THE ONE MOSS-ROSE.
THE ONE MOSS-ROSE.
REV. P. B. POWER, M.A.
LONDON: T. NELSON AND SONS, PATERNOSTER ROW; EDINBURGH; AND NEW YORK. 1872.
THE ONE MOSS-ROSE.
EONARD DOBBIN had a humble cottage upon Squire Courtenay's estate; but although the cottage was humble, it was always kept neat and clean, and was a pattern of everything that a poor man's dwelling should be. The white-washed walls, the smoothly raked gravel walk, and the sanded floor, were so many evidences that Leonard was a careful and a thrifty man; and while some of his poorer neighbours laughed, and asked where was the use of being so precise, they could not help respecting Dobbin, nevertheless.
The great, and, indeed, almost the only pleasure upon which the labourer allowed himself to spend any time, was the little flower garden in front of the house. The garden was Dobbin's pride; and the pride of the garden was a moss-rose tree, which was the peculiar treasure of the labourer's little crippled son, who watched it from the window, and whenever he was well enough, crept out to water it, and pick off any stray snail which had ventured to climb up its rich brown leaves. No mother ever watched her little infant with more eager eyes than Jacob Dobbin did his favourite rose; and no doubt he thought all the more of it because he had so few pleasures in life. Jacob Dobbin had no fine toys, he could not take any long walks, nor could he play at cricket, or any such games, therefore his rose tree was all the more precious; in fact, in his estimation there was nothing to compare with it in the world.
There was a great difference between poor Jacob's lot and that of Squire Courtenay's son. James Courtenay had plenty of toys; he had also a pony, and a servant to attend him whenever he rode out; when the summer came, he used often to go out sailing with the squire in his yacht; and there was scarce anything on which he set his heart which he was not able to get.
With all these pleasures, James Courtenay was not, however, so happy a youth as poor Jacob Dobbin. Jacob, though crippled, was contented—his few pleasures were thoroughly enjoyed, and "a contented mind is a continual feast;" whereas James was spoiled by the abundance of good things at his command; he was like the full man that loatheth the honeycomb; and he often caused no little trouble to his friends, and, indeed, to himself also, by the evil tempers he displayed.
Many a time did James Courtenay's old nurse, who was a God-fearing woman, point out to him that the world was not made for him alone; that there were many others to be considered as well as himself; and that although God had given him many things, still he was not of a bit more importance in His sight than others who had not so much. All this the young squire would never have listened to from any one else; but old Aggie had reared him, and whenever he was laid by with any illness, or was in any particular trouble, she was the one to whom he always fled. "God sometimes teaches people very bitter lessons," said old Aggie one day, when James Courtenay had been speaking contemptuously to one of the servants; "and take care, Master James, lest you soon have to learn one."
Jacob Dobbin had been for some time worse than usual, his cough was more severe, and his poor leg more painful, when his father and he held a long conversation by the side of their scanty fire.
Leonard had made the tea in the old black pot with the broken spout, and Jacob lay on his little settle, close up to the table.
"Father," said Jacob, "I saw the young squire ride by on his gray pony to-day, and just then my leg gave me a sore pinch, and I thought, How strange it is that there should be such a difference between folk; he's almost always galloping about, and I'm almost always in bed."
"Poor folk," answered Jacob's father, "are not always so badly off as they suppose; little things make them happy, and little things often make great folk unhappy; and let us remember, Jacob, that whatever may be our lot in life, we all have an opportunity of pleasing God, and so obtaining the great reward, which of his mercy, and for Christ's sake, he will give to all those who please him by patient continuance in well-doing. The squire cannot please God any more than you."
"Oh," said Jacob, "the squire can spend more money than I can; he can give to the poor, and do no end of things that I cannot: all I can do is to lie still on my bed, and at times keep myself from almost cursing and swearing when the pain is very bad."
"Exactly so, my son," answered Leonard Dobbin; "but remember that patience is of great price in the sight of God; and he is very often glorified in the sufferings of his people."
"The way I should like to glorify God," said Jacob, "would be by going about doing good, and letting people see me do it, so that I could glorify him before them, and not in my dull little corner here."
"Ah, Jacob, my son," replied old Leonard Dobbin, "you may glorify God more than you suppose up in your little dull corner—what should you think of glorifying him before angels and evil spirits?"
"Ah, that would be glorious!" cried Jacob.
"Spirits, good and bad, are ever around us," said old Leonard, "and they are watching us; and how much must God be glorified before them, when they see his grace able to make a sufferer patient and gentle, and when they know that he is bearing everything for Christ's sake. When a Christian is injured, and avenges not himself; when he is evil spoken of, and answers not again; when he is provoked, yet continues long-suffering: then the spirits, good and bad, witness these things, and they must glorify the grace of God."
