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Lucy Raymond; Or, The Children's Watchword By Agnes Maule Machar Characters: 17410

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"Why should we fear youth's draught of joy,

If pure, would sparkle less?

Why should the cup the sooner cloy

Which God has deigned to bless?"

he "strawberry picnic" proposed by Alick Steele had been fixed for the following Tuesday should it prove fine. Alick and Fred had been over at Mill Bank Farm, and the younger Fords had agreed to meet them at the ravine, with their contribution of milk and cream, and various other things which Mrs. Ford's zealous housewifery would not be prevented from sending, though Fred assured her that it was unnecessary.

"I know what young folks can eat, Mr. Fred," she replied, "and you may as well have plenty;" and Alick laughingly assured her she was quite right. Alick Steele, or the "young doctor," as his old friends now began to call him, had been an acceptable guest at many a picnic and merry-making, but he had never entered into anything of the kind with more spirit and zeal than he now threw into this simple gypsying excursion with his country cousins.

"He's no end of a fellow for a picnic," declared Harry enthusiastically, "and ten times as good as Fred;" the quiet nature of the latter always shrinking from any unusual bustle, while Alick's unfailing flow of animal spirits found a congenial outlet in any little extra excitement, especially when it was connected with the procuring of enjoyment for others. He and Harry were busy all Monday in exploring the ground and selecting the most eligible place for the repast; and Harry averred, when they returned home, that they would have a "splendid time" next day, if it were only fine.

Next morning opened as fair and bright as the excursionists could desire,-not too hot, but tempered by a pleasant breeze-"just the day for the woods, and not too rough for the water." For Stella had manifested such consternation at the idea of going through the pasture-"cows always frightened her so"-that, notwithstanding the raillery and the representations of Alick and Harry, it was evident that her pleasure would be spoiled if she were obliged to go by the field-path. Alick therefore had good-naturedly hunted up a boat, which would save them a long dusty walk by the road, and greatly enhance the pleasure of the excursion, besides carrying the "impedimenta," as Fred classically termed the baskets of provisions. Marion Wood, a playmate of Lucy's, was to accompany them in the boat, while Mrs. Steele and the boys walked across the fields.

As soon as the early dinner could be got over, the boat's cargo was taken on board, the passengers embarked, and after some little screams from Stella, who had a habit of being "nervous," the little bark shot off, swift and straight, impelled by Alick's firm, skillful strokes. The water-party reached the mouth of the ravine considerably sooner than the others; and while awaiting their arrival, Alick rowed them to a little fairy islet near the shore, where they landed to explore it, and twine their hats with the graceful creepers and ferns growing among its rocks. Then re-embarking, they floated at leisure up and down the glassy shaded water, fringed with tall reeds, the girls alternately trying their hands at the oars, till a shout from Harry and the waving of handkerchiefs announced the arrival of the rest of the party.

The strawberry-pickers had soon begun their search. Fred, who preferred rowing to strawberry-picking, undertook to take charge of Harry, who was as eager for the water as a young duck; while Mrs. Steele, taking out her knitting, sat down beside the baskets under a spreading oak, on a knoll overlooking the river, to wait until there should be a demand for tea.

Very quickly the time sped away, while the children pursued their busy but not laborious quest of the tempting berries, half hidden under their spreading leaves; and many an exclamation, half of annoyance, half of amusement, was uttered as one of them made a dart at a bright spot of crimson, fancying it a rich cluster of berries, and finding only a leaf.

"Why in the world do strawberries have red leaves, I wonder!" exclaimed Harry, who, tired at last of boating, was pretending to help them, though they all declared he ate as many as he picked.

"To inure you to the disappointments of life," responded Alick oracularly. "You'll find, as you go along, there are more red strawberry leaves than berries all through."

And Alick half sighed, as if he had already learned the lesson by experience.

"There's one thing, Alick, of which that remark doesn't hold good," remarked Fred to his cousin in an undertone. "My father says that sheet-anchor will bear us up through all the disappointments of life; and I believe it."

"Well, very likely you're right,-well for those who can feel it so. But at present I can't say I belong to that happy number. Some time or other, perhaps. You know my head has been full of all sorts of ologies except theology for a good while back."

"The 'more convenient season,' Alick," replied Fred, with a half smile.

"Here, a truce to moralizing. Who's got the most strawberries? The premium is to be the finest bunch in the collection," shouted Alick.

And after the prize had been with much ceremony and mirth adjudged to Bessie Ford, it was time to think about tea.

"Come," said Alick, "shoulder arms, that is, baskets, and march!"

