Susan Warner (1849-1885), The Wide Wide World (1850), Tauchnitz edition 1854
Produced by Daniel FROMONT
The Wide, Wide World as seen by The North American Review, January 1853 'Miss Warner makes her young girl passionate, though amiable, in her temper; fond of admiration, although withheld by innate delicacy from seeking it unduly. She places her in circumstances of peculiar trial to her peculiar traits, and brings her, by careful gradations, to the state of self- governed and stable virtue which fits woman for her great office in the world; a fitness which would be impaired by the sacrifice of a single grace, or the loss of one sentiment of tenderness. To build such a character on any basis other than a religious one, would have been to fix a palace upon the shifting sands . . . Ellen and Fleda are reared, by their truly feminine and natural experiences, into any thing but "strong-minded women," at least if we accept Mr. Dickens's notion of that dreadful order. They are both of velvet softness; of delicate, downcast beauty; of flitting but abundant smiles, and of even too many and ready tears They live in the affections, as the true woman must; yet they cultivate and prize the understanding, and feel it to be the guardian of goodness, as all wise women should They are conscious of having a power and place in the world, and they claim it without assumption or affectation, and fill it with a quiet self-respect, not inconsistent with modesty and due humility. Such is the ideal presented, and with such skill that we seem at times to be reading a biography. There is a sweetness in the conception and execution that makes the heart and the temper better as we read. So much for the charm of the books. But, on the other hand, we are compelled to say that such magisterial lovers as Mr. Carleton and John Humphreys are not at all to our taste, nor do we believe they would in actual presence be very fascinating to most young ladies'
THE WIDE, WIDE WORLD BY ELIZABETH WETHERELL.
IN ONE VOLUME
THE WIDE, WIDE WORLD.
"Here at the portal thou dost stand,
And with thy little hand
Thou openest the mysterious gate,
Into the future's undiscovered land
I see its valves expand,
As at the touch of FATE!
Into those realms of Love and Hate."
THE WIDE, WIDE WORLD.
Breaking the News.
"Mamma, what was that I heard papa saying to you this morning about his lawsuit?"
"I cannot tell you just now. Ellen, pick up that shawl and spread it over me."
"Mamma! are you cold in this warm room?"
"A little, there, that will do. Now, my daughter, let me be quiet a while don't disturb me."
There was no one else in the room. Driven thus to her own resources, Ellen betook herself to the window, and sought amusement there. The prospect without gave little promise of it. Rain was falling, and made the street and everything in it look dull and gloomy. The foot-passengers plashed through the water, and the horses and carriages plashed through the mud; gaiety had forsaken the side-walks, and equipages were few, and the people that were out were plainly there only because they could not help it. But yet Ellen, having seriously set herself to study everything that passed, presently became engaged in her occupation; and her thoughts travelling dreamily from one thing to another, she sat for a long time with her little face pressed against the window-frame, perfectly regardless of all but the moving world without.
Daylight gradually faded away, and the street wore a more and more gloomy aspect. The rain poured, and now only an occasional carriage or footstep disturbed the sound of its steady pattering. Yet still Ellen sat with her face glued to the window as if spell-bound, gazing out at every dusky form that passed, as though it had some strange interest for her. At length, in the distance, light after light began to appear; presently Ellen could see the dim figure of the lamplighter crossing the street, from side to side, with his ladder; then he drew near enough for her to watch him as he hooked his ladder on the lamp-irons, ran up and lit the lamp, then shouldered the ladder and marched off quick, the light glancing on his wet oil-skin hat, rough greatcoat, and lantern, and on the pavement and iron railings. The veriest moth could not have followed the light with more perseverance than did Ellen's eyes, till the lamplighter gradually disappeared from view, and the last lamp she could see was lit; and not till then did it occur to her that there was such a place as indoors. She took her face from the window. The room was dark and cheerless, and Ellen felt stiff and chilly. However, she made her way to the fire, and having found the poker, she applied it gently to the Liverpool coal with such good effect, that a bright ruddy blaze sprang up, and lighted the whole room. Ellen smiled at the result of her experiment. "That is something like," said she, to herself; "who says I can't poke the fire? Now, let us see if I can't do something else. Do but see how these chairs are standing one would think we had had a sewing-circle here there, go back to your places that looks a little better; now, these curtains must come down, and I may as well shut the shutters too and now this tablecloth must be content to hang straight, and Mamma's box and the books must lie in their places, and not all helter-skelter. Now, I wish Mamma would wake up; I should think she might. I don't believe she is asleep either she don't look as if she was."
Ellen was right in this; her mother's face did not wear the look of sleep, nor indeed of repose at all; the lips were compressed, and the brow not calm. To try, however, whether she was asleep or no, and with the half-acknowledged intent to rouse her at all events, Ellen knelt down by her side, and laid her face close to her mother's on the pillow. But this failed to draw either word or sign. After a minute or two, Ellen tried stroking her mother's cheek very gently and this succeeded, for Mrs. Montgomery arrested the little hand as it passed her lips, and kissed it fondly two or three times.
"I haven't disturbed you, Mamma, have I?" said Ellen.
Without replying, Mrs. Montgomery raised herself to a sitting posture, and lifting both hands to her face, pushed back the hair from her forehead and temples, with a gesture which Ellen knew meant that she was making up her mind to some disagreeable or painful effort. Then taking both Ellen's hands, as she still knelt before her, she gazed in her face with a look even more fond than usual, Ellen thought, but much sadder too; though Mrs. Montgomery's cheerfulness had always been of a serious kind.
"What question was that you were asking me a while ago, my daughter?"
"I thought, Mamma, I heard papa telling you this morning, or yesterday, that he had lost that lawsuit."
"You heard right, Ellen he has lost it," said Mrs. Montgomery, sadly.
"Are you sorry, Mamma? does it trouble you?"
"You know, my dear, that I am not apt to concern myself overmuch about the gain or the loss of money. I believe my heavenly Father will give me what is good for me."
"Then, Mamma, why are you troubled?"
"Because, my child, I cannot carry out this principle in other matters, and leave quietly my all in His hands."
"What is the matter, dear mother? What makes you look so?"
"This lawsuit, Ellen, has brought upon us more trouble than I ever thought a lawsuit could the loss of it, I mean."
"It has caused an entire change of all our plans. Your father says he is too poor now to stay here any longer; and he has agreed to go soon on some government or military business to Europe."
"Well, Mamma, that is bad; but he has been away a great deal before, and I am sure we were always very happy."
"But, Ellen, he thinks now, and the doctor thinks too, that it is very important for my health that I should go with him."
"Does he, Mamma? and do you mean to go?"
"I am afraid I must, my dear child."
"Not, and leave me, mother?"
The imploring look of mingled astonishment, terror, and sorrow with which Ellen uttered these words, took from her mother all power of replying. It was not necessary; her little daughter understood only too well the silent answer of her eye. With a wild cry she flung her arms round her mother, and hiding her face in her lap, gave way to a violent burst of grief, that seemed for a few moments as if it would rend soul and body in twain. For her passions were by nature very strong, and by education very imperfectly controlled; and time, "that rider that breaks youth," had not as yet tried his hand upon her. And Mrs. Montgomery, in spite of the fortitude and calmness to which she had steeled herself, bent down over her, and folding her arms about her, yielded to sorrow deeper still, and for a little while scarcely less violent in its expression than Ellen's own.
Alas! she had too good reason. She knew that the chance of her ever returning to shield the little creature who was nearest her heart from the future evils and snares of life was very, very small. She had at first absolutely refused to leave Ellen, when her husband proposed it; declaring that she would rather stay with her and die than take the chance of recovery at such a cost. But her physician assured her she could not live long without a change of climate; Captain Montgomery urged that it was better to submit to a temporary separation, than to cling obstinately to her child for a few months, and then leave her for ever; said he must himself go speedily to France, and that now was her best opportunity; assuring her, however, that his circumstances would not permit him to take Ellen with them, but that she would be secure of a happy home with his sister during her mother's absence; and to the pressure of argument Captain Montgomery added the weight of authority insisting on her compliance. Conscience also asked Mrs. Montgomery whether she had a right to neglect any chance of life that was offered her; and at last she yielded to the combined influence of motives no one of which would have had power sufficient to move her, and though with a secret consciousness it would be in vain, she consented to do as her friends wished. And it was for Ellen's sake she did it, after all.
