his arm.
In the mean time Mary introduced the young ladies severally to Emma. Alice More professed herself very glad to see her; but this profession, for some reason, seemed to give Emma pain. Fanny made no professions at all, only coldly nodding a "how-d'ye-do," without appearing to notice that Emma wished to shake hands. The Misses Sliver were cordial enough, but too sentimental for the occasion; Miss Susan, using the language of some novel she had read, said, she hoped to find in Emma a "kindred spirit;" at which remark Fanny laughed outright, saying she hoped that "Sliver Crook" and "Snag Orchard" would not become etherialized.
"I cannot talk in that way," thought Mary; "so I will go by myself, and pick berries, leaving Miss Lindsay with them." Mary felt, however, that she should like to be somewhere near Emma; so she only withdrew a little way, sitting down where she could see her through the bushes. Alice chattered away very freely for a time, and then wandered off in pursuit of Fanny, who, from the first, had not addressed a single word to Emma. But the Misses Sliver kept near her, and seemed to be making themselves very agreeable. Mary heard them mention at least a dozen books, of which she had not heard even the titles before, and she was glad for having left Emma with those who could talk of such matters. She watched her though, as she bent over the blueberry bushes, and fancied that she looked sad. Then after a time she saw her sit down upon a log, looking very languid and weary. Mary had brought a bottle of nice milk from home that morning, and the thought crossed her mind that a draught of that milk might be refreshing to Emma; so she took a bright little dipper from her basket, and ran off toward the wagon.
"Where are you going, Mary Palmer?" said Alice, whom she met on the way.
"Miss Lindsay looks very pale and tired," said Mary. "I am going to carry her some of my nice milk."
"I would do no such thing," said Alice; "she is used to having a host of servants at her heels, and thinks that we country girls will act as her lackies. If she wants refreshment, tell her where it is, and let her go for it herself."
"Why, Alice," replied Mary, "you told her this morning that you were very glad to see her, and now you have no interest in making her either comfortable or happy."
"To be sure," said Alice; "do you suppose that I was going to say, 'I am not at all glad to see you, Miss Prim—I am mad enough with Henry Boyd to pull his ears, because he went to your house for you?' You would not have had me say so; but these were my feelings; so what am I to do?"
"I know what I would do," said Mary, firmly. "I would pray to God until I had better feelings; so that I could say from my heart, I am glad to see you."
"O good!" exclaimed Alice, laughingly; "you are getting to be religious, and I shall tell Fanny: so look out, little Miss Courtesy."
"You are very kind," said Emma, as she took the bright dipper of milk from Mary. "I ate but little breakfast, and am very fond of milk. This looks so nice too, so pure and white, in this clean, shining dipper:" and Emma sat looking at the milk, as though it were a pity to drink it up; and Mary stood looking at her, until she thought that perhaps it was not polite to do so, and turned away.
"Don't go," said Emma, "unless you choose to be by yourself. Sit down here just a minute. I have queer thoughts about this milk; and since we are all alone, I will tell you what they are. You read the Bible, Ma—,—I mean Miss Palmer?"
"Yes; but call me Mary, if you please. I am not used to being called Miss."
"Well then, Mary dear," said Emma, drawing closer to her, as they sat upon the log, "you remember where the Bible speaks of the sincere milk of the word" Mary smiled; for she was much pleased, and a little surprised. Mrs. Lindsay and her family, with their Sabbath rides and evening dancing parties, were not of course considered religious people. "What do you suppose," continued Emma, "is meant by the sincere milk of the word?"
"When a very little girl," replied Mary, "father bought me a small book called 'Milk for Babes,' and said it was for children who wanted to learn the first principles of the doctrine of Christ. That little book was all about charity."
"Was it?" said Emma, with animation, "how strange that I should have the same thoughts, without knowing anything about it! When you gave me this milk I thought of that passage, and of the one about the cup of cold water; and now, Mary, please to say why you took all this pains for me. Was it just to be polite?"
"No," replied Mary, smiling; "I was afraid that you might think me im-polite for offering you milk in a tin dipper, but I saw you looking pale and tired, and thought that it might do you good."
"That was giving it to me in the name of a disciple," said Emma, in a low voice, looking at the milk again, as though it was now hallowed and blessed of God. "It is delicious," said she, taking the cup from her lips, "and I feel better. I am not so weary; my head aches less, and my heart is refreshed."
"Then I have not lost my reward," said Mary. "But here come Fanny and Alice. They are very entertaining, and the day will be less tedious if you can manage to keep with them. Fanny is plain spoken, but people call her a good-hearted girl; and Alice is so funny."
"If you please," replied Emma, "I had rather be with you. I am not afraid of plain-spoken people, if they are kind. Dora is very careful to tell me my faults, but then her manner is such that I can't help feeling that it is because she loves me so well; so I am neither pained nor vexed. I used to be very partial to funny people; but I feel serious now nearly all of the time. I can love Fanny and Alice; but, Mary dear, I had rather be with you, if you please."
"O," replied Mary, "I love to have you with me."
She was prevented from saying more, for Alice now called out, "Forward, march! Do you hear the drum?"
"It is not probable," said Fanny, "that a religious person like Mary Palmer will march to the tune of Yankee Doodle upon a kettle-drum."
Emma looked at Mary, and saw the deep blush upon her face, and the tear that, in spite of herself, trembled in her mild blue eye.
"How unkind," thought Emma, "and so rude too! This plain-spoken girl has not a good heart, if people do think so. I shall ask Dora about her."
"It is the signal for dinner," said Mary, recovering herself in a minute, and turning with a smile toward Emma. "Henry wants us to go to the wagons." So they walked along arm-in-arm, while Alice and Fanny whispered together about this sudden intimacy, and prophesied that hot love like that would soon be cold.
"I mean to tell Mary just what I think of it," said Fanny; "for I am not afraid to speak my mind to anybody."
"Well," replied Alice, "I cannot imagine what Miss Emma likes in Mary, or why Mary is so charmed with her. This much I will say, but don't you name it to any one—neither of them is at all to my fancy."
It was not wonderful that Alice did not know the secret of that affection between two who were comparatively strangers to each other. The reason was not plain even to Emma and Mary, for neither of them yet knew it by the Scripture name, which is "unity of the Spirit." Each had loved the other while as yet no word of communication had passed between them, because each had a portion of that Spirit which binds heart to heart. Alice would not have understood this had it been told her, for she had never entertained this gentle Spirit. She might have done so, for it knocks at every human heart; but there are other spirits there—spirits that must be cast out, before that which is long-suffering, meek, and good, will come in and sup with us. Alice would not cast emulation, pride, envy, and jealousy out of her heart, that the good Spirit might enter. Would she have done so, she might not have found it so difficult to understand what Emma and Mary saw in each other to love.
The company was now assembled under a large tree near to the roadside. Henry had constructed a rude table, over which was spread a cloth, and, assisted by Joshua, he was now bringing the dinner from the wagon, while the Misses Sliver arranged the dishes.
"Here is a comfortable seat, Miss Lindsay," said Henry, when the dinner was ready; and he led her to a rock beside the table, which was covered with moss.
