THE OLD CASTLE
LONDON: THOMAS NELSON AND SONS.
EDINBURGH; AND NEW YORK.
* * * * *
THE OLD CASTLE,
GEORGE AND ALICK,
THE SIXPENNY CALICO,
A WESTMORELAND STORY,
* * * * *
THE OLD CASTLE.
How pleasant the parlour looked on the evening of "Flaxy's" birthday. To be sure it was November, and the wind was setting the poor dying leaves in a miserable shiver with some dreadful story of an iceberg he had just been visiting. But what cared Dicky and Prue, or Dudley and Flaxy, or all the rest sitting cosily around that charming fire, which glowed as if some kind fairy had filled up the little black grate with carbuncles and rubies? Over the mantle-piece were branches of pretty white sperm candles, whose light fell softly on the heavy red curtains and the roses in the carpet, and danced in the eyes of the happy children.
They, the children, had been having a "splendid time." They had played games, and put together dissected maps, and tried puzzles, and read in Flaxy's wonderful books; and since tea they had had a grand romp at "fox and geese," even such big boys as Bernard and Dudley joining in; and now they were resting with pretty red cheeks and parted mouths.
"Well, what shall we do now?" cried little Prue, who could not bear that a minute of the precious time should be wasted in mere sitting still.
"Why, isn't it a good time for some one else to tell his story?" asked Flaxy.
"Just the thing," was the unanimous response. "Another story! a story!" and then a voice cried, "And let Dudley Wylde tell it."
"Well," said Dudley, slowly, "if I must tell a true story about myself, I'm afraid it won't be much to my credit, but as Flaxy wasn't a coward about it, I'll try to be as brave as a girl. Shall I tell you something that happened to Bernard and me when we lived over in England?"
"Oh, please don't tell that story, Dud," pleaded Bernard with reddening cheeks, but all the rest cried, "Oh, yes, go on, go on," and Dudley began.
"You all know that Bernard and I were both left orphans when we were almost little babies, and Uncle Wylde sent for us to come and live with him—me first, and Bernard about a year afterwards. I was only six years old when Bernard came, but I remember I was very angry about it. Old Joe, the coachman, and I, had had a quarrel that morning, and he told me uncle 'would never care for me any more after Cousin Bernard came, for he was a much finer boy than I, and looked like a young English lord, with his blue eyes and white skin, but I was a little, dark, ill-tempered foreigner (my mother was Italian, you know), and he wondered how uncle could like me at all.'"
"But uncle did love you dearly, you know," broke in Bernard.
"A great deal better than I deserved, that's certain," said Dudley, "but I almost worshipped him, and I couldn't bear the thoughts of his loving any one better than me. So all the day that Bernard was expected I stood sulkily by the window, and would not play, nor eat, nor even speak when Uncle Wylde came and took me in his lap.
"'Poor child,' said uncle, at last, 'he needs some one of his own age to play with. I hope the little cousins will be fine company for each other.'
"Just then the carriage drove up, and uncle ran out and took such a lovely little boy in his arms; but when I heard him say, almost with a sob, 'Darling child, you are just the image of your dear, dear mother,' then I thought, 'There, it is all true what Joe said, uncle loves him the best already;' and I bit my fingers so that when uncle bade me hold out my hand to my cousin, he was frightened to see it covered with blood, and drew back with a shiver; and then I grew angry about that, too, and called him 'proud,' and went and hid away every plaything I could find.
"Well, I won't have time to tell you every little thing, only that as Bernard and I grew up together, I did not love him any better. He was almost always kind and good."
"Now Dud, you must not say so," said Bernard, blushing. "I did everything to tease you."
"You must not interrupt," cried Dudley. "This is my story, remember. You never teased me much, but the great thing I couldn't forgive you was that uncle loved you best."
"No, I'm sure he didn't," cried Bernard.
"No more interruptions," said all the children, and Dudley went on.
"Well, you see I was very suspicious and miserable, and I always thought Bernard wanted to make fun of me. When he first began to call me 'Dud,' for short, I thought he meant that I was like the old rags that Joe used to clean the carriages with, for he always used to call them 'old duds.' And then sometimes when I came in from riding on Lightfoot's bare back, with my hair blown every sort of a way, if he said, 'Shall we have our lessons now, uncle? here comes Wylde,' I always thought he was trying to make uncle think I was wild like those horrid Indians we used to read about, while he, Bernard, was always neat and smooth like a little gentleman. So you see there was nothing that Bernard could do or say, that I did not twist around to make myself miserable.
