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Lucy Raymond; Or, The Children's Watchword By Agnes Maule Machar Characters: 15494

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

A Mission.

"And if this simple message

Has now brought peace to you,

Make known the old, old story,

For others need it too."

wo days after the picnic was the day fixed upon for Miss Preston's wedding, to which, as has been said, Lucy had been invited to accompany her father and aunt. Stella had not been included in the invitation, which she privately thought a great omission. It would have been such a good opportunity for showing the Ashleigh people how they dress in the city, and she felt sure that, tastefully attired in a lovely white grenadine, which would have been just the thing for the occasion, she and her dress would have added no small éclat to the wedding.

Nevertheless she behaved very amiably to Lucy, who, when she pressed her to wear one of her own pretty white dresses, and offered to lend her any of her ornaments which she fancied, felt somewhat ashamed of her own condemnatory feelings toward her cousin, since it is a very natural tendency in all of us to make our own estimate of others depend to a considerable extent upon their treatment of ourselves.

However, she adhered to her original determination of wearing the simple India muslin, which had been her own dear mother's bridal dress (its trimmings having been worked by her own hands), and all Stella's representations that it was "old-fashioned" failed to produce any effect. She would indeed have felt it treason to admit its inferiority to any of her cousin's more stylish dresses. But, to please Stella, she accepted the loan of a sash pressed upon her by her cousin, who took a considerable amount of trouble in the arrangement of her toilet, and in weaving, with innate skill, a graceful wreath of delicate pink rosebuds and green leaves, which she fastened on Lucy's dark hair, and pronounced the effect "charming," while Alick complimented her on her skill. Lucy was conscious of looking better than she had ever done before. It made her think just a little too much about her appearance, and then she felt humbled at seeing in herself the germ of the very feeling she had despised in her cousin.

The wedding arrangements were very quiet and simple. Lucy, who had never been present on so important an occasion, enjoyed it very much, notwithstanding her sorrow at parting with her teacher, whom she thought the very ideal of a bride in her simple bridal dress. Its simplicity, indeed, would probably have scandalized Stella, but Miss Preston was not going to be rich, or mingle in gay society, and she wisely thought show and finery quite out of place. But she had long made it her chief aim to possess that best ornament of "a meek and quiet spirit," which, we are told, "in the sight of God is of great price."

Before her departure she took Lucy apart to say a few words of loving counsel.

"I hope you will try to work for Christ, dear Lucy," she said, "as He gives you opportunity. Remember, a Christian who does not work is only half a Christian. Now I think if you tried, you might do Nelly Connor some good. She wants a friend very much, and is easily won by kindness."

"I should be glad to do anything I could," said Lucy; "but what would be best to try?"

"Well, poor Nelly can't read a word, you know, and I am afraid her stepmother would not spare her to go to school. But suppose you were to get her to come to you for half an hour a day. I think her mother might be induced to let her do that. And a short reading-lesson every day would soon bring her on."

Lucy was a little disappointed. It seemed such common-place drudgery to drill an untaught child in the alphabet and spelling-book. Her vague idea of "work for Christ" had been of a more exalted nature. But her friend added: "I don't mean that you should not teach her better things also. You could, little by little, teach her a good deal about Christ in the course of your daily lessons. But sometimes we may serve Him best by doing His commonest work. And think what you will do for this poor child by putting it in her power to read the Bible for herself, and have access at all times to our Saviour's own words!"

Lucy willingly promised to try, and then Mrs. Harris, as Miss Preston was now called, bade her an affectionate farewell, before going to exchange the parting words with the members of her own family. Lucy watched by the gate till she saw the carriage drive off, and then, overcome by the reaction from the excitement of the occasion, hurried home through the quiet shady lane, and disregarding Stella's call, never stopped till she reached her own room.

There the astonished Stella found her lying on her bed, crying bitterly, and asked in alarm the cause of her distress. That the parting from a Sunday-school teacher, a friend so much older than herself, could have called forth such emotion, Stella could not comprehend; and it was difficult for Lucy to explain it to so unsympathetic a listener.

"Why, I'm sure I shan't cry so when Sophy is married and goes south, a great deal farther away than Miss Preston. Now tell me how she was dressed."