"One of nature's verdant cushions," said Susan Sliver.
"Nature is very polite to the aristocracy," whispered Fanny, loud enough to be heard; but Emma lifted little Edwin to the rock, saying that it was just high enough for him.
Fanny had determined to show that she was not afraid to act herself anywhere, so she talked about matters not at all interesting to the company, taking care to think differently from every one who expressed an opinion.
Again the question arose in Emma's mind, whether such rudeness could be the fruit of a good heart; but she quieted herself by saying, "I will ask Dora about it."
After the dinner was over, Miss Margaret Sliver began to talk of some verses that Susan had written for this occasion, and insisted on drawing them from her pocket. Susan pretended great unwillingness; but her sister easily possessed herself of the copy, which, with great pathos of manner, she read to the company.
"Splendid! elegant!" exclaimed Alice; but at the same time she stepped upon Fanny's toe, and gave her a merry sidelong glance. "Beautiful! are they not, Mary Palmer?"
"I am no judge of poetry," said Mary, modestly; "so my opinion is not worth having."
"You cannot say so, Miss Lindsay," continued Alice, "for I heard you repeating some lines this morning."
"Did you," asked Emma, coloring a little, "then I think they must have been from a hymn by James Montgomery, of which I am very fond, and sometimes repeat unconsciously."
"Of course," said Fanny, looking suddenly at Emma, "you think Miss Sliver equal to Montgomery."
"This is not the place for me to say whether I do or not," replied Emma, quietly.
"I know," said Fanny, "that there are some people who think that the truth is not to be spoken at all times; but I have never yet been afraid to say what I think."
"There are things," said Henry, "of which we may not think rightly, and, understanding this, some are slow to speak."
"And who is to be the judge of our thoughts," asked Fanny, "whether they be right or wrong?"
All were silent now; not because they had no answer for Fanny's question, but because they were not willing to give the right answer.
At last, Mary, in a low voice, replied: "The Bible should be our rule, both for thought and word, and conscience must judge between that and us."
"And does the Bible teach you to flatter people with your tongue, while you are laughing at them in your sleeves?" asked Fanny.
"No," replied Mary; "but it teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to be courteous, and pitiful."
"Then I keep one requirement," said Fanny, jumping over the log, seated upon which she had eaten her dinner; "for I do pity people who are too mealy-mouthed to be honest—pity, or despise them, I cannot tell which."
All now had withdrawn from the table, except Emma, Mary, Joshua Cheever, and little Edwin. "Your milk is very nice, Mary," said Eddy, "but it does not cure my thirst; O I do want some cold water."
"There is none nearer than the pond," said Joshua, "unless you go to Graffam's; but they are so piggish, I would choke before I would ask water of them. The last time I went there, the old woman sent one of the young ones to tell me that the village folks were an unmannerly set, and she wanted them to keep their distance. I told the girl to give my love to her mother, and tell her that she was the sweetest poppy upon the plain. So you see that it wouldn't do for me to go there again; I might get my head cracked with one of Graffam's rum-jugs."
"I am not afraid to go," said Mary. "I have no doubt but that the blueberry parties are a trouble to Mrs. Graffam."
"Mrs. Graffam!" exclaimed Joshua, laughing. "Nobody else calls her anything but Moll, and her husband, Pete."
Emma now lifted Edwin from his seat upon the rock, and taking his hand, while Mary brought the bright dipper, they started for the log-house, which looked in the distance like a black stump.
"It is loving your neighbor better than yourself,"—said the little boy, looking smilingly up into Emma's face,—"I am sure it is, to come all this way with me."
"Well, we ought to love our neighbor better than ourselves," replied Mary, who was walking behind. "We shall, Eddy, if we are like——"
"Like Jesus?" asked Eddy.
"Yes," said Mary. "He didn't love himself at all; but he loved us, even unto death."
"How wonderful!" said Emma. "Talk some more about him, Mary dear, if you please."
But they were now at the poor door, which swung upon its wooden hinges: they were about to knock, when they saw a forlorn-looking woman come from a dark closet, with a sick child in her arms.
"Poor little thing!" said Mary, going toward her.[*] "What is the matter with him, Mrs. Graffam?"
[Footnote *: See Frontispiece.]
"He is very sick," she replied, glancing from her to the door, when Emma courtesied politely, and Edwin pulled off his hat. "Walk in," said Mrs. Graffam; "my children are all out upon the plain, but you can help yourselves to seats." Then turning to Mary she said again, "He is very sick, and I cannot tell what is the matter with him, unless it is want of——." Here she paused, and after a time added, "He is losing all his flesh, poor thing!"
"Yes," said Mary, "he looks as my dear little sister did just before she died!"
"When did she die?" asked Mrs. Graffam.
"Just as the grass was getting green," said Mary. "It was a fit time for her to die, Mrs. Graffam; for she was born in the spring, and it seemed exactly as though the sweet bud had to go back to the summer-land before it could bloom."
"And if your little baby dies, Mrs. Graffam," said Eddy, "he will be a flower in God's garden; won't he, Mary?"
"Yes," whispered Mary, while the poor woman's face flushed, and her lip quivered. Mary glanced at Edwin, and remembered her errand.
"Mrs. Graffam," said she, "I know that the blue-berry parties must be a great trouble to you, and we would not have come here for water, only Eddy is not very well."
"You are welcome to as much water as you want," interrupted Mrs. Graffam, "and so is any one who can treat us with civility. We are very poor, it is true, and that is not our greatest misfortune either; but it is hard to be despised."
While Mary was gone for the water, Emma sat looking at the sick baby, and noticed, that though the weather was warm, its skeleton limbs looked blue and cold. She was going to advise the mother to wrap it in flannel, when the thought that perhaps the poor woman had none, prevented her speaking: for Christian courtesy never says to the poor "Be ye warmed and clothed," while it provides not the things which are necessary; and fortunately Emma thought it time enough to speak of what the poor child needed, when she had supplied that need. Edwin was greatly refreshed by his drink of cold water, and kissing the sick child, he thanked Mrs. Graffam, and was ready to go.
"There is a good old lady living with my mother," said Emma, "who is used to sickness, and might know what to do for your babe, Mrs. Graffam; shall I ask her to come with me, and see you?"
"I shall be glad to see anybody," was the reply, "who is like you or your little friends;" and bidding the poor woman a good-by, they went back to the plain.
Henry Boyd remembered his promise to Mrs. Lindsay, and before the sun was down the company were on their way home. The talk and clatter of the morning were now hushed. Joshua whistled, while his horse plodded lazily along, until Fanny peevishly bade him "hold his tongue."
"Anybody does that," said Joshua, "when he whistles!" but he good-naturedly stopped.
Margaret Sliver undertook to repeat some poetry composed by Susan, upon the setting sun:—
The setting sun is going down Behind the western hills; It glitters like a golden crown,——
"What is the last line, Susan?" asked Margaret; but Susan was not flattered by the way her poetry had been handled at the dinner-table, and now she refused to supply the missing rhyme.