All were very ready to obey Alick's word of command, and the merry party were soon collected around the snowy tablecloth spread on the turf, on which Mrs. Steele had arranged the tempting repast of pies and cakes, curds and cream, to which a fine large dish of strawberries-a contribution from the farm-formed a tempting addition.

Fred, at his aunt's request, asked a blessing, and then the good things were welcomed by the appetites sharpened by fresh air and exercise; and the feast was enlivened by the innocent glee and frolic which usually enliven such simple country parties, unfettered by form, and unsophisticated by any of the complications which creep into more elaborate picnics. Even Stella, though she felt the whole affair-especially the presence of the farmer's children-rather below her dignity as an embryo city belle, gave herself up unrestrainedly to the enjoyment of the occasion, and was more natural and free from what Alick called "airs" than she had been at any time during her visit. But the party were quite unconscious that they were watched, through the thickly drooping boughs of a large hickory, by a pair of bright, dark eyes, which were wistfully regarding them. The eyes were those of Nelly Connor, who, having been unexpectedly left free that afternoon to follow her own devices, had wandered away in the direction of the spot which had so fascinated her on Sunday.

When the tea was fairly over, and cups, dishes, and other paraphernalia were being packed up by Mrs. Steele and the girls, Stella, who, not being inclined to assist in such a menial occupation, was wandering aimlessly about, made a discovery.

"Oh, Lucy," she exclaimed, coming hurriedly up to her, "there is such a ragged, bold-looking little girl sitting over there! She has been watching us the whole time."

"Well, her watching wouldn't hurt us," said Lucy, smiling at her cousin's consternation. "I hope she was pleased with what she saw. Why, it's Nelly Connor!" she added as the little girl emerged from her hiding-place. "What can have brought her here? I'll get Aunt Mary to give her something to eat. I daresay she's hungry enough, for Miss Preston told me she didn't think her new mother gave her enough to eat."

"I think she ought to be scolded and sent away," said Stella decidedly. "You are just encouraging her impertinence in coming here to watch us."

But Lucy had already run off to her aunt, and was soon carrying a plate heaped with good things to the astonished Nelly, who, frightened at being discovered, and at Stella's frowning looks, was thinking how she might make good her escape. Stella had only spoken as she had been accustomed to hear those around her speak. She had been brought up to look upon poverty and rags as something almost wicked in themselves, and had never realized that feelings the same as her own might lie under an exterior she despised. She had never been taught the meaning of "I was a hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink." Lucy, on the contrary, had been taught to consider it the highest privilege and gratification to impart a share of the bounties bestowed upon herself to the poor and needy whom our Saviour has left as a legacy to His followers, and had already tasted the happiness of lightening somewhat the load of poverty and hard

ship which press upon some during all their lives.

She soon reassured Nelly, and had the satisfaction of seeing her enjoy the food with the zest of one to whom such delicacies were rare indeed, and whose appetite was very seldom fully satisfied at home. She explained to the rest that Nelly was in her class at Sunday school; and Stella mentally put it down as another objection to going there, that it involved the possibility of such undesirable acquaintanceships. Alick was much interested in the little wanderer; and even after the rest had set off towards the farmhouse, which they were to visit before returning, he remained beside her, drawing from her, bit by bit, her touching history, until she began to remember how late it was, and started homeward, much astonished and cheered by the kindness and sympathy she had met with.

Alick found the rest of the party exploring the farmyard, admiring the cows, particularly Mrs. Ford's sleek, glossy black favourite; while Harry was, to his intense delight, cantering up and down the road to the gate, on the stout little pony which the farmer usually rode to market.

As there was a full moon, there was no hurry about returning; and on the arrival of Mr. Raymond, who had walked over to meet them, Mrs. Ford insisted on their coming in for a while. And before they took their leave she brought out her large family Bible for evening worship, with the request that Mr. Raymond would read and pray before his departure; "for," she said, "I know we don't mind these things half enough, and we'd be all the better of a word or two from you."

Mr. Raymond read the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, making a few brief but impressive comments on the insufficiency for true happiness of the enjoyments which this life can furnish, fair and good gifts of God though such enjoyments may be. "The time would come, even in this life," he said, "when the joys of this world would be found wanting. And after this life, what would be their condition who had made this world their portion, and had 'not remembered their Creator in the days of their youth?'" Doubt-less the thought of his own youthful circle, and of the strong, ruddy young Fords, all so full of health and life and joyous spirits, was strongly upon him when he dwelt so earnestly upon the words: "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment."

Then, reading part of the third chapter of the First Epistle of John, he directed his hearers to the wonderful privileges provided for them, so far transcending all mere temporal gifts-to the "love the Father hath bestowed, that we should be called the sons of God,"-showing how these privileges were to be grasped through faith in the love which laid down life for us; and how that love, flowing into the heart, was to purify the life by enabling us to do the things which are pleasing in His sight.

