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Lucy Raymond; Or, The Children's Watchword By Agnes Maule Machar Characters: 15976

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

More Home Scenes.

"Tell me the story often.

For I forgot so soon;

The early dew of morning

Has passed away at noon."

hen Bessie Ford parted from Lucy at the gate, she had still a long walk before reaching home. Mill Bank Farm was a good mile and a half from the village if you went by the road, but Bessie shortened it very considerably by striking across the fields a little way beyond the village. There were one or two fences to climb, but Bessie did not mind that any more than she minded the placid cows browsing in the pasture through which her way led. The breezy meadows, white with ox-eye daisies, and in some places yellow with buttercups, with the blue river flowing rapidly past on one side, afforded a pleasant walk at any time, and the rest of the way was still prettier. Just within the boundary of Mill Bank Farm the ground ascended slightly, and then descended into a narrow glen or ravine, with steep, rocky sides luxuriantly draped with velvet moss and waving ferns, while along the bottom of it a little stream flowed quietly enough towards the river, though a little higher up it came foaming and dashing down the rocks and turned a small saw-mill on the farm. The sides of the ravine were shady with hemlocks, spreading their long, waving boughs over the rocks, with whose dark, solemn foliage maples and birches contrasted their fresh vivid green. In spring, what a place it was for wild flowers!-as Lucy Raymond and her brothers well knew, having often brought home thence great bunches of dielytras and convallarias and orchises; and at any time some bright blossoms were generally to be found gleaming through the shade.

Bessie, however, did not linger now to look for them, but picking her way across the stepping-stones which lay in the bed of the stream, she quickly climbed the opposite bank by a natural pathway which wound up among the rocks-easily found by her accustomed feet-and passing through the piece of woodland that lay on the other side, came out on the sunny expanse of meadows and corn-fields, in the midst of which stood the neat white farmhouse, with its little array of farm buildings, and the fine old butternut tree, under the shade of which Mrs. Ford sat milking her sleek, gentle cows, little Jenny and Jack sitting on the ground beside her. The instant that they espied their sister coming through the fields, they dashed off at the top of their speed to see who should reach her first, and were soon trotting along by her side, confiding to her their afternoon's adventures, and how Jack had found nine eggs in an unsuspected nest in the barn, but had broken three in carrying them in.

"But me wouldn't have," insisted Jack sturdily, "if Jenny hadn't knocked up against me."

"Oh, Jack! Now you know I only touched you the least little bit," retorted the aggrieved Jenny.

"Well, don't jump up and down so, or I will let go your hand," said Bessie. "You almost pull my arm off! I wish you could see how quietly little Mary Thomson sits in Sunday school, and she is no bigger than you."

"Why can't I go to Sunday school, then?" demanded Jenny; "I'd be quiet too."

"And me too!" vociferated Jack; the circumstance that they were not considered old enough yet to go to Sunday school giving it a wonderful charm in their eyes. Then, as they set off again on another race toward their mother, it occurred to Bessie for the first time that these little ones were quite old enough to learn the things that other little children learned at Sunday school, and that although they were not strong enough for the long walk, and her mother's time and thoughts were always so fully engrossed with the round of domestic duties, she might easily find time to teach her little brother and sister as much as they could understand about the Saviour, who had died that they might be made good, and who when on earth had blessed little children. Something Miss Preston had said about home duties-about helping to teach and guide the little brothers and sisters-now recurred to her mind, and conscience told her that these duties she had hitherto failed of performing. She had never herself really taken Christ for her own Saviour and Guide, although she often felt a vague wish that she were "good," and the desire of pleasing Christ entered but little, if at all, into the motives and actions of her daily life. But she generally knew what was right, and occasionally, while the impulse from some good influence was still fresh, would try to do it.

"I know Miss Preston would say I ought to teach Jenny and Jack some verses and hymns on Sunday," she thought. "I'll begin to-night, when mother and the boys are gone to church;" for a certain shyness about seeming "good" made her wish to begin her teaching without witnesses.

"Here, Bessie," said Mrs. Ford as Bessie approached, "do run and get the tea ready-there's a good girl. I shan't be through yet for half an hour, for I've the calves to see to; and your father and the boys 'll be in from watering the horses, and if we don't get tea soon they'll be late for church."