"One day, when I had been playing with my dog Sambo half the morning, and riding Lightfoot the rest of the time, I was called on to recite Latin to uncle, and didn't know one word. But Bernard recited like a book, and when it was over, uncle did not scold me, he never did, but just gave Bernard the pretty picture I had long been wanting, of the boy climbing up over crag and ice, shouting 'Excelsior.'
"That very afternoon we had planned to take a walk together to an old ruined castle, but I was so cross and sullen I wonder Bernard did not slip away and go alone. I can't begin to tell you how envious and unhappy I felt, and I quarrelled so with him about every little thing, that at last he scarcely opened his mouth."
"I don't believe this story is true," said Flaxy indignantly. "I'm sure the Dudley Wylde we know was never so bad and quarrelsome."
Dudley smiled, while Bettine whispered softly, "But he's different now, Flaxy. Do you know his uncle says he is trying to be a Christian?"
Flaxy looked up with a bright tear of sympathy, as Dudley continued.
"At last we reached the castle, where we had often been before, and for a while I was more good-natured, for there was nothing I liked better than climbing up and down the broken stairway, which wound round and round like a great screw, or looking into every queer little room hid away in the thick walls, or climbing to the turrets to wave my handkerchief like the flag of a conquering hero.
"But this afternoon there was something new to see. In the great hall just under the stairs, the floor had lately caved away, and you could see down into a deep vault. Bernard and I lay down with our faces just over the edge, and tried to see the bottom, but it was dark as pitch, and we couldn't make out anything.
"'I shouldn't wonder if they buried dead people there, a great while ago,' said Bernard, with a little shiver; and when we both got up, feeling very sober, he said, just to raise our spirits,—
"'Let's have a race up the steps, and see which will get to the roof first.'
"Off we started. I could generally climb like a wild cat, but in some way I stumbled and hurt my knee, and Bernard gained very fast. I felt my quick temper rising again. 'Shall he beat me in everything?' I said to myself, and with a great spring I caught up to him, and seized his jacket. Then began a struggle. Bernard cried 'Fair play,' and tried to throw me off; but I was very angry, and strong as a young tiger, and all of a sudden—for I didn't know what I was about—I just flung him with all my might right over the edge, where the railing was half broken down!"
"Oh dear! oh dear!" cried little Prue, bursting into tears, "did it kill him?"
A merry laugh from Bernard, followed by a hearty chorus from the rest, restored bewildered little Prue to her senses. But Dudley went on very soberly.
"Bernard screamed as he went over, and with that scream all my anger died in a minute, and I sat down on the stairs, shaking from head to foot. Then I listened, but I didn't hear a sound. I don't know how long I sat there, but at last I got up very slowly, and began to come down just like an old man. It was so dreadfully still in the old castle, that I felt in a queer way, as if I must be very careful, too, and I stepped on my tip-toes, and held my breath. When I got to the foot, I felt as if a big hand held my heart tight, and when I tried to walk towards the spot where I thought Bernard must have fallen, I could not move a step. But after a great while—it seemed like a year—I managed to drag myself to the place, and, do you know, no one was there!"
"Why, where could he be?" cried the astonished children.
"Well, I thought he might have fallen, and rolled off under the stairs into that dreadful vault."
"Oh, don't have him get in there, please," cried tender little Prue.
"Then," said Dudley slowly, "I leaned over the vault, and called his name, 'Bernard! Bernard!' and then I jumped back, and almost screamed, for I thought some other boy had spoken. I did not know my own voice; it sounded so strange and solemn. But no one answered, and I dragged myself away, feeling as if that awful hand grew tighter on my heart, and thinking, as I went out of the door, how two of us went in, and why I was coming out alone. Then I sat down on the grass, and though it was warm summer weather, I shivered from head to foot, and I remember thinking to myself, 'This queer boy sitting here isn't Dudley Wylde—this boy couldn't get angry, he's as cold as an icicle—and Dudley Wylde's heart used to beat, beat, oh! so lively and quick, but this boy's heart is under a great weight, and will never stir again—this boy will never run again, nor laugh, nor care for anything—this boy isn't, he can't be Dudley Wylde;' and I felt so sorry for him I almost cried. Then, all of a sudden, I remember, I began to work very hard. I picked up stones out of the path, and carried them a great way off, and worked till I was just ready to drop. Then I took some flowers, and picked them all to pieces—so curious to see how they were put together, and I worked at that till I was nearly wild with headache. Then I sat very still, and wondered if that boy who wasn't, couldn't be, Dudley Wylde—was ever going home; and then I thought that perhaps if he sat there a little while longer he would die, and that was the best thing that could happen to him, for then he would never hear any one say—'Where is Bernard?' So I sat there in this queer way, waiting for the boy to die, when I heard a noise, and, looking up, saw—"
"Oh, what?" cried little Prue, clasping her hands, "a griffin, with claws?"