That night Jacob Dobbin seemed to have quite a new light thrown upon his life. "Perhaps," said he to himself, as he lay upon the little settle, "I'm afflicted in order that I may glorify God. I suppose he is glorified by his people bearing different kinds of pain; perhaps some other boy is glorifying him with a crippled hand, while I am with my poor crippled leg: but I should like to be able even to bear persecution from man for Christ's sake, like the martyrs in father's old book; as I have strength to bear such dreadful pain in my poor leg, I daresay I might bear a great deal of suffering of other kinds."
* * * * *
The spring with its showers passed away, and the beautiful summer came, and Jacob Dobbin was able to sit at his cottage door, breathing in the pure country air, and admiring what was to him the loveliest object in nature—namely, one rich, swelling bud upon his moss-rose tree. There was but one bud this year upon the tree,—the frosts and keen spring winds had nipped all the rest; and this one was now bursting into beauty; and it was doubly dear to Jacob, because it was left alone. Jacob passed much of his time at the cottage door, dividing his admiration between the one moss-rose and the beautiful white fleecy clouds, which used to sail in majestic grandeur over his head; and often he used to be day-dreaming for hours, about the white robes of all who suffered for their Lord.
While thus engaged one day, the young squire came running along, and his eye fell upon Jacob's rose. "Hallo," cried he with delight—"a moss-rose! Ha, ha!—the gardener said we had not even one blown in our garden; but here's a rare beauty!" and in a moment James Courtenay had bounded over the little garden gate, and stood beside the rose bush. In another instant his knife was out of his pocket, and his hand was approaching the tree.
"Stop, stop!" cried Jacob Dobbin; "pray don't cut it,—'tis our only rose; I've watched it I don't know how long; and 'tisn't quite come out yet,"—and Jacob made an effort to get from his seat to the tree; but before the poor little cripple could well rise from his seat, the young squire's knife was through the stem, and with a loud laugh he jumped over the little garden fence, and was soon lost to sight.
The excitement of this scene had a lamentable effect upon poor Jacob Dobbin. When he found his one moss-rose gone, he burst into a violent fit of sobbing, and soon a quantity of blood began to pour from his mouth—he had broken a blood-vessel; and a neighbour, passing that way a little time after, found him lying senseless upon the ground. The neighbouring doctor was sent for, and he gave it as his opinion that Jacob could never get over this attack. "Had it been an ordinary case," said the doctor, "I should not have apprehended a fatal result; but under present circumstances I fear the very worst; poor Jacob has not strength to bear up against this loss of blood."
For many days Jacob Dobbin lay in a darkened room, and many were the thoughts of the other world which came into his mind; amongst them were some connected with the holy martyrs. "Father," said he to his aged parent as he sat by his side, "I have been learning a lesson about the martyrs. I see now how unfit I was to be tried as they were; if I could not bear the loss of one moss-rose patiently for Christ's sake, how could I have borne fire and prison, and such like things?"
"Ah, Jacob," said the old man, "'tis in little common trials such as we meet with every day, that, by God's grace, such a spirit is reared within us as was in the hearts of the great martyrs of olden time;—tell me, can you forgive the young squire?"
"The blessed Jesus forgave his persecutors," whispered Jacob faintly, "and the martyrs prayed for those who tormented them—in this at least I may be like them. Father, I do forgive the young squire; and, father," said Jacob, as he opened his eyes after an interval of a few minutes' rest, "get your spade, and dig up the tree, and take it with my duty to the young squire. Don't wait till I'm dead, father; I should not feel parting with it then; but I love the tree, and I wish to give it to him now. And if you dig up a very large ball of earth with it, he can have it planted in his garden at once; and—;" but poor Jacob could say no more; he sank back quite exhausted, and he never returned to the subject again, for in a day or two afterwards he died.
* * * * *
When old Leonard Dobbin appeared at the great house with his wheel-barrow containing the rose tree and its ball of earth, there was no small stir amongst the servants. Some said that it was fine impudence in him to come troubling the family about his trumpery rose, bringing the tree, as if he wanted to lay Jacob Dobbin's blood at their young master's door; others shook their heads, and said it was a bad business, and that that tree was an ugly present, and one that they should not care to have; and as to old Aggie, she held her tongue, but prayed that the child she had reared so anxiously might yet become changed, and grow up an altered man.
Old Leonard could not get audience of the squire or his son; but the gardener, who was in the servants' hall when he arrived with his rose, told him to wheel it along, and he would plant it in Master James's garden, and look after it until it bloomed again; and there the rose finally took up its abode.
Meanwhile the young squire grew worse and worse; he respected no one's property, if he fancied it himself; and all the tenants and domestics were afraid of imposing any check upon his evil ways. He was not, however, without some stings of conscience; he knew that Jacob Dobbin was dead—he had even seen his newly-made grave in the churchyard on Sunday; and he could not blot out from his memory the distress of poor Jacob when last he saw him alive; moreover, some of the whisperings of the neighbourhood reached his ears; and all these things made him feel far from comfortable.