The setting sun is going down Behind the western hills,
It glitters like a golden crown, "On top of Motley's Mills!"
added Alice; while Fanny, calling out to Henry Boyd, repeated the whole verse as Susan's poetry, bidding him ask Miss Lindsay if Montgomery could beat that. Susan was highly offended, saying that she considered herself insulted, and chose to walk the remainder of the way.
"O no, Miss Sliver," said Joshua; "never mind Fanny Brighton—she is only one of the blunt sort, saying right to your face what other folks would say behind your back."
This explanation from Joshua was rather more favorable than Fanny deserved; for she had not the faithful Christian charity, which, while it unflinchingly speaks truth to those whom it concerns, is careful to speak no evil anywhere. It was well known, that though Fanny boasted of not being afraid to tell to people's faces what she thought of them, she was not less fearless in talking of the same things in their absence; so that she differed from common backbiters only in having more—shall we call it impudence?
It is a harsh name, but let us analyze the principle. What spirit possesses the human heart, when it shows a disposition to make others uncomfortable? Is it frankness—we know that it is sometimes dignified with that name; though it is little akin to the true Christian faithfulness, which, always at peace with truth, never offends against true courtesy. Charity regards the little foibles incident to fallen human nature with a lenient eye, never pointing them out to the scornful gaze of another, but remembering that they are to be touched tenderly, if touched at all; secretly, too, apart from the scrutiny of another, and by disinterested friendship alone.
"The Sliver girls make fools of themselves, and of each other," said Fanny, when Margaret and Susan, arrived at their own house, coldly took leave of the company.
"I know it," replied Alice. "To think that they will associate with us girls, pretending to be young, when everybody knows that they are not: dressing, prinking, reading novels, and making poetry; while their poor old slave of a mother is making butter and cheese."
"It provokes me when I think of it," answered Fanny; "and how you can flatter them so, calling their dresses becoming, and their poetry beautiful, I cannot imagine, when you know, Alice, that it is all a lie."
"Well," said Alice, laughingly, "I do it for fun. It is so amusing to see their languishing airs; and then, Fanny, to tell the truth, I have no objection to people's playing the fool, if it makes them feel better."
"But I shall hate you, by-and-by," said Fanny, "for being a hypocrite."
"Guess it won't be any put out to you," replied Joshua; "for you are as full of hate as an egg is of meat."
THE KIND "GOOD-MORNING"—THE HIGH HILL—UNEXPECTED MEETING—ROMANCE AND REALITY—THE GOOD FARMER—IMPRESSIONS OF CHILDHOOD—WORSHIPING—BEARING THE CROSS.
"Good-morning, Mr. Graffam," said Emma, who was in the garden when the poor man of the plain passed along the road on his way to the mills.
We have before said that morning was not the time for this man to talk, and now he felt inclined, as usual, to pass this early salutation without notice; but it had been a long time since he had been accosted in that manner. It was no uncommon thing for people to address him in this way: "Good-morning, Pete! Feel sober after your last night's high, eh?" But a respectful "Good-morning, Mr. Graffam," now met his ear. "Can it be," thought the fallen man, "that I am still Mr., or are they mocking me?" He looked up, but saw neither jest nor scorn upon the fair face looking over the garden-wall.
"Good-morning, sir," repeated Emma; "it is a fine morning."
Poor Graffam looked with his dull swollen eyes upon the bright-blue sky, and then upon the wood-crowned hill, and the shaded dell, where the waters rippled and murmured, and the birds sang cheerily, and his heart caught some apprehension of beauty, for he answered slowly, "So it is, miss,—a very fine morning."
"And pray, how is your dear little babe, sir?" asked Emma, in a voice of tender concern.
This question seemed fully to rouse him. There was a glance both of surprise and intelligence in his eye, as he replied, "The child is very sick;" and then repeated, as though it were a fact new to himself, "Yes, that poor child is very sick indeed."
"I was at your house yesterday," continued Emma, "and promised Mrs. Graffam that I would bring a good old lady living with us to see her; but I am not well enough to go to-day."
"Sorry if you are sick," murmured Graffam.
"Thank you," said Emma. "I was going to ask if you would have the kindness just to call at the gate tonight, and take a small package for Mrs. Graffam?"
"I will," said he, with a tone and manner something like self-respect and respect for his wife,—"I will, miss, with pleasure;" and he pulled his old hat from his head, and bowed low, while Emma bade him good-by.
"Go out upon the hills, my love," called Mrs. Lindsay from her window to Emma; "it will do you no good to be tying-up flowers, and talking with ragged old men by the roadside. Put on your bonnet, and walk briskly over the bridge, and let me see you from my window upon the top of yonder hill."
Emma cheerfully obeyed, and though she felt extremely languid, compelled herself to walk briskly as her mother had desired; but coming to the foot of the hill she paused, and looked doubtfully upon its steep sides and lofty top. "It reminds me of 'the Hill Difficulty,'" thought Emma; "but the Christian pilgrim did not allow himself to stop and think over the difficulties, but 'addressed himself to his journey.' So must I:" and ceasing to look at the top, but only at the place for her feet, step by step, she at length gained the summit, and waved her handkerchief toward the house. The signal was answered from her mother's window, and then she sat down upon a rock to rest. But the morning was too dazzlingly beautiful there. She felt oppressed by the glory of distant mountains, sparkling rivers, and wide-spread fields of corn and grain; but looking down a gentle slope of the hill she saw a delightful place—it was a bend of the little brook gliding through the meadow-ground of Appledale. The pines had cast their spiral leaves there, so that the hill-side and the borders of the rill looked as though covered with sunlight, though there was in fact nothing but shade, for the trees clustered together, and locked their green arms, as if to shut the brook from day-light; yet close upon the borders of that brook Emma saw a large flat rock, around which the waters played, looking so cool and inviting that she longed to be there. She put her hand into her pocket, and found, to her joy, that the dear companion of her rambles was there: it was her Bible. Happy for Emma, she had learned to prize its gentle converse above that of human tongues; and now, sitting down upon her feet, she smiled to see how glassy the pine leaves had made the hill-slope, for she could slide along with but little exertion, and soon found herself upon the broad flat rock. Taking her little Bible, she was just turning to some passages Dora had marked, when she heard a deep sigh, and saw, to her surprise, Susan Sliver seated upon a moss-turf, crying bitterly.
"I am close to Sliver Crook," thought Emma, now for the first time noticing the house not far beyond the trees. "This may be Miss Susan's place of retirement, and I have no right here; but I cannot get away now without being seen; and then she seems unhappy. I should be glad to comfort her, if I could without——"
Just at that moment Susan looked up, and saw Emma, who sprang from the rock, and running toward her, said: "I was not aware of a trespass upon your grounds, Miss Sliver. You will pardon me. It looked so inviting here, that I was constrained to come down from the hill."
Susan, however, did not appear at all embarrassed at being caught in tears.
She wiped her face with her apron, and then Emma saw an open book upon her knee. "My dear Miss Lindsay," said Susan, "it is no intrusion. I am glad to find a congenial spirit anywhere. My joy at this meeting is inexpressible; for now I know that there is one in this cold-hearted place, one beside my sister Margaret, who can appreciate my feelings."