But Dudley could not speak, and Bernard went on. "It's too bad for 'Dud' to tell that story, when he makes himself so much worse than he really was. I was as much to blame as he in that quarrel, and I ought to have had my share of the misery. You see, when he threw me over, my tippet caught on the rough edge of the railing, and held me just a minute, but that minute saved me, for in some way, I hardly know how, I swung in and dropped safely on the steps just under 'Dud.' Then I hurried into one of those queer little places in the wall, and hid, for I was angry, and meant to give him a good fright; and as I happened to have a little book in my pocket, I began to read, and got so interested that I forgot everything till it began to grow dark. Then I hurried down, wondering that everything was so still. But when I saw 'Dud,'" said he, turning with an affectionate glance to his cousin, "I was frightened, for he was so changed I hardly knew him, and I was afraid he was dying. So I ran to him, and took him right in my arms, and called him every dear name I could think of; but he only stared at me, with the biggest, wildest eyes, you ever saw. 'Dud,' said I, 'dear fellow, what is the matter, don't you know me?' Then all of a sudden he burst out crying. O girls! you never cried like that, and I hope you never will,—great big sobs, and I helped him. Then he flung his arms tight around my neck, and kissed me for the first time in his life—kissed me over and over, my cheeks and my hair and my hands, and then he laughed, and right in the midst cried as if his heart would break, and I began to understand that poor 'Dud' thought he had killed me. No one knows how long we laughed and cried, and kissed each other, but when we grew a little calmer we went back into the old castle, and on the very steps where we had our quarrel, we knelt down, holding each other's hands, and promised always to love each other, and try to keep down our wicked tempers."
"And we asked some one to help us to keep the resolution," said Dudley, gently.
"Well, how is it!" said little Prue with a bewildered air; "was it you and 'Dud' that went and knelt on the steps to pray?"
"Yes, 'Dud' and I."
"Well then, what became of that other wicked boy that wasn't Dudley Wylde at all?"
Another shout covered poor Prue with confusion, as Bernard answered,—
"Would you believe it, you dear little Prue, we have never seen anything of him from that day to this?"
GEORGE AND ALICK.
"Well, you know, Annie, it is all very well to try to be kind to and help nice people—people whom you like. It is the nicest thing in the world to help you, Annie, because you are always so good, and kind, and gentle. But there are people to whom I never could be kind, let me try ever so much."
"But Georgie," his sister began.
He interrupted her with some impatience.
"Oh, I know what you are going to say. You always say that we ought to like everybody. But that is nonsense. Everybody is not likable, and I don't like people who are not likable, and I never shall, and never can."
"I did not mean to say that. I don't always say it; I don't think I ever said it," she answered quietly. "I know that one cannot like people who are not likable. But Georgie," (with much earnestness,) "I know, and you know, that it is God's will, that it is God's command, that we should be kind, and tender, and gentle, and pitiful to every one, whether we like them or not."
Yes, Georgie did know that. Often had he been reminded of it. But as this was a command he often broke, he did not like to think of it. He moved restlessly and impatiently on his chair, and said, with some fretfulness:—
"Well, but how can one; at least how can a rough boy like me? You can, Annie, I know. You do. Although you are often confined to this stupid bed for weeks at a time, you do more good, and make more people happy and comfortable, than any one in all the house. You are so good. It is easy for you."
"No, Georgie, it is not easy for me," she answered, her sweet, pale face, flushing at his praise. "I am not always kind. But a thought came into my mind about a year ago that has always helped me a great deal. I think God must have put it into my mind. Indeed I am sure he did, it has helped me so much."
"And what was the thought?" George asked eagerly.
"I was thinking how difficult it was to feel kindly, to feel rightly towards those whom we don't care for, who are not pleasant; and then it came all in a minute into my head, that we should find it much easier if we could only remember ever and always that everybody we meet must be either God's friend or God's enemy."
"But how could that help?" George asked, knitting his brows, as if greatly puzzled.
Annie tried to explain.
"You know," she said, "that there are no two ways about it,—that we must either be God's friend or his enemy."
"Yes," he answered thoughtfully; "papa made me see that long ago."