Nothing but necessity had given her the courage to open the matter to her little daughter. She had foreseen and endeavoured to prepare herself for Ellen's anguish; but nature was too strong for her, and they clasped each other in a convulsive embrace, while tears fell like rain.
It was some minutes before Mrs. Montgomery recollected herself, and then, though she struggled hard, she could not immediately regain her composure. But Ellen's deep sobs at length fairly alarmed her; she saw the necessity, for both their sakes, of putting a stop to this state of violent excitement; self-command was restored at once.
"Ellen! Ellen! listen to me," she said. "My child, this is not right. Remember, my darling, who it is that brings this sorrow upon us; though we must sorrow, we must not rebel."
Ellen sobbed more gently; but that and the mute pressure of her arms was her only answer.
"You will hurt both yourself and me, my daughter, if you cannot command yourself. Remember, dear Ellen, God sends no trouble upon his children but in love; and though we cannot see how, he will no doubt make all this work for our good."
"I know it, dear mother," sobbed Ellen, "but it's just as hard!"
Mrs. Montgomery's own heart answered so readily to the truth of Ellen's words, that for the moment she could not speak.
"Try, my daughter," she said, after a pause, "try to compose yourself. I am afraid you will make me worse, Ellen, if you cannot; I am indeed."
Ellen had plenty of faults, but amidst them all, love to her mother was the strongest feeling her heart knew. It had power enough now to move her as nothing else could have done; and exerting all her self-command, of which she had sometimes a good deal, she did calm herself; ceased sobbing; wiped her eyes; arose from her crouching posture, and seating herself on the sofa by her mother, and laying her head on her bosom, she listened quietly to all the soothing words and cheering considerations with which Mrs. Montgomery endeavoured to lead her to take a more hopeful view of the subject. All she could urge, however, had but very partial success, though the conversation was prolonged far into the evening. Ellen said little, and did not weep any more; but in secret her heart refused consolation.
Long before this the servant had brought in the tea-things. Nobody regarded it at the time, but the little kettle hissing away on the fire now by chance attracted Ellen's attention, and she suddenly recollected her mother had had no tea. To make her mother's tea was Ellen's regular business. She treated it as a very grave affair, and loved it as one of the pleasantest in the course of the day. She used in the first place to make sure that the kettle really boiled; then she carefully poured some water into the teapot and rinsed it, both to make it clean and to make it hot; then she knew exactly how much tea to put into the tiny little teapot, which was just big enough to hold two cups of tea; and having poured a very little boiling water to it, she used to set it by the side of the fire while she made half a slice of toast. How careful Ellen was about that toast! The bread must not be cut too thick, nor too thin; the fire must, if possible, burn clear and bright; and she herself held the bread on a fork, just at the right distance from the coals to get nicely browned without burning. When this was done to her satisfaction (and if the first piece failed, she would take another), she filled up the little tea-pot from the boiling kettle, and proceeded to make a cup of tea. She knew, and was very careful to put in, just the quantity of milk and sugar that her mother liked; and then she used to carry the tea and toast on a little tray to her mother's side, and very often held it there for her while she ate. All this Ellen did with the zeal that love gives, and though the same thing was to be gone over every night of the year, she was never wearied. It was a real pleasure; she had the greatest satisfaction in seeing that the little her mother could eat was prepared for her in the nicest possible manner; she knew her hands made it taste better; her mother often said so.
But this evening other thoughts had driven this important business quite out of poor Ellen's mind. Now, however, when her eyes fell upon the little kettle, she recollected her mother had not had her tea, and must want it very much; and silently slipping off the sofa, she set about getting it as usual. There was no doubt this time whether the kettle boiled or no; it had been hissing for an hour and more, calling as loud as it could to somebody to come and make the tea. So Ellen made it, and then began the toast. But she began to think, too, as she watched it, how few more times she would be able to do so how soon her pleasant tea makings would be over and the desolate feeling of separation began to come upon her before the time. These thoughts were too much for poor Ellen; the thick tears gathered so fast, she could not see what she was doing; and she had no more than just turned the slice of bread on the fork when the sickness of heart quite overcame her; she could not go on. Toast and fork and all dropped from her hand into the ashes; and rushing to her mother's side, who was now lying down again, and throwing herself upon her, she burst into another fit of sorrow not so violent as the former, but with a touch of hopelessness in it which went yet more to her mother's heart. Passion in the first said, "I cannot;" despair now seemed to say, "I must."
But Mrs. Montgomery was too exhausted to either share or soothe Ellen's agitation. She lay in suffering silence; till after some time she said faintly "Ellen, my love, I cannot bear this much longer."
Ellen was immediately brought to herself by these words. She arose, sorry and ashamed that she should have given occasion for them, and tenderly kissing her mother, assured her, most sincerely and resolutely, that she would not do so again. In a few minutes she was calm enough to finish making the tea, and having toasted another piece of bread, she brought it to her mother. Mrs. Montgomery swallowed a cup of tea, but no toast could be eaten that night.
Both remained silent and quiet awhile after this, till the clock struck ten. "You had better go to bed, my daughter," said Mrs. Montgomery.
"I will, Mamma."
"Do you think you can read me a little before you go?"
"Yes, indeed, Mamma;" and Ellen brought the book. "Where shall I read?"
"The twenty-third Psalm."
Ellen began it, and went through it steadily and slowly, though her voice quivered a little.
" 'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
" 'He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.
" 'He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
" 'Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
" 'Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
" 'Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.' "
Long before she had finished, Ellen's eyes were full, and her heart too. "If I only could feel these words as Mamma does!" she said to herself. She did not dare look up till the traces of tears had passed away; then she saw that her mother was asleep. Those first sweet words had fallen like balm upon the sore heart; and mind and body had instantly found rest together.
Ellen breathed the lightest possible kiss upon her forehead, and stole quietly out of the room to her own little bed.
Gives sorrow to the winds.
Sorrow and excitement made Ellen's eyelids heavy, and she slept late on the following morning. The great dressing-bell waked her. She started up with a confused notion that something was the matter: there was a weight on her heart that was very strange to it. A moment was enough to bring it all back; and she threw herself again on her pillow, yielding helplessly to the grief she had twice been obliged to control the evening before. Yet love was stronger than grief still, and she was careful to allow no sound to escape her that could reach the ears of her mother, who slept in the next room. Her resolve was firm to grieve her no more with useless expressions of sorrow to keep it to herself as much as possible. But this very thought, that she must keep it to herself, gave an edge to poor Ellen's grief, and the convulsive clasp of her little arms round the pillow plainly showed that it needed none.
The breakfast-bell again startled her, and she remembered she must not be too late down stairs, or her mother might inquire and find out the reason. "I will not trouble mother I will not I will not!" she resolved to herself as she got out of bed, though the tears fell faster as she said so. Dressing was sad work to Ellen to-day; it went on very heavily. Tears dropped into the water as she stooped her head to the basin; and she hid her face in the towel to cry, instead of making the ordinary use of it. But the usual duties were dragged through at last, and she went to the window. "I'll not go down till papa is gone," she thought "he'll ask me what is the matter with my eyes."
Ellen opened the window. The rain was over; the lovely light of a fair September morning was beautifying everything it shone upon. Ellen had been accustomed to amuse herself a good deal at this window, though nothing was to be seen from it but an ugly city prospect of back walls of houses, with the yards belonging to them, and a bit of narrow street. But she had watched the people that showed themselves at the windows, and the children that played in the yards, and the women that went to the pumps, till she had become pretty well acquainted with the neighbourhood; and though they were for the most part dingy, dirty, and disagreeable women, children, houses, and all she certainly had taken a good deal of interest in their proceedings. It was all gone now. She could not bear to look at them; she felt as if it made her sick; and turning away her eyes, she lifted them to the bright sky above her head, and gazed into its clear depth of blue till she almost forgot that there was such a thing as a city in the world. Little white clouds were chasing across it, driven by the fresh wind that was blowing away Ellen's hair from her face, and cooling her hot cheeks. That wind could not have been long in coming from the place of woods and flowers, it was so sweet still. Ellen looked till, she didn't know why, she felt calmed and soothed as if somebody was saying to her softly, "Cheer up, my child, cheer up; things are not so bad as they might be: things will be better." Her attention was attracted at length by voices below; she looked down, and saw there, in one of the yards, a poor deformed child, whom she had often noticed before, and always with sorrowful interest. Besides his bodily infirmity, he had a further claim on her sympathy, in having lost his mother within a few months. Ellen's heart was easily touched this morning; she felt for him very much. "Poor, poor little fellow!" she thought; "he's a great deal worse off than I am. His mother is dead; mine is only going away for a few months not for ever oh, what a difference! and then the joy of coming back again!" poor Ellen was weeping already at the thought "and I will do, oh, how much! while she is gone I'll do more than she can possibly expect from me I'll astonish her I'll delight her I'll work harder than ever I did in my life before I'll mend all my faults, and give her so much pleasure! But oh! if she only needn't go away! oh, Mamma!" Tears of mingled sweet and bitter were poured out fast, but the bitter had the largest share.