As day after day passed by, James Courtenay felt more and more miserable: a settled sadness took possession of his mind, varied by fits of restlessness and passion, and he felt that there was something hanging over him, although he could not exactly tell what. It was evident, from the whispers which had reached his ears, that there had been some dreadful circumstances connected with poor Jacob Dobbin's death, but he feared to inquire; and so day after day passed in wretchedness, and there seemed little chance of matters getting any better.
At length a change came in a very unexpected way. As James Courtenay was riding along one day, he saw a pair of bantam fowls picking up the corn about a stack in one of the tenants' yards. The bantams were very handsome, and he felt a great desire to possess them; so he dismounted, and seeing the farmer's son hard by, he asked him for how much he would sell the fowls.
"They're not for sale, master," said the boy; "they belong to my young sister, and she wouldn't sell those bantams for any money,—there isn't a cock to match that one in all the country round."
"I'll give a sovereign for them," said James Courtenay.
"No, not ten," answered Jim Meyers.
"Then I'll take them, and no thanks," said the young squire; and so saying, he flung Jim Meyers the sovereign, and began to hunt the bantams into a corner of the yard.
"I say," cried Jim, "leave off hunting those bantams, master, or I must call my father."
"Your father!" cried the young squire; "and pray, who's your father? You're a pretty fellow to talk about a father; take care I don't bring my father to you;" and having said this, he made a dart at the cock bantam, that he had by this time driven into a corner.
"Look here," said Jim, doubling his fists. "You did a bad job, young master, by Jacob Dobbin; you were the death of him, and I won't have you the death of my little sister, by, maybe, her fretting herself to death about these birds, so you look out, and if you touch one of these birds, come what will of it, I'll touch you."
"Who ever said I did Jacob Dobbin any harm?" asked James Courtenay, his face as pale as ashes; "I never laid a hand upon the brat."
"Brat or no brat," answered Jim Meyers, "you were the death of him; you made him burst a blood-vessel, and I say you murdered him." This was too much for James Courtenay to bear, so without more ado, he flew upon Jim Meyers, intending to pommel him well; but Jim was not to be so easily pommelled; he stood upon his guard, and soon dealt the young squire such a blow between the eyes that he had no more power to fight.
"Vengeance! vengeance!" cried the angry youth. "I'll make you pay dearly for this;" and slinking away, he got upon his pony and rode rapidly home.
It may be easily imagined that on the young squire's arrival at the Hall, in so melancholy a plight, the whole place was in terrible confusion. Servants ran hither and thither, old Aggie went off for some ice, and the footman ran to the stable to send the groom for the doctor, and the whole house was turned upside down.
In the midst of all this, James Courtenay's father came home, and great indeed was his rage when he heard that his son had received this beating on his own property, and from the hands of a son of one of his own tenantry; and his rage became greater and greater as the beaten boy gave a very untrue account of what had occurred. "I was admiring a bantam of Meyers," said he to his father, "and his son flew upon me like a tiger, and hit me between the eyes."
Squire Courtenay determined to move in the matter at once, so he sent a groom to summon the Meyers—both father and son. "I'll make Meyers pay dearly for this," said the squire; "his lease is out next Michaelmas, and I shall not renew it; and, besides, I'll prosecute his son."
All this delighted the young squire, and every minute seemed to him to be an hour, until the arrival of the two Meyers, upon whom ample vengeance was to be wreaked; and the pain of his eyes seemed as nothing, so sweet was the prospect of revenge.
In the course of an hour the two Meyers arrived, and with much fear and trembling were shown into their landlord's presence.
"Meyers," cried the squire, in great wrath, "you leave your farm at Michaelmas; and as to that young scoundrel, your son, I'll have him before the bench next bench-day, and I'll see whether I can't make him pay for such tricks as these."
"What have I done," asked old Meyers, "to deserve being turned adrift? If your honour will hear the whole of the story about this business, I don't believe you'll turn me out on the cold world, after being on that land nigh-hand forty years."
"'Hear!' I have heard enough about it; your son dared to lift a hand to mine, and—and I'll have no tenant on my estate that will ever venture upon such an outrage as that;—it was a great compliment to you for my son to admire your bantams, or anything on your farm, without his being subjected to such an assault."
"I don't want to excuse my boy," said old Meyers, "for touching the young squire; and right sorry I am that he ever lifted a hand to him; but begging your honour's pardon, the young squire provoked him to it, and he did a great deal more than just admire my little girl's bantams.—Come, Jim, speak up, and tell the squire all about it."
"Ay, speak up and excuse yourself, you young rascal, if you can," said the angry squire; "and if you can't, you'll soon find your way into the inside of a prison for this. Talk of poaching! what is it to an assault upon the person?"