"And every boy you meet is either the one or the other, whatever else he may be, nice or not, pleasant and likable, or unpleasant and unlikable. If he be God's friend—if he be a boy who loves our dear Lord Jesus Christ," she went on, with an earnestness of feeling which brought tears to her eyes,—"a boy whom Christ loves, and for whom he died—a boy that Christ cares for, and is ever watching over, and in whose troubles and pleasures, joys and sorrows, Christ is tenderly concerned—O Georgie, if he be Christ's friend, must not we like to be kind to and help him, to do him as much good and as little harm as we can?"
"Yes, yes, I see," he answered softly, and with much feeling. Annie went on.
"And if he be a boy who does not love God," she said solemnly, "then must he be one of the wicked with whom God says that he is angry every day. And oh, Georgie, think what it must be to have God angry with you every day! to go through the world without God, never to think of him with love! to have no God to serve, no God to care for you; never to have your troubles made easy by knowing that the loving God has sent them, never to have your joys made sweet because they are his loving gift! O Georgie, how dreary, how desolate! Can you help being pitiful to any one who is in such a state?"
"No, oh no," was said by Georgie's eyes even more earnestly than by his tongue. He said no more; for boys cannot speak of what they feel so readily as girls. But Annie's thought had gone deep into his heart, and as he went a few minutes after down towards the village on an errand for his father, his whole thoughts were occupied by it. Much more soberly than usual did he walk down the avenue, thinking over again all that Annie had said, and praying earnestly that God would keep it in his memory, and bring it strongly before him each time he had occasion to use it.
Such occasion was close at hand. As he came out of the gate into the road, he saw, a little way before him, a boy who, as he feared—nay, rather as he knew—was one of those wicked of whom Annie had been speaking. His name was Alick. Poor fellow, he was a cripple; he had been a cripple from his very babyhood. He had never been able to put his feet to the ground, to walk or run about like other boys, but could only get along slowly and painfully by the help of crutches. He was besides very delicate, and often suffered violent attacks of pain in his back and limbs, so that every one must have felt sorry for him, had he not been such a bad, cruel, selfish boy, that anger often drove pity away from the softest hearts. But there was this excuse for him, he had never had any one to teach him better. His mother died when he was a baby. His father was very rich, but was a coarse, hard man—one who, like the unjust judge, feared not God, nor regarded man. He was fond of his poor boy, who was his only child, but he showed his fondness by indulging his every wish, and suffering him to do in all things exactly as he pleased. So that Alick grew more and more wicked, cruel, and selfish every year, until he had come to be disliked and avoided by every one who knew him. Georgie had a particular dislike to him. For Alick, knowing that Georgie was far too brave to strike a cripple who could not help himself, took the greatest pleasure in teasing, and provoking, and working him up into passions which George could not vent upon him.
The two boys saw each other a good while before they met, and Alick had time to prepare a taunting speech which he knew would be particularly provoking to George. But George also had time to think of Alick, time to recollect what Annie had said about the utter dreariness of going through the world without God; and God, answering George's earnest prayer, caused this recollection to move his heart to the tenderest pity and concern for poor Alick. So when the mocking, provoking speech was given forth in the bitterest way, George's only answer was a look of tender, even of loving compassion.
Alick misunderstood George's feeling. He thought that look was meant to express pity for his infirmities, and pity on that account he could not bear. His cheek flushed crimson with anger, and he poured forth a volley of fearful oaths and curses upon George, who was now passing him upon the opposite side of the road. Again George only answered with that look so strangely full of deep, tender pity, that Alick's heart was stirred by it, he knew not how nor why. He felt half provoked, as if he were being cheated out of his anger, and taking up a small stone from the old wall against which he leaned, he threw it at George, hitting him pretty smartly upon the arm. George took no further notice than merely to turn round and walk backward, so as to be able to watch for and avoid future compliments of the same kind. Many such were sent after him without effect. But just as he was getting beyond reach, Alick, in a last violent effort to throw far enough, overbalanced himself, one crutch slipped from under him, and he fell forward on his face in the mud!
In an instant George was by his side, helping him to rise, and asking tenderly if he were hurt. He was covered with mud from head to foot, his face was sorely cut and bruised by some sharp stones lying under the mud, and his teeth had cut through his upper lip. Georgie raised him into a sitting posture, and did all he could for him. A little burn ran by the way-side. Georgie dipped his handkerchief in it, and kneeling beside him, tried to wash away the mud and blood from his face with the utmost tenderness and gentleness, saying all the time words of kindness and concern, and giving him those looks of deep, wistful pity.