"Oh, Stella! I can't just now," sobbed Lucy, whose crying was partly the result of nervous excitement, as well as of her realizing for the first time Miss Preston's departure. And Stella, finding her attempts to soothe her unavailing, returned to her story-book, until the arrival of Mrs. Steele, whom she found more communicative.

"And where is Lucy?" inquired her aunt, after satisfying Stella's curiosity. "She must have slipped away very quietly."

"Oh, she's in her own room. She was crying so, it was no use to speak to her. I don't know what for."

"She is very fond of her teacher, and I don't wonder at her crying on losing her. She is a great loss to us all."

"What a fuss they all do make over her! I'm sure she didn't seem anything particular," thought Stella as she accompanied Mrs. Steele up-stairs. Lucy had fallen asleep, but awoke on their entrance, and started up to arrange her disordered dress and hair before going to tea.

"Just look how you have crushed your nice dress now!" exclaimed Stella reproachfully. "And the wreath too! It might have been fresh all the evening. You might have taken them off if you wanted to lie down."

"I didn't think of it," said Lucy apologetically, somewhat remorseful for not having treated the result of Stella's labour with more respect. "But I shouldn't have worn it all the evening, at any rate, for after tea I am going to see Nelly Connor."

"What! that girl we saw in the wood? What are you going to see her for?" exclaimed Stella.

"Miss Preston-I mean Mrs. Harris-wants me to try to get her to come to learn to read, if papa and Aunt Mary have no objection; and I'm sure they won't."

It was to Stella a bewildering phenomenon, that Lucy should really go out of her way to invite such a girl to the house. However, partly from curiosity, and partly from having nothing better to do, she acceded to Lucy's invitation to accompany her; and after tea the girls set off, Mrs. Steele warning Lucy to be very conciliatory to Mrs. Connor, or she would not accomplish her object.

They soon reached the side of the green slope on the river bank, on which the Connors' cottage stood, and were following the path to the house, when they encountered Nelly herself, struggling up the hill with a heavy pail of water. Her brown, weather-tanned face lighted up with a glad smile when she recognised Lucy, and in reply to her inquiry she said she was carrying up water for the next day's washing.

"And do you carry it all up from the river?" said Lucy.

"Yes, miss, every drop," replied Nelly, with a weary little sigh.

"Nelly, would you like to learn to read?" asked Lucy, plunging at once

into her errand.

"I don't know, miss," was the rather doubtful reply.

"Why, wouldn't you like to be able to read that nice hymn Miss Preston gave you, for yourself?"

"Yes, miss, I'd like to be able, but I don't know if I'd like the learning."

Lucy laughed, as did Stella also, and Nelly herself.

"Well, as you can't be able to do it without learning, don't you think you'd better try?" asked Lucy.

"I don't think mother would let me; and I must hurry now, or she'll be angry at me keeping her waiting, with the baby to mind."

But just then a large dog, rushing down the hill, upset poor Nelly's pail.

"Holy Mary!" she exclaimed, using the ejaculation she had been accustomed to hear from infancy, "there's all my water spilt;" and seizing her pail, she had run down to refill it, before Lucy was able to begin an intended reproof.

The girls watched her refill her pail, and return towards the cottage by a nearer though steeper path. Mrs. Connor, a tall, bony, discontented-looking woman, had come to the door to look for Nelly. Not seeing the young ladies, who were approaching the house from the other side, she screamed out in a harsh voice as Nelly approached:

"What have you been doing all this time, keeping me waiting with the child in my arms?"

"It was a dog," began Nelly, setting down her pail. But before she could finish her sentence she was roughly shaken, and sharp blows descended about her ears.

"I'll teach you to spend your time playing with dogs when I'm waiting for you. There, be off, and mind the baby;" and Nelly, putting up her hands to her face, ran crying into the house.

Lucy stood for an instant pale with indignation, and then, the impulse of the moment making her forget all her aunt's warnings as to being conciliatory, and her own prudent resolves, she announced her presence by exclaiming, in a voice unsteady with emotion: "Mrs. Connor, it's a shame to beat Nelly like that, when she hasn't been doing any harm. It was my fault she was so long, for I stopped her to speak to her, and then a dog overturned her pail."

Mrs. Connor was startled at finding there had been spectators of her violence; but she did not betray any shame she might have felt, and coolly regarding Lucy, she replied:

"Well, I don't see what business it is of yours, anyhow. If young ladies hain't nothin' better to do than meddle with other folks' children, they'd better let that be!"