"I will speak up, then, your honour, since you wish it," said Jim Meyers, "and I'll tell the whole truth of how this came about." And then he told the whole story of the young squire having wanted to buy the bantams, and on his not being permitted to do so, of his endeavouring to take them by force. "And when I wouldn't let him carry away my sister's birds, he flew on me like a game cock, and in self-defence I struck him as I did."
"You said I murdered Jacob Dobbin," interrupted James Courtenay.
"Yes, I did," answered Jim Meyers, "and all the country says the same, and I only say what every one else says; ask anybody within five miles of this, and if they're not afraid to speak up, they'll tell just the same tale that I do."
"Murdered Jacob Dobbin!" ejaculated the squire in astonishment; "I don't believe my son ever lifted a hand to him,—you mean the crippled boy that died some time ago?"
"Yes, he means him," said Jim Meyers' father; "and 'tis true what the lad says, that folk for five miles round lay his death at the young squire's door, and say that a day will come when his blood will be required of him."
"Why, what happened?" asked the squire, beginning almost to tremble in his chair; for he knew that his son was given to very violent tempers, and was of a very arbitrary disposition; and he felt, moreover, within the depths of his own heart, that he had not checked him as he should. "What is the whole truth about this matter?"
"Come, speak up, Jim," said old Meyers; "you were poor Jacob's friend, and you know most about it;" the squire also added a word, encouraging the lad, who, thus emboldened, took courage and gave the squire the whole history of poor Jacob Dobbin's one moss-rose. He told him of the cripple's love for the plant, and how its one and only blossom had been rudely snatched away by the young squire, and how poor Jacob burst a blood vessel and finally died.
"And if your honour wants to know what became of the tree, you'll find it planted in the young squire's garden," added Jim, "and the gardener will tell you how it came there."
The reader will easily guess what must have been the young squire's feelings as he heard the whole of this tale. Several times did he endeavour to make his escape, under the plea that he was in great pain from his face, and once or twice he pretended to faint away; but his father, who, though proud and irreligious, was just, determined that he should remain until the whole matter was searched out.
When Jim Meyers' story was ended, the squire bade him go into the servants' hall, and his father also, while old Dobbin was sent for; and as to James, his son, he told him to go up to his bed-room, and not come down until he was called.
Poor old Leonard Dobbin was just as much frightened as Jim Meyers and his father had been, at the summons to attend the squire. He had a clear conscience, however; he felt that he had not wronged the squire in anything; and so, washing himself and putting on his best Sunday clothes, he made his way to the Hall as quickly as he could.
"Leonard Dobbin," said the squire, "I charge you, upon pain of my worst displeasure, to tell me all you know about this story of your late son's moss-rose tree. You need not be afraid to tell me all; your only cause for fear will be the holding back from me anything connected with the matter."
Leonard went through the whole story just as Jim Meyers had done; only he added many little matters which made the young squire's conduct appear even in a still worse light than it had already done. He was able to add all about his poor crippled boy's forgiveness of the one who had wronged him, and how he had himself wheeled the rose tree up to the squire's door, and how it was now to be found in the young squire's garden. "And if I may make so bold as to speak," continued old Leonard, "nothing but true religion, and the love of Christ, and the power of God's Spirit in the heart, will ever make us heartily forgive our enemies, and not only forgive them, but render to them good for evil."
When Leonard Dobbin arrived James Courtenay had been sent for, and had been obliged with crimsoned cheeks to listen to this story of the poor crippled boy's feelings; and now he would have given all the roses in the world, if they were his, to restore poor Jacob to life, or never to have meddled with his flower; but what had been done could not be undone, and no one could awake the poor boy from his long cold sleep in the silent grave.
"Leonard Dobbin," said the squire, after he had sat for some time moodily, with his face buried in his hands, "this is the worst blow I have ever had in life. I would give L10,000 hard money, down on that table, this very moment, that my boy had never touched your boy's rose. But what is done cannot be undone; go home, and when I've thought upon this matter I'll see you again."
"Meyers," said the squire, turning to the other tenant, "I was hasty in saying a little while ago that I'd turn you out of your farm next Michaelmas; you need have no fear about the matter; instead of turning you out, I'll give you a lease of it. I hope you won't talk more than can be helped about this terrible business. Now go."
The two men stood talking together for a while at the lodge before they left the grounds of the great house; and old Leonard could not help wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his rough coat, as he said to Meyers, "Ah, neighbour, 'tis sore work having a child without the fear of God before his eyes. I'd rather be the father of poor Jacob in his grave, than of the young squire up yonder at the Hall."
