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Lucy Raymond; Or, The Children's Watchword By Agnes Maule Machar Characters: 24988

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"Or rather help us, Lord, to choose the good-

To pray for naught, to seek to none but Thee;

Nor by our 'daily bread' mean common food;

Nor say, 'From this world's evil set us free.'"

he Sunday school was again assembled on another Sunday afternoon, some weeks later. The day was even warmer than the one on which our story opened, and all the church windows were opened to their widest extent, to admit every breath of air which came in through the waving pine boughs. Lucy had been promoted to teach a small class of her own, in which Nelly Connor had willingly taken her place. She was indeed advancing faster in spiritual than in secular learning; for in the first she had the best of all teachers, to whose teaching her simple heart was open-the Holy Spirit Himself.

Bessie Ford had found another teacher, and beside her sat Stella, who, partly from finding her Sunday afternoons dull, and partly from feeling that it was her uncle's wish that she should accompany Lucy to Sunday school, had overcome her objection to it so far as to go with her cousin. And having found out on the first Sunday how deficient she herself was in Bible knowledge, and never liking to appear inferior to others in anything, she took some pains to prepare her lessons, at least so far that her ignorance might not lower her in the eyes of her classmates. It was a poor motive, certainly; still, seeds of divine truth were gradually finding their way into her heart, which might in time germinate and bear fruit. And her stay in Mr. Raymond's household, where "serving the Lord" was avowedly the ruling principle, had already exercised a healthful influence over her impressionable nature.

On this particular Sunday the interesting announcement was made, that the annual "picnic" or Sunday-school excursion was to take place on the following Wednesday, the place being a beautiful oak wood about a mile from the church, in the opposite direction from Mill Bank Farm. As little groups clustered together on leaving the church door, there was a general buzz of talk about the picnic.

Lucy stopped Nelly Connor to ask her whether she thought her mother would let her go to the picnic.

Poor Nelly looked very doubtful as she replied, "I don't know; I'm afraid not."

"Well, Nelly, I'll see what can be done about it," said Lucy encouragingly.

"But I haven't anything decent to wear to it, miss," replied Nelly, looking dolefully down on the tattered frock, which her mother never took the trouble to mend, and which she, poor child, could not, except in the most bungling fashion.

Lucy walked home thoughtfully, and, as the fruit of her meditation, a print dress of her own was next morning produced, and a consultation was held with her aunt as to the practicability of altering it to fit Nelly. "I only wonder I didn't think of it before," she said, "for she is always so miserably dressed. Will you help me to make it up, Stella?"

"My dear, I wouldn't know how! The most I ever sewed in my life was to hem a pocket-handkerchief."

Mrs. Steele looked shocked at such deficiency in what she rightly considered a most important part of female education. She had always taken care that Lucy should spare enough time from her more congenial studies, to learn at least to sew neatly.

"Why, Stella!" Lucy exclaimed, "you're almost as bad as poor Nelly, who said she had never learned to sew because 'nobody had teached her.'"

"I've never had time to learn. I like embroidery better; and mamma said we should never need to do plain sewing, so she didn't see the use of our taking up our time with it."

"No one knows what she may have to do," remarked Mrs. Steele gently. "It is always best to know how, at any rate."

"Well, I hope I shall never have to, for I should hate it!"

However, when Lucy was fairly at work on the little frock, Stella good-naturedly offered to help her a little, though, never having been trained to perseverance in anything, her assistance was not very efficient.

Bessie Ford had gone home from Sunday school with her head turned by hearing some foolish talk about her dress. Alas! how often it is that Sunday scholars, on leaving the school, instead of giving one thought to the divine truths they have been hearing, allow their attention to be absorbed with the petty frivolities in which their thoughts run wild!

"Mother," said Bessie, after she had duly announced the intended picnic, "can't I have a new pink sash for my white frock? Nancy Parker is going to have ever so many new things."

"No, child," said her mother, "you don't need a new sash. Your frock looks quite well enough without one. But I've been thinking you'd be the better of a new hat, for the one you have looks a little brown. And as you've been a pretty good girl, and a deal less forgetful of late, I wouldn't mind getting you a new hat, if you'll hurry and finish up that plain sewing you've had in hand so long. It's time it was done and put away."