At first Alick submitted to his kind offices without speaking; but after a few minutes he turned his head from him with a fretful, impatient, "There, that'll do," and stretched out his hand for his crutches. Georgie brought them to him, and helped him to get upon them. But poor Alick had severely sprained his shoulder in trying to save himself as he fell, and the attempt to use his crutches gave him the most violent pain. Selfish boys are never manly. They always think too much of their own troubles. This new pain, and the fear that he should not be able to get home, were too much for Alick. He gave way to a most unrestrained fit of crying. At another time George would have been either provoked or amused at the big boy crying thus like a baby. But now the pity God had planted in his heart swallowed up every other feeling. He thought only of comforting and helping him.
"Oh, don't cry," he said encouragingly; "I'll get you home, never fear. See, sit here a minute, and I'll run for Annie's garden-chair, and wheel you home in it." And having seated him comfortably leaning against the wall, he ran off, and was back with the chair before even the impatient Alick could have expected him.
It was not easy to drive the chair through the soft mud, where hidden stones, were constantly turning aside the wheels, jarring George's arms, and calling forth bitter complaints from the fretful Alick. But Georgie bore complaints and jarrings with equal patience and kindly good humour, and as the homes of the two boys were not far apart, he got Alick safe to his own door in no very long time.
The next afternoon when Georgie came home from school, he heard from his mother that the doctor had been there to see Annie, and had told them that Alick was very ill. He had sprained his back as well as his shoulder, and was suffering great pain, and must, the doctor said, be confined to bed for many weeks. Georgie felt very sorry for him.
"Sickness and pain are bad enough," he thought, "even when one can feel that it is our good and loving Father who has sent them; but what must they be to him?" And he asked his mother's leave to go to see if he could be of any use to Alick. His mother consented, and resolutely turning his mind from the cricket-match just beginning in the school-yard, George went.
He found the poor boy in a pitiable state. His face was swelled from the effect of the cuts and bruises; one eye was quite closed up, and the other he could only open a little way, for a minute at a time. He could not turn himself in bed,—the sprained arm was bound to his side; he could do nothing to amuse himself; and in that motherless, sisterless home, there was no one to devise amusement for him. His father was kind and anxious about him; but it never occurred to him to sit by his bedside, and try to make the time pass pleasantly; and even if it had occurred to him, he would not have known how to do it. All that money could buy Alick had in abundance; but tenderness and kind companionship were what he most wanted, and these could not be bought.
He seemed pleased to see Georgie, and gladly accepted his offer to sit for a little with him and read to him. Georgie read aloud very well, and with great spirit, and Alick was delighted with an amusement which was quite new to him. The hour Georgie was allowed to give him passed most delightfully, and when Georgie rose to go away, he was eagerly asked to come back the next day.
The next, and the next, and many succeeding afternoons, Georgie spent by Alick's bedside, reading or chatting to him; and when he was able to use his arms, playing with him at chess, draughts, or any such game that Alick liked. That tender pity which God had put into Georgie's heart for the poor wicked boy, he kept fresh and warm from day to day; and Georgie never grudged the time or trouble which he gave to Alick,—never lost patience with him, however fretful and unreasonable he might be, but was ever ready to do what Alick wished, whether he himself liked it or not.
One afternoon they had played for a long time at a favourite game of Alick's, but one which Georgie thought very tiresome.
"Well, that is one of the nicest games in the world," said Alick, stretching himself back upon his pillows when the game was done. "Isn't it? Don't you like it?"
"No," said Georgie, looking up with an amused smile; "I don't like it much."
"Why then did you play so long without saying that you did not like it?" Alick asked, much surprised.
"Because you like it. I wanted you to have what you like," Georgie answered simply; and having put away all the things, he stooped over Alick and asked him very kindly, nay, I may say very lovingly, if he thought he should have a better night, if he thought his pain was less than it had been.
"Yes,—no,—I don't know," Alick said, looking earnestly up into Georgie's eyes. "But, Georgie, I say, why do you care so much?"
"Because I am so very sorry for you," burst from Georgie's very heart.
"You well may," muttered poor Alick, glancing down at his useless, shrunken limbs. But this time there was no anger in his thoughts.
"It is not for that, not at all for that," Georgie cried eagerly, as if guessing that pity for his infirmities might be painful.
"For what then?" Alick asked, looking at him keenly.
"Because you do not know, you do not love God," Georgie answered with deep feeling. "O Alick, how heartless, how dreary it must be!" and the tears rose to his eyes, and ran down his cheeks without his knowing it.
His words, spoken in that tone of intense pity, thrilled Alick to the heart. This was the meaning of all those looks of tender, yearning compassion which Georgie so continually cast upon him. And was it then such a terrible thing not to know God?