Bessie went in to change her dress, with her usually good-humoured face contracted into a dissatisfied expression. She was tired; it would have been nice to sit down and read her Sunday-school book till tea-time. But of course nothing could be said; so she hurriedly pulled off her walking things, grumbling a little in her own mind at the difference between her own lot and that of Lucy Raymond, who, she felt sure, had none of these tiresome things to do. She had never thought-what, indeed, older people often lose sight of-that God so arranges the work of all His children who will do what He gives them to do, that while some may seem to have more leisure than others, all have their appointed work, of the kind best suited to discipline, and fit them for the higher sphere of nobler work, in which will probably be found much of the blessedness of eternity.

Before Bessie went down to her unwelcome task, she recollected that she must put her pretty card safe out of the children's way; so with a strong pin she fastened it up securely on the wall, on which it formed a tasteful decoration. As she did so, the motto brought back to her memory what Miss Preston had said about "looking unto Jesus" in every time of temptation, great or small, as well when inclined to be discontented or impatient, as in greater emergencies. The evil principle in her nature rose against her doing so now, but the other power was stronger; and perhaps for the first time in her life, though she regularly "said her prayers," Bessie really asked Jesus to help her to be more like Himself. Then with a new, strange happiness in her heart, that was at once the result of her self-conquest and the answer to her prayer, she ran down cheerfully to do her work, singing in a low tone the first verse of her hymn:

"I long to be like Jesus,

Meek, loving, lowly, mild;

I long to be like Jesus,

The Father's holy child."

Jenny and Jack came running in to help her-small assistants, whom it required a good deal of patience to manage, neither allowing them to hurt themselves or anything else, nor driving them into a fit of screaming by despotically thwarting their good intentions; and Bessie's patience was not always equal to the ordeal. But on this occasion Mrs. Ford was left to pursue her dairy avocations in peace, without being called by Jack's screams to settle some fierce dispute between him and his sister, whose interference was not always very judiciously applied.

The tea was soon ready,-not, however, before Mr. Ford and his two eldest boys had come in, accompanied by Bessie's younger brother Sam, next in age to herself, who ought to have been at Sunday school, but had managed to escape going, as he often did. His mother being on Sundays, as on other days, "cumbered with much serving," and his sister generally remaining with some of her friends in the village during th

e interval between the morning service and Sunday school, it was comparatively easy for Master Sam to play truant, as indeed he sometimes did from the day school, where his chances of punishment were much greater, Mr. Ford being far more alive to the advantages of a "good education" than to the need of the knowledge which "maketh wise unto salvation." So that, when Bessie began her usual "Why, Sam, you weren't at Sunday school!" Sam had some plausible excuse all ready, the ingenuity of which would amuse his father so much as to lead him to overlook the offence.

"Well, Bessie," her mother exclaimed when they were all seated, "I really believe you haven't forgotten anything, for once. I should not wonder if you were to turn out a decent housekeeper yet."

For it was Mrs. Ford's great complaint of Bessie, that she was so "heedless" and "needed so much minding," though she would always add, modifying her censure, "But then you can't put an old head on young shoulders, and the child has a real good heart." And being a thoroughly active and diligent housekeeper, she generally found it less trouble to supply Bessie's shortcomings herself, so that Bessie's home education was likely to suffer by her mother's very proficiency, unless she should come to see that to do all things well was a duty she owed "unto the Lord, and not unto men."

"So, Bessie, you're going to lose your teacher?" said her father. "I hear she's to be married on Thursday."

"Yes, father, she bade us all good-bye to-day; and she gave us such pretty cards, mother, with a text and a hymn;" and on the impulse of the moment she ran up for hers, and brought it down for inspection. It was handed round the table, eliciting various admiring comments, and exciting Jack's desire to get it into his own hands, which being thwarted, he was with difficulty consoled by an extra supply of bread and butter.

"And, mother," asked Bessie, somewhat doubtfully, "may I go to-morrow and get the things to work a book-mark for Miss Preston? I'd like to do it for a new Bible the teachers are going to give her."

"I don't care," said Mrs. Ford, "if you'll only not neglect everything else while you're doing it. I don't believe in girls fiddling away their time with such things, and not knowing how to make good cheese and butter. But I wouldn't hinder you from making a present to Miss Preston, for she has been a good teacher to you."