Bessie looked a little disappointed. The new hat was not so attractive as the sash would have been. Suddenly her mother's remark on the brownness of her hat suggested the image of Nelly's tattered, dingy one, which she had noticed that afternoon.

"What would you do with my old hat, mother," she said, "if I get a new one?"

"I don't know. You've your sun-bonnet for wearing about the farm. Put it by for Jenny, perhaps," suggested the thrifty Mrs. Ford.

"Might I give it to Nelly Connor, mother? Hers will hardly stay together."

Mrs. Ford had never seen Nelly, but she knew something of her forlorn situation. "I'm sure," she said, "I shouldn't mind if you did. I dare say it would be charity to her, poor thing." And it occurred to her to think whether she, a well-to-do farmer's wife, had been as abundant in deeds of charity as she might have been.

Bessie considered the matter settled, and next day set to work with renewed zeal on the "plain sewing," which had been getting on very languidly; for Bessie was not fond of long, straight seams, or of sitting still for any length of time. She set herself a task as she took her seat under the spreading butternut-tree; and Jenny and Jack came to beg for "a story." Bessie's story-telling powers had been largely developed of late, to make the Sunday lessons she had begun to give the restless little things more palatable to them. Only the promise of "a story" could fix their attention long enough to commit to memory a simple verse. And her powers once found out, she soon had demands upon her for stories to a greater extent than her patience was always equal to satisfying.

Bessie had become, as her mother had noticed, much more thoughtful of late. Her card, hung up in her room, kept always before her mind her resolution to "look to Jesus" for help to live to please Him. And though she still often forgot and yielded to temptation, yet, on the whole, she was steadily advancing in that course in which all must be either going forward or backward. Her mother noticed that this decided improvement dated from the day when she had brought home the card,-a day which had not been without influence on herself,-although, when worldly principles have been long suffered to hold undisputed sway, it is difficult at once to overcome old habits; and lost ground is not less hard to retrieve in spiritual than in earthly things.

Bessie was still diligently working at her "task," when she saw Nancy Parker running up across the fields.

"Oh, Bessie," she said breathlessly, "get ready and come right away. My cousins have come to spend the day, and we're going boating up the river, and then home to supper. The rest are all waiting in the boat down there, and I ran up to get you. So be quick!"

Bessie hesitated. If she went with Nancy, a considerable portion of the work she had set herself to do would be left undone. Besides, her mother had gone to Ashleigh, leaving her in charge; and Bessie was not at all sure that, had she been at home, she would approve of her joining the party.

To be sure, she could not be absolutely certain of her mother's disapproval, and she could easily run down for Sam to come and stay with the children. At the worst, she did not think her mother would be much displeased; and the thought of the pleasant row, and the merry party, and all the "fun" they would have, offered no small temptation.

"Quick, Bessie!" Nancy urged, impatient of her delay.

"I don't think I can go, Nancy. Mother's out, and I've a lot of sewing to do."

"Bother the sewing! Your mother wouldn't mind, I'm sure. Mine lets me do exactly as I like. Come and get ready;" and she pulled Bessie from her seat, and drew her, half-resisting, towards the house.

They went up-stairs together, Bessie feeling far from satisfied with herself for yielding where conscience told her she ought not to yield.

"My!" said Nancy, whose quick eyes had been glancing round the room, "what a grand ticket you've got hanging up there! Where did you get it?"

Bessie's eye turned to her motto, and she stood for a minute looking at it in silence. Then, instead of replying to the question, she said, "Nancy, I cannot go; it wouldn't be right."

"Well, that's a nice way to treat me!" said Nancy angrily. "After my waiting so long, too. Why, don't you know your own mind? Come, you can't change now; I'm not going to be cheated, after all my trouble."

"I'm very sorry, Nancy; but I oughtn't to have said I would go at all. Don't wait any longer. But I'll go down to the boat with you."

"Oh, don't trouble yourself; I can do without your company." And off she ran, before Bessie could say any more.