Georgie's "how heartless, how dreary!" sounded again in his ears, and seemed to answer the question. He said nothing to Georgie nor to any one; but all night long these words came back and back to his mind. He could not get rid of them. They were pressed down into his heart by the recollection of all that exceeding tender pity which Georgie's eyes had so long expressed for him, and of Georgie's loving, patient kindness, during his illness. And ever deeper and stronger grew the sense that his life was in truth, and ever had been, more heartless and dreary than Georgie could imagine.
Next day, when Georgie came to his bedside, Alick looked him full in the face and said:—
"Georgie, can you teach me to know God?"
You may imagine how Georgie's heart leaped with joy at the question. Often had he longed to speak to Alick of his God and Saviour, but hitherto he had been afraid to do it; not afraid of what Alick might say to or of him, but afraid to hear him speak against the Lord whom he had so often blasphemed. Now his mouth was opened, and in simple, boyish speech, he poured out his heart to Alick, and told him all he knew of Christ's love in taking upon himself the sins of those who were his enemies. And God's Spirit going with the words he taught Georgie to speak, Alick's heart was touched, and the poor boy was brought to take Christ as his Lord and his God.
THE SIXPENNY CALICO.
One day a new scholar appeared in school, and as usual was the mark of public gaze. She was gentle and modest-looking, and never ventured to lift her eyes from her books. At recess, to the inquiries, "Who is she?" "What's her name?" nobody could satisfactorily answer. None of us ever saw or heard of her before.
"I know she's not much," said one of the girls.
"Poorly off," said I.
"Do you see her dress? Why, I believe it is nothing but a sixpenny calico."
"Poor thing, she must be cold."
"I can't imagine how a person can wear calico in winter," said another, whose rich plaid was the admiration of the school.
"I must say I like to see a person dressed according to the season," remarked another; "that is, if people can afford it," she added, in a manner plainly enough indicating that her father could.
Such was recess talk. None of us went to take the stranger by the hand and welcome her as the companion of our studies and our play. We stood aloof, and stared at her with cold and unfeeling curiosity. The teacher called her Abby. When she first came to her place for recitation, she took a seat beside the rich plaid. The plaid drew haughtily away, as if the sixpenny calico might dim the beauty of its colours. A slight colour flushed Abby's cheek, but her quiet remained the same. It was some time before she ventured on the play-ground, and then it was only to stand aside, and look on, for we were slow in asking her to join us.
On one occasion we had a harder arithmetic lesson than usual, completely baffling our small brains. Upon comparing notes at recess, none of us had mastered it.
"I'll ask Abby of her success," said one of my intimate associates.
"It is quite unlikely she has," I replied; "do stay here; besides, what if she has?"
"I will go," she answered.
Away she went, and as it appeared, Abby and she were the only members of the class ready for recitation. Abby had been more successful than the rest of us, and kindly helped my friend to scale the difficulties of the lesson.
"Shall we ask Abby to join the sleigh-ride?" asked one of the girls, who was getting a subscription for a famous New Year's ride.
"Judging from her dress," I said, "if she goes, we must give her the ride."
"But how will it do to leave her out?" they asked.
"She does not of course expect to be asked to ride with us," I said; "she is evidently of a poor family."
As a sort of leader in school, my words were influential, and poor Abby was left out. How often did I contrast my white hands and warm gloves with the purple fingers and cheap mittens of my neighbour Abby. How miserable I should be with such working hands and no gloves.
By-and-by I took to patronizing her. "She is really a very nice creature, and ought to join us more in our plays," we said. So we used to make her "one of us" in the play-ground. In fact, I began to thaw towards her very considerably. There was something in Abby which called out our respect.
One Saturday afternoon, as I was looking out of the window, wishing for something to do, my mother asked me to join her in a little walk. On went my new cloak, warm furs, and pink hat, and in a trice I was ready. We went first to the stores, where I was very glad to be met by several acquaintances in my handsome winter dress. At last I found my mother turning off into less frequented thoroughfares.
"Where, mother," I asked, "in this vulgar part of the town?"
"Not vulgar, my dear," she said. "A very respectable and industrious part of our population live here."
"Not fashionable, certainly," I added.
"And not vulgar because not fashionable, by any means," she said; for you may be sure my false and often foolish notions were not gained from her. She stopped before a humble-looking house, and entered the front door.
"Where are you going?" I asked with much curiosity.
She gently opened a side door, and hesitated a moment on the threshold.
"Caroline, come in," said a voice from within. "I am very happy to see you."
"Pray, don't rise, dear," said my mother, going forward and affectionately kissing a sick lady who sat in a rocking chair. "You look better than when I saw you before. Do not exert yourself."