Emma was silent; for she did not understand what those feelings were, or whether she appreciated them or not.
"Prom my childhood," continued Susan, "I have been among the people of my race, but not of them. I have stood alone, in a shroud of thoughts, which were not their thoughts; but few understand me, my dear, for I live in an ideal world, and whatever calls me back to this gross creation, makes me perfectly miserable: say, my dear Miss Lindsay, are these your feelings?"
"Alas, no," replied Emma; "I love the world too well, and have spent many wretched, sleepless nights because I was unwilling to leave it: but that time is passed. If I have any fear now, it is that my work on earth will not be well done before I am called away."
Susan turned a wondering eye upon the pale, weary-looking girl, and for a moment forgot her intense sympathy for herself. "You are sick," said she, with an expression of real interest and concern.
"Yes," replied Emma, "that is evident. My friends have tried to hide it from me, and from themselves. They have sent me from place to place, but death is following me everywhere. I never felt it so surely as I do this morning:" and Emma laid her head upon the moss-turf beside Susan. She looked like a faded lily, as she lay there; her white dress scarcely more white than the forehead and cheek upon which her dark damp hair rested heavily. Susan took a handkerchief from her pocket, and wrung it in the clear, cool waters of the brook, and kneeling upon the ground beside Emma, wiped her pale face, and tucking up her sleeves, chafed her poor withered arms, until Emma revived.
"Thank you," said she; "I was a little faint. Mamma is so desirous for me to exercise in the open air, that I go every day to the farthest limit of my strength. I was not able to climb that hill this morning."
Susan made no reply, but sat looking mournfully into her face. All the morning she had been weeping over the sorrows of an imaginary being whom she had found in a novel wandering about, and falling at every step into the most superlative misery. It was hard for Susan to read, and not identify herself with this beautiful suffering shadow; but now she had come from her ideal world, and was forced, for a time, to forget both the shadow and herself. Close to her father's old farm-house, and in the woods of Sliver-Crook, she saw what, described in a romance, would have been pathetic enough, but which, seen in reality, called out from her heart the good rational sympathy which, though buried in sentimental rubbish, was not dead.
"Do you really think," said she, bending over Emma, "that you must——"
Emma smiled, as she replied, "What difficulty we find in pronouncing that word! One would think that there was a sting in the very name of death: and so there is, Miss Sliver, until God gives us the victory, through Jesus Christ."
"Jesus was a beautiful character," said Susan, taking up Emma's Bible, beside which the red-covered novel lay blushing as if in an agony of shame. "I have often felt," she continued, "a strong desire to visit the places hallowed by his personal ministry; the garden where he kept his sad night-watch, Miss Lindsay; the Mount of Olives, and the clear-gliding Kedron. O," continued Susan, enthusiastically, "I should like to stand where the Marys stood, on the dreadful day of his crucifixion, and visit the tomb where they went, bearing sweet spices. O, wouldn't it be delightful?"
"Yes," replied Emma, languidly; "but we should not find him there now,—upon Calvary, or the Mount of Olives; by the sweet-gliding Kedron, or in the Garden of Gethsemane,—unless we were like him, meek and lowly, and such can find him anywhere, Miss Sliver. The spirit of Jesus would hallow this book, making it blessed and holy like the waters of Kedron; and this high hill might be to us what the Mount of Olives was to the disciples—for that was sacred only because Jesus talked with them there. Dora told me last night that the Holy Spirit could make any place holy."
Susan was silent. Emma had spoken words to which something within bore witness as truth, and she knew not what to say. Emma, too, lay musing for some time; and then raising her head, and resting it upon her hand, she said: "How wonderfully self-denying Jesus was, Miss Sliver. Nobody appreciated the Saviour when he was upon earth, not even the disciples; yet this was nothing to him, for he did not seek his own glory. He went cheerfully about his Father's work, never thinking of himself, and never feeling himself degraded by the presence of a poor, sick, sinful multitude."
"I know it," said Susan, thoughtfully; "but the world will never see another Jesus, Miss Lindsay."
"O, it will, it will," replied Emma, with animation. "When human hearts are willing to let his Spirit dwell in them, human hands will do the work which Jesus did; and so his kingdom will come, and the world will see and acknowledge their King."
A shrill blast from a horn, at the farm-house across the brook, now interrupted their conversation.
"It is time for me to go home," said Susan; "but I shall not consent to leave you to climb that hill again today—you must go to our house, and stay until you are rested."
This kind decision of manner, so unlike anything she had before seen in Susan Sliver, quite interested Emma. She did not feel averse to a further acquaintance, and taking her arm they crossed the rustic bridge, and were soon at the farm-house. An elderly man, wearing a Quaker hat, had just entered, and Emma heard him talking to a good-looking old lady, who, both warm and tired, was vehemently beating a minute pudding. "Thee looks tired, Sarah; where are the girls?"
"Can't say where Susan is," was the reply. "Margaret is up stairs, sewing."
"Well, there is a time for everything, and the girls are old enough to know it; but here comes Susan. Come, Susan, thee ought to be helping thy mother these hot days; but who is this friend?"
"Mrs. Lindsay's daughter," said Susan.
Emma might have saved her graceful courtesy this time; for the old gentleman did not return it by taking off his broad-brimmed hat: yet she felt the sincere politeness of his manner, as, offering his hand, he said, "I am glad to see thee, child; how is thy mother?"
"Very well, thank you," said Emma, taking a seat upon the cushioned chair, which Susan brought and placed near the open door.
The old lady was not less cordial in her manner toward their visitor; but she seemed in a great hurry to get dinner upon the table, for the men were coming from the field, and the sun had crossed the noon-mark.
Emma was glad to see Susan taking hold to help her mother; and presently Margaret came down stairs, dressed a little too much, and a little too girlish, but appearing very kind and good-natured.
"What shall I call thy name?" asked the old gentleman.
"Emma, if you please," was the reply.
"Well, then, Emma," he continued, "thee is welcome to our table; take thy chair along, and eat dinner with us."
Emma felt but little appetite for a farmer's dinner; but she saw that the family would feel more comfortable if she was at the table with them, and prompted, not by appetite, but by true courtesy, she did as she was desired. The farmer folded his hands, and the whole family sat for a moment in rigid silence. Emma was not accustomed to any form of thanksgiving before meat; but she understood this silent expression, and sympathized therein.
"Thee looks delicate," said the old man; "what shall I give thee to eat, Emma?"
"Anything, sir," answered Emma, with habitual politeness, though she did feel a preference for the milk which came up to the very rim of a large pitcher upon a corner of the table.
Margaret began to apologize for the coarseness of their meal: but her father interposed, saying, "It is good enough for well people, and as good as we generally have; but if thee has anything a little nice for a poor appetite, bring it to thy friend."
"Now," thought Emma, "Christian politeness bids me put them at ease in this respect." So she said frankly, "I would rather have a glass of your nice milk than anything else."
"Thy wants are easily supplied then," replied the good man, as he filled her tumbler, and laid a slice of bread upon her plate.
