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Lucy Raymond; Or, The Children's Watchword By Agnes Maule Machar Characters: 10841

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Nelly's Sunday Evening.

"Oh, say not, dream not, heavenly notes

To childish ears are vain,-

That the young mind at random floats,

And cannot catch the strain."

n the meantime let us go back to Nelly Connor, and see how she spent her Sunday afternoon.

When she had wistfully watched the last of the groups of children disappearing in the distance, she walked slowly away toward her "home"-a dilapidated-looking cottage in a potato patch, enclosed by a broken-down fence, patched up by Nelly and her new mother with old barrel-staves and branches of trees. The outdoor work which fell to her lot Nelly did not so much dislike. It was the nursing of a screaming baby, or scrubbing dingy, broken boards-work often imposed upon her-which sorely tried her childish strength and patience.

Nelly found the house deserted. Sunday being Mrs. Connor's idle day, she usually went to visit some of her friends in the village, taking her children with her. A piece of bread and a mug of sour milk on the table were all that betokened any preparation for Nelly's supper; but she was glad enough to miss the harsh scolding tones that were her usual welcome home.

Nelly sat down on the doorstep to eat her crust, watching, as she did so, a little bird which was bringing their evening meal to its chirping little ones in a straggling old plum-tree near the house. For in animal life there is no such discord as sin introduces into human life, marring the beauty of God's arrangements for His creatures' happiness. Then, having nothing to keep her at home, she took up her dingy, tattered straw hat, and strolled slowly along towards the village, keeping to the shady lanes on its outskirts till she came out upon the fields across which Bessie had taken her way home.

On her way she passed Mr. Raymond's pretty shrubbery, and stood for a while quite still by the white railings, looking at the group within-Lucy and her cousin sitting under the trees on the green turf, with Harry and the rabbit close beside them. Nelly thought she had never seen anything so pretty as Stella, with her rose-leaf complexion and sunny golden hair. The two might have served a painter for a contrast, both as to externals and as to the effect of the surrounding influences which mould human life: the one, from her cradle so tenderly and luxuriously nurtured, petted, and caressed; the other, accustomed from her earliest years to privation and hardship, to harsh tones and wicked words, to all the evil influences which surround a child left to pick up its education on the city streets. Strange mystery of the "election of circumstances!"-one of the strangest in our mystery-surrounded life, never to be cleared up till all crooked things shall be made straight. Only let the privileged ones, whose lines have fallen in pleasant places, remember that "to whom much is given, of them much shall be required."

A forlorn little figure Nelly looked as she strolled along the field-paths which Bessie had taken an hour before. But she did not trouble herself much about externals, except when in company with others whose better attire made her painfully conscious of the defects in her own; and being of a nature open to every impression from surrounding objects, she was at that moment far from being an unhappy child. It was not often that she was completely free to wander at will; and the fresh breezy fields, the sweet scents of the clover and the pines, the blue rippling river, and the cows that looked calmly at her with their patient, wistful eyes, were all novelties to the town child, whose first summer it was in the country. Some faint recollections she still had of the grassy slopes of her native hills, in the days of her early childhood; but since then all her experiences of summer had been the hot, hard pavements and stifling dust of a large city.

She had never before extended her wanderings in the direction of Mill Bank Farm so far as to reach the ravine through which the little stream flowed into the river; and now, when she came to the edge of the steep slope and looked down into the luxuriant depth of foliage and fern and ragged moss-clad rock, she felt a sense of delight more intense than Bessie Ford or Lucy Raymond, familiar all their lives with such scenes, had ever experienced. She stood spell-bound at first, and then, scrambling down among rock and fern, reached the little stream, and was soon wading about in its bed, enjoying the sensation of the soft, warm water flowing over her bare feet, and pulling the little flowering water-plants that raised their heads among the moss-grown logs and stones which lay in the bed of the stream. Then she began to climb up on the other side, stopping to examine with admiring eyes every velvety cushion of moss, and cluster of tiny ferns, and fairy-like baby pine or maple, and picking with eager hands the wild roses and other blossoms which she espied among the tangled underwood.

At last, tired with her wanderings, and with hands full of her treasures, she threw herself down on a bed of dry moss that carpeted the top of a high bank of rock which overlooked the river winding away beneath, while overhead, through the feathery sprays of the long, straggling pine boughs, the slanting sunbeams flickered on the turf below.