Bessie felt sorry at having vexed Nancy, and thought a little wistfully of the afternoon's pleasure that she might have had. But she felt satisfied that she had done right, and felt thankful that she had had strength given to resist a temptation to which she now felt she would have done very wrong to yield. So she went back to her shady seat with a light heart, and stitched away diligently, not repining although she heard the merry voices of the party, borne to her from the river.

As her mother had not returned by the time her task was completed, she went in and got tea ready; and then calling up two of the gentlest cows, she had milked them by the time Mrs. Ford appeared, tired and dusty from her long walk. Her pleased surprise at Bessie's thoughtful industry in getting through so much of the work which she thought was still before her, was in itself sufficient reward for the self-denial; and Bessie felt what a shame it would have been if her mother, fatigued as she was, had had everything to do on her return, while she was away on a pleasure-party.

Of course Mrs. Ford was soon informed of Nancy's visit and invitation. "Oh, my child!" she exclaimed, "I am so glad you refused to go. Mrs. Thompson, in the village, was just telling me about these cousins of Nancy's, and says they are the wildest set in Burford, and that their society wouldn't do Nancy any good. So, if you had gone, I should have been very sorry. I'm so glad you didn't!"

How glad Bessie was that she had been enabled to resist the temptation! But she felt she could not take the credit to herself; so she said:

"I had the greatest mind to go, mother, but something told me I shouldn't, just as I was almost going."

"Well, it's all the same to me, as you didn't go. And you were a real good girl, Bessie, to stay!"

What a safeguard is a definite duty conscientiously pursued! If Bessie had not had her task of sewing to finish, with the feeling that it was her duty to do it, she might have been more easily led away against her better judgment.

Nelly Connor had had her temptation, too, the same evening. Her mother had sent her to take home some clothes she had been washing; and as Nelly was carrying the basket, she noticed a pretty pink printed frock lying on the top, which looked as if it would exactly fit her. How nice it would be, she thought, if she had such a frock to wear to the picnic! Then came one of the evil suggestions which the tempter is so ready to put into the heart: what if she should keep it till the picnic was over, and wear it just that once? She could hide it, and put it on somewhere out of her stepmother's sight; and then, perhaps, if she were dressed so nicely, some of the other little girls might be willing to play with her; for the poor child felt he

r isolated position.

Then conscience said, "Would it be right?" Had she not been learning, "Thou shalt not steal?" And had not Miss Lucy explained to her that that meant taking anything, even the least, that was not her own? A short time ago Nelly would have appropriated any trifle that came in her way, without thinking twice about it; but some light had visited her mind now, and she could distinguish what was darkness. But then this would not be stealing, it would only be borrowing the frock! At last she was so near the house, that she was obliged to make up her mind at once; so, scarcely giving herself time to think, she wrapped up the frock in the smallest possible compass, hid it behind a stone, and ran on to leave her basket, hurrying nervously back, lest some one should inquire for the missing article.

She found it quite safe, however, and managed to convey it unseen to her little attic-room. But Nelly felt far more unhappy than she had ever been when her harsh mother had beaten her most severely. She could not understand how it was that she should feel so miserable. She was glad that she could not go for her lesson to-night, for she should have been ashamed to face Miss Lucy. One of the children just then began to cry, and she ran down-stairs, glad of something to do, and took the utmost pains to do her evening work particularly well, by way of making up for the wrong of which she was inwardly conscious.

But when she went to bed, Nelly, for the first time in her life, tossed about, unable to sleep. All sorts of possibilities of detection and disgrace occurred to her, and, above all, the voice of conscience told her she was little better than a thief. She had knelt down to say the simple prayer she had been first taught by Miss Preston, "O Lord, take away my sin, and make me Thy child, for Jesus Christ's sake;" but indulged sin had come between her and the Father to whom she prayed, so that her prayer was only a formal one. She fell asleep at last, but only to dream uneasy dreams, in which the pink frock was always prominent; and when she awoke in the early morning, it was with an uneasy sense of something wrong, soon defined into a distinct recollection. As she lay watching the early sunbeams slanting golden into her dingy attic, her eye fell upon the card pinned up against the wall, "Looking unto Jesus," which she could now spell out herself. Had she not been told to "look to Jesus" when unhappy or naughty, and He would deliver her? She knew now that she could speak to Jesus anywhere; so, springing out of bed and kneeling down, she simply but heartily asked Him to help her to be good. Then, putting on her clothes with all the haste she could, for fear she might be tempted to change her mind, she ran off unobserved, carrying with her the coveted frock, which she handed, without a word, to the servant who was sweeping the steps, and who, recognising her, supposed her stepmother had forgotten to send it home with the rest of the washing.