I was introduced, and I fancied the invalid looked at me with a sort of admiring surprise as she took my hand and hoped I should prove worthy of such a mother. Then, while my mother and she were talking, I sat down and took notes with my eyes of everything in the room. It looked beautifully neat, and the furniture evidently had seen better days. By-and-by mother asked for her daughter.
"Gone out on some errands," said the sick lady. "The dear child is an inexpressible blessing to me," and tears filled her eyes.
"A mother might well be thankful for such a daughter. She is a pattern my child might safely imitate."
I thought I should be exceedingly glad to see the person my mother was so willing I should copy.
"She will return soon," said the invalid. "She has gone to carry some work which she has contrived to do in her leisure moments. The self-sacrifice of the child is wonderful. She seems to desire nothing that other girls of her age generally want. A little while ago, an early friend who had found me out and befriended me as you have done"—tears came into the speaker's eyes—"sent her a handsome winter dress. 'O mother,' she said, 'this is too expensive for me, when you want some warm flannel so.' I told her it was just what she needed. A few days afterwards she went out and came home with a roll of flannel and a calico dress. 'See, mother,' she said, 'I shall enjoy this calico a hundred times more than the finest dress in the world, when you can have your flannel.' Excuse me for telling it, but you know a mother's heart. There is her step; she is coming."
The outer door opened. How I longed to see the comer! "A perfect angel," I thought, "so generous, so disinterested, so good; I should love her." The latch was lifted. A young girl entered, and my school-fellow Abby stood before me! I could have sunk into the earth for very shame. How wicked my pride! how false and foolish my judgments! Oh, how mean did my fine winter dress appear before the plain sixpenny calico!
I was almost sure my mother had managed all this, for she had a way of making me see my faults, and making me desire to cure them, without ever saying much directly herself. This, however, had not come about by her intervention; God taught me by his providence.
As we walked home, my mother gave me an account of Mrs. G——, an early friend who made an imprudent marriage. But that story is no matter here. I will only add, my judgment of people was formed ever after according to a better standard than the dress they wore, and that Abby and I became intimate friends.
A WESTMORELAND STORY.
Who among my little readers are not older than ten years? Come and I shall tell you a story of what happened to six poor children, all under that age, about fifty years ago. It will be a good lesson for us all, to see what God helped one brave little girl to do.
Agnes Green was nine years old, and had five brothers and sisters younger than herself. Their father was a respectable working man, and they all lived in a small cottage in a wild valley of the mountains of Westmoreland. If you take a good map of England, and look in the north for Westmoreland, you may see Grasmere marked. It is the name of a beautiful valley and also of a lake and a village in it. Beyond this is a smaller valley called Easdale, quite surrounded by high hills, with just one narrow opening into Grasmere. Here, in a lonely cottage, the Greens lived. In fair weather the older children could go to the Grasmere school. Their mother did all she could to keep them neat and comfortable; but she could not afford to have a servant, and so little Agnes was taught to do many more things than are common at her age. She was a very good and clever child, and learned to milk the cow, mend the fire, cook the dinner, nurse the little ones—do all that was possible for her age and strength. Which of you is at all like her? You may say, perhaps, that there is no need for you to learn such things. But you cannot begin too soon to be useful. Had poor Agnes been as helpless as some of you, she and her brothers and sisters must have died of cold and hunger in the sad time I am going to tell you of.
One winter day, Mr. and Mrs. Green had business which made them very anxious to go to a farm-house at some distance from Easdale. There was snow on the ground, but the morning was fine; and to save a long road round by Grasmere, they determined to take a short cut right over the mountains, which they had sometimes done before. So Mrs. Green made everything straight for the day, bidding Agnes take good care of the little ones, and expect her and their father back in the evening before dark; and then both parents kissed the children, and set out on the journey, from which they were never to return. They got safe to the farm, where a number of people were assembled at a sale, did their business, and said they would go home by the same way, although many of their friends advised them not to attempt it, for more snow was evidently coming on.
Evening came, and Agnes made a bright peat fire, which all the children gathered round, expecting every minute to hear their parents' voices at the door. But it began to get dark and late, and still they did not come. Agnes had often heard of the dangers of snow among the hills, and she soon got uneasy. Her little brothers were afraid too, though they hardly knew for what. They listened to every sound of the wind; they started at times, thinking it was their father's step; but all in vain. At last Agnes said they must go to bed; and as they had all been well trained to be obedient, they came and said their prayers at her knees, and then went to rest with fearful hearts.