There, in that solitary stillness-all the stiller for the confused murmur of soft sounds, and the fresh, sweet

breath of the woods perfuming the air-unaccustomed thoughts came into the little girl's mind,-thoughts which, in the din and bustle of the city, where the tide of human interests sufficed to fill up her undeveloped mind, had scarcely ever entered it. But here, where the direct works of God alone were around her, her mind was irresistibly drawn towards Him of whom Miss Preston had told her, that He had made her and all she saw around her, and who lived, she supposed, somewhere beyond that blue sky. With so many pleasant things around her, the thought of their Maker was pleasant too. But then Miss Preston had told her that God loved what was good, but hated what was bad; and did not her new mother constantly tell her she was a "bad child?"-an accusation in which her conscience told her there was much truth. So God could not love her, she thought.

But Miss Preston had said that God did love her-that He cared for her continually, and wished to make her good and happy-that He had even, in some strange way which she could not understand, sent His Son to die for her, that she might be made good. It was all new and strange, but she had faith in Miss Preston; and because she had told her, she believed it must be true, that she, who had come to think herself-poor child-too bad for any one to care for, had really a great, kind Friend near her, though she could not see Him, and loving her more than the mother whose warm caress she could still remember. It was an idea that might seem beyond the grasp of a poor untaught child, were it not that He who reveals Himself to babes and sucklings can speak to the heart He has made in ways beyond our power to trace. The idea in Nelly's mind of that wonderful love which she so sorely needed, was more enlightened than many a philosopher's conception of divinity, and the dark eyes filled with tears as a half-formed prayer awoke from her heart to the loving Jesus, who, Miss Preston had told her, would hear and answer her.

And who could doubt that He did hear and answer the desolate, uncared-for child, scarcely knowing as yet what "good" meant, since her knowledge had been only of evil! Her conscience, however, was not dead, though neglected; she knew at least what "wrong" was, and felt she must leave off doing it if the Saviour was to be her friend. But how should she be able to leave off her bad, idle ways, and become a good, industrious girl, such as her new mother said most of the little girls in Ashleigh were? Then she remembered the words which Miss Preston had made her repeat, "Looking unto Jesus," and "I lay my sins on Jesus," and that Miss Preston had told her she must ask Jesus to take away her sins and make her good. But she thought the right place for speaking to Jesus must be in the church, as most of the people she had known in the city used to go to church "to confess," and she supposed that must have something to do with it.

Just then she saw the Fords passing at a little distance on their way to church, and it occurred to her that she would go too; and perhaps Jesus would hear her there, and show her how she was to be made good. So she started up, and was speedily on the other side of the ravine, almost overtaking the Fords before they reached the village. The service was beginning when she crept stealthily into one of the farthest back seats, half afraid lest she was doing wrong in thus trespassing where she had no right. Then, crouched in a corner, with her face bent forward and her elf-locks half covering her eyes, she listened with intense earnestness, trying to take in all she could of what was so new, yet already not unfamiliar to her, and half disposed to think that the kindly-looking gentleman who stood there and spoke in such solemn tones might be Jesus Himself.

Let not the more favoured ones, on whom from their cradles the blessed light of divine truth has steadily shone, smile at this poor child's ignorance, but rather try to show their gratitude for higher privileges, by seeking to impart some of the light shed on them so abundantly to those who are still wandering in darkness.

On Nelly's listening heart Mr. Raymond's sermon did not fall so fruitlessly as some might have expected. For God is, for all, the hearer and answerer of prayer, and He never leaves unheard the weakest cry to Him. As the lonely child once more sought her comfortless home, she felt a stirring of new hope within her, and scarcely minded her mother's rough words when she demanded, "What have you been doing out so late? No good, I am sure!"

Mrs. Connor had been enlarging, among sympathizing friends, on the hardship of her having to support her husband's child when he did so little himself for his family. "My goodness! all he gives us wouldn't half pay Nelly's board," she had declared; and as her grievances were still fresh in her mind, she greeted her step-child with even more asperity than usual.

But as Nelly crept away to her hard little bed, perhaps some angel, sent to minister to the motherless child, may have known that the "good-for-nothing," ignorant little girl, oppressed with the feeling of her own sinfulness, and full of the thought of her new-found heavenly Friend, was nearer the kingdom of heaven than the petted, admired, winning Stella Brooke, who had never yet learned her need of the Saviour, who came "not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

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