* * * * *
Bitter indeed were Squire Courtenay's feelings and reflections when the two old men had left, and, his son having been ordered off to his chamber, he found himself once more alone. The dusk of the evening came on, but the squire did not seem to care for food, and, in truth, his melancholy thoughts had taken all appetite away. At last he went to the window, which looked out over a fine park and a long reach of valuable property, and he began to think: What good will all these farms do this boy, if the tenants upon them only hate him, and curse him? Perhaps, with all this property, he may come to some bad end, and bring disgrace upon his family and himself. And then the squire's own heart began to smite him, and he thought: Am not I to blame for not having looked more closely after him, and for not having corrected him whenever he went wrong? I must do something at once. I must send him away from this place, where almost every one lets him do as he likes, until he learns how to control himself, at least so far as not to do injustice to others.
Meanwhile the young squire's punishment had begun. When left to the solitude of his room, after having heard the whole of Leonard Dobbin's account of Jacob's death, a great horror took possession of his mind. Many were the efforts the young lad made to shake off the gloomy thoughts which came trooping into his mind; but every thought seemed to have a hundred hooks by which it clung to the memory, so that once in the mind, it could not be got rid of again. At length the young squire lay down upon his bed, trembling as if he had the ague, and realizing how true are the words, that "our sin will find us out," and that "the way of transgressors is hard."
At last, to his great relief, the handle of his door was turned, and old Aggie made her appearance.
"O Aggie, Aggie," cried James Courtenay, "come here. I'm fit to die, with the horrid thoughts I have, and with the dreadful things I see. Jim Meyers said I murdered Jacob Dobbin; and I believe I have, though I didn't intend to do it. I wish I had never gone that way; I wish I had never seen that rose; I wish there had never been a rose in the world.—O dear, my poor head, my poor head! I think 'twill burst;" and James Courtenay put his two hands upon the two sides of his head, as though he wanted to keep them from splitting asunder.
Aggie saw that there was no use in speaking while James Courtenay's head was in such a state as this. All she could do was to help him into bed, and give him something to drink,—food he put from him, but drink he asked for again and again. Water was all he craved, but Aggie was at last obliged to give over, and say she was afraid to give him any more.
James Courtenay's state was speedily made known to his father, and in a few minutes, from old Aggie's conversation with him, the groom was on his way to a neighbouring town to hasten the family physician. The latter soon arrived, and, after a few minutes with James Courtenay, pronounced him to be in brain fever—the end of which, of course, no man could foresee.
And a fearful fever indeed it was. Day after day passed in wild delirium. The burden of all the poor sufferer's cries and thoughts was, that he was a murderer. He used to call himself Cain, and to try to tear the murderer's mark out of his forehead. Sometimes he rolled himself in the sheet, and thought that he was dressed in a funeral cloak attending Jacob Dobbin's funeral, and all the while knowing that he had caused his death. At times the poor patient would attempt to spring from his bed; and now he fancied that he was being whipped with the thorny branches of rose trees; and now that he was being put in prison for stealing from a poor man's garden. At one time he thought all the tenants on the estate were hunting him off it with hounds, while he was fleeing from them on his gray pony as fast as her legs could carry her; and the next moment his pony was entangled hopelessly in the branches of little Dobbin's rose tree, and the dogs were on him, and the huntsmen were halloing, and he was about to be devoured. All these were the terrible ravings of fever; and very awful it was to see the young squire with his hair all shaved off, and vinegar rags over his head, tossing his arms about, and endeavouring at times to burst from his nurses, and leap out upon the floor. The one prevailing thought in all the sick boy's ravings was Jacob Dobbin's rose bush. Jacob, or his rose bush in some form or other, occupied a prominent part in every vision.
Ah, how terrible are the lashings of conscience! how terrible the effects of sin! For what a small gratification did this unhappy youth bring so much misery upon himself! And is it not often thus? The apostle says, "What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?" And what fruit of pleasure had James Courtenay from his plunder of Jacob Dobbin's rose? Where was that rose? It had long since faded; its leaves were mingled with the dust upon which it had been thrown; yet for the sake of the transient enjoyment of possessing that flower a few days before abundance would have made their appearance in his own garden, he had brought upon himself all this woe. Poor, very poor indeed, are the pleasures of sin; and when they have been enjoyed, they are like the ashes of a fire that has burned out. Compare James Courtenay's present troubles,—his torture of mind, his pain of body, his risk of losing his life, and the almost momentary enjoyment which he had in plundering his poor neighbour of his moss-rose,—and see how Satan cheats in his promises of enjoyment from sin.
Dear young reader! let not Satan persuade you that there is any profit in sin—momentary pleasure there may indeed be, but it is soon gone, and then come sorrow and distress. Sin is a sweet cup with bitter dregs, and he who drinks the little sweet that there is, must drink the dregs also. Moments of sin may cause years of sorrow.