The breakfast-table was still standing, and her father gone, when Ellen went down stairs. Mrs. Montgomery welcomed her with her usual quiet smile, and held out her hand. Ellen tried to smile in answer, but she was glad to hide her face in her mother's bosom; and the long close embrace was too close and too long; it told of sorrow as well as love; and tears fell from the eyes of each, that the other did not see.
"Need I go to school to-day, Mamma?" whispered Ellen.
"No; I spoke to your father about that; you shall not go any more; we will be together now while we can."
Ellen wanted to ask how long that would be, but could not make up her mind to it.
"Sit down, daughter, and take some breakfast."
"Have you done, Mamma?"
"No I waited for you."
"Thank you, dear Mamma" with another embrace "how good you are! but I don't think I want any."
They drew their chairs to the table, but it was plain neither had much heart to eat; although Mrs. Montgomery with her own hands laid on Ellen's plate half of the little bird that had been boiled for her own breakfast. The half was too much for each of them.
"What made you so late this morning, daughter?"
"I got up late, in the first place, Mamma; and then I was a long time at the window."
"At the window? Were you examining into your neighbours' affairs, as usual?" said Mrs. Montgomery, surprised that it should have been so.
"Oh, no, Mamma, I didn't look at them at all, except poor little Billy. I was looking at the sky."
"And what did you see there that pleased you so much?"
"I don't know, Mamma; it looked so lovely and peaceful that pure blue spread over my head, and the little white clouds flying across it I loved to look at it; it seemed to do me good."
"Could you look at it, Ellen, without thinking of Him who made it?"
"No, Mamma," said Ellen, ceasing her breakfast, and now speaking with difficulty; "I did think of Him; perhaps that was the reason."
"And what did you think of Him, daughter?"
"I hoped, Mamma I felt I thought he would take care of me," said Ellen, bursting into tears, and throwing her arms around her mother.
"He will, my dear daughter, he will, if you will only put your trust in Him, Ellen."
Ellen struggled hard to get back her composure, and after a few minutes succeeded.
"Mamma, will you tell me what you mean exactly by my 'putting my trust' in Him?"
"Don't you trust me, Ellen?"
"How do you trust me? in what?"
"Why, Mamma, in the first place I trust every word you say entirely I know nothing could be truer; if you were to tell me black is white, Mamma, I should think my eyes had been mistaken. Then everything you tell or advise me to do, I know it is right, perfectly. And I always feel safe when you are near me, because I know you'll take care of me. And I am glad to think I belong to you, and you have the management of me entirely, and I needn't manage myself, because I know I can't; and if I could, I'd rather you would, Mamma."
"My daughter, it is just so it is just so that I wish you to trust in God. He is truer, wiser, stronger, kinder by far than I am, even if I could always be with you; and what will you do when I am away from you? And what would you do, my child, if I were to be parted from you forever?"
"Oh, Mamma!" said Ellen, bursting into tears, and clasping her arms round her mother again "Oh, dear Mamma, don't talk about it!"
Her mother fondly returned her caress, and one or two tears fell on Ellen's head as she did so, but that was all, and she said no more. Feeling severely the effects of the excitement and anxiety of the preceding day and night, she now stretched herself on the sofa, and lay quite still. Ellen placed herself on a little bench at her side, with her back to the head of the sofa, that her mother might not see her face; and, possessing herself of one of her hands, sat with her little head resting upon her mother, as quiet as she. They remained thus for two or three hours without speaking; and Mrs. Montgomery was part of the time slumbering; but now and then a tear ran down the side of the sofa, and dropped on the carpet where Ellen sat: and now and then her lips were softly pressed to the hand she held, as if they would grow there.
The doctor's entrance at last disturbed them. Dr. Green found his patient decidedly worse than he had reason to expect; and his sagacious eye had not passed back and forth many times between the mother and daughter before he saw how it was. He made no remark upon it, however, but continued for some moments a pleasant chatty conversation which he had begun with Mrs. Montgomery. He then called Ellen to him; he had rather taken a fancy to her.
"Well, Miss Ellen," he said, rubbing one of her hands in his, "what do you think of this fine scheme of mine?"
"What scheme, Sir?"
"Why, this scheme of sending this sick lady over the water to get well; what do you think of it, eh?"
"Will it make her quite well, do you think, Sir?" asked Ellen, earnestly.
" 'Will it make her well?' to be sure it will. Do you think I don't know better than to send people all the way across the ocean for nothing? Who do you think would want Dr. Green if he sent people on wild-goose-chases in that fashion?"
"Will she have to stay long there before she is cured, Sir?" asked Ellen.
"Oh, that I can't tell; that depends entirely on circumstances perhaps longer, perhaps shorter. But now, Miss Ellen, I've got a word of business to say to you; you know you agreed to be my little nurse. Mrs. Nurse, this lady whom I put under your care the other day, isn't quite as well as she ought to be this morning; I am afraid you haven't taken proper care of her; she looks to me as if she had been too much excited. I've a notion she has been secretly taking half a bottle of wine, or reading some furious kind of a novel, or something of that sort you understand? Now mind, Mrs. Nurse," said the doctor, changing his tone "she must not be excited you must take care that she is not it isn't good for her. You mustn't let her talk too much, or laugh much, or cry at all, on any account; she mustn't be worried in the least will you remember? Now, you know what I shall expect of you; you must be very careful; if that piece of toast of yours should chance to get burned, one of these fine evenings, I won't answer for the consequences. Good-bye," said he, shaking Ellen's hand; "you needn't look sober about it; all you have to do is to let your Mamma be as much like an oyster as possible; you understand? Good-bye." And Dr. Green took his leave.
"Poor woman!" said the doctor to himself, as he went down stairs (he was a humane man) "I wonder if she'll live till she gets to the other side! That's a nice little girl, too. Poor child! poor child!"
Both mother and daughter silently acknowledged the justice of the doctor's advice, and determined to follow it. By common consent, as it seemed, each for several days avoided bringing the subject of sorrow to the other's mind; though no doubt it was constantly present to both. It was not spoken of; indeed, little of any kind was spoken of, but that never. Mrs. Montgomery was doubtless employed, during this interval, in preparing for what she believed was before her; endeavouring to resign herself and her child to Him in whose hands they were, and struggling to withdraw her affections from a world which she had a secret misgiving she was fast leaving. As for Ellen, the doctor's warning had served to strengthen the resolve she had already made, that she would not distress her mother with the sight of her sorrow; and she kept it, as far as she could. She did not let her mother see but very few tears, and those were quiet ones; though she drooped her head like a withered flower, and went about the house with an air of submissive sadness, that tried her mother sorely. But when she was alone, and knew no one could see, sorrow had its way; and then there were sometimes agonies of grief that would almost have broken Mrs. Montgomery's resolution, had she known them.
This, however, could not last. Ellen was a child, and of most buoyant and elastic spirit naturally; it was not for one sorrow, however great, to utterly crush her. It would have taken years to do that. Moreover, she entertained not the slightest hope of being able by any means to alter her father's will. She regarded the dreaded evil as an inevitable thing. But though she was at first overwhelmed with sorrow, and for some days evidently pined under it sadly, hope at length would come back to her little heart; and no sooner in again, hope began to smooth the roughest, and soften the hardest, and touch the dark spots with light, in Ellen's future. The thoughts which had just passed through her head that first morning, as she stood at her window, now came back again. Thoughts of wonderful improvement to be made during her mother's absence; of unheard-of efforts to learn and amend, which should all be crowned with success; and, above all, thoughts of that "coming home," when all these attainments and accomplishments should be displayed to her mother's delighted eyes, and her exertions receive their long-desired reward; they made Ellen's heart beat, and her eyes swim, and even brought a smile once more upon her lips. Mrs. Montgomery was rejoiced to see the change; she felt that as much time had already been given to sorrow as they could afford to lose, and she had not known exactly how to proceed. Ellen's amended looks and spirits greatly relieved her.