Again Emma thought of the "sincere milk of the word," and looking at the plain old farmer, she wondered if he had not grown to the stature of a Christian, by means of this simple charity.
"Has thee been long out of health?" asked the farmer.
Emma was not startled by this question, though her mother and sister, had they been present, would have considered it a rudeness.
"I was very healthy when a little child," replied Emma. "This feebleness came on me by degrees,—I can scarcely tell when it commenced."
"Very likely," replied the farmer. "I lost two sisters by consumption; they appeared much as thee does."
"Father!" exclaimed Margaret; and the old gentleman recollected himself. "I don't conclude from this," said he, "that thy case is one of consumption:" and he looked kindly into Emma's face, as though desiring to be both considerate and sincere.
"It would not alarm me to hear you call it by that name," replied Emma. "I am in the habit of regarding death as at the door; and wish so to do, because I am thus constantly reminded that what my hands find to do must he done with my might."
"I am glad to hear such a testimony from thee," said the old man, earnestly. "It is a pity that any of us should forget the work to be done in this world, and the shortness of time."
The dinner was now over, and Emma, greatly refreshed, shook hands with the farmer and his family, promising to call again; and then took the short way of the main road to her own home. The old man looked after her, as her white dress glanced through the green trees by the roadside, until she descended the hill, and was out of sight.
"What does thee think of that child, Sarah?" he asked, turning to his wife.
"Well, Enoch," was the reply; "I think that she is ripening for glory."
The good woman was not of the same religious persuasion with her husband; but this small matter never interrupted the most cordial interchange of religious sympathy between them; and now his eyes filled with tears, and he felt as he had often done before, that "the Spirit" moved Sarah to give this testimony.
"Margaret," said he, turning to his daughter, "thee can learn a great deal from that child, though she is much younger than thyself."
Margaret felt the slight pettishness which always attended a reference to her age, and was about to ask her father how he knew her to be much older than Emma Lindsay; but a more rational feeling had been roused in her heart, and for once it predominated over this folly.
Margaret was not like her sister in the matter of romance and abstraction from every-day scenes and pursuits, though she loved to regard Susan as something wonderful, and show off her literary productions. Margaret's foible, on the contrary, was too great a love for the present world. Unfortunately, she had fixed her heart upon what is too evanescent for the love of an immortal. Youth, beauty, and the graces of fashion were the shadows at whose shrine she worshiped, though the substance was gone. Thus precious time was spent in seeking to repair its own breaches, and she saw not that they widened day by day—saw not how the cunning device by which she sought to hide the footprint of years, only left that foot-print more visible. God had given both Margaret and Susan better food for the immortal mind, but they, like many others, chose to feed upon the wind. No wonder that they were ever unsatisfied. The plain people of that region, who boasted of nothing superior to common sense, regarded the Sliver girls as curiosities. Some called them soft, and thought there was a lack of head wisdom; many laughed about them; but no one, save Fanny Brighton, laughed at them. Their parents were highly esteemed; and it may be a matter of wonder how they came to be what they were. The cast of human character is usually taken in childhood—an important fact to those charged with so responsible a trust; and it was during Margaret and Susan's childhood, that a vain and sentimental lady sojourned for two summers at their father's house. The unsuspecting farmer and his wife never thought of examining the stock of books with which she loaded the old case in the "fore-room." Having no time for reading except Sundays, uncle Enoch never expected to get through "Barclay's Apology," without neglecting his Bible, and this he had no intention of doing. It was not, therefore, to be expected, that he would spend time to read even the titles of Mrs. Coolbroth's books. But Margaret and Susan, bright, sensible children then, were beginning to feel the thirst often felt in childhood—the restless craving of the spirit for something new: no wonder, then, that they seized the fruit so "pleasant to the eye," and as it seemed to them "desirable to make one wise." Thus the poor girls were lured from the plain homely path, which, plain and homely as it is, always proves at last the way of pleasantness and the path of peace. They knew that people called them odd, and in this they gloried. Fanny Brighton they regarded as a rude girl, who, though she vexed them, never put them out of humor with themselves. But now, strange as it may appear, the quiet Christian words and manner of Emma Lindsay had done this, and they could not tell why. Those words and that manner, so courteous and kind, were not calculated to wound, yet they felt wounded. Emma had not done it—it was the truth dwelling in her heart, and showing itself in its most appropriate dress, which is Christian courtesy of manner.
Margaret sat down that afternoon, with a desire to redeem some of the time which, when she thought of Emma, seemed indeed to be passing away; and Susan, when she meditated on what Emma had said of Him who never scorned the humble paths of usefulness, and through his life-long went about doing good, felt that it was time to examine the spirit that would worship, without bearing the Saviour's cross.
THE POOR WOMAN OF THE PLAIN—THE NOTE—MOURNFUL MUSINGS—THE CUP OF TEA—THE STRUGGLE—CHARITY AND SELF—EMMA'S HISTORY.
Seated upon her low door-stone was Mrs. Graffam, the poor woman of the plain. It was almost night; the sun had gone down, leaving a long red line upon the western horizon, which cast a lurid ray upon the gathering twilight. The poor children of that log-house were fast asleep: for all that day they had been out upon the plain, where the sun, from a cloudless sky, glared down upon them; and now the evening shade was beautiful, and so soothing too, that neither the hard pallet of straw, nor the hungry musquitoes could drive sleep from eyes so weary. The sick babe was asleep too: all day it had moaned in its comfortless little cradle, for the mother had work to do—hard work, and abundant—for a family so large and poor. Heavily sat poor Mrs. Graffam upon the door-stone, waiting, she could not tell for what. Many years before she had waited at twilight for her husband's return, and listened, as the wind rustled the leaves, because she loved to go out and meet him as he neared their home. But those years were gone, and with them the lovelight and beauty of both heart and home. The contrast between that barren, desolate plain and her former home, was not greater than the contrast between the glad heart of other years, and the one sinking despairingly as she sat upon the door-stone that night.
At last she heard a heavy step along the path leading from the narrow road to that lone hut; but the sound of that step only deepened the shadow that gloomed around her. She sat motionless; and there was something in her manner like the resignation of a stricken, but trusting heart: but it was not that; it was only the sullen gloom of despair. Nearer and nearer drew the footstep, and she rose from her seat, that her poor besotted husband might pass to his bed of straw; but he did not pass in,—he only looked at her for a moment, and then averted his eye, for very shame because she had perceived that he was not drunk. The bag which he had carried week after week to the mills and brought home every night empty, because he deemed rum more necessary for himself than food for his family, was now filled with flour; but he said nothing, and she too was silent, as she followed him into the hut, and took the large basket which he offered her. Opening this basket, she found a note, and returning to the door, read as follows:—
"MRS. GRAFFAM:—Dear Madam,—I was not able to come and fetch our good Dora to see you to-day; but your husband has kindly promised to call this evening, and take the little matters which I have put up for the dear sick baby; and to-morrow, if it please God, we will see you at your own house.
"Your friend, EMMA LINDSAY."