"What an impertinent woman!" said Stella, quite loud enough for her to hear. "Lucy, can't you come away and let her alone?"

But Lucy, though a good deal discomposed by her reception, was determined not to be easily moved from her object; and having by this time remembered her conciliatory resolve, she said, as quietly as she could:

"Mrs. Connor, my father is Mr. Raymond, the clergyman. I came to see if you would let Nelly come to our house every day to learn to read. It's a great pity she shouldn't know how."

"I don't care who your father is," retorted the woman in the same insolent tone. "I don't see what you've got to do with it, whether it's a pity or not. The child's lazy enough already, without havin' them idees put into her head; and better people than her do without book-learning."

"Lucy, do come away! I shan't stop to listen to her impudence," exclaimed Stella as she turned and walked away with a haughty air. Mrs. Connor's quick eye followed her, and she half muttered to herself, "A city gal!" Then, taking up the pail which Nelly had set down, she went into the house without vouchsafing another look at Lucy, who, seeing the uselessness of pressing her point, hastened to join her cousin.

"Now you see, Lucy, you only get yourself insulted trying to do any good to such people," said Stella triumphantly. "I remember one of Sophy's friends once wanted her to go visiting poor people with her, and papa said he wouldn't have her go on any account; it was all nonsense running all sorts of risks to do good to people who didn't want it."

"But it wasn't Mrs. Connor, but Nelly, that I wanted to do good to, and she can't help what her odious stepmother does. Only think what it must be to live with her!"

"I'd run away! But you see Nelly herself didn't seem to care about learning to read."

"Because she didn't know the good of it," replied Lucy. "But what should you or I have done if we hadn't been made to learn, whether we liked it or not?"

"That's quite different. This girl will always have to work, I suppose, and would get on well enough without learning to read. I know mamma was always complaining that our servants were reading trashy novels, that filled their heads with nonsense and made them discontented."

"But you could have given them something better to read," suggested Lucy.

Stella said nothing in reply to this; nor did she enlighten Lucy as to the fact that in reading "trashy novels" the servants were only following their young mistresses' example. Lucy in the meantime was thinking what up-hill work doing good was, and how hard it was to know how to do it. Suddenly she remembered her motto; she had been forgetting that the difficulties of the way were to be met in a strength not her own. Perhaps it was because she had not first asked for that strength, that she had met with so little success; and she regretted having so soon departed from her resolution of "looking to Jesus" in everything.

But Stella soon roused from her "brown study," as she called it, by various questions as to Mrs. Harris's route of travel, and also as to her travelling dress, which Lucy was very ill prepared to answer, having cast hardly a passing glance at it, in her sorrow for her teacher's departure. On their way home they overtook Mrs. Steele and Alick, to whom were soon related the particulars of their mission, Stella imitating Mrs. Connor's tone and manner to the life, as she graphically reproduced the conversation, much to Alick's amusement, though he ground his teeth with indignation on hearing of the violent treatment Nelly had received.

"What a woman! You mustn't leave the poor child to her tender mercies. What can she turn out, brought up under such a termagant? Suppose I try and bring the old lady round with a little judicious flattery?"

"I think I can manage the matter," said Mrs. Steele. "I shall make a bargain with Mrs. Connor, and promise to give her a day's work once a fortnight, provided she will let Nelly come here for half an hour every day. But do you think the child herself will be willing to come?"

"Oh, I'm sure she'll be willing to come where any one is kind to her, she has so little kindness at home," replied Lucy.

Mrs. Steele proved right. By her more judicious management and substantial inducement, Mrs. Connor was persuaded to give an ungracious assent to the plan proposed for Nelly's benefit. But, as if to be as disagreeable as possible, even in consenting, she fixed upon the time which Lucy would least have chosen for the task. The only time when she could spare Nelly, she said, was in the evening, after the children were in bed. It was the time when Lucy most enjoyed being out, watering her flowers, or taking an evening walk, or row with the others. But the choice lay between doing the work then, or not at all; and when she thought how light was the task given her to do, and how slight the sacrifice, she felt ashamed of her inclination to murmur at it.

So Nelly's education began with the alphabet; and though it was a drudgery both for teacher and pupil, reciprocal kindness and gratitude helped on the task, and before many weeks had passed Nelly was spelling words of two syllables, and had learned some truths, at least, of far greater importance.

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