"What are you thinking about, Ellen?" said she, one morning.
Ellen was sewing, and while busy at her work her mother had two or three times observed a light smile pass over her face. Ellen looked up, still smiling, and answered, "Oh, Mamma, I was thinking of different things things that I mean to do while you are gone."
"And what are these things?" inquired her mother.
"Oh, Mamma, it wouldn't do to tell you beforehand; I want to surprise you with them when you come back."
A slight shudder passed over Mrs. Montgomery's frame, but Ellen did not see it. Mrs. Montgomery was silent. Ellen presently introduced another subject.
"Mamma, what kind of a person is my aunt?"
"I do not know I have never seen her."
"How has that happened, Mamma?"
"Your aunt has always lived in a remote country town, and I have been very much confined to two or three cities, and your father's long and repeated absences made travelling impossible to me."
Ellen thought, but she didn't say it, that it was very odd her father should not sometimes, when he was in the country, have gone to see his relations, and taken her mother with him.
"What is my aunt's name, Mamma?"
"I think you must have heard that already, Ellen Fortune Emerson."
"Emerson! I thought she was papa's sister!"
"So she is."
"Then how comes her name not to be Montgomery?"
"She is only his half-sister the daughter of his mother, not the daughter of his father."
"I am very sorry for that," said Ellen, gravely.
"Why, my daughter?"
"I am afraid she will not be so likely to love me."
"You mustn't think so, my child. Her loving or not loving you will depend solely and entirely upon yourself, Ellen. Don't forget that. If you are a good child, and make it your daily care to do your duty, she cannot help liking you, be she what she may; and, on the other hand, if she have all the will in the world to love you, she cannot do it unless you will let her it all depends on your behaviour."
"Oh, Mamma, I can't help wishing dear aunt Bessy was alive, and I was going to her."
Many a time the same wish had passed through Mrs. Montgomery's mind. But she kept down her rising heart, and went on calmly
"You must not expect, my child, to find anybody as indulgent as I am, or as ready to overlook and excuse your faults. It would be unreasonable to look for it; and you must not think hardly of your aunt when you find she is not your mother; but then it will be your own fault if she does not love you, in time, truly and tenderly. See that you render her all the respect and obedience you could render me; that is your bounden duty; she will stand in my place while she has the care of you remember that, Ellen; and remember, too, that she will deserve more gratitude at your hands for showing you kindness than I do, because she cannot have the same feeling of love to make trouble easy."
"Oh, no, Mamma," said Ellen, "I don't think so; it's that very feeling of love that I am grateful for; I don't care a fig for anything people do for me without that."
"But you can make her love you, Ellen, if you try."
"Well, I'll try, Mamma."
"And don't be discouraged. Perhaps you may be disappointed in first appearances, but never mind that; have patience; and let your motto be (if there's any occasion), 'Overcome evil with good'. Will you put that among the things you mean to do while I am gone?" said Mrs. Montgomery, with a smile.
"I'll try, dear Mamma."
"You will succeed if you try, dear, never fear if you apply yourself in your trying to the only unfailing source of wisdom and strength to Him without whom you can do nothing."
There was silence for a little.
"What sort of a place is it where my aunt lives?" asked Ellen.
"Your father says it is a very pleasant place; he says the country is beautiful, and very healthy, and full of charming walks and rides. You have never lived in the country; I think you will enjoy it very much."
"Then it is not a town?" said Ellen.
"No; it is not far from the town of Thirlwall, but your aunt lives in the open country. Your father says she is a capital housekeeper, and that you will learn more, and be in all respects a great deal happier and better off, than you would be in a boarding-school here or anywhere."
Ellen's heart secretly questioned the truth of this last assertion very much.
"Is there any school near?" she asked.
"Your father says there was an excellent one in Thirlwall when he was there."
"Mamma," said Ellen, "I think the greatest pleasure I shall have while you are gone will be writing to you. I have been thinking of it a good deal. I mean to tell you everything absolutely everything, Mamma. You know there will be nobody for me to talk to as I do to you" (Ellen's words came out with difficulty); "and when I feel badly, I shall just shut myself up and write to you." She hid her face in her mother's lap.
"I count upon it, my dear daughter; it will make quite as much the pleasure of my life, Ellen, as of yours."
"But then, mother," said Ellen, brushing away the tears from her eyes, "it will be so long before my letters can get to you! The things I want you to know right away, you won't know, perhaps, in a month."
"That's no matter, daughter; they will be just as good when they do get to me. Never think of that; write every day, and all manner of things that concern you just as particularly as if you were speaking to me."
"And you'll write to me, too, Mamma?"
"Indeed I will when I can. But, Ellen, you say that when I am away, and cannot hear you, there will be nobody to supply my place. Perhaps it will be so, indeed; but then, my daughter, let it make you seek that Friend who is never far away nor out of hearing. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. You know he has said of his children 'Before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.' "
"But, Mamma," said Ellen, her eyes filling instantly, "you know he is not my friend in the same way that he is yours." And, hiding her face again, she added, "Oh, I wish he was!"
"You know the way to make him so, Ellen. He is willing; it only rests with you. Oh, my child, my child! if losing your mother might be the means of finding you that better Friend, I should be quite willing and glad to go for ever."
There was silence, only broken by Ellen's sobs. Mrs. Montgomery's voice had trembled, and her face was now covered with her hands; but she was not weeping; she was seeking a better relief where it had long been her habit to seek and find it. Both resumed their usual composure, and the employments which had been broken off; but neither chose to renew the conversation. Dinner, sleeping, and company prevented their having another opportunity during the rest of the day.
But when evening came, they were again left to themselves. Captain Montgomery was away, which indeed was the case most of the time; friends had taken their departure; the curtains were down, the lamp lit, the little room looked cozy and comfortable; the servant had brought the tea-things, and withdrawn, and the mother and daughter were happily alone. Mrs. Montgomery knew that such occasions were numbered, and fast drawing to an end, and she felt each one to be very precious. She now lay on her couch, with her face partially shaded, and her eyes fixed upon her little daughter, who was now preparing the tea. She watched her, with thoughts and feelings not to be spoken, as the little figure went back and forward between the table and the fire, and the light shining full upon her face, showed that Ellen's whole soul was in her beloved duty. Tears would fall as she looked, and were not wiped away; but when Ellen, having finished her work, brought with a satisfied face the little tray of tea and toast to her mother, there was no longer any sign of them left; Mrs. Montgomery arose with her usual kind smile, to show her gratitude by honouring, as far as possible, what Ellen had provided.
"You have more appetite to-night, Mamma."
"I am very glad, daughter," replied her mother, "to see that you have made up your mind to bear patiently this evil that has come upon us. I am glad for your sake, and I am glad for mine; and I am glad, too, because we have a great deal to do, and no time to lose in doing it."
"What, have we so much to do, Mamma?" said Ellen.
"Oh, many things," said her mother, "you will see. But now, Ellen, if there is anything you wish to talk to me about, any question you want to ask, anything you would like particularly to have, or to have done for you I want you to tell it me as soon as possible, now, while we can attend to it for by-and- by perhaps we shall be hurried."
"Mamma," said Ellen, with brightening eyes, "there is one thing I have thought of that I should like to have shall I tell it you now?"
"Mamma, you know I shall want to be writing a great deal; wouldn't it be a good thing for me to have a little box with some pens in it, and an inkstand, and some paper and wafers? Because, Mamma, you know I shall be among strangers at first, and I shan't like asking them for these things as often as I shall want them, and may be they wouldn't want to let me have them if I did."
"I have thought of that already, daughter," said Mrs. Montgomery, with a smile and a sigh. "I will certainly take care that you are well provided in that respect before you go."
"How am I to go, Mamma?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, who will go with me? You know I can't go alone, Mamma."
"No, my daughter. I'll not send you alone. But your father says it is impossible for him to take the journey at present, and it is yet more impossible for me. There is no help for it, daughter, but we must intrust you to the care of some friend going that way; but He that holds the winds and waters in the hollow of his hand, can take care of you without any of our help, and it is to his keeping above all that I shall commit you."
Ellen made no remark, and seemed much less surprised and troubled than her mother had expected. In truth, the greater evil swallowed up the less. Parting from her mother, and for so long a time, it seemed to her comparatively a matter of little importance with whom she went, or how, or where. Except for this, the taking a long journey under a stranger's care? would have been a dreadful thing to her.