Graffam looked at his wife as she came in with the note, and, notwithstanding she had lately spoken very harsh words to him, he pitied her, and somehow felt as though she was not greatly to blame for calling him an "unfeeling brute." On the other hand, as Mrs. Graffam took the things from the basket, she glanced toward her husband, and thought to herself, "He is sober to-night, and it is all owing to the kind politeness of that dear girl. His self-respect is not entirely gone, for he would not appear drunk before Emma. If I could command patience to treat him with civility, there might be some hope in that;" so turning toward him she asked, "Have you taken supper, Mr. Graffam?"
The poor man hesitated. He was really hungry; for that which had proved to him both victuals and drink, was now wanting; but he feared to speak of his hunger, lest his wife should say, "The children have no rum to drink, and it takes all the food I can supply, to keep them from starving."
"Here is a nice loaf of bread," continued Mrs. Graffam, cheerfully, as she took the things from the basket, "and a paper of tea; Miss Emma could not have intended these for poor little Sammy: so, if you please, Mr. Graffam, just light a fire under the kettle, and I will make you a cup of tea."
"And a cup for yourself," said Graffam, as he lighted the dry sticks in the large stone chimney, and then peered into the corners of the room in search of his children.
"They are all asleep," said his wife; and the poor man turned quickly toward the fire again, for he feared that she would add, "The poor creatures have been out upon the plains all day: Heaven knows what we shall do when the berries are gone." But Mrs. Graffam said nothing more. She set out the pine table, and going to an old chest brought a white cloth; it was of bird's-eye diaper. Graffam remembered well who wove it; and a pleasant vision came along with that white table-cloth. He saw his mother, as in olden times, weaving; while he stood by her side, wondering at the skill with which she sent the shuttle through its wiry arch, and noticing how the little matter of adding thread to thread filled the "cloth beam" little by little, until the long "web" was done. "Such is life," thought Graffam; "the little by little of human action goes to fill up the warp of time, and decides the worth of what we manufacture for eternity." Then he looked sadly over his own work, and could but say to himself, "It is all loose ends, loose ends. What a web for eternity!"
"Supper is ready," said Mrs. Graffam, and the poor man turned toward the table. The white loaf was there, and a basin of the berries his little ones had picked from the plain. In a solitary cup (for it was the only one saved from their wreck of crockery) Graffam saw his tea, and offered to exchange with his wife for the broken mug, into which was poured a scanty portion for herself.
"No, thank you," said she, "this is very well;" and they were seated at the table.
It was upon the whole a cheerful meal. It seemed as though each one had been a long journey, and had just returned; they were pleased with each other, and talked of old acquaintances, and other days, themes upon which they had held no converse for a long, long time past.
As their supper was finished, the little one in the cradle moaned again, and Mrs. Graffam brought from the basket a long flannel dress, and put it upon "wee bit," gently rubbing its blue limbs; then, with something of the freedom and confidence of other days, she laid poor baby upon its father's knee, and going again to the friendly basket, brought thence a bottle, from which she dropped a little fine-flavored cordial into warm water. The babe opened its large eyes upon its mother, as though wondering what it could be that was so good upon its poor little tongue and lip; then rubbing its tiny hands up and down the flannel dress, it looked smilingly into the father's face, and uttered an expressive "goo!" The parent was not quite dead in that father's heart, though long buried beneath the waves of selfish indulgence. He looked upon that poor little creature, and wondered that he could ever forget one so suffering and dependent. "The baby feels better," said Graffam to his wife; and he thought to himself, "I too should feel better, could I break my chains and be a man."
Through most of that night Graffam thought the same thing, and wondered if it could be done. "I have dug my own grave," thought he, "and officious hands have helped me in; they have cast over me the dirt of scorn and ridicule, until I am well-nigh buried alive. O, if there was left in others one particle of respect, I might come forth from this grave! I know that I might, from the little of kindness and civility shown me this day. I was once respected, and so was my wife; but I have dragged her down, down with me. It is a shame, for she is worthy a better fate." Thus thought poor Graffam through many hours of that night, and in the morning he turned from his hut again, with but little hope of seeing it as he did then, with open eyes, from which his soul looked forth; thinking, hoping, fearing, yet ready to struggle once more for life.
It was a beautiful morning, and Emma sat beside the open window, less languid than she had been the day before. Dora was putting things in order, when Emma asked this question:—"Through what medium do we see people, Dora, when we discover nothing but their faults?"
"Through the medium of self," was the ready reply. "If there is anything offensive in a person, self is nettled on its own account, and in its excitement sees nothing but the offense."
"How would charity act toward a person whose manners are extremely rude?" asked Emma.
"Charity is always giving," replied Dora, "while it exacts nothing. It is never jealous of its own dignity. It never behaveth itself unseemly; but beareth, hopeth, and endureth all things, even from those who know nothing of its own sweet expression—courtesy."
"I must see Fanny Brighton again," thought Emma, "and ask Charity to lend me her eyes, that I may see if there is nothing good in her; or if I can manage to put out the eyes of self, by seeing nothing through this medium, perhaps charity will become eyes to the blind."
It was by the blessing of God upon the humble efforts of that pious old lady called Dora, that Emma had become what she was. Mrs. Lindsay was a worldly woman, and the time had been when she had no higher hopes for her children than to see them richly gifted with worldly accomplishments. Her two eldest daughters, Helen and Amanda, had been models in this respect; and for a season the mother rejoiced in this pride of her eyes. But there is a strange intruder often found where he is least desired, and never retiring simply because his presence is deprecated—that is death. Who has not entertained this uninvited guest?
When Helen and Amanda began to droop, as Emma now did, Dora was the oldest servant in Mrs. Lindsay's family, and highly esteemed, both on account of her fidelity and her pleasing manners. "There is something peculiar about Dora," Mrs. Lindsay would say, "she is never untruthful and never impolite; two ideas which, in the eyes of fashionable etiquette, seem antagonistic. It was not, however, until her daughters began to show symptoms of decline, that Mrs. Lindsay understood this peculiarity in Dora.
"You must turn that religious woman out of your house," said the physician, "or I cannot save your daughters." And Dora was severely reprimanded by her mistress for the extreme discourtesy of offering to read to the young ladies from the Bible.
"What can she think?" asked Helen, with concern. "The doctor says that I shall be well in a few days; but Dora looks serious, and offers to read to me from the Bible. You will not have me deceived, mamma?"
"No, love," said her mother, trying to persuade her own heart that there was no cause for alarm. "Dora is religious, and such people always have fits of being disobliging."
"She is extremely kind to me in everything else," said the poor girl; "it is only in this thing that she makes me unhappy."
"She shall make you unhappy no more; I will forbid her to approach your room." And so she did. Dora was accused of impertinence, and felt most keenly that truth and the world's etiquette were at war.
Days passed on, and there were serious faces, more than one, in that house where it was impertinent to speak of death and eternity. It is true, that for a time gay visitors were admitted to Helen's chamber, and there was hollow laughter there, as they talked of balls, parties, and new fashions, and told the poor girl that she was looking better every day: but Dora saw them whisper, and shake their heads to each other as they passed out; and she saw that every day the mother grew more fearful as it regarded the daughter, and kinder toward herself.