Nelly ran off with a heart so much lighter, that she did not mind even the box on the ear which she received on her return for being out "idling about," instead of lighting the fire for the breakfast. She felt she had deserved much more than that, and she contentedly accepted it as a slight punishment for her wrongdoing.

That day, when Mrs. Connor was working at Mr. Raymond's, Mrs. Steele, showing her the frock which was now completed, told her it was to be given to Nelly on condition of her being allowed to go to the picnic. Mrs. Connor of course grumbled a good deal about the inconvenience of having to spare Nelly for a whole afternoon, but the frock tempted her; and reflecting that the opportune arrival of this frock would do away with any necessity for getting Nelly a new one for a long time to come, she ungraciously gave her consent that she should go.

When Nelly came that evening for her lesson, Lucy gladly informed her that she was to be allowed to go to the picnic, and presented her with the frock which had been provided for her. Lucy was prepared for her look of surprise, but not so for her covering her face with her hands and bursting into tears. With some trouble she drew from her a confused account of the cause of her trouble-the sin she had been led into, and which touched her generous nature all the more now that the frock she had been wishing for was so opportunely provided.

Lucy was at first somewhat shocked that Kelly had been capable of taking such a liberty with what was not her own, not being able to realize the strength of such a temptation to a child whose possessions were so few; and she privately resolved not to tell Stella, who would scarcely have thought how nobly she overcame the temptation.

However, she commended and encouraged Nelly, and told her always to resort to the same sure Helper in time of temptation, and to do it in the first place. "And Jesus is always ready to hear and help you," she added.

"An' it was Him told you to give me the frock too, wasn't it? And I'm rightly thankful to Him, and you too, Miss Lucy."

And Nelly carried home her new acquisition, with very different feelings from those with which she had taken the frock she had coveted.

"How glad I am I thought of getting it ready for her!" thought Lucy as she watched her depart, her own heart full of the pleasure of doing a much-needed kindness,-the only drawback being her regret that Nelly had not a new hat likewise.

The much-watched-for day on which the picnic was to be held turned out as fine as the most eager young hearts could desire, notwithstanding one or two slight showers that fell in the early morning. But these only cleared the air and laid the dust, and made the foliage so fresh and glistening that its early summer beauty seemed for a time revived.

The fine old oak grove where the feast was to be held, was, even before the appointed hour, astir with bright little groups of happy children. The teachers and some of the elder girls were already busy at a roughly constructed table, unpacking and arranging cups and saucers, filling the latter with the ripe-red berries which had been brought in in great abundance, and cutting up the piles of buns and cakes. Bessie Ford was superintending the distribution of the cream which had come in large jars from the farmhouses, and of which Mill Bank Farm had contributed the richest and finest. Lucy of course was among the working party, her position as Mr. Raymond's daughter giving her a degree of importance far from disagreeable to her. Stella, seated with her friend Marian Wood in the centre of a mass of flowers, was daintily arranging them in tiny bouquets to be given to the children.

At last Bessie, who with Nelly's new hat beside her had been watching the various arrivals, descried the little solitary figure, with its dark, hanging locks, for which she had been looking. When she approached her, she was quite surprised at the change in her appearance produced by the fresh, pretty frock; and when her old hat was removed, and the new one placed upon her dark hair, which had been smoothly combed and brushed out and put back from her eyes, she really looked as nice as most of the children there. Her dark eyes danced with pleasure as Bessie, herself almost as happy, took her to a group of girls about her own age and introduced her to them as a stranger, to whom they must try to make the picnic as pleasant as possible. Bessie was a favourite with all the girls, and they willingly promised what she asked; so that Nelly, for the first time in many months, had a really good game of play with children of her own age,-an intense pleasure to her social, kindly Irish nature, which, with her ready wit, soon made her the life of the little group.