"Do you know yet who it will be that I shall go with, Mamma?"
"Not yet; but it will be necessary to take the first good opportunity, for I cannot go till I have seen you off. and it is thought very desirable that I should get to sea before the severe weather comes."
It was with a pang that these words were spoken and heard, but neither showed it to the other.
"It has comforted me greatly, my dear child, that you have shown yourself so submissive and patient under this affliction. I should scarcely have been able to endure it if you had not exerted self-control. You have behaved beautifully."
This was almost too much for poor Ellen. It required her utmost stretch of self-control to keep within any bounds of composure; and for some moments her flushed cheek, quivering lip, and heaving bosom, told what a tumult her mother's words had raised. Mrs. Montgomery saw she had gone too far, and, willing to give both Ellen and herself time to recover, she laid her head on the pillow again, and closed her eyes. Many thoughts coming thick upon one another presently filled her mind, and half an hour had passed before she again recollected what she had meant to say. She opened her eyes; Ellen was sitting at a little distance, staring into the fire evidently as deep in meditation as her mother had been.
"Ellen," said Mrs. Montgomery, "did you ever fancy what kind of a Bible you would like to have?"
"A Bible, Mamma!" said Ellen, with sparkling eyes; "do you mean to give me a Bible?"
Mrs. Montgomery smiled.
"But, Mamma," said Ellen, gently, "I thought you couldn't afford it?"
"I have said so, and truly," answered her mother; "and hitherto you have been able to use mine, but I will not leave you now without one. I will find ways and means," said Mrs. Montgomery, smiling again.
"Oh, Mamma, thank you," said Ellen, delighted; "how glad I shall be!" And, after a pause of consideration, she added, "Mamma, I never thought much about what sort of a one I should like couldn't I tell better if I were to see the different kinds in the store?"
"Perhaps so. Well, the first day that the weather is fine enough, and I am well enough, I will go out with you, and we will see about it."
"I am afraid Dr. Green won't let you, Mamma."
"I shall not ask him. I want to get you a Bible, and some other things that I will not leave you without, and nobody can do it but myself. I shall go, if I possibly can."
"What other things, Mamma?" asked Ellen, very much interested in the subject.
"I don't think it will do to tell you to-night," said Mrs. Montgomery, smiling. "I foresee that you and I should be kept awake too late if we were to enter upon it just now. We will leave it till to-morrow. Now read to me, love, and then to bed."
Ellen obeyed; and went to sleep with brighter visions dancing before her eyes than had been the case for some time.
The worth of a Finger-Ring.
Ellen had to wait some time for the desired fine day. The equinoctial storms would have their way, as usual, and Ellen thought they were longer than ever this year. But after many stormy days had tried her patience, there was at length a sudden change, both without and within doors. The clouds had done their work for that time, and fled away before a strong northerly wind, leaving the sky bright and fair. And Mrs. Montgomery's deceitful disease took a turn, and for a little space raised the hopes of her friends. All were rejoicing but two persons Mrs. Montgomery was not deceived, neither was the doctor. The shopping project was kept a profound secret from him, and from everybody except Ellen.
Ellen watched now for a favourable day. Every morning as soon as she rose, she went to the window to see what was the look of the weather; and about a week after the change above noticed, she was greatly pleased one morning, on opening her window, as usual, to find the air and sky promising all that could be desired. It was one of those beautiful days in the end of September, that sometimes herald October before it arrives cloudless, brilliant, and breathing balm. "This will do," said Ellen to herself, in great satisfaction "I think this will do I hope Mamma will think so."
Hastily dressing herself, and a good deal excited already, she ran down stairs, and, after the morning salutations, examined her mother's looks with as much anxiety as she had just done those of the weather. All was satisfactory there also; and Ellen ate her breakfast with an excellent appetite; but she said not a word of the intended expedition till her father should be gone. She contented herself with strengthening her hopes, by making constant fresh inspections of the weather and her mother's countenance alternately; and her eyes returning from the window on one of these excursions, and meeting her mother's face, saw a smile there which said all she wanted. Breakfast went on more vigorously than ever. But after breakfast it seemed to Ellen that her father never would go away. He took the newspaper, an uncommon thing for him, and pored over it most perseveringly, while Ellen was in a perfect fidget of impatience. Her mother, seeing the state she was in, and taking pity on her, sent her up stairs to do some little matters of business in her own room. These Ellen despatched with all possible zeal and speed; and coming down again, found her father gone, and her mother alone. She flew to kiss her in the first place, and then made the inquiry, "Don't you think to-day will do, Mamma?"
"As fine as possible, daughter; we could not have a better; but I must wait till the doctor has been here."
"Mamma," said Ellen, after a pause, making a great effort of self-denial, "I am afraid you oughtn't to go out to get these things for me. Pray don't, Mamma, if you think it will do you harm. I would rather go without them; indeed I would."
"Never mind that, daughter," said Mrs. Montgomery, kissing her; "I am bent upon it; it would be quite as much of a disappointment to me as to you, not to go. We have a lovely day for it, and we will take our time and walk slowly, and we haven't far to go either. But I must let Dr. Green make his visit first."
To fill up the time till he came, Mrs. Montgomery employed Ellen in reading to her, as usual. And this morning's reading Ellen long after remembered. Her mother directed her to several passages in different parts of the Bible that speak of heaven and its enjoyments; and though, when she began, her own little heart was full of excitement, in view of the day's plans, and beating with hope and pleasure, the sublime beauty of the words and thoughts, as she went on, awed her into quiet, and her mother's manner at length turned her attention entirely from herself. Mrs. Montgomery was lying on the sofa, and for the most part listened in silence, with her eyes closed, but sometimes saying a word or two that made Ellen feel how deep was the interest her mother had in the things she read of, and how pure and strong the pleasure she was even now taking in them; and sometimes there was a smile on her face that Ellen scarce liked to see; it gave her an indistinct feeling that her mother would not be long away from that heaven to which she seemed already to belong. Ellen had a sad consciousness, too, that she had no part with her mother in this matter. She could hardly go on. She came to that beautiful passage in the seventh of Revelation:
"And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him. Sir thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
With difficulty, and a husky voice, Ellen got through it. Lifting then her eyes to her mother's face, she saw again the same singular sweet smile. Ellen felt that she could not read another word; to her great relief the door opened, and Dr. Green came in. His appearance changed the whole course of her thoughts. All that was grave or painful fled quickly away; Ellen's head was immediately full again of what had filled it before she began to read.
As soon as the doctor had retired, and was fairly out of hearing, "Now, Mamma, shall we go?" said Ellen. "You needn't stir, Mamma; I'll bring all your things to you, and put them on may I, Mamma? then you won't be a bit tired before you set out."
Her mother assented; and with a great deal of tenderness, and a great deal of eagerness, Ellen put on her stockings and shoes, arranged her hair, and did all that she could towards changing her dress, and putting on her bonnet and shawl; and greatly delighted she was when the business was accomplished.
"Now, Mamma, you look like yourself; I haven't seen you look so well this great while. I'm glad you're going out again," said Ellen, putting her arms round her; "I do believe it will do you good. Now, Mamma, I'll go and get ready; I'll be very quick about it; you shan't have to wait long for me."
In a few minutes the two set forth from the house. The day was as fine as could be; there was no wind, there was no dust; the sun was not oppressive; and Mrs. Montgomery did feel refreshed and strengthened during the few steps they had to take to their first stopping-place.
It was a jeweller's store. Ellen had never been in one before in her life, and her first feeling on entering was of dazzled wonderment at the glittering splendours around; this was presently forgotten in curiosity to know what her mother could possibly want there. She soon discovered that she had come to sell, and not to buy. Mrs. Montgomery drew a ring from her finger, and, after a little chaffering, parted with it to the owner of the store for eighty dollars, being about three- quarters of its real value. The money was counted out, and she left the store.
"Mamma," said Ellen, in a low voice, "wasn't that grandmamma's ring, which I thought you loved so much?"
"Yes, I did love it, Ellen, but I love you better."
"Oh, Mamma, I am very sorry!" said Ellen.
"You need not be sorry, daughter. Jewels in themselves are the merest nothings to me; and as for the rest, it doesn't matter; I can remember my mother without any help from a trinket."
There were tears, however, in Mrs. Montgomery's eyes, that showed the sacrifice had cost her something; and there were tears in Ellen's, that told it was not thrown away upon her.