Next morning, when Agnes looked out, she saw there had been a heavy fall of snow, so that the cottage was almost shut up, and it would be impossible for them even to reach the nearest neighbours. And, oh! there was no sign of their dear father and mother's return. She had a lingering hope that they might have been detained all night at Grasmere; but her fears were far greater. It was, indeed, a terrible situation for six little children to be left in, and her mind being advanced beyond her years, she felt all the danger. But she knew where to look for help; and He who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, heard the cry of this forsaken child, and gave her wisdom and ability for her time of need, as truly as he gave to Solomon on the throne of Israel, long ages before.
She wound up the clock, dressed the infants, and made the older children come and say their prayers as usual. She knew that their greatest danger would be that of starvation, should the storm last long. Their mother had left plenty of milk in the house, and Agnes scalded it carefully, to prevent it turning sour. Then she examined the meal-chest, and finding there was not much in it, she put all except the babies (these were little twins) on a short allowance of porridge, but baked some flour cakes as a kind of treat. Then, as the day went on, she took courage to open the door, and with her brothers got as far as the peat-stack at the cottage side, and among them they managed to carry within doors as many peats as would keep up the fire for a week. She examined the potatoes, which were buried among withered ferns; but as there were not many, only brought in enough for a day, afraid of heat spoiling them.
Then she thought of the cow, and made her way to the byre. She milked the poor animal, but got very little from her, and had great difficulty in pulling down hay out of the loft for her to eat; besides, it was getting dark, and poor Agnes felt very frightened and unhappy. So she was thankful to get into the cottage again, and, barring the door, she put the infants comfortably to bed, and allowed the others to sit up with her until midnight, in the faint hope that some token of their dear parents not being lost might reach them before then. It was a wild night of wind and snow, and though the little watchers sometimes fancied they heard voices in the stormy blast, when the lull came, all was silence. Agnes did what she could to keep the snow from drifting in below the door or through a chink of the window, and also to make sure that the fire would not go out, and then they sadly went to bed.
Next morning the snow-drifts were higher than ever! There was no possibility of going out; but the brave little mother—for so we may call her—still kept her family quiet and comfortable—never omitting the morning and evening prayers, and struggling hard against her own fears and sorrows.
At last, either on the third or fourth day, I am not sure which, the snow-drifts had changed in such a way that Agnes thought it might be possible to try the road to Grasmere. Her brothers went with her part of the way, till they saw she was safe, and then went back to the little ones, and Agnes went to the nearest cottage. When the poor weeping child told her sad story, the good people were overcome with astonishment, distress, and sympathy. The news spread like lightning through Grasmere, that Mr. and Mrs. Green had not been seen by their children since the day of the sale at Langdale. Before an hour had passed, all the men in the parish gathered together, arranged the best plans for a search, and then dispersed over the mountains. In the state of the weather, it was a dangerous duty, and great was the anxiety of their wives and mothers left at home. The men returned at night, without any success, and this went on for several days. They willingly gave up all other work, and morning after morning set out on their toilsome, sorrowful pilgrimage, while the poor orphans, of course, were most tenderly cared for now. At length some one thought of taking sagacious dogs up the hills to help the search; and on the fifth day, about noon, a loud shout, echoed by the rocks, and repeated from one band of men to another, told the women in the valley that the bodies were found. Poor John Green lay at the foot of a precipice, over which he had fallen; his wife, whom he had wrapped in his own greatcoat, was found above. They had wandered far out of the right course, and must have died in the darkness of that first stormy night, while their children were watching for them round the fire at home.
They had been such respectable, worthy people, that their loss was greatly lamented, and rich and poor were alike desirous to help and care for the orphans. You will ask what became of Agnes afterwards. I cannot tell you. If she is alive now, she must be an old woman; but she can never have forgotten the story of her parents' death, and I trust she has never forgotten how the Father of the fatherless was then her helper and protector.
Let me point out only two lessons from this sad tale. One is, that if God be with us, we need fear no evil. Can you think of anything more dreadful than to be left shut up in the snow-storm, as these children were, with their parents dying on the wild hills above? Yet God did not forsake them. He sent no angel, he wrought no miracle for their deliverance; but he gave wisdom and courage to the little girl, in her time of sore distress and danger. And so every one of you, if you trust in Him, may be sure of finding the promise fulfilled—"As thy days, so shall thy strength be."
Another lesson is, the happiness of being loving towards one another, and obedient to those older than yourselves. Had these children been like many others, quarrelsome and unruly, what a sad difference it would have made! But they obeyed their young sister as if she had been their mother; and so the days of captivity were far less hard to bear for all.
Think of these things when you remember the story of little Agnes Green, and pray and try to be like her.
* * * * *