Bessie looked delighted, but the expression quickly changed when her mother said, as they rose from table, "Bessie, I guess I'll not go to church to-night. I've had so much to do that I feel tired out; and if I did go, I'm sure I'd just go to sleep. Besides, I don't like the way the dun cow is looking; so you'd better get ready and go with father and the boys."

Now Bessie had expected to remain at home that evening, as she usually did. She had planned to teach the children for a while, according to her new resolution, and then, when they had gone to bed, to sit down to read her Sunday-school book, which seemed unusually inviting. Bessie's Sunday reading was generally confined to her Sunday-school book, for she had not yet learned to love to read the Bible, and regarded it rather as a lesson-book than as the spiritual food which those who know it truly find "sweeter than honey" to their taste. So it was not a very pleasant prospect to have to hurry off to church again, and she felt very much inclined to make the most of the slight fatigue she felt, and say she was too tired to go, in which case her mother would have willingly assented to her remaining. But conscience told her she was able to go, and ought to go; and remembering her motto and her prayer, she cheerfully prepared to accompany her father and brothers to church, and she had reason to be grateful for her choice. The words of the sermon deepened and expanded the impressions of the afternoon, and left an abiding influence on the current of her life.

When Mrs. Ford had got through her evening duties, and the little ones were hushed in sound slumber, she sat down near the open window to rest, her eye falling, as she did so, on Bessie's card. The motto upon it carried her thoughts away to the time when, as a newly-married wife, she had listened to a sermon on that very text,-a time when, rejoicing in the happiness of her new life, she had felt her heart beat with gratitude to Him who had so freely given her all things, and with a sincere desire to live to His glory. How had the desire been carried out? A very busy life hers had been, and still was. The innumerable cares and duties of her family and farm and dairy had filled it with never-ceasing active occupations, as was natural and right; but was it right that these occupations should have so crowded out the very principle that would have given a holy harmony to her life, and been a fountain of strength to meet the cares and worries that will fret the stream of the most prosperous course? Sacred words, learned in her childhood, recurred to her mind: "And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things, entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful." Had not that been her own experience? Where were the fruits that might have been expected from "the word" in her?-the Christian influence and training which might have made her household what a Christian household ought to be?

Had not the "cares of this world" been made the chief concern-the physical and material well-being of her family made far more prominent than the development of a life hid with Christ in God? Had not the very smoothness and prosperity of her life, and her self-complacency in her own good management, been a snare to her? Her husband, good and kind as he was, was, she knew, wholly engrossed with the things of this life; and her boys-steadier, she often thought with pride, than half the boys of the neighbourhood-had never yet been made to feel that they were not their own, but bought with the price of a Saviour's blood. Such higher knowledge as Bessie had was due to Miss Preston, for, like many mothers, she had not scrupled to devolve her own responsibilities on the Sunday-school teachers, and thought her duty done when she had seen her children, neatly dressed, set off to school on Sunday afternoon. And the little ones she had just left asleep-had she earnestly commended them to the Lord, and tried to teach them such simple truths about their Saviour as their infant minds could receive?

All these thoughts came crowding into her mind, as they sometimes will when the voice of the Spirit can find an entrance into our usually closed hearts; and she shrank from the thought of the account she should have to give of the responsibilities abused, the trust unfulfilled. Happily, she did not forget that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins;" and that quiet hour of meditation, and confession, and humble resolve was one of the most profitable seasons Mrs. Ford had ever known. For God, unlike man, can work without as well as with outward instrumentality.

When the others returned from church, it was with some surprise that Mrs. Ford heard from Bessie the words of the text.

"I heard Mr. Raymond preach from that same text long ago, just after we were married, John," she said.

"Well, if you remember it, it's more than I do. But if he did preach the same sermon over again, it is well worth hearing twice."

"Yes, indeed," said his wife. "I wish I had minded it better. It would have been better for us all if we had. Bessie, are you too tired to read a chapter as soon as the boys come in? We don't any of us read the Bible enough, I'm afraid."

And Bessie, struck by something unusual in her mother's tone and manner, cheerfully read aloud, at Mrs. Ford's request, the thirteenth of Matthew and the tenth of Hebrews, although the tempting Sunday-school book still lay unread on the table up-stairs.

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