"I am sorry you should know of this," continued Mrs. Montgomery; "you should not if I could have helped it. But set your heart quite at rest, Ellen; I assure you this use of my ring gives me more pleasure on the whole than any other I could have made of it."
A grateful squeeze of her hand and glance into her face was Ellen's answer.
Mrs. Montgomery had applied to her husband for the funds necessary to fit Ellen comfortably for the time they should be absent; and in answer he had given her a sum barely sufficient for her mere clothing. Mrs. Montgomery knew him better than to ask for a further supply, but she resolved to have recourse to other means to do what she had determined upon. Now that she was about to leave her little daughter, and it might be for ever, she had set her heart upon providing her with certain things which she thought important to her comfort and improvement, and which Ellen would go very long without if she did not give them to her, and now. Ellen had had very few presents in her life, and those always of the simplest and cheapest kind; her mother resolved that in the midst of the bitterness of this time she would give her one pleasure, if she could it might be the last.
They stopped next at a book-store. "Oh, what a delicious smell of new books!" said Ellen, as they entered. "Mamma, if it wasn't for one thing, I should say I never was so happy in my life."
Children's books, lying in tempting confusion near the door, immediately fastened Ellen's eyes and attention. She opened one, and was already deep in the interest of it, when the word "Bibles" struck her ear. Mrs. Montgomery was desiring the shopman to show her various kinds and sizes, that she might choose from among them. Down went Ellen's book, and she flew to the place, where a dozen different Bibles were presently displayed. Ellen's wits were ready to forsake her. Such beautiful Bibles she had never seen; she pored in ecstasy over their varieties of type and binding, and was very evidently in love with them all.
"Now, Ellen," said Mrs. Montgomery, "look and choose; take your time, and see which you like best."
It was not likely that Ellen's "time" would be a short one. Her mother seeing this, took a chair at a little distance, to await patiently her decision; and while Ellen's eyes were riveted on the Bibles, her own, very naturally, were fixed upon her. In the excitement and eagerness of the moment, Ellen had thrown off her little bonnet, and with flushed cheek and sparkling eye, and a brow grave with unusual care, as though a nation's fate were deciding, she was weighing the comparative advantages of large, small, and middle-sized black, blue, purple, and red gilt and not gilt clasp and no clasp. Everything but the Bibles before her Ellen had forgotten utterly; she was deep in what was to her the most important of business; she did not see the bystanders smile she did not know there were any. To her mother's eye it was a most fair sight. Mrs. Montgomery gazed with rising emotions of pleasure and pain that struggled for the mastery; but pain at last got the better, and rose very high. "How can I give thee up!" was the one thought of her heart. Unable to command herself, she rose and went to a distant part of the counter, where she seemed to be examining books; but tears, some of the bitterest she had ever shed, were falling thick upon the dusty floor, and she felt her heart like to break. Her little daughter, at one end of the counter, had forgotten there ever was such a thing as sorrow in the world; and she, at the other, was bowed beneath a weight of it that was nigh to crush her. But in her extremity she betook herself to that refuge she had never known to fail: it did not fail her now. She remembered the words Ellen had been reading to her but that very morning, and they came like the breath of heaven upon the fever of her soul "Not my will, but thine be done." She strove and prayed to say it, and not in vain; and after a little while she was able to return to her seat. She felt that she had been shaken by a tempest, but she was calmer now than before.
Ellen was just as she had left her, and apparently just as far from coming to any conclusion. Mrs. Montgomery was resolved to let her take her way. Presently Ellen came over from the counter with a large royal octavo Bible, heavy enough to be a good lift for her. "Mamma," said she, laying it on her mother's lap, and opening it, "what do you think of that? isn't that splendid?"
"A most beautiful page indeed; is this your choice, Ellen?"
"Well, Mamma, I don't know; what do you think?"
"I think it is rather inconveniently large and heavy for everyday use. It is quite a weight upon my lap. I shouldn't like to carry it in my hands long. You would want a little table on purpose to hold it."
"Well, that wouldn't do at all," said Ellen, laughing. "I believe you are right, Mamma; I wonder I didn't think of it. I might have known that myself."
She took it back; and there followed another careful examination of the whole stock; and then Ellen came to her mother with a beautiful miniature edition, in two volumes, gilt, and clasped, and very perfect in all respects, but of exceeding small print.
"I think I'll have this, Mamma," said she; "isn't it a beauty? I could put it in my pocket, you know, and carry it anywhere, with the greatest ease."
"It would have one great objection to me," said Mrs. Montgomery, "inasmuch as I cannot possibly see to read it."
"Cannot you, Mamma? But I can read it perfectly."
"Well, my dear, take it that is, if you will make up your mind to put on spectacles before your time."
"Spectacles, Mamma! I hope I shall never have to wear spectacles."
"What do you propose to do when your sight fails, if you shall live so long?"
"Well, Mamma, if it comes to that; but you don't advise me, then, to take this little beauty?"
"Judge for yourself; I think you are old enough."
"I know what you think, though, Mamma, and I daresay you are right, too; I won't take it, though it's a pity. Well, I must look again."
Mrs. Montgomery came to her help, for it was plain Ellen had lost the power of judging amidst so many tempting objects. But she presently simplified the matter by putting aside all that were decidedly too large or too small, or of too fine print. There remained three of moderate size and sufficiently large type, but different binding. "Either of these, I think, will answer your purpose nicely," said Mrs. Montgomery.
"Then, Mamma, if you please, I will have the red one. I like that best, because it will put me in mind of yours."
Mrs. Montgomery could find no fault with this reason. She paid for the red Bible, and directed it to be sent home.
"Shan't I carry it, Mamma?" said Ellen.
"No, you would find it in the way; we have several things to do yet."
"Have we, Mamma? I thought we only came to get a Bible."
"That is enough for one day, I confess. I am a little afraid your head will be turned, but I must run the risk of it. I dare not lose the opportunity of this fine weather; I may not have such another. I wish to have the comfort of thinking, when I am away, that I have left you with everything necessary to the keeping up of good habits everything that will make them pleasant and easy. I wish you to be always neat, and tidy, and industrious; depending upon others as little as possible; and careful to improve yourself by every means, and especially by writing to me. I will leave you no excuse, Ellen, for failing in any of these duties. I trust you will not disappoint me in a single particular."
Ellen's heart was too full to speak. She again looked up tearfully, and pressed her mother's hand.
"I do not expect to be disappointed, love," returned Mrs. Montgomery.
They now entered a large fancy store.
"What are we to get here, Mamma?" said Ellen.
"A box to put your pens and paper in," said her mother, smiling.
"Oh, to be sure," said Ellen; "I had almost forgotten that."
She quite forgot it a minute after. It was the first time she had seen the inside of such a store, and the articles displayed on every side completely bewitched her. From one thing to another she went, admiring and wondering; in her wildest dreams she had never imagined such beautiful things. The store was fairyland.
Mrs. Montgomery meanwhile attended to business. Having chosen a neat little japanned dressing-box, perfectly plain, but well supplied with everything a child could want in that line, she called Ellen from the delightful journey of discovery she was making round the store, and asked her what she thought of it. "I think it's a little beauty," said Ellen; "but I never saw such a place for beautiful things."
"You think it will do, then?" said her mother.
"For me, Mamma! You don't mean to give it to me? Oh, mother, how good you are! But I know what is the best way to thank you, and I'll do it. What a perfect little beauty! Mamma, I'm too happy!"
"I hope not," said her mother; "for you know I haven't got you the box for your pens and paper yet."
"Well, Mamma, I'll try and bear it," said Ellen, laughing. "But do get me the plainest little thing in the world, for you're giving me too much."
Mrs. Montgomery asked to look at writing-desks, and was shown to another part of the store for the purpose.
"Mamma," said Ellen, in a low tone, as they went, "you're not going to get me a writing-desk?"
"Why, that is the best kind of box for holding writing materials," said her mother, smiling; "don't you think so?"
"I don't know what to say!" exclaimed Ellen. "I can't thank you, Mamma; I haven't any words to do it. I think I shall go crazy."
She was truly overcome with the weight of happiness. Words failed her, and tears came instead.
From among a great many desks of all descriptions, Mrs. Montgomery with some difficulty succeeded in choosing one to her mind. It was of mahogany, not very large, but thoroughly well made and finished, and very convenient and perfect in its internal arrangements. Ellen was speechless; occasional looks at her mother, and deep sighs, were all she had now to offer. The desk was quite empty.