* * * * *
For many days James Courtenay hung between life and death; night and day he was watched by skilful physicians, but they could do very little more than let the disease run its course. At length a change for the better appeared; the unhappy boy fell into a long sleep, and when he opened his eyes his disease was gone. But it had left him in a truly pitiable state. It was a sad sight to see the once robust boy now very little better than a skeleton; to hear the once loud voice now no stronger than a mere whisper; and instead of the mass of brown curly hair, to behold nothing but linen rags which swathed the shaven head.
But all this Squire Courtenay did not so much mind; his son's life was spared, and he made no doubt but that care and attention would soon fatten him up again, and the curly locks would grow as luxuriantly as they did before. Old Aggie, too, was full of joy; the boy that she had nursed so tenderly, and for whom she had had such long anxiety, was not cut off in the midst of his sins, and he might perhaps have his heart changed and grow up to be a good man. And what an opportunity was this for trying to impress his mind! Old Aggie was determined that it should not be lost, and she hoped that the young squire might yet prove a blessing, and not a curse, to those amongst whom he lived.
There were not wanting many upon Squire Courtenay's estate who would have been very glad if the young squire had never recovered. They had tasted a little of his bad character, and they feared that if he grew up to inherit the property, he would prove a tyrannical landlord to them. But amongst these was not to be reckoned old Leonard Dobbin. True, he had suffered terribly—indeed more than any one else—from James Courtenay's evil ways; but he did not on that account wish him dead—far from it. It was old Leonard's great fear lest the young squire should die in his sins, and no one asked more earnestly about the invalid than this good old man.
As it was necessary that the sick boy should be kept as quiet as possible, no one went near his room except old Aggie and those whose services could not be dispensed with. Old Aggie alone was allowed to talk to the invalid, and a long time would have elapsed before she could venture to speak of the circumstances which had brought about this dreadful illness, had not the young squire himself entered on the subject.
"Aggie," said he one morning, after he had lain a long time quite still, "I have been dreaming a beautiful dream."
This was quite delightful to the old nurse, who for many long days had heard of nothing but visions of the most frightful kind.
"I saw a rose bush—"
"Hush, hush, Master James," said Aggie, terrified lest the dreadful subject should come uppermost again, and once more bring on the delirium and a relapse of the fever.
"No, no, Aggie, I cannot hush; it was a beautiful dream, and it has done me more good than all the doctor's medicine. I saw a rose bush—a moss-rose—and it had one bud upon it, and sitting under the bud was little Jacob Dobbin. O Aggie, it was the same Jacob that used to be down at the cottage, for I knew his face; but he was beautiful, instead of sickly-looking; and instead of being all ragged, he was dressed in something like silver. I wanted to run away from him, but he looked so kindly at me that I could not stir; and at last he beckoned to me, and I stood quite close to him; and only he looked so softly at me, I must have been dazzled by the light on his face and his silvery clothes.
"I did not feel as though I dared to speak to him; but at last he spoke to me, and his voice was as soft as a flute, and he said, 'All the roses on earth fade and wither, but nothing fades or withers in the happy place where I now live; and oh, do not be anxious to possess the withering, fading flowers, but walk on the road that leads to my happy home, where everything is bright for ever and ever.'
"Aggie, Aggie," said James Courtenay, who saw his nurse's anxious face, and that she was about to stop his speaking any more, "it is no use to try to stop my telling you all about it. My head has been so strange of late, that I forget everything, and I am afraid of forgetting this dream; so I must tell it now, and you are to write it down, that I may have it to read, if it should slip out of my mind. Jacob Dobbin said,—'You are not now in the right road; but ask Jesus to pardon your sins, and then go and love everybody just as Jesus loved you; and try to make every one happy, and do good morning, noon, and night, and try to scatter some flowers of happiness in every place to which you go; and then you shall be with me in the land where all is bright.' And I thought Jacob pulled the one moss-rose, and gave it to me, and said, 'This is an earthly rose; keep it as long and as carefully as you will, it will fade at last; but our flowers never fade: try, O try, to come to them.' I heard music, Aggie, or something like music, or perhaps like a stream flowing along, and I felt something like the summer breeze upon my cheeks, and Jacob was gone, and there I stood with the rose in my hand.
"Write it down, Aggie," said the invalid, "exactly as I have told you;" and having said this, James Courtenay dropped off into a doze again.
Some days intervened between this reference to what had passed and the next conversation upon the subject, in which James Courtenay told Aggie—who had to listen much against her will—what he thought about this wonderful dream.
"I know the meaning of that dream," said James Courtenay to his nurse. "I do not want any one to explain it to me; I can tell all about it. The meaning is, that I must become a changed boy, or I shall never go to heaven when I die; and all the good things which I have here are not to be compared with those which are to be had there. What Jacob said was, that all these things are fading, and I must seek for what is better than anything here.