At last she was told that Helen wanted her; but she was charged to be careful, as the poor girl was extremely weak.
"Dora, Dora," said Helen, "you will tell me the truth. Mother said that I should not be deceived; but I have been, O, I have been cruelly deceived."
Dora talked soothingly of Him who is the resurrection and the life: but the poor girl had opened her eyes all too suddenly upon the startling picture of death; and now shrinking from his cold embrace, she could not hear of hope and comfort. Her dying words were to the mother fraught with keenest anguish, for she spoke of this cruel deceit unto the last. Amanda soon followed her young sister to the tomb; but the mother was spared the self-accusation and bitter sorrow attendant upon Helen's death. Early in her sickness Amanda was consigned to the care of Dora. It was in vain that the physician expostulated; Mrs. Lindsay feared nothing so much as again to hear words of reproof from a dying child for having deceived her. Dora kept her post with Christian fidelity, and Amanda entered the dark valley and shadow of death fearing no evil.
Emma was at that time five years of age, and Martha ten. "My dear madam," said Dora, "fashion has robbed you of a great treasure. Your daughters, predisposed to consumption, cannot safely obey its whimsical demands."
"Nonsense, Dora!" replied Mrs. Lindsay. But when alone, she thought seriously upon what the good woman had said. Memory brought before her mind pictures from which she could not turn. The thin-soled shoes, and silken hose, in which fashion had required her delicate daughters to promenade the damp walks of the city; the flimsy ball-dress, the prolonged dance, and joined with these, the sudden exposure to a wintry air, were shades upon the bright picture of pleasures past,—dark shades indeed, but awfully true.
"Perhaps Martha and Emma may be spared to me," said the mother to her fashionable friends; "but how can I think of the conditions!" and her friends talked over the matter among themselves, and concluded that, after all, a person's life was of but little value, if they must live secluded from the world; and they gave Mrs. Lindsay a remote hint, that it was best to let her daughters live while they lived.
Mrs. Lindsay, however, had more than once stood upon the threshold of another life, having followed a husband and two daughters to the silent tomb: and in her secret heart she suspected the small value of what she had purchased at so great a cost. It seemed hard indeed to deprive her beautiful children of a fashionable education, and the struggle was very severe; but the mother triumphed over worldly vanity, and Monsieur de la Beaumont was told that his services in the family as dancing-master were no longer desired.
"One strange ting!" said monsieur; and the world at large thought the same.
Mrs. Lindsay considered herself as having made a great sacrifice to affection, and sometimes feared that she might live to see the day when she should wish her little novices out of sight, somewhere. One thing she determined on, however; and that was to take as much of the world as she could get herself, and thus solace herself for what she was to lose in her daughters. It cannot be supposed, that with this resolution the mother would reserve time for the care and culture of these little ones, who were given over to Dora with but one hope—the forlorn one—that she would save them alive. This the old lady could not promise to do; for she understood that having the sentence of death in ourselves, we are not to trust human means and precautions, but only Him who raiseth the dead. She, however, cheerfully undertook the precious charge committed to her trust; glad from her heart that the poor lambs had been saved from the slaughter, and praying most earnestly that they might be claimed by the Great Shepherd, and gathered to his fold.
Martha was a very quiet, thoughtful child, with speech and manner much beyond her years; she was not, therefore, strictly confined to the nursery, but allowed to mingle freely with her mother's guests. Emma, on the contrary, was much younger, and full of wayward humors. She greatly needed a mother; but the sacred writer has declared, "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth." How many little hearts have proved the bitterness of that truth! God in mercy saved little Emma from this sad experience, by raising up for her infancy and childhood such a friend as was the pious, faithful Dora.
"It is a promising bud," thought the good woman, "but it may wither even without the blight of fashion; so I will try to secure for it an immortal bloom."
Thus in the morning Dora sowed her seed, the "good seed" for an immortal harvest; and soon the tender blade began to appear—a most ungainly thing in the eyes of her mother; for the first fruit of Dora's good seed, as shown by little Emma, was a great love of truth—a love which as yet she knew not how to regulate or apply. She was a beautiful child; and for a time her mother's vanity was gratified by having her brought from the nursery to her drawing-rooms, to be caressed, admired, and praised for her smart speeches; but after a time her truth-telling propensity became too evident. The polite occupants of the drawing-room began to whisper among themselves that Miss Emma was a spoiled child, and had better be kept in the nursery.
Mrs. Lindsay was soon of the same opinion; for scarcely a day passed when Emma's truthfulness did not prove a nettle to her own vanity.
"The child is rude," she would say to Dora,—"insufferably so. She told Madame A. that she looked like an apple-tree; which might have been taken for a compliment, had not the saucy little sprite explained herself by pointing to that old tree in the garden which the flowering shrubbery has decked with every variety of blossom: Mrs. A. is extremely fond of fancy colors. And when I took her to Bowker's the other day, that sick Miss Ellenwood was examining his new French goods, and called my attention to a splendid piece of muslin, and asked if it was not of beautiful texture. 'Dear Miss Ellen-wood,' interposed Emma; 'you will not want a figured muslin for a coffin dress.' Think of that, Dora."
"Well, my dear madam," replied Dora; "the child heard some of your friends say that this vain sick girl, who is spending all her slender income in dress, would want money soon to pay for a shroud."
"Certainly, Dora, that has frequently been said; but the child should know better than give such a hint to the young lady herself! Several ladies were in the store, and I felt extremely mortified and shocked."
Such complaints were frequent; and at last the good Dora answered all, by begging the mother to have patience both with herself and with the child. "This truthfulness," said she, "is of excellent quality, but it is now rough from the quarry. By-and-by charity will make its rough places smooth; for love not only refines and purifies, but it polishes the hewn stone after the similitude of a palace."
Mrs. Lindsay did not understand these words, and derived but little comfort therefrom. She could not see how Emma's bluntness was to be refined, save by putting her into fashion's crucible; and this she more than once resolved to do, at any risk. With this resolution, however, there always came a fearfulness, which seemed a warning voice from the tomb, bidding her "beware;" and to this voice of warning she took reluctant heed.
Pursuing a quiet course of study under private tutors, Emma was still left morally and physically to the care of her pious friend. Dora planted in hope, and now the precious shoot was caused to spring forth by Him who giveth the increase. This precious shoot of moral strength, ungainly, and without form or comeliness to the world, she watered, tended, and watched, with earnest faith for the Husbandman, whose pruning knife should convert it into a goodly tree. Emma sometimes came to her friend with puzzling questions; among those most frequently asked were the following:—
"How mamma could be 'not at home,' when she was in her chamber?"
"How she could be extremely glad to see people who, she said, were 'bores, and not to be endured?'"
"Why it was more impolite to tell people what was foolish in their appearance, than to laugh about this appearance in their absence?"
It was difficult to answer these questions, without casting a shade over those whom Dora wished the child to love and respect. Sometimes she told the little girl that it would often hurt people's feelings and make them very miserable, to know just what others thought of them. And yet the child would reply: "You say that if we would listen to God's little voice in our hearts, it would tell us all that is wrong. Why does he want to hurt folks' feelings? You had me read in the Bible about the truth, how, if we come to love it, it would make us free; but mamma says it is often impolite to speak the truth."