"Ellen," said her mother, "do you remember the furniture of Miss Allen's desk, that you were so pleased with a while ago?"
"Perfectly, Mamma; I know all that was in it."
"Well, then, you must prompt me if I forget anything. Your desk will be furnished with everything really useful. Merely showy matters we can dispense with. Now let us see here is a great empty place that I think wants some paper to fill it. Show me some of different sizes, if you please."
The shopman obeyed, and Mrs. Montgomery stocked the desk well with letter-paper, large and small. Ellen looked on in great satisfaction. "That will do nicely," she said; "that large paper will be beautiful whenever I am writing to you, Mamma, you know; and the other will do for other times, when I haven't so much to say; though I am sure I don't know who there is in the world I should ever send letters to, except you."
"If there is nobody now, perhaps there will be at some future time," replied her mother. "I hope I shall not always be your only correspondent. Now, what next?"
"To be sure; I had forgotten them. Envelopes of both sizes to match."
"Because, Mamma, you know I might, and I certainly shall, want to write upon the fourth page of my letter, and I couldn't do it unless I had envelopes."
A sufficient stock of envelopes was laid in.
"Mamma," said Ellen, "what do you think of a little note- paper?"
"Who are the notes to be written to, Ellen?" said Mrs. Montgomery smiling.
"You needn't smile, Mamma; you know, as you said, if I don't know now, perhaps I shall by-and-by. Miss Allen's desk had note-paper that made me think of it."
"So shall yours, daughter; while we are about it, we will do the thing well. And your note-paper will keep quite safely in this nice little place provided for it, even if you should not want to use a sheet of it in half-a-dozen years."
"How nice that is!" said Ellen, admiringly.
"I suppose the note-paper must have envelopes too," said Mrs. Montgomery.
"To be sure, Mamma; I suppose so," said Ellen, smiling; "Miss Allen's had."
"Well, now we have got all the paper we want, I think," said Mrs. Montgomery; "the next thing is ink or an inkstand, rather."
Different kinds were presented for her choice.
"Oh, Mamma, that one won't do," said Ellen, anxiously; "you know the desk will be knocking about in a trunk, and the ink would run out, and spoil every thing. It should be one of those that shut tight. I don't see the right kind here."
The shopman brought one.
"There, Mamma do you see?" said Ellen. "It shuts with a spring, and nothing can possibly come out. Do you see, Mamma. You can turn it topsy-turvy."
"I see you are quite right, daughter; it seems I should get on very ill without you to advise me. Fill the inkstand, if you please."
"Mamma, what shall I do when my ink is gone? that inkstand will hold but a little, you know."
"Your aunt will supply you, of course, my dear, when you are out."
"I'd rather take some of my own, by half," said Ellen.
"You could not carry a bottle of ink in your desk without great danger to every thing else in it. It would not do to venture."
"We have excellent ink-powder," said the shopman, "in small packages, which can be very conveniently carried about. You see, Maam, there is a compartment in the desk for such things; and the ink is very easily made at any time."
"Oh, that will do nicely," said Ellen, "that is just the thing."
"Now, what is to go in this other square place, opposite the inkstand?" said Mrs. Montgomery.
"That is the place for the box of lights, Mamma."
"What sort of lights?"
"For sealing letters, Mamma, you know. They are not like your wax taper at all; they are little wax matches, that burn just long enough to seal one or two letters; Miss Allen showed me how she used them. Hers were in a nice little box, just like the inkstand on the outside; and there was a place to light the matches, and a place to set them in while they are burning. There, Mamma, that's it," said Ellen, as the shopman brought forth the article which she was describing, "that's it exactly; and that will just fit. Now, Mamma, for the wax."
"You want to seal your letter before you have written it," said Mrs. Montgomery "we have not got the pens yet."
"That's true, Mamma let us have the pens. And some quills too, Mamma?"
"Do you know how to make a pen, Ellen?"
"No, Mamma, not yet; but I want to learn very much. Miss Pichegru says that every lady ought to know how to make her own pens."
"Miss Pichegru is very right; but I think you are rather too young to learn. However, we will try. Now, here are steel points enough to last you a great while and as many quills as it is needful you should cut up for one year at least; we haven't a pen-handle yet."
"Here, Mamma," said Ellen, holding out a plain ivory one, "don't you like this? I think it is prettier than these that are all cut and fussed, or those other gay ones either."
"I think so too, Ellen; the plainer the prettier. Now, what comes next?"
"The knife, Mamma, to make the pens," said Ellen, smiling.
"True, the knife. Let us see some of your best penknives. Now, Ellen, choose. That one won't do, my dear; it should have two blades a large as well as a small one. You know you want to mend a pencil sometimes."
"So I do, Mamma to be sure you're very right; here's a nice one. Now, Mamma, the wax."
"There is a box full choose your own colours." Seeing it was likely to be a work of time, Mrs. Montgomery walked away to another part of the store. When she returned, Ellen had made up an assortment of the oddest colours she could find.
"I won't have any red, Mamma, it is so common," she said.
"I think it is the prettiest of all," said Mrs. Montgomery.
"Do you, Mamma? then I will have a stick of red on purpose to seal to you with."
"And who do you intend shall have the benefit of the other colours?" inquired her mother.
"I declare, Mamma," said Ellen, laughing; "I never thought of that; I am afraid they will have to go to you. You must not mind, Mamma, if you get green, and blue, and yellow seals once in a while."
"I dare say I shall submit myself to it with a good grace, said Mrs. Montgomery. "But come, my dear, have we got all that we want? This desk has been very long in furnishing."
"You haven't given me a seal yet, Mamma."
"Seals! There are a variety before you; see if you can find one that you like. By the way, you cannot seal a letter, can you?"
"Not yet, Mamma," said Ellen, smiling again; "that is another of the things I have got to learn."
"Then I think you had better have some wafers in the mean time."
While Ellen was picking out her seal, which took not a little time, Mrs. Montgomery laid in a good supply of wafers of all sorts; and then went on further to furnish the desk with an ivory leaf-cutter, a paper-folder, a pounce-box, a ruler, and a neat little silver pencil; also some drawing-pencils, India- rubber, and sheets of drawing-paper. She took a sad pleasure in adding everything she could think of that might be for Ellen's future use or advantage; but as with her own hands she placed in the desk one thing after another, the thought crossed her mind, how Ellen would make drawings with those very pencils, on those very sheets of paper, which her eyes would never see! She turned away with a sigh, and receiving Ellen's seal from her hand, put that also in its place. Ellen had chosen one with her own name.
"Will you send these things at once?" said Mrs. Montgomery; "I particularly wish to have them at home as early in the day as possible."
The man promised. Mrs. Montgomery paid the bill, and she and Ellen left the store.
They walked a little way in silence.
"I cannot thank you, Mamma," said Ellen.
"It is not necessary, my dear child," said Mrs. Montgomery, returning the pressure of her hand; "I know all that you would say."
There was as much sorrow as joy at that moment in the heart of the joyfullest of the two.
"Where are we going now, Mamma?" said Ellen again, after a while.
"I wished and intended to have gone to St. Clair and Fleury's, to get you some merino and other things, but we have been detained so long already that I think I had better go home. I feel somewhat tired."
"I am very sorry, dear Mamma," said Ellen; "I am afraid I kept you too long about that desk."
"You did not keep me, daughter, any longer than I chose to be kept. But I think I will go home now, and take the chance of another fine day for the merino."
The Bitter-sweet of Life.
When dinner was over and the table cleared away, the mother and daughter were left, as they always loved to be, alone. It was late in the afternoon, and already somewhat dark, for clouds had gathered over the beautiful sky of the morning, and the wind, rising now and then, made its voice heard. Mrs. Montgomery was lying on the sofa, as usual, seemingly at ease; and Ellen was sitting on a little bench before the fire, very much at her ease, indeed, without any seeming about it. She smiled as she met her mother's eyes.
"You have made me very happy to-day, Mamma."
"I am glad of it, my dear child. I hoped I should. I believe the whole affair has given me as much pleasure, Ellen, as it has you."
There was a pause.
"Mamma, I will take the greatest possible care of my new treasures."
"I know you will. If I had doubted it, Ellen, most assuredly I should not have given them to you, sorry as I should have been to leave you without them. So you see you have not established a character for carefulness in vain."
"And, Mamma, I hope you have not given them to me in vain, either. I will try to use them in the way that I know you wish me to; that will be the best way I can thank you."