"Aggie," said James Courtenay, "you often think I am asleep when I am not; and you think I scarcely have my mind about me yet, when I lie so long quite still, looking away into the blue sky: but I am thinking; I am always thinking, and very often I am praying—asking forgiveness for the past, and hoping that I shall be changed for the future."
"But we can't do much by hoping," said Aggie, "and we can't do anything by ourselves."
"I mean to do more than hope," said James Courtenay; "I mean to try."
"And you mean, I trust, to ask God's Spirit to help you?" said Aggie.
"Yes, every day," said James. "He helped Jacob, and he'll help me; and I hope to be yet where Jacob is now."
"Ay, he helps the poor," said Aggie, "and he'll help the rich. Jacob had his trials, and you'll have yours; and perhaps yours are the hardest, so far as going to heaven is concerned; for the rich have a temptation in every acre of land and in every guinea they have. Our Lord says that ''tis hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.'"
For many days James Courtenay thus pondered and prayed, with Aggie as his chief companion and instructor, and at length he was able to leave his room. But he was a different James Courtenay from the one who had entered that room some months before. The young squire was still pale and thin; but this was not the chief change observable in him,—he was silent and thoughtful in his manner, and gentle and kind to every one around. The loud voice which once rang so imperiously and impatiently through the corridors was now heard no more; the hand was not lifted to strike, and often gratitude was expressed for any attention that was shown. The servants looked at each other and wondered; they could scarcely hope that such a change would last; and when their young master returned to full health and strength, they quite expected the old state of things to return again. But they were mistaken. The change in James Courtenay was a real one; it was founded on something more substantial than the transient feelings of illness,—he was changed in his heart.
And very soon he learnt by experience the happiness which true religion brings with it. Instead of being served unwillingly by the servants around, every one was anxious to please him; and he almost wondered at times whether these could be the servants with whom he had lived all his life. They now, indeed, gave a service of love; and a service of love is as different from a service of mere duty as day is from night.
Wherever the young squire had most displayed his passionate temper, there he made a point of going, for the sake of speaking kindly, and undoing so far as he could the evil he had already done. He kept ever in mind what he had heard from Jacob Dobbin in his dream,—that there was not only a Saviour by whom alone he could be saved from his sins, but also that there was a road on which it was necessary to walk; a road which ran through daily life; a road on which loving deeds were to be done, and loving words spoken;—the road of obedience to the mind of Christ. James Courtenay well knew that obedience could not save him; but he well knew also that obedience was required from such as were saved by pure grace.
* * * * *
Altered as James Courtenay undoubtedly was, and earnest as he felt to become different to what he had been in olden time, he could not shake off from his mind the sad memory of the past. His mind was continually brooding upon poor little Dobbin's death, and upon the share which he had in it. For now he knew all the truth. He had seen old Leonard, and sat with him for many hours; and at his earnest request the old man had told him all the truth. "Keep nothing back from me," said the young squire, as he sat by old Leonard's humble fire-place, with his face covered with his hands; and over and over again had the old man to repeat the same story, and to call to mind every word that his departed son had said.
"What shall I do, Leonard, to show my sorrow?" asked James Courtenay one day. "Will you go and live in a new house, if I get papa to build one for you?"
"Thank you, young squire," said Leonard; "it was here that Jacob was born and died, and this will do for me well enough as long as I'm here. And it don't distress me much, Master James, about its being a poor kind of a place, for I'm only here for a while, and I've a better house up yonder."
"Ay," said James Courtenay, "and Jacob is up yonder; but I fear, with all my striving, I shall never get there; and what good will all my fine property do me for ever so many years, if at the end of all I am shut out of the happy land?"
"Master James, you need not be shut out," said old Dobbin; and he pulled down the worn Bible from the shelf; "no, no; you need not be shut out. Here is the verse that secured poor Jacob's inheritance, and here is the verse that by God's grace secures mine, and it may secure yours too;" and the old man read out the passage in 1 John i. 7, "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." "All, all!" cried old Dobbin, his voice rising as he proceeded, for his heart was on fire; "from murder, theft, lying, stealing,—everything, everything! Oh, what sinners are now in glory!—sinners no longer, but saints, washed in the precious blood! Oh, how many are there now on earth waiting to be taken away and be for ever with the Lord! I am bad, Master James; my heart is full of sin in itself; but the blood of Jesus cleanseth from all sin;—and whatever you have done may be all washed out; only cast yourself, body and soul, on Christ."
"But how could I ever meet Jacob in heaven?" murmured the young squire from between his hands, in which he had buried his face; "when I saw him, must not I feel I murdered him? ay, I was the cause of his misery and death, all for the sake of one fading, worthless flower!"
"Don't call it worthless, Master James; 'twas God's creature, and very beautiful while it lasted; and you can't call a thing worthless that gave a human being as much pleasure as that rose gave poor Jacob. But whatever it was, it will make no hindrance to Jacob meeting you in heaven,—ay, and welcoming you there, too. If you reach that happy place, I'll be bound Jacob will meet you with a smile, and will welcome you with a song into the happy land."