Dora felt, as many under similar circumstances have felt, the earnest question pressing upon her heart: "Who is sufficient for these things?" and with greater trembling was it asked, as Emma grew in stature and increased in knowledge; for she saw that with the good seeds thorns had sprung up. Emma began to pride herself upon independent thought and action, and to show symptoms of haughty disdain toward those who stooped to the deceit of fashionable etiquette. Dora was often pained to hear her speak of things done and said, not for truth's sake, but because it plagued others. It was evident that she was beginning to exult in the embarrassment which she often occasioned, but saw not the wicked self hiding beneath her garb of truth. Dora tried hard to point out this inward foe, but, with the blindness of a natural heart, Emma, having eyes, saw not; and the good woman knew well, that the child could not see, unless He that openeth the eyes of the blind should say unto her, "Receive thy sight." She told her of that charity which hopeth, believeth, and endureth all things; which, giving no place to falsehood, still never behaveth itself unseemly. She warned Emma of the heart's Ishmaelite—that truth which, incased in the armor of human pride, ever turns its hand against its fellow: but Emma did not fear this "strong man armed;" so she was led captive by him at his will.
Thus she was growing up like a beautiful flower thickly set with thorns. There were, however, some among her mother's fashionable friends who professed themselves charmed with her wit and originality.
Martha had passed the age at which her young sisters began to decline, and gave evidence of established health. She was now allowed to attend evening parties, and was found very tolerably, though not what the world calls "highly accomplished." There were those, however, who thought that Martha's solid education, good judgment, good sense, and good taste, were accomplishments enough. Mrs. Lindsay could not help feeling very well satisfied with her discreet, amiable daughter, though she was not eligible to a place in the ball-room, having never learned to dance.
But it was not until people began to call Emma a comical little beauty, and beg her mother to fetch her to their select evening parties, that Mrs. Lindsay ceased to feel chagrined at the sacrifice made to affection. Emma was not long in learning by what pretty names she was called; and with this knowledge came the strong desire to sustain a reputation for wit and beauty. Dora saw the canker-worm at the root of that precious plant for whose perfection she had waited with long patience.
Emma sometimes came home and repeated her triumphs and comicalities to this faithful friend, but receiving no answering smile, but, on the contrary, a solemn word of reproof or warning, she would often burst into a flood of peevish tears, saying that Dora was getting cross, and did not love her as formerly. In this the good woman saw signs less fearful than those of moral disease, but no less true; saw that this exposure and excitement were rapidly wearing away the frail foundations of health; and all that she feared was frankly expressed to the mother: but Mrs. Lindsay having once more allowed the film of vanity to blind the maternal eye, saw not the danger. The question, however, came to a speedy issue; for, attending a party one evening where the rooms were newly papered, and where, notwithstanding she felt chilly, her mother would not allow of her being wrapped in a shawl, Emma took a violent cold, which was immediately followed by a cough, and many other symptoms of rapid decline. Greatly alarmed, Mrs. Lindsay consulted her former physicians, and was again flattered with the hope that change of air, change of scene, and other changes, would speedily produce a change of health.
Emma knew the history of her family, and understood well why she was hurried from land to sea, and from thence to other places remote from her home. Dora was not allowed to accompany her, because the physician said that her "long face" would be an incalculable injury; but that face, always beaming with the soul's deep interest and affection, was ever present to the sick girl. Through many a night-watch of suffering and feverish anxiety, those loving, earnest eyes seemed looking into her own; and Emma would say to her sister Martha, "Dear Dora! how I long to see her! she loves me, and prays for me; it seems to me that with Dora near I should not be afraid to die."
Thus Emma talked; and the sensible, affectionate Martha saw that change of air and change of scene could not benefit her young sister, while her mind was so fevered and tossed; she therefore entreated her mother to return home, and after a time succeeded in making her understand this to be the best course.
"O my dear Dora," said the poor weary child, as she found herself once more in her own room at home, with the good woman at her side, "I am so glad—so glad to see you. And now I want you to stay with me, and talk as you used to when I was a little child. O, it makes me miserable to think how my heart wandered away from you, and from the Saviour, Dora; for I used to feel when a little girl that he loved me."
"And he loves you still, dearest," replied the old lady, her heart swelling with gratitude to God. "He loves you, Emma, and will receive you freely, dear, without one word of reproach, if you will only come back."
"I think so," said Emma, while the tears ran freely down her pale cheeks. "I did not spend those long dreadful nights, Dora, without thinking of him; and though ashamed of myself, I ventured to ask him, over and over again, to pity my wretchedness, and love me still. One night—it was not long ago—he seemed to come to me, and say the very same things which you have just said,—that he would not cast me off; that he loved me, even then."
What a moment of joy to the faithful Christian, who had sowed in hope, but whose faith had been so severely tried.
The tranquillity of mind which followed Emma's return home, operated favorably upon her health, and in a few weeks she was able to mingle with the family as formerly. Her mother did not propose her going abroad for company; but Emma seemed to take pleasure in being one of their small parties at home. Very different, however, was this pleasure from that which she had formerly sought and experienced.
"What a change in Emma Lindsay!" was an exclamation frequent among her mother's friends. "Her pertness, repartee, and saucy witticisms are all gone. What have they been doing for her? This winning softness and grace of manner seems foreign to her nature."
"I never thought," said another, "that I should come to love Emma Lindsay; but I do, and cannot help it—she is so lovely, so polite, and yet so sincere." A mystery, indeed, to the worldly wise, how politeness and sincerity could be made to embrace each other.
The solemn subjects of death and eternity were matters of frequent and free conversation between Emma and her pious friend; and now, though there seemed some respite from the speedy execution of the sentence, "Thou shalt die, and not live," neither thought of the matter in any other light than that of a little time given for work important to be done. Happy for Emma that she took this view of the subject, since it saved her from that remissness too common among the followers of Christ.
"The Lord seems to have need of me," Emma would say to the good Dora; while she would answer, "Yes, dear, but be ready for him at his coming; be sure that you are able to say, 'I have finished the work thou gavest me to do.'"
Notwithstanding these favorable indications, as it regarded the health of her daughter, Mrs. Lindsay was sometimes roused from her security by symptoms less favorable, and at last resolved to follow the advice of Emma's physician, and take up a permanent residence in the country.
Hence their removal to Appledale.
THE LITTLE TIME—HOW IMPROVED—FITNESS FOR REFINED SOCIETY—MORNING REFLECTIONS—RUTH AND BOAZ—CHARITY AND COURTESY—THE VISIT.
The little time allotted Emma seemed important, not only as it regarded her duty to others, but also in respect to herself. She desired a complete fitness for the refined society which she was about to enter. She wished, above all things, to become meet for an inheritance with the saints in light; and for this fitness she strove, using with diligence every means relative to this end which God had placed within her reach; and, as a valuable means, she availed herself of the spiritual perception and Christian fidelity of good Dora, who was always ready to aid her.