"Well, I have left you no excuse, Ellen. You know fully what I wish you to do and to be; and when I am away I shall please myself with thinking that my little daughter is following her mother's wishes; I shall believe so, Ellen. You will not let me be disappointed?"
"Oh no, Mamma," said Ellen, who was now in her mother's arms.
"Well, my child," said Mrs. Montgomery, in a lighter tone, "my gifts will serve as reminders for you if you are ever tempted to forget my lessons. If you fail to send me letters, or if those you send are not what they ought to be, I think the desk will cry shame upon you. And if you ever go an hour with a hole in your stocking, or a tear in your dress, or a string off your petticoat, I hope the sight of your workbox will make you blush."
"Yes. Oh, I forgot you've not seen that."
"No, Mamma what do you mean?"
"Why, my dear, that was one of the things you most wanted, but I thought it best not to overwhelm you quite this morning; so while you were on an exploring expedition round the store, I chose and furnished one for you."
"Oh Mamma, Mamma!" said Ellen, getting up and clasping her hands, "what shall I do? I don't know what to say; I can't say anything. Mamma, it's too much."
So it seemed, for Ellen sat down and began to cry. Her mother silently reached out a hand to her, which she squeezed and kissed with all the energy of gratitude, love, and sorrow; till, gently drawn by the same hand, she was placed again in her mother's arms and upon her bosom. And in that tried resting-place she lay, calmed and quieted, till the shades of afternoon deepened into evening, and evening into night, and the light of the fire was all that was left to them.
Though not a word had been spoken for a long time, Ellen was not asleep; her eyes were fixed on the red glow of the coals in the grate, and she was busily thinking, but not of them. Many sober thoughts were passing through her little head, and stirring her heart; a few were of her new possessions and bright projects more of her mother. She was thinking how very, very precious was the heart she could feel beating where her cheek lay she thought it was greater happiness to lie there than anything else in life could be she thought she had rather even die so, on her mother's breast, than live long without her in the world she felt that in earth or in heaven there was nothing so dear. Suddenly she broke the silence.
"Mamma, what does that mean, 'He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me?' "
"It means just what it says. If you love anybody or anything better than Jesus Christ, you cannot be one of his children."
"But then, Mamma," said Ellen, raising her head, "how can I be one of his children? I do love you a great deal better: how can I help it, Mamma?"
"You cannot help it, I know, my dear," said Mrs. Montgomery, with a sigh, "except by His grace, who has promised to change the hearts of his people to take away the heart of stone, and give them a heart of flesh."
"But is mine a heart of stone, then, Mamma, because I cannot help loving you best?"
"Not to me, dear Ellen," replied Mrs. Montgomery, pressing closer the little form that lay in her arms; "I have never found it so. But yet I know that the Lord Jesus is far, far more worthy of your affection than I am; and if your heart were not hardened by sin, you would see him so; it is only because you do not know him that you love me better. Pray, pray, my dear child, that he would take away the power of sin, and show you himself; that is all that is wanting."
"I will, Mamma," said Ellen, tearfully. "Oh, Mamma, what shall I do without you?"
Alas! Mrs. Montgomery's heart echoed the question she had no answer.
"Mamma," said Ellen, after a few minutes, "can I have no true love to Him at all unless I love him best?"
"I dare not say that you can," answered her mother, seriously.
"Mamma," said Ellen, after a little, again raising her head, and looking her mother full in the face, as if willing to apply the severest test to this hard doctrine, and speaking with an indescribable expression, "do you love him better than you do me?"
She knew her mother loved the Saviour, but she thought it scarcely possible that herself could have but the second place in her heart; she ventured a bold question, to prove whether her mother's practice would not contradict her theory.
But Mrs. Montgomery answered steadily, "I do, my daughter;" and, with a gush of tears, Ellen sank her head again upon her bosom. She had no more to say; her mouth was stopped for ever as to the right of the matter, though she still thought it an impossible duty in her own particular case.
"I do, indeed, my daughter," repeated Mrs. Montgomery; "that does not make my love to you the less, but the more, Ellen."
"Oh, Mamma, Mamma!" said Ellen, clinging to her, "I wish you would teach me! I have only you, and I am going to lose you. What shall I do, Mamma?"
With a voice that strove to be calm, Mrs. Montgomery answered, " 'I love them that love me, and they that seek me early shall find me.' " And after a minute or two, she added, "He who says this has promised, too, that he will 'gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom.' "
The words fell soothingly on Ellen's ear, and the slight tremor in the voice reminded her also that her mother must not be agitated. She checked herself instantly, and soon lay as before, quiet and still, on her mother's bosom, with her eyes fixed on the fire; and Mrs. Montgomery did not know that when she now and then pressed a kiss upon the forehead that lay so near her lips, it every time brought the water to Ellen's eyes, and a throb to her heart. But after some half or three- quarters of an hour had passed away, a sudden knock at the door found both mother and daughter asleep; it had to be repeated once or twice before the knocker could gain attention.
"What is that, Mamma?" said Ellen, starting up.
"Somebody at the door. Open it quickly, love."
Ellen did so, and found a man standing there, with his arms rather full of sundry packages.
"Oh, Mamma, my things!" cried Ellen, clapping her hands; "here they are!"
The man placed his burden on the table and withdrew.
"Oh, Mamma, I am so glad they are come! Now, if I only had a light this is my desk, I know, for it's the largest; and I think this is my dressing-box, as well as I can tell by feeling yes, it is, here's the handle on top; and this is my dear workbox not so big as the desk, nor so little as the dressing-box. Oh, Mamma, mayn't I ring for a light?"
There was no need, for a servant just then entered, bringing the wished-for candles, and the not-wished-for tea. Ellen was capering about in the most fantastic style, but suddenly stopped short at sight of the tea things, and looked very grave. "Well, Mamma, I'll tell you what I'll do," she said, after a pause of consideration; "I'll make the tea the first thing, before I untie a single knot; won't that be best, Mamma? Because I know if I once begin to look, I shan't want to stop. Don't you think that is wise, Mamma?
But alas! the fire had got very low; there was no making the tea quickly; and the toast was a work of time. And when all was over at length, it was then too late for Ellen to begin to undo packages. She struggled with impatience a minute or two, and then gave up the point very gracefully, and went to bed.
She had a fine opportunity the next day to make up for the evening's disappointment. It was cloudy and stormy; going out was not to be thought of, and it was very unlikely that anybody would come in. Ellen joyfully allotted the whole morning to the examination and trial of her new possessions; and as soon as breakfast was over and the room clear, she set about it. She first went through the desk and everything in it, making a running commentary on the excellence, fitness, and beauty of all it contained; then the dressing-box received a share, but a much smaller share, of attention; and lastly, with fingers trembling with eagerness, she untied the pack- thread that was wound round the workbox, and slowly took off cover after cover; she almost screamed when the last was removed. The box was of satinwood, beautifully finished, and lined with crimson silk; and Mrs. Montgomery had taken good care it should want nothing that Ellen might need to keep her clothes in perfect order.
"Oh, Mamma, how beautiful! Oh, Mamma, how good you are! Mamma, I promise you I'll never be a slattern. Here is more cotton than I can use up in a great while every number, I do think; and needles, oh, the needles! what a parcel of them! and, Mamma, what a lovely scissors! Did you choose it, Mamma, or did it belong to the box?"
"I chose it."
"I might have guessed it, Mamma, it's just like you. And here's a thimble fits me exactly! and an emery-bag! how pretty! and a bodkin! this is a great nicer than yours, Mamma yours is decidedly the worse for wear; and what's this? oh, to make eyelet-holes with, I know. And oh, Mamma! here is almost everything, I think here are tapes, and buttons, and hooks and eyes, and darning-cotton, and silk- winders, and pins, and all sorts of things. What's this for, Mamma?"
"That's a scissors to cut button-holes with. Try it on that piece of paper that lies by you, and you will see how it works."
"Oh, I see!" said Ellen, "how very nice that is! Well, I shall take great pains now to make my button-holes very handsomely."
One survey of her riches could by no means satisfy Ellen. For some time she pleased herself with going over and over the contents of the box, finding each time something new to like. At length she closed it, and keeping it still in her lap, sat awhile looking thoughtfully into the fire; till, turning towards her mother, she met her gaze, fixed mournfully, almost tearfully, on herself. The box was instantly shoved aside, and getting up and bursting into tears, Ellen went to her.