The solemn, earnest words-few, but well chosen-seeming to come with peculiar power after the day of joyous excitement, touched responsive chords in the hearts of most of the young party, who looked earnest and thoughtful; though who could tell whether the impression should be an abiding one, or should pass away like the "early dew?" Lucy and Bessie listened with real interest-the latter, especially, with much more than she would have felt a few days before; and Mrs. Ford silently renewed her good resolutions to seek to influence her family to choose the "better part, which could not be taken away from them."

Lucy could not help glancing at Stella when the verses in the chapter about want of compassion for the brother or sister in need were read; but Stella looked placidly unconscious, and indeed her thoughts were far away,-considering how she should best impress Marian Wood, on their way home, with a due sense of the grandeur of her city life.

After many kind parting salutations, and warm invitations from Mrs. Ford to come soon and spend an afternoon at the farm, the party took leave; one division proceeding homeward by the winding road, lying white in the full moonlight, as the fields were now wet with dew, while the others took the shortest cut to the river, where the boat was lying. Very little was said during most of the way, except some subdued exclamations of delight as they passed out from the deep shadow of the overhanging rocks into the broad river, which glittered in the moonlight like a sheet of dazzling silver, roughened by the slightest ripple, and past point after point of luxuriant foliage, looking dream-like and unreal in the light that silvered their glistening leaves.

As they neared the village, Lucy suddenly recollected their unexpected guest. "I wonder how Nelly got home! Did she stay long after we left, Alick?" she said.

"No; she said her mother would be angry if she were out late, so she set off at a run."

"Lucy," said Stella, "I wonder how you can have anything to do with such a vagabond-looking child! I'm sure she was watching to see whether she could pick up anything; and she looked just like a gipsy."

"Oh, Stella! how can you be so suspicious?" exclaimed Lucy indignantly. "I don't believe Nelly would do any such thing! No wonder the poor child was watching us while we were at tea; didn't you see how hungry she was?"

"Well, I know we've had things stolen by just such children, and papa says it's best to keep such people down; for they're sure to impose on those who are kind to them, and charity is quite thrown away upon them."

"A convenient belief to save trouble," Lucy was just going to say, but wisely repressed the impulse, feeling that it would not sound very respectful to Stella's father, who, she felt, must be a very different man from her own.

"Stella," said Alick, "did it ever occur to you what you might have been if you had been left, motherless and almost fatherless, to run all day on the streets, listening to bad words and seeing all sorts of evil, without any one to say a kind word to you and teach you what is right? I wish you could have heard the poor little thing's story as she told it to me." And in a few words he gave them an outline of Nelly's history.

"Papa says you never can believe their stories," objected the city-hardened Stella.

"I know you can't always," replied Alick; "but I think I'm not easily taken in, and I'm willing to stake my judgment on this being no sham. And how would you have turned out from such a bringing-up, Mademoiselle Stella?"

"And where is her father?" Lucy asked.

"Oh, her father works on a boat, and is seldom at home. They came to live here because it is cheaper, and they can have a pig and raise potatoes."

"I wonder whether she can read," said Lucy.

"I shouldn't think so, for she never was at school in her life, nor at church either, since they left Ireland, till last Sunday."

"I wonder," said Stella, "whether she understood anything she heard."

"Possibly she might be able to give as good an account of the sermon as some other people," remarked Alick mischievously. "Come, Stella, what was the text?"

"I don't believe you know yourself," retorted Stella, colouring; and, fortunately for her, Alick's attention was just then directed to the care of landing his passengers.

As they walked home, Stella and Marian in front, eagerly engrossed in a children's party which the former was describing, Lucy remarked impatiently to Alick, "How can Stella talk in that hard, unfeeling way about poor people?"

"Poor girl!" said Alick, "it is sad to see any one so spoiled by living in a cold worldly atmosphere. As you know more of the world, Lucy, you will be more and more thankful for such a home as you have always had."

Lucy was silent. Her cousin's words made her feel that she had been indulging in self-righteous and uncharitable feelings, and she felt humbled at the lesson which she had thus received from one who did not profess to be a Christian, in one of a Christian's most important graces. But she accepted the rebuke, and she added to her evening prayer the petition that she might be made more humble, and less ready to condemn; as well as that Stella's heart might be opened to receive the love of Christ, and, through this, of her poor earthly brothers and sisters.

The little party were soon assembled at home, and after cheerful "good-nights,"-Harry remarking that "he was awful tired, but there never had been a nicer picnic,"-the wearied excursionists soon lost all sense of fatigue in peaceful slumbers and happy dreams.

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