Two or three hours passed rapidly by. Lucy and Bessie went from one part of the ground to another, encouraging the little ones to run and romp, bringing forward shy or isolated children, and watching that the ruder and stronger did not oppress the weaker,-or sitting down to talk with some of the elder girls, who preferred a quiet chat. Stella, in her airy muslin flounces, a tiny hat with floating blue ribbons crowning her golden tresses, flitted about with a winning grace, which made her the admired of all observers. She felt herself a sort of princess on the occasion; and as she dearly loved popularity, even among rustics, she spared no pains to be affable and agreeable, and felt quite rewarded when she heard such speeches as, "What a sweet, pretty young lady Miss Lucy's cousin is!" "Isn't she, for all the world, just like a picture?"

Alick watched with some amusement the patronizing air which mingled with her affability, and perhaps added to her consequence with those who could not appreciate the higher beauty of simplicity of manner. Lucy could not repress a slight feeling of annoyance at seeing how easily her cousin won her way, and how far her more adventitious advantages threw into the shade her own real exertions for the pleasure of those around her. Not that the exertions had been prompted by a desire for praise; but she was not yet unselfish enough to be satisfied that they had gained the desired end, although not fully appreciated by those for whom they had been made. The difference between the cousins was, that Lucy liked approbation, when she did what was right for its own sake, while Stella's conduct was chiefly prompted by the desire of admiration.

"Lucy," said Stella, coming up to her during the afternoon, "do you see that ridiculous imitation of my dress that Nancy Parker has on? I suppose she wanted to be dressed just like me; but I'm glad I wore a different one to-day." Yet, though Stella professed some annoyance, she was secretly a little flattered at Nancy's thus recognising her as a leader of fashion.

Alick and Harry were invaluable aids in promoting the enjoyment of the boys, as was Fred also in his quieter way. Towards the close of the afternoon Mr. Raymond appeared, and, after a pleasant greeting interchanged with his older parishioners present, the children assembled in the centre of the ground to listen to a few kind and earnest words from their pastor. He took as his subject the "remembering their Creator in the days of their youth;" and after reminding them to whom they owed the innocent pleasures which had been provided for them, he spoke earnestly of the Creator and Redeemer they were to "remember," to whom they should now bring their young hearts, that He might take them and make them His. The sunshine of His gracious presence would, he said, hallow and sweeten their joyous hours, and be a stay and support even when the "evil days" should come, and all other sources of happiness should fail them. His address was not so long as to weary even the most impatient, and when it was concluded, the children stood up and sang a hymn, which, to Nelly's great delight, was her favourite-"I lay my sins on Jesus." Then, after Mr. Raymond had briefly asked a blessing on the food of which they were about to partake, and the intercourse they had had, and were still to have, the children quietly dispersed into little groups, and sat down on the grass to enjoy the good things that were liberally provided for them.

The distribution kept the assistants busy, and some care had to be exercised lest too large a share of the cakes should be appropriated by some of the more greedy,-alas that there should be such among Sunday-school children! Nelly Connor had seldom had a treat in her life, but she would not for the world have taken one cake more than her share, or have hidden one away in her pocket, as she saw some better-dressed children doing.

At last, when the dew was beginning to moisten the grass, and the fast-lengthening shadows told that the long summer day was drawing to a close, a bell sounded to collect the children, and after singing the evening hymn, and having been commended by Mr. Raymond to the care of Him who neither slumbers nor sleeps, all quietly dispersed to their homes. The "picnic" so eagerly looked forward to was over, as all earthly pleasures must sooner or later be. Not a single incident had marred its harmony, and, to Nelly Connor in particular, the day had been one of unmingled and unprecedented enjoyment. How different from what it would have been had she not, in a strength from above, overcome the temptation to which she had so nearly yielded!

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