"Well, 'tis hard to understand," said James Courtenay.
"Yes, yes, Master James, hard to our poor natures, but easy to those who are quite like their Saviour, as Jacob is now. When He was upon earth he taught his followers to forgive, and to love their enemies, and to do good to such as used them despitefully; and we may be sure that, now they are with him, and are made like him, they carry out all he would have them do, and they are all he would have them be. I don't believe that there is one in heaven that would be more glad to see you, Master James, than my poor boy,—if I may call him my poor boy, seeing he's now in glory."
Many were the conversations of this kind which passed between old Leonard and the young squire, and gradually the latter obtained more peace in his mind. True, he could never divest himself of the awful thought that he had been the immediate cause of his humble neighbour's death; but he dwelt very much upon that word "all," and Aggie repeated old Leonard's lessons, and by degrees he was able to lay even his great trouble upon his Saviour.
But all that James Courtenay had gone through had told fearfully upon his health. His long and severe illness, followed by so much mental anxiety and trouble, laid in him the seeds of consumption. His friends, who watched him anxiously, saw that as weeks rolled on he gained no strength, and at length it was solemnly announced by the physician that he was in consumption. There were symptoms which made it likely that the disease would assume a very rapid form. And so it did. The young squire began to waste almost visibly before the eyes of those around, and it soon became evident, not only that his days were numbered, but that they must be very few. And so they were. Three weeks saw the little invalid laid upon his bed, with no prospect of rising from it again. At his own earnest request he was told what his condition really was; and when he heard it, not a tear started in his eye, not a murmur escaped his lips. One request, and one only, did the dying boy prefer; and that was, that Leonard Dobbin should be admitted to his room as often as he wished to see him. And this was very often; as James had only intervals of wakefulness, it became necessary that the old man should be always at hand, so as to be ready at any hour of the day or night, and at length he slept in a closet off the sick boy's room. And with Leonard came the old worn Bible. The good old labourer was afraid, with his rough hands, to touch the richly bound and gilt volume that was brought up from the library; he knew every page in his own well-thumbed old book, and in that he read, and from that he discoursed. The minister of the parish came now and again; but when he heard of what use old Leonard had been to the young squire, he said that God could use the uneducated man as well as the one that was well-learned, and he rejoiced that by any instrumentality, however humble, God had in grace and mercy wrought upon the soul of this wayward boy.
At length the period of the young squire's life came to be numbered, not by days, but hours, and his father sat by his dying bed.
"Papa," said the dying boy, "I shall soon be gone, and when I am dying I shall want to think of Christ and of holy things alone;—you will do, I know, what I want when I am gone."
Squire Courtenay pressed his son's hand, and told him he would do anything, everything he wished.
"You remember that grandmamma left me some money when she died; give Leonard Dobbin as much every year as will support him; and give him my gray pony that he may be carried about, for he is getting too old to work; and"—and it seemed as though the dying boy had to summon up all his strength to say it—"bury me, not in our own grand vault, but by Jacob Dobbin's grave; and put up a monument in our church to Jacob, and cut upon it a broken rose; and let the rose bush be planted close to where poor Jacob lies—"
The young squire could say no more, and it was a long time before he spoke again; when he did, it was evident that he was fast departing to another world. With the little strength at his command, the dying boy muttered old Leonard's name; and in a moment the aged Christian, with his Bible in his hand, stood by the bedside.
"Read, read," whispered Aggie the nurse; "he is pointing to your Bible,—he wants you to read; and read quickly, Leonard, for he soon won't be able to hear."
And Leonard, opening his Bible at the well-known place, read aloud, "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin."
"All, all," whispered the dying boy.
"All, all," responded the old man.
"All, all," faintly echoed the dying boy, and in a few moments no sound was heard in the sick-room—James Courtenay had departed to realize the truth of the words, that "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin."
Next to the chief mourners at the funeral walked old Leonard Dobbin; and close by the poor crippled Jacob's grave they buried James Courtenay—so close that the two graves seemed almost one. And when a little time had elapsed, the squire had a handsome tomb placed over his son, which covered in the remains of poor Jacob too, and at the head of it was planted the moss-rose tree. And he put up a tablet to poor Jacob's memory in the church, and a broken rose was sculptured in a little round ornament at the bottom of it.
And now the old Hall is without an heir, and the squire without a son. But there is good hope that the squire thinks of a better world, and that he would rather have his boy safe in heaven than here amid the temptations of riches again.
Oh, what a wonder that there is mercy for the greatest sinners! but oh, what misery comes of sin! "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
* * * * *
Obvious punctuation errors repaired.
Page 16, "worst? poor" changed to "worst; poor"